Matchmaking Grandmas and White Men in Kurta: a Review of The Arrangment by Sonya Lalli

The Arrangement
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Orion
Publication date: August 10th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 352

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Blurb:

You can’t choose who you fall for…but it helps if there’s a list

Raina, twenty-nine, is still unmarried much to the dismay of her family who think that by now she should have been married in a dream Indian wedding. The pressure to settle down reaches new heights when her grandmother, Nani, decides to play matchmaker in order to find her the perfect man.

Eager not to disappoint her family, Raina goes along with the plan but when the love of her life returns – ex-boyfriend Dev – she’s forced to confront her true feelings and decide what she really wants.

Funny, feelgood and heart-warming, The Arrangement shines a light on being single in your twenties, societal and cultural expectation of women, and modern day arranged marriages. Perfect summer read for fans of Ayisha Malik’s Sofia Khan is Not Obliged and Aziz Ansari’s Master of None.

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I was pretty excited to receive a review copy of The Arrangement by debut author Sonya Lalli. From the blurb, it reminded me a lot of When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. And I admit, another unconventional Bollywood love story sounds like a great light read.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. I was really hoping it’d be as funny and smart as When Dimple Met Rishi or even Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik. But it fell kind of flat for me and I didn’t really connect with the main character Raina.

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There were some great things to this book. I think the writing was fun to read in an overall. I didn’t feel bored with Sonya’s style of writing. The Arrangement started out alright to be honest. We meet soon-to-be 30 year old Raina, a bank investment analyst in the middle of meeting a potential husband on a blind date set up by her Nani (grandmother). I like how light and fun the book started. And I liked Raina in the beginning. She seemed determined and love her family with such fierce and loyal compassion.

Yes, we’ve all heard of the second generation Asian female who works hard and finds herself single, looking for a husband. Or at the very least, finds herself being set up on blind dates by relatives who feel she should be looking for a husband. And we love reading about them. Because there are so many women like Raina. And the numbers just keep increasing as more and more young people choose not to get married. And it just drives the older generation crazy.

To be honest, The Arrangement is a great book to initiate the conversation surrounding arranged marriages and societal pressures on millennials to get married.

While arranged marriages are more prominent among South Asians, what Raina goes through, emotionally and psychologically through her grandmother’s matchmaking attempts reflects a realistic situation on how stressful being in that situation is.

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Now let’s get into parts of the book that I really didn’t enjoy reading. Raina herself is a character I couldn’t relate to or like as the book progresses. As a 25-year-old engineer who’s single and figuring life out, it really wasn’t a reassurance to read about Raina: a 29-year-old bank investment analyst still hung up on a guy she dumped 2 years ago. To see her passionless about her job on top on pining after her ex when he returns to Toronto, when obviously he didn’t give 2 hoots about her, was nothing short of pathetic. Now, while I understand that most adults do not have their life together, I did not expect Sonya to write about a weak character who believes that her worth lies in the man she desperately is in love with.

Sorry, but these sort of characters are just not my cup of tea.

While Raina is not the first character, or human being, to chase after a guy who doesn’t love her, it would have been a salvageable book for me if the plot and supporting characters had an impact on Raina. But unfortunately, we don’t see much of the characters. And I think this is a common problem with debut books. They focus too much on the main character that they forget readers just love the friends and family as much as the main character.

Nani was such a great loving, albeit a bit crazy, grandmother. I wished we had more of her background and her relationship with Raina’s mom to read about. Even Raina’s friendship with her cousins and best friend, seems very superficial.

The plot didn’t really have anything strong to tether itself to, and the ending was all over the place. We find Raina redeeming herself a bit, and I don’t want to give too much away, but I felt the ending was too rushed and I didn’t get the final message from Raina. It wasn’t even a cliffhanger that we got, but rather an abrupt crash into nothingness.

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Overall, this wasn’t the best diverse book for me. There are definitely loads of other diverse books that we can read and fall in love with. As much as I wanted to love a book written by a POC writer, I couldn’t get myself to be on board with Raina’s immature shenanigans.

Do yourself a favour and pick up Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (general fiction) or When Dimple Met Rishi (YA) instead!

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review!

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Whichwood MY Blog Tour: a Review of Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi + Giveaway! 

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Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 14th, 2017
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Penguin Random House Global
Page Count: 360

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Pre-order from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:
A new adventure about a girl who is fated to wash the bodies of the dead in this companion to Furthermore.

Our story begins on a frosty night…

Laylee can barely remember the happier times before her beloved mother died. Before her father, driven by grief, lost his wits (and his way). Before she was left as the sole remaining mordeshoor in the village of Whichwood, destined to spend her days washing the bodies of the dead and preparing their souls for the afterlife. It’s become easy to forget and easier still to ignore the way her hands are stiffening and turning silver, just like her hair, and her own ever-increasing loneliness and fear.

But soon, a pair of familiar strangers appears, and Laylee’s world is turned upside down as she rediscovers color, magic, and the healing power of friendship.

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I received an ARC of Whichwood in participation of the Whichwood Malaysian Book Tour! Thank you Penguin Random House Global for the opportunity to review this book. Be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of this post! 

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I haven’t read Middle Grade in a while and I must say Whichwood blew my mind away with the writing and world-building alongside the many wonderful characters we meet in the book.

Whichwood is the companion novel to Furthermore which was released last year. Now if you haven’t read Furthermore, fret not. You can still enjoy Whichwood just like I did! The book has so many helpful footnotes whenever Furthermore is mentioned, to give you a very brief insight or to remind you of the book in case you’ve read it.

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The first thing I loved about Whichwood was how wonderful its characters, Laylee especially, were written throughout. Never have I met such a fierce, determined and strong female MC in Laylee in a middle grade book. We need more characters like Laylee, who at the age 13, is going through so many things in her life: a mother who’s passed, a father gone crazy from his grief over his wife’s death, and having to bear the utter loneliness of being the sole morshedoor in Whichwood.

We see Laylee in all of her strengths and weaknesses, the reasons behind her cautious guarded behavior and how she perceives the two ‘familiar’ characters who come to help her. These characters are Alice and Oliver, apparently the protagonists of Furthermore. The three of them form an unlikely friendship bond that gets tested as Laylee becomes sicker from washing all the dead bodies without any rest.

The friendship theme is very strong in Whichwood and I think that’s what makes this book appealing to young readers. When you’re at that age trying to understand the world around you and its inhabitants, Whichwood provides you an insight into how you’re not really alone in your struggles. Every one needs friends like Alice, Oliver and even Benyamin! And the endless lengths they go to in order to save Laylee just makes you love them even more.

“Laylee was thirteen years old, yes, but she had lived, she had loved, she had suffered – and her age was no reason for her feelings to be so easily and carelessly diminished. She was not lesser for being younger; her hurts were no less important, her feelings no less relevant”

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Like the characters in this book, Whichwood has a very strong story and the world building attached to it is great for young readers. With a very mysterious narrator, they take us on this wonderful journey across Whichwood where it’s detailed enough that the scenes depicted are easily imagined. And you’ll be amazed at the beautiful world of Whichwood that Tahereh has created. It was even mentioned that Whichwood is more magnificent than Furthermore! With beautiful winters and bright colours among the living an dead, this book captured my attention with the beauty of its details.

Asides from that, the plot really grasps you into the book, leaving you wanting more at the end of each chapter. Whichwood had a pretty complex storyline dealing with family, child abuse, friendship and social awareness towards orphans. Every twist and turn in the book brought out a depth into Laylee’s pain and desire to be loved and lead a normal life. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but expect this: unexpected twists and turns where you discover more of Whichwood with every chapter and how Laylee develops to become stronger than ever.

I think the book did an incredible job in making us understand Laylee and her struggles and strengths in being a mordeshoor. And how the story tied her family and her friends together was very beautiful.

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Overall, Whichwood is a wonderful read for young readers and anyone else who would be interested in reading it. Tahereh is a wonderful writer with the brilliant capacity for story telling. I cannot wait for more people to read and enjoy Whichwood!

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Click here to enter a giveaway for you chance to win a signed hardback copy of Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi!

And be sure to check out the other blogs on this blog tour! #WhichwoodMYBlogTour

Dragon-Slayers and An Epic Rebellion: a Review of The Last Namsara by Kriten Ciccarelli

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Genre:
Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: October 3rd, 2017
Format: ARC Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 416

Series: Iskari #1

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Blurb:

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness–and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari–a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.


Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend–a slave boy from her betrothed’s household–Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

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First off, let me begin by saying how much I truly enjoyed The Last Namsara. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this debut novel by Ciccarelli and reading this did not disappoint. There are few debut novels that can capture my attention so quickly like The Last Namsara.

“The old heroes were called Namsara after a beloved god, he said. So she would be called Iskari, after a deadly one.”

The Last Namsara has all the right amounts of female bad-assery, characters of both royalty and slavery descent, action scenes full of suspense and lots and lots of dragons. Oh the beautiful dragons. Those amazing creatures whom Asha, our main protagonists, kills as her job.

I loved how this book progressed in terms of its characters and the plot. Never did I feel bored while reading this and the impeccable writing made it all the more enjoyable.

One of the things I truly enjoyed in The Last Namsara is its wide range of characters bringing so many depths to the book. You have Asha, the dragon slayer, also known as the Iskari (Death-Bringer). Her brother, Dax, skral-blooded cousin, Safire, ruthless misogynistic bethroted promised to her since the age of 8, Jarek, and her father, the Dragon King. I found each character easily imagined and it was very easy to love Safire, hate Jarek and fall in love with Dax. The only thing I wished differently for the characters was for us to see more of these supporting characters. While I understand the first book tends to focus more of the protagonist, I think readers would have enjoyed reading more about Safire and Dax.

We definitely see more of Torwin, Jarek’s slave who eventually befriends Asha and shows her a different side to the slaves which leads to Asha having the biggest character development throughout the book. And I’m very happy the author did such a good job on it!

As for Asha, the plot of The Last Namsara played really nicely into allowing us to see her as this strong yet scared girl who’s haunted by a past mistake. With her fierce determination to redeem herself in the eyes of those who fear her, she takes on the task to hunt down The First Dragon, and consequently destroying all the old stories and the tragedies they bring.

As the story progresses, we see that what Asha previously believed and held strongly to may not be the entire truth. And how she opens her heart to the truth and learn to love was a brilliant journey to undertake. From an unemotional, fiercely loyal, strong female, we see her develop more loving emotions towards her brother, cousin and the truth of her past and the people around her.

“Iskari let others define her because she thought she didn’t have a choice. Because she thought she was alone and unloved.”

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I like how a lot of difficult and troubling issues were tackled in the book. From slavery to misogynist characters, the ending really addressed all of these that gave what the story needed: a strong voice to fight wrongs and let rights prevail. I was initially troubled by how disturbing the people of Firgaard is and Asha’s beliefs in the superiority of The Dragon King and people of Firgaard above everyone else. But how the story develops and what she learns about the real world allowed this book to have a life of its own.

The twists and turns at every corner is this book was mindblowing! Every few pages, I found myself surprised at the plot development, and how amazing the characters turn out to be. It wasn’t written in a rushed way where everything was crammed within 300 pages, but rather the plot had subtle hits which all adds up to the epic climax at the end. I applaud the author for writing, what seems to me, is a great plot.

Not to mention the dragons written in The Last Namsara were just so regal and majestic! Dragons come to life in The Last Namsara and we see them in all their glory despite Asha’s mission to slay them all. We see a side of them rarely seen in fantasy books and I love how well the author has made its readers connect with the dragons after Asha starts hunting Kozu, The First Dragon. For mythical creatures, it was amazing to feel how real the dragons were in the book.

Overall, The Last Namsara had all the right elements to make a first debut novel in a series shine. Great characters, great plots and amazing writing that grips you right from the start, this is a book you don’t want to miss out. .

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for proving an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

 

The Heir of Sounis Returns: a Review of A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

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Genre:
Fantasy
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: February 28th, 2017 (originally published in March 5th 2010)
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 312

Series: The Queen’s Thief #4
#1: The Thief Review
#2: The Queen of Attolia Review
#3: The King of Attolia Review

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Blurb:
After an attempted assassination and kidnapping, Sophos, heir to the throne of Sounis, disappears. Those who care for him—including the thief Eugenides and the Queen of Eddis—are left to wonder if he is alive and if they will ever see him again.

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Warning: Spoilers if you haven’t read the previous 3 books in this series.

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Don’t get me wrong, I think Megan Whalen Turner is an amazing writer. But A Conspiracy of Kings was probably my least favourite book in the series so far. That said, I still think the writing and plot is amazing. Not as amazing as The King of Attolia, but a great read nonetheless.

The story starts in a whole new different setting from King of Attolia. The previous three books shared a similar setting despite being told from different POVs. But A Conspiracy of Kings is set in an entirely new location where we are once again reunited with Sophos, the sole heir of Sounis.

I love how Turner starts each book with a surprising event. And A Conspiracy of Kings did not disappoint. I am reminded again of how brilliant Turner writes and spins such intricate political plot twists into her books.

“All my life they had made choices for me, and I had resented it. Now the choice was mine, and once it was made, I would have no right to blame anyone else for the consequences. Loss of that privilege, to blame others, unexpectedly stung.” 

We meet again with Sophos, who is obviously alive in this book. From last we saw him in The Thief, was this insecure and scared prince heir who loves books and knowledge. He was at such a discomfort in being the sole heir to his uncle Sounis, that we can’t predict how things turn out for him in A Conspiracy of Kings. But I think Sophos had the biggest character development throughout the entire series. His transformation in this book was very well-written and it adds to the depth of The Queen’s Thief series’ entire plot.

We see the other cast of characters scattered around the book after the first half. And it makes you realise how much you’ve missed them from the previous 3 books. You’ll be happy to see Attolia, Gen and Eddis get involved with Sophos’ role in the book, setting the plot for some very important scenes to unfold in this book. It’s great to see them again all together, making plans to save Sounis and evade the Medes.

“If I couldn’t be Eddis, I would be Attolia. If they needed to see my uncle in me, then I would show him to them. And I would take Attolia’s advice because if I identified my enemy and destroyed him, Sounis would be safe.”

Overall, A Conspiracy of Kings was a pleasant read. With Turner, you’ll never know what’s really going to happen next. It was wonderful to plunge back into Turner’s world of intricate political machinations in which the enemies and allies are never quite clear. Though, I am still frustrated with the ending in A Conspiracy of Kings and cannot believe Turner left her readers with that for seven years before Thick as Thieves came out. And I’m still not too sure how Thick as Thieves will be for me. It’s from the Mede’s POV and none from the characters we’ve come to know and love.

Have you read any of the books in this series and what did you think?

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Down the Infinite Spiral: a Review of Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Hardback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 286

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Blurb:
It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.

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“Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.” 

Turtles All The Way Down was one of my anticipated reads for fall. I was super stoked when I heard John Green was going to publish a new book, 7 years after The Fault in Our Stars was published. I know John Green can be a hit or miss when it comes to his books. My favourites from him were The Fault in Our Stars, Will Grayson Will Grayson, and An Abundance of Katherines while the rest of his books were lukewarm for me. So naturally I felt a bit apprehensive for Turtles All The Way Down.

I think it’s safe to say how much I enjoyed Turtles All The Way Down! That said, I think this book may have been better suited to be categorized in General Fiction rather than Young Adult just for the sake of gaining more audience to such an important topic. The vibe I felt while finishing this book was so deep and meaningful that I think adults would have enjoyed it just as much as young adults. But I totally understand why this book was solely for young adults. Mental health is such a big issue that’s slowly gaining more awareness through important books such as Turtles All The Way Down. And getting more young adults to read books like these and know they’re not alone is very important.

Ultimately Turtles All The Way Down is about a 16-year-old girl, Aza, who has anxiety and OCD. She experiences psychic pains in her thoughts where she feels she can’t escape them, thus resulting in obsessive behaviour such as cleaning a wound on her finger and reapplying Band-Aid several times a day in an attempt to control these possessive thoughts she has.

Turtles All The Way Down doesn’t really have a plot and that whole “chasing a billionaire fugitive” is just a backstory for Aza and her mental health condition. We get into Aza’s head a lot so don’t expect any phenomenal character development or even a great cast of characters because that’s not what Turtles All The Way Down is about.

“The worst part of being truly alone is you think about all the times you wished that everyone would just leave you be. Then they do, and you are left being, and you turn out to be terrible company.” 

This book is hands down disturbing. But it is necessarily so. Not many people can understand the anxiety of psychic pains in which we have no control over. I have had experiences with anxiety back in college, but I choose not to disclose it here. All I want to say is, it is difficult to explain to people how lonely it gets when your thoughts take control of your self of being to the point you have no idea what to do next. And reading about Aza and her possessive thoughts help us a little in understanding what a difficult experience that is.

“One of the challenges with pain–physical or psychic–is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.”

Having said that, I found it so easy to read Turtles All The Way Down because I could relate to Aza so much. And why it’s so important to understand that sometimes your thoughts are not entirely your own. How do you be yourself when it’s a person you don’t like being and have no control over?

Turtles All The Way Down faces the underlying issue of how anxiety can be so easily concealed in the public eye. We see Aza’s friends knowing little of her condition but not understanding it entirely. They don’t ask what it’s like for her and how does it hurt. They assume she’s selfish and overreacting when they don’t know what it’s really like inside her head and how terrifying those thought processes are.

“True terror isn’t being scared; it’s not having a choice on the matter.” 

Nothing is really straight forward in Turtles All The Way Down and I like how this is so representative of living with mental health conditions. The friendship between Aza and Davis feels so incomplete and lacking. But I think from the beginning it was made obvious that this novel isn’t really about love. Or even about friends and family. It’s about Aza and her own self. So kudos to John Green for not romanticizing mental health!

Turtles All The Way Down is not your typical YA book, and I love it the more so because of it. It’s raw and honest, and being an #OwnVoices book in which John Green opens up about his experience with anxiety gives Turtles All The Way Down an added reason to be read. This book can be heavy and a bit slow in some parts, but I have enjoyed every page that comes with it.

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Overall, this book has made it to one of my favourite John Green’s writings. And naturally, you are going to come across reviews on how cliche his philosophical proses are (much so like The Fault in Our Stars) and how cheesy his characters seem to be, but do at least consider reading Turtles All The Way Down if you want something different from the YA Contemporary shelf. And be prepared to enter Aza’s head….

“The problem with happy endings is that they’re either not really happy, or not really endings, you know? In real life, some things get better and some things get worse. And then eventually you die.” 

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Secrets Burned to the Ground: a Review of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
Publication date: September 7th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 336

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Blurb:

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

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“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” 

When I finished this book last night, I was speechless. I’ve heard so many rave reviews about this book from so many influential people in the book blogosphere (notably Reese Witherspoon’s RW Book Club!) So you can imagine how excited I was to receive a copy to review.

Little Fires Everywhere is such an apt novel that centers around complex family dynamics, small town politics and complicated mother-daughter relationships. It also deals with the question of what it means to really love through sacrifice, sheer will and fierce determination to do the right thing.

Little Fires Everywhere is my first Celeste Ng novel. I’ve always wanted to read Everything I Never Told You but never got around to it. Now I’m mentally kicking myself in the back for missing out on it because Ng’s writing is so amazingly well done. It’s the sort of writing that tethers you for hours before plunging you into an abyss that you willingly dive into. It’s so subtle in building that world and characters inside your head that by the end of the book, you’ll be left wanting more of it.

I don’t want to give too much away of the story line because I think Little Fires Everywhere is best read without knowing too much about it. We see friendships develop between the teenage kids of the Richardsons and Warrens and with an external POV, we really get to know each character more closely. I love the brilliant play of secrets from the past which impacts the present families and newfound secrets.

The characters are uniquely written in Little Fires Everywhere where each one struggles with being brought up a certain way and finding the right passage to be their selves unapologetically. We have Mia Warren is a single mom whose life passion as a photographer has taken her and Pearl, her daughter, across the states. And then her complete opposite is Elena Richardson, with her perfect 4 children settled in Shaker Heights, always following the rules and living an ideal suburban life. 2 very different mothers with different ways of raising their children but in the end, the book questions a lot what it takes to become the right mother for your children. And whether you get a second chance at being a great mother.

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” 

Little Fires Everywhere has the power to pull and tug you in so many different directions. You can’t help but to feel strongly for Mia as her story unfolds in the book, but you also appreciate Elena and how strongly she feels about doing the “right” thing for her household. The title of the book is so well-suited because in each character you meet in Little Fires Everywhere, there is a fire within them that you can unmistakably identify with. Every character is so profound and impactful towards the book’s unbelievably strong presence.

“Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”

Overall, Little Fires Everywhere is one of my favourite reads of 2017. Its rich content in family dynamics, complex characters and fierce motherly love is portrayed so well in this book. It’s rare to find a book that made me wish there was more to that ending. A highly recommended read from me!

Have you read this and what did you think about it?

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A Story That Tugs You Northward: a Review of The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

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Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Knope
Publication date: 1995
Format: Paperback
Source: Penguin Random House Malaysia
Page Count: 399

Series: His Dark Materials #1

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Blurb:
What Lyra likes best is “clambering over the College roofs with Roger the kitchen boy who was her particular friend, to spit plum stones on the heads of passing Scholars or to hoot like owls outside a window where a tutorial was going on, or racing through the narrow streets, or stealing apples from the market, or waging war.”

But Lyra’s carefree existence changes forever when she and her daemon, Pantalaimon, first prevent an assassination attempt against her uncle, the powerful Lord Asriel, and then overhear a secret discussion about a mysterious entity known as Dust.

Soon she and Pan are swept up in a dangerous game involving disappearing children, a beautiful woman with a golden monkey daemon, a trip to the far north, and a set of allies ranging from “gyptians“ to witches to an armor-clad polar bear.

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“We are all subject to the fates. But we must act as if we are not, or die of despair.” 

The Golden Compass is definitely a unique and interesting first installment to the highly-acclaimed His Dark Materials Trilogy. I’ve heard of this series for a while now and with the excitement surrounding The Book of Dust coming out on 19th October, there’s a lot of hype surrounding the original series. The Book of Dust is set in the world of His Dark Materials, so I’m pretty excited to start this series.

Right off the bat I have to say this fantasy series crosses between both young adult and adult fantasy genres. The way the story skips from childish language to subliminal messages buried within the plot was nothing short of amazing. While this may throw off some people as the writing style switches every so often, I personally found that this trait adds to the book’s appeal. Sure it was frustrating at times to read about an extensive description of a scene, but to have a precocious child like Lyra Balacqua simplify everything afterward helped a lot. So a fair warning to future readers: the writing can get long-winded and very descriptive (just like adult fantasy reads tend to do), but if you can get used to that sort of writing, then you’ll enjoy the plot and group of characters in The Golden Compass.

Speaking of characters, there was nothing short in the supply of characters written in this book. From armored bears, fierce and loyal Gyptians, to endearing daemons who are the reflections to a human soul, you’ll find something to love in each character. The only problem I had was the lack of depth the characters seem to have, asides from Lyra of course. While it was enjoyable to follow her plight to the North, I wish the other characters were written with more depth. I would have loved to know more background on Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel, and also more on Farder Coram and John Faa. I would have appreciated to have known where they originated and their intentions by the end of the book. Sure a couple of the characters’ persona were greatly revealed at the end of the book, but some were left hanging and I’m hoping they get more attention in the sequels.

On the other hand, the plot was very well written in my opinion. There have been countless discussions surrounding His Dark Materials and its subliminal messages about anti-Christianity or anti-organized religion for that matter. But you can definitely enjoy this book despite whatever faith you hold. The plot did get draggy in the first 200 pages but it picked up pretty quickly afterwards. We got to see Lyra quick and brilliant mind in saving the children from the North. We also got to see who (or what) these daemons really are and what they represent by the end of the book. There were a lot of unexpected twists and turns that gripped my attention. And while some scenes were very short-lived, I believe there is much potential in this series for the sequel to make up for.

On a side note, the fact that this book has been reviewed many times for its religious (or anti-religious) themes have been fascinating. I’ve become a bit obsessed in reading reviews about the book and the movie adaptation from other readers, Christians and non-Christians alike. Though no Biblical scenes were explicitly written about in this book, a certain religious conversation at the end of the book will leave you thinking what the author is trying to present through his characters.

I was a bit surprised to discover that this book was written for children when it would have suited more matured readers with its deep embedded messages. But I assure you as children with much simpler minds, they will still be able to enjoy this book for its great cast of characters and the amazing plot. Asides from that, I leave it up to you to read more on the religious themes set within the book yourself.

But let me just say, when I figured out the roles of daemons, Dust and Lord Asriel in their connection to the entire plot, things got a whole lot more impressive.

“Human beings can’t see anything without wanting to destroy it. That’s original sin. And I’m going to destroy it. Death is going to die.” 

Overall, I enjoyed The Golden Compass. Though a lot of descriptions and draggy plots were involved, I believe it was necessary to build the world of parallels for the sequels to take place in.

Have you read this trilogy and what did you think about it?

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Thank you Penguin Random House Malaysia for providing a copy in exchange of an honest review!