books

5 Fantasy Tropes I Love

Fantasy (more specifically high fantasy) is one of those genres that I can never have enough of. Whether it’s television, the big screen, or books, fantasy is the one thing I always return to when I’m feeling uninspired or slump-y. And because I’m such a big fan of such a vast genre, I obviously have favorite tropes that I always turn towards. I’m pretty much always looking for fantasy books with these tropes, and most of my favorite books utilize them brilliantly. So, let’s get into it.

Royals living away from their homes; whether it’s because they’re hiding, in exile, or leaving voluntarily, this trope results in fantastic development & characterization.

Whether it’s because of an arranged marriage they’re trying to flee, or because their parents died in suspicious circumstances so they’re running to save themselves, royals leaving their homes and luxuries behind is one of my favorite tropes. Mainly because there are a myriad of discussions that can be had if this is the case. For one, leaders living sheltered lives behind the walls of their castles can never truly be good leaders; more often than not, the trope uses the opportunity to disguise said royal as a commoner. The royal lives amongst laypeople, makes acquaintances, begins to understand the struggles that they never would have had they stayed holed up in their previous life. This trope directly results in a well-rounded character, who – if or when they take back their home – can be a leader for the people.

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A good example here is Jon Snow from A Song of Ice & Fire. Despite not being a royal, he’s still lived his entire life as the child of one of the most powerful people in the kingdom. He has a nice room in a big castle, people who listen to him; he has luxuries, teachers, trainers, a family, a home. But he has a very skewed understanding of honor, responsibility and leadership until he joins the Night’s Watch and gets to know people from all over the Seven Kingdoms. He’d thought he would be surrounded by brave men full of honor, but is instead forced to call criminals his brothers. He learns about the conditions that lead poverty-stricken people to commit crimes, like stealing food or money, and comes to understand that there are different types of bravery, different types of honor. This genuine understanding of the plight of common folk, their wants, needs, and the things he saw while living away from luxury are what give him the upper hand in becoming a good ruler. He’s developed from the first book – from a kind, generous young man who was mostly sheltered and ignorant, to a kind, generous young man who knows more, who’s understood more, who can become the leader for the people instead of a leader because of blood.

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Schools. Give me all the schools in fantasy books. I don’t care if you’re studying about how fast horses decompose- just give it to me.

love fantasy schools, and Hogwarts is obviously the greatest school of all-time, but its existence seems to be detrimental to other fantasy series with schools. Mainly because no matter how different the school is, every new fantasy series that contains one is automatically compared to Harry Potter. Which is awful, because fantasy leaves so much room for so many different types of schools.

There could be schools that teach magic, obviously, or there could be schools that teach history. What about schools that teach etiquette? Schools that teach royals how to behave royally? Law? Politics? What about assassin schools (those are always awesome, let’s be real).

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A Song of Ice & Fire has the Citadel where maesters learn several crafts to become learned; The Seven Realms series has Oden’s Ford, that teaches etiquette, magic, and several other trades. Like I said, there is infinite wiggle room when it comes to schooling in fantasy. It doesn’t have to be a traditional school setting either – it could be training, or tournaments where lessons are taught, or tutoring in history. Just give me more schools in fantasy! And for the love of God – while you’re at it – stop comparing every book with a school to Harry Potter!

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Politics and civil war. Don’t know what side to root for? That’s a great fantasy.

World-building in its materialistic form is fantastic. I love maps as much as the next person; I enjoy reading about different continents, cultures, peoples, moral values, governing systems, etcetera. Magic building is wonderful, as well, but what makes a fantasy truly great? To me, it’s politics. For a fantasy to immediately capture my attention, it has to have people on all sides that I am rooting for, even if there is a clear good and bad dynamic. I want to see people lurking in the shadows, vying for power; I want to see nobles’ deceiving their lieges because they want more political influence. Politics has made and broken our world since the dawn of time, and fantasy books without a political system in place seem incomplete.

Civil war is an extension of this political aspect; when politics plays a huge role in a fantasy series, when the players of the game are well-developed and interesting, war is inevitable. But war is never pleasant. It’s confusing, and muddled, and very rarely is it as binary as “This side is good, this side is bad.” Well written war, and well-written politics has innocent people dying on both sides. There are people you can root for and understand on both sides, which is why the situation is so tense and gripping.

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The series that does this best is obviously A Song of Ice & Fire. Despite there being lines within your mind about who the good guy is, and who the bad guy is, you’re still rooting for characters on both sides of the spectrum. The political aspect of hegemony, imperialism, revolution and rebellion, of monarchy, usurping, treaties and deceits and reward and punishment? That’s what makes the series so fantastic. Politics and complicated, grey dynamics are realistic and complex, and give storytelling a layer that nothing else possibly can.

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Tournaments and Competitions. Characters showcasing their skills in a fully competitive setting? Yes, please.

Tournaments have become a cliché now, but I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t the biggest sucker for tournaments. There’s so many things a writer can do while writing tournaments, from showcasing characters’ skillsets, their personalities under stress and pressure, seeing them learn from their mistakes, and get up after they’ve been pushed down, to showcasing magic systems, the cultures and practices of other peoples if it’s a nationwide tournament. The tournaments could serve as a backdrop for politics and scheming, or they could just be plain old fun.

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Perhaps the most legendary tournament for me is the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter, because Rowling utilized it perfectly by mixing themes of first love and coming-of-age with Harry’s first real encounter of darkness, death, war and politics. But there was a lot more to it – the world-building was expanded greatly as we got to see what was under the waters around Hogwarts, we got to encounter different species (merpeople, dragons), as well as different plants. We got to see our characters use their skills under grueling conditions, but we were also given glimpses into the properties of fame, of celebrity. The tournament tested friendships, and loyalties, and it broke relationships while it made others. For me, tournaments – apart from being a hell of a fun time – are perfect backdrops to explore world-building, politics and characterization.

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The anti-hero. They do things that are morally ambiguous, and it’s sometimes difficult to root for them, but they’re some of the best characters you’ve ever read.

Anti-heroes and anti-villains are my favorite types of characters, in any genre, period. But in fantasy, they hold a special place in my heart, simply because there’s a lot more they can experiment with and get away with in fantasy stories (using magic, honor, war, etcetera). There’s nothing quite as satisfying as reading a good anti-hero. Heroes bore me; you already know you’re supposed to root for them, no matter what they do, because they’re ultimately the good guy.

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Anti-heroes make you doubt yourself, they make you doubt the author’s intentions, the story, the other characters, what’s good and what’s evil, and this quality of thought-provoking characterization is my absolute favorite thing in writing. Morally complicated characters who don’t fit neatly into boxes are the fucking best, man. They keep you on your feet, and if they ever undergo a redemption arc, you’re left amazed at how meticulously the writer built up a certain character, naturally tore them down, and built them back up – better and stronger. There’s so much literary power in anti-heroes that I will devour most every book that has one as its main character.

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That’s all for my favorite fantasy tropes! I’m thinking of making another post that talks about tropes that are less fantasy-specific, so let me know if you’d be interested in that. Also tell me – do you enjoy these tropes? What other tropes do you like? And definitely give me recommendations!

Arc Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright / Centers colonist guilt & has flawed racial representation

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FTC DISCLOSURE

F I N A L   R A T I N G

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A visual representation of me trying to figure out how to write this review:

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In all seriousness, this might be one of the most difficult books I’ve had to review, simply because I have so many thoughts. So many different aspects to a novel as complicated and nuanced as this one, and so many thoughts about several of these aspects. More than this, perhaps – the reason why reviewing this book is so difficult is because I can fully see the invaluable benefits of it, as well as the potential harm it can cause, and the intersection of both can be difficult for a reviewer (who isn’t, by any means, claiming to be an expert) to encompass and do justice. But, I will try my best here, and if I start to ramble, resulting in a post that resembles word-vomit more than a structured review- well, you’ll have to forgive me here, I guess.

27 Hours is a futuristic (set, I believe, 150-200 years from present day), science-fiction, action-packed tale which counts down from 27 hours to certain war. When the clock hits 0, prompting the sun to come up, our characters’ world is going to be torn apart by the two species fighting on (over?) it. A couple hundred or so years ago, humans arrived at a moon from all over the Earth, giving rise to a civilization, unaware that an indigenous species was asleep underground. When the construction of a lake causes several underground tunnels to flood, the indigenous species (referred to as chimera, or “gargoyle” as a slur) lost many lives. Ever since, war has raged on. The humans consider the chimera blood-thirsty monsters, while the chimera are staunch in their belief that the land is theirs. A third group emerged some time during the war – a forest civilization – that broke away from the humans, formed an alliance with some chimera, and strive for peace.

Perhaps it’s my own background and cultural history, but I couldn’t fully root for any of the main characters, all of whom are human.

I was born and raised in Pakistan, a country that emerged in 1947 from India after a brutal war raged on, killing millions upon millions of people; much of that bloodshed, the consequent splitting, and the after-effects that exist even now were a direct product of the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent. We are still told horror stories, of piles of bodies at the border – riots, massacres, friends and families torn apart for the rest of time, as my ancestors, as my neighbors’ ancestors fought for their rights on a land that belonged to them. It was our land. It was our country, not some colonizers’. They had no right to be there.

It’s not an issue that raged just then – it’s an issue extremely current and relevant even now, whether we’re talking about the war over Kashmir (again, a direct product of British imperialism), or the Israel-Palestine situation that seems to have no end in sight. Maybe it’s my hypersensitivity to issues of indigenous peoples’ having their lands stolen by invaders who have no right to be there, but I found it almost impossible to sympathize with the main characters. When I realized that the theme of the novel was an indigenous species versus colonists, and the main characters all being colonists or descendants of colonists, I was immediately put off.

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Let me get something straight here: Wright does not excuse colonists’ actions, nor does she pass off the war as a binary issue. What does, however, happen is that all the characters who get perspective chapters are humans (in this case, colonists), and three out of four of the perspective chapters are humans who are learning to rid themselves of long-held prejudices against chimera, while the fourth perspective character is a forest-human who doesn’t have these prejudices anymore, who instead strives for peace. The issue here, at least for me, was glaringly obvious: in a war raging between an indigenous species and colonists, why is the colonist’s perspective centered? Why is the storyline so intensely focused on colonist guilt, and realizing that indigenous life that existed on this planet is still, you know, life? And despite them unlearning their prejudices against the species itself, the issue of invasion and settling is almost entirely ignored, while all the weight is put on violent warfare.

To me, it parallels a book where white characters realize that people of color are “humans as well,” and start working towards co-existence, while also refusing to (intentionally or unintentionally) acknowledge or dismantle the root cause of the issue: systematic, institutionalized racism and white supremacy. In this case, the human characters’ narrative is the only one being centered, while the root issue of invasion, trespassing and unethically settling over land that already belongs to beings living on the moon is thrust aside, instead focusing on the byproduct of this main issue: war. There was a moment in this novel where the villain (so often described as the monster who needs to be destroyed for peace to finally be achieved) says:

Humans are a parasite, and you’re destroying this land with your mining and your colonization. You came and took with no regard to the life already existing here and, according to your histories, that’s fairly standard for your species, isn’t it?”

This tells me that Wright is fully aware of the complicated issue at hand, yet the villain – hell-bent on destruction and blood and chaos – is the only one who brings it up. Bro, if I’m twenty pages from the end and I’m siding with the villain here? That’s not a good look.

Some of the thematic choices made regarding character prejudices were also… uncomfortable for me to read and consider.

27 Hours is a book full of underrepresented identities on the page, with beautiful relationships forming – both platonic and romantic. We have a truly diverse cast of characters. Our four perspective chapters are Rumor, Nyx, Braeden and Jude, while a fifth character can still be considered a main character, despite not getting a perspective chapter. Rumor is a bisexual, multiracial Nigerian/Portuguese & Indian who falls for Jude, who is gay. Nyx is Deaf, pansexual, chubby, signs ASL throughout the book, has Cuban ancestry, and is love with her best friend, Dahlia, who is an Afro-Latinx trans girl. Nyx’s abuela is also Deaf. Braeden is asexual, and has two moms. Jude is adopted by a family of two brothers – both are people of color, both are queer. There is an Asian side character who uses they/them pronouns, and there is discussion about using and normalizing pronoun introductions.

Rumor and Jude form a beautiful bond immediately, and their interactions are lovely to see unfold on the page. Dahlia and Nyx’s complicated romantic relationship is slow-burn, and the pay-off is ultimately swoon-worthy, for lack of a better phrase. Braeden discusses his asexuality often, there is sign language throughout the book – so these identities are given proper time and weight. But with three of your five protagonists being people of color, there is no discussion about race, but I’ll get to this later.

In line with the imperialist discussion I was having above, let’s talk a little bit about Rumor. I believe Rumor could be considered the driving force of the novel – his perspective chapter starts the novel off, and his actions and reactions are, for the most part, what drive the story. For me, when it was revealed that he has Nigerian and Indian ancestry, I was immediately intrigued. Why? Because for a story dealing with colonial issues, a main character having ancestry from both Nigeria and India – both countries that have been colonized by the British in the past? That seemed significant to me. But I was… disturbed (if that’s the right phrase) by the fact that Rumor, more than anyone else, holds the most vicious hatred for chimera.

Rumor’s past with the indigenous species is bloody; his mother and his father both died during the war, and the book quite literally begins with his colony being wiped out by an attack. So, his reactions are to be expected, but… I’m a little uncomfortable that a character who has ancestry tracing back to countries that were torn apart due to colonization is so staunchly pro-colonist, is so staunchly vicious in his hatred of chimera. That’s a strange thematic choice for me. And it gets especially strange (this is a euphemism for problematic, by the way) that the two people who, arguably, have the most sway over changing his prejudices are white. The two characters (Jude and Braeden) who basically show the boy, who has ancestry 🗣 tracing 🗣 back 🗣 to 🗣 countries 🗣 that 🗣 have 🗣 been 🗣 colonized 🗣 by white 🗣 people, that his prejudices are unfounded, unfair and discriminatory are white. Bro. White.

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“Aimal, you’re overthinking this. It probably wasn’t that serious, it probably isn’t that deep.” Is that what you’re thinking? I’ve already acknowledged that perhaps it’s because I’m hypersensitive to imperialist issues, I saw flaws in this novel that many others would have overlooked. But come on – even the most non-interested of you couldn’t say that it isn’t a big deal that the most racist (specie-ist) person from our cast of characters is a person of color, and that the people who changed his mind were white people. Like… that’s just… 🏃🏽‍♀️ Moving on.

You could argue that Rumor’s ancestry isn’t as significant as I’m making it out to be, mainly because Wright makes it clear that the humans have one language (referred to as “the human language”), and don’t retain much from their culture back from home. Which: if the book is set 150-200 years in the future (which is 7-8 generations at most), would people who immigrated from all over the world really have forgotten their language, their cultures? Here’s a passage from the book:

“My mom was Indian. Like India. My dad was… He was Portugese and Nigerian. I only know because we had a school project to see what, if anything, we’d kept from our Earth ancestors.”

This seems to imply that the humans don’t know much, if anything at all, about where they came from on Earth. And that’s fair, if the book was set even further into the future. Would entire cultures cease to exist in just a few generations? (More on this later, too). And even if they did, why does the book seem to imply that they gradually, over the course of a century, defaulted to a Westernized way of living? Where romantic, familial and platonic relationships are modeled after Western culture? This is vague, and this is where the holes in world-building start to seep through. Are there no other cultures? And if there aren’t, how did the near-7,000 languages that exist in the world right now get wiped out in just a century or two from now?! How did entire civilizations coming from all over the world forget their own cultures to default to the present “human culture?” How is there no variation past ideological thought (and even then, only as it relates to war versus peace)? And if there are cultures, why not show them? I’m so confused about this – there are so many gaps and holes in world-building here that it’s driving me up the wall just thinking about the lack of information there is to grapple with.

Is racial representation really REPRESENTATION if the characters of color can be replaced by white people without changing anything else at all?

The overwhelming response to this question, when I asked it on Twitter, was “no.” One person writes, “Nope. White culture and ____ POC culture is nowhere near the same, and the culture needs to be included for it to be representation.”

Another person writes, “Not even close. PoC and white people have vastly different experiences, so it’s not really representation if this isn’t shown. And if POC and white people do go through the world in the same way (maybe if race isn’t a barrier) you have to have a WHY and HOW.”

Yet another person writes, “Part of the human experience is that people treat you based on a lot of shallow things, and taking away micro aggressions seems unrealistic.”

And another person writes… “Nope. If they can be replaced, then they’re just in a diverse costume. We have different experiences, and even in the future, that will be so.”

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Basically, every single character of color in this book could be replaced with a white character, and nothing would change. Absolutely nothing, apart from a couple words here and there (and a large chunk of my review *badum tss*). Like I said, there is little to no significant mention of differing cultures, or different languages (the only non-English words in the book are “chai,” “prem,” and “abuela,” which just… make up your mind. Do languages exist, or do they not?) Fine, take away cultures, take away languages, but even people of color who live in diasporas, who have largely assimilated to the society around them and retain little to nothing of their ancestral culture still undergo micro aggressions, if not outright racism. And there is no mention of it. Anywhere. When I say that the characters of color could be replaced by white characters and nothing would change, I mean that quite literally. You’d just have to replace every time the color “brown” is mentioned with white, change the ethnicities, and… that’s it.

Apparently, in this society, people aren’t prejudiced based on race, because it’s of no consequence to anybody, so it doesn’t exist anymore, despite there being a very clear prejudice against the. indigenous. species. So, prejudice does exist – just not intra-human racism. Which, just…

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Racism has existed for centuries. It has been the cause of genocide in various parts of the world, wars, slavery, systematic and institutionalized oppression. Look at the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar right now, the refugee crisis and the fear-mongering against Middle Easterners and Muslims, the legal and violent war underway against black Americans in the U.S., the purging of Native American lands and rights in today’s society, the discriminatory rhetoric against Mexicans that won someone the election. Look at our fucking President. Look at the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazis taking off their robes and parading around in the streets with torches and tell me racism is going anywhere. It has always existed, because as a human race, we’re prejudiced people. You mean to tell me that a colony, that exists and is an amalgamation of human society from cultures all over the world, has no racism?! Especially if this colony isn’t even that far into the future?! I…

The only way this could be even slightly possible would be if a scientific device existed that purged the very idea of prejudice out of your mind. I would buy this if prejudice, in and of itself, didn’t exist in the society. But prejudice does exist! Against the indigenous species! So that takes that out of the equation.

It feels a lot, and I mean A LOT, like erasure of the struggles people of color go through every single day, and have gone through every single day. For a white author to build a world where (1) colonialism thrives, but (2) racism no longer exists? It feels like a cop-out. It feels like Wright wanted people to say that people of color exist in her book, but didn’t want to do the heavy-lifting of representing the lives of people of color. So with the complete lack of representation of non-white culture, and the insinuation that racism no longer exists, while every other identity is given the proper balance and proper weight? Just… *endless sigh* I’m sorry. It’s lazy. It’s lazy writing, to me. It’s lazy world-building, it’s a lack of understanding of racial issues, both historical and contemporary, and it feels like simply checking off checklist items rather than actual representation.

I am not going to deny that this book has so much potential to benefit so many people, but it also participates in erasure, as well as a base misunderstanding of imperialist issues.

Which is exactly why it was so difficult for me to review this book. It is a diverse book and offers on-the-page representation for trans, gender non-conforming, asexual, pansexual, gay, bisexual, lesbian, and Deaf representation. And not even just that – it’s still a decent book with constant action, well-developed characters, an interesting (albeit under-developed or vague) world, and engaging dialogue. But it still falls flat in so many areas. And I hope that me pointing the things out that made me uncomfortable, that left a bad taste in my mouth doesn’t seem to you that I’m negating all the good this book can do in so many young people’s lives. I hope that if this review does anything, it at least sheds some light on the issues in the book, and maybe the issues will be rectified or redeemed in the sequel(s).

And with that ~3,000 word review…

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TRIGGER WARNING

Gore, violence, anti-indigenous rhetoric, colonialism/imperialist thought.

BUY IT

27 Hours releases on October 3rd, 2017.

Goodreads // Amazon

Monthly Recap: July ’17

I’m incredibly conscious now of the fact that I start every monthly wrap-up post with a generic line about how the year is flying by so fast, and that I can’t believe it’s X month already, even though it’s always true. So, I refuse to do that from here on out. But then… how do I start these posts? I’m in sort of a sticky situation.

July was a month of ups and downs in my personal life.

It started with a bang – quite literally. For the first time since I moved to the US, I was actually in New York City for July 4th, so my parents and I headed over to Manhattan to the East River to watch the legendary Macy’s fireworks show. Getting there a few hours early just to score a good spot was worth it – the show was absolutely beautiful, and I loved a nice outing with my family. My parents are always so busy with their business, and I’m almost always away for school, we rarely get to spend time together. The occasion was nice, if only for that.

I’m such a lazy person, you have no idea. I can spend days inside the house, watching TV, reading books, listening to music for days without a care in the world, so it’s surprising how many times I actually got off my ass and headed into the city this month. I live quite far away when I’m not dorm-ing for university. I need to take a train for forty-five minutes, then a thirty-minute ferry just to get into the city… then, the Manhattan travel is another story completely. But one day, I set aside everything and headed to the city to hang out with a friend. We saw The Big Sick, I broke my book-buying ban for just a little while and bought four books from the Strand, and then I saw Spiderman: Homecoming at the iMax in Lincoln Square. I honestly thought Spiderman: Homecoming wasn’t worth the hype, but I still enjoyed the film; The Big Sick was wonderful though.

I finally joined the gym, much to the glee of my parents, lol. I’ve been meaning to lose weight for a really long time now, but I hate exercising – especially if it’s the gym. I like to swim, but there aren’t any good pools around me, so the gym is always my last resort. I almost never want to go willingly. But hopefully I’ll start making a change to my lifestyle. It’s needed.

In memory of Chester Bennington

Perhaps the one thing that hit me hardest this summer was the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington’s death. When I was nine years old, I had just lost my younger brother to cancer, and my parents and I moved across the world from London to Pakistan to start over, for all intents and purposes. I had suddenly become an only-child, my parents’ relationship was fraying at the edges with more fights than I could handle, and I found myself in a surrounding that was completely foreign to me. At that time, I relied almost entirely on music to get me through the day. And when Linkin Park’s music came into my life, suddenly I felt that there was someone in the world I could relate to.

Ever since, I’ve turned to the band’s music – in its always-evolving creativity – to get me through some of my hardest times. The band wasn’t something that was there for me during my childhood or teenage years – they were there for me now. They were the first celebrities I decided to properly fangirl over, to the point of watching backstage videos of them goofing around, having fun. I sat through hours and hours of concert footage, in complete awe. I’ve cried with them, I’ve laughed with them, I’ve hurt with them… and then, to suddenly get the news that the person who literally saved your life has passed away by taking his own? That broke me for a while.

I spent days mourning Chester. I cried for him, and I’ve never cried over a celebrity death before- it just hit me so deeply in a place that hadn’t hurt for a long time. I spent days beating myself up: 1) I didn’t even know him, so how in the world could this hit me so hard, and 2) if he really did save my life, I strangely felt guilty that I couldn’t do anything to ease the pain he was in. But then I realized a few things – Chester’s music touched me because he was open about what he was going through, and by sharing himself, his heart and soul, he helped a lot of people. This became apparent as millions of people around the world mourned him, and wrote thinkpieces about how much Chester meant to them in their teenage years. And I realized that I wasn’t alone in mourning someone I didn’t know; he wasn’t just a singer, just some celebrity. He was my support system in my darkest of times, and I had come to consider him a friend. For me, losing him was like losing a friend, and it hurt. A lot.

I’ll miss Chester a lot, because for a while there after his death, I felt lost. Back in that nine year-old body. A kid who doesn’t know what to do anymore. How are you supposed to live in a world where the person who saved your life ends up taking his own? But with the support of my friends, the community and Linkin Park and Chester themselves, I’ve learned that it’s okay to hurt. It’s strange, but ever since he passed, I’ve shared more about my insecurities with my friends than I ever had before, and I’m slowly starting to learn that it’s alright to be vulnerable with people. We’re all human beings who hurt and suffer, and it’s so important to tell people what you’re going through. Ultimately, I’ll always be thankful to him, and the band for making me who I am, for staying with me when there wasn’t a light to hold on to. I’ll be… always thankful. And I’ll always remember Chester, both for what he’s done for me, and for the kind, funny, wonderful, brave person he was.

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But you’re all here for my reading wrap-up, so enough of this, and let’s get into the books!

I read a lot this month. And by a lot, I mean a LOT.

Back in 2014, there was a time when I was reading an average of one book every two days. Somewhere along the way, I lost my mojo – I blame Netflix and school, but after years, this month was an incredible one. I was reading constantly – in the form of audiobooks, backlist books, ARCs, whatever. I’m on a book-buying ban; I can only buy a new book after I have read five books that I already own, and in an effort to buy a book I’ve been looking forward to reading, I’ve been reading my owned books quicker. Does that make sense? So in total, I read a whopping sixteen books! A bunch of them were great reads –  some of them were bad eggs, so here’s the breakdown by the order in which I read them:

EARTH BOY (SON OF DJINN #2) BY SAMI SHAH // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Earth Boy was an incredible finale to an incredible duology full of djinn, chudails, infused with South Asian and Islamic lore, full to the brim with genuine scares, beautifully constructed writing, dark humor, and complicated social issues. I am so deeply in love with the world Sami Shah has crafted, with the characters in these two books, and the fierce adventures they go on. It’s genuinely dark and delicious with creatures and myths from some of my worst nightmares, but not only that, Sami Shah also ensures that he discusses relevant things like intolerance, poverty and terrorism while he’s telling a fast-paced, action-packed story. I cannot recommend this duology enough. It’s so underrated, so please check it out!

Triggers apply for: Torture, rape, child abuse, terrifying scenes, strong violence.

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LITTLE & LION BY BRANDY COLBERT // 🌟🌟🌟🌟 1/2

Little & Lion was definitely my favorite book of the month. It’s a wholesome contemporary by definition of the concept with a strong focus on one girl’s relationship with her stepbrother, her family, her friends, her two crushes, and herself. It’s a book with a diverse cast of characters, tackling issues of racism, microaggressions, biphobia, mental health stigma, and figuring out who you are at an age where very little makes sense. It’s a book I will recommend for a long, long time. It releases on the 8th of this month, so please jump on it. Here’s my review.

Triggers apply for: Micro-aggressions for racism, biphobia, lesbophobic slurs, mental health stigma, anxiety, bipolar disorder.

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THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE & VIRTUE BY MACKENZI LEE // 🌟🌟🌟

This was a book I was highly anticipating, and considering the hype monster around it, I was super excited to get to it. It’s a tome of a book with almost 600 pages with a diverse cast of characters on a road trip in eighteenth century Europe. There’s adventure, humor, romance, sex, scandal and some magic thrown in the mix, resulting in an extremely fast-paced, action-packed book that’s just incredibly fun to read. But despite enjoying it, I couldn’t bring myself to like the main character. He was too frat-boyish to me, and I understand he’s meant to be unlikable in order for the redemption to happen, but he says way too many things and does way too many things for me to be able to forgive him over the course of a hundred or so pages. Moreover, I felt the paranormal aspect fell flat, and the plot could’ve been more cohesive.

Triggers apply for: racism, homophobia, misogyny, ableism.

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THE 57 BUS BY DASHKA SLATER // 🌟🌟

Like most autobiographies/biographies, I’m uncomfortable reviewing this… It zooms in on a hate crime committed against an agender teen named Sasha, who’s skirt was lit on fire by a young black teen one fateful bus ride. Sasha’s story is a real one – they went through the very real physical and emotional trauma of the crime, while Richard – the person who uncharacteristically committed the horrendous crime – underwent the punishment. Dashka Slater, through real interviews, police files, news clippings, etcetera, pieces together a deeply intimate look at the failings of the justice system, how institutionalized and systematic racism is ruining black youth’s lives, putting them at a severe disadvantage. However, Slater – a white woman – uses the N-word several times in the book… and… that word is not for a non-black person to use. To me, while the criminal justice system’s exposé was important, I also felt the book was unbalanced and the emphasis was placed on the person who committed the crime over the person who was the victim. This made me uncomfortable.

Triggers apply for: use of racist and nonbinary-phobic and transphobic slurs, misgendering, hate crime against an agender teen, institutionalized racism.

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THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN BY HOLLY BLACK // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

This was the first Holly Black book I’ve ever read, and it definitely will not be the last. It was perfectly balanced with the right amount of romance, the right amount of action, and the perfect creep-factor. I’m not big on vampire novels, because most of them have already been done already… what’s new to be offered in the genre? But Holly Black makes them sexy and interesting again; I loved the characters, and I enjoyed the main character’s feisty yet compassionate, kind, vulnerable self too. I’m so excited to read other books by Black.

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GOODBYE DAYS BY JEFF ZENTNER // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Goodbye Days was a book that took me by surprise; I became more invested in the characters than I thought I would, and I found myself mourning people that were dead before the book even began. I loved the concept of saying one final goodbye to people who’ve been taken way too soon, and I think Zentner deals with topics of grief, loss and guilt extremely well. I did, however, take issue with some of the unchallenged suicide/self-harm jokes in the book. You can read my full review here.

Triggers apply for: Racist micro-aggressions against a Filipina character, suicide/self-harm jokes, homophobic jokes (mostly challenged), grief, death.

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CARAVAL BY STEPHANIE GARBER // 🌟

The hype monster for Caraval was one of the biggest hype monsters I’ve ever seen in my four years of blogging. And because of this reason, this book was a massive let down. I hated the main characters, the sisterhood bond was nothing short of a joke, serious issues were used as plot devices without exploring potential psychological ramifications, and the writing was inconsistent and seemed try-hard. You can find my full review here.

Triggers apply for: Suicide, physical and emotional abuse by a parent, self-harm.

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THE LOVE INTEREST BY CALE DIETRICH // 🌟 1/2

This was probably one of the most disappointing books I’ve read this year – mainly because I’ve had my eye on it ever since it was announced! It sounded amazing: a satirical take on dystopians with a love triangle where the two dudes fall in love with each other? Bro, that sounds so cool. But the characters were extremely flat, to the point where the satire became laughable on its own. The writing wasn’t special, and it read more like a contemporary than a sci-fi dystopian. I DNF’d at 55%.

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THAT THING WE CALL A HEART BY SHEBA KARIM // 🌟🌟🌟

As a Pakistani Muslim, I barely get any representation in YA lit, so imagine my glee when I found out that this was a book that offered me just that. And while Sheba Karim does a great deal of things right in this book, much of it fell flat. It deals with open, frank discussions about religion, Islamophobia in the West, expectations from hijabis, assigning statuses and labeling people as “representatives” of a certain identity. I adored the main character’s best friend to the point where I wanted the book to be about her, rather than Shabnam, the protagonist. I hated Shabnam, and that was the point but her development and redemption doesn’t come soon enough to save the novel. The romance was cringe-worthy and cheesy too.

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THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE BY STEPHANIE PERKINS // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

There’s Someone Inside Your House was a delight to read. I read it in a couple of sittings, flying through it with ferocious speed. It was so incredibly fun, reminiscent of slasher flicks set in small towns. Stephanie Perkins is a talented writer, of course, and it shows because she strikes the perfect balance between her trademark cutesy contemporary (because the romance in this is adorable), while also doing justice to the thrill and horror of the serial killer storyline. The cast was diverse as well, and I enjoyed the atmospheric quality of the entire book. It would honestly make a great TV show.

Triggers apply for: some transphobic language was in my ARC, but I know Perkins has since addressed and amended it for the final copy; racist microagressions against the main character who is biracial black/Native Hawaiian; graphic depictions of murder & gore.

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THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO BY F. C. YEE // 🌟🌟🌟🌟

This was a book everywhere on Twitter, and rightfully so. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is an incredible urban-fantasy inspired by Chinese lore with a feisty, relatable main character who’s trying to handle her schoolwork, her future plans for college, a separated family, and a bodyshaming yet loving mother… and now you’re throwing demons in the mix?! It was adventurous, fast-paced, action-packed, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, while never losing its charm of being subtly relatable with characters that you grow to adore. My only real complaint was that I would’ve preferred more balance between the action and the slower moments, even if that meant the book had to be fifty or so pages longer.

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SAINTS AND MISFITS BY S. K. ALI // 🌟🌟🌟

I set myself up for disappointment for this book, mainly because perhaps I was expecting a little too much. For one, there is so much this book does right. It’s true that Western media often only promotes Muslim books that fit their own version of what Islam should be like. Saints & Misfits is unapologetically Muslim, with a lovable, wonderful main character who takes pride in her culture, religion and is fully immersed in it, while never being defined by it either. I loved her relationship with her family and friends, and I loved seeing her develop over the course of the novel. But there was virtually very little plot, which will eventually be the downfall of the book for readers who enjoy a more cohesive storyline.

Triggers apply for: sexual assault.

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FINAL GIRLS BY RILEY SAGER // 🌟🌟

After the magic of There’s Someone Inside Your House, I was in a bit of a thriller/slasher kick, so I decided to pick up Final Girls – which was a book I was absolutely certain I was going to enjoy. But I was left severely disappointed. It was exciting and unputdownable, that’s for certain, but the characters were flat, and it was more mystery than thriller or horror. The mental illness representation was awful, and there were so many insensitive remarks thrown towards someone who committed suicide- it made me stomach turn. The ending was cheesy and cartoon villain-y. It was just… a disappointment.

Triggers apply for: Poor mental illness representation, suicide, violent murder.

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THE SERPENT KING BY JEFF ZENTNER // 🌟🌟 1/2

After loving Goodbye Days by the same author earlier in the month, I decided to give his debut novel a go too, but it definitely wasn’t as good as his second. The Serpent King explores the South, religion, guilt and feeling stuck as well as I expected Zentner too, but most of the characters didn’t connect with me. Plus, I felt that Dill’s mental health was glossed over – more emphasis needed to be placed on therapy and recovery. I also didn’t feel a connection between the two people involved in the main romance at all. I’ll avoid saying more for risk of spoilers. There’s also a lot of racism and use of slurs in the book – these aren’t unchallenged, and they’re clearly not Zentner’s views but rather an authentic portrayal of the backwardness of many in the South, but I felt this could’ve been done without the use of slurs.

Triggers apply for: pedophilia, depression, religious intolerance, racism, homophobic slurs, grief, death.

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WHEN I CAST YOUR SHADOW BY SARAH PORTER // 🌟

Listen… I wish I could tell you what this book was, but I genuinely have no clue. It was so… weird and disturbing. For starters, the characters were all one-dimensional, flat and pretentious even when they showed the slightest bit of personality. The book was messed up on so many levels with some incest going on, some statutory rape that is never properly addressed, a dude possessing his own brother and then sleeping with his girlfriend, like… what the fuck was this book, and how was half this stuff greenlit?! It’s safe to say that I despised it, and I honestly cannot believe I made it through the whole thing.

Triggers apply for: vague incest stuff, sexual assault, statutory rape, drug use, death by overdose, suicidal ideations, self-harm.

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NEVER LET ME GO BY KAZUO ISHIGURO // 🌟🌟🌟 1/2

Never Let Me Go had been on my TBR for approximately 4459679456 years, and I finally got around to reading it – and I must say that I enjoyed it more than I thought it would. I couldn’t put it down; it was definitely a page-turner, and I enjoyed the personal way it was written. It felt like Kathy was sitting in front of me, telling me the story as it happened, rather than me reading it from the eyes of someone who lived it. I enjoyed the duplicity and multi-faceted personalities of the characters, and was invested in all their conflicts; however, for a large portion in the middle of the book during their time in the Cottage, I lost interest, and much of that interest never came back. Plus, the ending was super info-dumpey.

Triggers apply for: disturbing thematic content, grief, loss.

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Apart from reading, I watch Netflix and listen to music.

I’ve been re-watching The Office over the summer, and I’m almost done with Season 6 now; if you haven’t looked into watching it, I highly suggest you do. The first season is a little dull, but it gets incredibly funny during the second season. I’ve been meaning to watch a new TV show before the summer officially ends, so if you have any suggestions, let me know.

Also, Game of Thrones is back! I loved the first three episodes, even though parts of them felt very fan-fictiony. I’m just so stoked that these storylines are continuing, and I’m getting to see some of my favorite characters be bad-ass. Just crossing my fingers and hoping for George R. R. Martin to hurry up with the sixth book.

As for music, I’ve decided that instead of individually linking videos like I do every month, I would construct a playlist of what I’ve been listening to for the month. So here’s my Spotify list of great songs you should maybe (definitely) check out, including some pop, some rock, some electronic. All over the place, like it goes.


So that’s it for my July wrap-up. Let me know if you’ve read any of the books mentioned above, and if you did, what’d you think of them? I hope July was a wonderful month for y’all, and I hope August is even better. As always – thanks for stopping by, and happy reading!

#TheReadingQuest TBR

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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!

3 Reasons Why the Game of Thrones Books Are Better Than the Show

3 Reasons Why the Game of Thrones Books are Better than the Show

The best time of the year is approaching – what is Christmas? What is Halloween? The best time of the year is when people all over the world grab their popcorn, their beverages, turn out the lights and sit down in front of the television at 9 PM EST as the HBO screen flickers and the Game of Thrones title soundtrack rumbles from the speakers as a new season begins. Game of Thrones has become a global sensation – it repeatedly breaks its own viewership records in the United States, and it is the most pirated show globally as countries that have viewership restrictions scramble to third-party streaming sites and the dredges of the deep web to find pirating links for the show.

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And to think it all started with one man. One good-natured, short man with the beard of Santa Claus sitting behind an outdated computer, typing away on an outdated program, creating from nothing but his infinite creativity and imagination what has now become legendary. Like everything good in the world, Game of Thrones started with a book. And yet, the books have taken a backseat to the infamous show. Why sit through five humongous tomes in a series that puts out a new book at an average speed of once every five years? Why spend two weeks reading one installment when you can binge-watch all the seasons in a couple of weeks? Come on, you say, the show is pretty darn great in and of itself, so why should I read the books? It’s not worth the time and commitment.

Oh, but it is! A Song of Ice & Fire is, as the name asserts, a song. The lyricism of George R. R. Martin’s words is unparalleled, and no TV show, even if it is as fantastic as Game of Thrones, can match the genius of Martin’s words – there’s more to consume, more time to sit and absorb it all, and more to the world-building that you had ever thought possible. Because I was one of those people who didn’t want to read the books because the TV show existed, I have first-hand experience with why the books are formidable to so many. And as someone who had seen two seasons of the show prior to starting the series, I’m here to tell you that the books are worth it, and having seen the show first takes away nothing from them.

So without further ado, here are three reasons why A Song of Ice & Fire is worth it.

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1. The show leaves out pivotal plot points and world-building elements to make way for gratuitous content.

This is understandable for many reasons. The show is limited to 10 hours per season, give or take an hour, but there is a tremendous amount of story to be told in very little time. The first and second seasons do a brilliant job of respecting the source material; they’re basically identical to the books in terms of major character arcs. The third book, however, is jam-packed with excitement. So much happens in A Storm of Swords that the showrunners had to divide it into two separate seasons… and the fourth and fifth books were mushed into one season, which is why Season 5 was many people’s least favorite.

The world that George R. R. Martin constructed was always meant to be complex, and this complexity simply could not be achieved on-screen. Each chapter is bursting with fantastical history – from fables to songs to legends and myths. From unhinged rulers dethroned by rebels to a war that wiped out dragons. Religions, magic, customs, languages and cultures. Peoples with their distinctive dress and values, different governing and political systems within the world, food, weaponry… there is so much and the sky is the limit, and the show only portrays a tiny fraction of this content.

For one (and this is something I’m still bitter about), the books explore Dorne properly; the Sand Snakes in their infinite bad-assery are given full arcs. They serve purpose, while the show left their stories hanging. From complicated personalities with rich histories, their feminist existence in a patriarchal structure was reduced to three aggressive women who have cringe-worthy dialogue being bossed around, while none of their talent in the battlefield or their political strategizing is showcased. The Iron Islands were given proper exposure; you fully understand their system of governance and the way the Iron-born go about doing things. Again, these peoples were largely reduced to dull old men who do little past babbling about the sea.

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And, of course, the most unforgivable thing the show could have done was entirely eradicate Lady Stoneheart’s storyline. From here on until I say so, there will be spoilers, so be careful. Lady Stoneheart is the undead reincarnation of Catelyn Stark – zombified and terrifying with rotten skin and a scar marking where her throat was slit, Lady Stark is undead and has come back with a vengeance. She’s like the specter of death in the Riverlands, killing Freys left and right – killing anyone who has done her, or her family, wrong. Her plotline is so fascinating, and it opens up the magic system and the world to infinite potential, yet it was removed totally from the show. /end spoilers.

Now, I acknowledged that the show can’t possibly include all the complexities of the series, but do we really need hours of screen-time for gratuitous sex? The scene with Jaime Lannister and Cersei Lannister in the crypt (without giving anything away) was unnecessary. Putting Sansa through that one scene that caused outrage was unnecessary. Having multiple sex scenes in an episode is unnecessary, and though they couldn’t have included all these plotlines, they could have done the ones that they had included (and butchered) more justice, like Dorne, for example.

2. Martin doesn’t believe in dichotomies, and it’s much more difficult to root for any single character in the books, a case study in Tyrion Lannister.

George R. R. Martin once said that though he draws inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, there is a flaw in the idea that good and evil are such definitive concepts. All the good-looking people are the good guys, while all the unattractive archetypes are the evil ones. The elves with smooth skin and pretty features are the ones you root for, while orcs with their bulbous, discolored skin, razor-sharp teeth and dirt-speckled faces are clearly the bad guys. While the show clearly honors this non-dichotomous concept, what it fails to do is present the moral complexities of these characters within themselves.

Perhaps the best example that comes to mind here is Tyrion Lannister, who might be one of my favorite characters of all-time, simply because he’s brilliantly constructed. For show-watchers exclusively, this makes sense – he’s my favorite from the show too, but Peter Dinklage’s acting chops have more to do with that than the character himself. Tyrion Lannister in the show is a saint – it’s clear that you’re meant to be rooting for him. He’s the underdog in a family full of rotten people. He’s the good person who is fair even to those who are meant to be his family’s enemies. He’s just, he’s smart, and he’s immediately likable.

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But, oh boy, the Tyrion Lannister in the books is… someone different. He’s intelligent, sharp-witted and hilarious, much like he is on the show. He’s a lot like show!Tyrion in the first two books, but somewhere along the way, something happens and he becomes shrewd and twisted. His inner turmoil begins to squash out his good side and manifests into something horrible, and villain-like. He thinks vile thoughts, and he is very far from the saint Tyrion- but in a good way. He’s still my favorite character – not because I like him as a person, but because he’s so complicated and nuanced. It’s tremendously difficult to root for someone like that- someone who’s an anti-villain at this point, not even an anti-hero, but for some reason, you still want him to redeem himself. Because he was an underdog, and we hate good underdogs losing their way… but at this point, we don’t know what’s going to happen. And the uncertainty of human nature, the uncertainty of Martin’s characters is what makes his impossible fantasy series more realistic than the show.

3. Speaking of characters: what the hell did the show do to Jaime Lannister’s story arc?!

Perhaps it’s because the show simply doesn’t give you the amount of introspection and character development that a book can, but Jaime Lannister as he exists in the books as of now, and as he exists on the show, are completely different people. This isn’t about moral complexities like in the case of Tyrion, and it’s definitely not about one-dimensional characters because Jaime (even in the show) is far from that. It’s about his actual storyline with regards to Cersei. In the books, Jaime becomes aware of his relationship with Cersei and how manipulative she is. He makes an effort to, and succeeds in distancing himself from her fully. He undergoes a tremendous amount of development in more ways than one after he loses his hand. Jaime Lannister, in the books, has the best redemption arc I have ever read. Ever. Period.

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If you asked me back while I was watching Season 1 whether I would ever root for, or even come to like, the arrogant piece of crap who pushed a kid out of a window, I would laugh. But here we are. From this despicable, obnoxious human being, Martin transforms Jaime into someone you see learn from his past as he struggles with his duties and oaths, someone who’s determined to do right and change his ways, someone who you can sympathize withThe juxtaposition of Tyrion turning near-evil, and Jaime turning good is something that’s almost unthinkable considering how polar-opposite they both were, but it’s done incredibly well in the books. You may be asking me: what are you talking about? I’m rooting for show!Jaime too! Well, sure, but why?

Spoilers for the show, be careful! Why are you rooting for a dude who rapes his sister while his son’s dead body lies behind them? /end spoiler. Why are you rooting for someone who’s existence doesn’t extend past the whims of his sister? Why are you rooting for someone who is given worthless arc after worthless arc? You’re rooting for him because in the snap of two fingers, the showrunners tried to do in a few episodes what George has done over the course of five books – the end result is jarring, confusing and has little to no substance. You don’t have a reason why you’re rooting for show!Jaime… you just are because you’re supposed to. That’s a major, major flaw.

Honorable mention

The show becomes prey to tired clichés – spoilers for season 4 ahead. The most readily available example that comes to mind here is Ygritte’s death. In the show, her death is sensationalized – Jon sees her die, she dies in his arms, it’s all very sad because our hero lost the love of his life and she passed away in front of him. In the books, the grit and horrors of war are placed at the forefront, past the couple. He finds her dead on the battlefield… she might have died at his command, she might not have. But that’s that. That’s what happens in wars. You don’t get clichés, and that’s the poetry of it. /end spoilers.

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Let me clarify here that I am, in no way, ragging on the show. I love the show, which is why I call this time of the year the best time of the year. I love watching the actors perform with their stellar talent and hard-work. I love watching the costumes and the magic come to life on the screen. But if you were to ask me what I prefer? It would be the books. It would be the life work of an incredible mind whose work reflects human nature far better than the show ever will. The books are worth reading. They’re worth the commitment, and if you’re a big show fan and don’t want the show to end, maybe give the books a go when Season 8 ends. Because there’s a lot more to them that the show can’t, and will never, tell. Ultimately:

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Adult Books for YA Readers

Hello, everyone! Today I come to you with a different type of blog post. Since I’m the master procrastinator, I’m putting off the nine reviews that I have pending to post this. And that’s because I’ve noticed something about myself recently: whenever I’m in a reading rut, the only books that can get me moving are from the adult genre.

Now bear with me – this is not me saying that adult books are generally superior which is why they can get me out, and keep me out, of a slump but rather it’s me emphasizing the importance of reading at different wavelengths. YA books are so fun, for me. I love reading them; I love the tropes, I love the youthful feel of them, I love that there is a strong online community surrounding them, but sometimes, it’s good to change it up. It’s good to venture into the adult genre and read something that you wouldn’t usually pick up.

But, how to do that? Adult fiction is such a vast genre – where do you start? How do you even begin to look around the hundreds and thousands of books that are released every single month to find something that’ll fit with you. The genre can be intimidating; the scope is larger, the books are longer, and there just isn’t the community to help you launch into it and widen your scope.

Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m some established reader of the adult genre, but I do like to read at least a couple adult books every month. But I’d like to make this post anyway, to shed some light on books that you might be too intimidated to try, or books that you haven’t heard of because adult books simply don’t get the spotlight in your usual circle. These are books that will appeal to a large audience, which makes them really good “transition” reads, if you will.

Note: these are not all my favorite adult books – these are just books that I think are good transition books, and have a wide age appeal.

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I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

S C I E N C E  F I C T I O N

D A R K  M A T T E R  B Y  B L A K E  C R O U C H

post insertS Y N O P S I S – Dark Matter follows the story of Jason, a physicist living a content life; he made some difficult decisions in the past, choosing to give up a large portion of his ambition and career to make way for a healthy family, but he is happy now. When Jason leaves his house one night, a man in a mask abducts him, asks Jason if he’s happy with his life before knocking him out cold. When he wakes up, Jason finds himself in an unfamiliar room surrounded by people in hazmat suits- all strangers, yet they seem to know him. Soon enough, Jason realizes that he hasn’t woken up in a different area. He has woken up in an entirely different world, a world where he hadn’t abandoned his career. A world where his wife is not his wife anymore, where his son does not exist, and a certain group of people are adamant on extracting information from him that he doesn’t even know…

This is a fairly recent adult read for me, but it was one that I fell in love with. It was near the top of my best books of 2016 list, because even after I finished it, I could not stop thinking about it. From the fast-paced, easy-to-follow writing style to the deeply sympathetic characters, to the sheer mind-fuckery of the plot (without it being too science-y either, so you could follow along pretty easily). Despite it exploring themes relating to infinity and parallel universes, it’s really a deeply moving love story at its core – about one man’s love for his wife and son, and the fact that he would do anything to find his way back to them, even if that means making impossibly difficult choices. I think it’s such a fun, fast-paced, enjoyable read that moves a lot like a movie in front of your eyes, and it just takes the science fiction genre to incredible new heights. If it helps, it was optioned for adaptation before it was released!

It’s quite perfect for fans of Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman, A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Grey, and anyone who loves Interstellar, Inception and Doctor Who.

I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

H I G H  S C H O O L  T H R I L L E R S

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

post insert LEFTS Y N O P S I S – Hattie Hoffman is a senior in high school, and she’s admired by many – she has a stable boyfriend, lovely parents, and a dazzling personality that everyone is charmed by. But Hattie has a secret; she was involved in an online relationship with a man that was the only person Hattie related to in her small-town life, surrounded by people who have different ambitions. She’s an actor, and she’s spent her entire life playing parts, both on the stage and in her relationships, but with this one person, she can be herself. But before she can achieve her dream of moving to New York and becoming an actress, her body is found floating in the river, brutally stabbed. During the investigation, the town’s secrets begin to emerge.

This is another book that I read very recently, and I’m so glad that I requested it off Netgalley because I never would have read it otherwise. This, to me, is a perfect transition book because it rests precariously between the two genres’ target ages. The main character, Hattie (despite being dead) is a senior in high school, and a lot of the themes and characters are about coming-of-age, finding yourself in a cruel environment, etcetera. But it does feature a relationship between her and her English teacher, dealt with in an extremely sensitive and honest way without any glamorization or justification, which I really appreciated. I say it’s the perfect balance because the other main character is the teacher in question, and his perspective deals with the very adult themes of a broken marriage, a midlife crisis, etcetera. They come together brilliantly to form a dynamic, engaging, un-putdownable read.

This book is perfect if you enjoyed We Were Liars by E. Lockhart; Wink Poppy Midnight by Genevieve Tcholke; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and if you watch Riverdale (I haven’t seen this but feel it’s of a similar nature), and Pretty Little Liars.

I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

P S Y C H O L O G I C A L  D R A M A S

T H E  S E C R E T  H I S T O R Y  B Y  D O N N A  T A R T T

the secret historyI’m not going to write a synopsis for this because it’s a book that I believe should be gone into blind. It’s my favorite book of all-time, and if you know me, you’d know that I don’t say that lightly because I’m a tough critic and a tough rater. But I read this four years ago, and trust me when I say that I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. There’s just something about Donna Tartt’s writing that draws you in so completely and gets you lost in the words and pages. Each character is tremendously developed, despite them all being anti-heroes and really despicable people.

I know for a fact that this is a double-edged sword, because all the characters are college students. The setting is a Midwestern college campus with looming forests, romantic dormitories, etcetera, and if that appeals to you at all, you would really enjoy it. But it’s more sinister than any college novel you’ve ever read. It’s kind of a mystery in reverse – you know a murder happens, you know who does it, and you know who dies, but you don’t know why. There’s a special kind of intrigue about the fact that it’s a whydunnit rather than a whodunnit, and Donna Tartt executes it so perfectly. There is just the right amount of action and tension leading up to the murder, and the psychological aftermath after that is delicious in and of itself. There’s some talk about classics and cult-like things as well, and lots of secrets that come out like bombshells, and I honestly just cannot recommend this book enough.

This would be a perfect fit for you if you enjoy psychological thrillers and dramas – if you enjoyed Vicious by V.E. Schwab and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (for its characterization), you might love this too. I’ve also said this time and time again, but I low-key think that The Raven Cycle is a rip-off of this book; the characters, the atmosphere, and even the setting is very similar.

I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

H I S T O R I C A L  F I C T I O N

A L L  T H E  L I G H T  W E  C A N N O T  S E E  B Y  A N T H O N Y  D O E R R

all the lightS Y N O P S I S – Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and at twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s great-uncle lives. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

I read this book a while ago, but I remember that I was astounded by its simple yet beautiful prose, its deeply moving characterization, and the fast-pace of it despite it being a rather lengthy book. This, quite like Everything You Want Me to Be is a really great transition book because both characters are young teens, leading extremely difficult lives in increasingly tumultuous times. I also really love that All the Light We Cannot See strays far from the Jewish-Nazi romance, which I think is just a really disgusting trope – it focuses on the independent lives of a German boy and a French girl without falling into overused, tired, offensive tropes. It’s deeply impactful, and I’d highly recommend it – don’t be daunted by the size; you’ll fly through it!

This is perfect for fans of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, of course. I don’t have very many other recommendations or comparisons because historical fiction isn’t really a genre I usually reach out for.

I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

 H A R D  H I T T I N G  C O N T E M P O R A R I E S

N I N E T E E N  M I N U T E S  B Y  J O D I  P I C O U L T

19 minsS Y N O P S I S – Sterling is an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens–until the day its complacency is shattered by an act of violence. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge sitting on the case, should be the state’s best witness, but she can’t remember what happened before her very own eyes- or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show–destroying the closest of friendships and families.

The synopsis found on Goodreads skirts around the issue – it’s about a school shooting. But it’s not just about a school shooting, it’s about the aftermath, the legal side of it as well as the emotional side of it. I read it a while ago, but if I recall correctly, it focuses on several different perspectives, including the perspective of an ex-friend of the killer who witnessed the shooting, the prosecutor (who is also the mother of this ex-friend), the mother of the shooter, and several others. There’s always the precarious question of why this happened, could it have been prevented, and how do people move on from it? I especially appreciated that Picoult included the shooter’s mother’s perspective – it just adds yet another layer to an already impactful, moving novel.

If you’ve read The Hate List by Jennifer Brown (another book I’d highly recommend, and it’s YA), Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and enjoyed watching One Tree Hill, you may really enjoy this book too.

I F  Y O U  E N J O Y

 H I G H  F A N T A S Y

T H E  N A M E  O F  T H E  W I N D  B Y  P A T R I C K  R O T H F U S S

name of the windS Y N O P S I S – This is the tale of a magically gifted young man named Kvothe who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. It follows the intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king. From magic schools to dimly-lit taverns, The Name of the Wind is richly woven, creative and unputdownable.

If you’ve been around for a bit, you’ve probably heard of this book, and rightly so. Despite having not read its sequel (I’m still waiting on the third installment so I can finally binge), but The Name of the Wind is one of those fantasies that you need to read. The main character is endlessly fascinating – his life story, his current persona, everything about him screams bad-ass, and I love reading stories with bad-ass main characters. It involves magic schools and classes and a really sweet romance in the teen years, which makes it yet another great transition read because it focuses on themes of growing up and coming-of-age. It’s just a fantastic read, all-in-all, and I’d highly recommend it as a stepping stone if you’re interested in getting into adult high fantasy.

This is perfect if you enjoy Game of Thrones, if you’ve read and loved The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, and even though it has very little similarities, and is just infinitely better, infinitely more intricate than Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, something tells me you’d enjoy it if you enjoy that series.

So there it is – if you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment below, and I might make this a series. There are so many other fantastic adult books out there that have double-appeal, and I cannot stress enough the importance of reading a wide variety of books, so I’d love to make more posts like this. Until then, thanks for stopping by, and happy 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!

R E A D I N G  W R A P – U 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 É E  A H D I E H  |  ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

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!

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.

♡ 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.

♡ 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.

A M A Z O N

♡ 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.

♡ Piecing Me Together by Renée 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.

♡ 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.

♡ 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.

♡ 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. ♡ 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 – and 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.

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G O O D R E A D S  |  A M A Z O N

 

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