Review: The Other Half of Happiness

Review: The Other Half of Happiness

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*Spoilers ahead for The Other Half and Sofia Khan*

The Other Half starts when Sofia Khan ends, Sofia marrying her next-door neighbour, Conall, in Pakistan and continues straight from there. I was hopeful after reading Sofia Khan, the first didn’t really do much for me, and I was hoping its sequel would improve the overall story much more.

What I liked most about this novel was seeing it transition from Single Sofia to Married Sofia, and how marriage brings about a whole new journey no one is really prepared for, and Sofia indeed isn’t. Sofia’s mother’s arc was interesting, and I was pleased to see her get engaged, and be happy again, but again even that fell through. The humour is still great, and it carries through the novel, even when the plot disappoints. And the writing style, the journal-type notes Sofia leaves for herself is really witty and fun to read.

Everything just felt off from the second it started. Sofia leaves London to help in Pakistan, once she’s there she’s stuck, and there’s little explanation as to why she’s no longer needed. Keeping her stuck gave way to her deciding to write another book, this time about her marriage with Conall, which she writes to his dissatisfaction. (How will anyone want to read a book on your marriage when your husband doesn’t even want it???) And from there, it’s a cycle of bad decisions that don’t make sense.

Miscommunication is critical in this novel, and it is so frustrating how a lot of this novel’s issues would be fixed if they just talked. Conall with his past, Sofia with her current frustrations, and just everyone in general, just sent like one text, they wouldn’t be in the issue they’re all currently in. The characters all seem to be somewhat different than in the first novel like, as a reader, I could barely recognise them from the first book. Conall, especially, after its revealed he was newly divorced after abandoning his first wife and child, who is suffering from cancer.

Overall, the (current) duology was a fun, quick, and easy read. The overall story was too frustrating for me to read since I wasn’t a huge fan of the first book, the second does a bit better to improve my mood of the entire series so far. I don’t want to sound so negative of this series, and  I can see so many other people loving it, but it wasn’t 100% for me.

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Review: Geekerella

Review: Geekerella

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Elle lives, breathes and blogs Starfield. But her step-mother and sisters think otherwise. So, when the opportunity to enter a cosplaying competition comes up, she takes it, she just needs to find a way to get there. Darien Freeman is an up and coming actor and playing Starfield’s Carmindor is a dream come true. He just needs to prove it. But it isn’t easy when the fandom has already shrugged off the teen actor, and a cruel blogger aims to undermine his every move. One wrong number leads to a connection none of them would’ve expected.

I was very surprised by this book, and mainly because I actually enjoyed it more than I had anticipated. I always hold “fandom” books at a distance, mostly, because I often find them cringey, outdated, and never really that representative of fandom. The title alone already had me on edge, but I adored Geekerella.

Elle was a sweet lead, who blogs about Starfield and isn’t exactly happy about Darien being cast. And like a blogger, she takes to the internet to voice her opinions. I absolutely loved how Elle experiences fandom, and it was quite real and actually relatable. As a teen, I was in Elle’s position too, but instead Starfield it was multi-fandom Tumblr. (Imagine 2013 circa Tumblr) And this is where the book shined. It was a fantastic experience that felt like my own personal ode to my own personal fangirl experience. It was incredibly relatable, the conventions, the speech. The book really encompasses the general gist of positive fandom, while also addressing negative aspects quite well.

Darien was a pure sweetheart, who really wanted to do well by Starfield, but couldn’t do so due to contractual obligations and an overdemanding dad-manager who only sees this as a career boost. I was sort of more leaning towards him parts of the story because it discusses whitewashing in film and his experiences of being a non-white actor.

Geekerella is a light romance. I really enjoyed how the story of Cinderella is retold within the context of a big movie adaptation. The romance can get little too much, but honestly, it isn’t as bad as people make it out to be in more negative reviews. A lot of people are calling it unbelievable because they interact with each other through texts. In the context of Geekerella, it’s understandable because neither make an attempt to actually see the other, not even via web calls or anything. But to say every relationship made via online media is inauthentic is a pretty shitty take, and that seems to come up a lot in reviews for this book.

Overall, it’s a pretty decent book. An adorable modern update of Cinderella set in fandom and reboots. I really enjoyed the accurate depiction of contemporary day fandom. Though mostly predictable, it’s somewhat entertaining, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected.

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Mini-review: Ripped Pages, sunfish and others

Mini-review: Ripped Pages, sunfish and others

Ripped Pages by M. Hollis

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ (5/5)

Princess Valentina braves the unknown and escapes the tower her father locked her in. A sweet and adorable F/F retelling of Rapunzel. This short story has a lot of potential. I would have definitely loved to have read a full-length version of this where we follow Valentina from being forced into the tower by her abusive father, to her life growing up in solidarity, to then finally breaking free and finding her own space in the world. But M. Hollis does a very good job in condensing everything into such a short number of pages.

A very short but satisfying read.

sunfish by Shelby Eileen

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (4/5)A short poetry collection exploring relationships, grief, and loss. Deeply moving pieces that were interesting to read.

in the absence of the sun by Emily Curtis

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (3/5)

I read this and sunfish because I wanted to branch out what kind of books I was reading. I have a love/hate relationship with poetry, I don’t know where it stems from but slowly I’m more open to reading poetry than I had in my younger years. But this was a pretty good collection, very quick, very impactful. There isn’t much to say, for me, but I guess, it was an okay reading experience.

No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (4/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

A really cool collection of fantasy short stories where transgender and non-binary characters take centre stage. No Man subverts gendered prophecies of tales that are old as time. There are pronunciation guides provided for each story. And that’s what I liked a lot since I follow Ana Mardoll on twitter, they’re very informative and a pretty interesting person. I was already aware of some nonbinary pronouns, but this book introduces me to some I wasn’t aware of.

My favourite of all the stories was either Tangled Nets or His Father’s Son. All are amazing but these two caught my eye the most and was most intriguing to read. 

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Review: Enchantée

Review: Enchantée

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
 * I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.

Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her sick sister while escaping the clutches of an abusive brother. Relying on her limited knowledge of magic, she transforms herself into a baroness and begins to gamble at Versailles. Quickly, she hones her skills but magic has a cost and soon she discovers leaving Versailles is much harder than it looks. 

What I loved the most about this book was how vividly Trelease painted Paris in the 18th century. As Camille transforms, she comes to face the rich who she has despised her entire life. The rich who live in luxury while families like Camille’s waste away. The world building shines through, 18th century Paris with a tinge of magic in its streets: its street fashion, printing system, hot air ballooning, and games. 

Camille is a determined and headstrong lead, driven by her situation to make a better life for herself and her sister. I really like her as a lead. She tends to get the better of herself and assumes she knows best for her sister, who rightfully calls her out on it. A terrific sibling dynamic between them. 

There are the beginnings of a good discussion with the male love interest who is biracial. (Indian and French) Both India and France see him as an outsider, and there’s a moment where she discusses his identity and how he struggles to find his place. I just wish this was considered more, he was basically a ghost for a good portion of the book.

I did struggle with the length of this book. There’s a lot of moments where you’re just going through it, part build-up as we watch Camille learn the ways of the court, part was just me as reading getting partially bored in some moments. You’re left waiting for something to happen, but it felt like it takes way too long for the actual plot to move on from Camille being introduced into the court. But once it picks up, it gets a lot more exciting, and I really enjoyed it in the end. 

Overall,  There’s a lot of small tidbits that stuck to me and mixed with the writing and plot and the way the author used real historical events that worked with the plot, it was really great. A lot will be put off by its length, but the world was something else and enjoyable to explore. I actually enjoyed this much more than I had expected.

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Content warning: abuse (physical, emotional, verbal), gambling addiction, alcoholism. 

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Review: Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged

Review: Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

Sofia Khan is single and ready to mingle, all in the name of her forthcoming Muslim dating book. Sofia is a Pakistani, hijabi Muslim working in the publishing industry. Age thirty and, to her parent’s exasperation, unmarried, Sofia finds herself writing a Muslim dating guide at the point in her life where she’s very much crossed it off forever.

Sofia Khan is neither a tragedy or a issues book which most books around Muslims tend to be about. Which I absolutely commend this book on, but this book just sits right on the middle for me. I didn’t actually hate it, but I didn’t love it either. I think what I liked about this book was how unlikeable Sofia was to me. She’s a witty protagonist who makes poor, poor decisions. Who finds herself in the worst situations that she works well to get out of. I liked how light-hearted it all was, yet critical of a culture that places women’s value on marriage. The moments of culture-clash were relatable and hilarious especially in her workplace which Sofia called  ‘the most white-centric, middle-class industry there is‘, and she’s not wrong.

I really enjoyed the way the book lays out, with its diary-like entries and text message. It’s somewhat choppy as some points, but Sofia’s voice really comes through this way.  I loved the family dynamics and the customs that I literally see every day.

I was certainly thrown off by the central romance, mainly because I hadn’t expected that to come. I was so fixed on a particular part that I hadn’t realised it was going in a completely opposite way. The surprise in the final pages was actually quite interesting. It literally took me until the last line to realise what was happening.

I think what I actually dispised about this book a lot was the microaggressions. And, in my opinion, it really ruined the book for me.  Sinead @ Huntress of Diverse Book put it to words more easily than I could ever, with specific examples that didn’t sit well with me either. She’s also quite hypocritical and narcissistic in a way that she doesn’t seem to realise and I was hoping it would kick in when she recognises the double standards that she holds.

Like Sofia’s mother, and her innocently asking ‘What is this click?’, Sofia Khan is not Obliged merely didn’t click with me. But I am interested in reading its sequel because of that last chapter actually surprised me.

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Content warning: colourism, ableist language, fatantagonistic language, aceantagonistic language, aroantagonistic language. (Credit to Sinead) Death of a parent. (more to be added)

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

A Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a young teen, coming of age, in the year after 9/11. It’s 2002, and Shirin has learned to deal with the rude stares and degrading sneers from her peers. She builds her walls to protect her from a world that threatens to harm her because of her race and the hijab she chooses to wear. Rather than interact, she delves into her love for break-dancing with her brother. Until she meets Ocean James, and for once someone wants to know her for her. But Shirin’s not too sure if she’s ready to break down the walls she set up.

Shirin and her family are experts at moving. City to city, school to school. The cycle repeats itself for Shirin all her life. Her parents striving for better jobs, thus a better life for their children. But they don’t see how Shirin is suffering. So Shirin find a new form of happiness in breakdancing and music, which helps Shirin in her isolation.

I’m honestly blown out the water by this book. I didn’t expect to be so wholly enchanted by Shirin. There is so much longing and pain in this story, and I love how Shirin never back down. She stood by her belief where the most comfortable option would’ve been to back down. You see how hurt she is from all that she’s experienced that you can’t fault her for shutting people out. And slowly,  she opens up to others around. We watch her grow, in dancing and herself.

This story is so precious and so important to me. Everything was so real from the emotions, the characters, and then the ending. The characters were so relatable and hilarious. Even the romance cracked me for once. Shirin and Ocean have my heart. A slow burn that was so tender and sweet. The drama behind Ocean was borderline generic but it was interesting to see how Ocean’s history affected him and I think Tahereh Mafi did the best she could’ve done with the story concerning his part.

Rarely do we get to see a Muslim Hijabi teen in a story that revolves around her own coming of age and experiences with romance, but Expanse gives us just that. And I have to thank Tahereh Mafi for that.

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Content warnings: TBA