Book Review: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee || an impactful historical fiction revolving around discrimination, friendships and loss during WWII

News of the day (week? month?) – I’ve found a new book to obsess over.

This review was supposed to be written the way all my other reviews are written – a day or two after I finish the book. This time, it’s been around two weeks since I finished reading, but I kept putting off writing this review, probably because I needed time to recover, to mend from the emotional wreck this beautifully written novel made of me. The healing is still in process, but I can’t let that stop me from screaming about this amazing read to you guys! (it’s less of a review and more of a call-out: come suffer with me)

Title: We Are Not Free
Author: Traci Chee
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Synopsis:
“All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us.
We are not free.
But we are not alone.”
 
We Are Not Free, is the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.
Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.
Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.
Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.
In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart. 

We Are Not Free is a historical fiction set during World War II in America. The story begins just after the bombing of the Pearl Harbour by the Japanese airforce, following which there is hatred and racism against the people of Japanese ancestry living in America. Anti-Japanese sentiments are at an all time high, and this leads to the creation of the policy that people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, would be incarcerated in isolated camps, for no fault of theirs except for looking the way they do.

The most, though not the only, exceptional thing about this story was the execution. Sure, a lot of us know the history, some more than others. But it takes amazing masterful ability to weave history, to narrate it, without subtracting the brutalities and complexities, in a way that has a lasting impact on the reader, and Chee did just that.

“Is this what life is like? People coming together and drifting apart, coming together and drifting apart, over and over until there’s no one left?”

The book is narrated by a group of fourteen young Nisei (second-generation Japanese American citizens) who are among the thousands uprooted from their homes and placed in incarceration camps because of their Japanese ancestry.

When I heard that there were 14 POVs, I was naturally intimidated, but I realize now that needn’t have been. We get one chapter from each character’s point-of-view, some longer than others, but each more heartfelt than the last. All our 14 main characters are Japanese-American youngsters – the youngest being Minnow who is 14 and the eldest being Mas, 22. When I’d just begun reading the book, I was sure I’d have a hard time keeping up with all the povs, but boy was I wrong. 14 POVs made it a whole lot easier to connect with the characters, to see life through their eyes.

Each chapter, each POV was unique in its own way, and this brought out the individuality of each of the characters in a beautiful manner. Every character reacts in his/her own way to this drastic change in their lives – some choosing to be optimists, while others resorting to violence – and this was portrayed beautifully by their respective POVs. Sure, all 14 of them are a tight-knit community (whose friendship is just 🥺), but each has their own aspirations and conflicts. No two chapters were written in the same style, and rightly so, for each had to depict a different personality – and I can only imagine the effort this might have taken the author to accomplish. Traci Chee has my utmost respect.

This was one of those books that progressively get better as they go, with each chapter better than the previous ones (I have a sneaking suspicion Chee was saving the best ones for the end). Speaking of which. Those last few chapters were not written in words, they were emotions – pure, raw emotions scrawled on the pages. If I got teary eyed though the middle of the story, I was full on bawling towards the end.

Such powerful and heavy topics are dealt with in this novel, albeit in a way that doesn’t make them seem out-of-reach or too much to grasp, instead it made all the prejudices, racial discrimination, violence against the Japanese feel real. I as the reader flinched every time one of our characters was a victim to the atrocities, verbal or physical, of narrow minded people — from when Minnow got jumped by a gang of American teens to when a man refused to sell Yuki icecream because she was Japanese, to countless other racist actions that take place throughout the story.

The story’s meaningful and heart-wrenching take on discrimination is something that I am not likely to forget soon, and I’m grateful that books like these exist to give today’s generation a brutal reminder of the mistakes made by humanity in the past, which continue to have consequences in the present.

“We’re standing on a street corner with everything we’ve ever known about to come crashing down around us.
And we’re angry.
And we’re smiling.
And we aren’t broken.”

Overall, We Are Not Free was hopeful, heartbreaking and devastating all at once. I’d highly recommend this to all of you, especially to fans of The Outsiders, The Book Thief and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.

Have you read We Are Not Free? What did you think (aka did it break you?) Which is your favourite war novel? Let me know in the comments!

8 Diverse Books I Loved, And 8 That Are On My TBR!

Before I became a part of the bookish community, most of my reads were by straight white authors with likewise leads. Since then, I have become so much more aware due to lots of lovely people who promote diversity on their blogs/ booktube etc.

As an Asian myself, I understand how important it is for different cultures to be shown in books, and it is a different feeling altogether to feel represented. In the last couple of months, more than half of the books I’ve read recently are by Asian authors or have Asian characters so I am proud of how far I’ve come.

Diversity in books can mean a lot of things, but this list shall be focusing on books written by POC authors and/or having POC leads. In the first part of this post, I’ll be showcasing some of my favourite diverse reads with their highlights and in the second part, I’ll be listing diverse books which I’ve not read but are on my TBR!

I hope you have your Goodreads (or wherever you make your tbr list) open and ready, because we are starting now!

(the formatting is off in the Reader, kindly click here to read further!)

Cemetery Boys
💘 spirits (and a certain sweet but possessive, bad boy spirit)
💘 mexican culture
💘 themes of identity and acceptance
💘 fantasy with contemporary feel

The Girl Who Drank The Moon
💘 witchy
💘 whimsical, dreamy writing
💘 magic running wild
💘 multiple third person POVs

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon
💘 talking goldfishes and lion statues
💘 chinese folklore
💘 dragons!
💘 beautiful atmosphere and conclusion

We Hunt The Flame
💘 arabia – inspired fantasy
💘 atmospheric setting and brilliant world-building
💘 subtle found family with lots of banter
💘 morally grey characters

A Clash Of Steel
💘 set in imperial china
💘 pirates! and lost treasure!
💘 strong woman characters
💘 treasure island retelling

How We Fall Apart
💘 majority of the cast is Asian
💘 thrilling murder mystery
💘 set in an elite prep school
💘 secrets and rivalry and revenge

The Reader
💘 secret society
💘 a world where books are banned
💘 deep and meaningful writing
💘 pirate stories!

We Are Not Free
💘 set during WWII
💘 love, life and laughs amidst war
💘 14 POVs
💘 heart wrenching and impactful


Here are 8 diverse books I am yet to read, but will hopefully be picking up soon!

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, #1)
These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights, #1)
Jade Fire Gold
A Magic Steeped in Poison (The Book of Tea, #1)
The Gilded Ones (Deathless, #1)
Daughter of the Moon Goddess (The Celestial Kingdom Duology, #1)
Legendborn (The Legendborn Cycle #1)
The Bones of Ruin

Have you read any of these? Do you have any more diverse recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

~ Rachel

September Wrap-Up // ft. more diverse reads and lots of blog hopping!

Would you look at that? My wrap-up post is actually on time for once! I can’t really promise to make this a habit though. What can I say, I like to be fashionably late. *flips hair in sass*

Speaking about fashion, did you know that the bearded vulture purposely dyes its feathers with red soil? Interestingly, it is the only bird that likes to play dress-up in this manner.

Yes, believe it or not, that was the weird bird fact for today.

Since the entire purpose of my monthly bird-fact intros is to spare me from writing long introductions to my wrap-ups, we get started right away!

I didn’t get much time to read this month – most of it was a whirlwind of exams and schoolwork – so I barely read anything for the first half of the month, it was only later that I found some time to read. The books were all 4 star-ish so I guess that’s a good thing?

The highlight of this month, however, is something else. Somehow, ALL my reads this month were written from first person point-of-view! Like, how? An utter coincidence, Nature playing a joke on this poor soul, or the bookish gods trying to convince me that not all first person narratives are boring? Whatever it may be, I am actually glad I gave (5!) books with 1st person POV a chance, because upto this point, I had ended up disliking nearly every book told from 1t person POV. However, I for once enjoyed reading the narratives of most of these 5 books, so happy realization to me!

Onto the books I read!

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, #1)
The Wolf's Curse

A Clash Of Steel by C.B. Lee (ARC)
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
This was a lovely diverse retelling of the classic favourite Treasure Island – with strong woman characters, pirates and treasure hunting! It was one of my most anticipated releases this year so I’m grateful I got the chance to be a part of the blog tour!

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
A book that has gotten popular recently due to its recently released sequel, I buddy read The Inheritance Games with April for our hype-o-meter series of posts! While lacking in several aspects, I laud the author for creating such an intriguing atmospheric mystery!

The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis (ARC)
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
A beautiful, lyrical, atmospheric middle grade fantasy centered around death and life, love and loss among lots of other meaningful themes, this book completely stole my heart.

We Are Not Free

How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
This was an intriguing murder mystery set in an elite prep school where secrets don’t stay buried for long. A completely Asian main cast of characters, flashbacks and dark secrets – this book will keep you hooked.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
Rating: ★★½ (4.5 out of 5 stars)
An impactful story about 14 Japanese teenagers living in war-torn America during WWII, growing up amid discrimination and facing all odds to stay happy together – We Are Not Free was deep. Full review to come!

Most of my posts this month were basically reviews of some sort so yeah, compared to the plethora of creative posts I published last month, this month’s content was pretty stale. Still, some of the reviews are nicely written, with quotes and moodboards and hype-o-meters and what not.
Here are all my posts this month, check them out in case you missed them earlier!

  1. August Wrap-Up // the month of mostly mediocre reads, creative posts and blog redesign! : The month started with me wrapping up my reads, blogging etc in August. The weird bird fact of the month was something on albatrosses.

2. We Hunt The Flame vs the Hype-o-meter // Review : New favourite book incoming! This post was the second in a collab series with April, in which we determine whether or not a popular book is worth the hype! And my, We Hunt The Flame definitely was!!

3. Blogger Interview with Rachel! : Soo this was not a real post at all, it was a reblog of my interview with Riddhi from Whispering Stories! She asks me a set of questions related to everything from my blog to my future career and lots more!

4. Blog Tour: A Clash Of Steel by C.B. Lee (Review + Moodboard) || A diverse retelling set in imperial china ft. lost treasure and pirates! : I got selected for a blog tour of A Clash Of Steel, and got the chance to review an arc! Plus there’s a moodboard!!

5. We Hunt The Flame Quotes As Real Life Moments! : In my favorite post this month, I compare quotes from the Sands of Arawiya duology to moments in my life! Basically a sarcastic compilation of random real life moments!!

6. Blog Tour: Top 5 Reasons To Read The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis || A poignant tale revolving around superstitions and death : As part of the book tour of the recently released The Wolf’s Curse, I list the top 5 resons you should read this lyrical middle grade!

7. The Inheritance Games vs the Hype-o-meter // Review : In the third installment of our hype-o-meter series, me and April review a book everyone seems to be reading lately! Was it worth the hype? Click to find out! (and click here to read April’s post!)

I am not kidding when I say I did a LOT of blog hopping this month and I’m proud of how many great new blogs and posts I discovered! Here’s a list of some posts I enjoyed reading in September!!

Maddie @Inking & Thinking reviews The Bones of Ruin!

Darcey @Read In The Clouds reviews Under The Whispering Door!

Aashi @Words On Fleek writes a hilarious song-review of City Of Bones!

Becky @Becky’s Book Blog reviews Among Thieves!

Sabrina @Wordy & Whimsical lists six ridiculous reading worries!

Laura @The Corner Of Laura lists six bad reasons to dnf a book!

Kaya @A Fictional Bookworm reviews an arc of Beasts Of Prey!

Malka @Paper Procrastinators gives tips for Netgalley newbies!

Anoushka @Dipped In Ink wrote a hilarious post on why bookworms can be dangerous!

J @Midnight Book Blog gives helpful tips for writing reviews!

Maddie @Inking And Thinking writes a discussion on why she follows book blogs!

Saima @Stories With Saima shares 6 things she has learnt after 6 months of blogging!

Bertie @Luminiosity Library reviews an ARC of Under The Whispering Door!

Laura @The Corner Of Laura does the fantasy tropes book tag!

Naemi @A Book Owl’s Corner reacts to five star reviews of books she hated!

Brianne @Peruse With Coffee shares her huge autumn tbr!

Cherry @Letters To The Lost lists the reasons why you should read We Hunt The Flame!

Sabrina @Wordy And Whimsical shares blog post ideas that she discarded!

Laura @The Corner Of Laura lists 6 features of a chill-out read!

Saima @Stories With Saima shares her spooky October tbr!

Siena @Booksophobia discusses unhauling books!

Rebecca @Bex the Bibliophile reviews A Dark And Hollow Star!

Alix @Alix Reads Books writes a discussion on annotating books!

Raji @Worlds Unlike Our Own recommends 7 thrilling reads to read during Halloween!

How was September for you? Which was your favourite read this month? Have you read any of the books I read? Let me know in the comments!!

~ Rachel

The Inheritance Games vs the Hype-o-meter // Review

Just yesterday, I came across this new (to me!) thing called a recursive acronym. For those like yesterday-Rachel who have no clue what this official-sounding word means – basically it is an acronym where the first letter is the acronym itself. Ehh sounds over-the-top but the essence is not that complex. For example, GNU is a recursive acronym that stands for GNU’s Not Unix, then we can expand the GNU in the full form again to GNU’s Not Unix, and our new expansion would be GNU’s Not Unix Not Unix and so on till forever. 

Now you must be wondering, “why in the world is Rachel giving us a (barely comprehensible) lesson in literature?? Wasn’t this post supposed to be a review?”. 

Well I do have a reason for talking about all this apart from the fact that it is an interesting concept, and that is – similar ~vibes~. With the book I’m about to review. Traps upon traps, riddles upon riddles – yes, the gist of The Inheritance Games is pretty similar to that of a recursive acronym.

With all that done, let’s get started with today’s showdown, (know more about it this blog series here) which is The Inheritance Games, a book that has recently risen to popularity due to its upcoming sequel, against our hype-o-meter! 

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, #1)

Title: The Inheritance Games
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Genre: Young Adult Mystery, Contemporary
Synopsis:
Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.
Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

If yes is no and once is never, then how much exactly did I enjoy this book? Now that’s a difficult one, because this was one of those books I am extremely conflicted about. If I had to rate it purely on the basis of enjoyment – an easy 4 – 4.5 stars. But as a reviewer I do have to think a tiny bit about other factors too, and in this case, let us just say these factors were not in the book’s favour. Let’s break it down.

“Everything’s a game, Avery Grambs. The only thing we get to decide in this life is if we play to win.”

The narration was first person. Probably no big deal for most of you, but believe me when I say my relationship with first person POV has not exactly been the best and mostly books with such narrations leave me mildly annoyed (pfft who am I kidding? It’s more like throwing-things-and-banging-doors-and-hitting-my-head-against-a-wall-repeatedly level annoyed.) My aggressive behavioural actions aside, The Inheritance Games was a surprise in this aspect – a pleasant one at that. I actually enjoyed Avery’s POV, so conclusion : she must have been a really good character. Yes, that she was.

In the very opening scene we are told how much of a genius Avery is when she aces an impossible physics test and is lowkey accused of cheating by her principal (which. not cool.) and is confident enough to promise the same score in a re-test. And she also beats a homeless man, who is apparently a brilliant chess player, at chess. After a few scenes we see her answer an impossible-sounding riddle asked by a drunk teenager without batting an eyelid (the riddle: ‘If yes is no and once is never, then how many sides does a triangle have?’). Upto this point, cool. 

The story till here is nicely constructed, all the events well thought out – a normal teenager who was living her life with her half-sister or in her car, attending school on a scholarship gets good news in the form of a snobby boy in a suit who informs her that his rich grandfather has left her his entire fortune of billions. Too easy, but I’ll take it. 

Things went downhill from here. I do not know whether I was just in a very critical mood, but it seemed to me that the author had simply lost interest in creating an intriguing mystery, and decided to just let Avery have a fortunate stroke of serendipity. Everything – the clues and riddles were extremely amateur, and anyone with a little common sense could have easily figured them out – let alone our supposedly brilliant protagonist working with four impossibly-smart brothers. 

“He left you the fortune, Avery, and all he left us is you.”

And man, the stakes?? It was established in the beginning that not much could be done to challenge Avery’s inheritance, so what was the point of the whole solving-riddles thing? I went in expecting a thrilling round of who-solves-the-mystery-first-gets-the-money but apparently my expectations were too high.

Yet, I would not say I disliked this book because, honestly, I did not. While the big reveals were okay-ish (for a mystery, the gasp factor was shockingly low.), it was the little moments that got to me. Those moments when we got away from the main plot for a while (like Avery’s initial disbelief of the house having a bowling alley, later the scene when her stylist were working on her with Libby snorting in the corner) made me giggle and were enjoyable, so that’s a plus. 

And then of course there was all the family drama, the sibling rivalry (4x!) and all the fun moments between Avery and each of the brothers so yes, while the book could have been better in a lot of aspects, it was goood. I’m excited for the sequel!

It was a tough fight with the hype-o-meter, but The Inheritance Games emerged as a solid, so there’s that. Not quite worth the hype, but certainly worth a try. Click here to read April’s review!

Have you read The Inheritance Games? What would you give it on the hype-o-meter? Do you have The Hawthorne Legacy on your radar? Let me know in the comments!

We Hunt The Flame Quotes As Real Life Moments!

I am officially obsessed with this duology. There, I said it.

Remember a stormy July evening when I wrote something along similar lines – Six Of Crows Quotes As Real Life Moments!, I believe it was called? Yes yes that does ring a bell. Since declarations of my love for a book shall now be decreed in the form of such posts, I am writing this post in honour of my newest favourites – the We Hunt The Flame duology.

For those of you are are wholly and truly confused so as to what exactly is going on, believe me, you’re not alone. I have no idea either. (what? did you think I was actually going to explain the concept of this entire thing? do my ideas even have a concept? ughh fine, since you insist.) Essentially, the gist is to relate some quotable lines from this duology to moments in my life, only, the contexts are ~slightly~ different. You’ll see what I mean in a moment. Onto the first quote!

“A thousand leagues and a thousand sands. For you, a thousand times I would defy the sun.”

Deen Ra’ad (aka the most sensitive and pure boy to ever exist on this earth. The world didn’t deserve him.)

(side note: this line makes me tear up every. single. time.)

This would be me to my Kindle. Do you know the pain of giving up a cozy reading spot in the balcony under the sun, and instead go to some dark, gloomy corner to read my Kindle just because I can’t read with sunlight falling on the screen? I have absolutely no wish to defy the sun but – ah, the things we do for books…

“He came here for one act alone: murder.”

Nasir Ghameq (aka the good assassin)

The ‘he’ in question being authors who, for no apparent reason at all, like to cause us readers literal pain by killing off characters we’ve come to love. (you get what I’m hinting at, eh Faizal?) Murderers.

“Knowledge without action is vanity, but action without knowledge is insanity.”

Benyamin (aka our sweet, arrogant immortal)

Truer words have never been spoken. This does lead my mind to very philosophical roads of thought… but, putting that on hold, how does this fit into my real life? Oh, what about when I get overexcited whenever I see a blog tour sign-up for one of my anticipated releases and happily go sign up for it – until later when I realize my assigned date is not far off, and I have to read a couple more arcs before that one. Insanity, right?

“Sometimes, when you live a life of captivity, trapped for so long, freedom becomes a thing to fear.”

Oh. My. Gosh. This is my exact life situation put very eloquently. I have stayed home due to lockdown for nearly two years now, and still have online schooling where I live, so I’ve got no idea how I’ll adapt to physically attending school again, once the restrictions are eased. Or going anywhere else, for that matter. Yes, I fear my freedom.

“Well,” Altair said with forced cheer. “It’s just the two of us again, and my, what a couple we make.” Nasir gifted him a look that could wither crops. “Keep up your endless yipping and only one of us will be left.”

Nasir & Altair (aka the best grumpy-sunshine duo ever!)

Back when I used to attend offline school, I always got extra cheery partners – be it a lab partner, a partner in a project, picnics etc. It was like Nature’s running joke on me. Anyway, while I used to studiously do whatever we’re supposed to do, my various partners would rather just chat with me, which annoyed me to no end and I’d usually end up snapping at them. In hindsight, that was rather harsh of me, but I couldn’t help it, you know? I’m a lot like Nasir than I ever thought.

“There were moments before moments, in which the world was framed in startling clarity, a defined before hurtling toward a horrible after. Moments in which the powerful were powerless, in which promises became failings.

This was such a moment.”

Okay, this is going to sound really silly, but the first thing that came to my mind after reading this was that moment on a roller coaster when you are right at the top and are just about to go down at top speed. There is that sudden feeling of thrill and fear, anticipation and tension. You know you’re about to drop but can’t do anything about it. This was such a moment.

“Wars could wage and swords could cut and arrows could pierce. None of them compared to the pain of a well-poised word.”

The word in question being the most dreaded word in the history of dreadful words – “rejected”. Few weeks back I requested my first ever Netgalley arcs, and a few days later, I get an e-mail. I am soo excited and close my eyes and then peek out of one eye – for what? To see that word?? Definitely not what I was expecting. I would have rather have a war waged in front of me, a sword cut of my head, an arrow pierced through my heart. Okay that’s gross and overdramatic but you get the point.

Huh. My life is so much similar to that of Zafira and Nasir, Altair and Benyamin, isn’t it? Anywayy that was all for today and the ulterior motive of this post was totally not to show-off these beautiful lines from the beautiful books.

Which is your favourite quote from the duology? Which are some quote-worthy moments in your life? Share with me in the comments!

And on a final note, my blog reached 200 followers a while back and I want to host a Q & A session in honour of that! Visit this post and leave me questions in the comments section if you haven’t! Oh, and don’t forget to fill this feedback form too –  https://forms.gle/CYkBpZXUm4hsuJQm8!!

~Rachel

Blog Tour: A Clash Of Steel by C.B. Lee (Review + Moodboard) || A diverse retelling set in imperial china ft. lost treasure and pirates!

Hello everyone, and welcome to my stop for the blog tour of A Clash Of Steel by C.B. Lee. Thank you to Coloured Pages book tours for hosting this tour! Click on the tour banner below to check out the schedule for the tour and read posts by other bloggers as well!

A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island Remix

Title: A Clash of Steel 

Author: C.B Lee

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends 

Publication Date: September 7th, 2021

Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction 

Synopsis:

Two intrepid girls hunt for a legendary treasure on the deadly high seas in this YA remix of the classic adventure novel Treasure Island.

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd businesswoman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her single memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports—that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.

Book Links: Goodreads || Amazon || Book Depository || Barnes And Noble || IndieBound || Indigo

Thank you to Coloured Pages Book Tours and Netgalley for providing me an ARC of this book in exchange of a sincere review. This does not change my opinions in any way.

A Clash Of Steel was one of my most anticipated releases this year, soo I was literally squealing when I got selected for the tour and received an arc! Let’s get started with the review, shall we?

A retelling of an old favourite – Treasure Island, this story follows Xiang, a young girl living in a sleepy village in China, who is trying to find her true calling.

The setting alone was a treat to the history nerd in me. I reveled in reading about the pirate legend that was Ching Shih and her enormous fleet, and my adoration of her was exactly why I felt she shouldn’t have been villainized at the end, but we’ll come to that later.

Next, we had a totally cool, diverse cast of characters from all over China as well as neighboring countries and I liked how each of them, without going into too much detail, were described in just the right amount.

The concept grabs all of the points here. Like treasure hunting? Long voyages? Pirates?? Oh so cool! I think this was my first pirate book in a loooong time and I really need to find more of these.

Another thing I absolutely loved about this book was it’s brilliant portrayal of strong women characters. The formidable captain of the Dragon Fleet was a woman, our two main characters were sapphic teens, both their mothers were also independent working women – one a captain of a ship and the other a respected businesswoman. So yeah, a plus point here.

The one thing I didn’t like about this book was the pacing. It felt off at several points throughout the story – certain matters that were not very important were blown out of proportion and others were too quickly over. Some parts were unnecessarily long and that reduced my enjoyment of the story.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to all those who would be interested in a sapphic pirate story combined with historical Chinese legends. (though I don’t see how anyone could not be interested, so I pretty much recommend it to all of you).

Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)

CB Lee is a Lambda Literary Award nominated writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her works include the Sidekick Squad series (Duet Books), Ben 10 (Boom!), and All Out Now (HarperTeen). CB loves to write about queer teens, magic, superheroes, and the power of friendship.

Lee’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Wired Magazine, and Hypable. Lee’s first novel in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. Seven Tears at High Tide was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.

Author Links: Website || Twitter || Instagram || Goodreads || Facebook || Tumblr

Do you have A Clash Of Steel on your TBR? Which is your favourite pirate book? Chat with me in the comments!

And on a final note, my blog reached 200 followers a while back and I am hosting a Q & A session in honour of that! Visit this post and leave me questions in the comments section! Oh, and don’t forget to fill this feedback form too –  https://forms.gle/CYkBpZXUm4hsuJQm8!!

~ Rachel

We Hunt The Flame vs the Hype-o-meter // Review

Before we go any further, I have some good news – we’ve officially reached 200 followers on A Bookworm’s Paradise! In honour of this, I want to have a Q & A session (in a separate post of course), so please put any questions you may have about me in the comments and I’ll answer them in the coming weeks.

With that out of the way, we are now down to business! This is the second post in a series, in collaboration with the lovely April @Booked Till Midnight, where we review books in a different way because we set them up against our self created hype-o-meter and determine whether or not a popular book is worth the hype! Click here to know all the deets about this series, and here to read the first showdown. Let’s get started!

We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya, #1)

Title: We Hunt The Flame

Author: Hafsah Faizal

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Format: E-book

Synopsis:

People lived because she killed. People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya–but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds–and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

The first thing you’ll notice about We Hunt The Flame is the brilliant worldbuilding. The author has somehow managed to make the atmosphere so lush, so vivid that it felt as if the atmosphere had come alive. The book is set in a rich, ancient Arabia-inspired world and I could picture it all in my head.(swirling sands here, biting snow and ice there – honestly the perfect setting) (Pro of being a language nerd and reading a book with snippets of a foreign language: I now know about 4 words of the Arabic language *applause please*) (Also I have taken quite a liking to Arabic expressions and curse words so do not be surprised if you see a the occasional rimaal, khara, and laa in my posts)(okay I am gonna stop with the parentheses now)

Next, all the elements of this new fantasy world – Arawiya, are introduced. Somehow, even some of the info dump did not seem like an info dump, in fact I wanted to drink it all in and everything from the history (the Sisters and such) to the five caliphates and their respective ‘curses’ intrigued me. Way to go!!

“We hunt the flame, the light in the darkness, the good this world deserves.”

I couldn’t do justice to this review without mentioning the characters. This book had exceptionally well-crafted characters and I fell in love with every single one of them. Our female protagonist, Zafira was shown initially as a balanced, collected personality, but as the story progresses we slowly unravel her outer layers and see the true, intense emotions and memories inside. The same could go for Nasir, our male protagonist. Everybody, look up, because THIS is how you write a perfect morally grey character. GIVE ME ALL THAT INNER ANGST. Kifah is our badass, no-nonsense exiled princess who also happens to be the one to say the iconic “We hunt the flame dialogue”. And Benyamin, our arrogantly wise safi who… *chokes and bites back a sudden sob* who looks down on all mortals but slowly comes to care about our zumra over time.

And now I would like to formally dedicate an entire paragraph to Altair al-Badawi, a certain conundrums-loving general who stole my heart. He was (literally) the sunshine to Nasir’s grumpiness, and their banter was *chef’s kiss*. Altair reminded me a little bit of Jesper, but then again, he was unlike any other character I’ve ever seen before. I mean, that character development?? I went from wanting to kill Altair myself to smirking at his jokes to praying Nasir wouldn’t kill him to being all NOOOO about him in the end (don’t worry he doesn’t die… its something worse *evil laugh*) Not surprisingly, he goes on my list of favourite characters (wait I have a list? Of course I do. No I don’t. Shut up internal dialogue.) Bottom line – this man was amazing in every way.

“I’ll have to introduce you by saying, ‘He’s not always this grumpy. Then again, he’s one of those people who talks less and murders more’.”

It looks like Faizal collected all of my favourite tropes and other elements and wove them into a story. Found family!!! Enemies to lovers!!! Slow burn!!! Knife-to-throat trope!!! Witty dialogue and banter!!! (in other words – a guide to make Rachel fall in love with a book) You know how I am generally criticizing certain books *cough* the young elites *cough* for their lack of dialogue? And how y’all might have thought such a book doesn’t exist? Make way, because here comes the book with outstanding dialogue, just the way I love!

 

Finally, we come to the plot (I really need to learn how to sequence and prioritize). The story follows our zumra (arabic for a group), a bunch of characters who couldn’t be more different from each other, who set out on a journey through a cursed island to retrieve a book that’s supposed to restore magic to their kingdom. Oh, and one of them is an assassin who’s supposed to kill the rest. Pleasant, right? Yes I thought so. 

What happens when we pit this brilliantly executed story with settings and atmosphere inspired from ancient Arabia with a totally cool cast of characters and just the best tropes against the hype-o-meter? Why, it wins of course.

But what did April think about the whole thing? Did she love the book as much as I did? Click here to find out!

Oh and before you go, could you take out a minute and fill this feedback form for my blog? Please and thank you. Here’s the link – https://forms.gle/CYkBpZXUm4hsuJQm8

Have you read We Hunt The Flame? What would you rate it on the hype-o-meter? Which is your favourite fantasy set in Asia? Let me know in the comments!!

Goodbye, zumra!

~ Rachel

August Wrap-Up // the month of mostly mediocre reads, creative posts and blog redesign!

Apparently an albatross can sleep while flying. Yes, seriously. I just found out that this bird can doze off comfortably while cruising through the air at a speed of 25km/hr. Talk about sleeping through a journey. (Kinda related, but how are people ever able to sleep in planes? It is the worst kind of torture there is for my neck)

And the “birds as weird intros to Rachel’s wrap-ups” saga continues. We had ducks in June, pigeons and July and the lucky ones this month were albatrosses. I wonder who’ll be next?

Ugh August was definitely not my best reading month. First, I read a lot lesser owing to exams, and even most out of those books were 3 star-ish. Still, I did find something I could call a new favourite, and I reviewed more books than usual so that’s an achievement.

The Supernaturalist
Down to Earth
The War That Saved My Life (The War That Saved My Life, #1)
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer

Rating ★★★ ½

Comments: Hmm, decent. Like the beginning was extremely promising, but the end did not quite live up to my expectations. But overall a solid sci-fi.

Down To Earth by Betty Culley

Rating ★★★ || Find my review here

Comments: Ehh from the coming-of-age point of view, it was brilliant. I wasn’t a big fan of the pacing and the plot line though.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Bradley

Rating ★★★★½

Comments: Its been a while since I enjoyed a middle grade, but I did. There was war, bombs, horses, found family, spies… what’s there not to like?

We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya, #1)
We Free the Stars (Sands of Arawiya, #2)
The Ones We're Meant to Find
We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Rating ★★★★½

Comments: Gooood. Really. But I am not going to go into how fabulous, brilliant, outstanding and enchanting this book is here because you’ll begin to (rightly) think I’m obsessed. (also there’s a full review coming right up)

We Free The Stars by Hafsah Faizal

Comments: Okay I am cheating with this one since I haven’t finished it yet. But look I am like almost done okay?!

The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He

Rating ★★½ || Find my review here

Comments: Umm I get why lots of people totally love this book, but not for me. Sorry.

So as you can see, it was pretty much a sci-fi month for me. I am proud of the fact that I am making progress on my goal of reading more of genres other than just fantasy *applause please*. Next goal – more of crimes and mysteries.

Big news: I redesigned my blog yet again. I know I know, the proclamation has lost its glamour due to repetition, but then again, I get bored of my current them every few weeks, hence the inevitable change. This time though, I’ll try to keep a check on my itchy fingers.

Content-wise, I think I was pretty much at my creative best in August. I had some great ideas and actually had the energy to sit down and type them out so I am proud of that. Most of my posts this month have been some of my favourites so far (am I… am I actually getting the hang of blogging?) so yay to that!! Here are the links to all my posts along with a small description, and in case you missed any of them you are welcome to check them out!

  1. July Wrap-Up // I used to write something here but I can’t recall what: My first post of the month was all about recapping the month of July. Also there’s some talk about pigeons, so umm yeah.

2. Blog Tour: The Twin Stars by Bridgette Portman [Review + INTL Giveaway]: I review an ARC of The Twin Stars, a YA fantasy with a mc with OCD who gets transported into her own unfinished story.

3. The Young Elites vs The Hype-o-Meter!: A very exciting review post, the first in the Hype-o-meter series with my fellow blogger and friend April. Check out whether The Young Elites is worth the hype according to us!!

4. Books As Road Trips // a random post that emerged out of the void: Okay so I impulsively published this post and I’m actually really happy with how it turned out. Maybe its the ~excellent~ metaphoring on my part (comparing books to road trips?!) but it might just be one of my favourite posts on this blog.

5. 8 Things I Look For In Books // does it show that I am desperate for recs?: I list the things that guarantee that I’ll fall in love with a book in hope that I get some good recs (and I did! thank you guys!!)

6. Blog Tour: Down To Earth by Betty Culley + Moodboard: I review an ARC of Down To Earth, a middle grade science fiction full of wonder and coming of age moments.

7. Book Review: The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He || concept? brilliant. execution? not so much: And finally, I review the recently released The Ones We’re Meant To Find in a loong post. But again, I think its one of my better reviews.

Soo. Quality, check. Quantity, check. Not bad, huh?

Its that time of this wrap up where I shout out all of your posts that I enjoyed reading!!

Sofii @A Book. A Thought reviewed The Ones We’re Meant To Find, and I agree with a lot of points she made!

Erin @Reading on a star lists her favourite book tropes!

Laura @The Corner Of Laura writes about the 6 sins of us readers!

Eleanor @Wishing Upon A Star discusses what makes a book popular!

Kashvi @Elfhame Books reviewed We Free The Stars!

Emily @Frappes And Fiction does the reader problems book tag!

Ashmita @The Fictional Journal reviewed The Inheritance Games, a book that I’m currently reading!

Kaya @The Fictional Bookworm writes a mini review of Murder On The Orient Express! Its my favourite Poirot too!

Naemi @A Book Owl’s Corner celebrates 400 followers and gives some pro blogging tips too!

Cherry @Letters To The Lost reacts to 1 star reviews of her favourite books, some of which coincidentally are my favorites too!

Maddie @Inking And Thinking discusses bookish pet peeves!

Cherelle @A Bolt Out Of The Book recommends books based on Marvel movies!

April @Booked Till Midnight pits The Young Elites against the Hypometer!

That brings us to the end of this wrap up!! In one sentence, blogging was good, reading was not. Anyway, happy September everyone!

Which was your favourite read this August? Have you read any of the books I did? Chat with me in the comments, and feel free to link your wrap-ups too!

~ Rachel

Book Review: The Ones We’re Meant To Find by Joan He || concept? brilliant. execution? not so much

Hiya everyone! How are you doing?

I certainly hope your state of mind is better than mine at the moment. I have this big exam coming up tomorrow, and exhaustion, anticipation, tension (but also a little relief) have built themselves a cozy home in my brain. But lets not go into the woes of us students’ because we have a review of a very anticipated release of mine today! Very exciting, right? *wiggles eyebrows*

The Ones We're Meant to Find

Title: The Ones We’re Meant To Find

Author: Joan He

Genre/Age group: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay, and it’s up to Cee to cross the ocean and find her.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara lives in an eco-city built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But nevertheless, she decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

Buddy read with the lovely Janhavi @A Cottage Of Words!

Is it my fault I started reading this book with very high expectations? After hearing countless times how this book was the best of the best (not the exact terminology, but you get the point) and then after reading that amazing synopsis (don’t even get me started on the gorgeous cover), I really thought this was right up my alley. Boy was I wrong.

Imagine this. You are hurtled into a speeding train without any warning. And you’ve got no idea where it’s from, where it’s going to, who are the people around you etc etc. Apart from the obvious physical implications (ouch!) you know that impending feeling of… confusion? Okay so perhaps not the best metaphor, but this was how I felt for the entirety of this book.

Of course I don’t expect to understand every single thing in a sci-fi set decades (centuries? millennia?) in the future. But if I am reading a book, I should at least have an idea about the plot? I have a rule against using gifs in my reviews, otherwise I would have used this opportunity flaunt something of the type, “What’s going on??”. Maybe its just me, but the technological terms, the constantly switching timelines and loads of other stuff was totally beyond my comprehension skills.

“The problem with oceans? They always seem smaller from the shore.”

Let’s talk about what I liked before we go full attack mode again. Number one, the concept behind the story. It was extremely cool, intriguing and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Next comes the world building and the atmosphere. There were several elements which were so interesting to grasp. A city in the sky? “Holoing”? Oh, and the best one was that humans actually invented something that would prompt you with the best phrases during a speech/conversation! I am terrible at socializing, so an AI like that would be incredibly helpful at awkward conversations that I have to face at social events.

So one of our main characters, Celia, is stranded on an island with almost no memories, and for a while, the entire survival plot was done really well (and no it wasn’t turned into a Swiss Family Robinson kinda thing) though I found some things like a ready made house and a robot a little to convenient. But I am willing to overlook that, and I will go as far as to say that I enjoyed reading Celia’s chapters (chapters told from her POV) for most part of the book. Kasey’s though… they were a whole different thing.

Before we go deeper let me introduce you to our two protagonists. Celia is the older sister – a cheerful, outgoing personality (before getting stranded on an island alone of course) who apparently hated the artificiality of their futuristic world. Kasey is a couple years younger than Celia and a polar opposite – introverted, would rather be around gadgets than people, extremely logical and scientific. Due to this, Kasey is often branded as insensitive.

“When I dream of her, it’s in vibrant color, unlike the gradients of gray of my monochrome days. But everything is hazy when I wake. The details merge. The colors fade.”

In the beginning, I found that I could relate to Kasey. Party-awkwardness, a little inexpressiveness are some traits I have in common with her. But the chapters after that were a roller coaster, and not a fun one at that. Literally all the chapters from Kasey’s point-of-view were difficult to grasp, and after a while I began skimming through them. *mock gasp* Yes I know it is a sin in the bookish tradition, but you do get how boring those parts must have been right? They just felt so bland, especially when compared to Celia’s chapters, which were mostly full of colour (omg now those you’ve read the book might think I am mocking Celia, but the pun was unintentional i swear). It came as a huge surprise to me that for once, I actually preferred a first-person narrative over third-person (Celia’s chapters were 1st person POV, Kasey’s were 3rd person) as I generally tend to dislike books with first person narrative *cough* the infinity courts *cough*.

No one, and I repeat, no one has ever mentioned this book without talking about the shocking twists, so I figured I’d cover that too. The thing is, I was waiting for my mind to completely blow up, but I ended up feeling a little underwhelmed by the plot twists. I remember thinking, this was what everybody was talking about? this is it??

Some of the side characters like Hero and Actinum were nicely written, and while I appreciate that, the ending made even less sense than the rest of the story. A character suddenly becomes the “villain” for the last couple of chapters… I mean, what??

Okay that was one chaotic review, but at least it covered everything I wanted to say. Overall, I was very disappointed, but 2.5 stars seems like a fair rating to me.

Have you read The Ones We’re Meant To Find? Which is your favourite book set in the future? Let’s chat in the comments!

~ Rachel

Missed my previous posts? Check them out now!!

Blog Tour: Down To Earth by Betty Culley + Moodboard

8 Things I Look For In Books // does it show that I am desperate for recs?

Books As Road Trips // a random post that emerged out of the void

8 Things I Look For In Books // does it show that I am desperate for recs?

Excellent news alert! I just found out I got selected for a blog tour for one of my most anticipated releases of 2021! *happy little jig* Pretty good, right?

Soo what are we going to talk about today? That’s right, Rachel is going to list certain things that generally (pfft what a joke, the correct word is always) make her fall heads over heels in love with a book. And since short (what an understatement) introductions have become somewhat of a trend on this blog, we get started immediately.

Presenting – The 8 things that I love in books!

#1 Found Family. Let’s face it. Found family is THE best trope to ever exist, and I know I’ll never in my life get tired of it. After all its no coincidence that on Goodreads my ‘found family’ shelf is pretty similar to my ‘best books ever’ shelf, right?

#2 Banter. Come on, give me all that (friendly, or not?) rivalry with the sharp retorts, the stupid (sometimes actually funny, admit it) puns and the hiding of smiles at witty remarks.

#3 Sass. What is a book without at least one sassy character? We all know and love the fearless badass females who never seem lost for words and have the most incredible way of doing or saying even the most mundane things.

#4 Grumpy-Sunshine trope. I realize I can’t call this the best trope ever since I already did that in #1. BUT this is a very close second. It provides for plenty of banter, and who doesn’t love seeing the classic ‘grumpy’ character pretending he’s annoyed but is secretly enjoying the quirks of the ‘sunshine’?

#5 Characters who like to read. Ah well I like to know I’ve atleast something in common with fictional characters, and since I am never going to be brave enough wage battles against the evil, my love for reading will have to do.

#6 Mr. Narrowed Eyes who walks with a flashing neon sign that says “I am evil with no emotions” but is actually a sensitive marshmallow. I actually made an entire post about this trope earlier this year(I still have no idea what it’s called so I made up a name). So these are basically characters who for some incomprehensible reason keep trying to prove to the world just how evil they are but they are the exact opposite.

#7 Mind-boggling endings. It might seem a bit out-of-the-ordinary but I actually enjoy books ending in a way that makes my mouth hang open trying to process everything.

#8 Lots of things happening all at once. It’s no secret that I like to see lots of action and fast paced reads are generally my type (though I have been proved wrong on more than one occasion).

As you probably may have gathered, it would not be inaccurate if I would have titled this post as “Things I Loved In Six Of Crows”, but we’re going to ignore that. Please and thank you.

What are some things you love seeing in books? Let’s chat in the comments!

Missed my previous posts? Click on the links below to read them!

Books As Road Trips // a random post that emerged out of the void

The Young Elites vs The Hype-o-Meter!