The Thirteenth Tale – Book Review

Author: Diane Setterfield

The Angelfield family is weird. First there were siblings Charlie and Isabelle and then Isabelle’s strange twins Emmeline and Adeline. The twins love violence. Pain is like candy for them. And they speak in a language no one else can understand. Their ignored, run down house is told to be haunted and no one likes approaching it. People die, things are vandalized and no one knows who does them. One of the twins? Or the ghost? Eventually, the mansion is burnt down to ashes and takes with it its secrets and the real story.

Fast forward to another part of the world at another time, Margaret Lea is a quiet book lover who helps her father run a book store. She receives a sudden letter from mysterious author Ms. Vida Winter to write her biography. Ms. Winter has hidden her past from the world and many journalists have failed to get her story. But one man in brown suit tempts Ms. Winter to tell the world her story with his statement – Tell me the truth.

Margaret travels to Ms. Winter’s secluded, secretive house and finally gets to meet the author face to face. The spine tingling story telling sessions happen in the grand library while Margaret spends rest of her time locked in her room. She is advised not to venture out in the rest of the house. But she does. When she hears humming from the maze of the garden. When she hears scraping sounds in the rain.

What is Ms. Winter’s story? How is she related to the Angelfield house? Who was the man in the brown suit? What happened to the twins? Is Ms. Winter’s story really the truth or is it another misleading yarn? How does Margaret come to terms with her own pain?

Diane Setterfield has woven a mildly gothic tale. The book is written in a very poetic manner, sometimes overly dramatic. All characters have an element of mystery, vagueness and anonymity. Even normal things seem peculiar.

This book is not just about thrill, it is also about love of books. Most of the narration happens in the book store or library. Margaret lovingly describes the book store that seems to be every book lover’s delight. Several analogies have been made for books, stories, authors and dead people who become biographies and stay alive. Every time there is a threat to books, the protagonist burns with regret and frustration. Those who love books and treat them like their most prized possessions will relate to this.

While I was reading the book, I visualized pale, white, cold faces of characters who stared at everyone with blank eyes. The mansion was grey and always wet. There was always a dark, depressing humming music in the background. This was the movie in my mind. For a person like me who cannot withstand horror, this much degree of suspense was just right.

The story picks up in the second half. Many may find the climax a bit let down but I was just relieved when the suspense was out!

Definitely a onetime read. I would rate it a 3 on 5.

Advertisements

Mockingjay

…by Suzanne Collins.

This is the third and final book of the Hunger Games trilogy. {Read the first and second book reviews}. Following the destruction of District 12 and the loss of many lives, Katniss wakes up to find herself in District 13. Along with Gale, her mother, her sister Prim and a few other survivors. Unfortunately for Katniss, Peeta has been captured by President Snow as has Johanna. And they now face Snow’s wrath. In the mean time, the rebels along with Coin, the leader of District 13, now want to unite the rest of the districts to usurp the Capitol. And for that, they need Katniss. She is the Mockingjay. The symbol of the rebellion. As Katniss proceeds to fight, she also has to deal with a Peeta who has been brainwashed against her as well as not knowing whom to trust. The rebels are united in their cause but how many lives are Coin and the others willing to sacrifice?

The final book is about the final fight. The fight for freedom and overthrowing a dictatorship. Katniss’ character grows a bit but Prim’s character develops more to the point where you wish you could read a lot more about her. The ending is pretty gut-wrenching and Katniss finally makes her decision with the whole Peeta-versus-Gale issue. Several lives are lost but except for two lives, none of the others affected me too much. There were some parts in the book where I admit I skim-read. Because the fights and the lack of trust were just getting a bit too much for me. It’s not a bad book in that it completes the story for you {especially if you want to know what happens on starting the trilogy!} But it’s nothing spectacular. I find it hard not to compare it to Harry Potter where the final fight scene is so brilliantly penned. I know it’s not justified but based on that, it doesn’t live up to my expectations. I give it a rating of 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.

Catching Fire

…by Suzanne Collins.

This is the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Please read my review of the first book if you wish prior to this one. In ‘Catching Fire’, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have emerged as victors but Katniss has done something no one ever did before. And for this, she faces the wrath of President Snow. Some of the districts have begun to rebel against the Capitol thanks to Katniss’ stance during the Hunger Games. This also happens to be the 75th year of the Hunger Games. And this time around, there is a twist. The only people eligible for this year’s games are the previous winners. Which in District 12 leaves Katniss as the only girl tribute and Haymitch and Peeta to be chosen as the male tribute. Katniss is back in the arena with past winners and Peeta and this time, is fighting to keep Peeta alive. In the arena, Katniss doesn’t know who an ally is and who isn’t. But at the same time, she tries to trust Finnick and Mags from District 4. Amidst all this, she also tries to sort out her feelings for Gale and Peeta.

The second book, while thrilling in its own way, didn’t have the suspense and the feel of the first one. Having said that, it was still interesting in its own way. I got a bit frustrated with the whole Gale-versus-Peeta issue. Especially as it reminded me of another book that I couldn’t get past 7 chapters. {Twilight} Thankfully though, Katniss has more brains and brawn than Bella of Twilight. I doubt I could have read this book otherwise. I must admit, I like Katniss and Peeta but they don’t do as much for me as the characters from Harry Potter. It’s still an interesting book to read for the thrill of it and of course, to read as part of the trilogy.

My rating for the second book in the trilogy is 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.

The Hunger Games

…by Suzanne Collins.

16 year old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 with her mother and younger sister Prim, aged 12. Katniss’ father died in a mining accident and since his death, she has been the provider for her little family. Along with her best friend Gale, she hunts for food. Katniss and others who live in the Seam area of District 12 are always struggling for food. Thanks to the Capitol that governs all the districts around it.

Yet another initiative by the Capitol is the Hunger Games. Every child from 12 to 18 from each of the districts has to put in their name to participate. And who gets chosen is purely by chance: picking a name out of the hat. 12 boys and 12 girls are then put in an arena and have to fight it out till there is only one remaining. In other words, 23 other children must be killed for one to be declared a victor. And the victor’s district then gets food for a year. When Katniss volunteers herself in place of her sister, she knows it is a matter of life and death. She also knows in order to win, she will not only have to kill children from other districts but also the boy from her own, Peeta. Peeta who was once so kind to Katniss that she still owes him.

I must admit that I was very sceptical about reading The Hunger Games when I heard about it several months ago. The concept of kids needing to kill other kids in order to survive was something I didn’t morally agree with. Eventually though, I caved and got the book after being recommended to read it by someone at my book club. I finished this book in 2 days. Yes, it was that fast paced! I must say I enjoyed most of it and was glad that the killings were not elaborated in a morbid manner and that the violence was not completely gratuitous. Yes, it was disturbing but I think the author handled the concept of the children seemingly having no choice thanks to their government quite well. It’s like a reality TV show that is grotesque. There were occasions when I found myself musing that in real life, this is probably what reality shows could honestly stoop to.

I quite liked Katniss’ character. The fact that the protagonist is a girl and a strong one at that made me feel quite pleased. {Especially when you think about Twilight’s female lead being one I wanted to smack on the head}. The actual games had a feel of the Triwizard Tournament for me initially. Of course, they didn’t have to kill anyone there to win! In the end though, I think the fact that Katniss and a few other children were not killing each other without having doubts of doing it probably saved it as well for me. If it had all been cold-blooded killing, I think I would have been put off it completely. All in all, it’s a good fantasy read and quick-paced. Just don’t compare it to Harry Potter though. 😉

My rating for this book is 4.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This review was originally posted on my personal blog.

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.

Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight

Inline image 1

Author: Jennifer E Smith

A love story spanning across only a day. Almost seems like a movie. In this teen love story, lot of emotions are explored – betrayal, loneliness, fears and friendship.

Hadley is upset at being asked to attend her father’s wedding after being already devastated about his exit from her and her mother’s lives. Before the journey, she misses her flight and meets a sexy British, Oliver. The long journey seems sweet and too short because she spends it talking to Oliver. Oliver makes her feel good and forget about her worries. Little does Hadley know at that time that Oliver is fighting his own battles silently.

They part at London airport with a memorable kiss. Hadley moves towards her father’s wedding venue with remorse that she has no way to contact Oliver.

But they meet again. And again. In the next 24 hours.

What brings them together again? How do they manage to meet without knowing each other’s whereabouts?

That is destiny at work.

This book is clearly a YA book. From a grown up’s point of view, the story is childish and weak. For example, I found the concept of Hadley having to see her father getting married to another woman and then accept the logic that ‘love just happened’ ridiculous. You can’t exactly forgive your good father, who drops a bomb at your home saying while he was away teaching in college in another country, he fell in love with someone and will be marrying her. And your Mom urges you to attend the wedding.

Chemistry between Hadley and Oliver was tepid. For love at first sight and the work of destiny, one would expect a spicier and fierier story. I saw no soulful connection between the two. While Oliver was more expressive and charming, Hadley was just remote and expressionless.

I had been quite keen on this book (and got one copy for my office library!) but I was quite disappointed. Realistically, this is a teen novel and will be appreciated by teens. It has all the elements of a sweet love story without bothering about complicated details.

I would only rate it a 1 / 5.

Between the lines

…by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Delilah is a teenager. An outcast at school thanks to injuring one of the popular girls. A quiet girl. Whose father walked out on her and her mother years ago. Delilah finds solace in books as that way, you don’t have to live the life you are currently living. However, unlike most teenagers, Delilah seems to have taken a liking to a fairy tale. And what’s more, she seems obsessed with it much to her mother’s dislike. The reason Delilah gets hooked on to this story in the first place is because like her, the main character, Prince Oliver, did not know much of his father either. Her obsession with the book grows as Oliver begins speaking to her.

Oliver is trapped in the fairy tale and wishes to know what life would be like in the outside world. He is unhappy having to play the same role over and over again. Through Delilah, he finally finds a reader he can communicate with. And hopefully, she can help him escape the world of the fairy tale.

What must Delilah have to go through to rescue Oliver?

Does Oliver have his wish come true?

What is it like for characters of a book once the book is closed?

To know all that and much more, you have to read Between the Lines.

This book is unlike Jodi Picoult’s other books mainly because it’s a concept that her daughter came up with and therefore caters to a young adult audience. Hence, as an adult reader, you  need to suspend belief and take the story for what it’s worth. It is a beautiful journey and has its laugh-out-loud moments to heart-stopping ones and on the whole, is like a fairy tale. I thought the concept of characters in a book having a world of their own after the reader stops reading was a brilliant concept! Kudos to Samantha for that! Any avid reader would get hooked on to something like that. For instance, in my case, while reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder about Harry Potter and their world when we shut the book. 🙂

Samantha Van Leer is a name to watch out for in the future. If at such a young age she could come up with a brilliant concept such as this book, I think we are in for a treat! If you are a Jodi Picoult fan, you should know that it is not like any of her other books so it’s important not to compare this to them. Remember again, it’s for young adults and it is fantasy. It is a book to read to escape and get into another world. I give it a rating of 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

Note: This was originally posted on my personal blog.