Book Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


Any book that makes you wanna rush home so you could resume reading is a good book. This was mostly a fun, heart-warming read and Simon is just so adorable as a person that it’s hard to not empathise with him, and actually wish that you knew him. I mean, he wears a freaking dementor costume for Halloween!

But the bigger point is this; even though I wasn’t really on-board with the narrative from the get go (I’m nearing my 30s and nowhere in the head space to go through a YA coming-of-age story), but there are a few books that always breakthrough, due to the larger picture that they paint. And this book grew on me with every page – Simon, his friends, his school, his parents – and I realised that’s because everything feels so genuine and relatable. And as someone who’s experienced this often, coming-out is not just about your sexuality, we come out everytime we don’t fit into the boxes that the society puts us in. And this all the more special because at its core it’s not really about Simon being gay, there are so many other battles that he’s fighting every day.

And it just hits me while I’m writing this that there’s so much that this book addresses in the short span. How to stand up to bullying, how to be more inclusive, more accepting, and how to be better parents even.

And last but not least, Becky’s superb prose! The language is fluid and it does read like a 16 year old’s inner monologue, but there are some really curious phrases that I enjoyed e.g describing someone’s voice as “thin and high like Voldemort”. It’s simple but effective.

Overall, this was time well spent. Would I read the sequel? Not unless there’s one from Simon’s POV again.


Book Review: ORIGIN – Dan Brown

The Line:

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. (from Goodreads)

But this is a Dan Brown novel and you know how it’s gonna play out.

See the source image

What I thought:

How effortlessly is Dan Brown able to take the same characters and narration, put them in a different location, slap a new controversy/premise, furnish some Wikipedia-esque details about famous people and their art, and voila – call it a new installment! If that sounded like praise, it definitely isn’t.

Because I, for one, really wish Robert Langdon retires and settles down (let’s get him hitched with Elizabeth Sinskey), just so we wouldn’t have to read another book where he has to play the I-know-stuff-and-I-see-what-you-don’t symbologist with a *cough* good heart *cough*. I mean, can we just collectively accept that we’re five books down already, and yet if asked to write a character analysis, most people wouldn’t go beyond Mickey Mouse and Claustrophobia.

But let’s give credit where it’s due, Brown actually choses a pretty compelling topic for Origin i.e the origin of life itself; which piqued my interest as a skeptic. While I did not walk away with much to muse on, I’m hoping this book will at least help a few to question their own religious orientation. There are always people who would ask what is the point of life if there is no god? Why am I here? Where am I going? But is a supreme being really essential to explain life? To explain us? And what if someone were to tell you that life needed no designer after all? Would that be enough to crumble the foundations upon which most of the world’s religions lay? Or would it be business as usual? That people are ultimately gonna believe whatever gives them a sense of comfort?

All those questions the book does pose and if that seems like a worthy exercise, by all means go ahead and read the book! I’m sure you’ll come out a little wiser.

Where it falters is pretty much everything else, the formula is still intact. There is a murder, there’s people on the run, there’s a secret organization, and Robert Langdon is unwittingly dragged into the mess plus he has codes to solve while marveling at art and architecture! If you see, those were the exact same things that made Angels & Demons such a fantastic read and left a lasting impression on me as a teenager when I read it. But now, you just keep flipping the pages wearily, rolling your eyes at regular intervals.

The brighter points, then? The philosophical discussion, for sure. But also, the art! Here we’ve moved past the Renaissance period onto the modern art eraThough I will have to agree with Langdon and say that I’m much more at home with Michelangelo and Da Vinci and Botticelli. Origin is set in Spain, and we start off at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao with its esoteric displays of modern art. Then we meet Antonio Gaudí(an architect famous for his spectacular modernist art) in Barcelona where things get much more intriguing. Sagrada Família, in particular, stands out for its sheer ambition and is soon to be the largest church in Europe. Brown does know how to set these great action pieces in epic locations, that’s his USP after all.

I’m not gonna touch upon the finer points of the plot, because that was a source of my constant chagrin. It’s 2017 when this book came out and most the plot devices and twists that the author employs have been done to death with. Even that final twist, which I saw coming from miles ahead, and was somehow hoping is just a red-herring. But no, Brown succumbs to the clichés because he apparently cannot do any better. There’s a sect of Brown-heads who will argue that one mustn’t judge his books for the prose or the plot, rather we should point our attention at the topic that is discussed. I get that, I do, and I enjoyed Inferno for the ethical dilemma it posed around a real issue. Origin lacked direction, and by the end I wasn’t sure if the book really achieved what it set out to do.

Where do we come from? Where are we going? These are the existential questions that frequently pop up in the book. I think it’s time Dan Brown asked those questions about himself.


Robert-Langdon, Spain, Artificial-Intelligence, Primordial-soup, Darwin, creationism, modern art, Barcelona, Winston Churchill, family-drama, science-vs-religion

Book Review: Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

The Line:

Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. (from GoodReads)

See the source image

What I thought:

If there are books that make you literally grope for words (and breath), because you don’t think that anything you’re ever gonna say could truly encompass what they made you feel, this is definitely one of those!

Call Me By Your Name is a prime example of what could be achieved when the author lays his soul bare on paper. And if this is purely fiction, Andre Aciman is truly one of the most brilliant writers around. A first person account of a 17 year old might sound a little trite to the unawares, but Elio’s relentless dialog with his desires, his dreams, his destiny is nothing short of a revelation, both in terms of the matter at hand and the craft. What a great character study too, when you reach into such depths of his personality that authors usually aren’t capable to letting you delve. And there is acumen, oodles of it. The characters all display a heightened sense of perception, a delight! But predominantly it’s Elio and his mind that I fell in love with, if that is even possible!

Before my mind goes off in tangents, a word on the prose too. In a lot of ways, what makes this book special is the language. It’s beautiful, poignant, heart-wrenching – without being overtly dramatic. Most of the sentences that hit you hard are the simple ones. A sea of emotions conveyed at the economy of a few words. So I lingered on each page a little longer, contemplated Elio’s own thoughts as if it were mine own. I wasn’t eager to finish reading his story, yet I couldn’t put the book down.

The final chapter was bittersweet. The movie ended where it did for cinematic purposes, but the book goes a little further and there’s an open ending, joy!

Now excuse me while I go find someone to call them by my name. Later!


Italy, old-world, queer, protagonists who read books, love, sensuality, longing, coming-of-age

Book Review: Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe


I have always asserted that books could never drive me to tears. But that is until now; because Uncle Tom’s Cabin came close, very close. And if it could have such an effect on me, after all these years when slavery is pretty much done and dusted with and everybody acknowledges it for the abominable act that it was, I cannot even begin to ascertain the way it would have moved the population that was directly or indirectly a part of it, back when it was originally published.

Much of that can be credited to the author’s devastating portrayal of the black families: what they were in the eyes of the slave-keepers and traders, what they had to endure, and ultimately, what they had to lose. It almost feels ridiculous to say this in retrospect, but the book’s raison d’etre is to show that the slaves were just people, after all.  We, in the current world, have the privilege of history. We know how ultimately slavery was abolished under Lincoln in 1865, but at the time that book was published, things were still under steam. A group of people would vehemently hold on to their belief (based on their holy book) that the slaves were better off under their masters, that they needn’t be free. And I suppose this book served as a bird’s eye view to finally see the issue of slavery as a humane problem. That every man was equal under the eyes of God, to quote the Bible.

Christianity, indeed, is one of the bigger themes of the book. And one that Harriet uses to drive her point home multiple times. It begs the question of whether it would have been impossible to make people see the good side without bringing God and salvation into the picture, but as was evident, it did serve her purpose. Take Tom for instance, our lead character, who is a man of integrity, compassion, courage and just what you’d call a “really good fellow”. It is frequently implied that Tom is the person that he is because of his faith and his joyous submission to God. So much so that his unwavering faith helps him even in death. He knew that he was going to a better place. And he makes it clear to the people around him, and by extension, the readers.

The other political and civil messages are delivered through various characters such as George Harris for instance (an industrious man who flees to Canada with his wife and child to attain freedom from his abusive master). Even otherwise, Harriet populates her book with characters who fall under every corner of the moral compass. It’s through these characters that we see the plight of the slaves and also of the keepers. One of my favorite sections of the book are the debates between Augustine St. Claire and Miss Ophelia. Two people who are on the same page about slavery, but for totally different reasons.

It’s all these ideas and contemplative remarks bouncing off the pages that make this book such a thrilling read. There’s hardly ever a dull moment, because even when nothing of import is going on, the narrative still keeps you mulling. And while this is not a book that one praises for its prose, I will say that it was pretty functional. The fact that she even went as far as to get the voices distinct is no small achievement.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an important book; not just for what it stands for, but also for what it was able to achieve. In Abe Lincoln’s own words, Harriet was “the little woman who made the great war”.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Book Review



The author dedicates this book to all the boys who’ve had to learn to play by different rules.

Little wonder, then, that this one moved me to bits, resonated with my soul on different levels, made me look back on my own life as a round peg in a square hole!!

Aristotle(aka Ari) is quite unlike the every day 15 yo teenager. Introverted and troubled and yet wise and loving, he lives in a cocoon, observes details that nobody seems to care about, and frequently wonders why he doesn’t act like people his own age. He’s got virtually no friends but that is until Dante comes along. Dante is the dreamer, the artist, the kind of an angelic soul with just the tinge of naughty undertone that it’s hard to not fall in love with him.

The friendship between Ari and Dante is so beautifully etched that I started to feel a little envious by the end of it. When people speak their minds without any ego or other kind of bullshit, it’s such a delightful thing, really. And this book embraces it whole heartedly. A lot of dialogues made me go ‘oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!’ and that’s no small achievement.

It was both scary and thrilling just how much I was able to relate to both Ari and Dante.

“I want people to tell me how they feel. I’m not so sure I want to return the favor.”

The above line by Ari seems like a very simple observation about himself but it struck me deeply as I echo the same emotion. There are a lot of these little drizzles of almost cathartic insights into an introvert’s psyche which I was constantly agreeing with.

The prose is simple, just like how a 15-17 yo boy would think. The books feels like more of an inner monologue; there are no heavy conversations and most of it feels like how you’d talk in real life. And like I said before, sometimes all it takes is a couple of words to trigger a deep response within you.

There’s naught much else that I will say here other then, GO READ IT! This is the best coming-of-age story I’ve read in years. And for a change, I cried because I was happy not sad!

Career Of Evil – Robert Galbraith – Book Review

J.K.Rowling isn’t just famous because she was creative enough to come up with a whole new magical world of her own. She is actually a damn terrific writer who knows how to create strong characters, people you can’t help fall in love with. She’s also amazing at writing a whodunit (pretty much all Harry Potter books are whodunits). Why I say all this is that, with the third book in the Cormoran Strike series that JKR authors under the pen name Robert Galbraith, she finally gets to show the best of herself: the way she can weave a deeply personal story out of a mystery thriller.

For people who are unaware of the story thus far, Cormoran Strike is an ex-military officer who’s lost one of his legs in war and he now runs a little detective agency in London. Robin Elacott joins as his assistant and the only staff member, and slowly becomes his confidante and good friend. Robin is very unconventional in the sense that she doesn’t care about the meagre salary that Strike pays her but stays with him because she actually loves the job! Something her fiancé Matthew seems to hate and constantly prods her to look for a much more “safer” (and boring) job. In the first two books, Cormoran and Robin team up to solve some high-profile cases and get some good press which leads to a flourishing clientele.

But just when I was thinking that we know everything we needed to know about Cormoran and Robin’s personal lives and their past, Rowling drops Career of Evil, a book which entirely deals with their demons from the past. I was not expecting that we would get to know these people at such a deeper level but Rowling is after-all a master at this sort of thing.

So the basic premise is this: Robin gets a package delivered to her one day at the office front door and when she opens it there’s a severed leg of a woman inside. Cormoran immediately suspects that whoever did this did this to get at him, using Robin as a weapon. So he digs into his past and comes up with three people, one of which being his own step-dad, who he knew would have a vengeance against him. The rest of the book follows Cormoran and Robin’s investigation on each of the suspects, revealing a lot of backstory in parallel. It’s an intriguing tale told in a slick way and never gets heaved down by its own story.

What also keeps the proceedings interesting is the increasing romantic tension between Cormoran and Robin. Sure, Corm has a girlfriend and Robin is actually engaged to be married to someone else, but there are some fleeting moments where Rowling lets us see how these two are just perfect for each other. And she also doesn’t shy away from letting her characters actually consider this alternative. You just have to read this book to find out how it ends.

It was also quite a brave move to deal with a concept as mind-boggling as Body Integrity Identity Disorder wherein a person would actually wish to be an amputee (don’t worry this isn’t a spoiler!). It adds a whole new layer to the book and I thought Rowling was probably making this all up but I looked up online and apparently it’s really a thing.

If there was a little negative, it’s only that the clue-dropping wasn’t effective enough. This is not the kind of book that is gonna give you a lot of AHA! moments on your second read. When the murderer is finally revealed, you don’t go “Of course! How did I not see that!”

But I still think that this is a brilliant addition to the detective novel genre and since Rowling has said that there is seemingly no end to the books that she could write in this series, I’m sure we’re gonna get a lot of exciting books in the future.

Turns out I’m a Ravenclaw after all.

Screenshot from 2016-02-14 22:12:20

Have y’all tried the Sorting Hat on Pottermore?

Well I just did and after a flurry of curious but undecipherable questions, the Hat placed me into Ravenclaw! And I’m actually content with the decision because as cool as Gryffindor is, I know my heart echoes more of what Ravenclaw stands for.

And the quiz is actually not very straight-forward, so you can’t really trick it into giving the house you desire (read:Gryffindor). I mean: Moon or Stars? goes a question. How could that possibly be linked into any of the houses’ qualities I cannot say. But I’m sure there’s some deep psycho-analysis between every answer as it was pretty accurate in my case.

And oh, there’s a similar quiz thingy to pick your wand too – I mean, your wand picking you of course! 😉 And turns out mine’s an adventurer’s wand! Yay!

Screenshot from 2016-02-14 22:21:35

P.S. If you have been living under a rock and do not know what Pottermore is, it is an exciting new online platform from JKR herself to keep the Harry Potter world alive. There are news articles with the latest happenings, and not to forget: exploring the books again in detail with brand new information from Rowling thrown in. It’s the place to be for any true blue Harry Potter fan!!

The Hindu Lit For Life 2016 – Day 2 & 3

The brochure!

Lit For Life 2016 is the  sixth edition of Chennai’s own literary festival, organized by The Hindu newspaper.

The three day deluge of stimulating conversations has come to an end and I’m here  now with my mind going off in multiple places. I have to thank the people at The Hindu for bringing this to Chennai. The city has definitely bagged one more feather to its cap. And I hope to see this festival blossom into an even bigger phenomenon to become a go-to literary festival for South Indians at least. The Jaipur Literature Fest has already set the benchmark quite high.

There were two themes that will probably be my key takeaways this year – one has to do with “taboo” fiction, and the other is the whole mythology/religion/intolerance debate. While it’s true that the audience is equally split between the older and younger audience, it’s nice that we are able to have these conversations without anybody batting an eyelid. I mean, I expected there to be at least a groan or two when author Ananth read out an explicitly raunchy conversation from his erotic novel, but nothing happened and no ambulances were required after all. 😛

As Devdutt Pattanaik rightly put it in his speech, progress do not arise out of a tug-of-war. Nobody will gain anything if either side takes an unassailable position. One has to give a little for the back and forth debate to happen. That’s the only way we can sustain a healthy conversation. It also tied in neatly with the whole freedom-of-speech conundrum in that currently it is indeed very true that the “leftist”  society is going too left that they almost seem like the right wing.

Anyway, without further ado, here are my favourite sessions from the final two days of the fest…

True Detectives: Of sleuths in Gaborone and Edinburgh – Alexander McCall Smith

Am I the only one who hasn’t read Alexander McCall Smith, y’all? Well apparently, he’s this very popular British writer with a staggering number of 84 books under his belt and he’s still writing! This had been a fun session as the author himself seemed like a jolly good man, with a lot of funny one liners that had the audience in splits. And I’m most definitely gonna pick up his title “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” as everyone had great things to say about it.

Kama’s Sutra – Amrita Narayanan, Ananth Padmanabhan, Margaret Mascarenhas

An interesting discussion on erotic fiction. Though all three panelists wrote erotica, they all had different sensibilities which really made me see the number of ways one can approach any topic. My favourite was Amrita Narayanan’s attempt to delicately sexualize everyday life in her short story collection, which for the most part is not even given a curt nod to in this part of the country.

Coming Out – Sandip Roy, Living Smile Vidya, Philip Hensher

I was pleasantly surprised that they even had this session. As expected, the auditorium was only half filled for this one but what matters is that people came at all. Sandip and Philip are both openly gay authors and Vidya is the first transgender woman in India to hold a proper corporate job. The discussion was a bit desultory given the breadth of the issue at hand but it was interesting nonetheless.

Forbidden Fruit – Lionel Shriver, Manil Suri, Amrita Narayanan and Annie Zaidi

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver will be the next book I read. The book became a widespread phenomenon for its content which is of a mother hating pregnancy and childbirth and then her son, later on. The rest of the panel too had written something on the lines of a “forbidden fruit” which is the danger zone in literature, the unnecessary line that you are expected not to cross. Lionel’s words that while you’re breaking taboo several new ones are continuously taking birth ring very true.

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As one will eventually come to realize, smartphone cameras are just not made for zooming! You can barely make out Amish here. 

Scion of Ikshvaku – Amish

The penultimate session for the year, author Amish got a full house with this one. And as for something that I had been wondering myself, he explained why he cut down the “Tripathi” from his name. Turns out, Tripathi is a caste name in the north and he did not want that to be part of his identity. Which is thoughtful, I guess. Amish came in last year as well which was when he revealed that he was working on a new series which came true in the Ramachandra series. This time the conversation flowed more towards the concepts of religion and belief which I always find interesting. And I’ll admit that while I’m not a fan of the author himself, I’m grateful for what he’s done to increase the readers in our country!

To be honest, the three days flew so fast that time doesn’t seem to be have passed at all and yet here I am at the end of the third day with a lot of experiences and memories to cherish. So long for 2017 now.

Here’s the recap of Day 1 – > link

The Hindu Lit For Life 2016 – Day 1

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Get inkspired, ya’ll!

I wanted to be one of the first people at the auditorium to catch the best possible seats today, and I failed miserably. Who invented this damn Snooze button anyway? Well, as it happened, the event is actually scheduled to start off at 9:30 AM and I found myself entering the gates only at 9:35 AM, which is not good at all. As expected, I had to make-do with a seat at the very back of the auditorium (which by the way, was not as worse since Sir Mutha Venkata Subbarao Concert Hall is actually a pretty amazing place with steep seating so one always gets a clear view of the stage).

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With that rant aside, let me say that I cannot explain just how much I was looking forward to this literature festival in Chennai. It’s not often that a group of distinguished personalities come together to discuss and debate stuff in a civilized manner, leading to a multitude of enlightening and enthralling moments. I like how conversations such as what I witnessed today rekindle the gears in my head, and I’m sure a lot of the audience went home with something substantial to mull over as well.

The event is organized in two venues, one being the main auditorium itself and the other is the Hindu Pavillion which is just outside the auditorium. Sessions are conducted in parallel in both the locations so it’s necessary to be prudent when it comes to planning one’s day as you cannot be in two places at once (unless you’re Hermione Granger with a Time-Turner). Needless to say, there was a lot of hopping involved as I flitted back and forth between the Main Auditorium and the Hindu Pavillion to be present for the sessions which I thought would be interesting and up my alley, so to speak.



Turns out, I made all the right choices – at least for myself!

I won’t spell out the whole day but would like to talk about some of my most favourite ones at least.

KEYNOTE – My Kashmir: Omar Abdullah

This was the very first talk of the day and I enjoyed every second of Mr. Omar Abdullah’s (former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir and current MLA) commentary on the status quo of Kashmir. And I will say this, that a lot of us are probably misinformed or foggy when it comes to the matters of the state of Kashmir; but everything I haven’t learnt in my lifetime I learnt in those fifty-five minutes. He detailed why India and Pakistan behave the way they do when it comes to this sensitive issue, and how he hopes that the next time somebody does talk about Kashmir, they wouldn’t have to talk about the problems of Kashmir but of all the good things about it.

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Anatomy of a Murder: The Aarushi story – Avirook Sen and Tanveer Ahmed Mir

The murder that intrigued and disgusted the nation (and especially the press) to no end, and the court trial which was a ground for countless blatant mistakes. Avirook Sen, the journalist who covered the investigation from Day 1 and Tanveer, who still represents the parents of Aarushi in court, dissected the issue and laid out precisely what went wrong and how our legal system failed in dishing out a proper judgement. Avirook Sen also has a book out titled ‘Aarushi’ and I’m eager to read it. (And by the way, am I one of the very few people who loved Talvar, the movie?)

The Uses and Abuses of Religion – Devdutt Pattanaik and Laila Tyabji

Probably a very hot topic in our country right now which explains why this session turned out to be as fiery as it did! From Devdutt’s passive stance on ‘religious stupidity’ to Laila’s relevant counter-questions, it turned out to be a great discussion (for me personally, as an atheist). While Devdutt is too much of an agnostic for my liking, he does say that we need to respect others’ beliefs and opinions even when we do not subscribe to them. I found myself not agreeing to a lot of what he had to say otherwise (he is a mythology guy after all) and I think I’ll do a separate post on what I think about the topic.

But his one quote rings true – “Never reject the real in favor of the theoretical”

So that’s about it folks, I want to write a lot more but I’m pressed for time. Totally pumped for the coming two days though!

Well you’ll never guess what I wrote!

A Man Of Some Repute – Elizabeth Edmondson – Book Review



This is the first book in the A Very English Mystery series penned by Elizabeth Edmondson.

Firstly, there’s no way I’m going to resist a book set in 1950’s Britain and has a cover that looks as delicious as that. And now that I’ve read it, I don’t regret my obsession one bit. I’ve always been quite drawn to the Victorian era. The castles with their butlers and towers, sleepy villages, the slightly regal language and mannerisms – it’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading Conan Doyle and Wodehouse so much! Now Elizabeth Edmondson has come up with an equally delectable tale and I can tell it’s a great start to a potentially delightful series.

As is usual with mysteries, some one is dead at the beginning. In this case it’s the Lord Selchester, Earl of the intriguing village Selchester. He is presumed dead after he goes missing one stormy night never to return again. Seven years later, our protagonist Hugo Hawksworth (an ex-army official) and his teenage sister Georgia arrive from London as temporary lodgers at the castle as Hugo is given a desk job at a local office following his leg injury. The police seem to be on the verge of closing the case but the death of the Earl naturally kindles his curiosity and he starts to poke around until one shocking discovery which will change everything. Motives are sought, friends are questioned and the mystery becomes more woolly as the truth gets revealed in layers. It ends rather unexpectedly but in a satisfactory way.

I also liked how unpredictable the plot was. Sure, you have a standard template when it comes to crime-detective books but this one took nice detours along the way. The characterization was also something to be given credit to, as it is evident that the author took a special interest in giving all the characters some personality quirks that made them stand out in someway or the other. For example, Georgia’s gluttony. It’s a random detail and isn’t really relevant to the story but it makes the character that much more three dimensional.

I did have a minor issue with the way dialogue was used as information dump, especially at the very beginning. I was saying to myself that people don’t generally speak this way in real life, unless they’re characters in a play. And maybe that was the intended effect as each chapter was indeed divided into ‘Scenes’, but it did feel a tad awkward but thankfully got better as the book progressed.

All in all, a great cozy afternoon read if you’re into the kind of books this one falls under. Highly recommended and I will be picking up the second installment soon as this one does end on a surprise reveal!