Book Review — One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

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Five students with distinct identities are seemingly tricked into detention, but what comes after that is no joke. One of them is dead and the four who walk out aren’t exactly blameless. They all have an ax to grind with the dead boy, Simon. You see, he was to set in motion a series of events that would threaten to ruin their lives. But now, they’re doomed to a fate of harsh judgment, discrimination and possible social isolation. While their world is being ripped apart by the police and media, they find solace in unexpected ways. The truth about Simon’s death is a lot closer than they think.

The premise of this book is so fantastic that I knew I’d love it. You couldn’t possibly go wrong with a mystery like that. But unfortunately, it all fell flat after the beginning. The initial couple of chapters are interesting because we are slowly submerged into their world, trying to understand the characters and the storyline. After that I felt like the story wasn’t progressing AT ALL. Almost three forth of the novel comprises of the students being questioned time and again by detectives, with no leads whatsoever. And that was frustrating. The only saving grace in 66% of the novel was Bronwyn and Nate’s chemistry. That being said, the rest 34% of the novel was as mind blowing as I’d hoped the whole novel to be. It was fast paced, the characters were actively contributing to the plot, the mystery was getting solved, additional themes were being established.

The author’s writing style is great, because it builds the right kind of atmosphere, encouraging you to try to put the pieces together. I just wished that a majority of the novel had as much depth. Because the synopsis is evidence to how much potential this novel had. It resembles Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game to a great extent and I loved that quality! The novel follows some tropes like that of the bad boy lead, geeky girl protagonist and high school hierarchy. While it addresses important issues like that of peer pressure, bullying, depression etc, it doesn’t add much value in terms of how to tackle those concerns. On the other hand, it’s treatment of gay sexuality is commendable. I liked how the climax played out and little else. I’m one of those few people who didn’t really love the book.

Rating – 2 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Against All Odds by Danielle Steel

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

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Against All Odds comes together in the most seamless manner, portraying all the sentiments and decisions that knit a family close together. Kate Madison, after the death of her husband, has adeptly managed bringing up 4 children. She has also made a name for herself in the fashion world with the success of her clothing resale store, Still Fabulous. Now that her children are all grown up, she is more worried than ever, for they seem to be testing fate and making irrational decisions. Izzie, Kate’s oldest daughter, has fallen for a drug addict, with no job and no sense of responsibility. Justin, one of her twins, is planning to have children with his gay partner outside of wedlock. Whereas his sister, Julie can’t fathom the change in tide that threatens to rip her apart from her family. Willie, the youngest of the four leads a sparkling life, disparate from his family, who know nothing about his whereabouts. Despite her warnings, Kate’s children are hell bent on having their way and pay no heed to her. How she manages to protect them is a tale told in delicate and homely fashion in this novel by Danielle Steel.

Family drama is a genre right up my alley and this one was no different. It has all the makings of a winter, cozy read, while still exposing you to the alarming nature of some people in this world. It brings to light the woes of a single mother, who stops at nothing to prevent her children from making mistakes. Danielle Steel’s writing style is very comforting and easy to grasp. Her descriptions aren’t heavy, but just right. One thing I found odd is the repetitive sentences, i.e. a single sentence would be written in two different ways back to back, which made the paragraph a little monotonous. Some scenes weren’t as fluid as they could have been. Apart from that, I have no complaints. The way this story is narrated is quite different from Danielle Steel’s other novels.

The plot is wonderful and circles three generations of a family, along with their differing perspectives. Grandma Lou is a fun-loving character, without a worry and brings to life the term “wanderlust”. While she shares her daughter, Kate’s concerns occasionally, she has a more modern approach to parenting. Kate, on the other hand, takes way too much stress. I guess, it’s understandable. But at times, she’s bit of a hypocrite. Izzie and Julie’s characters were beyond my comprehension. They failed to see what was right in front of their eyes, particularly for girls of such high caliber jobs. I wished they had been smarter in dealing with their personal lives and had been more open with the rest of the family. I liked the section’s pertaining to Justin’s story a lot. His determination to start a family of his own perfectly reflects the values that were passed down to him. I loved the bond that all six of them share. It was the highlight of the novel. Willie doesn’t make much of an appearance in the book, except for the last couple of chapters. Initially, you are wont to think that Kate’s fears are irrational. But as the story progresses, I began to wonder if she was a psychic or not. There’s nothing extraordinary about this book, but the emotions that hold it together, makes it so endearing. I definitely enjoyed reading it and I’d recommend the book to all those who like Contemporary Fiction.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review — Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything brings to light the adverse effects of being neglected by one’s family and the importance of social support to build one’s esteem. Sydney has always felt disregarded, for her family only ever pays attention to her elder brother Peyton.  In their eyes, Peyton could never do anything wrong, after all, he is the very essence of good upbringing. Until he finally does. Even then, they refuse to acknowledge Sydney for being the mature, well-behaved daughter that she is. Overwhelmed by the untoward behavior of her brother, Sydney seeks solace in a new environment. She meets the Chatham family, who welcome her with great affection. They become her otherworldly escape; from the callousness of her mother, indifference of her father, remorselessness of her brother and leery ways of Ames, the “family friend”. A touching read, Saint Anything is like hot chocolate on a cold morning.

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I have always been a fan of anything and everything that Sarah Dessen writes. Needless to say, i grew up reading her books about introverted girls and handsome boys next door. Her characters and plots are the very substance that makes the content of psychology text books come alive. Through her stories, she stresses on the importance of family, friends and love in one’s life; the wonders that these three elements can do are shown exemplarily. Saint Anything is no different, if not even more lovely. The way Sydney’s story has been narrated, you can’t help but sympathize with her. Sarah Dessen’s writing style has always been on point. She draws you in and makes you a part of the story.

The only thing that bothered me a great deal was Sydney’s stubborn refusal to speak up for herself. She would tolerate the most excruciating of circumstances without a word, although, one can always consider that a brave endurance on her part. You can see some of the self-righteousness seep into her once she gets close to the Chathams. The entire family is so lovable. They were part of the highlight of the novel, for me. The Chathams aren’t pretentious or greedy. They are so beautifully simple. Whereas, Sydney’s family is so infuriating. They are careless and think of themselves to be mighty. This novel covers Sydney’s metamorphosis . I loved reading it and would definitely recommend it to all those interested in Contemporary Fiction. It was an absolute lyrical delight!

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

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A group of eight friends travel to Aruba, determined to have a rambunctious time away from their daily routine of school and family. Days that were meant to be spent in carefree splendor begin to go horribly awry when Elise goes missing. No one notices it at first, after all Elise is the quintessential party girl – bold, rebellious and a risk taker. Everyone is distraught when they find her body, but as the days pass, hidden sentiments become clearer. Could one of them have been driven to commit such an atrocious crime?

Abigail Haas’ writing is so spectacular that I finished this book in one sitting. It was the perfect thriller – gripping, not too predictable and fast paced. Chapters shuffle between different timelines and yet they come together seamlessly. Almost as if you were reading different pages of Anna’s diary. I really liked the structure of the novel. It goes back and forth between three main periods – before the accident in Aruba; before Aruba and after the accident in Aruba. I think this structured chaos sort of added to the build up of the climax. The plot is not unique as it follows tropes that have been explored previously, such as that of friends vacationing only to face trouble later, girl liking the popular jock in school etc. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, nevertheless.

I liked Lamar’s character a lot more than Tate’s. To me, Anna and Tate’s relationship wasn’t very convincing, even though he was nice to her and everything. Anna and Elise’s friendship is infectious. They were each other’s saving grace. So much so that it bothered quite a few people. Also, Chelsea and Max didn’t really have much of a presence throughout the book. I still can’t figure out what their purpose was.  But the ending made up more than enough for the little flaws. The ending is a smack in the face, a crash into reality and how astoundingly crooked it can be. I really really liked this novel and would recommend it to everyone in the mood for a suspenseful read. It is simply unputdownable. I will certainly be picking up the author’s other works.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

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

In Love Letters to the Dead, Ava Dellaira chronicles the heart-wrenching process that Laurel goes through, trying to cope with the loss of her elder sister, May. After May’s death, Laurel begins to blame herself, as her parents go their own way. Dealing with loss of identity and social withdrawal, Laurel finds solace in writing letters to dead artists. She gains inspiration from their life and works, and is able to express all that she is holding in. But sooner or later, she must open up to her friends, even at the risk of losing them, so as to not lose her own sense of self.

I love epistolary novels. This one is in the form of letters that Laurel writes to deceased people, talking about her day and how everything and everyone around her has changed after May’s death. The tone of the book is melancholic and yet there is a fierceness in it because of Laurel’s resolve to keep her sister alive within herself. Some of the themes that are predominant in this book are loss, abuse and love. The author’s writing style is like ripples in the water. It prods the stillness in Laurel’s life while smoothening out the tangles in others’. Nature has been used quite often to symbolize Laurel’s emotions leading to vivid imageries that I rather liked. Another thing I enjoyed reading were the snippets of poetry that were incorporated into the story.

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Some cliches that could have been done away with were the high school social hierarchy, the negativity towards LGBTQ+, the brooding silent hero etc. The characters are seemingly very realistic and not overdone. Tristan’s character is so exceptionally outlined and is my favorite of them all. He uplifted Laurel and even though, mostly he is shown to be this goofy-musician type person, he is wise and agreeable. Laurel’s younger persona broke me, largely because of how pure and wholehearted her love for her sister is. Even though her family is not always in the best form, she and May were each other’s anchor. It is upsetting how her family falls apart, and she is almost stranded on an island of suffering by herself. But it also shows in her growth arc, how she manages to pull herself out of that phase. I just wish her Mum and Dad had been more involved. They were very passive characters. This novel melts your heart into a gooey marshmallow. It is humbling and grounding. Do pick it up and know that, after all the blubbering, like Laurel, you’ll be in a better place too.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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

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The Sinclairs are a grand family, ruled by their traditions and austere views of life. But Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and Gat think differently. They are the Liars. And they won’t be bound by the ostentation, materialism and politics that go hand in hand with being a part of the Sinclair family.

I am still reeling from the shock that is this book. Reviewing it is a matter of treading on thin ice, lest I spoil the beauty of it for someone else. E. Lockhart has has truly hit a home run with this one. Firstly, I absolutely loved the form of storytelling. It’s choppy and verse-like, without long sentences. At times, it completely overrules grammatical syntax. But then it all gels so well, that I had no issues with her style of writing. Secondly, the plot is so exceptionally thought out and filled in, that up until the very end, I couldn’t guess the “truth”. When i finally read the last section, it felt like I had been hit by a bulldozer. And so, this book is not predictable by a long shot. The author uses repetitions, hyperboles and metaphors to convey the mental anguish that Cadence faces in her quest to learn the truth behind her accident.

Beechwood Island offers the perfect vacation to the Liars and their family. It is their summer haven, a place they retreat to for a couple of months to getaway from their city life. To me, it resembled the high standards and paradoxes (the cracks in the foundation) of their lives. I found the mothers and Grandad’s character to be so annoyingly uptight. And I wish they had been less compelling with their expectations. Johnny and Mirren had more of a carefree attitude. Gat is the intellectual one of the lot. He reads a lot and questions everything. Cadence is a different sort of a protagonist. Some of her thoughts make you second guess whether it is true or not. The themes that are predominant in this novel are mystery, mental illness, greed and recklessness. This book is an apt example of why I am a bibliophile. I can’t get over the splendid storytelling. Although I can’t fathom why it has received so many average reviews despite its quality content, I definitely recommend it to all who love a good mystery. I loved it so very much.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5

Meera

Book Review — Paper Towns by John Green

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

Paper Towns starts off as your typical high school story, complete with parties and prom, dating troubles and unrequited love. Quentin Jacobsen has always loved Margo Roth Spiegelman, his childhood friend who grew distant after high school politics got in the way. And so when she appears out of nowhere at Quentin’s window, demanding that he help her carry out an all night revenge plan, he complies. Unfortunately for Quentin, he gets his hopes up, beginning to wonder if they will finally become the friends they were meant to be. However, the next day presents a varied truth. Margo has not only gone missing, but she’s left behind clues with which to be found. As Quentin and his friends embark on a speedy road trip, they begin to wonder if they had ever really known Margo at all.

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Having read a book by John Green before, I was certain I would enjoy this one. But I hadn’t expected to absolutely love it. Not even three-fourth into it, did I think it would be a book worth reading again. But here’s where John Green’s writing bolsters the story. The last few chapters become so much more than a high school story. The philosophy behind it all is sure to reach out to anyone, as we are all merely trying to find our place in this world. Interspersed with several Whitman quotes and references to other literary figures’ works (which I loved reading), Paper Towns shows us that paper (two dimensional) people and paper places have a life of their own. The moment something is put down on paper it is infused with some of the creator’s soul. The idea behind the paper towns reminded me of Wislawa Szymborska’s poem, The Joy of Writing – “Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?” In keeping with this idea, Margo becomes one with her writing. Her escapades enact her, rather than the other way around.

For a majority of time, I disliked the character of Margo Spiegelman. She appeared to be insensitive to Quentin’s feelings, was rather self centered and attention seeking. And throughout their road trip, I kept wondering why they didn’t turn around. Why were all these people incessantly looking for a person who didn’t want to be found? But you come to understand, as did Quentin, Margo’s perspective towards the end. While it isn’t ideal, it is understandable. While road trips are all fun and games, it does test your strengths. This scavenger hunt of sorts definitely increased the appeal of road trips for me. Quentin, Ben and Radar’s friendship was one of the highlights of the book. They are the kind of friends who would set aside even the most important of matters when the other needs them. I wished Margo could have better understood Lacey. They could have been fast friends too, after everything Lacey did for her. There’s enough humor in the book to crack you up occasionally. It was a splendid story, one that I will read again. I recommend it to all those who haven’t read it yet.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera