Audiobook Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This review is going to be much gushier and incoherent than usual. Noted? … Okay, let’s go.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She would rather bury herself in the fanfiction she writes where there’s romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible …

A tale of fanfiction, family, and first love.

I’m still in two minds about this book. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this and have heard so many readers gushing and raving about it.
Despite that, I must confess that I went into the book with lower expectations; You might have not known this side of me, but I have a weird tendency of NOT wanting to be one of those people who just do things just because everyone else is doing it. To put in a nutshell, I don’t basically gravitate toward overly hyped books/things and this Fangirl exactly falls into the category, hence my hesitation about reading this.

Having finished listening to this audiobook, I can honestly say, Rainbow Rowell did it again. She won over my heart again. 

For the overall storyline, I’d give this book solid 3.5 or 3.75 out of 5 stars; NOT solid 4 let alone 5 stars. Not even close. YET for the romance part, my goodness, this book melted my heart (you might guess I’m a sucker for this type of slow-burned romance) and straight 5 stars go to this book.
I personally found the whole romance progression quite beautiful and breathtaking.

This is exactly what happened to me when I read ‘Landline’ last year; When a male character – the love interest – in Rainbow Rowell’s books speaks, the words grab my heart. I often feel like I’m spellbound. This book was no exception; I was literally under the spell of Levi’s words. Funny thing is that, I don’t even particularly love Levi, he’s way too skinny and lanky for my liking but I love HIS WORDS. I just love what he says, what’s coming out of his mouth and how he embraces and appreciates Cath as she is.

His words are simple but have something that has my heart in its clutches. Simply captivating and I couldn’t get enough of it. I kept going back to his words over and over and over again. Hypnotic. Like magic. Rainbow Rowell did it again – made me fall in love with Levi just like she did with Neal from Landline. 

Now, let’s talk about the characters. I think most of the characters are well fleshed out and their emotions are well-drawn. In particular, I could absolutely relate to Cath’s restlessness from being a ‘misfit’ in college and the dorm, the fear of not blending in. Her concerns and trepidations, the weird sense of incongruity she has when she wakes up in her dormitory bed – they are vividly depicted and executed and brought back my memories when I was in junior college. It was really well done.
The character dynamics, especially the relationship (friendship) between Reagan is such a delight to read. I love her. She’s straightforward, brusque, calling a spade a spade yet is kind at heart; I loved to see how Reagan kind of forcibly drags Cath into her world and lets Cath accustom to the new environment, and how she forges a friendship between Cath.
To be perfectly honest, and this might be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t particularly LOVED Cath. There are several things that stopped me from rooting for Cath, in fact.
For one; She is naive and immature. It is kind of hard to talk about this without giving much away, but she is afraid of ‘change’ and wants to stay in her own small, confined world – her bubble. This part of her gradually changes through the interactions with Reagan and Levi, but I felt it a bit hard to get invested in Cath’s character in the beginning.
What really irked me is her naivety that is showcased through the dialogue with Professor Piper. If you have read this, you’ll know what I am talking about and yes, I was so fed up with Cath’s lame excuses and logic. Writing fan fiction is totally fine with me, but what she does in this segment is NOT something to be condoned and it frustrated me so much.

Secondly, she is so quick to decide to drop things. She tries to get away from things once she finds it doesn’t belong to her or not her thing. Although she no doubt has a distinct ‘Voice’ in her writing that speaks to the readers, she adamantly refuses to give what she’s supposed to a try.
She has THE VOICE that any writers or creators desperately crave for but she is all willing to let it go without even giving it a try. She says she doesn’t want to. Again, I was quite frustrated by this side of her, and it took me a while to warm up to her (not fully, but to some extent).
That said though, her mounting feelings toward Levi and how she gets drowned in it was incredibly well-delineated and it literally captured my heart. I DEVOURED the words that Rainbow Rowell weaves. Again, it felt like magic. Stunningly beautiful and delicious.
My impression toward Cath is redeemed by the development in the latter part, and I personally found it quite clever. I am glad to see how it plays out and am content with that.

Other characters are all vivid and funny to get to know; Cath’s Dad is my second favorite character; I liked how he is bruised and flawed, yet is funny and chirpy at the same time. He brightens up the world for me.

As for the plot, I found it interesting that Rainbow Rowell writes a story involving a flawed, wounded family; each family members is more or less bruised by the traumatic experience of having their wife/mother walk out of their lives. But their struggles, especially Wren’s struggles were not heartfelt. Although there are strong moments where Cath gushes out her pent-up emotions about their estranged, biological mother, I felt this element a bit weak. For that reason, Wren’s issue that comes to light in the latter part might have been the author’s attempt to display the damage what Wren was inflicted on, but it didn’t strike me as strong as the author might have intended. Wren seemed quite standoffish, frivolous and distant for the most part of the story -intentionally distances herself from Cath but later comes back to her saying she has never stopped reading the story Cath uploaded. It felt a bit abrupt because I thought Wren’s character arc and the reason why she acts the way she does are not well drawn, at least for me.
Nonetheless, once again, there’s a redeeming scene for her and I am happy with how it plays out.

The fan fiction part… or the inserts at the end of each chapter was honestly a bit too much for me. Some of them could have been cut, but given how this whole fan fiction thing works out for the romance part I absolutely LOVE, I, once again, have a mixed-feeling about this. I cannot decide what to make of this.

But overall, Yes, I enjoyed reading/listening to this audiobook. The narrator did an amazing job of employing different tones of voices for each character and elevating the romance scenes to absolutely beautiful, captivating and enchanting ones.
Like I said, had it not been for this delectable, heart-tingling romance part, this book would have gotten solid 3.5 stars. But Levi’s words (not himself) made the book for me and I loved how their romance develops and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole package.

If you haven’t read or listened to this book, I recommend you pick this up; this book has become one of my favorites.
Not mind-blowing, but enchanting. I gave this audiobook 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her… (Goodreads)

This is a fast-paced, gripping, and compelling read. This book kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time while I was reading it and I literally gobbled this book up in two days. It was quite a ride.
I really, really enjoyed this book.

This book is simply delightful and glorious for its entire package; the writing is strong and captivating, and the characters are well-drawn, especially the main character, Cass was wonderful; I didn’t get to relate to her for the most part, but reading how she confronts her own fears and develops herself into a stronger, calm and collected woman in the end was such a delightful experience.

And most importantly, the plot. This is what I found the most striking and engaging, and what entertained me the most. It was pretty unputdownable once I picked it up and I couldn’t wait to see how the story develops and how and where Cass ends up.
That said though, there’s not much murder investigation going on in this book; it’s quite slow-paced, if any, and I personally saw this book as more like an introspective and psychological thriller that depicts a woman who is slowly sent into a state of insanity and paranoia.

As the synopsis suggests, Cass runs into a woman who seems to be stranded in a downpour and attempts to help her out. But the woman doesn’t show any signs of distress, Cass decides to drive on and check in with the police from home to make sure she will be fine. But once she gets home, she forgets all about it and then she finds out that the woman was brutally murdered the next day.
From then onwards, she torments herself over the sense of guilt, blaming herself for what she could have done but she actually didn’t and starts to feel she’s partially responsible for the woman’s death. The constant sense of guilt and the fact she lied to her husband for having taken the shortcut he specifically told her not to, combined with the problems with her short-time memory start to plague her and gnaw at her sanity, slowly driving her into a mental breakdown.

This gradual torment and Cass’s inner struggles and fears are brilliantly executed and left a big impact on me. It was compelling, emotionally evocative, and gripping. As I said earlier, I initially couldn’t relate to Cass for not coming forward and confess what she saw that night, and for keeping telling fibs to cover things up and protect her self-esteem (that frustrated me the most, by the way), but witnessing how she loses confidence in her memory and how her constant fear – the murderer is coming after her – gradually poisons her mind and drives her into madness was really suspenseful. Enhanced by its strong writing, this book had me guessing and wondering what will happen to Cass throughout the book.

The plot-twist that comes in the last 25% was something I got to partially predict, but what caught me by surprise. This is also where the story really picks up and gets exhilarating to read through. The narration formats that are employed here are also clever and smart. Flashing back and forth between the two-time frames and the formats, I got to feel with my heart that Cass and I are getting closer to the truth, getting down to the bottom of the whole thing.

The only issue that I had was the ending. The murder itself and the problems that tormented Cass are solved in the end, yet I wanted a distinct ‘closure,’ to this book. The ending felt a bit anticlimactic and rushed, it could have been better had it have an Epilogue that depicts how Cass moves on with her life and how she copes with the aftermath of the incident.
That was the only complaint that I had with this book. Other than that, it was quite a satisfying, suspenseful, and entertaining read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

If you are into psychological thrillers that keep you guessing and on pins and needles, I highly recommend picking this up. This is a brilliantly written, glorious read.
I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Thank you, NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my unbiased, and honest review.

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough. (Goodreads)

This book caught me by surprise on two levels.  First, for not being a mere fluffy, heart-swoony YA, and second, for its undercurrent theme being much heavier and packing more depth than I thought.

Let’s start with the writing; the writing is solid and it’s beautifully written. There was almost nothing that I found out of place, the pacing was mostly on-point. The characters’ personality traits were well-reflected in the dialogues and in the epistles, and the witty, sarcastic banter exchanged between the characters was such a delight to read. I especially loved Rachel’s razor-sharp rejoinders; the dialogues with Henry take place in early part of the book had me giggling so many times.
The epistolary format, the letters exchanged between the characters literally stole the show. I personally found the characters’ emotions and feelings, even love were much better expressed in its epistolary format. There were times when I felt the execution was a tad lacking in its conventional text format but completely swept up in the emotions reading the letters between the characters. Their voice, the characters’ voice was so distinct and well-executed in its letter format. I really loved their voice.
I initially thought the delivery – especially in Rachel’s chapters – was a bit lacking. This book is told in dual perspectives and each chapter is narrated either by Henry or Rachel. While I immensely enjoyed reading Henry’s chapters, I found Rachel’s chapters a bit hard to immerse myself and I put it down to its (a slightly) poor delivery.
I now know I was completely wrong; it makes a perfect sense given the ‘secret’ and the ‘grief’ that Rachel bottles up inside her. Her chapters reflect her closed-off personality really well and I realized that was why I couldn’t initially relate to her.

The characters are all well-fleshed out and felt realistic. I especially loved the stark contrast that’s generated from Henry and Rachel’s personalities.
Henry is downright cute and loveable; he is honest, kind, and he is not afraid to express his emotions – he is not at all your typical ‘hot and cool’ guy, but he doesn’t back off even when he’s up against such cool guys. He puts his foot down for something/someone he loves, and such qualities make him really endearing EXCEPT for being gullible when it comes to Amy, his good for nothing, shallow (ex) girlfriend. I guess I am not alone when I say I wanted to smack his head and tell him to snap out of it; it was simply teeth-grittingly frustrating to read how much Henry pines for Amy. I couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t see through her and her tricks. She literally comes and goes, she doesn’t appreciate what Henry loves and his passion at all. She is SHALLOW, I flat-out disliked her.
On the other hand, like I said earlier, I found Rachel was hard to relate to, at least in the beginning.
Her former self was hardly touched in the book and I could only guess that she used to be much nicer and kinder from Henry’s accounts, but when she comes back to live with her aunt, we find she turned herself into a closed-off, aloof and unapproachable person. She hardly shares her true feelings or emotions, and more than anything, she’s rude. Although we can guess what happened to Cal ten months ago broke her and made her guarded, since not much is told through her words until we’re well into the book, it was also frustrating to see how rude she can be to Henry – her old crush and her best friend.

What surprised me the most about this book was the plot. As I said in the beginning, I was expecting this book to be a fluffy, cute YA contemporary. But the undercurrent themes of this book are deceivingly serious. Not too heavy, but serious enough to take me by surprise.
Although the two main characters, Henry and Rachel, have their own problems and concerns in their respective lives, Rachel’s ones are heavier than Henry’s. The secret and the grief that she’s kept tucked inside her and that she has never confided in anybody gave a lot more depth and poignancy to the story while Henry’s lapse in judgment made this book engaging.
Through the interaction with Henry, which Rachel attempted to avoid as much, she gradually takes back the quality that her former self had. She slowly but steadily learns to open up to others and finally, she learns to come to terms with the ‘past’ – not to shove it away but truly face the past and move on, believing her past is always with her and the future is unmapped and changeable.

Beautifully entwined with the subplots between George (Henry’s sister) and the mystery guy, and the one between Henry’s parents delivered in the epistolary format, Words in Deep Blue weaves a poignant, yet beautiful story on life and death and the magic of words. It beautifully sends the message that ‘life’ weighs more than ‘death,’ and teaches us how beautiful and empowering love and friendship is. Not to mention, the beauty of books, words and the memories that are stored in those words.

Although I was not quite sure if I’d end up liking this book until I was well into the latter part, and I found Henry’s change of heart arrived in a bit rushed way, this book won over my heart in the latter half.
It didn’t wow me or blow me away, but I quite liked this book. If you are into the genre, I recommend giving this book a try.

I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Life Updates: Book Reviewing Project

Hello, friends! How are you all doing?
Today, I’d love to share with you a snippet of the project that I had been working on for the last two months.

If you have been following my blog since June, you might recall me talking about being contacted by an editor for a Japan-based English entertainment magazine for a book review.
I was initially balked at throwing myself into this project because the book for the review was a biography – a genre that I don’t normally gravitate towards – but I decided to at least give it a try.

The editor and I got connected on Facebook through our mutual friend. My friend with whom I had been taking online English lessons first messaged me and told me that the editor wanted to connect with me on FB.
After being friends with her, she asked me if I was interested in reviewing a biography book for their September issue; an offer that came as a complete surprise. As I said earlier, I was momentarily flustered; I had never officially reviewed a book before, and I wasn’t confident in myself at all.
That said, I decided to at least take a look at the book; she went out of her way to approach me and I wanted to reciprocate her willingness.

After a while, she sent me the book up for the review and I decided to give it a try after skimming through the book. The book seemed interesting and the writing was so captivating. It didn’t feel like I was reading a non-fiction book. It almost felt like reading a novel.

She gave me a plenty of time to read and work on my review. She clearly stated that she was expecting a 1200-1400 words review – perhaps the longest review I had ever written – again, I was balked at the enormity of the project I threw myself in, but I decided that I would power through it.
Basically, once I say I’ll do it, I don’t want to take my words back. I don’t want to let anybody down, I want to live up to their expectations.
In about two weeks, I finished reading the book. It took me much longer than I had expected, but with the notes that I took along the way, I was ready to tackle writing my review.

When I contacted the editor to get her up to speed on my progress, she suggested that I contact the author and send some questions about the book. I was granted a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to directly ask the author what was going on in the author’s mind prior to/when writing the book.
Within a week or so, I got a reply and was I surprised to read his answers!! All the vision and the intentions that the author had in mind were reflected in his writing beautifully; I was amazed by his prowess in writing and the execution.

It was certainly so hard to put my thoughts in the review as well as including the author’s responses/what he had envisioned upon writing the book. Writing and deleting, writing and deleting… I took me a whole week to work on my thoughts.
To tell the truth, my heart was in my mouth when I clicked the ‘send’ button to send my first draft to the editor – it was literally a nerve-wracking experience and I was so concerned about the potential critiques from her.
In fact, I had some nightmares – probably several times while I was working on my review, in which I was knocked for my amateurish, incomplete, lackluster review. It was truly excruciating to sit and wait for her response.

That night, at around 10 pm, I got an e-mail from the editor. When I heard the ringtone telling me that I’d just had an incoming message, my heart was in my mouth once again; my hands were trembling when I opened the message.

On the contrary to my trepidation, quite surprisingly, the response was a positive, pleasant one – the editor commended me for doing a great job in writing a ‘delightful’ book review.
She also said that my writing is ‘vivid, clear, and attractive’ and that it made her want to read the book. I couldn’t believe what I was reading… I was literally on cloud nine. So relieved and felt accomplished. I slept like a baby that night.

But then again, there was another nerve-wracking mission in store for me the next day; I had to send my first draft to the author for approval! Oh, man, how flipping out I was when I sent it to him!!
Although the editor commended me for doing a great job, she hadn’t read the book, so I had no idea whether the author would approve my review or not, and how accurately I got to capture the essence of the book. To be honest, this is one of the concerns that I always have whenever I write a book review; whether I manage to capture the book accurately or not.
The waiting was literally killing me – I was wringing my hands with anxiety,

Within a couple of hours, I got a reply – the author approved my review!!!
He wrote that he had nothing to fault in my review and that it was well observed and crafted, with just the balanced analysis readers need to form an objective judgment.

You can never imagine how relieved I was – I couldn’t believe how swimmingly everything went. I was expecting rejection after rejection; I had actually set aside a large chunk of time for rewriting.

My review is now in the midst of the editing process, and the editor told me my review will be a very important part of the next issue of their magazine. Omg, she should have told me that sooner!! Lol

Anyways, I still cannot believe I actually made it; it was truly a nerve-wracking but an incredible experience.
I am so happy and relieved that my review was appreciated both by the author and the editor… all my time and effort AND nightmares totally paid off! lol

Although I cannot give you any detail or put the actual review up on my blog until about a month or two after the publication, I just wanted to share with you what had been going on in my life, because all of you mean the world to me. I just wanted to share the happiest moment of the year with you all!

Sorry for this post being so lengthy, but thank you so much for reading 🙂
Hope you have a wonderful day and I’ll talk to you all again in my next post!


Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Who Are You When No One Is Watching?

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both.

In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory. Compulsively readable and powerfully moving, Girl in Snow offers an unforgettable reading experience and introduces a singular new talent in Danya Kukafka. (Goodreads)

I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I requested this book from NetGalley, I was expecting a full-on whodunit or mystery; the book descriptions did say so and it sounded quite promising and intriguing. Needless to say, I went into it expecting a ‘propulsive’ mystery that would keep me on the edge of my seat, a twisty plot that would have me guessing who the killer is throughout the book.

However, it took me nearly half of the book to realize this book probably isn’t what I was expecting and that I probably should have started this book with a different mindset.

For me, this book is neither ‘mystery’ nor ‘pulsating thriller’; it’s more like accounts of introspective exploration of the three main characters – Cameron, Jade, and Russ. The mystery element is there, of course, and the investigation progress is touched on here and there throughout the book, but it seemed that it merely goes through the motions, I felt the focus of this book is to delineate the darkness in each characters’ mind, a fine line between sanity and insanity, and the reflections of their past and wounds they were inflicted upon.

It is undeniably an understatement to say I was disappointed when the realization dawned on me, I even felt frustrated and wanted to scream – I almost did not finish this book.

That said, however, as soon as the realization clicked in, and as soon as I realized that I needed to change my mindset and look at this book from a different angle, this book started to grow on me. I finally came to appreciate what it is; this book started taking on a new meaning to me.

This book is incredibly slow-pacing; there’s hardly any plot movement until we are well into the story – somewhere around 70% of the book. The clues and foreshadowing are scattered around, yet we only get a tiny droplet of information in each chapter, and that they are not at all explicit enough; it’s got an ambiguous, hazy undertone to it. The story is mainly woven by those three characters’ introspective reflections of their respective past, their relationships either with Lucinda or their loved ones. Some of them are totally inconsequential to the investigation nor the truth that leads to the killer, I sometimes wondered why I had to keep reading such accounts.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. It’s lyrical, hypnotic and very descriptive. Her writing style fits really well with this plot, it consistently made me feel like I was in a thick fog, groping for the exit that leads to the killer.
One thing that had me wondering is the style of narration; Only Jade’s chapters are narrated in the first person and Cameron and Russ’s chapters are told in the third person omniscient. It’s unique, but I didn’t get to figure out why the author chose this writing style when telling a story from three characters’ POVs.
In addition to that, I didn’t find their voices (not technically their ‘voices,’ given the other two characters’ chapters are not in the third person) very distinct. They sounded quite similar, and I didn’t get fully invested in any of the characters.

That said, though, I was really impressed with how strong the writing was when delineating the escalation of Cameron’s voyeurism, Jade’s near-desperate yearning for Zap, how slowly but steadily they get swallowed up in the darkness in their own mind and tormented by it.
Her writing described really well how flawed each character is, and how their thoughts wander around, flashing back and forth between the present and the past. It was really well done, I appreciate that.

The last 20% is such a page-turner. As the revelation of the true killer kicked in, it got really gripping and had me on pins and needles. The intense writing aided the suspense building up, I was totally hooked at this point.

I also liked this book ended on a positive note. The last 20% of the book is totally a redeeming factor for me.
Although I initially disliked this book, feeling betrayed and misled, and I had some issues with this book for some things not being completely wrapped up at the end of the book, leaving some intrigues unanswered and hanging in the air, I am glad that I persevered and powered through the book.
It didn’t blow my mind – certainly not – but I ended up liking this book – to some extent – and I am glad about that.

If you are a fan of such introspective writing style and like books that explore inner turmoil or struggles of the characters, this book is for you.
But if you are expecting mystery or thrillers that make your skin crawl, you might be hugely disappointed as I was.
Readers should bear in mind this is not your typical whodunit and I think the blurb is misleading and this should be promptly addressed.

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.


Thank you, Simon & Schuster and Net Galley for granting me an opportunity to read this book in exchange for my unbiased, honest review.

Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time the twelfth century; the place feudal England; and the subject the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.(Goodreads)

This is undeniably one of the best books that I have read all year. Although it took me almost a month to read this book, it didn’t feel a drag at all – on the contrary, it’s been quite a delightful ride. I had a great kick out of reading this epic book.

The plot is well-crafted and simply magnificent. It’s packed with suspenseful moments and lots of dramas, and most importantly, it’s got everything – literally everything – I want in a book rolled into one.
I loved reading how the undercurrent main plot of building the cathedral intricately and masterfully entwines with so many subplots happening in this book, and how the characters are embroiled in the things that are beyond their controls and are affected by them. They are literally adrift in the sea of fate; one minute they are at the height of their prominence and the next minute they find themselves plunged into a state of destitute. As soon as they see a ray of hope at the end of a tunnel, the light was extinguished the very next moment, having their hope crushed. Rise and fall, defeat and hope. They keep coming almost alternatively throughout the book, it kept me turning pages. I just wanted to know how the story unfolds, how the characters end up. How gripping and captivating it was. I was completely mesmerized by this epic, grand story.

The writing is consistently solid, strong and incredibly descriptive. The descriptions of the church in Saint-Denis, in particular, was simply magical and breathtaking; the stream of light coming through rows of tall windows, how all the sunshine seems to fill the vast empty vessel of the church with warmth and light… utterly captivating and hypnotic. I felt as though the time stood still in the church; I was in awe of his writing. It took my breath away.

However, it also means there are some caveats; this book does contain some (not so many, I recall) gory scenes and it is where I think his prowess in writing was amazingly well-showcased. If you are squeamish and cannot take such descriptions, you might want to prepare yourself for the jolt; it’s surprisingly vivid and graphic. It did keep me engaged in the story the entire time, but this might not work for some of you – be advised that you bear that in mind when going into this book.

There were actually some slight incongruities in his choice of words that I found a bit odd, words like ‘ultra-sensitive,’ for instance. I personally found this incongruent with the overall tone of his writing; it felt a bit too casual and it didn’t sit well with me, but it didn’t pose much of a problem. It didn’t stop me from enjoying this book.
Overall, his writing is simply magnificent and enthralling. I fell in love with it.

To me, this book felt like a massive, grand tapestry consists of numerous fragments of quilts weaving individual characters’ stories. Each quilt beautifully and meticulously depicts each character’s drama – life, romance, struggles, defeat, vengeance…, placing them at the right place and then putting them together towards the end. Each story, each subplot is carefully and thoroughly delineated and I literally felt as though I were experiencing and vicariously living their lives. The execution was beyond reproach.
The romance between the main two characters which spans over several decades is also dramatic and gripping. To be honest, this was not a twist what I was expecting from this book, but I liked the fact that it didn’t end up overly sugary nor saccharine. It’s dramatic, but not overly melodramatic. Their eventual reunion in the church of Saint-Denis which takes place right after the discovery of the ideal architecture for Kingsbridge cathedral was executed with the perfect balance, making this book even more entertaining. This was definitely one of my favorite scenes in this book.

The characters are all well-fleshed out and strong; I had a ‘love or hate’ connection with each character. Some characters are downright evil and despicable; no matter how many times they taste the bitterness of defeat, they keep coming back like a phoenix, concocting and conspiring another scheme to seize power again. They are driven by greed and lust for power, I no longer remember how many times I gritted my teeth with frustration and how strongly infuriated I was by them; I seriously wanted to strangle them, each and every one of them.
But then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have just relatable, loveable characters whom you want to root for no matter what. They are all impactful both in a good way and a bad way, I was so invested in them that I sometimes felt mentally drained. I can honestly say this emotional connection with these characters is what made this book so magical and captivating.

The only issue that I had with this book was the last part of the book, especially the last 70 pages.
The whole denouement segment felt a bit drab and lackluster compared with the other parts of the book.
It is indeed twisty down to the last minute, there is actually a shocker in store in the very end which made me hold my breath, but overall, I felt it kind of lost momentum, I was just along for the ride to see how this epic story eventually wraps up.

The very ending left me in two minds; I didn’t know whether I should feel happy, relieved or feel sad. It left me with somewhat a bittersweet, poignant feeling.

That said though, again, this is undeniably by far the best book I’ve read this year. 1088 pages didn’t feel as long as I had thought. In fact, I didn’t want it to end; it would have been totally fine if there were another few hundreds of pages to go.
It was quite a delightful, exhilarating ride. I thoroughly enjoyed living in the town of Kingsbridge, witnessing all the dramas involving building the cathedral.
I ended up docking a half star, but I highly, vehemently recommend picking this up. It’s definitely worth your time.

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

Heroic bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street. There’s nothing in the bag to indicate who it belongs to, although there’s all sorts of other things in it. Laurent feels a strong impulse to find the owner and tries to puzzle together who she might be from the contents of the bag. Especially a red notebook with her jottings, which really makes him want to meet her. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?

For a slim book with only 159 page count, this is a well-written, delightful read.

The story opens up with a thrilling chapter where the heroine, Laure, whose name is not addressed in this chapter, is mugged and has her handbag stolen. She manages to check herself in a hotel room but is later found unconscious with a large patch of dried blood stuck to the towel beneath her head; she slips into a coma during the night.

In the mean time, Laurent, a bookseller in his forties and a divorce finds a woman’s handbag left on top of the bin. He attempts to report it to the police, but changes his mind at the last minute and takes it back to his room and decides to track down the owner of the handbag on his own. As his own ‘little investigation’ proceeds, the mysterious owner of the handbag slowly but steadily takes over his mind…

Like I mentioned, I enjoy this little book a lot. The first chapter is especially well-written and riveting with the perfect dose of suspense element, it pulled me into the story instantly.
That said, the overall tone and ambiance of the book is even and witty. Especially, Laurent’s consternation and trepidations were such a delight to read. The author’s sense of humor added a lot of enjoyment to the story.
I personally found ‘the number of pockets’ and ‘how much items can a woman have in a handbag?’ thing a bit of a stretch, but it didn’t take anything away nor did it spoil the fun.
The plot is, overall, well-crafted and the pacing was on point. It is simply amazing that I didn’t find it rushed at all for such a slim book. If anything, it’s rather slow-building and things develop nicely. I really enjoyed reading how the paths of the main two characters – Laure and Laurent (their names are pretty similar, aren’t they?) eventually entwine in the end.

I particularly loved how those two main characters begin to fall for each other. Their paths had never crossed nor have they never met prior to the incident, but from the moment when Laurent found Laure’s handbag abandoned, ever since he perused the items in her bag, he begins to imagine what kind of woman Laure is, and her existence and her presence which he hasn’t even known before – starts to occupy his mind and even comes close to an obsession.
And the same goes for Laure; after getting discharged from the hospital, her boss, William, makes a bit of a revelation and she also begins to track down Laurent in her own way, wondering how the presence of a man whom she had never met yet who was familiar with her belonging could have such a big effect on her.

Although there aren’t many dramatic moments in the plot which caught you by surprise, like I said, the overall tone of the writing is rather calm and even, I enjoyed reading this. The well-crafted, solid plot and the attractive cast of characters (some characters are a bit underdeveloped though) made this book a delightful read.

The epilogue is particularly noteworthy; it’s actually my all-time favorite.  It kind of reminiscent of a French movie, beautifully alternating and entwining fragments of the characters’ lives. Simply breathtaking.

If you feel like a quick read and are interested in reading a story that takes place in Paris, this might be good for you.
Not too sweet nor saccharine, but a healthy dose of romance might warm the cockles of your heart.

I’ll give this book solid 3.5, or 3.75 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.