Audiobook Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This review is going to be much gushier and incoherent than usual. Noted? … Okay, let’s go.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She would rather bury herself in the fanfiction she writes where there’s romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible …

A tale of fanfiction, family, and first love.


I’m still in two minds about this book. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this and have heard so many readers gushing and raving about it.
Despite that, I must confess that I went into the book with lower expectations; You might have not known this side of me, but I have a weird tendency of NOT wanting to be one of those people who just do things just because everyone else is doing it. To put in a nutshell, I don’t basically gravitate toward overly hyped books/things and this Fangirl exactly falls into the category, hence my hesitation about reading this.

Having finished listening to this audiobook, I can honestly say, Rainbow Rowell did it again. She won over my heart again. 

For the overall storyline, I’d give this book solid 3.5 or 3.75 out of 5 stars; NOT solid 4 let alone 5 stars. Not even close. YET for the romance part, my goodness, this book melted my heart (you might guess I’m a sucker for this type of slow-burned romance) and straight 5 stars go to this book.
I personally found the whole romance progression quite beautiful and breathtaking.

This is exactly what happened to me when I read ‘Landline’ last year; When a male character – the love interest – in Rainbow Rowell’s books speaks, the words grab my heart. I often feel like I’m spellbound. This book was no exception; I was literally under the spell of Levi’s words. Funny thing is that, I don’t even particularly love Levi, he’s way too skinny and lanky for my liking but I love HIS WORDS. I just love what he says, what’s coming out of his mouth and how he embraces and appreciates Cath as she is.

His words are simple but have something that has my heart in its clutches. Simply captivating and I couldn’t get enough of it. I kept going back to his words over and over and over again. Hypnotic. Like magic. Rainbow Rowell did it again – made me fall in love with Levi just like she did with Neal from Landline. 

Now, let’s talk about the characters. I think most of the characters are well fleshed out and their emotions are well-drawn. In particular, I could absolutely relate to Cath’s restlessness from being a ‘misfit’ in college and the dorm, the fear of not blending in. Her concerns and trepidations, the weird sense of incongruity she has when she wakes up in her dormitory bed – they are vividly depicted and executed and brought back my memories when I was in junior college. It was really well done.
The character dynamics, especially the relationship (friendship) between Reagan is such a delight to read. I love her. She’s straightforward, brusque, calling a spade a spade yet is kind at heart; I loved to see how Reagan kind of forcibly drags Cath into her world and lets Cath accustom to the new environment, and how she forges a friendship between Cath.
To be perfectly honest, and this might be an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t particularly LOVED Cath. There are several things that stopped me from rooting for Cath, in fact.
For one; She is naive and immature. It is kind of hard to talk about this without giving much away, but she is afraid of ‘change’ and wants to stay in her own small, confined world – her bubble. This part of her gradually changes through the interactions with Reagan and Levi, but I felt it a bit hard to get invested in Cath’s character in the beginning.
What really irked me is her naivety that is showcased through the dialogue with Professor Piper. If you have read this, you’ll know what I am talking about and yes, I was so fed up with Cath’s lame excuses and logic. Writing fan fiction is totally fine with me, but what she does in this segment is NOT something to be condoned and it frustrated me so much.

Secondly, she is so quick to decide to drop things. She tries to get away from things once she finds it doesn’t belong to her or not her thing. Although she no doubt has a distinct ‘Voice’ in her writing that speaks to the readers, she adamantly refuses to give what she’s supposed to a try.
She has THE VOICE that any writers or creators desperately crave for but she is all willing to let it go without even giving it a try. She says she doesn’t want to. Again, I was quite frustrated by this side of her, and it took me a while to warm up to her (not fully, but to some extent).
That said though, her mounting feelings toward Levi and how she gets drowned in it was incredibly well-delineated and it literally captured my heart. I DEVOURED the words that Rainbow Rowell weaves. Again, it felt like magic. Stunningly beautiful and delicious.
My impression toward Cath is redeemed by the development in the latter part, and I personally found it quite clever. I am glad to see how it plays out and am content with that.

Other characters are all vivid and funny to get to know; Cath’s Dad is my second favorite character; I liked how he is bruised and flawed, yet is funny and chirpy at the same time. He brightens up the world for me.

As for the plot, I found it interesting that Rainbow Rowell writes a story involving a flawed, wounded family; each family members is more or less bruised by the traumatic experience of having their wife/mother walk out of their lives. But their struggles, especially Wren’s struggles were not heartfelt. Although there are strong moments where Cath gushes out her pent-up emotions about their estranged, biological mother, I felt this element a bit weak. For that reason, Wren’s issue that comes to light in the latter part might have been the author’s attempt to display the damage what Wren was inflicted on, but it didn’t strike me as strong as the author might have intended. Wren seemed quite standoffish, frivolous and distant for the most part of the story -intentionally distances herself from Cath but later comes back to her saying she has never stopped reading the story Cath uploaded. It felt a bit abrupt because I thought Wren’s character arc and the reason why she acts the way she does are not well drawn, at least for me.
Nonetheless, once again, there’s a redeeming scene for her and I am happy with how it plays out.

The fan fiction part… or the inserts at the end of each chapter was honestly a bit too much for me. Some of them could have been cut, but given how this whole fan fiction thing works out for the romance part I absolutely LOVE, I, once again, have a mixed-feeling about this. I cannot decide what to make of this.

But overall, Yes, I enjoyed reading/listening to this audiobook. The narrator did an amazing job of employing different tones of voices for each character and elevating the romance scenes to absolutely beautiful, captivating and enchanting ones.
Like I said, had it not been for this delectable, heart-tingling romance part, this book would have gotten solid 3.5 stars. But Levi’s words (not himself) made the book for me and I loved how their romance develops and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole package.

If you haven’t read or listened to this book, I recommend you pick this up; this book has become one of my favorites.
Not mind-blowing, but enchanting. I gave this audiobook 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough. (Goodreads)


This book caught me by surprise on two levels.  First, for not being a mere fluffy, heart-swoony YA, and second, for its undercurrent theme being much heavier and packing more depth than I thought.

Let’s start with the writing; the writing is solid and it’s beautifully written. There was almost nothing that I found out of place, the pacing was mostly on-point. The characters’ personality traits were well-reflected in the dialogues and in the epistles, and the witty, sarcastic banter exchanged between the characters was such a delight to read. I especially loved Rachel’s razor-sharp rejoinders; the dialogues with Henry take place in early part of the book had me giggling so many times.
The epistolary format, the letters exchanged between the characters literally stole the show. I personally found the characters’ emotions and feelings, even love were much better expressed in its epistolary format. There were times when I felt the execution was a tad lacking in its conventional text format but completely swept up in the emotions reading the letters between the characters. Their voice, the characters’ voice was so distinct and well-executed in its letter format. I really loved their voice.
I initially thought the delivery – especially in Rachel’s chapters – was a bit lacking. This book is told in dual perspectives and each chapter is narrated either by Henry or Rachel. While I immensely enjoyed reading Henry’s chapters, I found Rachel’s chapters a bit hard to immerse myself and I put it down to its (a slightly) poor delivery.
I now know I was completely wrong; it makes a perfect sense given the ‘secret’ and the ‘grief’ that Rachel bottles up inside her. Her chapters reflect her closed-off personality really well and I realized that was why I couldn’t initially relate to her.

The characters are all well-fleshed out and felt realistic. I especially loved the stark contrast that’s generated from Henry and Rachel’s personalities.
Henry is downright cute and loveable; he is honest, kind, and he is not afraid to express his emotions – he is not at all your typical ‘hot and cool’ guy, but he doesn’t back off even when he’s up against such cool guys. He puts his foot down for something/someone he loves, and such qualities make him really endearing EXCEPT for being gullible when it comes to Amy, his good for nothing, shallow (ex) girlfriend. I guess I am not alone when I say I wanted to smack his head and tell him to snap out of it; it was simply teeth-grittingly frustrating to read how much Henry pines for Amy. I couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t see through her and her tricks. She literally comes and goes, she doesn’t appreciate what Henry loves and his passion at all. She is SHALLOW, I flat-out disliked her.
On the other hand, like I said earlier, I found Rachel was hard to relate to, at least in the beginning.
Her former self was hardly touched in the book and I could only guess that she used to be much nicer and kinder from Henry’s accounts, but when she comes back to live with her aunt, we find she turned herself into a closed-off, aloof and unapproachable person. She hardly shares her true feelings or emotions, and more than anything, she’s rude. Although we can guess what happened to Cal ten months ago broke her and made her guarded, since not much is told through her words until we’re well into the book, it was also frustrating to see how rude she can be to Henry – her old crush and her best friend.

What surprised me the most about this book was the plot. As I said in the beginning, I was expecting this book to be a fluffy, cute YA contemporary. But the undercurrent themes of this book are deceivingly serious. Not too heavy, but serious enough to take me by surprise.
Although the two main characters, Henry and Rachel, have their own problems and concerns in their respective lives, Rachel’s ones are heavier than Henry’s. The secret and the grief that she’s kept tucked inside her and that she has never confided in anybody gave a lot more depth and poignancy to the story while Henry’s lapse in judgment made this book engaging.
Through the interaction with Henry, which Rachel attempted to avoid as much, she gradually takes back the quality that her former self had. She slowly but steadily learns to open up to others and finally, she learns to come to terms with the ‘past’ – not to shove it away but truly face the past and move on, believing her past is always with her and the future is unmapped and changeable.

Beautifully entwined with the subplots between George (Henry’s sister) and the mystery guy, and the one between Henry’s parents delivered in the epistolary format, Words in Deep Blue weaves a poignant, yet beautiful story on life and death and the magic of words. It beautifully sends the message that ‘life’ weighs more than ‘death,’ and teaches us how beautiful and empowering love and friendship is. Not to mention, the beauty of books, words and the memories that are stored in those words.

Although I was not quite sure if I’d end up liking this book until I was well into the latter part, and I found Henry’s change of heart arrived in a bit rushed way, this book won over my heart in the latter half.
It didn’t wow me or blow me away, but I quite liked this book. If you are into the genre, I recommend giving this book a try.

I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

History is all you left me

 

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.


(This post could include some potential spoilers… skip them if you don’t want to be spoiled)

 

Incredibly haunting, compelling and beautiful read with a very complex main plot.
This is not a mere hyped LGBT YA book – it’s actually got a lot more layers to it. I didn’t think this book would be this deep and complex; it gave me a lot of feels while I was reading it, hitting all the right notes with me.

The writing is stunningly beautiful and emotionally evocative. What really enthralled and surprised me was the power and the gravity of his writing, how Adam Silvera wove his words. There’s nothing whatsoever that feels over-exaggerated nor overly dramatic in his writing style yet it definitely packs an incredibly visceral, strong punch. It doesn’t even come across Adam Silvera ever tried so hard to create emotional moments and impress the readers, but it simply hit me in the feels and drowned me in the sea of emotions. Simply amazing, brilliantly done.
I liked the dual timeline, too. This story is narrated in the first person, from Griffin’s POV and consists of two timelines – ‘History’ parts and ‘Today’ parts. Opening up with the poignant ‘Today’ part, where Theo had already died and Griffin laments over his death, the story is woven by placing these two timelines alternatively depicting the ‘History’ that the main characters had shared and built up with Theo. I personally found it cleverly done.

I didn’t find myself particularly invested in the characters themselves yet it didn’t take away my delight from this book at all. I didn’t even mind whether the characters are well fleshed out or realistic because I was instead invested in their EMOTIONS – grief, pains, guilt, despair that grip and torment the main characters – Griffin, Jackson and Wade. They are all severely grief-stricken and guilt-ridden over the death of Theo – their first love, boyfriend and their best friend. Their heartfelt grief sends them into the downward spirals and drive them into doing something that they shouldn’t (have) which end up plunging them even deeper.
Such emotions are really well delinated and makes the characters realistic. Their grief, struggles and setbacks especially Griffin’s are simply heartfelt. His grief and inner cries are so heart-wrenching and poignant, sometimes I found it so hard to keep reading; there were just way too many emotions going on which are absolutely relatable, I felt the urge to put it down and take a calming breath. It goes to show how emotionally compelling this book is, I was completely hooked.

The plot, rather, the character dynamics is complex and it totally took me by surprise; I didn’t predict this plot-twist that arrives in the latter half at all.
As the ‘History’ parts inch toward the present, totally unexpected facts and relationships come to light and completely caught me off guard. Yet at the same time, it made the story really genuine and raw. Everything in the book came into me so naturally and felt realistic, nothing felt contrived nor embellished. It simply sank down on me and made me realize how complex our emotions are, how easily our emotions tip us over the edge and makes us do something we might regret at a later point in our lives.

Although the majority of this book is filled with inexplicable grief and pain, there are a lot of uplifting, heart-warming moments, too. Especially I am quite happy and enthralled by the romance between the characters; it is simply breathtaking; seriously, it doesn’t come across off-putting AT ALL. If anything, it’s simply beautiful and I appreciate the way Adam Silvera presented it. This was not something I was expecting from this book. Another credit to Adam Silvera. There’s definitely magic in his writing.

“All three of you. You know this already, but you have to live for him, and you have to love for him.”
“You’re not supposed to be stuck. Do not feel guilty for falling in love again.”

The ending was quite satisfying and therapeutic, too. Having gone through a lot of setbacks and gut-wrenching struggles and torment, each character finally finds ‘hope’ in their lives.
With the help of their supportive families especially Theo’s parents, they finally take their first step to ‘move on,’ stopping blaming themselves for something that was out of their control and appreciate the ‘future’ that lies ahead of them. The steps are gradual and slow, but are steady.
This is the part that I most appreciate. The elements of ‘hope’ and the ‘support system’ literally elevate this book to something beyond a mere sad YA book. While eloquently articulating the inexplicable grief over the loss of the loved one throughout the book, the author didn’t forget to touch on the aspects of ‘hope’ and ‘support.’  I am truly satisfied with that.

History remains with the people who will appreciate it most.

Just because Griff is moving on it doesn’t mean he’s going to erase Theo out of his memory. History does remain. The universe that Griff shared with Theo will remain in Griff’s heart no matter what path he may take.

The ray of hope and the light is definitely there at the end of a tunnel. Each of the main characters finally find their hope and light for the future.
This is a story on love, grief and hope. Such a strong, poignant beautiful read.
I am so glad that I picked this up and highly recommend this if you are interested.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother

 

Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.


 

I started reading this book expecting to be as blown away as I was four years ago, but I think I’ll settle for 3.5 out of 5 (or 3.75) stars this time.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I did a lot in fact, it was just I wasn’t inclined to give this book full 5 stars which I did the last time.

Firstly, the writing; I think the writing is decent and strong overall, but there were some scenes that failed to peak the tension and excitement as much as I had hoped; it felt slippery and underwhelming at times. However, as I said it’s pretty gripping and intense and I liked this book is told in the first person, through Marcus’s narration which I personally think made this book more engaging.
What bothered me was the volume of ‘tech talks’ in this book. This book deals with a lot of cyber issues such as Internet privacy, electric surveillance, coding, snooping, cryptography etc, etc. Although these talks are accompanied by a crash course along with ample examples, as the story proceeds and gets more complicated, I started to feel it a bit overwhelming. I did think Cory Doctrow did a great job of breaking technical aspects down to bitable pieces, but you might find it a bit over your head if you are not a tech-savvy. It is OK that you don’t understand all the tech talks in this book (because I didn’t), it is totally enjoyable even if you just follow the main plot, but it might be a good idea to know the basics prior to reading this.

As for the characters, other than the protagonist, Marcus, none of the other characters left much impact on me; I didn’t find the characters are fleshed out enough.
In this book, Marcus attempts to save his best friend, Darryl, who is still held captive by the Department of Homeland Security and goes to such length of waging a war against the government. However, the bond between those two characters is not drawn well enough so Marcus’s desperate attempts to save Darryl didin’t strike me as strongly as I would have liked. As for Ange, the love interest and who was supposed to be an impactful character that drives Marcus forward – felt one-dimensional, too. Overall, all the characters felt a bit lackluster and underdeveloped.

I think what kept me going was the plot. It is gripping right from the beginning and entertaining to read through. The plot itself is pretty simple but it’s got some exciting and thrilling sometimes devastating twists scattered throughout the book.
I particularly liked the execution of the Operation False Positive; it describes how Marcus sucks down the numbers of others’ credit cards, their car keys, passports, every sort of identification that proves who is who and then swaps them with someone else’s unnoticed. It beautifully illustrates how sharp and smart he is; it was pretty exhilarating to read. Brilliantly done.

What jumps out about this book is the author incorporated some history lessons such as the freedom campaign and civil rights movements into the main plot. Through this sequence, we get to see how our predecessors fought against the authorities and the government for our fundamental human rights, for freedom of speech, how many lives had lost and how the United States has become a ‘free country’ as it is today. Since this sequence is done against the backdrop of social studies classroom and includes some enlightening discussions, it comes into me quite naturally, it doesn’t come across preachy but it definitely brings such issues to our attention and I appreciated that.
I also enjoyed Marcus’s transformation that takes place as the story goes. In the beginning, he is just an incredibly smart 17 year-old high school student who can easily outsmart school surveillance system. But after the bombing attack and the detention by DHS, being stripped away first his privacy then his dignity – he becomes more Constitution-minded and realizes how much he loves his country and values freedom and then wants to take back what has been lost since the attack.
Although I don’t find the romance between Marcus and Ange necessary, given the ensuing development in the latter part, I can make sense out of it.

Overall, I enjoyed this re-read. There are parts that I found a bit redundant and drag which could have been cut, but the last 30% of the book is definitely exciting, it’s a page-turner.
If you are a tech-savvy and like this type of genre, it’s recommended.
Even if you’re not, I think you’ll end up enjoying this. It would be definitely better if you had some knowledge of Internet technology though.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

the catcher in the rye

 

I first read this book in September, 2015. It’s been almost two years since I last read this book.
Like so many of other readers, I initially HATED this book. There was seriously NOTHING I could identify myself with, and my Goodreads review back then goes like this:

Quite honestly, I’m not even sure what to make of this – in the beginning, until I reached almost the half of the book, I was kind of mad at Holden because- I swear – there was NOTHING I could relate to him; I neither got to understood his feelings nor felt like trying to see things from his angle.
Yet, when I was past 70 percent of the book, the closer it got to the end, the less disturbed and disgusted I became.
Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like this book, I wouldn’t mind it as much as I did in the beginning.
I may even go back to this book sometime later in my life, who knows I won’t?

I had thought that I would hate this book as much as I did the last time, but quite surprisingly, I actually enjoyed this reread.

First and foremost, his narration didn’t bother me as much; I clearly remember feeling frustrated and irritated by his insolent attitude as though he was making fun of everything, but with this reread, I was curious – the entire time – to know why he acts the way he does, I wanted to pin down where his sarcastic, sort of jaded perspectives come from.

The narrator of this book and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, basically lashes out at everything, literally EVERYTHING. Once he finds something that he doesn’t like, he knocks it right off the bat and nothing escapes his cynical, sarcastic eyes.
At the same time, however, he is sensitive and vulnerable; even the smallest of things can trigger his mood swings and his emotions and feelings fluctuate by the second. One moment he despises everything he sees, but the next minute something tugs his heartstrings and he becomes quite compassionate and appreciative.
I think this second-by-second emotional fluctuation comes from his observant nature and is well reflected in somewhat desultory narration. We get to see how his mood swings and how depressed he gets through his soliloquy, but the author stops short of revealing Holden’s true emotions and the reasons of his actions until we are well into the book. All I got to have up until that point was Holden’s inexplicable, pent-up frustrations and angst the source of which I can’t put my fingers on. Some of you may find this rather frustrating, but that actually worked well for me and made me power through this book.

Like I said earlier, the writing reflects his vacillating emotions and his seemingly stuck-up nature really well. He has a very distinct voice and his perspectives may come across off-putting at first, but as I went deeper into the book, his compassionate, soft nature gradually came into view. I even find him far from apathetic or indifferent. Rather, I assume he is incredibly honest and doesn’t want to do anything at a surface level; if he does do something, he wants to put his mind to it. That is where his aversion to phoniness comes from and it was masterfully narrated. Believe it or not, I was impressed by the writing. I was so invested in Holden’s character this time.

Although I still don’t know where his angst and undirected emotions stem from, I thought what he fears the most was ‘change’ or ‘growth.’
Whenever he observes others acting differently than before, he feels depressed and lonely. While he wants them to stay the way they used to be, they rapidly go through their transitional phase from childhood and adulthood.
He doesn’t want to grow up but he needs to grow up. Such ambivalent, conflicting emotions and the fear of failing to catch up with others torments him and drives him to his impulsive itinerant actions.
I might be wrong, but that’s how I viewed him.

Again, there are so many things that I still can’t put my finger on as to Holden’s emotional process, but his desperate attempts to sate his emotional starvation was acutely felt this time.

“I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

Sadly, however, it was up to this point I really enjoyed reading this book.
This sequence, where Holden decides to go back to his house and sneak into Phoebe’s room was a watershed moment for me both in a good way and a bad way.
The dialogue that Holden has with Phoebe was pretty eye-opening and enlightening. Phoebe’s character setting is just wonderful. She is smart as a tack for a 10-year-old, I personally found Phoebe much more mature than Holden. A simple sentence, just one single sentence she mentions here cuts right through the truth and takes Holden by surprise; triggered by her question, Holden starts to gush about the reason why he detests phoniness with his own words and this is where I felt that I partially understood Holden.
I thought I would end up liking this book much better than the last time, but then again, there comes another twist and I was yanked back to the square one – another litany of rambling which I felt kind of sorry given the incident he went through but I felt my interest rapidly withering away. The ensuing 20 pages until the end felt pretty tedious and drag if you want to know the truth. 

The ending is kind of hopeful, it does end on a positive note. However, I still felt the ending a bit anticlimactic, or rather, it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions for me, it’s almost akin to indigestion and I was kind of sad about not being able to say ‘I loved it!’ with this reread. Since I was enjoying this book until pretty close to the end, I really wish I could say that I come to love this book.

That said, I am glad that I got to better appreciate this book than the last time.
Apart from the ending, I really enjoyed reading this and I thought it is well-written and gripping.
It definitely has a strong first half and I see the value in it. Only for that, I think I can raise my rating exponentially from 2 stars to 3.5 stars.

If you go into this book knowing what kind of character Holden is in advance, you might not be put off by it as much.
I put my much delightful reread down to having built up a stronger threshold for Holden.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (Excerpt from Goodreads)


 

I seriously can’t wrap my head around why it took me SO LONG to pick this one up; I should have read this much earlier than I actually did.

This is an incredibly powerful, electrifying book I have read all year. This one definitely lives up to the hype that it has garnered.

The author did an amazing, stunning job of delivering truthful accounts of what’s happening in the world and the long-standing issues that have been deeply entrenched in our society as well as shedding an enlightening light to our subconscious prejudice.

The writing is solid, powerful, and incredibly strong. The story is told from the perspective of Starr so the story is woven with relatively short, simple sentences. But don’t be fooled – the writing packs an incredibly strong punch that makes you feel sick in the stomach at times. It’s acute, brutal and sometimes just sickening. I can hardly imagine how much time Angie Thomas spent condensing her feelings, messages that she wanted convey down to these short sentence. When those sentences are consumed by us readers, as soon as they sink down our system, they rock us to the core; the explosion comes sometimes immediately, sometimes slowly like tidal waves. But it doesn’t make any difference in terms of the power and gravity this book delivers. I was simply amazed by her writing.
I must admit that it took me a while to get used to the diction, but it didn’t affect me in the way how I perceived this book.

In my reading updates, I remember saying that I found some scenes and parts a bit dull and underwhelming; but I was wrong. I now know it was all because the author was carefully building up the world of the story, literally laying the groundwork for the blast that comes later in the book. As expected, from Part 2, the story picks up and it gets only more captivating and enthralling, staggering at times.

What shook me is the messages this book delivers; the injustice placed upon the minority group, the prejudice we subconsciously have against those who we see as ‘different,’ and the total bulls***t that law enforcement, even the grand jury reaches on the incident.
This book made me cry and boiling with anger. I even went on a rant on my Goodreads updates. I was so frustrated and even reached the point where I felt ashamed of myself. The messages, the subject matters that this book deal with should be acknowledged by everyone, EVERYONE. As a fiction reader who is less inclined to go to news articles and other non-fiction books, I really appreciate Angie Thomas for writing this book and bringing this issue to my attention.

Another thing this book pointed out to me is where the cause of the prejudice lies.
In this book, Starr’s friend, Hailey is described as a ‘racist,’ and through a run-in with Hailey, Maya makes a confession that clearly illustrates Haily’s tendency to paint others based on wrong conceptions or based on their race.
What I found problematic or what bothered me here is that Starr blamed Hailey for being a racist (or, at least lashed out at her tendency of thinking White people’s lives matter more than those of black people) without giving any distinct, specific reason.
She later herself says, ‘we let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us.What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?’
In this run-in scene, Starr and Maya didn’t point out, or talked Hailey into what exactly wrong with her remarks. Without any in-depth explanations or talks, nobody can see why it’s wrong and their attitudes need to be corrected. Unless we are made acknowledge or instilled in moral sense, a clear distinction between what is allowed to say and what is not – we never know the ‘boundary.’
That was another thing that this book reminded me and although I wouldn’t say heart-to-heart talks will always work, I think it’s important enough for each and every one of us to bear in mind throughout our lives.

The argument, the clash between Starr and Chris at the Prom clearly reflects the deeply rooted racial issue that we have now, too. Throughout her life, Starr has mastered how to shift and fine-tune her attitudes depending on who she’s with; she subconsciously modifies her behavior – how to react, how to act, what to say etc, etc. She thought she can be herself with Chris, but she actually wasn’t. Her desire of not being seen as a charity case or seen from a ‘ghetto’ (as she puts it) made her hide her true self even from someone who’s supposed to be the closest to her. That insurmountable ‘barrier’ that could potentially have its roots in ‘race’ and lead to prejudice hit home for me.

To be honest, talking about this book as a fiction novel doesn’t seem to do any justice; it even seems totally irrelevant at least to me.

Reading this book made me realize how ignorant I have been and what makes the ‘real problem’ in our society – it lies with ourselves – partially, at least.

The latter part – particularly Part 5 is stunning. It really picks up the pace and culminates in a dramatic, stunning, beautiful end.

So many things happen in this Part 5, but the change arrives in Starr’s mind is particularly notable.
She goes through a lot of emotions; fear, despair, grief, but she finally recognizes what really matters in life and finds ‘real courage’.  What she goes through shakes her and freaks her out at times to the extent she wants to hide, not being recognized as ‘the witness’ – too heavy a burden for a 16 year-old girl to bear. But with the support from her family, Daddy and Momma, Seven, and Chris and so many others – she finds her VOICE. She determines to step out of her comfort zone and fight for justice.
This progression is done in a very natural way, it flows beautifully and doesn’t feel contrived or convenient at all. Combined with the fantastic characterizations of Starr’s family – especially Daddy and Momma – everything came into me really naturally without a hitch. Starr’s family dynamics is really a breath of fresh air – I liked it a lot.

I am quite satisfied with the direction this book take. It’s literally a ‘rude awakening’ yet is quite enlightening and pregnant with meaning.
There’s no sugar-coating, no embellishments, I feel this is a slavishly truthful reflection of the problems and issues that we have and again, this should be read by everyone.

This book won’t disappoint you.
I highly recommend everyone pick this up and I’m truly glad I finally did.

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi

 

The arranged marriage YA romcom you didn’t know you wanted or needed…

Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He’s rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she’s got other plans…

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works even harder to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

As joyfully refreshing as Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han and Nicola Yoon, When Dimple Met Rishi is a frothy, funny contemporary romance told from the dual perspectives of two Indian American protagonists. While Dimple is fighting her family traditions, Rishi couldn’t be happier to follow in the footsteps of his parents – could sparks fly between this odd couple, or is this matchmaking attempt doomed to fail?

‘Menon wrote an utterly delightful novel and broke my heart by writing an ending because I want nothing more than to keep reading about Dimple and Rishi forever . . . I’m looking forward to it being a huge hit of 2017.’ (Book Riot)

 


 

This is one of my most anticipated reads in 2017 and I am glad that I finally got around to actually reading it.

This is basically a cute YA romcom with a solid main plot where two young Indian Americans, Dimple and Rishi, meet for an arranged marriage which Dimple initially adamantly refuses, but then gradually fall in love with each other.

First, let’s talk about the writing; it’s very simple and straightforward yet it possesses a strong ‘draw’ that pulls the readers into the story and keeps them engaged throughout the book. Once you pick up the book, you want to read non-stop. Short chapters also make this book a fast-paced page turner, it’s pretty unputdownable.
Her sense of humor is also wonderfully displayed in her writing. In particular, the first 10 chapters or so are Oh So HILARIOUS. It’s been a while since I laughed over a book so hard – I don’t know what it is, but her diction and the choice of words amplify the hilarity even more and hit right at my funny bones, making me completely cracked up.
Not only being funny and hilarious, like I said, her flair in evocative writing is apparent; The main two characters’ inner conflicts, nervousness, concerns, hurt, dejection and joy are well reflected in the writing, making this book emotionally engaging.

The characters are interesting and well fleshed out, too. Although some of the subcharacters seemed underdeveloped and didn’t leave much of an impact, the fundamental differences in the two main characters – Dimple and Rishi – and their family’s characteristics are well-developed. Especially, the stark contrast in Dimple and Rishi’s beliefs and perspectives toward tradition, culture, and gender role in society give the book a lot more depth, I was curious to know how and when their paths ever cross and how they develop themselves as the story goes.

Personally, I found Dimple a bit unrelatable; she’s really goal-oriented, independent, and unconventional. She knows what she really wants in life and is full bent on getting it no matter what. Despite her mother’s wish for her getting married young, she aspires to leave her mark in the world as an App developer and shows absolutely no interest and even thinks that’s exactly what gets in her way. With her little respect to her culture and tradition she was born in, I found it a bit difficult to fully connect with her. She seemed a bit too selfish at least to me.
On the other hand, Rishi is incredibly mature and accepting. As opposed to Dimple, he accepts his role and obligations as the first son and show respects to everything he’s surrounded with – to his parents, to the culture, tradition, etc, etc. Most importantly, he is gentle and so adult in the way he handles things. Although he is born to a wealthy family, he isn’t reduced to be a despicable, stuck-up show off. When he displays his opulence, he does so for good cause. And this is the quality that makes Rishi an endearing, relatable character that you want to cheer on.
They seem completely different and would never get along, but what they have in common is their passion; Dimple’s for coding and Rishi’s for comics. They are both really talented yet Rishi is resigned that he has to ditch his dream to be a comic artist knowing it’s not what his parents want.

The chemistry between these two main characters, especially how the dynamics shift as they develop their friendship is such a joy to read. As they keep hanging out together and working on their project for Insomnia Con, the love starts to blossom despite Dimple’s initial rejection, and she finds herself gradually drawn to Rishi and feels comfortable in his company.
This transition is done in a very subtle, gradual way and it speeds up as the story develops. It may come across predictable, yet it doesn’t spoil the fun. The whole romantic scenes are just heart-melting and even sensual. They are simply breathtaking and beautifully written, striking a perfect balance with a healthy dose of sweet romance. It’s romantic, but not overly sugary nor saccharine. Simply swoony, gentle and beautiful. I enjoyed it a lot.

That said, there are some parts that I found sloppy in the latter half.
Basically, Dimple’s oscillating feelings toward Rishi and her reservations are well depicted and pretty gripping, but some scenes felt a bit of a letdown.
For instance, the talent show, a part of Insomnia Con competition falls into this category. Given the amount of pages spent leading up to this event, given all the fuss that has been made up to this point, the very scene, the talent show sequence is way too short and underdeveloped. It was like starting a minute ago and then finishes in the brink of an eye. That’s how I felt about the scene and I found myself quickly losing interest.
The ensuing scenes also came across too neat and convenient.
What’s supposed to be a moving reconciliation-followed-by-a-big-confession felt too predictable and generic. The change in Ashish’s perspective toward Rishi arrives too quickly, not convincing enough. How could the long-sitting sibling hostility be solved so easily??
I understand Ashish became pretty opened up to Dimple, but he wasn’t to Rishi, he hasn’t lowered his defensive guard against his big brother completely. In this regard, I felt it a bit too convenient and dull.

From then onwards, it kind of felt like a sandwich made of sloppy, too convenient scenes and moving, amazing cute scenes. You have a very convenient, clichéd scene where things go way too beautifully and then the next minute you have a very touching, engrossing scene where you find yourself on the edge of your seat; eager to find how the story unfolds.
These two come almost alternatively which is probably the reason why I got to stick to the book till the end. I seriously thought this book would only go south from the talent show scene that I mentioned above.

But you can rest assured; this book probably won’t disappoint you.
The exhilarating, cute, moving moments are in store for you in the end.
It’s kind of predictable and a bit dramatic, but again, it hangs in the perfect balance; it doesn’t come across overly dramatic nor too sweet, it won’t gross you out.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this. Despite some issues, flaws, and loopholes this book has, it is quite an enjoyable, cute YA romcom.
I appreciate this book being written by an Indian author and is about an Indian American boy and a girl. It brings diversity to a potentially typical YA romcom book and provides us with a glimpse of Indian culture. I bet you’ll find it interesting and refreshing, too.

If you are into cute, YA contemporary books, I recommend you pick this up.
In my eyes, this book lives up to the hype and is worth you time.
I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.