Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Review: Love At First Fight by Sandhya Menon

Set between the second and third books in Sandhya Menon's When Dimple Met Rishi trilogy, this is a delightful e-novella showing the continuing love stories between the couples introduced in When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something About Sweetie, and the first tentative sparks flying between the lead characters of Ten Things I Hate About Pinky.

The Patel brothers, Rishi and Ashish, are heading to a Valentine's Day escape room along with Rishi's fiancee Dimple and Ashish's girlfriend Sweetie, but bump into two of Ash's friends, Pinky Kumar and Samir Jha, on the way. Both get invited to join them and when they're split into pairs in the romance-themed room, as the only two not in a couple, they end up working together. Can they put aside their mutual annoyance with each other to help the group succeed?

I read this slightly after Ten Things I Hate About Pinky, so already really loved Pinky and Samir, in particular, but it was great to be reunited with all six of Menon's fantastic characters here. I love the solidarity between Dimple and Pinky - two people whose approach to Valentine's Day is wonderfully Scrooge-like - while it's great that both Patel brothers are in loving relationships. Menon writes incredible chemistry between couples and the three pairings here show off her skill in doing that, with each duo's interactions being charming but completely different.

The escape room was a really fun setting and I loved that we got to see the actual clues given, and how they solved things, although have to admit that I would NOT have got any of the trivia questions which held the key to the answers - I was very glad not to be in their position!

For people who can't get enough of Sandhya Menon's delightful contemporaries, this is a must read. If you're new to her writing, it's a great way to sample it and I'm confident you'll quickly want to read all three novels.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Review: All About Us by Tom Ellen

I'm a huge fan of Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison's YA books, Lobsters, Never Evers and Freshers, so have been excited to see what their solo debuts are like. I definitely wasn't disappointed by All About Us, a warm-hearted spin on A Christmas Carol which has all the fantastic humour I've come to expect from Tom.

Ben, in his 30s and feeling trapped by the relationship he's been in since university, is starting to think he made the wrong choice all those years ago. Alice - an old friend from before he met his wife Daphne - has come back into his life, and seems to want more than just friendship. Could she be the one for him? What would have happened if they'd got together all those years ago? An encounter with a mysterious man who gives him a watch which somehow catapults him back to the night he first kissed Daphne lets him see how his life could have turned out differently. 

I love the way this takes aim at toxic masculinity, but also at the way in which many men don't feel they can open up to friends, even their closest ones, about anything more meaningful than random facts or trivia questions. There's a stunning line "I guess women see their friends as profound, complex human beings, while men see theirs as walking quiz machines." This touched a real chord with me - over the course of my life I've had a couple of male friends I can open up to, but it's been far harder talking about my feelings to them than to my female or non-binary friends, and I think there's still a huge societal expectation that guys DON'T talk about important stuff anywhere near as much as they need to. That's not to say it's heavy-going, though - Ellen has a lightness of touch which brought a smile to my face even at the most serious moments, helped by engaging characters. It's easy to like Daphne, Ben's mum, and the mysterious man who sets this all off for Ben, while I had a lot of sympathy for Ben himself, who has many faults but, throughout the course of the book, realises some of these flaws and takes steps to deal with them.

As things move on, the book builds to a deeply satisfying ending which shows the importance of working for what you want, of communication, and of being honest with yourself.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Quiz: TV Tropes YA Novels

TVTropes is one of my favourite sites (except I have to ration my time on it or I'll lose entire days/weeks) because I LOVE well-done tropes. I wanted to give this a try - match the YA novel to 3 of the tropes listed for it on TVTropes. I tried to go for some of the better known ones, although I haven't read all of the books. Would be great to get feedback if anyone wants to share theirs!

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Books Read In September

So I meant to post this earlier in the month, but my new-found love of constructing crosswords, and the general time taken settling in to a new country, getting my social security number (which finally arrived, yay!) etc has left me with less time to write stuff. Finally getting around to it, though!

This is hopefully the first in a monthly series looking back at some of the things I’ve been reading. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list of everything (although once I hit a reading slump and only get through 2 or 3 books a month it probably will be!), more musings about stuff I’ve enjoyed, repeating themes I’ve noticed, etc.

The big discovery of September for me was audiobooks! I’ve tried listening to them before but I’m INCREDIBLY bad at focusing when there’s anything to distract me. However I’ve started playing them while running and I listened to Queerleaders and Blood Moon that way, and really enjoyed both. (Also, literally as I was typing that, my Adidas app sent me a notification basically saying “Do you even still run?! Okay, I should get back to it soon.)

Queerleaders is a really fun read, despite dealing with some pretty aggressive homophobia. Lead character Mac gets forcibly outed at her Catholic school, bets the quarterback she can steal the cheerleaders who the football team are dating, and hilarity ensues in a late-90s romcom style. Full review here, but in short a strong recommendation for a great read with a heartwarming ending, brought brilliantly to life by narrator Chloe Cannon. In addition to the cheerleaders and Mac herself being great characters, I loved Mac's friendship with Lila, which took a hit as Lila (justifiably) got annoyed with Mac for spending so much time going after the cheerleaders and not being there enough for her oldest friend.

I also really enjoyed Blood Moon, Lucy Cuthew’s verse novel, narrated by Harrie Dobby. It’s a contemporary novel about Frankie, who gets her period during her first sexual experience with a boy. While they both laugh about it fairly quickly, agreeing “It’s only blood”, somehow what happened gets out and quickly becomes a meme. This is a really thoughtful contemporary looking at online shaming, friendship issues, and trying to figure out who to trust. All the main characters - Frankie, best friend Harriet and love interest Benjamin - were vividly portrayed, and while some of Harriet’s decisions caused me to wince just as badly as Harriet did, they felt like realistically terrible ones for a teen girl to make. Lucy was the first author to take part in my revamped 5-4-3-2-1 feature, which you can check out here.

One of the things I really loved about both these books is how supportive the teens’ families are of them - Mac’s mom and dad are behind her all the way, while Frankie’s parents are devastated when they find out what’s been going on, but are quick to make sure she knows that she’s got nothing to be sorry for. I also really loved the strong family ties in Ashley Woodfolk’s hard-hitting but wonderful The Beauty That Remains. Full review here, again, but one of the things I really liked was the way in which Shay has to try and rebuild her relationship with her mom in the wake of her twin sister’s death after a long illness. All three MCs are superb here but of the three characters dealing with the deaths of friends or family I think it’s perhaps Shay’s story that has stayed with me the most.

Of course, not all parents are supportive, and it’s really interesting seeing portrayals of teens at odds with their families, especially when those family members are as well-drawn as some of the ones I read last month were. Ten Things I Hate About Pinky, the third in the Sandhya Menon series of companion novels which started with When Dimple Met Rishi, is a stand-out here. Pinky - a proud social justice warrior - is often at odds with her lawyer mom, so decides to impress her family by introducing them to her polite, well-mannered and charming boyfriend. She doesn’t actually HAVE one, but this is a minor drawback, because she knows the perfect person for a fake relationship - Samir, who’s keen to be a lawyer and has just had a prestigious internship fall through. He can impress her mom and win a future place as an intern for her, Pinky can enjoy her family seeing her as a responsible person - what could go wrong? 

It’s a fake-romance, so it’s almost certainly incredibly obvious what can, and does, go wrong, but reading these two opposites fall for each other is a delight. Menon is one of my favourite current contemporary authors and she excels at flirting, awkward encounters, and great dialogue. As good as the romance is, though, Pinky’s commitment to activism - trying to save the butterfly habitat holding so many good memories for her - and the way this brings her into conflict with her mom, but also leads to her finding out more about her mom’s past - is even better. Throw in bonus points for a super-cute opossum, and this is a superb read.

Another book about a real conflict between parents and child is Natalia Sylvester’s Running. Mariana is a Cuban-American girl who adores her father, Senator Anthony Ruiz, but is starting to feel overwhelmed by the amount of attention his presidential campaign is bringing to her. When she starts to find out more about his policy positions, and fall in with a group of people who are deeply opposed to them, she’s left in a difficult position. Can she be true to herself despite parental pressure? And does her mom agree with all of her dad’s actions? This is a really thought-provoking book which looks at Natalia’s political awakening and her father’s problems dealing with that while he’s also in the middle of the most important period of his career. I thought the friendship group was excellent and Natalia herself is a very well-written MC.

And then, with perhaps the bitterest of all the clashes, there’s Pen and her family in Girl Mans Up by ME Girard. This has been one I’ve been meaning to read for years, but somehow never got around to. It was absolutely worth the wait, and I’m kicking myself for not getting around to it sooner. Pen is a butch lesbian whose closest friends are all boys, including Colby, who she often plays wingman for. But when Blake, Colby’s next target, is interested not in him but in Pen herself, and Pen also befriends Olivia, who he had a brief fling with, she sees a different side to the guy. This is fairly heavy - dealing with toxic masculinity, family expectations, and other tough themes - but it’s a really good read. I loved the relationships between Pen and Blake, and between Pen and her older brother, the only member of her family who’s supportive of her.

For slightly different family issues, This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams was a fantastic read. Full review here, but in summary it’s about a Cuban ballet dancer and Dominican baseball player who fall for each other after several meet-cutes on the subway. There’s lots to like here - including really thoughtful takes on how dark-skinned Alex suffers from racism to a far greater extent than Isa, a white-passing Latino girl - but one thing I found really beautifully portrayed was the love between Isa and her family, despite the bipolar disorder which affects both her brother and her mother. 

And speaking of great chemistry, perhaps my favourite of the month (although looking at the above books there were a LOT to choose from) was that of Evie and Milo in Kristina Forest’s Now That I've Found You. An unlikely pairing, Evie is a rising film star who makes a silly mistake which costs her a huge part, and Milo is a young friend of her grandmother’s (also a film star, and a reclusive legend) who helps Evie search for her when she goes missing. Again, full review here, but I love Evie’s character development - despite the short space of time which the novel takes place over - and the way in which the pair’s relationship moves from irritation to romance. It also builds up to an absolutely outstanding last page, with a quote at the end which had me grinning hugely.

How about you? Any fabulous recent reads you'd recommend to me? Does anything mentioned above particularly appeal to you? I'd love to know! Leave me a comment or message me at @yayeahyeah on Twitter!

Monday, 19 October 2020

Farrah Rochon Crossword

I've become a big fan of romance over the last year or two, and Farrah Rochon is my absolute favourite author in the genre! From The Boyfriend Project, her recent office romance about a woman who's just dumped someone and is going viral for it and a guy who's the new hire with a big secret, to her series about the inhabitants of small Louisiana town Gauthier (which I can't name as it's the answer to 25 across!), she never fails to deliver on wonderful characters, fabulous chemistry, and brilliant plots. 

This crossword includes about 20 questions looking at a variety of her books. The idea is that even if you haven't read her yet, the general knowledge stuff here should give you a chance at working other stuff out - and hopefully it may tempt you into trying her fantastic books.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Book Review: This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams

This Train Is Being Held follows Isa, a Cuban ballet dancer whose life is falling apart, and Alex, a Dominican baseball player, with the potential to surpass his father's short career in MLB, but a burning dream to write poetry. After a couple of subway meet-cutes, the pair fall for each other, but can their new love survive their family problems, and their different cultures?

I was expecting a fairly light read here and got so much more than that! This is a very good romance with two likeable POV characters whose chemistry is excellent, but it also looks at some deep themes. In particular, Isa's mother and her brother both have mental health issues, while her father loses his job in the course of the book, Alex faces racism and sees one of his friends get dragged into a gang, while white-passing Isa doesn't have to deal with this kind of thing, and there's several clashes between what the MCs want and what their parents expect. Alex's father had a very short professional career and he's desperate to see his talented son succeed to a far greater degree than he ever did, while being constantly hard on Alex's younger brother who doesn't have the same amount of skill at baseball. Isa's mother, in particular, has views on her daughter's future which definitely don't include a career as a ballet dancer, or a Latino boyfriend.

As much as I enjoyed the central relationship, particularly the way Isa encourages Alex to follow his poetic dreams, it's perhaps the skilled way in which these heavier issues are dealt with which made this such a truly fantastic read for me. The portrayal of Isa's mother and brother feels really nuanced and brings home the difficulties of living with someone with bipolar disorder. The novel is also at its best when dealing with racism, especially in a scene when Alex's papi loses his temper with his younger son as they play baseball, and the police get involved.

Massively recommended as one of the most compelling contemporary books of the year so far for me.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Grishaverse Crossword

 As a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse books, I'm thrilled to be posting a crossword about them! This is based mostly on the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology, with one question from King of Scars, and a few around casting for the upcoming Shadow and Bone series on Netflix (which I'm super-excited about.)