Slay by Brittney Morris: Blog Tour

“Separate is not equal… That doesn’t even come close to leveling the field…”

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

“What kind of noob gets lucky enough to draw the Michael Jordan card and the Michael Jackson card in a single duel?”

I was very excited about this book when I first heard about it at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, YA Con. Having it being pitched as “Black Panther” meets “Ready Player One” I was sold. I like to call this the “Urban Ready Player One” It was an interesting and fast paced read and I really enjoyed following Kiera’s story. I liked her as a character and how she developed the virtual world of “Slay” a place where people of colour could have their own space in an online world. Kiera’s virtual avatar is Emerald and for me it felt like Kiera was more comfortable being Emerald in Slay than Kiera in the real world so her challenge with identity was interesting to me. It always made me question how such talented people can develop an amazing virtual world or explode on stage yet off stage or in front of the screen, they are very reserved.

Keeping Slay under wraps was the thrilling part for me – the case of high stakes secrecy and the thrill of keeping your talent a secret was exhilarating through out the story especially when the secret is out after something sinister happened in real life which was connected to the game. The elements of mystery throughout the book: a case of ‘who done it’ and ‘who is the troll’ was good and the development of the online world was interesting.

The dialogue was very “teen” but what I liked about Kiera was how she would speak like a real teen, be vulnerable in decisions but also have a mature outlook on life. Her sister Steph is quite funny, I liked her too. It was interesting to see how Kiera dealt with her identity, sense of duty/responsibility to others as well as her relationships with family and her boyfriend Malcolm, her friends and change that stem from her own creation ‘Slay’.

A good story that draws parallels to real life: what it’s like to stand out in your own school or community, you just want to be yourself rather than the authority of your own race simply because your skin colour is different to others. I can really see this book hitting the mark within the YA readership.

Special thanks to Date a Book YA for sending me a copy of this book for review and to Aus YA Bloggers for having me on board once again as part of this “Slay” Blog Tour!!!
-Annie

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**

“…Your people, my people, our people, they’re everyone. They’re Malaysians. It’s not Malays killing Chinese or Chinese killing Malays. It’s stupid people killing stupid people.”

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

“How do you expect unity to grow from seeds of self-interest? Look at the riots in Penang last year….”

This book was an incredibly powerful historical fiction that really brings the bloody history of Malaysia in 1969 to life. I was able to relate to it from a cultural and religious perspective as I am part Indonesian and Muslim so the cultural values, language, religious referencing places, food, even the civil unrest is something I was very familiar with. I was engrossed from the first page as the writing was very easy to follow but I agree the story may be difficult for some readers to stomach and as I recommend this book, please note my recommendation comes with a warning. The content in this book is definitely not for a younger audience – it’s definitely an older YA novel.

Our protagonist is Melati Ahmad’s torment and journey really came to life in my mind and it was heart wrenching to read about innocent people trapped in a war zone but aren’t just fighting for survival – they are battling their own demons as well, in this case, the djinn that keeps controlling Melati’s mind in horrific ways. Yes this book is quite confronting and very detailed in bringing out the violence and Melati’s torment. Personally, I was able to handle it as I felt the author really nailed it with her writing and explored these themes very well. I really kept turning the page yearning to know what happens next. I shed tears as I read the epilogue – it was so touching and final. I was convinced to pick this book up sooner than I planned and I wondered why I took so long to read this.

I highly recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction with an element of ‘urban fantasy’ (which I believe is a metaphor in this story) and strong cultural representation. Please note, again, my recommendation comes with a trigger warning. This book contains graphic details and violence, death, racism, war and mental illness and I believe this to be more suited to older readers. Please do not read this book if you feel it may be harmful to you in any way.

Happy to say this is another book love for 2019. Just amazingly written, very insightful, a book I won’t forget anytime soon.

Publisher: Salaam Reads – subsidiary of Simon and Schuster
-Annie

I am Thunder… and I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan

“A thought-provoking and empowering story which will encourage readers to question what they see and hear.”

One of the most confronting books I have read this year and a story that really hits the nail on the head. A new YA voice that demonstrates how far one can go to protect what they believe in and accurately depicts the world today. I really want to take this moment to thank the author, Muhammad Khan, for writing this story. As a Muslim woman reading this book – I felt this was a real eye-opener for non-Muslims and a warm hug to the Muslim brother/sisterhood as he stated in his author’s note.

“I am Thunder” is told by protagonist, 15 year old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a novelist but is trapped between 2 worlds: controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor and growing up in a world that tells you to be what you want to be. As Muzna’s father lost his job, Muzna is forced to move to a new school in South London at a critical time of her life and after her best friend is shamed in a scandal.

Whilst dialogue among teens can be cheesy, I found the book to be very well written and honest. It’s a book that will definitely spark positive discussion. I had such a personal connection to the story and the character but felt extremely thankful I didn’t experience absolutely everything Muzna went through.

When Muzna is thrown into this new school, just like the real world, she realizes bullies are everywhere and yes difficult times are ahead but do you take a stand and fight for what is right or do you fade out because it’s easier? Struggling with home life and school yard prejudice against her culture and faith, the world looks bleak for Muzna until she meets Arif – her knight in shining armour – or so she thinks…

The author did a fantastic job in demonstrating the constant confusion in families who put culture first, Islam second which is a leading cause of clash and confusion in families and the wider community. Cultural identity is a real challenge especially among the youth and I really felt for Muzna being an only child growing up in the western world with strong ties to her cultural traditions and expectations, it can be a challenge but it can also be an opportunity. I felt Muzna had the right idea of wanting to be a novelist as a means to set a passive example that demonstrates that these acts committed do not represent her or her faith.

In addition to cultural identity, the fury Muzna and her parents felt when waking up to headline news of terrorist attacks and murder of innocent victims carried out in the name of Islam was all too real for me. It was a wave of mixed emotions – anger for what this mob do in our name and the compounding weariness of stepping out of our house wearing the hijab, that need to constantly be vigilant in your own home in case you’re next to be on the receiving end of hate attacks for crimes you never committed or endorsed but refusing to live in fear. 

The story is so real – with strong characters making poor decisions or turning a blind eye to things you think is so obviously wrong, but that’s exactly why it was so real – because it demonstrates exactly how extremists operate. They select articulate, intelligent individuals and targe their vulnerability as leverage for their own agendas.

Again, this book is extremely well written and fast paced. I am sure readers will have an emotional reaction to the story. I gasped, cringed, laughed, cried and I even had to put the book down for a moment as I was getting so worked up over it (it’s so real). I feel this is an important story and I do recommend this as your next read. Suitable for the YA audience from ages 14 years and up.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy of this book as part of the Summer Readings Blog Tour.
-Annie

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

This book is infuriatingly good!!!

In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.  But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride. Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known.

This book is infuriatingly good. The type of book where I will wave it at you and tell you to read it every chance I get. It is brutally honest with its themes and how they reflect on our own society. I feel like I will never be able to express how thought provoking and important this story is.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!!!
-Amanda

 

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

To simply call this a fairytale retelling would do this story an injustice.. This is a uniquely, magical story in its own right…

This would be one of the best books I have read this year… A story of mystery, identity, magical betrayal and intrigue.. A story of one crown – two women: Mina, whose heart is made of glass.. Lynet, who is made of snow.. both brought to life by a magician the kingdom is taught to fear..

A step-mother/step-daughter relationship based in a kingdom in need of only one queen. At sixteen years of age, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees their king for the first time, Mina makes it her mission to win the king’s heart through her beauty to become queen and finally know what love is. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother to Lynet, who at aged fifteen, is the  splitting image of her late mother but one day Lynet discovers why… A magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order but rather than filling the shoes of her late mother, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. What started as a bond between step-mother and step-daughter may soon become a fight to the death for the crown…

 I gave this book a standing ovation. This story takes you into a whole new world of twists, turns and mystery whicht left me gaping, page turning and confused as to which character had my allegiance. This story had fantastic world building and was mildly paced so it allowed me to immerse myself into this new world as well as the character development but the suspensful plot got the heart pumping and captivated me to the very end!!! Such an amazing story and I highly recommend this to fans of fairytale retellings (although I find this book is more than that) and fans of YA Fantasy Fiction… This is on the shelf as one of the best of 2017!!!

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me a Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer

The first installment of “The Oremere Chronicles” this is a gripping fantasy series of epic proportions!!!

Heart of Mist is a dark and interesting tale set in a realm where toxic mist sweeps the lands and magic is forbidden, all Bleak wants is a cure for her power. Still grieving the death of her guardian and dangerously self-medicating with alcohol, Bleak is snatched from her home by the Commander of the King’s Army, and summoned to the capital. But the king isn’t the only one interested in Bleak’s powers.
The leader of an infamous society of warriors, the Valia Kindred, lays claim to her as well, and Bleak finds herself in the middle of a much bigger battle than she anticipated.

I found this lived up to its initial pitch – it really was an interesting and dark tale of a woman’s lonely journey through self-destruction, loss but finally owning her own destiny. An intense story that is action packed but doesn’t flow too quickly for the reader. There’s a great balance between an intense story line, well defined characters and action in a world of fantasy fiction. I am not a fan of e-books so this took me awhile to read but I really made an effort to read this as I found the premise to be very promising and the concept of the main character, Bleak’s, forbidden magic captivated me. Imagine having a power so forbidden because you’re in a realm where magic is forbidden and the only way to manage your day to day activity is through drowning your power with alcohol. I really enjoyed this book now I will find a hardcopy and re-read it!!! This is very well written and the world building was so well done it doesn’t bore you. If anything, it held my attention.

Many thanks to author, Helen Scheuerer for giving me an Advanced Review E-Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

Convergence by Marita Smith

An ancient secret… A genetic key… A planet in peril…

For scientist Robyn Greene, her laboratory is a second home. Here she searches for the ancient gene that is supposed to enable humans to communicate with animals. After years of failure, she’s beginning to wonder if the gene is a myth. But when she stumbles across a strange genetic mutation, Robyn’s world turns upside down. In a race against time, Robyn must track down the individuals with this rare gene before the wrong people seize control as this ancient cycle is designed to keep the Earth in balance – in the wrong hands, it could be chaos.

I really enjoyed this book as I found it brought science/chemistry to life in the form of fantasy fiction but I wouldn’t call it Sci-Fi as it appears to be more than that (well to me anyway). This isn’t like anything I have read before. The premise and plot twists were so cleverly executed throughout this book and I found the characters interesting. What was also interesting was how I found myself anxiously following the plot to determine what happens next and in between the story, we learn about well-defined characters and their own inner struggles which did have a relevance to the storyline. Great world building and character development, the story moved along at a brisk pace and the structure kept me turning the page to the end.

A story about an ancient secret, a genetic key, betrayal and paradigm shifting discovery that could either make or break this world.

I highly recommend this book to fans of YA Fantasy – especially those who are seeking a unique read.

Special thanks to Harbour Publishing House for sending me an Advance Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie