Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Psyche and Eros - Luna McNamara (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 11/05/2023
Author: Luna McNamara
Publisher: Orion Fiction
Publication Date: May 25, 2023
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

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

About the book:

In this utterly transporting reimagining of Greek mythology, the god of desire is cursed to fall for a spirited young mortal woman, but if she looks upon his face they will be parted forever—an epic adventure and love story for the ages, sure to satisfy fans of Madeline Miller and V.E. Schwab

Who said true love is a myth?

A prophecy claims that Psyche, princess of Mycenae, will defeat a monster feared even by the gods. Rebelling against her society’s expectations for women, Psyche spends her youth mastering blade and bow, preparing to meet her destiny.

When Psyche angers the love goddess, Aphrodite, she sends Eros, the god of desire, to deliver a cruel curse. After eons watching humanity twist his gifts, the last thing Eros wants is to become involved in the chaos of the mortal world. But when he pricks himself with the arrow intended for Psyche, Eros finds himself doomed to yearn for a woman who will be torn from him the moment their eyes meet.

Thrown together by fate, headstrong Psyche and world-weary Eros will face challenges greater than they could have imagined. And as the Trojan War begins and divine powers try to keep them apart, the pair must determine if the curse could become something more . . . before it’s too late.

A joyous and subversive tale of gods, monsters, and the human heart and soul, Psyche and Eros dazzles the senses while exploring notions of trust, sacrifice, and what it truly means to be a hero. With unforgettably vivid characters, spellbinding prose, and delicious tension, Luna McNamara has crafted a shimmering and propulsive debut novel about a love so strong it defies the will of Olympus.


    Each passing day brings forth the realisation that when it comes to Greek mythology I have only scratched the surface. New characters (particularly women) that are often overlooked in the past come up as central characters making their voices heard. This time it is Psyche's turn.

"No temples were ever built in my honour, and no colleges of priestesses ever sung hymns in my names"

        She is the Goddess of soul and the beloved of Eros, the God of love. If you want to find a romantic comedy in Greek mythology, then that is theirs. At least that is what McNamara has created through her stunning work. While some may criticise McNamara's handling of the original myth, I beg to defer. Should we really be faithful to the original when it comes to retelling? Wouldn't that fail its purpose? I, for one, loved how the author made Psyche into an archer. Sure, feminist retellings don't have to make the woman a warrior. Still, I can't help but notice that this puts Psyche on equal footing with her archer husband. 
        The depiction of Eros as a primordial god ushered in a new perspective on the so-called main storyline. Zeus, as usual, doesn't gain any favourable points but Prometheus, on the other hand, shines through his lighthearted humour. Seeing him was like revisiting many of my childhood memories. Psyche's POV introduces a horde of other characters: Iphigenia, Clytmenestra, Atlanta . . . the list goes on. Women whose blood drenched the legends.
        Psyche and Eros' love story may not be as famous as Helen's and that could be a good thing. It does have a happy ending. As Psyche says, "Truly great lovers rarely make their way into the public eye. They are too busy with one another". Thank you McNamara for bringing them to the public eye and for creating an unforgettable tale.

Meet the author:

Luna McNamara holds a master's degree from Harvard University in the study of women and gender in world religions. A lifelong lover of Greek myths, she has studied ancient Greek language and philosophy. She is currently a social worker living in Boston. Psyche and Eros is her debut novel.

Best Men - Sidney Karger (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 21/5/2023
Author: Sidney Karger
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: May 25, 2023
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

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

About the book:

When two best men in a wedding party fall for each other, they realize love isn't a piece of cake in this hilarious and heartfelt romantic comedy debut by screenwriter Sidney Karger.

Max Moody thought he had everything figured out. He's trying to live his best life in New York City and has the best friend a gay guy could ask for: Paige. She and Max grew up next door to each other in the suburbs of Chicago. She can light up any party. She finishes his sentences. She's always a reliable splunch (they don't like to use the word brunch) partner. But then Max's whole world is turned upside down when Paige suddenly announces some huge news: she's engaged and wants Max to be her man of honour. Max was always the romantic one who imagined he would get married before the unpredictable Paige and is shocked to hear she's ready to settle down. But it turns out there's not just one new man in Paige's life--there are two.

There's the groom, Austin, who's a perfectly nice guy. Then there's his charming, fun and ridiculously handsome gay younger brother, Chasten, who is Austin's best man. As Paige's wedding draws closer, Max, the introverted Midwesterner, and Chasten, the social butterfly East Coaster, realize they're like oil and water. Yet they still have to figure out how to coexist in Paige's life while not making her wedding festivities all about them. But can the tiny romantic spark between these two very different guys transform their best man supporting roles into the leading best men in each other's lives?

      I would rather this book be called 'Best Friends'. For one, romance is just a side plot while the evolving relationship of Max and Paige  takes centre stage. It is also Max Moody's story where Chasten, for sure, has a part to play, but all the same, it is also about Max finding his life's calling. He is such an endearing character it is hard not to like him. Funny, loyal and down to earth -- Max Moody is this and many more. Finding humour in the most awkward situations (the first encounter with Chasten, for instance) he pulls you along in this laugh-out-loud ride.
        Max is one of the many things I loved about this book. A character-driven story like this cannot be enjoyed without someone like him. His friendship with Paige is really one of a kind and no wonder he felt threatened by Chasten's arrival in the scene. Chasten is the ideal gay guy, outgoing and smart to boot in contrast to Max who doesn't enjoy crowded events. While their chemistry is undeniable, I am a bit sceptic about Max-Chasten relationship. The whole thing works on the opposites attract concept, but will it make them stick together for an eternity?
        So I demand a sequel. I am curious how it turned out for both of them. The road ahead is bound to be bumpy, but that's just another story I can't wait to sink my teeth into. 

Meet the author:

Sidney Karger is an award-winning screenwriter for film and television. He is a former writer/director with Comedy Central, MTV and AMC, among other networks, and contributing writer for Saturday Night Live, Billy On The Street and McSweeney's. He currently lives in New York City with his partner and their Australian Labradoodle, Zelda. Best Men is his debut novel.

Tuesday, 2 May 2023

Dust Child - Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 2/5/2023
Author: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Publisher: One World
Publication Date: April 20, 2023
Rating: 5/5

About the book:

During the Việt Nam War, tens of thousands of children were born into relationships between American soldiers and Việtnamese women. Tragic circumstances separated most of these Amerasian children from their parents.

Many have not found each other again…

In 1969, two sisters from rural Việt Nam leave their parents' home to find work in Sài Gòn. Caught up in the war that is blazing through their country they, like many other young Việtnamese women, are employed as hostesses in a bar frequented by American GIs. Soon they are forced to accept that their own survival, and that of their family back home, might mean compromising the values they have always held dear. As the fighting moves closer to the city, the elder sister, Trang, begins a romance with a young American helicopter pilot.

Decades later, two men wander the streets and marketplaces of modern Sài Gòn. Phong is a ‘Dust Child’ – the son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, abandoned by his mother and ostracized all his life – and is looking for his parents and through them a way out of Việt Nam. Meanwhile war veteran Dan returns with his wife Linda, hoping to ease the PTSD that has plagued him for decades. Neither of them can escape the shadow of decisions made during a time of desperation.

With the same compassion and insight that has made The Mountains Sing a favourite of readers across the world, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai brings to life the interwoven stories of these four unforgettable characters and asks what it takes to move forward.


        After reading 'The Mountains Sing', picking this book was a no-brainer. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai is a masterful writer when it comes to recapturing the images of a war-torn Vietnam and its people. Based on the interviews she conducted as part of her PhD, 'Dust Child' surpasses expectations, evoking both pain and hope in equal measure.
        Narrated in multiple POV, the story follows three lives. One is in the past during the war. Two sisters, Trang and Quynh, leave for Sai Gon anticipating a brighter future for their family and ends up working as bar girls. Back in 2016, Dan, a war veteran returns with his wife Linda to confront his past. Meanwhile, Phong, the son of a Black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman, struggles to escape the discrimination he faces in Vietnam and make it to America. All the stories are connected . . . not in the way you imagine it to be.
        As the narrative moves back and forth from 1969 to 2016, we come face to face with the realities of war. Trang, Quynh and Dan commit mistakes but it is hard to judge them when we see the devastating impact of war on their lives. We all lose something in a war. 'Dust Child' is a reminder as well as a desire that no country should be subjected to such a disaster. It's a book that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page.

Meet the author:

NGUYỄN PHAN QUẾ MAI is an award-winning Vietnamese poet and novelist. Born in the Red Delta of Northern Việt Nam, she grew up in the Mekong Delta, Southern Việt Nam. She is awriter  and translator who has published eight books of poetry, short stories and non-fiction in Vietnamese. Her debut novel and first book in English, The Mountains Sing, is an international bestseller, runner-up for the 2021 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and winner of the 2021 PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Literary Award, the 2020 Lannan Literary Award Fellowship, and others, and has been translated into fifteen languages. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and her writing has appeared in various publications including the New York Times.

Quế Mai was named by Forbes Vietnam as one of the twenty most inspiring women of 2021. Dust Child is inspired by her many years working as a volunteer helping family members unite, and reflects the real-life experiences of Amerasians and
their family members.

Wednesday, 12 April 2023

Elizabeth Finch: Julian Barnes (Blog Tour & Review)

Date of Reading: 10/04/2023
Author: Julian Barnes
Publisher: Vintage 
Publication Date: February 23, 2023
Rating: 3/5

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

About the book:

From the Booker Award-winning writer, a swift narrative that turns on the death of a vivid and particular woman, and becomes the occasion for a man's deeper examination of love, friendship and the mysteries of biography.

"I'll remember Elizabeth Finch when most other characters I've met this year have faded." -- John Self, The Times (UK)

This novel of unrequited platonic love takes aim at the singular character of the exacting Elizabeth Finch. When Neil, adrift in his 30s, takes her adult education class on Culture and Civilization, he becomes deeply fascinated by this private, withholding yet commanding woman. While other personal relationships and even his children drift from his grasp, Neil hangs tight to Finch and her unorthodox application of history and philosophy to the practical matters of daily living. As much as he wants to figure her out intellectually, he want to please her. Both are impossible.

In Neil's story, readers are treated to everything they cherish in Barnes: his eye for the unconventional forms love can take, a compelling swerve into nonfiction (this time through Neil's obsessive study of Julian the Apostate, following the trail of crumbs Elizabeth Finch has left for him), and the forcefully moving undercurrent of history and biography as both nourishment and guide in our daily lives. Finch is a character who challenges the reader as much as her students to think for themselves, and leaves us searching for a way to deal with one of her simplest of ideas: "Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us."


        I have read 'The Sense of an Ending' before and it is what pulled me into his latest novel. The story of a teacher . . . I wouldn't want to miss that one. There are not many that appreciate and consider this field worthy to create a story. After all, a teacher's life is not as exciting as a doctor's or lawyer's even though we have our battles to fight. So I cherish every story out there about us.
        Elizabeth Finch is everything that I imagined and much more. She is an enigma and remains so even to our narrator till the end. A role model to be aspired to, but a hard one to achieve. The first part gives you a peep into her classes and along with her students, we too begin to ponder. The second part is rather dry with all the details on Julian the Apostate. It looked more like the author using Elizabeth Finch as a tool to shove onto the readers his critique of Christianity. In the last part, we are back to the main plot, again trying to unravel the life of our eponymous teacher.
        It is not everyone's cup of tea, that is sure. And you won't find any surprising twists like in 'The Sense of an Ending' here. But if you are in the mood to read fiction that is more like non-fiction, then you are in the right place.

Meet the author:

Julian Barnes is the author of thirteen novels, including The Sense of an Ending, which won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Sunday Times bestsellers The Noise of Time and The Only Story. He has also written three books of short stories, four collections of essays and three books of non-fiction, including the Sunday Times number one bestseller Levels of Life and Nothing To Be Frightened Of, which won the 2021 Yasnaya Polyana Prize in Russia. In 2017 he was awarded the Légion d'honneur.

Friday, 24 March 2023

The Books of Jacob - Olga Tokarczuk (Blog Tour & Review)

Author: Olga Tokarczuk
Translator: Jennifer Croft
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: February 1, 2022
Rating: 3/5

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

About the book:

The Nobel Prize-winner's richest, most sweeping and most ambitious novel yet follows the comet-like rise and fall of a mysterious, messianic religious leader as he blazes his way across eighteenth-century Europe.

In the mid-eighteenth century, as new ideas -- and new unrest -- begin to sweep the Continent, a young Jew of mysterious origins arrives in a village in Poland. Before long, he has changed not only his name but his persona; visited by what seem to be ecstatic experiences, Jacob Frank casts a charismatic spell that attracts an increasingly fervent following.

In the decade to come, Frank will traverse the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires with throngs of disciples in his thrall as he reinvents himself again and again, converts to Islam and then Catholicism, is pilloried as a heretic and revered as the Messiah, and wreaks havoc on the conventional order, Jewish and Christian alike, with scandalous rumours of his sect's secret rituals and the spread of his increasingly iconoclastic beliefs.

The story of Frank -- a real historical figure around whom mystery and controversy swirl to this day -- is the perfect canvas for the genius and unparalleled reach of Olga Tokarczuk. Narrated through the perspectives of his contemporaries -- those who revere him, those who revile him, the friend who betrays him, the lone woman who sees him for what he is -- The Books of Jacob captures a world on the cusp of precipitous change, searching for certainty and longing for transcendence.


        After reading more than a dozen pages, I had the strange inkling I am out of my depth here. It was not the length, that didn't daunt me. I am used to devouring thick volumes of historical fiction and this looked like another adventure. But Olga Tokarczuk had other ideas. There is no wonder this is a favourite pick for the award committees. If literary criticism asks us to be active readers questioning the hegemony, then this novel makes sure that we go through the promise.
        The author always keeps us from getting immersed in the story. The moment we get attached to one character's viewpoint, another is introduced and the string is broken. Clearly, this is not a comfort read rather it takes up a large chunk of your brain and energy. The first hundred pages don't even make a mention of Jacob. Pace is restored once his story comes alive through other characters associated with his life.
        It is definitely a strange story, one we would have written off as the idiosyncracies of a creative brain, if not for its historical basis. Jacob Frank succeeds in creating ripples among Jews and Christians alike with his proclamation as Messiah, rejection of the Talmud and licentious rituals. Not a pleasant story and the author's use of magic realism just adds to the strangeness of it. 
        The novel in the end makes us wonder about history. Are we really learning lessons from it or does it only sow the seeds of discord?

Meet the author:

Olga Tokarczuk is one of Poland's most celebrated and beloved authors, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize, as well as her country's highest literary honor, the Nike. She is the author of eight novels and two short story collections, and has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Monday, 6 March 2023

Total Creative Control - Joanna Chambers & Sally Malcolm (#Review)

Date of Reading: 3/3/2023
Authors: Joanna Chambers & Sally Malcolm
Publication Year: 2021
Rating: 5/5

About the book:

Sunshine PA, meet Grumpy Boss... When fanfic writer Aaron Page landed a temp job with the creator of hit TV show, Leeches, it was only meant to last a week. Three years later, Aaron's still there...

It could be because he loves the creative challenge. It could be because he's a huge Leeches fanboy. It's definitely not because of Lewis Hunter, his extremely demanding, staggeringly rude...and breathtakingly gorgeous boss.

Is it?

Lewis Hunter grew up the hard way and fought for everything he's got. His priority is the show, and personal relationships come a distant second. Besides, who needs romance when you have a steady stream of hot men hopping in and out of your bed?

His only meaningful relationship is with Aaron, his chief confidante and indispensable assistant. And no matter how appealing he finds Aaron's cute boy-next-door charms, Lewis would never risk their professional partnership just to scratch an itch.

But when Lewis finds himself trapped at a hilariously awful corporate retreat, Aaron is his only friend and ally. As the professional lines between them begin to blur, their simmering attraction starts to sizzle

... And they're both about to get burned.


        As an ardent fan of 'Enlightenment' series, I am all too familiar with the style of Joanna Chambers. Still, I was skeptical of her shift from the regency era to the contemporary and that too as a collaboration. No wonder it was on my TBR for so long. It is a recent review I chanced upon on one of my Facebook groups (gushing about how amazing it is) that propelled me to finally give it a chance. So this review is my paying it forward. Dear reader, do not make the same mistake I did by nearly skipping over this wonderful story.
        Good slow-burn romances with the right amount of angst are always hard to come by. That is exactly why this felt like unearthing a treasure. Lewis and Aaron, boss and PA, could be cliche characters, but under the deft hands of Chambers and Malcolm, they have gained a new sheen. Their banter makes you pine for more and the couple's chemistry is just off the charts. The setting that revolves around the hit TV show 'Leeches' merges so perfectly with the storyline that I am left with no more words of praise.
        If you have a penchant for mm romances, indulge yourself a little bit. This hilarious story will leave you wanting more.

Meet the authors:

Joanna Chambers has a day job and family but manages to find time to write by not cleaning the house or watching television. She is shockingly ill-informed about popular culture. You can find her on Twitter being distracted, on Instagram being confused, and – most happily – in her FB group, Joanna’s Chamber, talking about reading and random stuff with her reader pals.

Sally Malcolm was bitten by the m/m romance bug in 2016 and hasn’t looked back. It’s fair to say she’s obsessed with the genre. She has four contemporary m/m romances out, set in the fictional Long Island seaside town of New Milton. She's also the author of eight Stargate novels and novellas, including the hit "Apocalypse" trilogy. She has penned four Stargate audio dramas for Big Finish Productions, including Stargate SG-1: "An Eye for an Eye" starring Michael Shanks, Claudia Black, and Cliff Simon. Sally lives in South West London.

Monday, 20 February 2023

Song of Silver, Flame Like Night - Amélie Wen Zhao (Review)

Date of Reading: 1/2/2023
Author: Amélie Wen Zhao
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
Publication Date: February 2, 2023
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

About the book:

In a fallen kingdom, one girl carries the key to discovering the secrets of her nation’s past—and unleashing the demons that sleep at its heart. An epic fantasy series inspired by the mythology and folklore of ancient China.

Once, Lan had a different name. Now she goes by the one the Elantian colonizers gave her when they invaded her kingdom, killed her mother, and outlawed her people’s magic. She spends her nights as a songgirl in Haak’gong, a city transformed by the conquerors, and her days scavenging for what she can find of the past. Anything to understand the strange mark burned into her arm by her mother in her last act before she died.

The mark is mysterious—an untranslatable Hin character—and no one but Lan can see it. Until the night a boy appears at her teahouse and saves her life.

Zen is a practitioner—one of the fabled magicians of the Last Kingdom. Their magic was rumoured to have been drawn from the demons they communed with. Magic believed to be long lost. Now it must be hidden from the Elantians at all costs.

When Zen comes across Lan, he recognizes what she is: a practitioner with a powerful ability hidden in the mark on her arm. He’s never seen anything like it—but he knows that if there are answers, they lie deep in the pine forests and misty mountains of the Last Kingdom, with an order of practitioning masters planning to overthrow the Elantian regime.

Both Lan and Zen have secrets buried deep within—secrets they must hide from others, and secrets that they themselves have yet to discover. Fate has connected them, but their destiny remains unwritten. Both hold the power to liberate their land. And both hold the power to destroy the world.


        As a hardcore wuxia/xianxia fan, it was no surprise I was drawn to this story. Demons, qi-based magic and colonialism -- it has everything to keep you enthralled from the very beginning. The presence of Elantian colonisers will definitely give you some "Poppy War" vibes, but the similarity ends there. The grim dark milieu slowly changes as the plot moves onto the territories still untouched by Elantians and the mystery of an ancient force beckons us.
        Lan's life itself is the greatest mystery. A song girl with a seal on her arm that is only visible to her. The first book in this series is all about her quest to know her past, understand who she is and find her destiny. In Zen she finds an ally, a friend and a lover who can guide her to the world of practitioners.  With secrets unfolding one after another, we cannot find a dull moment in the story. 
        If I have to point out some drawbacks, then the first one will be the romance between Lan and Zen. That sizzling chemistry we imagine . . . that is not really there. Hopefully, the sequel will remedy that to some extent. The Demon Gods were another dilemma. I know the plotline supports Len's point of view, but it is hard to resist Zen's reasoning. Shouldn't the Demons be used against the Elantians? Why should their people suffer under foreign rule when they can be liberated by a power that may or may not cause disaster? Well, I guess the second instalment of the series has a lot to answer for. Can't wait to read it.

Meet the author:

Amélie Wen Zhao(赵雯)was born in Paris and grew up in Beijing, where she spent her days reenacting tales of legendary heroes, ancient kingdoms and lost magic at her grandmother’s courtyard house. She attended college in the United States and now resides in New York City, working as a finance professional by day and a fantasy author by night. In her spare time, she loves to travel with her family in China, where she’s determined to walk the rivers and lakes of old just like the practitioners in her novels do.