Finding Love in the Harsh Montreal Winters: a Review of The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

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Genre:
Historical Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication date: February 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 389

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Blurb:

With echoes of The Night Circus, a spellbinding story about two gifted orphans in love with each other since they can remember whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one’s origins. It might also take true love.

Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they’ll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.

With her musical language and extravagantly realized world, Heather O’Neill enchants us with a novel so magical there is no escaping its spell.

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“No one else could understand what they were saying to each other,
Every word they spoke was a metaphor”

Right off the bat, I’d say The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a complex read not written for everyone. Despite the blurb indicating innocence and a pure love story, The Lonely Hearts Hotel reveals its multiple layers of complexity within its plot and characters leaving us to wonder what the heck is going on in this book.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel started out great for me, gripping me to the story pretty quickly given how HEATHER O’NEILL was indiscreet on teenage rape-induced pregnancies and the sombre situations orphanages find themselves in at the turn of Canada’s 20th century. We’re quickly introduced to two unique orphans with amazing talents in performing arts who happen to be Pierrot and Rose.

The hardships they faced while in the orphanage was insightful enough for me, if it wasn’t for the explicit content surrounding sexual harassment and sexual pleasures in general. The Lonely Hearts Hotel literally borderlined on Erotica with the sexually explicit scenes. And whilst I have nothing against the genre Erotica, I’d have appreciated an initial warning that a lot of sexual content was going to cover the first 40% of the book. That said, this book is certainly for adults and very mature young adults.

The plot itself is pretty good. I love how we got to know more of 1930’s Montreal, Canada. Rarely are historical fiction reads set in this time and place. The Great Depression was used as a setting for what was about to unfold in the two orphan’s lives. The Lonely Hearts Hotel consists of an amazing cinematic prose that makes you feel like you’re watching an obscure movie in your head, but the stiff dialogues was a bit of a turn-off for me.

We also get to read more about Pierrot and Rose’s characteristics and what drives them to be the characters they turned out to be. We see Pierrot’s decline into drugs after leaving the orphanage despite having an immense talent for the piano, and Rose’s attempt in building a life for herself after all her hardships.

O’NEILL writes female characters so well. This is one of my favourite things about The Lonely Hearts Hotel. Throughout the book, it’s pretty adamant how smart Rose in wanting something more out of her life. Her sex as a woman led her to face discrimination every day, and how relevant can we say this statement still is in today’s society? Rose’s character development was truly phenomenal in The Lonely Hearts Hotel and I’m glad that was very well written.

“Being a woman was a trap. Something would bring you down before you turned twenty-three. The only time the world shows you any favor, or cuts you any slack, is during that very brief period of courtship where the world is trying to fuck you for the first time.” 

I’d be lying if I said Pierrot and Rose’s love story did not move me. It did, in all its honesty and raw form. The relationship exhibited by them was unique in an era where men only believed women to be good for one thing only. Reading about Pierrot and Rose’s relationship growing and changing throughout the book was a pleasure, but nevertheless a heartbreaking process. The ending was something I never expected to move me, but it did. And for that, I believe The Lonely Hearts Hotel is worth a read.

“[They] would never grow old enough to understand that you only go from one hardship to another. And that the best we can hope from life is that it is a wonderful depression”

Set in a chilling but breathtaking Montreal setting, THE LONELY HEARTS HOTEL will bring you on a journey of finding love in a desperate time of hardships and desperation, in an attempt to save yourself.

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Thank you Times Reads for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

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#YouWillBeFound: A Review of Dear Evan Hansen Screenplay

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Genre:
Screenplay
Publisher: Theatre Communications Group (TCG)
Publication date: May 30th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 165

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Buy from Bookdepository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:

An original musical that explores the poignant desire for human connection in the tumultuous life of one young man. Evan is shy, lonely, and bullied for it―teeming with the irrepressible emotions all too familiar with anyone who’s ever been a teenager. After a tragedy strikes, Evan’s life suddenly gets turned around, but is it ultimately for the better?

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It is of no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Dear Evan Hansen. I lived and breathed this beautiful musical for a good 6 months after it won Best Musical at the 2017 Tony Awards. I fell in love with Ben Platt shortly after and knew that Dear Evan Hansen will forever change my life, as it has done for so many others.

Dear Evan Hansen is the tale of how a small lie gets spun out of control and changes the lives of everyone in it. It is ultimately a story of loneliness, finding a place in this world, and helping others through the dark times. It also questions the power of social media in spreading “fake news” and how authenticity is very difficult to achieve with so many online platforms. I truly believe everyone who listens and learn  about Dear Evan Hansen will find a reason to love it.

“What if everyone knew?
Would they like what they saw?”

Stumbling across this screenplay in Kinokuniya was a sign that I needed to devour the musical all over again, but this time via a reading experience complete with the cast album recording. Dear Evan Hansen screenplay basically allows us to read the dialogues along with the song lyrics. There are brief descriptions on the characters’ emotions and backdrop settings, which I found super helpful in imagining the entire musical. Having had an obsessive phase with Dear Evan Hansen meant it was very easy for me to imagine the original cast as the characters in Dear Evan Hansen. And in addition to that, I’ve watched a recording of Act 1 on Youtube, helping me to appreciate the screenplay further.

I would recommend Dear Evan Hansen to all Fansens who have had the pleasure of listening and being moved by the songs. It was truly a magical experience to read the musical and have the entire cast accompany you with Dear Evan Hansen‘s amazing original songs. You will love the emotions infused within this serious but full of comedic moments of a musical. The ending is a tear-jerker which moved my heart, and made me want to hug every single person out there who ever felt like they weren’t good enough or felt alone.

Reading the screenplay made me appreciate the musical even more so since it’s an original production. Most musicals are adaptations off books, movies or TV series. But Dear Evan Hansen is truly one of a kind. And it will stay with you, for forever…

“Even when it feels . . . hopeless. Like everything is telling him to let go. This time, maybe this time, he won’t let go. He’ll just . . . hold on and he’ll keep going. He’ll keep going until he sees the sun.” 

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Keep This Book In Your Contacts: a Review of Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

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Genre:
Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books
Publication date: March 27th, 2018
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 391

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Blurb:

For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

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I’m pretty happy with how Emergency Contact turned out as a YA/NA Contemporary. Rarely do I find YA books centering around college students, and while Emergency Contact doesn’t exactly showcase the horrors of starting college, the plot and writing were very well done. I enjoyed the book in its entirety.

I love how race wasn’t the main focus of this book even though Penny is of Korean descent. That said, MARY CHOI did a great job in identifying some racial issues in the book and how racism is subtly infused in our social life.

Emergency Contact allows us to enjoy the growth of a beautiful friendship between two people who feel out of place in this world. I’m a sucker for friendship stories compared to romance, so I loved how three quarters of Emergency Contact was solely focused on Penny and Sam’s blooming friendship. Their openness to each other and their co-dependence are how I would define a great friendship. Emergency Contact is definitely not a cliche, cheesy YA love story and that’s why I think it’s such a great book.

“People were odd.
Fiction was fine, but real life was the true freak show.”

The plot was well-written for a contemporary, where it had a good mix of eventful situations that brought the story forward and tied up the entire book well together. We get to know Sam and Penny more in depth, and I’ve always enjoyed books that allow the readers to relate and empathize with its characters. Both characters have been through a traumatizing past and how Emergency Contact brought forth the stories together was pretty interesting. And seeing the friendship grow and blossom into something more was also a joy to read.

One thing readers might want to know about Emergency Contact is that the story is heavily centered around Sam and Penny, with minimal interaction with other characters in the book. If you do not mind dialogues between just the main characters, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy Emergency Contact.

Overall, Emergency Contact is one of the few YA books I’ve enjoyed reading this year. The ending threw me off a bit as I thought it was rushed without much conclusion, but I still think Emergency Contact is worth picking up. We don’t see enough of this book on social media, so I hope you pick it up if you see it in stores!

“Everyone is capable of putting words down,
Or telling a story
But not everyone will actually do it”

For fans of mature YA reads questioning racial and rape culture with a great focus on friendship and self-comfort, Emergency Contact is a highly recommended read. 

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

The Beauty of the Written Type: a Review of Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

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Genre:
General Fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: William Heinneman
Publication date: October 17th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 416

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Blurb:

A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.

A hectic, funny sexual affair between two best friends. A World War II veteran dealing with his emotional and physical scars. A second-rate actor plunged into sudden stardom and a whirlwind press junket. A small-town newspaper columnist with old-fashioned views of the modern world. A woman adjusting to life in a new neighborhood after her divorce. Four friends going to the moon and back in a rocket ship constructed in the backyard. A teenage surfer stumbling into his father’s secret life.

These are just some of the people and situations that Tom Hanks explores in his first work of fiction, a collection of stories that dissects, with great affection, humour, and insight, the human condition and all its foibles. The stories are linked by one thing: in each of them, a typewriter plays a part, sometimes minor, sometimes central. To many, typewriters represent a level of craftsmanship, beauty and individuality that is harder and harder to find in the modern world. In his stories, Mr Hanks gracefully reaches that typewriter-worthy level.

Known for his honesty and sensitivity as an actor, Mr Hanks brings both those characteristics to his writing. Alternatingly whimsical, moving and occasionally melancholy, Uncommon Type is a book that will delight as well as surprise his millions of fans. It also establishes him as a welcome and wonderful new voice in contemporary fiction, a voice that perceptively delves beneath the surface of friendships, families, love and normal, everyday behaviour.

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Uncommon Type is Tom Hank’s debut short stories collection featuring 17 short stories, including a screenplay and 3 newspaper articles. The short stories range between genres of general fiction, drama and scifi.

I wasn’t expecting anything mind-blowing because not many celebrities can write well without employing ghost writers. And Tom Hanks is no exception. He may be one of the best actors of our time, heck he’s definitely my favourite male actor, but writing is not his strongest talent despite what the praises at the back of this book say.

That said, he is one of those genuinely nice people who doesn’t get into anything shady, and you can’t help but to like him. He’s the buddy you want to have telling you stories of different types of typewriters even if typewriters have never interested you. And even if there wasn’t anything exceptional about Uncommon Type, I did enjoy reading it. I enjoyed a good half of the stories in Uncommon Type mainly for its simple plot and writing of various complex characters within the stories. Tom Hanks has this sensitivity in his writing to write about everyday life infused with domestic issues and suburban living, which I found enjoyable.

My favourite stories written by him were the simplest of them all: a boy discovering his father’s secret on his 19th birthday, a woman falling in love with a typewriter, a billionaire finding the meaning of life in the middle of nowhere…. And I realised I love simple stories as much as complex fantasy plots. There is something reassuring in every day life and the simple joys it bring. Hands down my favourite story is These Are The Meditations of My Heart.

Asides from that, I also loved how I kept hearing Tom Hanks’ voice as I read his stories. It didn’t come up for all the stories, but when it did it made the reading experience much more interesting! And if you ever come across an audiobook of Uncommon Type, I highly recommend you listen to it. I mean, who wouldn’t want Joe Foxx from You’ve Got Mail reading to them in that adorable voice of his? Also, you’ll enjoy reading random facts of typewriters in each story. Tom Hanks lay them out like Easter eggs for us to find among the stories and see how the story is related to each typewriter mentioned.

The only problem I had with Uncommon Type is how some stories fell bland to me and some weren’t really well thought out. Hanks definitely write general fiction better than scifi. He gave scifi a try and we got a few stories in that genre, but it didn’t really set in for me.  It definitely could have been better with some serious editing and restructuring.

But Uncommon Type is entertaining enough that you will find something to like in it. It took me almost 3 weeks to finish (gasp), but I’m glad I managed to finish all the 17 stories and write a decent review for it! Shout out to my friend who pushed me to finish that screenplay once and for all, lol thanks.

For fans of Tom Hanks, typewriters and short stories, Uncommon Type is a great read to spend weekends with if you want something light and easy to read.

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

The Mortality of Living: a Review of The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback
Source: Times Reads
Page Count: 352

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Blurb:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

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How do I explain how incredible The Immortalists is?

It is a story on family dynamics and the complex truth behind our abilities to decide our own fate. The Immortalists is the story of how the lives of 4 siblings changed forever after being given their death prophecies by a psychic. The story then begins to span over 5 decades, taking turns to reveal how each sibling lived and how they perceived their prophecy.

The Immortalists is a book that takes you by surprise and CHLOR BENJAMIN ties the book really well together. It took me one recommendation from Emma Roberts to try this book out, and I’m glad The Immortalists exceeded my expectations. The plot was simple – each sibling’s life would be revealed in order of death. And through that, complex characters were woven into the story in a way that allows us to see right through their insecurities and fears. Each sibling had their own troubled past added various threads into the book, giving us a chance to understand them deeper and see how humane they are. Each character was so unique from each other, but complemented the story so well tying in the entire family configuration and all its complexities.

The very best magic tricks, the kind Klara wants to perform, do not subtract from reality. They add.

And I love books like The Immortalists simply because it is the story of life. And how we choose to live it regardless the outcome. The Immortalists questions the possibility of us knowing our fate and choosing inevitable paths leading to it. Or do we really have a choice in changing the story line?

The Immortalists also deals with pretty complex topics, which I loved. For instance LGBT movement in San Francisco circa 1980’s was heavily highlighted in this book. Longevity research in primates was another topic well researched into. On top of that, religion relevancy was also discussed in The Immortalists and this was one of my favourite topics to dwell about as I read the book. The book explores difference between the older and newer generations’ views towards religion, and I found this particular topic to be very applicable today.

“I suppose I think we need God for the same reason we need art.”
“Because it’s nice to look at?”
“No.” Mira smiled.
“Because it shows us what’s possible.” 

Overall, The Immortalists was such a pleasure to read. It is the book you read to learn a little bit more about life and the fact that everyone is going through a battle oblivious to the general eye.

Perfect for fans of A Little Life, The Immortalists will make you think of how we live our lives to the fullest regardless the length, and how family dynamics are never simple.

 

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Thank you Times Reads for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.

Where Truth Requires Thorns: a Review of The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

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Genre:
Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Imprint
Publication date: September 26th, 2017
Format: Hardback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 281

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Blurb:

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

 

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“This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”

First off, I am not familiar with Grishaverse. I have never read LEIGH BARDUGO’s Shadow and Bone trilogy so reading The Language of Thorns was an entirely new experience. I don’t think it’s crucial for you to be familiar with Grishaverse, but I would expect you could have a deeper appreciation for The Language of Thorns if you were.

The Language of Thorns is a collection of 6 short stories from various regions in Grishaverse. I don’t often read short stories collection simply because I don’t like investing that much time in a story only for it to end so quickly. But The Language of Thorns was pleasantly entertaining. Its details in the fantasy realm of Grishaverse were very grotesque and intense, which I loved. Naturally, there were some stories which I thought were too draggy for my taste, but The Too-Clever Fox was one of my favourites in this.

The Language of Thorns ultimately tells the tales of unconventional characters and how your typical fairy tales shouldn’t end the way they did. It questions the typical happy ending of folklore we normally hear about, and turns the story around to bring a sense of uncertainty and curiosity. I love how this book shined light on nimble, presumably weak characters who at first glance, were thought to be the villains in this story or unfit to survive the tale. But as each story unfolds, strength is revealed within each character. And not only to survive the situation they’re thrown in, but to make something for themselves and change the story entirely.

“She had not been much to look at in her youth, and she knew well that only courage is required for an adventure.”
 

Now lets talk about those beautiful illustrations The Language of Thorns is so famously known for. Each tale brings a different feeling of euphoria and wonder as the illustrations develop with each page. I was blown away by how beautiful the illustrations were done. Details are added with each page turned, and you can’t help but to try to find hints to how the tale will end from each added detail. But that said, at the end of each tale, the illustrations develop into its final version revealing the ending. I would suggest you try to avoid this part before finishing each tale so as to not get spoiled!

If you need a reason to read The Language of Thorns, then let it be for these beautiful illustrations. The stories will no doubt amaze you, as Bardugo brings us on this exciting journey in a familiar land filled with curious creatures, magic and power.

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And the Camera Keeps Rolling: a Review of Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Genre:
Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: January 16th, 2018
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Books
Page Count: 255

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Blurb:

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacquelyn Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

Maya Aziz is torn between futures: the one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter (i.e.; staying nearby in Chicago and being matched with a “suitable” Muslim boy), and the one where she goes to film school in New York City–and maybe, just maybe, kisses a guy she’s only known from afar. There’s the also the fun stuff, like laughing with her best friend Violet, making on-the-spot documentaries, sneaking away for private swimming lessons at a secret pond in the woods. But her world is shattered when a suicide bomber strikes in the American heartland; by chance, he shares Maya’s last name. What happens to the one Muslim family in town when their community is suddenly consumed with hatred and fear?

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Any book with a Muslim character will automatically get me excited. So when I heard a debut author, SAMIRA AHMED is coming out with a book about an Indian Muslim American teenager dealing with Islamophobia in the West, it peaked my interest.

But to be honest, Love, Hate & Other Filters didn’t really captured my full attention. Love, Hate & Other Filters at the core feels like any other YA Conteporary: light, fluffy with an unavoidable romance with the hottest guy in school. What made Love, Hate & Other Filters different was how the main character, Maya, had to deal with racial discrimination after a terrorist attack occurs in the US. I believe Love, Hate & Other Filters is worth reading because of the last 40% which gives us a sliver of an insight into how terrorism has affected the lives of both Muslims and non-Muslims in the West. Love, Hate & Other Filters questions our ability to empathize with everyone regardless of gender and religion, and how small towns take the biggest hit since its diversity isn’t that great.

“My body remembers what part of my mind wants to forget—because there are times when I struggle to reconcile what I gave up to be here, in this very moment, despite how much I wanted it. How much I do want it. The past may be prologue, but it’s with me, every day.” 

Asides from that, the book did shed some interesting light on modern Muslim teenagers living in America, and just like any new generation, their hold on faith and religion is different than that of their parents. I couldn’t help to compare this book to Saints and Misfits by Sajidah Ali. The difference between these two books is that despite having American Muslim teenagers as the MC, their religious and spiritual standings couldn’t be more different. Maya is more open about her sexuality and interests in boys, with little regard to how her religion plays a part in her life. I found this aspect of her characteristic intriguing because I believe there needs to be more discussion on how the youth nowadays find relevance in religion shaping their lives. Love, Hate & Other Filters makes you think more about this, and I loved it for it.

The plot was typically Asian and cliche for me: Maya trying to break away from her Indian Muslim parents’ expectations of her becoming a lawyer/doctor, so she can go to film school. Maya’s courage to follow her dreams and make a name for herself was encouraging to read despite the plot being typical. She’s strong minded and apparently talented, although the scenes in which she does film and record her life has me a little doubtful. I wish those parts were better written.

Unfortunately the side characters weren’t really impressionable, including the hot guy Maya is heads over heels for throughout the entire book. I realise I have this aversion for YA characters crushing on hot high school boys who are always conveniently on the football team. Honestly, are there not other guys to crush on in YA books??

But overall, it was an entertaining read. Definitely worth a try if you want a more diverse palette in your YA genre.

Perfect for fans of light YA reads that shines a light on importance of diversity and the need to overcome racial discrimination, Love, Hate & Other Filters will have you cheering for Maya and her strength to stay true to herself.

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Thank you Pansing Books for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review.