Short Stories – Muslim Voices

The 9th month of the Islamic Calendar marks the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. A special time of the year where Muslims worldwide reflect on their faith, commemorate the birth of Islam (divine revelation) and engage in a month of sun up to sun down fasting. A time to reflect and a time for prayer. And.. in a blink of an eye – the count down is on again as we are due to start mid-May 2018.

As we enter the holy month, I wanted to take a quick moment to share 2 books that bring out Muslim voices in Australia as I found these collections of short stories so insightful and inspiring. Personally, as a Muslim reader, I love seeing stories like this becoming more and more available for Muslim and Non-Muslim readers alike as I believe wonderful books like these do in fact help bring a mutual understanding within the community. They bridge gaps, dispel myths and even open up positive discussion.

Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia – edited by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

“Muslim people in Australia come from over 70 countries and represent a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences. Yet we are constantly bombarded by media stories feeding one negative stereotype. What is it really like to grow up Muslim in Australia? In this book, famous and not-so-famous Muslim-Australians tell their stories in their own voices.”
Growing up a Muslim, hijab wearing Aussie of Indonesian heritage, I related to this book and the stories within very much. Sadly, the battle is real and when we say this, it’s not to play victim – it’s simply to call it what it is. These honest stories resonated with me and I believe them to be insightful for all readers as it provides different snapshots and perspectives of Muslim life in Australia that most importantly, dispel myths, stereotypes, and above all celebrates diversity, courage and friendship. A beautiful coming of age group that is said to be “coloured with many shades of humour, warmth, sadness, anger, determination and honesty, it will resonate with readers from all backgrounds and beliefs”

Headstrong Daughters: Inspiring Stories From The New Generation Of Australian Muslim Women – by Nadia Jamal
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

This book is a collection of short stories written by Nadia Jamal and based on interviews she conducted with ordinary Muslim women around Australia. This book takes a deeper look into the lives of Muslim women and their determination to stay true to their faith and to themselves. These are resonating stories told by working professionals, mothers and students and reveals a side that is little known and often misunderstood. This too, is a book I really related to as a young Muslim woman living in Australia, a working professional and a woman who strives to live a well balanced life with faith, work, family and being in touch with her culture without it clashing with faith. I also found this book dispelled a lot of myths that hang about with Muslim women – particularly with the hijab and status of women in Islam. I found it quite inspiring myself. Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me an advanced review copy of this book – this book should be available in leading book retailers.

Wishing all who commemorate the Holy Month of Ramadan a wonderful and blessed month. May your fasting come at ease and may you all have special time with loved ones this coming month.

Ramadan Mubarak!!!
-Annie

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Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein

We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.

The mind twister of the year that deserves a 10/10!!

The story is told by Tash Carmody, a young girl who has been traumatised since she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival when they were kids. Being 8 years old, Tash didn’t have a filter and simply told the truth – yet at the time nobody believed Tash, and was accused of making stories up simply for attention – after years of therapy, she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real – it was all in her head. Years later, Mallory Fisher is 15 years old and has never spoken about the week she went missing. Time passes and history seems to be repeating itself causing Tash to question whether she is in fact control of her own faculties. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash soon realises Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them and what happened that fateful day at the Carnival..

I was hooked on this from page one and the only reason it took a day or two to read it was due to my need to read it in daylight hours. This YA thriller kept me guessing right up to the very end. It sucked me in so deep that I was so determined for answers and all the way through I was even asking myself, did Tash just see Mallory wonder off from the carnival the day she disappeared or did Tash really see Mallory get abducted by someone she can only identify as her imaginary friend, Sparrow? Did the disappearance even happen or is this all in her head? Or is Tash somehow involved with historical events and it’s more sinister?

As I was reading along with this incredibly unreliable narrator, I found her struggle to piece together truths where her mind blurred lines between reality and fantasy messed with my head too!! I was developing all sorts of theories and at one stage, EVERYONE was a suspect! I was the quickest I have read a book in such a long time I was just determine to know what really happened – It’s one great book that is structured so well with a backstory that pieces history together as you carry on with present day events, a story that kept me hanging right to the end, awake at night and absolutely gob smacked in the end!!! This was a fantastic debut novel that I recommend to all who enjoy YA suspense, mystery and intrigue!!

Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book and well done to debut author Sarah Epstein on writing such an epic thriller of a story!! KUDOS!!!
-Annie

Kidz Corner Round Up of Recommendations

As part of our love for reading, we love exploring reads that are suitable for the younger generation so we can reach out and encourage the younger audience to immerse themselves in a great book. The following are recommendations for children ranging from picture books to junior fiction.. enjoy!!

Coco: My First, Little people, BIG DREAMS by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Ana Albero
This cute little kids book is an introduction to a world renowned designer whose life, though quite controversial, was very interesting. Having read her biography once before, I wondered how they would tame the life story of a woman who created the world’s famous scent Coco Chanel into a children’s book but I have to say the authors and illustrators did a fabulous job to tell her story through sequential art and few words. The drawings reminded me of the cartoon “Madeleine”. Quick read, definitely suitable to read to a younger audience – even 4 years and under as it’s a hard bound picture book. Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Square by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
This book is about Square. Square spends every day taking blocks from a pile below the ground to a pile above the ground. This book is also about Square’s friend Circle. Circle thinks Square is an artistic genius. But is he really? This is a touching tale of how one might not always see their strong point(s) while others can. A picture book suitable for children from the ages 3 years and up – special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

Begone the Raggedy Witches, Book 1 of The Wild Magic Trilogy by Celine Kiernan
This was indeed Ireland’s answer to JK Rowling! A middle grade, magical adventure that crosses over realms for a challenge between good and evil and a young girl’s quest to saved loved ones. Although the target audience would be middle grade readers from ages 8 and up, I found it to be so well written, even adults could enjoy the tale. The story is fast paced and the action begins from page one and manages to hold the reader captive to the end. I believe this is a promising start to an epic trilogy. The dialogue is quite humorous and I also found the notion of “forced rhyming” among some of the characters quite clever. Mup is the main character and a likeable one at that, a lovely character with an open heart and determination to conquer evil. You will meet other characters along the way who will stay with you even at the end of the story. I personally enjoyed the story and I do look forward to the sequel. Recommended to younger readers and adults who are young at heart. Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker
This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride but a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. This was an extremely beautiful picture book without words. As we read A Stone for Sascha, we follow a young girl’s grieving process for their family pet. Suitable for young readers from ages 5 and up – special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

The Rise of the Dawnstar by Farah Oomerbhoy

Aurora Firedrake returns in the spellbinding sequel to The Last of the Firedrakes.

The seven kingdoms of Avalonia are crumbling and evil is spreading across the land like a plague. Queen Morgana is close to finding a way to open The Book of Abraxas and it’s only a matter of time until she uses the power trapped inside its pages to enslave the entire world.

BLOODY CLIFFHANGERS!!!

I’m currently using my inside voice as I scream into my pillow over this cliffhanger!!

I am also searching one handed through my books trying to find the next book until I realised that book three has not yet been released (now I am crying into my pillow because I want to know what happens next).

The characters grow and follow the path of getting slightly wiser, as we follow Aurora along, she meets new people, family and comes into her power.

I need the next book!!!

-Meredith

Whisper by Lynette Noni

“Lengard is a secret government facility for extraordinary people,” they told me.

“I believed them. That was my mistake… There isn’t anyone else in the world like me… I’m different. I’m an anomaly, I’m a monster…”

For two years, six months, fourteen days, eleven hours and sixteen minutes, Subject Six-Eight-Four a.k.a ‘Jane Doe’ has been locked away and experimented on, without uttering a single word…

Imagine if you had an ability (or curse) where every time you spoke, something bad happens? Meet Jane Doe.. she has been locked up in a secret security facility for about 2 years and hasn’t spoken a word at all.. Why is she there? What is this all about? What has she done?

What I found with this book and what I liked most was different it was from the author’s previous works – the author really set this book apart from the Medoran Chronicles as it’s really quite a unique concept. Even with a detailed beginning, I came to know the characters pretty quickly and modest plot development kept me turning the page. Although my head was filled with so many unanswered questions, I also enjoyed some nice surprises along the way!! It really does keep you guessing and that’s what I enjoyed about this book.

I would say if you enjoyed Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi or Everlife by Gena Showalter, you may enjoy this one. Special thanks to Pantera Press for sending me a review copy of this book.

Keep an eye out at your local bookstores – this awesome book will be hitting the shelves very soon!!!
-Annie

The Continent by Keira Drake

Vaela Sun is a young girl from a prestigious family aspires to be a cartographer. For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two nations remain perpetually locked in combat. Most citizens lucky enough to tour the Continent do so to observe the spectacle and violence of battle, a thing long vanished in the peaceful realm of the Spire however for Vaela, the war holds little interest as she sees the journey as a dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land. But what starts as a sight-seeing adventure soon turns into her fight for survival as she is sucked into the combat between the two nations on The Continent.

I heard about this book some time ago and heard of its controversy. I was later informed this entire book was rewritten and sensitivity readers were hired for the edits. Given the effort applied to this book, I thought I would give this a chance and keep an open mind whilst reading it. I also kept in mind the question I always keep in mind when reading “is it in context”? For example: when a racist remark is in the dialogue between characters – is it portraying a character as racist and are those comments exactly what a racist character would say? etc which brings out the character quite clearly rather than a story just being offensive. What I took from this is it’s about a young girl who dreams to be a cartographer and lives in the Spire, an elite federation and was given a rare opportunity to explore the mysterious continent – a place known for civil disruption and war. What starts off as an expedition soon turns into a struggle for survival. To me, the plot and dialogue made sense and the way in which the protagonist responded to her situation clearly demonstrated how a young girl from an elite federation would respond when trapped in foreign lands and there is a significant language barrier. I found the story had more focus on the character’s feelings, though there is a lot of action (it is quite violent so I would say more suited to an older YA audience) and a relatively detailed pace but not too overly descriptive. The world building was structured well so you can picture all areas in the story.

Special thanks to Harlequin Teen Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.

-Annie

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Welcome to Caraval… Beware of getting swept too far..

Scarlett Dragna and her sister Tella Dragna have never left their tiny island of Trisda. Having lived under the rule of an iron fist that was their father, Governor Dragna, their lives have been nothing of dark days – any time Scarlett was do something, Tella would cop it and vice versa however now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval — the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over. But this year, Scarlett’s life long dreamt invitation finally arrives and with the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella and Scarlett go away to the show yet once they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer: Legend and this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

This suspense in this book really sucked me in. It felt like two movies I have seen: “The Game” meets “The Illusionists” and while this book was set on an island and a game where the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, I imagined this to be a sick, twisted circus or carnival I never want a ticket to. It was very easy to read and whilst the plot kept us in suspense – particularly on the true identity of some of the characters like the mysterious sailor, Legend, among others, the story was quite fast paced. I admired the sibling love between Tella and Scarlett yet it also frustrated me. The twists throughout the story also kept me turning the page and it was one of those stories you feel are predictable but they’re not. I thoroughly enjoyed this more than I expected to. I recommend this to readers who seek stories to leave their world behind – just try not to get too swept away!!!

-Annie