Review - "Fifteen Lanes"

"Fifteen Lanes" by Susan J. Laidlaw 

Noor has lived all of her fourteen years in the fifteen lanes of Mumbai’s red light district. Born into a brothel, she is destined for the same fate as her mother: a desperate life trapped in the city’s sex trade. She must act soon to have any chance of escaping this grim future.
Across the sprawling city, fifteen-year-old Grace enjoys a life of privilege. Her father, the CEO of one of India’s largest international banks, has brought his family to Mumbai where they live in unparalleled luxury. But Grace’s seemingly perfect life is shattered when she becomes a victim of a cruel online attack.
When their paths intersect, Noor and Grace will be changed forever. Can two girls living in vastly different worlds find a common path?
Award-winning author S.J. Laidlaw masterfully weaves together their stories in a way that resonates across class and culture.Fifteen Lanes boldly explores the ties that bind us to places and people, and shows us that the strongest of bonds can be forged when hope is all but lost.

*I want to thank NetGalley for giving me the chance to sneak an early peek into this* 

Before I start with my actual review, I would like to talk about the author and what she does and how she came to write about this particular topic. Susan J. Laidlaw started volunteering with sex worker's daughters in Kamathipura (the largest red-light district in Asia) in 2013. She knows how hard lives for these girls are, how they are shunned, asked to leave their schools when it's found out that their mothers are sex workers - despite the fact that these women did not choose this fate. Most are kidnapped and later sold to brothels. 

"India is one country where human trafficking is an especially acute problem, with an estimated 16 million people currently believed to be victims of sex trafficking in particular. The complexities of India’s sex trafficking industry are laid bare in a recent study by Dasra, a strategic philanthropy foundation." (source)

So think about this: the population of India is approximately 1.31 Billion (as of Feb 21, 2016).16 Million of these 1.31 Billion are victims of sex trafficking. An those are the numbers KNOWN. 

The vast majority of these victims are women and girls, and about 40% are juveniles. Recently, the average age of sex workers has dropped from 14-16 to 10-14 (but sometimes even than that!), because the risk of transmitting diseases is believed to be lower. Only that now, victims are contracting diseases at even younger ages. 

"Most victims come from rural areas, over 70% are illiterate, and almost half reported that their families earned just about $1/day. Though poverty and a lack of education alone are not direct causes of trafficking, they do increase vulnerability. 78% of trafficked victims in the country are from West Bengal — one of the poorest areas in India.

Some trafficking victims have been priorly abused in other ways (such as through domestic violence or dowry harassment); some are sold into trafficking by family members or acquaintances; and some are tricked into exploitation, believing that they are heading towards a better employment opportunity when they are actually being transported to brothels. Natural disasters and military conflicts tend to increase the ‘supply’ of human trafficking, because traffickers can take advantage of chaotic situations to find more potential victims."  (source) 

"In South Mumbai’s red-light districts there are an estimated 100,000 brothel-based sex workers, most of whom are not there voluntarily. A high proportion of the women and girls working there have been sold into sex work, sometimes by a relative or trusted family friend; others are born into sex work.

Life within the red-light districts is incredibly difficult: poverty, drug & alcohol addiction, gambling, and violence are an everyday reality. These women live on the edge of society, frowned upon and ignored. It is estimated that between 30 and 50 percent of India’s sex workers are HIV positive. Due to a lack of education and severe poverty many sex workers continue to have unprotected sex." 

- The Sisters of Kamathipura (source)

 And since Devadasis are mentioned in the book as well, I'd like to talk a little bit about them too. Since I'm no expert, only source is of course just the internet, and I did find some interesting facts about the so called Devadasis:

"In South India, a devadasi (meaning servant of deva (god) or devi (goddess) ) is a girl "dedicated" to worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life. The dedication takes place in a ceremony (Pottukattu) which is similar in some ways to marriage. Originally, in addition to taking care of the temple and performing rituals, these women learned and practiced Sadir, Odissi and other classical Indian artistic traditions and enjoyed a high social status as dance and music were essential part of temple worship." (source: wikipedia) 

"Devadasi system is a religious practice in parts of southern India, including Andhra Pradesh, whereby parents marry a daughter to a deity or a temple.The marriage usually occurs before the girl reaches puberty and requires the girl to become a prostitute for upper-caste community members. Such girls are known as jogini. They are forbidden to enter into a real marriage." (source)

Like I said, I am no expert on any of this, so I'm of course not certain if any of this is true. 

"You might not know this word, but it’s an ancient religious practice that still ensnares young girls in India today into a life of sexual exploitation.

In India, devadasi means “servant of god.” Young girls are “married” to an idol, deity, or temple. These girls are often from the lowest castes in India—their parents have given them to temples as human offerings in order to appease the gods.

In the local language, they have a saying about devadasis: “Servant of god, but wife of the whole town.” In reality, they are sexual slaves, and devadasi girls are forbidden from marrying. And they have to earn their own income by begging in the streets.

India's government outlawed the practice in 1988, but it persists in south India, where there are an estimated 50,000 devadasis." (source)

Bollywood movies are probably the only movies I grew up watching (and they're still the only ones I watch, apart from occasional western movies), so my only knowledge of this particular topic is majorly based on them: Umrao Jaan, Mausam, Devdas, Chameli, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag and of course Slumdog Millionaire. 
But since I've finished reading "Fifteen Lanes" I did spend a lot of time looking into this a little bit and I found a documentary called "Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids" that I am going to watch after finishing my actual review. 

So now about the book: 

It is told from two different POVs, Grace's, an European girl who recently moved to Mumbai, and Noor's, the daughter of a sex worker. Grace struggles with being accepted and finding friends due to her shyness. Grace's world is shattered when she sends a topless picture of herself to a boy, without realizing that she's actually being pranked. So the next day her picture is circulating around the school and people call her names, she gets depressed and starts cutting herself. Whereas Noor struggles on a daily basis to keep up her family and protect her siblings, Aamaal & Shami. She scrapes money together to buy Shami, who was born with HIV, medicine, tries to hide Aamaal from the daily brothel visitors, while fearing for her own fate of becoming a sex worker. 

While part of me was annoyed by Grace, because her problems seemed so trivial compared to Noor's, what I really liked was that Noor never looked down on Grace or whined about her life. She kept on fighting and working towards getting out of this place. Although Grace and VJ, son of Bollywood legend Sanjay Patel, who is struggling with coming out, help, it is still Noor and people from her community who make all of it possible. Like Noor said: "If the future is not written like you want it to be, then you must write your own story" 

Laidlaw did an amazing job with this story and bringing these characters to life. She put a lot of thought and research into her world-building and managed to write an eyeopening and a pensive story. It made me angry at the world, made me cry and learn a lot. Closing your eyes and acting like there's nothing bad in this world won't lead us anywhere. It's time to get out of this bubble and change things. 

Review - "Twelfth Night At Eyre Hall"

Previously .... 

"All Hallows at Eyre Hall" (The Eyre Hall Trilogy #1) by Luccia Gray 

Rediscover the world of Jane Eyre...

Twenty-two years after her marriage to Edward Rochester, Jane is coping with the imminent death of her bedridden husband - and the revelation of his unspeakable secrets.

Richard Mason has returned, instigating a sequence of events which will expose Rochester’s disloyalty to Jane, his murderous plots, and innumerable other sins. Drawn into a complex conspiracy, everything Jane holds dear is threatened. Who was the man she thought she loved? What is she prepared to do to safeguard her family and preserve her own stability?

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆/☆☆☆☆☆

(my review for this is on goodreads!) 

"Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall" (The Eyre Hall Trilogy #2) by Luccia Gray 

Following Edward Rochester’s death, Jane Eyre, who has been blackmailed into marrying a man she despises, will have to cope with the return of the man she loved and lost. The secrets she has tried so hard to conceal must be disclosed, giving rise to unexpected events and more shocking revelations.
Relive the mystery and magic of Jane Eyre. Action and adventure will unfold in an absorbing narrative, which will move the action from the Yorkshire countryside, to Victorian London, and across the Atlantic Ocean to Colonial Jamaica.

First of all, I would like to thank Luccia Gray for giving me the opportunity to read "Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall" in advance and for enduring my outbursts and reactions to the story on Twitter (you should follow her @LucciaGray, btw. She is awesome), but ... I just couldn't help myself.

I'm just ... this story is just ... damn. I'm at a loss for words, which, never happens. Seriously, if I'm passionate about something I won't stop even if you tell me to shut up, you could gag me with a sock, and I'd probably still try to talk about stuff. That's why my mom always tells me I'd make a great politician, because I never give other's the chance to speak - I don't know if this is supposed to be a compliment, but jokes on you mother! I'm becoming a teacher instead :p

Jokes aside ... let's get back to business ----

Okay, when a new-ish author publishes a book and it happens to be phenomenal, .... well, the sequel tends to be ... the opposite. You know, because sometimes, sometimes it's just luck, sometimes authors write sequels, although the story is pretty much over and done with. But Luccia Gray did the impossible, her sequel to "All Hallows at Eyre Hall" is even better (yes you read right) than book #1.

I was on the edge all the time (which is seriously not recommendable, I actually fell off my bed and I have several bruises to prove this), had probably several severe heart attacks, cursed like a sailor a couple of times (damn you, John, damn you!) - which almost gave my mother a heart attack (sorry mom),  I cried (and cried and cried), didn't give a damn about my non-existent sleeping schedule and cried some more.
The writing was so on point, Charlotte Brontë is probably doing the happy dance right now (you can be proud CB, your legacy lives on), the characterization was amazing as always (Michael, Michael, MICHAEL) and the plot line was captivating and engaging and heart-wrenching *insert some more adjectives to describe how amazing this is*

So, Luccia Gray, I applaud you. You did an amazing job, and I cannot wait to read the finale. 

Review - "Oasis"

"Oasis" (The Last Humans, Book #1) by Dima Zales 

A new dystopian/post-apocalyptic series from a New York Timesbestselling author 

My name is Theo, and I'm a resident of Oasis, the last habitable area on Earth. It's meant to be a paradise, a place where we are all content. Vulgarity, violence, insanity, and other ills are but a distant memory, and even death no longer plagues us.

I was once content too, but now I'm different. Now I hear a voice in my head, and she tells me things no imaginary friend should know. Her name is Phoe, and she is my delusion.

Or is she?

Note: This book contains some strong language. We felt it was important for the censorship theme of the novel. If such words offend you, you might not enjoy this book.

*I want to thank NetGalley for giving me the chance to sneak an early peek into this* 

Okay ... so again, I requested this for obvious shallow reasons because that cover really intrigued me and the plot sounded quite interesting. I'm always a sucker for good sci-fi and this sounded promising. So the story is about Theo, a 23-year old, who is part of the so called Youth of Oasis, the only existing place after Earth was destroyed by technology and AIs. One day, Theo hears this voice inside his head, which belongs to a girl (who would have guessed - there is some romance) named Phoe (pronounced "fee" for reasons). In a world where cursing is prohibited and mental illness, depression and love are not accepted, Theo's only goal is to help Phoe remember something she was forced to forget. Add some more cliché science and some swear words, mix all of this with The 100 and The Giver and voila you get "Oasis" by Dima Zales. (read the story and you'll understand why The 100 & The Giver, trust me). 

Like I said, it sounded promising, the end result - well, let's put it like this - a lot of the story was missing. The world building, the characterization etc., there wasn't just enough of it. I couldn't connect to the MC because I still don't understand what his intentions are and why he keeps doing the things he does. Because he got the hots for Phoe? Because he is bored? Because of what happend to his friend? I need some info, man. The story wasn't bad but it wasn't great either. The overall idea was interesting, but like I said before, it just seemed like a (poor) imitation of something else.

It had some semi-funny one-liners tho, like this one: 

"Do you know what this is?" The old man holds the baton in front of me threateningly. 
"Something you should shove up your ass?" 

which again reminds me of The 100: 

Review - The "House of Night" Series

So this week I finally finished the longest book series that I ever started (in English, I've probably read longer ones in German) - the "House of Night" book series by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast: 

House of Night is a thrilling, New York Times bestselling young adult fantasy series. The books follow 16-year-old Zoey Redbird as she is "Marked" by a vampyre tracker and begins to undergo the “Change” into an actual vampyre. She has to leave her family in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and move into the House of Night, a boarding school for other fledgling vampyres like her.

It’s tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends. It gets even harder for Zoey to fit in when she finds she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx. As Zoey tries to make new friends and maybe find a hot boyfriend (or two), she comes up against all kinds of evil. Things at the House of Night are not always what they seem. Can Zoey find the courage deep within herself to find the truth and embrace her destiny?

Book #1 -  Marked 

After a Vampire Tracker Marks her with a crescent moon on her forehead, 16-year-old Zoey Redbird enters the House of Night and learns that she is no average fledgling. She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess Nyx and has affinities for all five elements: Air, Fire Water, Earth and Spirit. But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers. When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school’s most elite club, is mis-using her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny – with a little help from her new vampyre friends (or Nerd Herd, as Aphrodite calls them)

Book #2 - Betrayed

Zoey, High Priestess in training, has managed to settle in at the House of Night and come to terms with the vast powers the Vampyre Goddess Nyx has given her. Just as she finally feels she belongs, the unthinkable happens: human teenagers are being killed, and all evidence points to the House of Night. While danger stalks the humans from Zoey’s old life, she begins to realize that the very powers that make her so unique might also threaten those she loves.

Book #3 - Chosen 

Dark forces are at work at the House of Night and Zoey Redbird’s adventures at the school take a mysterious turn. Her best friend, Stevie Rae, is undead and struggling to maintain a grip on her humanity. Zoey finds herself in the very unexpected and rare situation of having three boyfriends. Mix a little bloodlust into the equation and the situation has the potential to spell social disaster. Just when it seems things couldn’t get any tougher, vampyres start turning up dead. Really dead. It looks like the People of Faith are tired of living side-by-side with vampyres. But, as Zoey and her friends so often find out, how things appear rarely affects the truth…

Book #4 - Untamed

Life sucks when your friends are pissed at you. Just ask Zoey Redbird – she's become an expert on suckiness. In one week she has gone from having three boyfriends to having none, and from having a close group of friends who trusted and supported her, to being an outcast. Speaking of friends, the only two Zoey has left are undead and unMarked. And Neferet has declared war on humans, which Zoey knows in her heart is wrong. But will anyone listen to her? Zoey's adventures at vampyre finishing school take a wild and dangerous turn as loyalties are tested, shocking true intentions come to light, and an ancient evil is awakened in PC and Kristin Cast's spellbinding fourth House of Night novel.

Book #5 - Hunted 

What if the hottest guy in the world was hiding a nameless evil, and all he wanted was you? At the start of this heart-pounding new installment of the bestselling House of Night series, Zoey’s friends have her back again and Stevie Rae and the red fledglings aren’t Neferet’s secrets any longer. But an unexpected danger has emerged. Neferet guards her powerful new consort, Kalona, and no one at the House of Night seems to understand the threat he poses. Kalona looks gorgeous, and he has the House of Night under his spell. A past life holds the key to breaking his rapidly spreading influence, but what if this past life shows Zoey secrets she doesn’t want to hear and truths she can’t face?

Book #6 - Tempted

So…you’d think after banishing an immortal being and a fallen High Priestess, saving Stark’s life, biting Heath, getting a headache from Erik, and almost dying, Zoey Redbird would catch a break. Sadly, a break is not in the House of Night school forecast for the High Priestess in training and her gang. Juggling three guys is anything but a stress reliever, especially when one of them is a sexy Warrior who is so into protecting Zoey that he can sense her emotions. Speaking of stress, the dark force lurking in the tunnels under the Tulsa Depot is spreading, and Zoey is beginning to believe Stevie Rae could be responsible for a lot more than a group of misfit red fledglings. Aphrodite’s visions warn Zoey to stay away from Kalona and his dark allure, but they also show that it is Zoey who has the power to stop the evil immortal.Soon it becomes obvious that Zoey has no choice: if she doesn’t go to Kalona he will exact a fiery vengeance on those closest to her. Will Zoey have the courage to chance losing her life, her heart, and her soul?

Book #7 - Burned 

Y’all need to get yourselves together. Here’s a newsflash from the only High Priestess you have left at this dang school: Zoey isn’t dead. And believe me, I know dead. I’ve been there, done that and got the fricken tee-shirt.
Zoey Redbird is the youngest High Priestess in House of Night history and is the only person—vamp or fledgling—that can stop the evil Neferet from raising all kinds of immortal trouble. And she might just have a chance if she wasn’t so busy being dead.Well, dead is too strong a word. Stevie Rae knows she can bring her BFF back from her unscheduled va-cay in the Otherworld. But it’s going to take a lot more than hoping to bring Zoey back. Stevie Rae will have to give up a few secrets of her own...

Book #8 - Awakened

Exonerated by the Vampyre High Council and returned to her position of High Priestess at Tulsa’s House of Night, Neferet has sworn vengeance on Zoey. Dominion over her immortal consort Kalona is only one of the weapons she plans to use against Z. But Zoey has found sanctuary on the Isle of Skye and is being groomed by Queen Sgiach to take over for her there. Being Queen would be cool, wouldn’t it? Why should she return to Tulsa? After losing her human consort, Heath, she will never be the same – and her relationship with her super-hot-warrior, Stark, may never be the same either… And what about Stevie Rae and Rephaim? The Raven Mocker refuses to be used against Stevie Rae, but what choice does he have when no one in the entire world, including Zoey, would be okay with their relationship? Does he betray his father or his heart?

Book #9 - Destined 

In Destined, the forces of Light and Dark collide as their epic struggle focuses on Tulsa’s House of Night. Zoey is home where she belongs, safe with her Guardian Warrior, Stark, by her side – and preparing to face off against Neferet. Kalona has released his hold on Rephaim, and, through Nyx’s gift of a human form, he and Stevie Rae are finally able to be together – if Rephaim can truly walk the path of the Goddess and stay free of his father’s shadow.
But is Zoey really safe? Does she truly know those who are closest to her? And will love win when it is tested by the very soul of Darkness?

Book #10 - Hidden 

At last, Zoey has what she wanted: the truth is out. Neferet's evil has been exposed, and the High Council is no longer on her side - but she's far from done wreaking havoc in the vampyre world. First, a mysterious fire ravages the stables. Then, Neferet makes a devastating move that will test them all.

With the seeds of distrust sown and Darkness breeding chaos at the House of Night, everyone must band together - but that's proving to be more difficult than ever before. The twins are barely speaking and the House of Night's former enemy, Kalona, has now become their warrior, pushing their trust to the limit. To top it off, Zoey is pretty darn sure she might be losing her mind. She saw something when she looked at Aurox through the Seer Stone that she can hardly explain to herself, let alone her friends. Is it possible that Heath has come back in a different form? Is that why Zoey's so intrigued by Aurox, when it's so obvious that he's dangerous? And who would believe her if she told them? Zoey knows that following her instinct about Aurox might be just what they need to defeat evil . . . but if she's wrong, it could cause the destruction of those closest to her.
With the tension at a breaking point and friendships on the line, can the nerd herd come together to stop the spread of Darkness before it's too late?

Book #11 - Revealed 

The spellbinding eleventh and penultimate installment in the #1 New York Times bestselling vampyre series
Drastically altered after her fall at the end of Hidden, Neferet is now more dangerous than ever—and her quest for vengeance will wreak havoc on humans, as well as Zoey and her friends. Chaos is loosed in Tulsa and the House of Night is blamed. Can Zoey stop Neferet in time to keep her anger from escalating to full-on war? Or will someone else have to step in to take the fall?
The House of Night series is an international phenomenon, reaching #1 on U.S., German, and UK bestseller lists, and remaining a fixture on The New York Times Children’s Series bestseller list for nearly 150 weeks and counting. With more than 12 million copies in print, rights sold in thirty–eight countries to date, and relatable, addictive characters, this series is unstoppable. Now, in the eleventh and penultimate installment of the series, the action is more intense and the stakes even higher as Zoey and her friends battle to protect their school and home from devastating evil—all while balancing romances, precarious friendships and the daily drama of the House of Night's halls.

Book #12 - Redeemed

In the final electrifying novel in the HoN series, Neferet has finally made herself known to mortals. A Dark Goddess is loose on Tulsa and the world. No single vampyre is strong enough to vanquish her - unless that creature has the power to summon the elements as well as the ability to wield Old Magick. Only Zoey Redbird is heir to such power…but because of the consequences of using Old Magick, she is unable to help. Find out who will win and who will lose in this epic battle of Light versus Darkness.

(for the entire series) 

It is over. Finally. I really hope they don't write another one. Don't get me wrong, I loved the books when I first picked them up a couple of years ago. But as time went on, and more books came out, the whole story lost its ... let's call it "charm". Maybe it's because I got older and got over my obsession/liking of vampires (which actually never really started .. but semantics). Or maybe it's because 12 books is 7 too much and I couldn't even keep track on all the useless side characters and love octagons going on. 
Zoey, the most special snowflake of the special snow flakes, isn't as awesome and likeable as everyone makes her out to be, Neferet is the most boring and [I can't think of a suitable adjective to describe her] ever. Stark, Aphrodite, Stevie-Rae, Damien etc., I ended up hating everyone and I just wanted everyone to .. die. Don't get me wrong, books 1-5 were okay-ish, but damn went it down the drain. Like the Casts' took a break from these books and then decided to return and write another seven. Which wasn't the smartest idea, but why stop when it still makes money, right?? 

So your natural reaction right now would be "Why didn't you just STOP reading them, if you hated them so much, Claire?" Which is, yeah okay, call me masochistic and silly, but I have this bad habit of finishing things I once started. It's just, I can't leave them undone. There's always this voice in my head (which kinda sounds like my mother, surprise surprise) who keeps telling me to FINISH THINGS no matter how hard they get. So I did. And I'm really really hoping there won't be a thirteenth book. 
Please, Casts have mercy on my masochistic soul. (but hey, at least I didn't BUY them, right!? it would mean I'd have to look at them 24/7 and they would take up an awful lot of space, so no thank you. And yay to libraries!!) 


Have a nice day! 

- Claire :)

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