Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Odd is only a boy of twelve when he runs away from home to live on his own. His father passed away, his mother remarried, and his step-father doesn’t particularly like him. Trying to fend for himself, one day, Odd is visited by a fox who has a mission for him.

A short read, this book is adventurous and lighthearted. With a simple enough plot and a straightforward writing style, Neil Gaiman’s story is one that both middle-graders and adults would like.

Copyright © 2022 Meera Nair

I was delighted to read it and finished the book in one sitting.

If you haven’t read many books on Norse mythology, you could very well start with this. The story features 3 Norse gods – Thor, Odin, and Loki – who rely on Odd to save the day and help the city of Asgard.

I like the chosen-one trope when it’s executed well. So it was interesting to follow along as Odd uses his intellect to confront the Frost Giant.

It also has illustrations, which makes it a perfect gift for a young reader.

Looking for short books to read? This one should be on your TBR list!

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

When Li Lan receives a proposal to be a ghost bride, she pays no heed. But her acquaintance with the Lim family introduces her to Tian Bai, the cousin of the deceased Lim heir.

Caught between her attraction toward Tian Bai and being haunted by Tian Ching, she is inadvertently thrust into the afterworld and must tread a long journey before her time on Earth is up.

I was so mesmerized reading this book that I can’t seem to move on from it. A part of my mind keeps lingering on various scenes.

Copyright © 2022 Meera Nair

The Ghost Bride is an Asian fantasy-historical fiction that is brimming with cultural significance. Set in Malaya during the 19th century, the story incorporates Chinese folktales, customs, and superstitions in an engaging manner.

You also get to learn a lot about the history of the land and how its people have been influenced by the various colonial powers. In my opinion, none of this comes across as textbook-ish. The author divulges the right amount of information to enhance your understanding.

While it has a slow-medium pace, there’s a lot about the context and the characters that consistently keep you engaged.

The story has been written from Li Lan’s perspective and that made for a fun reading experience. She is adamant in her ways (even when you wish she would make safe decisions) and sometimes doesn’t consider the consequence of her choices.

There are so many scenes where she is just wandering around in the afterworld, and you want to shake some sense into her and get her to go back to her body.

Her Amah is a spirited presence throughout the book. Any Asian would recognise her as the mother/ grandmother figure they themselves have known in their life. The way she takes care of Li Lan made me glad that our protagonist has someone in her corner.

The way Tian Bai’s storyline wraps up left me with some questions. Was that plot point merely for adding tension? Is there more to his character that’s left to our interpretation?

Two of my favourite characters are Er Lang and Amah.

For some reason, even though there are quite a few layers (twists and developments) in the afterworld part, I felt that this section stretched on and on. If it had been a bit more shorter or substantial, I would’ve appreciated the book more.

Yangsze Choo’s writing is elegant and well-suited for the genre. There’s not a single scene that I couldn’t visualise and so much of it is ingrained in my mind thanks to the author’s prowess.

I’d love for there to be at least another book or two in this series (or the world!) because Li Lan is just the type of character to find herself in tricky situations. And the way this novel ends leaves a lot of room for adventure and mishaps in her life.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Ghost Bride and would recommend it if you like fantasy-historical fiction.

Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

When Lux’s boyfriend, Nico gets hired to lead a voyage to the abandoned Meroe island, he convinces her to go along – it’s good money, they get some time away together, what’s not to like?

Except, in the days that pass, Lux finds herself questioning the decision to come, wondering if anything she has known about her life has ever been true.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads

This book had such potential with the backdrop and premise, but the characters ruin it all. I’ve read ample books with bitter, immature adults wreaking havoc on everything, but this has to be the worst of all.

How is it that not a single character could redeem the story?

The narrative follows different timelines and POVs. Some chapters show us what’s happening in the present as they make their way to the island. The others chronicle events in the lives of the 6 primary characters and who they were at some point in their lives.

It also switches from first-person to third-person narrative, and that made for an interesting change.

This back and forth makes sense because you get to understand the characters more (they’re still horrible, though!), and there’s a crucial element that is tied together at the end, which was quite predictable.

I liked whatever the author has included of the island and its descriptions. But all of that gets overshadowed by the presence and actions of these characters.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy reading books even if the characters are morally grey as long as their storylines are either convincing or engaging for whatever reason. Here, you can’t help but detest them.

Nico is an asshole. He doesn’t take Lux seriously, is often gaslighting her and does exactly what you’d expect him to do. It becomes evident that the only reason Lux is with him is that she has been coping with grief and finds solace in the distraction. Understandable. Still, their relationship is astonishingly unhealthy. In fact, there’s not a single friendship or companionship that is borne out of anything genuine or honest.

The other characters too have skeletons in their closet, which you eventually get to know about. It’s all pretty messed-up.

Some of the core themes of the book are murder, cheating, and deception.

I think I liked reading Rachel Hawkins’ The Wife Upstairs much better than Reckless Girls. If you haven’t yet picked this one up, I wouldn’t recommend it.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

Chloe Green is so close to becoming valedictorian at Willowgrove. But when her arch-nemesis, Shara Wheeler runs away weeks before their graduation ceremony, Chloe is determined to not win by default and make Shara attend their graduation.

It just so happens that Shara has bigger plans for her. Through a series of clues left behind, Chloe and two others get closer to finding Shara and the truth about themselves they’ve been denying all this while.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a YA LGBTQIA+ contemporary novel set in a small town in Alabama.

It addresses issues of homophobia and religious extremism with the same sensitivity that it accords the storylines of diverse characters in the novel. In Casey McQuiston’s writing, every character matters. You know that they aren’t just there to be foils or push the subplots forward.

Copyright © 2022 Meera Nair

I loved reading about Rory, Georgia, Chloe’s mums, Smith, and many other characters. There’s so much to learn from their journeys.

Moreover, I’m still just as fond of books with a scavenger hunt. This one executes that element pretty well.

To think that one-third of the way in, I was actually getting a little disappointed, and I thought this would be an average read because I wasn’t a fan of the whole “popular girl runs away” trope. It reminded me too much of John Green’s Paper Towns and Sara Barnard’s Goodbye, Perfect.

These are books I liked a great deal when I read them several years ago. But I don’t particularly care for such plot points now.

Plus, I didn’t really like Chloe’s character all that much.

But after having been super impressed by McQuiston’s One Last Stop, I should’ve known the author is beyond talented in her ability to create heartfelt, meaningful stories.

What started out as three students, who in an alternate universe would probably not have been friends, chasing clues to find Shara quickly turns into this jubilant acceptance and celebration of the self.

A lot of it took me back to my high school days and the things that mattered to us then.

That’s the beauty of Casey McQuiston’s stories. They are relatable, inspiring, and just bursting with life. Her writing style in this novel is full of a flair for the dramatic and humorous. I found myself chuckling along quite a bit.

Also, Mr Truman would’ve made for a great literature teacher. And that speech at the end by Chloe? WONDERFUL.

On the whole, there are a couple of aspects of the book I didn’t particularly like. But there’s so much more that I loved! Highly highly recommend this if you enjoy reading YA contemporary books.

Note: I received an ALC of this book from Libro.fm in exchange for an honest review.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Seven years ago, Cheesemaster Grandible found Neverfell abandoned, hiding away in his cheese tunnels. Now, he keeps her hidden away from the rest of Caverna, fearful of what may come to pass should the Court and their enemies find the truth behind Neverfell’s presence in the underground city.

His worst nightmares come to pass when the twelve-year-old’s thirst for the outside world brings her to a dangerous path.

Frances Hardinge’s writing feels like a gift – you’re almost hesitant to unwrap it, but once you get a peek, you’re in a mad rush to see it all. At least, that’s how I felt.

She writes in the most spellbinding manner! Just the right bit of focus on worldbuilding, just the right bit of focus on action.

Her writing style is straightforward and vivid. You are immediately transported to the scene that you’re reading.

For the first few chapters, I was a bit baffled trying to grasp the various elements of this world she has created. But once I understood what all of the terms meant, the reading was smooth sailing from there on.

Almost 500 pages long, the story is certainly eventful. There are numerous conflicts introduced which make you anxious for Neverfell’s well-being, and her character goes through quite the life-altering journey.

Copyright © 2022 Meera Nair

This being a middle-grade/ YA fantasy didn’t deter me from thoroughly enjoying it. There’s so much hope and energy at the heart of it that you can’t help but be swept up in the tides of this mesmerizing tale.

I loved Neverfell’s character. She is curious, brave, and loyal. She is almost naïve to the point of being taken advantage of. But that is also perhaps her strongest trait – being an empath and being a fighter.

There are many characters in the novel, many of whom will leave an impression on you. The Kleptomancer and Erstwhile were a couple of my other favourite characters.

Some of you may wonder what’s the point of a world divided by the people’s ability to express themselves through facial expressions. I found greater meaning in it. The author uses hierarchies to mirror our world today.

She also brings in the notion of how the more affluent families have greater freedom of speech than those who are in the lower echelons of society. This couldn’t be more true for us too! Human rights aren’t accorded the same importance in implementation as they are on paper, isn’t it?

The entirety of this novel is not just about social causes, appreciating our surroundings, and setting wrongs right. It has a wonderfully magical ambience.

With Caverna being an underground world where:

  1. Facesmiths train people to don certain expressions
  2. Wines alter memory
  3. Perfumes make people susceptible to influence
  4. Spices sharpen senses
  5. And cheeses bring visions

The worldbuilding is intricate and brimming with potential. And Hardinge has executed all of this with such aplomb.

There were some chapters towards the end where I felt that 1-2 scenes dragged for a bit longer than necessary. But I was so excited to get to the end of Neverfell’s adventure that it didn’t bother me too much.

The last section of the book where a plan comes into play is brilliantly crafted!

To end this long book review, I have one important question – WHEN IS A FACE LIKE GLASS BEING MADE INTO A DISNEY MOVIE?

A Face Like Glass is a must-read if you enjoy layered fantasy novels with a sprightly main character.