Book Review: Love, Hate, and Other Filters

love hate and other filtersLove, Hate, and Other Filters
by Samira Ahmed
Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
280 pages
Published January 2018

This book made a big splash when it came out in January, and rightly so, as I’ve finally discovered for myself! Written by an Indian-American, Love, Hate, and Other Filters follows Maya Aziz, a seventeen-year-old born in America to Indian immigrant parents. She’s the only Muslim girl at her school, and while she feels like she sticks out, she doesn’t feel discriminated against until a terrorist attack happens in her state. She had -just- gotten most of her issues worked out before the attack, but in the aftermath of the attack, and the community’s response to it, her parents clamp down on her freedom, and she struggles to get her life back.

I really loved Maya in this book; I can understand her parents’ fears, but also her rebellion when they take away the freedom she values. I think my favorite character, though, was the side character Kareem. I kind of hope Ahmed writes another book and tells us his story. He was just so NICE.

I loved the writing and the characters overall, but there were a few sentences that made me pause and repeat them in my head because they were just outstanding.

“The vows are simple, the same kind of pledges I’ve heard at weddings of every faith. Except at the end, there is no kiss. I close in for the money shot anyway, hoping for a moment of rebellion from Ayesha and Saleem. But no. No public kissing allowed. Full stop. The no kissing is anticlimactic, but some taboos cross oceans, packed tightly into the corners of immigrant baggage, tucked away with packets of masala and memories of home.”

And also, about arranged marriages and being a good Indian daughter:

“And the Muslim? The Indian? That girl, she doesn’t even get the dream of the football captain. She gets a lifetime of being stopped by the FAA for random bag searches every time she flies. She gets the nice boy, the sensible boy, the one her parents approve of and who she will grow to love over years and children and necessity.”

Maya is a whip-smart young girl who wants to be a film maker, and she spends most of her time behind a camera, observing. Her observations are really what make this book shine, and her snark had me laughing throughout the book.

I really loved this book, if you couldn’t tell! I love minority-driven YA, and this one reminds me quite a lot of Saints and Misfits. Given how much I loved both of these, I really need to read When Dimple Met Rishi!

From the cover of Love, Hate, and Other Filters:

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City – and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

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Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

gentleman's guide to vice and virtueThe Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Mackenzi Lee
YA Historical Fiction
513 pages
Published 2017

This was excellent! First, all the diversity here – between the bisexual main character, his best friend, who is biracial, has an “invisible” disability, and also likes men (or at least likes Monty!) and his seemingly asexual sister – the book covers so many facets, it’s great.

Given that it’s historical fiction, set in Victorian Europe, Percy’s biracial heritage has him just seen as black to most people they encounter. Monty doesn’t seem to understand what that means, most of the time, and is a little blinded by his rich white boy privilege. He gets talked to a couple of times about how he’s being blind to the problems his friend is facing.

I liked that we got to peek under Monty’s playboy facade a few times, when being punched has him flashing back to being beaten by his father for being a “disappointment.” An interaction between him and a pirate captain was particularly sweet, teaching him to fight back because he’s worth defending.

I LOVE Felicity, Monty’s sister, and I’m really eager to read her story in the sequel to this book, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. She is so badass, and incredibly intelligent.

The writing was fun, the action well-paced, and the dialogue clever. I was a little put off at first by the size of the book, but I flew through it quickly. I especially liked Monty’s bisexuality – how he just cheerfully perved on practically everyone his age. It definitely reminded me of a few people I know!

Something that I noted, near the end of the book, was Percy not asking Monty to stop his perving. What he said was “if you ever go behind my back…” which implies as long as Percy knows, it’s not an issue. Yay for non-monogamy being present in YA! It’s nice to see alternative relationship structures being presented, though I wish it had been more than just implied.

This was an excellent read for Pride Month, and I loved the amount of diversity and intersectionality present in it. You can find the rest of my Pride Month reads listed here.

From the cover of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue:

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions – not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still, it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Book Review: The Diabolic

the diabolicThe Diabolic
by S. J. Kincaid
Young Adult Sci-fi
403 pages
Published 2016

I really enjoyed this book. There were twists I absolutely did not see coming, and Nemesis’s confusion over whether she is truly human or not is an absorbing part of the plotline.

The book opens on Nemesis, an artificially created humanoid, as a child, being bonded to her charge, Sidonia Impyrean. The chemically-induced bonding creates an artificial love from Nemesis towards Sidonia – a love so strong she will kill and die to protect her. Many years later, Diabolics – what Nemesis is – are outlawed. Rather than kill Nemesis, Sidonia’s family fakes her death, and eventually sends Nemesis to court masquerading as Sidonia. No one has seen Sidonia before, so the masquerade is fairly easy, other than hiding Nemesis’ real abilities as one of the last Diabolics. Thrown into a world of conspiracies and courtly intrigue, Nemesis flails a little bit, but eventually finds her footing, and I can’t say anymore than that because that’s when the plot twists start!

This is one of the most surprising YA books I’ve read. I only anticipated one or two of the twists; many of the events revealed themselves to the reader at the same time that Nemesis uncovers them, which makes sense, as the book is told from her point of view.

The bond between Sidonia and Nemesis is strong and intriguing, even across star systems. I wish their relationship had been explored more. Sidonia always believed Nemesis was truly human, even when Nemesis did not. The book did not delve deeply into the actual creation of Diabolics; I’m hoping the sequel does. I’m curious if they are actually created, or if they are genetically modified humans and that’s just a closely guarded secret. (Even if they are created, they’re human in every way except their strength and endurance – I’m sure they’re simply modified in the womb. Or test tube. Whichever. I really hope the sequel gets into that.)

I have the sequel, The Empress, requested from the library, but it’s supposed to be a trilogy. I don’t know when the third is due out.

This is a fantastic, surprising YA book with interesting politics and world building. I really want to learn more about the history of this world, and hopefully the rest of the trilogy will cover that.

From the cover of The Diabolic:

A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for. 

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.

Book Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire

bright smokeBright Smoke, Cold Fire
by Rosamund Hodge
YA Fantasy
437 pages
Published 2016

I read the description of this book somewhere and immediately requested it from the library – a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet in a dying world with necromancers? SIGN ME UP. And it did not disappoint!

Hodge has written a few other books – Cruel Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and Crimson Bound, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. (She also has a novella that spins Cinderella.) You all know how much I like my redone Fairy Tales! Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, is a little different in that it’s a Shakespeare play, instead of a fairy tale. I recently read and reviewed Miranda and Caliban, another Shakespeare reskin, but this, I think, is much better.

The Capulets have become the Catresou, and the Montagues the Mahyanai in this dark fantasy. The Ruining has killed every human outside the city of Viyara/Verona – only stopped by the mystical walls put up by a long-dead priestess and maintained by a mysterious cult of nuns.

My favorite characters in this book – and arguably the main characters – are Runajo (Rosaline) and Paris, rather than Romeo and the Juliet. (It’s a title, not a name – her name was stripped from her as an infant when the magic was worked to make her “the Juliet.”) The original play doesn’t give either of them much time, and they are both fascinating characters in this novel – Runajo a little more than Paris, in my opinion. Runajo is a member of the Sisters of Thorns – the cult of nuns keeping the walls of Viyara up against The Ruining. When she accidentally brings the Juliet back from death, she becomes – or at least thinks she becomes – that which she and the city fear the most. A necromancer. Runajo and the Juliet both believe they will (and should) die for this crime, but still use the time they have left to try and save the city from the necromancers operating within.

Meanwhile, Paris and Romeo have found themselves bound by the magic that should have bound Romeo and Juliet, had it not gone terribly wrong. They can feel each other’s emotions, see each other’s memories, hear each other’s thoughts. This is understandably awkward for Paris as he feels Romeo’s grief for the Juliet’s supposed death, and occasionally catches flashes of more intimate moments between the two. They decide to take on the city’s necromancers in memory of the Juliet.

I liked how, similar to the play, Romeo and Juliet both operate for the entirety of the book under the assumption that the other one is dead. They both take risks and agree to things they would not have done if they didn’t each welcome death in their own way.

I also very much enjoyed a side, non-binary character who I really want to see more of!

The book ended on an upsetting cliffhanger, which is really my only problem with it. The sequel is due out this summer (Endless Water, Starless Sky) and I will definitely be picking it up.

Great book, but you may want to wait a few months so you can immediately follow it with the sequel!

From the cover of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire:

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the city of Viyara was left untouched. 

As the heirs of Viyara’s most powerful – and warring – families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life. But the magic laid on the Juliet at birth compels her to punish her clan’s enemies, and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die. 

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding the Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong, killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city – but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls the Juliet from the mouth of death and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl, only to learn she might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara. 

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the city’s walls, death is waiting.

Book Review: Dividing Eden

dividing edenDividing Eden
by Joelle Charbonneau
YA Fantasy
336 pages
Published June 2017

Dividing Eden is a little trite – it’s the typical teens must compete for the throne kind of fantasy, but this time it’s twins who are both guarding each other’s terrible secrets. You don’t LEARN their terrible secrets until almost 100 pages in, which was frustrating because they were alluded to multiple times before finally revealed to the reader. I almost stopped reading, I was so frustrated at the mention – AGAIN – of Andreus’ DARK SECRET THAT NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW. Seriously. Don’t do that to your readers.

The fact that they were protecting each other’s secret while competing against each other for the throne was rather unique, and while I don’t like Andreus much, I did enjoy Carys and her friends enough that I’ll probably pick up the sequel when it comes out this June.

Everything happened very quickly, but that tends to be the case in YA. Adult fantasy seems to take its time and develop its characters more fully, which I enjoy.

The windmills and electricity was surprising, and I’d really like to know more about their religion of Virtues, and the Wind and Seeing Magic. I wish she had described her forest monsters a little earlier; they were only referred to by name for most of the book and I was left wondering if they were monsters or human raiders of some sort!

Verdict is – it’s typical YA fantasy. If you’re looking for a quick read, you might enjoy it.

This also fills my PopSugar Reading Prompt for “a book with characters who are twins.”

From the cover of Dividing Eden:

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

Book Review: Saints and Misfits

saintsSaints and Misfits
S. K. Ali
Young Adult
325 pages
Published June 2017

Yet another debut novel that I loved! Saints and Misfits covers a few months in the life of Janna, a Muslim high school student. It opens with her assault by “the monster” as she names him, a well-respected Muslim boy at her mosque. The book covers some normal high school events – finding out her crush likes her back, sneaking up to the roof of the school to talk to her best friend, struggling with her parents not understanding her – but also involves things unique to her experience. She has to exist in the same spaces as her assailant, and she’s better at it some times than others. She has to find a way to deal with leaked photos of her in gym class without her hijab. (Her gym classes aren’t co-ed, so it’s okay to be without her hijab – it’s not okay for men to see her that way.) Meanwhile, she’s playing chaperone for her brother’s courtship, and being forced to share a room with her mother because her brother is moving back in with them.

It’s an interesting, fairly light read about a culture Americans like to demonize, and a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. I enjoyed Janna’s personality and determination, and her relationship with the senior citizen she helps take care of down the hall.

I liked the ending. It showed her slowly building up the courage to confront her assailant, and then doing so. While we didn’t get a concrete resolution, it was strongly implied, and I’m okay with that.

S.K. Ali is based in Toronto, so this book is part of my Read Canadian Challenge.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. this book!
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of Saints and Misfits:

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me–the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.