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. 

 

 

January 15, 2018: It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?

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It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme currently hosted by The Book Date. It’s a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week, and add to that ever-growing TBR stack.

Happy New Year, friends!

Wow. WOW. What a year. Phew. Sometimes I laugh when I think about how terrible I thought 2016 was ’cause boy, 2017 was a humdinger. Never in my life have a been happier for a year to be over. 

If there’s anything 2017 taught me, it was not to make elaborate, overly ambitious plans because you never know when one thing could happen that sends all your plans down the drain. You’d think that’s a super obvious life lesson but I’ll be the first to admit it took me 2017 to actually comprehend what it looks and feels like. 

I spectacularly failed all of my reading and blogging goals for 2017 because so much life happened, and I’ve entered 2018 with a super low-key, attempted zen attitude. I’m not participating in any reading challenges this year- no Read Harder, no Goodreads goal, no Litsy A to Z, no Reading Women challenge, nothing. In truth, I’m a little burnt out on reading challenges, and I’ve realized I pretty much read diversely regardless of challenges, so I’m forcing myself to take a break from them this year and see where my moods take me. Likewise, I don’t have any specific blogging goals this year, and I’m already noticing that I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing posts and reviews as opposed to dreading them. That feels really good. 

Now, to the actual reading I’ve done so far. I read and loved Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (what a brilliant writer), Halsey Street by Naima Coster (stellar debut), Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano (absolutely delightful), The Turner House by Angela Flournoy (superb multigenerational novel), We Go Forward by Alison Evans (sweet friendship story), and Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (I’ll be shouting from the rooftops about this book for the rest of the year).

Only two books I’ve read thus far have been a bit disappointing: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (I think we can blame the hype for this one), and Bad for the Boss: A BWAM Office Romance (Just For Him Book 1) by Talia Hibbert (questionable consent in erotica novels always makes me itchy). 

On the roster for this week: 

I started Furiously Happy on audio a couple of days ago and The Music Shop last night and I’m really liking both so far. I’m struggling a little to get through A Few Red Drops; the subject matter is interesting but the writing isn’t engaging. I’ll start the other two later this week once I finish a sensitivity read that I need to get done. 

That’s all I’ve got going on for now. I’m excited to do It’s Monday posts again because it’s a great way to check-in and gives me chance to chat with you all about books and other things. So, how are you? How did your 2017 go? What are you looking forward to the most in 2018? Last, but not the least, what are you reading these days? 

-J

ARC Review: Halsey Street by Naima Coster

35995770Halsey Street by Naima Coster 

Pub. date: January 1st, 2018
Publisher: Little A Books 
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781503941175
Source: Netgalley

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

Plot: Penelope Grand is a young black failing artist who moves back home from Pittsburg to take care of her ailing father, Ralph. Her old neighborhood has been gentrified and taken over by affluent white people, and her mother Mirella left them to return to the Dominican Republic. So when Penny moves into the attic of the wealthy Harpers, she hopes for some semblance of family again. But a postcard arrives from Mirella, who is seeking reconciliation, and Penny’s world is once again turned upside down as old wounds are reopened, secrets are spilled, and she sets on a path of self-discovery. 

It is the mark of a good book that has you still thinking about it days after you’ve finished reading it, and Halsey Street certainly fits the bill. For what comes across as a simple plot, Coster has by no means presented us with a simple novel. Layers upon layers upon layers are available for the reader’s contemplation. 

The novel’s told from the perspective of both the Grand women- Penny and Mirella. Penny is a millennial who is flawed, vulnerable, and pragmatic. From her perspective, we are witness to a changed Brooklyn, the very real effects of gentrification- in the houses, the murals, the schools, the walls, her disdain for the mother that abandoned her, while Ralph Grand keeps his home as a shrine, unchanged from when she’d left it, while he drinks his days away hoping for Mirella to return. Her vulnerability is seen in her yearning and interactions when she stays with the Harpers, seeking connection and love. Through Mirella’s eyes we see how she and Ralph met, the changes in their relationship as Ralph focused on his record store, her gradually deteriorating relationship with Penny, how she felt in Brooklyn and the events that led to her departure, and her life in DR and how she makes it her own without being an extension of somebody else’s life. When Mirella writes to Penny seeking reconciliation, Penny is not immediately forgiving, a lot of stuff comes up for the both of them (together and separately), and we get to see where both women choose to go from there. 

Coster has portrayed gentrification as a metaphor for broken families, and her execution of this is what makes this novel so phenomenal. You see it in Penny’s observations of the neighborhood, the school she teaches at, the rich white Harpers who are her landlord, and Ralph, who is a relic of old Brooklyn. She brings nuance into the conversation by inserting conversations of race, gender, and class- in Mirella’s chapters we see how she felt that Ralph and his friends never saw her as equal, and how her opinions on art and music and such were never taken seriously. Coster;s narrative power comes through also in her demonstrations of gentrification and its effects rather than statements of it. For instance, there’s a particular scene where Penny meets a classic white-pro-gentrifier Marty, who makes a statement about the neighborhood being a “blank canvas” with a plethora of possibilities, to which Penny rails back with a poignant speech on the literal erasure of the neighborhood and its systematic removal of working-class black people. 

Halsey Street is an evocative and thought-provoking novel, one that will keep you thinking for days, and Coster is a fresh and talented voice. The writing complexity with a seemingly simple plot make this novel an absolute standout piece of literary fiction, and I’m looking forward to read more of her work in the future. Do not miss out on this one. 

 

ARC Review: Chainbreaker by Tara Sim

34138282 Chainbreaker (Timekeeper #2) by Tara Sim 

Pub. date: January 2nd, 2018
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781510706194
Source: Edelweiss

Thanks so much to Edelweiss and Sky Pony Press for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Plot: Danny Hart was hoping to settle into his life, what with his father returning and his relationship with Colton blossoming. But clocks have begun to fall in India yet time hasn’t Stopped, so Danny’s being sent to investigate, along with Daphne Richards, a fellow clock tower apprentice. The two of them travel to British-occupied India, and as their investigation proceeds, realize that occupation might be sparking a lot more than just attacks. Meanwhile, Colton’s having strange dreams, and stumbles upon dark secrets from his past. Will both Danny and Colton survive the dangerous path upon which they’ve been thrust?

Timekeeper had been on my TBR for ages, so when I saw that Chainbreaker was available for immediate download on Edelweiss, I immediately scooped up a copy so that I’d have to read the first book, and I was immediately charmed by these characters. The first book did a great job with the world-building and character development, so I was eager to jump into Chainbreaker right after.

Whoa baby, talk about a gripping story. I absolutely devoured this one. It was really hard to put down and more often than not had me at the edge of my seat. Daphne, as I’d predicted for myself in book one, is absolutely one of my favorite characters. I’m always rooting for characters who are hardcore on the outside and soft on the inside. T

This book opens with a heart-breaking scene with Daphne and her mum, who following a scary breakdown, lives in an asylum (St. Agnes’ Home for Women). Their relationship (or lack thereof) has a marked effect on Daphne. The scandal of her white English mum marrying her dad, the son of an English officer and an Indian woman, still weighs on their family. So, when Daphne is instructed to go to India with Danny to investigate the clock attacks there, she proceeds with a lot of hesitation. Tara does a really great job exploring Daphne’s feelings as a biracial woman, especially considering the time period chosen for the book. Trying to feel some connection to a land that is part of her ancestry, but viewed with disdain by the locals as one who belongs with the English, Tara captures this complicated position really well, once again demonstrating her character development skills. 

Of course, who can forget our boys Danny and Colton? Danny, who puts his heart before everything else, and Colton, who puts Danny before everything else. The boys go through hell in this book, and learning more about Colton’s past was intriguing, and I can’t wait to see how things get tied up for these two in book three. 

Overall, I thought Tara once again did a great job modifying historical events to fit the narrative and the existent world she’d created in Timekeeper very well. I especially appreciated the author’s note at the end, which did a great job outlining historical events as we know it, and how they’d been incorporated in the story. I really liked that it was a description of India that felt real and not fetishized, and the introduction of Meena and Akash lent itself well with no hint of white savior complexes from our English characters (or if there were any, were suitably challenged), for which I was immensely grateful. It can be a delicate position to talk about colonizers vs. the colonized, and Tara has done a fantastic job addressing that at various points in the story. It is a testament to her skills as a writer. 

There were some things I absolutely did not see coming, especially towards the end. Danny, Daphne, and Colton are racing against time and each other while it seems like everything around them is unraveling, keeping me at the edge of my seat at a godforsaken hour of the night because I just couldn’t put it down without finding out where we were going to be left at the end of this book. Also, I’d like to point out that Tara is evil for messing with my feelings, and that’s all I can say without giving anything away. Chainbreaker was an excellent follow-up to Timekeeper, Tara Sim continues to be a champion storyteller and world-builder, and I can’t wait to see what happens in book three.