Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Monthly Rewind: May

Can you believe it's summer already? I'm back from Europe and...wow! This seemed so far away back in January and now I can't believe how fast time has flown!

3 Things About My Life This Month

1. I had incredible trips to Stockholm, Sweden and Vienna, Austria. I didn't have high expectations for these last two weekend trips of my time abroad, but I surprised myself by loving Stockholm and Vienna so much. If I could, I'd go back and spend more time in both cities instead of planning just 36-hour trips. 

2. Stress. May was a month marked by a lot of stress for me. Primarily because I am interning in D.C. this summer and finding a place to stay for the summer, while searching from Budapest, Hungary, was a disaster. After a lot of stress and tears, I'm finally living in GWU Student Housing which isn't glamorous or cheap, but at least I'm not homeless.

I was also stressed in May because of finals. And, to be perfectly honest, my finals didn't all go the way I wanted them to. I took a full, tough course load--a graduate level course, two upper level math classes, and an economics class taught as an applied mathematics course--and I found the professors and program resources to be entirely lacking all semester. And, long story short, that showed in my exam results. I'm not thrilled with how this semester turned out, academically, and that's stressful, and I feel like a failure in a lot of ways, which is stressful, but I also don't regret going abroad and growing so much as a person or having a slew of experiences which I would never have had the opportunity to have otherwise, which is also stressful. So, May. Stressful. 

3. I am back in the U.S.! Speaking of stress, and May, I arrived back in the U.S. to find that the Hungarian iPhone I bought in Budapest back in March isn't compatible with Verizon, so I basically was fleeced $500 and had to spend another $300 to get an American iPhone. It was stressful and now I feel more stressed because that's literally $800 down the drain, all because of one silly night in March. But, that stress aside, it's so nice to be back home and catch up on sleep and T.V. and just eat Indian food! My uncle visited for Memorial Day Weekend and I have plenty more family members visiting before I dash off to D.C., so I'm excited to be back!

Top 3 Books I Read This Month

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I read a lot of good books this month, but these three were the absolute best. A special shout-out to Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh, and my newly discovered favorite romance author Elizabeth Hoyt for making this decision extremely difficult.

Most Popular Post

I loved this book to pieces and am so glad that my review got the views that it did. I need Angie Thomas to write another book, but in the meantime I'll probably re-read this, tbh.

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

I really enjoyed this novel and despite its title and cover, which really harken to younger audiences, I think there's a lot for YA/NA readers to love in this. It's entertaining, un-put-down-able, romantic, and has fantasy elements I haven't seen in a really long time. If you haven't read this one yet, check it out! It's the perfect summer read, I promise.

Obsessions of the Month

Aziz Ansari, I'd like my heart back. I loved the first season of "Master of None" but this second season was just as good, if not better since it was more heart-breaking and emotionally tense. It's not just the dialogue, the comedy, and the script that makes this series so good. It's the cinematography, it's the relatability of the issues which are contemporary and often don't get the screen time they deserve in Hollywood, and it's the directing genius. I love this show and I really hope Ansari decides to write Season 3 sooner, rather than later.
I'm also recently obsessed with Hasan Minhaj's "Homecoming King" which is brilliant! Watching both Ansari and Minhaj see so much success in their lives, addressing issues that pertain to people who look like me, is such a privilege--is what I'm coming to realize. I'm so lucky to be living in a day and age when Indians are making it big, are successful in all fields--not just medicine and engineering--and the feeling of watching a show or a comedy piece and identifying with it is new for me, but also oh-so-lovely. "Homecoming King" made me think and reflect and damn, I thought it was just a simple stand-up show but it's so much more. Watch it.

Top 3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. Cousins visiting from India! My second cousin just completed a Master's program in Texas so his entire family flew in from India for his graduation and to visit the U.S. They started in Texas, went to the West Coast, went to Chicago, went down South, and now they're coming up to see the NY/NJ/PA area for about a week. I never get to meet my cousins too much, and definitely never on my home turf, so I'm excited to spend some time with them and hopefully get to know them better and show them my home! :)
2. Moving to Washington D.C. for the Summer/Starting my Internship! I love D.C. so I am really excited to be living in the city for the summer. My internship is a government position that mainly involves a lot of econometrics (which is terrifying because I've forgotten everything from my last year!) but I'm really looking forward to learning more about domestic economic issues after being abroad for a year and especially to be in the middle of all the politics (and drama!!) this summer.

3. Weekends. I've been spending the majority of my weekends travelling so I'm excited to have some lazy weekends to sleep in, explore D.C., and just have some down time to soak up the sun and read. I need this break so thank god summer is around the corner.

What are your summer plans? How was your May? Any books I need to bump to the top of my TBR for this summer? I'd love to hear in the comments below!! :)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Title: Noteworthy

Author: Riley Redgate

Rating: 4 Stars

Noteworthy took me by surprise. On the surface, this seems to be yet another girl-passing-for-a-guy book, but the differences are what make Noteworthy so, well, noteworthy. Jordan attends a prestigious high school for theatre, dance, and music students and over the past three years, she has struggled to land a role in the school musical because of her voice range. On a daring whim, with nothing to lose, she auditions for the Sharpshooters, an all-male a-capella group with a rich history dating back to Kensington Academy's earliest days.

It's when she gets in, though, that Jordan's life truly begins to change. Her transformation to Julian causes her to question everything from her sexuality to the manner in which she's appropriating the lives and feelings of the trans and LGBTQIAP+ community at large. For me, Noteworthy stands out because of the smaller moments--scenes where Jordan will scour the internet for ways to make herself appear to be a man and stumble upon an article intended for trans-men. Or how her status on campus as Julian changes her dynamics with women--and not just on a surface level.

I feel like these are such important consequences of cross-dressing that somehow never come up in a lot of other novels with this trope. Another aspect I love of Noteworthy is the fact that Jordan is a scholarship student--and despite her scholarship, her family is still struggling to support her, financially. Her strained relationship with her parents, who live in California while she's on the East Coast, spoke volumes about the immigrant experience, the class gap that students feel when attending an elite academy on financial aid, and life living on the poverty line. This incredible article by the Huffington Post, Asian Americans Have the Highest Poverty Rate in NYC, but Stereotypes Make the Issue Invisible reminded me of Jordan and her family's struggles and I love that Redgate captured that in such a seamless manner. It isn't an overwhelming part of the plot, but it's integral to Jordan's life at Kensington and her growth.

Redgate packs a lot into this novel, but Noteworthy is still a light, immensely readable story. Jordan's integration into the Sharpshooters, her slow-build romance with one of the members, and the ensuing a-capella wars are all a delight. Her recent break-up with her ex-boyfriend, Michael, was a slight aspect of the novel that I had trouble connecting with, but the large majority of this novel is an absolute hit. Don't miss it!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Title: Daughter of the Pirate King (Daughter of the Pirate King, #1)

Author: Tricia Levenseller

Rating: 4 Stars

I didn't ever expect to enjoy a novel whose title began with the words, "Daughter of the...". Those of you who have been reading YA for long enough know that these titles had their phase and I truly believe that ship had sailed. But, Levenseller's debut, despite its title hearkening to previous YA literature, is wholly unique. Daughter of the Pirate King introduces many tropes we're familiar with, from a beautiful and headstrong protagonist to a cocky, utterly charming love interest but Levenseller spins it into a tale I just couldn't put down.

Alosa, our titular heroine whose red hair gives her away, allows herself to be captured by her enemy ship and sent to their prisons. There are three pirate lords who rule the sea, but only one Pirate King, and he is determined to put together pieces of a map each of the pirate lords own and hunt down a fabled treasure that will make him rich beyond measure. Naturally, he sends his daughter to infiltrate the enemy ship and Alosa's mission is clear: find and steal the missing piece of the map, without alerting the enemy of her plan. But, the first mate Riden makes her job increasingly difficult. If only he would stop pestering her with questions, showing her unexpected kindnesses, or flashing that handsome smile of his...

This story is just pure fun and I read it in a single sitting. Alosa is fiery and smart, a combination I love, and her banter/love-hate relationship with Riden is at the core of this novel. The plot is fast-paced, swiftly making us support Alosa in all her endeavors, from making Riden believe she wants to escape the ship to her stubborn refusal to help the crew, to her ingenious plans to escape her cell. But, the heart of the story lies in her evolving relationship with Riden. Their friendship reveals so much about their pasts and the plot twists are a pleasant surprise. I, especially, love that their romance is drama-free and constantly keeps the reader on their toes.

Of course, this story isn't without its flaws--too many "special redhead" mentions, far too few female secondary characters who take the limelight in this, a strong case of Missing Parent Syndrome--but I suspect a lot of these minor flaws are about to be dealt with in the sequel. This is the first, not of a trilogy but of a duet, and the characters and their journeys are just too much fun to miss out on. The fantasy and lore in this, combined with the world-building, all make me eager to return for more. Believe me, Levenseller is an author I'll be looking out for in the future, off-putting titles be damned! ;)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Rating: 5 Stars

The Hate U Give is incredible, powerful, and an absolute must-read for everyone. Thomas's story begins with our heroine, Starr, witnessing the death of her childhood friend, Khalil, who is unarmed and shot by a white police officer. What ensues is chaos as Starr struggles to protect herself in the media and amongst the two worlds she straddles--her expensive private school where she is one of two black kids and the town where she grew up in which is overrun by gangs.

Starr's story is a beautiful rendering of what it means to be black in America; of the microaggressions and racial comments you have to bite your tongue from responding to, of the pain and fear and injustice. I may not have been able to relate to the community Starr lived in, but so much of this story hit so close to home. One of Starr's closest friends continues to make "slight" racial comments/jokes in the wake of Khalil's death and Starr is fed up of ignoring them and moving on. She finally confronts their toxic friendship and as someone who is currently biting my tongue in the face of "slight" racist comments/jokes on a daily basis (being as I am currently studying abroad in Europe and my program is very, very white) I completely understood.

But more than that, this is an incredible YA novel about family and growing up and finding yourself and what you believe in and what you're going to fight for. I especially loved the emphasis on family that this novel delved into, from Starr's parents to her uncle and even her brothers. I felt immersed in a loving African American family while reading this and I desperately want to go back. Thomas's writing is just that good, though--I cannot recommend this enough and I wish she had a backlog of twenty-five novels for me to comb through.

I think, often in YA, we tend to have "issue" books or "diverse" books which seem to stand on their own from other novels. I don't want readers to think of this novel as one of those books. Is it diverse? Yes. Does it tackle important social issues? Absolutely. But at its core, it's an important story about belonging that I think everyone will be able to relate to and definitely learn from.

In the wake of our election, I have been motivated to learn more now than ever before about what it means to live in America and have an experience different from my own. If you feel even a fraction of the anxiety and desire to create change that I have felt over these past few months, read this book. It'll make you feel as if you're on the right track, at the very least.