Summer Reading Bucket List – From this Pre-Teen to Yours!


Summer vacations have finally started, so I’m super pumped up and ready to read! (And avoid studying Hindi.)

Ah, summer break. A time for leisure, recreation, and taking ‘er easy. Unless you’re me. (If you get this reference, I will love you for life!)

The life of a voracious reader has never been easy. The constant search for good books, the trouble of keeping up your grades at the same time, and of course, floating various extracurricular activities like guitar, swimming, taekwondo, breakdance and music as well.

But that’s why you need a little help, and hence my  list so you don’t miss the very best per me anyway!

So here’s my list of books to read for the summer, if you haven’t read them already.

  1. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – I’ve already written a detailed review for this series here but I still felt the need to feature it here, since it still has me writing fanfiction. After the destruction of North America, Panem is created. With 12 districts that are penniless, and a Capitol that kills their citizens for their pure amusement and to establish their superiority, a rebellion is bound to happen. With a captivating plot, a dystopian setting and unrequited romance, it has it all. I’m pretty sure it’ll have you eating out of its palm…er, pages?
  2. Wonder by R J Palacio – Another book with a detailed review, this book is a wonderful read for children and their parents alike, teaching them to be a little more kinder than necessary. August ‘Auggie’ Pullman, a smart and talented kid, talks and acts normal…until you see his face. A story so well written, you can almost see it happening. And the sad part, that’s actually true…it doesn’t matter whether its a rare facial disorder or just simply being overweight, kids are getting bullied, and this is one such story that will tug at your heartstrings.
  3. Like Smoke by Paro Anand –  With a detailed review here, all I need to say is the story takes credit for its relatability to the struggles of teen and pre-teen life. This book is very useful if you have a hard time squeezing in reading into your schedule. With short story that can be read anytime, anywhere, you can get books back into your system…and this one will have you coming back for more.
  4. Chained by Lynne Kelly – I read this book in fourth grade and I was a complete wreck. After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt, meeting his new best friend.  The pure, moving, and undeniable tale of friendship with the elephant and Hastin’s compassion, a wondrous power to love and strength beyond his years is sure to linger in your mind. This is a book that will impact your life and change your viewpoint on most things.
  5. Talking Of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar – A book to chew on. At first, I didn’t really know whether I should add this book to the list, since it revolves around a controversial plot. The story of an attempted suicide and the events that lead up to it, written by the three people closest to her – her ex-best friend (Aaliya), the stereotypical rich kid who plays golf and polo and is hugely affronted when Muskaan declines to go out with him (Prateek), her current friend, whose family struggles to make ends meet, and is single-minded in his pursuit of academic excellence (Subhojoy). This strong and soulful book points out the some poignant problems of adolescent life, and how picking at a small difference can change someone’s life, and almost destroy it.

Have another must read favourite ? Do share in the comments





Smurfs: The Lost Village – A Lost cause

Our summer vacation had just started and we all agreed that a movie would be a great start. Scrolling through the list of kid-friendly movies, the Smurfs movie was the only one available, and my younger brother seemed very enthusiastic to see it, hence we decided to give it a shot.

Sitting in the theatre, (after fighting with my brother, spilling two tubs of popcorn on myself and getting reprimanded for my lack of responsibility), I realised that this movie was fully animated, and the style had changed as well.

Inspite of initial dislike, I had enjoyed both the first and the second one. (SHHH)

Here is my mind ramblings while watching the movie:

  1. Where’s Patrick, Grace, Blue and Victor? I miss Patrick denying everything and  Grandpa Victor being there to correct him.
  2. Um…why is there a rivalry between Hefty and Brainy? Do we have to do stereotype wars now?
  3. Oh, yay ! Clumsy’s not-so-clumsy anymore. Turns out, he can ride  fire breathing dragonflies really well! 
  4. What is the deal with the female smurfs? Hello, I ordered a backstory with extra drama. Still waiting?
  5. Major plot holes here. Why is it called the forbidden forest? Was there some history between Papa Smurf and Smurf Willow? (I half expected that, though. I was more shocked when it didn’t happen.)
  6. Oooookay. AND MOST IMPORTANT What happened to Gargamel? Where is Hank Azaria?   I missed his wondrous evil..

    But do not despair, the movies was not all bad. After every storm, there is a rainbow, AKA positive commentary:
  1. The animation style is much better than the older one, and suits the targeted audience more. Reminded me of the beautiful forest in Avataar
  2. Who doesn’t love cute little glow-in-the-dark bunnies?
  3. The female smurfs are amazing at everything and completely outwit the male smurfs. I like how they are warrior types and not cutie, blondie and dancey!
  4. Gargamel’s going to become GAGA-mel running after 201 smurfs. (Gaga=Crazy)
  5. Clumsy finally found something he’s good at.

I think the movie was aimed at a younger audience, since there wasn’t enough plot for people above eight

I found the second Smurfs movie particularly interesting with Smurfette exploring her bad side, the choices that shape her and Papa Smurfs’s wise words as always. But this one felt like a sparkly gorgeously wrapped present with a half hearted gift bought in a hurry ..

Overall, this movie was okay. Sure, take your little kid and go, but in my opinion it’s a movie you can wait for to appear on TV. Smurfs 2, despites it’s uncreative title, held learning opportunities for both adults and children as well and was much better.

Recommendations? Kids  below 8 only. (okay ten may be)

Oh, and before you go to watch it, adults, remember to take a book.

Jobless, Clueless, Reckless (Revathi Suresh) – The Tale of a Barbie Murderer

Jobless, Clueless, Reckless. The story of Kavya, who acts like your average teenager –  angsty, miserable, lovestruck, whiny, and wanting nothing more than  to “scratch her life out and start over.” Since this is a story, our protagonist simply must be different from everyone else, and so Kavya will endures emotionally distant parents and a precocious brother, and can’t seem to make any friends. It doesn’t help that she is homeschooled, dresses in black and a reputation as a murderer of Barbies and, most probably, little kids as well. Oh, and her brother likes pink and cross-stitch, and wants to advertise the fact to the whole world, and her address is 708, Kansas, Grand Canyon, Bangalore, India.

Carnatic music-singer-slash-Party-queen Indu’s two lives, a friend who ‘disappeared’, and of course, dreamy greek god Kiran, are thrown together in a classic bad-boy-meets-emo tale of drama, love and mystery.

Kavya – The fake emo with a secret
Indu – The salwar-kameez wearing wild partier, who also shoplifts
Lara – The backstabber with all the gossip
Dhrittiman – Cross-stitch kid who also loves pink
Abhi – Dumbalina

And of course,
Kiran – The non-Zac Efron, who’s also not a gentleman

Okay, I’ve overdone the mockery, but still, this book was disappointing to read. I expected this book to be more than just a cliche. I never knew what happened to Kavya’s mom, why her Kavya’s dad left, what was up with Dhrittiman (Kavya’s younger brother), and how come Niya and Lara pretended they were her friends?

While the book isn’t all that bad, the humour is just masterfully done. But saddens me to think that many who read this book have considered this an accurate representation of the lives that many teens lead.  I think I might be finding this a little distasteful because I prefer adventure/romance stories, and not just teenage romance. I found the extensive use of foul language for no reason unreasonable, pointless, and just plain annoying.

The tone I felt it was Kavya’s rant, and would have been better to read if it had a bit more emotion and confession, since she’s pouring her feelings out into a diary. I like the idea and flow of the events, and wished there was more story around each one.

And I would have liked to see Kavya tie up  or atleast face the many other areas of her life that we are introduced to …not just her love life.

For me , this book is something to read once  but if you like chick-flicks, this will be your soulmate!





Like Smoke (Paro Anand) – Relatable Teenage Life Stories

Like Smoke by Paro Anand was a book I got my hands on only because it was recommended by a friend. Again. Though I wouldn’t have thought of reading this book initially, I’m glad I did. The stories were deep and thoughtful, and brought out a sense of gratitude in me that I wouldn’t have discovered myself.

Each and every one of these stories is a gateway into a divergent world of another unique teen’s mind, thoughts and emotions. It allows you to tap into an unusual perspective, different, yet extremely similar to our own mindset. Each teenager, having to deal with a bucketful of emotional wreckage every day, can put it down, can describe it, capturing every inch of that feeling and forcing it on you. These emotions are relatable for most teenagers, and probably for some adults too. It’s like walking through a garden, except that all the fruits and flowers are memories, and each fragrance or stench is an emotion.

Even though every single story has rooted itself inside me, none has gone as deep as They Called Her ‘Fats’, the story of a javelin-throwing prodigy, Fatima Whitbread. Fatima is unemotional and isn’t socially inclined, and is constantly found in rumours around her multiple child-care centres. They called her a ‘witch’ and said that she performed ‘ancient pagan rituals’ in the middle of the night, but despite all that, her sheer will to run, to throw, set her free. It is an encouraging and touching story, and it tells us to, no matter what, follow your dreams. This story wouldn’t have been an initial choice of mine, being sports-themed and all, but I have to grudgingly admit that I do take away from this story. Chasing after your aspiration is an important thing in life, and if we didn’t pursue them, then we’d all be failures.

Another thing about the book that I really appreciated, was the effort to bring in themes that children today should know. There were stories about terrorism, riots and domestic violence. I find this important as thing like these are actually happening in this world, right now. We’re trapped in our personal safe bubble by our parents -even though they only want to protect us- and we hardly know what’s going on outside it. I’m saying this through first-hand experience…I had to find out some day.

Stories such as ‘Those Yellow Flowers of August’, ‘Wild Child’, ‘Milk’, ‘See you Shortly’ ‘Jason Jamison and I’ or even ‘City Boy’, which will make you feel like sobbing, wanting to break something or crying out in rage because of the unfairness of this world and what it does to people. There are other stories too, like ‘Susu’, which will make you burst out in laughter, in contrary to all the emotional and heart-wrenching tales.

Each one of these tales will touch you in some way or another. Each teen in this book is someone you have seen, or maybe even been. They are not all of one event, of one time frame, or even of one emotion, they just do one thing similar – they feel, and they want to help others do the same.

The book feels raw at first glance, and probably might feel like a rant to older readers. But people younger beg to differ. The book is something you just pick up and read when a wave of emotion threatens to drown you, so you can relate to something or want to lighten up. The only recommendation I have for this book is teenagers, and those who are adolescent at heart or overly-emotional, like me.

I have nothing more to say but to pick up a copy of your own, and no matter how long it sits on your bookshelf, it will call you, and then you will pick it up sometime. I guarantee.


The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) – A Book to KILL for!

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins topped my reading list for the year 2016 with its unusual plot and twists where you least expect it. I am penning a single review  of the three books as a whole series, rather than individually…because  you will end up picking it up as set( I was gifted one too:)) and simply because you are unlikely to stop after one!

It’s set in the dystopian city of Panem, where the governing body or the ‘Capitol’ send two children, aged twelve or older, from each of the 12 districts, to their death in a game meant for their amusement, so they can sit and watch children scream in pain as they’re mauled, stabbed or shot by each other, while the Capitol eats roast turkey at the dinner table. Great conversation starter, right?

When Katniss is determined to come out alive along with her fellow tribute Peeta, things get a little bit dicey. They decide to play out an tragic ‘star-crossed lovers’ story, where they’re outright refusing to kill me each other due to their ‘undying’ love for each other. Sort of like, if the Capitol wants drama, we’ll give you drama!

And if there wasn’t a plot twist to a book like this, that would be doing injustice to this book (and this review). However, there isn’t just one plot twist, there’s two! These two major twists lead to the formation of a love triangle and multiple blackmail scenarios.
A perfect blend of suspense, creativity and romance, The Hunger Games had me hooked. This book had me practically screaming ‘Why, Peeta why?’ at his dramatic acts and squealing at Everlark moments. (In case you didn’t know, Everlark is the pairing of Katniss and Peeta.)
My favorite character has to be Katniss. Cliché, but true. Katniss is everything an independent warrior should be – rock strong, cunning, understanding, amazingly accurate aim, and a rebellious spirit. She changes drastically when thrown into the Hunger Games, from a girl concerned about her sister’s duck-tailed dress, to someone responsible for the rise of a rebellion. Katniss, has one weak point – the ones she cares about. In Mockingjay, when Peeta’s memories have been tampered with, he sees Katniss as someone evil, Katniss gets upset and tends to blow a fuse when people mention Peeta.
A thing I didn’t like? I’m not a big fan of romance. At some points in time, I can’t stand it, especially as it wiggles its way into every Young Adult novel . I know I said it was a perfect blend, but yet it keeps me from reading the book to its full potential. (Even while reading The House of Hades, part of my favorite series, I had to skim through the chapters set in either Percy or Annabeth’s point of view.)
Recommendations? I almost said Everyone must read it…The deaths and torture of the tributes are described in agonizing detail,  are certainly painful to read. Yet, I found the book simply amazing.(Creepy?) I bet you’ll be hooked until the end of Mockingjay. However, I would suggest the very young preteens to wait until they have a stomach for some pain.
It’s thought-provoking as the reality of the book weighs on you when you put it down. The book makes you ponder about authority, governments, freedom, sacrifice and love. Do the ends justify the means? In the end, can you be yourself  and not succumb to judgement in world where power, wealth , celebrity status rule? In short, can you be human in an inhumane situation…
My favourite quote from the book “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear”
Lastly, it has a -severely disappointing- movie. Please avoid. Whatever version you made up in your head about these while reading the  books, it will be 100 times better than this movie. I promise! There you have been warned.
Let the Games..errr..reading begin!

The Serpent’s Revenge (Sudha Murty) – Mesmerizing Mahabharata Gems

I think this book was intentionally thrust into my get me to take a break from the world of Greek mythology (which has almost completely taken over my life… I live in the world of Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus). Though it’s true that I haven’t read any Indian Mythology since I was six and had exhausted all the Amar Chitra Kathas and Tarangini Series

This book turned out to be a marvelous refresher from the twisted tales of Greek mythology. Sudha Murty’s book The Serpent’s Revenge – Unusual Tales from the Mahabharata is a must-have, enjoyable and thought provoking read for parents and children alike.

This book has well-known stories like Shakuntala to stories that I hadn’t heard of, like the story of the half-golden mongoose who taught Yudhishthira what is a true sacrifice or Vikarna, Duryodhana’s good brother.

One thing I enjoyed reading in the book, is that at the end of the chapters, she tells us about the location of the places in the story or what the names of certain objects and actions are…just a little insight that adds a special something.

Another interesting thing about this book is that it is in chronological order. It starts with the story of Shakuntala, events that lead up to the Mahabharata war, then goes to the stories of people in the war and ends with the stories of the descendants of the Pandavas. 

My favourite story is the story of Barbarika, Bhima’s grandchild, and his three great arrows which could strike down its target, be it even five miles from the shooter. This is because it talks about how vows made out of haste can cause mass destruction, and how life and death is predestined.

Sudha Murty’s  story telling style is simple yet extremely engrossing. (Reminded me of my old favourite Grandmother’s Bag of Stories.. here again I could just not stop at one.)  Do read the Introduction as well.. she has explained many little questionable bits like some figurative exaggerations, boons and curses and punishment by God in her inimitable straight and gentle way.

Speaking of style, the awesome illustrations by Priyankar Gupta set a perfect mood for a book of Indian mythology. He has a perfect blend of sketch, shadow and originality that I don’t see in many illustrated books. The art of Duryodhana at the bottom of the Brahmosarovara lake, using the Jal Mantra to save his life, is my favourite.

In my opinion, this book is directed towards younger and middle-school aged readers of this generation, who -like me- generally re-read the same kind of contemporary books (many like me again and again too!)

Most adults already know most or all of the stories written here, but will still find it a great reading experience with their kids, reading these at bedtime. Both my brother and me loved these stories read out to us on our long car drives on the vacation and at bedtime by Amma. She says it reminds her of her grandfather narrating these to her.

The best thing about this book? It got me and my family reading and discussing the stories and questioning and exploring the behaviour of the people. Questions that  we argued about  included..

  • Is it really okay to burn down a forest and not care about its inhabitants? Effects of  mistakes that follow you for generations..
  • Would you give up a place in heaven for a dog?
  • Why would greatest warriors like Drona and Karna not hesitate to plot and brutally murder Abhimanyu, knowing he was barely a boy?
  • Why didn’t Duryodhana seize up the opportunity and pick Nakul or Sahdev to fight and win the war when Yudhishthira said he could choose anyone to fight? ( Another version of the story in the book)
  • Parikshita ‘s impulsive stupidity in a fit of rage or just destiny?

I can say with confidence that just about everyone will enjoy reading this book, whether they know all the stories or not. Do take time out to enjoy these unusual tales from the Mahabharata.

And yes, the Good news.. Sudha Murthy has promised this is the first of a Mythology Series!



Apoorva’s Fat Diary (Nandini Nayar) – Enormously Funny!

Is Apoorva’s Fat Diary an Indian retort to the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series? A fat girl struggling to survive in a malicious, non-forgiving school world? These were my initial thoughts as I picked this book.

Written by Nandini Nayar and published by Mango Books, this book is indeed a delightful diary of a plump Indian school girl. Apoorva (the main character in this book), like all growing tweens, loves food and hates to write! The diary begins as a negotiated agreement between Apoorva and her persuasive mother to improve her writing skills. Apoorva agrees to this on one condition-she will only write about the 12 best meals she has eaten- and nothing more! But the story has been crafted so beautifully that it is a insightful peep into of every chubby school kid’s diary. Her mother relying on fat parenting books to get her fit into the shape of the world, a super fit dad, an adorable Aaji, her pretty sister Avantika and of course, an annoying, irritating little brother Ashu are very relatable!

The bus bully Bharat and the quirky ‘elephant’ jokes are hilarious! Rakesh uncle, his mindless attitude and the family’s varied reactions to his mean comments, once again underline the importance of remaining unperturbed and following you heart like Apoorva. I really like Apoorva’s cool attitude because it inspires me not to get shaken by jokes and let nothing bother me.

The book was very entertaining, stuffed with breaths of everyday school life thrills and chills- from eating someone else’s lunch, getting glasses to the ‘Grand Sports Day’ and Apoorva’s discomfiture. What truly elevated the experience was the superlatively funny illustrations by Lavanya Karthik.

A few of my favourite are the monster in Rakesh uncle’s shadow, Ashu with a tape across his mouth, Apoorva getting squashed by a ‘fat’ book, her trial for sports day events and the question and answers. With my habit of doodling in my own diary, these cartoons made it a perfect kid’s dairy to me!

Every fat girl will find herself nodding to this book. But Apoorva’s sensible head, the take everything in your stride attitude and her value for true friendship in school life were the takeaways for me.

I chose this  for the contest because every Apoorva and her friends need to read this book to get a taste of what it is like to be a fat girl in the school and why that’s cool too!


(P.S. My review was one of the winning reviews for the Leading Reading Schools of India 2016 challenge and was officially published here.)