Monthly Archives: May 2017

Book Riot’s Read Harder 2017 Challenge – May Reads

With May winding to a close, I can safely say, YAY! And by that I mean, I read more books for my Book Riot Read Harder challenge than I did in the month of April. How wonderfully unexpected, am I right? Plus, I liked the majority of what I read for the challenges as well. Let’s see how May faired.


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Completes Challenge #7: Read a book published between 1900 and 1950.

Note: This book was originally published in 1911.

Thoughts: So hilariously, I never read this book as a child. I remember owning an “easy-reader” version, but somewhere a long the line this was just a book I never bothered to pick up. Which is a real shame that I am doing it so late in life given how much I love A Little Princess. I found The Secret Garden to be a really enchanting book, and I found myself very invested in all of the characters and the mystery behind the garden itself. I oddly loved Mary, even when she was being a brat (and I am not always fond of the “bratty child”). It’s funny too because I often find classics fairly difficult to read, but this one I was compulsively turning pages because I felt so absorbed in the story. So glad I finally gave this one a go!


Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Completes Challenge #22: Read a collection of stories by a woman.

Thoughts: Difficult Women is one of those short story collections that is incredibly raw from story to story. Many of what Gay’s heroines portray are women who are “difficult” in the sense that they are unconventional, not following specific female binaries, and they are intense. Some of the stories are very heartbreaking, tragic, others are hopeful. There’s an honesty in Gay’s writing that makes each story compulsively readable. If you like short story collections, this is a great read.

My favourite stories were: La Negra Blanca, Difficult Women, and I Am a Knife. Though seriously, every story is pretty captivating.


Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

Completes Challenge #8: Read a travel memoir.

Thoughts: I adore Bill Bryson and he’s one of the few non-fiction writer’s I actually try to keep up with. I usually find his brand of humour coupled with being informative to be something that gels with me easily. However, Neither Here Nor There is so far my least favourite Bill Bryson book to date that I’ve read. I usually love his travel memoirs because I feel like he does this great job of making the reader feel like they are there with him, but this one, likely due to how old it is, lacked in that department for me. I found Bryson’s antics a little frustrating, and he does more complaining than he does sharing anecdotal information. This book did have some glimmering moments that I personally enjoyed, but overall I found this book to be lacking in the fun-informative department.

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ARC Review – I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Author: Maurene Goo

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Desi Lee knows how carburetors work. She learned CPR at the age of five. As a high school senior, she has never missed a day of school and has never had a B in her entire life. She’s for sure going to Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation-magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds her answer in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Rules for True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and fake car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is one of those books that I cover lusted. The colour scheme, the adorable girl on the cover, it got me really excited. Then I found out it was a book about a girl looking for love the K Drama way and I was instantly sold. Desi is a wonderful heroine full of humour and kindness, and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She is someone I feel like readers will fall in love with.

What instantly sold me on this story was Desi’s relationship with her Appa (father). There was something so tender and sweet in their relationship, and they both draw strength from one another. It makes for a wonderful relationship to watch develop as the story hits its stride. It’s also so darling when the two are sharing in their love of K Drama. It filled my heart with happy joy and made me want to pick up on watching K Dramas as well. I also want to point out the handy K Drama guide that was at the end of the book was SO HELPFUL for K Drama noobs. I think the only one I had seen that had been mentioned was Full House!

I actually also loved the romance between Desi and Luka. Usually I find YA romance to be very blindsided and it often doesn’t feel very organic. While Desi is using K Drama to try and woo Luka, their relationship was actually very well plotted and developed, even right down to the climax. It’s one of those books where I genuinely found myself attached to the romance. I also will say I LOVED Desi’s friends and I appreciate that they felt like friends instead of the typical “friends without development” that exists in YA as well. There’s one bit of this book that I loved between Desi and Violet and it really solidified how important friendship truly is.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is adorable, funny, and light-hearted. It’s one of those stories you’ll both laugh and cry through because there is just so much going on. I hope more readers fall in love with Desi — she’s truly quite a special protagonist.

ARC Review – Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Title: Ramona Blue

Author: Julie Murphy

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really loved Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Very, despite it being such a polarizing novel. I have yet to read Dumplin’ (seriously, I need to get on that), and skipped my way to Ramona Blue, a book that had some polarizing conversations up until it’s release.

Truthfully, I found the novel very engaging throughout. Yes, this book, looks at Ramona’s sexuality, and yes it looks at the idea of how she doesn’t want to label herself entirely one way or another. But I think that is just a fraction of what this story is truly about. This story is about self-sacrifice for family, sisters in a bind, and importantly, Ramona trying to figure out who she wants to be and if she wants to stay in Eulogy for the rest of her life.

I think Julie Murphy does an amazing job walking the reader through Ramona’s journey. Ramona is a complicated character who is trying to figure out what is the right course of action regarding her family, as well as herself. I loved her as a character, and I constantly found myself empathizing with Ramona because I found her easy to connect with. I’ve done a lot of what she has in terms of putting others over myself, and like Ramona, there’s no regret. It’s interesting to watch Ramona’s complicated life grow and transform throughout the course of the story, and that made it all the more engaging.

I also loved Ramona’s friends and I thought they were wonderfully developed. I found Grace frustrating at times, but I also feel like I could understand where she was coming from when it came to her feelings for Ramona. Her feelings for Freddie in the story are conflicting, but I think it also shows how Ramona is growing, and I think there’s an interesting conversation presented in this book about labeling one’s self. There is no man saving Ramona in this story, or no man changing who she is — that’s not the discussion this book is presenting. The conversation that is apparent is about learning who you are and who you want to become. If I am being honest, the romance wasn’t a huge deal breaker for me like it was others — I liked it, but I adored the parts about Ramona’s self-discovery and her family life more.

Ramona Blue is a wonderful story about growing up in a situation where you are forced into adulthood at an early age. It’s about discovering oneself and trying to figure out who you want to be. There is is so much depth and complexity to this novel, and I think despite the controversy, people should read it before making a judgement call.

Book Review – The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano

Title: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Lionel is a wild boy, who doesn’t much like to be around other people. He’d rather be a purring cat or a wolf stalking the woods.

Marybeth is a nice girl. She doesn’t need to be told to comb her hair or brush her teeth, and she’s kind to everyone at the orphanage . . . Lionel most of all.

Different though they are, Lionel and Marybeth are best friends in a world that has forgotten about them. So when a mysterious blue spirit possesses Marybeth—and starts to take control—they know they must stop it before the real Marybeth fades away forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have a very hit-and-miss relationship with Lauren DeStefano’s books. There are some books of hers, like the Chemical Garden series which I found just “okay” and other books like A Curious Tale of the In-Between, which I utterly adored. I really enjoyed The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, though it’s definitely not as strong as other books of hers I read.

One thing I will say for this book is that for middle grade, it’s outright creepy at times. DeStefano has this wonderful way of writing very unnerving and uncomfortable descriptions, which I think is stellar. You always get a sense of discomfort in Lionel and Marybeth’s stories, which I think helps given that this is a very atmospheric read. For me personally, I love a book that has a very distinctive feel to it, but I feel like for some readers that is the ultimate challenge here. The characters are interesting because of the atmosphere of the story, not because they are interesting characters.

And here’s the thing: I love the mysterious, ghostly aspects of this book. I loved uncovering Marybeth’s story and seeing where it was going to go at times. I was invested when I was trying to understand what was happening with the blue-hearted creature. I loved the amount of empathy that both Lionel and Marybeth share for the creature, and I like that DeStefano keeps the reader moving at such a swift pace. Her writing is beautiful, and there were times where I know I was sucked into the prose.

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart is a very good read, and definitely should be read in the fall, which I think was intended given the atmosphere that is played so well into the story. I think readers will be disappointed by the lack of action or strong characterization, but I think there is something to be said about books that make you feel through the setting, which is definitely what is happening here. I am eager to see what Lauren DeStefano’s next middle grade venture will be.

ARC Review – When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ever since I saw the cover for When Dimple Met Rishi, I knew I wanted to read this book. When I read the synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this book. I had this book super hyped in my head, which is why I think I put off reading it for as long as I did. However, this book didn’t disappoint me! I laughed, I cried, I had many, many feelings throughout the course of it, and I feel like Sandhya Menon is going to be an author watch now.

I loved Dimple from page one. She’s one of those characters with a lot of conviction and determination. She sees herself as a very independent young woman with goals that don’t include marriage right off the bat. Her family wants her to be happy, so they arrange for her to meet with Rishi, a young Indian boy who is on his way to MIT, but has a secret passion for comic book writing.

Both protagonists have strong visions of where they want to be in their lives, but they both also struggle with their family values. It’s part of why I loved the story so much is that both Dimple and Rishi’s troubles felt very raw and real, and Menon gives the reader so much context to what it’s like to be a young Indian-American trying to both love and value yourself, but also respect the wishes of the family. What I also loved is there’s a lot of comedy between the two characters, but their romance blossoms into something that feels very organic. You get a sense that parts of this story were heavily influenced by Bollywood culture, and while that is super noticeable, it doesn’t detract from the kind of romance that Menon is trying to convey between Dimple and Rishi. There’s a lot of skill in finding a balance for this kind of story, and Menon nails it.

I also loved a lot of the supporting characters, and I didn’t feel like they were one note in the slightest. I adored Rishi’s brother, and I loved that he was a typical little brother who also could see how blind his older sibling is. I loved Celia and I thought she was a good counterpart to Dimple’s character in that she keeps her grounded. I LOVED both Dimple and Rishi’s families, particularly Dimple’s family, who made me laugh, smile and you get this huge sense of love from her family.

When Dimple Met Rishi is one of those books that just gives you so many feelings as your reading it, and that is why I loved it so much. It’s the kind of contemporary book that balances so many different aspects of life, but also still manages to craft a romance that is both organic and sweet. If you love romance, this is a book you need to put on your radar ASAP.

ARC Review – The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Author: Emily Barr

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel very torn when I think about The One Memory of Flora Banks. On one hand, it’s a very compelling story about a young woman who has been in a near vegetative state who is unable to make new memories, but on the other side of it there is something very frustrating on a whole as to how this book presents itself.

First of all, this book is compulsively readable. The writing isn’t anything spectacular, but Barr does this great job of making the read want to turn pages and keep going. The repetition, though I understand why it was there, drove me kind of bonkers at times and I found myself going “Yes, be brave, Flora. We know this already!” many times. Again, this book is like a YA version of Mr Robot or Momento, but it lacks the visual cues and punch that those stories provide because it’s in text form.

I won’t lie, I did feel sorry for Flora through the entire story, but I also found myself annoyed and angry how the story moved or progressed. Sometimes it felt like it was meandering, and sometimes it would go at a rapid pace. I’ll be frank in that I hated the Drake parts of this book (up until the end any ways) given that Flora repeats and repeats and repeats how she kissed “Drake” and we’re supposed to take that at face value from an unreliable narrator. When I got to the twist, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest because I had figured it out pretty quickly, so I think that also hindered my enjoyment a lot as well.

I will say, I did like the ending to a point. Learning about Flora’s brother, Jacob, was actually some of my favourite bits in the story. When Flora was thinking about or trying to understand Jacob’s motives, I found that’s when the story hit its stride with me and I constantly wanted to know more about what was happening and why Flora’s family behaves the way they do. When the book was about Flora trying to find Drake to get her memory back, it fell into that trope I hate which is that “boy fixes girl.” I hate that trope, and while I understand why it exists in this story, I still found myself angry by it. There are better ways to give characters agency, and in YA, the boy shouldn’t always be that factor.

I love unreliable narrators, and I adore books when I need to put my thinking cap on to try and put pieces together. Sadly, The One Memory of Flora Banks left me more annoyed than satisfied. I feel like there will be readers out there who will gobble this up and it be their jam, but for me personally, I struggled to find any connection with this story.

ARC Review – That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart

Author: Sheba Karim

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I will be 100% honest: it wasn’t until I had gone to Harper Collins’ Spring Preview that I had even hard of this book. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of buzz surrounding this one, which is a real shame, because it is a fantastic, punchy little book about family, friendship, religion and first love.

At it’s core That Thing We Call A Heart is really about the friendship between Shabnam and her “former” best friend Farah. The two had a falling out when Farah began to proudly start wearing her headscarf to school without consulting Shabnam. This small but significant incident spirals the two best friends into a situation where they learn to be a part for awhile, but converge on how to make their friendship whole again. There is also a romance involving a non-Muslim boy who is interested in Muslim culture, a father obsessed with Urdu romance poetry but doesn’t see his wife, and a mother who has so much love to give yet seems neglected. A lot happens in this tiny novel, and all of it is interesting.

Honestly, my favourite parts of this novel were the moments between Shabnam and Farah. When they were focusing on their friendship you can see the intense chemistry between the two of them and why they were friends in the first place. Sheba Karim does this amazing job of building the relationship between these two best friends and there is a genuine sense of care and compassion coming from both sides. When Farah begins to question Shabnam’s “relationship” with Jamie, she does it from such a caring standpoint, and while it seems like she may be playing devil’s advocate, you get a very genuine vibe from her that she simply wants what is best for Shabnam. Farah was easily my favourite character in this book, as she has such a fantastic and blunt attitude. We need more badass ladies like her in contemporary YA.

I also loved Shabnam, even though she definitely had some moments that were very frustrating. I think Sheba Karim does a great job of capturing a teenager who is head over heels regarding their first love, and you can feel the this sense that Shabnam truly is in love with Jamie throughout the story. It doesn’t feel trite or forced, it feels like teenage lovesickness — realistic and heartbreaking. I will say, I still kinda didn’t get Jamie’s appeal at all in the story, and that is maybe because he’s not the kind of guy I’d dig in the slightest, but I can respect Shabnam’s interest in the guy, and I do appreciate that he was written in a way where he was trying to understand and respect Muslim culture. I thought that aspect of his character was actually very well done.

Can I also say how much I loved Shabnam’s family? There are so many moments that were so funny and toughing between her and her folks. I thought her mum was adorable and sweet, and I loved how caring she is. I also found Shabnam’s father hilarious and I liked that he made no bones about who he is throughout. They felt like read parents, which in YA often is completely unheard of.

I am so glad I was given the chance to read this book, because when it comes to books that feel genuine from start to finish, That Thing We Call A Heart succeeds. I really adored my time with this book, and I felt like I was able to really connect with the characters in this story, even though I don’t share the same culture as them. I felt like I learned so much about Muslim culture and the importance of family, both birth and chosen. There’s a lot of beauty in this book, and the ending definitely left me heartbroken.