Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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As I write this, I’m also reading an article about how a 19-year-old girl was attacked at her local hospital. She was wearing her hijab and a 57-year-old man came up from behind her and proceeded to punch her repeatedly in the back of her head. Why?

The article doesn’t go into the details as to why, but the assumption is because of Islamophobia. Islamophobia is this prejudice and fear that because someone is Muslim that they’re automatically going to be a terrorist.

Islamophobia exists and it is the cruelest and most unkind form of racism. Samira Ahmed covers it perfectly in Love, Hate, and Other Filters. 

Here’s more about the story

31207017A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

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.

The first half of this book actually spoke to me similarly to American Panda. It’s the story about a young woman on the brink of the next phase of her life and wanting to go to another city to do it. She wants to study film in New York while her parents want her to study law in Chicago. This is a story that relates to my life and the lives of many other people. We all have dreams and sometimes those dreams aren’t within reach because of family obligations or even because you wish to respect your parents’ wishes for you. It’s a totally relatable story.

However, the second half of the book is something I can’t relate to. I can’t relate to it because I’ve never experienced it. I’ve seen racism and prejudice, but my life has never been threatened. I’ve never had someone throw a rock at me because they think I’m a terrorist. I’ve never had to worry that my family will be senselessly murdered because of my faith or our beliefs.

I’ve been treated poorly by people before. I’ve been told to go back to my own country. I’ve been catcalled in different Asian languages. I’ve been asked if I eat dog. However, despite all of the racist remarks I come across, I have never been threatened. I’ve never had to worry that my religious beliefs will cause me to get killed. I’ve never had hate thrust against me where someone ripped clothes off my body or believed my father to be a terrorist.

I think this is the biggest takeaway I got from this book. It’s the fact that Maya is just like anyone else in this world. She’s got a family that loves her and wants the best for her and she’s trying to fight for what she wants. How can we hate someone who practically is you?

I mean, Maya’s parents are dentists. When I think of dentists, I think of Hermione Granger’s parents. They’re kind and gentle people who work on people’s teeth for a living. How would a couple of dentists hurt someone?

This is what I don’t understand. How does an individual fill their hearts with so much hate that they feel compelled to take action on it? How does someone pick up that gun and shoot kids? How do we live in a world where people rationalize these thoughts and find it as the reason to harm others?

What I also love reading about this book is that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading this from the brain of a teenager. It feels mature and older even though she’s a young person. I think that’s what’s great about books like this. While it’s a younger person’s voice, you can always find something to reflect back on and sometimes younger people are older than us.

  • Hardcover, 281 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Teen
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

School for Psychics by K.C. Archer

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I used to think that I had some sort of psychic power, be it the power to read minds or even to predict the future would be somewhat helpful. But what if those powers can do something like help other humans from dying? Would you take the risk and use your powers for good or for yourself?

Here’s a little bit more about the book

Teddy Cannon isn’t your typical twenty-something woman. She’s resourceful. She’s bright. She’s scrappy. She can also read people with uncanny precision. What she doesn’t realize: she’s actually psychic.

When a series of bad decisions leads Teddy to a run-in with the police, a mysterious stranger intervenes. He invites her to apply to the School for Psychics, a facility hidden off the coast of San Francisco where students are trained like Delta Force operatives: it’s competitive, cutthroat, and highly secretive. They’ll learn telepathy, telekinesis, investigative skills, and SWAT tactics. And if students survive their training, they go on to serve at the highest levels of government, using their skills to protect America, and the world.

In class, Teddy befriends Lucas, a rebel without a cause who can start and manipulate fire; Jillian, a hipster who can mediate communication between animals and humans; and Molly, a hacker who can apprehend the emotional state of another individual. But just as Teddy feels like she’s found where she might belong, strange things begin to happen: break-ins, missing students, and more. It leads Teddy to accept a dangerous mission that will ultimately cause her to question everything—her teachers, her friends, her family, and even herself.

Set in a world very much like our own, School for Psychics is the first book in a stay-up-all night series.

Overall I thought this was a good read. It was a pretty easy book and if you’re an adult wishing you got into Hogwarts or had any magical powers, then this might be the one for you.

The story was more like a combination of Harry Potter meets Police Academy meets The Bone Season. Harry Potter because of the whole magical universe of psychics. The Bone Season because of the rebel girl who just happens to have a power greater than all of her peers. And Police Academy because I rarely read books where people join some official government law enforcement. Although, I do wish there were more antics like they had in Police Academy, but I’m just using it for comparisons here.

The story centers around Teddy, our main character, and her days training to become a psychic FBI agent. You may think that a book about young people going to school for their psychic abilities may be YA, but this actually isn’t. I was a little surprised that this wasn’t in the YA genre especially with the voice being used and the personalities of the recruits training. I think this is where I’m drawing the comparison to Police Academy because these young folks seem a little too young and immature.

I don’t want to give spoilers, but this is a slow burner. The book is written in the third person, but I really wish that it was first person. I think the story would have definitely benefitted with the first person storyline especially since we’re reading her thoughts and her dreams and following along with whatever decisions Teddy was making. However, the story does get more exciting as Teddy learns to use her powers more and also uncovers the truth about her past. Let’s just say that there are some other special organizations with a similar cause to the School for Psychics, except they are okay with you murdering people for the sake of justice.

I did like the mystery components here, but I also feel like this will be the last of the mystery. There were a lot of uncovered secrets and mysteries that were solved, so I don’t know what the next books will contain. However, I do hope that the rest of the series will show some epic battles and usage of skills by this special people.

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There were a couple of flaws that made the book a little less believable. For example, I wasn’t completely convinced it only took less than a single night for her to get on a plane to go to this elite school for training. I mean, she lived her life as a gambler and made her money that way. Now she’s going clean to work for a major government agency? It seems a little suspect.

The other thing I didn’t really seem to grasp was how she never let anyone in. While the story is mostly about Teddy and her life, there is a rag tag team of “misfits” that are involved in Teddy’s life. In my opinion, I think she did a great job with making friends and keeping them close by. She sat with them at lunch and they worked together in classes. It didn’t add up that she considered herself such a loner when there was a lot of mention of her other friends. When it finally was revealed at the end of the book that she needed her friends all along, I didn’t understand the sentiment. Weren’t they her friends from the beginning?

All in all, a good first read. Enough of the story has been outlined for the reader that the next couple of books will just flow. The book does end with a mysterious cliffhanger, so we’ll see what the rest of the series has to offer. You know me, giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the first book in a series.

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon and Schuster
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a copy of this book from Simon and Schuster for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

American Panda by Gloria Chao

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If you were born a first-generation child of an immigrant, then this story will resonate so much in your heart that it might break.

Here’s what it’s about

35297380At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

My parents told me the rules of the house very often: focus on your studying and get into a good school. I didn’t know until I was in high school that meant getting As in every class and getting into an IVY league and becoming a doctor. Or a lawyer.

When I was in high school, my mom thought it would be good for my budding medical career if I got into this seven-year program for pre-med students. Seven years and you’ll be a fully fledged surgeon making incisions into actual human bodies. At that time, I felt like this was my only choice and so I went with it even though I was terrible at science and math and only wanted to read and write. I even had to take Physics in my junior year when at that point it wasn’t a requirement anymore. I voluntarily took Physics!

It was also in my junior year that I finally told my mom that I didn’t want to be a doctor and I wanted to be a journalist. We had a long heart-to-heart conversation and she went with it. I don’t know how much she felt about that decision, but it made me so happy.

That’s basically what’s going on in American Panda. 

While reading this book, I could feel the anxiety and frustration Mei felt because it was the feelings I had as a kid too. My parents were strict and my mom knew if my sister and I didn’t practice piano and violin. When I got a bad score on a test, it was a big mess and I won’t recount those stories for you.

I think the only thing I didn’t like about this book was how extreme Mei’s parents were. The author’s note does say that this story was based on the experiences she’s had as well as the ones her friends had. I don’t know anyone’s parents who see their kid diverge from the medical route get completely disowned without a hope that things will get better. It just doesn’t seem real? I don’t want to discount it, but at the same time it seemed a little harsh.

But what Mei went through is real. Her feelings, her longing, her inability to speak up about it is all experiences I had. I wanted my friends to read this and say to them that this is what it was like growing up for me. I also resonated so much with the split between her Chinese culture and her American culture. I have this feeling that immigrants come to this country and think that they can maintain the values and traditions of the old country.

However, this is a new country with different rules. If you have a kid born and raised in the new country, they won’t know what the old country is. I didn’t go to Korea until I was in my 30s and I didn’t feel in any way that I belonged there.

You won’t find sophisticated language and this book isn’t meant to be literary. While this book resonated so much with me, it’s still a book written for younger people. I honestly wish this book existed when I was a kid and let me know that it’s okay to follow my dreams and while it may be rocky at first, your parents will eventually come around.

  • Hardcover: 311 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (February 6, 2018)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

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Love and Other Carnivorous Plants by Florence Gonsalves

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When I first started reading this book, I honestly thought this was going to be one of those super YA stories about a young woman who is on the brink of growing up and falls in love. Yes, it is all those things, but there is so much more to this than just vapid annoyance.

Trigger warning. Please note that this book has themes of:

  • Grief/loss
  • Mental health issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicide
  • Drug abuse

Here’s more about the book

31681354Freshman year at Harvard was the most anticlimactic year of Danny’s life. She’s failing pre-med and drifting apart from her best friend. One by one, Danny is losing all the underpinnings of her identity. When she finds herself attracted to an older, edgy girl who she met in rehab for an eating disorder, she finally feels like she might be finding a new sense of self. But when tragedy strikes, her self-destructive tendencies come back to haunt her as she struggles to discover who that self really is.

If you’re looking for a sophisticated “adult” read, be prepared. This isn’t for adults. The writing and the voice is way more amateur, but as a young adult novel this voice isn’t meant for adults. This book in general isn’t made for adults because while hitting on some serious adult themes, it’s still made for teenagers.

The only thing that really irked me about the book was the writing and the voice. However, I also took it with a grain of sand because Florence Gonsalves had a point in writing this book with that particular voice.

Aside from that, this was one randomly deep book. I picked this up because I wanted to read something light and simple. With the word “love” and a cute picture of a Venus Fly Trap, I thought that this would be one of those books. However, what I got was quite the opposite.

The main character, Danny (short for Dandelion, which is kind of cringe-y for a name), is a young driven woman who during her first year at Harvard suffered from so much stress and disorder in her life that she was placed in a special hospital for her eating disorder. The story begins with her release from the hospital and trying to reconnect with her friends during summer break. She has until the end of the summer to decide if she wants to go back to Harvard after she’s feeling better.

During that time, she’s faced with her best friend, Sarah, who has changed drastically within the ten months they were separated for school. She also meets a friend she met at the hospital, Bugg, who later becomes her love interest.

I think that if you’re a person who has ever had a best friend throughout your childhood and suddenly feel the strain of leaving each other for school, then this book will resonate with you. You may not be suffering from an eating disorder or even questioning your sexuality, but if you thought your friends would be friends forever and now it’s not then this will ring in your ears like the bells of Notre Dame.

I really liked this book because I resonated with that. Also, I resonated with some of the mental health issues Florence Gonsalves brings up. While I don’t have an eating disorder, it’s been considered that Bulimia and Anorexia both have underlying symptoms of OCD. The inability to control everything around them materializes in control over your own body and your food intake. It becomes an obsession with obsessive thoughts. For example, being able to look at a piece of food and not spiral out of control on what would happen if you ate that food.

It was really difficult to read Danny’s relationship with food. She’s always wearing mu-mus because she’s ashamed of the way her body looks. You find her vegan-ness to be more of a way to control her calorie intake than really anything to do with the harm of innocent creatures. You can see the symptoms in everything she says (lots of denial), her binge eating habits, her inability to tell the truth, etc.

I think the only thing I felt was a little unbelievable was the levels of Hell she found herself in. Most people don’t experience as much pain and loss as Danny does and somehow Danny gets through ALL of it before the end of the book. In the realism of the book, I had to ding it because it just doesn’t seem feasible that she can have that much woe at one time. Perhaps it is and there are some people who experience everything at once. When it rains it pours.

But in the end, I really liked this book and it kept my attention the entire time. Now I really need something a little bit more simple and fun.

  • Type of book: Paperback, 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 15, 2018)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a copy of this book from The Novl for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily XR Pan

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This is an incredible story about how a young teenager sets out to find the truth behind her mother’s passing. What she finds is something way more than she imagined.

Here’s more about the story

35604686Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

I absolutely loved this book. It reminded me a lot of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward in terms of its use of magical realism and how connected the main characters are to the past. There are so many themes in this book that I honestly don’t know where to begin. I guess the best way to do it is just to write.

Before I was born, my mother lost her brother to a cocaine overdose. It devastated her and her entire family. While drug overdoses are sometimes accidental, my family always believed my uncle’s death was due to suicide. He just used drugs to do it.

This story reminded me of the grief my mom used to go through when I was younger. I would see her stare listlessly into the distance while listening to certain songs on the radio. She would ask me to step out of the car and head into the house while she listened to music that reminded her of her brother.

But it wasn’t specifically her grief that perplexed me, but my understanding of life and death and how sometimes the decisions we make for ourselves affect those around us.

When it comes to death, regardless of how it’s done, grief and loss come with so many questions. Was it your fault? What could you have done to make things better? Why did they have to leave us like this?

In The Astonishing Color of After you get an idea of what it might be like to get answers. Using magical realism, Emily XR Pan demonstrates how Leigh is able to see her mother’s past, her grandmother’s past, and her own past.

The book is broken up into three different stories. Each chapter starts off by telling you what part of the book you’re reading. First, there is the present day story of Leigh trying to find clues to her mother’s life in Taiwan. Second, there’s the glimpses of her own past and how her life has been changing. Third, there’s the mysterious packet of incense Leigh uses to delve further into her mother’s and grandmother’s past.

I’m a strong believer in spirits and I resonated deeply with this. Her mother is a bird and a friend she makes in Taiwan isn’t exactly alive. You see her travel to a small town where a man claims to have married her mother’s sister’s ghost. Like Leigh, I believe that those we lose do stick around after they’ve died. They may be spirits or ghosts or whatever you want to call them, but the one thing everyone knows about ghosts is that they’re stuck in this world until they’ve finished their business. I believe that Leigh was using her time in Taiwan to help her own mother finish her unfinished business.

As you read the story, you learn more and more about everything leading up to Leigh’s mother’s death. You can also feel the guilt that Leigh feels for being so caught up in her own life and her own issues (for example, she was busy kissing her best friend on the day her mother killed herself).

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I love how this story is not only a story about loss and grief, but also about growing up and finding yourself. Self-identity is always important especially as a teenager and when you’re half Asian and half Caucasian, you wonder what side you are more related to. Perhaps you know one side more than another, but Leigh stumbles across exploring herself and her ancestry through her grandparents in Taiwan. She finds out about her mother’s life before her, how she sacrificed a lot for Leigh to be in the world, and you also understand the kind of remorse and guilt her mother feels for leaving her family behind.

The last theme I want to touch on is the use of color. Leigh is a really gifted artist who only uses charcoals to draw her work. However, she uses colors to describe emotions. It’s also not a simple red or blue, but cadmium red and titanium white and aquamarine. These are very specific colors to describe very specific emotions and I found it unique to see someone use those colors to describe how she feels. This goes double for an artist who doesn’t use color in her work.

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown Young Reader (March 20, 2018(
  • Rating: 5/5 Stars!

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs

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At first, I was a little skeptical about this book. A story that has the word “equation” in the title reminds me of Mark Watney in The Martian and how much math I had to do. Happily, there isn’t much math in this book but a wonderful journey of a family coming to terms with their late father’s last wish.

Here’s more about the book

35297219Just days after mathematician and family patriarch Isaac Severy dies of an apparent suicide, his adopted granddaughter Hazel, owner of a struggling Seattle bookstore, receives a letter from him by mail. In it, Isaac alludes to a secretive organization that is after his final bombshell equation, and he charges Hazel with safely delivering it to a trusted colleague. But first, she must find where the equation is hidden.

While in Los Angeles for Isaac’s funeral, Hazel realizes she’s not the only one searching for his life’s work, and that the equation’s implications have potentially disastrous consequences for the extended Severy family, a group of dysfunctional geniuses unmoored by the sudden death of their patriarch.

As agents of an enigmatic company shadow Isaac’s favorite son—a theoretical physicist—and a long-lost cousin mysteriously reappears in Los Angeles, the equation slips further from Hazel’s grasp. She must unravel a series of maddening clues hidden by Isaac inside one of her favorite novels, drawing her ever closer to his mathematical treasure. But when her efforts fall short, she is forced to enlist the help of those with questionable motives.

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I really loved this story as a great alternative to all the heavy and scary thrillers coming out. If you’re a mystery fan and want to feel a little bit like Nancy Drew, then you might love this book.

It’s the story about a young woman named Hazel who was tasked to find and deliver her grandfather’s last mathematical equation. Hazel, a bookstore owner, doesn’t know much about math or science but she loved her grandfather so she decides to do it. While trying to unfold the mystery of her grandfather’s death and finally recover the equation, Hazel along with her other family members try to come to terms with the loss of their great patriarch.

I’m going to give you a little spoiler here. I don’t know if it’ll ruin the book for you or not, but I don’t think I can go on with my review of the book without mentioning it. I’ll share the spoiler after the jump.

Continue reading “The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs”

Hot Mess by Emily Belden Blog Tour

Imagine if your recovering boyfriend relapses on you a week after you put $30,000 down to help make his chef dreams come true. What would you do?

This story explores passions, career goals, being thrust in a difficult situation, and a whole lot of food.

Here’s a little bit more about the book

9781525811418.inddTwenty-something Allie Simon never imagined she’d fall for a recovering drug addict—but that was before she met Benji Zane, Chicago’s hottest up-and-coming chef, who’s known as much for his hard partying ways as for his unparalleled culinary skills. Six months into their relationship, the food and chemistry are out of this world, but the reality of living with a cooking wunderkind hasn’t exactly been all hearts and flowers. 

Still, Allie’s convinced that her love is the key to fixing this talented man’s broken soul—so when Benji is offered his dream job as chef de cuisine for a new restaurant opening on Randolph Street, Chicago’s foodie hot spot, Allie agrees to invest her life savings in his future. But less than a month after she goes all in, Allie learns a heartbreaking lesson: addicts lie. Benji cracks under the pressure, relapses and disappears, bagging out not only on the restaurant, but on her, too.

Left with nothing but a massive withdrawal slip and a restaurant that absolutely must open in a matter of weeks, Allie finds herself thrust into a world of luxury and greed, cutthroat business and sensory delight. Lost in the mess of it all, she can either crumble completely or fight like hell for the life she wants and the love she deserves.

This was an incredibly fun book to read. Even though there are some darker themes to the book like having your boyfriend relapse on you and leave you with 10% ownership of his restaurant, it was still cute. The writing is pretty easy and since it’s in the first person, you’re reading it from Allie’s point of view. While Allie doesn’t seem like the most literary person in the world, the writing keeps the story breezy and allows you to continue reading to find out what happens next. It doesn’t get too caught up in the whole drug life of Benji (and honestly, you hold your breath waiting for him to appear again), but in Allie’s actions after Benji leaves.

You follow Allie as she takes this difficult situation of helping open her now ex-boyfriend’s restaurant without him there. What do you do with a situation like that?

I would have probably broken down and ran away from the restaurant as fast as my feet could take me, but Allie luckily has business partners who weren’t willing to give up. They push her to quit her full-time job and start thinking of this abandoned restaurant as her new passion and new career.

I think the most appealing part of this story is how Allie is able to continue to push herself forward even though she’s heartbroken and broke. She could have easily cried about her boyfriend relapsing and disappearing all of a sudden. She could have cried about losing all that money. Instead she picks herself up, puts herself into creating a great restaurant and all while nursing the wounds her boyfriend left. It feels to me like this is what the story is real about.

I think the only disappointing thing about this book is the way chefs are portrayed. While some chefs are recovering from one thing or another, a majority of chefs worked hard to where they got without the help of mind-altering substances. I think this whole bad boy chef trope is a little cliched.

However without the chef, this book wouldn’t have a conflict presented to Allie.

The story is about a woman who is thrust down a path she had never thought to take herself, with absolutely no experience, and she came out on top. Of course there’s a lot of pain and anger when it comes to Benji, but Allie kept just pushing herself through it. That’s a strength that not many of us can muster and Allie did. It’s not about her boyfriend and it’s not about drugs and what it does to people, but it’s about the ability to see the “hot mess” in front of you and just make it your own. It’s about kicking your own butt and worry about the details later.

It also helps that there’s a lot of food.

  • Paperback: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Graydon Publishing House (March 20, 2018)
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.