I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)

I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan
Published by Macmillan Children's Books on January 25th 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there's prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.

But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice - keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?

A stunning new YA voice which questions how far you'll go to protect what you believe in.

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

I often say I’m not much of a contemporary reader, but I knew I wanted to read I Am Thunder as soon as I heard about it.  I grew up in a city with a huge, diverse, multi-cultural population. If you were asked to think of a city with a large Asian population, I can guarantee it would be one of your first guesses.  There are plenty of people in the city who care a lot more about the things they have in common – a shared hometown, a common favourite food, a TV show they both love, whatever.  Sadly, as with anywhere, there are also people who can’t see beyond the things that make us different.  In my city at least, the hate language often isn’t targeted at Muslims specifically, but blindly at anyone who ‘looks Asian’.  As a white, non-religious woman, I’ve never been on the receiving end, but I’ve had friends and co-workers who’ve reveived exactly the kind of abuse Muzna gets in I am Thunder.   I Am Thunder addresses real world issues that should be talked about more – stereotypes, prejudice, racism and extremism – and is one of the very few YA books I’ve come across that have a Muslim protagonist.

The book feels authentic the whole way through. Khan is a teacher, so the interactions between the teens and their responses to things feel believable, complete with slang language.  This is one of the novel’s strengths, as well as a possible weakness: the teens sound like current British teens, making it feel believable, but may put off readers from elsewhere and the language may not age well, so that’s a thing to bear in mind.

It was cruel to bring me up in Britain, make me go to school with British kids, then expect me to act like a girl from back home. Outside of having brown skin, speaking the language, and half-heartedly cheering the cricket team on with Dad, I had no real idea of what it meant to be Pakistani.

Muzna is a great character.  She worries about the expected teen problems: worrying about her weight and her looks, wondering what to do with her life, feeling torn between the strict rules her parents put on her and her desire to fit in at school.  On top of that, and the concerns that come with starting at a new school, she begins to fall for a boy who’s extreme views of the world have her questioning everything.  She’s not ashamed of her Pakistani heritage, but she does feel removed from it, having grown up in Britain.  She feels like it makes her a target – and indeed, sadly it does.  The way she slowly gets drawn in by Arif and his extremist views is believable, and her sympathetic nature makes her struggle with what to do both plausible and emotional.  There may be moments when you curse her for being easily drawn in, and I personally wasn’t convinced by the love interest, but it felt like she made normal teenage decisions – some good, some bad but none forced for the sake of plot. She’s flawed but likable, and is definitely the star of the novel. The she supporting characters weren’t as strong, but they were believable enough.  Arif is interesting, although I felt the twist at the end was a bit unecessary – he’d have been believable enough without it.

“Tough though innit? Black man commits a crime, people say he’s a gangbanger. If it’s a muslim, he’s a-”
“Terrorist.” I interrupted.
He nodded. “But if it’s a white guy, he gets called a ‘lone wolf’, and suddenly it’s all about mental health issues.”

I love the way Khan talks about the differences between culture and religion, as well as the fact that there are many different ways people follow their religion.  I Am Thunder will make you furious at the society we live in and the pernicious prejudice Muzna faces every day, as it should.  It has witty, funny moments that made me laugh out loud, and poignant, heartbreaking moments.  It has empowering moments that will make you cheer for Muzna and inspire you.  I flew through the novel in a day, and it’s definitely one I’ll be re-reading eventually, because it deserves to be really thought about and considered.  While it isn’t necessarily a perfect novel, it’s powerful, it’s emotional and above all it is necessary – it deserves to be applauded and should be on everyone’s TBR.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

This Mortal Coil (Emily Suvada)

This Mortal Coil (Emily Suvada)This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
Published by Penguin Books Ltd on November 2nd 2017
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 464
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

When a lone soldier, Cole, arrives with news of Lachlan Agatta's death, all hope seems lost for Catarina. Her father was the world's leading geneticist, and humanity's best hope of beating a devastating virus. Then, hidden beneath Cole's genehacked enhancements she finds a message of hope: Lachlan created a vaccine.

Only she can find and decrypt it, if she can unravel the clues he left for her. The closer she gets, the more she finds herself at risk from Cartaxus, a shadowy organization with a stranglehold on the world's genetic tech. But it's too late to turn back.

There are three billion lives at stake, two people who can save them, and one final secret that Cat must unlock. A secret that will change everything.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★
Readability: ★★★★★

I expected to love This Mortal Coil – science, basically zombies, end-of-the world? These are serious buzz words for me!

Good things first: This Mortal Coil was immensely readable.  It’s more than 400 pages long, and yet despite that I flew through it in three days, squeezing it into every spare moment around work.  The story is full of twists and turns that made sure I didn’t want to put it down. The science is great – it reminded me of The Martian, in that both books give you actual science and just expect you to keep up, which I absolutely loved.  Cat’s smart, and feisty, and likeable. The world is genuinely interesting, and believable, and complex.

Onto the less good: for a book with so many twists and turns, I thought the ending was predictable. I felt a bit like the overall story was very predictable, and so Suvada had deliberately tried to make the story more convoluted and unexpected to try and distract from that – while that made it an addictive read, some of the twists also felt a bit like unecessary diversions, and the book could easily have been a fair amount shorter.  There’s a love triangle which wasn’t my favourite thing, but it wasn’t overwhelming or too angsty so it definitely wasn’t a dealbreaker.

This book definitely seems to be polarizing: most of the reviews I’ve read have either been adoring or hating, with not much in the middle. For me, despite the flaws, it was an interesting read and I’m certainly intrigued to see where the rest of the series goes if I can borrow a copy, but I won’t be rushing out to buy one.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Lord of Shadows (Cassandra Clare)

Lord of Shadows (Cassandra Clare)Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on May 23rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 701
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

SPOILER ALERT: As this is book 2 in The Dark Artifices series, there will be spoilers for Lady Midnight throughout this review.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Given my somewhat inconsistent opinions of Cassandra Clare’s books in the past, I was nervous about Lady Midnight – but then ended up loving it! I bought Lord of Shadows as soon as I had an audible credit, and I binge listened to both books in a row.  I have to admit, part of my motivation for getting the audiobooks was that I knew Lord of Shadows was narrated by James Marsters, one of my favourite narrators (although I miss his Spike accent!).  Picking an audiobook based on the narrator might seem like a pretty risky strategy, but it paid off in this case – I enjoyed Lord of Shadows even more than Lady Midnight.

I felt like we got to see more of the Blackthorn siblings in Lord of Shadows, and I really enjoyed that. I adore Ty, and I’m definitely a not-so-secret Ty and Kit shipper!  The romance element got heavier in Lord of Shadows, which could have been a dealbreaker for me, given that I didn’t love the romance in Lady Midnight, but there was enough here to enjoy to more than balance it out.  Three love triangles are definitely too many, especially when I feel like two of them have a clear way they should pan out (in my head at least).  Feeling like they’ve got an obvious resolution takes away some of the intensity, and instead just felt like a slightly annoying, predictable way to try and ramp up the intensity.

Having said that, I love a lot of the characters, so I’m willing to overlook some of their irritating romance habits to a certain extent.  Mark and Kieran are both pretty emotionally damaged, and those are my favourite kind of characters, so it’s no surprise I’d love them! Christina and Emma are kickass, and Kit and Ty are just kind of adorable.  I mostly just feel a bit bad for Dru, who seems to always get a crappy deal – she’s very relatable, but I do occasionally want to shake her a bit!  Livvy is the weakest character in the family for me, I just find her a bit strange and forgettable.  Tavvy hasn’t had much of an impact either but he’s only little still so I’m not really expecting him to! Maybe it’s just because Ty is such a good character, that I can’t help feeling Livvy is somewhat flat in comparison.

As with Lady Midnight, I found the plot addictive, and burned through this very quickly: 10 days for a ~24 hour audiobook is way above average pace for me!  There is a cliffhanger, so if you’re not fond of those, it might be worth waiting and binge-reading the trilogy all in one go, but having read the first one and knowing the second one was out, I couldn’t convince myself to wait!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare)

Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare)Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 698
Format: audio
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

In a kingdom by the sea…

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?

The darkly magical world of Shadowhunters has captured the imaginations of millions of readers across the globe. Join the adventure in Lady Midnight, the long-awaited first volume of a new trilogy from Cassandra Clare.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

I have a somewhat rocky track history with Cassandra Clare’s books… I loved books 1-3 of The Mortal Instruments but I thought 4 was pretty poor, and then ended up enjoying 5 & 6.  I’ve tried multiple times to get into The Infernal Devices, but despite having read Clockwork Angel I remember almost nothing about it and felt decidedly underwhelmed by it.  I put off picking up Lady Midnight because I assumed I’d need to have read The Infernal Devices first, but since I had an audible credit to spend I thought I’d just give it a try and look up a wikipedia summary for if I really needed to.

Lady Midnight follows Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorns, five years after City of Heavenly Fire. Based mostly at the LA Institute, this is a shadowhunter world that’s both familiar and still a little new to us as readers.  We’ve got characters that we know, sort of – we met Emma and the Blackthorns in City of Heavenly Fire – as well as new characters, like Kit Rook and Kieran.  We’ve got a few plot threads to follow throughout Lady Midnight: the return of Mark, who’s both changed and unchanged by his time in faerie, Emma’s search for evidence of what happened to her parents, and her desperate desire for revenge, and Emma and Julian’s potentially-veering-into-dangerous-territory feelings.

I have to say, I actually love most of the characters. Julian, like Jace, is a little too perfect-seeming for me at times, but I loved his siblings.  I instantly liked Kit and both Emma and Christina are very easy to like. The family dynamics between the Blackthorns are great, and the intense feelings stirred up by Mark’s return led to some moments that tugged on the heartstrings!  The romance definitely wasn’t my favourite aspect – one of my least favourite things in YA, especially when there’s a big cast, is when everyone gets paired off so neatly, with their forever partners (I don’t love all of Maas’ pairings for the same reason!) – but I didn’t dislike it. It felt plausible enough, and I could see why each would like the other, even if I thought everyone’s feelings were a little over the top!

Listening to audiobooks always takes me longer than reading a book of the same length because I only listen while walking to work (which I don’t do every day) and briefly to fall asleep.  Having said that, I listened to nearly 20 hours of audiobook in just under a month, which is a little higher than usual probably, because I was enjoying it!  While Morena Baccarin probably won’t be making it onto my list of all-time favourite narrators – which are all men so far, weirdly – I did find her very pleasant to listen to, and I’d happily listen to another audiobook she narrated.

I enjoyed Lady Midnight a lot more than I expected to, and as soon as I got another audible credit, I bought Lord of Shadows, and listened to it pretty much straight away.  You can bet I’ll be getting book 3 when it’s out too!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Review: Wonder Woman: WarbringerWonder Woman: Warbringer (DC Icons, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
on August 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Source: From the publisher
Amazon
Goodreads

She will become a legend but first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning...
Diana is desperate to prove herself to her warrior sisters. But when the opportunity comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law to save a mere mortal, Alia Keralis. With this single heroic act, Diana may have just doomed the world.
Alia is a Warbringer - a descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery. Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies, mortal and divine, determined to destroy or possess the Warbringer.
To save the world, they must stand side by side against the tide of war.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★
Readability: ★★★

I have to admit, I’m not much of a DC fangirl: I’ve never read any of the original comics, and my feelings on most of the DC movies are pretty lukewarm… But I loved the Wonder Woman film, and I liked Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, so I was really excited for Warbringer.

Leigh Bardugo’s take on Wonder Woman sees a young Diana save Alia from drowning, only to discover that Alia is a Warbringer and Diana may have just doomed the world.  Desperate to prove herself as a hero, to put things right, and to prevent being exiled by her sisters for the crime of saving a mortal, Diana leaves Themyscira to try and break the Warbringer cycle.

“I am done being careful. I am done being quiet. Let them see me angry. Let them hear me wail at the top of my lungs.”

I had pretty high expectations for Wonder Woman, and sadly the book didn’t quite live up to those.  I liked the premise well enough, but the story felt very slow and I found the twist predictable.  Warbringer, despite being a teen book, felt very young to me; it has a definite Percy Jackson-esque feel, which isn’t a bad thing but wasn’t what I was expecting.  I didn’t feel the dangers and consequences were believably threatening, and the fact that the characters respond to trouble with giggly banter made it even harder to take seriously.

Bardugo’s writing was enjoyable, and the book is endlessly quotable.  The book is clearly trying to be Epic though, and occasionally those inspiring or kick-ass or feminist lines felt shoe-horned in.  I liked Diana and Alia, and I LOVED Nim. I wasn’t particularly bothered by either Jason or Theo.  I loved the diversity of the cast, and the mixtures of points of view we got, rather than everyone always agreeing and thinking the same way.  I never really got emotionally invested in the romances though, to be honest I think I’d have found a relationship between Diana and Nim (or even Alia) more believable than the ones we got!

All in all, Wonder Woman was a good, fun read, and a genuinely solid choice.  If you loved the Wonder Woman movie and want a superhero book with a diverse cast and lovely writing, you’ll enjoy it. You just might not love it, even if you’re expecting to.

One StarOne StarOne Star