When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: YA Contemporary

I dip into contemporary YA only on occasion, and YA rom-com even less. So there has to be a really unique take on the genre to grab my interest. This one has been making the rounds in the blogosphere for months, and it definitely caught my eye when I first heard about it earlier this year. It turned out to be a fantastic pick to bring along on my June vacation!

Told from two different perspectives, When Dimple Met Rishi follows two Indian-American teenagers during their summer break after graduating from high school. Dimple is ready for a break from her family, and can’t believe it when they give her permission to attend an expensive summer program for aspiring app developers. Little does she know, it is all part of her family’s plan to introduce her to Rishi…the young man her parents have secretly arranged to be her future spouse.

Rishi is, almost refreshingly, a hopeless romantic. He knows all about the arrangement between the two sets of parents, and attends the same summer program as Dimple in the hopes of getting to know her.

Little does he know that Dimple has been left in the dark as to who he is or what has been arranged, and deservedly freaks out when he first introduces himself.

What follows is a cute romantic comedy, with two really fun and enjoyable characters. It is made even better because by branching out from just being a love story, as it also brings up questions of culture and tradition, family relationships, and coming of age independence.

When Dimple Met Rishi tackles a controversial tradition, that of arranged marriages. I believe this is the first book I have ever read that doesn’t treat arranged marriage solely in a negative light. I have enough Indian friends who are in some form of arranged marriage to know that, although there are many bad arranged marriages out there in which girls were forced into the arrangement and/or treated terribly, there are many good ones as well. It is a complex issue, and while I can’t speak to the cultural accuracy in the story, it appears to be very well done.

The other thing this book did was Make.Me.Hungry!!! When I lived in New Jersey, our apartment was in a predominantly Indian and Pakistani neighborhood, and we had 3 different types of Indian restaurants and a grocer just within a 1/2 mile walking distance. Oh, how I miss that! Khatta Meetha! Nom-nom-nom.

Speaking of food, there is an amazing bar mentioned in the story, 2 sisters bar and books. A bar with tons of books to browse while you sip, and Sandhya Menon makes it sound like an adorable and amazing bar to visit. So I looked it up to find out…this is a real place in San Francisco!! And it just closed it’s doors in March. NOO!!!!

Ultimately, I found When Dimple Met Rishi to be an adorable, heartwarming story about two Indian American teenagers finding their way in life.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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Book Review – Every Day by David Levithan

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Book: Every Day
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA

Book Blurb: 

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

I truly enjoyed Levithan’s writing in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and went into Every Day with high expectations. The potential was there for greatness, and I loved the concept. A contemporary/science fiction hybrid; to imagine a person without a gender, without a family, without a body, whose only consistency in life is that each day, they will wake up in the body of someone new.

Like I said, the concept is intriguing. But I just couldn’t get into this book.

Every Day is told from the perspective of A, a person who wakes up each morning in someone else’s body. The bodies are always the same age as A; when they were 3 they would always wake up as a 3-year-old; during the novel A was 16. A has never had their own body, the body shifting has been happening since birth. Therefore, A does not have a real name, and never forms attachments. To anyone. A can access the memories of the body they inhabit, but not the person’s feelings. The days have always blurred together for A, as time marches on.

Until A meets Rhiannon after waking up in the body of Justin. Justin is Rhiannon’s callous boyfriend, and A falls instantly in love with her during his brief tenure in Justin’s body. Which leads both to the biggest detraction and the most interesting question Levithan presents: Can love find its way around a seemingly impossible situation?

I can’t stand instalove books, and I rarely read them. I made an exception for this one because it was on my TBR for the 2017 Diversity Bingo Challenge, and Levithan was an author I wanted to further explore. Rhiannon is, I hate to say it, a fairly bland character, which makes A’s obsession with her even more confusing, especially considering the lengths he takes. The friendship between the two is sweet at first, and I give Rhiannon credit for being fairly accepting of what seems like an impossible situation. But, there are so many aspects of their relationship that really bothered me. The stalking, which started to become incredibly creepy. The idea that only A can see Rhiannon’s hidden sadness, and they are the only one who can see Rhiannon as she her true self. The obsession. It is disturbing behavior, which is barely addressed in the novel.

All my sympathy and fondness for A went right out the window when they became obsessed and started stalking Rhiannon. I liked A at the beginning of the story, and I was very sympathetic to their plight. For much of A’s life, they are extremely selfless and careful with the body they inhabit. I can’t imagine how tough that would be day in and day out. Yet I just could not get past all the lengths A went to after falling in love with Rhiannon.

The part of the story I enjoyed the most was the diverse cast of people we meet when A inhabits their bodies for a day. These small stories were quite touching.

I wish Levithan would have gone more in-depth into the paranormal aspect, although I can understand why he did not. What I don’t get, however, is why there wasn’t a further examination of what it means to be male, female, or neither. I really liked having a protagonist that has no gender or ethnicity. Yet I found the writing lacking in terms of how Rhiannon responded once she knew the truth of A’s life. Rhiannon definitely had some prejudices and ignorance on her side lurking beneath the surface, but this was barely addressed.

I know there is a companion book to Every Day, written from Rhiannon’s perspective, called Another Day. I’m highly doubtful I will read it any time soon.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars.

 

Book Review – Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

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Title: milk and honey
Author: Rupi Kaur
Publisher: Createspace
Genre: Poetry, Feminism

These days, I don’t read poetry very often. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I read a book of poems. It has been years, other than a handful of Emily Dickinson or Maya Angelou scattered throughout the last decade. Then, last month, I discovered my birth mother’s poetry. And it felt invigorating, soul-crushing, and uplifting…yes…all of that, all rolled in to one, when I read her words.

And it came back to me in a rush, how much I used to love poetry. Once upon a time, I wrote poetry. I wrote about being adopted, about boys and love, about sitting beneath a tree on a warm, sunny day. I waxed poetic, and my poems were never anything special….but I enjoyed the process. It was one of my college boyfriends, a guy who also wrote poetry, and who turned out to be a horrible person, that turned me off of the genre.

Well, I’m ready to reclaim it. So, when I got home from my trip to meet my biological mother’s family, with a basket of her letters, and a journal of her poems, I felt inspired. To take up a new genre, and explore it anew. One week after returning home from that trip in April, I went out and bought Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.

And that is how I found myself reading it during Dewey’s 24 hour readathon.

it is your blood
in my veins
tell me how i’m
supposed to forget

Milk and Honey is about survival, and is split into 4 sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing. The design of her poems are inspired by a Punjabi script called gurmukhi, in which words are written only using a period. There is no other punctuation; all letters are treated the same – no upper or lowercase. I loved this style, as it is often how I used to write my own poetry, only in my case, I was modeling e.e. cummings.

Rupi Kaur was born in Punjab, and moved to Canada with her parents at a young age, and through her poetry she provides a voice to other women of color who may be silenced in a patriarchal and/or colonizer culture. Before reading her poems, it helps to know where she is coming from, as she talks about in the preface:

my thoughts go to the sexual violence we endure as south asian women. we know it intimately. from thousands of years of shame and oppression. from the community and from colonizer after colonizer. by the time i am born i have already survived the first battle of my life. against female feticide. i am one of the lucky ones who has been allowed to live. we are taught our bodies are not our property. you will do with them as your parents wish until they pass the property onto your husband and his family. a good indian girl is quiet. does as she is told. sex does not belong to her. it is something that happens to her on her wedding night. our job is to lay obediently. not to enjoy. let him take.

our trauma escapes the confines of our own times. we’re not just healing from what’s been inflicted onto us as children. my experiences have happened to my mother and her mother and her mother before that. it is generations of pain embedded into our souls.

i read hundreds of books growing up. but none can explain this torment to me. i need access to words written by people who look like me writing about the things i am going through. at that moment i realize the importance of representation and know this must be different for my children. they must have access to their own literature.

Rupi Kaur’s writing is succinct; many of her poems are only a few lines. She is incredibly skilled in bringing her point across in a tiny amount of space.

our backs
tell stories
no books have
the spine to
carry
~ women of color

Some people describe her work as cliché, or simplistic. I disagree. Yes, there is a certain simplicity, a minimalism, but that does not make her words or message simple.

apparently it is ungraceful of me
to mention my period in public
cause the actual biology
of my body is too real

it is okay to sell what’s
between a woman’s legs
more than it is okay to
mention its inner workings

the recreational use of
this body is seen as
beautiful while
its nature is
seen as ugly

YES, YES, YES, YES, YES!!

I had that reaction quite a few times while reading her book. As a woman, as a feminist, as someone who has experienced trauma in my past, I could relate to many of her poems. And I found it a fascinating self-study to look back at all my post-it notes after finishing the book, and realize the poems I currently relate to the most were not in the sections about hurting or breaking, but in the chapter about healing.

This is a book about the human experience, and it is relatable on a wide variety of levels. It takes a lot of courage to write in such a personal manner, and I look forward to seeing what Rupi Kaur does next.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Review – Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

I’m finally getting a chance to write up some reviews for the books that I read during Dewey’s readathon! This one was one of my favorites.

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Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Author: John Green & David Levithan
Publisher: Dutton Books
Genre: Contemporary YA, LGBTQIA+

This is the story of two Will Grayson’s that meet about 1/3 of the way into the story. One Will Grayson, written by John Green, is the son of two doctors, loving parents that aren’t around very much. His family is fairly well off, and his best friend is Tiny Cooper. Tiny Cooper is a HUGE person, both in personality and size. He literally lights up the page. This Will lives by two life rules: 1) Don’t care too much, and 2) Shut up.

Caring doesn’t sometimes lead to misery. It always does.

~ Will Grayson

The other will grayson, written by David Levithan, sees himself as a lowercase person (and his chapters are written entirely in lowercase). He lives with his single mother, struggles with severe depression and at the beginning of the story, has not yet come out to his friends and family as gay.

“maybe tonight you’re scared of falling, and maybe there’s somebody here or somewhere else you’re thinking about, worrying over, fretting over, trying to figure out if you want to fall, or how and when you’re gonna land, and i gotta tell you, friends, to stop thinking about the landing, because it’s all about falling.”

~ will grayson

They randomly meet one night when their paths converge in downtown Chicago. Will Grayson is shy and struggles with whether or not he wants to be in a relationship. will grayson found love on the internet with Isaac, and is trying to meet him for the first time.

Green’s Will Grayson is kind of geeky and adorable, but it is Levithan’s will grayson I relate to the most. It is will grayson’s storyline that is the most moving. will grayson is dark, and angsty, a bit of a loner, and written extremely well. When will grayson and Tiny Cooper meet, it is everything a reader could want and more. Really, Tiny Cooper is everything a reader could want in a character. I wish I had a Tiny Cooper friend!

Because in reality, so much of this book isn’t about the two Will Grayson’s. It is about Tiny Cooper. For a while I worried that Tiny Cooper would stay flat and clichéd throughout the whole story, but we really got to see more depth to him by the end of the story.

Some people call this book a love story, and it is a love story. A love story about friendship that is both emotional and hilarious.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Reading Challenges Update: Jan – March

Winter has come and gone…well, hopefully it is gone…and it is time to do a quarterly update of the three year-long reading challenge I am participating in this year!

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My goal for NovelKnight’s Beat the Backlist challenge is to read at least 24 books off of my massive TBR list! I am not quite as far as I would like to be in this challenge, but I’m hoping to play catch-up in April and May.

This is what I have read for this challenge from Jan – March:

Favorite: The Underground Railroad

Least Favorite: Year of No Sugar

Total Read: 6/24 books  – 25% Complete. ON SCHEDULE!

 

Diversity Bingo 2017

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This is definitely my favorite challenge of the year! Here is what I read from Jan – March:

Favorite: The Hate U Give

Least Favorite: Of Fire and Stars

Total Read: 9/36 books – 25% Complete. ON SCHEDULE!

 

Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017

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Popsugar always has a fun 52-week reading challenge that I like to do. Last year I failed miserably at completing the challenge, and I am hoping to do better in 2017! Here is my progress so far:

  • A book that has been on your TBR list for way too long: Dawn by Elie Wiesel. 

  • A book that is a story within a story: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. 

  • An espionage thriller: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

  • A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.

  • A book with a subtitle: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family or Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

  • A book that’s published in 2017: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab.

  • A book about food: A Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.

  • A book with a red spine: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
  • A book with a title that’s a character’s name: Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5.

  • A book with an unreliable narrator: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda.

  • A book with pictures: Why I March: Images from the Women’s March Around the World by Abrams Image, New York

  • A book about a difficult topic: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 

Favorite: A Conjuring of Light

Least Favorite: A Year of No Sugar

Total Read: 12/52 – 23% Complete. BEHIND SCHEDULE (but not by much!)

 

 

Book Review – The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Historical fiction, Alternate history, #OwnVoices

Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, The Underground Railroad, is, I dare to say it, a masterpiece. Despite the detached tone that turns off a few readers, the author gets to the heart of the horrible truths surrounding American chattel slavery in a way that most historical works have not. In addition to Alex Haley’s Roots, which comes with its fair share of controversy, Underground Railroad is one of the most powerful novels about slavery that I have ever read.

In Underground Railroad, we begin with a fairly straightforward story on a slave plantation. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia; she is also a stray and outcast amongst her fellow people. When Caesar, a slave relatively new to the Randall plantation, convinces her to run with him, she eventually agrees, and they both make their escape.

It is here, on page 66, that the story takes a turn into the realm of alternative history. For the Underground Railroad is not the version we find in our history books, but a real train line, built by slaves, buried deep underground.

The stairwell was lined with stones and a sour smell emanated from below. It did not open into a cellar but continued down. Cora appreciated the labor that had gone into its construction. The steps were steep, but the stones aligned in even planes and provided an easy descent. Then they reached the tunnel, and appreciation became too mealy a word to contain what lay before her.

The stairs led onto a small platform. The black mouths of the gigantic tunnel opened at either end. It must have been twenty feet tall, walls lined with dark and light-colored stones in an alternating pattern. The sheer industry that had made such a project possible. Cora and Caesar noticed the rails. Two steel rails ran the visible length of the tunnel, pinned into the dirt by wooden crossties. The steel ran south and north presumably, springing from some inconceivable source and shooting toward a miraculous terminus. Someone had been thoughtful enough to arrange a small bench on the platform. Cora felt dizzy and sat down.

Caesar could scarcely speak. “How far does the tunnel extend?”

Lumbly shrugged. “Far enough for you.”

“It must have taken years.”

“More than you know. Solving the problem of ventilation, that took a bit of time.”

“Who built it?”

“Who builds anything in this country?”

Throughout the novel, Colson borrows from history to reveal the true heart of darkness: slavery and the ongoing systemic racism in America. As Cora moves through each state: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Colson begins to tell a broader story. South Carolina is completely reinvented – I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers – but it is definitely jarring, and brings together the pseudosciences of eugenics, forced sterilization, and the Tuskegee Syphilis Project. All is not as it appears, and what looks shiny and promising on the outside often hides a darker, menacing aspect within.

Stolen bodies working stolen land. It was an engine that did not stop, its hungry boiler fed with blood. With the surgeries that Dr. Stevens described, Cora thought, the whites had begun stealing futures in earnest. Cut you open and rip them out, dripping. Because that’s what you do when you take away someone’s babies – steal their future. Torture them as much as you can when they are on this earth, then take away the hope that one day their people will have it better.

I definitely see why this novel won the National Book Award. Colson Whitehead not only shows the struggles African-Americans have experienced during chattel slavery and beyond; he also touches on the way that white folks, and not just antebellum Southerners, justified their mistaken belief in racial superiority.

Interspersed throughout the story are chapters featuring a few of the minor characters: Caesar, Ridgeway, Dr. Stevens, Ethel. Some peopel take issue with these chapters as unnecessary, but I really appreciated them, particularly the chapters about Ridgeway and Caesar.

Whitehead writes in a detached way, and I know that is a turn-off for some people. I really enjoyed his writing style, and definitely recommend you give it a chance! In my opinon, it deserves all the accolades it has received.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

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Title: Of Fire and Stars
Author: Audrey Coulthurst
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: YA Fantasy, LGBTQIA+ Romance

I have been procrastinating on writing this review, because I do not enjoy writing negative reviews. Sadly, I was not a fan of this book. I desperately wanted to be, but it all felt like a bucket of lost potential.

In Of Fire and Stars,  Princess Denna of Havemont has been betrothed to marry the Prince of Mynaria, Thandi, since she was a young child. Her marriage will seal an alliance between the two kingdoms, but she is harboring a secret – she possesses a Fire Affinity – a dangerous gift in the land of Mynaria, where magic is forbidden. Along the way, she meet’s the Prince’s sister, Mare, and they decide to join forces to search for the culprit of a mysterious assassination.

I was incredibly excited when the LGBTQIA+ novel, Of Fire and Stars, showed up in my OwlCrate box in December. There are so few f/f fantasy novels out there, and this one definitely has an interesting premise. An arranged marriage, with Denna falling for her betrothed sister instead? My curiosity was piqued.

And then, everything fell flat. And by flat, I mean FLAT. The world-building, the character development, even the dialogue, was all….meh. There was also way too much dialogue and pages dedicated to horses…and I love horses! By the end of the book, I was groaning and skimming every time another section came up focused on horses.

Where, oh where, art thou character development?

All of the main characters were incredibly one-dimensional. Mare, Prince Thandi’s sister, (yes, the character who has loved horses her whole life is seriously nicknamed Mare) is the token “bad girl”, complete with temper tantrums and extreme sulking. Denna, newly arrived in the land, is the “good one”, apparently full of sugar and spice and everything nice. Mare is rebellious and Denna is good. Denna breaks her mold towards the end, but even there it just fell flat. Don’t get me started on her magic and the stars falling scene – one of the most awkward things I have ever read. It made no sense the way it was written.

As for the rest of the cast, wow, I know nothing. Seriously, nothing. Poor Prince Thandi, with no personality, felt like a shell. The Directorate – the people who make the policy decisions in Mynaria – are clueless and incompetent. I mean, truly and incredibly dense.

Can someone explain the Northern Kingdoms?

Despite finishing the novel, I still don’t understand what this world is about. Why did Mynaria hate magic so much? A legitimate reason was never given for this intense hatred of magic users. Nor was there much of an explanation for the sudden existence of the Recusants vs the fundamentalists. Who were the fundamentalists, even? This lack of depth was incredibly frustrating for me. We’re plunged into a world with four kingdoms that together seem to make up the “Northern Kingdoms”, but we find out nothing about the history or political situations underlying these lands. Such as, why has Prince Thandi never left the castle’s home in Lyrra? Why can’t he explore his own lands?

The idea of having an Affinity (Magic) connected to one of the six gods was intriguing and new, if it would have been further developed. Yet once again, the reader is left with no real understanding of the magic and religion of these lands.

Refreshingly, heterosexuality is not assumed as the default sexual orientation – but then why on earth was there so much sexism in the novel? From the time Denna arrived in Mynaria, she is held back by what appears to be strict gender roles; as future queen, she is expected to be the castle’s numero uno party planner and tour guide. One of the only conversations that Denna has with the king is this:

“No need to be too formal among family,” he said cheerfully. “I’ll be relying on you to keep this son of mine in line. It has been too long since we’ve had a woman’s touch about the place.”

I can list at least ten ways in which this exchange makes absolutely no sense. But you get the idea. A few of the people on the Directorate are women, but they barely have a voice. That may be due more to poor character development, but it is still frustratingly annoying.

I was really excited about reading this novel, but ultimately, it was a tremendous let down.

This now makes two books in a row that I have rated two stars, something that does not happen very often. Thankfully, I’m now reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead which is FANTASTIC. So, hopefully, this 2-star streak ends here.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.