Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

By the time you read this I will be in the air, flying over the ocean or an entire continent to meet my family in India. I wanted to post more than just once in December and, having finished Winter in the midst of my finals, this is my last post of the year. I will post copiously about my adventures when I return, not to mention a list of my Top Five Books of 2015 but, for now, I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year. Thanks for sticking with me this year, especially through the past few months of limited posts but I'm hopeful that I'll have a large backlog of posts stored up with all the reading I'll be getting done this holiday break (and especially on the flight). Anyhow, just wanted to say how much I love my readers, your comments, and your encouragement--you're the BEST! :)

Title: Winter (Lunar Chronicles, #4)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Rating: 4 Stars

Color me surprised, I actually enjoyed this final installment of the Lunar Chronicles. I wasn't a fan of Cinder but I loved Scarlet and then I found Cress to be an absolute disappointment. So, naturally, I expected to adore aspects of Winter but I wasn't sure how well this series, one I had such a rocky relationship with, would wrap up. But every wonderful, special aspect of these series truly comes to a head in this installment and the conclusion is bittersweet but worth it.

Admittedly, this is Winter's story but it feels very much like a finale, wrapping up the loose ends of all of these characters' lives. I've grown to love and admire Cinder, her growth steady yet believable. Moreover, her relationship with Kai has been so thoroughly developed over the course of these books that I really enjoyed seeing it simply be in this installment. Much like the relationship between Scarlet and Wolf, Kai and Cinder are a rock solid team. We never feel anxiety about the future of their love and it's a relief to be able to rely on their relationship in the midst of so much turmoil.

Speaking of turmoil, the political nature of this series comes to a head in this installment which I adore. Levana's depravity and insanity is clear through the telling of Winter's story as she orders Jacin, Winter's guard, to kill her and then works tirelessly to destroy Winter's image and beauty among the people of Luna. I love how Meyer doesn't hesitate to expose just how terrible Levana's rule has been and as someone who adores a good backstory, the payoff was worth it in Winter. Not to mention, Levana is a worthy villain--one who isn't easy to defeat--so the revolution that Cinder wants to begin isn't always so easy as it seems.

Yet, my favorite aspect of Winter was watching the two remaining love stories--Cress and Thorne and Winter and Jacin--resolve themselves. Cress and Thorne, as we know, have a great deal of leftover tension from the previous novel and their interactions are frought with all the things left unsaid between them. Jacin and Winter, though, have an entirely new dynamic--one I absolutely LOVE. Snow White is by far my least favorite fairy tale but Winter and Jacin I adore. Jacin protects her and cares for her, but he also respects her and admires her bravery. Winter, meanwhile, can trust Jacin in a way she cannot trust others in her life and Jacin, instead of simply seeing her beauty or her crazy sees her potential. Their love story is wrought with hurdles--after all, Jacin in merely a guard while Winter is a princess and, moreover, is tasked with killing her--but I enjoyed it all the more for that.

Winter isn't the conclusion of one of my favorite series but it is a fantastic finale to a series that has its positives and negatives both. I am the first to admit that this isn't a perfect series and while I wouldn't endorse it the way many of its fans do, it's engaging, interesting, and original in a way few YA series are. It doesn't contain love triangles or weak heroines, it features diversity and it elaborates on messages we've all been told as children and applies it to the later stages of our lives as well. Winter was a treat and I wish I had enjoyed the rest of this series as much as I did this finale (and Scarlet) but I still look forward to what Meyer has to write in the future. A worthy ending, indeed.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Monthly Rewind: November

So...November wasn't a great month in terms of posting, or reading for that matter. But, it was a much-needed break type of month. I did a lot of reading for my classes and my final papers and rested over Thanksgiving break and spent the rest of this month really sorting out what I wanted to do next summer, next semester, etc. I booked tickets for a conference I'm attending, organized a huge weekend-long choir concert, and applied to study abroad. So, it's been a really busy month, socially, so forgive my limited online presence. I will definitely be getting a lot of reading done over the holidays so come January, I will actually have reviews to post! For this month, we'll probably be seeing some more mini-reviews, likely, and hopefully another post or two I can wrangle up to end off 2015. Mostly, I just want to say that I'm so grateful to have such a loyal readership despite the fact that my blogging presence has really been diminishing this past year. 

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. Thanksgiving! I spent Thanksgiving with my best friend and I had such a good time! We visited Longwood Gardens, ate some truly fantastic burritos, and made tacos from scratch. It was filling, restful, and most importantly, fun! 

2. Diwali! So I had midterms throughout the month of November (again!) and Diwali was in the middle but, regardless, Diwali was amazing. It's always such a lovely, relaxing few hours and Indian food always makes everything that much better.

3. I cut my hair! hair used to be half-way down my back and now it's just by my ears. I hadn't cut my hair in two and a half years and now it's about 11 inches shorter than before, which is crazy! But, I love it.

Best Book I Read This Month

Power to Choose: Bangladeshi Women and Labor Market Decisions in London and Dhaka by Naila Kabeer. I read an excerpt from this for my class on Gender and Power in South Asia and promptly bought the book to read the entire story. Kabeer is an economist who has done extensive research on microfinance and the impacts of that on gender are powerful and compelling. I loved this book and as an economist and feminist myself, microfinance fascinates me. I've read quite a few other nonfiction books on microfinance this month so if you're interested in the issue, just let me know and I'd love to provide some recommendations. 

Obsession of the Month

Scandal! I started over Thanksgiving break, am already a little over half-way through Season 2, and am 100% obsessed. Needless to say, this will carry me over through to February when HTGAWM is back on TV. ;)

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in December

1. Last Day of Classes! I love all of my classes SO MUCH this year--like, I cannot even explain how much I love both my classes and my professors--but I'm really excited to just be done. I'll have time to sleep in, study, and then just ace those finals and get a much-needed break. This semester has been so incredibly rewarding, not to mention a ton of fun, but it has also been a LOT of work.

2. I'm going to India! For the first time in five years I am finally going to India and I can't wait! I'll be spending New Years with my cousins and visiting the Taj Mahal, among other historic sites, with my grandparents. I've never been to North India so I'm really looking forward to spending time as a tourist in the country I was born in.

3. Reading! I'm finally going to have time to read! I desperately want to finish up Winter which I just barely started, Cam Girl, and Ilona Andrews's newest novel to say the least. I've missed reading so much so I'm really looking forward to just curling up with a book for a few hours.

How was your November? Any fun Thanksgiving stories? Any plans for December? Christmas? New Years? Vacation? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below! :)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Katie McGarry Edition

Title: Breaking the Rules (Pushing the Limits, #1.5) 

Author: Katie McGarry

Rating: 3 Stars

McGarry's books are the type of guilty-pleasure reads I genuinely feel ever-so-slightly guilty about reading. Not only are they chock-full of the type of predictable drama romantic comedies are full of--an ex-girlfriend appears out of the blue, a more sophisticated guy is interested in your girlfriend, etc.--but they also contain a nearly sickly-sweet romantic couple. Yet, I find that McGarry's writing is simply irresistible. She makes you FEEL for her characters and though I could see the conflicts coming from a mile away, they still made me gasp and my heart squeeze in worry. It's all Standard Romance Plot but, sometimes, that's precisely the kind of novel a girl needs to forget about her finals.

Moreover, what I did really enjoy about Breaking the Rules is the manner in which McGarry writes Noah and Echo's relationship. By the end of Pushing the Limits, it seems as if these two are riding out into the sunset and living their happily-ever-after. The fact that neither Noah nor Echo are completely healed from their pasts is a relief. The fact that they haven't had sex by the opening of this novel and take time to talk about it and discuss their insecurities and wait until they're both comfortable is yet another relief. Most of all, though, the fact that their futures aren't set in stone and are subject to change is a wonderful message. At its core, Breaking the Rules is a romance novel, sure, but it also has plenty of note-worthy New Adult qualities that I support. Now, if only Noah could get rid of that terrible habit of calling Echo his siren and we'd all be that much happier...

Title: Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road, #1)

Author: Katie McGarry

Rating: 3.5 Stars

McGarry has a rare and fortunate talent in that her novels are compulsively readable. Despite the fact that Nowhere But Here takes awhile for its true plot to emerge, despite the fact that I cringed once or twice at the stereotypes and presumptions made in this narrative, despite the fact that there remains a tad bit too much angsty sexual tension (the kind where you roll your eyes and want to beat your head against the wall in annoyance, not impatience), I still managed to finish this. And, what's more, I might even be sticking around for the companion novel.

While I've struggled with McGarry in the past and fully expected Nowhere But Here to be my last venture into her work, I managed to become sucked into the world of motorcycle gangs that she depicted. I adore a YA romance that features family and individual growth and, alongside some action, that's exactly what this is. It still contains classic McGarry tropes that I don't love but, nevertheless, they aren't enough to completely drag down this narrative. If McGarry is a hit-or-miss author for you, I'd say it's worth giving this one a shot.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Monthly Rewind: October

Sadly, I am in the midst of midterm season. Again. Hence the reason I have been MIA but, I have to say, October was a rocking month! ;)

3 Things About My Life This Month

My best friend at Wellesley and I at Garba!

1. I visited my best friend since 5th Grade in NYC! It was so much fun! Admittedly, it was a whirlwind trip since I stayed over with her for two nights and then ducked home for two nights but it was so nice to catch up with her and get a glimpse into her life now. She lives in a wonderful apartment with five other roommates and they cook incredible food and are so independent, which is really different from my campus-centric life at Wellesley. Anyhow, it was a really fantastic weekend and it's so nice to now be able to put faces to the people she tells me about. (Just a clarification, she's not the friend in the picture. We totally forgot to take pics, believe it or not, but I did go to Garba this month with my friend from Wellesley and it's one of the only pictures I took this month, oops! Will take more in November!)

2. Um, party central? October was a month of crazy good parties. I don't mean a typical college party with frat boys and beer. No, I mean hanging out with a bunch of good friends and belting out to Taylor Swift while stuffing our faces with chips and guac. I mean dressing up for Halloween and playing Cards Against Humanity while discussing how to smash the patriarchy. ;)

3. I declared a  major! I am officially a math major, folks! Everyone needs a major adviser and I love my current math professor, so I set out to ask him on Monday and it kept getting postponed to Friday and by then I had stressed myself out so much. I was a nervous wreck but it was totally fine and he's my major adviser and...ahhh! *throws confetti*

Best Book I Read This Month

It's a tie between Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I read both of these on the bus rides to and from NYC over Fall Break and, let me tell you, I was an emotional wreck in public and didn't even care. Because these books. Read. Them. Now. 

Most Popular Post This Month

Mini-Reviews: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman, and After the End by Amy Plum. I don't often post mini-reviews, so I was really excited by the popularity of this post. Not to mention they're actually all fantastic, thought-provoking novels. Recommended!

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

Just Another...Book Crush! Jennifer Donnelly is one of my favorite authors ever and These Shallow Graves is so, so lovely. I hope more people check out her work!

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in November 

1. Thanksgiving! I'm going home with my best friend for Thanksgiving, which is going to be so much fun! She has a huge family and I've never actually celebrated Thanksgiving before, since my family really doesn't do much, so I'm really excited for my first taste of a real Thanksgiving! 

2. Dober Concert! Technically, this already happened but I was really looking forward to it and (spoiler alert!) it was great! Every Fall Semester the Wellesley College Choir joins up with another Choral Society to perform together during the first or second weekend of November. This year we performed with the Radcliffe Choral Society, on Friday and Saturday night both. It was exhausting but also incredibly rewarding.
3. Diwali! Diwali is this Wednesday and I am so excited! It's one of my favorite holidays and I have some gorgeous new clothes I'm going to be wearing, which is what I'm mostly looking forward to. ;) But, Diwali is always such a beautiful night, filled with lights and sparklers. I always miss my family most during Diwali but I know I'm going to have a great time.

How were your Octobers? Did you dress up for Halloween? If so, what did you go as? Anyone do any travelling like I did? What are you looking forward to in November? What are your Thanksgiving plans? Let me know in the comments below--I can't wait to hear! :D

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just Another...Book Crush (#20): These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I am so incredibly excited to be welcoming Jennifer Donnelly to the blog today. I read her sophomore novel, Revolution, when I was in high school and quickly followed it with her debut novel, A Northern Light, and loved them both. Revolution is one of the first books to have made me cry and A Northern Light is still among one of my favorite novels. Donnelly writes rich, realistic, and headstrong female protagonists who fight tooth-and-nail to fulfill their dreams. They're the type of heroines I look up to and emulate and I am so grateful that her books are out there to inspire young women. Her latest, These Shallow Graves, is just as feminist, romantic, and suspenseful as I hoped so I'm thrilled to be promoting it on the blog today. Welcome, Jennifer! :)
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

Ghosts from the past haunt the characters from THESE SHALLOW GRAVES, and they also haunt me. But I'm not afraid of them. In fact, I love ghosts. They help me do my work. Researching for THESE SHALLOW GRAVES, or any historical novel, is all about digging up ghosts. 

I tend to start my research by reading, broad, historic surveys of the time period I'm writing about. Then I go deeper, into primary sources -- autobiographies, diaries, memoirs, cookbooks, guides to etiquette or housekeeping, advertisements, newspapers and magazines that were published during the time my characters lived. In these sources, you can hear the voices of the past, and how they spoke, both formally and informally. You can get a sense for social proprieties, social roles, and how people were expected to conform to them. 

I also go to museums to look to look at jewelry, paintings, clothing, toys, dishes, furniture, and carriages. The Victorians were fond of hair jewelry -- lockets, rings or necklaces in which a lock of hair from a deceased loved one was kept. Holding a pendant in my hand that contains a twist of hair from a child reminds me how closely the Victorians walked with death. 

I also spend a lot of time in the place I’m writing about trying to absorb what remains. Old buildings speak volumes about the people who lived or worked in them. They can tell us what those people thought was beautiful and inspiring, how they worked, and how they lived. 

My chief duty as a novelist is to get the souls of my characters down on paper. Accuracy with names, dates, and places is crucial -- and good research provides it -- but letting the ghosts in, as well as the facts, is also important. It's what brings the dead back to life.    

Just Another...Book Crush! 

Winger by Andrew Smith
Because it's hilarious and real and the voice is true.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Because Robinson speaks to the soul like no one else.

Plenty More, a cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi
Because his food is so good, and the pictures are so gorgeous, that I drool just looking at them. 

Thank you so much for stopping by the blog, Jennifer! The attention to detail that Jennifer describes during her research process truly pays off in the historical fiction she writes as they always feel incredibly authentic and well-researched. I am extremely picky about the world-building of my novels, even non-fantasy novels, which is why I enjoy Jennifer's novels so much. I haven't read any of her latest book crushes, though--have you? If you haven't read my review of These Shallow Graves you can do so right here. I want to know what you all think of this post, this novel, Jennifer's books, and just historical fiction in general. Any good recommendations to tide me over until Jennifer's next book releases? Let me know in the comments! :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1) 

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 5 Stars

Six Reasons Why Six of Crows Is LIFE: 

1. A HEIST! 

If you haven't already heard by now, Six of Crows is a heist novel. I've heard it compared to Ocean's Eleven, which I haven't seen, but I'd liken it to The Avengers since there's an epic round-up of our team and an utterly satisfying journey as they learn to trust one another and work together, despite the fact that a handful of them are strangers. Moreover, I can promise that Bardugo doesn't disappoint. Not in the details, not in the plot twists, and definitely not in the sucker-punches to the gut (you know, that feeling you get every time you're reminded of how this is an impossible task and the team assembled is guaranteed to fail).

2. Legends 

Every one of the six characters who make up our heist team are legends in their own right. There's Kaz Brekker, the criminal mastermind and genius who is unstoppable. There's Inej, the Wraith, who is as silent as a shadow and can travel anywhere, anyhow, without being detected. There's Jesper, whose guns never miss their mark. And so on and so forth. We're introduced to these characters by their legends--the stories that surround them, the rumors that circulate about them--but by the end, we've slowly started to peel back the layers and expose that they, for all their impossible feats, are mere people. I love how Bardugo does this, so gradually, and it works perfectly. It forces us, as the reader, to become invested emotionally and then just keeps twisting the knife in deeper until our hearts are bleeding and our breath is becoming shallow and we can't imagine our lives before we knew about these characters; I am so in love with all six of them, it's desperate.

3. Multiple POVs

Bardugo writes Six of Crows from a third-person perspective, which works perfectly as she alternates between narrators. Each of the six have their turn, time and time again, and though I usually shy away from multiple perspectives, Bardugo perfected it. Not only is it ideal when we're working with a heist, especially one as elaborate as this where the team members need to be split up, but it's also ideal when peeling back the layers of a group of six people who don't trust each other, who don't know where they stand with one another, and who all want money desperately. I never thought the POV shifts were abrupt, unexpected, or unwanted so kudos to Bardugo for walking that fine line flawlessly.

4. Politics, Slavery, and Discrimination

Shadow and Bone revolved mostly around Grisha politics, centered in Ravka and working its way inward through the Second Army and the different ranks of Grisha. With Six of Crows, we've entered a whole new underbelly. Admittedly, some parts are familiar--Grisha, Fabrikators, Heartrenders, etc.--but others are relatively new. Bardugo expands this world so much, including different races of people and different customs, some of which despise the Grisha. I found it interesting to see how these six individuals, each with completely different--and tragic--backgrounds interact with one another despite their prejudices and pre-conceived notions which are, perhaps surprisingly, harder to let go of than we may think. Bardugo never info-dumps this onto us, instead revealing to us bits and pieces in multiple narratives. As a lover of fantasy, and particularly fantastical politics, I ate this all up.

5. Romance

No one can slay me with a romance quite like Bardugo can. Remember how, in Siege and Storm, your heart was breaking page after page because Mal and Alina so desperately wanted to be together and so clearly were destined to be together but their rank and circumstance and past just couldn't allow them to be in the relationship they once dreamed of? And it was so painful because of how unfair it was? Because neither of them could really do anything except give up a part of themselves? And how could we ask them to do that? Well, that's how the romance is in this novel. Except times fifty. So...just get ready for a lot of blood and tears. But it's so, so good. My favorite romance is, obviously, the one that seems utterly doomed and full of strife and peril but, I hold on to the smallest shreds of hope, even as the sexual tension kills me, slowly. There's another romance, too, one which I think is less subtle and I love the depth and complexity that this one has, too. Moreover, I strongly suspect there's yet another romance, hidden deep in small phrases and tiny gestures, so though I may simply be fangirling for no reason, I ship yet another couple in this novel (and I will go down shipping them, so they better become a prominent couple soon, Bardugo)!

6. Villains

Every good novel has a good villain--or two, or three--and this book is teeming with formidable villains. Ones I want to see go down. While the Darkling was more like Draco Malfoy--extremely attractive, to the point where you didn't want to hate him, and not entirely evil--the villains in this novel, much like the main characters, are flawed and without remorse. I love the fine line Bardugo emphasizes between hero and villain because, our crew? None of them are heroes. All of them have lied and stolen and cheated their way to where they are now and though they may have survived out of circumstance, none of them are without guilt or blame. Yet, Bardugo makes us root for them and believe in them, much like real people whose pasts are messy but whose futures still hold hope. We've gotten glimpses of our villains in Six of Crows; strong and potent glimpses. I am sure they will come further into the forefront as the series wears on and I cannot wait to meet them, head-on, with Kaz and his team.

If you need more than six reasons to pick up Six of Crows, I promise I can come up with them for you. This is a novel that features disabled characters, diverse characters, mature characters and if you're searching for a New Adult-esque fantasy novel that explores the ideas of a New Adult novel--finding your place in the world, albeit through mistakes and strange situations--then Six of Crows fits that bill too. It's so many incredible, wonderful, surprising stories and genres in one that I am truly astounded by it. Easily one of the best books of the year, if not the best, this is one I couldn't put down, classes be damned. (Although, Bardugo, I might be begging for more than just the next novel at this point. It would be nice if you could give me my GPA back too...)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Carry On

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I didn't expect to love Carry On nearly as much as I actually did. Admittedly, I've been shipping Simon and Baz ever since Fangirl but mostly, I came away from Fangirl dying over Cath and Levi (obviously). I adored their story and enjoyed Simon and Baz's interactions along the way. But Carry On? Oh. My. God. I will die with this ship. Seriously. Rainbow Rowell characterizes Simon and Baz perfectly, tracing their violent past, their "hatred" for one another, and transforming into a completely believable, utterly adorable, entirely sexy romance.

Now, that's not to say that Carry On is a perfect novel. To me, its strength lies in the fact that I fell so hard for these characters and their interactions. In fact, my rating is a primarily emotional one: I love Simon and Baz, separately but mostly together. What I will say, criticizing this book, is that it feels like a part of a whole. Loosely based off of Harry Potter, Rowell's "fanfiction" lacks the length of Rowling's epic. We don't know the intimate details of Simon's past six years; his relationship with the Mage (think: Dumbledore) as it developed over time, his friendship with Penelope (think: Hermione's brains with Ron's loyalty and his large family) or his relationship with his girlfriend, Agatha. While Rowell does an excellent job of truly fleshing out these core secondary characters, especially as they relate to Simon, there are still gaps that are felt in the narrative.

Additionally, Rowell's world and plot is quite different from Rowling's, though I'd argue quite complex, but it's difficult to get a strong grasp on it since we don't have prequels of world-building the way we do when reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I really love Carry On for what it is but when compared to other fantasy novels, it definitely comes off as lacking. Moreover, the deaths and emotional aspects of this book were relatively lost on me, both because I didn't have a strong connection to all of the secondary characters (some who play really important roles towards the end) and also because the romance feels were so overwhelmingly in this narrative. Now, that's not to say that the romance takes over or is the focus but it's a huge part, at least in that the romance contributes to the growth of the two leads immensely.

I still, though, loved Rowell's latest. It's my favorite of her YA line-up, though Fangirl comes in a close second (though Attachments is still unbeatable IMO). Carry On was un-put-down-able for me and I read it all in one sitting, devouring Simon and Baz's story and their incredible romance. I love nothing more than copious amounts of sexual tension, fantastical elements, and an epic reveal that changes the trajectory of the plot and Carry On had all those elements. Plus, Rowell drops in plenty of diverse characters, which I appreciate so much and her writing, as always, is impeccable. If you're a fan of Fangirl this is obviously a must-read but if you're a fan of romance, in general, or are just craving a different type of love story from the all-too-familiar, then Carry On isn't to be missed. I want more romances like this: where I can root for the main characters regardless of gender or sexual orientation or race and just be caught up in the love. One thing I'm certain of, having finishing this novel, is that carry on I simply cannot; I'm going to be stuck in this world for a long time to come.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Monthly Rewind: September

Guys, how is September over already?

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. Flower Sunday 

Flower Sunday is my favorite Wellesley tradition--and there are many!--but this is easily one of my favorite days of the year. Flower Sunday is a ceremony where the entire Wellesley community gathers in the chapel during the first Sunday of the school year. It's a beautiful ceremony, one where every member of our Multifaith Council shares a little bit about their culture and the choir, which I'm part of, sings as well. The best part about Flower Sunday, though, is that every upperclassmen is assigned a Little, a first-year who joins our family and we all have brunch together afterwards. It's one of the few times you'll see the entire study body as stress-free as they are, that first weekend of college, and it's a time that reminds me how much I love it here. You can see, here, a picture of myself and my best friend, who also happens to be my fellow Little. The two of us were assigned to the same Big last year and I definitely consider her to be my sister.

2. Family and Friends Weekend

My mom visited for Family and Friends Weekend and it is such a different experience to have your parent visit your college during your second year. I remember crying when my parents drove up for Family and Friends Weekend last year but this year I took my mom around Boston, MIT, and Harvard Square, she attended my Choir Concert, treated my friends and I out for dinner, and we saw Inside Out together in the cinema on campus. It was so, so much fun and though I don't miss my family the way I used to, as a first-year, it reminded me of how much I love and really do miss my mom.

3. I didn't read much this September

I just...didn't. I am deep in the heart of midterm season right now and my stress levels are sky-high, hence the lack of posting these past two weeks. And essentially this whole month. I finally got into a routine balancing my student leadership position, two jobs, two e-board positions, and a full course load when, BAM, midterms were dropped on us and to add insult to injury, I've had a paper to write and turns out that having a midterm doesn't mean that I don't have homework or problem sets's been a tough month, to say the least. I've been trying to eat healthier and work out more but somehow that means that reading has really fallen on my list of priorities, which I feel terrible about. And if I don't read, I don't blog and the vicious cycle of my internet absence continues... Also, I am so bummed that I haven't had the time to read Six of Crows yet, among other amazing releases that have been hitting the shelves! Friends! Where do I find time? HALP!

Best Book I Read This Month

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee: This is a Western that I expected to love, had mixed feelings for about half-way in, but wound up thoroughly enjoying by the end. I have a lot to say about this one, especially its attention to diversity and general brilliance in portraying male/female dynamics so look out for a review of this sometime soon! 

Most Popular Post This Month

Just Another...Book Crush (#19): The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler: Sarah Ockler is one of my favorite authors and The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is still my favorite book of the year so I was beyond ecstatic to have her on the blog this month and her post is so beautiful. Seriously. If you haven't read it already, read it!

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

Mini-Reviews: I honestly thought these mini-reviews would get more love since they're recent, popular, and I usually write such rambling reviews that I feel like people jump at the chance to read a condensed version of my thoughts. Also because my mini-review of The Boy Most Likely To sparked an entire e-mail exchange with Huntley Fitzpatrick, who is one of my favorite people in the world, not to mention author, so I hoped that my review would inspire similar conversation in the comments. (Especially because Huntley's e-mail seriously made my week, if not my entire month, in terms of pleasant surprises, much-needed pick-me-ups, and book-ish tidings.)

Obsession of the Month

How to Get Away With Murder! I've seen the entire first season (and am all caught up with season two as well!) and I am obsessed! If you like crime/law dramas with seriously attractive people, talented actors, and a diverse cast then this is the show for you. Also, how bleeping amazing is it that Viola Davis won an Emmy for her work on this show? So. Well. Deserved. (Also, for fans out there: Coliver! I will sink with this ship, I swear...)

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in October

1. Fall Break! I'm visiting one of my best friends in New York this Fall Break, which I'm really excited about, though I'm also looking forward to reading on the bus and sleeping a ton since I'm going home for two nights as well. I need this break. I've taken on too much this year and I desperately need to re-charge. 
2. Navratri! Navratri is an incredible time of year for Hindus because it's one of our longest holidays and it's in celebration of female strength which, being a Wellesley student, I am all about. To celebrate Navratri we participate in a dance known as Garba and I'm really excited to be attending at least one Garba this Navratri. It's so, so much fun (not to mention an excuse to get all dolled up!). 
3. Halloween! I'm not big on dressing up for Halloween (read: I am not creative enough to create mainstream costumes that people will recognize) but Halloween means pumpkin carving with the Choir Officers, celebrating Choir Halloween (as you can tell, my life is basically Wellesley College Choir...) and, of course, attending a truly spooky Halloween party. So, needless to say, what's not to be excited about Halloween? (Also, candy!)

How has your September been? Is anyone else as stressed as I am and unable to find time to read? Tips to keep me sane this Fall Semester? Any festivals you're looking forward to? Any How to Get Away with Murder fans out there? Plans for Halloween? I want to catch up with everyone so let me know in the comments below! 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mini-Reviews: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman, and After the End by Amy Plum

Title: The Boy Most Likely To 

Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick 

Rating: 3 Stars

The Boy Most Likely To was not at all the book I expected it to be. Despite not loving Fitzpatrick's debut, I picked up this companion on the sole belief that I adored Tim Mason and Alice Garrett--and I do. Yet, their love story, the trials and tribulations they face throughout this volume, are not what I expected upon cracking open the spine of this novel. Tim is the Boy Most Likely to Fail and this is a burden he carries heavily upon his shoulders. Everyone in his family, from his father to his sister, expects the worst from him so when Tim is given an ultimatum to get his act together by December--staying sober, finding a place to live, supporting himself, figuring out his future--he is determined to prove them all wrong. But mistakes just follow Tim and his biggest mistake yet has just turned up on his front door.

I absolutely love the growth in this novel. Tim's perseverance to be a better person, despite being put down by those around him time and time again, is admirable and my heart went out to him. He hides his insecurities and pain behind his laid-back demeanor and flirtatious comments with Alice but the real Tim is a strong and capable man. Alice, too, grows immensely over the course of this story as she grows to accept and love Tim for who he really is, not to mention love herself. Alice has always hidden behind her figure and beautiful face, taking up responsibilities above her age to support her family and sacrificing her dreams to help them. But sometimes the hardest thing is learning to love yourself and actually be selfish, once in awhile, and Alice's tough journey to that acceptance was so beautifully written. Fitzpatrick does this with each and every one of her novels; she identifies journeys and stories that are powerful and painful and messy but ones that need to be told and she does it with such aplomb. I read her books for her rich characterization that is sustained throughout and never falters.

Despite the fact that I loved the ultimate take-home messages of this novel, I will admit that I found it tough to read because of the unexpected events that occur within it. I wasn't a fan of those paths and wished that these journeys could have been explored in a slightly different manner. With these two books I've always wished for this--for these same characters to achieve their growth through slightly different plot circumstances. I suspect it's an issue only I truly have for, either than that, I cannot recommend this book enough. Don't expect a light and breezy romantic comedy because this book is far heavier than it seems but, if you go in with the right mindset, you'll fall in love.

Title: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (Prisoner of Night & Fog, #2)

Author: Anne Blankman

Rating: 4 Stars

I found this sequel to be even more rewarding than its predecessor. Gretchen's voice is far more developed and mature, though just as vulnerable, which enabled me to instantly connect with her in a way I hadn't in Blankman's debut. What's more, the romantic tribulations that she and Daniel must face alongside the thrill of the historical time period they are thrown into made for a truly enlightening and exhilarating read. Extremely well-written and sure to satisfy fans of the first novel, this is not a sequel--or author--to be overlooked.

Title: After the End (After the End, #1)

Author: Amy Plum

Rating: 3.5 Stars

I really, really enjoyed After the End. It isn't a dystopian novel--though the protagonist believes she's living in a post-apocalyptic world--and that premises is so wholly unique that it was enough to drag me through the alternating chapters in the beginning (which didn't do much for the plot) and into the rest of the enticing novel. Plum's latest series is written impeccably, putting into the confused mindset of our protagonist and introducing us to the culture shock of the modern world. In the midst of all this, though, the real plot lies in a chase, an adventure, and an uncovering of the secrets we're all dying to figure out.

One of the strongest aspects of this novel is the relationship between Juneau and Mike, the main characters. For one, neither Juneau nor Mike see eye-to-eye on anything. Mike believes that Juneau has been brainwashed and struggles to believe the truth about her existence--that she was brought up in the wilderness of Alaska, living as a nomad for all her life. Similarly, Juneau cannot believe that her family and mentor lied to her and that, in truth, WWIII never occurred and that the modern world is safe and well. While Juneau is on a mission to find her family, who have been captured and moved across the country, Mike is there to bring Juneau to his father, the CEO of a major pharmaceutical company who believes that Juneau knows the ingredients to a secret drug being brewed in Alaska. Their rocky start and eventual friendship is an adventure to behold and I loved the slow and careful characterization of these two.

I did struggle, though, with the actual genrefication of this novel. It started out dystopian, proceeded to be contemporary fiction, but truly ended with traces of paranormal and/or fantasy elements which, for a reader who likes to know what she's getting into, inspired a great deal of confusion. And that, sadly, dampened my enjoyment of this story. I really didn't know what to make of it and, to a large extent, still don't know what to make of the multiple genres this novel can fit into at different stages in its storyline. It was jarring and unexpected, to say the least, but I suspect I'll enjoy the sequel much more having this solid foundation going in. All in all, After the End was an unexpected surprise and I'm eager to devour its sequel soon!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Just Another...Book Crush (#19): The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (Guest Post & Giveaway!)

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I am over the moon to be welcoming Sarah Ockler to the blog today. I've been in contact with Sarah for awhile--almost ever since I read The Summer of Chasing Mermaids in late January--and have been dreaming about having her write a post for this meme. And, it finally happened! The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is one of the most powerful, diverse, sex-positive, and romantic novels I've read--ever--and it's so, so important to me. If you haven't already picked it up, just do it.

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.
Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.
Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life. 
When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them...

Denial of Voice: The Sound of Silence

When I’m inspired to write a novel, it’s usually because something happening in my own life or in the lives of people close to me makes such a powerful, emotional impact that I’ve got no choice but to write about it. Through my characters and their story, I can explore the themes I’m interested in and—most importantly—give my characters the hopeful ending they deserve, despite the many obstacles they’ll face along the way.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the power to grant those same hopeful endings to the people I care about in real life, especially the teen girls who read my novels. I can only hope to let them know, through my characters and their challenges, that they are not alone.

Through Elyse’s story in The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, I wanted to explore denial of voice, something I see so many young people—particularly girls and women—struggling with. Elyse is a former singer from Tobago whose lifelong dreams were dashed a few months earlier when a boating accident left her with irreversible vocal loss. Now mute, she’s spending her summer with a family friend in Oregon, feeling stuck and uncertain about how to move forward. Without her voice, she doesn’t even know who she is anymore.

Through Elyse, I was able to write about broader silencing and denial of voice issues symbolized by a character who literally has no physical voice and has to learn new ways of expressing herself, embracing her new life, and standing up for herself when others either speak for her or shut her out.

Sometimes the suppression of a person’s voice is brutal and obvious—being told to shut up, or being threatened with violence for speaking out, or even being killed for doing so. But often denial of voice is much more insidious and even difficult to recognize. It’s made possible by subtle and oft-repeated messages telling us that certain people are not worthy of having or sharing a voice. These messages become so deeply ingrained in our culture, our social norms, or very beings, that not only do we learn to believe them, but we learn to keep contributing to and perpetuating them.

Sorry Not Sorry

From a young age, girls are taught—explicitly or implicitly—to be nice, accommodating, and selfless. To this end, we’re conditioned to automatically apologize for anything that may contradict someone else’s idea of what being nice, accommodating, or selfless means.

We learn to apologize for asking questions, as though our curiosity or need for clarification is disruptive or offensive. We learn to apologize for taking up space, or for asking someone to move out of the way so that we can get by, as though our physical presence is a crime. We learn to apologize for stating our needs, and for expecting to have those needs met, because sometimes meeting our own needs means someone else doesn’t get what he or she wants, and that’s not very accommodating. Sometimes the “Sorry!” response is so automatic, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Sound crazy? Ask yourself: in a given day or week, how many times do you apologize for something for which you’re not (or shouldn’t be) truly sorry? For something that doesn’t even require an apology? For saying no to a request or demand with which you can’t or don’t want to comply? For not understanding something and needing more information?

Every time we apologize for something like this—or expect others to do so—we’re silencing. We’re saying that our voices, opinions, and needs don’t matter. We’re perpetuating the belief that it’s more important to make the people around us feel comfortable than it is to take care of or speak up for ourselves.

Just Be Yourself!* (*Instructions Not Included)

Relatedly, girls are often told to “be ourselves,” and that we can do anything we put our minds to. It sounds lovely, but we’re not given a lot of direction on what that really means, or how to deal with the challenges that inevitably arise when we truly, authentically put ourselves out there. What happens when being ourselves conflicts with being nice, accommodating, and selfless?

We have to accept the fact that not everyone will welcome our authentic selves—even (and sometimes especially) the people who claim to love us most. And so often I see—in my own life as well as in the lives of girls and women around me—denial of voice in action, where we’re shut down and shut up simply because we don’t fit into whatever box society has built for us. We’re confronted by things like sexism, gender roles and expectations, privilege, double standards, lack of opportunity, aggression, poverty, racism, fear, power dynamics, institutionalized misogyny… just to name a few, and then told to just “be ourselves” or “we can do anything we put our minds to” as if these obstacles don’t exist.

So how do we overcome our internalized and externalized silencing and related fears, and help other girls and women do the same? 

By Being A Voice Advocate

I don’t write my books with the intention of sending messages, but I always hope that readers walk away from my stories feeling less alone, or thinking about something in a new way, or maybe even considering an issue or situation they’ve never given much thought before.

With The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, my hope is that readers might be inspired to find ways to connect with and express their own true voices, and also to consider how we might encourage and support other girls and women in doing the same.

Each of us has the power to be an advocate for voice. If you don’t have a supportive, encouraging person in your life, you can be your own advocate! It doesn’t mean that you won’t face challenges and obstacles—perhaps even dangerous ones. You won’t always have the safe space in which to express yourself. But you can start with knowing your own personal truth, and trusting the voice inside you. Once you do that, you can practice expressing yourself in small ways. For example, if you find yourself constantly apologizing, practice withholding that “I’m sorry” for situations where you truly need to apologize for a wrongdoing. If you have trouble saying no, or you’re constantly putting energy into others while neglecting yourself, practice caring for yourself. Practice saying no, or even offering a compromise. Self-love is not selfish!

Being a voice advocate also means thinking about ways in which we might be unintentionally silencing someone through our own words or behaviors. Are we criticizing instead of encouraging? Do we scoff or easily dismiss someone because we don’t agree with her views, or because we think her ideas are stupid? Do we assume that someone younger than us can’t possibly understand, or that her experiences and feelings are invalid or immature? Similarly, do we assume someone older is out of touch? Do we ignore the voices of those who are different from us in any way because we assume we have nothing to learn from them? These are important questions to ask ourselves if we truly believe in freedom of expression and truly want to foster an environment in which all girls and women can safely express their authentic voices.

If you’re comfortable with self-expression, you can advocate for someone who isn’t. Help that person by being a good listener, by giving them safe space in which to explore their own inner voice and practice expressing it. Sometimes, all it takes is one supportive person or one moment of encouragement to truly change someone’s life. Let the girls and women in your life know that you want to hear what they have to say—that they are important and worthy, and that their voice matters.

And most importantly, know that your voice matters, too. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. And that inner light will shine out of you and illuminate everything you do. 

Just Another...Book Crush! 

1. The Diary of Anais Nin by Anais Nin. This is a regular re-read for me, though I haven't yet made my way through all the volumes yet. I just love opening the book and slipping into her vibrant world, getting lost in and inspired by her beautiful writing.
2. He's Gone by Deb Caletti. I adore Deb's YA books, and this one--her first novel for adults--is just as lovely. Deb has a way of capturing everyday moments, heartaches, and joys so simply and perfectly; reading her books is like hanging out with a dear old friend.
3. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt by Richard H. Wilkinson. I'm obsessed with Ancient Egypt, and I can't help but be carried away to another time and place when I flip through this one. It's truly awe-inspiring!


Sarah was so, so sweet and offered to host a giveaway for one lucky winner to win a signed copy of The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. This giveaway is US ONLY, but I'll be hosting more international giveaways extremely soon, no worries! All my usual rules and regulations apply and keep in mind that the giveaway ends September 30th. Good Luck!
What did you think of Sarah's guest post? Have you read any of her Book Crushes? Let me know in the comments below and if you haven't read my (gushing!) review of The Summer of Chasing Mermaids, you can do so right here. :)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

ARC Review: These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Title: These Shallow Graves

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Rating: 5 Stars

Release Date: October 27th, 2015

These Shallow Graves is Jennifer Donnelly's third historical fiction novel for young adults and, like her previous two, I fell head-over-heels in love with it. Much like A Northern Light, Donnelly's latest features a curious, determined protagonist and a mystery whose secrets threaten the very lives of our characters. Moreover, it is littered with snippets of dialogue and scenarios which serve to distinguish the sharp line between women and men, particularly the hypocrisy and cruelty that kept women from attaining equal rights for so long.

I really, really love Donnelly's work, not only because it's well-written and entertaining, but because these are the types of novels I want young girls to read. I want them to open a book and find a heroine who is ambitious and driven, yet finds herself held back by society and still manages to push forward. I want them to read novels where men are supportive of a women's career and interests, even when most other men are not. I want them to find stories that entertain them but also teach them about the struggles women did have in the world and all the opportunities they have now--opportunities they should seize the way Jo Montfort seizes those before her.

These Shallow Graves has so much going for it, from its compelling murder mystery to its terrifying villain to its layers and layers of secrets. It has a slow-burn, swoon-worthy forbidden romance that will make you melt and a heroine who you can look up to. But more than that, it's a perfect snapshot of the lives of multiple women during this time period. Jo, our protagonist, is a wealthy young woman expected to marry well when her father suddenly commits suicide. While her uncle has it reported as an accident, Jo's curiosity and desire to become an investigative journalist propel her to uncover that her father was shot and murdered. While this leads her on a wild goose chase for the killer but it also brings her in contact with the dirty underbelly of the city, crawling with prostitutes whose eyes are dead, and Fay, a female thief who, despite not having family to tie her down, is nevertheless without freedom. A Donnelly novel stays with me long past its last page because of the themes it echoes, reverberating not only through the book but through my own life as well. I think all women can comprehend the situation these young girls are thrown in and the fact that we can still empathize with that, despite the progress we have made, is its own kind of sadness.

Nevertheless, there is much happy within this somber story as well, from Jo Montfort herself to Eddie Gallagher, the handsome journalist she meets and convinces to help assist her in solving this crime. Jo and Eddie are one of my favorite couples and their interactions are laced with a deeper understanding of one another which I truly appreciate. Moreover, their love story never takes away from the personal growth Jo experiences or the plot line but it is the cherry on top, which I appreciate.

These Shallow Graves is anything but shallow; a thought-provoking novel that pushes the boundaries of what YA is currently doing to what it could be constantly doing. Moreover, it's Jennifer Donnelly's latest book. It really needs no more endorsement than that.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Montly Rewind: August

I  am SO SAD that August is over! It's one of my favorite months but this year, especially, it was just wonderful. I'm also truly upset that it is September and classes are in full swing! I was so excited to return to college but I forgot a lot of the stress associated with being here and I'm really feeling it now, which is a bummer. I hope to have some great posts out this month, namely a guest post that I am head-over-heels in love with and a review I feel really proud of, but I mostly hope I can find time to read in-between my busy schedule. *fingers crossed*

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. I returned to Wellesley! It's a completely different experience to return to college than it is to move into college as a first-year student. I arrived on campus two weeks before the start of classes for Student Leadership Training and it was amazing! My best friend has been on campus all summer, working at Admissions, so it was so, so nice to finally reunite with her and we spent the better part of those two weeks glued to the hip.

2. Student Leadership Training & Orientation! Student Leadership Training was one of the most inspiring weeks to spend at Wellesley because I was surrounded by motivated, engaging students who were just incredible. I really love my Residential Staff team this year and I just know it's going to be a great year since I'll get to work with them. But, honestly, nothing beat the rush of Orientation. Not being a first-year for Orientation is the best decision anyone can make because it's SO MUCH FUN! We celebrated some of the best Wellesley traditions, got to know the first-years, and it was my first time running workshops and helping students in my leadership role, which was so rewarding. Long story short, if you're a college student considering becoming a Student Leader, you should definitely do it! It's a sacrifice to give up two extra weeks of summer but it's also so, so worth it!

3. My Birthday! So my birthday was during Orientation week this year, like last year, only it was on Registration Day instead of Placement Exam Day (so an improvement...). I was exhausted with all the work I had to do as a Student Leader on my birthday but this was one of the most special birthdays I've had because people went out of their way to really make me feel loved. My best friend decorated my door with hot men (because...HOT MEN!) and my House President actually delivered a cake to me that she decorated! It was so unbelievably sweet of them and I'm so lucky to know such lovely people!

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

1. Burn by Paula Weston - I loved this finale to Weston's Rephaim quartet and if you haven't already picked it up, I really cannot recommend it more. It's just so, so good--please read it!

2. Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White - I typically don't enjoy White's work but this was really the exception to the rule because it wound up being so good. I stayed up all night to read it and just really, really loved it.

3. A tie between After the End by Amy Plum and The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I enjoyed both of these books a lot, and in different ways, but they also forced me to alter my expectations quite a bit so I feel as if I'd have truly fallen for them had I had different expectations prior to picking them up.

3 Most Popular Posts This Month

1. ARC Review: A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand - Florand is one of my favorite romance authors of all time and I really loved her latest novel. Her books are all set in France, which is pretty much all the motivation I ever need to pick them up. Because France.

2. Monthly Rewind: July - I'm so glad that my first Monthly Rewind post got so much love!

3. Review: The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler - Easily my favorite book of the year, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is so near and dear to my heart. Look out for a guest post and giveaway by Sarah Ockler later this month!

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

My review of Kiersten White's Illusions of Fate because it's a novel I didn't expect to enjoy but it completely blew me away and is a spectacular stand-alone fantasy novel that features diversity and is devoid of insta-love and love triangles, which are all wins in my book!

5 Posts I Starred in my Blog Reader This Month

1. My Indian Parents Are Huge Fans of Cultural Appropriation, Even While My Generation Finds it Appalling: This article is basically MY LIFE and explains a lot of the struggles that Indian American children struggle with. On a related note, I cannot tell you the number of times I've rolled my eyes at a "yoga" class and people haven't understood that I'm not criticizing the exercise but rather that I'm incensed at the "Namaste" and "Om" that are thrown about as Westerners try to pass off "yoga" as part of my culture when, seriously, the "yoga" you are doing is NOT the "yoga" from India. (I know that may be hard to believe, but as someone who was born in India, I can confirm this.) You can read more about the differences between Western Yoga and actual Yoga at this post, if you're interested in stopping the spread of cultural appropriation currently happening!

2. 30 Things I Didn't Do Until I Turned 30: I'm not even close to being thirty, but this post struck a chord with me. Kate is a travel blogger who has visited over fifty countries in her short life--she is so cool! Yet, there were still so many things she hadn't done with her life until she turned thirty; many of them normal, everyday things. And though I read her blog, often with envy at not having traveled to the exotic locations she has, this post made me realize that there is so much I can still do before turn thirty--and even after.

3. Podcast: Episode 30 (Season 3, Episode 4) - "We Have Some Things We'd Like to Say": I loooove the Clear Eyes, Full Shelves podcast, so if you're not already listening...listen! In this episode there are so many important book industry issues discussed, from portraying people of color accurately in literature (and other sources of media) and the flaws inherent in marketing, namely the onus on readers to buy books when publishers simply aren't marketing the way they need to.

4. On Male-Dominated Spaces and Internalized Sexism: This post basically validates so much of why I attend a women's college. If you ever want to talk to me about my experience at a women's college (or want me to write a post about it) let me know because I absolutely LOVE my college experience and definitely want to encourage more women to consider women's colleges.

5. 10 Things Women In Their Twenties Need to Stop Worrying About: This is a Buzzfeed post but I love how Buzzfeed really tries to push the ideals of feminism while being firmly in the zone of more rights for both men and women. Anyway, I loved this piece and though I'm not in my twenties yet, it's still so applicable.

Obsession of the Month

I've been really obsessed with this mashup of the song "Lean On" with an old Indian song, "Rangeela" (which means colors). It's fantastic and I've been dancing to it all around campus. Oops!

Something I'm Looking Forward to Next Month 

Family & Friends Weekend! Since last year was my first year at Wellesley, my entire family drove up and spent the weekend with me here. But this time, it'll be just my mom and I'm so, so excited for her to visit so we can split the weekend between Wellesley and Boston! :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: Nobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Title: Nobody's Baby But Mine (Chicago Stars, #3) 

Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Rating: 4 Stars

I adore Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Discovering a reliable romance author, one who is guaranteed to pull you into her plot and make you bleed for her characters, all while delivering on the heat and simmer you expect, is utterly satisfying. Whenever I need to simply relax, just for a moment, and forget about the world around me--currently the odd limbo state of returning to college after winter break and not having any problem sets to work on--I can count on Susan Elizabeth Phillips. And she delivers, every time, without fail. Although, I will warn readers new to Phillips's work that don't expect to casually read a few chapters and leave this novel on your nightstand. Nope, it won't work. Phillips writes the type of characters and wayward situations that you toss and turn all night mulling about until, finally, you just have to give in and finish the novel at that exact moment. But, I guarantee, it is so, so worth it.

I don't tend to linger on romance novels or write a bulk of reviews centered around them. Most of them, at the end of the day, are the same, typical, all-too heart-warming storyline we want to live in. But Nobody's Baby But Mine was a hard sell, even for me, because despite having read and loved at least four--maybe five?--of Phillips's romances by now, this third book in her Chicago Stars series just seemed overly outlandish. I took a gamble on this one, both its cover and synopsis, and I'm here to convince you that you should disregard the utter craziness promised by this premise and just...go along with it.

Jane Darlington is a 34 year-old physicist--brilliant, passably attractive, and so-very-single. All Jane wants is to have a child. Unfortunately for her, her brilliant genes left her feeling isolated throughout her childhood and what she needs in a father is not a wealthy, lovable husband to take her of her or her child; no, Jane needs a remarkably stupid man to impregnate her in the hopes that her child's intelligence will be normal, not genius-level. When the opportunity presents itself for Jane to pretend to be a classy hooker and be delivered to Cal Bonner, a 36 year-old football star whose intelligence is easily hidden to the public eye, despite her reservations, Jane accepts. Cal's handsome good-looks and athletic prowess only confirm for Jane that he can't--not possibly--be smart and thus, she hopes to get impregnated on the night of Cal's birthday. Cal, who is truly a brilliant man and aging football player, is known to notoriously date only twenty-something darlings with curves and mile-long legs. Jane is the least likely woman to intrigue him but, against all odds, he can't stop thinking about her. Clearly, she wasn't a hooker--but what did she want? When Cal discovers Jane's plan, his old-fashioned roots compel him to marry her and take her to Salvation, North Carolina where he hopes the two can lay low, avoid his family, and wait until the child is born before securing a divorce. But Jane is more than a match for Cal and love is waiting just around the corner...if only they wouldn't let their pride get in the way.

I always feel incredibly cheesy writing a synopsis for a romance novel but, it is what it is. And Nobody's Baby But Mine is hilarious. As odd and outlandish as its premise sounds, it is equally easy to read and the situations--and dialogue!--simply demand that you laugh out loud. Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a talent for peeling back layers to her characters and revealing their backstories, innermost secrets, and deepest fears in such a way that you grow to like--and care--for these characters immensely. I didn't think I'd fall for Jane and Cal quite so hard when this novel began but far before I had even reached the mid-way mark, I found myself in love with Cal, whose boisterous voice and penchant for picking a fight displayed his true emotions and Jane, whose backbone was ready to meet every one of Cal's challenges. Their interactions in Salvation are amusing and my eyes were riveted to the page, waiting to see just how their relationship would develop.

Nobody's Baby But Mine features a large cast of family members who also stole my heart and the marriage of Cal's parents has its own surprising, and extremely touching, storyline as well which compliments that of Cal and Jane's perfectly. I love an intelligent, forward-thinking, strong-willing protagonist and I adore a grouchy man who is caring and sweet beneath the layers of burr. I can't decide on a favorite Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel because all of her books are just so good and equally satisfying so if you've enjoyed her in the past or plan to in the future, Nobody's Baby But Mine is not one to miss out.

You can read my review of Phillips's latest novel, Heroes Are My Weakness, here and in this post I briefly discuss my love for a few of Phillips's other chick-lit romance reads (as well as recommending a bunch of others!). 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ARC Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)

Author(s): Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: October 20th, 2015

Shockingly, I really did not love this book and doubt I'll be continuing with the sequel either. I adore epistolary novels, particularly when they're written by Jaclyn Moriarty, but a science fiction novel written in this format just didn't do it for me. For one, when compared to the contemporary epistolary written by Moriarty, Illuminae was not as humorous or as poignant. While the story told within these pages is stellar--and very cleverly conveyed through data files, journal entries, and chats--a multitude of other facets did not sit well with me.

1. Illuminae revolves around Ezra and Kady, a young teenage couple who has recently broken up and find themselves on two separate spaceships due to the fact that their planet was attacked. Though Ezra and Kady are broken up, much of their relationship stems from the fact that they used to be dating--and are still in love with one another despite the circumstances that wrought their breakup. As a reader, we don't know Ezra and Kady's backstory. We don't know who they are as individuals, forget as a couple, and their interactions throughout the entire first half of the novel failed to resonate with me. I just couldn't bring myself to really feel for these characters, both through their personalities--so tied up in one another, understandably so--and their situation, so far removed from anything I could even imagine.

2. A few of the methods used by these authors to convey snippets of the story felt distinctly like cheating. While I understand that there are a limited number of ways to tell this story in an epistolary manner, at times it was necessary for this to read like a normal tale. I enjoyed this--quite a lot, in fact--and wonder if Illuminae would have been a stronger novel had it not been epistolary. Kady and Ezra speak to each other through technological means and their diary/journal entries are not truly as soul-searching as one would wish, which convinced me that either than an epistolary format being unique and interesting for Illuminae, it was not necessary. Nor did it improve the story-telling in any manner. Again, however, keep in mind that this epistolary format made me feel more isolated from the story, as a reader, than a part of it so take my cautions with a grain of salt.

3. The pacing of Illuminae was FAR too slow. The events outlined in the synopsis take hundreds of pages to occur and I considered DNFing this novel numerous times. It picked up drastically by the end and I enjoyed the last 30-40% of the novel a LOT, but not enough to want to continue with this series, sadly.

I seem to be the black sheep on Illuminae so I recommend giving it a try. If it isn't meshing for you early on, though, it probably won't click for you miraculously until the end and, even then, it's only a shell of the true emotion you wanted to be feeling throughout the novel. Illuminae is certainly a unique and compelling novel; just not one for me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Title: Illusions of Fate

Author: Kiersten White

Rating: 4 Stars

If you, like me, dismissed Illusions of Fate because...well, Kiersten White, then please, please give this one a chance. White's debut, Paranormalcy, released when I was just thirteen and my young, teenage self fell head-over-heels for it. Admittedly, it didn't contain a love triangle and, at the time, that was enough to get me to enjoy it. Its sequels, though, quickly highlighted the fact that White's premises was not nearly as original as I thought and neither was it nearly so well-executed.

Which is why it is a pleasant surprise for me to admit that Illusions of Fate is well-written, romantic, and surprisingly unique. White's stand-alone follows Jessamin, a young woman who arrives in a foreign country, Albion, looking out-of-place with her dark skin and black hair and resolves to pursue her education. Jessamin's relatively poor, island home is home to many women who gave birth to half-Melei, half-Albion children and Jessamin, one of them, has grown up learning the customs, language, and traditions of her father's country. A father who has never acknowledged her and a country she feels no kinship with. Thus, when we meet her, Jessamin is working with a cousin of hers, using the wages she earns to pay for a small room and her admittance into school. She is contemplating the dreariness of Albion, a country whose temperament and society are similar to our own Victorian England, when she bumps into Finn.

From the moment she meets Finn, Jessamin is the victim of a series of odd events; ravens seem to follow her everywhere, her shadow seems unusually different, and her interactions from Finn are far from typical. As it turns out, Finn is a member of the ruling elite in Albion and, like them, he possesses magical ability. Only very few are strong enough to do much with their magic, though, and as one of two extremely strong magicians, it is up to Finn to stand against the Minister of Defense who seeks even more magic. Jessamin, who is the first weak link the Minister of Defense has found against Finn, is thrown into a political war for a country she has no ties with. All Jessamin wants is out but the truth is far more complicated than she could imagine.

I loved Jessamin. Although she knows only a few people in Albion, she constantly overcomes her fear and puts on a brave front, courageously charging into new situations boldly and refusing to feel ashamed of the heritage she wears proudly on her skin. Moreover, Jessamin is not the savior of this tale. If anything, Jessamin is the liability; the only one in this political game who possesses not a drop of magical blood at all. Yet, she never lets this prevent her from learning as much as she can, thus equipping herself in the only way she knows how.

Yet, what I admire most about Jessamin's character is the fact that she never succumbs to insta-love. Finn, who Jessamin meets purely through fate, bonds with Jessamin on a molecular, magical level. Even when Jessamin finds out about this, though, she never ceases to argue with Finn for her freedom or push him to accept that she will not be a mere spectator in the situation she finds herself in. It would be so easy for White to throw these two together at once but instead, Finn and Jessamin's relationship develops at the perfect pace and their interactions--their banter, their support of one another, their acceptance of the other's cultures--all made this novel stellar.

Finn, too, is utterly charming. Not only is he sweet and kind, but his power and protective tendencies never push him over to becoming an alpha male. What's more, the secrets that surround him never made him take on a "bad boy" appeal. Instead, I simply enjoyed peeling back the layers to his personality, swooning at his maturity and capable gaze. In addition to Finn, though, Jessamin's friend Eleanor, another member of the ruling elite but one whose magical powers are greatly diminished in comparison to Finn's, is one of the strongest secondary characters. Eleanor and Jessamin's close friendship is a delight to behold and, what's more, I truly rooted for Eleanor, a young woman who is often underestimated by her brother and uncle but truly possesses far more skills than others would imagine.

If there are any flaws to Illusions of Fate it is that it is too short. I found the ending to be jarring; vividly abrupt, though I didn't mind once I realized that other readers felt the same way and no, I was not missing the epilogue in my copy after all. I also wished for more world-building, more time spent uncovering Finn's past, more of Jessamin's family in Melei, etc. I was satisfied with what White gave us, and Illusions of Fate is crafted in such a way that the reader is never missing the information they need to understand this realm, but I still wanted more from a world like this, brimming with possibility.

Nevertheless, I cannot recommend this novel enough--particularly if you're in the mood for a story that will keep you flipping the pages into the wee hours of dawn--and, naively, I hope that White will write a companion novel and return to this world, somewhere down the line.