The Arsonists City by Hala Alyan – Book Review

The Arsonists City is a multi-generational story that focuses on the Nasar family. After the death of his father, Nasar, a cardiologist, is the new patriarch of the family. Thus, he decides now is the time to go back to Beirut(Lebanon) to sell their ancestral home. His wife, Mazna is Syrian and a former actress. Mazna decides to coax her children Mimi, Ava, and Naj to come along as well. However, these three siblings have a very detached relationship. They haven’t seen each other in a long time and are busy with their own hectic lives; living under the same roof isn’t something they thought would happen any time soon. The siblings don’t want their father to sell their family home and decide to come along to change his mind. What follows is each of these complex characters coming to terms with the past, its secrets, and where they want to be in the future.

Where shall I start? I mean it would be so easy for me to just call it a day and say “hey buy this book now it’s amazing!!!” But the fun comes with reeling you all in with hopes that y’all will slide into my DM’s like “Hey Adeel I loved this book so much! God why are you so amazing??” πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚. Ok let’s all breath and get serious now because I am a professional!

The Arsonists City was a truly captivating and extraordinary read that honestly blew me away. Everything from the writing, the characters, the emotion, and the tension hit all of the right notes. The Nasar family remind me of lots of families within the Arab/South Asian community. Leaving things unsaid in the hopes that’ll make everything better. But the more we hold things in the more likely they’ll implode in our faces. Throughout the book we are given a deep look into these five members of the Nasar family. The story goes from the past to the future as we uncover what life was like for them. We see how Mazna becomes infatuated with acting and dreams to become an actress in California. We also discover how she met Idris and the heartbreak that has stayed with her for a very long time.

In the present day we see Ava, Mimi, and Naj navigating through their lives and relationships. Ava, the eldest, lives in Brooklyn and is married to a dude called Nate. They’re having marital issues as Nate in the past may have been unable to control his pecker. They have two children together Rayan and Zina. Then you have Mimi who lives in Austin Texas with his girlfriend Harper. For many years Mimi has been trying and struggling to reach great heights with his band Dulcet. On the other hand their younger sister Naj who lives in Beirut is killing it with her band and her music becomes heavily popular in the Middle East and around the world. She has reached heights that Mimi could only dream of. But we soon discover that she has her own struggles.

I thought Hala does an exceptional job in crafting and moulding all of the characters into fine pieces of art. I loved learning about their past, their passions, and how they became who they are today. Alyan really highlights that humans are not perfect at all. Many of the characters have their own secrets, regrets, and flaws which Alyan slowly unravels.

My favourite character was definitely Mazna. Her love of acting was contagious and the bittersweet romance she has with someone really broke my heart. Mazna goes through a lot in this story, from losing the love of her life and also the struggle of assimilating to life in America

“The directors don’t want authenticity. They don’t want her accent-they want someone who speaks perfect English and can do an accent, She is too pretty for simpler roles, too dark for American parts.”

I also loved how vibrant and alive the locations were in which the story takes place. We go from Beirut, to Damascus, to California during the present and the past between 1960-1970s.

“At this hour, the city has a narcotic effect; ambient noise drifts from the passing cabs β€” a French song, the sound of a man coughing, and the few people on the street share a certain camaraderie, nodding and smiling wryly at each other. Beirut is an insomniac’s city, unfocused, filled with half-finished buildings and impromptu crowds.”

War is wreaking havoc in Beirut and the scenes Hala creates arevery intense. I still remember the tension I felt as Mazna decides to go from Beirut to Damascus with friends. I also can’t forget when at one point in a bakery shop where Zakaria (best friend of Idris and Mazna) works, they’re hassled by some scummy soldiers. That part really made my blood boil at how Palestinians were being treated. It’s a major reminder of how bad things have gotten now in terms of immigration issues and the refugee crisis(Zakaria lives in a refugee camp). As much as I loved when the story took place in the present, there was something about the past that just kept me entranced. Alyan paints a vivid picture of the locations which kept me wanting to learn more about the countries and the situations that had occured.

When considering the writing, Alyan again blew me away. Every single word just spoke to me in some way or form. There were so many times where I was moved by how the characters were feeling and what they were going through.

“Grief will make you do crazy things. It will electrify the elegant. Power stem neurons in the amygdala of your brain will pluck them like an instrument”.

Also, even though the pacing is slow, it is necessary to slowly peel the layers in order to understand the dynamics of the Nasar family. I was so fascinated by how much depth there was in the writing of the characters, the sounds, the atmosphere, the imagery, and the history of Beirut and Damascus. The humour and emotional moments were very well balanced too. One minute I was laughing the next I was distraught at what had occured.

Overall, an absolutely wonderful and beautiful story. The book has a stellar cast of characters who you can’t help but love and want to know more about. I loved that the pacing was not too fast or too slow. It was well balanced as you slowly begin to learn the complexities of the Nasar family. I couldn’t help but fall in love with them, even though they’ve cocked up a lot. It’s definitely a story that will stay with me forever and a book I will recommend to everyone.

I would also like to say a huge thank you to HMH books and Liz for gifting me a copy. Hand on heart, I am so so grateful to have been given the opportunity to review this book. The release date of this fantastic novel is the 9th of March 2021

Shiver by Allie Reynolds – Book Review

“We speed across the plateau. Such emptiness below. I forgot how huge this area is. Walkers hike here in summer and trails zigzag up. It must be beautifulβ€”a mass of Alpine flowers-but all there is to see today is straggly brown grass and rocky scree. No sign of life, not even a bird. The land looks barren. Dead.”a bird. The land looks barren. Dead.”

Shiver, the debut novel by Allie Reynolds is a thriller told from the POV of Milla who, along with four former friends Dale, Heather, Curtis, and Brent,is invited to a reunion at the Le Rocher. The Le Rocher was a training site for them but things reached their end point when Saskia, the younger sister of Curtis, disappeared. The reunion is obviously intense and animosity is still there. To make matters even worse, their phones and laptops go missing and there’s no way to communicate outside of the training camp. What follows is the group turning on one another as old resentments and secrets that haven’t been told in almost 10 years come bubbling up. We therefore follow Milla as she tries to understand why they’ve been brought here in the first place and whether it has something to do with Saskia. Will they be able to leave? Who called them here in the first place? Is Saskia dead or alive? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out won’t you πŸ™‡πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ.

Shiver was a suspenseful and twisty novel that I really enjoyed. It had everything you want in a suspense novel: five old friends stuck in a desolated location, grudges that are still simmering, stuck in one place, and someone who is scaring the shit out of them? I was hooked. I definitely really loved the eerie and isolated atmosphere of the location. You couldn’t help but feel the chill because the characters were up there by themselves with no civilization other than these five people. It was so easy to picture them in your mind freezing their arses due to the cold and wind. Also, the animosity created a lot of tension as well. I couldn’t help but wonder who was going to crack first or throw the first punch.

“Unease creeps through me. A glance at the window, at the total and utter blackness out there, reminds me how alone we are. It’s just the five of us. Nobody else for miles and miles.”

In terms of the writing, it was very well done and I flew through it no bother. The story goes back and forth from the present to 10 years ago. We see why the characters have such animosity towards each other and what happened that broke them apart essentially. The atmospheric elements and the setting really won it for me. Like i for one definitely would not want to be in such a desolate place. As the story is focused on individuals who snowboard, I was a bit anxious about the snowboarding terms. But Allie Reynolds was an absolute champion at explaining all the flips, pipes, and maneuvers.

Now you’re probably also thinking, since it’s a suspense thriller did I instantly gather the old “who done it?’. Surprisingly I didn’t expect it! Which is always a place for me. Like who doesn’t hate getting half way through a book like “yep this wanker done it for sure”. Then reaching the reveal point and it was the person you thought πŸ€¦πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ. Thankfully Allie Reynolds keeps the twists going like a switch-frontside 1080 double cork(yes I had to Google that).

Now to the characters, there are a range of different side characters in the story. From Heather and Dale who are a married couple, Brent, Curtis, Julian, Odetta, and the cherry on the icing of the cake: Saskia. All of them had their flaws and secrets, especially Milla. I thought she was a fantastic and well rounded individual who I easily got behind. The main antagonist Saskia for me though was the best part of the book. Like holy shit you can’t help but love hating her. She was insufferable and such a pain in the arse to Milla and many of the side characters. This is what makes her disappearance even more twisty and mysterious because she did so many people dirty. Everyone basically becomes a suspect because of her antics and behaviour.

There are also some romance elements in the story. At times I found it pretty cheesy and blergh but it didn’t get in the way of my reading thankfully lol.

Overall, a fantastic winter thriller that I would like to see on the small screen in the future! I loved the twists and turns which made me race through because I wanted to know all of the secrets and mystery surrounding the characters. The atmosphere was tantalising as well, Shiver literally have me the shivers πŸ˜‚. The bonus was definitely the really complex characters and the end reveal was *chefs kiss*. Very excited to read more books by Allie Reynolds in the future 😊.

Thank you Putnam for gifting me a copy! So so grateful to have read this novel.

East Goes West by Younghill Kang – Book Review

East Goes West by Younghill Kang was an insightful, often funny and interesting story that focuses on a young man’s journey experiences throughout America and Canada after having arrived from Korea during the 1920’s. The book was actually first published in 1937 and the copy I was lucky enough to receive is the first republished copy in over 50 years!

The story is a semi autobiography of Younghill Kang but he is replaced from the POV of a fictional man called Chungpu Han. Han first sets foot on America after arriving in New York with 4 dollars and the works of Shakespeare in his suitcase. At this point in his life he is 18 and ready to absorb all that he hopes he can gain in America. It’s not all plain sailing for Han as he has a torrid time trying to accustom himself to America. For example, Han has a letter of introduction to the Y.M.C.A. given to him by a missionary. The naΓ―ve Han is made to believe that is his golden ticket to riches and prosperity. Upon arriving at the main office of the organisation he is told to go to Harlem. There he deals with racism first hand as he is told no Orientals or Africans can be employed at the Y.M.C.A.

Having unwittingly spent all of his money on a haircut and clean shave, Han finds himself having to go to a “flophouse” a place that offers very low cost housing. Although jobless and left without any direction as to where his life will end up going, this doesn’t stop Han from continuing to discover the American Dream. He has known poverty before so it only gives him a “it can not get any worse than what I’ve known”.

“So far I had failed in everything undertaken in America. Housework, clerking, wait ing, in nothing was I good. It remained to be seen if I could rem edy this by education.”

There are many times Han is struggling to even get something to eat, sometimes even going 24 hours without eating or drinking. Luckily for Han, he befriends many immigrants and outcasts like him New York. Immigrants from Korea, Italy, China, Japan, and the Philippines. Many of these friends like him are or have struggled to assimilate to life in America. However, even with their struggles they are still able to aide him and save him from starvation. It was actually really heart-warming seeing the generosity of people. The world then and now is definitely a dog eat dog world, so receiving even a little bit of help can go a long way.

Much of the help Han gains and essentially helps him learn about what it means to be American come from Korean exiles like himself such as George Jum who to a certain extent was Hans Guru. George a playboy who has absorbed everything that is American culture putting behind what he was accustomed to in Korea.

“The next period of my life must properly be dedicated to George Jum. He attempted to be my teacher in things American, and certainly he had left all Asian culture behind as a thing of nought. If I am not a very shining example of his precepts, the faults must be laid to me and not to him.”

Later however, having failed to keep down a job we see Han travel to Canada in the hopes of clearing his path towards success. Thanks to a Canadian missionary called Mr Luther who was the headmaster of a Korean school where Han has completed his post graduate degree, he is told a scholarship is open to him in the Maritime University up in Canada. He meets great tutors such as Ralph and Ian. From his experience in Canada he discovers it as essentially as a bootleg Britain and really needs to catch up with America in terms of its development.

“Marvellous how this noisy coloial town could still convey obliquely an Old-World pattern, reminding of the English home.”

He then finds himself in Boston where he becomes a salesman and then returns to education. This becomes somewhat of a pattern for Han throughout the book i.e. working for a bit then returning to college. He makes more friends and acquittances there and begins to settle down. Long story short, he finishes his education gaining a diploma from Boston, finally settles into a regular job , and even a wee romance blossoming. Still however Han never managed to gain a feeling of self fulfilment, even being partially jealous of George Jum.

When considering the writing, it was very descriptive and so detailed reminding me of the great Haruki Murakami. I’m going to be honest however and say reading this was a bit of a grind. Han’s POV is very philosophical which meant some parts went on and on. I do feel the novel could’ve been cut down by 100 pages. However, Kang does describe characters and places in such amazing detail that you can’t help but be in awe.

There are also many funny moments throughout the book, i think my favourite was definitely Han’s being an atrocious houseboy. Kang also covers issues he faces and observes along his travels throughout Canada and the USA such as racism and stereotyping towards oriental people. I would however go far as saying that the character of Han was a bit of a racist himself due to how he stereotypes those from an African background and the use of racial slurs. It was very uncomfortable for me if i am very honest and i do understand that a book written during the 1930’s didn’t think about these things back then but still it annoyed me.

One final thing I really enjoyed was the array of different characters Han meets throughout America and Canada. Although some are only part of the story for a short time, they all played a key role in Han’s experiences and his reflections of being a Korean immigrant in America during the 1930’s. Han is very observational and describes the people he meets with such intricate detail that you can picture them in your mind.

Overall, this book was a grind to get through but I do feel it was worth reading. I learned a lot about the history and journey of Koreans living in the USA. The writing was also very descriptive and detailed, but at times I felt it was too much and went on a bit too long. This is worth reading but a lot of patience is required for sure.

Thank you to Viking Books, Penguin Random House, and Penguin Classics for gifting me a copy. I am very grateful for the opportunity #PRHparter

A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein was a fascinating Elizabethan set story that explored the bittersweet life of poet, spy, and screen writer Christopher “Kit” Marlowe. The more the story moved forward the more engrossed I was by his character. I am shocked that this is Allison Epstein’s debut novel. I wouldn’t thought this was her 3-4 book after reading this. She is definitely a writer to watch out for😊.

Having won a scholarship, Christopher Marlowe is a student at Cambridge. He comes from humble beginnings having been the son of a cobbler. The story opens up with Kit being told to accompany Master Norgate to the masters office. Kit is nervous as he believes his father a drunk has yet again done something to land himself in jail or worse. To Kit’s surprise sitting in the office is Frances Walsingham, the Spymaster for Queen Elizabeth I. Kit is instantly taken aback as he is tasked with what at first appears to be an impossible job, to infiltrate the House of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland. At this moments in time Mary is under house arrest but is still plotting to take the throne. Kit must therefore decipher letters sent between Mary and her accomplices to see whether she plans to overthrow the Queen of England. Kit pretends to be a servant and somehow manages to gain valuable information leading to the inevitable death and execution of Queen Mary and her accomplices.

Kit thinks himself free now to live his life and write his plays. Five years later he becomes one of the most popular playwrights in London developing a well loved play. However, it’s a bittersweet ending for Kit as he’s pulled back into the world of spying and conspiracy. He quickly gets trapped in a web of lies, betrayal and deceit.

Where to I fricking start with this because woooow was this a fantastic read. Usually I don’t gravitate towards historical fiction but after reading the blurb I was like “I need a piece of this”. I’m so glad I got a piece because I loved this book and the characters so much. Kit steals the show with his humour and arrogance. He has so much depth and personality to him as well which made the story even better. You can’t help but love the guy even though he always ends up getting himself into a lot of trouble due to his ego and tendency to have bar fightsπŸ€¦πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ. Other than Kit, there are so many other interesting and fascinating characters that just draw you in such as Frances Walsingham, Arthur Gregory, Mary Stuart, Anne Cooper William Cecil, and many more. I also loved the relationship between Kit and Thomas Watson. It was so pure and you just want them to be happy and live their lives. But fate isn’t kind to poor wee Kit Marlowe. Half due to his own ego and I guess the other half due to circumstances being out of his hands.

Reading the story also allowed me to learn so much about what happened during this time period. Like obviously being Scottish myself I had learned a bit about Mary Queen of Scots and her execution, but I learned so much more by reading the novel. There were many times I put my book down to ask Google who so and so wasπŸ˜‚.

In terms of the writing, it was flawless and absolutely fantastic. I was flicking through the pages like a mad man. I still remember looking at my watch at 2am like “one more page”. One more page ended up in me finishing the whole book by 3am πŸ˜‚. I was also going with my annotations as there are many memorable qoutes and scenes.

“As though a spell had been lifted, Kit felt the noise of the tavern crash over him, the usual melodies of Southwark. Shouts, curses, laughter, rage.”

Everything about how the book was written was superb and I can’t believe this is Allison’s first novel. I loved the way Allison described the setting, her description of characters was also so vivid and felt real, and don’t get me started on how fast paced and intense the plot was. The book has everything from betrayal, high treason, lies, deceit, and so many funny moments.

The intensity throughout was real. When Kit was infiltrating the home of Mary Stuart I was on the edge because I wanted him to succeed and not get himself killed. But when Mary Stuart is caught Allison flips everything on its head because Kit feels distraught. It made me as a reader feel bad too for Mary and for Kit.

“Kit slept worse with each passing week. Soon, he stayed awake until three or four in the morning, pacing the castle’s halls in end. less, anxious circles to outrun the ghosts of Morgan and Babington.”

I honestly felt so bad for the guy by the end of the book. I loved that though and it was because of the Allison Epstein’s phenomenal writing that you end up getting attached to Kit. The ending honestly made my heart collapse and I had to pick it back up real quick.

Overall, I don’t think my review does this book justice. Like I have so many feelings I want to express but my brain just can’t write it all down lol. What I can tell you is that this is definitely one of my favourite books I’ve read this year, and probably one of my favourite historical fiction novels ever. Allison’s description of the setting made me feel like I was there standing in their in the crowd. The writing is phenomenal, the characters draw you in deeper and deeper into the world of Kit Marlowe, and the tension is nail biting. You can’t help but love Kit even though he’s a numpty at times and gets himself into unnecessary trouble. If you’re a historical fiction lover then this should 100% be on your list!

Thank you very much to Doubleday for gifting me a copy! I am honestly so so grateful for the opportunity to have reviewed this stupendous book.

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden – Book Review

Having spent an eternity bringing death to people, Mrs Death, an old black woman, is now exhausted and has had enough of all this weight and death on her shoulders. Mrs Death meets Wolfe Willeford, a young writer who has a lot going on himself and has been through a lot in his life. Wolf has already met Mrs Death twice. He experienced death firsthand in a tower flat fire that killed his mother and a few other people. Somehow Mrs Death missed his death and let him get away. That is the first time he meets Mrs Death. The second time he meets death is on Christmas Eve when he’s taking a stroll and ends up buying an antique desk. The desk becomes the channel that connects the experiences of Death and Wolf. Through the desk all of Mrs Death’s work rushes through his mind as if he’s travelling through time and space.

“I will be nothing more than a servant to this desk. I am a poetry monk. I am a writing slave to The Desk. I will write everything The Desk tells me to write.”

Through Wolf, Mrs Death finds a place to unburden herself from all the death and shares her stories. Essentially, Wolfe ironically becomes the ghost writer of death writing through Death in the form of poems and memoirs.

This was a fantastic story with some of the most unique styles of writing I’ve come across in a long time. The use of poetry and prose was so well combined and I loved the overall creativity. There were many times where I was speechless due to the wordplay and how it hits you to the core of your soul. Although the chapters were short each left a string of emotions going inside of you.

When considering the character of Death itself, it was great seeing a fresh take on death. Many of us picture a man with a black robe i.e. grim reaper. When, in fact, in this story she is in the form of an old, lonely black woman who appears in the form of a cleaner. Through this Selena highlights that it is women who have constantly been put in the sidelines while the men take the spotlight. Death merely stays in the shadows doing her bidding.

“It is exhausting how much space men want and how much credit and control man wants to take for mankind.”

I, honest to God, felt so bad for the character of Wolf. The death of his mother impacted him so much. His mind had been left fragmented and traumatized. Wolf constantly questions why he didn’t die and whether Mrs Death made a mistake. We later discover he may have bipolar disorder which is making him even more erratic. The decline of Wolf’s mind can be seen through the superbly executed writing.

Wolf and Mrs Death’s relationship soon becomes a key factor for both of them. They end up becoming reliant on each other to make sense of everything that’s happened in their lives and their experiences. It’s left them very disorientated.

Through Death and Wolfe’s conversations, Salena Godden analyses issues such as racism, serial killings, accidents, and the increasing matter of climate change. When discussing death, Salena Godden also discusses her experiences in dealing with real life deaths such as the deaths of refugees in France, school shootings in American schools, and the ongoing civil war in Syria.

“I believe it was you who threw people overboard on the Titanic to swim to lifeboats. I believe you hold dinghies filled with fleeing immigrants afloat on rough seas. I think you give as much as you take.”

Mrs Death also explores current race issues taking homage from the Black Lives Matter moment. I never knew about Sarah Reed who was beat up by a white police officer and left to die under suspicious circumstances in jail.

The events Mrs Death talks about highlight slaves being thrown off slave ships for insurance payouts and Jack the Ripper murdering his first victim at the age of fifteen.

Furthermore, Death explores the issue of climate change and the fact that humanity has, in simple terms, f***** itself sideways and is on the brink of being totally erased due to the damage being done to our environment.

Essentially, throughout the book Death constantly reminds us that life and death are a constant and without death, life wouldn’t exist. As hard as it is to say, our journey one day will inevitably come to an end and no matter how hard we try to prolong life, death is always waiting in the shadows. These momentswere particularly dark and gave me a jolt because of how deep things got.

What I think, however, is that the novel really puts the spotlight on the interconnection between Life, Death, and Time. Death and Life are sisters, Death hates Life for giving life and being the favourite. Time is Death’s soul mate.”Time was my first love. Time felt reliable, solid, like a tree with strong roots that go all the way down to the centre of the heart of the earth and with arms that can go all around the universe. All that Time, it greases the cogs that make the earth spin on its axis.’

At the end of the book Mrs Death reminds Wolf that there is so much shit and nonsense happening in the world and death is increasing at an alarming rate, but there is so much beauty in life and we should grasp every second, minute, hour, and day that we have in this world.

“This is your life, your one precious life, it is your time to walk with Life”

Overall, Mrs Death Misses Death was a superb read and I really hope it wins many literary awards this year. The writing put a spell on me and made me fall deep down into the rabbit hole. The mix of poems, memoirs, and songs was so refreshingly unique to me. Selena Godden highlights many key issues of today and yesterday. It’s a book that will stay in my mind for such a long time and I’ve made sure to put sticky tabs on my favourite quotes. There are so many quotes that I kept reading again and again because of how impactful they were to me. It has left me reflecting on the life I have lived and how I should start seeing the beauty of what’s in front of me. I’m left feeling a rollercoaster of emotions right now.

Thank you very much to Canongate for gifting me a copy. So grateful to have been given the opportunity to review this book

Brother Red by Adrian Selby – Book Review

Brother Red by Adrian Selby was a thrilling, bloody, unforgiving, and emotional read. This was the first Adrian Selby novel I have read and most likely not the last.

The story is told from the POV of Driwna Marghoster who is part of a guild known as “The Post”. Essentially, The Post are a guild made up of individuals who protect trade caravans that travel across the world to various locations. What makes members of the guild stand out from others is their red uniform, hence the name of the title. On one particular job, the trade caravan Driwna is protecting is ambushed and attacked by mercenaries. Although Driwna and Cal who is her best friend and fellow Red are able to kill the attackers, they discover a dead body of a baby within one of the containers. The significance of this is that the baby is from the Oskoro tribe which is a very rare find due these people keeping to themselves. What also makes the Oskoro tribe intriguing is the fact that they use seeds and plants to somewhat enhance their body and mind. Thus, we follow Driwna as she begins her investigation into where the body was headed and who was going to take it. Driwna’s journey will uncover deceit and betrayal that goes all the way to the top of the hierarchy.

For me this was an absolutely fantastic read and the fact that their are two books that connects within the same world really has me excited to read them! The world of Brother Red his phenomenal and reminded me a lot of Assassins Creed and The Witcher due to how rich it was. I loved the whole idea of The Post and their creeds motto “Help the helpless. Honour the purse. peace through trade. this is the creed.” really hits you. The Post consists of different departments from agents to fieldsman (basically spies). What i also loved was how Adrian Selby describes the places Driwna visits. Everything is so detailed that you can picture it in your mind. I also absolutely loved the political elements. The novel was definitely part grimdark fantasy part thriller for me. Driwna leaves no stone unturned as she attempts to discover why the Ososi clan and Oskoro are going missing. The more she uncovers the more intense things became and to be honest, the more worried i became for Driwna. There are those within The Post itself that wish to see its downfall and when you discover why you can’t help but feel sad about it.

What i also loved were the bloody, brutal, and highly intense fight sequences. If you’ve ever played Dark Souls, The Witcher Three, and Assassins Creed you’ll know what i am talking about. It is basically an art that requires precision and awareness of staying a step ahead of your enemy. One thing that blew me away was the fact that at the beginning of the story when Cal and Driw are scouting they use sign language so they aren’t detected. As well as that, there are special potions or in the case of Brother Red, brews that increase strength, agility, and making one more aware of their surroundings. Also, like The Witcher and Assassins Creed, it is not just the mighty sword that is ones primary weapon, there are bows, throwing knives, and even throwing objects known as “spores” that release a gas that can posion or blind enemies.

When considering the writing, i did like the writing as it was very detailed and you could picture everything in your mind. I do feel however that it took a while to get accustomed to some of the wording and phrasing. I did feel as well that some of the chapters were so dense at times which made me a bit annoyed. But honestly after finishing the book this was just a mediocre matter for me. I think a book like this requires a lot of detail and density to get to grips of what was going on in the world.

Finally, when considering the characters, i really loved the character of Driwna. She was highly likable and you can’t help but want her to push on and discover the secrets and lies that are occurring. But you end up having such a strong bond with her that you don’t want her to uncover anything because it is a matter of life and death. But this is why i loved her because doesn’t give a shit which beast she wakes up, she is all about doing the right thing for The Post and the Ososi and Oskoro clans. She is driven and has so much heart that you just want her to succeed. Driwna meets many side characters and each has a distinct voice that allows you tell each of them apart. Driwna meets many allies and foes throughout her journey and i would say favourites were Cal, Bray, and Ufra. Cal has basically grown with Driwna within The Post and their bond was just so wholesome. I loved their banter and when they cussed each other. You can really tell they have been through thick and thin together.

“Come on, let’s get you in that bath. I’m sick of seeing your bare arse.”

I felt this bond with Ufra and Driwna as well and they inevitably fall in love. Ufra was such a badass and I love her overall vibe. They end up having this strong body and soul connection which was just beautiful. I also felt Bray was a phenomenal side character as he grows as a person in the novel. I can’t say too much without spoiling, but think Rocky Balboa coming out of retirement.

“I thought you strong! I thought you fast! Who is this *****!” He shouts this to all watching. “A fat old man, I’s beatin’ you without sword or spear!

Overall, a phenomenal and unique standalone fantasy story that I really enjoyed. I loved the world and characters so much and hope i can read the other two books so i can return to it and hopefully learn more. Adrian Selby is a phenomenal writer who grips you with the way he writes and makes you want to keep reading until you’re shattered. Also, the ending was so unexpected and very impactful as a reader. My heart genuinely sank after finishing the book. Thank you so much to Angela and Orbit for gifting me a copy. I can’t wait to read more books by Adrian Selby now 😊

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Between the Earth and the Sky #1) – Book Review

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is a book I had wanted to read for a very long time. I was extremely intrigued as it was inspired by indigenous mythology and culture. I had read fantasy novels that focused on African mythology, but never had I read anything based on indigenous mythology. I was gripped right from the opening chapters and the ending had me like “Nooooooo I want more!” Also, let’s not forget how beautiful the cover is! It’s definitely one of my favourite covers ever😊.

The story is told from the POV of 3 main characters. Firstly we have Xiala who we find locked up in jail after an incident. Luckily she is able to get out of prison by Balam. There is a catch however, Lord Balam of House of the Seven a Merchant Lord wants Xiala to take a mysterious passenger to the city of Tova before the winter solstice comes to fruition. By doing this Xiala will receive a large sum of money and a lucrative 15 year contract that’ll allow to live it up forever. One issue is that during their passage towards Tova will be during the storm season. Luckily Xiala is magically gifted, she has the ability to calm the ever unpredictability sea through her songs. Her character adds a lot of mystery as she comes from a a cultural background of being Teek.

However, being Teek comes at a price as there are those who strongly dislike the Teek culture and see them as abnormal. Others see them as prized items. It’s pretty dark at times.

“Catch a Teek and carve her throat bone out, and it would guarantee a good catch in deep waters, they said.”

Then we have Naranpa who is a Sun Priest in Tova. She is very much an outsider and many doubted that she would reach the heights she has reached. She is from a poor background i.e. Maw begger girl. This has left those who didn’t want her to succeed feeling envious and angry. Naranpa must deal with political unrest, backbiting, back stabbing, and also those who wish to assassinate her.

“Because her father had been right. The truth was that as much as she loved the city, the city did not love her back. It had little use for a Maw beggar girl; some use for a clever ser vant who caught the attention of the aging and eccentric Sun Priest”

She does have one ally thankfully and that is Iktan, Iktan is the Priest of Knives and bodyguard of Naranpa. They were also entangled in the past, if you know what I’m saying.

The stranger on board the ship travelling across the Crescent Sea to Tova is the mysterious Serapio. We are actually introduced to him right at the beginning of the story and boy is it a wild introduction πŸ˜…. Serapio’s clan, The Carrion Crow and Serapio’s mother want revenge on The Watchers who wronged their clan. Serapio’s destiny is on a path in which he will become a fully fledged god known as The Crow God Reborn. This is the prophecy that was set up for him at a very young age. In preparation he is given extensive, often harrowing training by three people in order to prepare him for what’s ahead. Although he is blind, he has the ability to use his crows to see and he can kick ass when needed. However as a result of all of the training, he has lived a life of lonliness and isolation. This changes when he meets Xiala aboard the ship. We slowly discover what the prophecy is and flashbacks of how he prepared himself for it. Like Xiala, Serapio is a mysterious figure who we slowly begin to understand as the story goes on.

One of the novels biggest strengths I felt was the incredibly complex and interesting characters. I’d say my favourites were definitely Xiala and Serapio. Xiala was hilarious and I loved her wittiness. I loved how Xiala and Serapio bonded as the story went on and their parts were definitely the most intriguing and exciting. Both of them are very mysterious characters and it was really enjoyable seeing the fog over their lives get lifted. Due to being a Teek, Xiala’s kind are for some reason looked down upon. Mainly I guess for being different to And you know humanity, they can’t handle diffefent. This is why I loved it when Serapio meets Xiala as they both begin to open up to each other and have an understanding of what it’s like to be different. Their connection was so strong and seeing their relationship grow was great.

“A man is like a clam,” her mother had once told her. “Let him open on his own, and he will give you a pearl.”

When considering Naranpa, her side of things are definitely more towards political elements. She is part of a religious group known as The Watchers who basically hold the balance in ensuring their is balance above and below. She has to deal with the fact that the 4 houses of Tova may be on the brink of collapsing. There is a lot of bad vibes towards The Watchers due to The Night of Knives where many people from Carrion Crow were killed.

“The priesthood had thought the Night of Knives a necessity at the time, a brutal rout of the heresy growing in Odo. Calling for the Night of Knives had been Kiutue’s predeces sor’s doing and, Naranpa guessed, one of the reasons Youtube himself strove to diminish the power of his own position.”

The tension is further increased with the pending arrival of Serapio travelling across the Crescent Sea who attends to arrive before the winter solstice. As a character Naranpa was ok but I just felt she was a bit uptight. But I understand because she’s come from the bottom up. She obviously doesn’t want to go back to the life she once lived. It’s also important to consider someone is trying to kill her!

There is another character who we are introduced to called Okoa. We don’t really learn about him until further on into the story. I did think be was super cool I really hope we learn more about him in the second book.

Another reason why this novel shines is due to the intricately crafted world. Again the use of Indigenous and Native cultures really shines in this novel. You can tell Rebecca has put in so much effort and love into this world she has created. It’s such a captivating world that you can picture it in your mind as if you’re there. There is also a lot of diversity in terms of sexuality. You have Xiala who is bisexual and Iktan who used pronouns such as Xe and Xir.

Overall, a spectacular first book to a series I can’t wait to continue reading! The representation was great, the characters were superb, and the world building shines bright! I am super hyped to read book two and can’t wait to get my hands on it. I do believe that if the second book reaches the same heights as book two then this will definitely be one of my favourite series ever. Thank you Rebecca Roanhorse for writing such a spectacular novel that blew me away.

The Last Lies of Ardor Benn (#3 The Kingdom of Grit Trilogy) by Tyler Whitesides – Book Review

It’s almost 2am as I write this review. I’ve just finished The Last Lies of Ardor Benn, the final book in the Kingdom of Grit Trilogy. What an absolute wonderful journey was and an even more wonderful conclusion to now one of my favourite series ever. I instantly fell in love with Ardor Benn, Raek, and Quarrah. I guess you could say their “ruse” stole my heart πŸ˜‚. I’m blabbering so let me get back on track and share my overall thoughts.

The Last Lies of Ardor Benn takes place a few years after the events of the second book, The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn. Ardor Benn is now somewhat reformed and is attempting to put his past cons behind him. Having been pardoned by Queen Abeth Agaul, it’s basically a fresh start for Ardor. He decides to become a Holy isle which makes him even more popular among the people. Becoming a holy isle also gives Ardor access to vast amount of information regarding the worlds religion, Wayfirsm.

As we all know, a leopard can’t change its spots and that’s exactly how things go down for Ardor Benn. Ardor is coerced into completing his final ruse and probably the most difficult one he’s ever done. Ardor and his trusted associates Qurrah and best friend Raek are tasked with stealing a dragon for a man called Hedge Marsool. The gag is, Hedge knows what Ardor has planned before Ardor even knows. Can he travel through time? Can he read Ardor’s thoughts? Well I can’t tell you obviously but sure enough this makes things a lot more harder for Ardor and the gang.

It’s difficult because honestly it’ll end up spoiling everything for everyone. That’s something I don’t want to do. What I will tell you however is that I absolutely loved loved loved the series and the final book overall. The world and characters Tyler Whitesides has created and developed is nothing short of a masterpiece. Although Ard is a pain in the arse, he was spectacular at being a pain in the arse. I don’t know how Qurrah and Raek were able to put up with his shit 🀣🀣.

I loved all of the characters and god I’m going to miss them so much. I’ve not been this emotional at finishing a series in so long. It was so easy to become attached to Ardor, Quarrah and, Raek. They were just brilliant in every single way. Ardor Benn was the main showpiece obviously. Not to take away anything from the other characters such as Raek and Quarrah, but think Pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s be honest the only reason we loved those movies were for Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. That goes for Ardor Benn as he was able to steal the show with his intelligence, witty humour, and ability to pull a rabbit out the hat when things looked like they were about to blow up in everyone’s face.

However, one thing that Tyler Whitesides switches up this time around is the fact that Ardor is definitely up against it a lot more. Usually it’s Ardor Benn who is one step ahead, but this time around the main villains in this book, Hedge Marsool and Garifus who have the upper hand at every moment. This was something I’ve never seen before as it’s always Ardor Benn who somehow is able to plan the unthinkable.

I genuinely had a lot of hate for the main villains. Yes King Petherdote from book one and the Realm and King Termain from book two had their vices, but Garifus and Hedge Marsool crossed further boundaries when it comes to villainy. Again I’m sorry I can’t go into too much detail as to who that is because I don’t want to spoil your experience.

I also really enjoyed the edition of the story being told from the POV of Nemery Baggish from the first book. She added a lot more depth when it came to the dragons and Pekal. We learn a lot about what she’s been up to since the first book. She’s now sort a guide who leads people to the summit of Pekal.

The writing and world-building again amazing as ever. I loved how new forms of Grit magic were added such as Transformation Grit and Ignition Grit. The lore of the world was also expanded further as we learn about the true nature of Wayfirsm, The Homelander, Glass Minds, Moonsickness, and much more The icing on the cake was that we have fricking time travel too! There’s just so much depth that it begs the question, why aren’t more people reading this series!

That’s how I’m going to end my review. Read this series people! Yes each book may be almost 600+ words but you’ll devour them quickly. You’re in for one of the best adventures you’ve ever had. Ardor Benn, Qurrah, Raek are all unforgettable and I’ll miss them so muchπŸ₯².

Thank you again to the lovely, phenomenal, and wonderful Angela and Orbit for sending me this series. I’m as always grateful to you for giving me these opportunities 😊.

Khalil by Yasmina Khadra – Book Review

Khalil by Yasmina Khadra was an extremely troubling, dark, and reflective story about a torn man headed towards a path of no return. Khadra explores what motivates an individual to carry out acts of terrorism and also how the most vulnerable are recruited by extremists.

Yasmina doesn’t hold back and instantly begins the story with Khalil, a young Belgium lad making his way to the Stade De France along with three other suicide bombers. One of them is his best friend Driss who he has known since a child. The attack goes ahead but Khalil survives as his vest malfunctions leading to him to go into hiding. Khalil frantically tries to understand what happened and reflect on how he reached this point in his life.

One of the main things that Yasmina attempts to do is put you into the mind of a terrorist. Khalil reflects on his life and what made him become a terrorist. We see that Khalil has pity for his life and the fact that he didn’t amount to anything. The worst thing is when Khalil and Driss are on their way to the Stade De France Stadium, Khalil says this is the first time in his life that he is doing something that is important.

Many times throughout the story he feels disgusted by how poor him and his family are. He also has a difficult relationship with his father who constantly insults his son for not amounting to anything. Khalil is even angry at his mother for staying with their father just to provide him multiple children.

Essentially, Yasmina Khadra is drawing up the factors that lead to individuals being targeted and drawn to radicalisation. These being individuals from a disconnected family i.e. Khalil’s strained relationship with his father, those who haven’t finished school (Khalil dropped out along with Driss), and individuals who can’t seem to get their career up and running.

Khalil also meets many so called “brothers” such as Imam Sadek and Lyes who entice him into making Khalil believe that carrying out acts of terrorism will allow him to regain a feeling of self worth and fufilment. Khalil in my eyes is extremely selfish and is just the eptimome “self pity”. Rather than fix his broken relationships and change his life around, he chooses to complain about the situation and not fix things with his family.

“How do these pseudo-imams manage to persuade young men to relinquish their dreams, their joys, their wives and children?”

He doesn’t realise there are those who love him and care for him deeply. Those being his twin sister Zahra and another childhood friend Rayan. Zahra is the shining light in Khalil’s life and he loves his sister like no other.

“My twin sister was all that remained to me on earth. I adored her, and she felt the same about me. We were so intensely close that she could detect the least of my worries.”

Rayan is totally different to his childhood friends Khalil and Driss. Unlike Driss and Khalil who dropped out of school, Rayan kept his head down and worked hard allowing him to gain a fantastic job and career. Khalil tells us that his father never even glanced at his report cards and how he was doing in school. Where as Rayan’s mother was extremely focuses on getting her son out of the slums and on to the pass of success. When Rayan finds out about Khalil being part of the heinous act of terrorism, he tries to make Khalil realise that there is so much in this world to love rather than hate and ridicule.

“There’s nothing more precious than life, and no one has the right to lay a finger on it”

When considering the writing, it’s incredibly fast paced and very thought provoking. Khadra’s writing style makes you want to sit attentively and listen to what’s being said. Yasmina puts you deep into the shoes of Khalil and his radicalisation. We see why Khalil joins a terrorist organisation, how he is manipulated, and how he reflects on the events that take place. The story aims to show the ripple effect of the pain and hurt that occurs as a result of acts of terrorism.

What I’ve learned from reading this story is that there are those evil scumbags who see people like Khalil who haven’t amounted to anything or are fed up with their lives as a way of carrying out their own evilness. As a Muslim myself I truly believe that those who carry out such atrocities in the name of Islam aren’t Muslims. In Islam and within the Qur’an it is written that if someone kills merely one human being, it’s as if they have killed all humanity. It infuriates me that there are people who use Islam to carry out their own evil agendas. This is something that Yasmina highlights many times throughout the novel.

It’s a small majority of people who carry out such horrible acts yet it’s these acts that gives those Muslims who live normal lives and no nothing but peace and harmony a bad name. This is something that is highlighted when Khalil is in a takeaway, there are customers discussing the incident that occured and one points out that they are highly qualified with a university degree yet because of the terrorist acts that have occured in recent years he is discriminated against for having a Muslim name. Many Muslims throughout the world have faced islamophobia in recent years. I myself have faced abuse by others just because I’m Muslim.

Another thing I must mention however is that I am so fed up of stories that constantly depict Muslims as terrorists. I understand that this is very much an anti radicalisation novel, but why must this topic always focus on Muslims? We are seeing the increasing rise of white supremacy yet I haven’t seen much mainstream fiction focusing on this.

I’ve also heard that this is the third book in which Yasmina Khadra has focused on a novel where a Muslim character is a terrorist? Who am I to tell another person what to do but maybe it’s time to move on from this narrative. Maybe focus on those Muslims who are normal people, working normal jobs, falling in love, doing fantastic things with their lives, and are doing good for the community. This is just my opinion.

Overall, this was a very well written story that highlights how radicalisation occurs and those who may be seen as prime targets. It was very thought provoking as Yasmina really puts you into the mind of someone who has been radicalised and draws out the question that if a person is headed towards the path of no return is it possible to turn around? Yasmina Khadra also writes in a very reflective manner that really grabs you and makes you think deeply. It was a very heavy read for me and after finished reading the novel I was very much lost for words.

Thank you Doubleday for #gifting me a copy. I am very grateful to have been given the chance to review this novel and share my thoughts. The book releases on the 16th of February

Black Widows by Cate Quinn – Book Review

Black Widows by Cate Quinn takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is told from the POV of characters of Rachel the first wife and her sister wives, Tina and Emily who are in a polygamist relationship with salesman Blake Nelson. Blake is found murdered having been choked out, his face has been battered, and he his two fingers is missing. The question is, which three of his wives did it?

It’s been a really long time since I’ve read a proper thriller. Before I fell in love with the fantasy genre, thrillers were all I read. I began to become bored with the unoriginal plots and the repetitiveness of the books I had read. However, thankfully Black Widows managed to be a highly enjoyable and fresh thriller that really grabbed me. It was highly entertaining as each of the wives race against time to clear their name while also attempt to find who killed Blake and which one of the wives did it.

What made it even more fun was how Cate Quinn does incredibly well in making you think you know who did it then misdirecting you out of nowhere! This made it so much more intense and at the end of many chapters I was like 😱.

I also found all of the characters really interesting and complex. I enjoyed how effortlessly the story flowed from Rachel to Emily to Tina. Many have complex backstorys which really bring to fruition as to why they’ve gotten themselves in the situation they are in. I would say my favourites were Tina and Rachel as I feel their personalities were more interesting. Tina was hilarious and I loved her infatuation with Cagney and Lacey. She soon becomes a self entitled detective who wants to solve Blake’s murder. I can’t really say much about Rachel because it would instantly spoil the story, but yeah she has been through a looooot. There are so many twists and secrets uncovered about the characters which I never expected.

In terms of the writing it was great. Everything flowed perfectly and even though there were three characters, each had distinct personalities that made it easy to not forget them. The chapters were also incredibly suspenseful switching from character to character as we slowly discover their secrets, truths, and lies. The twists and turns had my head spinning and I didn’t once expect it to end the way it did.

Overall, a really enjoyable thriller that has got me back to enjoying the thriller genre. Cate Quinn is a fantastic writer and really grabbed me with her writing and characterization. Each of the three women were so so interesting and really surprised me in many ways.