Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: The Fifth Letter

the-fifth-letter
The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: paperback copy courtesy of publisher

Do you have a group of best friends? Do they know everything about you or do you think you know all there is to know about each other? I have a group of my own best friends; four of us grew close during high school – almost like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina. Like them, 3 of us are married with children and one has just found The One and about to tie the knot in a few months’ time. *sniffs – am so very happy for her*

The beginning of their friendship is almost laughable. It was pointed out to them that they all have 2 things in common: surnames starting with “C” and their star signs (Scorpios). It’s not the silliest thing that have begun deep friendships, of course, but this was the basis that Joni decided that the four of them are meant to be best friends forever. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most innocent start of the group…

scorpio

Years later, they were still good friends. They see each other regularly and even have girls weekend away sometimes. This weekend though, things rather fell apart. They decided to each write an anonymous letter of secrets to tell each other. It really wasn’t that easy to be anonymous when you know each other well and in addition to that, Joni found a fifth letter with a rather menacing tone. What is she to do with it? Is she supposed to do anything about it?

I really enjoyed the beginning of The Fifth Letter. The stage was being set with Joni finding the letter, her confessional conversation with a Catholic priest (my favourite character), then flashbacks to their teen years. I started smiling on page 3 and found at the end of my train trip, that I still had a wide smile on my face. It wasn’t just funny but the flashbacks also remind me of my own memories of my friends. I didn’t actually like any of these 4 ladies even though I can identify/empathise with all of them in one thing or another. Joni, being the main protagonist and whose perspective we read from, can be very frustrating! She is lovely really but oh, she can be so blind! In saying that, however, I also couldn’t really pick the fifth letter writer. And that precious ending, oh wow, I was literally choking with laughter!

What began as a rather humorous and reminiscing read, this novel took a turn into a dark complex of human emotions. These women each have their own issues which they feel they cannot voice yet that is the first step towards healing. The Fifth Letter engages the reader to look beyond the surface, to check our unrealistic expectations of women and see them as a person, an individual, who is not perfect (no one is perfect) and needs loving supports.

Thank you, Nicola Moriarty, for this novel and the chance to reflect of my own friendships. Like Joni, Deb, Eden, & Trina, I’m sure that we do not know everything about each other and that’s okay… I am certain, however, that none of us harbours any ill will towards anyone in the group 😀

Thank you Harper Collins Publishers Australia for providing paperback copy in exchange of honest review

View all my reviews

Blog Tour: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

About the book

a-quiet-kind-of-thunder

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

My Blurb

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a beautiful read. Mind you, there were stacks of romance in here though I think you can kind of tell by the number of hearts on the cover 😉 There were times that I found the romance crossed the corny cheesy line but I made the allowance for “First Love”. They really weren’t that bad; just a teeny weeny bit more than I liked so you may love it.

At the beginning, however, Steffi was facing first day back at school without her best friend. She’s 16 so she’s in sixth form; which term I actually had to look up as I’m not familiar with the British education system (thanks, Google!) and it’s like years 12 & 13. She may know all the students there but it’s a big day for her. She is determined that she will speak this year. She needs to prove to herself and her parents that she’s capable of ‘normality’ so they will let her go to university. Minutes later, she met a boy who cannot hear, Rhys, and he’s rather cute…

There is only one perspective, Steffi’s, and we get to hear everything she’s saying in her head. She’s getting help and she’s working very hard to overcome that which limit her. I love that we get to hear these things; she may not be able to speak but it doesn’t mean that her head is empty! I can’t tell how accurate the things she’s thought of in relation to other people who are in the same boat as Steffi but it felt just as how they could’ve thought (feel free to correct me) and in some ways were really enlightening. Meeting Rhys with a different type of limitation helps her in a way as they found support in each other; tackling the world which place those limitations on them and along the way, found her confidence and identity.

I have truly enjoyed this book. It was a fun, educational, heart-warming, and totally encouraging book to read. It really inspires you to reach for your dreams despite what the world tells you; only you can decide your limits.

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

Quick Q&A

  1. What kind of research was involved in writing A Quiet Kind of Thunder?

A lot! I learned some (very basic) sign language and read as much as I could on deaf culture and community. I also watched videos on YouTube, including those from/about people in deaf/hearing relationships. For selective mutism, I did a lot of general research into things like diagnosis and treatment, and read the materials that were aimed at teachers and parents to get an idea of how they would deal with a child in that situation.

  1. Is there an interesting story/incident that you came across during your research that you could share with us?

Everything I learned about deaf culture and BSL was fascinating, and I really loved watching BSL music videos online – they absolutely blew my mind.

  1. What is it that drives you to write contemporary YA and of such confronting truths?

For me, those are the kinds of books I most love and that I take the most from. I love books that are honest about people, relationships and the world, and so I suppose it makes sense that I would also try to do this in my own writing. Writing is also a great cathartic way to explore issues and problems that goes beyond just talking or thinking about them, so there’s probably an element of that, too.

About the author

sara-barnardSara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Find Sara on: goodreads  |  tumblr  |  twitter  | instagram

 

Blog Tour (Review & Giveaway): Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

About the book

Words in Deep Blue

Second-hand bookshops are full of mysteries

This is a love story.

It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.

It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea. 

Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.

Sometimes you need the poets

My Blurb

Life is the big scheme; death is the little one at the end

I loved visiting second-hand bookshops though these days I don’t actually know whether there is one in my neighbourhood. Nowadays, I buy second-hand books from Vinnies so they don’t usually have that “old” feels to them. And to be honest, I hate seeing things underlined or highlighted in books though I do like the little penciled (not penned) notes. I haven’t, however, found anything that meaningful in my books or maybe I just haven’t the imagination to find meaning in old bus/train tickets. The idea, however, is utterly charming.

The thing about the Letter Library at Howling Books is that you leave actual letters / notes to people who mean something to you. Rachel Sweetie has never been able to grasp the point of this exercise for what use is words? They’re just words. They’re there but they don’t DO anything in the scheme of life. She’s a scientist and she believes in the moon and the tides. Henry Jones, on the other hand, is a poet. He loves words. He believes in the power of words. And yet, they are the best of friends until… they weren’t. Years later, Rachel returned; stricken by grief, angry, and numb. 10 years of friendship, however, cannot be ignored.

I loved Rachel. Her strength impressed me from the very beginning; she’s been struck down by a grief so profound and yet, life still flickered inside of her. It was amazing to see that fire being stoke back to life and seeing her grasp life once again. Henry, on the other hand, didn’t quite impress me. I am fascinated by his family and, most especially, his family home! I wasn’t sure though I could like a real life Henry. His one redeeming fact is that he’s a reader and that he’s really a terrific friend. All the secondary characters though were brilliantly alive. I love the diverse cast of characters: Lola & Hiroko with their music, George (Henry’s sister) & Martin and his mums, etc.

Words in Deep Blue is a book about books (& words), of love and grief, of friendship and finding one’s feet. It is poignant and funny at the same time. It is wonderful collection of words strung into a beautiful story; one I’d highly recommend as it will delight many hearts.

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

About the author

Cath Crowley is a young adult author published in Australia and internationally. She is the author of The Gracie Faltrain trilogy, Chasing Charlie Duskin, and Graffiti Moon. In 2011, Graffiti Moon won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction, the Ethel Turner Award for Young People’s Literature, and was named an honour book in the Children’s Book Council, Book of the Year. Cath writes and teaches in Melbourne.

Find Cath on: goodreads  |  website  |  tumblr  |  twitter

Giveaway (AU only)

I have 1 brand new copy of this book to giveaway but Australian address only (sorry, peeps, can’t afford overseas shipping :/). To enter, simply leave me a comment on what book would you leave your letter in and why OR who would you leave a letter to at the Letter Library.

I will contact the winner on Saturday, 1 October for his/her postal details.

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

WMMM_616x150pxbannerranda abdel-fattah

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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Review: Like I Can Love

Like I can Love

Like I Can Love by Kim Lock
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

Like I Can Love was a book that I’d automatically pick up because I’ve really enjoyed Kim Lock’s earlier work, Peace, Love and Khaki Socks. As soon as I saw her name on that curious cover and with an even curioser synopsis, I just had to read it. It was, astonishingly, a different experience from Peace, Love and Khaki Socks where I just couldn’t stop smiling and yet, probably due to Kim’s earlier profession as a breastfeeding profession but also the fact that it’s just a normal part of life, more birthing experiences! Why do you always remind me of it, Kim?

This story is told from 2 perspectives: Fairlie’s, in the present, and Jenna’s, from the past prior to her suicide. I found that it was a little hard to get into, probably due to my different expectation but also because I had to get my head around the 2 voices from different points in time plus I wasn’t too keen on Fairlie; she was one big mess of a woman at the beginning and got worse. However, around the 20% mark, the story just grabbed me and I couldn’t read fast enough! I mean I knew somebody isn’t ‘well’ and really, the secret wasn’t such a hard one to guess but I was gripped by the flow of the telling that it didn’t matter that I knew what’s going on already.

Like I Can Love isn’t actually one of those psychological thriller but it could be… It’s not written in that way but I keep thinking that it definitely has all the potentials to be one! It lacks the major tension of a thriller and we’re told half the ending by the synopsis. Nevertheless, we are rather confronted by the hard facts of life: it takes an amazing amount of courage to look for help, we need to make ourselves available/reachable, and regardless of the ending (happily or otherwise), not one person is individually at fault. There is just so much to unpack in this book…

I have truly appreciated the few hours I spent in reading this book and would recommend it for it was such a riveting and poignant read. It reveals some of the hidden & hard realities of life but these need to be acknowledged as left hidden, terrible consequences will ensue. It’s not all doom and gloom for in life, there is always hope! I was quite happy with the way this story is wrapped up and even liked Fairlie then though I have one question: what did she say in her last drunken call in the book? But it’s a very minor disturbance to an overall amazing reading experience.

Thanks to MacMillan Australian for copy eARC in exchange of honest review

View all my reviews

Review: I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes

pancakesI Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes by Jaclyn Moriarty
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Source: purchased own paperback copy

This was another cover crush for me… I just couldn’t resist hot air balloon on cover, for some reason, and since I loved Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Colours of Madelaine series, I had certain expectations of this book.

As always, there are good reviews and bad though they all agreed that the writing is quirky. The Colours of Madelaine books were quirky and I loved it though I found it hard to sell to my book-club mates (most of them think she tried too hard) so I don’t have an issue with quirkiness. I was really looking forward to this, actually, and as I began reading, really enjoyed it… I even nearly snort-laughed which was a pretty good effort.

I think if you’re not an Aussie and specifically, Sydney-sider, you’d miss the references to ‘Banana Bar’, frozen chocolate coated banana, ‘Pie in the Sky’, etc. But as I happened to be one, I can understand her wistfulness in each of these things and wishing for them too! Time for a family road trip, methinks.

Halfway through the book, however, I started to be disillusioned with the book. Yes, it was fun but oh, there was too many secrets and betrayals that the whole story felt fractured. There is “the secret” which was supposed to be the twist but I didn’t even enjoy it… Did not like “the secret” and it didn’t catch me by surprise either.

On the book cover, this is marketed as “a fairytale for grown-up”. I’m sorry, this isn’t much of a ‘fairytale’… I could not pin point true-love and what was the moral of the story again? Hhhmmm, I’m just not convinced. In summary, as my 1 year old would say, ‘Beh!’

View all my reviews

Blog Tour: Cloudwish ~a Review + Giveaway

cloudwishCloudwish by Fiona Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Source: Uncorrected Proof courtesy of publisher

For Vân Uoc Phan, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she’d eaten too much sugar.  And there was zero chance of a pay-off, because it was a truth universally acknowledged that he only ever went out with girls like Pippa or Tiff or Ava.

At sixteen, Vân Uoc Phan, a scholarship student, has always believed in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes.  But when she attracts the attention of popular Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight.  As she struggles to reconcile fantasy Billy with real Billy, she is also grappling with the growing suspicion that she may have accidentally wished his affection into existence.  But that can’t possibly happened, can it?

Vân Uoc has always tried to live according to the Jane Eyre standard: What would Jane do?

If only things were that simple!

Real life in no longer on hold, and Vân Uoc is quickly discovering who she really is.

Review (5 stars)

Cloudwish was, in the first instance, a cover crush for me. It was beautifully design and very catchy! The thousandth of second after I read the name of the main character (note: 2nd word in blurb), I MUST READ THIS Potentially Awesome Book. And let me just assure you now, it did NOT disappoint. The promises of ‘magic’, of ‘Jane Eyre’, and romance were met but in addition to all this an in-depth look of what it means to be an Asian teen in the Australian landscape.

Vân Uoc was first introduced as the typical ABC (or rather ABV, that’s Australian Born wpid-20150914_220331.jpgVietnamese): parents who barely speak English, parent who’s pushing her towards the high-prestige high-earning profession, very intelligent (on scholarship at a private school), plays musical instrument (though in this case, an atypical instrument: the oboe),… in summary, an overachiever. Just like any average teen though, she also has dreams… dreams that she can be just like the others, to blend in, rather than being invisible. So, when she was given the chance, she made a wish…

I felt an immediate connection to Vân Uoc, not only because of my background (as an immigrant), but because I love instant coffee with condensed milk! Forget GJ’s Caramel Lattes, this is da-bomb! As Vân Uoc puts it…

It made you fly on a little cloud of sugar and caffeine.

And then this… this is EXACTLY what happened to me when I was learning to read English books;

And something miraculous happened when they were about a quarter of the way through reading it. After weeks of ploughing and hesitating, something clicked; she stopped stumbling over the unknown words and long sentences. Words magically started to reveal meaning, most of the time anyway, through context. And the sentences themselves stopped being obstacles and started telling a story. Her eyes were racing ahead; she was comprehending the shape and rhythm of the language.

Do you know just how exciting it is when an author has put into words the same exact feelings / experiences you have had?! I love you, Fiona! Apple's Face Throwing a Kiss

Cloudwish may, on the outset, sound like a girly romance fluff but Don’t Be Fooled! Fiona Wood has outdone herself in creating this masterpiece! The authenticity of feel/thought of an Asian Australian teen girl (I can testify to this!) and the inclusion of a number of contemporary issues including but not limited to boat refugees, the ‘white-ness’ of beauty adverts, etc, made a very solid content of a YA fiction.

I have always wished to have the Asian equivalent of Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi and / or Saving Francesca (Italian) and in Cloudwish, my wish has come true! Thank you, Fiona, for writing such a beautiful, compelling, and relevant tale. It has spoken true to my heart and a definite top read of the year for me. I will never stop recommending this to everybody -along with Alibrandi 😉

Note to the parents: if you’re concerned about sexual content, I’d suggest that you read the book first so you are prepared or, feel free to PM me for better details.

Thanks Pan MacMillan Australia for copy of Uncorrected Proof in exchange of honest review

About Author

fiona wood

Fiona Wood’s first young adult novel, Six Impossible Things, was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year, Older Readers. Her second, Wildlife, won the CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers and was shortlisted for a number of other awards. Her third book, Cloudwish, will be published in 2015. Her books are published internationally.  Before writing YA fiction, Fiona wrote television scripts. She lives in Melbourne with her family.

Find Fiona: website  |  twitter

Giveaway (AU only)

My very many thanks to Pan MacMillan Australia for inviting me on this blog tour.  They are also giving away a copy of Cloudwish to one of you lucky blog reader!   To enter, leave me a meaningful comment (below) or… if you can’t think of anything meaningful, tell me a joke!  Something my soon-to-be-six year old can understand 😉

I will draw the winner on Monday morning (21st September 2015).

Tour Stops

Do visit some of these stops too… some will host a giveaway as well 😉

The Tales Compendium

Words Read and Written

YA Midnight Reads

Reading Lark

Confessions From Romaholics

Loony Literate