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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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

The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye

fantastic sequel that was just as epic as its debut!!!

“When two imperfect people come together, they make a perfect whole…”

“Nothing is more remote than yesterday, nothing is closer than tomorrow..”

In a nut shell.. I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!

This story continues from where we left off in the The Crown’s Game and we return to the characters I love so much.. Vika, Nikola and Pasha.. For those who read the first book, you remember what happened to these guys? (Really don’t want to give any spoilers here) Like book 1, book 2 kept me on the edge of my seat however I found this story to have even more mystery, intrigue and action!! The Crown’s Game focused on the building of alternate Russia and gave us insight into how The Crown’s Game worked – where enchanters entered into a competitive battle to win the position of Imperial Enchanter. However, now.. we look at the burning question – what happens when it’s not about fighting for the position of Imperial Enchanter anymore? It’s a fight for the throne…

Written so incredibly well, the story flowed amazingly even with various storylines. I absolutely loved the accurate referencing to Russian history within a fantasy story of magic set in alternate Russia. It’s definitely one of those books you can tell the author put a lot of thought, plan and research into it. I can officially say this book is another 2017 favourite!!

Special thanks to Harper Collins Publishers for sending me a review copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

The Book of Pearl by Timothee de Fombelle

Elegant and Sophisticatedly Complex

This would have to be one of the best books I have read this year!!!

A compelling story of a first love that defines a lifetime which is told with an intricate and beautiful writing style.

The main character who we get to know as the story progresses is Joshua Pearl. He is from a world that our own no longer believes in – a world of Fairytale. Pearl knows that his great love is waiting for him in that distant place but he is trapped in our time. As his memories begin to fade, he discovers strange objects, tiny fragments of a story from a long time ago that help in piecing his life back together.

What I liked about this story is how unique it was – the storyline and how it was so cleverly written.  As Joshua Pearl is trying to piece together his memories to circle back to the one he loves after being thrown from his own world to our world, I felt just as confused as Pearl but each chapter develops – each fragment, pieces together a puzzle that guided me to the next part of the story and so on, which finally came together with an answer!!! A tale intertwines fantasy with historical fiction finding you going through the stages of World War II. This was such an absorbing read.

I recommend this to fans of fairytale retellings, historical fiction and YA fantasy.
-Annie