Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Breaking Out of the Reading Slump

When I first started this blog I posted once a week, and then slowly, I got posting every other day. I found other blogs to hop over to, hosted giveaways and started receiving Advanced Review Copies. Blogging became part of my routine, and reading truly felt like breathing.

"What are you reading?" you could ask me, at any point of the day and during any season of the year. I would have one or two titles at the tip of my tongue. Book boyfriends, quirky protagonists and the fictional plot twists were as much a part of my day as what I was learning at my internship or texts from the guy I was crushing on. As Rainbow Rowell phrased it in Fangirl: "reality was something happening in my [her] peripheral vision."

The Slump

Then, one day. I got busy with my master's thesis and GRE preparation. I was pouring over journals and the books on my to-read list remained on my to-read list. I went to a book fair, and bought more than I needed. The books piled on top of each other, but I never read them. Much depended on my final project grade, and giving myself fully to that experience.

I took a year off after my master's. I bought more books:  horror, romance, non-fiction, and literary fiction.They sat pretty in my bookshelf, as I worked two part-time jobs. I crossed paths with people who were anything but cardboard cut-outs. As I navigated through real-life plot twists, I started several books. Sometimes, I'd take them with me to places, but I'd lose my bookmark or forget the crux of the plot.

Then Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out, and I was hooked for a couple of hours. It was a rush of nostalgia and adrenaline, even if it was not perfect. I appreciated the fresh perspective Albus gave us of the Slytherin dungeons, and was finally convinced by the rationale for love over power.

I joined grad school for the second time, this time in California. Choosing five of my favorite books of all time to take with me to a whole other continent drove me crazy. My five most treasured paperbacks sat tall in my new university apartment. My first semester was a blur, with zero non-academic books read by the end of it.

The Slow Burn

In November, I subscribed to the Book of the Month club. I started reading The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. It had everything I appreciated about a young adult book: well fleshed-out characters, layers, the pulse of a busy city and the intricacies of the universe. I took the book with me everywhere: to train stations, to my study table, to coffee shops and even to Universal Studios, Hollywood. But I did not make it past two pages at a time - as urgent phone calls, fast-diminishing lines to rollercoasters, deadlines and the lurch of a new life often caused me to snap it back shut.

The few pages I read though, it integrated with my day. When I drank too much coffee, the protagonist Natasha felt vivider in my head. When Natasha argued for science, I thought about it while reading about the subjectivity of many objective research methods.

Breaking Out of the Slump

Then, last night, I burned through the last forty pages. It all came together and floored me the way a good book hadn't in a long time. I let it seep into my heart, rooting for people and places and contexts outside of me in a way that always cleansed my soul. Reality was back in my peripheral vision, my hypersensitivity to it and anxiety about it fading into the background.

I felt closure when I hit the end. It was similar to the satisfaction I felt when I got a good grade, the elevation I felt when I saw something selflessly adorable or the peak I got to when I focused. Only this was something I had always had, until somehow, one day I didn't anymore.

It felt like coming home.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Review: When Our Worlds Collide by Aniesha Brahma


Publication date: October 30th, 2015
Publisher: General Press
Stars: 4/5
Source: Review copy 
Akriti has led a pretty much sheltered life.
Zayn has been shuttled from city to city when he was growing up.
She is comfortable watching her life from the sidelines.
He wants to feel rooted to a place he can call ‘home’.
They meet each other quite by chance.
And both seize the chance to be someone they both need in their lives:
For Zayn, it’s a 'Partner-In-Crime'.
For Akriti, someone who just knows how to be there for her…
When their worlds collide,
It is not what either of them expected it to be.
Zayn has a steady girlfriend. And Akriti has a crush on him.
What happens when these two become friends?
The biggest adventure of their lives? Or the road to heartbreak?
What happens when two completely different people collide?
Do they become friends? Or, is their friendship doomed from the start?
'When Our Worlds Collide' is the story of two twenty-three-year olds, Who are finally growing up and finding their feet in the world.
A tale of friendship and love, crushes and betrayals, messes and second chances,
Marriage and divorce… and the elusive happily ever after!

REVIEW


I remember reading Aniesha Brahma’s debut. It was a colourful and well written novel, though a little rough around the edges. While reading her latest novella When Our Worlds Collide, I couldn't help but notice how far she’d come along as a writer. The dialogue flowed smoothly and the humour was subtle but made me laugh out loud. I read it without stopping for a break, and cried so much towards the end.

When Our Worlds Collide is the story of Akriti, a twenty something girl managing her mother’s café in Kolkata. She was a wallflower in school and college, preferring not to let her guard down. Her family situation was complicated, and she preferred having no friends to letting people into her life. Fast forward a few years, and she’s still as much of a misfit. The only person she talks to is her co-worker Ayoub. Then she re-connects with Zayn, a boy she once almost spoke to in school through his girlfriend Nimmi, a girl she’d reluctantly been friends with at one point. Their worlds collide, and Akriti finds herself crushing on someone whom she knows is taken.

The novella is packed with sweet, teary and some surprisingly real moments. It does not take the easy way out; loose ends aren't tied together with a frilly pink ribbon. Akriti’s at a phase of her life a lot of people in their twenties will be able to relate to. She has dreams, but hasn’t yet realised them. She has hope, but is too scared to pin it on anything. She’s too young to be defined by her past, and yet it isn’t something she can neglect. She’s transitioning, and every step she takes in any direction opens up so many possibilities. There’s freedom and then there’s responsibility weighing in on the consequences of every “free-willed” choice.

The author does a great job exploring these conflicts. She’s not afraid to have things take a raw turn, allowing the protagonist to grow in a more than superficial way. There’s more than enough quirk in it too. Poetry slams play a huge role in the story, but in a different way compared to Colleen Hoover’s Slammed. I could feel myself rooting for this girl, and I found the not-so-clichéd ending satisfying. When Our Worlds Collide is as much a story about personal responsibility as it is a story about a “hopeless” crush. I found that refreshing, as it was something I could relate to. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

A post-script on the novella's cover design: If there was one thing that bugged me a little bit, it was the cover. The cover could've been so much more representative of Akriti and Zayn or Akriti's life, or even just...Indian. Hopefully, future editions come up with a design that is more true to the book and the ethnicity of the main characters.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Mini Review: Mind Static by Jen Naumann


Publication date: August, 2013
Publisher: At or With Me Publishing
Links: Goodreads | Amazon US 
Stars: 3/5
Source: Review copy 

Keyanna Sanders is about to get everything she could ever wish for on her 18th birthday: a hot guy who’s really into her, the sports car she’s always dreamed of owning, and the party of a lifetime that no one will forget any time soon.

But before long, she’ll understand these wishes are more than a coincidence, and that they come at a steep price. Keyanna is more than just an average high school senior, her best friend is more than the innocent boy next door, and her sudden good fortune isn’t just by chance. When her estranged father suddenly re-enters her life, she’ll have to decide who to trust, and whether or not the man she loves has become the enemy.

REVIEW

This has got to be the most bizarre book I've ever read. It starts, well, truly starts, the day Keyanna Sanders turns eighteen and everything she wishes comes true. In the beginning, it's mildly amusing and seems coincidental, but soon, it's clear that something has changed. What follows is this completely crazy sequence of events that feels as rapid as the blink of an eye. Seriously, every time I'd get used to something, there would be a twist and bam- completely different turn of events!

I loved how unpredictable and fun the characters were: whether it was Lock-the token hot British guy who kept me guessing-, Dallas, Keyanna's mother, her father, her best friend Nora or Dominic, I either loved to hate them or flat out liked them. There's no one I could take completely seriously, as everything we know about them is consistently put to test, but they were so exciting and fun. I was constantly guessing their motives and true intentions!

This is the kind of book that can be taken only at face value, but is nevertheless so entertaining, I didn't need to dig deeper. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Review: Enter the Bluebird by Brendan Halpin


Publication date: September 28th, 2013
Publisher: Peter Parley Publishing
Links: Goodreads | Amazon US 
Stars: 4/5
Source: Review copy 

Enter the Bluebird is the story of Julie Rouge, who's nearly 16 and can't wait to join her mother, the masked crimefighter Red Talon, patrolling the crime-ridden streets of New Edinburgh. 


Unfortunately, Julie's mom has disappeared, and, while searching for her, Julie is going to discover that the city she calls home is even nastier, more corrupt, and riddled with toxic secrets than she ever knew. 


Enter the Bluebird is a noir YA superhero novel about secrets and betrayal and violence and love.


REVIEW


Enter the Bluebird tells the story of Julie Rouge, the daughter of meta human Sonia Rouge who is also known as the Red Talon. The Red Talon loses her life fighting street crime in the city of New Edinburgh. Julie is left with a costume for her new avatar: The Bluebird, which kicks off her thirst for justice and revenge. In the process, she confronts the reality of the city she grew up in and the ghosts of her mother's past.

The only other Brandon Halpin book I've read before this is A Really Awesome Mess but the two books don't have much in common. Enter the Bluebird has no room for cutesy; it's darker and grittier than your average YA book. The world building is crazy amazing: with the Syndicate: the nucleus of corruption, Snake Oil: an addictive drug and agent of evil, the Legion of Freedom, the layout and atmosphere of New Edinburgh and the world outside it. All of my senses were enraptured by this world that could easily double as a comic-bookverse. 

It's a coming of age/origin story that is far more real than any superhero story I've ever seen. Julie has the ability to fly, and in her determination to rid New Edinburgh of corruption there's a fair amount of window-breaking, fires and angsty moments by the cemetery. More than this, though, the book confronts other harsher realities: namely, the people Julie/The Bluebird rescues, who don't necessarily find her superhero stunts amazing; not from where they're standing.

"Are you kidding me?" Kendra said. "Now I get to spend the rest of the night picking glass slivers off the beds. And then I have to go out to fill a form in triplicate and hope the housing authority fixes the window before winter comes. What happens the next time it rains? What happens if the piece of glass gets in my little brother's eye? Did you think about that?"
"No," The Bluebird said. "I only thought about the person who was screaming and trying to help her. I didn't know she was too stupid to know that she needed help."
"You're the stupid one. You're dumber than your costume. You think you know things, but you don't know anything. You think the solution to every problem is to kick somebody-"
(...)
"Fine," Julie said. She tried to find The Bluebird inside her somewhere, but she could only find little hurt Julie...

I found Kendra and her little brother refreshing. They made the story all the more gripping, and showed that yes, fighting evil isn't as easy as a well placed punch. In fact, Halpin does not simplify any of the broader issues the world of Enter the Bluebird is filled with. He is unafraid to expose Julie to hurt, heart wrenching grief, people who have more than two dimensions and danger that strikes from more than one direction and never conveniently works in her favour.

As Julie struggles to pick up the pieces, make sense of her mother's death and gets infatuated with the Mayor's son, The Bluebird carries the weight of the city and falls more than once. Enter The Bluebird is, from start till end, a vividly written YA noir that I couldn't get enough of.

Rating: ★★★★

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Audiobook Review: Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover

Publication date: August 5th, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Stars: 2/5
Source: Reado.com

When Tate Collins meets airline pilot Miles Archer, she knows it isn’t love at first sight. They wouldn’t even go so far as to consider themselves friends. The only thing Tate and Miles have in common is an undeniable mutual attraction. Once their desires are out in the open, they realize they have the perfect set-up. He doesn’t want love, she doesn’t have time for love, so that just leaves the sex. Their arrangement could be surprisingly seamless, as long as Tate can stick to the only two rules Miles has for her.

Never ask about the past.
Don’t expect a future.

They think they can handle it, but realize almost immediately they can’t handle it at all.

Promises get broken.

Rules get shattered.
Love gets ugly.

REVIEW

This is a really difficult review to write because I love Colleen Hoover. I love how butterflying transformative her writing is; how it turns even the most tired cliches into something wholesome. And yet nothing could pretty up Ugly Love

Ugly Love is your classic New Adult redemption story: girl, Tate Collins, who's new to San Francisco meets boy, airplane pilot Miles Archer when he's drunk, huddled outside her brother's apartment door. Right from their first meeting, it's clear that something about his past haunts him; making him renounce love. When the chapters alternate with Miles' point of view, to "six years earlier" when he meets a girl called Rachel in high school, there are no doubts about the "who", just the "how" and "what". 

Tate and Miles, who's incidentally Tate's brother's best friend, soon embark on a relationship that's plain sex. But between Miles' smoldering gazes, Tate's fervent hope that it turns into something more and all the boundaries that they set only to break, they're not fooling anyone. The alternating perspectives, which shift from present to past, were a welcome relief as I didn't want to spend all of the time on either time period. There's just a lot of build up, characters that are "technically" well developed but don't mesh and poetic prose that falls flat.

This was also my first audio book ever, and "listening" to it might've only accentuated everything I disliked about the narrative structure. Miles' perspective, especially, was filled trite repetitions in his unconditional devotion towards Rachel. It felt empty, as there's nothing we actually know about Rachel other than Miles' idealized and rosy-eyed-to-the-point-of-corny account; half of which I felt like skipping. Tates' perspective felt more Miles' perspective of Tate because I cannot for the life of me get a picture of who she is, despite living inside her head for a good part of the book. 

The heart of the story is every bit of the redemption story you're promised: there's confrontation, tragedy and confrontation of tragedy. And yet, as a whole, it felt dissatisfying.  

This isn't going to stop me from reading Maybe Someday, the only Colleen Hoover book I haven't read, but Ugly Love flat out didn't work for me.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


This post is sponsored by Reado.com, India's largest audio book store, where you get one free audio book on sign up. :) All of the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Novel Publicity Blog Tour Stop; Review: Just Girls by Rachel Gold

Publication date: September 23rd, 2014
Publisher: Bella Books
Links: Goodreads | Amazon US | Amazon India
Stars: 4/5
Source: Novel Publicity Blog Tour
Jess Tucker sticks her neck out for a stranger the buzz is someone in the dorm is a trans girl. So Tucker says it s her, even though it s not, to stop the finger pointing. She was an out lesbian in high school, and she figures she can stare down whatever gets thrown her way in college. It can t be that bad. Ella Ramsey is making new friends at Freytag College, playing with on-campus gamers and enjoying her first year, but she s rocked by the sight of a slur painted on someone else s door. A slur clearly meant for her, if they'd only known. New rules, old prejudices, personal courage, private fear. In this stunning follow-up to the groundbreaking Being Emily, Rachel Gold explores the brave, changing landscape where young women try to be Just Girls.


REVIEW


I read Just Girls by Rachel Gold a month ago, and the earnestness with which it dealt with issues of identity, gender and sexual orientation instantly sucked me in.

Just Girls tells us the story of Jess Tucker, who sticks up for a transwoman on campus; she doesn’t know who this woman is, just that it’s someone in the dorm. On encountering a bunch of girls who have already started making ignorant remarks about, speculating about the identity of and judging this girl, Tucker says it’s her (“You have anything to say to my face?”). Being an out-of-the-closet lesbian since high school, she figures she can handle it.

“I know I don’t understand viscerally what it means to have gender dysphoria or to have people always questioning who you are, but I do know what it’s like to have people be assholes to you just because of who you are. And I just got really pissed and really afraid for this girl and so I said it was me. That way they’ll direct their bullshit at me and I know I can take it.” (p. 39)

Meanwhile, Ella Ramsey, realizing what had happened and what Tucker did for her, much before they are even acquainted… is shocked and moved.

What I liked most about Just Girls is that this is by no means where the story begins and ends. Instead, we are introduced to a diverse and wonderfully fleshed out cast of characters. While it would be easy to tag them as “transwoman Ella”, “genderqueer Nico”, “the transphobic Women & Gender Studies Teaching Assistant”, “codependent Lindy”, and so on, there’s much more to them than that. No one is a token member of any community, and their story transcends labels and stereotypes.

Getting to know Ella, who was born a boy but was on hormone blockers to prevent male characteristics from kicking in during puberty, widened my understanding of what it feels like to be born a gender you do not identify yourself as. It was refreshing how her parents were supportive of the transitioning process and embraced her for who she was. As we get to know Ella as Ella – girly, funny, intelligent and loyal-, the premise of the novel felt stronger and its message truly hit home.

The issues tackled, whether thinly veiled sexism, transphobia outside and within the LGBTQIA community, where transgenders factor in same sex restrooms, and more, never feel like too much. We are trained to even pay attention to the voices and views of characters whom the others are eager to dismiss as intolerant and prejudicial; as they, too, come from somewhere and it is essential to get to the root of that somewhere.

Rachel Gold has this amazing ability to integrate feminist theory and debates into the story in a way that feels natural; never feels obscure or out of one’s depth even to beginners. She also does a great job demonstrating that no subculture is free from prejudice, abuse and hatred. At the same time, love, friendship, trust and protection can be garnered from just about anywhere. The foundations of Ella and Tucker’s friendship, and their unconditional acceptance of each other left the deepest impact.

Just Girls was a funny, thoughtful and honest exploration into what it means to be a girl; exclusive of one’s assigned-at-birth gender and heteronormativity.


Rating: ★★★★☆
-

About the prizes:

Who doesn't love prizes? You could win one of two $50 Amazon gift cards or an autographed copy of Just Girls! Here's what you need to do...
  1. Enter the Rafflecopter contest
  2. Leave a comment on my blog
That's it! One random commenter during this tour will win the first gift card. Visit more blogs for more chances to win--the full list of participating bloggers can be found HERE. The other two prizes will be given out via Rafflecopter. You can find the contest entry form linked below or on the official Just Girls tour page via Novel Publicity. Good luck!

About the book: 

Jess Tucker sticks her neck out for a stranger—the buzz is someone in the dorm is a trans girl. So Tucker says it’s her, even though it’s not, to stop the finger pointing. She was an out lesbian in high school, and she figures she can stare down whatever gets thrown her way in college. It can’t be that bad.

Ella Ramsey is making new friends at Freytag College, playing with on-campus gamers and enjoying her first year, but she’s rocked by the sight of a slur painted on someone else’s door. A slur clearly meant for her, if they’d only known.

New rules, old prejudices, personal courage, private fear. In this stunning follow-up to the groundbreaking Being Emily, Rachel Gold explores the brave, changing landscape where young women try to be Just Girls.Get Just Girls through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

About the author: 

An award-winning marketing strategist and author, Rachel Gold also spent a decade as a reporter in the LGBT community where she learned many of her most important lessons about being a woman from the transgender community. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English and Religious Studies from Macalester College, and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Hamline University. When she’s not “translating English for English-speaking people” or working on her novels, you can find Rachel online checking out the latest games.

Connect with Rachel on her website, Facebook, Twitter,or GoodReads..

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (Anna and the French Kiss, #3)

Publication date: August 14th, 2014
Publisher: Dutton
Links: Goodreads | Amazon US | Amazon India
Stars: 3.5/5
Source: Bought
Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

REVIEW

I don't think I've waited for anything as long as I waited for Isla and The Happily Ever After to release. With the release date being pushed back by a year and everything, I thought I'd never get to read it. In a nutshell it's about:

- Isla Martin (the redhead who has about maybe two minutes worth of screen (scene?) time in Anna and the French Kiss)
- who has a brief albeit completely loopy encounter with Josh (the other half of Joshua and Rashmi as well as St. Clair's best friend in Anna and the French Kiss)
- It's an encounter that might just be her "in" with him (she's been crushing on him since Freshman year) and a possible Happily Ever After

It's an extremely simple and sweet story, really; much like Perkins' previous books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. I liked how most of the conflict was self-created. You do not need a love triangle or love unrequited to turn a relationship upside down. You just need the insecurities that eat you up inside your head all day long. I think Perkins brought that out beautifully in these two wonderfully vulnerable characters.

The secondary characters, from the best friend, little sister to the ex best friend, have their quirks and flaws and an equal impact on the course of events. Much of Isla takes place in Paris, though there's a good bit of Manhattan and Barcelona. While there's the magic of Paris we experienced in Anna, there's less of the excitement and freshness to it since it's Isla's senior year and Paris practically feels like her second home. The story culminates at a much-awaited-reunion of favorites from Anna... AND Lola... with a surprise follow-up to an old story that will have you swooning!

If you are yet to read any of Stephanie Perkins' books, I suggest you start with Anna and the French Kiss. If you liked Perkins' previous books: Isla and the Happily Ever After, while lacking a little of the pep and quirk that made Anna... tick, definitely completes the series. Whether you had an unstomachable crush on Etienne St. Clair (!!) or want to know where Cricket and Lola are right now... whether you wanted to know more about Josh or that soft spoken redhead, Isla and the Happily Ever After gives you all of it!

Rating: ★★★1/2