My Summer of Love and Misfortune by Lindsay Wong

Iris Wang has caught her boyfriend cheating on her with her best friend, drunkenly crashed her parent’s car through their garage door, gotten into none of the colleges she had applied to, and failed her senior year of high school. What else could go wrong? For Iris, the main character in “My Summer of Love and Misfortune” by Lindsay Wong, it’s being sent to Beijing by her parents to find herself and her culture. She expects living in a foreign country with her cold cousin and uncle that she’s never met before to be awful, but she finds romance and her family history along the way.

I thought this book was fun and light-hearted, and I enjoyed the story. With this in mind, Iris was not a character you could root for, and none of the other characters in the story were either. Iris was incredibly naive and selfish, and there was absolutely no build to her character transformation. It was a complete 180-degree turn.

Although there were some problems, I did enjoy this book. The exploration of Beijing through Iris’s eyes added a fun element to the story. I would recommend this book to those who like realistic fiction and to any Asian Americans trying to reclaim their heritage.

We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia

We Are Totally Normal” by Rahul Kanakia is a snapshot of Nandan’s life in high school. He begins to question his sexuality after breaking up with his girlfriend, Avani, and hooking up with his peer, Dave. Even though he feels happy with Dave, he misses Avani and is confused about what being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community could mean for him.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think it is essential to have diverse characters in books (especially YA and children’s books) so that many different types of readers can see themselves in the narrative and relate to the story. The main character is Indian-American and also under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. That said, I feel as though Dave was not a very likable character. He took his labels and other people and used them to his advantage. Although I didn’t like Dave, the story did keep me engaged.

I’m not sure I would recommend this book, but maybe those looking for romance and realistic fiction will enjoy it more than I did.

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything is a fantastically unique novel. From dealing with intense themes to exploring extraterrestrial life, this book seems to have it all. Not to mention the wonderful smattering of romance. In fact, it’s got so many different facets, I don’t really feel comfortable describing it as just a “sci fi” novel. If anything, it’s more like a coming-of-age-romance-YA-science-fiction story. Of course, the multitudes of concepts are a bit hard to keep up with at times. But overall, it has a very interesting combination of ideas and genres.

The story follows 17-year-old Sia, a Mexican American struggling to overcome the unfairness of her mother’s deportation and subsequent death. But this reality may not be exactly as it seems. When visiting her favorite spot in the desert– the place her family considers the beginning of the world– Sia spots mysterious lights flashing across the starry sky. At first dismissing them as nothing, Sia begins spotting them again and again, until finally she sees it: a triangular UFO, burning through the desert sky. Aliens. This discovery, of course, changes Sia’s entire world as she seeks to find out the truth and what it means for her and her family.

I loved the authenticity of this novel, which, despite it being a science fiction novel, felt more like realistic fiction than anything else (except for the aliens of course). The book is infused with beautiful creation stories, gorgeous imagery, and just a hint of magic. I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for a heartfelt and unique novel.

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

When I first heard about Wayward Son, I was dubious. After all, the first book (Carry On) was essentially a Harry Potter fanfic from a book about fanfiction, and it seemed as if it had been pretty thoroughly wrapped up. The premise of the second book is a time honored favorite among fanfiction authors as well— a road trip. Hearing this, I naturally assumed that it would be a fluffy, feel-good story about the main characters post-adventure shenanigans. Perfect, I thought, for a quick, cute read as I waited for the final book in my favorite trilogy to be released. I would already know the characters and the world, Rowell is always fun, it will be a fast, fairly easy read. I mean, it’s a road trip fic

    Going in with these expectations I was somewhat surprised when right from the start the book did its best to defy conventions. The initial chapters address the fallout from the events of book one. Simon is suffering from depression as he struggles with a bevy of repressed issues, ranging from the loss of his powers to figuring out that has been in love with Baz this entire time. Stuck between the worlds of Mages and Mundanes by his lost magic and newly gained wings and tail, Simon has been living with Penny and Baz as they all try and figure out their lives after the events of Carry On. As the story progresses, we see development in the characters, but this angst persists in a way that is unusual in books of its kind.

It is here that the series’ quick POV switches and short chapters truly shine, as we alternate between Baz, Simon, Penny and occasionally Agatha away in California. Because of the short chapters and informal format, Rowell is able to switch points of view without disrupting the narrative, a feat few multiperspective books manage to achieve. It is this seamless transition that allows the reader to see different parts of the story, without being taken out of the storytelling. This is incredibly important as a reader, since all of the main charactes are extremely unreliable, and only when we are allowed to compare and contrast their perspectives on a situation does that situation become clear.

Still, the tone doesn’t quite work. It is a subversion of the usual road trip tropes, yes, but the pacing is a little off, and the end result is a book that feels like the author tried to put multiple plots into one novel. It is readable, and it is entertaining, but the plot was weaker than that of the first book. The villains in particular felt like fillers, a big baddie that could be easily defeated in one book and a blaze of glory. Which would have been fine, except that a recurring conflict througout the book was dealing with the four main character’s mental health and their struggle with various traumas. This ended up as a ridiculously underutilized plot point considering that it had so much more potential and was far more interesting to me as a reader than the bad guys ever were. 

So it is that the worldbuilding ends up being the strongest part of the book, which came as a surprise. The first book established a Harry Potter style world, you knew the general rules but that was about it and in the end that was all you really needed to know. But in book two our main characters are in a foreign country (America, which added a running gag of culture shock) and have to learn new rules and come to terms with some of the realities of the magical world. This is aided greatly by the introduction of some new characters of differing backgrounds who pop up in later chapters and give some much needed context. And while a lot of the ideas presented are as yet undeveloped, or at least underdeveloped, I have hope that further exploration will happen in book three. Overall, Wayward Son is a solid YA. You don’t want to think too hard or else it unravels, but it is engaging and fast paced enough to be forgiven.

   

The Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak by Adi Alsaid

The Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak by Adi Alsaid is your classic high school contemporary. If I am being completely honest, I had a hard time getting into this novel. I didn’t quite have the time or attention to give to reading it, but when I did, I became entranced. Being a man, Mr. Alsaid has a surprisingly accurate insight into the mind of a modern day teenage girl. The main character, Lu Charles, is your average 18 year old American girl who some would consider an expert on love. I mean, she writes a love column for a magazine! However, as a reader you will soon come to realize that she is still figuring it out like the rest of us.

Having recently broken up with her high school boyfriend, Lu finds herself suffering from a horrible case of writer’s block until she becomes entranced by the relationship of two strangers. To me, the most attractive quality of this book was how relatable the main character is because she is dealing with the same issues which you and I deal with. I highly suggest this read to any teen who is looking for a story to represent their struggles, whether it may relate to love or friends or work or whatever it may be, because it is a good reminder that all the hardships you face, no matter how big or small, are valid.

This Is My Brain In Love by I.W. Gregorio

This Is My Brain in Love tells the story of a teenage girl, Jocelyn Wu, struggling to keep her family’s Chinese restaurant, A-Plus, afloat. We follow her along in her journey as she struggles with living up to expectations from her father, growing a dying business, having a boyfriend for the first time, and dealing with mental health issues.

At the same time, Will is an African-American teenager who is struggling with anxiety and social interaction. He wants to be a journalist, but when his editor tells him he has to start asking “the hard questions that make sources squirm,” he takes a job as a management intern for one A-Plus restaurant in hopes of getting real-life experience for a story. That is where our stories converge. Jocelyn and Will fall for each other at first sight, but teenage love isn’t as simple as it seems. With an overprotective father, anxiety issues, the stress of running a business, and jealousy, all playing their part, will the two lovebirds be able to survive?

Gregorio does a great job of bringing us into the world that Jocelyn and Will live in. Her descriptions of sizzling oil, fresh steamed rice, and the smell of homemade dumplings really sets the stage for discovering what these people go through day to day to run a Chinese restaurant. Her book is light and entertaining, but she touches on a lot of important subjects such as immigrants in America, mental health issues, and discrimination against different races. This book creates empathy. For as long as you read it you’re put in the shoes of an Asian-American family struggling to save their business, or a boy, growing up different in a society that wants everyone to be the same.

Although I can’t say that This Is My Brain in Love is a book that I’ll find myself reading over and over again, it definitely holds some gems. I recommend for anyone who is interested in a good love story that inspires dedication and perseverance.

Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

With her bubbly outlook and likeable characters, Becky Albertalli has long been a quintessential voice in YA romcoms. With popular novels like her widely acclaimed Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda and its movie adaptation, Love, Simon, she even managed to break out of bookish audiences. But in my humble opinion this new novel is one of her best yet. The glory can’t all go to her, of course— like her previous work, What If It’s Us, she collaborated with a second author: Aisha Saeed (Amal Unbound). In all honesty, What If It’s Us (Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli), felt somewhat disjointed. Individually, I enjoy Albertalli and Silvera’s work, but their writing styles are so very different from one another that they did not fit well together.
In contrast, Saeed’s writing meshes perfectly with Albertalli’s— lighthearted and sweet while still managing to ground Albertalli. Albertalli writes Jamie, and Saeed writes Maya; childhood friends who fell out of touch years before the start of the book. When their respective mothers sign them up to canvas for a progressive candidate challenging an incumbent, the two teens kindle both a great friendship and a newfound interest in politics. Over the course of the summer the two friends will battle racism and social anxiety as estrangement turns to friendship turns to feelings.
Yes, No, Maybe So is a sweet story (perfect for those slow burners) about friendship and young love that will lift your spirits and serve as a reminder that your voice matters. It is a story of hope and determination that helped get me interested in politics. If you are looking for a shot of fluffy goodness to get you through reality, this is the book for you. I would recommend it primarily to fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han.

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.