Book Review

Nevertheless

EverlessEverless by Sara Holland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You were always like that—so trusting. —Liam

I’m gonna keep things short because my feelings for this book are on neutral ground. I loved the overall concept of this book; it was my first time to read about a world wherein time was a commodity/currency. The unique premise and rich world-building made Everless a fast-paced and entertaining read. It was actually a cover-buy, so I’m glad that it wasn’t a waste of money. xD

However, this book fell short, particularly in terms of character development. Most of the supporting characters, such as Roan and Liam, were not fleshed out, so I just had to rely on YA tropes in order to predict their “essence” or intentions. This made me jaded and disappointed because I did not enjoy having to rely on character stereotypes from popular books (i.e. Red Queen). As for the heroine, Jules, I did not like her that much because she often let her emotions cloud her judgement. She was especially weak (and kinda pathetic) during the penultimate part of the book. Hopefully, she’ll mature (both mentally and physically) in the sequel. Looking at the bright side, her devotion to her family and friends was admirable; she didn’t hesitate to sacrifice her well-being if it meant saving her loved ones.

In totality, Everless was entertaining at best and predictable at worst. It didn’t give me a stellar reading experience, but it was good enough to make me want to read the next book. If you also bought this novel because of its gorgeous cover, rest assured that the cover wasn’t designed to cover up bad content. Nevertheless, don’t expect this book to blow your mind.

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Book Review

My Lady Bookworm

My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies, #1)My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.

—Peter L. Berger

I happily give My Lady Jane five, heavenly stars. This is possibly my most favorite book of 2016. As I write this review, I am overwhelmed by this bittersweet feeling because I am very satisfied with how the story turned out, but I am very sad to say good-bye to such a wonderful historical retelling.

I loved this book primarily because it featured characters who were nothing but priceless. Jane, Gifford (G), and Edward are henceforth my literary baes. Even though My Lady Jane is nearly 500 pages long, I kinda wished it would never end because I wanted to spend more time with these pseudo-fictional characters.

Jane was unforgettably relatable. I adored her unwavering love for books, Hermione-like intellect, and ability to stand up for herself in a very sexist/patriarchal environment. She really wasn’t a girl whom people (especially men) could mess with. Yes, she was occasionally quite mean and stubborn, but I couldn’t help but think of her as every male bookworm’s dream girl.

Gifford (G) was charmingly bookish in his own way. He had a knack for poetry, which I found to be impressive and downright romantic. The “historical twist” to his talent with words also made him a very intriguing character. 😉 What really made him special in my eyes was his positive attitude towards femininity. Instead of being intimidated by the opinionated Jane, he did his best to understand, protect, and treat her as his equal.

As for Edward, he was the protagonist who made me laugh the most. It was interesting how his sexist comments sounded both annoying and endearing. Furthermore, his subtle advances towards a certain girl were hilarious. He was admittedly inexperienced in romance, but he was surprisingly good at it. I especially liked him because of his outstanding character development.

One of the best things I liked about this novel was it’s lively, quirky, and magical approach to history, which I humbly admit was not my favorite subject in school because it was often quite…tedious. There were lots of historical elements in this book, and although they were indeed altered according to the authors’ liking, I loved how they still retained essential bits of truth.

To be more precise, I particularly enjoyed relearning the familial troubles of the Tudors, the violent tension between the Catholics and Protestants, and the political alliance of France and Scotland (against England). I’ve been a fan of similar historical retellings like Reign and The Other Boleyn Girl, so I had a lot of fanboy moments while reading My Lady Jane.

In the end, I applaud the Lady Janies for a job well done. In light of all its virtues, I am sure that this book will go down in history as one of the best works YA literature has to offer. I do hope to read it again someday. 😀

*Featured image contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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Book Review

This Is Not About Animals

The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All the ancient classic fairy tales have always been scary and dark.

—Helena Bonham Carter

The Bear and the Nightingale was delightful to read. I’ve always been a fan of fairy tales (and their retellings), so I was more than eager to delve into the story. From the get-go, I want to say that this book is not for everyone, especially for readers who dislike slow story lines. On the other hand, if you love character-driven books, then you would probably enjoy this novel like I did.

I primarily gave this book four stars because it became my personal primer on Russian culture. Before I read it, I practically knew next to nothing about the latter. I was exposed to variety of Russian names that were both fun and difficult to memorize. I was also introduced to the old government and religion of Russia, which confuses (if not intrigues) me until now. Finally, I was thrown into the fascinating world of Russian folklore and its treasury of dark creatures. In totality, The Bear and the Nightingale was very educational, but it was not in a boring, academic way. The author said she isn’t Russian, so I was very impressed that she still knew Russia like the back of her hand.

The plot of this book was quite reminiscent of The Queen of the Tearling. Vasya, a supposedly plain/ugly girl, was given a pendant that would supposedly help her overcome a “great evil.” I actually liked this similarity, because I was once again caught up in solving the mystery of a simple trinket’s power. In retrospect, the pacing was undeniably slow, and it was because of one, major reason: too many POVs.

I am normally fond of books with multiple perspectives. However, my brain can only handle so much. The Bear and the Nightingale had an abundance of characters, and almost all of them were given their own chapters to narrate. This resulted in a broader sense of objectivity because it felt like I wasn’t missing any of the characters’ thoughts and actions. Still, I was more interested in Vasya’s chapters, so I sometimes became frustrated when I did not know what was happening to her anymore. Given her sporadic appearances in the book, one would think she wasn’t the main protagonist. Nevertheless, I applaud the author for the outstanding development of her characters.

Ultimately, The Bear and the Nightingale had more virtues than flaws. I enjoyed it a lot because of its dark yet enlightening content. I’m not sure if this is just a stand-alone novel, but I am highly anticipating a sequel.

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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Book Review

Just a Little Sign Language

A Quiet Kind of ThunderA Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All I need is just a little sign language. Show me that you’re mine, baby. And say what you wanna say.

—Dylan Gardner

This book was my second contemporary read (in 2017) concerning mental illness, and I am happy to say that I liked it very much. The premise itself was intriguing: a selectively mute girl forming a bond with a deaf boy. One would expect the story to implode with all kinds of infamous tropes (e.g. instalove and romanticized mental illness), but I actually found it to be educational, substantial, and refreshing.

British Sign Language (BSL) played an important role in A Quiet Kind of Thunder. Given the characters communicative impairments, BSL was primarily what they used to talk to each other. With that in mind, I really enjoyed the dialogues between Steffi and Rhys. The author enriched their conversations by helpfully explaining how to sign particular words and phrases, and I applauded her for doing so. It made me think about my father back home, who is (or used to be) adept at American Sign Language. I fondly remembered the days he taught me how to finger spell each letter of the alphabet. xD In other words, I liked this aspect of the novel because it rekindled my childlike interest in silent speech.

Another strength of this novel was its meaningful content. Interestingly, it explored the dichotomy of the “Speaking World” and the “Non-speaking World.” To simply put it, I enjoyed how the author debunked the stereotypes “normal” people have against those who are deaf or mute. I was sad whenever Steffi and Rhys felt alienated from others, including their own loved ones. Still, it was inspiring how they managed to find their own voice in spite of the ignorant and insensitive people around them.

I would have given this book five stars if I wasn’t perturbed by the values of the characters, especially their attitude towards sex. I was particularly offended by Steffi’s subtle mockery of chastity. I do not condemn fictional characters who are non-conservative, but it’s a different matter when they attack my own beliefs. This criticism is clearly subjective, but my conscience would bother me endlessly if I keep it to myself.

In the end, A Quiet Kind of Thunder lived up to its title. It’s characters were indeed quiet, yet the message of their story resonated in my mind like thunder: do not look down on those who are deaf or mute, because their condition does not prevent them from achieving a happy and purposeful life.

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Book Review

To Take a Heart

To Kill a KingdomTo Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

How strange that instead of taking his heart, I’m hoping he takes mine.

Someone please give me another book by dear Alexandra Christo because I absolutely enjoyed this one! Next to The Cruel Prince, it’s the most captivating book I have read this year. Anyone who loves fairy tale retellings will devour this book in a day. However, since it’s such a good book, I recommend savoring it for as long as possible!

To Kill a Kingdom is a dark reimagining of The Little Mermaid. Lira, also known as the Prince’s Bane, is a siren infamous for literally stealing the hearts of more than a dozen male royals. After Lira is forced to kill one of her own, the tyrannical Sea Queen turns her into a human and commands her to redeem herself by killing Prince Elian, the heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Interestingly, he also happens to be a talented hunter of sirens. Despite their divergent backgrounds and loyalties, Lira and Elian might be the key to ending the war between the land and sea.

Before I requested this book from the publisher, I already had a feeling that I was going to love it. Reviewers whom I trust had given it five stars, so I was all the more excited to delve into the story. To my delight, all of my expectations were met; the characters were compelling, the plot was perfectly fast-paced, and the writing was beautiful in its simplicity. I really wanted to savor this book, but I just couldn’t put it down (even in the workplace).

Lira had excellent character development. Her brutality at the beginning of the novel made it clear that she was a force to be reckoned with and that she deserved her title as the Prince’s Bane. In fact, she was so empowered that her mother, the Sea Queen, unwillingly saw her as a threat. As the story progressed, Lira’s humanity began to show itself. It was fascinating to see her grapple with her conflicting desires. Killing Elian would prove that she was worthy to be queen someday, but it would also mean that she wasn’t any different from her heartless mother. I was so happy that Lira was able to make the right decision in the end by following both her heart and brain. In totality, she more than did justice to Disney’s Ariel.

Prince Elian was similarly fleshed out. In spite of his stereotypical daddy issues, I liked him a lot because he did not allow revenge to overcome his moral compass. He was indeed talented in killing sirens, but he didn’t necessarily enjoy it. And when he discovered Lira’s betrayal, he still had the willingness to love and forgive her. If I were in his shoes, I probably would’ve been angrier at Lyra for a longer time. Haha. Nevertheless, I admired Elian because it took guts to give a second chance to an ex-murderer.

Like I mentioned before, it was hard for me to take a break from this book. It came to a point that it consumed my breaks at work. Each chapter was relatively short and ended with a cliffhanger, so it took much effort not to neglect my professional responsibilities. It didn’t matter that I already had an idea about how the book would end; I was 100% invested in Lira and Elian’s journey to lasting happiness. The fast pace could be also attributed to the author’s penchant for amusing dialogue. Lira and Elian’s conversations never failed to make me laugh. I couldn’t get enough of their banter!

The world-building was the last thing I liked about this book. I was surprised that the author established a difference between sirens and mermaids. Sirens, like Lira, were powerful stealers of human hearts. Mermaids, on the other hand, were weaker and didn’t always kill humans. I found this dichotomy refreshing and memorable because sirens and mermaids are typically one and the same in books and other forms of media.

Yes, I loved this book enough to give it a high rating. But I would’ve loved it more if it didn’t use the bad parent trope. I hated the Sea Queen as much as the characters did, but I wasn’t happy that she didn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities; she was just a horrible mother. As for Elian’s father, he was a bad parent in that he was a source of pressure and undue stress. In fact, he was one of the reasons why Elian didn’t want to go home to Midas. Can’t we have more good parents in YA, please? xD

All in all, I highly recommend To Kill a Kingdom. You don’t have to doubt the hype because it’s completely justified. Given how great of a retelling it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were adapted into a film someday.

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Book Review

A Court of Pain and Feels

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like I won’t be able to write a decent and meaningful review without discussing the events of the book in detail, so, WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! Read at your own risk ✌

This is the first book that I’ve read by Sarah J. Maas, and OMG, she didn’t disappoint! I read ACOTAR twice last year, and I’m still amazed by how good she is in telling stories. She doesn’t use fancy and flowery words to describe things. Instead, she relates details in such a way that I can easily transform the words into images in my mind. It almost feels like watching the story rather than reading it.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a fairy-tale retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and like any other fantasy retelling, it comes with very interesting twists. The protagonist, Feyre, is a huntress. She lives in a land divided into two: the Mortal Lands and the realm of faeries called Prythian. After killing a wolf, Feyre is brought to Prythian to pay for the life of the faerie she killed.

First of all, I really hated Feyre’s sisters in the beginning. Feyre was the youngest of three, but she was the one who had to provide food for their family. The other two girls, Nesta and Elain, just waited for food to come. They couldn’t even chop wood, for goodness’ sake! However, I somehow warmed up to them as I learned more about their personalities and the reasons why they acted that way. It was a little heartwarming when Nesta said that she came looking for Feyre after she was taken to Prythian and nobody couldn’t remember anything except her, and also when Nesta told her not to come back because she knew that Prythian was now Feyre’s home and that she would be happier there.

I really loved the world-building. I found Prythian very interesting with its lands divided into different courts: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Dawn, Day, and Night. The different creatures were also fascinating (and terrible), especially the Suriel. I wonder what I would ask if I ever caught it (and survived the encounter). It was also interesting to find out that there were two types of faeries: the High Fae and Lesser Fae.

Let’s talk about Tamlin, the High Lord of Spring. I am writing this review after reading A Court of Mist and Fury, but since this is only a review for ACOTAR, I’ll reserve my current thoughts for my review of ACOMAF…which is really hard. Haha. Okay, so Tamlin. He was really kind to Feyre, and I really appreciated that he took care of her family when their only provider was brought to Prythian. I also liked that he attempted to talk to her nicely, even though he was kinda awkward about it…which was cute. Also, I liked that he gave her a chance to live her life the way she wanted after years of having no choice but to hunt food for her family and keep her promise to their mother.

I was frustrated when Tamlin sent Feyre away days before the deadline of the curse. It was clear that Feyre would confess her love soon, but what did he do? He sent their only hope of breaking the curse back to the mortal lands! They couldn’t guarantee that she’d be safe there. The Suriel even told Feyre that she just had to stay with the High Lord. It was really stupid to send Feyre away!

My heart broke for Feyre because she had to go through a lot of pain Under the Mountain to save her love and break the curse. I really admired her courage and bravery in accepting Amarantha’s bargain, even though it looked foolish to others. I was frustrated that her inability to read almost killed her and Lucien. Hmmm, come to think of it, it was an interesting turnabout to Beauty and the Beast. While Belle loved to read, Feyre could barely understand written words.

And then, there’s Rhysand, the mysterious High Lord of the Night Court. Again, it’s a struggle to recall what I thought about him before I read ACOMAF. ACOMAF changed everything! Anyway, before reading this book, I had already heard of his name countless of times. He’s famous in the Bookstagram community. I personally didn’t know what to think of him. I didn’t hate him, but I also didn’t like him that much. I was glad that he helped Feyre at times when she badly needed help, but then, he also treated her terribly. Also, when I think about it, it might have been just an act so that Amarantha would not notice anything fishy…I was confused! He was just so mysterious. I didn’t really know what he was thinking and what his agenda was in helping Feyre. But I kinda liked Rhysand when he attacked Amarantha even though he knew that he had no chance in defeating her without his full powers back. He was shouting Feyre’s name and risking his own life, while Tamlin, on the other hand, just remained in his spot, doing nothing. What is wrong with him??! His love was being tortured but he was just watching her die! ASDFGHJKL!!

My favorite character in ACOTAR was Lucien. He was very mischievous, but I could tell that he also cared for Feyre, not just because his High Lord told him to do so. Feyre and Lucien’s playful banter was one my favorite things in this novel. I would’ve shipped them together, were it not for the fact that there were Tamlin and Rhysand to think about. If Lucien was also involved, things would just be more complicated.

To end this lengthy review, I would like to say that I really enjoyed reading this book. It was easy to read, the characters were interesting, the world was fascinating, and everything else was very engrossing. I highly recommend it!

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Book Review

The Woods of Unmet Expectations

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1)The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s hard, isn’t it, to find you’re not at all the thing you thought you were? —Althea

The Hazel Wood is one of those books that you can see everywhere. It’s the most requested title on NetGalley, people have been raving about it on Instagram and BookTube since 2017, and apparently, Sony Pictures has purchased the film rights. I myself was affected by all the hype to the point that I persistently asked the publisher to give me a copy. When it finally arrived last Christmas, I was surprised by all the spectacular blurbs in the book. Popular authors, such as Stephanie Garber, Jennifer Niven, and Kristin Cashore loved it, so my already high expectations were intensified. Unfortunately, now that I’ve finished the book, I can’t help but wonder if it deserves a film adaptation.

The Hazel Wood is the story of Alice Proserpine, a girl who seems to never run out of bad luck. She and her mother (Ella) have spent most of their lives on the road in order to prevent misfortune from befalling others and themselves. Their circumstances become worse when Ella is kidnapped by someone who claims to come from the Hinterland, the fantastical world where Alice’s grandmother’s fairy tales are set. To save her mother, Alice must venture to the Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s mysterious estate.

Reading this book was similar to watching an episode or a season of Once Upon a Time. Alice’s world (New York?) was like Storybrooke, while the Hinterland was like the Enchanted Forest. Characters from the Hinterland were “breaching the barrier” and causing mayhem in the real world, and like OUAT’s Emma, Alice was the hero who belonged in both worlds. As a fan of OUAT, it was super easy for me to comprehend the world-building in The Hazel Wood. The similarities between the TV show and the book made my reading experience nostalgic and more interesting. However, since the book has been receiving much buzz, I expected it to be more original.

It must also be noted that The Hazel Wood had some tropes that were reminiscent of Frozen and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. For example, Alice had emotionally triggered ice magic like Elsa, and she suffered from gradual petrification like Anna. Moreover, just like Harry Potter, Alice could hurt beings from the Hinterland by merely touching them (i.e. their faces). I didn’t understand what exactly caused the latter phenomenon, but at least it wasn’t related to maternal sacrifice or whatnot. xD

One of the major plot twists in this book was utterly ineffective. You can call me jaded, but I didn’t believe for a second that Finch was dead. I also refused to accept that the author would dare to eliminate a colored protagonist, of all people. Anyway, Finch’s supposed death felt like an excuse to discontinue his character development in favor of Alice’s.

As for the side characters, most of them were underdeveloped. Hence, I could hardly connect with them or appreciate their significance. For instance, the villains, such as the “stalker boy” and Twice-Killed Katherine, seemed to be mere plot devices. After attempting to force Alice to commit suicide, they suddenly disappeared from the story as if the author had forgotten them. It was disappointing because they were actually very intriguing characters. I would have loved to learn more about them. 😦

Looking at the glass half-full, Alice was an admirable heroine. I liked that she stayed devoted to her mother even after she learned about her true identity. Alice also possessed a lot of inner strength, which helped her overcome emotional turmoil. The idea of losing Ella nearly crippled her, yet she always found her way back to the path toward her happy ending.

Furthermore, it was nice that this book featured a colored protagonist. Finch’s characterization provided an opportunity to reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of the color of his skin, Finch was afraid that pale-skinned police officers would treat him unfairly. To my delight, Finch ended up being Alice’s savior. Without him, she might’ve been stuck in the Hinterland and forever separated from Ella. Racism is still present in society nowadays, so I liked that The Hazel Wood did something to address the issue (and turn the tables). Who said colored characters couldn’t be heroes?

The last thing that I liked about The Hazel Wood was its dark and fantastic fairy tales: Alice-Three-Times and The Door That Wasn’t There. These stories were very enjoyable in spite of their not-so-happy endings. If the author published a collection of fairy tales someday, I would definitely buy it.

To conclude, I did like The Hazel Wood, but it didn’t live up to the hype. This just goes to show that blurbs are not always good; they can make you have expectations that are likely not going to be met. You’ll probably enjoy this book a lot more if you go into it blind.

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