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REVIEW:  Variables of Love by M.K. Schiller

REVIEW: Variables of Love by M.K. Schiller

Variables of Love by M.K. Schiller (Goodreads Author)

Dear Ms. Schiller:

I’ve enjoyed every book that you’ve written to varying degrees. When this was submitted for review, I started it right away.

The first half of the book was a bit of a struggling as we are told repeatedly that Ethan Callahan, hot math major, has fallen in heavy lust for Meena Kapoor, a senior economics student. But the second half saves the story and becomes a unique, sometimes painful, but enduring romance.

Ethan and Meena attend Stanford and each are in their last year share an Advanced Statistics. What I found a bit strange was how forced Ethan’s internal narrative was as to how beautiful he thought Meena was, how he had to meet her, and was desperate to have any kind of interaction with her at all.

Her name was still a mystery, so I just called her Sunshine. I’d never called a girl that before, but it fit because she made me feel warm, calm, and happy. I’d never seen her smile, but I knew it would be a beautiful sight….

I wasn’t capable of more than a few words in the presence of that sexy mouth of hers. It was ironic how something that created speech made me speechless.

For Meena’s part, she thinks he’s beautiful, charming, and engaging but he’s not for her. Meena will enter into an arranged marriage, as per her family and cultural tradition, following her graduation from Stanford. Meena’s staunch belief in the importance of the arranged marriage and Ethan’s more romantic, Western notions of couplehood form the unique conflict for this book. And importantly, Meena is not merely reciting childhood dictum. She believes in the arranged marriage. (And really it is important for her to have conviction or the conflict is a false construct).

“Yes, I can deny anyone I don’t like. It’s kind of cool in a way. I can ask any question, no matter how private. I can ask them how much they make, what their deepest fears are, who they idolize. Things that might take you twenty dates to figure out, I’ll know in one meeting.”

Ethan shook his head, keeping his eyes fixed on the lake. “You’re missing the best part, Sunshine.”

“What’s that?”

He ran his fingers through his hair, and it miraculously managed to fall right back in place. I had to look away from him. Ethan’s voice was quiet, but his words coursed through me like a physical presence, gravelly and deep. “It’s not the knowing. It’s the finding out.”

Ethan is undeterred. He describes himself as having success because he knows how to break big goals down into little steps. Step 1. Get Meena to smile. Step 2. Get Meena to laugh. etc.

And ultimately, no matter how hard she tries to resist, Meena falls for Ethan but she tells him that their love and their relationship, whatever it may be, has a time limit. When they graduate it will be over. Ethan accepts this, not because he believes in that, but because he is convinced he can change her mind.

But we, the reader, know Meena’s mind whereas Ethan does not so he doesn’t see (or is unwilling to see) her very real belief that Ethan is a wonderful diversion, that she’ll have significant heartbreak but that her family cultural values have meaning beyond a one year romance in college. The time limit lends a bittersweetness to each romantic encounter.

Meena and Ethan become well articulated characters. Ethan’s very logical. He writes pros and cons lists, for instance, but underneath he is quite romantic. The New Year’s Eve gift was the perfect blend of his thinking. Meena is bound up by guilt over a teenage mistake and her need to make up for it. Much of her actions are driven by the loss of her brother and the resulting pain it inflicted on her family.

There are several secondary characters who affect Meena and Ethan. They aren’t sequel bait or orbiting satellites having only tangential importance. One of Meena’s friends is Indian and is struggling with his sexual identity. On the opposite spectrum is a girl who readily has sex. I felt she was castigated overly much for her sexual freedom, although I understood it to be set in contrast with Meena’s more rigid upbringing. I just wish that Meena’s female friend wasn’t the only one villainized for her sex driven behavior.

I was a little surprised at how readily Meena disposed of her virginity with Ethan. She admitted virginity wasn’t a requirement of an arranged marriage but because she’d refrained from sex for so long, the easy capitulation to Ethan confused me.

The talk about arranged marriages was well done because it wasn’t villified. Instead it showed Meena experiencing both range of choices–from the bad to the very good. In the end, this was a battle between heart and head. Meena has to decide whether Ethan is more important to her or whether her family, her cultural values, and everything she’s ever held dear is worth tossing aside for one single individual.

The second half made this book a worthwhile read. The deep dive into cultural beliefs and the examination of the emotion of love was unique and refreshing. B-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Offside by Shay Savage

REVIEW: Offside by Shay Savage

Offside by Shay SavageDear Ms. Savage:

It’s been a while so I’m not sure why I picked this book to read. It could have been selling well on the top 100 list of Amazon or it could have been recommended to me. I can’t recall.

This book has stuck with me though. I refer to it as the negging book. Thomas Malone is a super star high school soccer player who is being scouted by professional teams. He’s also a terrible person. He treats the girls around him like tissue to be used for one use and then discarded. He makes fun of most everyone except for a select few and even his “close friends” aren’t immune from his sharp tongue.

It’s an angst-driven high school based romance with all the drama of Cruel Intentions and all the melodrama of an after school special. I eat these stories up probably because the shenanigans are something so different (and unlikely) than I had experienced.

What set this book apart for me, however, is that Thomas’ character was actually a little more layered than most of the manwhores. He treats people poorly because he’s in a cycle of abuse. His father is abusive towards him and Thomas strikes out –albeit not physically–against those around him. But you see the hand of his father in nearly everything he does even though you, as the reader, and Thomas despise the father.

In some subtle subconscious ways, Thomas understands that he’s influenced by his father’s actions more than he’d like. You see him both as the arrogant man child at school yet the vulnerable scared boy at home. Part of Thomas wants to lead a quiet life but his need to please his father wins out and that need is manifested in fairly objectionable ways.

Nicole Skye has moved to town to live with her father, the town sheriff, because of something that happened in her past. It’s kept a secret for some part of the book and it’s part of why Thomas is intrigued with her…that and she’s really good at soccer. Nicole is a placeholder heroine. She has little personality. I know from the text that she’s good at soccer and fairly good at shutting out Thomas’ negging but that’s about it. Her lack of color is contributed to by the fact that the story is told from Ryan’s POV but the story could have been so much stronger if Nicole was more interesting. 

As Thomas falls for Nicole, his father becomes concerned and soon Thomas has to lie about everything relating to Nicole. He can’t even practice with her without his father questioning it. His father tells him to bang Nicole and be done with it. He has to pretend that he’s hitting every random girl in order to turn his father’s attention away from Nicole.  But he can’t stay away from her and all his secrets (and hers) eventually face a reckoning. Thomas’ struggle to be with Nicole and hide it away from his father provided some intense suspense at times.

There’s a big twist in the end–the melodrama. It worked for me because Thomas was already changing and struggling against the person his father was shaping him up to be even before the dark moment. However the dark moment had a big impact on Thomas in an exaggerated fashion. The way that the post dark moments were handled was interesting but I wondered if it would be offensive to others.

Spoiler (BIG SPOILER): Show

Thomas becomes paralyzed after an incident with his father.

Some of my favorite scenes in the book weren’t between Thomas and Nicole but Thomas and Nicole’s father who shares pizza with Thomas, intuits that there’s something wrong with Thomas’ homelife, and offers an escape for Thomas at the Skye household.

According to the reviews, this is a fan fiction based on Twilight. I can vaguely see the resemblance, particularly in the lackluster characterization of Nicole. The author also has Thomas  love Shakespeare and he includes quotes at the end of each chapter. This felt affected and simultaneously served the role of being pretentious and completely superfluous. Thomas’ predilection for quoting Shakespeare was not well incorporated into the story.

This is a story of exaggeration. Thomas is an over the top, ridiculously awful manwhore with a ridiculously awful home life. He’s a dirty talker at the age of eighteen and has sexxed up more high school girls than Casanova. Nicole is the down to earth, kind but smart mouthed opposite. Even their fathers are on the complete opposite end of the parenting spectrum with Thomas’ dad being evil incarnate and Nicole’s father being wholly understanding about everything including Thomas needing a place to sleep other than his own home.

But for all its exaggeration, the dubious origins, and the typical manwhore hero, I enjoyed the book and remember it even though it was one I read weeks ago. It’s an over the top story with a lot of over the top occurrences but it’s larger than life storyline has stuck with me. C+

Best regards,

Jane

 

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