Sunday, February 19, 2017
Title: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
Rating: 3 Stars
My shameful weakness is the hate-to-love trope, especially when it's done in an office setting and involves elevator kisses--all of which The Hating Game promised. But while it sounds like it could be another [book:Practice Makes Perfect|5082599], Thorne's debut sadly doesn't even come close.
The Hating Game is a cute, fun read. It takes awhile to really get off its feet, but once it does, it's certainly entertaining. It's impossible not to fall for Lucy and Josh and their all-too-familiar game of hating one another. But where this novel falters, for me, is in the mere fact that it is all so slow. Lucy takes forever to realize that Josh really, really doesn't hate her, even when it's so freaking obvious. Even when these two are together, it's really only by the end that all this sexual tension comes to fruition and I felt as if, with characters this combustive, this story should have been so much more sexier than it actually wound up being.
I'll admit that the drama is kept minimal, which I liked, but this book is merely a romance. Josh and Lucy have no other friends, barely speak to their family members (except when used as a plot device) and they have all the time in the world to spend thinking about only each other--and they do! It made me worry that, when all was said and done, they'd become bored constantly spending every waking moment of their time with each other when they went through such little personal growth, particularly inner development that manifested itself in any way except a thought or two.
Sadly, Thorne isn't going to be a new romance favorite. If you're looking for a fun, flirty, and sexy office romance that features kick-ass females with friends and lives outside of their love stories, look no farther than Julie James and Lauren Layne. I don't mind a protagonist who is struggling and lonely, but I need her to take control of her life and pass that damn Bechdel test! If you aren't as picky as I am about such things, I guarantee The Hating Game is for you.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Title: Nameless (Nameless, #1) & Clanless (Nameless, #2)
Author: Jennifer Jenkins
Rating: 4 Stars & 2.5 Stars
NOTE: This joint review contains NO SPOILERS for the series that are not already mentioned in the synopses of these books.
Clanless was a mixed read for me. Nameless seemed like a promising start to a new fantasy series--fast-paced, slow-burn romance, and plenty of plot twists to keep readers guessing. I loved the world Jenkins had created and, more than that, I enjoyed the secondary characters and the originality of failing to fall for typical YA tropes. But, Clanless was a far cry from the sequel I was expecting after the cliffhanger ending of Nameless.
In Nameless our heroine, Zo, infiltrates the Ram territory to spy and pass on information to her clan, the Wolves. Her plan goes for a toss, though, when her eight-year-old sister, Tess, follows her in. Now, Zo is determined to escape the impenetrable fortress with her sister instead of risk her life for the Allied, an agreement of clans to unite against the Rams. The Ram clan is ruthless, training their young for battle from the start and killing anyone and everyone who doesn't pass their tests. Now, their numbers have dwindled and the territory they've amassed is failing. They don't have enough food and their captured slaves, the Nameless, outnumber the Ram. As they make plans to attack the Wolf and the Raven clans for food stores, the Nameless gather in rebellion and Zo passes on information. But Zo doesn't expect her life to become intertwined with Gryphon, a Ram striker whose father deserted the clan, making him work twice as hard for everything he's achieved.
Nameless works because of Zo and Gryphon, individually. They're both battling with their loyalty to their clans and the new information they're uncovering about each other but I love that Zo never loses sight of her goal and Gryphon allows himself to be open to new ideas. Ideas like realizing that the Ram attack the weak, would kill his best friend's newborn child for a slight lip deformation, and that Ram can fall in love with other clans, too. The secondary characters, namely Gryphon's foster brother, Joshua, are fleshed-out characters in their own right and I loved the large host of characters that accumulated as the story went on.
In Clanless, Jenkins continues to prove that she is an expert at action, never losing the fast-pace that she has set in Nameless. But, where Clanless falters for me is in its portrayal of male and female roles. Early in the story, Zo and Gryphon are separated and believe that the other is dead. This drives the entire plot of the story forward as Zo fights for Joshua and Tess and Gryphon sets out to fulfill Zo's desires for him. While I continued to enjoy their individual story arcs, particularly because the world-building is so well-done in this sequel, I grew annoyed by the very stereotypical gender roles.
For me, the best aspect of fantasy is the fact that it isn't our world. Not our world, not our rules, and it doesn't have to be our gender stereotypes, either. This was such an incredible opportunity for Jenkins to use Zo and Gryphon's independence from one another to build their individual characters for the first time. Instead, I felt as if so many key moments in this plot became Zo fighting off unwanted attention because of her beauty (again), Zo falling and crying and breaking apart because Gryphon wasn't there, Gryphon having to nearly yank up a tree to express his grief, etc. This world is far more patriarchal than it needed to be, especially because it's fantasy. All of these clans have different customs, religions, languages, and fighting styles. They all look different and have different builds and skills. But they can't have different gender rules? I didn't buy it.
The world-building expands significantly in this novel and though I am quiiiite sure I've predicted a "major plot twist" in the final novel, I'm still planning to pick it up. I love the concept of this world and especially the way that the differences between clans and the misunderstandings about clans are a mirror of the way we misunderstand and stereotype other cultures and races in our own world. But, I do feel like Clanless is a huge missed opportunity for Jenkins, despite the action of the plot and the expanded world. If you're not as critical of fantasy or gender roles, though, I suspect this is going to be a hit. If I recommend the series remains to be seen with the release of Book 3, but so far, it's a mixed bag of high highs and low lows.
Monday, February 6, 2017
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Rating: 5 Stars
I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk, titled "The Danger of a Single Story," and I thought of it often while reading Homegoing. In fact, the absolute best aspect of this novel is that it doesn't fall into the trap of the danger of a single story; instead, this a novel told from fourteen different perspectives, over seven generations of a family whose half-sisters are separated from birth and whose consequent lives take them down very different paths. Effia, who marries a white man, stays on in her homeland, the consequent generations of her family witnessing the rise and fall of colonization, all while playing a large part in the slave trade themselves. Esi, meanwhile, is sold into slavery and her lineage continues, in America, living a completely different life from their counterparts in Ghana.
It's a striking, beautifully written story. It took me a long time to read, not because it was slow or boring, but rather because it was so incredibly thought-provoking. Gyasi makes me care for each of her characters, wishing that I got more than just one chapter from their perspective before jumping years into the future onto the next generation. But, I'd feel the same sense of loyalty and care for the next character I encountered. Gyasi has a talent for weaving these fourteen perspectives together in such a way that it never felt as if a large chunk of time or ocean was missing as we went back and forth between Ghana and the United States.
As an American, the chapters told from the perspectives of Esi's descendants, first slaves and then black men thrown in jails and then victims of segregation, struck hardest. To be frank, the scariest part of reading them is that, in so many ways, not much has changed: black men are still thrown into jails, they are the victims of police brutality and hate crimes, their lives are dominated by the sole aspect that they are black. It's a rude awakening that America has so much farther to go, to change.
The chapters set in Ghana were a fascinating look into the lasting effects of colonialism, even well after the white man had left. What I appreciated most about these chapters are that Gyasi never writes stereotypical characters. Her characters are gay, disabled, angry, confused, labeled crazy, victims of their pride or ego, etc. She doesn't make it easy for them, even if they are in Ghana and seem, at first, to be the luckier half of this family tree.
There is so much more to say about this novel but, mostly, it simply demands to be read and pondered over. Homegoing is an incredible, ambitious debut. In the wake of this election, at a time when hate crims are surging and the lives of minorities seems most fragile, Homegoing offers a much-needed perspective that prides itself on being not just a single story, but many stories, over many generations and through many eras of history. It is incredible.
Thursday, February 2, 2017
3 Things About My Life This Month
1. My first week in Budapest was really, REALLY tough. It seems like such a first-world problem to be traveling to a foreign country and have difficulty fitting in, but that's exactly what happened! I was so stressed before leaving for France last semester but this semester I thought I had everything figured out! I had done this whole study abroad thing once, with all the highs and lows, so surely nothing could surprise me now? Well, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. My first week in Budapest felt so lonely and my emotions were all over the place and it's only thanks to my family and friends that I finally feel settled in and now, I actually love it here! Just two weeks can make such a huge difference so if you know anyone having a tough time abroad, I'd say just give it time. I had a lot of high expectations for myself and didn't give myself the time I needed to adjust but everyday just gets better and better.
2. I am finally cooking for the first time in my life! I live in an apartment in Budapest and while eating out isn't expensive, it's a lot more expensive than cooking, which is why my mom gave me a crash course on Indian cooking while I was home for break and now I've been cooking every week! I didn't think I'd like cooking, but I am discovering this whole new side to myself that I never even knew existed! I like cooking! I like grocery shopping! Stirring a pot in the kitchen is relaxing, not boring! I feel like a full-fledged real adult (which I know, is not actually true) and it's both terrifying and very, very exciting.
3. America's 45th President is every bit as terrifying as I thought he would be. I yearned to be among protestors during the Women's March, the day after Trump's inauguration, but I was so uplifted to see the massive support that existed; the resistance. But that high has plummetted with Trump's actions this last week of January. The Travel Ban is not okay. It is not who we are as a nation and my heart goes out to the refugees and Muslims who should be able to find a home in the United States and cannot. I myself am a first-generation immigration and I am lucky enough to hold an American citizenship and know that despite the color of my skin, I can (and hopefully will!) be allowed back into my country. But the fact that so many others must pay the price for being born with skin that isn't white or into a religion that isn't Christianity is absolutely disgusting. I am shocked and distressed by Trump's actions, but I take hope from the lawyers who are working tirelessly, the protestors who haven't given up, and the courts who are calling out the unjustness of this new administration's actions.
Top 3 Books I Read This Month
I actually had a really tough reading month. I read a lot of books by beloved authors that somehow didn't make the cut or impress me, but I am still thrilled to have found three books that took me by surprise and put a smile on my face.
A Gentleman's Guide... isn't out for awhile (check out my pre-review here) but you should all pre-order this fantastic, LGBTQIAP+ YA historical fiction. It does such a good job of addressing issues like privilege, women's rights, race relations, and LGBTQIAP+ problems in an accessible manner and this book is also just so, so hilarious and an absolute adventure to book. You can't go wrong with it. My review of The Dark Days Pact got a lot of attention this month but if you haven't read this series by Goodman, you need to rectify that now. It's by far one of my favorite books of the year already. And Pretty Face by Lucy Parker is such a gem. I adore this author to pieces and her latest book did not disappoint in the least.
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Obsession of the Month
Um..BUDAPEST! After all the traveling I did last semester, I wasn't sure if Budapest would be a big enough city to entrap me all semester. But, guys, I love this city! The nightlife is amazing, the people are so nice, Hungarian food is delicious, and the program I'm in is wonderful! I've been studying Hungarian for the past two weeks and though the language is tough and something I am not obsessed with, the people I've met are definitely friendship material! So, yes, I am obsessed with Budapest! This city is gorgeous, the history is so incredible, and I cannot wait to discover even more of it in the next few months!
3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month
1. I am going to Prague! This first weekend of February is going to be spent in Prague along with three other friends and I am so immensely excited! I've wanted to go to Prague for a long time, but it's a trip I've been saving for this semester because of its close proximity to Budapest. I cannot wait to experience this city in all its winter glory--stay tuned on Instagram for updates and photos! :)
3. Birthdays, Galentine's Day, Friends, Relatives, and More! One of my close friends here in Budapest is celebrating her birthday this month, so I am really excited to plan a wild night as she turns 21! We're also planning an epic Galentine's Day and many of my friends have relatives coming to visit them at the end of the month who I'm really looking forward to meeting! When you know someone for just a few weeks, getting to meet their close family and friends is such an eye-opening experience and I'm really looking forward to becoming closer with the friends I've made and continue to expand my friend circle here, in Budapest. Plus, just because I don't have any other travel plans lined up now doesn't mean that I won't have some coming up... ;)
How was your January? Is your 2017 off to an amazing start? Any good book recommendations? I'm struggling to find some cozy winter reads for when my classes get intense and all I want to do is escape into a book. Any travel plans or recommendations for Central/Eastern Europe? I am always looking for more places to go and advice on what to do while there! Have any of you been to Budapest? Are you as in love with this city as I am? I want to know in the comments below!!
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Author: Mariana Zapata
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Kulti was such an unexpected gem. Jasprit brought this to the top of my TBR with her review and I have to echo her sentiments: I loved this book! Sal Casillas is a professional and soccer is her life. When her absolute favorite soccer player ever, Reiner Kulti, becomes her coach, she is prepared for the best season of her life. What she finds, though, is that Kulti is uninterested, brings a whole lot of unwanted attention to her team, and downright rude when he deigns to coach. Sal, seeing her idol fall off the pedestal she had built for him years ago, isn't about to be silent as Kulti ignores fans (like her father) and targets specific players (like her) on the field.
But, of course, there is so much more to Kulti than what Sal saw on television as a child or even in front of her now, as an adult. Zapata's prose is distinct and un-put-down-able. She is a lover of detail and Kulti is a comprehensive tale, following Sal before Kulti enters her life and showing us just how determined, hard-working, and dedicated our heroine is. Sal is a woman of principles and her patience, resilience, and moral compass are admirable. It's impossible not to love and root for her, first as she gets over her star-struck awe of Kulti to confront him, and then later as the two become fast friends.
The romance is under-stated and left off until the very end of the novel, but the story is no less rewarding for that and I loved reading the ups and downs of Kulti and Sal's friendship. Theirs is a relationship I couldn't see happening at all in the beginning of the novel but, of course, half-way through I was dying for them to get together. If there are any flaws with the story, it is only that the explanation that Kulti and Sal are best friends is flimsy, frankly, and the concern he has for her, and not for any of the other players, is a little frustrating. After all, he is her coach and the coach to the rest of the players on her team, too.
Still, the secondary characters are so well fleshed-out, from Sal's friends and family to Kulti's fellow players. For a monster of a book, I absolutely flew through this and I only wish there was a novella or two to accompany it because I'm not ready to say goodbye to this dynamic couple. Zapata is definitely an author I'll be looking out for--after all, her novels feature sports, diversity, and romance in equal parts, so what more could I ask for?