Wintersong – A semi-spoilery rant.

Wintersong (Wintersong, #1) Rating:

Synopsis2All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

My reviewThis is one of those books which starts out really strong, loses steam mid-way and then splutters into such a mind-numbing conclusion (not! there is a sequel) that .. you are just left to wonder – How can a novel intended to have Music as its backbone leave you feeling so empty?

  • Liesl was annoying, the Goblin King was annoying and well.. their romance was annoying . I couldnt take anything Liesl said or felt seriously because I never got the sense that she even knew what her priorities were or where her loyalties lie… Her “love” for her family members kind of flits around.. Sometimes she has Kathe in her thoughts, sometimes it is her brother.. but most of the time.. none of them seem to matter in comparison to her new-found proximity and place in the Goblin king’s life and the “freedom” she finds Underground.. And, she remembers her parents occasionally as an afterthought…
  • And oh, dont let the synopsis fool you.. Liesl’s strength doesn’t come from the Goblin King – “musically”, “physically”, or “emotionally” – it comes after they have sex – which you might miss if you flip the pages to skim over musical or flowery metaphors. Gosh, there was something so… needy and whiny about the way Liesl craved for physical intimacy – and that too so quickly after she is practically blackmailed into being held captive.. that despite all her affirmations throughout the book that it is “her choice” to be in the relationship – I just couldn’t shrug off feeling so creeped out by their unhealthy and almost Stolkholm-Syndrome-like dynamics..
  • The writing in general is beautiful.. with a great concept.. But I just wished the book didn’t spend such a major chunk of its page time on Liesl grumbling and the Goblin King playing the most boring version of the Brooding YA Hero trope ever written.
  • The world-building is kind of confusing… and gave the impression that the author just put in a lot of pretty dressing and sparkly icing to cover up a wafer-thin setting. What could have been summarized in five sentences is spread thin throughout the book and presented very …. very….. slowly..
  • Oh, how I wish there was more of Kathe , and less of Liesl’s condescension and judgement about her… It was the most blatant .. “My sister is shallow and pretty but I am ordinary and deep and beautiful from inside” trope ever. Except that Kathe is so much more .. – that we are robbed of seeing because of – Liesl.GoblinKing.Epic.Love.Story

But, oh, I am interested in reading the sequel because the twist in the later part of the book is interesting and kind of sets up the sequel to focus on a slightly different plot. And it looks like (fingers crossed) we might get more of another love story too..

Edit: Amidst all the metaphors and flowery prose, the bit that actually had the most impact on me (maybe because I had just watched Coco) was this bit :

Image result for coco movie images This was the immortality humans were meant to have: to be remembered by those who loved us long after our bodies had crumbled to dust.



Surviving Valencia – By Holly Tierney-Bedord


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*Note: I received this book from the author through Aimee’s blogiversary giveaways.*


A car accident robs the Loden Family of twins Van and Valencia shortly after they start college. Charmed, bright, and beautiful, they held their family together and elevated the Lodens to greatness. In their loss, a shadow is cast upon the family, particularly on the remaining child, who lacks the easy grace and popularity her older siblings took for granted. 

As an adult, her life begins to turn from mediocre to amazing when she is saved by cool, artistic Adrian. The kind of happiness once reserved only for others is finally hers, until pieces of the past begin ruining what seems to be a perfect life.

My Review:

I don’t remember ever learning the narrator’s name. I realized it while I was typing this out and trying to recollect her name. So I am just going to call her HER or SHE.

With so many books using the past/present – in –alternate chapters narrative these days, it suddenly started getting boring and like some new fad just to be all different and edgy, regardless of whether it is actually needed or not. This is one of the books where it works, and works really well.

This is the second book in a row (the first being Speak)  I have read dealing with pressures faced by high school girls, such as being bullied, or worse, ignored . Here, it is further compounded by the fact that SHE is the youngest of the three siblings, with the older two, Van and Valencia being twins and well-liked among their peers.  What’s worse, is HER parents ignore her (unintentionally or not), don’t celebrate her achievements or special occasions with the same gusto as the twins’.  Gosh, it was all-round terrible to read how she was, well.. pretty much emotionally abandoned by her parents, especially her mom. What was heartbreaking to see is that SHE never really stops trying – After her mom gives up on trying to mould her like Valencia – by putting her into dance classes and goading her to show “feminine grace”, she takes it upon herself to “change” and start afresh every time a new school year starts. But she never catches a break. Her siblings’ death makes everything worse, as unlike before, she cannot even be an outside spectator to the “Happy Loden gang”. Valencia’s death hits her especially hard, as she was someone who SHE always aspired to be, something which felt as unattainable as reaching out to the stars.

So, yes, it always felt like she was stuck in a hopeless situation. When they were alive, she was torn between trying to shrug them off or enjoy the reflected glory. When they are dead, she is even worse off as she is seen as some specimen of curiosity, to be pitied or seen as a psych guinea pig by the school counselors and teachers from afar, but never befriended or shown consideration.

I don’t know what more to say without giving anything away further, but I am so glad I discovered this book. On the surface it is about HER moving on. Dig deeper and it is about HER trying to shake off the disappointments of her childhood, and trying to make herself happy by living (or rather play-acting) the ‘IT’ life as seen in glossy magazines and TV shows. One of my favorite moments, was Adrian gifting her gold necklace and helping her putting it on, while both of them coyly speak to each through their reflections as they stand in front of the mirror.  The entire scene was a caustic nod to every happy-couple-in-TV-commercials ever. But as we find out in the end, she wasn’t the only one living vicariously.

If there is one criticism, it is probably that some of the additions to the mystery arc, such as the soothsayer and detective didn’t end being spoken about or explained again and some things felt more like loose ends than red herrings.  Some of final passages were slightly ambiguous too. I read them twice and there are still a couple of things that I am still not too sure about.

The ending was bittersweet and I liked how SHE followed up on her conviction that sometimes you just instinctively know when something is broken and can’t be mended. I was also left wondering whether SHE loved Valencia for what she effortlessly projected to the outside world, and would SHE have loved her just the same if she didn’t meet those lofty standards.

Symbiosis – By Guy Portman


*Note : I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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Identical twins Talulah and Taliah have never been apart. Viewed as curiosities by children and adults alike, they coexist in an insular world with their own secret language. But being identical doesn’t necessarily mean being equal…

 Soon a series of momentous events will send Talulah and Taliah spiralling out of control, setting them on a collision course with a society that views them as two parts of a whole. Will their symbiotic relationship survive?

 Perceptive and poignant, Symbiosis explores our enduring fascination with twins and the complexities of twinship.

My Review:

Taliah and Talulah have been close ever since they came into their world, with not just identical looks on account of being twins, but identical mannerisms, mirrored actions and a made-up language of their own. This is the first book I have read dealing with cryptophasia (translates to “secret speech”) and while this isn’t much of a “problem” when the twins are younger, their insistence to continue using it leads to communications issues  at their school. They are soon admitted into Royston Park School which takes in kids dealing with various emotional and behavioral disorders. This is where we begin to see the differences between Taliah and Talulah, and from here onwards, it is a continuous internal struggle of one twin to shrug off the influence of the more dominant twin.

It was quite creepy and scary to see just how trapped Taliah felt, though all she wanted, all she has always wanted was to be seen as ONE, not part of a two-person package deal. By the time the twins reach adolescence, she feels stifled from always being with Talulah. We slowly see how theirs has been more of a parasitic relationship rather than a symbiotic, with Taliah helping Talulah cheat through her school tests and assignments, and her not speaking in class but scribbling answers so that Talulah isn’t left feeling inferior because of her inability to stress on the sound “s”.  But here’s the thing, Talulah expects Taliah to step back, to stay in her shell, to never have any other close friends or a boyfriend. When a new boy joins Royston, he brings with him crazy, directionless and anarchist rabble-rousing thoughts and Taliah is briefly happy as Talulah seems besotted with him and his ideas. The interlude doesn’t last long enough though, as Talulah forces her to tag along with them, and they are soon breaking laws and snorting up drugs. A series of misfortunes later, they find themselves in a psychiatric facility. Within the confines and regimented routine of this clinic, Taliah finds freedom.. Freedom to be herself, to interact with people, and to dream about a future without her sibling’s shadow looming over her. We also see Talulah, pining for her twin, hating every moment of being separated from her. Taliah’s constant tussle with her mind and gut feeling, to cut off her “psychic” connection from her sister, exhausts her.

This book was unlike anything I have read in the past, and it felt good to come across a book that is quite genre-atypical. I kept rooting for Taliah to break free, and pitied Talulah. Despite everything Taliah loved her sister, and despite the obsessive nature of it, Talulah loved her sister too.. So, it was just so sad they couldn’t have a more healthy relationship. I had mixed feelings about the book’s ending. Without revealing much, let’s just say that I didn’t like it because an alternate ending would have challenged Taliah better to make some actual choices. Another thing which I had a problem with was the made-up language. I really wish there were some occasional translations because it felt like a whole lot of mumbo-jumbo taking up a lot of space in the book. There were some other things I couldn’t connect with, such as a lot of secondary characters with eccentricities (and I am not talking about students or wards here) that didn’t serve any purpose. I am not sure it if was meant for comic relief, but I just didn’t get it.

The book gave me an insight into not just some medical conditions that I had no idea about but also a peek into the treatments and therapies. However, the focus is largely on Taliah and Talulah, and addresses how important it is for individuality to breathe, grow and exhibit.


And the Mountains Echoed – By Khaled Hosseini


Ten year old Abdullah and his li’l sister Pari travel from their village to the city of Kabul with Saboor, their father.  Without the knowledge that only two of the three will be making the journey back home…

The book starts off pretty well. As a story of a brother and sister.  And a father who, burdened by the drudgery that comes with being poor,  decides to give his daughter away to a wealthy childless couple in Kabul, Suleiman and Nila Wahdati. This is facilitated by Nabi, Saboor’s brother-in-law and the children’s step-uncle. Nabi is employed by Suleiman as a chauffeur, cook and caretaker of the Wahdati mansion.

The story spans from the 1930’s and ‘40s to late 2000s, with storylines skipping decades back and forth quite a bit. Pari was just three years old when she left her family, so as the years pass by, memories of Abdullah, Saboor and the rest of her family – her step-mother Parwana and half-brother Iqbal fade away.  Nila and Pari leave Afghanistan and move to Paris a couple of years later. Nabi continues to stay at on, and after Mr. Wahdati’s death, rents out the mansion to international aid workers in early 2000 for free. One of them is Markos, a Greek plastic surgeon. Nabi addresses a letter to Markos to be opened after his death. In that letter, he narrates everything and unburdens his conscience by requesting Markos to find Pari and deliver the contents of the letter to her.

As I said, the book starts quite well. And Hosseini does weave in a diverse tapestry of characters. He devotes a few pages exclusively to pretty much all of them. All of them were interesting, well handled and well resolved. Each of them is shown grappling with moral dilemmas of choosing between right, wrong, convenient and obligatory.  There is Parwana, who takes care of her invalid twin for years and part of the reason is to atone for the accident that she believes caused her sister’s current condition. So what prompts her to finally unmoor herself from that responsibility? And there is Idris and Timur, cousins and Wahdati’s neighbours, who return to Afghanistan decades later to claim ownership of their old house. Idris has always been slightly wary of Timur’s flamboyant “Americanised” self and garish display of his “helpful nature” by monetary assistance among his friends and the Afghan circle back in United States. He finds it hypocritical and pretentious. But when Idris gets a chance to be a hero in the eyes of an injured girl in a Kabul hospital, how well does he rise to the challenge of fulfilling his promise to her? There is Suleiman and Nabi, who over the years, end up forming a kinship out of shared loneliness. And Nila, who could never find the happiness and fulfilment that she thought would come if she completed a family with a child. And Markos, who leaves his tiny town of Tinos to travel around the world and help people to get medical aid.

Unlike Hosseini’s previous books, AtME starts decades before the foreign invasions in Afghanistan. There are references to loss of lives, people’s plight, infrastructure damage and lawlessness in this book too. But not in the detailed, personalised way that will make your stomach curl. Hosseini treads different themes, including some still perceived as blasphemous.

So what is my beef with the book?  Well, I think the biggest problem I had with the book is that there are so many characters and each of them with their separate tracks that in the end, the book sort of lost focus on what it started out as. And the only thing all these characters had in common is their connection to Kabul. None of their lives ever really crisscross to affect anything at all.. heck, each of them could probably have spin-off books written in the future (Nila by herself deserves a separate one.. what a hauntingly tragic life!) . By the time the story veers back to Pari and Abdullah, I sort of lost whatever keenness I had to see them meet or reconnect again. It is my opinion that for a book to deliver some sort of emotional punch in the end, the rest of the book should have adequate “page time” devoted to the characters to build that rapport with them. Abdullah was pretty much absent through most of the book.