Review: “Saints and Misfits” by S.K Ali

31123249Rating: 

4 stars

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tightknit Muslim community think of her then?

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and NoblesArrowSaints and Misfits quoteTrigger Warning: attempted rape, stalking

Saints and Misfits is a great start to the road for more YA contemporaries with Muslim main characters. The plot is of a typical YA contemporary about finding your voice and overcoming a past trauma. There are many things the book does well and I applaud the author for trying to educate people on what Islam is actually like.

The main character Janna is a fifteen year old, Muslim hijabi teen in the United States. She is kind-hearted and faithful. She tries to balance her religion with a typical high school experience and it was interesting to see what she does to not have to compromise one for the other (sometimes unsuccessfully). The book does a good job in highlighting that people aren’t perfect; Janna makes many mistakes in this novel but she is only fifteen and is still trying to figure herself out.

My heart went out to Janna for what she has experienced with Farooq. Farooq is one of her best friend’s cousin, he attempted to rape her and then continued to stalk her in the book. He is highly respected in their community and Janna is too intimidated by his reputation to report him.

Although I liked Janna just fine, I wasn’t in love with her. She seemed immature at times and her crush on Jeremy often deterred her from seeing the big picture. It makes sense because she’s so young but it did throw me off of loving her character.

Janna’s parents are divorced – she lives with her single mother in an apartment. Her father lives in another state and is married with two sons. The social stigma that comes with divorce in a Muslim society is briefly touched upon but isn’t given much detail.

The side characters all played a role in trying to represent all types of Muslims but sometimes it felt like that was all they were there for. The ending did little to resolve their stories and left a lot of questions unanswered. I wish we got to spend more time with the side characters and had more glimpses of their personalities. But I understand that’s not always easy to do with a first person narrative.

Overall this book was enjoyable and the representation was on point.

Have you read this? Do you have it on your tbr list?

Review: “Magnus Chase and the Hammer of Thor” by Rick Riordan

27904311Rating:
4 stars

Thor’s hammer is missing again. The thunder god has a disturbing habit of misplacing his weapon–the mightiest force in the Nine Worlds. But this time the hammer isn’t just lost, it has fallen into enemy hands. If Magnus Chase and his friends can’t retrieve the hammer quickly, the mortal worlds will be defenseless against an onslaught of giants. Ragnarok will begin. The Nine Worlds will burn. Unfortunately, the only person who can broker a deal for the hammer’s return is the gods’ worst enemy, Loki–and the price he wants is very high.

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Oh Rick Riordan, how much I love thee. I liked Hammer of Thor much more than Sword of Summer and let me just start by giving a huge round of applause to Riordan for this fantastic and diverse cast of characters.

Magnus Chase: a sassy pan sexual healer with a heart of gold. I complained about him in the last book because of how similar he sounded to Percy but his voice was unique in this one. He sounded more grown up and mature, and when he brought in humor to the situation, he still understood the gravity of things.

Samirah al-Abbas: an axe wielding, hijab wearing Muslim Valkyrie. I love love LOVE her and Riordan for making her such a strong, liberal person. She’s also very happily betrothed to Amir who’s an absolute cinnamon role.

Alex Fierro: a transgender/genderfluid shapeshifter whose weapon is a metal wire. How cool is that? This was the first book I read with a gender fluid person where the book didn’t revolve around the character’s gender identity.

Hearthstone: a deaf dwarf who comes from an abusive family. He’s also a master at rune magic. This was also the first book I read with deaf representation.

Blitzen: a POC elf with a great fashion sense who wants to open his own fashion line someday. He’s also a great craftsman.

The plot itself is nothing special. Thor’s hammer is stolen and the main cast must go on a mission to retrieve it. All the while, Loki is threatening the demigods and trying to achieve his own agenda. It’s a typical Riordan book, fairly predictable but enjoyable nonetheless. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming which was a surprise.

“Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? An atheist and a Muslim walk into a pagan afterlife.”

This is also a book about acceptance and unity. Sometimes you may not understand people and where they are coming from, but you have to respect them, no matter their religion or sex or sexuality.

And of course the best part of the book: Annabeth cameos!

What’s your favorite Riordan series?

Review: “The Upside of Unrequited” by Becky Albertalli

30653853~o~Rating~o~
4 stars

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

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Arrow

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Ahh, this was so adorable! The Upside of Unrequited was even more adorable than Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Molly is kind, creative, and utterly relatable. The book has a diverse, multi-dimensional cast and of course Albertalli’s quirky writing style.

Molly is a fat girl and she is extremely aware of it. Her confidence in her own body increases as the story develops and her journey to self love was my favorite part of the novel.

To me, the best thing about a Becky Albertalli book is the dialogue. The characters speak like normal teenagers, they’re not whiny brats and they’re also not wise beyond their years sprouting out medieval quotes. Her characters always seem like genuine teenagers you can picture in a high school setting.

I’m always craving stories where family plays an important role in the MC’s life and Molly has a fantastic family. She has two moms, a twin sister Cassie who I also loved, and the cutest little baby brother. A good part of the book revolves around her moms’ wedding; they can finally get married because it’s now legal.

Molly and Cassie’s relationship was another great aspect of the book. Where Molly is quiet and cautious, Cassie is outspoken and a little reckless. Cassie meets her dream girl and is in a serious relationship for once and Molly is worried it’ll change her relationship with her twin. Their sibling relationship felt completely authentic, with arguments and fights but also fierce loyalty.

If you’ve read Simon vs. then you’re in for a treat because CAMEOS!

And Reid is an absolute darling (I just had to mention it).

Have you read this? What did you think?

 

Mini Review: “The Bane Chronicles” by Cassandra Clare

16303287~o~Rating~o~
4 stars

Warning: The following contains spoilers for both The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare.

Fans of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices can get to know warlock Magnus Bane like never before in this collection of New York Times bestselling tales, in print for the first time with an exclusive new story and illustrated material.

This collection of eleven short stories illuminates the life of the enigmatic Magnus Bane, whose alluring personality, flamboyant style, and sharp wit populate the pages of the #1 New York Times bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.

Originally released one-by-one as e-only short stories by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan, this compilation presents all ten together in print for the first time and includes a never-before-seen eleventh tale, as well as new illustrated material.

~o~My Review~o~

finally picked up the Magnus Bane chronicles. It had to do a lot with the Shadowhunters show and I wanted to know Magnus’ entire back story. (Side note: season 2 of Shadowhunters is SUCH a great improvement than season 1. So if you gave up on the show after that horrendous first season, I strongly encourage you to try season 2. From the fourth episode and on, there’s a new writing team and they’re a lot better than the previous one).

Anyway, I really liked the compilation of short stories about Magnus. I feel like I understand him more as a character now. All my favorite characters make an appearance. I was most excited to see Will and Tessa and I was practically jumping with joy when they showed up.

There are eleven short stories in total and most of them were great. My favorites were #4 – The Midnight Heir about Tessa and Will’s son. And #6 – Saving Raphael Santiago about, obviously, how Magnus saves Raphael (this one was just so sweet! And I love Raphael now). And also #10 The Course of True Love (and First Dates) in which Magnus and Alec go on their first date and THIS WAS SO CUTE!

There were two stories I didn’t care much about (What Really Happened in Peru and The Rise of the Hotel Dumort). But Magnus’ sass and snark almost make up for it.

The stories themselves are all about fifty pages or so long and they go by really fast. I read this in under five hours which is unusual for me because I’m a slow reader. There’s action, romance, humor and heartbreak.

I recommend this to anyone who has read all the other Cassandra Clare books. These stories are wonderful additions to the Shadowhunters world.

ARC Review: “The Valiant” by Lesley Livingston

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4-tp

The youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, Fallon has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Sorcha’s legendary reputation as a warrior. But when Fallon was a young child, the armies of Julius Caesar invaded the island of Britain and her beloved older sister was killed in battle.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her rightful place in her father’s royal war band. But she never gets the chance. Instead, Fallon is captured by a band of ruthless brigands who sell her to an exclusive training school for female gladiators—and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Fallon’s worst enemy, the man who destroyed her family, might be her only hope of survival.

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, chilling threats and the dangerous attention of Caesar himself to survive the deadly fights that take place both in and out of the arena—and claim her place in history among the Valiant.

Publication date: February 14, 2017

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~o~My Review~o~

“Are you a weapon or a target?”

What’s cooler than female gladiators? Not many things, I can tell you that.

Don’t let the not-so-great (to say the least) cover fool you. The Valiant is fast paced with a thrilling plot and a multi-dimensional main character who is developed well. Fallon, though a little impulsive, is likeable. 

It’s clear a lot of research was done for this book. The descriptions of the early Roman Empire during Julius Caesar’s rule and the different Celtic tribes were educational. I don’t have much experience with their history so I’m not the best judge of the accuracy but as far as I can tell, the setting was created respectfully.

A lot happens by the first few chapters to where it can be overwhelming to take in. I like fast pace books but it seemed too fast-paced to me. It seemed like the author was so eager for the setting to change from the Cantii island to the Ancient Roman Empire that she neglected the island setting a little bit. The pacing slows down once she is taken by the brigands and it’s less bothersome.

Something else that annoyed me was the author’s tendency to tell and not show, especially towards the middle of the book. We know Fallon is a trained fighter, probably the most skilled female in her tribe after her late sister, but a lot of times in the book, her abilities don’t come to show. We are told she is good but we are not shown her skills until much later. I understand her vulnerability was necessary as a plot point but it didn’t seem to connect with what we were learning about her from her past and from other characters.

My rating though is based off of my enjoyment of the novel. The plot itself was good: there were many twists – some expected and some unexpected – that kept me reading. I enjoyed the overall story very much and I recommend this book to anyone looking for a fast-paced adventure with a little romance thrown in there.

Review: “Replica” by Lauren Oliver

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4 tp

Lyra

From a distance, the Haven Institute, tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida, looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, it is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed.

But when a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects—Lyra, or 24, and the boy known only as 72—manage to escape. As they make their way through a new and menacing environment, they meet a stranger named Gemma, who has embarked on a perilous quest of her own. And as Lyra tries to understand Haven’s purpose, she uncovers earth-shattering secrets that will change the lives of both girls.

Gemma

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals her whole life. A sickly child, she has grown into a lonely adolescent whose life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April.

But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family’s past and discovers her father’s mysterious connection to the secretive Haven research facility. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two human models, or replicas, 24 and 72—and a completely new set of questions. As Gemma tries to unravel the mysteries of Haven, she learnes terrible truths about herself and her family that will threaten to destroy everything she loves.

Two girls, two stories, one novel.

While the stories of Gemma and Lyra mirror each other, each contains revelations critically important to the other story. Their narratives can be read separately or in alternating chapters.

 Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Nobles

~o~Review~o~

I liked this book! I was worried because of the alternative format. But the format worked well for me. One side is from Lyra’s point of view and the other is Gemma’s, you can read their individual stories by itself or you can alternate between chapters which is what I did. I ended up really enjoying flipping the book after every chapter.

Replica was full of unexpected plot twists and turns that kept me surprised and engaged. Because I was reading the chapter alternatively, there were some repeats in dialogue but the two different perspectives brought unique insight into the story.

Even though the book itself is pretty big, since there are two different stories, it doesn’t feel like it’s 520 pages. There are only two perspectives but there are multiple main characters. It can sometimes feel like we aren’t able to be engrossed in the characters, especially the love interests, because Lauren Oliver was trying to give everyone a balanced screen time. Other than our two main girls, we didn’t have wholly developed personalities from the others. BUT the book takes place in the span of a few days and there are sequels so there is still high hope.

Gemma is relatable. A little chubby and awkward but stubborn and ready for an adventure. I loved watching her grow and become more comfortable with herself. Lyra is also relatable and complex. She goes through a lot of internal struggle of what it means to be human and whether or not her emotions and feelings are valid.

Character relationships were okay. The relationships that develop the most are the romantic ones which was fine with me but it left me craving more. I wanted Gemma and Lyra’s relationship explored more since they’re the main characters.

Overall, this was surprising and engaging. A good introduction to a new series.

Have you read Replica?

Review: “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven

18460392~o~Rating~o~
4 tp

~o~Goodreads Synopsis~o~

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

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~o~My Review~o~

“Sometimes, Ultraviolet, things feel true to us even if they’re not.”

This was a good book. I know, I know, very articulate. Why am I a book blogger again?

I loved this book and didn’t love this book at the same time. Two troubled teenagers fall in love and help each other heal. It’s a familiar trope that has been adamantly explored in YA for years. In that aspect, the book was predictable but that didn’t stop it from being an emotional tear-jerker/heart-breaker that made me unable to study for finals because I needed to know what would happen even though I kind of already had an idea. Whew, that was a long sentence. The writing is also fabulous, very similar to John Green, with its existential dialogues and quirky main characters.

Theodore Finch is obsessed with death, more specifically suicide. He is constantly thinking about suicide. He knows all the random facts about suicide, the most common methods, chances of success, types of people who try, etc. He sometimes gets into one of these moods where he feels like he’s almost fading and that he’s just trapped in his body without having any control over it. And when he snaps out of those periods, he calls it the Awake.

He struggles with his family dynamic. His father left his mom and his two sisters and now has another family with a wife and another son. His mother works two jobs to keep them financially stable; the divorce hit her hard so she’s always tired and a little aloof. His father was/is abusive and Finch thinks a big cause of his condition is because of his “chemical make-up” referring to the genes he got from his father.

Violet Markey has just lost her older sister Eleanor a few months ago in a car crash that she survived. She has survivor’s guilt and has lost all motivation to do things she had previously enjoyed. She was a cheerleader, writer and blogger (a blog she ran with her sister).

On his good days, Finch is energetic, quirky and a little impulsive. Finch pushes Violet to live again, to not let the car crash keep defining who she is. He encourages her, gives her a gentle tug (and the occasional hard shove) towards life and happiness.

I don’t have first hand experience with either depression or profound grief but it’s important to understand these feelings and this book does a good job on expressing them. On the Acknowledgements page, Jennifer Niven says All the Bright Places is loosely based on her own life story, which explains how she conveyed these emotions so well. Although I felt like I couldn’t related to either of the two main characters, I understood them both. I understood what drove them to do things that they did.

Violet and Finch are not characters but people, two imperfect human beings with pent up anger and love and loss. And it’s when a character becomes a person in your eyes that you know they are developed well.

Why this book didn’t get a five star has to do more with me and less with the book. I loved this book but it didn’t surprise me, it didn’t make me curl up in a ball and cry in a corner, it felt familiar but not new.

Have you read All the Bright Places?