Snapshot Review: Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud

Title: Truly Madly Royally
Author: Debbie Rigaud
Series: N/A
Pages: 304
Publisher: Point
Release Date: July 30th 2019

      “Fiercely independent and smart, Zora Emerson wants to change the world. She’s excited to be attending a prestigious summer program, even if she feels out of place among her privileged, mostly white classmates. So she’s definitely not expecting to feel a connection to Owen, who’s an actual prince of an island off the coast of England. But Owen is funny, charming…and undeniably cute. Zora can’t ignore the chemistry between them. When Owen invites Zora to be his date at his big brother’s big royal wedding, Zora is suddenly thrust into the spotlight, along with her family and friends. Everyone is talking about her, in real life and online, and while Owen is used to the scrutiny, Zora’s not sure it’s something she can live with. Can she maintain her sense of self while moving between two very different worlds? And can her feelings for Owen survive and thrive in the midst of the crazy? Find out in this charming romantic comedy that’s like The Princess Diaries for a new generation. “

“I could not be more shocked if I stuck a wet finger in a janky outlet. The guy hanging out in the library, making anonymous wisecracks through bookshelves? My realest human connection at this school was with someone who. . . is a rightful heir to some throne?”

  • Zora – Zora was such an enjoyable lead character. She’s driven, has the biggest heart, and isn’t afraid of a challenge. I loved how loyal she was and despite the fact that she didn’t always feel accepted at Halstead University during the summer program, she never tried to make herself smaller to accommodate others. Whether she’s dealing with classism or racism, she never tried to be anyone but herself.
  • Black girl at center of a lighthearted novel – This book reminded me that we really need to see more lighthearted contemporaries with Black girl leads because what kind of message is publishing sending when they put so much pressure on Black creatives to produce issues books as though the only stories worth telling are ones where Black characters suffer for the sake of readers learning a “lesson”?
  • Owen – Although Owen is a prince, he wasn’t haughty or above reproach. There is no point where his ego needs to be taken down a few notches because he is always ready to learn and knows that not everyone lives like he does.
  • The romance – I loved the romance in Truly Madly Royally so much. There were the early swoony scenes, including an incredibly adorable meet-cute; but I loved how the relationship between Zora and Owen progresses. Zora immediately challenges him and Owen works to earn her favor. Every scene between the two had loads of chemistry and I could see myself revisiting this one soon just to relive them.
  • Family – I appreciated how much this book focused on Zora’s family. I feel like we got to know her more because of how much time we spent with her and her family.
  • Community – Zora started a program for kids in her community who didn’t have anyone to walk them home. She’s incredibly invested in the program and is always looking to improve life for those in her neighborhood. What’s not to love about this girl?

  • Owen – I kind of wanted more of Owen. There was so much about him that made a reader swoon, but I wanted to see his flaws too.

  • Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud is a swoon-worthy contemporary with a lovable protagonist and features a healthy romantic relationship built on communication and mutual respect.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

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Snapshot Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Series: N/A
Pages: 311
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 6th 2018

TW: Fatphobia

      “At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
      With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

      But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?.”

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“But with each burst of energy, I didn’t feel release. Something was different. My feet slipped on the tile that should have caressed my toes and allowed me to turn endlessly. My limbs didn’t feel like extensions of my body—they were burdens, weighing me down and dragging me around. The wind through my hair wasn’t refreshing—it made my head pound with bursts of pain.”

  • Mei – I really enjoyed Mei’s voice, found her to be very relatable, and her overall journey to be a really rewarding story to read.
  • Growing up and apart from your parents – I really liked that this one not only focused on growing up, but how this sometimes means growing apart from your parents. I think letting teens know that you might not agree with your parents’ values as you grow older isn’t a bad thing.
  • Parental expectations vs individual dreams – Mei’s parents want her to become a doctor, but because of her germaphobia, she fears she will never be able to make it through med school. She also has a passion for dance, one that was only supported by her parents when they believed it could help her get into college.
  • Sibling relationship – My favorite relationship in this one was Mei’s with her older brother Xing. He’s been estranged from his family and when the two reconnect with one another, it made me unexpectedly emotional. I loved that despite their different relationship with their parents, they find a way to support one another.
  • Adult characters also get a chance to learn about themselves – Mei’s character arc is really important, but I loved that she isn’t the only one who learns things about themselves. Several adult characters are pushed out of their comfort zone and while most of them don’t change, it made me incredibly happy to see those who did grow.

  • Stereotypes – I mention this only because I’ve seen many reviews complain of the unflattering stereotypes in this novel that involve Mei’s parents and other relatives. They come across as very rigid, unreasonable, and overbearing. I personally believe #OwnVoices books should have the freedom to explore stereotypical characters, but this might be a turn off for some readers.

  • Gloria Chao’s American Panda focuses on a Taiwanese-American teen straddling the fence between two cultures and is ultimately a cathartic story about finding out who you are despite all the external voices telling you who you should be.

★★★★
(4/5)

ARC Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno

Title: Don’t Date Rosa Santos
Author: Nina Moreno
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 14th 2019

      “Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea-at least, that’s what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you’re a boy with a boat.
      But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.
      As her college decision looms, Rosa collides-literally-with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?”

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Nina Moreno’s debut, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, perfectly blends romance and family in a coming of age story infused with heart and magic. In the small town of Port Coral, people have always whispered about the Santos women. How Milagro came from Cuba with a newborn babe and a face full of grief, having lost her husband at sea. The babe in turn grew up, fell in love with a sailor and he too was swept away, leaving a young Liliana heartbroken and pregnant. Rosa grew up hearing how the Santos women are cursed by the sea, how it takes from them the ones they love too much. As Rosa grapples with impending decisions about her future, her mother and grandmother’s grief continues to press in on her. And if Rosa isn’t careful, a new resident to Port Coral, a boy with a boat and a quiet smile, could once again spell tragedy for the Santos women.

Moreno does so many things well in her debut. Not only do her characters feel real, but the town of Port Coral feels like a living breathing world. It’s easy to fall in love with this town’s sights, sounds, and smells. From Mimi’s home, Rosa’s grandmother, to the town’s marina, every place feels like it could and does exist in the real world. Moreno first and foremost most builds this small town around its people. As Rosa navigates her hometown, readers are introduces to a myriad of locals, each bringing something unique to the narrative and forming the personality of Port Coral. I loved every single minor character in this one from the viejitos who make it their mission to spread chisme around town to the Peñas, Rosa’s best friend’s family, who own the local bodega, a place where people and food come together and which feels like the heart of Port Coral.

Much of the novel explores people’s ties to their homeland. For Mimi, Cuba is a part of her past. Having left during a time of political upheaval, so many of her memories of it are tied to traumatic events. For Rosa, Cuba is a safe she doesn’t know the combination to, but which holds the answers to who she is. Rosa is a product of diaspora, stuck between two worlds and not knowing if she is enough for either. So much of Rosa’s plans are tied up in Cuba, as she longs for the home she’s never known but one that feels etched onto her bones. To Rosa, Cuba is the key to healing her family, to mending the ties between daughter and mother. It’s a link to her past as well as who she will be in the future, but it’s never felt quite within her grasp like it does when she is presented with an opportunity to study in Havana.

I really loved exploring the mother-daughter relationships in this novel. Liliana has been dealing with her grief by constantly moving, leaving Rosa to be raised by her mother. Every interaction between Liliana and Mimi is filled with tension. Grief, resentment, disappointed are present in every word they exchange. Rosa is caught in the middle, between a woman she is too afraid to ask to stay and one she is too afraid to disappoint. Navigating this family isn’t easy when there are wounds in their pasts that each are too afraid to revisit. Family traumas have been swept under the rug, keeping the pain too raw and too fresh, even decades later.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is one of those rare novels that breaks your heart and begins to heal it all within the same chapter. Its emphasis on family, friendship, and community coupled with a touch of brujería, makes it one of the most touching and magical reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of picking up.

★★★★★

(5/5)

ARC (Snapshot) Review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali


Title: Love From A to Z
Author: S.K. Ali
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Release Date: April 30th 2019
**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**

      “A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
      An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how ‘bad’ Muslims are.
      But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
      When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
      Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, ‘nicer’ version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
      Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
      Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
      Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
      Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
      Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
      Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
      Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.”

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  • Zayneb – I feel a strong kinship to Zayneb and this has largely to do with how angry she is. Often times anger is depicted as a negative characteristic, but I loved that Zayneb’s anger isn’t where she begins and ends. Her anger is often justified and says more about her incredible capacity for empathy. That being said, Zayneb also begins to realize that she is only one person and she has to find that right balance between caring and self-care.
  • Adam – I’ll always have a soft spot for soft boys. Adam is such a kind character and I loved his relationship with his little sister Hanna. One of his goals is to make sure she has as many memories of their mother as possible, who passed when her MS took a fatal turn. Adam struggles with his own diagnosis and the lingering fear that his fate might be the same as his mother’s.
  • Centering two Muslim characters – I loved that our two leads had very different experiences being Muslim. For Zayneb, her hijab is an immediate indicator of her religion and makes her a target more than Adam. For Adam, he hasn’t experienced this kind of prejudice, but learns to open his eyes to the things that he might not have first-hand knowledge of.
  • The way the characters balance each other out – Although I’d argue that Zayneb is empathetic, she does have her blindspots and I think Adam helps her recognize these. For Adam, Zayneb pushes him out of his often complacent safe zones.
  • Confronting prejudice head-on – Not only do characters challenge Islamophobia in the story, the narrative challenges readers to confront both the direct and indirect ways this kind of prejudice has all over the world.
  • Idealism vs reality – If the novel had ended its story in the middle of the novel, it would have been an incredibly beautiful love story, but Ali leads her characters and story in a different direction, challenging them to see how they both have been viewing each other through idealistic lenses.

  • More conflict – I kind of wish the conflict between the two leads would have happened sooner and that it lasted longer. They learn so much about themselves and each other because they are at odds and I wouldn’t have minded exploring this more.

S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z is an uplifting, thought-provoking, and incredibly satisfying contemporary. If you haven’t had the pleasure of picking up Ali’s novels yet, I highly recommend you do so.

★★★★
(4/5)