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The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
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Cinders & Sapphires (at Somerton)

Cinders & Sapphires - Leila Rasheed This is a difficult book for me to rate because I tend to judge these kinds of books on different criteria than others I’ve read that are genuinely well-written and emotionally stirring. The prose and structure of Cinders & Sapphires were mediocre, but as pure entertainment, this book is A++. So I’ve decided to go with 3 stars to reconcile those two points.This book is pure teen soap and if you aren’t really that picky about the technicalities of writing—plot, structure, believability, character development—and are just seeking entertainment, then you will love this. The story jumps quickly into the sudsy action and moves along briskly, and as other reviewers have pointed out, reads like a less smarmy version of Gossip Girl in period clothing. To C&S’s credit, I don’t hate any of the characters, even the villains, nearly as much as I hate everyone in Gossip Girl (sorry, GG enthusiasts; I enjoyed the books for entertainment value but literally hated every single character). The book splits viewpoints between a variety of characters, although I feel the main protagonist of the story is probably Lady Ada, daughter of a British aristocrat returning to England from India at the story’s opening. Ada’s father, Lord Westlake, is marrying Lady Templeton, and the events that follow are—to quote Kristin Cavallari—dra-ma!Pretty much every possible scandal in turn-of-the-century Britain is somehow worked into the many subplots. Ada falls in luv, Stacey McGill-style, with Ravi, an Indian gentleman attending Oxford, but they can’t be together for obvious reasons. Ada’s sister, Georgiana, is infatuated with her stepbrother, Michael, who is himself infatuated with the family’s Indian nanny, Priya. Sebastian, son of Lady Templeton, is having an affair with his (male) valet, Oliver, while his former valet and ex, Simon, is blackmailing him. Then there’s Lord Fintan, employer of Simon, who establishes a platonic friendship with Ada but whom Ada’s jealous stepsister, Charlotte, has designs on. Rose, Ada’s lady-in-waiting and illegitimate daughter of Lord Westlake, also ends up pulled into the drama. Confused yet? I don’t blame you. If I hadn’t read the whole thing I’d probably need a chart to keep up with all that.The character development is, like the plot, teen drama by numbers. The good characters are wholly good; the bad characters are wholly evil. Ada is a textbook Mary Sue—the beautiful aristocratic young lady who is socially awkward, bookish, and chafes at society’s expectations of her (read: to marry well and be a proper lady). Ada dreams of going to Oxford, but her father frowns upon her aspirations. However, I did like that Ada didn’t possess the stereotypical “spitfire” personality that usually results in “too stupid to live” behavior; her actions are understandable if occasionally headdesk-inducing. Rose, the lady’s maid/musical prodigy (which no one knows about because she practices piano and composes music in secret) also suffers from Mary Sueitis by being entirely too sweet and pure-hearted to be believable. On the opposite extreme, we have Charlotte, the scheming wannabe-Blair Waldorf but without Blair’s ambiguity; and Lady Templeton, who exists mostly to be stuck-up and disapproving. Georgiana is the rebellious tomboy with a heart of gold; Sebastian is the rake with a heart of gold; Ravi is the Teen Dreamboat who really has no other defining characteristics; Lord Westlake is the well-meaning fool. I don’t think there’s anyone in this book who doesn’t fit neatly into some kind of archetype. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is eyeroll-inducing if you’re looking for any kind of nuance.As far as the history goes, I’m no expert on this era so I cannot speak for accuracy, at least on the minutiae of aristocratic English life. The author does throw in some neat little details that prove she did some cursory research. The story gives a concise if overly simplistic view of the British colonization of India, presenting both sides of the coin via Ada and Ravi’s correspondence. To the author’s credit, she does not fall into the trap of exoticizing the Indian characters; while she does tread close with Priya, I saw that more as the way the British characters see Priya, which makes sense given the context. It is also refreshing to see a PoC presented as a desirable male love interest, even if he’s about as exciting as paint drying. Ada and Ravi’s relationship, while falling into the Insta-luv™ cliché, is largely egalitarian; I’m glad to be spared of yet another jerk-hero/passive-heroine dynamic in YA fiction. But then, this isn’t paranormal romance. Maybe if Ravi had some kind of super power he’d be more of an asshole.So that’s about it, I guess. I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers. If you’ve got a couple hours to kill and are up for some costume-drama brain rot, pick up a copy. It isn’t great writing, but it does what it set out to do, and I can’t fault it for that. Just don’t expect realism or believability, but with a teen soap opera, does anyone?