Book Review: If I’m Being Honest

if i'm being honestIf I’m Being Honest
by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Young Adult / Shakespeare Retelling / Romance
359 pages
Published April 2019

So I either forgot or failed to notice that this book was written by the same pair of authors that wrote Always Never Yours, a book revolving around a stage production of Romeo and Juliet with a main character based on Rosaline. I LOVED that book, and I don’t think this one would have languished on my shelves as long as it did if I’d realized the connection! (They have two more books coming out, Time of Our Lives in 2020 and an unnamed book in 2021!) The plots of the books are completely unconnected, but the two main characters in Always Never Yours did make a cameo in the end of If I’m Being Honest!

So. This book! I got STRONG 10 Things I Hate About You vibes off this book, and I loved that movie, so that alone should tell you what I thought of this book! I’m just a sucker for Shakespeare in any form, though. What I like about these authors is they don’t really retell the plays – they take one character out of the play and tell a story about HER. In Always Never Yours, it was Rosaline. In If I’m Being Honest, it’s Katherine/Kate. I’m eager to see who Time of Our Lives will be based on!

heinous bitch
So Cameron, our heroine, is a bitch, but as the reader we see her home life and the things she’s struggling with and WHY she is the way she is, so I was rooting for her the whole way. Her otherwise absentee father pays for an expensive private school, so there’s a lot of student politics and status-waving going on. When Cameron yells at another student at a party, her crush sees and is turned off by it, so Cameron decides that in order to win him back, she needs to make him see that she’s a good person. How to do that? Fix the things she’s broken. She starts with apologies, but has to up her game to actual ACTIONS when the apologies aren’t enough.

Through the course of the book, she finds herself actually making friends with the people she’d wronged, and falling for Brendan, who reminds me strongly of – well:

10things
(oh man, I REALLY need to watch this movie again.)

Oh! And Brendan has Celiac’s Disease, which doesn’t play a big part in the present-day plotline of the book, but is a HUGE part of why he’s an outcast.

I like Cameron and Brendan a lot, and this book was another great read from this pair of authors.

From the cover of If I’m Being Honest:

Cameron Bright is gorgeous, popular, and – according to 99% of Beaumont Prep’s student body – a bitch. That doesn’t bother Cameron, who knows how important it is to be honest. But when her crush, Andrew, sees Cameron’s cruelty up close, it’s a major turn-off, and suddenly Cameron’s consumed with winning him back. So she devises a plan: she’ll “tame” herself like Shakespeare’s illustrious shrew, Katherine, and make amends with everyone she’s wronged. If she can reverse her reputation as a mean girl, Andrew will have to take notice.

Cameron’s apology tour begins with Brendan Rosenfeld, the guy whose social life she single-handedly destroyed in the sixth grade. But earning his forgiveness requires befriending the school’s geeky crowd – which isn’t as easy as it looks. Soon, though, Cameron begins to see that her new friends bring out the best in her, especially Brendan, who views her honesty as an asset. Now Cameron’s left wondering if maybe she doesn’t have to compromise who she is for the kind of love she deserves.

Advertisements

Book Review: Love from A to Z

love from a to zLove from A to Z
by S. K. Ali
Young Adult / Romance
342 pages
Published April 2019

I read S. K. Ali’s first book, Saints and Misfits, and quite enjoyed it, so I knew I’d be picking this one up eventually. I finally did – and this just solidifies S. K. Ali as a MUST READ author for me. Because this was excellent.

I complained in my last review that while the book was good, it was fluffy contemporary fiction, which is not where my current tastes lie. THIS is a much better book for me. While it’s still contemporary fiction, it has a heavier romance line, and it deals with issues of racism, islamophobia, chronic illness, and casualties of war.

It’s written in journal form, alternating between the journals of Adam and Zayneb. (The A to Z of the title!) Both of them were inspired to keep journals of “Marvels” and “Oddities,” individually, when they ran across The Marvels of Creation and the Oddities of Existence, an ancient manuscript in an Islamic museum. Adam sees Zayneb’s journal when they’re sitting near each other in an airport, which is what prompts their first meeting.

I really loved this book, and I adore Zayneb. She’s passionate and angry about injustice. Her ongoing feud with an islamophobic teacher drives her and her friends to take action, and I loved how her aunt encouraged her, but also encouraged her to be smart about it.

Zayneb wears a hijab, and the book actually goes into some detail on her feelings about it – who’s allowed to see her without it, what she does to make a makeshift hijab if she needs one unexpectedly, her daydreams about the special man who will get to see her hair. It was pretty special to get an inside look at hijab wearing; it’s such a personal thing.

Adam has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the disease that killed his mother, so there’s a lot of struggling to come to terms with that and what it means for his long-term health.

Some things, like hijab-wearing, get explained to the reader, but other things, like the three bits of Arabic script, the greetings, and a passage where Zayneb “takes a deep breath and says bismallah” are not. This is where I’m glad my husband was an Arabic linguist in the military, because they taught him a lot of the culture, as well. So now I know the Arabic script, repeated a few times in the book, all basically says “God Willing,” a standard Arabic phrase. I knew the greetings, but it was the bismallah that stumped me, so I asked him about it.

“Saying bismallah” is saying the name of God. It’s used as a beginning for many things, whether those are nice things, or difficult things, so in this case Zayneb was saying it before she started a difficult conversation with her mother. The book doesn’t explain it; it doesn’t need to, to understand the narrative, but I always enjoy learning the cultural underpinnings of things like this.

The afterword of the book is worth reading, as well. Ali explains that all of the discriminatory acts in the book were taken from real experiences; even the islamophobic teacher was taken from an incident three years ago in Toronto. Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me at all.

Final verdict – this book is great. It’s going on my Best of 2019 list. It covers all kinds of important topics and holds a wealth of diversity, all wrapped around a sweet romance. I’ll be watching for more books by S. K. Ali, because she is wildly talented.

From the cover of Love from A to Z:

A Marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes – because they make french fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An Oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam has stopped going to classes, intent instead on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. 

Adam is also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. 

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs . . . .

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting. 

Book Review: The Weight Of Our Sky

weight of our skyThe Weight Of Our Sky
by Hanna Alkaf
Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
277 pages
Published February 2019

I’ve seen this book absolutely raved about online, as an amazing, diverse book with an #ownvoices author, and I knew I wanted to read it, I just kept having other things come up with higher priorities. I finally settled down to read it, and….it’s exactly what everyone has said. Absolutely fantastic.

Melati, our main character, is struggling with OCD, but as this is set in 1969, it’s never diagnosed. She thinks a djinn has taken up residence in her brain, and is giving her horrifying visions unless she does his will. And then riots break out and she and her mother are separated. This book covers an event we were never really taught about here in the US; in 1969 politics in Malaysia reached a boiling point and massive riots broke out between the Chinese and Malaysian populations. It’s an event that rips Melati’s world apart, and that she fights to survive in this book, while still fighting the djinn in her own head.

The Weight Of Our Sky is a young adult book, but it covers some very weighty topics. Between Melati’s mental illness, the death and violence that surrounds her, and the prejudice and bigotry driving it, it’s a book to read mindfully. The author includes a content warning at the beginning of the book, as well she should. The detail with which she describes Melati’s experience (both in her head and outside of it) is stunning.

Melati is Malaysian, but she somehow finds herself with a Chinese family, and together they confront the tensions between the two groups of people, both their own prejudices and the violence from the roving mobs outside the little house they’ve holed up in. All the while, she’s trying to hide the counting and tapping that keeps the djinn quiet in her head. The book is an extraordinary look at untreated mental illness, and the toll it takes to act normal when your brain is lying to you.

Fantastic book.

From the cover of The Weight Of Our Sky:

Melati Ahmad has imagined her mother’s death countless times. Plagued by gruesome thoughts she believes are put into her head by a djinn, Melati has developed an intricate set of tapping rituals to tame the monster within and keep her mother safe.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a twenty-four-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

Book Review: Are You Tired and Wired?

tired and wiredAre You Tired and Wired? Your Proven 30-Day Program for Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue and Feeling Fantastic Again
by Marcelle Pick
Nonfiction/Health
289 pages
Published 2011

One of my 2019 goals is to get my health under control. I have at least two auto-immune diseases, with two more suspected (they often jumpstart each other, yay!) and one of the things I struggle with A LOT is fatigue. Adrenal dysfunction often goes hand-in-hand with autoimmune diseases, especially those dealing with the thyroid gland, like my Hashimoto’s Disease. This book spends a lot of time on figuring out if you have Adrenal Dysfunction and why that’s important. A lot of the questions made me feel REALLY called out. I perk up at 9 p.m. after being tired throughout the day. I crave high-protein, high-fat, salty foods like meats and cheeses. I’m exhausted all the time, absent-minded, and have to take breaks often when doing things like housework or walking. There’s a quiz in this book that has five categories for your score. The worst score is anything over 26 points. I scored 64!

So, according to this book, my adrenals are SHOT. Unfortunately, the 30-Day program involves a lot of foods that contradict with the AutoImmune Protocol, which I was on for about six months in 2018 and made me feel fantastic. I’m still avoiding gluten, nightshades, and some dairy, but I want to go back on full elimination AIP. It’s just difficult to do because it means cooking almost every day. After we move, we should have more fridge and freezer space and I can start doing big batch cooking. That should make it easier.

In the meantime, though, there isn’t actually a whole lot of lifestyle changes in this book I can make. There are herbal supplement suggestions, which I might try, and prescription medication suggestions, which I will consult with my new doctor about as soon as I get insurance straightened out and make an appointment. But I won’t do the 30-day diet program, and as far as reducing my daily stress, well.

I’m a housewife. I have no children. The vast majority of my stress comes from living with roommates, and I can’t do anything about that until we move! Now that my husband is done with school, there will be less stress coming from that direction, at least. But really, I lead a pretty low-stress life. Looking back on things, I think I’m actually improving from where I was a few years ago, when I was working retail while my husband went to school and worked, while being financially strapped and living with roommates. And that was after the five years of near-constant background levels of stress from him being in the military. So it could be that my adrenals actually bottomed out a few years ago and I’m just now noticing it because there isn’t a constant pressure forcing me to be on the go constantly anymore. Or, according to the book, I’m through the Racehorse and Workhorse stages and in the Flatliner stage.

I’ll probably look into more books about adrenal dysfunction – I always take these kinds of books with a grain of salt, because so many self-helpish health books are just trying to sell their own protocols or diets or “this one simple thing will change your LIFE!” But it was worth reading and mulling over the information.

From the cover of Are You Tired and Wired?

Do you wake up every morning feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed? Are you constantly reaching for coffee, soda, or some other promise of energy just to keep yourself going? Do you struggle through the day – tired, irritable, forgetful, depressed, and craving sweets – only to have trouble sleeping at night?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions – you’re not alone. In fact, hundreds of thousands of women are fighting these same feelings as they strive to live the lives they want. 

In Are You Tired and Wired?, Marcelle Pick, co-founder of Women to Women – one of the first clinics in the country devoted to providing health care for women by women – and the author of The Core Balance Diet, gives you the knowledge and tools to overcome this epidemic of fatigue.

Pick sets her sights on adrenal dysfunction – the root cause of these symptoms. In our modern lives, the adrenal glands, which are responsible for providing the fight-or-flight hormones in response to stress, are triggered much more often than they should be. Everything from challenges at home and at work, to environmental toxins, to chronic health problems cause the adrenal glands to produce a constant flood of stress hormones that can ultimately lead to multiple health issues, especially severe fatigue.

The good news is that through diet, lifestyle adjustments, and reprogramming of stressful emotional patterns, this can all be fixed!

Pick helps you identify which of three adrenal dysfunction profiles you fit – Racehorse, Workhorse, or Flatliner – and then lays out an easy-to-follow, scientifically based program to help you restore adrenal balance, regear your metabolism, and regain your natural energy to live a happier and less-stressed life.

Book Review: Unbroken

unbrokenUnbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens
Edited by Marieke Nijkamp
Young Adult/Short Stories
310 pages
Published September 2018

I’ve read a few different Young Adult anthologies recently, and they’ve all been utterly fantastic. This belongs right up there with A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Toil & Trouble.

As someone who HAS a chronic illness that affects every aspect of my life, I identified with several of these stories quite a lot. There’s one in particular in which they’re putting on a play, and the narrator mentions how TIRED they are. That their doctor would tell them to back off, and not do so much, but they call that stagnation and they’re not willing to give up the highs that come with accomplishing something that takes so much effort – and I feel that intimately. I’m still coming to terms with my new limits. There are times when I do too much, and I pay for it, in pain and fatigue and days unable to function as a human being – but it’s usually worth it. I just have to plan for the aftermath. To see that in fiction was a really validating thing.

Other stories deal with other sorts of physical disabilities – a wheelchair user, people with canes, or blindness. Some of the characters have more mental disabilities – severe anxiety, depression, schizophrenia. This is a fantastic collection, spanning genres from contemporary fiction to magical realism to sci-fi to fantasy.

I’m going to be keeping an eye out for more Young Adult anthologies, as this is the third one that I’ve read recently and they’re SO. GOOD. I know there’s two more coming out in the near future; one centered on Jewish characters that Katherine Locke has another story in, and one centered on vampires that also has some familiar names in it. (Vampires Never Get Old, which is a super clever title for a Young Adult anthology of vampires!)

I love checking out short story anthologies to keep handy for days I don’t have time to sit down with an entire novel, and man there have been some great ones recently. This is definitely one of them.

From the cover of Unbroken:

WARRIOR. ACTOR. FRIEND. HEROINE. TRAVELER. SISTER. MAGICIAN. LOVER. BIKER.

In this stunning anthology, #1 New York Times-bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp teams up with fellow disabled authors to create a collection of fictional stories that dispense with the tired, broken stereotypes – and reclaim narratives and identities. 

By weaving together tales of interstellar war, an enchanted carnival, or a dating debacle, Unbroken celebrates the varied experiences of disabled teens, including teens of color and of diverse genders and orientations, without obscuring the realities of their disabilities.

At turns hilarious and heart-stopping, these short stories share a common thread – one that has bent over time but will never break.

Book Review: This is Kind of an Epic Love Story

this is kind of an epic love storyThis is Kind of an Epic Love Story
by Kheryn Callender
Young Adult/LGBT/Romance
286 pages
Published October 2018

This incredibly cute queer romance was the YA_Pride Book Club pick this month on Twitter. What I didn’t expect when I picked it up was just HOW GOOD the representation is in this book. First, Ollie, the main love interest, is deaf, and communicates via ASL or written word. This isn’t a huge deal; people just work around it, which is really lovely. There’s a lot of passing phones around with things typed out on them, plus lip-reading and some limited use of signs, many of them described on the page for the reader.

The other amazing representation is how the book treats bisexuality. Both Nate and his best friend Flo are bi; they dated each other before the beginning of the book, but Flo is dating a woman when the book opens, and Nate has a huge crush on Ollie. This is not treated as weird, or even remarkable enough to be noted. They just are interested in more than one gender and it’s completely normal. I love it.

The story itself is really cute; Ollie was a childhood best friend that Nate had a crush on, and he’s come back to town several years later. Turns out Nate’s crush still exists, and the boys start an awkward romance. Nate is the kind of overthinker that constantly sabotages his own happiness, and we see that play out in more than just his relationship with Ollie.

I also really liked that the book didn’t play into the “the first time with the right person is magical and perfect” trope when it comes to sex. No, first times are awkward and sometimes not all that pleasurable, even with the right person. But with the right person, you can get past the awkwardness and try again. It was a much more realistic first sexual experience, I think.

This book was a quick read, with great minority rep, from racial to sexual to disability rep. The story was great. I liked also that the romance wasn’t the only focus of the story; Nate’s relationships with his friends were also important to the plot. Great book.

From the cover of This is Kind of an Epic Love Story:

Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings.

Although he’s the ultimate film buff and an aspiring screenwriter, Nate’s seen the demise of too many relationships to believe that happy endings exist in real life.

Playing it safe to avoid a broken heart has been his MO ever since his father died and left his mom to unravel – but the strategy is not without fault. His best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-best-friend-again, Florence, is set on making sure Nate finds someone else. And in a twist that is rom-com-worthy, someone does come along: Oliver James Hernández, his childhood best friend.

After a painful mix-up when they were little, Nate finally has the chance to tell Ollie the truth about his feelings. But can Nate find the courage to pursue his own happily ever after?