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.

Adult Books, Non Fiction Books

Period. It’s About Bloody Time by Emma Barnett – Book Review

Okay so I only picked this up because there was recently a readalong hosted for the book and there were rave reviews. I was skeptical because the author has said some problematic things in the past and honestly this book left me a screaming ball of rage.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

What the book is about: (apparently)

At a time when women around the world are raising their voices in the fight for equality, there is still one taboo where there remains a deafening silence: periods. Period. is an agenda-setting manifesto to remove the stigma and myths continuing to surround the female body. Bold and unapologetic, Emma Barnett is on a crusade to ignite conversation among women–and men–everywhere.

This is yet another white western feminist book that speaks about how enlightened they are and how their view is the correct view. The condescending manner in which she spoke about women of colour and inaccurate religious beliefs and cultural practices just left me incredibly angry. How are you going to write this book which is supposed to be empowering while perpetuating harmful stereotypes and giving false information which people can use as ammunition against people of colour. Utterly disgusting that this was even published and not once questioned as to where she got this information.

She did not in fact list any sources anywhere in the book about where she got the stats she shared or any other information and yet somehow it was published and people are raving about it? Why? This book isn’t even ground breaking, nothing she says is new or even remotely helpful. It’s a vague, trying way too hard to be funny (when she’s not) and just her screaming DON’T BE EMBARRASED SPEAK ABOUT PERIODS. Yes, Emma, but how? Was there anything in there to suggest ways in which to bring up the topic in different situations? Was there any resources for people to go and look up for help? Absolutely nothing. Just her screaming about how we shouldn’t be ashamed of it anymore. So what even was the point of this utterly useless book?

“Factions of Islam believe women shouldn’t touch the Quran, pray or have sexual intercourse with their husbands while menstruating. Muslim women are similarly deemed impure and must be limited in terms of contaminating their faith or their men.”

Who told her this? Because she didn’t learn that from us. The utter rage I felt reading this paragraph and her wording of it. Yes, we do not pray or fast or do certain acts of worship. No it is not because we are impure. No it is not because we are less nor do we find it oppressive. Not having to wake up before sunrise when we are on our period to pray is a blessing from Allah, He gives us a break so we can rest, because we sure as hell aren’t going to get that same level of care and understanding from anyone else. We are also not considered impure. It is a state of ritual impurity, the Quran is sacred and we have to be in a state of ritual purity to touch the Arabic Quran, this is regardless of whether you are a man or a woman. There are several things which cause both men and women to be in a state of ritual impurity and yet she makes it sound like this is an oppression for women. Please calm down with your fake woke attitude we do not need nor want to be ‘saved’ by you. Throughout the book in fact she only ever mentions religion in a negative way, the same goes for any mentions of cultural practices different to her own or people of colour.

She repeatedly tells us that she is educated and living in one of the most advanced societies on earth and yet her opinions show her lack of knowledge of intersectional feminism and even the ability to see that maybe not everyone finds her brand of feminism empowering at all. That her brand of feminism should have died a long time ago and she really needs to go back to school and get up to date on these things. That white western feminism only cares about white middle class women to the detriment of everyone else.

Her privilege oozed out of the pages making me nauseous. She said women need to be taken seriously about their health. How she had suffered from horrible periods and yet she doesn’t see how her white privilege gave her the ability to seek help and be believed. Women of colour don’t get that same treatment. Just saying go to a different doctor as if everyone has that option isn’t exactly helpful information. She shares stories of women who made radical choices that made headline news and uses that as examples of how we should all speak up but she doesn’t see how women are speaking up in so many ways that may not be as radical and not newsworthy.

The constant comparison of the west and developing world using such loaded terms will have an impact on how people view those not living in the ‘privileged’ west. Her words matter and yet not her, nor her editor or any other person who read this before release mentioned it, and that is another example of how she uses her privilege to push her white western feminism that benefits no one except people that look like her. She speaks about how women wanted to show that they are as good as men so anything ‘expressly female’ were downplayed. But again, only white western feminism is calling for this. She speaks as if her brand of feminism is the superior feminist brand and yet is still holding on to things that are decades out of date.

When you are a minority, you don’t want to seem like you are kicking up a stink about something which nobody else fully understands or at the that time felt like they could talk about.

Is she talking about the many minority groups that need their voices uplifted? Nope. She’s talking about Margaret Thatcher, a white woman in a position of power. Now normally I wouldn’t have an issue with this discussion however considering how she dehumanised and othered actual minority groups throughout the book, yes I absolutely do. Words matter, the way you write things matter.

“We have made huge progress on all of these fronts. As I write this, a woman runs the country I live in, another runs the most powerful country in the European Union and sexual harassment is being called out the world over with the hashtag #MeToo”

Okay but does this actually mean we have all benefited from this? Does it mean all people can feel safer about speaking up about sexual harassment? She makes sweeping statements like this to make it sound like there has been huge progress for all. But people of colour haven’t felt that progress, we are still fighting to be able to exist and live safely. Ignoring everything happening to people of colour shows how little she actually cares about anyone who doesn’t look like her.

I also found the book to be so mundane in the things she chose to write about. There are a myriad of complex issues regarding periods and women’s health that should and could have been discussed in a nuanced manner however there is no nuance in this book at all. Some of the issues too seem like she is just saying it to show how woke she is. “Don’t you just hate those patronising aisles in supermarkets which have the label feminine hygiene dangling above them in a halo of fluorescent lighting? Just call a pad a pad already.” Clearly, she doesn’t understand that the aisles have more than just pads. She was also complaining about we don’t have a pad emoji and she has been forced to use the Japanese flag. I just think about all the discussions she could have had about all the very real issues people face all over the world regarding periods and yet she chose to speak about these. Like I get it, it’s part of the shaming that we don’t have these emojis etc but women are literally dying due to so many issues surrounding periods and women’s health. And so much of it is just not touched upon at all.

She did speak about how women don’t always have access to pads or tampons which yes, it does need to be spoken about more but again she just complained about the issue with no real discussion on what can be done about it. Every single complaint she had about lack of awareness or shame or access to pads etc had no real discussion about things that could be done or what is being done with resources listed so people can actually go and find them and help these organisations. Instead of actual resources and sources for her information in the book she decided to list all the different things people have used to call periods. I wouldn’t have minded that if there had been actual sources too to show that her information is accurate because she already showed me she will include false information when I read about what she wrote about Islamic beliefs so how can I actually trust the information she wrote in the rest of the book?

This book left me incredibly angry and not for the reasons it should have. It is full of inaccurate information about religious beliefs. It erases people of colour and how different our fight against shame about periods is. It dehumanises people of colour with her comparisons about how educated she is and how advanced a society she lives in compared to the uneducated people and backwards societies of the developing world. Nothing she speaks about is remotely inspiring or made me want to rage about the injustices and even the writing itself was poor. How this has been published and praised is beyond me. Do yourselves a favour and skip this for other books about periods and empowerment.

Adult Books

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird – ARC Review

As soon as I saw the synopsis I knew I had to read it, it sounded so interesting and I did end up enjoying this book even though it was quite difficult to read at times.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The year is 2025, and a mysterious virus has broken out in Scotland–a lethal illness that seems to affect only men. When Dr. Amanda MacLean reports this phenomenon, she is dismissed as hysterical. By the time her warning is heeded, it is too late. The virus becomes a global pandemic–and a political one. The victims are all men. The world becomes alien–a women’s world.

What follows is the immersive account of the women who have been left to deal with the virus’s consequences, told through first-person narratives. Dr. MacLean; Catherine, a social historian determined to document the human stories behind the male plague; intelligence analyst Dawn, tasked with helping the government forge a new society; and Elizabeth, one of many scientists desperately working to develop a vaccine. Through these women and others, we see the uncountable ways the absence of men has changed society, from the personal–the loss of husbands and sons–to the political–the changes in the workforce, fertility and the meaning of family.

TW: Discussions of a pandemic and plague, death including children, infertility, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, sexism

This book was such an interesting read although it was difficult to read at times and did have to put the book down a few times and come back to it because it describes the fear and panic of being in a pandemic and it was eerily similar to the covid pandemic. The first half was especially hard but once I got through that I was pretty much hooked.

This book discusses what would happen if a virus killed 90% of men on this planet, what would be the repercussions and how would that affect how we live and function as a society and honestly there is a lot to think about. From those who are part of the government to the police force to those in healthcare what would happen if most of the men in an already male dominated profession died? We need doctors and surgeons because people will still need to be treated, who would run the country in the aftermath, how would our society structures change. These are things we see discussed in the book and it was really interesting to read.

It also discusses motherhood and infertility especially as the virus kills male children too and many women are left grieving for their sons. It was incredibly difficult to read at times when we see the grief of these mother and how they struggle to cope with the loss of their husbands and sons and then the guilt of those lucky few who had husbands or sons who are immune. Then because there are barely any men left they can’t even think to have a baby again and then there are those who before were struggling with infertility and are now faced with the reality that they may never become mothers. One of the hardest things was the scenes of the women who were giving birth to baby boys who were not immune and then having to watch them die just days later.

Once a vaccine is discovered we do see a more hopeful future where people are just beginning to pick themselves up and come to terms with a new normal. Much like we have had to in the face of the covid pandemic. Those who survived the pandemic have been thrust into positions they may never have been able to get before because there are literally no men left in those areas. The majority of the government is now full of women and it was interesting o see how they handled things that maybe men would handle differently.

We also see at the beginning when it all starts, the doctor who discovers patient zero is largely ignored and labelled as hysterical and so it spreads rapidly before anyone takes it seriously. The sexism and misogyny present in the workplace means that so many more die before things can be put into place to reduce the death toll. Discussions about how women aren’t given the credit they deserve and the gender pay gap and so much more.

The main issue I had with the book and the discussions was how white centric it was and how the majority of focus was on the UK and US. I know that for women of colour and those living in Asia and Africa for example would have a really different experience in everything that would happen during the virus outbreak. And yet none of that was touched upon and the few mentions of places like Saudi Arabia was linked to trafficking and other places like Iran, Afghanistan etc were just mentioned to have no information about what is happening there after years of the pandemic. I’m tired of the BIPOC erasure in books especially in a book dealing with a worldwide pandemic.

Overall this book was an interesting read and did discuss some really important issues and I did mostly enjoy the book.

Inspirational People

Inspirational Muslim Women Throughout History – Nusaybah bint Ka’ab

I have wanted to share these stories about the amazing women throughout Islamic history and their achievements and I thought as it was International Women’s Day recently I would share them starting from this month. I’m not sure how many parts there will be yet but I hope you will enjoy reading about these amazing women!

The first woman I want to share with you all is Nusaybah bint Ka’ab who is one of my favourite female companions of the Prophet (pbuh). She was such an amazing woman, strong, confident, courageous and she didn’t let societal and cultural norms from achieving great things. She was a fierce warrior and fought alongside the Prophet (pbuh) and her husband and son. She was known for how fearsome she was both in battle and outside and she was an activist too.

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This was a woman who the Prophet (saw) prayed for her and her family that they will be his companions in Jannah.

She was an early convert to Islam, from among the Ansar (people who were from Madina). She was renowned for her courage on the battlefield and was present in many important events. She was at the pledge of Aqaba, battle of Uhud, Khaybar, treaty of Al-Hudaybiyyah and the battle of Yamama.

She was one of two women who pledged their allegiance to the Prophet (saw) at Aqaba, just like the men. The only difference being that the Prophet (saw) didn’t shake her hand. Once she became Muslim she dedicated her time to the education and training of women in Islam.

At the battle of Uhud she was one of the few companions who continued to fight when most started to retreat from the battle when rumours spread that the Prophet (pbuh) had been killed. She protected the Prophet (saw), fighting with a bow and arrow and then with a sword. Alongside her, her sons and husband also protected the Prophet (saw). During this battle she suffered from several wounds. She suffered from more wounds in the battle of Yamama.

Speaking about the battle of Uhud, Umar (ra) said that he heard the prophet (saw) say “I did not turn right or left in the battle of Uhud but that I saw her fighting near me.”

After the death of the Prophet (saw) under the khalifah of Abu Bakr (ra) she fought against Musaylima (a false prophet) and when asking for permission to fight, Abu Bakr (ra) said, “We know your worth in war, so go out in the name of Allah.” At this time she was around 60 years old. It was during this battle that her hand was cut off.

She was such a fierce, strong woman who even the most prominent companions respected and admired. Which considering that these were people who lived in a very patriarchal society was not common.

She also wasn’t afraid to go to the Prophet (saw) and ask questions or speak her mind about what was troubling her to gain clarity. She would even go on behalf of other women who felt too shy to speak out in a public gathering.

She even spoke to the Prophet (pbuh) saying that women should be given exclusive access to him on a regular basis to study from him as the men would often take up all his time when asking questions during the lectures or gatherings. So then there was women’s only classes and they could still attend the general gatherings as well.

She was the one who went to the Prophet (saw) and to ask why the Quran only mentioned men and women were deprived of importance. This resulted in an ayah being revealed because of her. I just love her strength and determination in advocating for women’s rights!

There are so many more amazing women throughout Islamic history and we don’t get to see or learn about them and they are often left out of western history teachings but they are there and they were amazing!

These are the women I grew up hearing stories about, the women that I drew inspiration from and were my role models from a young age. So I thought that I would share some of my favourite Muslim women throughout history with you all. I will be sharing more soon!

Lifestyle, Reflections

What Feminism Means To Me – International Women’s Day

Over the years feminism and I have had a love hate relationship. I have slowly developed a relationship with the term even though I have been a strong advocate for female empowerment since I was teen. It’s just that word, feminism, and everything that comes with that word, that I haven’t always been on good terms with.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am always advocating for female empowerment whether it’s through discussing how important having access to a good education is important for women to talking about stigma’s in society that creates injustices for women. As I am part of the south Asian community, I especially discuss how certain cultural practices harm women and should be stopped. I have had to fight these barriers and stigmas growing up so I fight against them to help my sisters to help my cousins to help those who are younger than me so they don’t have to grow up with the same stigmas.

Yet do I call myself a feminist? I have gone from calling myself a feminist proudly to distancing myself from it to saying yes I am a feminist but not one that the media shows to so much more. Basically, it’s complicated. It’s complicated because I am a brown, Pakistani, Muslim woman who wears a hijab. I don’t “look” like a feminist. What does a feminist look like anyways?

Well mainstream media will have you believe that a feminist is a white middle class woman and I clearly don’t fit that description. I call that white feminism. It’s a type of feminism I hate because there is no space for women who don’t look like or have the same opinions as them. It’s women like these who made me want to distance myself from the term.

I have been told that I NEED to take my hijab off to be “liberated” and how they feel so sorry for me because of how I am “forced” to dress and when I tried explaining I did in fact choose to wear what I wear, I was told I don’t understand, it’s just internalised misogyny. Safe to say that we did not become friends.

After a while as I got older, I realised that actually female empowerment doesn’t only look the way that they say it does. As I studied Islam more I found that the religion is so empowering for women. It made me even more passionate about speaking up about female empowerment. I realised that a lot of the cultural practices go against what Islam teaches. I changed, I grew, I taught others around me and although the elders still cling to their cultural practices I have found that the youth fight for their rights, especially young women. For example, girls are often not allowed to go into higher education yet in Islam it is compulsory for every man, woman and child to be educated so women knowing this means they can fight to be able to study further.

Another reason that I have a complicated relationship with feminism is because of a lack of women we are shown as empowered that look like me. The last few years especially, I have noticed that a lot of feminist books are being published yet there is still no sign of women who look like me. Most of the women are white and if there is a Muslim woman included it is always Malala, no offence to her but in 1400 years of Islamic history is she really the only woman that is worthy of being included? It’s actually made me stop reading these types of books unless I know that more diverse women are included. I ended up doing my own research into Muslim women and the results were astounding, since the beginning of Islam women have been a part of all areas of society, from warriors to doctors to scholars to rulers and so much more. It’s these women who encompassed all parts of my life who became my role models.

So yes, I am a feminist and I think it’s time we broadened our idea of what feminism is, because it means different things to different people and they are all valid. I can wear a hijab and be empowered, I can follow my religion and be empowered. In fact I feel more empowered because of my religion. I will continue to learn and grow but I will always fight for female empowerment.