And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

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 Pages: 463 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 4.03
My Rating: 3.92

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And The Mountains Echoed (ATME) tells a story of Abdullah and his sister, Pari who lived in a small village of Shadbagh. Abdullah loved his sister so much that he would do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. And one day, something happened.

The format of ATME is completely different from Hosseini’s previous works. The book has nine chapters and each chapter tells a different story which was connected to the lives of Abdullah and Pari. It’s more like a collection of short stories. The book spanned over 50 years and it traveled from Shadbagh to Kabul, into the streets of Paris, across the sky into Greece, and California. Each chapter introduced a wide range of characters with their own secrets and stories which were masterfully portrayed by Hosseini. At first, I was annoyed with the format as each chapter was distinctly different to the following chapters, and it took me awhile to familiarize myself with the format. But later, I don’t know how Hosseini did it, but the inscrutableness of each chapter charmed me as the drama unfolded towards the end.

Many people think that this book isn’t as great as his previous books and yeah, I felt the same. Even though the stories were great, I think some parts were unnecessary as it lacked connection to the main characters, Pari and Abdullah. Some parts were somewhat prolonged and I got lost somewhere around there. But then, there was something fascinating in each story; it felt REAL, the emotions were beguiling and raw. The secrets in each story, their thoughts, their different ways in thinking about life, their behaviours and the relationships between characters – they awed me, they repeatedly broke and mended my heart. They made me think on how I should treat the people I love. They also made me think on how I should live my life.

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Even though, there weren’t much details of the wars in Afghanistan in this book, Hosseini always fascinates me with his ability in interweaving fictional story with historical background. From this book, I found that the lifestyle in Afghanistan was constantly changing through different period and different place. For example, in 1950s – 1960s, the strides were made towards a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, particularly in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul. Meanwhile, the conservative factions were mostly located at the smaller and rural areas. Progress was halted in the 1970s as a series of coups and civil wars took place and in 1990s, when the Taliban was in power. These weren’t described in details but it gave a glimpse of the changing happened in Afghanistan.

All in all, I’m enthralled by this book. The stories, the feels and the ending – they are just perfect.

Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

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                                                                                   Pages: 266 pages
                                                               Genre: Young Adult, General Fiction
                                                                           Goodreads Rating: 3.98
                                                                                   My Rating: 4.2

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Hephzibah and Rebecca are twins. One beautiful, one disfigured. Trapped with their loveless parents, they dream of a normal life. But when one twin tragically dies, the other must find a way to escape. Because if she doesn’t, she’ll end up like her sister (Source: Goodreads)

Black Heart Blue is a gripping tale of twin sisters, Hephzi and Rebecca, who have been subjected to abuse and religious extremism in their own family. I like how distinctive the main characters are: Hephzi, the extroverted one, bold at the outside but most fragile at heart and then Rebecca, her twin sister, who suffered Treacher Collins Syndrome, who seemed fragile but actually was a strong-willed child in protecting her sister. They are glaringly different but they complemented each other well.

I loved how the chapters perfectly interlaced between the ‘before’ which was told from Hephzi’s perspective and the ‘after’, which was told from Rebecca’s. I loved how every chapter of this book explores every range of emotions suffered by the twin sisters. I didnt weep as I read this but I did feel suffocated at times – the cruelty and the sufferings are just too much. The author’s style of writing is SO simple, it doesn’t beautify the story but it certainly matched the atmosphere of the book which was real and horrifying.

The story is medium-paced, it sometimes got too fast but thank God the author didnt jumble up things, unrealistically. The only issue I have with this book is the lack in depth but the shifting of the plot swifted so seamlessly, it managed to conceal the flaw. Last but not least, I loved this book and I’m certain, this is the kind of book that will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended!

Out of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys

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Pages: 346 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Goodreads Rating: 4.06
My Rating: 4.3

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-11-09-45-pmOut of The Easy tells us the story of Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans in the 1950s. Josie felt that everything is going against her – ultimately, her mother who never gave a damn about her. However, Jo is blessed by having Willie, the bad ass yet the loving madame of the brothel and her great and wonderful friends. Each of the characters was vibrantly unique and it felt so alive – My favourite character is, of course Josie and the uh, ice queen, Willie.

Josie is a great character, and we can learn a lot from her – she is bold, strong and very loyal. Even when she was being tormented by her fate, she is always trying to do the right thing. Josie is by far one of the strongest female characters I have read. In this book, in order to support herself, Josie worked at a book store owned by Charlie and became acquainted with Patrick. The first quarter of the book kept on making literary references and it made me REALLY REALLY REALLY excited!!! Among the literary references were Keats’ poems, Little Women, Pride & Prejudice, Whats Eating Gilbert Grape and so many more! They even made bookish guesses and oh my, they were so relatable! 

The pacing is perfect and all the events come together so seamlessly but I didnt really like the ending, the beginning of the book was fun and intriguing but at the end, it kind of spluttered out and the flames died – I mean it ended *poof* just like that, it felt like there were too many things unresolved. Plus, I felt like the closure of the big “mystery” was a bit disappointing. But nah, despite the oh-kay-ending, I absolutely LOVED this book. Wont be my last of Sepetys. Highly recommended!

 

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

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Pages: 244 pages
Genre: General Fiction, Japanese Literature
Goodreads Rating: 3.67
My rating: 4.2

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-10-42-10-amAfter Dark is set within nocturnal dark hours – from 11:56pm to 6:52am. It follows a few characters on their adventures which strangely, connected to each other during the night. it centers around two sisters, Mari and Eri, who never knew each other really well and it leads to other characters, Takahashi, a jazz trombonist, a female hotel manager and her two staffs, a Chinese prostitute who was savagely brutalized by a businessman and a Man With No Face. Like any Murakami works, it deals largely with coincidence, randomness and alienation.

The narrative is strangely interesting. It’s told from a third person view, in the role of an imaginary video camera – it felt almost like a dreamlike screenplay, complemented with a set of vivid details and a very surreal storyline. Now, the storyline – it is Murakami, so don’t expect a full blown plot, packed with actions or a dramatic plot twist. It’s just a simple story, like nothing exactly happened and no real closure.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-10-47-05-amIt is a well-paced story and I like how the story kept me in check with the time. I love how profoundly odd the book is and strangely, it’s the oddness that sucked me into the story. I was left guessing at every turn, not able to guess what Murakami actually intended to convey – which somewhow frustates me.

But that is the thing about Murakami is, he don’t beat the readers with explanations, instead he leaves the atmosphere of mystery until the very last page, which is oddly satisfying.

The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

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Pages: 417 pages
Genre: General Fiction
Goodreads Rating: 4.04
My Rating: 3.6

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The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle’s suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle—her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family—described a woman who embraced life – yet there was so much they didn’t know (Source: Goodreads)

Alright, here is the thing. I have been a really BIG fan of Diane Chamberlain over the years. She has the power of creating emotional and deep-wrecked stories than anyone I’ve ever read and second, what keeps me sticking to her books is the fact that she always provide the readers with new things to learn regarding history, places & medical stuffs. Yes, if you like Jodi Picoult, Chamberlain might become your favourite author as well.

However – I am sorry, I felt a bit disappointed with this book. It is too fast paced and all things were jumbled unrealistically. Something kept on happening until my mind couldnt cope with the story anymore, it felt too much. I enjoyed the story, it was emotional and nerve-wracking, but I wish Chamberlain would have focus on the main thing, in depth, rather than trying to make it “alright I will shove all the emotional shits here” which unfortunately lacked in depth.

Now, the characters and the POV. Some of the characters didnt really click though. For example, Noelle and Sam’s feelings towards each other. Sam’s feelings towards Tara. I couldnt feel the depth, it felt dry and at times, tedious. Secondly, about the POV. I dont have any problem with different POVs in this book but something really bugged me off – Tara, how Tara is awkwardly different in her own POV and from Grace’s POV. Its like two different persons & this certainly turned me off.

Despite the disappoinments, I still loved this book. The suspense and emotions created by the author never failed to keep me at the edge of my sitting. The plot twist – there are too many predictable twists but the major one, I REALLY DIDNT SEE IT COMING. And Chamberlain also never fails to provide us with new things to be learned, although there is not much in this book – about midwifery and gestational surrogate. And this certainly WONT be my last book of Chamberlain.