Review – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before | Jenny Han

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  • Title: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
  • Author: Jenny Han
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Release Date: April 15th 2014
  • Pages: 355

Blurb

What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.


Every woman needs a good chick lit every now and then no matter how old they get! After a few challenging months of 2017, I needed just that – to get my reading mojo back on track. Happy to report, this book certainly did the trick in getting me out of my reading slump. Warning: this is a cute and fluffy read. Not for the hard-hearted 😛

Lara Jean is your typical teenager. Having to juggle between her non-existent love life, family, and school – she needed a platform to vent her emotions. She finds comfort in words so for every crush she experienced, she wrote a love letter. Once she writes the letter, she would keep it in her little teal hatbox, hidden from the world. She repeatedly does this along her teen years – 5 times altogether.

“My letters are for when I don’t want to be in love anymore. They’re for good-bye. Because after I write in my letter, I’m not longer consumed by my all-consuming love… My letters set me free. Or at least they’re supposed to.”

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a gem of its own. You will follow how Lara Jean is caught in situations where she has to deal with her previous love interests, and also potentially stumbling upon a few rekindles along the way. *hint hint* 

After her mother passed away, Lara Jean lived with her dad and two sisters – Margot and Kitty. I love the connection they share. The fatherly conversations. The strong sisterhood bond; backing each other up and diving into their many dramas together. There’s also Josh from next door, their childhood friend who is like family. The togetherness, care and love they share is very comforting. It makes you feel at home.

“Love is scary: it changes; it can go away. That’s the part of the risk. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”

You will dive into Lara Jean’s many ups and downs as she goes through her late teenage phase. May even remind you of how you were during that age – a trip down memory lane! We have all gone through this crazy roller coaster ride, haven’t we? One way or another – crush after crush, heartbreak after heartbreak. But the way we handle them plays a part in developing our emotional strength and maturity.

“When I write, I hold nothing back. I write like he’ll never read it. Because he never will. Every secret thought, every careful observation, everything I’ve saved up inside me, I put it all in the letter. When I’m done, I seal it, I address it, and then I put it in my teal hatbox.”

The story of Lara Jean is both entertaining and full of lessons. At times, the young perspectives may come off as rather immature, but please keep on going. I could hardly put down this book once I started reading it. It’s very raw and truthful.

“I wonder what it’s like to have that much power over a boy. I don’t think I’d want it; it’s a lot of responsibility to hold a person’s heart in your hands.”

I love the warm feeling it gives you. It reminds you that yes love is crazy, but it is sure as hell worth it.

The book ends with a cliffhanger so I would suggest you to get the sequel, P.S. I Still Love you, right away. A promising start to the series. Looking forward to see what the sequel has to offer!

Rating: 

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Review – Letters to Home

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  • Title: Letters to Home
  • Editors: Ooi Kok Hin, Aish Kumar, Nik Mohamed Rashid Nik Zurin
  • Featuring letters by: Azalia Zaharuddin, Fikri Fisal, Ng Jung Kian, Aish Kumar, Zaryff Razali, Tan Heang Lee, Billy Hoo, Nurul Ismawi, Ooi Kok Hin, David Lim, Rexy Prakash, Tharmelinggem Pillai, Abdul Rahman Shah, Shamil Norshidi, Shahir Shukor, Benedict Weerasena, Nik Mohamed Rashid Nik Zurin, Achmad Bakhtiar M Yuni, Justin Lim Jia Tian, Sarah Syahirah binti Abdullah, Nizhan Faraz Rizal and Eddy Arief Zulkifly, Asyraf Muiz Roslan, Hasbullah Faudzi, Ian Chew, Izzat Adha, Puteri Eleni Megat Osman, Mohamad Syazwan Abdul Rahman and Mohd Izzuddin Ramli.
  • Publisher: Matahari Books (an imprint of Buku Fixi)
  • Release date: December 3rd 2016
  • Pages:234

Blurb

24 universities. 7 countries. 1 hope.
These are the voices of young Malaysians all over the world–penning down our dreams, fears, concerns, aspirations, and hope to our nation, our home.


If you know me well enough, you would have realised how much I love reading books written by local authors. It gives me a great sense of pride to see my fellow Malaysians contributing to the writing and reading community. What’s more, I feel responsible to share these great books to more readers – hence why I was more than happy to read and review this book.

Letters to Home is a collection of stories and thoughts penned by 30 young Malaysians who all have one major thing in common – hope for our beloved country, Malaysia. As you read these letters, you will come across them making a stand on topics close to heart, formulating their views and sharing their aspirations for the greater good of our community. Coupled with some bahasa rojak and light Malaysian humour, this was an enjoyable read!

If Malaysia was a Pokemon, Canada is what it might evolve into – Nizhan Faraz Rizal & Eddy Arief Zulkifly

The letters written are very distinct from one another, making it very refreshing to progress and dive into. From Malaysian politics, to education, to freedom of speech, to people disabilities etc. – there’s something in this book for everyone. Oh and may I add that I made it a point to read this book in public – just to give it some coverage it deserves. It was very promising to see Malaysians looking over curiously at the cover, and several even approached me to know more!

While our child law currently upholds the general rights of children in Malaysia, more reforms are needed to protect specific groups of children, including the children living in orphanages. – Puteri Eleni Megat Osman

Overall, I am extremely happy with the selection of topics included and have high hopes for more to be published in a similar manner – part two please! There’s so much to learn from the book and it is indeed an insightful source to kickstart healthy discussions with family and friends. Read it with an open mind and form your own opinions. Connect with the authors and immerse yourself with conversation. We Malaysian youths have so much more to do, learn and explore. Let’s keep on going.

Together, we can make a difference. – Rexy Prakash 

Rating: 

I would like to thank Buku Fixi and Matahari Books for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!

Review – A Sticky Note Guide to Life | Chaz Hutton

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  • Title: A Sticky Note Guide to Life
  • Author: Chaz Hutton
  • Publisher: Harper Collins
  • Release date: October 13th 2016
  • Pages: 194

Blurb

LIFE! What does it all mean?

Chaz Hutton, the world’s first sticky note lifestyle guru, has taken it upon himself to figure it all out so we don’t have to. He covers all the important things: dating, working, eating, fighting gorillas, the impossible physics of toothpaste, the family history of a sock drawer, and so much more.

Basically, all the big life questions that you didn’t realise needed answering.


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The first reaction I had when I flipped through this book was – omg, sticky notes! Printed sticky notes on each page, literally! I then proceeded to parading the book to all my family and friends (victims?) who would listen to my many ramblings on it. Haha! This book is one of a kind and the author, Chaz, knows very well of it.

A Sticky Note Guide to Life is a collection of sticky notes illustrating observations of different parts of one’s life – work, home, entertainment, dating, technology and well — assorted nonsense that will make you laugh, smile and have those ah-hah! moments.

I find this book extremely engaging and fun to read. Your life will be analysed and represented in the form of pie charts, flow charts, line graphs etc. in the most thoughtful way possible. I love the captions that accompany each sticky note – Chaz has a colourful characters, and it shows.

Each of us lead different lives and sometimes even, very unique from the rest. As such, not every situation in the book may be relatable to you but it does give you a glimpse on what goes around another person’s life – no matter how exaggerated or true it may be. You may also not understand everything that is represented – which makes it fun when you start deciphering the messages with friends and family, or get everyone confused along the way.

Certainly a unique book you could read with your loved ones to have a good laugh. I look forward to more interesting outlooks from Chaz.  You can check out more of his work on his instagram account – @instachaaz.

Here’s to a wonderful 2017!

Rating: 

I would like to thank HarperCollins for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!

Photo Blog Tour – Wing Jones | Katherine Webber

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  • Title: Wing Jones
  • Author: Katherine Webber
  • Publisher: Walker Books
  • Release date: January 5th 2017
  • Pages: 384

Blurb

Jandy Nelson meets Friday Night Lights: a sweeping story about love and family from an exceptional new voice in YA. With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.


Hear,  hear! I’m on board another blog tour! This time around, it’s for the AMAZING Katherine Webber with her much anticipated debut novel, Wing Jones, which was published on 5th January 2017 in the UK. That beautiful cover though. 

With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants…

Katherine Webber was born in Southern California but has lived in Atlanta, Hawaii, Hong Kong and now in London. For several years she worked at the reading charity BookTrust, where she worked on projects such as The Letterbox Club which delivers parcels of books to children in care, and YALC, the Young Adult Literature Convention. You can find her on Twitter @kwebberwrites.

Throughout January, over 40 bloggers will be participating in the #WJphototour – a photo blog tour documenting Katherine’s path to publishing her debut novel. From childhood memories that inspired her writing to her time living in Atlanta and Asia that influenced the book to authors she’s met over the years right up to receiving her first finished copy of the book, follow along to see Katherine’s author life unfold! Keep an eye on the hashtag to see the latest photos!

Here’s the photo for my tour stop!

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While studying in Hong Kong, I spent a lot of time traveling in China. I loved speaking Mandarin and getting to know Chinese culture and customs. I was also a total tourist—proven her by this picture of me on the Great Wall in Beijing! Wing’s Chinese heritage was partly influenced by the time I spent in China.

Kudos to Katherine for publishing her first ever book. Do keep an eye on the hashtag to see all the other photos in this fun photo blog tour organised by Walker Books. Till my next post, keep reading!

Author Interview | Colm McElwain

Every now and then, I am blessed with the opportunity to communicate with authors directly and more often than not, these interactions, no matter how little it may be, never cease to amaze and inspire me. Recently I read and reviewed Colm McElwain’s James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra. I believe every writer has two stories to tell – one is of the book itself and the other is on their writing journey.

Here’s my recent interview with him! If you have further questions, do give me a buzz and I’ll be sure to let him know. 🙂

1) What and/or who inspired you to write James Clyde? 

A lot of different things really! I was inspired by other popular children’s books and films. This would include Disney films, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Superman, to name just a few.  Sometimes scenes within a film helped me write certain sequences. For example, if I was writing a battle scene I would watch a war or battle sequence and try to describe what was happening. If I was writing a flying sequence I might watch ‘Superman’ and again try to write down what I was watching. Then I would go back to my manuscript and rewrite my sequence until I was happy with it. I really wanted the reader to feel like they were right there with the characters. I must admit that one of the scenes with the children flying was inspired by ‘The Snowman.’ Do you know the scene where the young boy flies into the sky holding the snowman’s hand?  I thought that was a magical moment and tried to capture that sense of wonderment in my opening flying sequence. My story was set at Christmas and it was snowing too!  This helps – the setup is very magical to begin with, so the rest of the story can take off from there. Ideas are everywhere. Some of the sequences in my book would cost a fortune to produce in a film, but the joy of writing means I can write them down for free.

2) What are some of the challenges you face in your writing journey?

In the actual writing, linking all the loose ends together can be tricky.  However, there’s nothing that can’t be overcome. The answers are there.  It might take several rewrites and a lot of hard work and head scratching, but I found the solution always presented itself, eventually. I sometimes encountered problems with the story, but that might happen in draft 2 or 3.  By draft 25 or 30 I would have solved the problem.  It just takes time and effort. Perhaps leaving the story for a while and then coming back to it with a fresh perspective. I’m afraid, writing a book is a long-term project. Everyone is capable of it though. I still do face challenges in promoting my book. I would love to write a sequel one day, but first I want James Clyde’s first adventure to do well. So thank you for reading and reviewing.

3) Who is your favourite character in the book and why?

Well the obvious answer is James, I suppose, but I really do love them all.  I do like James’s story arc.  It feels complete by the end.  However, any good story needs strong bad guys! I had to see things from Gilbert’s point of view, just as much as I did from James’s.  I went with the idea that Gilbert doesn’t actually believe he is evil. He believes he’s doing the right thing.  I felt this would be an interesting angle.  The reader can actually put themselves in Gilbert’s shoes.  He is a man in his 60’s and feels like things have passed him by.  He wants more.  I think in a way everyone can relate to that. The lure and mystic of the diamonds and obtaining power entices him into making bad decisions. His greed also gets the better of him.  Then I also like Kila.  He is obviously a strong character in the story and James needs him in order to survive.  I like the relationship that exists between these two characters.

4) Are you looking into writing a sequel for James Clyde?

Yes I do feel 2017 would be a good year to make a start.  Why not?  I do have a good idea of where the story could progress. I just needed a break after writing, James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra. I worked six years on it and it’s still an on-going process with promotion now the main objective. It’s important to enjoy life, as it’s an adventure too!  So instead of writing about an adventure I decided to live my own for a bit. However, I do intend to give it a shot in 2017.  Hopefully it might happen one day!

5) If you could mention only 3 unique points about the book, what would it be?

Magical diamonds sought by many, faith in miracles and in oneself, and a young boy who will never give up on his grandfather’s wish.


More on the Author 

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Colm was raised and educated in Monaghan, Ireland. He is a business and physical education teacher and likes reading books, watching films and playing sport. He has always loved storytelling, whether through literature or film.  James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra is his first novel and brings a very fulfilling creative experience spanning a number of years to an end. Colm’s inspiration for James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra were other great books and films in the children’s fantasy genre. He grew up reading Roald Dahl’s magical books and journeyed to Narnia whenever he read C.S. Lewis’s book series. In film he loved the ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Back to the Future’ movies.  Colm wanted to instill that sense of swashbuckling adventure into his own novel.

Review – James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra | Colm McElwain

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  • Title: James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra
  • Author: Colm McElwain
  • Publisher: Matador
  • Release date: February 1st 2012
  • Pages: 246

Blurb

Alongside his friends Ben and Mary Forester, James Clyde must protect a powerful diamond from falling into the wrong hands. A strange and sinister man dressed in black is also pursuing the diamond and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

James and his friends set off on a perilous journey to return the diamond to its rightful place. But they are being hunted every step of the way by the relentless man in black and his blood-thirsty army. Outnumbered, James finds he must use the power of the diamond to escape their clutches – or become another victim of their murderous quest. So begins a journey that will transport them to an alternative world where they must confront the mysterious man in black for a final, winner-takes-all battle…


Magic? Children as heroes and heroines? A fantasy world?

Being in the Harry Potter fandom does come with very high expectations especially when I read a book with similar themes. Despite that, I decided to give this middle grade fantasy book a try. Safe to say – I am extremely happy with how it turned out to be!

It was hardly recognisable: the fabric was in tatters and the strap was cut in half. Knees trembling, he walked slowly forward. I have to get out of here! They’re getting closer. 

The first thought that came to my mind when I started reading this book was – omg, Colm can really write. He writes with so much heart and conviction. The flow was wonderful, the use of language simple yet outstanding, and overall it just made me dive into the story instantly. I was drawn to it. The chapters are short too which really helps in making good reading progress, especially for those with short attention spans! I’m sure you can relate when I say that there are some books out there that require extra effort to get through the chapters. James Clyde does not pose such a challenge – extra points for sure!

Without delay, he went to the wardrobe, took from it the black cloak and laid it out on the bed.

This was his anonymity.

This was his disguise.

James, Ben and Mary are strong characters to the plot. The trio are just knee-high to a grasshopper but their struggles and actions are monumental. Their adventures are extremely interesting to follow till the extent that they brought back old childhood memories – of the carefree life and wild imaginations. Elements of suspense in the story were also very well-crafted and added so much depth to the build-up.

“You still have much to learn and you will. You’re young. One day, you’ll claim your revenge. That I promise you.” He laid a comforting hand on James’s shoulder.

Will these children have a chance against the villains?

James Clyde and the Diamonds of Orchestra is a book which will keep you glued – the writing, plot and characters are packed with so much thought; it’s no surprise that it’s truly spot on. It was also written by an exceptional, hardworking and humble writer. I have high hopes that he will soon publish a sequel for it – and for that I am indeed excited!

Rating: 

I would like to thank the author, Colm McElwain, for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!

Guest Review – How I Became A North Korean | Krys Lee

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  • Title: How I Became a North Korean
  • Author: Krys Lee
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber
  • Release date: August 2nd 2016
  • Pages: 246

Blurb

Yongju is an accomplished student from one of North Korea’s most prominent families. Jangmi, on the other hand, has had to fend for herself since childhood, most recently by smuggling goods across the border. Then there is Danny, a Chinese-American teenager of North Korean descent whose quirks and precocious intelligence have long marked him as an outcast in his California high school.

These three disparate lives converge when each of them escapes to the region where China borders North Korea—Danny to visit his mother, who is working as a missionary there, after a humiliating incident keeps him out of school; Yongju to escape persecution after his father is killed at the hands of the Dear Leader himself; and Jangmi to protect her unborn child. As they struggle to survive in a place where danger seems to close in on all sides, in the form of government informants, husbands, thieves, abductors, and even missionaries, they come to form a kind of adoptive family. But will Yongju, Jangmi and Danny find their way to the better lives they risked everything for?

Transporting the reader to one of the most little-known and threatening environments in the world, and exploring how humanity persists even in the most desperate circumstances, How I Became a North Korean is a brilliant and essential first novel by one of our most promising writers.


Guest Reviewer: Ashraf Ali 

After a dinner of delectable fish flown in on a private jet from Tokyo, smiling celebrities in fur coats and government functionaries wearing Rolexes dance to an American pop song under a glittering disco ball.

Krys Lee’s debut novel opens with a unique and often unseen glimpse of life in the North Korean aristocracy. It’s a shocking display of opulence particularly to those who have only heard of the Hermit Kingdom from mainstream news.

But look closer: Their smiles are grimaces, dressed up to conceal terror. This is not Manhattan but Pyongyang. 

Lee’s jarring comparison to Manhattan echoes Anna Fitfield of WaPo’s more recent experience with the party elites in what she calls “Pyonghattan”. It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend it. Suffice to say Ms. Lee, with an opener like that, I am definitely intrigued.

The Dear Leader was drunk, now angry, and made his decision. He reached as if brushing off lint from my abeoji’s suit lapel, then motioned a bodyguard over and casually withdrew a revolver from the man’s jacket pocket. He aimed it at my abeoji’s heart.

In the blink of an eye, Yongju, one of three protagonists, has his world turned upside down. His abeoji (father) has been murdered in cold-blood by Dear Leader himself. He is forced to flee the privileged life he has for fear of persecution under the oppressive regime. This is the tipping point that sets in motion an arduous journey of survival, in a world where the odds are stacked against them at every turn.

How I Became a North Korean is told through the first person narratives of three main characters. First is Yongju, the son of one of the North Korean elite families. Jangmi, another protagonist, on the other hand, is a commoner. She is pregnant with the child of a high-ranking official thus is forced to sell herself to marriage to a Joseonjok, a Chinese of Korean ancestry to escape certain death.

The skyline blinded me with its glowing signs—neon, he called it. But it was the hundreds of motorcycles flying past that I couldn’t stop staring at. I promised myself that I would become like one of those women who looked so fearless, so free, riding alone on the enormous steel machines.

From a narrative standpoint, I love how Lee is able to use the different social classes of these two characters to convey their unique experiences with the world outside the DPRK. The quote above is a great example of this. Yongju has an introspective almost-poetic side to him while Jangmi, though stone cold in parts, has both a caring, motherly side and a general amazement at the world outside the DPRK.

Am I forgetting something? Oh, yes. The third protagonist in this novel Danny/Daehan, another Joseonjok and a devout Christian that immigrated to California with his father. He however returns to his homeland to see his mother and after a certain plot event I won’t spoil, joins some North Korean defectors including both Yongju and Jangmi.

Honestly, the “Danny chapters” were the weakest in what was for the most part a pretty enthralling read for me. I found him, despite the whole closeted gay aspect, to be a bit one dimensional at times. It is a shame that such a riveting personal crisis that could define his character, just doesn’t feel as fleshed out.  Compared to the other two protagonists, Danny comes off as uninteresting and sometimes seems to be just a deus ex machina for the them.

Overall, there’s no getting around the fact this is a beautifully-written novel. Lee herself has worked with North Korean defectors and it really shows in the vivid descriptions throughout the novel. You feel the desperation in their actions and the desolation of the lands they are forced to cross in the hopes to taste that forbidden freedom they yearn. Though I will admit that it’s a bit much at first, stick with it and you shall be rewarded.

Unfortunately, the third act didn’t stick to me as much as the writing style. It felt cliché at points and didn’t live up to the wonderful first act. It isn’t a deal breaker by any means but a disappointment nonetheless. Finally, I have one final albeit minor bone to pick with this novel.

Our eomeoni turned away. Look at me, her posture said. I’ve failed as your eomma.

This novel uses a lot of Korean terms. Some terms were explained but some were left as is, forcing the reader to guess, with varying degrees of success. Usually, one can make a pretty good guess a few sentences in, but in some parts, it does get a bit confusing. A glossary for the non-Korean speaking readers would have been much appreciated.

So, what’s the verdict? All in all, Lee has managed to craft a beautiful and nuanced take on North Korea and its people. Would I recommend everyone go out and get it? Unfortunately, not. This book is certainly not for everyone. But if you’re curious about the subject matter, this novel, despite its flaws, is certainly worth the pick-up.

Rating: 

I would like to thank Faber & Faber for this review copy in exchange for my honest review!


Ashraf enjoys long walks on the beach and sharing a book during dates, however impractical that may be. You can find him (if he ever decides to update) on Twitter at @AshNitrate.