Diversity Spotlight Thursday | #17

DIVERSE SPOTLIGHT


Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme created by Aimal! Every week, you come up with one book in each of three different categories: a diverse book you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and one that has not yet been released. You can check out the announcement post for more information.

Guys, I’m so excited to be taking part in my first Diversity Spotlight Thursday. I think this feature is a fantastic idea. It allows us to share our love for a book we’ve already read & then we also get to talk about books we want to get all grabby hands over. I’m just thrilled to share more diverse books! Let’s do this! 🙂


READ

30269126Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza 

This was a semi recent read for me and oh my goodness, I absolutely loved it. I actually have a review of it on the other blog I co-blog at, Novel Ink, that you all can check out here. I’m in a huge reading slump and this book really helped me start to get out of it so heck yes to that. This is a SFF that will have you intrigued from beginning to end. The plot was somewhat predictable but I was still 100% into the story. Not only did I love the whole storyline, but I adored each character. The characters were so wonderful and I really connected with them which was fabulous. You really just feel apart of the world when your’e reading Empress of a Thousand Skies. 


Goodreads | Amazon

 

tbr

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria iron cast

This book. I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up yet because I have heard so many rave reviews. Okay, I lied, I know why I haven’t picked it up yet. I’m not into historical fiction that much, but I think this one will blow me away and put my dislike towards the genre in the dust. I just keep hearing about how every aspect of this book keeps you intrigued. The only thing that I have heard bad about this book is the first 50 pages are a bit slow, but then it just takes off and has blown it’s readers away. Really, guys, I’m super excited to read this book and I have it from the library right now so I’d say…keep an eye out for my review in the near future! 😉

 


Goodreads | Amazon

coming soon

3101957110 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

Think positive.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Keep calm and carry on.

Maeve has heard it all before. She’s been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom—the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through—is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver.

Vancouver brings a slew of new worries, but Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, her very pregnant stepmom insisting on a home birth, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. Will she be able to navigate through all the chaos to be there for the people she loves?

This book sounds wonderful and I don’t know why it wasn’t on my TBR (*hint* it is now). I feel like the topic that it covers will reach out to many people, if done well, and I think that is much needed. Keep your eyes peeled for 10 Things I Can See From Here.

THIS NOVEL RELEASES ON FEBRUARY 28, 2017

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

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera


Goodreads | Amazon

I received a free advanced edition of this book in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, impacts my perception or review of this work. Thanks so much to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy for review.

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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.

The Education of Margot Sanchez releases on February 21st, 2017

3-stars


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Introducing My Co-Blogger: Erica!

introducing-erica

Hello, hello, hello! So a few days ago, I told you guys that I’d be introducing a co-blogger to my website, and the moment has come! I’m so excited for you guys to get acquainted with Erica! I haven’t known her for long, but that’s insignificant because for the little while that I have known her, I’ve learned that she’s kind and smart and just super wonderful in general. I’m so glad to have her a part of my blog- not only because it’ll allow me some relief from the stresses of maintaining a blog, but because I know she’ll do whatever she does justice. So, without further ado, here’s Erica (with commentary from yours truly :P)

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The moment you all have been waiting for… here comes Aimal’s new co-blogger, ME. Okay, totally kidding, you guys probably are like who does this girl think she is? I’m just excited. I am so thrilled to be a part of Aimal’s blog and to branch out and start something new. I am so thankful for Aimal. She brought up this whole co-blogger thing when her and I were just chatting & I brought up that, hey, maybe I could be that person & here we are. She was so welcoming (even though I threw myself at her) (you didn’t throw yourself at me, I was practically begging you for it to happen). I mean you guys all know how awesome she is, so there’s no doubting that at all (aw, shucks).

Anyway, back to the question of, ‘who does this girl think she is?’ Well, to answer that I’ll be rambling. But, rambling is totally my forte (relatable, am I right?) so when you come and read a post that I have written, beware of the ramble. Whether it’s a discussion post or review…I never seem to get cohesive thoughts so it may be jumbled, but you all will totally understand what I’m trying to get out there.

ramble

So, I’m 22 years young and I’m really just out finding myself in this crazy world. I have been on this world for 22 years and still have no clue who I am. It’s tough from time to time, but I’m really enjoying the ride. I’m originally from Ohio where I lived there most of my life up until I turned 22 (lmao). I moved away last August due to some family issues and now I live in Georgia with my mom and my step-dad (there are also two fur babies, Troy [whom is legit my fur baby] and Reese [I’m her aunt] (we all need some photos some time in the future, yeah?) Ever since I moved down here I have done nothing. It’s really sad, but again, trying to find my way.

I’ll be going back to school shortly, whether it be online or not, I’m excited for college. I went for three years and was working towards my BA in Accounting. I love math more than anything, but accounting just doesn’t seem like the right fit for me. I love math, but I also love design. I have an eye for things and really want to work with that. So, I’ve been thinking about going back to school for either graphic design, interior design, culinary arts (baking), or (the odd man out) chemical engineering. Again, I’m a mess and just can’t decide. I hate the fact that I may have wasted three years on a degree I’ll never end up earning, (all experience is great experience; you got this!) but I really want to do what’s best for me and I think the other degrees I mentioned are just that.

I also need to work on finding a job. It’s tough because I have a nephew who will be moving in with us soon and my parents want me staying home to watch him since they both work. But, they also want me finding a job. Finding an online job when I have no experience is really tough, but I’ve been trying. I have had quite a few business ideas running through my mind so we’ll see if they take me anywhere. Okay, enough about the personal crap, let’s talk about books and Netflix because those are my life. (Literally same.)

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I love to read, though ever since I started blogging I feel like I haven’t been reading as much. I used to be obsessed with contemporaries, but have now found out that my favorite genre is definitely fantasy. (MINE TOO.) I love being able to fall into a new world and just forgetting about everything else. It’s relaxing and I’m so glad I found more books in the genre to really pull me in. The first books I read were in the Clique Series, which I love so much. I will re-read them someday. I want to see how I think about them now that I am totally out of the age range. But, the books that really got me into reading, full-forced, are The Hunger Games books. This trilogy made me want to blog, along with TFIOS (See, IDK why people think liking TFIOS is some kinda taboo; that book is my shit so YAY for someone else who loves it too). I have to thank my best friend for gifting me TFIOS. If it weren’t for him giving me the book I would be somewhere else. I know for a fact I wouldn’t be typing this right now. So a shout-out to him for that.

Books aren’t my only love, but I love watching my TV series. I get hooked on a lot of competiton shows (like, Project Runway and ANTM). Other tv series I love are One Tree Hill, Grey’s Anatomy, The 100, Supernatural, and Pretty Little Liars. If you don’t find me reading or watching my shows I will be baking (and eating the sweets) or fawning over either Zayn (*hyperventilates just by reading Zayn’s name*), Bellamy Blake or Killian Jones. Ah, I’m super excited for this all, guys!

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I’m just a laid-back, shy girl who wants to do better in this world. I’m excited for this next step and just cannot thank Aimal enough for allowing me on her team. If you guys have any more questions for me, let me know in the comments (: or you can chat me up on Twitter!

A List of Cages: gripping and deeply moving

A List of Cages by Robin Roe


Goodreads | Amazon

I received a free advanced edition of this book in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, has influenced my perception and review of the book.

25613472In his senior year of high school, Adam Blake becomes an aide to the school psychologist to fulfill an elective. When she gives him the task of bringing to her the elusive freshman who keeps dodging their sessions every chance he gets, Adam comes face-to-face with Julian- his foster brother he hasn’t seen in over four years. Adam’s excited to be reunited with his once-brother, but Julian’s changed since the time they lived together; he’s quieter, he’s secretive and he scuttles off to God knows where every lunch period. Little does Adam know that Julian’s life at home with his uncle is tumultuous to say the least, and when Adam and Julian’s world collides, danger looms.

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

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

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

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

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


Trigger Warning for chronic child abuse.

4-stars


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

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos


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I received an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, has affected my rating or thoughts.

30039049When Jared Stone is diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme cancer and given a few months to live, he finds himself in a predicament. He’s not scared that he’s going to die, but he’s scared that he’ll leave behind a wife and two daughters with very little financial security. When he comes up with the ingenious plan to auction his life on eBay, giving people who bid at least $100,000 the opportunity to do whatever the hell they want with him, people start paying attention to him. From a nun who thinks Jared Stone is doing the devil’s work by bidding away the precious sanctity of life, to a wealthy psychopath who conjures up a plan to do horrible things to him, to a reality TV producer who would do anything to make Jared Stone’s family the stars of a new show. When the producer manages to get in touch with Jared, the Stones’ meager few months with Jared are infiltrated by camera crew, script-writers and the entire world.

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

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

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

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


3-5-stars


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Not If I See You First: couldn’t put it down.

Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom


Goodreads | Amazon

22701879Parker lost her sight in a car accident that killed her mother when she was young. Since then, her father was her everything. They had a close-knit relationship, and he was her best friend. But three months before the novel takes place, Parker’s dad died of an overdose on anti-depressants. She had no idea he was even on them. Now living in her dad’s house with her aunt and her aunt’s family, Parker hasn’t cried ever since the day he died. Not even once. And Parker shrouds herself in a thick armor. She doesn’t need vision to see through your bullshit; she has a list of rules that you cannot break. Fool her once, and you won’t get a second chance. She’s created a balance for herself, but that balance is thrown off kilter when Scott Kilpatrick – her bestfriend turned boyfriend when she was thirteen – shows up at her high school.

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

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

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

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

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


4-stars


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Every Heart a Doorway: can’t help but sense wasted potential

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire


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25526296Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is closed off from the outside world- no solicitations, no guests, no visitors. The children inside aren’t ordinary; their experiences wouldn’t be called normal. All over the world, children disappear through cracks of the world. They walk into mirrors, disappear in bodies of water, crawl into the shadows, transporting from our world to somewhere else. The world they go to is a world that seems to be made specifically for them; these kids feel like they belong. But magical worlds don’t give outsider children permanent residence. When they’re kicked out, back in their old lives, Eleanor West takes them in, determined to get them back on their feet so they can cope with their carnal desire to return. Very few, if any, return. Nancy is one of these kids. When Nancy encounters a tragedy at the Home, people begin to suspect her – things were going fine before she arrived. To clear her name and figure out what’s happening, Nancy sets out to uncover the truth.

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

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

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

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

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


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The Hate U Give: this book will change the YA game. Mark my words.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (ARC Review)


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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, has influenced my opinion of the book.

32075671The Hate U Give follows the story of Starr, a sixteen year-old girl who’s basically living two separate lives in two different worlds. She lives in an impoverished, crime-ridden community where she grew up, where her father works, where most of her memories are. At the same time, she attends a super posh high school that’s majority white and upper-class. Starr’s created a dynamic that lets her exist in both environments, a precarious, uneasy balance that never really lets her be entirely herself in either place. But everything changes when her childhood friend, Khalil, is killed by a police officer one night. Khalil was unarmed, and he did nothing wrong- and he took his last breath while Starr kneeled over his body.

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

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

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

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


thug-4-5-stars


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Wrap Up | January ’17

january

Salaam! I’ve started to think that I should just stop apologizing for disappearing for weeks on end because I feel guilty, and then I end up making promises I can never keep, and it becomes a vicious cycle. So, no more apologies. Just that school started, and it’s already kicking my ass. Also, my laptop broke down- I have no clue what happened. One day, it just up and decided to become stupid, and I couldn’t use it for about a week and a half. That happened. But I got it back this afternoon, so I thought I’d start off by doing a much-needed January wrap-up.

Even though I wasn’t blogging much, January was a pretty decent reading month for me. I read a total of 8 books, which is good since I wasn’t reading anything at all the past couple of months. Quality-wise, you probably know how I am by now… it goes up and down. For the most part, the books I read ranged from good to pretty good, and that’s honestly all I can ask, ha. I did read something awful though, but more on that later.


Personal


So… guess who I met? If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you might be unaware of this but I met Zayn a week or so ago. I love him to death- I think he’s both an incredible artist and an incredible human being. I was never a One Direction fan, but I distinctly remember thinking that Zayn was super attractive and had a unique voice; when he went solo, I really began to pay attention to him. Almost a year after his album release, I still listen to his songs almost every single day. I’ve binge-watched interviews and videos and stalked his social media, and he’s such a humble, grounded, adorable person.

Meeting him was incredible. He was so gracious and lovely; when I was taking a photo with him, my hand was shaking out of nerves so he reached out and steadied my phone. He was so kind to all his fans… and just in case you’re wondering, yes, he’s just as attractive in real life. 🙂

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I also saw one of my favorite bands live! I’ve seen Kings of Leon live once before back in 2014, and they’re so incredible that I couldn’t possibly miss their 2017 tour. Protip: there are two things you need to do in your life:

  1. See a rock concert in Madison Square Garden
  2. See Kings of Leon on tour

I won’t pretend like I’ve seen a ton of concerts, but I’ve been to a few big rock ones, and there’s something that sets Kings of Leon apart from the rest. They make sure their fans get their money’s worth of performances. They performed 28 songs. One after the other with minimal pauses in between- so energizing, so rapid-fire but so, so good. If you like even just a couple of their songs, I’d highly recommend seeing them live. Despite not being my favorite band of all-time (that crown goes to Linkin Park) I still prefer their concerts over anybody else’s.


On Choosing a Different Path for Myself


Some of you might know this already, but I’m studying Applied Psychology at NYU. I just started the second semester of my junior year, which means I’ll be graduating in just over a year- which is insane just to think about. But I’ve decided that I want to switch…

Well, not really “switch” per se, but do something more advanced. Which is medicine! Surprise, surprise. When I went to Los Angeles over the winter break, I had a talk with a couple of my relatives, both of whom are psychiatrists. By talking to them and their constant affirmations that I was born to go into medicine, I started thinking. What do I want from my life? What do I want out of my career? And you might judge me for this, and I know this is probably why I’ve been sorted into Slytherin my entire life- I want to be successful. I want to be rich, lol, and I want to work for the money I earn. I want to travel. I want a good house, and a nice car. I want to be able to give my parents the chance to retire and sit back and relax while I am able to fulfill their needs. I want to buy stuff without looking at the price-tag, and I want to be able to give to causes that I support without compromising my day-to-day actions for lack of finances.

But that’s not just it. I wanted to become a psychologist so I could help South Asian youth who suffer from mental illnesses and are stigmatized and dehumanized. And I can do that. I can do that if I become a psychiatrist. I can do something good all while making a decent life for myself and my family. It’s going to take many extra years, particularly because I’ll have to take an extra year after my undergraduate to fulfill my pre-med requirements. But that’s a cost I’m willing to pay, you know? It was a scary decision to make. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I’m still not sure I have the brains to get into med school, but you know. I’ll go down with everything I’ve got. It’s honestly a little terrifying, but I’ve enrolled for the first class that’ll help me get there, and I’m ready.

But that’s all I’m going to ramble about. You came here for a reading wrap-up, so here it is!


Reading Wrap-Up


everythingEverything Everything by Nicola Yoon | 1.5 stars | Review

This rating may come as a surprise to many, but I really disliked this book – not because the technical aspects were bad, but because the themes were so offensive that it didn’t sit well with me. I was enjoying it at first; the fun additions of notes and charts and illustrations added character, and I was interested in the character’s experience with her disability. But then the love interest was introduced, which made the book extremely insta-lovey, and that was also when the ableist themes came into play. This book was one big message of: you can’t be happy and you can’t have a normal love-life if you have a disability. Which is wrong on so many levels and completely downplays the experiences of so many. I explain it better in my review, so if you’re interested in learning more, check that out!


Goodreads | Amazon

If I Was Your GirlIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo | 3.5 stars | Review

I had high hopes for this book, and for the most part, it did not disappoint. The main character was immediately likable, and you fully empathized with her desire to move on from a traumatic event and to fit in with a new group of people. My favorite aspect of the book was definitely her topsy-turvy relationship with her father; the nuance and complexity of their dynamic definitely added an extra layer to the otherwise happy book. I also thought that the romance was incredibly cute, even though I thought it was a little insta-lovey. Also, let’s talk about how little attention is given to great female friendships in YA- if you’re looking for a good female-friendship dynamic, check this book out. Trigger warning for transphobia, depression, suicide attempt and outing.


Goodreads | Amazon

25526296Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire | 2.5 stars

I had very mixed feelings about this book; on one hand, I thought the world-building was incredible. Or rather, the potential for the world-building was incredible. Conceptually, the book was so strong, but I felt that a lot of the potential was wasted in execution. A ton of the world-building happens through dialogue rather than actual action. Which really bummed me out and kept me from enjoying the book. The characters fell flat for me too. I did, however, really enjoy the balance between whimsy and dark; I thought the plot was brilliant, and had it been carried out better, it would’ve definitely gotten a higher rating from me. Look out for my full review!


Goodreads | Amazon

22701879Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom | 4 stars

This was perhaps my favorite book of the month, which was a surprise because I didn’t know what to expect when I went into it. I’ve only ever read one other book with a blind protagonist, and this one was completely different in tone from that one. I was wary at first because the protagonist is so bitter and mean and sarcastic, and I approached it with caution because it seemed to give off the vibe that she was that way because she lost her sight. But as the story progressed, as the main character developed and grew through relationships and interactions with the people around her, as she learned more about her past and her life and came to terms with her vulnerabilities, the beauty of the book came to light. It was truly a beautiful book, and another one with really amazing female friendships. Definitely a must-read! And look out for my review!


Goodreads | Amazon

The Young Elites & The Rose Society by Marie Lu | 3.5 stars each

So, I know I’m late to the game, and I know everyone and their mother loves this series- and I understand why. Even though I didn’t give either book a great rating, I really enjoyed them both and am definitely looking forward to the finale. I think what makes this series stand out so starkly amongst its peers is the fact that it’s basically a villain’s coming-to-power story and then I’m guessing her subsequent downfall. I love the complexity of Adelina’s character; I enjoy how you empathize with her but also constantly criticize her choices because she’s going too far. I love the world-building, and the writing’s solid. I sometimes feel that the secondary characters feel flat, and also that Adelina’s still too likable to be called a villain. I want to see her pushed further so I can fully give her the label of villain, because I don’t think she’s there yet. Which was my main gripe with the second book. I won’t be doing an individual review for each book, but I’ll do a joint review for the trilogy!


Goodreads | Amazon

30076808The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace (ARC) | 3.5 stars

I don’t read a ton of poetry, but I picked this one up because I’m mutuals with the author on Twitter, and it won an award, and it’s been getting a ton of hype. It’s basically word porn. I think a lot of the poems in this are incredibly relatable; it covers topics like mental health, body image, family dynamics, loss and death, abusive relationships, moving on, self-love, feminism and strength. A lot of the values I hold myself were reflected in this, and Lovelace definitely has a way with weaving words together so that they say a lot in very few characters. I enjoyed the first two parts of the book much, much more than the last one- which I felt was a little dragged and didn’t fit in with the tone of the other parts. But if you’re looking to get into poetry and aren’t sure where to start, check this out.


Goodreads | Amazon

30039049Life in a Fishbowl (ARC) by Len Vlahos | 3 stars

Okay, so let me preface this by saying that the premise of this book is very misleading. The reality television aspect of it doesn’t come into play until well past the 30 or 40% mark- and believe it or not, I was really, really enjoying the book before the TV part was introduced. Definitely the strongest feature of the book is the writing. Vlahos is incredibly gifted; he’s clearly honed and polished his voice to perfection. It’s snarky, it’s intelligent, it’s satirical and hilarious and also surprisingly simple. Just reading his words made the experience delightful. His decision to tell the story from approximately eight perspectives was a gutsy move, but he pulled it off. The relationships, the themes were all spot on. It’s just that the storyline began to drag after the 60% mark, and the characters didn’t undergo any development, which I would have really liked to see. Even so, this was such a fun, fast-paced book, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Full review to come!


Goodreads | Amazon

Blogging


So, I’ve talked a little already about how I basically failed at blogging this month- I’ve never been so far behind my reviews. Because blogging sucked so much, I’m not going to do a post-to-post wrap-up like I usually do. But I’ll just leave a link to the Diversity Bingo 2017 event that I, and a few other friends are hosting. It’s basically a year-long reading event where you need to read 36 books that fit into a bingo sheet, each fulfilling a facet of diversity. You can find more information (and my TBR) here.

I also compiled a list of the diverse books releasing between January and June of this year. I know that I could have really used a masterlist, and in compiling it, I introduced myself to so many awesome-sounding books. If you’d like to check it out (and share, if you can please!), you can do so right over here.

The last post I’ll feature is my top 10 books of 2016. If you’re interested in seeing what the standouts of last year were, you can check them out here.

Also, I’m making a massive change to the blog- something that I think is important for my sanity, ha. I’m getting a co-blogger! I’ve already spoken to someone about it; she’s a friend that I got to know over Twitter. She’s incredible- kind, open-minded, thoughtful and just super wonderful in general. I’m not going to announce who exactly it is just yet- we’ll do that together when she writes her introduction post and she can officially be integrated into the website. Which also means that a URL change is in order. I can’t have a co-blogger and keep it my name. I’ll purchase the bookshelvesandpaperbacks.com domain soon, so just a heads up!


What I’ve Been Watching and Listening To


So, y’all probably know by now that A Series of Unfortunate Events was released on Netflix, which I binge-watched and freaked out over. The books were such an integral part of my childhood, and it felt so wonderful to revisit the characters and the story. The show stays so true to the books- from the narration to the sets to the whimsical, weird, magical-realism-type tone, everything feels like home. The casting is spot-on. I love Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, and it took me some time to warm up to the children, but I love them all dearly now. Go check the trailer out:

As for music, I’m going to be fully basic and just talk about Zayn a lot more, ha. I barely listened to anything except for his new track with Taylor Swift. I really don’t like her, guys. The fact that the song is the soundtrack for Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t help, but come on, it’s Zayn. I had to give it a try- and I haven’t stopped listening to it since. I’ve often wanted a version where it was just him singing, and guess what- yesterday, he dropped an acoustic version where it’s just him and a guitar. It’s honestly heaven-sent, and even though it was released in February, I couldn’t go without including it here. Check it out- it almost seems like a completely different song, and I haven’t listened to the original since!


So that’s it for last month’s wrap-up. I know, I had a lot to talk about- it was a busy month and a lot was happening in life. Kudos to you if you made it this far into the post. Let me know in the comments below what your month was like? As always, thanks for stopping by and happy reading!

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday | #16

DIVERSE SPOTLIGHT


Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by yours truly. Every week, you come up with one book in each of three different categories: a diverse book you have read and enjoyed, a diverse book on your TBR, and one that has not yet been released. You can check out the announcement post for more information.

Hello, everyone! So, I know I’ve been neglecting this weekly feature for the past few weeks, and I’m really sorry about that, but there were several reasons. 1) I was on vacation in Los Angeles, and was so stupidly busy with family, which meant that 2) I wasn’t keeping up with book news, or reading. Which means that 3) I wasn’t reading nearly as much as I would have liked, and so I was lacking on recommendations for this post in general.

Now that I’m back home and am slowly getting back into the swing of things, I’m reading more and have been keeping an eye out for new releases. Hopefully I’ll be more regular now. 🙂


READ

25526296Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This was a fairly recent read for me- I read it for one of the squares in the Diversity Bingo 2017 bingo sheet. I’ve only ever read one other book revolving around an asexual character, which was why this one immediately caught my eye. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was expecting when I went into it, but it certainly wasn’t what I got. Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s a strange mix of fantasy and magical realism, where teenagers who don’t feel like they fit in their mundane lives find doors or portals to worlds where they feel like they belong. Our main character is one such person who was taken to an underworld of sorts- but she was removed from her world and thrown back into our world. She’s sent to a school where teens who have gone through a similar process are trying to recuperate and get over their worlds.

The book definitely took a twist for the better; from a whimsical, magical read, it turned into a grotesque, dark read that never really left its whimsical tone. I flew through it – I’m pretty sure I read it in one day because I couldn’t put it down. It was far from perfect, but it’s one that I’d recommend to anyone looking for an interesting, fast-paced read. Also, there’s a trans side character!


Goodreads | Amazon

tbr

28763485The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

If you’ve keeping up with my seldomly-updated blog (honestly, props to you), you might know that I recently read Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon. And I had very many problems; I don’t usually say I despise books, but Everything, Everything holds a special place in my “highly disliked books” list. It wasn’t because it was boring or badly written, or some problem or another with the characters; I just had many, many issues with the disability representation in the novel. If you’d like to read my review, you can find it here.

However, I’d still like to give Nicola Yoon a second chance- especially because I’ve heard that her new book is a massive improvement even from people that were hurt by the first one. The premise sounds interesting though it’s raised some red flags for insta-love. A girl, on the verge of being deported with her family to Jamaica, falls in love with Daniel- who’s a straight-cut teen who doesn’t believe in fate, whose plan didn’t include this. Insta-love is a hard sell for me, but from the reviews I’ve seen, this book apparently pulls it off. And I’m looking forward to digging in.


Goodreads | Amazon

coming soon

32075671The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has been making all the rounds recently, and with good reason. I was lucky enough to score an ARC of this late in November, and I started reading it almost immediately. It honestly blew me away. I’m always wary of books that have hype surrounding them, and this was #1 on the hype train for me, but Angie Thomas proved to be such a wonderful, poignant, empathetic writer. Her characters felt like real people; I grew so fond of the main character and her struggles, her relationships with her family, boyfriend and friends. I was hooked from start to finish, and it was a near-perfect book.

I’ve often said, with regards to this particular novel, that it’s going to be a game-changer. My feelings about that haven’t changed even two months after I turned the last page; this book is going to change the YA game, I can feel it. It covers so many important issues, like race relations in the United States, microaggressions in day-to-day life, socioeconomic status, racial profiling, police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, cultural appropriation, the role of media and social media networks in crime. The scope of issues this novel covers is far and wide, and each of these issues is done justice. It’s truly a beautiful read and if you haven’t pre-ordered it or added it to your TBR, what are you doing?

 This novel releases on February 28th, 2017

Goodreads | Amazon

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