Review: The Asylum

The Asylum
The Asylum by John Harwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An asylum in the 19th century instantly brings to mind unpleasant things; a place where the care of sick people could be so inhumane. Yet, it is a perfect setting for a gothic novel. The Asylum is a very engaging read; a good mystery to keep the reader’s interest and a thrilling plot that I could barely put it down.

The story is told in two different ways; Georgina Ferrars’ perspective and a set of letters. It opens with Georgina Ferrars waking up in an asylum, being told that’s not the name she gave but unable to recall the last few weeks’ of her life. She cannot think of herself other than as Georgina Ferrars but others are as convinced that she cannot be. She is now confined to the asylum and fears for her safety but who is she, really? And who would want her locked away?

Georgina is intelligent and gutsy. She frustrated me a little with her naivety, trust in strangers, but this is understandable noting her upbringing. She learnt her lesson, however, and became cunning in her bid for freedom. As I read from her perspective, it was as if I could hear her brain ticking as she thought through the mysterious cause of her predicament and I felt for her as she fought to be free.

The ending, I felt, was a bit rushed and there was one passage that I thought was a little incongruent to the book. I couldn’t make sense of that particular part or how it was arrived at. Please note that I read an uncorrected proof so I hope that might have been fixed I was also a little disappointed with the ending as I had no feel as to where Georgina is only where she will be so it felt a tiny bit unfinished for me.

The Asylum had the feel of a psychological thriller though with the setting and mystery, it really fits better as a gothic. Nevertheless, I think if you enjoyed a psychological thriller, you just may enjoy this novel too. An enjoyable and fairly easy read that kept me entertained on the commute to work.

Thanks Random House Australia for paperback copy in exchange of honest review

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Review: Lexicon

Lexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The novel opens with Will Parke’s not-so-conscious thoughts as someone was about to stick a needle in his eye. Straightaway, the pace of the novel is established as unrelentingly thrilling and packed full of action. There were car chases. There were sinister guys dressed in black armours. There were numerous cold-blooded shootings. And of course, the mystery behind it all… even Will did not know the reason anybody wants him. What’s so special about a carpenter?

The alternate perspective is Emily Ruff… a girl who just trying to survive living on the street when she fell into a secret poet society. She’s not someone who’d think or do as told though so her independent nature and spunkiness singled her out as trouble. Just how much trouble…?

Lexicon is about the power of words and the temptation power has to those to hold it. It’s also about the power of love. A very engaging novel with fun bursts of action and interesting theory on words / power / magic.

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Review: In Order to Live: A North Korean’s Journey to Freedom

In Order to Live: A North Korean's Journey to Freedom
In Order to Live: A North Korean’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
~Joan Didion

I don’t even know where to start! I can’t imagine going through half the horrible things Yeonmi Park has been through and still come out on top. I can only admire her resilience, strength, and courage in persevering through her suffering and now to acknowledge her horrifying experience in public. That takes real guts and this young lady has them in spades!

The prologue began just as Yeonmi and her mother made their bids into freedom. But, on the other side of the river, what they found was not freedom… Later on, after they found freedom, they could not speak of what happened but as they slowly accustomed themselves to life outside of North Korea, Yeonmi ”realized that without the whole truth my life would have no power, no real meaning… I understand that sometimes the only way we can survive our own memories is to shape them into a story that makes sense out of events that seem inexplicable.”

She began with the backgrounds of her families who, by the time she was born, had bad songbun (something like a reputation that determined your position is society). Whilst her father was a cunning businessman and so their family situation is somewhat better, they still went through periods when they did not have food to eat. When Yeonmi was thirteen, her sister went to seek freedom and Yeonmi dragged her mother along to follow her sister.

What happened across the river, in China, was terrible and whilst it was not described in graphic details but there is enough to make me cringe and for my heart to shrink in fear, shame and sympathy –for the victims but also shame that we, as people, can behave with such pitiful acts. Even those who mean well can have other motives. Once again, Yeonmi needed to escape to finally find that elusive freedom; the freedom to live and think and be yourself.

Despite all the heartbreaking incidents, Yeonmi was determined to educate herself. She was fifteen when she arrived in South Korea but has only the schooling of early primary child. She worked hard and succeeded in entering college of her choice. However, as life took her on a ride, she came to a realisation that she wanted to fight for those left behind.

As she fought for food, for living as a human being, Yeonmi had to struggle with her mindset (from worshipping the Kims as gods to acknowledging them as humans and capable of atrocious acts). All the things we’ve taken for granted, she has had to fight for from an early age. There is a mark differences between her childhood pictures and my own kids’ photos and I don’t know whether it’s an Asian thing or whether I know in my head she hasn’t the happiest childhood but her photos do not look at all happy! As a young mother, that really touched me. She has been through the hottest fire and been forged into a beautiful warrior for those downtrodden. My sincerest gratitude to Yeomi Park for sharing her true life story and best wishes for her future.

…we all have our own deserts. They may not be the same as my desert, but we all have to cross them to find a purpose in life and be free.

Thanks to Penguin Australia for paperback copy in exchange of honest review

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Review: Wild Lands

Wild Lands
Wild Lands by Nicole Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a tonne of historical romance of the American pioneering days but there seems to be a void when it comes to the Australian first settlement days. I’ve always thought there would be a very distinct difference noting Australian harsh climate and being set up as penal colonies. Wild Lands, however, does not quite fit into the romance genre –so I found out as I read! There is a bit of romance in there but in reality, this book explores the perspectives of the settlers and natives as they fight over the rights of the land.

Kate Carter has had a fairly good and protected childhood until her father died and left her and her mother penniless. Compromises were made by her mother in order to protect Kate and ensure her growth into a lovely young woman. When her mother dies, however, Kate is forced to face the harsh reality of being a woman in a man’s world. Her choices were limited but she refused to have the terms of her life dictated to her and was determined to make her own choices. Her choice led her to the outer limits of civilisation and required her to adjust her views on many things.

Adam, aka Bronzewing, was rescued by a peaceful Aboriginal man and grew up straddling both worlds (of the settler’s and the native’s). He finds himself struggling to balance the two worlds and most times, unable to make one side listen to the other peacefully. Circumstances arose where he was forced to run with his adopted father and brother. His is a fight which still is being fought today as we try to find a balance in including the Aboriginals yet also accepting their cultures into the modern world.

This novel is told from two perspectives, Kate’s and Adam’s. By Kate’s thoughts, we come to know the settlers’ viewpoint and journeyed with Kate as she adjusted herself to her new world and reformed her views by her own experiences. By Adam’s, we learn of the Aborigines way of life and so understand their anger and sorrow. Wild Lands is a very thoughtful retrospective insights of a struggling world. Lyrical in its language, it is a story to beguile all readers.

As I’ve just finished both 1788 (non-fiction work by a British naval officer on the first settling of Australia) and Capricornia (Aussie classic where author spoke up against the horrible treatment of the Aborigines) earlier this month, Wild Lands, whilst set in between these 2 novels, definitely has the sweetest ending. Even when the novel itself isn’t strictly a romance, the ending itself was… well, I smirked, I rolled my eyes, and I harrumphed! Think knight on white horse riding into the sunset…lol

Thanks Random House Australia for eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: She’s Not There

She's Not There
She’s Not There by P.J. Parrish
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For some reason, amnesia is a favourite trope of mine. I just love to read about people who suffered memory loss and the process in recovering them. I also have a preference that it be in a romance novel type of setting so I’m not quite sure exactly why I chose to read this book… I think I’m not made for psychological thriller. It’s just too exciting for my poor heart!

The novel began with a dream just prior to Amelia’s awakening. At first, she can’t remember a thing about herself though slowly she regained her name and her fear… of who or what, she doesn’t know but she must follow her instinct to fly. At first, she stumbled around confused and helpless but after a few helpful nudges, she seems to find her feet and become cunning in her bid to stay missing. Amelia is an admirable character; she’s a fighter and she learns fast.

There were a few other perspectives within this novel from the other side of the chase. Readers were given some insights to Amelia’s previous life and the effort in finding her. There were two main perspectives: her husband and the skip tracer hired to find her. Two very broken men of mysterious reasons! They sounded very human; men who faced challenges and failed, who have been unable, for one reason or another, to reach out to their wives to support them, men who hankered after another chance…

She’s Not There is a fast-paced thriller inundated by gritty characters who could just break your heart. The game of hide and seek nearly scared the pants off of me. The mystery had me sitting on the edge of seat. There were many twists and turns that had me gasping in surprise. I felt weak and utterly exhausted at the end –glad for the exciting read but also that it’s over!

Thanks Thomas & Mercer for eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My main interest in this novel lies with the author. I’ve not read many Malaysian author and definitely not within the fantasy genre. I think I read somewhere that compares this book to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell which was a bit of a struggle for me to read but since Sorcerer to the Crown isn’t as huge, I thought I could probably handle it.

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers has a new Sorcerer Royal. One who is not of the English blood and whose rise to such position is shrouded in a grim mystery. Zacharias Whyte found his position to be precariously high. The country is experiencing a decline in magic, a war with France, and a request of support against magical opponents from an unexpected quarter. Zacharias must politically manoeuvre to ensure the safety of his country as well as the good of all mankind. Add to this immense pressure is the threat to his life.

Prunella Gentleman will do anything to escape the life she’s destined for –a life of drudgery. She aims to make something of herself and her accidental discovery will help her get there. However, things are never as they seem as she learns of herself and what she can do.

What I enjoyed most out of this novel is the struggle of both Zacharias Whyte and Prunella Gentleman in being different (ie. not Caucasian and in Prunella’s case, neither was she a man). I’d also point out the irony of their last names! However, both are made of strong stuff and determined to save each other. I’ll just note here that there wasn’t much of romance in this novel so don’t expect it but the undercurrent is there (somewhat invisible).

The mystery and the twists were fascinating and quite unexpected. Despite the slow beginning, I found the last half of the novel to be over before I least expect it because of the twist and turn. It was a really fun ride near the end though I must express a slight disappointment that the climax / confrontation weren’t as blown up as I’d like (please excuse my bloodthirstiness).

Overall, Sorcerer to the Crown was a fine read. A tad too political for me but was otherwise excited to read a new magical world with diverse characters. I wonder just how much of the author’s personal experience is being expressed through these two!

Thanks Pan MacMillan for eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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Review: Sweet Wattle Creek

sweet wattle creekSweet Wattle Creek by Kaye Dobbie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher via NetGalley

The image of discovering an old couture wedding dress really appeals to me. There’s an air of something very romantic –not only of the fact that it’s a wedding dress but of the possibilities of its story or rather the original owner’s story. As a reader, I think, you’d be able to relate in the similarities of finding an old book –the potential of what it has seen since it’s been printed. The smell of its history is practically irresistible.

Sweet Wattle Creek is the story of two women across time, connected by the tenuous thread of a wedding gown, in rediscovering oneself. Both Sophie (current) and Belle (past) have experienced grief / trauma that practically incapacitated them but something has happened in each their lives that reminded them what living is all about. Whilst Sophie is running from her dangerous past, Belle insisted on knowing her mysterious past despite the threats she’s felt against her identity of self. They must both decide whether happiness is worth fighting for or not.

Throughout the tale, there is a slight sinister air about the past of both women. Whilst one secret was no surprise, the mystery of other was well concealed until near the very end. It was not as sinister as it could’ve been and in a way, it was a relief! It was, however, a fairly good mystery that kept me guessing. Overall, Sweet Wattle Creek is a lovely story that kept me reading as I cheer these women on.

Thanks Harlequin (Australia) MIRA for eARC via NetGalley in exchange of honest review

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