Friday, December 29, 2017

It's Time to Say...Farewell

As many of you may have guessed from the inactivity over the past few months, I have decided to stop blogging.

First and foremost: I am sorry. I cannot say enough how immensely happy this blog has made me. In the five years since I began blogging, I've grown so much as a person and have learned so much from each and every one of you. All of the comments, views, real-life meet-ups, and online discussions have meant the world to me. I found a community that I couldn't find in high school and one very different from the one I discovered in college and for that, I will always be grateful. This blog and the people I have met through it have shaped me in indescribable ways.

But, I always blogged just for fun; for me. And, this past year, blogging has gotten really tough. One of the best aspects of blogging, for me, has been the community of bloggers I've gotten to know, alongside the authors and readers and simply being so on top of the latest YA news. Recently, though, I've noticed a shift to BookTube, away from simple reviews and other blog content, and I've felt out-of-the-loop. Whether that's because I've been devoting more time to my life and college instead of this online community, or whether it's because it simply takes more effort, now, to get to know BookTubers alongside bloggers and maybe even make an entrance into that world in order to feel the same way I felt about the online book community before...I don't know. But despite creating this blog and its content just for myself, I have to admit that I have my reservations about the shift in this online community to BookTube and it has made blogging become a chore for me.

And I don't want this to be a chore.

I used to love blogging. I used to devour books with the intent of writing reviews and inciting conversations with others. Now, I tend to see a lot of promoted content on BookTube and the book blogging community has dwindled, for sure. I feel like I'm simply posting content but not interacting with that content the way I want to be, and I'm not sure how to change that, short of trying to integrate this blog into BookTube, and I don't want to do that. I don't have the resources to do that. I don't have the time or money to get video equipment and learn to use it and film myself and hold up my e-ARCs because I don't have physical copies of books to flash on the internet...that's not for me.

I also have to admit that this niche I created for myself--YA Blogging--is no longer applicable for me. I've been disappointed by YA over the years. I think though the quantity has increased, the quality has not. There are a few quality YA releases every year, don't get me wrong, but I don't love the majority of the books that readers are swooning over. And that makes me feel distant from the community, too. It isn't just a shift to BookTube, it's a shift in who I am, as well! I want to read more Adult Fiction, Nonfiction, Biographies...everything! And that's OK. And I can still blog about that, I know I can, but like I said, for me this blog isn't simply about posting and getting views, it's about the interactions; the community. And I love the community I've created in this space, but I don't think continuing this blog is the best way to interact with that community, anymore.

So, starting 2018, I will not be posting on this space anymore. I aim to be more active on Goodreads, commenting on reviews and hopefully re-kindling discussions on that platform. I will still be reading all of your blogs, faithfully, even if I don't comment and I just want to say that I am so, so sorry if I'm letting anyone down. I really have felt a lot happier and less stressed by taking time away from this blog, though, and I think at this stage in my life, when change is the only constant, I need to focus on that instead of this. I hate doing things half-heartedly and if I'm continuing with this blog, I want to give it my 100%. And I can't do that right now.

To my fellow bloggers, readers who followed me from Goodreads, and online friends: I can never thank you enough. Thank you for your endless support, your book mail that cheered me up when nothing else could, the e-mails theorizing about every detail of our favorite series, and most importantly, for sharing your lives and a part of your hearts with me every time you recommended a book you LOVED. Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone in the books you gifted me, and for making me the person I am today. I love you.

To all the authors who have reached out to me over the past five years, gracing me with your presence through an e-mail or a package, or even the authors who I've been lucky enough to interview and get to know: thank you for writing. Thank you for being open-minded and accepting of my reviews, when they gave your book 5 Stars but especially when they didn't. I've curated some wonderful author friendships through this platform and thank you for allowing me to pursue my passion and celebrate books, daily, with you.

To all the publishers who have taken a leap of faith and sent me an ARC or finished copy of a book: thank you! I still remember the high of getting my first physical ARC and the thrill of book mail will never get old. Thank you for sticking with me these past five years, switching addresses from my home address to my college address and back, for the e-mails and support and for showing me that professional relationships can be wonderful, too.

Though this is goodbye for Ivy Book Bindings, I still plan to be an active member of the online book community and I hope to keep in touch with everyone, either through their blogs or through social media or, best of all, through Goodreads. I cannot thank each and every one of you personally, but you know who you are and all that you have meant to me.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you so, so much for these past five and a half years. You have given me some of the happiest moments of my life and I can never thank you enough for that.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Monthly Rewind: July

July has been a loooong month but I can't believe it's already over! I only have two more weeks of my internship, one more week at home, two weeks of Orientation at Wellesley and then, bam, my second-to-last semester of college is about to begin!! HOW did I get here? *shakes head*

Three Things About My Life This Month

1. I spent 4th of July in the ER. Before everyone begins to panic, let me first say that I am 100% OK. I am staying in a college dorm this summer and the facilities are unfortunately pretty crappy, to the point where my bed was lofted a good six feet off the ground and while trying to get down, I fell, hit my head, lost consciousness, and needed to get a CAT Scan plus some stitches. The good thing, though, is that I got to go home and spend a few days with my family--and my grandmother who is visiting from India!!--so it was rather lovely. 

2. I have had such an incredible month exploring D.C.! Of course, it's been wonderful to catch up with friends--many of whom I haven't seen in more than a year!--but I've mostly enjoyed attending outdoor movies, film festivals, comedy shows, and visiting the different neighborhoods in D.C., of which Columbia Heights is a definite favorite. :) My internship is also going well--most of July has been slow but it's been picking up a lot in the past two weeks and I'm currently working on a project that I'm genuinely excited about. 

3. I'm still in a reading slump...sort of. I ordered Quarterly's YA Book Box this past month since (a) I've been wanting to try out a book box and (b) I really wanted to pick up Aditi Khorana's The Library of Fates and she curated the box. Unfortunately, I really didn't enjoy her sophomore novel very much at all. I am hopeful that the other two books she picked will be more successful for me, but I've been struggling to get through a lot of novels that I feel should have worked for me. 

Best Books I Read This Month

I have to be honest: I loved We Are the Ants and What to Say Next isn't quite on the same level. I loooved Buxbaum's debut and while this sophomore novel is so very good, it isn't a favorite. But, of the books I failed to finish this month, I did make my way through its entirety and found a lot to recommend. We Are the Ants is just incredible and I loved it, to pieces. I'm sure most readers have already picked it up or heard about it, but it deserves to be bumped up your TBR.

Most Popular Post

I went on a Morgan Matson binge awhile back and though this isn't a favorite of mine, it's still such a perfect summer tale and I love the emphasis on female friendships in this one. Definitely check out Matson if you're in need of a perfect summer romance.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

I loved the first book in this series, And I Darken, and while I didn't fall head-over-heels for this sequel like I wanted to, it's still so very good. I love this historical fantasy series with a totally kick-ass heroine at its helm, so if you haven't picked up this series yet, do yourself a favor and start now!

Obsession of the Month

The Kenilworth Gardens! I visited this beautiful nature preserve with my mother and grandmother when they visited me in D.C. for a day and we were all blown away by the beauty of these lilies. A definite hidden gem of D.C., I highly recommend a visit to these gardens if you haven't been. They're fairly out of the way but you can always stop by Columbia Heights on your way back Downtown (and Columbia Heights has some of the best, most diverse cuisine in D.C. so it's a win-win really). 

Top 3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. The friend I consider to be my big sister is coming to visit me in D.C.! She was a senior when I was a first year and we haven't seen each other in two years so I am so, so excited to finally be reunited after such a long time!!! 

2. HOME! I am going to be home for exactly six days but I am really excited to meet up with a friend or two, spend some more time with my grandmother, and just devour all the delicious homemade Indian food that I can. I'm a little stressed that I only have six days to pack all my clothes for both Fall and Spring semester, not to mention hunt down all the college-related goodies that I haven't used in the past year since I've been abroad, but I am looking forward to being back. 

3. Returning to last!!! I am so, so excited to go back to Wellesley. I am a Student Leader again this year, not to mention a Student Leader Coordinator, so I'll be really busy the moment I get back to campus but I'm so ready to be back. I missed Wellesley a lot last year, not to mention my friends, so I'm really looking forward to an incredible Orientation season to kick-start my final year.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Title: Now I Rise (The Conquerors Saga, #2)

Author: Kiersten White

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Note: Mild spoilers for And I Darken, Book 1 of the Conqueror's Saga, below. If you haven't read And I Darken you can read my review HERE.

No one wanted to love Now I Rise more than I did. However, White's middle novel in this series is definitely a weak link, IMO. It picks up not long after where we left off--Lada trying to win the throne of Wallachia and Radu faithfully serving Mehmed--and though I immersed myself in this story completely at first, after a quarter or so I began to slow down. I struggled, or at any rate pushed myself, to continue to at least the half-way point of the story.

For me, Radu's perspective is where the story constantly lagged for me. Although And I Darken was split between the two siblings, it felt like Lada's tale through-and-through. It's important, then, in this sequel that Radu has his own story separate of Lada. But, Radu's perspective was bogged down by a lot of repetitive thinking; his thoughts cycled through an endless stream of insecurities regarding his friendship with Mehmed, how the outside world perceived their relationship, and his own jealousies. It was tiresome. I think a large part of this is because Mehmed is a character I don't like or respect all that much, so it becomes difficult for me, as the reader, to understand or sympathize with Radu's struggles.

I will say, though, that Radu undergoes a lot of interesting change in this book and the impacts of that aren't felt, or won't be felt, until the finale releases. And I am so on board and excited for that! But, in this book, Radu left a lot to be desired and I couldn't always understand his motivations or sympathize with his plight. My frustrations with Mehmed, though, extend to Lada's half of the story, too. But, with Lada, things are always so simple. I always understand why she chooses a particular path and I fully support her decisions, rash though they seem.

Lada's story in Now I Rise is remarkable, badass, and awe-inspiring. I love that this book forces her to look at women in a different light, in a lot of chapters, and I especially love that she uses her skills and power to empower other women. I love that Lada notices and cares for the women because no one else does. I am so excited to see where the sequel takes Lada and so proud of how far she's come. I especially enjoyed that, for perhaps the first time, we see Lada miss Radu. We see her acknowledge the skills he has and how she is less without him. We all too often see that with Radu but not enough with Lada and I loved that though these siblings have such complicated feelings for one another and are separated by so many miles, they are still in each other's thoughts.

Unfortunately, something about Now I Rise just didn't "click" for me but I'm absolutely on board for the sequel and cannot recommend this series enough. It's not a favorite for me, but it's still incredibly unique, creative, and badass. If you haven't already picked up this series, don't wait! You'll want to be all caught up for when the final novel releases, trust me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Title: Since You've Been Gone

Author: Morgan Matson

Rating: 4 Stars

The weakest part of Since You've Been Gone is its beginning. From the start, this novel feels all too much like an ode to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Sloane. Our protagonist, Emily, is shy--she lives in the shadow of her best friend, Sloane, rather happily, content to follow in her footsteps and stretch her limits, but only just barely. When Sloane up and disappears in the beginning of the summer, Emily is lonely and lost--why did Sloane leave? So when Emily receives a list from Sloane, she's determined to finish it--to cross off every item on the list, no matter how scary--because maybe, just maybe, it will bring her closer to Sloane.

I really enjoyed this novel. Not as much as Matson's latest, The Unexpected Everything, but pretty darn close. Emily is the type of protagonist I can get behind--reserved, confused, but determined to push forward. I mention that the beginning of this novel is the most difficult to get through but that's because Emily is still a shell of a person. Not only is she fixed upon an idea of herself that is inexplicably linked to Sloane, but she remembers Sloane as a Wild Thing, full of life and light. I'm so tired of that romanticized Manic Pixie Dream Girl who seems to float through life effortlessly but is secretly hiding a deep pain. But, the story quickly changes direction, becoming more about Emily and less about Sloane.

It's easy for me to read this book with a heavy dose of disdain, only because I am no longer the shy, reserved teen I used to be. Perhaps if I had read this when it released two summers ago I would have been shocked and inspired by Emily's dares to go skinny-dipping or wear a backless dress. After two years in college, I am quite the different person and I found myself both sad that Emily--and Past Me, really--was so reserved and proud of the growth that Emily undergoes throughout this novel. She finally finds herself--who SHE is--without Sloane or anyone else to define herself by. It's so hard and so important to tear yourself away from the friends who "know" you and really know yourself on your own and I appreciate that Matson puts so much emphasis on that.

The friends Emily makes are unlikely, from class president Frank to his desperate-for-a-girlfriend cousin and Dawn, the girl who works at the pizza place around the corner from Emily's ice cream store job. Each of them shape her and motivate her in different ways and I always like how Matson's novels feature lots of time for growth and simple interaction. Emily's family is eccentric and her younger brother is daring and though she doesn't have any issues with them, I enjoyed how they were incorporated into the story in a meaningful way.

And, of course, the romance. Morgan Matson writes the perfect slow-burn romances and this one was no different. Frank and Emily start off as friends and they don't even realize when they begin to blur the line between best friends and something more. It's a little messy because Frank has a girlfriend, but fear not, the drama is minimal. What I enjoyed most about their friendship is that it's not just Emily who is re-defining herself this summer; it's Frank, too. We don't have as much of a insight into his psyche as we do Emily's but I really enjoyed how Emily went from thinking of Frank solely as class president or by his accolades and instead began to see him as a person.

My one qualm with this novel remains Sloane. We see her through Emily's eyes for almost all of this novel and she is painted as the classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl (as I've mentioned). By the end, though, there are a series of events that catapult us to learn more about Sloane--the full extent of her affection for Emily, her "secrets", why she moved, etc.--but I felt as if it was too much far too quickly. I wanted more time to process Sloane and her friendship with Emily before this novel abruptly cut to an end. Moreover, I felt as if there were a few dangling threads and while I can guess what would have happened, it would have been nice to get an epilogue or just a little something more after such a huge bomb is dropped in the last couple of chapters.

I think it's safe to say, though, that I've found a new fave in Morgan Matson. Though this isn't a favorite of mine, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it without hesitation. It's a thoughtful look into re-defining who you are and I'm sure that if I had read this a few years ago I would have been floored. Present Day Me is a little more mature and a lot more extroverted so while I can still appreciate this book, I won't be clutching it to my chest with tears. But, regardless of where you are in your life, give this one a try--I don't think you'll regret it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

'I Read YA' Week (Day 8): A YA Book Everyone Needs to Read

For those of you who have missed it, this past week has been Scholastic's annual 'I Read YA' Week! The fabulous team over at Scholastic invited me to participate in this event and today I am joining the campaign with one of their Daily Social Challenges, today's being a YA book everyone needs to read. 

As an avid reader, it's impossible for me to pick just one YA book I think everyone needs to read. Thus, I'm pulling out this photo of some of the YA books--and authors--I think everyone needs to read.
First up? Courtney Summers. Summers writes dark, gritty books that seep into your soul. They touch upon the viciousness of high school, the cruelty of teenagers, the darkness of grief, and the mad world that women are forced to navigate. I truly believe that anyone who picks up her novels will find something to relate to and it's impossible not to become caught up in her writing and the general atmosphere of her books. She is, by far, among the most under-rated and magnificent YA contemporary authors that we have. 

Next? Gayle Forman. I love Forman's If I Stay and Where She Went duology (and even her standalone I Was Herebut I love Just One Day and in particular, Just One Year, even more. I love that this duology is about travel and romance and finding yourself. The first book is entirely about Allyson, who spends a whirlwind day with a near-stranger she falls for and then discovers herself, changing her life in the process. The sequel is about what happens to that near-stranger and his path navigating familial expectations and the world at large, from different countries and corners to others. It's deeply moving and wildly inspirational. 

Finally, Maggie Stiefvater. My favorite Stiefvater novel is The Scorpio Races which is simply beautiful, but I think her Raven Boys series is a must-read. It's wonderfully compelling, the friendships and relationships tugging on heartstrings, and it's magically innovative. I read a lot of fantasy/supernatural novels and its unlike anything I've come across before. For me, more than the Raven Boys being a must-read, Stiefvater is a must-read; her books capture the teenage spirit in all its complexity so perfectly and her writing is sublime. 

I could wax poetry about a dozen other YA novels, but the ones I really believe everyone should read--and especially those who believe YA doesn't have much to offer--are the books written by Courtney Summers, Gayle Forman, and Maggie Stiefvater. What are the YA books you think everyone needs to read? I had such a hard time picking just these three but I'm always on the lookout for more recommendations!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mini-Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Title: Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Rating: 3.5 Stars
The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath. So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace. The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.
Flame in the Mist is brilliantly written, expertly weaving court politics, intrigue, and adventure against the backdrop of a Japan with just the hint of magic. Ahdieh's novel is impossible to put down, though it really got going for me in the last third. Still, I love that the characters in this are so multi-layered and complex, the romance is complicated and swoon-worthy, and the personal growth of the main character is a sight to behold. I really appreciate that our protagonist, Mariko, is privileged and wealthy and grows to accept and acknowledge that privilege as she experiences more of the world and sees her own life through an outsiders perspective.

Yet, that being said, I felt like the first half of this novel predominantly featured Mariko insisting that she was intelligent and different, but never really proving or showcasing that. I like that she's a heroine who struggles to infiltrate the Black Clan because she isn't the most physically fit and, eventually, we do see signs of her intelligence take shape, but it takes awhile. As a result, I think I felt distanced from her, at least in part, and I didn't really get into this book until the second half. With Ahdieh's debut duo, I sank my teeth into her world and characters without a doubt, but this time around it took awhile. Nevertheless, I am confident the sequel is going to surpass this novel and I'm really looking forward to seeing where this story is headed. I want to see more of the magic I've seen hinted at in the novel and I definitely want to see all the court intrigue and politics intersect with Mariko's own story arc. Recommended, as with all of Ahdieh's novels.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Monthly Rewind: June

It's finally SUMMER! I love this season!!

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. I moved to D.C. and started my summer internship! The internship has been slow so far but I'm loving D.C., am meeting so many friends I haven't seen in roughly a year, and I really like my co-workers. I'm hoping to get more work to do and have a meatier project to work on as the summer progresses, but so far, so good.

2. The blog turned FIVE this month! I can't believe it's been five years!!! Thank you so much to everyone who has read my posts, commented, and supported me--whether you've been with my from the start, become my friend on Goodreads, or even just recently begun to follow me, I cannot thank you enough. I couldn't have continued this blog all these years without your support and I am so very grateful for everything.

3. I am in a reading slump. June has not been a good reading month, sadly. I discovered a new historical romance author and managed to fly through a bunch of romance novels, but any other books I tried to get into, I simply couldn't. I've also been oddly restless since I'm not traveling practically every weekend and that has me in a weird mood, just missing travel and wanting to do more of it and not being able to just sit and read. Hopefully July is better!

Best Book I Read This Month

I barely read anything this month, but it's a definite tie between these two historical romances. They both subvert typical gender norms, are delightfully amusing and heartbreaking in equal parts, and I highly recommend both these authors. Hoyt is new-to-me but I am already a fan and of all the books I've read of hers this past month, easily more than five or six, Notorious Pleasures is my favorite.

Most Popular Post

I loved this book and I'm so happy it was the most popular post I wrote this month. I really want more readers to get out of their comfort zone and pick this one up because it's funny and fantastically diverse but also unique and its plot will keep you up until you've turned the last page.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

I loved this book, so much more than I thought I would have, so I really hope more readers check this one out. It's so well-written and touches on subjects that often get left out of YA--interracial relationships, protagonists from poorer socioeconomic classes, etc.--and it's exactly what I look for in Contemporary YA.

Obsession of the Month

Grey's Anatomy! As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of both Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, so is it any surprise that when I finally started Shonda's longest running series I loved it? I have been binge-watching this like crazy all summer and I love it. If I can finish all 13 seasons in the next two months is doubtful, but I sure am going to try. ;)

I also love that watching this in 2017 means that I find the show so diverse and progressive, but then I have to remember that these episodes aired in 2005/2006 and I am so impressed by the diverse cast, the emphasis on strong female role models and people of color and respectful relationships and discussions of trans issues. It's fantastic and I cannot recommend this show enough.

Top 3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. Fourth of July! I'm so excited to be spending 4th of July in D.C. this year! My roommates and I are going to attend the fireworks over the National Mall and I am sure it's going to be beautiful.

2. Family! I'm going to New Jersey for a brief visit the weekend before my younger brother's birthday and the weekend after, my family is coming down to visit me in D.C. for another short weekend. My grandmother just flew in from India so I'm mostly excited to see and spend some time with her but seeing family (and eating home-cooked food!!!) will be a nice change.

3. Friends! I've already seen so many of my close friends in the past three weeks I've been in D.C. but there are so many more I want to see and best of all, my closest and oldest friend is going to come and visit me for a weekend. There is so much to look forward to in July, just in terms of becoming closer to my roommates and re-connecting with so many of my past friends. It's exactly what I need, especially after being abroad for a year. :)

Any fun 4th of July plans? What were the highlights of your June? Any recommendations for books that can get me out of my slump? I'd love to hear in the comments below!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Title: Ramona Blue

Author: Julie Murphy

Rating: 4 Stars

Ramona Blue has been making internet waves well before its release date. A poorly written summary led readers to believe that Murphy's latest is about a lesbian who is "cured" by a straight male--that she finally meets the one guy who helps her see that she's been heterosexual all along! Well, let me put those worries to rest: Ramona Blue is not about homosexual-shaming in the least. In fact, Murphy's latest is a story of a young girl growing to realize that her sexuality is a lot more fluid than she originally thought it was--and a lot of other things in her life are, too.

Ramona has always known exactly who she is. She's been out of the closet as a lesbian since the 9th grade, she's always been by her older sister Hattie's side, and she's been working multiple jobs alongside high school just to keep afloat. Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated her small town in Mississippi and her mother moved out--and stayed out--her family of three has been living in a trailer park, struggling to make ends meet. But now, on the cusp of Ramona's senior year about to begin, everything is changing. Her sister is pregnant and the father of the child, Tyler, has moved in to their already too-small trailer. Her summer fling, Grace, is not yet out of the closet and, to make things worse, she's returning home to her boyfriend an hour and a half away. And, Ramona's childhood best friend, Freddie, is moving back to Eulogy, Mississippi.

I loved this book. Ramona's voice is so easy to slip into and her group of friends is impossible not to love. Ramona Blue charts Ramona's entire senior year, from its beginning to its end, and her growth over the course of the novel is remarkable. I love that Ramona feels so comfortable in her skin and in owning exactly who she is. When Freddie moves back, their friendship bounces back after years apart and I loved watching as he integrated himself seamlessly into her life and just fit in. Ramona doesn't lead an easy life--she's constantly working and can't help thinking of what her life could have been like if Hurricane Katrina hadn't wrecked it--but she makes the best of it and has pillars of support that get her through the toughest of times.

I admired Ramona from the beginning, simply for her resilience and hard work, but I soon grew to care for her since she never bothered to care for herself. With her sister pregnant, Ramona is scurrying around to save money for the baby, help her sister get the prenatal care she needs, and is making plans for post-graduation--not to go to college, but rather to be there for her sister. It broke my heart that Ramona didn't see a future for herself past Eulogy, Mississippi and I wanted her so desperately to be selfish, just the once, and put herself ahead of her family. The family and friendship dynamics are all written so realistically, though, and I admire Murphy's sense of characterization--I despised Hattie for being someone Ramona was willing to give up her future for, but I also loved the bond between these two sisters.

Freddie also becomes a huge part of Ramona's life, mainly because his grandmother and him encourage her to begin swimming at the gym and become such huge sources of support for her. But, Freddie is not only a best friend to Ramona--he's something more. And that scares her. She's never had feelings for a guy before, but Ramona knows she likes Freddie--a lot--and her journey to accept that and figure out any new label she might want for herself is written with aplomb. I especially love Freddie. Not only is he a swoon-worthy love interest, but he's such a good friend and I adore that he's a good guy to the core. We need fewer "bad boys" in YA.

Ramona Blue faltered for me towards the end, when Ramona does a lot of quick growing up and makes a bunch of decisions about her future, all in the span of a few pages. I really needed to see Ramona put herself first, after being such a selfless friend and sister, and I didn't feel like I got that time with her to see her accept that it was OK to be selfish and have a future outside of Eulogy. I also really wanted more discussions of race. Freddie is black and he has a brief, but important, conversation with Ramona about how being black in the South is an experience she can never understand, but I totally wanted more of this. Murphy definitely sacrifices a few of these harsher conversations for a lighter novel, and she does do complete justice to Ramona's journey in discovering that she doesn't just like girls, but I do wish we had seen more of an explicit discussion of this, and even of privilege which is mentioned quite a few times but never spoken about by any of the characters. That being said, I was totally immersed in this novel from start to finish and surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. I've never picked up anything by Murphy before, but this book just called to me and I'm glad I listened.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Title: The Names They Gave Us

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: 5 Stars

The Names They Gave Us is tied with The Start of Me and You as my favorite novel by Emery Lord. I enjoyed Open Road Summer but When We Collided made me re-evaluate whether Lord and I had gone our separate ways. We haven't; not yet, at any rate.

Lord's latest follows Lucy, from the night of her junior prom when she finds out that her mother's breast cancer is back after two years, to her boyfriend "pausing" their relationship for the summer, just as Lucy goes off to be a counselor at Camp Daybreak, a far cry from the Camp Holyoke, the Christian camp where she typically spends her summers helping her pastor father. Lucy's voice is so fresh and honest. I couldn't help but be enamored by her from the beginning. Lord always writes characters I'd want to be friends with and Lucy was no exception. Even in the beginning of the novel, when Lucy simply wants to yell at the world--and especially at God--I knew The Names They Gave Us would be a gem.

Lucy's summer isn't easy, but the friendships she makes and the person she grows into are all wonderful. Camp Daybreak is a summer camp for children who have their own griefs to deal with, whether it be parental neglect, a teenage pregnancy, the death of a loved one, or something else entirely and, in that respect, The Names They Gave Us is an emotional novel. It isn't a cancer story, even though Lucy's mother's cancer is such a huge part of the book and especially a large part of Lucy and her mother's evolving relationship, not to mention family dynamic. It also isn't a religious novel, despite the fact that Lucy's father is a pastor.

Lucy has been raised in the Christian faith all her life but now, with the re-emergence of her mother's cancer she begins to doubt everything she knew. And, as someone who didn't grow up in the Christian faith, I can testify that I could still relate with Lucy. Her struggle to reconcile her experiences with her faith is a journey I think a lot of teens can relate to and Lord writes it with aplomb, balancing the religious and self-discovery aspects perfectly. I especially enjoyed that Lucy struggles to fit in because she's the pastor's daughter--people make assumptions about her personality, whether or not she drinks, her sexual limits, etc.--and watching Lucy grow and own who she is is such a rewarding part of this novel.

The Names They Gave Us features a trans best friend, people of color (and a love interest of color, actually!), discussions of privilege and sex, and is just all-round fantastic. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, the friendships in this novel make me wish for the past, and this story made me tear up on more than one occasion. I don't know how Lord manages to write such consistently fantastic YA novels which simply breath life into the genre, but she does. And I sincerely hope she doesn't stop.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

ARC Review: A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Title: A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Release Date: June 27th, 2017

Where do I begin with this lovely, charming novel? I truly believe that Lee has found a hidden niche that we’ve all overlooked—the Victorian England MAN. There are so many incredible historical romances that dissect this time period and give agency to women, but Lee makes us take a closer look at what makes the Victorian England man the person he is—what circumstances and societal expectations he is faced with and, that contrary to popular belief, his life isn’t as charmed as we may think. It’s a fine line, making us care for a wealthy white man with all the privilege in the world, but Lee does it.

Monty, our hero, is a classic rake. About to inherit his father’s estate after being thrown out of Eton, Monty is about to embark on a tour of the Continent, seeing everything from France to Italy before returning to resume his duties as a peer of the realm. So, naturally, for Monty this tour represents his last chance—his last chance to get blackout drunk, to kiss all the girls (and guys) he can get his hands on, and to spend time with his best friend and crush Percy. Monty’s younger sister, Felicity, joins the boys (but only up until Marseille where she’ll begin Finishing School) and the trio anticipates a pleasant journey around Europe. Until, that is, Monty creates a scandal, accidentally steals a valuable item from an important person, and inadvertently causes the three to be on the run… From Marseille to Barcelona to Venice, this is a break-neck journey—but a heart-stopping and emotional one, too.
What I love about this novel is the nuance with which Lee tackles so many wonderful subjects, from homosexuality to race to gender, she talks about it all. Percy, as the biracial best friend of Monty, is subjected to questions and comments that Monty never has to deal with. Felicity, as the younger sister, is constantly overlooked and sent to Finishing School despite her passion for medicine. But Monty, dear boy that he is, is completely unaware of his privilege—and the slow realization that he has so much is a difficult, but necessary, journey. Acknowledging your privilege is never easy, but Lee captures Monty’s turmoil with so much ease and, what’s more, she makes us love him, privilege and all.

Because, as I said before, Monty’s life isn’t as charmed as it’s made out to be. His sexual orientation is constantly a source of discomfort for his family, namely his father, and his confusion about his future—what he really wants to do with it—is so easy to understand, even as he is already bound to a certain future because of his station in life. Monty’s privileges can be just as stifling as Percy or Felicity’s lack of privilege.

I also love that Lee subtly touches upon the intersection of race and social class and gender in her discussion of privilege. Percy, despite being biracial, was brought up in the lap of luxury and given a first-class education, unlike most other people of color during his time. Similarly, Felicity has the advantage of being a white woman, and a wealthy white woman at that, despite the barriers against her. I don’t want to make it seem like this novel preaches about privilege—because it does not—but Lee includes all of these important lessons and ideals so seamlessly throughout these pages and I love that.

The story itself is amusing and Monty’s dialogue is absolutely hilarious. It’s impossible to put this book down or to get these characters out of your mind. Monty’s crush on Percy is a perceptible, butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling, even to the reader, and I loved their romance; the constant push-and-pull of whether Percy was just being friendly or if he wanted more. There are so many beautiful, more serious dialogues interspersed between the highway men and changing continents, but it all flows so well and I full admit to tearing up on more than one occasion. The Gentleman’s Guide… is a vivid and wonderful feat for LGBTQIAP+ YA literature, simply because Lee gets it right. All of it.

If there are any flaws with this novel, they lay in the slight absurdity of some of the plot points…namely the fact that there are weird alchemical elements that join in to make this historical fiction border on fantasy on occasion. In addition, I would have loved to see more women in this novel (but that’s the women’s college student in me speaking). But, Lee’s research is remarkable and her attention to detail is impeccable. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself into this world and the ending, bittersweet but hopeful and ever-so-slightly open, only made me yearn for a sequel—desperately. I love these characters with all my heart and Lee managed to make me completely immerse myself, emotionally, in their well-being. I cannot recommend this book enough—pre-order it, read it, re-read it, gift it. It’s just that good.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Monthly Rewind: May

Can you believe it's summer already? I'm back from Europe! This seemed so far away back in January and now I can't believe how fast time has flown!

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. I had incredible trips to Stockholm, Sweden and Vienna, Austria. I didn't have high expectations for these last two weekend trips of my time abroad, but I surprised myself by loving Stockholm and Vienna so much. If I could, I'd go back and spend more time in both cities instead of planning just 36-hour trips. 

2. Stress. May was a month marked by a lot of stress for me. Primarily because I am interning in D.C. this summer and finding a place to stay for the summer, while searching from Budapest, Hungary, was a disaster. After a lot of stress and tears, I'm finally living in GWU Student Housing which isn't glamorous or cheap, but at least I'm not homeless.

I was also stressed in May because of finals. And, to be perfectly honest, my finals didn't all go the way I wanted them to. I took a full, tough course load--a graduate level course, two upper level math classes, and an economics class taught as an applied mathematics course--and I found the professors and program resources to be entirely lacking all semester. And, long story short, that showed in my exam results. I'm not thrilled with how this semester turned out, academically, and that's stressful, and I feel like a failure in a lot of ways, which is stressful, but I also don't regret going abroad and growing so much as a person or having a slew of experiences which I would never have had the opportunity to have otherwise, which is also stressful. So, May. Stressful. 

3. I am back in the U.S.! Speaking of stress, and May, I arrived back in the U.S. to find that the Hungarian iPhone I bought in Budapest back in March isn't compatible with Verizon, so I basically was fleeced $500 and had to spend another $300 to get an American iPhone. It was stressful and now I feel more stressed because that's literally $800 down the drain, all because of one silly night in March. But, that stress aside, it's so nice to be back home and catch up on sleep and T.V. and just eat Indian food! My uncle visited for Memorial Day Weekend and I have plenty more family members visiting before I dash off to D.C., so I'm excited to be back!

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

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I read a lot of good books this month, but these three were the absolute best. A special shout-out to Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh, and my newly discovered favorite romance author Elizabeth Hoyt for making this decision extremely difficult.

Most Popular Post

I loved this book to pieces and am so glad that my review got the views that it did. I need Angie Thomas to write another book, but in the meantime I'll probably re-read this, tbh.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

I really enjoyed this novel and despite its title and cover, which really harken to younger audiences, I think there's a lot for YA/NA readers to love in this. It's entertaining, un-put-down-able, romantic, and has fantasy elements I haven't seen in a really long time. If you haven't read this one yet, check it out! It's the perfect summer read, I promise.

Obsessions of the Month

Aziz Ansari, I'd like my heart back. I loved the first season of "Master of None" but this second season was just as good, if not better since it was more heart-breaking and emotionally tense. It's not just the dialogue, the comedy, and the script that makes this series so good. It's the cinematography, it's the relatability of the issues which are contemporary and often don't get the screen time they deserve in Hollywood, and it's the directing genius. I love this show and I really hope Ansari decides to write Season 3 sooner, rather than later.
I'm also recently obsessed with Hasan Minhaj's "Homecoming King" which is brilliant! Watching both Ansari and Minhaj see so much success in their lives, addressing issues that pertain to people who look like me, is such a privilege--is what I'm coming to realize. I'm so lucky to be living in a day and age when Indians are making it big, are successful in all fields--not just medicine and engineering--and the feeling of watching a show or a comedy piece and identifying with it is new for me, but also oh-so-lovely. "Homecoming King" made me think and reflect and damn, I thought it was just a simple stand-up show but it's so much more. Watch it.

Top 3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. Cousins visiting from India! My second cousin just completed a Master's program in Texas so his entire family flew in from India for his graduation and to visit the U.S. They started in Texas, went to the West Coast, went to Chicago, went down South, and now they're coming up to see the NY/NJ/PA area for about a week. I never get to meet my cousins too much, and definitely never on my home turf, so I'm excited to spend some time with them and hopefully get to know them better and show them my home! :)
2. Moving to Washington D.C. for the Summer/Starting my Internship! I love D.C. so I am really excited to be living in the city for the summer. My internship is a government position that mainly involves a lot of econometrics (which is terrifying because I've forgotten everything from my last year!) but I'm really looking forward to learning more about domestic economic issues after being abroad for a year and especially to be in the middle of all the politics (and drama!!) this summer.

3. Weekends. I've been spending the majority of my weekends travelling so I'm excited to have some lazy weekends to sleep in, explore D.C., and just have some down time to soak up the sun and read. I need this break so thank god summer is around the corner.

What are your summer plans? How was your May? Any books I need to bump to the top of my TBR for this summer? I'd love to hear in the comments below!! :)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Title: Noteworthy

Author: Riley Redgate

Rating: 4 Stars

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

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

Author: Tricia Levenseller

Rating: 4 Stars

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Rating: 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monthly Rewind: April

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

3 Things About My Life This Month

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

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

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

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

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

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

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

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

Obsession of the Month

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

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month 

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ARC Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: May 30th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Review: Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

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

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Rating: 4.5 Stars

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

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

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

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