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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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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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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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.

To The Sky Kingdom.png

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 »

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: Nevernight & Recap Of The Melbourne Book Launch

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4-star

Title: Nevernight

Author: Jay Kristoff

Series? Yes. 1 of 3.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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

I posted a list of ‘5 Reasons You Should Preorder Nevernight’ a couple of months back, so it should come as no surprise that I absolutely adored the book. Nevernight has just the right blend of nostalgia and fresh, original elements. It dares to go dark places, but is also never afraid to poke fun at itself and its genre, making it one of the best fantasy I’ve read this year.

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The book starts off with a bang, seamlessly mixing sex and death in a memorable opening sequence. It’s a hint of things to come, as Nevernight is filled to the brim with both lust and love, violence and despair, and ceaseless heartstopping action. Within the book itself, Jay Kristoff also employs a myriad of different story telling techniques, from occasional changes in point of views and narration, to the use of those clever little footnotes. Like the story, the craft employed within this book is unpredictable and ever-changing. Despite employing all of these narrative techniques, the book never becomes confusing, and the narrative voice is usually a perfect fit for a the scene at hand.Read More »

Book Review: Smoke by Dan Vyleta

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2stars

Title: Smoke

Author: Dan Vyleta

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Series? Yes. 1 of 3.

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

We all know that feeling when a brilliant premise is bogged down by it execution. The ideas and worldbuilding behind Smoke were excellent concepts. However, the book lost its footing a quarter way through – making the bulk of the novel a sedated, plodding read.

Smoke

There is no more hateful smell in the world than the smell of Smoke.

The book begins at a private boarding school in an alternate Oxford, where all sins are made corporeal in the form of thick, black smoke. Humans are literally stained by their sin in this world. In London, smoke is especially widespread amongst the lower-class. It purportedly clouds judgement, making people of low socioeconomic groups become more susceptible to crime. On the other hand, the upper echelon of society seems to be untouched by sins and the taint of smoke. Our protagonists are Thomas and Charlie, a pair of friends who starts to question Smoke and the foundation of the world they inhabit.

Smoke was off to a riveting start, I loved the dynamics between the boys at the boarding school. Julius, one of the school’s prefects, exacts his cruel brand of justice on students who are susceptible to sins. His own unstained track records are one of the first hints of the corruption within the system of smoke. I also immensely enjoyed the relationship between Thomas and Charlie. I found their friendship genuine and complex – fraught with the tension of class divide.

The laws of Smoke are complex. Not every lie will trigger it. A fleeting thought of evil may pass unseen; a fib, an excuse, a piece of flattery.

Much of Smoke’s successes and downfall lies in the fact that it’s ultimately a mystery. Readers are pulled into the enigma of Smoke and the mechanisms behind it. The hints we get are tantalising and kept me turning the pages for the first third of the book. However, the information we obtain quickly becomes repetitive. While I appreciated Smoke making a commentary on societal divide and prejudice, I also felt that the book was too heavy-handed in its delivery of this theme and would have preferred a more subtle touch. Many of the scenes were Smoke were discussed quickly became uninteresting because of repetition. I was never fully satisfied with the way the mystery resolved (or rather, didn’t resolve) itself.

The other thing I had an issue with were the characters that were introduced in Part 2 of the novel. Initially, it excited me to see two interesting ladies introduced into the mix of an otherwise male-dominated cast. Yet, the book handled their characters poorly. Livia, despite her iron-will and opinionated mind, was quickly relegated to being the third side in an unnecessary love triangle (I have to say though, I really liked how the triangle was resolved). Lady Naylor had the makings of an excellent character: a lady scientist with hidden motives. However, we did not get to see enough of her, and I disliked her characterization later on in the novel.

I also found the pacing of Smoke uneven and especially painful towards the second half of the novel. The endless wandering and walking in Smoke gave me painful flashbacks to the very worst parts of Deathly Hallows – it seemed pointless and bleak. Unfortunately, unlike Harry Potter, it also largely went nowhere at the end. That’s my whole issue with this book, no payoff.

Regardless of my issues with the latter parts of Smoke, I still found the worldbuilding commendable in both its scope and details. Dan Vyleta has obviously given this world great considerations, and I love the questions that he managed to pose with this concept. The motivations and historical reasons behind the conception of Smoke were intriguing, I am disappointed it was not explored in more details. Instead, we got an endless litany of morality lessons, along with some truly bewildering character arcs.


What do you prefer? A great premise with poor execution, or an unoriginal premise with good execution? Of course, we would love to have both, but if I had to pick, I’d pick the second in a heartbeat.

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?