Tuesday, March 21, 2017

God Smites and other Muslim Girl Problems, by Ishara Deen

I read a review for this one right before I left on my Spring Break trip (can't remember which blog it was: thank you whoever you are!); since she's a Canadian author (and I'm a little patriotic) and the book was only 4.99 on Kindle, I decided to buy it (note to price-setting people: 4.99 is cheap enough that I'll buy something on a whim).

I did not regret my purchase.

God Smites is a very, very funny book about a Muslim girl who just wants to lead a normal life. Oh, and solve a murder. And maybe have a conversation with the boy she has a crush on.

Asiya's voice is so real, you can't help becoming best friends with her. Her inner and outer conflicts are achingly, hilariously believable. I loved the conversations she has with God, where she's genuinely trying to figure out the right thing to do, while justifying what she wants to do. I'm sure anyone who believes in God has the same kinds of conversations all the time. (I know I do!)(not that I've ever tried to justify breaking-and-entering, but, you know, same general idea!)

I loved that faith was presented matter-of-factly as a part of life. Asiya believes in God and is striving to live her religion. She chafes against her parents' strictness, she questions whether Satan will really appear if she's alone with a boy, she strongly dislikes her Imam (she and her friends have a great nickname for him that becomes a running joke), but she doesn't question being Muslim. It's a part of her identity and she's happy with it.

What was the last YA or children's book you read in which religion was a positive, normal part of characters' lives (what was the last book you read in which it was even mentioned??)

So, kudos for cultural and religious representation (and #OwnVoices). And for having a brown girl on the cover with her whole face showing, looking confidently out at the reader (what was the last book you saw ...). But mostly kudos for being well-written, engaging, and highly entertaining. I loved all the characters, particularly Asiya's parents, who are well-rounded and play important roles in the plot, not just as obstacles. Great relationship dynamics within her family, with her friends, and even with the other adults. The murder mystery was fun—there were a few scenarios that tested my suspension of disbelief, but any story with a teen sleuth is going to be a tad unrealistic.

There is room for a sequel, and I will be looking for it. I think Ishara Deen is going to be another Susan Juby or Eileen Cook—we've got some great humourous writers up here in Canada!

(Also you should go read the Book Wars review of this book, because it's hilarious.)

I'm going to go with fish pakoras for my food metaphor, because now that I've thought of them I'm craving some: crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, little bites of yumminess.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Oh, my heavens, I need the second book now!

*checks Amazon. It's already written, and published! And there's a short story, too! I can buy it with one click!* *clicks* #theadvantagesofnotgettingtoabookonyourtbruntilitsalreadybeenoutforafewyears

Never mind about the review, I have to go start reading.

Okay, okay, I'll pause long enough to tell you THIS IS A FREAKING AMAZING BOOK—HAVE YOU READ THIS? WHY NOT? YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!

Oy vey. (I wish I were actually Jewish so I could convincingly use this phrase in daily conversations. I would use it all the time if I could.)

The premise is so breathtakingly brilliant that it will take your breath away: Germany won WWII, and the world is now divided between the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. Every year there's a celebratory (for the Axis powers) motorcycle race across Europe and Asia, and the winner meets Hitler and Emperor Hirohito at the Victor's Ball. This year, someone is going to win the race and kill Hitler at the ball. (Because, of course we're still trying to kill Hitler.)

Wait, it gets better: the heroine is a death camp survivor who, as a result of being experimented upon, can shift her skin to look like anyone she has seen. So she can mimic last year's race winner, and thus enter the race (so she can win it and kill Hitler). (No, really, this is a good plan. It will totally work.)

Are you thinking it sounds a little too implausible? This is crazy alternate history with a sort of paranormal kick, and Graudin pulls it off spectacularly. I was riveted from page one, completely pulled into the world, completely captivated by Yael.

Oh, Yael.  Fierce, broken, bitter, hopeful, with a will of iron and nerves of steel. She squeezed my heart until it ran dry. Then there's Felix, the brother of the girl Yael is mimicking, and Luka—her enemy? her lover? just what exactly happened between Adele and Luka during the last race? none of Yael's research can tell her, so how the heck is she supposed to navigate these relationships and not give away the fact that she isn't actually Adele Wolfe? (Yes, wolves are a bit of a motif in this book.)

So, yeah, great plot, great characters, fantastic pacing—tense, tense, tense all the way through. But the writing. Ryan Graudin's prose. Visceral, muscular, intense, poetic the way a boxing match can be poetic. Beautiful writing that never gets in the way of pacing because it creates the pacing. I started highlighting sentences that made me stop in my tracks they were so perfect, and the whole book is now pink. A few non-spoilery examples:
His irises were blue. The shade of a sky scraped bare and a skeleton soul. The color of veins just beneath skin, needle-ready.
Kilometers, cool darkness, and speed threaded through the gaps between Yael's fingers as she reached out.
His scarred, daughterless hand grabbed her marked, fatherless arm.
I found myself rereading passages the way I lick the bowl clean after eating something delicious and chocolaty.

But no, this is a meaty book: soy-ginger braised short-ribs served over garlic mashed potatoes to soak up every bit of the sweet-savory sauce. (And yes, I would lick the plate clean.)

Now, on to book 2!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Spring Break Reading

I'm escaping the multiple personalities that have been winter in Vancouver this year and heading to a sunny beach for a week, and this is what I'm bringing to read:

E-books borrowed from the library (a completely random selection of books from my TBR that happened to be available as e-book borrows):


I also put this one on hold, so hopefully I'll get it before I leave:


Books I bought for my Kindle:



These include the latest Lois McMaster Bujold Penric novella, a T. Kingfisher (otherwise known as Ursula Vernon) book I know nothing about but I bought it because it's by her, two different manga volumes (I don't really like reading graphic novels on the Kindle, but I'm buying Yona to support it (I've already read up to volume 24 online and I'm buying the official ones as they get published) and I bought Seraph of the End on a whim), all seven Chrestomanci books, because it will comfort me to know they're there, and a YA novel by a Canadian Muslim writer.

I'm also halfway through this one, which is amazing:


Physical books I'm carrying with me, because what if all electronics suddenly fail?


Plus the printed-out manuscript of my novel, which I intend to do another editing pass through.

Think I'll have enough to occupy me for a week??