Interviews · Uncategorized

Sereadipity Interviews… Mahtab Rohan On Her Debut Your Heart After Dark (Rapid Fire!)

Hello my booksicles!

I’m very excited to be sharing the rapid fire interview I did with Mahtab Rohan about her debut novel: Your Heart After Dark. I am very excited to read this paranormal contemporary with Muslim rep (!!!) and I am very grateful for the time Mahtab took to answer my questions!

Here’s a bit about the book [add it on Goodreads]:

Maria Chaudhry’s personal demons trap her in a downward spiral, but the beast lurking in Ehmet’s blood can do a lot worse than that.

After a year of living in a prissy suburb, Maria Chaudhry is back downtown. Back to what she never wanted to leave. But she can’t really enjoy it since neither the living nor the dead will leave her in peace.

JC’s death still keeps her up at night and Ehmet’s sudden ambivalence isn’t helping. Maybe she had read his signals wrong and Ehmet was never in love with her like she thought. Or maybe his love is tangled with secrets too dark to speak aloud, secrets about JC’s death and the unpredictable beast in Ehmet’s blood.

When an upcoming hiking trip is cancelled, there’s no pretty path left towards the truth. A growing spiral of deceit threatens to tear Maria and Ehmet apart forever, but the beast lurking within Ehmet can do a lot worse than that.

Mahtab Rohan’s debut YA novel delivers a paranormal tale of crumbling friendships, malevolent secrets, and the struggle to have hope in the face of uncertainty.

Interview

Pitch Your Heart After Dark in one sentence:

A desi Muslim teen deals with dysfunctional family & her crush hiding that he’s a werewolf involved in her friend’s death.

Describe yourself in 5 words:

President: Secretly-Hates-Weddings Association

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I’m an ex-planster turned full-time plotter.

A fun fact about one of the characters in Your Heart After Dark:

Ehmet is a significant character in a related urban fantasy I’ll be working on soon.

What was the biggest change from the first to the last draft?

The POV changing from third to first person. Yes, I rewrote THE ENTIRE thing.

Why did you choose to write in the supernatural genre?

I didn’t choose the supernatural– the supernatural chose me. Really though, I can’t write pure contemporary. I’m not sure why. I have a hard time reading purely contemporary books, too.

What inspired you the most to write Your Heart After Dark?

Lingering teenage angst. [big mood]

Your favourite books as a child:

Franklin, Clifford The Big Red Dog, The Cloud Book, books on endangered & unique species.

As a kid, I loved those book order forms we got in school. I don’t think there was anyone else in my class who was as obsessed with them as me, even though I rarely got to actually order anything.

Your favourite book of 2020:

I can’t say! 2020 isn’t over yet!

Your most anticipated release of 2021:

WE FREE THE STARS by Hafsah Faizal. Someone please cryofreeze me.

[I’m excited for this one too!]

The author that most inspires you:

I find Hafsah Faizal inspiring because she’s basically the most visible type of Muslim woman there is and she’s not sorry for it. Every time I see her on a graphic for a convention or workshop, I just think about how powerful the image is.

Your favourite word:

Majawar (roughly translates to “religious mendicant”).

What is your favourite quote from Your Heart After Dark?

“There’s no easy way to stop loving someone.”

Do you have a tip for overcoming writer’s block?

If I have writer’s block, I take time away from writing and do some reading, or I work on a different writing project. I always have books and sources of inspiration I can go to if I need a quick pick-me-up.

If my writer’s block gets real bad, I recite a prayer that Moses said when God asked him to approach Pharaoh.

[I love this answer so much!]

Describe the Kashmir-inspired YA fantasy you’re currently writing in one sentence:

Aided by a mountain-dweller who hates royalty, undercover rani Neelum journeys through a treacherous mountain to find a cure for her dying cousin.

[This sounds like the book of my dreams- I can’t wait]

About the author:

Mahtab Rohan is a Canadian writer of South Asian & Himalayan descent. Rohan was born in Ontario and currently resides in the relentlessly cold Canadian Prairies. When she’s not writing stories that keep her up at night, she’s busy perfecting her square rotis and tutoring English. 

Thank you again to Mahtab Rohan for taking the time to answer my questions!

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Reviews · Uncategorized

A Must-read For Everyone: Review of Punching the Air

Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Thank you to HarperCollins Children’s Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Punching the Air

Summary

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Authors: Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: wrongful conviction and imprisonment, racism, abuse, violence

  • Plot: 4.5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

Punching the Air was a powerful novel in verse about a Black Muslim boy who was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Words can hardly covey the profundity of this book- my advice to anyone reading this review is to read Punching the Air as soon as possible and experience it for yourself.

The writing was raw and hard-hitting. There were so many times when I gasped at the sheer emotion packed into the words and the beauty of how they were expressed. Amal’s despair, love, anger and hope were palpable and conveyed in such a genuine voice. It didn’t shy away from exploring the emotional, spiritual and physical toll imprisonment took on Amal.

Their words and what they thought
to be their truth
were like a scalpel

shaping me into
the monster
they want me to be

The way the novel was crafted was genius. The imagery, the way the words were arranged on the page and the illustrations made it seem like a work of art in and of itself. Amal was an artist and a poet so the format of the book was fitting and felt like an insight to his mind. We see his inner thoughts, musings and coping mechanisms and they felt so authentic for a sixteen year old. He was just a boy, often seen as a man, trying to hang on to his art, his faith, his love and his hope in a world that was trying to crush him.

For a relatively short read, it was packed with social commentary on issues like institutional racism, gentrification and prison abolition. The way it focused on the devastating and far reaching consequences racism had on not only on Amal’s life but on that of everyone around him made it intensely personal and emotive

Dr. Yusef Salaam is a member of the Exonerated Five and is now doing inspiring work as a prison reform activist (I’d recommend researching more about his story, there is a documentary about it called The Central Park Five). Amal’s story was inspired by his own experience of being wrongfully convicted and imprisoned at only fifteen years old and knowing that added a whole new dimension and depth to the words on the page. 


I was punching
the air
the clouds
the sun


for pressing
down on me
on us
so hard
that the weight
of the world
made us crack
split in half
break into pieces

I had never read a novel in verse before this one but I definitely would love to read more in the future! Punching the Air was a powerful novel that is definitely a must-read for everyone. I highly recommend it!

Have you read Punching the Air? What were your thoughts?

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Blog Tours · Uncategorized

Blog Tour: Crowning Soul by Sahira Javaid

Lebanon ~ Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Hello booksicles! Today I bring you my stop on the Crowning Soul blog tour (hosted by Qamar Blog Tours) with some information about the book and mood boards!

About the book:

  • Title: Crowning Soul
  • Author: Sahira Javaid
  • Publication date: September 8th, 2020
  • Genre: YA Fantasycrowning soul cover-1696946039..jpg

Synopsis:

Be swept away in this unique fantasy debut from Sahira Javaid. A spellbinding adventure of belonging, finding hope and where the price of a soul is another soul’s fate. Perfect for the fans of InuYasha, Children of Blood and Bone and The Candle and The Flame.

Nezha Zaman considers her gift to control fire a dangerous secret. A secret that unravels when she encounters a vengeful shadow jinni in a maze garden that has been stalking her family, and knows about her power.

Weeks after seeing the demonic being, Nezha is torn from her world through her backyard pond and transported into another dimension which sought out the light inside her heart.

Nezha learns from two unicorns that the dimension is her family’s roots, and the light is a fragment of an angel’s shattered soul. The three must work together to find the soul’s shards in a land teeming with shape-shifting jinn.

If Nezha fails to stop the corrupted Iron Prince, the malevolent jinn at his side will shatter her soul next.

Amazon  Goodreads

Mood boards:

Here are the mood boards I made inspired by the book! They are based on three of the main characters: Nezha, Sapphire and Thunderbolt.

Nezha MoodboardThunderbolt & Sapphire Moodboard

About the author:

Sahira Javaid is a YA Fantasy writer and poetess from Ottawa who shares her poems on her Twitter page and her website. Fond of animals, nature and learning, she passes time with reading about the world around her, nature’s healing ways, chatting with friends and making others smile and laugh every time she gets. Her poetry book Crack of Dawn is available on Amazon and other online retailers.

Twitter  Website  Pinterest  Goodreads

Thank you to Qamar Blog Tours for making this possible!

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Reviews

Abandon Thought: Review of Where Dreams Descend

Lebanon ~ Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing me with an digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Where Dreams Descend

Summary

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

Author: Janella Angeles

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: misogyny, character death, emotional abuse, manipulation

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4.5/5
  • Writing: 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4.5/5

Where Dreams Descend is one of those rare books that actually surpassed my expectations. It seemed like the sort of book I would like but I didn’t think I would end up adoring everything about it!

Months after reading it, the characters and story are still fresh in my mind. Drawing inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge, Angeles crafted a world that will lure you in with its lavish façade only to trap you in the sinister claws of its secrets.

The book is set in a world where magic could be acquired and rarely, a gift one could be born with. However, it was only socially acceptable for men to take their magic to the stage and become show magicians. Women were expected to only use their magic (although it was often stronger) for labour and domestic tasks. The closest they could get to the spotlight was being a showgirl in an underground club or bar

“Why else destroy light if not envious of its radiance?”

Which brings us to Kallia, a showgirl in one of the aforementioned underground clubs who escaped to join a competition for magicians and carve her name into the spotlight.

Now when I say Kallia is a queen and deserves the world I really do mean it. I loved her determination and ambition, her sass and flair for the dramatic. She knew that she was talented and she demanded the recognition she was due. She faced the sexism in her world head on and was not afraid to put up a fight. There truly is nothing more satisfying than reading about Kallia putting another crusty, misogynistic man in their place. The sexism in the book had parallels with our world, especially the sexism in the entertainment industry.

For much of her life, Kallia was isolated from the world and manipulated. The book addressed her struggle with trauma because of this, hidden beneath a confident and arrogant mask. As well as her flamboyance, there was a vulnerable side to Kallia too. A part of her that was scared to show weakness, scared of failure, scared to let people in, scared that she wasn’t enough. This made her all the more relatable for me.

“Their first mistake was in thinking obstacles gave them an upper hand. Little did they know, she would always find a way to grow through cracks in the stone.”

Another character worth mentioning is Daron. Normally I don’t like the ‘broody love interest with a Tragic Past™’ trope but Angeles pulled it off. I liked how he gradually softened and opened up as Kallia (and the reader) got to know him. And I loved how his slightly awkward and sombre nature contrasted with Kallia’s vibrant character.

“She narrowed her eyes on each judge all the way to the end, and met Daron’s stare with a wink.”

The romance was sweet and full of yearning without being the main focus of the plot- we even get a swoony dance scene! And I’ve seen people saying this book has a love triangle in it but I disagree, to me it seemed like Kallia knew who she wanted to be with and there was only one love interest.

I loved Kallia’s friendship with her assistant, Aaros, and how he was always there to support her (although I wish we got to know more about him). I also loved the friendships she made with Canary and the circus women and how they found kinship and strength in one another. Another side character I liked was Lottie de la Rosa and I hope we see more of her in the sequel.

I can never resist a book with a strong sense of atmosphere and this book definitely delivered in that respect. It was full of elaborateness, music, dancing and glamour with ominous undertones lurking in the background. I loved Angeles’ gorgeous writing and imagery that reflected Kallia’s personality with its drama and intensity.

So you might be wondering: Umairah, if you loved this book so much why did you drop off half a star? And the answer to that would be: the plot. While I loved the mystery, magic and theatrics of the plot, the ending was extremely open ended. It didn’t answer any of the questions the story brought up and left me with even more of them. Personally, I like endings with a bit more resolution but I hope the sequel wraps up all the loose ends.

Where Dreams Descend was a spectacular (or should I say Spectaculore) read that had similar vibes to The Night Circus and gave me everything I found lacking in Caraval. It is a book that tackles themes like misogyny and trauma head on and I would highly recommend it!

What did you think of Where Dreams Descend? Have you read any other books featuring a magical competition/ game? Let me know in the comments!

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Blog Tours · Reviews · Uncategorized

We Cheat Death: Review of Dangerous Remedy (Blog Tour)

Lebanon ~ Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Thank you to Zephyr for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Dangerous Remedy

Summary

The first in a dazzling, commercial, historical adventure series set in the extravagant and deadly world of the French Revolution. A whirlwind of action, science and magic reveals, with a diverse cast of fearless heroines, a band of rebels like no other.

Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In a fast and furious story full of the glamour and excesses, intrigue and deception of these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Author: Kat Dunn

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: violence, death, execution, human experimentation

  • Plot: 4/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 4/5

Dangerous Remedy was an action packed read best summed up as queer Stranger Things meets Frankenstein during the French Revolution. It was a fun, enjoyable and quick read that I’d definitely recommend although I lacked the emotional investment that might have increased my rating.

I loved the fast pace of the story that still kept the balance between dynamic, dramatic scenes and quieter ones. The tight structure of the book was held together with short chapters ending on cliffhangers that compelled me to keep reading (I was so grateful for the short chapters, the number of books I’ve read recently with massive chapters is quite honestly draining). The plot twists were exciting although I saw a few coming and I also loved how the ending gave me closure while leaving enough loose ends to make me want to read the next book.

Camille was the protagonist one of the POV characters. Although personally, I didn’t find her to be the most likeable character she was still really interesting to read about and had admirable qualities. However, I was confused as to why the other characters in the book were all either in love with or really fond of her… I didn’t understand what there was to like. But I think that was the thing about Camille, she had a sense of purpose and drive that drew people in and made them forget about everything else. There were several mentions in the book of her having ‘weak lungs’ although it didn’t go into detail. I haven’t seen another book of this genre featuring a character with any sort of health issue before.

As I said, Camille did have admirable qualities. She had a burning desire to bring about justice and ‘do the right thing’ (even if she didn’t always know what that was) and she was a versatile, strong and pragmatic leader not afraid to resort to intimidation or violence to achieve her goals. The main reason I didn’t like her was that she had serious communication issues when it came to her personal relationships, I wished she would just sit and talk things out instead of avoiding it.

Ada was the other POV character and she was amazing. She was a smart and curious scientist and I loved to see it. I felt so angry for her not being able to go to university because she was a woman. I liked how she was kind, brave and a surprisingly good actress, making people see only what she wanted them to.

I liked her relationship with Camille and how their soft, romantic moments broke up the action. There were times when I wished Ada would set more boundaries with her but she loved her so much that she excused everything. But on the other hand, no relationship is perfect and the way they always chose each other despite their differences was lovely.

Olympe was a girl with supernatural powers after being subject to human experimentation (slightly similar to Eleven from Stranger Things). She didn’t have as much of an active role in the story, there times when I wished I could read a chapter from her perspective. I did like how we see her dealing with her trauma and slowly coming into her own. I also liked Guillaume, the calm, principled and wise big brother figure full of philosophic advice. And Al was a snarky character who pretended to be self serving but I always felt like he secretly cared about everyone the most. I really liked his friendship with Ada, it was unexpected.

In general, the battalion were so lovable, Dunn definitely pulled off the found family trope- I loved their camaraderie and banter! In terms of diversity, both Ada and Guillaume were POC, Camille was bisexual, Ada was lesbian and Al was gay. I loved how they made a group where they accepted each other without question, even if the wider society didn’t.

Dangerous Remedy was a high-octane read set to the historical backdrop of the French Revolution that I enjoyed very much and I can’t wait to read the next book.

Have you read Dangerous Remedy? Are you planning on reading it? What are your favourite books with the found family trope? Let me know in the comments!

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Reviews · Uncategorized

A Celestial Serenade: Review of Star Daughter

Lebanon ~ Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Thank you to HarperTeen for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Star Daughter

Summary

The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens–and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

This gorgeously imagined YA debut blends shades of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and a breathtaking landscape of Hindu mythology into a radiant contemporary fantasy.

Author: Shveta Thakrar

Year Published: 2020

Content Warnings: absent parent, critically ill parent, hospitalization, panic attack, person held captive and tortured

  • Plot: 3.5/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4.5/5
  • Overall: 4/5

Star Daughter was a lyrical read interwoven with Hindu mythology that will reel you in and hold you in a starry embrace until the very last page. 

Sheetal Mistry was a girl caught between two worlds- half human, half star. Her mother was a star who went back to the sky when Sheetal was young, leaving her with her father. All her life, Sheetal had to hide who she was and lay low with her shimmering silver hair died black and her starsong held in. Until one day, after an accident with her starfire that hospitalized her father, Sheetal had to ascend to the sky and participate in a celestial competition to save him.

I loved how Sheetal gradually made her own place in both her worlds where she could be herself without fear. Her grief, pain and sense of abandonment was palpable and raw. She had to deal with the pressure and self-doubt of so much relying on one performance in what was basically a celestial talent show and I felt so worried and nervous for her. I loved how Thakrar contrasted Sheetal dealing with average teenager problems and high stakes magical dilemmas all in a short time span.

The side characters were really likeable too. Sheetal’s best friend Minal was a ray of sunshine– I loved their supportive friendship- and although I was annoyed at him at first Dev grew on me. Sheetal’s relationships with her family, especially her father and mother, were well fleshed out and given time to develop.

Star Daughter was a novel bursting at its seams with magic. The ethereal stars with their silver blood and hair, inspiring humans to create heartfelt works of art. The bustling Night Market which seemed so wondrous I wish it was real. It was a story full of whimsy and possible impossibilities that captivated my imagination.

I’m not an ownvoices reviewer for this book so it’s not my place to discuss the representation but it was a pleasure to learn about Hindu mythology and the nakshatras. I loved the author’s note at the start where she explained the inspirations behind the book (one of them being Neil Gaiman’s Stardust), her love for fantasy and how she wrote the story about a magical desi Hindu girl that she had always wished to read.

The book explored the themes of legacy, identity and how it’s important to own our mistakes and flaws as much as our accomplishments. I was going to give it 4.5 stars until the last few chapters where some of the plot twists made little sense to me and were confusing. Overall however, Star Daughter was an enjoyable, standalone novel that I would highly recommend to all fans of low fantasy!

Have you read Star Daughter? What are your favourite books inspired by mythology? Let me know in the comments!

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Blog Tours · Reviews · Uncategorized

A Brilliant Conclusion: Review of Court of Lions (Blog Tour)

Lebanon ~ Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Hello booksicles! I’m so honoured and excited to be a part of the Caffeine Book Tours blog tour for Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud (which you can find out more about in this launch post). In my stop, I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the book in a review along with my own quote graphics.

About the book:

  • Title: Court of Lions
  • Author: Somaiya Daud
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • Publication date: 06 August 2020
  • Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Synopsis:

Two identical girls, one a princess, the other a rebel. Who will rule the empire?

After being swept up into the brutal Vathek court, Amani, the ordinary girl forced to serve as the half-Vathek princess’s body double, has been forced into complete isolation. The cruel but complex princess, Maram, with whom Amani had cultivated a tenuous friendship, discovered Amani’s connection to the rebellion and has forced her into silence, and if Amani crosses Maram once more, her identity – and her betrayal – will be revealed to everyone in the court.

Amani is desperate to continue helping the rebellion, to fight for her people’s freedom. But she must make a devastating decision: will she step aside, and watch her people suffer, or continue to aid them, and put herself and her family in mortal danger? And whatever she chooses, can she bear to remain separated, forever, from Maram’s fiancé, Idris?

Amazon   B&N   Book Depository   IndieBound   Goodreads 

Review:

Thank you to Flatiron Books and Caffeine Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Content Warnings: violence, death, physical abuse, grief, themes of colonialism 

  • Plot: 4.5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: 5/5

Court of Lions was a stunning sequel to Mirage that concluded the duology perfectly. I loved how much more Moroccan culture was incorporated into it. More delicious food descriptions (this book made me crave sfenj so badly), clothes, language references, henna, haggling in the souk, small cultural details that made my heart swell with joy and even Moroccan marriage traditions (including the all important wardrobe changes!) which made me wish someone would invite me to a Moroccan wedding (although that’s impossible with the current situation). And the cover of the book is so gorgeous! I never thought I’d see a book cover with two Moroccan girls resplendent in qaftans and selhams!

This book had a much slower pace than the first, with more of an emphasis on politics and forging alliances and I thought it worked really well and seemed realistic. All the choices the characters made sense and came together at the end nicely.

HOPE was given to a person who might reshape the WORLD (1)

Amani shone through in this book even more than she did in the first. She was brave, smart and versatile in a way Maram, for all her strengths, was not. I was already impressed with her growth in Mirage but in this book she grew even more. Although she hadn’t been raised to navigate courts she was smart, she knew how to influence people and understood the importance of symbolism. I admired the way Amani held to her hope of a better world and never, ever stopped fighting for it. I also loved how her relationship with Idris developed and how they dealt with the bumps on the road. 

Maram also had her time to shine, quite literally, because she gets her own 3rd person POV chapters! Although they were few and far between they gave so much insight into her and her character development in this book was top-tier. I loved her journey of accepting and loving her Kushaila heritage and working through her father’s conditioning. Seeing the grief, fear and anguish beneath her icy exterior, seeing the soft parts of her that were always there but pushed down by the Vath, seeing her take the time to explore herself and come into her own was so emotive and touching. If Mirage was where Amani found her strength and resilience to act, Court of Lions was the same for Maram.

In Kushaila there were degrees of love_

 

I loved her romance with Aghraas. The way they saw and accepted each other immediately and the slow burn of their relationship was exquisitely done. For someone who was taught that emotions were weakness and was used to constantly being on the defensive it was amazing to see Maram examine her emotions and lower her defenses completely around someone. Daud really does write romance well!

Amani and Maram’s friendship was so well fleshed out. The way they slowly regained each others’ trust and rebuilt a strong, sisterly relationship based on trust was beautiful to behold. Furthermore, the side characters and the complex web of relationships between them, Amani and Maram were also extremely well fleshed out and engrossing. And I loved how many strong, brave women were introduced into the story!

The Vath who governed us were concerned with policing and surveillance, not growth and prosperity

Court of Lions dealt with rebellion, liberation and the trials that come with them. How do you dismantle an imperial structure built to break you when it has become so interwoven with society? How do you convince people that rebellion is worth the risk? It also explored trauma and how the characters each dealt differently with their own.

I loved how much more world building we got in this sequel. We get to explore so many more places in Andala through the characters eyes as well as learning more about the world’s history and lore. The emphasis on the different tribes and their cultures was lovely to see especially as it reflected the diversity among the Amazigh tribes in the real world. It saddened me how the Vath dismissed them as all the same and sought to erase their cultures but unfortunately that also reflects our world too. However, I wish we got to see more of the universe the book is set in and understand Andala and the Vath’s position in it. There are multiple references to a galactic law but we never know who enforces it and why it matters so much.

We never used to give a thought To separation, and now, for us To be together again Is beyond our dreams...

All in all, Court of Lions was a brilliant conclusion and I’d highly recommend this duology to everyone as I love it with all my half Moroccan heart!

About the author:

Somaiya Daud is the author of Mirage and holds a PhD from the University of Washington in English literature. A former bookseller in the children’s department at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., now she writes and teaches full time.

Author website   Facebook   Goodreads   Twitter   Instagram 

Giveaway:

Caffeine Book Tours is holding a giveaway, the prizes are five (5) paperback editions of Mirage and five (5) hardcover editions of Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud it is:

  • Open to United States (US)
  • Ends on 11 August 2020 (Philippine time)

This is the link to the rafflecopter to enter the giveaway.

Court of Lions blog tour schedule

Thank you so much to Shealea from Caffeine Book Tours for making all of this possible!

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The Space Moroccans: Review of Mirage

Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Thank you to Flatiron Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book: Mirage

Summary

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

Author: Somaiya Daud

Year Published: 2018

Content Warnings: violence, physical abuse, torture, themes of colonialism

  • Plot: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: 5/5

Mirage was a Moroccan and Amazigh (who are the indigenous people of North Africa) inspired sci-fi (with the feel of a fantasy) and it was quite literally the book of my dreams. I don’t think words can convey how much this book means to me but I’ll give it a go!

I’m half Moroccan Amazigh and reading a book so interwoven with Moroccan and Amazighi culture and history meant the world. From aspects like the food (all the food descriptions made me so hungry!), language, clothes and traditions to more subtle cultural nuances, I’ve never read a book where I felt so seen! There was a specific scene, where one character taught another to cook miloui (a type of Moroccan flatbread), which I could directly relate to because I remembered when my mum taught me to cook it myself! 

Mirage explored colonialism, cultural appropriation and erasure, themes that are relevant today and have been throughout history not just in Morocco but all over the world. I loved how poetry was an important motif as a method of resistance and rebellion. Also, there was a religion (that felt slightly reminiscent of Islam) in the book that revolved around a deity called Dihya and historically, Dihya was an Amazigh warrior queen who for many symbolises anti-colonialism and feminism. 

“Even your happiness is rebellion.”

The book is set on a planet called Andala (and its two terraformed moons called Cadiz and Gibra) which had been conquered by an empire from another planet called the Vathek, at the time the book is set Andalans had been suffering under their brutal rule for years. Amani was an eighteen-year-old Kushaila girl (Kushaila were the oldest tribe group on Andala) kidnapped from her village on Cadiz to be Princess Maram’s body double at public events as they looked pretty much exactly the same. She was thrust into a completely unfamiliar world that was dazzling on the surface but sinister beneath where she had to navigate court intrigue and politics and weather violence and slavery

“Change takes bravery, yabnati.”

I loved Amani as she was so strong in the face of adversity. Her identity, agency and future dreams were stolen from her but she survived, she adapted to her situation and made a place for herself. Gradually, she built up the courage and resilience to channel her anger at the injustices her people endured into action. I also loved how she was smart, soft and kind with immense loyalty for her loved ones and her people and a passion for poetry, throughout the book I was rooting for her. I also adored her forbidden romance with Idris. I don’t usually like insta-love romances but theirs was so emotive and poignant without becoming the main focus of the book.

Maram was one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about. Her father, the king, was Vathek and her mother was Kushaila. All her life she had been taught to hate her mother’s legacy and people while also being disdained by the Vath for her Kushaila blood. There was nowhere she truly belonged and was accepted as she was. She channeled the turmoil inside her through being cruel so no one would think her weak or see her pain. Gradually, as Amani befriends her and starts to understand her the reader does too. We see her vulnerability, grief and helplessness and instead of a cruel princess we see a boat lost at sea in need of a lighthouse to guide its way home. Maram and Amani’s sisterly friendship was beautifully done.

“It was a cruel person that judged a child by their parent’s legacy.” 

The sci-fi aspect of the book was a bit confusing as the boundaries of their technology weren’t established and at times it felt more like a fantasy novel. But this is a very minor observation as it had no impact on my enjoyment or love for the book.

Mirage was a brilliant novel with powerful, uncompromising writing and strong female characters that I love with all my heart. If you haven’t read it yet… what are you waiting for?

Have you read Mirage? Do you like books set on fictional planets? Let me know in the comments!

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A New Favourite: Review of The Kingdom of Copper

Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Book: The Kingdom of Copper

Summary

Return to Daevabad in the spellbinding sequel to THE CITY OF BRASS.

Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her familyand one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid, the unpredictable water spirits, have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

Author: S. A. Chakraborty

Year Published: 2019

  • Plot: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Overall: Five Fiery Daeva Stars!

When I read The City of Brass last year I liked it and wanted to read the sequel but I didn’t love it. There many aspects I appreciated but I also found it to be quite a tedious read. So I am very glad I did read the sequel, The Kingdom of Copper, because I didn’t just love this book it has become one of my all time favourites!

The book started off with a prologue detailing how the three main characters dealt with the aftermath of what happened at the end of The City of Brass. Then, the story had a five year time jump that I was not expecting. However, it added more to the characters as it became evident that time had hardened them, reinforced the qualities I already associated with them and brought out new ones. It was so interesting to see them look back on the events of The City of Brass with the hindsight, regret, nostalgia and pain that comes with time while for the reader it didn’t feel that long ago at all.

I loved Nahri in this book. She was trapped in Daevabad and she needed all her astuteness and strength to navigate her gilded cage. She pushed against its boundaries and tried to bridge the gap between djinn, daeva and shafit. From the start of the novel it was clear she had already grown so much since the previous book and that growth continued throughout the sequel, especially because without her Afshin she had to rely on her own hard gained power that much more.

Ali also came into his own. Exiled to the desert away from his family and the scheming Daevabad court, he had the space to find his feet and earn the respect and love of people not because he was a prince but because they could tell her genuinely cared about them. After being manipulated using his religious beliefs it was nice to see him thrive somewhere where they were welcomed. Linking to that, I felt the Muslim representation resonated more with me in this book as opposed to the previous one. I loved the way Ali turned to his faith through all the turmoil and it gave him strength

Dara… what can I even say about Dara. In my review of The City of Brass I expressed much dislike towards him- he infuriated me. However in this book, my opinion on him softened. I realised that what I mistook for exasperating arrogance was actually a facade concealing his pain and confusion after centuries of slavery that he couldn’t remember. In The Kingdom of Copper we see a more vulnerable side to him (especially because we get chapters in his POV) and more complexity is added to his character. He loathed himself and his past actions and felt beyond redemption. And yet, he was willing to do those same things again because of his ingrained loyalty to the Nahids and feelings for Nahri.

The side characters were also very well fleshed out especially Jamshid, Muntadhir, Subha, Aqisa and Lubayd. Manizheh, was also introduced and she was such an interesting character. She was so shaped by cruelty it was all she knew and she wasn’t afriad to inflict it as long as it benefited her and those loyal to her. 

Chakraborty’s world building was masterful, creating a vivid, layered world of wonder  and chicanery that simultaneously felt far flung and right on my doorstep. In this book, we learn so much more about the djinn tribes, their history and their politics as well as the world outside of Daevabad. Everything was so detailed from the clothes, the food, the buildings, the customs and the traditions but not in a way that felt overwhelming or unnecessary. The story explored how hatred and discrimination can fester, how people will use anything they can to justify and permeate it and the destruction that causes. 

The plot was so engrossing that I never felt bored for even a moment (unlike the previous book). Even the slower paced parts captured my interest and pushed the story forward. The ending in particular was dramatic, visceral and heart wrenching in every way. It left me reeling with every emotion imaginable.

If you love dynamic, political fantasies The Kingdom of Copper is definitely for you. And if you weren’t too impressed with The City of Brass or found it boring I’d advise you to give the sequel a go, as it’s better in every way. With a gripping and complex plot, incredible multi-faceted characters, Muslim representation and discussion of interesting themes, The Kingdom of Copper delivers in every way!

Have you read The City of Brass? What do you think about political fantasies? Let me know in the comments!

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2020 Book Blogger Awards: Nominations!

Black Lives Matter ~ Free Palestine ~ Kashmir Bleeds ~ Junk Terror Bill

Hello booksicles! 

This year May @ Forever and Everly and Marie @ Drizzle & Hurricane Books are hosting the fourth annual book blogger awards. In this post I will be nominating some lovely book bloggers who I admire and respect for the various categories.

These awards are a great way to show appreciation to book bloggers (who are often underappreciated in comparison to booktubers and bookstagrammers). If you want to find out more about them and how you can join in May’s introductory post is amazing and explains everything really well.

Here are my nominations! It was really hard to choose for some of them as there are just so many great book bloggers out there but I managed to narrow it down.

Best of their age:

Best Pre-Teen/Teen Book Blogger (13-19)

~Sasha and Amber @ Sasha and Amber Read~

I love Sasha and Amber’s blog it’s clear a lot of passion and hard work goes into it.

Best Adult Book Blogger (20+)

~Noura @ The Perks of Being Noura~

I always get great book recommendations from Noura and I love the interviews she does on her blog and the cool readathons she regularly holds.

Best Genre Blog:

Young Adult

~Sara @ Words With Wings~

Sara started blogging recently but I love the reviews she’s written for YA books. Her review of Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman made me add it to my tbr!

~Neelam @ The Tsundoku Chronicles~

I love Neelam’s blog it’s brilliant. She’s always promoting Muslim authors and reading and reviewing diverse YA books.

Romance

~Maha @ Sunshine N’ Books~

Maha’s blog aesthetic is so cute and generally she’s a lovely person. She reads and reviews a lot of romance books and even writes helpful posts about the genre like her beginner’s guide to romance.

Science Fiction / Fantasy

~Arina @ The Paperback Voyager~

Arina’s blog is great and full of author spotlights and recommendations of SFF books!

~Juri @ Tomes And Thoughts~

Juri reads and reviews quite a lot of fantasy and I love her review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K. S. Villoso.

Best of book blogging:

Best Book Reviews

~Meha @ Books, Bits & Bobs~

Meha is quite a new book blogger but I absolutely adore her eloquent reviewing style and she has a great writing voice (I highly recommend her review of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong).

~Ikram @ Readology~

I love Ikram’s detailed and straightforward reviews especially her ‘Moral of the Story’ reviews where she adds more analysis (like her review of Parachutes by Kelly Yang).

~Finn @ Evidently Bookish~

Finn also writes gorgeous reviews with a lot of detail and care (you can tell I love detailed reviews) and I love their blog!

Best Book Recommendations

~Fadwa @ Word Wonders~

Fadwa is an icon, this is a known fact. She’s a fabulous book blogger in every way but I especially love her tbr expansion posts full of diverse book recommendations (but my favourite is this post where she recommends OVER 100 books by Muslim authors which must have taken forever to put together).

Best Discussion Posts

~Zainab @ Em’s Bookish Musings~

Zainab does lots of original mini series and discussion posts that are really interesting and generally I love her blog and book reviews.

Best Blog Aesthetic

~Rumaanah @ Rum’s the Reader~

I love Rumaanah’s blog graphics they’re so cute!

~Cielo @ Bellerose Reads~

I also love Cielo’s blog graphics and aesthetic, it looks really pretty.

~Amber @ The Literary Phoenix~

I adore Amber’s blog aesthetic it’s so colourful and cute and I love the magical theme.

Best Blogging/Writing Voice

~Rain @ Bookdragonism

Rain’s eloquence and humour always make her posts a delight to read!

Miscellaneous:

Most Helpful (someone who posts thoughtful blogging guides/advice)

~E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Book Nook~

E. has lots of helpful posts on her blog and I particularly like her guide to audiobooks on Spotify.

Most Supportive (someone who always shares others’ posts in wrap-ups/has kind comments/boosts other bloggers with initiatives, etc.)

~Rameela @ Star Is All Booked Up

Rameela is such a ray of sunshine and I love her blog. She does a feature called ‘weekly favourites‘ where she shares other bloggers’ posts (and booktube videos) that she liked in that week.

Most Engaged in the Community

~Fanna~

Fanna is always engaging with the book community on her blog and on social media. She is also one of the creators of the South-Asian Reading Challenge!

~Nadia @ Headscarves & Hardbacks~

Nadia also engages a lot with the book community, particularly when it comes to promoting books by Muslim authors. She even runs the Ramadan Readathon and The Muslim Shelf!

Most Creative (creative/original posts)

~Leelynn @ Sometimes Leelynn Reads

Leelynn makes her own original book tags and I love them (especially the Forest of Souls Shaman Book Tag which I hope to do soon).

Best at Promoting Diverse Books

~Krisha @ Bookathon~

Krisha is so friendly and I love her blog. She does a really cool feature called Woven in Books dedicated to promoting diverse books.

Most importantly:

Best New Book Blogger (started blog after August 2019)

~Meha @ Books, Bits & Bobs~

~Sara @ Words With Wings~

Best Overall Book Blogger [two winners!]

~CW @ The Quiet Pond~

CW is probably one of the most hard working and dedicated bloggers out there. She does the best blog series and readathons and is always promoting diverse books (I get the best recommendations from her). And on top of all of that, her art is so cute!


Those are my recommendations! Please check all of these amazing bloggers out and follow their blogs! Nominations close on July 26th and after that there will be a voting round.

I wish everyone nominated the best of luck and thank you so much to May and Marie for organizing these awards!

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