Tag Archives: marriage

The Star Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi 25203675

Summary

Maya is the pariah of her father’s court. Destined for death and destruction, she is left to books and study until it becomes politically necessary to marry her off. As queen of Akaran, she finds a realm unlike any she ever expected – as well as love, and compassion. But Akaran and Amar have secrets and Maya chooses to unravel them herself rather than ask her husband for answers…with terrible consequences.

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heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship in this is both mythical and beautiful and creepy and deceptive. Plus, it’s a little insta-lovey, with Maya not knowing much about Amar before being swept away by his sweet nothings and finally having something for herself. I thought it was an interesting premise, but I find it really hard to reconcile true love with “don’t ask any questions and don’t do anything unless I say and then you’ll be safe.” I get why Amar did it, but it’s still…a little creepy and not something I really like as an example of romance. I just wish this wasn’t another example of the dude feeling like he has to do all the protecting/planning, leaving the girl in the dark, and then leading to disaster because she didn’t have all the pieces.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I loved that Maya was more interested in running the kingdom than in harem politics, but since that was because harem politics ignored her, I would have loved to see what she was like when both sides of the world were open to her. Seeing Maya post-revelation was also exciting, because a lady with power is always a thing to behold. The jealous bestie storyline is obviously realistic, but it makes me a little sad to see. There aren’t any women-supporting-women in this (unless you count the , even Maya’s relationship with Gauri is…not perfect. The harem isn’t a system set up for women’s empowerment and it basically requires that they take each other down while also being available for men whenever necessary. Maya’s opinions and words toward the women she lives with are understandable due to their treatment of her, but I do wish there was a little more understanding for the fact that the women aren’t exactly able to choose their fate.

Diversity Score: A+ Successdiversity people circle icon

This story is based on Indian folklore. The kingdoms are made up, but they reflect Indian history and stories, as do the characters. Plus, Chokshi has Indian and Filipino background, so this is an #ownvoices book.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked this book, though it felt like a lot of description and metaphor and not a ton of narrative. The magic and the other-world were intriguing and I enjoyed the immersion in Chokshi’s world. I liked Maya and her strength and I appreciated Amar’s love, even if he said the thing you should never say to a curious leading lady (“Don’t ask questions. Don’t go in that room.”). Pretty much every adventure starts with someone saying that, right? I also value that Maya didn’t let the harem politics push the love out of her – and I’m excited to see what Gauri gets up to in A Crown of Wishes.


Favorite Character

Kamala – the pishacha (a flesh-eating demon in horse form) because she’s got a great sense of humor and actually tells Maya to get it together.

Favorite Line

The whole book is full of tons and tons of metaphors. Read it just for that.

Fun Author Fact

Chokshi made HORNS inspired by her book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It depends, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that said this was fluffy with no plot and that Maya was boring. I’m not going to lie – the romance is sexy, but it’s also super insta-love. The world is different from a lot of other books, so maybe the unfamiliarity is why some people are saying they don’t like it. I liked the magic and the high, dramatic descriptions, but it’s  not the most complete story ever.

Read These Next

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova for a look at a bruja family and a girl that doesn’t want her power or The Impostor Queen about a girl groomed to be a magic-wielding queen and what happens when things go awry.

Post Author: Jess

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Book Discussion: Truthwitch

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Truthwitch (Witchlands #1) by Susan Dennard

Summary

Safiya and Iseult are a team. And they do ok for themselves until they plan one heist too many and are put on the run. They try to escape, but get pulled into bigger and bigger plans – Safi is a Truthwitch and a domna with rights to an earldom and people want to use that to stop the return of global war. Iseult is a Threadwitch but she can’t do what every other Threadwitch can. And they have a Bloodwitch, a king, a queen, and a prince trailing after them.truthwitch

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I was actually pretty excited in the beginning because it seemed like maybe there wouldn’t be a romance. When it did show up, parts really sparked, but as a whole it felt like a convenience rather than a true build up. I also find the “I hate you…oh, now actually I think I love you” thing pretty difficult to believe unless there’s a lot of strong character development. I didn’t feel it here.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Safi and Iseult are best friends and I really liked that they worked together to protect one another and to reach their goals. I thought together they exhibited a good range of being women – and neither was the “better” character. A few things rankled – Safi being used as a political pawn without her full knowledge and the situation of women in all of the kingdoms was implied to be less than the men. There was one odd scene – at one point Safi’s clothes have been destroyed and a man she is with (her captor/protector) thinks to himself that he shouldn’t see her legs or something of that nature. It was really random and seemed to be added in just to give him something to complain about and to shame Safi since there was no prior context or mention of clothing taboos or keeping things covered.

The score here probably could have gone lower just because women get treated like crap and are victims in a lot of situations, but Safi and Iseult do manage to work their way out of most of the terrible situations and stand up for themselves, so I’m leaving it here.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

The book gets mega points for featuring a large cast of characters that are people of color – they’re described as tan or golden or brown in many cases. Iseult is very pale and that marks her as part of a group that everyone hates. I give negative points because it honestly just felt like “oh, let me switch their skin colors!” The ruling families/kingdoms felt like all other (Euro-analogue) kingdoms just with POC. There was no explanation for why Iseult’s people were disliked – because they were nomadic? because they were poor? because…I’m just not sure and the reasons that I could find made it just seem like a skin color-switcheroo without much else behind it.

In a fantasy world, you have a giant opportunity to create new cultures and to really subvert things. I didn’t see that. Also, there weren’t many (any?) other forms of diversity that I can recall. I suppose you could say economic diversity, but…it doesn’t get called out in the story much at all. I suppose you could maybe say it discusses privilege and the responsibility that comes with having it, but…that’s a stretch.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, the story had an interesting premise and I really liked that this was about two lady friends that are on an adventure and pulled into bigger and bigger things. There is, however, a lot to be desired in the world building and explanation department. I wanted to know more about where the powers come from, why the wells dried up, and more explanation of the side effects of the powers. (Like – why did Iseult always need to maintain her emotional balance? There are tiny, tiny, vague hints, but not enough for how often she talks about staying in stasis.) A lot of things are left out or only sketched for us. I will assume that this is because it’s a series and the intention is to leave lots of questions for explanation later, but it made the story feel like it was only a surface exploration of the world.


Favorite Character

Iseult – She has a level head and balances Safi’s impetuous, stubborn, and haphazard actions.

Favorite Line

The writing just wasn’t there for me. I liked the idea of this story, but I’m not sure I liked this book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure – if you don’t mind a more shallow dip into a fantasy world, this could be for you. If you prefer deep world building with lots of background information, then probably not.

Fun Author Fact

Dennard was a marine biologist before becoming a full time writer.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a fantasy world with more depth and a ton of diversity in the characters or The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi or The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine for more diversity and adventure

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: The Secret Sky

18350034The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Summary

Fatima and Samiullah have been friends since childhood – even though his family is Pashtun and own the land that Fatima’s Hazara family and friends farm. When Sami returns from the madrassa a young man, Fatima realizes they’ve both grown. But neither realizes just how much trouble trying to keep their friendship alive will cause. Sami’s cousin discovers their secret meetings and triggers a swirl of events that brings in the local Taliban, violence, dishonor, and death.

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heart

Romance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship between Fatima and Samiullah is pretty cute and I appreciate that it builds on their childhood friendship rather than on a fleeting glance or an instant connection. They have a bit of a Romeo and Juliet thing going which bumps up the sparks. But there are things that happen that make it difficult to give a higher score. The relationship springs from real respect and love, but they’re forced into a decision that is rooted in a very unromantic cultural situation.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Again, it is really difficult to give a score for this. Fatima herself is awesome and I love her determination to live the life she wants. But, there are so many things stacked against her socially and within her family that I can’t give it anything higher. Fatima studies and cherishes her reading lessons from her best friend’s grandmother. The small part that the grandmother plays is important because she shows what life could be like and encourages Fatima to dream of a life more than the farming, wife-ing, and mothering that is her likely future.

But, when her family finds out that Fatima and Samiullah have been meeting and he’s interested in marrying her, things rapidly go downhill. Horrible things happen, and one of the worst parts is her mother’s behavior.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book is set in Afghanistan with Muslim characters, one family is very poor and the other is wealthy. In many ways it’s winning in the representation field. But, the Taliban comes into the story and things just go downhill. I’m really excited to see more international characters with stories giving us a fuller picture of the world. But, I’m a little concerned that we’re falling into the “one story problem” with young girls from South Asia. I know these are important stories, but they’re also the only stories we see in the news and mainstream media. I’d love to see something counter to the mainstream stories. That being said, I know that the authors do struggle with their decision to write these stories – Aisha Saeed has talked at length about her fear of writing her forced marriage book, Written in the Stars, because she didn’t want to be providing another negative story. It just illustrates our need for greater breadth of representation for all groups.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The writing in this book in beautiful and I think Abawi captures the people and landscape beautifully. I really liked Fatima and her determination to carve her own path. I liked the alternating point of view and that, while the story is centered on Fatima and Samiullah, Rashid gets a lot more depth as the story proceeds. It’s also great to see characters redeemed, though it’s a rather sad redemption. I would still recommend this book, but I’d emphasize that it continues the narrative of Afghanistan that is most prevalent in the media.


Favorite Character

Fatima – because she’s determined and hopeful and optimistic even when the situation is terrible.

Favorite Line

“This is when I realize that my mother doesn’t love me anymore. Her children aren’t people to her. We are her accessories, like a new payron or bangle. She wanted me to marry the boy in the other village because it would have made her look good, not because she was looking out for my welfare.”

I know this is kind of a depressing line, but it struck me because it is so true for some mothers everywhere. Sometimes they forget that they are bringing people into the world and not beings to maneuver.

Fun Author Fact

Atia Abawi has worked as a foreign correspondent for CNN in Afghanistan, Israel, and many other countries. Her work experiences inspired this story.

Read These Next

Like No Other by Una LaMarche for another couple fighting cultural and social expectations to be together or Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar for another South-Asian girl fighting cultural norms to fulfill her dreams.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Lovetorn

Lovetorn

Lovetorn by Kaita Daswani

Summary

 

Shalili’s family moves from Bangelore, India to Los Angeles, California right before her junior year in high school, and everything is different. Shalili has to leave her  home, where she lived a comfortable life with her large extended family, plenty of servants, and a happy childhood. She also has to leave Vikram, a boy she’s been engaged to (and in love with) since she was three years old.

Although Shalili puts  on a brave face for her parents, she’s not happy in America. Her classmates tease her, her mother’s health is deteriorating, and she feels like she’ll never fit in. Will she ever feel like she’s at home in Los Angeles?

 

Snipping

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort 

I found the romance between Shalili and Vikram a little hard to believe. I do know that there are still girls who are engaged at a very young age in India, but to my knowledge, families that are that conservative don’t allow their sons and daughters to have extensive contact with each other before they are married. It was hard for me to picture the relationship between the two of them, and honestly, Vikram was a little boring for me. Shalili’s other love interest in the book was a bit more interesting, but I think the romance was rushed and a bit staged, and I didn’t feel closure at the end of the book.

Feminist Score:  Good Effort Rosie

One thing I really liked about Lovetorn is that no one rescues Shalili – she learns how to feel at home herself. She makes an effort to take care of her family, stand up to bullies, and make friends without changing who she is via a makeover or pretending to like things she doesn’t.

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Diversity Score:  Between Good Effort and A+ Success 

I was surprised and impressed with a book that covers mental illness and depression in the Indian (and Indian-American) community, as well as the topics you’d expect in a book about an immigrant family.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

Despite it’s title, Lovetorn is ultimately an immigrant story of a family learning to live in the United States. Shalili, her sister, and parents are sympathetic characters who have to face the everyday challenges of immigrating to a new place. Although the romance wasn’t really a highlight of the book, I enjoyed reading a new immigrant story. As I discussed in our earlier post, we need more stories about Indian-American kids, so more people can feel like their stories are reflected in YA literature.


Favorite Character

Shalili, the main character of the book. Not only does Shalili have to face a new school in a new country, but she quickly takes on the major domestic respo’nsibilities when her mother gets ill. She balances a lot of pressure at school, in clubs, in her love life, and at home. I really liked her earnest and (sometimes cringe-worthy) sweetness to the people she cares about.

Favorite Line

‘I mean, don’t get me wrong,’ Mr. Jeremy continued. ‘India is great. My grandparents are there, lots of relatives. It’s totally booming, especially cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai. Compared to what it was ten years ago, it’s crazy how much progress there is. But I have to tell you, I wouldn’t give up in American for anything. India can be kind of aggravating, trying to get anything done. It’s still a Third World country. You guys are lucky you’re here. ‘ He paused for a minute to place an overflowing spoon full of rice into his mouth. 

I turned to look at my mother. Her nostrils were flared, her jaw clenched.

‘You think you have done us a favor, do you?’ she said bitterly. […] ‘You think you have done us a great favor by bringing us here, as if we were beggars in need of rescuing? Is that what you are saying?’ my mother asked again.”

I think too many Americans (immigrants included)  get trapped in the idea that the United States is absolutely the best place on Earth, and everyone wants to come and live here. I like how this passage tackles that stereotype, and reminds us that the places that not everyone in other countries is poor, unhappy, and desperately trying to live in the Western world.

 Fun Author Fact

According to her website, author Kavita Daswani is an international journalist who writes about  fashion, beauty, travel, design and celebrities for a range of global publications.

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan. From our review:

Leila feels like an outsider. She is the only Iranian-American at her ultra-rich, preppy private high school. She is also attracted to women, but is worried that her conservative immigrant family and her high school friends would not accept her. One day, a beautiful, wild new girl named Saskia joins the class. Saskia is full of adventure and fun – and Leila quickly falls head over heels for her.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: The Rearranged Life

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 The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma

Summary

Nithya is a smart, driven college senior with a plan: She wants to be a doctor. Her family has worked hard to give her all the best of American life – the top tutors, the best education, and even the freedom to live as both an American girl and an Indian immigrant daughter. Her only restriction is that she must marry a boy from her traditional Indian-American community. And Nithya has no problem with this – she’s always loved and respected her parents, and believes that her dreams and their dreams can align. Until she meets James, the sweet handsome kid in her chemistry class. As Nithya and James fall in love, Nithya must face (for the first time) the fact that her desires could destroy everything her parents have worked for.

rearranged life

heartRomance Score: Good Effort 

While I wasn’t super impressed with the way these two initially connected,  I really liked how the romance between Nithya and James built throughout the story. It felt like a true “college romance” for me – with a lot of studying, late night hangouts, and even a reference to Penn State’s “Thon”. I also loved the initial connections between Nithya and James’s family. I would have loved to see the next chapter of this romance, but maybe there will be a part two? Please?

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

Nithya knows what she wants, and will do what she can to get it. At the same time, she maintains respect for the traditions of her family and the sacrifices that they’ve made to give her opportunities. My only qualm is that I thought the initial meeting between the two – where Nithya was almost date raped – was a little too “damsel in distress” for me.
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Diversity Score: A+ Success

I loved that this story really dug into the challenges that (some) Indian-American girls face when dating boys from outside their communities. The novel really captures the nuances of the struggle. Nithya faces a few challenges here – not only does she not want to disappoint her parents, but she also doesn’t want to take advantage of their kindness. They have let their daughter assimilate with mainstream American culture with only a single restriction- and now she’s broken it. And in breaking that, Nithya faces the challenges of both no longer fitting into the traditional mold for a desi girl, but also trying to how to keep her culture intact in a potential interracial marriage… all at the age of 21.

As an Indian-American girl (who recently married a not very Indian-American, very adorable Caucasian boy), I really loved the perspective of this story. We need more stories talking about the lives of Indian-Americans (and all minorities) with respect and nuance for the traditions of each culture and the challenges them.

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Awesome Factor: Between Good Effort & A+ Success

While my life doesn’t exactly reflect Nithya’s, I loved finding a story about Indian-Americans that reflected the world that my friends and I live in. I have a few small qualms with it (some of the dialogue seems scripted and a few plot points weak), but these are minor issues of a first-time author. I was thoroughly impressed, and can’t wait to read anything else Annika Sharma writes.


Favorite Character

Anisha. First – There is finally a character with my name in a book!!! And second – She is sweet, funny and a good contrast to her serious sister.

Favorite Line

“… I made no apologies for who I am. He says it’s his favorite thing about me and though I won’t admit it, it’s my favorite thing about me, too. And when you find someone who values the same things in yourself that you do , there’s a burst of happiness that’s hard to put out. We shine together and separately.”

 Fun Author Fact

According to her blog, Annika wrote The Rearranged Life in the month before starting graduate school. That is some insane (Nithya-like) productivity.

She also has a crush on Emma Watson and the Duchess of Cambridge, which means she has excellent taste.

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan (our review here).  Leila is the only Iranian-American in her ultra-rich, preppy high school… and she also happens to like girls. What happens when a new beautiful and wild student joins her school?

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: Better Than Perfect

 

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Better Than Perfect by Melissa Kantor

Summary

Juliet Newman knows that perfection is hard work.

She studies hard, takes part in all the right activities, and practices hard at swimming, all so she can have the perfect application for Harvard University. She’s a good, responsible daughter in a perfect, beautiful family. And she has the perfect boyfriend – with the same drive and goals as she does. She and Jason have “J power” – and will be at Harvard next year.

But then her parents separate, and Juliet’s perfectly constructed life begins to crack. How can she stay the perfect, devoted, driven daughter when her dad is living 30 minutes away, and her mom is turning into someone she can’t recognize? As Juliet faces these new challenges, she also begins to wonder why she needs to be perfect, and to what end?

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort (SPOILER)

I’m not a huge fan of any cheating-related romances, especially without any lessons learned. Juliet blatantly cheats on Jason who, despite a few neurotic flaws, seems to be a decent guy. She doesn’t have any real remorse for it. The romance between Juliet and her love interest wasn’t really relatable to me. She has an instant attraction to him (understandable), but I couldn’t understand why she wanted a relationship with him. Not a huge fan.

Feminist Score: Good EffortRosie

As a hyper-competitive, driven person, I completely related to Juliet. I loved that she was just as (if not more) driven that Jason, and willing to do everything she could to get into Harvard. I loved how she took care of the other people in her life and made her own decisions. This isn’t an adventure book (so we don’t see any bad-ass sword fighting or saving the world), but in the context of a regular high school girl, I think the feminist score is high.
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Diversity Score: Not A Bit

There was… no diversity in this book. White, rich high school with white, rich students.(Though, yes, there’s one Asian friend who makes a racist comment about other Asians). Even the transfer student from China is actually a white kid born in London. I wish there was more to say about this… but there isn’t.

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Awesome Factor: Good Effort

Despite it’s flaws (see Diversity Score), Better Than Before is a good read. I love high school romance stories with smart, driven characters. And even though I couldn’t completely buy into the romance, I enjoyed the family and school related plot. In a nutshell, this is The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen if Macy was just like Jason.

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Favorite Character

Juliet. If you can’t tell already, I can really relate to her, especially her need to be a “good girl” – the perfect daughter, student, and Harvard applicant.

Favorite Line

“Instead of running away from home, I texted my dad. I told him I was okay. I told him I was with Sofia. I told him I would meet Kathy at the house in the morning. I asked him to stop texting me.

Because I was a good girl. And good girls didn’t throw away their phones or leave home or make their parents worry about them for no reason.”

I really relate to Juliet being a good girl – the struggle between following your emotions and doing the rational, “good” thing. I think that is a struggle a lot of young women deal with, and it was well-described in Better Than Perfect.

Fun Author Fact

Melissa Kantor has a great answer to the question “What’s the craziest thing you ever did to get a boy to like you”.

She moved to Zimbabwe. Check out the full story on her blog.

Read This Next

For another high school romance with competitive characters (well, a crazy competitive boyfriend), check out The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. It’s one of my favorites from high school.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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Book Discussion: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Summary

Minnow’s parents decide to follow the Prophet into the wilderness. As part of the select group lead by his prophecies, they’re17185496 community learns how to live truly and serve the Prophet’s rules. But, Minnow is able to remember life before the Prophet. And when she makes a friend with someone she shouldn’t, the questions that had been slowly growing finally bloom into full doubt. But – that’s not when we meet Minnow. No, we meet her after. After she’s lost her home. Her family. Her community. Her arms. And maybe herself.

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

Part of Minnow’s relationship with Mr. Woodsman are cute, but ultimately, it’s two damaged teens trying to find solace from situations that are pretty messed up. And, while I’m glad she was able to think through and get over her community’s racism, I still feel like it happened pretty quickly. And, while Mr. Woodsyboy is sweet and there for Minnow when she needs someone, he tries to do the exact same, possessive stuff that she experienced at the community.

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

This book is SO MESSED up in several ways – the community’s treatment of women, the perpetuation of rape culture (women are the holders of men’s honor, women need to dress modestly because it’s all their fault), and the ultimate punishment doled out to Minnow – so many wrongs. But, there are a couple of stand outs – Minnow herself doesn’t allow the Prophet to erase her humanity, Minnow’s roommate doing what she can to protect the newbie, and Minnow’s mother finally breaking out of her abuse-induced daze (maybe). I’m going to focus on the positives of Minnow’s resiliency and strength – and willingness to accept her broken spirit to heal – instead of the awful, brainwashed women in the community, especially Minnow’s sister.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

I’m giving this book points for including a minority religious group – although there is something to be said for who gets to decide what is a “legitimate” religion or not. I definitely think the Prophet’s group is an unhealthy, unsafe, cruel place/cult, but I think we should consider not discounting small congregations just because their different from the mainstream. Points also for Minnow arm loss – living without limbs means moving through the world differently, having to adapt everyday tasks, and I think the book did a good job of showing that – especially while Minnow is in detention. I also give points for showing up life in the detention center without making it exotic. The girls in there have done things, but listening to most of their stories we learn – through Minnow – that the world unfairly punishes them for protecting themselves.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

All the pieces come together to make an intense read. The community, the escape to a tree house, finding a sweet, innocent love outside the confines of the Prophet’s rules, and Minnow’s desire to keep her own secrets all create a pretty great whole. It was a little too much at times, but I still have recommended it to several people. I think the ultimate lesson that girls need to take their fate into their own is the takeaway.


Favorite Character

Angel – she does what she can to survive, keeping her hard exterior as protection, but she never really totally eliminated her heart.

Favorite Line

“…and I think that’s what love does, makes you strong. Makes you think nothing can bring you down. It’s the only kind of lie that I’d be happy to live with.”

Even in a dark place, Minnow can hope…even if it’s sexy times that gets her there.

Is it worth a book hangover?

Honestly, it’s a disturbing read, but I couldn’t put it down. I really liked Minnow’s voice and the cast of characters that joined her.

Fun Author Fact

Oakes based this off the fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden.”

Read These Next

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu for another girl finding her way through (or out of) a religious community or Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert for a boy lead by faith trying to decide how much he should say during an investigation into his father’s actions.

Post Author: Jess

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: Big Fat Disaster

Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum

Summary

Colby just wants to avoid the limelight as much as possible while her dad runs for a Senate position. But, when the FBI beginsBig Fat Disaster
 to investigate her dad’s very big secrets, the limelight turns into a spotlight – with Colby in the center. Suffering from raging insecurity and the target of her mom’s disparaging comments about her weight, Colby’s life unravels. She ends up moving to small town Texas with her mother and her little sister where she struggles to fit in. On top of all of this, her cousin posts a cruel video making fun of her weight and school becomes a hell. When she tries to end everything, things finally fully fall apart. Colby must face her mother’s selfishness, her own shame, and the weight of living.

(Trigger warnings for body issues, mental health, suicide, death, rape, emotional and physical abuse.)

 

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

There’s no love interest in the book and, if there were, I’m pretty certain Colby wouldn’t be ready or able to recognize it as a possibility. She does get to watch her parents’ marriage dissolve and their behavior is pretty heart-breaking. I felt a lot of sympathy for Colby’s mom for the situation she ended up in, but also hated her for being her.

RosieFeminist Score: A+ success

I thought about taking points off because Colby’s mother is awful and it’s clear that she was terrible to Colby even before life fell apart, but I decided her story is a great one for feminism as well. At one point, she admits that she’s never opened her own bank account and I just thought “this is why girls and women need to be able to stand on their own two feet before they settle down into a long-term relationship.” And, while I hated the mother pretty thoroughly by the end, I still think her struggle to survive and provide is a great example of crawling back from a horrible place. Plus, she’s a great example of why it’s important to identify the toxic people in your life and remove them – even family.

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Diversity Score: Good Effort

This gets a high score for representing three things really well. Other than those things, it was a little lacking in color – especially for Texas. But, Colby is fat and the book fully describes what that’s like. It’s not just “she’s fat, moving on with the story.” Being fat is key to how Colby moves in the world, what she buys, how she interacts, everything. I really appreciated that the book showed the struggle – for clothes, for sitting down, for fitting in school desks. And, this isn’t the kind of book where she is miraculously skinny by the end; it’s clear that the end goal is mental health not thinness while Colby works to control her eating. Edit: HOWEVER, this is not a positive fat portrayal and it’s perpetuating the “fat people have miserable lives” stereotype. Looking at this in hindsight, this score should have been much lower because of the fat-life protrayal.

Secondly, I appreciated the shift in socio-economic status. Colby’s family went from wealthy to no money at all. Fortunately, Aunt Leah is there as a safety net, but the family is still having to choose store brand and shop at yard sales and wait to repair a broken window. It may not be total poverty, but they depend on the school for meals and that’s not something you see in YA often. Lastly, I appreciated that Colby and Leah and Tina all had mental health problems. Depression is a real, hard, daily struggle and Colby’s story is important. As is Tina’s willingness to talk about her eating disorder and Leah’s openness about dealing with the aftermath of growing up in her awful family and being married to an abusive jerk. The stigma about talking about these things needs to end and this book is a good start.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really wanted to hear more from Colby. Sometimes unhappy characters are difficult to get into because they’re hard to connect with (not saying they have to be likeable, I just have to care), but I didn’t have that trouble with Colby. From the first chapters I was drawn in to the family’s troubles and wanted to see how things would play out. I wasn’t expecting the story to leave the father behind as much as it did, but I liked the women alone even more. I think it’s important to remember that some families are truly awful to each other and we need to be there for those trying to minimize the scars.


Favorite Character

Leah – because she is strong and loving and even after a terrible, terrible thing happens to her, she still opens her heart to Colby and does what she can to save her from their awful relatives.

Favorite Line

“Sometimes you’ve got to succeed in spite of your parents, instead of because of them.”

Mr. McDaniel, the principal, was the best kind of school administrator. Lots of the teachers at Colby’s school were the compassionate, kind, supportive teachers we all hope we can have, but speaking from my own stereotypes, I will say I’m a little surprised that so many of her teachers were able to see through the football/rape scandal and her being an  “outsider” to stand on her side.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. This book is important because real fat characters are underrepresented and there are many subplots that are also important. I thought Colby was well-rounded and her story fascinating. But, it’s not a positive fat representation.

Fun Author Fact

Not fun, but Fehlbaum also struggles with an eating disorder and works to help abuse survivors so the book is very close to her heart.

Read These Next

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy about a fat girl owning her size and being amazing or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga for another character fighting the darkness of depression.

Post Author: Jess 

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Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School

Book Discussion: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Summary

The king, Lo-Melkhiin, is killing his wives. He was a strong, fair leader and then, after he went out to hunt, he came back cold 21524446and hungry for brides. No one knows exactly why his wives die, but they know they don’t like it. The people of the kingdom enforce a system – one girl from every village before the cycle starts again. So, when it’s time for our main character’s village, she knows her beautiful, stunning, amazing sister will be picked – because everyone loves her more. Since the main character is strong and loyal, she knows she has to do something to gain the king’s attention and take her sister’s place. She successfully does so and then, once she’s in the palace and married, manages to live out the night – and many more. Lo-Melkhiin finds her an intriguing adversary and she uses mysterious powers to keep death at bay.

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

Lo-Melkhiin is killing his brides. And it’s totally by choice. The main character is fighting for her life in a situation with a huge power imbalance. There’s no cute guy coming to save her and she’s not looking for one. I guess there could be some romance if you consider how her parents respect and honor each other, but…since she gets pulled from her village fairly early on, I don’t count that.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

I give points here because the main character is a strong, clever girl doing what she can to ensure the safety of her family and her people. She maintains a respect for her culture and does her best to subvert the power systems to work for her. In addition, she becomes a symbol of strength and a smallgod (sort of saint or protector) for the women and girls of her kingdom which is pretty badass. Overall, I think she’s a pretty cool character even if she’s a little obedient or submissive in the palace.

What I did not like was the motivation behind sacrificing herself for her sister. Even though it was slightly played as “I’m stronger/made for this,” the narrative about her sister being more beautiful, more beloved, and all around better came through more clearly – and it felt like a kind of “I’m not worthy of living, so I’ll just die for her” sacrifice rather than courage. Now, she still sacrificed herself and found a wellspring of power while doing so, so I’m not docking points (we all find strength through different scenarios), but it was a little disappointing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit/You’re Trying

This may not feel like a fair score to some readers, but I have reasons. Good things first: the character lives in a desert and is part of an underrepresented culture. She’s a girl that saves the world. Faith is a big part of the story. And yet.

Even though this book takes place in a newly created desert culture, I felt like a lot of the words and details used to give cultural “flavor” were added in after cursory google searches. For example, I found the description and use of veils (face and hair) fairly inconsistent throughout the book. In one scene, it talks about how she wears her hair loose under her scarf; I know this is definitely common practice in some communities, but it didn’t make sense in relation to later scenes. And the use and discussion of henna was seriously confusing. Like, so confusing I wonder if the author has ever used or been around henna. Throughout the book, the main character is given daily henna designs to prepare her for events/seeing her husband. Generally, it seems as though this happens after she is bathed and dressed in her finery, but there is never any discussion (that I remember) of letting the henna dry, sitting still to ensure the designs don’t get marred, or removing the dried henna. This is most obvious in one scene where she is running late and the henna master comes to reapply the designs just before she gets dressed and goes out to see Lo-Melkhiin. This is problematic because 1. her henna would still be wet and 2. if she did have a few minutes to let it dry, little crumbly bits of brown paste would be falling off while they ate or talked and I doubt that is appealing for her husband-king.

Those are small details. Another huge thing is the religious-cultural placement. With a title so explicitly referencing A Thousand Nights/Arabian Tales, the story feels oddly placed – I originally thought this was because it didn’t seem to tie into the usual Arab and/or Muslim context, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s just poor worldbuilding. The addition of magic and the “beings” that roam the world “using” humans also added to the troubling bits. I don’t know if the author removed it from Islamic culture because referencing djinn (a genie -though never named as such) and magic would entail more work and cultural knowledge or if she was trying to pull the story out of that cultural context for some other reason, but it sort of felt like a cop out. I think this book would function better with a different title, too. This one calls back to a well known set of stories and then removes itself almost completely from the traditional tales; not referencing the originals would make it work better as a whole. Overall, the world was underdeveloped – if this was supposed to be a totally new world, the worldbuilding needed to be more complete, if this was referencing an existing culture, the lines needed to be drawn more clearly.

NOTE (3/2016): I’ve heard a lot about the author’s intentions and she definitely tried to make this a polytheist/pagan culture so that it didn’t call back to Arab/Muslim culture. She also was/is an archeologist so I feel a little bad for saying she didn’t seem to do research – I’m sure she did a lot. I think it comes down to the title calling up things that made it unfair to judge.

wow iconAwesome Score: You’re Trying

Overall, I was intrigued by the premise. It seems Scheherazade/One Thousand and One Nights retellings are a coming trend and I’m excited to see how the stories are placed (or replaced) in cultural contexts. I had high hopes for this book and at times throughout the story I was drawn in and intrigued, but overall I took a lot of notes on the random, weird details that pulled me out of the book. Generally for me, lots of notes means a story is lacking depth or pull because I am more focused on small things than on the exciting characters and narrative. I think the world Johnston built could be really engaging and interesting, but it feels like it sits at a 5 when it needs a 10. I also found the power/magic confusing and underdeveloped; maybe that’s a narrative tool since the main character never really understands it, but it just felt poorly written.

Even so, the premise of the story is intriguing and I think that some readers will enjoy the book.


Favorite Character

The Skeptic scholar – I liked his subplot and the main character’s interaction with him

I didn’t mention the Skeptics in my comments above, but this again was such a weird naming choice because it made me think “Are we in Rome? How are we in Rome now?”

Favorite Line

There are some powerful lines in this book, but I was so distracted by the random other things I didn’t write any down. One thing to note – there are very few character names used throughout the book. We never learn the main character’s name and most other characters are referenced by relation (“my sister,” “Lo-Melkhiin’s mother”) which is an interesting choice.

Fun Author Fact

E.K. Johnston is/was an archeologist!

Is this worth a book hangover?

Personally, I would say no. But, different books for different folks (Yes, I know that doesn’t exactly rhyme). The premise is intriguing and the character is strong, it might do it for you. I’ve been holding off because I really don’t want to compare books to one another, but if you are intrigued by a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, I’d rather recommend The Wrath and the Dawn. Its world is more developed and the characters are more compelling, though the focus is different.

Read These Next

As mentioned, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh or An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another world where stakes are high and escape is difficult and family must be saved.

Author Post: Jess

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Note: I received access to an early ebook of A Thousand Nights through NetGalley. My review is (I think, obviously) not affected by that.

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

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Book Discussion: The Second Empress

Empress

Anisha’s Note: I’ve been on a bit of a Michelle Moran kick lately! I recently reviewed The Rebel Queen and reread Cleopatra’s Daughter. I promise I read new books as well, but I believe Gretchen Rubin’s principle that re-reading is the best reading.  

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

Summary

Napoleon Bonaparte, the undeniable ruler of France and perhaps soon all of Europe, is looking for a wife. Not just any wife, but one who is young, fertile, and most importantly, with clear lineage to the throne of France. And when Napoleon sets his sights on something, he gets it. When Napoleon decides that he wants to marry Maria Lucia, the eldest daughter of Francis II of Austria, she is forced to leave behind her home, family, and even her precious puppy to help save her homeland. Can Maria Lucia find happiness in her new home under the reign of Napoleon?

The Second Empress is a fictional take on the life of Maria Lucia, the Archduchess of Austria and second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. The story chronicles the later reign of Napoleon through the eyes of three unique characters: Maria Lucia, Napoleon’s disillusioned sister Pauline, and a Haitian servant named Paul. It’s a well-told, enjoyable piece of historical fiction.

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort  

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I did enjoy the story of Maria Lucia and her romantic interest. It is a bit simplified, and a bit of a princess-in-need-of-saving, but still sweet and light. It was a nice contrast to some of the darker parts of the relationship between Maria Lucia and Napoleon.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

On one hand, Maria Lucia is characterized as weak, meek, and unable to stand up to her husband. However, that husband happens to be Napoleon Bonaparte, so perhaps we can give her a little grace here. Still, I wish we had seen a little more of Maria Lucia’s personality (and standing up for herself) throughout the story. At best, she’s portrayed as the sacrificial lamb given to Napoleon to allow her country to remain free.
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Diversity Score: Good Effort

As mentioned above, this story is told from three perspectives, including Paul, a young Haitian servant who lives in France and serves the Bonaparte family. I was really impressed with Paul’s portrayal, and really enjoyed the descriptions of Haiti, his internal struggles about heritage and home, and his decisions in the book. This is only one character, but in a book focused on only a few (real) people, I was impressed with this fictional addition.

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Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book is an enjoyable, quick read, but it’s not perfect. My biggest qualm (and my qualm with historical fiction at large) is that it mixes fact and fiction. While the main characters are based on real people in history, Moran takes liberties with new characters, dates, and specific events to make a more romanticized plot.

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Favorite Character

Paul, the Haitian servant living in France. His unique perspective on the events (and people) around him are a wonderful addition to the story.

Favorite Line

“No shame in crying” he tells me. “If we don’t cry for the dead, then what will we cry for?” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think it’s a fun read, especially if you enjoy historical fiction, but I don’t think it’s quite hangover worthy.

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Michelle Moran was inspired to write The Second Empress while researching her fourth novel,  Madame Tussaud.  She spent extensive time in France both for personal travel and to research the book.

Read This Next

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

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