Tag Archives: book review

Beyond Forever: (The Angelheart Saga III), Annie Woods, 2020

Today I am talking about a much-awaited final book in The Angelheart Saga! Beyond Forever, by Annie Woods has been a long time coming and I was consumed with it as soon as I picked it up!

Beyond Forever, The Angelheart Saga, Book 3
Beyond Forever, The Angelheart Saga, Book 3

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(This blog post also contains a review copthat was sent to me by the author. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)

synopsis

True love is a promise you keep forever. But what if there’s a difference between first love and true love?

Picking up the pieces of her broken heart, Erica Lindell has started to believe in a future again. A future together with her former archnemesis Tyler, who has not only married her to keep her safe, but has taken on her son as his. Only to find her whole world being turned over again when her lost love, Sasha, aka Prince Alexandre, suddenly returns from the dead and forces her to make an impossible decision. A decision that will break hearts and change lives forever.

In the heart-wrenching finale to the enchanting Angelheart Saga trilogy, dark secrets will be revealed, devastating choices must be made and the fate of Erica, Tyler and Sasha will be determined once and for all. 

Check out my thoughts on FIRST CAME FOREVER (Book 1), FOREVER DISGUISED (Book 2) here!

my review

Beyond Forever has been a much-awaited final book in a trilogy for me and I was surely not disappointed by the time I finished it. In fact, I was left hungry for more with that intriguing epilogue!

One of the major happenings in this book was the inner workings of Erica’s mind and heart. The prince of her dreams and the father of her child has returned, only as she is learning to live and make house with Tyler. It is therefore perhaps expected that she should be facing a dilemma now.

But it is Woods’ magical writing that makes the whole difference. With wonderful words, the author was able to portray the feelings and emotions of Erica so well that I found myself crying and laughing with her. The angst was on point in this book and I was left with a hurting heart so often.

Political intrigue and royalty

Sasha brings with him the royal drama was a long coming for the three, or rather, four of them – Erica, Philip, Tyler and of course, Sasha as well. For a long time I resented both the men in her life for making her choose and just putting her through literal hell. The angst that she felt, cut me deeply often and I was very glad when she put herself and her child first.

The enemy returns strong and this final book wraps it all up very well. I thought the author did a stunning job of bringing an end to all the different edges of the web and therefore the complete plot was a masterpiece.

Relationships and diversity

It was a definite that Woods’ writing has improved tremendously and I as a reader, largely benefited from it! There was much more diversity in this book and I thought the romance angle was created very well for the characters of Henri, Christina, Charles, Elijah, and Magdalene. I felt that the relationships, romantic and otherwise, also took a different and further deep undertones and it just made it so easy to connect with the characters.

The End – Who does Erica choose?

Well, first things first, you have to read the book to find out!

Although I was kind of rooting for the other guy in the beginning, I thought the endgame couple was actually quite a better one. It felt realistic and ofcourse, by the latter parts of the books, I started to pine for them to be together as well! I also think that the other guy’s romance story was quite beautiful!
And I am so not going to end this bit without talking about that epilogue! I mean, oh my god?! A chance at further intrigue and a romance? How can I not? And now you can imagine a desperate reader, hoping that a possibly standalone novel comes out soon!!

My final thoughts

I thought that Beyond Forever was a really very interesting story and I was hooked from the very beginning! I rate it 4.5/5 stars! Do pick it up!

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Anamika: A Tale of Desire in a Time of War

Today I am talking about one of the most interesting books I have read this year! Anamika, by Meghnad Desai, was a fantastic story set in the days after Aurangzeb’s fall.

Anamika, by Meghnad Desai
Anamika, by Meghnad Desai

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(This blog post also contains a review copthat was sent to me by the publisher. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)

synopsis

He was a powerful man, as she could see from his hands and his stature. And again, those penetrating eyes. Something had happened in Anamika’s dull daily life. What did it portend?

It is the eighteenth century. Emperor Aurangzeb has fallen, the Mughal Empire is a shadow of its former self, and India is rife with civil war. In these times of gardi, you’d have to be a lion to win power, and a wolf to keep it. When the beautiful Savitri, the only daughter of the Chief Minister of Purana Zilla, marries into a rich merchant household in Ranipur, she becomes Anamika. Her future seems assured—she is to bear her loving husband Abhi many children, eventually becoming the lady of the house and perpetuating the family’s fortunes.

But a tragic accident on their wedding day renders Abhi paraplegic, seemingly dooming their perfect future. Anamika still finds bliss in her love for her husband, but her in-laws’ unfulfilled dreams of progeny threaten to consume and destroy her.

The intrigue that appears

But into her life enters Abdul—the illegitimate son of Shah Ahmad Khan, locked in a deadly war with his brother Hassan for the throne. This powerful, magnetic stranger upsets the balance of her everyday life, thrusting both Anamika and Abhi into a newfound world of intoxicating freedom, conflicting desires, and deadly deceit. Crossing paths with the enigmatic courtesan-turned-bodyguard Nadya, the motherly Niloufer, the spirited young warrior princess Sonal, and a wide and motley cast of soldiers, assassins, courtesans, eunuchs, princes, and queens, Anamika must make bold choices and adopt many names for the sake of both desire and survival.

my review

Anamika: A Tale of Desire in a Time of War a simply a stunning read – full of sensuality intertwined with the duty of necessity. It was especially stunning for its vivid portrayal of women as nuanced and real figures rather than the usual tropes of ‘angel of the house’ or the ‘madwoman in the attic’ that are often used in both English and Indian English literature set in those times.

And because it is the female sex that so thoroughly engrossed me, let me talk about it first!

Womanhood and its various layers

In Anamika, we have the eponymous Anamika who is a mature and independent woman (well, as independent as a married woman in those times can possibly be). She is a loving wife and the way she navigates her life in her married home, around her mother-in-law and a particularly lusty father-in-law was quite well written. Her resolution and will power especially after the accident that rendered her husband a paraplegic.

But then, with the arrival of Abdul, there is a sexual awakening in her. Her very first view of Abdul brings up thoughts in her mind regarding his “penetrating” gaze and the way his hands and stature denoted power. I thought this particular aspect of Anamika’s growth was also empowering in the fact that she is personally growing and looking after herself, after the time she has spent looking after others around her.

Show of strength

Then comes Nadya, who was a courtesan but is now Hassan’s bodyguard. The very fact that she masquerades as Nadeer and stays by his side to protect him, again brings to mind another nature of a woman – that of the more physicality of her strength. I loved the portrayal of Nadya although she wasn’t an absolute favourite all the time. Despite that, I do admire her resolution and strength.

Lastly, a few lines about two other female characters in the book. Hassan’s mother was a truly formidable (and a bit scary) woman who rules the zenana. Princess Sonal is another wonderful woman who does not let anything stop her from learning what she wishes – strategy and warfare, and that too from a French general!

Political intrigue, wars and royalty

Because of what I could infer from the synopsis, it was pretty clear that there would be some interesting political intrigue, seeing as to how it was set in the days after Aurangzeb’s downfall. And surely, a great tussle was at the center of it all. Hassan is the legitimate son of the king, while Abdul is the illegitimate son of Shah Ahmad Khan. And thy are each other’s greatest adversaries striving to bring the other down o their way to claim the throne.

My final thoughts

I thought that Anamika was a really very interesting story and I was hooked from the very beginning! I rate it 4.5/5 stars! Do pick it up!

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The Super Secret Book: A fantastic adventure!

Today I am sharing my thoughts on THE SUPER SECRET BOOK, a fantastic adventure full of superheroes and supervillains!

The Super Secret Book, by Tian En

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synopsis

Violet Vivien is your not-so-typical seventeen-year-old girl. Better known as the sharpshooting superhero KOOLARA, she has dedicated her life to defending Diamond City alongside the city’s teenage crime-fighting team, the SUPER SECRET! These six young superheroes have always made taking down bad guys look like a breeze with their high-tech gadgets and unparalleled combat skills, but when a powerful, mysterious diamond falls into the hands of a vengeful supervillain, the Super Secret is forced into the biggest fight of their lives and must reconsider what it means to be a superhero before it’s too late…

Check out my reading vlog for this book!

my review

The Super Secret Book was truly an amazing sci-fi, fantasy read. I loved how innovative and yet at the same time, realistic the author was with all aspects of it – the superb high-end gadgets, to the various nuances of human relationships among the heroes themselves.

The writing was great as well and I was hooked from the very beginning. With the turning of every page, it just got more and more thrilling and it is therefore, no wonder that I finished it so soon!

My favourites!

I have to say that my personal favourites were Lady Damage and The Mystery and I look forward to seeing more of them, and learning more about them in the next book! (I am so happy this is going to be a series!)

Overall, I think it was a wonderful middle-grade fantasy read. I rated it 4/5 stars and will probably pick it up again!

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The Great Godden, by Meg Rosoff: A Magnificent Tale

Today I am sharing my thoughts on THE GREAT GODDEN, by Meg Rosoff, a stunning story of family, love, and betrayal, set during one long summer.

A definite must-read for fans of CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, and SWIMMING IN THE DARK!

The Great Godden, by Meg Rosoff

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synopsis

Everyone talks about falling in love like it’s the most miraculous, life-changing thing in the world. Something happens, they say, and you know.

That’s what happened when I met Kit Godden. I looked into his eyes and I knew. Only everyone else knew too. Everyone else felt exactly the same way.

This is the story of one family, one dreamy summer – the summer when everything changes. In a holiday house by the sea, our watchful narrator sees everything, including many things they shouldn’t, as their brother and sisters, parents and older cousins fill hot days with wine and games and planning a wedding. Enter two brothers – irresistible, charming, languidly sexy Kit and surly, silent Hugo. Suddenly there’s a serpent in this paradise – and the consequences will be devastating.

From Meg Rosoff, bestselling author of the iconic novel How I Live Now, comes a lyrical and quintessential coming-of-age tale – a summer book that’s as heady, timeless and irresistible as Bonjour Tristesse and The Greengage Summer.

my review

One of the best new literary fiction of contemporary times, THE GREAT GODDEN is a beautiful story of a summer set by the sea, a summer that leaves devastating scars on the people of this family.

The Great Godden and The Great Gatsby

I loved how reminiscent it was of THE GREAT GATSBY. The title even, for that matter, felt like wordplay on this modern tale. Very much like how Jay Gatsby has put Daisy Buchanan on a pedestal and made this huge illusion of her, so much about the charming and enigmatic Kit Godden is all about illusions, all smokes and mirrors.

The characters

I loved the way the author let us know about the characters, all these players in the play, bit by bit. The relationships that bind them all are also explored in nuances. I believe that THE GREAT GODDEN is as much a study in human psychology as it was a tale of a family in the throes of summer before school starts again. While it wasn’t that strong on the psychology point, there were certain shades of it and I often wondered about why the characters did what they did. In the end, you are left to wonder, who is the ‘Great Godden’ – Kit or Hugo.

Verdict!

Overall, I loved this book and I definitely will be going back to it again! I recommend all to pick it up again and again! A definite 5/5 stars!

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Undertow by Jahnavi Barua: My thoughts

Today I am sharing my thoughts on UNDERTOW, by Jahnavi Barua, a new and stunning story of family, love and Assam.

Undertow, by Jahnavi Barua
Undertow, by Jahnavi Barua

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synopsis

Loya is twenty-five: solitary, sincere, with restless stirrings in her heart. In an uncharacteristic move, she sets off on an unexpected journey, away from her mother, Rukmini, and her home in Bengaluru, to distant, misty Assam. She comes looking for her beloved Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, but also seeks someone else-her grandfather, Torun Ram Goswami, someone she has never met before.

She arrives at the Yellow House on the banks of the Brahmaputra, where Torun lives, not knowing that her life is about to change. Twenty-five years ago, Rukmini had been cast out of the family home by her mother, the formidable and charismatic Usha, while Torun watched silently. Loya now seeks answers, both from him and from the place that her mother once called home. In her quest, she finds an understanding not only of herself and her life but also of the precarious bonds that tie people together.

A delicate, poignant portrait of family and all that it contains, Undertow becomes, in the hands of this gifted writer, an exploration of much more: home and the outside world, the insider and the outsider, and the ever-evolving nature of love itself. 

Check out the reading vlog I made for this amazing book!

my review

Set in Guwahati, Undertow has been a gem of a book and I was in love from the very first page. It was our first ever Book Of The Month for our very new venture – Assam Book Club.

Reading this book during this time in history (as I am self-isolating during the Covid crisis) is probably the reason why this book hit me as it did. I saw my beautiful state, or rather, my beautiful city from the eyes of Loya, who is visiting here for the first time. I was travel-sick in a way and at the same time, home-sick, and I wanted to roam about the city as I did once upon a time.

Undertow was also included in the longlist for the JCB Prize in Literature and it felt so good to be represented. In mainstream Indian literature, which is also mostly of Central India, we Northeasterners hardly figure except as token characters. So this was a refreshing and welcome change. I felt represented, my culture and my way of life felt represented. This representation of Assam, taking into consideration the time period it is set in, was actually very apt and I myself could remember various scenarios I faced as I grew up (particularly the political aspects).

Check out my list of THE BOOKS TO READ from North East India!

Check out these pictures where I dressed up as a typical Assamese bride. This was special because my Mom lent me her own bridal clothes for this photoshoot.

I also made a spread for this book where I took for my inspiration the vibrant blue of the cover. And here is when we spend a few moments to admire the symbolic cover (I’m a lit major after all). The girl felt solid and at at the same time, a lone figure amidst the blue swirling around her.

Undertow, by Jahnavi Barua - a Bujo Spread!
Undertow, by Jahnavi Barua – a Bujo Spread!

I also think that just like the beautiful cover, the writing too was full of stunning imagery. And it so was. I felt like I was a tourist here, but then again, the representation of Assamese life is so true and realistic.

The relationships among the people were also well portrayed, including all the various nuances and undertones of emotions. Anger, spite, love, sadness, guilt etc. were all shown via the actions of the characters. I think it was all so beautiful in its wholeness. The author also delves over the lines that can separate families, orthodox ones; over choices in one’s spouse, job etc. It was true in the case of Rukmini (spouse) as well as Loya (job).

Talking about the ending, which has understandably divided the readership into two, I have to admit that I am quite satisfied with it. It felt like the story has in some way come to a full circle. I would like to reiterate that I really do believe that ending was necessary and that it was justified.

Overall, I thought it was a gem of a book and you should definitely pick it up! 5/5 stars!

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BHAIRAVI: The Runaway by Shivani

Today I am sharing my thoughts on BHAIRAVI: THE RUNAWAY, by Shivani urf Gaura Pant, an era-defining Hindi author, whose works are often paralleled to Jane Austen’s.

Bhairavi: The Runaway by Shivani
Bhairavi: The Runaway by Shivani

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synopsis

A still, dense, ancient forest. A dark cave deep within. And in it a woman-child whose beauty can move the most pious to sin. Who is she and why did she jump from a moving train to land in the biggest cremation ground teeming with Aghori Sadhus?

In this story spanning generations and redolent with Gothic imagery, Shivani urf Gaura Pant tells the story of a woman’s life, her moral and mental strength, and her resilience. She also examines the choices women have in her beautiful, descriptive prose. With an erudite foreword by her daughter and scholar, Mrinal Pande, and a preface by the translator, this book is Shivani for the 21st-century reader.

my review

Bhairavi was a stunning book and I loved it in its entirety. Even during the parts where the characters were not particularly likable or the situation they were going through was not entirely conducive, I thought that it was so real and something that could have perhaps happened to someone we know.

Narrative technique in Bhairavi

Talking about the writing style and the language used, I think it was very earthy and very Indian in the sense that even though it was in English, it really had an essence that was essentially that of a particular people and their cultures. It also had a very folktale-ish vibe as if it is an oral story that is being narrated to you. I think this is because of the ways in which the author has incorporated the folktale traditions of India into her writing – for instance, when narrating the anecdotes or talking of the relationships between people and so on.

Mother-daughter dynamic in Bhairavi

Then comes the most compelling and riveting and at the same time, the off-putting relationship of the mother-daughter duo. Chandan is a beautiful girl, an ‘apsara’ and that is the reason and excuse for why her mother binds her in the way she does. Rajeshwari is an over-protective mother and when one learns of her past, it is in a way the reason why she is like that. But then again, having gone through what she had as a young girl, I believe she should have been more understanding of her daughter and her wishes.

In that case, I suppose the saying is right – we grow up to be like our parents. But is that justification enough? Is it even right?
While I believe it is certainly getting better in contemporary times, I cannot deny that there are still some parents who unjustifiably coddle their daughters. Let me rephrase that, they are over-protective and downright oppressive. Wouldn’t that explain why so many of the kids we know nowadays, are good at sneaking and lying? I think a certain bit of leniency is needed so that both the kid and parents learn to trust each other’s decisions and not lie and sneak around.

Human prejudices in Bhairavi

There are also various prejudices that were shown via the thoughts of Rajswari in this book. Westernized people do not get any respect from her; rather, she curses her meat-eating neighbour and then is surprised by the way modern women live. All in all, I do believe it is a good reflection of the times that the book is set in, but I do hope we take a lesson from it. Just because it used to be that way in that past, doesn’t mean we do not change the way it goes.

Bhairavi in the end

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and Chandan’s journey was a long and learning one. Of course when the book ended, she still had a long way to go. However, she finally was in control of her fate and life, as it were. Beautiful writing and real-living characters, with an honest portrayal of the various issues that plagued society then (and in some ways, even now)!

I rate it 4/5 stars!

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DEATH BY SHAKESPEARE: A stunning dive into Shakespeare’s methods!

Today I am sharing my thoughts on DEATH BY SHAKESPEARE, an amazing analysis of Shakespeare’s unique methods of killing off his characters!

Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn Harkup
Death by Shakespeare, by Kathryn Harkup

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synopsis

An in-depth look at the science behind the creative methods Shakespeare used to kill off his characters.

In Death By Shakespeare, Kathryn Harkup, best-selling author of A is for Arsenic and expert on the more gruesome side of science, turns her expertise to Shakespeare and the creative methods he used to kill off his characters. Is death by snakebite really as serene as Cleopatra made it seem? How did Juliet appear dead for 72 hours only to be revived in perfect health? Can you really kill someone by pouring poison in their ear? How long would it take before Lady Macbeth died from lack of sleep? Readers will find out exactly how all the iconic death scenes that have thrilled audiences for centuries would play out in real life.

In the Bard’s day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theater was a fairly likely scenario. Death is one of the major themes that reoccurs constantly throughout Shakespeare’s canon, and he certainly didn’t shy away from portraying the bloody reality of death on the stage. He didn’t have to invent gruesome or novel ways to kill off his characters when everyday experience provided plenty of inspiration.

Shakespeare’s era was also a time of huge scientific advance. The human body, its construction and how it was affected by disease came under scrutiny, overturning more than a thousand years of received Greek wisdom, and Shakespeare himself hinted at these new scientific discoveries and medical advances in his writing, such as circulation of the blood and treatments for syphilis.

Shakespeare found 74 different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions–shock, sadness, fear–that they did over 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the science to back them up?

my review

Death by Shakespeare was such an intriguing read! From the name itself, I knew that it had to obviously do with the deaths that occurred in Shakespeare’s plays – the hows mostly. And being a literature major with fair dabbling in the Shakespearean arts, I was of course very intrigued and my interest was piqued.

What was better though, was how the author built it up. England in those days was full of pestilence, and personal hygiene was an almost non-existent thing. So it was inevitable that various diseases flourished. Now all of these are facts. However, I have to applaud the author for the amazing fiction-like way in which she has given us a glimpse of this England. And it was a great build-up to the actual 74 ways Shakespeare used to kill if the famous (well, mostly infamous) characters from his various plays.

The historical context in regards to the wholeness of death was the most intriguing factor to me. England then was not like today – many people today go on for years without witnessing a death happen in front of their eyes (I haven’t, touchwood) but then, it was pretty much an everyday happening. Public executions were common, plagues often plagued the people (wordplay there), and wars, battles, uprisings were common, sudden street fights (as one sees in Romeo and Juliet) were also common happenings. As such, death was one of the threads that weaved the everydays of the people. And so, Shakespeare did not have to look far for inspiration.

There is also a lot of conjecture in this book, too. And in a way, it again only imbibed in me the scientific temperament and I would think and think if it was possible, coming up with ways in which it was, and counter-ways in which it was not possible. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun reading this book and I hope you all read it too and moreover, take your time with it!

I rate it 4/5 stars!

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Circles and Squares: A Novel of a biography

Today I am sharing my thoughts on CIRCLES AND SQUARES, a book on the Hamstead Modernists who were indispensable in the Avant-Garde Art Movement.

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Circles and Squares
Circles and Squares, by Caroline MacLean
synopsis

Hampstead in the 1930s. In this peaceful, verdant London suburb, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson have embarked on a love affair – a passion that will launch an era-defining art movement.

In her chronicle of the exhilarating rise and fall of British Modernism, Caroline Maclean captures the dazzling circle drawn into Hepworth and Nicholson’s wake: among them Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Herbert Read, and famed émigrés Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, and Piet Mondrian, blown in on the winds of change sweeping across Europe. Living and working within a few streets of their Parkhill Road studios, the artists form Unit One, a cornerstone of the Modernist movement which would bring them international renown.

Drawing on previously unpublished archive material, Caroline Maclean’s electrifying Circles and Squares brings the work, loves and rivalries of the Hampstead Modernists to life as never before, capturing a brief moment in time when a new way of living seemed possible. United in their belief in art’s power to change the world, her cast of trailblazers radiate hope and ambition during one of the darkest chapters of the twentieth century. 

my review

CIRCLES AND SQUARES was more of a biography of some very iconic Modernists, wrapped in a novel format. As a person who is not especially fond of biographies, I thought this now was actually done quite well. The narrative blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction, and the reader is left waiting on the various events and escapades (sometimes scandalous) of these people.

I also loved the inclusion of the pictures – it felt like I was reading about people who are alive. The touch is reality is always kept tangible via the photographs. I quite enjoyed this book and I think any Art History Major would love to have this book!

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AHALYA: A Feminist Retelling

Today I am sharing my thoughts on AHALYA, a feminist retelling of Ahalya, one of the Pancha Kanyas in Indian mythology.

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(This blog posts also contain a review copthat was sent to me by publishers. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)

Ahalya, by Koral Dasgupta
Ahalya, by Koral Dasgupta
synopsis

It is known that Ahalya was cursed by her husband, Gautam, for indulging in a physical relationship with Indra. But is there another story to Ahalya’s truth? Who was Indra anyway? A king? A lover? A philanderer? The first book of the Sati series, Ahalya hinges on these core questions, narrating the course of her life, from innocence to infidelity.

In the Sati series, Koral Dasgupta explores the lives of the Pancha Kanyas from Indian mythology, all of whom had partners other than their husbands and yet are revered as the most enlightened women, whose purity of mind precedes over the purity of body. The five books of the Sati series reinvent these women and their men, in the modern context with a feminist consciousness.

my review

Ahalya was a fairly new take on a character who has unfortunately not been explored much – and to the extent that, her story is often relegated to the backseat. I admit I myself first was truly intrigued by her when Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explored her characteristics and actions in THE FOREST OF ENCHANTMENTS, another feminist retelling of the Ramayana, from the female (Sita’s) gaze. Prior to that my knowledge of Ahalya was limited to what I knew of her thanks to all the stories I had listened to, growing up.

Initial thoughts

When I came to know about this book, thanks to PAN MACMILLAN INDIA, I was very excited to read it and delve deeper into her story. Unfortunately, this was an overhyped read, and although I enjoyed it, I am afraid it fell short of what I was expecting. I felt that this book was very philosophical in a way (overtly so) and it was the one thing that I was not extremely fond of.

Redeeming factors

However, I also cannot deny that it is due to this wordplay the author uses, that the utter beauty of the prose was rendered. There is a fantastic intertwining of the philosophies of life along with Ahalya’s own growth. This is the contradiction at the heart of it – while I did not particularly like the philosophizing much, I shudder to think what the narrative would have been like without this lyrical and poetic hand that the author has used.

Realism

The characters have also all been really humanized – no one is really good or bad. They are humans (although admittedly with some godly qualities) like us, and therefore not entirely black or white. There is so much of the gray area in their beings. I felt really touched by the insecurities and fears that hindered them in their pursuit of growth and knowledge. After all, isn’t that what happens with us too?

It is a wonderful undertaking by the author and I look forward to the other works in this series. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.

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THE LONELINESS OF HIRA BARUA: Translated Work

Today I am sharing my thoughts on THE LONELINESS OF HIRA BARUA, a collection of Assamese short stories that ooze the essence of my beautiful motherland Assam.

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The Loneliness of Hira Barua, by Arupa Patangia Kalita
The Loneliness of Hira Barua, by Arupa Patangia Kalita
synopsis

Hira Barua, an ageing widow living in a conflict-ridden region of Assam with her beloved Tibetan spaniel fears she is beginning to resemble a lonely Englishwoman from her past. A vicious sexual assault by the invading military drives a group of women into a shelter home. On a fateful night, a group of prostitutes make an extraordinary sacrifice for the safety of their companions.

In these, and thirteen other piercing, intimate portraits, women navigate family, violence, trauma, ambition and domesticity with caution, grace and a quiet resilience.

Originally published as Mariam Austin othoba Hira Barua, this remarkable collection by one of Assam’s finest living writers won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2014. In this brilliant English translation, Arupa Patangia Kalita’s powerful voice is brought to fresh and vivid life. Written in a variety of styles, from gritty social realism, folklore to magical realism, The Loneliness of Hira Barua is a modern classic of Indian literature. 

Check out my reading vlog for this book here!

my review

The Loneliness of Hira Barua is a collection of 15 short stories by Arupa Patangia Kalita. It was translated from the original Assamese মৰিয়ম আষ্টিন অথবা হীৰা বৰুৱা, by Ranjita Biswas. It is a collection of tales set in the beautiful land of Assam and a wonderfully visual one at that. Thank you to PanMacmillan India for sending me a copy of this amazing collection!

The Women in these Stories

At the core, these stories all revolve around women in various stages of life – young Mainao, the outspoken and righteous Surabhi Barua, married Nibha-Bou, to Kuntibala who showers love blindly upon her son, Brinda khuri, and ending with the eponymous Hira Barua. Along with the diversity in their ages, these women face various problems and Biswas’s translation sets a beautiful motion for the storytelling. The reader is ensnared by this lyrical and poetic writing, which is often interspersed with these various serious and sometimes tragic issues.

Themes

These women all face oppression in different ways – from archaic rules of society, and the patriarchal bonds that clip their wings, to blind emotions that bind them and make them blind to some perhaps not so right things. These stories deal with the militancy that once ravaged the state and at the same time, the loneliness that grips so many people especially in the late stages of their life.

It is also because of these serious topics that reading this collection was an intense affair for me. I would put it down and take a break for a while because my heart would break reading these stories. But then I would always go back to it because such is the allure of this beautiful collection of store. There is an astounding depiction of my dear motherland. Assam and her beauty are unfurled as if Bohagi has let open her voluminous hair leaving behind a beautiful aroma.

The Loneliness of Hira Barua, Books-as-Outfits Challenge
The Loneliness of Hira Barua, Books-as-Outfits Challenge

Overall, I loved this book and am surely going back to rereading it soon! 5/5 stars! Check out my Youtube reading vlog for this book here.

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Hex: A Dark Academia and Witchy crossover!

Hex, by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight, was an astonishingly original and sensual book, with bountiful imagery.

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight
Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

I received an arc of this book from Bloomsbury. All opinions expressed are my own.

my review

A contemporary stream of consciousness

I admit towards the first like 50pages of the book I was rather scatterbrained and it took me some time to get into this quirky, yet what I now consider a contemporary form of an academic stream of consciousness, writing style. That is to say, it grew on me. The fourth wall felt like it was being broken down, but then the reader realizes that it is Joan who is being addressed by Nell. However, as one reads and delves into this terrific narrative, one cannot wonder but think if some of the words are directed at our own cores.

A reflection of our selves?

I was not comfortable with how it started with a seemingly compulsive obsession of a Ph.D. student towards her dissertation tutor, but this book was not aimed at making you feel comfortable. It was a restless read and it made me thoughtful and ponder over the various aspects of the life we live – be it within our own minds and hearts as apart from the life others perceive us to live.

Of balance, equilibrium and a letter to oneself

I felt that the idea of the binary or the dichotomy was very prominent here – how one thing balances the other is portrayed again and yet, subtly most, if not all of the time.
The narrator Nell is also the protagonist and the whole story is rather her compendium, a collection of notebooks where she pours out her thoughts and honestly, lives, and ponders over most of her actual living. In the beginning, when I was still getting into the narrative, I found her obsession bordering on psychotic, but as we went on, I found that it moved towards self-acceptance, so much so that in the end, we could see that the characters were finally on the right path to correct themselves or to straighten out their lives for a start.

The idea of poison and how humans can be poisonous to each other is also explored. In the beginning, I wondered and this is what I wrote in my notes, “Is Nell a poison to herself and to Joan?” I found it comforting when this idea was brought up towards the last few pages – between Joan and Nell, of how in a marriage, the person marries oneself but poisons the other. It again brings to the fore, the idea of balance and of equanimity between the two parties in the relationship (of whatever kind).

The end

While the book felt very unsettling towards the beginning I have to admit that it ended on a note of hope, with the characters finally turning over a new leaf(except maybe Barry) and at peace with themselves. I wouldn’t say I was pleased reading this book but my grey cells were thoroughly intrigued throughout, more so post the first 50 pages of the book. On that note, this is a stunningly original work. Definitely recommend as I ended up rating it 4/5 stars!

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SECRET CRUSH SEDUCTION: An ADULT ROMANCE

Secret Crush Seduction is another one of Jayci Lee’s adult romance in The Heirs of Hansol series and my love continues to grow for these characters and Jayci Lee’s writing!

Secret Crush Seduction
Secret Crush Seduction
synopsis

She’s done waiting for what she really wants. Aspiring fashion designer Adelaide Song wants to prove she’s more than just a pampered heiress. All she needs is a little courage—and the help of deliciously sexy Michael Reynolds, her childhood crush and her brother’s best friend. But when her secret crush turns into an illicit liaison, Adelaide realizes mixing business with pleasure spells trouble for all her plans.

my review

Another day, another novel by Jayci Lee in the Heirs of Hansol series (or rather a night of twisting and turning in my bed as the skies turned light outside and by the time I was done reading it was literally 5.30 am outside!) and I could eat my heart out.

I read the first book in the series TEMPORARY WIFE TEMPTATION (read it if you haven’t already!) and I loved it. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to read the sequel. Also, Lee says she has finished writing the third book as well, in the Acknowledgements, and I CANNOT KEEP CALM!

Stunning fleshed-out characters

Dare I say how much I loved ADELAIDE?! She is this fiery spirit and I loved her independence, her work ethic, and her will and determination to turn her life around.

The adult romance

Also, I found this relationship VERY VERY mature. Of course, there are miscommunications but they are not for the silly reasons that are used as tropes in various romance novels and you as a reader are left screaming at the characters to JUST TALK IT OUT!!! In this book, they do talk it out and I just honestly think it is very very mature and realistic compared to most books in this miscommunication or lack of communication trope.

Amazing use of tropes or Classic Lee

Also, the friends with benefits trope, and the friends to lovers trope are very much common but Lee’s way of twisting her story into a perfect conglomeration (I use big words now after reading about this heroine who has an MBA) of romance, friendship and the huge WORK PROJECT at the core was fantastic. Dare I say that it was also a bit of an office romance?

Verdict on this amazing adult romance (it’s clear isn’t it?)

Whatever I am trying to convey with these seemingly calm (I hope) and logical paragraphs is that I love Jayci Lee’s writing and ahh!! I am so eager to read Colin’s story!! But I dread the end of this series too! Anyway, I rated it 4/5 stars!

Anyway, READ THIS BOOK IF YOU HAVEN’T (in case I haven’t made that clear so far, which I sincerely hope I have) and then ALSO READ TEMPORARY WIFE TEMPTATION!
If you need more of a push (or a kick to your behind really) read my review of TEMPORARY WIFE TEMPTATION too!

Temporary Wife Temptation
Temporary Wife Temptation
Jayci Lee Books
Jayci Lee ‘The Heirs of Hansol’ books 1&2
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Trust The Universe: A review

Trust the Universe by Dhiraj Taneja is a book that really puts forward the law of attraction. As long as you work hard and wish for something, the universe surely grants it to you.

synopsis

You are the universe.

Our strongest, most powerful connection to all the stars, the cosmos, and everything else around us that can guide us, is actually within us.
So often, when we get caught up in thinking that we need to “trust the universe,” we somehow think some external force is going to swoop into our lives and save us from all the challenges we are experiencing.

You know those moments when you tell yourself, “I just gotta trust the universe.” Whether it’s because things in your life feel chaotic or just plain overwhelming, sometimes you just know you need to surrender and learn to trust that things will work out.

In this book, the author wants to tell you that the universe indeed is a wish-granting machine. This universe literally gives you what you wish for. 

Also from the author Master the Money Game – Financial Freedom

my review
Trust the Universe

I was looking forward to picking up this book as I had previously read another one by this author ( Master the Money Game – Financial Freedom ), which was comparatively different – on finance. So, of course, I had to pick it up and see how it goes for myself.

What I learned

Here are some valuable lessons I took from this book:
1. You should always practice gratitude and the art of giving.
(This is also something that the author stressed upon in FINANCIAL FREEDOM)

2. The author also begins by talking about assets and liabilities. Having read both these two books, I found that this particular aspect of repetition dragged the flow, a bit. As such, I do think you should read this book first before you pick up FINANCIAL FREEDOM.

3. The importance of learning. As my father keeps on telling me, knowledge is like an inverted pyramid and there is no end. As such, always keep learning.

4. The author also talks about budgeting, how expenses should be lesser than income, etc. He also included some helpful debt repayment tips and tricks, which I am sure will be helpful for many.

5. Planning ahead – and I personally agree with this because having a bullet journal has really improved my life.

6. He also stresses a lot on the importance of lifestyle changes. It is very important and beneficial for us to surround ourselves with people who will inspire us and push us forward in life, instead of dragging us down.

Other aspects of the book

The author also talks about how one can grow his confidence, avoid procrastination, understanding perseverance, etc. Overall, the book is divided into concise 9 chapters, each of which delves deep into the various topics which will undoubtedly be helpful to many of the readers.
Honestly, if you are looking for some short inspirational read that instead of boring you will actually propel you forward, then definitely go ahead with this one.

What did not work for me

However, having read FINANCIAL FREEDOM, it is easy to see that the ideas he shares in that book pretty much evolved from this book itself. And as such, I found it a bit repetitive and that is where the problem came in for me. However, apart from that, I do think it was a very good book that was beneficial in its essence.

Verdict:

It was an interesting read overall and I rated it 3/5 stars!

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What a Time to be Alive: A Review

“What a Time to be Alive” by Ajay Ramanathan is a fun yet introspective poetry collection, reflective of modern society.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external forces.

what a time to be alive
what a time to be alive
synopsis

This book may make you smile or this book may make you sigh. This book may make you ponder or it may force you to surrender. This book may challenge your convictions. It may even change your mind. But in the end, this book will make you say- ‘Ah! What a time to be alive’

my review

From the very beginning “What A Time to be Alive” grabbed my attention and I was thoroughly touched, amused, introspected, was despondent, and also laughed. This is a collection of poems that are varied in their subject matter, and their seriousness (or lack thereof), but are all interconnected by the same voice which seems to the recite the poems in the same modernist detached tone, while also imperceptibly talking about emotions. 

Diversity of topics:

That is to say, I was buoyed by the sheer diversity of the range of topics of these pieces. The poet makes references to global warming, sexism, and rape culture, survival versus living, social media as a boon/bane, the resolute nature of man in the face of hardships, anxiety, modern afflictions and addictions, illusions that mock us and our desires, and so on. But then, there are also quite a few really funny poems that will make you laugh out loud and just have a good time.

My favorites!

Before we continue, here are a few of my favorite ones. They are the weird but oh-so-real kind, that as a reader who liked them, I need to question what that says about myself! So in no particular order, my favorite poems from this collection include,

  • I want to
  • Conveyor Belt
  • The Ideal Relationship
  • Just Can’t Find the Feeling
  • Bags

Writing style

The writing style, like I mentioned before is kind of at a stark contrast with the emotions the words portray. In that, I believe that author has been able to well portray the kind of modernist emotional detachment of the modernist man from his emotions. Even when he talks about these deep thoughts, the modernist man is at least superficially, if not emotionally as well, is shrouded by a layer of detachment.

There is also a rhyming scheme present at times which makes the tones and the recitation a delight to thrive in. I would recommend perhaps reciting out loud the poems for that is a different experience altogether!

Title

The title is an apt one for this collection I believe. Despite the seriousness (or lack thereof) of the poems, they are all emotions and experiences we all go through, albeit at different points in our life. In that, the author has hit the nail right on the head! I love that on one level or the other, the reader is able to connect with them, just because of this relatable nature of each of these poems.

Verdict:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this poetry collection and it is one I definitely recommend to all the readers out there. I rate it 4.5/5 stars!

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Normal People: book vs series!

Read on to find out what I thought about the popular new work by Sally Rooney, Normal People – the book and the series. Or if you’d rather just watch the video, check this out!

synopsis

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers – one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.

my review

First Impressions for NORMAL PEOPLE: book vs the series

The first impression I got from the book was that the author informs us simply of what has been happening, and what the characters feel. But then, I quickly realized that it was not indeed so – because along with the protagonists, the reader also introspects and philosophizes with them, essentially moving closer to the question of ‘normality’ in relation to human relationships. 

This is one of the best adaptations ever. It was just so visually stunning. I was in love with the cinematography, the actors, and the utter depth of emotions they portrayed so well.

Significance of the title: Normal People

I believe that the title of the book is a paradox. On the one hand, it tells us that it is about normal people that society is filled with, for instance, Marianne and Connell’s friends, as opposed to them both who are weird. But when we look at it from that perspective, we see that it is not really so.  Because, when together, Marianne and Connell are ‘normal’ with each other. As such this implies that in the way they different or weird from others, it is a degree of measurement which affects every individual of society – perhaps many of these hide it better and assimilate easily compared to the protagonists. Thus, who are normal people? Everyone and no one, both at the same time.

What I disliked about Normal People, the book:

  1. I feel that perhaps the way in which the story has been written sheds Connell in a much more negative light than it does Marianne as if he deliberately and continually turns to hurt Marianne. He is shown as someone on whom lies the course of the relationship if one could even call it that. Whatever it was, I think that in this regard, the author may have done Connell an injustice in the way he was portrayed. Bringing about the mental health angle seemed like a convenient excuse for that.
    • Once Marianne tells Connell towards the middle, “You’re definitely drunk if you’re flirting with me.” The idea that Marianne now inevitably thinks that Connell has to be drunk to flirt with her, as if he wouldn’t do something like that (he doesn’t) when he is sober, does not sit well with me. Why does he so need alcohol to lower his inhibitions with her?
  2. As for Marianne, I believe that the author could have let us know a bit more about her family life – to show why she is the way she is. Her family is not the best – she has an abusive brother who hits her (“sometimes”) and who is continually passive-aggressive, tormenting her emotionally and psychologically. The mother is no better, to be honest. When Alan, her brother spits on her face, the mother fails to reprimand her wayward son and instead questions Marianne how she could deal with the real world outside when she could not deal with “a little sibling rivalry”. She then continues to mock her saying, “You think you are special, do you?”

The writing style and narrative structure of Sally Rooney

  1. As Rooney describes the scenes, the reader gets spectacular imagery as if a literary montage.
  2. I feel like the book solely relies on emotion and catharsis it can erupt in the reader.
  3. There are narrative skips and jumps, meaning that the timeline is not really linear. In the beginning, these jumps are not between very different stages, but as we move further into the narrative, these jumps are considerably disconnected as if snippets of memory that assault the protagonists as they live their life, characteristic of the modern fragmented soul, inevitably coming closer and closer to each other. 
  4. The story is also written in a rather episodic format, and now that I look back and introspect, this is how we humans, ‘normal people’ like us look back and retrospect.

Important themes in the book

  1. Isolation/detachment/aimlessness – there is a sense of detachment which is weird but then so reflective of normal modern society. Marianne feels that she is not part of the life in Carricklea.
    • “Really she has everything going on for her. She has no idea what she’s going to do with her life.”
  2. The lack of rootedness/a sense of not belonging/transience –
    • “Marianne had the sense that her real-life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it.”
    • Connell really thinks of the transient nature of things when he is on the Europe trip. I was really reminded of Holden Caulfield at this point and how he was absolutely disgusted with phoniness.      
  3. Originality as something deviant of ‘normal’ behavior –
    • Marianne appreciates beauty in its raw and primal form when she wants to see Connell having sex.
    • Connell is originally unwilling to let others know about his ‘relationship’ with Marianne because since she was not considered a ‘normal’ person in their circle, any association with her would taint him as ‘weird’ like her, and not a normal person, something that Connell desperately wants.
    • “Do we ever say what we mean?”
  4. Identity – The imposter syndrome was brought in well, in this aspect. As Connell grapples with his identity in college, the threader also starts to question these issues that plague all humans.
  5. Stability – In the beginning, I also feel that both these characters, as actual human beings with relation to each other, are lacking in conviction. Why cannot they assert and say that they want something rather than saying, and I quote from the book, “Say you want me to stay and I will”.
    • Then, I feel like Connell truly feels stability when he rescues Marianne from Alan and then confronts him, threatening to kill him if he ever hurt Marianne again. That is the point of change for him, I believe and he starts to work on himself, truly. He is really open to her at the moment.
    • “Trust me. I love you, I’m not going to let anything like that happen to you again.”

The excellence of the series!

  1. I loved the Italian countryside the most. The reflections on the pool as Connell calmed Marianne after the fight with Jamie was also stunning.
  2. I think that the book is also a very emotional one and the series has done fantastic in that it was able to bring onto screen those emotions. I did not cry when I read the book but I sobbed while I watched the grand acting of these two actors.
  3. The subtle changes that were in the series (from the novel) just made it more heart-wrenching. The way Connell was kind of a passive person who went with the flow and denied his relationship with Marianne was again heart wrenching on screen.
    • Also the way Connell sobbed after the Debs party – that just got to me.
  4. Moreover, in the book Marianne never really says ‘I love you’ to Connell (in the series she does), and so you have to ask who is the more repressed person here.
  5. The portrayal of when Connell was disgusted with the phoniness of university students who do not read the books but act as if they have, was also on point. This bit was better portrayed on the show. The imposter syndrome stuff was done well here.
    • The series also delves more into the mental health issues of Connell and the deplorable family conditions and relationships of Marianne – the abuse and everything.
  6. Regarding Marianne’s trauma (from the abuse she has suffered at the hands of her brother), she has come to believe that she deserves the bad treatment she often gets. In this context, I do have to say that the overlap that was done in the series – Lukas and her in the photoshoot session, while Connell reads his email in the background about what he thinks about this – that just because bad things may have happened to her, doesn’t mean that she deserves them, was very insightful and amazing. Something that the book was unable to do.
  7. The disconnect from life was shown very aesthetically via the slow sequences, for Marianne and Connell.
  8. The series also did well with the portrayal of other characters especially that of Niall and Lorraine.
    • The series also better explored the character of Niall. In the book, I honestly didn’t care about him enough – he just wasn’t there enough.
    • The mother-son dynamic was awesome in the book and it was just as awesome in the series. I loved it.

The endings!

The end of the book left me dissatisfied because it felt like they had not learned a lesson that they need to communicate! Instead, Marianne just pushes Connell away yet again yet simply telling him that she loves him.

In this regard, I think that the series does better. It establishes the two characters as two individuals on their own, yet with an undeniable need and want for each other. They are bound forever and in a way, they are in this healthy relationship that shows them their value based on their individual selves. In a way, it is a new beginning for them. 

My ratings!

  • I rated Normal People, the book, 3/5 stars!
  • I rated Normal People, the series, 4.5/5 stars!
Normal People by Sally Rooney: my ratings!
Normal People by Sally Rooney: my ratings!

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Book review: Krishna’s Sister by Priyanka Bhuyan (#BIRTHDAYBLOGHOP)

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the author. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external forces.

synopsis

This is the story of a woman who had everything yet who lost everything and rose when everyone gave up to finally lead the empire of Bharatvarsha. For the first time, take a sneak peek into the life of the sister of the God who shaped Mahabharata to become the progenitor of the Kuru race after everything was reduced to nothing in the battle of Kurushetra.
Krishna’s sister is a mythological fiction of the life and story of Princess Subhadra in the backdrop of the great Mahabharat war and the sacrifice and pain that she went through. It also explores the relationship she shared with her brother and mentor Lord Krishna as well as her husband Arjuna and co-wife Draupadi. Subhadra is also worshipped as a deity in the Jagannath Puri, one of the holiest shrines in India.

my review

KRISHNA’S SISTER is the story of Subhadra (sister of Krishna and Balaram, and wife of Arjun). The reason that this book is interesting is that it brings forth a story and gives a voice to this (yet another) lesser-known woman from the Mahabharata. Recent mythological fiction novels have become a popular source and stronghold for the feminist viewpoint, with the help of which, the female characters are given a chance to bring their stories to the forefront. We all know that the Mahabharata is full of a multitude of related stories, but often they are ignored so as to not confuse the reader. However, this was a great attempt by the author to share the story of Subhadra, a sister of a God, but also a warrior and an independent and strong woman, on her own terms, as well as a goddess herself, worshipped in the Jagannath temple at Puri.

Krishna's Sister (ebook)
Krishna’s Sister (ebook)

The story was an emotional one that tugged on my heartstrings. It is about Subhadra – her life, her struggles, and the utter tragedies that befell her. But most of all, it is about how she overcame them all to emerge victoriously.

The author has written the story in a fluid way – we see the elements of family brought in, along with the love shared among brothers and sisters, the romantic love and subsequent pining she finds with Arjuna, and her later strife as a woman in society. The narration was on point, because despite the fact that all of this happened in the epics, thousands of years ago, the reader cannot help but relate with Subhadra. I cried with her, her pain, and her sacrifices. And like her, I too questioned the ways in which women have to sacrifice so much.

The author also explored her journey from being a Princess of the Yadav clan to being a queen in the Kuru dynasty, her relationships, and the dynamics among the Pandavas, with Draupadi and Kunti. Her relationship with Krishna was an adorable one and I loved the glimpses we got of the Lord.

Like all epics, the theme of destiny and fate is very powerful and prevalent here. Just like in the Greek dramas of West – of Sophocles, Homer, and Euripides – the inevitability of fate catching up to you, or the human strife (and further inevitable failure) to outrun it and escape it is very powerful in the Mahabharata as well. Especially if you consider the end of the Yadav clan but the fateful continuation of the Kuru clan with the help of Krishna’s intervention.

The author with her concise writing has kept the reader intrigued and engaged until the very end. I truly enjoyed reading this book and I hope the author comes up with the rest of the books in the series soon! I rated it 4/5 stars!

Nika with Krishna's Sister
Nika with Krishna’s Sister

Corporate Communication professional, an avid travel blogger, foodie, and movie buff all rolled into one, Priyanka Bhuyan has been doing freelancing since her college days. Her debut book-Kaleidoscope of Love, a collection of short stories is on the varied emotions of love was published in the year 2019 and was adjudged among the top 100 debut authors by Literature Light. She hails from the beautiful green state of Assam and Guwahati is where she calls her home. Currently in a workaholic phase, she has her parents, brother and her dog as her family. For more info you can follow her on girlsliketotravel.com

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This post is part of #Birthdaybloghop by Vidhya Thakkar and Neelam Sharma should not be repurposed, republished or used otherwise. The content herein is owned by the blogger. Hosts are not responsible for any infringement caused.”

Women-centric literature: A book list #Birthdaybloghop

“And since a novel has this correspondence to real life, its values are to some extent those of real life. But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally this is so. Yet is it the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are “important”; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes “trivial.” And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.”

– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
women-centric literature
women-centric literature

I recently compiled a list of books from my bookshelf, and the main theme that seemed to bind them all was the fact that they were either written by women or were about women in different spheres of life. Needless to say, many of these books, when they first came out, were often subject to various controversies, specifically because they also dealt with the themes of female independence, sexuality, intellectualism as well as female interrelationships.

Although these books all belong to various genres (literary fiction, nonfiction, bildungsroman, Post Colonial studies, dystopian, graphic novels, contemporary literature, etc), they have a common thread of continuity running through these. These follow women who are growing in one way or another (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc) and as such are often placed in contrast against the largely conservative and patriarchal society. All of these women are rebelling, in either a small or a big way, against the society that strives to repress them and their beings.

These are books that I have either read or am planning to read, specifically because of the subject matter. I believe that in one way or another, these can be great references when studying feminism, because like I have reiterated continually, they all deal with women and their rights, in various degrees. So, here is my book list of 25 books, including 3 special mentions, which I think every person should read.

  1. Delta of Venus by Anais Nin – A rich and exotic collection from the master of erotic writing!
  2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – The trials and tribulations of the March sisters during the American Civil War.
  3. The Ages of Lulu by Almudena Grandes – A groundbreaking novel of sexual exploration which was an overnight sensation and sparked international controversy!
  4. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde – A cyclical chronicle of the author’s coming-of-age and the different women who shaped her.
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A dystopian novel that is utterly convincing in its representation of a society that does not let women read and uses them as breeders.
  6. The Loves of Faustyna by Nina Fitzpatrick – A sexual odyssey across the social and political scenario of Communist Poland.
  7. Orlando by Virginia Woolf – A love-letter to Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West, Orlando is a journey across three centuries.
  8. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys – A retelling of the Jane Eyre story from the eyes of the madwoman in the attic!
  9. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir – A powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a groundbreaking exploration of inequality and otherness.  
  10. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – A feminist text that argues for the need for literal and figurative space for a woman to flourish and dedicate time to herself.
  11. The Awakening by Kate Chopin – One of the key first-wave feminist texts, that portrayed the stifling cage the institution of marriage was for one woman, who found respite in an extramarital affair.
  12. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – An intensely emotional read about a young girl suffering from mental health illness.
  13. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – An empowering story of a Black woman who faces multiple hardships, until she takes charge of her own destiny. Narrated via a series of letters.
  14. We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – A seminal nonfiction work that serves as the most basic and relevant modern reason why one should be a feminist.
  15. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – A graphic novel that explores sexuality, literature, and the effect of shame of closeted homosexuals.
  16. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi – Often described as a Middle Eastern version of Sex and the City, Embroideries deal with female sexuality, the concept of virginity, and independence.
  17. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – A fun read set during the years before and after the WWII, City of Girls is an exploration of one’s identity and sexuality, amidst the glamour of fashion and showgirls. Also, narrated by an old woman looking back on her life.
  18. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – The only book in this list, written by a male author, Madame Bovary is much like The Awakening in the sense that it follows a married woman trapped in her marriage, seeking emotional fulfillment in reading, spending and ultimately in adultery.
  19. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett – One of the best-loved works in Victorian and children’s literature, it is about resilience and hope in the face of extreme hardships and sadness.
  20. Emma’s Secret (A Woman of Substance series) by Barbara Taylor Bradford – The Woman of Substance was a book that my aunt loved and heavily annotated, and as many would agree, a story of the indomitable spirit of a woman who with a mean entrepreneurial streak became the richest woman in the world.
  21. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – A reimagining of the Mahabharata from the eyes of Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas.
  22. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery – A book series that was a childhood favourite of many, and was again relieved via the Netflix series Anne with an E.

Special Mentions:

  1. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  2. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  3. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
women-centric literature
women-centric literature

This post is part of #Birthdaybloghop by Vidhya Thakkar and Neelam Sharma should not be repurposed, republished or used otherwise. The content herein is owned by the blogger. Hosts are not responsible for any infringement caused.

After She Wrote Him: A review

AFTER SHE WROTE HIM
AFTER SHE WROTE HIM

Thanks to Netgalley for this fantastic read!

My God! This was an astounding read. I have never before come across a novel that so well threaded together the lines of literary fiction and crime. So well did this weaving take place that I was facing a dilemma – do I hurry up and finish the book at one go (like I would for any crime novel), or do I savour it and live through it a day at a time (as I do for literary fiction). That is to say, I was torn between my love for it as a crime novel, and contrastingly as literary fiction.

AFTER SHE WROTE HIM is a pioneer in reaching for what has never been reached out for (at least in my humble reading career). If there are more books in this particular niche, I owe it to this, my first such novel, for introducing to this world.

Literary fiction novels have the capacity to make me think and introspect quite a bit. On the other hand, I am a criminal psychologist, trying to figure out the mystery when I read crime fiction. Bringing these together was an utter delight to my mind fortress and I applaud the writer for her superb skill in doing so.

The characters are alive – they jump out of the novel right at you – both with their realistic subtlety and also with the fantastic phantasm that the author creates. I lived through Madeline and I breathed through Edward. And may I just say that this twists your mind? You are left grasping for straws as you oscillate between deciding what is real and what is not.

My only reason for rating this book a 4.5 star and taking away the 0.5 was for the ending which left me pining for a more solid end. But that is not to say that I did not like the ending – in fact, I did. It was, at the same time, more solid and real than it could ever have been. But the book transforms you and you are left, longing to be a part of the lives of these two main characters.

I have really loved this book and can only try my best to persuade you to read it soon! Please do! It is a tour de force!
Thanks to #netgalley for #AfterSheWroteHim !

Check out the book on Amazon, or add it to your Goodreads TBR list!

Other popular posts: How to Read More Books!, How to Ace Online University, Delving Into Audiobooks! etc

Temporary Wife Temptation: A modern-day romance!

Temporary Wife Temptation
Temporary Wife Temptation

This was a modern-day marriage-of-convenience story that was a beautiful combination of tradition, romance and family values. I love how the author has given an Eastern twist to it – since most of the stories that follow this trope are set in the western world. I feel that when it comes to the Eastern side of the world, it just gets a lot more complicated. We have a family to deal with, we have extended family to deal with and so on.

I loved how these characters were well rounded. Apart from the budding romance, there are also the subplots – mostly the hurdles the two characters are trying to overcome. Garrett and Natalie are two people who are goal-oriented and know what they want. Garrett was the perfect alpha male – he was so encouraging and applauded Natalie’s business acumen.

Check it out on Goodreads!

I also loved that he was not the obsessive possessive lover that seems to be the equation nowadays. The way they blossomed was great – both as a couple as well as individually. The power imbalance, however, surprisingly was not much of a deterrent in their relationship and I huffed in satisfaction at that. Also, the sexual build-up was great although they did seem to have instant chemistry.

Check it out on Amazon!

However, one thing that I did not particularly like was how each chapter would begin suddenly. There was no thread of continuity there and I would have appreciated it if there were. However, it was a quick and interesting love story! I rated it  4/5 stars!

Swimming in the Dark: A love letter

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

SWIMMING IN THE DARK was incandescent!! It is perfect for fans of #callmebyyourname and #aristotleanddante and also #redwhiteandroyalblue ! It was also my last read of February and my second 5⭐ read of the month!

The book is a beautiful and evocative story set in the early 1980s Poland. As such, the political scenario is quite an intricate part of the narrative and it also shapes the thoughts and actions of the characters. The story is told by Ludwik Glowacki a Polish man living in America. The whole novel is actually him reminiscing about his past, and more so, as if writing it for his former lover Janusz. Janusz is addressed in the second person and it really made me remember Call Me By Your Name. Ludwik’s story starts from when he was of 9 years of age and met and fell in love with his neighbour Beniek, a Jewish boy, to his early 20s romance with Janusz.

Check it out on Goodreads!

The book’s central themes include Ludwik’s realisation of his sexuality, the way he deals with it, especially in a society where this is frowned upon, and thus, the aspect of shame associated with it; discovery of his selfhood as well as the tumultuous political times of Poland wrought with various trials for the people.

Check it out on Amazon!

Swimming in the Dark
Swimming in the Dark

There is a beautiful sense of the bittersweet that envelops Jedrowski’s writing. I am entirely in love with it and am looking forward to a follow up to this fantastic debut. The way the author has portrayed the conflicting feelings that Ludwik has for Janusz because of their differing political ideologies etc, is also great. With such a lyrical prose and tragic undertones, this was a truly unique read, that will leave it’s warmth with me, like a dying hearth of fire, for a really long time.

My experience with the graphic novel

With reference to Pumpkinheads and Vyasa

Vyasa and Pumpkinheads
Vyasa and Pumpkinheads

I finally started reading the graphic novel from 2019 and it honestly has been a great journey so far. In my 5th semester, I decided to pursue a Visual Studies elective. I was lucky enough to have a great teacher under whom I explored this genre and saw what fun it is!

Graphic novel: Pumpkinheads

I recently picked up Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks and it was my first graphic novel of the year. To be very honest, I was suffering from a terrible reading slump and so I wanted to read something fun and not very intense. That is the reason why I decided to pick up Pumpkinheads, about which my bestie Gayatri had been raving about from the time she read it. and I really enjoyed it. It certainly helped me get over my slump.

Check out the book on Goodreads and Amazon!

However, on that very note, it span over the time period of just a few hours. It is not a book with a lot of depth, so if that is what you are expecting it to be, you might be disappointed. I found it be a fun and flirty read. Moreover, it has great LGBT representation and it definitely broke free of the generic stereotypes of boys and girls. Lastly, I was blown away by the amazing art. The predominant colours were that of orange, burnt ochre, and all the autumn colours, which made the book an art piece to feast on. I certainly enjoyed every bit of it. It was a 3.75 star read for me.

Vyasa and Pumpkinheads: a glimpse
Vyasa and Pumpkinheads: a glimpse

Graphic novel: Vyasa

After that I was so in love with pictures that can take over your imagination, that I decided to go after another graphic novel and this time, I picked up Vyasa. This book is on the Indian epic Mahabharata, a personal favourite. The story is by Sibaji Bandyopadhyay and the art is by Sankha Banerjee. The way this book was written was amazing. I loved the recurrent jumps in time and the overall framing structure that combined the stories within the story. However, it was only the first part and I was left dangling.

Now I am eagerly waiting for the sequel to Vyasa: The Beginning. The art in this book is stunning as well and I was spellbound throughout. The fact that I finally have pictures that can accompany the stories I, and we all, grew up with, was a wonder in itself. I absolutely loved this book and I rated it 4.5 star read for me.

Check out the book on Goodreads and Amazon!

Check out similarly themed books: Upon a Burning Throne, What if it’s you?, etc.

A fantastic thriller: Good Girls Lie

Good Girls Lie by J. T Ellison was my first read of 2020. I really enjoyed this book and it ended up being a 3.75 star read for me. It was an amazing thriller!

Good girls lie
Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

In my stop today for this blog tour of GOOD GIRLS LIE, by HarperCollins, I’m sharing my review of this amazing read!

An atmospheric thriller

The synopsis was very interesting firstly and drew me in with a moth to a flame. On that note, there are many spider metaphors in the book that kind of creeped me out. Moreover, I love the atmospheric setting of the book.

Shifts in narration

However, when there were shifts between certain two figures (I dare not give any spoilers but if you have read the book you will understand) and I would get kind of confused as to who is who. This specific thing took me some time to get used to and when they happened I admit I get a bit frazzled and confused.

A thrilling setting

Apart from this small fact, I enjoyed this book. The whole private boarding school, which is exclusively for girls – all of them privileged – was a delicious setting. The dynamics and hierarchy among the girls – both good and bad – felt very real and in a way, a bit sad. Why do girls see other girls as competition and create problems for them? Why not build each other up?

Character growth

 I think that the character of Ash could have grown a bit more. Compared to the length of the novel and the time span in it, she could have been a bit more developed by the end. I love the secret societies vibe that permeates throughout. SInce I have always wanted to be a huge old mansion full of secret pathways and tunnels and hence, I lived through each and every moment while those girls were traveling along with them. Of course, the hazing was cruel and unfair and extreme.

Verdict

The truth kept dangling just in front of me and I tried to grab on to it but only towards the end did I finally start to piece together what was actually the situation here. I really enjoyed the book and the whole secret societies vibe makes me want to pick up Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo ASAP!

Check out the books on Goodreads and Amazon!

You can also check out the best books I read in 2019!

The Nevernight Chronicles: A Review

The Nevernight Chronicles
The Nevernight Chronicles

Why I decided to pick up Nevernight:

I remember reading Aurora Rising sometime in mid-2019 and I really enjoyed it. It was then and there that I had made up my mind to read Jay Kristoff’s independent works. No wonder I ended up binging on the entire trilogy of the Nevernight Chronicles. The books in chronological order are Nevernight, Godsgrave, and Darkdawn.

Many many thanks to HarperCollins for giving me the opportunity to read this awesome series! This series ended up on the Best Fantasy Reads of 2019 video! Check this out!

Nevernight as adult fantasy

Firstly, Nevernight was an adult fantasy series – my second one after the Daevabad Series (The City of Brass, and The Kingdom of Copper) which I read in 2019 as well. Being pretty new to the adult fantasy genre, I did not know much about what to expect. But I was in for a treat. There are a lot of adult themes in the Nevernight and I for one was left reeling ever time a chapter ended. The entire series is a very fast-paced one and with full of action, it was definitely one of the best fantasy series I read in 2019.

A quirky writing style

Regarding the writing style, I very much am in love with the one the author uses. It is witty and laugh-out-loud funny and so very interactive. The swear words were so very imaginative and I was hooked to the way he writes. I think apart from the characters and the plot, it is this unique writing style that made it such a bestseller. The sarcastic tunes at the time had me rolling my eyes and the banter that the characters share was on point. The repetitive manner at times, make a staccato-like beat which gave me goosebumps at several points.

On-point world-building

The inclusion of the footnotes was another plus point to this series. It helped make the reader know a lot of the world – the political system, the social systems, the history and various other things in general. I have personally not come across this style ever before in fantasy. It just makes everything feel so real. The imagery throughout is on point. Kristoff has a stunning way of conjuring these amazing scenes right in front of your eyes and I was a sucker for that. It felt like I was right there, although at a safe distance from the weapons!

Maps and illustrations!

The maps are also very detailed and I love tracking Mia throughout. The overall content of the series is deliciously dark and written with a compelling voice. The themes of revenge, violence, tortures, ambition, etc., along with friendship, family, etc, were really well interwoven.

Setting and Characters

 The setting was very much like Rome and Venice into the middle ages and the magic system was amazing. I love the power that Mia has and her relationship with Mister Kindly. I love the characters although I do not like Ash much, to be honest. Not even as the novels progress. I just found her character to be unbearable unstable and she was just not someone I liked.

Darkdawn

However, compared to Nevernight and Godsgrave, I think Darkdawn did not fully reach the potential. I was a bit bored at parts although I did enjoy it overall. I think it could have been a bit better especially with the plot and the pace.

Verdict

Overall, I love this series and it ended up in my Top Fantasy Reads of 2019 list! I rated Nevernight 4.5, Godsgrave 4.5, and Darkdawn 4stars.

Check out the books on Goodreads, and Amazon.

Intertextual retelling: The Sleeper and The Spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle is an intertextual retelling comprising both the tales of Sleeping Beauty as well as Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Sleeper and the Spindle
The Sleeper and the Spindle

An Intertextual Retelling

This is a new retelling, combining the fairytales of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. I did not really know that going into it; I just thought that it was a Sleeping beauty retelling. However, the author has given an entirely new spin to it!

Female empowerment in intertextual reads

However, sleeping beauty, as it turns out, is not actually who we think she is. This is where the author brings in a delicious and dark new twist and it is quite interesting to see the turn that this story takes. This story however, does establish the two women as independent women with their own rights, pursuing what they want to, whether good or bad. They do not depend or long for a prince to save them and are neither pawns at the hands of others. They are makers of their own destiny and that was a good point added to the story.

Illustrations

The Sleeper and the Spindle
The Sleeper and the Spindle

I think that this is a good fairytale on its own rights, to introduce kids to – not everything is as it appears and not everyone is as helpless as they might seem to be. The artwork was quite different from the one I am generally used to but I loved it. I came across Chris Riddell’s illustrations once before in Summer With Monica by Roger McGough.

What I did not like

However, I would have liked the book to be a bit longer than it was. Because of this reason also, I think that it was a bit overhyped. It could have definitely provided more and I just think like there was something missing.

Verdict:

Overall, a really interesting read and I rate it 4/5 stars.

Check it out on Goodreads and Amazon!

Recommended reads: The Near Witch, Crown of Oblivion, The Raven’s Tale, After the Flood, etc.

Classic poetry: Live Oak, With Moss

This classic poetry collection is an intensely private reflection on Walt Whitman’s attraction to and affection for other men. 

Live Oak, with Moss
The classic poetry collection is an intensely private reflection on Walt Whitman’s attraction to and affection for other men.

One of the most beautiful books that I have ever owned, Live Oak, With Moss, is simply filled to the brim with the poet’s haunting love for the beloved. Whitman’s longing just soaks the page and flows to your heart. The way the poet has combined nature with these poems is stunning. It made these so much more potent, real and raw. Apart from this burgeoning sense of longing, these subtly erotic poems are filled with the hope for a distant time and place when there will be a wholesome space for all these men to gather and simply be themselves.

I am reading Song of Myself from Leaves of Grass, for a class this semester. So, reading Live Oak, With Moss was illuminating in a way I never thought possible. I was overwhelmed by the words and the emotions they swelled up in me.

Live Oak, With Moss, is without a doubt, one of the best collections I have ever read and felt.  

Links to Goodreads, and Amazon

Check out my review for Lord of the Butterflies

Historical Fiction: The Orange Grove

A consuming historical fiction novel, The Orange Grove is set in 18th century France. This historical fiction is full of suspense, rivalries, and secrets!

A consuming historical fiction novel, The Orange Grove is set in 18th century France. This historical fiction is full of suspense, rivalries, and secrets!
The Orange Grove, by Kate Murdoch

Historical fiction

A thoroughly entertaining and delicious read, The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch, is a historical fiction set in 18th century France. From the synopsis itself, I could imagine that it would be full of political rivalries, power plays, secrets, etc. So I had high hopes for the book. I am glad to say that it definitely exceeded my expectations.

Synopsis

With a glorious world-building, the plot largely takes place in Blois, in the chateau of Dux Hugo d’Amboise. Inhabited by the Duc, his wife the Duchesse, and five mistresses, it is a regal world. But this aspect itself was baffling for me – for a modern-day woman like myself, this is a curious living situation. As one would aspect, the women, although living in a more or less harmonious existence, often have certain insecurities brewing between them. The Duchesse is acquainted with the ways of her world – any respected nobleman could have mistresses. However, Charlotte is only okay as long as the Duc loves only her. But when the Duc takes on a new mistress, a young noblewoman. He seems thoroughly besotted with her and so, Charlotte feels threatened. And it is from this insecurity that rises, that the story really starts.

The setting

The author portrays the tense environment well. It is clear that the author has done extensive research on this subject and this historical era. The women resort to underhanded means and ways to gain favour at the Duc’s hand. There are various secrets which, if revealed, may shake the roots of the power relations. The setting and plot have been well constructed.

Characterization of Henriette

The character of the protagonist, Henriette, is a morally sound person, I feel. She too has secrets to keep, just like everyone else, but I admire her willingness to help and support another woman instead of viewing her as the enemy. I think this has been the root cause of disharmony among women throughout history. Women are raised to perceive one another as competitors. However, in recent times, this has definitely changed I believe.

Characterization

The characterization when it comes to the others too is well done. We see the characters escalating toward a certain point, the climax so to say, and then follows their rise or downfall. What is also commendable is how wonderfully the author has kept the reader engrossed throughout – whether it is in the case of Henriette, her daughter Solange, Solange’s cute friendship with Tomas, the other mistresses, the tarot reader Romain, etc.

Themes

The themes of friendship, enmity, status and power, morality, loyalty, etc. have been thoroughly played through the characters in the book. In the end, it was thrilling to see how these people support and hate or pull tricks on one another all for the sake of power. Fashion, culture, sexuality, entertainment, culture, etc have also been shown throughout the lives of these characters. It has been a consuming read and I enjoyed each and every page of this novel. I rate this 4.5/5 stars.

  1. Add it on Goodreads!
  2. Buy it on Amazon!

Recommendations:

  1. City of Girls
  2. The Duchess
  3. Emperor Chandragupta and Emperor Vikramaditya
  4. Delayed Rays of a Star
  5. Hunting Prince Dracula and Escaping from Houdini

A coming-of-age: Suncatcher

An absolutely beautiful and poignant coming-of-age,  Suncatcher is set against the political unrest in the 1960s Ceylon and it is a coming-of-age which I definitely recommend to you all!
Suncatcher by Romesh Gunesekera

An absolutely beautiful and poignant coming-of-age, Suncatcher is set against the political unrest in the 1960s Ceylon and it is a coming-of-age which I definitely recommend to you all!

A coming-of-age novel!

This was my first Gunesekera book and by god, am I a fan now! Suncatcher was a beautiful and poignant coming-of-age novel, or a bildungsroman, as we lit grads like to put it.

Setting and background:

The story is set in the 1960s Ceylon, erstwhile Sri Lanka, and it is a time of great political change all around; the reverberations of these political happenings resonate throughout the book and control how the adults act or what they say.

Themes of illusions and traps

One of the important themes that I could figure was that of illusion. Be it the adults or Jay himself, everyone seems to be deliberately altering the way he or she perceives reality and moreover, an entire section on the construction of the cage and the way how Jay perceives it towards the end is reminiscent of the way the system has caged the people. Society, class, economic situation, language, etc are all dividing lines.

Coming-of-age: The protagonist

At the center, we have the protagonist Kairo, a pretty much normal guy whose life takes for an exciting turn when he meets the worldly and confident Jay.

The similarity to The Great Gatsby

For all his dreams and hopes, Jay reminded me of Fitzgerald’s famous character Jay Gatsby. Jay is a boy whose personality greatly mesmerizes and influences Kairo and he comes off as an idealistic visionary, a talented naturalist and a rebel. There are many layers to his personality, however, and as the story progresses, we learn more about him.

A coming-of-age: Jay and Kairo

However, as Jay seems to be oblivious to the unstable situation all around him, Kairo seems to be a more emphatic and emotionally intelligent boy who takes stock of the things going on around him, although at the time he may not understand their significance. Jay and Kairo as a pair, seem to be a juxtaposition of two vastly different worlds; where Kairo belongs to the bourgeoisie, Jay can be said to belong to the ‘landed gentry’, for lack of a better term.

The similarity to Rhett Butler!!

Another character who was very interesting was Uncle Elvin. If Jay reminds me of Jay Gatsby because of his visionary ways, Elvin seems to embody Rhett Butler in his manner of living. I do not know why, but I somehow saw Clark Gable, more specifically his persona as Rhett Butler as Elvin, which is full of fast cars, girls and his extravagant ways.

A realistic writing style

As for the writing, the language is descriptive and so wholesome! The author has been able to well portray the thinking of youngsters burgeoning in their pre-adult years. There is a sense of rivalry that seems to be present, the need to be the leader and to dominate, etc. The use of the native words adds a very original flavor to the book.

Verdict:

I absolutely loved this book and I hope I can pick up more from the author’s milieu. I rate it 5/5 stars. Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy of this book. Also, the postcard is so aesthetic!

Recommended reads:

  1. An Atlas of Impossible Longing
  2. City of Girls
  3. The Dutch House

Links:

  1. Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48348802-suncatcher
  2. Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/Suncatcher-Romesh-Gunesekera/dp/1526621584/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3U20JYQ6SXBVS&keywords=suncatcher+by+romesh+gunesekera&qid=1574268544&sprefix=suncatcher+by+romesh%2Caps%2C456&sr=8-1

An Atmospheric Thriller: Impossible Causes

Impossible Causes by Julie Mayhew
Impossible Causes by Julie Mayhew

Impossible Causes was an atmospheric thriller and it was one hell of a ride, and when I first picked it up, I had not expected it to take the turn that it had.

Atmospheric setting

The whole idea of a secluded island with a tightly knit religious community was very interesting, hence, no wonder I pounced on it as soon as I could. However, I have to admit that the synopsis did not do justice to the actual story.

Check out my review for The Silent Patient

The atmospheric world-building

The world-building, so to say, was on point and could give you goosebumps because of its excellence, and the book has an atmospheric feel. The fogs on the island made me feel claustrophobic and such was the imagery presented by the author.

Check out the thrilling The Millenium Trilogy

Shifting timelines

We have two-time lines – one is the current one where we follow Viola after the ‘discovery’ of the body, and the other is a past timeline from the time of Viola’s arrival on the island; but the continuous jumps between the two timelines and the narrators were a bit abrupt and took me by surprise. It took some time for me to get used to that.

Check out my review of The Third Mrs. Durst!

Pace

 The beginning was a bit slow and I had to push myself; however, contrarily, I was hooked on in a strange way. The thing was that in the beginning, there were bits, which were unnecessary and yet, I kept reading on because I wanted to resolve the entire issue. In was only towards the latter half that I was actually on the edge of my seat trying to wonder where it was going. For all the hype, I think that this book falls short and I wasn’t that very excited to know much about the actual death, but apart from these issues, I think the story was well made.

Themes

The book covers themes such as secrecy, the power of voice, collective conscience, rape culture, misogyny, sexism, etc. The way in which the author has written the plot to encompass the universal issues that plague us was mind-blowing. The themes were excellent. I could not really guess what was happening until quite a bit past from the midway point.

Overall, it was quite an interesting read and I rate it 3.75/5 stars.

Links to get this book!

  1. Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/Impossible-Causes-Julie-Mayhew/dp/1408897024/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1574056956&sr=8-1
  2. Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40653128-impossible-causes

NonFiction November Recommendations!

Nonfiction November is here and I have got some amazing nonfiction recommendations for you all! I hope you all have a blast reading these books!

nonfiction november
NonFiction November recommendations

Reading nonfiction is hard!

I feel like 2019 has gone by so fast. November is here; half of it is already gone and it is only now that I am making the #nonfictionnovember recommendations post! I know from personal experience that reading this genre can be quite intimidating for some of us. But for those of you who read non-fiction very often, I applaud you!

How to ease into this genre

Since easing into this genre may take some getting used to for many of us, I decided to compile a list of some non-fiction reads, which do not really read as such. So without further ado, here are some books I have read and some that are on my radar!

Craft!

Embroidered Life: The Art of Sarah K. Benning – a splendidly created coffee table book, Embroidered Life follows the work process of Benning. Benning is a self-taught embroidery artist nad this book is a wonderful book to leaf through. If you are looking for something creative to pick up to while the harsh winter months away, this might just be the book for you. I for one, am currently working on an embroidery project of my own, which I hope to complete and show you all soon! (Goodreads)

Sci-fi!

Lost Transmissions: Science Fiction and Fantasy’s Untold, Underground and Forgotten History – a book which I am absolutely thrilled to pick this month is this insightful behemoth. It is rightly regarded as the bible of science fiction and fantasy’s most interesting and least-known chapters.   I have very high hopes for this mixture of essays, interviews, and stunning visuals! (Goodreads)

Memoirs!

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay’s searingly honest memoir of food, weight, and self-image has been described as being intimate, vulnerable, and bracingly candour. Having read excerpts of Bad Feminist, I am pretty excited to see how this much-acclaimed memoir will be for me. (Goodreads)

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. I decided that no matter what I write could trump this brilliant description of the King’s book. I have yet to read any of his books so I think I will change that situation by picking up this one. (Goodreads)

I’m Not Here to Give a Speech – Garcia Marquez is already a much well-acclaimed author. And I think it is an ironically named book! This is his collection of speeches span from his high school days to his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. If you have not yet read any of Marquez’s words, perhaps this could be great for you to start with. (Goodreads)

Important works!

City of my Heart – a 4 star read for me, this book is a translation of four texts that talk about Dilli (or Delhi, as it is now known), following the downfall and the fate of royalty following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, with the capture of Bahadur Shah Zafar. (Goodreads)

I am Malala and We Are Displaced – Malala is the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the fact that I have yet to read her books, meant I just had to get to them this month. Both of these two books are a conglomerate of the global issues of terrorism, the utter destruction it causes to the innocents of lives all around, immigration crisis, etc. It also speaks of the displacement issue that crops up with it,  war, the refugee situation, border conflict, etc.

Feminist works!

Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More and Live Bolder – a 5 star read that I’d recommend to all! It was a fundamental and impactful read that I loved. It talks about the unexplainable need for perfectionism (which is prevalent in all of us), albeit a bit more obsessively in girls. Please pick up this book! It would be a shame if we fail to read it and realize the way most of us limit ourselves. (Goodreads)

Feminist Rani – Can I brag that I have already met the author and got this signed? Shamefully, I haven’t read it yet! Perhaps there is no better time than this November! It shares the stories of 15 women – women who have strived to fight for their own rights to stand as equals to men. They talk of issues such as identity, the need for the realization of selfhood, etc. (Goodreads)

A few other recommendations!

Some other books I could recommend are Becoming (I personally think all schools should make this a compulsory read), Soliloquy of a Small-town Uncivil Servant, Girl Power, Between You And Me, etc. You can also check out Can You Die of a Broken Heart?, Kashmir’s Untold Story, The Case that Shook the Empire, The Intelligence Trap, etc.

Please don’t forget to comment below and recommend the nonfiction books that you have read as well.

A Mahabharata based extravaganza! UPON A BURNING THRONE (PART 2 OF THE BURNT EMPIRE SAGA), BY ASHOK K BANKER, 2019

A Mahabharata-inspired retelling

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review and opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

I read the first book in this series quite some time ago and from what I remember, that book concentrated quite a bit on the world-building aspect and the construction of the setting. It revolved around the princes and the royal families and their relationships with each other. But in Part 2, which recently was released recently, the focus is given instead on the backstories of the characters, their pasts, and their emotional buildup – all culminating in the ultimate war.

The question about retellings

In the Burnt Empire series, the author has given a fantastic retelling of the epic Mahabharata, but has altered a few essential aspects of it, so as to keep it entertaining. But while this may be a controversial point, I do think that retellings, especially in fantasy, do not have to remain completely true to the original story – if it does, where is the scope for imagination?

World-building

Nonetheless, I think that in this second book, the characters have grown significantly than in the first one. There is clearly a lot of attention given to details and the way the author has intertwined all the different narratives, is a job well done. Banker is meticulous with his description of the world in the book – Arthaloka. His attention to detail is uniquely reflected in the plotline and the reader’s imagination’s eye. The world-building ensnares you completely and leaves no possible exit.  I quite enjoyed the book.

Click here to check out my review of the first book!

The human/moral dilemma

Like in the first book, the author has continued to draw upon the essence of the age of confusion that the Mahabharata implies. There is no longer any binary. There is no clear division between what is solely good and what is evil. Everyone is drawn to a point where they have to or have already made decisions, that were not truly evil but not right, either. The moral conundrum that we humans face is on point in this book. It is dubious, the decisions we personally make sometimes as well as the ones made by the characters in this book.

Verdict:

However, the ending was not… how shall I put it? Not very satisfactory for me. It could have been a bit clearer I suppose. In spite of it all, this Mahabharata retelling – Upon a Burning Throne 2 was an enjoyable read for me. I rate it 4/5 stars.

Title: Upon A Burning Throne (Part 2 of The Burnt Empire Saga)

Author: Ashok K Banker

Publisher: Simon & Schuster India

Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/Upon-Burning-Throne-Part-2/dp/938679750X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=upon+a+burning+throne+2&qid=1571664653&sr=8-1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47896474-upon-a-burning-throne–part-2

About the reviewer: Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Dear Juliet… A beautiful glimpse into love

Dear Juliet... A Beautiful Glimpse into Love

So this amazing collection of beautiful letters was recently published on the 1st of October, 2019 and I am so happy to have been able to read it. I absolutely love it!

Dear Juliet

So basically this is a collection of only a few of the thousands of letters that people all over the earth write to Juliet.

Yes, the Juliet of Verona. Juliet Capulet. Romeo’s Juliet. Juliet by Shakespeare.

The Juliet Club

If you didn’t know, there is even today the famous Juliet Club, where Juliet’s secretaries reply to all the letters sent to her. It was first started by Giulio Tamassia and a group of artists and scholars in 1972. Today, Giovanna Tamassia directs the club and upholds her father’s legacy. I personally never knew about this club until I saw the 2010 movie Letters to Juliet.

My letter of love

As I read these heartfelt outpouring of love, I realized how many forms of it there are today, which is not to imply that anyone is better or more powerful than the other. This emotion is all-encompassing and kind and caring and love loves to give. As I leafed through the pages, I was touched by the beautiful words – which were spontaneous and intuitive and emotional and some unrefined, but all, beautiful and touching.

I think this is a wonderful book we need to read, especially in present times when we humans seem to have forgotten what it is to love others, and to be kind to others. We have almost relegated this feeling to simply a romantic one, forgetting all the other versions of love that exist, like the love for a sibling, the love for an aging parent and the love for friends.

A visual saga

With scans of original letters sent to the club, in so many different languages, I was blown away by the feeling that the one emotion that binds us all to one another and to life in general, is that of love. We all may have busy lives and be participants in a cut-throat world but to love and be loved is a privilege that we all yearn for, deep inside.

I was very emotional by the time I finished reading this book and I do not think I will really rate or review this book because it was so cavernous a topic. But If I absolutely have to rate it, it will be an astounding 5/5 stars.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43387390-dear-juliet

Amazon: https://www.amazon.in/Dear-Juliet-Lovestruck-Lovelorn-Shakespeares/dp/1452170568/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1571491090&sr=8-4

Some other books you can check out if you liked this one:

  1. Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson
  2. Poets, Artists, Lovers by Mira Tudor
  3. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  4. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

A Review of Walk With Wings, by Tene Edwards

I read this poetry collection over the course of two weeks because I usually read poetry quite slowly so that I actually feel the words and can mull them over. Walk With Wings was an enjoyable read that I delved into. The poems were all divided into 5 sections: Monsoon Love, Winter Sorrow, Autumn Grace, Spring Resilient, and Summer Freedom. In short, poignant verses, Tene’s poems are a compilation of reflections on her experiences, thoughts, and feelings through love, loss, pain, healing, and resilience. The collection takes you through the life story of the author while offering advice, notes, and affirmations, which were written to empower the author during difficult times. Walk With Wings tells the story of Tene falling in love, making bad decisions, learning from her mistakes, and discovering how to love her life and herself.

The pieces here deal with hard work, discipline and the sacrifices we have to make in order to pursue our dreams. They have been so relatable to me and I was in love. It is always empowering in a way – to know that what we are feeling is not just us. So many people are suffering and knowing that gives a sort of strength – if so many others are dealing with these issues, and progressing, perhaps we can too?

A few of the pieces felt like quotes so irked me a bit, but then again, the content is something you can easily relate to and that makes it the best, I think. Self-love and empowerment are the two common threads that link all the different pieces in the book. I think that my personal favourite is Summer Freedom perhaps, because it is a process I am going through myself – I am healing myself by learning to accept my own self. I am de-stigmatizing the faults I had previously found in my skin which had once made me so very uncomfortable in this skin I wear. Very enjoyable read and i rate it 4/5 stars.

#qotd : Do you have certain books you go back to whenever you need some healing?

A suggestion I have is What Your Soul Already Knows by Salma Farook. It is another book that I loved and I keep going back to it. It is a self-help/motivational book. I am generally not much for this genre but this one book was amazing.

After the Flood, by Kassandra Montag, 2019

Title: After the Flood

Author: Kassandra Montag

Published on: 19th September, 2019

Publisher: The Borough Press

Genre: Dystopian/Fantasy

Format: Paperback

Synopsis:

The world is mostly water when Pearl is born. The floods have left America a cluster of small islands with roving trade ships and raiders.

Pearl knows little of her father Jacob and elder sister Row, who left her mother Myra when she was pregnant with her. Between them they make do, with Myra fishing and trading to make ends meet, travelling from island to island on Bird, the boat Myra’s grandfather made before he died.

Whilst their life is a tranquil one, Myra still aches for the daughter she once lost. When a chance encounter reveals that Row might still be alive, Myra packs up six-year-old Pearl and together they begin a dangerous voyage to The Valley, where rumours of violence and breeding ships run rampant.

Along the way they encounter death and strangers, finally finding solace on board Sedna – full to the brim with supplies and an able crew – where Myra feels like she might be closer to finding Row than she has ever been. But to get to Row she will have to deceive everyone around her, betraying the trust of those she’s come to love, and ask herself if she’s willing to sacrifice everything and everyone for what might be nothing at all.

My review:

I received a review copy in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

After the Flood was a very interesting read as well as scary to be honest. Scary in the sense that it deals with an issue which might eve turn real in a few years in our future. The dystopian genre is often an unsettling one because at the rate that we are going, the instances portrayed in the books seem very plausible.

After the Flood was one of my most anticipated new releases from the second half of 2019. I was pumped and the book did not disappoint. From the eco-critical point of view this book was a significant one that may well serve as a warning to the present generations. In a futuristic yet primeval world where everything has been submerged under water, Myra and Pearl are a mother-daughter duo who are doing their best to survive in the Westworld like world. Throughout the book we see them struggling with the scenario – they have to depend on fishing for their food and trade with these at ports which have not yet been submerged.

The theme of memory is quite significant here – Myra, for instance, deals with recurring ones of a time when things had been very different. Pearl is a gem and her bond with her mother is quite beautiful. For the most part, we see Myra dealing with her loss of her older daughter and then she keeps on wondering if in pursuing her, she will lose Pearl too?

The other characters were also well made – the unraveling of Abran is a significant one, especially as we see a person undoing their years of hard work because of the stress and pressure they are feeling at the moment.

The story was well-paced, the characters real and tortured in their own ways, and the world a scarily real portrait of what might be our own future one day. The language is easy to read and captivating as the reader grapples with the horrifying scenario that it has become. The adventure is nail-bitingly intriguing, and keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times!

Verdict:

 I really loved this book and it just might be the best book I have read so far in the second half of 2019! 5/5 stars!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones, 2019

Title: An American Marriage

Author: Tayari Jones

Publisher: OneWorld Publications

Genre: General Fiction

Format: Paperback

Synopsis:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-illusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.
Named an Oprah’s Book Club Selection. 

Won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

This book left me speechless. I am honestly shook after reading it. An American Marriage is riveting in its honest tone, the tangibility and the rawness was grating on my soul. It was sad, or rather, bittersweet, in a way that reality often is.

The author has made it a story which can be the story of someone we might know – Jones has a magical quality to her writing. The issue of race is an important one here – the one that makes fate take the turn it does. Celestial and Roy are husband and wife until he is wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit, and sentenced to twelve years. It is at once, the most horrifying thing that can happen to a couple, one that either breaks them or only makes them stronger. These two individuals are bound together by their deep sense of love and yet, separated by the twisted hand fate had dealt.

Societal and familial expectations are often ones that can push a person to be better, or they can become unwelcome burdens on a person’s shoulders. Celestial is a person who has to deal with a lot of pressure – her life is not easy, and neither is Roy’s. As a reader, I could not help but be overwhelmed by the difficult choices these two had to made to just make it day by day.

Stories also play a key role here – many of them reveal details that define the characters and their beings. Often told through letters and flashbacks, An American Marriage was an astounding book, one that I shall be keeping close to my heart always. And thus, it is no surprise that my mother has also decided to pick up this book soon.  

Verdict:

This was devastating and yet utterly moving story, that touched my heart and shook me to the core. 5/5 stars!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

The Raven’s Tale, Cat Winters, 2019

Title: The Raven’s Tale

Author: Cat Winters

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Genre: Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Language: English

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family—the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Raven’s Tale is a fantastical retelling inspired by the famous poem by Edgar Allen Poe. It was a truly atmospheric story, one that I read at one go and finished in a night. The physical manifestation of a muse is a truly unique idea that the author has used in the book. It is melancholic and whimsical and a possibly true account in an alternate universe! I like to think that it is.

The character of Edgar is a tragic, sad and yet beautiful rendering of an artist’s life that seemed real – the angst was portrayed well thorough the writing and the reader could relate to Edgar. His character arc was well planned and it seemed gradual and realistic.

In a way, this book also shows what it is like to have parents who have certain expectations for you – expectations that are rigid and more suited to their mentalist and wishes than that of the child. In doing this, the author has smoothly integrated an ever-relatable issue, no matter the times, and an amazing story.

I also liked Lenore although I thought of her to be a bit vengeful at times. On the other hand, Garland is a satirical and ironic part of him. These two personalities show the often contrasting natures we humans find on ourselves which so often confuses us.

The writing is captivating and sucks the reader right in. Cat Winters has done a really great job on this book and if you are a fan of the hauntingly beautiful works of Poe, this is a must-read for you!

Verdict:

I absolutely loved this book and I rate it 4/5 stars.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Reign of Mist and War of Mist reviews!

Hey guys ! So if you remember, sometime back I reviewed Heart of Mist, book 1 of the Oremere Chronicles. I had rated that book 5/5 stars, with opes to pick up the sequels ASAP! And today, here are the reviews for book 2 and 3 of one of my favourite fantasy series of all time now!

Reign of Mist, 2018

Title: Reign of Mist

Author: Helen Scheuerer

Publisher: Talem Press

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Format: Kindle ebook

Language: English

No. of pages: 441

Synopsis:

The realm’s darkest secret is out.
The cruelty of the capital and the power-hungry King Arden have scattered Bleak and her companions across the continents.
On the run in a foreign land, Bleak finds herself tied to some unexpected strangers. When the answers she yearns for are finally within reach, she must face the hard truths of her past, and take her fate into her own hands before it’s too late.
Meanwhile, secrets and magic unravel as a dark power corrupts the realm. Bleak’s friends are forced to decide where their loyalties lie, and who, if anyone, they can trust.
But one thing is certain: war is coming, and they must all be ready when it does.
Intriguing and action-packed, Reign of Mist is the second instalment in Helen Scheuerer’s epic YA fantasy series, The Oremere Chronicles.

My review:

I received a digital copy of this via my participation in a blog tour organized by Shealea from ShutUpShealea . Thank you, Helen Scheuerer and Talem Press!

My love for this series seriously continues and it was proved by the fact that I finished book 2 in a day as well! Reign of Mist is the second instalment in the Oremere Chronicles and I picked up this book as soon as I had finished the first one – Heart of Mist. The mysteries continued to gnaw at me and the amazing world-building of the new setting was spellbinding.

We see themes of animal abuse, courage in the face of hardships (which is an admittedly a repeated theme throughout the series, I suppose), human fear, greed, torture etc. Sisterhood is another theme that runs throughout the novel and it is one I completely adored. This bond that is formed among many of the female characters in the novel was great to read and explore, as varying facets were revealed.

The truth about Dash’s heritage came as a shock. I had truly not expected it and was therefore hit by this barrelling force, right at the face. Swinton’s story is delved into in this novel and this aspect of his past really made me see him as a human and not just a killing machine of the king. His character has become so much more dynamic and I can only wait with baited breath as to what the author has got up her sleeves. Besides, his budding romance with Therese is beautiful and I hope to read more of it. On the other hand, we see some very twisted characters – Ines and Langdon, some sadistic ons, who relish hurting others. The plague can also be seen as another character in itself, which destroys so much more than it reveals the identity of the people.

Other characters such as Casimir and the Tailor of Heathton were well introduced and I hope to see more of their development in the next novel. I love the fun their banter provided. Casimir’s display of power was one that truly took my breath away and the writing felt real and exquisite. I felt as if I was truly in the room along with the characters.

Another thing that I love about this author’s writing was specially her ability to bring together various events whose significance had not been starkly clear earlier. For instance, when we realise it was Ethelda whom Bleak had met so long ago, it was a calming event – as if we are moving to a full circle. I also applaud the manner in which the author has been able to bring together and tie up all the loose ends to provide an explanation; it was really very welcome.

A lot of the portion in this book is about the preparation for war. Throughout the novel, we see the relationships form among all our different characters and I loved their interactions. I was so excited and anxious as everyone moved to Havenesse because their meet up was something that was completely unpredictable. And especially the long awaited meeting of the two sisters caused me quite an emotional upheaval.

Verdict:

My love for this series only seems to continue to grow. I rate this one a total 5/5 stars!

War of Mist, 2019

Title: War of Mist

Author: Helen Schuerer

Publisher: Talem Press

Genre: Fanatsy, YA

Format: Kindle ebook

Language: English

No. of pages: 500

Synopsis:

War is here.
Toxic mist drives all life to the brink of destruction and the conqueror queen, Ines, has her talons in the kings of the realm.
Bleak, having discovered her true heritage, must now scour the lands for the one thing that might save them all. 
But the search is a treacherous one – and it will push her to the very limits of endurance. 
Amidst secrets, lies and the intricacies of battle, Bleak and her companions learn just how far they’ll go for the ones they love. But will it be enough?
As deadly forces grapple for power across the continents, families, friends and allies unite to take one final stand.
Explosive revelations, heart-wrenching betrayals and breathtaking magic soar in the epic conclusion to Helen Scheuerer’s bestselling trilogy, The Oremere Chronicles.

My review:

I received a digital copy of this via my participation in a blog tour organized by Shealea from ShutUpShealea . Thank you, Helen Scheuerer and Talem Press!

War of Mist is the third and final installment in the Oremere Chronicles by Helen Scheuerer. I have loved and given 5 stars to the first book – Heart of Mist, as well as the second – Reign of Mist.

This book picks up from one month after Reign of Mist ends. The Prologue here itself gives us a glimpse into Ines. Her character is something very dynamic. And it is here that we are given such views of her past. As such, we see her varied personalities throughout the years and although it explains why she has become the way she is, it is never an excuse. However, it is also an unavoidable fact that trauma often shapes some of us into non desirable beings, I suppose. Ines is alluring, and that cannot be debated. Her power is like a flame that I as a reader, was utterly drawn towards.

A lot of the story in this book is told through somewhat of a treasure hunt, including Bleak, Ermias and Casimir as they put their wits together, face their monsters, share their fears and form better and deeper bonds for it. The revelation of Fi’s heritage was welcomed wholeheartedly by me. He deserves the world and I need to see more of him.

The everlasting war of morality – of good versus bad, is again portrayed here. Moreover, the theme of justice and duty is a continuing presence in this novel, as in the other ones, although nowhere has it been more pronounced. Someone rightly said that duty is the death of love. Every so often, we see the darkness take over Bleak. In my own interpretation, it is trauma and depression and I love how real it made these characters – having their own struggles. No one is perfect and yet they are all trying and not giving up. No truer words were said than when Henri had quietly claimed that life was not always black and white – so much of it is grey! No wonder we humans suffer so much and are confused at so many times!

One of the greatest character arcs in this novel is undoubtedly that of Swinton. I love him and his redemption was powerful to read about. We see him changing and growing throughout the series and in this last one, he is transformed into a wonderful man – flawed but real and accepting of these flaws, with the hope to become better. I also loved the final stand all the characters take together and the writing was great enough to give me goosebumps.

And oh my god! I did not see that coming with the ‘madwoman’!!! That was so very shocking.

PS. You just need to pick up this series!!!!!!!!!!!

With some shocking betrayals, War of Mist was a fast-paced final novel in a fantasy series that has made me a lifelong fan of the author. The suspense that the author flavours this book with, is perfect and the final result is an experience that will keep you reeling.

Verdict:

Needless to say, I loved this book too and just like the first two instalments in the Oremere Chronicles, I rate War of Mist 5/5 stars too!

Heart of Mist, by Helen Scheuerer, 2017

Title: Heart of Mist

Author: Helen Scheuerer

Publisher: Talem Press

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Format: Kindle ebook

Language: English

No. of pages: 487

Synopsis:

In a realm where toxic mist sweeps the lands and magic is forbidden, all Bleak wants is a cure for her power.
Still grieving the death of her guardian and dangerously self-medicating with alcohol, Bleak is snatched from her home by the Commander of the King’s Army, and summoned to the capital.
But the king isn’t the only one interested in Bleak’s powers.
The leader of an infamous society of warriors, the Valia Kindred, lays claim to her as well, and Bleak finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she anticipated.
Heart of Mist is the gripping first book in The Oremere Chronicles, a fantasy series of epic proportions.

My review:

I received a digital copy of this via my participation in a blog tour organized by Shealea from ShutUpShealea . Thank you, Helen Scheuerer and Talem Press!

Heart of Mist is the first book in the Oremere Chronicles and I was so glad I picked it up. I read it in less than 6 hours I think, spread over two days. As soon as you pick up this book, I assure you that you will not be able to stop. The book is very fast-paced and thus, it is of no wonder that you are pulled in.  

The author has also brought in various themes such as addiction, alcoholism, human nature (which is so unreliable sometimes), the issue of identity etc. Bringing in such aspects within the lives of the characters has made it very relatable for the readers. Mental health is also another theme that is explored here. Sahara is one such character who suffered a lot (from what I have inferred so far). In one way or another, many other characters have also faced such issues that have affected their mental health in one way or another. Trauma is one such factor that has ssailed Bleak – her past is something she tries to run away from, and yet, she cannot let go completely. Oppression – the dominance over a people (the Ashai in this case) is also shown in the book and this is always a sad instance no matter where we read about these instances. Segregation of the Valians – into the kindred and the rest is also portrayed.

The world building is amazing – we see a lot of the Valian life in this book and their world really gave me James Cameron’s Avatar vibes. I would love to see more of the rest of this world. And I am so very excited to read about Oremere.

Bleak as a person is very complex. I love how by the end of this book she is strong enough to resist her temptations and her addiction. Her character arc has been slow and consistent and I hope to see more of her growth throughout the series. Bren is so supportive – I love how he is always there for Bleak and when the time comes, she is willing to do everything possible to save him as well. I would love to see more of Bren throughout the rest. The friendship he shares with Bleak is amazing and their friendly banter, full of humour and wit, is fun to read. There are so many instances in the book when you laugh out loud, and so many times when you feel like crying. It is an emotional ride. And the fact that Bren is such an honourable man is also another plus point for him. Olena and Dash’s friendship is beautiful. At first I was wondering what importance these characters might have in the books and now – oh my god, you need to pick up this series as soon as possible! Henri is also going on her own journey and I look forward to see where she ends up. I would also love to know more about Swinton – his history. He is a very dynamic character – and I admit I still have mixed feelings about him. The multiple points of views used throughout were also great as they focused on various characters and gave us a glimpse into their minds.

Full of political intrigue, adventure, magic and some amazing friendships, Heart of Mist was a really great start to the trilogy. I finished the book today and I am going to pick up the sequel Reign of Mist tonight!

Verdict:

Absolutely loved this book. I rate Heart of Mist a full 5/5 stars and look forward to the sequel.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

The Dark Side of the Moon: vOLUME 2, by Shubham Arora, 2019

Title: The Dark Side of the Moon Vol.2

Author: Shubham Arora

Genre: Short-Story, Horror

Format: Ebook

Language: English

Synopsis:

The Dark Side Of The Moon is a collection of short stories that is dark, grim and flirts ambitiously with notions of the unexplained. 
Volume 2 marks the return of the series with another set of three thrilling, crisply narrated tales – 

DECEMBER

Cold. Rainy. Windy. A typical December night in Mussourie. The police receives a distress call. Typical for stormy nights, as they say. But this night will be different. This night will be longer. This night will remain unexplained.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – THE STORY
Humans haven’t been on the moon since 1972. They have decided to return – though this time to the dark side of the moon, where no human has ever set foot before. What does the unknown hold?

SEVENTY METERS
The swift morning breeze soothes her hair. The tinkling wind-chimes call her to the window. She looks at him smiling in his sleep. She smiles too. But that’s been a rarity for them. 
Does love, like time, wither away as it’s consumed?

My review:

I received a review copy from the author in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

I have not been much of a horror fan but… Shubham Arora had me hooked with his first volume. And when he reached out to me for the second one, I was already jumping with joy. That is another story in itself so we’ll keep that aside for now.

In comparison to the first volume, I think the author’s writing has improved immensely. Most importantly, he knows how to deliver a punch at the end, just as succinctly.

In the first story, December, the writing is very atmospheric and is enough to give you the chills. When the story actually starts, and we venture into the mansion, I almost felt as if something is going to jump out of the shadows, at me. As a reader, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was a part of the story itself and the instances were happening to me too.

The stories have become creepier, with the eponymous The Dark Side of the Moon being the creepiest of them all. I loved how he has taken on this urban myth and given it his own twist. The idea itself, when you sit back and think about it – being stranded on a strange place (the dark side of the moon, for God’s sake!) The way this story is told – especially in day counts, is one that really makes you tensed up as if awaiting the climax, the twist you know is coming.

The last story is Seventy Meters, and from the name, I could guess what the ending would have been. Although the least favourite from all three, this was, a good story too, although I did not think it was scary. In a strange sort of way, it was actually sad.

Verdict:

It was an enjoyable read and I hope to read more of the author’s writing. I rate it 4.5/5 stars.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, 2019

Title: Aurora Rising (Aurora Cycle 0.1)

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Rock the Boat, an imprint of Oneworld Publications

Publication date: 6 June 2019

Genre: Science fiction/fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Language: English

No. of pages: 470

Synopsis:

From the internationally bestselling authors of THE ILLUMINAE FILES comes an epic new science fiction adventure.

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

They’re not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find. Nobody panic.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Superfluously saying, if the cover does not make you pick up the book itself, then I’m sure the synopsis will. Aurora Rising is an adventure story, set in space, one that is bound to keep you turning the pages on and on, eager to know what happens next. I was literally at the edge of my seat when I was sitting and reading, and had to actually sit up in attention, when I had been lazing on my bed while reading. Such is the writing of this powerful duo. I finished this book in like 5 hours and I went crazy throughout!

I’ve never been a fan of sci-fi, to be honest. So many of us are not. But Aurora Rising has completely made us switch sides! Although this book is so often described as a SIX OF CROWS set in space, the only similarity I found was the presence of this crew, where each one is so very different from the other. Through all the different characters in this bunch, we see similarities in what each of them faces. The leader of this team in known as the Alpha and he is Tyler, the golden-boy. He misses the Draft because he is rescuing a girl frozen in time. So basically instead of having his pick from the best, by the time he returns, the ceremony is over and the other Alphas have picked the cream. Throughout the story, we see the inner conflict in Tyler – he regrets that he was missing at the Draft but then again, he was rescuing this historically significant person in their universe. Later on, he is conflicted as to whether be the good pupil he has always been and follow the orders of his superiors, or to do what he believes is right.

There is also Scarlett, Tyler’s twin sister who is bold and flawed and yet is so very caring. The brother-sister bond that these two share is so much beautiful to see. Their love is always shining bright between them. And may I just say how wonderfully charming she is? Scarlett is the Face of the group, the diplomat basically and is an amazing people-person.

Then we have the Ace – Cat. She is a very passionate person I feel. She hates with all her might and she loves with all her might. Her love is real and made me choke so many times. Her character arc is very relatable – her feelings towards Aurora change from hate to respect and I love that the authors have made her so bold. Women are too often subdued anyway.  

Aurora is literally the girl out of time. She had been cryogenically sleeping, you could say, for 200 years, without ageing. And now, her dilemma and confusion as she comes to terms with her new surroundings and learns more about what happened to her that has led her here, is heartwarming. Her behaviour is funny and so very awkward at times with the rest of the team and I couldn’t help but laugh at so many parts. Her character arc is also significant in this story and although I think there could be more to it, I look forward to the rest of the books in this series. She is a person of our times and the references she makes were like Easter eggs to me. Especially Middle Earth!

Finnin, the alien (that rhymed!) is also another team member. He has always felt different all his life and his struggles with it – underneath all that sarcasm, is slowly revealed throughout the story. Zila is a character whose back story has still not been properly explained in the book and I am very curious about her, I admit. I look forward to reading more about her.

Lastly, Kal is oh0my-god hot! If you have a thing for the tall, dark and brooding, handsome kind. Especially, elfin-handsome kind! Aurora describing him as Middle-Earth is so relatable and that is how I imagine him too. And may I say that I am an absolute fan of the mate trope!

The writing felt very interactive in nature and the reading just flowed for me. I am absolutely in love with this duo’s writing and so I think that I am slowly going to pick up and read all of their books. The world-building was also very fascinating and made me stop and wonder myself, how it would feel like to stay there – after remembering that I was not actually in the story. There’s humour and the characters are so fierce in their natures, it was a fast-paced ride of a read! The plot was very strong and the inclusion of multiple POVs worked wonderfully with it. When there are so many characters, having multiple POVs often make the story lose its beauty but in this case, it only gave more depth to it.

Verdict:

I loved this book and I rate it a solid 5/5 stars! I know this review sounded more like an ode to these amazing complex but lovable characters, but god! You all need to pick it up ASAP!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Circus Folk and Village Freaks, by Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal, 2018

Title: Circus Folk and Village Freaks

Author: Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal

Publisher: Vishwakarma Publications

Genre: Poetry

Format:  Hardcover

Language: English

No. of pages: 155

Recommended for: For mature readers

Synopsis:

Meet the beautiful people of the Circus, and the freaks who live in the Village next to them. Mangled, jangled, misunderstood, all find place in the rich tapestry of this book.

Siamese twins separate to lose half a heart each, and find snake-man and tiger-taming lovers. A man bitten by a crocodile becomes a God, and a Devadasi woos the entire countryside with her culinary artistry.

Fates intertwined lead sometimes to tragedy, sometimes happy summits of fame. A clown finds his place in Hollywood and mute animals break unspeakable chains. A twisted man falls in love with a mirror and a white man is unmade by the Indian sun.

In this book are tales for every season and every reason. Tales of human depravity that take innocent lives, and of a murderers’ insanity that follows, a fitting revenge by nature, red in tooth and claw.

These stories are told in the form of narrative poems in rhyming couplets.

Look inside and you will find, you have been to this Village. Surely, you have been to this Circus too.

My review:

I received a review copy from the author in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Sanyal has played with magic to deliver to us a tale of absurd and unbelievable men and women, monsters and pets. Transformation from man to animal, man to monster etc. run rife throughout the “18 twisted tales” and provides an enjoyable and funny read.

Under these trivial and funny stories though, lies witty undertones, which are deep and metaphorical in the essence. The various themes I interpreted in the book include, but are not limited to, capitalist nature or bend of mind, issues of abandonment and finding one’s true calling, homosexuality, society’s reaction against this ‘perversion’, and suicide, the issue of one’s identity, love, depression and mental illness, being oppressed by the desires of tour elders, ambition, substance abuse and abuse of various other kinds, emotional trauma, acceptance of oneself no matter how different from the general populace, Divine Providence, karma, revenge, passion, as well as, class/caste importance in society, and most importantly, funny ways of including the gastronomical tales of food.

I absolutely enjoyed the book. Sanyal’s writing is immersive and I finished this book in one sitting, such was my undivided attention. The topics chosen by the author are easy for the general reader to dive into. Moreover, especially since they are on the ones society calls the ‘freaks’, it is a powerful collection. The verse is lyrical and rhyming and thus, sounds so musical. I definitely recommend reciting these out loud. It’s a magical experience.

My absolute favorite poems from here are The Unlikely Love Story of Lingam, and Jeeva, The Elephant Man. From the name itself then, it is not curious enough?

Verdict:

I loved reading this book and I rated it a 4.5/5 stars.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

City of Girls, by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2019

Title: City of Girls

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published on: 4th June, 2019

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback

Language: English

No. of pages:  470

Synopsis:

From the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Loveand The Signature of All Things, a delicious novel of glamour, sex, and adventure, about a young woman discovering that you don’t have to be a good girl to be a good person.

“Life is both fleeting and dangerous, and there is no point in denying yourself pleasure, or being anything other than what you are.”

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

City Of Girls is part memoir, and part coming-of-age. It is narrated by Vivian Louise Morris, who is now an old lady of 95. From the beginning itself, we see Vivian as a very practical, matter-of-fact woman, who accepts things as they are. Of course, it was not always so. However, she was always a confident woman with her self-esteem intact and on point. In the very first page itself, she says –

“I was always pretty Angela. What’s more, I always knew it.”

Of course that may come off as something a narcissistic person would say, but Vivian was a good person, essentially. And besides, it is nice to read about women who love themselves as they are – quite rare to find that kind today – we all have so many doubts about ourselves, with our looks and bodies, etc.

Easter eggs in the book were the mentions of Gone With The Wind as well as the people associated with it. In a way, Vivian is a foil, or rather somewhat of a modern-day version of Scarlett O’Hara herself.

Dealing with trauma is something that is shown multiple times in the book, although very subtly as undercurrents that determine the actions of the characters. Vivian herself never thought much of her grandmother’s death and how it affected her much – she herself says that it was only then as she narrated her life, that she understood how very sad and bereft she had felt and not even recognized (another effect of being brought up WASP style, I assume!). Later on, after that ‘bitterly regrettable’ mistake, and the comment of one silly boy, we see her suffer. Depression is not really mentioned here, but I do think that Vivian was very depressed for a time. It also shows how some careless words from the mouth of any careless person can affect people. Celia is a character who seems very shallow in the first few instances. But she has admittedly been through so much dark stuff as Vivian later realizes – her trauma is not much explored in the book but I’d love to read about her story. Addiction is another lesser theme I saw through Peg. Her addiction to alcohol is crippling.

Later on, when we see Vivian and Celia get punished for their actions, we confront the hypocrisy of the society, just as the character mentions, the women are always punished but the men get away scot-free with it. And that was so very relatable.

Marjorie is a character I absolutely loved. She is witty and wise and knows what she wants, most importantly, she never cows away from society and its expectations – she has never been afraid of being different even at the cost of being weird and alternate to society’s rules for women. Later on, she does what she wants with her baby and makes her own way despite the fact that society frowned upon it. She accepts herself and is not afraid of being alone – rather she is very comfortable with it. Vivian and Marjorie’s talks are really illuminating, I feel, especially the one they have on page 335.

Olive is another one of the powerful females who is not at all afraid of being herself. She is an admirable lady, responsible and completely different from the rest of the ‘theatre folk’ and I loved this juxtaposition the author played with. Billy is an irresponsible person, as Arthur an idiot and I just couldn’t help but laugh and get frustrated with them at times. Edna is charismatic and I understand that many may have a second thought, but I understand her actions later on in the story and where she comes from. The LGBTQ+ angle is well threaded into the narrative and it is a great addition in some of the characters’ arcs.

One of the most important lessons though is that some wounds simply never heal. They get old and we get used to the dull pain but the chafing, if we notice, never goes away completely. We may forget but that doesn’t mean they go away entirely.  

I had also been watching Sex and the City series simultaneously while I had been reading the book and it was a powerful combo. They reinforce the fact that it is very important for us women to just be ourselves and not be afraid of being alone. It was an illuminating experience for me overall and I shall definitely be returning to this book whenever I feel doubtful of myself and need some womanly inspiration!

Verdict:

I think this is one of the best books I have ever read in this genre. I rate it 5/5 stars!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Upon A Burning Throne (Part 1 of The Burnt Empire Saga), by Ashok K Banker, 2019

Title: Upon A Burning Throne (Part 1 of The Burnt Empire Saga)

Author: Ashok K Banker

Publisher: Simon & Schuster India

Genre: Fantasy, Mythology, Historical fiction

Format: Papaerback

Language: English

No. of pages: 350

Recommended for: If you are a fan of mythology and fantasy, as well as fiction, this is definitely a book you need to pick up ASAP!

Synopsis:

From international sensation Ashok K. Banker, pioneer of the fantasy genre in India, comes the first book in a ground-breaking, epic fantasy series inspired by the ancient Indian classic, The Mahabharata

In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the Emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without an emperor. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: For any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible—one that incinerates the unworthy.
 
Adri and Shvate pass The Test and are declared heirs to the empire… but there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives: a girl from an outlying kingdom. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart—leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos….  
 
Welcome to the Burnt Empire Saga.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Let me begin by saying that this is a wonderful book inspired by just as wonderful an epic. Banker’s writing style is mesmerizing and having already read and loved a book of him, I was excited to see how this would turn out. And believe me, my expectations were set, but Bakeer flew way above those.

Let’s talk about the world-building first. Banker is meticulous with his description of the world in the book – Arthaloka. His attention to detail is uniquely reflected in the plotline and the reader’s imagination’s eye. I believe that in any fantasy, one of the most important things is the world building and Banker has done it exceptionally well. It ensnares you completely and without any possible exit. He makes sure that the reader is always intrigued and just cannot help but flip the page and continue reading, despite the fact that its way past their bedtime. The foreshadowing one understands when one finishes reading the book will definitely give you a huge realization moment – your own anagnorisis!

The characters again are all modeled after the famous mythical characters in the Mahabharata, but with their own special Banker seasoning. Throughout the novel, the character arc develop and at the end (which ends in a cliffhanger that has me kind of despondent until the next book comes out), these characters have gone on their journeys, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, and they reflect in them. We lose some dear characters but in fantasy, that is expected I suppose. I personally think that Jilana is a misunderstood character but that is a personal perception. Drawing parallels between Banker’s characters and the ones from the epic most of us already heard from our elders when we were children, was fascinating to say the least.

The themes of survival, war, human resilience in the face of decisions, the position of women, societal pressure, Divine Providence, etc are all covered and seen affecting the stories of all the characters. What I also love is that there is no longer any binary – a strict division between what is solely good and what is evil. Everyone is drawn to a point where they have to or have already made decisions that were not truly evil but not right, either. The moral conundrum that we humans face is on point in this book – it is dubious, the decisions we personally make sometimes as well as the ones made by the characters in this book.

There are so many storylines that are interconnected that it a veritable atlas of fascinating stories that will offer you a maelstrom of different emotions as you read through.

The cover is just as vivid and really emulates the story, I think.

Verdict:

I enjoyed reading this thrilling ride of a book and I rate it a 4/5 stars.

About the author:

Author. Over 70 books 3 million copies 21 languages 62 countries.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter , by Debeshi Gooptu, 2019

Title: Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter

Author: Debeshi Gooptu

Publisher: Juggernaut Books

Published on: May, 2019

Genre: Contemporary fiction/romance/classic retelling

Format: E-book

Language: English

No. of pages: 229

Recommended for: for fans of Jane Austen

Synopsis:

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Persuasion. Eight years ago, family pride and an obstinate father had forced Anamika Eashwar to let go of the love of her life. Now he’s back again, a decorated captain of the Indian Navy. Will life offer her a second chance?

My review:                                 

I really enjoyed reading Mr. Eashwar’s Daughter. It is the perfect modern day Jane Austen retelling with a heroine who is just as dear and relatable. Often ignored and overlooked this is a love story spanning years and oh my god, I love it.

Being an Indian retelling, the element of the family is just as important. When it comes to Anamika’s character, I couldn’t help but feel that she is somewhat of a pushover. However, in regards to this protagonist, this is also a bildungsroman novel, where at the end, Anamika asserts her own self and her own identity and sheds all inhibitions, and also finds love in the process.

Verdict:

I rate this book a solid 4/5 stars!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson, 2018

Title: Skyward

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Science fiction/ Young adult/ Fantasy

Format: Kindle edition

Language: English

No. of pages: 528

Recommended for:

Synopsis:

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

My review:

I read this book as a part of the Underrated Book Club read for April 2019.

I really enjoyed this book and I think this might be a sort of very very informal write-up on it, unlike the reviews that I usually write. Okay.. disclaimer done, moving on.

The book totally gave me Top Gun vibes in the beginning, and I absolutely loved it. The world building is great but can probably do with a bit more of description as we read on. The social system is also unique and I quite enjoyed reading the book.

The character development of Spensa is great. In the beginning, we see her as a know-it-all, who is also very dramatic, mind you, almost too much at times, and also appears to be immature, unwilling to sometimes just accept things as they are. She also lacks control! Nonetheless, she is humourous and very optimistic, to be honest and it is refreshing.

The classroom bantering all is so amazing to read – because it is so very relatable. Despite the fact that they are in a completely different environment than we are, the back and forth replies are really cool. Jerkface, oh sorry, Jorgen is just as funny – I actually like reading about him. Cobb too is a pretty cool and understanding teacher and I am so thankful that he is willing to take on a chance when it came to Spensa’s admission.

The book also talks about a lot of other important issues that are very relatable to our world today – losing one’s life in the line of duty, understanding that life is not divided into only black and white and that there are so many grey areas in between. The toxic expectations of bravery is also shown and Cobb’s own speech about it says a lot – “The only reason we have this stupid culture of self-martyrdom is because somebody feels they have to justify our casualties. To make them seem honourable, righteous”. This is the reason Hurl does not eject and it is heartbreaking – that all pilots would rather do this than ne termed as a cadet.

On a humourous note, Doomslug is so funny and interrupts with her sounds! Also, should I say more about M-Bot ?

A couple of destructor blasts hit M-Bot’s shield. “Hey!” M-Bot said. “Just for that, I shall hunt your firstborn children and laugh with glee as I tell thm of your death in terrible detail, with many unpleasant adjectives!”

How can a mere ship be this funny? Another instance of M-Bot’s humour goes –

“Humans have many holes in them. Would you like me to provide you with a list?” “Please don’t.” “Ha. Ha. That was humor”

I felt so bad for the richer kids actually – like FM, Arturo, Jorgen etc. and slowly, Spensa understands that she is perhaps more free than the rest of the her flight mates. The little moment between Jorgen and Spensa was so good though – I am still not sure if I would like to have a romance yet… how he inspires us is firstly beautiful and also nice for us readers to read about.

“When you fly, you are amazing. You’re so determined, so skillful, so passionate. You’re a fire, Spin. When everyone else is calm, you’re a burning bonfire. Beautiful, like a newly forged blade.”

However, at times, it felt a bit separate from the reader. Using such technical terms in the beginning was a bit difficult in the beginning. And as such, I think that if the reader just reads on despite this problem in the beginning, the story grips you and pulls you in.

Verdict:

I really enjoyed the book and look forward to the sequel. For now, I rate this one a 4.5/5 stars.

About the author:

Brandon’s major books for the second half of 2016 are The Dark Talent, the final volume in Alcatraz Smedry’s autobiographical account of his battle against the Evil Librarians who secretly rule our world, and Arcanum Unbounded, the collection of short fiction in the Cosmere universe that includes the Mistborn series and the Stormlight Archive, among others. This collection features The Emperor’s Soul, Mistborn: Secret History, and a brand-new Stormlight Archive novella, Edgedancer. Earlier this year he released Calamity, the finale of the #1 New York Times bestselling Reckoners trilogy that began with Steelheart . Brandon Sanderson was born in 1975 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a child Brandon enjoyed reading, but he lost interest in the types of titles often suggested to him, and by junior high he never cracked a book if he could help it. This changed when an eighth grade teacher gave him Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. Brandon was working on his thirteenth novel when Moshe Feder at Tor Books bought the sixth he had written. Tor has published Elantris,the Mistborn trilogy and its followup The Alloy of Law, Warbreaker, and The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, the first two in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. He was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; 2009’s The Gathering Storm and 2010’s Towers of Midnight were followed by the final book in the series, A Memory of Light, in January 2013. Four books in his middle-grade Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series have been released in new editions by Starscape, and his novella Infinity Blade Awakening was an ebook bestseller for Epic Games accompanying their acclaimed Infinity Blade iOS video game series. Two more novellas, Legion and The Emperor’s Soul, were released by Subterranean Press and Tachyon Publications in 2012, and 2013 brought two young adult novels, The Rithmatist from Tor and Steelheart from Delacorte. The only author to make the short list for the David Gemmell Legend Award six times in four years, Brandon won that award in 2011 for The Way of KingsThe Emperor’s Soul won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novella. He has appeared on the New York Times Best-Seller List multiple times, with five novels hitting the #1 spot. Currently living in Utah with his wife and children, Brandon teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. 

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

The Near Witch, by V. E. Schwab, 2019

Title: The Near Witch

Author: V. E. Schwab

Publisher: Titan Books

Genre: Fantasy

Format: Paperback

Language: English

No. of pages: 355

Recommended for: Fans of both adult and young-adult fantasy and of Neil Gaiman.  

Synopsis:

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. 
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company. 
And there are no strangers in the town of Near.
These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. 
But when an actual stranger-a boy who seems to fade like smoke-appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know-about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Part fairy tale,
part love story, Victoria Schwab's debut novel is entirely original yet
achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind,
and a dream you won't soon forget. 

I cannot assert how much I loved the narrative structure, enough. Schwab weaves a magical net of prose and fantasy that engulfs the reader into the story and makes it almost touchingly real. The imagery of the windy moors – the wind has been personified and it is an entity of its own and grips the reader’s attention. Environment, or nature, in itself is given great stature in the book, the wind especially, and this added element provides greater temporal and spatial depths of an already intriguing story. There is adventure, there is mystery and there is romance; although I love how the romance has not been given center stage. There is love yes, but the love Lexi shares with her sister is far greater and warming to read about. Lexi is brave, and like every other teenager, she too struggles at times and is made all the more humane, by it. I love how the female representation is done in today’s fantasy. This genre continues to give us strong heroines, who are not perfect, but they are brave (like Reshma Saujani says in her book – be Brave, Not Perfect). These heroines can do wrong yes, make mistakes, but they are never afraid to own up to them and thus, have the potentials to be such great idols for the young impressionable minds. The fight against stereotypical gender roles in this book is shown through Lexi and I enjoyed seeing her defy the expectations, time and time again! Trauma and its effects on people, dealing with it etc. is too portrayed in the book. Then ending however, was a bit rushed but then again considering it is a debut novel, I am not surprised. I am wondering of what differences I will find in her latest ADSOM trilogy…

This new edition by Titan books also has the short story The Ash-Born Boy which is basically the back-story of Cole. I think this is a magical short-story in itself too! I cannot again, stress enough on how much I love the prose writing of the author – this writing in itself is such wave-like, so fluidic that you just flow towards the story and become one with it. It is a powerhouse on its own.

Verdict:

I absolutely loved the story and fell in love with Schwab’s writing style (so much so that I will be picking up the ADSOM trilogy this upcoming weekend!). I rate it a 4.5/5 stars.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Brave, Not Perfect, by Reshma Saujani, 2019

Title: Brave, Not Perfect

Author: Reshma Saujani

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: Non-fiction/feminist/self-help

Format: Paperback

Language: English

No. of pages:197

Recommended for: The author uses the F-word a couple of times so if that is okay for you, you can definitely pick it up. Nonetheless, it is a book I’d recommend others to surely pick up.

Synopsis:

In a book inspired by her popular TED talk, New York Times bestselling author Reshma Saujani empowers women and girls to embrace imperfection and bravery.

Imagine if you lived without the fear of not being good enough. If you didn’t care how your life looked on Instagram, or worry about what total strangers thought of you. Imagine if you could let go of the guilt, and stop beating yourself up for tiny mistakes. What if, in every decision you faced, you took the bolder path?

Too many of us feel crushed under the weight of our own expectations. We run ourselves ragged trying to please everyone, all the time. We lose sleep ruminating about whether we may have offended someone, pass up opportunities that take us out of our comfort zones, and avoid rejection at all costs.

There’s a reason we act this way, Reshma says. As girls, we were taught to play it safe. Well-meaning parents and teachers praised us for being quiet and polite, urged us to be careful so we didn’t get hurt, and steered us to activities at which we could shine.

The problem is that perfect girls grow up to be women who are afraid to fail. It’s time to stop letting our fears drown out our dreams and narrow our world, along with our chance at happiness.

By choosing bravery over perfection, we can find the power to claim our voice, to leave behind what makes us unhappy, and go for the things we genuinely, passionately want. Perfection may set us on a path that feels safe, but bravery leads us to the one we’re authentically meant to follow.

In Brave, Not Perfect, Reshma shares powerful insights and practices to help us override our perfect girl training and make bravery a lifelong habit. By being brave, not perfect, we can all become the authors of our biggest, boldest, and most joyful life.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Brave, Not Perfect was a fundamental read that I picked up and it surely was an impactful one. It talks about the unexplainable need for perfectionism, which is prevalent in all of us, albeit a bit more obsessively in girls.

The need to be perfect hounds us all and it is also cause for validation – not being the best one, or the perfect one, is cause enough to lower our self-esteems and self-confidence; as if not being the best one immediately implies that you are the worst.

This also makes sure that these people, women specifically, are thus programmed of being naturally afraid of not being perfect, which in turn, makes sure that they hesitate and sometimes never try new things. The fear of failure is instilled in them early on. The author uses a great example of a woman who was looked down upon because she wanted a person to just push her daughter since she was afraid of jumping (I do not remember the exact words, but it had something to do with adventure sports). The thing is, no one would turn back if they heard someone to “just push” their son off if he was being afraid. Societal construct is such that girls are treated delicately and expected to be perfect – a bit like “sit still, look pretty”! from childhood onwards, boys are pushed to just get up, dust himself off and try again. Girls on the other hand, are always cautioned and this stays on. A simple example, how many of us dare to raise our hands in class, to ask the teacher a question? We are so afraid of what the others will say or think, or the fact that it may make us look stupid – these thoughts always hold us back.

I believe that the author could have made this book non-binary – she speaks of men and women, categorically. The writing style is witty and engaging and it does not feel like you’re reading a non-fiction book. That goes to say, even if you do not like non-fiction works like I don’t, this one is different and you might even like it! The author does use the F-word a couple of times so if that is okay for you, you can definitely pick it up. Nonetheless, it is a book I would recommend others to really go into.

Verdict:

I rate this book a 4.5/5 stars!

About the author:

Reshma Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. With their 7-week Summer Immersion Program, 2-week specialized Campus Program, after school Clubs, and a 13-book New York Times best-selling series, they are leading the movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. By the end of the 2018 academic year, Girls Who Code will have reached over 50 thousand girls in all 50 states and several US territories. The results speak for themselves: 88% of alumni have declared a CS major/minor or are more interested in CS because of Girls Who Code.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

The Stillwater Girls , by Minka Kent, 2019

Title: The Stillwater Girls

Author: Minka Kent

Publisher: Thomas and Mercer

Genre: General Fiction (adult), Mystery and Thriller

Format: E-arc

Language: English

Synopsis:

Two sisters raised in fear are about to find out why in a chilling novel of psychological suspense from the author of The Thinnest Air.

Ignorant of civilization and cautioned against its evils, nineteen-year-old Wren and her two sisters, Sage and Evie, were raised in off-the-grid isolation in a primitive cabin in upstate New York. When the youngest grows gravely ill, their mother leaves with the child to get help from a nearby town. And they never return.

As months pass, hope vanishes. Supplies are low. Livestock are dying. A brutal winter is bearing down. Then comes the stranger. He claims to be looking for the girls’ mother, and he’s not leaving without them.

To escape, Wren and her sister must break the rule they’ve grown up with: never go beyond the forest.

Past the thicket of dread, they come upon a house on the other side of the pines. This is where Wren and Sage must confront something more chilling than the unknowable. They’ll discover what’s been hidden from them, what they’re running from, and the secrets that have left them in the dark their entire lives.

My review:

I received a review copy from Netgalley in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

I went into this book really intrigued – the synopsis was enough to arouse my curiosity and the narrative gripping enough to keep me hooked in until the very end. The whole trope of the unreliable protagonist is an interesting one and I personally love it. After reading books like The Woman in the Window, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train etc.,  I was looking for more such domestic thrillers and this book’s synopsis promised to deliver.

The plot was well stitched together. At one point, I thought I knew how it was going to end, but boy, was I wrong! The entire narrative had a jigsaw like feel and in the beginning I had no idea how the author would possibly intertwine the two storylines into one. The themes were universal and as such, I believe that many readers will b able to  relate to them; some are relationships, dealing with authoritarian figures, infidelity, keeping secrets, identity crisis etc. Of course, there are my interpretations.  

The character of Nicolette also underwent growth – she is absolutely different at the end, from the way she was at the beginning of the book. The anagnorisis in relation to her character is enormous and lends the narrative great depth and feeling. Brant is also an interesting character and although not the protagonist himself, his role is just as important.

Wren and Sag also undergo growth and this is very important as we see them dealing with various issues that most teenagers may perhaps relate to, (I am talking about the happenings towards the end; needless to say, I wish no one has to go through what they did).

The writing style is flawless – it flows and gives a very lucid effect to the narrative. Apart from the twist and the jaw-dropping end, the characters too were amazing and had such great depth!

Verdict:

I absolutely enjoyed the book and I hope to read something similar from the author soon! I really enjoyed the book and I rate it a 4/5 stars!

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

Mad Love, by Paul Dini and Pat Cadigan, 2019

Title: Mad Love, a DC Comics Novel

Author: Pat Cadigan and Paul Dini

Publisher: Titan Books

Format: Paperback

Language: Language

No. of pages: 288

Synopsis:

The definitive story of Harley Quinn by her co-creator, Paul Dini, and Pat Cadigan, revealing the secrets of her history even as she seeks to kill Batman. 

Dr. Harleen Quinzel grew up in an abusive household with a criminal and became a psychologist to deal with her own broken family. At Arkham Asylum, she attempted to treat the Joker and instead fell hopelessly in love with him, helping him escape and becoming a member of his organization. Quinzel became Harley Quinn, a bizarre contradiction of violence and mercy. She blames Batman for her inability to maintain a stable relationship with the arch-villain, and that causes her to have an abiding hatred for the hero, who she seeks to kill. Upon capture she becomes a violent inmate at Belle Reve Penitentiary, and is assigned to the group of government-maintained super villains known as the Suicide Squad. 

Copyright © 2017 DC Comics. BATMAN, THE JOKER, HARLEY QUINN, SUICIDE SQUAD and all related characters and elements © & TM DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. 
Copyright © 2017 DC Comics. BATMAN, THE JOKER, HARLEY QUINN, SUICIDE SQUAD and all related characters and elements © & TM DC Comics and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

My review:

I received a review copy for the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Mad Love was a fun and truly mad read and I enjoyed every bit of it.

This book gave quite an insight to this infamous villain’s life – why she is how she is and what made her that way. The most major themes that I saw throughout the novel was the deceptiveness of appearances and how crucial it is to know the reality of things. On a deeper level, things are never as they appear to be on the surface. In the beginning the tone is in third person limited – Daddy this and Daddy that. It is as if Harleen cannot really make all of her own decisions and looks up to her Daddy for them. In retrospect, it is so much the situation that occurs when she is under the Joker’s spell. She looks up to him this time. I think, the underneath all of these,  Harleen does not lose her innocence and faith in these two authority figures. Is she naïve? Or dumb? I understand that this is a polarizing concept. But I believe that there is not always a good side and a bad side – we often forget about the grey areas and only look at the startling black and white.

Mad Love is a psychological novel to boot! There were so many nuances regarding human behavior – as Harleen grew up and studied psychology, and then started practicing it at Arkham Asylum. There is also a great play at words – both in the narrator’s case and the Joker’s as well. The manner of writing was just as enjoyable and easy to understand. The character arc of Harleen was a very dynamic one – I feel that she goes through a lot and her story is one that had needed to be told. The writers did justice to the character as well as the plotline.

Verdict:

I quite enjoyed reading this book and I rate it a 4/5 stars!

About the author:

Paul Dini is an American television producer of animated cartoons. He is best known as a producer and writer for several Warner Bros./DC Comics series, including Star Wars: Ewoks, Tiny Toon Adventures, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman/Superman Adventures, Batman Beyond and Duck Dodgers. He also developed and scripted Krypto the Superdog and contributed scripts to Animaniacs (he created Minerva Mink), Freakazoid, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. After leaving Warner Bros. In early 2004, Dini went on to write and story edit the popular ABC adventure series Lost.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

You Will be Safe Here, by Damian Barr, 2019

Title: You Will be Safe Here

Author: Damian Barr

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical fiction

Format: Advanced Reading Copy

Language: Language

No. of pages: 352

Recommended for: All ages

Synopsis:

An extraordinary debut that explores legacies of abuse, redemption, and the strength of the human spirit–from the Boer Wars in South Africa to brutal wilderness camps for teenage boys.

South Africa, 1901. It is the height of the second Boer War. Sarah van der Watt and her six-year-old son Fred are forced from their home on Mulberry Farm. As the polite invaders welcome them to Bloemfontein Concentration Camp they promise Sarah and Fred that they will be safe there.

2014. Sixteen-year-old Willem is an outsider. Hoping he will become the man she wants him to be, his Ma and her boyfriend force Willem to attend the New Dawn Safari Training Camp where they are proud to make men out of boys. They promise that he will be safe there.

You Will Be Safe Here is a powerful and urgent novel of two connected South African stories. Inspired by real events, it uncovers a hidden colonial history, reveals a dark contemporary secret, and explores the legacy of violence and our will to survive. 

My review:

I received a review copy for the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

I absolutely loved reading YOU WILL BE SAFE HERE. This is a poignant story that really touched my heart and I have changed after reading it. There are 4 parts in the story.

The first part is written in an epistolary format – in the form of a diary. The ton of Sarah van der Watt is so tragic. I found – not overtly so, but in its undercurrent – I could feel it as I read – Sarah’s knowledge that the need of her world as she knew it, was near. Things would greatly change and it is as if she is deliberately and often times forcefully trying to be cheerful – why not enjoy the last few days before all hell breaks loose?

Some lines I liked were –

“There is strangely little to do now but wait.”

During this period of the second Boer War, the Kaffirs were freed by the English. The resulting chaos was a great scar on the lives of so many people – both whites and blacks. I was also pleasantly surprised by the resilience of the people – specifically Sarah van der Watt and basically everyone else.  It also talks about the feminine issues – both social, and historical – the suppression of women and the masculine power play over them, their objectification, etc.  I also loved that Samuel, the husband had been such a supportive husband to Sarah, as we learn from the diary entries. Later on, the entries make you cry – just reading of the utter inhuman situations that they, along with so many other people were subjected to. The flashback method was also great and gives great depth to the story.

One thing that I really enjoyed was the inclusion of the literary references. It made the text very relatable to the reader, as it surely did for me! 

Throughout all the different parts, the Southern Cross is a recurring motif. I interpreted it as an objective correlative for the concepts of hope and strength that it bestowed on the different characters. The use of regional words at certain places give a certain authenticity to the text and a sense of reality.

In part 2, Willem says “They wouldn’t understand, they never understand” which I think resonates among so many teenagers, when thinking of adults and authority figures.

One of the major themes that I saw throughout Part 2 is that of toxic masculinity. For instance, seeing Willem cry in desperation once, Jan had turned away – after all, boys do not cry. We also see domestic abuse scenario in this part.

Later, when Willem is at the camp and Rayna misses him. She understands that at the camp he would be forced to do what they have wanted him to do always – things that other boys do generally. “It’s these markers of his willingness to try that break her heart”.

 I really loved Rayna’s character. She is the epitome of an independent and hardworking woman. When Irma accuses her saying she could never “keep a man” Rayna says, “I never needed one… Maybe I wanted one, sometimes but I never needed one. Not like you” and that is such a powerful sentiment. Rayna is an inspiring woman just as Sarah.

Verdict:

This is one of the best books I have read in my life, let alone in 2019. I rate it a 5/5 stars and will definitely be picking it up again.

About the author:

‘Maggie & Me’ is my memoir and ‘You Will Be Safe Here’ is my first novel (out in April 2019). You can follow me on twitter @damian_barr and insta @mrdamianbarr. I host my own Literary Salon at the Savoy: www.theliterarysalon.co.uk

‘Maggie & Me’ is my memoir of surviving small-town Scotland in the Thatcher years. It won Sunday Times Memoir of the Year: “Full to the brim with poignancy, humour, brutality and energetic and sometimes shimmering prose, the book confounds one’s assumptions about those years and drenches the whole era in an emotionally charged comic grandeur. It is hugely affecting.” BBC Radio 4 made it a Book of the Week. Following Jeanette Winterson in 2012, Stonewall named me Writer of the Year 2013.

I host my own Literary Salon at the Savoy. Guests include: Jojo Moyes, Bret Easton Ellis, John Waters, Mary Beard, James Frey, David Nicholls, Colm Toibin, Taiye Selasi, Susan Calman, David Mitchell and Rose McGowan. Do enjoy our podcast!

Commended as Columnist of the Year, I’ve also been a journalist for over a decade writing mostly for The Times but also the Independent, Telegraph, Financial Times, Guardian, Evening Standard and Granta. I’m currently a columnist for the Big Issue and High Life. My first book, based on a Times column, was published by Hodder in 2005. ‘Get It Together: A Guide to Surviving Your Quarterlife Crisis’. I’ve also co-written two plays for Radio 4 and appeared on PM, Midweek, Broadcasting House and Today as well as The Verb and presented on Front Row. I live in Brighton with my partner and our intensely demanding chickens.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

The Kingdom of Copper, by S. A. Chakraborty, February 21, 2019

Title: The Kingdom of Copper

Author: S. A. Chakraborty

Publisher: Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Genre: Adult fantasy

Format: Paperback

Language: Language

No. of pages: 621

Synopsis:

Return to Daevabad in the spellbinding sequel to THE CITY OF BRASS.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabadand quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her familyand one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the maridthe unpredictable water spiritshave gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

My review:

I received a review copy for the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Kingdom of Copper is the sequel to The City of Brass, the first book is The Daevabad Trilogy, and oh! What a book! I had absolutely loved reading the first book and so was very excited to pick up this one.

The Kingdom of Copper opens 5 years after City of Brass closes. We see quite a bit of changes in the scenario. Firstly, the environment! It has grown so much more serious that before and everyone is now being careful of what they say and think twice before they do so. Nahri’s character has developed – she is so much better with her skills and I think that by the end of this book she has evolved even more. Nahri’s character arc is significant in other aspects also – we see her dealing with a great loos, coping with it and as such, get a glimpse into the actual situation that she hides behind the façade of being the perfect Banu Nahida for her people. The way she copes, and goes on despite the pain and the hurt and the anger, is commendable and really inspiring. I think that she is portrayed very much as a real woman – in our eyes she is no more than real flesh and blood.

Ali’s character has also seen a lot of changes – for instance, he has grown more serious. The terrible pressure that he has to live under – the burden – never feels like it until he has to go back to Daevabad and it proves to be his undoing. We also see Muntadhir is a new light – there is so much more to this Emir and it has been such an enlightening journey that I have actually started to quite like this conflicted prince – one who has just as many troubles.

The plot of this book is just as intricate if not more so. There are so many unexpected twists and turns that by the time the book ends you are left reeling! I am very much eager and kind of nervous too to see how the author wraps up this book. The themes again revolved around mental health and well-being, societal pressures and expectations, and love, and longing and coping with loss and so on. Of course these are some of the subtle ones I could infer from the background.  The concept of faith and the strong belief in one’s faith and also in one’s own self is quite strong here. Moreover, fantasy is a running element in this series but the author’s representation of a Muslim fantasy is beautiful and resplendent. I have absolutely loved reading about this culture (many are fictionalized, of course) and this world as a whole is so intriguing for the modern reader. This is truly a nook unlike any. 

Verdict:

This book was dazzling and beautiful and I have no words for it. I do think I love this book more than the first one and as such I will wholeheartedly rate this one a solid 5/5 stars!

About the author:

S. A. Chakraborty is a speculative fiction writer from New York City. Her debut, The City of Brass, was the first book in The Daevabad Trilogy and has been short-listed for the Locus, British Fantasy and World Fantasy awards. When not buried in books about Mughal miniatures and Abbasid political intrigue, she enjoys hiking, knitting, and recreating unnecessarily complicated medieval meals for her family. You can find her online at www.sachakraborty.comor on Twitter at @SAChakrabooks where she likes to talk about history, politics, and Islamic art.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .