The Poppy War Review

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

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This is a powerful brutal book and I freaking loved it.

Rin is a war orphan and well, she does her bes tot get a scholarship to a school to avoid getting married off to an old man just so her foster family can kinda get rid of her and “sell” her well (money talks). So she manages that and goes to military school.

The best thing about this book is that it has many of the things I love in general and in books. One of them is the whole “this happens in a school” (which is part of the first part and the second part of the book). There is also a lot of military, fighting and strategy information, which I love very much (we watch documentaries on tanks, on spies, on guns, on military strategy, on yeah… you get the gist I will stop here, the point is that reading her training made me very happy).

And then we have the bonus of weird magic that is powered by a mysterious thing (because spoilers, though I did guess what it was but nevermind) or drugs (while reading this I couldn’t help but feel like I was back in Mexico and also about Carlos Castañeda’s books). Lore is what they call it.

Now this is where I would like to discuss all the spoilers and all that stuff but I really shouldn’t. I have to say, only one of the twists surprised me. This usually means I enjoy the book a little less, but not for this one. It just made it good because it wasn’t the goal that meant it but rather the “how we got there” and it was a glorious brutal journey.

This is also a great example of how side characters aren’t there just for the sake of, and they all exist as individuals. Plus Rin is a little bit of a bad person and you hate her sometimes (you also love her at times) and this doesn’t make you want to throw the book at the wall and give up. My uttermost respects to Miss Kuang for pulling such an amazing story and giving it layer over layer of information. This also includes the historical nuance.

As a bit to know, there is self harm in it (burning), there is obviously a LOT of violence and gore, implied rape and dehumanization, amongst many other vile things (I can’t even remember them all) so this isn’t a fluffy light book. But despite all the hard stuff, it was an amazing read.

You Can’t Hide Review

You Can’t Hide by Sarah Mussi

When Lexi wakes up in the Hudson Medical Center, barely in one piece, she is unable to recall how she got there.

Nobody seems to be able to tell her.

Disturbing memories haunt her daylight hours. Nightmares stalk her sleep.
With huge unanswered questions, like where is her Mom – why doesn’t she visit? What’s happened to her boyfriend Finn – and who is this friend, Crystal, who visits her a lot and of whom she has no recollection? Lexi sets out to discover what’s happened.

But the more she searches for answers, the deeper and darker the mystery gets.

And as she begins to piece the fragments together, she remembers one thing: I MUST HIDE FROM CHARLIE.

But the question is: who is Charlie? And is he still out there?

Rating: MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px MoonKestrel Logo2 20px Grey

I will start by saying that this book requires trigger warnings: domestic abuse, violence, sexual content, gaslighting and similar. (Also mentions amnesia due to an accident)

This review will include small spoilers (not the two main plot things) so decide to read ahead at your own peril.

This is a tough book. Lexi has woken up int he hospital and starts to try to write down to Finn about what is happening. She’s forgotten why she’s in an accident but one thing she hasn’t forgotten at all is that there is imminent danger and that she may not be safe even in the hospital.

To try to help herself recover those memories, she backtracks to the moment they arrived to the US from the UK after having fled from her abusive father (they being her and her mum). And throughout what Lexi writes of her memories after the exodus (as she titles it) we also get flashback scenes on things that happened when she was younger.

The flashbacks can be a little brutal, and many brought memories to my mind, so do be careful when reading this to be prepared (the book doesn’t throw stuff without building up to it). But it was well done, and as we unravel what is happening and what is true and what isn’t things aren’t as clear as they seem.

One of the things that reduced stars for me from this is that Lexi stalls and does a lot of descriptions. I understand this is because that’s probably what someone with amnesia might do as they are anchors. But it became boring and I would skip a lot of her “in the US” descriptions (you don’t miss much).

Probably the best part is her trying to be a stronger self, one that isn’t bullied and pushed like her mother and like herself when they lived int eh same house as her father. That was interesting as was the build up to how they escape, and the build up to what the danger is.

All in all, if you can and want to read this book, it is very brutal and very honest, and does a good picture of domestic violence (and why it is hard to leave, why you don’t see it until it is too late, etc).

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt Review

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton

Happy-go-lucky Narwhal and no-nonsense Jelly find their inner superheroes in three new under-the-sea adventures. In the first story, Narwhal reveals his superhero alter-ego and enlists Jelly to help him figure out what his superpower is. Next, Narwhal uses his superpower to help a friend find his way back home. In the third story, Jelly is feeling blue and Narwhal comes to the rescue. Ben Clanton showcases the joys of friendship and the power of believing in yourself and others through this irresistible duo.

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And we’re now on the sequel! Superpowers for everyone!

And yes, that is basically the theme of this book (and waffles, and friendship). Narwhal is a superhero, but what is his superpower? I love that Jelly’s power is to “jolt” others. Makes sense given that Jelly is a jellyfish. And there’s even more superheroes.

Super Narwhal is as cute and loving as can be. And there are a few puns to be had in the book (so yes, adults and children can enjoy, and then enjoy a re-read as you grow up). It made me laugh a lot and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Same advice as with the first Narwhal and Jelly book, go buy it, you need it (but now you also need the first one! so go get both and maybe the next ones that aren’t out yet?)

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea! Review

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton

Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal. Jelly is a no-nonsense jellyfish. The two might not have a lot in common, but they do they love waffles, parties and adventures. Join Narwhal and Jelly as they discover the whole wide ocean together. A wonderfully silly, full-colour, early graphic novel series featuring three short stories and a super fun ocean fact page – and joke page too!
The perfect first book for young readers, just moving on from picture books, discovering the joys of friendship, working together and the power of imagination.

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I found this book thanks to Stephanie Burgis, the author behind The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart book series. She tweeted something about it and it spiked my interest so I ordered this one and the sequel, plus preordered the next two. (Yeah I trust her judgement, this had to be good).

Thankfully it did not disappoint at all. My only qualm is that it is too short. Narwhal is so cute, loving and he makes me laugh so much, and Jelly is such a great contrast friend but not like a super grumpy one, just a different one.

This tiny book made me laugh, want waffles and just fall in love with it. It is highly recommended for children and adults alike, the art is “simple” in lines but still very good and it keeps you in this lovely undersea world.

My advice, go buy them all! Everyone needs this book in their home (and the similar book would be A Polar Bear falls in love.

Voices Review

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Voices: The Final Hours of Joan Of Arc by David Elliott

Author David Elliott explores how Joan of Arc changed the course of history and remains a figure of fascination centuries after her extraordinary life and death.

Told through medieval poetic forms and in the voices of the people and objects in Joan of Arc’s life, (including her family and even the trees, clothes, cows, and candles of her childhood). Along the way it explores issues such as gender, misogyny, and the peril of speaking truth to power. Before Joan of Arc became a saint, she was a girl inspired. It is that girl we come to know in Voices.

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I used to love playing Age of Empires II on my Windows 98 computer (yes, I am old, shush!) as a child and teenager. And one of the first campaigns is Joan of Arc. I learnt a lot about her story and France (I am not saying it was perfect, but I learned a lot, and Age of Empires sparked my interest in more history). But the point wasn’t about gaming on a 1990’s computer, rather that it sparked my interest in this book.

As starter things, this book is a poem, it isn’t 100% accurate but more of an “artistic” view as the idea was to focus on the type of poems that would be used during Joan’s time. (This part I found nice, as the poems made a little more sense than modern poetry. Apparently Medieval poems are more similar to general Spanish poems, therefore make more sense poetically speaking than other poems in English do for me). And it isn’t a book about Joan’s whole life, but rather it is meant to be a “I am about to die, my life choices are questioned, this is what led me here” type of book.

I liked the artistic take on the story, and the poems. Some are shaped, and there’s a lot of formatting in it which made the experience of reading it, more of an experience in itself. My absolute favourite is the Fire, but in general, I enjoyed the poems, and I don’t know if I have a sooty mind thanks to hanging out with my friends, but there were some interesting hidden jokes in the poems that made me raise an eyebrow and laugh quietly at it.

It was a nice change of reading, and it was a relatively familiar story, so it was a neat read as I had been suffering from head splitting headaches, and this wasn’t too hard. Which probably made me enjoy it more than I would’ve otherwise. As did my love for Age of Empires…

 

The Bear and the Piano Review

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The Bear and the Piano by David Litchfield

One day, a young bear stumbles upon something he has never seen before in the forest. As time passes, he teaches himself how to play the strange instrument, and eventually the beautiful sounds are heard by a father and son who are picnicking in the woods. The bear goes with them on an incredible journey to New York, where his piano playing makes him a huge star. He has fame, fortune and all the music in the world, but he misses the friends and family he has left behind. A moving tale of exploration and belonging from an exciting debut author-illustrator.

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This was another whim buy, because it had a piano in the title (fox, dragon, piano, put those in the title and I’ll probably buy it…) and it looked cute. Not wrong at all.

I read it during the weekend, after months of very intense workload (I love my job so much, but there’s SO much work that my brain has been overwhelmed I have little energy for anything else) and this was a heartwarming little read.

A small bear discovers a piano and starts plonking at it. At first the sound is horrid, but after a lot of plonking, the sounds isn’t displeasing anymore and he gains a crowd of pleased bears to listen. But then the bear gets discovered and becomes famous.

Oh the fame, but then there’s this little thing making Bear want to go back to the forest…

The art is gorgeous, it has a nice palette that is very foresty and then very much glamour. I found the bears cute and it was just simple yet gorgeous.

It’s not a very long review, but if you like bears or pianos, then this is a nice book to buy for when you can’t read a lot and just want to read something and feel that you finished a book!

 

There is No Dragon in this Story Review

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There Is No Dragon In This Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright

Poor old dragon. Nobody wants him in their story. Not Goldilocks, not Hansel and Gretel – no one. But Dragon will not give up! He shall continue on his course of finding someone who wants him in their story. ANYONE. His boundless enthusiasm surely won’t get him into any trouble. Surely …

A glorious story about dragons, heroes and ice cream with sprinkles. From author Lou Carter, a phenomenal new talent, and Deborah Allwright, illustrator of the bestselling The Night Pirates.

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Another one of those books I randomly found and chose to buy. You can clearly see a dragon in the cover, but the title is that there is no dragon in this story. My curiosity got the best of me. Of course we had to have a dragon, right?

The book starts saying that this was supposed to be a traditional dragon story. The dragon steals a princess, the prince/knight saves her and slays the dragon. But that’s not the story because the dragon refuses to be the villain and wants to be a hero.

So Mr Dragon goes out to all the other stories in this world and kindly asks if he can help and be the hero. Maybe he can stop the wolf for the three pigs? Or do something for Goldilocks? But every story he goes to, they tell him the same thing, he can’t be the hero because “there is no dragon in this story”. Poor dragon.

He has to try one more time, and well, let’s just say this doesn’t go very well and everything goes wrong, so now every story needs a hero. Will the dragon be the hero? Or will this be another “no dragon” kind of story?

I laughed a lot and felt so much for the dragon while reading this. Throughly enjoyed this one so will recommend that you get it for a rainy day when you need an easy book or to get you out of a slump.