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

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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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

Roses, Revolutions, and Royal Problems

Blood Rose Rebellion (Blood Rose Rebellion, #1)Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Penguin Random House, for sending me an ARC of this book (all the way from New York) in exchange for an honest review.

I was different. I could choose to see it as a gift. I could embrace my own power. I could change the world. —Anna

I’ve noticed that some readers have been marking this book as DNF, so it’s the perfect time for me to voice my thoughts and opinions on this fantastic start to a trilogy. I hope that my review will persuade you not to expect the worst from this book. Nevertheless, I promise to be objective as I possibly can.

Essentially, Blood Rose Rebellion is about Anna Arden, who is a pariah among the Luminates (the magical elite). Labeled as a Barren in light of her incapability to perform even the simplest of spells, she is hated more for her unique ability to shatter or dispel all kinds of magic. Anna sees her ability as a curse, especially when it results in her exile to Hungary, a country dominated by the Austrian Luminates. There, as Anna desperately searches for a way to overcome her curse, she is thrust into a world teetering on the edge of a revolution.

From a bird’s eye view, Blood Rose Rebellion is similar to most dystopian novels in that it features a society plagued by the struggle between the upper and lower classes. As expected, the rich possess supernatural/magical abilities which they use to subtly oppress the poor. However, this book is refreshing because the story is entirely told from the perspective of someone belonging to the upper class.

With that in mind, I enjoyed this book mainly because it gave me the rare opportunity to see the upper class in a different light. Although the antagonists in the novel were still from the upper class, I was glad to encounter a dystopian work that did not typically portray the bourgeoisie as necessarily evil. Kudos to benevolent royals! xD

I also found this book delightful because of the beautiful complexity of its magic system. In Blood Rose Rebellion, there are four orders of Luminates or spell casters, and each of them has an intriguing set of abilities, such as animal persuasion, truth spells, weather magic, and temporal (time) manipulation. Furthermore, each order’s magic is given and governed by a mysterious and ethereal entity known as the Binding. As an avid fan of RPG games like Final Fantasy, I thankfully had no trouble comprehending (and thereby appreciating) the mechanics of this world.

The last thing I liked about this book was its historical content. As stated in the Author’s Note, Blood Rose Rebellion is actually a loose retelling of the Austrian-Hungarian War, which lasted from 1477 to 1478. Before I read this novel, I did not know anything about Austria. As for Hungary, all I knew was its capital, Budapest. Hahaha. Considering my pitiful ignorance, reading this book was definitely a very enlightening experience. It reminded me of the time I read The Bear and the Nightingale, which became my very own literary primer on Russian culture.

Ultimately, the only problem I had with this book was Anna. I sympathized with her desire for familial and social acceptance, but I particularly disliked her rebellious streak. I honestly cannot remember a time when she willingly obeyed her authorities. Her impulsiveness was also irksome because it often put her loved ones in danger. I am generally not fond of selfish characters, so I couldn’t help but feel detached towards Anna.

To sum up my thoughts and feels, Blood Rose Rebellion is worth your time. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot, especially if you are fond of history, fantasy, and political intrigue. I really enjoyed its refreshing, stimulating, and educational content, so I am more than happy to give it 4 stars.

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Book Review

Second Chances

Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts, #1)Gilded Cage by Vic James

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Actual Rating: 3.5

I love it when people aren’t who they seem. It makes life so much more exciting, don’t you think? —Silyen Parva-Jardine

I first read Gilded Cage as an e-ARC given by Pan Macmillan. Essentially, I gave it two stars because it turned out to be overhyped. You can read my first review of this book here. When Penguin Random House innocently sent me a physical ARC, I figured it would be a waste if I did not give the book a second chance. Now, I am happy to say that I do not regret my decision. Since my expectations were no longer affected by the hype still surrounding Gilded Cage, I ended up having a better reading experience.

I still stand by my opinion regarding the book’s general content. In typical fashion, Gilded Cage is a dystopian novel that depicts the bourgeoisie as perpetually corrupt. As usual, the oppressed lower classes are featured as the instruments of glorified revolution. I’ve read tons of dystopian books, so even though I was determined to reread Gilded Cage with fresh eyes, I just couldn’t shake off my jadedness, as well as my tendency to feel sleepy every now and then. Nevertheless, I am thankful that I reread this book because doing so enabled me to view the characters in a different light. All in all, nothing much happened in this book, but its complex and shady characters made it worth my time.

Initially, there was a clear distinction between the good and bad characters. I could easily establish the poor Hadleys as the protagonists and the rich Parva-Jardines as the antagonists. Luke Hadley and the other commoners experienced violence and exploitation in the hands of the Skilled (magical) aristocrats. Hence, it was only natural for me to root for them. However, after getting to know the perspectives of the Parva-Jardine siblings (Gavar, Jenner and Silyen), the line between “good” and “bad” became blurry. Silyen was particularly intriguing because it was so difficult to know (decode) his true intentions. His ambivalent personality reminded me of Harry Potter‘s Severus Snape, Shatter Me‘s Warner and A Court of Thorns and Roses‘s Rhysand. The same could be said of Gavar and Jenner, in that some of their actions conveyed a sense of sympathy for the marginalized members of their society.

When I come to think of it, most of the supposed/traditional antagonists in this book turned out to be my favorite characters. Don’t get me wrong. I do not support the objectification of the lower classes. My fondness for the Parva-Jardines is only a result of their unique characterization. I always love it when I encounter fictional characters who defy my expectations. 🙂

Overall, Gilded Cage deserves 3.5 stars because even though it still did not amaze me, at least its multifaceted characters encouraged me to use my critical thinking. In the end, I guess this shows that even books deserve second chances. ^^

P.S. Thank you, Penguin Random House, for sending me this book all the way from New York. 😀

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Book Review

The Price of Untimely Flirting

The Dragon's Price (Transference, #1)The Dragon’s Price by Bethany Wiggins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Random House Children’s, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

…These days that test you to your core, they will refine you, beat out your weaknesses, and turn you into the best version of yourself that there is. —King Marrkul

I was actually quite hesitant to read this book. One of my trustworthy online friends gave it one star, so I wasn’t that excited when the publisher granted my request. However, the premise of the novel intrigued me; I really wanted to know why a princess would surrender herself to a dragon instead of marrying a so-called barbarian. The latter phenomenon hinted at a Feminist ideology that successfully drew me in like a moth to a flame.

Nearly every chapter of this book was so fun to read. The writing style was simple yet beautiful, the world-building was comprehensible, and the plot was delightfully fast-paced. As a bonus, the female protagonist had an ironically cute name: Sorrowlynn. Given all of these factors, I did not have a difficult time immersing myself in the story.

The magic system was another thumbs-up for me. I don’t want to spoil anyone, so let’s just say that the nature of Sorrowlynn’s magic is related to the title of this series (Transference). Compared to most of the heroines I had encountered in YA fantasy, Sorrowlynn was definitely special. She was physically weak, but her unique abilities made her a force to be reckoned with. I can hardly wait to read the sequel and see her become stronger.

Ultimately, my main problem with this book was the romance. Every time I updated my reading progress, I found myself complaining about Sorrowlynn and Golmarr’s constant flirting. Initially, I didn’t mind their coquettish banter, but I eventually found it annoying, if not sickeningly sweet. Looking back, approximately 33% of the dialogue was dedicated to proclamations of love and desire, regardless of time and circumstance. Seriously, the characters had time to flirt even when their lives were in grave danger. With that in mind, I was somehow able to understand why other readers did not enjoy this book.

All things considered, The Dragon’s Price met (and even exceeded) most of my expectations. I would highly recommend it to readers who are looking for a quick and entertaining fantasy book. If the sweetness of the characters gets to you, simply roll your eyes to relieve your stress. Trust me. It works.

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Book Review

A Literary Primer on Russian Folklore

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Ebury Publishing, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

All the ancient classic fairy tales have always been scary and dark. —Helena Bonham Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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