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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Review: Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton


Title: Traitor to the Throne (Rebel of the Sands, #2)

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Wow, did Alwyn Hamilton up her game with this sequel or what? I liked Rebel of the Sands just fine, but I felt as if it could've benefited from a thorough round of editing--the plot could have been tighter, the secondary relationships could have been more fleshed out, etc. But Traitor to the Throne is seamless, balanced by non-stop action and supported by a large cast of secondary characters who refuse to fade into the background. Amani is our courageous heroine, as always, but I loved seeing her friendships with the other rebels and the relationships she had forged in such a short amount of time. The rebels are the backbone of Hamilton's fictional country, but they are also at the heart of this story--and I felt for their cause, so deeply.

The plot of this novel, too, feels so much more focused with Amani clearly helping the rebel leaders and whisked away to the palace, as the synopsis reveals, through unexpected circumstances. We see Amani forced to confront both her past and her present in this story as she works through her own flaws and past regrets. It's challenging to see Amani lost and alone, at times, but her persistence to keep surviving is admirable and she's become one of my favorite heroines with this novel. I also love that there are so many different forms of feminism in this story. Hamilton shows us the strength of being a lady in the harem, a beloved sister, and a rebel--a woman's role in life does not limit her power or her struggle for freedom. Amani and the women of the harem she meets in the palace have so much more in common than they first imagine and I really appreciated that Hamilton took the time to flesh out these woman-to-woman relationships and build them without their reliance on men or relation to men.

Hamilton's prose is also stunning throughout this story. She litters the novel with anecdotes and legends, building this world more thoroughly for us, as well as introducing a political mix by giving us insight into neighboring territories while Amani resides in the palace. It's a fascinating and complicated world and I am eager to see how the issues brought up in this story are resolved in the finale. The romance, though taking a back-seat, is very much alive and while Jin and Amani are separated for most of this story, it never bothered me the way such plot devices typically do. It felt very appropriate both for the plot threads and for Amani's growth and I am excited to see how all these relationships--from her romance to her friendships to her loyalties to the rebels--play out in the sequel.

This was simply such a fantastic, un-put-down-able story and Hamilton did not disappoint in the least. I loved Traitor to the Throne so if you're on the fence about this series, or even just on the fence about continuing, I promise you this sequel makes it all worth it.