books · features · shanti

Characters I love

Hi Virtually Readers! One of the top things that will make me love a book is when I feel like the characters are really well written. Characters are the heart of all novels. The setting and the plot is a way to showcase (usually human) beings who have to make complicated choices. In the choices and in the ambiguity, they’re more human; more like us. At their best, well written characters help me to know myself better. Today I thought I’d share a quick list of who some of my favourite characters are and why.

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blogging · book review · books · shanti

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Invictus is as glorious as it is shiny. Time travel novels always have the potential to fail because they are too confusing, and I’m not going to say that Graudin avoids this entirely; she does not. However, she succeeds on a higher level: her story, as well as being a hell of a lot of fun has really excellent Indian rep possibly the best I’ve ever seen or at the very least the one I most related too in YA and yes I have read When Dimple Met Rishi but more on that later juggles the anxiety and joy that even the mere concept of time travel, let alone it’s all-pervading role in a story, can evoke. Continue reading “Invictus by Ryan Graudin”

books · discussions · features · shanti

Setting in Stone: Settings vs. Character

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s almost Christmas oh my goodness! I am in New Zealand now which is bizarre but I’m dealing with it. However, I do have a lot of things going on in my life, so I’m not sure how active I’m going to be blogwise for January–but I’m still trying to make Setting in Stone happen. And I would be delighted (not to mention surprised) if you, yes you, joined in. In my last post I mentioned that I was going to write a post about diversity of seting vs. diversity of character. I have not planned this at all but here we go.

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book review · books · shanti

Untidy Towns: SO IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK

H LOOK IT’S MY NEW FAVOURITE BOOK. And it’s the only contemporary on my favourite books list. You know how sometimes you read a book at exactly the right time? That was this book for me. Also, shoutout to the wonderful Sarah @WrittenWordWorlds, who convinced me to read this book in her review. Basically, this story nails the uncertainty inherent in a new stage of life, and just captures the rhythm of being a teenager perfectly.

Continue reading “Untidy Towns: SO IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK”

book review · books · collabs · shanti · Shar

I Believe in a Thing Called Love co-review

Hi Virtually Readers! Shar and I recently read I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a contemporary YA book about a girl who tries to get the guy of her dreams by following steps gleaned from K-drama. Neither of us watch K-Drama, but that’s not an obstacle to enjoyment of the book—everything is pretty well explained, and it’s entertaining even if you don’t know the tropes. We thought we’d review it together because co-reviews are fun. Shanti is normal type, Shar is italics. Continue reading “I Believe in a Thing Called Love co-review”

book review · books · shanti

The Color Project

I don’t get ARC’s very often, but Sierra Abrams, the author of the Color Project, was kind enough to send me an early copy. This comes out on August seventeenth, and is about joy and the complexity of relationships. I had some issues with it, but found that it was pretty adorable and summery, if you’re into that. I’ve done my best not to let the free ARC affect my opinion. I loved the characters and the atmosphere.

22892448Bernice Aurora Wescott has one thing she doesn’t want anyone to know: her name. That is, until Bee meets Levi, the local golden boy who runs a charity organization called The Color Project.

Levi is not at all shy about attempting to guess Bee’s real name; his persistence is one of the many reasons why Bee falls for him. But while Levi is everything she never knew she needed, giving up her name would feel like a stamp on forever. And that terrifies her.

When unexpected news of an illness in the family drains Bee’s summer of everything bright, she is pushed to the breaking point. Losing herself in The Color Project—a world of weddings, funerals, cancer patients, and hopeful families that the charity funds—is no longer enough. Bee must hold up the weight of her family, but to do that, she needs Levi. She’ll have to give up her name and let him in completely or lose the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

For fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson, THE COLOR PROJECT is a story about the three great loves of life—family, friendship, and romance—and the bonds that withstand tragedy.

The characters were all, or at least mostly, interesting, believable people. But there were a lot of them, so the power of each individual character was diluted. Like there was this chick who loved shoes and was related to a TV show person or something, and two twins who liked to compliment Levi in Hindi (and the 1 Hindi line the said was sort of awkward but that’s possibly because I just dislike romanized Hindi), and this dude Keegan at the shop, and Bee’s sister, and her brother, and the florist, and all these people were present and vivid, but there were so many of them that I didn’t have a decent understanding of who each one was.


Another thing which troubled me was the charity. Now, maybe I wasn’t paying attention in the beginning, but was it clear why it was called the Color Project, and why Levi wore bright shirts. I don’t know much about charities, but my parents work for NGO’s, and having an organisation that just hands out cheques to people who were low on money just seemed a) generic and b) unrealistic. Usually charities try to help to cause of the problem (Poverty or inequality or health issues) more specifically rather than just handing out cheques, and that was never explained adequately enough for me. And it’s really hard for small charities to get the kind of donations that The Color Project was getting. Funding proposals are HARD and COMPETITIVE, yo. anyway.

My one other main problem was that a central plot point revolves around Bee hating her name, but at no point does she explain why she hates her name, or talk to her parents about it or anything like that. Bernice Aurora Westcott just didn’t seem like a very bad name to me? And I have two middle names, but I just felt like her concerns about her name were a bit ridiculous.


Those were my three main concerns, but I also was troubled by the way that Bee didn’t mention her high school at all? And the setting was just sort of confusing to me, but I don’t know America that well. I also wish that the ‘villain’ had been a bit more complex. I also found that some characters were a little too perfect.
Luckily, there’s lots to love in this story as well. For one, the two main characters are incredible. They feel really real and interesting. They were imperfect, trying to figure out what role they wanted in their great wide world, and in each others lives. Bee’s concerns about what she wanted to do with her life were totally valid and relatable, and I loved how she was just figuring out where she belonged. That narrative resonated with me. I also loved the relationship between Levi and Bee. It wasn’t quite perfect, but they were really sweet to each other and they helped each other out, and supported each other, and it was wonderful. I also really liked Levi. He was a bit of a troubled soul, but the was really genuine about what he cared about and who he cared about. I also loved his relationship with his mum. All of the characters are curious and compelling, and perfectly relatable, and I just loved that. Abrams writes amazing relationships.
I also loved the atmosphere of this book. It’s mostly a summery book, golden and warm and shimmery, but tainted by deep undercurrents of grief an unrest. The book doesn’t have a particularly strong plot; rather the shifting in the mood and atmosphere is what hold it together and makes it so lovely to read. I just loved how each chapter ends with this line full of heart that just captures what it means to be young, to be lost, and to be finding yourself. The writing is excellent. Another brilliant part of the story was how the ideas of stargazing are woven into the narrative. The characters get to know the stars as they get to know themselves; the motif worked perfectly without feeling forced, and believe me, it takes skill to do that as a writer.
This is a story full of characters and this wonderful atmosphere, and that’s what makes it stand out in a sea of contemporary. I’m so glad I read it, and despite some problems that I had, it was worth it.

What is a contemporary you’ve read which focuses on complex relationships? Have you ever gone stargazing? And have you heard of the Color Project? Tell me in the comments!

book review · books · shanti

A Quiet Kind of Thunder (my heart, beating)

Hi Virtually Readers! Today is a review day, and I’m reviewing the truly excellent A Quiet Kind of Thunder, which I loved (so much that I immediately went and got the author’s other book from the library) The narrative was nuanced, Steffi an appealing main character, and otherwise it blended ‘cute’ and ‘contemplative’ very effective. These qualities totally made up for what was otherwise quite a predictable plot (the foreshadowing was as subtle as a sledgehammer)

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

30197201Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

Barnard has obviously done lots of research, and that totally showed in the story. I’m not part of any the minorities–Deaf, black, anxiety, whatever, but I think she managed to not make a huge deal of ‘LOOK AT MY DIVERSITY’, it was just incorporated into the story of healing. I loved that the characters talked about how they found spaces of both exclusion and inclusion. Steffi’s mixed up family was also dealt with really well imo. I don’t know, I just felt like the whole narrative was honest, and the diversity was excellent–not ignored, but also not shoved in your face. I loved that I learnt quite a lot from the story too, especially about British Sign Language.
Steffi is a wonderful main character. She’s quiet, obviously, and aware of that. But she’s also so strong. I find that in a lot of ‘issue’ books, the character’s only flaw is the issue, which doesn’t make sense, because anxiety and so on are just part of who you are. But Steffi did get frustrated easily. She was over sensitive about things, and a bit self obsessed. She had problems in her relationship which she had to work out. She was not perfect, and that’s what made her such a delight to read. The strength of her character–her friendships, love of dogs, family, and desire to go to university–pulls this story together. It’s not a strong plot, but it’s how she overcomes obstacles and becomes more herself.
This book has the sweetness of first love, balanced by the rounder, fuller flavours of loss and mental illness and fear and how they intersect with life. This balance worked so well for me. The book is addictive, a perfect full meal that is enjoyable the whole way through. It made me happy to read, and I loved that so much. The different elements of the narrative combine in really wonerful ways–not too overwhelming, just lovely and fits-just-right.
The plot is kind of non-existent, but this was very enjoyable and well thought out and I love all the characters, so that makes it worth it. I’m so glad I read A Quiet Kind of Thunder, and recommend it to anyone who wants to read about dealing with anxiety, and falling in love, and most of all, learning to listen.

book review · books · shanti

The Forgetting: ceaseless, surprising

What does it mean to be made of your memories? That’s the question Sharon Cameron tackles in The Forgetting. I had no idea what I was in for when I started the audiobook, and that was a big contributing factor to my enjoyment. Basically The Forgetting is set in a city where every 12 years, everyone’s memories are erased. And there are a whole lot of dodgy things going on, so the (remembering) protagonist, Nadia, has to figure that out. I really loved the structure of the story and Nadia’s characterisation. 

28691932What isn’t written, isn’t remembered. Even your crimes.

Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person’s memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn’t written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.
I did struggle a little with the writing style–it’s a very ‘tell not show’ kind of writing, which was okay, but I think it could have been a little more subtle. The other thing was that there were a few holes in the explanations–e.g., wouldn’t parents describe their children in their books so that they could access it after The Forgetting.
The best thing about this book is that it is a surprise. I listened to the first few chapters, and thought I had a pretty clear idea of what shape the book was taking. A few revelations late, I had changed my mind completely, and I only had an idea of the ‘real’ shape of the story in the last few hours. This makes a novel so interesting to read–the perpetual surprises are intriguing. The pace of the story is weird–it’s not quite your triangle rising action climax stuff; it’s a gentle unearthing of the secrets of Canaan and it’s residents. The structure of the story is incredibly compelling, and I loved how particular scenes morphed into what you didn’t expect–the anguish of Nadia’s mother, the secrets of the mountain, the structure of the council, the agony of a lost father, the mystery of both remembering and forgetting. The world Cameron creates is vivid and her story works organically with it.
I also loved Nadia as a character. The inclusion of her silence was an interesting additional element, and I really loved that this made all the words she did say so much more powerful. She doesn’t feel like she is part of her family, because she remembers, and they don’t. She’s exceptionally vulnerable, and exceptionally curious, and the power of her curiousity is what pushed her over the wall, more than the need for rations. I loved that she was curious, but also uncertain. She’s definitely a flawed character–impulsive and rude, and just bad at making decisions, but that’s part of what makes her interesting. She was a really appealing character.
This story offers opportunity for all sorts of thoughts on the nature of forgetting and memory, and what it means for identity. But Cameron doesn’t worry too much about drawing conclusions from that. She just presents the characters, their response and fears and longings, and the a-bit-too-obvious sections from Nadia’s various books. I really appreciated that–it’s done in a subtle, nuanced way that is simply enjoyable.

What’s your favourite amnesia book (there are a lot of them out there?) and have you read this one? tell me in the comments!