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 RishiRead More »

Book Review: Flame in the Mist

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Title: Flame in the Mist

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes.

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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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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. Read More »

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.

Wintersong

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.Read More »

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.Read More »

Book Review: All The Ugly And Wonderful Things

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5star

Title: All The Ugly And Wonderful Things

Author: Bryn Greenwood

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Series? No

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Book Depository // Amazon // Booktopia


All The Ugly and Wonderful Things is a book that hooks you in, creeps under your skin, and refuses to let go. Written with a poetic and quiet intensity, the characters of this novel will haunt your thoughts long after the last pages are turned. The book effortlessly provokes a reaction: whether it’s one of disgust or of sympathy. Yet, the emotions never feel manufactured or disingenuous despite the controversial nature of the book’s themes.

“I liked learning things. How numbers worked together to explain the stars. How molecules made the world. All the ugly and wonderful things people had done in the last two thousand years.”

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“That’s not the only thing love means. You just got your mind in the gutter.”

Wavy is a girl who grew up without love, told by her own mother that she’s dirty and repulsive. At the beginning of the book, we meet Wavy at the tender age of five, already irreversibly damaged by her psychological and physical abuse. She does not speak, does not allow people to touch her, and is physically unable to eat in front of others. As expected, Wavy has an inherent distrust for the adults she encounters – until she meets Kellen. Kellen, despite being a con man and labelled a ‘fat slob’, is the exception. He’s able to get through her walls and connect with Wavy in a way even her younger brother and grandmother (the other two significant people in Wavy’s life) could not.

“Odd couple that they were, they had a real connection. Then he tugged her boot off and kissed the bottom of her bare foot. I could see him doing that kind of thing to his own kid, but she wasn’t. She was somebody else’s little girl.”

The plot is classic lonely girl meets lonely boy – yet it’s turned on its head by the huge age gap between the two characters. Wavy meets 24 years-old Kellen when she is just 8 years-old.  It’s a gap that seems morally unbreakable, although Kellen signifies safety and belonging to Wavy, two concepts that were completely alien to both of them prior to their meeting. Their relationship is a way for them to find their own comfort and identity in the midst of their awful world. Yet, physically, Wavy and Kellen could not be more mismatched: the text reminds us time and again of Wavy’s waif-like appearance, in contrast to Kellen’s huge form and beer belly. Wavy and Kellen’s bond is no fairy tale romance– it’s messy, fraught with emotional baggage and trauma from their environment.

This book is a remarkable example of the classic writing advice: ‘show, don’t tell’. The reader is never left with a biased viewpoint of our protagonists. Instead, we view Wavy and Kellen’s relationship from a multitude of characters – some recurring, some present for barely half a chapter. The book never presume to tell its audience how to feel about the relationship between Wavy and Kellen. I was allowed to be disturbed as much as I was allowed to be moved. To the very end, I still cannot condone all of Kellen’s actions, both he and Wavy remains extremely flawed. There’s no glorifying of tragedy or romanticising of any circumstances. Bryn Greenwood’s writing unflinchingly explores the ugly places, whether it’s base desires or unpleasant physical descriptors. It’s uncomfortable, it’s confronting, and it will make you question your own moral compass and societal values a thousand times over.

“You can look up the word keening in the dictionary, but you don’t know what it means until you hear somebody having her heart ripped out.”

I can’t quite believe this is Bryn Greenwood’s debut novel, her writing is polished yet evocative. Despite the limited vocabulary of some of her point of view characters, she manages to write some achingly beautiful paragraphs – which just goes to show that SAT words are not everything. The book is captivating, it absorbed and wholly absorbed me until the very end. Although I have only read this one book, I can already tell her stuff will go onto my auto-buy list because this sort of writing is what I live for.

As promised by the title of the novel, the story within is features events that will trigger revulsion – but not necessarily in the manner you would expect. Personally, it was the society around Wavy and Kellen that made me feel the most disgust. It’s a novel completely removed from the white fence, suburban homes – hence, it’s a story that’s completely distant from my own experiences. Its content are at once brutal and beautiful, and it will leave me reflecting and conflicted on the nature of humanity for a long while.

This book does come with a long list of triggers, so please note these before deciding whether you want to read it. Trigger Warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, implied sexual abuse, drug use, alcoholism, eating disorder.


I am very curious on the thoughts everyone will have upon completing this book, so if you have read it, please come discuss it with me below!

Book Review: Three Dark Crowns

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2stars

Title: Three Dark Crowns

Author: Kendare Black

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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

Three Dark Crowns is blessed with a unique and vivid world, along with a premise that promises high stakes and dangerous intrigue. Unfortunately, I felt very little was accomplished within this first novel. I also found it difficult to invest in any of the three princesses, despite Three Dark Crowns being a very character-driven book.

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Three dark queens
are born in a glen,
sweet little triplets
will never be friends.

Three dark sisters
all fair to be seen,
two to devour
and one to be Queen.

The title of Three Dark Crowns refer to three sisters born to a monstrous destiny. Katherine, Arsinoe, and Mirabella are separated in their childhood – each groomed to become a powerful wielder of magic in their respective talent. Katherine is fostered with the powerful Arron family, she is taught to live and breathe the art of poison. Arsinoe is a naturalist, meant to wield abilities to control animals and manipulate crop growth. Mirabella is an elemental, she commands wind, fire, and the very earth (she’s basically the Avatar) – she also garners strong support from the religious order of the kingdom. One amongst the triplet will be crowned queen, at the cost of her sisters’s lives.

The world of Three Dark Crown is richly imagined, with clear distinction between the different disciplines and their respective lands. I found the Arron family, head of the poisoners, to be the most compelling of the sets of characters. The naturalist and their companion animal also made for an interesting setting, although I felt their chapters would have benefited from expansion on the world building. Mirabella seems very isolated with her elemental ability, and the setting she inhabited was the weakest of the three – despite the supposed political machinations by the temple.

I struggled with the book because the three main girls had quite similar voices. Katherine and Arsinoe, in particular, suffered from similar character flaws and an inability to excel at their talent. Arsinoe’s chapters were also overshadowed by Jules, her best friend and confidant. As a result, I cared for her the least of the siblings. Mirabella stood out from her sisters as her chapters felt more energetic and vivacious. She is also the only sibling who remembers the childhood the girls spent together, thus she feels most conflicted with her destiny.

Throughout the novel, the book builds towards the eventual reunion and battle between the sisters, but I could never become fully invested in their dilemma. The plot also involved at least three different romances, with suitors who began to bleed together in my mind. For a book about three young women on the brink of death, there was an inordinate amount of swooning and love polygons.

The book was missing the action and political machinations promised by its premise. Instead, Three Dark Crowns was filled with repetitive chapters about each girl’s unchanging situation. The triplets remained the pawns of more ambitious court members, and while this may change in future instalments, it made for a very frustrating and monotonous read.

There is definitely a lot of potential here for a great series, but the first volume missed the mark by failing to involve me in the characters’ story arcs. While I am still curious to see how things will play out, especially given the reveal at the end of the book – I am ultimately disappointed by this book.

Book Review: To The Sky Kingdom

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Title:  To The Sky Kingdom

Author: Tang Qi, translated by Poppy Toland

Series: No

Rating: 2/5 Stars

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Book Depository // Amazon


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

It pains me on multiple levels that I did not fully enjoy this book, as I wished with all my heart that I would love it. Known in its native China as Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossom (三生三世,十里桃花 )– this particular title is making waves in its homeland, with both a star-studded movie and TV series in production. It’s also one of the first contemporary Chinese romance fantasy to be translated into English, and although I did not enjoy this particular story, I hope to see more works translated in the future.

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Most of my disappointment for this book stemmed from my predisposition to love it. I am Vietnamese, but I grew up consuming a lot of Chinese fantasy and media, thanks to my grandfather’s love of wuxia and historical series. I continue to love these type of shows until this very day, and still regularly watch popular series – I love the way these fantasy combine Chinese mythology and religion with fresh new worlds. The themes and tropes in these stories are as familiar to me as my own name.Read More »

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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4-star

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Author: J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

Series? No. This is NOT the 8th book, OK.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hachette Australia in exchange for an honest review. I also bought my own copy the day of release because it’s Harry Potter and I can’t help myself.

I had originally intended to wait until #ReadThemAllThon to begin reading Cursed Child as my Thunder Badge entry. Alas, on the release day I could not help myself – after seeing a couple of photos on twitter of people attending the release party, I quickly ran out to the shops and bought myself a copy. I devoured the story twice in the space of 12 hours, and only my friend borrowing the copy prevented me from reading it a third time.

Note that I will be splitting this review into two parts. The first part is my general, non-spoilery thoughts on the script. The second part will be a spoiler filled section detailing exactly which parts of the script worked or didn’t work for me, and will be marked. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Cursed Child, please be mindful when you are scrolling through this post to avoid spoilers!

My emotions in regards to the Cursed Child are wildly mixed. On the one hand, the trip down memory lane was beautifully nostalgic, and I teared up several times while reading the script. However, many of the plot points in this story are simply absurd and outlandish – I can barely believe that J. K. Rowling gave it the green light and asked fans worldwide to consider it an ‘8th book’. Although I loved many things about the play, it’s still a far cry from the original seven Harry Potter books.

HPCursedChildRead More »