Tag: New Release

The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman

“Isn’t that what love makes you do? Go on trying, even when you’re through. Go on even when you’re made of ash, when there’s nothing inside you but the past.”

34037113The Rules of Magic is the story of the Owenses – Franny, who can talk to birds, Jet, who can read minds, and Vincent, the first boy in the family, who was a charmer since the day he was born. For the siblings, their life is bound by a set of rules since childhood – no walking in moonlight, no black clothes, no red shoes. As teenagers, they discover the truth of what they had long suspected, a secret their mother Susanna had kept from them – they are witches. This is why the neighbors avoid them, for there are so many rumours surrounding them. The family is cursed, for the one rule they must not break at any cost is this: never fall in love. The Owenses brought doom upon whoever they fell in love with, because in the 1600s, Maria Owens fell for the wrong man, a man who led witchhunts. More and more family secrets are unearthed when the siblings spend a summer with the mysterious and fascinating Aunt Isabelle.

The Rules of Magic is a prequel to Practical Magic, a book I’ve previously mentioned as one that’s really hard to find. However, you can read this book by itself even if you haven’t read Practical Magic. It is a rich piece of literature, filled with magical realism and romance. Alice Hoffman’s narrative technique is so brilliant that raw emotions scrape at your throat when you read this book. The story has shades of Chocolat and The Mistress of Spices, but I suppose all stories of witchcraft have certain similar themes. Each character stands on his or her own, the practical Franny, the shy Jet, and the rebellious Vincent. The plot may be described as tragic, but its beauty is beyond description.

A highly recommended read for fans of magical realism.

Rating: 4*/5

Goodreads | Amazon

I received an ARC from Simon & Schuster/Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.

Advertisements

Paper Hearts, by Ali Novak

paper-hearts-ali-novak-rainandabookHave you ever read a book in which all the characters seemed like filler characters? That’s what Paper Hearts felt like.

We have Felicity, the so-called MC, who is really stupid and needs obvious things spelled out for her. With a brain as slow as hers, I’m surprised she gets to be a character in book (that was written and published) at all.

The male lead is Alec Williams, member of the “world famous” boy band The Heartbreakers. Like every YA hero since the dawn of time, he’s the brooding, reserved kind and only the female lead can “save” him. How Felicity would ever accomplish this with her terrible IQ is beyond me.

We have Asha, the “hot best friend”, and token POC character. Actually, I’m not sure of the POC bit – Asha sounds like an Indian name, and she wears saris (what teenager wears a sari to a masquerade ball!?), but her surname is Van De Berg, which is… Dutch? It isn’t important whichever way, cos we don’t have any background info or character development.

Then there’s Boomer, and all we know about him is he loves cars and Asha.

Plus some of Alec’s band members thrown in for good measure.

The story begins with Felicity telling us her sister’s been missing since four years. Conveniently, around a few pages in, she finds out her sister had actually been writing to her. She decides to go search for her and Alec (whom she’s only met twice before) offers to drive her all the way from LA to Seattle. Lots of random stuff happens, like water gun fights, hide and seek games. You know, usual stuff that happens in YA novels. Not. (Seriously, what 20 yo plays hide and seek ffs!)

There is nothing about this story that’s believable. It is full of grammar errors, but since this is an ARC, I’m willing to give it the benefit of doubt on that front. It ends abruptly and then you begin lamenting all the time you wasted on this.

A little note about the blurb I saw on Goodreads – it mentions Felicity’s best friend Lucy, who has some plans and designs of her own; there’s no Lucy in the whole book.

Rating: 1/5

Goodreads | Amazon

I received an ARC from Netgalley/Sourcebooks Fire. The review is honest and unbiased.

 

 

Into The Water, by Paula Hawkins

“We tell our stories differently, don’t we, you and I?”

into-the-water-rainandabookBack in school, for a while – before Harry Potter took over – we were all hooked on to R. L. Stine’s Fear Street series. There was one book in particular that was more popular than the rest – Fear Street Super Chiller Goodnight Kiss 2. The reason being the big reveal happened on the very last page. Those who had read it tricked those who didn’t into reading the last page before finishing the book, thereby spoiling it.

I never read Goodnight Kiss 2 even though it has been on my TBR for eighteen years or so. The only reason it’s still on my TBR is cos I’m still curious to find out what’s on that last page. I don’t even know the what the story is about!

And with that we come to Paula Hawkins’ latest, Into The Water, whose big reveal also happens on the very last page. Rather underwhelmingly. Into the Water is one of those books that meanders so far away from the point that not only do you get impatient, but also bored. It’s an odd mix of emotions, one directly contradicting the other.

In the beginning, we are told that Nel Abbott is dead. It is hinted that it was a murder. The characters, of course, insist it was a suicide, especially Nel’s daughter Lena. Nel’s body was found one morning in the Drowning Pool, where several “troublesome” women have died before her, including Lena’s best friend Katie. There is this not so subtle undercurrent of “These were all murders”. Woven into this mesh of POVs (oh so many POVs! Did an editor even see this?) are detectives Sean Townsend (whose mom died in the same pool) and Erin Morgan (who lives in a house which used to be occupied by Sean’s mom) (seriously, what is up with this unimaginatively titled pool!)

We are, as readers, directed to care about all the murdered women. We can’t. Or at least (this being my review) I couldn’t. I wanted to know about Nel – not these old murders that the characters were insisting on digging up. I didn’t know these other dead characters, why would I care if they’re dead? I couldn’t care much for Nel either, and don’t even get me started on how irritating her sister Jules (“not Julia”) was. The subplot of rape that caused the sisters to grow apart was sketched so poorly that it made me angry – it felt like it was forced into the narrative.

I know a lot of what I’m saying sounds like I hated the book. I didn’t. Or I don’t want to, but that’s mostly cos I like Paula Hawkins as a writer. I liked Paula Hawkins as a writer. Even when I read The Girl on the Train, I felt it started off real slow, but I was blown away by the end. I thought the comparisons to Gillian Flynn were unfair, cos Hawkins is clearly a superior writer, who didn’t need someone like Flynn to piggyback on to market her book. But Into The Water proves these comparisons are justified. One of the reasons I hate Flynn’s work (and for that matter Jessica Knoll’s work) is the undercurrent of woman-hate in her stories. In Sharp Objects, for instance, Flynn’s MC blames and shames rape victims. Something similar happens in Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, and even in Into The Water. The story is about “troublesome” women who got murdered. By troublesome, Hawkins is referring to women who were unhappy in marriages, or women who fell in love with men who weren’t available to them. That’s a narrow definition of “troublesome” and a most unfitting one at that. A regressive narrative, wouldn’t you say?

And the writing! Gosh. Red Herrings are great in a thriller, but when three people come forward and say they committed the murder and the author goes on and on for pages about how, yes, they did commit the murder, but then reveals on the very last page that nope, someone else altogether committed the murder, it just takes the sting out. I read the final confession of the murderer, flipped the page and saw “Acknowledgments”, and went, “Huh?” in underwhelmed bewilderment. I was in a public place when this happened, and the lady seated next to me asked, “Is everything all right?” I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, so I said, “Oh, nothing, I was just reading a stupid book.”

I know I may be too old to read Fear Street now, but every instinct tells me the last page of that will still be better than the last page of Into The Water. This is easily one of the most forgettable books I’ve read, and that makes me sad, coming from the same writer as The Girl on the Train.

Paula Hawkins, I’m not mad. Just disappointed.

Rating: 2.5*

Amazon | Goodreads

Paris for One and Other Stories, by Jojo Moyes

“Actually, I’ve had a large white wine. Which means I’m saying what I think.”
“Don’t you usually, then? Say what you think?”
“Never. Safer that way.”

cover105449-mediumJojo Moyes is a name I across all too frequently these days, after the massive success of her books Me Before You and After You. I’ve not read either of the two because at first I wasn’t too sure if I would be into them, given my experience with and opinions of popular romances (such as The Fault in Our Stars or The Notebook). Later, when I thought I might take a look, I learned the ending of the first book, so I didn’t think there was a point to going back. And you can’t read the second book if you haven’t read the first.

I’ve been in a reading slump for a while. This time last year, I had read over 12 books. This year, I’ve read 2 (and now 3). I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Scribbles, and while Yiyun Li’s writing is nearly flawless, there’s only so much you can like a book while disagreeing vehemently with the writer’s views. The other books I picked up (for instance, The Stand and Lifting the Veil) were not what I needed at that point in time.

Paris for One and Other Stories came as a breath of fresh air during those times. I stay away from chick-lits, but this is one that surprised me. Like they say, it is all about feeding your needs.

Paris for One is the story of a girl who never took risks – she was always described as safe, stable, trustworthy etc., never bold. On a whim, she decides to take a trip to Paris with her boyfriend. She is stood up by the boyfriend, and ends up alone in Paris. She changes her mind about leaving, and decides to enjoy the city on her own.

There are eleven short stories in this collection, all with uplifting, positive endings. My favourite is the first and the longest story – the one I’ve talked about above. Two close contenders for the top position are Margot and The Christmas List.

Margot is the story of Em, who meets the titular character – a boisterous American lady – at an airport and learns something important. The Christmas List is about a harrowed housewife who is fed up of her demanding husband and mother in law. A conversation with a cab driver convinces her that she needs to turn her life around.

If you’re going through a dull time, and need something to lift you up, I think this book would just be perfect. It certainly helped me! I wanted this review to be posted on Valentine’s Day, but unfortunately, I couldn’t finish the book in time. Nevertheless, here it is. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

Amazon | Goodreads

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Penguin UK-Michael Joseph/Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

 

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li

“A word I hate to use in English is I. It is a melodramatic word. In Chinese, a language less grammatically strict, one can construct a sentence with an implied subject pronoun and skip that embarrassing I, or else replace it with we. Living is not an original business.”

30211990I have had limited exposure to Chinese literature (or English literature about China, to be more accurate) but I’m sure I’ve read something in another book that conveys a similar sentiment about the letter “I”. I find truth in that statement. It startles me, as a realization, and yet, brings clarity at the same time.

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a memoir in which Yiyun Li tries to decode life. She talks about her childhood in China, her mentally ill mother, and more. She wrote this memoir while battling suicidal depression and throughout, you feel, she is examining, sentence by rich sentence, about the point of life.

This is a complex narrative. I quite enjoyed the beginning, but in the later parts, although the prose was worth savouring, I found my mind wandering. This is essentially my problem and should not stop you from enjoying the book. Perhaps I felt she was going off tangent in certain places; I may be wrong about this though. There were several parts of it where I could not bring myself to agree with the author (much like Laura Esquivel’s memoir) but I still could see things from her point of view (unlike Laura Esquivel’s memoir, which I just gave up halfway)

Read it for the prose, read it for the quiet contemplation and wisdom, read it if, you too, are wondering what life is and where it’s going. She may not give you answers, but you will form your own.

Note: I received an ARC from Penguin UK/Netalley for review. My review is honest and unbiased.

Goodreads | Amazon

Big Mushy Happy Lump, by Sarah Anderson

“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 Anderson 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 Anderson

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 Anderson 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 Anderson

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.

Shadow In The Mirror, by Deepti Menon

imagesShadow In The Mirror: A Thrilling Quest for Redemption is a book whose subtitle does not quite go with the plot. It starts with the suicide of a pregnant woman named Nita. Vinny, a journalist, who is covering the story receives a note that says Nita did not commit suicide, but was murdered.

I honestly believe this story would have been much better had the whole scene with the note been avoided. We are told in the first chapter that it was a murder, and because we know it, we identify the murderer just a few chapters later. If the reader was convinced that it was suicide throughout, and if the murder angle was revealed only at the end, the word “thrilling” in the subtitle would have been justified. In this case, there’s not so much as a twist as a blatantly obvious conclusion with regards to the identity of the murderer. There’s not a lot of redemption either – those who are mad stay mad and those who are sad stay sad. Those who are dead (thankfully) stay dead.

With that said, the most interesting character in this story overrun with too many characters is in fact the murderer. Not that she/he committed the murder, but her/his history, as revealed in the chapter set in 1962, Dark Icy Winter. That was one twist that I did not see coming, and was totally impressed with that storyline.

The language is simple, and therefore this was a breezy read.

Too breezy.

And with that, we come to the flaws: the plot is wafer thin. Too many characters running amok in the story, but almost nothing of substance. Nothing meaty. All their backstories felt rushed, and there was too much telling and absolutely no showing. Do not tell me again and again that a character has “always” been a certain way (friendly/moody/artistic/level-headed/business-minded/whathaveyou), show it to me! Given the number of characters in the book, a little more care could have been taken to turn it into a character study of sorts – jealousy, possessiveness, effect of aging etc. Alas, it was a wasted opportunity – only the murderer’s psyche was fully delved into.

Some characters added nothing to the plot, such Kavita’s maid or the whole Gautam angle.

The prose is covered with a thick layer of adjectives, adverbs, cliches, and dead idioms and metaphors. While in the beginning, every setting was described in purple, this reduced as the story progressed. There was, however, no shortage of extra adjectives. Even the cliches and idioms take away from the reading experience and you wish the style of writing could have been better.

The plot takes you from 1958 to 1994. I noticed some inconsistencies in the timelines that I can’t quite wrap my head around. If you look at the dates preceding the chapters, technically this should make sense. But if you close your eyes to the dates and read only the plot, you feel there are some things off. For example, Roma and Vinny were once classmates, so let’s assume they’re of the same age. In one chapter, Roma is said to be older than Nita: “Roma had been shrewd enough to realize the immense advantages of playing tag with a girl, who despite being slightly younger than her, would catapult her straight into the upper bracket of society.” On the other hand, towards the end, it is revealed that Vinny is younger than Nita. Also, in 1989, Roma has a teenage daughter who runs away and becomes a model – considerable amount of time should have passed between these events but there’s definitely a mismatch. And there are several instances where the story jumps in time, but the same does not translate on to the page (no extra line gaps/section breaks). One such instance is: “Vinny brought with her all the normal upheavals that a brand new baby does. . . late nights, erratic feeds, colic and the smell of vomit and Johnson’s baby powder everywhere. “Mummy!” trilled Vinny one day when she got back from kindergarten.” When did kindergarten happen out of the blue? We were talking about colic, weren’t we? You feel at times that the author’s thoughts are not being correctly conveyed through the writing.

On the whole, Shadow In The Mirror is OK. It’s not a new story, but it definitely takes a longer route to reach the usual destination. It’s fast-paced (albeit at the cost of character development) and it keeps the reader mildly curious. Read it if you want a break from heavy literature.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: I received a PDF copy of the book from Readomania. My review is honest and unbiased.