Thursday, 19 August 2021

She Who Became the Sun - Shelley Parker-Chan (Review)

Date of Reading: 26/6/2021
Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, Mantle
Publication Date: July 22, 2021
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

About the book:

Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.

Review:

        Transporting 14th century China to a magical realist setting, combining elements of 'Mulan' and 'The Song of Achilles' is no doubt an ambitious project. Well, Shelley Parker-Chan has done it splendidly. It is not flawless and I would have preferred a much more conclusive ending, but that doesn't affect the immersive pleasure we are promised.
        What I loved the most about the book is the narration. The first part is told entirely from the point of view of the girl who later poses as her brother Zhu Chongba. Her name is never revealed and remains a part of the desolated life she switched with her brother: unknown and unrecognised. Her perseverance and keen intelligence which even forces destiny to give her a helping hand glows brightly throughout finally taking into a physical form.
        Once the other characters, especially Ouyang, start taking important roles, the narrative switches to multiple POVs. I thought this could be confusing in the beginning, but it did present the political situation rather well. Ouyang's side of the story was something to look forward to all the time.
        Basic knowledge of Chinese history might give you a better understanding of the story (after all this is a reimagining of the life of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty with genderqueer characters), though it is not necessary. My grasp of ancient Chinese history is akin to zero and so some random search on Red Turbans helped a great deal. But as I have said, this is not needed if you don't want to bother too much about the history behind it. As always, this is a universal story. If you are a believer of predestined fates, Zhu Chongba's story may convince you otherwise.

Meet the author:


Shelley Parker-Chan (she/they) is an Asian-Australian former diplomat and international development adviser who spent nearly a decade working on human rights, gender equality and LGBT rights in Southeast Asia. Named after the Romantic poet, she was raised on a steady diet of Greek myths, Arthurian legend and Chinese tales of suffering and tragic romance. Her writing owes more than a little to all three. In 2017 she was awarded an Otherwise (Tiptree) Fellowship for a work of speculative narrative that expands our understanding of gender.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Hot Desk - Zara Stoneley (Review)

Date of Reading: 8/8/2021
Author: Zara Stoneley
Publisher: One More Chapter
Publication Date: August 31, 2021
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

About the book:

Same desk, different days. A post-it note is just the beginning…

Alice loves her job and wants to keep it – whatever the price. But then she’s told the company is switching to flexible working and hot-desking…Alice’s desk might look like a mess, but she knows exactly where everything is. Or she did. Until she found out she’s going to share it with the most annoying guy in the office.
 
Jamie can work from anywhere. He’s quite happy to sweep his work life into a box at the end of the working day. But can sharing a desk with Alice be as much fun as teasing her in person?
 
With no option but to try it and see, will their relationship turn into open warfare or will it ever progress beyond a post-it note?

A must-read for fans of Beth O’Leary, Mhairi McFarlane and Sophie Kinsella!

Review:

        One of the major drawbacks of Zara Stoneley books (as per my view) is the ending. The story will be great, so does the narration, but the ending . . . it just lacks that sizzle and the bang. This particular book solves some of these. There is a bang for sure, not at the end, but on the crisis part. And not in my wildest dreams I was expecting that. As for whether it was a nice sort of surprise, I still need to sort that out.
        Romance through post-it notes is not an entirely new concept, but it works like a charm. No exceptions here. I loved the growing attachment between Alice and Jamie, that is until Jamie's bombshell came through. It all got awkward after that, sort of like the merging of two storylines. Shouldn't he be taking the other path? Won't this create fissures in their relationship . . . in future? Well, love conquers all and it is blind too. So it might work in the end, though I have some misgivings.
        The romance part didn't work for me, obviously. Why the four stars then? Alice, without a doubt. My brave, soft-hearted heroine. I know how hard it is to say 'no' to our dear ones and getting out of a possessive relationship is harder. Kudos to you girl. Lockdown days has made us all vulnerable. Making the right decisions, sticking to them and learning from the initial mistakes . . . one cannot but admire that. Long interior monologues with the 'to be or not to be' theme usually irritate me. But in this story, that is what captivated me the most.

Meet the author:


Zara Stoneley is the USA Today bestselling author of The Wedding Date.

Born in a small village in the UK, she wanted to be a female James Herriot, a spy, or an author when she grew up. After many (many) years, and many different jobs, her dream of writing a bestseller came true.

She writes about friendship, dreams, love, and happy ever afters, and hopes that her tales make you laugh a lot, cry a little, and occasionally say 'ahhh'.

Zara now lives in a Cheshire village with her family, a lively cockapoo called Harry, and a very bossy (and slightly evil) cat called Saffron.

Sunday, 18 July 2021

The Housekeeper of Thornhallow Hall - Lotte R. James (Review)

Date of Reading: 14/7/2021
Author: Lotte R. James
Publisher: Harlequin Historical
Publication Date: July 27, 2021
Rating: 3/5

(This review is part of the blog tour organised by Rachel's Random Resources)


About the book:

 She arrived as a housekeeper

Will she leave as a countess?

To some, Thornhallow Hall might be tarnished by tales of vengeance and ghosts, but to new housekeeper Rebecca Merrickson it represents independence and peace from her tumultuous past. Until the estate’s owner, William Reid, the disappeared earl, unexpectedly returns… After clashing with him over the changes she’s made to the house, Rebecca slowly unearths the memories that haunt brooding Liam—and her defiance gives way to a shockingly improper attraction to her master!

Review:

        As you can see from the blurb, the story resembles 'Jany Eyre' a lot, which is one reason that tempted me. Well, there is a bigger hurdle here since our hero is an Earl and heroine a common girl with no hidden inheritance to dream of. As they say, love conquers all and so it happens.
        I loved Rebecca from the start. Her confidence in her own abilities is admirable and the same goes for that liberal attitude (a bit too liberal considering the time period). Will any virtuous female dare to have tattoos? Good for you girl!
        The death in the castle and the mystery surrounding the vanished Earl contributes much to the gothic atmosphere. There are no ghosts but the creepy atmosphere haunts you throughout. Apart from that nail-biting climax which I found out of place, I found the story quite enjoyable. The slow-burn romance, the community that creates a world of its own inside this castle and the beautiful writing all makes it an endearing read.

Meet the author:

Lotte James trained as an actor and theatre director but spent most of her life working day jobs crunching numbers whilst dreaming up stories of love and adventure. She’s thrilled to finally be writing those stories, and when she’s not scribbling on tiny pieces of paper, she can usually be found wandering the countryside for inspiration or nestling with coffee and a book.


Wednesday, 14 July 2021

A Bargain of Blood and Gold - Kristin Jacques (Review)


Date of Reading: 1/7/2021
Author: Kristin Jacques
Publisher: City Owl Press
Publication Date: June 15, 2021
Source: BookSirens
Rating: 4/5

About the book:

A novice hunter with a mission. A five-hundred-year-old vampire with a strong sense of irony. A town plagued by creatures in need of saving.

When Johnathan Newman arrives in Cress Haven, the last thing he expects is for his life to be irrevocably changed. Sent by a clandestine league of vampire hunters to investigate a string of murders, signs point to a vampire lurking amid the townsfolk. Johnathan’s attempt to enlist the locals leads him to an unlikely partnership with Vic, the town's most eligible, enigmatic bachelor.

As the pair work to solve the mystery, Vic’s secrets come back to bite him. Revealed, the vampire fights his attraction to a man trained to destroy him, while Johnathan’s emotions land him in the middle of forbidden desires. Even if Vic isn’t the murderer, how can Johnathan yearn for his natural enemy?

As Vic leads Johnathan into encounters with terrifying beings straight from children’s nightmares, Johnathan learns that not only is the world stranger than he knew but that those he once trusted have far darker intentions that will place hunter and vampire at the centre of a conflict between realms.

Cress Haven holds more sinister secrets than its resident vampire, a secret so great, it could unleash Hell itself.

For fans of Gail Carriger’s Supernatural Society, The Charm of Magpies series by KJ Charles, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, and The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee.

Review:

        I have been on the hunt for an mm paranormal romance and chanced upon this accidentally. I was sceptical at first since it is the first book in the 'Midnight Guardian' series. A cliffhanger is not something everyone is fond of. But rest assured, even though the story is not complete, it doesn't leave behind that much of a suspense . . . just the right amount so we can peacefully wait for the next one without going bonkers.
        From the very beginning, the story focuses on Jonathan and Vic's attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the murders in Cress Haven. Sure, they get close with so many near death experiences, but romance takes a back seat most of the time. I can only hope that the author has reserved all the funny bits for the next book. What we witness here is the start of a very promising relationship and I can't wait to hear more.
     I should not be forgetting my favourite character though. She might be intended as Vic's sidekick, but she had outlived her role and I don't think she is planning to remain as a supporting cast. Brave, spirited, sharp tongued Alyse, let's see how the outside world treats you. Maybe you get to have your own story this time.

Meet the author:

Mother of two, caffeine addict, sleep deprived book eater, Kristin Jacques writes primarily speculative fiction, dabbling with dark adventures, monsters, mayhem, and the occasional sarcastic zombie. When not at her computer spinning tales she is generally herding cats or snuggling with her gremlins.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Six Crimson Cranes - Elizabeth Lim (Review)

 

Finished Reading: 3/7/2021
Author: Elizabeth Lim
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: July 8, 2021
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

About the book:

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama's betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she's been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

Review:

        You got it right. I fell for that stunning cover. Maybe it's a good thing that the review copy didn't include the cover, else I would never have finished the reading. Well, what else is there? A princess forced to be mute, a dragon, magic and fairytale vibes . . . did I tempt you enough?
        I have seen some rave reviews about Lim's "Spin the Dawn" duology but never got around to reading it (my bookish radar seems to be malfunctioning these days). Now I have gotten used to the incredible world created out of that brain, nothing is going to stop me from adding them to the ever-growing TBR pile.
        So here are the things that I loved: The well-developed characters, especially Shiori and her stepmother Raikama, the nameless queen. Being a fan of fairytale retellings, the ending was something that I anticipated. It didn't spoil anything though; rather it was quite gratifying to see that somewhat tragic ending. Bitter yes, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
        There is romance for all those looking for it (a really slow burn one) but the story more or less concentrates on our princess with the voracious appetite. She is brave, humorous and in her mother's words 'the knot' keeping together the family. I was expecting more magic and . . . dragon though. Well, looks like Lim has reserved all those for the next book. Looking forward to your adventures in the dragon world, Shiori. Happy reading!

Meet the author:

Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, "Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that's kinda cool!" But after one of her teachers told her she had "too much voice" in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.

Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel -- for kicks, at first, then things became serious -- and she hasn't looked back since.

Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the colour turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Rising Star - Michele Kwasniewski (Blog Tour & Review)

Finished Reading: 21/06/2021
Author: Michele Kwasniewski
Publisher: Rand-Smith LLC
Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Rating: 4/5

(This review is part of the blog tour organised by Random Things Tours)

About the book:

In the first book in THE RISE AND FALL OF DANI TRUEHART series, RISING STAR, fifteen-year-old Dani Truehart is living a life that is not quite her own. Driven by her mother's desire for fame and fortune, she has spent her childhood dutifully training for a career as a pop star. On the brink of discovery, doubts begin to creep into Dani's mind as she questions her own desire for fame, and she wonders whether she can trust the motivations of the adults who are driving her forward.

Following a brilliant audition arranged by her vocal/dance coach and former '80s pop icon Martin Fox, Dani is thrown full-force into the music industry. She leaves her friends, family and scheming mother behind to move with Martin, who has become her legal guardian, into the Malibu compound of her new manager, Jenner Redman. Jenner, the former swindling manager of Martin's boy band, leverages what's left of his depleted fortune to launch Dani's career.

Isolated from her life at home and trying to stay apace with her demanding schedule, Dani struggles to keep in touch with those she loves, connect to her withholding mother and find her voice as an artist. With Martin and Jenner at odds over their rocky past and finding herself unprepared to handle the pressures of her future singing career, Dani's debut album and future stardom are at risk of falling apart.

Review:

        I was not sure what I was expecting from this story; a teenage star getting manipulated by her dear ones and losing her cool? Probably. Well, it is not that story. There is some angst for sure, but evil mamas aside, there are no surprising twists or turns in the plot (though I was waiting for one like the spectator of a scary movie).
        Ever wondered how a pop star came to be or how success feels? If that is you, then this story is a must read. Dani Truehart is on her way to fame and it is a path filled with sacrifices, endless hours of hard work and  . . . missing the normal life. Sure, we can't have everything and a star's life is not that bad either. There are no fights with best friends or breaking up with boyfriends which was another surprise I found in the story. I had my doubts on Sean, but the guy seems to have a strong head on his shoulders. 
        Hmm, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once the star starts to burn brighter, will everything remain the same? I can't wait to see what happens next.

Meet the author:


The author, Michele Kwasniewski, is an entertainment industry insider who has seen what the Hollywood machine can do to people – having worked for many years in film and television production on such films and TV shows as Primal Fear, Independence Day, Evita, Face/Off, Big Brother, and many TCL, HGTV, and Discovery series including: Meet the Pandas, Adoption Story, Wedding Story, and Extra Yardage. 
 
With her book, she shares the glamour and excitement of fame as well as the hard work it takes to achieve success and the price of living life in the public eye.  Everyone wants to be famous, but most people have no idea what that really means.  Michele has seen it firsthand.  She is an active member of the Producers Guild of America.

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