White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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This book is ambitious, to say the least. Following two families over the course of over two decades, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is a book about culture and human relationships as they develop throughout time. Set in a diverse London neighborhood, Smith really delivers a tight-knit cast of characters that all know each other in some way. In White Teeth, the past merges with the present in everyone’s lives, questioning who is content to live in nostalgia and who wants to move forward along with society. What the book may lack in terms of a structured plot, it makes up for in fully realized characters.

White Teeth focuses on two families: the Joneses and the Iqbals. Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal served in World War Two together, both marrying much younger women in the 1970s, Clara and Alsana, respectively. Archie and Clara have to contend with being an interracial couple in the 70s—Clara is Jamaican—while Samad and Alsana struggle to find a balance between their Islamic faith and Bangladeshi culture as first-generation immigrants. Their children, Irie Jones and Magid and Millat Iqbal, face racism and struggle with society and their families over their own identities. Though not a coming-of-age novel, the book does deal with themes of identity and finding oneself. Overall, the book reveals a struggle between young and old, past and present, and technology and tradition that everyone can relate to within the context of this insular community.

Almost sixteen years after its publication, it is easy to see the effects White Teeth has had on popular literature. For example, J. K. Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, emulates the microcosmic community Zadie Smith creates in White Teeth. Like Smith, Rowling describes the ugliest parts of characters’ inner worlds without shame. Popular reviewers have said that there are no likable characters in The Casual Vacancy; the same could be said of White Teeth. There is an ironic humor to both novels that lures the reader in, allowing social critiques to filter through this veil of sarcasm. Readers that enjoyed The Casual Vacancy will also likely enjoy its predecessor.

Readers that like learning about social issues will enjoy this book, as will readers that like darker shades of humor. This book will appeal to readers interested in London and contemporary fiction. Readers interested in stories of immigration and colonialism will appreciate the characters Smith creates and the struggles they face. Everyone can find something familiar in this book, as it is primarily a story of humanity. This book has broad appeal, and offers important commentary about the way that people treat other people.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

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I’ve never read a Sarah Dessen book before this one, which I’m really not sure how that’s possible. I honestly didn’t know what to expect because I’ve heard so many mixed things about her books. This book was actually a really pleasant surprise.

Rating: [3/5]

Summary:

Last year, Annabel was “the girl who has everything” — at least that’s the part she played in the television commercial for Kopf’s Department Store.

This year, she’s the girl who has nothing: no best friend because mean-but-exciting Sophie dropped her, no peace at home since her older sister became anorexic, and no one to sit with at lunch. Until she meets Owen Armstrong.

Tall, dark, and music-obsessed, Owen is a reformed bad boy with a commitment to truth-telling. With Owen’s help, maybe Annabel can face what happened the night she and Sophie stopped being friends.

Likes: This book deals with a lot of really sensitive issues, including rape, eating disorders, and mental health in a really honest and respectful way. I thought the inclusion of Owen’s anger management techniques into their relationship dynamic was really well-done. The characters are all really interesting, even if not all of them are likable. I also enjoyed all of Owen’s weird-ass music and all the stuff about his radio show. That was just really fun.

Dislikes: I think I went into this book expecting it to be a romance and in that regard, I was kind of disappointed. There were like two romantic scenes that I can remember. So if you’re looking for a book with a lot of romance, this book may not be for you.

Tune in next time for my review of A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley!

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

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I had the immense pleasure of reading this book for a school project, and finished it in about a day. It’s very easy, unapologetically feminist reading and I loved every second of it.

Rating: [5/5]

Summary:

In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.

In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?” In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the story-telling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality—and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.

Likes: Basically, I just really love this interpretation of Penelope. Telling the story through her eyes allows for a much more modern perspective of the events of The Odyssey. Penelope is smart and blunt and at least acts like she knows what she’s doing.

I also enjoyed all the sections with the maids. They were very creative and were extremely feminist. Basically all the feminism in this book made me really happy.

Dislikes: I don’t remember actively disliking anything about this book while I was reading it, honestly.

Tune in next time for my review of Just Listen by Sarah Dessen!

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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I got this book for free, actually. Thanks, work. I really wasn’t sure what to expect because I am admittedly extremely picky about contemporary books, but I actually really love this book a lot. I’m pissed no one got me the sequel for Christmas. Just kidding. But really.

Rating: [4/5]

Summary:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

Likes: I love Lara Jean. She is so funny and quirky and adorable. Like, I kinda wanna be best friends with her. I basically love all the side characters too, especially Kitty and Josh.

I also appreciate the representation. Lara Jean’s family is half South Korean. This story also has a lot of important messages about relationships, sex, and feminism that I wish I would have been able to read when I was still a teenager. It was really refreshing to get that perspective.

Dislikes: I was really unsatisfied with the way it ended, which is why this book got 4 stars instead of 5. I just felt like nothing was resolved at all, but it didn’t end on a cliffhanger either. So mainly I was just left feeling vaguely uncomfortable and unfulfilled by the ending.

Tune in next time for my review of The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood!

 

 

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

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This was the first book #readwomen chose for the monthly book club. I’ve never read anything by the author before, and I wasn’t sure if I would like it because time-travel is really hit-or-miss for me. But seriously, how could I pass up such a gorgeous hardcover???

Rating: [4/5]

Synopsis: 

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them— whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are play­ing, treacherous forces threaten to sep­arate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home . . . forever.

Likes: I really love the characters and how they interact with each other. Etta and Nicholas make such a great team. They both feel like real people and their interactions are so believable, despite the fact that they come from two very different times with very different social customs.

Speaking of which, I very much appreciated the way the author dealt with sexism and racism and still managed to be historically accurate. Too often, I read books that are overtly sexist and racist in an attempt to be historically accurate. In fact, I recently read a book for review that did this very thing and I did not finish it because these elements of “accuracy” made it genuinely unenjoyable. There is a way to handle these topics from a modern viewpoint without sacrificing historical accuracy, and this is how you do it! Take note, authors.

Dislikes: The pacing of the novel really did not work for me at times. Honestly, the only reason I kept reading was because I really loved the two main characters and I was interested in them, rather than in what was happening.

To learn more about #readwomen, visit them on Goodreads and Tumblr

The Diviners by Libba Bray

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I read this book back in August (yes, I am well aware of how long ago that was) for a readalong. Basically, I read it because I wanted to participate in the challenge; I had never heard of it before then. But I found that I actually really enjoyed it. Funny story: I borrowed it from the library and then I moved, so I had to drive an hour and half to return the book to the library. Oops.

Rating: [3.5/5]

Summary:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

Likes: This book is really well-researched! I could definitely tell that the author had devoted a lot of time to investigating the 1920s, right down the lingo. Which I also loved, by the way.

I also really liked the amount of diversity in this book. Not only do we get LGBT and people of color, but we also get an interracial relationship which is something that needs more representation in general, especially in historical books like this.

Dislikes: The plot had a tendency to drag, quite honestly. The book could have been much shorter, and I feel like that would have helped the pacing quite a bit. The mystery was really dragged out and sometimes it was hard to keep reading because I felt like nothing was happening.

Also, the romance came out of nowhere. It really did. I’m a huge fan of romance in books and a very unapologetic shipper of basically everything, but this was a little too much for me. It did not feel natural and I just plain didn’t enjoy that aspect of the story.

Tune in next time for my review of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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This book is a combination of two of my favorite genres: fantasy and dystopia. I’ve heard a lot of varying opinions about this book; it seems like most people either loved it or hated. I’m one of the ones who loved it. Or, at least, very strongly liked it.

Rating: [4/5]

Reading Challenge: A book based entirely on its cover

Goodreads Summary: 

The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the center of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

Likes: This book deals with a lot of issues like classism and racism and rebellion from an oppressive government, all in a fantasy world where people have superpowers. I love all the different types of powers in the book. Plus, I don’t know if I’ve read a character as palpably angry as Mare. It was really interesting and different. And don’t even get me started on that plot twist. Even though someone spoiled it for me, I was still in shock.

Dislikes: The beginning was boring and difficult to get into. Honestly, the story doesn’t really start to get interesting until she’s at the palace. Also, there wasn’t quite enough world building, which I’m hoping is solved in the second book.

Resonance by S. Alex Martin

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I was so excited to receive an ARC of Resonance from the author. Seriously. This book has been my constant companion over the last several weeks and has been a much-needed reprieve from the mountains of school reading overtaking my desk.

Rating: [5/5]

Goodreads Summary:

Belvun is dying. Droughts, firestorms, and a swelling desert slowly consume the planet. Cities have crumbled. Forests have burned. Five years ago, recovery efforts to reverse the damage failed. They must not fail again.

General Orcher tasks Arman Lance with the development of the galaxy’s most comprehensive planetary database. Arman will travel to Orvad, Undil’s city by the ocean, and then to Daliona, where life thrives and new discoveries await.

On this new journey, Arman will challenge himself in ways he never imagined and make friends he never thought he’d have. And as he learns what it really means to devote his life to the Embassy, he will experience the strength, diversity, and resilience of humankind.

Likes: I really love the way Arman came into his own in this book. Though this transition started in Embassy, I feel he really began to explore and form his own identity in Resonance. His inner world is rich and complex and emotional and so, so, so relatable. Arman’s open struggles with fear, identity, jealousy, and purpose are such a part of the human experience that he really feels like a real person to me.

Basically, the characters and their development are my favorite part of Resonance. I love the relationship in this book. After the slow build in Embassy, the payoff in Resonance was so worth it. The wedding scene (not spoilers; I promise!) and the birthday celebration are particular favorite moments of mine. The new side characters on the team Arman hires are also quite delightful; Rand is my personal favorite of the bunch.

The world-building. Absolutely phenomenal. The reader really gets to see a much larger snapshot of this universe and all the planets, people, technology, and animals in it. The level of detail poured into Daliona made the story so rich. Plus, the recreational activities introduced in Resonance almost rival Hologis. Also! You can explore Daliona for yourself!

And, last but certainly not least, the ending. My word. I’m still reeling. Those last couple of chapters had me on the edge of my seat and I had to will myself to read slower so that I wouldn’t miss anything. I’ve read a lot of books with a lot of cliffhangers, but this was one of the most extreme cliffhangers I have ever encountered and it is so wonderful and frustrating all at once.

Dislikes: Honestly? I liked it all. The plot, characters, world-building, pacing…I have no complaints. Resonance was really a slam-dunk for me.

Buy Embassy

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Embassy by S. Alex Martin

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First of all, let me just say that this book was exactly what I needed to read right now. In school, all I’m reading this semester is early modern drama, lengthy pieces of literary criticism, and dry textbooks about Ireland. It’s honestly exhausting. But Embassy was like a shot of espresso on a Monday morning.

Rating: [4/5]

Goodreads Summary:

Arman Lance was supposed to travel the galaxy with his father, not watch him die. He was supposed to experience the adventures from his father’s stories, not isolate himself from the world. He was going to join the Embassy Program, fly across the galaxy, and find Ladia Purnell, a girl from another planet whom he loved years before.

Clinging to his fading hopes and dreams, Arman joins the Embassy Program to fulfill that last promise. If he can reach Ladia, he’ll never have to worry, never have to feel alone. But it doesn’t take long for his plan to fall apart when he’s confronted by his fellow Embassy recruit, Glacia Haverns, the ever-smiling adrenaline junkie who decides it’s her job to show Arman there’s more to life than chasing a desperate obsession.

Likes: Normally, I have a hard time reading sci-fi books because plot and world-building are elevated at the expense of character development. This was not so in Embassy. The characters were interesting and well-developed. Arman, the narrator, has a rich inner world and he experiences quite a lot of personal growth throughout the novel, which is always something I like.

Also, this book is perfect for anyone who likes slow-burn romances. Seriously, each tantalizing moment in this relationship’s development was perfectly paced. I may have squealed aloud in public on more than one occasion. Like, I never thought cans crumpling would make me so emotional.

Finally, it’s clear that this book was extremely well-researched. I’m not a scientist, but I am interested in physics and space travel enough to know when something isn’t even remotely plausible. There were no moments where bad science pulled me out of the narrative, which is really impressive for a sci-fi book to be able to maintain that kind of suspension of disbelief so well.

Dislikes: I would have liked to see a little more of the universe and more of the different cultures within it. The world-building was good, but I wanted more of it. There are several unanswered questions I have that I’m hoping will be answered later in the series. Which is why I’m super excited to read the sequel, Resonance, which just came out last week.

Buy Embassy here.

Add Embassy to Goodreads.

Buy Resonance here.

Add Resonance to Goodreads. 

The Heir by Kiera Cass

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I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, honestly. There are so many mixed reviews, and I read more bad ones than good ones. This book was supposed to be the sequel that never should have happened. BUT. I loved it and it’s my favorite one in the series so far.

Rating: [5/5]

Goodreads Summary:

Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won the heart of Prince Maxon—and they lived happily ever after. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she’d put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess’s life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can’t escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn’t expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn’s heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she’s always thought.

Likes: I love Eadlyn. Unpopular opinion right there. But I do. Yes, she can be selfish. But you know what? People are selfish. She’s a believable character, and that makes her a good character. This book also shows the aftermath of all the political decisions made in The One, and I think it portrays them in a really plausible way. There’s no way to quick-fix a broken government, and this book shows that really well. This book is also super feminist! Eadlyn makes a lot of really clear comments on her own agency and bodily autonomy that I really appreciated. It sends a really good message. Finally, all of the boys in her Selection are delightful. There are about four of them I would be happy to see her with. Also! Let’s not forget all of the Maxon and America old married couple cuteness.

Dislikes: I really can’t think of anything that I didn’t like about this book.

Tune in next week for my review of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard!