The Zoya Factor (by Anuja Chauhan): a much delayed review

The Zoya FactorThe Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book two or more years ago and I still have the copy lying about somewhere. Recently I received a copy of Chauhan’s Those Pricey Thakur Girls and decided to at least add this book as “read” on my goodreads shelf.
I remember that I loved the first half. I hadn’t yet read a novel by an Indian author that wasn’t literary and yet boasted competent narrative skills. This author showed her potential from the very first chapter as she set the background for us and let us get a feel for her heroine.
Unfortunately it was like reading…have you ever watched one of those Indian TV serials that are focused on the misunderstandings and misfortunates of two fated-for-each-other people? Recently a lot of them seem to be cropping up and they have meet-cute beginnings and funny incidents and fate intervening to bring them together and so on. Basically every cliche romancelandia has ever invented.
Zoya Factor was like that only with better writing skills and some genuinely funny dialogues.
It was the second half that really disappointed me. Till then suspension of disbelief wasn’t so hard and the protagonist’s silliness, wrong assumptions, bad decisions all seemed endearing. After the halfway mark however my patience was severely tested as all I could feel was embarrassment for the heroine and bewilderment that the hero even liked her, when I couldn’t see a single thing they had in common or a single thing he could admire in her.
She’s textbook for the kind of heroine I could never root for. She wasn’t resourceful, wasn’t capable of independent, un-influenced thought, held stupid prejudices and made frequent and faulty jumps to wrong conclusions.
The hero was a lot more relatable and I felt almost bad for him because I knew he would end up with her. He was a decent guy, with a lot of integrity who just wanted to prove himself and do a good job as a team captain. The fact that he didn’t believe in lucky charms and the efficacy of having a free-loader hanging around his team, making them think that all their wins came from having her around, didn’t make him arrogant and close-minded. It made him a good captain and an intelligent man.
But you know what nearly made me give up the book three-fourths of the way? – That the heroine was so obviously inferior to the smart, capable, pragmatic hero. I know that’s a relationship dynamic often explored in books and movies – bumbling heroine and cynical hero – and it’s supposed to be a yin-yang, she-balances-him thing, but it didn’t work for me in this book. It just didn’t.


After finishing ‘Reflected in You’ by Sylvia Day: review!

Warning: The post below is full of spoilers for both Bared to You and Reflected in You. 

Warning #2: The post below is pretty darned long.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ *

I just finished Reflected in You. I really like the cover. I don’t care what series first started the trend of simple and elegant covers, but I was heartily tired of the half naked couples  (often headless!) making out on my paperbacks.

But this cover!

reflected in you

That key ring is pertinent to the story. A turning point, a milestone, even a talisman. Now this is the kind of cover I’ll buy a book for. Industry! What took you so long, you dumb complacent mammoth!

So in book #1 of the Crossfire series began the passionate and somewhat obsessive relationship of Gideon Cross and Eva Trammel.

It is a fact that a lot of the basic premise established in the first book, Bared to You is reminiscent of Fifty Shades of Grey. To enumerate:

Gideon Cross –

  • Young but ridiculously rich and powerful
  • Obsessively controlling and scarily motivated, takes information gathering to a disturbing level
  • Suffered parent-related childhood trauma and years of sexual abuse
  • Doesn’t want to talk about his own secrets but is determined to ferret out Eva’s
  • Never been in love and certainly never revealed his deeper issues to a lover
  • Is very very afraid of losing Eva

Eva Trammel –

  • Just out of college and already has a great job in a big city that she loves
  • Has parents who live separately and the mother is married happily to someone else
  • Feels unable to deny the attraction between Gideon and herself even though she finds his obsessive need for control annoying some times
  • Has best friend/room mate who’s a big part of her life

Other stuff –

  • They end up in bed in almost every chapter
  • Manipulative jealous ex with her own issues

But most of the similarities that readers have pointed out are limited to the first book and seem superficial the deeper you go into the series. I’ll give you the differences and let you judge for yourself:

  • Eva’s not a virgin. Has had years of consensual sexual experience and very much enjoys sex.
  • The heroine acts her age and has the vocabulary of a college graduate and a woman in her early twenties. Doesn’t think, “oh shit, shit, shit!” or “oh fuck, oh fuck!” every time she deliberately angers the hero and then looks at him all round eyed and slow blinking, as if she’s afraid he’s going to throttle her when experience could tell her that all he’ll do is make out with her a bit. Oh man, Ana got on my nerve with all her “control freak!” and “perv!” as if using the whole word or saying something non-judgemental would make her stand out too much.
  • Gideon doesn’t undermine Eva’s decisions and when she explains her own needs and limitations, he pays attention. And every time Gideon takes things too far and Eva feels her independence being threatened she deals with it pragmatically by either making it clear to Gideon that he was wrong or getting back at him on her own terms.
  • Eva had childhood trauma of her own. She was sexually abused and had to go through years of therapy to get out of a destructive pattern that she’d established in her teenage years.
  • Eva’s relationship with her parents and her step father is multi faceted.
  • Gideon has a difficult relationship with his own family. It made no sense in the first book, but by the end of the second I could understand why Gideon has trouble talking about it.
  • Gideon and Eva do resolve most of their issues through sex, but to them it’s like a reaffirmation of the fact that they want each other more than anyone else. They’re both insecure and get hurt easily, but neither want to end the relationship. In this book #2 was worse than #1. I couldn’t turn three pages without them making out. But there was actually a **good reason for this. =D
  • Eva had years of therapy to understand all her neuroses. Gideon had years of practise suppressing the idea that he had to deal with his neuroses. It takes the whole of the first book for Gideon to start wanting to face his demons because otherwise he might lose Eva.
  • Eva’s bestfriend and room-mate, Cary, has a history of his own and is someone Eva can lean on without worrying about being judged. He also needs Eva and we can see how much Eva has already helped Cary and how close the two of them are because of their shared history. There’s nothing ‘stock’ about Cary’s character.
  • Eva’s an adult and so is Gideon and at no time did I ever feel that Gideon treated Eva as a child. The only mention of Dominant and Submissive behaviour in the book was when Gideon told Eva that she only truly gets off when she gives up control in bed and that the reverse is true for him. But this never bleeds into the power dynamics of their relationship. They’re equals.
  • Gideon’s issues pose a greater danger to their relationship than Eva’s, but Eva is never disgusted by him or by his history. When I said they’re equals, I do mean they are emotional equals as well. Something that immensely bothered me about Ana in 50 Shades was that she kept saying she thought Christian’s habits and desires were perverted but couldn’t help enjoying his attentions. That girl was hypocritical as well as immature. Her whole world was black and white, where she was white and Christian was black. Grey? What grey?

There are plenty of other stuff that makes Crossfire a very different series from 50 Shades. But I hope you’ve already got a good idea.

** In the second book, Gideon and Eva begin couple’s therapy in a bid to stabilize their mercurial relationship. The one thing they refuse is abstinence even though the good doctor points out that they need other ways to prove their feelings for each other. Through out the book, they kept coming up against obstacles like trust and openness and suppressed jealousy and kept using sex to get through them. Eventually a threat came from outside and to protect Eva, Gideon started staying away from her. Eva and I the readers went through several chapters worth of confusion and heart ache and no sex and I thought that was how Ms Day was going to end the book. But then the end arrived and I realized there was actually a purpose to all that seemingly gratuitous sex followed by days of heart break. The doctor was right and even though Gideon and Eva didn’t intend to take his advice, outside circumstances forced them to spend time apart and in the end their relationship was stronger for it. I loved that!

Something else I loved was how Eva dealt with the people who made Gideon’s childhood traumatic. I can tell this will be further explored in the book #3 and very much look forward to it.

All of this is not to say that the books are perfect. All relationships depicted in the two books are deep and well rounded and Gideon and Eva’s connection resonates deeply with the readers’ emotions, but there were still a few areas where the books were weak and I should at least mention them.

  • Nathan Barker, the boy who’d raped and abused Eva when she was just a child, had been a minor and just child himself when the abuse started. He was twelve when he began to rape Eva and terrorizing her into silence, so she wouldn’t even tell her mother. It bothered me that Nathan’s character was dismissed as villainous and evil (which was too simplistic to begin with) but no one ever gave a thought to why he was like that. Was it a psychological disorder? Then why was that not discussed in the book? It’s just…Nathan’s is the only character not fully fleshed out in this series and I don’t understand that. Everyone else was given motive and plausible reasons for their behaviour, but a criminal behaviour like rape by a child (!!) was dismissed as a bully syndrome (actually Eva only once calls Nathan a bully and that was to avoid telling her dad about her childhood) while the story focused on how Eva was still scared that she’d accidentally meet the adult Nathan one day.
  • The second thing was that in book #2, the whole stalker threat was happening (has anyone noticed how often stalkers provide the requisite threat in romances these day? Where are the bad-ass villains of the olden days?!) and being dealt with behind the scenes. Since the readers were in Eva’s head, we only get to know what information she gathers from other people. It was important that we focus on Eva while Gideon becomes inexplicably aloof and we only get to know the reasons later, but a whole character was brought into the story and dispatched without ever coming into full view for us. The ending made it worth it for me, but it still seemed like shaky handling that could have been done better.
  • Now while Eva is no Mary Sue and doesn’t have men falling for her right and left, I was slightly disappointed when an old boyfriend came into the story and declared his intentions to pursue her. Eva, who is usually so direct and blunt, was going through a period of hurt feelings and distress with Gideon and couldn’t seem to make her disinterest clear to the guy. That was so unlike the Eva I’d grown to admire, I have to put it on the ‘cons’ list.

Gideon and Eva are strong characters that I would come back to again. Their romance and the struggle to make their relationship a functional one is filled with enough internal conflict and realistic reactions that I wont get bored on a reread easily. They are both self deprecating on occasions and Eva especially is very clear-eyed about the mistakes they make and the adjustments she has to make while demanding Gideon bend on certain matters. It’s refreshing to read about a relationship where the protagonists don’t spend days on a Big Misunderstanding or Miscommunication. They’re both too stubborn to give up each other no matter how fragile their self-worth.

A final note on Ms Day’s writing. I have said in my review of the first book that Ms Day seems to have read 50 Shades and then after a considering pause seems to have said to herself, “well, there’s a good story in there somewhere and I can tell it better.” She can, she really, really can. And something else she can do very well is describe New York city. I know many people love it, but it’s how Ms Day writes about it (mostly in the passing) that makes me want to experience it too.

Amazon: Bared to You
Reflected in You
and soon to release: Entwined with You (A Crossfire Novel)

Bared To You (Review)

Bared to You (Crossfire, #1)Bared to You by Sylvia Day

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I like this cover better than the one with a pencil heel. What was that about?!

Now we’ve all heard the comparisons to Fifty Shades and let’s start off by clearing that up.
By the middle of this book I’d decided that Ms Day had definitely read Fifty and thought something like the following to herself –
“Well, that was disappointing. It’s a workable premise, there’s good material here, but the writing’s mediocre, the characters have been left undeveloped and the dialogues are uninspiring. I could do something with this and I could do it better.”

This isn’t a rip off. The story isn’t exactly the same no matter what the other reviewers tell you. The tropes are the same though. College graduate gets a job in a new city, billionaire notices her and insta-lust happens. There are only so many ways you can write this story.

Also they are both survivors of abuse.

I liked that here. That both of them (more…)

The Bro-Magnet (a netgalley review)

The Bro-Magnet The Bro-Magnet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was going to write a nice long review for this one but then I read one that pretty much said it all.—> Fiction Vixen

So here I’ll explain why I gave it four stars despite my great love for Johnny Smith. There were three reasons (and two of them contain mild spoilers):

The first: Till about half the book we had been regularly told that Johnny had a keen interest in law and after he helped out one of his lawyer clients with a case, Helen (who’s a DA) declined to go out with him because he’d apparently helped a criminal go free.
Helen took exception to his fondness for finding ‘loopholes’. When Johnny got his chance with the girl he vehemently denied this just as he vehemently denied ever being interested in sports, or beer.
In the end when he realized that he and Helen were not so different after all (and that his drastic changes were not all necessary) the one thing that is never resolved is whether Helen finds out about Johnny helping out that other lawyer and how strongly she feels about it.

Two: The climax came at the very end and too few pages were given to its resolution. It was too abrupt.

Three: We never found out why Helen said no to him the second time he asked her out and what made her change her mind.

And that’s it. I loved Johnny, his voice, his memories of his childhood, his friends and family, his opinions, his earnestness, his honesty and his humour. This is a really funny book, where the punch lines jump out at you and make your belly ache.

View all my reviews

Fifty Shades of Grey (A review)

UPDATE (March11, 2012) : The review below was written first on Dec 10, 2011. Since then I have completed the trilogy and read in depth reviews by many well-liked and credible reviewers on all three books. To be very honest I hadn’t thought much about the books after I finished reading them. They were decent enough reads (some parts enjoyable, others annoying). It simply hadn’t worked me up enough for me to write a thorough review for the uninitiated. But now when I read the review below, I realize I skated over almost all weaknesses of the story because I was impressed by its open confrontation of a taboo subject (in romance) like BDSM. It was the first of such books for me, and also I was a still-inexperienced reviewer. So, read the review below keeping all this in mind and if you want to read a really good one taking on the negative aspects, click on the link to at the bottom.  Hope this helps. =)

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A pretty good book. Explores a life style I’d only heard the sleaziest things about and makes it – if not completely acceptable to me personally – almost compelling. I can see why all the reviewers have been raving about Christian Grey/Fifty Shades. If I had not been informed prior to starting the book that this had originated from a Twilight Fanfic prompt, I would never have made the connections. It’s very cleverly done. The parallels between the books almost makes me think that the fantastic (here meaning: fantasy-like) relationship portrayed between the protagonists is actually possible even in a world devoid of the supernatural.
But back to Fifty Shades. It was not a one-sit-read for me. I didn’t stay up at night to finish it. But I didn’t give up mid reading to go find something else either. I would have preferred a third person POV or even a shifting POV between Christian and Ana – the girl’s POV was slightly dull when Christian was not in the scene. That dullness came from an apparent lack of interesting side characters with the sole exception of Ana’s feisty room-mate, Kate. Her interaction with or inner monologues about everyone else read like compulsory fillers – unnecessary and uninteresting.
There was one specific chapter I would like to congratulate the author on. Chapter Eleven. (more…)

Forever Mine – Prequel [Sarah and Sydney] (by Elizabeth Reyes)

Below is a short, well-written glimpse into Sarah’s early years with her best friend, Sydney, in Flagstaff AZ. Author Elizabeth Reyes posted it on her blog (link) for us to enjoy. If you’ve never read her works I suggest you begin with the first of the Moreno Brothers series – Forever Mine – (It’s on my list of the best YA romance of this year).

 “This was an alternate beginning to FM. It sort of reads like the beginning of Sofie skipping years to show the bond between Syd and Sarah. How they met, became close etc. However in the end I decided the REAL story of Forever Mine didn’t really start until she gets the call from her mother. So this was left on the cutting room floor. (more…)