Color Outside the Lines Edited by Samira Ahmed

Color Outside the Lines is an anthology about interracial relationships across time and genres.It’s about the ways in which these relationships are both different and the same as the ones that aren’t interracial; it not only talks about love, culture, and prejudice but also about family, friendships, communication, expectations, and legacies, from different points of view.This book elaborates on one point: love has no boundaries! It’s not caged within walls with certain rules and regulations, but creates a pathway for the union of two souls, regardless of the so-called societal beliefs which the authors did a wonderful job in exploring and conveying many of these factors in their stories. Although I could review each story, it wouldn’t do justice to the book, because collectively this
book voices a stronger message and is easier to understand and refer to, when reading each author’s take on the shared topic. There’s a story for everybody within these pages, a story you will connect to in some way or the other – whether it’s about not being aware of the monumental differences between cultures, the way one kind-hearted person can change your life, or the female/female Hades/Persephone reimagination you’ve always wanted – while also enlightening and making one aware of other’s feelings and thoughts. The authors have created a kaleidoscope of voices that illuminate how much we need more diverse literature and just how important these voices are. A very interesting and encouraging book that I would recommend to readers of all ages.

A Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco

Haidee and Arjun live in a land of perpetual light. Haidee, daughter of the goddess-queen of the golden city, is expected to take her mother’s place when she is old enough. She is expected to wed and have daughters and rule and, in the meantime, obey. But Haidee knows there is a better way to rule than her mother’s method of shutting out everyone but their own and hoarding their world’s swiftly dwindling resources for their city alone. She also knows that the answers to her questions about what happened to her world and how she can fix it, lie in her family’s past. But her mother is cagey about her past, and refuses to tell Haidee what happened the day the world split in half, much less what befell the sister and father she never knew. So, Haidee does the responsible, sensible thing: runs off on her own, without telling anyone, looking for the end of the world.
Arjun belongs to one of the nomadic groups that sprung up in the wake of the world’s Breaking, salvaging and scavenging what they can to survive. He has no love of the goddesses who tore their world apart, but when he meets Haidee, things get a bit more complicated. It’s easy to hate a goddess responsible for his family’s struggle. It is less easy to hate a rainbow-haired girl who makes friends with dolugongs, and who is terrible at making sensible plans but incredible with machinery. She is smart and strange and he has no idea how she is still alive, but they are traveling together now and are, if only grudgingly, friends. So as near as he can figure out, it is more or less his duty to keep her that way.
Odessa and Tianlan live shrouded in shadow, their dying city caught between the danger of the icy sea and the ravenous creatures within on one side, and the treacherous and uncharted wildlands on the other. Tianlan of the Catseye, former ranger of the wildlands, never wants to return to the place that killed her friends. Unfortunately, when monsters not seen in decades appear at the shore and speak to the Princess Odessa, Asteria, the queen, sends Lan and a ship full of other powerful spellcasters to find the Rift where the world broke— and find a way to fix it. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Odessa, intent on following the monsters who spoke to her of powers beyond imagining and the trials she must face to gain them, sneaks aboard.
As the four teens draw closer to each other and the Rift, danger grows. Dark things lurk in the past of Odessa and Haidee’s family, and soon both princesses will need to take terrible steps to protect those they love.
I went into this book with high expectations. I have read Rin Chupeco’s other books and loved all of them. A Never Tilting World did not disappoint me. Chupeco is an expert at the first person narrative, which can too easily become tiresome to read, and all four characters have a distinct voice and personality that work well with the story. The world is stark and colorful and unique, while still managing to invoke farmiliar fears of dwindling resources and uninhabitable homelands that are all too real in our world. I highly recommend A Never Tilting World to anyone who loves fantasy with vast magical powers, monsters, dystopias and grand romances.

Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway


“War is no good for the young, or for love.”
War is no good for anyone, yet peculiarly many love stories begin within that scenario – puts the entire concept of love into perspective, doesn’t it? How it’s not all about love at first sight and happy endings. Dark of the West is effective at voicing just that in a subtly chaotic manner.
Set in a world, currently, in the midst of a not-so-secret war between Monarchy and Dictatorship, a princess and a lieutenant dare to fall in love…
Arelia Isendare a.k.a Ali is a princess of a small kingdom in the North. With her elder brother Reni in line for the throne, Ali has always been shielded from the knowledge of politics and danger that lies beyond the walls of her castle, wanting nothing more than passing her exams and joining the University. But when people from other parts of the world start infiltrating the palace – lies fill the halls, secrets are whispered around every corner, and everything she has ever known about her own family might all be a bluff – Ali learns that textbooks don’t reveal everything. Determined to know the truth, Ali is willing to do anything, even if it means going against those she loves.
Athan Dakar, is the youngest son of a ruthless general. Born and brought up on the battlefield, Athan – a fighter pilot himself – has never lived a life of peace. Always under the shadow of his obedient, highly respected brothers, he’s constantly scrutinized by his father, who sees him as a person of very little value. To prove his worth, and protect the people he loves, Athan learns that he needs to conceal his disapproval of war (the only thing that matters to his family), and show loyalty to everything he’s grown to hate, even it means siding with the ideologies he despises.
When Athan’s mother (the only person to ever understand him) is assassinated, his father – believing it to be none other than Queen of Etania, Sinora Lehzar, Ali’s mother, behind it – sends Athan undercover into Etania’s court to spy upon the royal family. Would have been easy if he didn’t end up falling for the girl he’s been tasked to spy on. And Ali, who detests the Safire and their oh-so-noble doctrine, finds a friend (and maybe something more) in a certain lieutenant of the same. Despite the mutual attraction, both Athan and Ali are up for more than they bargained for, especially when caught in a tangle of lies, politics, guns, revenge and chaos.
Inspired by a World war II-era Europe, Hathway does a tremendously great job at hooking the reader from the prologue itself (tip: go back to the prologue once you finish). Her writing is fast-paced and easily understandable, with only a slight confusion regarding the geography of the world. This is a definite add-on to lovers of all genre and will become a favorite fairly quickly.

96 Words for Love by Rachel Roy & Ava Dash

“People are a gift to this cycle of in your life. We learn in the ancient texts how all journeys are influenced by those who travel alongside us. We must embrace these fellow travelers. The joy they bring, as well as the disruption they often create. They are all sent as teachers.”
And that is exactly what Raya Liston, the protagonist, is going to learn. Raya is an intelligent, sweet, highly organized senior in high school, who just got accepted into UCLA (her dream college), and can’t be anything but happy…Right?
When she talks with her grandmother ( Daadi) who is on her deathbed, for the last time, her Daadi tells her that she left behind a few things for Raya, and her cousin, Anandi, at the ashram, she lived in before her marriage. Because of her old age, and weakening memory, she isn’t able to give the whereabouts of these items. But, Raya is determined to find those things and respect and honor her grandmother’s last wish. She and Anandi, set off to spend a month in the ashram and figure out the scavenger hunt (with no clues) their Daadi l eft for them.
At the ashram, they meet some very interesting people – specifically one with “eyes that were the deepest and most intense golden color” Raya had ever seen, who goes by the name Kiran, and will be the love interest of our beautiful MC — he is mischievous and has a love for film-making. He is forcefully sent to the ashram by his parents, and has no interest in being there – well, until Raya comes along. He helps Raya in figuring out the secrets that await her, while becoming one of Raya’s biggest secrets from everyone as well.
Every character in this book enlightens Raya (and readers) in understanding her own life, and her perception of what it means to live, what exactly to live for. Despite varying in ages, all characters blend wonderfully with one another, teaching something valuable – at the same time, hiding certain things about themselves, which increases the factor of ‘wanting to know what happens’ till the end. Specifically, what is it that her Daadi left behind for her and Anandi???
This is a book of first-love – spanning generations, of what it means to truly commit yourself to one thing — especially that strange adjustment period after high school — and of course, finding peace amongst the chaos of everything going on around you, and learning to embrace it.

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson

Technically, I take forever to read texts and therefore am not the best person to chat with. Which is why when I opened this book and saw that it’s in the form of text messages – I wasn’t feeling inclined to read. But once I started reading – gosh, how CUTE is this book!!!
A sweet romantic story with funny interactions, two very interesting MCs – Haley Hancock and Martin Nathaniel Munroe II (yup, neat name, and guess what, there’s two of them), and a whole lot of chatting. The plot is a simple case of misunderstandings mixed in with a not-so-love triangle , and readers will understand the storyline fairly early on, at least earlier than Haley for sure.
Haley is a smart, innocent, introvert who hates being the center of attention and considers herself to be a weirdo. And Martin – the one she’s texting – is a sweet, equally as smart, guy who is smitten by Haley and wants to get to know her. But, like most modern crushes, this also starts with the guy texting the girl to start a conversation – beginning a whirl of mistaken identity and hilarious (and sometimes embarrassing) situations. Since the two don’t have a lot in common – both coming from very contradicting home lives, makes it even more interesting to see their relationship and their growing respect for one another develop throughout the book.

The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare

If you’re a fan of Cassandra Clare or love romance and Europe and demons, you’ll love The Red Scrolls of Magic.

When Magnus Bane and his boyfriend, the heroic Alex Lightwood, go on a vacation across Europe, they encounter a cult known as the Crimson Hand, which was founded by Magnus or the Great Poison. A new leader threatens to summon Lucifer’s right hand man, Asmodeus. Also known as Magnus’s father. They go across Europe to stop them, and to prove Magnus’s innocence.


Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

You know that book that you’ve been meaning to get for a long, long time because a friend recommended it, or it’s on the New York Times Bestseller list or you read the blurb on the back in passing and it looked good? The one that you always look at in the bookstore and think, “I’ll get it next time,” but this time you saw a shiny cover and got distracted and ended up buying that one instead? Yet when you finally do pick it up it becomes one of your absolute favorites? For the past few months Emergency Contact has been that book for me, and I finally got around to reading it. Then I smacked myself in the face with said book for waiting as long as I did.
Mary H.K. Choi is one of those rare authors that just gets their readers mentally, emotionally and culturally. From the first few chapters I was hooked. I immediately liked the main characters (it is a dual perspective book) both as characters and people, and as the book continued I kept liking them. The supporting characters as well were well written and fleshed out, to the point that you got a sense of who they were and why they were doing what they were. Even the ex girlfriend of the male lead, who traditionally is a very unlikable character type was portrayed as a person who, yes, was a bit callous and clueless about how she was hurting Sam (the male lead), but wasn’t really a bad person. All of the characters were written as real people who made mistakes and stupid decisions, but in the end were doing their best.
The plot centers around the relationship between Penny, a freshman at UT, and Sam, a relative of her roommate who works at a nearby cafe (this book is literally that perfect coffee shop AU that you’ve been looking for). Both Sam and Penny have anxiety but find it easy to talk to one another— via text that is— and soon become close. However, while the story revolves mainly around Penny and Sam’s friendship, Choi is only too happy to dive into everything from the two’s relationships with their respective parents, their friends, significant others, to Penny’s struggles and triumphs in her creative writing course and the reality of growing up in a low income family.
All said, Emergency Contact is a fantastic book with great writing, wonderful characters and a plot that will make you alternately laugh and cry.

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali isa beautifully written novel on love (and a strong connection) at first sight, which brings to light many societal issues that we tend to overlook. The story follows the lives of Adam and Zaynab through their ‘Marvels and Oddities’ Journal which they were inspired to write – without knowing the existence of the other – after coming upon The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence manuscripts. These journal entries take us through their meetings (plural, cause it’s more than once) by chance in the most unexpected ways to their love story. Its progression is nothing less than a millennial fairytale.
But this isn’t just a love story about two people. It’s the love between and a child and a parent; between friends; love for one’s culture and religion. It touches on important topics like social injustices, intolerance, and serious health issues – leaving the audience enlightened on countless subjects. And the diversity in this book is PHENOMENAL. The story takes place in Qatar (for the most part) with a cast of primary and secondary (even tertiary) characters from all over the world.
Ali’s writing will have you hooked and feeling every emotion you can name. Both the MCs are so well-developed that they will have the reader connecting with them in one way or another, while questioning the marvels and oddities in their own lives.
Something I love about books is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes for a bit and better understand an experience outside your own, and this really delivered on that front for me. I am even more glad that this book exists for Muslim teens who need and want to see themselves represented authentically in YA. My Muslim soul is fully content. 🙂

Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian

We left Theo on a pirate ship sailing away from Astrea. Over the course of Ash Princess she had managed to transform herself from a hostage to a queen. She lied and spyed and manipulated until she had won back a sliver of power she needed (she really is the ultimate slytherin). Now the Thane is dead, Soren is captured and Theo is safely escaped from the Kaiser; but those victories came with a cost. Elpis is dead, Cress survived— and may have gained dangerous powers nobody thought possible for a Kalovaxian, meanwhile, Blaise’s gift is growing harder to control as he tips closer to mine-madness and Dragonsbane isn’t all that she seems.

Now Theo is in a new kind of game and her allies are just as few as they were in Astrea, despite Dragonsbane’s ‘loyalty.’ The pirate has different ideas on how to take back Astrea and now Theo is being taken to a foreign court to find a husband with a big enough army to take back her kingdom.

I loved Theo in Ash Princess for her intelligence and her adaptability. She is a genuinly good person, but she’s willing to do what it takes to survive and take back her kingdom. She loves Blaise and Soren, but she won’t put them first if doing so endangers her larger goals. She knows how people work and how to use that knowledge to her advantage.

In Lady Smoke I think she loses a lot of that. I still liked the book, but I thought that Theo’s character deteriorates somewhat. Part of this is attributed  to Theo’s new situation, her diffuculty in adapting to a new game in a new place that she doesn’t fully understand, but it is more than that. I was disapointed by how much stress was put on the love triange as a main plot point rather than a supporting and driving factor as it had been in the previous book. I felt this turned a strong, smart women into a lovestruck girl who keeps making stupid descisions that seem incongrous with the character in the first book.

Still, that said, overall it was a good book. It had strong worldbuilding and set up the third book quite well. There were enough surprising twists that I was kept engaged. I’ll definitely buy Ember Queen to find out how the trilogy ends.

The Wicked King by Holly Black

Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince was a masterpiece of magic and intrigue that followed Jude, adopted daughter of a Faerie general, as she fought for power in the Faerie court. In the Wicked King, Jude has the power she always wanted as seneschal and handler of the newly crowned King Cardan, and is struggling to hang onto it.
Before he became king, Cardan swore to obey Jude’s every command for the next year, but with over half that time gone, Jude is scrambling for a way to extend her power over the unpredictable young king. If she doesn’t manage to, then her little brother Oak will be forced to take the throne and she will lose all the influence and control that she fought so hard for. On her side is the Shadow Court, a dangerous team of spies and assassins who work for her and the king, but even their loyalty is only as valuable as the highest bidder is willing to pay for it.
They say old friends make the worst of enemies and between the adopted father she betrayed, the boy who betrayed her and her twin sister, Taryn, Jude has a surplus of foes and is perilously short on allies. If she wants to stay alive— and stay in power— Jude will have to be more clever and more ruthless than ever before.