Review: “An Ember in the Ashes” (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by the wonderful Sabaa Tahir

“An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir. This is a novel that I’ve been waiting an eternity to get to ever since I spotted it on the shelves and read the back cover. If you know me really well, I used to see fantasy as this cookie-cutter genre. I despised reading such novels because I always assumed that all it involved were kings, dwarves, elves, and dragons and such. And…yeah you can argue I wasn’t that far off.

But then last year I reviewed a certain novel that’s become a favorite of mine called “The Young Elites” by Marie Lu. And in case you haven’t read the review (not that you can’t via the link but still), you know how much I love it! 😀

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Top 10 LGBT YA Novels I Recommend

Before you read, I’d like to dedicate this post to all the families and victims hurt in this morning’s tragedy. For those who for some reason haven’t heard, a lone shooter mercilessly massacred fifty people and injured just as many at a gay nightclub (called Pulse) in Orlando, Florida. Police are still investigating into further detail, but it is a known fact that this wasn’t just a random shooting. This was a hate-fueled attack meant to kill and harm innocent people.

If anyone is reading this, don’t pray for repentance or hate, but pray for the families and friends that have been affected by what many are calling the worst mass shooting in United States history. Do not call for gun control. Reports are coming in that the gunman was posing as a security guard and guns were not allowed in the club. If there is anything we should call for, it’s for the acceptance of LGBTQA+ people everywhere, and to fight homophobic attacks like this with love and understanding.

To everyone affected by the shooting, everyone is hearing your cries. And to everyone else, I have a quote for you from a Holocaust survivor named Henry Golde, “Hate is nothing, and love is everything.”

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          Gay literature is an iconic part of the LGBTQA+ community, especially towards teenagers and young adults, so in celebration of LGBT Pride Month, I’ve decided to make a Top 10 list for the best gay young adult novels I wholly recommend. Now, there are a few rules to this for anyone who’s reading. The first rule is that these entries have to have an LGBT person as the protagonist and not just as a side character. Second, it cannot be explicit and must be readable for anyone from fourteen to even nineteen years of age. And third, having no more than two of an authors’ works is acceptable by my standards because granted, I haven’t read every gay book for young adults; heck I’m even including ones I’ve reviewed on here already. And keep in mind that this is a recommendation list and not a list of the greatest LGBT young adult novels.

With that said, here’s the Top 10 List of LGBT YA Novels I Recommend.

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Thoughts on ‘The Boy and the Beast’

For anyone who doesn’t know the name Mamoru Hosoda, he’s a critically acclaimed Japanese director whose written and made recent but wonderful anime classics such as “Wolf Children”, “Summer Wars”, and the wonderfully titled and well-known anime film “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, all three of which I have seen and hold dearly to my heart. “Wolf Children” is a touching story of family and coming of age (as well as a fan-favorite for furries such as yours truly), “Summer Wars” is a science fiction adventure great for watching on July evenings, and “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” is a cult classic for time-travel stories. And later last year, Hosoda released another potentially timeless classic for anime fans called “The Boy and the Beast”.

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Review: ‘Forest Gods’ by Ryan Campbell

At last! At long, long last! After waiting for a couple years, I’ve read the latest instalment of Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, confusingly called ‘Forest Gods’. I’m telling you that ever since I finished reading ‘God of Clay’ some months ago, I have been itching to know what happened in the cliffhanger I was left on, and what will happen to our main character. Is it better than the first book, and can Ryan Campbell continue making a romantic relationship between a leopard deity and a young human man less uncomfortable than it would sound at first? Read on to find out.

In the wake of the last book, the god of the forest Kwaee has turned his entire domain against the human villagers outside his jungle, killing anyone whom he believes to be allied with the demonic fire god Ogya. And after running for the savanna in the wake of all this, Kwaee’s son Doto and his human lover Clay must embark into the neighboring savannas in search of a god whom they believe will help them find out the truth. Both will have to sacrifice their morals, risk their lives, and maybe even the happiness they may or may not be able to have.

Meanwhile, back in Clay’s home, Laughing Dog has returned in ways too different to explain. His and Clay’s father, King First Claw, has died under mysterious circumstances, and their grieving but slow-minded brother Great Ram has taken the throne in these dark times. Little does anyone know however, that Ogya has taken possession of Laughing Dog, and is using the agnostic believer’s naïveté to cause tension among the other villagers through acts of framing, hoping to rile them into attacking the forest and finally reignite the ancient war with Kwaee.

The only two people who see through the young prince’s actions are the tribe’s elderly healer named Cloud, and the prince’s promised fiancé named Ant With a Leaf. Determined to save their people from unknowingly killing themselves, Any and Cloud must throw aside their status as women and challenge the prince and puppet king before it’s too late. Will they both succeed and save humanity, or will Ogya’s fire consume the village and everything in its path?

It’s very clear in the first several that real shit will go down as the book progresses, and Ryan Campbell brilliantly allows the scenery and emotions to drip together with the narrative. There’s more drama, much darker moments between the line, and I had to stop myself from skipping ahead several times to keep reading each page. As you guess, I absolutely loved it.

The best thing about this book is both the theme and how it has heavily impacted the characters, and it is change. From the last book to this one’s cliffhanger, ‘Forest Gods’ does the right balance of commenting on change while we read about our characters’ journeys. Everyone in the novel talks about how they miss the old days, and feel like an impending doom is coming to their way of life. It is an understandable feeling, as many people in today’s world have the same feeling whether they’re religious or not. However, the novel isn’t preaching to abandon beliefs, but to adapt to the change in order to survive.

Doto and Clay go through a similar situation on their new journey, except it starts to turn into a romantic relationship between a god and a mortal. You might remember from my review of the last book that they both had a sex scene, and I must inform you there are a few in ‘Forest Gods’ as well. However, the book doesn’t go into intimate detail, and focuses more on the story and relationship between the two. Granted, the idea of a human and anthropomorphic leopard being in a sexual relationship sounds very disturbing still, but then again if authors can get away with werewolf romances, why not this? Besides, werewolf romances these days are crap compared to this.

Clay is still the optimistic human from the first book, but learns how the gods have abused their power. He’s emotional, but quick on his feet while keeping good morals. He’s noble, but will challenge kindness when it is needed. And despite his devotion to Doto (both spiritually and romantically), Clay has limits to how far the leopard would go to hurt others in their way.

In ‘God of Clay’, Doto originally treated his human companion as though he’s nothing more than a subordinate worshipper. In ‘Forest Gods’, he still cares for Clay, but slowly learns to consider him an equal. He’s still impatient and serious, but will protect Clay from anything. He’s determined, but learns humility from Clay. He also learns how to have emotions, and doesn’t know how to feel about them, especially in dramatic scenes. The one that tugs at my heartstrings is when Doto finds out someone about his legacy he never know, and how it ties him into the war between Kwaee and Ogya. I won’t give anything away, but you feel the weight that Doto feels once it’s discovered.

Aside from the two couple, but I was strangely surprised to have Cloud and Ant, two minor characters from the first book, become the secondary characters in the novel. I barely even remembered them in ‘God of Clay’, but reading the newest book and getting to know them better has made me wonder why Ryan Campbell didn’t give them more focus? I absolutely love them, as they remind me of some people I knew growing up in my family. Cloud is an elderly woman that’s strong and has a clever wit despite her old age, is independent but knows when to ask for help, and she perfectly mirrors Ant’s will to do what is right for the village. In fact, I remember ‘Bookworm Reviews’ on Youtube mentioning that his only problem with the first book as that Ant didn’t have a personality. This highly makes up for it, and she’s thoroughly entertaining (and David Popovich, if you’re reading this, I highly recommend this for a future review).

That reminds me. The only complain I have regarding characters is this one that popped out of nowhere and wasn’t mentioned again in detail. It was Adanko, the God of Hares and Lies who seemed too amusing to be a background character. At first it seems like he’ll be the comic relief of the story, but he comes and goes without a second though.

Then we have Laughing Dog, who has turned from an agnostic child who whines and complains in the last book into an unpredictable beast with his older brother’s kingly position wrapped around his finger. I love and fear how he manipulates the King so easily just by being related to him, showcasing how Laughing Dog isn’t just a tough guy with a knife. He’s a conniver and a plotter, trying to keep a façade of honor and charisma to his people while willingly working for Ogya. The way he puts blame on Kwaee, frames Cloud, twists others words against them, it’s like you’ve entered the infamous McCarthy Trials!

I find aspects like this the most terrifying in a villain, because it makes us wonder when they can be threatening, whether they’re about to strike you down or not. Both are unpredictable, overconfident in their goals, and will not hesitate to kill anyone, even family and loved ones, in their way of success.

Once again, Ryan Campbell astounds me in a fantastic novel of family, beliefs, and love. Enriched with African culture, vast in journeys across landscapes, and seeded with an addictive plot, I highly recommend reading this after taking a gander at the first book.

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Review: ‘God of Clay’ by Ryan Campbell

‘God of Clay’ is the first book in Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, and a personal favorite of mine. This is an intriguing YA(ish?) novel for those like me that love diversity, especially if it’s in African tribalism. I mentioned this book before in my review of ‘The Golem and the Jinni’, and how amazing it was in feeling like a legend or a fairytale, except it has modern story telling with fleshed out characters, a simple storyline, and a mythos that feels too genuine to be fiction. With that said, there are a few things in ‘God of Clay’ that may turn a few heads. It’s not a problem or anything, but it is worth talking about later on.

In a vast African land of animal deities and spirits, a tribe of humans have settled near the edge of a massive jungle next to their savanna home. After losing their lands to a wrathful god of fire named Ogya, they hope to start anew while praying for miracles. And in this nomadic tribe are Clay and Laughing Dog, two brothers (and sons of the tribe’s King) more polar opposites than mine. Clay devotes himself greatly to the gods and worships without hesitation while Laughing Dog believes them to be nothing but ancient legends. After both brothers make a bet that end up with Clay having an injured foot, Laughing Dog ends up being banished by his father as punishment and for endlessly mocking the gods. Clay soon becomes depressed, and prays for a miracle.

That miracle comes to him one night in the form of an anthropomorphic leopard named Doto, the son of the forest god Kwaee, who has been tasked by his despicable father into kidnapping a human and finding out why they have come to his forest. Kwaee loathes humanity, and sees them as vermin who burn and destroy in the name of Ogya. After Doto manages to convince Clay that he himself is (technically) a god, the reverent human ventures with the leopard on their journey. At first, Doto mirrors his father’s views on the human, until he begins to realize how similar he is to Clay, and that they may share a bond that transcends taboo in their world. However, little do they know that the two of them have a shared destiny that will change both them and their worlds forever.

In the three years that this has come out, I am absolutely shocked that this has not gotten that much attention or reviews by other critics. Granted it isn’t published by a massive publishing company, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that this is an intelligently written book that I frankly believe deserves to be adapted into a film someday (I said it, so believe it!).

Let’s firstly talk about the two main characters Doto and Clay. Clay is presented as a meek but confident human who worships his gods with great devotion. He may not be strong or intelligent in the wilderness, but he’s very optimistic when he wants to be. This highly contrasts to Doto who is basically a self-righteous little child that sees Clay as nothing more than subordinate. Even so, he has this fragile belief that he’ll gain the love and attention of his uncaring father by following his bidding. This allows us to understand his mindset and know why he acts the way he does toward Clay, and we begin to warm up to him more as the both of them tear down the barriers of god/mortal to survive on their journey. This eventually leads to both the leopard deity and human mortal wondering why there’s a divide between gods and humans and if it can and should be broken.

Laughing Dog’s story is also very wonderful to read. Here we have a young man who’s convinced that the gods are nothing but myths and legends, and is angered and bitter that the people and elders of his village do not see his point of view. However, he’s not a stick in the mud or an asshole; you understand that he only wants to help his tribe survive in the harsh environment and sees the reliance on gods as an obstacle for progress towards a better life. What I love about this is that Laughing Dog isn’t a one-sided villain who hates religion for the sake of it, he only wants his tribe and the rest of humanity to rely on themselves and not in faith. ‘God of Clay’ wonderfully touches on issues such as the separation of church and state, belief vs. faith, tradition vs. change, and it makes you question (in the words of the novel):

“How far would you go to follow your gods? And how hard would you fight to defy them?”

Much like another small personal favorite of mine named ‘Things Fall Apart’ by the late Chinua Achebe, ‘God of Clay’ makes itself timeless and beautifully descriptive by telling the culture and daily life of this tribe, which it helps us connect to the characters. Campbell even incorporates actual African tribal culture into their world. For example, Clay mentions to his companion that whenever a woman gives birth, it’s tradition for her to name the child after the first thing she sees. Reading the novel, you hear every mosquito buzz by your ear and feel the heartbeat of the African landscape through every page that your fingers touch. Combine all of that with a good plot and complex characters, and it’s an addictive read.

Before you go buy this book (which I still highly recommend), I should probably warn you of a scene that comes up later in the book. It’s not a major spoiler, since it is highly hinted at early on in the novel, but this may be a huge turn-off for a few readers. Remember how I mentioned that the main character’s bond transcends taboo in their world?

See…Doto and Clay have a physical attraction for each other. Yes, a physical attraction between a walking-talking leopard deity and a human. There’s especially a scene in the third act where they get sexually intimate, but only for half a page. Going in, I didn’t know and thought it’d be a general friendship, but Ryan Campbell went the extra mile. And honestly, it could’ve been kept hidden, but I didn’t mind there being a romantic relationship between Doto and Clay, since it makes them even more interesting and makes you wonder if gods in their world are allowed to fall in love with humans, especially if both of them are male. Did a sex scene need to be in there? Probably not, but it didn’t last a whole page and I’ve read MUCH MORE mature content that’s allowed in school libraries.

Overall, ‘God of Clay’ is a perfect novel for the bookworm interested in cultural commentary and the perfect novel for fantasy-lovers. With a twist on African lore and a fictional realm you’ll never want to escape, go read Ryan Campbell’s first book in surely a phenomenal trilogy.

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Review: ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’

Tom Delonge is a man that continues to boggle my mind the more I research about him. Not only is he an author, but he’s a songwriter, a film producer, and a guitarist in his own band ‘Angels & Airwaves’. Combine all of that, and you get the creation of a multimedia project featuring the titular character, Poet Anderson.

And here’s a link to the trailer of the short film if you’re interested in that too:

 

For those who don’t know, Poet Anderson is a character that Delonge created in 2008 and is basically a heroic teenager who has the ability to manipulate dreams and nightmares in a mindscape of sleep. Since then, Poet has appeared in graphic novels, songs written by Delonge, and even an animated short film called ‘Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker’ (which is amazing on its own and I highly recommend looking for online). And now, with the help of New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young, Tom Delonge gives us a written book that will tell the origin story of Poet Anderson in ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’. Does it hold up?

It does, but it may be clunky enough to turn off a lot of readers.

The book begins with two orphaned brothers named Jonas and Alan Anderson, who travel for work and are secretly Lucid Dreamers, humans who have the ability to become aware of their dreams and control them in the Dream World, a reality shared by humanity’s collective unconsciousness. Unfortunately after a car accident places Alan into a coma, Jonas is left alone in Seattle with no money, no other family, and no place to call home. All he can do is go to school, visit the hospital, and roam the dreamscape in hopes of finding his brother and waking him up.

A few weeks later, everything turns upside down for Jonas when he discovers he is a destined Poet, a Lucid Dreamer who guides lost dreamers from their nightmares to safety along with having unimaginable powers over the dreamscape. News of this has now made him a target for a diabolical Lucid Dreamer named REM (whose design is just creepy!), who wants Jonas’s abilities to escape into the Waking World and plunge it into nightmarish chaos.

Still desperate to save his brother, Jonas takes up the pseudonym ‘Poet Anderson’ and must fight his way through REM’s forces with the help of a Dream Walker named Jarabec in the Dream World, and the support of his love interest Samantha in the Waking World.

After seeing the short film originally and getting hyped on the idea of a novel series involving the memorable Poet Anderson, I didn’t know what to expect. And after reading this, I have to say that even as a stand-alone novel, it can be a clunky read for some people. Sometimes it feels like Delonge and his co-author are not letting scenes play out and are more concerned of letting plot points into the story. For example, the second and third chapters confused me by hastily introducing characters we wouldn’t know about until two-fifths later into the book. It felt out of place and would’ve been better to go through another edit.

Other than that, the rest of the book flows not only smoothly, but surprisingly well, almost like a lazy river fluidly floating to the climax of a ravaging waterfall. ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ not only gave me what I expected from the plot of a dream-related YA novel. In fact, this almost reminds me of an anime movie I watched last year called ‘Paprika’ (directed by the legendary animator Satoshi Kon) about a young woman with two different identities trying to stop the abuse of a dreaming device. Not only did it have the same type of character of having two identities, but it made up for its similar problems by having imaginative dreams, dark themes and backgrounds, and a sense of innovation to the thin line between fantasy/reality. IT was really damn good at what it did best.

‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ does the same thing.

The characters and their designs (both in and outside the novel) are just very imaginative, and show off their personality in a way that you can hear and know what their voices sound like in your ear. Jonas/Poet’s voices can differentiate from an awkward but kindhearted loner into an independently semi-confident badass with a bowler hat, black suit, and umbrella. Jarabec is also very likeable being the wise old man who doesn’t sound monotone in his writing because he wants to sound important, but knows what he says is important. He’s the one who’s seen what his role as a Dream Walker can do to a person in the Waking World. He knows the risks, and is warning Jonas that becoming a Poet can be dangerous and is meant to not be taken lightly.

Then we have the villain of this named REM. How do I start with this guy? I didn’t see or hear of him until I read the book, but this is a very mysterious villain. He always talks to Poet/Jonas like he has absolutely nothing to fear; the nightmarish villain almost reminds me of Bill Cipher from ‘Gravity Falls’, being a dream villain who is powerful enough to destroy his foe, but also has a dark sense of humor mixed with ruthlessness. He’s even intimidating enough to have his creepy face larger than Poet’s on the front cover!

The Dream World in the novel is incredible based on the words of our authors, even if you haven’t seen or read anything Poet Anderson-related. It’s bright and shiny in some places, and is obviously a metaphor for the Internet and doing whatever you can’t do in the Waking World. One of the things I loved reading this is how in the Dream World Jonas and Sam are more open to each other than they can be in the Waking World and it feels natural. They’re actually adorable sometimes.

Surprisingly, my only other complaint with ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ besides the first few chapters is that I was hoping to explore more of the Dream World. I mean, this is a place where the impossible can become reality and is endless with creative possibilities, but I often feel like I’m in a futuristic setting. But you can make the argument that since the Dream World is a collective unconsciousness that it would make sense it’d be formed as a giant city for people to do random things, much like any other city.

Overall, Tom Delonge and Suzanne Young’s first co-authored book is fun. Another edit may have helped this flow better in the beginning, but ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ is an exciting read for anyone interested in the idea of Inception meeting Blade Runner.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

 

Review: ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ by Helene Wecker

Merry December everyone!

I may have said this before, but I adore fictional books that dive into different cultures, such as ‘Milan’, ‘Things Fall Apart’, and even very fictional novels such as ‘God of Clay’. I love how we learn about traditions, taboos, the attitudes of the people, and especially some history and religions behind it. Add two different cultures to it, and you have got an amazing historical read such as Helene Wecker’s ‘The Golem and the Jinni’.

Before I talk about the plot, I should probably explain what a golem and a jinni are. In Russian-Jewish folklore, a golem is a clay humanoid creature made by mystics to serve as slaves to a master. They can be shaped to look like an ageless man, woman, or even a child. As for a jinni, they’re beings of fire in Syrian legend who are said to be both angel and demon while roaming the desert, and can be caught in an iron oil flask (Aladdin inspiration much?).

In this novel, we follow a quiet female golem recently created named Chava, whose master died at sea on their voyage to 1899 New York City. Masterless and longing for a purpose, she’s greeted by a kind rabbi named Meyer who knows what she is and does his best to help the golem with her situation. Our second main character is a passionate jinni named Ahmed, who awakens from a millennial-long slumber inside an iron flask to find himself in Manhattan’s Little Syria without any memory of how he got there. After taking a job as a tinsmith’s apprentice, Ahmed and Chava meet by chance one night and discover that the other isn’t human. Confused on what they are, they decide to help each other out, as both of them are in a predicament as Ahmed is bound to the flask he came out of, and that unknown to them Chava’s creator (a man named Yehudah Schaalman) is out to destroy the rogue golem.

As a first novel goes, I have to say I am thoroughly impressed with Helene Wecker. While her writing style isn’t exactly memorable or stands out compared to other authors, the idea of tying two different creatures from two different cultures is brilliant! I haven’t seen a perfect match made in heaven forever. From afar and while reading the story, ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ feels almost like a fairy tale of its own, in the same way books like Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ does. It feels very refreshing to read a story that came from the mind of a talented person, and the idea alone gives this book a unique identity.

The golem and jinni characters in this are well-written and memorable, and surprises me the more I think about how different but similar they are. With Chava, she’s a clay creature that was made to live forever in servitude, and the idea of not having a master and feeling the needs and desires of every New Yorker she passes gives her a real character as she builds herself to be independent if she wants to survive. However, she can also be curious, loyal to her acquaintances, and is genuinely confused on how she can live a normal life even though she isn’t human. Then we have Ahmed, who is a creature of fire that is akin to passion and desires. He can be cheeky, cynical, yet has a confidence that makes him not only entertaining but also interesting in the mystery of his backstory. I especially love how Ahmad often risks himself in danger knowing he could be outed as a jinni, but he still does dangerous things like have sex with an upper-class woman or jump across the rooftops of Manhattan. This proves that while he is careful, he doesn’t want to be entirely hidden from the world. Writing this fantastic is especially showcased with the conversations Ahmad and Chava have talking about the differences and similarities between their cultures

This so easily could’ve been turned into a standard Romeo-and-Juliet story, but I was impressed when the author decided to not have them become romantic partners, but actual good friends. That’s rare, especially the way it was building up.

Then we have the side characters, who are fleshed out and seem like actual people. Rabbi Meyer kind of reminds me of the priest from ‘The Fifth Element’, where he thrives on faith, yet likes to keep to himself. He’s welcoming to strangers, and is determined to help the mysterious girl despite the risks involved. The villain in this is also entertaining and deviously intimidating, also determined to take Chava for himself as her new master.

The only thing for other readers that may confuse people is the complications of how Ahmed is tied to the flask and the reveal of his master. While I thought it was an excellent reveal, they never hinted at it or that it is possible or even believed in the Syrian culture. I’m not sure, but maybe it’s a useless nitpick.

Besides that, ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ is a beautifully written fairy tale set in historical New York that will brighten the hearts of readers everywhere. With two great main characters, a wonderful dive into two opposite cultures, and a timeless window to the year 1899, this book is an adventure I would personally recommend to everyone.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!