Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate


Title: Noteworthy

Author: Riley Redgate

Rating: 4 Stars

Noteworthy took me by surprise. On the surface, this seems to be yet another girl-passing-for-a-guy book, but the differences are what make Noteworthy so, well, noteworthy. Jordan attends a prestigious high school for theatre, dance, and music students and over the past three years, she has struggled to land a role in the school musical because of her voice range. On a daring whim, with nothing to lose, she auditions for the Sharpshooters, an all-male a-capella group with a rich history dating back to Kensington Academy's earliest days.

It's when she gets in, though, that Jordan's life truly begins to change. Her transformation to Julian causes her to question everything from her sexuality to the manner in which she's appropriating the lives and feelings of the trans and LGBTQIAP+ community at large. For me, Noteworthy stands out because of the smaller moments--scenes where Jordan will scour the internet for ways to make herself appear to be a man and stumble upon an article intended for trans-men. Or how her status on campus as Julian changes her dynamics with women--and not just on a surface level.

I feel like these are such important consequences of cross-dressing that somehow never come up in a lot of other novels with this trope. Another aspect I love of Noteworthy is the fact that Jordan is a scholarship student--and despite her scholarship, her family is still struggling to support her, financially. Her strained relationship with her parents, who live in California while she's on the East Coast, spoke volumes about the immigrant experience, the class gap that students feel when attending an elite academy on financial aid, and life living on the poverty line. This incredible article by the Huffington Post, Asian Americans Have the Highest Poverty Rate in NYC, but Stereotypes Make the Issue Invisible reminded me of Jordan and her family's struggles and I love that Redgate captured that in such a seamless manner. It isn't an overwhelming part of the plot, but it's integral to Jordan's life at Kensington and her growth.

Redgate packs a lot into this novel, but Noteworthy is still a light, immensely readable story. Jordan's integration into the Sharpshooters, her slow-build romance with one of the members, and the ensuing a-capella wars are all a delight. Her recent break-up with her ex-boyfriend, Michael, was a slight aspect of the novel that I had trouble connecting with, but the large majority of this novel is an absolute hit. Don't miss it!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller


Title: Daughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King, #1)

Author: Tricia Levenseller

Rating: 4 Stars

I didn't ever expect to enjoy a novel whose title began with the words, "Daughter of the...". Those of you who have been reading YA for long enough know that these titles had their phase and I truly believe that ship had sailed. But, Levenseller's debut, despite its title hearkening to previous YA literature, is wholly unique. Daughter of the Pirate King introduces many tropes we're familiar with, from a beautiful and headstrong protagonist to a cocky, utterly charming love interest but Levenseller spins it into a tale I just couldn't put down.

Alosa, our titular heroine whose red hair gives her away, allows herself to be captured by her enemy ship and sent to their prisons. There are three pirate lords who rule the sea, but only one Pirate King, and he is determined to put together pieces of a map each of the pirate lords own and hunt down a fabled treasure that will make him rich beyond measure. Naturally, he sends his daughter to infiltrate the enemy ship and Alosa's mission is clear: find and steal the missing piece of the map, without alerting the enemy of her plan. But, the first mate Riden makes her job increasingly difficult. If only he would stop pestering her with questions, showing her unexpected kindnesses, or flashing that handsome smile of his...

This story is just pure fun and I read it in a single sitting. Alosa is fiery and smart, a combination I love, and her banter/love-hate relationship with Riden is at the core of this novel. The plot is fast-paced, swiftly making us support Alosa in all her endeavors, from making Riden believe she wants to escape the ship to her stubborn refusal to help the crew, to her ingenious plans to escape her cell. But, the heart of the story lies in her evolving relationship with Riden. Their friendship reveals so much about their pasts and the plot twists are a pleasant surprise. I, especially, love that their romance is drama-free and constantly keeps the reader on their toes.

Of course, this story isn't without its flaws--too many "special redhead" mentions, far too few female secondary characters who take the limelight in this, a strong case of Missing Parent Syndrome--but I suspect a lot of these minor flaws are about to be dealt with in the sequel. This is the first, not of a trilogy but of a duet, and the characters and their journeys are just too much fun to miss out on. The fantasy and lore in this, combined with the world-building, all make me eager to return for more. Believe me, Levenseller is an author I'll be looking out for in the future, off-putting titles be damned! ;)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Rating: 5 Stars

The Hate U Give is incredible, powerful, and an absolute must-read for everyone. Thomas's story begins with our heroine, Starr, witnessing the death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who is unarmed and shot by a white police officer. What ensues is chaos as Starr struggles to protect herself in the media and amongst the two worlds she straddles--her expensive private school where she is one of two black kids and the town where she grew up in which is overrun by gangs.

Starr's story is a beautiful rendering of what it means to be black in America; of the microaggressions and racial comments you have to bite your tongue from responding to, of the pain and fear and injustice. I may not have been able to relate to the community Starr lived in, but so much of this story hit so close to home. One of Starr's closest friends continues to make "slight" racial comments/jokes in the wake of Khalil's death and Starr is fed up of ignoring them and moving on. She finally confronts their toxic friendship and as someone who is currently biting my tongue in the face of "slight" racist comments/jokes on a daily basis (being as I am currently studying abroad in Europe and my program is very, very white) I completely understood.

But more than that, this is an incredible YA novel about family and growing up and finding yourself and what you believe in and what you're going to fight for. I especially loved the emphasis on family that this novel delved into, from Starr's parents to her uncle and even her brothers. I felt immersed in a loving African American family while reading this and I desperately want to go back. Thomas's writing is just that good, though--I cannot recommend this enough and I wish she had a backlog of twenty-five novels for me to comb through.

I think, often in YA, we tend to have "issue" books or "diverse" books which seem to stand on their own from other novels. I don't want readers to think of this novel as one of those books. Is it diverse? Yes. Does it tackle important social issues? Absolutely. But at its core, it's an important story about belonging that I think everyone will be able to relate to and definitely learn from.

In the wake of our election, I have been motivated to learn more now than ever before about what it means to live in America and have an experience different from my own. If you feel even a fraction of the anxiety and desire to create change that I have felt over these past few months, read this book. It'll make you feel as if you're on the right track, at the very least.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monthly Rewind: April

The majority of my April was spent in Croatia and, wow, this was one of the best trips of my life!

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. I had an absolutely incredible Spring Break in Croatia! I spent ten days in Croatia over Spring Break, with a day trip to Montenegro, and this trip is by far the highlight of my study abroad experience this semester (not to mention a major highlight of my life, too!). I didn't expect to love the country of Croatia as much as I did, but believe me when I say that the beauty is unreal. I also discovered a never-before-known love of hiking and boating, which I myself am amazed by since I'm not the most outdoorsy person in the world. Anyway, long story short: Croatia, I love and miss you.

2. It finally feels like my study abroad experience is coming to an end. I've spent the better part of the past year in Europe and while I'm going to be sad to leave--SO sad because I love just jetting off on a flight to a different country every weekend!--I'm also ready to distance myself from this continent. I think the big difference between travelling around Europe on vacation as a person of color and living for an extended period of time in cities that are not the most diverse while being a person of color are some realities I've faced very starkly this past year. And while Budapest certainly offers more diversity than the small town I was living in last semester, my program this semester lacks diversity and I am so ready to return home and finally not feel like the only brown body for miles.

3. I went to Dublin, Ireland and.... I enjoyed the city of Dublin a lot--the pulse, the energy, the vibrancy of it despite the clouds--but my weekend was a bit of a wash-out since the friend I traveled with proved to be not the most trust-worthy person. I don't want to go into any details, but this was the first weekend travel trip I've taken and regretted taking. I'm sure I'll have many more travel regrets in the future, but this is sadly the first.. But, no fears, I definitely plan on visiting Ireland again in the future to see all the natural beauty this country boasts of!

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

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I had such an amazing reading month in April! All three of these books were 5-Star reads for me and I loved them! The Hate U Give is just phenomenal, a must-read for everyone. Alex, Approximately was so, so cute and I love this book as much as I love Anna and the French Kiss or The Summer of  Chasing Mermaids. It's that good. And, of course, Strange the Dreamer rocked my socks. I love Laini Taylor and need this sequel ASAP!

Most Popular Post

I loved this book so much and I'm so glad this post got the appreciation it deserved! It's such a fantastic sequel, so I recommend picking up this series for this book alone.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

In a month where I read almost only 5-Star reads, When Dimple Met Rishi didn't stand out...much. But I still adored this novel, especially the authentic representation of South Asian culture! I hope more readers will gravitate to this one because the diversity is off-the-charts good as are the parental relationships.

Obsession of the Month

Umm.. Croatia!!! Duh! In general, I feel as if I'm now obsessed with the Balkan region and I desperately want to return, especially to Bosnia and Herzegovina but I'd love to re-visit Croatia and Montenegro, not to mention make it out to Serbia as well. The history and culture of this region just fascinates me and I love that so much of it is untouched; the natural beauty is stunning.

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month 

1. Malta!!! I technically am leaving for Malta in April, but I return in May so...it counts, right? I'm traveling to Malta with my "squad" of seven and this is the first time I've ever done such a long journey with such a huge group of people, so I'm really looking forward to it! Plus, I've heard only good things about this beautiful island nation and cannot wait to experience it for myself!

2. Short weekend trips to Stockholm, Sweden and Vienna, Austria! These are the last two trips of my time here, in Europe, but I'm so excited for them both! I'm visiting a family friend's daughter (who I've never actually met) in Stockholm but we've been talking for the past year and she seems so wonderful! I'm really looking forward to meeting her and seeing yet another Scandinavian country and capital! I'm also excited to finally be visiting Vienna, which is only a short train journey away! I'm traveling here with a friend from the program and we're going to paint this beautiful city red, I just know it! ;)

3. HOME! Wow, I miss my mom, you guys! She visited me half-way through my semester last year, but it's going to be a full four and a half months since I last saw her! I'm really excited to be going back, though, since my uncle is also going to be visiting the weekend I land so it should be a really fun and family-filled time, which I am definitely craving after being away from home for so long.

How was your April? Did you do anything special to celebrate Easter? What are your upcoming plans for May? Did I miss out on any good books while I was obsessing over Croatia? Let me know in the comments below--I'd love to read what you think! 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ARC Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon


Title: When Dimple Met Rishi

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: May 30th, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi isn't a perfect debut, but it has so much going for it with its South Asian leads that I want to focus on the good, more than the bad.

First off, my biggest misgiving going into this is that the premise is based on our eighteen-year-old protagonists being set up for an arranged marriage by their parents. So, let me clarify exactly what the synopsis of this story fails to explain in greater detail: Dimple has just been accepted to Stanford and desperately wants to spend her summer at a prestigious program in SFSU designing her own app. She's surprised when her parents agree as easily as they do to drop the money and foot her summer dreams, especially since her mother wants her to find a good husband (Ideal Indian Husband, actually) in college. When she gets to SFSU, however, she realizes that her parents old friends son, Rishi, is also there and unlike her, he's actually been told that their parents are considering getting them married and see this summer as a chance for the two to see if they're compatible or not. It's a little out there, IMO, but it's handled well since Dimple is career-driven and quickly dispels any notions of marriage the moment she meets Rishi.

From that unlikely start, the novel proceeds much like any contemporary romance--only so much better, really. Rishi has grown up in a wealthy household, appreciating his roots and staying true to them at every turn. Dimple, meanwhile, grew up middle class with a stay-at-home mom who had far too much time to focus solely on her daughter's appearance. Dimple feels stifled by the culture her parents push on her but through her interactions with Rishi, she grows to understand their perspective more--just as Rishi understands Dimple and her experience. Their conversations are a wonderful window into the South Asian American experience and while I didn't identify with just Rishi or just Dimple, I identified with many of the topics they covered and feelings they shared.

I especially love that Menon doesn't hesitate to include Hindi, Bollywood film references, and traditional Indian food in a very organic way throughout the novel. It doesn't feel forced and absolutely adds to the story. Further, Dimple and Rishi's parents are a huge part of their life and I love that they continue to play a big role in the novel, especially as we get both Dimple and Rishi's perspectives in this, so we get to see both sides of that parental relationship. Other positive aspects to this one? A diverse cast, ses-positive YA, and a really lovely exploration of Indian culture and the ways it can be confusing but also empowering to young South Asian teens.

Where this story falters for me, however, is in the execution of its romance. I enjoyed the love story, but I didn't fall head-over-heels for it and I found the inevitable break-up and resolution to be rather contrived and unnecessary. I loved the inner-conflicts that both Dimple and Rishi face individually during the course of their relationship, but the actual romance and backdrop at SFSU and secondary character drama didn't do much for me, personally.

That being said, I'm still thrilled to see a novel that breaks barriers with South Asian leads. For me, this is HUGE. Being able to see parts of your relationship with your parents or your immigrant experience in a book is not something I'm familiar with, so for that alone I think Menon succeeded. I hope she continues to write about South Asian Americans because I'm definitely on board for her next book, and her next book, and her next.