Book Review

It Ain’t So Bad to Alter History

My Lady JaneMy 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. 😀

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

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Book Review

Embracing the Unexpected

The Unexpected EverythingThe Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So what if I liked to be in control of things? Someone had to be, after all. —Andie

The Unexpected Everything was my first encounter with Morgan Matson, and I unexpectedly liked it very much. I nearly loved it, were it not for a few annoying scenes here and there. Nevertheless, I am glad that I gave this book a shot because I found it to be very meaningful.

Love, family, and friendship. These are things that all of us need in life, and Andie’s story definitely illustrates this ideology. Andie’s summery life basically revolved around her father, boyfriend, and close group of friends. Throughout the novel, she rarely interacted with people outside this small social circle. Some readers might take that negatively, but I actually liked that Andie was very picky with those she spent her time with. I myself would rather have a couple of genuine relationships than a ton of shallow or fake ones. This might sound strange, but Andie made me realize that it sometimes wouldn’t hurt to actually plan your relationships. After all, we only have so much time to live.

Initially, Andie had a superficially perfect life. I was impressed that despite her young age, she literally had everything in control. Her plans for her future were practically set in stone, so she had this confident and carefree approach to life. However, her happiness wasn’t as complete as it seemed. Her relationship with her father was strained, and little did she know that all her carefully planned out life was about to be shaken (if not positively changed) by a sudden political scandal, as well as an extraordinary romance.

Quite a number of readers have criticized this book’s length. I understand, since I concur that YA contemporaries are typically less than 500 pages. However, I wish to point out that they are not required or supposed to be that way. Moreover, I honestly appreciated the expansive storyline because it gave me more time to vicariously grow closer to the characters, who were charming, funny, and relatable in their own respective ways. (I was particularly fond of Clark, who was a fellow bookworm, fanboy, and writer.) To me, every chapter was crafted with intention or purpose. I never felt that the author merely wanted to drag or fluff up her novel with entertaining but irrelevant fillers, aka padding. In other words, I loved that each scene was packed with significance. Kudos to worthwhile drama, people!

Now here comes the root of my mild irritation. I would have given this book 5/5 stars if Andie’s character development hadn’t suddenly flopped in the climax. I was really caught off guard because she had already matured so much, yet it was all to no avail. I was annoyed that although she was aware of the consequences of her actions, she pushed through with them anyway and made matters worse for herself and her loved ones. Her problems could have been easily prevented if only she hadn’t let her emotions cloud her better judgement.

Overall, as conveyed by my 4-star rating, I really liked The Unexpected Everything. Gleaning upon its emphasis on love, family, and friendship, I can honestly and objectively say that it was one of the most meaningful books I’ve read this year. I’m excited to read the other works of Morgan Matson.

P.S. I wish that the “book within this book” will be published someday. 😉

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Book Review

May God Bless America

The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s been two years since I’ve read The Selection, so I apologize for my very late review. Even though a lot of time has passed, my fondness for this ex-trilogy is as strong as ever. This is most probably because it was actually one of the series I explored in my undergraduate thesis.

I humbly admit that I am occasionally judged for loving this series, given its feminine covers that should ideally (or stereotypically) repel male bookworms like myself. My brothers, for instance, have shot me bewildered glares when they saw me read this book. Now, although I felt slightly emasculated by their reaction, I was comforted by the realization that the content of The Selection was in fact more appropriate for males, because it teaches them (us) not to undermine the power of femininity (Yes, I am a Feminist).

I know my sentiment sounds too deep or erudite, so let me explain. Haha. In this first installment in the currently five-book series, Kiera Cass introduced us to a dystopian twist of The Bachelor. We met America Singer, a beautiful readhead who was “obliged” to compete with 34 other girls for the hand of Maxon, the handsome Prince of Ilea. One would normally conclude that this scenario depicts females in a negative light, since the Selected were practically Prince Maxon’s personal collection of disposable dolls.

However, let me assure you that America is far from being objectified, or in Feminist terms, Othered. How so? She managed to turn the tables by starting her own Selection in the palace. This time, Prince Maxon and her stubborn ex-boyfriend named Aspen were the competitors. Both dudes were unaware that they were actually caught in a love triangle. America, using time as her weapon, insisted that she had yet to decide whom she truly wanted to be with. Surprisingly, neither Prince Maxon nor Aspen could resist her charm, oblivious to the reality that she was treating them like safety nets.

Furthermore, despite her physical weakness, America’s character is something to behold. Unlike the rest of the Selected, she was not overly concerned about making herself beautiful for the sake of the male gaze. Her makeup was light to the point of insignificance, and she disliked wearing choking dresses and debilitating high heels. With that in mind, America was an advocate of natural beauty, and it totally worked to her advantage as Prince Maxon and Aspen learned to love and respect her for her authenticity.

Finally, America’s political empowerment is nothing but outstanding. In spite of her supposedly inferior status as a Five, America was not eager to use Prince Maxon as a means to climb the social ladder. Moreover, she refused to be bedazzled by the extravagant comforts of the palace; she did not allow the temptation of wealth to blind her to the harsh realities of her society. It is interesting to note that she was actually more politically knowledgeable than Prince Maxon himself, trained as he was to rule the kingdom someday. Without America, he wouldn’t have realized the corruption of the caste system.

With all that said, I hope that I have adequately defended my love for The Selection. It could take dozens of paragraphs just to fully express my feels, but the bottom line is this: by deploying the right theories of literary criticism, this superficially shallow or misogynistic book can be viewed as a tribute to femininity. Thus, I implore you not to judge me when I say that this book is perfect for boys like me who live in a world which is downright sexist.

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

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Author Interview

Q & A with Amy McNulty

Last month, I requested a book from Netgalley, entitled Fall Far from the Tree. I enjoyed it very much, as indicated in my review. I was even more delighted when the author emailed me and granted my wish to have an interview with her. I immediately relayed the good news to Dessa (my blog partner), and we had a wonderful time thinking about meaningful questions that would satisfy our bookish curiosity. Now, without further ado, we happily present our interview with Amy McNulty, with the hope this would encourage other bookworms to read her outstanding novels.

  1. What is your inspiration for each protagonist in FFftT? And do you love each character equally?

 

“Rohesia was the first character I came up with and she’s probably my favorite (don’t tell the others!) because I love stoic, kick-butt characters, particularly when they’re women! I especially love what little emotion she shows around Sherrod, her toady of a ‘guardian/assistant.’ She’s not a great person, though, because she does some pretty evil things, but I love morally ambiguous characters. There’s more to her than she’d like people to know. She doesn’t want to have emotions, but she can’t help but have a few.

 

“I wanted a playboy/huge flirt who could lighten the mood of any scene he was in and that was Fastello. There was more depth to him in the end than I originally planned, but that’s definitely a good thing. Playboys aren’t always as confident as they appear on the surface.

 

“Cateline had to exist because I knew Rohesia wouldn’t be receptive to Fastello. (Rohesia is asexual in my mind.) I wanted a girl who might be open to falling in love with Fastello, but it couldn’t be that easy, so she had to be prejudiced against him to begin with and stubborn to a fault. Her relationship with her religion made for an interesting way to show how evil can even masquerade as good, as she’s basically been brainwashed into accepting the bad parts of her religion and can’t view them objectively.

 

“I created Kojiro to have someone respond how I’d probably respond to being raised by evil—anxiety and terror. At the same time, part of him wants to prove himself because he’s been told how worthless he is his entire life. I already did a European-ish medieval fantasy setting for my The Never Veil Series, so I wanted to add a fantasy setting inspired by another culture to FALL FAR FROM THE TREE. I’ve been fascinated by Japanese language and culture for decades, so that’s why Hanaobi is (mostly, but not entirely) inspired by medieval Japan.”

 

  1. Religion plays an important part in your book. With that in mind, what inspired you to explore the dichotomy of the Sun and Moon?

 

“I’m one of those weird people who’s happier when it’s overcast than when it’s sunny. I feel more alert after nightfall. So I thought it’d be interesting if one of the characters stays awake all night and sleeps all day, and that’s how Cateline’s religion came about. (She doesn’t, of course, stick to that schedule for long once the events of the story begin.) I had to think of a reason why her religion asks its practitioners to stay awake at night, and it seemed like worshipping the moon and the stars was the ideal reason. Plus, with Hanaobi being based on Japan and the importance of the sun in Shintoism and Japanese culture, it made sense to have Cateline’s religion in direct opposition to what Kojiro’s people believe in.”

 

  1. What’s the hardest part of writing and publishing a book?

 

“For me, it’s writing the first draft. I go months without writing fiction at all, which is not something I want to happen, but it’s just so hard for me to get in the groove. Once I get over the hurdle of the first 20,000 words or so, I can usually (but not always) finish the manuscript. It’s just a matter of getting there. That’s why something like NaNoWriMo in November really helps me, but I can’t currently write 50,000 words a month throughout the year.”

 

  1. How is your reading life? What are your favorite books? Do you have any peculiar reading habits?

 

“I love YA, especially fantasy, but I’m sadly years behind most of the hottest books. (I have 5 Sarah J. Maas books on my shelf to read, for example—and I’ve yet to read a single page of any of her works! Yet somehow I knew I’d love them enough to collect that many…) I’m a slower reader than a lot of my friends and only manage to read for fun between 20 and 60 minutes a day on average and I usually read in bed before going to sleep. My favorite books ever are the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series (but I know those are common choices!), all the works of Jane Austen, almost all the works of Diana Wynne Jones, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.”

 

  1. The characters in your book generally have despicable parents/guardians. With that in mind, what message do you want to convey about the concepts of family and parenthood?

 

“The book was inspired in part by Marvel Comics’ Runaways, which I found compelling—it’s also about teens whose parents are all villains. (In the case of Runaways, their parents are all in an evil league of supervillains together.) There’s not a single good (living) parent among any of the four main characters’ parents in FALL FAR FROM THE TREE, so I don’t mean to make a message about family and parenthood in general. However, when it comes to abusive parents and toxic families, I think these characters represent some of the ways abuse can be overt and some of the ways it can be more subtle—and the conflicting feelings children raised in these environments will have, especially as they near adulthood and could potentially break free more easily. They couldn’t view their lives objectively before this because they’ve never known any different. The title is not just a play on the idiom “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” it’s an instruction to these four characters: “Do fall far from the tree.” Break away from the rotten roots of your parents. You may be stuck, but at least try to get as far from what’s expected of you as you can and maybe someone will come along and pick you up and offer a helping hand.”

 

  1. What advice do you want to give to aspiring YA novelists?

 

“Read a lot of YA books (which you’re all probably already doing!) to get a feel for the genre. Write as much as you can, but also don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t stick to a schedule like writing every day. Write when you can and don’t expect every draft to be brilliant. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words before I finally had a finished book I could be proud of.”

 

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Book Review

Snow White 2.0

The Shadow Queen (Ravenspire, #1)The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me 16 days to finish this novel, and I’m so happy it took that long. Seriously, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it otherwise; each chapter was worthy to be savored like an ice cream cone in a hot summer day. I’ve been on a fantasy binge since April, and this novel was a great way to satiate my literary hunger.

I became quite attached to the protagonists, who were basically the epitomes of selflessness. Throughout the story, both Lorelai and Kol never hesitated to sacrifice their happiness and well-being for the sake of their respective kingdoms which were on the verge of destruction. I also enjoyed the sweet and innocent romance between them, although I thought it was practically a minor addition to the plot. I really admired how Lorelai and Kol did not allow their physical desires to cloud their judgement or jumble their priorities.

As for the antagonist, Queen Irina, she was naturally so infuriating. I absolutely relished hating her for all the physical and emotional suffering she bestowed on everyone for the sake of placating her overwhelming sense of self-entitlement. There was not a time that I expected her to attain a happy ending. When true love knocked on the doors of her stone-cold heart, she proudly ignored it and instead hearkened the call of power and corruption. Overall, Queen Irina was very similar to Queen Levana of The Lunar Chronicles, so I could not help but look forward to her inevitable destruction.

Now in regards to the entirety of the plot, I found it to be very gripping, refreshing and well-paced. The only part of the book I wanted to be rewritten was the scene wherein Lorelai was stupidly unable to stop a peasant woman from killing herself and her children. Really, Loreali should have been bright enough to snatch the knife from the said lunatic.

All things considered, I absolutely enjoyed this stand-alone novel. It gave me what every bookworm deserves: a wonderful and worthwhile reading experience. I can hardly wait to read its sequel, which is still in the making. Cheers to epic fairy tale retellings!

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

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Book Review

A Magical Disappointment

Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Are you aware how stupid you’ve been? Bravery doesn’t forgive stupidity. —Professor McGonagall

Haters gonna hate! I did not expect that I would dislike this play so much. I refuse to place it in league with the actual seven books. I nearly marked this as DNF, were it not for the fact that my boss at work had graciously lent it to me.

I believe that I’m not being objective right now because irritation is clouding my judgement. All I know is that Albus Severus Potter never failed to fill my heart with scorn and contempt. His decision making process was remarkably pathetic at best and downright infuriating at worst. There were so many times that I wanted—yearned—to throw this ridiculously expensive text across the room, through the window, and onto the gritty pavement outside.

Please believe me that I did my best to enjoy the story. Unfortunately, I was overwhelmed by this feeling of detachment towards the characters. It was hard for me to reconcile their dialogues to the people they were 19 years ago. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were just…there, and I really wasn’t invested in their story anymore. I now realize that other readers were right to describe this play as fan-fiction; there were indeed so many conveniently executed plot holes involving Cedric Diggory, Voldemort, and those blasted Time-Turners.

As my rant comes to a close, I hope that I can redeem myself by saying—with a small smile—that I liked Scorpius. Honestly, he was my only ray of sunshine, my rare source of comfort and fanboy feels. His pedantic demeanor and love for books inevitably reminded me of my adoration for Hermione, and I particularly admired his willingness to express his affection for Albus. Scorpius basically changed my opinion of the Malfoy name for the better, and for that I am grateful.

All things considered, I am not satisfied nor happy with how the story turned out. It would probably be better if I didn’t read it at all. Nevertheless, I assure you that my love for Lady Rowling and her wizarding world remain unscathed. In fact, I shall begin reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to purge myself of remaining toxic emotions.

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Book Review

Potterhead Feels #3

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m now inevitably on the verge of a book hangover. I need to get my hands on the next book ASAP. I can hardly wait for payday!

Our Lady Rowling’s writing seems to become more powerful as the series progresses. She just has this subtle way of evoking such positive emotions in her readers, bedazzling them with an awesome fictional world, an addictive storyline, and totally best-friend-worthy characters.

I had a delightful time witnessing Harry, Ron and Hermione’s transition into young adulthood. It was clear that the hormones were finally kicking in because they had many arguments in this novel. Ron and Hermione in particular often got on each other’s nerves for reasons both shallow and significant. As for Harry, I was grinning from ear to ear when he had finally met a girl that made his stomach drop in the best possible way. With all that said, the interactions between these beloved characters made me reminisce about my late teenage life, evoking in me feelings of longing, happiness, and even gratitude. And if I must say so, my admiration for Hermione grows stronger by the book.

Honestly, I probably enjoyed this book so much also because I watched the movie adaptation beforehand (4/5 times). It was nearly effortless for me to imagine all the intriguing events that were happening, which was practically a huge bonus to my reading experience. Furthermore, I was actually delighted to spot the differences between the movie and book; although I already knew the story by heart through the movie, I still experienced moments of blissful enlightenment.

In conclusion, I would like to apologize for putting this book on hold for almost a month. I would’ve finished it sooner if I had less than ten books in my currently-reading list. Tee-hee. This is my favorite Harry Potter book so far, and I won’t be surprised if the next books throw me off my feet as well.

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

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