Book Review: Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Sutanto

I’ve come to the realization that I like books that make me laugh more than I do those that make me cry. It’s very close though. I mean, sure, raising global water levels with all those tears is nice but snorting out so loud while reading that people begin giving you weird looks? Now that’s fun.

Title: Dial A For Aunties
Author: Jesse Sutanto
Age Group/Genre: Adult Contemporary
Add to Goodreads!

Synopsis: When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is inadvertently shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for the family wedding business—”Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!“—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream flowers.
But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?

Hot off the press- Rachel read this entire book in a single day! I haven’t read a full-length novel in one sitting since what, years now? That speaks volumes about how quick paced and addictive Dial A For Aunties was. (and also about how I really need to learn my priorities but shh)

I still can’t get over how fun the story was! Part rom-com, part murder mystery and wholly ridiculous, it had no business being so hilariously awesome. It follows Meddelin Chan, her mother and three aunties and their antics as they try to cover up an accidental murder and hide the body at a billionaire wedding they are working at. Top off this brilliant concept with witty writing and quirky characters, and *tada* we have a new favourite.

“Yes, you right, more respectful”. She pats me on the cheek. “I raise you so well.”
Hysteria rises from deep in my stomach and I have to swallow it. Trust Ma to take pride in my etiquette when I’ve just shown her my date, whom I’ve killed, in the trunk of my car.

Speaking of characters. Being an Asian myself, I’ve had my fair share of fussy aunties but this?? The aunties in the story were something else entirely. Actually, ALL the women in the story were phenomenal but the aunties were straight up ICONS. Nothing, not even a dead body could faze them, and there was a point where they were all actually sipping tea in the casual asian fashion with their kidnapper. I aspire to be like these ladies, thank you very much.

The romance was definitely a little behind the scenes, but honestly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Plus, juggling wedding management (with a shitty groom and an ongoing theft) with a dead body by your side doesn’t exactly leave much time for romancing does it?

“I told you to buy Glad brand. Haven’t you seen their ads? Glad bags will hold his cut-up body just fine, no leaks!”

…Pretty sure that when Glad was planning their marketing campaign, they didn’t think their target market would be a bunch of middle-aged Chinese women arguing about how to best dispose of a body.

This book was basically one absurd thing after the other, and I loved EVERY moment (yeeah I probably need help)

★★★★½ stars (rounded up to 5) to this weird-in-the-best-way rom-com! If this wasn’t clear from the review, I’d quite appreciate if you could drop whatever you’re doing right now and start devouring this book.

Whoever said “It’s as hard as herding cats” has obviously never tried to herd a group of Asian aunties.

Have you read Dial A For Aunties?? Thoughts?? Any books you’ve read recently that made you laugh out loud? Chat with me in the comments!

~ Rachel

Jade City vs the Hype-o-meter // Review

It seems befitting that I’m dipping my toes into the metaphorical ocean of adult fantasy just after turning 15.

And pray, what better way to start off my exploration of the genre than to read one of the most* hyped adult fantasy ever?

Everyone cheer for our next, and final hypeometer pick – Jade City! Will it emerge victorious or will it be crushed by the mighty hype-o-meter? *tension tension tension*

*this is by no means statistical, i have a tendency to exaggerate. just a tiny bit

Title: Jade City
Author: Fonda Lee
Age Rating: Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Publishing Date: 26th June 2018
Add to Goodreads!

Synopsis:

The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.
The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.
When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

I feel legally obliged to mention first the one thing i was screaming through the entirety of the book (and April can testify this since i bugged her so much, sorry not sorry) and that was WHERE IS THE PLOT?? Yeah seriously, no plot. Nada. Zilch. We do have lots of characters though, of all ages and genders, and we follow them living their lives. And then dying. If you find teeny tiny plot hidden somewhere, do let me know.

The only thing worse than having a non-existent (we are not sure whether it’s missing or dead yet, investigation ongoing) plotline is a slow pace to go along with it. Like. Really slow. To get the feel of it you could call it, as April and I mutually decided, dragging-an-abnormally-large-elephant-while-wading-through-molasses slow. A real transcript of our conversation:

Ok so I realize there might be some of you who have no clue at all what the book is about (and trust me i know that synopsis is very confusing) so let me try to break it down for you a little. So there is island called Kekon, which is basically a mining site for jade. Now jade, as you might guess from the title, is VERY important. Like illegitimate-daughter-of-the-Crown-Prince-of-Japan important.*

Now if you have been paying attention (i hope you have, for your sake *knife emojis*), you might ask, But why is jade so significant? Should I not have thrown away that old bracelet with a little green stone?? Oh no I regret to inform you that you have not lost much by throwing away the bracelet. *visible disappointment* In this fictional world, jade grants those who wear it certain special physical and mental abilities like enhancing their speed, strength and sensory feelings. The book is centered around the Kaul family, who are extremely powerful Green Bones – the name given to those who wear and wield jade. There is another powerful Green Bone family, the Ayts, and inevitably the two rival clans go to war. And then there are other things put into mix— foreigners developing this chemical formula which can act as sort of a substitute for jade for non Green Bones, specific Green Bone rituals like a victor making the jade of his fallen opponent in battle his own, a madness called the Itches which is like a wild, uncontrollable urge for jade and what not. (hey I never said the story was basic ok? it just lacks a proper conflict is all)

*Tokyo Ever After reference at your service

In short, the story was, for lack of a better word, boring. Not even the huge (nearly as big as our elephant friend back there) cast of characters could make me take interest. Reading this felt like a chore and I was exhausted to the bone when I even thought of picking it up to read again. But if you like extraordinarily slow stories with multiple POVs and a little bit of inheritance family drama, sure, go ahead.

With that, let’s see how Jade City fared against the hype-o-meter!

There. A humiliating loss for such a popular book for sure. (i feel almost sorry. and then i remember those torturous days of reading this. then i don’t.) On the other hand, our hype-y boy is enjoying all the attention.

Speaking of which! With this comes an end of the collaborative hype-o-meter series by April and myself and gosh was it tons of fun. Our self-invented beloved hype-o-meter certainly had a glorious run, and is now all ready to say goodbye!

Linked below are all the 10 posts (5 each for both of us) which were part of this series- for nostalgic purposes! Oh and so that you can check them out in case you missed any epic showdowns!!

The Young Elites vs the hype-o-meter: Rachel’s review // April’s review
We Hunt The Flame vs the hype-o-meter: Rachel’s review // April’s review
The Inheritance Games vs the hype-o-meter: Rachel’s review // April’s review
These Violent Delights vs the hype-o-meter: Rachel’s review // April’s review
Jade City vs the hype-o-meter: Rachel’s review // April’s review

Have you read Jade City?? Did you have as much fun with the hype-o-meter series as we did?? Let’s chat in the comments!

~ Rachel

March Madness: Battle 4 & 5 // welcome to the finale

Hey long time no see! I have found out firsthand how stressful going to regular in-person school after 2 whole years of online classes is. But atleast with this post, I am popping my head up into the blogosphere once more though I can’t promise it won’t go back to languishing in the depths of the underworld once again.

Anyway! Exciting stuff today! March Madness But In Books is back for one last time – with the two final rounds you’ve all been waiting to see the results of. That’s right, the final winner shall be declared in this very post!

No idea what I’m talking about? Check out the post where we introduce this series here. Yes idea what I’m talking about? Well then what are you waiting for? Scroll away!!

— Geekerella by Ashley Poston —

Synopsis

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.
Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. 

Mini Review

SO. MANY. FEELINGS. But mushy probably makes up a major part of those feelings.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never read any Cinderella retelling before and now I’m experiencing major fomo because WHO KNEW THEY COULD BE SO MUCH FUN? We had all those significant details from the original Cinderella – Magic Pumpkin? Check. Leaving behind a glass slipper? Check. Evil stepmom and stepsisters? Check. An adorable prince? Also check. PLUS these characters actually had some depth unlike the superficial Cinderella characters (there i said it, don’t hate me). So basically, if you were a fan of Cinderella, this book is for you. If you were not a fan of Cinderella, this book is totally for you.

Elle’s character was very practical and realistic and she didn’t run around making stupid decisions (looking at YOU, typical ya heroines) and she actually lived for months without murdering her horrible stepmother and stepsisters (with the non-existent level of tolerance I have, they wouldn’t have lasted for more than a day and i would have gone to jail) so naturally she has my highest form of respect. Also, her coworker slash bestie Sage? She’s the cool kid everyone (read: i) aspires to become and I LOVE her for being there for Elle. Our prince Darien was well written too, though the side characters on his part (like his bodyguard, his dad etc) seemed a little 2-dimensional but that could just be me. Overall it was cute and funky (but also tense and nail-biting-y but we do not talk about that) and a must read for anyone looking for nerdy adorableness.

— Fable by Adrienne Young —

Already reviewed for the previous round, see it right here!

It was an extremely close battle, but Fable finally emerged as the winner and will be moving on to the final round to compete with the winner from Maddie’s lot!

— Hani & Ishu’s Guide To Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar—

Synopsis

Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.
Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.

Mini Review

I’ve heard so many glowing praises for this one, I have no idea why I didn’t read it until it became the victor from Maddie’s side and entered the March Madness finale. Anyway. I’ll console myself by saying better late than never.

The best part about the story were by far the relationships – and not only the romantic ones at that. Hani and Ishu (Hishu? Ishani?) seemed quite natural of course—and oh my gosh they were adorable together— but familial relationships shone most brightly for me. Ishu and her sister Nik going from competitive to being supportive and just present in that sisterly way, Hani and her mother’s mutual understanding and quiet love, both Hani and Ishu wanting to be the best for their parents because they’d worked so hard to get all the way to Ireland– all these really tugged at all my heartstrings. (i’d like to mention how i didn’t mention Hani’s toxic, biphobic friends because you can stay away from my darlings forever, please and thank you)

However this book got stuck at the eternal YA contemporary conundrum- it was too predictable, and the characters fit typical personality cutouts too perfectly. Ishu was the pressured loner overachiever, Hani the easy, outgoing popular girl. I had the entire story plotted out in my mind right from the first page and that’s never good, is it? Though it does have its flaws, the good far outweighs the bad, and overall it was a quick read with lots of learning and great representation.

It is time to crown Fable the ultimate book champion!! A title well deserved certainly.

But wait! Does Maddie think the same thing? Check out who won the final round on her side of the court here!

And with that, my friends, we are at a formal conclusion of March Madness. We both had a blast and hope you did too!!

Have you read any of these books? Which one was the best in your opinion? Any more pirate-y recs for me? Let’s chat in the comments!

~ Rachel

March Madness: Battle #2 & #3 + Week 4 Pick// ft. mini reviews and competition galore

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another March Madness But In Books post, where we pit two books against each other every week! Today’s a little bit special, because we bring you not 1, but 2 book battles! Grab a drink and settle back in your seat because the games are about to begin!! (okayy so maybe too many exclamation marks but i’m actively working on my commentary skills ok?)

— Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz—

Synopsis

Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.


Mini Review

You know those books which have this totally BREATHTAKING cover and the story inside is just as beautiful? Yeah, blazewrath games was definitely not one of them. What got me interested was 1) the cover 2) DRAGONS and 3) the whole competition aspect, but sadly all my expectations were dragged down to the earth from their place high up in the clouds and pitifully crushed in a dragon stampede. Which is to say, I did not enjoy this book.

I think one of my biggest issues was how middle grade-ish the entire storyline and the characters were? Like I’m not saying middle grade books are bad but this one’s clearly categorized as young adult so a person goes into the book expecting that age range right? All the characters, who were actually aged between 16-19 years, behaved and spoke like 11 year olds, and immature ones at that. The adults hardly had any role to play other than a tearful reunion at the end. There was no romance, just a bit of blushing and long looks and “feeling weird”, which you know, once again feels like they’re all awkward tweens instead of almost adults. The writing was off, there was a failed attempt at creating an happily ever after at the end, the redemption arc was predictable, there was too much drama at unnecessary plot points and too little during others and I simply could not bring myself to care about the characters or the stakes.

— When You Get The Chance by Emma Lord—

The winner of the first round and a new favourite contemporary, When You Get The Chance was a gem of a book. Find it’s mini review from the first March Madness post here!

If it wasn’t already obvious, When You Get The Chance has yet again emerged victorious in this almost one-sided game! It is, quite frankly, UNBEATABLE!!

___________

— Fable by Adrienne Young—

Synopsis

For seventeen-year-old Fable, the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home she has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one, and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father, and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.
But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him, and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive

Mini Review

This the book that turned me into a reading machine.
I don’t think I’ve ever gobbled up an entire duology as fast as I did with this one. There was something about this book, which I can’t exactly put my finger on, that had me hooked. Nevertheless, since I can’t very well write a review that just says “There’s something about Fable I loved, so go read it”, I will proceed to list the things I liked which may have contributed to me becoming obsessed with it. Number one, the worldbuilding was super basic and easy to understand, so there’s no chance of that confusion that usually comes in a package with fantasy books. I liked Fable (the main character) in the kind of way you like an adversary who you know is better then you. Respect coupled with grudging admiration, sort of? Her father, Saint was an extremely well developed character, and might have been my favourite in the duology. (are you really a reader if your favourite character is the main character?)

Apart from all that, the best thing about this book was this aura of mystery that surrounded it. There were enough questions to be answered to keep the reader intrigued, and at the same time there were also sufficient reveals to keep the reader from tearing their hair out in frustration. A delicate balance, that. With every scene there was a new twist and I felt like I was holding my breath through the entirety of the novel.

Um. What I said about When You Get The Chance being unbeatable? I take it back. It was a GLORIOUS competition though, and I had an extremely hard time choosing between them. For the record, both are new favourites and absolute winners in their own way, SO GO GIVE THEM A READ!

— Week 4 Pick—

GEEKERELLA

With that, my friends, we have reached the end of two exciting book battles! Did the result turn out to be as you predicted? Have you read any of these? Which book do you think will win next – Geekerella or Fable? Let me know in the comments!!

~ Rachel

March Madness: Battle #1 + Week 2 Pick // ft. mini reviews and an exciting first game

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to the very first round of March Madness – The Bookish Version! Today we have two equally worthy competitors – Team Down Comes The Night and Team When You Get The Chance and my qualified self will be judging them both and declaring a winner! Grab some popcorn and hold on to your seats AND LET THE GAME BEGIN!

— Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft —

Synopsis

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.
The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.
With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

Mini Review

If I had to describe Down Comes The Night in one word, it would be atmospheric. With most of the story taking place in a crumbling, isolated mansion in a icy kingdom during winter, it gives all the wintry feels that the cover promises (i was almost shivering while reading this. and it was a hot afternoon). The writing is extremely immersive, and the romance was enemies to lovers coupled with slow burn, which might just be my favourite combination. I couldn’t relate a lot to Wren since i’m myself quite the opposite—more practical than emotional—yet I appreciated her personality all the same. However, Hal’s character definitely could have been explored more, he felt more like a blurry outline than an actual person to me. And there were a couple of plot points that felt a tad too convenient (like Wren having the return address after the entire letter was burnt etc). Overall though, it was a solid fantasy worth a read for the brilliant writing. (some authors do know how to make me jealous)

— When You Get The Chance by Emma Lord —

Synopsis

Nothing will get in the way of Millie Price’s dream to become a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super-introverted dad, who after raising Millie alone, doesn’t want to watch her leave home to pursue her dream. Not her pesky and ongoing drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not the “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm, always at maddeningly inconvenient times. Millie needs an ally. And when a left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do. She’s going to find her mom.
There’s Steph, a still-aspiring stage actress and receptionist at a talent agency. There’s Farrah, ethereal dance teacher who clearly doesn’t have the two left feet Millie has. And Beth, the chipper and sweet stage enthusiast with an equally exuberant fifteen-year-old daughter (A possible sister?! This is getting out of hand). But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one, without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along?

Mini Review

When You Get The Chance was my first book by Emma Lord (the hype is intimidating indeed), and it definitely did not disappoint. Millie was like a living breathing person to me and I felt like i’d known her my entire life (and hers too since we’re only a couple years apart? but you get the point). The same goes for Oliver, Teddy, Chloe and literally every other character in the story. THAT is the extent of Lord’s talent. It would be the understatement of the century to say that I fell in love with Millie’s personality (if i knew her in real life, i would have made her my bff and never let go) and this might just have been the BEST first person POV I’ve ever read. With the hilarious narration in the beginning and the entire “finding my true self” towards the end, this book has a wide range of moods and tones, but i’d call it cheerful for the most part. The happily ever after was the happiest in the history of happily ever afters – call it predictable, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And gosh was the story overall addictive.

Aand would you look at that, WHEN YOU GET THE CHANCE HAS DEFIED ALL ODDS AND HAS EMERGED VICTORIOUS! An unexpected result, since most of you had placed your bets on Down Comes The Night in the previous post. Better luck next time fellas, but don’t forget to cheer for our winner! (the best way to cheer is to go read this masterpiece. obviously.)

— Week 2 Pick —

Our next competitor is Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz, which will be competing with When You Get The Chance next week!

BLAZEWRATH GAMES

What did you think of the result? Would you have chosen differently? Which book do you think will win the next round?? Let me know in the comments!

~ Rachel

Mini Reviews: Perfect On Paper, Only Mostly Devastated and If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales

As much as I’d like to admit otherwise, I’m a mere fledgling in the world of YA contemporaries. Before November 2021, I could not imagine being more interested in high school drama over magical kingdoms and secret societies. But lo and behold, I finally pick up Perfect On Paper by the queen of contemporary romance (I said so, argue with the wall) herself on a whim, and suddenly I’m obsessed with contemporaries, and 3 out of the 4 i’ve read so far have been by Gonzales. Coincidence? I think not. I’m officially in love with everything she writes.

Today I bring you tiny reviews of the Sophie Gonzales trifecta!

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.
However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.
Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.
Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong? 

Review

My introduction to the contemporary romance genre, Perfect On Paper was a memorable first. I absolutely loved the first person narration (which, as I later came to know, is apparently a Gonzales trademark) and Darcy was snarky and sarcastic and upbeat (while also slightly insecure in her relationships) and she made the perfect main character. And might I mention that the romance was *chef’s kiss* because obviously it’s BROUGHAM (did you think I was actually gonna offer an explanation?). Among other things (it’s important to add this because there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to list all the wonderful things about this book), I absolutely loved Libby’s relationship with Darcy because I’ve come across SO few non-toxic sister duos in YA. There are heavier themes as well like Darcy being confused about her identity as bi. Despite this, the story had this overall distinctly cheerful vibe, especially compared to the other two books. So if you’re looking for a quirky narrative to cheer you up when you’re feeling dull, Perfect On Paper is here to save the day.

Only Mostly Devastated

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Will Tavares is the dream summer fling ― he’s fun, affectionate, kind ― but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairy tale ending, and to complicate the fairy tale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to… except Ollie finds that the sweet, comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted ― and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.
Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.
The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.
Right? Right.

Review

Leave it to Gonzales to make a contemporary unexpected. Like, don’t 99% ya contemporaries have an happily ever after guaranteed right at the beginning? (pfft don’t give me the look. so what if i haven’t read a lot of contemporary romances? i’ve read a lot of their synopses okay?) This one most certainly didn’t. I was in full edge-of-seat nail-biting avatar (which is normally reserved for thrillers) with one and only one question in my mind – will they or won’t they? I can’t obviously tell you the answer because i want you to go through the same apprehension MWAHAHA spoiler.

Ollie was one of those characters I’d give my chocolate chip cookie (that’s obviously more superior than my life) to protect. I smiled when he laughed and burst into tears when he cried and his life became my life for the timespan in which i read this book. Will, though, I did have mixed feelings about him (and somehow I feel Gonzales had intended exactly that) but if he keeps my boy Ollie happy so be it (ok I sound like a parent now). All this said, Only Mostly Devastated was definitely more towards the emotional side of things, so I’d recommend sitting with a few tissues.

If This Gets Out

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage. But privately, cracks are starting to form: their once-easy rapport is straining under the pressures of fame, and Ruben confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by management’s pressure to stay in the closet.
On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, Zach and Ruben start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?

Review

Wow. I didn’t know dual pov romance was a thing I NEEDED until this book. The mutual yearning was everything, and I know it’s cheesy but Zach and Ruben actually completed each other. Zach is another one of those characters I’d protect with my chocolate-chip cookie. While I’m fiercely protective of all the four members of Saturday (nobody dare to touch them, i’d go to lengths to defend my boys *adds knife emoji for emphasis*), Zach is a little bit special.

One thing about this story was that it was all vibes, and I’m always ready for some ~feels~. But to be honest, the whole plot wasn’t anything out-of-the-box. Plot-wise, I’d say Perfect on Paper was better written. But hey, the lack of a concrete plot didn’t stop me from getting attached (to an unhealthy extent) to all the characters. Each member of Saturday had a brilliant character arc, and I may sound like a fantasy reader now (which I actually am, but eh) parents actually existed in the story (Mom Squad forever!!). Also I’m filled with righteous rage for Chorus (they had no damn right) so if anyone happens to know where to find them, let me know. I just want to talk (*secretly pulls out dagger*). Anyway, the point being, there’s so much to read this book for.

So this felt less like a review post than a Sophie Gonzales appreciation post (that woman definitely deserves one) but instead of paying attention to that, we are going to GO READ ALL THESE BOOKS IMMEDIATELY BECAUSE RACHEL SAID SO.

Have you read any of these? Which are your favourite YA contemporary novels? Lemme know in the comments!!

~ Rachel

These Violent Delights vs the Hype-o-meter // Review

If you’ve never heard the name “These Violent Delights”, it is very likely you’ve been living under a rock all this while.(if that’s the case, welcome back! hope you’re enjoying our bright sunny world) Such is the extent to which this book has been hyped. And where there is hype, there is the hype-o-meter! (okay that sounded better in my head)

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights, #1)

Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Chloe Gong
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Retellings
Publishing Date: 7th November 2020
Add to Goodreads!

Synopsis:
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

I must admit I’m uncharacteristically late to the hype-train with this one. But. What a delightful journey it was. Chloe Gong really did pull all the stops (stops. like train stations. get it??). I’m usually not one for spoiling the suspense and taking away the thunder of our cute little hype-o-meter graphic at the end, but boy, believe me when I say this story was worth every inch of the hype. 

Okay. So what all did I love about this book? Number 1. Gong created such an amazing story and she did it from the real world, a real Shanghai in the early 20th century  – and if that does not scream TALENT I don’t know what does. Speaking of real, the political intrigue in the book was so good? I loved how all the political aspects of westernisation and communism and other brewing tensions were happening in parallel to our story in a way that seemed significant yet did not overshadow the main plot. 

Romajuliette romajuliette romajul– I don’t think there have been better fictional soulmates like ever (take that Shakespeare). I mean, what was there about them not to love?? They actually completed each other. (cheesy, i know) Juliette was everything Roma was not – tough and sharp and badass, like the sharpened edge of a sword. Whereas Roma was… Roma. Sweet and kind and soft, a butterknife to Juliette’s glinting sword. (enough with the knife metaphors already). The childhood best friends to lovers to enemies to lovers to enemies was PERFECTION. The angst!! The yearning!! The secrets!!It was everything. I have never found anything else more frustrating and endearing all at once. Roma and Juliette are my one and only (okay maybe not only but you get the point) OTP from here on. 

Speaking of which. Ben and Marshall. Yet another pair of marshmallows who were meant for each other (how do you do it miss Gong? Spill your secrets). 

What was especially unique about this book is how Gong (can you tell I’m an awe of this woman?) made me feel for every single character. Like, I hated Tyler and Paul with the same passion with which I loved Roma and Juliette and Ben and Marshall. There was no “you know what? I don’t care what happens to this character”, because I did care. I wanted to see the ones I liked live happily ever after, and the ones I hated should die slow and torturous deaths. (moral of the story – never get on my bad side)

click to view spoiler i disliked Paul Dexter from the beginning. It seems fitting that he’d be the villain and all, but really, I’d rather that miserable weasel had no major role in the story at all

THAT END?! What– how– when– why? (yes I seem to have become incapable of forming full sentences at the moment) It had me S H O O K. Which is why I need the sequel right now even though I don’t think I can take the pain anymore (are you listening, Universe? How about you drop a nice shiny copy of OVE in my open hands now?) 

click to view spoiler normally I am not a fan of the resurrection trope – something about bringing supposedly dead people back to life creeps me out –  but gosh I’ve never been happier in my life than when I found out Marshall was not dead (though the synopsis of OVE explicitly states otherwise and I accidentally spoiled myself by reading the synopsis when I was halfway through tvd)

Not surprisingly, These Violent Delights emerges a clear victor in the battle with the hype-o-meter (tough luck hype-y boy, maybe another day) which means that it was worth the hype through and through! 

That’s not all – click here to read April’s review of These Violent Delights!

Earlier posts featuring the hype-o-meter:
The Young Elites vs The Hype-o-Meter!
We Hunt The Flame vs the Hype-o-meter // Review
The Inheritance Games vs the Hype-o-meter // Review

Have you read These Violent Delights? (I’m sure you have, remember what I said about the rock?) Would you agree with my hype-o-meter rating? Did you also have a chance to also read Our Violent Ends? (If yes, I am extremely jealous) Let me know in the comments!!

~ Rachel

Book Review: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee || an impactful historical fiction revolving around discrimination, friendships and loss during WWII

News of the day (week? month?) – I’ve found a new book to obsess over.

This review was supposed to be written the way all my other reviews are written – a day or two after I finish the book. This time, it’s been around two weeks since I finished reading, but I kept putting off writing this review, probably because I needed time to recover, to mend from the emotional wreck this beautifully written novel made of me. The healing is still in process, but I can’t let that stop me from screaming about this amazing read to you guys! (it’s less of a review and more of a call-out: come suffer with me)

Title: We Are Not Free
Author: Traci Chee
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Synopsis:
“All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us.
We are not free.
But we are not alone.”
 
We Are Not Free, is the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.
Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.
Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.
Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.
In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart. 

We Are Not Free is a historical fiction set during World War II in America. The story begins just after the bombing of the Pearl Harbour by the Japanese airforce, following which there is hatred and racism against the people of Japanese ancestry living in America. Anti-Japanese sentiments are at an all time high, and this leads to the creation of the policy that people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, would be incarcerated in isolated camps, for no fault of theirs except for looking the way they do.

The most, though not the only, exceptional thing about this story was the execution. Sure, a lot of us know the history, some more than others. But it takes amazing masterful ability to weave history, to narrate it, without subtracting the brutalities and complexities, in a way that has a lasting impact on the reader, and Chee did just that.

“Is this what life is like? People coming together and drifting apart, coming together and drifting apart, over and over until there’s no one left?”

The book is narrated by a group of fourteen young Nisei (second-generation Japanese American citizens) who are among the thousands uprooted from their homes and placed in incarceration camps because of their Japanese ancestry.

When I heard that there were 14 POVs, I was naturally intimidated, but I realize now that needn’t have been. We get one chapter from each character’s point-of-view, some longer than others, but each more heartfelt than the last. All our 14 main characters are Japanese-American youngsters – the youngest being Minnow who is 14 and the eldest being Mas, 22. When I’d just begun reading the book, I was sure I’d have a hard time keeping up with all the povs, but boy was I wrong. 14 POVs made it a whole lot easier to connect with the characters, to see life through their eyes.

Each chapter, each POV was unique in its own way, and this brought out the individuality of each of the characters in a beautiful manner. Every character reacts in his/her own way to this drastic change in their lives – some choosing to be optimists, while others resorting to violence – and this was portrayed beautifully by their respective POVs. Sure, all 14 of them are a tight-knit community (whose friendship is just 🥺), but each has their own aspirations and conflicts. No two chapters were written in the same style, and rightly so, for each had to depict a different personality – and I can only imagine the effort this might have taken the author to accomplish. Traci Chee has my utmost respect.

This was one of those books that progressively get better as they go, with each chapter better than the previous ones (I have a sneaking suspicion Chee was saving the best ones for the end). Speaking of which. Those last few chapters were not written in words, they were emotions – pure, raw emotions scrawled on the pages. If I got teary eyed though the middle of the story, I was full on bawling towards the end.

Such powerful and heavy topics are dealt with in this novel, albeit in a way that doesn’t make them seem out-of-reach or too much to grasp, instead it made all the prejudices, racial discrimination, violence against the Japanese feel real. I as the reader flinched every time one of our characters was a victim to the atrocities, verbal or physical, of narrow minded people — from when Minnow got jumped by a gang of American teens to when a man refused to sell Yuki icecream because she was Japanese, to countless other racist actions that take place throughout the story.

The story’s meaningful and heart-wrenching take on discrimination is something that I am not likely to forget soon, and I’m grateful that books like these exist to give today’s generation a brutal reminder of the mistakes made by humanity in the past, which continue to have consequences in the present.

“We’re standing on a street corner with everything we’ve ever known about to come crashing down around us.
And we’re angry.
And we’re smiling.
And we aren’t broken.”

Overall, We Are Not Free was hopeful, heartbreaking and devastating all at once. I’d highly recommend this to all of you, especially to fans of The Outsiders, The Book Thief and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.

Have you read We Are Not Free? What did you think (aka did it break you?) Which is your favourite war novel? Let me know in the comments!

The Inheritance Games vs the Hype-o-meter // Review

Just yesterday, I came across this new (to me!) thing called a recursive acronym. For those like yesterday-Rachel who have no clue what this official-sounding word means – basically it is an acronym where the first letter is the acronym itself. Ehh sounds over-the-top but the essence is not that complex. For example, GNU is a recursive acronym that stands for GNU’s Not Unix, then we can expand the GNU in the full form again to GNU’s Not Unix, and our new expansion would be GNU’s Not Unix Not Unix and so on till forever. 

Now you must be wondering, “why in the world is Rachel giving us a (barely comprehensible) lesson in literature?? Wasn’t this post supposed to be a review?”. 

Well I do have a reason for talking about all this apart from the fact that it is an interesting concept, and that is – similar ~vibes~. With the book I’m about to review. Traps upon traps, riddles upon riddles – yes, the gist of The Inheritance Games is pretty similar to that of a recursive acronym.

With all that done, let’s get started with today’s showdown, (know more about it this blog series here) which is The Inheritance Games, a book that has recently risen to popularity due to its upcoming sequel, against our hype-o-meter! 

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, #1)

Title: The Inheritance Games
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Genre: Young Adult Mystery, Contemporary
Synopsis:
Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.
Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

If yes is no and once is never, then how much exactly did I enjoy this book? Now that’s a difficult one, because this was one of those books I am extremely conflicted about. If I had to rate it purely on the basis of enjoyment – an easy 4 – 4.5 stars. But as a reviewer I do have to think a tiny bit about other factors too, and in this case, let us just say these factors were not in the book’s favour. Let’s break it down.

“Everything’s a game, Avery Grambs. The only thing we get to decide in this life is if we play to win.”

The narration was first person. Probably no big deal for most of you, but believe me when I say my relationship with first person POV has not exactly been the best and mostly books with such narrations leave me mildly annoyed (pfft who am I kidding? It’s more like throwing-things-and-banging-doors-and-hitting-my-head-against-a-wall-repeatedly level annoyed.) My aggressive behavioural actions aside, The Inheritance Games was a surprise in this aspect – a pleasant one at that. I actually enjoyed Avery’s POV, so conclusion : she must have been a really good character. Yes, that she was.

In the very opening scene we are told how much of a genius Avery is when she aces an impossible physics test and is lowkey accused of cheating by her principal (which. not cool.) and is confident enough to promise the same score in a re-test. And she also beats a homeless man, who is apparently a brilliant chess player, at chess. After a few scenes we see her answer an impossible-sounding riddle asked by a drunk teenager without batting an eyelid (the riddle: ‘If yes is no and once is never, then how many sides does a triangle have?’). Upto this point, cool. 

The story till here is nicely constructed, all the events well thought out – a normal teenager who was living her life with her half-sister or in her car, attending school on a scholarship gets good news in the form of a snobby boy in a suit who informs her that his rich grandfather has left her his entire fortune of billions. Too easy, but I’ll take it. 

Things went downhill from here. I do not know whether I was just in a very critical mood, but it seemed to me that the author had simply lost interest in creating an intriguing mystery, and decided to just let Avery have a fortunate stroke of serendipity. Everything – the clues and riddles were extremely amateur, and anyone with a little common sense could have easily figured them out – let alone our supposedly brilliant protagonist working with four impossibly-smart brothers. 

“He left you the fortune, Avery, and all he left us is you.”

And man, the stakes?? It was established in the beginning that not much could be done to challenge Avery’s inheritance, so what was the point of the whole solving-riddles thing? I went in expecting a thrilling round of who-solves-the-mystery-first-gets-the-money but apparently my expectations were too high.

Yet, I would not say I disliked this book because, honestly, I did not. While the big reveals were okay-ish (for a mystery, the gasp factor was shockingly low.), it was the little moments that got to me. Those moments when we got away from the main plot for a while (like Avery’s initial disbelief of the house having a bowling alley, later the scene when her stylist were working on her with Libby snorting in the corner) made me giggle and were enjoyable, so that’s a plus. 

And then of course there was all the family drama, the sibling rivalry (4x!) and all the fun moments between Avery and each of the brothers so yes, while the book could have been better in a lot of aspects, it was goood. I’m excited for the sequel!

It was a tough fight with the hype-o-meter, but The Inheritance Games emerged as a solid, so there’s that. Not quite worth the hype, but certainly worth a try. Click here to read April’s review!

Have you read The Inheritance Games? What would you give it on the hype-o-meter? Do you have The Hawthorne Legacy on your radar? Let me know in the comments!

We Hunt The Flame vs the Hype-o-meter // Review

Before we go any further, I have some good news – we’ve officially reached 200 followers on A Bookworm’s Paradise! In honour of this, I want to have a Q & A session (in a separate post of course), so please put any questions you may have about me in the comments and I’ll answer them in the coming weeks.

With that out of the way, we are now down to business! This is the second post in a series, in collaboration with the lovely April @Booked Till Midnight, where we review books in a different way because we set them up against our self created hype-o-meter and determine whether or not a popular book is worth the hype! Click here to know all the deets about this series, and here to read the first showdown. Let’s get started!

We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya, #1)

Title: We Hunt The Flame

Author: Hafsah Faizal

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Format: E-book

Synopsis:

People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya–but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds–and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

The first thing you’ll notice about We Hunt The Flame is the brilliant worldbuilding. The author has somehow managed to make the atmosphere so lush, so vivid that it felt as if the atmosphere had come alive. The book is set in a rich, ancient Arabia-inspired world and I could picture it all in my head.(swirling sands here, biting snow and ice there – honestly the perfect setting) (Pro of being a language nerd and reading a book with snippets of a foreign language: I now know about 4 words of the Arabic language *applause please*) (Also I have taken quite a liking to Arabic expressions and curse words so do not be surprised if you see a the occasional rimaal, khara, and laa in my posts)(okay I am gonna stop with the parentheses now)

Next, all the elements of this new fantasy world – Arawiya, are introduced. Somehow, even some of the info dump did not seem like an info dump, in fact I wanted to drink it all in and everything from the history (the Sisters and such) to the five caliphates and their respective ‘curses’ intrigued me. Way to go!!

“We hunt the flame, the light in the darkness, the good this world deserves.”

I couldn’t do justice to this review without mentioning the characters. This book had exceptionally well-crafted characters and I fell in love with every single one of them. Our female protagonist, Zafira was shown initially as a balanced, collected personality, but as the story progresses we slowly unravel her outer layers and see the true, intense emotions and memories inside. The same could go for Nasir, our male protagonist. Everybody, look up, because THIS is how you write a perfect morally grey character. GIVE ME ALL THAT INNER ANGST. Kifah is our badass, no-nonsense exiled princess who also happens to be the one to say the iconic “We hunt the flame dialogue”. And Benyamin, our arrogantly wise safi who… *chokes and bites back a sudden sob* who looks down on all mortals but slowly comes to care about our zumra over time.

And now I would like to formally dedicate an entire paragraph to Altair al-Badawi, a certain conundrums-loving general who stole my heart. He was (literally) the sunshine to Nasir’s grumpiness, and their banter was *chef’s kiss*. Altair reminded me a little bit of Jesper, but then again, he was unlike any other character I’ve ever seen before. I mean, that character development?? I went from wanting to kill Altair myself to smirking at his jokes to praying Nasir wouldn’t kill him to being all NOOOO about him in the end (don’t worry he doesn’t die… its something worse *evil laugh*) Not surprisingly, he goes on my list of favourite characters (wait I have a list? Of course I do. No I don’t. Shut up internal dialogue.) Bottom line – this man was amazing in every way.

“I’ll have to introduce you by saying, ‘He’s not always this grumpy. Then again, he’s one of those people who talks less and murders more’.”

It looks like Faizal collected all of my favourite tropes and other elements and wove them into a story. Found family!!! Enemies to lovers!!! Slow burn!!! Knife-to-throat trope!!! Witty dialogue and banter!!! (in other words – a guide to make Rachel fall in love with a book) You know how I am generally criticizing certain books *cough* the young elites *cough* for their lack of dialogue? And how y’all might have thought such a book doesn’t exist? Make way, because here comes the book with outstanding dialogue, just the way I love!

 

Finally, we come to the plot (I really need to learn how to sequence and prioritize). The story follows our zumra (arabic for a group), a bunch of characters who couldn’t be more different from each other, who set out on a journey through a cursed island to retrieve a book that’s supposed to restore magic to their kingdom. Oh, and one of them is an assassin who’s supposed to kill the rest. Pleasant, right? Yes I thought so. 

What happens when we pit this brilliantly executed story with settings and atmosphere inspired from ancient Arabia with a totally cool cast of characters and just the best tropes against the hype-o-meter? Why, it wins of course.

But what did April think about the whole thing? Did she love the book as much as I did? Click here to find out!

Oh and before you go, could you take out a minute and fill this feedback form for my blog? Please and thank you. Here’s the link – https://forms.gle/CYkBpZXUm4hsuJQm8

Have you read We Hunt The Flame? What would you rate it on the hype-o-meter? Which is your favourite fantasy set in Asia? Let me know in the comments!!

Goodbye, zumra!

~ Rachel