Book Review: Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

The cover design for Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam is absolutely stunning, so much so that it whet my curiosity about the book. When I read the blurb, I was intrigued enough to listen to a online presentation on the book. I loved the discussion of the two authors – so interesting – and was delighted when I was told I had won an ARC of the book.

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

My Thoughts:

I loved this book so much that I could not put it down and read the work in one sitting! The story is written in verse and packs quite a punch. While reading, I heard the voice of the main character, Amal, and sensed the rollercoaster of his emotions as he went through his experience – one which certainly brought up emotions in myself as I read the story. This is a book that made me feel anger against the injustices that are experienced by young people like Amal – young people who are judged not for their actions but by the colour of their skin.

Amal is a character that grows in the story and who experiences a range of emotions. Not only have Zoboi & Salaam have created a person who young men like Amal can relate to; they have also created one who represents the injustices experienced by this group of young men. What I like about this story as well is that it is a thought-provoking one: it encourages readers to think about social injustice and to become more aware of prejudices that exist in our society.

I recommend this book for any person to read – not only young adults. It is a novel that would be a perfect springboard for intense discussion on social justice; and the way in which art can be used as a way not only to express this injustice but as a vehicle to recognise it.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 134th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell was the second novel I had been accepted for on Netgalley. I chose to apply for this one as fantasy is my favourite genre and I was intrigued by the blurb.

Publishing Date: 1 September 2020

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, LGBT

Blurb:

When a country is held in thrall to a vicious, despotic king, it’s up to one woman to take him down.

Long ago, Queen Mirantha vanished. King Karolje claimed it was an assassination by a neighboring king, but everyone knew it was a lie. He had Disappeared her himself.

But after finding the missing queen’s diary, Anza—impassioned by her father’s unjust execution and inspired by Mirantha’s words—joins the resistance group to overthrow the king. When an encounter with Prince Esvar thrusts her into a dangerous game of court politics, one misstep could lead to a fate worse than death.

Esvar is the second son to an evil king. Trapped under his thumb and desperate for a way out, a chance meeting with Anza gives him the opportunity to join the resistance. Together, they might have the leverage to move against the king—but if they fail, their deaths could mean a total loss of freedom for generations to follow.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed the storytelling of this novel as it explores the corruption of kingship and the resistance to its corruption. Resistance as a concept is also explored and is shown to take many additional forms: resistance within the corrupt system as well as resistance against the temptation to embrace the corruption. Throughout the novel, the author is making a commentary on ruling and governance; and how easily a ruler can be swayed by the desire to hold on tightly to power.

While reading the story, I was often reminded of Mao Tse Tung’s purging of the intelligentsia and of knowledge as a way to control the populace. I hoped early on in the novel that the knowledge that had been hidden in the form of library closures and burning of texts would see the light of day.

My favourite character was definitely Anza – a woman who puts herself in danger for her beliefs. She is steadfast and loyal; and does not give up despite her personal losses. There were also other characters in the novel who grew on me; characters who played an important part in the telling of the story.

I enjoyed this novel and will now be on the lookout for other stories written by this author.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 102nd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: How to Live on the Edge by Sarah Lynn Scheerger

I was chosen by the Booksparks team to read and review How to Live on the Edge by Sarah Lynn Scheerger for their pop-up tour.

Publication Date: 4 August 2020

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

Eighteen-year-old Cayenne barely remembers her mother, who died of breast cancer when Cayenne was four. The women in her family have a history of dying young. Cayenne figures she’ll meet the same fate, so she might as well enjoy life now, engaging in death-defying risks like dodging trains and jumping off cliffs with her boyfriend.

When Cayenne receives a series of video messages her mother made for her before dying, she isn’t sure she wants them. Her aunt Tee has been her true mother figure. But then Aunt Tee tests positive for a BRCA gene mutation–the one that doomed Cayenne’s mom–and decides to get a mastectomy to reduce her chances of developing cancer. As Cayenne helps her aunt prepare for the surgery, she finds herself drawn to her mother’s messages, with their musings on life, love, and perseverance. For the first time, Cayenne starts to question what it truly means to live life to the fullest, even when death might be written into her DNA. 

My Thoughts:

How To Live on the Edge is a thought provoking novel that encourages the reader to think about cancer, grief, and the chance to prevent the disease. The novel references the BRCA gene mutation for cancer and explores the option of preventative surgery by having a mastectomy. The suggested surgery is controversial and the novel does acknowledge this.

When I read the first few chapters of this novel, I was reminded of the book P.S. I Love You because Cayenne and her sister watch the videos that their dying mother had left for them to view. As in Ahern’s novel, Scheerger explores the grief experienced by the loved ones who have been left behind. In How To Live On The Edge, however, the manifestation of the grief is explored many years after the actual death.

I found this novel to be an interesting read – even though I did not appreciate Cayenne’s reckless behaviour. I could understand, though, the reasons for such behaviour. During the novel, I saw a growth in Cayenne’s character as she realised some of the reasons for her behaviour and the fact that she was pushing her loved ones away. I also appreciated the topic of breast cancer – a topic that is often seen as taboo. I like that this novel tackles the subject head-on and explores the preventative treatment suggested for this type of cancer.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 103rd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis was the third novel I had been accepted for on Netgalley by Simon & Schuster Canada. I chose to apply for this one as the novel is a science fiction one and I was intrigued by the blurb.

Publication Date: 4 August 2020

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction, Young Adult Fantasy, LGBT

Blurb:

First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.

Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.

My Thoughts:

I loved this diverse read and see it as a prime example not only of the fantasy genre, but also of science fiction. What I enjoy most about this genre is that often the author is expressing a commentary on the society in which we live – and Lewis is no exception. She explores how a group of people are silenced – both a race, and a gender. In the case of women, their voices are literally taken away; in the case of the marginalised group their rights and ability to speak out are taken away from them by poverty and disempowerment. The author makes references to colonisation and hints at the injustices that it brought about.

In The First Sister, Lewis explores the power the use of technology brings to a group of people; as well as how this power is abused. Linked to this exploration is the corruption of power and how those in power use it to further their own ends. I suspect this exploration will continue in the next book of the series and be expanded even further. I look forward to seeing where Lewis will take this theme.

I enjoyed getting to know Lewis’ characters; and seeing the way in which they interact with one another. I see, too, the potential for their growth which will, I am sure, be expressed more in the following novels. I appreciate the fact that the characters embrace a diverse group of people giving the novel an added richness.

The action of the story ends nicely but the reader is left with some unanswered questions – questions which certainly encourage me to be on the lookout for the next novel in the series. I enjoyed the themes explored in The First Sister as well as the characters. The novel is expertly written and I found it difficult to put aside. If you enjoy fantasy and science fiction novels, this is a novel for you. In addition to reading about a futuristic world, you will also be encouraged to think on our social practices and what is done to silence large groups of people.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 107th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Shine by Jessica Jung

When my Kindle Paperwhite finally arrived (after being sent back to the factory undelivered), I had a difficult time connecting it to the WiFi. After struggling with it, I turned to help: from my daughter and some YouTube videos. Finally we got the device connected and I could read the first e-ARC that I had been approved for on Netgalley.

Publication Date: 29 September 2020

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Blurb:

What would you give for a chance to live your dreams?

For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment—one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?

Not so much. As the dark scandals of an industry bent on controlling and commodifying beautiful girls begin to bubble up, Rachel wonders if she’s strong enough to be a winner, or if she’ll end up crushed… Especially when she begins to develop feelings for K-pop star and DB golden boy Jason Lee. It’s not just that he’s charming, sexy, and ridiculously talented. He’s also the first person who really understands how badly she wants her star to rise.

Get ready as Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of Korea’s most famous girl group, Girls Generation, takes us inside the luxe, hyper-color world of K-pop, where the stakes are high, but for one girl, the cost of success—and love—might be even higher. It’s time for the world to see: this is what it takes to SHINE.

My Thoughts:

I chose to read this young adult novel because it features K-pop – music which often plays in our home. My daughter often shares the new music with me – and shows me the amazing dance videos. The storyline of Shine also intrigued me and I was curious to read some background to this popular music.

I loved this story: the K-pop references, the hint of romance, the family connection, and especially the growth of a young girl into a confident young woman who learns to take what she wants in the world she has chosen.

Yung paints a realistic picture of the K-pop world. She shows us what it takes to succeed; and she shows us the inequality that exists between the sexes. Her well written story grabbed my interest from the first few pages and kept it until the end.

This novel is the perfect read for those who love Korean music. It is also a suitable read for for young girls looking for a read that embraces a young woman coming into her own.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 95th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: May Day by Josie Jaffrey

I have enjoyed Josie Jaffrey’s writing in the past and when she was looking for reader’s to review her latest novel, May Day, I sent in my application. I was happy to be accepted and read the novel as soon as it had arrived.

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb:

If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective. Just maybe not this one.

It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake.
When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does.
To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die.
Body bags on standby.

May Day is the first book in Josie Jaffrey’s Seekers series, an urban fantasy series set in Oxford, England. 

My Thoughts:

I have enjoyed Jaffrey’s vampire stories in the past and looked forward to reading this one which is a little different from her usual as it describe the case of a Seeker – otherwise known as a detective. The author blends perfectly the world of solving a mystery with that of a vampire story. The mystery part of the novel was so well done that I often forgot that I was reading a vampire story!

Jack Valentine is the star of the novel – and I love her! She is sassy, brash, and takes no nonsense. I enjoyed seeing a strong female character in the story – one who makes mistakes and does her best to fix them. Another character that I enjoyed was Killian Drake. I hope to see more of him in other stories alongside Valentine as the connection between the two of them makes for interesting reading.

As with all the other vampire novels that Jaffrey has published, May Day is a well written story with pacing that has been perfectly pitched. I was thankful that I read this one while on break as there was no need for me to begin working. Instead, I was able to sit on the sofa and complete this story in one sitting.

If you enjoy detective stories and are curious to see how vampires would fit into this scenario, pick up a copy of May Day. You may be surprised by how much you love it.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 89th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Teaser Tuesday: With the Fire on High

I picked up With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo for two reasons: I had heard it was an excellent story; and the cover is absolutely stunning. The story is about a teenage girl who fell pregnant when fourteen. It centres on a young girl, Emoni, who loves cooking and has a special talent for it. She is a child on the cusp of becoming a woman and she has to find her place in the world despite all the obstacles in her way.

I am currently reading this novel and would like to share with you an extract from the beginning of the story that resonated with me:

“I just take another bite of my sandwich, close my eyes, and savor, because I can’t think of a single way to make my life more how I imagine it, but I can imagine a hundred ways to make this sandwich better. And sometimes focusing on what you can control is the only way to lessen the pang in your chest when you think about the things you can’t.” (p28, Harper Teen, 2019)

I am enjoying this Young Adult novel that contains a positive story.

Would you open the pages of this novel?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel is the 92nd novel in this year’s book pledge. Teaser Tuesday is hosted by The Purple Booker.)

Book Review: The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

When browsing the publishers’ booths at the OLA Super Conference earlier this year, I happened upon The Betrothed by Kiera Cass. I had not read anything written by her but I had heard readers rave about her Selection series. I picked this ARC up in curiosity as I wanted to know what her writing is like.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Romance

Blurb:

When King Jameson declares his love for Lady Hollis Brite, Hollis is shocked—and thrilled. After all, she’s grown up at Keresken Castle, vying for the king’s attention alongside other daughters of the nobility. Capturing his heart is a dream come true.

But Hollis soon realizes that falling in love with a king and being crowned queen may not be the happily ever after she thought it would be. And when she meets a commoner with the mysterious power to see right into her heart, she finds that the future she really wants is one that she never thought to imagine.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed the old-world setting of the novel even though it is set in an environment that is not of this world; it is a setting that young readers this would enjoy. Life at Court is described, as are beautiful dresses and manners. The main character seems to be a social butterfly and not have any substance to her. It is for this reason that my interest, at the beginning of the novel, was not securely captured.

The Hollis falls in love. From the moment she realises that she is in love, Hollis has a choice which she needs to make. An it is from this moment that I realised the protagonist does have a sense of character. From the time Hollis makes a choice, I was drawn into the story and found it to be more interesting.

The Betrothed is the first in the series – and it reads as such. The book ends on a cliffhanger and reading the next novel is essential to knowing what happens in the story. The writing style is perfect for young girls who enjoy reading romance novels. They will feel a number of emotions when reading: awe, happiness, and sadness. I suspect, too, that they will see a woman who grows strong from her experience and who will work through obstacles to do what is right.

I am curious enough to pick up the next novel in the series – I want to want to know how the story will continue. And hopefully the second novel in the series will capture my interest from the first page.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 48th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

When at the OLA Super Conference earlier on in the year, I picked up Thorn by Intisar Khanani out of curiosity. I am always interested in reading fantasy novels and this one contained a retelling of a little known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Retellings

Blurb:

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

My thoughts:

I loved this novel and am not surprised that this Indie author’s work was picked up by a large publishing house. Thorn is a retelling of The Goose Girl, a fairy tale that had been written by the Brothers Grimm. Khanani does an excellent job at recreating the story and putting her own twist on it.

Thorn is a commentary on the social structures that exist in our society; and the divide that exists between the rich and the poor. in addition, references are made to the abuse and treatment of women – and how often abuse is ignored. Through the depiction of women abuse, Khanani asks what is Law, and who is meant to benefit from it. This story is more than just about a girl and her experience in a foreign city.

Alyrra is a character who is well-developed and experiences growth i the story. Not only does she realise things about herself, but she also becomes more aware of her surroundings and of the way in which the society she lives in operates. She comes to realise, as well, that she has a responsibility to uphold the rights of its citizens; and that she can do her duty to society with the strength of others. I enjoyed reading of Alyrra’s growth and the path she takes to find her inner strength.

Thorn is an excellent example of the Fantasy genre and I would recommend reading it with no reservation.

PS: There is a short story at the end of the novel which shows how so much can be said in a few pages!

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 40th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Beckonng Shadow by Katharyn Blair

For my third audiobook since the stay-at-home mandate, I chose to listen to The Beckoning Shadow by Katharyn Blair. I chose the novel for a number of reasons: it is a fantasy, the cover is striking, and it was immediately available from the library.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Format: Audiobook

Blurb:

The Magicians meets Fight Club in this heart-stopping contemporary fantasy stand-alone about a teen girl with special powers who seeks redemption through a dangerous tournament that guarantees the winner a chance to undo the past. Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and The Young Elites, and written by debut author Katharyn Blair.

Vesper Montgomery can summon your worst fear and turn it into a reality-but she’s learned the hard way that it’s an addictive and dangerous power. One wrong move and you could hurt someone you love.

But when she earns a spot in the Tournament of the Unraveling, where competitors battle it out for a chance to rewrite the past, Vesper finally has a shot to reverse the mistakes that have changed her forever. She turns to Sam Hardy, a former MMA fighter who’s also carrying a tragedy he desperately wants to undo. However, helping heal Sam’s heart will mean breaking her own, and the competition forces her to master her powers-powers she has been terrified of since they destroyed her life.

My thoughts:

I am slowly being converted to the enjoyment of audiobooks as I can enjoy the stories that have been written by authors while being creative myself (I listened to this one while working on my bullet journal). This audiobook, however, introduced me to the fact that the narrator’s voice does have an impact on my appreciation of the story.

The voice of the narrator for this audiobook I found to be too forceful. Her tone often felt aggressive and I felt myself wondering whether I would have received the impression of aggression if I had read the text of the novel instead of listening to it. There were times, too, when I felt the narrator did not pause at the correct moments in her reading of the text.

While listening to the story, I felt the main character came off as whiny – and the storytelling to be a bit repetitive. Again I wonder if I would have felt this way if I had read the novel myself. I felt I could not connect with the main character as, on some level, I had the sense that she was immature and did not grow at all during the story.

The Beckoning Shadow was an ordinary story for me and did not capture my imagination. It is not a story I will listen to again and am not that interested in reading/listening to the sequel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 38th novel in my book pledge for 2020)