Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Title: Ramona Blue
Author: Julie Murphy
Rating: 4 Stars
Ramona Blue has been making internet waves well before its release date. A poorly written summary led readers to believe that Murphy's latest is about a lesbian who is "cured" by a straight male--that she finally meets the one guy who helps her see that she's been heterosexual all along! Well, let me put those worries to rest: Ramona Blue is not about homosexual-shaming in the least. In fact, Murphy's latest is a story of a young girl growing to realize that her sexuality is a lot more fluid than she originally thought it was--and a lot of other things in her life are, too.
Ramona has always known exactly who she is. She's been out of the closet as a lesbian since the 9th grade, she's always been by her older sister Hattie's side, and she's been working multiple jobs alongside high school just to keep afloat. Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated her small town in Mississippi and her mother moved out--and stayed out--her family of three has been living in a trailer park, struggling to make ends meet. But now, on the cusp of Ramona's senior year about to begin, everything is changing. Her sister is pregnant and the father of the child, Tyler, has moved in to their already too-small trailer. Her summer fling, Grace, is not yet out of the closet and, to make things worse, she's returning home to her boyfriend an hour and a half away. And, Ramona's childhood best friend, Freddie, is moving back to Eulogy, Mississippi.
I loved this book. Ramona's voice is so easy to slip into and her group of friends is impossible not to love. Ramona Blue charts Ramona's entire senior year, from its beginning to its end, and her growth over the course of the novel is remarkable. I love that Ramona feels so comfortable in her skin and in owning exactly who she is. When Freddie moves back, their friendship bounces back after years apart and I loved watching as he integrated himself seamlessly into her life and just fit in. Ramona doesn't lead an easy life--she's constantly working and can't help thinking of what her life could have been like if Hurricane Katrina hadn't wrecked it--but she makes the best of it and has pillars of support that get her through the toughest of times.
I admired Ramona from the beginning, simply for her resilience and hard work, but I soon grew to care for her since she never bothered to care for herself. With her sister pregnant, Ramona is scurrying around to save money for the baby, help her sister get the prenatal care she needs, and is making plans for post-graduation--not to go to college, but rather to be there for her sister. It broke my heart that Ramona didn't see a future for herself past Eulogy, Mississippi and I wanted her so desperately to be selfish, just the once, and put herself ahead of her family. The family and friendship dynamics are all written so realistically, though, and I admire Murphy's sense of characterization--I despised Hattie for being someone Ramona was willing to give up her future for, but I also loved the bond between these two sisters.
Freddie also becomes a huge part of Ramona's life, mainly because his grandmother and him encourage her to begin swimming at the gym and become such huge sources of support for her. But, Freddie is not only a best friend to Ramona--he's something more. And that scares her. She's never had feelings for a guy before, but Ramona knows she likes Freddie--a lot--and her journey to accept that and figure out any new label she might want for herself is written with aplomb. I especially love Freddie. Not only is he a swoon-worthy love interest, but he's such a good friend and I adore that he's a good guy to the core. We need fewer "bad boys" in YA.
Ramona Blue faltered for me towards the end, when Ramona does a lot of quick growing up and makes a bunch of decisions about her future, all in the span of a few pages. I really needed to see Ramona put herself first, after being such a selfless friend and sister, and I didn't feel like I got that time with her to see her accept that it was OK to be selfish and have a future outside of Eulogy. I also really wanted more discussions of race. Freddie is black and he has a brief, but important, conversation with Ramona about how being black in the South is an experience she can never understand, but I totally wanted more of this. Murphy definitely sacrifices a few of these harsher conversations for a lighter novel, and she does do complete justice to Ramona's journey in discovering that she doesn't just like girls, but I do wish we had seen more of an explicit discussion of this, and even of privilege which is mentioned quite a few times but never spoken about by any of the characters. That being said, I was totally immersed in this novel from start to finish and surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. I've never picked up anything by Murphy before, but this book just called to me and I'm glad I listened.
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Title: The Names They Gave Us
Author: Emery Lord
Rating: 5 Stars
The Names They Gave Us is tied with The Start of Me and You as my favorite novel by Emery Lord. I enjoyed Open Road Summer but When We Collided made me re-evaluate whether Lord and I had gone our separate ways. We haven't; not yet, at any rate.
Lord's latest follows Lucy, from the night of her junior prom when she finds out that her mother's breast cancer is back after two years, to her boyfriend "pausing" their relationship for the summer, just as Lucy goes off to be a counselor at Camp Daybreak, a far cry from the Camp Holyoke, the Christian camp where she typically spends her summers helping her pastor father. Lucy's voice is so fresh and honest. I couldn't help but be enamored by her from the beginning. Lord always writes characters I'd want to be friends with and Lucy was no exception. Even in the beginning of the novel, when Lucy simply wants to yell at the world--and especially at God--I knew The Names They Gave Us would be a gem.
Lucy's summer isn't easy, but the friendships she makes and the person she grows into are all wonderful. Camp Daybreak is a summer camp for children who have their own griefs to deal with, whether it be parental neglect, a teenage pregnancy, the death of a loved one, or something else entirely and, in that respect, The Names They Gave Us is an emotional novel. It isn't a cancer story, even though Lucy's mother's cancer is such a huge part of the book and especially a large part of Lucy and her mother's evolving relationship, not to mention family dynamic. It also isn't a religious novel, despite the fact that Lucy's father is a pastor.
Lucy has been raised in the Christian faith all her life but now, with the re-emergence of her mother's cancer she begins to doubt everything she knew. And, as someone who didn't grow up in the Christian faith, I can testify that I could still relate with Lucy. Her struggle to reconcile her experiences with her faith is a journey I think a lot of teens can relate to and Lord writes it with aplomb, balancing the religious and self-discovery aspects perfectly. I especially enjoyed that Lucy struggles to fit in because she's the pastor's daughter--people make assumptions about her personality, whether or not she drinks, her sexual limits, etc.--and watching Lucy grow and own who she is is such a rewarding part of this novel.
The Names They Gave Us features a trans best friend, people of color (and a love interest of color, actually!), discussions of privilege and sex, and is just all-round fantastic. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, the friendships in this novel make me wish for the past, and this story made me tear up on more than one occasion. I don't know how Lord manages to write such consistently fantastic YA novels which simply breath life into the genre, but she does. And I sincerely hope she doesn't stop.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Title: A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Release Date: June 27th, 2017
Where do I begin with this lovely, charming novel? I truly believe that Lee has found a hidden niche that we’ve all overlooked—the Victorian England MAN. There are so many incredible historical romances that dissect this time period and give agency to women, but Lee makes us take a closer look at what makes the Victorian England man the person he is—what circumstances and societal expectations he is faced with and, that contrary to popular belief, his life isn’t as charmed as we may think. It’s a fine line, making us care for a wealthy white man with all the privilege in the world, but Lee does it.
Monty, our hero, is a classic rake. About to inherit his father’s estate after being thrown out of Eton, Monty is about to embark on a tour of the Continent, seeing everything from France to Italy before returning to resume his duties as a peer of the realm. So, naturally, for Monty this tour represents his last chance—his last chance to get blackout drunk, to kiss all the girls (and guys) he can get his hands on, and to spend time with his best friend and crush Percy. Monty’s younger sister, Felicity, joins the boys (but only up until Marseille where she’ll begin Finishing School) and the trio anticipates a pleasant journey around Europe. Until, that is, Monty creates a scandal, accidentally steals a valuable item from an important person, and inadvertently causes the three to be on the run… From Marseille to Barcelona to Venice, this is a break-neck journey—but a heart-stopping and emotional one, too.
What I love about this novel is the nuance with which Lee tackles so many wonderful subjects, from homosexuality to race to gender, she talks about it all. Percy, as the biracial best friend of Monty, is subjected to questions and comments that Monty never has to deal with. Felicity, as the younger sister, is constantly overlooked and sent to Finishing School despite her passion for medicine. But Monty, dear boy that he is, is completely unaware of his privilege—and the slow realization that he has so much is a difficult, but necessary, journey. Acknowledging your privilege is never easy, but Lee captures Monty’s turmoil with so much ease and, what’s more, she makes us love him, privilege and all.
Because, as I said before, Monty’s life isn’t as charmed as it’s made out to be. His sexual orientation is constantly a source of discomfort for his family, namely his father, and his confusion about his future—what he really wants to do with it—is so easy to understand, even as he is already bound to a certain future because of his station in life. Monty’s privileges can be just as stifling as Percy or Felicity’s lack of privilege.
I also love that Lee subtly touches upon the intersection of race and social class and gender in her discussion of privilege. Percy, despite being biracial, was brought up in the lap of luxury and given a first-class education, unlike most other people of color during his time. Similarly, Felicity has the advantage of being a white woman, and a wealthy white woman at that, despite the barriers against her. I don’t want to make it seem like this novel preaches about privilege—because it does not—but Lee includes all of these important lessons and ideals so seamlessly throughout these pages and I love that.
The story itself is amusing and Monty’s dialogue is absolutely hilarious. It’s impossible to put this book down or to get these characters out of your mind. Monty’s crush on Percy is a perceptible, butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling, even to the reader, and I loved their romance; the constant push-and-pull of whether Percy was just being friendly or if he wanted more. There are so many beautiful, more serious dialogues interspersed between the highway men and changing continents, but it all flows so well and I full admit to tearing up on more than one occasion. The Gentleman’s Guide… is a vivid and wonderful feat for LGBTQIAP+ YA literature, simply because Lee gets it right. All of it.
If there are any flaws with this novel, they lay in the slight absurdity of some of the plot points…namely the fact that there are weird alchemical elements that join in to make this historical fiction border on fantasy on occasion. In addition, I would have loved to see more women in this novel (but that’s the women’s college student in me speaking). But, Lee’s research is remarkable and her attention to detail is impeccable. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself into this world and the ending, bittersweet but hopeful and ever-so-slightly open, only made me yearn for a sequel—desperately. I love these characters with all my heart and Lee managed to make me completely immerse myself, emotionally, in their well-being. I cannot recommend this book enough—pre-order it, read it, re-read it, gift it. It’s just that good.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Can you believe it's summer already? I'm back from Europe and...wow! This seemed so far away back in January and now I can't believe how fast time has flown!
3 Things About My Life This Month
2. Stress. May was a month marked by a lot of stress for me. Primarily because I am interning in D.C. this summer and finding a place to stay for the summer, while searching from Budapest, Hungary, was a disaster. After a lot of stress and tears, I'm finally living in GWU Student Housing which isn't glamorous or cheap, but at least I'm not homeless.
I was also stressed in May because of finals. And, to be perfectly honest, my finals didn't all go the way I wanted them to. I took a full, tough course load--a graduate level course, two upper level math classes, and an economics class taught as an applied mathematics course--and I found the professors and program resources to be entirely lacking all semester. And, long story short, that showed in my exam results. I'm not thrilled with how this semester turned out, academically, and that's stressful, and I feel like a failure in a lot of ways, which is stressful, but I also don't regret going abroad and growing so much as a person or having a slew of experiences which I would never have had the opportunity to have otherwise, which is also stressful. So, May. Stressful.
3. I am back in the U.S.! Speaking of stress, and May, I arrived back in the U.S. to find that the Hungarian iPhone I bought in Budapest back in March isn't compatible with Verizon, so I basically was fleeced $500 and had to spend another $300 to get an American iPhone. It was stressful and now I feel more stressed because that's literally $800 down the drain, all because of one silly night in March. But, that stress aside, it's so nice to be back home and catch up on sleep and T.V. and just eat Indian food! My uncle visited for Memorial Day Weekend and I have plenty more family members visiting before I dash off to D.C., so I'm excited to be back!
Top 3 Books I Read This Month
I read a lot of good books this month, but these three were the absolute best. A special shout-out to Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh, and my newly discovered favorite romance author Elizabeth Hoyt for making this decision extremely difficult.
Most Popular Post
I loved this book to pieces and am so glad that my review got the views that it did. I need Angie Thomas to write another book, but in the meantime I'll probably re-read this, tbh.
Post I Wish Got a Little More Love
I really enjoyed this novel and despite its title and cover, which really harken to younger audiences, I think there's a lot for YA/NA readers to love in this. It's entertaining, un-put-down-able, romantic, and has fantasy elements I haven't seen in a really long time. If you haven't read this one yet, check it out! It's the perfect summer read, I promise.
Obsessions of the Month
Aziz Ansari, I'd like my heart back. I loved the first season of "Master of None" but this second season was just as good, if not better since it was more heart-breaking and emotionally tense. It's not just the dialogue, the comedy, and the script that makes this series so good. It's the cinematography, it's the relatability of the issues which are contemporary and often don't get the screen time they deserve in Hollywood, and it's the directing genius. I love this show and I really hope Ansari decides to write Season 3 sooner, rather than later.
I'm also recently obsessed with Hasan Minhaj's "Homecoming King" which is brilliant! Watching both Ansari and Minhaj see so much success in their lives, addressing issues that pertain to people who look like me, is such a privilege--is what I'm coming to realize. I'm so lucky to be living in a day and age when Indians are making it big, are successful in all fields--not just medicine and engineering--and the feeling of watching a show or a comedy piece and identifying with it is new for me, but also oh-so-lovely. "Homecoming King" made me think and reflect and damn, I thought it was just a simple stand-up show but it's so much more. Watch it.
Top 3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month
1. Cousins visiting from India! My second cousin just completed a Master's program in Texas so his entire family flew in from India for his graduation and to visit the U.S. They started in Texas, went to the West Coast, went to Chicago, went down South, and now they're coming up to see the NY/NJ/PA area for about a week. I never get to meet my cousins too much, and definitely never on my home turf, so I'm excited to spend some time with them and hopefully get to know them better and show them my home! :)
2. Moving to Washington D.C. for the Summer/Starting my Internship! I love D.C. so I am really excited to be living in the city for the summer. My internship is a government position that mainly involves a lot of econometrics (which is terrifying because I've forgotten everything from my last year!) but I'm really looking forward to learning more about domestic economic issues after being abroad for a year and especially to be in the middle of all the politics (and drama!!) this summer.
3. Weekends. I've been spending the majority of my weekends travelling so I'm excited to have some lazy weekends to sleep in, explore D.C., and just have some down time to soak up the sun and read. I need this break so thank god summer is around the corner.
What are your summer plans? How was your May? Any books I need to bump to the top of my TBR for this summer? I'd love to hear in the comments below!! :)
Monday, May 22, 2017
Author: Riley Redgate
Rating: 4 Stars
Noteworthy took me by surprise. On the surface, this seems to be yet another girl-passing-for-a-guy book, but the differences are what make Noteworthy so, well, noteworthy. Jordan attends a prestigious high school for theatre, dance, and music students and over the past three years, she has struggled to land a role in the school musical because of her voice range. On a daring whim, with nothing to lose, she auditions for the Sharpshooters, an all-male a-capella group with a rich history dating back to Kensington Academy's earliest days.
It's when she gets in, though, that Jordan's life truly begins to change. Her transformation to Julian causes her to question everything from her sexuality to the manner in which she's appropriating the lives and feelings of the trans and LGBTQIAP+ community at large. For me, Noteworthy stands out because of the smaller moments--scenes where Jordan will scour the internet for ways to make herself appear to be a man and stumble upon an article intended for trans-men. Or how her status on campus as Julian changes her dynamics with women--and not just on a surface level.
I feel like these are such important consequences of cross-dressing that somehow never come up in a lot of other novels with this trope. Another aspect I love of Noteworthy is the fact that Jordan is a scholarship student--and despite her scholarship, her family is still struggling to support her, financially. Her strained relationship with her parents, who live in California while she's on the East Coast, spoke volumes about the immigrant experience, the class gap that students feel when attending an elite academy on financial aid, and life living on the poverty line. This incredible article by the Huffington Post, Asian Americans Have the Highest Poverty Rate in NYC, but Stereotypes Make the Issue Invisible reminded me of Jordan and her family's struggles and I love that Redgate captured that in such a seamless manner. It isn't an overwhelming part of the plot, but it's integral to Jordan's life at Kensington and her growth.
Redgate packs a lot into this novel, but Noteworthy is still a light, immensely readable story. Jordan's integration into the Sharpshooters, her slow-build romance with one of the members, and the ensuing a-capella wars are all a delight. Her recent break-up with her ex-boyfriend, Michael, was a slight aspect of the novel that I had trouble connecting with, but the large majority of this novel is an absolute hit. Don't miss it!
Monday, May 15, 2017
Title: Daughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King, #1)
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Rating: 4 Stars
I didn't ever expect to enjoy a novel whose title began with the words, "Daughter of the...". Those of you who have been reading YA for long enough know that these titles had their phase and I truly believe that ship had sailed. But, Levenseller's debut, despite its title hearkening to previous YA literature, is wholly unique. Daughter of the Pirate King introduces many tropes we're familiar with, from a beautiful and headstrong protagonist to a cocky, utterly charming love interest but Levenseller spins it into a tale I just couldn't put down.
Alosa, our titular heroine whose red hair gives her away, allows herself to be captured by her enemy ship and sent to their prisons. There are three pirate lords who rule the sea, but only one Pirate King, and he is determined to put together pieces of a map each of the pirate lords own and hunt down a fabled treasure that will make him rich beyond measure. Naturally, he sends his daughter to infiltrate the enemy ship and Alosa's mission is clear: find and steal the missing piece of the map, without alerting the enemy of her plan. But, the first mate Riden makes her job increasingly difficult. If only he would stop pestering her with questions, showing her unexpected kindnesses, or flashing that handsome smile of his...
This story is just pure fun and I read it in a single sitting. Alosa is fiery and smart, a combination I love, and her banter/love-hate relationship with Riden is at the core of this novel. The plot is fast-paced, swiftly making us support Alosa in all her endeavors, from making Riden believe she wants to escape the ship to her stubborn refusal to help the crew, to her ingenious plans to escape her cell. But, the heart of the story lies in her evolving relationship with Riden. Their friendship reveals so much about their pasts and the plot twists are a pleasant surprise. I, especially, love that their romance is drama-free and constantly keeps the reader on their toes.
Of course, this story isn't without its flaws--too many "special redhead" mentions, far too few female secondary characters who take the limelight in this, a strong case of Missing Parent Syndrome--but I suspect a lot of these minor flaws are about to be dealt with in the sequel. This is the first, not of a trilogy but of a duet, and the characters and their journeys are just too much fun to miss out on. The fantasy and lore in this, combined with the world-building, all make me eager to return for more. Believe me, Levenseller is an author I'll be looking out for in the future, off-putting titles be damned! ;)
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Rating: 5 Stars
The Hate U Give is incredible, powerful, and an absolute must-read for everyone. Thomas's story begins with our heroine, Starr, witnessing the death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who is unarmed and shot by a white police officer. What ensues is chaos as Starr struggles to protect herself in the media and amongst the two worlds she straddles--her expensive private school where she is one of two black kids and the town where she grew up in which is overrun by gangs.
Starr's story is a beautiful rendering of what it means to be black in America; of the microaggressions and racial comments you have to bite your tongue from responding to, of the pain and fear and injustice. I may not have been able to relate to the community Starr lived in, but so much of this story hit so close to home. One of Starr's closest friends continues to make "slight" racial comments/jokes in the wake of Khalil's death and Starr is fed up of ignoring them and moving on. She finally confronts their toxic friendship and as someone who is currently biting my tongue in the face of "slight" racist comments/jokes on a daily basis (being as I am currently studying abroad in Europe and my program is very, very white) I completely understood.
But more than that, this is an incredible YA novel about family and growing up and finding yourself and what you believe in and what you're going to fight for. I especially loved the emphasis on family that this novel delved into, from Starr's parents to her uncle and even her brothers. I felt immersed in a loving African American family while reading this and I desperately want to go back. Thomas's writing is just that good, though--I cannot recommend this enough and I wish she had a backlog of twenty-five novels for me to comb through.
I think, often in YA, we tend to have "issue" books or "diverse" books which seem to stand on their own from other novels. I don't want readers to think of this novel as one of those books. Is it diverse? Yes. Does it tackle important social issues? Absolutely. But at its core, it's an important story about belonging that I think everyone will be able to relate to and definitely learn from.
In the wake of our election, I have been motivated to learn more now than ever before about what it means to live in America and have an experience different from my own. If you feel even a fraction of the anxiety and desire to create change that I have felt over these past few months, read this book. It'll make you feel as if you're on the right track, at the very least.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
The majority of my April was spent in Croatia and, wow, this was one of the best trips of my life!
3 Things About My Life This Month
2. It finally feels like my study abroad experience is coming to an end. I've spent the better part of the past year in Europe and while I'm going to be sad to leave--SO sad because I love just jetting off on a flight to a different country every weekend!--I'm also ready to distance myself from this continent. I think the big difference between travelling around Europe on vacation as a person of color and living for an extended period of time in cities that are not the most diverse while being a person of color are some realities I've faced very starkly this past year. And while Budapest certainly offers more diversity than the small town I was living in last semester, my program this semester lacks diversity and I am so ready to return home and finally not feel like the only brown body for miles.
3. I went to Dublin, Ireland and.... I enjoyed the city of Dublin a lot--the pulse, the energy, the vibrancy of it despite the clouds--but my weekend was a bit of a wash-out since the friend I traveled with proved to be not the most trust-worthy person. I don't want to go into any details, but this was the first weekend travel trip I've taken and regretted taking. I'm sure I'll have many more travel regrets in the future, but this is sadly the first.. But, no fears, I definitely plan on visiting Ireland again in the future to see all the natural beauty this country boasts of!
Top 3 Books I Read This Month
I had such an amazing reading month in April! All three of these books were 5-Star reads for me and I loved them! The Hate U Give is just phenomenal, a must-read for everyone. Alex, Approximately was so, so cute and I love this book as much as I love Anna and the French Kiss or The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. It's that good. And, of course, Strange the Dreamer rocked my socks. I love Laini Taylor and need this sequel ASAP!
Most Popular Post
I loved this book so much and I'm so glad this post got the appreciation it deserved! It's such a fantastic sequel, so I recommend picking up this series for this book alone.
Post I Wish Got a Little More Love
In a month where I read almost only 5-Star reads, When Dimple Met Rishi didn't stand out...much. But I still adored this novel, especially the authentic representation of South Asian culture! I hope more readers will gravitate to this one because the diversity is off-the-charts good as are the parental relationships.
Obsession of the Month
Umm.. Croatia!!! Duh! In general, I feel as if I'm now obsessed with the Balkan region and I desperately want to return, especially to Bosnia and Herzegovina but I'd love to re-visit Croatia and Montenegro, not to mention make it out to Serbia as well. The history and culture of this region just fascinates me and I love that so much of it is untouched; the natural beauty is stunning.
3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month
1. Malta!!! I technically am leaving for Malta in April, but I return in May so...it counts, right? I'm traveling to Malta with my "squad" of seven and this is the first time I've ever done such a long journey with such a huge group of people, so I'm really looking forward to it! Plus, I've heard only good things about this beautiful island nation and cannot wait to experience it for myself!
2. Short weekend trips to Stockholm, Sweden and Vienna, Austria! These are the last two trips of my time here, in Europe, but I'm so excited for them both! I'm visiting a family friend's daughter (who I've never actually met) in Stockholm but we've been talking for the past year and she seems so wonderful! I'm really looking forward to meeting her and seeing yet another Scandinavian country and capital! I'm also excited to finally be visiting Vienna, which is only a short train journey away! I'm traveling here with a friend from the program and we're going to paint this beautiful city red, I just know it! ;)
3. HOME! Wow, I miss my mom, you guys! She visited me half-way through my semester last year, but it's going to be a full four and a half months since I last saw her! I'm really excited to be going back, though, since my uncle is also going to be visiting the weekend I land so it should be a really fun and family-filled time, which I am definitely craving after being away from home for so long.
How was your April? Did you do anything special to celebrate Easter? What are your upcoming plans for May? Did I miss out on any good books while I was obsessing over Croatia? Let me know in the comments below--I'd love to read what you think!
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Rating: 3 Stars
Release Date: May 30th, 2017
When Dimple Met Rishi isn't a perfect debut, but it has so much going for it with its South Asian leads that I want to focus on the good, more than the bad.
First off, my biggest misgiving going into this is that the premise is based on our eighteen-year-old protagonists being set up for an arranged marriage by their parents. So, let me clarify exactly what the synopsis of this story fails to explain in greater detail: Dimple has just been accepted to Stanford and desperately wants to spend her summer at a prestigious program in SFSU designing her own app. She's surprised when her parents agree as easily as they do to drop the money and foot her summer dreams, especially since her mother wants her to find a good husband (Ideal Indian Husband, actually) in college. When she gets to SFSU, however, she realizes that her parents old friends son, Rishi, is also there and unlike her, he's actually been told that their parents are considering getting them married and see this summer as a chance for the two to see if they're compatible or not. It's a little out there, IMO, but it's handled well since Dimple is career-driven and quickly dispels any notions of marriage the moment she meets Rishi.
From that unlikely start, the novel proceeds much like any contemporary romance--only so much better, really. Rishi has grown up in a wealthy household, appreciating his roots and staying true to them at every turn. Dimple, meanwhile, grew up middle class with a stay-at-home mom who had far too much time to focus solely on her daughter's appearance. Dimple feels stifled by the culture her parents push on her but through her interactions with Rishi, she grows to understand their perspective more--just as Rishi understands Dimple and her experience. Their conversations are a wonderful window into the South Asian American experience and while I didn't identify with just Rishi or just Dimple, I identified with many of the topics they covered and feelings they shared.
I especially love that Menon doesn't hesitate to include Hindi, Bollywood film references, and traditional Indian food in a very organic way throughout the novel. It doesn't feel forced and absolutely adds to the story. Further, Dimple and Rishi's parents are a huge part of their life and I love that they continue to play a big role in the novel, especially as we get both Dimple and Rishi's perspectives in this, so we get to see both sides of that parental relationship. Other positive aspects to this one? A diverse cast, ses-positive YA, and a really lovely exploration of Indian culture and the ways it can be confusing but also empowering to young South Asian teens.
Where this story falters for me, however, is in the execution of its romance. I enjoyed the love story, but I didn't fall head-over-heels for it and I found the inevitable break-up and resolution to be rather contrived and unnecessary. I loved the inner-conflicts that both Dimple and Rishi face individually during the course of their relationship, but the actual romance and backdrop at SFSU and secondary character drama didn't do much for me, personally.
That being said, I'm still thrilled to see a novel that breaks barriers with South Asian leads. For me, this is HUGE. Being able to see parts of your relationship with your parents or your immigrant experience in a book is not something I'm familiar with, so for that alone I think Menon succeeded. I hope she continues to write about South Asian Americans because I'm definitely on board for her next book, and her next book, and her next.
Friday, April 7, 2017
Title: Traitor to the Throne (Rebel of the Sands, #2)
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Wow, did Alwyn Hamilton up her game with this sequel or what? I liked Rebel of the Sands just fine, but I felt as if it could've benefited from a thorough round of editing--the plot could have been tighter, the secondary relationships could have been more fleshed out, etc. But Traitor to the Throne is seamless, balanced by non-stop action and supported by a large cast of secondary characters who refuse to fade into the background. Amani is our courageous heroine, as always, but I loved seeing her friendships with the other rebels and the relationships she had forged in such a short amount of time. The rebels are the backbone of Hamilton's fictional country, but they are also at the heart of this story--and I felt for their cause, so deeply.
The plot of this novel, too, feels so much more focused with Amani clearly helping the rebel leaders and whisked away to the palace, as the synopsis reveals, through unexpected circumstances. We see Amani forced to confront both her past and her present in this story as she works through her own flaws and past regrets. It's challenging to see Amani lost and alone, at times, but her persistence to keep surviving is admirable and she's become one of my favorite heroines with this novel. I also love that there are so many different forms of feminism in this story. Hamilton shows us the strength of being a lady in the harem, a beloved sister, and a rebel--a woman's role in life does not limit her power or her struggle for freedom. Amani and the women of the harem she meets in the palace have so much more in common than they first imagine and I really appreciated that Hamilton took the time to flesh out these woman-to-woman relationships and build them without their reliance on men or relation to men.
Hamilton's prose is also stunning throughout this story. She litters the novel with anecdotes and legends, building this world more thoroughly for us, as well as introducing a political mix by giving us insight into neighboring territories while Amani resides in the palace. It's a fascinating and complicated world and I am eager to see how the issues brought up in this story are resolved in the finale. The romance, though taking a back-seat, is very much alive and while Jin and Amani are separated for most of this story, it never bothered me the way such plot devices typically do. It felt very appropriate both for the plot threads and for Amani's growth and I am excited to see how all these relationships--from her romance to her friendships to her loyalties to the rebels--play out in the sequel.
This was simply such a fantastic, un-put-down-able story and Hamilton did not disappoint in the least. I loved Traitor to the Throne so if you're on the fence about this series, or even just on the fence about continuing, I promise you this sequel makes it all worth it.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Ahh, March...I am glad to see this month go. It wasn't the worst it could have been, by far, but there were some rough times this past month, I have to admit. Plus, midterms have not been fun..AT ALL.
3 Things About My Life This Month
2. I had a...rather terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend. I'd been having a great week since March 15th is a Hungarian National Holiday, a.k.a. no school, so by the time St. Patrick's Day rolled around, we were all excited to continue our amazing weekend, especially since a new club had just opened in Budapest. We went out for dinner (Mexican!) and then went out and, for whatever reason, my stomach just hated the food we had had. I was super sick, threw up at the club, threw up in a taxi, threw up at our apartment, and then threw all my clothes into the washing machine. The next morning, I realized that my phone was in the pocket of my skirt, which was then in the washing machine, and to make matters worse, I had a fever that night and was in general pitiful and horribly sick. It sucked. Needless to say, my wallet took a huge hit buying me a new phone (and paying the cab driver). :/
3. I went to Berlin, Germany! We didn't quite plan our trip to Berlin perfectly since it happened to fall the weekend before midterms, but I had a wonderful time in the city! We took a free walking tour which was just incredible and I made a new friend on the tour who joined us for a large portion of our trip and just made it that much more fun. I don't think Berlin makes my top cities of Europe, list, but I just loved the history and the palpable energy of this capital.
Top 3 Books I Read This Month
Of course, A Conjuring of Light is going to be among the best books I read all year. I mean, V.E. Schwab and my favorite adult fantasy series right now? So...yes. It was amazing. My two surprises of the month were Traitor to the Throne and Daughter of the Pirate King! I enjoyed Rebel of the Sands but I certainly didn't love it but, wow, this sequel is a whole new level of absolutely incredible. Hamilton's prose is beautiful and the world-building, stakes, and characterizations are all just better in this novel. I need the sequel...now!!! Daughter of the Pirate King was also a pleasant surprise since I didn't have high expectations for this debut and was pleasantly surprised by what an enjoyable fantasy this was. I read it all in one sitting and I am dying for the sequel in my hands (it's a duet!!).
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I loved this book to pieces and it's part of one of my all-time favorite series ever so I hope more readers pick up these books! A Conjuring of Light wasn't my favorite of the trilogy, but it was such a satisfying ending to this world that I have no complaints.
Post I Wish Got a Little More Love
Mini-Reviews: London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning, Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama, and The Next Together by Lauren James. I rarely post mini-reviews so I hope more readers check out this post! It's a mixed bag, but I'm hoping to have more of a discussion on why some readers may have loved books that just didn't strike a chord with me and vice-versa.
3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month
2. I'm off to Dublin, Ireland! I've been hearing so much about what an incredible city Dublin is, so I'm very excited to be finally visiting (and try some Guinness while I'm at it!).
3. Malta!! The last weekend of April is a long weekend for us, here in Hungary, so I am off to Malta with the entire squad. The other trips I'm taking next month are only with my roommates, but our entire squad of eight is finally taking a trip together and we're off to the tiny island nation of Malta, which looks stunning! I can't wait!
Needless to say, next month is already lining up to be so much better than this one and I cannot wait for my back-to-back weekends of traveling and beaches. How was your March? Any plans for April? Any travel recommendations for me? Any good beach reads I should make sure to take with me? Let me know in the comments below! :)
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Mini-Reviews: London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning, Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama, and The Next Together by Lauren James
Title: London Belongs to Us
Author: Sarra Manning
Rating: 4 Stars
I didn't expect to love this book as much as I did, but I should have known better because Sarra Manning. This entire book is a crazy roller coaster of an adventure as our heroine, Sunny, finds out that her boyfriend has another girlfriend from his previous school and has been two-timing her for the entire duration of their "relationship." Sunny starts off wanting to forgive him, but as she searches London for him, she begins to realize that she deserves a lot better. The plot doesn't seem all that revolutionary, but the people Sunny meets on her night--girls who encourage her to stand up for herself, friends who tell her that self care is not selfish, buddies who support her for who she really is, and even other girlfriends who prove that women support each other instead of putting each other down--make this a wonderful story. I love these types of strong friendships and this book passes the Bechdel test ten times over. It also has so many meaningful conversations about class, privilege, and race. Just... I love Sarra Manning. Can every YA book be this nuanced and yet still so much fun?
Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Rating: 2 Stars
Oh, this book had so much potential. I want to start by saying that, whatever my reservations with this story, I did really love the mermaid lore. Fama's mermaids are deadly and savage and I loved them. However, the story, which alternates between present-day where Hester, a young teenager, begins to investigate her family history where every woman has passed away after giving birth, and between a time years ago when Syrenka, a mermaid, fell in love with a human, Ezra, and left the ocean to be with him, leaves a lot to be desired.
Syrenka's story is vastly more interesting than that of Hester's. For one, Hester has sworn off of dating because she doesn't want to end up like her mother and grandmother before her, which is rather faulty logic because dating someone very rarely equates automatically having a child with them. What's more, Hester's storyline undergoes some vast changes, with some rather late insta-love happening and weird details seemingly explained away such as her absentee parents and her far-too-understanding-best-friend Peter. It just never came together for me and I wasn't able to love Hester as a heroine, either.
Syrenka, though, I adored. Her story is expertly told but the mystery plaguing the novel and subsequent solution is all a little too flimsy for my liking. I'm not one for strange supernatural tales, so perhaps this is just a case of "me-not-you", but Monstrous Beauty is a novel I'd skip, fascinating folk lore and all. Take my advice and read Fama's sophomore novel instead: it's brilliant.
Title: The Next Together
Author: Lauren James
Rating: 3 Stars
I had heard a lot of praise for this novel before launching into it, but it wound up falling seriously short for me. I really love the premise of this one--a couple, separated by circumstances in every generation but they keep managing to find each other again in their next life. It's done quite well, too, with James slipping between eras seamlessly as she makes us swoon for this couple. But, where the issue crept up for me was in the final third of the novel. Our main era, essentially present-day-ish, features Katherine and Matthew as high school students. As we learn how they fell in love in previous lives, present-day Katherine and Matthew are investigating their aunt and uncle, respectively, who were married and then labeled as terrorists. Of course, they realize that they are their reincarnations but their love story, based completely upon their recollections of past lives, is flimsy at best. I couldn't root for present-day Katherine and Matthew, despite loving all of their past incarnations.
What's more, the explanations for how Katherine and Matthew remember their past is essentially non-existent. The book is written in such a way that it seems as if there is some higher time-traveling power that is watching over Katherine and Matthew and reincarnating them to save the world, for some purpose or the other. But, none of this is ever explained. I suppose I have to pick up the sequel, but I'm so confused and rather irritated by the lack of answers that I won't be launching into the companion novel. The Next Together is well-written and I'm impressed by the multiple historical fiction love stories bound together in this one, but the ending doesn't pull off this intriguing premise as much as it promises to and, by the end, I was only left disappointed.
Saturday, March 11, 2017
Title: The Loose Ends List
Author: Carrie Firestone
Rating: 4 Stars
This book had so much packed into it that I honestly just feel like I need to re-read it because I'm concerned I might have missed something. And I don't want to have missed anything about this debut. It's strange and bizarrely unique but I can't deny that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Loose Ends List is about a family whose matriarch is dying of cancer. When she decides that her last wish is for her family to join her on a cruise around the world, they are helpless in the face of her disease. Maddie, our protagonist, loves her Gram and it's difficult for her to not only see her health slowly deteriorate, but it's equally hard for her to come to terms with the fact that the other members of the cruise are also dying. For a novel with such a morbid premise, there is a palpable sense of humor underlying these pages. It isn't bogged down by its subject matter but rather it celebrates the life of its characters and I commend Firestone for walking this fine line with aplomb.
Surprisingly, this book is about traveling and discovering new places and putting yourself out there, no matter how much time you have left. It's about family and holding on and learning to forgive and move on. It's about facing your fears and owning who you are, regardless of your sexuality or relationship status. There isn't a lot of friendship drama, here, but Maddie and her cousin are as close as sisters and their evolving relationship passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Maddie's family dynamics, not just with her Gram but with her mother and father and brother, are all sources of thoughtful, remarkable characterization. Her romance with Enzo, the son of the cruise company owner, is deep and heart-breaking, but also open, trusting, and full of growth for both of them. Maddie forces Enzo out of his shell and, in turn, Enzo shows Maddie what a relationship built on equality and trust can be like.
But there is so much more that I loved about this novel. I loved its honest, open conversations about sex. I loved its inclusion of an older generation of characters who we often overlook and like to pretend don’t exist in YA. I loved the difficulty with which Maddie makes bonds with those dying on the cruise ship and has to cope with that grief. There is so much grief, in this book, but there is also so much to be thankful for and to celebrate—Firestone really, truly doesn’t make this a tragedy and for that, I loved it most of all. It’s a really different, unique novel and not everyone will love it, but I certainly did. A re-read is in my future, not to mention a close stalking of Firestone’s future releases. You can bet I’ll be pre-ordering them at the first chance I get.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Title: A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3)
Author: V. E. Schwab
Rating: 5 Stars
You can read my review of the first book in this series, A Darker Shade of Magic, HERE.
A Conjuring of Light was everything I hoped for and more. For me, this series has gone from a whimsical, adventurous fantasy tale to a thrilling story with brewing darkness to, now, epic fantasy. Schwab has transformed her trilogy from a more light, exciting novel that is a pleasure to read and re-read to a darker, more serious tale where the stakes are high and the repercussions are higher. This final installment loses none of the charm, wit, or humor of the first two books but it is dark, throughout, which makes for a thrilling finale but A Gathering of Shadows nevertheless remains my favorite.
That being said, I loved this book. And I love this series. The first 10% or so is high tension, heavy action as Schwab picks up where her torturous cliffhanger left off. Then, the darkness settles as the Red London we've come to know and love is transformed. What I love about Schwab's writing is that she strikes the perfect balance between action and contemplation, darkness and light. We delve deeper into the minds of the King and Queen, Maxim and Emira, as well as into Holland's past and getting the chance to understand these secondary characters better was an unexpected treat. I didn't think I'd come to care for them as much as Kell or Lila or Rhy, but I did.
Schwab further challenges each and every one of her characters in this story. We've seen Kell put the test, time and time again over the course of this series, and Holland as well, but this time we see Lila and Rhy, Alucard and Maxim, Emira and Tieren, all put to the test. It's not easy but it's a worthwhile journey. Kell and Holland aren't forgotten for, as always, these two Antari are tried and tested. The challenges facing these characters in this finale seem insurmountable but the conclusion--the second half of this story--is all fast-paced action and sacrifices, grief and bloodshed, and I couldn't put it down.
I set out to devour this novel slowly, and to a large extent I did. But I sped through the last half of this novel and I feel bereft and strangely alone now that this seductive series is over. I will miss it, terribly. And while I will read and re-read these books again and again, nothing can compare to the feeling of first flipping through these pages. If you haven't already picked up these books, do it. They'll change your life and your heart will never quite be the same again; these books have replaced my prior favorite books--that's how good they are. Anoshe.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
I can't believe the month is already over! February is always a quick month but this one felt faster than usual. I had a fabulous month, though, and I think next month and definitely April are going to be even better, which is exciting. I made a lot of travel plans and did a lot of bookings, so look out for many (many!) photos on my Instagram soon!
3 Things About My Life This Month
1. I went to Prague! And Bratislava! I spent a weekend in Prague, Czech Republic with my (now) roommates and it was wonderful. It was quite cold but the city was stunning. I also visited Bratislava, Slovakia this month, sort of as a spontaneous day trip. It was a city I didn't have a lot of expectations for but it was pleasantly lovely and our day was just beautiful! If you're ever in the region, don't hesitate to jump ahead and visit!
2. I switched apartments! Literally right after I came back from Prague, I switched to live with my two best friends, so it was slightly stressful to pack up and unpack again, but it was so worth it! I love the apartment but mostly I just love my roommates. After my rough transition into Budapest, I didn't expect to find such close friends so soon but I feel confident I've found life-long friends which is amazing.
3. The month has been LIT. I've basically spent this month alternating between attending math classes, solving problem sets, and finding a squad. Budapest is a city with tons of nightlife so my weekends have been full of excitement, brunch, and other sight-seeing activities but I've also been hard at work. I love working hard and playing hard so I've had a realllyyy good month. (A little low on the reading, but high on everything else.)
Top Books This Month
First of all, it's sad that I read such few books (and such few good books) this month that I don't even have a top three for you all. But, I really loved both of these adult reads and, hopefully, will be writing about them soon. In the meantime, however, I highly recommend them both.
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I'm always thrilled when these posts are a hit! They're some of my favorite to write so I'm glad that they're also some of your favorite to read. :)
Post I Wish Got a Little More Love
I loved this book when I read it last year and I want more people to pick it up because it's absolutely fantastic! Definitely give this a try, even if historical fiction or 14 perspectives doesn't seem like your thing; Gyasi makes it work.
Obsession of the Month
Chimney Cake! This Hungarian street food is so, so good and I've been unable to resist buying all kinds of flavors and varieties this past month. RIP my wallet.
3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month
1. Travelling to Poland! I'm off to Poland this weekend, Krakow to be specific, and I'm really excited! I've heard Krakow is a beautiful city and ever since I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam last semester, I've wanted to visit Auchwitz, so I'm finally going to do that this weekend which I'm looking forward to. It's not going to be the easiest trip, but it's an important one.
2. Visiting my friend from high school in Copenhagen! One of my really good friends from high school is studying abroad in Copenhagen and we're doing a mini-reunion with another friend of mine from high school in Denmark this month and I am so, so excited! I've heard Copenhagen is a beautiful city and we're planning on renting bikes and exploring on wheel, so I'm really looking forward to this trip.
3. Going to Berlin with my roommates! We have midterms in March, which is a bummer, but we're celebrating by going to Berlin afterwards which I can't wait for! I've heard so much about this city and Germany is a country I've been wanting to visit for a long time. If you have any recommendations please let me know!
How was your February? Can you believe it's March already? Anyone have any exciting March plans?
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.