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96 Words for Love

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A modern retelling of a classic Indian legend, 96 Words for Love is a coming-of-age story.

Ever since her acceptance to UCLA, 17-year-old Raya Liston has been quietly freaking out. She feels simultaneously lost and trapped by a future already mapped out for her.

Then her beloved grandmother dies, and Raya jumps at the chance to spend her last free summer at the ashram in India where her grandmother met and fell in love with her grandfather. Raya hopes to find her center and her true path. But she didn't expect to fall in love... with a country of beautiful contradictions, her fiercely loyal cousin, a local girl with a passion for reading, and a boy who teaches her that in Sanskrit, there are 96 different ways to say the word "love."

A modern retelling of the classic Indian legend of Shakuntala and Dushyanta.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published January 15, 2019

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About the author

Rachel Roy

2 books19 followers
Rachel Roy is the daughter of an Indian immigrant father and Dutch mother. She is mother to Tallulah and Ava. Rachel is the founder & creative director of her eponymous brand and a tireless activist for using your voice to cultivate change in the world and to design the life you wish to live. Rachel founded Kindness Is Always Fashionable, an entrepreneurial philanthropic platform to help women artisans around the world create sustainable income for their families and communities. In 2018 Rachel was named a United Nations Women Champion for Innovation, and works for the UN advocating gender equality and other critical women’s issues. In 2015, Rachel published, Design Your Life.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 162 reviews
Profile Image for Kristen Peppercorn .
532 reviews97 followers
December 15, 2018
I won a free copy on Goodreads thanks to FirstReads in exchange for an honest review.

Spoilers ahead. Get lost if you actually want to like this book. I don't want to ruin it for you.

This book was pretty hollow.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't necessarily bad or hurtful or a waste of time... per se. It just wasn't much of anything. It wasn't deep enough to earn the heartfelt blurbs on the front and back covers from a bunch of different celebrities who knew the famous fashion designer turned author. It definitely feels like Rachel Roy used her celebrity to get her daughter's book published, is all I'm saying.

Before I get into my nitpicking, I just want to say that the actual writing style was pretty decent. There was never a point while I was reading where I wanted to put the book down or toss it at my wall in frustration. The writing has a TON of potential. It just isn't quite there yet.

This book needs more editing almost as much as I need a better social life.

Keep in mind that my copy was an ARC, therefore the problems I found in the book may have been taken out before publication.

But anywhoozle, I had some ISSUES.

1. Minor logic issues - Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's impossible to have a 13.5 hour time difference. Pretty sure time zones are hours apart, not half hours. Also, at one point it was stated that the main character last visited India 5 years ago. However, after that, they keep saying that the last time she was there she introduced her cousin to the Jonas Brothers in 2010. If this book was written in 2018 and published in 2019, than "5 years ago" should have been 2013 or 2014. No Jonas Brothers required. Which brings me to my next problem.

2. WAY TOO MANY JONAS BROTHER JOKES - That weren't even funny the first time. I shit you not, Nick Jonas is mentioned in this book more than 10 times, possibly upwards of 20. It was pretty irritating and it made me feel like I should have just read a book about Nick Jonas, since he was clearly supposed to be the most interesting thing about this book. Obviously, the author had a bit of a Jo Bro obsession back in the day. I feel ya girl. Me too. But I was more of a Joe Jonas girl myself.

3. Characters flatter than my ass - Pretty much all of the characters, especially the side characters were some of the most one dimensional ones I've ever seen. Not much depth to any of them. For instance, one character was a bit of a bigot, and that's all she was. The Guru was like a sage, with less personality than white bread, whose only purpose was to give (very obvious) advice. The MC's best friend was a sexually aggressive lesbian, and that's all she was. I could go on but I won't since I'm boring myself.

4. Jokes cornier than my teeth - I like my contemporary YA reads peppered with a little humor. I have to give this book a WELL, YOU TRIED sticker because there were obvious attempts at jokes made throughout the book. I just didn't find the jokes very funny. There was one pun I thought was cute though, so I'll share it with the rest of the class.


That was it kids. The best line of the book. Does that tell you what you need to know about it?

5. Setting was an afterthought - I think that the choice of setting could have led to some absolutely astounding atmosphere. A beautiful Indian temple. Those words alone could inspire a million stunning images in my brain. However, my brain had to do all the imagining because there was almost no descriptive imagery in this book. Which is a real shame because I've never been to India, probably never will, and this book could have taken me there.

6. Is this Groundhog's Day or... - For the majority of the book, the same things happened day after day once she got to the temple. I get it. She has a routine but YAWN. How to be the main character Raya Liston: Wake up. Pray. Peel potatoes and judge people. Teach a kid how to read with all the enthusiasm of a deceased lima bean. Kiss a guy with less swag than your mom. Eat dinner. Sleep. Repeat. That's it. You're good to go.

7. Holy Hell - This book has a motherfucking awful lot of fucking swearing for a book set in a goddamn Holy place. Shit. Not to mention that one time when they have sex in a sacred garden right in front of a Holy statue that her grandma used to pray to. Classy as fuck.

8. If I could gaze into the future - you might think this book would be a breeze. (sorry. all the disney channel references in this book got me rememberin' the good old days.) What I'm trying to say here is that this book is WOW SO PREDICTABLE. I'm not even going to worry about this being a spoiler because if you couldn't see what I'm about to say coming, than you're probably too blind to read this review anyway, let alone an entire book, bless your soul. It was so obvious that she would want to become a teacher. It was so obvious that whatever his name was would be the love interest. It was so obvious that the man her grandma was talking about in her letters was the grandpa. Everything was so obvious, I was wondering if I was reading this book or if I was just making it up myself as I went along.

9. The author is madly in love with the main character - and thinks you should be too. Here we have another case of the too perfect MC (that is probably just the author inserting herself into the story but I don't know her personally so don't @me, okay). I swear to bajeezus everyone in this book was acting like everyone else sucked but Raya was God's golden cookie. If one more person kisses this main character's ass I swear to gOd i'M gOnNA riOT.

10. Main premise? - Pfft. Forget about that. Let's just put that there to look pretty on the blurb. So the set up in this book was that after Raya's grandma dies, she and her cousin want to go on some magical quest to look for some mysterious items that the grandma told them on her death bed to look for. ...O....kay... That could have been iNteReStiNG. I guess. Maybe. That's not what actually happens though. So no worries. The authors must have just put that in there as a red herring or something. It's all good. Once they get to the temple, I swear this brat spends no time with her cousin actually doing what they went there to do.

10. Subsection b) Main premise pt 2. - That epic retelling of an Indian love story? I'm still waiting on that. The actual story that they were referring to was easily 10.8 thousand times more interesting than this loosely based retelling. The resemblance to the two stories was thinner than Eugenia Cooney.

11. All that love interests need are good looks, right? - Cuz that's all this guy's got going for him anyway. He was honestly just a bag of meat. They should have just set the girl up with a set of pouty lips on a stick. She would have been just as happy and probably better off. And don't get me started on the chemistry, or lack thereof. These two went from lust to FAKE LOVE faster than I go from dinner to dessert. They were about as cute a couple as an eggplant and a goldfish and had even less in common. To say that this love affair was shallow would be almost as big an understatement as saying that this review is disgustingly long-winded.

12. All that Indians need in order to be Indian are brown skin, right? - Cuz that's about as Indian as the Indian characters got in this book. They. All. Acted. American. American slang? Yeah, that screams authentic Indian culture. Speaking 99.99% of your lines in English? Correct. Another common Indian habit. Where the bloody tooting stroopwaffle is all the culture? 911. I would like to report a crime. I have been robbed of what could have been a fantastic cultural experience. I'm white enough as it is. I don't need this book making me feel any whiter, thank you.

76. Uneven pacing - The first 100 pages are set at a pretty good pace. It gave you time to get to know the character and the situations in a fair amount of time. Just enough detail but not enough to bog you down or slow down the story. Then the middle chunk sped up a bit, not so bad, but still too fast for you to get attached to any side characters or get invested deeply enough into the plot. The last part was laughably rushed. Someone was facing a deadline or just stopped caring by that point. Just saying.

143. My biggest qualm - I'm going to get a little serious for a second to wrap up this monster of a review. My final issue is the almost cavalier way that the issue of sex trafficking was handled in this book. At one point, a little girl goes missing and it is suspected that she was taken by human traffickers. This came after a pathetically melodramatic reveal of one of the flat side characters admitting that she had been trafficked herself. The MC's reaction to that was so weak. Almost zero emotions were conveyed in the writing. It was like: "OMG, that's horrible. Wanna go get a chai latte?" Bitch, were you even listening? This is bad. Very bad. A little girl is missing and while you do show that you care enough to kinda sorta go looking for her, you all sure give up WAY TOO EASILY. I've looked for a missing pencil longer than these characters spent looking for a missing human being, I swear to GOOPLA! This issue was handled way too trivially and it deserved better and more serious treatment.

If you've made it this far with my review, CONGRATS! You deserve a cookie! Now go out there and read something good, you beautiful creature, you.
Profile Image for ♛ may.
802 reviews3,763 followers
March 27, 2019
aside from the cover, this book was kind of yikes

as far as the pros go, i really like how this book took place in india and how the mc had such strong ties with her grandmother. annddd that's all i can think of

the characters: they felt shallow and really one-dimensional. theyre supposed to be on this mission to find this item that has this great connection to their grandmother and yet all these girls are talking about,,,,,,nick jonas and going heart eyes at the first ~cute~ boy they see.
mhm,,,,dont see the appeal

the writing: i really couldnt connect :/ the pacing wasn't even. the beginning took its time to develop and then the ending just RUSHED through.
the writing itself was really hard for me to get into. i'm not even sure what it is, but i've been trying to read this book for a month and coming back to it each time felt tiring.

the conflict: we were going fine with the volunteering at the school and then it took a WILD turn into and i feel like if you want to tackle a topic like that, then you're going to have to use discretion and be sensitive to it
and i didnt feel like this book pursued it in the correct way

the romance: oh heh yeah that happened INSTANTLY and pretty much took over the ENTIRE plot 👌 aint that the best

yeah so that's what i got
Profile Image for MissBecka Gee.
1,409 reviews580 followers
June 21, 2019
This had the potential to be amazing!
I enjoyed all the characters, the setting as well as the story.
What I didn't enjoy was I think this would have been better if on this journey.
Profile Image for Olivia.
99 reviews8 followers
February 28, 2019
2/28/2019 UPDATE:
HEY WHAT'S UP YOU GUYS, YES! *hand clap*
THIS BOOK SINGLEHANDEDLY BROUGHT BACK THE JO-BROS WITH ALL ITS FREE PROMOTION. OR I was right from the beginning and the Jonas Brothers paid for the advertisement. It's like, subliminal, y'all.

This is petty, but what the hay? Raya dissed on Almond Joy and LOVES Coldplay. For that, she is my enemy.
Nah, but genuinely:

Maybe I could've tolerated this book more if I hadn't just read another book ( The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali) that is set in India and features family relations and a "forbidden" love. The book prior was superb. This was not. This was a book I only finished due to obligation. I'm not saying it's the worst book ever. I think some people could like it. For instance: People that don't normally read, people who are merely looking to check off a Diversity Bingo square for a book that takes place outside of America; with absolutely no want or care to learn about another land and culture. So, ya know, there's that I guess. I just found this to be extremely disappointing and lackluster. There is absolutely nothing special about this.

This story had so much potential. I thought I'd absolutely love this, I had it on my TBR shelf for months! What was given was not what had been promised.

-A book that seemed to promise depth and heart, was superficial and hollow.

-A book that promised culture and rich landscapes had next to none. If it weren't for the fact that Raya constantly mentioned being in India,I would have figured we were still in California. The extent of describing her surroundings? A billboard in Sanskrit,women in sari's, statues of Hindu gods, terrifying roads, one street vendor, and Ghandi's cremation place. Throughout the entire book, that's all we get. I think that is positively ridiculous. I may be pushing it, but I'd border on saying it's unforgivable--- to just overlook the scenery, to ignore the culture.
-Also! Everyone in India --- in this remote village, speaks perfect English. All the time. No one speaks Hindi or any other language, apparently. This bothers me a lot. A LOT. In other books that take place where English is not the first language, we normally get everything in English, but with certain words that are specific to their native language thrown in as a bare minimum, I don't see why they didn't do that here. In my mind, that is literally the bare freaking minimum you can do.

-This book is inspired by a famous Indian legend called Shakuntala and Dushyanta. I'm not familiar with this tale, though it is roughly summarized in the book. It's a story that has been passed on for centuries, it serves a place in their culture. This book does not live up to the monument that that story must be to have survived all these years. I feel that whatever it is that made that tale so unique, so timeless --- it's only been commercialized to and for a(n) Western/ American audience. What remains of the legend in here is what I would describe as a muddy paint-by-numbers replication by someone with poor eyesight and misplaced reading glasses.

-The characters are flat. One dimensional. Every single one of them. Each had one trademark and that was all they were aloud to be. A pretty boy, an offensive Brit, a Nick Jonas obsessed cousin (seriously, I think Nick Jonas sponsored this or something), a wise and mysterious woman. And then Raya. Raya is clueless. Not because she doesn't know what she wants to pursue as a career, but in every other aspect imaginable. This book relies solely on her being an idiot.
Seriously, she makes a big deal out of everything, turns the most obvious things into stupid "mysteries" and when she "solves" them, I, as a reader, made this face:

-Honestly, I made that face a lot. Because clever, Raya is not. I feel like the authors were desperate to fill space and so they just threw everything and hoped something would land. Pacing? We don't know her. "What can we do to meet our page quota?" Mystery? A love complication? Family drama? A disappearance? Surely something has to stick! Uh...
-Non-problems are made into HUGE problems and HUGE problems are treated as non-problems. I can't go into specifics, but it's ridiculous. Disgusting, even!

-There were many a attempt at jokes throughout. Somehow, none of those stuck either. And I thought (trying to be kind and all ((I promise I'm generally nice!))) "Perhaps the hilarity of these moments are ""You had to have been there"" moments." (Yes, I'm the person that starts sentences with the word "perhaps".) But... THAT'S EVEN WORSE, if that is the case! It's the authors job to make you feel a part of that moment, as though you were really there. To fail at that is just... well, it ain't great.

Also, let us talk about the Jonas Brothers for just a minute. I understand it's 2019 but Dash and Roy started this.
Okay, so Raya is 17/18. Presumably the year this takes place during is 2018. She said she was obsessed with the Jo-Bros back when they were big when she was still in middle school, there were mentions of her sharing their first ever album with her cousin when she was 12. Now, I am 18. I was a Jonas fan, I think we all were, secretly. I was a Jonas Brothers fan when they first hit the scene in 2006. 2007-08 is when they got real popular. If Raya was a fan of them from the very beginning of their career, or at the least, at the height of it (and as she is a music fan/ reviewer, all signs indicate she would've), then something isn't adding up to her being obsessed with them when she was 12 (presumably in either 2012/2013) as they practically dropped off in 2010/2011. They wouldn't have been huge when she was in middle school. Their first album came out long before she would've been 12.
I don't know guys, it's 3:23AM and I am too invested in this thing that doesn't seem to add up. There is red yarn everywhere. I'm being strangled by it. S.O.S.
Profile Image for Darque  Dreamer .
360 reviews47 followers
February 27, 2019
What can I say about 96 Words For Love? It was a quick, easy read. It was sweet. It was a little romantic, and it was heart-warming.

96 Words For Love was one of those that kind of made you feel light and airy while you were reading it. It was adventurous and refreshing. It was full of life and love, and it was a coming of age story set in an exotic setting.

It felt a little surreal at times, though. I kept thinking that it was an intriguing story, but that it just didn’t feel realistic, like how Raya’s parents just let her take off across the world without arguing about it or discussing it in detail first. There was also a plot twist that seemed to come completely out of nowhere and didn’t really fit well with the rest of the story.

And, though I loved the way the story felt and loved finding out that it was a retelling of an old Indian myth, I didn’t really feel like I connected fully with any of the characters. Raya sometimes felt a little self-centered. Anandi had life experiences I just couldn’t relate to. Kiran didn’t really feel quite pinned down for me, and Pilot seemed too good to be true.

This didn’t take too much away from the story for me though. I do wish I had connected to the characters more, and felt more invested in them, but I still enjoyed the story. It just kind of felt like a modern-day fantasy. There was no magic or anything, but it felt like it could have been a sweet daydream about wanting to escape normal life.

Was it worth the read? I think so. Could it have been better? Definitely. I felt like the major plot twist toward the end could have been set up better. The pacing could have been more consistent, and the characters could have been given more depth. I enjoyed the feel of the story though, and read it pretty quickly.

Content Warning: Language, mild sexual content, human trafficking and mention of past alcoholism.
Profile Image for rachel, x.
1,671 reviews853 followers
May 31, 2019

Trigger warnings for .

Representation: Raya (mc) is Hindu and biracial, Indian & Black American; Kiran (li) is Indian; Pilot (sc) is Black & gay; Anandi (sc) is Indian; Lexa (sc) is sapphic.

◯ Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Flavia.
316 reviews33 followers
March 9, 2019
Rating: 3.5 stars

I was very excited to read this book! A lot of YA seems to be featuring less and less romance, and my poor romantic heart needs romance to live, haha. So, when I heard that 96 Words for Love would be a modern retelling of a classic legend from India (with lots of romance), I knew that I absolutely had to read it. When I found out that the main character would also be travelling to India, I was all the more excited! Once I was reading, I found that the travel portion did not disappoint!

I would have liked a little more description, but reading about Raya’s journey to an old ashram in India was great! I almost felt as if I was travelling with Raya and her super-lovable cousin. Which brings me to how I felt about the characters. As I was reading, I was finding as if I wasn’t really connecting with Raya. (I actually felt that I liked her cousin a lot more, and wish that this had been her story instead. I feel awful for saying it, but Raya seemed a little self-centered, whereas her cousin felt more genuine and sweet.)

I’m not sure if this is because of how the story was narrated (aka Raya’s voice, because she’s the narrator) or because of the pacing. I wish that the story had been paced a little differently since it’s a little slow in the beginning before accelerating considerably for the last bit of the book. (That’s the only way I can formulate that without spoiling things, haha.) I also felt a little odd about the book once I found out that Ava Dash is actually the model used on the cover, and that Raya might actually represent Ava. Things got a little confusing in my brain.

Overall, I did find that this was an enjoyable read and that it was also quite different from some of the other YA that I’ve read mainly because of the romance and the setting (because I’ve been trying to read more contemporary YA set outside of the U.S.A., North America, and the Western world in general).
Profile Image for Lorrea - WhatChaReadin'?.
614 reviews104 followers
March 8, 2019
Raya Liston is at a turning point in her life. She has just graduated high school and college is the next step. She thinks she knows what she wants to do, but not exactly sure. When her grandmother, Daadee, passes away Raya feels more confused than ever. Together with her cousin Anandi, she travels to an ashram where her grandmother had visited as a youth and then again a few years before she died. She told the girls that she had left something for them there and they were determined to find it. What else would Raya find there? Most than she ever expected.

I decided to get this book after hearing about it on a morning talk show. I'm not really familiar with Rachel Roy as a designer except for seeing her on Project Runway a few years ago. I like reading about different cultures and learning things I may never discover because I doubt I will ever visit. I don't know anything about Indian culture or Hinduism. I didn't know that there were 96 words for love in Sanskrit. I wish that they would have given all of the words since that was the title of the book(see my blog post to see what they are).

96 Words for Love is a YA novel that gave me all kinds of emotions. There are multiple love stories spanning generations. And not just physical love, but love of religion, love of music, love of teaching, love of family and friendships. Dealing with that strange adjustment period after high school, and the feeling of knowing you have found the things you were searching for even those you didn't intend to find.

Profile Image for Kelly Hager.
3,096 reviews129 followers
January 14, 2019
This is an incredibly readable book. There were parts I loved (learning about Indian culture; the ashram setting; Raya and Anandi trying to find what their grandmother left for them) and it made up for the parts I didn't (instalove; a ton of slang that makes the book feel dated even though it just came out). 

Also, if you're not good with swearing, you should know that there's a lot of it in this book. I'm not particularly delicate, but if you are, definitely proceed with caution.

The pacing also seemed a little off. It's a little slow in the beginning (not ridiculously slow or to the point where I was ever tempted to stop reading) but then it seemed to go into hyperdrive and it almost felt like I had skipped some chapters.

I think a lot of that is because it's a first novel. The raw materials are definitely there, and I hope they write a second book. I think they'll end up doing really good things.
Profile Image for Robin Loves Reading.
2,064 reviews371 followers
February 17, 2019
As I am not big on reading YA, the story was a bit basic but I am not going to give too a harsh rating. I tried to imagine a younger person reading this and that helped me to relax into the story. I would imagine that future endeavors by this new author will have a bit more substance.

96 Words for Love is really a good coming of age story. Raya is a biracial teen, of Indian and Black heritage. She has just been accepted to UCLA, and is more than anxious. Her ailing grandmother dies. Raya and her cousin Anandi were told that their grandmother left them something very important - in India - but she passed away before she could provide clear details. So, the girls go to India for a few months to spend time searching, and Raya learns a lot during that time.

This book hits on a lot of things. A lot. There is no shortage of serious issues in this book. Raya agrees to spend time in a temple with very strict rules, rules that she disregards more than once. Her sexual conduct was just so highly inappropriate for being at or near a temple, never mind her age, but that might just be the parent in me talking.

Raya was afforded the opportunity to sort her life out before college, thus making choices that would no doubt mold her entire life. Considering that this is a coming-of-age story I think it done fairly well. For many this book will be a hit, for me it was just a bit shy of one.
Profile Image for Shannara.
436 reviews75 followers
October 24, 2018
This was one of those rare books that I wanted to reread as soon as I finished it. I absolutely love Raya and her journey to find out who she was reminded me of when I was a teen facing the future. This story drew me in from the beginning and I was eager to read about Raya’s trip to the ashram to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother. I also loved the way her relationship with Kiran unfolded and grew. This book was funny, heartwarming, and also faced some serious issues that most people never have to think about. This was very well written and was the first of the James Patterson presents imprint that I have read. Needless to say, I’ll be diving into more of them after having read this one. I recommend this to young adult book lovers over the age of 14 or 15 due to some vague sexual content.
Profile Image for Danielle.
2,038 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2019
*3/1 update - I don't usually bump reviews, but I really wanted to say that this was like the worst possible year to publish a book bashing the Jonas Brothers and saying no one likes them anymore

I feel like I need to start this review off noting that there’s a white side character who’s super insensitive whose comments are pretty much all not taken seriously. One of them is not understanding why black/brownface is wrong. This joke did not land well given recent current events.

I’m not sure how much of this Roy wrote and how much her daughter wrote, but this definitely felt dated in weird ways. It uses the term “smexiness” (which no one has said in YEARS) and the protagonist, Raya, says “making love” a lot, which no one I know says at all. Also, no one is niche for liking Coldplay over Travis Scott - I really hated how one of her sole personality traits was liking indie bands and having a superiority complex. (Also, who actually hates Nick Jonas? He’s a cultural icon)

I think Raya is supposed to be based on Roy’s daughter - both are black and Indian - and while the story focuses on her Indian side, I wish she was able to say more about being black than the part about someone touching her hair. It kind of felt like that part of her identity was slipped in but was a side note to the story - I know her being part black is not the entirety of her being, but in my experience it’s really obvious when someone incorporates their identity into the story v. when someone being marginalized is just simply stated. This felt a lot more like the latter and I wish it had explored being mixed race more.

There’s a pretty diverse cast of characters across different races and sexualities, but that’s all they are. Aside from race, I really felt like the LGBT characters were based on stereotypes and not well-developed at all. One has a scandal after and the other is only used for sex jokes. I really wish it didn’t feel like we had to sacrifice good LGBT representation for good POC representation.

If you aren’t familiar with Indian mythology, the book references it over and over to the point that you won’t forget this is a retelling. I know it’s based off of something that already exists, but I wish the basis of the story - that Raya travels to India to stay at an ashram after her grandmother dies - was given more gravitas than it was. Raya discovering herself is frequently overshadowed by the romance and how hot she thinks this guy is.

This book is so superficial. I’m happy that it’s more diverse than a lot of books today, but it totally misses the mark in every other sense.
Profile Image for ☆☆Hannah☆☆.
2,910 reviews38 followers
October 31, 2019
With the reviews being all of the place I wasn't sure if I would like this. The good news is that I did. Raya goes to India after her grandma dies. There she meets Kiran. They of course spend lots of time together. Also, on the side we deal with a disappearance. Thankfully in the end everything works out for everyone.
Profile Image for Tammy.
460 reviews
August 29, 2019
3.5 Stars

Content warning - Strong language and talk of sex

Popsugar Challenge 2019 - A book with two female authors & A book with "love" in the title
Profile Image for Sara (A Gingerly Review).
2,672 reviews153 followers
February 11, 2019
Y'all... all of the no. I mean, the biggest NO you could ever imagine.

What in the fresh hell was this mess? Besides a full dumpster fire, that is.


My full review can be found here: https://agingerlyreview.wordpress.com...

I tried so hard to like this story but it just was not in the cards for me. I struggled to connect to any aspect. I mean, with a cover like that I expected more. (I’m so shallow, I know.) I will do my best to logically explain my reaction to strongly not liking this one and giving it a 1 star review.

First, the characters. Holy mother of all things bacon. The characters were just so shallow, vapid, and flat. The main character, Raya, was supposed to be traveling to India to pay respect to her recently deceased grandmother and spending her last “free” summer trying to find her “center” before her life becomes busy. That sounds great but Raya comes across as more of a boy-crazy diva and petulant child than anything else. In order for her to travel to India, she basically bullied her parents into letting her go. It was obvious who was the child and who was the parent in that household. I don’t know many teenagers (aka “minors) that could do this without throwing the biggest temper tantrum. I knew nothing substantial about the MC other than she was overly obsessed with the Jonas Brothers. Is anyone still obsessed with them? I didn’t think so. The rest of the cast was completely forgettable so don’t ask me about them.

Second, the setting of the story felt very underdeveloped. Wait, it may not have even been developed… it felt like a case of “tell the readers, don’t show them” and I am not ever a fan of those stories. There were many, many times where the setting – INDIA – felt like an afterthought. If the author could not pull me into the setting and make me feel as if I’m there, then I’m out. Nothing was described as more than “a beautiful temple”. Really. That was the best that could be done?

Third, the actual plot left a lot to be desired. I’m not exactly sure what the plot of the story was. Yes, Raya went to India but it felt as if she was not there to pay respect to her grandmother who passed. It felt as if she traveled part of Europe to stare at boys. Oh, and disrespect a sacred garden by having a sexual experience in front of a Holy Statue. You read that right, my darlings.

Everything else about the story was either boring, predictable, and/or downright dreadful. A lot of cussing, bad dialogue, instalove, and lack of development on anything is what lead me to not like this book as much as I wanted to. I don’t ask for much out of a story but I do have basic requirements. This story did not meet any of them. Do I recommend it? Nope, not at all. Am I sorry I read it? I am, actually. It pains me to say that. If you read this and enjoyed it, I do wish I could have read it with your eyes. It just did not work for me.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
2,017 reviews60 followers
March 3, 2019
Following the death of her grandmother, Raya goes to India to visit, with her cousin, the ashram where their grandmother says she left them something to find.

“My acceptance to UCLA was giving me insomnia.” This is a first line that will bring flashbacks to older readers and strong nodding from those currently applying to college. It is a cliff, that time between the end of high school and college. The doubt and questions about next-steps are abundant and, as stated here, a wide cause of loss of sleep. So, I was intrigued that Raya was going to go to an ashram – and that I was going to get a glimpse of an Indian legend that I had not yet heard.

The audio was wonderfully and perfectly narrated by Soneela Nankani. Raya was an identifiable main character: confusion over next steps, desire for family knowledge, search for identity, and young love. I found the ashram to be a unique setting. And I DIED when Raya conveyed her frustrations with meditation. I have the exact same problem: my mind races, I cannot calm it, and thoughts will continue to intrude no matter how hard I try to relax, calm, breathe.

What was a bit confusing for me is a plot-spoiler. plotline seemed to pop-in from out of nowhere. I know that we met Samaira early in the story but we did not know why she was so quiet until . It is a noble topic to undertake but I felt it was not served well here in a tossed-in, extraneous plot point manner. It deserves center stage – or at least a parallel with the love story that is the main point of this tale.

The parallels to the Indian legend were almost too convenient. I prefer more subtle retellings and there was not an ounce of subtlety to this story.

And, one last gripe, Kiran’s language was out of place and unnecessary. I’m not a prude; I use the words he used here in this novel. But their appearance was so sudden and random that it was jarring. The swearing could have been eliminated and nothing would have been lost from his characterization or the story.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,263 reviews17 followers
February 26, 2019
When Raya’s beloved grandmother makes a final request on her deathbed, Raya knows she’ll say yes. She’d do anything for her and she’s devastated that she hasn’t seen her since she moved back to India.

Her grandmother asks that Raya and her cousin go to an ashram that their grandmother loved when she was young. She visited a a year ago and left things behind for them to find. But she can’t remember exactly where she left them, so she must trust that the girls can find them.

It’s shortly before graduation when her grandmother passes away, so Raya and her cousin decide to spend the summer before college at the ashram. Her parents agree but insist she must still go to college when it starts.

When Raya arrives, she is looking for her grandmother’s gifts mostly but she is also trying to find herself. She always assumed she’d go to a certain college and she picked her major without much thought. But she finds she isn’t in any way excited about her choices.

She meets a guy around her age and he helps her mission. She finds herself falling for him, all the while feeling like they aren’t meant to be. He is in India, she will be in California. But she can’t fight the feelings that are growing.

When she finds her grandmother’s journal, it feels eerily similar to what Raya is going through. They were both at the ashram at turning points in their lives, they were both making big decisions that could affect their futures very significantly.

I like this story and I enjoyed hearing a bit about the fable it was based on.
Profile Image for Greta Samuelson.
382 reviews54 followers
May 5, 2021
Young adult isn’t usually my genre of choice in books but I have to say that this one was very well done.
The character of Raya was real and even though I am more than 30 years older than her I could relate to her feelings and her challenges.
Raya visits an Ashram in India with her cousin after their grandmother dies and learns about herself in the process. I loved the real-ness of the people she meets and could picture many of them in my mind.

This read is worthy of your time even if young adult isn’t always your thing.
Profile Image for Brittany.
360 reviews14 followers
March 25, 2019
When I started the book, I wasn’t in love with it. I thought it was too juvenile, but as I powered through, I began to love it. Maybe bc I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress recently, this book really touched me. I feel like I have a new outlook, and for that, I could give nothing less than 5 stars. I’m glad I read this book when I did...and that I didn’t give up on it like I was tempted to.
Profile Image for CleverBaggins.
245 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2019
This would be an amazing book for certain teen girls. It was enjoyable to me and I like what it's doing and I have no real complaints. It's just one of those things where they're trying a little too hard to appeal to "current" teens. But- the characters and story itself was interesting enough that it was still fun to read.

The setting is wonderfully described, the characters well developed and it's a great look into a part of the world that most people don't get to see. I'll definitely recommend it and hope the authors write some more books together because I think they have a lot of potential.
Profile Image for Mia.
258 reviews2 followers
May 29, 2020
more or less like a 3.5 book. this wasn’t awful, no, but was it the best? no. was it really good? no. was it okay? yes. will i ever recommend it to someone? probably not.

i just feel like the romance was so rushed and some characters deserved to have more background to them. plus the main character was beginning to get on my nerves at the very end. some stuff just didn’t flow will with the story. some dialogue didn’t flow will with the story. but overall i enjoyed it to say it sat on my tbr for the longest.

crap is this three stars ???
Profile Image for Jay DeMoir.
Author 13 books52 followers
April 26, 2019
3.5 stars

This was a quick, easy read but really just a lot of fluff. There wasn't anything 'deep' or resonating with this book. The story had so much potential but seemed to fall flat.
The premise was intriguing & I was eager to learn more about India but we didn't get a lot of the culture or anything. We ended up getting Raya instantly falling in love and then sneaking around with a boy and having sex in a holy place.
Profile Image for Shae.
2,538 reviews280 followers
February 9, 2019
This book was lovely. The writing was simple, but descriptive. It is a very character driven story, with a small plot to help move things forward.
This book talks about some serious things, and I feel it was handled in a delicate enough way. If this mother/daughter duo decided to write another book together, I would give it a try.
223 reviews1 follower
November 1, 2020
Hard to get into but turned out to be a really fun coming of age story with some lovely messages!
Profile Image for Skye Chanel.
158 reviews18 followers
February 6, 2019
This book had so much potential but it’s was just meh for for me 🤷🏽‍♀️🤷🏽‍♀️

The story arc with the two little girls was beautiful but other than that it was alright.
Profile Image for Sofia.
44 reviews9 followers
January 1, 2022
4/5: SO CUTE OMG!! Wasn’t smut but had one sex scene, that was somehow more cute than spicy, LOVE IT!
Profile Image for Sara.
234 reviews9 followers
April 10, 2020
The best thing about reading eBooks is that I can annotate as I read and not cause permanent damage to a physical book. I annotated a lot during this book. However, most of my annotations were literally just highlighting a sentence (or paragraph) and writing "puke." Or, if something really made me cringe, I wrote "PUKEPUKEPUKEPUKEPUKEPUKE."

I was excited for this book. I don't know that much about Indian folklore. This book is based on the Indian tale of Shakuntala and Dushyanta. When I found that out, I read the original tale so I had an idea of what this story would be like. I knew there'd be some storytelling challenges because this book takes place in modern day so there wasn't the convenience of a curse to make him forget her, but I was excited to see how the authors handled it.
A great thing about retellings is that the new versions of a story can fix any "problems" that the original source material had, most notably, instalove. I went into this thinking, "Ah, this story will be fun and cute because there totally won't be instalove because the writers couldn't be thoughtless enough to think that readers nowadays like that trope. No heckin way that there will be ANY instalove in this book. Nope!"

(that's called hyperbole, but I felt like that was the only way to get my thoughts regarding this matter across)

So, first chapter. We meet our main character, Raya Liston, a half-Indian girl living in California. She just got accepted to UCLA, which she's super stoked about, but then her best friend Lexi says something that makes her realize that she doesn't know what she actually wants to study there, even though she thought she wanted to study writing (whatever that means) (also she doesn't know what an existential crisis is even though she's top of her class). Then, later that night, she gets a call from her cousins in India to report that her grandmother, Daadee, is dying. The whole scene feels super rushed and not well written, but eventually we understand that Daadee had gone to an ashram (which is like a Hindu monstestary) and left some things behind that she wants Raya and her cousin Anandi to go retrieve. We the readers are confused, but next thing we know, Raya is on a plane to India to go to that ashram. There are mentions of her graduating from high school, but we don't really know if that happened or not because it's not really talked about, even though a good chunk of Raya at the ashram is about her wondering what to do with her life now that high school is over.

We arrive in India and finally get some well-written imagery. Raya meets up with Anandi, and there's a guy named Shray there too. He doesn't do much. The trio make their way to the ashram, taking the beautiful scenic route, and Anandi says something really cryptic which kinda plays into her character later but also seems like it was just said for dramatic effect.

We arrive at the ashram. The door is opened, and do you know how that chapter ends (right before we enter the ashram)? I literally need to prepare myself because this made me cringe so much. This is the first introduction that we get to the ashram, to Daadee's history, and to the beginning of Raya's journey of self-discovery:
Then the door of the ashram opened. And standing there was the most gorgeous guy I'd ever seen.

And that's it folks. *claps* That is our encounter with the ashram: a hot guy. And if that's not instalove, then I don't know what is. Actually, I have a better idea: it's not instalove, it's instaLUST and this girl is literally super annoying and I want to go bang my head against a wall. Okay, so Raya talks about how she has never really liked a guy and she's never really had a good connection with anyone and blah blah blah, right? So we get the sense that it's hard for her to find someone to connect with, she's waiting until that special someone comes along, she is pretty sensible about these things, right? Well, let me tell you that any characterization we've had of Raya so far is thrown out the window as soon as Hot Boi Kiran opens that door. She's infatuated. She says, "I mean, this was gorgeousness no other guy my age had ever possessed...I couldn't figure out why Anandi wasn't giving him the same deer-in-headlights look I had to be wearing. Then again, she'd already gifted her heart to Nick Jonas." Not only is Raya the most cringy-ily written, instalove-y character ever written, she's also kinda a snob.

*Quick little rabbit trail here*
Let me explain: a big part of Anandi's character is that she listens to a lot of Western music that Raya had shown her years ago. Music like the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, etc. Except, since the last time the cousins have seen each other, Raya's music taste has changed. See, now she's quirky and edgy because she listens to alternative, indie rock music. Raya especially likes to beat us over the head with the fact that one of the bands she listens to is "Bieber Is Not Real Music." There's even this whole spiel about how normal is relative of lot of kids from her high school thought that she was weird because she'd "rather listen to Coldplay than Travis Scott." And I don't know if I've been living under a rock or something, but I've only heard of one of those artists and heard them on the radio. Guess which one it was? Yeah, it was Coldplay. How does anyone at that school think that the band who wrote VIva la Vida is weird? But I digress, back to the instalove.

*throws up*

Raya and Kiran have literally no chemistry, their entire relationship is built on lust, and their whole story is honestly a disgrace to the source material that the story is supposedly based on. Hot Boi opens the door, Dumb Gal is immediately smitten. It's a tale as old as time. Literally pages later, when Raya sees Kiran again from afar, she fricken "shivers" and is like, "Wowee, no boy has ever made me shiver before. Guess I'm in love teehee!" And when they finally talk, it's not like they ever have any deep and meaningful conversations. First talk was mostly him being a flirty fckboy and her admiring his face and body. And that basically sets the tone for their whole relationship, which if you couldn't tell by now, doesn't amount to much. They never talk about anything deep, Raya has more chemistry with the door instead of the person who opened the door, and I wish they never got back together.

"But Sara," you ask. "What about the story of Shakuntala and Dushyanta? How does it tie back to that?"
"Ummm, how should I explain this best?" I reply. "It really...doesn't. Like...there's an attempt to at the end with the "forget me" thing, but it really doesn't work because they just straight up don't forget each other..."
"Then what was the point of branding the story as a retelling of the folktale?" asks you.
"I really don't know. I guess because the story itself is central to character development, even though the story really isn't a retelling," says I.

So besides this book being a dumpster fire of a romance, what else has it got?
1) failed attempts at addressing MAJOR issues in today's society
2) something at the end that takes the book from 0 to 100 real quick, which while is a huge issue that needs to be talked about, there was no preface or warning for this anywhere in the book so it seemed like its incorporation wasn't planned well
3) faulty writing

All of these issues are intertwined. Each issue is small on its own, but when combined with the other two you get some really annoying things going on.

1) failed attempts at being deep:
This book, while being mostly a romance and a coming-of-age novel, does try and address some issues in society. You know, important issues like racism, sexism, poverty, problems with the education system. However, they're never fully explored or developed. The authors would make a lot of statements that just seemed like, "Well, imma just put this here..."
Statements about schools being named after leaders of the Confederacy but not being renamed later, about world leaders, about being racist but ignorant. They're never fully explored. Even some of the characters written that are supposed to be brain-food are only half developed. Devin spends most of the book being ignorantly racist and she really only shows any character development in like the last 15% of the book (and that's only because of something Raya says to her).
I appreciate the authors' efforts to try and address issues in society, but this book doesn't address them well. They're mentioned but never fully explored. The tone of the book never really makes room for them either.

2) the thing at the end that takes the book from 0 to 100 real quick.
This is going to be in a spoiler tag for obvious reasons.

3) weird writing
We've already established that things are said or characters are presented in a way that just leaves them hanging and they're not developed, even though they're trying to start a deep conversation. Now let me introduce to you a new phenomenon: a character that literally does nothing for the plot, Shray. You may remember him from the beginning of my review as the guy who's there but doesn't do much. That's because he doesn't. In fact, he does so little for the novel that he could've been left out entirely and nothing in the book would have changed. He's there for all of a chapter and a half (ish) and then he disappears. He spends that whole time on his phone, only looking up from it like twice, never really talking to Raya or Anandi. So what was the point in including him in the novel? I don't know. But that's what I mean by weird writing because a lot of the things in this novel are never fully explored or developed, or they do so little for the plot that they could've been left out entirely (it wasn't just Shray who was expendable, even Raya's brother Taj could've been left out and nothing would've changed).

A few more things I want to talk about:
1) I think that the book was not titled well at all. It's called "96 Words for Love" and even in the blurb it mentions how Raya didn't expect to fall in love with a boy who teaches her Sanskrit. Well, that's because she really doesn't fall in love with a boy who teaches her Sanskrit. The teaching in question is only there for a grand total of about half a page (including that sentence or so at the end of the book). It's really not central to the book at all. I thought that the MC and the love interest would form a bond because he gives her daily Sanskrit lessons or something. That would've been cute! But nope, instead we get two characters making googly eyes at each other and very little teaching and learning another language. I just felt like the book was titled for something that has very little importance to the book or the plot. It would've been more fitting to name the book after the ashram, or reading, or even potatoes because there was very little "learning 96 words for love in Sanskrit."

This book didn't get one star because it wasn't completely terrible. I liked the incorporations of Indian custom and culture into the book, and I related to Raya's inability to completely decompress and relax during mediation. However, the rest of the book is full of a very shallow romance, failed attempts at deep dialogue, drastic and unexpected tone shifts, and a main character who is so dislikeable that I want to go run through a brick wall. I won't be reading this again anytime soon.
Profile Image for Krysta.
37 reviews5 followers
March 26, 2019
Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this book into my life. As a mixed-race teen I never read a book that I related to as I did this book. That being said, there were some missed opportunities in this novel for powerful imagery and more nuanced cultural portrayals. I'm delighted to have read this and am looking forward to increasingly diverse YA fiction!
82 reviews3 followers
November 25, 2019
I was super excited to start reading this book, but it didn’t turn out that way. The book was more focused on the instant love, then what the girls went to India for.
I loved the parts where the book explained different parts of India. But then all of a sudden it turned into sex trafficking and it was all wrapped up in a tiny bow. It just got solved fairly quickly and was not presented in a gentle way. It was like all of a sudden, a child gets kidnapped for sex trafficking. A little bit of a back story would have made more sense.
Overall, I was underwhelmed.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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