Book Review — Secret Lives [Darke Academy #1] by Gabriella Poole

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Cassandra Bell has been invited to study at the Darke Academy, an elite boarding school that shifts base every term. Initially she can’t believe her luck, but as time passes she realizes that the school is built on a foundation of deceit and danger. In the past, students have met with unfortunate “accidental” deaths and there is something extremely odd about the school’s chosen group, the Few. Cassie has never been one to play safe, not if it means being left in the dark about what’s happening around her. And so, she walks down a path from which there’s no return.

I gladly admit to loving Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. It was one of the first vampire fiction books that I’d read, which made me realize just how much I love paranormal and supernatural genres. I would still re-read it, despite all the hate that it has surprisingly garnered. Secret Lives being the first book in the Darke Academy trilogy has a very promising storyline. Boarding school on wheels + vampires = YES PLEASE! But it just didn’t work for me. Sure, the setting and the author’s writing style is enough to make you want to teleport to the Darke Academy. But there was quite a bit about the book that I couldn’t digest. Gabriella Poole’s writing is very colloquial, not wordy and moderately descriptive. Some of the plot points are in deed commendable and unique. Who’d EVER think of a boarding school that moves to a different city every term? It’s brilliant! Who’d think of vampires and not associate them with blood lust? The author of this book, that’s who.

Moving onto characters, themes and some half-baked cliches. Cassie is your average studious girl, who has been in foster care for very long. I found her personality to be confusing at times; her thoughts and actions were just all over the place throughout the novel. Isabella is the one character that I really liked in this book. She has her heart on her sleeve, is fiercely protective of Cassie and Jake and exhibits very real emotions and opinions. Usually in media representations of vampires, the vampire characters are ostracized in society. But it’s interesting to notice that here, they are placed on a pedestal. So much so that the Few are considered above authority at the academy. The use of cliches overwhelms this novel. The vampire male lead is mysterious and brooding, the rich people are shown to be brats, there’s a lot of jealousy at play in between the female characters because of certain attractive men etc. On the whole, it was an okay book. Parts of it were truly fun and others could have been better. Read it and see for yourself, if you’d like.

Ratings – 2.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A new perspective on vampires. Also, you begin to wish that you’d studied in a magnificent boarding school.

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Book Review — Demigods and Magicians by Rick Riordan

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The three short stories that make up Demigods and Magicians bring together the characters of the Percy Jackson series and those of the Kane Chronicles series in a thrilling fashion. There’s a new baddie in town and for a change, his ambitions are a lot bigger than usual. Setne (or Prince Khaemwaset) is an evil magician who wishes to combine Egyptian and Greek magic to become more powerful than all the Gods. In doing so, he threatens the very foundation of the world.

Rick Riordan has, without a doubt, become one of my auto-buy authors. I will read anything and everything that he writes. Having loved the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, I wasn’t the least bit hesitant about picking up this collection which focused a tad bit more on Egyptian mythology. The stories were short, fast paced and an absolute treat! My favourite has to be The Crown of Ptolemy. Percy and Carter’s friendship is just as heartwarming and filled with funny moments as is Sadie and Annabeth’s. Both the duos couldn’t be more unlike each other. But when they all come together at the end, oh boy. And even with the others, the interaction between characters is sketched out so commendably.

I haven’t read the Kane Chronicles, but suffice it to say, Percy will always be my favourite character. He is hilarious and has a beautiful relationship going on with Annabeth. This book reminded me just how much I missed Percy’s sass and headstrong personality. Time for a re-read of the PJ series. I’ve come to realize that I love Riordan’s full fledged novels a lot more, even if they are as chunky as the Heroes of Olympus books. Because short stories don’t really do much justice to his writing style and the potential of the story. What prevents me from giving this book 5 stars is that even though I can’t pick a single fault with the stories themselves, I would have rather liked to see them interwoven into a novel than cut short abruptly. All in all, I would 100% recommend this fantastic book to everyone who is interested in mythology.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Three really incredible and exciting reads that introduce you to Egyptian mythology. And if you need more motivation, have you seen the covers?

Book Review — The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra

The House That Spoke is a story of how darkness makes its way into Kashmir, in the form of a demon that haunts Zoon’s house as well as the growing socio-political tension in society courtesy of militants. At 14 years of age, Zoon is a very spirited young girl, unaware of the power her lineage has. But as her fifteenth birthday looms near, she begins to realize that the strange occurrences are tied to her father’s bloodline, generations of Guardians meant to protect Kashmir and all of its inhabitants.

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At this point, it’s no surprise that I enjoy reading peculiar books. And if the title wasn’t explanation enough, EVERYTHING in Zoon’s house “speaks”. Remember the enchanted household objects in Beauty and the Beast? Exactly like that! Although, the books flinging themselves off the shelves was always a cringe-worthy moment. I liked the plot, despite its very obvious tropes of “the chosen one” and darkness being equated to the villainous  component. I LOVED the setting and how the author weaves a tale around the realistic situation in Kashmir; bringing to light the troubled lifestyle of locals who have to be on guard, lest they get caught in the crossfire between governmental troops and rebel militants. Zuni Chopra’s writing style perfectly reflected the cold, hilly vibes which makes this an apt wintery read.

Most of the times, I enjoyed the conversation between the household objects because their personification was interesting to observe. But I found it quite surprising that Zoon’s mother never really caught on to that. And try as I might, I couldn’t bring myself to connect with or remotely like the protagonist (Zoon!). She was unnecessarily rude. And even though the burden of protecting her hometown ultimately lands on her shoulders, I couldn’t digest her butting into matters that were beyond her maturity. As far as I’m aware, in a household, you wouldn’t see 14 year olds making life-changing decisions or even intervening in such conversations between the elders. Zoon’s mother and Tathi (grandmother) are the two supporting characters. They come across as very affectionate and lenient, but shockingly they weren’t involved in the life threatening situations, even a least bit. The cover of this book and the illustrations on some of the pages is absolutely gorgeous. All in all, I didn’t like this novel as much as I had hoped to. Nevertheless, I’d recommend it to younger audiences.

Ratings – 2 out of 5 stars.

What do you get out of it? Those in and around the age group of 14 years may enjoy this a lot more than I did. That aside, this book captures a realistic portrait of the social scenario in Kashmir and envelops you in the vivid imageries of a winter wonderland.

Book Review — The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan [Translated by N. Kalyan Raman]

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Famed Tamilian writer, Perumal Murugan’s 10 short stories have been compiled into this volume called The Goat Thief. Steeped in cultural nuances and throwing light on the simplicities of life, the stories draw our attention towards the very nature of humanity; be it seeking company or obsessing over ordinary objects. Some of these tales are testament to the hardships that people from lower tiers of society undergo. And by imbuing common occurrences with an almost surreal quality, this book digs its talons deep into the psyche of the reader. In Mirror of Innocence and Musical Chairs, you’ll read about household objects that grow to mean something different to certain inhabitants. Whereas, The Well and Sanctuary are two stories that hauntingly convey how the protagonist loses himself in the depths of a well.

I’m not all that familiar with translated literature, but if they are anywhere as good as this one, sign me up! What’s refreshing about this collection of short stories is that they concern the most random of things like salt shaker, toilet bowls, tumblers, wells, chairs etc. and yet there’s something so captivating about the narration. You can’t help but be in awe of how realistically basic human sentiments are unearthed by such ordinary events. As far as the form goes, there’s very little dialogue in all of these short stories. But that didn’t deter me, because the narrative was so reminiscent of several quirks and attributes unique to Indians. Two of my favourite stories are An Unexpected Visitor and The Well. Another factor that I simply LOVED about this book is that the stories have ambiguous or abrupt endings. And you can’t even see it coming. All in all, this collection is a quick read; appealing to those who enjoy stories that challenge the norms of possibility and bring out the endearing quality of companionship. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so, I urge you to pick it up!

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A microscopic glimpse at the lives of individuals from different backgrounds, the little things that keep them going.

Thank you Juggernaut for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — Written in Blood by Layton Green

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Written in Blood by Layton Green follows Detective Preach, as he attempts to wade through the murders cropping up in Creekville, North Carolina. The town, that was his home, beheld a devastating change after his departure. And now that he’s back, carrying his own nightmares of a time in Atlanta, he is forced to wonder what exactly went down during his absence. The serial killer is vengeful and won’t stop until he/she has recreated the murders that took place in the writings of Poe, Dostoevsky etc. Preach’s hands are tied and he has very less time to figure out who’s upto no good in the previously peaceful town of Creekville.

Literary references and a murder mystery, what an incredible combination! From the very beginning, this novel was unputdownable. The murders, the leads were all explored in due time, spaced out evenly throughout the book so that no part of it is draggy. Nothing about the plot is predictable and like any good murder mystery, you’re most probably going to bet on the wrong person as being the suspect. I did. And when the climax did roll around (almost at the end), I was completely bowled over!! Like *hyperventilating* bowled over. The author’s writing style is crisp, to the point, tinged by great imageries and analogies. As a reader slowly growing to love older and modern classics, the discussions and novels that are pivotal to the plot were my absolute favourite.

The manner in which themes such as rape, prostitution, child abuse and bullying are dealt with doesn’t make light of the situation. In fact, Preach’s sentiment or reaction towards these comes from a very real place. And alongside him, we can’t help but shed a tear for the hundreds and thousands of people who are undergoing such horrors. There are only a couple of characters who are regulars in the novel, so there isn’t much to detect in terms of a character arc. Sure, Preach and his partner, Kirby undergo some personality change. But that’s about it. I did not have a single complaint about this book and the whole reading experience was spotted with squeals of excitement. I’m still hungover and can barely contain myself at having read such a superb book. Highly highly highly recommend it to all those who enjoy murder mysteries!

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A mind blowing murder mystery that, in true meta fashion, is fueled by four timeless classic novels.

Thank you Pyr and Edelweiss for sending me this e-galley in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — The Nine by Tracy Townsend

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In The Nine, Tracy Townsend creates a world quite like our own, throwing different species into play, in its deceitful and dangerous alleys. The aigamuxa and lanyani are as much a part of the looming mystery as the humans. A book that writes itself, the murder of an intellectual and nine individuals who are chosen as representative of a race – you’ve got yourself an action-packed novel that refuses to slow down. Rowena Downshire was a mere courier, working for the hardhearted Ivor. But when she is dragged into the midst of a conspiracy, she is forced to fight the greater of two evils.

This book has so many plot points in it, its a whopper of the highest quality. It is a dark fantasy, that weaves in steampunk elements, while also sending its characters on a tiresome adventure. I feel that the synopsis doesn’t convey just how intricate the story is and that’s why it was such a pleasant surprise. Tracy Townsend’s writing style is mesmerizing to say the least, vividly descriptive and devoid of sugar coating. There wasn’t a single dull moment. Some of the slang and phrases were new to me, but nothing that Google couldn’t fix. I like how to plot reflects very real human tendencies to be threatened by diversity and the unknown. Incorporating species like lanyani and aigamuxa added more dimension to the novel. Also, each chapter is told from the POV of a different character. In the beginning there were more POVs, so it was a bit overwhelming what with the highly detailed world-building too.

As for the characters, a majority of them were interesting; full of the flavor needed to carry the story forward. Rowena may have started out looking like a helpless girl, but we soon see how loyal and fearless she truly is. She, surprisingly, forms alliances with two very powerful men in order to “save the day”. Anselm Meteron is your typical badass boss, who is wealthy and cunning beyond measure. I liked the equation that was explored between him and Rare Jeulls. The Alchemist who is also part of the trio is a mysterious character for pretty much the whole book. His backstory, identity and such is only revealed at the end, which ideally could have been an impediment to the reading experience but wasn’t. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and would surely recommend it to those who like dark fantasy.

What do you get out of it? A thrilling adventurous tale that unearths human depravity. A unique supposition about the creation of our world.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

Thank you Pyr and Edelweiss for sending me this e-galley in exchange for a review.