Book Review: Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Book: Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Published May 2015 by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers|320 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Thriller/Mystery

Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic fifteen-year-old, ready to take on crime in her hometown. When Scarlett agrees to investigate a local boy’s suicide, she figures she’s in for an easy case and a quick buck. But it doesn’t take long for suicide to start looking a lot like murder.

As Scarlett finds herself deep in a world of cults, curses, and the seemingly supernatural, she discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks…and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father’s murder.

Jennifer Latham delivers a compelling story and a character to remember in this one-of-a-kind debut novel.

I liked Scarlett Undercover!  It’s this cool mystery with elements of the paranormal, and part of me wishes it were part of a series…just to see the more supernatural elements.  It’s not often I want more books, but I would definitely read more books if we got to read more about Scarlett solving mysteries.

I wasn’t expecting a world of cults and curses that are centuries old, and I ended up really liking that part of it.  I finished the book wishing that we got more books with Scarlett solving paranormal mysteries.  It really made me wish that the book focused more on that, but at the same time, I know things needed to be set up, and that we weren’t instantly going to be thrown into the more supernatural elements of the book.

Those elements were pretty rooted in reality, so while those elements are there, it’s not the whole book.  It really is more of a mystery/thriller than a paranormal, and I thought the supernatural would be more present.  Still, I liked the connection between that and Scarlett’s family and some of the people in her life.

I do wish it were explained a little more, though, because Latham didn’t go into a lot of depth in some areas, and other things were inconsistent.  Scarlett, for example, goes from blowing off prayer to praying 5 times a day.  Obviously, what happened changed her, but it wasn’t really explained.  Her religion/faith wasn’t a big part of the book, which is fine, but with some of what happened in the book, I thought we’d see something a little more.

Overall, the book isn’t really about her religion or spiritual journey, so don’t expect that.  It was more about her trying to solve a mystery.  Still, I think it could have been interesting, but I’m also fine with the fact that it’s not really part of the book.

Scarlett is a pretty developed character- though, as the main character, one would hope she’s a pretty developed character- but I couldn’t really say that for the other characters.  It’s part of why I thought things could have been explained a little more, because the other characters were either bland or their role in things were confusing.  Scarlett herself is pretty spunky and sure of herself, and she really does want to help people.  She’s brave and she wants justice, and she’s pretty determined.  I just wish that the other characters were as interesting as Scarlett was.

3 stars.  I liked it, but I did want something a little different.  If you like mysteries, this is a pretty good one to check out.

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Book Review: Saints And Misfits by S.K. Ali

Book: Saints And Misfits by S.K. Ali

Published June 2017 by Salaam Reads/Simon Schuster Books For Young Readers|325 pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

I wanted to like Saints And Misfits more than I actually did.

I was never completely invested, and while Janna seems to like photography and books, it wasn’t as explored as it could have been.  For the most part, I was bored reading it but I was determined to finish the book.

As for the monster that we see referenced in the book, I knew where it was headed, and I waited quite a bit for the reveal.  Unfortunately, I found that I could care less, since I I was pretty sure of what was coming.  And it didn’t have the effect that it should have.  It was built and then it just sort of…went nowhere.  Well, that’s not completely right.  I thought it was built up for nothing, and it didn’t go in the direction I thought it would.  Which is unfortunate, because I thought it could have been interesting.

Still, I thought Janna was a pretty normal teen.  She has a crush, who is a non-Muslim boy.  She hangs out with her friends and takes a neighbor to game night at the local senior center.  She has to deal with people sharing pictures of her without her hijab.

I’m not Muslim, but it seemed like it was a really big thing.  It’s not something I completely understand, of course, but I can understand her being upset that those photos were posted on Facebook.  I was bothered by how easily her classmate posted that photo, without a single thought about how Janna might feel about it.  I’m not sure if it didn’t occur to her classmate that it was inappropriate and disrespectful (particularly because said pictures were taken during gym), or if her classmate knew and just didn’t care.

I did like how important her faith and identity was to Janna, and it was nice to see how, no matter what your beliefs are, we all have to with school and not-so-cool people and dating.  I also liked the interfaith conversations and that there wasn’t any Islamophobia.  At least that I saw, but it’s possible I missed it so…

I didn’t care for Janna, and she did keep people at a distance.  She was judgemental and mean and hard to like.  I’m fine with unlikable characters, but in this case, Janna was just…sort of…there.  Which is a weird thing to say, since the book is about her, but this book clearly isn’t my cup of tea.  I’d still recommend it, because it does seem like a good representation of a Muslim teen dealing with things a lot of teenagers deal with.

2 stars.  I was bored reading this book, and it’s clearly not for me, but I still think it’s worth checking out.

Book Review: Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Book: Love, Hate And Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Published January 2018 by Soho Teen|281 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

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, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

I liked Love, Hate & Other Filters!  I really felt for Maya, and she’s likable and sympathetic.

I really loved how she wanted to go to film school, even though it’s not what her parents would have wanted (or chosen) for her.  You really see her struggle with her identity as an Indian-American teen, and I really liked her relationship with her aunt.

One thing I thought was interesting was her mom’s focus on Maya getting married.  I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like almost every single book focusing on Asian-American, Middle Eastern or Muslim characters has a mom who has this single-handed focus on getting her teenage daughter married.  I know arranged marriage is a custom (please forgive me if I phrased that wrong.  Also, please let me know the correct way if I did get wrong) in some cultures, but she did seem more focused on that than what was going on with her daughter, especially after a horrific event happens a few hundred miles away.

And while her parents did struggle with the idea of her going to New York, I can understand why they would change their mind.  Still, I can’t imaging being disowned because of a decision to do it anyway.  Part of me feels like that is something that happens, and I hope they come around.  They do love her, and they do worry about her, but I am having a hard time with understanding why they’d disown her, and why they weren’t more supportive.  I really do want to understand where they’re coming from, but I’m really struggling with that.

I hated how Maya treated in the aftermath of that event, and how she was lumped into the same group as the perceived perpetrator, just because he had the same last name.  I get that people were scared, and that took over, and people were acting in a completely different way then they were before.  Who wouldn’t be scared, after something like that?  But how people reacted wasn’t a surprise at all, and I felt like it highlighted really well how people treat those who are Muslim.  The Islamaphobia was handled really well, and I wouldn’t expect anything else.  Love, Hate & Other Filters is #ownvoices, and it felt very much like Maya was going through something Ahmed had experienced.

I did like seeing the chapters following the perpetrator of the attack.  They didn’t make sense at first- actually, they didn’t make sense until we actually see the crime, and then they started to make sense.  They gave some insight into that person’s thoughts, but even though they were different, I don’t know how much they actually added to the book. They did show that terrorism has no religion, and that anyone can be a terrorist, so there is that.

A lot of this book is romance, and I didn’t particularly care for it.  There are two possible love interests for Maya, and I didn’t care for either of them.  Not only that, but she dates one guy, only for it to not work out in the end?  It didn’t make any sense to me.

One last thing that didn’t make sense: Maya’s religion.  I know the blurb says Maya is Muslim, and I went into the book expecting that to be part of the book in some way.  But Maya never says she’s Muslim, she never prays…she never acknowledges that she’s Muslim.  I know everyone has their own relationship with religion, but I never got the sense that it was important to her.  I don’t know if it’s shame, or if she didn’t really believe in it but sort of adhered to it because of her parents.  I’m just confused about how the summary of the book mentions Maya is Muslim, but we never see any mention or acknowledgement of it.

3 stars.  The romance was superficial and boring, and I felt like some of the labels for the book didn’t actually match what we see in the book (namely religion).  I do think the hate crimes we see in the book, and the way Maya was treated after the terrorist attack were well done.  It just wasn’t enough to give the book a higher rating.

What I’ve Been Reading: Part Two

In an effort to talk about a lot of the books I’ve read, I’ve decided that it was a good idea for me to do some sort of post where I briefly talk about some of what I’ve been reading.  All links to Goodreads if you want to check out the book!

  • Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert.  I honestly don’t know if her books are for me, because  this book was okay, and I wasn’t a big fan of Pointe when I read that.  Suzette was a frustrating character, and she seemed really self-absorbed. She cared more about herself than her brother and what he was going through.  I get that she needed to have her own life, and considering everything that her brother had going on, it makes sense she’d try to have her own life and do her own thing.  But…it just bothered me that she didn’t really seem to care about anyone but herself and what she wanted.  There’s a lot going on in this book, and it was a little unclear what direction Colbert wanted to take.  Everything felt messy and unresolved, and while it’s really cool that the story is about a Jewish black bi girl, it felt like there was too much going on for anything to really have an impact.  It was very surface level (at least for me), and nothing got the attention it really deserved.  Little & Lion gets 2 stars.
  • The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi.  I really liked this one!  If you liked Jumanji, you will definitely like this book.  Picture Jumanji, but with a steampunk, Middle Eastern twist to it, and you have The Gauntlet.  It’s definitely fun and cool and it’s perfect for all ages, not just middle grade readers.  I loved seeing the relationship Farah had with her friends and her brother, and how willing she was to go get her brother out of this game.  It’s fast-paced and you really feel like you’re playing the game with Farah and her friends.  The Gauntlet gets 4 stars.
  • The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  This is another book I really liked.  I really liked Sal and the relationship he had with his dad and his grandma.  This book really is about family and belonging and how we all fit together.  In particular, Sal has his friend Sam, and they are better off as friends than as a couple.  I’m definitely glad that there was no (romantic) relationship between Sam and Sal, because it wouldn’t have fit with everything going on.  And the more we see them, the more you realize they are stronger as friends.  I didn’t understand Sal’s anger issues.  It seemed a little out of place, and it didn’t seem like Sal.  Sal, Sam, and Sal’s other friend were remarkably similar in that their mothers died, and their biological fathers weren’t around.  Sal’s adoptive father was great, though, and Sal (and his friends) were really lucky to have him in their lives.  It does make me want to read Aristotle And Dante Discover The Universe but I’m nervous to read it because I know everyone really likes it, and what if I don’t like it as much as this book?  I did really like it, and I’d rate The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life gets 4 stars.
  • By Your Side by Kasie West.  This book was really cute!  I wish I liked it more, because it seems like the type of book I’d absolutely love.  I did like the trapped in the library aspect of the book, and I was slightly disappointed that the entire book wasn’t set in the library, because that would have been awesome.  But at the same time, I liked seeing how her weekend in the library changed her.  My big question is, how did the library staff not double check the bathrooms before closing?  I mean, maybe they closed the bathrooms early- I know my local library closes the bathroom 10 minutes before closing, but still, why not double check.  I know it would ruin the whole book, but it is a little strange to me.  I liked seeing Autumn and Dax’s relationship after their library lock-in, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about Autumn’s anxiety.  She seemed pretty calm throughout the whole thing.  I don’t doubt that’s a real thing for her, and anxiety is one of those things that seems to be different for everyone.  Or maybe what we saw is different than what she was really experiencing?  At any rate, I did really like By Your Side, and it gets 4 stars. 
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman.  This book was a weird one, but like most of the other books I’ve talked about, I really liked it.  I heard about it on the Book Riot podcast, and it was creepy as hell.  There were a couple of moments that were truly terrifying.  I am curious about what it is that drives people to violence, and how it even came to be.  On the one hand, growing up in the world could be a good thing, because it’s the only world you’ve ever known, and you’re better able to handle it because you don’t know what it was like before.  But on the other hand, you’ll never know what the world was like before it happened.  I can’t imagine having to go outside blindfolded.  At least with the zombie apocalypse, you can see.  Not with this one.  I ended up getting the audio book (which I haven’t listened to yet), because in a world narrated by someone who’s blindfolded, and trying to get to a safe community, you wonder what the book would be liked if you listened to it.  I’m assuming you’d really be immersed in the world, and one of these days, I’ll have to listen it.  I really don’t want to give it away, so it’s probably good this review is really short.  Bird Box gets 4 stars.