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!).