A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

araftwI am not the biggest fan of magical realism. I just don’t like wandering through hundreds of pages, completely confused. Now, don’t get me wrong, A Room Away from the Wolves is confusing. But, somehow, Nova Ren Suma makes it work.

Suma’s newest, released just two days ago, follows Sabina “Bina” as she ventures into New York City after being thrown out of the house by her mother. She winds up at Catherine House, a refuge for young women, home to strange residents and even stranger rules.

As Bina navigates through the novel, there is a sense of wrongness, as if she and the reader are missing something critical. But, even upon finishing the book, I still didn’t quite understand what I was missing. I didn’t even know what questions to ask in order to find out. Although this quality can be frustrating in some novels, it only gives A Room Away from the Wolves a more ethereal atmosphere.

“I’d never met a better liar, or a girl I admired more.”

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Vicious by V. E. Schwab

v.jpgAs soon as I saw Vicious, I knew I had to have it. See, I’ve reviewed books for eight years. But, never have I reviewed a book that started with V. It was the one of two letters (the other being J) missing from my review archive. For months, I had been trying to fill that tiny, infuriating gap, and in a second I had a solution.

I like V. E. Schwab. She consistently turns out fun, reliably predictable fantasy novels easy to read in one sitting, like This Savage SongVicious was no different.

Vicious alternates between two timelines: The first is the story of two college roommates working on their thesis projects. The second is told ten years later, one roommate in prison plotting his former friend’s death, the other roommate traveling throughout the country, doing what he thinks is good. The tension between the pair is electric as the story leads up to the question on the lips of everyone in the story: what really happened that night everything went wrong?

“The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper.

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Swing Time by Zadie Smith

st“Please,” my roommate begged as we packed our bags, “take it. I can’t even look at it. I want to love it. But I just- ugh!” She threw her hands up and collapsed onto her bed.

The “it” she was referring to is Swing Time by Zadie Smith. We were packing our carry on bags and she was desperately trying to make the 50 pound limit by  giving me books she had read (or in this case, attempted to read). I took the book, partly because I had heard that Zadie Smith was an incredible author, and partly because I had nothing to read on the immenent thirteen hour flight.

For the first half of the flight, I thought my roommate was right. Zadie Smith is an extremely talented writer. Every sentence, deliberately constructed, presents interesting ideas in beautiful ways. But every sentence. It was exhausting. Even selecting quotes for this review was difficult. So many amazing sentences! How could I chose?

“Sometimes I wonder if people don’t want freedom as much as they want meaning.”

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Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

losMy least favorite part of Lady Midnight, the first novel in Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices trilogy, was how little the faerie world that was mentioned was explored. Luckily, that world was the center of Lord of Shadows, the second novel in the trilogy.

In Lord of Shadows, readers are immersed in the politics of the Faerie courts and the Clave, the Shadowhunter government. With murderous necromancy cult created by warlock Malcolm Fade in Lady Midnight fresh in the minds of Shadowhunters, a new bill  has been proposed that would create a warlock registry, camps for werewolves, and limited access to blood for vampires. If this imaginary bigotry seems like a familiar if not a little heavy handed metaphor, well, that seems to be the point.

With this bill in mind, the Blackthorn family, along with Emma Carstairs and Christina Rosales, race around the world(s), from London, the faerie courts, Idris, and beyond. Much more political than its predecessor, Lord of Shadows draws readers into worlds new and old.

“There is truth in stories…There is truth in one of your paintings, boy or in a sunset or a couplet from Homer. Fiction is truth, even if it is not a fact.”

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

ewThroughout the world, there are whispers of doors inexplicably changing- doors becoming portals to different places on Earth. This is the premise of Mohsin Hamid’s newest novel, Exit West, a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

“Everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.”

These doors provide an escape opportunity for young couple Saeed and Nadia, who live in an unnamed city on the brink of war. For the first half of the novel, the couple fiercely tries to adapt to a rapidly changing city-turned-battleground. Eventually however, fate becomes unavoidable. The pair leave their home for a door that leads to a refugee camp in Mykonos. From there, the couple travels all around the world- from London to the Bay Area and beyond.

Michiko Kakutani, former New York Times chief book critic, described Hamid’s prose as “crystalline” and I could not agree more. Hamid’s sentences are long and winding- they feel like a fluid train of thought more than a concrete description. Every sentence has many facets- I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with as many commas) This only entrenches the feel of magical realism into the novel.

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

craThe first time I felt rich I was ten and I had just won $70 at the Del Mar Horse Races. I pocketed the cash proudly and my family and I drove directly to the bookstore, where I bought seven paperbacks, each $9.99. The rush I felt when I held that stack of books, books I bought with my money, was exhilarating.

This made picking up Kwan’s debut seem like a natural occurance. I thought I knew all about American rich- time to move onto Asian rich.

Although Crazy Rich Asians appears to be a novel about clueless Rachel Chu traveling to meet her boyfriend Nick Young’s mysterious family, Crazy Rich Asians is really a novel about dynasties. Nick’s family embodies the idea that it’s lonely at the top. The only people they let into their circle are people who have the right parents, go to the right preschools, study in the right bible groups, attend the right boarding schools, and contribute the right charities. Rachel has done none of these things. But, she loves Nick. Nick loves her. It comes down to this: what is more valuable, family or love?

Crazy Rich Asians opens at a posh hotel in London. When Nick’s family is refused service by a racist hotel clerk, his family buys the hotel. This sentiment- that money is everything and everything is accomplished through money- that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

yjyYoung Jane Young has an incredible cover. A woman is an electric pink silhouette behind the word “JANE” in neon yellow. Surrounding her is a sea of navy blue bodies. With a cover as striking this, it was impossible for me not to pick up Gabrielle Zevin’s ninth novel. Especially after a glowing review from an employee at my favorite independent bookstore, The Golden Notebook, I decided to buy it.

The novel is split into five parts, each narrated by a different character. Within the parts, there are two major stories, one of an intern’s affair with her charismatic congressman boss, and one of a wedding planner and her daughter. The stories are supposed to seem unrelated, I think, but it is easy enough to connect the dots between the two once you start read. Eventually, as predicted, the stories intersect and everything is dramatically revealed when an impulsive, irreversible decision is made.

Of course, the plot is not what makes Young Jane Young great. We’ve all heard the story of a young woman sleeping with her employer and know what happens when all is revealed. Relentless, life-altering slut shaming is not new- in fiction or in reality. But, that’s not the point of Young Jane Young.

“They didn’t put a scarlet letter on her chest, but they didn’t need to. That’s what the Internet is for.”

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Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

lady midnght.jpgI was hesitant to pick up the first installment in Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series. But, the 670 page paperback seemed only too good to bring on my thirteen hour flight to Chile, where I am studying abroad for the summer. Despite my doubts, Lady Midnight, the 13th novel to take place in Clare’s Shadowhunter Universe, did not disappoint.

Lady Midnight was not beautifully written, but the plot never dragged on, which is quite a feat for a novel nearly 700 pages long. In my mind, this constitutes the perfect airplane read. Not life-changing, but extremely entertaining.

Clare’s ability to masterfully weave a story, giving the reader just enough information to understand what’s going on, but never enough to guess what will happen next, shined in Lady Midnight. The novel brings the Blackthorn family, who made small cameos in the Mortal Instruments series, center stage.

“Everyone is more than one thing…We are more than single actions we undertake, whether they be good or evil.”

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Recently, I attended an author event where the author (I’m pretty sure it was Victoria Schwab, but don’t quote me), described that the part of a novel that mattered most was not the first line, or the first chapter, but the very end. She used the analogy of a dinner. If you have an amazing meal, but a lackluster final course, you won’t remember the dinner as amazing. You’ll remember that so-so final taste in your mouth. Her sentiment articulates how I feel about Sandhya Menon’s debut, When Dimple Met Rishi.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIn my July Wrap Up, I described When Dimple Met Rishi as the perfect summer read, and, for the most part, it is. At least until the last twenty pages.  Suddenly, the novel changes from a funny account of an arranged marriage, into a story idealized to the point of disbelief. Parents are suddenly accepting, characters realize their mistakes, colleges mysteriously loosen their admission requirements, and all is well in the world. Especially after what had been such a lovely debut, I was disappointed.

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