Mera naam Katie hai! Even though "K" has taught me a few things in Hindi, I tend to learn better by reading, so there you go! One sentence in Hindi IMera naam Katie hai! Even though "K" has taught me a few things in Hindi, I tend to learn better by reading, so there you go! One sentence in Hindi I learned from ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD. [Smile.]
I thoroughly enjoyed this sweet, refreshing, fun, action-packed book. It truly does read like a Bollywood film, full of drama and intrigue and, yes, song and dance scenes, though obviously not quite as effective as a film. [Wink.]
Abby Spencer is half-Caucasian and half-Indian, the product of a loving relationship that went sour when her father returned to India from America shortly before her mother discovered that she was pregnant and could no longer get in touch with him, despite repeated attempts. She has always been curious about her father, but does not come off as poorly-adjusted or full of issues, thanks to the overwhelming love and concern shown to her by her mother and maternal grandparents, as well as the friendship of her best buds, Priya and Zooey.
When an unfortunate incident occurs that reveals a genetic allergic condition, Abby and her mother begin an internet search for her father, who, as it turns out, is now a major Bollywood star in Mumbai. After a flurry of email exchanges, Abby is whisked away to Mumbai to meet and spend time with her superstar dad - for the first time ever!
This is where the story really gets going! It was so much fun to experience India through Abby's eyes. She is exposed not only to the lavish lifestyle of her father, but also to the extreme poverty literally right outside the gates of his mansion, which I feel is an accurate representation of the extremes and contradictions you will witness when visiting India or any other similar country. The descriptions of Mumbai, from the streets to the food, made me even more anxious to visit India, an incredible country steeped in tradition and history, and in some ways, shrouded in mystery.
As always, characters are most important to me, and Abby and her fellow characters are no exception. Abby is a precocious, witty girl, and I loved how down-to-earth she was throughout the story. She didn't care about her dad's stardom or his wealth; she simply wanted to know him and to learn more about her heritage. Her father, in turn, seems to truly care about Abby, though it's clear he has a lot to learn about caring for a teenage girl; still, he tries, and his efforts made him endearing. Every character, from the most minor to the major, was well-developed, and I loved how even both sets of grandparents were involved in Abby's life and in caring for her in their own way. It sometimes seems rare to see such a strong family unit in books written for the younger crowd, which is a real shame. Though there is a slight "love interest" in the form of Shaan, an Indian American boy who is also visiting India, this book is more focused on Abby's personal growth and on developing the relationships between her two family units.
Though ABBY SPENCER GOES TO BOLLYWOOD is a book written for "tweens," it's not all fluff and rainbows. Abby deals with some challenging issues, including finding a way to connect with her super busy father and integrating herself into a new culture. I was curious to see how Varsha Bajaj would handle the issue of Abby's father disappearing before she was born, and why her mother never received a response after repeated attempts to contact him over the years. The answer turns out to be an unfortunate and sad one, but it serves to remind the reader that life is too short to judge others and that family ties are most important of all.
Congratulations to Varsha Bajaj for writing a book worthy of passing on to my sweet teenage niece!...more
Disclaimer: I know the author, Kristin Rae, personally, and in fact, really like her. This girl is funny and genuine and super smart! So, it comes asDisclaimer: I know the author, Kristin Rae, personally, and in fact, really like her. This girl is funny and genuine and super smart! So, it comes as no surprise that I really loved her debut YA novel, WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN. I am half-Italian myself, though I've never been to Italy, so it was a great adventure to travel through Italy with Pippa and "see" the Coliseum and "visit" Pompeii.
If asked to describe WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN in a few words, I would say, "Fun, light-hearted, and a perfect beach/summer read!" Okay, so that was more than a few words, but did you really count? The characters in this book are down-to-earth, genuine, and perfectly flawed. When we first meet Pippa, she's begrudgingly going along with the life plans her parents have set for her. She doesn't want a future in the world of art; photography is her real passion. Once she gets to Italy, though, she starts to blossom, and the fun really begins!
Enter Darren, the cute, aspiring archaeologist, and Bruno, the smoldering Italian hottie whose family she winds up living with for most of her stay. These two guys keep her on her toes, and although there is a bit of a love triangle within the pages, it's not over-the-top and is actually pretty believable, given the situation of each character. While the love triangle angle (oh lord, here come flashbacks to Geometry!) does take up a good part of the story, we also meet other lovable characters, including Pippa's grandmother and Chiara, Bruno's sister, who makes me wish she were MY friend in real life.
I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention Pippa's best friend, Morgan, so I simply must dedicate a paragraph to her! Morgan gives Pippa a journal at the beginning of the trip, filled with tons of lists and tasks for Pippa to complete while adventuring in Italy, which becomes the catalyst for much of the change in Pippa's life afterward. I found the journal to be such a FUN idea that I plan on giving something similar to my boyfriend when he returns to India, his homeland. I was glad to see I'm not the only one who would treasure a smear of dirt from the soil of another country!
And speaking of another country - it's clear that Kristin Rae drew on ALL of her experiences when she herself traveled to Italy, because the setting practically drags you into the pages and makes you feel as if you are in Italy, alongside Pippa and the gang. I could smell the Italian sea, taste the creamy gelato, and hear the chatter of conversations in Italian around me. Warning: Don't read this book on an empty stomach!
WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN is a light-hearted read overall, but not without it's more sobering moments and not without some hard lessons for Pippa. While there is romance, there are other central themes for teens who may read this book, including being true to yourself and being honest with those around you. The ending was a satisfying mix of melancholy and sweetness, and left me smiling long after I turned the last page.
Congratulations to Kristin Rae on a thoroughly successful debut! Dear readers, add this book to your summer reading list. You won't regret it!...more
I'll admit, angel books are not normally my "thing." I'm wary of them because they tend to be a bit too self-righteous for me. THE SWEET DEAD LIFE isI'll admit, angel books are not normally my "thing." I'm wary of them because they tend to be a bit too self-righteous for me. THE SWEET DEAD LIFE is a refreshing relief from the typical angel book, in that you won't find characters with a superiority complex or overly-preachy moral messages that make you want to chuck the book at the wall in disgust. No, instead, you'll find angels (and non-angels) that smoke pot, cuss like sailors, masturbate, and generally behave like, well, humans. This is where the book exceeded my expectations, and at the same time, fell short of what I thought it could have been.
Allow me to elaborate by focusing on what I felt was good in this book: First, the characters. Jenna Samuels was so refreshing! She has a sarcastic, witty voice that kept me in splits for a good chunk of the book. This girl says what she thinks and is not quick to censor herself, which is typical of most 14-year-olds. Similarly, the other characters, from Jenna's older brother, Casey, to her best friend, Mags, and even ol' Nurse Ed with the purple Crocs, all had depth and personality that just jumped off the page. The humor sprinkled throughout the pages, both within the scenes and the dialogue, made THE SWEET DEAD LIFE an easy, entertaining read, and is a big part of what kept me going until the end. If Joy Preble's night-job isn't as a stand-up comedian, it should be! I also enjoyed the overall mystery of the plot, and though I did recognize who the villian would be early on, the way everything unfolded was very satisfying. Finally, I give Joy high marks for including so much of the Houston/Texas I know and love within the pages of THE SWEET DEAD LIFE. It's so neat reading about places and street names with which you are familiar. "Hey, I was just there!"
Now, on to the things that didn't quite work for me. I mentioned earlier how I liked that THE SWEET DEAD LIFE doesn't beat you over the head with a moral message. While this is true, I also thought that the almost-constant mention of pot and porn, as well as the excessive cussing, were just too much. I know (some) teenagers do and say these things, and I think I understand what Joy was going for - that is, no one is perfect - but it seemed that the inclusion of these -ahem- activities was more for shock value or in an obvious attempt to avoid the "heavenly being" cliches. The main character is 14, yet I would not feel comfortable giving this book to any middle grader, so while it is a bit of a cross-over between Middle Grade and Young Adult, I'd say this book is more for older Young Adults. The pacing of the story was decent-to-good, but I did have an image in my head of wheels spinning but getting no traction for several portions of the book. Finally, the ending fell flat for me. It's not a happily-ever-after, and it really can't be, since there's going to be a sequel, but it was an ending that didn't exactly inspire me to read the next book in the series.
Coming up with a final rating for THE SWEET DEAD LIFE was really hard. I've been trying not to split hairs with half-stars, but in the end, this one demanded that I do. It wasn't quite 4-star material for me, and honestly, I hate that because I love Joy and I especially love supporting local authors. However, the good outshone the bad and this is why I gave the rating I did. Overall, THE SWEET DEAD LIFE was a well-written and fun read, and many of my good friends did enjoy it. You may, too! I recommend that you give it a try and see for yourself!
*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ------------------- This review was originally published on BlookGirl.com....more