Category Archives: Coming of Age

Review: Refuge

Refuge
Refuge by A.V. Mather
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Opening a normal-looking door into a whole new world is one of my favourite trope because there are just so many possibilities. In this novel, Refuge, our heroine, Nell McLennan, wanted to run away from her problems, her life. I bet each one of us has felt like that at one time or another… escape the daily drudge or any relationship difficulties and see how they cope when we’re not around or will they miss us at all?

Nell did not have a particularly close relationship with her parents. In fact, they were too busy with work to bother too much with her. And then, just before Christmas holidays, she managed to botch things with her best friend who won’t ever speak to her again. The final kick came when her parents decided to go on a holiday without her. She is being sent to a grandfather she’s never met who lives in woop woop. When the chance of escape was presented, Nell jumped for it.

It was a bit of a slow start or maybe I was just too impatient to get to the other world behind the door. It felt like there were too much setting up in the beginning; a steamrolling of events to drive Nell to truly want/need a ‘refuge’ from ever having to face up to her troubles. However, ‘Refuge’ really isn’t a haven where you do not have problems instead Nell came across a set of different yet the same sort of issues. Refuge is a dark world filled with madness and supernatural talents. Everyone came to Refuge for the same reason and all have their own sets of secrets, enemies, and allies. Who can Nell trust? Will she stay or will she return home?

I didn’t expect Refuge to be such a dark world but I do love the variety & dynamics of characters in this world. Nell was a little frustrating but it’s one of those passenger-driver issue, if you get what I mean. I am fascinated by the mad scientist and ever curious on the backgrounds of the other Refuge-ans (we don’t get to hear very much about them). The ending also makes me think that this is really only the first in a series; am keeping my fingers crossed that there will be more Refuge tales.

My sincere thanks to the author for providing e-copy of this book in exchange of honest review

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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

 

Review: The Golden Braid

the golden braidThe Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: eARC courtesy of publisher

After Bitter Greens, I needed a lighter retelling of Rapunzel and this fits the bill so well. Rapunzel is a very capable girl especially noting the medieval setting. She hungered for knowledge though she’s yet to learn to read. She hasn’t had the opportunity so far because she and her mother have moved many times but mostly from village to village. This time, however, they are moving to a large city where Rapunzel hopes there will be a better chance in finding someone to teach her to read.

I don’t usually read Christian fiction and I’m not sure whether I realised this was one when I first requested it off NetGalley but it has been a very interesting experience. Whilst I quite enjoyed the read and am touched by Rapunzel’s simple piety; I was mostly struck by the frequency of prayers. This is probably due to my irregular prayers so really, this proves to be a good encouragement for me to pray more often.

The Golden Braid is a lovely retelling of Rapunzel. She’s definitely not an insipid fool but brave, accomplished, and fairly intelligent. There were moments of frustration where I thought she was blind but truly, her upbringing was very sheltered and it takes time to learn of the world. This is a good wholesome and romantic novel suitable for teens aged 13 and up.

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

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Review: Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club

lady helenLady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: Uncorrected proof courtesy of publisher

I very much adored The Eon Duology! I still remembered vividly staying up late whilst heavily pregnant with my first because I just could not put down The Two Pearls of Wisdom; absolutely captivating and one of my favourite books ever! Therefore, I’ve kept my eye on Alison Goodman and have heard about this Regency project some years ago… I’ve waited a lifetime for Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club!

This story is told from Lady Helen’s perspective and readers are privileged, as well, to know her private thoughts. The novel opens with Lady Helen’s preparation for her presentation to the Queen. Immediately, we are deliciously teased with a taint on Lady Helen’s reputation or rather her mother’s and therefore, hers. A few pages later, her aunt entered with a scandal involving one of her good friends and the second chapter brought a disappearance of one of the maid. The mysteries continued to be piled on top of one another until there is a knot that demands untangling.

Lady Helen herself turns out to be a very admirable character. Right from the beginning, she evinced her independence of thoughts and ingenuity in problem solving. Nevertheless, even as she finds herself becoming different, her upbringing constrained her and she struggled with this new knowledge of herself and the world. I found this struggle to be very realistic and actually made me like her a lot more than I thought I would. Honestly, I wasn’t sure which outcome I’d like for her though of course, the other one will mean that there will be no series ;p

I think I looked too hard for Eon in these pages… I loved Eon very easily but Helen took some time to understand. The world building was just as incredible and hence, probably the reason it felt quite slow… It’s a whole big old but new world! I expect the next instalment to be at a faster pace and even more amazing; I can’t wait!

Thanks to Harper Collins Australia for copy of Uncorrected proof in exchange of honest review

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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

Review: Matched

matchedMatched by Ally Condie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Source: purchased own paperback copy

I added this to my TBR because the person who recommended it saw some similarities with another book I like though except for that one particular thing, there wasn’t really much else. However, it’s funny how I kept getting flashes of other dystopian…

The novel opens with Cassia on the train, on her way to her Matching ceremony. I had in my mind of Katniss on her way to the Capital. The way she’s surrounded with all the glamour that is a contract with the drabness of real life. That’s all the reference to THG I’m going to make though as the rest of the novel is so very reminiscent of The Giver by Lois Lowry. There were quite a number of similarities: the lack of colours, the tablets, old age/dying, vocations, etc. The difference here is the romance which was missing in The Giver.

Despite all my thoughts meandering over to other dystopian novels, Matched has been a fairly engaging read, mostly due to the romance. I also liked the number of ‘bombs’ dropped near the end and I’m wondering what other twists will be introduced in the rest of the trilogy. So, I’ll be looking those up though probably not in any hurry to do so.

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Review: The Peony Lantern

the peony lanternThe Peony Lantern by Frances Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: purchased own copy

I had the privilege of a read along of this book with some girls from Read3r’z Re-Vu on Whatsapp featuring the lovely Frances Watts, the author. I was deliriously ecstatic and probably, then, read it so very closely so I can come up with ten thousand more questions than I would have if I read normally. However, Frances was so very gracious and answered them all with aplomb. I’ll be posting some of these Q&A in the next couple of days.

I have this fascination of the Japanese culture since my early teen years. I still remember vividly waiting for what feels like forever for the first volume of Sailor Moon and when the day arrived, hurriedly left school to get my hands on a copy. I’ve never since looked back though I have extended my tastebuds to include other Japanese flavoured literature. Nevertheless, I found that I still had lots to learn about Japan from my reading of The Peony Lantern.

Kasumi is a wonderful heroine. Born as a peasant, she lacks education and yet, she has the natural ability of observation. Needless to say, this often gets her into trouble. Her parents (we must believe, out of concern of her wellbeing) continue to remind her that

“the stake that sticks up gets hammered down.”

As the novel is told from Kasumi’s perspective, the readers are treated to her insights. And this ranged from her search of own identity to some hilarious conspiracy theories. Kasumi does not kick ass but is much fun to be with and with whom readers can identify with ease.

Fireworks festival (woodblock print)
Firework Festival (ukiyo-e / woodblock print)
An inspiration to write this story was a woodblock print (not necessarily this one)

The plot itself was truly enjoyable. The first half wasn’t slow but the pace was ramped up in the second half and it really became un-put-down-able then. You just want to keep going to find out what the secret really is (I guessed correctly for this part) and then, you want to find out the answer to the mystery (this was a twist I appreciate). The Peony Lantern engaged my interest from the beginning and had me enthralled to the end.

If you’re a parent, let me assure you that this book is clean. There’s a bit of romance but Kasumi was quite the sensible girl to the end (and I just love her all the more!). There are many themes / topics for good conversation of gender, rank, education, culture, etc. I won’t hesitate in presenting this book as gifts to my nieces.

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