Reviews · Uncategorized

The Golden Dragon: Review of Don’t Call the Wolf

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

Book: Don’t Call the Wolf

Author: Aleksandra Ross

Year Published: 2020

  • Plot: 3/5
  • Characters: 3.5/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 3/5

Don’t Call the Wolf was a story inspired by Polish mythology with all the wisp-like trappings of a fairy tale. The ambiance of the monster-ridden forest and the themes of fate, loyalty and kindness drew me in and I was enjoying it until the last few chapters where I felt let down by an ending that was too rushed and didn’t make that much sense.

Ren was the human-lynx shifter queen of her forest, fighting a losing battle against the monsters and the Golden Dragon plaguing her lands. She was loved by the animals she presided over and reviled by the humans in the nearby village as a monster. The help she needed came in the form of a dragon slayer called Lukasz– the last of the Wolf-Lords. Seventeen years ago his family had fled their home as the Golden Dragon descended upon it and ever since, one by one, his brothers returned in an attempt to slay it only to be never seen again.

I liked the fairy tale structure of the book with the regular flashbacks to Lukasz’s brothers and the story behind each one’s disappearance. It created an ominous sense of fate and inevitability that constantly made me wonder if their quest was futile as so many had failed before them which kept me on edge. I also loved the aspects from Slavic folklore such as the strzygi, nawia and even Baba Yaga.

My main issue was that the ending of the book felt so contrived and rushed in what was attempt to surprise the reader and invert the usual tropes but just didn’t make any sense and disappointed me.

I would recommend Don’t Call the Wolf to anyone who loves stories inspired by fairy tales and folklore or books that explore themes such as what makes a person a monster and if people can be born evil or if they are made but be warned that the ending may disappoint.

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Sereadipity supports Black Lives Matter and stands against racism and discrimination in all its forms. I intend to work harder to uplift Black voices and books by Black authors.

This carrd is constantly being updated with petitions, ways to donate, resources to educate ourselves and more. This thread by Myonna @itsmyoreads on Twitter has a list of videos by Black booktubers talking about Black Lives Matter, allyship and being Black in the book community that I’d recommend to watch and subscribe to their channels as well.

 

 

Reviews · Uncategorized

Review: Once Upon an Eid

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

  • Book: Once Upon an Eid
  • Editors: S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed
  • Year Published: 2020
  • Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Once Upon an Eid was a heart warming and uplifting anthology all about the indescribable joy of Eid and its power to bring people together. It was full of wholesome, own-voices Muslim representation and it’s a brilliant read for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. As a Muslim, I felt like a saw a small piece of myself in every story and I think many others will feel the same. I loved how Muslims with so many different cultures and Eid traditions were represented. Reading this anthology during Ramadan made the experience even better, filling me up with fuzzy, warm joy!

(1) Perfect by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, 4 stars: A twelve-year-old Black American hijabinista named Hawa was nervous about spending Eid-ul-Fitr with her father’s side of the family from Guinea in New York. Despite what her father thought, she didn’t feel like the ‘perfect Mandinka girl’ at all. It was about accepting all the different parts of herself and becoming closer to family. I could really sympathise with how awkward it can be to navigate language barriers and meet unfamiliar extended family.

(2) Yusuf and the Great Big Brownie Mistake by Aisha Saeed, 4 stars: Yusuf was distraught when his favourite Eid tradition of making brownies went wrong and his sister decided she had grown out of it. This one was about the importance of tradition, but also how it can change. About how doing things with family can make them better.

(3) Kareem Means Generous by Asmaa Hussein, 4.5 stars: Generosity is a core value that Islam teaches and, as the title suggests, this story was about a boy called Kareem learning about the importance of generosity and kindness by helping out a friend. He realised that not every one was as lucky as him and giving brought him more happiness than keeping everything to himself.

“Anytime you share something you love, it comes right back to you like a boomerang. You never lose it.”

(4) Don’ut Break Tradition by S. K. Ali, 4.5 stars: For Nadia, this Eid didn’t feel special because her mum was ill. This story was all about how Nadia was determined to make Eid special for her mother and the rest of her family. It was about the power of tradition and the magnitude small gestures can have. I loved how every member of the family was represented by a donut and the hopeful message the story had which really resonated with me.

(5) Just Like Chest Armor by Candice Montgomery, 4 stars: Eleven-year-old Leila decided that she was ready to wear hijab, however, her parents weren’t so sure. She took her time with it learning how to wear it and feel comfortable with it before wearing it outside. She decided that she didn’t mind how other people reacted to her hijab because it was how she wanted to express her faith and it felt right for her. I liked how this story went against the idea that some people have that Muslims are ‘forced’ to wear hijab and it instead showed the pride, strength and connection that wearing hijab can bring. I also loved this story’s emphasis on colour.

(6) Gifts by Rukhsana Khan, 4 stars: Idrees was excited for Eid because he was excited to receive his gifts. He gradually realised though that the real gifts in his life were the non material aspects like love, memories and worship.

“It’s not the gift. It’s the love behind it”

(7) The Feast of Sacrifice by Hena Khan, 4 stars: This one was set around Eid-ul-Adha. Humza and his siblings had to stay with their grandparents whilst their parents embarked on the Hajj pilgrimage. As the eldest sibling, Humza was struggling having to be more responsible for his siblings and didn’t like his grandparents’ less exciting way of celebrating Eid. This story was about making sacrifices, about not being selfish and being able to give for someone else to receive. It was also about the importance of community in Islam, especially around Eid.

(8) Seraj Captures the Moon by G. Willow Wilson and Sara Alfageeh, 4 stars: This was a really cute graphic short story where a boy called Seraj goes looking for the Eid moon in a hot air balloon. It was also about the importance of sometimes blocking out all the noise and distractions to focus on faith and sharing joy.

(9) Searching for Blue by N. H. Senzai, 5 stars: This story was about celebrating Eid at a refugee camp in Greece. Bassem felt like their prayers were going unanswered and they had been forgotten. However, with everyone banding together they all managed to pull together a joyful, hopeful Eid for everyone despite their circumstances. It was really thought provoking and presented the many hardships and sorrows that refugees face and the writing was beautiful.

(10) Creative Fixes by Ashley Franklin, 4.5 stars: Makayla’s family had converted to Islam and all the changes to their lives were a lot for her to take in. It was about her finding the self confidence to be proud of herself and enjoy her first Eid.

“It’s hard to see the beauty in things when you can’t see past your insecurities”

(11) Taste by Hana Alkaf, 5 stars: Alia’s mother had been in a car accident and was in hospital, she was so upset and ridden with guilt that all her food lost its taste. But that wouldn’t stop her from cooking the lontong they had every Eid. It was about opening up to family and the power of food to bring people together. The writing was so compelling, I loved it!

(12) Eid Pictures by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, 4 stars: This was a moving poem about how Eid celebrations have changed over time and how the first Black Muslims in America must have celebrated their first Eids there.

(13) Not Only an Only by Huda Al-Marashi, 4 stars: This story focused on a girl called Aya who was the only Muslim in her school which she didn’t mind until an uncomfortable lesson about Sunni and Shia Muslims. The main message of the story was Sunni or Shia, we’re all Muslims- one community- and that it what matters most.

(14) Maya Madinah Chooses Joy by Ayesha Mattu, 4 stars: Maya Madinah didn’t know how to enjoy Eid after her parents had divorced. She hated everyone else’s joy and wanted to run away. This was a story about embracing change and focusing on creating love and joy around yourself.

(15) Eid and Pink Bubble Gum, Insha’Allah by Randa Abdel-Fattah, 4 stars: Deyana, her three younger siblings and her parents were embarking on their annual Eid-ul-Fitr road trip to visit her grandparents who lived near Sydney. She missed the peace she had when she was an only child and found her brothers and sister frustrating beyond belief. This story was about how love between family can overcome anger and the importance of patience and responsibility. It was really cute and funny.

All the short stories in the anthology were sweet and simple with a young main character and a moral or lesson to learn. I thought this was a good thing making the book accessible to a vast audience and a wide range of ages. I loved how all the stories focused on the core values of Islam and the true spirit of Eid: faith, family, community, kindness, generosity, responsibility and joy.

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Blog Tours · Interviews · Uncategorized

Sereadipity Interviews… Zoraida Córdova!

Hello my booksicles!

Today, I bring you a Q&A I did with the brilliant Zoraida Córdova about her latest novel Incendiary (being released on April 28th). I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book and it truly is spectacular. It is an honour that I got the chance to ask her a few questions as a part of the Incendiary blog tour!

Here’s a bit about the book:

I am Renata Convida.
I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
Now I live my own.

Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a Robari, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.hbg-title-9781473677579-22

Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred–or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she turned “hollow” during her time in the palace.

When Dez, the commander of her unit, is taken captive by the notorious Sangrado Prince, Renata will do anything to save the boy whose love makes her place among the Whispers bearable. But a disastrous rescue attempt means Renata must return to the palace under cover and complete Dez’s top secret mission. Can Renata convince her former captors that she remains loyal, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.

But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the entire fate of the kingdom–and end the war that has cost her everything.

Interview:

The spellbinding world-building in Incendiary was heavily influenced by 15th century Spain. Why did you find this period of history inspiring?

When I was brought on to this project, I was instantly drawn by the idea of a magical group of people struggling for survival. I’ve often thought about Incendiary as a sort of Star Wars set in a fantasy landscape. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve written for Star Wars or because it’s so embedded into my subconscious. But it’s all there: A group of rebels fighting against a ruthless ruler. An agent of that leader who is tasked with destroying these rebels, but could actually be turned. Of course, the setting is inspired by historic Spain. Reading about that time period was very frustrating and painful at times because there are some things in the texts, like Daily Life in Spain in the Golden Age by Marcelin Defourneaux, that made it clear how cyclical hate is. That alone felt very timely.

Tell us a bit about the main character, Renata Convida, and what you want your readers to learn from her.

I love characters who are seeking redemption because it is one of my favorite themes to explore! Ren’s POV is the toughest one I’ve ever tried to tackle. She has suffered so much and she spends most of her young adulthood feeling guilt over things she couldn’t control as a kid. She was a weapon and she’s still a weapon. In the context of Puerto Leones, this fantasy kingdom, what does it mean when her whole being is suspect? When her own people distrust her? How long must she atone for? Should a child have to atone for the things they did, while under manipulation? It’s all so difficult to answer. Ren’s mind is so dark, and a lot of my other books have so much comic-relief, so this was definitely a challenge for me! But I loved the girl Ren is and the one that she chooses to become.

In the book there were four types of magic wielder: Robári, Persuári, Ventári and Illusionári. What inspired a magic system heavily based on the mind? And which one of these powers would you choose for yourself if you could?

Developing magic that was based on the senses and mind was a great world-building exercise. My other books (The Brooklyn Brujas series) have elemental magic, so I wanted to stay away from that. If I could be any of the Moria, I think I would be a Robári! Having the ability to remove some of my own memories? Yes, please. Although, I would use my power for the greater good… Though isn’t that how all villain stories begin?

What kinds of lives would the characters in Incendiary lead if they lived in our world?

I’d like to think that the rebels of my world would continue to be rebels in this world as well. Ren would be an activist, Sayida would be a psychologist, Margo and Dez would be in politics. They’d continue to fight for people. Though I’m sure they’d appreciate telephones and indoor plumbing.

Incendiary is full of riveting plot twists that kept me gripped throughout. What is the secret to crafting heart-stopping twists and turns?

For the writers out there, I think the secret is writing characters that feel real. You can have any kind of plot you want, but if the reader doesn’t care about the characters, then who is going to care or follow them to the end of their journey? Create someone worth rooting for and then put them to work. Don’t make things easy for your character. I always draft a scene one way, then once I’m editing I always ask myself the questions: how can I make life more difficult for XYZ?

Thanks for having me, and I hope you love Incendiary!

About the author:

Zoraida Córdova is the author of nine fantasy novels for kids and teens, most recently the award-winning Brooklyn Brujas series, Incendiary, and Star Wars: A Crazoraida-cordova-author-photo-credit-sarah-youngersh of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, Come on In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. She is the co-editor of Vampires Never Get Old: Eleven Tales with Fresh Bite. Her debut middle grade novel is The Way to Rio Luna. She is the co-host of the podcast Deadline City with Dhonielle Clayton. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.

Thank you so much to Zoraida Córdova for taking the time to answer my questions!

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Reviews · Uncategorized

The Cosmic Horror Road Trip: Review of Ruthless Gods

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

Book: Ruthless Gods (Wicked Saints #2)

Author: Emily A. Duncan

Year Published: 2020

Trigger Warnings: blood and lots of it

  • Plot: 3/5
  • Characters: 3.5/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Overall: 3/5

Ruthless Gods, the sequel to Wicked Saints, was partly a road trip through a malevolent forest, partly an exploration of divinity and full of meddling ancient gods. The plot was a weak point for me in the first book and unfortunately it was just as weak for me in this one however I fell even more in love with the gothic vibes.

The dark atmosphere created by the nightmarish Salt Mines, the menacing forest, the monsters inspired by Slavic mythology and all the eyes and teeth and blood was deeply unsettling in the best way.  I also loved how we got to learn more about the gods and their background and the way themes of divinity, humanity and monstrosity were entwined so thoroughly it was hard to tell them apart.

In this book, Serefin was struggling to come to terms with all that happened at the end of the previous book whilst trying to get the support of his court. And on top of all that, he had an eldritch god with mysterious motives trying to invade his mind. I liked him even more in this book, his point of view chapters were like a breath of fresh air sometimes. I also liked how his dynamics with both Kacper and Ostyia changed and developed.

Another character that I liked was Parijahan. We get to learn a lot more about the past she was running from and her motivations- she turned out to be a really interesting character. If anything, I would read the next book in the series just to find out how her path will be important to the overall story. And I have to mention Katya! As soon as she walked in she became one of my favourite characters. I don’t want to spoil anything about her but I’ll say this: she was brilliant.

However, Nadya and Malachiacz ended up being my main issue with Ruthless Gods. After the horrible, treacherous thing Malachiacz pulled at the end of Wicked Saints guess what Nadya wanted to do? She wanted to save him, she wanted to bring him back to humanity. But as far as I was concerned, he made his own choices and he had to live with them- why was it her job to fix him? And whilst she was telling herself she had secret plans and she needed his help, it was obvious that wasn’t her main motive. They had an interesting dynamic but I wished Nadya would act as if she’d learned something from all that happened to her in Wicked Saints aside from a few rare moments of self-reflection. Malachiacz knew what he wanted to achieve and no one and nothing would stand in his way.

The plot was too disjointed for me with lots of different things occurring and hinted at that didn’t connect together very well. I found it hard to care about their goals or understand why they were so important. I think I’d love this series much more if the plot was as gripping as the world it is set in and I’m still not sure if I’ll be reading the last book in the trilogy.

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Discussion Posts · Uncategorized

10 SFF Books by Muslim Authors

Ramadan Kareem my booksicles!

It’s my favourite month of the year- Ramadan! Which means it’s also the perfect time for some brilliant fantasy and sci-fi recommendations by Muslim authors for your #MuslimShelfSpace. Some are books that I’ve read and enjoyed and others are from my tbr and they are all perfect for the Ramadan Readathon hosted by Nadia at Headscarves and Hardbacks.

1) An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

  • A gripping read full of magic, jinn, plot twists galore and a fight for freedom. But be warned: Sabaa Tahir will kill your darlings. The other books in the series are A Torch Against the Night and A Reaper at the Gates with the final book, A Sky Beyond the Storm being released this December!

2) We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

  • This one is set in a fantasy world inspired by Ancient Arabia where a lost artefact must be found in order to restore magic along with a fun cast of characters and a good bit of enemies to lovers. The sequel, We Free the Stars, will be released next January.

3) The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

  • A con woman meets a djinn warrior in 18th century Cairo and they go to a city called Daevabad where six djinn tribes reside. The other books in the trilogy are called The Kingdom of Copper and The Empire of Gold which will come out this June!

4) Thorn by Intisar Khanani

  • A stunning retelling of The Goose Girl fairy tale where a girl succeeds by finding her inner strength and sticking to her core beliefs. It’s a standalone but the author has also written a series called The Sunbolt Chronicles.

5) The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

  • It’s 2099. The world has been engulfed by the sea, life continues underwater and Leyla McQueen decides to compete in the London Submersible Marathon in a bid to win her father’s freedom. This book is the first in a duology.

6) The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

  • A historical fantasy set in 1491 Grenada about a flight for freedom and the importance of tolerance and love. G. Willow Wilson is also the author of the Ms. Marvel comics and Alif the Unseen.

7) Mirage by Somaiya Daud

  • Mirage explores themes of colonialism, erasure, appropriation and more in a Moroccan-inspired setting following the story of eighteen-year-old Amani. The sequel, Court of Lions, will be released this August.

8) The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

  • This book is set in Noor, a beautiful city along the Silk road and is, in the author’s own words, about ‘women being women in the most fantastic ways possible’.

9) The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

  • The Companions of Hira fight the dark power of the Talisman and search for a text called The Bloodprint. This book is the first instalment of The Khorasan Archives with the others being The Black Khan,  The Blue Eye and The Bladebone being released this year. 

10) The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

  • Described in the summary as ‘a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair’ and about some children who are sucked into a game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand. The sequel coming out this August is called The Battle.

What are your favourite SFF books my Muslim authors? Let me know in the comments!

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Reviews · Uncategorized

Magic and Monsters and Tragic Power: Review of Wicked Saints

Book: Wicked Saints

Author: Emily A. Duncan

Year Published: 2019

Trigger Warnings: blood, self-harm, parental abuse

  • Plot: 3/5
  • Characters: 4/5
  • Writing: 4.5/5
  • Overall: 3.5/5

Wicked Saints was set in a gothic, icy, war torn world filled with magic where even gods were not what they seemed. I was swept away by the gorgeously dark aesthetic, intriguing mythology and almost lyrical writing although I felt the plot of the story was quite weak, lessening the overall effect for me.

The two countries, Kalyazin (inspired by Russia) and Tranavia (inspired by Poland) had been at war for centuries. The Kalyazi people believed in a pantheon of gods and there were clerics who could commune with them to receive magical power. However the people of Tranavia had forsaken the gods and relied on their own blood magic. This difference of beliefs is what triggered the war, no country willing stop until it brought the other to its knees. I loved how all the magic, monsters and gods were all intricately entwined and influenced by Slavic mythology!

Nadya was the last known Kalyazi cleric and could commune with the entire pantheon of gods. She was a shining beacon of hope for her people, the key to winning the war. When Tranavian forces attacked the monastery she lived in, she had to flee to keep that hope alive. Enter Malachiacz (said Mah-lah-kee-ash) a monstrous Tranavian blood mage, shrouded in mystery, who offered to help her.

To be blunt, I don’t like Nadya. All along Nadya thought she was scheming and doing everything it took to help her people when it seemed to me like she was just being led by the whims of others and not doing anything of worth at all. Apart from her admirably sarcastic nature there was nothing much to like about her. While it was predictable, I did find her relationship with Malachiacz intriguing because of the way their greatly opposing beliefs clashed. Although I don’t like him either, Malachiacz was much more interesting as a character. Mysterious, dangerous and very clever but also awkward and vulnerable in a way that you can never tell if he’s being sincere or if it’s an act but you want to believe its the former. Honestly though, if Nadya knew what’s good for her she’d stay away from him but these book characters never do.

The other point of view character was a Tranavian prince named Serefin and I liked him a lot more. He was called back home after years at war and was trying to make sense of all the odd things going on around him and the secrets his father held. He also had a visual impairment. Serefin’s friends- Ostyia and Kacper– were great and I loved the dynamic between the three of them. Ostyia especially was brilliant with her fierce, vivacious personality. I also loved the witch Pelageya and I think she was the only character who had any clue what on earth was going on. And I wished we got to learn more about Parijahan and Rashid.

As I said earlier, the plot was what broke this book for me. I just couldn’t see the point in any of it. Even as I sat down to write this review I realised that while I could remember all the characters’ names, the places and magic system but I had no idea what exactly happened to them in the book. And then I realised its because the plot was so underwhelming that I couldn’t bring myself to care about it enough to remember it.

Wicked Saints explored themes of religion, power and morality which are really interesting and probably would have been more so if the plot was more interesting too. I’d say it’s a novel for anyone who loves books with a dark, gothic and monstrous atmosphere.

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Blog Tours · Reviews · Uncategorized

Review: Rules for Being a Girl (Blog Tour)

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

Book: Rules for Being a Girl

Authors: Candace Bushnell and Katie Cotugno

Year Published: 2020

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

Rules for Being a Girl was a short, sharp feminist novel about a girl navigating the expectations, constraints and rules society puts upon women whilst fighting to make her voice heard.

Marin was a top student and co-editor of the school newspaper along with her best friend, Chloe. Everyone, including her, admired their interesting and charismatic English teacher, Mr Beckett (or ‘Bex’) but that all changed until he tried to kiss Marin. There were so many red flags and I could painfully see how he had gradually manipulated her. Marin was horrified- she trusted him and thought he valued her for her skill as a student. What angered her more was that it felt like there was nothing she could do, her school suggesting she was to blame or that she misread the situation, when what he did was wrong. This triggered her to write an article in her school newspaper titled, ‘Rules for Being a Girl’ expressing outrage at a world where girls are scrutinised and dismissed.

Over the course of the book, Marin’s eyes gradually opened to the casual sexism all around her and she started to talk about it and fight back against it. With the help of another teacher she started a feminist book club (my favourite aspect of this book) giving her a place to meet like-minded people and start conversations about intersectional feminism. The book was also rife with feminist book recommendations for example, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I wished we got to learn more about Marin and see smaller details and nuances to her character. But I did love the strong support network around her from her parents to her friends from the book club that gave her the strength to speak out for herself and for others. Her friend Chloe represented how sometimes people can be dismissed by those closest to them which was also important.

It was a short, simple read better suited to younger end of the YA audience. Whilst the straightforward style was perfect for getting the message across it felt a bit too simplistic for me at times but I would still say Rules for Being a Girl is a worthwhile, thought provoking read.

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Interviews · Uncategorized

Sereadipity Interviews… Liz Lawson: Rapid Fire Style!

Hello my booksicles!

I hope you’re all staying safe in these trying times. Today, The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson is out in the world and in celebration I’m doing a rapid fire Q&A with her about her debut novel. Her book launch, along with everything else, had to be cancelled (although there is a virtual launch today) and now more than any other time it’s important to band together and show our support.

Here’s a bit about The Lucky Ones:

May is a survivor. But she doesn’t feel like one. She feels angry. And lost. And alone. Eleven months after the school shooting that killed her twin brother, May still doesn’t know why she was the only one to walk out of the band room that day. No one gets what she went through–no one saw and heard what she did. No one can possibly understand how it feels to be her.

Zach lost his old life when his mother decided to defend the shooter. His girlfriend dumped him, his friends bailed, and now he spends his time hanging out with his little sister…and the one faithful friend who stuck around. His best friend is needy and demanding, but he won’t let Zach disappear into himself. Which is how Zach ends up at band practice that night.

The same night May goes with her best friend to audition for a new band.

Which is how May meets Zach.

And how Zach meets May.

And how both might figure out that surviving could be an option after all.

Interview:

What is your favourite quote from The Lucky Ones?

“People aren’t just the sum of their mistakes. The world isn’t black and white – the best thing you can do for yourself is to look at the spaces between those poles to see that extremes aren’t useful to anyone.”

Whilst writing: music or no music?

Music! It’s a huge part of how I get into the mood of my books.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Plantser! (Although more a pantser than a plotter if I had to choose between those two!).

What was your most interesting piece of research you did for the Lucky Ones?

I read the book COLUMBINE, which is not light reading, but was incredibly eye opening.

What is your favourite writing snack?

Coffee!! Always coffee (not actually a food, but SO NECESSARY).

What was the main inspiration behind The Lucky Ones?

All the survivors of school shootings and all the kids who are faced with a world where shootings are a reality.

What were your favourite books as a child?

  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman

What was your favourite book of 2019:

How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow.

And your most anticipated book of 2020?

The Cousins by Karen McManus (which I actually got the opportunity to read already and it’s SO GOOD).

Who is the author that most inspires you?

Leigh Bardugo. She’s succcccch a badass.

Books you would recommend for fans of The Lucky Ones:

  • How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow
  • The Truth Project by Dante Medema (out fall 2020)

What is the main message for readers to take away from The Lucky Ones?

I’d love for people to get a strong message of hope — that there is light on the other side of darkness.

A fun fact about one of the characters in The Lucky Ones:

Lucy is loosely based on an old friend of mine!

What came first: the characters or the names?

The characters!

Were there other contenders for the title of The Lucky Ones?

Nope that was the only title from the start, and I’m so glad it stuck.

Describe your upcoming release, In Silent Seas We Drown, in one sentence:

A story about addiction and secrets and the ripple effects those things can have on both family and friends.

Sum up both May and Zach in a few words each:

  • May: angry lost lonely
  • Zach: bewildered anxious tentatively hopeful

About the author:

Liz Lawson has been writing for most of her life in one way or another. She has her Masters in Communications with a Concentration in Rhetoric from Villanova University, and has written for a variety of publications including PASTE MAGAZINE. When she’s not writing, she works as a music supervisor for film & television.

Liz resides in Los Angeles, CA, where she lives with an adorable toddler, a fantastic husband, and two VERY bratty cats. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @lzlwsn.

Thank you so much to Liz Lawson for taking the time to answer my questions!

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Review: All Your Twisted Secrets

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

Book: All Your Twisted Secrets

Author: Diana Urban

Year Published: 2020

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

All Your Twisted Secrets was a young adult escape room thriller that gradually revealed a web of secrets and lies. It was a quick and fast-paced read, driven forward by the tension between the characters, and I found it exciting although I predicted most of the plot twists.

Six teens were supposedly invited to a scholarship dinner but upon arrival they realised it was a trap– they were locked in the room and told to choose someone to die within an hour or they would all meet untimely ends. There was Amber, an incredibly talented music geek. Sasha, a smart and ambitious queen bee. Robbie, a popular athlete and Amber’s boyfriend. Diego, the class genius and entrepreneur. Priya, a quiet and lonely magic trick enthusiast. And Scott, mysterious and known for drug dealing. Confusion and panic ensued but as they all tried to get out alive the past was dredged up and they realised there was more connecting them than they initially thought.

The novel alternated between the locked room and flashbacks of the past to help us understand how the relationships and conflicts between the characters had changed and how they affected their actions in the room. I liked this structure as it created a fast, exciting pace and slowly revealed the characters’ personalities.

Furthermore, the book incorporated many themes like bullying, suicide, drug abuse, school pressures, mental health and peer pressure in a way that cleverly showed the effects these issues have on people’s lives without seeming forced. It also explored moral ideas surrounding accepting responsibility for one’s actions and what happens when someone doesn’t.

However, I wasn’t overly impressed with the ending because I’d predicted who had put them in the room already and I found it a bit over the top. The characters were interesting, each with their own goals, problems and secrets. They could have had a bit more depth but I do appreciate that it’s hard to balance that many characters.

So in conclusion, All Your Twisted Secrets was a thriller that I would definitely recommend to anyone looking for a fast-paced read that, as the title suggests, is full of twists and secrets.

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Review: The Last Human

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

Book: The Last Human

Author: Zack Jordan

Year Published: 2020

  • Plot: 1/5
  • Characters: 2.5/5
  • Writing: 3.5/5
  • Overall: 2.5/5

The Last Human was a space opera set in a galaxy where the most feared species were Humans due to their destructive natures. In all honesty, I found it quite disappointing: the first half of the book was rather intriguing but that interest was promptly demolished by the second half.

The story followed a young Human called Sarya who was raised by Shenya the Widow (Widows being one of the many alien species in the book). She was trying to hide her species as she was the last Human in the Network-connected galaxy she lived in. Until her secret came out and as she ran for her life she discovered that everything was controlled by greater powers than she could ever comprehend.

The alien species belonging to the Network were ranked in tiers of intelligence going from one to five (and maybe beyond…). Their notion of ‘intelligence’ was never properly explained but the idea was the higher your intelligence tier the faster and more advanced your thought processes and capabilities would be. Humans would probably fall somewhere in tier two. There were also group intelligences with hive minds which were disconcerting but in an interesting way.

The only aspect of the book that I appreciated (and that pushed the rating up) was the world building. The way the different aliens, lower intelligences and the Network all interacted with each other quite seamlessly was impressive and original. Furthermore, the various alien species created were all unique, I especially liked how Sarya’s Widow upbringing affected her character and their mother-daughter relationship was one of the things that drew me in during the first half of the book. I also liked how the intelligence tier system created a hierarchy and affected the dynamic between characters.

The plot is what really ruined this book for me. Lots of different things happened and many characters were introduced and I had no idea why but I was sure it was leading up to something meaningful… but then it didn’t. As I said earlier, the first half was quite good, it built up Sarya’s character and the world and had a fairly fast paced plot that felt like it was building up to something. But then in the second half of the book it felt like the plot was forgotten in favour of vague philosophical rambling that threw away all the development previously established. I could tell it was trying to explore ideas surrounding free will, the vastness of the universe (and our insignificance in comparison) and the price of maintaining order in such a sprawling Network but it didn’t come through very well for me. It all just seemed quite confusing and meaningless and it wasn’t properly integrated into the story just haphazardly dumped in.

Sarya had no character development. Despite her massive journey across the universe, despite all the shocking truths she had learnt, she stayed the same. And that goes for the side characters too. On top of that, her motivations were very hard to understand and I had no idea why her actions kept contradicting themselves.

I felt let down by The Last Human, it had so much potential but it was all thrown away by the end. But despite how I felt about it, the book is still worth giving a chance as the world created is very intriguing and maybe the philosophical ideas will resonate with others more than they did with me.

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