Book Review

A Literary Tribute to K Dramas

I Believe in a Thing Called LoveI Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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

Unexpected things happen, but it’s how we react to them, how we learn and evolve from these things that shapes us into who we are. —Desi

The moment I saw the blurb of this book, I was overwhelmed by the desire to get my hands on it. With the exception of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I hardly own YA novels that feature Korean/Asian protagonists, let alone characters who love K dramas. Being a fellow Asian and K drama fan, you can only imagine the happiness I felt when I was given the opportunity to read this book early.

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I Believe in a Thing Called Love has an engrossing premise. Desi, an admirable nerd, is used to setting goals and getting what she wants. She excels at everything academic, but she strangely sucks at love. Inspired by her favorite K dramas (and their formulaic happy endings), she devices a supposedly perfect plan to make Luca, her crush, fall for her.

This book had me hooked from the start. It was so funny, relatable, and downright entertaining. Desi’s romantic bloopers, aka “flailures,” were especially giggle-worthy. I felt sorry for her, but I had a hunch that her choleric (and adorably nerdy) personality would eventually pay off. I had fun analyzing her nearly “sociopathic” behavior; she was somehow similar to Amazing Amy of Gone Girl.

Desi’s remarkable intelligence was my favorite aspect of her personality. Basically, she was a well-rounded character; she was excellent in both academics and sports. As someone who took my education seriously back in my high school and college days, I was able to relate to Desi’s tendency to be adorably nerdy. Luca was erudite, too, in his own way, so I also became invested in his character development.

Desi’s relationship with her father was another thing that I enjoyed. They were practically best friends, but it was still apparent that she acknowledged his authority over her. It was also adorable that Desi’s father was the original K drama fan in their family. Without his influence, Desi wouldn’t have come up with a flawless plan to get herself a man.

The diversity in this book also deserved my applause. Both Desi and Luca were people of color, and Fiona, Desi’s bff, was lesbian. Wes, Desi’s second bff, exhibited behavior that made me suspect that he was gay, too. I apologize in advance if I was simply influenced by stereotypes while I analyzed his characterization. Nonetheless, this novel got an A+ from me in terms of racial and sexual diversity.

In retrospect, Desi’s “talent” for manipulation was the main reason why I didn’t give this book a higher rating. Desi was irrevocably an empowered female in light of her agency, but I found it hard to support her every time she intentionally toyed with Luca’s feelings. In totality, Desi was goal-oriented to a fault. Until now, I cannot decide if her story deserves a happy ending because I do not appreciate the objectification of any sex.

This book’s affirmation of the Bad Father stereotype also hampered my enjoyment. I generally liked Luca because of his sweet and artistic personality, but I was disappointed that he predictably had daddy issues. I can hardly wait for YA lit to overcome this trope! :3

Overall, I Believe in a Thing Called Love is a literary tribute to K dramas. Just like K dramas, it will monopolize your attention and give you tons of happy feels. I did not enjoy it to the fullest, but I would recommend it to readers who are looking for a cute and refreshingly diverse book.

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Book Review

Hi again, Sarah Dessen!

Once and for AllOnce and for All by Sarah Dessen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

I’d had no idea I might be where I was now, on the edge of something with the last person I’d ever expect. —Louna

Once and for All was my second encounter with Sarah Dessen, who’s known as the queen of YA contemporary. Now, I already understand why many people love her books so much. Much like Saint Anything, this book is sweet, light, and pleasantly insightful. I really enjoyed it because it gave me epiphanies about the essence of love, family, and friendship.

Like most of the YA community, I was intrigued by the premise of this book. Louna, the only daughter of a successful wedding planner, harbors a cynical attitude towards true love. For reasons temporarily unknown to readers, she doesn’t believe that it lasts forever. Ambrose, a superficially typical playboy, hopes that he can break down her walls. You might already assume that Louna and Ambrose are endgame. However, there are plot points in this novel that will make you think otherwise. You have been warned. ^^

This book actually caught me off guard because it hit me in the feels so many times. Half of the novel is dedicated to recounting the events that made Louna so reserved and cynical. The said events made my stomach churn with a deep feeling of sympathy. These flashbacks were saddening, but I loved them nonetheless because they really helped me connect with Louna.

I also liked how this book explores the world of wedding planning, which is apparently both fun and stressful. Come to think of it, this book is quite satirical, in a sense that it cleverly depicts how people can be so obsessed with having a perfect and ostentatious wedding, as if it would ensure the success of their marriage. Even in real life, there are couples who spend so much money on wedding planning, only to end up divorced, annulled, or separated after a few weeks, months, or years. Such a high price to pay for a ceremony that affirms a potentially shallow relationship. 😦 Told ya this book is insightful! 😀

Ironically, the last strength of this book is its lack of romance. Essentially, Once and for All has some cheesy scenes, but it is more focused on character development. especially Louna’s. It was inspiring to witness her embrace a new outlook on life and love.

Honestly, the only thing I didn’t like about this book was the rather rushed ending. Louna hurt the feelings of a certain character, and she got away with it so easily. I didn’t want her to suffer, exactly, but I expected that she would experience a more serious consequence.

Overall, I can objectively say that Once and for All is not your typical YA contemporary book. I was pleased by its touching story, as well as its flawed yet well-developed characters. Personally, I will always remember this book because it made me reflect upon society’s misconceptions about weddings/marriage.

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Book Review

Princess Problems 103

The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles, #3)The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead

I am yours, and you are mine, and no kingdom will ever come between us.

This is undeniably one of the best books I have ever read. It made me feel a myriad of emotions, ranging from uncontrollable joy to heartbreaking grief.

After Lia barely escapes Venda, Rafe brings her to Dalbreck, where he plans to make her his queen. Unfortunately, Lia’s happily ever after is obstructed by a mind-blowing plot twist: the despicable Komizar is still alive. Guided by her Gift of knowing, Lia is determined to expose the wicked in her own kingdom and thereby convince everyone to prepare for war.

It took me around three weeks to finish this book, but it was not because it was boring or dragging. I really just wanted to savor each chapter because I did not want to say goodbye to my favorite characters, my fictional BFFs. With that in mind, I was so thankful that I had 679 pages to get through. It was definitely a slow yet unforgettable journey.

Lia was already amazing in The Heart of Betrayal, so I was surprised that she still had further development in this book. She became more attuned to her Gift, and she learned how to convict every man who underestimated her, including her beloved Rafe. Throughout the novel, Lia exhibited a lot of virtues, such as bravery, fortitude, and wisdom. All in all, she was utterly and positively different from the Lia we met in The Kiss of Deception.

I am sad to say that Rafe somewhat became annoying in this book, especially in the first half. His desire to protect or shelter Lia was often too much; it was the cause of many heartbreaking arguments, aka Yelling Sessions. I did not know what to do with myself when they parted ways. Thankfully, Rafe was able to redeem himself by helping Lia in Morrighan. Lia was indeed a formidable female, but she would probably be dead without Rafe. (To be fair, Lia first saved his life in Venda.) In totality, I admired Rafe because of his integrity, as well as his unconditional love for Lia.

Given my history with Kaden, I was surprised by the realization that he could actually be likable. In this book, he wasn’t such an insufferable THIRD WHEEL. He was always by Lia’s side, but he finally stopped trying to win her over. I never shipped him with Lia from the start, so I was so happy that he ended up with Pauline (who was adorable, btw). If anything, I guess I loved that he was so loyal to Lia despite his connection to the Komizar.

Overall, The Beauty of Darkness is a beautiful ending to an unforgettable series. I loved literally everything about it. The evocative writing. The gripping plot. The rich, mythical world. And most of all, the precious, well-developed characters. Prepare to be enthralled.

I also gave 5 stars to the previous books, so I can confidently say that The Remnant Chronicles is one of the greatest series YA has to offer. I will definitely read it again someday just to relive all the feels.

P.S. I must give an honorable mention to Jeb. May he rest in peace. 😦

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Author Interview

Q & A with Roshani Chokshi

It really makes your day when one of your favorite authors accepts your request for an interview. The Star-touched Queen is one of the best novels I have read this year, and I am so proud and happy that it was written by a fellow Filipino. If you want to know more about my thoughts on TSTQ, feel free check out my review. Roshani’s new book, A Crown of Wishes, just came out last month, and I am confident that it will be an addition to my shelf of favorite books. I hope that this interview will encourage you to read Roshani’s outstanding works. 😀

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“Hi Josh! I loooove these questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to come up with them! I really appreciate it. My answers are below!”

1. How did you express or manifest your Filipino heritage in the Star-Touched Queen (and/or A Crown of Wishes)?

“While my Filipino heritage was not explicitly referenced in TSTQ and ACOW, the motivation behind why I wrote the stories is a direct result of my Filipino and Indian heritage. Because I wasn’t taught my parents’ native languages, myths and fairytales from across the world bridged that cultural gap.”

2. Compared to many YA heroines, Maya is significantly empowered; Amar, her love interest, is depicted as both her equal and supporter. With that in mind, is The Star-touched Queen intentionally Feminist?

“I love this question! TSTQ is intentionally feminist in the sense that no sense of female power is denied. I wanted to express this not just in TSTQ but also ACOW, where the main character (Gauri) is equally comfortable in traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” settings and subverts both to possess the only identity that matters: hers. Gauri loves makeup. She loves swords. Maya loves strategy and power. She also loves fairytales. I wanted to challenge this idea that femininity is a soft thing, because it is intense and multi-faceted and I want my female readership to know that they contain multitudes and HAVE it all.”

3. Kamala, Maya’s horse, is a very peculiar character. What was the inspiration behind her creation? I actually imagined her as Maximus from Tangled. xD

“LOL! Kamala is actually based off of me and one of my childhood best friends. We have a rather dark sense of humor and I kinda imagined what *I* would be doing in a quest story, and honestly, I’d never be a main character. I’d be the sidekick constantly derailing the plot to go find something to eat…”

4. Are Maya and Amar self-sufficient characters? Hypothetically speaking, would they be able to attain a “happy ending” without each other?

“I don’t think so. And I don’t mean that in the sense that either of them needs a significant other to “complete” them or give them contentment. The reason why they need each other is because of the perspective and depth that comes from their relationship. Because of the value added to their existence by knowing each other. We don’t go through life as islands. We draw on the nourishment of relationships (platonic, romantic, familial, etc…) to bloom and grow, and I think that’s just as true with Maya and Amar. Perhaps they could’ve figured out how to find fulfillment without one another, but I’m a sucker for love stories <3″

5. Let’s go back to basics. As Filipino teachers ask, what is the “moral lesson” (#Redundant xD) of The Star-touched Queen?

“The moral lesson is that fate is a squishy thing that we must forge for ourselves.”

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About the author:

Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen. Her work has appeared in Strange HorizonsShimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, The Star Maiden, was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.

Visit Roshani’s website

 

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Book Review

The Mark of Controversy

Carve the Mark (Carve the Mark, #1)Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a person did when they were in pain said a lot about them. —Akos

Yey, I finally finished reading this controversial book. Before I even picked it up, I did some extensive research just because so many people were ranting about it. I watched reviews on YouTube, which were rarely positive in tone. Heck, I even saw a video wherein the BookTuber burst into tears because of all the stress this book had been giving her. Of course, I was quite moved by all of the drama surrounding the release of Carve the Mark. Still, I wanted to remain as objective as possible, so I also perused the Web for Veronica Roth’s written and recorded responses. After reading her blog post (which addressed the issues of racism and ableism), I eventually mustered enough courage to read this book. To my surprise, it was a month-long journey.

Carve the Mark is a thousand miles away from the Divergent Trilogy. The novel is set in a fantastical universe where a literally flowing entity called the Current surrounds nine unique planets. If you’ve read Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, you can imagine the Current as the aurora-borealis-like Aether. Personally, the Current reminded me of the Lifestream in Final Fantasy VII. 😀 Anyways, like the Aether in UTNS, the Current in CTM gives humans supernatural abilities. However, in the case of Cyra Noavek, her gift is more like a curse because it racks her body (and others) with constant pain. The story kicks off when she meets Akos Kereseth, a supposed enemy who can nullify the Current and thereby ease her pain. (Trigger warning for Feminists xD)

From the get go, I want you to know that I wasn’t so hurt or bothered by this book. Thankfully, it did not overwhelm me with angst, hatred, or sadness. If anything, the worst feeling it evoked in me was boredom. The first hundred pages were especially info-dumpy, and I found myself struggling to stay awake. It didn’t help that there were so many side characters with ridiculous names. With that in mind, reading this book required a lot of effort and patience.

My reading experience became somewhat better when I became familiar with the complex world and the author’s quite different writing style (i.e. Cyra’s chapters are in first person, while Akos’s are in third person). I was specifically intrigued by Cyra’s interactions with her villainous brother, Ryzek. In spite of their filial connection, it was clear that they did not love each other at all. As for the romance between Cyra and Akos, I thought that it was reminiscent to that of Divergent‘s Tris and Four. How so? It also happened because of multiple training sessions. Ha-ha. Looking at the bright side, at least what they had was not instalove.

Among the many characters in this book, Cyra was strangely my favorite. I found her very entertaining because she exhibited what I like to call Tris Syndrome. Like Tris, Cyra wasn’t aware of the fine line between bravery and stupidity. Also, she could be selfless to a fault. Basically, Cyra’s uncanny similarity to Tris gave me a feeling of nostalgia, as well as a cynical kind of pleasure. :p

As a final note, I can confirm that this might trigger readers who have suffered from self-harm; There are scenes where the protagonists use heated knives to scar their arms. As for the racism issue, I actually did not detect any kind of discrimination against people of color; not all Shotet are dark-skinned “barbarians,” and not all Thuvesits are pale-skinned “hippies.”

Overall, I am glad that I gave Veronica Roth the benefit of the doubt. Still, I cannot say that this is her finest work. Otherwise, this book wouldn’t have been so controversial.

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

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Author Interview

Q & A with Rosalyn Eves

Last month, I had the pleasure of reading Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves. It turned out to be one of the most refreshing and enlightening novels I have read this year. If you want to know more about this debut novel, feel free to check out my review. BRB has been on sale since March 28, and I hope that this interview will encourage you to read it. It’s never too late to join this book’s growing fan base! ❤

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1. What do roses signify in your book? Are you particularly attached to them?

“I’ve always loved roses–I blame the fact that my favorite fairy tales as a kid all featured roses prominently (the rose hedge that grew up around Sleeping Beauty’s castle, the roses in Robin McKinley’s Beauty). In my head, roses are connected with folklore and magic. In the book itself, roses serve minor roles–Anna’s older sister Catherine has chosen a rose as her soul sign (an illusion she casts to signify her magic), and roses play a small role in a pivotal scene at the climax of the book. The roses on the cover are a little more significant. Not only do they nod to the title, but my designer choose them as a symbol of feminine strength–the fact that Anna is a strong character while also being a fairly typical Victorian teenager.”

2. What was your inspiration for the intricate magic system in Blood Rose Rebellion

“I’m not sure that I had a specific inspiration, but I really love the magic system in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse (and also knew I didn’t want to duplicate that!). I spent a lot of time brainstorming possible divisions of magic with my husband and we came up with four and then spent a couple hours with an English-Latin dictionary looking for possible names (magic that manipulates living things–Animanti; magic that manipulates thoughts and dreams–Coremancer; magic that controls elements–Elementalist, formerly Alchemist; and magic that influences forces–Lucifera).”

3. If you were a character in Blood Rose Rebellion, what kind of Luminate would you be (and why)?

“I’d probably be Elementalist simply because that is the most common type–but I’d secretly want to be Lucifera, as they are often the most powerful. If readers are interested in finding out what order they’d belong to, I have a quick quiz on my website: http://www.rosalyneves.com/extras/.”

4. YA Dystopian novels have been relatively low-key nowadays. With that in mind, what made you decide to write one, and what did you do to make your novel stand out?

“This is an interesting question, as I haven’t really thought of my story as dystopian (in my mind, they’re usually present day or futuristic), but I can see how the controlling government in Anna’s world could be seen that way. I’m always interested in the ways that people navigate oppressive governments, how they decide to speak and when to stay silent, and a lot of those themes were playing through my mind as I wrote. As far as standing out, I think the setting in Eastern Europe (specifically, Hungary) with the links to Hungarian folklore is something readers haven’t seen very often.”

5. Blood Rose Rebellion explores the struggle between the upper and lower classes. How do you think can we solve this problem in real life?

“Wow, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I think we see lots of friction around class and socioeconomic divides in today’s world–and I think if the solution was easy someone would have figured it out already. Personally, I think it’s important for there to be social programs in place to help people who are most vulnerable, but I also think that we have to work as individuals to expand our own empathy. Outside of interacting with people who belong to different classes and social groups, I think reading is one of the best ways to do this.”

6. Blood Rose Rebellion is also a very educational novel in light of its historical content. Gleaning upon this, what do you think is the modern significance or relevance of the Austrian-Hungarian War?

“Another great question! One of the parallels that seems striking in light of recent world events is the rise of nationalism in 19th century Europe. While the nationalistic fervor brought on lots of useful reforms (in Hungary, for instance, Latin, not Hungarian, was the language of government until well into the 19th century, and the rise in nationalism encouraged a flowering of Hungarian literature), it also created a lot of tension that (temporarily) fractured the Austria-Hungarian empire and revolutions in lots of surrounding countries. I find it incredibly ironic that even as Hungarian patriots fought for recognition and independence from Austria, they didn’t recognize similar claims within their own borders from Croatians and Romanians living there. I think a certain degree of patriotism is natural, but when it veers into nationalism it can be dangerous as it leads us to ignore voices outside that particular nationality.”

7. If you were given the chance to live in a book, which book would you choose (and why)?
“This is probably not the most original answer, but I would love to live in JK Rowling’s world–I want to go to school at Hogwarts and try all kinds of sweets at Hogsmeade–and while this world was dangerous under Voldemort’s tenure, it seems less likely to kill me than some of my other favorite fictional worlds! (Like the Grishaverse or Middle Earth).”

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About the author:

Rosalyn Eves grew up in the Rocky Mountains, dividing her time between reading books and bossing her siblings into performing her dramatic scripts. As an adult, the telling and reading of stories is still one of her favorite things to do. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys spending time with her chemistry professor husband and three children, watching British period pieces, or hiking through the splendid landscape of southern Utah, where she lives. She dislikes housework on principle.

She has a PhD in English from Penn State, which means she also endeavors to inspire college students with a love for the English language. Sometimes it even works.

Visit Rosalyn’s website

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Book Review

Princess Problems 102

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles, #2)The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: If you haven’t read The Kiss of Deception, please do not read this review.

With my last dying breath, I would make him regret the day he ever laid eyes on me. —Lia

Ouch. That ending was utterly painful. The last time I felt this way was when I read The Winner’s Crime. There were so many evocative scenes crammed into the last hundred pages. My brother recently asked what’s wrong with me because I couldn’t help but verbally express my shock and indignation at everything that happened to Lia and her comrades. I’m sure as heck going to start The Beauty of Darkness ASAP. However, for now I am obliged to stay sane and somehow justify my love for this book (series).

I wasn’t particularly fond of Lia in The Kiss of Deception, but I was amazed by her character development in this book. All of the pain she went through changed her in all the best ways possible. The harshness of her environment in Venda also contributed to the growth of her inner strength. Lia was like Kestrel of The Winner’s Curse in that she significantly relied on the sharpness of her intelligence (and tongue). However, unlike Kestrel, Lia was also adept at physically defending herself. Adding up all of these factors, Lia was a brilliant example of an empowered female protagonist. She definitely wasn’t someone you could easily trifle with.

This might come as a surprise, but I actually enjoyed Kaden’s characterization. Even though he bugged me to no end, it was intrigued to know the reasons behind his unswerving loyalty to Venda and the Komizar. His backstory was mysterious enough, but I must say that it failed to lessen my hate for him, if not for his title as the Assassin. Every time he was deceived into thinking Lia had romantic feelings for him, I experienced equal degrees of pity and grim satisfaction. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see him as worthy of Lia’s affection. If anything, I liked him only because he made the story more entertaining.

Unsurprisingly, I had no problem with Prince Rafe. From the very first chapter, I fervently wished that his relationship with Lia would push through in spite of their mutual deception in the past. It was clear that Rafe loved Lia not for her title, but for who she really was. I especially admired his self-control because I myself would crack in the presence of despicable men like the Komizar. Rafe prioritized Lia’s safety over his own emotions, and I applauded him for doing so.

The last thing I liked about this book was its infamous villain, the Komizar. As you have probably discerned from the paragraphs above, I absolutely hated him. To be more precise, I loved hating him because he was one of the most horrible villains I’ve encountered in literature. I will never forget how he almost made me cry when he did something to one of Lia’s close companions. There were so many shades to the Komizar’s depravity, and it reflected the author’s talent for creating such complex and meaningful characters.

With all that said, The Heart of Betrayal is an outstanding sequel to The Kiss of Deception. I honestly can’t say anything negative about it because I enjoyed it immensely. I am both afraid and excited to see how Lia’s journey will end.

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