Review: The Blood in the Beginning

the blood in the beginning
The Blood in the Beginning by Kim Falconer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: Uncorrected proof courtesy of publisher

The Blood in the Beginning sounds so appealing and could fit right in my comfort reading zone. A paranormal/urban fantasy/dystopian novel with a “kickass nightclub bouncer” female main character, this is a potential for a pick-me-up feisty fabulous read but whilst I enjoyed the read, it fell short of my expectation.

Ava Sykes is not actually ‘Ava Sykes’ and she has a blood disorder so rare, she has to fly under the radar. Unfortunately, there are people (& others!) sniffing around her and will not leave her alone. On the other hand, this could be an opportunity she cannot miss in finding out the truth about herself and who she really is. But will the truth set her free?

Her secret reminds me so much of a certain movie trilogy (view spoiler) though of course, there are differences. I’ve really enjoyed the world-building and without giving too much spoilers, I wish to see a lot more of the ‘under world’. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel any sparks between Ava and her male counterpart(s). She’s one confused little lady and this, I think, also affects any ‘sparks’ she may/may not have for anyone. I wanted more from this part of the book.

As I read an Uncorrected Proof, I did find that it needs some tidying up so I do hope the final copy will proof to be a better read. The book ended, however, with a promising note of more exciting things to come so I will definitely give book 2 a chance.

Many thanks to Harlequin Australia; I received a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Ringmaster’s Wife

The Ringmaster's Wife
The Ringmaster’s Wife by Kristy Cambron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always been fascinated with circus in fiction. The Ringmaster’s Wife (I first had to laugh at the title, there are so many ‘Wife’ in title these days) being set in the glam 1920s added an extra sparkle to the glamorous light circus acts performed under. The novel did not disappoint as it weaves an enchanting world of the show, there was also an undercurrent of a dark mystery with touches of romance and ended with sweet hope.

Whilst the main narrative is about Rosamund Easling, there is an additional perspective by Mable Ringling and the lessons Rosamund is learning from her & her story. Rosamund is struggling with her family’s financial difficulties and to marry someone of her parents’ choosing despite of her personal preference. Despite being groomed to as a lady, she is most happy on her horse. When her father sells her beloved horse, she decides to follow her horse over the seas and to see what other things life has to offer her.

The Ringmaster’s Wife is a lovely light read. It is marketed as Christian fiction so it’s clean romance but it wasn’t preachy in any way. There was just mentioned of “higher powers” out there etc but nothing very specific. It is a wonderful story of discovering yourself, of following your dreams, and taking the risk for a future of your own choosing.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for copy eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: Sideshow

Sideshow
Sideshow by Nicole Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of course, it was a reading challenge that got me to search for a particular sort of books at the library that landed me this book! And what an amusing read… totally unexpected despite the GR description of hilarious and rollicking. There aren’t many books that actually make me laugh (even if they’re shelved under humour) but this one did. Of course, I tried to contain as much as I could whilst reading on the commute which leads me to an apology to my fellow commuters who noticed my ugly contorted face & shaking body as I tried to hold back laughter; I swear I’m not certifiably insane.

As with all funnies, I do think that most times, there is something really sad behind it all. That was the feeling I got at the start of this little novel and each time, she put on or remove her stage make up. However, she was always very quick in pushing it to the back of her mind and got busy in the pleasures of life. Oh, the shenanigans they got up to!

The hilarity stems mostly from the characters. I think if I just read an extract of what I thought was funny in the book, without knowing the characters or the book, I wouldn’t think it funny at all. Interestingly, most of the characters were “un-named”, rather they were known by their Royal Stage Names: The Prince, The Duke, The Duchess, The Lady, The Courtesan (our main character whose perspective we enjoyed) Or their role in the troupe except… for one guy… or two…

Right now, I’m wondering whether I’d still find it as hilarious if I re-read it. Yes, I am considering a reread because it was so much fun!

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Review: Ned Kelly: The Story of Australia’s Most Notorious Legend

Ned Kelly: The Story of Australia's Most Notorious Legend
Ned Kelly: The Story of Australia’s Most Notorious Legend by Peter FitzSimons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have always thought Ned Kelly to be one of those historical personages who achieved their legendary status by urban myths; that is there were not many historical supporting evidence of his existence, much less his feats. This tome (848 pages = 30+ hours audio) had me revising my views. There were numerous historical data to be had and sort through though of course, there remains questions which we’ll never have answers to. Despite all this data, there also remains the debate whether Ned Kelly is a good guy or bad guy. This, as always, is a matter of personal views.

The book started with the humble beginning of Ned Kelly, his parents’ origins and his birth, to conclude by his ignominious death and consequences thereafter. To begin with, I’m a total Kelly sympathiser; I felt the indignation of the family as one of the poor (life was oh so very hard and I mean this sincerely) and being hounded by the police, some of them liars and scoundrels to boot, pushed them beyond their limits. At the halfway mark, I do question whether there is motives of greed, of self-grandiose, of narcissism. And at the end, I do feel sorry that his life ended as it was, especially with a trial where it seemed justice was miscarried; it was really unfair that he could not get a fair representation. Nevertheless, the Kelly outbreak did cause a review of the police and of the unfair treatment of the poor Irish which is what he wanted so I guess he got what he wanted, after all. And his legend lives on…

This is the second Peter FizSimons’ works I’ve had the pleasure of reading and I’ll be trolling through the rest of them soon. I’ve really liked them because they’re not dry; he has inserted some personal views (so stated) but that is precisely why I like them. It made the works personal like he’s sharing and not telling/lecturing. If you’re a hard-core historian, you may not appreciate this but for a layman like myself, utterly enjoyable.

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Review: Close Your Eyes

Close Your Eyes
Close Your Eyes by Iris Johansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I seem to be in a habit of picking up books that are similar. A couple of months ago, it was all about grief in YA. This time, I happen to be reading a biography of The Blind Traveler (he became blind in his twenties after some mysterious illness) and Close Your Eyes where the main character, Kendra Michaels, was born blind but underwent a miraculous surgery in her twenties that restored her sight. Interestingly, the biography noted it’s not that other senses became sharper but rather more
eloquent
and Kendra Michaels demonstrated that by diligently taking notice of absolutely everything (in which everyone can do but do not).

It is this aptitude which made Kendra a valuable asset to investigators. However, she has been previously burnt by failures and horrific images that haunt her dreams. When Adam Lynch, ex-FBI, approached her, she had decided that this was not the life for her and to stay away from any kind of investigations. However, Adam Lynch is not known as The Puppetmaster for no reason, he’s dangled a carrot or two and led her on. Nevertheless, Kendra wished to only be involved in a limited capacity. Things never go to plan, however, as her loved ones are hurt and the fate of humanity is threatened.

Both Kendra and Adam were easily likeable and the chemistry between them generates those little sparks of excitement. Surprisingly, this book is clean (no hanky panky) though who knows how clean the sequels will be😉 We get to know Kendra quite well in this book but Adam is still a mystery… a delicious one, I hope! As to the actual mysterious case in this book, it was quite complex and fast-paced that this turned out to be a really interesting read. It is, for me, a page-turner comfort-read and I will definitely be on the lookout for the rest of the series.

Many thanks to MacMillan Australia; I received a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Semester of Our Discontent

The Semester of Our Discontent
The Semester of Our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cover crush! The purple is eye-catching but I love all the curlicues found on the title & fence.

Lila Maclean is easily likeable as main character and did not come across as nosy. She is however determined to proof her cousin innocent. She is new at this University and therefore, unsure of her steps but she’s courage enough to stand for what’s right. This applies also in her academic profession which involves a fairly complex politicking and a rival who wants her job. In addition to all this, there exists a secret society with a mysterious purpose.

The trouble with first books in series is that they can be quite slow with a lot of setting up. I found that I skimmed quite a bit and got a little confused with unfamiliar authors; there is a mix of real and fictional authors. I don’t really want to have to look them all up myself so I just sort of ignore that and kept going. Despite all this, I really enjoyed the resolution at the end and think that this is a fairly promising start of a series.

The Semester of Our Discontent is an engaging mystery with hints of romance and lots of references to books to appeal to fans of cozy mysteries.

Thanks to Henery Press for copy eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Blog Tour: When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Randa Abdel-Fattah was born in Sydney in 1979. She is a Muslim of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage. She grew up in Melbourne and attended a Catholic primary school and Islamic secondary college. Randa has worked as a lawyer, human rights advocate and community volunteer with different human rights and migrant and refugee resource organisations. Randa has used her opinion editorials in newspapers and TV and radio media appearances as a medium for expressing her views about racism, multiculturalism, human rights, the occupation of Palestine and asylum seekers. She is a regular guest at schools around Australia addressing students about her books and the social justice issues they raise. Randa has also been a guest at international writer’s festivals. She recently completed her PhD in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University, researching Islamophobia, racism and everyday multiculturalism in Australia. Randa lives in Sydney with her husband and three children. She has just released her latest novel, When Michael Met Mina, which was inspired by her PhD fieldwork examining issues of race in Australia.

Find Randa on: goodreads  |  website  |  facebook  |  twitter

Q&A with Randa

Boat Refugees!  What a contentious issue! What kind of research was involved in writing When Michael Met Mina?

I based my book on my own fieldwork (I wrote it while researching Islamophobia, racism and everyday multiculturalism in Australia as part of a PhD in Sociology) my own work with refugees, stories from friends, and information from refugee advocates.

If you conduct any interviews of boat refugees, could you please share one particular story that touched you?

I spoke to a refugee advocate who told me about a young man who turned 18 while he was still studying (he was in community detention). The Department of Immigration told him he had to leave school. They also moved him from youth accommodation to a boarding house where the other residents were older men with alcohol and drug-related problems. The school principal encouraged the boy to remain in school even though Immigration was no longer funding his education. The principal did not realise how short of money he was and that he was not paying his train fares to come to school (in community detention people get a very small allowance). He was caught on the train without a ticket and sent back to Villawood.

Then there was this story: a Palestinian – Iraqi family who came by boat. The advocate helped prevent the Immigration Department from forcing the oldest daughter to leave school (policy once they turn 18 regardless of where they are in their studies).

What particular policies (proposed or otherwise) in Australian politics which are of ‘Aussie Values’ that you think are misconceptions?  What are these misconceptions and what are the facts?

There are misconceptions and there is the racism that structures and inspires a certain way of thinking and emotional posture in relation to multiculturalism, refugees and non-Anglo Australia. First and foremost, the idea of policing ‘our borders’ and deciding who we will allow to come in etc is based on a fundamental erasure of indigenous sovereignty. It is denied. It is taken for granted that all of us–the White dominant majority and ‘everybody  else’– have the right to police Australia’s borders because of a racist presumption of White sovereignty over indigenous sovereignty. Everything else stems from that. As for misconceptions, I don’t even know if that is the right word. There are straightforward facts available to anybody willing to do a Google search regarding all the economic claims around refugees (i.e. they take our jobs/they get more welfare etc). So I’d call it wilful ignorance. Then there are the claims that there is a global ‘queue’, that people get on boats and risk their lives to take advantage of ‘our way of life’, that refugees have values that ‘threaten our values’, that they would set themselves on fire in order to emotionally blackmail us and so on. I don’t see these as misconceptions. There is something nasty and racist and dark at work here which has taken shape over years of strong political and media work to demonise refugees.

Could you provide some practical advices to a teen / young adult on how to influence above change in policies?

Oh yes definitely! Politicians aren’t stupid. If our border policies were unpopular and didn’t win votes, they’d be the first in line to shut down detention centres.  So politicians need to know that their policies are not supported. That means lobbying your local MP, being part of campaigns that counter the dangerous narratives that get widely disseminated. Use as many platforms as possible: social media, vlogs, the arts, op eds, music, story-telling.

Randa’s latest book

when michael met mina

When Michael Met Mina

Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.

When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre.

Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

They want to stop the boats. 
Mina wants to stop the hate.

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.

My Blurb

Do you ever stop being a refugee? Even if at some point in your life the place of refuge becomes home?

Wow! was my first thought when I saw the description for this book. Refugees, especially boat refugees, caused such furore in Australian politics and everybody has an opinion. It’s good that everyone has thoughts about this but sometimes, they need to look a little bit harder, deeper, and further! I’m actually looking at this book with a little trepidation because being a stereotypical Asian, I don’t like confrontation (avoid it like that plague!) even when it’s in books.

Presenting views from different people (pros and cons and everything in between), When Michael Met Mina demands the readers to think also for themselves. What is the right thing to do? And one thing that struck me from Q&A above is Randa’s comment on wilful ignorance ; this phrase has been stuck in my head for a month now because I thought it’s something that’s wrong but is remedial if only you’d take the steps and of course, also because I’m guilty (in some aspects).  Do not live with your head in the sand and parrot others (even those you look up to), do your own research and speak your own unique thoughts.

I find myself infuriated on one page, teary on another, and smiling on the next one. Written in the perspectives of teenagers from both ‘sides of the fence’, When Michael Met Mina seeks to inform and to encourage the young to form their own views based on genuine hard facts. An absolute gem of a read with real life issues & implications, this book speaks not only to your heart but also to your mind.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review

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