Book Review

Star-Crossed Book Review

Thank you to Crown Publishing for giving me this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank my lucky stars I got the opportunity to read this story.

Some books deserve a spot amongst the stars.

This book is one of them.

“Star Crossed” by Minnie Darke is one of those books that surprises you, makes you break out into a goofy grin and allows you to ponder on questions related to destiny. On the surface, this book is about a woman who plays astrologer by changing the horoscope of the person she loves in an attempt to get him to see her. At its core, this book is about fate, the choices we make and how ultimately everything around us is happening for a reason.

I’m a Taurus but I don’t believe in horoscopes. I always smile politely when people tell me how surprising it is that I’m a Taurus since my personality does not match this sign. The only thing I know from Astrology is that Mercury tends to be in retrograde quite often or maybe not often enough. Is that a bad thing? Feel free to educate me folks!

I truly enjoyed this novel as it did not push the reader to believe in astrology, rather it showed us how life will unfold the way it is meant to no matter how hard you try to control the outcome.

This book can be described in many ways:
A love story
A comedy
Exploring friendship
Following ones passion
Belief in Astrology
Fate vs. free will
Tons of Shakespeare references

It is all these things sprinkled with stardust.

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(Picture from @khanlibrary)

Synopsis:

Justine is an aspiring journalist who bumps into Nick, her childhood sweetheart. When she keeps crossing paths with him, she wonders if this is just a coincidence or if it has a bigger meaning. Nick believes in Astrology and takes the advice of an Astrologer who writes for a magazine. The same magazine, as it turns out Justine works for. So what does Justine do knowing that she already missed out on being with Nick years ago? She decides to take fate into her own hands. Justine changes Nick’s horoscope readings in an attempt to guide him back to her. However, Justine fails to take into account how her altered readings will affect not only Nick’s future, but also the other readers out there who look to the stars for guidance.

Sagittarius and Aquarius:

“Did it necessarily follow that if you set your course by a false guide, you would end up at the wrong destination? Or, did fate have complicated ways of making sure that you ended up where you were supposed to be, anyway?” – Minnie Darke

Justine (Sagittarius/nonbeliever) and Nick (Aquarius/believer) are a hilarious duo. What made me laugh was how Justine firmly believed that horoscopes were hogwash but then attempted to play astrologer for Aquarians. It was both funny and nerve wrecking to read Justine sneak around her office to revamp the horoscope. Their friendship was endearing but there were times I wanted to be their mother and clunk their heads together to knock some sense into them. You realize early on how easy things would be if they were just honest about what they were feeling, but Justine was too scared and Nick was too confused and focused on advice from the horoscope.

While I could not relate to Nick’s firm belief in Astrology, I could relate to the struggle of following his passion and looking for signs telling him what step to take. He came across as a person who did not trust his own ability to make decisions. You could also feel Justine’s agony as she watches Nick drift further away from her and his talent. She came across as a person who is impulsive but so deeply in love that she could not see the wrong she was doing.

The Orbit:

“There are choices within choices within chances. It’s all so complicated and tangled. How does anything ever go the way it’s supposed to? – Minnie Darke

What I loved about this book is that it follows not only Nick and Justine, but also others in their orbit. Justine’s readings not only affected Nick but many other readers who find themselves in situations where they look to the stars for signs as to what to do next. The book jumps to these other characters and how collectively they either cross paths or play some kind of part in setting off a chain of events. They all get an amusing bio along with their sign, occupation and hobbies. It’s such a fun way to be introduced to these other characters.

All this makes you think about how things happen the way they do and how sometimes it is the smallest detail that sets off a sequence of events. I like how we get to explore the lives of others and how we get to connect the dots to see how they all fit into the story. Even though there are many secondary characters that are introduced, I never found it confusing. I would go as far as to say those parts were the most enjoyable. There is nothing I love more than starting small and putting together the big picture.

Overall Thoughts:

I was all starry eyed as I came to the end of this story. There is no doubt that I started this book knowing things will definitely be going wrong for home girl Justine. I was anticipating disaster but I still enjoyed the way it all unraveled. Minnie Darke is such a gifted writer as she makes the characters come alive on the pages through their funny bios and antics. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia (Taurus): Reader of books, writer of stories and nurse of babies. 

Book Review

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors Book Review

Here is a little fun fact about me: all you need to say is “Pride and Prejudice” and you will have my undivided attention. I’ll be ready to list all the reasons why I love awkward Mr. Darcy and discuss the antics of the Bennet sisters. I have read the book numerous times and I even keep my old copy on my nightstand. I have watched the movie so many times that I have lost count. While we are on the topic of the movie I just need to say that Matthew MacFadyen is the real Mr. Darcy for me. Sorry, not sorry to all the Colin Firth fans.

I have also read quite a few retellings of Pride and Prejudice and a good number of them have disappointed me, until Sonali Dev came around with her refreshing take on this classic. Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors not only brought diversity into the story, but also a gender swap with the female lead having the personality of Mr. Darcy. These two changes were enough for me to pick up this book and dive right it.

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(picture from @khanlibrary)

Synopsis:

Dr. Trisha Raje is a renowned neurosurgeon. Despite her success, Trisha is the black sheep of her influential immigrant family after making a mistake that almost jeopardized her brother’s political aspirations. After years of standing on the family sidelines, Trisha has a chance to redeem herself as long as she plays by the family rules.

DJ is an aspiring chef who is new in town after dropping everything to come to the aid of his ill sister. The Rajes hire DJ as a chef for an important political event and it is there that he meets the beautiful and arrogant Trisha. DJ’s pride is immediately wounded during his first encounter with Trisha. While her arrogance is infuriating, DJ realizes she may be the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

Trisha and DJ:

“The truth was, he was right about many things—things she could change, like how she treated people. He was also wrong about a few—things she could not change, like who she was” – Sonali Dev

These two characters were so well developed and the author did a great job with the gender swap. It’s rare to read about a female character that embodies the personality of Mr. Darcy and I would say the author really knocked it out of the park with this one. Trisha is every bit awkward as our beloved Mr. Darcy. Her heart is in the right place and she is only ever truly herself around those she trusts. Making Trisha a doctor was perfect for this role as her confidence and pride in her job can come across as arrogance. I loved the character growth as we see Trisha bring down her walls and begin showing her true self. 

Just like our precious Lizzie Bennet, DJ has got a way of making quick judgments about people. He suffers from some serious tunnel vision around Trisha as he interprets everything she does and says as arrogance or coming from a place of privilege. I loved reading about him seeing the error in his ways and putting his prejudice aside to see the real Trisha. These two made me laugh out loud but they also made me feel frustrated most of the time. I wanted to mother them into being normal around each other. Thankfully they figured it out after a long, and sometimes hilarious battle. 

There is so much character development in this book, but what I also love is how we get a glimpse into the lives of other characters. We get the backstory of both Trisha and DJ’s siblings. I especially enjoyed reading DJ’s sister, Emma’s story as she battled with her illness and the difficult medical decisions she had to make. I was also thrilled to see that we had a villain named Wickham in this story! These little salutes to the original classic gave me life.

A Pride and Prejudice Remix:

You do not have to be a Pride and Prejudice fan to enjoy this story. It would be wrong to classify this book as just a retelling. It is so much more than that. This book has comedy, drama, a love story and a lot of flavor. Seriously, the foodie in me was drooling every time the author described one of DJ’s delicious dishes. The mark of a great author is when they make the reader hungry, not for actual food though it did happen in this case, but hungry for more from world they created. This is how I felt once I finished the book. I wanted to know what would happen with the secondary characters along with Trisha and DJ in the future. I was not ready to say goodbye to these characters or the story. I highly recommend this book that will surely add some flavor into your bookshelves. 

Happy reading bookworms!

Shazia.

65000168_2243365769262287_3012229447093846016_n(Cartoon of me by @maddie.bookish.art)

 

Book Review

The Chai Factor Book Review

Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for sending me a copy of The Chai Factor in exchange for an honest review.

There were three factors that made me pick up and read “The Chai Factor” by Farah Heron:

  • It was advertised as a multicultural rom-com.
  • I’m a chai enthusiast and addict.
  • I never read a rom-com involving a barbershop quartet. I also had no idea what that was and relied on Google to educate me.

While this book did not feel like a romantic comedy to me, it still did focus on many important issues such as Islamophobia, sexism, prejudice and homophobia. If you were to read the excerpt of this book you would not know that the book covers these topics. In fact, I was surprised every time the author introduced us to situations revolving around those themes. I personally enjoyed reading about the bigger themes of this book more than the actual romance.

Synopsis:
Amira Khan is a thirty-year-old grad student in the male dominated field of engineering. She leaves her campus and returns to her family home for some much needed quiet time to work on her final project. But when she arrives home she finds out her grandmother has rented their basement to a barbershop quartet. While Amira is annoyed by their distracting presence, she has a hard time denying her attraction to one of the men in the quartet, Duncan. Amira becomes overwhelmed with her project deadline, her feelings for Duncan and the growing injustice she is witnessing in her world.

64598051_691574131302866_8504612206216740864_n(Picture from @khanlibrary)

It is interesting reading a book that not only focuses on the prejudice from the outside world, but from within the character’s own world as well. On top of dealing with the ignorance and hate from others, Amira has to confront the prejudice and hate within her community. This is especially the case when she becomes friends with a gay couple and sees the homophobia from her own grandmother. 

The Characters:

Amira has gone through a lot as a brown, Muslim woman. A lifetime of discrimination and feeling like people were making her a Muslim ambassador to educate the ignorant ones can be exhausting. It is enough to build a wall around yourself to protect against all the hate. Amira is a character that is not afraid to educate and put ignorant people in their place. While this may be a quality that I admire and aim to practice myself, I found Amira sometimes found problems when there were none and pounced without thinking things through.

This is especially true with many of her interactions with Duncan. She constantly berated him when he tried to help and was just plain rude to him for a good chunk of the book. I understand having experiences of being discriminated due to the color of your skin and your religion can leave you feeling a bit defensive. Trust me, I sometimes have to tell myself calm down and get more information before laying it on people when I’m included in a discussion about Islam that is going a bit wayward. However, I don’t think it excuses being so rude and treating her love interest so poorly. I understand that she built a wall to protect herself but the rudeness made me wince many times. That is not to say that Duncan is perfect. He walks around with a lot of guilt over how Amira is treated and somehow tries to play victim or make excuses for others.

“She’d grown weary of dealing with the preconceptions people had about her when they saw her or learned her religion.” – Farah Heron.

The times that I did enjoy seeing her anger bubble to the surface was when she told off a bigot, put a sexist co-worker in his place and confronted closed minded people from her own community. These scenes were great and I was cheering her on. I felt that this level of anger was enough for the book and the love/hate relationship between Amria and Duncan may not have been necessary. 

I enjoyed the friendships she forged with the barbershop quartet and how she inadvertently got pulled into their complicated lives. The relationship between Sameer and Travis was endearing and I liked seeing Amira’s softer side while she interacted with them and stood up for them.

Overall review:

I started out with a lot of hope for this book and while I did not lose interest while reading it, I still had a hard time getting past the main character’s antics. It was definitely one of the bigger downsides to a book that would have otherwise been a great read. Nevertheless, this book does focus on important issues that I feel many readers would relate to and learn from. Diverse books are so important and I applaud the author for bringing forward diversity in the cast and opening the door to different people’s struggles. Take a peak in and learn something new. 

Happy reading bookworms,

Shazia.

 

 

Writing

Pitchapalooza BookCon 2019

Dumbledore once explained to us that you have a choice when it comes to being placed into a Hogwarts house. I know many people would love to be placed in Gryffindor. I have said this before and I will say it again: Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw and I fully accepted that I was not brave enough to be in Gryffindor. Seriously, if the Basilisk was slithering towards me I would probably be shielding my crying eyes and calling on someone from Gryffindor to fight the snake for me. Not even kidding.

However, I’m happy to report that I sometimes have my courageous moments and I displayed some serious Gryffindor vibes over this past weekend at a Bookcon Panel called “Pitchapalooza”. That being said, it was the most terrifying feeling ever. It must be exhausting being a Gryffindor. You guys are welcome to join me in the Ravenclaw library for some meditative reading sessions when you need a break from all that valiant stuff you do.

Pitchapalooza 2019:

I was not planning on attending day two of Bookcon, but I had so much fun on day one that I decided to go. That morning, I looked through the list of panels I could attend and came across one called “Pitchapalooza” and the description is what caught my eye.

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Literary agent Arielle Eckstut and bestselling author David Henry Sterry, known as the Book Doctors, were set to host this panel. Joining them on the judging panel was author Cheryl Willis Hudson. The basic premise of this panel was to give a one-minute pitch of the book you were writing to the panel of publishing experts. They would then critique your pitch in a kind and gentle way and the winner would be introduced to a literary agent or publisher. Twenty participants would be selected at random to pitch their books from everyone who signed up before the panel began. It sounded equally wonderful and terrifying.

Let’s get real for a moment: I hate public speaking. I like to melt into a crowd rather than be placed in front of one. So when I was looking at the bowl containing names for the draw, I heard a voice in my head listing all the reasons why this was a bad idea:

  • My book was far from complete
  • I had not prepared for this in any way
  • What in the world was a book pitch?

I stood there with my name scribbled on the piece of paper that I was clutching for dear life and started listing the reasons why I should do it:

  • What were the odds my name would be picked from the draw?
  • I had my notebook in my bag, which contained a brief summary of my book. It was far from perfect, but it was something if I was chosen as tribute. 
  • I was visiting the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, and according to Alicia Keys and Jay Z, there is nothing I can’t do (let’s hear it for New York!)

I stuffed my name at the very bottom of the bowl and headed towards the panel. I did feel proud of myself for putting my name in the draw but I was also realizing that if I got chosen this would be the first time anyone other than myself would be hearing the story I was writing.

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I sat down with my journal and flipped through the pages of character profiles and scenes until I found the brief one page summary of my book I had written a month ago. It was well written but I knew it did not have the structure of a book pitch. At best I would be given advice on how to improve my book pitch and my story. I sat there with my stomach in knots and kept telling myself I would not be called.

I was the third person to be called on stage to present my book pitch
*Cue the Hunger Games music*
*Cue the Game of Thrones Battle music*
*Call an ambulance and send me back to Canada* 

You know in the movies how some scenes become super dramatic in slow motion? Well that is the only way I could describe the few seconds after I was called on stage. Everything was a blur and my legs went numb. I suddenly wished my parents or my friends were there with me, but in that moment the kind lady sitting next to me gave me a nudge to get up and told me I would do great. I walked up to the stage on shaking legs and stood behind the podium. Looking out at the crowd I saw nothing but smiling faces. It did not occur to me in that moment that the room was filled with fellow aspiring writers. They understood how scary it was to stand behind the podium and maybe it was their energy that made me take a deep breath and started reading. 

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It was over before I knew it and I was so relieved once I heard the applause from the crowd. I did it! It was a proud moment and I was curious as to what feedback the judges would give me. I was ecstatic that Arielle was intrigued by the premise of my story and took mental notes on all the advice they gave me on how to improve my book pitch. They were so kind and honest that I felt motivated to keep working on my story.

I knew I did not win but I still walked back to my seat feeling like I had just won the House Cup for Gryffindor. Getting up there on that podium and sharing my story was my personal win.

Writing can be a lonely activity, especially when you never share your words with anyone. I was always terrified of sharing my stories with people. A part of me thought that if I shared my stories I would be exposed as a fraud who had absolutely no talent. It took me a long time to realize that I have always been a writer, and no form of validation from others would change that. So I started sharing bits and pieces of my previous work with a few friends and my parents. Their praise and supportive words are locked away in my heart forever. This was the first time I shared my new story with anyone and the first time I shared my writing with complete strangers. I felt vulnerable and terrified but I survived and came out of it feeling lighter. That is what happens when you release the words you have hiding within yourself for far too long. 

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I was grateful not only to have been given the chance to present my book pitch but also to listen to those of the other nineteen writers. It was incredible hearing such creative stories and I found myself hoping these writers would be published soon. I really want to read their books. The Book Doctors gave so much helpful advice that you could hear the sound of notes being scribbled onto paper throughout the room. I left the panel feeling inspired and full of hope.

So I guess the moral of this story is that we all have some Gryffindor traits in us and all we have to do is take that first step towards something outside of our comfort zone. That is where all the wizardry magic happens.

Keep on writing!
Shazia.                                      

 

Book Events

Bookcon 2019: A Celebration of Storytelling

Question: How does one go back to regular life after experiencing a weekend of book heaven in New York City? Asking for a friend….ok fine, I am that friend. Help!

Bookcon 2019 was a dream come true. Over the past few years I have always watched videos and looked at pictures of this magical book convention held in New York and wished I was there. I’m not a spontaneous person, but this year I very quickly decided I wanted to experience this festival for myself and before I knew it my tickets for New York were booked. It was the best impulsive decision I have ever made. Spending the whole weekend with people who love books as much as I do made for an unforgettable trip.

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Bookcon is a two-day event held in the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. Each year readers, authors, publishers and writers come together to celebrate the love of books. Attendees get to meet authors, have their books signed, snag some book merchandise, attend author panels and get their hands on advanced reader copies of highly anticipated books. There are booths selling books and merchandise and creative writing workshops. Most importantly, attendees get to meet and connect with the amazing people who share the same passion for reading.

The Crowd of Readers:

Walking into the Jacob Javits Convention Center was enough to get me excited. This place was huge and everywhere you turned you either saw a bookworm power walking/running to some location or authors faces on banners hanging from the high ceiling. The crowd was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. There were so many people that at times it became a bit claustrophobic but you could also feel the collective excitement in the building. The lines were monstrous. I was walking for what felt like forever to find the end of the line that kept snaking and looping around corners. Half the time I could not even tell where the line began and ended. I found it mind blowing that people would chose to wait in line over two hours for a single book. That is dedication, but it also takes away time to see the other incredible things happening at Bookcon.

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As soon as the doors opened, I power walked to the booth that was having one of my favorite authors signing her new book. I got to the booth in literally three minutes and I was told their line was capped. I walked away deflated, but tried to shake it off and power walked to the next author signing which also ended up being closed. I was frustrated but then I reminded myself there was still so much to see and experience and so I roamed around without much plans for the next two hours.

Funny thing about letting go of control and plans: you stumble upon some pretty amazing things. Those two authors I missed out on in the morning? I randomly bumped into them when I was just walking around aimlessly on the showfloor and managed to have a conversation with them. I also ended up in the right place at the right time and managed to get in lines for advanced reader copies (ARCS) and meet a few authors to get my books signed. 

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(Meeting Stephanie Garber author of the Caraval series)

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Panels and Socials!

I think a lot of people get caught up with the possibility of getting new books and free stuff that they forget about the amazing panels that are offered. Watching authors talk about their writing process and what it was like for them to create the characters we fell in love with makes for an incredible session. It is also a nice way to catch your breath after the chaotic scene on the show floor. Sure getting free books and swag is fun, but the panels are so interactive and fascinating. 

I got a chance to see the amazing Leigh Bardugo in a panel as she discussed the release of her new book and answered questions from the audience. There is something great about seeing the author’s personality shine during these panels. Leigh was an absolute delight as she gushed about our favorite characters and her future books.

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A new friend I made informed a couple of us that Penguin Random House would be having an ice cream social event at Bookcon. We were given a warm greeting and offered flower necklaces as we socialized with other bookworms. There were stunning bookstagram displays at each table and cute photo ops. We were offered ice cream and popcorn and given generous swag bags. Again, this was a nice breather from the crowds and lines. For me, this was one of the best parts of the event as I got to meet so many nice people. Not ashamed to admit that I walked around for the rest of the event with my flower necklace on…and during the Uber ride to the hotel…and when I drank tea in the hotel lobby. I love flowers, ok?

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(Spotted: bookworm in her natural habitat. Seriously though, look at how happy I am)

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(All the swag bag up for grabs)

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Book Merchandise:

I was really proud of my taste in comfortable shoes because there were many booths at this event. I’m not the best with navigation so half the time I was spinning in circles and trying to imagine myself in the map I was holding. Needless to say, I was lost 90% of the time. Being lost was actually an advantage because I stumbled on many fun booths that were doing giveaways with games.

61978948_424195821694887_4180485943452499968_n.jpg(I’m a simple person: I hear a wheel spinning, I run towards it) 

There was so much cute merchandise that I had to remind myself that I would be travelling back to Montreal soon and did not have the space for more items. However, there are some things I could not leave behind. I could not say no to Hogwarts house lanyards, mugs with bookish quotes and journals. I mean how could you turn your back on these items? I stuffed them into my overly packed tote bag and backpack and moved on to the next booth. There are so many companies now that are adding a bookish touch to merchandise. I lost count of how many tote bags, t-shirts and socks that I saw with fun quotes from books printed on them. 

Bookish Friends:

The best part of Bookcon is meeting the incredibly kind people within our book community. I was so grateful to have met such amazing people over the weekend. It felt like I have known them for a while as we talked about our Bookcon experience. A couple of us were in a group chat together before the days leading up to the event. We kept each other posted on what we were doing throughout the day and I eventually met a few of them during panels and shopping at booths. It was great having a group to discuss and plan with but it was even better to meet them in person both at the event and after for dinner. I’m so happy to have met this lovely bunch. Thank you for making my Bookcon experience even better! 

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(Tired bookworms at the end of Day 1 of Bookcon)

62044627_2396642663902884_2602241601413578752_n(snapshot of us at the Penguin Random House icecream social)

My First Bookcon Experience:

Overall, this past weekend was epic for me. I had only planned to attend day 1 of Bookcon, but I enjoyed myself so much that I returned for day 2. I’m really glad I decided to return because amazing things happened on the second day, but I will save that story for another blog post.

I was definitely in my element and managed to make a fool of myself in front of authors as I fangirled like a child. I have no regrets! Despite the long lines and the very enthusiastic and sometimes tumultuous crowds, I had the time of my life. At the end of the day, our love of books is what makes people become overly excited and eager. In general, everyone was really kind and I loved striking up conversations with people all around me. Bookcon was the highlight of my trip to New York and I’m definitely going back next year to experience it all over again and to be reunited with this incredible community.

Until next time bookworms,

Shazia.