Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna – ARC Review

Thank you to Hodderscape for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

This book was so warm and comforting and such a wonderful read. I read the whole book in one night because I was completely hooked and I absolutely adored this charming story and the wonderful cast of characters. A story of finding your people and belonging and it was just so beautiful and heartwarming.

There is someone out there who will accept you as you are, who will allow you to just be Mika.

We meet Mika who is a young woman living on her own and has spent her whole life alone and now struggles to let people in and build emotional bonds and attachments because she thinks everyone will leave anyways. She answers an ad for a witch wanted, thinking that they can’t possibly know that she truly is a witch and this changes her whole life. 

I loved seeing Mika grow and learn to accept people into her life and be able to love deeply and be loved in return. Her story touches on how childhood trauma can impact your adult life but it is possible to work through that and choose a better life for yourself. I loved seeing her relationships with each of the children and how different they were and how each of them had a different reaction to Mika coming to live with them and teach them to control their magic. I also loved seeing her with the adults in charge of the care for the children and how they had built a close loving family and how starkly different it was for Mika growing up.

He was the purest alchemy, lead to gold.

Jamie is the book loving, nerdy, socially awkward love interest and I loved him so much! It was so refreshing to read a story where the man openly expresses his love and affection the way he does towards the family he has and especially the children under his care. He loves deeply and fiercely and will do everything in his power to protect those he loves. He doesn’t initially trust Mika but soon realises she wants nothing but the best for these children and he eventually learns to trust her and falls pretty hard for her. He is very grumpy at the beginning but secretly he is an absolute cinnamon roll and the quiet ways in which he cares for Mika and helps her see that she can be loved was just so beautiful to read.

She had never felt so welcomed and included, so much a part of something and she couldn’t rid herself of a lifelong fear that it was too good to be true.

The family dynamics and how each of the characters love and care for each other, and how Mika becomes part of their family and is accepted completely and entirely as she is was so wonderful to read. Being accepted and accepting all of yourself was a theme that ran through the story for most of the characters and showing the children a better life so they don’t have to suffer the way they did. I just loved it all so much!

If you love grumpy/sunshine, found family and a cosy, heartwarming story, I highly recommend picking up this book. I read this in one sitting and it’s a story that will stay with me for a long time.

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.

YA Books

Mindwalker by Kate Dylan – ARC Review

Thank you to Hodderscape and Netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. In the ten years she’s been rescuing imperilled field agents for the Syntex Corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.

She’s got twelve months left on the clock before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, and she’s hell-bent on using that time to cement her legacy. Sil’s going to be the only Mindwalker to ever pitch a perfect game—even despite the debilitating glitches she’s experiencing. But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced to flee the very company she once called home.

Desperate to prove she’s no traitor, Sil infiltrates the Analog Army, an activist faction working to bring Syntex down. Her plan is to win back her employer’s trust by destroying the group from within. Instead, she and the Army’s reckless leader, Ryder, uncover a horrifying truth that threatens to undo all the good Sil’s ever done.

With her tech rapidly degrading and her new ally keeping dangerous secrets of his own, Sil must find a way to stop Syntex in order to save her friends, her reputation—and maybe even herself.

This book is a wild ride! I was hooked from the very beginning and could not put this book down! I really loved Sil and Ryder and their dynamic and the utter chaotic energy they have together. 

I love sci-fi but even if you don’t I think lots of people will enjoy it. It’s very character driven as we follow Sil who has a limited time to prove her innocence and uncover a conspiracy so it was a thriller with a sci-fi twist and I loved it. It was especially interesting because it was set in a post apocalyptic world where life is so different from now because of how we destroyed the planet and repercussions of that. So that was an interesting element in the story too. 

This is a story of powerful men who always get what they want and being able to get away with practically anything because they are powerful men and the parallels to our society was really interesting to read. We see how Sil learns this the hard way and how systemic corruption has a long lasting and wide reaching effect. 

Never underestimate the power a single man can wield when the rest of us quit paying attention.

I do wish the morality of being able to mindwalk and take over a person’s mind and body had been discussed a little more. I did like seeing those discussions though it was more showing how people were disgusted by what Sil did but it would have been good to see Sil and the other mindwalkers think about whether it is morally okay and how this can lead to someone deciding to use this technology to control masses of people. It was interesting to see that they were all recruited as children and the families given lots of incentives and compensations for them joining. Children are easier to manipulate and parents did not have the authority to say no if the child agreed so there wasn’t any protections in place for these children either. They also could not live past their teenage years which I felt was also a way to control and ensure that people did not get older and think that maybe this isn’t right or they no longer want to be a part of it. I just wish this was discussed a little more in the book though there are mentions of it.

I really liked the side characters too and the friendships between them. How they supported and protected each other and worked together to find out who was behind everything. I do wish we could have seen more of them, especially Sil’s friends. 

This is a fast paced and action packed book which will take you on a wild ride and the revelations in the second half of the book had me shook. I really liked the ending and how things were resolved but shows there is still more work to be done to deal with the corruption and whether anyone should be allowed to control another person’s mind and body.

Adult Books, Diverse Books

The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi – ARC Review

Thank you to Harper Voyager and Netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.

Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.

Clear is the blood of the slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.

Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But when Sylah and Anoor meet, a fire burns between them that could consume the kingdom—and their hearts.

Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution. And when she joins forces with Sylah and Anoor, together these grains of sand will become a storm.

As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.

I went into this book with high expectations but unfortunately I ended up disappointed. While the premise of the story was interesting the actual story felt really slow and dragged a lot especially the first half where not a lot happened. This meant the ending where everything started to happen felt rushed and I just felt that this is the part of the story that should have been more fleshed out. 

There are three points of view in the story where we see the world through the eyes of three people from different social standings because of the colour of their blood. I liked that we got to see the way people are treated and the realities of their lives from different aspects but at times I felt that the povs weren’t very distinct so I would be confused when there was a sudden change though later in the story it became easier to differentiate. 

Sylah the main point of view we saw with Hassa and Anoor not getting as much though I liked her point of view least and wished we had gotten to see Hassa a lot more as she was the most interesting character for me. Her bravery and resilience despite how she has been treated to help and protect the most vulnerable people. I hope we get to see more of her in the sequel.

I enjoyed the second half of the book a lot more especially when the pieces started falling in place and the three storylines started to merge and we get to see how things aren’t as they seem. There was some revelations that I did not see coming and had me shook. I am looking forward to seeing what the outcome of the events at the end of the book will have in the next book.

Overall I did enjoy the story but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would but I am still looking forward to reading the sequel.

YA Books

This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede – ARC Review

Thank you to Hodderscape and Netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

This book had me hooked from the beginning and I flew through the book. I really enjoyed the story and the discussions around love and that there are different types of love and being lonely. I also liked the discussions around people in power and how the poorer people are not given the same protections.

Alessa was an interesting character though she could get annoying at times especially at the risks she took but you know what if I was under the pressure she was under I may become a little reckless too. I really did sympathise with her though as she is unable to touch anyone without killing them so she has become isolated and lonely and fed the fantasy that once she finds her true partner then she will have everything she desires. But unfortunately for her she keeps killing her partners and this makes her struggle with her own self worth and whether the world would be better off without her. 

Once she meets the mysterious Dante though, she starts to believe in herself more and learns that she is more capable than she gives herself credit for and he helps her to see a world outside of her gilded cage. I really liked Dante and how he showed Alessa that the world she has been taught to believe in may not be as just and fair as she thinks. He makes her question things and see that just because something has been done a specific way it doesn’t mean that is the only way. 

I also really enjoyed the side characters and hope we get to see more of them in the sequel and how they initially did not want to be near Alessa but by the end they learnt to trust her and she learnt to trust them and they became a unit. It was so great to see Alessa build relationships that are not romantic because she had been starved of friendship too which she needed and found in them.

The second half of the book had some intense moments and some revelations that I did not see coming but I loved as it added more mystery to the world and history that we have been told. I hope we get to explore this more in the sequel.

I did feel the ending was a little rushed, I was hoping to see more of the battle that has been built up throughout the book and some of the aftermath especially regarding Dante and what happens to him. I am especially looking forward to seeing more of him and his arc in the sequel.