Book Review

If George Lucas Were Asian

Empress of a Thousand Skies (Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1)Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

 

If he’s trying to kill me, he won’t expect me to come looking for him. —Rhiannon

After so many months of consuming fantasy and contemporary literature, I finally picked up a sci-fi book. I was particularly interested in Empress of a Thousand Skies because it was penned by a fellow Filipino. YA literature is generally a Western construct, so the least I can do is to feature/review books that shine a light on my dear Asia. With that in mind, I honestly think that this book is something that I can take pride in. 🙂

Empress of a Thousand Skies is an exciting space opera about a girl and boy from opposing planets. Rhee is the crown princess of Kalu, while Aly is a refugee from Wraeta. On the day of Rhee’s coronation, someone attempts to assassinate her, and Kalu becomes the prime suspect. Both of them are then forced to go into hiding. Eventually, they realize that they are pawns in a game, a conspiracy that may usher the galaxy into another state of war and destruction.

Reading this book was like watching a Star Wars movie. I’ve been a fan of the latter franchise since I was a kid (thanks to Papa and Mama). Hence, I really enjoyed all the political drama set in a variety of planets. Although Rhee was a unique character, I couldn’t help but imagine her as a younger version of Princess Leah. As for Aly, who was described to be a POC, he made me think of Finn (from Episode VII). With that in mind, my reading experience was fun and nostalgic, making me a satisfied fanboy. I guess my family would enjoy this book, too. 🙂

I specifically loved the first part of EOATS because it was fast-paced. I constantly wanted to learn more about the protagonists and the dangers that they were about to face. It also helped that each chapter (told by Rhee and Aly alternately) was relatively short. However, what really kept me flipping the pages was my desire to find out who wanted to get rid of both Rhee and Aly. Some readers were able to predict the identity of the villain, but I was honestly taken by surprise. Looking back, I didn’t feel jaded about any of the plot twists.

Racial discrimination was one of the important issues tackled in EOATS. It was implied that Aly was framed because of his dark skin and the supposedly belligerent behavior of his people. Although he managed to attain fame through a reality show called The Revolutionary Boys, Aly was convinced that people (i.e. Kalusians) were expecting the worst of him. Hence, he did his best to act friendly and charming in fear of being deported to his ruined planet. I loved this aspect of this book because it was a powerful depiction of how we Filipinos were seen as barbarians during the Colonial Period. I don’t need to say what nation(s) reinforced such propaganda. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still people nowadays who think that Filipinos are the “little, brown brothers/sisters” of You-Know-Who. Although I myself haven’t experienced racial discrimination, I found Aly to be a very relatable character. His development will surely speak to any reader who knows what it’s like to be colonized.

Rhee was a great character in her own way. She was also discriminated, but it was because of her youth. Some of the side characters treated her with condescension, not knowing that Rhee had an abundance of inner beauty and strength. Of course, she wasn’t perfect; she was impulsive and quite easy to manipulate. Nevertheless, I admired her attitude toward failure. She was always determined to learn from her mistakes and use them as stepping stones to maturity and even victory.

I only encountered problems while reading the second half of the book. The pacing began to falter, bordering on uneventful territory. This was probably caused by the introduction of a third protagonist, who would then have an instalovey romance with…someone. Unfortunately, instalove will always be one of my pet peeves (at least when I don’t expect it). :3

To sum up, I highly recommend Empress of a Thousand Skies. Believe the blurb in the jacket that says this book is perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles and Red Rising. Kudos to Rhoda Belleza for writing a space opera that Filipinos can be proud of.

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Book Review

A Booknerd Bored and Ranting

A Poison Dark and Drowning (Kingdom on Fire, #2)A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

People do what they think is right, but that does not make it good.

I can’t believe that it took me almost three months to finish this book. I did not have high expectations because I gave the first book 3 stars. Still, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by…a lot of things. I’ll try not to be too salty, but just know that this book was…meh.

A Poison Dark and Drowning resumes the story of Henrietta Howel, the not-so Chosen One of Victorian England. After visiting the home of one of the founding fathers of “magicianhood,” she discovers a set of mysterious weapons that can help her defeat the Ancients once and for all. Meanwhile, Rook’s transformation into a monster is accelerating, and everyone seems to think that he’s a lost cause. Of course, Henrietta fiercely disagrees. In this lackluster sequel to A Shadow Bright and Burning, readers follow Henrietta as she struggles to save both the world and her first love.

My first problem with this book was its lack of originality. For example, I knew that the author was a fan of Harry Potter (like most people), but I was bothered that one of the places in the book felt like a replica of Diagon Alley. Considering all of the tropes utilized in the first book, I expected the sequel to be a little more refreshing.

My second problem was the predictable content. One of the plot twists in this book was so unsurprising. I could see it coming from a mile away, and instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, I was overwhelmed by jadedness. You really don’t need to think hard if you wanna figure out the identity of Henrietta’s father.

The last straw was the chaotic romance, which resulted in a lot of corny dialogue. I couldn’t understand how Henrietta could attract nearly all of her male peers. Indeed, she was powerful and resourceful, but she also made a lot of stupid decisions that caused a lot of collateral damage. My fondness for her was diminished every time Henrietta acknowledged her own flaws and engaged in self-pity. Hence, I really didn’t care about her relationship with Rook, Blackwood, or Magnus.

I don’t want this review to be a complete rant, so let’s look at the bright side, shall we? I stopped myself from giving this book 1 star because I was a fan of the deep friendship between Henrietta and Maria. They were practically like sisters even though they came from different backgrounds. Their interactions were somehow my lifeline while reading this mostly boring novel. Also, I gave a few additional points to the diversity of characters. I really appreciate that many YA books nowadays aren’t whitewashed.

With all that said, I’m not sure if I’m still invested in this series/trilogy. I pushed myself to finish it just because the publisher sent me a galley. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in reading it, I won’t stop you. Who knows? You might end up enjoying it.

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Book Review

More Than What You Expect

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you so much, Penguin Random House, for sending me a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

According to the description, if this book is an equation, it would be: The Breakfast Club + Pretty Liars = One of Us is Lying. I personally love TBC and PLL, and I completely agree with this equation.

Similar to the movie, The Breakfast Club, One of Us is Lying is about five high school students who walk into detention one afternoon: Bronwyn, the brain; Addy, the beauty; Nate, the criminal; Cooper, the athlete; and Simon, the outcast and the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app. What made this book have the Pretty Little Liars vibe (if you can call it that), is that before the end of detention, Simon dies, and it turns out that his death is not an accident. He was planning to reveal the most-kept secrets of his four classmates, which makes them prime suspects of Simon’s murder. The question is, who really killed Simon? Is it one of them? All of them? Or maybe, an entirely different person?

First of all, Simon is a terrible person. He would probably make it to the list of most-hated YA characters. He is a social climber who is obsessed and hungry for attention and fame. What really irked me the most was his gossip app. His posts could ruin friendships, relationships, reputations, dignity, and so much more. Why couldn’t he just mind his own business? It would not be a surprise if people hated him to the point of hurting or killing him. He was really asking for it.

Before reading this book, I was expecting that the story would be full of mystery and secrets, just like PLL. As expected, there was an element of mystery surrounding the plot, but I was mildly surprised that it also dealt with different issues, which reminded me a lot of TBC. The plot contained topics like parental expectations, misuse of drugs, injustice, toxic relationships, friendship, mental illness, and others that I don’t want to mention because they might be potential spoilers. Trust me, you’ll know what I mean when you read the book. There was this part that I didn’t see coming, and I was quite gobsmacked when I read it. Which brings me to another point: social constructs and stereotyping. As you might have noticed in the book description (or by watching TBC), the characters represented different stereotypes. Each of them were expected to behave in a certain way, but as the plot goes on, you’ll notice that there’s more to their stories other than the label that they were given. I failed to notice this in the first part of the book, which is why I was getting a little bit bored in the beginning. But when I realized what the author really wanted to impart besides the mystery of Simon’s death, it made my reading experience more fun and remarkable.

Going back to the mystery of Simon’s death, I had a few guesses about his killer. I made myself aware of each of the character’s actions, looking for clues that might lead to the killer (I felt like Sherlock Holmes lol), then this vital hint came, and I didn’t know if the author did it on purpose, or she made a mistake of spilling too much beans before the big reveal, but it made the ending quite predictable. I was enjoying the fuzzy blur of not really knowing who the killer was, which made me want to read more of the book. But after I read that clue, my interest deflated a little because I could longer have fun making theories about Simon’s death. But even though I already had an idea about how Simon died, I was still surprised because I could have never guessed the second half of that mystery. I was pleased that the plot still had something up its sleeve when I thought that I had completely figured it out.

To sum it all up, One of Us is Lying is a very interesting read. It’s a great reminder about how a story (or a person) has a lot more to offer than what you expect it (or them) to give. Fans of The Breakfast Club and Pretty Little Liars, you’ll definitely like this!

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Book Review

There’s Conflict in Your Heart

There's Someone Inside Your HouseThere’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

I found it hard to decide how many stars I should give this book because I’m not entirely sure whether I liked it or not. It’s written by Stephanie Perkins, and since I really liked the Anna and the French Kiss trilogy, I’m a little biased xD.

Like other readers, I was really surprised that the genre of Perkins’ new book is so different from her fluffy, feel-good books. It was one of the reasons why I was so excited to read it. I’m not really fond of horror novels; in fact, this was the first time that I’ve read one.

I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a rookie when it comes to horror/thriller novels, but the horrifying scenes from this book really got to me. The gory scenes were very hard for me to read. As an avid reader, I’m so used to imagining the stuff I read as vividly as possible, so when I read those parts, it was horrifying. I wanted to skip those scenes, but I’m also used to not missing any details from a story, so I just had to read them (I never knew that these habits could possibly backfire!).

I was mildly thrilled that the book made me nervous every moment when I knew that a character was going to die, and I wanted to yell, “THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE!” But obviously, they couldn’t hear me. My heart was beating fast every time the victims noticed weird things around their house – an open drawer, a missing object… tell-tale signs that the killer was toying with them. Those scenes always kept me at the edge of my seat.

I think that the killer was revealed too early for my taste. I was expecting more suspense – that both the characters of the book and the readers would become more suspicious; that when the killer would be revealed, it would be really shocking because you didn’t see it coming…and you couldn’t help but exclaim, “IT CAN’T BE!” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Also, the genre of the book might be different from the previous books of the author, but underlying all the horrifying scenes and the suspense, was a swoon-worthy romantic story that Stephanie Perkins’ readers are familiar with…or at least, that was what I was expecting. Unfortunately, there are times when expectations will lead to disappointment, which was the case for this book. I couldn’t help but find the romance a little bit cheesy and out of place. It was quite infuriating that Makani and Ollie couldn’t seem to control their sexual desire for each other when a serial killer was at large! I also didn’t find any swoon-worthy scenes, which I was kinda looking for, because…it’s Stephanie Perkins!

And then there was the last part of the book, which was a big WHAT THE HECK! It was really stupid. Like, why would they do that, when they knew that it was so dangerous. We all love those fantasy books where YA peeps were the ones who save the day, but in a horror/thriller contemporary book, it’s a big NO! The best thing to do is to just leave it to the police.

Okay, so this review has more negative comments than positive ones, so it’s obvious that I didn’t love the book, but there’s still a part of me that really enjoyed reading it. And as I’ve said before, it’s a Stephanie Perkins’ book, so I’m a little biased, and it feels like a betrayal to say it outright that I didn’t like the book (I know, I can be weirdly loyal sometimes xD).

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Book Review

Please Don’t Crucify Me

Warcross (Warcross, #1)Warcross by Marie Lu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book as a participant in a blog tour hosted by The Royal Polar Bear Reads. Special thanks to the publisher for giving me pre-approved access to an e-galley of this book on Edelweiss.

Everything is science fiction until someone makes it science fact. —Hideo

I already had the chance to read Warcross last May, but the immense hype surrounding it rendered me hesitant. For four freakin months. Eventually, what pushed me to read it was my lingering fondness for Legend, one of the author’s previous works. I had also been wanting to rekindle my interest in sci-fi, so reading this book seemed like a good way to reach my goal. And now that I’ve finished it, I cannot help but feel disappointed. Oh well, it’s good to be a part of the minority every now and then.

Even before its publication, people have already been comparing Warcross to Sword Art Online, a very beloved anime series. Plot-wise, the comparison is somehow justified. Warcross also follows a diverse cast of characters who live in a nearly utopian world that prizes virtual reality. Furthermore, like SAO, the plot of this book contains equal portions of action, mystery, and romance. Emika Chen, the heroine, works as a bounty hunter for Hideo Tanaka, the ingenious creator of a revolutionary video game called Warcross. The latter is being hacked by an unknown, malevolent figure, and Emika tries to catch the villain whenever she isn’t busy falling for Hideo.

I loved the first half of Warcross because it was practically popcorn for me, the bookish gamer. In a way, it seemed that I was rereading Morgan Rhodes’s Falling Kingdoms because once again, I felt like I was playing a JRPG. The virtual battles were very exciting and deliciously tactical, and I could vividly imagine the various places where they were held. When Final Fantasy was briefly mentioned in the book, I grinned from ear to ear. Marie Lu used to work in the gaming industry, so I was so happy to see her apply that “nerdiness” in her book. In retrospect, it effectively showed that video games and literature are not worlds apart. After all, video games, especially RPGs, are stories in and of themselves.

I wasn’t on the lookout for “triggering content” such as racism, sexism, or ableism. However, I was intrigued by the diversity in this book. The characters came from different corners of the world: Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. One of the protagonists was paraplegic, and then it was implied that two of them weren’t straight. I wanted to give Marie Lu a pat on the back for heeding the YA community’s plea for more diversity.

Unfortunately, my buzz was killed by Emika and Hideo’s relationship. I was not thrilled because the emotional connection that started it all was so overrated, I barely stopped myself from rolling my eyes. I did not like that Emika and Hideo fell for each other simply because both of them understood what it felt like to lose a loved one. Their mutual physical attraction wasn’t a plausible factor, either. It reeked of instalove, and I wasn’t there for it. Huhu. Let us all fall in love with Hideo, the sexy, tortured soul. The heck. I would’ve enjoyed this book so much more without the romance. Love can be so unnecessary sometimes, particularly in YA. If you don’t want me to blame the book, then I’ll blame the genre. LOL. But seriously, as far as I’m concerned, Emika and Hideo aren’t a match made in Heaven. In fact, in light of the book’s ending, I suppose the author would agree with me. Wahahaha!

The second catalyst behind my relatively low rating was the book’s predictable content. I totally knew the identity of the villain chapters before it was disclosed! If I could attach a selfie of me sticking out my tongue, I would. I wonder what I could’ve done to prevent myself from being so…jaded? Oh, I want to make an “educated prediction” before the sequel comes out someday: Emika is gonna end up with Zero. If I’m wrong, I’ll give the sequel a high rating! Hahaha plus points for defied expectations. To be fair, I was a little surprised by the second plot twist, which had a dystopian undertone. I wasn’t a fan of this certain character, but my feelings might change in the future.

In its totality, Warcross was entertaining at its best and disappointing at its worst. I loved the fantastic and creative world-building, but the characters and plot points were generally lackluster; they weren’t anything that I hadn’t seen before. Now, I really want to reread the Legend trilogy just to see if I would love it as much as I did when I was in college. If you haven’t read Warcross, I guess you’re not missing half of your life. Please don’t let the hype get to you. Heck, don’t judge any book by the hype surrounding it.

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Book Review

In Love with the Gorgeous Blue

Words in Deep BlueWords in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you so much, Penguin Random House, for sending me a finished copy of this beautiful book in exchange for an honest review.

ASDFGHJKL! I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH!

I know that we should judge books by their content, but look at that gorgeous cover! I can stare at it for hours and admire how pretty it is. There were times when I just needed to stop reading for moment to take a look at the cover. I know, I was a little obsessed xD.

As for the story itself, it was wonderful! Jennifer Niven’s blurb pretty much summed up how lovely the book was. She blurbed, “One of the loveliest, most exquisitely beautiful books I’ve read in a very long time. (How beautiful? I highlighted and circled and underlined like mad.) I didn’t just read the pages, I lived in them.” That was so accurate! If you could see the state of my book right now, it’s full of colorful tabs and there are a lot of words written on the margins. There were just so many lines that I really liked.

Okay, so here is are seven reasons why I loved this book so much:

First, I loved this book because it was so bookish. By just looking at the cover, I could tell that books would be a huge part of the story. Henry and his family ran a secondhand bookshop, and I thought that it was one of the best places that I could find in a book. I just wanted to get inside the book and visit that bookshop. The concept of the Letter Library was super cool, too! Basically, it was a section of the bookshop where the books were not for sale, and customers could write on the pages, underline their favorite lines, and leave letters for other people to read. It was a brilliant idea, and it made me want to own a bookshop someday and also have a Letter Library. Haha.

Second, I loved this book because of Henry’s love for secondhand books. According to him, Secondhand books are full of mysteries. I agreed with his sentiment, and reading this book made me appreciate secondhand books more than before. I don’t often buy secondhand books because I hardly find one that I would like to read, but still, I really like visiting secondhand bookshops because the books have stories apart from the stories they contain within the pages. You can’t help but wonder, “How did this book find its way here?”, or “Who was the previous owner of this book?”, and the mystery might be forever unanswered, but you wonder anyway. I was quite sure that Henry and the others also thought of that, which is why I loved this book so much. It made me feel like I was personally involved in the story.

Third, I loved this book because of the letters in between the chapters. They were so cute! Again, it made me want to go inside the book and also leave some letters in the Letter Library for my friends and random people to find.

Fourth, I loved this book because of Cal. He was not physically present in the story, but he somehow shaped most of it. I was really sad that he died because he was really cool! I loved that he was a science nerd. Those theories about time? Super cool! I also loved that he and Rachel treasured the ocean, and it sucked so much that it was the reason for his death.

Fifth, I loved this book because of the characters. Rachel, Henry, George, and Cal were people that I would really like to befriend. I just wish that I could teleport inside the book and say “Hi” to them.

Sixth, I loved this book because of the book recommendations. They talked about lots of books, and now I have a few books to add to my ever-growing TBR pile. Haha.

Finally, I loved this book because it was quite emotional. The last parts of the book made me a little bit teary-eyed. Those what-could-have-been’s…they made me so sad T^T

Overall, I believe that there are still a LOT of reasons why I loved this book so much, and you, yes, YOU just have to read this book to know them! I highly recommend this book to all booknerds out there!

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Book Review

A Moment of Blue Reflection

Words in Deep BlueWords in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Henry, if the love of your life is kissing a moron, it’s probably time to reassess whether or not she’s the love of your life.

—Rachel

As someone who devours literature on a daily basis, I always enjoy reading books that feature similarly bookish people. My reading experience becomes more meaningful and memorable whenever I am able to fully connect with characters, as fictional as they are.

Following this train of thought, Words in Deep Blue is a perfect summer read for us lovers of the written word. It follows two booknerds, Rachel and Henry, who live in this rabbit-and-kangaroo-infested place called Australia (not America, for a change). Rachel and Henry have been best friends since they were children, and Rachel eventually decides to confess her feelings by leaving a love letter in his favorite book. Unfortunately, certain circumstances prevent Henry from reading it and cause Rachel to move to another city. Years later, Rachel and Henry work together in his family’s bookshop, but everything between them has changed for the worse. You can probably guess what happens next.

Unsurprisingly, Words in Deep Blue was character-driven. Since I’ve already read tons of contemporary books, I could see the ending from a mile away. Plus, some of the chapters were uneventful although they shed much light on Rachel and Henry’s personalities. Although the plot was indeed predictable, I really enjoyed how this book tackled relevant themes such as grief, forgiveness, and true love. This wonderful aspect of the book more than compensated for its lack of spontaneity.

Among all of the characters, Rachel was the one who touched my heart. I was so sad for her loss, and I understood the numbness or emptiness she felt because of her brother’s death (this is not a spoiler). If I lost either of my brothers, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself besides moping and looking up. Honestly, familial loss in books never fails to tug at my heartstrings.

Reading Cal’s letters to his crush was both enjoyable and saddening. He was a devoted bookworm like the other characters, and he could have lived such a fruitful life if he hadn’t drowned in the stupid ocean (this only deepened my hatred for swimming). In other words, it was painful to think about the happy ending that he could’ve had. Wishful thinking can be so pleasurable, but it sucks when you realize that it’s futile. Cal’s death was already established from the very beginning. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but stubbornly wish for a shocking plot twist.

Henry was actually my least favorite character. I liked his fondness for poetry and other philosophical literature, but I wasn’t a fan of how he pined for a girl who obviously “loved” him only when it was convenient. I cringed every time he tried to convince Amy to come back to him because it made him look so pathetic, if not hopelessly blinded by puppy love. His redeeming qualities were his sensitivity and optimism. If it weren’t for him, Rachel would have spent a longer time in the cage of depression. Basically, Henry was the type of person who always had a shoulder to cry on.

The side characters in this book were surprisingly well-developed. I didn’t feel that they were just created to function as plot devices. For example, George and Martin had their own unique personalities, and the letters they sent to each other increased the depth and humor of the story. This made me appreciate the book more because it showed how the author was very intentional in her writing.

After all the paragraphs I’ve written in this review, the bottom line is that Words in Deep Blue is a worthy addition to your TBR shelf, especially if you love contemporary novels that are character-driven and emotionally heavy. It doesn’t have the most unique plot, but the book as a whole is something to reflect on.

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