Review: Counting Down with You

Review: Counting Down with You

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Karina Ahmed’s plan for success means keeping her head down and getting to medical school. So when her parents go abroad to Bangladesh, she is finally rewarded a month of peace, away from their watchful eyes. That is until her agreement to tutor Ace Clyde turns awry, and now she’s spending her twenty-eight days in a fake-relationship with him. As she counts down her days, Ace Clyde gives her all the reasons to stay and maybe this facade could have a happy ending. 

Karina is a high school junior, attending alongside her high-achieving younger brother whose interest in robotics has her parents singing praise while she’s barely keeping afloat. And when her English teacher asks her to tutor ever absent classmate Ace Clyde, she immediately assumes the worst. Aft. They start, and a missed lesson, Ace finally shows up, and he knows exactly how to push Karina’s buttons, tip-toeing over the lines she has made herself. Knowing exactly how her parents would react, she keeps Ace at an arm’s distance until she realises Ace has secrets of his own which is why she agrees to his plans. Keep up this act for three more weeks, and they part ways as unlikely friends. (and for Karina, a handful of books, courtesy of the Bank of Ace Clyde.) As the return of her parents looms overhead, Karina realises that these past days are the happiest she has ever been, and with the support of her grandmother, her best friends, and Ace, maybe she can gather the courage to face her family once and for all.

Counting Down with You is a refreshing and hilarious read. I’m not big on contemporary novels, but I found Bhuiyan’s voice to be outstanding. If anything, I am blown away at how much I could relate to Karina Ahmed. Like Karina, my family had also left Bangladesh in search of a different life. Her traditional parents’ ideals and expectations are all too familiar; their harsh words and criticism almost mirrored my own family, almost word-for-word. Karina’s humour to her anxiety felt all too surreal to read this book and realise the main character is an almost exact copy of yourself at sixteen.

The cast of Counting Down with You are some of the biggest sweethearts you’ll ever meet. Ace Clyde is one of the school’s notorious students, rumours upon rumours piles upon him. His character reminds me of Aiden Thomas’s Julian Diaz (Cemetery Boys). Very understanding and wholesome once you get to know him. Karina’s best friends, Cora and Nandini, are as thick as thieves and supportive as hell. They might not understand her refusal to stand up to her parents, but they’re there for her, no questions asked. It was quite refreshing to see them talk and act like teens; their text conversations were hilarious and realistic. While her parents are away, Karina’s grandmother takes care of her and her younger brother. Her grandmother is pretty much amazing and supportive. Her brother is the best example of a desi little brother who doesn’t realise how easy he has it compared to his sister. Whenever he said something wasn’t deep, I wanted to flick him like he was my own brother. Bhuiyan encapsulates the experience of growing up with traditional parents perfectly. Her parents’ aren’t physically present in most of the novel, but their presence is there in most of Karina’s thoughts, dragging her down both mentally and physically.

Counting Down with You was extremely sweet and immensely relatable. I’m not the type to throw around the phrase  “I wish this book existed when I was teen”, but I feel like if this book had existed when I was a teenager and struggling, I would have felt a lot better about myself at sixteen.


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Review: Get A Life, Chloe Brown

Review: Get A Life, Chloe Brown

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After a close encounter with a speeding car, Chloe Brown decides she’s had enough. Re-assessing her life, she decides to move out of her family home and creates her Get A Life list. Her bucket list includes enjoying a drunken night out to travelling the world with nothing but hand luggage. But what she doesn’t expect is Redford Morgan, her exasperating superintendent, who might just help her tick a few boxes or shred this whole list up.

As a teenager, I had rashly given up on the contemporary genre, it just never worked out for me, and I had leaned towards the science fiction and fantasy genre instead. But a goal I had made to myself this year was to give it another chance and Get A Life, Chloe Brown was the perfect choice to convert me back to the genre. This book is so much fun. As a teen, I didn’t appreciate novels of everyday life, but now as a twenty-two-year-old adult, stories like Get A Life, Chloe Brown is perfect for people wanting some fun but without the full-on high stakes. What made this book fun was its characters, the way they interact with each other. Talia Hibbert writes in a way that felt like I was talking to a friend, it’s easy to read and enjoy. 

Chloe’s close brush with death causes her to rethink her life. She has fibromyalgia, and the constant pain and fatigue have led her to live a life quite isolated after her friends cruelly abandoned her. But her family is here to stay, including her parents, sisters and eccentric aunt. Her moving out is just one step towards her “getting a life.” In comes Redford (Red) Morgan. He’s dismissive, rude, and annoyingly handsome. But Chloe can’t help but be intrigued by the moody man who spends his free time painting as if his life depends on it. 

Enemies-to-lovers is a trope I see-saw a lot with. Some days I can dig it, some days, I’m just not in the mood. But Get a Life was hilarious in its use of the trope. Chloe thinks Red is just a rude superintendent while Red thinks she’s just a snooty rich girl. After a strange mishap that includes a tree and a cat, the two end up finding common ground. Red enlists Chloe’s skills to make a new website, and he agrees to help tick off her list. But as Chloe’s making her plans, Red is ignoring his past. As I was reading this, I was so surprised at myself. Am I gushing over romance scenes, like, what, who is this changed reader? Talia Hibbert deserves an award for being the author who made me a blushing mess over Chloe and Red.

Chloe and Red were both incredibly flawed in a good way because they get through it all and discuss what is wrong and how to fix it. I have to admit the final argument before the resolution was so unnecessary because the two have proven that miscommunication isn’t an issue, so the way it came about was… confusing. But the rest of the book was a damn delight. There are a lot of layers to the story I hadn’t expected. Chloe and her journey of putting her self out there, Red is suffering from a past abusive relationship, and the little drop-ins from Chloe’s sisters were such mood-boosters. They are hilarious and their stories we will see later in the series which makes me so excited to get started on the next book about Dani. To sum up, Get A Life, Chloe Brown was good fun. It had some great moments and characters who are hilarious. It’s a great pick-me-up, and I’ll recommend it to anyone who wants a quick romantic read, especially if you’re into steamier moments.


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Review: Loveboat, Taipei

Review: Loveboat, Taipei

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

In her parents’ last effort to prepare her for a future in medicine, they send Ever to an educational program in Taiwan, hoping it would distract her from spending her last summer dancing. But what her parents don’t know is that the program is also their worst nightmare. Here is where Ever discovers the educational program is also known for its love boat reputation, where summer-long flings are the norm, and the nightlife is second nature to its student. Ever is eager to rock the boat and make it her mission to have the best summer ever. 

Romantic contemporary is far from my usual genre to read, but Loveboat, Taipei really stood out to me. I went into this with low expectations but came out feeling a really strong connection to Ever and her journey. Her passion is to dance, but her parents hope for her to take a career in medicine. So when she is forced to decline her dream university spot and go to Taiwan to improve herself, she’s discouraged and upset. That is until she realises that without her parent’s supervision, and even when their influence lingers, she is free to make her own choices with little consequences. 

What made Loveboat, Taipei stand out for me personally was Ever. After being contained by her parents for so long, she struggles to find out who she is without them. Her time in Loveboat is her worst and best. She breaks all the rules her parents set out for her, reflects on them in a rather thoughtful and relatable way. The way Abigail Hing Wen writes makes you feel right at home. I felt for Ever, her thoughts reflected my own, and I was surprised by how much I saw myself in her.

I never talk to my parents about the books I read or the music I love or the dances in my head. I can’t trust them not to take what bit of soul I offer them and hurl it into a dumpster.”

The plot was quite enjoyable, to say the least. I won’t lie; I was lost at the start because I genuinely had no idea what was happening. And then it takes a drastic turn that was surprising, but the story comes into its own. Ever breaks many of her parent’s rules: no drinking, clubbing and getting close with boys. She takes a leap of faith and becomes embolden by her time in Taiwan. When Ever arrives in Taiwan, she immediately hits a block and finds herself feeling isolated within her peers, other teens from wealthier backgrounds. But she isn’t the only one hiding secrets. Rick Woo is the bane of Ever’s entire existence, having remembered him from a childhood memory that is burnt into her mind. Perfect boy with a perfect life, family and girlfriend included. But Rick is carrying an onerous burden. Sophie Ha is boy-obsessed and Ever’s right-hand man into Loveboat. Her want to find a relationship reveals a heavyhearted past. Xavier Yeh is loveboat’s honorary bad boy whose character surprised me the most. The Second Lead Syndrome was strong in this one. They all come together to make a summer of memories that will change them for the better. 

Overall, Loveboat, Taipei was a refreshing coming-of-age novel that was fun and fast-paced. The story delved into some themes such as mental health, abusive relationships and racism, which can feel heavy to process, but Abigail Hing Wen does it with justice and clarity. Ever’s story is about coming to herself, and I enjoyed every moment of it all.


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Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Chih is a simple cleric, tasked with their magical hoopoe, to chronicle the lives of the people around them. When they meet Rabbit, an older woman, together, they recall Rabbit’s journey and her life story as the handmaiden to Empress In-Yo. Each chapter reveals something new, something harrowing. Before the effect of each tale can settle in, Rabbit asked Chih “do you understand?”, urging them and the reader to read between the lines and understand the truth behind a history that was erased.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a near-epic tale, all condensed into a hundred pages. As Chih sorts through the home, Rabbit recounts her story. Her being given up by her own people to joining the Empress in a game of loyalty, assassinations, and fortune tellings will ultimately topple an empire. In-Yo was brought to the court in a marriage of alliance, and it becomes clear, she would not go as expected. When her child is ripped from her hands, her people murdered and thrown out their land; Empress In-yo turns to the oppressed. She finds strength and power in what people chose to overlook and uses that to her advantage. These people have a story as well, and if you’re patient enough, you can hear it in all its glory.

There is a subtlety in how Nghi Vo writes that takes your breath away with so little words. A world unfolds with every new discovery Chih uncovers at the estate, leading to a new story, a new piece to the former Empress in her rise and fall, her exile and rebellion. These characters rarely stay a chapter, but their emotional impact resonates until the very end. Chih’s present with Rabbit’s past is a story of hidden history finally coming to light. The way Vo forms the conversation is immersive and elegant. A story that feels like a fairytale.

The term quiet fantasy was only made known to me last year, and I’ve been somewhat fascinated with finding books that fall under that category. And The Empress of Salt and Fortune hits every mark. In such little space, Vo has constructed a fantasy tale that is graceful and poignant. A forever recommendation.


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Review: Like A Love Story

Review: Like A Love Story

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.

In the midst of the AIDS crisis, three friends navigate first love and activism. Reza is about to start high school and is terrified that someone will figure out he is gay, and that a life of living happily is nothing but a dream. That is until he meets classmates Judy and Art. Jude is an aspiring fashion designer, while Art is her rebellious photographer best friend. Reza quickly finds himself involved with the ACT UP movement with the help of Judy’s uncle, Stephen; he sees the community he’s always longed for. That is until he starts dating Judy to hide his identity from his family while having growing feelings for Art. With the movement and protests rising each day, the three friends find themselves facing the hard truth of growing up and falling in love. 

I think this is a difficult review to write because how else can I talk this book other than say, read it yourself, no review can persuade you more than the actual book itself. This book has been quietly sitting on my TBR for quite some time now, and I’m mad at myself for taking so long to read this. 

Set in 1989, Reza is a closeted teenager who has recently moved in with his new stepfather and stepbrother. Reza is quiet and keeps to himself, mainly because he’s scared of what his family will think of him. This is also during the height of the AIDS crisis, so while Reza is struggling to grapple with his sexuality, the only thing he sees about it outside is an illness. But meeting Art and Judy gives him hope, gives him confidence. This is a book that I began to read with no expectations, but I immediately fell in love with. The emotions this story evokes is unbelievable. 

Like A Love Story is grounded in the harsh realities of its time, and while the story is fiction, the history is not, and Nazemian is very clear in the story he’s telling. They won’t teach it in schools. They don’t want us to have a history.” This book’s greatest strength is, quite simply put, everything. Nazemian’s story was incredibly moving and heartbreaking. 

Reza is an absolute sweetheart. Immediately you want to protect him from everything. His character hit me the hardest, his fear and vulnerability are laid to out to bare, and he chooses to become a ghost to keep him safe. To tell his family the truth and understand what it means is beyond all his power. 

Judy’s character was a surprise to me. A well-natured soul who, despite the comments about her body, pushes through expectations and grows into herself. Everyone deserves a friend like Judy. The only moment that didn’t feel right to me was her reaction to Reza’s coming out. I understood where she was coming from, but I felt somewhat shocked her at the response and then understood for plot sake, why it was treated that way.  

Art was something different. Reza is soft, Jude is calm while Art carries himself with a burning passion for change, even if it means burning all his bridges behind him. His love is photography, and his story follows him as he tries to capture all and every moment of the movement. To make sure no one forgets what they’ve been through. He reminds Reza that it’s okay not to be okay, and his feelings are more important than what anyone else thinks. I loved the trio dynamic, especially once they’ve all become comfortable with themselves.   

Overall, I loved Like A Love Story. It was an emotional portrayal of pride, activism and hope, all packaged into this one book. Nazemian captures a time that is not discussed in history lessons and has created one incredibly moving story.  


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Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)

Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Sixteen-year-old Deka fears for her life in anticipation of the blood ceremony that will declare her human or an abomination. On the day of her ceremony, her blood runs gold, and the village turns on her. Until a mysterious woman arrives with an offer: submit to the Emperor by joining his army of gold-blooded girls, known as Alaki, or stay imprisoned in her hometown. Deka proceeds to journey to the capital, joining other girls like her, girls who bleed gold and can’t seem to die—making them perfect fighters against the vicious Deathshrieks that can take down even the most seasoned warriors. As she prepares to become a soldier, Deka discovers that something is different about her power, and she must find the truth before anyone else does.

Well, I must admit, The Gilded Ones was a surprisingly brilliant read. I went into this book with a relatively neutral mindset, very enticed by its cover, and found myself enjoying this one.

The Gilded Ones is a high fantasy novel that deals with racism, xenophobia, misogyny and abuse. The world that Deka resides in is extremely patriarchal that makes young girls go through a ceremony where if she bleeds gold, she is deemed impure. This will most likely end in death or slavery. Gold-blooded girls are almost impossible to kill, their ability to heal at lighting speed makes them demons, according to the village priests. Deka goes from being the village demon to a soldier in training at one of the Emperor’s greatest training halls. The other girls hail from towns from all corner of their world, going from strangers to sisters-in-arms in just weeks.

The lore of The Gilded Ones is where I think the series will shine the most. Deka and the other girls are descendants of monsters which makes them extremely resilient to most damage. The origins of the death shrieks are so fascinating. The land of Otera is vast and diverse. I was conflicted on what I wanted more: continue to read Deka’s story, or wanting to read about the past. Because there’s a lot of information I think could’ve pushed to the present that would not have dragged the book down, but enhance the current world more. The worldbuilding was well-done, very descriptive, and I can imagine any sequel will build and improve upon what we see.

A high fantasy novel of this kind would not be what it is without its characters. And Namina Forna delivers! Deka starts off someone entirely innocent, due to her upbringing, and she grows up very quickly after discovering the truth. She is terrified of herself and soon realises it’s not her fault the world decided she was a demon, so why should she be afraid? The only issue I noticed was that her powers were introduced and developed very quickly. I feel like some progression could’ve been dragged over to the sequel to make it more balanced, rather than immediately push her into the role of a Chosen One. It doesn’t help that the training scenes are skipped over in favour of a time jump. The central casts are all girls who, like Deka, have been made leave home and become warriors. All of them have their own story and stand firm in their own right. Their personalities stood out, loud and distinct, not one faded into the background. And their quips are hilarious and on point.

For most of the novel, the storytelling is pretty great. The pacing and flow are pretty consistent. I’m not sure how to best describe this, and I’ll do this without mentioning any plot detail. But some moments lost momentum because we’re made to recall something that had happened previously. Something pivotal would occur in the story, and then Deka would remind us of something that happened before because it now holds relevance to the story. This didn’t impact my enjoyment while reading, nor does it affect my rating. I just noticed it happening a few times in the novel.

Overall, I was thoroughly surprised by The Gilded Ones. Much of my expectations were met, and I had a lot of fun learning about the world of Otera: one I would like to see more of the world in any upcoming sequels. The story ends in a complete way; if you had told me this was a standalone novel, I would’ve believed you. The events of the first book are tidied up quite nicely, enough that you could be satisfied to leave there if you wish, but I’ll be anticipating what happens in Deka’s story next. This series has the potential to be something extraordinary.


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