Blog Tour: The Blazing Star – Imani Josey REVIEW

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32182684Title: The Blazing Star

Author: Imani Josey

Publication Date: December 6, 2016

Publisher: Wise Ink Creative Publishing

Inclusion of Diversity: Features African-American protagonists

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult

Page Count: 239

e-ARC provided to me via Rich in Variety Blog Tours

“Sixteen-year-old Portia White is used to being overlooked—after all, her twin sister Alex is a literal genius.

But when Portia holds an Egyptian scarab beetle during history class, she takes center stage in a way she never expected: she faints. Upon waking, she is stronger, faster, and braver than before. And when she accidentally touches the scarab again?

She wakes up in ancient Egypt—her sister and an unwitting freshman in tow.

Great.

Mysterious and beautiful, Egypt is more than they could have ever imagined from their days in the classroom. History comes alive as the three teens realize that getting back to the present will be the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. Stalked by vicious monsters called Scorpions, every step in the right direction means a step closer to danger.

As Portia and the girls discover that they’re linked to the past by more than just chance, they have to decide what it truly means to be yourself, to love your sister, and to find your way home.”

I have to say that I absolutely loved this book. While I consider myself the farthest thing from an Egyptologist, I will say that ancient Egypt has always been fascinating to me. There have been a lot of YA historical fiction books that take place in time periods that have been fascinating to me and that I only know through books. A lot of these books are not usually written by people of color, unfortunately, and this makes me a bit frustrated since whitewashing of Egypt has been a thing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I remember my dad telling me that Egyptians are always played by white people which isn’t totally accurate given that it’s in Africa and that idea has followed me my whole life. The release of Nemesis, which takes place in an Egyptian inspired culture but seems to not really feature a ton of POC characters, as well as Colleen Houck’s Reawakened series (whose reviews scream loud and clear that the book is problematic) has left a lot to be desired for me.

The Blazing Star did not disappoint.

I thought that the characters were realistic in their thoughts and motivations within the story, as if I was in the situation that they found themselves in (time traveling to ancient Egypt), I would react in basically the same way. The characters seemed like people I would interact with and people that I probably would meet on the street somewhere or even be related to and known on a personal level. I especially felt connected to Portia, who is presented as an underdog who suddenly finds herself with these abilities she didn’t even know she had. She is terrified of them and doesn’t know how to handle the responsibility she finds herself with but she adjusts well. What I like about the narrative arc in this book is that there doesn’t seem to be an instant acceptance of her chosen one role as if she’d always knew she’d be special. The beginning does paint her in sort of stereotypical, kind of cliché underdog position, but that didn’t really stop me from cheering for her. I felt her disappointment, her confusion, her jealousy all as if they were my own. I felt as though I had been that person before at some point in my life.

The story starts out pretty slow, especially since I kept waiting for the time travel to happen, but that’s also my fault for completely lacking patience. I was very excited by the premise and it did live up to my expectations. The first few chapters serve to set up Portia and Alex’s relationship, as well as establishing their relationship with Selene, a freshman who appears and is sort of the catalyst for setting things in to motion. The fact that she is constantly referred to as “the freshman” will remind you that she is, in fact, a freshman, which kind of irritated me but not enough to ruin the book. Selene essentially becomes another sister to Portia and I really liked the way that that relationship starts to develop. The book is very much about sisterhood, as the synopsis indicates, be it the good parts or the bad. Alex seems to want to control a lot of aspects of the lives of her and her twin sister and it gets to the point where I actively was just hoping Alex went away. Even the way Portia spoke of them “twinning” made it seem like it was miserable for her. It almost seemed as if Alex couldn’t have cared less about what her sister wanted and that really bothered me. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to dislike Alex as much as I did but I found myself enjoying the book a bit more when she wasn’t around. I wanted to see Portia make decisions for herself and Alex never seemed to want to let that happen.

A lot of this book is very much about girl power, which is always a plus in my book, and while I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of Egyptian priestesses who can also slay monsters, if this was true and was left out of my history books, I will be very disappointed. The three high priestesses at the Temple of Isis are complicated, badass women who I loved hearing about with every fiber of my being. They were very important to moving the plot along, explaining where Portia got her powers from and why she was here and they were also complete badasses. I would read a book on just the three of them alone, to be honest, especially Sikara, who is probably my favorite. The three priestesses complemented the three girls very well and helped very much in my immersion into the world of Ancient Egypt.

Speaking of which, Imani Josey does a spectacular job in describing every little thing. I felt as I was reading as if I could see everything that Portia could see. After time traveling, the girls could speak and understand the language, which reminded me of the instant translators in a lot of science fiction novels and some of the words that the Ancient Egyptian characters used seemed more modern than anything else, but I wasn’t sure if that was just the way Portia translated them to herself or if it was something else. Once again, that was just a small issue that I glossed over as I found myself engrossed in the novel and wanting to know what happened.

There is romance in the novel, but it isn’t super prominent, by which I mean it is there but it’s not there to a distracting degree. After losing the guy she has a crush on to her sister (which I’m still upset about) and finding herself in Egypt, she meets a guy and saves his life. There is no insta-love, which is great, because there is so much else going on that that would be kind of irritating. They see each other again, mostly by accident, and you can see that there is something between them but it does seem more gradual than a lot of what I have seen in YA which made me enjoy myself even more.

The main conflict within the novel takes a bit of time to develop even once Portia finds herself in Ancient Egypt and isn’t totally resolved by the end which makes me hope that there is going to be another book. There are twists and turns that I’m sure might seem fairly obvious to some people but work very well in this book and that I still liked even if some of them weren’t as surprising as they were meant to be.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel very much and would definitely recommend it to anyone, but especially if you enjoy historical fiction with a twist, Ancient Egypt, books written by and about people of color and well-written heroines.

Rating: 4.5/5

About the Author

imani josey.jpgImani Josey is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. In her previous life, she was a cheerleader for the Chicago Bulls and won the titles of Miss Chicago and Miss Cook County for the Miss America Organization, as well as Miss Black Illinois USA. Her one-act play, Grace, was produced by Pegasus Players Theatre Chicago after winning the 19th Annual Young Playwrights Festival. In recent years, she has turned her sights to long-form fiction. She now spends the majority of her time working on backstory, teaching dance fitness classes, and cuddling with her American bulldog, Thor.

The Blazing Star is her debut novel.

 

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[Review] The Wrath & The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

thisTitle: The Wrath & The Dawn (The Wrath & The Dawn #1)

Author: Renée Ahdieh

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: May 12, 2015

Format: Hardcover

Source: Purchased from Amazon

Page Count: 388 pgs.

Rating: 4/5

Summary (From Goodreads): In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

The Wrath & The Dawn is one of two novels I’ve seen recently that were inspired by A Thousand and One Nights (AKA Arabian Nights). The story of Shahrzad weaving tales every night to save her life is one that has intrigued me since I first learned about it in my 7th grade social studies class and so I’ve been meaning to read this book since it first came out. I had read a story based on it during our unit on The Middle East (since that was also my English class) but I don’t really remember much about it except that I didn’t like it that much, instead I had wanted to read Cameron Dokey’s The Storyteller’s Daughter. Of course, like most people, I remember the individual fairy tale like stories of Ali Baba and Aladdin as opposed to the frame narrative and so I appreciate The Wrath & The Dawn‘s ability to fill in the gaps.

I’ve had this book for a while (since it was first released) and I had never read it for a number of reasons, most of them being that I had been busy with school. After purchasing the hardcover, however, and signing up for the #ReadThemAllThon, I was determined to finally read this book and I’m so glad that I finally did.

The Wrath & The Dawn takes place in the kingdom (caliphate?) of Khorasan which is ruled over by a seemingly soulless and evil caliph who takes a woman for a wife every night only to have her killed the next day. The reasons behind these senseless murders are unknown to those who live under the caliph’s rule but they are angry at the thought of having to give up their daughters. Shahrzad, who has lost her best friend to this cycle of marriage and murder, has volunteered to be the caliph’s next wife in order to enact a plan of vengeance and to end these killers. Her plan is to tell stories to bide herself more time while she waits for the perfect opportunity to kill the man who took the life of her best friend.

First of all, Renée Ahdieh is a master at vivid descriptions, which is something that I adore when it comes to books. I know that some people can feel overwhelmed by lengthy descriptions and feel that it doesn’t add much to the story but The Wrath & The Dawn works hard to describe things in vivid detail without overwhelming the reader, striking a balance between what is necessary and what is too much and the story is all the better for it. I especially love her descriptions of food, which several people told me were going to be absolutely perfect before I’d even started the book. They were definitely worth reading and definitely made my mouth water. I also adored her descriptions of clothing, even if I didn’t really know what everything was (the glossary in the back was super helpful) and of Shahrzad’s make-up and jewelry. I felt as though nearly everything in the book came to life in front of me and now wish that Renée Ahdieh was there to describe everything for me all the time.

Shahrzad, as a main character, embodies so many of the things that young adult heroines traditionally are. She is independent, brave, defiant, etc. This is both good and bad to me as I liked her but there didn’t really seem to be much that set her apart from other YA heroines. I also felt like there were times where she was judgmental to the point that she made me uncomfortable because it didn’t make sense to me. She was rash to the point where she tried too hard to enact her plans and they didn’t work out because they weren’t exactly well thought out. She was definitely more developed than other female characters but that’s because there weren’t many aside from Despina, who she alternated from hating to using to taking advantage of to being sort of friends with. I understand that she had to keep her guard up but I was a bit disappointed at Shahrzad and her character development.

The male characters weren’t very much better. The only one that I really liked was Khalid, to be honest. This comes from the fact that a lot of the men in the story seemed to assume that they know what was best for Shahrzad without any input from her. Tariq is, honestly, one of the biggest culprits of this. Tariq, Shahrzad’s first love, and easily the most annoying character in the entirety of the novel. At the beginning, I assumed that his intentions were from the right place, but honestly, he gets more frustrating in his attempts to save a woman who increasingly doesn’t want to be saved. He’s selfish and he seems to only see Shahrzad as a prize, something that she doesn’t want to be. Alternating chapters often featured the story from Tariq’s point of view and I had to put the book down and ready myself to read his chapters because I knew I was going to get annoyed. His character really seemed unnecessary, especially since even the dust jacket tells you that Shazi falls for Khalid.

I know that YA loves a good love triangle but this one wasn’t good or even sort of interesting. Tariq increased drama in the story but at the cost of my enjoyment of it. That and the fact that there wasn’t more Despina in this novel were my only real problems with it. I also found the ending unsatisfying, but maybe that’s because I just haven’t read the second book yet. Also, the relationship between Shazi and Khalid seems sort of rushed and that wasn’t really my favorite. There was also a relationship between two of the side characters that I wish had been explored more and there are plot developments left open and unresolved that were confusing and made the story feel unfinished and like it dragged on at points.

Overall, the book was enjoyable except for the parts with Tariq and I can’t wait to read the second book.