Tag: Book Recommendation

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”

rain-and-book-seven-deaths-evelyn-hardcastle-stuart-turtonIs it possible to miss a book once you’ve finished it?

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton is quite a book – both in content and size. [The edition I received is called The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, but to quote the author Stuart Turton (from Goodreads): “‘Seven Deaths’ and ‘7 1/2 Deaths‘ are exactly the same. We had a clash in the US and had to change the title there, hence 7 1/2. Don’t worry, you’re getting exactly the same amount of murder for your money, though.”] As I was/am going through a whole phase, I’m a tad intimidated by books that are on the heavier side. Obviously one of the advantages of reading it on a Kindle is you don’t quite know what you’re signing up for. In the case of Seven Deaths, I was hooked right from the opening line, “I forget everything between footsteps.”

The book starts with a man waking up in a forest, with no memory of anything except for a name: Anna. He hears a scuffle and is convinced Anna has been murdered and a man whom he assumes to be the murderer hands him a compass. Using the compass, he finds his way out of the forest and reaches Blackheath, where preparations for a ball are underway. Servants and maids are running around, cleaning, arranging, decorating… He runs into a few of the guests, including a doctor, and they tell him his name is Sebastian Bell. He tries to reconcile his thoughts with the man he now knows he is. In the meantime, he meets Evelyn, the daughter of the Hardcastles of Blackheath, who spends most of her time in Paris and has returned for this ball. It is revealed that the ball is being held on the anniversary of the death of Evelyn’s youngest brother and the same guests who were present that day have been invited for this event. All of this is a lot for Sebastian to process. However, that’s the least of his troubles, for when he wakes up the next morning…
… he isn’t Sebastian Bell at all.

He is doomed to repeat the same day multiple times, each time waking up as a different person, a witness to the event that the title of the book alludes to.

When I realized what was going on, my mind immediately went to David Levithan’s Every Day. Unlike that one, Seven Deaths has body hopping as well as time travel. I’m not a fan of time travel usually – it leads to too many questions and there are always continuity problems that just cannot be explained. I kept all those doubts aside and just delved into the story.

What’s really impressive about this book is, even though it has so many named characters, at no point do you feel it’s an overload of information – each character has a distinct voice and a well-defined role to play. I quite liked the characters of Ravencourt, Dance and Rashton. The three serve as hosts on three different days and have the sharpest minds in the story. Dance’s sadness added an emotional side to this mystery.

In most books, around the 80-85% mark, the climax is done with and you’re just waiting for it to be tied up with a bow. No tying up here – for even at 90% you’re on a rollercoaster ride realizing all the information you’ve received so far is only half the mystery. The book keeps you on the edge until the last page – gripping and completely unputdownable, especially so in the last few chapters. It’s incredible, completely unreal!

The early reviews of this book have called it Nolan-esque and Agatha Christie-ly atmospheric. Both of these comparisons are apt. Add in a bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the mix for the brilliance that are the last few chapters.

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle from NetGalley/Sourcebooks Landmark

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

“There was, it seemed, no Eleanor-shaped social hole for me to slot.” 

A part of my mind appears to have grown old, very old. Although its back is bent and its joints hurt, it’s leaning on a walking stick, determined to keep walking. Unfortunately for me, it is this part of my mind that controls my reading. Fortunately for me, that determination is rather strong in the face of everything. Anything could block its path, but it doesn’t look like it’ll give up. Or so I hope.

sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-a-book-one-teaaspoon-cellophaneWhile I was browsing NetGalley sometime last year, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine caught my eye – whether it was the title or the cover, I can’t say. I requested for it but sadly did not get a copy (it says “Your request is pending”, but when half a year’s gone by, you know it’s never gonna be approved). So I got a copy from elsewhere – bang in the middle of my reading block (that I’ve written so much about that I think it’s unnecessary to refresh anyone’s memory). It took me a while to finish it – a much longer time than a book of this length and this excellence warrants. But that old part of my mind is hella persistent! The fact that this book is what it is surely helped my determination.

Is Eleanor Oliphant completely fine?

The book introduces us to its socially inept protagonist as she is going about her day, monotonously, following her time table. She’s often ignored (sometimes teased) by her colleagues who cannot quite figure her out. Eleanor is aware that she isn’t whom they consider “normal” or “ordinary” or “regular”, but she constantly feels it is they who are weird. Her life pretty much revolves around her job, her bottle of vodka, and weekly calls with her mother. One day, she runs into her colleague Raymond from the IT department. They see an old man collapse on the street and take him to the hospital.
This incident sets off a series of changes in Eleanor’s life.

At first, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine gave off a distinctly A Man Called Ove vibe. The fact that both Eleanor and Ove are misanthropes is probably what contributed to it. Also that they’re both trying to purchase a computer without much of an idea what kind of a computer they’re looking for. But this is where the similarities end.

Don’t get me wrong when I say this – I liked A Man Called Ove, but not nearly as much as everyone else did. I don’t think it deserved all the hype it received. Yes, it was heartwarming and sweet, but it isn’t the best book I’ve read nor will it come close. Eleanor Oliphant is on a whole other plane of brilliance. It’s a book with a pulse – an undercurrent. Every page of it made me feel like there was something under its skin. Something moving, restless, angry. What the title doesn’t give away is this book’s darkness. A darkness you’re surrounded by but one that doesn’t consume you (think of how pissed off Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen made you feel). It isn’t present to shock you, but you are aware of it. Like I said, it is an undercurrent. The first couple of chapters do not point to it, and yet, there’s an unsettling feeling in your heart – you know something is about to happen and not everything is as it seems on the surface.

The last chapter practically took my breath away. It is not shocking in that deliberate way (again – think of Eileen and the tricks its author employed only for shock value), but it creeps up on you, lingers without attempting to do so.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a book that you must experience, not just read. Its subtleties and nuances need to be felt. It’s a story of strength and acceptance and it speaks to you without trying too hard.

And you close the book feeling, in spite of everything, completely fine.

Amazon | Goodreads

 

The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One, by Amanda Lovelace

“i don’t consider myself
a spidery, spiteful, spitfire woman,

but if i’m never going to be whole again,
then neither are you.”

rainandabook-the-witch-doesnt-burn-this-oneThe Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One. I find that title to be a powerful one – one that makes you stand up, take notice, stop what you’re doing and listen. One that shouts we’re done taking shit lying down. One that announces, we’re women, and we’re tired of being burnt at stake because our only crime is that of being women.

This is the second collection of poetry from the series Women are Some Kind of Magic by Amanda Lovelace. The first was The Princess Saves Herself in This One. The book is divided into sections with poems exploring themes such as abuse, violence, politics, periods, self-acceptance, healing and more. A lot of the poetry was hard-hitting and struck a chord with me. Let’s be honest – it struck several chords! I was highlighting furiously as I read, and one of my favorites in the collection is the poem below:

some
fathers
will
cracked
their
daughter’s
teeth
with skinned
knuckles
&
when
her lover’s
fist
comes
for her
she will
offer him
an open-lipped
smile.

“it’s just like home,”
she’ll say.

This brought a lump to my throat.

However, I do have some mixed feelings about this book, looking at it objectively through the lens of a book reviewer. I’m the last person on earth who would call herself a poetry snob or poetry purist, so let’s get that out of the way. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking that hitting Return after every word doesn’t turn a sentence into a poem. Of course, any and all rules of literature and poetry are meant to be broken, toyed with, played jump-rope with. Creative liberties are fine and a right to be exercised. But…
Every
Word
In
A
New
Line?

Maybe that’s just me. Moving on to other things, I found some of the poems to be repetitive, like they were in a similar vein, conveying similar ideas. I also felt I’d read some of it before.

My biggest grouse with the book has to be the misandry though. I know this is being promoted as a feminist book, and yes, for the most part that’s exactly what it is, and I applaud it. I’m a rather loud feminist myself, so every voice added to feminism is something I’m beyond grateful for. But there’s a thin line between feminism and misandry which I’m afraid the poet has not only crossed but justified it. I understand where she is coming from and I share the sentiment, and I also understand this volume would not have been this angry or this relevant had it not been written this way. But the chapter where misandry is justified did not sit well with me, because the answer to misogyny is not misandry. That will just skew the world in the opposite direction, but it will remain skewed. In fighting the villains, we must not become the villains.

For these reasons, while I really liked the collection, I cannot bring myself to bump it up to 4*. I’ll keep the rating at 3.5. That said, I still feel it’s a relevant book and everyone should read it. It will get you riled up enough to not let anyone treat you like a doormat. Even a certain dickhead masquerading as a President somewhere in the world.

Goodreads | Amazon

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review from NetGalley/Andrew McMeel Publishing. My review is honest and unbiased.

 

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

“All I have are the songs crashing together in my head. They’re all sad. They’re all bitter. And they’re all I have.”

rain-and-a-book-nick-norah-infinite-playlist-cohn-levithanIf you saw my little note on Goodreads, then you know that I was not sure if I was going to review Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But it occurred to me that not talking about this book on my blog would be highly unfair. Not in recent times has a book moved me so much or, for the lack of a less cliched phrase, filled my lonely, dark, black hole of a heart with so much joy.

Whenever I talk about David Levithan, this is the first book people point me to (although I don’t know why I still pushed it a little far down my list). David Levithan as an author is not just someone I admire and look up to but also someone who has some kind of influence on me. When I read him, there have been times when I’ve felt it’s something I wrote, or if it was something written exclusively for me. I don’t just mean that in the sense that I connect to it or relate to it in a way we do with so many writers. It’s more like his work is like my security blanket. I discovered him last year and although I’d resolved to read only one book each by the authors I chose (in order to increase the number and genres of books I read), I ended up breaking that resolve for Levithan. I think, if I may be so bold to admit it, I’m a little bit in love with him because of his writing.

I had not heard of Nick and Norah before I started reading Levithan, or even the movie of the same name (which is, I hear, quite popular). I was skeptical at first because this is a collaboration project, and I wondered how it would turn out. In the past I’ve tried to get two writers to do collab projects with me, and they both politely declined stating “What if it doesn’t work out” as the reason. Oh well. I’m glad Levithan and Rachel Cohn did not say that to each other. (Speaking of Cohn – I’ve not read any of her works, so reccos are welcome!)

A lot of us are against books with their movie tie-in covers (I still have quite a few in my collection. I generally try not to look at the cover if it bothers me.) But in the case of Nick and Norah, I fell in love with the cover as well. Not that I have any particular liking for Michael Cera or Kat Dennings (I’ve seen way too much Arrested Development and Two Broke Girls for that), but seeing that cover made me feel things that other authors of this genre have failed to. I’m not being partial here. I’ve seen the original cover as well, the one that looks a bit like Eleanor and Park (which still gets credit for being the book through which I eventually discovered Levithan – it was a whole YA trail I had to walk through), and I still like the movie tie-in cover of the edition that I have better.

The story begins with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes, and her responding with a kiss. They are both avoiding the same person – Nick’s ex Tris. Later, as Norah goes searching for her friend (who’s passed out drunk somewhere), Nick’s friends ask her to take him out for the night, because he has been spending too much time pining for Tris. They promise to drop her friend home safe and sound. And thus begins a very memorable night – for Nick, Norah, and the readers.

The story is intermeshed with music – Nick is a member of a band, he’s written songs for Tris, songs whose lyrics Norah had read even before she knew who Nick was. There are also numerous references to other popular bands (“The Cure. What do they think they’re the cure for? Happiness?”). Even the Acknowledgments page is a playlist. It’s one of the books I danced with, and swayed along with the music. There may be other books with their own “soundtrack” so to speak, but this is the one that transported me to that night. Norah’s indecisiveness regarding whether to give Nick a chance, Nick’s heartbreak that slowly heals during the course of the night – all of it was almost magical to read.

It is difficult to explain why this book made me feel all the things it did (yes, the point of this review should be to explain that, but sometimes words fail), but the main reason, it seems, is that it’s a story about moving on. It’s a story of two healed hearts. It’s a story where things change drastically in one night for the better for two lost, heartbroken people. There, right there, is a story worth reading, a book worth recommending. So go on, mend your broken heart. Find your cure.

The Cure. For the Ex’s? I’m sorry, Nick. You know. Will you kiss me again?

(PS: After reading Nick and Norah, I also read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by the same authors. There’s a reference to the above quote – a happy reminder of how all these characters are in the same universe, which makes them more real somehow)

Goodreads | Amazon

 

Big Mushy Happy Lump, by Sarah Andersen

“Swimsuit season is coming up! Better get beach-body ready! Work on those abs! Lift those butts! Um… no. Forget all that and just be a lump. A Big Mushy Happy Lump!”

big-happy-mushy-lumpSarah Andersen is my new hero. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, (and one with poor internet connectivity; not one of the better caves), you’ve heard of Sarah’s Scribbles – those insanely relate-able comics about life and adulthood and everything in between. Her first book, Adulthood is a Myth won the Goodreads Choice Award for Graphic Novels & Comics (2016). I am yet to grab a copy of it, though it has been on my TBR since it came out. Following this, I feel almost honoured that I got an ARC of her second book through NetGalley (Netgalley rules!)

In this second collection, Sarah talks about important things – female friendship, growing up, social anxiety and introversion, cats. What could be more important than cats, really?! I was already familiar with some of the strips in this book, thanks to Facebook (and yes, these I’d seen before quitting FB), such as this one:

big-happy2
Copyright: Sarah Andersen

This one was one of my favourites, and I remember seeing variations of it on the net that pissed me off. Sarah’s work had been stolen, reworked and frankly, wasn’t half as good as the original. In Big Happy Mushy Lump, she has dedicated a chapter to art thieves. It won’t stop plagiarism as we know it (sadly), but it’s important to address these issues, and call them out wherever possible. I loved that chapter! Almost inspired me to return to my own personal blog – plagiarism being one of the (many, many, many) reasons I’d quit.

Humour is important. Much like Allie Brosh uses her comics to address depression, Sarah Andersen uses it to address issues faced by us introverts. If I could get Allie and Sarah to be my friends, I’m telling you, I would be the “big mushy happy lump” being referred to in the title! Add Caitlin Moran to that mix, and I will have achieved Nirvana!

She also uses humour to touch upon this very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed:

big-happy3
Copyright: Sarah Andersen

In light of recent events, this should be enlarged, printed out, and posted on billboards across this country. Except that the helpless, hopeless tone at the end will not do. Yes, it seems like nothing can be done, but maybe, just maybe, the more we call out, the less bleak things will appear…? Let’s hope so.

I am glad this is the first book I finished this year (I’m also reading The Stand, but I don’t think I can finish it before March or April). It took me about half an hour and by the end of it, I felt great – truly! (If you follow me on IG, you know I’ve been having a sucky time lately). Such a happy book, I could just cuddle and kiss it!! Highly recommended!

Goodreads | Amazon

Release Date (Expected): March 7th, 2017

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley/Andrews McMeel Publishing. My review is honest and unbiased.

Faithful, by Alice Hoffman

Never is a long time.

29432767Faithful is the story of once-popular, now-self-destructive Shelby Richmond. One fateful night, when she was seventeen, she and her best friend Helene go out for a drive. Their car crashes; Shelby survives with minor injuries, but Helene goes into a vegetative state. Traumatized and guilty, Shelby has a nervous breakdown and stops speaking altogether. She’s admitted to a psych ward, where she is raped by an orderly. This is when she gets the first of many postcards. It says, Say Something. And she does. She tells her mother about what’s happening and her mother gets her released from the hospital immediately.
Helene, on the other hand, is being revered as some sort of saint. Those who visit her claim they get cured of all illnesses and misfortunes if they touch her hand. Shelby does not believe in these miracles, but she is still suffering from guilt. Helene and Shelby both once had dreams and bright futures ahead of them. Helene’s lost hers, and Shelby gives up hers, choosing instead to waste her life away in her parents’ basement. She shaves her head, smokes pot, and watches TV shows she claims to hate. Her drug dealer is her old classmate, Ben Mink, with whom she walks to Helene’s house one night. Ben reveals to her that he’s going to the city to become a pharmacist and asks her to go with him. Two years have passed since the accident and Shelby decides to finally leave her hometown. She moves to the city with Ben, gets a job in a pet store, unexpectedly makes friends, and, most importantly, begins to save dogs in need of saving.

Admittedly, this book got off to a very slow and depressing start. It wasn’t just grim, because of the accident – it was very bleak. I disliked this bit of the story, but did not, at any point, feel like putting the book down. I might have, had it continued in that vein, but after Shelby decides to do something with her life, the story was, if not instantly, uplifted. I loved the characters in this book – especially Maravelle, Shelby’s friend from the pet store. I’m not a dog person, but the way Shelby rescues ill-treated dogs was heartwarming, and I found myself falling in love with all her dogs.

When Shelby starts receiving the postcards (Say Something, See Something, Save Something, etc.), I was reminded of Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger. But the main difference between the two is, Ed Kennedy receives aces in the mail to save other people; Shelby receives them to save herself. Her guilt and self pity nearly killed her, and even towards the end of the book, her self pity is highly palpable. On the night of the accident, Shelby believes she saw an angel and she believes it is the angel who is sending her the postcards. At other times, she is convinced it is Helene – though Helene is now incapable of doing any such thing.

Speaking of Helene, I felt the whole “miracle” angle was unnecessary. It contributed nothing to the story, and felt like it was forced into it to add a bit of magical realism to it. It was unconvincing, and a little annoying.

Aside from that one grouse, I thought that Faithful was a beautiful story of redemption and growth and forgiving oneself. I have wanted to read Alice Hoffman for a long time, but unfortunately, because of where I live perhaps, her books would either never be in stock or be ridiculously expensive because of import charges attached to them (the number of years I’ve been trying to get a copy of Practical Magic, I tell you!). Since I have never read her, I cannot compare Faithful to any other work of hers. But as someone who’s finally ventured into her world of literature, I felt warmly welcomed and left knowing for sure that I would return someday.

Goodreads

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

Every Day, by David Levithan

“Where do you want to go?” I ask again. “Tell me, truly, where you’d love to go.”
I don’t initially realize how much hinges on her answer. If she says, Let’s go to the mall, I will disconnect. If she says, Take me back to your house, I will disconnect. If she says, Actually, I don’t want to miss sixth period, I will disconnect. And I should disconnect. I should not be doing this.

But she says, “I want to go to the ocean. I want you to take me to the ocean.”

And I feel myself connecting.”

13262783May I say how much I hate Levithan right now. This man makes me break my book resolutions. And this man not only makes me read books from a genre I dislike (and scoff at), he makes me enjoy them. Worst of all, this man caused a conflict, nay, a war! Just look at this:

Brain: A genderless-bodyless entity that wakes up in a new human body each day. What a premise! This ought to be good.
Heart: Whatever, really.
Brain: Um… This is a love story.
Heart: *indistinct humming*
Brain: OK. Why am I reading this? This is YA. This is romance. Let’s close this and read something else.
Heart: Could you shut. Up. For. One. Minute?
Brain: Beg pardon?
Heart: SHUT UP.
Brain: …

.

Heart: Ohmygod, this is so beautiful, I have tears. I’m crying. This is… awww.
Brain: ???

Heart: *weeps* Oh, A. Oh, Rhiannon.
Brain: Blech. Oh, come on! “It’s the way you looked at me – it couldn’t have been anyone else.” Seriously? That is SO cheesy.
Heart: *sulks* Yeah, okay, just shush.
Brain: !!!

Heart: I have to make a phone call!
Brain: Dontdoanythingstupid!!!
Heart: NO, I really do!
Brain: This is NOT an Adele song!
Heart: Hang yourself, you stupid brain.

Brain: Why aren’t they explaining why A is this smoke entity person thing? Why is this happening? Are there others like this? Can it have feelings? What about the bodies it goes into, why don’t these people notice that entire days from their lives have just gone missing? This makes no sense!
Heart: Really, I couldn’t care less right now.

Brain: OK, that was a weak ending if I ever saw one.
Heart: So what if the ending wasn’t great. It couldn’t have ended any other way.
Brain: I’ll be the judge of that.
Heart: You jealous, emotionless, ROBOT!

*Heart walks off stage, leaving a trail of warm fuzzy feelings behind; brain, feeling useless, dejectedly plops down on a bed*

PS: I have to say though – only Levithan could have pulled this story off. Any other YA author would have turned it into a disaster. Do give it a read for the warm fuzzies. And keep your phone far, far away.

Goodreads | Amazon