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An Andalus Adventure

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The climax is nice but ultimately rather lackluster, and the beauty of characters taking shahada, Jews being freed, Solomon’s table, an old lady with a premonition, and a character dying are just not enough to keep the story in reader’s hands, unfortunately. The book opens with two young siblings Ben and Bella, overlooking the coast, dreading their lives under Visigoth oppression, and hiding their Jewish culture and faith. N. Jalali is an author of works of fiction for older children and YA, from boarding school adventures to her newest adventure packed novel; a historical fiction for Young Adults inspired by real-life historical events of the birth of Muslim Spain. It is extremely well written and I loved the way the author integrates perspectives from three different viewpoints, following their adventures with different timelines that come together in an incredible finale. Jalali’s books explore the Islamic faith through the tradition of storytelling – entertaining with adventurous, humorous and memorable characters to fuel the imagination.

I love that the book is clean, although, I do wonder if more information about Lady Florinda would have helped the reader understand her father’s desperation, I do understand the vagueness, but it is a glaring omission that keeps the reader curious. You could read a chapter Monday, and then pick it back up on Thursday and not worry that no one remembers anything because it is focusing on new characters anyway. The first few pages grip you, the last 50 bring it all together, but the middle 250 were hit and miss in this lower YA/upper MG book. I don’t know that I could get middle school students to read the book for a book club, it would have to be motivated by a grade to get through it in a classroom setting I’m afraid.I loved the teasing about being a shepherd, Jacob coming to love Islam, Bella not wanting to marry, but it seemed to always stop short of sweeping me away. My teen and tween son couldn’t get past 38 pages or so, and I’ve asked around and no one I know that started the book, finished it. Jacob, captured in Julian’s raid on Iberia, is tied up and thrust upon a galley boat bound for North Africa.

Leaving his sleepy village of Tlemcen, a young Berber Qasim, joins Tariq’s men, and is swept away on an amazing quest. I appreciated the updates on the characters and it showing Muslims and people of other faiths coexisting and being accepting even within families, but the connection to the story was a little lost.Leaving his sleepy village of Tlemcen, a young Berber, Qasim joins Tariq's men and is swept away on an amazing quest. It then jumps to the Governor of Ceuta, Count Julian (Ilyan), awaiting to meet with Umayyad leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad. All that aside, I think the book has value, it is just really dry in spots, a lot of spots, and given the vocabulary, the changing narrators, the choppiness between chapters, and the history, it is hard to keep reading or be anxious to pick up once you have put it down.

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