Book Review

I’ll Make a Woman out of You

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I buddy read this baby with the bookish beauties, Cait and Ambs

The only power a man has over you is the power you give him. —Okami

I actually forgot most of the events in Mulan, since I watched it around eleven years ago. Still, I was very excited to read Flame in the Mist because Mulan is markedly empowered compared to other Disney princesses. I’ve always been attracted to both Feminist literature and Japanese culture, and I am glad to say that this book met most of my expectations. I can’t wait for the rest of the YA community to devour it like I did.

Flame in the Mist tells the story of Mariko, who is practically forced to marry the emperor’s bastard son. Resigned to her fate of domesticity, she travels to the city of her betrothed. Along the way, a group of unidentified men attacks her caravan. In the aftermath, Mariko promises to unveil the truth behind her failed assassination and thereby prove her feminine worth.

I found this book to be better than The Wrath & the Dawn duology, particularly in regards to character development. Mariko was not exactly a femme fatale, but I quickly perceived her inner and outer strength. The men around her treated her horribly, but she did not let them quench the fire in her heart. Mariko’s ability to invent deadly bombs out of scratch also made her a force to be reckoned with. In other words, she was anything but a damsel in distress.

In one of my reading updates, I expressed how I despised the men in this book. Generally, they were arrogant, insensitive, and downright insufferable. I liked to think of them as literally cocky. :p Mariko’s love interest was not an exception. I won’t divulge his name because I don’t want to spoil anyone. For now, let’s just call him X. I honestly did not expect Mariko to fall in love with him because of his douche bag behavior. I understood that X treated Mariko like he would a fellow man, but I was annoyed nonetheless. I only managed to like him by the end of the book, when Mariko’s secret was revealed. He suddenly acted like a Feminist, so he finally won me over. I SHIPPED THEM SO HARD!

The only boy whom I liked from start to finish was Kenshin, Mariko’s twin brother. I was attached to him because of his “emasculating” humility; it was so easy for him to acknowledge Mariko’s intellectual superiority. Furthermore, his confidence in his sister’s tenacity made me smile a lot. Essentially, Kenshin and Mariko’s relationship was very heartwarming in that it rekindled my desire to have a sister. I already have two lovable bros, but…you get the point. Hahaha.

The otaku side of me affected my appreciation of this book. Only God and my brothers know how much I love anything that has to do with Japan: anime, music, books, you name it! Hence, I had a lot of fun immersing myself in the harsh yet intriguing world of feudal Japan.

Ironically, the main problem I encountered in this book was the elusive glossary. There were many unfamiliar Japanese terms throughout the novel, and I was too lazy to check them out online. I also did not bother to navigate to the end of the e-book (100%), which was the location of the said glossary. Huhu. It was too late; I wish I could undo my confusion.

Overall, Flame in the Mist is an excellent retelling of Mulan. It is a testament to Renee Ahdieh’s growth as a writer. With that in mind, I can only imagine what else she has in store for us.

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Book Review

What the Fluff

Just FriendsJust Friends by Tiffany Pitcock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

Their past might be fake, but their future was real. It was theirs to build. It was real, unscripted, and unplanned.

If you’re also one of those readers whose TBRs vary per season, then you’re probably reading lots of contemporary novels like me. Only God knows why love stories are perfect for summer. It must be the HEAT. xD If you want to feel more of the latter, then by all means, pick up this cute book. However, Just Friends isn’t 100% fluffy, so it is actually worth your time.

Just Friends is about the complicated relationship between Jenny and Chase, two teenagers who both struggle with family-related problems. Jenny and Chase also have divergent personalities; the former is a stay-at-home nerd, while the latter has built a reputation of promiscuity at school. When a childish class requirement forces them to pretend that they’re best friends, Jenny and Chase decide to keep up the charade. Soon, sparks fly between them, and they have a difficult time being just friends.

YA contemporary novels are usually written in the first-person POV. Hence, I was surprised and delighted that this book was written in third-person. Also, the chapters were narrated by Jenny and Chase alternately, giving me a balanced understanding and appreciation of both genders. The author’s vocabulary was also very light and comprehensible, so I was able to finish the book rather quickly, in two sittings, to be precise.

Plot-wise, I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened. I bet most readers can also predict the ending of this book. However, I must say that the pacing was flawless. Each short chapter featured events that made me want more.

Despite their opposite personalities, Jenny and Chance were actually very compatible because they managed to bring out the best in each other. Jenny evoked a sense of loyalty in Chance, and Chance challenged Jenny to finally step out of her comfort zone. All in all, these two teenagers had a very healthy “friendship.” 😀

Sadly, I didn’t have a favorite character in this book. Jenny and Chase were very likable as a pair, but I wasn’t a fan of them on an individual level. Looking back, the main conflict of the book wouldn’t have dragged on if they didn’t take everything at face value. Furthermore, I also did not like the characters’ attitude towards their own virginity. I admit that this criticism is subjective, but I need to point it out for the sake of readers who might also be conservative.

I generally enjoy contemporary novels because they often contain a lot of family-related discourse, which I always find to be relatable. However, in the case of Just Friends, this feature backfired. As I’ve mentioned earlier, both Jenny and Chance had family issues. To be more specific, Jenny was quite envious of her divorced mother’s budding romance, while Chance resented his parents, who apparently couldn’t stand each other. Jenny’s hang-ups were somehow understandable, but I struggled to sympathize with Chance’s dilemma. I just couldn’t fathom how his parents supposedly argued 24/7. All that was said about them was that they loved to fight. Such a phenomenon seemed almost fantastical. Essentially, Just Friends delineated parenting in a very pessimistic manner. With that in mind, I probably would’ve liked this book more if it hadn’t bothered to include family-related discourse.

With all that said, I gave this book three stars primarily because of its entertainment value. It did make me smile and chuckle sometimes. Nevertheless, for the most part, it was predictable and even frustrating. Looking at the bright side, it’s possible to enjoy the book completely if you don’t read it too critically. It’s summer anyway, so I guess we readers don’t have to be so serious while reading fluffy literature. xD

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Book Review

You Found Me in a Constellation

Eliza and Her MonstersEliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, HarperCollins, for giving me an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Like life, what gives a story its meaning is the fact that it ends. Our stories have lives of their own—and it’s up to us to make them mean something. —Olivia Kane

Before I read this book, I was a stranger to Francesca Zappia. I remembered that my previous boss at work told me to check out a book named Made You Up, but I only made the connection recently. If you’re planning to pick up this novel in light of your love for the said book, prepare yourself for moments of deep introspection. Also, I beg you not to read the blurb/summary on Goodreads because it contains a major spoiler. (I’m currently thinking of using my librarian privileges to fix the latter problem.)

Eliza and Her Monsters is essentially a character-driven novel. It is about a girl named Eliza (like..duh!), who is extremely introverted. Ironically, she has a massive presence online. Under the pen name LadyConstellation, Eliza publishes a web comic entitled Monstrous Sea. Her work turns out to be so popular, having more than a million readers. Despite her success as an artist, Eliza’s life is not perfect. Her relationship with her parents and siblings is unfathomably strained, and her social life outside of the Web is…nonexistent. Everything starts to change when she meets Wallace, the most popular writer of Monstrous Sea fanfic.

I honestly had a difficult time deciding how I should rate this book. For me, Eliza and Her Monsters is the epitome of the term “mixed feelings”. Even though I didn’t love it, the thought of giving it three stars made me feel unsettled, regretful, even. The strengths and weaknesses of this book played a game of tug of war in my mind. The beautiful writing and story were on one side, while the annoying characters were on the other. Basically, the struggle was real, people.

I have always been a fan of stories that emphasize familial relationships, so I had no trouble delving into this book. Being a devoted hermit, Eliza spent most of her time at home. Logically, she had plenty of opportunities to interact with her family. I loved that Eliza’s parents and two brothers (Church and Sully) were given a lot of screen time. However, I was annoyed by how she treated them. She always snubbed her parents, as if they were obstructions to her happiness in life. As for her brothers, she avoided them because she sincerely believed that they hated her. To put it mildly, Eliza was not a good daughter and sibling. Looking back, Eliza’s parents were not exactly victims. After all, they were so frustratingly permissive.

In a similar fashion, Wallace’s family was placed under the spotlight. His family was actually very fascinating because he had both step siblings and half siblings. (You have to read the book to understand how that happened.) Unfortunately, Wallace also had problems with his parents, particularly with his father. :l I will never get tired of expressing my disdain for this Bad Father Trope in YA. Can’t we have lovable fathers for a change? :p

Now in regards to Eliza and Wallace as a couple, I liked that their relationship was excellently fleshed out. If my memory serves me right, physical appearance wasn’t even described as a catalyst for their love. There were cheesy moments in the book, but romance really wasn’t the main focus of the story.

In the end, I decided to give this book four stars because of its depiction or exploration of mental illness. Wallace reminded me of Mouse from The Problem with Forever (one of my favorite books) because he was a selective mute. He was such an inspiring character because, like Mouse, he didn’t let his condition prevent him from living life to the fullest. As for Eliza, she didn’t show clear symptoms of paranoia (severe anxiety) until the climax, so I was initially confused by the book’s marketing. I realized that this was actually a good thing because it did not give a sense of “exoticness” to mental illness. Throughout the novel, Eliza seemed like a perfectly “normal” and angsty teenager. In other words, I loved that Eliza’s condition didn’t make her any less…human. I had a lot of issues with Eliza, but I understood that the story would have lost its essence if she weren’t such a problematic character. Her growth at the end of book thankfully eclipsed my negative feelings.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this character-driven novel because it made me reflect on significant things like family, introversion, and mental health. I encourage you to add this to your shelf of meaningful YA contemporaries. Now that I’m aware of the author’s talent for emotional play, I am excited to devour more of her works.

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Book Review

A Love That Is Anything but Twisted

HuntedHunted by Meagan Spooner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead

There’s no such thing as living happily ever after—there’s only living. We make the choice to do it happily.

—Meagan Spooner

This was my third buddy read with my admirable friend, Bentley (Book Bastion). I’m still not over the live action film of Beauty and the Beast, so this book was a pleasure to read.

Essentially, Hunted is a super Feminist retelling of BatB. Set in the rich and mythical world of Russia, this book is also reminiscent of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. Most of the plot stays loyal to Disney’s BatB, but Meagan Spooner also made some changes in order to make her story one of the best fairy tale retellings YA has to offer.

For me, the best feature of this book was its lack of instalove. Enraged by the death of her father, Yeva was determined to exact vengeance on the Beast. Consequently, nearly 50% of the book was about Yeva honing her archery skills and plotting to kill the Beast. I admit that this made the plot relatively slow-paced, but it was for the best because Yeva and the Beast’s relationship felt more authentic.

To my surprise, Meagan Spooner also explored Stokholm Syndrome in her novel. Since Yeva was temporarily a prisoner in the Beast’s castle, her sisters were bewildered to discover that she developed romantic feelings for him. However, Yeva clearly stated that her reasons for falling in love were anything but twisted. It is also important to note that Yeva realized her affection for the Beast after she plunged a knife into his throat. In light of her very active agency, it would be ridiculous to describe Yeva as a victim of Stokholm Syndrome.

I enjoyed Yeva’s character arc, but the Beast was actually my favorite character because of his intriguing complexity. He always referred to himself as “we” (because of his dual nature as man and beast), he was very secretive, and he was adorably bookish like Yeva. Furthermore, I savored the poetic voice of his chapters, which unfortunately were only 2 to 3 pages long.

In addition to Yeva and the Beast, Hunted also featured a memorable cast of side characters. Among them, Solmir was the one who piqued my interest the most. He was basically a new version of BatB’s Gaston, so I immediately expected him to be a charming villain. Surprisingly, I found myself shipping him with Yeva because of his generous and respectful attitude. Overall, I liked him because he had a talent of defying my negative expectations.

With all that said, I genuinely enjoyed Hunted. The only weakness I found was its relatively slow pacing; some of the chapters made me sleepy because they were uneventful. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read it because it is unquestionably an outstanding retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I will never forget its confusing yet utterly beautiful ending.

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Author Interview

Q & A with Erin Beaty

I recently managed to partner with Macmillan International, and they sent me an ARC of The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty. To be honest, I requested this book because of the controversy surrounding it. Still, I delved into the book with an open mind so that I could form an objective opinion. Thankfully, my optimism paid off; I enjoyed the book a lot, so much so that I wished to have a written interview with the author. If you want to know more about my thoughts on TTK, you can check out my review. Overall, I honestly believe that TTK is a great start to a riveting trilogy. I hope that you will enjoy getting to know the author as much as I did. ^^

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  1. What was your inspiration for the not-so-fantastical world in TTK? I actually enjoyed it because it reminded me of The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski.

“I get compared to that trilogy a lot, which is a huge compliment, but I honestly didn’t read it until I was in the final stages of editing TTK with my publisher. It was a bit of bummer to see all the similarities because it meant I hadn’t done something as unique as I’d thought. My inspiration was drawn heavily from my background in personality typing, which always made me curious about dating websites that used those kinds of tests in matching people. Coupled with phase of reading a lot of Tudor-era books, both fiction and non-fiction, with all the marriages and divorces for political advantage, it set the wheels in motion for wondering if a matching system would have worked or been handy in those times. I could see it being necessary to hold a weak nation together and also see the women running the system as a way to protect each other. It could easily become more powerful than most people (particularly men) realized. But if one group can game the system to their advantage, so can another. Who would even notice it but the matchmakers? Plot!”

  1. What made you decide to feature colored characters in your novel? What is your take on the importance of diversity in YA literature?

“I mostly created a world with a history of several different cultures and environments, some that were related to each other in development and some that weren’t. When it came to nailing down what people from regions generally looked like, I mostly relied on the geography and climate I’d created. In a couple of cases I made people look specifically unlike the real-world people they were kind of based on or the people they were working with or against. You have to be able to both tell people apart and tell where someone’s from by their looks. When it all came together, it seemed fairly diverse, but there wasn’t really a super conscious effort to make it so. Diversity is important, though, because the real world is diverse. If one particular ethnicity or skin color or gender or sexuality is always the good guy or the bad guy or the sidekick or absent altogether, it’s harmful. Good and bad exist across the spectrum, just like people.”

  1. How did your educational background (your degree in rocket science) affect your writing of TTK?

“Engineering at its heart is about the interaction of forces and the creation of complex systems, and I love that stuff. If that background helped, it was in always looking for the way events interact. Real world societies are a product of engineering – internal and external events coming together and functioning as a team of sorts. It also can make me obsess over getting some details right. My friends are teasing me about how I’m frustrated that the physics of an event in Book 2 aren’t working and need major revisions, but dang it, that’s important to me!”

  1. Sage is undeniably an empowered female protagonist, and her male peers gradually learn to appreciate her true worth. With that in mind, what gender roles/stereotypes did you aim to explore/debunk in TTK?

“You say that like I meant to do it. I love the butt-kicking female protagonists I grew up reading, but I found few friends interested in those stories because they felt intimidated by or unconnected to a girl who likes to hit things. A friend once told me women doctors and fighter pilots and dragon slayers are inspiring, but she hated feeling like she was inadequate or wrong because she didn’t want to do any of those things herself. I totally understand that – nurses and teachers and mothers are just as worthy of admiration. As for me, a 5 foot 6, medium build woman, I only look threatening to my kids, so what made me formidable or a legitimate authority in a male-dominated Navy? Rank will only get you so far. You have to be willing to learn, ready to act, and one step ahead of the crowd. Sage is all of those things, and she does it mostly within the confines of a traditional gender role. In fact, that’s her advantage. There are things only she can accomplish because she’s a woman, and a smallish one at that. Additionally, I think her finding romance with a military man is appropriate because competency is what matters most to them in succeeding. I guess if there’s a message to young women, it’s work with what you got where you are. There are many, many ways to make a difference or save the day – find the one that fits your strengths.”

  1. What inspired you to explore or emphasize the political aspect of marriage in TTK? If you were in Sage’s shoes, would you be willing to marry for power or connections?

“Political marriages were historically important across all cultures, and still are in many places of the world, so everyone is familiar with it. That’s not to say it’s right, just realistic. But I love the idea of “powerless” women turning that system to their advantage. As for being in Sage’s shoes, in her case there’s no real advantage to marrying her, which is incredibly freeing. Anyone who married her would have to really want to. If there were some advantage or peace between nations to be gained, then I might be willing to accept marrying under those circumstances. Might. Possibly sacrificing my own happiness to save lives is a worthy cause to consider. Very logical, in fact: the needs of one versus the needs of many. But I would go into it with open eyes, and I would make sure my husband did, too.”

  1. As a debut author, how do you respond to both praise and criticism?

“I try to avoid seeing much of either, and I respond sparingly, even to the nice stuff. If it’s praise, it can give a false sense of security and pride, which makes you lazy, not to mention high-and-mighty. Or it can make you insecure because you feel you don’t deserve it. Criticism (and praise) often has as much to do with the critic as the work, so it’s important to take it all with a grain of salt. Things that come from outside my target audience matter less, but criticism always hurts. Always. And that can be just as damaging to the creative process, not to mention mental health. But I do need to know what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong and how I can improve, so I can’t ignore what people are saying either. I see what others point out to me, mostly. It gets filtered by people with less of a personal stake in the work. Veteran authors have said that’s the best strategy. It helps that I have a busy life outside writing, so I just don’t have much time to deal with it anyway.”

  1. What can you tell us about the sequel to TTK? Does it already have a title?

“I’m hacking my way through the jungle of revisions right now, so I both don’t know what I’m allowed to say and what I can say because plot points are still in flux. I can say that even people who love each other very much still have a lot to work out, and we all carry our own demons. As for bad guys, sometimes they aren’t really bad people, they’re just caught in a bad situation, fighting for their survival. It does have a title (as does #3!), but I think there’s going to be a reveal down the road, so I have to keep it to myself for now, sorry!”

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About the author:

Erin Beaty was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, which means she can’t drive a tractor, but she won’t eat veggies that come from a can. She graduated from the US Naval Academy with a degree in rocket science and somehow always ended up writing her study group’s lab reports. After serving in the fleet as a weapons officer and a leadership instructor, she resigned to pursue her side hobby of populating the Church of Rome. It still amazes her when other people want to hear the stories that come out of her head.

She and her husband have five children, two cats, and a vegetable garden and live wherever the navy tells them to go.

Visit Erin’s website

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Book Review

Please Don’t Hate Me

The Traitor's Kiss (Traitor's Trilogy, #1)The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

The phrasing annoyed Sage. As long as she was pretty and in a good mood, her husband would love her? People needed love most when they weren’t at their best.

You might be wondering why in the world did I give this book 4 stars. After all, many people have given it 1 star because it supposedly reinforces girl hate and racism. Basically, the majority of the YA community claims that The Traitor’s Kiss is a sexist and whitewashed retelling of Mulan. I generally respect the opinions of my fellow readers, but I think that the hate surrounding this book is predominantly subjective. Hopefully, my review will encourage others to be open-minded and give this book a chance.

The Traitor’s Kiss is less like Mulan and more like a Jane Austen novel, such as Pride and Prejudice. Like the latter, this book features an empowered female protagonist who lives in a patriarchal world where marriage makes the world go round. Unlike her peers, Sage is not eager to be a mere political pawn. Deemed unfit for marriage because of her “lack of femininity,” she becomes a spy for the most sought after matchmaker in the kingdom. Sage’s story becomes more intriguing when an enigmatic soldier named Quinn asks her to help him eradicate a political conspiracy.

I was able to read this book rather quickly because I was engrossed by the plot. For me, there was hardly any dull moment, even at the beginning of the novel. The perfect balance between romance and political intrigue piqued my interest. I normally read two to five books alternately, so I was quite surprised that this book monopolized my attention. The climax of the book was particularly intense and well-executed. A lot of things were happening to many characters, but the author managed to connect them in such as way that was delightfully comprehensible.

I’ve always been fond of empowered females, so Sage was easy to like. As her name implies, Sage was a very wise/erudite character. She loved reading, gathering information, and sharing her knowledge with others. Her keen intuition definitely made her a force to be reckoned with. It even came to a point that no one could keep secrets from her. At least not for a long time. xD

As I’ve mentioned earlier, many readers have expressed their indignation for the girl hate in this book, which apparently depicts femininity in a negative way. With that in mind, it is true that Sage and her peers said mean things about each other. However, I believe that this could be viewed as a depiction of society in general, specifically of the struggle between the upper and lower classes. Throughout the novel, both men and women looked down on Sage because of her status as a commoner. In other words, the mean girls in this book weren’t naturally mean because of their sex. Furthermore, like the male population of our own world, not all females are inherently or totally good. I myself have met my fair share of mean girls (and boys). Thus, please don’t judge the author for adding a touch of reality to her book. For heaven’s sake, you don’t have to take things personally!

The next aspect of this book I enjoyed was the absence of instalove. Sage and her love interest had an “organic,” slow-building relationship. I loved that there weren’t any cheesy sparks or internal monologues about fate, meeting their other half, or whatever overrated concept. This is going to sound vague, but I also liked their relationship because it was reminiscent of The Kiss of Deception. It’s no wonder Mary E. Pearson (one of my favorites authors) blurbed this book. That plot twist messed with my mind for more than an hour!

Finally, although this book is infamous for being racist, I actually appreciated its diversity. I honestly couldn’t understand why people described it as whitewashed when many of the characters (both protagonists and antagonists) were people of color. The Kimisar, the secondary antagonists, were indeed “dark-skinned.” However, it is important to note that the main antagonist was “light-skinned.” In other words, both “dark-skinned” and “light-skinned” people were depicted as capable of doing evil. Hence, “equality” was achieved, and you don’t have to be so triggered. :l

Nevertheless, the haters were right about one thing: skin tone was unnecessarily (and sometimes ridiculously) described in this book. Here are some examples:

1. Kimisar were even darker than Demorans from Aristel, and this close he almost faded into the shadows.

2. He had the darker skin of an Aristelan as well as the nearly black hair. She’d never be able to match his color even if she stayed outdoors all summer.

As you can see, the word choice sounds mocking, if not condescending. I would have given this book a higher rating if the colored characters had other distinguishing characteristics worth mentioning. Whether we like it or not, political correctness is imperative nowadays. Sadly, it wasn’t consistently shown in this novel. I wasn’t personally triggered, but I was bothered by how the descriptions made me want to laugh. :3

Overall, I encourage you to read The Traitor’s Kiss with an open mind. It does fall short in regards to its emphasis on skin tone, but it really doesn’t deserve to be hated. Gleaning upon the strengths I mentioned, I can honestly say that Erin Beaty is a promising author. I look forward to reading her future works. 🙂

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