Book Review: The Wall of Storms

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Rating Five Star

Title: The Wall of Storms

Author: Ken Liu

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Series? Yes, 2 of 3.

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

NOTE:  The following review will contain some spoilers for The Grace of Kings, the first novel within this series.

After reading The Grace of Kings, I knew that Ken Liu has changed the game for epic fantasy. With The Wall of Storms, he continues to push on the boundaries of expectations and raised the bar even higher.

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The Dandelion Dynasty was established within the first novel, with the text raising some tough questions about the philosophy of governance in times of war. In The Wall of Storms, the book take these ideas one step further by discussing economic and infrastructural development in the time of peace. While that may all sound like cumbersome and tedious reading, The Wall of Storms manages to be a page-turner despite its hefty length and ambitious themes. It’s no secret that I adore Ken Liu’s writing, and The Wall of Storms has become my favourite of his published books. Continue reading “Book Review: The Wall of Storms”

Audiobook Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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Rating Five Star

Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Narrator: Christian Coulson

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Series? Yes, companion novel on the way!

Goodreads

Book Depository ||  Amazon  ||  Booktopia  ||  Dymocks  || Audible


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (hereby referred to as GGTVV) is a swashbuckling adventure exploring love and loss. The book exuberates an energy that will leave its readers breathless and delighted, as well as itching for a road-trip through 17th Europe of their own. While GGTVV is filled with hilarious escapades and heart-warming romance, it never shies away from critically examining the bigotry inherent within the book’s setting. The internet is hyping this one up to be one of 2017’s Required Readings, and I am in 100% agreement.

Gentlemans Guide

From page one, I was completely arrested with the voices of the characters within GGTVV, especially its protagonist – Monty. Monty is a complete rascal, but one that I could not help but love. He’s privileged and self-centred, with Felicity and Percy acting as his voices of reason and challenging him at every turn. What makes Monty endearing rather than infuriating is his capacity for growth and compassion, despites his numerous character flaws. It also helps that he has razor-sharp wit and one of the most entertaining narrative voices I’ve had the pleasure of reading. This is one of those rare books that literally makes me laugh-out-loud, even if it ends up putting my heart through the wringer with the very next scene. Continue reading “Audiobook Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”

Book Review: The Waking Land

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Rating Three Star

Title: The Waking Land

Author: Callie Bates

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes

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Book Depository  ||  Amazon  || Dymocks ||  Booktopia


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

The Waking Land offset the wonders of magic with human imperfections through the journey of the book’s complicated heroine, Elanna Valtai. Raised by a king who branded her father a traitor to the realm, Elanna grew up believing that her people are ignorant and unworthy. The Waking Land has a lot of potential, but falters at times with its portrayal of Elanna’s characterisation, and with maintaining a consistent pacing. For me, the book ended up being a compelling but unmemorable read.
The Waking Land

One of the largest underlying conflict in The Waking Land is the oppression of the Caerisians by the new ruling class. I am always cautious when I see fantasy races used as a tool to commentate on racism, as when not done in a respectful manner, it can be quite hurtful to marginalised readers. However, The Waking Land takes care to constantly challenge Elanna’s thoughts and the institutionalised racism around her – the text constantly questions the prejudices that drives royalty and noblewomen of Laon to jeer at Elanna’s skin colour and Caerisian parentage. Continue reading “Book Review: The Waking Land”

Book Review: Roar

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1Star

Title: Roar

Author: Cora Carmack

Rating: 1/5 Stars

Series? Yes

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Eagle-eyed blog readers may note that the usual purchase links to online retailers is missing from this post. This was entirely intentional because I think every dollar that goes towards Roar is a dollar wasted. I went in expecting an entertaining fantasy, filled with storm magic and a princess discovering her destiny. While the book partially delivered on these expectations, it also came with a significant amount of toxic masculinity, two domineering and possessive love interests, a romance that perpetuates rape culture, and a woman of colour thrown under the bus to further the heroine’s own storyline.

Roar

I’ll get the lone positive out of the way first. The world building in Roar was compelling, set in a world haunted by tempestuous storms where gifted humans employ magic to control them. Since the internet has no shortage of glowing reviews about the magic system in Roar, I’ll leave it at that. I have a lot more to say about the toxic romance in Roar as, it is an example of how dangerous it is for harmful tropes to reign unchecked and unchallenged. This post will contain spoilers for the romantic plot within Roar. This is the book that ruins itself, so I am just helping it along.

Note: The protagonist in this book goes by three different names – Aurora, Rora, and Roar – I will use the name Roar for the sake of clarity.

Trigger warning for romanticised abuse.

My main issue with Roar is the very problematic romanticisation of male sexual aggression and possessiveness. Unlike many YA novels where the narration primarily takes place from the heroine’s point of view, Roar is also written from Cassius and Locke’s perspective – and their thoughts on Roar were disturbing and frightening, especially because the text largely presented them as romantic. Continue reading “Book Review: Roar”

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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Book Depository  ||  Amazon  ||  Booktopia  ||  Dymocks


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: Flame in the Mist

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Title: Flame in the Mist

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes.

Goodreads

Book Depository  ||  Dymocks  ||  Booktopia


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

I read this book as part of the #AsianLitBingo challenge, you can check out my TBR for it here.

While Flame in the Mist was an enjoyable read overall, I felt somewhat let-down because of its immense potential to be remarkable. The premise promised greatness: a fantasy set in an alternate feudal Japan, featuring a cross-dressing noble lady skilled at invention and her time amongst lordless samurai warriors. I expected Flame in the Mist to sweep me off my feet. However, issues with inconsistent character development and pacing meant the book missed the mark for me.

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Flame in the Mist follows Mariko Hattori, daughter of a prominent daimyou, as she attempts to exact her revenge on The Black Clan. She believes this notorious mountain-based samurai gang is responsible for the death of her servants and foot soldiers, as part of an effort to assassinate her. Mariko infiltrates The Black Clan by disguising as a young male traveler. Before she knows it, Mariko is embroiled in a net of intrigue involving a lost shogun and a struggle for nationwide dominance.

First of all, I just wanted to say that Flame in the Mist is not retelling of Mulan – because it’s something I keep hearing on Twitter. Both stories have a cross-dressing heroine, and that’s where the similarities end. Japan and China are separate countries, and Mulan is not a folklore they share.

One of the things I was glad to see in Flame in the Mist is how different Mariko is from Renee Ahdieh’s previous protagonist, Shazi. Mariko is more of an observer and a thinker, someone who weighs up all of her options before acting. Due to this, at times her narration can seem repetitive and sedate. Despite the her tendency to lapse into long internal monologues, I appreciated that Mariko was the main driver of her story. It’s her actions that continually propelled the plot forwards, in spite of the machinations around her.

I must admit that I found many of the secondary characters to be lacking in dimension. Aside from Okami and Ranmaru, who had development thanks to their many interactions with Mariko – the rest of the cast suffered. I never felt that Mariko formed am authentic or lasting bond with The Black Clan. Similarly, the side story featuring Mariko’s twin brother, Kenshin, and his love interest fell a little flat. The book did try to address the sexism inherent within Mariko’s society, and I commend it for featuring several key female characters. Towards the end, there are hints that more of these characters will take centre-stage in the sequel – so I look forward to seeing the gender roles explored further.

My main issue with Flame in the Mist came from most of the book’s characterisation being told rather than shown. The book kept telling me about the brilliance of Mariko’s mind, how mysterious Okami is, how Ranmaru’s presence exudes power and command – but I was never convinced as they did little to back these claims up. The primary romance in the novel also suffered due to similar lack of development. One moment, our protagonists were eyeing one another with disinterest and hostility, the next they were utterly consumed by lust. I did like the interactions between them once the romance begun, but I am still perplexed on how it happened.

As for the world building, I admit I was a little disappointed by Flame in the Mist’s vision of Japan. Having read The Wrath and the Dawn, I know the author is capable of ensnaring all of our senses when it comes to setting. The Japan in Flame in the Mist seems a bit like a theme park. Samurai? Check. Emperors? Check. Maiko and geisha? Check. Teahouses? Check. Ninja? Check (you can’t tell me that Mariko’s inventions aren’t directly copied off ninja devices!) Youkai? Check. Lengthy description of kimono? Check. I also found the use of the Japanese vocabulary inconsistent and confusing, as it seems the author could not decide whether she wanted to use the English or the Japanese equivalent of certain words, and constantly fluctuated between them. Mercifully, this was limited to the first few chapters of the novel.

Overall, I am still invested enough in the story to check out the sequel. I would recommend it if you’re looking for a non-Western YA fantasy – especially as it seems I am amongst the minority when it comes to this book.


Have you read Flame in the Mist? What are some of your favourite books set in Japan?

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

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Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Series? No

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Book Depository ||  Amazon  ||  Dymocks  ||  Booktopia


I read this book as part of the #AsianLitBingo, you can see my planned TBR here.

Everything I Never Told you knocked my breath away and left me aching. I went through an entire spectrum of emotion during my reading experience: I raged, I wept, I hoped, but most of all I flinched whenever I saw myself reflected within the dark thoughts of these characters. This is a book that capture all the words ever left unsaid, whether it’s murmurs of an unfulfilled dream, or the seemingly hopeless longing for recognition. It’s a poignant and powerful examination of the costs of love and the burden of expectations.

Everything I Never Told You

One of the line that stuck with me after reading Everything I Never Told You is a young Lydia Lee’s pondering on the ‘fragility of happiness’. The Lee family has been hovering on a precipice – their joy tainted by words left unspoken, their mutual love turning destructive via the weight of expectations. Everything begins to bubble to the surface when Lydia is found dead in a local lake. In the search for the truth of what happened to Lydia, we have to dig deep – from the childhoods of her own parents to her relationship with her older brother, Nath.

“How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers.”

While it’s set up as a murder mystery, Everything I Never Told You is ultimately a powerful family drama. If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll know that drama is a sub-genre I rarely read or discuss on this blog. However, Celeste Ng is beyond gifted with words- she can turn the mundane everyday into something startling. As they say, the devil is in the details, and the characters in this novel burst into life through seemingly insignificant gestures. Celeste Ng manages to imbue even the unremarkable with emotional potency – you have to read this book to discover it for yourself.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

As I’ve alluded to previously, this book’s strongest point lies in its characters – especially the Lee family. We get to learn about all five members of the family and their history throughout the novel – along with their shared isolation from society due to racial prejudices. James is a Chinese-American who’s been fighting to shed stereotype since he was a young boy. He married Marilyn, an American woman who’s sole dream is to escape her mother’s mould for the ‘ideal woman’. Their reunion, while filled with love and joy, was marred by the rejection of Marilyn’s mother. This knock-back is but one of several that the Lee family faces throughout their lifetime.

The ostracization of immigrants is a familiar subject in fiction. Sometimes it seems like the only stories we’re allowed to tell are ones where our hurt are laid bare. Although Everything I Never Told You first appears to fall within this mould, it never turns the struggles of its characters into a spectacle to teach or entertain. For me, the book remained genuine and heartfelt, even when I want to reach into the pages and shake some senses into some of the Lees.


Needless to say, my first read for #AsianLitBingo was a total success. There’s still so much of May left and plenty of time to join us!

Book Review: Red Sister

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Title: Red Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

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Amazon ||  Book Depository  ||  Dymocks  ||  Booktopia


Disclaimer: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the Harper Voyager Australia in exchange for an honest review.

 

From its very first lines, Red Sister had me hooked and wholly invested. It promised warrior nuns, political and religious intrigue, along with a cast filled to the brim with complex ladies. Red Sister delivered on all counts. I especially loved its exploration on relationships between females, from friendship, to mentorship, to rivalry.

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It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent, Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.

The first lines of Red Sister are some of the most captivating I’ve read in several years, and it sets the tone for the entire book. Mark Lawrence’s writing style is meticulous and vivid, his sentences pulse with life and intrigue. In particular, I love the way he writes action scenes – I’ve admitted several times in the past that I am not a particularly visual reader when it comes to fight scenes, but Lawrence’s writing are cinematic even to someone like myself.  Continue reading “Book Review: Red Sister”

Book Review: Wintersong

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4-star

Title: Wintersong

Author: S. J. Jones

Series? Yes!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Wintersong was deeply inspired by classical music, especially the works of Mozart. Liesl’s ambition and passion as a composer was a significant catalyst for many of the novel’s events. Therefore, I wanted to review Wintersong using musical terminology, and I hope I do it justice – especially because my musical knowledge is non-existent (thank you for my crash course, Google!).

Prelude –
an introductory piece of music.

Like all of the best stories, Wintersong contains breathtaking beauty, but also holds danger and darkness within its intoxicating pages. S. J. Jones is a conductor of words, she weaves her love of gothic fairy tales, Mozart, and Labyrinth to form Liesl’s sensual tale of love, loss, and sacrifice.

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Fugue –
a composition characterised by the repetition of a principal theme/subject in simultaneously sounding melodic line.

At the heart of Wintersong is a tale about Liesl’s identity and self-discovery. The prologue begins with a long-forgotten play date between a young Liesl and the Goblin King. where games were wagered and promises were made. Memories of these games were soon hidden by the tolls of life and Liesl’s burgeoning adulthood, until they’re reignited by an encounter at the Goblin Market. Continue reading “Book Review: Wintersong”

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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Book Depository // Amazon // Dymocks // Booktopia


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”