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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Kidz Corner Round Up of Recommendations

As part of our love for reading, we love exploring reads that are suitable for the younger generation so we can reach out and encourage the younger audience to immerse themselves in a great book. The following are recommendations for children ranging from picture books to junior fiction.. enjoy!!

Coco: My First, Little people, BIG DREAMS by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Ana Albero
This cute little kids book is an introduction to a world renowned designer whose life, though quite controversial, was very interesting. Having read her biography once before, I wondered how they would tame the life story of a woman who created the world’s famous scent Coco Chanel into a children’s book but I have to say the authors and illustrators did a fabulous job to tell her story through sequential art and few words. The drawings reminded me of the cartoon “Madeleine”. Quick read, definitely suitable to read to a younger audience – even 4 years and under as it’s a hard bound picture book. Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Square by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
This book is about Square. Square spends every day taking blocks from a pile below the ground to a pile above the ground. This book is also about Square’s friend Circle. Circle thinks Square is an artistic genius. But is he really? This is a touching tale of how one might not always see their strong point(s) while others can. A picture book suitable for children from the ages 3 years and up – special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

Begone the Raggedy Witches, Book 1 of The Wild Magic Trilogy by Celine Kiernan
This was indeed Ireland’s answer to JK Rowling! A middle grade, magical adventure that crosses over realms for a challenge between good and evil and a young girl’s quest to saved loved ones. Although the target audience would be middle grade readers from ages 8 and up, I found it to be so well written, even adults could enjoy the tale. The story is fast paced and the action begins from page one and manages to hold the reader captive to the end. I believe this is a promising start to an epic trilogy. The dialogue is quite humorous and I also found the notion of “forced rhyming” among some of the characters quite clever. Mup is the main character and a likeable one at that, a lovely character with an open heart and determination to conquer evil. You will meet other characters along the way who will stay with you even at the end of the story. I personally enjoyed the story and I do look forward to the sequel. Recommended to younger readers and adults who are young at heart. Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker
This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride but a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. This was an extremely beautiful picture book without words. As we read A Stone for Sascha, we follow a young girl’s grieving process for their family pet. Suitable for young readers from ages 5 and up – special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

The Rise of the Dawnstar by Farah Oomerbhoy

Aurora Firedrake returns in the spellbinding sequel to The Last of the Firedrakes.

The seven kingdoms of Avalonia are crumbling and evil is spreading across the land like a plague. Queen Morgana is close to finding a way to open The Book of Abraxas and it’s only a matter of time until she uses the power trapped inside its pages to enslave the entire world.

BLOODY CLIFFHANGERS!!!

I’m currently using my inside voice as I scream into my pillow over this cliffhanger!!

I am also searching one handed through my books trying to find the next book until I realised that book three has not yet been released (now I am crying into my pillow because I want to know what happens next).

The characters grow and follow the path of getting slightly wiser, as we follow Aurora along, she meets new people, family and comes into her power.

I need the next book!!!

-Meredith

Snow, Fire, Sword by Sophie Masson

An amazing YA urban fantasy that is set on the backdrop of mythological Indonesia!!! A race against time to the very heart of an explosive secret… the truth about Snow, Fire and Sword. Dewi has never ventured beyond her village in the highlands of Jayangan, where she lives a comfortable life with her father, the respected village healer. But one day while working in the rice fields, she stumbles across Adi, an apprentice sword-maker, alone and hiding from the bloodthirsty bandits who kidnapped his beloved master.

When Dewi’s father also goes missing, she seeks the advice of the powerful tiger-people who watch over her village, but even they can see only so far through the cloud of sorcery that hangs over the kingdom. They leave her with a cryptic message: she and Adi must discover the true meaning of Snow, Fire and Sword before they can find her father and the other missing elders and reveal the truth about the danger that threatens Jayangan.

I had such a personal connection to this book as it was the very first time I managed to find a YA urban fantasy that was set on the backdrop of mythological Indonesia!!! It was the first time I was able to share a book with my Mum as we were able to discuss all the West Javanese legends contained throughout this story. I loved this book so much, I really took my time to read it so I was able to saviour it for as long as I could. A lot of the terminology used, I was able to understand first go but I thought it was fantastic that a glossary was included at the end of this book for the non-Indonesian speaking readers. The story moved at a reasonably quick pace, it allowed me to picture a whole new world that was inspired by true Indonesian landscape – I was able to picture the characters and the traditional Indonesian attire they were wearing so clearly. I highly recommend this to those who enjoy urban fantasies with reference to cultural legends – please note I had to get this book via Print on Demand. I’m so grateful to have this book on my shelf as it was such an immersive read, it is definitely a favourite!!!

-Annie

Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

THE FINAL BATTLE TO AN EPIC TRILOGY!!!

Once, in the desert country of Miraji, there was a Sultan without an heir. The heir had been killed by his own brother, the treacherous Rebel Prince, who was consumed by jealousy and sought the throne for himself. Or so it was said by some. There were others who said that the Rebel Prince was not a traitor but a hero… In the final battle for the throne, Amani must fight for everything she believes in… who will triumph???

First of all.. I love Jin.. This was a great conclusion to one of my all-time favourite trilogies. Just as great as the first instalment, Rebel of the Sands and the second instalment, Traitor to the Throne this story really took me back to the desert and my love for the Arabian nights tales and stories of djinn, battle and magic. Following on from “Traitor to the Throne” it picked up nicely, even a year later, it brings back memories of the first 2 stories and I was able to immerse myself so quickly into this book. Although parts of the story slowed down to gear us up for something significant – like the final show down – it was still fast paced and there was always something happening in each chapter, parts even made me ‘wide eyed’. This final instalment, this final battle for the throne, was a stunning conclusion that gave me closure on the characters I came to care about, it tied it up so neatly we know of each character’s destinations in the end and it also answers that compelling yet dreadful question – who will survive and who will die? I am so sad this series is over, I thoroughly enjoyed all three books!!!

Hint hint, nudge nudge to the author: I would LOVE to read a Novella about Jin or Ahmad *wink*

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy.
-Annie

I am Thunder… and I Won’t Keep Quiet by Muhammad Khan

“A thought-provoking and empowering story which will encourage readers to question what they see and hear.”

One of the most confronting books I have read this year and a story that really hits the nail on the head. A new YA voice that demonstrates how far one can go to protect what they believe in and accurately depicts the world today. I really want to take this moment to thank the author, Muhammad Khan, for writing this story. As a Muslim woman reading this book – I felt this was a real eye-opener for non-Muslims and a warm hug to the Muslim brother/sisterhood as he stated in his author’s note.

“I am Thunder” is told by protagonist, 15 year old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a novelist but is trapped between 2 worlds: controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor and growing up in a world that tells you to be what you want to be. As Muzna’s father lost his job, Muzna is forced to move to a new school in South London at a critical time of her life and after her best friend is shamed in a scandal.

Whilst dialogue among teens can be cheesy, I found the book to be very well written and honest. It’s a book that will definitely spark positive discussion. I had such a personal connection to the story and the character but felt extremely thankful I didn’t experience absolutely everything Muzna went through.

When Muzna is thrown into this new school, just like the real world, she realizes bullies are everywhere and yes difficult times are ahead but do you take a stand and fight for what is right or do you fade out because it’s easier? Struggling with home life and school yard prejudice against her culture and faith, the world looks bleak for Muzna until she meets Arif – her knight in shining armour – or so she thinks…

The author did a fantastic job in demonstrating the constant confusion in families who put culture first, Islam second which is a leading cause of clash and confusion in families and the wider community. Cultural identity is a real challenge especially among the youth and I really felt for Muzna being an only child growing up in the western world with strong ties to her cultural traditions and expectations, it can be a challenge but it can also be an opportunity. I felt Muzna had the right idea of wanting to be a novelist as a means to set a passive example that demonstrates that these acts committed do not represent her or her faith.

In addition to cultural identity, the fury Muzna and her parents felt when waking up to headline news of terrorist attacks and murder of innocent victims carried out in the name of Islam was all too real for me. It was a wave of mixed emotions – anger for what this mob do in our name and the compounding weariness of stepping out of our house wearing the hijab, that need to constantly be vigilant in your own home in case you’re next to be on the receiving end of hate attacks for crimes you never committed or endorsed but refusing to live in fear. 

The story is so real – with strong characters making poor decisions or turning a blind eye to things you think is so obviously wrong, but that’s exactly why it was so real – because it demonstrates exactly how extremists operate. They select articulate, intelligent individuals and targe their vulnerability as leverage for their own agendas.

Again, this book is extremely well written and fast paced. I am sure readers will have an emotional reaction to the story. I gasped, cringed, laughed, cried and I even had to put the book down for a moment as I was getting so worked up over it (it’s so real). I feel this is an important story and I do recommend this as your next read. Suitable for the YA audience from ages 14 years and up.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy of this book as part of the Summer Readings Blog Tour.
-Annie

Reign the Earth by A.C Gaughen

Release Date: January 2018

A fantastic start to a promising series!!!

This was one book that had me on the edge of my seat as I was gasping, cringing and rapidly turning the page to simply know what happened next. The plot was interesting as it follows the story of a young girl, Shalia, who is a proud yet naive daughter of the desert and after many years of war with another tribe/kingdom, she was used as a pawn via an arranged marriage with the king of the opposing tribe as a means to bring peace to both worlds. Shalia’s betrothed, Calix, the king, is motivated by a strong desire to kill all who identify as Elementae – magical people who have powers that can control the elements: earth, air, wind and fire.

So the question is, when two worlds become one family, what becomes of the proud, naive daughter of the desert when she is crowned queen as a result of this arranged marriage and learns of her new husband’s plans then later discovers her true self once she is thrown into this whole new world?

I found it was interesting to follow Shalia’s perspective during the story and how she grows as a character when taken out of her world of order and thrown into a world of chaos where, for her, it’s sink or swim – follow what is expected of her to retain peace or question everything, be true to herself and risk war. Does she thrive or just manage to survive?

This story is dark and it does take you on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. For some of the themes covered, I would be more likely to recommend this to older YA readers, adults who enjoy fantasy fiction stories or who, like me, LOVE stories set in the desert. This had a great plot, is fast paced and it even confused me when I was trying to decide where my loyalties were during the story. I would love to read the sequel!!

Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie