Sugar & Gold: A Book Review

Books: Sugar & Gold (Dreamcatcher #2)

Author: Emma Scott

Sugar & Gold (Dreamcatcher, #2)

Blurb:

Nikolai Alexei Young was born with a special gift…one he’d do anything to lose. The heart and soul of every person he comes into contact with is an open book to his heightened senses. Colorful emotions, whispers of thoughts, the sour tastes of old memories…He feels them all. The sci-fi books would call him an empath. For Nikolai, his ability has made him an exile. He roams the U.S. alone, avoiding the glut of life in big cities, and using his innate talents to win money in underground poker games. Just enough to keep going, one town to the next. He has no hope that his life can be anything else, until he meets her…

At nineteen, Fiona Starling was trapped in an ugly, desperate situation until she freed herself the only way she knew how. Now three years later, living outside Savannah, Georgia, she is rebuilding her life on her own terms; seizing every moment and saving every penny so that she might fulfill her dream of moving to the raw wilderness of Costa Rica. But behind her carefree smile beats the heart of a lonely young woman haunted by her past, until a chance encounter with a tattooed stranger changes everything…

Fiona takes Nikolai under her roof for three sultry nights, waiting out the rain of a summer storm. She grows more and more fascinated by this brooding stranger with whom she shares an intense physical connection—a connection so strong, she wonders if there is something between them beyond lust and passion. Nikolai is shocked to discover that Fiona calms the raging turmoil in his heart. She alone silences the din of other people’s lives, and envelops him in the sweet beauty of her inner self. Every moment he’s with her—every touch of her skin—brings him closer to the peace that’s been eluding him his entire life.

But Fiona harbors secrets that she is too terrified to reveal. After Nikolai confesses his unique ability, she is caught between wanting to believe him and fearing he’ll eventually unearth her own dark past. When the unthinkable happens, Fiona’s plans come crashing down, and Nikolai discovers his hated ability might be the only thing that can save the woman he loves.

My thoughts:

If I’m being honest, the cover and title are what attracted me to this book. Shallow butterfly that I am, I thought they were absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t think twice before requesting this book from Net Galley.

I’ve read other books by Emma Scott. I really enjoyed the Full Tilt duology and The Butterfly Project. I think both are fantastic new adult books that show how a relationship can transition from platonic to romantic, and that dealing with other serious issues doesn’t mean that a relationship isn’t viable.

However, in Sugar & Gold, the relationship was too fast and too dramatic for me. Though the characters themselves seem to acknowledge the relationship is “backwards”, they do not make a real effort to slow it down and get to know each other. Another thing that might offend you: I was a bit uncomfortable with Fiona’s obsession with Nik’s “Russian-ness”; to me, it seemed like a fetish to me instead of a distinct appreciation for a portion of his character.

I think the concept is beautiful. It is not the first time I’ve seen an extremely empathetic person who can see auras in a novel, but I adored how Nik put his abilities to use in poker. His poker skills also allowed for great banter between the characters and gave them some chemistry. I also think that his empathy made him the perfect person to reassure Fiona, who suffered from emotional abuse, that she was beautiful and worthy.

The reason that this book failed for me was because I did not think there was enough build-up in the relationship between the characters. Additionally, I was not a fan of the pacing. The beginning dragged on with multiple sexy scenes, but not enough substance. The characters were too wrapped up in themselves and their own secrets. For most of the book, I felt like they were courting an ideal instead of an actual person. This made the first 50% seem repetitive.

The ending felt inconclusive and anti-climatic to me. There was very little retribution and it just wrapped up too neatly and quickly for the bloodthirsty part of me which likes the characters to be uncertain and precariously balanced at the end of a novel.

This book will still appeal to readers who want to read a love story about a genuinely kind people who have suffered meeting a person who will always put them first. However, if they think about it too long, they will realize that it’s sugar, empty calories and gilt. There’s no real nutrition or metal in Sugar & Gold.

Overall Rating: 2/5

Oh and BTW, this might be because I read How To Save A Life  (Dreamcatcher #1) a long time ago, but I really didn’t feel as the two books needed to be connected. Frankly, it felt unnecessary.

Advertisements

“I’m not like other girls”: Why it’s not a good thing

IsImage result for i'm not like other girls there any sentence that’s more jarring in a novel than“I’m not like other girls”? As soon as I read it, my thoughts go something like this:

  1. Mmm-hmm. You definitely know what all other girls are like, right?
  2. Well, that’s kind of true. No two people are alike. Everyone’s unique.
  3. Really Author, you couldn’t figure out a subtler way to let your readers know the protagonist is a special snowflake?

This is a sentiment which can be expressed in a multitude of ways. Unfortunately, when authors lack a shred of imagination, it’s stated in this cliched way and it’s usually accompanied by a coy look and a toss of (low-maintenance, but glossy) hair.

At the risk of sounding like an angry, ranting feminist, I must say that this one sentence ignores all the progress third-wave feminism has made. It implies the “other girls” are shallow, mercenary, clinging women who worship at the altar of consumerism and lipstick. They’re the ones who can’t be bothered to look past the reputation (whether notoriety or fame) of the love interest to see the “man”.

Third wave feminism is all about choice. You are no less of a woman if you decide you would rather wear jeans than skirts. At the same time, if you want to be a housewife—it doesn’t make you anti-feminist. The phrase “I’m not like the other girls” makes the girl whose not like the “others” one in a million. She’s the last bastion of feminity in a world where every girl falls prey to quick judgement, ambition and boy-crazy mania. Our main character is the perfect girl (a.k.a. “manic pixie dream girl”). She can be a paragon of virtue, hang with the dudes and fight against evil—all without sweating or breaking a nail.

I sound bitter. I can’t help it because I hate it when authors (or people in general) try to make one woman look good by bashing others. You have no business praising someone if the only way you can do it is by insulting everyone else. That’s not a compliment; it’s just billions of insults.

If I see this line, I usually close the book after finishing the page. In fact I can think of only one unique instance I didn’t. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the book but it was a romance novel where a male character told the female protagonist “You’re not like the other girls” to praise her for not being shallow. The female character parries by saying something along the lines of “Well, clearly you’ve been hanging out with the wrong people.”
Well said.

For those of you who’ve considered using this sentence, please don’t. At least this way you can ensure you’re different in one important way.

Hold me: A Book Review

Book: Hold me (Cyclone#2)

Author: Courtney Milan

Blurb:

Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

My thoughts:

This book was hugely anticipated for its diversity. A Latina, transgender main character and a bisexual, Asian love-interest. Compared to Trade Me (the first book in the Cyclone series), the cultural diversity issues take a backseat.

I haven’t included the cover.Don’t worry, it was purposeful. I feel a bit awkward about posting such an obvious romance book clinch on my young-adult blog. I wouldn’t say the cover is misleading–there’s definitely sex in the book, (after all, this is new adult) so the somewhat racier cover fits.

I’m torn on whether I mind the lack of emphasis on cultural diversity. On one hand, I loved the culture-clash in the last book; as an Asian, I easily related to the embarrassment that some customs of your culture can cause, and the guilt that your parents (who grew up in the culture) know how to take advantage of. On the other hand, I like that this book wasn’t about diversity– it was about a character who happened to be diverse, and as a result, there story seemed to feel so much more natural.

Additionally, I wonder where all these cultural-struggles would have gone. This book focused on gender stereotypes that women in STEM have to combat. It also spent a good amount of time on how childhood traumas affects adult life. Maria was kicked out of her house at age 12, when she told her parents she identified as female; her fear of being kicked out of her house followed her to college.

I’ve heard Hold Me compared to “You’ve Got Mail”. Not having watched the movie, I can compare it only superficially. There is obviously this whole element of 2 protagonists getting on like a house on fire online, but hating each other (for reasons of varying validity) in real-life.

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for the hate-at-first-sight trope. I especially like watching 2 sworn enemies find something they admire in each other, and seeing the chemistry explode.  And there’s something satisfying about watching two people flirt online–with math of all things– that makes this interesting. The one thing that I worried about in this book was whether Milan would draw out this book endlessly using petty jealousy and terrible communication between the characters. No, despite the pranks and the passive-aggressiveness at the beginning of the book,  by the time the characters get to the middle, they are communicating like real adults.

I still don’t know if I like Jay. Like Maria, I find myself taking umbrage to the way he took one look at her and dismissed her as a ditzy girl with a limited IQ. His reasons for it seem weak. Though the reason he shares is that he blames a pretty, shallow girl for distracting him enough to prevent his younger brother from suicide, I wonder how much of it is because he’s intimidated.

“I’m more of a pickup basketball kind of guy, and she’s… Well, she’s into whatever game you play with a French manicure and Louboutins. The game she’s playing sucks, the players are mean, and I want nothing to do with it or them.

Nothing, except… My stupid lizard brain wouldn’t mind watching her play.”

Yet, he’s the character that grows the most in this book. He comes a long way from dismissing accusations of sexism because he works with women.

“You’re a goddamned professor. If you assume your female students who care about their appearance don’t know math, you’re doing them an incredible disservice.”

 Unlike other books where you can see the love interest has a deep antipathy for women, and even while falling in love with one (*cough* Whitney, My Love *cough*), falls in love with her because she is different and completely unlike other women, by the end you can see that for Jay respecting women is not theoretical, he has concrete examples.

This book was good, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly amazing. The first part was fun to read if I suspended disbelief that characters in their late 20s would act that way (people who are older than me may agree that this is normal, but as a measly teen–I think I expect more). It was a good read–Courtney Milan is an amazing writer.  But i dove in the book, expecting to be wowed; here expectations worked against me and so I’m a little disappointed.

Overall rating: 4/5

On President-Elect Trump, 1000 Rupee notes, Toblerone and Standardized Testing

Since my last post a week ago, the world has changed a lot. I’m still in shock. The US got a new president-elect, India tried to reduce corruption by banning it’s largest notes, the Toblerone triangles have become smaller and I finished with standardized testing. I have opinions on all 4 of these, so here it goes.

President Trump? 

Image result for president trumpI’m shocked to hear there were so many closet-Trump supporters. Coming from a region and a state which voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, I have to admit that part of it is because we created an echo-chamber around ourselves. A lot of the comments I saw on Facebook from Trump supporters were illogical, biased and frightening. But, I saw a good portion of aggressive comments and straw-men fallacies from Clinton supporters too. When they did bother to give explanations, they were condescending  or they were hidden insults. I can see why so many Trump supporters refused to state their preference until election-day, and I can’t blame them for it.

Democrats clearly aren’t in touch with large sections of the population. Lots of people have compared this election to Brexit with frustrated, disappointed people wanting change (no matter how it comes about). Clearly, the DNC alienated anyone who might have had doubts about Hillary Clinton for presidency. I’m willing to believe that majority of Trump’s supporters are not racist or misogynistic. I hope that America’s checks and balances are enough to prevent an inexperienced and impulsive president from doing too much damage. The alternative is too horrifying to consider.

But, there are silver linings to this. The President and majority party in House and Senate are all from one party. Things will probably be executed much faster and if by 2020 things haven’t gotten better, Democrat’s will probably have a younger, candidate to get behind. Also, as divisive some of the stuff in the news has been– hijabs being pulled off, violence against blacks and insane sounding rants about the wall– I think people will pull together. As a women of color, I do not like the president-elect we have right now, but I do believe in the power of people and America’s principles of democracy.

No 500 or 1000 Rupee notes in India

Image result for 1000 rupee note ban

Well played, Modi. Well played. If this works as planned, people with black-money will be unable to exchange their currency. This would reduce the amount of money in circulation and make the Indian Rupee stronger compared to currencies. Smart. I’m proud that India’s finally taking a strong stance against corruption.

But dammit, I have a couple of 500 rupee notes (just to clarify–gifts from relatives, not black money) and no way to exchange them since all Indian banks are in, you know, India.

Image result for new tobleroneToblerone

I am always impressed by Britisher’s priorities. I love their very droll way of defending why it’s so important to them. So far, my favorite is hearing them use world politics–they do need a way to comfort them after the Trump election. There was an explanation about Switzerland’s mountain peaks, but I didn’t quite get it. Anyone care to explain?

Standardized Testing

Image result for sat testingUS universities require a ridiculous amount of tests and place way too much value on them.Standardized test cost money to take and even more to send. I always feel very guilty when I don’t do as well on them as I do on practice tests. In my area, SAT tutoring is common–but I just don’t feel comfortable shelling out a couple thousand dollars to increase my score by 100 points or so.  It’s hard to believe that Collegeboard, the agency which is in charge of the SAT tests (and private financial aid, and AP testing and a lot of other US university stuff) is a non-profit when it charges for everything.

I’ve taken the old and new SAT, but not the ACT (which everyone tells me was stupid). This week, I got my second subject test out of the way; I wish I had done it earlier. Now, I don’t have to worry about standardized testing until the AP exams in May….joy.

 

I definitely do live in interesting times.

10 tips to 50K: The longer version

Image result for nanowrimo pic

Last year, I did the 50000 word marathon. I wrote a (part of) a very twisted Snow White story from the Stepmother’s point of view. In it, Snow White’s  a murderous pre-teen who killed animals and people and used their blood, bone and ashes as makeup.  Here’s an excerpt from the first “chapter” (I use quotes because it’s not quite organized and developed).

Though I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year (college apps, test prep and my course-load is keeping me busy this month), I did complete it last year.

I do have some um…wisdom for those brave souls who’re trying it this year. Without much ado,

  1. Don’t be intimidated by the number 50,000.  All you need to do is write. You could write fanfiction or a collection of poetry and short-stories. You could keep a diary. If you’re capable of writing a 50,000 word shopping list, you could do that.
  2. Find friends to write with. They’ll keep you on track and they’re very helpful to bounce ideas off of.
  3. Don’t aim for perfection.  These 50,000 words are just your first draft.
  4. Don’t edit as you write. I like to use white text so I’m not tempted to correct my typos and horrendous grammar.
  5. If you can’t think of anything, write anyways. Eventually you’ll stumble onto something good.
  6. Don’t erase anything. Even if you manage to get your protagonist sucked into a black-hole or vortex (and you didn’t mean to), keep it. You might want to reuse parts of it later. Just start that chapter again. Hopefully, it’ll end the way you want it to this time.
  7. Plan out a general plot. There’s nothing worse than having your protagonist or villain get killed off by the time you reach 10,000 words.
  8. Write every day. 1667 words aren’t too much to write in a day. But, when you put it off for a week, you will kick yourself when you realize 11,667 words to get back on schedule.
  9. At the same time, if you put it off for more than a couple days, don’t give up. It’s not impossible to get back on track.
  10. Strangely enough, the goal of NaNoWriMo isn’t to get you to write a novel in a month—it’s to get you to start writing. If you want to extend your NaNoWriMo into December, it’s your choice.

So if anybody noticed the title of this post, the “long version” part is confusing. I wrote an abbreviated list for my school newspaper, The Oracle. If you’re curious about that, it’s over here.

 

Paper streamer portal: A Poem

I have a new poem, right in time for Halloween. Beware of the decorations, people.


A grey crepe paper streamer hangs

So low, you can feel its mouth rasp,

Whiskers on the skin of your nape.

Hear its wispy breaths and gasps.

 

You reach up to bat it away.

Fingers break cracking skin.

The tissue membrane sunders.

A ghastly world gushes in.

 

Crashing on the other side,

Rushing like water freshly undammed,

Spirits bellow, hollow and howling, 

Bright teeth glinting because they can.

 

They trample over your shoulders,

Scamper, claws digging into your spine.

A slither vice wrapping around your chest

Smelling of sulfur and putrid brine.

 

Now that paper’s not there to hinder,

You can hear their unsubtle whispers

“Dance. Bloody. Scavenge.” they screech

“It’s Halloween. We’re through the breach.”


If you want another Halloween poem, here’s one I wrote last year: Jackal Enters. It’s a spooky one about Trick-o-treating and Jack-O-Lantern’s.
Enjoy your candy.

The Lovely Reckless: A Book Review

“Some things, and some people, are written across your soul in permanent ink.”

Book: The Lovely Reckless

Author: Kami Garcia

 

The Lovely RecklessBlurb:

Seventeen-year-old Frankie Devereux would do anything to forget the past. Haunted by the memory of her boyfriend’s death, she lives her life by one dangerous rule: Nothing matters. At least, that’s what Frankie tells herself after a reckless mistake forces her to leave her privileged life in the Heights to move in with her dad—an undercover cop. She transfers to a public high school in the Downs, where fistfights don’t faze anyone and illegal street racing is more popular than football.

Marco Leone is the fastest street racer in the Downs. Tough, sexy, and hypnotic, he makes it impossible for Frankie to ignore him—and how he makes her feel. But the risks Marco takes for his family could have devastating consequences for them both. When Frankie discovers his secret, she has to make a choice. Will she let the pain of the past determine her future? Or will she risk what little she has left to follow her heart?

My thoughts:

To be honest, my first thought after reading this book was about Katie McGarry’s Crash Into You (Fabulous book, by the way). From the surface, the books look similar. Rich girl who doesn’t get along with her family meets rough, promiscuous, “dangerous” boy who’s a great racer. She stops being judge-mental about him and his friends,and family. They bond and friendship turns into something more complicated.  The star-crossed lovers get involved in crime.

To make this different, Garcia covers much more. It doesn’t work well.  Along with romance, this book attempts to tackle issues like mourning, moving on and unhealthy relationships (as may be obvious from the blurb). Somewhere in between, she slips in standard warnings about addictions and praises close girl friendships. The resulting novel seems cliched, almost insultingly simple analyses of issues that deserve more thought and sensitivity.

Each character is a stereotype. There’s the main character, Frankie,  a rich, traumatized girl with a family that doesn’t understand her, and friends who have drifted apart.  The inspiration for the love interest probably came from a stock-photo labelled “hot bad-boy”. Of course, he has an instantaneous soft-spot for  Frankie. Obviously, he has a cute, traumatized sister that makes Frankie realize that she has it good and that she and Marco ‘belong together’. I kept waiting for the twist because I thought I knew what it was: Since, Frankie  blocked out the memory of her ex being beaten to death in front of her for drug related issues, and Marco had friends who were involved in drug related crime, I thought the conflict of the story would have been Marco knowing who killed Frankie’s ex and not telling her about it.
Yeah, no such twist came.

The romance was frankly super unhealthy; my head’s still spinning from the insta-love.  Though this book supposedly features street-racing, the fastest thing in this book is the romance. Frankie and Marco went from zero to hundred in about 2 seconds flat. Like most spontaneous teen relationships in YA books, it’s not very healthy. Marco’s awfully possessive and Frankie seems to be okay with it, even flattered. Considering these characters are high-school students, I want to scream at them; high-school boys really shouldn’t be so domineering.

Moving onto story-line. If you’re excited about reading this book because you saw the words “street”and “racing”, you will be disappointed. There’s maybe two scenes and they’re not very descriptive. This book has a terrible plot and it deserves to be spoiled. But, just in case the hundreds of favorable reviews on Goodreads have convinced you to read this book (I maintain that I received a different copy of the book), I won’t spoil it for you. Instead, I’ll just tell you that the main conflict in this book revolves around the “Adults are clueless/evil” trope that’s pretty standard to the YA genre.

Now that I’ve complained so much about this book, you want to know if there is anything redeemable about this book. Well…I liked Cruz. She’s Marco’s friend and befriends Frankie. Though raised by an abusive father, she makes sure she protects her sisters (even if she has to do some stupid, dangerous stuff to do that). She’s so confident about her place in the world, I am amazed by her strength. Garcia probably should have written about Cruz. The writing style wasn’t too bad either. Despite all these issues, I managed to make it to the end of the book.

Overall rating: 1.5/5