Review: Kick The Moon

Review: Kick The Moon

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

After being told that brown kids can’t be superheroes, Ilyas creates his own one. PakCore is made from his own blood, sweat, and tears who continued to grow beside him. Now fifteen, Ilyas is under pressure. GCSE exams looming, his dad wants him to take over the family business and his friends don’t care because their crew, DedManz, is for life. Until he’s serving detention and meets Kelly, who is just as fed up as he is, however, the protection that their detention provides won’t last forever and Ilyas must face the consequences or risk losing the only person who gets him. But standing up isn’t as easy as the comic books say. 

Kick The Moon was promising, and like Khan’s debut, falls flat before the book could even kick-off. This story had so much potential and that I’m disappointed in myself for not enjoying it. The narratives explore a lot of important themes like racism, sexism, toxic masculinity, peer pressure through the life of a 15-year-old Pakistani Muslim boy. That information alone made me disregard my dislike for Khan’s debut and give this one a shot, but I honestly couldn’t get to grips with this one. The story just didn’t work for me. Despite being quite eventful, I just couldn’t engage with the text. A lot of it was underwhelming and tried too hard to fit so much into not much space. I couldn’t feel invested in the story, regardless.

Stereotyping and dialogue was the main issue for me in his debut and that really continues into Kick The Moon. The entire cast of characters was just awful and continues to play into stereotypes without a slight bit of originality. Illyas’s father is overbearing and is textbook toxic masculinity, his older sister seems way too immature for her age, and everyone else was literally plucked straight from hell. (Okay, maybe the teachers were more realistic because I’ve had horrid teachers my entire life.) Perhaps it was a writing choice, but considering the context of the book, it needed to be better. Imran is our villain for the novel, and he was the only one that made sense to be terrible the way he is. Using the idea that he’s a successful sports player, therefore do no wrong is such a common thing that happens in school. It may seem unbelievable but it’s actually quite common for boys like him to have much power in his circle and no one believes anything terrible about him. There was an opportunity to have a discussion about toxic masculinity, especially within the SEA Muslim communities, but it’s a shame it wasn’t introduced despite the groundworks that were laid. 

Overall, Kick The Moon was way too exaggerated and stereotypical to be remotely enjoyable. I commend any form of representation but I hated putting myself through this book. Many for a younger reader, this would be more up their alley and could gain more from this, but I won’t be rushing to recommend this book to anyone. Moreover, after another disappointing read, I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else from Khan in the foreseeable future. 


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Review: This Time Will Be Different

Review: This Time Will Be Different

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

When her mother decides to sell their family flower shop, a rift forms in the Katsuyama household. CJ’s mother wants to forgive and forget, but her free-spirited aunt is adamant that the store will pull through, and selling it to the family who swindled their grandparents during the Japanese internment is unthinkable. Unable to live up to her mother’s high expectations, CJ has always gone with the flow, found peace in arranging flowers, but now she has something she wants to fight for. 

This Time Will Be Different‘s primary focus is whether should history just stay in the past. CJ and her friends certainly don’t think so and try their hardest to get people to be held accountable. The current McAllister may not have been the ones to have personally stolen, but they reap the benefit of their generational wealth to this present day, while those who lose out are faded to a distant memory. It’s why her aunt refuses to let the McAllister buy their store who would just use the space for their benefit, again. 
CJ’s family unit is quite complicated. She’s stuck between her mother’s fierce ambition and her aunt’s chill behaviour, which places her in a middle ground where she must choose whether to focus on the future or trust with her heart. I really appreciated the ways Sugiura brought the Katsuyama household to life. CJ feels like she can never catch her to what her mother expects, and that’s such a universal feel, and I really enjoyed how Sugiura portrayed those moments of vulnerability within CJ. 

CJ is unique, to say the least. She lacks confidence through much of the novel and grows into her self-realisation as she begins to address her own trauma and prejudices. She’s not great at communicating, which leads to her bottling everything up until they come out too extreme. She isn’t driven the way her mother would prefer and uses her feeling of failure to protect herself, which I found quite relatable. However, I have to say; I didn’t really like her attitude for much of the novel. Her pettiness ruins many things for herself and others around her. 

I think the most disappointing aspect of this book was how it was all over the place, and the focus isn’t really there. One moment, it’s about the flower shop, the next, it’s about them discovering the land their highschool resides on is also a property that was defrauded the same way CJ’s grandparents were. Moreover, then that takes over the entire novel as the students’ rally to change the name of their school, the flower shop is placed on the back burner until it’s needed again. That being said, there’s a lot of discussion within this novel, which I appreciated: racism, sexism, model minority myth, and white saviour complex. And with an open ending and little closure, I was hoping everything to be reined in more and have a stronger focus. 

Overall, This Time Will Be Different is a compelling read, shining a light on a history that shouldn’t be forgotten. Despite my own thoughts, this book is well deserved and succeeds in multiple ways. A novel of memories and history and whether we can genuinely learn from our mistakes, or are we doomed to repeat them all with little reflection. I would recommend this to most contemporary lovers that enjoy stories about social justice and how to make a difference on a small scale. 


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Review: The Silence of the Girls

Review: The Silence of the Girls

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

Brilliant Achilles, shining Achilles, godlike Achilles … How the epithets pile up. We never called him any of those things; we called him ‘the butcher.

As the ancient city of Troy continues to withstand the brutal siege of the Greek army, its surrounding areas slowly find themselves torn to pieces by Greece’s greatest warrior, Achilles. Having watched her city ransacked, her family murdered, Briseis finds herself deep within the Greek army, a battle prize, forced to adjust to her new lifestyle. Far from home, Briseis brings to life a story often untold: the life of a woman living in war.

One of the beauties of The Iliad is the sheer depth and detail that comes to life in the story, making it open to so many interpretations and retellings — giving characters you might not have given a second glance, a space to thrive and make their story told. And The Silence of the Girls is one to add to your list. What made this book unique that despite how quiet it felt reading it, it certainly packed a hefty punch. Barker does not give up in the detail: violent, brutal and devastating. We follow Briseis from the moment Achilles takes her away to the days after his own demise. She understands how little her life means in the hands of men who think they’re above her.

The conflict, climax, and resolution of the Trojan War is not a surprise to most readers, so I really enjoyed witnessing the day to day life of Briseis and what she could’ve been expected to do around an enemy camp. Memorable names – Agamemnon, Priam, Hector, and Patroclus, etc. etc – all make an appearance one way or another, and we get to see them through different eyes. I was rather interested in the actions of Achilles when he’s not being a hero. He is in no way a hero to Briseis, and we get to witness that. For most of the novel, Briseis is our first-person narrator, but towards the finale, the narrative brings in Achilles, and he was a fascinating figure of brutality and equally compelling to follow. 

The book’s pacing was rather slow, but for me, that worked in its favour. I enjoyed that I wasn’t barrelling through the novel at the speed of light, and I was consistently engaged throughout the entire reading experience. However, I have to note that despite the title and its emphasis on the voices that were left untold, the story doesn’t really highlight much of its own women apart from Briseis and Helen. I would even say the men were given more depth than some of the captured women. I guess you could say that’s a product of the original text that ignored them in the first place. 

Overall, a brilliant imagining of the untold experience of Briseis. A fascinating take on the myth of Achilles and the Trojan war told by a woman that time could’ve forgotten. Barker makes a stand in this detailed standalone that can satisfy any mythology enthusiast. 


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Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*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.*

Casiopea Tun dreams of a life beyond her small Mexico town until she accidentally releases a God of Death and her time is soon limited, as she is now bound to the Mayan God, Hun-Kamé, and must help him regain his missing body parts in order to reclaim his throne in Xibalba (Mayan Underground) from his thieving brother. Failure means Casiopea will lose herself and with the clock slowly ticking, together, they embark on a life-changing journey that has Casiopea leaving the clutches of her strict grandfather and experience an adventure of a lifestyle.

The central tale focuses on Casiopea and her journey from sheltered girl to a confident person who rediscovers the world beyond her small village. Her determination to go beyond what is expected of her is entertaining and thrilling. A tale of a young woman and a God with their fates tied so close together, the world they discover takes centre stage. Casiopea and Vacub-Kamé hurry though Mexico in the 1920s, beginning in Yucatán and onwards into northern Mexico. The bright lights of a changing world is a brilliant contrast with the darkness of Xibalba, crafty magic and the mischievous demons that reside beside the civilians. I really enjoyed the level of detail as you can really imagine the world unfold in front you as Casiopea experiences it all for the first time.

I really loved the inclusion of Casiopea’s cousin. Like Casiopea, he is forced to embark on a journey to bring his cousin back home. I love that it gave deeper depth to how he has come to hate his cousin and where is narcissistic tendencies comes from, and how easily things could’ve been different between them if it wasn’t for their upbringing. I wasn’t a massive fan of Vacub-Kamé, Hun-Kamé’s brother, and his chapters, but appreciate how it showed a difference in leadership between the brothers and added a lot to the major theme of family that runs through this novel.

In terms of pacing, it was quite even between the journeys to each body parts, but I do have to admit, each obstacle does give up rather easily which was quite jarring considering the stakes and risks presented to us. However, I did really enjoy each side character that we meet. Most we don’t ever meet again but were definitely memorable enough to enjoy. I especially really adored the lull moments between each trip where Casiopea and Hun-Kamé get to know each other. I’ve never been a big fan of romances where one person is like a thousand years older than the one, but each to their own, I guess.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think any other reader will enjoy how Moreno-Garcia’s blend of mythology and history. Gods of Jade and Shadow was an enchanting story of self-discovery with an ending that is satisfying but could hint at a potential sequel. If so, I would gladly read whatever comes next.


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Review: Verify

Review: Verify

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

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

Meri Beckley is forced on the run when she discovers the world she lives in isn’t as truthful as she was thought it was. Months after the death of her artist mother, Meri tries to understand her mother’s thoughts in her unfinished pieces. Then one day, someone thrusts a piece of paper in her hands with one world: verify. There she discovers questions no one is willing to answer and learns a history that she didn’t know existed. However, the government is close on her tail, and she has no choice but to fight back. 

This book is a mess. I’m actually surprised that this book is being published in the state that it is in. If this was 2013, Verify could have stood a chance in the dystopian young adult market, but right now, it’s nothing new and falls exceptionally flat. I really wish I could say this book just wasn’t for me, another reader might like it, but I honestly can’t in good faith recommend this book to anyone. 

Meri Beckley discovers the government is censoring anything that doesn’t align with their views. She learns of a secret organisation whose primary role is to remind the world of the history they have forgotten, but their work is continuously halted by secret government agents which snatch members off the street, never to be seen again. Meri meets Atlas, whose father ran [org name] but went missing, and takes the risk of reaching out to Meri in hopes that her mother might’ve passed some information before her death. 

The plot’s conflict was all over the place, and it doesn’t really settle on anything. It felt somewhat stretched out to become a duology because there is no shred of resolution that felt like the first novel was finished. This world is ridiculously dull, and the lack of stakes just made me laugh. Nothing really keeps you rooting for Meri, and we’re told how to feel, rather than seeing. The book’s climax where Meri and the others spread their message all over the city felt uninspiring. Meri is hopeless, she learns of a secret organisation where certain words can trigger the police to come after you, but she continues to act reckless, and we’re supposed to believe in the space of like a week, she is suddenly a key player in this “revolution” when she’s done nothing but cause trouble.

She’s a paper lead, with no personality, no reason or spark to root for her. The secondary characters were so forgettable, existing for scenes where they’re needed and quickly discarded. A love interest that I just felt terrible for, honestly, and there was zero connection between them. I had to laugh when they kiss in the middle of their vital life or death mission. Honestly, this entire book was so underwhelming that nothing could really save it. 

Verify is set far enough in the future that the government can easily remove everyday words from our vocabulary to the point where no one knows how to pronounce them. Paper usage is frowned upon and illegal to own. In this universe, much of the world’s darkest history is erased. But the only thing parts of history the book relies on is the Underground Railroad and WW2. I would’ve loved to see Meri reflect on the history and what happened during those times. But it’s very vague and doesn’t even talk about them at all. If you’re going to use specific elements from history, the least you could do is acknowledge them in your books, rather than being vague.

Overall, I can see what this book is trying to do, in a digital era, information is distorted and unverified information has the potential to do great ruin in our lives. But this entire book was unclear and not at all enjoyable to read, which is such a shame because its premise is so important. I don’t think this book is worth reading. 

If you want to read a YA book about the power of information and censorship, I’d suggest The Great Library series by Rachel Caine. (It’s not at the forefront like Verify, and it’s more fantasy aligned)


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Review: Slay

Review: Slay

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*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.*

A teen game developer finds herself facing an online troll after her Black Panther-inspired game reaches mainstream media and is labelled as exclusionary when a young Black boy is murdered over an online dispute. No one knows that Kiera Johnson, an honours student, runs the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. So when her game’s existence is thrown out into the open, she must save her game while also protecting the safe community she has created for Black gamers. 

SLAY comes to life when Kiera Johnson’s experiences of being a Black gamer means she is ostracised and faces continuously racist abuse. SLAY becomes her refuge where she can put aside her fears about college and whether her future with her boyfriend is the one and, simply put, slays in her self-made game environment. I loved the gameplay detail a lot. For some, it can feel overwhelming, but I loved the detail Morris put into bringing SLAY to life! The gaming culture is one of the book’s strongest point. 

When word of SLAY leaks to the media, Kiera is devastated to see what was a safe space for so many people suddenly branded and portrayed in a negative light, this book is a discussion of the importance of space spaces, and they have the right to exist without being labelled racist. 

In my opinion, the book struggles to make me feel like Kiera developed this game. I thought we’d get a better explanation to how she manages to run SLAY, a VR MMORPG, but we get so little that it made the reading experience disappointing. SLAY is Kiera’s baby, but to maintain a game like SLAY for years with no one in your family realising and only having two people moderating a game with 500k users doesn’t make sense. I would’ve loved to have seen Kiera actively working on SLAY rather than pushing it to the side and with little to show of her skill in game development. Also, the ending was rather disappointing as well, and a lot is glossed over, and not developed. So it’s a shame the side characters weren’t as impressive as they had the potential to be better. Kiera deserves better friends after everything she’s been through. 

Overall, despite my own shortcomings with SLAY, Morris’s debut is a sweet love letter to Black gamer girls. SLAY is born out of Kiera’s wish to promote Black culture from across the diverse diaspora. Collectable battle cards are grounded in Black culture, each with a deep meaning and can kick ass on the digital playing field. SLAY was a good read, and I’ll happily check out anything else Morris will release in the future.  

Here are some #OwnVoices reviews from Black book bloggers: Leila and Liselle Sambury


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