When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Plot: This book follows two protagonists, Dimple Shah and Rishi Patel. Dimple is the science minded daughter to two traditional Indian parents; she and her mother clash on everything, from Dimple’s appearance (she doesn’t wear makeup and keeps her hair short) to her desire to go to college for a career, not to find a husband. Rishi is the quintessential first-born son to Indian parents: he follows the rules, he does as his parents ask of him and what is good and right, even if it means giving up on his hopes and dreams. Their paths collide when Dimple’s parents miraculously allow her to go to a summer coding convention where high school graduates try to create a working app in six weeks before going to college. Unbeknownst to her, Rishi is also there, under the impression that both of them are aware this was a marriage setup by their parents. Rishi is confused and surprised when Dimple has no idea what he’s talking about when he tells her they’re to be married, and Dimple has the natural reaction to toss her coffee on him. When the two of them are paired up to work on the coding project together, it’s a battle of the wills and a clashing of old traditions and new as these two sharp young minds try to find their places in the world.

Review: I was so excited to read this book, I ate it up like delicious chocolate. My best friend of 10 years is also Indian and her parents moved to America when she was young, and her story reminded me of Dimple so much (not to mention they have the same last name). Or maybe it was Dimple who reminded me of my friend? Either way, they both want normal, American lives, and while they love their parents and respect traditions, they also want to be their own person. (I’ll stop talking about my friend now BTW.) Dimple was a delight to read, because she was focused on her goal to become a coder and her desire for it never wavered even in the face of diversity (her parents). Rishi was a little harder for me to connect with personally, but I thoroughly enjoyed his view of the world, and how much he cared for his parents and respected them. It’s so rare that a YA book involves parents, much less those who support and care for their children, so that was really great to read!

I learned so much about Indian tradition and day-to-day life by reading this. It was truly a learning experience for me, and one that was completely and utterly adorable to read. There is something truly special about an #ownvoices book, because the culture and multiple languages isn’t forced or just used as a stereotype: it comes from life experience, which makes it so much more engaging and education for someone outside.

As for the story itself, the pacing was a tad bit choppy and some of the cliches were very, very cliche, but all in all it was a tightly wound spool of thread that worked great for a light, contemporary read. I was hoping for a little more focus on the actual con/coding/intellectual part of the book (mostly because Dimple was also looking forward to doing that part and was determined not to get distracted from her goal of winning) but it got swept under the rug by the romance after the first quarter of the book. That’s why my rating was a little lower than 5 stars. I really did enjoy this for so many reasons though! The couple(s) talked things through instead of just accepting miscommunication and creating stupid fighting (my least favorite trope ever!) and the side characters were all fully fleshed out. The atmosphere reminded me of freshmen year of college, which was fun and nostalgic for me to read. Rishi’s storyline, the one separate from his entanglement with Dimple, was super interesting to me and I was happy that he was there for more than just a love interest role.

Prophecy of the Sisters (#1) by Michelle Zink

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Plot: It is sometime in the late 1800’s and Lia and Alice’s father has just passed away, leaving them orphans. In light of his death, Lia, the protagonist, notices some odd things going on with her twin, Alice, as well as an odd circular mark like a scar that appeared on her wrist recently. As the connection between Alice’s odd behavior and Lia’s wrist mark becomes clear, Lia ends up being thrown into a world of mystic magic that she can barely comprehend. Tied to a prophecy that has been repeating itself for countless generations, Lia must figure out her part and stop her dark sister from going forward with any sinister plans. But, not all is what it seems for these two sixteen year old girls, and their world is about to change and never be the same.

Review: This review is based off a reread. I read the first book when it just came out and then bought the rest of the series but never reading them! So, I decided to reread this and dive back into the series. I had a hard time my first go round with the first-person-present-tense writing form, but had no problem my second time. It is worth it to push yourself if you have trouble with not-the-norm forms of writing. I’m not entirely sure what gripped me into this story. Maybe it was the gorgeous cover? (I rarely like covers with photographs of models on them but for this one they actually fit well and I adore them.) Or maybe it was the Victorian era of softness and chivalry. I’m not certain.

The main push of the story, the prophecy itself, confused me. I know that it was meant to, considering it’s told through Lia’s eyes and we, as readers only know what she knows, but it was highly confusing and irritating to having to keep going back to reread it as Lia and the other characters talked about other lines in the prophecy. There were too many words starting with the same letters (Gate/Guardian, Samael/Samhain) so it was confusing to have to keep track of them, especially when their roles in the story are never fully explained in the first book. At least not to the extent in which I would have liked as a reader.

The overall theme/arc of the book is the battle between Lia and Alice, though there is never any climax to that through the entirety of this first book in the trilogy. There really are very few high points in the novel, and it keeps an even plateau feeling when it comes to lulls and highs. Not my favorite sort of way to tell a story, but I was so eager to figure out the prophecy myself that it kept me reading even though the story was almost too stagnant for my liking. There was also the small matter of the characters saying “all right” almost every time they spoke. Not just one of the characters, like a character quirk, but ALL OF THEM! I get that it’s Victorian era so you have to try to make it sound like they’re from a different time, but when three characters all have dialogue on the same page and they all say “all right?” after a sentence as an affirmation/question, it gets kind of annoying. These two reasons are why the star rating is a bit low, but I do plan on continuing onward and finishing the trilogy! I just hope some action starts to happen.

The Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey

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(4/5)

Plot: Echo lives in a world where she doesn’t belong. An orphaned human child, she gets taken in by the Ala, who is Avicen, a species of birdlike humanoids who live in the underbelly of the human world. Their rivals are the Drakhair, dragon-like beings, with whom they’ve been fighting with for centuries. Echo is just a simple thief who knows just enough magic to portal herself around the world, and she’s content with her life. She has the Ala in place of a parent, Ivy as a best friend and a budding new romance with the golden feathered Rowan. Echo’s life starts to tumble from the moment when she steals a music box from a warlock. She learns that the fabled firebird of legend is actually real and the Ala sends her on a mission to find it. The mission sends her across the world, gets her tossed into dungeons, thrown into a mix of characters never expected to interact, and get a crash course in how to really live rather than to just survive.

Review: From the get-go, this reminded me a whole hell of a lot of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone: human orphan taken in by otherworldly creature, they accept her, but maybe not fully, human learns a little bit of magic to get by, there’s “bad guys” and there’s a flit of romance with said “bad guy”. However, the books were different enough for me to become fully invested within The Girl At Midnight. The world was artfully created, and the characters felt real, even though they were covered with feathers or scales. The characters also drew me in, since they were a bit more developed and complex than a lot of YA characters; Echo wasn’t a typical mousey protagonist without agency…she stood her ground, had history, had secrets, had motives…it was all really well done.

The storyline itself, away from the magic of it all, was very predictable. I didn’t mind knowing what was going to happen by the end of the book when I was less than half-way through. The characters drove through well enough to keep me excited to see their reactions to what was happening around them. The predictability is the reason why I gave this four stars, rather than five. This book is 100% what I would call a mashup of magical realism and urban fantasy, but it’s always hard to categorize these days since many books cover many genres. Needless to say, it’s my favorite type of magic-meets-urban-world setting, and the writing’s pace made me forget that I knew what was happening until I got to the climaxes and found myself un-surprised.

I loved each second of this book, and I’m totally interested in reading the concluding novels to the trilogy (I think?), just to see if the story starts to get a bit more unpredictable. I want to read more about the characters and the relationships that were introduced in this first book–from the good to the bad.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

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(3/5)

Plot: Aza Ray Boyle has spent her entire life dying. With a completely new disease that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for her to breath, she’s been slowly counting down the days until she finally dies. As her days start to dwindle, Aza Ray begins to see hallucinations of skips in the sky, and no one believes her. And the freakiest part? She collapses in school, wakes up in the hospital and they find a feather in her lung! Feather…in…her…lung. Days before her sixteenth birthday, there is a freak snowstorm and she dies in an ambulance, surrounded by her dad, her sister and her best friend, Jason. Except, she doesn’t actually die. Aza Ray wakes up on one of those sky ships she thought she’d been hallucinating…surrounded by people who look like birds and birds that look like people and every combination in between. She learns then why she couldn’t breath on Earth with it’s heavy oxygen…she’s a Magonian, someone who lives in the sky. Action, a little bit of romance, and a lot of betrayal follow Aza Ray as she tries to adjust to her new life and leave her human family behind.

Review: I really, really love the concept of this book. The actual plot is so interesting, so unique that it blew me away. I can’t even think of anything to compare it to. When I read the first two or three chapters, I fell in love with Aza Ray as a narrator. I actually didn’t hate reading a first person YA book! However, the writing style got a bit much after the first few chapters. There isn’t actually any action that happens until almost the middle of the book. That, paired with the super vague and every-other-sentence metaphor writing style, it was hard to get into unless you just sat down and read it all at once. And even then I tended to skim a lot of the imagery. I love imagery in writing, don’t get me wrong, but when there is this much, it all bleeds together and stops being influential to the reader’s imagination.

While I continued to enjoy Aza Ray as a character–I wish she had a little bit more agency, but she had a bit more than a lot of female YA protagonists–I found myself growing tired of her narration. I was also disappointed when Jason’s PoV was added, since he sounded exactly the same as Aza Ray. That’s what’s hard about multiple first-person PoVs…you have to work really hard to separate your characters. Sure Jason had hiss quirk with pi, but other than that, I couldn’t tell a single distinguishing thing that made him stand out from Ava’s chapters.

I was pleasantly surprised at some of the small twists in the book, but none were totally jaw-dropping shocks. The world that the author created was definitely full of life, if not a bit confusing at first glance. I am aware that there is a sequel, but I don’t think I’ll end up reading it solely for the metaphor-heavy writing. Metaphors are meant to be powerful and stand-alone, not squished together, ten per page. I would have given this four stars if I wasn’t so bothered by the writing, but I still would recommend this to anyone who would want to read something very airy and different with interested formats in the writing style.

The Diabolic by SJ Kincaid

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(4/5)

Plot: In a futuristic, sci-fi world, humans live on space ships or in facilities on planetary moons in a distant star system after the destruction of Earth. While these people can alter their physical appearances as easily as changing their clothes, the world of humans is dwindling and growing ignorant. In a political struggle between the religious sect and the scientific sect, the Excess (those who live on planets) are trying to figure out how to repair the ships and devices and mechanics that humans have lived with all of their lives but that are now breaking. Amid this swirl of politics and ignorance lives genetically engineered humans, called Diabolics, who are trained for one purpose: to kill. After the Emperor passes a law that all Diabolics are to be killed because they are too chaotic, Sidonia Impyrean and her parents spare the life of Sidonia’s Diabolic, Nemesis. As Sidonia’s father gains the Emperor’s attention in a negative light, Nemesis is trained and transformed into Sidonia to be sent in her master’s place into the throngs of the political epicenter of their world: the mega-ship, Chrysanthemum. Pretending to be human is difficult for Nemesis, but she navigates through the world of political vipers with an ease that her sweet Sidonia would never have been able to do. Introduce the Emperor’s insane nephew and heir to the thrown, murder plots and even a visit to a planet’s surface, and you’ve got The Diabolic.

Review: Luckily this is one of those books that doesn’t give you a lot of info in the blurb on the jacket. It’s one of those books that is HARD to explain without giving everything away. It’s crafted delicately but deliberately, almost like Nemesis herself. Nemesis, this non-human being bred only to kill and serve Sidonia, is our narrator. That in itself brings about a very interesting point of view. Nemesis is not human, she’s never been treated as such, so her view of the world around her is completely unique. It almost made me forget how much I dislike reading first person because I was so involved in reading how her mind worked and processed things.

I had no idea what was going to happen in this book at the beginning. Everything was new and exciting as the reader had to catch up on the lingo and the new history about the human race in this world created. However, once Nemesis got to the Chrysanthemum, I could pretty much call everything that would and did happen. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the plot. For me, there weren’t many BIG moments, just an even plateau of ebbs and flows. This may be because it took me about three weeks to read (life was crazy) so it may have a bit more impact when read during a few days time instead.

Once I got to the end of the book, I realized that this wasn’t the typical YA book. From the outside, yes, and skimming the surface of the text, yes. But once you dig just a little deeper you can see that Nemesis, the romance that builds for her, and her place and personal development…it all points toward an antagonist rather than a protagonist. I don’t want to use the words “hero” and “villain” since they’re so simple, but in this world, to me at least, Sidonia could be considered more of a hero character with Nemesis as more villainous. I am not really explaining this right, solely because to fully press my point, I’d need to use the very last chapter to quote from and I don’t want to spoil anyone!

Think of it this way: no villain thinks they’re the villain of their own story; if you wrote the villain’s story from a book or series (take Harry Potter for example) the author would write it as THEIR story, so obviously they wouldn’t be the bad guy. That is, Nemesis may have ending up doing some hanky stuff, but she always thought she was doing good.

If I wasn’t so swayed by reading things with a “Social Justice Warrior” lens, I’d probably have enjoyed this a tiny bit more, especially the odd romance. The romance that ALMOST was perfect because it was imperfect and showed as not healthy, but again, the ending sort of foiled a lot of good buildup throughout the climax of the book for me. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye and given this five stars just for the originality of the world and characters.

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes interesting sci-fi, wants to feel like hating humans is valid for a little while (in light of the real world humans around us that make us a little less than supportive of our species), and who want to read a book filled with morally gray characters who can’t really be considered heroes or villains…this is the book for you!

Four of five stars just because of the way the romantic relationship was completed in the final chapter, and the semi-slowness of the plot.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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(3.5/5)

Plot: Amani has two choices in her dusty, desert, gun-toting town: stay and marry her uncle or her best friend, or travel to the big city where her aunt lives with a mysterious foreigner on a wild, magical horse. Amani, forever the big dreamer, the best sharpshooter in the Last County, chooses the latter. She and Jin, the handsome foreigner, travel across the desert, find a caravan and get taken off course from Amani’s dreams of going to the big city. As Amani begins to realize that the magical tales she was told as a child are actually more than true, she finds herself torn between helping herself find her aunt, or helping a rebel prince take the kingdom from a vicious Sultan with a dangerous, secret weapon. Always thinking for herself, will Amani take the easy way out, or finally decide to think about someone else for a change?

Review: If we’re being totally honest here, and let’s be real this is my blog so I’m gonna be honest, this was just a typical YA novel. First person and female protag, sexy male love interest, an adventure, things go wrong, drama, etc, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that it was a bad read! I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this. I loved that the setting wasn’t the typical setting that you see in YA novels. The time frame of when exactly this takes place was the only confusing thing to me. They’re in Northern Africa, probably close to Egypt, but they have gun factories and trains. It sort of felt like a Western, just in a different desert.

The writing reminded me surprisingly of my own, which, I’m not gonna lie, made me a little excited and gave me a boost in confidence. A small boost, but one none-the-less. Some of the lines within the writing really packed a punch, and if I were a tagging person, I would be able to write some of these down but alas I don’t tag my books. Just trust me…there is some really great imagery and similes in here.

The main character I really wanted to like, but she wasn’t very likable. She was both a little flat, and a little too selfish for me to truly enjoy reading. She got a bit better in the last quarter of the book but she definitely was not one of those protags that you want to take home and wrap in blankets and give tea to. I think that’s actually a positive though; if you like every protag of every book you read, there’s no excitement. I didn’t hate Amani, that’s for sure, but she didn’t stand out to me any more than any other of the characters in the book.

And yes, through all of the typical YA tropes, I knew just about every “twist” before it happened, except for a small one near the very end. I like being at least a little surprised when I read a book, so that was great for me. It was a very quick read and I would recommend this to anyone who wants a quick YA read without a sappy romance that’s set in a place not often represented in fiction, especially YA.

Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima

Just as a fair warning, this is a companion series, there may be some spoilers for the original Seven Realms series!

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

Plot: Flamecaster takes place 25 years after the end of the Crimson Crown. Raisa is queen, and Han Alister is still the High Wizard, but this book follows their middle child, Ash, after the death of his older sister, Hana. Ash is a healer who specializes in horses, and he has a strong relationship with his father. However, after Han Alister’s untimely death, Ash runs away, thinking it was his fault. He goes under a false name, Adam Freeman, to Oden’s Ford, a school on neutral ground that teaches spirituality, magic, and combat. Parallel to Ash’s story is that of Jenna Bandelow, a young girl who works in the mines at Delphi. After the horrific death of her two best friends at the hands of the King of Arden, Jenna makes it her life goal to destroy Arden’s hold on Delphi and to kill the king. The story fast forwards four years to when Ash and Jenna are teenagers. Ash is found out as the son of Raisa and Han Alister and Arden’s vampiric priests come after him. He escapes, and travels to Arden to try to get close to the King of Arden so he can kill him. Meanwhile Jenna is being searched for by the King of Arden as well. As death and ruin and suspicious characters surround Ash and Jenna, their lives will eventually come together in a startling and powerful climax that will be sure to change the fate of the Seven Realms forever.

Review: Okay, to start off, I am so excited to finally have my hands on this book. I read the Seven Realms series last year and gobbled up the books so quickly. They were just so good! I thoroughly believe that Cinda Williams Chima is up there with JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin and Tamora Pierce when it comes to so effortlessly writing an entirely new world. I don’t mean to say that it was easy for her to write it, I just mean that reading it is effortless; I don’t get confused when she talks about the politics of each of the kingdoms, or about the religious practices in different parts of the world, or about past monarchs. I trust her as a reader to give me the information I need to understand her tale and I have never been disappointed.

Flamecaster is one of those stories where I was like “Oh yay, new story” followed by “oh no, it’s a next generation story”. I’ve been burned by next generation stories before. However, I went into this knowing that Chima is such a stellar writer, and I was not disappointed at all. Even though it followed new characters–Ash and Jenna–I still was attached to the world they live in and the stories took place close enough to each other where many characters from the Seven Realms series were also in this one.

The new characters were super intriguing and definitely felt like their own people, rather than a repeat of the original series, both in their actions/personalities and the roads their lives took. I found Ash particularly interesting, as he was a good mixture of both of his parents, especially young Han’s darkness and Raisa’s desire to help and heal. Jenna was a little spitfire, and while I was confused about her “birthmark” since I don’t remember it being mentioned until she was much older in the story, I was intrigued by the vagueness of it and especially that little twist in the epilogue! She was such a powerful female character because she cared so much for her family and those she loved on top of my favorite trope of “girl dresses as boy to avoid detection” mixed up with the huge reveal for her later in the story…it was hard not to love her!

I read this book super quickly. Probably a little too quickly. I definitely will go back and reread it soon. However, some last minute thoughts: I really, really wish the next novel also followed these characters! I know, I know, I’m greedy! But the ending just left so much open with so many questions I need to know what happens right now! Though, I do have full faith that even though the next book follows Ash’s youngest sibling, it will tie together with Flamecaster enough to sate my need to know what the heck happened in those last few chapters, but especially the epilogue! I need answers, and unfortunately I am not very patient!

This book was everything I could have asked for and more. It is an amazing fantasy series that everyone should read, starting with The Seven Realms. I highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for a fantasy novel that I would consider closer to Game of Thrones than Lord of the Rings in fantasy, as there are no elves/dwarves/hobbits, but there is magic and the world is entirely made up. It’s a very politically driven series, but it focuses so much on the characters that you’ll hardly notice!