Category Archives: Coming of Age

Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

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.

Harper Voyager  |  23 April 2018  |  AUD$37.99

My Blurb (4.5 stars)

One of my most anticipated release this year and it did NOT disappoint. In fact, I’m rather speechless! Or more accurately, I have so many things to say, they’ve all jumbled up and I’ve no idea how to sort them out so that they’d make sense to everyone else ;p

That first line totally got me! I burst out laughing (thankfully, I was home and not on the train full of strangers) because it caught me completely off guard. Rin herself was astonishingly hard-headed and enterprising. She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it. She’s definitely NOT getting married.

To start with, it was a such easy, fun, and un-put-down-able read. In fact, the first half reminds me so much of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. The academy setting, MC’s poor background & her hot-headedness, the spoiled brat who almost ruined everything for the MC, the kooky master, etc were all too familiar to be ignored and yet, so differently brilliant. I’m dubbing this first half to be ‘The Name of the Wind with an Asian twist’.

The second half was hand-on-heart hard on my sensibilities. I was warned by a friend that chapter 21 could have some triggery effects on some people. I think with my wide scope of reading, I may have become desensitised to beheading, dismemberment, etc but woah, there was some pretty graphic descriptions here and especially with rape & babies involved, I was starting to feel nauseous, but thankfully, it ended before I actually had to (and this time, I was one of many sardines packed into the train carriage on the way to work). I understand this is based on true historical event and I do not doubt that this type of cruelty exists. This actually made me feel bad that I didn’t feel more about beheadings and such. You know, sometimes, you really have to face up to what people can do & have done.

War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.

And sometimes, the hard bits are what made the book. In the face of a senseless war, Rin and her friends faced impossible situations, inconceivable decisions, and incomparable consequences. Of course, Rin had to come on top but did she really?

Rin is an amazing protagonist. She’s fierce and fiercely independent. Rin’s world is an intricately layered complex of humanity, friendship, loyalty, and faith. Read the book! Laugh with Rin, weep with all humanity and rage against all brutality. But above all, do NOT ask me to lend you my copy of this book :p

Thanks to Harper Voyager for copy of book in exchange of honest review (& Annie @Read3rz_revu – sorry if I burst your eardrums from screaming when you handed me a copy of this book lol)

About the author

I immigrated to the US from Guangzhou, China in 2000. I currently study Chinese history at Georgetown, where my research focuses on Chinese military strategy, collective trauma, and war memorials. I’m a 2018 Marshall Scholar, and I’ll be heading to the University of Cambridge next fall to do my graduate studies.

Fiction-wise, I graduated from Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016 and attended the CSSF Novel Writing Workshop in 2017. My debut novel, The Poppy War, is the first installment in a trilogy that grapples with drugs, shamanism, and China’s bloody twentieth century.

Find Rebecca on:  website  |  goodreads  |  instagram  | twitter

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Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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…

These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent.

My Blurb (4.5 stars)

I have this terrible habit of NOT reading the book’s blurb… sometimes, I’d just pick up a book and started reading. Most times, it doesn’t really  matter but I think this time, it would’ve helped because I got so confused with the different strands of stories and wondered why the book is so choppy but then I got totally sucker-punched by the ending.

One of the stories is about The Monkey King. If you’re Chinese or grew up in Asia, you’d definitely cannot avoid him. It is essential childhood stories. You want to be Monkey King for he’s basically the Asian superhero. He had his faults, of course, and all the stories were really about him learning from his mistakes. So, this author has basically taken a mythological character all Asians will know and can identify with and spun a story with a direct moral lesson.

And then, he applies it to our modern circumstances. Being Chinese in a Caucasian world… hating to stand out because you just look so different from everyone else & wanting to look just like everybody else with all that entails. This is something I can totally identify with; something I’ve learnt to live with. And when the 3 disparate stories were brought a point together, my heart broke.

Truthfully, I didn’t think I need to read this book but now that I have (I borrowed a copy from the library), I will be buying a copy for my boys to read because they are ABCs (Australian born Chinese) and will probably struggle through some aspect of being different.

About the author

Gene Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade. In 1997, he received the Xeric Grant, a prestigious comics industry grant, for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work as an adult. He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Duncan’s Kingdom (with art by Derek Kirk Kim) and The Rosary Comic Book. American Born Chinese received National Book Award.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his lovely wife and children and teaches at a Roman Catholic high school.

Find Gene on:  website  |  goodreads  |  twitter  |  facebook

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: If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

‘The second our eyes lock in the dark is all the time I need to know that whatever happens next, my life will never be the same.’

Life and love don’t wait until you’re ready, but what if finding yourself means losing everything you’ve ever known?

Seventeen-year-old Alex Summers lives with a secret and the constant fear someone will find out. But when a new family moves to town, they bring with them their teenage daughter Phoenix Stone. When Alex falls for Phoenix, there is no warning. In a small town with small minds, girls don’t go out with other girls, even if they want to.

In fear there is bravery – you can either cling to the edge or have the courage to jump. But what do you do when you’re left spiralling through the freefall?

This is a heart-wrenching story of love in an unloving Australian landscape.

My Blurb (5 stars)

Truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I don’t read many LGBT books though not because I purposely avoid them but more that they’re not particularly books I usually come across without having to research or specifically look for. I’ve done a lot of reading challenges so it’s come up a few times and I would usually have to really look for them. In addition, If I Tell You, is geared towards young adult… there are even less LGBT/YA books.

Alex Summers is an easily likeable character. She has dreams and wishes for her wedding day though there is one particular details which would differ from what her mother would’ve dreamed or planned. This is a secret Alex has kept from everyone. When Phoenix Stone arrived in town though, she was a temptation Alex cannot resist.

If I Tell You is told solely from Alex’s perspective and from it, I must say that it’s a pretty UN-likeable town (and I’m being nice here!) despite her supportive friends (I adore Lin!). I think Lin is the bright shining star in this book for me and that’s because I could identify with her better being Asian in ancestry. Which makes me think that Alex may be the bright shining star for those who have been and/or are experiencing the same sort of situation. How can you be happy when you can’t be yourself?

I was caught by story from the very first sentence. And I just couldn’t put the book down. I love that it’s very Aussie in setting & feel though I don’t know if I actually want to visit this town; it’s more of a homey sort of feeling that I’m sure we can all identify with. I cannot condone the behaviours of some of the people especially the mother. As a mother of 2 young children, I feel conflicted; I wanted to know further the reason for her reaction as I can think of dozens!

Writing this review is very hard for me. I feel like I am also treading a fine line as I may accidentally have written something which sounded okay to me in my head but due to missing the nuances of spoken words, they may be misconstrued. So, I’m just going to wrap it up by saying explicitly that I loved this book for its potential in the LGBTQIA+ community but also for the wider audience. I loved this book for all the feels; the giddiness of first love to the heartbreak of loss. If I Tell You is a compelling coming-of-age tale and all of you should jump into it.

Thanks to Pantera Press for copy of book in exchange of honest review

About the author

 

Alicia Tuckerman is a driving force for young LGBT voices within Australia. Raised in rural NSW before she left home at the age of sixteen, she accepted a position to study at the Hunter School of Performing Arts.

Described as having an overactive imagination as a child, she recalls writing stories her entire life. Alicia attributes surviving her teenage years to the comfort, release and escape writing offered and she hopes to inspire the next generation of readers and writers to embrace their true passions.

Alicia was inspired to write If I Tell You after finding a lack of YA novels featuring two central lesbian characters. She draws on her life experiences to explore the joys, triumphs and cruelties of modern day adolescence and considers there is no fantasy world she could create that is more terrifyingly beautiful than the one we’re expected to live in.

Alicia is a Law Clerk and now lives in the Swan Valley region of Perth with her wife and two children, where she does most of her writing in the small hours before the kids wake up, or on her daily commute to the office!

Find Alicia on: goodreads  |  instagram  | twitter  |  facebook

Review: Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette & Gabrielle Carey

Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette & Gabrielle Carey

Written twenty years ago, Puberty Blues is the bestselling account of growing up in the 1970s that took Australia by storm and spawned an eponymous cult movie. It also marked the starting point of Kathy Lette’s writing career, which sees her now as an author at the forefront of her field.

Puberty Blues is about top chicks and surfie spunks and the kids who don’t quite make the cut: it recreates with fascinating honesty a world where only the gang and the surf count. It’s a hilarious and horrifying account of the way many teenagers live and some of them die. Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey’s insightful novel is as painfully true today as it ever was.

My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)

Ok, wow, now I get all the controversy surrounding this book! I still don’t know whether to cry or laugh…

Cry because it’s saddened me, as an older woman, to hear these young teens (starting at 13 when they still haven’t had their periods yet) giving in to sex just cuz it’s what the boys wanted. And sorry but those boys sound like such losers! Gorgeous maybe but err all the girls did was what the boys wanted to do; I wanted to scream!!

Laugh because well, weren’t we all boy crazy at that age? I didn’t get to any of the shenanigans these girls got up to but then again, my life was very sheltered and I did go to a private Catholic girls school where most girls in my class are rather intelligent so yea… but I did remember the slathering baby oil to sunbath; ah, those were the days.

This book was set in the 70s so please do take that into consideration when reading. If you are a parent, be prepared for a fully open & honest conversation with your teens. If you are a teen, please please please have a chat with a trusted adult especially with your questions.

Really, these girls were just dreaming of romance and why shouldn’t they? We dream of romance at any and every age; I still do 😉 I am, however, thoroughly GLAD (capitals required to stress my feelings) with the ending. You go, girls!

 

Blog Tour: Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, Fiona Wood

Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, Fiona Wood

Kate, a quiet boarder, making some risky choices to pursue the experimental music she loves.

Clem, shrugging off her old swim-team persona, exploring her first sexual relationship, and trying to keep her annoying twin, Iris, at arm’s length.

Ady, grappling with a chaotic family, and wondering who her real friends are; she’s not the confident A-lister she appears to be.

When St Hilda’s establishes a Year 10 Wellness Program in response to the era of cyber-bullying, the three girls are thrown together and an unlikely friendship is sparked. One thing they have in common: each is targeted by PSST, a site devoted to gossip and slander that must have a source within St Hilda’s.

Who can you trust when rumour is the new truth?

My Blurb

When I heard about this collaboration happening, I knew it was going to be a cracker! And boy, wasn’t it ever! Take Three Girls is all about potentials; the potentials we all have inside of us but it’s up to us to make it a reality. Take Three Girls is about finding yourself and your place in society; not ‘fitting in’ like squeezing into a tight sexy dress that’s actually terribly uncomfortable but having a place set aside for you because it’s for you. Take Three Girls tackles contemporary teen issues, not sparing the heartaches, tears, and humiliation, with a spectacular triumphant touchdown in the end.

The authors took 3 girls from different walks in life:

Ady – the popular rich chick

Kate – the studious country chick

Clem – the sporty chick

placed them in a class where they must ‘work’ together and each found that the other doesn’t really stay in the squares they’ve been fitted into. Despite their differences though, not one of them was safe from a cyber-bully, PSST, a gossip site particularly aimed at the girls at their school. These three girls found themselves supporting each other becoming truer friends each day; they found that they could not let PSST get away with all the pains it caused but how do you fight an anonymous cyber bully?

I must admit to cringing my way through the first half of the book. It was soo difficult to read as I myself am a mother and uncertain myself how to protect or guide my kids through school and life but then there’s another set of challenge in the cyber world! This wasn’t really around yet when I was a teen – I really don’t know how I’d survive it but such is life… I did find it, like the girls did, a bit ridiculous that a male psychologist was cast as the ‘Wellness Program’ teacher but I think that rather portrays just how much we as adults can help or rather how little…

“Why is life so unsimple?”

This is a question that you’d never tire of asking but I am truly grateful though to be reminded that teens are so very resilient and given the chance, they can find their own true paths in life. I realised that especially this year, I’ve been reading through my YA books thinking more like a mother and that’s just my stage of life. I therefore, can definitely recommend mothers to read this with their daughters as there are so many issues open for discussions from career paths, bullying, love, sex, friendship, and family.

Take Three Girls is a novel of empowerment; not just of the feminine but of identity. It is tough, sweet, bitter, beautiful, sour, and everything in between. If you were only going to read only 1 book this year, read this one!!

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. Her new book will be published in 2016.

Find her on: goodreads  |  website  | twitter  | facebook  | tumblr  | instagram

 

Simmone Howell is the award-winning author of YA novels Girl DefectiveEverything Beautiful and Notes from the Teenage Underground. She also writes non-fiction about dream houses, teen movies and ways to map a city. She lives in Melbourne and is currently working on a memoir about her formative female influences.

Find her on: goodreads  |  website  | twitter

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, was published in 2015. Her books are published internationally.

Before writing YA fiction, Fiona wrote television scripts. She lives in Melbourne with her family.

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

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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