While 2021 hasn’t given me my best reading spree, especially with the first four months taking up most of my time with a hospital internship, I have read some pretty good books. Of course, some titles have not met my expectations and some are quite average. But once in a while, I also get one of the best reading experiences and that’s exactly what matters. Anyway, here are ten books I recently read, along with my thoughts on them —call them mini reviews if you want. 🌼

N A V I G A T E

01. A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
02. The Scapegoat by Sara Davis
03. Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June
04. Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher
05. We Are Totally Normal by Naomi Kanakia w/a Rahul Kanakia
06. An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi
07. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
08. The Avant-Guards Vol. 2 by Carly Usdin
09. Revenge of the Sluts by Natalie Walton
10. You Have A Match by Emma Lord

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A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

Bao is steady and strong, but not very interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. Linh is stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. Both work at their immigrant parents’ pho restaurants. For years, the two families have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh have avoided each other for most of their lives, but a chance encounter leads them to remember.

I was conflicted between what reason I should state for how quickly I flew through this while listening to it on Scribd. No, it wasn’t absolutely perfect or wholly entertaining. Yes, I wanted to be done with it. Part of my disappointment comes from the romance and how it was pitched: the potential rivalry between the lovers or even the forbidden aspect of feelings brewing between the children of two foe families doesn’t last long enough to keep me very interested. Rest of the disappointment comes from the pacing; this story is too, too long.

Regardless, the food descriptions made me so hungry and that’s an ingredient I always fall for. Also, the culture weaved in the sequences, the excellent writing, and the focus it brought to the inter-generational effects of the Vietnam war are facets to be appreciated. It was a pretty cute read and certainly important, to be honest.

my rating ➵ ★★★☆☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN

The Scapegoat by Sara Davis

In the Bay Area of sunny San Francisco, what starts as an investigation into the death of the narrator’s father soon turns into a fever dream that rings with surrealism, hilarity, and mystifying sequences. Losing his father to suspicious circumstances has compelled N, a university employee, to carry out an independent exploration of what happened.

By discovering a briefcase and revisiting conversations, this unreliable narrator meshes reality with haziness and the line between reality and trance blurs. Impossible to sum up without potential spoilers, this literary fiction fairs well through the passive, disinterested voice and the anti-social persona that is the sole source of viewpoint for readers. Certainly an absolute hit or miss, Scapegoat is a psychologically driven mystery that atmospherically plays out scenes completely dependent on eccentricity, disingenuity, and non-linearity.

my rating ➵ ★★★★☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop US | Amazon IN

Jay’s Gay Agenda by Jason June

Jay knows he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural town. While all his friends keep talking about their heterosexual hookups, he can only dream of his own firsts. So he compiles a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience —his Gay Agenda. Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time, he truly belongs. But he’ll soon be torn between his heart and hormones.

This story is so refreshing. It’s less about finding love or coming out and more about simply being gay and embracing the revitalizing change that a new place brings, the exhilaration of finding a support system, and of course, exploring the thrill in crossing off items on a list — one that includes everything from befriending another gay to losing one’s virginity. It’s unconventionally, unabashedly sexy and doesn’t shy away from portraying gay culture through an unfiltered lens. Certain specific decisions might not be the most righteous but that’s something to appreciate from the realistically flawed characterization and unintentional hurt that a young adult story can wonderfully portray. Hilarious and messy, with a diverse side cast, this is a book I would recommend.

my rating ➵ ★★★★☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

Amelia is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by a young and reclusive prodigy. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together. So when they get the opportunity to attend a book festival with the author in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. But Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, a fight unfolds. Before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna gets into a car accident and grief strikes. A mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles now arrives at Amelia’s door and what unravels is perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her best friend all along.

Bloomed on a coming-of-age tale, this emotional contemporary dives into grief, loss, and love. When Amelia’s best friend, a huge support in her life, passes away and a special edition of Amelia’s favorite book waits for her at the doorstep, there’s an intrigue that hooks. But the convenient coincidences that raised predictability and the immense focus on a mysterious author didn’t serve the plot with enough interest. Having said that, the intensity of sentiments were excellently placed at the centre and an authentic characterization that builds through sadness and tragedy, by adoration and hope. A beautiful writing that unfortunately doesn’t deliver an unforgettable story.

my rating ➵ ★★★☆☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop US | Amazon IN

We Are Totally Normal by Naomi Kanakia w/a Rahul Kanakia

Nandan’s got a plan to make his junior year perfect, but hooking up with his friend Dave isn’t part of it, especially since Nandan has never been into guys. Still, Nandan’s willing to give this relationship a shot. But the more his anxiety around what his sexuality means for his social circle grows, the more he wonders whether he can just take it all back.

This was genuinely quite good. Probably unconventional in the line of coming-out books that feature teen characters, considering how chaotic and tangled the tale of finding oneself —and then confidently presenting that self— is played out, but that doesn’t necessarily downplay the essence of being queer: questioning one’s sexuality in the midst of high school’s social structures, friendships, and the young need to belong. Basically, it’s not very comparable but it’s surely worth recommending to anyone looking to read something candid and as authentic as the sweetest queer love stories or the emotionally-driven coming-out-and-of-age tales.

my rating ➵ ★★★★☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN

An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi

It’s 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, and the Muslim community is being targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down. She’s named ofr joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow —after her brother is dead, her father is hospitalized, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend dropped out her life. Also, her heart is broken.

This made me cry tears of sadness and happiness, of loss and love. Stories around family, faith, and fondness always pull me in and this one held me so strongly under the grey clouds. Maybe I’ll write a more detailed review someday; after all, this book truly deserves more words of praise. But there aren’t enough synonyms for love. If you do need more reason to read this book, I would say: it’s emotional, it’s great, and it’s a delight.  

my rating ➵ ★★★★☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

For Priyanka, her mother’s homeland, India, can only exist in her imagination. Her mother abandoned her home in India years ago and every time she questions about who her father is, the topic of India is permanently closed. But when Pri finds a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase, and she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. To find the truth, on whether this is the real India or what the shadow in the background is, she must travel farther —in this graphic novel.  

This was cute. And I say that with my fondness for the endearing art style, along with my slight disappointment in terms of the story depth. A young Indian-American girl discovering family secrets while navigating an adventure upon finding a fascinating pashmina definitely set up a plot line that adorably hooks, and to most part, it does deliver the resonating themes of reconnecting with one’s culture, discovering the beauty of one’s homeland, and recognizing the privilege of freedom. Maybe I simply had very high expectations—and to be honest, I did enjoy it for all the things it was, I just didn’t love it as much as I thought it would. Still, will surely recommend it!

my rating ➵ ★★★☆☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN

The Avant-Guards Vol. 2 by Carly Usdin

The second volume in an ensemble comedy series that brings together different characters, identities, and personalities to a school’s barely-existent basketball team , returns at a point where The Avant-Guards have been on a roll. But when they hit the end of their winning streak, it’s something to wonder if the new friendships will survive. As they struggle to move forward, they’ll soon learn just what it means to truly be a team —on the court and off the court.

I loved reading the first volume so much, I was pretty confident about enjoying this one and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Although this volume focused more on characterization and wasn’t too big on the plot, the characters do manage to make a place in your heart —so much that you want these characters to simply be themselves, tell more of their stories, live their relationships. The friendships continue to be explored and the court remains a significant place.

my rating ➵ ★★★★☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN

Revenge of the Sluts by Natalie Walton

As a lead reporter for the school newspaper, Eden is determined to get to the bottom of the current news: intimate pictures of seven female students are anonymously emailed to the entire school. In tracking down leads, she is shocked to discover not everyone agrees the students are victims. Even worse, the administration is more concerned about protecting its reputation than its students. With the anonymous sender threatening more emails, Eden takes help from the seven girls themselves, banding together to find the perpetrator.

Despite being a predictable mystery and disappointing through an overtly descriptive writing, Revenge of the Sluts brings important themes of slut shaming, revenge porn, and toxic masculinity to a plot where high school girls are brought to the crossroad of judgment when their nudes are leaked through an anonymous email. Majorly centered around Eden, the executive editor of the school newspaper who is assigned to cover this incident, the social commentary on a scandal like this is well exposed. Having said that, the ability to hook falters and the author’s choice to write the character of Eden as a Korean-American doesn’t sit well with me, as a reader, for the diversity points it seems to collect without any substance.

my rating ➵ ★★★☆☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop UK | Amazon IN

You Have a Match by Emma Lord

As someone who genuinely enjoyed reading Emma Lord’s debut novel, Tweet Cute, this sophomore novel, You Have a Match was surprisingly average. While comparison is not always my preferred way to put forward my opinions as a reader, I can’t help but wonder why something new by a writer who gave me one of my favorite reads of last year didn’t impress me much. The plot of a young high school girl and passionate photographer randomly signing up for a DNA testing service and consequently discovering the existence of a biological sister who lives just a few blocks away, is interesting. Followed by a summer camp she attends for the first time, where her tech-savvy, influencer sister works as a counselor and her childhood best friend (and crush) has been a part of for years, there’s enough to tell a contemporary that entertains.

But the banter and romance doesn’t create a charm that lasts; maybe because ‘best friends to lovers’ isn’t one of my most appreciated tropes so a certain personal taste is influencing this comment. Still, the focus on family secrets, the anticipation, shock, and newness of a recently discovered relationship, and the diverse side cast spurs a good response. What could’ve been explored with more nuances was the social media, particularly the inclusion of Instagram’s influence in the story line, and the friendships. Alas, the same writing that created Tweet Cute’s endearing tale doesn’t make a similar appeal in this overloaded narrative ridden with certain clichés that don’t justify all —which is a lot— that’s going on.

my rating ➵ ★★★☆☆

Buy the book: Amazon US | Bookshop US | Amazon IN

have you read any of these books? do you plan to? 💛

N O T E

From this list, The Scapegoat, Amelia Unabridged, Revenge of the Sluts, and You Have a Match were read as early digital copies received via Netgalley. The others were either independently read or accessed through Scribd.


3 replies on “Ten Books I Recently Read & My Thoughts On Them — Vol. 01

  1. Fanna you’ve read so many books!! I really wanted to read A Pho Love Story, but I also wanted to check out some reviews first, and now I am torn if I want to read it because I love slow slow burns, or if it would be too dragged out. Also, Jay’s Gay Agenda sounds so good!! Will definitely pick it up later ໒( ♥ ◡ ♥ )७

    Like

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