Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight onto life in fictional small-town Japan.

Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.

My Blurb (3 stars)

Judging by the book’s blurb alone, it is doubtful that I’d have picked it up. Judging by the cover, I would have definitely added it to my TBR but who knows when I’d have read it. However, a quick look at the author’s Indonesian surname clinched it. If you don’t already know, I was born & grew up in Indonesia. On the other hand, this may be a bad thing cuz you know you expect a lot from your own countrymen or women (or maybe that’s just me…).

I thought it was a little bit iffy that the book is fully Japanese (set in Japan with Japanese MC, etc). Then again, as we grew up (in Indonesia) obsessed with everything Japan (their mangas, dramas, etc), it’s really not a strange choice at all. I am a big fan of Japanese lit myself… I’ve read my share of mangas, watched J-dramas, & read a number of novels too. From all this, I’d say that Clarissa Goenawan has made a fair representation of Japanese style of living. I wonder though what Japanese people actually think…?

In essence, I do feel that this book is quite Japanese. The strange dreams (Haruki Murakami, anyone?) and relationships (brother-sister, teacher-student, etc). I loved Murakami’s books so I didn’t mind the dreams and in a way, maybe this author seeks to emulate him? And those relationships… well… I’ve seen them in mangas (especially ones for mature audiences) but I’m so glad that there were lines that were not crossed in this book.

The story is being told from the sole perspective of Ren Ishida who came to the town of Akakawa because his sister has been murdered. At the beginning, he just appears to be lost and aimless… in his grief, he drifted and some things just kind of fell on his lap. I don’t feel like he actively tried to investigate his sister’s murder so I don’t see this novel as the usual who-dun-it. He was driven more by his dreams to find something of which he wasn’t quite sure what. Will the truth destroy him or set him free?

“Sadness alone can’t harm anyone. It’s what you do when you’re sad that can hurt you and those around you.”

The reading was easy and quite enjoyable. There were some parts which I thought were kinda stilted but not many. I loved the little town with its gothic-esque feel. The MC, Ren, was easy on the eye & developed to grow easy on the heart too. If you like everything Japanese, you may enjoy this easy fare (in comparison to Japanese works that is).

About the author

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel, Rainbirds, is the winner of the 2015 Bath Novel Award. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies, such as The MacGuffin, Your Impossible Voice, Esquire, Monsoon Book, Writing The City, Needle in the Hay,
and many others. She loves rainy days, pretty books, and hot green tea.

 

Find Clarissa on:  website  |  goodreads  |  instagram  | twitter  |  facebook

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Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge 2018

A very late sign-up post cuz it’s been a crazy May! What with volunteering with the Sydney Writers Festival (exhausting but utterly rewarding!) at the start of the month and then a trip to the hospital’s Emergency with my son (a viral induced wheeze and he needed a lot of help to get over it). I’ve only just caught up with my sleep 🙂

Here’s the bingo grid and for full instruction, check out the master post, here

I think I’m going to try for the first column and I planned to read:

 

East Asian MC: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight onto life in fictional small-town Japan.

Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.

LGBTQIAP + Asian MC: The Black Tides of Heaven (Tensorate #1) by J.Y. Yang

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While his sister received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

SFF with Asian MC: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Graphic Novel with Asian MC: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse…

South East Asian MC: Ponti by Sharlene Teo

2003, Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, sixteen-year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress and now a hack medium performing seances with her sister in a rusty
house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, an unlikely encounter develops into an intense friendship and offers Szu a means of escape from her mother’s alarming solitariness.

Seventeen years later, Circe is struggling through a divorce in fraught and ever-changing Singapore when a project comes up at work: a remake of the cult seventies horror film series ‘Ponti’, the very project that defined Amisa’s short-lived film career. Suddenly Circe is knocked off balance: by memories of the two women she once knew, by guilt, and by a past that threatens her conscience.

Nadia L. King: Q&A

Thank you, Nadia, for your time and for sharing a bit about yourself & your writing. The very best of luck for your next piece and I hope we’ll get to read it soon 🙂

Quick Qs

Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Milk

Coffee or Tea? Tea

Dog-ear or whatever else as bookmark? Envelopes and postcards

Plot or Character? Character

HEA or unexpected twist? Unexpected twist

Q: Could you please share with us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

A: Once I learnt to read I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. I had a short stint working as a journalist and a successful career in corporate communications. When my husband and I started a family I found my hands full raising our daughters. For years I read everything in sight without penning a single word. Then in 2015 after a case of extremely itchy fingers I started writing fiction. Finally in my forties I find myself working hard at a career in which I had always been drawn to but had never had the courage to pursue.

Q: Was there a lot of research involved in writing Jenna’s Truth? Was there a particular fact or 2 you found during research that surprised you? What were they?

A: The protagonist in Jenna’s Truth is a teenage girl who decides to end her life after being bullied. Because I was writing for a young adult audience I was very cognisant of not giving a how-to lesson in suicide. I decided on drowning and then researched what it feels like to drown, how difficult it is, the physical limitations of drowning, and the injuries that can be sustained. I had this rather romantic notion that you could just walk into a lake or something, take your last breath and die, but drowning isn’t like that and it’s quite difficult to do. Your body will fight drowning until the last moment and it’s an incredibly painful process.

Q: These are very difficult themes to tackle in such a short story! How did you feel about writing the things that happened to Jenna in the story? Was this story ever meant to be a longer one or how did you decide it to be a short story?

A: I feel as if the story of Jenna’s Truth chose me rather than the other way around. In the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about stories finding their storytellers and Jenna’s Truth felt very much like that. I wanted the story to be as accessible to many as teens as possible so a novella seemed the perfect length. In a classroom context, the story can be read in one sitting. Jenna’s Truth has been positively received by school libraries who often use it with reluctant readers.

Q: It’s mentioned in the book that you actually learned of Amanda Todd from your own teenaged daughter. I must admit that I’ve been anxious about cyber safety for my son even when he was only 3… He’s 8 now and I’m ever more anxious! What are some practical tips you can share with us parents?

A: In my experience the most important thing you can do in parenting is to have an open and engaged relationship with your kids. Keeping the lines of communication open means being honest with your kids. Just because we’re parents doesn’t mean we’re perfect, so role modelling being open and authentic seems to me a good pathway to take. From a cyberbullying perspective, don’t be afraid to block the haters and trolls and to report any abusive social media posts. Retain evidence of cyberbullying and visit https://www.esafety.gov.au for the most up to date information and advice.

Q: What are your top reads for 2018 to date? And which book are you desperately waiting for publication?

A: Some of the great books I’ve read this year include:

Books I can’t wait to read:

Q: What are you working on now? Or what can we look for from you next?

A: Publication can be such a long road. I’ve written a young adult novel about a boy who loves manga and struggles against his abusive father. It has elements of magical realism to lighten the heavy subject matter. The manuscript is currently out on submission and I have no idea if a publisher will want it. I have started another young adult novel based in a small outback country town and have a few other projects on the go. Cross your fingers for me!

You can check out my thoughts on Jenna’s Truth, here, and you can purchase it from following links: Booktopia  |  B&N  |  Boffins Books  |  foyles  |  Serenity Press

About the author

Australian author, Nadia L King, was born in Dublin, Ireland. Nadia is a YA author and short story writer.  She is passionate about using stories to connect with teens. Nadia is a particularly hopeless horse rider but she enjoyed that one time she rode an ostrich. She also loves riding camels, and hopes to one day ride an elephant.  Nadia lives in Western Australia with her family. 

Find Elizabeth on: goodreads  |  website  | twitter  |  facebook  | instagram

Review: Jenna’s Truth by Nadia L. King

Jenna’s Truth by Nadia L. King

Jenna’s just a teenager who wants to fit in. The popularity that she wanted though, quickly turns into infamy when two “well-meaning” friends spark a controversy that alters her life forever. What happens when the popular kids are responsible for one of the most painful and humiliating events in your life?

Inspired by Amanda Todd’s tragic story of bullying, Jenna’s Truth is more than just teen short story – it’s a lesson in empathy, self-awareness, and speaking out about what matters.

Jenna’s Truth is a gripping story, which explores the themes of cyberbullying, teen drinking, sex, and suicide.

Life is not black and white, and sometimes teens can be the most insensitive people.

Buy Links: Booktopia  |  B&N  |  Boffins Books  |  foyles  |  Serenity Press

My Blurb (3.5 stars)

When Nadia first approached me for a review, my first reaction was I can’t possibly handle this story; it sounds like a very tough read (ie. triggery, traumatising, etc). However, I wanted to support, not only an Aussie author, but also this very important issue for which we need to tackle thoroughly.

Jenna’s Truth is a very short story and despite the hard topic, also quite simplistic. Keeping in mind that it was originally written for “a publisher specialising in books for children with language and literacy difficulties”, this revised edition is still very much accessible for teens who do not find reading particularly enjoyable and yet get the message across. If I managed to read this story in less than 30 minutes; this story is do-able for a lesson (note for teachers: teachers guide included!).

While Jenna’s story is tragic and some readers may find it to be full of triggers, I didn’t find it to be that bad. I actually thought that it could have been a lot worse! I’m not saying that some bullying isn’t that bad. I’m saying that this story isn’t as graphic as some other books I’ve read so was therefore within my comfort zone. Nothing feels much worst than being bullied but this story does share that there is hope… but sometimes, you need to seek some help.

A rather straight-forward story, Jenna’s Truth informs all readers that bullying is NOT acceptable, help is available, and consequences are dire.

Thanks to the author for an e-copy of this novella; review is my own honest thought.

About the author

Australian author, Nadia L King, was born in Dublin, Ireland. Nadia is a YA author and short story writer.  She is passionate about using stories to connect with teens. Nadia is a particularly hopeless horse rider but she enjoyed that one time she rode an ostrich. She also loves riding camels, and hopes to one day ride an elephant.  Nadia lives in Western Australia with her family. 

Find Elizabeth on: goodreads  |  website  | twitter  |  facebook  | instagram

Come back tomorrow for Q&A with Nadia! 😀

Review: Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills


Dyschronia
by Jennifer Mills

An electrifying novel about an oracle. A small town. And the end of the world as we know it…

One morning, the residents of a small coastal town somewhere in Australia wake to discover the sea has disappeared. One among them has been plagued by troubling visions of this cataclysm for years. Is she a prophet? Does she have a disorder that skews her perception of time? Or is she a gifted and compulsive liar?

Oscillating between the future and the past, Dyschronia is a novel that tantalises and dazzles, as one woman’s pescient nightmares become entangled with her town’s uncertain fate. Blazing with questions of consciousness, trust, and destiny, this is a wildly imaginative and extraordinary novel from award-winning author Jennifer Mills.

My Blurb

Baffled.

Hence my star rating of 2 probably doesn’t worth much. I loved the cover and I was intrigued by the blurb, “One morning, the residents of a small coastal town somewhere in Australia wake to discover the sea has disappeared.” I, therefore, expected some sort of post-apocalyptic sort of novel and while it was in a way ‘post-apocalyptic’, it wasn’t… not really.

I struggled by the time shifts; I can’t even tell you how many there were supposed to be… There were the future (in visions?), the present, and the past; I know these for certain but there were time strands for each time anyway and there’s no particular warning, they can change within a chapter, a space or an asterix to indicate end of a section does not particularly help. Thankfully, there were only 2 perspectives: Sam’s (though she’s the one having visions so that didn’t help in anyway) and the town people’s (using the royal ‘We’).

I think I understood that the book’s themes revolve around the environment, climate, and corporate scams that in the end, only the plebeians suffer the consequences. I’m just not sure whether getting your point across despite the baffled reader is enough. I do have now an appreciation of the cuttlefish… not enough not to eat them (not that I eat them all the time). I am just so sorry that I could not love the book!

Source: I borrowed this book from my local library

About the author

Jennifer Mills is the author of the novels Gone (UQP, 2011) and The Diamond Anchor (UQP, 2009) and a collection of short stories, The Rest is Weight (UQP, 2012). The Rest is Weight. Mills’ fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been widely published, appearing in Meanjin, Hecate, Overland, Heat, Island, the Lifted Brow, the Griffith Review, Best Australian Stories, New Australian Stories, and the Review of Australian Fiction, as well as being broadcast, recorded and performed from Adelaide to Berlin. She is a regular writer for Overland literary journal and has contributed criticism to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Wheeler Centre, and the Sydney Review of Books. She is currently the fiction editor at Overland.

Find her on: goodreads  |  website  |  twitter

 

Blog Tour: Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson

Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson

Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, DIFFERENTLY NORMAL is about first love and the sacrifices you’ll make for the ones you hold close. For fans of Nicholas Sparks and Jojo Moyes.

For Maddy, life is all about routine. It has to be, to keep her autistic sister happy and healthy. With just Maddy and her mother as Bee’s full-time carers, there’s no time in Maddy’s life for complications like friends, let alone a boyfriend. So when Bee joins a new Riding for the Disabled stable and they meet Albert, the last thing on Maddy’s mind is falling in love.

Some things, she’s about to learn, are outside of our control. Albert has resigned himself to always being a disappointment to his strict father. When he meets Maddy, he gets a glimpse of what being part of a family can be like, and of the tremendous sacrifices that people will make for the ones that they love.

DIFFERENTLY NORMAL is a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss, because sometimes it takes letting someone else in to discover who you really are . . .

‘A funny and poignant tale about first love. Tammy Robinson is a natural storyteller.’ Nicky Pellegrino

Purchase links:  booktopia (AU)  | Dymocks (AU)  whitcoulls (NZ)  | Kobo  | iBooks  | Google Play

My Blurb (3.5/5 stars)

What really piqued my interest in this book is the New Zealand author & setting. I’ve not read many of those; I could probably count them on 1 hand. The next factor of interest is the main character’s responsibility as a carer for her autistic sister. She sounds amazingly strong, generous, and loving. I’m not sure if I could be like that…

Unless someone has someone else who is so dependent on them for everything like my sister is on me, they can’t understand. They might think they do, but they don’t. Everything I do, every single decision I make, has to be weighed up carefully to decide how it will affect my sister. I have to consider things we may encounter that will upset her….There are a million things that will either make sister happy or upset, and only two people in this whole world who know what those things are. It’s a heavy responsibility.

There are 2 perspectives in this novel; Maddy’s & Albert’s. Both of their families are dysfunctional in different ways and whilst Maddy is too busy for love, Albert never thought he’d ever recover from his heartbreak. And then, they met. It was touch & go but they were obviously made for each other. Albert’s dreams of his future takes him far from home whilst Maddy’s commitment to her sister meant she might never leave home. Some sacrifices are needed, a compromise required; will they be able to work this out?

Differently Normal is such a cute heart-warming read. The romance is pretty goofy especially at the beginning and I loved it to bits. I’m pretty embarrassed that I’ve probably snorted a bit on my train commute and kept finding myself grinning at Albert’s & Maddy’s antics. It’s a beautiful romance! Of course, a spanner was then thrown into the works and I am rather upset at this turnaround in the story. I feel that there needs to be a ‘spanner in the works’ but I don’t feel that this is the one; I just feel that the story’s sparkle dimmed and the weave loosened to become a rather frayed ending.

Nevertheless, Differently Normal turns out to be a comfort read; a light humour with a bit of teary mess near the end. It’s perfect for me-time at the end of a very long & hard day as spending time with this adorable couple will definitely loosen you up.

Thanks to Hachette Australia for copy of book in exchange of honest review. 

 

About the author

Tammy Robinson is a contemporary women’s fiction author from the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. After years spent working her way round the world, Tammy settled back in New Zealand with her husband, their two girls and a newborn baby boy. She has published six novels through Amazon, and DIFFERENTLY NORMAL was her first novel with Hachette New Zealand. She is currently working on PHOTOS OF YOU, which Hachette will publish in 2019.

Find her on: goodreads  |  twitter  | facebook  | instagram

Review: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1) by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Born on an unlucky day, she is blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s there that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organisation: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart. Except for Morrigan, who doesn’t seem to have any special talent at all.

To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests – or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

My Blurb (5 stars)

I bought this book as a gift for my 8yo. I don’t particularly know what an advance reader is for his age but he’s in the top reading group in his class so I thought this might be readable for him. Nevertheless, he was intimidated by all the words and NO illustrations which makes it a monster of a book for him. I wanted to read it too so we read it together aloud. Honestly, I would probably inhale this book in a single sitting (or two) because it was really so much fun! A light-hearted read filled with incredible characters and magical world, Nevermoor is an absolute gem of a book.

I love that nothing is as it seems in Nevermoor just like there is always 2 sides to every story. And there is all sorts of creatures too; a talking giant cat, a vampire, a dwarf, zombies, dragons, unicorns… you name it! The funny bits and the magic especially excite us. Nevermoor is the bright star at the end of our day.

We took the whole of February to read this aloud. He has to read 4-5 pages per night and I read 20ish… My voicebox is feeling a little overused atm. It has been a pretty good month though because the promise of reading this book helps him get ready for bed without too much nagging/shouting from me! That’s a smasher of a praise for this book, I tell you. It’s been amazing and now I’ve got to find another with, hopefully, the same impact on him.

He says: (4.5/5 stars)

The book is actually pretty good. I rate 4 and a half at the because at the end its sort of scary. But the rest of the book is awesome my favourite character is Fenestra and my least favourite character is Ezra squall. My favourite place in Nevermore is the Gossamer Line because you can travel to a different place and you are sort of like a ghost.

About the author

JESSICA TOWNSEND lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. She was a copywriter for eight years, and was once the editor of a children’s wildlife magazine for Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is her first novel.

Find her on: goodreads  |  twitter  | instagram