Book Review: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

34017058Title: THE BLOODPRINT
Author: Ausma Zehanat Khan
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 425
Publisher: Harper Voyager
My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆(1.5/5)
Review on Goodreads

Ugh. That was painful. Actually, physically painful, and I am so disappointed. This book was one of my most anticipated releases of the entire year. I actually pre-ordered this book! I purchased it! Paid money for it because I was sure I would want to have it on my shelf forever to read and reread! Instead, from the very first chapter I found myself struggling to get through it. This is a novel with great potential that was executed terribly. Let’s go through the problems one by one:

→ It is undeniable that Khan has created an intriguing world, though much of it is based on ours. The parallels between the antagonists, The Talisman, and Daesh/ISIS, are painfully obvious and heavy-handed. The Claim, ancient religious words inscribed with power, is clearly meant to be the Quran. Now, there is nothing wrong with any of this – in any other book I might have relished it – but here everything is so confusing and mashed up together that I had a difficult time following along. The main character, Arian, is a First Oralist trained in the power of The Claim – and yet it is never exactly clear what precisely the Claim is or how its magic works or how Arian uses it against her enemies. Given that Arian’s powers make up the crux of the plot, leaving it unexplained greatly hindered my understanding of the overall plot. This is not the only bit of worldbuilding that was left unexplained, or touched on only vaguely. Khan throws a lot into this book and very little of it makes sense until the very end.

→ Despite the aforementioned, this book also somehow constantly delivers plodding exposition to explain worldbuilding rather than revealing it organically. The narrative comes to a shuddering halt to explain something (and not very well, either). It’s very jarring and is the mark of an inexperienced writer. There is just so, so much telling rather than showing, and it’s not even a little bit subtle.

→ I suspect it is the lack of skill in writing that makes the whole book so very, very bland. From the first chapter, which should have been a harrowing, nail-biting scene as our protagonists endeavor to save a group of women from slavery, is dull. From the get-go I just Did Not Care. And I tried, oh did I try. I wanted to care, I wanted to like this book. But there were no characters I cared about (Arian, the lead, is painfully, painfully bland) and the stakes were established properly to get me to give a damn about anything that was happening. The writing isn’t technically bad, but there’s just no spark to it. This book is lifeless.

→ The author uses omniscient narration, but she does it very, very badly. First of all, it took me a while to figure out it was omniscient narration, because the book at first gives the impression that it’s in third person limited, with most of the POV given to the protagonist, Arian. But there are throwaway chunks and sentences that are in other characters’ perspectives, even very minor characters, that just shove their way into Arian’s thoughts. And then the narrative will flit back to Arian’s POV. It’s clumsy, messy, and confusing.

→ The overall plot was terrible. First off, I’m beginning to think that ~journey~ stories take a supremely talented author to pull off, and the ~journey~ in this book was very badly paced. It’s taken me over a month to finish this book because it was just so damn boring. I literally had to force myself to finish it. And not only was the overall plot uninteresting, but even the few scenes that should have been exciting felt empty because they were written so badly! Big, action moments that should have been exciting were barely given a sentence (sometimes I barely even noticed that something huge had happened). What should have been big reveals were not revealed properly, and so they didn’t deliver any punches.

→ This is clearly being marketed as a ~feminist~ story, but unfortunately even that falls flat. Our two heroines spend the whole book ogling handsome men and having their fates controlled by them. Daniyar is introduced as Arian’s love interest and an extremely handsome man, and the author won’t let you forget it. His beauty is constantly referenced, Arian’s companion Sinnia is constantly talking about how desirable he is, and Arian herself is in love with him for reasons that baffle me, since he’s very much an asshole. This obsession with handsome men and the women in love with them doesn’t just feature with our protagonists, but with various minor characters as well, making the book not only borderline misogynistic but also shockingly heteronormative (there are NO queer characters here).

→ Arian’s companion, Sinnia, is black. The author doesn’t let you forget this either. References are constantly being made about the strangeness of her dark skin, how ~exotic~ she is, how pale Arian is in comparison, how jealous Sinnia is of Arian, etc, etc. And she is the only black character. It was extremely fetishistic and made me very uncomfortable, especially given that Sinnia’s entire existence seemed to be rooted in being Arian’s loyal companion. We are given little to nothing of her backstory, her wants or desires, despite the omniscient narration.

→ I want to touch again on how utterly boring and lifeless this book was. The author just couldn’t make me care about anything in this book. The plot was a fairly straightforward journey, with little to no intrigue or suspense. For me, this book only got mildly interesting in the very last ten pages, when there were two big reveals and twists, one of which I’d been expecting since the last third of the book. And then the book ended on a cliffhanger that I don’t particularly care about because I don’t care about anything in this book.

I don’t have much else to say. I really disliked this book, I nearly DNF’ed it multiple times, I had to drag myself back into reading it, and I’m just so relieved to be done with it.  What a damn shame.


Stage Corner: School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play


Lightly inspired by the cult classic Mean Girls, but with much more depth, School Girls elucidates the tribulations five Ghanian school girls.  Set in an exclusive Ghanian boarding school in 1986, School Girls opens with its characters sauntering on stage runway style to obnoxious pop music.  Quickly enough, it is established that Paulina is Queen Bee, ruling the school and her friends with a toxic mixture of cruelty and camaraderie.  Everyone expects Paulina to be chosen as that year’s Miss Ghana – that is, until new student Ericka arrives.  American-born, biracial, and light-skinned, the spotlight immediately swivels off Paulina and onto her.

There are five school girls. Nabiyah Be portrays Ericka with a charm that quickly turns to barely-concealed fury at the play’s climax, a performance that seemed a little too big for the play but held the audience in absolute rapture with its utter intensity.  Mirirai Sithole and Paige Gilbert as Mercy and Gifty, witty and affable, bring an innocent light-heartedness. Abena Mensah-Bonsu plays Nana, an overweight girl, with a quiet strength and determination.  Nike Kadri plays intelligent Ama with a natural ease.  Last but certainly not least, Maame Yaa Baofo’s performance as Paulina brings forth depth and complexity to what might have otherwise been an irredeemable character.  While Paulina often seems to cross the line into utter, cartoonish villainy, Baofo lends her a simmering self-loathing that makes it difficult not to sympathize with her.  Not to be forgotten are Zainab Jah and Myra Lucretia Taylor as Eloise and Headmistress Francis, both of whom bring their own mean girl days into the fray.  In other words: a stellar cast.

Written by Jocelyn Bioh (an actress herself), School Girls is inspired by a real-life Miss Ghana: Erica Nego, an American-Ghanian biracial woman who embodies the “universal and commercial” look (read: light-skinned and vaguely European looking) that the Miss Universe pageant inevitably succumbs to.  It is with this context in mind that the play interrogates the toxicity of colorism.

Colorism, as defined by Alice Walker, is “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”  Rooted in anti-blackness, colorism is deeply entrenched in almost all communities of color.  In Egypt, where colorism, anti-blackness, and internalized racism run rampant, bleaching creams like Fair & Lovely littered the shelves of pharmacies and grocery stores. My darker-skinned cousins used it all the time, and even I, already pale-skinned for an Egyptian woman, was encouraged to stay out of the sun and use the bleaching cream whenever I developed a tan.

Fair & Lovely seems mild and innocent, however, compared to the more powerful bleaching creams used in School Girls, which have landed dark-skinned Paulina in the hospital multiple times, for burnt and bloodied skin.  Though the incidents are not directly discussed in the play, their obvious insidiousness nevertheless drew gasps from the audience.  The yearning for whiteness is clearly established in a scene where the girls cluster around Ericka and marvel at her light skin, asking her what bleaching cream she uses, and are stunned when she reveals that is her natural skin tone.  Ericka’s ethnically ambiguous looks attract Eloise, Miss Ghana 1966 and current pageant recruiter, and she sets her sights on Ericka as someone who would appeal to the Miss Universe judges more than Paulina, whose features embody West Africa.  Eloise, very dark-skinned herself, has nevertheless learned to play the game of white supremacy to her advantage.

School Girls treads a thin line between humor and horror, with laughs quickly turning to gasps and stunned silence.  Emotional beats are passionate and hard-hitting, while humorous moments are quick and sharp-witted and occasionally bombastic in fantastic way.  In one powerhouse scene, the five girls perform a rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” while auditioning for Eloise.  Without giving anything away, I will say that the scene is big and loud and staged in such a way that sets up a fantastic payoff that had the audience applauding wildly.

School Girls packs a big punch in a short 75 minutes that goes by in what feels like minutes.  With humor and heart, it tackles poignant issues of class, colorism, and intracommunity privileges under the cover of pink lights and mean girl nonsense.  School Girls is a breath of fresh air and an absolute delight.

Book Review: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

26061581Title: THE DARK DAYS PACT
Author: Alison Goodman
Release Date: 20167
Pages: 490
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
My Rating: ★★★★★(5/5)
Review on Goodreads

Once again, this series astounds me with the immense amount of historical detail present! As a history nerd, and a huge fan of 19th century England (well, and the 19th century in general), I was delighted to learn about things like bathing machines and French spies.

This book picks up right where we left off, with Helen in Brighton with Carlston and the gang, training to be a Reclaimer. Their holiday is not as idyllic as it should be, however, with Carlston slowly descending into madness and an old nemesis with the power of the Home Office comes with a confidential mission for Helen and Mr. Hammond.

While the first book was somewhat languidly paced to allow for worldbuilding, this simply powers through with a fast-paced, thrilling plot with high tension and very high stakes. This plot doesn’t neglect character development, however; Helen grows in strength and confidence in this book, and other characters, such as Margaret and Mr. Hammond, are further fleshed out as well. Even Carlston does well, though I still don’t like him as much as I think the author wants me to. Alas.

This series has single-handedly reignited my interest in historical fiction, which is a pretty impressive testament to how awesome it is.

Top 5 Wednesday: Bookish Things I’m a Grinch About


Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

December 6th – Bookish Things You’re a Grinch About: Since being a grinch is a funny thing, try not to make this serious topics that make you angry (like lack of diversity or abusive relationships in fiction, etc) as this is supposed to be more of a petty bookish things you hate. This can be stuff about covers, dumb tropes, etc. Have fun with it.

All right, a chance to rant! Reading everyone else’s posts has been super fun, by the way. Here we go!

1. Characters calling each other by name way too frequently. This is a super small thing but it irritates me SO MUCH. If two people are having a conversation in real life they are not going to be using each others’ name every other sentence because it’s very clear who they are talking to!  Authors do this so much and it always jolts me out of the narrative because it makes the dialogue feel so…stiff and unnatural and performative.  Imagine a lengthy conversation in a book and literally in every sentence the characters use each others’ names…it ‘s hell.  Utter hell.

2. The Exceptional Woman, aka “I’m Not Like Other Girls.” This is a super irritating trope not only because it pits women against each other, but because it inevitably leads to the dreaded Mean Girl trope as well.  So you’ll have your protagonist, who is special and perfect, and then all other girls are either silly and frivolous or complete jerks for no reason whatsoever. Thankfully it looks like we’re starting to see less of this and more of female friendships, but it is still shockingly prevalent in fiction, YA in particular, which is just so horribly insidious to pit teen girls against one another like that.

3. Everyone is Beautiful and You Need to Be Reminded Constantly. Character descriptions can be so damn irritating in YA fiction.  I really hate it when the protagonist is thought of as ~gorgeous~ by everyone except herself.  I hate it even more when the male love interest is super chiseled and perfect and the author is constantly describing his shiny abs and sharp jaw or whatever and our heroine is always going weak in the knees at the sight of him. It’s so boring and so heteronormative and wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if they looked like ordinary people? Or if they looked interesting/striking but not necessarily beautiful? Or if they were beautiful in ways that don’t adhere to traditional Western beauty standards? Or if they were beautiful but weren’t attracted to each other? Or at the very least, can authors stop harping on about how gorgeous their characters are?

4. Instalove/Soulmates. I really, really hate this. I mean, to be fair, I’m not a huge fan of romance in general, but that’s because most romance is done so badly! I actually really love well-done romances (Kell and Lila in Shades of Magic; Wanu and Hanani in the Dreamblood duology; Nahri and Dara in The City of Brass; Kaz and Inej in Six of Crows).  I like slow-burn relationships, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, relationships that develop over time, realistic relationships, relationships with depth and hard work and payoff. I even don’t mind love triangles if they’re done well! But instalove is boring and doesn’t give the reader anything to wonder about or root for.

5. Tropes Played Straight. Let me explain this one, because it’s kind of vague, but I’ve encountered it a lot, particularly in YA. This is when an author introduces a very common trope and sets the story up in such a way to make it seem like the trope will be subverted…only the trope is played completely straight.  The most prominent examples are Red Queen and the Mara Dyer trilogy.  In Red Queen, I really thought the author was playing on our expectations and giving us an unexpected love interest…only she played the trope completely straight and gave us  the boring predictable love interest. In Mara Dyer the book set itself up as a psychological thriller but then went the standard supernatural romance/soulmate route.  There is so much to play around with in literature if authors took these tropes and flipped them on their heads; it’s a great way to shock readers’ expectations. One of the reasons I really love GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire is that so many cliched fantasy tropes are overturned and subverted.

This was surprisingly cathartic, haha!

Short Story Friday


In an effort to improve my writing I try to read as many short stories as I can. I’m…rather picky when it comes to short stories, much pickier than when it comes to novels (which is rather contrary, but what can I say), so it’s not often that I find a short story that truly speaks to me. I’ve realized that I would like to keep track of those stories that touch me or teach me something, and so that birthed a new idea: Short Story Friday.

On certain Fridays, I will share with you three short stories I have read that engaged me in some way. This will also be a great way for me to encourage myself to read more short stories! I definitely don’t read enough of them.

This Friday it’s gonna be four short stories, because I went on a bit of  a J.Y. Yang binge! I have never read their work before but I really like their style and creative ideas! So here we go:

SeptOct16_Issue12LARGE-340x510Not a Miracle But A Marvel by Tim Pratt (Uncanny, September/October 2016): This is a really weird and super fun portal fantasy! I so rarely see portal fantasies in short fiction but I always enjoy them.  This one is happy, wholesome, and hilarious with a light touch of creepy, featuring two poly couples who wander into a fairy ring.  It’s got memorable characters and it’s just so much damn fun.

th_a0580aaeccec739569f2502c0aa86498_lightspeed_68_january_2016Secondhand Bodies by J.Y. Yang (Lightspeed, January 2016): I can’t remember the last time I loved a short story this much.  In near-future Singapore, it is possible to surgically switch bodies. The protagonist, Agatha, decides to exchange her body with another woman’s so she can be beautiful. She ends up falling for this woman instead, but this is no love story – Agatha is a detestable, selfish person.  This story examines fat-shaming, racism, and classism in Singapore through the lens of a deeply unlikable protagonist.

th_a0580aaeccec739569f2502c0aa86498_lightspeed_73_june_2016Four and Twenty Blackbirds by J.Y. Yang (Lightspeed, June 2016): This story is a little less clear cut than the aforementioned two.  It seems to be set in the near-future, in a world that is struggling with an alien virus that targets pregnant women, turning their babies into corvids.  I think.  The protagonist is pregnant with a healthy baby, but she doesn’t seem particularly happy about it, or the state of the world.  I enjoyed this idea! Pregnancy already freaks me out, so adding anything weird to it makes for delectably creepy reads.

27246515Temporary Saints by J.Y. Yang (Fireside Fiction, October 2015): This is short short fiction, so unfortunately there wasn’t too much to read into here, and what a shame! I really love the idea featured in this story, of people, particularly children, turning into saints. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill sainthood, though – the saints in this story gain powers but become horribly deformed, growing wings or scales and then dying.  It’s a really great idea and I’d love to see it expanded.

Wrap-Up: November

  • Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (★★★★☆)
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte  (★★★☆☆)
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman (★★★★☆)
  • The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (★★★★★)


A fairly average reading month – more on the slow side, actually.  Wuthering Heights was definitely a slog and took me a while to get through.  I also had a week off work, which you would think would translate to more reading, but I get like 90% of my reading done on my commute, so I ended up reading little to nothing during my week of.  For some reason I tend to have a very difficult time concentrating on reading when I’m home? I have to wonder what will happen when I stop using public transport every day…. I did read Bird Box fairly quickly though, which is why I really thought I had read more this month. Oh well.

Oh, and I actually struggled through another book this month, which I still haven’t finished: The Bloodprint.  What was one of my most anticipated releases of the whole year has turned out to be the biggest let-down. I’m nearly halfway through the book and struggling mightily. I try very hard not to DNF book but this one is seriously testing me. I really want to try to to finish it by this weekend.  Hopefully I can sit myself down and force myself to get through it, but if not it might last until the end of the year. We’ll see.

The good news is I discovered  The Dark Days Club and am actually reading its sequel now! I have a feeling I’ll finish that fairly quickly since I can’t stop reading it. I’m so pleased I discovered this delightful series! And despite not loving Wuthering Heights I’m feeling a great sense of accomplishment at having read one of the most well-known classics of English literature!

Other than those two books I’m not reading anything else – I haven’t touched my non-fiction book (Before They Were Belly Dancers: European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760–1870), simply because I only read it at work and there hasn’t been any time! But I’m not too upset about that, because the book is turning out to be the sort of book you use as a reference and flip through, sort of like a coffee table book, more than a straight-shot read. I might relegate it to my ~hiatus~ books. I’m thinking I might want to purchase it to have it for reference (and it has so many useful historical illustrations/photos).

I’m trying not to be too rigid in planning out my TBR these days…I have vague thoughts of reading The Hate U Give or The Library at Mount Char and will likely do a buddy read of Northanger Abbey with Rachel, but otherwise who knows!

Book Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

15993203Title: THE DARK DAYS CLUB
Author: Alison Goodman
Release Date: 2016
Pages: 482
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
My Rating: ★★★★★(5/5)
Review on Goodreads

I. Love. This. Book. You know when you’ve come to enjoy a book so much you don’t want it to end? I was torn between finishing this book quickly to find out what happens, and reading it slowly to savor every scene. I was hooked from the very first chapter, where the setting is quickly and fastidiously established as Regency England. A fascinating time period, and the skill of Alison Goodman’s research shines from every page! I truly felt like I was in Regency London; Goodman pays close attention to fashion, smells, common foods, popular dances, weather, locations, and so on. It all lends the book an extreme authenticity that makes it an absolute pleasure to read. I feel like I’ve just received an intriguing history lesson on Regency London! When I say this I don’t at all mean to indicate that this felt dry or textbook-like! On the contrary! But as a history nerd I do enjoy all the little details that popped up.

In The Dark Days Club, Lady Helen Wrexhall discovers that there is more darkness in the world than she first thought, and that she is inextricably bound to it. As she is introduced to this underbelly she discovers her new powers and abilities, all under the guidance of the mysterious and detested Earl of Carlston, a man who shares Helen’s powers but is also suspected of killing his wife. He and Helen share a budding but unresolved romance – in true Regency fashion, it is quite a slow burn and for the most part remains within the bounds of propriety. I think he’s a little bit of an asshole, but for me that’s what makes him interesting, that he’s so imperfect – he’s a good person, but he doesn’t have great bedside manner, so to speak.

Helen is a much more pleasant character – bright, curious, kind, but also not the stereotype I expected. She is more realistic than that: not quite rebellious, not quite so eager to shirk the boundaries of normal life and society, merely tiptoe around them. She’s a modern day women magically inserted into a Regency-era world to be the ~Exceptional Woman~. Rather, she is a realistic Regency-era woman who is heavily shaped by the customs of her time and place. She also shares a camaraderie with her maid (who becomes her partner in crime in a way), which was so refreshing to see! Female friendship is always appreciated.

The mythology here is fantastic! Not supremely original, but executed brilliantly, in a way that makes sense but doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too many details. Goodman created such an interesting world here, one with suitably high stakes that kept the tension high throughout the novel. By the 80% mark I was walking around my house doing things with my Kindle in my face because I simply could not put the book down! I absolutely love books that turn into compelling page-turners, and I love books that feel like home, which this book did. I’m a sucker for period drama set in England, and this book hit on everything I ever wanted: high-society drama, historical accuracy, the supernatural, loads of gory murder, sardonic dialogue, and nail-biting mystery!

I’m going to stop babbling because this review is long and effusive enough, but hopefully it has managed to convey the depth of my enjoyment of this book!