Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Take a Chance on Greece - Emily Kerr (Review)

Date of Reading: 18/7/2022
Author: Emily Kerr
Publisher: One More Chapter
Publication Date: July 22, 2022
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 3/4

About the book:

When Lydia wakes up after a wild night out in Kefalonia with a tattoo saying ‘Awesome Andreas’, she’s mortified. She doesn’t remember meeting anyone called Andreas. And after all, she’s an accountant with a five-year plan. She’s definitely not a party girl.

The sensible thing to do would be to research how to get the tattoo removed and move on with her safe and steady life. But she’s had enough of being predictable.

Instead, Lydia decides to track down the mysterious Andreas, but the path to true love is never simple. As she goes from one disastrous date to another, she starts to lose hope in ever finding him. Perhaps Lydia is looking in the wrong places, and the right man for her is just next door, if only she’d take a chance on him . . .

Review:

        Emily Kerr is talented in turning even mundane stories into something remarkable and swoon-worthy. This is not one of her best, but still, a light-hearted and pleasurable read. The entire story revolves around her search for Awesome Andreas, the guy she has decided on as the love of her life. It is easy to guess who that is from the beginning and even the twist towards the end came out only as a mild surprise. So if you are attracted to this story because of the mystery element, I would say forget it. But if it is the word 'Greece' that drew you in, then you made the right pick.
        Lydia is no party girl and on the off chance she gets drunk, she looks absolutely sober to others. That resulted in her waking up after a drunken night in Kefalonia with a tattoo on her back. It is a name but not that of her boyfriend's. The tattoo triggers her brain into action opening her eyes to what has gone unnoticed previously. Her boyfriend is a control freak; as her boss, he exploits her abilities but he is tight-fisted when it comes to payment. She breaks off her relationship and travels back to Kefalonia in search of her Andreas.
        Joining a hotel as a maid, she starts her search for Andreas resulting in many hilarious dates. Each of these locations gives us a peak into this beautiful Greek island which will not fail to awaken your travel-crazed mind. Lydia's search may not have produced the desired result, but each of her failed dates bring her closer to understanding who she is.

Meet the author:

Emily Kerr is the author of feel-good romantic comedies.

She has been scribbling stories on bits of paper ever since she could write. She studied Classics at the University of Oxford, then did an MA in Broadcast Journalism. She works as a television journalist based in Yorkshire and loves the interesting variety of people she meets on a daily basis.

In her spare time, she can generally be found with her nose in a book or typing away at her laptop, though she also ventures into the great outdoors to take part in various running-based activities. She loves travelling, and Greece, in particular, has a special place in her heart.

Emily is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Her debut romantic comedy Who Does He Think He Is? was named runner-up in the Festival of Romance New Talent Award and the Joan Hessayon award.

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor - Xiran Jay Zhao (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 13/7/2022
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Publisher: Rock the Boat
Publication Date: July 7, 2022
Rating: 4/5

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


About the book:

A middle-grade contemporary fantasy that follows a young boy as he journeys across China to seal the underworld shut and save the mortal realm.

Zachary Ying never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.

The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.

And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever.

Review:

        I am so invested in Chinese web novels these days, and so it goes without saying that this story captivated me. Who wouldn't? It is a Chinese version of Percy Jackson after all. And don't make me start on that gorgeous cover page. I was hooked from the start. This is one of the rare moments when I regret not getting a physical ARC. These stunning colours invite you to make a place for them on your shelf.
        As you might have guessed, the story keeps in line with the fantasy traditions set by Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series. A trio of twelve-year-olds (two boys, one girl) travels across China to complete their mission of sealing the leaking portal that connects the mortal world and the spirit world. One couldn't but compare this with Percy Jackson series. The similarities are astounding beginning with Zach's powers which involve water. But the story doesn't feel that solid as there are no prophecies to make sense of or mysteries to uncover. No, what makes this a spectacular read is its engagement with the immigrant condition.
        Zach is a Hui Chinese immigrant whose dad was killed for voicing against the Chinese government. Leaving the country in pursuit of an American dream like many others doesn't produce the intended results. They are left struggling in a country which is reluctant to accept them however accommodating its policies are. We find Zach leaving his lunch unopened for fear of alienating his newly acquired friends but in spite of these sacrifices he remains another Asian kid to his classmates.
        This unwanted quest comes as an eye-opener not only for him but also for the readers. We do get a lot of history lessons in between and it is never boring. Representation of Chinee minorities is another fact that endears this story to me. Zack is Hui Chinese, Muslim and also queer. Melissa Wu is a Miao who intends to project her ethnicity by becoming a fashion idol. With these newfound friends, Zach is finally at home.
        Simon and Melissa make excellent sidekicks and their emperors are absolutely awesome, especially Wu Zetian. I am already intrigued by the snippets of her life story to add the TV series to the watch list. Then there is Qin Shi Huang. He might be a tyrant according to history books, but the author has created such a wonderful character out of it, we cannot help but love him to the core. He is definitely my favourite. 
        Well, this series is far from being over. The ending has left me heartbroken yet hopeful about the fate of the Dragon Emperor. Eagerly awaiting the sequel . . .

Meet the author:


Xiran Jay Zhao is the #1 bestselling author of the Iron Widow duology. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their biochem degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. You can find them @XiranJayZhao on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, TikTok for fun short videos, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is their first middle grade novel.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

The Poppy War - R. F. Kuang (Review)

Date of Reading: 23/6/2022
Author: R. F. Kuang
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: May 1, 2018
Rating: 4/5


About the book:

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic, in the tradition of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy.

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For a while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Review:

        Well, it took me a rather long time; not only to finish reading this grim dark fantasy but also to decide whether I should open it or not. This is not a pleasant story as so many reviewers have already warned. You can read it as mere fantasy but considering the map presented at the beginning with its uncanny similarity to China and its neighbouring nations, that is going to be a bit stretching.
        Book 1 of the Poppy War trilogy is based on the second Sino-Japanese war and it is just the beginning. As I am nearing the end of the last book, I can say this with assurance . . . the worst is yet to come. The first half of the story focuses on Fang Runin's aka Rin's entry into Sinegard, the humiliations she faces as a dark-skinned southerner and her survival.
        War comes knocking soon enough awakening us from the dream of a happy-go-lucky fantasy. The sudden transition was a lot to take in and destroyed my reading pace. Hence the four stars. Unlike Jiang in the first half, there are no likeable characters. I didn't warm up to Altan like so many others and the same goes for the Cike team. I never quite understood Rin's infatuation with Altan (ok, maybe I get the appeal). Still, I was looking forward to Nezha and Kitay. Huh, there my premonitions prevailed.
        The first book in the series might be the one nominated for several awards, but I prefer the sequels. And I am sure many share this view as can be seen from the reduced ratings of the other two books. So if you are slightly disappointed, then my advice is not to give up. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Meet the author:


Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, Chinese-English translator, and the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy and the forthcoming Babel. Her work has won the Crawford Award and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale, where she studies diaspora, contemporary Chinese literature, and Asian American literature.

Friday, 27 May 2022

Out of the Lion's Maw - Witold Makowiecki and Tom Pinch (Review)

Date of Reading: 25/5/2022
Author: Witold Makowiecki
Translator: Tom Pinch
Publisher: Mondrala Press
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

About the book:

A European bestseller, un-put-down-able since 1946, now for the first time in English.

An elderly Zoroastrian priest and his teenage apprentice, a dark plot to foment a civil war. Can the two thwart it?

570 BC. The Old Mountain Lion, the predatory king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, has destroyed empires, razed cities, and driven whole nations into slavery. Now, he sews discord in the Mediterranean to soften up another victim for a surprise attack. It is up to the two unlikely heroes to try to foil the plot, and persuade kings, priests, bureaucrats, and generals to change their course. They race against the clock across the Mediterranean, pursued by spies, assassins, and eventually the whole state apparatus of eternal Egypt.

A classic tale of high adventure, full of white-knuckle twists and turns, cliffhangers and last-minute escapes, engaging characters, and sparkling humour. Continuously in print across Eastern Europe since 1946, it has been compared to The Treasure Island and The Three Musketeers.

Review:

       This was a moment of self realisation. For one, I never thought my knowledge of ancient civilisations was. . . ah . . . poor. I waded through different Mediterranean nations along with our protagonists with no idea of their present identities. When it comes to the Gods, the footnotes helped a lot. And here I am, awfully glad that I chanced upon this wonderful Polish work because of a random search in NetGalley recommendations.
        Since the blurb above doesn't give much on the story, let me enlighten you. Nehurabhed is a Medean high priest and envoy of the King and he is being held captive in Carthage. He escapes with the help of a Greek sailor, Kalias. Before fleeing Carthage they both save a boy who was sold to slavery. Melicles was captured by the pirates and had tried to escape from his plight many times. Finally Gods had answered his prayers. Nehurabhed finds in him an ally and helper and so the adventures of the duo begin.
        The combination of a wise, old man and a young, naive boy makes this story really a marvel. Nehurabhed's strange ways of finding solutions to each crisis make for many humorous and surprising twists while sixteen-year-old Melicles has a penchant for helping others. The journey opens new worlds to him and we, the readers, share his wonder and joy.
        There is no doubt that this is a timeless classic for both young and the old. Thanks to Tom Pinch we finally have an English translation. Highly recommended!

Meet the author:

Witold Makowiecki (born 1903 in Warsaw, Poland, died 1946 in Radomsk, Łódź province, south-central Poland) is a Polish agricultural engineer and writer, author of popular books for children and young adults, some of which are on the required reading list for Polish elementary schools today. Agricultural engineer by training, he had to abandon his profession for health reasons. Under German occupation during world war II, he took up writing for the young. He is the author of two popular adventure novels set in ancient Mediterranean world, written with his children in mind: Przygody Meliklesa Greka (The Adventures of Melicles the Greek) and Diossos. His books, written in the swashbuckling style, have helped to propagate familiarity with classical Greek civilization. Each book is a stand-alone volume, but the two are bound together by the appearance of the characters of Melicles the Milesian and Kalias the Syracusan. Due to their superior literary quality, both books have remained in print since their original publication in 1946.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Elizabeth of York: The Last White Rose - Alison Weir (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 21/05/2022
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Headline Review
Publication Date: May 12, 2022
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

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

About the book:

AN ENGLISH PRINCESS, BORN INTO A WAR BETWEEN TWO FAMILIES.

The eldest daughter of the royal House of York, Elizabeth dreams of a crown to call her own. But when her beloved father, King Edward, dies suddenly, her destiny is rewritten.

Her family's enemies close in. Two young princes are murdered in the Tower. Then her uncle seizes power - and vows to make Elizabeth his queen.

But another claimant seeks the throne, the upstart son of the rival royal House of Lancaster. Marriage to this Henry Tudor would unite the white rose of York and the red of Lancaster - and change everything.

A great new age awaits. Now Elizabeth must choose her allies - and husband - wisely, and fight for her right to rule.

Review

        Before reading this book, I had never given much thought to this Yorkist Queen who united the houses of York and Lancaster. Considering her husband's temperament and her meek nature, I can see why historians didn't spare much time with her. The drama unfolded by her dear son is enough to fill the pages on Tudors, so a pious and charitable queen who always sees the good in others has been put backstage. 
        If the white rose of York represents purity, then Elizabeth embodies it. Not one to question the authority or the established traditions, she was taught to accept her destiny from childhood itself. Not much of a heroine figure, if you ask me. Her subservient nature and abhorrence of confrontations cost her the opportunity to share the power with her husband, Henry VII. On the other hand, her taking a step back in everything resulted in a peaceful marriage. 
        As you can see she is not a model woman for the present age. When you think back to the influential role her contemporary Queen Isabella played in Spain, she surely is a pitiable character. She never had much voice, not even when it comes to the lives of her own mother and sisters. Weir has captured quite vividly how the shifting power balance affects the lives of women. They are mere pawns in political transactions, denied even the freedom of a common woman to marry for love or continue in a marriage that they have come to love.
        Elizabeth's life may not be legendary, but she survived one of the most turbulent times England had undergone. What this novel offers is a captivating and unique picture of the Tudor era that is laying its foundations.

Meet the author:


Alison Weir is the bestselling female historian in the United Kingdom and has sold over 3 million books worldwide She has published twenty history books. Alison is also the author of twelve historical novels, including the highly acclaimed Six Tudor Queens series all of which were Sunday Times bestsellers. The complete short story collection, In the Shadow of Queens, accompanies this series. Alison is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an honorary life patron of Historic Royal Palaces.

Monday, 2 May 2022

A Magic Steeped in Poison - Judy I. Lin (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 2/5/2022
Author: Judy I. Lin
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 29, 2022
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

(This review is part of the blog tour organised by Colored Pages Tours)

About the book:

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, "These are the hands that buried my mother."

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it's her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom's greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favour from the princess, which may be Ning's only chance to save her sister's life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Review:

        I have been waiting to read this book for a long time. For one, even though this is part of a duology (I hate cliffhangers, by the way), the sequel is only months away from being released. And it is all about the art of tea making and the magic brewed with it. That is something I cannot say no to. Glad to say that the story doesn't disappoint.
        Ning is on a mission to save her sister from the brink of death. Her mother has already succumbed to the poison found in the tea leaves provided by the imperial coffers. Her only chance lies in winning the competition organised by the princess. Am I the only one here getting the 'Hunger Games' and 'Goblet of Fire' vibes? Well, don't expect something that nerve-racking; except for the last part, the story follows an even pace as soothing as the morning tea.
         That brings us to the most interesting part: the magic of the shennong-shi, masters adept in the art of tea-making. In a palace riddled with mysteries where every step could lead to danger, the competition adds another layer to the political intrigue. Not everything or everyone is what they seem. As Ning progresses through each round we are introduced bit by bit to the beauty of this art and when the shennong-tu's hands wield the tea, all the chaos seems to recede.
        The story explores the power of female relationships and thus all the major characters are women, except for Kang - the adopted son of the banished prince. His background is still shrouded in mystery, that is something to wait for in the sequel. Their sudden progress from friends to lovers might have taken me by surprise, still, I am rooting for this duo.
        A beautiful story that will ensnare you from the very beginning. Drinking tea will never be the same anymore.

Favourite quotes:

"Grief has a taste, bitter and lingering, but so soft it sometimes disguises itself as sweetness"

"The nice thing about getting old is you realize everything circles back on itself"

"Human hands make mistakes, Ning, but they are the hands the gods gave us. We use them to make amends, to do good things"

"We all have people we care about, those we would give our lives for. It puts us in danger, or makes us dangerous"

"There is a difference between living the suffering and reading about it"

Meet the author:

Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter.

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