Book Review

The One by John Marrs Book Review

Hands up if you have recently sacrificed sleep to finish reading a book! For those of you raising your hands right now, welcome to my sleepless, book hangover club. I have been hearing a lot of buzz about this book called “The One” by John Marrs. I heard it being referred to as a dark thriller and compared to the Netflix series “Black Mirror”. That caught my attention right off the bat. I have been keeping my distance from thrillers these days because I feel like I’m seeing a common pattern amongst them (girl on a train/girl by a window/girl in a cabin/girl always somewhere doing something). I was looking for a unique thriller, and boy did I find the one, literally.

This book was the definition of a thriller. It had nail-biting suspense, twists at the end of almost every chapter, and an exhilarating plot. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. For that reason, there will not be any spoilers in this review. I really want all of you to read it and experience it the way I did. 

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Synopsis

Imagine if there was a DNA test that could determine who you should spend the rest of your life with? Imagine if you could find out with absolute certainty who is genetically made for you. Match Your DNA is a company that promises to help people find their soulmate and since then millions of people have been matched. So what can possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything as it turns out. The story follows five people who meet their genetic matches. Some characters are hiding massive secrets while others are being lured into something they did not sign up for.

Themes

The book explores the whole concept of the grass being greener on the other side. What if you were living a great life with the person you love, only to find out you are not genetically matched, and that your soulmate is still out there? What if you are matched with someone who lives across the globe? What if you are matched with someone carrying a dark secret? The author explores what happens when people take a peak behind the curtain of what could be and the consequences that follow. At times, this book did not seem like a far-fetched reality due to the abundance of dating websites and apps in our technologically advanced world.

The idea of perfection is another theme that stood out for me. Humans are always in search for perfection in some form or another. So what happens if a company uses science to prove that one single person is your perfect match? Will the idea of a perfect person cloud their vision and make them see only the things that fit with the illusion of perfection? Do they desperately cling onto the idea that this person is their only shot at happiness? I think the author did a fantastic job in showing how the idea of perfection can lead people to make radical decisions.

The Characters

I will not introduce you to the characters because I feel you need to meet them yourself. You may think it can get tiring to read the perspectives of five different people, but it was so integral to the storyline. It was easy to keep up with the characters while curveball after curveball was thrown their way. The characters are flawed, insecure and carrying some big secrets. Each character is thrown into an unexpected situation, when all they really wanted was to find their perfect half. While some may argue that there was not much character development for all of the characters, I really think the author was trying to give us a look into human behavior through these different perspectives. Some characters do have a lot of growth and others are shown experiencing what happens through a series of bad decisions. I think it worked well considering the context of the story.

Creep Factor:

There were times when I paused and thought, “How did the author come up with this twist?” Some of the surprises were downright creepy sending a chill down my spine. Sometimes the character’s motives left me on edge and new revelations of the characters added that extra creep factor. Almost all of the shocking scenes caught me off guard and had me pull some interesting facial expressions while I was reading on my lunch break and on the bus. I would think the author of a thriller did a great job when you are left gasping at the end of pretty much every chapter.

Overall, The One by John Marrs surprised me. There is no other way to put it. I’m very excited to watch this book come to life on Netflix as I feel the creep factor, the themes and the characters will all translate so well on screen. If you want to read a dark thriller that is a complete page-turner with unexpected twists, this is THE ONE!

Happy Reading!

Shazia.

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Book Review

Nocturna Book Review

Are you ready for a faceless thief and a grieving prince to make their way into your heart? You better be ready, because these two characters will find their way in and stay there. Trust me, they are currently renting a small corner of my heart. Nocturna was a book that was not on my radar. I’m extremely grateful to HCC Frenzy and HarperCollins Canada for giving me opportunity to read Nocturna and get lost in the incredible world the author created. This book was an insane ride filled with magic and tons of emotions. It made me sit at the edge of my seat, laugh at the witty dialogue and feel all the emotions the characters were feeling.

Synopsis:

Alfie is a prince, and next in line for the throne after his older brother is murdered in front of him. Unable to move on from his death and doubting his own future as king, Alfie goes on a hunt to find out about forbidden magic that may bring his brother back.

Fin Voy is a thief and a faceshifter. She has spent years running away from a dark past, wearing different faces as she sees fit and thieving her days away. When she is caught by a powerful mobster, she has two choices: steal a treasure from the royal palace or lose her face shifting magic forever.

Fin and Alfie’s lives are intertwined when they accidentally unlock an evil power while they are both trying to fulfill their missions. The dark magic is the strongest of its kind and threatens to extinguish all the light in the world as it seeks for bodies to spread the evil. Fin and Alfie must put their differences aside and work together to get rid of this magic once and for all.
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(picture from @khanlibrary this is the ARC I received. For the actual cover scroll down)

“Magic was free. It flowed through all living things and wasn’t something to be caged. Yet he could feel something holding back this black magic.”- Maya Motayne

You know the world building is good when you pause to reflect on how the author created all of it. It is definitely something I would love to ask this author because I found the setting, magic system and history so interesting and complex at the same time. The legends of the land were intriguing and the rules of magic were well explained. I also liked that the magic paid homage to the author’s Latin culture. The author used Spanish words for the magic spells, which I found was such a nice and unique touch. The writing was poetic, although there were times when I felt the dialogue could have been cut a bit short. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style and how the storyline progressed.

I think one of my favorite aspects of the book was the whole face shifting ability of the main character. I absolutely loved the idea behind it and why she had chosen to abandon her real face and constantly put on new ones. It gave me a real Arya Stark vibe from Game of Thrones, who happens to be my favorite character from the series so it really added an extra twist that I loved.

Only in her absence did he realize how part of him yearned for the sound of her voice curving with the punch of a joke – a sound that made her face bright in his mind’s eye even when she was hidden by the cloak” – Maya Motayne

I was so taken away but the magic and turmoil that I was really hoping a romance would not take over the storyline. I’m actually very pleased with the way the author handled the feelings the main characters had for each other. It was well developed and it did not take away from the plot. It was a very endearing connection between two characters afraid of vulnerability and facing other emotions. They brought out the best in each other and the sarcastic dialogue made me laugh numerous times. I was left with feeling that there was more in store for both of these characters.

If you are looking for a unique fantasy with tons of magic and a sprinkle of culture, then look no further! Nocturna was a fun ride and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author. Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book to review. I am grateful to have discovered a new author and all the magic within the book.

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(Picture from Goodreads)

Happy reading!

Shazia.

 

 

Book Review

With the Fire on High Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for giving me the advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

            You know that feeling when you get shamed for never having read a certain author’s work? Someone asks you if you read a book and you say no. The person gasps, there is a lot of eyebrow rising followed by a series of “are you serious?” and “you of all people have not read it?” You feel yourself blush, mumble excuses and annoyingly reply that you will add it to your TBR. Well this was my life whenever someone asked me if I read “Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo and I said no.

            So you can imagine my excitement when I got Elizabeth’s newest book thanks to the HCC Frenzy. I was ready to see what all the fuss was about. All it took was reading the very first page for me to realize I deserved all the shame for never reading her previous book. I instantly knew that this book was going to be special. Spoiler alert: special does not even come close to describing this book. It was phenomenal.

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“Trust okay? Trust. Yourself, mainly, but the world, too. There is magic working in your favor” – Elizabeth Acevedo

Synopsis:

Emoni Santiago is a high school senior being cared for by her Abuela. While she goes through the flows of high school life, she also has the added responsibilities of being a teenage mother. She works part time at a burger joint, struggles to keep up with her schoolwork, and tries to push away the confusing feelings she has about the new boy at school, Malachi. Her priority is her Baby Girl, Emma. Her passion is the magic she creates in the kitchen. When Emoni takes a culinary arts class at school, it becomes impossible to hide the talent she has and the heights she can raise to one day. When her culinary teacher informs her that there will be a class trip to Spain where she will be able to cook alongside chefs, Emoni cannot deny how much she wants this experience for herself. However, she also cannot deny the financial stress and the responsibility she has towards Emma. What happens when your talent is bursting out of you, ready to break free but there are many obstacles in your path?

Culture and Flavor

For me, this book is a vibrant tapestry of culture and a love note to food lovers around the world. The way the author mixes culture, values, family and food together really made me feel like I was standing right there in the kitchen by Emoni and Abuela as they chatted about life while chopping up vegetables and sprinkling spices onto their dishes. It felt like home.

Emoni is such a vibrant character who is part Puerto Rican and part black. The dynamic between her and Abuela is so endearing and the fierce love they have for Emma is heart warming. Is here anything more powerful than the love for a daughter and granddaughter? Combined, it has the power to light up a whole city. That is how it felt while reading the scenes between Emoni, Abuela and Emma.

I absolutely love how readers are given the sense of just how good Emoni is with cooking. How she can find that hidden ingredient by tasting it. How her gut tells her to add a certain ingredient that nobody else would think of for that particular dish. You especially get the sense of her talent by the emotions her food evokes from those who taste it. Personally, my favorite parts were when Emoni was in the kitchen, thinking to herself as she was in her creative space and how liberated it made her feel. At times it was like I could almost taste the dishes Emoni was making and I absolutely loved the little recipes included in the book.

Hardships and Responsibilities:

“If there was one thing I learned once my belly started showing is that you can’t control how people look at you, but you can control how far back you pull your shoulders and how high you lift your chin” – Elizabeth Acevedo

The book really explored what it is like to walk in the shoes of a teenage mother who is also a girl of color. It felt like I was walking alongside her as she experienced the stereotypes that she had to live with and the assumptions people had of her. Boys thought she was a certain way because she got pregnant, certain elderly white woman threw their own stereotypes her way and others just gave her pitiful looks. She even had to deal with people from her own community and their judgements. It is no wonder that Emoni developed trust issues, especially towards boys or anyone who offered her an opportunity. In many ways, she had to learn to trust herself, which can be just as hard.

The secondary characters were incredibly developed and gave a sense of how supportive friends can be that added cinnamon dust on your sweet dish (wow, I’m talking like Emoni now). The love story was very well written and seemed important to her progression throughout the novel. Emoni’s backstory with her family is also explored, and I think that gives an even clearer picture of where her trust issues stem from even before her pregnancy. Each character is flawed in one way or another or just hungry for a new chapter in their life. A special shout out to Emoni’s best friend in the novel. That friendship made me smile. How wonderful is it reading about friendships that build you up rather than tear you down?

Overall Thoughts:

I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a magical read. What made it magical was the author’s writing. The chapters were so short that I kept telling myself I’ll read just one more and before I knew it I had reached the end. To be honest, I was not ready to say goodbye to this rich cast of characters or the food. I was left hungry, literally, for more.

I am that person who will always be talking about how we need diversity in books and “With the Fire on High” is a perfect example of the richness that comes with diversity and how much we can all learn from these books. I love that we got to see the world through Emoni’s perspective both inside and outside of the kitchen.

 

Happy reading bookworms!

 

Shazia.

Book Review

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

How great is it when you fully trust an author to take you on a journey with their words. That’s right, I’m calling it a journey. I love that feeling when you see a certain author has released a book and you don’t even have to read the excerpt. You just pick it up and trust that it will be all kinds of wonderful. Balli Kaur Jaswal is that author for me. I remember picking up her first book “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” and laughing over the title in the bookstore. Fast-forward to a few days later and that very book ended up becoming my favorite novel from last year. I enjoyed her writing style and storytelling so much that I did not even try to find out what her new book was about before picking it up.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sistersis Balli Kaur Jaswal’s newest novel and it is like a breath of fresh air. At it’s core, this book is about sisterhood, but it is also so much more. It is about culture, first versus second generation, misogyny and family dynamics. The author weaves such a beautiful tapestry of love, loss and acceptance. I was enthralled from start to finish.

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Synopsis:

Rajni, Jezmeen and Shirina are British-born sisters raised by their Punjabi mother. On her deathbed, the Shergill sister’s mother tells them her last wish: to make a pilgrimage together to India in order to carry out her final rights. Saddened by the loss of their mother and discouraged by the unpleasant circumstances of their own lives, the sisters arrive in India full of secrets and guilt. Rajni, a schoolteacher in her forties, is haunted by a secret she has kept for years about her last visit to India with her mother. Jezmeen, a celebrity TV host, is fresh off the heels of a public controversy and is trying to escape the nasty things written about her on social media. Shirina, a dutiful housewife, appears to be living the perfect life but feels pressured by her in-laws into making a decision that could affect her marriage and life. Together, they embark on an adventure filled with highs and lows but one that will strengthen their broken bonds and give them insight into each other’s messy lives.

The Sisters:

The Shergill sisters were the heart of this novel. Finding their way back to each other was truly the most beautiful part of this story. Each sister was dealing with a personal crisis and carrying the weight of it on their shoulders alone. The distance between the sisters was heartbreaking. We often read stories that highlight the close relationship of sisters, but this story focuses on finding their way back to one another. We get insight from the sisters about their personal struggles and how their childhood shaped them into the people they became.

I enjoyed reading their own perspectives of their childhood and what made them drift away from each other. The best part for me was how the sisters came to each other’s rescue despite their conflicting emotions about each other. I do believe the author’s strength lies in characterization as she made each of the sisters so believable and complex. It is truly wonderful when the author masters character development and the backstory. For me, it made the story richer.

Overall Thoughts:

If you pick up this book, not only will you be diving into the chaotic lives of the Shergill sisters but you will also be taken on an adventure in India. I loved the itinerary that the mother left for them as it outlined the important sites the sisters needed to visit and what made these places special. I felt like I was walking along with them in the packed bazaars of India. Even the culture and traditions are explored as they visit historical and religious sites. Everything is so beautifully descriptive that you feel like you are actually there living it all.

The author perfectly captures the sister’s impressions of visiting India after growing up abroad. She explores the odd feeling of being part of a community but still feeling as “other”. The sisters struggle with this as they find their bearings in a country that is suppose to be their home but does not quite feel like it. I think it is a very natural feeling for people to have a culture shock despite said culture being their own. I enjoyed reading this part, as it was very relatable to me as well.

Overall, this book exceeded my expectations in the best of ways. The story was very engaging and heart warming. I found myself rooting for the sisters, not just for overcoming their personal struggles, but also to find their connection with each other again. Their journey was long, full of turmoil but it gave a sense of what it takes to find your way back to those you love unconditionally. The author has outdone herself again with yet another incredible read.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters releases tomorrow April 30th.

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.

Book Review

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined: A Book Review

Let me tell you a little story about how a book found it’s way to me. I usually go into a bookstore with a plan. Even on the days when I casually decide to stroll into a bookstore, the wheels in my head begin turning as I shuffle through the file labeled “To Be Read” in my brain.  On this particular day, I was visiting the books I wanted as they sat pretty on the bookshelves when I noticed a book placed in the wrong section. Of course my OCD got the better of me and I picked it up to return it to its proper place (maybe I should start working in Indigo). I never made it to where it should be placed, because I decided it belonged with me.

At first it was the title that drew me in: “Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined”. I don’t know why but that title made me think and question the the story behind it. Then it was the beautiful cover that caught my attention. The star studded sky and a girl stargazing truly deserves cover appreciation. Finally, reading the excerpt is what made me decide to bring it home. I’m really grateful this book found me because it seems to be one of those underrated gems.

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Synopsis:

“My demon is you. My best and worst is about you: how I need you and fear for you, how I fear for myself if I lose you, how I have let myself be defined by you.” – Danielle Younge-Ullman.

This story is about a teenage girl name Ingrid and her mother. When she was younger, Ingrid travelled the world with her Opera singing mother, as she put on dazzling performances and received acclaim. When Ingrid’s mother loses her voice and career, their glamorous life comes to an end as they settle for a normal life filled with ghosts from their past. After a childhood with life altering moments and becoming an adult at a young age, Ingrid decides she wants to pursue her dream of becoming a singer.

The catch: Ingrid is challenged to complete a wilderness survival program in order to gain her mother’s approval for her career path. The other catch: The wilderness program is for a group of at risk teens consisting of runaways, ex-convicts and shady personalities. Ingrid spends her days in this gruelling program with a group of teens that make her feel uncomfortable, all the while trying to understand what she is doing there and working through years worth of pent up emotions and memories.

The Characters:

Ingrid put me through one hell of an emotional roller coaster. This book gives us flashbacks to Ingrid’s childhood, which helps us understand why she turned out the way she did. It is also written in the form of letters to her mother while she is at the wilderness camp. I truly enjoyed these parts because the writing was so sarcastic and really indicative of a teenage girl having an awful time at camp and life in general. Besides that, the most powerful thing about the letters is how her emotions completely boil to the surface. There is no sugar-coating how she feels about her past or present, and I do believe you get to know her character better with these scenes.

The Mother is an important character that we learn about through Ingrid’s flashbacks and letters. This is a difficult character to read about as you feel her pain jumping out of the pages as she describes losing her life’s passion. You feel angry about the way she treats Ingrid and how she tries to crush her dreams. Mainly, you just want her to pull through during her dark times.  

Andreas is a secondary character who begins dating Ingrid’s mother in the book. Andreas definitely became one of my favorite characters due to his endearing actions towards Ingrid and her mother. I loved reading the dynamic between him and Ingrid. Of course, the author did a great job in not making him appear too perfect but showing how sometimes your greatest flaw is how relentless you can be to help those who do not want to be “fixed”.

I especially enjoyed getting to know the group of misfit teens at the wilderness camp. Reading about their backstories and why they were doing this program was one of the most interesting parts of the book. The ex-convict Tavik ended up becoming one of my favorite characters from the camp. I’m not really sure when I started liking him, but suddenly I was on board with his character and wished we got more of him.

My Thoughts:

This has to be one of the most profound books with a theme of mental illness explored through the characters. Not only is mental illness viewed from the perspective of the person living with it, but it also explores how those around the person are affected. The symptoms, the challenges, the triggers and road to recovery are all explored and incredibly depicted in this story. There is a bit of a love story, but I did not care much for this part of the book. However, I do think that the backstory between Ingrid and this boy was essential and really well written. The way the story unfolds is also very fluid and easy to follow. Even though I saw that twist coming in the end, it was remarkably written for me to still feel it.

Let me just end this by saying that Goodreads compared this book to The Breakfast Club, which is my favorite movie of all time. I only read this comment after I was done with the book and I can tell you that “Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined” definitely has some Breakfast Club vibes. Besides that, it explores depression, pursuing your dreams, young love, bullying and family. This is a young adult fiction but I truly believe it is a book anyone can read and enjoy. I highly recommend this book and I hope it snuggles its way into your heart.

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

*Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book for an honest review.

Let me start off by saying that the title of this book is what really caught my attention at first. I have heard of Rachel Hollis before, but I did not read her first book nor did I follow her on social media. Being a polite Canadian who apologizes when other people bump into me is the reason why I was drawn to the book because of the title. Girl, I really do need to stop apologizing. After reading the excerpt, I realized this book is meant for women to go after their goals and stop apologizing for their ambition. I decided to read it because I have a set of goals that I hope to achieve and thought I could use a dose of motivation.

“Girl, Stop Apologizing” is about embracing who you are and what you are meant to do without apologizing. This book tells you to stop waiting for permission and let go of excuses that stop you from moving forward. I completely agree with the main message and I fully support empowering women and going after your dreams. This book is set up into three parts: excuses to let go of, behaviors to adopt and skills to acquire. Each section draws upon the author’s personal experiences from her business, family and love life.

Unpopular book opinion time:

“Girl, Stop Apologizing” fell flat for me for a number of reasons, which I will get into shortly. The concept of the book is what I can stand behind, but it was the content that was troubling. However, I’m well aware that this book has been well received and considered helpful for many women. Did I feel more inspired and motivated when I finished this book? No, I did not. Should you read it and see for yourself? Yes, you should. 

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“By embracing your calling and refusing to hide your glow, you wouldn’t just make your world brighter, you’d light the way for the women who come behind you.” – Rachel Hollis

The Positives:

            I tried my best to dig for the positives and I did find a few points that are important and helpful. When it comes down to it, Rachel is a business woman. She has adopted a discipline to getting work done effectively and in a timely fashion. I did enjoy the parts where she discusses procrastination, distractions and making time for your goals despite your already hectic schedule. She does provide some helpful advice on how to go all in for your goals. One of the things that resonated with me the most was how she discusses “work environment”. Setting up a workspace is great but the reality is life becomes chaotic at times. Rachel suggests getting work done whenever you have a moment, even if it is in a cramped up space at an airport as you are waiting for your flight. While this is logical, I do think many of us believe that we will be the most productive when we are seated at our desks surrounded by motivational quotes or in a quiet café with Sam Smith playing in the background (that is what a productive workspace looks like to me at least).

I do believe that working mothers will relate to the section in which Rachel discusses the guilt of going back to work. She uses her personal experience and the emotions she felt during the time she was building her business. I found this portion of the book showed her vulnerability and it was particularly well written. Even though I am not a mother, I was able to see the world through a working mom’s eyes.

The Negatives:

I absolutely love books that focus on self-growth and development, however this book seemed to focus more on external factors. There were many pages filled with references to celebrities, weight loss, plastic surgery and appearance. I would have rather read about the internal factors that become barriers to success. While Rachel did discuss internal factors like self-confidence and self-doubt, I felt that the majority of the book brought attention to the external. The author’s wealth was another thing that stood out of the pages for me. I know the author worked hard to build her business and I’m not holding it against her for becoming a wealthy woman. It just becomes hard to relate to someone when they speak of aiming for expensive vacations and first class flights.

Rachel used personal examples to help drive her point home, but I felt like she missed the target by doing this a few times. I had a hard time relating to her experiences and her goals. One of Rachel’s goals was to make it on the New York Times bestseller list. I agree that this is an ambitious goal and good for you for reaching for the stars! Would I call it a failure that she did not end up on the NYT bestseller list right off the bat? No, I would not. However, a good portion of the chapter is dedicated to how she failed in front of eight hundred and fifty thousand people when she did not make it on the list. I had trouble seeing this as a failure; in fact I was thinking to myself how lucky she is to have been published in the first place. Discussions about the number of social media followers and bestseller lists felt like materialistic goals to me. I am also aware that all of us have our own goals that are materialistic, but when I read a self-development book I would rather be reading about goals that help you grow.

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Overall, “Girl, Stop Apologizing” did have some positive points that could help motivate women to stop being ashamed of their ambition and take the step towards their dreams. There were definitely some pieces of advice that could help improve productivity. However, there were quite a few ideas that were problematic for me. I think this is one of those books that either works for you or it does not. If any of you are thinking of reading this book I hope that you will have a different experience than me. That is the beauty of books: it is all in the reader’s interpretation.

Happy reading!

Shazia.

Book Review

Tell it to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami

*Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 I have to applaud authors who are able to make their stories feel sinister from the very first page. To the point where you are almost holding your breath expecting something bad to happen. You feel the darkness trying to creep its way to the surface and so you keep reading and waiting for the story to go full dark force on you. I waited, I read and unfortunately this book fell flat for me in the end. Did it go full dark force on me? It sure did. This book is dark, but the wrap up of the story did nothing for me.

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Synopsis

“Truth was a shifting, shy thing, like sunlight changing from moment to moment, unknowable even if you spent your life in the heart of it.” – Anita Rau Badami.

Anu is a forty-something woman looking for a secluded retreat to write her book. She comes across the Dharma family’s “back-house” in the quiet town of Merrit’s Point and decides it will be the perfect place to spend some alone time writing. She gets to know the Dharma family and soon realizes there is something sinister happening in their household.

The Dharma family consists of the Vikram, the head of the household who was once married to a wild and free woman named Helen, who tragically died in a car crash leaving behind a daughter, Varsha. Vikram remarried by arranging a marriage for himself in India. He brings Suman from the warmth of India, to his cold and quiet town. It is not long before Suman has a child of her own and becomes trapped in her new life with her possessive stepdaughter, needy son and violent husband.

With the arrival of Anu as a tenant, Suman finds a friend and confidant. While Vikram is at work and the kids are at school, Anu visits Suman and Vikram’s mother, Akka, as they share stories over tea. With time, Anu starts realizing that there is not only something wrong with Vikram, but with his daughter Varsha as well. Varsha will stop at nothing to keep her family together and protect all of their secrets. When tragedy strikes and questions are asked, secrets start exposing themselves and threatening to break apart a family that was already hanging by a thread.

Characters:

I think the author did a fantastic job painting a picture of what domestic abuse does to children. In my opinion, the only strong, well developed characters in this book are the children.

Varsha is a thirteen-year-old girl with so much darkness in her. She was raised in a violent environment. She observed violence and experienced it herself. Seeing excuses made for her father’s abusive ways somehow embeds the idea in her head that sometimes extreme measures need to be taken to keep a family together. Something you see her do time and time again in the book. I’ll be honest, this girl creeped me out! I kept thinking something is not right with this girl, and I kept reading just to figure her out. She somehow reminded me of those crazy villains in slasher movies who are hiding in closets with a huge knife. Don’t worry she doesn’t do this….or does she? (evil laugh). No, she doesn’t but she gives off that kind of vibe.

Hemant is seven-years-old and your heart will break for him. He grasps onto any form of love given to him and is constantly battling with the secret thoughts he has about how his father and sister are bad people. While at times I felt like I was reading a perspective of a much older person rather than a seven-year-old, I still think that his character came a long way in terms of growth.

My heart did hurt for Suman as I read about what her life was once like and how it is reduced to daily violence. The author does a good job in showing how Suman feels suffocated in a loveless marriage and in an isolated cold town. She misses her culture, her family and the happiness she felt when she was free to live as she wished. The problem with this character is that I saw no growth. I was rooting for her every step of the way but I felt like her storyline did not progress much. Even with the arrival of Anu and their growing friendship, I felt like there really seemed to be no point to her perspective in the story as nothing was happening. While Anu was an interesting addition, I did not feel like I knew her well towards the end of the story. I felt no connection to her despite the fact that she plays a central role in the story.

Akka, the kid’s grandmother, was a very interesting character and had the potential to be so much more. Here is a woman that told stories without sugarcoating them for the youngsters. She spoke openly and freely. The scenes with her in them gave the story some life and I really believe that if she was given more depth and space she would have taken the story further. I felt like her storyline was just left hanging and I was sitting there asking “But where did Akka go? Can Akka come back?”. I’ll admit I mainly wanted her back because she seemed to have her own chilling secret. I guess the author left it open to interpretation for the readers.

Overall thoughts:

While this book did keep me engaged for the most part, I was disappointed in how everything was wrapped up in the end. The story was very bleak and I would have hoped to see some flicker of hope for the characters, but I did not. I felt like after everything I had been through with these characters, we were all left hanging. I finished the book feeling mainly annoyed by the potential the story had to be so much more.

The mystery presented in the very first chapter also added an element of suspense but after a while there was no more urgency for that particular part of the story. Despite all this, I do think the book had some very important take away messages about how a home environment can really shape children’s personalities in ways we could never imagine. Give this book a try if you like books that explore culture and family secrets with a light mystery. 

Happy reading!

Shazia.

p.s. I’m still haunted by that girl in this book. There is a reason why I avoid horror movies with children in them (or all horror movies, period). 

Book Review

Help Me by Marianne Power

*Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It is truly a great feeling when a book surprises you in the best of ways. “Help Me” by Marianne Power is one of those books for me. This is a true story of one woman’s quest to build the life she desperately wants through self-help books. This book will make you laugh but it will also make you reflect on the big questions asked by the author. It is equally hysterical and thought provoking. In short, it was one hell of a ride that made me laugh out loud in public (I suspect onlookers were confused as to how I was laughing so much while reading a book titled “Help Me”)

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Synopsis:

“There comes a point in every woman’s life when she realizes that things cannot carry on the way they are” – Marianne Power.

On the surface, Marianne’s life seems great. She’s a thirty-six year old freelance journalist living in London. She has supportive group of family and friends. She wears designer clothes and travels often. However, deep down Marianne feels unfulfilled, lost and behind in life. As Marianne is nursing a bad hangover one Sunday morning, she comes to a realization that things need to change. She decides to turn to the world of self-help books to help her become a perfect person, with the perfect weight, living in a perfect home with a perfect life partner. The problem with this plan: there is no such thing as perfect.

Marianne embarks on a twelve-month journey in which she will read one self-help book per month. She decides that she will not only read self-help, she will DO self-help. She will follow the advice given in these books, no matter how scary it is. What follows is a year filled with uncomfortable challenges, facing fears and questioning damaging subconscious thoughts.

Does Self-Help Really Help?

“The dangerous expectation that can be created by self-help books is that if you’re not walking around like a cross between Mary Poppins, Buddha and Jesus every day you’re doing it wrong. You must try harder.” – Marianne Power

Marianne starts her self-help journey with the book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. This book inspires her to do things that she is afraid of, and so she writes up a list of scary things she would never imagine doing. She finds herself becoming a nude model for an art class, chatting up a random man on public transport, doing stand up comedy, and skydiving. I loved reading this chapter specifically because you could really feel her fear through her writing. I know there were times when I was cringing and feeling proud of her at the same time.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book was the chapter on rejection therapy, a game created by Jason Comely in which the goal is to seek out rejection in order to overcome the fear of rejection. It was an absolute riot reading the scenes where Marianne asked for free coffee, a discount in store and asked to join strangers at cafes. Her inner dialogue is gold! This chapter was not only funny, but eye opening as well. It turns out that even when Marianne was searching for rejection, she would not always get it. People would surprise her with their kindness and openness, leaving Marianne to realize that she had gone out of her way to avoid rejection her whole life and barely lived as a result.

The Downside to Self-Help:

As her journey progresses, Marianne explores more self-help books like “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey and attended a Tony Robbins seminar called “Unleash the Power Within”. What starts as an inspirational journey becomes overwhelming and Marianne soon becomes burnt out from all the self-helping. She finds herself alone with all the voices of the authors in her head leaving her feeling even more emotionally exhausted. I really think this portion of the book is important as it shows what happens when you go too far with these books. A self-help plan can be equal parts self-growth and alienating if not done right.

As Marianne realizes her friends and family are starting to worry and pulling away, she presses pause and reexamines her commitment to reading self-help. Perhaps this is the most important part of her self-growth as she looks into her own behavior and realizes she does not have do all this on her own. That asking for help from actual people and reconnecting with the people she loves can be just as empowering. It is with this realization that she takes a giant leap forward and continues with reading what turn out to be the three books that leave the biggest impact: “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown and “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. I believe the reason why these books made the greatest impact was because she realized a journey towards self-development does not have to be taken alone.

My Thoughts:

This book was unlike any other nonfiction book I have read before. It is deeply personal, vulnerable and hilarious. At times, it felt like I was reading a novel, mainly because of the hilarious dialogue between Marianne and her mother. The mother’s advice, skepticism and genuine concern were both hysterical and endearing.

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I found myself laughing, gasping, feeling sad and rooting for the author every step of the way. The chapters are broken down according to the self-help book the author was reading. Marianne manages to capture the biggest lessons from every book she reads. If you enjoy nonfiction books that are funny and inspiring, then this book is for you. In fact, I think this book can be for anyone. You do not have to like or even appreciate self-help books to enjoy this deeply personal story.

Happy reading!

Shazia.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

It truly takes a gifted author to write a historical fiction that not only pulls at your heartstrings but also makes you feel like you are back in that time living it through the characters. The Gown by Jennifer Robson is truly a gift that I enjoyed immensely.

This book is about survival.

While there are many themes that the author expertly covers, survival was the one that stuck with me till the very last page.

There are many books that are written about the war or during the war, but The Gown focuses on the aftermath. It focuses on how people pick up the pieces of their lives and rebuild brick by brick. It is about friendship, love, creation, PTSD and a person’s legacy. The Gown takes us on this journey as each of the main characters experience life altering events that take them to places they would have never imagined.

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Synopsis:

“Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.”—Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding

London 1947: A brutal winter, rationing of resources and tragic memories leaves many people feeling the harsh aftermath of World War II. Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin are embroiderers working for Norman Hartell, the famous designer who has been chosen to make the wedding gown for Princess Elizabeth. Ann and Miriam, each weighed down by memories of their past, set to work on the gown for the royal wedding. They become closer, forging a friendship that will help them both during their darkest times.

Toronto 2016: Heather Mackenzie is mourning the death of her grandmother. While helping her mother go through her Nan’s things, she discovers a box with her name on it containing embroidered flowers that resemble the flowers on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown. Heather knows very little about her Nan’s past, but with some digging she discovers a clue that leads her to believe that her Nan once helped create the Queen’s dress. Heather boards a plane to London in search of the answers to her questions.

Themes:

I always wondered how the people living during this time were able to rebuild their lives after the brutality of WWII. How difficult it must have been for the survivors to carry the knowledge that their loved ones had died in concentration camps? How did the world heal? The Gown shows us that friendship can be the foundation of survival and moving on. The author takes us through what post-war London would have looked like through the eyes of fictional characters Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin. We read about their long workdays as they stitched and embroidered the gown for the royal wedding. As we read along, we see a beautiful friendship developing between these two strong women.

The theme of survival guilt is also explored in this story as we are shown how the survivors feel guilt about roaming free in the new world while their families were brutalized and murdered. This kind of guilt is portrayed expertly in the story and it shows how breaking down the walls people put up to protect themselves and letting someone in can be the first step into acceptance of the past and moving forward.

 “It was hard, at times to ignore the disquieting voices that told her she was fooling herself, that she would empty herself into this misguided project, and when she finished, it would be to find that no one was interested. That no one on earth, apart from her, cared to know what had happened to those she loved” – Jennifer Robson

Another theme that is beautifully depicted is how art and creation have their own healing powers, not just for the creators but also for those viewing the art. The royal wedding was held during a time of despair, as if to give a spark of light to the nation that was shrouded in darkness for far too long. The Gown would become a piece of art that captures the interest of the onlookers, but also provided it’s own kind of therapy to Miriam and Ann as they worked tirelessly on it.

Overall Thoughts:

The Gown was a truly breathtaking book to read. Everything was so descriptive that it felt like I could see the scenes in my head. I could almost see Ann and Miriam hunched over their frames in their coveralls stitching the elaborate flower star designs onto the gown. I could feel the emotions they were feeling. I could feel Ann’s heartbreak, Miriam’s guilt and Heather’s loss. I also enjoyed the way the story jumped from past to present and how we learn details of Ann and Miriam’s lives through Heather’s search for answers. This book had a lot of heart and it pulled many tears from me.

In many ways, this book reminds us that when elaborate gowns are made, so much of the credit goes to the designer and hardly any goes towards the ones who worked on the embroidery. I have a newfound appreciation for all those dedicated souls who put all their time and love into the delicate details that are what makes a dress beautiful. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to Google images of Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown to admire the embroidery.

Check out The Gown at Chapters Indigo.

Happy reading!

Shazia.

Book Review

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy of The Water Cure in exchange for an honest review.

 There have been quite a few feminist dystopian novels like the Handmaid’s Tale and The Virgin Suicides that have been written. However, comparing The Water Cure to those books would be wrong. In my opinion, this book stands alone as something else entirely. Yes, the book does describe a world in which being a female is considered a disadvantage, but the book reads as if it is all happening in the present. While some people may argue that this book is still considered to be a dystopian, I personally did not see that reflected in the writing. My advice? Go into this book without expectations. This will not be a book for everyone, but it is so inherently unique that I think it deserves a chance to be explored by readers.

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Synopsis:

“There is a fluidity to his movements, despite his size, that tells me he has never had to justify his existence, has never had to fold himself into a hidden thing, and I wonder what that must be like, to know that your body is irreproachable.” – Sophie Mackintosh

The Water Cure introduces us to a man named King who has created a home in an isolated territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia and Sky. There is barbered wire around this territory that gives clear messages of “do not enter” and “do not leave”. King does this to protect the women from the dangers and violence from the men on the mainland. King and his wife have their daughters engage in brutal therapies that are meant to make their bodies and minds strong against the toxic world beyond their barbed wires. The girls are made to believe that the men of the world will harm them and that they could become sick from the mere toxicity from their breaths.

Their carefully orchestrated life turns upside down when King disappears and three men wash ashore. They seek shelter in the girl’s home and from this point onwards everything changes. The three men, James, Llew and Gwil are mysterious and quietly take over the role of King to protect the women. We see the sisters navigate their first experiences interacting with men. We also see the bonds of sisterhood tested and how they struggle to come to terms with their new reality.

The Characters:

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Most of the story is told through Lia’s perspective. Lia is the middle child who yearns for love and finds herself drawn to one of the men washed ashore. She continuously battles over the guilt and fear of being drawn to “the enemy”, someone who could easily kill her. We are taken through flashbacks as Lia recounts rituals in which she had to hurt her sisters or kill animals in order to strengthen her body and mind. These parts were difficult to read as the author really masters how to make you feel uncomfortable. Lia’s perspective takes up the middle portion of the story, and while I did find this part to be a bit slow and dragged out, I still feel that the character development was well done. You really feel Lia’s pain and how desperately she wants to be loved.

Perhaps the most interesting character for me was the eldest daughter, Grace. We only get Grace’s perspective at the very beginning and end of the book. In my opinion, these were the best parts of the book. Grace gives us more insight into the mysterious character of King. We are told he is their father, that he protects them from the toxins of the outside world and tries to help other “sick” women. It is through Grace that we learn the truth about King and his motive. It is through her that the story finally starts to make sense and loose ends are tied.

James, Llew and Gwil are mysterious characters. Llew is the father of the young boy Gwil. James is Llew’s brother. From the very first time we are introduced to these characters, I got a sense that something was wrong. The author does not provide much information about them, and we learn more about them through their actions and interactions with the sisters. I was constantly on edge waiting to learn their motives. When everything is revealed, it was quite the surprise.

The Story:

I think the most interesting thing about this book for me is how the story is written. The author does a good job in showing rather than telling. We are not told what kind of world the women live in. Instead we are shown through the perspectives of Lia and Grace. At one point the author even does a group perspective, which I believe is an incredibly hard thing to accomplish. The author nails it! I really felt the collective emotions of the sisters in these chapters. At times I felt myself feeling lost because of the way we were given little context but a lot of description. I had to really pay attention and think through what I was reading. There were many beautiful metaphors with the use of water. The writing itself was poetic, mystical even at times.

The themes of cult mentality, patriarchy and trauma are deeply explored in the story, but again it is shown to the readers through Lia’s flashbacks and emotional turmoil. We are given more information about the girl’s childhood, their parent’s expectations and how/when they are allowed to express their emotions. The water cure was eventually explained and it left me feeling uneasy but also invested in finding out more. I was beginning to feel a bit impatient for more information but it was all eventually unraveled. While the ending did feel a tad bit rushed, I was so relieved to get the full story that I did not mind.

This was not an easy book to read. At times I felt horrified, uncomfortable and a bit impatient. I was really a mixed bag of emotions and I spent a good portion of time after I was done reading thinking about how I felt about the whole experience. I realized that all those emotions meant the author did a good job in evoking a response from readers. No matter what you feel after you’re done reading, the fact remains that you felt something. Even if the feeling was anger, frustration, sadness or discomfort. The writing makes you feel, period. This for me is a good reading experience.

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.