Tag Archives: battle

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

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In many ways this 338 page dystopian YA fiction book focuses more on romance than the super human powers the 17 year old protagonist has and the role she will play in the resistance.  That isn’t to say the book is bad, just that it isn’t as high action, or reform-a-broken-world, or even use-my-super-powers-to-save-myself-and-those-around-me as I had hoped. It is more a lot of self loathing, desire, and anger.  That being said, I am on the fence about reading the rest of the series, as this is the start of a six book series, with two “half” novellas interjected in and being told from other characters’ perspectives.  If this was a show pilot, however, I would let Netflix automatically start the next episode until I had binge watched the entire season, not necessarily because the story is great, or the characters amazing, or the writing stellar, but because it is easy and fun and you really want to suspend belief and know who all these attractive mutated teens running a broken world are, and yes you will roll your eyes at the syrupy sweet lust filled pages, but it is YA so maybe I’m just overly cynical and 15 year olds and up will enjoy it.  It is an AR 4.3, but the language, violence, and romantic build ups should not be read by 4th graders.

SYNOPSIS:

The book starts with Juliette counting how many days she has been locked up in a cell, 264, void of human interaction of any sort and hinting at the reason her parents feared her and turned her in.  She is then joined by a male cellmate, Adam, one she slowly realizes she remembers from her youth and is in love with.  As he asks her questions we learn a bit about her power and the state of the world.  Juliette can kill people with her touch and apparently has killed someone, a child.  Her parents, along with everyone else, have always feared her, and not being hugged or touched her whole life has definitely been a painful existence for her.  Adam is a soldier and can touch her, he is also planted to learn about her as part of his job.  Warner, another teen, is in charge of a soldiers in the Reestablishment and has been following Juliette for a long time trying to see how they can weaponize her and use her for their cause.  Adam was playing a role, and now Juliette will have to play one in a world where the food is fake, the clouds the wrong color, and artifacts of culture and life before it all fell apart are destroyed and deemed illegal.  Along the way she will have to see the world in shades of gray and be willing to forgive and understand that people are not just for or against the way things, are, that sometimes you just have to do things to survive and protect the ones you love.

WHY I LIKE IT:

With all the talk of Iran in the news, I felt compelled to read a book with a Persian character, or at least by a Persian author, so I revisited the works of Iranian-American Muslim Tahereh Mafi.  The book reminds me of a Bollywood drama from the 90s where the hero and heroine do everything suggestive, except kiss, in this book they do a lot, but I guess don’t quite cross a line.  The scenes with Adam and Juliette are too much at times, where the story building about her understanding herself, her world, and what her powers can be, too little. The stage however, is set for the book and characters to grow in the series and with that optimism of knowing that the story stretches on, I have to hope the twists and turns make for a more interesting ride than this first book presents.  Most of the drama is already spelled out on the back cover, she can kill people just by touching them, she wrestles with seeing herself as a monster, or as being more than human.  It really doesn’t start getting good until she finds others like her, but then she is bored of them and the book ends.  The book has a huge following, so much like perhaps the Twilight series, maybe I’m just too cynical, and not in the target demographic, or maybe I need to keep reading.

FLAGS:

There is violence, *SPOILER* Juliette accidentally kills a child.  There is language, there is suggestive talk, there are romantic passages with kissing and touching.  For a book about a character who can’t touch, I feel like the majority of the book is about her touching and being touched.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I wouldn’t do this as a book club, because I feel like it really is just a book setting the stage for what more is to come and because it ends so abruptly it feels almost like a teaser, yes a 300+ page teaser.  I was hoping that I could at least suggest it to readers of Hunger Games, City of Ember, The Giver, etc., but I don’t think it spends enough time on the crisis of the world at hand, and the adjustments made by a select few to appeal to the same readers.  It really is a romance, at least thus far, and the destruction of life and the environment just a back drop for their storyline.

Allies by Alan Gratz

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Allies by Alan Gratz
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This is the second Alan Gratz multi-perspective historical fiction novel I’m reviewing for its inclusion of a Muslim character.  While in Refugee it seemed a natural choice to include a Muslim family, I was completely shocked that he would feature one in a WWII D-Day novel.  With numerous storylines spread over 322 pages the book is quick, fast paced, intense and emotional.  An enjoyable read for history lovers and curious kids fifth grade and up, it is an AR 5.6 and older kids will benefit from it too.

SYNOPSIS:

The characters and timeline are fictionalized to all take place on D-Day, June 6, 1944, as the Allied forces and French resistance come together to storm German occupied France on the beaches of Normandy.  Many of the details do come from history though as detailed in the Author Notes at the end of the book.

The book starts out following Dee, a German national who left for America to escape the Nazi’s and is now returning in a Higgins boat to fight them. Knowing no one will understand, including his friend Sid, a Jew from New York, he keeps this knowledge to himself and focuses on the task ahead.

Samira and her mother are the focus of the next mission and highlight the role of the French Resistance, the Maquis.  What makes their story more meaningful is that they are spies with the French Resistance, but they are French Algerians, not really a part of France at all, and they are Muslim.  In Samira’s back story we learn how she must remove her hijab and how she is treated different at school because Algeria and France are at odds.  When her mother is taken by the Nazis before she can deliver the message to the Resistance, Samira vows to do it and get her mother back as well.

19-year-old James from Winnipeg Canada is a paratrooper who volunteered for combat to feel empowered after years of bullying. His buddy in the story Sam is a Cree Indian from Quebec, who has few rights at home, and hopes to have more success in the military.

Medic Henry is scrambling along on the beach helping anyone and everyone he can.  Having left behind a segregated US, even the military has reservations about African Americans saving and serving. As he performs one heroic act after another being questioned and doubted and insulted all along the way, readers see how ridiculous and infuriating racism is on every level.

We meet Private Bill Richards who drives a Sherman tank and is following in his fathers WWI footsteps.  But who is unfortunately killed before reaching Bayeux.   And finally we meet Monique Marchand, a French 13 year old girl, who gets caught up in the invasion because she left her swim suit in the beach hut the day before and has returned to retrieve it. Determined to do something other than cower in fear, she starts helping fallen soldiers and meets up with American journalist Dorothy, a strong woman determined to not be stopped on the basis of gender.

All the story lines criss and cross as the invasion is a chaotic mess and everyone is dropped, disembarked, or arriving in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Surviving the day is an immediate challenge and not one that everyone will succeed at.  The larger success of the mission will depend on some lucky breaks and a whole lot of teamwork.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love that the story somehow isn’t political at all in the traditional war story, war strategy sense.  But the strength at least for me, wasn’t the horrific battle at hand, which is truly violent and abhorrent, but the relationships between the people.   The realizing what is driving them, what matters and more importantly how hard our prejudices are.  The larger story of the Allies shows British, Americans, and Canadians coming together to defeat he Nazis, but yet, a girl, an African American, and a Cree are treated as “other” irregardless of how beneficial they are even in matters of life and death.

As for the story of Samira, she is a tough girl, both clever and brave.  To have a Muslim in  an American/westerm story of D-Day and a young girl at that, to me was pretty remarkable.  There isn’t mention of faith or anything other than that she is told to take off her scarf and continues to wear a small kerchief on her head anyway, but for Muslim kids all over, this character and how she behaves will spark a sense of extra pride in the Allies success over Hitler, just as the other minority characters will for their representation in such a dramatic event.

FLAGS:

There is a bit of mild profanity.  There is violence and death, and blood, not too bad, but the point is clear, the beach isn’t pretty.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I think this book would be a great supplement to any WWII history lesson.  There are great resources at the end, and maps at the beginning and a high energy, short chaptered book that doesn’t skimp on character building or war intensity.

Author’s website: http://www.alangratz.com

 

 

Islamic History for Kids: Story of Badr by Qasim Riaz

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Islamic History for Kids: Story of Badr by Qasim Riaz

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This fictional story of a non-fiction-historical event over 37 large, 12×12, pages really brings the battle of Badr to life for readers ages seven and up.  The book is engaging and keeps chidden focused, excited, and clear as to what is unfolding, why the battle was important for Muslims, and why it still has lessons today.  Unfortunately, there are no source notes, bibliography, or references in the book, so I’m not sure how accurate the details are, and I haven’t yet had a chance to have someone more knowledgeable than I check it for accuracy.  The ayats from the Quran quoted are identified in text and yes, I understand it isn’t a reference book, but even having some imam or scholar give their approval would reassure people considering purchasing the book.  Additionally, fairly prominently there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the book that says, “The characters in this book are entirely fictional.  Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental,” which is a common disclaimer, but in a book of this nature, it did strike me as odd.  So, you may want to read it first yourself before presenting it to your child as fact.

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There is also a typo that my children discovered rather quickly and pointed out to me, I was a little disheartened when I asked about it, to discover the author knew about it before mailing it out, but for some reason didn’t find it necessary to put a note or let the customer be aware of it. I put a post-it note in mine to show all of you, and will be taking a black marker to it shortly.  Mistakes and typos happen, but I felt that they should have let the consumer know, once they knew that it was there, for accuracy sake.

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The book starts off with a brother and sister fighting, Zain and Zahrah.  When the father goes to stop them, Zain tells him that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to fight, and the father concedes the point, but points out it was not something he wanted to do.  He tells them that for the first 13 years he didn’t fight back even when the Quraysh made fun of him.

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The kids ask who the Quraysh are and why they didn’t believe the Prophet, to which the father lovingly answers their questions before telling him about the verses revealed allowing them to fight from Surah Al-Baqarah.

They learn about Abu Sufyan returning from Syria with a large caravan and how the Prophet wanted to surprise them. Only to learn that Abu Sufyan had arranged a much larger army from Mecca to come and attack the Prophet and his Companions.

There are details about how they determined the size of the army based on how many camels were being eaten, and how the Muslims camped near the wells to control the water.  The story reads smoothly and pulls out when the children have questions seamlessly.

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As the battle is set 1000 soldiers against 313 Muslims, the book explains how the battle starts with three duels and explains how Utbah, Shaiba and Walid battle Hamza (RA), Ali (RA), and Ubaydah (RA).  The Ansar win all three battles and the Quraysh charge.

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Prophet Muhammad (SAW) makes duas, and Allah (SWT) answers sending a thousand angels following one after another to help.

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When the dust settles the Muslims are victorious and the order is given for the prisoners to be treated kindly.  They are given food, rides, and the opportunity to pay a ransom for their freedom or they could teach 10 Muslims to read and write in exchange for their release.

With the story concluded the father then makes sure the children understand some of the many lessons from the battle.  Including having Allah on your side, trusting Allah, putting in your best effort, and being kind and generous even to those against you.

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There is no illustrator listed, but the pictures are done really well showing modern relatable, squabbling kids getting drawn in to a historical story by their father.  The emotion on the characters faces adds depth to the story and engages the readers in seeing and understanding a desert battle so long ago.

The text on some pages varies quite noticeably, with some pages barely having a line to spare and some only being a line or two long.  It does slightly affect the rhythm (and aesthetic) of the book, but it is manageable as long as you remember to give the kids enough time to see the picture on the short pages, as the overall size makes the book perfect for story time to large and small groups.  The book stays on level, which is nice, and there is a glossary of abbreviated terms (AS, RA, SAW, SWT) at the end.

The company: Ghazi Production is planning Uhud to be the next book, and informed me a bibliography will be included in that one.  InshaAllah!

 

The Broken Kingdom by H.G. Hussein

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The Broken Kingdom by H.G. Hussein

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An engaging chapter book that blends adventure, friendship, battles, mystery, and faith over 292 pages of easy reading and rich storytelling.  The book appeals to readers 10 and up with it being completely clean and age appropriate for anyone younger who can handle the storyline.  The characters are not just active and practicing Muslims, but the story too, is Islamic in nature.   The story is unabashedly pro-Islam and slightly dogmatic, but not overly preachy and faith is woven in seamlessly throughout the story.

SYNOPSIS:

The Sultan of the Islamic Empire is having a recurring dream that involves a floating city falling when a flying object hits it, when he asks his guiding Imam what it means he learns that the city will be destroyed unless the Sultan assists.  Not knowing where the city is, what the object is, and trusting the Sheikh explicitly, a retired soldier is brought back in to service to find the city and save it.  Adam, before he leaves the capital is joined by two others to help him on his journey, Ali and Umar.  Ali is a quiet man whose voice when reciting is absolutely beautiful and whose eyesight and archery skills are unparalleled.  Umar is the Muezzin and the Grand Mosque and a seemingly close figure to the Sultan with familial ties to the area.  The trio sets off to Benghazi to talk with some Bedouins who were ambushed by some man-beasts and are too afraid to speak of the encounter.  It is believed that their experience and the dream are linked.

To reach Benghazi they must travel first by boat for about a week, while at sea they come across an abandoned vessel that has but one survivor and a lion aboard.  After the lion is killed and the injured man brought with them, they are able to continue to try and get information from the Bedouins.  Finally, the Bedouins and the trio are off to the place of the attack and the journey moves on.  When a rockslide and attack from these same mysterious beasts separates the group, Adam, Ali, and Umar are on their own to make there way through the mountains and figure out the threat on their own without the Bedouins.  They journey through a river within a mountain for days on end before meeting soldiers that take them back to their unnamed city.  The city is the one from the dream.  And as they must search to understand what plagues the inhabitants, how to defeat it, and how to survive, they suffer loses, confusion and only a few answers.   They do save the city from the immediate threat, but not from a larger looming one.

WHY I LIKE IT:

The book reads really smooth, a lot of self published chapter books are all over the place, and this one, sticks to the story pretty well.  There are a few tangents, such as the lion on the ship, that really have very little baring on the story, except to show maybe how good of an archer Ali is, however, most are mildly amusing and thus not terribly frustrating.  There are a few smaller incidents that make the book a little less cohesive, for example a passage about a man named Tarek, who brings the Sultan a message and is rewarded with gold, or such detail about Umar not being allowed to go on the assignment and then the Sultan allowing him to go, perhaps it is to show the Sultan’s generosity and willingness to take other people’s opinions in to consideration, but they aren’t particularly smooth anecdotes to the book and read a bit unpolished.  Often these little dives into side issues with fair amounts of detail made me think they would play a role later in the book, but by-and-large, they don’t. One that particularly stood out was Adam meeting the Chief’s daughter in the forbidden woods. I still really want to know why she and her children were there.  I also wanted more information about the man-beast figures and the man and woman that were so quickly killed, and the markings on the trees and in the caves (trying not to spoil too much), in the climax.

I love that the book is Islamic fiction from top to bottom, there are lots of morals exposed and teachings mentioned in real tangible situations.  The character’s pray and carry themselves at all times as Muslims and it is refreshing to read.  Characters in the book take shahada based on the manners of the Muslim characters and the readers see and understand repeatedly the power actions and values have in defining a person.  One of my favorite exchanges in the book is when Adam tells Ali, “The main reason for failure is manners.  To be specific, lack of manners.”  The details continue, and hopefully reinforce and articulate what parents everywhere are trying to teach their children.

The font and binding and all are adequate, I don’t love the cover though.  It seems this is the second cover, and I wish it was more eye catching, it is really bland, and unfortunately won’t compel readers to pick it up.  I also really wish their was a map.

FLAGS:

There is violence, nothing sensationalized or celebrated and it even mentions how heavy hearted characters should be about going in to battle and taking a life.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I would love to do this as a middle school book club book. I’d love to hear how the students take the Sultan being referred to as Allah’s representative on Earth.  I get Leader of the Believers, and even Caliph, but I felt this description to be a bit grandiose.  I actually thought it was perhaps a Shia perspective, nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t something I’d ever heard before and yes I assumed, but the author said, “Of course not.“  He then said, “The Caliph must ensure that the laws of Allah, Most High, are present on Earth.  Every Caliph represented the Creator ensuring Shariah was present, the same as every Prophet and Messenger.” Still not completely clear, I asked a trusted source (not Google) who said it comes from the Ummayads under Muawiyah. So, I’m not sure if anyone else would be hung-up on this, but it is something that stood out to me, although definitely not making the book something to avoid.

I think kids will have strong opinions on the mystery at hand being the book ends on a cliff hanger.  With a lot of questions still up in the air and no real right or wrong answer, I think discussing the book would be a lot of fun.

The book’s website: https://www.thebrokenkingdom.com/

 

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

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We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

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A mature upper middle school/high school aged fantasy romance, written by a nikabi and filled with ancient Arab imagery and Arabic words.  Story-wise it read to me like a mashup of Hunger Games and Ember in the Ashes, and while the overall story is good, the first 60 pages of world building were utterly confusing to me.  I told myself I would read at least 100 pages and then decide if I wanted to continue, luckily before I hit 100 pages I found a glossary of terms, characters, and places online, and the story moved from world building to character development and I enjoyed the rest of the ride.

SYNOPSIS:

In a world that is slowly being taken over by the dark magic that is the Arz, a deadly forest that surrounds the country of Arawiya, one girl in one of the five Caliphates, Zafira, dares to venture into the darkness to hunt game and prevent her people from starving.  Unfortunately the Caliph of her state looks down upon women and this regular heroic act must be done with her impersonating a man and keeping her efforts as covert as possible.  Life for Zafira is hard as she not only juggles this masquerade, but her father has recently been killed, her mother is mentally absent, her best friend is getting married, the Arz is growing, and the people around her are starving.

In more or less alternating chapters we also learn of Nasir, the ‘Prince of Death’ who is an assassin for the Sultan who has also now taken over as Caliph of Sarasin.  Forced to kill innocent people by his heartless father, Nasir also is mourning the loss of his mother,  as he tries to earn his father’s approval and find some validation for his current life.

The two characters come together when an immortal witch summons Zafira to retrieve a magic book from a cursed island beyond the Arz and Naisr’s father sends him to intercept her.  The majority of the book takes place on the island of Sharr, an island that is not only a location, but a living consuming character, and involves a variety of other enchanted beings from the various states.  An immortal Safin, Benyamin, one of nine elites, Kafirah, and Altair, a general from Sarasin that weaves them altogether and complicates everything.   This group, the zumra, must work together to save Arawiya, while constantly evaluating how much they can trust one another, as well as themselves.

WHY I LIKE IT:

I love the detail and was pleasantly surprised with the pacing.  The chapters are short and kept the plot from dragging for 471 pages.  Having read it and enjoyed it, I don’t know that I can properly discuss it though.  There are things that I just accepted and moved on with without pondering over, because I don’t know if I understood it well enough to even ask the question aloud.  That being said, I feel like I got the story and I understood where the characters were coming from and I closed the book feeling satisfied and willing to read the next one in the series.  The characters grow and develop and they have a satisfying arc without being overly cliche or predictable.  I think Nasir grows much more than Zafira and knowing that the next book is more focused on him, intrigues me.  Altair is by far the most fascinating character and I hope to see more of him as well.

There is a map at the beginning of the book that I referenced A LOT, and truly I have no idea why the glossary and character list was not included in the book, as it is desperately needed. There are a lot of Arabic words and I would like to get an Arabic speaker’s perspective on how knowing what the terms meant affected the story comprehension. 

I like that Zafira has to find confidence in shedding her cloak and stepping in to herself, but I felt it told it more than it showed.  Some of the states are governed by women, the founders are women, that I didn’t feel her fear in hiding her gender.  Similarly, I wanted more information on who/what exactly the Lion of the Night was/is and where the affinities come from.  Perhaps minor points, but details that kept me from immersing myself in this fantastical land and kept me feeling like an outsider peering in and trying to connect with events just out of reach.

FLAGS:

There is a lot of killing, and some of it gruesome.  There is abuse and details of branding and a tongue being cut out.  There is alluding of sexual acts but nothing defined, random comments between characters and implications of girls in a room in the morning.  There is kissing and an intense makeout session that is used to achieve a battle goal, but it is detailed and the characters reflect on how it made them feel in terms of desire, longing, wanting, etc.  So, while it is there, it is there for a purpose other than titillation, that is why I think mature middle school could handle it.  There is a scene in a bar, but none of the main characters drink.  There is some language, albeit not in English.

TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:

I don’t think I could do this with 6th graders in my middle school book club, but I will definitely suggest it for the high school one.  I think there are a lot of ways things can be interpreted and because it is a fantasy there is no right or wrong which would make the discussion fascinating.  The romance I think makes the book lean to being more female oriented, but I think there is enough action that boys will also enjoy it overall as well.

Book Website: https://www.wehunttheflame.com/

The book just came out, so I’m sure in the next few weeks and months there will be more tools, more interviews, and more details of what is to come in the series.