If You Liked These 2020 Releases, Here Are Twelve 2021 Releases to Add to Your TBR: Part One

A little while ago, I sent out a tweet asking for your favourite 2020 releases and/or reads of 2020 thus far so that I could recommend you some 2021 releases – that I think you’ll like! – to add to your TBR. A few caveats before the recommendations; first of all, I haven’t read the majority of these, so my recommendations are purely based on the information available about the book. Secondly, reading is so subjective – as you’ll see below there are specific elements from the 2020 releases that I chose to focus on.

The books I recommend may not be carbon copies or even all that similar to the 2020 titles but there’s a method to the madness, I promise! Similarly, instead of spending paragraphs explaining why I chose certain books (or dumping a synopsis into the post) I decided to simplify it a little bit – treat it a bit like a menu with ingredients. So, each title has a list of tags which may include: the genre, the representation and tropes.

2020 Favourite from Léa: The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

tags: science fiction, LGBT (wlw), fantasy, adult, romance, dystopian, gay yearning, slow burn, morally questionable, jerk with a heart of gold

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer
tags: LGBT (mlm), science fiction, young adult, fantasy, romance, space gays, enemies to lovers

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman
tags: science fiction, young adult, fantasy, period drama but robots, AI, humanity

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta
tags: LGBT (wlw), science fiction, young adult, fantasy, cyberpunk sapphics, found family, renegade girls, tattoos, leather jackets, mecha takedowns

Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha
tags: science fiction, young adult, climate change, technocratic government, cyberpunk

2020 Favourite from Umairah: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

tags: fantasy, young adult, romance, retellings, mystery, love triangle, magicians, magic competition

The Mirror Season by Anna-Marie McLemore
tags: young adult, magical realism, fantasy, retellings, LGBT (pan), contemporary, sexual assault, this will wreck you, tragic

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas
tags: fantasy, retellings, young adult, mystery, grief, missing children, scary woods

Wings of Ebony by J. Elle
tags: young adult, fantasy, science fiction, mythology, badass mc, breakneck speed, this will wreck you, a must read

A Chorus Rises by Bethany C. Morrow
tags: young adult, fantasy, magical realism, contemporary, mythology, siren powers

2020 Favourite from Eleanor: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

tags: adult, mystery/thriller, LGBT (mlm), slow burn, gay yearning, antiheros, theatre nuance, morally grey, dark academia, gothic

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft
tags: fantasy, young adult, romance, gothic, horror, LGBT (bi mc), dark, Guillermo del toro

Don’t Tell A Soul by Kirsten Miller
tags: young adult, horror, thriller/mystery, gothic, dark, haunting, retellings

What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo
tags: gothic, horror, fantasy, retellings, young adult, body horror, dark, suspenseful

Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone
tags: fantasy, young adult, gothic, horror, romance, haunted estates, tortured boys

There are so many excellent releases coming out in 2021 – especially by marginalised authors! I got so many responses to my initial tweet that this is only part one of a new series where I recommend you 2021 releases based on books you loved this year! Over the next two months and even into 2021, I’ll be putting together more posts like these to help you find new books in 2021 that you’ll hopefully love.

Don’t forget if you find an unreleased book that you’re really excited about, one of the best things you can do to support the author is pre-order it!

Book Review: Flying Over Water by Shannon Hitchcock and N.H. Senzai

I had the absolutely wonderful opportunity to read this book as part of the blog tour run by Qamar Blog Tours – a relatively new tour company dedicated to tours for books by Muslim authors! Flying Over Water published only yesterday and I highly recommend you get yourself a copy to add to your Muslim Shelf Space. Also, keep up with the rest of the tour participants and their content by checking out the schedule!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This book is a short and sweet but equally moving look at the trials faced by a family of Syrian refugees when they move to the United States. I feel like the first thing I need to say about this book is that despite some of its tough subject matter, it was so much more wholesome than I had expected – there was even a moment or two that drew some moisture to my eyes. What I hadn’t expected and what I’m endlessly grateful for is the incredibly accurate mental health representation.

Both main characters suffer from anxiety to different degrees throughout the novel and as an anxiety sufferer myself, it’s rare that I can read anxiety representation in a book and come away feeling so understood. Not only that but the authors did an excellent job casting anxiety in a positive way – both characters receive help from professionals and unfettered support from their family, friends and community. This is a theme throughout the book, there is so much support and positivity seeped into these pages. While the book indeed discusses hate and incorporates real life terrorist events into it’s narrative, it never truly feels sombre or hopeless.

When I finished this book, despite having all the thoughts I’m about to discuss below, I was going to give the book four stars – because I endeavour to positively support and uplift Muslim titles and authors. That’s not say that Muslim representation can’t be critiqued, it can and should be. But my opinion that lowered the rating of the book isn’t linked to anything wrong in the book and I didn’t want to penalise the book for that. In compromise, I want to dedicate some time at this point to addressing why I rated this book lower than I had intended.

I think it’s an important discussion to be had. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book. It is a Middle Grade novel and by that very nature, I think, it is somewhat limited in its ability to deal with the complexity of addressing issues such as Islamophobia and xenophobia. That isn’t an awful thing at all and that’s not say Middle Grade and younger readers can’t deal with these complexities – when the authors do often talk about these issues, it is compelling and faultless. However, I read this book not only as an adult but as Muslim and as someone with in depth knowledge of the refugee crisis, Islamophobia and xenophobia. I have read or seen much of the story in Flying Over Water before, I have lived some of those experiences.

What sets apart a good book with Muslim representation is if I feel seen rather than taught. I hesitate to put the burden of education on any authors shoulders, especially authors of colour. But the crux of the matter is this; much of the significant content of Flying Over Water felt like material that was being presented to me. Which for other readers, could prove to be a great learning experience – an eye-opening book, if you will. It was not that for me. To be clear, I don’t think the characters or the culture and insight that Senzai brought to the novel lacks depth – the mentions of maamoul, mahshi, fattat (even lentil soup) delighted me. Noura’s family feels so authentic, it was a pleasure to read her chapters. Similarly, Jordyn’s homelife and as mentioned above the intricacies of how well mental health has been portrayed in this book makes it a gem.

I can’t claim to know the authors’ intentions, but they’ve created a story about trauma, internal and external adversity, and friendship – and they didn’t have to do anymore than that. While the story does feel like it stops short, per my own preferences, it’s still a must-read book in my opinion. Flying Over Water has a solid foundation of a story and truly captivating writing that brings its characters to life. As a partially ownvoices reviewer, I think that the Muslim representation in this book is beyond great. There is never any question of faith, the characters are Muslim, and they practice Islam and it is just as normal a part of the book as is Jordyn attending her swim meets. I call attention to this because oftentimes books with Muslim representation call that faith into question in some way or another. It’s always refreshing to read a book where the characters just are Muslim and that’s it. Additionally, the Alwan’s were surrounded by such a fantastic community – it was really lovely to see that support and to allow Islamic representation to exist in such a positive light.

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

You can find more information about the book on Goodreads or you can purchase the book from The Book Depository or your local independent bookstore!

Blog Tour: This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi

I had the absolutely wonderful opportunity to read this book as part of the blog tour run by Turn the Page Tours, do check out the rest of the tour participants and their content for this diverse YA novel about saving an independent bookstore! There is also a giveaway running until October 19th for US-based readers to win a finished copy!

PROLOGUE

There Is No Sinner Like A Young Saint

10:00P.M., Tuesday

Eli

Eli had never been certain of much. His most defining belief so far was that he could get through life with a wink on hand, a smile at the ready, and a lighter in his pocket. But here was one thing – a suddenly new thing – he believed without question: Wild Nights Bookstore and Emporium was going under.

Eli had seen the signs. The dwindling customer base. The fewer and fewer repeat booklovers coming to the sell counter. The way their online reviews had stagnated. The fact that the number of authors who came to do signings anymore was next to none.

What Eli didn’t understand was why.

Bookstores were supposed to be making a comeback. Actual paper books were, according to all those experts on the internet, crushing digital sales.

But for some reason none of those trends had touched Wild Nights. It was as though the store had been left behind to rot among the ashes of the book resurgence. It didn’t make sense. The store had the right vibes and the right location and somehow it was still floundering. Still sinking under the weight of its inventory.

There were really only three things left for Eli to do.

  1. Root through the store’s records to find the proof their imminent demise.
  2. See if there was a way to save Wild Nights Bookstore and Emporium.
  3. Kick back and smoke a disposable pen from Jo’s bag of vapes, because there probably wasn’t a way to save the store and doom was almost always inevitable, as far as Eli was concerned.

Eli should have done the first thing first and saved the smoking for last, but Eli had never been much for rules, even if they were of his own invention. He embraced his doom as he sat at the desk in the back office of the bookstore, typing the store’s daily totals with his left hand, because his right was occupied with one of the disposable vapes Jo had stashed away in her bottom desk drawer. Jo was the manager at Wild Nights, and she bought the variety packs of vapes from the local corner store because they were cheaper and she suspected her employees dug into her stash while she wasn’t looking.

She was correct.

Besides, Eli would have to be a saint to keep his hands off them as he closed the store alone and did math.

Eli was not a saint.

He was just a sucker for that heady buzz that came from smoking one of these. It was bad for him. But Eli was, in general, into things that were bad for him. He’d figured this out years ago, and, contrary to what all the adults around him said, he hadn’t grown out of it. Everything Eli touched turned to shit no matter what he did. He might as well go for the king of stuff that would destroy him, rather than the other way around.

Eli took another puff. He didn’t like counting inventory on the old tape calculator. He had tried to do it the way Danny had shown him, but he was no natural at math, the way she was. It was slow going and would have been so much faster if he could have tallied the daily totals on the laptop, with a proper keyboard. And a spreadsheet.

Instead, he was using a calculator the size of a book. Not only was it enormous, the ancient machine actually printed out the numbers onto a roll of paper like the old-school register they kept up front. Every time Eli typed, the calculator made a scratching chut chut against the paper and spat out even more numbers. And then he was supposed to tally these numbers in a black, leather-bound notebook that held all the records of Wild Nights since the beginning of time. Danny usually close and was the one typically entrusted with this job. But she’d been given the night off, and, despite his reputation, Eli didn’t want to mess up this job if he didn’t have to. He was going to tally the day’s totals and then get to the bottom of Wild Nights’ financial records.

But the more Eli totalled numbers, the more he thought about the process – it was super strange that the store’s owner, Archer Hunt Junior, hadn’t switched to any king of digital records. Eli didn’t typically care about answers to impossible questions. But he couldn’t stop asking himself what was going on here. His mind couldn’t stop whirling with possibilities.

Where were the records, anyway? Why hadn’t Hunt Junior invested any energy into brining new customers into the store? Why didn’t Hunt Junior even come down to the store anymore at all?

A pulsing blue glow caught the corner of Eli’s eye.

Jo had left her laptop in the office.

Eli hesitated for a fraction of a second. He really shouldn’t go rooting through other people’s laptops. Especially not people he respected. It was just, laptops could doublecheck Eli’s math. Laptops could be used to make a digital archive of what was currently only ink and paper. Without anyone else onsite, all of Eli’s suspicions were really only guesses. A feeling that had grown unavoidable to Eli. A truth he knew but couldn’t quite prove.

Eli had been blindsided enough in his life to know when it was happening, and he knew it was happening now. He just had to figure out how. And he had to figure out how without getting caught.

Besides, if Jo hadn’t wanted Eli to use the old black brick of a laptop, she ought to have made her password more secure than thebatman in all lowercase. She was always going off that “the Batman: was the least interesting part of any of the comics. It wasn’t hard to guess that she used the phrase as a catchall key to all her digital castles. She used it for the Wi-Fi password, too. And Eli had seen Hackers enough on TV to know that people reused their passwords. It didn’t matter how many times people were warned that they shouldn’t. They just did. Jo hadn’t even bothered to add a number combination at the back end to throw off the average, prank-level hack.

Thought, to be honest, Eli probably could have guessed the number combination at the back end of Jo’s passwords, too. She was predictable, and Eli knew her well enough after working under her at the bookstore for the last couple of years. He knew her birthday and the date that her mom had died. If you paid attention, you could really see people when they weren’t taking notice of themselves.

The login screen accepted Eli’s password and, in an instant, he was in.

Except Jo’s desktop was pristine.

Nothing but her hard drive and a shortcut to her email.

Eli knew that, next to going through someone’s search history or many looking through their messages, clicking on another person’s email was one of the most invasive things that he could do. But Eli wanted answers, and adults, even adults like Jo, were never going to give straight answers. Adults were always saying they were protecting you, but Eli knew that was just a fancy was of saying lying.

So Eli clicked the lone desktop shortcut and into Jo’s email he went.

Wild Nights property sale: PENDING

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Title: This Is All Your Fault | Author: Aminah Mae Safi | Publisher: Feiwel and Friends | Release Date: October 13, 2020 | Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT

Set over the course of one day, Aminah Mae Safi’s This Is All Your Fault is a smart and voice-driven YA novel that follows three young women determined to save their indie bookstore. Rinn Olivera is finally going to tell her longtime crush AJ that she’s in love with him. Daniella Korres writes poetry for her own account, but nobody knows it’s her.Imogen Azar is just trying to make it through the day. When Rinn, Daniella, and Imogen clock into work at Wild Nights Bookstore on the first day of summer, they’re expecting the hours to drift by the way they always do. Instead, they have to deal with the news that the bookstore is closing. Before the day is out, there’ll be shaved heads, a diva author, and a very large shipment of Air Jordans to contend with. And it will take all three of them working together if they have any chance to save Wild Nights Bookstore.

Goodreads | Purchase

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Aminah Mae Safi is a Muslim-American writer. Safi was the winner of the We NeedDiverse Books short story contest, and that story appeared in the anthology Fresh Ink.She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her partner and cat.This Is All Your Fault is her third novel, followingNot the Girls You’re Looking For and Tell Me How You Really Feel.

Website | Instagram | Twitter

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

Book Review: Each of Us A Desert by Mark Oshiro

I had the absolutely wonderful opportunity to read this book as part of the book tour run by Colored Pages, while the tour is coming to an end do check out the rest of the tour participants and their content for this gorgeous book!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Each of Us A Desert pulls you in two directions when reading; it urges you to devour it – to follow this enigmatic character and tale without interruption. While in a much more quiet, earnest fashion each page almost drowns you in its prose. A prose that at times duels the plot to rapture attention. I consumed this book in one go and it was magnificent but in hindsight, on second reading and I recommend for your first reading; take your time. Pour over these pages as they deserve to be poured over. Oshiro has crafted something evocative and poignant and very nearly perfect. Its literary merit is not to be dismissed.

Oshiro paints words with such veracity and vividness – creating landscapes, emotions, relationships that live and breathe on the page. There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t believe any of the interactions happening, everything felt grounded and authentic. The almost balletic combination of English and Spanish adds so much, you cannot divorce it from the story or the book. It is an ingrained part of what makes this so incredible.

Each of Us A Desert is about faith. About faith in something, in oneself, in others. The whole book is a prayer. I can’t help but imagine that the exploration of Xochitl’s relationship with Solís has a universal quality to it. It’s something I devoured eagerly because it latched onto thoughts and feelings I’ve had. It was desperately easy to understand Xochitl as a character. I don’t think this is a story about Xochitl’s struggle with identity so much as it’s about her outgrowing who she is told to be, how she is told to be. As a result, the book rides several themes; it addresses loss, family, love, responsibility – community responsibility. I particularly loved the way Xochitl and her beliefs were constantly being challenged.

Every time Oshiro introduces a new element into the tapestry of this almost elusive magical world, it seems as though it is just right – just meant to be – and to do so with such apparent ease is an accomplishment not to be understated. The wider environment and storylines in this book indicate such a wealth of knowledge and craft about this story. In my opinion, it’s often hard to make plot in a fantasy world appear organic but Oshiro does this to great effect. You really feel the character’s struggle, you feel the length of their journey. Oshiro knocks it out of the park with the humanity of their characters. On the topic of the romance, however, what I have to say is not even a critique so much as it’s my own personal desires overriding what I recognise is a fantastic story, a very well-paced story, and a story of quiet love and support – I would have adored a little bit more yearning on the page. In something that is so internal at times, slow moving and thematic, it would have been nice to see more exploration of Xochitl contemplating the idea of someone coming to her not because of what she could give them but because they already share a story – las poemas.

It’s rare that I come away from a book wanting to immediately dive back into it, this was one of those books. I wanted to flip back to page one and peruse every line again. Each of Us A Desert is a beautiful reflection of what it means to tell our stories.

Publisher: Tor Teen | Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQ+

From award-winning author Mark Oshiro comes a powerful coming-of-age fantasy novel about finding home and falling in love amidst the dangers of a desert where stories come to life. Xochitl is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enigmatic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes. Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit. One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous conqueror. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Kobo | Indigo | Google Play | Apple Books

Mark Oshiro is the author of Anger is a Gift (Tor Teen), winner of the 2019 Schneider Family Book Award and nominated for a 2019 Lammy Award (in the LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult category). Upcoming novels include Each of Us a Desert (Tor Teen), a YA Fantasy novel out September 15, 2020, and The Insiders (Harper Collins), an MG Contemporary with magical elements out Fall 2021. When they are not writing, crying on camera about fictional characters for their online Mark Does Stuff universe, or traveling, Mark is busy trying to fulfil their lifelong goal: to pet every dog in the world.

Website | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

Book Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

I had the absolute pleasure of reading Punching the Air pre-publication to take part in the book tour hosted by Karina from Afire Pages, to promote this title during publication week. My post was supposed to go up yesterday but c’est la vie, here we are! In collaboration with the tour, there is also an international giveaway of the book that you can enter! You can find my thoughts on this stunning, devastating book below.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I often find that the hardest reviews to write are for the great books. The books that sit on your chest and make you aware – so incredibly present. This is one of those books. Punching the Air uses language to fill its pages with hurt, desperation and hope that is impossible to ignore. Each page feels alive. Now, I haven’t had the opportunity to see the final copy with its illustrations but as the words alone soar, I can only imagine that the final book is a singular reading experience.

Umi said English requires two mouths to speak
and four ears to understand

Punching the Air is the story about a young Black Muslim who is wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit. Make no mistake, while the chronology of the story follows Amal’s journey from conviction to entering the detention centre – it’s not really about the literal imprisonment, I think. It’s about cause and effect. It’s about the destruction bigotry, racism and complicit institutions cause to lives – to generations of people.

Punching the Air does exactly as its namesake suggests; in the mere reading space of an hour, it punches. Again and again.

Keep my name out your mouth, lady, I say
But she don’t hear me, though
No one hears me
My lips are sealed
but my words have a life of their own

It’s so much more than just a story about a boy going to jail. The multitudes of life that exist between these pages are endless and the skill of achieving so much with arguably few words, it’s incredible. Indelible. I’m wary with the words I use to describe this story and how many of them I use because I don’t want to tell you what to think of it – the book itself prompts so much thought that I feel you need to experience it for yourself. I will, however, talk about Amal. A boy who is never treated as a boy. A boy who doesn’t allow himself to be changed – who knows his truth and finds ways to tell it.

Here, we’re not even paint
We’re a box of cheap markers

that don’t even blend well
The shit that forces you

to stay in the lines or else
the colors will bleed

The colors will bleed

Amal feels so tangible in these pages. Like he’s sitting right there, in front of you. The way he views the world – the way he views his peers – is raw and honest. There’s moment when this book forces you to look at it – to see it as more than words on a page – to be held responsible. The inclusion of rap and the constant references to music production is something I personally haven’t seen done with such consistency and accuracy. It’s evidently such an ingrained part of Amal. It’s a small idea with such a big effect. Rap is poetry – it’s art. And yet, it’s viewer through the white lens as wrong. This alone is such a wide-reaching allegory for everything this book does.

everything about us
our skin, our faces, our hair, our words, our music

will break things
will ruin things
will make things ugly

just by us being there

Anything that I could say about this book is inadequate, in two distinct forms. It’s inadequate because I don’t think I have the words that will ever be enough. It’s inadequate because it’s not my story – I can only say so much. This book hurts me, makes me angry – it exacerbates a lens that looks at the world and wonders “how the fuck has this been allowed to happen?” But that’s not a space I can dominate here. That’s a space for the Black community. This book doesn’t deserve your support – it demands it.

This story – and stories like it need to be shared – to be known.

All quotations are from an advanced review copy and may not reflect the final version.

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

You can find more information about the book on Goodreads or you can purchase the book from The Book Depository or your local independent bookstore!

Book Review: I, Ada by Julia Gray

In the midst of veritable hundreds of books publishing today, I bring you yet another. I, Ada publishes today and as part of the blog tour organised by it’s publisher, Andersen Press, I’ve been given the wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Julia Gray’s latest novel falls into an interesting gap between a biographical account and fiction; that which is known is brought to light and given life by way of imagination. Only recently has the contribution of Countess Lovelace, as with many people deemed unsuitable to be remembered, to the world of programming been recognised. This book manages to be both excellent in its own right and a vehicle to education about its subject.

While alight with curiosity inducing deference to arithmetic and ideas of equations that I long left behind, this novel remains at its heart a tale about wanting to know oneself. It is very much about a daughter seeking out a relationship with her father – to seek to build a relationship not only with an absent figure, but with one who dies is something that Gray frames with eloquence and a great deal of emotional intelligence. Gray propels this biographical adjacent book by exploring the need to define our identity, and those who influence it and the subsequent quandaries that arise because of that questioning.

In an oddly accurate sense, Ada both knows who she is entirely at times – she is the child who tears her clothes running through nature and needs to have her wild throes tames by education. Yet, as is often the paradox of growing up, she doesn’t really know at all. I really admire how Gray characterises Ada in this way – not only does it make her incredibly accessible as a ‘historical figure’ but it goes a long way to creating an authentic narrator.

In this book and perhaps just as in life, Ada and her relationship to Lord Byron is best described in a formula; what happens when an unstoppable force meets and immovable object? For all the dalliance that Ada has into various pursuits, her conviction – her need to create – remains. Her desire to see the world as is natural to her and carve out her own path is constantly in battle with this need to know her father and his unspoken (by her mother) legacy. On that note, Ada’s relationship to her mother is equally if not more important. It prevails throughout the majority of the book and is genuine; the frustrations and the desire to be more than a child – more than a responsibility but someone deserving of information, of conversation and not dictation – is incredibly relatable.

Gray structures the novel to follow Ada throughout her formative years, from age five to age nineteen/twenty and it takes on a familiar but effective pattern. Much like Ada’s thesis of multiple Ada’s existing, like conjoined newspaper dolls, with each passing year – with each new experience – Ada learns something that leads to her perhaps understanding her father more and by extension, ultimately, herself. It’s truly a fabulous way of telling a story whose ending can’t be concealed, whose details may already be intimately known by the reader.  I particularly liked the presentation of Ada’s struggles, not only of being in the shadow of her father’s legacy (both as a child of someone renown but as a woman of the time period) but also the scrutiny of being in the public eye.

Gray has left nothing out, in my opinion. The revisited discussion about education – moreover, its availability to the poor – was a well-placed backbone to the patchwork of this book. I have no doubt as the author expresses in a note at the end of the novel that if any of the events that occur in this book have real life counterparts, that they did not happen as such – but that doesn’t really matter. Gray has woven a story that works despite that. To conclude, I, Ada is pleasant to read and oftentimes a surprisingly witty and heartfelt exercise in shedding light on the life and brilliance of Ada Lovelace.

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

You can find more information about the book on Goodreads or you can purchase the book from The Book Depository or your local independent bookstore!

Book Review: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For the longest time, I found myself struggling to write this review. I couldn’t find enough words to tell you why you should read this book. I didn’t want to be stuck giving you the one-liners that publishers roll out but some of it is so incredibly appropriate. It’s bold and original and filled to the brim with character.

It’s brilliant. Read it, please.

In terms of the story itself, Bayron takes the bones of the Cinderella fairy-tale and gives it not only a whole new life but weight, she stitches together muscle and skin to craft a story that works so incredibly well. The entire diegesis of the main plot is never sacrificed because of the story it takes its inspiration from, it’s enhanced by it. The author effortlessly marriages these two stories of women rebelling against a tyrannical patriarchy, two hundred years apart. Sophia is such a wonderful character because of how outspoken and stubborn she is – it’s never out of a misplaced sense of duty. It’s just her wanting to be allowed to live the way she wants.

Let me tell you why I adore the sapphic representation in this book. Sophia is so unapologetically herself, despite trying not to be at times. Her identity is never truly invalidated or in question, especially by her, and I love that. There is no journey to discover her queerness, from the beginning of the book it’s evident and acted on. There is no forced angst or drama because of the fact that Sophia likes women. As a character, her narration is never concerned about the gender of her romantic feelings, they just are. This may be one of the shortest reviews I’ve written to date but it’s still valid; there was literally nothing that I didn’t like in this book. I could share a few further thoughts on other things I loved but I want this review to be spoiler free so it can reach as many people as possible – just know, any thoughts not written here contain the same sentiment: I love this book, I flew through it in a couple of hours.

It was a pleasure to read.

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

You can find more information about the book on Goodreads or you can purchase the book from The Book Depository or your local independent bookstore!

This review was written in conjunction with a blog tour, all thoughts remain my own.

Book Review: Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Feathertide is a stunningly written debut. I had the absolute pleasure of reading this book pre-release and I can finally share my thoughts with you as part of the blog tour!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Proceed with caution, there may be mild spoilers ahead.

There is no way of describing my reading experience with this book as anything other than lovely, truly lovely. It’s slow and gentle but with great heart. I adore the premise and the whole story behind the debut. There’s a really gorgeous simplicity that Cartwright manages to pull off in crafting a story that whilst being fantastical and about a girl with feathers and mermaids and more, at its core it’s about self-discovery as most good books are. Maréa is cloaked in this mission to find her father and that’s very much the extent of the plot but it’s not what the story is limited to.

It fundamentally explores relationships and does so in such a steadfast way that I admire it greatly. I find the writing of this to be its strongest point, Cartwright executes this push and pull of words and emotions so flawlessly on paper. It mirrors the ever-present tide within the book. The descriptions are really well done, it’s the easiest thing to peruse the pages and picturethe Venetian inspired City of Murmurs. All of this makes for a rich tapestry against which the story is told. The only possible gripe I have with the writing is that the city becomes such a strong character in the novel and yet so much of its lore is left untold – unexplained to the reader.

This book had the promise of a sapphic romance, and it didn’t quite measure up, in my opinion. While I did enjoy the build-up and the interactions between Maréa and Elevar, there was really no relationship or romance to speak of. It happened rather quickly and lacked any true development – while I can understand this as a result of Maréa’s naivety while pursuing Elevar, it made for unsatisfying reading in the end.

On the topic of romance, I felt rather neutral regarding Leo and I think this was very much a result of being more invested in the ‘primary’ or ‘initial’ romance with Elevar. It leaves Leo out in the cold. At times, the characters did feel like caricatures of the themes they were meant to embody rather than real people with as much depth as the city that surrounds them. Overall, Feathertide is a languid whimsical journey that requires your patience at times. It straddles the line between being a ‘true’ fantasy book versus a book with fantasy elements, so I would recommend this – it was a fantastic read – but it may not quench the appetite of those seeking adventure.

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

You can find more information about the book on Goodreads or you can purchase the book from The Book Depository or your local independent bookstore!

This review was written in conjunction with a blog tour, all thoughts remain my own.

Book Tour & Review: More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood

Today is my tour stop for the More Than Just a Pretty Face book tour! I need to take a moment to say thank-you to the tour organisers, Hear Our Voices, not only for providing me with an opportunity to read this brilliant book before it’s release but also for all the hard work they’re doing in getting OV books into the hands of OV reviewers and promoting OV authors! Keep an eye on the schedule to see all the creative content!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As someone who doesn’t read a lot of contemporaries or romances, when I do find one, I love it’s one of the best feelings in the world. That’s what happened with More Than Just a Pretty Face, I came to the end of the book and just wanted to hug it to my chest.

The writing did take a while to hit its flow and I attribute a lot of that to establishing character’s and their “brand”. Danyal is the pretty one, Kaval is the popular one, Zar is the best friend, Sohrab is the serious one etc. This certainly makes the characters feel one dimensional and doesn’t promise the best for the rest of the book – which is a mistake. The second half of the book felt really organic – I don’t think this is a coincidence that it starts happening when Danyal beings to really let go of this idea of being with Kaval. The way that the romantic relationship between Bisma and Danyal developed was just perfect, honestly. Masood managed to hit the nail on the head with the balance between characters genuinely being friends and having a platonic love for each other which grows into something much more intimate.

It felt real and soft and I really do love them with all my heart.

I really like the commentary this book had on colonialism, it’s an important discussion and it was explored in really meaningful way – not only was it a way of unmasking Churchill as a saviour, the greater theme in Danyal’s speech about race and seeing people as human was a fantastic direction to take the book when it had limited resources to hash this out previously. It was nice to see how at times it linked to the generational immigrant identity crisis (in a very loose way, I brought my own experiences to this particular interpretation). I think it says a lot about why you need to read ownvoices fiction. Not only is Danyal discovering for himself that “history is written by the victors” but it leads to questions like; “why didn’t I know this about my culture, my heritage?” It alludes to the feeling of disconnect that generational immigrants can feel, and I think this could have been a bigger discussion in the book.

I needed to take a moment to address the culinary aspect of this book all on its own. As someone who has worked in kitchens for eight years, I love seeing food descriptions in books and I love seeing restaurant kitchens in books. For me, it was such a great bonus. Whilst I don’t think Chef Brodeur’s very convenient knowledge of romance and the inner workings of people’s head is entirely realistic, I can easily let it go.

I feel like it would be remiss of me not to address the critique this book has received from other ownvoices reviewers. In case that wasn’t clear already, I am an OV reviewer for this title. The enactment of Muslim representation in fiction is complex, to say the least. I don’t personally feel like I have an intimate enough knowledge of all the rules of Islam to tell you whether or not this has good vs bad/harmful Muslim representation. What I can tell you is which parts I thought could have been dealt with more care, and which parts I did relate to. I personally do relate to a lot of this book from the perspective of Muslim culture; I relate to it as a currently non-practicing Muslim. While the humour is heavy handed at times, it’s my kind of humour and when reading I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I think it’s prudent as an OV reviewer to point out that, I may not have seen an issue with the way Muslim culture was used in the humour of this book – other OV reviewers have though, and that leads me to say this. The issue with this type of humour arises when non-Muslim readers read a novel like this and think that it’s okay for them to replicate the jokes, which it’s not. I don’t necessarily think that makes this book harmful though, in my opinion.

The biggest element in the book which felt a little unnecessary was the way in which Sohrab and his relationship to the practice of Islam was presented in the book. Sohrab is increasingly described as being more obsessed with religion, spending his free time reading articles and attending lectures on the topic. This isn’t inherently problematic. It was the fact that the author chose to approach it as if Sohrab was being more oppressive – or even being oppressed by his pursuit in religion. He’s described as looking exhausted by it. In the novel, it’s later attributed to the fact that Sohrab feels helpless in a world where so much is wrong. I liked the sentiment of where this ended up because it’s a crushing experience, to be under the weight of wanting to help but you feel like you barely make a dent. Having said that, for a large part of the book Sohrab is essentially this extremist character. Which is a harmful stereotype and didn’t need to be present in the book for this conversation to take place. It would have been a greatly improved dynamic if the character in the book – Danyal, Kaval, Zar – hadn’t had a bad reaction to Sohrab wanting to devote his time to Islam, and instead supported him.

A bit overwhelmed with the good and the bad? Here’s what you need to know: I really liked this book. I had a fantastic time reading it. The last ten percent had me squealing all over the place. The only caveat I have in recommending this is that it’s not as nuanced regarding religion as it could have been. The practice of Islam in this book had it’s good and its bad aspects, at times it’s inconsistent and altered to fit the narrative – but like I said, I still related to the book and the cultural representation as a whole.

More Than Just a Pretty Face is a fun heart-warming romcom that had important discussions, by an author of colour and I urge you to support it.

I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.

You can find more information about the book on Goodreads, or you can purchase the book from The Book Depository or your local independent bookstore!

Blog Tour: Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World by Burhana Islam

I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of the Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World blog tour today, not only is it awesome to be able to promote such a rich book about Muslim excellence – it’s pretty cool seeing a book like this getting published and getting attention! Before I delve into the substantive part of my contribution, I wanted to first tell you to go check out all of the already posted and upcoming content on the tour – I’ve loved getting to see everyone’s homage to this book.

Secondly, I wanted to introduce my post a little bit!

When it came to picking a topic to talk about for my tour stop, I couldn’t separate myself from the book community. From the bloggers and authors I’ve recently come to know. Amazing Muslims Who Changed the World is filled with dozens of people who I could talk about (and who deserve to be talked about!) to no end. But I simply found myself wanting to write about this group of people who may not have changed the world – yet – but have very much been a part of changing mine, in some way or another. It is only recently that I’ve felt like I’ve been living as my most authentic self and my relationship to my culture and faith has been a big part of that. It’s something that I felt like I couldn’t explore with my peers, but it could be explored through literature. And by extension, through the book community.

This post barely scratches the surface of the Muslim authors and Muslim creators that are a vital part of our community but there were a few books and people in particular I wanted to recognise and put in the spotlight – while also addressing why Muslim representation is important to me as a reader.

It’s become starkly obvious to me how important having varied and prevalent Muslim representation in the fiction I was reading as a child, tween, teen, young adult and even now as an adult. Amongst this fantastic push for diverse fiction, it’s seems juvenile to make the statement that Muslim representation was severely lacking – and it still is but like most things, it’s getting better. The reason I bring this up is that because for me, as someone who never felt like I was enough for either half of my culture or heritage – I never actively sought, or thought I needed to see those experiences, my experiences, represented in fiction. It is only now that there are more titles and more recognition of those titles – that I’m reading more Muslim representation that I realise how much I needed it. How much it means to see it. To feel that kinship between yourself and a character or set of characters, and the author. It’s a priceless experience.

These books are all fantastic in their own right, as are their authors, and I’ve spoken about most of them before so instead of talking about each book individually, I wanted to address what these books did right – why their books are important to me, why I address them here. I haven’t discussed my biraciality, or the way I grew up in a multi-faith household on my blog before – I rarely mention it. So, let’s get a little personal. Everyone practices Islam in their own way, and some don’t – like me, I am a non-practicing Muslim, for the most part. I don’t relate to all the Muslim representation out there, just as not every Muslim with relate to the Muslim representation that I enjoy. Which is why, when I find a book filled with Muslim representation that I can relate to, despite all those nuanced barriers, it’s pretty amazing.

That’s what each of these books have done. They are filled with both cultural and religious representation that doesn’t make me feel like less than or too far removed. Particularly with The Henna Wars, which addresses the intersectionality of being queer and Muslim, this book will forever hold a place in my heart for doing that. Not only that but Jaigirdar, I feel, perfectly emulates the odd wistfulness that children of immigrants have. The what if, the what could have been – what traditions would we have had, who would I have been. As someone who has been learning more about my heritage and culture, I relate to this – hard.

I also wanted to provide a space to talk about some Muslim bloggers who I love, who I think deserve the entire world because of the hard work they do.

The first person I wanted to tell you about is Fadwa from Word Wonders, in particular I want to direct you to her guest post on The Quiet Pond because it’s close to my heart. I am Muslim, I am Queer and Not a Contradiction is a brave – beyond brave, it’s something I have yet to find the words let alone the courage to do – piece of writing that not only made me feel seen as a queer Muslim but it made me feel validated. Through sharing her journey, her experiences and her unapologetic love of herself and our faith – it was the first time for me personally, that another Muslim had essentially turned to me and said “this is us, this who we are, no one can take that away from us.

As someone who loved reading fantasy, trying to find ownvoices Muslim representation in that genre is something that is difficult. It’s a simple fact that a lot of fantasy books which have Muslim representation, are set in the fantasy equivalent of the Middle East or North Africa, are written by people who are not Muslim and very often are not from that part of the world. Welcome, Umairah from Sereadipity onto the scene. Umairah created the A Thousand Nights book club, which specifically looks at reading SFF by Muslim authors. 

Neelam from The Tsundoku Chronicles was the first Muslim blogger I came across who not only was very vocal about it but actively spoke about and created content that wasn’t just limited to books, made content about Islam and about Muslims – creating a space for them. It would be remiss of me not to address the plethora of content Neelam has created with regard to the Daevbad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. She prises this trilogy for it’s Muslim representation and exemplifies it – while this is a trilogy that I have yet to read, I have no doubt that the Muslim representation will be fantastic because of Neelam’s content.

Em from Em’s Bookish Musings | Zulfa from Lovely Owls Books

Asmaa from The Chronicles of a Bookworm

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want this post to grow anymore than it already has so I shall leave you with a few other Muslim bloggers to follow! And I do hope that Muslim or not, this post introduced you to authors and creators you may not be aware of. This is the most personal I’ve gotten in a post and it certainly isn’t exhaustive of all my thoughts but I felt like this was a good start; I admit as this post sits in my drafts, the familiar anxiety of not being Muslim enough arises – I wanted to combat that directly but being a part of this tour by stating clearly that I am Muslim. It is ingrained in my identity and to be able to claim it is a privilege I didn’t think I could have.