Finding Truth Without Words: a Review of Shtum by Jem Lester

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Genre:
General Fiction
Publisher: Orion
Publication date: January 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 313

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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:
Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.

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Shtum is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: A Book With a One Word Title

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It says that this book is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Shock of The Fall. Given that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both books, I couldn’t miss out on another amazing autism-centered book.

And Shtum did not disappoint.

Shtum, which means “voiceless” in Yiddish, is the story of a father, Ben, who has an autistic son who cannot talk, Jonah.  Ben struggles to great lengths to enroll his son in one of the best autism-centered schools. In retrospect, this book is about Ben’s fight to get the best care for his autistic son, and his personal struggles with his estranged father and wife, and alcoholism in between. Shtum explored family dynamics so well and so emotionally truthful, that you can’t help but to feel pain alongside Ben.

A fair warning to those thinking of picking Shtum up: be prepared for the emotional turbulence you’ll encounter in this book. Because it will break your heart.

Just like the two aforementioned books on autism, Shtum is a perfect book that provides an almost comprehensive view into how difficult and wonderful it is to raise a child at the extreme end of the Autistic Specturm Disorder (ASD). Given how the son of the author has ASD and was enrolled in a special school, no doubt this book is the real deal.

When Ben and his wife fake a separation in order to help their case, we see the ugly truth behind how handling a special-needs child can take a toll of marriage and life. But Shtum isn’t just wonderful because of its great capability to portray autism life and those who care for them. Shtum is heartrendingly beautiful because it portrays the human condition of love, struggles, and self acceptance so well, you can’t help but to feel pained at the accuracy. The ups and downs in this book felt like a never-ending roller coaster ride. And don’t get me started on the dry British humour incorporated in this book. All those components contributed to how real Ben and Jonah’s living conditions were. It’s an eye opener to the struggles of living with autism, both from the point of view of the autistic and the carer.

And that is what makes this book such a ‘Jem’. Get it?

Punny jokes aside, I have to admit, I was expecting Jonah to make a grand entrance by being able to talk and teaching his parents what he wants in his life. But we don’t get that, at all. So clear any expectations you might have of Jonah speaking up verbally. Because he might not say any words at all in the book, but he is still capable of giving life lessons on identifying truths and believing in what we do that’s right for our loved ones. Despite his silence, Jonah remains the main characters of this book through the narrative provided by his father and grandfather and this is what makes him and the book so special.

Hands down, I am a huge fan of Shtum because I love books about family and marriages. Put in the struggles of having both and I’m sold. Shtum is a book for people looking to find the meaning of life in the simple routines of having a family and raising a child.

Because this isn’t an inspirational book about traveling to discover yourself. This is a book about being the best parent you can be for your child and making the best of your circumstances.

“It’s not words. It’s not words.

It’s actions.

But you don’t see with your eyes, like every other fool you see with your ears. You heard love from Emma, you heard devotion from Emma, you heard yourself tell yourself that you love Emma,

but what did you see?

What did you do?”

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An Epic Chinese Folklore Retelling: a Review of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F C Yee

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Genre:
Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: August 8th, 2017
Format: Kindle eBook
Source: Personal
Page Count: 320

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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:

The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie’s every waking thought. But when she discovers she’s a celestial spirit who’s powerful enough to bash through the gates of heaven with her fists, her perfectionist existence is shattered.

Enter Quentin, a transfer student from China whose tone-deaf assertiveness beguiles Genie to the brink of madness. Quentin nurtures Genie’s bodacious transformation—sometimes gently, sometimes aggressively—as her sleepy suburb in the Bay Area comes under siege from hell-spawn.

This epic YA debut draws from Chinese folklore, features a larger-than-life heroine, and perfectly balances the realities of Genie’s grounded high school life with the absurd supernatural world she finds herself commanding.

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The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: A Book Based on a Myth

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The premise for this book drew me to reading it. That and the fact that I won a book in a giveaway and needed something based on a myth for #TheReadinQuest. Nevertheless, I have heard so many great things about this book.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is loosely based on the Chinese myth and folklore talkes of Sun Wukong the Monkey King and his journey with a group of magical beings in Journey to the West. I went into this book blind and found it a bit difficult to digest the stories since I’ve never been an audience to Chinese legend, nor have I watched cartoons based on them while growing up.

After a work colleague gave me a crash course on Sun Wukong and his magical staff, I found it a lot easier to understand the plot in this book. So a good tip would be to Google Sun Wukong and read a bit of description on what he’s about before reading this book. It’ll definitely help you appreciate the book more!

I love the main characters in this one; Genie and Quentin are the adorable duo set to fight off all the demons, or yaoguai as they’re known, recently released from Hell. And while Genie is preoccupied with her studies and getting into the Ivy Leagues, even though she’s only a sophomore damn her Asian-ness, she’s hardly in a position to say no when it comes to the safety of her family. She’s your typical Asian student with the slight oddity of being super tall. She has her flaws and insecurities, but they’re pretty minor in the book and I love her determination and hardheadedness for throwing a punch at anyone that pisses her off. I love me some badass female characters.

Quentin is this lovable geeky character who’s the total opposite of Genie. And of all the cliches in the world, they fall for each other. No surprise there. But his strong persona and by-the-book character makes him an interesting addition to the story. In this book, he is Sun Wukong himself who came back to Earth to find Genie and they plan to fight off the hundreds of demons. It was great to see how Quentin was reimagined in our society as Quentin Sun, despite having the few oddities of being a great mythical character.

The one of the two downsides of this book for me was its lack of details in the plot and supporting characters. I understand the fantastic duo have to fight around 108 demons and while they obviously didn’t do that in the length of a book, there was a lack of description surrounding their fights and battles with said demons.

Let’s face it, I’m a sucker for details. Not in excessive amounts, but just the right amount to allow me to appreciate the characters and their ordeals in dealing with challenges. How I felt while reading The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is that when a fighting scene comes up, it’s over in a page and a half. And I’m left wondering “What just happened? How did that end so fast??”. I understand how powerful these two characters are, but since I’m not familiar with the Chinese folklore tales, I’d have appreciated more descriptions of the demons’ features and powers. They all seemed generic to me: feast on human souls and tend to have ugly faces.

I would have loved a bit more backstory to Guanying and more scenes with Genie’s mom, Yunie and also Androu. I felt like they were sprinkled into the book to make it seem like Genie had a social life.

Asides from that, the Asian cliches had me cringing till no end! I understand the book is about bringing diversity to the YA reading pool, and while I’m glad YA is seeing more diverse characters, having a Chinese character who’s super smart, gets perfect grades and have parents who pressure her into getting the best university is a little bit too cliche for me. I’m Asian and I can’t really relate to Genie. Sure I studied hard and got good grades throughout school and college, but I know not all Asians are like this. And somehow in this book Genie gave off the vibe that every Asian in her school is just like her.

“So it’s true what they say huh?” asked Androu.
“What?” replied Genie.
“That Asian families aren’t affectionate?”

So here’s a shocking disclaimer for readers about to read this book: while the Chinese are Asians, not all Asians are Chinese!

Asides from these two shortcomings, I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more by the author. Who knows, with that ending in this book, there might even be a sequel? It’s definitely worth checking out The Epic Crush of Genie Lo. I truly enjoyed reading more about the Chinese folklores and mythical legends. They have such a variety of characters. And it’s a wonderful way to expose more diversity in the YA world!

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The Thief is Back: a Review of The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

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Genre:
Fantasy
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: February 28th, 2017 (First published in 2000)
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 359

Series: The Queen’s Thief #2
#1 The Thief: Review

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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:

The brilliant thief Eugenides has visited the Queen of Attolia’s palace one too many times, leaving small tokens and then departing unseen. When his final excursion does not go as planned, he is captured by the ruthless queen.

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The Queen of Attolia is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: A Book Set in a Different World

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“I sometimes believe his lies are the truth, but I have never mistaken his truth for a lie.”  – Eddis

Queen of Attolia is the second book in The Queen’s Thief series. And with each page read, I fall in love with the world and characters that reside in it. I started off this book with high expectations for an entertaining read and looked forward to revisiting Eugenides charm and wit.

And I was not disappointed.

I love how the book starts off with Eugenides in Attolia on another mischievous quest. If I’m not mistaken, Queen of Attolia is set a few months after The Thief ended. Eugenides is cockier and more confident in his skills as the Queen’s Thief.

The sudden turn of events at the beginning of the story threw me off my tracks. I didn’t expect such a huge bender to occur so early on in the story. And that is what makes Turner such a brilliant fantasy writer. She gives us unexpected twists in her stories that leave us wanting more.

How does Queen of Attolia compare to The Thief? Well, the sequel has more political influences, and deaths, infused within the book compared to its predecessor. We’re introduced to more influential characters that will no doubt affect the rest of the series. The plot is more brilliantly done, and while you won’t feel a quest-sort-of journey occurring throughout the book, you will see how every event written will have a part to play at the ending and most probably, the way this series plays out.

And while I don’t read A Song of Ice and Fire nor do I watch Game of Thrones, I have a feeling that this series is the younger adult/milder version of it.

There’s just so many things at play on this brilliant stage. We see more of Eugenides vulnerability behind all that wit and charm. We get to see more of the two queens of Eddis and Attolia (and may I say female rulers are much more epic in the fantasy world) and how smart they are in planning their battles for power in their lands. The political strategies infused within the book got me a bit confused but once you get the hang of it, it’s a real pleasure to see how it impacted the ending.

“She thought of the hardness and the coldness she had cultivated over those years and wondered if they were the mask she wore or if the mask had become her self. If the longing inside her for kindness, for warmth, for compassion, was the last seed of hope for her, she didn’t know how to nurture it or if it could live.”  – Attolia

Never have I read a fantasy series so rich with drama, low-key plot twists and highly influential characters with the uncanny ability to deceive and negotiate their bargains of power. Queen of Attolia is so wonderfully written that I had half the mind to begin King of Attolia straight after finishing it. You might feel underwhelmed with its lack of plot, but trust me the writing and character influences will leave you wanting more from this series.I’m more and more convinced that adult fantasy are more of my taste and that YA Fantasy has run its course in my reading journey.

And if you’re not in for the slow plot, at least be in for the amazing dialogues that occur in the book.

“I’ll be your minister–”
“Of the exchequer? You’d rob me blind.”
“I would never steal from you,” he’d said hotly.
“Oh? Where is my tourmaline necklace? Where are my missing earrings?”
“That necklace was hideous. It was the only way to keep you from wearing it.”
“My earrings?”
“What earrings?”

Overall, I urge you to try this series out! I’m so exciting to read the remaining 3 books and I have a feeling I will love those too. Let me know if you’ve read the series!

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Welcome back to the Dreggs: a Review of Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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Genre:
Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Henry Holt
Publication date: September 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 546

Series: Six of Crows #2

Read my review of Six of Crows here.

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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia

Blurb:

Welcome to the world of the Grisha.

After pulling off a seemingly impossible heist in the notorious Ice Court, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker feels unstoppable. But life is about to take a dangerous turn—and with friends who are among the deadliest outcasts in Ketterdam city, Kaz is going to need more than luck to survive in this unforgiving underworld.

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Crooked Kingdom is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: A Book With Magic in It

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“Has anyone noticed this whole city is looking for us, mad at us, or wants to kill us?”
“So?” said Kaz.
“Well, usually it’s just half the city.” 

Crooked Kingdom is the much anticipated sequel to Six of Crows, the infamous series of six delinquents from the Barrels’ toughest gang, the Dreggs. To be honest I couldn’t help but feel excited when I had the book in my hands, but waited 8 months before I actually read it. Runs away in shame.

After attempting the world’s riskiest heist and in possession of the most valuable prize, Kaz Brekker and his gang are faced with more trouble and danger as they try to win the game against Ketterdam’s most powerful and famous merchant.

While I mildly enjoyed Six of Crows, I’m glad Crooked Kingdom is a whole lot better than it’s predecessor and with good reasons.

We see more character developments with more emotional background in each character. We see more scheming and plotting on Kaz’s behalf. Many of which caught me by surprise. We get to see a budding relationship form between Matthias and Nina, which I loved. In contrast, the friendship between Inej and Kaz left me feeling…bland. I have little care for their feelings for each other in this whole series, and I’m aware of how unpopular this opinion is.

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.” 

Asides from that, the plot build up was really good. There’s a whole lot going on in this book and you better pay attention because what happens throughout the book will take you off guard. I have no idea how can so many things can occur in the span of 500 pages but that’s the thing about YA. Every form of disaster and tragedy is possible. Just when I thought one plan was going well, things got flipped over. It was frustrating at the worst of times, but impressive otherwise.

One of the most interesting aspects of this series is its lack of positive or heroic characters. Typical YA Fantasy series often times see good versus evil situations, but this series has so many terribly shades of grey in its characters. It repeatedly plays around with the cards of morality and survival.

“I don’t hold a grudge. I cradle it. I coddle it. I feed it fine cuts of meat and send it to the best schools. I nurture my grudges, Rollins.” 

I generally enjoyed this book, but was a little underwhelmed. I tried my best to refresh my mind from Six of Crows since I last read it over a year ago, but occasionally forgot some references made in Crooked Kingdom. And to be honest, the hype surrounding this book didn’t help. I had some high expectations starting the book, especially after reading The Thief, but glad I got to enjoy the book in its entirety.

 

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Overall, I’d recommend this series if you love action-packed novels with complicated and a diverse group of characters. You’ll definitely be sucked into the Grisha world and all of its glory.

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The Greatest Thief You’ll Hear About: a Review of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief

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Genre:
Fantasy
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: February 28th, 2017 (First published in 1996)
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal
Page Count: 279

Series: The Queen’s Thief #1

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Buy from Book Depository, Kinokuniya Malaysia, MPH Online

Blurb:

Eugenides, the queen’s thief, can steal anything—or so he says. When his boasting lands him in prison and the king’s magus invites him on a quest to steal a legendary object, he’s in no position to refuse. The magus thinks he has the right tool for the job, but Gen has plans of his own.

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The Thief is my book for #TheReadingQuest Challenge: First Book in a Series

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No doubt the Queen’s Thief series caught my eyes when the new covers started appearing out of nowhere in every major bookstore in Malaysia in early 2017. Ever since then I’ve been researching about the series and asking fellow bookworms just how great this series is.

And almost every response I got was claiming this is one heck of a series and I should definitely give it a try. And on a whim, I bought all 5 books at MPH in 2 weekends because I had a feeling I was going to love this series.

And boy was I right.

This book was simplistic in a way that there isn’t much plot to it, but rather the book highlights the captivating writing and eccentric characters in it. And I personally think this is such a wonderful way to start a series. With a slow incline before plunging for the drop, much like an anticipated roller coaster ride.

The story starts of with a thief named Gen, called upon the King of Sounis to steal a valuable item in a neighboring country miles away from Sounis. With Gen are the magus (whose name I still curious about), 2 of his apprentices, Ambiades and Sophos, and a companion guard, Pol. Half the book is about these 5 men trying to get along without cutting each other throats before they reach their destination.

Gen is such a wonderful character to read about. His monologues in The Thief are just amazing and often times I’ve found myself laughing out loud.

“No friend had I made there, but I wasn’t with this group to make friends, and besides, he sneered too much. I’ve found that people who sneer are almost always sneering at me.”  – Gen

You wouldn’t think that the point of view of a thief would amount to much, but you’ve never met Gen. He’s egocentric, confident with a healthy dose of cockiness, and smart beyond his wits. You’ll find yourself no doubt rooting for him throughout the book even as you’re figuring out his motives.

I found this to be the greatest element of the book. That we can read about such a confident character, whose past wasn’t talked about much, who carries himself so well despite being a thief.

“I didn’t really care much about anything, so I guess I felt fine.”  – Gen

Reading The Thief made me realise that adult fantasy are more of my genre. I love strong, bold characters and while YA Fantasy have an abundance of those, they’re more likely to link their past and insecurities (such as sexuality, the desire to fit in with society, etc) with their character development. And while I don’t deny YA Fantasy’s important range of characters to better suit their younger readers, being an adult myself, it’s nice to read fantasy with a more in depth content in terms of world building and characters who are more at ease with themselves.

Turner’s writing is so amazing in this one that I didn’t care that there isn’t much plot in the first half of the book. All they did was traverse the forest and dystopia to get to an ancient river. But not once did I feel bored or thought the story’s pace was slow. Because we got to see how each character is acted out and how they eventually play a role in the ending.

And that ending was spectacular, I kid you not. I had a sense there was something fishy going on 3 quarters into the book but when the ending came about, it made so much sense to see Gen in that light. That plot twist at the end blew me away and you know how great a book is when it’s unexpected ending surprises you.

And mind you, this book was publsihed in 1996. And I survived a good 21 years not being spoiled for that ending.

Now that’s something special.

Overall, I truly loved this book. It’s pretty short with less than 300 pages. But the stories build up as you progress in the series and I can’t wait to read Queen of Attolia next!

Have you read The Queen’s Thief series? What did you think about it?

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#TheReadingQuest Challenge!

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Hey guys! I’m glad to announce that I’ll be joining the Reading Quest Challenge hosted by Aentee at Read at Midnight. Basically, it’s a reading competition held from 13th August until 10th September to encourage participants to reduce their TBR using prompts!

The reason I joined this particular challenge is because of its unique premise of using character levels and prompts for us to gain points as we progress in the challenge. It’s a competition and there are so many ways to win the exciting prize! I thought it’d be super fun to try and participate.

You get to choose a character which in turn determines the type of books you have to read in order to satisfy the prompt! Normally previous challenges just give you a list of prompts and you try your best to accomplish them all. But having a character that affects the book you read makes everything so much more fun!

Anyway, I’m terrible at explaining in detail so you should definitely check out Aentee’s original post here to get the full info on the challenge! Take your time to digest everything and I hope you join the quest!

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The following art are designed by the superbly talented CW at Read, Think, Ponder!

Here are the four characters you get to choose from:

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How adorable are these characters! I’ll be going with Mage because I think I have a good choice of books to accomplish the prompts.

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And the reading bingo includes the following prompts:

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Because the Mage character gets the first down prompts, here are a list of books I plan to read to fulfill them!

  1. A Book with A One Word Title: Shtum by Jem Lester

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2. A Book that Contains Magic: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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3. A Book Based on Mythology: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo (F C Yee)

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4. A Book Set in a Different World: The Queen of Attolia (Megan Whalen Turner)

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5. The First Book of a Series: The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)

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You can also get additional points by attempting the inner cube prompts in the bingo. While this is getting super ambitious for me, I’m going to try some bonus prompts if the main ones are not what I’m up for at the time.

  1. Open World, Read Whatever You Want: A Million Junes by Emily Henry

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2. Time Warp, A Book Set in the Past or Future: Anna and The Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

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So those are the books that I’ve selected for this challenge. Hopefully I can get through them all! I’m so excited. It’d be amazing to cut through my TBR because God knows it’s been piling lately.

Are you joining this quest? If you are, link your post down in the comments. I’d love to check out what books you’ll be reading! 🙂