ARC Review: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Pub. date: January 16th, 2018
Publisher: Soho Teen  
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781616958473
Source: Edelweiss

Thanks so much to Edelweiss and Soho Teen for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warnings: Anti-Islamic verbal statements and incidents, domestic terrorism, bullying, physical assault, suicide bombing, kissing

Plot: Seventeen-year old Maya Aziz is your not-so-average teenager straddling the line between two worlds; one where she’s expected to be the good Indian daughter to conservative Indian parents, well-mannered, possessing decent culinary skills, and on her way to college to become a lawyer, and the other where she goes to film school in New York City, and maybe kiss this white boy she’s been crushing on for a while now. She’s busy living her life with her best friend Violet, sneaking off to spend time with the crush, and making documentaries, when an act of domestic terrorism results in absolute upheaval in Maya’s life. 

I often hear readers complain about how contemporary fiction can sometimes be too predictable, falling into a few standard tropes with the players dressed in different costumes, lacking imagination and the ability to draw them in. Well, I’m happy to report that isn’t the case with this book. Sure, there’s teens, there’s angst, there’s conflict, a plethora of emotions, but Samira Ahmed has managed to deliver a gorgeous coming-of-age story that doesn’t necessarily cater to the formula. She’s done such a great job combining the fluff, the angst, and serious relevant issues, drawing the reader into what turns out to be a very compelling novel. 

Maya as a protagonist and narrator is such a wonderfully developed character. She has super conservative Indian parents, and Her relationship with them resonates with (I think) a lot of diasporic Indian kids- parents who worked extremely hard and made sacrifices to ensure their kids have good lives, parents who want their kids to have steady and secure futures, who are afraid that their kids not growing up in their homeland means that all their morals and values will be lost, parents who want to keep their only child close by because they’re hesitant of the world they will have to send them into, and parents who rebelled for their own life choices and then turned around and promptly became the same naysayers the previous generations were, because they’re conditioned to react that way to new experiences. All of the best interests at heart but unable to recognize that their children are growing up in an environment so different from their own and navigating their own challenges. These traits can seem like stereotypes of Asian parents, but to me they were written and portrayed from such an honest perspective, and several times I felt such empathy for Maya. My parents don’t share all of those qualities, but they most certainly fall into several of these archetypes. It’s always simultaneously comforting and frustrating to see this represented so accurately, especially in YA fiction- teen me would definitely have benefited from reading books like this one. This again, is not necessarily representative of all Indian parents (we’re not a monolith), so I’m sure these characters arcs will resonate with some and not with others.

Besides her complicated relationship with her family, Maya is an ambitious girl with big passions, which is so great to see. Film-making is clearly not just a hobby, but her passion, and her tenacity is evident by the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to make it happen for her. I’m a big fan of ambitious teens of color who are unapologetic about their passion. They’re unabashedly nerdy about this thing that they love and determined to figure ways to make it happen for them, it’s very affirming.

An integral portion of this book is how it tackled anti-Islamic rhetoric and events, and this is where it shines without turning into just an “issue” book. Throughout the novel are tiny microaggressions interspersed in the narrative (and appropriately challenged), all leading up to the tumultuous event that casts a dark shadow on this small town. A brutally honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a Muslim in America in the aftermath of an incident of domestic terrorism. Maya’s own reactions and experiences, as well as that of her family’s, how it affects their relationship with each other, their choices, their fears, and how they’re viewed in the eyes of their small community- Samira delivers with gut-punching accuracy. This makes it such an important book, not just in terms of representing Indian-American Muslims, but a book that should be read by those outside that community, and give them some food for thought on how they could be complicit in maintaining such a rhetoric and how they can be solid allies. 

As for the romance and the side-characters, these were equally well-done. There’s a bit of a love triangle early in the book that’s resolved quickly, and the romance is pretty cute for the most part(bit of an overkill with the mentions of Phil’s dimple, but hey, that’s an alloromantic thing you can’t avoid I guess). Her friendship with Violet is just awesome (love me a supportive best friend all day everyday). Hina is the aunt that dreams are made of, what an amazingly supportive parental figure and buffer. The dual narrative was fine, I don’t think it did much for the story, but it didn’t get in the way either. 

All in all, an absolutely emotional and gratifying story. Samira’s prose is gorgeous, and Maya’s wit and sarcasm is brilliant and cracked me up throughout the book. Full of nuance, with the ability to kickstart several important conversations among readers, Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a well-rounded and gripping debut. 

P. S. In case you’re looking for some #ownvoices reviews of this book, I’m linking both Fadwa and Maha‘s reviews for further reading. 

 

 

Review: Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai

51baubxovylHate To Want You (Forbidden Hearts #1) by Alisha Rai

Plot: Every year on her birthday, Livvie Kane and Nico Chandler would hook up for just one night. Nobody else knows, because of the infamous falling out between the Kanes and the Chandlers. So when Livvie returns to their hometown to sort things out with her family, Nico is absolutely thrown for a loop. Can they let go of their history and be together, or has the family feud gone too deep for them to turn things around?

I love a good angst-filled romance, and Alisha Rai delivers that with the first book of the series. The tension between the characters and just from the plot kept me up all night reading this book. Written from perspectives of both the main characters, you can feel their turmoil for each other as well as their families. Livvy is hella feisty and sexy and a talented tattoo artist who’s all heart, Nico is a businessman who is typically calm, collected, loyal, and only Livvy can get under his skin. The flashback scenes of the budding romance between a young Livvy and Nico made me swoon and ache, and just the banter between the two made me cackle; Livvy makes Nico want to both kiss her and kill her at the same time, which I simply adored. Outside of the romance, Alisha skillfully introduces a plethora of secondary characters and we get to see their dynamics with both Livvy and Nico. These characters and relationships were also extremely well-developed and multi-layered, which gave this book so much depth along with being a smoking hot romance. Totally fits the brief of a forbidden romance with a family rivalry trope.

wrongtoneedyouWrong To Need You (Forbidden Hearts #2) by Alisha Rai

Plot: Sadia Ahmed is the owner of Kane’s Café, which she inherited when her husband Paul died in a tragic accident. When her former brother-in-law Jackson Kane returns to town ten years after he ran away when accused of a crime he didn’t commit, she’s unable to shake her feelings for him. On his part, Jackson realizes he’s still helpless to stay away from the one woman he’s always loved. When she agrees to let him help her out at the café, Sadia realizes that her childhood best friend has grown up into an irresistible man. Will they, won’t they?

Oh. My. GOD. After HATE TO WANT YOU, I was sure Alisha was setting herself up for failure, because there was no way a follow-up was ever going to be as good. She proved me wrong by writing a second book that was somehow even better than the first one. This one is hands-down my favorite of the series. I was a little hesitant about the brother’s ex trope, but she handled it perfectly. Also, allow me to gush about Jackson for just one minute. Seriously, give me all the broody introverts always and forever. He’s shy, he cooks, he doesn’t talk a lot, and he’s downright sexy- sheer perfection. I loved their chemistry, I loved the angst and turmoil Sadia was going through about having feelings for her former best-friend-turned-brother-in-law, and her son Kareem was just pure joy and comfort on the page. Sadia’s character is beautifully developed- as a sex positive bisexual woman, as a daughter in a large family with conservative parents and delightful, caring siblings, as a mother, and as a lover. She and Jackson are a perfect match. In addition to all of this, we learn more about the Kanes and the Chandlers, so it’s not like the family drama is a one-and-done thing in book one. This book is all about second chances, and by god, it delivers that, with a gigantic helping of consensual, sex-positive, and super hot romance. 

91rkk2z2sul-__bg0000_fmpng_ac_ul320_sr202320_Hurts To Love You (Forbidden Hearts #3) by Alisha Rai

Thanks so much to Avon Books and Edelweiss for an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

Plot: In the final installment of this series, we meet Evangeline Chandler and Gabriel Hunter. She’s the heiress to the Chandler fortune and sibling of the overprotective Nicholas Chandler, he’s the tattoo artist boss of Livvy Kane, and son of the Kane family’s former housekeeper. He’s not supposed to be attracted to his friend’s sister, and she’s not supposed to nurse a lifelong crush for the help. However, will respectability and responsibility stand a chance when they’re forced to spend time together and sparks fly?

This book is a fitting ending to the series. She’s a good girl gone bad, he’s thrown caution to the wind in spite of his deep, dark secret. The chemistry is palpable and tender between these two. Eve clearly has a lot of issues and complexes thanks to the men in her family, and I absolutely love how she’s come into her own in this book, going from someone who strictly toes the line to a confident, outspoken person who can stand up to the men in her life, even the ones that have her best interests at heart. Gabe is clearly going through a lot of pain, but is still a wonderful human all-around. They’re also in the middle of a wedding, which means you get to see a lot of our favorite characters from our first two books. And just when you thought you’d discovered everything you needed to about the Kanes and the Chandlers, more secrets are revealed that absolutely shake up both families. 

Alisha Rai delivers again. In just one series she’s managed to deliver three completely different types of forbidden romances, with such diverse characters. Also, hurray for POC romances. The Kanes are Hawaiian-Japanese, Sadia is a bisexual Muslim, Livvy and Jackson’s aunt Maile is a queer WOC, and Gabe is multiracial with an adoptive Black mom and sister (who is a badass billionaire boss, and I hope Alisha writes a spin-off book about Rhiannon sometime in the future). The books all prioritize consent. are super sex-positive, and especially don’t fetishize WOC and/or queer women. Let’s be real: Alisha knows how to write hot books. The sex scenes left me weak at the knees, and I was especially glad that none of the male protagonists had moments of being insecure about their masculinity or whatever when they were with assertive women. All in all, a fantastic series, and definitely her best one yet. I’m so ready to keep reading her work.

 

ARC Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

32920226 Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Pub. date: September 5th, 2017
Publisher: Scribner
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781501126062
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Scribner for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Trigger Warnings: Dead sibling, addiction, cancer, dying family member, drugs

Plot: Jojo and his little sister Kayla live with their grandparents in rural Mississippi, and only occasionally see their mother Leonie. The grandmother is dying of cancer. the grandfather is trying to run the household and teach Jojo life lessons, and Leonie sees visions of her dead brother when she gets high. Then, when Jojo and Kayla’s white father Michael is released from prison, Leonie packs the kids and a friend in a car, and travels across the state to the Mississippi State Penitentiary. a journey that’s full of danger and promise.

It is of no surprise that Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for this novel. She is just such a fantastic writer, and has the ability to make readers of her work empathize with the most flawed characters. Characters who in theory should be the villains of the story, but you end up feeling for them. She makes you ache for them. All of her characters have experienced, or are experiencing an immense amount of pain, and this is reflected in their worldviews, the choices they make, and the lives they live.

The story mainly comes from the perspectives of Jojo and Leonie, who are both people of few words, always on guard, but their internal voices convey everything that they would not say out loud to the reader, and basically set up the entire book. Jojo is coming of age and holds so much resentment towards his mother, who is an absentee parent, while absorbing crucial life lessons from Pop, his grandfather, as he is trying to figure out how to be a man. Leonie on the other hand is the character that put me through the wringer emotionally. She is so deeply flawed, and everything she does or that Jojo says she does or does not do makes you want to hate her, but reading her perspective and what she’s thinking makes you not only empathize, but just ache for her. A drug addict, she’s haunted by visions of her dead brother whenever she’s high, and it’s a punch in the gut to read about it. 

Jesmyn’s skill comes through in how she uses her characters- a lot of them are symbolic to further the story. Her writing makes you feel such pain with a story where terrible things just keep happening and there seems no reprieve, but still leaves you feeling hopeful at the end of it. There is no particularly happy ending, nothing is neatly tied up or resolved. Therein lies its beauty. I honestly could not find a single flaw in this book.

This was my first time reading her full-length novels (I’d previously read her memoir, Men We Reaped, and The Fire This Time), and she has become one of my favorite authors. I’m a total sucker for books that make me feel pain and that just sucker- punch me with all the emotions, and Sing, Unburied, Sing did just that. Devastatingly beautiful prose and an absolutely engrossing story, it is undoubtedly one of my favorites of 2017, and one that I urge you to read if you haven’t already. 

-J

 

 

Books By South Asian Authors On My 2017 TBR: The Fiction Edition

 

SOUTH ASIAN REPRESENTATION.jpg(Disclaimer: I originally threw the entirety of my list into this post, but I don’t think anyone would’ve made it to the end. As a kindness, I’ll post the nonfiction list separately tomorrow)

Ever since I started paying attention to what I was reading, I’ve found a ridiculous number of gaps. So after flailing and beating myself up about it (as one does), in my quest to read mindfully, I’ve decided to tackle specific gaps each year. I’d talked about this to a few of my book club friends, and ever since my reading has shifted to reading mostly diverse voices, challenges like the Read Harder one from Book Riot are no longer intimidating. So I decided this was the best opportunity to start focusing on some of those gaps.

Something I’ve been painfully aware about for the longest time is that I’ve read very few books by South Asian (and diaspora) authors or set in South Asia. If I want to see more South Asian books published, then as a reader I need to actively seek these books out, read them, and talk about them. So, here are some of the books on my 2017 TBR. It’s a mix of frontlist and backlist titles, and I hope people are able to find things that fall in their wheelhouse. 

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: YA contemporary romance, Indian-American MCs whose parents have arranged for them to be married. Comedy ensues. 

A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman: YA realistic fiction, MC is a bharatanatyam prodigy who is struggling to regain her passion after an accident leaves her a below-the-knee amputee. Disability rep. (As a bharatanatyam dancer myself I am ashamed I’ve never read this before. Also, the premise seems to be inspired by the life of Sudha Chandran, or maybe that’s just me.)

Step Up To The Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishnaswami: MG novel set during World War II, 9-year old MC wants to play softball while simultaneously dealing with prejudice and discriminatory laws. Biracial rep, immigrant story. 

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal: Contemporary adult fiction. Multigenerational. MCs are Indian immigrants in their mid-forties, each facing their individual crises, until their paths cross and an unusual friendship blossoms. 

Stained by Abda Khan: Contemporary adult fiction, Pakistani-British MC, struggles to cope with loss of her father, becomes a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted family friend. Explores cultural identity conflict and their impact on dealing with traumatic events. TW: rape.

Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera: Contemporary adult fiction, immigrant story, Punjabi MC is forced to take over the family business after the unexpected death of his father, reevaluates his life, and attempts to reconcile his family’s story and legacy with his  London life.

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota: Thirteen young men living in a house in Sheffield, all having run from India for a fresh start and a new life. 

Sea Of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh: Historical fiction, set during the time just before the Opium Wars, is about a diverse cast of characters on board the Ibis, a schooner on a journey from Baltimore to Calcutta. (I love Amitav Ghosh and this book was nominated for the Man Booker, so, I’m hoping it lives up to the hype. I’m increasingly wary these days of POC representation even by authors of color, so I’m really really really hoping this one isn’t problematic because it would be a real disappointment.)

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai: This Man Booker winner is a historical fiction novel, set in Nepal during a rising insurgency, a cranky old judge who can’t stop thinking about his son who’s an illegal immigrant in the States, instead of his orphaned granddaughter left in his care. Amidst political tensions is also a budding romance between the granddaughter and her Nepali tutor. Chaos ensues.

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad: Historical fiction, a young couple who are refugees from tribes in FATA, have to escape to avoid punishment as a result of life events. Their son, descended from both chiefs and outlaws, travels throughout remote tribal areas. (I picked this up out of curiosity, because the author was 79 when he wrote this, his first novel, and I admire his tenacity already.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri: Historical fiction set in Calcutta, two brothers who are total opposites, including in their political inclinations. One of them joins the Naxalite movement, and when something happens to him, the other returns from the States to piece the family back together. 

What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera: Contemporary fiction, a young girl growing up in Sri Lanka has to immigrate to the States with her mother following a tragedy, and start over. 

The Gospel of Yudas by K. R. Meera: Set during the Naxalite period in Kerala, Prema is drawn to the Naxalite ideology, and is infatuated with Yudas, who she believes was tortured by her tyrannical father in his prison camp. Yudas has got secrets of his own. (I’m a little worried about the narrative verging on the former prisoner romance area, but also need to read up on the Naxalite group in detail for some context.)

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam: A young widow must do what she must to keep her family safe during the Bangladesh War of Independence.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: Short story collection, Pulitzer winner. (Also she’s one of my favourite authors, so maybe it’s about time I read this.)

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin: Short story collection set in Pakistan. 

Moth Smoke: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid: Contemporary fiction, MC gets involved in a life of crime after getting fired, and is then caught and on trial for a murder he may or may not have committed. 

The Immortals by Amit Chaudhari: MC is a classically trained musician who enjoys teaching popular music and covets a modern life, accepts a student who only wants to study Indian classical music. Story follows their evolving relationship and their families. 

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie: Fantasy fiction. I’m still unclear on the premise, and GR isn’t particularly illuminating. But it is Rushdie so I expect good storytelling and general weirdness. 

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: Fantasy fiction, Mahabharata retelling from Draupadi’s POV. 

Sunbolt Chronicles by Intisar Khanani: YA fantasy, MC is orphaned at an early age and is forced to keep her magical abilities, the identity of her parents, and her role in an underground revolutionary movement a secret. While on a mission, she’s captured by the baddies and must escape. (ICYMI, I loved Thorn by the same author, so I’m really looking forward to this series.)

Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal: Coming-of-age story of a queer preteen boy who is also a second generation immigrant, and how he deals with being different and being a social outcast. 

God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya: A short story collection that follows a child navigating society, race, gender, sexuality, and religion. 

Marriage of A Thousand Lies by S. J. Sindu: A Srilankan married couple pretend to be heterosexual to their parents and date people of their actual gender/sexual preference on the side. 

Some notes about this list: It goes without saying that it is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just the books I would definitely like to read this year. This list does not include any books with South Asian rep that I’ve read in the past. Two, a lot of these authors are firmly South Asian, as are the MCs, so I’d love to get recommendations of more authors from the diaspora. Third, I was unable to find a lot of queer/disability fiction books by South Asian authors, which makes me feel terrible. So again, if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. 

Let me know if you’ve read any of these, or if you have any recommendations, and keep an eye out for the nonfiction list tomorrow!

-J