Review: If I Die Before I Wake (By Emily Koch)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 320 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Alex Jackson has been in a coma for two years. At least, that’s what everybody believes. What they don’t know is that Alex can hear and feel everything around him, even if he remains incapable of responding. He can hear his father and sister discuss letting him go, he can hear his friends talk about how his girlfriend – Bae – needs to move on, and he can hear the discussions that reveal a shocking truth.

He hadn’t ended up in the hospital because of a climbing accident as everyone had thought. Someone had tried to kill him. Now, lying in bed and incapable of doing anything but listen, Alex needs to figure out who hated him enough to try and murder him. He only has clues from his past to mull over, clues that tell him that whoever his attacker was, he’s not done with Alex yet, nor with the people he loves. Now, Alex struggles every moment to wake up, desperate to discover the whole truth, and desperate to protect his family and friends, before they decide to let him go.

The bottom line:

An interesting storyline with implementation that holds its own for the most part, but that does leave some things lacking.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK for an ARC of this book!

If I Die Before I Wake is the debut novel of Emily Koch, and it’s pretty good for a debut. It has a very interesting storyline told from a (sort-of) unique perspective. What’s really remarkable about it, though, is that it isn’t easy to create a 320-pages long book when you’re writing the entire thing from the perspective of someone in a vegetative state who can do nothing but listen, think, and occasionally feel. And yet, Koch manages to spin a page-turning tale that doesn’t get boring at any point.

The story itself is quite good. It addresses a gamut of very real, raw human emotions and thoughts, and makes it quite easy to associate with the characters. The suspense, twists, and turns are also well done, definitely managing to evoke a good amount of surprise. Alex’s feelings, struggle, and emotions come across especially well. As one of those “if you woke up in a coffin” type of situations, it is quite disturbing. But I did think that it could have been executed even better because, to be honest, his outlook and emotions seemed a little too calm to me. The feeling of being trapped in your body, unable to move while your mind is screaming at you to do something (to the point where you hallucinate that you’re actually doing it only to find out you hallucinated that too) is much more terrifying than the story depicted. And it probably would have had much more reading value if it had gone that extra bit on what Alex really felt.

What brought the rating of the book down for me (I was leaning towards 3.5 stars or 4 stars earlier), was the first half and the end. The first half tends to jump a lot between different events of the past. While a little ambiguity in the order was the aim (I think), it just got a little too messy to be easily followed. The second half really picks up though and was good enough to compensate for the first. Until the few pages at the end.

A story of this type is meant to be a little abstract in its delivery, I suppose. That’s part of its beauty, and can really make for a great read that evokes crazy amounts of varied emotions. But that kind of chaotic order is also very difficult to achieve. That’s where If I Die Before I Wake was lacking. It was abstract and even hit the right emotional chords. But it did so with very little conviction. As a result, the book (that was probably meant to leave you in thinking about it for a long time) ended without much impact.

All in all, If I Die Before I Wake is definitely worth a read. I won’t say that the author will make my watch-list. But she definitely has a style and genre choice that I would opt for and enjoy (once the chaos has a little more order). In the meanwhile, I’d recommend readers to give Emily Koch’s debut novel a shot, especially if you:

  • enjoy slightly obscure literature
  • like fiction and want to experiment with new styles
  • are interested in crime fiction

If I Die Before I Wake releases on 11th January 2018. Have a read and tell us what you liked/disliked about the book in the comments below!

– Rishika

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Review: The Adventures of Tintin (Volumes 3 to 6)

Tintin

Source: Google Images

Happy New Year, Peeps!

I spent the last couple of months reading through a few volumes of Tintin (Volumes 3 to 6). Since I didn’t have a lot of specific things to say for each one, I thought I’d share this summarised post/review. Here are the books in order of preference:

  1. Volume 5 which contains Red Rackham’s Treasure, The Seven Crystal Balls, and Prisoners of the Sun – 4 out of 5 stars
  2. Volume 6 which contains Land of Black Gold, Destination Moon, and Explorers on the Moon – 3.5 out of 5 stars
  3. Volume 4 which contains The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, and The Secret of the Unicorn – 3 out of 5 stars
  4. Volume 3 which contains Tintin and The Broken Ear, The Black Island, and King Ottoker’s Sceptre – 3 out of 5 stars

 

And here is a list of the stories these volumes covered, listed in order of most enjoyable to least (least being good, but not as good as the ones above):

  1. Explorers on the Moon
  2. The Seven Crystal Balls
  3. The Prisoners of the Sun
  4. The Secret of the Unicorn
  5. Red Rackham’s Treasure
  6. Land of Black Gold
  7. The Shooting Star
  8. The Crab with the Golden Claws
  9. King Ottokar’s Sceptre
  10. Destination Moon
  11. The Black Island
  12. The Broken Ear

Volume 3 is where Tintin begins to connect various stories. You will run across characters from previous stories after Volume 3. Which is why it may be a good idea to stick to the order the books were written in while reading them.

Regardless of how you go about reading them, don’t miss out on Tintin and his adventures. They are books and stories that everyone must try, at least once.

Let us know what you think of Tintin and which is your favorite adventure by dropping a comment below. Stay tuned for the summarised review of the rest of the volumes (which will probably come up in a few months). Until then… Happy Reading!

– Rishika

 

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Review: Wonder (By R.J. Palacio)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 316 pages

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

August Pullman has a condition that makes his face very different, and he knows it makes him unpleasant to look at. Numerous surgeries necessary to keep him healthy have kept him from attending a regular school. After being homeschooled for years, August joins Beecher Prep and is about to start 5th Grade. All he wants is for the other kids to treat him normally. But he knows how people react to him and his face. And he knows that that is going to make ‘normal’ very difficult. As he overcomes his trepidation and begins to enjoy school, August faces new challenges and makes new friends too. Told from multiple perspectives, Wonder is August’s story of stepping out of his comfort and safe zone, and venturing into the world.

The bottom line:

A sweet story that avoids the true realities of the world we live in and reminds you what it’s like to lose yourself in a tale of fiction where things are meant to make sense.

My review:

Wonder is written in the first person perspective of August, his sister, her boyfriend, and some of their friends. Each person’s character comes through easily enough and holds its own without seeming too much like the same person. The story moves along smoothly enough, although there do seem to be some jumps in the timeline that are a little too abrupt. Some additional details on certain events would surely have added to the book. There are also a few tangents that are begun but that don’t really go anywhere or even get mentioned again, leaving you wondering why they were there in the first place.

It is a feel-good book in which things that go wrong fall into place soon enough. However, I did feel that sometimes, these instances were a little too easy and a little too convenient. Often, behaviors that led to things getting solved aren’t explained and you just have to accept that it is the way it is. This is in stark contrast to the other angle of the book where people are shown to be hesitant in accepting anything different (as often seen in reality). That’s why the book comes across as an odd mixture of real-world view and fictional paradise.

Given this stand, I felt that Wonder is one of those books that you read to feel warm and fuzzy inside. It wasn’t completely realistic and that was a good thing. Sometimes, you want to read a book that helps you escape the reality that surrounds you every day. The negativity that the book has, at the same time, builds a strong case for the main character and gives you a reason to root for and against someone – which makes the book even more enjoyable.

The story itself is very sweet. August is quite likable, and all the other characters are easy to associate with too. All in all, Wonder is a good book and one that definitely has a lesson within its story. It is powerful enough in its prose to change minds and hopefully, will help make the world a little kinder by influencing the people who read it. And that’s why I would recommend Wonder to:

  • fans of fiction, including young adults and adults
  • fans of young adult books
  • anyone looking for a sweet, comfortable read
  • anyone looking to slip into a world that’s a little more black and white than the one around us, if just for a few hours

Have you read Wonder? Are you going to watch the movie based on it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

– Rishika

 

 

 

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Review: The Chinaman (By Stephen Leather)

 

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 420 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A casual observer saw The Chinaman as little more than the owner of a small Chinese takeaway business in South London. That was the life he’d chosen when he was finally able to put behind him his years as a jungle-skilled, lethal assassin who had fought for the Viet Cong and the Americans. He had already watched two of his daughters being raped and killed by Thai pirates. So the hardworking, quiet life suited him, his wife, and only remaining daughter.

When his wife and daughter are murdered in an IRA bombing, he does what any law-abiding citizen would do – reaches out to the authorities. But he’s shunned by everyone he approaches, labeled a nuisance. That’s when The Chinaman realizes that his days of war aren’t truly behind him. And this time, he’s fighting for revenge.

The bottom line:

A hard-hitting, emotional, violent story that is much more than what its title suggests.

My review:

The first thing to know about The Chinaman is that it is intensely emotional, especially during the backstory of the titular character. But it is equally hard-hitting during scenes where other characters interact. You really feel for the characters because everyone has something going on beyond what the world within the book sees, and their constant turmoil is beautifully displayed.

The second thing to know about it is that it is extremely violent. There are moments when you just cannot accept the horrifying scenes unfolding in front of you as you read, and are yet are compelled to move ahead. There is no sugar-coating on death. It is displayed in all its ugliness, and in its raw, heart-wrenching honesty.

The story itself is much more than what the title claims. While the Chinaman is an integral part of it – the one who ties everything together – there is a lot more going on. A lot of people play pivotal roles in the development of the story, making it much more than a simple tale of revenge. It is built on the foundation of a political issue, but avoids being typical in its delivery when venturing into the political aspects. There is always something happening and it keeps you turning the pages.

Stephen Leather’s style is refreshing. It is strong and raw. It does not shy away from depicting the horrors of life and death. And he creates strong characters who, through their strengths, weaknesses, and flaws, are incredibly human. It is also extremely detailed, delving into the real technical aspects of skills possessed by the characters. Also, the book comes with a good amount of twists you don’t see coming.

There are only two things I thought could have been done differently. The first is the amount of detail at every step – that could have been reduced. I loved reading about the Chinaman’s skill, but it did get a bit monotonous after a while. I mean, I don’t have to know every step taken to make every single bomb. The second is the reactions that some of the characters had at certain moments. They seemed highly absurd and although these were explained at a later point, I still think that they could have been handled better. These few problems did reduce the overall quality of the reading experience for me.

What I like most about the book is that it isn’t black and white. It is various shades of gray where antagonists seem to have a good side, and protagonists carry out the most heinous of acts. And yet, they all seem to do what their lives force them to do, forever burdened or comfortable with their own actions.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Chinaman, and Stephen Leather’s style. I’m definitely going to be adding him to my list of authors to follow. I’d recommend the book to:

  • all readers who enjoy fiction
  • thriller and mystery fans

I read The Chinaman when I did because of the movie inspired by it and that was to hit the cinema sometime now. While I’m still not sure if it’s going to be screened at any cinema in my city (which is terribly upsetting because I would have loved to see the adaptation), I’m still glad it gave me an opportunity to discover Stephen Leather.

Read The Chinaman? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below.

– Rishika

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Review: Two Girls Down (By Louisa Luna)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 320 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Jamie Brandt leaves her ten and eight-year-old daughters alone in her car for less than five minutes at a strip-mall parking lot… only to come back and find them missing. When the overworked police department fails to provide answers, Jamie hires Alice Vega – a bounty hunter known for finding missing persons. Vega comes to the small Pennsylvania town, learns more about the case, and finds herself facing a tight-lipped police captain who wants her to have nothing to do with their investigation. So Vega reaches out to Max Caplan, a disgraced former cop turned PI. Together, they begin the search for the two missing girls. But soon they discover that there is a lot more than what meets the eye in the kidnapping case. As stranger and stranger connections are uncovered, Vega and Caplan realize that the kidnapper will stop at nothing to remain hidden. And with time going by all-too-fast, that may lead to the girls being lost forever.

The bottom line:

Two Girls Gone has an interesting storyline and attempts to hit audiences right in the feels, but ends up being a little too confusing instead of intense.

My review:

Received an ARC – So a big thanks to NetGalley and DoubleDay Books!

First, let’s look at the good things about Two Girls Down. It’s a really good story with twists and turns that you don’t see coming. It contains a good amount of suspense and keeps you turning the pages almost relentlessly. It also does justice to the genre, does not shy away from violence, and keeps you guessing till the last minute. As a crime thriller, it does well and has a lot of interesting angles.

But, it also has aspects that take away from how good it could have been.

Alice Vega and Max Caplan’s characters are really interesting. They are honest, raw, and easy to associate with, and unfold as the book progresses. But, there are these random moments where their actions make no sense and don’t even remain consistent with their characters.

A large part of the writing is through thought based narration. So you can really tell what the characters are feeling in any situation and you get to see the entire moment through their eyes and thoughts. I’m assuming that this was meant to come across as “intense” and to a great extent, it does. But at times, the writing is just so convoluted in its attempt to be human that it becomes too confusing and even annoying.

The most irritating part, though, is Vega and Caplan’s relationship. It’s an interesting and honest relationship, for the most part. But there is this element of attraction that is weakly explored at odd times. Honestly, I think the story could have been even better if that aspect was either ignored altogether or explored more fully. The way the attraction angle is used comes across more as forced than the intended (I assume) impulsive.

There are also a lot of characters who are briefly mentioned and then play an important role. With so many names being thrown at you on every page, keeping track can get difficult. And this makes the story a bit cumbersome.

These tiny problems really reduce the reading quality of the book. And yet, the book manages to be interesting enough to want to finish. It also has some great “kick-ass” elements for both the protagonists that are a lot of fun to read. It flows really well and in the end, has a great story. Although it is being published as a standalone, I’m hoping that Luna will write sequels because I want to see the development of the very interesting partnership between Vega and Caplan as they take on new cases.

So, in spite of its flaws, it can definitely be enjoyed, especially by:

  • crime fiction fans
  • mystery and thriller fans
  • fans of female-centric books

Two Girls Down releases on 9 January 2018. If you’re a crime fiction fan, I’d recommend marking the date and getting a copy. In the meanwhile, let us know if you’ve already read the book or what you’re looking forward to about it by dropping us a comment below!

– Rishika

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Review: The End of the World Running Club (By Adrian J. Walker)

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 464 pages

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Edgar Hill is an over-weight, lazy, and borderline alcoholic, who was a lacking husband to his wife, Beth, and just-about-there-father to his children, Alice and Arthur. Until the event that brings about the end of the world. When his wife and children end up at the other end of the country, Edgar knows that he needs to do whatever he can to get to them. There are no roads left and barely any vehicles, and the miles that stretch between him and his family are little more than a barren, dangerous wasteland. Edgar has only a few days to cross the barren and desolate remains of what had once been thriving cities. With no other option, he does the one thing he’s always hated – he starts running. Every second counts as Edgar pushes himself to put one foot in front of the other, every waking minute of every day. But is willpower enough? Will Edgar reach his family in time? Or will the lifestyle he’s always lived force him to fail and lose his wife and children forever?

The bottom line:

The End of the World Running Club is a highly typical post-apocalyptic novel that uses a unique angle, but fails in implementation due to poor characterization, a weak story-line, and lack of ingenuity other than in its basic premise.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for a copy of this book!

The End of the World Running Club starts off really well. It’s really creepy, borderline horror, and hard hitting on emotion. Some parts of the entire story remain positive throughout. This includes a few characters who are likable and who remain as consistent as humanly possible. It is also descriptive enough to achieve a sense of intrigue, has a strong creepiness factor, and a very unique angle (running across the country to be with your family). Additionally, it reads fast enough and holds its suspense. The best part about the book, though, is the way it describes the act of running and the many emotional, physical, and mental aspects of it. These make for the more interesting parts of the story.

But the positive aspects aren’t really enough to make you ignore the many problems in the book. The main one would be Edgar Hill himself. Although the book is meant to be a journey of realization for him, his entire personality is downright annoying. He fluctuates between determined, whiny, and pathetic, and is too inconsistent to make any real impression. Furthermore, his relationship with his family is meant to be with its share of problems, yet strong. But it comes across as barely-existent, and that weakens the entire foundation of the story itself. As a result, you end up not really bothered about whether he actually achieves his goal or not.

Most of the other characters are annoying too. There is no consistency in the personalities of a majority of the characters, nor in the relationships they share with one another. And that makes their entire journey very tiresome to witness. It seems like Walker only made the characters say and do what he needed for the story to proceed a particular way. Often, that went against the personalities depicted until that point, and made them too random to associate with or even follow. While it did help the story proceed, it also led to it making less and less sense.

Another thing that doesn’t work for the book was its very commonplace elements. It has everything you expect from a post-apocalyptic thriller. It has the random murders, looting, gangs, and everything that you’ve seen before. While the running club aspect was innovative, that inventiveness doesn’t really extend into the other arcs of the book. So, you end up feeling like you’re reading something that you’ve either read or watched before (I found a strong resemblance between a few scenes from the book and scenes from the movie, The Book of Eli).

All in all, The End of the World Running Club has potential, but does not see it through. This book wouldn’t be very high on my list of recommendations for others. But, if I had to recommend it, it would be to:

  • die hard fans of post-apocalyptic novels
  • people who don’t really mind a loosely woven story

Let us know what you thought of this review and/or The End of the World Running Club in the comments below!

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Review: Fever (By Deon Meyer)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 544 pages

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Nico Storm and his father, Willem Storm, are among the last few survivors of a world ravaged by a virus. As they drive through a desolate land in a truck filled with supplies, young Nico discovers his excellent marksmanship and cool head have made him his father’s protector, even though he’s little more than a young boy. Willem Storm has another kind of strength. He has the vision, passion, and compassion to rebuild a life. And so, Amanzi is born – a community of survivors that grows every day and where the most diverse of individuals find a new home. But the virus has done more than wipe out the majority of the population. It has left behind new challenges. As the community innovates and increases its resources, it faces an increasing number of threats. These come not only from the infamous biker brigands but even from within their own settlement. As Nico goes through an extraordinary rite of passage in an unfamiliar world, he finds his loyalties, beliefs, and abilities tested to the limits. And when the person he loves the most is murdered, the community that was once home becomes nothing more than a pool of suspects. In Fever, Nico recalls the events that composed the fascinating journey of humanity as it strived to fulfill a noble mission against the threat of its own animalistic impulses.

My take:

First, let me shout out a big thank you to NetGalley and Atlantic Monthly Press for the ARC of this book. It was a pleasure to read.

Fever is a coming of age book written in the first person by the middle-aged main character, Nico Storm. He takes you through the time of the Fever, its aftermath, the establishment of the Amanzi community, and the many events that come during and after it, up to a pivotal moment in his life.

The book has a linear, chronological base, with some shifts between the past and present. It’s got a host of characters, and each one’s story is shared, in their own words, through notes maintained by Nico Storm’s father. This adds many interesting and different points of view.

Normally, you’d expect such a book to get quite confusing. But Fever manages to avoid that during most of its length and ends up as a fascinating read for a variety of reasons.

The first reason is the absolute honesty with which the book is written. The base of the entire book is the relationship that Nico shares with his father. And this is shown beautifully and with strong, real emotion. What really works for it is that Nico tells the story from the perspective of a middle aged man who can now see with maturity the same events that he perceived differently as a young child or a teenager. And that brings out the emotion of Nico as an adult and as a boy of whatever age he is during the event itself. It contains all the regret one would feel as an adult of one’s own actions as a youngster, and becomes extremely relatable.

The second thing that really works for Fever is that it doesn’t try too hard to be a post-apocalyptic book. Although that is its genre, it doesn’t have the typical hierarchy of survival groups or the typical roles that people normally assume in this genre of fiction. What it does have are extremely real people who have real emotions and real behavior. It is their natural personalities that come through and that are furthered by the calamity they have witnessed. They don’t change who they are – they only become more of who they were.

The characters themselves are very interesting and depict the diversity of our world in many ways, good and bad. Each one develops in his/her own way. But the show is stolen, without a doubt, by the relationship between Nico and his father, its dynamics, its moments, its words spoken and unspoken, and even its strains. There is an unmistakable, raw, honesty in Nico’s delivery, that you feel deep within you as you read, and that has the power to physically affect you.

The story itself is much more than just the settling down of a community. It is the picture of an entire life of so many people, affected by what they’ve been through, their desires, their past, and their expectations for the future. And it moves along at a great pace. There are no slow points.

To be honest, I had expected the book to be very linear, filled with teenage angst, and stereotypical in many ways. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, it was an emotion-packed, non-sappy, strong, raw, and honest book. And I really, really enjoyed every page of it. Needless to say, I will be adding Deon Meyer to my list of authors (translated works) for sure!

I would highly recommend Fever to:

  • fans of post-apocalyptic novels
  • anyone interested in trying a different type of book (because this is really different)
  • anyone interested in coming of age books (even though this is much more than that)

Fever released on 5th September 2017. Get your copy as soon as you can – you won’t regret it. And drop us a comment below to tell us what you thought of the book and/or this review!

– Rishika

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