Book Review: I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 320

Release Date: January 25th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there’s prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.

But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice – keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?

Review:

Muzna is a British Muslim who struggles with her controlling parents and their conflicting ideas on what it is to be Muslim, to be Pakistani, to be a good daughter. It’s hard to be herself when that’s not who they want her to be. So when the best looking boy in school takes an interest in her and encourages to express herself in new ways, she’s only too happy to oblige, until it seems she’s swapped one set of extreme views for another.

This is a really fascinating read, especially given the current climate. I liked the forward from the author, where he pondered on the real-life story of western girls being radicalised and wondered what made them drop their lives here to join the IS. This book explores the ways that extremists can radicalise impressionable and vulnerable teens.

I loved the point the book made about differentiating between culture and religion, as people so often confuse the two. Similarly, it really hammered home the point that Muslims aren’t terrorists and highlighted the way we’re led to believe this by the media etc. IS may claim to do things in the name of Islam, but Islam is a religion of peace and love, not terrorism, and those few are the ones we should be blaming, not a whole religion.

Muzna goes on a real journey throughout the book, from a quiet teenager who is constantly pushed around by classmates and family, to someone who is brave enough to stand up for what she knows is right, even when it’s so difficult to do.

The radicalisation plot line was great for its subtleties. It showed how someone like targets those who are impressionable and more likely to be swayed by stronger personalities and views. It’s done by playing on their religious views and ideals, twisting them and using propaganda to persuade them to another way of thinking. It’s easy to see how Muzna was initially swayed.

I wasn’t really into the way the teenagers spoke, but I’ll put that down to age (as I know this isn’t aimed at someone my age) and regional differences (I think this is probably how London teenagers speak, not the West Midlands ones I know!) I do worry that while slang can appeal to teenager readers now, it might alienate future ones as slang ages so fast. And this is a book that should be around for a long time as it has a very important message.

This a thought-provoking, intense read that can really educate people on the differences between religion, culture, and radicalisation – adults as well as teenagers! Definitely one to watch out for this year.

Book Review: Another Beginning (Lauren James)

Publisher: Walker Books

Pages: 55

Release Date: July 29th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

A short story set in the world of Lauren James’ Next Together series.

Featuring the much-loved protagonists Clove and Ella, Another Beginning is a companion story to The Last Beginning, set during the siege of Carlisle in 1745.

“Elenore Walker, ancient literature thief. It makes an odd sort of sense, actually,” Clove said.

Clove is working as a maid in the Finchley household while she spies on Katherine Finchley and Matthew Galloway. But her mission is briefly interrupted when fellow maid Ella persuades her to help steal a valuable historical document from the main defence in the city – the castle. The two girls embark on a risky adventure involving scaling castle walls and hiding in the most unlikely of places!

Review:

I do love Clove and Ella, so it was great to have a short story for the two of them. It just made me want to read The Last Beginning all over again!

The two are adorable together, as ever, and also up to mischief again. They’re definitely my favourite time-travelling queer couple and I think everyone should read The Last Beginning if you haven’t already.

This is a very quick read, just a short story that gives you another snippet of the two together, this time stealing a valuable historical document in 1745. I found I wasn’t overly bothered by what they were doing, especially as I couldn’t quite place it in the timeline of the series (my fault as I haven’t read The Last Beginning for a while) but I just enjoyed seeing the two of them play off each other.

If you’ve enjoyed the series then do give this a read – if not then catch up on the series and get on this one!

4

Book Review: Bad Girls with Perfect Faces (Lynn Weingarten)

*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 294

Release Date: January 11th 2018

Summary (From Goodreads):

No one is good enough for Xavier. Not according to Sasha, his best friend. There’s nothing Sasha wouldn’t do to protect Xavier from getting hurt, especially by his cheating ex Ivy, who’s suddenly slithered back into the picture. Worried that Xavier is ready to forgive and forget, Sasha decides to do a little catfishing. She poses as a hot guy online, to prove cheaters never change.

But Sasha’s plan goes wrong fast, and soon the lies lead down a path from which there’s no return . . .

Review:

This is my first book read in 2018 (although I did start a bit in 2017) and I really raced through it. Something about it kept me turning the pages even when I knew I should be going to bed.

Sasha is secretly in love with her best friend, Xazier, and when his heart-breaker ex-girlfriend Ivy comes back on the scene, she realises how far she’ll go to protect him.

This book is in two parts, a before and an after. The before gives the background of Sasha and Xavier’s relationship, and Xavier and Ivy’s relationship. It keeps hinting at something bad that’s going to come, and although I guessed a little about what that might be, I had no idea how events would play out in the ‘after’ section.

I loved Sasha and Xavier’s relationship. I’ve been there myself, with a best friend who’s so perfect with you that it turns into something more (spoiler alert, I married him 🙂 ) They felt so close to becoming a couple, and I could really feel Sasha’s longing for that, until Ivy walked back into their lives and spoiled things.

Ivy felt like a more realistic portrayal of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Sure, she’s cute and quirky and makes you see things differently – but she’s also unpredictable, hurtful and vanishes without a word sometimes. I didn’t really like her, although I wouldn’t wish what happened to her on anyone either!

I won’t say too much on the ‘after’ part for fear of spoilers, but safe to say things did not go the way I expected. Lynn Weingarten is the queen of unexpected twists and I really enjoyed the rollercoaster she took me on this time. If you’re looking to kick off the New Year with a fast-paced mystery then this is for you!

Book Review: Final 7 (Kerry Drewery)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 224

Release Date: January 11th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Martha and Isaac have escaped, but are now on the run – the government has branded them rebels and a danger to the public. Despite the rewards being offered for turning them in, Martha and her friends are safe in The Rises, the area of the city full of the poor and the powerless. But then the Prime Minister orders a wall to be built around The Rises. Is it for the the safety or the poor – or is it to imprison them? Martha needs to act, and to act fast, in a tale of breathtaking treachery that reaches right to the heart of government…

 

Review:

It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was reading and reviewing  Day 7 and it’s weird to think this great series has come to an end now.

Final 7 picks up straight after the previous book, with Martha and an unconscious Isaac being driven to safety by a mysterious woman. Martha and her friends are blamed for the bombing at the Justice Building and are labelled the Rises 7. The media portrays them as a terrorist group and the government use this to further the separation between those in the city and those in the Rises by building a wall around the Rises.

The public believe Martha to be in prison so she spends a lot of this book sneaking around and in various disguises. Eve is arrested and taken to Old Bailey, which serves as a new death row with a historical twist. The chapters from her point of view were really grim and showed how badly the prisoners were treated. There’s a scene with her which I won’t go into because of spoilers, but it really brought a tear to my eye.

Max struggles to find his way in this book as he realises how far he will go to save his mum from death row. Martha faces a similar dilemma as she discovers which of her friends she can’t trust, and which of her enemies she can form alliances with.

The climax is intense and surprising and it kept me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t see any of it coming but I loved the way things turned out for everyone. My favourite part was definitely the aftermath when we see how the future might look for Martha, her friends and the whole of England. Have they really won, or have they traded one bad position for another? I’d love another book to find out!

This is a fascinating, extreme dystopian about corruption, privacy and the influence of the media. Although it seems a far cry from the system we have today, Drewery makes you question where we might be heading…

If you like a tense mystery-thriller with really compelling characters then I urge you to give this series a go.

4

Book Review: The Lie Tree (Frances Hardinge)

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Release Date: October 20th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

It was not enough. All knowledge- any knowledge – called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father’s journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith’s search for the tree leads her into great danger – for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .

Review:

Frances Hardinge’s writing is just painfully beautiful, and this book is no exception. I love reading her books, but it makes me despair too, as I know I can never have that magical way with words that she has.

Faith has a secret thirst for knowledge that she starts to satisfy when she reads her father’s journals and uncovers his greatest discovery: a tree fed on lies that can tell you truths. But each lie she tells has real life consequences – are the truths revealed worth the price she may have to pay?

I loved the idea of the story and especially loved Faith’s character. She was quiet and plain and smart and brave and everything I want in a heroine. I was fascinated by the lie tree and just wanted to read more about it: Hardinge could publish a history of the plant and I would devour it.

This book also defies the stereotype of boring, passive women in period pieces. Women can be intelligent and strong and even villains (!) no matter what time period you’re in. I loved the realisation Faith had at the end, so much that I’m going to quote it here:

Faith had always told herself she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies.

That to me is the final say on the ‘not like other girls’ trope and it’s perfect.

This edition also has beautiful illustrations by Chris Riddell. They’re so intricate and detailed it took me twice as long to read this as it should have because I kept staring at the pictures.

This is definitely a modern classic and one that should be taught in schools to show young people the sheer joy of reading beautiful language. I loved it and I hope you will too.