Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire

34433755Rating Four Star

Title: Girls of Paper and Fire

Author: Natasha Ngan

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series? Yes

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warning for sexual assault.

Girls of Paper and Fire is an antidote to the poison that is on the daily news. It’s a testament to the resilience of survivors, filled with fire and fury and hope. If you are in the mood for a read that will set the patriarchy alight, this is definitely one to grab.

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There is a lot to unpack about this stunner of a debut novel. The experience of reading Girls is intensely personal, as the book draws intimately from the Natasha Ngan’s experiences. From the cultural flourishes to the Paper Girls’ shared trauma, every detail within the book is carefully considered to create an emotionally immersive experience. I confess this novel left me in a daze after I finished it, so do approach with caution considering the heavy content within.

The world building in Girls is rich and expansive, helped by Natasha Ngan’s beautiful descriptive writing. Characters within this world are divided into three groups – with the powerless humans of the Paper caste oppressed by the demons in the Steel and Moon castes. There is mythology and founding legend deeply rooted in the fabric of this world, re-purposed by the ruling class to reinforce their reign at the top. I loved the political tension between the different caste and the various provinces of the Demon King’s vast empire. As the world is based in Malaysia, it’s as rich in cultural diversity as its real-life counterpart.

Lei is a Paper Girl, one among a group of nine selected to be concubine to the Demon King. Born to a world where women are routinely robbed of their agency, Lei emerges from the page simmering in anger yet plagued by insecurities and self-doubt. Her character arc is an exploration of self-empowerment and reclaiming of identity in a deeply flawed and misogynistic system. I appreciated that the book presented a multitude of ways in which these women coped, and does not pass judgement on any methods.

The romantic love story within this book is the slow burn F/F fantasy romance readers everywhere have been waiting for. It’s satisfying watching two women learn of each other’s flaws and strengths, empowering one another, and falling in love along the way. It’s so easy to root for these ladies and cheer on their battle against the world.

If you only pick one debut novel to read in 2018, make it this one.

Book Review: The Book of M

39899065Rating Four Star

Title: The Book of M

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series: No

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review. I also read a large part of this book via audiobook, which was purchased through my own Audible account.

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The Book of M is a one of the best post-apocalyptic fiction I have read in recent years, and it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel. It’s a poignant examination of human memories and connection, filled with powerful and surrealistic imageries. The last pages of the novel still haunt me, and I keep catching myself thinking about the book’s shadowless world. I did have some issues with the book which I will discuss below, but overall, this book marks Peng Shepherd as an author to be watched – I can’t wait to see what she will come up with next. Continue reading “Book Review: The Book of M”

Book Review: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

36453128Rating Four Star

Title: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

Author: Jen Campbell

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series? No

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review.

As a self-professed lover of fairy tales, their origins, and their reinvention, I was primed to love the whimsical and beautifully written collection of stories. Within these short stories readers will find tales imbued with the ghost of familiar fairy tales, intertwined in with historical facts that are stranger than fiction. The stories within this collection are driven by voices of the outcast, weaving the border between reality and fantasy, yet it remains consistently enchanting due to the beautiful imageries the writing conjures. The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a testament to the enduring power of fairy tales and their ability to withstand the test of time.

The Beginning of the World In the Middle of the Night

I’ll be reviewing some of my favourite stories within the collection below:

ANIMALS

First Lines: “These days, you can find anything you need at the click of a button.

That’s why I bought her heart online.”

The collection is off to a powerful and haunting start with Animals, a story set in a world where fickle and impermanent human hearts can be exchanged for hearts of a different kind – ones made of glass, or hearts which once beat in the chest of another animal. Fixated on finding the perfect heart for his girlfriend, the narrator of this story orders the heart of a swan. What follows is a tale that examines love and possession, intermingled with passages about hearts and animals from both myth and history. It’s fairy tale retelling meets Frankenstein: raw and visceral, dark yet beautiful, filled with human thirst – in short, it’s the perfect way to begin this collection. Continue reading “Book Review: The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night”

Book Review: Song of the Current

35477920Rating Four Star

Title: Song of the Current

Author: Sarah Tolcser

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury Australia in exchange for an honest review.

Song of the Current is a beautiful dedication to the miracles of small things, the magic of voyages, and the infinite potential out on the open ocean. The writing conveys beautiful and vivid imageries, and I loved the interplay between swashbuckling privateer action and the subtle influences of magic.

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Caro dreams of one day hearing the whispers of the god at the bottom of the river, an event that will seal her fate as the next captain of Cormorant – the Oresteia family’s wherry. The river god speaks in the language of tides and reeds, and his words remain elusive to Caro. Events at the start of the book incapacitates Caro’s father, and forces her to embark on a new adventure and find destiny among the river currents and beyond. Continue reading “Book Review: Song of the Current”

Book Review: The Grace of Kings

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4-star

Title: The Grace of Kings

Author: Ken Liu

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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In a genre inundated with tall-tales of reluctant white heroes fulfilling their Destiny, Ken Liu’s voice unabashedly stands apart. He is a constant innovator, whether it’s with his short fiction, full length novel, or translated work. At the same time, he also showcase the roots of his identity via the incorporation of Chinese history and mythology in all his writing. The Grace of Kings embodies Ken Liu’s style completely, fusing his unique voice with an ambitious saga about war, governance, and people who defy destiny.

The Grace Of Kings

The Grace of Kings is told via a series of interconnected chapters, each giving the reader an insight to the many characters that populate this vast world. The character featured may only fleet in and out of the narrative, or reappear numerous times to emerge as a central figure to the tale – but each of their story felt crucial to the overarching epic.Ken Liu’s mastery over short fiction is evident by his previous works such as The Paper Menagerie, and I loved seeing these skills applied on a grander scale to create the rich tapestry of The Dandelion Dynasty. Although each chapters felt episodic, there was a constant sense of momentum and urgency throughout the text, making this a constantly engaging read despite its hefty length. Continue reading “Book Review: The Grace of Kings”

Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

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Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series? No

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Date A Book/Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

NOTE: I read this book as part of #AsianLitBingo, you can find my full TBR here.

When Dimple Met Rishi is like a sip of iced-coffee on a stifling summer day: refreshing, energising, and never fails to put a smile on my face. This endearing romantic comedy explores the whole spectrum of the young adulthood experience with sincerity and humour. Within these pages you will find an honest examination of culture and identity, as well as a thoughtful study on dreams and ambitions.

When Dimple Met Rishi Continue reading “Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi”

Book Review: Norse Mythology

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4-star

Title: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Series? No

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Disclaimer: I received a physical copy of this book from Bloomsbury Australia in exchange for an honest review. 

When I think of Neil Gaiman’s writing, I think of the reinvention of myths, of age-old tales rewritten in timeless prose, of new surprises found in half-forgotten stories. From American Gods to Anansi Boys, from Sandman to Odd & The Frost Giant, it’s obvious that Gaiman’s relationship with myths is intimate and dynamic. Norse Mythology is no simple collection of outworn tales, it’s a reminder of the enduring power of stories – especially ones that can be retold.

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To be perfectly honest, my interest in Norse mythology have always felt like an afterthought to my passion for the Greek pantheon, or the many deities of East Asia. It’s a collection of myths that seemed to value valour in battle and warriors above all – things my bookish self could not relate to. In this book, Neil Gaiman managed to capture the humanity in the gods of Asgard, while letting them retain their infuriating yet remarkable character and habits. Although it’s a slim volume, it was packed with enough content to whet my appetite to go exploring for more. Continue reading “Book Review: Norse Mythology”

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Movie & Screenplay Review

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4-star

Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: J. K. Rowling

Rating: 4/5 stars

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The review below is spoiler free! Please avoid commenting with big plot spoilers!

If I was a Niffler, I would not covet jewels or freshly minted coins – I would be looting the JKR’s brain for more Harry Potter content. Like all my fellow Potterheads, I can’t help but want to revisit the wizarding world. Simply rereading the book is not enough, I always want more – even though I am aware they will rarely meet my immense expectations for the series.

Needless to say, I was still amongst the first in line to queue up to purchase tickets to Fantastic Beasts. This was in spite of my decidedly mixed feelings on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I ended up adoring Fantastic Beasts in spite of its many flaws. I think being able to experience the movie, rather than relying on a script alone, went a long way in making me appreciate this story. Not to mention that Newt Scamander is the Hufflepuff hero we’ve all been waiting for, and he deserves all of our love.

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Personally, the highlight of this screenplay and movie for me is the character of Newt Scamander. He’s at once the quintessential Hufflepuff and a unique character all his own. Remember when JKR explained why all the Hufflepuffs stayed for the final Hogwarts Battle? It wasn’t because they wanted glory, or power, they stayed because that’s what Hufflepuff do – because being good needs no reward. That’s Newt, you feel it every time he interacts with one of his creatures or champion for another character. I also love the dichotomy of his mild social awkwardness, standing right alongside with his confidence and conviction in his passion for magical creatures. Eddie Redmayne totally owned this role, bringing Newt to life with his charismatic and multifaceted performance – I don’t think I would have ended up loving Newt quite as much without Eddie. Continue reading “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Movie & Screenplay Review”

Book Review: It Ends With Us

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4-star

Title: It Ends With Us

Author: Colleen Hoover

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series? No

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I read this book as a part of the #ReadThemAllThon – specifically, it was for the Cascade Badge (Book Likely To Make You Cry). It certainly did not disappoint me in that regards, I teared up a couple of times reading this book. They ranged from tears of frustration, to tears of relief, to pure tears of joy. This short novel packs some sucker punches within its pages, it made me glad I did not give up on Colleen Hoover after reading Maybe Someday.

It Ends With Us

“There is no such thing as bad people. We’re all just people who sometimes do bad things.”

The main characters in this book are magnetic and memorable – especially once I got over how ridiculous some of the names were (e.g. Lily Bloom and Atlas Corrigan). I especially love Lily with her fire, her drive, and her compassionate heart. Even her quirks, such has her teenager letter to Ellen Degeneres, became endearing to me – after all, it’s exactly the kind of awkward behaviour I engaged in during my own adolescent years. I loved viewing the story entirely from Lily’s point of view, so that the readers can feel and falter through life in the exact same ways she did.

“Maybe love isn’t something that comes full circle. It just ebbs and flows, in and out, just like the people in our lives”

There were two main male characters in this book. Blessedly, it was not a love triangle, as I am severely allergic to those. Atlas and Ryle appeared at completely different stages in Lily’s life, and as individuals they remain distinct from one another. Lily knew her heart at all points in the novel, so I did not consider this a love triangle. Instead, it’s a complex dynamic, layered upon Lily’s personal history and her past interactions with both men – I found their story incredibly compelling.

This book touched upon multiple tough issues, and I think it largely dealt with them with gravitas and respect. The main theme the book dealt with was domestic abuse, and I felt it handled the matter very well. Victim blaming is unfortunately a huge part of how society views domestic abuse – ‘Why didn’t she just leave him?’ is a question that perpetually pops up in conversations about these sort of crime. I am glad to see the book shed light on this aspect.

“Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you can simply stop loving them. It’s not a person’s actions that hurt the most. It’s the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear.”

Colleen Hoover’s Author Notes at the end of the book shed even more light on her personal experiences with it – and I recommend that you only read the Author’s Notes once you have finished the novel, as it definitely contains spoilers! Some of the scenes were difficult to stomach, so I would warn readers who can potentially be triggered by attempted rape and domestic violence.

I loved the direction this book took, it was similar to The Girl Who Fell – but executed with a lot more poise and expertise. Colleen Hoover dared to take readers on an unexpected and painful path, but I felt the story could not have headed in any other route. By the time my tears were shed, I had long accepted that this was a fitting ending to the novel. I also liked that there were foreshadowing in early parts of the book, so I had braced myself for this conclusion from the beginning (did not hurt any less, though).

Although Colleen Hoover is excellent at drawing out emotions and keeping her readers engage, I still find her writing style choppy at times. Primarily, this is because her characters tend to revert to cliche when they speak, especially in romantic scenes. By the end of the book, I wanted to roll my eyes a little every time someone mentioned the phrases ‘be bold, be brave’, or ‘just keep swimming’, or ‘I want to be you when I grow up’. Building up such wonderful, realistic characters – and then having them default to cheesy one liners really takes me out of the reading experience.

Overall, I found this book to be a memorable read, and one you definitely have to experience for yourself. I want to try out more of this author’s other work. Which would you recommend for me next?


If you’re reading this book during August, join us at the Bibliophile Academy in discussions, livetweets and taking beautiful photos of the novel. Find us on:

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Book Review: When Michael Met Mina

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Title: When Michael Met Mina

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah

Series? No.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Pan Macmillan Australia in exchange for an honest review.

When Michael Met Mina is a courageous, unwavering and relevant portrayal of Australia, as well as global social climate. The book looks at Islamphobia right in the eyes are challenges it. It also comes with a cast of flawed yet endearing characters.

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One of the things I loved most about When Michael Met Mina is the pure Aussie feel to it all. For a book that challenges the status quo in this country, the text also shows a lot of pride in this nation.

Like Mina, when I first moved to Australia, I lived in West Sydney. Admittedly, we are in different life stages and I was only there for one year – but in that time-frame I have faced the same stigma that seems to plague residents of the wrong side of the harbour bridge. I love that the book acknowledges the ugly, deep-rooted bigotry – but it also takes pride in the multicultural landscape of Australia. The book and its familiar settings also reminded me why it’s so important to have books telling stories you can immediately resonate with, and why we should fight to protect Australian stories.

Amongst the deeper ruminations on the status of refugees and immigrants in Australia, the book also delved into personal challenges and triumphs of the characters. We have Mina, who’s attempting to assimilate to life in North Sydney and at her prestigious new school. The story also follows Michael, who’s parents ‘Aussie Values’ oppose everything Mina stands and her family stands for. Their personal struggle parallels the larger story Randa Abdel-Fattah is telling and cautions that politics and the wider social climates have intrinsic ties to our day-to-day life. It’s a call to be more active and engaged, whether it’s against prejudice, against preconceived ideas the media feeds us, or even against the opinions of those people we love most.

I love the portrayal of the individual characters. The book fulfils all my needs for a strong, at times abrasive and unapologetic female protagonist. I found Mina very easy to love. I also adored the friendship that she cultivates with Paula. In fact, I love these two ladies so much, I kind of thought ‘Michael who?’ – I would read volumes of just these two completely slaying the patriarchy and racists together. The sense of family and community in this book was also incredibly richly drawn, making Mina and her family feel like fully-fleshed out characters.

For a book with very serious themes, it’s not without its moment of light-heartedness and humour. I loved that Randa Abdel-Fattah reminds us of the hope and joy that can be found, even in the darkest situation – and that people do not have to wear their misery on their sleeves to validate anyone’s opinions. This entire book is filled with quotable phrases, of both the sassy and insightful kind.

The book never feels preachy or forces any opinion on its readers. Instead, it presents the quiet fear and anger that fans within Mina, or the conflicts which Michael feels – and let us draw our own conclusions without hand holding. It’s an important novel and I am ready to push this book upon everyone of all ages and background. It’s more than a love story, it’s a relevant snapshot of the issues of our current world.

I did feel that the book floundered a little bit in terms of plot direction, it felt very slice-of-life. A lot of the book was Mina or Michael’s day at school and their extracurricular event – which is authentic and true to life, but made the book felt repetitive towards the midway point. As such, the concluding chapters of the book felt anticlimactic. Despite this relative lack of dramatic tension in its ending, the book remains a thought-provoking and recommended read!


Have you read any Australian stories lately? Which are your favourites?