Book Review — The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Madeline Miller has a way with words. Reading The Song of Achilles was like swaying with the waves, the ocean lapping at you and the peace making you one with the environment. It was soothing, inviting and towards the end, a surge of emotions. I hadn’t felt this connected to a book in the longest time and so, was more than eager to get swept up in Patroclus’ narration. Told from his point of view, the novel builds a timeline of events that have seen Patroclus and Achilles together, wrapped in a cocoon of love and support for one another. While we are introduced to Patroclus as a young boy of 9 years age, floundering under his father’s decision to present him as a suitor for Princess Helen, it is much later that he grows into an individual in his own right.

The author delivers the story of Patroclus and Achilles with such beauty, as to absorb us into the book, unable to set it down even for one moment. I was especially convinced of her genius when the scenes pertaining to war and politics, instead of diminishing my interest, furthered my desire to know more of what had transpired. In all its unabashed honesty, Miller depicts the foolishness of humans; the manner in which the pride and prejudice of kings have ushered in their downfall. Bound to the story with ropes of intrigue and awe, I kept wishing that Achilles had had more clarity of thought, allowing him to assess the situation better and take decisions that might have (sort of?) prevented a great deal of mishap. One thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is that this novel mentions a large number of mythological figures, which means atleast a hundred Greek names bouncing off your mind. They weren’t easy for me to remember, particularly the names of the secondary characters. But rest assured, the twenty or so important ones will remain in your memory.

It was a mesmerizing thing indeed to read about Patroclus and how he changes from an ordinary, under-confident lad to one who stands up for people, knows his worth in war and is incredibly courageous. Achilles’ character arc, on the other hand, takes a surprising dip. I like the inclusion of Briseis’ character. She plays a pivotal role in Achilles’ life and brings a new dynamic to Patroclus’ identity. The Song of Achilles is abundant with themes of love, politics, greed, slavery, monarchy to name a few. On the whole, it was such a pleasant experience reading about the eternal nature of Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship. I can’t believe that I put off reading it for so long. Now that I have, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this has become one of my all time favourites. Highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading mythological fiction. PICK. IT. UP. NOW.

Rating – 5 out of 5 stars (and more!)

What do you get out of this book? An epic story about two epic characters from Greek mythology, with a dash of romance, politics and friendship.

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Book Review — Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire shows us the plight of a family embroiled in modern day politics and Islamophobia. Isma Pasha has been a second mother to her siblings after the demise of their parents. But her decision to move to America marks the beginning of the disintegration of their family. The twins, Aneeka and Parvaiz, find their paths diverging as he gets roped into joining the Islamic State, while trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, this novel brings up compelling truths about human vulnerabilities and manipulation.

This was one of those award winning books that I was slightly more hesitant to pick up, because it was apparent that it tackled a serious issue, one that wouldn’t allow for an “enjoyable” reading experience, in a matter of speaking. I couldn’t smile or laugh my way through the 260 pages that it took for the author to convey the story. Once I began reading it, my hesitation proved to have been not baseless. The writing style of the author just wasn’t for me and quite often, I found my attention diverted by the flowery language. A few portions of the book felt draggy and extremely slow. So while the book on the whole wasn’t one of my favorites, I cannot deny the power that the story in itself carries. It depicts to us the gradual process of breaking down someone’s mental faculties to such an extent that they become open to any kind of suggestion. And how easy it is then to channel their inner rage or turmoil into making them do questionable things.

The book is split into different sections, wherein the story is told from the point of view of different characters. I liked that about the novel. Since it is not written from first person perspective of these characters, I didn’t feel one with the book as I usually do in the case of books with such strong themes. But I was so astonished by Parvaiz’s decisions that it pained me to read about him. If I had to pick a part of the book that had been done well, I would choose the section about Parvaiz. What I would commend the author for is taking up such a prevalent topic and spinning a story around it in such a way that you cannot ignore what’s going on in the book. Overall, I would say that this is an integral read because of its premise, but I wasn’t a fan of the writing style.

What do you get out of this book? Insight into how young men and women get persuaded to join terrorist forces and how their families and loved ones get affected by their drastic choice.

Book Review — French Exit by Patrick deWitt

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French Exit displays the gradual unraveling of a mother and son, as they are left to deal with the brunt of the father’s death. Upon Franklin Price’s demise and the consequent bankruptcy, Frances and Malcolm realize that there’s very little left for them in Manhattan. And so, they set sail for Paris, unsure as to what life awaits them in that new continent.

Right off the bat, it is clear that Patrick deWitt’s tragic-comedy does not read like an easy, fluffy contemporary in terms of the language and style of writing. I wouldn’t really recommend it for beginners, because it takes a bit of getting used to and if you’re not familiar with comedy of manners as a genre, then you could find it somewhat dry. That said, I would’ve finished it in one sitting simply because of how engaging the story is. On the surface, the plot is about a mother and son relocating to another place because of all the hardships that have come their way. But as you get into the groove of the novel, you realize it’s as much about the disconnect in their family as it is about their dependence on one another, and how they’ve allowed that to shape their individual relations.

In my opinion, none of the characters in this book can be classified as a type, which is a great quality in a book. They’re unusual in their mannerisms and add new dimensions to the story. Take for example, Mme Reynard who passive-aggressively paves her way into the lives of Frances and Malcolm Price. She becomes so possessive of her friendship with them that she likes it not when others join the gang. In a way, she takes on this nurturing role, caring for the troop when no one else would. At times, Malcolm and Frances relation reminded me of Norma and Norman Bates from Psycho. One of the things I didn’t like about the book is that I wasn’t convinced by Malcolm’s love for Susan. He appeared to be indifferent and distant towards her. In fact, that’s how he is portrayed for almost the entirety of the novel. You’ll find themes of divination, class hierarchy and familial reparations in this book. I definitely enjoyed reading it, because of the humor that has been imbued into it and it is quite unlike the books I usually read. So, do give it a try!

Rating – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A tragic-comedy that takes you from the upper echelons of society to a state of deterioration.

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review — Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

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Imogen Sokoloff and Jule West Williams studied in the same high school. Now, years later Jule finds her and they kindle a friendship unlike any other. Jule is a wanderer, trying to come to terms with a past that refuses to let her be. And Imogen is fed up with everyone’s expectations of her. She has a tendency to take off when things get too difficult to handle. With each other, they find the confidence to lower the facade and give in to their true selves. Until one of them goes missing.

The first thing I will tell you about this book is to not read too much about it. Just let the story sweep you away, okay? When I flipped open the first page and the chapter was numbered “19”, I already knew that E. Lockhart had once again nailed it. Upon flipping through, I realized that the story was being told in reverse, with the most recent happening being covered by the first chapter. You may think that in a murder mystery, that sort of spoils the whole climax. But no, dear friend. Almost every chapter unravels some part of the mystery, and yet there’s so much more to be known that you are fully invested in the novel. From the first paragraph, E. Lockhart digs her narrative talons deep into your mind, refusing to let go till the very end (and in my case, even after that). Her writing style, as usual, is crisp and tantalizing. She is not one for long sentences. Especially when she can deliver a punch with fewer words than most.

The plot of the novel asserts just how complex and sensitive the human mind is. While the storyline is similar to something I’ve read before, it is the structure of the book and its characters that steal the show. Imogen reminds me of Alison from the Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard. She puts on this artificial persona to draw people in. And when she’s bored of them, she doesn’t give two hoots. Jule has so many layers that, as we delve deeper into the book, become more clear. We come to understand her mindset as being rooted from her experiences of the past. What we see of the other characters is from the perspective of Jule and Immie. You reach a point in the novel where you don’t know what to believe, which is something I really like in psychological thrillers. Genuine Fraud is fast paced and makes for a killer book that is going to leave you screaming. E. Lockhart has now become one of my auto-buy authors. I will simply devour anything she writes. If you haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, don’t waste time. Just please pick it up. I urge you.

Ratings – 5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A murder mystery that slowly backtracks over the astounding truths about family and friendship.

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — Austenistan [edited by Laaleen Sukhera]

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Austenistan is a compilation of seven short stories that, in true Jane Austen fashion, comment on the nature of society and revolve around the lives of modern women. Based in different cities of Pakistan, these stories are as immersed in Pakistani culture as they are tweaked to accommodate the whims of 21st century folks.

I had such great expectations of this book, particularly because it was inspired by Jane Austen’s writings with the promise to feature Pakistani culture. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped. Now, the writing style (of the different writers) is colloquial and easy to get accustomed to, which was an interesting change from Austen’s very ornate and wordy style. Most of the stories had some element of a wedding celebration or a party, the vibes of which were aptly conveyed through the use of imageries and cultural references. You’ll also find empowered women refusing to bow down to society’s ridiculous expectations. Clichés like insta-love, brooding men and marriage-fixing-aunties notwithstanding, I really liked reading about how different female protagonists reacted in different circumstances.

My problem was with certain characters and value systems that overshadowed even the simplest of stories. In Begum Saira Returns, Saira’s plight is heartrending! She is bullied by society for being open-minded. BUT THEN, the turn of events at the end is bewildering. How is it okay to let go of your morals, especially when doing so could hurt a loved one? Many of the stories emphasize superficial standards, when it comes to arranging a marriage or fixing a date, by placing those with a better outward appearance, money and stature at a pedestal. In Austen’s writings, these aspects could be justified because the time was such. But the same is not an overarching truth of today. Certain parts of the stories do get predictable after a point, but because they’re cutesy romances it’s not really bothersome. My favourite has to be The Autumn Ball by Gayathri Warnsuriya. The disconnect between a couple is heartbreakingly sketched in that story. All in all, the book had it’s good and bad aspects. I enjoyed reading most of the stories. It’s just a couple of them that irked me.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A few entertaining stories which attempt to reflect prevalent ideals about marriage, womanhood and society.

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

Book Review — Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah J. Maas

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Summary – When Captain Nesryn Faliq and Lord Chaol Westfall made their way to Antica, seeking the help of the Great Khagan Urus, they did not know the full extent of the trouble brewing in the horizon. In order to protect their people from demon kings, they must convince the royal family to join forces and employ their armies against the common threat. Unfortunately for them, persuading the royals to give up their resources for the protection of another kingdom proves to be a task; one that isn’t helped by Chaol being confined to the wheelchair. Nesryn takes it upon herself to find an alternative path, while Chaol receives the healing that only the healers of Torre Cesme in Antica can provide. In doing so, Nesryn embarks on an adventure of her own with an unforeseen ally to far away lands in search of other potential allies. Due to a traumatic childhood experience, Yrene Towers, Heir of the Healer on High, can’t ever fathom helping an Adarlanian soldier, let alone one that has a temper as Chaol does. Healing him goes beyond her sense of compassion. Whether she lets the festering bitterness break her oath as a healer is yet to be seen. But she is no less a formidable player in the war that threatens to submerge all the kingdoms.

Review – No part of this review will ever be able to encompass or properly convey just how exceptional this book is. No words of praise are truly sufficient for the magic that Sarah J. Maas creates. Tower of Dawn is a chunky book at 600+ pages, but not once did I get bored or feel like it was lacklustre. Even though there aren’t a lot of cliffhangers within the book, it had enough WOW moments that I found myself squealing with joy or gasping at the story progression. The author masterfully creates a web of anticipation that keeps us hooked till the very end. The writing style is idiomatic and picturesque. You can’t help but be transported to the archaic infrastructures described so vividly. I personally would love to live in the Torre. While the plot is interesting and basic, it is the mind-blowing characterizations and themes that make this novel a home run. Every once in awhile, Sarah J. Maas would incorporate idealistic themes of a utopian world that would strongly juxtapose the world we’re living in.

Matters of disability are dealt with carefully and in a manner that rightly exposes  the sentiments of a person who has to undergo such trauma. Chaol isn’t shown to be pitiful or whiny. Instead, he takes matters into his own hands, living his life in the best possible manner from the wheelchair. That was actually very refreshing to read.  Coming to characters, there wasn’t a single one that was flat or useless. They were all brilliant beyond means and each having powerful storylines. The representation of the royal family was one of my favourite aspects of this book. When it comes to cliches, I was glad to see that the princesses and other female characters were not shown to be shy or all that benevolent. Hasar’s character is unique because she is feisty, rude and yet selectively amicable. Each member of the royal family makes for an intriguing addition. There were just so so many fantastic relationship equations that had me grinning from ear to ear. I’d definitely love to read more about Borte and Yeran, not to forget Nesryn and Sartaq. This entire book is a rollercoaster ride, one that I’m going to re-visit several times in the future. It has become one of my top favourites of all time. There’s just so much more about this book that leaves me utterly speechless. Please, I URGE you ALL to READ Tower of Dawn; it’ll steal your heart and never give it back.

What do you get out of it? Major feels. This book is all smoke and cause for hyperventilation. It presents great, wholesome characters, commendable parallel storylines and majestic airborne creatures known as ruks. What more do you want?

Rating – 5 out of 5 stars

Book Review — Domina by L.S. Hilton

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

Having gotten away with a host of crimes in Maestra, Judith Rashleigh is living the high life of an artist. But good things do come to an end, and she becomes a victim of zersetzung, a German psychological technique of messing with the opponent’s mind. All of Domina chronicles Judy’s single mission to discover the Trojan horse who betrayed her to the Russian mafia. Judy’s people skills reward her with a network of individuals who pave the path towards the boss of the mafia, Yermolov. She must further utilize her power’s of persuasion and wit to barter a good deal with the devil, so as to keep her head, at the end of the day.

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Unfortunately, Domina wasn’t better than the first book. While Maestra had substantial plot points, Domina felt like an elaborate goose chase and that too, not an interesting one. The whole book simply revolves around Judith trying to find the one person who alerted Yermolov (the big bad wolf) about her antics. It gets very monotonous and quite a few of the sections were so boring that it was a struggle. Even the places she visited felt like a weak attempt at making the book interesting. The only thing that keep me going was the expectation that L.S. Hilton’s writing had to create some kind of a blast. Because she is so on point and knowledgeable about art, it’s impressive!

Towards the end, it does pick up pace. Once Judy has found the mystery man, she quickly moves onto coming up with a game plan. And she is damn good at it! All of those sections were captivating. Moreover, the character of Judith has been altered. In this novel, we initially see her as someone who has lost her enthusiasm for blood shed and sex. She’s almost like a drone, atleast in the first half. But one thing I enjoyed about this book was getting to know her backstory. We learn of her past life and somehow, that makes her character more appealing. After the climax, you don’t know what to expect and that ambiguousness also added brownie points. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book. But I hope that L.S. Hilton comes out with something that places Judith in a different scenario.

Ratings – 2 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Maestra by L.S. Hilton

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

Judith Rashleigh, an undervalued art enthusiast begins to tire of her job at the London auction house. A chance meeting with an old friend draws her attention towards the Gstaad Club. Soon, she is rolling in money, but even such luxury comes at a price. A vacation gone wrong is the first step in her unbecoming. From there, she embarks on a journey of darkness; full of sex, swindling and swapping identities. In an attempt to escape her past, she is always on the run, thereby cornering herself into a place of bitterness and social isolation. L.S. Hilton’s Maestra is a lesson about cause and effect, delivered brutally through the peculiar persona of Judith.

The synopsis of this book does a great deal in creating an air of mystery around the story. But in actuality, once you’ve read a decent chunk of the book, you get the gist of how the rest of it is going to unfold. As such, there isn’t much of a surprise in terms of what befalls Judith. L.S. Hilton’s eye for detail is commendable. Some of the scenes are very elaborately laid out and at times, I’d lose track of what is relevant to the scene. A lot of the art terminology just flew above my head, so those sections felt a bit lackluster. Judith’s character is as normal as can be when the curtain raises. But gradually, we find out that she has some very odd tastes, very psychopathic in nature. Her sexual preferences are probably the most normal thing about her. I was quite astonished to see her character arc. Apart from the need to put her past behind her and a troublesome childhood, I couldn’t think of any reason for her alarming personality. My only hope was that she’d be redeemed towards the end.

The author paints a very intrinsic picture about the world of beauty and wealth; drawing a positive correlation between the two elements. When you factor in the extent of crimes committed and the ease with which they were brushed under the carpet, you are left wondering just how gullible security forces can be. This book is upheld by very few substantial characters – a quality I found to be impressive. In comparison to the descriptive content, there’s very little conversation between characters. And that itself depicts how reclusive and aloof Judith has become. It can be very draggy to not have a good balance of influential characters. But somehow, the author manages. Probably through the use of Judith’s fluctuating identity and adaptability to new places. One other thing I loved about the novel was the traveling. You are literally taken for a jolly ride around Europe, that too, in full glory. And you (the reader), unlike Judith, don’t have to deal with the mess she creates. All in all, I enjoyed reading Maestra; it was unlike anything I’ve read before. But I simply wish that there was a little more value in terms of story progression and thematic development. I am a bit confused as to where the second book is headed, since all the loose ends tie up nicely in this one. Check it out if this review or the plot further intrigues you.

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Selfienomics by Revant

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review 🙂

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Revant’s debut novel, Selfienomics, is a guide that attempts to enhance our quality of life by broadening our mental horizons. Through the span of these eleven chapters, he pays close attention to the various facets of our lives, drawing our attention towards how we could be living a more positive and healthy life. Interspersed with quotes and pop-culture references that back the various points made, Selfienomics induces a retrospective sphere wherein one is compelled to look at their perspective on matters of importance. It presents us with the information needed to make our own well-informed opinions.

Since I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, I wasn’t sure to what extent I’d enjoy this one. Any initial hesitation on my part, was wiped clean soon after. Revant’s witticism and flair for writing shines through from the beginning. He makes use of colloquial language, generously adding tons of hashtags and Hindi words. Fear not, for those who aren’t familiar with these non-English words and references, there’s a glossary of sorts at the back. What I found to be unique and surprisingly, very likable is the fact that he uses several business theories & principles to explain human sensibilities. And they made total sense!

Humor is definitely one of the author’s major strengths. Almost every five minutes, I was laughing out loud. While a majority of the instances delineated in the book were relatable, there were some that weren’t. At one point, I thought the finance aspect got a little too much, but then out of nowhere he’d drop a little joke and I’d be clutching my stomach with tears of laughter. I love how this book employs a great deal of positive psychology elements such as good life, health, ambition etc. Moreover, its informative, so you glean a lot from it. There’s a Dialogues and Discussion section at the end of a topic, which helps you get a better understanding of what has been spoken about and what your values are.

Revant makes a lot of realistic points, encouraging the readers to rethink their POV. He prods you to question everything you’ve learnt – be it about God, nutrition, time, jobs, society and much more. Like Derrida’s theory of Deconstruction, he systematically breaks down our thought process, highlighting how we get accustomed to think the way we do. Even though there are some things I don’t agree with, I believe that was the point of the book – to bring you clarity about where you stand. Overall, I absolutely loved this book. I’d read it again and again from time to time. I’ve probably said this multiple times before, but this book is HILARIOUS and yet it doesn’t take away from the seriousness of certain issues! It is a must read for everyone, no matter your tastes in books. I urge you to pick it up right away.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — How to Sound Really Clever by Hubert van den Bergh

Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review. 

Hubert van den Bergh’s How to Sound Really Clever is a compilation of 600 odd words that we aren’t habituated to employ in our day to day usage, be it written or spoken language. Not only does the book incorporate pictorial representations of some of the words but it also breaks down each word into pronunciation, origin and examples for smooth learning. The author’s extensive research is churned into readable paragraphs that provide us with detailed insight into how the word came into being. Therefore this novel, in addition to building your vocabulary, heightens your knowledge of world history.

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This book is more of a guide in dictionary format than a novel that you can read in one sitting.  And so, I’ve taken some time in getting familiarized with it before writing this review.  It is true what the synopsis says, some of the words in here, while being a mouthful, are truly impressive if integrated into your vocabulary. While I’ve met with some blank stares in putting these words to use, I have also experienced the joy that is in imparting the meaning of the words. I think it is very beneficial that the origin of the words is included. The sketches (of select words) are simple enough and nothing too extravagant. All in all, this book is wonderful and serves its purpose without fail. Reading a page everyday, within a month, you’re easily well versed with some great terms like mutatis mutandis, gadfly, waggish etc. It is a great coffee table book and also something that you can keep on your nightstand and read a snippet of, before you head out in the morning. I recommend this book to everyone who wants to improve their vocabulary and general knowledge in a fun, convenient way.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5.

Meera