Amina’s Voice

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan is middle grade, realistic fiction chapter book. Amina is a sixth grade, Pakistani-American Muslim who is trying to navigate her way through middle school, while maintaining the traditions of her community.

Amina’s always been shy when it comes to speaking in front of people. She get’s tongue tied and nervous, so she’s always been okay with keeping to the background and hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. But sixth grade feels different. Soojin thinks boys are cute and her best friend is hanging out with someone knew and Amina is afraid she is going to be replaced. At home, Amina’s uncle arrived from Pakistan for a long visit and everyone is on edge, trying to be perfect and impress this very religious and opinionated relative.

When trouble strikes at school and within her Muslim community, Amina is overwhelmed and unsure. Can Amina find her voice and overcome these trying times?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read that really does take into consideration many of this issues kids face today. Building and losing friendships, religious beliefs, hate crimes, parental/familial pressures and expectations, anxiety, pressure and more. Being a kid is tough and every child is different and deals with these differences differently and I think this book portrays this well.

Amina is an interesting main character. Her troubles and fears and completely relatable and yet she is a sweet-natured, well meaning girl. There were several instances where I would have thought most children would have lied but Amina instead tells the truth and continue to fret about her wrongs. She also asks questions when things get too big, rather then keeping her troubled thoughts inside. I like to think this is a realistic 6th grader buuut, I am not totally convinced that a sixth grader would be as sensitive as Amina. I am sure they are out there, I was just surprised by how good natured Amina is.

Amina’s Voice is a book about diversity, tolerance and the trials of everyday life for a middle schooler. Although I think this book would appeal more to girls, there are a few strong male characters as well. Definitely a book I would recommend for someone looking for realistic fiction with diverse characters.

This book gets a high 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

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A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a realistic fiction novel about a curmudgeonly old man who is given a second chance at life. Ove is your typical surly old man–he believes rules are rules and right is right. Ove follows strict routines, has strong principles and is known for having a bit of a temper.

Ove’s structured life is turned on it’s head when a family of four moves in next door and constantly interferes with his plans to join his wife. Dented mailboxes, pregnant busybodies, broken windows, stray cats and more slowly thaw this grieving widowers hard heart.

A Man Called Ove is an entertaining tale of neighborly love and moving on.

This is a book someone from my book club recommended to me and one I’ve heard about a lot working in the library. When recommended, all they told me was that this is a book about an old man who is constantly getting interrupted while trying to kill himself. And that’s actually a pretty apt description. Ove is ready to join his dead wife but wants to do it right, he isn’t desperate to kill himself and is constantly saying something along the lines of “can’t a man die in peace,” when he gets interrupted.

Ove is your typical grouchy old man, if to the extreme. Everyone knows that one old guy who is stuck in his ways and wants you to “keep off his lawn!” This story has archetypal characters and relatable themes. Although, I will admit that it took me forever to realize the story took place in Switzerland–the constant referral to “kroner” didn’t do it for me.

I’ll admit, I am an old soul but probably a bit young to fully appreciate this one. An older audience probably sees some of themselves or their parents in Ove. I didn’t know my Mom’s parents and my Dad’s mother passed away when I was young. So I don’t have much to compare Ove to and yet he was still this typical grumpy old man that I could see roaming the neighborhood and enforcing the “rules.”

This was a light read that will be comforting in its familiarity to many readers. This one gets four stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Mask of Shadows

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series. Sallot Leon is a thief, a street fighter and thirsty for revenge. Sal wants nothing more than to escape and become something… more. When Sal robs a rich, noble woman and learns about a contest to become part of the Left Hand–a group of four prestigious assassins in service to the Queen–Sal know’s that this is a chance for a new life and potentially revenge.

So begins the audition. The auditioners are all given masks and numbers and one goal… to kill the competition. Amidst this game of poison, lies and bloodshed the participants must hone their skills and develop new ones that will serve them in court. But the game soon becomes even more lethal than anyone could have imagined. Rumors fly and Sal must decide if becoming Opal is worth putting aside revenge.

Does Sal have the skills to win this game? And could lies lurking in the shadows change the face of the game forever?

I really wanted to like this one. There is something about a series starting off in a game, a contest, a trial that really intrigues me. Unfortunately, Mask of Shadows did not deliver for me. The contest itself was fine, but I couldn’t get into the rest of the story; the background, history and developing plot that is supposed to propel the series onward… I don’t know didn’t make sense or just didn’t interest me much. It almost felt like the author wanted to incorporate more but was hesitant to do so.

I am also not totally convinced that Miller succeeded in what she wanted to do with our main character Sal. Sal is supposed to be this gender fluid character–in a dress she is a “her,” in pants he should be referred to as “he” and all other times as they or their. We are told this several times. A success in that you don’t actually know what gender Sal is biologically but the character did feel more feminine to me… that could be because I listened to the audiobook and the narrator was female. I also don’t really feel like this should be labeled a LGBT book because gender is not meant to play any role in Sal’s life; we are meant to look at Sal as a person not as feminine or masculine. Anyway, obviously my thoughts are conflicted here as I keep rambling on.

I guess my biggest problem with this book is that it didn’t wow me. It was one I could take or leave. The ending didn’t feel totally believable and my feelings toward it are mostly blasé. This one gets 2 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Crown’s Fate

The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye is the sequel and conclusion to The Crown’s Game. When we left off, Pasha’s coronation as Tsar was only months away, Vika had been named Imperial Enchanter and Nikolai was presumed dead at the conclusion of the game. Barely a week has gone by, magic is growing and Russia is full of unrest.

But all isn’t as it seems. Nikolai is not dead but merely a shadow of himself, caught in a dream and growing darker by the day. Pasha faces doubts of his legitimacy and his fitness to rule. And Vika is finding it difficult to adapt to the loss of freedom that comes with being Imperial Enchanter.

Can Nikolai, Pasha and Vika restore the bond between them that was broken by the crown’s game? Will Russia survive a resurgence of magic and the turmoil it causes? And who will be caught in the crossfires?

Womp, womp. This was an OK sequel. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like it had the same flow and feel of the first book. I like the competition of the game and the tied fates of the competitors in the first book and this felt sort of forced in the second.

There were a lot of allusions to other Russian myths and fairytales, what with the resurgence of magic, and I kept waiting to get a few more glimpse of Baba Yaga or the fish king that was mentioned. These little bites were thrown in and then really only addressed in the end as something the Imperial Enchanter would have to look into. I’ve been so into Russian literature and fantasy lately that it just would have been nice to have more of this.

One of the biggest problems with this book was that the author tried to put in several branches to lead you in the wrong direction, so you wouldn’t expect the end but these weren’t really successful for me. The ending was terribly predictable and tied up a little too neatly if you asked me. The way this book was set up, I just felt that someone shouldn’t have had a happy ending. But a lot of readers like neat little packages and for them this book will be completely satisfying.

The more I am thinking about this one, I think I am giving it 2.5 stars not 3. It was entertaining in that it passed the time but it really wasn’t one of my favorites. Not a bad read but lacking in some areas.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Roar

Roar by Cora Carmack is the first book in a new YA fantasy series called Stormheart.

In this world, magical storms threaten and only those who control them hold any real power. Aurora Pavan is heir to one of the most esteemed Stormling families in the land and will one day take up her mothers mantel as protector and ruler of Pavan. There is only one problem, Aurora has no powers.

For years her family has kept this secret about their barren daughter but Aurora is now eighteen, the rage season is upon them and she is expected to start fighting the storms that threaten her home. In an effort to maintain the throne, Aurora is forced into an arranged marriage to a man whom she loathes. When all seems lost, Aurora stumbles upon a group of hunters and learns that there is another way to fight storms.

Realizing there is another way to retain her crown and still protect her people, Aurora becomes Roar and joins this rag-tag group of hunters in the hopes of finding her own way. But Roar finds more than just magic on this journey–together with a handsome hunter, Roar will find the true power within and forge the bonds she’s secretly longed for all her life. But what will she do when Pavan is threatened? Will she face the life she left behind? Will she find the strength within to do what must be done?

I stumbled across this one as an Audible recommendation and I actually really liked it. This concept that the world is beset by storms that are almost sentient and only a rare few with stormling powers can stop them, was just a unique concept that I hadn’t heard about before.

The world building really shined in this book. It’s been a while since I read a fantasy with a really good foundation and I think Roar achieved that. You can tell that this first book is meant to build a base for the rest of the story. We learn about the world, Aurora, the storms and then we are introduced to the “evil villain” who Aurora will most likely have to face throughout the rest of the series. So things are going to get a whole lot more complicated, I just hope Carmack doesn’t overly complicated things and keeps the same feel as this first book.

There is just something about a group of misfits you just got to love and that’s what the hunters are. I really liked Jinx and Bate and I wished we got more of all of them. Instead the focus is primarily on Roar, Locke and occasionally Duke. I hope we get more of the whole group in the next one.

The only reason this one gets four stars instead of five is because I thought the back and forth between Roar and Locke was a little overdone. I loved the banter and the arguing but there was a little too much we can’t but we want to but he doesn’t she doesn’t, etc. Rolled my eyes a few times. So four stars it is.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a fictional novel and this years One Maryland One Book. One Maryland One Book was created by Maryland Humanities and the goal is to bring diverse groups together across the state of Maryland to share their experiences reading one book.

Set in Nigeria, fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja live a privileged in Enugu with their highly devout father and mother. Their family is a pillar of the community, they live in a beautiful house, are highly respected and all their needs are taken care of. But life isn’t as charming as it seems from the outside. Their father’s fanatical religious beliefs create a home that is silent, suffocating and even dangerous.

As politics begin to fracture the country from within, Kambili and Jaja escape their home for a short while when they go to visit their aunt and cousins in a small university town outside of Enugu. With their extended family Kambili and Jaja learn that life isn’t all about schedules, school, church and fear. But after a taste of another life, a life of freedom and happiness, will Kambili and Jaja be able to go back to the life they knew?

This is definitely a book that will spark conversations. Purple Hibiscus is charged with so many themes that  you will have your pick to choose from. We see a country charged with violence and unrest; battling beliefs and societal pressures; abuse and family struggles; class struggles and so much more.

This narrative is told through the eyes of fifteen-year-old Kambili, who gives the story an innocent, open air. She comes of age in this novel and we see her grow from a scared naive little girl, into a woman who stands up for herself and will do what she must to keep her fractured family together.

This book was at times hard to read, dealing with sensitive themes and topics. For me the ending left something to be desired, but it was the ending the story needed and in that way it was satisfying.

This would be a good book for a book club and there are a ton of resources to help spur on the conversation at One Maryland One Book. This one gets four stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Cafe by the Sea

The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan is an adult fictional novel about a woman who finds herself by going home. Flora McKenzie fled to London from her small Scottish home on the Island of Mure. In London, Flora can escape the past that haunts her and escape into the anonymity of the city.

When her job takes her back to Mure, Flora must face all she left behind. The failing farm, with it’s memories of her mother, her messy father and three older brothers. The small town faces with their long memories of how Flora left and why. And on top of all that she’s travelling with her boss, who is kind of an ass and whom she is utterly in love with.

Can Flora find her way home again? Restore her communities faith in her? And find happiness in the life she chooses?

The Cafe by the Sea combines all the best of Colgan–food, family, beautiful scenery and a story line that is fairly light and fluffy, with a little love thrown in. Colgan is one of those authors you read when you need a palette cleanser from your usual genre and are just looking for a light read. And in this Colgan delivers.

When I first started this one, I sort of groaned because the narration really bugged me, especially in audio. It starts off with almost as if we are looking down on Flora and can see straight into her mind. An omniscient narrator but not quite a third person one. I was worried the whole story would tell me what the characters were feeling rather than show me, but two chapters in the narration changes.

As in most of Colgan’s novels there is a mini love triangle. Flora, her unrequited love, Joel and the hometown local, Charlie. Without giving anything away, I thought we were pulled between these two men but then, poof, one of them gets solved without much fuss. Seemed a little like a cop out to me. I understand wanting to keep the story light but the way the attraction tied up so neatly didn’t seem super realistic to me.

Other than the two points I mentioned, this was a good read. It sucked me in, kept me entertained and was just a light read that makes you feel good. Colgan always makes me want to travel to the places her books are set. This one gets 3 stars from me. A good read but compared to some of her other books, not my favorite.

That’s all for now!

-M-