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

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 Christina June

Hi, booknerds! Dessa and I recently read an ARC of It Started with Goodbye by debut author Christina June.

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We genuinely enjoyed this contemporary retelling of Cinderella (both of us gave it 5 out of 5 stars), and we can hardly wait for the rest of the YA community to read it. If you want to know more about ISWG, feel free to check out our review. We hope that this written interview will encourage you to pick up ISWG when it comes out on May 9, 2017. Happy reading!

1. The title of your book is open to interpretation, so what does it mean to you personally?

The original title of the book was VALEDICTIONS, which is just the long word for saying goodbye, usually at the closing of a letter.  My publishing team came up with something a little more catchy, but the definition of a valediction will appear on the back of the finished copy–both what the dictionary says and Tatum’s more snarky explanation.  I’m glad it survived!  At the beginning of the novel, there are many goodbyes–Tatum to her father, Tatum to her best friend, Tatum to her summer of fun–that turn into new beginnings and opportunities, so I think the title fits well.”

2. What version of Cinderella do you like more, the Grimm version or the Disney version?

I grew up on the Disney version, and Disney-like versions in the fairy tale anthologies my mom would read from at bedtime.  I like that it has a hopeful ending and that Cinderella gets away from her unfortunate home.  But, I do enjoy the Grimm’s version as well.  I like the step-family getting a little justice.  I used an awesome website out of the University of Pittsburgh when I was doing research that lists the Cinderella trope in all the cultures where it occurs.  It’s fascinating how the same story cropped up, just different details, all over the world.”

3. Romance is a minor theme in your novel. Was this done intentionally, and would you describe Tatum and SK’s relationship as true love?

I would certainly say Tatum and SK are a great match and could definitely fall in love down the line.  While romance is pretty central to the original Cinderella story, I purposely made sure all the relationships in Tatum’s life–family and friends–were examined as well.  Not every teen falls in love, or is hoping to, but I believe we all need a strong support network.”

4. Tatum and her stepmother had a really tough relationship. What is your message to those who are in the same situation?

I would hope that readers would feel empowered to stand up for the things that are important to them.  Just because someone you love has a different idea of what happiness or success looks like doesn’t make your dream less valid.”

5. What is the story behind Tatum’s name? (It inevitably reminded us of Channing Tatum) xD

Honestly, it’s just a name I like and not one that I’ve seen much in YA.  It does make me think of Channing Tatum, though, and that’s never a bad thing.”

6. ISWG deals with family and friend issues. Is the book somehow inspired by a significant part of your life?

No, nothing specific from my own life informed this story, but universal emotions certainly did.  I observe a lot of teens struggling with the moment they discover their parents, or other important adults in their lives, come with their own baggage.  It can be a hard pill to swallow, but as we see from Tatum’s story, having that context can be really eye-opening.”

7. What did you like about the process of writing a fairy tale retelling?

I love that fairy tales are easily recognizable and make for a good starting place with a brand new story.  It was really fun taking the classic elements and turning them into something new.  A lot of retellings, especially in YA, are fantasy or science fiction, so I wanted to do a contemporary story with no magic.  It was important to me that Tatum feel like an “everygirl” and not a damsel in distress.”

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About the author:

Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives just outside Washington DC with her husband and daughter.

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Book Review

After Happily Ever After

Wires and Nerve: Volume 1Wires and Nerve: Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These monsters are after my friends, and I will do anything—absolutely anything—to keep them safe. —Iko

After finishing Winter last year, I was so excited when Marissa Meyer said she would be writing this graphic novel as a continuation to The Lunar Chronicles. I am still deeply invested in this series, so I will gladly read anything that would delay the inevitable goodbye.

Even so, I did not give Wires and Nerve five stars simply because there was a part of me that recognized the capitalist intention behind its publication. Winter is 824 pages long because I presume the author wants to give us a complete sense of closure; she even released a bonus epilogue in Stars Above to further solidify the happy ending we’d been yearning for. Hence, I felt bummed to read about Cinder and Co. solving another conflict. One would think they’ve had more than their fair share of political, interplanetary problems.

When I come to think of it, Stars Above should have been published after Wires and Nerve. This might sound confusing, but the events in Wires and Nerve actually happen before the bonus epilogue in Stars Above. In other words, Stars Above is a spoiler to Wires and Nerve. I realized this in Chapter 7, the part where Scarlet and Wolf finally make a “cameo appearance.” Overall, I’m sad that I already have an idea about how the Wires and Nerve series is gonna end.

Setting aside the latter issues, I did enjoy this graphic novel. Iko was a cool and badass protagonist, and it was touching to know what she really thought about her comrades. Prejudice against androids was still present her society, so I was also moved by her desire to prove her “humanity” and worth to the people of Earth. As for Iko’s relationship with Liam Kinney, I found it be strange yet intriguing. Does that also make me prejudiced against androids? You tell me. Haha.

I also liked this novel because it gave more depth to Cinder’s character. It was fun to witness her knack for politics, as well as her bravery in the midst of the royals who foolishly treated her with condescension. Even though Cinder wasn’t the star of the show anymore, I loved that she was still given much screen time. The same goes for our beloved Cress and Thorne. They definitely gave the story a touch of sweetness. In the end, Scarlet and Wolf were the true cameos; they only appeared in the last chapter!

Ultimately, Wires and Nerve isn’t necessarily an essential addition (or extension) to The Lunar Chronicles. Nevertheless, if you’re a hardcore fan of the series, I wouldn’t dare dissuade you from reading it.

P.S. I bought the Kindle edition as a compromise. I did not want to pay $22 dollars for a short, capitalist work.

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Book Review

Satisfied to the Stars and Back

The Star-Touched Queen (The Star-Touched Queen, #1)The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will not let us be beings of regret. I know my past. What I want is my future. —Maya

I cannot believe I was so hesitant to read this before. The Star-touched Queen is surprisingly one of the best novels I have read this year. The author also happens to be part Filipino, so I’m feeling quite proud at the moment. Tee-hee.

My actual rating for this book is 4.5. Before I picked it up, I actually expected to give it 3 stars. Silly me. I’ve read reviews which complained about the too flowery writing and sloppy world-building, but I found myself unable to fully understand such harsh criticism. Truth be told, the only problem I encountered was the incomplete/inadequate glossary; there were some italicized, Indian terms that were quite a hassle to look up on Google.

In contrast to other readers, I loved the author’s writing style. Sarah J. Maas wasn’t exaggerating when she blurbed, “I was spellbound from the first line.” In totality, the writing was flowery in a way that stimulated my imagination. Some metaphors were over the top, but most of the descriptions were beautiful in that they gave so much life, color, and depth to the story. If you love Marie Rutkoski’s play on words, then you will definitely be a fan of Roshani Chokshi’s.

As for the world-building, I found it whimsical and refreshing. Initially, it was quite confusing, but everything clicked for me when I remembered how the novel was marketed as a loose retelling of Hades and Persephone. Ultimately, both the writing style and world-building just require a little patience. They might befuddle you at first, but you’ll learn to enjoy them eventually.

The Star-touched Queen featured a cast of diverse and intriguing characters. Maya had a wonderful character arc. All of the hatred and deception she experienced transformed her into a formidable heroine. I only disliked her for her tendency to be gullible. Seriously, the dilemmas in the story could have been avoided if she learned to hone her critical thinking skills.

Amar, her love interest, inevitably reminded me of ACOTAR’s Rhysand (everybody’s favorite male character in YA). It was funny how he kept on pining for Maya’s trust while keeping so many secrets from her. In the end, the reason for his furtive demeanor was justified. It even made him more likable. I’ll probably remember him best for his Feminist and evocative vocabulary. ^^

Personally, I think that at its core, this book is not a love story. Instead, it is a magical story of an ostracized girl’s transition into empowered womanhood. I believe that you’ll find so much more than a slow burning romance. Otherwise, I would have given this book a lower rating.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Star-touched Queen, and I am very excited to read its supposedly amazing sequel (companion novel). As a fellow Filipino, I sincerely applaud the author for making a difference in the predominantly Western domain of YA literature.

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Book Review

Music, Magic, and Tons of Goblins

WintersongWintersong by S. Jae-Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, St. Martin’s Press, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Down here, I have found myself. Down here, I have a space to be. It is a gift I never looked for, and I cherish it. —Elizabeth

Even though I didn’t know anything about Labyrinth, I was very excited to read Wintersong in light of its gorgeous cover. This book is going to be a stunning addition to my collection. #CoverLove

Content-wise, Wintersong managed to keep my attention. I was especially intrigued by the role of classical music in the story. Elizabeth and the Goblin King (my favorite character) were drawn to each other’s musical talent. Elizabeth was an exceptional composer of piano sonatas, while the Goblin King was a violin virtuoso. In totality, classical music was what made these characters special in my eyes. I myself am able to play the piano and the violin, so I was glad to finally read a YA novel that reflected my passion for intellectual music. I was so happy to find fellow fans of the amazing Antonio Vivaldi! (I believe the title of this book was actually inspired by his popular song entitled Winter.) My musical background also contributed to my enjoyment of Wintersong, which featured an abundance of Italian, musical jargon, such as pizzicato, adagio, sostenuto and more. In retrospect, some people might dislike the author’s obsession with classical music because it could restrict the full comprehension of her work to a particular audience. If you plan to read this book without knowing how to play an instrument, be sure to have a dictionary by your side. Otherwise, you’re gonna be hecka confused or annoyed.

Wintersong also intrigued me because some aspects of the plot were reminiscent of some of my favorite novels: Stephanie Garber’s Caraval and Kiera Cass’s The Siren. How so? Like the former, Wintersong greatly emphasized the dilemma of finding one’s lost/kidnapped sister. And like the latter, Wintersong explored how Mother Nature both gives and takes. Objectively speaking, I was simultaneously beguiled and disappointed by these similarities.

Another interesting (if not peculiar) feature of this book was the author’s writing style. The majority of the book was written in the past tense. However, I eventually noticed that whenever things became intense between Elizabeth and the Goblin King, the author suddenly shifted to present tense. The reason for this phenomenon is probably related to the green theories of Sigmund Freud. I don’t want to cite specific passages in fear of spoiling anyone. You just have to trust me. 😉

I would have given this book five stars if Elizabeth wasn’t so insecure. Seriously, I lost count of how many times she put herself down by comparing herself to her beautiful sister and gifted brother. The first half of the novel was particularly annoying, because Elizabeth kept on calling herself ugly, forgettable, and invisible. I’ve never encountered a character with such an outstanding inferiority complex. Oh well, I don’t need to tell you who/what made her finally understand the value of inner beauty. 😉

The ending was what made me put Wintersong on my shelf of favorite books. No matter how hard I prepared myself, I ended up feeling overwhelmed by a heady mix of shock, delight, and longing. I know that this book is supposedly a standalone, but I would be more than willing to read a sequel.

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

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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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