And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
When we think about the most well-known authors of all time, Agatha Christie’s name is sure to pop up somewhere. Her works have received global acclaim and there is hardly a mystery reader, or If I may be so bold, any reader at all who has not heard of her. That being said, my love affair with Dame Christie’s works had only begun in 2016 before going full swing the following year. While relishing the journey of discovering her various works and jumping into the minds of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, And Then There Were None stood out repeatedly in ‘top lists’. Yet, it took me 5 years to finally get my hands on a copy and experience this wonder of a book.
And Then There Were None does not dawdle and kicks off with a bang. We are introduced to a whole host of characters with varying degrees of morality. The premise is baffling and intriguing all at the same time. I will not lie; it was a struggle to keep up with all the characters and their alleged indictments. I kept referring back to get my facts straight because Christie is a master of weaving details into the most unexpected places/instances. At less than 300 pages, this was an extremely quick read but packed so many punches, I was left breathless by the time I got to the end.
There is no Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple racing against the clock to unravel a baffling mystery. And Then There Were None was different in its delivery because it was a game of survival. 10 people are lured then stranded on an island, accused of being murderers who fell through cracks in the justice system, and slowly get picked off one after the other. We are also repeatedly reminded that cheating the system does not equate to innocence.
As for the writing, Christie delivers as she always does and then some. In addition to making us constantly wonder who the murderer is, we are also left to guess who will kick the bucket next in the manner of the corresponding line in an otherwise macabre nursery rhyme. I guessed at the murderer and then guessed again, changing my position several times much like the characters themselves in the book – a clear indication of Christie’s talent to suck her readers into the world she has created and make them feel like a part of the story. In fact, I often emerge from the end of Christie’s books feeling like my brain had just gone through a high-intensity workout. Last night was no exception to this.
However, as with all her books, there is a slight chance of feeling cheated when the truth finally comes to light. This largely depends on the type of reader you are. I enjoy the wild ride that are Christie’s murder mysteries and am quite shameless about not being able to guess things correctly. So that feeling of being deceived is extremely fleeting for me and does not take away from my experience. Nevertheless, I should still acknowledge that every reader is distinct, and the story carries the prospect of deception for some.
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
This one took me completely by surprise! Do not get me wrong, I knew this would be good; I adore fluffy romances. But I had picked it up as a palette cleanser and instead, got something so much more.
Let me start off by saying that the book’s pacing was P E R F E C T. With a plotline that hinges on miscommunication for its central conflicts, there was a lot to deliver – fleshing out the premise, showing readers how the protagonists, Nicholas and Naomi, ended up in a rut without taking on a patronising tone, mapping out their emotional journey back to each other, and wrapping things up in a satisfying conclusion. Sarah Hogle does all of this beautifully while maintaining a tasteful sense of witty humour throughout the story, which is everything that a romantic-comedy should be and more – cue chef’s kiss.
Might I also add that the setting was so atmospheric, and it reminded me why I often dream of living in a house or a cabin in the woods despite my crippling fear of a lot of the creatures as well as critters that live there too. Nicholas and Naomi’s journey was set against a stunning backdrop that is bound to warm you right up like a toasted marshmallow and give you all the feels. Given that I am more prone to internal screaming, bawling, and laughing while reading, even my husband was surprised that the book managed to get several bouts of chuckles and embarrassingly prominent pouting – which is a sign that I am going ‘awwww’ inside my head – out of me.
However (oh, the dreaded ‘however’), I did find one aspect of an otherwise great conclusion to be a little lacking. This is in reference to Nicholas’ overbearing mother and their relationship which despite being a significant source of conflict, felt slightly abrupt in its resolution to me.
Nonetheless, You Deserve Each Other as a whole was a solid read that has found its way into my overcrowded bookish heart. Highly recommended!
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This is what Inequality Looks Like by Teo You Yenn
This is my second non-fiction of the year, and I am so glad I picked this up from @ethosbooks
Warning, this will be a looooooong review!
It is so easy to dissociate ourselves from or overlook the realities of those who fall into the low-income strata. Thanks to this series of essays that boldly expresses a portion of our society’s collective truth that is often tip-toed around or belittled, we are one step closer to hearing the voices of a group of people who are as much a part of Singapore as any one of us.
In all honesty, my interest was piqued by TIWILL because I grew up in a low-income family myself. I resonated deeply with a lot of the issues highlighted and identified with the feelings that were put forth so eloquently by the author. With a decade’s worth of experience living in a rental flat, I can personally vouch for the very real circumstances that often included bed bugs, poor living conditions, lack of personal space, inconducive environment for work and studies, and etc. Even prior to our move into a rental flat, we spent several years struggling to get by and my incredibly resilient mother braved taxing and demeaning procedures to keep the family afloat. This passage in particular from the book that really hit home for me:
“This sums up what people say when they tell me why they are reluctant to seek help after they have had prior experiences: they will ask me A to Z, all kinds of personal questions. They tell me to bring ten different documents, and then if one thing is wrong, I have to go again. I have no time to do this because I have to work, I have to pick up my kid, I have to cook, I need to do housework. My kids need me at home and I don’t want them to go astray like I did, but last time I went, the officer told there just told me to get a job. And finally, importantly, after I have done everything right and I qualify and everything, they give me a tiny bit of help, for which I am grateful, but which only helps me get out of this crisis but doesn’t prevent the next one. And then in another three months, six months, I need to go through the process all over again. This time, I need to answer questions about why I have this $50 in my bank account, what I did to improve my pay, why don’t my children want to go to Student Care. On and on the questions go.”
I especially respect the author’s excellent delivery of the contradictions that have shaped our society. I had not realised how deeply ingrained these contradictory schools of thought were in us until I read it on page and deliberated it earnestly. Furthermore, what I saw in her essays was a vicious cycle that took physical, mental and emotional sacrifices to truly break out from. Yes, there are several avenues available for those who need it. But to get that help, one has to keep reliving the same painful circumstances they are trying to overcome while repeatedly being forced to associate being defeated with needing help. Why is seeking assistance only acceptable when one has supposedly ‘failed in life’? If you have a broken thumb, would you not visit a doctor just because it is not as a bad as a broken hand?
Another aspect of the author’s writing that I admired was her openness to acknowledging the questions that would surely be raised when a person tries to disrupt a narrative that an entire nation has become comfortable with. She gracefully highlighted that while there are admittedly people who are much worse off in other parts of the world, the purpose of TIWILL was to look at the struggles of Singaporeans in the context of Singapore. It is easy for people to belittle another’s problems because they had overcome the circumstances and succeeded in life, or by just chalking it up to delinquent behaviour/poor attitude/a lack of motivation to help oneself. Is it not unfair to take the complexity of years of difficulties, tragedies, and pain and prematurely compress it into a behavioural issue simply because humanising their circumstances might force us to confront uncomfortable truths? Another quote that hit the nail on the head with regards to this is as follows:
“Stories about people living in 2017-Singapore inhabiting what sounds more like their 1965-Singapore are stories that are troubling – they challenge the coherence of their stories, they disturb the moral goodness of their trajectories, they raise questions about their deservedness.”
I could go on and on about everything that is tackled in this incredible book. Probably why I broke one of my biggest bookish rules by heavily annotating TIWILL (no offence to those who enjoy annotating; I just happen to be an old maid when it comes to my books). But I should end this review here for now. I would love to discuss this in more detail with anyone who is interested though!
Once again, my heartfelt thanks to Teo You Yenn for putting this out there and shining a spotlight on the realities of social mobility, income gaps, and social policies. TIWILL truly hit differently for its representation and gave me the satisfaction of seeing my family’s as well as several others’ lived experiences being acknowledged.
Why do you read so obsessively? I am asked this question time and again. As if the greatest love affairs known to mankind were purely a product of rationality.
Yet, for the sake of curiosity, I will give you one reason.
I used to think stories, unlike dreams, were built on nothing. In retrospect, I see how wrong I have been.
Stories are built on everything.
They are built on lived experiences and emotions. They grow like wildflowers in the hearts of people who feel with absolute abandon – which more often than not is each and every one of us even if we do not quite realise it. Stories flourish in the brightest spots of one’s heart just as well as they do in the darkest corners. The beauty, my friend, is that they thrive anywhere and everywhere all at the same time. Or at least that is how I feel.
I would like to think that there are wildflowers in my heart as well. But sometimes the world is quick to point out my delusions. So I seek out the ones that braved the world instead and listen to them as they live to tell their tales.
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman
Special shoutout to Marin Ireland who narrated the audiobook fantastically!
Leave it to Backman to take a story that had seemed to be wrapped up neatly and crack it wide open again without missing a single beat. Frankly, I assumed that Us Against you would pick up a few years after Beartown or with different characters. But it kicks off mere weeks later and settles into a good pace with both the old cast and new additions.
There I was, spending another week with the residents of Beartown again, experiencing a mix of emotions that bordered on giving me a whiplash. But what truly terrified me was how every single chapter ended either on a heavy note of foreshadowing or a gut-wrenching cliffhanger. THIS BOOK WAS INTENSE. The cliffhangers in particular were cruel in that they left me hanging with its subtle implications without quite confirming anything. I was squirming for a long while before the plot reveals what actually happens. A few chapters in, I realised that I could not afford to let my guard down at any point!
But Backman did not stop there. His story was also painfully honest. The plot prepared me for a thorough wrecking yet when the devastation finally arrived, I was still left gasping for air because while the blow was delivered all the same, it came in an entirely unexpected form.
I would like to point out that by ‘plot’ I mean an in-depth character study. Us Against You moves at a fast pace and has a heavy plotline that focusses on every character who appears in the book. We are privy to the most intimate thoughts and emotions of each person on the page, even if he/she appears in just a single paragraph. If this is not genius writing, I do not know what is. In fact, this track Backman takes to bare his characters’ hearts to readers results in humanity being displayed in its rawest form. Almost everyone does something shameful or disappointing, but I was less inclined to judge them or hold on to my negative feelings – a direct effect of the writing.
Finally, I must share that everything came full circle by the end of the book. Actions have consequences and the conclusion is not an exception to this message. It broke my heart in so many ways but left me with a ray of hope, nonetheless.
All in all, Us Against You is a perfect sequel to Beartown with its powerfully evocative writing. The book was so incredibly intense but also had moments that forced laughter up from my splintering heart and past my unwilling lips. I would highly recommend listening to the audiobook as well! The narration by Marin Ireland was amazing and completely redefined my reading experience.
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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
I am not okay.
This book is so beautiful yet intensely painful. It ripped my heart to shreds. For a change, I cannot find it in myself to put into words my thoughts or emotion. Maybe later on I will be able to discuss the book objectively. For now, I leave you with the knowledge that this one is a must-read, but tread with caution because it could possibly wreck you.
Ps. The writing in this is G E N I U S. Delivered in the form of progress reports from Charlie himself, Daniel Keyes conveys the book’s machinations smoothly with the subtle transition of the writing style. It beautifully echoes Charlie’s own rising intelligence, fluctuating emotions and finally, his rapidly deteriorating mental faculties.
Synopsis for the curious:
‘The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?’
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Beartown by Fredrik Backman
*This book has some major triggers. However, to keep this spoiler free, I am leaving this warning here instead. If you would like to know the exact trigger warnings, feel free to reach out to me and/or do a quick Google search.*
I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to start this review only to end up backspacing and taking a break. After several attempts, I am finally powering through the overwhelming feelings Beartown gives me to pen this.
The story is set in a struggling town that is obsessed with hockey because they believe everyone’s fate hinges on their success in the sport. This premise is explained to us in painstaking detail through Backman’s writing and exploration of the various happenings in the townspeople’s lives. It also helps readers truly understand the gravity of everything that follows in the plot and the polarising choices people make when push comes to shove.
Although it is slow-moving initially, the pace becomes worthwhile in that it amplifies the gross injustice that occurs at the halfway mark. My reading experience felt a lot like listening to an orchestra reaching a crescendo. Twice.
I must say that Backman’s writing is absolutely genius. Every chapter (or character perspective) begins and ends with gems of wisdom or hard-hitting truths that just redefine entire passages. Something about his writing style forces readers to experience the story with a lot more depth than we would have thought possible (I am not sure if I am explaining this right, but it is the only way my muddled brain is letting me put it across).
Despite the extremely heavy topic Beartown deals with, it left me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth throughout the second half. Sometimes, I was drowning in the disappointment caused by the choices and judgements of certain characters. Other times, I was lifted up by the glimmers of hope that showed in the actions of a few characters.
My heart was repeatedly shattered and pieced back together.
What sealed the deal for me though was the ending. It was different but realistic and highly satisfying. The realities of the situation are conveyed excellently; it at no point diminishes the subject matter of the book and still manages to leave me with hope for a better future.
This might very well be my favourite read of 2021.
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Vengeful by V.E. Schwab
The sequel to Vicious kicks off 5 years later with a host of tension-building situations, new villains and ethical dilemmas.
I will be honest and say that my initial thought when reading about Victor Vale in the first few chapters was ‘I stand corrected’. After Vicious, I was convinced that while he may seem like an anti-hero, he was more selfish than anything else. However, the first few chapters of Vengeful had me reevaluating this. But it does not end there. As I kept reading, I switched back to my original position before questioning it yet again - a dance that continued on in my head throughout the book. Which brings me to my next point: Schwab is a genius.
Please bear with me as I deviate a little and tell you more about the book (I promise there is a valid reason for this). Vengeful is different from its predecessor in that it fleshes out the backstories and current activities of both the new characters and the recurring cast. This is especially true of the veteran villain, Eli Ever, and the newly minted villainess, Marcella Riggins. But all of their paths do not coincide for a good portion of the book, travelling down seemingly individual tracks, leaving me on the cusp of disappointment. But my, oh, my, does the climax pack a solid punch. In fact, it is the inevitable convergence of every character’s path that had me reevaluating my thoughts (again).
With that, I bring us back to my earlier statement about the author being a genius. In addition to a fast-paced, action-packed, heart-wrenching and highly satisfying sequence of events, reading all of the key characters’ perspectives and actions that are finally happening simultaneously, a realisation hit home; Schwab beautifully puts across the very definition of morally grey by showing us varying degrees of what we consider ‘evil’ with her characters. It dawned on me that the question was never about how good a character was. It was about how evil they could be.
That being said, I docked a star because the ending fell a little flat for me with how conveniently things wrapped up after a life-threatening dilemma and an explosive climax.
Frankly, I do not know if this qualifies as a proper review. It’s mostly just a miserable attempt at trying to turn my stream of consciousness into a coherent appraisal 😂
But in any case, the Villains series officially rank among my favourites. Highly recommended!
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Vicious by V.E. Schwab - Book Review
After finishing Addie LaRue’s compelling tale earlier this year, I was thoroughly convinced to pick up more of Schwab’s books. While all of her books written for adults sounded rather interesting, Vicious and it’s sequel Vengeful were what intrigued me the most. Morally ambiguous characters and a question of bad vs worse - I was instantly sold.
True to form, the author weaves a complex yet highly engaging tale with time jumps that somehow seem to fit. They were not jarring and felt perfectly timed, complementing the fast-paced plot set in the present day.
For the curious, Vicious is the story about ExtraOrdinaries - people who have, you guessed it, extraordinary powers. It particularly focuses on Victor Vale and Eli Ever. What started out as an idea soon turns into a realer than life experiment that brings about results they wished for, and consequences they did not. This is followed by a swiftly moving storyline of strategy and revenge.
I was especially captivated by the commentary on the perceptions of good and evil conveyed through the characters. The author perfectly breathes life into thoughts that are often just fleeting - for me, at least. Victor Vale is by no means a good man and is acutely aware of his actions as well as the motives behind it. He may seem to fit the mould of an anti-hero, unwittingly picking up strays along the way and not wanting to cause hurt where it is unnecessary. He shows a shadow of what could be care or concern. Yet, when the author allows us to peek into his mind, it is evident that he is driven by an intense, self-serving need to deliver retribution. Eli Ever, on the other hand, fancies himself a deliverer of retribution as well. A hero, even. Yet the thought processes and belief system that led him to that juncture could not be more different than Victor’s journey.
Basically, what my rambling means is that I loved this book. Yes, I adore Cinnamon Rolls. But morally grey characters and revenge plots are what I live for. Whether they admit how messed up they are to themselves or not (in the case of Vicious, we get both), their journeys often make for one hell of a story.
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Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett – Book Review
I did not like this book. I was disappointed. Or at least, that is what I thought for the first few chapters. Boy, oh boy, am I glad I stuck it out though. After a slightly rocky start, this book picks up and takes you on such an atmospheric and feel-good ride, it will leave you wanting more by the end.
Let me start this off by saying that I am a huge fan of adventure books. Road trips, camping trips, backpacking, roughing it up in the wild, exploring foreign lands – you name it, I’ll read it! Given that I am naturally inclined towards bouts of escapism, it comes as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoy living vicariously through such books and Starry Eyes delivered!
For the curious, this is what the book is serving up:
1) Protagonist 1, Zorie, is an astronomy-enthusiast who is dealing with anxiety from the unexpected loss of a loved one, manifesting as rigid planning habits. So obviously, the plot is full of events not going by the plans she has painstakingly charted.
2) Protagonist 2, Lennon, is yet another cinnamon roll who has carved a space for himself in my heart, which is becoming slightly overcrowded with sweet pastry-esque literary heroes. Oh, he is also an avid camper/backpacker with amazing outdoor skills and a penchant for homemade maps (I LOVE THOSE MAPS).
3) Lennon’s moms run an adult toy shop right next to Zorie’s uptight father’s wellness clinic.
4) Zorie and Lennon take a massive detour from her carefully formulated plans and hike across the backcountry.
& this is just the bare minimum of what the story entails.
Zorie and Lennon’s journey captured my heart, and their journey was so beautifully written, I felt like I was taking that trip right alongside them. I live for the trails, night skies, waterfalls, and every other aspect of nature the author portrayed with her talented writing. We also get to witness the evolution of the protagonists’ turbulent relationship, where they had gone from best friends to something more briefly and then ended up as enemies for untold reasons before embarking upon this heartwarming adventure. How the author introduces a new character at the end of the book, who was only briefly mentioned at the start, and still makes me fall thoroughly in love with her in just a matter of pages is beyond me as well. But I am not complaining! This made for a very satisfying conclusion and left me nursing a serious book hangover.
I am aware of the reputation the author has for unique characters and premises. I can say with confidence that she did this exceedingly well with Starry Eyes, and I look forward to picking up some of her other books in the future.
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson – Book Review
Have you ever seen a cute, fluffy dog wake up from an afternoon nap and lazily stretch its body? Suddenly, you find yourself in a sluggish mood where you just want to do nothing but flop down and laze around. No? Just me? Anywho, that is what this book felt like to me.
I am going to say right off the bat that I was not the biggest fan of Andie, the protagonist. Something about her irked me a lot. Which is ironic because the whole book is written from her perspective and I still enjoyed the plot very much. In fact, true to its title, the book unexpectedly had me falling more in love with her friends as well as resident cinnamon roll, Clark, and his lovely furbuddy, Bertie. I mean, writer-type (a fantasy one, at that) romantic interest + father who might have slipped up, but still tries to redeem himself and unabashedly lets his inner child shine from time to time + great friendship dynamics with hilarious banter and an amazing scavenger hunt + several endearing dogs + one grumpy cat = a thoroughly enjoyable read for sure.
However, I did not rate this as highly as the plus points I highlighted would suggest because the pacing was a huge issue for me. In my opinion, the book meandered, and this left me feeling slightly disconnected from certain parts of the book which took away from the reading experience. I was also a little bit disappointed with one aspect of the conclusion, but I think that stems more from how invested I was in the characters and not because the conclusion was problematic (which is my obnoxious way of saying ‘it was just me, not the book’).
All in all, it is a worthwhile book that warms you up like summer would. Light, easy and a feel-good while delving a little deeper from time to time just so we can get the unexpected everything.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton – Book Review 5/5 Trigger warnings: Rape, death, brief suicidal ideation This bewitching story was indeed strange and beautiful.
Let me start off by saying that this book WILL make you uncomfortable, unsettled, and even horrified at times. But it will also warm your heart, fill your mouth with a bittersweet taste, and leave you satisfied in its own uncanny way. It is haunting in its beauty and heartbreaking in its rawness. Frankly, I am unsure of how to explain this book. I can only describe the way the author’s amazing style of writing and the words that seemed to have a life of their own as they permeated into my heart despite the walls that were in place and burrowed into a deep corner. They then sent both dread and comfort radiating through my entire being while I was reading. Nonetheless, I will still try my best. Ava Lavender’s account of not just her own life, but also the lives of her mother and grandmother are delivered against the backdrop of themes such as unrequited love, loss, finding oneself and triumphing in the face of great tragedy. This is a historical fiction interspersed with fantastical elements that are so unique, they are not typical of the Magical Realism genre (in my opinion, that is). There is also a whole cast of side characters who are multilayered, well-developed and hold equal weight in the plot. They have their storylines tied up neatly alongside the main characters by the end of the book – which only speaks volumes of the author’s talent considering the book’s length. There is no way I could rate this any less with the way it has gripped my heart and set my thoughts in a whirl. I cannot stop thinking about this book and its oddly intimate storytelling. ‘Love makes us such fools.’
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Paperweight by Meg Haston – Book Review
Triggers: Eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation, anxiety
‘The girl in the mirror was too much and not enough.’
‘The reason a single caloric unit takes on such importance, the reason the pound becomes our currency of worth.’
This book hit so close to home that I had to take long breaks in between chapters so that I could get to the end without falling apart. Here is the dish: I have struggled with an eating disorder for most of my late teens and early twenties. I am still grappling with a distorted self-image. Therefore, this book was extremely triggering for me.
Stevie’s journey is tough to read because the author breaks down her thought processes, letting us in to see everything that is going on in her head. As is often the case with people working through their EDs, her mind is preoccupied with the crippling fear and guilt that accompanies the thought of taking even a single bite of food. She is also overcome by guilt and pain over her brother’s death, which is revealed very early in the book.
There were so many passages in the book that were hard-hitting in their portrayal of the toll EDs take on their sufferers. The way they perceive themselves, the lack of self-worth, and the extent to which a number on the scale can dictate one’s life. As someone who is sometimes still unable to help seeing the words ‘worthless’ and ‘not enough’ in place of the number of kilos on the scale, reading Stevie’s and the other girls’ journeys made a world of difference. It was a brutal and raw representation of EDs and I am so thankful for the representation. Especially because it is not always as simple as “oh, just eat, it won’t kill you” and “it’s all in your head”.
Okay, now for the more objective part of the review. Stevie was an unlikeable character from the beginning, but this is understandable given that we are experiencing the story through her eyes while she is suffering from loss, grief, pain, suicidal thoughts, and an ED. I appreciated the faithful depiction, which made the relationships she grudgingly developed with her therapist and the other girls in the centre that much more satisfying. Stevie’s journey towards healing progresses organically as well, with the narrative jumping between her ongoing time in the centre and her past which is delivered in the form of memories crashing into her mind unbidden during harder moments.
All in all, Paperweight is an excellent representation of mental health and EDs. Very triggering, especially for those who have been in similar straits, but definitely worthwhile. Highly recommended!
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A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Mass – Book Review
Fun fact: I had repeatedly told myself not to pick this one up because the first 3 books in the series gave me sufficient closure to move on; I am a binge-reader and have zero patience when it comes to waiting for books in an unfinished series. Yet, here I am, writing a review for the same book I was adamant about not reading after burning through 751 pages in 5 days. What does self-control even mean?
Okay, with that confession out of the way, let us dive into the review itself. A Court of Silver Flames was Nesta’s much-needed spotlight to shine under. Considering how her coping mechanism manifested in self-destructive behaviour, I can say with confidence that this book was mostly a redemption arc and I loved it.
Nesta’s journey was slightly similar to Feyre’s in that we are introduced to the concept of a found family once again. Yet, it was distinct in the execution and selection of new characters. Gwyn and Emerie are so precious and the friendship that blossoms between them warmed my heart so thoroughly, I ended up smiling like an idiot whenever they showed up. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate THE HOUSE?! I do not want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to read the book, but I just want to say that the House of Wind is so precious and I want to shrink it, put it in my pocket and carry it around with me everywhere I go.
Naturally, we get a lot of Cassian and Nesta as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the way their relationship evolved and the strong support system they formed between one another. Nesta is dealing with a lot of self-limiting thoughts and trauma, which Cassian tries to understand. I liked that instead of trying to solve the issues for her, he chose to give her the comfort and support she needed to work through them herself. While he may not have always succeeded, lashing out at times even, he worked to make up for it – a realistic portrayal of the often rocky road towards healing.
There are also plenty of scenes to sate the love fans have for the rest of the characters with the plot itself still involving the whole group. The climax was definitely satisfying, although it was not what I thought it would be after all the heavy foreshadowing of a huge conflict and the looming war. I suppose it means A Court of Silver Flames is setting the scene for what is to come in future books.
Now, I want to put one final thing out there for anyone who is fighting with temptation the way I had, for fear of a cliff-hanger that might make the wait for the next book unbearable:
While there are some loose ends (i.e. the looming war) that may make us look forward to more, A Court of Silver Flames concludes on a fairly satisfying note and wraps up neatly.
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In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park – Book Review
As the title suggests, this is the memoir of a native North Korean who went against overwhelming odds – indoctrination, starvation, disease, loss, human trafficking, rape, physical abuse, emotional torture and so much more (please consider these trigger warnings as well) – to taste freedom and reunite her family.
Throughout the book, I was constantly astounded by the sheer force of human resilience. Yeonmi’s will and survival instincts in particular had my absolute respect. Her harrowing account of life in North Korea also reminded me that while I sat at home watching dystopian movies in mild terror or gasping in shock as I read books based in dystopian worlds, the horrors of such a state was actually happening in some parts of the world and people there were suffering each day.
More upsetting was the gross injustice she and her family faced when she thought she had escaped to China. Her fight for freedom cost her greatly and I cannot even begin to find the words that will sufficiently describe her journey without doing it a disservice.
After finishing the memoir, I naturally went to look up the author’s interviews and articles about her. Although she had the admiration of many for her activism and advocacy, she also had several others trying to discredit or shame her. Now, here is the thing about sensitive situations like this – opinions can be divisive. Therefore, just as anyone else is entitled to his or her opinion, so am I.
And this is mine: While I acknowledge that there might be minor inconsistencies in her story, it could be because of any number reasons, including the effects of PTSD/trauma, the imperfections of human memory, the time and space she needed to deal with the feelings of shame about her past, or even to increase the ‘marketability’ of her story. Yet, these are all speculations that we have no way of justifying and are somehow leading us away from the purpose of opening our hearts to the plight of those who are suffering.
This book is a much-needed reality check and an important part of exposing the truth. The beauty of it though was that it not only shed light on the terrible things some human beings do, but also the wonders that we are capable of and the power of one’s will in the face of insurmountable challenges.
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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Book Review
This was the first of Rainbow Rowell’s books I chose to read some time last year, and it still resides in the corner of my heart that feels perpetually warm and fuzzy. The characters, especially the protagonist, Cath, were extremely relatable. This comes as a surprise since I don’t actually share a lot of common traits with her. I suppose it was also the moment it dawned on me that Rainbow Rowell is simply the queen of writing characters who were distinct yet evoked a strong sense of empathy in readers.
The plot itself was rich in its portrayal of the turbulent life of a young college student struggling in her journey towards self-discovery. Levi, of course, felt like a tasty drizzle of warm honey in Cath’s life. He was so precious and the love that blossomed between them was so organic and pure, I could shed tears.
Might I add that the excerpts of the Simon Snow fan-fic were a stroke of genius as well. Rainbow Rowell teases readers with such delicious tidbits, it was only natural that Carry On and Wayward Son landed spots on my TBR almost immediately. :’)
Fangirl is a wholesome and heart-warming read that thoroughly captivated my heart. Yet I did not give it a full five stars because the ending was so abrupt, I was caught totally off-guard. In hindsight, I realise this might actually be a trademark (and for good reason). But since it was my first book of the author’s, I was naturally mildly stunned.
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The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – Book Review
Illuminae – 5/5
Gemina – 4/5
Obsidio – 4/5
I am fairly new to the realm of Sci-Fi but was utterly convinced in a matter of minutes to pick up The Illuminae Files when I discovered they were delivered as a ‘dossier of hacked documents – including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews and more’. I love uniquely formatted books and was certain that this was going to be one hell of a ride.
My high expectations were fulfilled with startling accuracy when the first book kicked off with the invasion of our MCs’ home planet and launched into a string of events that remained action-packed and fast-paced throughout the rest of the book as well as in the following sequels. Better yet were the strong female protagonists at the forefront of every book. All of them possessed distinct skillsets which they used unforgivingly against everything (and everyone) that was thrown in their paths. The male protagonists, while not always as prominently featured across all the books, held their own in their roles and were just as crucial to the ‘fight against corporate greed while also dealing with a side arc of some serious nature vs science induced problems’ formula in all three books.
Also, would my fangirl review be truly complete without a paragraph dedicated just to AIDAN (Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network – which is basically an obnoxious way of saying supercomputer with a crazy brain and morally ambiguous personality)? Not only were the delivery of his portions in the book beautifully illustrated, the content itself also held a certain level of surrealism that made him an instant favourite. AIDAN’s monologues were nothing short of poetic as well, making them an absolute delight to read.
Another aspect of the books I really enjoyed (and at times, felt heartbroken over) were the incredibly high stakes that came with real losses. The authors did not create conflicts just to give readers heart palpitations and then calm them down with a cheesy ending. They made the odds extraordinarily difficult and destructive, incurring heart-breaking losses that made the wild ride that was The Illuminae Files a true high-stakes space adventure.
However, my review would not be entirely objective if I did not explain why I shaved off one star each for two out of the three books. This was largely due to the repetitiveness of the plot. All three books more or less used the same formula, which is not a bad thing until some portions started to feel like a duplicate of previous events. Of course, it was a minor issue I found easy to gloss over.
All in all, The Illuminae Files lives up to all the hype. There isn’t a boring moment in these books and the format only made them that much more engaging. So much so that I finished the series in less than a week! Highly recommended.
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Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson - Book Review
It took me a little over 3 weeks to finish this standalone fantasy novel set in a world with libraries that housed books with souls of their own.
Don’t get me wrong, the characters were perfectly lovable, the plot was fast-paced and the world building was excellent. Yet something seemed sorely lacking to me throughout. Reading the book felt more like an obligation than an enjoyable adventure.
The twists were predictable. One in particular was heavily foreshadowed in the first half of the book, only to fall flat in its revelation. In case you are wondering, I am referring to Elisabeth’s unique power, which even the synopsis hinted at being something major. Granted it makes a difference during the climax, the delivery was done poorly.
That being said, I do fully acknowledge that it could also be a classic case of it-was-not-the-book-it-was-me. February was an especially busy and hectic month for me which naturally influenced my frame of mind whenever I read the book.
All in all, Sorcery of Thorns possesses great potential and a recipe that checks all the boxes for any book-loving fantasy enthusiast. Yet I failed to connect with it the way I should have.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – Book Review
TW: Suicide, Depression, Drug Abuse, Death of a Pet
Warning nobody asked for: This review is going to be highly introspective and might not make much sense at times.
More warnings nobody asked for: It is also going to be very long.
The Midnight Library read more like a Philosophy book than a Contemporary, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I enjoyed this aspect of the story and took quickly to the concepts that were being explored.
The beginning was especially difficult to read because the author puts into words the feelings that accompany depression which often leaves its sufferers with no plausible way to explain it, no matter how eloquent they may be. Reading about how the final few straws for Nora, our protagonist, culminate into her decision to take her own life was painfully accurate. It is at this point that she finds herself in the Midnight Library and the rest of the story carries on from there.
Fair warning, most of the story takes place neither in the library nor among the books – once again, not necessarily a bad thing. I can understand why some might feel a little cheated by this, but the purpose of the book was apparent from Nora’s first visit to the library and I found it easy to make my peace with it because the premise was fascinating enough.
The rest of the book raised a lot of questions within me and made me very reflective. One of the most recurrent things had been trying to figure out what a perfect life constitutes. Especially in the current age of social media, it is so easy to get sucked into rabbit hole of ‘what-ifs’.
‘What if I had worked harder? Life would have been perfect then.’
‘What I had made a different decision? Life would have been perfect then.’
‘What if I had had the same opportunities as someone else? Life would have been perfect then.’
A lot of us have regrets that are so unfounded in that they stem from the thought of not having the same things someone else has, which seemingly led to them having a ‘perfect life’ and us, a lacklustre one. But what is perfection? A life devoid of misery? Yet when our lives consist of only one emotion, we are quick to call it stagnant or feel stifled, leading us right back to square one.
Perhaps a perfect life is one that gives us happiness. Then it begs the question of what happiness constitutes? Can we still find happiness in the things/people around us if the lens of happiness within us is clouded or missing in the first place? Even if we think we did, would that feeling of happiness last since it is so dependent on external factors that are ever-changing?
I also liked how the author captured the idea of life being an organic mix of various emotions (or at least, that is my interpretation of it). It reminds me of the concept of Life vs Living. Life is what we make, but living is what we make out of that life and that is the part that often gives us our purpose, drives us forward and keeps us afloat.
Now, on to the less savoury portion of this loooong review. Throughout the book, I alternated between liking it and feeling a bit disconnected from it. In all honesty, the delivery of the story felt a little disjointed in the last third of the book. As a matter of fact, the final 80 pages or so gave me this feeling of sloppiness, almost like the author had grown (understandably) tired of conveying such a heavily reflective take on life and regrets. The underlying tone of darkness also dissipated too quickly and the conclusion ended up not packing the same punch that the initial tone of the book had.
Overall, I found The Midnight Library to be a fascinating read with a strong start and a mild finish. This made it worthwhile, surely, but also reinforced that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
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Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor - Book Review
The sequel to Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer picks up the pace and packs a few punches!
I am happy to announce that this book held my attention a lot better with the introduction of new characters, redemption arcs and answers to some burning questions.
I was initially conflicted over the addition of a separate plot line but was interested to see how it would pan out. I enjoyed the redemption arc as well (I admit it was cheesy but I like cheese so bite me).
I must also commend the way the author handled heavy themes like PTSD and the horrors of war in a YA novel without making it vanilla. She represented the themes in an age-appropriate yet authentic manner and I respect that greatly. Additionally, I was particularly taken with the way she weaved the concept of compassion into situations that seemed to demand nothing but violence.
However, I had to take away one star because the conclusion fell flat for me. I was disappointed by how the strong intertwining of two separate plot lines progressed into an ending that seemed to be overcompensating for something.
Nonetheless, I do not regret picking up this duology. Lazlo and Sarai are characters that will definitely stay with me for a long time.
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