I think I deserve a pat on the back or some reward for ploughing through and finishing this book. Firstly, I should express my gratitude to Michell3/5
I think I deserve a pat on the back or some reward for ploughing through and finishing this book. Firstly, I should express my gratitude to Michelle Morgan for graciously sending me a copy of 'Flying Through Clouds' for review. I was initially drawn in by the cover, historical aspects, male POV and the fact that it is Aussie YA. Sadly, however, it never fully clicked with me and it was only my sense of obligation that had me see this through to the end. Despite my saying that, I do think that with the right demographic, this book could be a winner; it certainly did have lovely moments.
'Flying Through Clouds' is set in 1930s Sydney where we follow 13-year-old Joe's actualisation and pursuit of his newfound dream - to fly. Inspired by an impressive demonstration by famed pilot Smithy at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Joe writes a plan, to make his dream a reality.
I think this book would be better suited for middle-grade readers, the writing style was quite juvenile; there was an abundance of short sentences and telling rather than showing. I also felt like the slower pacing let the story drag, and I'll admit it, I was bored. Even during the 'exciting' parts, I just couldn't bring myself to care.
Joe is possibly a regular kid growing up in that time period, but I had trouble connecting with him, or any of the other characters. The only one I found slightly interesting was his older sister; if this book were about her I'm sure I would have liked it far better. And I suppose that's the crux of the matter: this book was not a book written for me. He seemed very single-minded and quite foolish at times, too.
I do believe that the historical aspects were portrayed well, and I did like that we were able to see what Sydney life was like back in those days. I liked seeing all the location name drops, and even the plane jargon seemed to be well-researched....more
I am in awe. 'The Peony Lantern' was unlike anything I have previously read before, and while it started off quite slow I was glued to the pages by the end! Watts is sure to be an Aussie YA author I will need to follow closely from now on. If you're interested in reading a YA historical fiction set in Feudal Japan, you need to read 'The Peony Lantern'!
'The Peony Lantern' is set in Japan in Ansei (安政) 4, 1857. Clumsy and outspoken 16-year-old Kasumi is selected by a respected samurai from Edo (now Tokyo), Lord Shimizu, to travel with him and his nephew back with them to be his wife's lady-in-waiting. His father agrees to the proposal, for there is no refusing a samurai. There, she quickly falls into a routine with her mistress Misaki, and they eventually become friendly. But there is something unusual about her behaviour, and when attacks by anti-Shogun rebels become increasingly frequent and deadly, Kasumi is worried that somehow she has fallen into unsafe territory. Will she ever live to see her family again?
I am a massive Japanophile, so I'm all over anything that has any ties to Japan in it, but that eagerness is always met with some apprehension. I needn't have worried that this book wouldn't accurately portray Feudal Japan culture respectfully, however. I felt like I was truly sent to that world, and through the main character's narration I was able to see and experience many places and things that I will probably never see. I travelled to Japan for a month last year, so there were some familiar sights and smells that Watts beautifully captured in her writing and I felt a bit wistful at times. The description in this book is phenomenal - you can tell that the author has done her research and that she has also travelled to Japan herself, there is no way you can fake it. Watts didn't just write a historical fiction set in Japan for the heck of it, or to cater to a trend. She must have truly believed in the story, and worked hard to bring it justice. She also brings up lots of food, festivals and ghost stories, which all seemed accurately portrayed to me.
I could seriously harp on about the beautiful writing forever, but I'll move on. While it is well written, I also need to mention that it didn't really sound realistic for an illiterate, uneducated mountain girl to speak so eloquently and poetically, but that's okay, I can forgive the author. Kasumi herself isn't anything special, she's pretty much just an average girl who was born in the wrong time. She's loud and forgets her manners often enough to land her in trouble; her family worries that she may never land a husband. Her life is pretty much laid out before her: to become someone's wife. But when she is whisked away to Edo, she is allowed to be a new person, and she discovers ikebana - flower arrangement - painting, samurai life, Noh theatre and more than she possibly could have imagined. While she herself is quite bland I didn't mind too much because the real star of the story, in my opinion, was the side characters and the setting.
Misaki, the wife of Lord Shimizu, was such an interesting character to learn more about! I simultaneously adored her, and was wary of her. I love the relationship that blossoms between her and Kasumi, strained as it must have been under the weight of so many secrets. They share some fun moments, like playing a game that involves swapping Japanese ghost stories, and they just seemed to have great energy together. She is a sympathetic character, and I never really knew whether she was good or bad until the very end!
There are other characters that you will come across, who aren't all too interesting, other than the fact that they all come from samurai families. I feel like the backstories and general character development was sorely lacking, but I was fine to just go along for the ride and not worry too much about all that stuff. This is where this book faltered and lost a star, but I was still engrossed in the story and emotionally invested in knowing the character's overall fates. Oh, and there is also a love interest, and I certainly was invested in his fate and I quite liked him, and I always enjoyed scenes that included him!
The ending was shocking to me. I'm sure many other readers will have guessed it from ages away, but I'm terrible when it comes to solving mysteries. While the resolution was quite abrupt, and I wish there was MORE to it, I was glad about the directions in which all the characters were headed after the last page. However, I was left wondering what each character would do next, after that last page, and I'll admit I was a bit sad to let the story end. I suppose that's another indication that I truly did enjoy reading this book! As I said before, I'll be watching for more historical fiction from Watts - I'll be sure to pick up The Raven's Wing sometime in the future! :)
'The Peony Lantern' is a thoughtfully crafted narrative about a young mountain girl's experiences in Edo/Tokyo in Feudal Japan, beautifully woven with descriptive prose and illuminating insights into the life of a lady-in-waiting at a high-ranking samurai home. Frances Watt's dedicated research and planning shine through as the reader is transported to a completely different world in her triumphant representation of an interesting time and place in history....more