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 — 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 — There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

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Osborne, Nebraska seldom draws attention from the outside. It is a quaint little place where everybody knows everybody. But when students of Osborne High start to become victims of a serial killer, the entire world tunes in. There’s a pattern to these killings, which none other than Makani Young and her friends are able to notice. Unfortunately for them, the devious killer is always one step ahead, messing with the minds of his next victims. Would they have to fend for themselves in a town where the police seem incapable of solving the case?

In true YA murder-mystery fashion, this book involved a good chunk of school drama and suspense. That was exactly what roped me in. It was one of those books for which I read the synopsis and had to pick it up the very next second. What’s sad to see is that the poor ratings of this book stem from the fact that it doesn’t border on paranormal even though it is categorized as horror. Certainly it is evident that horror doesn’t merely pertain to that which is supernatural, it is in fact the emotion elicited from being spooked. And boy does the serial killer know how to horrify his/her victims before he/she goes in for the kill! I know that Stephanie Perkins’ writing is highly hyped because of her YA romance novels, but never having read anything written by her, I didn’t know what to expect. I really really enjoyed reading There’s Someone Inside Your House. It was written in a very chatty and smooth manner, such that you can breeze through it. The narration is easy to grasp and doesn’t disconnect from the story. As with any suspense, you attempt to guess who the culprit may be throughout the book, but in this one it is not predictable by a long shot.

The characterization isn’t all that unique, because the author employs some tropes relevant to high school hierarchies. The male lead is shown to be brooding, quiet and slightly secretive. The “jock” is inevitably a douche. There isn’t much substance on secondary characters except for when they are in danger of being attacked. Mostly everyone performs the role of furthering the plot, by creating an air of whodunnit. Even though the plot isn’t complicated or filled with twists and turns, you find yourself bewildered by how the story progresses. Fair warning to people who can’t stomach gore, the killings are quite brutal. Those who love books like Pretty Little Liars, One Of Us Is Lying and Dangerous Girls, should definitely pick up this one; you won’t be disappointed for sure.

What do you get out of it? A fun, thrilling read.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

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 — 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 — Born at Midnight by C.C Hunter

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For a long time, the only thing Kylie Galen had to worry about was her parents constant bickering. She is in for a drastic change of environment when a night of partying goes wrong and her mother decides to ship her off to a strange camp. For someone struggling to come to terms with the reality that her household is in tatters, she is dunked headfirst into the world of supernaturals. But Kylie refuses to submit, she knows she doesn’t belong there. She struggles with her identity, wishing she could go back home and be away from the cacophony. Even if it means going back to a family that doesn’t really care for her.

This book was brimming with several cliches that have been doing the rounds for awhile now. Filled with love triangles, enmity between clans and family secrets, Born at Midnight reads a lot like many other paranormal romances, but I devoured it nevertheless. I love C.C Hunter’s writing style. It was catchy and intriguing. Even though there were some things that irked me, I wanted to finish it. The backdrop of this novel is great and the way the author describes the setting, made me want to teleport there.

However, one of the major minus points, for me, in this novel was the characterization. I didn’t really like Kylie a lot. She seemed very undecided for a majority of the novel – not only about her love life but also about whether she wanted to continue staying at the camp. Lucas has been made out to be the brooding, villainous character who doesn’t speak a lot. Her roommates – Della and Miranda – are at each other’s throats constantly, which got a little annoying after a point of time. The pace of the novel is good and peaks at the right time. I really liked the ending and I am curious about what will happen in the sequel. But I don’t know if I would read it anytime soon. Overall, it was a decent book, just nothing extraordinary.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

Meera

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