Review: Other Words for Home

Review: Other Words for Home

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

“Americans love labels. They help them know what to expect. Sometimes, though, I think labels stop them from thinking.”

Jude is only twelve-years-old when she leaves Syria to live to live with her uncle’s family in the US. Being the only student who looks like her, she begins to discover that she isn’t seen as a normal girl like her peers. Told in verse, Other Words for Home follows her journey to understanding her new label of “Middle Eastern” while also finding herself.

I adored this book. Jude is the sweetest protagonist and her story was so inspiring and relatable. Growing up, Jude was obsessed with movies and becoming a star, so she is obviously surprised when she must move away from her coastal home when it descends into a civil war. Along with her pregnant mother, she must leave her family, father and brother, behind, and comes face-to-face with the life she had thought she knew from the movies.

Her life in the states is new but straining. Her cousin Sarah makes no effort to help, her aunt tries her best, and her new peers see her as something different. She reminds herself of her brother’s goodbye message. “Be brave.” Slowly, she grows to enjoy her new classes and even makes new friends in her ESL classes where they all bond over their experiences of coming to the states. Much to her cousins’ dismay, she even auditions for the school musical. Jude is such an insightful narrator; her confidence, her insecurities and her confusion all come through in the pages.

Other Words tackles tough to talk about topics like Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim rhetoric. The way it manifests in Jude’s life is so subtle and real, like Jude realising how people actions towards her suddenly shift when she begins to wear the hijab. The book takes on the idea that not all Muslims shares the same experience, and this is just Jude’s story. There was something comforting reading about a young Muslim girl experiencing her spirituality on her terms. You don’t get that often. Her fear and confusion were portrayed so well, something that I experienced a lot as a Muslim kid growing up which makes this book a lot more special.

Overall, Other Words for Home is a story of becoming and belonging and what it means to be yourself in a society that would rather see otherwise. A middle-grade read that tackles topics like war, refugees and prejudice, a definite recommendation for younger children and older teens.


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Review: Crier’s War

Review: Crier’s War

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

Years ago, the Kingdom of Rabu came under the control of the Automae after the war almost decimated the land. Now, humanity lives under their controlling and violent thumb. Ayla, a human servant, finds herself unexpectedly rising in her rank where she plots to kill the sovereign king’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier is Made to be perfect, without a single flaw, ready to carry her father’s legacy. However, her recent betrothal sees her spot slipping right from under her, and meeting Ayla creates tension that can start a war, but can they rise above it and stop before it goes too far?

A couple of months ago, I saw the prettiest book cover reveal I had ever seen and, with no shame, decided that I had to read this book. When I took a look at the description and saw it was an F/F sci-fi/fantasy novel about automation? A double whammy. I had brought myself up to hype Crier’s War and counted down the says to its release. There’s a lot to love about Ayla and Crier’s story, much of it I loved, but I did find it a quite directionless a lot of time, which was disappointing, to say the least.

This isn’t an original set up but what made this story stand out was how Varela utilises the concept of automation ruling over humanity. Set in an alternate future where alchemy has crafted the Automae who now rule the land. Humanity created them when their Queen was unable to have children, but they quickly rose up against their creators. The core of this book is mainly about what it means to be human, is it free will or the fact we have blood running through us that makes us so? I found it interested how the author uses this story to discuss oppression, privilege and appropriation. Was I expecting it? No. Did I like it? Very much so.

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Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

After failing to kill the Demon King, Lei and Wren barely escaped with their lives. But this isn’t the end of their journey, unaware their plot failed, the duo must travel the kingdom to gain support from clans from all corners of the world. But a heavy bounty on Lei’s head makes this even more difficult and when tensions begin to make Lei doubt what she knows, can she succeed in her quest or will the dark magic finish the war before its even begun?

After finishing Girls of Paper and Fire, I eagerly anticipated the release of Storm and Shadow. And I can say that I’m not disappointed, although I was a little underwhelmed. But I still found it a solid read.

I won’t lie, Lei, despite being our main protagonist, was not the star of the show for me. Lei and Wren are joined by others, some familiar, some new. Despite how fractured it all becomes at the end, I truly loved the moments of everyone banding together in their journey. I thought the brashness of Bo and Nitta would be off-putting, but their sibling banter was hilarious and I had come to love their sibling relationship a lot. Merrin got my attention the most, his anger and frustration with everything going on around them was admirable. My heart broke a lot during a pivotal moment in this book. Lei and Wren go through a lot in this. Wren, in particular, shocked me quite a bit. I won’t say too much, but I’m glad Ngan utilised Wren’s past a lot more in this book, a shocking revelation made a lot of sense and really amped up my excitement for whatever comes next in the finale.

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Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

The Santos women are cursed by the sea, and Rosa Santos knows better than to get involved with anyone involved with the sea. As her college deadline looms over her, she is caught between the town she calls home and the island of Cuba, a familial past her abuela refuses to talk about. But when her town falls into trouble, Rosa must work fast to save her town and face her fear of the shore before it swallows her whole.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a book with little expectations, only to have them exceeded way beyond my imagination. From the description, I have to admit I wasn’t too sure about this one but, wow, I really liked Don’t Date Rosa Santos.

The world-building was rich and vibrant. Port Coral really opened up with each new chapter. The community was so unique and its residents were so lively. The community of Port Coral truly felt real and not just a static background for Rosa’s story. The main theme of Don’t Date Rosa Santos is how Rosa struggles to connect with her Cuban roots, and through the entire novel, she worries that her connection is not enough and she can’t access more of it due to her family’s past. Her experience is very rooted in Cuban culture, but I found myself really relating to her thoughts about diaspora and her disconnection to her family. Moreno did a really great job here, evoking such strong emotions in such a digestible way.

The people around Rosa make their mark as much as Rosa herself. Her grandmother, Mimi, whose loss in the past leads her to close her heart when Rosa comes calling with questions. Her mother travels to run away from the grief that always seems to follow her. The family trauma runs three generations deep, and Rosa tries to get her family to finally face their fears together. Her neighbours are sweet, her schoolfriends hilarious, and a love interest that I actually really loved and rooted very strongly for.

I was not expecting to be so emotionally affected by this book. Rosa’s monologues, her worries about her future and her own self-imposed expectations, it all hit really close to home. Rosa undertakes an internal journey to better understand a culture she yearns to learn more about. And while doing that, she works towards understanding this so-called “curse” on her family that follows the women in her family. If I’m being honest, the curse is a hit or miss aspect because it frustrated me a lot as it concealed so much information, so watch out for that. But everything else was brilliant.

Overall, Don’t Date Rosa Santos was delightful and moving. Its emphasis on family and community makes it such a touching read, and one of my most surprising reads of the year. It really was something special.


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Review: Defy Me

Review: Defy Me

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

This review is not spoiler-free

Juliette thought she had everything under control until she didn’t. And now she’s alone with no one but herself as she’s forced to rediscover the world around. A lifetime of lies unravels before her and Juliette has no choice but to remember the past she had long forgotten. Narrated by Juliette and other familiar faces, the fifth instalment brings to light information that continues to shake the very foundation of the world they thought they knew.

A lot of people love this, and a lot of people hate this. As a reader who despised the original trilogy, my expectations for these new books were extremely low, but I was fairly impressed by Restore Me and I could say the same things for Defy Me: entertaining yet at the same time, so, so disappointed.

In term of story, there’s not much to unpack. Juliette discovers the truth behind her family, her parents and sister, and it is heartbreaking. Hearing about her sister and the truth behind her past was a standout moment, especially in a powerful scene between the sisters at the end. On the other end, we follow Warner and Kenji as they scramble to pick the movement back up after Juliette’s sudden disappearance. Memories of certain characters are restored and suddenly, they all don’t know what’s happening. I really enjoyed Restore Me, but Defy Me felt like it’s filler counterpart.

In my (poorly written) series review, I named Kenji the series saver. But I don’t know if he truly gave this story the pick up it sorely needed. I really enjoyed his chapters despite my overall feelings. He was always so hilarious and relatable, and often the only person who made any sense in the series. That Juliette and Kenji reunion was enough to save the book for me. I found it weird that Mafi decided to pair him up with Nazeera. In Restore Me, it was so cringey and embarrassing, especially when Mafi basically pulls an almost insta love on the readers with them. But I really did enjoy their overall dynamic in Defy Me. Do I love it or do I hate it? I don’t even know. I’ll withhold final judgements until Imagine Me.

I feel really bad that I could not, for the life of me, remember anything significant about the Omega Point group. Tahereh Mafi withholding Brendan and Winston from getting together made no sense. I legit forgot about Castle for most of this book. I am glad he got his family back. I feel like Adam was a completely new character. It’s like Tahereh really didn’t need him in this book, and kept him being an ass in the background.

I have to say Tahereh writes this series in such an addicting way, that’s only in this series alone. In all her other works I’ve read was good, but none really had that pacing that the Shatter Me series has that whether you love it or hate it, you find yourself speeding through. I feel like this whole series is just one big adrenaline rush. But note, this book is like 80% rambly flashbacks and a lot was missing. Especially when Juliette was locked away, there was a huge potential to develop those scenes further, but we lose a lot of valuable information. The dialogue was so melodramatic. And I wasn’t a huge fan of that. To be honest, this book could’ve been shortened, and split back into Restore Me and added onto Imagine Me. Everything was stretching a little thin for me in this book.

I have to say this: I didn’t get the engagement scene. I knew it was coming up and it just didn’t feel right. And don’t get me started at that sex scene. I’m all for making more sex-positive YA books but I’m pulling out that iconic Pokemon line, “There’s a time and place for everything, but not now.” Was this an attempt at fanservice because I was lost for words at how lost I was when I was reading it.

Overall, I don’t know even know what to expect for this series and how it will actually end. I felt bad for Tahereh at first because adding three new books to a beloved YA series that had ended ages ago was a bold move on her part. But I feel like, in that time, the actual fans of this series have consolidated their own thoughts and ideas of what happens next and the past two books so far have thrown a lot of them off. I personally enjoyed the general direction this series has taken after Restore Me but I feel like Tahereh’s decision to write three more Shatter Me books has polarised her own reader community a lot. I would say if you loved the series, then go ahead continue the series, but if you were never a fan of the originals, then stay away, this won’t do any good for you.


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Review: The Surface Breaks

Review: The Surface Breaks

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Beneath the sea, Muirgen patiently counts down the days to her fifteenth birthday where she can finally see the world above hers, but only for a quick moment as her controlling father urges her to keep her head down below. On what should be her first and only visit, she is drawn to a human boy and decides that she too wants to be a part of his world. But doing so risks her place in the sea, but this little mermaid will do anything to find her place.

The Surface Breaks is an O’Neill novel for a YA audience, and she has done a brilliant job with it. Often described as a “feminist retelling” of The Little Mermaid, and it definitely does fit the description. Muirgen and her sisters live under the controlling thumb of their father, the Sea King. Angered by the loss of their mother years ago, his controlling behaviour and treatment of his daughters as mere property has them competing for his attention.

When Muirgen is enthralled by the human world, she finds herself asking for the help of the Sea Witch, an enigma of a character, a guardian of the Rusalkas — underwater creatures who were once human women that were abused. The merfolk despised them for their unruly behaviour but the Sea Witch assures they are but themselves which highlight a key theme to the novel: women who reclaimed what had been taken from them and unapologetically raise their voices when they’ve been told to stay quiet.

If I had to think of any flaw, it would be the depiction of the world and setting. I didn’t really find myself falling for the merfolk’s kingdom and the human world too felt underdeveloped. But the effect is minuscule and doesn’t affect my overall opinion of the book. The strength of the book is in the characters and journey of Muirgen.

Overall, The Surface Breaks is an interesting retelling of The Little Mermaid O’Neill has used the original tale brilliantly and adding her own flair and originality. I especially loved the added backstory to their mother. If you’re looking for a fairy tale with a touch of darkness and empowerment, this one is definitely for you.


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