Review: When Dimple Met Rishi (Audiobook)

28458598“Seriously? That’s what you think I should be relegating my brain space to? Looking nice? Like, if I don’t make the effort to look beautiful, my entire existence is nullified? Nothing else matters-not my intellect, not my personality or my accomplishments; my hopes and dreams mean nothing if I’m not wearing eyeliner?” – Dimple

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” She is excited that her family finally lets her sign up for a summer program in app design.

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Young Adult / Contemporary / Romance / 380 pages

We all know When Dimple Met Rishi. It’s been circulating in the blogosphere for quite a while. I was very excited to read this book because of all the positive reviews, though I’ve been warned about the cheesiness. In the end, I liked this book. It gives me a warm and happy feeling. But booooy is it cheesy.

I absolutely love that this novel features diverse main characters. Dimple and Rishi are both from Indian families who hold traditional values, yet Dimple and Rishi themselves are very different. Dimple is a strong-headed and independent girl, she is ambitious and she wants more than anything to aim for the career of her dreams. She could care less about having the Ideal Indian Husband, and she cringes at the notion of the obedient housewife who caters to her husband’s every single whim, with no room to pursue dreams of her own. Meanwhile, Rishi is proud of his heritage. As the older son, he feels the obligation to abide by tradition and be the perfect son and role model. He is a hopeless romantic who admires the loving relationship between his mom and dad, and he has faith in the institution of arranged marriage that it will take him there too. Through Dimple and Rishi, and their heartwarming, hilarious, families, I learned more about the Indian culture, which fascinates me.

The characters are well thought out, from Dimple and Rishi to the supporting cast. At first glance, Dimple is that sharp-tongued and sharp-witted girl who is driven by ambition. But we learn that she has a soft side and she is a romantic at heart. Rishi is determined to uphold his traditional Indian values, and he wants to be the Ideal Indian Husband. He is set to start MIT in the fall, because he is determined to graduate with a respectable degree and get a well-paying job to support his future family. However, he tries to deny his true passion, which is art. The supporting characters have lives and personalities of their own: from Rishi’s brother to Dimple’s roommate. It is amazing to watch their stories unravel before our eyes, and to see their relationships strength and change throughout the novel.

The writing is witty and made me laugh at just the right moments. The first few chapters drew me in completely, because both Dimple and Rishi are just so adorable and hilarious. I loved that they each have a distinct voice and it is fascinating to see the world from each of their points of views.

However, as the story progresses, I felt that both Dimple and Rishi lose their uniqueness and they become your typical lovestruck teenagers. And it just gets cheesy. The heart pounding and the butterflies in the stomach and so on and so forth. It gave me goosebumps and chills down the spine. That’s how cheesy it was.

I am conflicted about the POV switching in this novel. In general, I am not against POV switching. I’ve enjoyed many novels that are written this way. But is there a point when the POV switching happens too often? In When Dimple Met Rishi, there are often moments when a scene is broken into many parts, alternating between Dimple and Rishi’s points of views. To be honest, I am not quite sure what I make of it.

I loved the performance in the audiobook.

The Bottom Line:

Despite the cheesiness and predictability, When Dimple Met Rishi is a light read that warmed up my heart and made me smile. If you are interested in learning about the Indian culture, and in a mood for a good romance, you may want to give this a try.

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Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? How do you feel about dual POV books in general?

Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Audiobook)

18460392Theodore Finch is a troublemaker. He is unpredictable and does things that no one understands, like hurl a chair against the chalkboard, then disappear for days on end. Violet Markey is the popular girl who everyone likes. She is a model student and is on track to apply for the top universities. Except, after Violet’s sister’s tragic death, Violet realizes that no one understands her. She finds herself on the bell tower at school, where she meets Finch.

Together, Violet and Finch work on a geography project where they travel the wonders of the Indiana State. As they get to know each other, Violet learns to deal with her sister’s death and finds joy in doing what she loves. However, as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s world begins to shrink.

Young Adult / 378 pages

Note: I listened to the audiobook version of this book, and I have never read the print edition. This may have influenced my opinion of the book. For example, I was not fond of Violet’s voice, it grated my ears for the entire 11 hours. I would not recommend the audiobook to anyone. Despite this, I will try my best to evaluate the content of the book separately.

I love that this book speaks honestly and boldly about the topic of mental illness and suicide. It touches on the idea of labels and stigma, which prevent teens and adults who have mental illness from seeking treatment. I believe that stories like this help spread awareness about mental illness, and that with more awareness, there will be fewer barriers for people to seek help. Also, perhaps people who do have such conditions will read this book and feel less alone. I am glad to see that this book is translated into many languages, won awards, and will be adapted into a movie.

Theodore Finch is a intriguing and complex character. He is quirky and has a sense of humour. He loves music and is gifted at playing the guitar and composing his own songs. However, he hides a secret from his friends and his family, and that is his mental illness. He can’t quite control his outbursts and periods of time when he is just “asleep.” Instead, he tries to make it appear to everyone that he chooses to be that way, and everyone accepts him as he is. Finch is a character that makes us want to keep reading.

On the other hand, I was not in love with the other characters, including Violet. Violet strikes me as whiney, and it took me a while to warm up to her personality. I am glad to see her grow as the book unravels. I am less impressed with the supporting characters, who don’t quite develop beyond their stereotypes. This includes Violet and Finch’s classmates and the adults. I feel that there is potential in some of the characters, such as Amanda (Violet’s ex-best friend) and Violet’s mother and father, but there just aren’t enough pages dedicated to developing their characters.

This is a slow-paced book. In general, I have no qualms about slow pacing itself, because sometimes it is needed to fully develop a relationship, or to portray the growth in a character over time. However, in All the Bright Places, I get the sense that there were scenes that served no purpose. I feel that the story dragged until about the last 10%.

Despite this, All the Bright Places leaves a haunting message. Coming to the last few minutes of the book, I find myself thinking: what about the troublemakers and drop-outs that I had known from school? Perhaps they have a story of their own. And I believe that this is what makes a good story – the ability to leave you thinking.

The bottom-line:

All the Bright Places speaks boldly about the topic of teenage mental health and suicide without holding back. We see a glimpse of the world through the Finch’s points of view, which is quirky and one-of-a-kind. Despite the slow pace, and the other, less-interesting, characters, this book may be a worthwhile read if you enjoy reading about mental health.

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Review: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

31931941“There comes a point in every girl’s life where she reaches a crossroads: a night alone with her sweatpants and her favorite television show, or a party with real, live, breathing people.”

By day, Eliza is an awkward and unpopular senior at high school. By night, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the artist of Monstrous Sea, a webcomic with millions of readers. Her best friends are Max and Emmy from her online community, who she considers as more valuable than anyone she meets in real life. Other than Max and Emmy, no one knows who LadyConstellation is, and Eliza wants to keep it that way.

One day, a new student transfers to Eliza’s school. His name is Wallace, and he is Monstrous Sea’s most popular fanfiction writer. As Eliza gets to know Wallace, her perspective on the world begins to shift. The problem is that Wallace thinks that Eliza is just another Monstrous Sea fan, and Eliza doesn’t want that to change.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 385 pages

I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Eliza and Her Monsters, and I was so SO excited to read this one. My expectations were set very high in the beginning, and the book didn’t quite meet them. That’s not to say that it was bad. I liked it. It was all right. It just didn’t amaze me.

I loved the realistic portrayal of mental illness. Eliza is a character who shies away from social interaction. She is awkward and she doesn’t quite know how to interact with people outside of the online community. She prefers to be in her own room with a computer screen. Eliza’s anxiety is subtle in the beginning of the story. We sense it, but we think of it as part of her personality. But it creeps up on Eliza as the story advances, and Eliza is forced to confront her “monsters”. I like that the book speaks about mental health in a subtle manner. I also like that mental illness is not portrayed as something to be fixed, but rather something to be coped with.

Eliza is a complex, multi-faceted character that we can relate to. She is not perfect and she has flaws like the rest of us. She fears speaking to her classmates, which is fuelled by her low self-esteem. And her worst fear of all is to have her identity as LadyConstellation revealed to the world. Although Eliza cares about her friends and her fandom, Eliza doesn’t have the best relationship with her family. She doesn’t get along with her brothers because they don’t share any common interests. And she doesn’t think that her mom and dad understand her. Throughout the story, we watch Eliza grow as her perspective widens and her relationships begin to change.

Wallace is an interesting character, and he and Eliza share an amazing chemistry in the beginning of the book. Wallace is shy, and he finds it difficult to communicate when he is surrounded by many people. As he and Eliza get to know each other better, he slowly warms up to her. I loved reading the dialogue between these two characters. The lines are sharp and witty and I could feel the growing attraction between them. However, Wallace’s actions confuse me towards the last third of the book. I could not understand the motivation behind his words and his actions, and it seems almost like Wallace is a different character. This aspect of the main conflict in the story did not make sense to me.

Max and Emmy are fun characters to read about. Although they are Eliza’s trusted sidekicks and partners in crime, I love that they have their own lives to live. Eliza’s brothers are an annoyance to Eliza in the beginning of the story. As the story unfolds, we learn more about them and begin to see them as the individuals that they are. However, I am not as fond of the adults in this book: Eliza’s parents are quirky, but they quite never develop beyond that. There is one scene with Eliza’s parents and brothers that I dislike towards the end of the book, because it feels orchestrated and out of character for everyone.

This book is a fast and easy read. The characters drew me in and kept me interested enough to keep turning the pages. I loved the illustrations and I loved the two stories within the story (Monstrous Sea and the Children of Hypnos), both of which are very imaginative.

Bottom-line:

Eliza and Her Monsters is a good book. I love the witty dialogue and I can feel the chemistry between Eliza and Wallace. I love the subtle way that mental health is portrayed. However, I am do not understand the characters’ actions at the end of the book.

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Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

18336965“Maybe we all have darkness inside of us and some of us are better at dealing with it than others.”

Trigger warning: This book contains content that some people may be triggered by. Please be cautious if you are sensitive towards the topic of suicide.

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. She discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, where she meets a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

Young Adult / Contemporary / 302 pages

This novel surprised me with its amazing cast of characters and its terrific writing and dialogue. It made me laugh and cry, sometimes even both at the same time.

Note that I listened to the unabridged audiobook, read by Rebecca Lowman, which is a stunning performance.

I love that book talks about depression and suicide without holding back. It is bold and confrontational, while being subtle in all the right places.

The characters are relatable and lovable. They are humans, like you and me. They are not perfect, in appearance or in personality. Aysel has low self-esteem because she is bullied in school, and she harbours a lot of guilt for what her father has done. She hates her job, and frankly she thinks everyone is better off without her. Aysel’s relationship with her family is a complicated one. She loves her mom and her sister, and yet she withdraws from them because she doesn’t think they care. Roman, who was once popular, is now a bit awkward because he spends so much time alone. His parents smother him with love, and he rather they do not. At the same time we know that he loves them too. Aysel and Roman are two characters who stayed in my head long after I finished reading this book.

Each of the supporting characters are amazing, from Aysel’s sister to her physics project partner to her mom and dad. I love that no characters are absolutely good or evil. Everyone is simply trying their best. I love how Aysel and Roman’s parents are portrayed in this book. Roman’s mom is overbearing, while Aysel’s mom holds herself at a distance. Both of them love their children to no end, like real mothers, and their love really comes through in this book. I feel that few young adult books get this just right, and this is one of them.

It is a truly a character-driven story. I love that the story unfolds so naturally. I love the chemistry between Aysel and Roman which carries the plot forward. The writing is at times witty and humorous. At times it pulls on my heartstrings and make me cry. I love the dialogue between Aysel and Roman, between Aysel and her sister, between Aysel and her mother, between Roman and her mother… I love ALL the dialogue in this story. The writing is one of the best that I’ve read.

This is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened too.

The bottom line:

My Heart and Other Black Holes delves into difficult topics such as depression and suicide, with wit, humour and subtlety. I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in mental health, or for those in the mood for a well-written YA romance. This book will make you laugh and cry.

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Have you read My Heart and Other Black Holes? What are your favourite books that discuss mental health?

Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

248704“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.” 

Craig is a an ambitious teen who strives for success. His dream comes true when he aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School… or so he thinks. Soon, the pressure to succeed overcomes him and he falls into depression. 

After a near suicide attempt, Craig checks into the mental hospital, where he meets a cast of hilarious and fascinating characters, who teach him acceptance, compassion, and how to be human. (Young adult / 448 pages)

Firstly, I want to note that this is a semi-autobiographical tale: Ned Vizzini had suffered from depression himself, and he, like Craig, spent five days in a mental hospital.

This book speaks boldly on the topic of depression and suicide. Craig doesn’t beat around the bush or talk around it. He tells it as it is. He tells us that depression is like waking into a nightmare, or that depression starts slow, or that life can’t be cured, only managed. I believe that there should be more real talk about mental health in real life, that it shouldn’t be spoken in hushed whispers or kept secret because of stigma.

Novels like this are important because they normalize and de-stigmatize mental health. If I had depression, perhaps I could relate to Craig and feel understood and less alone. I don’t have depression, but I can now understand a bit more about what it is like if I did.

Despite the subject matter, I appreciate the author’s sense of humour. Depression and suicide are nothing to joke about. But the world, through Craig’s quirky point of view, is a funny one. There are moments that made me smile or laugh out loud. The author is able to walk a find line between light-hearted humour and the effect of depression on Craig’s mind.

Craig is a believable character. He has strengths and he has flaws, even though he himself is so fixated on his flaws early in the book that he doesn’t register his strengths. We don’t need to have depression to empathize. It is a delight to watch him grow and rediscover himself throughout this book.

The secondary characters are interesting, but underdeveloped. This may be because there are just so many of them and not enough pages to talk about them all. The other people in the mental hospital are fun and quirky and seem to have their own stories to tell. I would have loved to learn more about Craig’s family as well.

I love the portrayal of the mental hospital and the juxtaposition with real life. The mental hospital in this book is a more humane version of the one in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is also similar to the mental ward in the hospital I work at, so perhaps it is also more realistic in this day and age. This is important because this novel addresses some of the misconceptions that people may have about the psychiatric ward. It is not a volatile and scary place that people think it is. In fact, in this story, the mental hospital is a happy place where people are accepted for who they are and treated as equals. It is here where Craig learns to look at his life with a kinder perspective. Conversely, real life is where people judge and tear each other apart. Makes you wonder, who are the real crazies?

Bottom line:

This book is a unflinching tale about depression, suicide, and the road to recovery. It is a must-read for anyone who is interested in mental health.

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Have you read this book? If so, what do you think? What are your favourite books about mental health? Do you have any on your TBR?

 

Review: Want by Cindy Pon

32333174Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Length: 336 pages

To summarize the back cover:

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

Against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of the most powerful man in Taiwan. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

I want to acknowledge that many people love this book, that this book has 4.21 stars on Goodreads, and that I’ve seen several great reviews about this book before deciding to read it myself. I also want to mention that I listened to the audiobook, and that the experience may be different than reading the actual print version.

I don’t like writing bad reviews and I don’t like being the unpopular opinion, but I do feel the need to be honest with how I feel about this book. My opinion is directed towards the content of the book alone, and I don’t intend to criticize the author or any of the fans of this book. If you want to read a good review of this book, please stop here.

To begin on a positive note, I like that this book takes place in futuristic Taiwan and that the entire cast composes of ethnic minorities (Taiwanese, Chinese, Indian, Philippino, to name a few.) More books should be written with this in mind.

I also like that Want attempts to promote awareness of important issues in today’s society, such as climate change and the income gap. These are lofty issues to encompass in one book. Pick one, if any, and run with it. Do not try to deal with everything at once, which is exactly what this book is hoping to accomplish, and in exchange, it loses all subtlety.

The science is not convincing. Coming from a pharmaceutical sciences background, I cringe at parts of the book where the science is unrealistic and poorly researched. Without getting into spoiler territory, I am talking about the Avian flu subplot.

I do not like the characters in this book and I do not feel the chemistry between them. Jason is a handsome and intelligent teenager who is good at fighting and rock-climbing and dancing, although he hasn’t danced a step in his life. Daiyu is the only daughter of a multi-billionaire man who controls the universe, but she is not the least bit spoiled, and she hosts galas for poor children. She is also beautiful and smart and an independent woman. I get the sense that the author tries to make Daiyu a strong woman who thinks for herself, and I am all for that, but the execution is poor. Perhaps she is just too perfect. Neither Jason nor Daiyu have any flaws, and because of that, they are not relatable. The relationship between Jason and Daiyu feels forced and the dialogue between them did not click for me. The side characters are quirky and interesting, but also lack depth.

I will go off on a limb and say that this book promotes the use of destructive force in the name of achieving an ideal. It is about a group of outcasts who are disengaged in society, who believes that the only way to achieve their vision is to inflict a single destructive attack on society. This is a terrifying way to view the world. I believe that change has to happen, that climate change and poverty needs to be addressed, but I believe that this has to happen in small steps, that there must be strength in numbers, that infrastructure needs to be built, not destroyed. For this reason, I will not recommend this book to anyone.

The bottom line:

Although Want strives towards great ideals, it falls short of its potential because of poor research and uninspired characters. Moreover, this book promotes the idea of invoking destruction in the name of change.

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Are there any books that disappointed you? Have you read Want? Please feel free to share your opinions about this book, even if they are different from mine.

Review: Legend by Marie Lu

9275658Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Length: 305 pages

To paraphrase the back cover:

Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. The two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

I want to preface my review by saying that Legend has a lot of good reviews, and Marie Lu has many fans. A lot of people love this book, just not me.

I enjoyed the setting in this book. We can tell that the author put a lot of thought into creating the world. We get a sense of the social echelons (the elites vs the slums), the educational system, the politics, and the technology. We find out about the war and how it affects the country. We are left to wonder how the world came to be the dystopian society that it is (perhaps global warming?) and that is fine.

The characters are all right. June is intelligent and beautiful. Day is intelligent and beautiful. They both have tragedy in their lives. Nothing wrong with having characters who are similar to each other (in real life, we are more attracted to people who are similar to us, so this is realistic). But somehow I find the characters hard to relate to, and their relationship forced. Do lead characters have to beautiful/handsome and smart and talented and perfect in every way? I am a fan of the average-looking character who is unique in their own way. Because by definition, most people are average-looking.

The story is good. There are enough twists and turns, and it keeps you guessing. Loose ends are tied up, with enough questions left unanswered for you to anticipate the next story.

The writing is okay. This might be a highly personal preference. We all have styles of writing that we prefer, and others that we do not. I am not blown away by the writing in this book.

Bottom line:

Legend is all right. The story is good, the world building is great, the writing is okay, the characters are all right. I think it’s average and I couldn’t get into it. That being said, a lot of people really love the Legend series. If you love young adult dystopian novels, I don’t discourage you from reading it.

two-and-a-half-stars

Have you read Legend? What do you think? (I welcome all opinions. Even more interesting if you disagree with me.)