The Poppy War by R.F Kuang with exclusive mini Q&A

I had the pleasure of engaging in a read along with 2 of my dear friends, Tien of Tien’s Blurb and Maisie of SleepyWiredStudios it was one of the most engaging and engrossing reads I had read in some time, so much so, I suffered a book hangover after reading this book!!!

The Poppy War
Our protagonist is Rin – a war orphan who dwells in the lower socio-economic part of the Empire with a family who is the head of a notorious Opium Trade and believed they’d finally be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise. However, when Rin aces the Keju (the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to attend elite academies), it was a shock to everyone as it was unheard of for a war orphan from Rooster Province to blitz the test without cheating and a shock to Rin herself, who realised she was finally free of the life dictated to her.  What an amazing surprise that she got into Sinegard: the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising… but surprises aren’t always good… Given Rin’s stature, her time at Sinegard is not a walk in the park as she is singled out and targeted due to her socio-economic status, colour and gender yet before long, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power: an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Rin continues exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a well known yet seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances. As Rin learns of her new found power and that myths are very much real, the Nikara Empire was at peace until it is learnt that a third Poppy War is close at hand….

My Thoughts
This is definitely another book love for 2018, a book that consumed me so much I experienced a book hangover. I had the privilege of doing a read along with 2 of my girlfriends and we were all so mesmerised with the story line. From start to finish, I was engrossed in the plot and what becomes of the main character we follow, Rin. I loved the character development as we learn about her life as an orphan girl then forced into a family who is involved in an Opium trade and her determination to escape the life dictated to her to a life she wants of her own – the journey she takes, the torment she endured and her self discoveries really kept me turning the page!! In addition to Rin, I also loved all the characters that we follow in this story. Whether good or bad – each character was written extremely well and what I enjoyed was regardless of one’s strengths – there was a vulnerability which made it real..

CONTENT WARNING: Yes I should note, this book does come with a content warning as it covers Warfare and the author does not at all sugarcoat it from battle to Prisoner of War (PoW) treatment to torture. It is quite graphic, however I feel the author did a great job in writing these parts as once again, she kept it real despite the world we are reading. Although parts were not easy to read, I realise they would not have been easy to write, but these parts were written so well nonetheless. I had numerous emotional reactions throughout the book: gasping, laughing, cringing, anger – there’s even a part that was a bit of a tearjerker..

I loved this book so much, I loved the characters.. this is not a book I will forget in a hurry!!!

Special thanks to Harper Voyager for sending me a review copy of this book.

 

Mini Q&A with author R.F Kuang

This question is from Maisie: Rin is the main character we follow in this story however we come to meet some wonderful and very unlikeable characters in “The Poppy War” is there a particular character you enjoyed writing more than the other?
I love writing Jiang the most! He’s hilarious and he gets to do whatever he wants. Ramsa was fun too; I’m excited to expand his role in the sequel. 
This question is from Tien: I’ve been searching everywhere for the name of this series but I cannot see it anywhere – is there a name for this series and how many installments could we expect?
It’s The Poppy Wars Trilogy.  
I was curious to know your inspiration behind Rin’s background (like her back story from being an orphan girl to her transition to Sinegard) and inspiration for the militia academy.
Rin’s character arc is almost entirely based on the biography of Mao Zedong. 
How long did it take for you to write “The Poppy War” how different is the finished product from your original draft/idea?
It took me about three months to write the first draft that I sent out on queries. After I got an agent, we revised for two more months before putting it out on submission. Once I signed with Harper, we put it through three more revision stages–mostly final touch-ups at that point. The finished novel is quite close to what I wrote originally. Most of the revision work was to fix continuity problems and pacing issues. 
Outside of writing now: when you’re not writing/reading, what are your hobbies and interests?
Honestly, between schoolwork and writing, I don’t have time for much else. I read a lot–maybe a book every two or three days. 
R.F Kuang also said: “I am often asked about the historical atrocities and inspirations in Act 3, and it is bit difficult for me to have to discuss family trauma over and over. I’ve written two essays on the subject that I always link to interviewers”
-Annie
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“The Rift” and exclusive video con with international author Rachael Craw

When The Rift opens… Death follows…

With special thanks to Walker Books Publishers, I had the honour of having a video conference via Whatsapp with international best-selling author from New Zealand, Rachael Craw!!!! It was such a fun conversation, one we were most excited for as we got to know each other and had a lovely chat about her upcoming book in our trackies and in the comfort of our own home.

Best known for her Spark Trilogy: “Spark”, “Stray” and “Shield”, Rachael is back with a new book “The Rift” that is due to hit Sydney bookstores in November 2018!!! This is one story that’s got me very intrigued and a story that is very different from her previous works. Rachael tells me that this was a story that was burning inside for so long and she was inspired to write this just after an awards ceremony when “Stray” received a literary award (kudos!). In her mind, Rachael had many stories flowing however the stories that stuck and formed part of her inspiration to write “The Rift” were stories from Greek Mythology: Greek goddesses Artemus and Eileithiya and an ancient curse that lives on in modern times in a location where there is a gap between time and space and the people in this location must live and deal with the confines of a small island. A place where the coastline boxes you in and technology is really not compatible there. This place is now known as “Blackwater Island” in “The Rift”.

The Rift
Generations of Rangers have guarded the Old Herd against the horrors of The Rift and Cal West, an apprentice Ranger, fights daily to prove he belongs within their ranks. Meg Archer has returned to her childhood home, only to find Black Water Island is facing threat not even the Rangers are prepared for. Meg and Cal cannot ignore their attraction but can they face their darkest fears and save the island from disaster?

A story of an ancient curse, centuries old secret and yes… potentially a forbidden love!!

Rachael had not intended to write another series when she started writing “The Rift” so it should be a stand alone, however, Rachael says never say never because when you read “The Rift” there could be potential for more… I guess we will have to find out!! On the cover of “The Rift” you will see a raven and yes I asked, and yes the raven is key to the story!! Interestingly, when asked about why she chose this particular theme for writing this book, Rachael said the story chose her. Although Rachael had always intended to have a female protagonist, Rachael initially intended to write this story about 2 characters running away – but she could not justify what they were running from and so changed the shape of the story to what’s in “The Rift” now. Written in third person, this is a shared character story between a boy and a girl which is unusual for Rachael as she normally struggles with reading shared character perspectives.

It was so much fun to get to know Rachael, she is so lovely and very easy to talk to and I am really hoping she will visit Sydney, Australia – hopefully in time for her book launch! In addition to talking about “The Rift” I had some burning questions answered. Yes! Rachael lives in New Zealand but no, she has not experienced the exhilaration of bungee jumping… yet… Rachael’s ultimate holiday destination would be Istanbul, Turkey or Prague or somewhere medieval but if she is in the mood for simple relaxation, a tropical getaway would be in order. Her favourite food is Mexican and when Rachael isn’t reading or writing, she loves to binge on Netflix. Most recently she loved watching ‘The Path’ and ‘Vikings’ and I am most excited to say I have convinced Rachael to now start bingeing on my favourite TV show: Grimm!!! Jumanji, Black Panther and Infinity War are listed as her favourite movies of 2018.

Special thanks again to Walker Books Publishers for giving me the opportunity to have this video call with Rachael Craw and of course special thanks to Rachael for her time on a Sunday afternoon, it really was an exciting and fun experience…

Now… to read “The Rift”!!! So watch this space for my review!!!

For further info on Rachael Craw: https://rachaelcraw.com/

-Annie

All of This Is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor

A story of obsession and revenge, betrayal and forgiveness and the devastating result of a exposed secret – a story that follows 4 Y.A obsessed friends who befriend their favourite Y.A author…….

The Characters we follow: Miri, Soleil, Penny and Jonah are obsessed with Y.A author, Fatima Ro who is the author of a book called ‘Undertow’. As Fatima is in town for a signing, these 4 teens have the ultimate chance to meet Fatima and suddenly find themselves friends with her an learning the art of ‘human connection’. As friendship progresses, trust is built and each person finds themselves divulging deep dark secrets about themselves.. As a result, Fatima has written another book – a book that features each character and the secrets they divulged!!

This book was an addictive jig-saw puzzle like no other and very true to its time with teen excessive use of social media and technology. The book was structured in a very unique way that makes it an incredibly fast paced read and  each phase of the story just added another piece of this unravelling jigsaw puzzle. I enjoyed how it’s part interview, part book within a book and it pieces together what really happened to the characters that are used in theunderlying story that prevails throughout this book. There are some dark themes covered in this book that does make you feel for the characters. I also found it interesting how each character responded and dealt with this new book their idol had written after forming what they felt to be a strong friendship they formed with their favourite author.

Special thanks to Bloomsbury Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy of this book.
-Annie

Te Korero Ahi Ka: To Speak of the Home Fires Burning. Edited By: Grace Bridges, Lee Murray and Aaron Compton

Te Korero Ahi Ka, a term which means to speak of the home fires burning…

This is an anthology of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, showcasing work from both established and emerging members of the SpecFicNZ organisation of writers, poets, artists, and creatives. It is a statement about how New Zealand creators of speculative fiction and art shine their light on our literary landscape.

Firstly, I want to give my special thanks to Lee Murray who helped me get a copy across the Tasman to Sydney, Australia. With my love of urban/speculative fiction stories that are inspired by culture, I was most excited to add Maori speculative fiction to my collection.

A total of 32 stories with foreword by author Juliet Marillier, this collection of short stories is quite intriguing and I found myself very easily immersed in each one. I found each story to be unique from each other some are funny, creepy, even thought provoking and it really brought out the beauty of the land of the long white cloud and some fascinating Maori legends!!! I highly recommend this book to anyone who, like me, love urban legends and stories that are derived from culture. With such great short stories in this anthology, it is very difficult to choose a favourite!!!

-Annie