Hold Still Book Review

Author: Nina LaCour

I almost forced myself to pick up this YA book (after SPOLAFS disaster). Initially, I even had difficulty in hanging on to it. 227 pages should take not more than 3 days to complete but I took more than a week. Actually, when I got hooked on to it, I finished it in one go.

This book is about Caitlin’s life after her best friend, Ingrid, commits suicide. Caitlin feels a void in her life; she misses the last part of her school year and refuses to talk to anyone. She has no friends except Ingrid and now that Ingrid isn’t around, Caitlin does all she can to cut herself away from the world (for example, by spending evenings and nights in the old family car). She doesn’t even know how to make friends. Then she finds Ingrid’s journal under her bed – 3 months after her friend took her life. Ingrid tells her secrets through the diary and surprises Caitlin with hidden thoughts and feelings that Caitlin had no idea about. What does Ingrid say? How does Caitlin cope up with the void? How does she finally face the world?

Hold Still is less about coping up with suicide and more about self-discovery. It’s about how Caitlin finds herself. It is her delightful journey of discovering things – first love, circle of friends, confidence, friendship with her parents, real passion. Even little things as her favourite coffee. We see Caitlin change from an immature, socially awkward and stubborn kid to a grown-up almost-adult.

The book spells out little details about everything. How Caitlin dresses up, what things clutter around her room, what she eats, little things she and Ingrid used to talk about, how her new friends look like, the 100 feelings that go through Caitlin when she reads the journal. These minor details don’t lengthen the story; only make the whole story make-believe and very, very real. Throughout, I felt it going on in my mind like a film reel.

The story also has delightful characters – Caitlin’s kind, supportive parents, Caitlin’s new friends – Dylan and Maddy, Caitlin’s love – Taylor, Ingrid’s crush and Taylor’s best friend – Jayson and Caitlin’s photography teacher – Veena Delani. All these characters are pieces that constitute and complete Caitlin’s life.

This book is very mature for a YA because this deals with delicate topics like suicide and it’s after effects on people. The author (who incidentally is also gay) has brought in a lesbian couple in the story, included lot of quotes on moving on, guilt, friendship and death and introduced symbolic elements to dramatize the story. And oh, she did it all so well. Ingrid’s intense diary entries are very moving. On a lighter note, the entry titled ‘Dear Rain Clouds’ (pg 115), where she describes her puppy love feeling for Jayson is so damn cute!

I was initially unsettled by Caitlin’s extreme attachment with Ingrid. I find it difficult to accept a person’s sole dependency on another. Though, this aspect was taken care of later on in the book when Caitlin starts moving on with her life by making more friends and doing things she loves.

The fact that in the last chapter she deserts the diary probably hints that she has moved on for a better life.

I will give this book a 4 on 5.

This is Nina LaCour’s debut novel. Read more about her on her blog. Also, see this interesting book trailer.

Book Review: In Her Shoes

by Jennifer Weiner

The problem with chick lit novels is that they suck you into the lives of the characters. You think about them even when you are fighting it out in the rat race of your real life. There is enough drama, chaos and tragedy happening with them to make you forget your own. Moreover, reading about others’ problems is much easier. This is what happened when I started reading In Her Shoes on a lazy day and decided not to rest till I had reached its end.

Rose Feller is your typical chick-lit heroine. Low on self esteem. Looking for love. Goody goody. Has difficulty in saying No. Works as a decently placed corporate professional. Is more heartbroken than happy. Turns around her life after a disastrous relationship.

Her younger sister, Maggie Feller, in what a normal girl would easily call a b*tch. She is abnormally good looking and trendy, nasty, selfish and arrogant. She gets what she wants and is not afraid to play with anyone to do that.

They have nothing in common except their shoe size.

The same broken past leads the two sisters on two different paths. One is successful on the surface while the other is totally spoilt and unhealthy to everyone around her. Their togetherness only creates chaos and destruction.

Maggie gets meaner as the story progresses and though you sympathize with Rose for tolerating her sister’s malevolent ways, you want to shake her up for being such a loser. Maggie isn’t ashamed of lounging at her sister’s house, treating her possessions as her own without the least bit of shame for being unemployed. It is only when Maggie steals something really dear to Rose that the latter throws her out of her house and heart.

There is a third woman involved in this heartfelt tale – their grandmother, who is battling her own conflicting feelings of sadness and guilt.

These three women come together at one point of time and learn to come to terms with the painful past connecting them all. Their mutual relationships are knotty and tricky. But each of them transforms into a new being for their own good and makes life better for themselves and everyone around them.

The book was easy to read, was touching with being hilarious at the right places and translated the feelings of the characters well. One thing that I was not convinced with was Maggie’s transformation. The drastic transformation isn’t explained well. I see no reason why a b*tch would suddenly be so interested in poetry. Once when you begin to sense her change, she again dips to disgrace by thinking about extorting money from her grandmother. She seemed to be a character that could never be trusted. And yet, she turns into a generous bubbly girl. A happy result but a bit difficult to digest.

The book, which has also been made into a movie, is a good light entertaining read that also gives some lessons – of treating oneself well before treating others, of being a little selfish for your own good, of letting go when needed.

For chick-lit lovers, this book is a must read. I will rate is 3 / 5.

The Gatecrasher

Written by none other than my favourite author, Sophie Kinsella, The Gatecrasher is a light, involving tale of ‘the gatecrasher’ and the people she involves herself with. Written in Sophie Kinsella’s usual style, I found this book to be a can’t-put-down. The magic of SK’s books are such that even as the plot thickens slowly, the description of characters, surroundings and situations is so delightful that the reader has no time to get bored.

Beautiful, ageless Fleur is the gatecrasher. No one knows her age or where she comes from; whether she is a divorcee or widow. All they know is that you succumb to her charm without knowing it. Fleur’s profession? Gate crashing into funerals / memorial services and charming rich, heartbroken, lonely, grieving fresh widowers, winning their trust and enjoying life with their money before taking off to the next nest. Not for Fleur, but Richard Favour and his family’s life changes when Fleur enters their life with the impious intentions not known to them. Richard, mourning over a wife he barely ‘knew’, is a rich and a good human. Disposition, past, secrets, intentions and dreams of each character are revealed as the story moves ahead, not only surprising the reader, but also sucking him into the Favour family’s life. While the Favour family is savouring the changes happening within and around them, Fleur is getting more desperate to extort money or move out to a better option.

Villains are thrown out. Old painful shackles are broken. Walls are brought down. People are changed – all by Fleur’s magic. Secrets are revealed, including Fleur’s. Does she do to Richard what she did to the haughty, rough, Greek Saki? Does Richard discover her dark past and cruel intentions? Does Fleur change? What are her secrets?

The brilliance of Sophie Kinsella’s writing lies in the simplicity. Simple words woven beautifully into melodious sentences. Her simple stories involve the reader without coming across as casual, half hearted or boring. SK has the ability to etch humour into sentences with great ease (like the Shopaholic series) and does equally good at sentimental, touchy stuff (like, Remember Me?).

I was disappointed that I had finished all of Sophie Kinsella’s novels. I am glad I caught hold of The Gatecrasher. Madeline Wickham is equally charming!

I would give this book a generous rating of 3 / 5.

Rhubarb

…by Craig Silvey.

Meet Eleanor Rigby. Blind. Fiercely independent. Self-sufficient. With her guide dog Warren (who hates that his name refers to a place where rabbits live). Who is overprotective of her. Cynical about the world and extremely guarded about her feelings, she gets by on a daily basis. Then there is Ewan Dempsey. Agoraphobic. Social phobic. A maker and player of cellos. With a weird relationship with one of his cellos. And through his playing, he manages to entrance Eleanor who recognises in Ewan a kindred spirit. And thus ensues a story of both trying to face their fears.

It is a book about lonely people in many ways. Not just through the characters of Eleanor or Ewan but the others in the book too. Estelle, Eleanor’s tv-addict mother who doesn’t interact with her or anyone, for that matter. Bruno, the deli store owner who states he is Italian, but is in fact Romanian. Frank, one of the men in the neighbourhood who is friendly with Eleanor but hasn’t yet come to terms with his wife’s death. Silvey also looks at how disabilities can marginalise people in society and how sometimes, they appear to be at the very low-end of society.

The book is okay. Somehow, despite the seemingly interesting characters, I got lost. I think it was the writing style. This is Silvey’s debut novel and he had an unusual writing style. Short sentences. Running words. [e.g. Onandonandon] Addressing the reader in some places. [references to ‘you’] And just dragging on and on in some parts. I think the writing style took away what the story could possibly have had for me. I bought this book after reading Silvey’s Jasper Jones which I absolutely loved! And this was a disappointment.

I tried to like it. I really did. Especially given his work on Jasper Jones and all the other positive reviews. But somehow, there was a bit too much symbolism and use of metaphors for my liking. And it just didn’t have the same flavour as Jasper Jones.

All in all, it was unfortunately a disappointment. I would rate it a 2.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

***This has been cross-posted on my personal blog***

Edited to add: After reading a couple of comments on this post on my personal blog, I would like to add that if the story interests you, go ahead and read it and make up your own mind. The book has received several positive reviews but just didn’t do it for me. You may end up liking it or loving it!

Family Album

…by Penelope Lively.

Set in Allersmead, an Edwardian house in England, this story revolves around the lives of the members of the family that lived in that house. Alison, the mother – who always dreamed of being a mother and nurturing her children. Charles, the father – who is emotionally unavailable, locked in his study concentrating his time on his work (writing books). Ingrid, the au pair – who lives with the family in the house lending a helping hand to raise the children. And then the children – Paul, Gina, Katie, Roger, Sandra and Clare.

Allersmead – what was once a home that nourished six children has now become a place where only the parents and the au pair live with the children visiting occasionally.

Paul, the eldest, leads a nomadic life of sorts…switching from one job to another, with not much of a personal life to show for either. Gina is a journalist, has a career with a TV news channel. Sandra starts off as a fashion correspondent with a magazine, but later in her life moves on to managing a boutique in Rome while trying her hands on property development. Katie graduates with a degree in English and moves to the US. Roger, who has always been interested in biology, becomes a pediatrician in Canada. And Clare becomes a professional dancer.

The book starts off with Gina bringing her boyfriend Philip to her childhood home. While all that Philip can say is how exotic a family with six children must have been growing up, Gina slowly points out how it is not all that interesting after all. The story goes forward with flashbacks into the childhood years through the eyes of the six children. With time, the readers are let into a dark secret that is kept in the family…a secret that everybody knows of, yet no one talks about. On the whole, the book, with episodes of past and the present, sheds light on the lives of the family members.

What I really liked about the book is the realistic undertone that it has to it. No family is perfect…yet to someone from the outside things look greener than where they stand. A big family house. So many siblings to keep one another company. A mother who dotes on her children. A writer for a father. An au pair. – that’s all the outsiders get to see, while it is the children who really know and have lived through the ups and downs of what that sort of a family life brings. The ones closely involved are the ones that know what makes up this family other than what meets the naked eye.

Also, the theme of the book focuses on how more than the experience in itself, it is what a person gets out of it / how a person reacts to it that makes for a good/bad memory. Even though the six children grew up in the same house, with the same parents, they each have had different experiences that have shaped their lives. What a child takes from any incident, how same thing happening to two people can be interpreted in two different ways is portrayed.

The book had its flaws too. For one, the deep dark secret the author talks about isn’t that much of a secret at all. I put a pin on it the first time a hint to it is mentioned in the passing. So, when the secret is actually revealed, it didn’t come as so much a shock to me. I guess in a way it didn’t bother me much that I deciphered the family secret early on because that helped with keeping up with the practical portrayal of issues rather than something over the top. Other than that, a couple of the characters were a little hard to connect with…but then I won’t complain much about it because it didn’t take away from the beauty of the book.

The language and the tone of the book couldn’t have been better. The author’s description of people, places, situations, etc. were all impeccable. It didn’t take much effort on my part as a reader to put together the visuals for the scene or characters…the writing took care of that. The author has a graceful style to her writing…I will be sure to read more books by her just for the way she writes.

Overall, this insightful study of family and relationships and a genuine portrayal of the same, is a good read.

My rating: 4*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Well and the Mine

…by Gin Phillips.

Set in the 1930s Alabama, this story is about a family – father, a mine worker; mother, a housewife; and three children – Virgie, Tess and Jack. One evening, Tess witnesses a woman throw a baby into her family’s well. At first, everyone dismisses her claims, blaming her keen imagination. Things turn around though, as they discover a baby’s body the next day. The rest of the story is woven around showing the readers how the characters’ perspectives change with regard to everything happening around them.

What caught my attention enough to want to pick up this book was the storyline. I couldn’t imagine any good reason for having a baby thrown into a well and I wanted to know more.  And I must admit that, from that angle this book didn’t do any justice. The thing to remember before reading this book is to not expect this big incident that happens in the beginning to be the main focus of the novel. The book starts off with a bang with such a big episode, but if you keep your hopes high on that one thing carrying on throughout the book and ending it with a big revelation, then you are probably in for a disappointment. While it sets the scene for the rest of the story to take place, it is just one of the threads that weave this book together – and once you understand that and realign your expectations, then you are in for a great read.

The book sheds light on the family, its members, and the struggles of the times that they live in. The story is narrated in first person by each of the five main characters’ point of views…so readers get to understand what goes on in each one of their minds with respect to all that is happening around them. The times are not easy…the book is set in Depression. Even though the family not poverty struck as some of their neighbors are, they still have to try hard to make ends meet, especially when emergency strikes and they have not much savings to rely on. The parents do their best to provide a loving home for their children even during the hardest of times. And that love is something that comes out so beautifully throughout the story.

The writing is simple and beautiful. The characters are well-developed. And the flow is well paced. The imagery the author puts forward is so vivid and powerful – that is the one thing that kept me hooked to the book and that’s what I missed once I finished reading it.

Overall, this book, driven by its characters, the time that it was set in more so than the story itself, is a poignant read.

My rating: 4*.

*for the rating scale, click here.

The Woman with the Bouquet

…by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

This book is a collection of the following 5 stories –

  1. The Dreamer from Ostend: The narrator of this story, a writer by profession, goes to Ostend to mend his broken heart. In Ostend, he lives in the house of an old woman, Emma Van A., whom he sees confined to the literary collection that her father left behind. As he gets to spend more and more time with his host, he learns that she has a secret that she comes forward to share with him. The more he discovers about her past, the more doubtful of her he becomes.Does he tell her that he doubts her? How does she react? Was she or wasn’t she being truthful about her past? – all this and more makes up this engrossing story where Emma Van A. recalls her past filled with love and pain.My rating for this story – 5.
  2. Perfect Crime:A couple, who’ve been married for decades, go hiking – the wife with intentions of pushing her husband down the cliff; the husband with no knowledge of his wife’s plan. The wife, after making sure there’s no one around to witness her crime, pushes him off the cliff. Unfortunately, for her, a shepherd witnesses the crime and hence, the wife gets detained in prison.What pushed this loving wife, who’s been together with her husband for decades, to go to this extreme? Are her reasons to doing such a heinous crime compelling enough? Does she reevaluate her actions as she hears testimonies of family and friends about how loving a couple they were or after she discovers something that her husband has kept hidden for years? Is she convicted? – all this and more is answered in this tale of passion and crime.Although I liked how the story progressed and ended, I did not quite find the reasoning behind the crime convincing enough.My rating for this story – 4.
  3. Getting Better:This tells the story about a nurse who is self-conscious about her appearance. The nurse is elated when one of her patients, a blind man, remarks how lucky he is to have such a “pretty woman” looking after him. Talking to him on a daily basis builds her self-esteem, she discovers herself through him and she goes on to make changes to her wardrobe and her views towards her looks. As time passes, she falls for this man.What happens next? Does she take further steps to make her attachment / attraction towards him known?My rating for this story – 3.
  4. Trashy Reading:Maurice is a professor with no private life. One thing about him that stands out is the fact that he doesn’t like to read fiction. According to him, the time spent reading fiction can be put to better use; he thinks that novels are for idle women who have nothing better to do. During one of his yearly vacations with his cousin, he sees her buying a novel – The Chamber of Dark Secrets. The title intrigues him, the summary on the back cover draws his attention…so he starts reading that book at night, in secrecy, so that his cousin wouldn’t find out. The more he gets into the novel, the more it entices him. But with what he reads in this book makes him see danger all around him, leading to the unfortunate end of the story.This story I liked in particular because it gets into the mind of a man who doesn’t like reading to explore reasons that put him off reading; how reading a few pages of the novel that his cousin bought draws him into the world of fiction; how what he reads in that book plays games in his mind.My rating for this story – 5.
  5. The Woman with the Bouquet:An elderly woman goes to the train station everyday with a bouquet of flowers, as if to wait for someone…someone who hasn’t arrived in years. A group of people who have observed the woman for a long time wonder whom she could be possibly waiting for, so patiently, all these years. As the get eager to find the story behind her wait, they get talking and that sheds light on their respective lives. My rating for this story – 5.

More than the stories themselves, what kept me engrossed in this book was the wonderful writing. I got lost in the world of words that the author presented me with. Romance, love, passion, tragedy, crime, insecurity – it’s all in there.

Overall, an assortment of tales, comes highly recommended.

My rating: 5*.

*for the rating scale, click here.