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

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

TBR list review: Flame in the Mist

TBR list review: Flame in the MistFlame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1) by Renee Ahdieh
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 393
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.
So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.
The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

I’ve seen a lot of great reviews for The Wrath and the Dawn and it’s sequel, but Flame in the Mist is the first Renée Ahdieh book I’d ever picked up, so I had pretty much no idea what to expect.  Feudal Japan, Mulan-inspired, Fantasy… It sounded pretty epic, and so I had high hopes.  Plus, although the cover isn’t necessarily an indication of a great book, this gorgeous cover certainly stands out and kept me coming back to it often, wondering if I should finally give it a chance.  On the other hand, Flame in the Mist has seen massive positive hype, and that always makes me a little cautious which is why I didn’t pick this up until it was chosen as the TBR list winner for May.

Flame in the Mist started really slowly in my opinion – it took me 5 days to read the first third, and I felt like very little happened in that third.  I found myself starting other books, or just choosing to do things other than read, a lot of the time during those first five days, because I just wasn’t gripped at all.  The second half was addictive and took me only a day to get through, but ultimately Flame in the Mist was a bit of a disappointment for me.

I liked most of the characters, or at the very least I was curious about them even if I didn’t necessarily like them – Ranmaru, Yoshi, Okami and Yumi are all interesting, and I was particularly intrigued by the relationship between Ranmaru and Okami.  I didn’t have particularly strong feelings for Mariko either way – her logic sometimes baffled me, but I didn’t dislike her, and I liked the fact she had opinions of her own about being married off etc.  I didn’t like the romance particularly though, and I just didn’t believe the sexual chemistry between them at all.  It felt like it was trying to be a sort of enemies to lovers ship – one of my favourite types of ship! – but I felt like the attraction between the two came out of nowhere.

There were times when Ahdieh’s descriptions were lovely and evocative, and there are some clever quotes you can’t help but admire, but there were also times when the writing style infuriated me and distracted me from the story. There were a lot of times when the description descends into tiny short sentences which didn’t work for me at all.  I’ve lent my copy to a friend so I can’t skim it for more examples, but consider this one, a featured quote on Goodreads.  Some of this sort of works for me in a taking-control-of-her-destiny-way, but is a prime example of the tiny little sentences I mean:

“But Mariko knew it was time to do more. Time to be more. She would not die a coward. Mariko was the daughter of a samurai. The sister of the Dragon of Kai. But more than that, she still held power over her decisions. For at least this one last day. She would face her enemy. And die with honor.”

These short sentences, inevitably all jammed together in rapid succession jarred me out of the story, and I found myself wondering why they were there.  In the example above, I can see that it helps dial up the intensity, but they were dotted throughout the whole book, even in completely non-dramatic moments. I just began to wonder what was wrong with a descriptive sentence of more than one clause – particularly as there are times in the book when they’re used brilliantly!

The fantasy elements are few and far between, with very little explanation.  If you’re expecting to be able to understand the rules of magic in the same way you might in something like a Maria V. Snyder novel, you’ll be sorely disappointed, and ultimately this feels more like a historical romance than a fantasy.  While I understand not wanting to give away all the answers at once, particularly as this is going to be at least a two book series, Flame in the Mist went too far the other way for me, and I was left not understanding the magic at all.  I almost started to feel like the magic was a later addition to the original story – on the rare occasions something magical felt plot-relevant, I was left not quite sure what happened or how or why.

The setting is great, and probably my favourite part of the book.  If you ignore the magic, the world-building is great and it’s certainly the only reason I kept reading during that slow first third of the book.  Ultimately though, as great as the setting was, the slightly strange writing style and the pretty-much-incomprehensible magic system meant I didn’t love this half as much as I wanted to. The addictiveness of the second half and the great setting (combined with an unsatisfied curiosity about the magic) mean I’ll be picking the second book up, but I won’t be rushing to pre-order it.  I loved the idea, but the execution left me disappointed.

 

One StarOne Star

Review: One of Us Is Lying

Review: One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Published by Delacorte Press on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them."

This book is described as Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club, and that’s a perfect description.  Five students go into detention, and only four make it out alive.  It’s quickly determined that the death of Simon – the school gossip – is no accident, and no one had better opportunity than the four students that go into that detention with him.  When it’s revealed that Simon had uncovered very deep, personal secrets about each of those four, it seems like no one had better motive either.  One of Us is Lying alternates between these four students in the aftermath of Simon’s death – as they’re each suspected of murder, as their secrets are revealed and as they grow both closer and yet ever more suspicious of each other.

The four characters begin as stereotypes, but quickly develop into interesting, complex people and it’s particularly interesting watching how their relationships change throughout the course of the novel.  Although the blurb describes them as strangers, in high school, how many people are truly strangers?  They have histories, old friendships, and if nothing else, opinions and prejudices about each other, that change throughout the book.  No one knows who to trust, and while they find themselves getting closer through their awful shared experience, they also can’t help but ignore the tiny voice in the back of their head that wonders “Is this the person who killed Simon?”

One of Us is Lying is an absolutely addictive read – I started it on my lunch break one day, and I’d finished it by the next.  I loved the twists and reveals, the cliffhangers and the suspense, but I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I came to like the characters, and how much I cared about their relationships.  While I’m not a huge contemporary fan – no dragons, no spaceships! – this was an enjoyable, addictive read that delivered exactly what I expected, and even a little more.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Assassin’s Fate

Review: Assassin’s FateAssassin's Fate (The Fitz and the Fool, #3) by Robin Hobb
on May 4th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 976
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

The final book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river.

Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee's only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.
Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected?

But Fitz and his followers are not the only ones with a deadly grudge against the Four. An ancient wrong will bring them unlikely and dangerous allies in their quest. And if the corrupt society of Clerres is to be brought down, Fitz and the Fool will have to make a series of profound and fateful sacrifices.
ASSASSIN’S FATE is a magnificent tour de force and with it Robin Hobb demonstrates yet again that she is the reigning queen of epic fantasy.

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS FOR BOTH EARLIER ROBIN HOBB BOOKS AND THE FIRST TWO BOOKS IN THE FITZ AND THE FOOL TRILOGY

If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll be well aware I am a huge Robin Hobb fan (see here, here, and here!), so it’s probably no surprise to you that Assassin’s Fate was without a doubt my most anticipated read of 2017.  Knowing that this was the finale not only to the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, but to The Realm of the Elderlings as a whole, I went in with both huge anticipation and nerves.  I didn’t feel I had time to re-read the whole Realm of the Elderlings series, but the long wait between Assassin’s Quest and Assassin’s Fate gave me plenty of time to re-read the first two books in this trilogy before Assassin’s Fate so that I’d be fully refreshed on the details before Assassin’s Fate.  I finished Assassin’s Quest on holiday and immediately picked up Assassin’s Fate.  Over the ten days it took me to read it, I wanted to fly through because it was so addictive and because I so desperately wanted to know what happened, and yet I also never wanted it to end. Reading on holiday worked out as a reasonable compromise, because we were so busy I didn’t actually have that much time to read, so I got to savour a little longer!

Don’t do what you can’t undo, until you’ve considered well what you can’t do once you’ve done it.

In this final volume, Fitz, Lant, Perseverance, Spark and the Fool are heading to Clerres to seek revenge on the Four and the Servants, while Bee is unwillingly being taken to Clerres by Dwalia.  Those two plot-lines are addictive in different ways.  Bee goes through even more character growth than she did in Assassin’s Quest, and she’s come a long way from the little girl we first met in Fool’s Assassin.  She has to explore how ruthless she’s willing to be as she and Dwalia try to survive their trip to Clerres, often having to choose between the enemy you know versus the one you don’t.  Hers is a fairly isolated journey, and although there is plenty of danger on the route, there’s also a lot of internal conflict but it’s no less intriguing for that – the snippets of Bee’s dream journal in particular make for interesting mysterious reading.

Fitz’s journey in comparison, is full of people and the complex relationships between them that Hobb is so good at writing and which I have such a weakness for.  The relationships between Lant, Perseverence and Spark, as well as their interactions with both Fitz and the Fool are interesting enough on their own, but of course it’s Fitz and the Fool’s relationship which remains, as it always has from my perspective, the most mysterious, the most intriguing, the most intricate.  In this book, as they read Bee’s journals, the two also form a bond with Bee, and the way those bonds differ, as well as the way they impact the Fitz and Fool’s relationship adds another layer of complexity to their relationship.

She could be prickly and exacting, critical and demanding. But she was like that in the confidence that they shared a love that could withstand such things.

As well as all of that, the journey takes them through many lands familiar to us from previous books, and Hobb ties up the whole Realm of the Elderlings series, showing us glimpses – and sometimes more involved appearances – from characters we’ve loved in other trilogies.  Hobb’s characters feel like old friends – in some cases, very old friends – and even as you’re addicted to the storyline in Fool’s Assassin, the nostalgia may well have you adding a re-read of the other books into your reading plans too.  My boyfriend said to me at one point that Assassin’s Fate was like my Avengers movie, and I agreed that it was – but better.  The liveships, the dragons, the white prophets, the Bingtown traders, the Pirate Isles – it’s all here, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more.

Hobb’s writing is, as usual, one of my favourite things about the books.  I re-read favourite sentences, I copied down quotes, I just-barely restrained myself from reading bits aloud to my other half (who has only read the original trilogy so far).  The way Hobb ties up the series as a whole, bringing in previously loved characters never felt awkward or contrived.  Despite the fact we haven’t seen some of these characters in years, there’s no info-dumps; the characters are there, as interesting and three-dimensional as they’ve always been, and so, particularly for more minor appearances, when Hobb assumes you’ll know who they are, you just do.

So much of his life was mine and so much of mine was his.

I’ve followed Fitz from the very beginning, and here, at the end of the series, I wasn’t sure what to expect, or what to hope for.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll say only that it was perfect.  We got answers to questions we’ve had for a long time, we got the fantastic worlds and characters Hobb always delivers and we got a plot I didn’t want to put down.  When this ended, I genuinely found myself hugging the book and smiling.  Fool’s Assassin made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me ramble incoherently with excitement, and it only solidified my love for the series.  I’m not sure what else you could possibly want from a series finale really!

All I can say is, thank you Robin Hobb.  And whether she returns to the Realm of the Elderlings or writes something totally different, I’ll be happy to follow, because she’s never once let me down.

 

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star