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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Book Depository // Amazon // Dymocks // Booktopia


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: Wink, Poppy, Midnight

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3star

Title: Wink, Poppy, Midnight

Author: April Genevieve Tucholke

Series? No

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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Firstly, let me just get it out of my system and gush about that cover! Now, I don’t consider myself superficial – but I 100% purchased this book based on the merits of its stunning cover alone. The typography, colouring and embellishments on it are all A+++ *satisfied sigh*

“Revenge. Justice. Love. They are the three stories that all other stories are made up of. It’s the trifecta.”

WinkPoppyMidnight

Ahem. What about the content, did you say? I know this book has been met with extremely mixed reception – with people either dismissing it as pretentious nonsense or revering it as a masterpiece. I am firmly on the fence regarding this (I know, neutrality is a bit boring – boo!). On the one hand, I found the vivid writing and fairy tale imageries enchanting. On the other, the plot is overly convoluted – with its ultimate execution falling short of the author’s ambitious plans.Read More »

Book Review: The Peony Lantern

peony lantern

3star

Title: The Peony Lantern

Author: Frances Watts

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Series? No

Booktopia

Goodreads


Note: This is a pre-scheduled post. I am still on vacation. Apologies for any delay in commenting back!

This is part of the small list of books I read in preparation for my trip to Japan this year. The Peony Lantern follows the life of a commoner turned lady in waiting in 1800s Japan. It makes for a breezy, yet somewhat forgettable read. The tale is penned by an Australian author, yet the research into traditional Japanese culture is sound. This is a great first look for any teenagers interested in Japanese history.

PeonyLantern

The Culture

I think where this book excelled was definitely in the research into Japanese culture. In fact, The Peony Lantern was less book and more a love letter to Japan. I could feel that the author was enamoured with the country (a sentiment I share!). You can read all about the research Ms Watts did for the book here.

The story carries us through a full year, letting the reader experience a piece of Japan’s love for seasonal changes and celebration. It starts at the beginning of summer, evocative in its imagery of the rain season (called tsuyu). The book then follows through to those muggy summer days, vibrant with the colours of irises, hydrangeas and firework. We then get the luscious autumn scenes, dressed up in gold and reds through chrysanthemum and maple leaves. Finally, we get the intimacy and mystery of snowy winter; seen through frost and steaming bowls of oden.

Through Kasumi’s inexperienced eyes, the readers also get to see her first glimpse at ikebana, painting, and ukiyo-e. The book is a crash course in all that foreigners celebrate about Japanese culture. You know: geisha, sashimi, beautiful sweets and tea ceremonies. However, I did not get the sense that the author was misappropriating the culture – just that she loved Japan very much and wanted to share her experiences. My knowledge of the Japanese culture is limited to my short holidays there and specialised books or website – yet from what I could surmise, the information conveyed were accurate.

The Story and Characters.

Unfortunately, in the book’s zeal to display Japan and all its many faces – it forgot its human characters somewhere along the way. While Edo was a character unto itself, the same cannot be said for Kasumi, Misaki, and the rest of the cast. Kasumi, our main character, was an bland vessel through which the reader viewed Japan. She never lifted off the page and became a real person. Kasumi’s conflicts felt like a check box of: love interest, ‘passion’ in painting, and her relationship with her mistress, Misaki. While Kasumi’s father touted her as the disobedient and free-spirited child – she sadly did not live up to his snide remarks.  All I learned of her was a sleepy curiousity and a love for art of all kind – both a necessity of the plot.

I did find her mistress, Misaki, a lot more engaging, as was the mystery surrounding her. However, given the neo-Confucian societal structure of Edo Japan, I find her situation quite farfetched. I don’t want to risk spoiling the ending for those interested to check out the book – but needless to say, it is wishful thinking.

The actual story itself is a part mystery and part political intrigue, however – there was not enough content or investment on the heroine’s part to make the storyline engaging. I did enjoy the fact that the story is a loose retelling of the Japanese Ghost Tale:  The Peony Lantern – the reimagining has a great feminist spin that I appreciated!

I would say that this book is 60% a crash course in Japan culture, and maybe 40% plot. Take that as you will, though I personally enjoyed it because my main draw to this story was Japan.


A Tour Through Japan

As I did during my previous posts, included in this post are photos of my travel, in relation to this book!

We left the Kiso Valley. I had thought I’d be sad as we moved further and further away from my home, and I was a little, but more than that I was entranced, my eyes travelling over new landscapes: the sight of the sacred Mount Fuji from the Shiojiri pass; the bleakness of the Asama plateau, so wide and flat, the desolate air broken by the porters from Oiwake singing a song about the inn of the moon and flowers. Then Mount Asama, the mighty volcano, so unlike the comforting embrace of the mountains in my valley. I saw lakes and bustling towns and the grand Korigawa shrine, and crossed a wide river on a ferry boat: my first time on the water.

Hakone

‘Tell me about Hakone,’ I urged. Her expression became rapturous. ‘It was so beautiful, Kasumi — I wish you could have seen it.’ She described the blazing autumn colours of the forested hills, the view across the lake to the sacred peak of Mount Fuji.

Lake Ashi

I didn’t pass through the Kiso Valley region in Japan, so my journey was a little different to Kasumi’s own. I did attempt to glimpse at Mt Fuji by traveling through Hakone. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the elusive Mt Fuji – the sky was clear and blue everywhere BUT over the mountain top!  Damn you, condensation laws and physics!  However, like Kasumi, I did get to travel on a ferry across Lake Ashi – which was stunning. It was liberating seeing the azure sky, emerald mountains, and open water – especially after spending a week in the concrete metropolis of Tokyo.

‘I know. They boil it in the hot springs and it turns the shell black. But eating it will bring you seven years of good luck.’ ‘Thank you.’ I cradled the egg in my palm, touched that Misaki had thought of me on her travels. What would seven years of good luck mean for me?

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I also had the famed blackened eggs at Owakudani valley in Hakone. Misaki is right, they are touted to increase longevity – although once cracked they’re just ordinary boiled eggs. I remember this batch of 5 costing us 700Y! There are also many other gimmicky foods sold in this area: such as black ramen and egg flavoured ice cream – I was not brave enough to try either, so I cannot report on their taste!


A series of stepping stones led to a small stone bridge, which we crossed into a cool glade of ferns, at its centre a large stone lantern covered with moss… Whoever had designed the garden had ensured there was a colour for every season, I noted. It was like the world in miniature.

Kinkakuji

The gardens in Japan are resplendent, each plant carefully curated to mimic nature. My favourite is the garden surrounding Kinkakuji: The Golden Pavilion. The temple lies in a middle of a completely still pond, filled with koi fish. There are numerous little rocky islands in the pond, rumoured to represent Japan’s many islands. It’s a beautiful space for quiet contemplation, if you could ignore the gaggle of tourists behind you. It took me ten minutes to get this particular shot, this temple is so popular it would be packed whatever time of day you arrive – but the view is completely worth it.

I am also going to visit Kenrokuen and Korakuen when I go back to Japan this year. They are famed to be 2 of the 3 leading gardens in Japan, so I will be sure to share photos if I am able to get reliable wifi!


Book Review: Geisha – A Life

4-star

Title: Geisha- A Life

Author: Mineko Iwasaki, Translated by Rande Brown

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Series? No

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Book Depository


NOTE:  This is a pre-scheduled post. I am still on vacation. Apologies in any delay in commenting back!  Thanks for visiting 😀

In my last post, I looked at the infamous Memoir Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden. Today, I look at the autobiography of the woman who inspired it all: Mineko Iwasaki. This book provides the Western world with a rare insight into life as a geiko of Gion, through the eyes of someone who once stood at the top of the flower-and-willow world.

Geisha-of-Gion

Karyukai means “the flower and willow world.” Each geisha is like a flower, beautiful in her own way, and like a willow tree, gracious, flexible, and strong.

Geisha-of-Gion-Likes

  • First and foremost, I loved how this book gives us an insight into the lives of geiko (the Kyoto term for geisha) in Gion Kobu, and it goes a long way to dispelling the myths surrounding their profession. Iwasaki revealed the intense training in all the arts, especially of traditional dancing, she underwent as an apprentice. I knew the all geisha and geiko studied hard, but having their day documented gave me a newfound respect for these artists.
  • As I’ve mentioned numerous times in this blog series, I adore Kyoto. This book gave me an insight to Kyoto of days gone-by, where the streets of Gion was filled with traditional shops instead of tourist souvenir shops. I also love the sense of history in sights that endured through time in Kyoto, such as the ever-present Kamo River, to the magnificent theatres of Minamiza and Kaburenjo. It makes me appreciate these sights more to know how much they meant to the people of Gion.
  • It’s a bit voyeuristic, but I enjoyed seeing the life behind the walls of ochaya and okiya, which I would never get to see otherwise. As you might know, geiko only entertain the wealthy and well-connected elites of this world. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for the pleasures of an ozashiki, I paid $10 for this Kindle ebook to whet my appetite instead.

Geisha-of-Gion-Dislikes

  • While I enjoyed the book when I read it, I found it very difficult to remember the content of the book due to the nature of its layout. Iwasaki jumps through life events at an irregular pattern, she would be speaking of her afternoon walks in clear details – then proceed to gloss over an important dance recital. The scenes changed at random intervals, it looks like the book underwent very little editing.
  • Iwasaki documents her life from the time she was three years old, and tries to convince her readers that she decided to leave her parents and become a geiko all on her own… AT THREE! She also details event from this period from her life with startling clarity – one that makes me wonder at the authenticity of these passages. I personally don’t remember anything from my life at three years old, let alone make a huge decision like choosing to be sold to an okiya!
  • It may be a cultural barrier, but I found Iwasaki’s attitude quite off-putting. She striked me as incredibly sheltered and privileged, yet utterly clueless. There’s a passage where she claims she does not fart. Another passage where she commands a junior member of the okiya to rub her feet, and feels no remorse for it. This finally culminates in a scene where she slashes the coat of her lover’s wife, holding more resentment for the woman than for his infidelity.
  • I also found that the writing was very sterile. The book was written as a defence to Arthur Golden’s misappropriation of geisha and their world. Iwasaki mainly showed the world how great she was as a geisha, we never got to see much of her struggles. I felt very disconnected from her.

Nonetheless, this book offers a unique insight into a part of the Japanese culture most people won’t have access to. If you’re interested in the karyukai, I would highly recommend this. I also recommend it to those who have read Arthur Golden’s book, to get another (more realistic) perspective on things.

Geisha-of-Gion-Sights

Yasaka Shrine lies nestled in the foothills of the Higashiyama Mountains, the chain that flanks the eastern border of Kyoto. The Gion Kobu, to the west of the shrine, is about one square mile in size. The district is crisscrossed by a neat grid of manicured lanes. Hanamikoji (Cherry Blossom Viewing Path) runs through the center of the district from north to south and Shinmonzen Street divides it east to west.

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Nestled within the Higashiyama district lies some of Kyoto’s best preserved historical districts. Japan Trip 2014.

These are some of my favourites streets to wander in Kyoto, with wooden houses intermingled with shops peddling souvenirs to catch the enthusiastic tourist (I am totally one of those tourist, my home is still littered with a million cute things I have no use for). Be warned that these streets do get quite busy, so I advise an early morning or late afternoon visit! Meander through and ogle at fans, teapots, ceramic wares, traditional dolls, music boxes – you’ll be rewarded by free samples of tea and sweets along the way 😉

Kyoto3
An enduring symbol of Kyoto: Yasaka Pagoda

I love the sight of Yasaka Pagoda, widely touted in travel pamphlets and blog pages as a symbol for Higashiyama. It stands tall, a mark of history and culture against a backdrop of modern electrical wires and wide-eyed tourists.

Seasonal appropriateness is paramount. The canons of traditional Japanese taste divide the year into twenty-eight seasons, each of which has its own symbols. Ideally, the colors and patterns on the kimono and obi reflect the exact season, nightingales in late March, for example, or chrysanthemums in early November

Kimono

There are loads of kimonos to be seen in Kyoto, it’s little wonder – with rental shops being ubiquitous in the city. I couldn’t tell which wearer were native Japanese and which were tourist! I liked seeing personality it added to the hubub of people, and hey – it could hardly be cultural appropriation if the Japanese themselves endorse it?! I hear ladies get to ride Kyoto’s buses for free if they’re in kimonos. What are your thoughts on tourists dressing up in traditional garments of another country?

And in the canal is cold, clear water, water that comes down from Lake Biwa in the north. The water rushes through the canal as it flows towards the Nanzenji aqueduct. It courses through the aqueduct, past the miles of cherry trees lining the banks, and then down into the main waterway of Kyoto. It continues past the zoo and the Heian Shrine, runs along Cold Spring Avenue, and finally empties into the Kamogawa River, where it streams towards Osaka and out to the open sea.

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Part of the mentioned canal, running through Philosopher’s Path
Philosopher's Path
Teddy bears fishing in a stream along Philosopher’s Path

This stream of water is ever-present in Kyoto, through the Kamo River, the Shirakawa stream, and in the canal that rushes pass Philosopher’s Path and its surrounding temple. My friends and I wandered aimlessly down Philosopher’s Path one quiet afternoon, discovering hidden temples along the way.

Due to our poor planning, we arrived at closing time and most places were deserted. We also did not know the name of most of the places we visited, and had to Google it when we got home (fail, I know, but the reverse engineering of our trip was sort of fun!). Philosopher’s path is a charmer, lined with arts and craft stores, such as the ones advertising via the teddy bears above! There also seems to be a small community of stray cats along this walk, I still wonder about the fate of these animals – and hope to see them again this year!


I hope you’re enjoying my recaps, I want to update them with more recent pictures when I am in Japan, but that’s pending on internet connection AND time 😄

Book Review: Illuminae

3star

Title: Illuminae

Authors:  Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads

Book Depository


No one is sadder than I am that I did not enjoy Illuminae. I have THREE copies of the book, mainly bought because I couldn’t wait to get started! This is coming from a girl who never bothers to buy physical copies (my existence is held together by a Kindle).

Illuminae-review
Image credit goes to Freepik, edited by me.

I can’t say it’s a complete waste because the book itself is GORGEOUS. The designers and authors deserve much credit for tying the story together in such a visually stunning manner. Yet, that’s about all the positives I have on Illuminae.

Illuminae-03

As you all know, Illuminae is a book surrounded by immense hype and built up by an army of ringing endorsements. By the end of BEA 2015, I was convinced 70% of bloggers in US have read the book, and they all seem to agree it’s the best thing in fiction since Harry Potter.

In general, I’m 50-50 with popular books – I either lap it up and turn into a crazy fangirl along with the adoring public (see Six of Crows, or Throne of Glass from book 3 onwards) – or I just feel underwhelmed. Unfortunately, the latter happened here. I built up too much expectations, and what I got in return is a fairly standard YA scifi – complete with obligatory romance and sketchy world building. It sets itself apart by being brilliantly marketed and packaged, though I don’t feel it’s enough for me to award it more than 3.5 stars.Read More »

Book Review: The Bone Season

3star

Title: The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon

Rating: 3.5/5

Series? Yes, 1 of 7

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Book Depository


While I really enjoyed The Bone Season, I felt for every single positive I could list for the book, I found another negative as well. I am just so conflicted about all my reads recently! For this review, I’ll discuss both the goods and the bads to the various factors in the book.

The-Bone-Season

There was no normal. There never had been. “Normal” and “natural” were the biggest lies we’d ever created.”

Read More »

Book Review: Zeroes

zeroes by scott westerfeld

3star

Title: Zeroes

Author: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads

Book Depository


While I finished Zeroes in one day, meaning it was a fast paced and riveting read, I did have some issues with the book. The things I loved and the things I didn’t are split quite evenly in for this novel, so I have conveniently broken the review into two section for you all to peruse!

Zeroes-Pros

  • Unconventional Superhero Powers:  Forget about the old flying, invisibility and superhuman strength – the protagonists of Zeroes have wickedly original superpowers. There’s Ethan, with the omniscient ‘voice’ that can talk him out (and into!) all sorts of trouble. There’s Anon, who’s so forgettable his own mum couldn’t pick him out in a hospital – making him a formidable criminal. There’s Flicker, who’s a twist on the old Oracle: she’s blind but she can see through other people’s eyes. I love seeing these unique powers and how creatively the authors apply them to the plot line.

Read More »

Book Review: A Thousand Pieces Of You

A Thousand Pieces of You Claudia Gray3star

Title: A Thousand Pieces Of You

Author: Claudia Gray

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Series? Yes, 1 of 3.

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I love the premise of this book, it had so much potential to be world shattering. However, I felt that the primary focus on romance really hurt the story. Nonetheless, it was still loads of fun seeing the protagonists hop between dimensions and world.

Review-Thousand-Pieces-of-You
Credit: Graphics made using FREEPIK 😀

“It’s comfort enough to know that there are infinite worlds. Infinite possibilities.

At the start of the novel, Marguerite’s life has been turned upside down.  Her father has been killed, her mother left devastated and her family broken. As her parents were renowned scientists in the field of dimensional physics, Marguerite begins a hunt across the multiverse using the Firebird device to find her father’s killer: Paul Markov.Read More »

Book Review: Updraft

3star

Title:  Updraft

Author:  Fran Wilde

Series? Yes.  Trilogy?

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Goodreads

Book Depository


I received a copy of this book through Netgalley and Tor in exchange for an honest review.

On paper this was everything I wanted: a unique fantasy world with a strong female cast, featuring luscious proses.  However, I was left underwhelmed and a little bored as I found it hard to connect to the main character.
Updraft Fran Wilde

SETTING:  A Song Of Wind & Bones

The city rises on the wings of Singers,
and Trader and Crafter,
Rises to the sun and wind, all together,
Never looking down

The setting is haunting and beautiful, with towered cities constructed of living bones, where a primary mode of transport are strapped-on silk wings.  The towers are all separate distinct economical entities, and it is up to Traders to fly between them to conduct businesses. Governing these towers are purportedly protecting them are is The Spire, an enigmatic organisation of Singers.  Much of the world is devoted to sky, wind, and sounds.  An ever looming threat to this civilisation are Skymouths, grotesque monsters which periodically visits the towers, bringing with them death and carnage.Read More »

Book Review: The Fire Sermon

The Fire Sermon, Francesca Haig4-star

Title:  The Fire Sermon

Author:  Francesca Haig

Rating: 3.5/5

Series? Yes. 1 of 3.

Goodreads

Book Depository


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

I loved the concept of The Fire Sermon, the book certainly showed a lot of promise in the first chapters.  Towards the middle, I felt that the plot dragged a bit.  Thankfully, it resurges at the end to finish on a strong note.

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

A TWIST ON THE USUAL APOCALYPTIC WASTELAND

There was always one boy and one girl, with one from each pair perfect. Not just well-formed but strong, robust.  But soon the fatal symmetry became evident’ the price to be paid for each perfect baby was its twin.  They came in many different forms: limbs missing, or atrophied, or occasionally multiplied.  Absent eyes, extra eyes, or eyes sealed shut.  These were the Omegas, the shadow counterparts to the Alphas.

The young adult genre is littered with farfetched post apocalyptic set-ups: ranging wildly from worlds where love are outlawed, to planets where all your thoughts are vocalised in an endless stream of noise (an aside:  I LOVE THE CHAOS WALKING TRILOGY).  Hence, when I found The Fire Sermon is based on the concept of twins and their dichotomy: with one being mutated, the other flawless – I took it all in stride.

The Fire Sermon can be an upsetting read, as the world it’s set in is definitely dictated by ableism.  As parents on Omega children are lawfully required to abandon them, sequestering them into isolated, starving colonies – the book allows its plot to explore the marginalisation of the disabled.  More than this, the Omega are infertile, derogatorily called dead-end and forced to believe that they have no future as a people.  I love The Fire Sermon for being able to examine some of their struggles.

However, I wished that our main character did not come from a position of relative privilege.  Though Cass is an Omega, she was able to hide this for most of her childhood as she had no physical deformities.  Instead, her curse is being a Seer – with the ability to sense danger, directions, and glimpsing at the occasional prophetic dream.  She’s stuck in-between, the Omega envies her while the Alphas fear her.  She’s in a fairly awful situation, but the Omegas are correct to say that she has it easier than the rest of them, to be frank.Read More »