Book Review — Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Just when Michael thought that they were done with the whole packing up and leaving, his parents announce otherwise. Now, he has to attend St. Clare’s Catholic School, which isn’t exactly the best place to be for an atheist like him. His presumptions of everyone being uptight and religious are flung out the window, when he gets initiated into a secret club called Heretics Anonymous. Even within the austere boundaries of this school, there exists a group of students who choose to have differing beliefs and aren’t ready to get brainwashed by the system. But when Michael takes it all a step too far, he jeopardizes everything he has worked to build.

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10 points for that cover!

What started out as a hilarious book soon turns into a bit of a serious read and rightly so. Michael’s wit and sarcasm will surely make you crack up at times. There’s such honesty in his thoughts. But underlying all that bravado you get the sense of boy flailing at his inability to stay rooted to a place, and therefore distraught by the constant disruption in his life. This is Katie Henry’s debut novel and I must admit that she has crafted a remarkable storyline. With everything that’s going on in our world, religious intolerance is something that has been cause for concern for a long time now. But do we ever stop to think how children perceive themselves through a religious angle, how do they fit into all this?

In this novel, it is very refreshing to see teenagers who are not only well informed about their choices but also standing up for their beliefs, however different they may be. When Michael joins Heretics Anonymous, he is met with a broad range of thought processes; those belonging to a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan, a Catholic Christian and others that I hadn’t even heard about. The author’s writing complements the story, in that, you feel like you’ve been taken back to your school days. It’s not wordy or hard to digest. It has everything a high-school fiction usually does – drama, betrayal, romance (puppy love?), rebelling. But on top of all that, it has some mature viewpoints too!

Michael’s relation with his father is strained but I couldn’t help feeling bad for them both. In my opinion, they are both right on their part. I just wish that they’d talked it out sooner, because it would’ve prevented a lot of negativity. I didn’t personally connect with any of the characters, but that didn’t deter me from being invested in their story. In conclusion, I did enjoy reading this book, even though I couldn’t understand the hype. If you are the kind of person who gets easily offended by religious and spiritual diversity, maybe this book is not for you. But I hope that’s not true. I hope you can pick up a book like this in good faith and just have fun reading it.

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? New perspective on religious identities and all the excitement of attending high-school.

Thank you HarperCollins for this eARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

Eden Rose McKinley and Bonnie Wiston-Stanley are bestfriends. Eden is as untameable as Bonnie is responsible and ambitious. They share all of their secrets with each other. Or so Eden thought. But one day, Bonnie just takes off, leaving Eden to deal with the repercussions of a world that comes crashing down around her. It soon comes out in the open that Bonnie has decided to flee with her music teacher, Mr. Cohn. While the police and Bonnie’s parents are chasing every clue to track them down, Eden can’t help but wonder who she is without Bonnie and if their friendship was even genuine.

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It was such a pleasant surprise to realize that this book is nothing like a typical YA contemporary. Sure it has its share of gossiping high schoolers and rebellious teenagers, but the entirety of Goodbye, Perfect focuses on what it feels like to be left behind by someone you loved and trusted the most. There are snippets of chats, newspaper articles that bind the story together. I liked the portions where Eden looks back on conversations she’s had with Bonnie, which under the present circumstances help us understand what nudged Bonnie into running away. Sara Barnard’s writing is neither over the top, nor too simple for the plot she is going after. It is her characterization and depiction of heartbreak that takes the cake!

The torrent of emotions that Eden goes through pulls at our heartstrings. On the one hand, she wants to support Bonnie when everyone is badmouthing her. But deep within, she harbors a sense of hurt and anger at Bonnie’s reckless actions. In a way, it shows that she’s gullible. Eden makes herself out to be the anti-hero, lashing out at her family and not caring about her academics, when she so clearly wants to belong somewhere, to someone. Her relationship with Connor was one of the cutest and refreshing things about this book. Some of the narrative showed just how mature Eden could be, then at other times she wouldn’t be able to think rationally. The stigma of adoption, labeling children based on their upbringing, academic pressure by society are some issues that have been addressed in this novel and I commend the author for doing that in a sensitive manner. I love how supportive and warm Eden’s family is, in comparison to that of Bonnie’s.

Final verdict – It’s a lovely book, that I would recommend to everyone who has ever felt misunderstood, or burdened or lost and to everyone who enjoys contemporary stories.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An epistolary novel that’s all about deconstructing labels and understanding the intricacies of friendship, expectations, society etc.

Review copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan India

Book Review — I’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos

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On the precipice of Clare’s wedding, Edith (a total stranger) helps her realize what a big mistake she is about to make. Gathering all her courage, Clare breaks off her engagement to kind yet temperamental Zach. Weeks of anguish later, she receives a letter that informs her of Edith’s demise and that Edith has bequeathed a vacation home to her – the Blue Sky House. When Clare moves into this scenic property, she finds two ledgers that hint at a bigger picture. In an attempt to understand who Edith was, Clare and her bestfriend, Dev embark on a journey, connecting the dots of Edith’s far and wide imprint on other’s lives; in doing so, Clare discovers more about herself than she’d ever hoped to know.

Now, the synopsis may appear to be ordinary, but PLEASE DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THIS BOOK. It is spellbinding, heartbreaking and basically, a huge warm hug! I am still hungover. The author’s writing style is poetic in bringing out the minute imageries of every scene. You get to read the chapters from Edith and Clare’s perspectives alternatively; which means you are shuffling between two time periods – the 1950s and the present. When you get to the end of the book, this structure will make perfect sense, as everything falls into place magically. Some of the initial chapters from Edith’s perspective were a little too slow paced which deterred me from really getting into her side of the story. But once you cross the first 20-30 pages, you can’t help but be in awe of Edith. The storyline is beautiful; it creates a tidy little package of what it means to be alive, paying tribute to seemingly all human experiences.

Some of the themes explored in this novel are that of mystery, domestic violence, mental health, self-discovery, familial bonds and unconditional love. But as you read I’ll Be Your Blue Sky, you begin to notice just how much more flavor has been infused into it. You’d think that nothing could top off the very plot and her writing style, but hands down, this has some of the best characters I’ve ever read! No fluff or 1 dimensional characters. Each and every person in this book has such a unique vibe. It seriously made me reconsider what kind of characters I have been reading about for so long. Zach, although not one of the main characters, is highly bipolar and affects the story on a different tangent. I truly appreciate how violent and abusive behavior is dealt with throughout this novel. Edith, a female character to look upto, is righteous and so full of love for everyone. She has this knowing persona that convinces you she is more than just-a-normal-lady.

Also, what a complex family unit! Thank you for making me love the idea of large families. I wouldn’t say that this book is heavy on romance, because it goes above and beyond the love between a couple. Especially with regards to Dev and Clare’s equation, I feel like the author has hit home run in conveying something precious and real. Having said all that (I still want to say more), I want you to understand that no review would ever do full justice to what this book presents to its reader. It fills my heart and soul to have immersed in the multi-tiered stories that Marisa de los Santos has penned down. If this book doesn’t win a Goodreads Choice Award in 2018, then I’d be so so disappointed! A MUST READ. Just please pick it up once it releases. Please.

Ratings – 4.5 out of 5 stars.

What do you get out of it? Life. This book breathes life into its audience as it unearths the life stories of several people bound by fate and blood. It stands for everything I love about writing and reading.

Thank you HarperCollins and Edelweiss for giving me access to an e-galley in exchange for a review. 

Book Review — From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

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Sixteen-year-old Twinkle Mehra is an aspiring filmmaker, looking for her big break. So when it comes in the form of her all-time crush, Neil Roy’s geeky brother, Sahil Roy, she decides to give it a go. Their school is hosting the Midsummer Night, an event that would present her with the golden opportunity to screen her film. All her life, Twinkle has felt sidelined and now, she is ready to be in the spotlight for a change. As Sahil and Twinkle work together, there builds an undeniable attraction between the two. But Twinkle is determined to not let go of her hopes of being Neil’s girlfriend; thereby putting her friendship with Sahil in jeopardy. With fame and authority clouding her mind, Twinkle risks losing herself entirely.

After having read and loved When Dimple Met Rishi, I was certain that I would love this book too. But that wasn’t the case. No doubt, it was a fun read; it’s just that I didn’t really like Twinkle. The author’s writing style is colloquial and fits so well with the tone of a sixteen year old that you won’t realize it hasn’t been written by a teenager. I find it really commendable when authors are able to adapt their writing style to the characters and cultures they are writing about. The plot explores several themes like social exclusion, familial discord, high school hierarchy etc. This is an epistolary novel, where the story is told through Twinkle’s diary entries addressed to female filmmakers who are her inspiration. That’s something I really liked. It was interesting to see what she took away from the works of a particular filmmaker.

The reason why I didn’t like Twinkle’s character as much is that she came off as a person who complained a lot. She’s either constantly whining about having lost her bestfriend or she’s swooning over Neil (even when things were happening between her and Sahil) and the fact that the popular kids don’t give her the time of the day. I understand where she’s coming from and I’m not being insensitive to her problems. But when there’s a 300 odd paged novel with a protagonist who is mature enough to want to make quality films, you’d expect the focus to be a little less on her complaints. Thankfully, Neil Roy – who is good looking, desirable, great at academics and athletic – isn’t our MC.  Sahil, who has been foreshadowed by his twin brother, Neil is a very supportive, patient and understanding character. He stood by Twinkle’s side even when I was (mentally) yelling at her. I also wasn’t particularly happy with Maddie. She simply doesn’t know the definition of being a bestfriend; abandoning Twinkle and not giving a damn about her feelings. On the whole, this book was moderately fun to read, if you don’t count the times I got annoyed with the characters. I hope Sandhya Menon’s next novel, When Ashish Met Sweetie is just as good as When Dimple Met Rishi. 

Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? An entertaining read about high schoolers and the things that drive them.

Thank you Sandhya Menon for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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When Dimple Met Rishi tells the story of two individuals brought together by the age-old Indian custom of arranged marriage. Rishi Patel’s parents set him up with Dimple Shah, and ever the dutiful son, he agrees to head to Insomnia Con to meet her. On the other hand, Dimple is the least bit interested in getting married. All that’s on her mind is to win the ultimate web development championship at Insomnia Con and meet her idol, Jenny Lindt. So when her parents agree to send her for the summer program, she can’t believe her luck! Little does she know her parents’ ulterior motive. As is bound to happen, when Dimple and Rishi meet, a whole lot of drama ensues.

This book is 40% cheesy and a 110% hilarious! I had such a good time reading it. There were a couple of instances when the narrative became a little too romanticized, and not very realistic. But it didn’t bother me enough to dislike the book. In all sincerity, I feel that the depiction of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) is not cliched or heavily influenced by Bollywood films. The fact that the author uses cultural motifs frequently made me like this book more (better rep and all). You can very well understand the mentality of an Indian who has grown up abroad, having to juggle between two cultures. The story is told from the perspective of the two characters in alternating chapters. Sandhya Menon’s writing style is casual and inviting, imbued with Hindi phrases for an authentic touch. She has nailed down the humour so much so that I couldn’t stop laughing/ grinning for a majority of the novel. It gives you all the feels.

This book could easily have been very stereotypical, but what I really liked is that the author starts out with certain stereotypes and over the course of the book, bulldozes through them; thereby sending across a different message. Rishi and Dimple’s characters are quite contrasting depending on the situation. She is always at loggerheads with her mother about what she wants out of life. And so I was surprised to see that she couldn’t hold her own in a social scenario. When she gets bullied, Rishi is the one who gets all riled up. Sometimes (especially towards the end) I found Dimple to be unreasonable. That said, their relationship is not one of insta-love. It goes through many phases. Since the setting of this book is a college, there’s a good deal of rivalry and tension. Dimple and Celia’s friendship was just as fun to read about as Rishi and his brother, Ashish’s equation. On the whole, I really enjoyed reading this book and look forward to reading more of Sandhya Menon’s works. If you’re in the mood for a YA romance, you should definitely pick it up.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A hilarious Indian chick lit, that explores stereotypes and then squashes them to give you the heartwarming story of two individuals fighting to achieve their dreams.