Rajiv's Reviews

Wanted! by Caroline B. Cooney

book00009Wanted! by Caroline B. Cooney
Released: July 1st 1997
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
In a tense voice, Alice’s very rational father suggests that she drive his precious Corvette and meet him. But Alice doesn’t have a driver’s license. “It doesn’t matter!” he yells. Yet he never shows up. Something is very wrong.
Then Alice hears an announcement over the radio. Her father is dead. And someone has already confessed to his murder via E-mail.
That someone is Alice.
Everyone, including her mother, believes that Alice is guilty. The police are after her. And the real murderer is, too.
It’s only a matter of time before somebody catches her…

 

I feel like this book had a lot of potential for being a memorable fast paced thriller. The plot itself makes you want to pick it up and find out what happens next. However, after reading it, I felt like that I had wasted my time reading this lackluster thriller.

Firstly, I felt the pacing of the story was a bit haphazard and the storyline had a lot of unwanted information that was not needed. For instance, when Alice meets Paul, do we really need half a page of how she knew another Paul from school who was joining MIT? Or when she looks at the high tower offices and wonders how glass structure stays that way and if her dad worked in one of those buildings? Or how about describing how neat Ginger’s room is and spend another two pages of how it reminded her of her dad? I felt like for every action Alice was taking, we got an additional few pages description of how it reminded her of her father. I understand that Cooney probably did this to show that the character was mourning for her father and was in a confused state of mind, but it got monotonous to read it repeatedly.

Secondly, the ending was very disappointing. Considering that I spent around 220 pages reading about how Alice is a fugitive and doesn’t know how to stop the nightmare she’s in, I would have expected the climax to be a little more interesting and drawn out when Alice finally confronts the killer, but things just happened with a blink of an eye, and I just sat rolling my eyes thinking how everything just unbelievably wrapped up neatly in place in the last three pages.

Despite all this, I am giving this book 2.5 stars as the book did hold my interest in the second half where I kept wondering what Alice would do next and how the story would end. I feel like in these kind of thrillers, you really need to love the main character and root for them, but at times I really couldn’t care of what happened to Alice as I found her to be stupid and careless, but I can understand that’s probably how any teenager would have behaved in that situation.

Overall, “Wanted” is a quick read but not a very memorable one.

stars_2

Spring Break by Barbara Steiner

book00008Spring Break by Barbara Steiner
Released: December 01, 1997
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
Angie is looking forward to the perfect spring holiday with her four best friends. The only problem is all the cabins, shacks and motels in the village are full. Except one…

The Jamison place sits dark and mysterious on the edge of the cliff. Nursing a sinister past. When the unsuspecting five awaken the sleeping evil, there are deadly consequences…

One by one, Angie’s friends go missing, and somewhere, lurking in the shadows, someone or something is awaiting the next victim…


I used to love reading Point Horror, Fear Street, and well, mainly anything that R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike wrote. I still revisit some of these books from time to time, to see if it spooks me on re-reading it. While some of the books manage to give me the shivers even now (like the Babysitter book by Stine), I thought “Spring Break” was extremely boring.

Firstly, I found the main character of the book, Angie, to be very annoying. Throughout the book, I only got to see Angie getting jealous of her friends having a dating life, even though her friends are genuinely nice; bragging about how brave she is and is a go-getter compared to her friends; and worst of all, falling for some guy she hardly even knows just because he looks like Brad Pitt! I couldn’t find any likeable traits in this girl that made me want to root for her in the entire story.

Secondly, the book is SO slow! The story never seems to progress except for the last 30 or so pages when the girls finally decide to go attend the ‘party’. Otherwise the previous 150 pages mainly goes in this sequential loop: Angie meeting Val, she drools for him, he disappears, she gets depressed and gets jealous in seeing her friends coupled up, she hears strange noises in the guest house, and repeat. I started to fall asleep multiple times while reading this book, and had to force myself to continue.

The only saving grace about “Spring Break” is the ending. Even though I guessed who the culprit was, it was interesting to find the reason for why this person acted in this manner. Even the cover of the book was apt with the events that unfold in the climax, which usually doesn’t happen in Point Horror novels. Speaking of the cover, I thought the artwork for the cover was really cool, as it gives the perfect 80s horror vibe to it.

Overall, this was a tedious book that contains hardly any thrills or chills, and I would recommend any fan of the series to skip this one.

stars_2

Thornhill by Pam Smy

book00007Thornhill by Pam Smy
Released: August 29th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.
2016: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.


I loved how this book tells two stories in parallel from two different time frames, one through prose that happens in 1982, and the other through illustrations occurring in 2017. Coming to the story told through prose, the story is described in a simple manner through the diary entries of Mary, and how she struggles being bullied by one of the girls in Thornhill institute. As the story progressed, I was eagerly looking forward to Mary getting her revenge on the other girl who tormented and bullied her so much. While some people may find this book too negative because things don’t happen for Mary as you would like it to, it does depict the sad truth we face in our daily lives, where we realize that sometimes bad things happen, and you really cannot do anything to stop it, no matter how hard you try. It made me realize how many people there would be out there, who are extremely talented in their own way, but due to their circumstances, they really don’t get the recognition they deserve. However, having said this, I do wish that the story showed something nasty happening to the other girl, just to get a sense of satisfaction for the reader that she got what she deserved.

While I loved the illustrations depicting the present day story, the story itself did not make much sense to me. There are many questions I feel were not answered, like

  • Why is Ella curious to find out about Mary? Are they related?
  • Why is Ella sad? Did her parents get divorced and she does not have friends?

Perhaps these answers are depicted in the illustrations, but I couldn’t understand the reason for Ella’s motivation for going through all that trouble to find out more about Mary. However, the details in these illustrations themselves are hauntingly beautiful and I had to pause to look at each of them to admire the author’s talent.
Some of my favorite ones are:

book00007B

book00007A

 

This book isn’t really scary in terms of creating a gothic atmosphere, but it did leave me with a sense of discomfort and sadness upon finishing it. It is gripping and short enough to finish in one sitting, and I wouldn’t mind reading it again in the future.

45outof5

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

book00006Coraline by Neil Gaiman (10th Anniversary Edition)
Released: October 13th, 2013
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Source: Gift from Friend

Synopsis: 
Coraline’s often wondered what’s behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her “other” parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.

 

I received this book as a gift from a dear friend, as he knew I enjoyed reading young adult/suspense/thriller/horror novels. Since I have never read any of Neil Gaiman’s books before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew that “Coraline” had come out as a movie that was critically acclaimed as few years ago, but I haven’t watched the movie either so I wasn’t sure if I would like this book or not. Having said that, I really enjoyed reading “Coraline”. Gaiman’s style of writing is simplistic, unique, captivating and creepy at the same time. The story-line has interesting characters, good pacing, and a lot of creepy elements added to keep the reader turning to the next page.

One of the main reasons I liked this book was because of the main character, Coraline and how she interacts and reacts to the situations around her. Even though she is scared when realizes that she is trapped in the other world, she doesn’t succumb to defeat, and always tries to find a way to escape. Also, I’m not a cat person in general, but I found the cat ally of hers to be adorable, snarky, and humorous. I also found Miss Spink and Miss Forcible to be delightful, and would have loved it if the author had written an additional chapter on Coraline’s interaction with the “other” versions of them.

I disagree with some of the other reviewers out there saying that this is mainly a children’s book and not scary enough for adults. I found some parts to be extremely unnerving, like when the disfigured form of ‘other’ father approaches Coraline to trap her, or when the hand starts crawling around the house while Coraline is sleeping. However, this is a book meant for young adults as the target audience, hence the reader should not expect a Stephen King like story-line out of it.

Overall, “Coraline” is a wonderfully written book that tells young readers that sometimes people will tempt you with false promises and lies, but you should be smart and believe in yourself and do what is right, and have true friends who would support you along the way. Now it’s time for me to watch the movie and see which one is better (although I feel the book will be slightly better)

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The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang

book00005The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang
Released: May 2nd, 2017
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Aladdin
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together—one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.

When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.

 

The Emperor’s Riddle is an adventure tale of eleven year old Mia, as she tries to solve a series of riddles in Fuzhou, China, to seek an old Emperor’s treasure and help her search for her missing Aunt.

Personally, what I loved most was the way Zhang takes the reader on a tour of Fuzhou while the characters try to solve the riddles to the Emperor’s treasure. As I have never been to any of the places mentioned in the book, it was fascinating to get knowledge and visualize the historical places like Sanfang Qixiang, the White and Black Pagoda, the Ming Dynasty and the Cultural Revolution. Knowing that this was targeted towards younger readers, I liked the fact that she just touched the surface of the history and significant places (without getting into too much detail), thus creating a good blend of the story with the historical backdrop.

It was interesting to read how the main character Mia, who is a shy, sensitive and timid girl, goes about living the Grand adventure she always yearns. I also liked her relationship with her brother Jake and the way they fight and patch things together the book. The story itself is wonderfully written where Mia uses the help of the family in order to solve the riddles while getting close to them. The maps were an amusing touch added after Mia solved each of the clues.

Having said that, there are a few things that I felt could have been done better. Even though I could relate to Mia’s character, I personally didn’t like the way she treated her uncle throughout the book, especially since he was so nice to her. I wish Zhang had written a bit more to patch their relationship together. Secondly, while the riddles and the story was fun to read, it did seem unrealistic that Mia just happens to solve most of the clues in the first 3-4 days in a place she doesn’t even know well. The story felt rushed at times and I feel the author could have done a better job with the character development.

Overall, this was a delightful quick read that I would recommend to young readers.

35outof5

We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun, Susan Mullen

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We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun, Susan Mullen
Released: November 1, 2016
Format: Paperback
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
It’s the summer of 1982, and for Scott and Cath, everything is about to change.Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends for most of their lives. Now they’ve graduated high school, and Cath is off to college while Scott stays at home trying to get his band off the ground. Neither of them realized that their first year after high school would be so hard.

Fortunately, Scott and Cath still have each other, and it’s through their letters that they survive heartache, annoying roommates, family dramas, and the pressure of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they’ve ever wanted to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should think about being more than friends? One thing is clear: Change is an inescapable part of growing up, and we share unbreakable bonds with the friends who help us navigate it.


We are still Tornadoes
is a delightful book with each chapter completely in the form of hand written letters between the two protagonists, Scott and Catherine, set between 1982 to 1983. Being best friends since school, Cath has now joined college while Scott is now working in his dad’s clothing store. The story shows how Cath and Scott deal with new relationships, scandals, follow their dreams, cope with family loss and find themselves over this one year.

To begin with, this book immediately hooked me with the writing style. Being that each chapter is uniquely described through letters between Scott and Cath, I felt personally connected to the characters and could easily relate to them. The pacing is smooth and gradual (for the most part), and we see how Scott and Cath help each other deal with the problems they are faced with. More than Cath, I loved Scott’s character, and how he matures in the book. Being a fan of 80s music, the musical references thrown in were a treat. There are some laugh-out-loud moments (like when Cath throws up in her dad’s car) as well as some tear jerker moments (particularly when reading the fantastic lyrics to Scott’s original songs).

However, there are a few flaws in this book that made me disappointed upon finishing it. Firstly, the ending felt too rushed. This might be a possible spoiler alert, but while reading, I thought Scott and Cath were just friends and nothing more. So it really irked me when their relationship suddenly progressed in the blink of an eye in the last few pages. The authors could have just ended the story without doing this, or if they did want to have a happy ending, they should have made this more gradual. Instead, I felt like they became lazy and forced the last few pages on the reader just to get some closure.

Secondly, while I loved the way the story was written, the downside is that we don’t get a clear description of their surroundings, insight to their families and know what exactly happens when Scott and Cath meet in person. Apart from this, there were some pages here and there where I felt like nothing was really happening, and the dialogue between the two felt repetitious.

Still, this is a very cute book that is definitely worth reading once.

35outof5

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna

book00004

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna
Released: August 18, 2015
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
Good morning, it’s 6 a.m. and I am wide awake because the man of the house has decided that he needs to perform a series of complex manoeuvres that involve him balancing on his left elbow.
When I fell asleep last night, there was a baby lying next to me. Her smelly diaper is still wedged on my head but aside from this rather damp clue, I can’t seem to find her anywhere. I could ask my mother-in-law if she has seen the baby, but she may just tell me that I need to fast on alternate Mondays, and God will deliver the baby back to me
Full of wit and delicious observations, Mrs Funnybones captures the life of the modern Indian woman—a woman who organizes dinner each evening, even as she goes to work all day, who runs her own life but has to listen to her Mummyji, who worries about her weight and the state of the country. Based on Twinkle Khanna’s super-hit column, Mrs Funnybones marks the debut of one of our funniest, most original voices.

This was a fairly quick read and I managed to finish it in one sitting. While a few readers out there cribbed that this book is just a collection of published posts from her column, I had never read her columns before so all these narratives were new to me. I enjoyed her style of writing, and I think she does have a good sense of humor in a sarcastic way. There are some instances which genuinely made me laugh out loud, like when her son says he can make anyone pregnant, or when they are travelling in the plane and smell dirty diapers, or when she talks about her weight issues.

Having said that, I feel Twinkle tries too hard to be funny at times. While there are some witty moments here and there, I felt like a lot of the anecdotes were put in to fill the pages. Maybe the humor is not my cup of tea, but I was rolling my eyes while reading past some of her stories, like how clichéd she makes Germans sound, or how she makes most of the Indian come across as illiterate fools (for the sake of being funny).

Also, there is also no consistency towards the tone of the book, as one chapter is a quirky tale, but the following chapter talks about death and suicide, and the one after goes to a flashback to her college days. This is the main reason I started disliking the book. If I had read her columns prior to reading this book, I would have given this a lower rating, as it seems like a lazy attempt to bring in more cash by randomly throwing stories from your column, putting it together without any order, and publishing it.

Overall, this book was an average light read and easily forgettable. While I actually rate this book only 2.5 stars for its content, I have to give an additional star for the cute illustrations scattered across all the chapters. Kudos to the illustrator for nicely animating this book.

35outof5

It’s All in the Planets by Preeti Shenoy

It’s All in the Planets by Preeti Shenoy
Released: September 15, 2016
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Westland
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
Meet Aniket, Twenty-seven, techie, Mr. Average. His best friend is Subbu, a nerd who breathes, thinks and lives code. Aniket cannot believe his luck when he starts dating Trish – a stunning, sexy model, who is totally out of his league. But Trish has a list of things she wants him to work on, beginning with his pot belly and his geekiness.
Then there’s Nidhi, thirty-two, who has quit her corporate job to follow her passion. She is engaged to Manoj, Mr.Perfect – except for one aspect.
Aniket and Nidhi meet on a train, a chance encounter, and she agrees to become his ‘relationship coach’. It’s a decision that sets into motion a chain of events that will have a profound impact on the lives of all involved.
One man, two women, and the trap called Destiny.Some things, they say, are all in the planets.


“When it comes to relationships, how many of us are certain? How can we be sure of the person we are marrying? So many things can change. The person we marry might change, we might change. There are no guarantees in life, more so in relationships. They are always carpeted with uncertainty. And yet, we all want to get married. We want a happily-ever-after. We see relationships around us breaking up all the time. And we say, ‘No, but we are different. That won’t happen to us.’ Isn’t it strange?”

This is the first book I read of Preeti Shenoy, and I love her style of writing. The story is simple yet compelling; the characters are charming; and there are some surprise twists and turns that makes the book hard to put down.  Each chapter is written from the point of view of Aniket or Nidhi, the two main leads, so it was interesting to read how the same situation is interpreted from both their perspective.

The main protagonists, Nidhi and Aniket, are sweet, quirky and down to earth that we can relate to. Even the supporting characters like their parents, Trish, Manoj, Subbu and Darshita are fun to read. In fact, I thought Trish was a very interesting and complex character, and would have loved to have some chapters from her perspective as well to see why she behaved that way. Even though this is considered as romance fiction, there is actually not much romance in it, as most of the book is about the strong friendship developed between Aniket and Nidhi (that doesn’t involve any romance), which is what made this such an enjoyable read. The author also provides some interesting tidbits on relationships such as life-mates vs. soul-mates, compromises etc. through Nidhi’s blog entries, and overlays the story-line with her thoughts on the fates and destiny.

Overall, this is a fun, easy read that manages to touch on human emotions, and I loved it!

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics

The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
Released: September 27, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.
When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

This seemed like a perfect book to read close to Halloween as it has all the elements needed for a perfect Horror Book: A creepy mansion, strange characters, mysterious disappearances and gory murders.

The story is well written (for most part), and I enjoyed the steady pacing of the storyline that had me engrossed throughout. There are some cleverly designed plot twists that I did not see coming, and some of these twists had gruesome details that made me cringe. While I didn’t have any issues with the grisly details, the only part of the writing that I found puzzling was the consistency in the setting. In some parts of the book, it felt like the story is taking place a long time ago, but then in some scenes, the characters curse foul language and use the internet etc. which I thought didn’t fit well with the setup.

The characters are well written, and I enjoyed the conflict between Lucy and Margaret. In fact, I liked Margaret’s character more than Lucy, as she seemed truly psychotic and on the edge, and I had no idea what she would do to Lucy. I also enjoyed Vanessa’s character, and wished that she was involved more in the book. While I didn’t have any issues with Lucy as such, I thought the girl was whiny and suicidal and not that strong to be the main character in the book.

I was disappointed towards the end of the book, mainly because all the revelations provided were not very clear, the pacing seemed rushed, and the author didn’t provide closure to the storyline. It was as Amy Lukavics got tired of writing towards the end, and just wanted to finish it somehow. Considering how well the story is written for most of the book, I wish it had ended with the same consistency and a better explanation for the events.

Overall, this was a pretty good book to read, but one that is easily forgettable.

Master of the Game by Sidney Sheldon

Master of the Game by Sidney Sheldon
Released: August 1982
Series: The Game #1
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow & Co
Source: Amazon

Synopsis: 
Kate Blackwell, the enigma and head of Kruger-Brent Ltd is celebrating her ninetieth birthday with her (to put it mildly) dysfunctional family and starts to recall the scandals, blackmails, murders and ghosts from her past. Flashback to four generations of the McGregor/Blackwell saga, that begins with Jamie McGregor’s entry into South Africa as a diamond prospector and his feud with Salomon Van Der Merwe on the quest for attaining diamonds, and how he raises to power in South Africa with the help of his friend Banda. The storyline then continues with Kate Blackwell, Jamie’s daughter who becomes obsessed with the power of Kruger-Brent, and manipulates David Blackwell, Brad Rogers, and her own son Tony to doing what she thinks is best for the company, even if it means demolishing their dreams and desires. However, she is no match for her granddaughter Eve Blackwell, whose main aim is to plot devious ways of eliminating her twin sister Alexandra to get complete control of the empire.

This was the very first adult fiction book I read in my teens and re-reading it has the same impact on me now as it did back then. I absolutely loved it! This book is truly a page turner and you won’t be able to put it down once you start. The writing is simple, and the pacing of the storylines sweeps you off your feet from the get go. This book literally has everything! You want action and adventure, you get daredevil escapades of guys beating sharks, dodging land-mines and floating across deadly reefs. How about Revenge, Romance, Blackmail, murders, lust, greed, deceit, and betrayal with exotic locations of South Africa and Europe? This book has it all!

The characters are all larger than life and slightly unrealistic, but well written and makes the reader love them or love to hate them. I felt bad for Tony, and the way he loses control when he finds himself trapped in the web of lies. I despised Eve’s character, and kept thinking how low she would go to partner with someone who treated her like that. However, she was great fun to read her compared to Alexandra, who seemed to be a complete bore. As much as I detested Kate at times, she was by far my favorite in the book, as you can’t help but root for her when she determinedly keeps searching for the next heir to the throne. I was rather surprised by how raunchy some of the subject matter was, considering that this book came out in this early 80s. The character of George Miller just made my jaw drop and go WTF.

Most of Sidney Sheldon’s works from the 80s are over the top, soap opera styled novels that keeps the reader hooked, and he truly is a “Master of the Game” in writing this one. Overall, MOTG is captivating read, and has motivated me to pick up the next one in the series “Mistress of the Game”.

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