The Clasp by Sloane Crosley These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Publisher: Twenty7
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4/5
Synopsis from Goodreads:
"Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?' Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene. As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ? Sofia Khan is not Obliged is the hilarious and authentic debut novel by Ayisha Malik." 
I absolutely LOVED this book! It was positively bursting with love and laughter. Sofia's voice is definitely up there with Bex from the Shopaholic series and Georgia Nicholson (albeit quite a bit older than the latter). I don't often like to read books where the main character and I share the same name (yes - I'm a bit strange like that but it takes all sorts) but I was intrigued by the blurb and the cover. Plus, it's Sofia with an 'f', so that probably helped. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

First of all, this is a great book if you'd like to gain insight into what it means to be a young, British Muslim. I especially found the scenes with Sofia's sister - Maria - dealing with living with her in-laws touching. This book is also great if you want to know about the second generation immigrant experience in general. I'm third generation (my grandparents moved to the UK from the Caribbean as I've spoken about before) and could relate to some of the things Sofia experienced. For example, like a few of us (yes - just a few - you've all seen the diversity stats) working in creative industries, Sofia is a bit of a novelty in her office. Her colleagues don't mean to treat her differently but every now and then, what could be seen as well meaning questioning, only ends up highlighting their differences and turns into a bit of exotification.

Secondly, you'll enjoy this book if you like a good old fashioned marriage plot. Sofia is very much an Elizabeth Bennett. At times, she notes that even when you seem happy enough to be alone this does not seem to be enough to make others happy (especially if those 'others' are in relationships themselves). However, thanks to the central premise - Sofia writing a Muslim dating book - we get lots of anecdotes and hijinks and Mr Wrongs to enjoy. Oh and her Mr Right is awesome!

Finally, there's plenty of family love. Sofia's parents were absolutely hilarious. At one point her mum talks about their cousin coming to London thinking she's all that and it sounded so much like something my gran would say! I also loved how much her friends featured in the books - they really were part of her family and they had quite a few dilemmas to deal with themselves.

I have a fairly long commute, so I'm always hopeful that the book I've chosen to read for the week is a good one. It's always a pleasant surprise when the book is good and funny. It's always good to have a little giggle on the train (although this doesn't usually go down well with fellow commuters. Thankfully I haven't come across anyone like Sofia's Northern line nemesis). Overall, this is a lovely book and I encourage those of you with a love of heartwarming, witty reads to give this one a go. 

The Clasp by Sloane Crosley

Monday, October 26, 2015

Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4/5
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Part comedy of manners, part treasure hunt, the first novel from the writer whom David Sedaris calls "perfectly, relentlessly funny" Kezia, Nathaniel, and Victor are reunited for the extravagant wedding of a college friend. Now at the tail end of their twenties, they arrive completely absorbed in their own lives—Kezia the second-in-command to a madwoman jewelry designer in Manhattan; Nathaniel, the former literary cool kid, selling his wares in Hollywood; and the Eeyore-esque Victor, just fired from a middling search engine. They soon slip back into old roles: Victor loves Kezia. Kezia loves Nathaniel. Nathaniel loves Nathaniel. In the midst of all this semi-merriment, Victor passes out in the mother of the groom’s bedroom. He wakes to her jovially slapping him across the face. Instead of a scolding, she offers Victor a story she’s never even told her son, about a valuable necklace that disappeared during the Nazi occupation of France. And so a madcap adventure is set into motion, one that leads Victor, Kezia, and Nathaniel from Miami to New York and L.A. to Paris and across France, until they converge at the estate of Guy de Maupassant, author of the classic short story "The Necklace." Heartfelt, suspenseful, and told with Sloane Crosley’s inimitable spark and wit, The Clasp is a story of friends struggling to fit together now that their lives haven’t gone as planned, of how to separate the real from the fake. Such a task might be possible when it comes to precious stones, but is far more difficult to pull off with humans.
I really like this book. It has all the elements I usually enjoy - twenty somethings trying to figure stuff out, weddings, snarky wry characters, a decent sprinkling of humour - but it also had a pleasantly surprising bonus...a fast moving plot that was a bit of an adventure!

I've seen The Clasp mentioned in my usual magazines and on a few websites when I've been searching for new reads. Usually it's featured alongside Fates and Furies (which we know I wasn't so keen on) but I was so pleased that The Clasp was enjoyable. For me, the thing that separated the two (other than a decent plot) was the character development.

I think we all know a Victor, Kezia and Nathaniel (perhaps we're even like one - or more - of them) and relatable characters are usually part of the recipe for a successful novel. The perspective jumps from one to the other and I'm pleased to report that all of their voices sounded different (I have read many stories where all of the different points of view blend into one). They were all endearing in certain ways as they searched for both the necklace and their purpose. I liked Kezia in particular - after all, she was flying the flag for the ladies - as she walked her own walk and didn't seem to be terribly preoccupied with finding that special someone, which is something that seems to plague every female character I've come across recently. There's nothing wrong with that at all - especially if you chose to read a romance novel - but sometimes it's nice to hear a different song. She also wasn't overly nice and sweet nor was she terribly unhinged (again, seems like much of what I'm reading these days have one or the other.) Instead, it was nice to have Nathaniel - who, as the writer, is technically the romantic out of them all - go down that path instead. Finally, Victor was the perfect Eeyore of the story. All of the friends and minor characters were also used to great effect.

I didn't read 'The Necklace' in school or university (Theology graduate here) so I wasn't familiar with the story but it's recapped plenty of times throughout the book, so that's not a hindrance if you haven't read it either. I thought using the story within the story worked very well.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Clasp and look forward to reading Sloane Crosley's next work of fiction. 

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

Monday, October 12, 2015

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 4/5
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.
I was intrigued by the premise of this book but didn't really know what to expect. I haven't read anything by Jennifer Donnelly before but I think I have The Tea Rose somewhere. So, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed These Shallow Graves - I thought it was brilliant! A real adventure though late 1800's New York City.

The plot twists and turns were just right and the suspense was maintained throughout. Often these murder mystery type stories can become a little drawn out but even at almost 500 pages, this book remained interesting. It also didn't feel like 500 pages - I could've done with another 100 pages I think! Even though whilst reading it you kind of know that certain people are not quite what they seem, it's still thrilling when all is revealed. Also, I read a lot of YA contemporary (and 'adult' contemporary - is that the correct classification?!) so it was also refreshing to not have the romance as the plot driver.

Jo was a very well written main character - extremely likeable, which obviously helped make the big reveal even more of a kick in the guy. Her drive and curiosity really helped to maintain the onetime and increased empathy for her situation. Eddie was also wonderfully written. His backstory was interesting too and I liked all of the other characters who were pulled into the story because of him such as Fay and Oscar. There's only so much space in a book but it would've been nice to see more of Jo's mother and her best friend, if only to get more of a sense of the kind of life she was straining against.

Equality was at the heart of the story. Jo wanted the freedom to do what she needed to do - such as get a job, follow her dreams or even just walk down the street without the threat of being branded immoral. I thought the opening of her mind and her eyes - by the likes of Eddie, Fay and her maid - was really well done. It wasn't condescending or patronising. Along with women's rights, there was a great deal about poverty. Once again Jo's eyes were opened to how the other half lived and this stirred up a need to tell the truth and lobby for change within Jo.

Overall, These Shallow Graves was a great read. I think it's classed as YA but I'm sure it could quite happily sit in the general fiction section as well. I really like Jennifer Donnelly's style of writing, so I'll have to try and find The Tea Rose or purchase another one of her books. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good murder mystery fronted by an extremely likeable and inspiring main character. 

Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Source: Netgalley
Rating: 3/5
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Recklessly loyal. That’s how seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley has always thought of herself. Caring for her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But lately she’s grown resentful of everyone—including her needy best friend and her absent mom—taking her loyalty for granted. Then Arden stumbles upon a website called Tonight the Streets Are Ours, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, who gives voice to feelings that Arden has never known how to express. He seems to get her in a way that no one else does, and he hasn’t even met her. Until Arden sets out on a road trip to find him. During one crazy night out in New York City filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was, either.
I think I've read most - if not all - of Leila Sales' books now. This Song Will Save Your Life will always be my favourite but I'd rate Tonight the Streets Are Ours alongside Past Perfect (although that one might have the edge because of the historical reenactment setting, which was nice and different). I suppose what I'm trying to say is Tonight the Streets Are Ours is a solid YA novel!

One thing I really liked about this book was the main character. Arden was so normal. She wasn't the most popular but neither was she socially challenged (we're past all of that now, right? That's what 21 Jump Street showed anyway...) She wasn't great at any one thing (except for being nice but that's not a talent so much as being a decent human being) but she also wasn't a degenerate. All in all, I liked her as the main character and the eyes through which we experienced this story.

The blog aspect was really interesting and timely. I've never met any of the bloggers I follow in real life but I can imagine for those who have, it can sometimes end up a little bit like Arden's encounter with Peter - especially for those in the lifestyle and fashion arena. Ultimately, this part of the story really highlighted the fact that what people put online is highly curated (I know we hate that word now but it's true!) - no matter how real their posts and photos might seem. This isn't to say people are liars but any time you start a project, you have an end goal. Writing blog posts, taking photos for Instagram, filming clips for Youtube and all of the other mediums I'm too behind to have caught up with yet all takes time, so an agenda needs to be set. Nobody has the time or resources to document every minute of their day for real - we know this from reality television (thank you series finale of The Hills).  So, all of what happens to Arden is important in reiterating this 'not everything is as it seems' message and people do need reminding. It's very easy to fall into the 'oh, woe is me, if only my life were like so and so on Instagram's life' trap.

I liked Arden and Lindsey's friendship. Everyone knows that in every relationship someone is the adored and the other is the adorer (or whatever the terms are). Sometimes it is very obvious, other times you have to look a bit deeper to discern which is which. I like that Arden got enraged because all adorers/givers/protectors are allowed to throw a tantrum every now and then for being under appreciated. However, she soon simmered down and came to terms with the fact that she's Lindsey's person (I will always be grateful to Shonda Rhimes for coming up with that because that one word says so much). It was also nice to see Lindsey maturing and gradually taking responsibility for her actions and even being proactive about certain things, along with truly coming through for Arden when it really counted.

Arden's parents story was quite heavy. I'm sure many relationships end up like theirs at some point and I'd actually quite like to read her mother's story! Again, the mother was the giver in the relationship and just ended up burnt out, so she had to recharge her batteries by fulfilling her dream to live in New York City. Moral of the story? If you're a giver, find your New York City and go there every now and then when you need a bit of a break.

Overall, Tonight the Streets Are Ours is a strong piece of writing. Originally, I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads or something like that but I'm finding ratings difficult these days. This book has something timely to say, which is the main point of writing (right?), so I would definitely recommend it to YA lovers. 

Why Not Me? & Fates and Furies

Monday, October 5, 2015

WHAT'S THE DEAL? Mindy Kaling's second book of essays following the hilarious Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

ANY GOOD? If you've got a daughter/goddaughter/cousin/sister/BFF who has recently graduated or is going through the 'who am I?' phase you need to get them this book. It's funny (obviously) but packed with sage advice. More than anything, Why Not Me? will make you respect Mindy Kaling even more. The topics discussed in the essays are honest and real. I'm not sure if I'd say they are completely relatable for most people outside of the entertainment industry but still there are many takeaway points. I enjoyed Mindy's comments on diversity in the industry. I liked that on the one hand she acknowledges that she's an inspiration for many ethnic minority women but on the other hand she just wants to be asked the usual fluff questions when being interviewed like other actresses. I think this is a feeling many people from ethnic minority backgrounds have regardless of position. At the end of the day, things always come back to race. I hope she continues writing these essays as her career progresses. 

ADD TO BASKET? If you're a fan of Mindy and/or need a bit of a pep talk.

(I received this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review)

WHAT'S THE DEAL? Split into two sections - Fates and Furies - this is the story of Lotto and Mathilde and the ups and downs of their marriage.  

ANY GOOD? I still don't know how I feel about this book and I finished it last week. I enjoyed some of the story (mainly the beginning of the fates section and the beginning of the furies section). I liked the fairytale like beginning to Lotto's story - this 'chosen one', child genius lording it about in the Florida swaps. I was quite interested in where the story was going but then he met Mathilde and the whole thing became quite dull. Ultimately, I continued reading in the hope of getting to the point of the story but it never really came. This coupled with the overly flowery language was off putting but I persevered. By the time I reached the final quarter, I was skim reading because I just didn't like what was going on with Mathilde. It felt quite incongruous with the rest of the story and bit too over the top for shock value. I suppose you could loosely say the main takeaway is that you can never really know someone - even your spouse - along with the thought that tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin. Still, I wasn't taken with this book all too much.

ADD TO BASKET? It has been on lots of 'must-read' lists and nominated for awards and such like so if you're a little bit curious give it a go. At the very least it will spark discussion.