Tag Archives: fiction

Review: Wonder (By R.J. Palacio)

 

13510287

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

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book reviews

Review: The Chinaman (By Stephen Leather)

 

19859906

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

2 Comments

Filed under Book reviews

Review: Two Girls Down (By Louisa Luna)

 

36136030

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Book reviews

Review: Fever (By Deon Meyer)

 

36066661

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Book reviews

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

15848107

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Book reviews

The world as your inspiration

The term ‘Inspiration’ has a lot of impact on the life of people who rely on their creativity to make a living – an author is just one subsection of the people who fall into this category. The reason that inspiration has such an impact is fairly simple. We need to create worlds with people and settings, chaos and peace, negatives and positives, love and hate, anger and laughter and life and death. But how does someone who’s never experienced love write about the emotion that drives their central character? How do you write about a man who is the living embodiment of sex appeal and righteousness if you don’t know anyone who has those qualities? How do you decide the warmth exuding features of your heroine if you don’t know anyone whose eyes sparkle like hers should? And how do you create a man so vile that a snake’s skin would crawl at the mere mention of his name if there is no one who instigates that fear in you?

That’s where inspiration comes in. You don’t need to know someone who has all the qualities of your protagonist or antagonist. Just one iota of similarity is often enough, and you can build an entire persona around that one characteristic. The same works with settings. All you need sometimes is a simple image of an ocean and you can create a world that is set around that very beachfront. Those scattered images help you create the world that your characters live in and the characters themselves. Those scattered images are the inspiration you need. So where do these images come from?

Everywhere!

I find my inspiration in places that others label as peculiar. The antagonist of a movie has a steely resolve that I can associate with my story’s protagonist, with some morals replacing the thirst for destruction of course! A fleeting expression of seriousness on a friend’s face becomes the look my protagonist portrays if he’s had a life that’s filled with hardships. The silent support I receive from a close friend becomes the inspiration for the defining characteristic of my supporting character.

Initially, you may have to look for these inspirations – these scattered images that define traits of your story and its people. But a time will come when the inspiration seeks you out. Where others see only a villain, you will see the circumstances that made him the villain, circumstances that you can alter to make them the past life of your hero. Where others see a delicate woman, you will see the beginning of a journey where situations instigate the weakness to turn into strength. And where others see a silent listener, a shoulder to cry on, you will see the makings of an unmoving friend who stands by your main characters through their thick and thin.

And when the inspiration screams and reaches out to you, for you to see what the others don’t, all you need to do is go with the flow. So sit back and look around and you’ll be finding inspiration in areas that would’ve otherwise been left unseen. Just make sure that you’re carrying a little notebook that can house all the ideas that come hurtling your way, because they can surely overwhelm you if you’re unprepared.

Leave a comment

Filed under Being a writer

All the fuss that is character development!

Every writer, whether published or not, has heard of the concept of character development until his ears are willing to fall off. Yes, your story has some protagonist. Yes, he looks a certain way. Yes, he’s supposed to behave a certain way. So why make all that fuss about something that’s so obvious?

The fuss stems from the very often seen lack of depth in character development. The characters of your book, like the real people in your life, live in a world that cannot be looked at in black and white. They all live in a world coloured with various shades of grey. Like reality, their reactions to situations, their manner of speaking and every little aspect of their behaviour is a result of the circumstances around them and more importantly, the circumstances they’ve come from. It’s not necessary that your readers know their entire background story; it’s necessary that you know their entire background story. Your readers can piece together the background story from little references that crop up occasionally and the character’s reactions and behaviour. I read an interview by Gabe Robinson recently (he used to be an editor with HarperCollins and runs his own editorial services now so he probably knows what he’s talking about). He said that authors tend to spend a whole lot of words and pages on giving a narrative description of one of their characters upon entry of said character. If you write a book and, in it, tell me that your protagonist is tall with blue eyes, black hair and an amazing build, I’ll believe you. You go ahead to tell me he’s an insanely calm person until you say something not-so-nice about his wife or family, I’ll believe that too. If you go further to explain his entire back story and more or less, all the major incidents in his life that made him the way he is, I’ll believe you again. But the point is I’m not necessarily going to enjoy reading it. Robinson says that sometimes, a brief initial description coupled with instances that come up as the story progresses where the character reacts in certain ways paints a better character picture than an all out description.

I could go on and on about how characters can be depicted. In the end, you will have your preferred method; what matters is that the character stays the way he or she is. Some story lines require that characters change, but if the change itself is out of character, the story is going to falter. Sure there’s an instigating factor that causes a change – but that change cannot be one that is dramatically different form everything the character is.

Ensuring that your characters react like anyone would in reality is easy – bring your characters to life, at least in your mind. When I wrote my first manuscript, I was practically living with my characters. I spoke of them as if they were real people (it confused the heck out of people who overheard my conversations – I was talking about murderers after all), but my friends were supportive and listened patiently, often offering advice if a reaction seemed out of character. Make their world real, make their pain real, make their appearances real – and you’ll think they’re real. Without you believing in their existence, your readers won’t. Your readers feel what you make them feel. So feel your character’s pain and anger and you’ll be able to pen it down so vividly that your reader feels like he’s known them all his life.

You can write about your character’s stories or let the reader find it out for himself as the story progresses and he can piece together pieces of the character’s life that he picks up through the progression. But technicalities aside, you need to think of your characters as living and breathing human beings. Daniel Davis (author of Wind River) recently mentioned why he loved Stephen King – because the man could portray characters so aptly that you see them reacting in a way you would have and then some. That is what most authors aim for and some attain.

You can read all you want about making your characters real, but the question remains – how does one do that? My method is simple, and I think it’s one that a lot of authors consciously or unconsciously use. My characters are based on the people I know – some eye colour here, some hair colour there, some temper issues here and some agony aunt behaviour there. I don’t mean I know people who are murderers and private detectives with a hidden agenda that borders on vigilante, I mean I know someone with eyes and a temper that suit my protagonist. Little bits of character thrown in, some from people I know, others from my imagination, and I get a believable character that I can associate with easily because of that element of reality.

Let me end this post on character development (another among so many by almost every writer) by saying just this – your characters make your story. If you create live characters that you can believe in, your readers will believe in them too; and if your readers believe in your characters, they’ll believe in the story that marks their endeavours, failures and triumphs.

4 Comments

Filed under Being a writer