Diverse Books, YA Books

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao – ARC Review

Thank you to Rock the Boat and Netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

This book was a phenomenal read! From the first page we are thrown into this incredibly vivid world that Xiran has created and I loved every second of it. Zetian has become one of my favourite characters and I love the trio so much, they are pure chaos and I am here for it!

This is set in a world where women are considered worthless and only there to sacrifice themselves for the male pilots or to be good wives and mothers. By good I mean silent and obedient. Zetian has had enough of this and after the death of her sister she vows to get revenge and does so in the most spectacular fashion and in that moment I fell in love with her.

I loved seeing Zetian and how she battled against the  systemic injustice that women are subjected to on a daily basis and the pure rage she felt. I related to her a lot; I understand her rage. I loved how it was shown in the book and through her. She has every right to be angry but what I loved most was watching her opinions and thoughts about how to become empowered changed and grew as she learnt more and interacted with different people in different situations. How that impacted how she fought for herself and for women’s empowerment everywhere. This book is honestly such a powerful read and had me feeling all the emotions.

I especially loved her internal conflict of how can she fight for empowerment and yet love and care for a man and be vulnerable with them. Her learning it isn’t an either or situation, she can have both. There is so much depth to her character that we see more and learn more about her as the story goes on and I just need everyone to read this book.

The discussions on misogyny and patriarchy are done so incredibly well and we see just how deeply these views have impacted women in so many ways that are completely invisible to men. There’s also discussions around how the powerful and wealthy just continue to grow in wealth and the poor become poorer. Honestly there was so many interesting and nuanced discussions in the book but it didn’t take away from the plot and suspense of the story. It just added more layers to it.

I loved the mechas and the battle scenes, I would love to be able to see this in a film, I think some scenes would have some breath-taking visuals and it was all described so vividly that I could picture everything. We learn about the world through Zetain, Shimin and Yizhi who all come from different situations in life. All three characters are morally grey and despite some of the awful things they do, you can’t help but root for them. Especially as everyone seems equally monstrous.

The build up to the ending had me on the edge of my seat and the second half especially had me completely hooked and I thought I knew what was happening but the ending still left me completely shook and I was left screaming! I am ridiculously excited to read the sequel and honestly I don’t know how I’m going to wait a whole year for it.

YA Books

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer – ARC Review

Thank you to Bloomsbury YA and Netgalley for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

Set in a richly imaginative world with striking similarities to our own, Brigid Kemmerer’s captivating new series is about those with power and those without . . . and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future. 

I loved this book so much! The characters are written so well, they are complicated and nuanced and this book is full of morally grey characters!

Despite the characters doing questionable things, I still felt myself rooting for them because they were put in such difficult situations and you can see they are trying their best to do what’s right but also make decisions that aren’t the best. But they acknowledged what they had done and that it wasn’t right but they did it because it was the lesser of two evils. They had remorse for it and actively tried to do what’s right. It just made the two brothers so interesting to read. I especially loved Corrick’s point of view because of that. Seeing him and his brother from other perspectives it seems as though they are just heartless people who care nothing for the suffering of it’s people but when you see how they think and everything they are trying to do and trying to juggle and balance between so many groups of people.

Corrick is probably my favourite character just because of how complex and nuanced he was. He did questionable things but he also deeply cared for his people. He could trust no one and so struggled with all this alone unable to even speak to his brother because he had to protect him. I did like Harristan as well but we didn’t get to see as much of him but I hope we see more of him in the sequel as I think he will also be a really interesting character.

Tessa was another interesting character because she sees everything as black and white at the beginning of the book. But as she learns more about the complexities of everything that is going on she realises that everything isn’t as simple as she first thought. I also really loved that she is a healer and that she uses that to help those who are the most vulnerable and even helps the King to help the people. I liked seeing that she had confidence in her skills and yet still has moments of self doubt, it made her seem so much more real.

This book surprised me with a plot twist early on that I did not see coming at all and left me shook! I literally had to stop reading to scream because WHAT! But I loved that twist so much because it made the story so much more interesting! I also loved the slow build up to the climax where all the pieces finally fit together and I liked that the ending felt like a complete story but also that there’s more and honestly I am so excited for the sequel!

I highly recommend reading this the story had me hooked from the beginning and I just couldn’t stop reading. I loved the complex characters especially and cannot wait to read more about them.

Diverse Books, YA Books

Fire With Fire by Destiny Soria – ARC Review

Thank you to hodderscape and netgalley for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.

I loved this book so much! The sibling relationship and the growth of both sisters was so wonderful to see in a book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.

Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.

I loved this book so much! I love seeing sibling relationships in books and this one had such a complicated nuanced relationship. I loved both sisters and their individual arcs as well as how they were together. I related to each of them in different ways and it was so great to see a story where sisters are the main relationship we see.

Dani is  the younger sister and always feels like she can’t live up to her “perfect” older sister. She also doesn’t want to take on the family  legacy which I related to a lot. It’s like when your parents have their own dreams for you but what you want is different but you don’t want to hurt them either but hers is way more intense! Her character growth throughout the book was also so great to read, how she learned to balance her family and what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to also call out the parts that she knew were wrong and shouldn’t just continue the same way just because that’s how it’s always been done.

Edan, the older sister, yet feels like she will never be truly seen as she always feels overshadowed by Dani and this makes her strive for perfection. In trying to impress her parents she neglects all other parts of her life to her detriment. She also has anxiety and had panic attacks which I felt were showed really well. I really appreciated how they were shown in the story and especially her journey to coming to terms with this part of herself. She thinks this is a weakness and makes her less and just wants it to go away but she learns to see it as a strength and that she is more than capable even with her anxiety. She doesn’t need “fixing” and I thought that is such a important thing for young people to read in books. I just really loved seeing it in the story.

Their relationship with each other was also so great to see. They were close but there was also walls up because they both thought they can’t live up to the other. I loved that Dani did everything she could to help Edan and how they finally started to accept each other for who they are.

There was also some wonderful side characters that I am really looking forward to seeing in the sequel especially that potential love interest for Dani. Tomas was adorable and a wonderful best friend to Dani like seriously this is the type of friendship I love to see in books. I also loved seeing Dani intereact with Tomas’ family and how his mum would force her to take food home. It reminded me of the Asian aunties who insist on doing this too and I think it’s such a wonderful part of the culture we got to see.

I also loved Nox who is the dragon that Dani meets and how sassy and sarcastic he is. His relationship with Dani was so great to see too and how they both learned to accept and trust each other. I am really looking forward to learning more about the dragons.

The story was so much fun to read even though it was dark at times especially in the second half of the book. It’s also fast paced and I couldn’t stop reading once I started, often reading late into the night. And after the ending of the story I am absolutely dying to read the sequel!

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!

Diverse Books, YA Books

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta – ARC Review

Thank you to Macmillan and netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to the sequel!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from goodreads:

The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.

As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…

This book was fast paced and action packed and I really enjoyed reading! I loved both the main characters and how they both spent their lives trying to take down the oppressive system but in vastly different ways.

This book starts with Eris being captured and taken to one of Godolias prisons where she meets an unlikely ally in Sona who is a windup pilot and who helps her escape and goes with her back to the rebel base. There Sona helps the rebels and joions Eris’s team of gearbreakers to overthrow the oppressive regime that is Godolia. But can a small team of teenagers do enough to overthrow a tyrannical regime that has wealth, power and resources not available to them and then there’s also the issue that not everyone trusts Sona.

There are some incredible heart racing, action packed scenes of gearbreakers fighting and taking down the giant machines sent to kill all rebels and the descriptions are so vivid that you can truly imagine the whole scene as it happens. Then you also have the wonderful fun scenes between team mates and the family they build for themselves. The squabbling and fighting and yet they all look out for and care deeply for each other.

We also see a slow burn romance bloom between Eris and Sona and how they slowly learn to trust each other and protect each other. I am looking forward to seeing more of them in the sequel and what will happen to them especially after that ending!

This is a wonderful action packed story with a great found family who fight an oppressive regime to be able to live freely and safely.