Blog Hop: All About Aussie YA

One of the things I love most about blogging is its ability to connect me to all the readers around Australia. Some of my most treasured memories as a blogger are moments where I got to meet my fellow Aussie bloggers, like the time Jeann and Jenna came to Melbourne, or when I went to Sydney for the Writer’s Festival back in May, and more recently the Nevernight Launch in Melbourne.

The Oz YA community has helped shaped me into the blogger that I am today, and I will forever be grateful to their collective passion, intelligence and wit.

Aussie YA Blog Hop

This blog hop is organised by Jeann at Happy Indulgence, along with the Aussie YA Blogger admin group. There will be a twitter chat
on 14th July so follow @AusYABloggers and #AusYABlogChat for more information!

What I Love About Aussie YA

I love the familiarity of the setting and the immediate relevance in the issues touched on in Oz YA books. Although I adore books for their ability to transport me into another country or another realm altogether – reading Australian fiction and their familiar surroundings help ground my emotions and make the characters come to life in a more profound way. We are also blessed with a host of amazing authors who regular engage with their readers and share their experiences. Continue reading “Blog Hop: All About Aussie YA”

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

Goodreads // Book Depository // Dymocks // Bookworld


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?

Book Review: The Peony Lantern

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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!