In typical Katie fashion, I have gotten embarrassingly far behind in writing reviews. In blogging in general, really, as you might have noticed. But I’m determined to make this my big comeback and get back to blogging with a vengeance. #Dramatic.
I’m too far behind to possibly review every book I’ve read in the last few months, so I’ve decided just to review some of the most recent ones and pick up from there. This might be a bit of a long post, but I’m gonna try to be concise-ish despite it going against the very nature of my soul.
God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen
Craving a taste of teenage life, Asiya Haque defies her parents to go for a walk (really, it was just a walk!) in the woods with Michael, her kind-of-friend/crush/the guy with the sweetest smile she’s ever seen. Her tiny transgression goes completely off track when they stumble on a dead body. Michael covers for Asiya, then goes missing himself.
Despite what the police say, Asiya is almost sure Michael is innocent. But how will she, the sheltered girl with the strictest parents ever, prove anything? With Michael gone, a rabid police officer in desperate need of some sensitivity training, and the murderer out there, how much will Asiya risk to do what she believes is right?
Way back near the beginning of the year Ishara emailed me saying she thought I’d be interested in God Smites and offered me a review copy. I read the first few chapters, loved it, told her I’d love to read the rest…and then I slept on it for months because that’s what I do. I’m a disaster okay; I’m working on it. But I finally picked it back up earlier this summer, and I practically binged it in a single night. I stayed up way too late on a work night because I. Just. Couldn’t. Stop. And I’ve been shoving it at anyone who will listen ever since.
God Smites is a goddamn treasure, y’all. It is such a fun, quick read and I loved every second of the ride it took me on. Asiya’s internal monologue is genuine and hilarious, and honestly just getting to spend a few hours in her head makes this worth the read. But more than that, God Smites does a great job of exploring it’s many intersections. Readers follow Asiya as she attempts to reconcile her desire to find (and be!) herself with her desire to make her very traditional parents happy, to reconcile the two cultures she belongs to, and to deal with a maybe first romance, all while trying to solve a murder mystery she’s gotten pulled into by the cute guy from her class. It’s a hell of a start to senior year, to say the least.
So, yeah, there’s some Very Real™ stuff going on in God Smites too, but I seriously cannot express how fun and hilarious of a read it is. It’s the first book in a long time to make me actually laugh out loud. And you don’t even have to take my word for it–I got the receipts. Here’s one of my favorite bits from the beginning:
Michael probably knew, I mean there was no way a guy like him had never had sex. Whoa, I was walking beside a guy who’d probably had his penis in somebody. Some girl I didn’t want to think about. Eww. Scratch her out. Even without her, it was still pretty unbelievable. Michael was capable of feeling something so strongly that enough blood flowed to his penis to make it hard like…
“What are you thinking about?”
“Wood. The woods. I really like the woods,” I said.
Need I really say more? Seriously do not sleep on God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems. It deserves so, so much more attention that it gets. If you love yourself, buy the book. You’ll get to support a fabulous indie author and find your next favorite read all at the same time. There’s no downside here.
God Smites is also ownvoices for muslim rep, so if that is something you’re looking for this book has you covered!
The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember
Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.
Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.
TW: Reproductive slavery, date rape, demonization of infertility, domestic violence, suicidal thoughts, and non-binary villainization.
The Seafarer’s Kiss was one of my most anticipated summer reads I was most excited about. I *pre-ordered* this one. I really, really wanted to love it. But I just couldn’t.
For one thing, it was a lot darker than I expected it to be. Normally this would earn a book points with me–I am all about dark, grunge fantasy–but The Seafarer’s Kiss is dark in a way that made me anxious instead of excited. I may have liked it better if I knew what to expect going in, but I also might have opted to skip it all together.
In Ersel’s community, women are valued exclusively for their reproductive capabilities. Their big coming of age ceremony is based on determining how fertile, and therefore valuable, they are so that the men can fight over the women who will likely bear them the most children. And while the grossness of this is acknowledged, the book does practically nothing to actually deconstruct it. Ersel openly opposes the whole idea of the ceremony and of being expected to settle down and have babies for the rest of her life, but as soon as she discovers that a mermaid who has bullied her most her life is infertile she jumps on the bandwagon, saying something along the lines of “turns out she was the broken one.”
There are absolutely ways to write stories set in worlds that value women exclusively for reproduction–The Handmaid’s Tale does it really well–but this book really misses the mark. If rape culture and reproductive rights are part of the foundation of your world and your plot, you can’t just sweep them to the side. But that’s exactly what The Seafarer’s Kiss does. There is mention of mermaids being locked up by their mates and used as reproductive slaves, but the book never comes back to this or grapples with it. An infertile mermaid dies trying to “fix” herself and it’s practically a footnote. Ersel’s best friend tries to blackmail her into marrying him by threatening to tell the king she’d been with a human–the punishment for which is torture, if not worse–but we’re encourage to overlook this by the end. It just didn’t sit right with me. I think stories that make us uncomfortable can be incredibly important, but they shouldn’t make us uncomfortable just for the sake of it, without it serving any real purpose. Not about stuff like this, at least.
The story itself was fine, if nothing spectacular. But I was never able to really lose myself in it enough to enjoy it because of all of the above. The ending is rather abrupt and much too neatly tied up–everything I mentioned is basically swept away for the sake of an unrealistically happy ending.
A lot of non-binary readers were also hurt by the fact that the only non-binary character in the book is the villain, Loki. They are not the sort of charming morally gray villain you might expect from the trickster god, either. They orchestrate the date rape of one of the mermaids, has forced at least one person into becoming their slave; you get the idea.
The book is ownvoices for bisexual rep and it does feature on the page intimacy between Ersel and Ragna (though even this gets a bit weird at one point…tentacle sex is not something I thought I’d ever be mentioning in a YA review, but here we are). There is however also physical violence between them that is pretty quickly swept aside, which I found really concerning.
I said I’d be concise and I wasn’t, sorry. I just had a lot that I felt needed to be said about this one.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, 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 his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—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 gravitate 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.
I was so nervous going into When Dimple Met Rishi. Everyone I’d seen talking about it had really hyped it up for me, and I’m always scared a book won’t live up to the hype. But it sounded like a really great, fun summer read, so I finally gave in and bought it to take camping with me. And wow was that a great decision. I loved this book so much. So, so much. I read it in a single day. I laughed, I cried, I laughed again. It’s just so beautiful.
When Dimple Met Rishi is everything I’ve ever wanted from a YA contemporary romance. It’s adorable, hilarious, heartfelt, genuine, the list goes on and on.
I saw a lot of 18 year old me in Dimple–the good and the bad. She’s independent, driven, and stubborn with a bit of a one-track mind. She’s convinced she knows who she is and what she wants, and is blindsided when she starts to realize she might not actually have everything figured out. One aspect about her character arc in particular–her fears that falling for Rishi would mean sacrificing her dreams and aspirations–really hit close to home for me, and I’m sure it will for other readers too. I really could have used this book a few years ago, and I’m so glad it exists for others who might need it now. I know it’s not the part of the book that stands out for most people, but seeing Dimple grappling with that was really validating for me in ways I really didn’t expect.
Rishi is a precious Soft Boy™ who deserve nothing but sunshine and happiness for the rest of his days. While Dimple knows what she wants and is actively resisting her parents’ traditional views and expectations, Rishi is determined to follow the traditions of the culture he comes from. He feels very connected to his Indian roots, and doesn’t share Dimple’s desire to escape them. But throughout the book he is confronted with the possibility of following a dream he never really let himself dwell on before, and he finds himself torn between what he loves and his desire to follow the path his parents have envisioned.
The characters are what really make this book special. Dimple and Rishi are both so wonderfully complex. And one of the things I love most about this book is that their story is bigger than their relationship. They both have other things going on in their lives that they are trying to figure out, and all of those things impact the way they interact with each other. And sometimes this means they mess up and they hurt one another. And there was a lot of debate about this in the book community, but what it comes down to is this is a realistic depiction of two teens trying to navigate their first real relationship while also going through some serious life transitions. It’s adorable, it’s messy, it’s butterflies and first kisses, and it’s good intentions gone horribly wrong. It’s learning to read someone and thinking you know them and then realizing you still have a lot to learn.
I seriously cannot recommend this book enough. I’m already looking forward to re-reading it the next time I need a feel good read to pick me up. It is an absolute delight and Sandhya Menon is now on my rather short list of auto-buy authors. Just take my money.
When Dimple Met Rishi is ownvoices for Indian-American rep.
Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.
But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.
Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.
I can’t remember the last time I read (and finished) a book right after it came out. It doesn’t happen very often these days, but I managed it with Daughter of the Burning City.
I love the whole premise of this book. It’s really unique compared to most of the YA fantasy section right now, which is what convinced me to pick it up. I’ve seen people comparing it to Caraval but I haven’t read Caraval so I can’t really say, but either way it stood out.
Daughter of the Burning City is a fun mix of fantasy and murder mystery with a properly unique cast of characters. Foody does a great job of introducing you to all of Sorina’s illusions and gives you just enough time to get attached to a few of them before the anxiety of “which one dies next” kicks in, which makes it hard to quit reading once you get into it. I definitely stayed up past my bed time finishing this one.
This book also gets major bonus points from me for A. having dialogue that made me proper laugh out loud at one point, and B. having verbal consent about physical intimacy on the page.
This book also has a decent amount of on the page LGBT+ rep! One of Sorina’s illusions is a lesbian, Sorina is bisexual and her love interest is ace-spec. I read him as being demisexual, but I’ve since read that the author confirmed him as asexual demiromantic. I think this book does a good job of showing the assumptions allosexual people make about others, in that Sorina frequently assumes this character has had sexual relationships before because of who he hangs out with, how attractive he is, etc.
I can’t speak for the rep itself as I’m definitely not an authority. I’ve been looking for ownvoices reviews and have come up empty, but if I find a few in the future I will add it!
There are a few bits where the pacing could be a bit better, but it never dragged so much that I got bored. And while I’ll admit some plot points are a little predictable, it left me guessing enough that I was never quite ready to commit to any of my assumptions, even the ones that ended up being right. All in all this is a solid read, especially for someone looking for something a bit different.
Alright so I’m not good at being concise. I had a lot of thoughts, okay? But now I am officially-ish caught up on reviewing my most recent reads (I opted to skip a few), so I’ll finally be back to reviewing book regularly again. I’m really excited to be diving back in. Writing this post has made me realize just how much I miss this. It’s good to be back.
If you’ve read any of these books please tell me what you thought in the comments! And if you haven’t, are there any I’ve convinced you to consider?