Australian, Magical Realism

This is Shyness by Leanne Hall – Review

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*Note for Read Diverse 2017 – POC author

This is Shyness by Leanne Hall was a unique and beautifully written magical realism novel. Thank you to Text Publishing for the review copy!

Told from their alternating first-person perspectives, This is Shyness is about Wildgirl – ‘a girl on a mission to forget’; and Wolfboy – ‘a guy who howls’. Wildgirl is a stranger in the suburb of Shyness, which is literally in unending darkness, and the story begins at a pub at the Diabetic Hotel where she and Wolfboy are drawn towards each other. As they venture out into the night, Wildgirl learns more about the strangeness and magic of Shyness, and details are revealed of her and Wolfboy’s pasts.

First off, this was one of the most unique and imaginative novels I’ve ever read. Leanne Hall evokes a beautifully surreal setting in Shyness, with its mysteries, otherworldly elements, and the sense that anything was possible. This is sustained throughout the whole book, from the slightly-unnerving market and psychic to the sugar-obsessed gang of Kidds of Orphanville. There are a lot more adjectives that could be used to describe the atmosphere in it — dark, bizarre, wondrous… but it’s definitely something you should experience for yourself.

The writing in this novel is also BEAUTIFUL — lyrical and evocative. I could quote basically the whole book but here’s a snippet from early on which is really reflective of the setting, as I praised above: “I imagine crossing Grey Street in the daytime. Would night fall over me gently like a velvety curtain? Or would the day turn dark in the blink of my eye? I don’t really need to see the sunrise to know that Shyness is different. It’s like there’s a thin layer of static over everything that stops me from seeing what’s really going on.” The emotions of the characters were also really beautifully written — subtle and nuanced whilst being powerful.

Leading on from this, the novel is overall very character-focused, centring on the personal journeys of Wildgirl and Wolfboy. We’re most driven to keep reading by the snippets of, and hints regarding, their past experiences and hurts. Wildgirl is really empathetic with her complete drive and desire to escape from everything in her past when she discovers a potential way out, and Wolfboy’s emotions as he dwells on a past family tragedy and the way it affected them are sensitively depicted.

The transitions between their two POVs are also nicely integrated and smooth. As we learn more about each of the characters’ pasts, we really want them to discover more about each other, it gives us a different perspective on the way each reacts to the other, and the way this was wrapped up was really satisfying.

I also liked how the novel was balanced between external conflict and very internal character-driven conflict. Their goal – to retrieve something from the Kidds — is kept simple, to focus on these emotional explorations. There are some pretty intense action sequences, especially near the end, which help break up the character focus, but we care about their personal hurts and internal journeys first and foremost. I love the way both Wildgirl and Wolfboy grow by the end and motivate each other to move forward.

I do wish we could have got more answers to some of the mysteries in the story, because I was feeling confused for quite a lot of the book. However, 1) it fit in with the overall atmosphere of the book, so I suspected some things would be left unanswered, and 2) there is a sequel — Queen of the Night — which I plan to read, so I’ll hold back from commenting on this further for now.

Overall, definitely read this for the unique, imaginative story + beautiful writing + powerfully character-driven aspects.

Recommended for fans of: The Astrologer’s Daughter and Afterlight by Rebecca Lim, Bird by Crystal Chan, Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier.

Australian, OwnVoices, YA

#ReadAsianOz and #ReadMuslimOz

So, two new posters of Australian book recommendations, designed by Jesssica Harvie, are now available on the LoveOzYA website!

#ReadAsianOz – I suggested such a poster promoting Asian-Australian stories, after sharing the Indigenous Australian stories poster and seeing how popular it was. I’m so grateful this will make it easier for me to recommend some of my favourite Asian-Australian books – especially Preloved and Little Paradise, which deserve a lot more attention and were the first books with Chinese-Australian protagonists that I’d ever read.

Definitely also check out Pencilled In, an amazing literary mag showcasing art and writing by young Asian-Australians; and their ‘suggested reading’ page here.

Below are links to a few of my reviews/recommendation posts for the books on the #ReadAsianOz poster:

The Family Law by Benjamin Law – mini-review on Goodreads

Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim – review

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim – recommendation post

Little Paradise by Gabrielle Wang – review

Preloved by Shirley Marr – review and personal reflction

#ReadMuslimOz – the poster below was based on an original conception by Danielle Binks.

My review of Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah, one of my new favourites, is here; and having recently finished Does My Head Look Big in This? (which was FANTASTIC) I’ll have a review of that up soon, too!

Thanks so much, Danielle and Jessica!

Australian, Contemporary, OwnVoices, YA

Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah – Review

This was my first read by Randa Abdel-Fattah, but certainly won’t be the last. Highly recommended.

Summary:

Thirteen-year-old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab’s life. The only problem is the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, as well as the check points, the curfews, the permit system and Hayaat’s best-friend Samy, who is mainly interested in football and the latest elimination on X-Factor, but always manages to attract trouble.

But luck is on their side. Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel to Jerusalem. However, while their journey may only be a few kilometres long, it may take a lifetime to complete.

List time! Here’s what I loved about this book:

  • Hayaat’s voice was really powerfully wrought and pulled me into the narrative. She felt completely real, as a thirteen-year-old living in an environment of oppression and conflict. Her backstory is progressively hinted at from the beginning, and had a strong emotional impact on me when it was revealed.
  • Samy, Hayaat’s best friend, was endearing and hilarious. I loved the banter between him and Hayaat, which added a lightness, in an appropriate way, to the tension throughout their journey. It was also fun to see all the quirks and nuances of his interests (e.g. soccer) that added realism to his character.
  • The family dynamics throughout the story were moving and relatable. I especially loved the relationship between Hayaat and Sitti Zeynab.
  • The SETTING. The author was incredible at immersing me in the world, and it’s refreshing to read a story set in the Middle East. Not only that, but the emotions were intrinsic to the setting, making it feel all the more real.
  • Leading on from that, I loved the cultural and language details throughout the story.
  • The dangers and tensions of Hayaat and Samy’s journey made the story gripping, with high stakes maintained throughout, which escalated at each barrier and setback they faced.
  • There was a hero’s-journey feel to the book, as they met different people along the way. It was really enjoyable and heartwarming to see the friendships they formed, and people helping each other.
  • There were some beautiful and moving scenes near the end, which really showed the pain and oppression endured by the people of West Bank, and the role of hope and purpose to staying resilient
  • Apart from the inevitable – due to the situation of unresolved conflict between the states – almost everything was clearly wrapped up at the end of the story, which gave a satisfying sense of closure and the feeling I’d really followed the characters through to the end

In summary: read this incredible book, especially if you’re looking for moving relationships and a journey storyline, and are interested in the Middle-Eastern setting

Speculative Fiction

First Light by Rebecca Stead – Review

Book Review: First Light by Rebecca Stead. Thank you to Text Publishing for sending me a review copy!

Goodreads Link

Publisher’s Website

Book’s Website

First Light was a beautiful read, blending science fiction and fantasy in a clever way, filled with mystery and suspense, and with its lovable characters. Rebecca Stead is most well-known for her second book When You Reach Me, the Newbery Medal winner – which I do highly recommend! – but I did slightly prefer First Light over it: its plot was more complex, and the characters more compelling. My thoughts are below the blurb.

Summary

Thea has never seen the sun. Her world lies deep within a glacier, a place of great beauty, hardship and superstition. She longs for her people to return to the surface, but her search forces her to defy her powerful grandmother – and reveals the truth behind her mother’s tragic death.

Peter has arrived in Greenland to live on the ice while his father studies climate change. There, he is troubled by strange visions – visions that lead him to a crevice in the glacier…

My thoughts

To start with, I absolutely adored Thea, one of the protagonists. She’s a fourteen-year-old from Gracehope – an imaginary society of hundreds of people inside a glacier in Greenland, descended from a group of persecuted settlers who sought safety there, several generations ago. Thea’s given nuance through the pressure she feels as the last daughter of the first line of settlers, through her role caring for the Chikchu dogs within her society, and her relationships with those around her (her conflict with her grandmother Rowen, and her friendships and family relationships). What I loved most about her was her passionate conviction in finding a better path for her people, and her courage and vulnerability throughout the story.

Peter, the other POV character, was also really likable – though he’s not given as much depth as Thea is, and the chapters from his perspective initially feel quite slow in comparison. It’s not a huge issue though, and in retrospect, makes sense in light (ha, ha) of what it was setting up. It’s nice to see how curious he is about, and how he realistically reacts to, the completely different world he faces in Greenland.

The supporting characters were also well-portrayed. I liked how there was a balance between giving the adult characters depth, and having us empathise most with the young characters and their perspectives – many middle-grade novels don’t do very well in this regard. There aren’t really any ‘minor’ characters – sufficient attention is given to everyone as they’re set up at the start, and later, more is revealed about them or a different side of them is shown. I’m hoping we’ll see more diversity amongst Rebecca Stead’s casts as time goes on, as this has been pretty lacking in the books I’ve read of hers (all of them except Goodbye, Stranger) so far.

The worldbuilding in this book was also amazing. The fictional society of Gracehope is fascinating, with their specific traditions and hierarchies, the visual descriptions of their world under the ice (how they skate to get around, the lake, the council chamber…), their history, and the different roles within the society. I also liked how their society paralleled enough with ours that you could understand it really well from the start – many fantasy books have the problem of being too confusing in their introductions, but that didn’t happen here – I was easily immersed.

Additionally, I was impressed by the blend of science fiction and fantasy in this book. This is obviously tricky to pull off, and First Light was great in that respect. I also liked how the very relevant issue of climate change was integrated throughout the story – it really showed an awareness of and made you care about the issue (if, well, you didn’t care already) without being straightforwardly didactic.

Finally, what really kept me reading throughout the book were the mystery elements. Thea encounters secrets and questions about her people’s history, and the future meant for them. Peter wonders about what his parents seem to be hiding, and comes across surprises on the ice. I was really impressed by the way information was revealed as these mysteries were uncovered – whereas other books often go into too much of an infodump, First Light never did this. Good use of context and timing to spread out the information, the use of different characters to tell these stories, having surprises, and imbuing everything deeply with emotion all aided in this.

First Light would be great for inspiring an interest in science and awareness of global warming, as an introduction to fantasy, and for the mystery elements, in kids. It’s not just for the middle grade target audience though – the story’s complex and compelling enough for readers of any age. Definitely recommended.

diversity spotlight thursday

Diversity Spotlight Thursday #3

This is a weekly spotlight created by Aimal at Bookshelves and Paperbacks that specifically illuminates diverse literature. You can find more details of it in the announcement post here. Each post involves sharing:

  1. A diverse book I have read and enjoyed
  2. A diverse book that has already been released but I have not read
  3. A diverse book that has not yet been released

Read and enjoyed: When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

Goodreads Link

Pinmei’s gentle, loving grandmother always has the most exciting tales for her granddaughter and the other villagers. However, the peace is shattered one night when soldiers of the Emperor arrive and kidnap the storyteller.

Everyone knows that the Emperor wants something called the Luminous Stone That Lights the Night. Determined to have her grandmother returned, Pinmei embarks on a journey to find the Luminous Stone alongside her friend Yishan, a mysterious boy who seems to have his own secrets to hide.

Together, the two must face obstacles usually found only in legends to find the Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s grandmother–before it’s too late. A fast-paced adventure that is extraordinarily written and beautifully illustrated, When the Sea Turned to Silver is a masterpiece companion novel to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky.

This is third in a loosely-linked series of middle grade fantasy books by Grace Lin, in a world strongly rooted in Chinese culture. I do recommend reading them in order (#1: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, #2: Starry River of the Sky) because it’ll help immerse you in the world and understand references here and there a lot better.

This book wove a mystery really well through multiple interlinked stories, and small hints that make you really want to piece the puzzle together properly. I loved the art in the book, which was absolutely beautiful. The ending was also really satisfying. I’d have appreciated such a book so much when I was younger, and hope to learn more about Chinese culture (I’m Chinese-Australian) and understand the way they were interwoven in the story better, in time!

TBR: When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie McLemore

Goodreads Link

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches.

Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

I have heard so many good things about this book. The dedication is beautiful, the cover is beautiful, I’m keen to read more about diverse identities I don’t see represented often in fiction, and can the paperback please come out soon or an Australian publisher pick it
up? xD

Not Yet Released: The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang

Goodreads Link

Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.

Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together–one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.

When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.

I’ve had this book at the back of my mind since I saw the publication announcement! As with Grace Lin’s books, I would have loved to see these kinds of fun, positive, middle grade representations of Chinese culture and Chinese characters when I was younger. I love the puzzle/riddle aspects described, and the fact that it’s set in China. Seriously cannot wait to read this.

Contemporary, OwnVoices, YA

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – Review

Goodreads Link

Written in the Stars was an absolutely incredible book, and the under-represented story it told is so needed. The amount of tension it sustained throughout the story was really powerful; it was great at evoking an understanding of Naila’s feelings and situation; and powerfully details of setting and culture were conveyed within.

Summary:

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden.

When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want
her to marry him, now!

Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif … if he can find her before it’s too late.

First off, the incredible thing about the reading experience of this book was how much the author made you care. The tension and stakes were high from the start of the story, with the restrictions on Naila’s life and the issues with the disappointment of her family, but especially after Naila discovers the marriage that her parents have arranged for her, and following the consequences of this. The story was well-paced and incredibly gripping as I
feared for what would happen to her, hoped for her escape attempts to succeed, felt the burden of everything she must keep hidden, and was pained by the progression of her situation and its hopelessness. I read this in less than one day and almost one sitting.

Leading on from this, I absolutely felt for Naila all the way through. Her fears and desperation were evoked in ways equally beautiful and heartbreaking throughout, and another one of the ways that it really kept me reading. There were multiple times when I could genuinely imagine myself in a similar situation, because the pain she was undergoing was so real.

Out of the side characters, there were plenty that kept me engaged. Saif isn’t given a huge amout of depth at first, in spite of his obvious importance to the story, but his impact on Naila is clear. I really loved Selma, Naila’s cousin, and the friendship between them, which was a ray of hope throughout the story. Naila’s parents and uncle, with the awful choices they made for her, mainly incited anger in me, but they were consistently characterised with strong (and horrifying) realism. Amin, Naila’s husband, was also realistic and understandable.

Much of the book is about Pakistani culture – through Naila’s life, values and challenges as a Pakistani-American teen, to her initial impressions of Pakistan as she visits there with her family, to the horrifying reality she faces there with her forced marriage and new life. Cultural values were depicted with depth at the beginning with both Naila’s value on family, her hopes and anxieties, and the pressures and restrictions she faces. When they arrive in Pakistan, the details of the setting really immersed me, and was well-sustained throughout the entire story through Naila’s perspective. The nuances of an ownvoices writer’s understanding is really clear throughout.

Overall, Written in the Stars is a book I’d highly recommend. Read it soon! 🙂

Uncategorized

Happy New Year, Blog Schedule, Q & A

Happy New Year everyone! I’m hoping you all have a great 2017 filled with incredible people and incredible books.

I thought this would be a good time to talk a bit more about this blog in general, what I’m posting/participating in this coming year, and to
answer a few questions!

I’ve always been passionate about diverse books, but it’s only over the past few months that I’ve started prioritising them more actively on my TBR. This year, I’ll be participating in the Read Diverse 2017 Challenge, which matches my personal goal of reviewing more of the diverse books I read.

  • I’ll have a review OR Diversity Spotlight Thursday post up here once a fortnight, on Thursdays
  • I’m going to try to have discussion posts up here too, though that’s lower priority and something I’m still working on getting better at
  • Book recommendation list posts will be coming!

And just for general get-to-know-me fun, I’m answering a few questions after seeing Bec’s post here for the Sunshine Blogger Award tag!

1: Most anticipated release of 2017?

Probably Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke, it sounds amazing!

2: What was the last book you gave 5 stars and why?

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed, because it was a heartbreaking and tense story where I cared deeply about the main character Naila. Review is coming on Thursday 😀

3. Last book you DNF’d?

It might have been The Girl from Everywhere, though I do want to go back to it at some point? I tend to DNF VERY early on or stick with it.

4. How do you bookmark your pages? (As in, do you use a bookmark, dog ear, use receipts, etc?

I have some really nice traditional Chinese- and Japanese-style bookmarks which I like to use, but also the Inky Awards and Book Depository bookmarks. Other than that, I like using sticky note flags (you can mark the exact place you stopped!) and sometimes the library receipts.

5. Favourite time of the day to read?

At night before bed, but I read all the time anyway…

6: If you got to choose one fictional character to be your best friend, who would it be and why?

This is easy – Mercy Wong from Outrun the Moon!

7: Favourite bloggers or bookstagrammers?

In alphabetical order of the blog…

  • Diem and Jen @ Bookish Friends podcast
  • Jeann, Jenna and Aila @ Happy Indulgence
  • Cait @ Paper Fury
  • Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer
  • Aentee @ Read at Midnight
  • Naz @ Read Diverse Books
  • CW @ Read, Think, Ponder
  • Ana and Thea @ The Book Smugglers

8. Do you prefer physical books or ebooks?

Physical books! Though I’m trying to get myself more used to ebooks because my library’s ebook catalogue is HUGE and very convenient.

9. Who are your auto-buy authors?

STACEY LEE, Fiona Wood, Alice Pung, Erin Gough, Shirley Marr and Markus Zusak (if the last two ever release another book… xD)

That’s about it! Feel free to add me on Goodreads here or Twitter here. 🙂 I wish you a happy year of reading and writing!