My Review of The Candle and The Flame by Nafiza Azad

⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Good leaders are not just those who make good decisions but also those that know how to take good advice.”

This is my first eARC from Edelweiss and it could not have been a better, more amazing start. I always loved Nafiza’s snippets of this book on Twitter and it always left me wanting for more. A fantasy based on a fictional city by the ancient Silk Road? A city where people from all faiths and cultures seek refuge and live in harmony?

A dream come true!! Silk road has always fascinated me so much!

Anyway, the story is about the City of Noor, where humans and the Djinn (mainly the Ifrits) live side by side, protecting one another. The book is from five points of view, and all of them are equally important, even though not all of them are the protagonists.

The story begins when The Name Giver of the Djinn is killed and it changes Fatima, the protagonist’s life completely. From Fatima she becomes Fatima Ghazala, and with Zulfikar, the Emir of the City of Noor, she tries to protect her city and its people from the chaotic clan of Djinn called The Shayateens.

The book has got so much potentials! The setting in itself is lush and vivid and magnificent. It feels like a secondary yet important character, always there to help the plot proceed and the characters develop. Nafiza Azad, with her deft hands, weaves a setting that comes alive through every words, in every pages. Using mouthwatering food descriptions and overwhelming aromas of flowers, the entire setting is really another dimension in championing the story.

And the characters! Oh gosh, they’re all so so well done! Fatima, later Fatima Ghazala, is the main protagonist who is a both street smart messenger, and yet a naïve teen about the world around her. Her utter devotion to her foster sister, her best friends, and her adopted family is really endearing. She is the kind of girl who will wake up at dawn and walk miles to fetch flowers for her adopted grandmother. She is also the kind of girl who burns/twists the groping hands of leering perverts. Here is a fanart of Fatima Ghazala for you, drawn by @alexisc_art

@alexisc_art also drew an amazing portrait for Zulfikar, the Emir of The City and Noor and the other protagonist (also Fatima Ghazala’s love interest). This shy-in-love yet ferocious-in-combat emir is so adorable, you want to skip ahead and read his POV chapters more lol *guilty*

The other POV characters are excellently sketched. We find calm and collected Maharajah Aarush to his sister, Rajkumari Bhavya, and also some chapters from Fatima Ghazala’s adopted sister, Sunaina. Each of them are individuals with distinct voices and perspectives. I especially loved Bhavya and how amazingly unique she is. From a lovesick, insecure, and cosseted princess, she grows to become a capable, responsible, and steelminded ruler in her indisposed brother’s stead.

But again I’ll come back to the setting cause not only the author succeeds in making it come alive with delicious food descriptions and sensory details, she also shows us a perfect balance of cultural harmony and cacophony. We find a perfect blend of human cultures and religions (Sunaina is Hindu but she grew up in her faith with her adopted sister of different faith) as well as clashing discord between the Djinn clans among themselves and with the humans of Qirat. Honestly, for me, the highlight of the book was the setting and its worldbuilding. I can go on and on forever gushing about the setting!

Here is a snippet:

The pihu of the koyal bird in the tree; the sound of the River Rahat when its water meets the quay. The red dupatta fluttering in the wind; the small mirrors on it making stars out of sunlight. The sizzle of the meat at the kebab wallahs. Someone flying an orange kite from a rooftop. The azaan five times a day; the hymns on Sunday. The peal of bells at the mandir; the smiling faces at the synagogue. The khejri trees strive on while the date palms are full of grace. Red, pink, and purple bougainvillea leading riots on whitewashed walls.

Also, another plus point goes to the author giving us ample healthy portrayals of female friendships and sisterhood. Fatima Ghazala’s sisterly relationship with Sunaina is endearing. In fiction, we find either enemy sisters or cloyingly sweet sisters, which is not the realistic portrayal. The author gives us perfect blend of sisterly love and sisterly clashes, none over a man’s attention though. I also adored the Alif sisters (Adila, Amirah, Azizah) and how much they remind me of comical twins of fiction (Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Thomson and Thompson). And let’s not forget the building friendship between Bhavya and Sunaina.

Overall, I’ll 100% recommend you this book. It doesn’t have epic battles or vendetta clashes, but a setting you’ll never forget and lots of characters you’ll earnestly want to hang out with.

Thank you, Edelweiss and the publishers for providing me with an eARC for my honest review.

Preorder links (collected from the author’s pinned tweet:
US:
Amazon: (link: https://amzn.to/2BSzJQg) amzn.to/2BSzJQg
Indiebound: (link: http://bit.ly/Indietcatf) bit.ly/Indietcatf

Canada:
Amazon: (link: http://bit.ly/TCTFCa) bit.ly/TCTFCa
Chapters: (link: http://bit.ly/TCTFChapters) bit.ly/TCTFChapters
Kidsbooks: (link: http://bit.ly/kidsbookstcatf) bit.ly/kidsbookstcat

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My Review of Shadow and Bone (The Grishaverse trilogy #1) by Leigh Bardugo

⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Fine. Make me your villain.”

It seems Leigh Bardugo knew all my weaknesses when it comes to YA fantasy and immersed them all into one book. I can’t believe it came out in 2012, so long ago, before all the amazing tropes of fantasy are in trends now.

•Dark handsome villain? ✔

•Villain love interest? ✔

•Russian fairy tale? ✔

•A heroine with impossibly amazing powers? ✔

All of it into one book. I know many more to come in the upcoming books too.

All these years, ever since I picked up and got obsessed with YA fantasy books, I’ve been hearing about Leigh Bardugo and how awesomely she writes her books. A lot of my friends and Twitter mutuals obsess and gush over her writing and characters, but all this time, I kept myself away from the frenzy.

Now I dove into it.

And it was so worth it. All of the things my friends said over and over about The Grishaverse books are so so true!

But one thing I disagree with.

Team Alina, Genya, Zoya >>>>>>>>>>>> Team Darkling >>>> Team Mal

Honestly, how can anyone go over Team Alina and the girls is beyond me. I can tell you the best thing about this book was not just the sizzlingly sexy chemistry between the protagonist and her villain love interest.

Rather the forming female friendship and the one hinted at for the later books. I loved the friendship between Alina and Genya. So adorable! Though Zoya’s jealousy was petty, I can tell this girl will be a backstabber to the Darkling some day. I hope I’m correct. No more petty girl fights over an ancient hot guy’s attention.

Anyway, I loved the plot, and since I knew most of the spoilers of this book beforehand, I wasn’t much thrown off by the plot twists. But I loved them nonetheless. If even after reading about the spoilers, the books make me a fan, I know these books are the real deal. And Ms. Bardugo proved that.

Hopefully the next book, a novella, will satisfy me the same.

My Review of The Witch of the Duva (The Grishaverse trilogy #0.5) by Leigh Bardugo

⭐⭐

Well that was a disappointment mostly. As much as the prose was delightful, the story itself disappointed me. The plot twist at the end was super creepy and felt like it sprung up from nowhere. Thankfully this isn’t any way linked to the Grishaverse trilogy books, else the main books would’ve disappointed me more.

This review should’ve come the day before yesterday, but by now I’ve dived into the Grishaverse trilogy and I am so immersed into them.

Hopefully they won’t disappoint me (:

My Review of The Demon of the Wood (The Grishaverse trilogy #0.1) by Leigh Bardugo

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

There is no safe place. There is no haven. Not for us.”

Well, that was a surprise read!

And an excellent one at that, I must admit.

This is my first time reading anything by Leigh Bardugo and wow, that was a nice one. By now I know most of the spoilers of the Grishaverse books, but I didn’t know I was reading Darkling’s early days until I realized the POV character, Eryk, was a shadow summoner.

There will be, he promised in the darkness, new words written upon his heart. I will make one.

So far, so good.

I’ll be heading for The Witch of the Duva now. Yup, I’m going from #0.1 book to #0.5 now. Hopefully Leigh Bardugo will my next favorite author 😊😊

My Review of The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air #2) by Holly Black

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

**This book was provided to me as a part of the circulation group ARC Circulation Bangladesh**

*Janice from F.R.I.E.N.D.S voice*

Oh. My. God!!!!

What have I just read?!?!

This was one of the best sequels since I read ACOMAF and The Winternight Series. Honestly, Ms. Black hit it home by expanding the stakes and adding more antagonists to Jude’s life. I just love it.

Disclaimer: spoiler galore.

Okay, the plot is super tighter than The Cruel Prince and I loved it. Though I expected a bit more excitement and bombardment in the sequel. That was the only lackluster part of the sequel. But the character development was superb.

I love Jude. My love for her has grown more as my love for Feyre and Vasya did. Jude has grown so much from how she was in The Cruel Prince, and I love her against everyone.

To be honest, I’ll kill every single characters in the book, especially Taryn, Cardan, Madoc, and Locke. Oh gosh how I hate those four!

Taryn is such a f***ing b**** I hate her!!! So so so much!!! Ugh, the way she betrayed Jude in the end, I hope Jude never ever everrrrrrrr forgives the bitch. Ughhhhh, I really really hope Ms. Black will kill her else I will never pick up another book.

I truly swear!

And Locke, ughhhhh!!!! He can die burning with Taryn inside the same cauldron. I’ll boil them in it and kill them ughhhh. He unnecessarily plagues Jude even after she ignores and avoids him. I’d have forgotten about him after his stunt in The Cruel Prince but he again goes after Jude by trying to kill her with Faerie riders.

And Madoc? Oh let me not start on him. This guy is so so twisted inside I really wanna kill him. I mean, the way he killed Jude’s mom and dad after she left him. Gosh, I hope he dies in Queen of Nothing as well.

And Cardan? Okay, I seriously dunno whether to like him or loathe him. One moment he is nice to Jude (okay not exactly “nice” but tolerable at least) and the next moment he is out to harass her and torture her. The excuse that he hates her for being human and all is utter bullshit. And let me tell you, if any one of you ship him with Jude after reading The Wicked King, I am no longer in your league. He is an abusive bully and I do not and will never ship bullies with their victims.

Ever!

Okay, enough ranting. This review is more personal rant than review. But to be honest, I only liked Jude and Vivi in this book. Else? No one. The rest can die in hell.

Thank you, Nobonita Chowdhury, for hosting the ARC circulation on Facebook. If you are a book blogger in Bangladesh and wish to participate in her ARC circulation, join her Facebook group. And don’t forget to subscribe and check out her blog.

My Review of The Mercenary Princess (The Mercenary Princess #1) by Setta Jay

⭐⭐

I’m keeping the review of this book short here.
I cannot believe this book was allowed publication. Like with how problematic Viktor’s behavior is in the book, I am so so weirded out. Setta Jay tries to make it a sexy thriller romance but it turns out to be something else.
Totally problematic stalker behavior!
The love interest, Viktor, not only breaks into the protagonist, Sophia’s hotel room, he also ambushes her and we’re supposed to believe she get wet by this? Really? He goes so far as to even knocks her guards off.

And Sophia’s little band of misfit rich heirs and heiresses did not feel at all realistic and believable. Instead of only being a secret group of Robin Hoods, how about you also donate and do charities? Help feed the homeless folks? No? They just are rich folks who wants to do good for those are powerless to show off their privileges and feel less guilty about it. Such a white savior trope just a bit twisted here.
And I hate Sophia’s family to the core. Fucking disgusting family who wants to hand over their daughter to a man who 24/7 creepily watches Sophia in her bedroom and bathroom, her most intimate moments, even masturbating ones.
Ew ew ew ew ewwwwwww!!!

I am not picking up another book in this series. Nope.
Consider me noped out.

My Review of A Place For Wolves by Kosoko Jackson

⭐⭐⭐

I’m a bit conflicted with this book. I started it with much enthusiasm, since the book sounded really awesome and I was surprised NetGalley granted me an eARC. But about 37% into the book, the enthusiasm dimmed down.

Because of one big problematic aspect that glared down at me as I raced to finish this book.

Okay spoilers galore, please read it with caution.

The book started with the protagonist, a black gay teen, James Mills writing a letter to his sister, Anna (who was in America the entirety of the book). He hid in a dilapidated hostel with his Brazilian boyfriend, Tomas, before posting the letter to a mailbox nearby. All hell broke loose once he got to the mailbox.

Since then, Tomas and James were on the run, their destination the American embassy in Pristina, the capital of a war wrecked Kosovo. On the way, they encountered lots of things that threatened their lives and all those they held dear.

Okay, now time for the spoiler filled part.

I loved the relationship between James and Tomas. It was so lovingly portrayed, their love for each other growing stronger and stronger as each page passed. They obviously cared for each other and their heat filled banter made me sigh in happiness.

That at least, this book had a happy, healthy queer relationship. And on top of that, a gay relationship between two PoC, one black, one brown. And to find healthy, present parents and sibling relationship made this book soar my heart even more. Each letters to Anna Mills showed the close bond James shared with his older sister and I just wanted to sob in joy.

But then came the wreck called Beqiri, or in the earlier chapters, Professor Beqiri.

An Oxford graduated Albanian, his whole presence in the book was reduced down to one cardboard cutout portrayal.

He is a terrorist.

In a blink, the book that made my heart soar soured my mind. It became another book showing Muslim men as a terrorist.

And I’d have not felt as uncomfortable as now if besides being a terrorist, Beqiri was shown with some positive traits. But he was not.

Nope.

I get it that since Beqiri kidnapped and tortured many foreigners, he was a bad guy. He was doing an awful thing. James had his parents held hostage. Of course he wouldn’t and couldn’t see Beqiri as anything but a terrible person. A bad guy. The villain in his story.

But…

Beqiri was shown to be merciless and unsympathetic toward anyone and everyone, even to his own comrades. He fed a dying Serbian soldier to his dogs. He killed one of his men for a mistake by kicking him to death, and didn’t feel the slightest remorse for his best comrade’s wounds. As if the independence of Kosovo was his individual goal and nobody else mattered. He was reduced to a terrorist, his humanity stripped bare and into a monster. The author had plenty of places to show he was a grey person. When I said plenty, I meant plenty.

  • He could’ve been a doting son, who loved his parents and to reduce their suffering and oppression in this country, he chose this dark path.
  • He could’ve been a good mentor or leader or comrade to his fellow fighters, who mourned for their deaths and grieved for them. Who wanted them to live and valued their lives instead of seeing them as mere army to fight for his victory.
  • He even could have been showed to be an excellent teacher before the Kosovo war. But he was rather shown as a zealot, a jingo who would do anything to win the war.

During Bangladesh’s War of Liberation in 1971, our freedom fighters fought together and mourned together for one another’s death. But the way Beqiri was shown to be was not as a freedom fighter with shades of grey, rather a black and white Muslim Albanian terrorist killing and kidnapping Americans and Europeans for hostage.

Even when Beqiri was a professor to James, not his family’s kidnapper, he was shown in a negative light. And James was said to be empathetic? Well, he did not empathize with Beqiri as well. If not with a villain like Beqiri, then maybe his people? But no. Not one ounce of empathy did James show toward the locals, not even before the war. Rather they either faded into his POV as clamoring, fear-mongering rebels, or frightened people fleeing the war wrecked Kosovo, or someone who could only terrorize and did not deserve their protests of freedom. James even once said:

James: “So let me guess. Your ragtag group of bandits, fighting for justice across Kosovo, graduated to what? Kidnappings? Beatings?”

Beqiri: “And murder if we needed to, yes…”

Bangladesh, my country, was once part of Pakistan. We’d been through a lot of the discrimination Beqiri mentioned his people went through under the Serbian rule. Yet his side wasn’t shown in an empathetic light. None of the discrimination the Albanians faced from the Serbian rulers were shown in the book at all. Which was disheartening, since a Serbian soldier was shown in a positive light, fighting for his country. But anyone fighting for Kosovo’s freedom was shown to be a jingo.

If a group of subjugated people demanded freedom from their oppressors, was it so bad? Yes, Beqiri’s actions were cruel and nothing could justify them. But what the author could’ve shown plenty of times was the locals in a positive light. That war is not black and white, rather shades of grey.

What disappointed me the most was the author’s note at the end of the eARC. He stated he knew he’d painted the Albanians in a villainous hue. This disappointed me the most.

In a time when Muslim ban is still fresh in everyone’s mind, when Hollywood enjoys showing Muslim men as oppressors and terrorists, this portrayal is disheartening.

I am not discouraging or forbidding anyone to buy this book. Far from it, I’ll urge you to read it for its beautiful portrayal of healthy parent-child relationship, the narration from an adoptive black child’s POV, and adorable sibling bond. AND this book has one of the best queer representation as well as a black male teen as its narrator and protagonist.

But I’ll also request you to pick up this book knowing its flaw, aware of its problematic Muslim and Albanian portrayals, so you can caution your Muslim and/or Albanian friends before you recommend it to them, or if they pick up this book.

My Review of Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology edited by Brenda J. Pierson and Claudie Arseneault

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is the first short story anthology I’ve ever finished (and loved). This is also my first time reading anything literary about Solarpunk. Quite frankly, Solarpunk is such a new punk style that it still has a long way to go and lots of recognition to achieve. It’s a very cool punk, IMO, much cooler than steampunk or dieselpunk. The main aim of solarpunk is to cultivate nature and nurture, and sow the seeds of hope.

This anthology has got 22 short stories, each one more unique and quirkier and cooler than the other. Each story features solarpunk aspects and aesthetics, as well as dragons in some way.

Confession: I mostly picked up this anthology since my current novel has solarpunk setting and dragons in it. But though I picked it up for research and creative inspiration, I stuck to it only because the core of the anthology fascinated me. I loved every story, though my bias heart loves a few more than the rest. But I’d recommend this book 100% if you are looking for a fresh taste in SciFi and fantasy, and need to cleanse your palate from the grim-dark dystopian and nihilistic cyberpunk SciFi books.

My Review of Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

⭐⭐

Remember all the horror movies that claim they’re inspired/based on real events? This book is a written version of those movies.

The famous author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, is a character here, in a story much like the novel he is best remembered for. One of the authors of the book Dracul, is his great grandnephew, Dacre Stoker. I don’t know what he intended to do with this novel but I don’t think he succeeded in making a niche in horror genre like his great granduncle had done more than a century ago.

Dracul is very much like Dracula, not because the titles are 90% the same. Because the story is a fresh yet failed take on the old tale most of us love. That’s right. This novel is like old wine presented in a new bottle. The same old thing we found in Dracula has been retold, albeit not enough to stand out, in this novel. I even found counterparts of the beloved characters from Bram Stoker’s masterpiece.

Bram Stoker: a mixture of Jonathan Harker and Mina Harker née Murray.

Matilda Stoker: Mina Harker née Murray (though she is Bram’s older sister here)

Emily Stoker: Lucy Westenra

Thornley Stoker: Arthur Holmwood/Dr. John Seward

Arminius Vambéry: Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Count Dracula: Dracul

The only new additions to the cast is Ellen Crone and her tragic story. I was a bit skeptical of her storyline and her name (Crone? Seriously??). She was made to add a new aftertaste to the old wine, but the dominant taste remained. The story, down to its skeleton core, is very much the same with a very dissatisfying ending, unlike the original novel. Hunting down the scary, evil Count Dracula who is from some castle in Transylvania.

I was hopeful in the beginning, in part one, when Bram and the others were kids, and had Ellen Crone as their nanny. The strangeness with which she mesmerized the entire Stoker family and then the bizarre mystery behind her existence was very well done. In my honest opinion, this is the part where Bram Stoker’s life truly resembled, even though the supernatural parts made me doubt it actually happened.

But after part one, when we enter part two, the story begins to smell of the old tale Dacre Stoker’s ancestor charmed us with. Bram and his siblings are all grown up and most of them are established. Yet the mystery and horror of their childhood remains. Motivated by nothing but curiosity (not a good character motivation), Matilda and Bram begin to investigate about their Nanna Ellen and the death of a local they’d known in their childhood, Patrick O’Cuiv. Meanwhile, a side story happens with Bram’s older brother, Thornley, whose wife begins to exhibit strange behavior, similar to Lucy Westenra.

I won’t spoil anything here but I’ll tell you, this book tested my patience and made me wanna DNF it. The last time my patience was tested was when I read the long long very long novel, The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. If you’re a devout fan of Dracula and its retelling, go for this book. But after reading about Kirsten White’s superbly fresh and exciting new retelling of Lada, gender-swapped Count Dracula, in AND I DARKEN series, I don’t think Dracula retellings will do good by milking the same cow again and again.

My Review of The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Death has always been a part of life, and has been used as themes in literature through many different angles. Sometimes from the point of view of the mourners (e.g. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE), sometimes from the dead (e.g. THE LOVELY BONES), even from the grim reaper’s point of view (e.g. THE BOOK THIEF). Never before did I read a book where the mourning relative of a dead person mourns through taxidermy, an art form I always found bizarre and somewhat related to cruelty toward animals.

Until I read this book.

THE ART OF TAXIDERMY is a verse novel written from the point of view of a preteen girl, Lottie, whose poignant narrative shows us how she copes with the many losses and deaths in her life, and how they shape her life.

I must confess something here. I am also a writer. My writing journey began as a way to cope with deaths in my family. In December 2013, I began to write, after struggling with death and mourning and grief and loss got almost two years. I put to words a story circling in my head and before I knew it, it became my most intense and passionate dream.

I began to write to cope with death, the way Lottie did. Here, I connected so strongly with her, I cannot express in words. Lottie, at a tender age, lost her sister, Annie, in a tragic accident, and then lost her Mother and her unborn/stillborn little sister as well. To cope with death and loss, Lottie began to find corpses of dead animals in the forest around her suburbia. To preserve the dead animals, she learnt to do amateur taxidermy. She could not resurrect her mother and sister. They were long gone. But she grieved through this.

Her passion was not well received by her aunt Hilda, who took over the household after Lottie’s father retreated to his study to cope with many more deaths in his life; of his own father, his twin brother, his wife and two of his children. Like Lottie, he didn’t let go of his deceased loved ones. Rather he clung to them. From him, Lottie received minor antagonism. Through him and Lottie and Lottie’s grandmother, Oma, and Aunt Hilda, the author shows us different ways of grieving and mourning for loss.

Alongside this, the author also sketched beautifully how racism plays its role in post WWII Australia. German Lottie and her dark skinned aboriginal friend, Jeffrey are isolated and alienated from the rest of the mainly white Australian school. For those who naïvely believe Australia has no racism should pick up and educate themselves through this book.

Overall, I’d recommend this beautiful and poignant coming of age verse novel about death and grieving and learning to live and love again after significant losses in life. Through taxidermy, the author shows us the dead might never come back alive, but the mummy of their memories will always be preserved among us, through the art of taxidermy, aka our love for them.