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

Goodreads

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 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.

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

Goodreads

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!

#AsianLitBingo Reading TBR

AsianLitBingo Banner

There’s nothing like a reading challenge to wake a book blog from its slumber – especially one with a theme so close to my heart: Asian literature. #AsianLitBingo aim to promote Asian representation in fiction, especially #ownvoices stories.

This reading bingo challenge was originally created by Shenwei at Reading AsiAm. They kindly accepted me on board as a co-host, and I’ve created the graphics you see in this post. These are free for anyone participating in the challenge to use, you don’t have to ask!

Here are some ground rules for the challenge:

Rules:

  1. Book must have an Asian main character (can be one of several main characters) and be by an Asian author to qualify. It does not have to be #ownvoices, but #ownvoices is strongly encouraged.
  2. Book can be a novel, short story collection, or comic book/graphic novel.
  3. Book must be read during May 1st through May 31st to qualify.
  4. Review link-up will close end of June 1st at midnight PST. The extra margin is to give people the opportunity to write up a review for a book they might have finished late May 31st. We’ll follow the honor system assuming you didn’t read the book on June 1st.

For more details, please check out Shenwei’s post where you can also sign up and add a link to your own TBR.  Check out the bingo and my own TBR below!


AsianLitBingo

The bingo line I’m choosing is 3-Across, as it contains genres I know I would love, ones that are slightly outside of my comfort zone, as well as the coveted Free Space (a god-send for people unable to stick to a TBR like myself!)

SFF With An Asian MC:

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Ninefox Gambit by Yoonha Lee: It’s been a while since my last science fiction, and Ninefox has been sitting on my Kindle for a while so this was an easy pick. It sounds like a challenging read as it’s filled with hard-science and mathematics – but the intriguing concept of a disgraced space captain sharing her consciousness with an undead tactician is one too promising for me to pass up!


Historical Fiction With An Asian MC:

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Everything I’ve Never Told You by Celeste Ng: Another one that’s been sitting at the back of my Kindle. The story is set in 1970s Ohio, featuring a Chinese-American family and the events surrounding the death of their eldest daughter: Lydia. I’ve heard such amazing things about how this book discusses race and family.


FREE SPACE:

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Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh: Although her debut duology had its imperfections, I absolutely love the way Renee Ahdieh captures the senses with her writing. She also has a knack for writing some killer sentences, be in romantic or inspirational. Flame in the Mist boasts cross-dressing, a heroine who’s tough-as-nails, and a Japanese setting. I am 100% on board.


Retelling With An Asian MC:

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The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniThe amount of time I’ve false-started on this book throughout the one year I’ve owned it is near laughable. It’s not a criticism on the writing, but it seems every time I go to read it – something comes up in real life and I have to leave it unfinished. I hope this is the year I can read and complete this enchanting retelling of the Mahabharat.


Contemporary With An Asian MC:

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: I am cutting this one close because it’s not released until the 30th of May – but I am crossing fingers and toes that Netgalley comes through! The happiness in this cover is so delightfully infectious, and I need a romantic comedy to get me through the start of Melbourne winter. It’s also been getting excellent ratings from South Asian readers so I have high hopes.


I would love to see your TBR if you’re participating in the challenge, please link them to me if you have one posted! What are some of your favourite books featuring an Asian protagonist/by an Asian author?

Novella Review: Hurricane Heels

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Title: Hurricane Heels

Author: Isabel Yap

Series? Linked Short Stories

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Goodreads

Smashwords ¦ Amazon US ¦ Amazon UK


When I realised that this would be my first post of the New Year, I immediately wanted to showcase my favourite novella of 2016: Hurricane Heels. Packed within these five intertwined short stories is a tale of female friendship and identity that resonated with me on every level.

hurricane-heelsRead More »

Book Review: Not Your Sidekick

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4-star

Title: Not Your Sidekick

Author: C. B. Lee

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series? Yes, 1 of 3.

Goodreads

Book Depository // Booktopia


Do you remember Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson? That series where super powered humans emerge in a post-apocalyptic world, quickly dividing society into factions? Well, I have good news for those who enjoyed it – Not Your Sidekick gives you a similar premise, but filled with a whole lot more of diversity and heart. Although it dresses up in superhero capes and fun action – at its heart Not Your Sidekick is the perfect book for anyone who’s ever felt the yearning  to be a part of something more.
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Comic book superheroes and supervillains gets a makeover in Not Yout Sidekick. Aside from action sequences and save-the-world type plotlines, we also get an introspective and character centred novel. While the book was extremely fun during its engaging action scenes and exposition, it shined brightest due to the lovable and diverse cast of characters. Alongside with saving the day, Jess and the crew also have to contend with romantic mixed signals, embarrassing siblings, and the difficulties of finding gainful employment without work experience. It’s comic superheroes at their most relatable.Read More »

Audiobook Review: When The Moon Was Ours

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5star

Title: When The Moon Was Ours

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: 5/5 stars

Series: No

Goodreads

Book Depository // Amazon //  Booktopia // Audible


When The Moon Was Ours is a mesmerising magical realism that reminds us fairy tales are and magic belong to everyone, regardless of your race, gender, or sexuality. Written in exquisite prose and narrated in rhythmic cadence, here is an audio book I would recommend to anyone who’s ever felt different and unheard. MOON is imbued with love, hope, and dream. It’s the perfect respite from a world filled with intolerance and fear. Given the devastating result of the US elections, we need books and voices like MOON in our lives, now more than ever.

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MOON begins with a girl who lost the moon, and a boy who fights every day to bring its light back into her life. The story of Miel and Sam is one well known to their town, turned mythic and strange with numerous retellings. However, the narration takes us beyond the fairy tale of a girl made from water and a boy named Moon. It shows us all the players in the tale in all of their messy, complicated glory. Through the journey these characters undergo, MOON brings in questions that challenges perception of culture, gender identity, and family.Read More »

Halloween 2016: Diverse Horror

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A post recommending short stories is the closest I will ever come to celebrating Halloween. The holiday just seems so incongruous with the Australian summer, and I did not even know of its existence while growing up in Vietnam.

On the other hand, I am someone who’s always been morbidly fascinated by ghost stories and grisly horror. I am particularly invested if there’s a cultural or human element to the story, my faint heart vastly prefers a solid story of human tragedy to an all-out gore fest. This short recommendation list will include a couple of short stories I read throughout the week leading up to Halloween, they all feature diverse author and/or characters.

Trigger Warning for most of the stories for blood and violence.Read More »

Book Review: Crooked Kingdom

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Title: Crooked Kingdom

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 5/5 stars

Series? Yes. 2 of 2.

Goodreads

Book Depository // Amazon // Dymocks // Booktopia


Note: This post will contain spoilers for the prequel, Six of Crows. It will be completely spoiler-free for Crooked Kingdom.

Six of Crows was one of my favourite releases of last year, making Crooked Kingdom my #1 anticipated book of 2016. The conclusion to this epic duology delivered in every way possible. Crooked Kingdom enthralled and delighted, even while some of the content reduced me to tears. Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, Jesper, and Wylan will forever be marked as one of my most beloved fictional crew.

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Graphic by me. Kaz Character Art by Kevin Wada.

No Mourners, No Funerals

First, let’s talk characters! The friendship forged between our beloved six outcasts remain my favourite thing (in a very long list) about this series. Not only do the characters have meaningful, heartbreaking relationships with their respective romantic partners – they also share beautiful moments with platonic members of the crew. Crooked Kingdom is filled with character bonding, as well as interaction and development within the numerous friendships within the main group.Read More »

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

Goodreads

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 »