Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monthly Rewind: April

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

1. I had an absolutely incredible Spring Break in Croatia! I spent ten days in Croatia over Spring Break, with a day trip to Montenegro, and this trip is by far the highlight of my study abroad experience this semester (not to mention a major highlight of my life, too!). I didn't expect to love the country of Croatia as much as I did, but believe me when I say that the beauty is unreal. I also discovered a never-before-known love of hiking and boating, which I myself am amazed by since I'm not the most outdoorsy person in the world. Anyway, long story short: Croatia, I love and miss you.

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

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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!

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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.

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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 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

ARC Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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

Review: Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

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

Monthly Rewind: March

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

1. I re-united with  high school friends in Copenhagen, Denmark! One of my friends from high school is studying abroad in Copenhagen and another friend from high school, who has been studying in London for the past three years, also joined us and it was just so, so much fun to catch up and reunite while abroad. I ate SO MUCH good food (not Danish food, oops!) and was in completely in love with the city by the time I left.

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

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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!!! 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.

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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

1. SPRING BREAK!!! I am finally going on Spring Break next month! It's incredibly late, but at least it's actually Spring, and I am off to Croatia for ten days. I am so excited to see Dubrovnik and Split and their beaches and even do some island hopping!!! If you've been and have recommendations of places I should hit up, let me know!

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

Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

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

Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

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

Monthly Rewind: February

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. :)

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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

Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

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

Series Review: Nameless by Jennifer Jenkins

Title: Nameless (Nameless, #1) & Clanless (Nameless, #2)

Author: Jennifer Jenkins

Rating: 4 Stars & 2.5 Stars

NOTE: This joint review contains NO SPOILERS for the series that are not already mentioned in the synopses of these books.

Clanless was a mixed read for me. Nameless seemed like a promising start to a new fantasy series--fast-paced, slow-burn romance, and plenty of plot twists to keep readers guessing. I loved the world Jenkins had created and, more than that, I enjoyed the secondary characters and the originality of failing to fall for typical YA tropes. But, Clanless was a far cry from the sequel I was expecting after the cliffhanger ending of Nameless.

In Nameless our heroine, Zo, infiltrates the Ram territory to spy and pass on information to her clan, the Wolves. Her plan goes for a toss, though, when her eight-year-old sister, Tess, follows her in. Now, Zo is determined to escape the impenetrable fortress with her sister instead of risk her life for the Allied, an agreement of clans to unite against the Rams. The Ram clan is ruthless, training their young for battle from the start and killing anyone and everyone who doesn't pass their tests. Now, their numbers have dwindled and the territory they've amassed is failing. They don't have enough food and their captured slaves, the Nameless, outnumber the Ram. As they make plans to attack the Wolf and the Raven clans for food stores, the Nameless gather in rebellion and Zo passes on information. But Zo doesn't expect her life to become intertwined with Gryphon, a Ram striker whose father deserted the clan, making him work twice as hard for everything he's achieved.

Nameless works because of Zo and Gryphon, individually. They're both battling with their loyalty to their clans and the new information they're uncovering about each other but I love that Zo never loses sight of her goal and Gryphon allows himself to be open to new ideas. Ideas like realizing that the Ram attack the weak, would kill his best friend's newborn child for a slight lip deformation, and that Ram can fall in love with other clans, too. The secondary characters, namely Gryphon's foster brother, Joshua, are fleshed-out characters in their own right and I loved the large host of characters that accumulated as the story went on.

In Clanless, Jenkins continues to prove that she is an expert at action, never losing the fast-pace that she has set in Nameless. But, where Clanless falters for me is in its portrayal of male and female roles. Early in the story, Zo and Gryphon are separated and believe that the other is dead. This drives the entire plot of the story forward as Zo fights for Joshua and Tess and Gryphon sets out to fulfill Zo's desires for him. While I continued to enjoy their individual story arcs, particularly because the world-building is so well-done in this sequel, I grew annoyed by the very stereotypical gender roles.

For me, the best aspect of fantasy is the fact that it isn't our world. Not our world, not our rules, and it doesn't have to be our gender stereotypes, either. This was such an incredible opportunity for Jenkins to use Zo and Gryphon's independence from one another to build their individual characters for the first time. Instead, I felt as if so many key moments in this plot became Zo fighting off unwanted attention because of her beauty (again), Zo falling and crying and breaking apart because Gryphon wasn't there, Gryphon having to nearly yank up a tree to express his grief, etc. This world is far more patriarchal than it needed to be, especially because it's fantasy. All of these clans have different customs, religions, languages, and fighting styles. They all look different and have different builds and skills. But they can't have different gender rules? I didn't buy it.

The world-building expands significantly in this novel and though I am quiiiite sure I've predicted a "major plot twist" in the final novel, I'm still planning to pick it up. I love the concept of this world and especially the way that the differences between clans and the misunderstandings about clans are a mirror of the way we misunderstand and stereotype other cultures and races in our own world. But, I do feel like Clanless is a huge missed opportunity for Jenkins, despite the action of the plot and the expanded world. If you're not as critical of fantasy or gender roles, though, I suspect this is going to be a hit. If I recommend the series remains to be seen with the release of Book 3, but so far, it's a mixed bag of high highs and low lows.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Title: Homegoing

Author: Yaa Gyasi

Rating: 5 Stars

I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk, titled "The Danger of a Single Story," and I thought of it often while reading Homegoing. In fact, the absolute best aspect of this novel is that it doesn't fall into the trap of the danger of a single story; instead, this a novel told from fourteen different perspectives, over seven generations of a family whose half-sisters are separated from birth and whose consequent lives take them down very different paths. Effia, who marries a white man, stays on in her homeland, the consequent generations of her family witnessing the rise and fall of colonization, all while playing a large part in the slave trade themselves. Esi, meanwhile, is sold into slavery and her lineage continues, in America, living a completely different life from their counterparts in Ghana.

It's a striking, beautifully written story. It took me a long time to read, not because it was slow or boring, but rather because it was so incredibly thought-provoking. Gyasi makes me care for each of her characters, wishing that I got more than just one chapter from their perspective before jumping years into the future onto the next generation. But, I'd feel the same sense of loyalty and care for the next character I encountered. Gyasi has a talent for weaving these fourteen perspectives together in such a way that it never felt as if a large chunk of time or ocean was missing as we went back and forth between Ghana and the United States.

As an American, the chapters told from the perspectives of Esi's descendants, first slaves and then black men thrown in jails and then victims of segregation, struck hardest. To be frank, the scariest part of reading them is that, in so many ways, not much has changed: black men are still thrown into jails, they are the victims of police brutality and hate crimes, their lives are dominated by the sole aspect that they are black. It's a rude awakening that America has so much farther to go, to change.

The chapters set in Ghana were a fascinating look into the lasting effects of colonialism, even well after the white man had left. What I appreciated most about these chapters are that Gyasi never writes stereotypical characters. Her characters are gay, disabled, angry, confused, labeled crazy, victims of their pride or ego, etc. She doesn't make it easy for them, even if they are in Ghana and seem, at first, to be the luckier half of this family tree.

There is so much more to say about this novel but, mostly, it simply demands to be read and pondered over. Homegoing is an incredible, ambitious debut. In the wake of this election, at a time when hate crims are surging and the lives of minorities seems most fragile, Homegoing offers a much-needed perspective that prides itself on being not just a single story, but many stories, over many generations and through many eras of history. It is incredible.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Monthly Rewind: January

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. My first week in Budapest was really, REALLY tough. It seems like such a first-world problem to be traveling to a foreign country and have difficulty fitting in, but that's exactly what happened! I was so stressed before leaving for France last semester but this semester I thought I had everything figured out! I had done this whole study abroad thing once, with all the highs and lows, so surely nothing could surprise me now? Well, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. My first week in Budapest felt so lonely and my emotions were all over the place and it's only thanks to my family and friends that I finally feel settled in and now, I actually love it here! Just two weeks can make such a huge difference so if you know anyone having a tough time abroad, I'd say just give it time. I had a lot of high expectations for myself and didn't give myself the time I needed to adjust but everyday just gets better and better.

2. I am finally cooking for the first time in my life! I live in an apartment in Budapest and while eating out isn't expensive, it's a lot more expensive than cooking, which is why my mom gave me a crash course on Indian cooking while I was home for break and now I've been cooking every week! I didn't think I'd like cooking, but I am discovering this whole new side to myself that I never even knew existed! I like cooking! I like grocery shopping! Stirring a pot in the kitchen is relaxing, not boring! I feel like a full-fledged real adult (which I know, is not actually true) and it's both terrifying and very, very exciting.

3. America's 45th President is every bit as terrifying as I thought he would be. I yearned to be among protestors during the Women's March, the day after Trump's inauguration, but I was so uplifted to see the massive support that existed; the resistance. But that high has plummetted with Trump's actions this last week of January. The Travel Ban is not okay. It is not who we are as a nation and my heart goes out to the refugees and Muslims who should be able to find a home in the United States and cannot. I myself am a first-generation immigration and I am lucky enough to hold an American citizenship and know that despite the color of my skin, I can (and hopefully will!) be allowed back into my country. But the fact that so many others must pay the price for being born with skin that isn't white or into a religion that isn't Christianity is absolutely disgusting. I am shocked and distressed by Trump's actions, but I take hope from the lawyers who are working tirelessly, the protestors who haven't given up, and the courts who are calling out the unjustness of this new administration's actions.

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

I actually had a really tough reading month. I read a lot of books by beloved authors that somehow didn't make the cut or impress me, but I am still thrilled to have found three books that took me by surprise and put a smile on my face. 
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A Gentleman's Guide... isn't out for awhile (check out my pre-review here) but you should all pre-order this fantastic, LGBTQIAP+ YA historical fiction. It does such a good job of addressing issues like privilege, women's rights, race relations, and LGBTQIAP+ problems in an accessible manner and this book is also just so, so hilarious and an absolute adventure to book. You can't go wrong with it. My review of The Dark Days Pact got a lot of attention this month but if you haven't read this series by Goodman, you need to rectify that now. It's by far one of my favorite books of the year already. And Pretty Face by Lucy Parker is such a gem. I adore this author to pieces and her latest book did not disappoint in the least. 

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Obsession of the Month

Um..BUDAPEST! After all the traveling I did last semester, I wasn't sure if Budapest would be a big enough city to entrap me all semester. But, guys, I love this city! The nightlife is amazing, the people are so nice, Hungarian food is delicious, and the program I'm in is wonderful! I've been studying Hungarian for the past two weeks and though the language is tough and something I am not obsessed with, the people I've met are definitely friendship material! So, yes, I am obsessed with Budapest! This city is gorgeous, the history is so incredible, and I cannot wait to discover even more of it in the next few months!

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. I am going to Prague! This first weekend of February is going to be spent in Prague along with three other friends and I am so immensely excited! I've wanted to go to Prague for a long time, but it's a trip I've been saving for this semester because of its close proximity to Budapest. I cannot wait to experience this city in all its winter glory--stay tuned on Instagram for updates and photos! :)
2. My math courses are FINALLY about to begin! For those of you who don't know, the program I am part of this semester specializes in mathematics courses for undergraduates. A lot of these classes aren't even offered every semester at my school so I am really excited to have the opportunity to study them here, in Budapest! Plus, after two weeks of intensive Hungarian, I am ready to finally be working on some math!!!

3. Birthdays, Galentine's Day, Friends, Relatives, and More! One of my close friends here in Budapest is celebrating her birthday this month, so I am really excited to plan a wild night as she turns 21! We're also planning an epic Galentine's Day and many of my friends have relatives coming to visit them at the end of the month who I'm really looking forward to meeting! When you know someone for just a few weeks, getting to meet their close family and friends is such an eye-opening experience and I'm really looking forward to becoming closer with the friends I've made and continue to expand my friend circle here, in Budapest. Plus, just because I don't have any other travel plans lined up now doesn't mean that I won't have some coming up... ;)

How was your January? Is your 2017 off to an amazing start? Any good book recommendations? I'm struggling to find some cozy winter reads for when my classes get intense and all I want to do is escape into a book. Any travel plans or recommendations for Central/Eastern Europe? I am always looking for more places to go and advice on what to do while there! Have any of you been to Budapest? Are you as in love with this city as I am? I want to know in the comments below!!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Kulti by Mariana Zapata

Title: Kulti

Author: Mariana Zapata

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Kulti was such an unexpected gem. Jasprit brought this to the top of my TBR with her review and I have to echo her sentiments: I loved this book! Sal Casillas is a professional and soccer is her life. When her absolute favorite soccer player ever, Reiner Kulti, becomes her coach, she is prepared for the best season of her life. What she finds, though, is that Kulti is uninterested, brings a whole lot of unwanted attention to her team, and downright rude when he deigns to coach. Sal, seeing her idol fall off the pedestal she had built for him years ago, isn't about to be silent as Kulti ignores fans (like her father) and targets specific players (like her) on the field.

But, of course, there is so much more to Kulti than what Sal saw on television as a child or even in front of her now, as an adult. Zapata's prose is distinct and un-put-down-able. She is a lover of detail and Kulti is a comprehensive tale, following Sal before Kulti enters her life and showing us just how determined, hard-working, and dedicated our heroine is. Sal is a woman of principles and her patience, resilience, and moral compass are admirable. It's impossible not to love and root for her, first as she gets over her star-struck awe of Kulti to confront him, and then later as the two become fast friends.

The romance is under-stated and left off until the very end of the novel, but the story is no less rewarding for that and I loved reading the ups and downs of Kulti and Sal's friendship. Theirs is a relationship I couldn't see happening at all in the beginning of the novel but, of course, half-way through I was dying for them to get together. If there are any flaws with the story, it is only that the explanation that Kulti and Sal are best friends is flimsy, frankly, and the concern he has for her, and not for any of the other players, is a little frustrating. After all, he is her coach and the coach to the rest of the players on her team, too.

Still, the secondary characters are so well fleshed-out, from Sal's friends and family to Kulti's fellow players. For a monster of a book, I absolutely flew through this and I only wish there was a novella or two to accompany it because I'm not ready to say goodbye to this dynamic couple. Zapata is definitely an author I'll be looking out for--after all, her novels feature sports, diversity, and romance in equal parts, so what more could I ask for?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Author: Leslye Walton

Rating: 4 Stars

Why did I wait so long to read this book? The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is equal parts amusing and heartbreaking. The first half of the novel follows the tale of Ava's great-grandfather, his journey from France to Manhattan, her grandmother's subsequent trials and tribulations as she loses her three siblings, falls in love three times, and finally relocates to Seattle. Then, the story of her mother, known as the "witch's daughter" whose childhood sweetheart leaves her with twins, the winged girl Ava and her silent brother Henry.

It doesn't seem like much of a tale, but the first-half of the novel, despite its slow start, is captivating in its unfolding of family history, drama, and lore. The Lavender's are a weird bunch, from the start, and with the birth of Ava and Henry, their small family becomes weirder still. But Walton's writing is dream-like, her prose utterly haunting, and I found it impossible to put this book down once I became sucked into it. I wanted each of these three generations of women to find their own happiness and the distinct personalities of each shone through the page.

The secondary characters were no less brilliant, each thoroughly developed and realized, and the magical realism elements were compelling and enchanting; I am sure I have missed the symbolism Walton wants her readers to understand but I loved the fantasy nevertheless. My only qualm with this story is that the last few chapters--beautiful, heart-breaking, lovely--contain some extremely sudden and graphic imagery that I feel may be startling and a trigger to some readers. It's an explicit spoiler, but if you feel as if trigger warnings may apply to you, I want to offer that to readers. Trigger Warning/Spoiler (highlight to view): RAPE/CHILD ABUSE/VIOLENCE

Anyhow, if you have somehow let this novel collect dust on your shelves, as I have, for the past two years, now is a good time to get it out. It's the perfect holiday read, embodying everything I love about family and hope in a package of magical realism. I only regret that Walton is yet to publish her next novel, but I sincerely hope she returns to magical realism--there aren't enough gems in this genre, and especially not enough Young Adult ones.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ARC Review: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Title: The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen, #2)

Author: Alison Goodman

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Release Date: January 31st, 2017

I think The Dark Days Pact might be my favorite of all Alison Goodman's novels to date. This sequel picks up promptly where The Dark Days Club left off with Lady Helen in Bath for the summer, having been cast aside by her aunt and uncle. Now that Helen has discovered that she is a Reclaimer, she is under the tutelage of Lord Carleston as he trains her to join the Dark Days Club. But nothing is quite as it seems... Lord Carleston is prone to illness, a strange Lord Pike is stirring trouble, Helen is confident she's seen a Deceiver in town, and the Duke of Selburn has followed Helen to Bath to renew his offer of marriage. Add to the mix Helen's best friend, Delia, who escapes being sent to an asylum to join Helen and Helen's new vows as a Reclaimer, which compel her to follow the King's orders--even if that means listening to Lord Pike--and The Dark Days Pact is a hell of a ride.

What I love most about this book is the fact that Helen is caught between her upbringing as a noble woman and her duties as a Reclaimer, which demand her to dress and behave as a man on more than one occasion. As the only female Reclaimer in the Dark Days Club, Helen is an anomaly and watching her navigate the constructs placed  upon her gender, while keeping to her vows as a Reclaimer, was a wonderful journey. Goodman excels at capturing the intricacies of gender--the fact that the men of the Dark Days Club see Helen as a noble woman despite her strength and contributions to the society--and I loved watching Helen re-define the boundaries to fit her.

Of course, in Victorian England, there is constantly a push-and-pull of societal expectations and the heart, and this comes to light particularly in the romance. The Duke of Selburn can give Helen a good name--something her reputation rather needs--but Carleston understands that she needs freedom and trusts her to follow her instincts instead of constantly protecting her. It's not a love triangle, because it is clear who Helen favors of the two men, but the war between love and duty is one that becomes even more clear in this novel. We see that not only Helen but Hammond, his sister, Helen's maid Darby, and even Lord Carleston are all battling this same war.

I particularly loved getting to know more about Lord Carleston, who is too much of an enigma in The Dark Days Club. We finally unravel the many secrets of his past and, what's best for me is that we see Lord Carleston out of his element. Enemies from his past, such as Lord Pike, plant doubts in the mind of Lady Helen and as Carleston's "illness" gets worse, he acts rashly and out of turn. Carleston isn't entirely in control of his actions and to see him go from a confident leader to a weak figurehead, of sorts, is a twist--one that is as difficult for him as it is for the secondary characters and Helen, especially. I loved seeing the changing relationship dynamics that this brought, though.

And, of course, the plot just continues to thicken. Though we get many answers in this sequel, there are just as many questions remaining and Goodman wastes no time in elaborating upon her world-building. We meet so many more members of the Dark Days Club, understand the bond between Reclaimer and Terrene better, and even have our assumptions about Deceivers put to the test. This is such an intriguing world and though variations of this idea may have been done before--namely in The Infernal Devices--Goodman still manages to make her world wholly unique. I couldn't anticipate the grand majority of plot twists in this novel and the ending threw a knife in my gut; my emotions are a complete mess and I desperately need the sequel to know everything is going to be okay. Goodman doesn't hesitate to do away with characters we're starting to love--or already do!--so I can feel in my gut that the grand finale to this trilogy is going to be an emotional roller coaster for sure.

For fans of The Dark Days Club, this sequel doesn't disappoint in the least. It's a wonderful blend of gender roles, romance, action, paranormal, and plot twists. Helen's difficulty in mastering her Reclaimer skills and fitting into the society of the Dark Days Club--so different from the life of a noble women--is utterly realistic and I love, love, love this strong-willed, determined heroine. The secondary characters--a wonderful blend of genders, sexual identities, and class hierarchies--all make this a historical fantasy novel rooted in diversity and I am eager for more of Goodman's work. I, personally, love the Victorian Era and can never become tired of being thrown back into Jane Austen-esque novels with paranormal twists, so this is among my favorite series. But, even if you aren't as obsessed with Victorian England as much as I am, give this series a shot--it's absolutely worth it and you'll discover a new go-to author as a result.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: The Cursed Queen by Sarah Fine

Title: The Cursed Queen (The Imposter Queen, #2)

Author: Sarah Fine

Rating: 3 Stars

I have to echo other readers on this one--The Cursed Queen is a disappointing sequel to The Imposter Queen. Fine set up a rich, intricate fantasy world with the latter that only continues in its depth with this novel. With The Imposter Queen we followed Elli, her succession to becoming the Valtia and the subsequent chaos that ensued when her magic didn't manifest as it was supposed to. Thus, going into The Cursed Queen, the reader already knows what's happening to Ansa as the Valtia's power flows into her. The strength of this story lies in the fact that Ansa, at a young age, was taken captive to the Krigere tribe where she was raised to be a warrior.

Ansa has never given a second thought to her true heritage, completely embracing the Krigere ways of slaughter and bloodshed. Especially compared to Elli, Ansa is a violent and impulsive protagonist, prone to enormous waves of emotion that threaten the delicate control she has over her abilities. Her Krigere upbringing has taught her that she is a witch, now, and Ansa despises herself and her powers. At the same time, however, the politics of her tribe throw her life into further turmoil. Thyra, the new chieftain of their tribe following her father's sudden death, has always been a pacifist. Though she is a deadly warrior in her own right, she believes that the Krigere way--plundering, murdering, and stealing another society's food and people--isn't right. Now that she's chieftain, Thyra wants to change it all.

But it isn't as easy as she thinks. Ansa is loyal to Thyra, and loves her deeply, but as the two girls fight their own battles--Ansa with her magic, Thyra as she tries to gain the loyalty of her tribe and find a peaceful way for them to continue onwards without coming to war--their friendship to one another is tested. Ansa and Thyra's relationship is at the core of this novel and while I loved that this homosexual romance was never ostracized or discouraged, I didn't come to feel for it the way I did Elli's romance in The Imposter Queen. Ansa and Thyra have not been strictly truthful with one another and they hold each other in an impossible regard, believing that the other is perfect. I enjoyed watching their relationship grow and change as they began to recognize that they were different people than they originally thought each other to be. However, their romance was a hard sell for me because Ansa loves Thyra, but she doesn't love Thyra's new ways of thinking. And, similarly, Thyra loves Ansa but she doesn't love Ansa's one-track mind and blinders when it comes to the flaws of the Krigere people.

In addition to the romance, Ansa as a heroine was difficult to sympathize with. I dislike the phrase "unlikable heroine", mainly because it implies that women are constantly meant to be likable and understandable. I like these "unlikable" heroines because they are the women who don't fit the mold and challenge our traditional values of womanhood. Ansa, by and large, does all this. She's violent, she's impulsive, and she's stubborn and unwilling to change her mind, even if it's Thyra begging her to reconsider how the Krigere people live. It isn't easy to read a novel from her perspective, mainly because she's so close-minded but also because she makes so many tragic mistakes while struggling with her power and in her quest to firmly belong to one thing and put herself in a box. I like the parallels between how both Elli and Ansa find themselves questioning everything they've known and their place in society. But, where Elli won my heart, Ansa is a heroine who takes a long time to grow up. I thought her growth would be more remarkable in the second-half of the novel, but instead she continues to be stubborn and repeat mistakes, only realizing her errors and growing up in the last few chapters.

I will say, though, that it was Thyra, finally, who I adored by the end of the novel. She sticks to her convictions, doesn't shirk her responsibilities, and is loyal to her tribe despite her misgivings about their lifestyle. She's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve peace, whether that be through a battle or another, less combative, means. I also love that Thyra pushes Ansa to think beyond the barriers society has erected for her and she never gives up on Ansa, even when Ansa is at her peak levels of stubborness. It was certainly an interesting choice to read this book from the perspective of Ansa--the character who believes in killing all other groups of people without regard for their culture or traditions or even peace just because she's more powerful--instead of the more rational-minded Thyra. But, I also give props to Fine for her daring and experimentation because, frankly, I think Ansa's perspective came across very well, which made it difficult to enjoy this novel but also seems necessary for the final installment.

Fine is a master of plot and world-building, and neither of those is lacking in this sequel. The Cursed Queen is thrilling and fast-paced and I particularly loved getting to delve deeper into the class and race relations of this world. I really love how they force readers to think about the prejudices we carry in our own society, too, and I am curious to see how all these different people and cultures can come together to find peace and balance in the final installment. Mostly, though, I am excited for Elli to return to the page. I missed her rational mind and calm thinking. Ansa is perfectly drawn up, in this sequel, but the pacing of her growth and the distinct lack of swoon in her relationship to Thyra (and by this I mean my confusion at why they were in love with each other when they clearly didn't really even know each other truly) made this a difficult novel to fall for. Of course, I am absolutely sticking around for the final book but I wouldn't rush out to pick this one up, especially if you were a fan of The Imposter Queen. In my humble opinion, lowered expectations are the way to go with this one.

Monday, January 9, 2017

ARC Review: A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand

Title: A Crown of Bitter Orange (La Vie en Roses, #3)

Author: Laura Florand

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: January 24th, 2017

NOTE: This review is spoiler-free for the entire La Vie en Roses series. Every book can be read as a stand-alone and are simply companion novels to each other, i.e., previous characters/couples return briefly. You can read my review of Once Upon a Rose and my review of A Wish Upon Jasmine, the two previous novels in this series, as well as my reviews of Florand's previous series, Chocolat et Amour (#1, 2, 4, 5, 5.5, 6, 6.5, 7), and Paris Nights.

Laura Florand writes magic. I adore her prose and A Crown of Bitter Orange, for a fan like me, does not disappoint in the least. Her latest follows Tristan, the youngest Rosier cousin, and his high school crush, Malorie Monsard. The Monsards have long been enemies of the Rosiers due to a series of actions during WWII, but Tristan has never let that be a deterrent to his affection. When Malorie returns to Grasse to re-open her family business, Tristan sneaks in his chance to win her over...finally.

All of Florand's romances are careful character studies. While their tone shifts--playful, serious, romantic, heart-breaking, etc.--her characters never lose their wonderful charm. These are full-bodied humans that seem to step off the page, so very real with their flaws and their insecurities. I love how seamlessly Florand switches third-person perspectives so that a situation which seems impossible from one character's perspective, suddenly makes sense as we more fully understand each character and their relationship dynamic.

Tristan and Malorie have known each other for so long, but the narrative is never bogged down by annoying flashbacks, which I appreciate. We really get to know these two as they are, now, the qualities that have changed since high school and those which have only intensified since then. Malorie, for one, is among my favorite Florand heroines. Her family history is one she is deeply embarrassed by and she has worked hard to not let that deter her in any way, despite the emotional scars that the men in her life--namely her father and grandfather--have left behind. I really enjoyed the strong woman-power element that her narrative brought because Malorie is, truly, a matriarch and looks up to other successful women as her inspiration.

In fact, her relationship with Tristan--despite his patriarchal upbringing--is an extremely even-footed dynamic and I really enjoyed that tropes we often see associated with women in romances, like insecurities and shyness were actually present in Tristan, instead. He's a sensitive soul, and what's more, he isn't afraid to show that to Malorie. He genuinely cares for her and his ever-upbeat nature made this a delight to read as he wasn't worried about his fragile masculinity except in front of his cousin brothers. And, that's something else I love about this series--male friendships! These are so, so rare and I really like seeing another side to all of these men as they relax and become themselves around their family members.

While the women in this particular series are all alone, seeking a place to belong, which is a trope I don't always love, Florand makes it work since her relationships have this wonderful push-and-pull as the two characters attempt to find their footing and establish an equilibrium. A few things about this latest narrative that did grate on me a little, though, were the constant "vetting" of Malorie by just about every member of Tristan's family--his aunt, his cousin, his grandfather, his mother--and I felt as if some of these conversations became repetitive. Another thing that became repetitive were the constant allusions to the "big drama" of the story--the fact that would cause Tristan and Malorie to briefly break-up before all was patched up again. But, these are minor quibbles to have with this novel, utterly remarkable and charming in every other way. Florand keeps outdoing herself with each new installment in this series and I am so excited to see what's next! (Although, please, can we either have some diversity in this series or a homosexual romance? I would LOVE to see that--a very pleasant change to the South of France heteronormal lifestyle!)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Monthly Rewind: December

Where did the year go? I can't believe the holidays flew by so quickly and now we're already here! January! Days away from the inauguration of our new president (now would be a GREAT time to say this was all a bad's never too late!!) and at the start of a whole new YEAR. I feel like I didn't get closure on 2016 and it's already 2017! Anyway, Happy New Year everyone--I hope it doesn't feel nearly so surprising to the rest of you as it does to me!

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. I went to Morocco! I know most of you have already seen some photos of Morocco on my Instagram or heard about this trip through my mentions of it on my previous Monthly Rewind post and my 2016 Wrap-Up post, but this was by far one of the best trips I took while abroad. I love this country and I desperately want to go back!

2. I CAME BACK HOME! Both home as in New Jersey and as in USA! I missed home so much and being home has been so, so lovely. I've just been gorging myself on Indian food and enjoying being pampered by my mom. :)

3. I barely finished my 2016 Reading Challenge! BUT, I did finish it!!! I read 201 books last year, which is a lot, but this year I'm challenging myself to read just 100. I found it so difficult to keep up with the pace I set for myself, last year, and though I caught up during the summer and during my breaks, whenever the semester got tough, falling behind on my reading goal just became another stress factor. So, this year, I'm going to most likely be reading less--but also hopefully reading more quality books? I want to read books I love and write more positive reviews this year. I want to read books that challenge my thinking and really dive into nonfiction and adult fiction more than returning to YA novels with tropes that annoy me to no end. If you have any recommendations, hit me up in the comments below!

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

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What a weird mix of books, this month! Homegoing is stunning and made my Best of 2016 list as well, but Kulti and A Scot in the Dark were such fun, unexpected reads! Kulti is a contemporary novel about a young female soccer player and her journey as her new coach is revealed to be none other than the player she loved as a fan, growing up. And A Scot in the Dark, historical romance it may be, is feminist as fuck. This is a book all about consent and learning to give woman power over their bodies and their lives; it's about not objectifying women and the power of female friendships; it's about the strength in a relationship where the man and woman are equals; it is SO GOOD.

A special shout-out to The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and One Fell Sweep for making it difficult to decide on these three. 

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Obsession of the Month

Les Madeleines de Christophe! This is a new bakery that opened up in Aix-en-Provence just before I left and I loooove it! I literally went every day to pick up fresh madeleines and I ate them, HOT, even when the store owner told me to wait. These madeleines are the best in France, of that I have no doubt, and they're worth a visit to Aix, alone.

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. Catching Up with Friends! A lot of my friends have been busy during the December holidays but I'm meeting so many beloved high school and college friends in January that I just cannot wait to finally be reunited with them, however brief.
2. Going to Budapest! For those of you who don't know, I'm studying abroad (again!), this time in Budapest, Hungary. My program is highly specialized in mathematics, so I'll be taking roughly 4-5 intense upper-level math classes and living in an apartment in the city with a classmate. I'm heading over mid-January to learn some Hungarian and explore this capital before classes start, but I cannot wait! I love math and am so excited to be going abroad again, this time in Eastern Europe! I don't know if I'll have as much time to travel as I did last semester, but I definitely want to continue exploring Europe and discovering more corners of the globe! :)

3. Settling down in Hungary. I always hate transition periods--that time when you're packing, not traveling; that time when you just enter a new place and are unpacking but not settled in. I just want to be settled. I want to know all the nearest grocery stores, I want to find the best restaurants and get there without my map out, I want to have my favorite walking paths.. I want to get there so I can't wait for that to happen, hopefully by the end of this month!!

What are your plans for January? Any exciting trips? What about resolutions? Any books you're looking forward to reading? Any books to recommend for the new year? I can't wait to hear in the comments below!