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 — 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 — Aqson Level 1 by Sreejib

Aqson Level 1 is an action packed Indian fantasy fiction that has so many layers to it, it’s a complete feast! God and Lucifer have started a new game, the goal of which is to make their weapon the Prime Minister of India. They launch their angels onto the battlefield to defeat one another and take control of all the weapons that Nature has endowed them with. Toya Mahapatra and her friends were only getting by with their college when an unforeseen incident pulls them into the student politics scene in Kolkata. They soon realize just how influential they have become on a national level. What they fail to realize is that governing humans is but a game to God & Lucifer; unfortunately for them, they’re neck deep in the mess.

FINALLY! An Indian fantasy fiction that has been done right. When I heard about this book, I was extremely enthused at the idea of a fantasy plot being based in India. But this book just blew my expectations away. There’s so much going for it:

  • For gamers – The surface level plot being a video game with maps, rules, opponents, weapons etc. 
  • For fantasy lovers – Mythology, elemental magic, angels.
  • For politically inclined – elections, youth politics, strategising. 

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All of the above are masterfully woven into the multiple plot points that constitute the book. There’s so much more I could list, but I will leave it to you to discover. The author’s writing style is very descriptive, focusing on minute details to give you the complete picture. I liked the fact that some of the speech occurs in Bengali (there’s translation too! so don’t worry about that.) and cultural motifs have been generously sprinkled throughout the novel. In addition to being of fantasy genre, it is also laced with a certain kind of thrill and humor that makes it all the more enjoyable. There were so many mesmerizing moments where I couldn’t believe how intricate and genius the plot points were!! The world building is mind blowing. On the other hand, there were small instances that could have been more convincing. That’s something I felt could have been improved.

Speaking about characters, I downright detested Ollie a.k.a Niyol. He’s a sexist and wouldn’t stop ordering Toya around. The only time I felt remotely proud of him was during a debate (you’ll see what I’m talking about). I was also confused at times by Toya’s personality; she’d have these random outbursts. Arpita and Goenka are the two characters I liked. Arpita is dauntless, open-minded and considerate. Nevertheless, the bond that Toya, Goenka, AJ, Ollie, Rahul and Arpita share is heartwarming to say the least. They are all super protective of each other and find a sense of belonging in their tight knit group, even when things aren’t going right. I would have liked some more scenes with God and Lucifer, the little taste we get in the prologue is just not enough. Overall, I liked this book so so so much. I would recommend it to all of you fiction readers. Just give this one a try, you’ll be left speechless.

Is there a next book? Someone please tell me there’s a second book. I NEED IT ASAP.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A very unique outlook on mythology, astral travel and a refreshing glimpse of what youth could contribute to politics.

Thank you Sreejib for sending me a copy of your book in exchange for an honest 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 — 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 — 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.