Review: The Henna Wars

Review: The Henna Wars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Nishat becomes obsessed with winning her school’s business competition, but everything isn’t as smooth sailing as she thought it would be when her old school friend Flávia walks back into her life. Nishat is crushing hard but can’t get distracted. That is until Flávia also decides to do a henna business, and it comes to a heated discussion of cultural appropriation. After her parents disregard her coming out, this competition is everything to Nishat, and she can’t stand to lost anything now. 

This one’s a hard one to review because I’m struggling a little to put my thoughts into coherent words. It was a super adorable book to read. I truly wanted to love this. But The Henna War was not the book for me. I was not particularly blown away in my reading experience. My first thoughts when I finished this book was: is that it?

Nishat is our main protagonist, and I wish I could’ve loved her more. Nishat is one of a kind. I really loved her unapologetic attitude and how she is very adamant in being herself, loving herself, regardless of what anyone else says. She is very proud of her culture (hey, fellow Bengali) and in her situation, she is remarkably strong, standing up for herself when no one else will. Her younger sister is adorable, and I really enjoyed the great sibling bond between them. Nishat also has her school friends, who she ends up splitting with mid-novel due to clash of interest over their business ideas. Her parents are traditional, and it was heart-breaking to see them become so distant to their own child over their sexuality. With her conflict with the parents simmering in the background, it doesn’t help that Nishat also gets a crush on Flávia. That crush is almost squashed when Flávia decides to a henna business, and Nishat is devastated at her blatant disregard for her culture. And then on top of that, Flávia’s cousin is Chyna, one of the school’s biggest bullies who has been continuously dropping racist rumours about Nishat for years. 

This book introduces a lot of things: Nishat’s decision to come out to her parents, meeting Flávia, discovering Flávia is also new to her school, Flavia using henna as a business idea. Flávia is also dealing with a lot of tension from her cousin’s family. On top of that, all is the central theme of cultural appropriation, which made this a book a great space to discuss such a topic. But I feel like it was all too much and nothing was given the space actually to be discussed. To call it rivals to lovers is a reach, Nishat’s friends were practically sidelined and then reintroduced at the end for the pivotal moment. Nishat has a terrible attitude where she expects everyone else to feel bad for her, but she refuses to extend the same opportunity to everyone else. There was a perfect moment where her sister calls her out on her petty behaviour, but I feel like it was all for nought as everything is brushed away in favour of a happy ever after ending. Nishat’s anger and disappointment in most moments were justified, but she never really seems to learn from any of the bad stuff she does. 

Overall, this review sounds weird because I was genuinely enjoying this book for the most part, and I will offer this book to another reader because I can see it’s value. It’s super adorable for the most parts with an exciting cast of characters. The writing style was not to my liking. I just couldn’t get to grip with it, and it definitely affected my enjoyment of the books. As I said, I believe in this story, and I’ll give Adiba Jaigirdar credit for writing a story that I haven’t read anywhere else. But it wasn’t the book for me. 


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Double Review: That Can Be Arranged and The Black Hawks

Double Review: That Can Be Arranged and The Black Hawks

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

That Can Be Arranged

In her second comic, Huda Fahmy recounts the story of how she met her husband, Gehad. Marriage is always tricky, and especially for Huda as she faces gossiping aunties and overbearing parents who want the best for her. That Can Be Arranged is hilarious, quirky and quite refreshing. A simple story which also discusses misconceptions about the autonomy of Muslim women, and offers another way to understand what life is like for a Muslim woman in a modern age.

Fahmy’s sense of humour is strange, but I surprisingly enjoyed it. I see a lot of her art on Instagram so I knew I had to read this one. The story is practical, nothing too extreme, and I really enjoyed how open she was about her spirituality in her story. I also appreciated how she’s so unabashed when it comes to expressing all her struggles.

I’ll admit the art style isn’t my taste, but her wit and humour really makes up for it. Fahmy’s story is quick and simple, yet makes its mark about her longing to find someone, the struggles it entails and making sure she gets married for the right reason and with the right person.


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The Black Hawks

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

Bound to a dead-end job in the service of his uncle, life isn’t all that for Vedren Chel. That is until the kingdom is thrown into chaos, and Vedren finds an out: escorting the stranded prince who promises his oath would be dissolved. But dragging a prince while being hunted by enemies on all sides isn’t easy and when they find themselves in the company of the Black Hawks, Vedren’s dream to return home drifts further away from him.

It hurt a lot to not like this one. I was really excited to read The Black Hawks, but nothing was really impressive about this book at all. The pacing was all off, the fight scenes were exhilarating but they were immediately followed by extreme moments of utter nothingness.

Chel was both annoying and amusing at the same time. He doesn’t seem to do much apart from getting beat up violently and somehow surviving. The prince in question is quite immature, but we get no clarity in his age, or I either missed it. The Black Hawk Company had the makings to be so good. But their humour fell flat for me. I wasn’t sure if Chel was supposed to grow to enjoy their company or be terrified of them because, in the end, Chel comes to like them, but I don’t think that development really came through in the story.

The last quarter of the book did really interest me. But the overall story just didn’t entice me enough to care about continuing this series in the future. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Or maybe, it just wasn’t the right time and I’ll have to check out reviews of the next book in the future to decide if this one deserves a second chance.


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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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Mini review: The Paper & Hearts Society and Secrets of the Henna Girl

Mini review: The Paper & Hearts Society and Secrets of the Henna Girl

I apologise in advance. 😂 I took a semi-hiatus because of assignments and I ended up writing these during that hiatus so these reviews aren’t written up the standard I would usually prefer.

The Paper & Hearts Society

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

*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 young teen moved to a new town and discovered a book club that pushes her out of her comfort zone.

Honestly, this was a little disappointing, considering how positive the reviews were for this book. I really wanted to love this book, but this book was just not for me. This is a story I would say good in concept, but the execution was so bland.

I have no issues with references to certain things, but this book really overdid it with the book mentions. Like I genuinely thought this book would’ve collapsed on itself if it didn’t mention another book. Yes, this is a book about a book club. But the way it was written was definitely meant to namedrop, which I don’t have an issue with, but it just wasn’t smooth.

A majority of the book is:
Tabby/ Anyone else: Oh, wow. I love [book title] by [author]! Spends a couple of lines on how great it is.

A lot of the books mentioned were prevalent Young Adult/ Contemporary novels. I understood wanting to celebrate UKYA, but I found myself rolling my eyes a lot of it because it was so just so cringey.

I also found the characters to be quite snobby at some points. And a lot of them act as if reading is such a weird thing that makes them different. Like, you know when people say “Am I the only one who does [something that everyone does]?” Tabby and some of the others all tends to give off that similar vibe, and it was just a little frustrating.

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Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

*Review includes major spoilers*

Flora has anterograde amnesia. She can’t remember anything past a few hours and relies on the scribbles on her hand and the people around her. Until she kisses a boy, she shouldn’t and remembers it. But he’s gone now, and that’s all she can remember.

Oh, how do I feel about this? A large part of me was enjoying this book, to begin with despite the rather odd plot, but overall, I didn’t care for this. I kind of feel bad since it was pretty intriguing, but so much little things irked me that when stacked up, my reading experience wasn’t very good.

With a plot like this, it is no doubt very repetitive, and for some, it can be boring. I quite like it in a sense with the stop and start motions. It’s practically a collection of mini-stories where Flora has to repeat herself constantly. I think that part was done in a way that it didn’t feel completely lacking for me. On her hands are the words “Be brave,” and she is an impressive character to do what she does which such bravery.

I know suspension of disbelief is crucial to read this book, especially with this plot, but there’s a lot that I couldn’t just ignore. Like how Flora’s parents think it’s okay to leave their daughter with her best friend for a week. Sure, Paige knows what to do, but that’s a lot of responsibility to place on her. And I wasn’t even mad when Paige said her mum didn’t agree with it because it’s true, you don’t leave her amnesiac daughter with her only friend for a week. How social service did not catch wind of that is beyond me.

Paige isn’t off the hook either since Flora kisses Paige’s ex-boyfriend and, fair enough, she’s upset. It’s normal to be upset when your best friend kisses your boyfriend. But it’s even more reckless to not stay with Flora when she had already agreed with Flora’s parents. Like she just doesn’t even tell Flora’s parents that she’s not coming. Like, WHAT. Putting your friend’s life at risk was just SO BAD. In the end, Paige does what’s right, but it was still unsettling how she knowingly left her friend in danger for the sake of her own empowerment.

Also, Flora’s brother! He’s very much an enigma throughout the novel, whose real story doesn’t come to light until the very last chapters. And that was so disappointing. HE DESERVED BETTER.

Drake doesn’t deserve so much as a couple of lines. I don’t think it was appropriate to have a 19-year-old boy go after a 17-year-old girl who amnesia makes her still think she’s ten-years-old. Fuck that dude.

I’ll stand by this final point. The book should’ve ended where it began. It had Everything, everything vibes and where it ends is where the story becomes more interesting. We learn that Flora’s parents lied about the cause of her amnesia and they’re too scared to let her grow, so they give her drugs which make her more controllable. It ends with Flora learning that her amnesia could go away and leaving her parents to begin discovering herself. A story from there would’ve been more interesting. Or better, a better plot would’ve been replacing boyfriend with brother. Like, Flora remembers a memory of her brother and goes in search of him despite her parent’s disapproval. Honestly, anything apart from having to read about creepy Drake would’ve been worth my time.

Overall, this book followed the wrong parts, in my opinion. There’s so much to Flora that could’ve been uncovered more, but we got stuck with the love plot instead.


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Review: All The Lonely People

Review: All The Lonely People

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2.5/5)

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

When Kat becomes the target of an alt-right smear campaign, she has no choice but to erase her entire online presence. Suddenly, Kat is fading, and only The Lonely People know what to do. Wesley realises that people are forgetting Kat and he has to help her, even if he was partially responsible for it. 

I think what was best about this book was the portrayal of the toxic parts of the internet. These people who spew negative, hateful things into the world have solid fan bases, often young kids. Kat is one of the newest victims of a right-wing YouTuber who enables his fanbase to act violently, to hack into her website, her safe space, and completely violate her privacy.
Kat’s entire arc was the story for me. She’s created this online side of herself where she’s free to speak about anything she wants. She discusses fandom positivity and the beauty of the internet. And then it’s gone, and she had to work with Safa, a fellow faded person, to discover what to do next. Her chapters were more interesting to read. 

Welsey is a part of the boys who look up to these YouTubers, act on their behalf on these so-called man-hating feminists who want to get rid of them. He’s very much aware that what he’s doing is terrible, and what was irritating was how he never really owns up to what he’s done. He often blames his surroundings, his upbringing which caused him to find friendship in an alt-right fanbase. Kat seems to be the only person with sense and often calls him out, not outright because no one can interact with a faded person. The ending suggests Wesley works towards becoming a better person. But, personally, I found it difficult to forgive. 

The outright dismissal of online friendships was a downfall as well. Kat essentially fades because once her site is shut down, she has nothing, no other connection to people, therefore begins to fade. It comes across as seeing online relationships as less authentic and not real. And it’s quite dangerous in this book because it does show how real the internet can be, how anyone with a large enough following can have people do their terrible bidding. It’s not as nuanced as the book believes it is. 

All The Lonely People certainly is unique. The notion of fade to represent feeling invisible while discussing online culture in our current digital age is fascinating. It’s a shame I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. 


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