Secrets Burned to the Ground: a Review of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
Publication date: September 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 336

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Blurb:

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

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“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” 

When I finished this book last night, I was speechless. I’ve heard so many rave reviews about this book from so many influential people in the book blogosphere (notably Reese Witherspoon’s RW Book Club!) So you can imagine how excited I was to receive a copy to review.

Little Fires Everywhere is such an apt novel that centers around complex family dynamics, small town politics and complicated mother-daughter relationships. It also deals with the question of what it means to really love through sacrifice, sheer will and fierce determination to do the right thing.

Little Fires Everywhere is my first Celeste Ng novel. I’ve always wanted to read Everything I Never Told You but never got around to it. Now I’m mentally kicking myself in the back for missing out on it because Ng’s writing is so amazingly well done. It’s the sort of writing that tethers you for hours before plunging you into an abyss that you willingly dive into. It’s so subtle in building that world and characters inside your head that by the end of the book, you’ll be left wanting more of it.

I don’t want to give too much away of the story line because I think Little Fires Everywhere is best read without knowing too much about it. We see friendships develop between the teenage kids of the Richardsons and Warrens and with an external POV, we really get to know each character more closely. I love the brilliant play of secrets from the past which impacts the present families and newfound secrets.

The characters are uniquely written in Little Fires Everywhere where each one struggles with being brought up a certain way and finding the right passage to be their selves unapologetically. We have Mia Warren is a single mom whose life passion as a photographer has taken her and Pearl, her daughter, across the states. And then her complete opposite is Elena Richardson, with her perfect 4 children settled in Shaker Heights, always following the rules and living an ideal suburban life. 2 very different mothers with different ways of raising their children but in the end, the book questions a lot what it takes to become the right mother for your children. And whether you get a second chance at being a great mother.

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” 

Little Fires Everywhere has the power to pull and tug you in so many different directions. You can’t help but to feel strongly for Mia as her story unfolds in the book, but you also appreciate Elena and how strongly she feels about doing the “right” thing for her household. The title of the book is so well-suited because in each character you meet in Little Fires Everywhere, there is a fire within them that you can unmistakably identify with. Every character is so profound and impactful towards the book’s unbelievably strong presence.

“Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”

Overall, Little Fires Everywhere is one of my favourite reads of 2017. Its rich content in family dynamics, complex characters and fierce motherly love is portrayed so well in this book. It’s rare to find a book that made me wish there was more to that ending. A highly recommended read from me!

Have you read this and what did you think about it?

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Finding Truth Without Words: a Review of Shtum by Jem Lester

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Orion
Publication date: January 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 313

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Blurb:
Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.

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Shtum is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: A Book With a One Word Title

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It says that this book is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Shock of The Fall. Given that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both books, I couldn’t miss out on another amazing autism-centered book.

And Shtum did not disappoint.

Shtum, which means “voiceless” in Yiddish, is the story of a father, Ben, who has an autistic son who cannot talk, Jonah.  Ben struggles to great lengths to enroll his son in one of the best autism-centered schools. In retrospect, this book is about Ben’s fight to get the best care for his autistic son, and his personal struggles with his estranged father and wife, and alcoholism in between. Shtum explored family dynamics so well and so emotionally truthful, that you can’t help but to feel pain alongside Ben.

A fair warning to those thinking of picking Shtum up: be prepared for the emotional turbulence you’ll encounter in this book. Because it will break your heart.

Just like the two aforementioned books on autism, Shtum is a perfect book that provides an almost comprehensive view into how difficult and wonderful it is to raise a child at the extreme end of the Autistic Specturm Disorder (ASD). Given how the son of the author has ASD and was enrolled in a special school, no doubt this book is the real deal.

When Ben and his wife fake a separation in order to help their case, we see the ugly truth behind how handling a special-needs child can take a toll of marriage and life. But Shtum isn’t just wonderful because of its great capability to portray autism life and those who care for them. Shtum is heartrendingly beautiful because it portrays the human condition of love, struggles, and self acceptance so well, you can’t help but to feel pained at the accuracy. The ups and downs in this book felt like a never-ending roller coaster ride. And don’t get me started on the dry British humour incorporated in this book. All those components contributed to how real Ben and Jonah’s living conditions were. It’s an eye opener to the struggles of living with autism, both from the point of view of the autistic and the carer.

And that is what makes this book such a ‘Jem’. Get it?

Punny jokes aside, I have to admit, I was expecting Jonah to make a grand entrance by being able to talk and teaching his parents what he wants in his life. But we don’t get that, at all. So clear any expectations you might have of Jonah speaking up verbally. Because he might not say any words at all in the book, but he is still capable of giving life lessons on identifying truths and believing in what we do that’s right for our loved ones. Despite his silence, Jonah remains the main characters of this book through the narrative provided by his father and grandfather and this is what makes him and the book so special.

Hands down, I am a huge fan of Shtum because I love books about family and marriages. Put in the struggles of having both and I’m sold. Shtum is a book for people looking to find the meaning of life in the simple routines of having a family and raising a child.

Because this isn’t an inspirational book about traveling to discover yourself. This is a book about being the best parent you can be for your child and making the best of your circumstances.

“It’s not words. It’s not words.

It’s actions.

But you don’t see with your eyes, like every other fool you see with your ears. You heard love from Emma, you heard devotion from Emma, you heard yourself tell yourself that you love Emma,

but what did you see?

What did you do?”

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Review: Truly Madly Guilty (Liane Moriarty)

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Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 460

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Blurb:
Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

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I was pretty excited when Truly Madly Guilty was published mid of last year. I’ve heard so many great things about Liane Moriarty. And when I read Big Little Lies, my review here, I got hooked on her writing! By the way, I’ve yet to watch the HBO series of Big Little Lies but I know it’s awesome so I can’t wait to watch it soon!

Liane Moriarty is one hell of a talented writer. She writes speculative fiction so well that I breezed through Big Little Lies because it was that good. So when I received Truly Madly Guilty for review, I couldn’t help but to be excited!

Unfortunately Truly Madly Guilty didn’t really meet my expectations and I was left a bit deflated when I finished the last page. But while it wasn’t as good as Big Little Lies, I still enjoyed Truly Madly Guilty and there were some elements of the book in which I enjoyed.

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The plot to this one wasn’t as dramatic or exciting as I was hoping. The plot jumps back and forth between present and the past. All of the scenes were told in various points of view (PoV) from the 6 adults and one of the three children involved at the barbecue. The story starts in the present where it’s 2 months post-barbecue and things have apparently gone bad. 70% of the book consists of writing leading up to the tragedy that occurred during the barbecue. As you’re reading it, you’re prompted by the sequence of events to try to guess what really went wrong.  And to be honest, I did figure out the tragedy, but boy I didn’t see the plot twist coming. So that kind of saved the entire book for me. Otherwise, it would have been a total bore for being so predictable.

You get a good mix of suburban drama and friendship problems between the 6 adults in consequence of the barbecue tragedy. Moriarty writes so well in a way that grips you into the story, and while I didn’t find this one as exciting as Big Little Lies, I was still breezing through the pages figuring out the ending. And lets face it, we all love privileged self-entitled white people getting into scandals creating a terrible mess of their lives. And Moriarty delivers a good amount of that in Truly Madly Guilty.

“There is no special protection when you cross that invisible line from your ordinary life to that parallel world where tragedies happen. It happens just like this. You don’t become someone else. You’re still exactly the same. Everything around you still smells and looks and feels exactly the same.” 

I especially liked the problems these adults faced. The 6 adults consists of 3 married couples, and each couple faces their own set of struggles and problems. Underneath the perfect image they built around their lives, we see trouble lurks and they’re one step away from losing control. Whilst it may not be the high-drama you expect, the problems faced by each of these couples are realistic and representative of the challenges marriages in general face. We see how parenthood isn’t as easy as one might think, and we also see the problematic friendship between Erika and Clementine that was cemented since an early age. Erika is also the child of a hoarder, and it was especially fascinating to see how that impacted her life choices and mental well-being.

Reading how the adults struggle to keep afloat and figure out the next step was interesting. Because it made me realise that even adults don’t have everything together. Even they screw up sometimes.

And I found this reassuring.

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I am in love with Erika and her husband Oliver! The two outcasts, geeks and introverts in this story with their love of spreadsheets. Gosh I just want to wrap them in warm, fuzzy blankets and keep them safe!

The two geeks who felt left out at a small barbecue party.

Man, can I relate to characters like these.

“Nobody felt embarrassed in front of nice geeky people. That’s why they were relaxing to be around.” 

My whole life was spent wondering what to say during social events and then being embarrassed for saying the something else. So Erika and Oliver have a special place in my heart. Reading about their relationship and the troubles they faced made me appreciate their characters even more.

On top of that, Erika and Clementine’s friendship are a huge element of Truly Madly Guilty where it questions how far a friendship goes before one begins to questions its intentions. Pushed to become best friends by Clementine’s mother from an early age, resentment and jealousy are much too familiar emotions wedged deep into the friendship.  Eventually we see how this problematic relationship contributed to the tragedy of the barbecue.

But because of the tragedy at the barbecue, we begin to see a character growth in Erika. From a timid girl keen on relying on her best friend without question, we slowly see how Erika deals with the tragedy in her own unique way. Seeing Erika accept herself as an entity without Clementine was such a wonderful thing to witness.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel any deep connection with the other characters asides from Erika and Oliver. Because the chapters change so quickly over so many PoVs, there was a lack of understanding for the characters and their positions. I truly have no interest for the remaining 4 adults. They seemed aloof and without much depth into their characters.

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Overall, it’s a pleasant read but nothing special that I could hold on to. I’ve another title by Moriarty in my unread pile, so I hope that will be more enjoyable than this.

Let me know if you’ve read this before!

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: The Forty Rules of Love (Elif Shafak)

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: April 2nd, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 358

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Blurb:

Discover the forty rules of love…

Ella Rubinstein has a husband, three teenage children, and a pleasant home. Everything that should make her confident and fulfilled. Yet there is an emptiness at the heart of Ella’s life – an emptiness once filled by love.

So when Ella reads a manuscript about the thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, and his forty rules of life and love, her world is turned upside down. She embarks on a journey to meet the mysterious author of this work.

It is a quest infused with Sufi mysticism and verse, taking Ella and us into an exotic world where faith and love are heartbreakingly explored.

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Talk about a book that changes your perspective on everything.

The Forty Rules of Love has been on my wishlist for so long ever since a blogger friend recommended it to me when I wanted to learn more about Rumi. I thought she was going to recommend a poetry book by Rumi but she said I’d appreciate Rumi better after reading this book.

And she was right.

Rarely do books touch me in the way The Forty Rules of Love did. This book focuses on not only on the budding love between Ella and Aziz, but more importantly on the spiritual friendship between Rumi and Shams. This book is a cross between general fiction and historical fiction since the events that occurred between Rumi and Shams in the book are based on true events.

Sufism is huge theme in this book, and this was what made it special. Reading The Forty Rules of Love during Ramadan was the cherry on top. Sufism is a teaching derived from the main teachings of Islam where it focuses on spiritual oneness with God and His creations.

“Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.” 

We see the budding love between Ella and Aziz after Ella reads Aziz’s manuscript of the famous friendship in 13th Century Konya, Turkey. While Ella goes through a very difficult and unhappy marriage, the forty rules written in Aziz’s book are what changes her life leading her to start all over again. The story runs paraller with the spiritual friendship between Rumi and Shams that brought about a new perspective towards Sufism and how love is encompassed in Islam. How Islam is both religious and spiritual and having the right balance in these two can bring the ultimate happiness and tranquility into our lives. I became more aware of our capacity for love amidst terrible political and social situations that we face now. Sufism was described in high detail and it was really easy to relate since Malaysia does incorporate Sufism into its Islamic teachings. So not only did I learn more about Rumi and the Persian culture, learning more about my own religion in a way I could implement to my life made reading this even more precious.

“Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighborhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful!”

Shams was this wonderful character that brought about many priceless messages about love, being grateful and optimistic in life. I love his interactions with the commoners of the town in Konya: the harlot, drunk and begger. He made them feel special again and inspired them to be kind despite what life has thrown into their faces. Because giving up and blaming God seems like the easiest thing to do, but still believing in His grace and love is what brings us out of despair.

His “lessons” with Rumi throughout the book was a life-changing experience. To see him detach Rumi from his social status and wealth to see everyone the same in the eyes of God. To make Rumi understand that being kind and loving everyone the same with no judgement is the biggest struggle as a human being. And using religion as an excuse to divide society brings out terrible consequences.

I remember Shams describing himself as a more spiritual man than a religious one, and I felt the ring of truth within these words. Personally as a Muslim, I struggle to be religious in a way that other people so effortlessly do. But I’ve always been a spiritual person and it was nice to know someone else feels this way too.

Each of the forty rules described in this book was so beautifully written and described by Shams that even if you’re a non-Muslim, you’ll feel the truth behind the words. And the most wonderful thing about these rules? They promote love and understanding, and anyone will be able to relate to these rules…

“Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be so shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.”

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Overall this book was a great reminder of what it means to be a human being connecting with others through kindness, gratitude, understanding and most importantly: love. This book changed my views (for the better) on Islam and how there are so many things left to discover of the beautiful religion. You get so many negative press about Muslims that reading something as beautiful as The Forty Rules of Love is a much-needed change.

Have you read this book? What did you think about it?

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Review: The Other Half of Happiness (Ayisha Malik)

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Zaffre
Series: Sofia Khan #2
Publication date: April 6th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 448

Sofia Khan #1 Review:
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged

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Blurb:

Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way . . .

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can’t hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

A book to make you smile, laugh and cry, this is the story of a mixed-race marriage and a mixed-up family, for anyone who’s ever struggled to balance their pride with their principles, or stuck around to try to mend a broken heart.

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Spoilers included in this review if you haven’t read the first book in this series and some mild ones from the sequel.

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Before I start this review, ISN’T THAT THE MOST GORGEOUS COVER YOU HAVE EVER SEEN??!

The Other Half of Happiness picks up where we last saw Sofia in Sofia Khan is Not Obliged: on a plane to Karachi, Pakistan with Conall, her ex-tattooed-neighbour-turned-Muslim-convert. They’re married! I was so happy for them and looked forward to how the interracial marriage is going to have an impact on Sofia’s family, namely her mother and relative’s reactions.

This book was such a roller coaster ride. There were so many things going on, from Sofia’s abrupt marriage to Conall, to moving back to London to pursue her ambition of writing a more serious Muslim-centered relationship book, to witnessing her marriage go through some pretty shitty stuff. Emotions were varied and all over the place for this one!

We’re also introduced to a wider variety of characters in this sequel and I thought that brought more colours into the book. The same set of girlfriends are involved here just like the first book, and it really made you feel like you’re welcomed back at home after a long time away.

This book met my expectations when it came to presenting Asian families’ reactions to interracial marriages and how they dealt with it. Similar to Pakistanis, Malay families don’t openly accept interracial marriages due to conflicts in religion and perception to future family upbringing. So to see Conall and Sofia receive the type of treatment, backlash, gossip and ‘advices’ after getting married was a realistic representation of how Asian families typically are. It’s not the best side of us, but it does happen all the time.

I loved how Sofia just grows more stronger and bolder in this book. She’s had some pretty rough times what with the death of her father in the first book that hit her hard. Even when she finally feels she’s found the right guy, his secrets are what almost made her go over the edge. But her resilience and faith in her religion barely manages to keep her life in check as she plans how best to move forward.

I love strong female characters, with a wonderful set of friends for backup, who eventually find a way to make the best out of everything. Everything Sofia felt and did throughout the book felt so emotionally raw and real that I am not surprised many Muslim women in her position has felt that way some point in her life.

We see her family grow as well what with her mom moving on in life, from being a widow to being engaged to her childhood sweetheart. And I thought it was such a brave thing for her mom to do, knowing that her relatives aren’t going to be supportive. But we see how her previous marriage was difficult and what she went through represented so many Asian wives: sacrificing their youth and dreams so they could bring up their children and give them a better chance of reaching their dreams.

“So many women are unhappy when they’re young. I think it’s great she’s finding happiness now”

We get to see more of Sakib, a fellow editor friend of Sofia, more in this book too. And as an Indian Muslim, he brought up some important issues when it comes to creating a successful career as a minority in London, all whilst having his own marital problems.

We get to see more of Sean, Conall’s brother, and the rest of his family as well. To see how his family reacted to Conall’s conversion and marriage to Sofia was interesting seeing how they were devout Catholics. But I loved how despite everything, they did accept Conall and Sofia as they are without much commotion.

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Overall, I loved this sequel. It was a bit hard and depressing to read in the beginning. But by the middle of the book, we got to see Sofia grow into this resilient human being who, despite all her swearing and curses, manages to find strength within herself to accept the hand she’s been dealt with by God and not let those around her down.

I’d highly recommend this duology, for the sake of supporting Muslim authors, and also understanding the complex yet familiar human interaction that Muslims go through.

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Review: Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (Ayisha Malik)

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Twenty7
Series: Sofia Khan #1
Publication date: September 3rd, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 456

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Blurb:
Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.’ Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. ‘Are your parents quite disappointed?’

Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

Sofia Khan is not Obliged is the hilarious and authentic debut novel by Ayisha Malik.

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Imagine my delight when I found out last year that this debut novel was to be published by none other than a British Muslim! I was so psyched when I saw the amazing cover (featuring a hijabi no less!) in bookstores. And to find out this has a sequel was the cherry on top. I put this book on the top of my Ramadan TBR and didn’t regret it one bit.

I truly enjoyed Sofia Khan is Not Obliged in its entirety. From the brilliant Asian family antics that remind me so much of my own Malay culture, to the struggles of finding love or even a date, as a modern Muslim hijabi.

All sorts of emotions coursed me throughout reading this book: entertained, laughing out loud in public transportation, frustration, heartbreak and the immense love for all the wonderful characters in the book.

“Don’t you need an umbrella?”

“Why do you think I wear the hijab? Part religious belief, part common sense.”

This is a book I’d definitely recommend to anyone wanting to know what it’s like to be a Muslim hijabi in today’s modern era of technology and social standards. This book has been dubbed the Muslim version of The Bridget Jones’ Diary and has that saucy yet halal vibe of Sex and the City!

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I think the plot was brilliantly written. We find Sofia struggling to write an expose book about Muslims dating and finding love in the vibrant city of London. Through this we meet Sofia’s fabulous circle of girlfriends and crazy family members. Now, the one thing Malays and Pakistanis have in common is the big family circle we always find ourselves in. Granted my family is smaller and I don’t see them often, but I understand Sofia’s frustrations in dealing with family members’ insistent and more often than not, annoying questions about settling down and finding a husband.

This book had me questioning the trouble with Asian cultures so dead-set on seeing their females settling down and producing offsprings at the quickest moment. We’re in 2017 now for god’s sake! There are going to be Muslim girls not married at the age of 30 or even living independently in the city.

It’s not a crime.

Get with the program my dear uncles and aunties.

But that is how I felt when Sofia describes her family. Pestering her on marriage and not seeing her for this brilliant, smart, quick-wit and obviously talented writer. She’s just someone who needs to get married.

And I find this so troublesome. Because I see it all the time in Malay families too. I count my lucky stars that I have so many females in my family with high-flying careers that landing a husband in your early 20’s is not the most important thing in life. But I do pity friends who have to go through what Sofia did.

So this book not only described how normal we Muslims are: we love, we cry, we curse if you’re being an ass, and we love being sarcastic (who doesn’t?). But this book also brought about the difference between Asian and Western cultures. And how culture and traditions are not something that gets easily buried even when one is thousand of miles away from the roots of said tradition.

Sofia’s little journey in writing a Muslim dating book also brings us to meet so many wonderful and quirky Muslim men. When she seems to be falling in love with one of them when she didn’t plan to, things get a little bit confusing. And this is where I find her to be very real and relatable. Being 30 and falling in love can’t be as simple as when it used to be. And the mixed emotions Sofia feels are something I believe every girl in that age can relate to. Her decisions which will have major consequences in her life had such an impact in making the book turn out to be more real than just a fictional novel.

“Listen, if a man turns up outside a girl’s house he’s probably mad about her… or he’s passing time until something better comes along… All you need to know is if you’re tough enough to live with the worst of the two outcomes.”

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“I’m a marginally intelligent, selectively confident, assertive woman”

There are just so many brilliant female characters in this book! And the one thing that made this book stand out from any other women’s fiction was its characters. The vibrant mix of brown ladies that proved to be Sofia’s wonderful support system was such a breathe of fresh air!

You have ladies who are feminists yet tied to cultural traditions and  the natural wanting of finding a husband and building a family.

You have ladies who go on dates with other Muslim men and find them disastrous, yet believing in Allah’s will that someday they’ll find their soul mate.

You have ladies who defend each other in the toughest of times, proving that even when husbands come and go, your girlfriends are here to stay. And may I note, how I love the amount of divorcees among her friends. Because it is a true reality of Muslim women in their 30’s nowadays, that a good number of them have been divorced.

I loved reading about each and every friend of Sofia, and I think she’s better amidst the chaotic clash of cultures because of them. You have Sofia’s strong personality who’s honest and strong yet still susceptible to life’s unpredictable challenges, and you have her wonderful friends and sister, Maria, saying the most crass of jokes to keep us all laughing throughout the book.

“Remember Sof, be proactive…not ho-active”

Honestly, I think we all wish we could be Sofia when we read about her friends in this book.

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Overall, I was quite surprised by how well I could relate to Sofia. Her independence and her strong personality are what keeps her grounded and while there are moments of infuriation where she can’t seem to get her head around her situation, she somehow figures out a way. I loved how this book ended. I totally did not see it coming! And I’m excited to see what the sequel has in store for me.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for more diverse reads. This book brings a whole new perception into our Muslim lives, and you’ll realise that putting aside the fussy aunties and nosy cousins pestering about you to settle down, we’re just like any other human being: looking for love and happiness.

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Review: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (Phaedra Patrick)

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Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication date: January 29, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 352
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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:
In this poignant and curiously charming debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met–a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a joyous celebration of life’s infinite possibilities.

REVIEW:

“But there are always some people that you keep in your heart, yes?
That you never forget.”

I was so excited to stumble across this book on my way home at London Heathrow airport. I bought it on a whim, thinking that any story about the elderly going on an adventure was bound to have me captivated.

And I was right!

From the very beginning, Arthur delights us in his quest to find the meaning behind each charm on his late wife’s gold bracelet. After finding out the unique story behind the first charm, Arthur became determined to uncover his beloved’s past life…a life which he knew nothing about after having been married for 40 years. We see his tribulations in discovering a different life of his wife, which because the reason for both his sorrow and ultimately, his happiness.

This is the story of discovering new depths of love and how willing we are to accept one’s past and move on in the future. I love the message behind this book which encourages us to not live in the past, but to cherish the time we’re given to enjoy one another’s company.

The endearing story of Arthur having his own adventures after the anniversary of his wife’s death made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and I truly enjoyed flipping through the pages and meeting all the wonderful characters scattered within the book! Each character brings a wonderful story of friendship, hardship and kindness that we’re able to find in every day lives.

Which is what made me love this book so much: its honesty. I found the characters and stories read in this book totally believable and they are being lived out around the world. Arthur was lucky to have found friends in many of the kind strangers he met. You can’t help but to root for Arthur from the beginning, to complete his adventure and anticipate what story lies behind each charm. At one point, I felt sadden by his late wife’s past but her resilience in living in the present and not letting the past haunt her was very inspiring.

RATING: ★★★★

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a wonderful, light read that will leave you feeling good and enjoying life a little bit more because of the friends and family you have.

Brilliant read for fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove.