The Raising by Laura Kasischke

Title: The Raising
Author:
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial (March 15, 2011)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Raising is about a perfect blond teenager who died in an accident and comes back to the campus to haunt. Whats not to like? A lot apparently. My foremost complaint about the book was that it jumped a lot between the past and present and in-between the characters as well. The moment I found myself immersed in a certain storyline the narration jumped to something else. Not only did I find this very distracting but it also made it very difficult for me to follow the story.

The characters for most part were also very unlikable, be it Nicole, the girl who died, her boyfriend or Josie – her roommate. The only character I liked was Perry who was Clark’s friend.  But half way through the book I started to dislike Perry as well. The storyline was also very bizarre, I found it very difficult to accept.

But the book is not without its plus points. That I found the story weird could also be a plus point for someone who likes a unique storyline. The one thing I loved about the book was the classes on Death that Professor Mira taught. I was genuinely interested in the subject and this book provided me enough material to learn something new and start researching more on a certain topic if I wanted to.

All said and done, although I was very excited about reading this book, it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

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Year of the Tiger by David Miller

year of the tigerTitle: Year of the Tiger
Author: David Miller
Source: Review Copy
Set in: Singapore
Paperback, 278 pages
Monsoon Books Pte Ltd
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
My only reason for accepting this book for review was that it was set in Singapore. If you read my blog regularly you might know I don’t read many thrillers. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t actively seek them. So if I’m just going to read a few thrillers every year, I’m glad ‘Year of the Tiger’ was one of them.

This book in set in 2014 Singapore. When workers are digging for a tunnel in Singapore, they stumble upon a secret room filled with loot from the World War II. It’s a vault created by the Japanese and protected with a lethal virus that could affect hundreds of people very quickly. When the workers take the loot and flee Singapore, it creates an epidemic which can only be stopped or controlled if the mystery of the virus can be solved by the clues left by Japanese.

For me the plot itself is a big draw because along with the current story it also gives interesting information on the Japanese during the World War. It’s intriguing to imagine that a small and super developed city like Singapore could have so many secrets. I found the Singapore history and the presence of tunnels and secret rooms in modern-day Singapore fascinating, and because it intermingled seamlessly with the plot, I was one happy reader. Unfortunately I don’t know much about the Japanese occupation of Singapore and this book more or less gave me a teaser without reading like a history lesson. It made me want to study more about that particular time period. How many thrillers can you say that for?  This is also the kind of story that could turn out to be true a few years down the road. That kind of explains part of my fascination to the story.

The involvement of the Japanese in the whole affair makes me wonder how Japanese will react if there was truly a situation like this. I kind of imagine it would be pretty close to the book. As far as the writing goes – it works well for a thriller I guess. The only problem I have is that the language used by the Singaporeans was not really Singaporean. If you have lived in Singapore even for a short while you’ll notice the unique brand of English spoken by the locals here which makes it distinctively Singaporean. While the characters weren’t particularly memorable, the story was enough to keep me occupied.

When I was almost 90% finished with the book I wondered about the end, I was worried about how it was all going to tie up. For me the most important part in the thriller is the ending, It could make or break a book for me. Fortunately, the ending in this book was pretty good. In some parts it was a very simple solution but in some parts it was pretty complicated considering the scale and scope of the problem.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and I hope there are more books written that are based in Singapore. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more David Miller books, especially if he writes about Singapore. For just 278 pages, ‘Year of the Tiger’ was throughly entertaining.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

bookTitle: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books; Book Club edition (June 7, 2011)

My thoughts:
Here is a completely different take on a very popular topic. Mr. Riggs has taken the plotline that many fantasy novels have today and turned it into something completely different…in a good way.

Jacob Portman is a normal teenager who leads a boring and uneventful life (according to him). He is fascinated and intrigued by the stories his grandfather used to tell him about his past life – about growing up in an orphanage on an island and about the peculiar children who lived there. He described children who could levitate, who could pick heavy objects and of the one who was invisible. As Jacob grew up he knew these stories were just made up.

But when his grandfather dies in mysterious circumstances, he decides to find some answers by journeying to his grandfathers orphanage somewhere close to Wales. What he finds there is completely unexpected, fascinating and overwhelming.

I loved loved loved the plot. I thought it was innovative and very mysterious. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. The author created a beautiful atmosphere with the Island and the mysteries that surrounded it. I wished I was on the Island with Jacob. There is a lot more to the story than what I just told you but I wont disclose more because I want to keep it spoiler free.

Now the bad – yes, it’s not perfect. There were a lot of loopholes or if you see it from a different perspective, I didn’t understand some of the story. The ending was rushed and there is a sequel. I’m kind of bored with the whole sequel obsession in YA. Why can’t people write a book that is complete in itself? Also I found Jacob to be very decent considering the fact that he is a teenager and a boy.

I still really enjoyed reading the book and would love to read the next one. The pictures in the book helped with the story and made it more fascinating. Initially, before reading the book, just looking at the pictures, I thought this would be a horror novel – but it isn’t. I know some people get turned off by horror novels, so don’t be.

I think you would enjoy this book even if you don’t read YA.

Some of the pictures from the book

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The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

Title: The Informationist
Author: Taylor Stevens
Genre: Thriller (Adult fiction)
Source: Review Copy
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (March 8, 2011)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
I usually don’t read a lot of thrillers. I used to read many but mostly by Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook or Mary Higgins Clark. But lately I don’t find myself picking up an authors book just because I want to read a thriller.

But I LOVED the Informationist. I will go as far as saying it’s one of the best thrillers I have read in a long time. I could be biased because this book has everything that I love and look for in a thriller. I tend to love books set in Africa and I don’t like cozy mysteries/ thrillers. I like them to be grand, I like them to be set in exotic places. BAsically I don’t like those one room or one town thrillers. I don’t like those detective thrillers either.

This book is set in Africa and I love everything set in Africa. I find everything about Africa fascinating. The Informationist is about Vanessa Monroe who is The Informationist. She goes to developing countries to gather inside information and she sells this information to business tycoons or business people who then use it to set themselves up in these developing countries. So when she is given this assignment of this missing girl she is reluctant because it’s not really what she does but she is keen because it will take her back to Africa which is her birth place and where she spent the initial years of her life and there is something that she doesn’t want to face and keep in her past which is why she is reluctant to take the assignment.

But there is a part of her that makes her want to go back and face her demons which is why she accepts it and it doesn’t hurt that the missing fathers girl is a millionnaire and he offers her a lot of money. So this is the basic premise of the book. All said and done this is not really a missing person’s story. We also learn a lot about Vanessa’s past and why she is the way she is. Vanessa is this kick-ass heroine who is intelligent and resourceful. She always gets what she wants. She is also very adventurous. She is ready to do things that many people wont do and she has the connections to do them. When she goes ot Africa she goes to Equirotial Guinea and places around it. What was really fun was following her through West Africa. She travels via boat, on foot and it was just so different and nice to get inside information on West Africa. I’m not sure how much the author knows about the place but in the Q and A given at the end of the book it says that she has stayed there for a few years and it shows.

I just wish there was a map somewhere in this book because I’m not very knowledgable on that part on Africa and I don’t think many people are. But I googled and found a really good map. I had fun following Vanessa’s journey from the capital of Equitorial Guinea to Cameroon to all these exotic paces. If you want to read a book that is different from the wildlife, the Serengeti, mass migration and even the war, this book is perfect for you.

So in conclusion I would say that this is a very fast paced, page turning, edge of the seat thriller and I really hope you give this book a chance even if you don’t read thrillers.

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You can WATCH my review of the same below if you are interested 🙂

SchoolGirl by Osamu Dazai

Title: Schoolgirl
Author: Osamu Dazai (Translated by Allison Markin Powell)
Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: One Peace Books (October 1, 2011)
Genre: Fiction/ Novella
Source: Review Copy
Set in: Japan
Challenge: East and SouthEast Asia Challenge
Rating: 3 out of 5

My thoughts:
I was very interested in this book because it’s considered a Japanese modern Classic and is written by a very popular Japanese author. Considering how weak my knowledge is in Japanese literature, modern or otherwise, I thought reading this book would give me an insight into the same.

This book could be sensitive, silent, hopeful and depressing all at once. Schoolgirl is a basically a day in life of a schoolgirl on the verge of womanhood. Her mothers indifference following her father’s death leaves a huge void in her life leaving her alone and vulnerable. Beneath all the loneliness she is also very depressed. She is at a stage in her life where her thoughts are full of contradictions. Her view of the world is hopeful and depressing at the same time.

Plot is something that is very important to me in a novel and Schoolgirl definitely doesn’t have one. But my main problem with the book is that I couldn’t relate to the central character which is perhaps no fault of the author or the translator. For someone who doesn’t get depressed ever (touch wood), I didn’t understand how the girls thoughts veered towards depression so often and for no reason. I know there are people who suffer from depression and perhaps it is as unexplained as it is for this girl.

The back of the book says that Osamu Dazai suffered from depression during his lifetime and he died from a suicide attempt after several unsuccessful ones. There must be a few of his thoughts reflected through this young girls vision.

Overall I wasn’t as impressed with this book as so many others have. But I’m glad I read it.

Pompeii by T.L.Higley

Title: Pompeii
Author: T.L.Higley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in: Pompeii (Rome)
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:

This being the third book I have read by T.L.Higley, I can safely say that this author never disappoints. Pompeii is one of the books in the “Seven wonders of the world” series and no, you don’t have to read the previous books to understand this one because they are completely unrelated.

Pompeii is a small holiday town nestled in the shadow of the mountain Vesuvius. Ariella escapes Jerusalem when the Romans capture the city. For 9 years she works as a slave to Valerius and has to take part in the activities of his secret cult. She escapes Valerius and this life of slavery when she disguises herself as a young boy in a Gladiator group. This group then comes to Pompeii to perform. Cato comes to Pompeii to get away from Rome and all its political intrigues, to escape from his past humiliations and failures.

While Ariella, as Ari, tries to survive a gladiator camp full of men, Cato tries to stay away from the sleazy politics of Pompeii. But he is ultimately dragged into it when he meets the Town politician Maius. Mauis is the kind of man who will do anything and everything to stay in power. He takes an instant dislike to Cato. What follows is a political war where Cato tries to get the town to side with him and Mauis trying to crush him in every way possible. Meanwhile Ariella tries her best to train and survive the fights as a male gladiator.

I loved this book. It has the a distinct T.L.Higley flavor to it. Ariella is a strong female character who will fight to survive and refuse to take charity from anyone. The courage she showed was truly inspiring. Cato on the other hand was not so striking as a character. I thought he was a little bland compared to Ariella. The story is amazing though. I love how the author can build a believable story out of nothing but the ruins of Pompeii and some historical information available. Mauis was a slimy character, a true villain, the kind that could give you bad dreams. I seriously don’t remember hating a fictional character so much.

One thing to remember is that this is a Christian Fiction and Pompeii definitely is a little heavy on this aspect compared to her previous 2 books I’ve read. But I wasn’t really bothered by it as it was woven into the story with such ease that it never felt forced. Ariella has lost faith in God because of her loss and suffering. Cato is so lost and confused with life that he needs a direction and Christianity provided them that. Having said that there is absolutely no preaching in this book or any other books written by T.L.Higley. That’s what I love about this author so much. I have no interest in reading about Christianity or any other religion for that matter. But I loved Pompeii for the sheer brilliance of its story.

Here are the reviews for the other novels written by T.L.Higley.
Shadow of Colossus
Guardian of the Flame

Shadow of Colossus still remains my favorite book though. Pompeii coming a close second.
Go HERE to see some pictures of Pompeii and of the authors travels there.

Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough by Ruth Pennebaker

Title: Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough
Author: Ruth Pennebaker
Source: Review Copy
Publisher: Berkley (January 4, 2011)
Rating: 3.75 out of 5

My thoughts:
When 3 generation of women who cannot stand each other have to live under the same roof, you can definitely expect some entertainment. That’s exactly what we get in Women on the verge of a nervous breakthrough. For a minute I thought this would be a self help book, but not really. It’s a story about 3 completely different women and how they go through their almost nervous breakdowns and subsequent breakthrough’s.

Joanie is in her late 40’s and has just gone through a divorce with her long time husband Richard because he cheated on her with a girl in her 20’s. Her mother Ivy whom Joanie is not very close to has also come to stay with her. Her teenage daughter Caroline is trying to come to terms with her parents’ divorce in her own way which has created a distance between mother and daughter. In addition to all this, Joanie has to take up an advertising job after years of staying at home. Obviously she is on an all time low.

All these three women are annoying and endearing at the same time. With her marriage broken, Joanie is always complaining and although you understand why, you wish she would just stop for a minute. But then she is also trying to get her life back on track by getting a job and working towards her issues by joining a divorce group. I disliked Ivy for  always nagging Joanie and Caroline and finding faults in everything Joanie did. She’s also more biased towards her son even though its Joanie who has taken her in after she lost all her savings. On the other hand you also feel bad for her because she’s lost everything and has come to her daughter to stay. Caroline is a teenager, so obviously she is irritating and annoying and all that but you also feel bad for her because she feels invisible in school and everything is not good at the home front too.

As the novel progresses, each of these three women realize the worth of the other as they come to terms with their own loss and realize the value of the other. The author, Ruth Pennebaker, has written a thoroughly entertaining book and although the circumstances are depressing, no where does the book become overbearing or boring. I didn’t find it laugh out loud funny as written on the book cover but I did make me smile at places. Initially I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like the book because the characters were so unlikable. But as the book progressed and the layers peeled you realize they have their own charm.

The author has managed to show the fragile thread by which these relationships are hanging by and how they reluctantly work towards their differences and misunderstandings. Definitely give this book a try if you interested in reading about relationships between women.

Shameless by Anne Stuart

Title: Shameless
Author: Anne Stuart
Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Mira; Original edition (June 21, 2011)
Genre: Historical romance
Source: Review copy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Shameless is the 4th book in the House of Rohan series and honestly I wouldn’t have picked it up if I had known it was a series book. I prefer to read them in order. But I was traveling and I needed something light to read and this was the only book that caught my attention. Recently my luck has not been very good when it comes to Romance novels. I thought it’s probably because I’m tired of this genre but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It was probably not finding any author to “click” with. I’m trying to read new authors lately and find that none have been to my liking, but this book I liked. I can’t say I loved it but I liked it enough to try other books written by Anne Stuart.

Shameless is a historical romance. After the death of both his wives in child-birth, Benedick just wants to find a docile wife to give him an heir and leave him alone to pursue his own thing. He is almost on the verge of finalizing a certain Miss Pennington when he meets Melisande. Melisande is on a crusade to save all the prostitutes in the city by giving them shelter and a means to begin a new life. When she meets Benedick he is everything that she doesn’t need in a man. He has been “serviced” by many of the girls under her care and is quite famous for his love-making skills. Melisande doesn’t need a guy like him when she has sworn off marriage and “the pleasures of the flesh” because of her experience with her very old husband and later a dispassionate young man. Both Benedick and Melisande are obviously unsuited for each other (talk about clashing interests) but they have to work together to save Benedick’s younger brother and Melisande’s girls. Their attraction to each other is obviously undeniable and they end up falling for each other.

Although the story line is pretty predictable, the heavenly host angle is very interesting. I wouldn’t say the book was outstanding but it kept me engrossed and at no point was I bored with the book. Benedick and Melisande, are both very interesting characters. Obviously a rake like Benedick will be a hero only in romance novels. But that’s the beauty of it in my opinion. I tend to believe most of the crap when it comes to romance novels. I can believe that a rake like Benedick will leave his bad ways and settle down and be a one woman man when he finds the right one. Both the central characters struggle with their attraction to each other not wanting to accept it nor wanting to let it go. It’s a nicely developed romance for sure.

I believe I will track down the other books in this series after some time. After all good historical romance authors are hard to find.

Have you read anything by Anne Stuart before? What book or series would you recommend?

A Golden Age and the Good Muslim by Tahmima Aman

Today I’m reviewing two books together just because they are the first 2 books in a 3 book series and I feel the second cannot be read without the first.

Title: A Golden Age
Author: Tahmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Personal Shelf
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
In 1947, after Independence from the British, India was partitioned into India and Pakistan (east and West). East Pakistan was later named as Bangladesh after the 1971 war. Okay, as an Indian, I know all this. But my knowledge about the Bangladesh war of Independence is very limited. Forget about the war but even otherwise I knew very little about Bangladesh in spite of its proximity to India. So when my husband went to Bangladesh for work, I asked him to get me something written by a Bangladeshi author and he got A Golden Age. Honestly I couldn’t have selected a better book.

A Golden Age is about a Muslim woman called Rehana whose husband has expired and her children are forcefully handed over to the relatives as she was deemed unfit to raise her kids all alone. She works hard to get her kids back to Dhaka and succeeds but not without any sacrifices. The story actually begins when her kids are all grown up: Maya is a 17-year-old and Soheil is 19. Soheil and Maya are actively involved in student politics; Soheil is a very charming speaker and can pull crowds. When Pakistan attacks Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), Rehana does not want her children to get involved in the war in any way. She had to fight very hard to get them back from her relatives and she doesn’t want the war taking them away from her.

As the war comes closer to home and her children become involved to the point of leaving their homes and fighting for their country, we see all that Rehana has ever struggled for on the verge of falling to pieces. We also see her strength as a woman and her resolve to protect her children at all costs.

In A Golden Age, we don’t get to know the details of the war, we are always on the fringes. Our state is like Rehana’s, wanting to know what is happening and when it will all end. It is a human story, the story of a mother set against the backdrop of a war. I loved the authors writing, it took me to Bangladesh, to Dhanmondi and that period of struggle. I enjoyed reading this book immensely inspite of the serious topic. It was informative and entertaining. This is one book that I very highly recommend.

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Title: The Good Muslim
Author: Tehmima Aman
Genre: Fiction
Set in: Bangladesh
Source: Review Copy
Rating:4.5 out of 5

My thoughts:
The Good Muslim begins 10 years after A Golden Age ends. It felt right to review these 2 books together as the second one is the continuation of the first and without reading the first book  it is very difficult to understand the second. The war has ended, a new country, Bangladesh is formed and 10 years have passed. This book is from Maya’s point of view and she is now a women’s doctor in a remote village in Bangladesh, leaving her mother and brother, for reasons unknown at that point. Due to some unfortunate circumstances Maya has to return to Dhaka. She finds that a lot has  changed while she was away. Her brother has dedicated himself to Islam and he is no longer close to their mother. Soheil’s wife’s funeral is being held and he also has a son called Zaid who is 4 years old.

Soheil has begun to give religious sermons and has left his sons upbringing to a woman who works with him. She is as strict and religious as Soheil and Zaid is left without any education and anyone to look after him. Maya struggles to settle back in Dhaka and tries to comprehend the changes Soheil has gone through. She takes Zaid under her wing and tries to make his life better.
On the other hand, she also struggles to understand how people can forget how they struggled for Independence only a few years back and have moved on. She doesn’t want to move on. She wants to remember, not only all that happened but also how Soheil was before and during the war. She wants to understand what Soheil has gone through to affect him so much that he has to turn to religion. When Soheil decides to send Zaid to a Madrasa, Maya thinks she has to do something for Zaid.

In The Good Muslim we don’t get to know what’s going on in Rehana’s mind which was weird considering how tuned I was to her feelings in the first book. It felt uncomfortable not knowing what was going on in her mind. Nevertheless, Maya is an interesting character as well. The author has shown all her confusion, anger and frustration very well.

I loved this book equally if not more than A Golden Age. I thought without the war as a backdrop, the book would be boring but it wasn’t. Her writing is very beautiful yet very easy to read and get lost into. She takes you to the remote villages in Bangladesh as well as to the rapidly changing Dhaka with equal ease. Most of all it reminded me of home, of eating puchkas and drinking chai from a street vendor while looking at an ever changing landscape.

Tahmima Aman takes you into the heart of the country and into the heart of the people who reside there. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.

Note: A Golden Age is from my personal shelf while The Good Muslim is a review copy.

Atomic Weight of Secrets by Eden Unger Bowditch

Title: Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black (The Young Inventors Guild)
Author: Eden Unger Bowditch
Source: Review Copy
Genre: Young Adult
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Bancroft Press (March 15, 2011)
Rating: 4 out of 5

My Thoughts:
Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even more than I was expecting to. Being a Young Adult mystery novel about 5 young scientists I was sure it had some merits but what I loved the most about the book were the characters. In Atomic Weight of Secrets we have 5 smart, intelligent yet sweet and vulnerable kids from different parts of the world. They have all been mysteriously abandoned by their scientist parents and have been taken to a farm in Dayton, Ohio by some weird and funny looking men dressed in black.

We have Lucy and Jasper, a brother and sister duo; Lucy is the most charming and lovable of the lot. She is only 6 years old, naive and cute but also wise in her own way. Jasper is the caring older brother who takes care of Lucy and comforts her from time to time. Faye is an Indian who is very rich and spoilt. Wallace and Noah are also kids who are from well to-do families but have problems of their own. As they get to know each other, a bond is created between them as they realize each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Although the story gets bizarre at time, it will still keep you entertained. I was on the edge of my seat towards the end. I cannot wait to read what happens in the next book. It has something for everyone, kids will love reading about the adventure and the mysterious but over the top men in black, adults will also enjoy reading about young but intelligent kids.
Give it to your kids or read it yourself, either way its a treat.