book blog

#TheReadingQuest TBR

character card aimal

With time passing by at an ungodly speed, I have come to realize that I have way too many books lined up to read, and much too little time to read them. Which is why I’m scrambling to participate in every single readathon I come across. I’ll be participating in the #MakeMeRead Readathon from August 6th to 13th, and as soon as that finishes, I’m going to launch into #TheReadingQuest Readathon challenge hosted by the wonderful, magnificent, talented Aentee over at Read at Midnight.

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What is #TheReadingQuest Challenge?

The Reading Quest Challenge is a video-game inspired reading challenge, where you have to fill out a bingo card of sorts with main quests, side quests, and characters.

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It runs from August 13th to September 13th, and is hosted by Aentee from Read at Midnight. You can read her announcement post for the full details, the rules, the prizes, and the challenges within the challenge itself.

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The character I’m going to be starting off with is the Mage. Most of you know how much I love magic and fantasy, and I’ve been feeling like I’ve neglected the genre these past few months, so this will be a great way to dive right in. After, I hope to get to the other characters as well, if the challenge goes well, I’m not going to set up a TBR for them, just the main quest. So, as a Mage, the row I must complete is the first down.

TBR for main quest:

First book in a series: City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

A book set in a different world: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

A book based on mythology: The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

A book that contains magic: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

A book with a one-word title: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

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Like I said, I definitely hope to read more than just these five books. I hope to get to some of the side quests, as well as some other characters if the challenge goes as well as I hope it will. But these are the five books that are my main priority, and I’m so excited to read them all.

I’ll continue to update the character card as I gain experience points, and all my live updates for the reading challenges will obviously be on my Twitter profile (I’m kind of a Twitter junkie, if you’re unaware), so if you’re interested in those, you can follow me on there.

Let me know in the comments below whether you’re participating, and if you are, link me to your TBR post so I can check out what you’re going to be reading!

Wrap Up | February ’17

P E R S O N A L

February wasn’t anything special for me in terms of life – I¬†messed up supremely for something for my major. Applied Psychology majors are supposed to take fieldwork seminars for two consecutive semesters (and since I’m a junior, I have to take one next semester in order to graduate). I honest to God thought the deadline to apply was mid-March, but it was actually at the end of February. So now I have to meet with the head of the department so I can beg her to give me a chance, lmao, let’s hope it goes well.

I was also supposed to go to a Kevin Garrett concert and I had to skip out on it because of school. I have four midterms next week (fun!), so I’ve been stupidly busy with that. Speaking of school, I’m making baby-steps with¬†my pre-med switch, meaning I just took my first ever pre-med class: Calculus. Guys, I haven’t done Math in almost four years now, and it’s taking me some time to get into the stride of numbers again, but I love, love the process of doing Math problems, so I’m having fun.

Other than that – February was so uneventful and uninteresting. Here’s hoping to a better March!

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R E A D I N G  W R A P РU P

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A  L I S T  O F  C A G E S  B Y  R O B I N  R O E  | ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ | R E V I E W

Loved it. It’s a contemporary with two neurodivergent main characters; a story about the importance of friendship and kindness, and how having someone you can trust can save your life in more ways than one. Highlights problems in fostercare and childhood trauma.

T H E  E D U C A T I O N  O F  M A R G O T  S A N C H E Z  B Y  L I L L I A M  R I V E R A  |

♡ ♡ ♡ | R E V I E W

I enjoyed this, but the first half was lacking. Important read with a majority-Latinx cast, discussing themes of identity, socioeconomic status, privilege, majority-minority dynamics, and a nuanced portrayal of family issues.

H I S T O R Y  I S  A L L  Y O U  L E F T  M E  B Y  A D A M  S I L V E R A | ♡ ♡ ♡ a n d  a  h a l f

I quite liked this book – it’s a slow-burn contemporary that’s focused almost entirely on its characters rather than plot. Silvera does a wonderful job of his portrayal of loss and grief. But the lack of actual plot gave it a sluggish pace. Full review to come.

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T H E ¬†R O S E ¬†A N D ¬†T H E ¬†D A G G E R ¬†B Y ¬†R E N √Č E ¬†A H D I E H ¬†| ¬†‚ô° ‚ô° ‚ô° ‚ô°

The Wrath & the Dawn¬†was one of my favorite books of 2015, and I can’t believe I put off reading the sequel for so long. I loved it – fast-paced with just the right balance of action, romance and character development. Knocked off a star because the ending felt rushed.

H O M E G O I N G  B Y  Y A A  G Y A S I  |  ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

I read this for a book club in celebration of Black History Month, and I really enjoyed it. I thought the structure was a gutsy move (each chapter follows a different POV), but Gyasi makes it work. Such an important read about race relations in the US, and how systematic racism did not end with slavery and segregation. Review to come.

E V E R Y T H I N G  Y O U  W A N T  M E  T O  B E  B Y  M I N D Y  M E J I A  |  ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

As someone who’s steadily getting into the stride of mysteries and thrillers, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. It was extremely fast-paced with right clusters of information revealed at the right time. It also tackles a sensitive issue with the utmost grace. Review to come.

1 0  T H I N G S  I  C A N  S E E  F R O M  H E R E  | ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ | R E V I E W

Perfect summer contemporary for fans of Morgan Matson and Rainbow Rowell; it offers a light, fast-paced perspective while also dealing with important themes. Its portrayal of anxiety is important, as well its focus on family relationships. Loved the romance too!

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M U S I C ,  M O V I E S ,  A N D  T E L E V I S I O N

T H E  L O R D  O F  T H E  R I N G S  T R I L O G Y

I rewatched the entire¬†The Lord of the Rings¬†trilogy last month, and can I just say that much like rewatching/rereading Harry Potter, it felt great to fall back into something I love so much. I honestly think the trilogy is a freaking masterpiece – from the stellar acting to the cinematography to the themes and the story to the soundtrack; everything about it is so spot-on. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the smaller things; I used to freak out about the cool fight scenes and the magic (not that I don’t anymore because I absolutely do), but the finer details of the intricacies of Sam and Frodo’s relationship, the dynamics between the Trio, the love between Merry and Pippin, the strength of Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship. Ughhhhh, I just love it so much.¬†The Hobbit¬†movies are infinitely inferior to the original trilogy, period.

E N G L I S T A N  B Y  R I Z  M C

I’ve spoken about my love for Riz Ahmed and his rap duo (Swet Shop Boys) in the past, but I’ve been obsessed with his solo stuff this month. Obsessed. By far, my favorite is “Englistan.” It’s such a meaningful rap about anti-immigration sentiment in the UK, what makes England ENGLAND is the communities, the dynamic, the immigrants. Also, just because Riz is a fucking bad-ass, of course he’s going to rap wearing a shirt that’s a half-England cricket jersey, and the other half is Pakistan’s. Amazing.

Book Haul | February ’17

Hey, everyone! I hope you’re all well and that February was a good month for you and that you took advantage of all the great releases last month to buy everything (muahaha, I’m the devil on your shoulder.) I was doing so well with limiting my book-buying the past few months, and as soon as I increased my reading a bit, of course my buying went up. This is the biggest haul I’ve had in a while, I think, which led me to make the 5-book pact. Which basically means that I’m going to buy one book for every 5 books I read that I already own. I’ve never even¬†attempted¬†to do that, but ever since I signed up on Overdrive, I’ve gotten free access to so many titles. Which might really help me out!

So, enough rambling. Let’s get to the haul.

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T H E  S T R A N D  B O O K S T O R E

I was perusing through my favorite place in the entire world one day, trying to find some new-release steals (because they often have new hardcovers for $9), and I found three books.

♡ Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond, which is a superhero type story with an interracial couple at its forefront. It has lots of illustrations, and despite not being an #OwnVoices tale, I read a few reviews by people of color, and decided to go for it. Helped that it was also only $5.

‚ô°¬†Allegedly¬†by Tiffany Jackson, which is about a young girl who’s put into juvy for six years, and then into a group home for allegedly killing an infant. I’ve heard great things about this, that it tackles important issues, and is a must-read. Found it for $10 the day of the release, so obviously, I couldn’t resist.

‚ô°¬†The Secret of a Heartnote¬†by Stacey Lee is a magical realism novel about a girl with supersensitive sense of smell. She mixes aromas to make potions that help people fall in love, but guards her own heart closely. I’ve heard such great things – also, I believe there’s a Muslim side character, which just made me very excited. Got it for $9.

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‚ô°¬†A List of Cages¬†by Robin Roe. I read and reviewed this book (I was sent an ARC from the publisher), and I honestly loved it so much that I had to buy myself a finished copy. It’s about two former foster brothers¬†– both neurodivergent – who meet four years after last having seen each other. I love it so much- you can read my review here.

‚ô°¬†Piecing Me Together¬†by Ren√©e Watson. This is a book about a young black teen who’s living in a low-income neighborhood, who believes she needs to ‘escape’ to be successful. It explores themes of identity, privilege and race-relations, and I’m so excited to read it.

‚ô°¬†American Street¬†by Ibi Zoboi is a story about a young girl who’s migration to the US from Haiti. Her mother is detained during the process, and she’s left to navigate through American culture and the city¬†of Detroit by herself. Considering today’s sociopolitical environment, this sounds like an important story, and I’m so excited to dive into it.

‚ô°¬†Caraval¬†by Stephanie Garber, which is probably one of the most hyped-up books of this year. Firstly, it’s freaking beautiful. Secondly, it sounds like it has some of my favorite tropes – two sisters escape their cruel father to participate in a legendary once-in-a-year¬†show. Then, one sister disappears.

‚ô°¬†A Conjuring of Light¬†by Victoria Schwab- the third and final book in the¬†A Darker Shade of Magic¬†series. I’m over halfway through this, and I’m dying because it’s¬†so¬†good, and I really don’t want to part with this world or the characters. The series is being made into a movie (AHHHH). It’s incredible, so if you haven’t yet given it a chance, what are you doing?!

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F O R  R E V I E W

Holding Up the Universe¬†by Jennifer Niven was sent to me for review via Blogging for Books. I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, but I’m interested.¬†It’s a romance between an overweight girl and a guy who has prosopagnosia. I’m hesitant, because it’s been called out for¬†bad representation, but as someone who is overweight herself, I’d still like to read it.

B O O K  O F  T H E  M O N T H

This month, I opted for a mystery/thriller called,¬†Behind Her Eyes¬†by Sarah Pinborough. I’ve come to have such a fondness for the thriller genre; I realized that some of the books that remained un-disappointing in 2016 were mysteries and thrillers. I’d really like to dive deeper into the genre. Reading them also allows me to take a break from YA, because most of the thrillers I read are adult- sometimes, taking a break from the same genre can do wonders for your reading experience.

If you’re interested in checking out¬†the¬†Book of the Month¬†subscription box, you can use this link to get three months for $9.99 each, instead of the usual $16 per month. If you use my link, I’ll also get a free month, so it would mean a lot if you use my affiliate link IF you want to sign up.¬†‚ô° It’s a wonderful subscription service- each month, you are given a choice of 5 new, promising, acclaimed books from different genres, ranging from non-fiction to literary fiction to thrillers, and sometimes YA books too.

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Alright, those are all the books I purchased in the month of February. Have you read any of these books- and if so, what did you think of them? Let me know in the comments below Рand as always, thanks for stopping by and happy reading!

Book Review | 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

10 THINGS I CAN SEE FROM HERE

FTC DISCLOSURE

Maeve has severe generalized anxiety disorder, which basically means that she worries excessively about everything. Her mother doesn’t believe in medication for her anxiety until Maeve hits eighteen,¬†so Maeve can’t get the help that she knows she needs. She’s found a way to keep her panic attacks in check, but even then, her day-to-day life is affected by her anxiety. Things get worse when Maeve’s mom goes away to Haiti for six months, leaving Maeve to spend her summer with her father in Vancouver. Her dad’s a recovering alcoholic, and her relationship with him isn’t the best, but no way is her mom leaving Maeve alone at home for six months. While there, Maeve meets Salix, a carefree, laid-back girl who plays the violin and has big dreams- the two bond immediately, and maybe the summer won’t be as bad as Maeve had thought.

Contemporaries often bother me – not to generalize them or anything, but I tend to be more critical towards contemporaries, perhaps because it’s easier to see myself in them. If a contemporary is not well-rounded, meaning that if it focuses too much on¬†one¬†thing instead of several¬†aspects of a person’s life, chances are that I won’t like it. The fact that I enjoyed¬†10 Things I Can See From Here¬†is testament to the fact that it is extremely well-rounded and balanced, giving the right amount of weight to Maeve’s dynamic with her stepmother and her half-brothers, her mother and father, her budding romance with Salix, her relationship with her ex-bestfriend, and her dealing with her own anxiety. Each and every subplot was done justice, and that’s what makes this contemporary stand out.

Maeve’s relationship with her father is, in my opinion, the main focus of the story rather than the romance. She’s such a sensitive person, who feels everything¬†twice as much¬†as the people around her, something that often works against her – but she can’t help it. Her longing¬†to connect with her father when she’s going through an exceptionally rough patch, her willingness to give him chance after chance because she loves him so much and just wants things to get better – the entire dynamic was realistic, and it was heartbreaking, and it was important because it sheds light on children of parents who abuse substances.

The second thing that struck me was the way Maeve’s anxiety was presented- almost like a character, in and of itself. Mac weaves¬†the anxiety into the very narration, into her own writing style and technique. She spends careful time on getting the reader inside Maeve’s head, so much so that you begin to feel the worry pulsating inside your own body. Which is not to say that you can ever feel the experiences of people who have GAD, but you get some awareness. From negative reviews, I’ve seen that the colorful, often very graphic depictions of death and accidents, and the excessive worry became tiresome and dull for some people- I guess that’s a valid critique, but I can counter it by saying that repetition was the point. GAD is not comfortable. It’s not something you can switch off when you feel it getting repetitive and tiresome; it’s persistent, it’s debilitating, and I think the way it’s presented here is very important.¬†Moreover, I saw some critique saying that Maeve was an unlikable protagonist. She does make some decisions that I doubt, some off-hand comments about her ex-bestfriend that made me flinch, but the critique I’ve seen relates to how she “annoys” other characters. Again, I think Mac did such a wonderful job of showing how anxiety doesn’t only affect the person who has it, but the people around said person too. It’s unfair to say that Maeve was unlikable just because she behaved in a way that anxiety made her behave.

The romance between Maeve and Salix was very cute; it was healthy, it developed well, and even though I had issues with how they kept bumping into each other (I dislike tropes that play on fate), I really enjoyed their dynamic. I loved that Salix understood Maeve’s anxiety and helped however she could, and¬†the trope of “love-cured-my-illness” was banished out-of-sight.

I had a few issues too, mainly with the lack of closure surrounding some of the storylines. I wanted to see more of Maeve and her mother’s relationship, especially because she plays an incredibly important role in Maeve’s life. I wanted to see flashbacks, or some interaction outside of e-mails, texts and phone calls. I also felt that the story would have benefited¬†had an epilogue been added to the end, something that showed us what Maeve’s life is like after she has to go back home. There could easily be a sequel to this, because I feel like I need to know more about Maeve and Salix, the resolution with the family issues, with the need to see Maeve get the help that she needs with her anxiety. A sequel would be great.

Ultimately,¬†10 Things I Can See From Here¬†is a beautifully written summer-contemporary that is perfect for fans of Morgan Matson, Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell. If you’re looking for something well-rounded that’s not¬†too¬†heavy, but also focuses on important themes, pick this one up.

TRIGGER WARNING

material that can induce anxiety or panic attacks (such as chronic worrying about events out of someone’s control), graphic depictions of accidents and death, substance abuse, sexual assault.

BUY IT

G O O D R E A D S  |  A M A Z O N

The Education of Margot Sanchez: fast-paced, important and nuanced

education of margot sanchez

FTC DISCLOSURE
Margot Sanchez had her summer in the Hamptons planned out and ready to go- that is before she was busted for ‘borrowing’ her father’s credit card to buy a $600 outfit. Now she needs to pay off everything she owes to her parents, and to do that, she’s working at her father’s deli in the Bronx. Her earnings don’t go into her pocket, but rather directly to her father- she’s basically an indentured servant, and she couldn’t be more distraught. As the ultimate beach party Margot is invited to draws ever closer, Margot’s determined to go, or she might lose her hard-earned social status at her privileged high school. And no way will Margot let that happen. Things are further complicated when a cute local, socially aware boy named Moises comes into her life.

The Education of Margot Sanchez¬†has a lot going for it – a deeply flawed and realistic main character, who is both unlikable yet relatable, a complicated family dynamic that builds up slowly to come to an exploding climax,¬†and fun, fast-paced high school drama that gives the book its larger voice. But while all the elements were there, much of the aspects felt lackluster and incomplete- at least during the first half of the book. Before the book hits the 50% mark, I felt cold towards Margot – not indifferent, but cold. Despite relating to her deep-set need for a place to belong, and her complicated feelings regarding identity (with her community, her family, her socioeconomic status, her culture versus her privileged school and her white, upper-class friends), I disliked how Margot handled¬†the cards dealt to her. Because I’d been in such a similar position for a lot of my life, I found myself a little frustrated with her decisions, which launched my indifference towards her to coolness.

More than that, perhaps, I had very little interest in Margot’s love life. While I appreciated the fleshiness of Moises’s character – he was rather well developed, and immediately likable – I felt there were more important things at hand than a summer crush. There was clear, serious tension between Margot’s family. Her relationship with her father was outwardly amicable but Margot has suspicions from the very start about there being something off. Her relationship with her brother was one-dimensional in the first half, and her mother was mostly a prop. These were all my issues with¬†the first half.

However.¬†The story picked up incredibly quickly as soon as it hit the 50% mark. It seemed like Rivera thought back after she’d written half and realized all the flaws, and decided to kick it up several notches because I could not put the book down after those initial hurdles were passed. Margot, despite remaining someone with flaws, despite being someone who you question, developed into a complicated young woman who’s doing her best to learn and be better. She becomes aware of herself and her vices, and works towards bettering herself, which was something I had hoped would be apparent from the beginning.

The romance was pushed to the side – rightly so, I would say, to make way for the larger themes at hand, such as Margot’s struggle with her identity. It was explored more in the second half, as well as her fraught relationship with her local Bronx friends, and the dynamic between her and her community.¬†Her¬†relationship with her parents and her brother was explored deeply; we got to see her home life, her past relationship with her brother and how he changed. We see them interact more, we see exactly what went wrong and how. This, I felt, was infinitely more important than some of the stuff being explored in the first half, and the new turn the book took definitely did wonders for it.

I had issues with the writing as well; I often felt like I was being fed messages and lessons, rather than being shown them. For example, often a dialogue would take place between Margot and someone else, and it would largely be obvious from the dialogue what is implied, but the next paragraph would explain it to the reader anyway.¬†It felt as if the author doubted the reader’s intelligence to critically and analytically read deeply enough to gather implications without them being outwardly stated- but perhaps that’s just me and my strange personal preferences.

Ultimately, despite all my issues, I did enjoy this book- and it’s an important book at that with a diverse cast of characters, set in an area of New York City often disregarded and overlooked for God knows what reason. It explores the meaning of identity and the struggles of minority youth who are thrust into environments where they are not fully represented or made to feel like they are different or Other. It’s a book I would recommend¬†to contemporary fans, because it’s interesting, it’s nuanced, and it’s very important.

BUY IT

G O O D R E A D S  |  A M A Z O N

 

Book Review | A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A LIST OF CAGES

FTC DISCLOSURE
In his senior year of high school, Adam Blake becomes an aide to the school psychologist to fulfill an elective. When she gives him the task of bringing to her the elusive freshman who keeps dodging their sessions every chance he gets, Adam comes face-to-face with Julian- his foster brother he hasn’t seen in over four years. Adam’s excited to be reunited with his once-brother, but Julian’s changed since the time they lived together; he’s quieter, he’s secretive and he scuttles off to God knows where every lunch period. Little does Adam know that Julian’s life at home with his uncle is tumultuous to say the least, and when Adam and Julian’s world collides, danger looms.

A List of Cages¬†is one of those books that you won’t be able to get out of your head, no matter how hard you try. It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what makes it tick; is it the beautifully fleshed out, lovable main characters, or the poetic simplicity with which Roe writes? Is it the undoubtable ability of the story to grip you and never let go, or the stunningly woven themes of friendship and kindness in a sea of books where both concepts¬†are overlooked? There is so much that Roe does right, and the small things add up to bigger things which add up to the binding of ink¬†and paper with a story this¬†heart-achingly beautiful within.

For¬†me, the characters are what made the story soar, especially because Julian served as a¬†mirror; he¬†reminded me a lot of myself, so much so that I wondered whether Roe had written the story about me. He’s socially awkward and extremely shy, choosing to spend his lunch periods in a secret hole he discovered at school. He’d rather sit in the dark, eat his food and read a¬†childhood favorite than sit in a cafeteria where people would have the chance¬†to make fun of him. He’s painfully polite; even when situations make him uncomfortable, he’ll sit through them because he doesn’t want to hurt people’s feelings. He’s one of those characters that feels like such a real person that you can’t help but feel everything he feels. You can’t help but grow so fond, so attached to him that every horrible¬†thing he goes through impacts¬†you¬†so¬†emotionally.

Adam, too, feels incredibly real. His carnal desire to protect Julian from harm often leaves him paralyzed to do anything useful, which is something so realistic yet left unexplored in literature. He’s easygoing and amicable- popular, attractive, fun, but deeply flawed in his own ways. He didn’t resonate with me quite in the same way that Julian did, but he was a well-developed, lovable character that I’m sure will resonate with many others.

This novel explores so many important issues- it’s not just a sad, emotional story, but an important one at that. It explores the pitfalls of child protective services, the lack of useful resources to abused children, how trauma in childhood can deeply impact kids well into their lives. Adam has ADHD, and Julian is dyslexic, and neuro-diversity in literature is extremely important- the way it’s explored in the book, as aspects of each character but not letting it define either of them as people, is extremely well-done.

But despite my gushing, it¬†had its flaws too. For one, there were so many secondary and peripheral characters, and while the secondary ones were sufficiently developed, the peripheral ones were largely flat and background noise. I also felt that Adam’s romantic storyline was unnecessary, and the time spent on his love story could have been employed to more development in the other characters- it would’ve been a stronger book had that happened. But it’s a cohesive story, beautifully written, extremely profound, and something that will stay with you long after you’ve closed it. Pick it up. Really. Do it.

TRIGGER WARNING

Chronic child abuse (physical and emotional).

BUY IT

G O O D R E A D S  | A M A Z O N

 

Life in a Fishbowl: fast-paced, hilarious and one of a kind

LIFE IN A FISHBOWL

FTC DISCLOSURE
When Jared Stone is diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme cancer and given a few months to live, he finds himself in a predicament. He’s not scared that he’s going to die, but he’s scared that he’ll leave behind a wife and two daughters with very little financial security.¬†When he comes up with the ingenious plan to auction¬†his life on eBay, giving people who bid at least $100,000 the opportunity to do whatever the hell they want with him, people start paying attention to him. From a nun who thinks Jared Stone is doing the devil’s work by bidding away the precious sanctity of life, to a wealthy psychopath who conjures up a plan to do horrible things to him, to a reality TV producer who would do anything to make Jared Stone’s family the stars of a new show.¬†When the producer manages to get in touch with Jared, the Stones’ meager few months with Jared are infiltrated by camera crew, script-writers and the entire world.

Let me just start off by saying that the synopsis for this book is perhaps one of the most misleading synopses I have ever read. It gives¬†the impression that Jackie Stone is the main character of the book when arguably, the story revolves around Jared. Even then, you could put forth the argument that there¬†is¬†no one main character- the Stone family is the star of the story, not just the father or the oldest daughter. Moreover, the synopsis seems to think that the reality TV aspect of the book is the main plot-line; again, I would disagree. The TV show doesn’t even start filming until after the 30 or 40% mark. It’s not a book about the show itself, but a book about one man’s last months with his family spent in the most unconventional of surroundings. It’s extremely important to go into this book knowing that the synopsis is misleading, because otherwise, you’ll face disappointment.

But if you go into it knowing what you’re getting, it’s really something.¬†Life in a Fishbowl¬†reads a lot like satire: it pokes fun at religion and religious hypocrisy, at the wealthy and the privileged, at the secret lives of the people who make reality TV. It’s an analysis of the world’s strange obsession with others’ lives, both appealing to our voyeuristic tendencies as we are thrust into a family’s deeply personal, intimate matter, and also showing us exactly how troubling this intrusion can be to the people who are its subjects. The themes in this novel are spot-on, told with humor and wit, unraveling issues deftly without ever seeming heavy-handed. It’s thought-provoking, but also extremely fun, and that’s all you can ever ask from an intelligently written book.

Life in a Fishbowl¬†is strange in so many ways, both good and bad. Firstly, it’s divided into over eight viewpoints – which would usually bother me, but each character (including the tumor!) is given such a distinct personality, with interests and quirks, that I had fun with the viewpoints. Each turn of each viewpoint is no more than a couple of pages, so the book remained fast, fresh and entertaining throughout. That was the good strange. The bad strange was how a few characters arcs didn’t feel wholly necessary to the plot. The psychopath’s viewpoint was interesting, okay, but I’m unsure what it did for the story. And while the characters did feel fleshed out, my main issue was how they didn’t really develop. They largely remained static throughout the story, and despite there being a ton of room for development, it didn’t come.

After the 60% mark, I felt the book began to drag. I was still interested enough to keep reading, but the main thing that caught my attention was put in the backseat. The complicated family dynamic, Jared’s flashbacks to meeting his wife and having kids – all of that was put to the back to emphasize the TV show. Which is fine, but I’d have preferred more of a balance. And while Len Vlahos’s writing never loses its snarky, humorous, satirical, intelligent flair, the first half was undoubtedly superior to the second half. But even though my rating isn’t “all that,” Vlahos will be on my radar for a very long time, because I’m sure that anything else he writes will be just as sharp and delightful.

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Book Review | Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST

Parker lost her sight in a car accident that killed her mother when she was young. Since then, her father was her everything. They had a close-knit relationship, and he was her best friend. But three months before the novel takes place, Parker’s dad died of an overdose on anti-depressants. She had no idea he was even on them. Now living in her dad’s house with her aunt and her aunt’s family, Parker¬†hasn’t cried ever since the day he¬†died. Not even once. And Parker shrouds herself in a thick armor. She doesn’t need vision to see through your bullshit; she has a list of rules that you cannot break. Fool her once, and you won’t get a second chance. She’s created a balance for herself, but that balance is thrown off kilter when Scott Kilpatrick – her bestfriend turned boyfriend when she was thirteen – shows up at her high school.

Not If I See You First¬†is shelved under romance on Goodreads, but that’s a straight-up lie. This is not a romance book. It is a book about one girl’s struggle with her unwillingness to feel grief, her life after the demise of her parents, her struggles with letting people in without treating them like crap. This is a story about Parker’s growth, her development from a closed-off, bitter young woman to who she is at the end of the novel. Romance plays a role, but this is not a book with a romance between Parker and Scott, or Parker and some other love interest. It’s a ‘romance’ between Parker and her girl friendships, between Parker and her new family, between Parker and herself. Don’t go into this expecting a¬†romance, because you won’t get it.

And in many ways, that’s the strongest feat of the novel. Lindstrom seems to have a set plan in mind from the get-go. Parker is the¬†main¬†character, and the rest is background noise. Anything not revolving around our protagonist is given little to no thought, and usually that’s a bother for someone like me who prefers ‘wholesome’ contemporaries, but not this one (not that this book isn’t wholesome because it really is). Because Parker’s strength as a character is such a powerful force that you begin to see everything through her eyes. You feel her anger, her frustration, the private moments of grief that she allows herself to feel. She feels like an actual person, and when you turn the last page, you feel a sense of loss because you got to know her. You got to be with her, and despite her severe flaws, despite her vices, you grow¬†to love Parker. Like a sister, like a friend, like someone you can look up to.

I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t wary in the beginning of the book. Parker’s such a sarcastic, sharp-tongued, quippy,¬†bitter¬†person that you ask yourself, “Do I want to read a book where the main character, who is blind, is so bitter?” I was under the misconception that Parker was so closed-off because she’d lost her sight, but as the novel progresses, as things begin to unfold and fall into place, it becomes apparent that¬†this was never a book about Parker being blind or her struggles. She does¬†struggle, but she also doesn’t let her disability dictate what she can do. She’s a runner, she’s a good student, she’s completely independent. And this is something a lot of authors can learn from – Lindstrom doesn’t share Parker’s disability, so a story about her disability and her struggles is not a story for him to write. (Here’s a review written by a person who is blind.) But he can write about grief.¬†Parker’s short-temper and frustration is a by-product of her forbidding herself to feel, because she believes that to feel is to be weak.¬†This story is about grief and loss, and most of all, friendship.

It’s unfortunate that so few YA books that I’ve read¬†emphasize the importance of friendship. They usually go something like – boy meets girl, one of them is going through crap, they fall in love and learn to cope. Which is fine, but how¬†about friendship?¬†This novel puts friendship to the forefront. Parker would never learn from her mistakes if she didn’t let her friends in. She would completely break down in her home environment if she didn’t start communicating with her aunt and cousin. Even with regards to Scott, most of the book looks at him through the lens of best friend rather than ex-boyfriend. He understood Parker, he helped her without ever making her realize that she was being helped, and she misses him because he was her best friend, not because they share some great kisses.¬†Friendship.¬†Parker and friendship – that’s what this book is about.

But despite all my praise, this isn’t a perfect book by any means. Because romance felt like such an insignificant part of the story, I wasn’t fully invested in the other love interest introduced. I would have loved more closure with regards to Parker’s home life, because despite being the most interesting aspect of the narrative for me, it was largely skimmed over – some parts left abandoned – at the end. But despite these minor issues,¬†Not If I See You First¬†is an incredible, beautifully written story that I won’t forget for a long, long time.

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Book Review | Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is closed off from the outside world- no solicitations, no guests, no visitors. The children inside aren’t ordinary; their experiences wouldn’t be called normal. All over the world, children disappear through cracks of the world. They walk into mirrors, disappear in bodies of water, crawl into the shadows, transporting from our world to somewhere else. The world they go to is a world that seems to be made specifically for them; these kids feel like they belong. But magical worlds don’t give outsider children permanent residence. When they’re kicked out, back in their old lives, Eleanor West takes them in, determined to get them back on their feet so they can cope¬†with their carnal desire to return. Very few, if any, return. Nancy is one of these kids.¬†When Nancy encounters a tragedy at the Home, people begin to suspect her¬†– things were going fine before she arrived. To clear her name and figure out what’s happening, Nancy¬†sets out to uncover the truth.

Every Heart a Doorway¬†turns from a whimsical, strange read to an incredibly dark one- abruptly, but deliciously. The first half of the novel is¬†beautifully written, but it was largely world-building and dialogue more than plot. Consequently, I found myself getting lost a lot, bogged down by the intricacies of the world of the book, trying to keep up with everything that was said and left unsaid. The plot only kicks in at the half-mark, and after that, I was hooked. Plot-wise, this novella is fantastic. It’s paced well, it’s unpredictable ¬†(for the most part) with twists and turns scattered throughout the narrative. But by far, the strength of the book lies in its world-building.

Or rather… the potential in the world-building. There’s something incredibly comforting in the idea that anybody who feels like they don’t belong has a place that will take them. On the flip side, the idea that you’ll lose your sense of comfort and belonging so abruptly by some force unknown is¬†equally terrifying. Coupled with McGuire’s winding, dense prose, you¬†marvel at the expanse of her¬†imagination. But that’s about it…

Because while the potential and the elements of the imagination were there in theory, they didn’t translate well onto the page. Since the book was so short – so much so that it’s called a novella, not a novel – there wasn’t nearly enough room to explore the potential of the world-building. Most of the explanations were done through dialogue and introspection rather than actual action. You don’t get to see¬†any¬†of these worlds. You don’t get to see the underworld-like universe that Nancy was expelled from. For the most part, I felt like this novel was a paraphrased, abridged version of a larger work- the latter would have detailed, vivid scenes where we got to step into these different universes and see how they operated. The novella feels like a tease, and I disliked finishing the story still feeling like I¬†needed¬†to see more. Imagine you’re given a teaser trailer of¬†a really great film- and then the film just never comes out. This is how the book felt to me.

Moreover, as someone who’s reading taste is largely drawn¬†to character-driven stories, I felt that none of the characters were fully fleshed out. Sure, I understood who Nancy was, but vaguely. Again, I think this has something to do with just how short the book was. You can’t fit in such dense conceptual world-building and a gripping plot into just over 200 pages, and then expect to have multilayered characters either. I’m absolutely certain that I would have enjoyed this book so much more had it been a hundred or a couple hundred pages longer.

Having said that, it’s not a bad book, and it’s not a book that I would ever refrain from recommending. First of all, the main character is asexual, and we barely have any ace rep in literature, so just that alone should be a reason to pick this up. Secondly, my issues were preference-based. I don’t like plot-driven stories. If you¬†do,¬†you’ll adore this. It’s worth picking up just because the world-building is so intricate and well-planned, and the writing is absolutely stunning- me, I wasn’t a massive fan.

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Book Review | The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

THE HATE U GIVE

FTC DISCLOSURE

The Hate U Give¬†follows the story of Starr, a sixteen year-old girl who’s basically living two separate lives in two different worlds.¬†She lives in an impoverished, crime-ridden community where she grew up, where her father works, where most of her memories are. At the same time, she attends a super posh high school that’s majority white and upper-class. Starr’s created a dynamic that lets her exist in both environments, a precarious, uneasy balance that never really lets her be entirely herself in either place. But everything changes when her childhood friend, Khalil, is killed by a police officer one night. Khalil was unarmed, and he did nothing wrong- and he took his last breath while Starr kneeled over his body.

THUG¬†is obviously¬†inspired by the¬†Black Lives Matter movement, and is an extremely important novel. So much so that since the day I turned the last page, I have asserted that it’ll be a game-changer in literature. It covers very¬†many important topics, all of which are integrated seamlessly into the narrative at hand. Not once does it seem preachy, despite taking a very clear stance. It’s never heavy-handed, which is an extremely difficult thing to do when so many societal issues are covered. From institutionalized racism to racial profiling by the police. From the public’s disregard of black lives to their clearly biased attempts at protecting white police officers. Starr’s situation at school and her friendships there are permeated with hard-hitting micro aggressions- offhand comments that aren’t necessary said with ill-intent but are harmful nonetheless. Anyone belonging to a minority group will relate. From the realities of gang violence to how black communities are affected by systematic suppression of potential re socioeconomic status. And it also deals with the topic of healthy interracial relationships, since Starr’s boyfriend is white. The importance of anger, the importance of social media when it comes to sociopolitical movements, the dynamics of rebellion, revolution and rioting…

Do you see what I mean by how much this book deals with? And believe me when I say that all of the above are integrated into our characters’ lives, shown through Starr’s relationships with the people around her, so they are barely ever explicitly stated. By far the strongest facet of Angie’s storytelling is how wonderfully she layers her characters’ relationships. Starr’s moving, respectful, beautiful relationship with her parents. Her tense but close relationship with other members of her community. Her relationship with her boyfriend, and her doubts about the longevity of their love. Her friendships at school… every single character is bound to Starr¬†by a thread, and the thread is so solidly woven into the narrative that you feel¬†everything she¬†feels. It’s incredible.

But even more than the relationships at hand, Thomas is incredibly skilled at her characterization. There are many characters in this book, all with detailed back-stories, carefully constructed values and personalities. Each character feels like a living, breathing human being to the point where I found myself breathless at the realization that they did not exist. How can Starr not be real? Khalil dies in the first chapter, but even then, his story remains alive throughout the narrative and you feel like you¬†knew¬†him. You weep for him, his family, his friends, the lost potential of a life taken so young. I cried for a character I only knew for a couple of pages, and if that doesn’t tell you how fantastic this book is, I don’t know what will.

When I say¬†The Hate U Give¬†is a game-changer, I mean it. It’s moving, it’s beautifully written and it feels so¬†real,¬†so¬†profound¬†that you will not want to put it down. It’s not just a story. It’s a tender and honest analysis of the struggles black people – more specifically black youth – face in today’s society. It’s a close-up of a person, a family affected by senseless violence and fear, and it forces you to think about every other person whose name you have heard and mourned. Mike Brown. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. This is not just a story; it’s a movement in and of its own. It’s a force to be reckoned with, and you will truly be missing out if you don’t purchase a copy and devour its magnificence.

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