Book Review: The Waking Land

34610036

3star

Title: The Waking Land

Author: Callie Bates

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes

Goodreads

Book Depository  ||  Amazon  || Dymocks ||  Booktopia


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

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

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

Book Review: Roar

29939048

1Star

Title: Roar

Author: Cora Carmack

Rating: 1/5 Stars

Series? Yes

Goodreads


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

Roar

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

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

Trigger warning for romanticised abuse.

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

Book Review: The Grace of Kings

18952341

4-star

Title: The Grace of Kings

Author: Ken Liu

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Goodreads

Book Depository // Amazon // Dymocks // Booktopia


In a genre inundated with tall-tales of reluctant white heroes fulfilling their Destiny, Ken Liu’s voice unabashedly stands apart. He is a constant innovator, whether it’s with his short fiction, full length novel, or translated work. At the same time, he also showcase the roots of his identity via the incorporation of Chinese history and mythology in all his writing. The Grace of Kings embodies Ken Liu’s style completely, fusing his unique voice with an ambitious saga about war, governance, and people who defy destiny.

The Grace Of Kings

The Grace of Kings is told via a series of interconnected chapters, each giving the reader an insight to the many characters that populate this vast world. The character featured may only fleet in and out of the narrative, or reappear numerous times to emerge as a central figure to the tale – but each of their story felt crucial to the overarching epic.Ken Liu’s mastery over short fiction is evident by his previous works such as The Paper Menagerie, and I loved seeing these skills applied on a grander scale to create the rich tapestry of The Dandelion Dynasty. Although each chapters felt episodic, there was a constant sense of momentum and urgency throughout the text, making this a constantly engaging read despite its hefty length.Read More »

Top Ten Anticipated Books For The Rest of 2017

TTT June-Dec 2017

Note: Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

When I’m not reading, or even when I am meant to be reading, you can invariably find me snooping on Goodreads or sighing wistfully at online book retailers, searching out for my next preorder. Narrowing my wishlist for the rest of 2017 down to just 10 (ahem, plus two) was entirely too challenging – but perhaps it will be good training for an exercise in self-restraint when the books do come out (haha, who am I kidding).

TTT June Dec 2017 A

Want by Cindy Pon:  Cindy Pon wrote Silver Phoenix and Serpentine, two Asian fantasy abundant with intriguing folklore and mouth-watering food description. It’s a no-brainer that I’ll be all over Want, her first foray into science fiction. The beautiful cover by illustrated by Jason Chan also demands to be displayed face out on my bookshelf.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera: One female Qorin warrior, one divine empress, a shared prophecy, a star-crossed love that will conquer demons, a blurb promising ‘even gods can be slain…’ – I am shook, OK, I needed this book in my life the moment I found out about its existence. It’s also blurbed by Victoria Schwab, Roshani Chokshi, and Seanan McGuire, my hype meter is through the roof.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: Everything I Never Told You was an exquisite heartbreak. I was utterly captivated by Celeste Ng’s writing style, especially the way she conveys emotional weight in the most mundane of actions. I absolutely cannot wait to see what she brings to the table with this new release.Read More »

Book Review: Flame in the Mist

233080873star

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.

FITM7

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

186937635star

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!

Book Review: Red Sister

317169004-star

Title: Red Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Goodreads

Amazon ||  Book Depository  ||  Dymocks  ||  Booktopia


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

 

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

RedSister

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 »

#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:

26118426

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:

18693763

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:

23308087

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:

1774836

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:

28458598

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?

10 Reasons I’ve Avoided Certain Books

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, and it’s been a longer while since I did a TTT post – so today is a happy celebration of my return to both the blogging world and list-making.

My absence was due to an unplanned trip to Vietnam. Although it’s the country of my birth, I haven’t revisited in over a decade as the majority of my family is now based in Aus/NZ. The experience was surprising, challenging, nostalgic, and gave me a million reasons to revisit again soon!

TTT April 2017

Back to TTT: as most of you know, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week, the topic is Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly NOT Want To Read A Book. I’ll be discussing books I’ve DNF’d, series I’ve abandoned, and books I’ve wholly avoided altogether in today’s post.


Genre Snobbery: 

You’d think that as an adult with a reading pile of at least 50% pure YA, I would embrace all fiction and realise that genre snobbery is a pretentious lie concocted by old cishet white men too afraid to venture from their comfort zone. Sadly, there are certain corners of the bookstore I rarely venture to, these include:

1. Crime: I really enjoy watching crime on TV or in movies, or even manga, but I could never quite get into it in novel format. My only brushes with the genre is Gone Girl, and a couple of Japanese crime novels. Perhaps I am just missing the great ones, but the Crime section with its uniformity in both covers (dark shades, silhouettes, giant author name) and title (always inevitably referencing an unnamed ‘Girl’) currently holds no appeal to me.Read More »

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer

29748925

5star

Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Series? Yes. 1 of 2.

Goodreads

Book Depository | Amazon | Dymocks | Booktopia


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

Laini Taylor weaves a languid and otherworldly dream with her latest release. Strange the Dreamer is a lesson in yearning. Readers will long for this vibrant world where science and magic exists side by side, where dreams and reality defy distinction, where there’s secrets and mysteries – none as perplexing as the puzzle of the lost city of Weep. Describing Strange the Dreamer is an exercise in futility, it’s as impossible as recalling the true name of Weep. I’ll try my best though, just for you!

Strangethedreamer Review

‘Lazlo couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself.’

For most of Zeru, Weep is a fable, a mere legend of a splendid city dreamed up to entertain children and fill the pages of a storybook. For Lazlo Strange, Weep is a compulsion, he’s been riveted by stories of its marvels as a child – and he’s determined to remember the Unseen City. Lazlo also dreams that one day, he will be able to walk down its legendary lapis lazuli roads and meet the the city’s famed Tizerkane warriors. For the junior librarian, it’s an impossible dream – yet he continues to hope and hunt for signs of the lost city within The Great Library of Zosma.Read More »