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: 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.

Review: The Poet X

Review: The Poet X

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Xiomara is the titular The Poet X who learns to find her voice in the pages of her journal, hidden from the world. Her passion and frustration grows in the pages of her notebook, reciting stories that must never leave the pages the ink drys on. But when she’s invited to her school’s slam poetry club, Xiomara decides to speak up in a world that doesn’t want to hear from her.

The Poet X follows Xiomara’s life as she tackles a world that works not in her favour. A world that doesn’t want to hear from her. The story tackles and addresses so many important topics. One of the main issues is sexual harassment and how victims of it are affected, especially from a young age like Xiomara. Another is how Xiomara grapples with living in a conservative household with religious parents. We follow Xiomara as she handles the shame, fear and confusion as she tries to fit in the boxes life had already decided for her.

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Review: The Gauntlet

Review: The Gauntlet

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Barely adjusting to her new home in the Upper East Side, Bangladeshi-American kid Farah finds herself sucked into the game of The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand after her younger brother, Ahmad, vanishes into the game. Alongside her friends, she must complete three challenges and failure to win will trap them- and Ahmad- forever.

I’ve been anticipating this book since Salaam Reads was first announced. And I can definitely confirm that this book was so worth the wait.

I really, really enjoyed the world building and game design. The way the story is mapped out is really brilliant. I hope to, maybe, see a graphic novel of this series somewhere down the line because of the Middle Eastern and South Asian influences Raizi had made a very dazzling and creative world. The way the world moves in pieces like a game was so pretty to imagine.

Farah is pretty headstrong and a loveable lead who is very aware of her own weaknesses. She’s constantly struggled with her want to ditch the challenge in search of her brother versus her need to navigate her and her friends out of the game. And she works alongside her friends to complete each challenge. Their friendship is very cute and they work well together, recognising each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They’re all very intuitive and logical in situations that would have me in tears. (ahah)

I think the only downside was the lack of characterisation for Essie and Alex. Farah’s character comes out really strongly and the other two do come across as being more archetypes rather than their own persons. Also, its cultural aspects were so adorable and great to read. While the world seems almost alien to her friends, Essie and Alex, Farah finds familiarity in it and so did I. I wished this book existed when I was a kid.

Overall, it’s a solid fantasy debut in an exciting game world. At its heart, a story of family and friendship, making it a great for any young readers.


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Review: Warcross

Review: Warcross

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Warcross has taken the world by storm. Millions log in every day, millions are made every day from it. And Emika Chen has hacked her way in. Now its creator, Hideo Tanaka, wants to hire her, a teenage hacker, to undercover its biggest security issue.

Warcross is seriously one of the best books I’ve read this year. I can’t believe how much I loved this book. It’s so thrilling and engaging that I was so shocked how well this book suited my reading taste. (Seriously, if anyone knows any other books like this, throw them my way.) I loved everything about this.

The world its set in is so annoying amazing that I’m mad we don’t, as humanity, have not reached the kind of technology there is in Warcross. Warcross is, in simple terms, a VR game where the player is literally immersed into their environment. The sky’s the limit basically in this game. And like we have Smash Bros tournaments, there are competitions where the best players are pitted against each other in the ultimate gaming tournament. It’s so brilliant to read how the game worked, which connected users worldwide and made VR practically actual reality. The workings of the game were so much fun!

I have to admit the plot twist in this book was very predictable. I picked it up quite early who it was that was hacking into the Warcross system, but I have to admit I was completely thrown off by the other half of the reveal as well. I’m just glad I read the book now when its sequel, Wildcard, is closer to being released.

Just from this one book alone, I now understand the hype around Marie Lu’s books. If my TBR list weren’t so jam-packed, I would’ve read everything else she has written in a heartbeat straight after reading Warcross. Her cast of characters here are so amazing and brilliant, and I quickly grew to love in like seconds. They’re all so different but work so well together. I can’t tell you how great they are. I think Hideo may be the only character that still hasn’t grown as me, especially as the love interest. His role out of that was so engrossing, and I absolutely loved him. I’m a picky romance reader even in a book I loved like this, it just didn’t get to me. Like the development between them was sweet but, again, not for me.

Overall, there were certain elements, such as game design, to its world that left questions and some moments of predictability but nonetheless, I enjoyed it a lot. Like damn, I’m more upset that this is the first Marie Lu book I’ve read. What have I been missing out?


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