book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: The Dragon Republic by RF Kuang

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Title: The Dragon Republic

Author: RF Kuang

Genre: Epic, historical Fantasy

Pages: 654

Series? Yes, 2/3

Rating: 4.25/5

All opinions are my own.*

 


Major spoilers for The Poppy War. Spoiler Free for The Dragon Republic.

The Dragon Republic is bigger and richer than its predecessor in every way: writing, plot, and characters. When we left off at the end of The Poppy War, Rin has defeated The Federation and Altan has died. Now she and the rest of the Cike face civil war. Daji is still at large leading the country but amidst that, diverging forces enlist her to start a civil war to overthrow Daji. But neither is as they seem and neither seems like the right choice.

RF Kuang explored the consequences of war in TPW but digs into the deeper recesses in this book. What happens after the war ends? Why does it feel like a loss even after they won the victory from Mugen? There are no parades, no victory celebrations, no praises and certainly no breaks in this book. Running away from her inner demons, Rin thrusts herself into civil war enlisting with Vaisra, the Dragon Warlord to overthrow Daji though his motives remain nebulous and suspicious. There are numerous descriptions of military, naval, and economic strategy. Much like the war of the first book, the plot preps and simmers slowly but violently at the beginning. Kuang moves her chess pieces slowly, almost dauntingly, until it boils over in the third act in an intense and twisting way. There’s definitely more maneuvering and strategy of large scale armies and navies in this second volume, resulting in less gory scenes than that Golyn Niis chapter but only marginally so. The action scenes are well thought out, there are no half drawn scenes of fighting, no fade to blacks. They were epic in scope and you can really picture what is happening in the whole battle scene even though you are focused only on Rin’s perspective. Whereas the reader was mostly confined to the school in the first book, we really get to see more detailed and beautiful worldbuilding here delving into Arlong and the Dragon province. But the development doesn’t stop at the material world, Kuang also develops the spiritual world more as Rin’s and the Cike’s powers are tested more. I have to admit that although I’m never really on board with fantasy books taking place too much in the spiritual world, this development of it in this world never ceased to engage me. That’s because through this, we learn more about the many issues Rin is suppressing but also the history of shaman use in this world.

This book most excels when it comes to Rin. I appreciated that while Rin is redeemable in her own right, Kuang never adds things in to Rin’s character to make her more palatable or more relatable, making her one of the most unique characters I’ve come across. Rin is dealing with a lot in this book and Kuang never lets Rin forget the things she had to do to win the war and Rin struggles to reconcile what she believed the best way to win the war with the thousands of innocent people she killed. But on top of that, Rin is being pulled every which way by different power figures vying for her special talents. She struggles to find her purpose in life because no one cares what she believes in taking only about her power can bring and what she is willing to sacrifice to exact revenge on Daji. Rin isn’t the only one that goes through the ringer however. We saw one maybe two sides to each secondary character, but here they are out of their element and each character is pushed to their limits. I especially enjoyed seeing wholesome Kitay, belligerent Venka, and a special someone (who I won’t name because spoiler) pushed to their limits. For example, Kitay who remains the diplomat and strategist struggles for his humanity and doing what is right for the army. I wish the members of the Cike were spotlighted more but they remain a welcome and funny constant to the unpredictable nature of the other characters. There are some truly sad moments in this book never vearing on sentimental but nevertheless bordering on it. The best moments of this book existed in interactions between Rin and her friends, often reminding me that while Rin is exacting revenge on Daji, I always remembered that the care and loyalty she has for her friends are unmatched. This book really goes to show how far these characters have come since they first stepped foot into Sinegard. 

No less interesting are the new characters and other returning characters. Everyone has their own motives and their own values. No matter how late they were introduced, Kuang never failed to infuse a sense of history and complication to the character. I especially liked the exploration of Daji, Vaisra, and the other warlords of the different provinces. These characters enriched the background of the story and the book would not have been the same without their strong presence. I also appreciated that she expanded her range of female characters from the first book though sadly a majority of the major players were still male. Daji, Rin, and maybe Venka were the only major female players and even then Daji and Venka appeared at only roughly 10% of the book. I hope this continues to be rectified in the final installment. 

The writing has lost some of its fast pacing and eyes-glued-to-the-page quality but it more than compensates for that with the author’s improvement in the nuance, depth, and detail of the story. Every sentence feels richer . While TPW was inspired by the works of Sun Tzu and unit 731, Kuang reached for a wider inspiration circle this time, she states she drew on the Opium Wars and the Chinese Civil Wars. There is so much more to unpack in this book and I’m looking forward to unpacking more when I inevitably reread it.

This book comes out August 6, 2019. I know that fans of TPW will love this book even more! It is one of the best fantasy sequels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A special thank you to Harper Voyager and HarperCollins for sending me an ARC to review. I was soooo excited when I opened the package and saw it was this gem of a book I was so eagerly anticipating.

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Monthly Favorites · Uncategorized · wrap up

January 2019 Wrap Up

January 2019 was a stressful month for me but let’s be honest, January is never a great month for me. It’s too bad it happens to seem like the longest month of the entire year. It’s just that time where everyone is going back to their daily routine and all the fun festivities and chill time are over. You have to start reevaluating your life (as I did) and believe me, I was worried about a lot this month from taxes to money to school to what I’m going to do with my life. The thing about agonizing over big decisions that determine your life is that the process is painful but finally, finally you start to get out of your head and little by little you start to plan out the stepping stones until you feel it is feasible. I’m finally at that point and hopefully February will be better. At least it’ll be shorter. To end on a happy note, let’s end with the obligatory food pics 😉

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Noodology – Tomato Soup with Beef and Rice Noodle
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iSno Cafe Shaved Ice
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More noodles! Noodle Street – Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

But in the meantime, let’s talk about all the stuff I loved or didn’t in January. Starting with books:

Image result for the lost sistersThe Lost Sisters by Holly Black (4/5) – You know I never read short stories when it’s part of a series because I never saw the point but this short story proved me wrong. It gave more insight into Taryn’s motivations from the first book which we can all agree was confusing and sketchy at best. But, I sympathized a lot with Taryn after this story and although I do not agree with what she did (the betrayal!!), I can at least understand it.

The Wicked King by Holly Black (3.5/5) – You know, now thatImage result for the wicked king the shock of all the plot twists has died down, I can look at this book with a more clear head. I definitely do not think it was as good as The Cruel Prince. It definitely felt like a filler book; the development of the characters were sacrificed for the sake of plot development, the worldbuilding was shot to the wayside, and suddenly there are a lot more one note side characters used for advancing the plot. Of course that did not prevent me from squealing at all the Cardan and Jude scenes (yo, dm me when you get to the end of Chapter 15), and of course at that killer, killer ending. I will be waiting with bated breath for the last book. Also, shoutout to Alicia from A Kernel of Nonsense for Image result for the king of attoliabuddyreading this with me. The reading experience was so much more fun with you! 🙂

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (4/5)– I’m not sure what was going through my head when I decided to quit this series at the beginning of the second book a few years ago because this series is simply amazing!! I’ve read a lot of YA books with political intrigue and none of them have really come close to the subtle machinations and plotting that this series has. Rest assure I will be doing a full review of this series once I finish the fifth book.

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (4/5) – The fourth book in the Thief Image result for a conspiracy of kingsseries. Another amazing installment.  This one follows a different character but I grew to love him just as much as the main characters. Again, review to come. Also, the new covers are WAY better than the old ones. Sometimes cover changes can be really good.

Image result for daughter of the forestDaughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (DNF) – The ultimate reason why I DNF’ed this was because it was boring. It’s a very interesting book if you look at it through a feminist lens (talk to me about this, I wanna know what you think), but I grew wary once the Lady Oonagh was introduced. Of course, the female villain of the story has to wear low cut clothes and be “ladylike” and be promiscuous and sly. I hate the virgin/whore dichotomy.

 

Movies

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Bandersnatch (C)– Yes, the concept is novel and cool but only for about 10 minutes. The reason why I like watching TV and movies is because I can watch the characters come to their own conclusions. It’s part of the fun of watching characters different from you, but these “choose your own adventure” modes are you just being a stand in for the character. I could also argue that the story wasn’t right for this gimmick. If it were an adventure story such as surviving in the jungle where the choices have a lot more drastically different stakes, then sure maybe. Also, the ending was a bit too tongue in cheek and meta for me. An interesting watch, but not something I’d ever watch again.

Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse (B) – After all these years, Spiderman/Spiderwoman’s Image result for spiderman into the spider verseremains my favorite superhero and that’s because I love his/her origin story. He starts off as a teenager going about his high school life with the usual high school problems but is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a superhero but he’s still a teen! His story is very much a coming of age story. In much the same vein, Spider Verse is about Miles finding where he belongs but trying to live up to his people’s expectations of him. Although the story does become oversaturated what with all the different emotional beats and all the different spiderpeople coming together, it was very entertaining. Oh and yes, I did like the animation. I definitely haven’t seen something like that done in a big studio movie.

Image result for ali wong baby cobraAli Wong: Baby Cobra (A)- I’m really liking stand up comedy right now and this one was no exception. She talks a lot about modern feminism (although she’s not as feminist leaning as a lot of female comics today), her husband, racism, and a myriad of other topics. She’s pretty raunchy and crass and she tells some Asian jokes that you will only really get if you’re an Asian so that was fun.

 

TV

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Ugly Delicious S1 Ep 7 (A) – I only watched one episode which was episode 7 “Fried Rice” but I really liked it. It had such an interesting blend of talking about culture, race, and even history surrounding the cuisine. Clearly, most TV shows need to be talking about these woke topics BUT it does so in such an insightful way. I really liked the conversation they had about how we perceive authentic Chinese food vs commercial Chinese food and the concept of high end Chinese food. I Image result for patriot act hasan minhajdefinitely need to watch the rest of the season.

 

Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj Ep 1-3 (B+)– I think it’s pretty great that more young people are getting more involved in politics, although that obviously comes with consequences like the rise of polarized news. Yes, Patriot Act is a left leaning entertainment news show but I must say though that for what it is, it is informative, sincere and enthusiastic about participating in the political sphere. Minhaj is a really charismatic host and the episodes are 20 minutes long so who doesn’t have time for that? I also really like the infographics he intersperses throughout; they are very concise.

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The Good Place (A) – The Good Place is a show that I did not give a fair chance to the first time I watched it. I mean I quit it after the 5th episode but I gave it a second chance and I loved it! It is so sweet, charming and asks a lot of questions most sitcoms would not dare go near. I’m planning on a review of this as well since I’m all caught up! A must watch if you’ve already seen shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Rec and Superstore, Image result for i am not a robot posteralthough this is probably my favorite out of all of them.

 

I am Not a robot (DNF) – You do not know how badly I want to fall in love with a korean drama right now but can’t find anything that I like (let me know any recommendations). This show moved kind of slowly and the whole robot thing could have led into some icky non consensual territory. Maybe I’m just making up excuses at this point.

You (C) – You may be a Netflix show but it feels a lot more like a CW show. Heck, it even Image result for youhas Penn Badgley from Gossip Girl and Shay Mitchell from Pretty Little Liars. The drama is of the back stabby, cat fighting, petty type. My problem with these types of shows is that the characters get into high stakes drama and then forget about it in the next episode. Dude, your best friend literally backstabbed you and sold you out, you got mad at her, and now the next day, with no explanation, you’re besties again?? The show was very entertaining and does delve into some interesting questions about social media and obsession. It’s a good show to binge watch.

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book review · Uncategorized

The Winner’s Curse trilogy review/thoughts

This trilogy is such a delight, not least of which I can say it is a wonderful departure from other YA fantasy books in its characters and its writing. *Spoilers for all three books*

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So when Book 1 starts off, we learn that the Valorians conquered Herran over 10 years ago and the Herrani have been slaves ever since. Enter our two main characters: Kestrel is a Valorian and Arin is a Herrani. Book 1 follows their initial meeting and what happens as the two worlds start to collide and Herran is on the brink of rebellion. In the first installment, they both stand high in their peoples’ regard: Kestrel is a high general’s daughter and she, as Valorian tradition dictates, is set to marry or join the army; Arin is a pivotal force in the Herrani rebellion. This romantic relationship starts off interestingly different from other YA novels–at a slave auction where Kestrel buys Arin. Off putting at best, problematic at worst. But, slowly, Rutkoski expertly asks us questions about the slavery of the oppressed, the oppression of culture when a people are conquered,  and the conquered’s bleak past and future. Although I can say all I want about what Rutkoski knows about war and slavery so intimately, I cannot lie, my favorite part of these books is Kestrel and by extension the romance between Kestrel and Arin.

The Winner’s Curse is when you come out on top of the bid, but only by paying a steep price.

-Marie Rutkoski

Rutkoski introduces the concept of the “Winner’s Curse”, essentially, did Kestrel lose more than she won when she bought Arin? And Rutkoski so expertly explores not just in the conventional way in terms of monetary loss. Under any normal circumstances and in a normal world they would have pursued a romance devoid of many problems but the relationship explores how because of this system of oppression, the unequal power dynamics, makes this relationship extremely difficult and uneasy from the start. The internal motives that may or may not be there: is Kestrel lying? Is this how she really feels, is Arin taking advantage of her for information? The first book follows how they develop feelings for each other despite their peoples’ tenuous history. The best thing is that Rutkoski offers no easy solutions but that’s what makes you root for them. Kestrel, as the general’s daughter, is ever calculating and manipulative goes against her better judgement and duty to be honest with Arin. She will willingly go into a duel for him (one of my favorite parts of the novel) and seek out his honesty. They try to hard to be honest which is why the midwinter rebellion is such a heartbreak to read. Arin not telling her to drink the wine (ugh my heart). And even when Arin lets Kestrel go to the boats and tell the emperor about the rebellion.

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I also love this world. The people are so distinct in their ways of life. The Valorians value war and honor and doing everything for your country. The Herrani admire the arts and the gods. It has influences from Greco-Roman culture and especially the Roman empire with its emphasis on war and a rigid system of honor. There are descriptions of architecture, art and frequent allusions to the Herrani religious system of gods. It makes the book more prevalent to our history.

Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?

Rutkoski is a wonderful writer. It is immensely metaphorical and quiet and the imagery of the intangible is so precise. I love the way she portrays her characters. Kestrel is far from the stereotypical heroine I’ve come to expect from YA. I think her character especially shines in the second book.  She is not stubborn for the sake of being stubborn and consequently a “strong” female character. She also is not good at fighting and in fact does not want to go to war! Instead, she is good at war strategies and has immense cunning prowess, beating everyone at Bite and Sting. One of her fatal flaws is her dishonesty which I makes the miscommunication in this book all the more believable. She lies to herself about not wanting Arin, lies to the emperor and is a spy for the Herrani, lies to Arin about supporting Valoria and to everyone around her so much that she doesn’t know who she is. She is torn between Valoria and Herran, to her father and to Arin. And what she didn’t realize in the first book is that her first duty is to herself. I love her duty to her country but the fact that she comes into her own and figures out her own honor. I still get all the feels at the end of Book 2 when she tries to tell Arin the truth in the piano room but is brutally interrupted. Book 2 is my favorite because it shows Kestrel out of her element in the royal court where she may not come out on top. I’ve said it once before but the miscommunication in this one actually makes sense unlike the miscommunication of 90% of YA novels. And of course, once again, no easy decisions as demonstrated when Kestrel persuades the emperor to poison the grass so the people would starve and move away instead of burning the land where all the people would just die instead. I also really liked that Kestrel and Arin developed separately as the stakes with the emperor got higher and every character is cunning and has ulterior motives.

The plot is truly a weave of political intrigue which I absolutely love. Kestrel is smart but everyone is smart and I loved seeing her outplay and outmaneuver everyone, especially in the third book. The third book really explores her relationship with her father (who I personally hate). Kestrel really struggles with her father because he has done some  horrible things to her not least of which he sold her out to be sent to an internment camp where she was drugged and forced to work and lost her memory. But despite all that, she admits that she does still love him. Even as someone who would not understand, I do empathize with her especially when she recalls memories of him when she was a child teaching her strategy. Her father is a complex character in his own right as the emperor so willingly tells her during their last Bite and Sting game. He worshipped the emperor because he saw a kindred spirit in their strategizing, their brutality. I think Kestrel was someone he just did not understand and for him that understanding equated to love. The series ends with a very satisfying conclusion and those last few pages really show how Kestrel and Arin have come full circle.

Her next book which comes out in 2019 is set in the same world featuring cameos from the original trilogy and I’m so excited!! Bring it on.

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book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

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Title: All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

Author: Rebecca Traister

Pages: 339

Genre: Nonfiction

Ratingtealstartealstartealstartealstar

Goodreads

 


Often culturally accepted assumptions are presented as the norm. There is a certain formula that is usually accepted for how to live.  You go to school, get a job, then you get married, and then have kids. In that order. This formula is so ingrained in American society (and worldwide society in general) that a person is seen as a pariah if they don’t follow these unspoken rules, even by which age you are considered basically  unmarriageable. These unspoken rules are often more rigidly placed on women. So what happens now when more and more women are not adhering to this strict formula? When more and more women in American society are single?

“In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50% [and] ‘the median age of first marriage is around 27 and higher in cities'”.

Traister follows the history of single women and the implications of single women and the future in this nonfiction work. She explores multiple societal factors that this trend influences and devotes chapters to topics such as the institution of marriage, the wage gap, gender imbalances, and

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Elizabeth Blackwell, first accredited female physician, never married

sexual promiscuity or lack thereof, and even female friendships. She also explores power and freedom and how it manifests in women who remain single or delay marriage till a later age. Throughout the book, she includes many interesting statistics and anecdotes from women she has interviewed. I also appreciate that she explores the stigma that single women have long suffered and provides counterpoints to each. I did wish she had discussed this using people of different races and ethnicities and sexual orientations. This would support the many points of her argument. For instance, she insists that singlehood is not a new phenomenon as black women have historically seen higher percentages of singleness than their white counterparts. When she does, she consistently repeats herself and does not analyze her perspectives to include people of different sexual orientation especially in the chapter talking about gay marriage. This book does take a liberal slant although it does try hard to remain impartial and does take into account conservative sources.

What is so special about more women being single/delaying marriage whether by choice or not? One of the major and fascinating impacts it has is on marriage, a topic that is

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Anne Bronte, English novelist, never married

thoroughly explored in All the Single Ladies. Marriage has historically been one of the best institutions “for men to assert, reproduce, and pass on their power to retain their control” and this is becoming irrelevant more today with the rise of single women.  Yet despite this, “marital privilege pervades nearly every facet of our lives, health, life, home, and car insurance all cost more for single people, and reports that “it is not a federal crime for landlords to discriminate against potential renters based on their marital status.” Ironically, even though there is definitely marital privilege, this seems to affect men more beneficially, as on the whole, “women earn approximately five percent less per hour, per child, than their childless peers with comparable experience.” I like how she explains these ironies in a progression that helps the reader understand the existence of these ironies.

The author explains the attributes of a marriage that have long enforced gender imbalances. Why is that women have more career ambitions than ever before but are still saddled with most of the domestic chores and childcare? The single woman phenomenon is inadvertently toppling these biases. What’s even more fascinating is that marriage is seen more and more as entrapment but the LGBTQ community has long fought for and won the battle for gay marriage even as more and more women are staying single.

By far, I think the most fascinating thing about this book is the way it opened my eyes to this world we live in, how a family does not always follow the 2 parent, heterosexual formula and that single women have given way to many of these non nuclear families,

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Gloria Steinem, journalist & social political activist

how technology allows women to have babies in their own time and under the circumstances they choose. She does explain that the older the woman, the more likely incidence of miscarriages and higher incidence of disease and mental disabilities. There are single women with children by necessity and by choice. There are long term couples who cohabit and have kids. These choices are becoming the norm. It is interesting how we have so many ingrained ideals about marriage with kids when the association of marriage and kids together is completely a social construct. I also did appreciate that not everyone wants marriage, she explores the fact that women are often fulfilled by their work, their passions, and their friends that marriage is suppose to fill. What this trend ultimately leads to is a greater independence for women, greater responsibility for men, and a diverse model for family.

This book is about the implications of the rise of single women in the country. I was surprised to learn it’s about more than just changing the landscape of marriage and family, but it’s changing the social landscape from work to education to and to the changing of gender dynamics. Going into this book, I thought it would be a pretty niche topic that would, at best, only have a small ripple effect but as it turns out, the phenomenon of the single woman has an effect on all parts of society and will continue to do so.

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book review · Uncategorized

Book Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

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Author: Heather Demetrios

Pages: 320

Synopsis: Goodreads

Genre: YA Comtemporary

Series? Standalone

Rating: tealstartealstartealstartealstar

 


It’s easy to judge someone for being in an abusive relationship and that judgement is usually tagged along with the age-old question, “Why doesn’t she just leave him?” If someone is hurting you physically and verbally isn’t the obvious solution to just leave them right away? Just say the words, right? But as this book deftly illustrates, it is neither easy or simple.

Grace Carter doesn’t have the best life. She lives with a cruel and demanding stepfather and a mother who pours all the housework and chores on her. All she wants to do is get out of Birch Grove, California and do theater in New York. Gavin is the ultimate dream boy. He is an angsty teenage boy who plays the guitar. He’s popular and charismatic. Grace has had an unrequited crush on him for 3 years and he has never noticed her before until one day. What starts as a passionate and sweet relationship spirals into a relationship unhealthy, obsessive, and claustrophobic.

What I appreciate most about this story’s structure besides its crafty use of the second person is its deliberate slowness. Demetrios really paints a detailed picture to helping you understand why Grace would fall in love with someone like Gavin even as you know from the very beginning how the relationship will end. The eventual deterioration of the relationship was perfectly paced. What is so poignant is how Demetrios sets up the relationship because it starts off like any other happy and healthy relationship. Gavin is sweet and dotes on Grace. He writes songs about how much he loves her. He is emotionally and physically supportive of her when things at home are too overwhelming. He makes sacrifices for her. Demetrios captures that euphoria of being in a new relationship when everything feels fresh and new and full of love and possibility. When the sweet nothings feel even sweeter and every compliment makes you feel like you’re on cloud 9. So it’s understandable when the first red flags come Grace does not even notice them especially when they are wrapped under the guise of toxic manipulation. The progression of the relationship really shows how Grace, someone who has big dreams and a sense of individualism can ultimately give all those up for a relationship. With the psychological effects of her home, there is no doubt there was something so intoxicating about Gavin needing her but the even more intoxicating feeling of Gavin wanting her. A person who has, her whole life, never felt wanted.

What makes this book so much more real than other books about abusive relationships is how Demetrios portrays Grace’s self-awareness of her toxic situation juxtaposed with her utter ignorance and denial of Gavin’s bright red flags. The most recent book I’ve read about an abusive relationship is It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover which I thought failed to examine the nuances of a relationship like this. I get what she was trying to do but it was not enough. It is possible to love someone but know that they are toxic for you but Hoover made it black and white, that you can just leave him if you set your mind to it. It’s about resolve. But Demetrios knows it’s about more than resolving to break up with him. Grace knows she should break up with Gavin and resolves many times to do so but she always ends up making excuses for him or Gavin will end up manipulating her love for him and she would get sucked back in time and time again. This constant cycle of denial and resolve, resolve and denial is exactly the cycle that abusive relationships go in, feeding through the doubts and insecurities of both participants. The reader sees how the love and sacrifice that Gavin demonstrates for her at the beginning of the relationship is now used as a shackle to rein her in. You know precisely how Gavin is manipulating her yet you understand how Grace would be confused by this manipulation and ultimately Gavin himself thinks he is doing the best for her even when he so clearly isn’t. This reflects on the cyclical nature of abuse, further emphasized by Grace’s mother who also is in an abusive relationship that Grace herself constantly laments is abusive while she is her relationship with Gavin. How can someone who is continuing to witness the abusive relationship of a loved one be completely oblivious to the fact that she’s in one herself?

On a side note, as with most YA contemporary I’ve read, there’s always the issue of how well integrated the side characters. And although Demetrios does not go into their characters in depth, it is clear they feel lived in and not just used as plot devices for specific parts of the Grace’s journey. Grace’s two best friends provide much needed comic relief and are the supportive friends you would want yourself. Even her cruel stepfather is offered moments of humanity that don’t turn him into an evil machine for the sole purpose of making Grace’s life miserable (although I’m sure in Grace’s situation it feels like it a lot). His role extends to her mother and how that affects Grace in turn.

I am fully impressed with Demetrios’s writing and although I can see how her writing could spiral into YA contemporary cliches like in I’ll Meet You There, I think if she writes more YA contemporary realistic, I am most definitely on board. The way she writes psychological progression and nuanced feelings made concrete to a T is something I truly admired. The use of the second person, as if Grace was addressing Gavin in a letter, makes you feel the impending doom of their relationship, the mix of blunt sarcasm and irony tinged with real sadness.

I highly recommend this book for its subject matter but also the deft way it is handled with all of its nuances.

On another side note, I’m back (!) which I’ll explain more in another post but I do plan on posting at least once a week from now on.

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mini book review · Uncategorized

Mini Book Reviews: Hyped YA books

Sometimes I read/watch reviews of highly anticipated books and it just makes me want to read them so much even when I know that it probably won’t be as good as reviews make it out to be considering my tastes. I guess that’s kind of the point of glowing reviews. This is the story of how I got sucked into hype once again…do they live up to that hype? Or will they falter??

Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett (3/5)

YA Contemporary | Goodreads 

Tis the season for contemporary. And the contemporary buzz book of the season is Alex, Approximately. And let me tell you, the buzz around this book was insane around the booktube community. The hype train always gets me even when I say it doesn’t. And I Image result for alex approximatelywas in the mood for contemporary so why not. And this is a reminder that I should take the hype train with a grain of salt. This is a You’ve Got Mail retelling (which I haven’t seen but really need to). At the beginning of the book, Bailey moves from DC to California to live with her dad. She’s a film buff, so much so that she is a member of an online forum for the film community where she’s been talking back and forth with fellow film buff and Californian, Alex, who she may or may not have feelings for. In fact, moving to California will give her the perfect opportunity to meet Alex in real life. Meanwhile, she lands a summer job at a museum where she meets Porter and it’s hate at first sight until it’s not….

First of all, this book feels like it was written by someone who does not live in SoCal because it feels so stereotypical. It’s basically like the California you see on the Hannah Montana set except with the inclusion of churro carts (I need that in my life) and poke (because we eat poke a lot too apparently) and of course, the surfers.

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But I guess Jenn Bennett must be doing something right because after reading it, I just felt like going to the beach and having a bonfire. And there was something exciting and fun about having adventures in an underground museum. In terms of the romance, what you see is basically what you get. Porter was basically spat out from the formulaic YA boyfriend machine–he’s kind of a nerd but he’s just so cocky and omg if I hear that word one more time, I will sue–but he kind of missed the step where they give him a unique personality and any kind of flaws really. I did like that Bailey got to grow throughout. She’s someone who tends to avoid confrontation and being put on the spot but she learns to be comfortable with herself (even though the character development felt random and sudden; I get the gist). They both have tragic pasts that are discussed throughout and it felt off but maybe that’s just me.

The thing I hate about YA contemporary is that the 1st 10% of the book is spent developing the side characters like the parents and the friends and the backstory and the next 80% of the book is spent developing the relationship and then the last 10% suddenly the author remembers she has other characters so they suddenly have more page time but it feels like too little too late. This happened to Grace who works with Bailey at the museum. She feels kind of like the token diverse best friend considering that the author describes her father’s voice as having an “African sway”. What does that even mean?? There’s also Davy who is Porter’s ex-bestie and is basically there to make Porter look better. Also, he turned out to be a lot worse than I anticipated so the storyline turned out to be really melodramatic (complete with guns and drugs). The dad is there to instill wisdom and curfew times although I did like all the Settlers of Catan references. They all just felt token and bland.

My point is, this is YA contemporary and it doesn’t bring anything original to the genre but it’s fun and cute and actually kind of the perfect beach read literally.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (3.5/5)

YA Fantasy | Goodreads

I think after this series Laini Taylor and I might need to part ways. I enjoyed this book when I was reading it. It is magical and mysterious and as surreal as Laini Taylor’s previous works with mythic worldbuilding. Years ago, the city of Weep was erased from the minds of all the people in this world. Now it is only the stuff of legends, a good story but not real. However, Lazlo remembers Weep, in fact, he’s obsessed with it. He’s a librarian whose head is always in the clouds (“Strange the Dreamer”) and spends his free Image result for strange the dreamertime researching Weep dreaming about the day when he will be able to see Weep for himself. I have to applaud Taylor’s ephemeral writing; as over written and dramatic as it is, it does make you feel as if you were living a legend, a hero epic. There’s no other way to describe her worldbuilding except that it is epic like the libraries of Zosma. It’s completely sweeping and otherworldly, larger than life but is still grounded in what the reader knows which only makes the reader imagine it better.  I loved Lazlo’s dream landscapes of Weep, so imaginative like the fever dream of a child who has only read books about unicorns and rainbows.

But I realize after reading it why I can’t fully love this book. It’s because the payoff to all this buildup is just not satisfying. Lazlo has spent 7 years researching about Weep and it feels to the reader like an unattainable goal but then suddenly the answer comes right in front of him like all that buildup was for nothing. When they arrived at Weep, again the problem seemed insurmountable, but then when the solution arrived it didn’t feel satisfying? There’s also this instalove that annoyed me. It was almost like Laini Taylor was trying too hard to make me believe in their love by coating their instalove with frosting, with copious amounts of descriptions of how beautiful Sarai’s skin is and how mysterious Lazlo’s nose is. Are there really that many ways to describe someone’s crooked nose?? And omg this is the first time, someone has seen me!! The first time someone said I wasn’t disgusting!! Cue the blushing.  I think my eyes rolled straight out of my head. At points, it seemed like Sarai was a manic pixie dream girl and the ending didn’t help that theory either. The other side characters had a lot more potential to be intriguing characters such as Eril-Fane who was involved in the war that occurred before the events of Strange the Dreamer. I liked the concepts and themes that Laini Taylor introduces, about grief after war and guilt over the part you played in a war, how to figure out how to live with yourself after all the devastation. I wish there was more of that instead of the woe-is-me, melodramatic romance. If you liked Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, you will adore this, it’s actually quite eerie how similar the two are if you think about it.  The premise of Taylor’s books always hook me but the execution somehow always falls flat for me though.

Let me know if you’ve read these two books or if you’re planning to (they’re actually quite perfect for spring/summer) and what your thoughts are!

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book review · Uncategorized · wrap up

February 2017 Wrap Up

Surprisingly I actually read a lot in February considering it’s a month that always seems to go by much faster than the other months. It sometimes feels like February doesn’t even happen. However, I had a pretty good reading month so here are my thoughts on all the books 🙂

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3/5

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

This reminded me soooo much of The Wrath and the Dawn especially in terms of the characters. We have an independent young woman who doesn’t want to get married blah blah blah and a mysterious king with secrets and they both fall in love. But while Renee Ahdieh imbued her main characters with originality and individualism, I didn’t think Chokshi’s characters achieved anything past two dimensionality and superficial love confessions. Because the second half depended on my investment into these two main characters, suffice to say that I was skipping through
it waiting for it to end. I did, however, like the incorporation of Indian mythology and all these creatures of lore.

 

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3.5/5

 The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

This was so much fun!! A historical fantasy that takes place during 16th century England following Christopher who is an apothecary apprentice. He and his friend, Tom try to solve the mystery of the murders that have been happening around their town. Omg guys, this was so cute and fun and full of middle-grade goodness. There’s a cute bromance, interesting puzzles and codes, some interesting historical facts, a fun mystery, and a lot of the main character being a little shit and getting into trouble every other page. Highly recommended for middle grade readers.

Reviews for these coming soon!
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong | Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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4/5

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

This is a short story by the classic author William Faulkner. This was a good prelude to me reading As I Lay Dying next month which I’m excited to read since I’ve never read Faulkner before. This story very much follows the Southern Gothic writing tradition, following a black woman living in an old mansion alone except we only get to know her through the people around her. The ending was so creepy but again very much in style with the Southern Gothic themes. Faulkner is not a hard author to read in terms of language, it’s fairly simply, it’s just everything in between that’s difficult to decipher.

 

Nana Vol. 1 by Ai Yuzawa

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4/5

I haven’t read a shojo manga in so long but I heard that this series focuses on friendship than romance and it was so good. I think part of the reason why I adored this so much is because it’s more of a coming-of-age story of two flawed, university aged girls trying to find who they are as they navigate romance and friendships and all that good coming-of-age stuff. The first volume follows them in their separate storylines, the first Nana is just getting over an affair she had and moving to Tokyo to try and attend art school. The other Nana of the story is part of a punk rock music group. They couldn’t be any more different but they will eventually meet and become best friends. I love the mixture of typical shojo humor and the more emotional scenes of self-discovery.

 

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2/5

5000 km per second by Manuele Fior

 

This is a French graphic novel following two people who fall in love over a period of time. Life happens. They break up. And they meet again. This is a novel that was completely lackluster in the story department but so lovely in its artwork. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that it’s a monochrome palette painted with watercolor (my favorite style). It really rendered the setting of Egypt and Italy in a lively way.

 

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Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

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3.75/5

This is a beautiful Beauty and the Beast retelling that gives a lot of nods to the original French story but of course, gives an original spin to it. Beauty is a gardener who wanders into the Beast’s castle one day and the rest of the story goes from there. Contrary to many BatB retellings, this one actually addresses the subject of bestiality head on (subtly) and a lot of the sexist notions of Belle “fixing” the Beast. And what I really liked was that it puts Beauty on equal footing with the Beast. The Beast himself is actually a really considerate and mild-mannered person/beast without a mean streak or temper problem which is completely different from other renditions of the Beast which was refreshing. There’s an overarcing mystery about the magic mansion that Belle is trapped under that they both try to solve together. However, I was missing a central internal conflict that I’d hoped would propel more character development. Still, this was a retelling worth reading..or listening to because I did listen to this on audiobook. It is narrated by the same person who narrated The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. I think her raspy, antique voice really fits this story.

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3.5/5

El deafo by Cece Bell

I mentioned this in my graphic novels recommendation post here. I definitely recommend this for younger readers. The artwork is very cartoony but definitely doesn’t detract from the overall theme of being ok with yourself and trying to learn that as a young child who is deaf.

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Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

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4/5

I’m going to be doing a full review of this whole trilogy when I’m finished with it so I plan on reading the second one in March and third in April. But so far, this fantasy has impressed me a lot more than other epic fantasies of late although it still makes me wonder why epic fantasy authors are so obsessed with writing about whores. I seriously think the word whore appeared on every other page.

DNFs

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

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3/5

As much as this book reveals about what it’s like to be a brain surgeon, I feel as though the author was holding back from revealing too much about his cases especially his failed ones. I suppose I understand that because he is still practicing (I think). But the problem is I can watch videos of these procedures and it would be better for me visually. What I wanted was the human side to these cases. But the writing was lackluster and he incorporated pieces of dialogue that were completely unnecessary and he would keep skipping around topics within the same chapter even though the previous topic clearly needed some more explanation. For most of the book, he talks about his cases but I felt like he was just listing them off and not going into too much depth about any one of them so that kind of frustrated me. Maybe it was also the fact that he was kind of an arrogant asshole most of the time. That doesn’t bother me so much as the fact that it feels like he uses the book to excuse himself rather than to grow. Maybe that’s just me.

Image result for imagine me goneImagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

This is a story about a man who has depression and how his family copes with this. In as far as I read, I think it was a fairly good translation of what it means to be a person with depression but the writing and the family members were compelling to make me keep reading.

 

 

And that was my reading in February! Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, what you thought of them, anything really, I’d love to know!

 

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