Nameless Soldiers

Thank you to E.N. Clay for offering to send me a copy of their book—Nameless Soldiers, which is the first in the End of Times series—in exchange for an honest review.

Ali, a computer science student at a Swedish university, is part of a group of Muslim hackers preparing for the end times and the coming of the mahdi. When a member of their group is arrested and their website is hacked, they have to scramble to complete their mission, all while a Swedish intelligence agency is closing in on one side and a group of djinn on the other. 

This is an interesting idea for a novel; unfortunately, it didn’t work for me.

One problem is that the writing is rough. “Where” and “were” are consistently confused, verbs are conjugated incorrectly, and the text is riddled with spelling mistakes and typos. 

Even if I could get past the writing, I found the story itself immature and the representation of women problematic. Ali, who is an excellent student, hacker, and Muslim, not only has an important mission to complete but is also able come to the rescue of the two main female characters in the story even while resisting them as they flirt with and pursue him. He is the kind of person who says, “I performed fajr, the dawn prayer, with excellent focus. Then I recited the Holy Quran with a voice that moved me to tears.”

CW: Sexual assault. (This 112-page book manages to include two rapes in it. Personally, I found them gratuitous.)

I can see this book appealing to a certain audience, but unfortunately, that audience wasn’t me. Let me know your thoughts if you do read it!

My rating: ⭐/5

Find it here: Goodreads | Amazon.com

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Tale of a Tiny Droplet

When I first saw this cute book, I thought it was about the water cycle. It’s actually not. It is the story of a tiny droplet living in a cloud. It sees a beautiful kingdom below on the ground, and it wants to live there. When it’s finally big enough to fall from the sky, it joins with a grain of sand in the air before falling into the ocean. It’s then taken in by an oyster and becomes a pearl. So, in fact, by the end of the story, it does get to fulfill its dream of living in the kingdom. It’s found by the Prince, who places it in a beautiful headdress for his mother, the Queen.

This was a cute story, and I was rooting for the droplet from the beginning, which is definitely a new thing. However, I did find it a little confusing. I had to backtrack a few times to figure out exactly what was going on. That’s mostly due to the fact this book is written in poetry, but the rhymes are often forced, leading to some weird line endings that don’t quite make sense. The rhythm is also off, which makes it difficult to read aloud.

The illustrations are cute, and I appreciated a story about the formation of a pearl, even though I’m not really sure if this book is scientifically accurate. I’m still confused about what the droplet of water actually has to do with the formation of the pearl. I thought that it was a grain of sand or a parasite that a pearl is formed from. From my brief googling, I’m not sure how a droplet of water can figure prominently in the formation of a pearl. So that’s disappointing.

I do, however, love stories that show how different elements of nature are servants of Allah, and this book definitely has that going for it. Definitely check out this book if you are interested in books that combine science with Islamic studies.

My rating: ⭐⭐/5

Find it here: Goodreads | Lotehouse Publishing

Thank you to Lotehouse Publishing for sending me a free review copy of this book along with some coloring sheets and activities.

The Bird King

It’s convenient for girls to be angry about nothing. Girls who are angry about something are dangerous. If you want to live, you must learn to use your anger for your own benefit, not the benefit of those who would turn it against you.

The Bird King, a new fantasy novel from G. Willow Wilson (of Alif the Unseen and Ms. Marvel fame), combines history and the fantastical to produce an exciting and lyrical story set in Andalus in 1491. Our hero is Fatima, the sultan’s concubine, who was born and raised in the palace at Granada, the last remaining emirate. She has never left its walls. Hassan, the mapmaker, is her best friend and has a special ability. He can draw maps of places he’s never been to, and, even more intriguing, he can draw a map that changes the shape of the physical reality around him. When representatives from the Spanish Inquisition come knocking at the door, Fatima has to make a decision about the meaning of love and freedom.

That is when the adventure begins: there are chases and boats and folklore, and our main characters are helped (or not) by a cast of characters: human, jinn, and animal.

I was excited about the premise of this novel, and I really loved parts of it. I loved the way it combined historical fiction with fantastical elements; I loved its feminist message. I loved its exploration of how we make homes for ourselves and what freedom looks like. The early part of the novel, the part that took place at court, was my favorite. My appreciation waned as the novel went on, however, because I found the middle really slow and the ending anticlimactic. Where the story was going wasn’t obvious from the beginning; the book was working up to it. But the reveal came too late, the characters took too long to get to their end point, and the ending was a little muddled for me. I realize that’s very vague, but: spoilers.

I think this is definitely worth a read for readers who like fantasy or are interested in that period of history. If you’ve read or are planning to, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐/5

Find it here: Goodreads | Grove Atlantic | Amazon.com

Thank you to Grove Atlantic and Edelweiss for an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Qur’an and Me

Qur’an and Me: A Journey to Deep Thinking and Reflection is a reflective journal that uses the what? so what? now what? framework to help readers reflect on the Quran and apply its lessons to their past, present, and future. The journal is primarily made up of lined pages that prompt readers to choose ayahs of the Quran, reflect on their meanings, and apply the lessons they learn in their lives.

There is a spread early in the journal showing readers how to fill out their journal.

The journal has a total of approximately 88 spreads. The left side of each spread is lined and includes a space for the date, a space to write the ayah, a space for tafseer and other thoughts, and a space to write a plan for how you can apply the lessons you’ve learned from the ayah. The right side of the spread is unlined and is a space for doodling or writing more notes or reflections—it’s up to you. Each spread also has an ayah and a hadith for inspiration, as well as a quote or a prompt for reflection.

Periodically, there are beautiful, full-color photographs with ayahs and hadiths. There is also a ribbon bookmark, so that you can keep track of your place easily.

This is a great product for someone who wants to start Quran journaling and enjoys pretty, decorative things but doesn’t feel artistic enough to create their own journal. I really like that there are no preprinted dates, so everyone can decide how often they want to use the journal. The book itself is a well-made hardback with gold embossing on the cover, and it would make a lovely gift.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Get it here: Paradise Pearls

We Are Displaced

Many people think refugees should feel only two things: gratitude toward the countries that granted them asylum and relief to be safe. I don’t think most people understand the tangle of emotions that comes with leaving behind everything you know. They are not only fleeing violence—which is why so many are forced to leave, and is what’s shown on the news—but they are escaping their countries, their beloved homes. That seems to get lost in the conversation about refugees and internally displaced people. So much focus is on where they are now—not on what they have lost as a result.

We Are Displaced is the newest nonfiction book written by Malala Yousafzai for young readers.

The first half of the book tells the story of when her own family had to evacuate Swat Valley. They were internally displaced; they stayed with family in Shangla and were able to return home in three months.

The second half of the book tells the stories of ten girls and women from different countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America—how they left their countries, the camps they stayed in, their perilous journeys, and the new places they went. One of the accounts in the section is from the point of view of a white woman—one of the volunteers who welcomes one of the refugees when she and her family arrived in Pennsylvania. I was a little uncomfortable with the inclusion of this account. She seems like a wonderful person, but I’m not sure this was the right place for her story.

I’d like to read this again with my almost nine-year-old. I like that it mentions conflicts all over the world, and I’m hoping it can be a way to start conversations about conflicts that are happening in places that we don’t hear about so often, like Uganda and Colombia.

Let me know if you’ve read this or if you’re interested in picking it up!