Meeting History and Toxic Masculinity in Classic Naguib Mahfouz Novel

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was mostly isolated by my mental illness, but even then, I had noticed the prominence of the Si-Sayed figure. What I didn’t ever expect is that this figure appears in Naguib Mahfouz’s 1956 classic called The Palace Walk. 

Give This a Listen: Popular Music Around Mahfouz’s Time**

This is a violin cover of the classic Umm Kulthum song called “Enta Omri.” The song is way too long (at least nine minutes long. And, it doesn’t have awesome variety like a Queen song).

Continue reading “Meeting History and Toxic Masculinity in Classic Naguib Mahfouz Novel”

In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.
        **Before I continue, I have to credit the following brilliant photographers:

August 2018 Wrap Up: DNFs and Mixed Bag Reviews

In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my comfort zone. and so DNFs are starting to happen more in my reading experiences. This August was tumultuous in terms of reading especially. Lots of hits and some misses along the way. However, I want to begin with a warning: I am not dismissing the skill of these authors nor am I saying that fans of these books are somehow not lesser than in any way. Simply put, I found their stories to be not something I enjoy or they conflict with some preferences and/or beliefs that I have.

Continue reading “August 2018 Wrap Up: DNFs and Mixed Bag Reviews”

Photography by Anton Repponen on resplashed.com It is time for my first a month in
  Even though I had a tumultuous January, I had a pleasant reading month. Part
    November has come to an end. Here is a wrap up of the

V.E. Schwab’s Vicious: Delicious Morally-Grey Enemies

The Love for V.E. Schwab

I started reading V.E. Schwab’s work about a year ago. Prior to this, I had only collected her books with some vague assumptions of their greatness. Having read most of her stories, I had one more book to go: Vicious. Back when I was sure of my belonging in Slytherin, I thought of this book as a staple to the nature of that house.

The Premise of Vicious:

The story alternates between two points of a decade where two friends prepare for their thesis in university. Eli and Victor unravel the process of becoming people with powers. At the end of the timeline, we see Eli and Victor as sworn enemies.

Through a cat-and-mouse chase, we get to see the tension between these former friends crackle to life while they rely on two allies who were sisters, Sydney and Serena.

Vicious and Morality

My favorite aspect of this story is the opposite journeys we experience with Eli and Victor. At first, I was certain that Victor would not ever make sense but the biggest surprise is watching Eli become bewilderingly nonsensical. I mean, I follow his train of thought, but my goodness, he is terrifying.

The most shocking element in Eli’s thinking was how warped his faith in God collided with his view of the powers he has and the attitude he has towards other EOs.

Reminding me of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Vicious had me cheering for the “bad” guys. For the most part, the antagonists (in the novel’s society, at least) were simply trying to exist. They were on the run.  While Victor does terrible things along the way, he is focused on facing Eli, who did some shady things, okay.

Connections in Vicious

Serena and Sydney mirror Eli and Victor’s closeness in the earlier sections of the book’s timeline. There are loads of mistrust and uncertainty. Besides, the chase between the two sisters was also ruthless.

The bad blood between Eli and Victor bound the story’s plot in thick threads and tendrils. Like all relationships, the way each person acts is a result of a series of perceptions. Eli thinks of himself in a certain way, and he reacts to other EOs because of this view. The same thing can be said about Victor (who is kind of my baby, I just want you to know this upfront).

That Ending…

Oh, this book ends with the tables totally turned.  I have never been this happy about a smile.

Easily, this novel is among my favorites. It was so good.

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
        **Before I continue, I have to credit the following brilliant photographers:

Book Review: Laini Taylor’s Breathtaking “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”

 

 

 

 

**Before I continue, I have to credit the following brilliant photographers:
Blue haired girl photo by Ben Waardenburg on Unsplash

Halo photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

Hand reach out photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Leaning Together Photo by Joao Silas on UnSplash Dark Curls Photo by Carlos Arthur on Unsplash

I hesitated to read Laini Taylor’s novels for a long time as I sniffed out the rumor of a slow-paced discography. Something compelled to keep her work around. Thus, when the courage pooled around my head, I grabbed Daughter of Smoke and Bone, expecting nothing. Let me tell you about my favorite book of the year thus far.

Premise

Karou is an odd girl. Naturally blue hair, hamsas in her palms, and a father figure who trades with teeth. She has no parents, no family, and she draws surreal creatures that she claims to know on a one-on-one basis.

When her portal to a world of magic is sealed, and a mysterious figure follows her, she comes to face her identity, roots, and her connection to the mysterious Akiva.

Book Review-Character Love

Laini Taylor writes Prague such fond tenderness. I could almost taste the pastries Karou and Zuzana eat. The lively streets, the colorful costumes, the tourists wandering, the hushed tones of Karou’s mysterious life urging me to keep on reading. It was delightfully surprising to finish the book in two days.

First, let’s talk about Karou, who, even with all the secrets she keeps, she maintains a softness and purity that led to my completely unwavering loyalty toward her. She gets hurt and uses wishes for revenge. Her manner of responding to cruelty is never exceedingly vicious. I mean, her ex-boyfriend got an itch while posing for a nude portrait. But, as the story unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear that this jerk hurt her in a way much more likely to leave a scar.

Akiva is still a mystery. I know the word is overused in this review but it’s from lack of information on him, truly. I like his quiet strength, the way his past haunts him, his isolation.

It’s amazing to contrast Akiva/Karou with Zuzana/ Mic. Zuzana, the fierce and tiny friend of Karou’s, left my heart aflutter. Seriously. She and Mic were so cute and I hope to see more of them in later books because they have a nectar-sweet presence that I find myself missing often.

Overall

This book was a delightful experience and I cannot wait to read more Laini Taylor books. She writes with such elegance and depth. Her characters are tangible yet somehow otherworldly. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone. 

 

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.

Book Review of Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater’s Introduction to the Wolves of Mercy Falls

 

After reading the Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater became one of the most interesting authors on my shelves. Many years ago, I had gathered the first books by her that I had heard of: The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Beginning with Shiver, this trilogy follows werewolves and a girl who is fascinated by them. Unlike the Raven Cycle, this trilogy involves plenty of kissing. Here is my review of the book.

Shiver and warm characters

One of the most surprising things that Maggie Stiefvater accomplishes in this first book is that she creates warm characters. Most books centered around mythological creatures tend to be bloated with world building. I like that this book focuses more on relationships.

There is a sense of urgency to Sam and Grace’s relationship. It colors the relationship with a desperate and hungry tone. When they spend time together, it is domestic at best but they are both drinking in each other’s features, personalities, and quirks. It warmed my heart to see such a love story. To an extent, this ache reminded me of Gansey and Blue in the sense that there are forces beyond the characters, driving them apart.

But, the pack itself was messy and charming, just like a family. I did not expect this either because The Raven Boys had a smaller friend group, and it was not even a set group (new members introduced toward the end of the book series). The complicated dynamics between members of the pack made things even more interesting and realistic. It grounded the story.

The Lone Wolf

I was actually surprised by who is actually the lone wolf. It’s Grace! She is invested in these wolves so much that it often alienates her. Her friendships are rocky and so are her connections to family. This makes her relationship with Sam more intense, more desperate and crucial.

But, of course, the other lone wolf in this is Jack Culpeper. His sister surprised me with her curiosity and cleverness. It is rare in books when so many people are in “the know” about the supernatural creatures in the story. Often, I tried to push myself to empathize with Jack, even though he made a mess in terms of plot. I look forward to his development as a character (and as a wolf).

Dropping Temperatures

With each chapter, the temperature drops and it raises the stakes of this love story. It becomes very clear that Sam is not the Jacob Black of Maggie Stiefvater’s writing. He is sensitive and frank, a pacifist and an artist. In other words, he is our pure cinnamon roll and he must be protected.

Shiver Rating and Final Thoughts

Overall, this was a nice and quick read. It was moving and sweet, but it also lacked depth in terms of character development and conflict. Perhaps this will change in later books. I will say that Stiefvater gets points for creating male characters that do not adhere to strands of toxic masculinity. So, that’s nice to see.

 

 

 

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.

Thoughts in a Review: A Torch Against the Night

Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against the Night by the wonderful Sabaa Tahir. In this book, we follow the journey of Elias, Laia, and Helene as the Empire continues to enslave Scholars. Here are my thoughts wrapped into a review. Let me share my excitement with you.

A Torch Against the night’s beauty: Helene, my heart’s queen

“But you are not finished. You are my masterpiece, Helene Aquilla, but I have just begun. If you survive, you shall be a force to be reckoned with in this world. But first you will be unmade. First, you will be broken.”

The most incredible aspect of this novel is not only the pacing but also the inclusion of Helene’s point of view. I think it was such a privilege to read more from Helene’s perspective. In a way, she and Elias mirror each other’s struggle between tradition and change.

A Torch Against the Night is essentially the unfolding of a much more complex plot than I ever could have imagined. Through Elias’ best friend, we get to the internal functions of the Empire. We also experience a new Emperor (Marcus) and his interactions with the Commandant.

Helene is also pressured to find and destroy her best friend, which is something Elias refused to follow through with. But, with her, I felt that she was even more torn. Her family is known for their loyalty. But, the question is: to whom should she be loyal to? The Empire or Elias?

A torch against the night’s beauty 2: A World built further

What is truly wonderful about this book is how the world is further developed. We experience the tension between the tribes, the treatment of Scholar children, slaves’ relationship with the Commandant.

But, it is also a neat development of the characters. The way they connect with other characters is conveyed in such a compelling manner. I think of Laia and Darin, in particular. Helene and her sisters are other manifestations of relationships’ complexity within this world. It’s like people are under so much oppression and cruelty. They end up making choices that are not ideal.

And, I think this is the most surprising aspect of A Torch Against the Night: no one has the privilege of choosing what they truly want. The introduction of Marcus’ treatment by the elders of the Empire wrinkled the story further. It was not like Marcus won and was immediately welcomed into the role of emperor. No, he has to live with the loss of his brother while trying to gain the respect of the Empire.

The Commandant and the Cook

My favorite people in this story are the ones I do not know enough about so far: The Commandant and the Cook. I would love to read more about Cook. What is her backstory? How was she taken prisoner? What did she do to annoy the Commandant so much?

Besides, I want to know more about her link to Laia. Why is she so protective of her?

Cook gives Helene such a difficult time, and I was just living for that protectiveness. It’s nice to see women play powerful roles in this world.

Now, the Commandant and Elias’ battle (the literal one and the longer, more indirect one) was surprising. I was so shocked by how she alters his fate. Still, I remain hopeful for her development. She needs to have more scenes revealing her inner turmoil. Sabaa Tahir includes glimpses of the Commandant’s fury. But, I want more details.

Keenan: Called it.

I never liked this dude. It was kind of clear that he is shady as heck. That’s all I am going to say.

Overall:

I gave A Torch Against the Night a five-star rating. It was a quick and engaging read. Please check out this series for a brilliant time.

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.

Thoughts and Rambles on An Ember in the Ashes

I read Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes over the course of two days last week. It was easily one of my favorite reads this year. A review, thoughts, and rambles on An Ember in the Ashes, is in order.

The premise of An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir creates a universe inspired by the Roman empire in An Ember in the Ashes. In a cruel world with militaristic tones, Elias and Laia live. Laia is a Scholar with ties to the rebellion. Elias is in training to be a Mask within the Martial Empire. His mother is the Commandant. He and his best friend Helene are preparing for their big tests.

Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, and it leads Laia into the very core of the rebellion. Sent on a doomed mission into the Commandant’s “home,” Laia attempts to spy on the Commandant through her role as a slave.

But, when she and Elias meet, sparks fly. He, a soldier, and her a slave to an Empire unwilling to incorporate the Scholars into their society. Also: efrits, jinns, and other scary things roam the Empire.

What I liked

Let me preface this by saying that I loved An Ember in the Ashes as a whole. I gave it 4.5-5 stars because it was a quick, engaging, and addictive reading experience. So, here are some of my favorite things in this story.

First, Helene, my queen, pretty much stole my heart from page 1. She’s like the Captain Phasma of these books, but on a conflicted one for sure. I enjoyed her dynamic with Elias, and how it clashed with other Masks in training with them.

Elias’ inner turmoil also translated nicely onto the page. He clearly is very much a reaction to his mother’s nature. And, I think he communicates the frustration with the system beautifully.

While Laia’s storyline was sometimes painful because of all the torture she endures, I did like her persistence and her connection to her brother. She does get “visions” that are unexplained (or at least, still unclear to me).  The beauty of her storyline is also in the irony of finding trust in the least likely spaces.

What I did not like

There were some irksome things in this book, I have to admit. First, I did not really buy the attraction/connection between Laia and Elias. It has happened way too fast. Then again, I do recognize that sometimes very sudden connections happen. Elias was already on the edge of renouncing his connection to the Empire. But, I do find it odd that he was willing to give it all up for someone he did not know very well.

Moreover, I think An Ember in the Ashes would have benefited from some additional points of view. For instance, I wanted more Helene’s point of view (something that is remedied in the sequel, from what I have noticed so far). Another point of view I craved was the Commandant’s own perspective.  I am all for villains being mean and all that, but I also want to know why they function that way. What is their motivation? What drives them to be cruel and heartless?

Besides, the Commandant’s birth of Elias is kind of unorthodox. I want more of the undertones of such an origin and how it influences their relationship.

Finally, I also want to see more Scholars. What makes them subservient to the Empire? What is the history of their conflict? Stuff like that could really clear up the tensions between these two groups.

Overall, though, this book was wonderful. I am working on reading the second one in the series. Cannot wait to see more Elias, Helene, and Laia.

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.

The Mixed Bag of One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

 

 

I am going to share with you my experience of reading One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake here. Naturally, spoilers will arise. While I avoid naming specific characters, I advise you to read with caution. Okay. When I read Three Dark Crowns, I remembered how much I enjoyed Kendare Blake’s writing. Upon seeing the sequel in the library, I snagged it in the hopes of getting a nice conclusion to what I thought was a duology. Granted, Kendare Blake’s writing is still effortless, I did find this reading experience to be quite a mixed bag. Let’s talk about One Dark Throne. 

the mad sister Nearing the One Dark Throne

At the end of the first book, one of the sisters is essentially betrayed by her lover. In One Dark Throne, she functions as a rogue queen. Sometimes, she was terrifying and great. However, I do have a problem with characters being “evil” for the sake of needing a villain.

There is a sense of mystery to this second novel. One Dark Throne keeps hinting that something is wrong with one of the sisters. Everyone suspects it. Yet, there are very few clues as to what is, in fact, her motivation to behave the way she does.

Betrayals to get to the dark throne

Kendare Blake does something beautiful within the story: betrayals. I think this is the most shocking aspect of One Dark Throne. Political, familial, romantic, and even friendship levels of betrayals and wrongdoings shape the trajectory of a given character.

I am mostly baffled by the lovers-suitors-queens dynamics. There are many characters in that regard and I struggle to remember who was truly liked by a queen.

Plus, I am unsure about the characters who have powers. Are they supposed to be helping their queens? The fun for me is having unskilled queens duke it out. Sure, I like Jules fine. But, she tends to distract from Arsinoe’s storyline.

pacing

Three Dark Crowns featured a bit of a slower pace than what I am used to. Kendare Blake was establishing characters and including political layers to this story. Three queens have to go head-to-head and whoever survives becomes ruler of the land.

Cool.

But, in this one, there was still the slow pace once more. Kendare Blake punctuates the plot by assassination attempts and duels. The sisters spend most of their time apart, again, and I found myself wishing Blake would include enough tension between them.

From what I have heard, this series was initially a duology. This is definitely something I assumed from reading the first book. One Dark Throne could have easily concluded the conflict.

Overall

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake maintains an interesting tale that is somewhat overstretched.  It was definitely a mixed bag. The reading experience of this second book had highs and lows. For one thing, the characters develop quite a bit. But, the pacing threw me off. It is definitely a step above the first book.

It is definitely within the 3.5 to the 4-star range for me.  While I mostly enjoyed Kendare Blake’s progression of the plot in this one, I felt like One Dark Throne lagged a bit.

 

 

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.

BR: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

 

 

I have been very lucky with books lately, so excuse the barrage of reviews on the blog. Exciting to have more stories to discuss, to be honest. Today, I am going to be talking about Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.

Premise

A matriarchy exists, where a queen gives birth to triplets. These three girls are then separated and tasked with killing each other. The survivor becomes queen.

Characters

Okay. Let me try to get this right. Mirabella is an elemental queen, living in a convent-type of place. Then, there is Arsinoe. She is a naturalist, who can control animals and plants. Finally, Katharine is our poisoner queen, who can consume high levels of poison.

Along the way, there are also characters who support each one of the queens.

Thoughts

(Run. Spoilers ahead)

Overall, I liked this book quite a bit. It is slow moving, mainly because there is so much political intrigue going on. Blake introduces each royal queen. In doing so, she also has to include side characters who belong in each individual court.

Now, the big thing in this story is about sisterhood. I know it doesn’t sound like it from the premise, but Mirabella, the most powerful of them, has dreams of the sisters changing tradition. She reaches out to Arsinoe (accidentally or on purpose. Debatable semantics here).

The other twist you don’t quite see coming is how much this novel truly reflects on young adult literature. In essence, the tale revolves around the theme of self discovery which manifests itself in the idea of supernatural powers.  Quite impressively, the author is dealing with characters who have not found their strength just yet, and they are tasked with an epic battle (to the death!).

In addition, this struggle to find power also appears in the queens’ attempts to voice their own opinions within their courts. Fear plays a huge part in their narratives, because they are not as strong as their courts try to convey to the other courts. It’s quite a Slytherin-y thing and it makes me so happy.

However, the story also has kind of a Skrillex kind of vibe. As in, the bass doesn’t quite drop in a dramatic way. Instead, it is a lot of build up and no intense conclusion. The next book will hopefully include an actual battle.

The beauty of the book’s ending lies in the emotional weight it carries. It truly feels like a sucker punch when the sisters do meet each other and have to announce their powers. The amount of deceit and fear are tangible yet completely overwhelming. Readers spend so much time in these girls’ heads that they become fully invested in their survival. I don’t know if I can handle any of them dying.

Hence why the book ends on such a cliffhanger.

“I want revenge.”

what about you?

Have you read this book or anything like it? Who are your favorite regal figures in fiction? And, to what extent do you feel like their ascent into the throne was admirable? Also: who do you think will win the battle in the next book?

See you in the comments.
Okay.
Dinasoaur out!

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.

BR: Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood Book Review

 

Warning: Here be spoilers. If you are interested in reading this book, and you dislike spoilers, RUN. As Star Crossed by Jessica Spotswood is the middle of a trilogy, I cannot help but spoil the first book at least.

premise

The Cahill sisters, living in an oppressive regime of patriarchy, are forced to keep their magic secret. Older sister Cate is torn between her choice to announce her intention (a tradition within their society). Should she marry and have children? In this case, who does she marry? Does she marry for love or for status? Or, should she join the Sisterhood, a convent for women?

spoilers start now. run.

conflict

Ultimately, this is the middle of a trilogy. Naturally, there is a lot of tension between the characters. In particular, the crux of this book lies in the conflicts among the Cahill sisters, the convent sisters, and within the society as a whole.

It’s a hard thing to balance as part of this experience, dealing with so much pressure with the characters at every turn. Within each family, there is some sort of fight for power. For instance, the most notable ongoing problem is between Maura and Cate (plus occasionally Tess is thrown in there). Given what happened with Maura’s love life in book 1, it is understandable that things were messy for her. So, in true Slytherin style, Maura is ambitiously trying to be the best witch of her time. This may sound fine, until you hear Cate being called into power by Sister Cora (leader of the sisterhood).

Incidentally, this tension also rises beyond Cate and Maura. They are both mentored by two opposing leaders within the sisterhood. Cora, diplomatic and somewhat hesitant, is the current figure at the helm of the Sisterhood. Inez, aggressive and urgent, is leading Maura to get women up against the men. Cora and Cate don’t connect that much, but when they do interact, it is powerful stuff.

On an even larger scale, there is the obvious tension between the Sisterhood and the Brotherhood. Beyond that, it is just women and men, at odds with the double standards set by the patriarchy. Sachi and her illegitimate sister are prime examples of men unwilling to acknowledge their mistakes while also acting as overbearing figures towards women.

nuance

Being the second book, there are hints that some men don’t believe in the oppression of women. Finn is an example of them. I like that not all women are presented as morally good as opposed to men being evil. Instead, there are all these shades of grey. It is really unclear what will happen in the next book.

The scene with Sachi’s sister (whose name escapes me) and their father was truly heartbreaking and kind of terrifying. I don’t like seeing women running for their lives just for disagreeing. Physical intimidation is something I had encountered a lot within discourse, and I think surely one can communicate without it. Sure, the character is presented as a hypocrite. But, I am really hoping for some nice closure for Sachi’s sister…even if I can’t remember her name. It starts with an R.

 

Some of you may know that I lived in Egypt in the 90s. I was
In the most recent months of 2018, I have been aiming to read beyond my
The Love for V.E. Schwab I started reading V.E. Schwab's work about a year ago.