Tag Archives: fiction

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

IMG_8396This is a book that I definitely judged by its cover, adding it to my list before a fuller blurb was even attached to the novel. I mean, just look at how beautiful the cover of Emergency Contact is! I’m happy that the cover persuaded me to fall into this lil’ book that the author, Mary H. K. Choi, described as a book where “high-key nothing happens.” But SO MUCH does happen within the pages of this YA novel that I think I’ll reread it a few times in my life.

Instead of having a linear story with a clear beginning, middle, and end with a nice resolution, this book read to me like an in depth character study of the two main narrators: Penny, a Korean teen who is desperate to escape her wannabe BFF mom when she flees to university, and Sam, a white young adult who is trying to navigate his goals and aspirations whilst having limited resources and a shoddy support system. 

A lot of this book feels like a lil’ love letter to Austin, TX, a place that is lodged fondly in my heart. For most of the book, Penny is learning how to live away from her mother, is struggling with her first writing course (this book features lots of built in lessons for aspiring writers) as she tries to determine how to weave the best science fiction tales, and learning how to make friends with her roommate and her emergency contact, Sam. Sam is mostly working in a bakery and coffee shop as he tries to get his life back on track, and figure out what that track even is, after a bit of a detour. I loved being immersed into these character’s minds as they interacted with each other and their own lives. Sometimes, pieces of the book felt like streams of consciousness, with surprising bits discovered along the way. Head’s up: Emergency Contact does feature a detailed description of a sexual assault that caught me completely off guard, mirroring the way one is typically not expecting to hear a similar story of a friend when they initially share that a similar, horrible thing has happened to them. It was moving, well-written, and a helpful text for readers to have as they shape their understanding of what sexual assault is, but if that is a topic that is difficult to read for you, it may be best to skip this book. 

All in all, if you enjoy movies where little revelations about the characters are made along the way and the journey alone is satisfying to you without having a bow-tied final scene, you’ll enjoy this book. If the idea of that makes you want to run away, skip this book.

Publication Date: 27 March 2018 by Simon and SchusterFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Mary H. K. Choi web/@twitter/@instagram

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The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

image1 (8)The Wedding Date, the debut novel from Jasmine Guillory, delighted me from start to finish! This snazzy book encapsulates a romcom that I kept imagining as a movie in my head (make this into a movie! I will watch in my pjs while drinking hot cocoa and listening to the rain hit my windows!!). The story switches between the two main narrators, Alexa, a powerful lawyer now working for the mayor of Berkeley, and Drew, a powerful pediatrician, who spontaneously meet in a broken elevator (Shonda — produce this as a movie! I know you love a good elevator scene!) and have instant chemistry. What follows are the twists and turns of trying to figure out the beginnings of situationship (not agreed to being a relationship at the beginning, but kinda spurred on by a random situation) and the anxieties that can play into entering an undefined repeated encounter with someone that you’re desperate for more of. The characters are cute, have funny flaws, and I loved reading their thoughts! The book also got me excited about San Francisco, where the majority of the book takes place and where I’ll be living this summer. Head’s up: this book does describe *quite* a few sex scenes, and while I might be a bit prude-ish in that I find more than one scene in a book to be gratuitous, I still had so much fun reading this book and you especially will if this is your cup of tea! You can bet that Guillory’s second book, The Proposal, is already on my To-Read list.

Publication Date: 30 January 2018 by Berkley BooksFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jasmine Guillory web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

Chemistry by Weike Wang

image1 (4)As someone currently stumbling through a PhD program, I was delighted to read a book about a character tripping, falling, and removing themselves from similar circumstances. PhD programs are super weird and demanding in different ways that are hard to explain to people who haven’t pursued one so I gobble up opportunities to hear about experiences, even fictional, navigating the strange world of PhDs. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang is almost like a diary/stream of consciousness of the main, unnamed character. She’s in a Chemistry PhD program, which are known to be notoriously demanding because of time required to be physically present in a lab to run experiments, and she’s completely flailing. Some of the “chapters” are simply written with thoughts that sometimes seem half-formed, as if they are the real thoughts of someone who is feeling quite a bit lost and not sure of where to turn next. 

The main character has Chinese parents who are no longer in the U.S. and their extreme expectations for the main character highlight her struggle between the “American dream” and her parents’ evaluation of what it means to succeed in America. This is juxtaposed with her white, American boyfriend’s comparatively easy experience of success because he isn’t simultaneously struggling to barely meet his parents’ expectations of all of the things they perceive he should also be accomplishing.  Most of the struggle in this book is related to the main character’s  parents’ expectations and demands not aligning with what would ultimately help her reach personal and professional happiness and the juxtaposition of the ease of her boyfriend to excel through the same program. 

Some readers may wish that this had more depth, but I enjoyed the brevity! There are some beautiful little bits (the deer metaphor was my favorite!) that are sandwiched in here that would be easy to miss if you were speed reading. I suspect that enjoyment of this book might be limited to those familiar with PhD programs or those interested in the family dynamics. If either of those sound like stories you want to read, scoop this up!

Publication Date: 23 May 2017 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Weike Wang bio

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

IMG_8306Legandary by Stephanie Garber is the sequel to Caraval, a book with a beautiful cover that dominated everyone’s YA to-read lists. The plots of the series revolve around a very tricky game that is magical, but can have carry over effects into the characters’ lives beyond the games. Caraval introduces you to Scarlett (the narrator) and Tella (narrator’s little sister) and follows Scarlett as she plays the game for the first time. Legendary resumes the night after Caraval, and shifts narrators to Tella to follow her immersion into another round of the game. I much preferred Tella as a narrator over Scarlett, and the author captured their differences in this quote:

“Tella was the sister who would destroy the world if anything happened to Scarlett, but Scarlett’s world would be destroyed if anything happened to Tella.”

While I didn’t love Caraval (lots of world building, main character irked me frequently, the romance and the language was sugary and made me grit my teeth; see my full review here for more), I was interested enough to scoop up Legendary, assuming that the laborious world building in the first novel would pay off by letting the reader dive head first into the sequel. And for the most part, it did! The main difference between Caraval, is that many of the characters in this book resemble a group of Fates (kind of like immortal Gods) that once existed in the land where Legendary takes place and they crop up repeatedly throughout the plot. In case it’s hard to keep track of all of the Fates, there is a very handy glossary at the end of the novel, which I wish I had known about before I finished reading.

The world where the games take place is beautiful, but sometimes the descriptions within Legendary felt like a rendition of the same story from before, which to some extent, it has to be because the sisters are playing iterations of the same game. The settings are always colorfully described. Sets and plots considered, I think this would be a fantastic show on The CW if it were to ever be optioned as a series instead of a film.

While I liked the overal plot, I still got annoyed at the romantic interactions between the characters initially and warmed up to them slightly by the end of the book. The romance wasn’t as syrupy as Caraval, but still a bit much for my taste, especially because one of the lead romance figures was constantly described as “smelling like ink” which peeved me a bit and was incredibly redundant. As with Caraval, some of the written comparisons simply don’t make sense (i.e. “some faces were narrow and as sharp as curse words”), but maybe this will be appealing to certain readers.

All in all, I found Legendary to be completely captivating while I was reading, but kind of forgettable as soon as I put the book down. It reminded me of a piece of cake that you keep returning to and giving yourself more slices of, but when you really think about it, cake alone isn’t enough. I found many pieces of the book to be annoying, but was still entertained as a whole, so how to rate it? If the descriptions of the book sound like a gem to you, please pick it up because you’ll probably love every page! If the things I described irking me, might annoy you, perhaps consider this as a guilty pleasure read that might irritate you at points or pass on it altogether. 

The book concludes in a way that will make the reader wonder if the stories of this world are finished for the author, but I think, regardless of whether more novels continue this series, my time of visiting Caraval has come to end. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Flatiron Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Flatiron Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 29 May 2018 by Flatiron BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Stephanie Garber web/facebook/@twitter

Mini Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

duffI acquired this from my library’s $1 book sale and snatched this up after enjoying the movie based on the novel. The DUFF follows Bianca, a high school student, who feels like the least glowing member of her group of girlfriends, especially after this is pointed out by the resident “hot guy” of her high school. Whilst this is going on, Bianca is also going through some tribulations at home: her sober father begins drinking again after some issues with his marriage emerge and Bianca must confront a previous, unhealthy relationship of her own and uses sex to distract herself. It took too long for me to get into The DUFF and it took over 100 pages for Bianca to challenge certain things (like her being labeled as the D.U.F.F. or “designated, ugly, fat friend”) and embrace empowerment. Once Bianca started challenging language that was being used and questioning how both girls and boys unfairly judge girls, the novel became a lot more digestible. The dialogue was full of suicide jokes (ugh) and while The DUFF was an okay story, it never really redeemed itself. The best thing about this novel is that its and another book I just finished (The Sky is Everywhere) frequent mentioning of Wuthering Heights has inspired me to add that classic to my To Read list.

Publication Date: 7 September 2010 by PoppyFormat: Paperback.

Author: Kody Keplinger web/@twitter

Mini Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

theskyiseverywhereAfter being obsessed with Jandy Nelson’s most recent novel, I’ll Give You the Sun, one of my favorite reads of 2016, I was so excited to receive Nelson’s debut, The Sky is Everywhere. Unfortunately, I think my expectations were set a little too high for this. Nelson continues her magical way of slipping in different media formats into her books (this time around it’s poems and conversations written on slips of paper, crushed up paper cups, sides of buildings, etc.), but the actual story didn’t grip my heart in the same way as I’ll Give You the Sun. All that considered, this was a nice, innovative read about a young teenager who is struggling with understanding her own identity after experiencing the sudden death of her sister. I enjoyed reading The Sky is Everywhere, but I didn’t find myself fully consumed by the story like I was with Nelson’s other work.

Publication Date: 9 March 2010 by Dial BooksFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jandy Nelson web/facebook

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtlesallthewaydownAcquiring Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was a bit of magical experience. While I don’t think we’ll ever have a book as demand as the Harry Potter series, encouraging midnight release parties and the like, the demand for Green’s latest novel was pretty high and the text was highly protected, no Advance Reader’s Copies or anything. Despite the publisher enacting a veil of secrecy around the book, I somehow found it accidentally on the shelf of a big box retailer a weekend before its release date. Of course I snatched it up, especially because I knew I shouldn’t have been able to procure it. Both my boyfriend and I had been eagerly anticipating this book and because I brought into both of our lives before the rest of the world got to enjoy it, we decided to take turns reading the novel aloud to each other. If you have never done this with someone you cherish, you should. It was one of the most oddly intimate things I’ve ever done and it felt special to do it with this novel specifically, considering the main character has certain mental health struggles that we had both experienced in different ways. I found it easier to talk about some of my experiences in context of the character and that was fantastic. If you have had experiences similar to what the main character Aza regularly lives with, I think you could give this to loved ones to help convey what may motivate certain thoughts, actions, and behaviors in your life in a simpler way than trying to articulate it yourself. In a weird way, this novel helped me think about some of my behaviors in a way I hadn’t contextualized them for myself before, which is pretty powerful. 

I’ve been a fan of Green’s works for more than 10 years, so it would take a lot for me not to enjoy one of his novels now. My positive bias accounted for, Turtles All the Way Down was great and fantastic and I loved it. The characters were witty and the storyline was completely engrossing. I loved dissecting it aloud as I moved forward with reading the book.

I put off writing this review for a long time, as if delaying the review would retain some of the magic of how I acquired and read this text, and that has unfortunately negatively affected the actual substance of my review because I remember the feeling of reading this book more than I remember all the odds and ends. I remember feeling comforted and understood and loved and all of that was special. I wish I could have read this book as a teen because I think it would have added some clarity to parts of my life that were all too confusing to me then, and I hope it is able to do that for teens who read it now. 

Publication Date: 10 October 2017 by Dutton Books for Young ReadersFormat: Hardcover.

Author: John Green @twitter/facebook/instagram/YouTube