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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: 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: A Dark So Deadly

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 608 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

DC Callum MacGregor is the latest addition to the Misfit Mob – the department where Police Scotland sends those officers that it can’t fire, but don’t want either. MacGregor does not deserve to be part of the Mob. But that’s only the beginning of his problems. He’s assigned to finding out which museum lost the ancient mummy that they found at Oldcastle tip. But then he discovers a connection between the mummy and three missing young men. The Misfit Mob manages to hold on to the case, and the disreputed department becomes the only thing standing between a serial killer and his next victim. With his professional life just about holding up, MacGregor dives head first into the case. Until a blast from the past changes everything. Questioning everything he’s ever known, MacGregor has to balance his search for a killer with the chaos of his crumbling personal life. Every step takes him closer to answers he may not like, and dangers he may not be able to avoid. As he watches his own life careen out of control, MacGregor realizes that things around him are just not as they seem. And by the time he learns the truth, it may be too late.

My take:

I had very high expectations from A Dark So Deadly. I’ve only read one other book by Stuart MacBride – Halfhead – and had absolutely loved it (read my review here). That’s why I was waiting with bated breath for the time that I’d get my hands on A Dark So Deadly. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really meet the anticipation I’d built up.

It definitely has a lot of things going for it. The story itself is really interesting and multi-layered. It isn’t a simple serial killer story. Instead, it takes multiple points of view, moves between the past and present, and explores a lot of storylines. They even leave you guessing how different things are related, which adds to the entire suspense element. It also has some really surprising elements – twists and turns you just would not see coming. Added to that is MacBride’s quirky sense of humor that comes through in narrative and dialog. At the same time, he does not shy away from making things as graphic as they need to be, which adds the right amount of thrill.

His characterization is excellent. Each person is well defined, has his or her own quirks, and has their own personality that comes through in action and dialog. Looked at from that perspective, there is great finesse in the delivery of the story.

However, the book also has a lot of things that just do not work for it. For starters, there are just so many characters. With a book that is already chaotic by design (it’s supposed to be a bit messed up given its genre), it doesn’t help that names are constantly added to an already lengthy list. And it definitely doesn’t help when a briefly mentioned name reappears only 200 pages later and starts playing a big role. It can get a bit overwhelming at times, especially if you take even a day-long break from reading.

Another thing that got really annoying were some of the characters themselves. I’m not sure if they were meant to be endearingly quirky. All they ended up being were borderline annoying.

The main thing, though, was that the book could have been shorter by just a bit. You can even make peace with the fact that it’s over 600 pages long. Except, the end feels like MacBride kind of got bored writing and so hurriedly completed it.

A lot of the story is actually left incomplete. You don’t know what happens to certain characters because the last time they’re mentioned is on sort of a cliffhanger. And when you’ve invested yourself into 600 pages, you want those extra few pages to tie things up into a neat little bow.

All the characters actually show great progression over the book. But the abrupt end leaves you wondering just what the heck happened! I mean, there’s more to a murder mystery than finding out who the killer is, right? I just hope that MacBride decides to turn the Misfit Mob into a series so that we can see how the characters continue to develop and address their many problems that have only begun in this book.

All in all, A Dark So Deadly is a good option in the genre of serial killer crime fiction. It is multi-layered, humorous, interesting, and has that typical Scottish vibe to it that makes you pick up a MacBride book in the first place. It could have been better, but still enjoyable and not something that would make you feel like you wasted your reading time.

I’d recommend it to:

  • fans of crime fiction, especially the serial killer sub-genre
  • fans of Scottish and British novels
  • fans of Stuart MacBride

Read A Dark So Deadly? Let us know what you thought of it, and this review, in the comments below.

– Rishika

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Review: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (By Robert Louis Stevenson)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 137 pages

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

When London lawyer, John Gabriel Utterson, first sees Mr. Hyde, he’s struck by a sense of foreboding. He finds the infamous man as deplorable as the rumors state. And he hopes that he never has to lay eyes on him again. But fate has other plans. Dr. Jekyll, a respected man and Utterson’s good friend, refuses to share in Utterson’s disgust of Mr. Hyde. In fact, he seems to almost care about the strange, unlikeable creature. Strange events begin to unfold in the city and Utterson is inescapably pulled into them. At the heart of them all, he finds Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll’s unrelenting support of the man being hunted by the entire city. As he is compelled to investigate further, he finds himself in the midst of a nightmare he’d believed unimaginable, and a reality that would challenge everything he’d ever believed in.

My take:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is known for being one of the earlier works on the topic of split personalities. But the book is actually way more than that.

The book has a very archaic writing style and, with it, the charm of that style. It’s actually quite easy to read as long as you read it slowly and not in any rush. The prose will not leave you feeling overwhelmed or like you’re missing out on anything; in fact, it’s written in an incredibly enjoyable manner.

As a story, it isn’t exactly what I had expected. I was probably misled by the many adaptations of the book (which I’ve not watched/read but only heard about). So I kind of expected a book that begins with a murder and proceeds to the split personality angle. The book is nothing like that and that’s a good thing.

It’s a little difficult, to be honest, to explain how amazing this book is (because that would inevitably lead to spoilers). So, I’m going to focus instead on why this book is so good. The main reason is that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is emotion in prose. The book has an eerie sense to it that stays with you as you read it. But, it also has this beautiful, profound sadness.

It touches upon topics like the duality of personality (which is very different from a split personality) really well and forces you to remain in thought long after it’s done. It talks about the contradiction that all of us are, within ourselves, and our ability to choose to be one over the other at varied times. And in a world where all of us are juggling so many different things that require us to be so many different things, the book and its emotion hit pretty hard.

Then there is the emotion you feel for the characters themselves. In a book as short as 137 pages (or even lesser, depending on the format and publisher), Stevenson manages to make readers truly associate with the people within his story. Whether they appear for one scene or carry the entire story, or whether they’re good or evil, you feel for each character. You share in their angst, their fight (often internal), and their decisions. As a result, you are left enjoying every single aspect of the book that really pulls you in from the get-go.

As a story itself, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written in a mixture of retellings and present events. A lot of it is also written in the form of correspondence. It’s definitely not a linear murder mystery if, like me, that’s what you’re expecting. And I wouldn’t call it a horror either. But, it is definitely disturbing in certain ways, and even more so because those angles are a little too real. All in all, it is quite exceptional in its ability to evoke emotion of varied kinds, and in the way in which it makes you look within yourself.

I’d definitely recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to:

  • all kinds of readers
  • people who haven’t really read classics (It’s a great classic that is easy to read even if you’re not a fan of classics)
  • fans of psychological thrillers, mysteries, and horrors (It’s a multi-genre book and would appeal to most genre fans)

Also, it seems that Dr. Jekyll is pronounced Jee-kal or Jee-kill and not Jek-ill (That was definitely a bit annoying to get used to).

What did you think of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Let us know in the comments below!

– Rishika

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Review: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 2

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 192 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Second in the eight-volume collector’s edition, The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 2 contains Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharaoh, and The Blue Lotus.

My take:

Volume 2 of The Adventures of Tintin is brilliant when compared to Volume 1. Individually though, it doesn’t reach that level of charm that the later books possess. Containing three stories, Volume 2 does get better as it progresses.

Tintin in America includes characters that are part of the earlier books. It’s just a brief mention though and you won’t really be lost if you choose not to read the previous ones. As a story, it’s quite random, with things happening abruptly and a little too conveniently. It doesn’t have an elaborately woven storyline and is also a bit racist. Of all the three books in Volume 2, Tintin in America is the worst.

Cigars of the Pharaoh has an interesting story. There is a bit of racism in this one too, but that’s quite negligible when compared to the others. It’s an interesting read and sets the stage for the next book too. It also includes characters that make appearances in later books (from what I remember). If you want to avoid the overly racist, not too great earlier books but at the same time don’t want to miss any central characters, then I’d recommend beginning the series from Cigars of the Pharaoh.

The Blue Lotus has the interesting, multi-layered, multi-dimensional type of story for which Tintin became famous. The story itself is quite interesting and (thankfully) has very little racism. In fact, at some point, the story mocks the stereotyping and racism habits of people too. All in all, The Blue Lotus comes across as the best part of Volume 2 and does leave you looking forward to Volume 3 and Tintin’s next adventure.

Highly recommended to:

  • people who enjoy Tintin
  • people who want to start reading The Adventures of Tintin (start from Cigars of the Pharaoh)
  • anyone looking for an interesting graphic novel to read

Let us know what you thought of The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 2. Drop us a comment below!

– Rishika

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Review: That Last Weekend (By Laura DiSilverio)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 312 pages

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Laurel Muir did not want to accept the unexpected but familiar invitation and return to Chateau du Cygne Noir – the castle turned BnB – for a weekend getaway with her friends. The tragedy that had struck ten years ago had sent those very friends on their own individual paths, the friendship strained, almost broken by what had happened. That event had ended a decade-long tradition of annual weekend getaways, and filled each of their hearts with doubt for each other. Driven by the need to rekindle that friendship and overcome the past, she finds herself accepting the invitation. But the past is not done with them yet. When a murderer strikes, the remaining friends are forced to face the truth – a killer lies in their midst. Thrown once again into a police investigation and with nowhere to go, they decide to uncover the truth this time. But Laurel does not know who to trust as she adamantly takes it upon herself to find answers. And as the skeletons in the closet are slowly exposed, Laurel finds that she may have been too ambitious and that her ambition could cost her her life.

My take:

First off, thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of The Last Weekend. Here is my honest review.

That Last Weekend is a ‘novel of suspense’. And it definitely keeps the suspense. The story is interesting and is filled with twists and turns, most of which you don’t see coming. Set in the present, the story touches upon events of the past through flashbacks. The transitions are smooth and comfortable to follow. They don’t break the flow and, in fact, add some interesting dimensions to the book.

The book gets right into it without much preamble. As a result, you take some time to get used to who’s who. That is still easier to do here than it is with a Mary Higgins Clark novel, though. Keeping with its ‘let’s get right to it’ beginning, the book moves along at a fast pace, without a single dull moment. It also has some good creepy elements which really set the scene perfectly. The writing style pulls you in and keeps you there, really allowing you to experience the entire eerie castle and small town setting, and adding to the suspense.

Yet, there are some aspects of the book that come across as a bit annoying. Some of the characters, for example. While Laurel seems level headed and easy to associate with, some of the other characters are just irritating. It wasn’t an in-your-face sort of irritation. It is just the way they are – not too pleasant would be the best way to describe it, I guess. You could chalk that up to the diversity that is existent in people. But their reactions to the events are just not sensible enough for someone who was in that situation. I have to admit that the diversity is what brings credibility and depth to such a story, but that didn’t exactly stop me from growling at the screen of my tablet at certain moments.

The last thing is that the story itself is actually incredibly interesting. It is twisted to a whole other level. But that itself is what made me wonder, “Can someone even be like that?” And that hint of incredibility brings down its appeal just a notch.

(Yes, I am aware that the last two paragraphs have me contradicting myself a lot. It was just that kind of a book.)

All in all, That Last Weekend was a more-than-just-good kind of read. It moved fast, kept me turning the pages, maintained its suspense well, and had a storyline that was convoluted to the right degree. It may not be the best suspense novel you read (given its few drawbacks), but is definitely worth reading especially if:

  • you like suspense novels
  • you like cozy mysteries
  • you enjoy murder mysteries and classic whodunits

That Last Weekend is scheduled for release on September 8, 2017 by Midnight Ink. I’d recommend grabbing a copy.

Liked or hated this review? Drop a comment below and tell us why. Also, let us know what you thought of the book or why you’d want to read it. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

 

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