Month in Review: July 2022 (Part II)

Hello, friends! I hope you find my book recommendations useful. Some might be wondering why I always give books high ratings and never share bad reviews. Well, it’s simple. If I don’t enjoy a book I do not finish it and when I don’t finish a book, I just don’t feel comfortable rating or reviewing it. Usually, the first 10 to 20% of a book is enough to tell me if I will like it or not. After that, I stop reading and move on to the next book on my TBR. I know some readers find it difficult to give up on books, but I’m not one of them. My TBR list is so long, and there are always unread books available on my shelf (or Kindle) that I find it necessary to move on.

Books Keep Us Alive

White Nights by Fyodor Dostoevsky is a beautifully written short story. I read it for a book club I recently joined, and thoroughly enjoyed the story.

I find it sweet, heartwarming, and heartbreaking all at the same time. The story is told in first person narrative, where the protagonist shares four memorable nights of his otherwise mundane life.

He is a shy person, who never interacts with other people and mostly lives in his dream world. He calls himself a dreamer and understands that his way of life isn’t normal. But he is unable to do anything to change his circumstances.

Quite unexpectantly, he falls in love and spends some fleeting moments with a girl he knows he will never forget. And then, he wonders if those few white nights would be enough to sustain him throughout his otherwise dark life.

To be fair, the plot is nothing special. I have read stories like this before, maybe even written one or two. But what sets this one apart is the writing style and the dialogue. Within a few pages, the author has created two of the most developed fictional characters I have ever come across. And I’m still wondering how is that even possible. Must be something special about the author if he can make us feel so much identification with his characters. As a person who has never been in love, this story made me feel as if I have; as if I have been in the protagonist’s shoes; as if it is my story that the author is relating. And that, my friends, is a beautiful feeling for a reader.

I know classics are rarely everyone’s cup of tea, but this story is most definitely my cup of tea. Loved it and will be re-reading it many times, I’m sure.

Books Breathe New Life Into Us

Unfortunately, It Was Paradise by Mahmoud Darwish is a poetry collection by one of the most renowned Arabic poets. It is translated by Munir Akash and Amira El-Zein.

I don’t know if it is the translation or the poetry itself, but I don’t think I’ll read this author again. While I can feel the author’s pain through his words, overall I wasn’t able to enjoy the book. But then, not everything is everyone’s cup of tea. I rarely read poetry and there aren’t many poets I’m a fan of. So, it’s understandable that I didn’t become a fan of Darwish. Still, based on the writing I’d give it a 3 stars rating, meaning that I also didn’t completely hate the book.

The thing I took away from this collection is a profound sense of loss, grief, and hopelessness. As if the author is disappointed in humanity and can’t find any good thing about it. I suppose, when you consider Darwish’s background, it’s understandable. Yet, I found some of these pieces too depressing to fully appreciate their beauty. I will sum up this book in the poet’s own words;

So where are these questions leading me?

I am from here, I am from there, yet am neither here nor there.

Books Bring Us Back to Life

After reading a few non-mysteries, I needed another Agatha Christie book to sustain me. That’s how I ended up picking my sixth Christie mystery of the month. Halloween Party by Agatha Christie is unlike any other Hercule book I have read so far. If I recall correctly it is one of the last books starring my all-time favorite detective. I might not have enjoyed this book if I wasn’t completely biased about Mr Poirot. There are too many unnecessary things and the ending isn’t as satisfying as I would have liked. Still, it’s not bad for a lazy day.

This is the first Christie book that really made me angry at the killer; where psychology failed to explain anything; where the killer has absolutely no personality and we don’t get to see their side of things. I always say that the strongest point of an Agatha Christie mystery is her character development and insights into human psychology. Unfortunately, that is not the case in this book and I find it disappointing. But that didn’t mean I would rate it any less than 5 stars. Why? You might ask and you will be well within your rights to question it. It’s because where it’s lacking in one aspect, it’s perfect in another. This is also the first Christie book that gave me the chills; that scared me. I know technically Agatha Christie’s books are murder mysteries but I have always thought of them as cozy mysteries. There is no thrill factor. But Halloween Party is an exception. I found it quite thrilling. I think part of it is because the victim is a child. Anyhow, this book isn’t an instant recommendation from me. I don’t vouch for it. You might like it or you might hate it.

Elephants Can Remember is another Agatha Christie book that I found to be mediocre. It seems that Hercule Poirot is getting old and the stories are getting boring. Anyhow, these are the last few Poirot mysteries that the author wrote. If I’m not mistaken, I will be saying goodbye to Hercule after the Curtain; his final mystery. I have already started the book and enjoying it immensely. Although it is making me a little sad to see Hercule in a wheelchair. Hastings has returned, though. I honestly missed him and wondered why must he move to a different continent after his marriage. Anyhow, good to see him back for the last mystery with his friend.

But we are getting off track. This review is about Elephants can Remember. At times, I wondered if Agatha even wrote this book. It is definitely not her usual style. I can almost feel that she is bored with her own characters. It has the most unoriginal and predictable plotline that I have ever come across in a mystery. In one word, this book is dull. And I do not recommend it to anyone.

I won’t say, I didn’t enjoy it though. But my situation is indifferent. I have been reading Hercule Poirot’s books in (almost) chronological order. And I’m glad that I read it because it will make it easier to read the final book in this wonderful murder-mystery series. Don’t worry, I’m not saying goodbye to Agatha Christie yet. There are several Miss Marple mysteries that I haven’t read.

Are you a reader who likes to help?

Hello, friends! How is everyone’s summer going? We were having the worst heatwave of my life and then, the monsoon swooped in and saved the day. So, now we’re enjoying the rainy season and trying not to care too much about the humidity.

I Need You, Readers!

Anyhow, I’m dropping in today to ask for a favor from my reader friends. I just finished a novella and planning to publish it soon. I need a few beta readers to give me their overall impression of the book. If interested email me at freeverse88@gmail.com or simply comment here. I would like to thank you in advance and you should know you’re saving the day for an indie author, which is super awesome!

Now a little about the book because I don’t want you to agree to beta read and then realize you don’t even like this genre.

When the World Collide is a paranormal fantasy. The story revolved around five individuals from four different worlds; the Underworld, Otherworld, Aboveworld, and Fairy Woods. Destiny intertwines their paths with each other and a chain of events begins to unfold that might re-write history.

Take a plunge into a mysterious world of magic and mayhem…

Two friends, looking for a missing person, dare to enter a shop in the deep alley of the market. People are scared of the place and with reason. Many, who enter, never leave. And if stories are to be believed, the shop may not be there the next moment. They may be entering to meet their demise, or they may find the person they seek. Either way, they will happily take the risk because this shop is their last hope.

Sameer wants nothing more than to find Rayan, but in his eagerness, he follows the wrong person and ends up in the Underworld.

Noreen has been restless for many days now, and it can mean only one thing; she must leave Fairy Woods and go to the Beyond. It seems she will not be able to fulfill her dream of roaming the worlds freely, after all.

What happens when the worlds collide bringing two of the most unlikely people together Sameer and Noreen are on a mission. They must find Rayan and solve the mystery behind serial murders in the Aboveworld.

***

To find out what happens when the worlds collide, you will have to wait for the book. It’s coming soon.

P.S. For Wattpad users, it is available to read for free and will remain available even after I publish. However, keep in mind that my Wattpad stories are not professionally edited versions. So, I can’t guarantee the same reading experience.

Anyway, getting back to the point. If this book sounds interesting to you comment and I will send you a beta copy. Kindly, note that I have limited copies available so it’s first come first serve basis.

Wattpad link: https://www.wattpad.com/story/303228242-when-the-worlds-collide

Month in Review: July 2022 (Part I)

Another Month, Another Pile of Books Read

Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie

I listened to an audiobook of Hickory Dickory Dock, narrated by Hugh Fraser. I rarely find a good narrator in audiobooks, but Hugh Fraser is excellent. I have listened to many Agatha audiobooks narrated by him. If you are a fan of audiobooks, check them out.

As for the story, it’s another brilliant mystery with so many colorful, interesting characters. I always enjoy the “human” side of Madam Christie’s characters. In all my life as a reader, I have not come across an author who can write a “good” character with as many flaws as she does and still makes us love them.

I don’t know if her psychological insights are spot on, but that’s the beauty of fiction; if the author can make the readers believe it, it’s true.

Hottie of Her Shelf by Christi Barth

I’m a huge fan of contemporary romance and this is one of the best I have ever read. I fell in love with the main characters right away. One is a librarian and the other a Mayor. On the surface, they have nothing in common but you know what they say; don’t judge a book by its cover. The better they get to know each other, and the better we get to know them, we all realize sometimes looks can be deceiving. I also loved that it’s not an instant love kind of story, instead, the main leads fall in love with each other slowly. Watching their relationship develop as they compete in an election was adorable. Love might be the most unlikely outcome of a political rivalry but in this case, it is perfect.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to all romance lovers. It will make you laugh and it will cause you to fall in love. The story flows beautifully and all the characters are lovable.

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

Sir George and Lady Stubbs hit upon the novel idea of staging a mock murder mystery. In good faith, Ariadne Oliver, the well-known crime writer, agrees to organize their murder hunt and calls her friend Hercule Poirot for his expert assistance.

And then, someone is murdered for real and our favorite detective is on the murder’s trail. It’s one of Agatha’s most interesting mysteries with many twists and a shocking ending. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to all mystery fans.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

A complicated mystery with a revolution, espionage, murder, kidnapping, and much more. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but my one complaint is that Hercule Poirot appears much, much later in the story. Other than that, the story is perfect with some interesting characters at the center of it.

The story starts in a middle eastern country where a revolution made it necessary for the king to trust an English man with his most precious possession. The man in question arranges for the package to reach England but unfortunately, neither he nor the king survives the revolution. Now, many unsavory people are after the package. And they will not stop even at murder.

The Gunslinger’s Guide to Avoiding Matrimony by Michelle McLean

It’s a beautifully written Western Historical Romance that will make you smile quite often. Both the main characters are adorable and their chemistry is just perfect. Adam Brady comes to Desolation quite by chance and decides to hide in this out-of-the-way, hidden town. He never expects to meet a beautiful young lady, Nora, and somehow, marry her without even knowing he was doing it. But that’s exactly what happens and his new wife seems reluctant to get an annulment. Although he can’t fathom why. In any case, he has no choice but to find permanent employment and get rid of his unwanted wife as soon as possible.

It’s not that Nora wants Mr. Brady. It’s just that she is in desperate need of a husband, but only temporarily. And this stranger from out of town seems like a perfect option. It will be easy to get rid of him once she has everything she needs to live a comfortable life without fear. Good thing, the whole town is willing to help her and Brady will find it very difficult to hold a job. He will have no other option but to register their marriage and that’s all Nora needs. She never thought she would actually fall for her husband, who isn’t really her husband. But that’s exactly what happens and now, here they both are. Completely unsure of the future, can they take one day at a time and be happy for now?

As we know, nothing is ever so simple. You can expect some twists and turns before they can find their happy ending. And that’s why romance is so much fun! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and gave it a 5-stars rating because nothing less would have done.

P.S. I received a complimentary copy of this book, and the review is my personal opinion.

Friday Fiction: Slice of Life 22

Chapter 22: Things Change

“Is the seat taken?” Frida said.

Maya glanced up from the book she was reading and shrugged. Frida cleared her throat and sat down beside her. Sarah was helping Sarosh with their science project, and Maya was taking her lunch outside. It was a clear day—too good to stay indoors. The beautiful view of the mountains in the distance and the flower bushes surrounding her was soothing. Their school had a well-kept garden and Maya loved to take her lunch there whenever she got the chance.

“So,” Frida sounded nervous, which was odd for her.

Maya wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone, but it would be rude to ignore her. She said, “Sorry, I have delayed our project. I promise to start tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s fine,” Frida smiled. “We have plenty of time. I’m good at science. I’m sure we can do it in time.”

“Thanks for understanding.”

After that, both girls sat there in awkward silence. Maya had closed her book and joined Frida in staring at the clear blue sky. Neither knew what to say. They weren’t fighting anymore, but they surely weren’t best friends. In a few months, Maya had matured beyond her years. Her animosity towards Frida seemed foolish now.

“Sarah is nice,” Frida broke the silence. “Sarosh too. I like them.”

“I know. And I like them too.”

Once again, the two were quiet.

“So, this is awkward,” Frida stated the obvious, then blurted out, “I want us to be friends again.”

“Are you feeling sorry for me because my parents got divorced?” She couldn’t think of any other reason for Frida’s sudden change in attitude.

“No, of course not. That’s absurd,” Frida rushed to explain. “I have been meaning to say this for a while now. It just never seemed to be the right time. I miss you. You were my best friend and I want that back.”

Maya stared at her for a moment and then beamed. “I miss you too. Why were we fighting, anyway?”

Frida returned the smile and said, “Beats me. By the way, what are you reading?”

And just like that, they had broken the ice and chatted away like old friends who had never drifted apart. Miss Janet was on to something when she made them lab partners. And Maya realized that sometimes change could be good.

Epilogue

There was bittersweetness in the air after receiving their high school diplomas. Things would change once again, hopefully, for the better. And the four friends understood it. They had filled their final year at the school with fond memories of laughter and mischief. No matter where they went from here, they would always stay in each other’s hearts.

“I can’t believe we did it,” Sarah said, plopping down on the bed beside Frida.

Maya was lying down on the carpet, staring at the ceiling as if looking for answers to life’s mysteries, while Sarosh stood by the window. The four best friends were at Maya’s house, celebrating their graduation. The weather hadn’t permitted them to go out, as a snowstorm was on the way and the friends were stuck in the house for the weekend.

“This might be our last weekend sleepover,” Frida said, sadness dripping from her tone. They all had plans for their future, which didn’t include staying in the small hill station. Frida was taking a gap year and planning to travel around the world. Sarosh had already received her acceptance letter from one of the top universities in the country. She would leave soon. Maya was going to stay with her father for a while because her mother was going abroad for work. And Sarah did not know what the future held for her. One thing was clear: the four of them would go their separate ways for now.

“Promise you will stay in touch,” Sarosh said, looking at each of them earnestly. “I know people often say they will remain friends forever, but then drift apart. But let’s not let that happen to us.”

“Agreed,” Maya said at once, sitting up and looking at them with all the love in the world. “I’m going to call you girls every day.” There were tears in her eyes. The thought of being apart from her friends was ripping her heart into pieces. Not only that, she would miss her mother and the town.

“That goes without saying,” Frida said.

“Of course,” Sarah said, smiling.

The four huddled together on the bed and talked away their fears of the future. Tomorrow would come soon enough, but for tonight, they were happy to be together.

© 2022 Fizza Younis. All Rights Reserved.

Read previous chapters here.

Month in Review: June 2022 (Part II)

Welcome to Part II of my June reads & reviews. Did you find anything interesting in Part I? Have you read any of these books or are they on your TBR? Do share your thoughts. And as always, happy reading, take care, and be safe!!

Night Shift Witch by Cate Lawley is a cozy mystery with a witch as the main character. I thoroughly enjoyed this fun & quick read. The story is about a witch in training who lands a night-shit job at a mortuary. And to her surprise, the first dead body she encounters is not of a human. What’s more, it’s clearly a murder case. She decides to intervene and calls her ex who happens to be a wizard. The owner of the mortuary also got involved in the mess and now, the three must solve the mystery behind their mysterious dead body.

And then, I went ahead and read more books in this series. They are just as good as the book one if not better. This one is a little less sad and a lot more fun. Star of the Party by Cate Lawley is the second book in Night Shift Witch. It’s a short story, so a fun & quick read. Definitely a 5 stars book, which anyone looking for a lighthearted cozy mystery will enjoy. Tickle the Dragon’s Tail is just as much fun as the previous two books in the series.

After this, I read another Agatha mystery. What can I say, I’m addicted to murders.

Mrs. McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie is one of the best crime fiction I have ever read. No wonder my favorite author didn’t disappoint me. This one takes place in a small town. It’s a place where everyone seems to know everyone, but still, someone has been keeping secrets and it is Hercule’s job to find out who & what. Well, our favorite detective is always up for a challenge and this one is definitely going to be a challenging case. I loved all the characters in this book. They made it interesting with their quirks and diverse personalities. And of course, Hercule was in the middle of it all, so that’s great. I’m always looking forward to my next Poirot mystery. Where will his journey as a detective take him next?

So, who wants to add another Agatha Christie book to their TBR list? After the Funeral totally surprised me and I absolutely loved the ending. It’s perfect and I just loved all the characters in this mystery. Here is a family that’s not fond of each other and is greedy to the point that any one of them could have killed their rich relative. But which one of them did it and how? It shows the side of humanity at its worst. All in all, a good mystery which I highly recommend.

And now something a little different because variety is good. If you’re looking for a sweet, funny romance, I highly recommend First Bride to Fall. I received an ARC of it via NetGalley and thoroughly enjoyed the story. There are many swoon-worthy, as well as, laugh-out-loud moments in this novel; best for rom-com fans.

I also read the first few chapters of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist by Kate Raworth. It’s interesting enough that I feel comfortable recommending it without actually finishing the book. As an economist myself, who wrote her Ph.D. thesis on Sustainable Development, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about this book once I’m done. Stay tuned, if the subject of economics interests you.

I hope everyone finds their next best read in my recommendations.

Month in Review: June 2022 (Part I)

I have decided to do this month’s post in two parts. The books are in chronological order of my finishing them. I hope you find something enjoyable among these gems. Happy reading!

The month of June started with another Agatha Christie book; Five Little Pigs. The story starts sixteen years after the murder. It’s a cold case but Poirot awes us with his ingenuity and powers of deduction by solving the case. The story is gripping, the characters are likable and the mystery will keep you guessing who the murderer is. I think this is one of very few Christie’s books where I wasn’t able to guess the murderer correctly. I have read so many of her books, and know her style well enough to usually correctly guess the killer’s identity before the end. Mind you, that doesn’t affect my reading because even though I guess who murdered the victim, it’s still fun to see how Hercule solves the mystery.

After that, I read a sweet romance novella (a Christmas Puppy to Cherish by Josie Riviera) before diving into yet another one of Agatha’s mysteries: The Hollow. In my opinion, this isn’t quite the usual Queen of Mystery’s best work. For one, it was painfully predictable. I mean, guessing the killer’s identity is one thing but to unravel the whole plot before the mystery even starts? Well, let’s just say that wasn’t the experience I wanted from a mystery novel. But of course, it’s still Hercule Poirot and I just love the little Belgium detective. So, I didn’t exactly dislike the story even if I didn’t love it. With a heavy heart, I gave this book a 3.5 stars rating.

My fourth June read was a sci-fi romance novel Despair by Lana Pecherczyk. It’s the last book in her Deadly Seven series. I have followed this series since the very beginning and have loved each and every book. These are beautifully written, exciting books about genetically modified siblings who begin to show superpowers as soon as they meet the person they are destined to be with. The premise is a mixture of sci-fiction and paranormal, but the romance factor remains the main focus of each novel in the series. Despair is the last book and I’m having mixed feelings about this. I’m happy to read the conclusion but also, sad that it’s over. Anyhow, I highly recommend these books to readers who enjoy fast-paced, hot, and steamy romance novels with a sci-fi twist. Each novel can be read as a standalone. There is an underlying plot that continues from one book to the other. It has been the most enjoyable journey. Definitely a five stars book.

My next book was a ghost story, Haunting at Fettig by Jordan Elizabeth. This is one of those authors whose books I pick up without even reading the blurb because I know I will love them. She has a very unique writing style and her stories are usually out-of-this-world creative. I don’t know where she gets her ideas from, but Jordan Elizabeth writes some of the most original fiction works I have ever come across. Haunting at Fettig is an interesting ghost story set in a small town farmhouse amidst the pandemic. It’s about a girl who is stranded at her grandmother’s house and soon discovers that it might be haunted. No one believes her other than a boy from the neighborhood, who is also stuck there. Together the two teens discover the truth behind these ghostly sightings. Overall, an enjoyable and quick read. I gave it five stars.

Another Agatha’s masterpiece: Taken at the Flood. I absolutely loved this story. Especially because I hated most of the characters. At least, Madam Christie keeps things real. I also didn’t like one thing about the ending but we can’t talk about that without spoiling the story. If you decide to read this book, you will know what I mean. Hercule Poirot sometimes bends the rules if he sees fit. He doesn’t really have a black-or-white view of the world. Anyhow, the mystery is intriguing and kept me second-guessing everything, which I thought was brilliant. Overall, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to mystery fans.

So, I needed a break from murder mysteries and decided to read a few more romances. The Lord Pretender by Sawyer North is one of them. It’s a wonderful story that has me smiling often. I loved both the main characters and their respective best friends. It was such an interesting story, but then I have always been a fan of the body-switch trope. And combine it with historical romance; you have perfection! I think that the author has done a great job of capturing all the different emotions resulting from the switch. It was fun to see how Emma and Simon tried to adjust to each other’s bodies, and learn more about each other’s lives, habits, loves, and hates. However, it’s not the only thing I loved about this book. I also enjoyed the romance between them as well as the premise of the book. This story has been a real treat for me. It’s one of those books which are hard to put down and you end up finishing them in one or two sittings. That’s how good I found it to be. So glad I picked it up and would definitely recommend it to all readers. If you like historicals and/or romance then you should read this book. It’s beautifully written and I hope we get to read more books about some of the side characters. They should all have their stories told. 😉

P.S. I received a complimentary copy of this book and the review is my honest opinion, having nothing to do with the author or the publisher.

My eighth book of the month was a cozy mystery, On the Trail of a Killer by Cate Lawley. I listened to a free audiobook on Youtube and thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is simple and the characters are lovable, especially our lead detective Fairmont, who is brilliant at sniffing out dead bodies. I really liked how there are chapters told from the dog’s POV. And he is the cutest thing. But I also loved Sheriff Luke. He wasn’t a bad detective either. Overall, it’s a nice book for a hot summer day, especially if you enjoy books that make you smile.

Sold on Love by Kathleen Fuller is a sweet, romantic novel. After reading the blurb, I requested it via NetGalley and received a complimentary copy, for which I’m immensely thankful. I enjoyed it a lot. It’s one of those books that will instantly put you in a good mood even if you are having a bad day. I started reading it on one such day, and for that alone it has become one of my favorite reads of the year!

The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood is an OwnVoice novel and my tenth book of the month. I have reviewed it in detail if you like to know my thoughts on the book. I gave it 2 stars rating, which is my lowest rating of the year (so far).

Don’t forget to share your thoughts, views, and reviews. I love to hear about what everyone is reading. Thanks for being here!

Friday Fiction: Slice of Life 21

Chapter 21: Coming to a Halt

“Are you packed?” Maya’s mom asked her, a day before she left for her grandparents’ house.

As angry as she was with her parents, she could hear the tiredness in her mother’s tone and tried to muster up a smile. “Yes, all set.” After all, nothing good was going to come out of sulking.

“Good,” her mother said gently, which was odd for her. “You will like it there. I promise.”

The promise didn’t appease her, though. She had been looking forward to spending the summer with her friends. It was the last summer before graduation and somehow, it had meant something to her. And now, thanks to her parents, she would be spending it miles away. “Whatever, Mom.”

“No, I’m serious. They live at a farmhouse and it’s really beautiful.”

“Really?” she said, not believing her mother. “And how many times have you visited them?” Her mother had no right to tell her how amazing her paternal grandparents’ place was when she herself couldn’t live there and moved all the way to the other side of the country.

“Well, when your father and I first got married, we stayed there for a couple of years. Then he got a job here, and we moved—” She looked nostalgic as if thinking about something precious; a fond memory, something lost for good.

“Never looking back,” Maya finished her sentence. “What if the place isn’t the same anymore? What if I hate it?” She had never visited her grandparents in her adult life and didn’t even remember them all that well. They hadn’t visited either and the phone calls weren’t the same thing. No matter how often she talked to them on video calls, they were practically strangers to her.

“You won’t as long as you give it a chance. Don’t decide before experiencing it.” Her mother sat down at the edge of her bed. “I want you to enjoy your summer, make new friends, adopt a dog, and then come back a changed person.”

“Yeah, right? Don’t hold your breath,” Maya said, looking down at her hands. If she was honest with herself, it wasn’t even about her grandparents or her summer plans, rather the thing that annoyed her was her parents’ high-handedness. They didn’t give her a choice before buying plane tickets. They had always given her an illusion of choice, even while convincing her to do what they want. This time, they hadn’t bothered. She had felt helpless and she hated that more than anything else.

“I’m sorry about what I said the other day. Your friends are great, and I know you love them a lot.”

“Thanks for saying that.” Maya finally gave her mother a genuine smile. “But I still don’t want to go all the way to the other side of the country for two entire months.” Seeing her mother’s good humor, she decided to give it one last try.

“In life, we don’t always get what we want.” Her mother looked sad and, at that moment, Maya noticed the worry lines etched on her forehead.

“Mom,” she got a little worried herself. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, peachy.” Her mother’s smile looked forced.

Well, what had she expected? It wasn’t like her mother shared anything with her. Maya might be in her late teens but her mother had always treated her like a child. They weren’t friends, after all.

The next day, Maya hugged her parents, said goodbye to her friends, and left for her grandparents’ farm. Not knowing that when she would come back, things would be different, and life would never be the same.

That was the summer when Maya’s parents divorced. That’s when she truly understood the meaning behind the phrase ‘beware of what you wish for.’ There were no more extravagant family holidays. Her father had moved back to his parent’s farm and now she was alone with her mother.

The house remained eerily quiet most of the time. Her mother stopped interfering in her life and threw herself into work. Sometimes Maya feared she would work herself to an early grave, but she didn’t know what to do about it.

She had never been close to her mother. It wasn’t going to magically change now that they were the only two people living in a house that was meant for ten. She knew that life would get back to normal eventually, and it would be a new normal, but it’d be okay. Until then, she just needed to hang in there, as Sarah had put it. At least her friends were there for her. And she wanted to be there for her mother, too.

Soon the topic of her parents’ divorce would get stale and it wouldn’t hurt as much to talk about as it did now. As Sarosh had pointed out, life went on.

© 2022 Fizza Younis. All Rights Reserved.

Read previous chapters here.

Friday Fiction: Slice of Life 20

Chapter 20: Unwanted Vacation

“How long are you going to keep talking about it?” Maya asked, annoyed with her mother. “Honestly, the topic has gone stale for me. I’m so fed up with you always bringing it up.” She threw up her hands and wanted to storm out of the room. But she knew that would make things worse because then her mother would have yet another thing to complain about.

“Watch your tone, young lady,” her mother said sternly. “I will talk about it as long as it takes for you to listen.”

Maya took a deep breath and said, “Mom, my grades are fine. Yes, I won’t be valedictorian, but I’m also not going to fail at anything. I might get some Cs, but it’s not the end of the world.” She tried to reign in her temper. It wasn’t easy though. She could never understand her mother’s obsession with perfect grades. Why couldn’t she accept that her daughter was an average student? Not everyone was born with high IQ levels. And there is no reason why they should.

“Oh, you think this is about your grades?” Her mother said, throwing up her hands. “We don’t care about that. You will never be a topper and that’s fine. I’m just worried about other things.”

Okay, so that surprised Maya. She thought it was always about the grades. “What other things?” she asked, calming down a little. She had felt attacked when her mother brought up her choice of clothes once again. She liked to stay up to date on fashion and owned it. Constant criticism from her mother was doing nothing for her self-esteem. “I just assumed that you were worried about my grades.”

“Well,” her mother said cautiously, “I think that your overall attitude is a problem.” She knew how temperamental Maya was.

“My what?!” Maya didn’t even know how to respond to that. This was worse than she thought. Her mother didn’t understand her at all–not at all.

“You know,” she said, looking at Maya. “If you spend a little less time with your friends and a little more time at home, then you might see things differently.”

Oh, no. Things were just going downhill. That’s why she hated talking to her mother. They could never be on the same page. “Now you don’t like friends? I can’t believe this.”

“Look,” her mother said, gesturing with her hands for Maya to stay calm. “I like Sarosh and Sarah. They are good girls. I just don’t like that you are always out. You stay late at school, and you are always finding excuses to stay at their places or invite them over. This isn’t healthy. You should have other hobbies.”

“Why does it matter?” Maya still didn’t understand her mother’s point of view and wondered where this was coming from and where it was going. Frankly, she felt lost. She had only barely convinced her mother to stop nagging her about grades, and now, her friends had somehow entered the debate.

“Anyway,” her mother said. “We have decided that you should stay with your grandparents for the summer vacation. Change of scenery will do you some good.”

“Do I get a say in this?” Maya asked, knowing the answer already. At this point, she just wanted the conversation to be over so that she could go to her room and wallow in her misery.

“No, you need to pack. Your flight is next week.” With that, her mother left the kitchen, considering the discussion over.

Maya sat at the dining table with her very dark thoughts before storming out. It was just like her parents to spring something like this on her and not give her a choice. More than that, what hurt was the fact that her mother had used her friends as an excuse. Even though she knew her friends were not the troublemakers.

Sarosh was the most intelligent person she knew. She was the topper of their class. She was a goody-goody teacher’s pet. Every adult loved her. Sarah was even better. She was kind, an average student like Maya, but she was good at keeping them out of trouble.

Maya loved her friends, but that wasn’t the only reason she enjoyed spending so much time with them. The fact of the matter was that she hated being at home. Her parents were always fighting with each other. If not, then they were finding faults with her. It could get depressing. Instead of shutting herself in her room, she liked to go out with friends. That way, she wouldn’t have to listen to them all the time.

Later that night, she called Sarosh and Sarah to let them know that their summer plans were a no-go because she wouldn’t be in town. They understood and tried to cheer her up, pointing out all the amazing things about visiting grandparents. Obviously, they didn’t know hers.

Read the previous chapters here.

Monday Musings: I’m Melting

This has been one of the longest and hottest summers of my life, and it’s not over yet. I kid you not. It all started in March. Quite unexpectedly Spring decided not to show its face and Summer appeared out of the blue; all of a sudden. And it hasn’t left since then. We are forced to entertain this uninvited early guest until September (most probably, hopefully, because if it lasted longer, I’m dead).

Gosh! When did the weather become so unreliable? It’s not that I hate summer more than any other season or anything, I’m just not a fan of extreme weather of any kind. So, these unexpectedly extreme heat waves are most annoying.

Anyway, enough of that. It’s hot, everyone knows it, and I should just get over it since this is going to be a new norm all thanks to climate change and whatnot. How is your summer going? Anything good? Anything new? Don’t forget to share your thoughts and you are welcome to rant about anything you like. I’m told that I’m a good listener.

Now, let’s think about better things; happy things; poetry…

One June

One scorching June,

During the longest afternoon,

By a beach,

Out of this world’s reach,

Basking in the golden sun,

Looking toward the horizon,

I had a strange thought,

A lesson untaught:

‘Life isn’t some useless material thing,

We’re truly alive when we begin

To feel others’ pain

Without seeking personal gain;

Ready to lend a hand to every weary soul

Trying to remain whole-

For it’s about love and warmth,

Together weathering any storm.’

© 2022 Fizza Younis. All Rights Reserved.

P.S. I originally wrote part of it for collaboration and then, expanded on it. I think it’s a fitting poem for this time of the year. One good thing about summer; when you feel too lazy to move, you can sit still and think.

My First Less Than 3 Stars Book of the Year

I find this book very difficult to rate and review. For a long time, I sat staring at the screen wondering what to do, and then, decided to go with the truth.

I hate it when books are not what they claim/try to be. It’s not “hilarious” at all. (That’s what the blurb said). Not funny in any way. In fact, it is a deeply disturbing and thoroughly depressing story. Not to mention, very irritating.

I don’t think I will ever pick up a book by Pakistani Americans again, especially an #OwnVoice one. I don’t know if all Pakistani Americans have such warped views of Islam or am I the unlucky person who ends up with books like this, but I have had enough of these weird characters who are neither Pakistani nor Americans.

I want to apologize to the author for the harsh words. It’s not his fault that this was the third such book I ended up reading. I might be a little biased here, but reading is a personal thing, so I find nothing wrong with stating my unfiltered opinion of the book.

I was hoping for something better; different; a true representation of Islam/Muslims, or at least, a book that doesn’t just repeat what so many have been saying for decades now. And instead, I got the main character with an identity crisis, who neither understands his religion nor cares enough to take the time and do so. But he is pretty bold while criticizing other people’s views of religion. And the worst part is, that there is no resolution in the end. He continues to be the “bad” Muslim. And his girlfriend who, for a brief time, shows signs of turning religious, goes back to being “bad.” And then, they are married and everyone is happy.

This book gives you the idea that the only way to be a “good” Muslim is to not practice Islam at all because every practicing Muslim is “bad.” This is a very dangerous message in today’s world where Islamophobia is rampant. Perhaps, the author did it unintentionally, for even though he has lived in many countries, he was born in Pakistan. And as a Pakistani myself, I can tell you, that most of us are discontent with our religion, especially my generation (i.e. those who grew up in the 1990s & early 2000s). No small thanks to overzealous, misguided religious people who surround us. And the silly “war on terror” we were forced to become a part of… Anyhow, so yeah, this is quintessentially a Pakistani story. Nothing wrong with that, but I just wasn’t expecting it, which added to my disappointment.

Here is a Pakistani family that leaves Pakistan in the 1990s and move to the USA because they can’t stand the mentality of “making Islam great again.” And then, they face the same issue around 2015 and onwards, when Americans decide to “make America great again.” Where will this family go now?

The mother is a religious woman but apparently, she knows nothing about Islam. Brother is a good man, but he only does everything right to be praised and nothing more. Father’s character is kind of neutral, always trying to keep peace in the family. And then, we have our protagonist, Anvar. He is bad and he knows it. Plus he has no intention of ever being good. Because apparently, intelligent people can’t be good. His saving qualities; he reads and he is witty.

On the other end, we have an Iraqi family. We first see their life amidst wartorn Baghdad. Everything that can go wrong, goes wrong for this family. Death, torture, running for your life, etc. Safwa has only seen misery and her father is an extremist. But he wasn’t always like that. Not before the Americans took him. Anyhow, here is a girl who has been hurt by religious people, and even though she herself is religious, she doesn’t much care about her religion.

And then, there are many, many side characters. Some Pakistani, a few Iraqi, and others Americans. Sad, that a book with such diverse characters fails to avoid stereotyping each and every one of them.

A few chapters into the book and I know, I wouldn’t like it. The only reason I kept reading it is because of Anvar Faris’s relationship with his mother. That’s, in my opinion, the only good thing about the story. The way mother and son duo interact, failing to understand each other, and ending up at odds was indeed interesting.

Just to be clear, my discontent with this book has nothing to do with religion. I don’t even care about the misrepresentation of Islam or Muslims. But I care about the main character’s views. It’s fiction. I get it. It doesn’t have to be accurate. It doesn’t have to be truthful. The author is free to project his own views through his characters. That is all well and good. But to leave your main character’s inner conflicts unresolved; to make it so bad that he doesn’t deserve to be a hero, and to end up doing the opposite of what you said you were doing, well that is something I, as a reader, do not appreciate.

This was supposed to be a funny book about two diverse Muslim families living in modern America, but it ends up being a depressing story of two people who can’t find anything good about the religion they have inherited. They start talking about religion when it suited them, otherwise, they don’t care about it.

Now, to why I said it was difficult to review. Because it’s brilliantly written. If we discard the fact that this book is an own voice novel, or that it claims to represent Muslims in modern America, then we can judge it purely on the writing and that is indeed beautiful, a piece of art really. It’s a very emotional book. On principle, I like emotional books because if a book can make you smile or cry, then the author has done something right. You can’t fault it on its literary value. Where I did not find it hilarious (as stated above), I did find its sad, intelligent humor admirable. It’s definitely witty, I will give you that. And I like witty, so I asked myself why I couldn’t like this one and I came up empty. There is no straightforward answer here. I will end this discussion by saying, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. And leave it at that.