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.

Book Review: The Damned by Renée Ahdieh

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Proceed with caution, this review contains spoilers for the first book in the series.

Upon finishing The Beautiful I immediately knew I would be picking up the sequel to follow Bastien’s journey and it turned out so much better than I thought it would. Whilst I was on the fence with The Beautiful, the sequel did everything right.

It jumped into the action, it gave us much better perspectives and there was naturally more vampire content. The Damned managed to remedy every issue I had with its predecessor. Firstly, the focus of the second book on a handful of diverse characters who were one of my favourite elements of the first book provided not only a rich background to the story but it gave weight and authenticity to the world and the plot. These characters seen through Sebastien’s eyes provide so much more depth to both him and the world Ahdieh has created. This book is very much about the characters, in my opinion. The plot itself is simplistic and at times predictable but it still manages to remain compelling because you care about what happens to the characters, you still want to go on the journey with them regardless. Personally, I guessed the main plot points before even starting this book but I still enjoyed it. The introduction of Celine’s heritage and the fae (and other creatures) does a great job of adding to the mythology.

That’s why choosing to give Celine’s perspective a back seat was such a good choice in The Damned, it allows us to see the extent of the world. I admit I’m also somewhat biased because I didn’t love Celine in the first book – I appreciate her as a character, her strength and what she represents and how Ahdieh (especially in the first book) uses her to introduce some pervasive social commentary. This coupled with the way in which the author addresses Celine’s trauma makes for a more palatable character.

As I’ve previously mentioned, this is primarily a character driven book and as a result I’m going to inevitably end up talking about the cast at length. I liked Bastien and getting to experience the vampire world through his experiences and the history we got from that. What’s more, not only does the sequel put Bastien in the spotlight, almost adjacent to Celine’s conscience in the first book, it allows us to see his efforts to deal with his own trauma and the murky waters that are the moral throes often present with vampirism. I absolutely adored Jae, in fact I could read a whole book about him.

Whilst the writing is not as poetic or descriptive as the first book, I think it’s a strength within this particular narrative. Not only does it carry along the worldbuilding versus action in a well-paced fashion – it never feels like we’re being bluntly dumped with information –  it also helps us connect to the cast of characters much better.

Where The Beautiful felt almost patronising, The Damned takes heed from it’s main character Sebastien and feels genuine. In conclusion, vampires never left for me but hopefully Ahdieh has brought vampires back into the mainstream for everyone else. The Damned walks the line between rich storytelling, bittersweet pining and the inevitable enticement of vampires, werewolves and more.

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 & Book Review: Mayhem by Estelle Laure

The comparison for Mayhem was one hundred percent what drew my interest – not to mention the gorgeous cover – having a soft spot for 80’s flicks from Dirty Dancing to An American Werewolf in London, any novel that manages to capture that iconic atmosphere is certainly something I admire. When I was invited to be part of the blog tour (my first!) I couldn’t resist. If you’re looking for an eerie jaunt back in time to Santa Maria’s boardwalk with compelling female characters then I’d recommend picking this up!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Proceed with caution, this book deals with the topic(s) of domestic and child abuse. A full list of warnings can be found at the author’s website.

Mayhem pulls from cult classic The Lost Boys to create a fabulist tale about family, magic and taking control of one’s own life. From page one this book was not what I expected it to be, it occupies an odd space between being a fantastical crime novel and a coming of age tale dealing with grief, identity and trauma. This novel could have easily been lost in this purgatory but I think it excels, the magical elements of the book only serve to purport the telling of a much harder story of flawed and authentic characters.

The writing is a real testament to the author’s talent.

Yes, it’s lyrical and carries you along much as the ever prominent waves in the novel do but more than that – it hits so many emotive points and does it incredibly well. For example, the use of a triad rhetoric at certain times in the book – notably earlier on in the novel when Mayhem is more lost – goes a long way to showcasing the main character’s inner turmoil without reams of exposition. I think Mayhem’s characterisation is carefully established with a great deal of insight, in my opinion. Following a character who has experienced trauma and seeing how that is portrayed not only in her inner monologue but in her interactions with other characters is something which has been executed with a great deal of success.

There’s a danger of the misery trend in the tone of the novel to be interpreted as angst, which I have to disagree with. I think it’s a perfect reflection – in my own experiences – of a teenager dealing with what Mayhem is dealing with, amongst some fantastical elements. Furthermore, it’s not only what Mayhem is dealing with but it’s an open dialogue about generational effects of shared experience(s). I think the term feminist is too easily adhered to books with all female or female focused casts.

This is a book about magical women, in more than the literal sense. Whilst there were some minor plot issues which I will address further on, the characterisation of the female cast is something to be commended here. Mayhem, with her own brand of sadness and anger. Kidd, relegated to safety because of her age but never treated as less than. Elle, allowed to love who she loves. Roxy, who was brave enough to walk through what must have been hell to protect her daughter. Neve, trying so hard to protect herself and others. These women all have their own brand of strength. What I’ve written down is an oversimplification. What I liked so much about what Laure did here is that all the female characters had backstories, they were rich and meaningful.

As I’ve alluded to already, what I would call the secondary plot isn’t the most important part of this book and for the most part it buoys along nicely. However, what little critique I have is less about the magic system and family history and more about the lack of conversation regarding the finality of Mayhem’s actions. While the characters do address their unwillingness to continue the same way, I felt like there wasn’t enough time paid to both the concept that this has been happening for decades and specifically to Mayhem and how she reacts to her actions. In addition, I personally didn’t think that it was necessary for the romance to be a part of the novel. As it stands, it’s subtle enough and removed enough from the story to not have really bothered me but for that reason I also think it was unnecessary. All those emotions could have been explored just as much and to the same effect in a platonic relationship.

Overall, I really liked my experience reading Mayhem. I liked the teasing out of the story and the exploration of the contemporary elements of the novel. At times the source material it drew from was evident but it didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the book. It has certainly piqued my interest in the rest of the author’s work.

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 Wednesday Books or your local independent bookstore!

Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Mexican Gothic is a refreshing breed of horror novel, written by a Latinx author and set in 1950s Mexico – it’s recent rise onto the NYT bestseller list proves that there is a market for a wide breadth of fiction from Latinx authors. I adored the concept behind this and all the promise it brought of a mesmerising addition to the horror world.

Mexican Gothic inhabits an odd world both on and off the page. There is no denying that the writing is a singular achievement, it manages to pay homage to the gothic novels it so often refers to while remaining more so accessible to a modern audience. It perfectly and unapologetically captures gorgeous swathes of culture, you cannot divorce this novel from it’s author and it’s setting – and it’s all the better for it. I really do love the literary finesse Garcia manages to execute in this novel, the only critique I have regarding the writing itself is that it often feels as though we’re stuck at surface level with Noemí. In spite of all the background given to her, it often felt like we were watching through a window rather than being truly immersed. Having said that, I did like Noemí as a character – she never changes in the face of her adversity, nor society.

The pacing is balanced on the head of a pin, the unfolding of events bearing on tedium ever so slightly. While I can appreciate the craft, the reading experience for the first half of the book was a neutral experience – it wasn’t by any means bad. However, this build up – exploring the house and it’s inhabitants – failed to effectively produce the sort of tension one might expect in a horror novel. The house being such a prominent part of the novel was one of my favourite elements, I do wish that it had been better treated as a character in it’s own right. While the ending was satisfactory, the novel failed to elicit any genuine sense of urgency even during its more active scenes. Again, I can and do appreciate this novel – I think it’s a good book.

In fact, I think it’s a really good book. 

What mars what could have been a perfect book is the simple fact that for the majority of the book I wasn’t actively enjoying the book – again, it’s a tough dichotomy, I didn’t not like it either. The novel soared in its dialect, it’s character interactions – especially those between Noemí and Virgil, as well as the development of her relationship with Francis. The plot much like the writing is a testament to how well Garcia knows her craft. It’s a carefully curated mixture of otherworldly grounded by mythology.

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!

June: A Reading Roundup

I made the decision early on in the process of starting my blog that I wasn’t going to review every book I read, I used to put that pressure on myself and it really sucks the joy out of not only reading but the blogging experience too. It also has an effect on not only how much you enjoy what you read but in my opinion, reading to review changes how you read full stop. Having said that, I do want to be able to talk about other books I’ve read in some capacity and a monthly wrap up seems to be the perfect avenue to do that. If I have reviewed any of the books I talk about, they’ll be linked via the titles!

WHERE WE GO FROM HERE by Lucas Rocha | ★★★.5

Rocha has tackled the topic of HIV amongst three young men in Brazil. It’s a novel that ultimately deals with friendship, self-introspection and what it’s like to be a young person. As I said in my review, I can’t comment as to how well done the HIV representation is. However, I will say that the balance between the informative elements of the book (i.e. medical information re: HIV) and the plot was nicely done.

AGAIN AGAIN by E. Lockhart | ★★★.5

This was a book that took me by surprise, it’s a deftly woven tale of what-ifs and could-bes. As someone who is pretty nostalgic, sometimes to a fault, this book appealed in ways I didn’t even know I wanted a book to do so. It’s a concept that is really well executed by the author. At times it reaches for greatness with some poignant ideals but overall it fell just shy of hitting the mark.

GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN by Talia Hibbert | ★★★★

This book is an absolute gem, equal parts funny, sweet and sexy. My cheeks hurt from smiling for a good portion of this book. If you’re looking for a romance that will just make you feel good while also being authentic and well-written, this is the book for you. I adored how unapologetically herself Chloe was, she never had to change herself in “pursuit” of her love interest. The banter between the two MCs was perfect and I adore Redford (a tattooed painter turned superintendent dealing with his own issues) – I just want to wrap him up and take him home with me.

TAKE A HINT, DANI BROWN by Talia Hibbert | ★★★★

Similarly to Chloe Brown, this book is near perfect. I spoke about this in my review but Dani Brown just has a special place in my heart because the representation in it really appeals to me. Besides, who doesn’t love a good fake-dating romp? Hibbert has this genuine way of dealing with issues such as abuse and anxiety that while she doesn’t delve too deep into them, never feels surface level.

THE HENNA WARS by Adiba Jaigirdar | ★★★

I wanted to love this book so much and I do, I really do. It is a firm favourite and a book that I will recommend to everyone. It’s a necessary and important piece of writing. There’s parts of this book that are so true to form, so unapologetically authentic that I can’t not love it. Jaigirdar manages to concisely surmise the complex feelings of POC, especially POC immigrants, in mere sentences. There’s dozens of lines in the book that I have tabbed because they do such a damn good job of conveying feelings I’ve had and I’m sure many others have had. Outside of this, the book was a little waylaid by a weak writing style. As a debut, it excites me for what’s to come from Jaigirdar.

I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST by Mason Deaver | ★★★★

This book is a little something special. It can really receive no greater accolade from me than the fact that I adored it. I want to hold this book to my chest and never let it go. When I closed the book, my heart felt full. Deaver has succeeded in writing meaningful, authentic relationships and interactions – this is notable insofar as it carries the entire novel and it’s done so well, the skill is unmistakable.

GIRL, SERPENT, THORN by Melissa Bashardoust | ★★★.5

Despite all the hype I’ve been hearing about this book, it did fall a little short. I enjoyed it as I was reading it and there was nothing glaringly wrong with it, but there were certainly some elements that could have been done a little better. Overall, the plot was convenient and predictable and I didn’t feel like enough time was spent on the sapphic relationship, even though this seemed to be a big point. However, the second half of the book was much better and had potential. I did temper this criticism in my review by saying that I think it’s really just limited by the market requirements of it’s genre.

PET by Akwaeke Emezi | ★★★★★

I urge you, with actual urgency, to go pick up a copy of this book and read it. It’s stunning, truly a gift. I feel like there’s little I can say that will accurately convey the reading experience of this book, it’s so good. Not to mention, relevant. It will be relevant now, it will be relevant six months from now and beyond that. It has fantastic representation (a trans Black MC who is selectively verbal and signs, a polyamourous relationship, a non-binary parent, a fully Black cast). I think this is one of those books that transcends age, it’s excellent at what it does and prompts much thought.

Book Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Proceed with caution, there may be some mild spoilers ahead.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a story about a bisexual princess seeking her place in the world, set against the backdrop of lush Persian mythology and folklore.

This book falls prey to some of the limitations of being a Young Adult standalone. The plot itself isn’t strong in any sense, it’s relatively predictable for the most part and the first half of the book is disparagingly trope filled – if it wasn’t for the promise of a sapphic romance, I would have happily put the book down. While I was expecting Azad to be more than he seemed, it didn’t make up for the fact that I had to sit through 150~ pages of an instalove romance. That’s also not to say that the first half of the book was bad because of the instalove, sometimes this trope can be done well and I don’t mind it.

In this instance, it wasn’t great. Soraya acted far too naive and it was ultimately unbelievable that she wasn’t somewhat wary about a man who is in love with your story and therefore, immediately in love with you. Rather, it’s kind of creepy. In my opinion, this naivety can’t even be convincingly excused by the fact that Soraya has been locked away her entire life. In addition, there wasn’t much genuine difficulty encountered by the characters. Not only was everything predictable, there weren’t any barriers that lasted more than a few pages. There wasn’t anything that prompted authentic character development. Soraya isn’t particularly compelling as a main character, despite the effort to give her this struggle with her humanity – it never truly feels as though there are stakes. The only ‘bad’ act she does can be justified, there is no truly reprehensible deed she has to overcome, or risk losing herself to her darkest proclivities. It’s a lukewarm will-they-won’t-they that lacks depth.

The saving grace of this book truly was the Persian inspired mythology, while there was little to no actual worldbuilding, the pages were brimming with gorgeous imagery. I adored that even at the end of the book the author provided a directory of sorts of all the mythology and folklore stories which inspired particular elements of the novel. Unlike the earliest endeavour in the book, the sapphic romance was well-executed, in my opinion. Despite expecting it and knowing that there was a sapphic romance in this novel, it didn’t spoil any of the build up. The only critique I’d have is that as a result of spending such a long time on the Soraya/Azad relationship, there is a tendency to view the sapphic romance as a mere addition. I think that this novel would have performed much better with more focus on the actual romance. The parallels between Soraya and Azad reduced his impact as a “villain” – this weakened the story as there didn’t seem to be a true antagonist. While this was the point, to make him more human, it didn’t have the time or the space to explore this to the depth that it needed to be effective. That’s not to say that antagonists can’t live in the grey but in this case, the integrity of the story would have remained intact with a more traditionally “evil” villain.

In short, there was a whole ton of potential here and regardless of what it lacked, the reading experience was enjoyable. Not to mention that this book deserves to be promoted and supported, there’s little LGBTQIAP+ Persian representation in YA books and this is hopefully only one of many more to come. It’s a pleasant and atmospheric read, cloaked in the refreshing advent of a new kind of fairytale.

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!

The Subjective Test: How I Rate Books

As a member of the book community, perhaps one of the most prevalent practices is assigning a value to a book which categorically states “this is how good I think this book is” – it’s at the heart of sites like Goodreads and fundamentally, part of reviewing a book. 

This system of how high or low you rate a book is subjective and takes many forms. It’s not something I’ll discuss in this particular post but this does lead onto a bigger discussion about paid reviews and problematic reviews. I think it also begs the question, should ratings  – especially by staples of the community – be able to be rescinded/changed after the fact? People grow and change and I know I would rate hundreds of books that I read a few years ago differently but that seems to make it a moot point if I go around changing those without acknowledging that my previous opinion was valid. Otherwise, ratings lose meaning.

A well-known accolade in the literary world lies with Kirkus and their starred reviews. A comprehensive system that allows them to review hundreds of books a month; in under 500 words they review the book. There is no change to the value, it is a single star denoting excellence. Speaking about Kirkus specifically, in an effort to be more transparent and make it easier for non-white readers to find representations of themselves in fiction – they’ve taken on a specificity regarding character’s skin colour in their reviews. All of this to say that what I think of a book will be different to what you think of a book, based on a variety of factors – there’s a flawed universality to rating systems (a one to ten like IMDb or one to five like Goodreads).

Yet, it fails to address the fact that not only will someone’s opinion on a book be subjective, so is the way they assign value. It seems to be the stance of most reputable sources that half-stars are redundant. I disagree, I utilise half-stars and it’s very much a matter of best judgement when a book doesn’t deserve the lower rating however, didn’t quite match up to the next whole number. I will not be giving separate reasoning for half-star rating because it’s pretty straightforward.

Another part of rating is that oftentimes it’s a gut decision.

Usually, once I finish a book I’ll know my initial rating pretty much off the bat. The only thing that usually changes my initial rating when it comes to a review or even just Goodreads is if upon reflection there’s something in the book (positive or negative) I hadn’t realised enough to factor in at the time.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

“It’s just bad.”

A one-star rating is the only truly bad rating, in my opinion. Anything else can usually be enjoyed despite or even in spite of it’s issues – but a one-star book is something that wasn’t redeemable in any form. I didn’t enjoy it and I don’t think there’s any positives to talk about.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

“Trash. Mostly trash.”

A two-star rating can fall into two categories. The first is a book that just wasn’t for me, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s awful but it isn’t something that I would read again. There was nothing that I particularly liked about it and I was probably pretty disinterested at times.

These traits also align with the second category, which is pretty much reserved for the trashy shelf. It’s books that just aren’t great – whether they’re badly written, have problematic elements or overtly tropey and predictable. But we love them anyway. There are several books that I love, that I would even go so far as to call favourites, that I cannot in good conscience rate any higher than two because of a multitude of reasons. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“I liked this one.”

There’s two schools of thought when it comes to three star ratings, there’s those who think that three star ratings are a bad thing. I think a good percentage of the people who think of three stars as ‘bad’ or ‘unworthy’ of praise tend to be authors and publishing professionals. This is by no means a generalisation, simply my observation over years of reviews.

I, of course, disagree. I think three stars is a more than amicable rating. There’s loads of books that I’ve enjoyed and given this rating which I can talk about all the time, they can often be favourites. So, what exactly denotes a three star rating? Usually, I’ll expose myself here, I have a bit of a bias towards YA contemporaries – I don’t tend to pick them up and when I do they usually rate lower than anything else I read. Most contemporaries tend to be given three star ratings. However, overall, books in this category tend to be enjoyable but lacking in how much I may have connected or related to the book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“It’s really good. I’d recommend it!”

This is a book that I loved with my whole heart. This doesn’t mean that four-star books are perfect books, it merely means that if there is anything to be critiqued it didn’t take away from my overall reading experience. These books are usually books that I make a connection with whether it’s because the book was funny, relatable or because I was immersed in the plot.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Where art thou?”

I find five-stars probably the hardest to quantify. It truly is a gut feeling. In coming to try and verbalise how and why I rate books five stars, I had a look at my previous five-star reads and noticed a few trends. The first is that five-star reads aren’t perfect books. They don’t have to be literary masterpieces. Perhaps more than any other rating, five-star books are based on feeling, rather than literary or creative critique. You just know when a book is paramount.

These books tend to be formative in some way or another, whether that’s to my personal philosophy or to my outlook on different topics etc. I like to think that I’m not overtly critical when it comes to awarding five stars but they are quite rare – perhaps I’m not reading the right books. I re-read my five stars books quite often, there’s something to be said about re-readability. If I can read a book several times without any qualms, it’s quite brilliant.