A Very Large Expanse of Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh MafiShirin is used to moving and being targeted by idiots because of her headscarf–especially now, a year after 9/11. She has no expectations for her new school to be any better.

Except things start to feel different when her older brother tells her they’re going to start a breakdancing crew. Then there’s her lab partner, Ocean, a boy who keeps surprising her—in good ways not the usual disappointing ways.

Even with the promise of something great, Shirin is wary. Even if she and Ocean are ready to take a chance on each other, Shirin isn’t sure her new school is ready for it. After being angry for so long, Shirin has to decide if she’s ready to let anyone in or start caring again in A Very Large Expanse of Sea (2018) by Tahereh Mafi.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is Mafi’s first foray into realistic fiction and hopefully won’t be her last. The novel is narrated Shirin and inspired heavily by Mafi’s own experiences as a teen (including the breakdancing!).

Shirin is a sharp character. Her narration is filled with wry observations and her edges are cutting after years of having to learn to protect herself from people who never want to take the time to see her as anything but other. Lyrical prose and a sweet romance work well to offset Shirin’s bitterness at the world in response to the hate and racism that has become part of her everyday life.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a thoughtful and ultimately hopeful story. Recommended for readers looking for quirky characters, breakdancing, and for anyone who has ever had to choose between holding onto bitterness and grabbing for something sweeter.

Possible Pairings: Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed; Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali; Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi; The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake; Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke; 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario; Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi

Darius the Great is Not Okay: A Review

cover art for Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib KhorramDarius Kellner is more comfortable talking about Star Trek than he is about his status as a Fractional Persian. He doesn’t speak Farsi very well and a lot of Persian Social Cues still mystify him (Persian Casual anyone?).

Not that connecting with his father’s side of the family is any easier. Darius isn’t cut out for their Teutonic stoicism and he is no Übermensch like his father Stephen Kellner. The only things they seem to have in common are a love of Star Trek and clinical depression. Not exactly the makings of strong familial ties.

Darius doesn’t know what to expect on his first trip to Iran with his family. He’s excited to meets his grandparents and the rest of his family in person for the first time ever. But he doesn’t know what they’ll make of his limited Farsi or his medication.

He never expects to make a new friend, let alone a potentially lifelong one like Sohrab. As Darius starts spending more time with Sohrab he learns what it’s like to have a friend and, maybe, what it’s like to be himself and embrace his namesake—Darioush the First aka Darius the Great in Darius the Great is Not Okay (2018) by Adib Khorram.

Darius the Great is Not Okay is Khorram’s marvelous debut. It was a BookExpo 2018 YA Editor’s Buzz Selection and if it doesn’t get a nod from this year’s Morris Award I will be extremely surprised.

Darius’s first person narration immediately draws readers into his world as he explains his passions (tea and Star Trek, in that order) and his frustrations as he struggles to fit in with his own family. Khorram’s writing, especially as Darius begins to discover his family and his heritage in Iran, is vivid and evocative. This book is also filled with delicious descriptions of food, so be sure to read with snacks nearby.

I love the way Khorram uses dialog and voice throughout the book as Darius struggles to connect with relatives who don’t speak English and how to express himself in any language. Darius the Great is Not Okay is a gentle, contemplative read perfect for readers looking to satisfy their wanderlust without leaving home.

Possible Pairings: In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sarah Farizan, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonneblick, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

The Rose and the Dagger: A Review

*The Rose and the Dagger is the sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn. This review has major spoilers for The Wrath and the Dawn.*

“The trying times were the moments that defined a man.”

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee AhdiehWhen Shahrzad  volunteered to marry the Caliph of Khorasan, she never expected to find herself at the center of a power struggle that could destroy her kingdom.

Shahrzad has been separated from her husband as part of a misguided rescue attempt by her first love. Reunited with her family, Shahrzad’s heart remains tied to Khalid as he struggles to restore order within Khorasan.

The curse that has driven Khalid to take a new bride each day still looms over the kingdom while a darker, possibly more dangerous, magic unleashed by Shahrzad’s father threatens to change the power balance throughout the kingdom and beyond.

Separated by distance and circumstance, Shahrzad and Khalid will have to work together to end the curse and save their kingdom in The Rose and the Dagger (2016) by Renee Ahdieh.

Find it in Bookshop.

The Rose and the Dagger is the sequel to Ahdieh’s debut The Wrath and the Dawn.

This story picks up shortly after the cliffhanger ending of book one. Shahrzad and Khalid are separated. Khorasan is facing threats on all sides. Khalid is still cursed and Shahrzad still doesn’t understand the magic that seems to run through her and her father’s veins.

Fans of The Wrath and the Dawn will find a lot to love in this action-packed followup. The chemistry between Shahrzad and Khalid is still a palpable thing. Ahdieh’s lush prose and vivid descriptions bring the city of Rey to life.

This story expands the world of the book bringing Shahrzad and other characters to neighboring kingdoms and beyond the relatively insular walls of Rey. The book’s cast is also expanded with new characters and more page time for secondary characters found in the first book.

In a different world, Shahrzad and Khalid’s story likely could have been told in one–slightly longer–book. It’s hard to say if that book would have been markedly better but it seems likely the plot would have had more cohesion if nothing else.

Parts of The Rose and the Dagger are wonderful. The characters have many thoughtful meditations on love and strength and what it means to be a person of influence versus an influential person. Unfortunately, these shining moments are tempered with uneven pacing, a slow plot that often meanders, and character interactions that verge on clumsy.

The Rose and the Dagger is a fitting and serviceable conclusion to Shahrzad’s story. Ahdieh is a talent to watch. Fans will be eager to see what she has in story for her next project.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Wrath and the Dawn: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.”

***

“All our lives are forfeit. It it just a matter of when.”

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee AhdiehKhalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night. Every bride is executed with the dawn. The Caliph offers no explanations, making it easy for his people to believe he is a cold-hearted monster.

Shahrzad shocks everyone she cares about when she volunteers to marry the Caliph, rendering her life forfeit. But Shahrzad plans to survive the dawn. In fact she plans to live long enough to exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and so many other girls.

The longer she survives in the palace, the more Shahrzad realizes the boy-king is hiding something behind his cold exterior and his closely guarded secrets. Shahrzad volunteered to marry Khalid out of hatred but as she grows closer to to him, it is soon obvious that love is what keeps her in the palace.

Separately Shahrzad and Khalid are both formidable. United together, they may have the strength to save their country and each other in The Wrath and the Dawn (2015) by Renee Ahdieh.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Wrath and the Dawn is Ahdieh’s first novel. It is also the first book in a series which will continue with The Rose and the Dagger (expected publication 2016).

In this loose retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, Ahdieh transcends her source material to create a story that is both original and captivating. Instead of focusing on the stories told each evening, The Wrath and the Dawn expertly expands the framing story found within A Thousand and One Nights to imagine a world where a king executes countless brides and one girl is bold enough to think she can stop him.

As much as The Wrath and the Dawn is a romance of the slow burn variety, it is also very much a story of equals. Shazi and Khalid are perfectly matched protagonists with obvious magnetism even as they warily question each other’s intentions. They are also both incredibly strong characters, often to the point of being arrogant or foolhardy.

The way Shazi and Khalid interact highlights how the best partnerships, the strongest relationships, stem from mutual respect as well as understanding. The push and pull between these two also serves to underscore how nothing is clear-cut in this story where often there are no “good” choices–only necessary ones.

The Wrath and the Dawn is a debut filled with writing that brings the world of Khorasan vividly to life. Elements of fantasy, romance and historical fiction all come together here to create a lush, expansive story with complex characters to match. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White, The Girl King by Mimi Yu