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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Monthly Rewind: March

Ahh, March...I am glad to see this month go. It wasn't the worst it could have been, by far, but there were some rough times this past month, I have to admit. Plus, midterms have not been fun..AT ALL.

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. I re-united with  high school friends in Copenhagen, Denmark! One of my friends from high school is studying abroad in Copenhagen and another friend from high school, who has been studying in London for the past three years, also joined us and it was just so, so much fun to catch up and reunite while abroad. I ate SO MUCH good food (not Danish food, oops!) and was in completely in love with the city by the time I left.

2. I had a...rather terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend. I'd been having a great week since March 15th is a Hungarian National Holiday, a.k.a. no school, so by the time St. Patrick's Day rolled around, we were all excited to continue our amazing weekend, especially since a new club had just opened in Budapest. We went out for dinner (Mexican!) and then went out and, for whatever reason, my stomach just hated the food we had had. I was super sick, threw up at the club, threw up in a taxi, threw up at our apartment, and then threw all my clothes into the washing machine. The next morning, I realized that my phone was in the pocket of my skirt, which was then in the washing machine, and to make matters worse, I had a fever that night and was in general pitiful and horribly sick. It sucked. Needless to say, my wallet took a huge hit buying me a new phone (and paying the cab driver). :/

3. I went to Berlin, Germany! We didn't quite plan our trip to Berlin perfectly since it happened to fall the weekend before midterms, but I had a wonderful time in the city! We took a free walking tour which was just incredible and I made a new friend on the tour who joined us for a large portion of our trip and just made it that much more fun. I don't think Berlin makes my top cities of Europe, list, but I just loved the history and the palpable energy of this capital.

Top 3 Books I Read This Month


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Of course, A Conjuring of Light is going to be among the best books I read all year. I mean, V.E. Schwab and my favorite adult fantasy series right now? So...yes. It was amazing. My two surprises of the month were Traitor to the Throne and Daughter of the Pirate King! I enjoyed Rebel of the Sands but I certainly didn't love it but, wow, this sequel is a whole new level of absolutely incredible. Hamilton's prose is beautiful and the world-building, stakes, and characterizations are all just better in this novel. I need the sequel...now!!! Daughter of the Pirate King was also a pleasant surprise since I didn't have high expectations for this debut and was pleasantly surprised by what an enjoyable fantasy this was. I read it all in one sitting and I am dying for the sequel in my hands (it's a duet!!).

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I loved this book to pieces and it's part of one of my all-time favorite series ever so I hope more readers pick up these books! A Conjuring of Light wasn't my favorite of the trilogy, but it was such a satisfying ending to this world that I have no complaints.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love


Mini-Reviews: London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning, Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama, and The Next Together by Lauren James. I rarely post mini-reviews so I hope more readers check out this post! It's a mixed bag, but I'm hoping to have more of a discussion on why some readers may have loved books that just didn't strike a chord with me and vice-versa.

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. SPRING BREAK!!! I am finally going on Spring Break next month! It's incredibly late, but at least it's actually Spring, and I am off to Croatia for ten days. I am so excited to see Dubrovnik and Split and their beaches and even do some island hopping!!! If you've been and have recommendations of places I should hit up, let me know!

2. I'm off to Dublin, Ireland! I've been hearing so much about what an incredible city Dublin is, so I'm very excited to be finally visiting (and try some Guinness while I'm at it!).

3. Malta!! The last weekend of April is a long weekend for us, here in Hungary, so I am off to Malta with the entire squad. The other trips I'm taking next month are only with my roommates, but our entire squad of eight is finally taking a trip together and we're off to the tiny island nation of Malta, which looks stunning! I can't wait!

Needless to say, next month is already lining up to be so much better than this one and I cannot wait for my back-to-back weekends of traveling and beaches. How was your March? Any plans for April? Any travel recommendations for me? Any good beach reads I should make sure to take with me? Let me know in the comments below! :)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mini-Reviews: London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning, Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama, and The Next Together by Lauren James


Title: London Belongs to Us

Author: Sarra Manning

Rating: 4 Stars

I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did, but I should have known better because Sarra Manning. This entire book is a crazy roller coaster of an adventure as our heroine, Sunny, finds out that her boyfriend has another girlfriend from his previous school and has been two-timing her for the entire duration of their "relationship." Sunny starts off wanting to forgive him, but as she searches London for him, she begins to realize that she deserves a lot better. The plot doesn't seem all that revolutionary, but the people Sunny meets on her night--girls who encourage her to stand up for herself, friends who tell her that self care is not selfish, buddies who support her for who she really is, and even other girlfriends who prove that women support each other instead of putting each other down--make this a wonderful story. I love these types of strong friendships and this book passes the Bechdel test ten times over. It also has so many meaningful conversations about class, privilege, and race. Just... I love Sarra Manning. Can every YA book be this nuanced and yet still so much fun?

Title: Monstrous Beauty

Author: Elizabeth Fama

Rating: 2 Stars

Oh, this book had so much potential. I want to start by saying that, whatever my reservations with this story, I did really love the mermaid lore. Fama's mermaids are deadly and savage and I loved them. However, the story, which alternates between present-day where Hester, a young teenager, begins to investigate her family history where every woman has passed away after giving birth, and between a time years ago when Syrenka, a mermaid, fell in love with a human, Ezra, and left the ocean to be with him, leaves a lot to be desired. 

Syrenka's story is vastly more interesting than that of Hester's. For one, Hester has sworn off of dating because she doesn't want to end up like her mother and grandmother before her, which is rather faulty logic because dating someone very rarely equates automatically having a child with them. What's more, Hester's storyline undergoes some vast changes, with some rather late insta-love happening and weird details seemingly explained away such as her absentee parents and her far-too-understanding-best-friend Peter. It just never came together for me and I wasn't able to love Hester as a heroine, either.

Syrenka, though, I adored. Her story is expertly told but the mystery plaguing the novel and subsequent solution is all a little too flimsy for my liking. I'm not one for strange supernatural tales, so perhaps this is just a case of "me-not-you", but Monstrous Beauty is a novel I'd skip, fascinating folk lore and all. Take my advice and read Fama's sophomore novel instead: it's brilliant.

Title: The Next Together

Author: Lauren James

Rating: 3 Stars

I had heard a lot of praise for this novel before launching into it, but it wound up falling seriously short for me. I really love the premise of this one--a couple, separated by circumstances in every generation but they keep managing to find each other again in their next life. It's done quite well, too, with James slipping between eras seamlessly as she makes us swoon for this couple. But, where the issue crept up for me was in the final third of the novel. Our main era, essentially present-day-ish, features Katherine and Matthew as high school students. As we learn how they fell in love in previous lives, present-day Katherine and Matthew are investigating their aunt and uncle, respectively, who were married and then labeled as terrorists. Of course, they realize that they are their reincarnations but their love story, based completely upon their recollections of past lives, is flimsy at best. I couldn't root for present-day Katherine and Matthew, despite loving all of their past incarnations.

What's more, the explanations for how Katherine and Matthew remember their past is essentially non-existent. The book is written in such a way that it seems as if there is some higher time-traveling power that is watching over Katherine and Matthew and reincarnating them to save the world, for some purpose or the other. But, none of this is ever explained. I suppose I have to pick up the sequel, but I'm so confused and rather irritated by the lack of answers that I won't be launching into the companion novel. The Next Together is well-written and I'm impressed by the multiple historical fiction love stories bound together in this one, but the ending doesn't pull off this intriguing premise as much as it promises to and, by the end, I was only left disappointed.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone


Title: The Loose Ends List

Author: Carrie Firestone

Rating: 4 Stars

This book had so much packed into it that I honestly just feel like I need to re-read it because I'm concerned I might have missed something. And I don't want to have missed anything about this debut. It's strange and bizarrely unique but I can't deny that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Loose Ends List is about a family whose matriarch is dying of cancer. When she decides that her last wish is for her family to join her on a cruise around the world, they are helpless in the face of her disease. Maddie, our protagonist, loves her Gram and it's difficult for her to not only see her health slowly deteriorate, but it's equally hard for her to come to terms with the fact that the other members of the cruise are also dying. For a novel with such a morbid premise, there is a palpable sense of humor underlying these pages. It isn't bogged down by its subject matter but rather it celebrates the life of its characters and I commend Firestone for walking this fine line with aplomb.

Surprisingly, this book is about traveling and discovering new places and putting yourself out there, no matter how much time you have left. It's about family and holding on and learning to forgive and move on. It's about facing your fears and owning who you are, regardless of your sexuality or relationship status. There isn't a lot of friendship drama, here, but Maddie and her cousin are as close as sisters and their evolving relationship passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Maddie's family dynamics, not just with her Gram but with her mother and father and brother, are all sources of thoughtful, remarkable characterization. Her romance with Enzo, the son of the cruise company owner, is deep and heart-breaking, but also open, trusting, and full of growth for both of them. Maddie forces Enzo out of his shell and, in turn, Enzo shows Maddie what a relationship built on equality and trust can be like.

But there is so much more that I loved about this novel. I loved its honest, open conversations about sex. I loved its inclusion of an older generation of characters who we often overlook and like to pretend don’t exist in YA. I loved the difficulty with which Maddie makes bonds with those dying on the cruise ship and has to cope with that grief. There is so much grief, in this book, but there is also so much to be thankful for and to celebrate—Firestone really, truly doesn’t make this a tragedy and for that, I loved it most of all. It’s a really different, unique novel and not everyone will love it, but I certainly did. A re-read is in my future, not to mention a close stalking of Firestone’s future releases. You can bet I’ll be pre-ordering them at the first chance I get.