ARC Review : The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

“I’d like to thank the publisher for providing me with an ARC in return of an honest review.”

From award-winning author G. Willow Wilson, The Bird King is an epic journey set during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.

G. Willow Wilson’s debut novel Alif the Unseen was an NPR and Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and it established her as a vital American Muslim literary voice. Now she delivers The Bird King, a stunning new novel that tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of Granada, the last emirate of Muslim Spain, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate.

I am at a loss of words.

This is the kind of writing that deserves all the awards in the world. There were so many lines and passages that made me stop and just soak the words in. I was awed by the details and nuances of the writing. The research that went into this must be applauded.

Before I go into the story, I’d like to take some time to commend the author for giving us a glimpse of what the Islamic empires were indeed like back in the day. There’s a lot of misconception about Islam in the present time. And a lot of that is owed to the fact that it’s linked with all things conservative and unprogressive, in many spheres. But back in the days, the Islamic empires were known for their richness in cultures and tolerance, be it in the Middle east, West or the Indian Sub-continent. I could go into details about how Muslims at large were far more progressive and accepting back then than they are now, but this is not the post for that. I’d just like to applaud Wilson for showcasing a culture the details of which have faded over time.

I was overcome with sadness as I read through the beginning. We start with an empire that is about to be lost. Thinking of the realness and the actuality of that part of the story made me melancholic as reading about history generally does. After all, there’s always someone that loses in history. Never a happy thing to read about.

“Let me tell you something important. The real struggle on this earth is not between those who want peace and those who want war. It’s between those who want peace and those who want justice. If justice is what you want, then you may often be right, but you will rarely be happy.”

I love that although this book is a high fantasy, the backdrop is a real historical event. It makes me appreciate the nuances even more. The author blends historical fiction with high magical fantasy in an effortless manner.

There is a wonderful cast of characters each of which had richly stood on its own. But it was Fatima and Hassan who were the heart of the book.

Fatima is a not a character made of goodness. She’s selfish and spoiled. There’s vanity in her. But what I loved about her were her vulnerabilities. Beneath it all, she is a character that just wanted to be loved. The concept of consent that played out in her mind was beautiful to see. The part where she says that she would have perhaps fallen in love with the Sultan if she could have the freedom to initiate her affection, spoke volumes.

“Yes, you were taught to waste your anger. 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.”

Hassan is the palace mapmaker. From the very first scene, I felt so much affection and adoration for him. He had this naivete that was unexpected. His and Fatima’s friendship is EVERYTHING. And the author rightfully explores it compellingly.

Theirs is a love story without any romance. The love these two have for each other is complex and inexplicable. Fatima feels the closest to him because he is the only one who doesn’t desire her. He’s the sodomite between the two, but he’s also the one with more faith than Fatima. They have a complicated relationship because there is jealousy and bitterness along with affection and love with no happy resolution in sight. This book is the journey of these two to make a story for themselves, for once, that’s not made up.

“What if our stories are like my maps? What is a story but the map of an idea?”

This was a fantasy story but that was by no means the main focus of the book. Amidst all the actions and adventure, the themes that play out are characters’ search for love, happiness and freedom. The character growth and evolution that we witness is the real winner for me.

“Happiness, she decided, came only in pauses, neither regularly nor predictably.”

The writer excels in world-building and is outstanding in her prose. Because of that, the pace might feel uneven at places, but I didn’t mind it. The ending was bittersweet and I kinda ended up wanting more. But I guess this isn’t a book that can be tied neatly with a bow. The feelings it invoked in me deserve as many stars as I can give it.

Highly recommended!

My Rating: ★★★★★

Publication Date: 12th March, 2019.
Source: ARC from Publisher (via Netgalley)
You can find this book on – Goodreads | Amazon


ARC Review : Magnolia Inn by Carolyn Brown

*I’d like to thank the Publisher for supplying me with this ARC for an honest review.*

New York Times bestselling author Carolyn Brown brings together two wounded hearts in a Texas romance of second chances and twice-in-a-lifetime true love.

Inheriting the Magnolia Inn, a Victorian home nestled in the East Texas pines, is a fantasy come true for Jolene Broussard. After living with the guilt of failing to rescue her self-destructive mother, Jolene knows her aunt and uncle’s B&B is the perfect jump start for a new life and a comforting place to call home. There’s just one hitch: stubborn and moody carpenter Tucker Malone. He’s got a half interest in the Magnolia Inn, and he’s planting his dusty cowboy boots squarely in the middle of her dream.

Ever since his wife’s death, Tucker’s own guilt and demons have left him as guarded as Jolene. The last thing he expects is for his new partner to stir something inside him he thought was gone forever. And as wary as Jolene is, she may have found a kindred spirit—someone she can help, and someone she can hold on to.

Restoring the Magnolia Inn is the first step toward restoring their hearts. Will they be able to let go of the past and trust each other to do it together?

What a slow and frustrating read!

Jolene and Tucker are forced by circumstanced to partner up and work on remodeling the Inn left to her by her aunt and uncle.

Most of the conversations between the two throughout the book are about the restoring of the inn. I’m sorry but if I wanted to read about all that, I’d have opted for Home Remodeling for Dummies, instead.

We spend 80% of the book with Tucker having conversations with his dead wife and trying his best to not let go of her.

When I opted for this book, I was hoping for a healing romance. Maybe a broody hero and an emotionally stunted heroine. A couple of funny incidents while remodeling the home too, perhaps. Instead, I got a cardboard heroine and a – I can’t even think of an adjective for what that hero was.

I can’t think of any scene with Tucker where he was not having an inner conversation with Melanie – his ex-wife or was comparing Jolene to her.

Tucker’s wife died while going to buy something from the store when he could’ve gone himself. He was a cop who got fired for drunk-driving after her death. He spends every Saturday drinking himself to a stupor because Saturdays used to be date nights with his wife. He proudly claims that he’s only a weekend drinker.

Jolene, on the other hand, had an alcoholic mother. She also has had a tough life due to her mother and a father who left. Her only purpose of life right now is running the inn.

I couldn’t at all emotionally connect with Tucker and Jolene at any point. Tucker talks about his guilt and keeps telling his dead wife that he misses her. But I never felt any of his pain. And we read about Jolene’s past difficulties but I don’t think the writer touches down on the emotions and feelings of Jolene regarding those things.

The romance was unconvincing. It should be when you have a hero spending majority of the book thinking of his dead wife and ensuring that no “spark” with Jolene hinder his connection with his dead wife. Yes, there’s a ‘spark’ at times when they touch. That was the extent of their romance for a long time.

I was hoping for some pining or emotional conflict from Jolene for growing feelings for an emotionally unavailable man. But there wasn’t really much of that from Jolene. And I get that Tucker lost a wife and he’s grieving her. But in that process, his romance with Jolene fell flat.

There was aunts and family members with their own shenanigans. I wasn’t interested by any of it. I found myself waiting for parts with them to end. The pace sort of picked up at the last third of the book. But that was too late to redeem the book for me.

If I wasn’t clear before, this was a disappointing read.

  My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Publication Date: 25th September, 2018.
Source: ARC from Publisher (via Netgalley)
You can find this book on – Goodreads | Amazon


Book Review : Confess by A. Zavarelli

A life free from sin.
For seventeen years, I have lived and breathed those words. But there is no balm to the war inside my soul.
Until her.
The mysterious beauty too lethal to taste. She’s a thief, a con, the essence of everything I loathe. Still, she lures me in with her lying eyes.
In the dark of night, she came to confess her sins, and in the light of morning, I plotted to steal her away.
She will be my ruination. My damnation. My biggest regret.
So help me, God.

A word of advice? Don’t show me your vulnerabilities because I will find a way to exploit them. I learned the hard way to take what I want from life with no regrets.
Until him.
He’s one of the most hated men in America. A soulless criminal attorney. A recluse. And as of five minutes ago, my new husband.
He wants to keep my secrets and collect my tears, but he should know that a wild animal can’t be domesticated.
I don’t know how to love men. I only know how to leave them.
With everything I want.

I’d been in a mood for contract/forced marriage for some reason. So I was glad to come across this book when I did. The synopsis was interesting too. I wasn’t expecting an extraordinary read. Just something of a time-pass. But I did end up enjoying this read, for the most part.

This was like an adult version of The Taming of The Shrew, among a lot of other things.

Gypsy and her younger sister have had a horrible childhood. So, she turned to conning rich men by exploiting the one advantage she has – her beauty. She excels at it too and is content with her life for now. Until Lucian, a lawyer infamous for representing the worst of the worst, decides that he wants her to marry him. He basically blackmails her into marrying her.

Things I liked :

We start off with Lucian being a closed book. There’s a mystery behind him and his motivations. I liked that suspense element.

The slow evolution between Lucian and Gypsy’s relationship. That’s what had made me want to start the book in the first place. So, in a sense, I did get what I set out to read this book for.

I liked the character developments too. Gypsy starts off being immature and spoiled while Lucian starts off being unemotional and closed off. All of that changes as the story progresses.

There was this sub-plot about an innocent 19 year old guy who was charged with murder. His story did touch my emotional chords.

Things I was dubious about:

I wasn’t really convinced by the reveal of the reason behind Lucian marrying Gypsy.

Honestly, the smut came a lot later than I’d expected and the scenes were not as many as I’d expected. I knew, going into the book, that there would be dark and erotic elements, so there’s nothing to complain about, really. But there were some themes about sadism that I wasn’t comfortable reading and skimmed through.

There were drama and angst galore in this book. Some of the twists, I liked. Others just weren’t to my taste.

Anyways, I started this book fully aware that there would be elements that might not be my cup of tea, so I can’t complain about the parts that I skimmed through.

In a nutshell, this was an interesting read that I liked for the most part. But chances are high that I might not pick up its sequel.

  My Rating: ★★★★☆