Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Buried Ark by James Bradley

The Buried Ark (The Change #2) by James Bradley

Callie risked everything to get her little sister Gracie to the safety of the Zone. But Matt, the boy she loves, has been killed by Quarantine and Gracie has been absorbed into the Change.

Now Callie must learn to survive in the alien landscape of the Zone, a place where the Change is everywhere, and nothing is what it seems. That is, until she stumbles on a secret from her past that may hold the key to defeating the Change.

Hunted and alone, she finds refuge in the most unexpected of places. Only to find she is in more danger than ever.

Published 29 May 2018 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$14.99

My Blurb (4 stars)

Please note this review is for the second book of the trilogy and may contain spoilers. Here is a link if you’d like to check out my review of the first book: The Silent Invasion

If you’ve read book 1, you know how it ended and I’m sure you were just as frustrated as I was that we had to wait a full year to know what happens next. Thankfully, this book picked up immediately after that ending and what a touching scene it was….

Of course, nothing is ever as it seems! Callie, heartbroken & missing Matt & Gracie, had to figure out how she was going to survive in a place where she stood out as foreign; she is the ‘alien’, the one who does not belong. Strangely, despite her frequent contact with the changes, she remains herself. Is there a way to save the world from being changed?

I must confess to being rather sad as I missed the dynamics of Callie, Matt, & Gracie. In this second instalment of the trilogy, Without giving away too much, I did like a few of secondary characters introduced as her ‘sidekicks’. They were an interesting bunch but I just didn’t feel as connected to them as I did with Matt & Gracie though this could be that these new characters were not there with Callie throughout the whole book like Matt & Gracie did in The Silent Invasion.

The Buried Ark did not disappoint. It is a thrilling read and each time you’d think things are just getting better, they fell apart even more disastrously. James Bradley had aimed for an even bigger explosion to end book 2 and my world, didn’t he just blow the world apart?!

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

About the author

James Bradley was born in 1967. He is the author of three novels, Wrack, The Deep Field and his most recent, The Resurrectionist; a book of poetry, Paper Nautilus; and the editor of Blur, a collection of stories by young Australian writers. He is a well-respected critic and regularly reviews for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He lives in Sydney with his partner, novelist Mardi McConnochie.

Find James on:  goodreads  |  website  | twitter

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Blog Tour: Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 1 July, 2018
Australian RRP: $17.99

Charlie Grant tries to keep her life as normal as possible. Hanging out with her best friend, pining for Jesse Foster – who she’s loved since she was twelve – and generally flying under the radar as much as she can.

But sometimes normal is just another word for stuck, and this weekend that’s all going to change. Not only will everyone be back home for her sister’s wedding, but she’s also juggling:

– a rented dog that just won’t stop howling
– an unexpectedly hot wedding-coordinator’s nephew
– her favourite brother bringing home his HORRIBLE new girlfriend
– fear that her parents’ marriage is falling apart
– and the return to town of the boy she’s loved practically all her life…

Over the course of four days Charlie will learn there’s so much more to each member of her family than she imagined, even herself, and that maybe letting go of the things she’s been holding on tightest to can help her find what really keeps them together.

Purchase Links: booktopia boomerang  | dymocks  | iBooks  |  QBD  | google

My Blurb (4/5 stars)

Things are changing but Charlie Grant doesn’t want them to. Her parents are selling the house she’s always lived in. She’s about to head to college though she’s yet made her choice. And her sister is getting married. This Weekend! She is, however, looking forward to having all her family members together. She absolutely adores her family and always seek their company. This weekend is not about to go smoothly for her though despite her high hopes.

This novel is told purely from the perspective of Charlie Grant so we only find things out as she does and/or as she thought of them. She is definitely an identifiable protagonist; we all cling to things we love. And the Grant family sounds positively the place you’d want to be in. However, nothing is perfect. There were signs, right from the start, that things weren’t going quite the way Charlie thinks they are.

I love this story of the Grant family and the dynamics of Charlie’s relationships to the people around her. I adore the comic strips that began each part of the story. It is certainly no wonder why Charlie loves her family so much to the extent of neglecting her best friend. It’s a story of a wonderful family; being wonderful does not mean perfect.

Save the Date is a heart-warming coming-of-age story where the protagonist came to the realisation that whilst seasons change and some things ended, there are wonderfully new beginnings to start and things to explore. As she reaches adulthood, relationships may shift but her family will always be there for her. Save the Date is a light & easy read with a dash of humour and where love sparkles brightest of all.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for copy of book in exchange of honest review. And thanks, AusYABloggers for organising the tour.

Find all the other stops (there are chances to win copies at some stops) by following the Tour Schedule 

About the author

Morgan Matson is a New York Times bestselling author. She received her MFA in writing for children from the New School and was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start author for her first book, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, which was also recognized as an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. Her second book, Second Chance Summer, won the California State Book Award. She lives in Los Angeles.

Find her on: goodreads  |  website  | twitter  | instagram

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

Review: Ponti by Sharlene Teo

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.

Told from the perspectives of all three women, Ponti is about friendship and memory, about the things we do when we’re on the cusp of adulthood that haunt us years later. Beautifully written by debut author Sharlene Teo, and enormously atmospheric, Ponti marks the launch of an exciting new literary voice in the vein of Zadie Smith.

Published 24 April 2018 |  Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia  |  RRP: AUD$29.9

My Blurb (3.5 stars)

I can’t say that the book cover and/or description was attractive to me but I try to support Asian authors to I really gave this book a fair go. I read it from beginning to end and whilst I find the plot to be haunting, it really was too sad for me. In addition, the alternate POVs in different time periods were slightly unhelpful to my focus.

I am sixteen and a half and beginning to realize that life sometimes happens like this: quickly, with no further allowances.

The story began with Szu’s POV in 2003, in her teens and struggling with her body image, her family, and suffering all the emotional upheavals puberty can give a girl. Her father disappeared a long time ago and she does not relate well to her mother. This brings us to the next POV, Amisa’s, Szu’s mother, beginning from her childhood in 1975 until the time of the main story (2003). Most of her story is about her young-adulthood in which she made her choices and hence, had to live with the consequences.

Then enters a third and outside POV, Circe’s, Szu’s only friend in high school. Circe’s POV is set in 2020, 17 years after the main story but events in her life brought her back her memories. She was 16 in 2003 and was also struggling with her own issues. Her friendship with Szu was full of sharp edges but they were friends.

Because it is comforting to know that there is someone similar to you in the world, it helps a person to feel less faulty and alone.

On the whole, I cannot say that I love this book. I wish I do but it’s just not for me. I found it a little difficult following the 3 strands of not-so-link-able stories though each came with their own wisodm. I like that there were moments this book just jabbed right at you and I can totally empathise with these teen girls but despite its hypnotic pull, I am also a tad repulsed (was I meant to be repulsed? I honestly don’t know…). My recommendation is please do read it and let me know your thoughts! This book could totally be for you.

And by the by, WTH is ‘chendol espresso martini’?! Is this thing for REAL? Where can I get some in Sydney?!?!

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

About the author

Sharlene Teo (b. 1987) is a Singaporean writer based in the UK. She is the winner of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writers’ Award for Ponti, her first novel, released by Picador and Simon & Schuster in 2018. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Esquire (Singapore), Magma Poetry, The Penny Dreadful, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, New Writing Net and Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Two. In 2012, she was awarded the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship to undertake an MA in Prose Fiction at the University of East Anglia, where she is currently in her second year of a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. She is the recipient of the 2013 David TK Wong Creative Writing Fellowship and the 2014 Sozopol Fiction Fellowship.

Find Sharlene on:  goodreads  |  instagram  | twitter  |  tumblr

Review: The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang

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?

My Blurb (4 stars)

Sometimes, there is just a book that when you finished reading, you completely have no idea where you are… This world was so immersive that I came up disoriented and rather sad that I have to leave it behind.

To begin with though, some mind-bending was required. In this world, you are born without a gender; you will remain as ‘undeclared gender’ until such time that you yourself wish to be confirmed to be one or another and then the process to change your body accordingly will take place. In an ‘undeclared gender’, ‘they’ is the pronoun used to refer to this person. I’ve only found out, thanks Google, that ‘they’ can also be used as a gender neutral third person singular pronoun. My brain is so not used to this so I’m feeling a little ignorant and slow to catch up… When I did though, I wish for this so much for our world! In a way, it will ease many heartaches… Not that this spare any of the people in this world!

This novel is divided into 4 parts and years span between each part. It begins with Mokoya’s & Akeha’s births, parts of their childhood, their teens, and ended in their thirties. This first book in the series appears to deal more with Akeha’s search for his purpose as we follow his indecision (gender), as he ran away from his heartbreak, and a discovery of new things, hopeful things.

Love, and nothing else. It was enough. As long as there was love, there would be hope. It was enough.

The Black Tides of Heaven is a magical novel with an array of complex world building. That magic (loved how it’s called ‘Slackcraft’!) and modern technology being complementary was interestingly harmonious. The characters were alive and with all their flaws invited you to welcome them into your heart. The story took me on a flight of love, explosions of heartbreaks, and only to end with a broken but living hope.

About the author

JY Yang is the author of the Tensorate series of novellas from Tor.Com Publishing (The Red Threads of Fortune, The Black Tides of Heaven, and two more slated for 2018 and 2019). Their short fiction has been published in over a dozen venues, including Uncanny Magazine, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Strange Horizons.

In previous incarnations, they have been a molecular biologist; a writer for animation, comics and games; and a journalist for one of Singapore’s major papers. Currently they are a science communicator with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

JY identifies as queer and non-binary.

Find Clarissa on:  website  |  goodreads  |  twitter

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: 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