Drama Review

A Crush So Unrequited

My first attempt to watch A Love So Beautiful was a total failure. Even though I was intrigued by the cast and premise of the drama, I simply could not handle the tonal cadence of the Chinese language; it sounded so weird compared to the Korean language, which I had grown to love. Another reason for my DNFing the drama was the stupid subtitles on KissAsian. The sentence structure was all wrong, and there were Chinese subtitles below the English ones. These two factors combined to eliminate my interest. Temporarily, at least.

However, when I perused Netflix last week, I discovered that A Love So Beautiful was already on the catalog. I was delighted because that meant I didn’t have to deal with crappy subtitles. Plus, I could watch the drama while enjoying the big couch and flat-screen TV in the living room. Surprisingly, when my brother, Maui, noticed what I was watching, he became intrigued enough to join me. And so began our 2-day marathon.

The plot of A Love So Beautiful is similar to a typical YA contemporary novel. It is about a kinda unintelligent girl named Xiao Xi, who has an unrequited crush on her neighbor and classmate named Jiang Chen. When Jiang Chen finally returns Xiao Xi’s feelings, an an annoying dude named Wu Bo Sung gets in the way. However, it’s pretty obvious who’s gonna end up with who. To make things more fascinating, the drama features an awkward romance between Lu Yang, a perverted bookworm, and Lin Jingxiao, the prettiest girl in school. The stories of these five characters intertwine to create a cute, funny, and nearly addictive drama.

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The plot of A Love So Beautiful was indeed formulaic, so I was a little jaded, especially during the climax. Xiao Xi and Jiang Chen had broken up because of their lack of communication and quality time, but I didn’t feel the intended sadness since I knew that they would eventually get back together and prove Taylor Swift to shame.

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Among all of the characters, Jiang Chen was the most relatable. Like me, he was introverted and academically inclined. Kuya Maui, who had unwittingly stolen the affections of his friends’ crushes, was also able to connect with Jiang Chen. Interestingly, Kuya Maui said that Xiao Xi reminded him of his girlfriend, Ate Kyleen. Come to think of it, Kuya Maui probably liked Jiang Chen more than I did. The latter was frustrating sometimes because of his jealous behavior that bordered on pride, cowardice, and insensitivity. More often than not, mean boys in fiction get on my nerves.

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Ate Charita, one of my friends at work, said that Xiao Xi should have been a smarter protagonist in order to break the stereotype of female frivolity in today’s media. I agreed with her statement because it wasn’t nice that Xiao Xi’s ignorance was one of the drama’s sources of humor. In one of the episodes, Lu Yang himself criticized her for being uncultured. To be fair, she wasn’t that pathetic. Xiao Xi was actually a talented artist. And with Jiang Chen’s help, she was able to publish an autobiographical comic book. Furthermore, Xiao Xi might have sucked academically, but her emotional quotient was relatively high. I often wondered how she was able to ignore everyone who said that she wasn’t good enough for Jiang Chen.

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Wu Bo Sung, the second male lead, was a hopeless case from the very beginning. His father didn’t want him to have a girlfriend, and Xiao Xi’s mom overtly disliked him. It was pathetic how he pursued Xiao Xi knowing that he practically didn’t stand a chance against Jiang Chen. At the end, Wu Bo Sung’s efforts to win Xiao Xi were to no avail, making him a mere plot device. Oh well, I guess I should give him some credit for his unfailing kindness.

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My favorite characters were Lu Yang and Lin Jingxiao. I expected Lu Yang to be the one to come between Xiao Xi and Jiang Chen, so I didn’t expect him to be paired with Lin Jingxiao. It was funny how Lu Yang caused Lin Jingxiao to get over her somewhat petty crush on Doctor Li Shu. The best thing that I liked about Lu Yang and Lin Jingxiao was their relationship with Jiang Chen and Xiao Xi respectively. Lu Yang taught Jiang Chen to be more sensitive, while Lin Jingxiao was Xiao Xi’s ultimate cheerleader and defender.

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I cannot end my character analysis without ranting about Li Wei, the most annoyingly coquettish (pabebe in Filipino) character in the drama. I got pissed off every time she showed up and asked Jiang Chen to help her with an assignment or whatever. She just had this pretentious, high-pitched voice that never failed to trigger me. I particularly disliked how she used her depression as an excuse to get closer to Jiang Chen. To make things worse, she caused Doctor Li Shu to lose his job and move to Africa. I honestly felt bad about hating a character with a mental illness. After all, people with depression should be understood, not criticized. With that in mind, I found it weird that Li Wei suddenly became an irrelevant character after she was diagnosed with depression; she was gone for a long time and only reappeared in the last episode. This phenomenon was kinda ableist, if you ask me. Nonetheless, Li Wei was such an irritating character that I couldn’t find any gif of her. xD

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In regards to its thematic content, A Love So Beautiful had a wonderful depiction of friendship. Xiao Xi and the other protagonists had different degrees of closeness, but all of them were realistic and meaningful. Each of them had distinct personalities that almost any viewer could relate to. I also appreciated how this drama illustrated the stress caused by college applications. Xiao Xi and her peers were pressured to get and maintain high grades in fear of being rejected by their dream universities. They had to take two major exams: a general exam mandated by the government and a specialized exam issued by a particular university. Plus, the characters had to deal with the occasionally unfair and irrational expectations of their parents. In my opinion, the academic drama in the show accurately reflected what could happen in real life, particularly in Asian countries like China and Korea. Thankfully, Xiao Xi and the other protagonists helped each other overcome their academic struggles.

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With all that said, I gave A Love So Beautiful 4.5 out of 5 stars. The plot was fast-paced, most of the protagonists were very likable, and the overall content was realistic and relevant. My only major pet peeve was the character arc of Li Wei. It was my first time to complete a Chinese drama, and my experience turned out to be very enjoyable. Thank God for Netflix and siblings to binge watch with. ❤

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Book Review

After 552 Mornings

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first stepped through the gates of the Institute, I wore the weight of the world on my shoulders. It crushed me. Broke me, but my friends have pieced me together.

After almost two years, I finally finished Morning Star. Don’t get me wrong. This book is not dragging or boring. The reason for my procrastination is beautiful in its simplicity (or stupidity): the hardcover edition is so heavy. I often stopped reading just because my left wrist was painful. Hence, I put the book on hold, picked it up after a few months, and then put it on hold for a year. Now, the fifth book in the series is coming out soon. Hahaha. To be fair, back when Red Rising was only a trilogy, I was so afraid to finish Morning Star because I did not want to say good-bye to the world and characters that I had grown to love. After I received an ARC of Iron Gold last December, I motivated myself and reread the first 200 pages of Morning Star. But the wrist problem kept on happening, and I found myself gravitating to other lighter books. It was only last week that I overcame my laziness and got the Audible version. Then, my problem was solved. xD

In a nutshell, Morning Star blew my mind like its predecessor, Golden Son. Pierce Brown is probably the most talented male author I know, and I’ll never get tired of bragging about his gift of crafting epic, evocative, and unforgettable plot twists. I’m telling you, one of the plot twists in this book almost made me cry. And to think that I wasn’t even that fond of this certain character! The last chapter that revealed Mustang’s secret was another tearjerker. Give me a high five if you also didn’t see it coming. Hahaha. With the exception of the dissolution of the corrupt Society, this book is practically unpredictable.

Pierce Brown is also great at creating platonic or romantic relationships. Protagonists at one point can turn out to be antagonists, and vice versa. Darrow was merciful to a fault, but if I were in his shoes, I would probably make the same decisions regarding Cassius, the Jackal, and the other fishy characters. Speaking of Cassius, he was the most intriguing character in Morning Star. I used to dislike him a lot, but now…hahaha. I hope that he will still be a major presence in the following books. Fingers crossed he stays…honorable.

Morning Star was supposed to be a concluding novel, and I loved that the ending was realistic; it wasn’t your typical happily ever after. I was sad that some characters had to die, but I knew that that was the truth about war: it will always have casualties. The same could be said about the demolished Society. I was glad that Pierce Brown emphasized that even though the Sovereign was defeated, there were still more problems to address.

To sum up my thoughts, reading Morning Star was a slow yet worthwhile experience. I loved the unique characters and the unpredictable events that molded them. I wish that I finished this book sooner, but there’s no point crying over spilled milk. May the odds be in my favor when I pick up Iron Gold.

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Book Review

Josh the Nonconformist

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming.

Dear Majority,

I didn’t end up loving STD (what an acronym!), but please don’t send me to the gallows. xD I loved the ever-relatable Lazlo, Laini Taylor’s candylicious writing, and the vivid world-building. I just wasn’t a fan of the instalove and the predictable death of a certain character. Seriously, the prologue was such a spoiler. Also, some parts made me sleepy and impatient. If it weren’t for the audiobook, which I listened to at x1.30 speed, it would’ve taken me forever to finish the story. Nevertheless, 3.75 stars is still a high rating for me since I don’t give 4 or 5 stars so easily. I hope that the sequel will be much better. 🙂

Love,
Josh

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Book Review

If Mare Barrow Were More Likable

Ash PrincessAsh Princess by Laura Sebastian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

My mother was known as the Fire Queen, regal and strong. But I am the Ash Princess, a living joke.

From the get-go, I want you to know that this book isn’t very original. It’s a combination of the tropes that we encounter in YA fantasy, such as evil monarchs, warring kingdoms, and love triangles. Interestingly, the cover is also similar to that of Glass Sword. Come to think of it, Ash Princess is reminiscent of Red Queen. With all that said, you’re probably confused why I gave this book a high rating.

Basically, I enjoyed Ash Princess because it utilized some tropes in a way that did not make me feel jaded. For example, I usually hate love triangles because I cannot fathom how they can happen in real life. So I was pleasantly surprised that the romance in this book was plausible and entertaining. The tension between Theo, Soren, and Blaise made the plot seem fast-paced because I couldn’t wait to know whom Thora ended up with. I won’t tell you who’s my bias; just know that my ship didn’t exactly sail.

Another thing I liked was Thora’s character development. Because of the decade of suffering that she had to endure, Thora was already strong at the beginning of the novel. In fact, her only weakness was that she was resigned to her fate as the Ash Princess. However, as the story progressed, she gradually became determined to save herself and her oppressed people. In light of all the expectations on her shoulders, it was hard to believe that Thora was only 16 years old.

The last virtue of this book was its unfiltered exploration of colonialism. In a way, Kalovaxia reminded me of the global powers that conquered and pillaged the resources of Asia. As someone whose country was “improved” by “benevolent” nations, I found myself invested in the story. I really appreciated how this novel depicted the funny thing about colonialism: more often than not, the colonizers are the actual “barbarians.” It’s interesting how fantasy novels like this can teach you something about real history.

As I implied earlier, my sole complaint was the lack of originality. I probably shouldn’t have picked up this book while reading Glass Sword because it made me notice the similarities between their protagonists. Thora, like Mare, was having an identity crisis. And Soren, like Cal, was a prince turning against his own kingdom. To be fair, Thora was a more likable heroine than Mare. (I’m sorry for that unintentional rhyme. Hahaha.)

To conclude, I gave Ash Princess 4 stars because of its entertaining and educational content. I wasn’t pleased that it was similar to the Red Queen series, but thankfully, jadedness did not entirely hamper my enjoyment of the book. I’m confident that the sequel, Lady Smoke, will be much better.

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Book Review

Who Cares about Game of Thrones?

Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms, #1)Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Magic will find those with pure hearts, even when all seems lost.

Fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres, especially when it features a cast of problematic, vengeful, and power-hungry royals. Thus, when Sasha Alsberg (my crush) recommended this phenomenal book on her channel, I did not hesitate to get my hands on it.

The story monopolized my attention from start to finish. I’ve been a devoted fan of Final Fantasy, so I easily became familiar with the book’s elemental magic system, medieval setting, and multifaceted characters. Honestly, reading this was like playing a video game because it was just so hard to put down, even for valid reasons like eating and sleeping. In other words, I loved Falling Kingdoms because it made me bookishly stoned.

I have not read nor watched Game of Thrones, so I have no qualms regarding the book’s originality. In fact, I found it to be very refreshing because of its unpredictable, fast-paced plot. Although I did encounter some tropes along the way, they were rendered insignificant by the countless moments of oooohs, aaaahs, and awwwws. And when that ending came…I was utterly and beautifully mind-blown.

Overall, you may call me unbelievably subjective in this review, but I really have nothing but praise for this novel. I’m currently reading its sequel, and I’m confident that it won’t disappoint.

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Drama Review

The Time We Were Not So Dense

Annyeonghaseyo! This post might be a surprise to you because so far, my blog has been about nothing but books. I still enjoy book blogging, but I want to widen my horizons by writing about my other passions or interests, such as K dramas and K-pop music. Today, I’ll be reviewing The Time We Were Not in Love (also known as The Time I’ve Loved You), which is a contemporary K drama that I finished around two months ago. It’s been quite a while, but the story is still fresh in my mind because it stars one of my favorite Korean actresses, Ha Ji-won. In light of her royal aura and beauty, it’s no wonder that she has lots of admirers. The leading man, Lee Jin-wook, is charming in his own way; he’s also one of the reasons why I enjoyed the drama.

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Essentially, The Time We Were Not in Love depicts how best friendship can eventually blossom into something more. It follows Oh Hana (Ha Ji-won) and Choi Won (Lee Jin-wook), young professionals who have been friends for 17 years. The former is a progressive team leader in a fashion company, while the latter is a super amiable flight attendant. Since both of them are very passionate about their careers, they barely have time for romance. Strangely, their romantic relationships with other people are always unsuccessful. Hence, both of them remain unmarried at the age of 34. Really, it’s obvious that Oh Hana and Choi Won are perfect for each other. However, before they reach blissful enlightenment, Oh Hana’s annoying ex-boyfriend named Cha Seo-Hoo (Yoon Kyun-sang) gets in the way and decides that he wants her back. Stress and complications ensue, making viewers wonder if a happily ever after is even possible.

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If you’ve been reading my book reviews, you probably know that I utterly dislike instalove. I am not a fan of love at first sight because I cannot fathom how it can happen in real life. With that in mind, I enjoyed The Time We Were Not in Love mainly because Oh Hana and Choi Won’s relationship was very organic. Since they had been friends since they were in high school, they knew each other’s strengths, flaws, and more. It was funny how they could read each other like an open book; it made it impossible for them to keep secrets. The only thing that threatened to eliminate their mutual transparency was Cha Seo-Hoo, the infamous ex-boyfriend. In totality, the validity or authenticity of Oh Hana and Choi Won’s love could not be questioned because it was founded on much history.

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Another thing I liked was the chemistry between Oh Hana and Choi Won. Their unique and fascinating personalities complemented each other and made the scenes seem so natural. Interestingly, the same could be said of their physical appearances. Just looking at their pictures now makes me smile with fondness. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who can see the sparks flying. I wouldn’t object if Ha Ji-won and Lee Jin-wook ended up together in real life. Hahaha.

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Oh Hana and Choi Won were very likable characters. I particularly admired Oh Hana because as far as her career was concerned, she wasn’t someone to be trifled with. After one of her colleagues “stole” her boyfriend, Oh Hana retained her dignity and just moved forward. All in all, Oh Hana wasn’t a catty woman, but she wasn’t a pushover, either. (According to a reliable source, Ha Ji-won generally doesn’t portray weak characters.)

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As for Choi Won, I was fond of him because he wasn’t the typical chaebol (rich dude) that I often see in K dramas. He had a very at-home, happy-go-lucky personality that counterbalanced Oh Hana’s workaholic tendencies. Furthermore, he was practically Oh Hana’s guardian angel; he was the perfect obstruction to Cha Seo-Hoo’s advances, and he never failed to show up whenever she needed a ride after getting drinking too much. Sometimes, Choi Won was selfless to a fault, constantly putting Oh Hana’s happiness over his own.

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The last thing that I liked about The Time We Were Not in Love was the family dynamics. I loved that Oh Hana had a healthy relationship with her parents (and unemployed brother). Most of the characters in the books I read have either bad or neglectful parents, so it was refreshing to take a break from that dreadful trope by watching this drama. Choi Won did have a neglectful mom, but I wasn’t annoyed because reconciliation was eventually achieved. I hope that I will find more Korean dramas that depict strong family bonds.

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Truth be told, my only problem with this K drama was Oh Hana’s indecisiveness. Her character arc was inconsistent because it involved both development and regression. I was annoyed that she succumbed to Cha Seo-Hoo, who was actually an infidel. I expected her to be wiser than that, especially since she was always with the vigilant Choi Won. If Oh Hana hadn’t listened to her unreliable heart, she would’ve avoided much pain and stress. True love was already waiting right in front of her, but she was too infatuated with the past to see it. I was so happy when she finally stopped being so dense.

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Ultimately, I gave The Time We Were Not in Love 4.5 out of 5 stars. I genuinely enjoyed it because of the great characters, touching family dynamics, and realistic romance. It’s not a K drama that warrants binge watching, but I highly recommend it to anyone looking for meaningful entertainment. Chalga! 😀

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Book Review

Under Love-tainted Skies

Under Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When people say weird, what they really mean is different. And difference has never been a bad thing. —Luke

I resolved to finally pick up Under Rose-Tainted Skies because it had been on my TBR since 2017 and the pages had turned murky yellow. Hahaha. Also, someone told me that the story was similar to a book that I felt meh about: Everything, Everything. Basically, my expectations were kinda low, but everything worked out well at the end because this book took me by surprise. Out of the 20 books I’ve read this year, it’s the third one to get a perfect rating.

Plot-wise, Under Rose-Tainted Skies is indeed similar to Everything, Everything, in that it also features a female protagonist who cannot leave her home because of agoraphobia (and other mental complications). Furthermore, just like in Everything, Everything, the protagonist’s life “changes” when a handsome and inquisitive dude moves next door. Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end. For one thing, the mental illness in this book doesn’t turn out to be fabricated. AHEM, AHEM. Ugh, I need to stop before this review turns out to be a rant about another book.

One reason why I loved Under Rose-Tainted Skies was that it was surprisingly funny. It was weird because Norah’s mental health was anything but funny. In addition to agoraphobia, she had OCD and anxiety disorder. Her symptoms included an obsession with patterns and even numbers, panic attacks, self-harm, and more; she obviously didn’t have an easy life. Still, the author managed to discuss or explore these symptoms in a way that was simultaneously serious and lighthearted. The author’s writing style, combined with Norah’s sarcastic humor, made me laugh with fondness, not malice. I hope that makes sense. I will always remember how Norah antagonized the blackbird outside her window for singing too loudly. xD

Another reason for my rating was Norah herself. Since the book was written in first person, I was able to connect with her on a deep emotional level even though our thought processes were super different. I could understand her tendency to criticize herself as well as her fear of the great unknown. Just because she had anxiety disorder didn’t meant that all of her fears were irrational. I myself know what it’s like to be my own enemy. Just like Norah, I sometimes put myself down and look at the future with negativity. And just like Norah, I feel better when I hear the voice of reason. I genuinely loved this book because it taught me that no one on Earth has a completely “rational” or “benevolent” mind. Everyone has bouts of “crazy” once in a while.

Finally, I loved this book because of Norah’s support group, Luke in particular. As far as his treatment of Norah was concerned, he was the epitome of kindness. He sometimes triggered Norah, but it was only out of ignorance. He was a gentleman from the very beginning, and when he learned about Norah’s mental health, he became even more admirable. He respected Norah’s personal space, he taught her how to dream, and he was basically the sunlight to the darkness of her thoughts. Honestly, I had never encountered such an angelic male protagonist. I guess you can call him a great role model.

To be objective, I would have enjoyed this book more if the author had given more information about Norah’s jerk of a father. I just couldn’t fathom how he could abandon his family just like that. Oh well, that’s probably the point: some people simply care more about themselves than their family.

With all that said, it’s been quite a while since I gave a book 5 stars. Norah is a such a thorny but beautiful rose, while Luke is probably the nicest guy in the fictional world. And I must say, the book’s thriller of an ending is nothing short of perfection. This #OwnVoices novel really deepened my understanding of the complexities of mental illness, so I would be more than happy to reread it someday. ❤

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