Ember in the Ashes Review: Searing Political Fantasy



An Ember in the Ashes

By Sabaa Tahir

Published April 28th, 2015 by Razorbill, and imprint of Penguin Random House

446 Pages

Read February 19th – 25th, 2018


Ember in the Ashes has been at the top of my to-read list for YA series, so I was thrilled to impulsively snag it at my local bookstore. I wasn’t disappointed. It was a wild ride! The action erupted in the beginning and it. Did. No. Let. Up. The double love triangle (or love square, as people have taken to calling it), was really complex, and Ms Sabaa Tahir did a masterful job of keeping me wondering who matched up better with who. Also, I found the character development really satisfying, with real growth in mind and soul in characters.



Laia started off really passive, without having much conviction for any cause (outside of saving her brother). She accepted what fed to her (by the Resistance) and was too trusting, naïve, gullible. She fell into the Black-And-White thinking of Resistance = Good and Mask = Bad, without critically thinking of underlying motives people might have. The only thing propelling her forward was her need to save her brother, without putting much thought into the greater ideals her brother was fighting for. I was so gratified when, by the end of the book, she wizened up to the Resistance’s corruption – fighting against the “Establishment” – realized the “bigger picture” (such as freeing someone like Izzi, which righted an injustice bigger than herself or her brother, and became an active player, saving herself and thinking for herself.


Elias’s soul was always in the right place. He simply needed the courage and the fortitude to follow through on his convictions and stand up to the “Establishment” that was the Blackliff Industrial Complex. He knew he wanted to be better than what they wanted to manufacture him into at Blackliff Academy. He could never be a mindless robot in their Machine. Yet, he felt trapped in the “System”. What I loved about his story is that he only became “free” when he took a stand for what he knew was Right. In the end, he did not follow along with other people’s interests, as he had been doing throughout the novel. He became bold in what he believed in. His soul became unshackled, and his body became so, too. Most importantly, he was <u>honest</u> about how he truly felt. That took Bravery.


Helene was my favorite! She deserves to be a POV character, especially after all that she went through – so I am so glad that I get to read her POV in “Torch Against the Night”! What I loved about Helene was how steadfast she was in what she believed in, and how unwavering she was in her faith in what she was doing. Although she subscribed to Martial ideals, I found it really admirable how she focused on her goals, and how driven and tenacious she was in “going for gold”. She knew what she wanted, and she kept her eye on the prize. She did not let anyone underestimate her, and she possessed a keen sense of self. Her character is inspirational. The best part is, she is capable of strategic thinking for the Greater Good. She truly wants what is best for her people and the Empire, and she was selfless in her pursuit of that. I’m glad that she wasn’t brainwashed by Blackliff in the end, and even though she had been a stringent rule follower the whole book, she broke the rules to aid Elias in Doing the Right Thing.


The love square was intense! I shipped ALL of them! I genuinely had no clue who was “meant to be” and who wasn’t. Usually, it’s a little obvious who the “destined” couple are, but Sabaa Tahir pleasantly surprised me by making it more complicated – and messy! – than usual.

Laia and Keenan had that whole cute “can she melt his cold exterior” thing going on, which is always adorable. His hard edges started softening more and more around her, which was adorable.

Elias and Laia had that “insta-love”, “forbidden love”, and “opposing sides” thing happening, and it is always heartwarming to see characters that are trained to distance themselves from each other be ineffably drawn to each other, and discover their similar ideals through all the haze of exterior forces designed to keep them apart.

Helene and Elias made me so emotional! I usually am not all that into the whole “friends to lovers” thing, but they flipped that on its head! I adored their simultaneous realizations that they were Everything to each other, their need to be there for each other, and how they were such an equal match. Helene was “The Brain” and Elias was “The Heart”. The will-they-won’t-they feeling in the air had me swooning. Plus, I’m so into the whole fight-each other-but-really-love-each other thing. The fact that Helene is physically matched with Elias makes me so happy. I love when they have each other’s backs, but also adore the scene where they were sparring. That was beautiful.

My heart breaks for Helene! But Elias didn’t want to let her go in the end.  A true Tragedy.


I liked how the framing of the book showed the ending as a fulfillment of what the characters had been lacking in the beginning. Elias finally achieved the freedom he had sought for, while Laia finally had the courage to save herself – and her brother – on her own terms.


The major themes I discovered were: overcoming fear, freedom, the soul, and the Spirit.


I found it cool how Sabaa Tahir modeled the culture of the Martials after the Ancient Romans, while modeling the culture of the Scholars after Ancient Arabs. She certainly did her research – it felt very “real”. I suspect that the Tribesmen were modeled after North African nomads, and I expect to learn more about them in “Torch Against the Night” (as well as the Mariners).


I’m so, so happy that the “intellectual” group, the Scholars, are the heroes and the protagonists in this series, and not the antagonists (like the Erudite in “Divergent”) nor the sidekicks (like the Ravenclaws in “Harry Potter”). Meanwhile, the “brawny” group, the Martials, are antagonistic, instead 0f heroic, for once, in contrast to the Dauntless and the Gryffindors. I appreciate that.


“There are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.” – Spiro Teluman

“Laia is the wild dance of a Tribal campfire, while Helene is the cold blue of an alchemist’s flame.” – Elias Veturius

“Even still, there is an animal freedom to how he moves, a controlled chaos that makes the air around him blaze. So different from Keenan, with his restrained solemnity and cool interest.” – Laia

“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. your heart.” – Spiro Teluman

“That’s who Helene is: Her faith is steadfast. Her loyalty. Her strength. They always underestimate me. I’d underestimated her more than anyone.” – Elias Veturius




Ember in the Ashes delighted, shocked, and moved me. I’m rushing into “Torch Against the Night”!


Call Me By Your Name Review: Gorgeous Summer Sensuality in the Depths of Winter


I still can’t place my finger on when exactly I first heard about “Call Me By Your Name.” There has been buzz surrounding it for nearly a year since its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. All I knew about it was that it was set in Northern Italy and was about two young men who fall in love. What really drew me to it was the lush cinematography of the early promotional clips. My mind was set—I had to watch it as soon as I was able.


This summer, the “Call Me By Your Name” hype grew and I was bursting at the seams to watch it. Reviewers were describing it as “tantalizing” and “sensual” and “summery.” It promised to be a visual feast with a beguiling love story. It also promised to be raw and heart-wrenching. The wait was excruciating.


Finally, the time I had basically been waiting for all year arrived. It was November, I was in London and “Call Me By Your Name” had just come out in the UK a couple of weeks before. I was ecstatic. I got tickets to see it at the Curzon Cinema in Soho, a member of a arthouse cinema chain. The environment was relaxed and perfect—cushy seats, chill ambience and a packed theater full of other eager moviegoers.


It’s hard to put into words how much I adored “Call Me By Your Name.” It’s genteel, refined and intellectually stimulating.


The cinematography really sold the summer languor of the film, focusing on luscious, verdant pastoral views and casting the characters in an incandescent light. Every scene during the day was aglow with golden natural light, and the mood was somnolent. The night scenes were humming with barely contained energy, softly lit with hallowed coloring. The setting—a small town in Northern Italy in the 1980s—was picture perfect.


It is set at the home of the Perlmans. The son, Elio Perlman, is home for the summer when he meets Oliver, an American PhD student who is studying the Classics with Elio’s father and residing with the Perlmans for the summer. And so ensues the pas de deux, a clandestine dance between the two love interests as they skirt around their feelings for each other. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) possesses an almost bird-like fragility, prone to sudden spurts of energy and flightiness. Oliver (Armie Hammer) is larger than life, filling up every room enters with his presence.


Elio is the definition of precocious. He transcribes classical music, performs renditions of classics on the piano and reads and reads and reads. He is graced with intellectual precision. To him, at first, the burly American is uncouth and brusque. They are stark opposites, yet their chemistry is electric. Chalamet’s acting as the lovelorn Elio is magnificent. The sharp interest in his gaze when watching Oliver is palpable.


This is a film that forces you to feel every single emotion displayed on screen. It holds your feelings hostage. And so, as it seeped with romance, I could feel my own heart spilling over. I felt the dizziness and the grandeur of that summer love. The scenes between Elio and Oliver as they discovered the depths of their feelings for each other had the wispy air of a dream. If you’re a hopeless romantic, you’ll be squealing internally. The sexual chemistry burns fiery hot and their mutual desire is as succulent as the fruits that thematically pop up throughout the film.


Yet, with the highs come the lows, and Oliver must return to America at the end of the summer. This was the emotional weight of the film, and it wrung my heart out. Chalamet portrays a young man losing his emotional center with a sincerity that is absolutely heartbreaking. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) gives a truly sagacious monologue to Elio towards the end of the film that touches the soul and which I believe truly encapsulates the weight of first love.


There were points in the film when I just wanted to bottle up the feelings I had in response to the imagery and keep them close to me forever. The music only heightened those feelings; the soundtrack was blessed with three songs from Sufjan Stevens (my personal favorite being the lugubrious Visions of Gideon), an artist that is able to transmit delicate love in his craft. The final scene was the most poignant and deeply moving of the entire film. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that it will hit you in waves of emotion that you may have even forgotten how to feel.

elio crying

If you love visually, intellectually and emotionally stimulating films, you will find all that and more in “Call Me By Your Name.”


Side Note: How they make the simple act of biking look so spellbinding?


10/10 Stars

Sansa Stark – A Lady´s Armor is her Courtesy

A short narrative piece inspired by modern day re-imaginings of favorite fictional characters. 


Sansa liked to look like a lady. Prim and proper, not a hair out of place. What was a woman if not for her looks?


After all, what’s outside reflects what is inside, and if she looked pristine and polished on the surface, she would feel gracious and courteous.


She reminded herself to hold herself with the utmost propriety every day, and the world would smile upon her. People would be pleasant to her and she would be admired. She didn’t know any other way.


Strolling out of the coffee shop, she glanced at herself in the window to check she still looked her best. She did. Her eyes were bright with unfettered dreams, and she knew it was going to be a good day.


People looked at her appraisingly as she passed them on the sidewalk walking back to her apartment in the city. She smiled winsomely whenever she caught someone’s eye, determined to be as charming as possible.


As she walked past a storefront, the door opened and, before she could move out of the way, she was slammed into by a large figure. She fell to the ground like a paperweight. She looked up in astonishment to find a hard face glowering at her.


“Look where you’re going!” The man boomed gruffly. “You’ve got your head in the clouds or something?”


She blinked. Why was he yelling at her? She had done nothing wrong! She didn’t deserve to be spoken to like this, with such animosity.


She quivered, “I didn’t mean any harm. I’m very sorry, sir.” Her voice sounded tremulous even to her own ears.


He huffed, “Next time, watch it, princess,” and stepped cavalierly around her to continue on his jaunty way.


Left sprawled on the ground, Sansa looked around her. People gawked at her, but when they saw her looking their way, they shifted their eyes away and continued walking, evading what had just happened. She was stunned. Wouldn’t anyone help her up? Did no one care? No one even stood up for her to the malicious man.


Slowly, Sansa rose, and continued walking home, but this time, she wasn’t smiling. Her face hardened into an icy glare the next time she caught someone looking at her. The world didn’t deserve her niceties and politesse. With an air of nonchalance, she walked up the steps to her apartment door and shut out her dreams of a noble world.

Teaser Tuesday: Game of Thrones


I received the first two books of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George RR Martin last Christmas as a present from one of my best friends.

This summer, I have begun to read A Game of Thrones and it is absolutely delightful. Reading what I had already watched onscreen, this time with vivid descriptions and a window into the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings, is so enthralling.

I’m so thrilled, so far, by reading the motivations of characters like Arya, Tyrion, Jon, Sansa, and Daenerys.

Here are a few teasers:

“Sansa had the grace to blush. She blushed prettily. She did everything prettily, Arya thought with dull resentment.”

“‘You Starks are hard to kill,’ Jon agreed.”

“He was a pitiful thing. He had always been a pitiful thing. Why had she never seen that before? There was a hollow place inside her where her fear had been.”

“Sansa was dressed beautifully that day, in a green gown that brought the auburn of her hair, and she knew that they were looking at her and smiling.”

“‘By my lights, it was you who started this,’ Lord Tywin replied. ‘You brother Jaime would never have submitted to capture at the hands of a woman.’

‘That’s one way we differ, Jaime and I. He’s taller as well, you may have noticed.'”

The characters are so complex and I’ve been loving reading how it all began!

TV/Movie Fashion Inspiration Part 2

Another year, and more fashion inspiration from TV shows and movies I’ve watched since last summer!


Angela, Mr Robot



Angela Moss, best friend of the protagonist of Mr Robot, and acted by Portia Doubleday, exemplifies corporate chic in her wardrobe. Her tailored outfits include classy blazers and cute collars. She looks especially divine in the color forest green, and rocks brogues/oxfords. I’ve really enjoyed watching her effortlessly preppy style in just one season of Mr Robot. A particular plus was her polished, pristine ballerina outfit, the soft hues of pale blue and white setting off her alabaster skin tone nicely.


Darlene, Mr Robot



Darlene Alderson, the sister of the protagonist of Mr Robot, acted by Carly Chaikin, is beguilingly sultry in short shorts and extravagant accessories, showing off her long, slender legs. She struts in daring outfits and stompy shoes. She’s a dauntless character, and it shows in her dark colors and attention-getting ensembles. Her black ballet suit is in stark contrast with Angela’s white one, giving her an even edgier look.

Rachel, Suits


Rachel Zane, the love interest of the protagonist of Suits, has a killer corporate look, made up of fitted midi skirts, soft sweaters, and classic blouses. Her colors fall on the neutral side, but she’s also not afraid to experiment with florals and ruffles. Her outfits scream “boss lady”, which is precisely her character. Her clothes always show off her curves, with flattering waistlines.


Serena, Gossip Girl



Serena van der Woodsen oozes high fashion and an upper class lady demeanor in her choice of outfits. In the winter, she wears classic trench coats belted at her slim waist, or svelte pea coats. In the summer, she rocks bright, bold color and swishy skirts. Her evening gowns are always intricately designed and never fail to fit her willowy frame like a glove.


Jenny, Gossip Girl



Jenny Humphrey rocks the “bad girl” persona in leather jackets, dark tights, and all-black attires. She struts in ankle booties and super-miniskirts, a leggy sight. Her impossibly long limbs are complemented by her bad ass heels.


Effy, Skins



Effy Stonem is an enigmatic character, and it shows in her perpetually dark clothing. She is prone to playing up her petite frame – particularly limbs – with mini miniskirts/dresses and over-sized t-shirts. She is known for her fishnet tights and solid boots.


Cassie, Skins



Cassie Ainsworth is a dreamer, which is highly evident in her airy-fairy clothing. She’s a lover of cutesy patterns and bright hues. Her wispy midi skirts are typically paired with bold socks over her teeny legs.Her round sunglasses really complete the look, giving her an air of childlike chic.


Adaline, The Age of Adaline



Adaline Bowman is a picture of grace and elegance in timeless pieces of glamour. She is exquisitely styled in velvet dresses and fancy coats. She rocks clean, straight lines as well as delicate florals.


Gaby, The Man from U.N.C.L.E



Gaby Teller’s sophisticated style is impeccably lady-like. Her petite figure is complemented by mini-dresses and dainty accessories. Her hats are chic, her sunglasses polished. Her outfits are refined, ivory with pops of bright color like orange and green. She favors patterns, like stripes, which give her a suave look.


Eilis, Brooklyn



Eilis Lacey is a true romantic, and her outfits suit her sweet, endearing demeanor. Her trademark long, fluttery, swishy skirts are winsome. Her colors are refreshing, from delicate blues and yellows and greens, to sharp whites, blacks, and grays. Her sunglasses are urbane and cosmopolitan.

5 Best Books of 2015

The 5 Best Books I Read in 2015

  1. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
  2. Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
  3. Paper Towns by John Green
  4. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
  5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard


Red Queen generated a lot of buzz this year, so naturally, I had to check it out. It’s a debut novel and I was curious to see why it was insanely popular in YA circles. I’m still reading it, but it’s really good so far. It tells the story of an underclass girl, a “Red”, navigating the oppressive upper class of her society, the “Silvers”. There’s a love triangle between her and two brothers, the princes, but trust me, it’s not your typical love triangle: it’s much more interesting. Mare, the protagonist, is tough and likeable, and I really enjoy reading from her point of view. If you’re wondering whether Red Queen is really as good as everybody seems to say it is, rest assured that yes, it is.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas


I’ll admit I slept on this wonderful series for too long. I finally got around to reading the first book, Throne of Glass, and I’m ecstatic I did. It’s similar to the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, with a kick ass heroine I adore.  Celaena, the protagonist, is clever, feisty, and tough as nails. She’s in a love triangle between a prince and the captain of the guard, and I can see her with both of them. That’s good story telling. The plot is immensely fascinating, and follows Celaena as she competes to be the King’s “Champion”.  Filled with suspense and mystery, this book is a must read! It’s a page turner for sure.

Paper Towns by John Green


I read Paper Towns because the movie was coming out, and I firmly believe in reading the book before the movie. The story captured me with the idea of loving an idea more than loving an actual person. I was struck by how quotable this book was. One of my favorite quotes is: ‘What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.’ The social commentary is profound and pensive. John Green’s writing ensconced me.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han


What I loved about this book is that the narrator was very relatable. I could really relate to Lara Jean’s sheltered life and her strong crushes. I rooted for her to finally find true love. I really enjoyed the sisterhood between her and her two sisters, Margot and Kitty. I also really liked how Jenny Han infused her Korean culture into the story, as Lara Jean and her sisters were half-Korean, half-white. I can’t wait till I finally get around to reading the sequel, (PS, I Still Love You)!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


I’m Nigerian-American, and prefer to be socially aware on issues affecting African-Americans in America. Between the World and Me was so lauded this year, I had to grab a copy. I devoured it. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing is so rich, enthralling, and beautiful. His bold take on race in America was a delight to read. I admire his dauntlessness.

Teaser Tuesday: Cinder by Marissa Meyer


Title: Cinder

Author: Marissa Meyer

Published: January 3, 2012

Series: The Lunar Chronicles

Pages: 387

Genres: Fantasy, Young-adult fiction, Novel, Fairy tale, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Romance novel, Utopian and dystopian fiction

Find it on: Amazon, Goodreads


Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.


Cinder is one of those books that I am constantly told to read while never actually getting around to reading it. It’s been highly recommended to me and I finally got a hold of a copy. I purchased it from my local book store, Wellesley Books, which is just down the street from my university, Wellesley College.

I must admit it has been a slow read so far, and I am still waiting for the story to pick up. Hopefully, it will deliver, as I have high expectations for such a widely-praised book.

The fantasy story follows Cinder, a cyborg, who falls in love with Prince Kai, as far as I can tell right now. What I find compelling about is that it’s supposed to be a sci-fi retelling of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella. I’m a big fan of modern twists to ancient fairy tale stories, such as Once Upon A Time, A Cinderella Story, Beastly, and Snow White & The Huntsman.

Here’s a teaser (page 6):

“She shoved back from the desk, her scowl landing first on a lifeless android that sat squat on her worktable and then on the man behind it. She was met with startled copper brown eyes and black hair that hung past his ears and lips that every girl in the country had admired a thousand times.

Her scowl vanished.”

Want to know what happens next? Well, you’ll simply have to get the book!