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.

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.

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!

Diverse Books, YA Books

My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth – ARC Review

This book has fast become one of my favourite books ever!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Nerds are so hot.
Especially battle robot building nerds.

Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn’t seem to like her either.

Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they’ve built more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made space for each other and themselves.

I did not know what to expect when I started reading but this book is utterly phenomenal and I loved every single second. But first can I mention that for the first time ever, I saw a character that had my name, MY NAME! I have never read a book with a character that has the same name as me and she was a STEM girl!

Take up your own space, Bel. Don’t let other people tread over it.

This book has my whole heart, it discusses all the things I am passionate about and we get all the nerdy banter too! Through Bel and Teo we see how misogyny creates barriers for women to succeed in STEM careers and how much harder they have to work to get even a tenth of the recognition that the men get. How Neelam is constantly dismissed and belittled, how she is made to feel inferior to Teo and how hard she has had to fight for her place and even then her ideas are ignored. Even the teacher and how his language changes depending on whether he’s speaking to the girls or the boys. How this is so normalised that speaking against is seen as making a fuss. I felt this all deep in my soul.

You don’t have to make the world perfect just so people will love you.

Another really great discussion was how as teenagers when we barely understand ourselves, we are expected to have our whole life planned out and that it is seen as failure if you haven’t. The pressure that we and the adults put on ourselves to know what we want to do and yet so many of us just don’t and that should be okay too. It was also great to see how socioeconomic factors affects how “prepared” a young person is by 18 to have their lives mapped out. If we have been denied opportunities and a better education because we can’t afford it then how is it our fault that our choices are limited and we don’t know what it is we want to do. Combine that with expectations from parents and it can be very stressful for the person. I loved seeing this all discussed in the story without it becoming too heavy.

If I want the world to recognise what I am truly capable of, I have to show them.

I loved Bel from the moment we meet her but Teo took me a few chapters to really like, he seems like the usual arrogant boy who thinks he deserves all the special treatment but as the story progresses we see that he isn’t actually like that, though he does have some prejudices towards how he treats Neelam. I loved how much he changes and grows throughout the story and learns to let others in and help him and that he can trust other people and even how he views Neelam.

I loved seeing Bel grow throughout the story too as she finally finds something she truly enjoys and is passionate about and how she fights for it. I also loved the conversation between her and Neelam near the end of the story where we finally see why Neelam was hostile towards Bel at first and they learn to understand each other better. I also loved seeing a teacher that truly saw Bel’s potential and guided her without shaming or guilting and spoke to her respectfully, we all need teachers like this in our lives.

I think about how much I want them all to succeed in life; to go far, as far as possible, until every girl who succeeds is a beacon of light for all the others.

One of my favourite things was seeing the female friendships and women supporting women. How Bel and her friends truly want the best for each other and don’t try to stab each other in the back to progress themselves because there is space for all of them. I just truly  loved that we see this in the story, it brought me so much joy.

This book is absolutely incredible and once I started I could not put it down reading well into the night. I loved these characters and that epilogue was everything! I really hope we get to see more of them in the future.