Book review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali



marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

This book resonated in chambers of my heart I’d never known existed. It stirred memories too deep to claim, and it all poured out of me and onto every surface, taking something vital with it. There is still an expansiveness in my chest that reminds me of how important voices like these are, for readers like us. This feeling is a language all its own: to reach and find, to be reached for and found, to belong to a mutual certainty.

Love from A to Z is one of the most unapologetically Muslim books that I’ve ever read, and I’m so glad it exists. Continue reading “Book review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali”


Book review: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He


Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by
death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

RATING: ☆★☆★

Me, while sipping apple juice out of a champagne glass and gazing dramatically into the distance: I’ve had enough of cliffhangers…

What an ending! Such a succession of shattering revelations that sent a wave through my room so strong that I felt its ripple and was rocked on its mooring. Such was the churn and whirl of my thoughts and feelings that I was genuinely incapable of putting two ideas in a row, let alone come into any kind of conclusion—other than that I desperately need a sequel. Continue reading “Book review: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He”


Book review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston


A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

Is it possible for your whole body to grin? The answer is hell yes.

Red, White & Royal Blue is a story lit up like a beacon to the weary and the lost. My heart still swells with so much delight. The notion of memory simply fails to adequately capture the sensation. I know the words but none of them really encompass the feeling of deep contentment, mixed with the kind of frustration one feels at waking from a sweet dream. I promise you that what memories you will keep of this book will warm you in the cold, and taste sweet when the world runs sour. Do not miss it. Continue reading “Book review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston”


Book review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire


Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

It’s 3 am.

You hear a noise downstairs.

You go to investigate.

It’s me sitting at your kitchen table.

I ask you to sit down.

Slowly, reluctantly, you do. Continue reading “Book review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire”


Book review: The Fever King (Feverwake #1) by Victoria Lee


In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.


I relish the risk incurred by picking up a book that might inspire love or hate because both ends are passionate. As a reader, what I dread the most is the middle ground, the lukewarm, the books that lack whatever alchemy is needed to ensure they land on my heart with a sound of impact. Unfortunately, my images of The Fever King are already starting to fray around the edges. The story is a thing I already faintly remember, and soon it would wither, and I’d watch my memories of it yellow and fade as everything fades in the endless wash of days. Continue reading “Book review: The Fever King (Feverwake #1) by Victoria Lee”


Book review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper


Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

One of my favorite things about reading is when you pick up a book on a whim, unencumbered by expectations, having barely skimmed the synopsis, and it’s the thrill of leaping without being able to see the ground below you, right before you realize that’s called falling.

This is one of those times. Continue reading “Book review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper”


Review: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden


Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

There are seven wonders in the world, and this book is all of them.

The experience of reading The Winter of the Witch is something akin to being surrounded by magic. Yet, those are still such pale, passive words for what this story was. After the wonder and elation of reading this book and flying in so real-seeming a dream, I now feel such an obscure sense of loss, like something essential is inexplicably gone. A sudden absence, creating a space for the too bright, too sharp world to rush into. I reckon this will not be the last time I read this series—I shall return to it again and again, drawn to it by a wistful, melancholy longing for a life I never had, a nostalgia for a time I didn’t experience, and a desire to once again hold the characters’ hands. The Winter of the Witch has leapt forward to claim the title of Best Book I’ve Read Yet This Year. And if there’s any series, at all, that you would pick up upon my recommendation, let it be this one.

So, what’s this book about?

Mosco is afire and the blaze carried with it all the certainty of death. Vasya had thought that she knew every horror and was beyond surprise. But whatever spark had burned in her was no match for the terror she knew when her own people pursued vengeance upon her and tried to burn her at the stakes— their hatred lit lurid by the fire of Father Konstantin’s venom-laced words. With darkness nipping at her heels and the trees whispering on every side, Vasya escapes by the thinnest of margins into the realm of Midnight where she could stay there where nothing outside could touch her. But the dead are pouring into the streets of Mosco, held in the thrall of Medved, Morozko’s evil twin brother, and the Tartars are threatening to bring Rus’ to its knees. At the core of Vasya, rage and determination pulse up like the shock wave of a blast, ripping through her fear. Her loved ones need her. Mosco needs her. Rus’ needs her. The shot-silk shimmer of hope blazes all at once. And Vasya’s will can and will blow the strongest door asunder.

“I am a witch,” said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. “I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.”

I love this book so dearly. My experience of reading it was of wanting to discuss every paragraph I consumed. I felt like a glass filled with splendor and awe. Every page was a treat and my mind was afire with marvel, the lit match setting off fuse after fuse. They are so many things I want to say about this book, they fall like confetti around my head and I struggle at deciding which ones to catch and which to let fall because all I want to do is celebrate the whole it makes without dimming the experience of coming to it fresh.

The Winter of the Witch is everything you want out of a Winternight novel. It’s a vivacious expansion that builds seamlessly and effortlessly on its predecessor. In language that strikes and caresses, Katherine Arden has written an absolute jewel of a novel where both concept and execution are so good that I resented having to spend time away from reading it.

Arden’s characters are vibrantly drawn figures who scarcely need a villain to bring their strengths and weaknesses to light since they do a perfect job of that themselves. Sasha, Olga and little Marya cut straight to my heart and I wished I could just send them an emotional boogie board to help them keep afloat. Medved’s and Konstantin’s characters are so riveting as well. I loved how Arden examines, interrogates, and endlessly probes at the tropes used to distinguish heroes, villains and the horrors they wrought. She puts her characters at a crossroads, where they stand facing each other. They’re foes, but they hold each other’s answers. And you get such a tangible sense of the colliding emotion on both opposite sides, and with every page, your understanding sharpens, deepens, coming slowly and then all at once.

“There are no monsters in the world, and no saints. Only infinite shades woven into the same tapestry, light and dark. One man’s monster is another man’s beloved. The wise know that.”

Another aspect of this series that I immensely admired is how Arden handles with great deftness the theme of religion, by demonstrating how it can be a source for comfort and ease for some, and scathingly denouncing how others can be driven by their unquenchable lust for power to wield it to plant the seed of fear and hatred in people’s hearts, and sink their clawed hands into their minds.

Now, let’s talk about the absolute darling of my heart. Vasya!

Vasya’s character development is so masterly executed that the years that stretch between the first book and the last feel so far past, they feel like stories someone else had told me—half-remembered, blurred and unreal. I felt the sting of nostalgia for the savage exuberance of the child Vasya had been, the little girl who had always attacked the world, who wanted to see it but did not count the cost… before she learned the power of fear, before life had sapped her innocence and brought on a weary anger, before she discovered that the world was a perilous place for women like her.

There’s a tender spot in my heart that is abound with so much love and respect for Vasya. This young woman who had chased the marvelous doom that is freedom to the world’s end, whose heart looked upon life and death and things in between without faltering, who pushed through the cold sinking tangle of anger and dismay that her people have shown her and bore their burden in addition to her own. Gosh, I love her more than I can articulate. I’m still shaken by her temerity, by the way she was driven, not by hopelessness but just pure, unfettered stubbornness, not even so much a will to live as a refusal to die. There is so much ground Vasya had never felt under her hands and feet, there is the entire world, with all its wonders still unseen, and the thought of her not letting the world hold a place hidden from her will keep my heart warmed for many years to come.

“What happened? Love, betrayal, and time,” said Vasya. “What happens to anyone who grows to understand you, Medved? Living happens.”

But what makes the book truly sing—other than the mastery of plot and story structure, the characters and the luxurious prose that intricately entwines scenes from the natural world and the mythic one—is how it tramples on several minor and major tropes like a boss.

The Winter of the Witch is a tremendous triumph on several fronts, but it’s the way the author insists on Vasya’s agency while also allowing her space to experience and navigate first love and intimacy is what latched onto my heart the most. Morozko and Medved have painted in Vasya’s mind a picture that wraps her in a life she had never tasted or imagined…if only she’d give up everything else. Medved wanted to use her powers like a lighthouse lens, amplifying the intensity of his own gifts. Morozko wanted to protect her from the world, even the part of it that he represents, but Vasyas’s world is falling apart while his is continuing on a normal keel and they both know that this is the line past which his power can’t help her. “If I am mad, I will not be yours. And dead I will not be his,” she spoke that truth to the Bear and built her life around it.

Vasya can survive without the constant lifeboat of Morozko’s existence supporting her. So she tucked a little piece of his mind into a corner of hers, let go of the echo of a love she could not hold on to…and went on to do extraordinary fucking things. I genuinely love Vasya and Morozko’s relationship so much. My wizened, hardened heart fractured at the knowledge that they were each other’s person, each other’s place, and how cold and sharp the irony was, because they couldn’t even be in the same place together. I waited two books and a half for their stolen moments in shadowed places where they could be alone, where they were free to kiss and touch and drown and live and burn. I’m not even being hyperbolic when I say that Chapter 17 had me aahh-ing, and ooh-ing, and sending texts in all caps and screaming in audios to my friend. This, folks, is how you goddamn write romance.

“Love is for those who know the griefs of time, for it goes hand in hand with loss. An eternity, so burdened, would be a torment. And yet—” He broke off, drew breath. “Yet what else to call it, this terror and this joy?”

Through three books and years upon years of magic and family and growth, this story has burrowed into my heart and wormed into my consciousness, refusing to surrender its place. Now all I can think about is how lucky we are to have this series in the world.


Review: Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence


I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

RATING: ☆★☆★

The experience of reading Red Sister is akin to getting onto the wrong train—the story draws you relentlessly in and you can’t see the journey ahead, much less guess what it holds. An equally daunting and exciting interruption of the mundane. Depending on the reader, you might decline the adventure and choose to disembark at the next stop. Or you could stay, drifting, allow yourself to be jolted out of your habits and see it through ‘til the end.

I’m glad I chose the latter. Continue reading “Review: Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence”