Books by Muslim Authors, YA Books

As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh – ARC Review

Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for the arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life.

Now Salama volunteers at a hospital in Homs, helping the wounded who flood through the doors daily. Secretly, though, she is desperate to find a way out of her beloved country before her sister-in-law, Layla, gives birth. So desperate, that she has manifested a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe.

But even with Khawf pressing her to leave, Salama is torn between her loyalty to her country and her conviction to survive. Salama must contend with bullets and bombs, military assaults, and her shifting sense of morality before she might finally breathe free. And when she crosses paths with the boy she was supposed to meet one fateful day, she starts to doubt her resolve in leaving home at all.

Soon, Salama must learn to see the events around her for what they truly are—not a war, but a revolution—and decide how she, too, will cry for Syria’s freedom.

TW: death (adult & children), torture, sexual assault, murder, war, starvation, PTSD, grief

This book is devastating and hauntingly beautiful and a story that I will be thinking about for a long time. There are scenes that are seared into my memory, scenes that utterly broke me and I had to stop reading. This book made me sob and it is one of the most beautiful stories I have read. 

This story is set just after the Syrian revolution began and deals with what happens to the people who are living in a war torn country. We meet Salama who wanted to become a pharmacist but those dreams are shattered when the revelation begins and now helps at the hospital saving as many people as she can. She meets Kenan who wanted to study animation but now films what is happening in Syria and uploads it to youtube so people can see what is happening. Together they bring back hope into their lives despite the circumstances they live in.

As long as the lemon trees grow hope will never die.

There is also Layla, Salama’s sister in law and only family left after her parents are murdered and her brother imprisoned. And Kenan’s younger brother and sister that he is doing his best to protect. These people are Salama and Kenan’s lifelines. Seeing how they feel terrified that anything could happen to them and there would be nothing that they could do. There are several scenes that are inspired by real life events and that made it even more chilling and devastating to read.

This land is me. And I am her. My history, my ancestors, my family, we’re all here.

We also meet Khawf who is part of Salama’s hallucination, he is the one that keeps pushing her to find a way to leave Syria to find safety but she feels guilty for leaving while there is so many people who need her help. She has learnt on the job but she always has a wealth of pharmacological knowledge that helps so many people. Kenan feels like he needs to fight for his home and share with the world what is happening. I really loved seeing the different aspects and how they struggled with the choices they made. It was so raw and real and I felt that struggle with them. Zoulfa has written these characters so beautifully and they are complex and feel so real and I completely fell in love with them. I also loved seeing how they carved out some joy for themselves amidst all the sorrow.

When they realise they will not survive long enough to make any impact they decide they need to leave to keep their family safe. But even the journey to escape is harrowing. Zoulfa doesn’t shy away from the realities of what has happened and continues to happen in Syria and everyone needs to read it. 

This is a book that everyone needs to read. It gives voice to the voiceless and shows us the strength and resilience of the Syrians and their fight for justice and freedom and how hope can be find in even the most difficult circumstances.

Books by Muslim Authors, YA Books

A Darkness at the Door by Intisar Khanani – ARC Review

Thank you to Hot Key Books and Netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

I’ve been cursed, betrayed, and sold into slavery – but the truth I carry can’t be allowed to die.

Only Rae knows the extent of the corruption at the heart of the kingdom of Menaiya, from the noble lord who betrayed her, to the Circle of Mages whose wards protect the slavers from discovery. Injured and imprisoned on a slave ship, Rae’s options are quickly running out. When a desperate escape attempt goes terribly wrong, she finds herself indebted to a terrifying Fae sorceress.

Now Rae will not rest until she has rescued her fellow prisoners and freed her land from the darkness that has taken hold. To succeed, she’ll need every ally she can find—including Bren, the thief who may have stolen her heart. But Bren is hiding his own bloody secrets, and the curses that encircle Rae have sunk their claws into her mind. With her debts coming due and time running short, all the truths in the world may not be enough to save her kingdom, or herself.

This is the sequel to The Theft of Sunlight and it was absolutely phenomenal. It has fast become a favourite read this year and one of my all time favourite series! I cannot even begin to describe how much I absolutely adored this book and just how seen Rae made me feel. I did in fact sob at the wonderful nuanced disability rep in this duology.

These books mean so much to me not only because being Pakistani and seeing a desi inspired magical world with brown characters but also because the main character has a physical disability and the representation was so well done and made me feel so seen. As someone who has a disability that affects my mobility it was so refreshing to see a young woman who has similar issues but this isn’t her whole personality nor is it tokanised. She fights injustices that she sees and while her mobility may limit her in some things she adapts and continues the fight. 

One life to protect many is not a hard decision.

I also loved seeing that the love interest accepted her completely and entirely as she is and didn’t for even one second think less of her or pity her because of her disability. I think it’s so important for people with disabilities to see that. To be reminded that they are enough the way they are and they don’t need to hide or minimise themselves to fit in or be loved. 

I absolutely adore Rae and how determined and passionate she is about fighting injustices and fighting for those who can’t and her journey into seeing that actually the justice system that is in place may not actually protect everyone. That it only protects the rich and the rest have had to turn to the thieves for justice. And how she struggles to reconcile her ideals with the reality of the situation and then make decisions as to how she can help change the system. The discussions on systemic corruption needing systemic change was so well written into the story, especially the parallels between this world and ours. How Rae had to speak up and stand against those in power and how difficult and scary it can be especially when they can hurt those you love in retaliation. 

She can certainly try to fight the injustices she’s chosen. That’s her decision, not yours.

Bren has become one of my favourite male characters ever. I love him so much. From when we first meet him in Thorn to his arc in the duology. How his tragic backstory has made him into the man he has become. He knows that the system is corrupt so he built his own and while it isn’t perfect and technically makes him an enemy of the government he fights for the poor and those who the system does not protect. I loved seeing how his ideas of justice also changed and evolved just like Rae’s. In needing to find a balance that helped everyone and that the thieves justice is not a long term solution to the systemic issue. 

Rae and Bren’s relationship was one of my favourite parts of the story. The slow burn romance that bloomed while they both tried to deny their feelings and the flirting was just top tier! I loved every single scene between them and a particular scene that left Bren speechless for once lives in my head rent free! I cannot begin to explain how much I loved them together. How Bren accepts every part of her, how Rae accepts all of him and how they both change to be better for each other. 

It’s not cheating, it’s changing the rules.

This has one of the most satisfying endings I have ever read and how the pieces that started in Thorn are all wrapped up in a realistic way but still satisfy the readers and yet there are little tendrils where we can see that there may be more story there, especially when it comes to Niya. I hope we get to see more of the world and maybe even more of Rae and Bren and Alyrra. But I love how the story ended for them all.

Please everyone go read these books, you will not regret it!

Blog Tours/Street Teams, Books by Muslim Authors, Middle Grade Books

Nura & The Immortal Palace Blog Tour – Book Review

Thank you to ed.pr and walker books for having me on this blog tour! I will be sharing my review as part of the tour!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Nura has worked all her life in the mica mines, earning just enough to keep her family afloat – and enjoy the odd delicious gulab jamun from the market. Some day she’s going to find the Demon’s Tongue, a legendary treasure buried deep in the mines, and her family will never have to worry about money again.

But when a terrible accident buries her best friend below ground, Nura goes in search of him and passes over into the magical and terrible world of the jinn. Across a pink sea and under a purple sky, she finds her way to a palace, where great riches and a whole new life are on offer.

But it’s not long before Nura discovers this world to be as unfair as the real one, and that trickster jinns will always live up to their reputation…

This book was so wonderful and it was so great to see Pakistani culture and Muslim and Pakistani folklore in the story. From clothes to food everything was so familiar and I just loved it all. The descriptions of the food especially had me craving all of my favourites, especially gulab jamuns! I felt completely immersed in the world and just the small mentions of Ayat al Kursi and Eid celebrations it made my heart so happy!

If anyone says they work for passion or world peace and not the delicious food on their plate, they’re lying.

When I saw this story had jinns and set in Pakistan I knew I had to read it! It did not disappoint. We grow up with stories of jinns and how we each have our own Qareen that influences us to do some…not so great things and then I see how it’s so wonderfully woven into the story and how Nura and Faisal meet their Qareens and are tricked by them and then have to escape. It felt like my childhood stories come to life!

Not only is this story a magical adventure where a young girl is whisked off to the jinn world but through this there are discussions around child labour and exploitation of poor people which keeps the poor, poor and the rich get richer. I really loved how this is woven into the story without it being too heavy and it’s written in a way that young people can understand. I think these discussions are so important especially as it happens globally and so many people suffer as a result. How these people are pitted against each other so they don’t see who is truly causing their suffering.

The poor stay poor because the rich aren’t willing to spread their resources.

I loved the friendships in this book, between Nura and Faisal and how different they are to each other but how well they work together. How they deeply care for each other and go to great lengths to protect and help each other. It was also great to see how Nura slowly learns to work with others too that she initially finds difficult but as she learns she realises how everyone struggles in their own way.

I just loved Nura even though she was quite hot headed and always ready to fight, it felt real for a 12 year old who has had to grow up too quickly and been unfairly burdened by responsibilities that she shouldn’t have had to shoulder at such a young age. I loved how stubborn and resilient she was and yet it was also heart breaking to see her and the other children go through everything they had suffered and how it affected them.

I highly recommend everyone read this wonderful story!

Adult Books, Books by Muslim Authors, The Daevabad Trilogy

The River of Silver by S.A. Chakraborty – Audiobook Review

I have been dying for more Daevabad content ever since I finished The Empire of Gold and Shannon certainly delivered! This book was everything I wanted and more!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A prospective new queen joins a court whose lethal history may overwhelm her own political savvy…

An imprisoned royal from a fallen dynasty and a young woman wrenched from her home cross paths in an enchanted garden…

A pair of scouts stumble upon a secret in a cursed winter wood that will turn over their world…

Now together in one place, these stories of Daevabad enrich a world already teeming with magic and wonder. From Manizheh’s first steps towards rebellion to adventures that take place after The Empire of Gold, this is a must-have collection for those who can’t get enough of Nahri, Ali, and Dara and all that unfolded around them.

TW: suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, self harm, torture, attempted rape

I am completely enthralled by the Daevabad trilogy and so it was bittersweet when I finished The Empire of Gold but then Shannon blessed us with these stories. Stories of love and hope and even the darker parts were balanced with lighter elements. A perfect collection to see so much more of the world and characters in these stories.

So first about the audiobook itself, I love listening to the trilogy and was so glad that the same narrator was narrating this too. I love listening to her and how she brings the story to life. I think that even if you aren’t a huge fan of audiobooks this will be okay to listen to especially as we are already familiar with the story and characters.

Some stories Shannon had shared before on her website so I was familiar with some but some were brand new and I especially loved Duriya and Hatset’s stories. How these women carved a place for themselves in a world that barely made space for them. That they showed strength and bravery and fighting for something better. It was amazing to see these glimpses into the past, the younger versions of the characters we all know and see how they may have been different and what may have caused them to become the characters we see in the books.

My favourite stories were of course the ones of Alizayd, the scene we see set just before The Kingdom of Copper was so funny and we get more of a glimpse of him using his abilities and just more of him trying not to implode when girls throw themselves at him which is always hilarious to read.

But my favourite scene was of course that last story that Shannon had vaguely hinted at before and it was everything I wanted and more. It was such a beautiful story about love and taking that step to be vulnerable with someone you love even if it terrifies you. It’s about trust and respecting each others decisions and boundaries and it is about building something on a strong foundation of friendship and care.

It was the perfect story to end on especially as this is the last story we will be getting of these characters and we end on a note of hope and joy and love.

I have already listened to it multiple times especially that last story and I know that I will be coming back to these stories time and time again.

My reviews for the trilogy can be found here: The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, The Empire of Gold

Books by Muslim Authors, YA Books

This Is My Truth by Yasmin Rahman – Book Review

Thank you to Hot Key Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book is incredible and should be read by both teens and adults.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Best friends Amani and Huda are getting nervous about their GCSEs – and their future beyond school, which they’re both wildly unprepared for. Shy, quiet Amani has an outwardly picture-perfect family – a father who is a successful TV presenter, a loving mother, and an adorable younger brother – while confident and impulsive

Huda has grown up with over-affectionate foster parents who are now expecting a baby of their own. Both girls are jealous of each other’s seemingly easy life, without realising the darkness or worries that lie underneath. Then Huda witnesses Amani’s father hitting her mother, and Amani’s biggest secret is suddenly out. As Amani convinces Huda to keep quiet by helping her with her own problems, a prank blog starts up at school, revealing students’ secrets one by one. Will this anonymous blogger get hold of Amani’s secret too? Will Huda keep quiet?

Trigger warning: Domestic violence

This book deals with domestic violence in desi and Muslim communities and it is an incredibly difficult topic to deal with but Yasmin deals with so sensitively and it’s so well written. She also discusses what it can be like for a young girl in the foster care system.

The story is told from the point of view of Amani and Huda who are best friends in the last couple weeks of school. Huda is more outspoken and confident whereas Amani is more reserved and introverted but they both get along really well together. Seeing the way the teens were during the last few weeks literally transported me back to my last few weeks of school. While Amani’s school had a prank war, we had egg and flour fights. The stress and relief and excitement and worry with your normal coming to an end after five years was so well written in the story. I could feel it and remember when it was me. Honestly it made me real nostalgic, although I do not miss exam stress.

Both Amani and Huda think the other has the perfect family but it really shows how no one truly knows what is happening in the home and that on the outside your family can seem picture perfect but inside you are just trying to survive each day.

Huda had a lot of insecurities and struggled to think of a future for herself because of how she has been moved around in the foster care system. How can she think of a future plan when her whole life can be uprooted in any moment? Do her foster parents truly love her or will they discard her now that they have their own baby coming? These things run through her mind pushing her into asking Amani to teach her to be a “perfect daughter” and it really brought into question, what is a perfect daughter and can any girl be a perfect daughter?

These are the things that make you you, the things I love about you.

None of us are perfect, we make mistakes, we hurt those we love even by accident and yet desi culture demands perfection from girls from a young age. Their worth is based on how “perfect” they are. They decide what makes the girl a good or perfect daughter and it always includes being obedient, submissive, quiet, and able to handle all domestic chores without complaint. When we aren’t that, we are labelled rebellious and bad.

Huda is attacked in this way by some characters in the book too. She thinks that because she isn’t that type of daughter her foster parents won’t want to keep her after they have their own child. Her insecurity about being loved was so heartbreaking to read. No child should be made to feel that they aren’t loved and love shouldn’t be conditional on whether they meet certain criteria. Even though her foster parents are incredible and love her for the way she is. Society pressure can still make a teen feel insecure about it.

Amani lives in an abusive toxic household but one that looks picture perfect from the outside. Everyone sees a wonderful caring father and yet no one sees who he truly is behind closed doors. So who would even believe her mother or Amani if they spoke up? Amani’s terror and struggle to cope and hide this from everyone was so difficult to read. How despite being terrified herself she still had to be there for her little brother. How this affected both their perceptions on how you should treat your spouse, what marriage is like, how a woman should be treated and how a man should be towards their wife. Amani says she would rather be single and honestly I felt the same at her age. Marriage was a prison, it was suffocating and violent. But I was really glad to see there was a contrast with Huda’s foster parents being in a healthy happy relationship.

I thought that’s what marriage was – not being happy.

Amani would take on the burden of “fixing” her dad like it was her responsibility, if she was just a perfect daughter it would be okay. But no matter how perfect she was, her dad would still become violent at the smallest inconvenience. Her mother lived in fear, and would flinch at the smallest sounds. She reduced herself, she stopped being her own person and just lived to try and keep her husband happy. She kept one thing for herself which was a part time job and this became another area in which her father would try to control her financially. The emotional, physical, psychological and financial abuse she goes through is horrifying and yet she still tries to be a good mum to her kids and wants to protect them. She doesn’t realise until much later that her silence was also destroying her children, even though women are told to stay silent “for the sake of the kids.” How is staying in an abusive relationship good for her or her kids?  

I love that Yasmin has written a book dealing with these topics within the Muslim and Desi communities because so many kids and teens are affected by it and yet to speak about it is taboo. There is too much emphasis on what will people say as opposed to how my child feels, is my family safe, are we creating a healthy environment for them to grow up in. Yasmin has done such a wonderful job of discussing these topics in her book and I hope that they are easily available to teens. So they know that they aren’t alone and trapped, so that they know that violence isn’t okay.

Okay wow I have written a long essay but truly this is a topic I am incredibly passionate about and I was literally sobbing by the end of the book and knew that this will stay with me for a long time. Like Yasmin’s first book, this is another book I wish I had been able to read as a teen.

I loved Huda and Amani’s friendship and it was really great to see friends that fall out but also work through the reasons for the fall out without making lives difficult for each other. Huda broke Amani’s trust but she realised she was wrong to do so and apologised and tried to make up for it. Amani knows that what Huda did, while still wrong, was to help her. It’s such a delicate and difficult situation to be in for both of them and we aren’t really shown or taught in any way how to handle these things. I was glad to see that they were able to work things through and remain friends.

Someone once told me you can’t count on the future…the present’s all you got

This book deeply resonated with me on so many levels and one that I want everyone to read. It’s such an important book and shows how toxic these situations are and that we shouldn’t have to silently put up with it. I highly recommend everyone who can read this to read this. Give it to teens and adults alike because even adults who have not been in these type of situations don’t truly understand what it is like. Please go buy and read this book!