The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**

“…Your people, my people, our people, they’re everyone. They’re Malaysians. It’s not Malays killing Chinese or Chinese killing Malays. It’s stupid people killing stupid people.”

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

“How do you expect unity to grow from seeds of self-interest? Look at the riots in Penang last year….”

This book was an incredibly powerful historical fiction that really brings the bloody history of Malaysia in 1969 to life. I was able to relate to it from a cultural and religious perspective as I am part Indonesian and Muslim so the cultural values, language, religious referencing places, food, even the civil unrest is something I was very familiar with. I was engrossed from the first page as the writing was very easy to follow but I agree the story may be difficult for some readers to stomach and as I recommend this book, please note my recommendation comes with a warning. The content in this book is definitely not for a younger audience – it’s definitely an older YA novel.

Our protagonist is Melati Ahmad’s torment and journey really came to life in my mind and it was heart wrenching to read about innocent people trapped in a war zone but aren’t just fighting for survival – they are battling their own demons as well, in this case, the djinn that keeps controlling Melati’s mind in horrific ways. Yes this book is quite confronting and very detailed in bringing out the violence and Melati’s torment. Personally, I was able to handle it as I felt the author really nailed it with her writing and explored these themes very well. I really kept turning the page yearning to know what happens next. I shed tears as I read the epilogue – it was so touching and final. I was convinced to pick this book up sooner than I planned and I wondered why I took so long to read this.

I highly recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction with an element of ‘urban fantasy’ (which I believe is a metaphor in this story) and strong cultural representation. Please note, again, my recommendation comes with a trigger warning. This book contains graphic details and violence, death, racism, war and mental illness and I believe this to be more suited to older readers. Please do not read this book if you feel it may be harmful to you in any way.

Happy to say this is another book love for 2019. Just amazingly written, very insightful, a book I won’t forget anytime soon.

Publisher: Salaam Reads – subsidiary of Simon and Schuster
-Annie

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Echantee by Gita Trelease: Blog Tour and Exclusive Q&A

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns.

Although a detailed beginning, this is a debut that really engrosses you and builds to a fast paced ending.. Perfect for readers who enjoy magically infused historical fiction. I believe if you liked “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, you will enjoy this.


Exclusive Q&A with author Gita Trelease

Congratulations on your debut novel “Enchantee”!! 1789 – France: this is a very interesting time and place setting. What moved you to write a story that was based here?
Thank you! I’m drawn to moments in history that I think of as “threshold” moments, and the French Revolution is one of those. The decadent world of the French aristocracy is dying and a new world, shaped by new and sometimes terrifying ideas, is struggling to come into being. It’s a time of great turmoil and change, and that’s very appealing to me as a writer. The French Revolution is also a time when what seems to be right might not actually be right, and I wanted the opportunity to explore complexity.

The family dynamic in this story: Camille, Sophie and Alain (the family we meet in the beginning) is quite interesting, were these characters inspired by a family you knew? Who or what was your inspiration for your characters, particularly Camille and her personality?
There wasn’t any direct inspiration, but like Camille’s Maman, my own mother died when I was fairly young. I think it forced me to become independent very quickly and to assume more responsibility for myself than I was ready for, though for me it was nothing like the pressure her parents’ deaths puts on Camille. Because of that enormous pressure, Camille makes a lot of mistakes—I think that can happen to all of us. I didn’t want to write a “perfect” heroine. She’s a bit like me in other ways, too, though I didn’t realize that when I was writing the book: resourceful but also a bit impetuous. Which is a better trait for a character in a novel than in real life! As for Camille’s siblings, Sophie and Alain, they’re probably a mix of all sorts of experiences I’ve had and people that I’ve met. My only sibling is my younger brother and thankfully he is nothing like Alain!

From having your first idea to first draft, edits to publication – how long did it take for you to get to this point? Was this book always going to be called “Enchantee”?
From the first glimmerings of the idea in the summer of 2014—when the story revolved around the rescue of Marie Antoinette by balloon!—the working title has always been Enchantée. I assumed it would change if I sold the book, because I worried about a French title, but my team all liked it. I started writing the book in January of 2015, and after at least seven drafts, I queried a handful of agents on Bastille Day, July 14, 2017. After that, everything went very quickly: I got several offers of representation in the following weeks and after a whirlwind revision at the
end of September, the book sold at auction in October.

Some authors go to a writer’s retreat to focus on their writing, did you have a special place you retreated to whilst writing “Enchantee”? (Perhaps Paris for inspiration?)
I wish I could have written all of it in Paris! I was lucky enough, though, to visit in the summer of 2015, and the time I spent researching at the Musée Carnavalet (the collection contains artefacts from the French Revolution), strolling through Paris, and wandering the halls and gardens of the Palace of Versailles was incredibly inspiring. I wrote a lot of Enchantée in our apartment in a boys’ dormitory at a boarding school where my husband is a teacher—not a particularly quiet place! We own an old farm house on the coast of Maine that we’ve been fixing up and a little shed I have there is my favorite place to write. It’s very peaceful and I do a lot of absolutely necessary daydreaming there.

When you are not writing or reading, what would you be doing?
I love to be outdoors, especially by the ocean, and I love to take photographs, but if I could do anything, I’d be traveling and exploring new places.

Quick Questions

Ultimate Holiday Destination: Morocco
Guilty pleasure dessert: Pomegranate Pavlova
When I was a child, I wanted to be a ____spy_____ when I grew up.
Famous last words: “I think I know a shortcut we can try…”

With special thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia Publishers for having Read3r’z Re-Vu on board as part of the Echantee Blog Tour, for co-ordinating the interview and for sending a review copy of this book.
-Annie

 

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

Flying Through Clouds by Michelle Morgan

A wonderful Historical Fiction YA novel set in Sydney, Australia in the 1930’s!!!

It’s not easy being a teenage boy growing up in the tough neighbourhood of Glebe in the 1930s. It’s even harder when your dream is to become an aviator, your parents are dead against it, and your girlfriend’s father is the School Principal. But Joe has even bigger challenges he must face and obstacles to overcome if he wants to achieve his dream. He has a plan and won’t let anyone stand in his way…

First of all, I would like to sincerely thank the author, Michelle Morgan, for posting me a copy of her book in exchange for my review. This book really touched my heart as I have a personal connection to a lot of the references made in the story. This story was set in Sydney during the 1930’s and it follows the story of Joe who is a 14 year old Catholic boy living in Glebe who idolises Kingsford Smith and wants to be an aviator when he grows up. Not only was this story set in the same era as my catholic Grandfather and late Grand Uncle, Joe’s friend shares the same name as my late Grand Uncle – Pete. They both loved cricket and Sir Donald Bradman and even remember the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932!!! Can’t say anyone in my family wanted to be an aviator though… But still, I found a lot of references to the 30’s and Sydney in this story that my family was able to relate to which made it a bit more personal experience.

This story is so well written and easy to follow, I would recommend this to fans of YA and is suitable for readers 12 years and up. Such accurate historical referencing throughout the story, it would be an enjoyable history lesson for a young audience. A book that brought me happy tears, this is one of my 2017 favourites.
-Annie

 

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

How would you react if your father asked you to become a ghost bride? Would you agree if it meant a future of prosperity

This would have to be listed as one of my favourite reads for 2017!!!

Though ruled by British overlords in Colonial Malaya, the Chinese Malayans hold ancient customs, values and superstitions close to heart. Set in the sleepy port town of Malacca, this takes us back to the 1880’s and follows the story of Li Lan, our female protagonist and the daughter of a genteel yet bankrupt family with few prospects. Li Lan receives an unusual proposal from a wealthy and influential family – the Lims – who propose she become a ghost bride for their late and only son who recently died under mysterious circumstances. An ancient custom, becoming a ghost bride was said to placate a restless spirit and guarantee prosperity for the bride – but what happens when this restless spirit starts to haunt the potential ghost bride? What happens when rather than following regular protocols to rid a restless spirit from the human world, Li Lan embarks on a journey that leads her to a peculiar supernatural cross over.

Exploring old Malayan folklore, superstitions and intertwining of Malaysian culture with true historical events – this haunting, dark yet fascinating tale kept me turning the page to the very end! I was captivated from the first chapter and I strongly recommend this to fans of Frances Watts’ “The Peony Lantern”

Many thanks to Allen and Unwin Publishers who gave a copy to me as a prize for a competition I won.

This is one great book!!!

-Annie

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green

As the founder of a major network of readers, I can say I can relate to this book. When living in a crazy world, going through hardships of your own, finding friendship with avid readers through a bond which is our love for reading truly is refreshing. Personally I’m more of a YA reader however I really enjoyed this book for adult readers given the themes covered in this book and the setting. It’s said to suit those who loved “The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul” and “The Thorn Birds.”

This book is set in the Northern Territory during the 1970’s at a time of calamity – Cyclone Tracy almost wiped Darwin off the map and telecommunications have yet to be revived. A bomb exploded outside of the Hilton Hotel in Sydney killing 3 people and Former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies dies.

I refer to this book as historical fiction due to the accurate reference to special events that took place in the 70’s. I enjoyed the intricate breakdown of each character that helped us get to know the character: Sybil, Sallyanne, Rita, Kate and Della at my own pace. What also kept me hanging to the end was how each of these women have their own hardships and stories to tell yet in a story of pain, there is the story of hope when friendships are formed over their love of books.

Highly recommended to fans of adult fiction set in Australia – not necessarily for just women. May also be of interest to those who lived in the 70’s.

Special thanks to Hachette Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed from page 1. The plot was so intriguing and although this is an alternative history story, I can see the immense research the author put into this book.

Taking us back to the era of the Ottoman Empire, this book follows a female protagonist one may consider cruel and brutal, though if you were a Princess who was abandoned by their father to be raised in Ottoman Sultan’s courts and living in a world where women did not have rights, I guess I can understand Lada Dragwyla’s character. Ruthlessness is her key to survival, especially when her lineage has made her and her brother targets in this cruel world.

As the story progresses, Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and her brother Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes!!! The characters were so well defined which made the story so great. Lada was the ruthless one, Radu is struggling to be true to himself and Mehmed is the misunderstood son of the Sultan that Lada plans to seek vengeance on.

Personally, I found the plot intriguing even the strain between Radu, Lada and Mehmed wasn’t cliché, it was interesting given the year and time it was set in. I found the alternative history setting very thorough and I was especially excited to see accurate Islamic representation in this book through the dialogue as the characters discussed the 5 pillars of Islam, prayers and even the Umrah/Hajj pilgrimage!! This is the first of an epic trilogy and I am really excited to read the sequel, “Now I Rise” as soon as possible.

Special thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me a review copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie