Review: She Who Became the Sun

Review: She Who Became the Sun

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

In 1345, China was under Mongol rule. For the starving Zhu family where only three members remain, their eight-born son, Zhu Chongba, is destined for greatness, a feat only capable by the few. But nothing is said for their daughter. When a bandit attack results in Zhu Chongba’s death, his sister takes on her brother’s identity to enter a monastery. There, in this alternate-history, she takes her opportunity to achieve what her brother failed to do: survive, and take control of a fate that would see her be nothing. 

Judging from other early reviews, my expectations were through the roof. Pitched as Mulan meets The Song of Achilles and while that is a fair comparison, I just feel like there must be some other way to describe this. I’m quite literally speechless. I don’t think one book has ever shot up my all-time favourites list so quickly. Usually, I let a book marinate on my mind before casting a final judgment, but She Who Became the Sun didn’t need to wait. It was that good. 

This book stands out because its character, each crafted and built to perfection, while not being entirely perfect. Zhu’s determination to survive is intense. Her peers at the monastery are confused by her actions, but what they don’t know is that she also has the ability to see ghosts, which loom over her in silent judgement. There is a cost to pay in her decisions, and she takes them head-on regardless of the reaction she knows she’ll inevitably receive because in the end, she knows what she wants and that is to rule. She might have been fated to be nothing, but she determined to let nothing stop her from achieving the goal her brother should have done. She is this perfect balance of driven and powerful while also being rather cheeky and very sweet.  Zhu’s storyline introduces us to Xu Da, a fellow monk, who Zhu comes to see as her own family. Later, you’ll meet Ma, a young woman whose fierce compassion takes a toll within the backdrop of war and power-plays.

The story chronicles Zhu’s journey from monk to the leader of the rebellion against China’s Mongol rulers. But we also see the opposition in the form of eunuch Ouyang, a feared general who tore Zhu’s future apart and set him on a path that makes them intertwined. I was enthralled by his character the most. But the relationship between Ouyang and Esen, the prince of Henan, is so complex, considering the history behind them. Esen is much more optimistic than Ouyang, and can never seem to understand why his friend would keep his distance. The tension between them is just perfect. 

The writing is so atmospheric, you could feel the impact of the landscape resonate with each character. Especially with Zhu as you witness her climb from a nameless child close to death to a well-rounded leader with men of her own. A child with no hope to a monk that can rally the people of this war torn land to her words. Also, I loved the nuanced exploration of gender identity, and how Parker-Chan does not shy away from anything. For anyone wondering, this is from the author: [Zhu] is assigned female at birth (but doesn’t identify as female), and [Ouyang] is assigned male at birth and identifies as male (with a gender nonconforming appearance). [Goodreads] I used she/her pronouns for Zhu as reflected in the novel. 

Overall, She Who Became the Sun is one story you must watch out for. It’s bold, imaginative and highly thrilling. A fantastic reimagining of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.


Review: Counting Down with You

Review: Counting Down with You

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

Karina Ahmed’s plan for success means keeping her head down and getting to medical school. So when her parents go abroad to Bangladesh, she is finally rewarded a month of peace, away from their watchful eyes. That is until her agreement to tutor Ace Clyde turns awry, and now she’s spending her twenty-eight days in a fake-relationship with him. As she counts down her days, Ace Clyde gives her all the reasons to stay and maybe this facade could have a happy ending. 

Karina is a high school junior, attending alongside her high-achieving younger brother whose interest in robotics has her parents singing praise while she’s barely keeping afloat. And when her English teacher asks her to tutor ever absent classmate Ace Clyde, she immediately assumes the worst. Aft. They start, and a missed lesson, Ace finally shows up, and he knows exactly how to push Karina’s buttons, tip-toeing over the lines she has made herself. Knowing exactly how her parents would react, she keeps Ace at an arm’s distance until she realises Ace has secrets of his own which is why she agrees to his plans. Keep up this act for three more weeks, and they part ways as unlikely friends. (and for Karina, a handful of books, courtesy of the Bank of Ace Clyde.) As the return of her parents looms overhead, Karina realises that these past days are the happiest she has ever been, and with the support of her grandmother, her best friends, and Ace, maybe she can gather the courage to face her family once and for all.

Counting Down with You is a refreshing and hilarious read. I’m not big on contemporary novels, but I found Bhuiyan’s voice to be outstanding. If anything, I am blown away at how much I could relate to Karina Ahmed. Like Karina, my family had also left Bangladesh in search of a different life. Her traditional parents’ ideals and expectations are all too familiar; their harsh words and criticism almost mirrored my own family, almost word-for-word. Karina’s humour to her anxiety felt all too surreal to read this book and realise the main character is an almost exact copy of yourself at sixteen.

The cast of Counting Down with You are some of the biggest sweethearts you’ll ever meet. Ace Clyde is one of the school’s notorious students, rumours upon rumours piles upon him. His character reminds me of Aiden Thomas’s Julian Diaz (Cemetery Boys). Very understanding and wholesome once you get to know him. Karina’s best friends, Cora and Nandini, are as thick as thieves and supportive as hell. They might not understand her refusal to stand up to her parents, but they’re there for her, no questions asked. It was quite refreshing to see them talk and act like teens; their text conversations were hilarious and realistic. While her parents are away, Karina’s grandmother takes care of her and her younger brother. Her grandmother is pretty much amazing and supportive. Her brother is the best example of a desi little brother who doesn’t realise how easy he has it compared to his sister. Whenever he said something wasn’t deep, I wanted to flick him like he was my own brother. Bhuiyan encapsulates the experience of growing up with traditional parents perfectly. Her parents’ aren’t physically present in most of the novel, but their presence is there in most of Karina’s thoughts, dragging her down both mentally and physically.

Counting Down with You was extremely sweet and immensely relatable. I’m not the type to throw around the phrase  “I wish this book existed when I was teen”, but I feel like if this book had existed when I was a teenager and struggling, I would have felt a lot better about myself at sixteen.


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Review: Version Zero

Review: Version Zero

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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

After questioning his employers, data technician Max finds himself fired and blackballed across the industry. Taking his insider knowledge, he gathers his friends in a daring plan to rip the curtains off the stage and make a stand. When they receive a mysterious invitation from a reclusive tech legend and access to his technology, their plans go further than they could ever expect. But what is the cost and is it worth the risk for Max?

I’ll apologise for this review in advance because like my reading experience, it was a jumbled up mess. There were so many moments that were quite thrilling, but in the end, Version Zero was not the one for me. 

Where do I begin? I guess the setting and plot. Version Zero takes place in reality similar to our, same significant events. There are five major media companies; names are familiar enough that it doesn’t take much to know who represents which major corporation. I have to admit I didn’t understand what was going on in the beginning. Yoon introduces a pecking order that doesn’t seem to have any relevance to the book, a tidbit to make it seem more science fiction when the story could have quickly done without such information. The story didn’t work for me. Despite what appears to be an eventful plot from the synopsis, the story was messy and underwhelming.  Reboot the present. Save the future. Version Zero tried very hard to be a book about human life online, and how we’ve given up privacy in the age of digital information. I was invested in the anger Max felt about these top percenter who hide from accountability on their platform, the hate that is a constant cycle that moves from site to site, taking innocent lives. I feel like it wasn’t as nuanced as it could have been and fell victim to the simple “internet bad, the time before good,” debate. 

I could have forgiven this book for its flaws if the characters were remotely interesting. I wasn’t sure if the characters themselves knew what they were doing. Max, our protagonist, is our down and out, data technician who is fired when he mentions how uncomfortable he is with Wren (think Facebook) and their plans to gain more of their user’s information. There was a part of Max that I liked, the man who wanted to do good by his family, make something of himself. Every time he spoke, I could not feel any passion for the other stuff he says. The best way I could describe his voice is empty. He recruits his best friends, Akiko, and her boyfriend, Shane, in his plans to reboot the internet. It goes well, gaining the attention of Pilot Markham, a key figure in internet history, who disappeared off the face of the earth and wants to help in their fight. He’s joined alongside teen Brayden and together forms their group. I wish I knew what the hell was happening in this strange dynamic. Max harboured a crush on Akiko, partakes in emotional cheating and Shane is just there to be pure muscle and be weird. Pilot Markham was fascinating; to say the least, he’s responsible for most of the book’s thriller parts. I don’t understand how Max was willing to accept him into his plan, considering what you learn about his background. It just screamed red flags, and you would have thought Max would have picked up on it. Brayden, this poor child, why was he even there? Nothing meshed well, and everyone just contradicted each other in the worst way. 

Overall, I wish I could saying something more positive that you could take away from this review. I tried to give it a chance. Max and his friends might have changed the world, but this project failed to spark any real interest in me. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Amina’s Song

Review: Amina’s Song

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

When Amina returns home from her vacation in Pakistan, she is brimming with pride for her country and wants everyone else to know it. When she’s assigned homework where you have to choose an important figure, she chooses to represent Malala Yousafzai, but everyone can only focus on the horror that occurred. Once again, Amina must speak up to use her voice speak up, and hopefully, no one will drown her out. 

I found Amina’s Song really endearing. Hena Khan wonderfully captures the beautiful connection between the home of her parent’s, Pakistan, and the home where she lives, the US. Amina really works hard to send a message to her classmates about unifying different parts of ourselves. The way its written evokes a lot of heart and emotion that will make this book a perfect series to buy for middle-grade readers. 

Amina is a wonderful character, with so much compassion and love for the people around her, in both her communities and the story’s main conflict is her wanting to share her Pakistani side with her American side, but it doesn’t go the way she planned. This story is also a wake-up call, not only for Amina but her peers around her as she aims to help them question their understanding of the world beyond their borders. Amina, herself, admits she had second-guessed Pakistan herself before visiting but returns with a new-found appreciation. She’s determined to let her peers see the cultural value of Pakistan that wasn’t sourced from negative media. Amina isn’t Amina without music, so as a side plot, she ends up befriending new boy Nico and they come together to work on music production. Everyone around her immediately assumes it’s a romance and she’s clearly frustrated because all she wants is a friend. 

In this follow-up to Amina’s Voice, Amina yearns to showcase her love for Pakistan with her American community. Using her passion for music, she makes it her mission to change everyone’s tune. A delightful companion novel that I would highly recommend to younger readers!


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Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

No matter what Eve Brown does, it always ends up a mess. So, she gives up. But her parents won’t let her go down that easy. Eve has to grow up, even if she doesn’t know how. Jacob Wayne expects nothing but perfection so when Eve turns up out of the blue, his answer is a hard no. And she’s out of sight, out of mind, until she accidentally hits him with his car. With a broken arm and no chef, Eve is now making a home in his B&B, and Jacob should hate it. But her sunny disposition is infectious, and she’s breaking down walls he’s spent so long to keep up. 

I’ll admit, I had high hopes for the finale in the Brown sister’s hectic lives, but Eve was the sister I wasn’t too sure on, even two books later. I feel like in the previous novels, Eve was the sister I could never quite understand. But Act Your Age, Eve Brown was so much better than I ever I could’ve ever expected. I think it might be my favourite of the trilogy. (Sorry, Zaf.) She’s hilarious and her quips were charming, but she really makes her own here. I was surprised to find myself relating to Eve more than her sisters. Her feelings of feeling lost and helpless despite trying her best to only fail again resonated with me the most. 

You could describe Eve and Jacob as Sunshine meets Grumpy, which is a pairing I would die for. Jacob is also autistic, I can’t speak for the representation, but Talia writes him well. These two compliment each other so well. Eve is chaotic, a human whirlwind that has Jacob frustrated. But he soon realises her work ethic is exactly what he needs. And her cooking skills for the upcoming Pemberton Food Festival. Their transition from enemies to friends to lovers is very wholesome. Jacob and Eve don’t realise it, but they fall for each other and suddenly every quirk becomes endearing. It was quite cute reading the moments before they themselves realise it. Also, if you’re into steamy scenes, Hibbert most likely won’t disappoint any old or new fans. Personally, I’m not into reading them, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hibbert is a tremendous writer. 

All in all, this was a fantastic end to the Brown sisters and their hilarious romantic and personal journeys. What a delightful end! I am truly now, through and through, a Talia Hibbert fan.


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Review: A Place for Us

Review: A Place for Us

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thinking of his future sometimes felt like looking down a long tunnel, and even if he squinted he could hardly picture what his life would be like when he stepped out at the other end.

A Place for Us follows the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered in celebration of their eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding. Amar, the youngest of the family, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. And his parent’s, Rafiq and Layla, must face the choices they all made all those years ago. A Place for Us spans decades through the eyes of a different family member, marking pivotal moments in the past that broke the bonds and pulled them apart. 

It isn’t often a book that manages to enchant me as such as this book did. I had closed the final page at 2 am and truly felt what it mean to have a heavy heart. A Place for Us hit me harder than I would have ever expected. I wasn’t even planning on reviewing this book, because I feel like anything I write could never truly explain how much this book resonated with me. 

Being character-driven, Mirza blew me away at how well each character come through. Amar is the youngest of the family, his departure from the family was years in the making. He feels trapped within the demands of his family, culture and internal turmoil. I felt extremely attached to him especially in the deep moments where he feels like as though anything he does is never good enough.  Hadia was almost like looking in the mirror. Her constant need to please her family and community, her entire self-worth is built upon approval. The enormous pressure to succeed as the eldest silences some of her best thought. However, Huda, the middle child, was almost non-existent. She appears as a messenger between Amar and Hadia, but other than that, her presence was almost forgettable, whether it was intentional or not is unclear. Rafiq and Layla are of an older generation who struggle to raise their kids within their cultural values which, in turn, affect the way their children balance themselves between two different cultures. I found myself quite angry at their actions, their adamant behaviour quite literally pushed their children away and they don’t realise it until it’s too late. 

Overall, A Place for Us is overflowing with little moments that resonated with me deeply. It emphasises the importance of family, love, and most importantly, forgiveness. The structure of A Place for Us is unconventional: the novel switches from points of view, jumping from the past to the present. I know that other readers can find it confusing, but I found that Mirza pulled it off well. Her writing is naturalistic and easy to understand. What isn’t said is often more affecting and resonating, and Mirza is a natural at tugging at the heartstrings in the quietest of moments.


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