Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review, Received for Review

The Monster who Wasn’t by T.C. Shelley

Statistics

Format: Paperback

Length: 271 pages

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishers

Date of Publication: 8th August, 2019

Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received an uncorrected copy of the book in return for an honest review


When Bloomsbury offered a choice of titles for review, I was drawn to this book. As an avid reader of Fantasy, I sometimes feel like I can predict the story when I read the blurb. This is one of the few books where I had no idea where the author would lead us to and that made me want to read the book at any cost.

I like reading uncorrected proofs sometimes. They give an insight to the author’s creative process as well as an idea of what goes into editing. But with this book, I have a feeling that the published book would have had a lot of cool artwork which was missing in my copy. I hope I get to see them some time in the future.


The Blurb

It is a well-known fact that fairies are born from a baby’s first laugh. What is not as well documented is how monsters come into being …

This is the story of a creature who is both strange and unique. When he hatches down in the vast underground lair where monsters dwell, he looks just like a human boy – much to the disgust of everyone watching. Even the grumpy gargoyles who adopt him and nickname him ‘Imp’ only want him to steal chocolate for them from the nearby shops. He’s a child with feet in both worlds, and he doesn’t know where he fits.

But little does Imp realise that Thunderguts, king of the ogres, has a great and dangerous destiny in mind for him, and he’ll stop at nothing to see it come to pass….

The Book

The book hooked me in right from the beginning. The technicalities of the birth of a monster had enough of realism mixed with the fantasy aspect to feel like its something that could possibly happen. I wasn’t sure if I liked the protagonist in the beginning but as the story progressed I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He is sweet, loving and innocent and all his decisions are based on what his heart tells is right.

As soon as the Gargoyles came into the story, I fell in love with them. I am a sucker for characters with a gruff exterior and molten chocolate insides. I kept waiting for one of the ‘good’ characters in the story to betray the Imp because they gave off that kind of vibes. It is a reflection on the author’s storytelling prowess that she kept me guessing who that character would be till the very end. I was curious to see how the author would handle introducing multiple fantasy creatures and if the story would get lost in the details but that was not the case.

I loved how unpredictable the story was. Although it has been categorised as ‘Middle Grade’ it could very easily sell as Young Adult and wow the target audience. The concepts of loss and guilt, of the need to belong and the camaraderie shown by the characters will definitely interest a wide age range. The book is equal parts funny and sad. The dialogues are witty and sassy. It was a brilliant read especially as a debut novel and I can’t wait to see what the author comes up with.

The Author

T.C. Shelley studied Creative Writing and Literature at University. She has been teaching English for over twenty years and her first school was classified as the most remote in Australia. She loves an audience and long before she took up teaching was writing and performing her poetry and short stories. 

Shelley began writing novels to entertain her daughter, who wisely suggested that she try to get them published.

She lives with her husband, her daughter and two dogs in Perth, Western Australia. She loves to travel and isn’t frightened of being lost. 


TL;DR: A brilliantly written debut that keeps you on your toes


Have you loved any grey character that can be classified as ‘the monster who wasn’t’?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

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Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review, Received for Review

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle)

Length: 416 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction

Date of Publication: 9th July, 2019

Publisher: Knopf Books

Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of the book from Penguin Random House Global via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review


I kept seeing cover reveals and other publicity for Spin the Dawn all over bookstagram and I really wanted to get my hands on it. Given my recent reading slump, I wasn’t sure if pre-ordering it would be such a good idea. So when I saw that Penguin Random House had sent a pre-approved Netgalley link to the book, I was over the moon. I was so ecstatic that I immediately started reading it and that was the end of my reading slump, at least for now.


The Blurb

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

The Book

The first of The Blood of Stars series, the book started off with a beautiful description of rural China and the rules that govern the people. I have recently been obsessed with reading Asian literature. The family values, the division of labour both at home and outside it, the simplicity of life, were all reminiscent of things that I love about it.

I was very excited to read about the tailor trials. As a crafter who works with yarn, I was intrigued by the things that Maia comes up with. I just wish that the trials were described in more detail but seeing that it wasn’t the main focus of the story, I think that part was reasonably well written. Edan was designed for readers to fall in love with. What’s not to love about the beautiful, powerful, mysterious young man who seems to have a heart of gold? He sees right through everything and makes sure that he protects those who need protecting. I just wish that Maia did not need to depend on Edan as much as she did in the beginning. But she redeemed herself in my eyes towards the latter half of the book.

Although the middle of the book was a tad predictable, I think it had more to do with the fact that I have read so many YA Fantasy over the last couple of years that I saw the plot unfold even before it did. I loved how the sun-moon-and-stars trials were described. The world building there was phenomenal. I was rooting for the couple till the very end and I cannot wait for the sequel to be published!

The Author

Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online.

Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel and she hasn’t looked back since. 


TL;DR: A fun and quick read that will make you wish that the sequel was already out


What’s your favorite YA trope?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review, Received for Review

Nagin by Mayur Didolkar

Statistics

Format: Paperback IMG_20180527_124537-01-min.jpeg

Length: 273 pages

Genre: Supernatural, Thriller, Mythological

Publisher: Juggernaut Books

Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review


I have read Hush A Bye Baby and Animal Farm online on the Juggernaut app. So when they offered to send a paperback to me I was pleasantly surprised. I like stories set in mythology and decided to give this a read.

The author also gives credit to local legends and stories that have been passed from generation to generation which is a rare thing to see. I was glad that he felt the need to give credit where credit was due.


The Author

Mayur Didolkar runs a financial services business in Pune. A fan of popular fiction, he has published two novels and several short stories. He writes for Swarajya and The Quint. Mayur tries his hand at stand-up comedy occasionally and has run two full-marathons.

A crime and horror writer, the possibility of things going dreadfully, irrevocably wrong in ordinary situations inspires his work.

His work include-

  1. The Dark Road (2017)
  2. Tears for Strangers

The Blurb

Loving wife, obedient daughter, loyal friend.
But if you provoke her, she will raise her hood and spit poison.

A woman is stalked by a man she had once rejected. A housewife discovers a plot to kill her husband. A blind young girl is chased by an underworld gang.

But these are no ordinary women.
Some of them aren’t even women.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

The Book

Nagin consists of nine short stories (eight from the present book with a bonus from the author’s upcoming series) that revolve around Ichhadhari nags and nagins, Vidharbas, Bhinna Nishacharas and the monster hunters- wyadhas. I was a bit skeptical in the beginning since I am against all things superstitious but then I decided to keep an open mind about the book. If you read it at face value, without bringing science into it, it reads as a really good book. It is well written and you don’t see the twists coming even if you think you do.

There are plenty of occurrences that happen everyday that defy science and the stories here should be read as one of them. The stories manage to give you chills especially ‘Ranbhool’ and ‘Haka Mari’. The one titled ‘Laughing Hearts’ was very detailed regarding how the world of stand-up comedy works and that makes sense now that I know that the author has tried his hand at stand-up comedy.

The book reminded me of the TV series Supernatural that I used to follow very religiously until last year. The shape shifters, the monsters, the hunters, the wit, the planning and the execution were very Sam-and-Dean-ish and I loved it despite thinking to myself “Yeah, like that’s going to happen!”

I was glad that the author researched real legends and based his stories on them rather than reinventing the wheel. The fact that he gave credit to those old stories raised my opinion of him ten fold. In a day where people have stopped believing in the supernatural and where science has advanced enough to provide an answer to many of life’s mysteries, it is nice to be reminded of such stories that have been passed on from generation to generation.

It is a fun exercise to try to see what made the people of that era think up of such legends. The wasting of the body and extreme susceptibility to infections after exchange of bodily fluids with a Visha Kanya could very well be an example of people suffering from AIDS after unprotected sex. While it is easy for us to dismiss all stories of the old, it is interesting to see that some may have a bearing even in the present day and age.


TL;DR: A quick and fun read that deals with the supernatural and gives you chills along the way


Do you like stories steeped in superstition and legends of the olde?

What are some of the stories that you heard as a child that still give you chills?

Tell me more in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review

Ruined by M. C. Frank

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle)

Length: 312 pages

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC PDF copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review


Ruined is a tale set in the period of Regency and is a retelling of Jane Eyre. The story revolves around Beatrice Devon, a down on her luck young lady of nineteen who sets out to seek employment in London. Lady luck smiles down on her and she is employed by His Grace, Dominic Edward Halifax, the 9th Duke of Ashton to be the Governess of his ward, the spoilt Adelina Halifax. How Beatrice deals with the disciplining of the child and manages to form new relationships despite her past is what makes up the entirety of the book.


The author

M. C. Frank is an author, reader, teacher and physicist. She has always lived in the world of stories and began her writing career with a magazine. She is now a freelance editor-in-chief and her work include:

  1. No ordinary star series
    • No ordinary star
    • No plain rebel
    • No vain loss
  2. Lose me
  3. Ruined
  4. Everything I do
  5. Darcy and Elizabeth
  6. Ardently
  7. The light princess and other stories
  8. Persuasion (a coloring book)

The book

Most of the re-tellings that I have come across are written with a pompous hand. It was however, a pleasant surprise to find that Ruined managed to hold its own as a story while paying due diligence to the era that it was set in. The comparison with Jane Eyre is seen in the fact that the heroine of the story suffers through a not-so-ideal childhood to become a Governess and falls in love with her master. The language is believable, as are the scenes in the story which brings to notice the amount of research that the author must have done prior to writing the book.

I am a sucker for a strong female character and Miss Devon impressed me with her presence of mind and unfaltering belief in herself. While in the beginning it felt like she was a little too prone to fainting and crying fits, as the story progresses, it became clear that she is entitled to her occasional frailties. The darkness of her past is introduced without jarring the reader and the reason for people’s reactions are explained in terms of their past experiences without taking away from the main story. I especially loved the way the past and the present were interwoven without confusing the reader. Each scene was analysed from the point of view of everyone that was involved in it without being repetitive.

The strength and humor that Beatrice displays despite the horrors of her past are very inspiring but I wish that she was not so secretive about her past and hadn’t felt the need to sacrifice herself for it. I also did not love the character of Dominic. He was far too detached in the beginning to have undergone such a transformation by the end of the book. I did not enjoy the repeated use of the word ‘child’ when spoken to a lover although I took it in its stead as a colloquial use of the word. I enjoyed the tantrums of Adelina and the way it was dealt with. It was refreshing to come across the childishness amidst the dark undercurrents that ran through the story.

Favorite characters:

Beatrice: Her bravery was very inspiring and will resonate with a lot of people who have had to deal with similar issues.

Adelina: Although she was a spoilt little brat, she was very lovable.

Lady Augusta: A strong character with a kind heart. What’s not to love?

Characters that I did not like:

Dominic: The turn around time for his character’s change of heart was too short to be believable to me.

Characters that I wish were developed more:

Lord Burns: I wish he had played a bigger role throughout the book. The kindness that he shows was very endearing.

Adelina: All she was described as was a pretty little girl with dimples. I wish the story dealt with the loss of her parents and her own childhood that was sure to have been miserable.


TL;DR: A beautiful story with dark undercurrents that is sure to keep you glued to the pages


Have you read re-tellings of other books? What are your favorites? Suggest a few such books for me to read. Comment below or tell me on Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review

Undelivered Letters by J. Alchem

Statistics

Format: Kindle

Length: 70 pages

Time taken to read: 1 hour

Rating: 2/5 stars

Disclaimer: I won an Amazon giftcard to buy Undelivered Letters in an Instagram Giveaway.


The Author

J. Alchem has written for magazines and papers and his stories have been published in Anthologies like Blank Space, Love Bytes and Mighty Thoughts. He was the 2014 storyteller as well as the winner of 2015 and 2016 NaNoWriMo. He writes quotes and short write-ups and has also signed a contract for a short movie based on his short stories.


Blurb

“Aron, a postman with Marioson Postal Service, found an abandoned bag. It had a few letters that were supposed to be delivered – 20 years ago. He had a choice, either to deliver them now or abandon them forever. He chooses the former.

What were these letters all about? Who wrote them? Who are the recipients? Do these letters still carry a value, after 20 years?”

Published in October 2017, Undelivered Letters is available as a Kindle Edition and is soon to be published as a paperback. It has been nominated for “The Best eBook of the Year” by SMania and “The Best Concept of the Year” by LitOscar.


A short book that I finished in an hour or so, Undelivered Letters has the potential to be a great book. In it’s current state however, it leaves a lot to be desired. Grammatical inconsistencies aside, the story was over simplified and predictable.

I wish the story was developed more and the author had conducted some research. There was no reason to base it in America and then be inconsistent with things like a small town judge wearing the ‘rolled up wig of white hair‘ which American judges stopped wearing in the early 19th Century. A bit of hard-nosed research would have easily resolved this. This book brings home to me the saying “write what you know”. Inconsistencies such as Americans calling a ‘University’ as a ‘college’, while seemingly negligible, jars a serious reader and disrupts the flow. Attention to such detail would have made a lot of difference to the feel of this book. I am of the opinion that, had the story been played out in a setting that was more familiar to the author, it might have been easier to swallow.

At the end of the book, the author claims that the paperback version will have more letters and more backstory to each character which I think will greatly help its cause.


TL;DR: Not a great read but the potential of the story is apparent.


Have you found any good short stories? I don’t usually like short stories. Most of them leave far too many loose ends for my satisfaction.

Waiter There’s a Clue in my Soup by Camille LaGuire is one my favouite short story books. Do you have a favourite? Suggest some in the comments below for me to review or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review

Gregory and the Grimbockle by Melanie Schubert

I received a digital copy of Gregory and the Grimbockle from Melanie Schubert in exchange for an honest review. It is a new venture by the debut author and New Wrinkle publishing with illustrations by Abigail Kraft and soundtrack designed specifically for individual chapters by Jared Kraft.


Blurb

Ten-year-old Gregory is about to find out that the enormous mole stuck straight beneath his nose is not just a mole, but is actually a humpy crumpy portal of skin that hides a creature called the Grimbockle.

What’s more? The Grimbockle is just one of the many strange little creatures called Bockles tending to the mysterious threads that connect all humans from one to the other. It is a very important job and one that has long been carried out with incredible secrecy…

…that is, before tonight.


Gregory and the Grimbockle is a book designed for middle graders of the 8 to 12 year age group but it makes a great short read for adults as well. The sentence structure and the flow of the book reminded me of Enid Blyton books and I read the whole book in the voice of the girl from The BFG. I was also reminded of Roald Dahl for the magical setting but without the inherent darkness of his books. The reiterating rhyming reminded me of Dr. Suess books but this one had more substance to it.

The book tells a story of 10 years old Gregory, a “bloomberbine”  who finds that a Grimbockle uses his mole as a ‘humpy crumpy portal of skin’ to make its home. The boy befriends the creature in a totally non-self-conscious way that only children can. While interacting with the Grimbockle, he learns that the bockles mend exoodles of ‘hoo-mans‘. Exoodles that are now being damaged because  humans have forgotten how to maintain friendships and relationships in the modern era.

The beauty of the book lies in the scene build up and the camaraderie that it creates. The story and sentence structure are not too hard for middle graders to follow but at the same time gently introduce a variety of new words and concepts that the children can easily grasp. The book gives us brilliant lessons on being happy with the appearance of our body and the importance of working on our relationships with family and friends. With Ethel and Ted, it teaches the necessity of looking beyond first impressions. It says that love conquers all and we should give people, even ones that are rude, a second and sometimes a third chance. It gives the children a reasoning for people’s meanness and shows that even when people seem uncaring or downright nasty, they can still carry inside them a softness that can be brought to the foreground with our nice gestures. People that are dark, hard, crusty and sad can be helped with our love and they deserve politeness and our good company.

The illustrations are beautifully made, simple and elegant. I can see it captivating children’s interests just as much as the actual story. It will definitely play a role in interesting younger children and adults into reading the book. I personally don’t like reading with music on but it might be a good addition for when we want to read the story aloud to children. Seeing that the book was created for them, a lot of children could be enticed into cultivating a reading habit with the help of appropriate music. The sound track that accompanies the book is very soothing and keeps in mind the mood of each chapter. My favorite was the score called The Exoodle Expressway. It was very upbeat and trilling.


Best feature: A wonderfully woven story with great lessons for children (and adults) without seeming condescending or preachy. It gives such feel-good vibes that I just wanted to gather my little nieces and nephews around and read the book out aloud to them. The illustrations were on point as well.


What are some of the books that were designed for children that you loved? Tell me in the comments below or on @the_food_and_book_life