Book Review: The Bride Test

the bride testThe Bride Test
by Helen Hoang
Romance
300 pages
Published May 7, 2019

I received The Bride Test on Saturday, a few days before today’s release date, through Book of the Month. I’ve been really excited about this one, because it’s another adult romance with an autistic main character, like the first book, The Kiss Quotient. (The author is also autistic.) There’s actually a lot of #ownvoices representation here; Hoang has an author’s note at the end talking about how much of Esme’s personality and struggles are based on her own mother, who immigrated from Vietnam as a refugee at the end of the Vietnam war. I love that in writing the book, Hoang grew closer to her mother as she learned about her history. Definitely don’t miss the author’s note at the end of this book, if you read it!

I have mixed feelings about this one, but unfortunately the part I really have mixed feelings about is very spoilery, so I can’t talk about it without ruining major plot points! Overall, I did really like the book, and Khai showed a lot of the same traits my husband does. The first book’s autistic character is female, so it was nice to see a character so similar to my husband this time. The characters from The Kiss Quotient do make a token appearance in The Bride Test, and I’m hoping Hoang will finally write Quan’s story next! There is an untitled third book in the series due out in 2020, so I’m crossing fingers for Quan!

I absolutely adored Esme in this book. She is hardworking and strong-willed, and knows what she’s worth. I wish she’d been a little more honest with Khai, but I can understand being too afraid to be fully honest with someone who could have such control over your future. I did really enjoy this sequel, and I can’t wait to hear what the plot will be for the third book.

From the cover of The Bride Test:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but he doesn’t experience big, important emotions like love and grief. Rather than believing he processes emotions differently due to being autistic, he concludes that he’s defective and decides to avoid romantic relationships. So his mother, driven to desperation, takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect mail-order bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity to marry an American arises, she leaps at it, thinking that it could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working . . . but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who believes he can never return her affection.

Esme must convince Khai that there is more than one way to love. And Khai must figure out the inner workings of his heart before Esme goes home and is an ocean away.

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Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

when dimple met rishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon
Young Adult/Romance
380 pages
Published 2017

I’ve seen this book get raved about online, but it just didn’t sound that exceptional – yet another young adult romance. Contemporary, at that. But I finally read it for the Year of the Asian Challenge, and I am SO. GLAD. I DID.

Rishi Patel stole my heart. Which, as a demisexual, is completely unexpected. But he’s just the exact right combination of sweet, romantic, totally geeky, and confident. He is absolutely my favorite character in this book. I like Dimple. But I adore Rishi.

I loved that both Dimple and Rishi tried to help each other achieve their dreams. I wish they’d both been a little more communicative about how they did so, but it was still cute to see them so invested in each other’s life goals, as a couple should be!

This is a super cute romance, and it deserves all the rave reviews it got. I definitely need to read the sequel (about Rishi’s younger brother) now.

From the cover of When Dimple Met Rishi:

DIMPLE SHAH has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family – and from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers . . . right?

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

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitating toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

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

Book Review: The Bird King

the bird kingThe Bird King
by G. Willow Wilson
Historical Fantasy
402 pages
Published March 2019

I have not yet read G. Willow Wilson’s first novel, Alif the Unseen, but I really want to now, because this one was beautiful. I really enjoyed this story, watching Fatima mature through her travels and change from the sheltered Sultan’s concubine/possession to become – well – what she becomes.

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, concubine, and Hassan, mapmaker, on the run from the Inquisition. They were both members of the house of the last Sultan in Iberia. When the Spanish (and the Inquisition) came to negotiate his surrender, one of their conditions was they wanted Hassan, because of the magic he used in his maps. Hassan has been Fatima’s only real friend; he’s the only man that wanted nothing from her, because he’s gay and unmoved by her beauty. His sexuality has been largely ignored by the court; his maps were too important to the war effort, so it was tolerated and just not spoken of. When Fatima discovers the Sultan intends to turn Hassan over, she runs away with him. She has some unexpected help in her journey, which, along with Hassan’s mapmaking, makes this a kind of magical realist historical fantasy novel. It’s not really alternate history, because nobody’s actions change how history plays out on a large scale.

I really enjoyed Wilson’s writing style, and while I’d already been interested in the description of Alif the Unseen, given how much I like her writing here, I really need to read that as well. I’m pretty sure it’s on my Kindle!

From the cover of The Bird King:

G. Willow Wilson delivers her long-awaited second novel set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula.

The Bird King tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of the sultan of Granada, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret – he can make maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality with his pen and paper. His gift has proven useful to the sultan’s armies in wartime, as well as entertained a bored Fatima, who has never step foot outside the palace walls. When a party representing the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrives to negotiate the terms of the sultan’s surrender, Fatima is tasked with welcoming their women. She befriends one of the women, little realizing that she represents the Inquisition and will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery, and therefore a threat to Christian rule.

In order to escape the Inquisition, Fatima and Hassan embark on an epic voyage across Spain in search of refuge on a mysterious, possible mythic island. With everything on the line, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is, and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate. A triumphant tour de force with shadings of Pullman, Gaiman, L’Engle, and C. S. Lewis, G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King is a jubilant story of love versus power, religion versus faith, and freedom versus safety.

Book Review: Unmarriageable

UnmarriageableUnmarriageable
by Soniah Kamal
Young Adult/Romance/Retelling
335 pages
Published January 2019

One of these days I really need to read Austen. I enjoy so many retellings – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and I know I have a copy of Mr. Darcy, Vampyre around here somewhere! (And now that I pulled up The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to link it here, I’m sorely tempted to sit down and watch the whole thing again but I have books to read!)

Anyway. Austen. I’ve read a bunch of retellings but believe it or not, I haven’t read the original. I really need to get on that, but instead, I read Unmarriageable, which is Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan! It’s SO GOOD. The themes of family honor, class structure, and rumors damaging reputations translates incredibly easily into Pakistani society, which is why Soniah Kamal wrote it. In her Afterword, she writes:

“Was there any worry more Pakistani than the concern about what might bring a family honor or dishonor? …. Was there anything more Pakistani than [Charlotte’s] calculated, ‘arranged’ marriage? … Was there anything more apropos to Pakistan than class issues, snootiness, and double standards?”

She goes on to say she was already reading the book as if it was set in Pakistan, so why not write it that way for other Pakistanis? Kamal explains that Pakistan is very much a mix of Pakistan and English culture, and that the emphasis on learning English and English culture comes at the expense of their own indigenous culture, something forced upon them by colonizers. Unmarriageable is her way of melding the two cultures.

I really enjoyed this version of the classic, and it has me even more interested in other versions, such as Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors. Book Riot actually ran a short list recently on diverse Austen retellings, and I’ve added every one of them to my To-Read list!

From the cover of Unmarriageable:

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry – until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider. 

A scandal and a vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that the family’s luck is about to change, excitedly prepares her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful – and single – entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal – and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.

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.