YA Book Review: Rebel of the Sands

rebel of the sands

I’ve finally gotten a chance to sit down and properly gush over exalt this book.

And oh heavens, this book. In a nutshell, it’s about this girl named Amani, who comes from a dead-end little town in the middle of the desert called Dustwalk, which is where you go to die in obscurity. Amani wants out. She wants to find her next of kin in the city. Along the way, she steals a magical desert horse called a buraqi, meets Jin, a mysterious foreigner with a past he’s unwilling to talk about, falls for Jin, and finds out what she really is. (In that order.)

The whole story is so vivid and enchanting and fast-paced it leaves you breathless and utterly spellbound and calls to mind images like these:

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It’s been a while since I read something so beautifully crafted yet packed with tight action scenes and a plot that moves relentlessly forward. SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo was fantastic and all (seriously, read it if you haven’t already), but Alwyn Hamilton’s debut novel reminds me a lot of Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy (hands-down THE BEST YA fantasy series I’ve read in my life – Laini is in a league of her own). Not in terms of plot, of course, but pacing and prose. The writing is lyrical yet concise – you don’t get the sense that the writer is getting carried away with la-di-da imagery and descriptions, but there is still poetry in her prose. Every sentence is perfectly crafted and carries the story forward.

Plot-wise, I mean the premise alone is enough to hook you. A mythical beast. A girl chasing her dreams. A mysterious foreigner. A rebel prince leading an uprising against the sultan. A rebel army made up of magical outcasts. SQUEEEE!

So many twists and turns. So many revelations. Such immense fun! I kept having to re-read sentences to savour them, and take down notes on how she crafted the scenes as well as outline the plot. Which explains why I took a month to read it. Also, I was trying to delay the inevitable end. When is the sequel going to be out already?!

Okay, I’m going to let the writing do the talking now.

Favourite quotes from the book:

The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn’t let weakness live.

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See why I can’t stop spazzing over this book?!?!

In short, REBEL OF THE SANDS is PERFECT. SO PERFECTLY CRAFTED I WANTED TO WEEP. So perfect it deserves all the 5-star reviews it has received. Because there are some books you read (as a writer) and realise that you will never – NEVER – be able to top because they are just that good. This is a book that deserves to be published and featured on the bestsellers list. Ms Hamilton, I take my hat off to you.

Excuse me while I go curl up in a corner now.

 

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Oh Eddie, you slayed in Sound of the Desert

Excuse the radio silence. I’ve been preoccupied for the past couple of weeks with the aforementioned period drama, Sound of the Desert. And when I say preoccupied, I mean I am entirely consumed by this addictive series.

I can’t remember the last Chinese period drama I’ve watched. They had always put me off with their tacky acting, overdone plots, terrible makeup and gaudy dressing. Plus, palace politics get boring after a while.

But Sound of the Desert is quite something. It has beautiful cinematography, characters with depth and fully fleshed out backstory, credible acting, character development, and loads of swoon-worthy moments that makes a girl like me squeal.

(And of course, there’s Eddie Peng.

THAT FACE IS A JACKPOT.

I always thought he was just a pretty face, but this show made me a huge fan of his acting!)

Essentially, Sound of the Desert is a love story based on a book series by a renowned Chinese author called Tong Hua, who also wrote Scarlet Heart, another popular drama series that everyone was obsessed with about a year or so ago.

The story centres around Jin Yu (played by Liu Shi Shi), a girl who lived among a pack of wolves in the desert until her adoptive father found her. Her father brought her up to live among humans and regaled her with magnificent stories about the city of Jian An, so she has always wanted to visit the place.

After her father is murdered, she goes to the city to start a new life and changes her name to Xin Yue. Along the way, she meets this handsome, disabled young man called Jiu Ye (played by Hu Ge), who has links with the royal family and is in charge of Shi Enterprises, the biggest commercial player in Jian An. She tries to steal some new clothes and salt from him and his entourage, but is caught. Jiu Ye lets her go but gives her this STUNNING BLUE DRESS that looks like something out of a fairy tale.

She also meets the confident, charismatic, hot, cocky young general Wei Wuji (played by Eddie Peng).

The scene where they meet is so perfect and momentous, and everything unspoken lies in their gazes.

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Xin Yue rescues Wuji and his crew from a bunch of desert bandits and helps them return to Jian An, where they then go their separate ways.

Wuji is bewitched by Xin Yue upon their first meeting, and you can see his cold exterior stripped away whenever he interacts with her. While he’s all intense, piercing gaze and clenched, chiselled jaw with his comrades and soldiers, around her he’s all puppy smiles and bright twinkly eyes (yes, the author included that description in the book).

Eddieeeee you slay me! He has such expressive eyes and the cutest smile.


Anyway, so Xin Yue goes to Jian An, is roped into being a dancer in a dance parlour before Jiu Ye finds her (Shi Enterprises owns the dance parlour), offers her a place to stay as well as a job managing the dance parlour instead of performing there. Meanwhile, Wuji searches high and low for the exotic, mysterious girl he met in the desert.

A love triangle develops, where Xin Yue falls head over heels for Jiu Ye, who is calm, collected, beautiful, but detached from everyone. Xin Yue is a shy and uncertain thing around him, and she always has to second-guess her behaviour. Like some lovesick schoolgirl.

Around Wuji, though, she is entirely, freely herself. The way you would be around your best friend, even though you know he’s in love with you. Wuji doesn’t bother hiding the fact that he is smitten with her, even when he’s around his soldiers.

He’s attentive,

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He looks at her like she’s his world,

He openly flirts with her,

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So many cute moments between them! Is there any wonder why this pairing launched a thousand ships (and new fans of Eddie)? 

 

He’s there by her side to cheer her up when she gets rejected TIME AND AGAIN by Jiu Ye (although I don’t know what she sees in him),

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Look around you, you dolt! Here’s a hot, sweet, charming, brave young general who is willing to lay down his life for you and do everything within his power to make you happy! Why chase a cold, reserved guy who has rejected you harshly thrice in a row because he’s too busy feeling inferior due to his disability? All he does is play the flute, read, and stare out the snowy window in deep thought. YAWN. Wuji, though, is passion, fire, fun.

And Eddie has so much on-screen presence, he commands every scene he’s in. The casting director did goooood with him. I bet Tong Hua is pleased with the decision to cast Eddie as Wuji too, because he doesn’t just play Wei Wuji. He IS Wei Wuji. He fully embraces and revels in the role. In other words, he slaaaayed (the girls over at My Drama Tea feel so too!), and he’s the main reason why I watched the show.

Also, he has set impossible standards for all guys out there.

On the battlefield he’s like,

When he sees her he’s like,

Don’t you just love a guy who is fierce and driven when it comes to serious matters, but lets down his defences around you?

There’s palace politics and other subplots in the show that I could care less about, but the main focus is on this lovely OTP. It’s total “shippy heaven”, according to Dreaming Snowflake, another fan I found on Tumblr who does greater justice to the show in her elaborate and insightful episode reviews. Tong Hua must have been projecting her fantasies with General Wei when she wrote her books. In fact, she did mention that she wrote Ballad of the Desert FOR this character, based on a real-life general called Huo Qu Bing, a young general who has never lost a single battle in all of his 26 years.

 

Those sparkling wide eyes!

Wei Wuji doesn’t die in the show – the characters get their happy ending (okay, at least the important ones do) – but there’s a twist at the end that helps the story tie in with historical records. I’m not spoiling it for you, so go watch it! In the meantime, I’m going to go catch up on all of Eddie’s other movies.

Wow. That turned out to be a long post. And most of it was spent gushing about Eddie. Excuse the fangirling. It’s just been a long while since I’ve fallen head over heels for a character that makes me grin to myself like a fool and itch to write another in his likeness.

If you watched the show and are now, like me, irrevocably in love with General Wei and Eddie Peng, let’s spaz together I’d love to hear your thoughts!

When Super Junior Came to Town

(Okay, I just need to get this out of my system before I get back to writing again. I’m experiencing what my friend Liz calls “concert withdrawals”, so just let me indulge my inner fangirl before I return to Neverland. Promise I’ll get the words out again!)

So I’ve been too busy fangirling this past week to blog, which I know is a very sorry excuse.

Geddit? SORRY? Haha.

But Super Show 6 only comes by once! And pricey concert ticket aside, it was completely worth it. So I just had to drop everything and go catch Super Junior live (for one day only!) when they came to town last Saturday. SS6 Singapore is the second last show before they wrap up their world tour. Plus, it’s the last before a couple of key members enlist (trying not to think about that because NOOOOOOO).

So this concert noob went to see SJ.

People selling official idol merchandise around the concert venue. I got the SS6 jersey and varsity jacket (because, you know, you always need clothes)!

The concert tickets for SS6 sold out in 10 minutes! I had to log in at noon sharp to snatch up mine. And here you can see why.

A sea of sapphire blue lights, the colour of the fandom

My bae.

 

Yes, they cosplayed Elsa in various forms – just one of the crazy thing this group does.
Everyone remembered to mount the rotating platform this time! *claps*
Hae was right in front of us!

(The following images are from SMTOWN’s official website)

 

Baby looks nervous

It’s so different watching them dance live. Hae’s moves look a lot more powerful in real life than on the screen!
Forever rebel, Kim Heechul
I’m wearing this jersey to sleep, just so you know

Thanks for the memories, SJ! You completely SLAYED. I only wish the concert had been longer, because 3.5 hours with you guys just isn’t enough!

What was YOUR first concert experience like?? :0)

february’s to-read list is not kind on the wallet

The wait is over! February is here!! Sorry, wallet. February’s not a good month for you. Blame the publishers for coming out with a slew of titles I’ve been dying to get my hands on:
1. Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

I know I’ve gone on for too long about this book. But the concept! The premise! The conflict!

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It would really suck if the book didn’t live up to expectations, because it looks so delicious I could gobble it up right now. (I didn’t read the seven teaser chapters because I want to read it all at one go, and not wait for weeks before reading the rest of the story.)
2. The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

If you’ve read Holly Black’s Curseworker series, you’ll know how brilliant she is at weaving complex but un-confusing plots that keep you turning the pages. And this book looks as deliciously sinister as The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, with vicious faeries (also an obsession of mine that led to Blood Promise), gifted siblings, and a horned boy waking from a long, deep slumber to fight the fairies.

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3. Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly

A girl born with a spiked tail and wings meant to save the girls in her town from their mysterious fate is spotted by a boy who leaves a red rose for her every evening.

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4. Beastkeeper, by Cat Hellisen 

A girl who grew up lonely and longing for magic and on the run learns the truth about what they’re running from when her mother abandons them and her father transforms into something beastly. Best part is, she’s cursed too, and can only break free of the curse when she falls in love. It’s a slightly different take on the Beauty and the Beast story, since the protagonist is beast, so this should be good.

5. The Last Time We Say Goodbye, by Cynthia Hand

I’m not usually into tear-jerkers, but I’ve been in this mood ever since I started watching the Korean drama series, Pinocchio (the music! the romance! plus, the relationship between the protagonist and her cold, distant mother), and read Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, which is more heart-breaking than I had ever expected.

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This is probably why No Room in Neverland is turning out way more emotionally intense than I had intended. I’m on page 185 now, by the way! Woohoo!

What’s on your To-Read list for February? :0)

Halfway into NaNoWriMo!

Writing advice from Kate Brauning:

Don’t get discouraged when you’re drafting if you’re not seeing magic happen. That magical touch and those insightful moments you see in great books aren’t magic at all. They’re the result of blood and sweat. First drafts are limp and flat and awkward—that’s normal. The depth and layers come as you revise. And revise. And revise.

Ugh, limp and flat and awkward first drafts. Too much experience with that. But it’s true that it gets better with each draft. You kind of figure out more stuff the more you write – the mood, the tone, the characters, their voices, their backgrounds – and all that helps you see the end more clearly.

So how is NaNoWriMo going for all my writerly friends?

Reading Siege and Storm, book #2 of the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo, is making me ache to write Indigo Tides.

It is so insanely good, much better than the first in terms of prose and pacing. I mean, it’s got mythical monsters and fairy tales and an unorthodox (and callously funny) ship captain that is fast becoming my favourite character in the book. What’s not to love? Plus, I love how Leigh doesn’t go overboard with the sappiness between Mal and Alina – every scene, every exchange, every touch between them is significant and propels the story forward while leaving your emotions scattered everywhere.

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But that’s a review for another day. I will properly gush about it then. For now,

Off to Neverland! Have a good week, everyone :0)

Book Review: Shadow and Bone

Fair warning: this post contains fangirl moments over Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, the first of the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. If fangirling gives you a massive headache, walk away now.

Otherwise, OMG THIS BOOK!!


The Story


Set in an alternate ancient Russia, in a place called Ravka, the story opens with a boy and a girl, both orphans adopted by Duke Keramsov before being posted to different vocations: Alina a cartographer, Mal a tracker/hunter. They live in a country that is constantly under siege by Fjerdans from the north, and Shu Hans from the south, and there’s this thing called the Fold that the Darkling and his men have to cross on their voyage across the Unsea. There, bird-like beasts called the Volcra feast on human flesh. The inciting moment is when Alina is taken across the fold and manages to save those on board with her once-dormant power of light.

The Darkling, by the way, is the leader of the Grisha (the magical elite) who is trying to wrestle for power from the passive king and rule all the land. He finds use for Alina, who is revealed to be the Sun Summoner, the one who can drive the Volcra away and ensure the safe crossing of the Fold. Alina is taken under the Darkling’s wing and hailed as the new hope for the people of Ravka.

But as she is taken deeper into the world of the Grisha, Alina uncovers more secrets and is forced to question her loyalties to the Darkling.

The Pacing


The first 60 percent of the book was kind of forgettable, and more than once I questioned where this was all leading up to. The flirty little moments between the Darkling and Alina, where the latter is lured by the promise of power and affection (things that had been denied to her when she was an adopted orphan), the lessons Alina had to go through, the petty politics of the court, where Alina was the subject of gossip and underhanded attacks by a jealous Grisha girl. I was ready for Alina to stop whining about how pathetic she was physically and get on with honing her powers already.

But then: PLOT TWIST PLOT TWIST PLOT FRIGGING TWIST!

Only it came about 100 pages too late. I would’ve liked things to move a little quicker, especially around the first 60 percent or so of the book. I took three weeks to read this book because I gave up on it halfway and moved on to other books. But once you survive till 65 percent or so, you will be glued to the page. There, I didn’t give anything away, did I?

The Writing


I wasn’t really a fan of the prose at the beginning. There were just too many I’s in the sentences, and after a while I was like, Vary your sentence structure, pleeeease!

Case in point:

And lest you think this is typical of first-person narrative (I know people who scoff at first-person POV), it’s not. There are a lot of writers whose writing feels natural even in first-person.

But then you’ve got moments like these:

And it’s just,

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Sentence structure what??

The Romance

Um, need I say more? Malina (Mal + Alina) is endgame. (I peeked at the end of the last book), and that makes me happy *insert cheesy grin*

So I can get past the excessive use of I’s and rote reporting of events, because OH YES THIS IS HOW YA FANTASY SHOULD BE DONE.

And the good news is: books two and three await.

Happy Friday! Hope you’re lost in a good book too :0)

Book Review: Fangirl

Remember how excited I was to finally get started on Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell?

This is what you get when you buy into all the hype before reading a book.

I’d heard SO many good things about this book and this author. Two of Rowell’s books had topped the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2013, and there were so many five-star reviews for Fangirl.

But while I found the book entertaining enough, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down.


The Lowdown
Fangirl is about this introverted girl, Cath, whose twin sister Wren starts to drift away from her after as soon as they start college. While Wren is out partying and drinking herself silly, Cath presses on with her super popular fanfiction about the Simon Snow books (the equivalent of the Harry Potter series). There isn’t much of an overarching narrative thread. It’s just like a chronicle of Cath’s life as she goes through college, gradually sticks her head out of her hermit hole and meet people, get a boyfriend, and explain why fanfic is legitimate fiction to her Creative Writing professor.


The Verdict

The book wasn’t terrible. Some parts were really good, such as the Simon Snow bits (I was far more interested in reading about Simon Snow the magician and his nemesis Baz than Cath’s relationship drama), and the strained relationship between Cath and her mother (wow, that one got very close to home, I’ll give you that). But the parts I wish Rowell had explored were kind of underdeveloped. In the end, Cath’s mother just sort of disappeared towards the story. I really wanted to see some kind of emotional outburst or denouement between Cath and her mom, but the latter just faded out of the story to let the romance take over.

 

The Romance 
And speaking of the romance, I seriously thought it was meant to be satirical at first. The way Cath and Levi (her roommate’s boyfriend, whom her roommate two-timed, so that makes it okay for Cath and Levi to get together) fawn over each other. Cath is all up in his face, kissing his jaw, his chin, his nose, his lips, and they’re always going on about how gorgeous and adorable each other is and how much they miss each other.

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I mean, I get that you’re infatuated, but do people seriously go googly-eyed all. the. time. about their partners? Even if they do, does that fawning need to take up practically half the book? I found myself skipping the parts where they are all over each other, and more than once I wondered if Rowell was being serious or satirical about the whole YA/NA romance genre.


The Dialogue
I actually really liked the dialogue. It was one of the better qualities of the book. It felt natural and there were funny bits like this:

“You look ridiculous,” Wren said.

“What?”

“That shirt.” It was a Hello Kitty shirt from eighth or ninth grade. Hello Kitty dressed as a superhero. It said SUPER CAT on the back, and Wren had added an H with fabric paint. The shirt was cropped too short to begin with, and it didn’t really fit anymore. Cath pulled it down self-consciously.

“Cath!” her dad shouted from downstairs. “Phone.”

Cath picked up her cell phone and looked at it.

“He must mean the house phone,” Wren said.

“Who calls the house phone?”

“Probably 2005. I think it wants its shirt back.” 

I can just imagine this being read out in play-writing class (miss you guys!) and getting some laughs.

 

And then there are some bright moments like this one between Cath and her dad:

“Isn’t giving up allowed sometimes? Isn’t it okay to say, ‘This really hurts, so I’m going to stop trying’?”

“It sets a dangerous precedent.”

“For avoiding pain?”

“For avoiding life.” 

 

But then there’s semi-annoying banter like this:
“What if I promise not to touch you?”

“Cath laughed. “Now I have zero incentive to come.”

“What if I promise to let you touch me first?”

“Are you kidding? I’m the untrustworthy person in this relationship. I’m all hands.”

“I’ve seen no evidence of that, Cath.”

“In my head, I’m all hands.”

“I want to live in your head.” 

And sappy moments like this:

“You’re beautiful,” she said.

“That’s you.”

“Don’t argue with me. You’re beautiful.” 

 

And descriptions like this:

“Cath couldn’t stop thinking about Levi and his ten thousand smiles.” 

“His mouth was small, but bowed. Like a doll’s. She wondered if he had trouble opening it wide enough to eat apples.” 

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The Conflict

Everything was very la-di-da and smooth-sailing for Cath. Sure, she had a writing buddy who practically stole her story and a writing professor who gave her a bad grade because she submitted fanfic for an assignment (duh) and a sister who kept getting into trouble and expecting her to clean up after her and a mom who suddenly wanted contact with them. But everything felt kind of random and thrown together. I get that it mimics real life, since there’s no “overarching narrative thread” in reality, but it felt like Rowell smoothed these little issues over very easily.

The biggest challenge in school for Cath was … eating in the dining hall. Seriously, she kept a stash of energy bars so she wouldn’t have to eat alone in the dining hall. I get that, I really do. But I wanted to know more about her social anxiety – why is she this way? what happened in the past for her to be so afraid of meeting people? how is this going to affect her interaction with the new people she meets in college eventually? (It doesn’t, by the way, if her over effusiveness with Levi is any indication.)

I kept waiting for everything to snowball into something big at the end that led to a transformation in Cath (or any character). But even the fight she and Levi had towards the end was resolved in three pages or so.

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More! I need more conflict – both internal and external – to make me root for the characters! (There was, however, this one scene between Cath and Wren, where they argued about their mother. Cath hates her, wants nothing to do with her, sees Wren as fraternising with the enemy when the latter agrees to have lunch and be in contact with her. That was a particularly emotionally charged scene and I could totally relate to Cath. I only wished there were more moments like this in the book.)

I don’t know. Is it just me? Am I not quite getting something, some hidden awesomeness about Fangirl? Five-star YA contemporary is Sarah Dessen and Cath Crowley and Melina Marchetta for me. Fangirl is more like a 3 or 3.5 (a bonus 0.5 for the Simon Snow bits – even Baz, a fictional character, had more backstory than Cath, the protagonist).

(Just to be clear, I didn’t HATE it. I enjoyed it well enough. But I just don’t get the hype. For all the glowing reviews it got, I expected Fangirl to blow me away like What Happened to Goodbye or Graffiti Moon had.)

Still, I’m hoping Rowell’s other book, Eleanor and Park (which comes with its own set of 5-star reviews on Goodreads), will ease up on the weird touching and hungry kissing and sappy praises about love interest’s lips or hair or eyes or cheeks.

But from what I’ve read so far, that doesn’t seem too likely. Eleanor and Park have gone from sitting next to each other on the bus (because they had no choice) to sharing comic books and music to stroking each other’s hands to this:

Although I think the characters in Eleanor and Park have more backstory and personal conflict than those in Fangirl, so I’m holding out on the hope that this book will make me understand all those 5-star reviews. Okay, going in blind now…

Hope your week is filled with slightly more gratifying books! :0)