Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

A Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a young teen, coming of age, in the year after 9/11. It’s 2002, and Shirin has learned to deal with the rude stares and degrading sneers from her peers. She builds her walls to protect her from a world that threatens to harm her because of her race and the hijab she chooses to wear. Rather than interact, she delves into her love for break-dancing with her brother. Until she meets Ocean James, and for once someone wants to know her for her. But Shirin’s not too sure if she’s ready to break down the walls she set up.

Shirin and her family are experts at moving. City to city, school to school. The cycle repeats itself for Shirin all her life. Her parents striving for better jobs, thus a better life for their children. But they don’t see how Shirin is suffering. So Shirin find a new form of happiness in breakdancing and music, which helps Shirin in her isolation.

I’m honestly blown out the water by this book. I didn’t expect to be so wholly enchanted by Shirin. There is so much longing and pain in this story, and I love how Shirin never back down. She stood by her belief where the most comfortable option would’ve been to back down. You see how hurt she is from all that she’s experienced that you can’t fault her for shutting people out. And slowly,  she opens up to others around. We watch her grow, in dancing and herself.

This story is so precious and so important to me. Everything was so real from the emotions, the characters, and then the ending. The characters were so relatable and hilarious. Even the romance cracked me for once. Shirin and Ocean have my heart. A slow burn that was so tender and sweet. The drama behind Ocean was borderline generic but it was interesting to see how Ocean’s history affected him and I think Tahereh Mafi did the best she could’ve done with the story concerning his part.

Rarely do we get to see a Muslim Hijabi teen in a story that revolves around her own coming of age and experiences with romance, but Expanse gives us just that. And I have to thank Tahereh Mafi for that.


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Content warnings: TBA

 

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Review: Empress of All Seasons

Review: Empress of All Seasons

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

“The rules were simple: Survive the Rooms. Conquer the Seasons. Win the prince.”

Becoming the next Empress of Honoku is anything but simple. Survive the palace’s magical but deadly seasonal rooms and marry the emperor. Everyone is eligible unless you’re Yokai, magical beings with the ability to transform. Mari’s one goal is to steal the Emperor’s wealth. But her life is on the line as she struggles to keep her identity hidden and learning that everything isn’t as it seems.

Empress of All Seasons is an ownvoices Japanese fantasy that was damn near perfect to read. I was obsessed entirely within the very first pages.

The characters were brilliant. Rarely do I find a book where the entire cast was absolutely excellent. Mari, our main Yokai, has been raised by beautiful women whose primary goal is to seduce wealthy men and steal their wealth. Mari doesn’t inherit the skills and looks, so her mother prepares her to train differently. Skilling fighting she competes in the competition to pull off a steal that would make her the greatest of Animal Wives. Taro, our cold Emperor to be, suffers from the hands of his terrible father and is a quick-thinking inventor that regrets his invention which enslaves all of the yokai. Akira, perhaps my favourite, is half human, half yokai. Mari’s closest friend and helps her in more ways than she knows. Hanako, the leader of the resistance, that really deserves her own novel.

The worldbuilding is where Empress shines. It’s set in such a magical rich world that is really beautiful. The Imperial Palace with its seasonal rooms, the interlude with the lives of the gods’, it’s all so magical but dangerous which really made it compelling to read.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Empress is a standalone, I believe. Which is what made this a little disappointing, especially in the end. The final chapter leads to something more, something even more significant than what we get in the first book. But it’s all very quickly wrapped up in a couple of paragraphs which suggest there will be no more novels. The world Emiko Jean has created is detailed and gorgeous, and I really hope it isn’t just confined to just this one novel because that would be the biggest shame.

For a way of conclusion, Empress almost ticked all the boxes but, nonetheless, I really loved it. A tale of family, honour and love, Empress is a compelling story that I genuinely didn’t want to put down. I really hope Emiko Jean will return to these characters later, or at least this world.


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Content warning: major character death, bury your gay trope, violence and bloodshed. MORE TO BE ADDED.

Review: Dear Evan Hansen

Review: Dear Evan Hansen

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

After Conor Murphy dies by suicide, Evan Hansen finds himself from invisible to visible as a letter from his therapy sessions gets mistaken as Conor’s suicide note. Now, he’s stuck with a lie he never meant to tell. Dear Evan Hansen expands upon the musical of the same name. Told from the perspectives of Evan Hansen and Connor Murphy.

I’ve glad I decided to listen to the musical after I had read this. I’ve come to love the musical so much that I feel like it would’ve shrouded my review of the novelisation of the musical. Which definitely has its flaws.

The characters are absolutely phenomenal, and we get a more in-depth look to all the beloved characters from the musical. Especially Conor Murphy. You get a much better in-depth look into his mind which I really appreciated and loved the most about the book. You don’t get much from Connor that isn’t from his perspective in the musical and the novel did well on his side. Everyone transcends beyond the time limitations of the musical.  Dear Evan Hansen is a thoughtful coming-of-age tale that depicts mental health issues and how social media impacts connections on a global scale.

Like I said before, I’m glad I read this before listening because the beauty of the songs would’ve shrouded my review of the book. There was a bit of frustration at how Evan allows the lies to spread for him to gain a sense of belonging, but it’s understanding of communication and finding meaningful relationships is utterly amazing. But its moral ambiguity of the entire situation was somewhat unsettling. While Evan’s lies did aid them in their grief, it was still disturbing. And how everyone forgives him for it was somewhat disappointing. Maybe, it was easier for plot sake, but I would’ve liked there to be more emphasis on him facing some sort of consequences for his actions, rather than brushing it off. I’ll link to this review which describes some issues of the musical. I don’t think I could put it words better than they had.

Overall, Dear Evan Hansen has its flaws which I definitely acknowledge. The importance of its central message to everyone that they are never alone. And I really needed that. Take a listen to the musical, even if you’re a not a fan of the format, it really is so powerful.


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Content warning: TBA

Review: A Place for Wolves

Review: A Place for Wolves

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.

James has begrudgingly followed his parents country to country all his life. And suddenly, he’s separated from sister and has never felt so alone. Then comes, Tomas. And then comes the war. A historical fiction set during the Kosovo War, James and Tomas must survive life on the run and face unspeakable choices to return to their family.

This book took a while to hook me in. I didn’t exactly understand what was happening in the first chapter. But once I understood, the story began to unravel in a good way. A tale of survival for these two boys who were willing to do anything to survive the war and return to safety. Together, they escape the cruel world until they’re both unwillingly yanked back into danger.

It’s actually a shorter read than I expected but a strong one that carried itself all the way through. James and Tomas are both on the run after James’s parents disappear, and are forced to make their way to safety before they’re captured too.

There’s letter addressed to James’s sister at the beginning of each chapter, dated long before the war breaks out and shows a closer look into the relationships James had with his parents, sister, friends and how he meets Tomas. It was a good way of introducing their relationship and how they met and fell in love without taking away from the journey they’re on in the main story.

Overall, Kosoko Jackson has delivered brilliantly on his debut. A Place for Wolves has found its own place in my heart.


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Content warnings: TBA

Review: Girls of Paper and Fire

Review: Girls of Paper and Fire

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.

The Girls is set in a world where there are three castes, Moon (reigning and demons), Paper (lower and human) and then Steel, a mix of the first two. Every year, eight girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. Lei is girl number nine. She’s forced back into the very place her mother was forced into years ago. Slowly, she learns the way of the palace, honing her skills to benefit the king’s comfort only. Until she falls in love.

Girls of Paper and Fire was surprising. I really enjoyed it a lot. Ngan’s storytelling skills are beyond amazing. It was so tense, and her writing is so elegant and smooth. The stakes are high in this, and I was quickly hooked from the first page. The vivid worldbuilding where Ngan creates this devastating but beautiful world and created characters that weave so well into it, and in all makes it an enchanting but compelling read.

I think the most powerful thing of this book is its message of self-empowerment and discovering one’s self while discussing classism and the objectification of women. Girls show the subtle way of how Ikhara, the fictional society, allows misogyny to flourish and aides its abuser by only viewing women as nothing but lesser beings. The Moon King is a disgusting man who uses his position of power to act out violence towards anyone around him. These girls groomed to believe they’re doing something good slowly come together and unravel the trauma they’re facing. Not everyone is exactly happy to be here. The strength of the friendship between all the Paper girls is beautiful – they grow into even stronger women and reclaim themselves and decide what they’re capable of.

Despite the moments of slowness, I would advise you to watch out for this new YA fantasy birthed from Asian mythology and Ngan’s own experiences from growing up in Malaysia. It’s a dazzling and immersive read with a pulse-racing conclusion that will leave you wanting more.


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Content and warnings for rape, sexual assault, slavery, sex trafficking, loss of a loved one, murder, captivity, torture, branding, violence, physical abuse, graphic animal death, and war themes. (More to be added.)

Review: Sadie

Review: Sadie

Rating: ★★★★★

“And Sadie, if you’re out there, please let me know.

Because I can’t take another dead girl. “

After her little sister was murdered, Sadie goes in search for revenge. West McCray is a radio personality who stumbles across her story and begins his own podcast to track her down. Slowly, he starts to trace Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened before it’s too late.

Sadie hits hard. Words like perfect and amazing does not do this book justice.  Sadie is basically half book/half podcast. We follow Sadie as she leaves her dead-end town in search of the man who hurt her sister. Sadie having raised her sister, Claire, from a young age, she loved her sister fiercely. When she’s gone, she’s thrown in a path to find her sister’s murderer and kill him. Radio star West McCray follows a bit after, filling in the gaps that Sadie doesn’t mention and reveals all new information that she wouldn’t have known.

Sadie was a haunting read, a story of loss and betrayal, anger and grief. These two sisters relied on each other to handle the ugliness of the world around them, the world that failed to protect them. The sense of urgency you get and the feeling of rush, especially in the audiobook, is honestly exhilarating.

The podcast portions were so great and worked well, especially when you alternate from the messiness of Sadie’s mind as she’s coming to terms with the fact that her journey must end with a dead man. West McCray’s voice is soothing, and his podcast provides a different insight into Sadie’s life.

Overall, this story is uncomfortable and powerful. It’s cast of characters genuine and believable. I would recommend listening to the audiobook because it honestly was an experience.


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Content warning: pedophilia, child sexual abuse, parental neglect, mentions and descriptions of substance abuse.