Book Reviews, Contemporary

To Lahore, With Love – Hina Belitz Review

To Lahore, With Love: 'Warm, delicious and so beautifully written ...

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I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really wanted to enjoy To Lahore With Love, but this book was so disappointing. I was looking forward to a fun, light-hearted and entertaining story set in an exciting location, but the story fell flat from the start, with a plot that ranged from slow to unbelievable and writing that felt bland.

Addy Mayford is a half Pakistani, half Irish woman, who loves cooking and her husband Gabe. Her life is a mostly idyllic dream, a haze of romance and sumptuous dishes, until her husband walks out on her. To help Addy heal, her grandmother, ‘Nana’, suggests a trip to Lahore. Nana and Addy’s best friend Jen join her on the trip, where Addy explores the city, meets family members and encounters a new man.

I struggled to relate to or like Addy at all, which made the book very difficult to read. I appreciated the attempt by Belitz to explore the identity issues that Addy faces, being of mixed heritage, however she simply did not explore it enough making it difficult to understand or believe, at the best of times. I couldn’t understand how Addy hid her Pakistani heritage from Gabe for the entire duration of their relationship until their engagement – which was made even more improbably by the fact that their first conversations all focused on aspects of her grandmother’s culture. This simply didn’t make sense to me, from a plot point of view. She also never addresses her husband’s ignorance of her culture, such as his greeting her Muslim grandmother with “Namaste”. This could have all been salvaged if it had been addressed in some way, if Addy’s trip to Lahore helped her to become more culturally aware, more in touch with her heritage and accepting of it. Instead, this storyline had no resolution and there was no sign by the end of the book that Addy had engaged with her heritage on a deeper level or that she felt like anything more than an Irish girl in Pakistan. Similarly, Belitz touched on the issue of infertility, but then abandoned the issue and never returned to it again.

Another issue that I had with this book was the pacing. Belitz spends the first chunk of the book taking us through Addy’s childhood, her youth, the beginnings of her relationship with Gabe. I think that the book would been better if these details were littered throughout the book, instead of having a significant chunk of the book dedicated to events that had no real impact on the main plot. Instead, this approach meant that the book started on the back foot, and the section of the book that is set in Lahore felt rushed and its events felt shallow.

It also meant that the characters felt two dimensional. I think that Belitz saw certain scenes as essential to introduce us to characters of the novel, but I think that she overestimated how much introduction a character needs; we do not need to read an entire chapter of Addy and Jen as schoolgirls to understand that they are close friends., and we do not need entire chapters dedicated to the beginnings of Addy and Gabe’s relationship to understand that she is in love with him. We could simply see these characters in action, and infer this from the text. Generally, Belitz tells, instead of shows us, everything in this book, which makes the writing fall flat and removes the need for imagination and connection with the book; there are whole chunks where we are walked through every feeling and thought that Addy has, instead of being made to feel what she is feeling.

One part of this book that showed potential for me was the recipes that feature in between each chapter. This sections had the light-hearted, whimsical tone that I think could have made the book more entertaining, instead of the more serious approach that was taken. They reminded me of the musical Waitress, and had hints of a romantic, other-worldly tone that could have really saved this book.

Overall, I really did not enjoy this book. I wish that I had, but the aspects of this book that could have made it stand out were just not explored properly. The plot, characters and writing were simply undercooked (pun intended).

 

Book Reviews, Contemporary, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Book of Unknown Americans – Cristina Henriquez Review

The Book of Unknown Americans: Amazon.co.uk: Cristina Henriquez ...

Rating: ★★★★★

This is a beautiful story of Latin American immigrants in America, learning to live in and love a country that doesn’t love them back. If you are looking for a new #ownvoices book to add to your TBR, add this one straight away!

After their daughter Maribel suffers a traumatic brain injury, the Riveras leave their native Mexico to move to America, where the offer of specialist education gives them hope that their daughter will one day be how she was before. In the same apartment block, Mayor, a Panamanian boy who struggles to live up to the high standards set by his older brother, the golden boy. Mayor is instantly taken with Maribel, and is one of the few people able to get through to her. However, when violence reaches the families and threatens everything they have fought so hard for, will Maribel and Mayor make it through? And will the Riveras’ move to America be worth it?

This book was so well written and some of the passages fully took my breath away and were so beautiful I had to re-read. I could relate to the stories in the book, which were so expertly crafted and realistic that they felt like true reflections of the stories of my family members and friends. You can really feel the benefit of an #ownvoices author in a book like this, that does not use immigration simply as a topic for discussion but understands the real lives behind the story.

Although Mayor and Mirabel are presented as main characters, I loved the whole cast. In particular, I really liked reading Maribel’s mum’s chapters, and her journey of struggling with motherhood, a new language, and grieving for the daughter she had before Mirabel’s injury. My favourite part of the book was the snapshots into the lives of the background characters, each of which was given a short chapter where you learn about where they’ve come from, why they left, and what they hoped to find in America. I couldn’t help but cry at some of the stories and it added a really moving and human touch to the book.

Overall, I could not recommend this book more. I am surprised that it has not received more attention, as it is honestly one of the most emotional books I’ve read.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

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Rating: ★★★

I have found it so hard to review this book because it is so unlike most of the books I have read. Junot Díaz’s writing is unique and effortless, it is a beautiful read and loved the intertwining of stories, but I sometimes felt like the overall story and unity of the various plots suffered under the weight of them all.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is, obviously, about Oscar. He is an overweight, nerdy, and eternally lovesick Dominican boy who lives with his mother and sister. He wants desperately to experience love, and although he experiences it very often, he has yet to have it be returned. Díaz’s narrative spreads not only across Oscar’s formative years, but as far back as previous generations, exploring the curse, or Fuku, that they believe has overshadowed their lives for decades.

I did enjoy this aspect of intergenerational storytelling, and particularly in the context of talking about an immigrant Latino family, it felt very appropriate. In my own Latin American upbringing, I have always been raised to consider my family history to be as strong a part of my identity as my own likes and dislikes, so I could really relate to this method of exploring Oscar’s life and beliefs and the events that had formed him. The experiences of his relatives even years before directly impacted his life, and by the end, we not only see a clear chain of events across generations, but also wonder whether the Fuku is real.

The downside to this was that sometimes I just found this secondary stories to drag on a bit. There were things that I didn’t understand the importance of, meanwhile other storylines were left by the wayside and I would have liked to have had the chance to explore more. As interesting as the stories of the different characters were as standalone stories, and even though by their end I could see how they linked in to Oscar’s story, sometimes while reading them I felt lost in their story and struggled to see the importance of some of the detail. Also, despite understanding that these events and people formed Oscar’s own identity and life, I felt like Oscar’s own story at times felt weak. For example, the final chapters of his story felt simply silly at times, and whilst his neediness and desperation for love had been endearing, I simply grew frustrated with his narrow-mindedness and decisions, and the ending, rather than feeling poignant and moving, just felt a bit – dare I say it – stupid.

Overall, I do appreciate Junot Díaz’s talent in writing this book, and I do appreciate the various features of its structure and storytelling, but I simply didn’t like the plot. It felt disjointed at times, and the main plot and character disappointed me.

Book Reviews, Poetry

peluda – Melissa Lozada-Oliva Review

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Rating:★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I knew I had to get this one. I’ve loved watching videos of Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s spoken word performances on YouTube, finally feeling represented by her words and stories. My Spanish captures exactly how I feel about feeling like I’m not fluent enough at my native tongue, and Bitches makes me laugh as I think of all the brilliant women in my family. Peluda didn’t disappoint. Melissa has a way with mixing humour and emotion, so that I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry at her words.

Peluda explores so many topics in its 21 poems. In a single poem, you’ll find explorations of Latina identity, beauty and femininity, class and family relationships, all seen through the lens of the immigrant experience. ‘Peluda’ is Spanish for ‘hairy’, and Lord, being hairy is one thing that I can relate to. I initially thought that the poems would simply be humorous, but Melissa takes a simple feature, hair, and uses it as a vehicle to show so much more. It is about owning your identity, even though you struggle with it, and know that other people don’t understand it. It’s about the girl who is ashamed of her thick, black body hair, and who has to shave to look and feel acceptable, and is criticised for being superficial by her white friends who let their own body hair grow as a political statement, but not only that. It’s also about wanting to shorten your name, to have a whiter name, less Latino, less immigrant, about your identity not being wholly your own but consisting of your family and their experiences. Even though the poems discuss the struggles of the Latin-American immigrant experience, it isn’t about being ashamed. It’s about fighting to feel proud, no matter what other people say or how they act, seeing the beauty through the struggle, and seeing the beauty in the struggle.

I love finding chances to read #ownvoices literature, but finding literature that captures my own experiences as a Colombian girl, growing up in the UK, has always been difficult. I have never found a book that captures so many emotions as these poems have. I have honestly never felt so represented since I watched In The Heights, and it made me get teary-eyed quite a few times just at the feeling of seeing myself in these poems. If you are looking for #OwnVoices authors to add to your reading list, I could not recommend this enough.

I cannot recommend this collection enough. The poems are beautiful and fun to read, filled with humour and emotion. I can’t wait for my own copy to arrive in the mail so that I can show this to everyone who will listen!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon Review

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Rating; ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was so excited to read this novel and when I finally got a copy, I was overjoyed. The synopsis had me feeling some noughties rom-com meets Bend It Like Beckham vibes, and that’s exactly what I got. I loved the blend of the lighthearted teen romance with the infusion of Dimple and Rishi’s cultural backgrounds and their families, and the whole story really comes to life as you read it.

Dimple and Rishi have both been sent to Insomnia Con, a prestigious summer camp, to meet each other by their parents. The only problem is that only Rishi knows that this is a set-up. He is excited to meet his potential future wife and spend six wonderful weeks with her, but when he meets Dimple, he realises that she knew nothing of the plan. Dimple was under the impression that her parents were finally letting her focus on her career, and she’s furious that she’s been tricked. When Dimple and Rishi get paired together on a project, it seems like things couldn’t get any worse. Except they do. Dimple realises that perhaps she’s let her anger blind her, and she starts to wonder if perhaps she and Rishi and more compatible than she thought.

My favourite part of this novel was the characters. Dimple and Rishi are both so different. Dimple is feisty, independent, and stubborn. She dreams of being a web developers and I loved how passionate she is about her goals. Despite the romance storyline, I never felt like Dimple’s personality and goals were being sacrificed or like her character was being diluted in any way which I often feel in romance novels. Rishi on the other hand is a romantic and he loves all of the traditions that Dimple feels constrained by. He can’t wait to marry and have kids, everything that his parents want, but he doesn’t know if he’s following in their footsteps rather than pursuing his own dream – comics.  I loved reading about their families and their Indian culture. You can really tell that this novel is own voices in my opinion, because it never felt forced or superficial, the descriptions and conversations between family members felt real.

I loved that despite the storylines of the romance between Dimple and Rishi and the Insomnia Con competition there was also the interior battles that the characters are facing. Both Dimple and Rishi have to learn what it is exactly that they want, not what they’ve been told they should want or what they’ve told themselves they should want. It is a storyline that I think plenty of readers could relate to, and I definitely could myself.  I also love that despite the two of them obviously helping each other learn things along the way, neither one’s achievements were completely dependent on the other. Both Dimple and Rishi are extremely talented at what they do, and they both love it. Sometimes they just need a little shove to realise that they need to dive in.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a really fun and lighthearted novel, a great read for the summer. It gave me noughties romcom vibes to the extent that I was imagining  movie sequences in my head as I read it. It was easy to hand out 5-stars to this as I had such a good time reading it, and I hope you look into a getting a copy yourself soon!

For fans of: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han