Book Review

Second Chances

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Actual Rating: 3.5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Book Review

The Price of Untimely Flirting

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review

An Enormous Fortune of Misery

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1)The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The really frightening thing about Olaf, she realized, was that he was very smart after all. He wasn’t merely an unsavory drunken brute, but an unsavory, clever drunken brute.

Rereading this after ten years was so nostalgic. Like most people, I was inspired to pick up this series once again because of Netflix. I just watched the episode eight (The Miserable Mill Part II) last night, and I can hardly wait for the next season.

I have nothing but praise for this book, objectivity be damned. Lemony Snicket’s work played a significant part into making me a bookworm. When I was 13, I immediately aspired to be like Klaus Baudelaire, the epitome of the adjective “bookish”. Until now, I dream to have a private library that would rival the one in the Baudelaire mansion, before it was destroyed. (For reference, watch the 2004 movie.) Of course, I have always been very fond of Violet and Sunny, though I admit that I am helplessly biased towards their brother. As for Count Olaf and his minions, I am simultaneously amazed and repulsed by their villainy.

It is only now that I am an adult that I fully appreciate the author’s writing style. It’s so funny how he utilizes the second person POV to produce an effect of reverse psychology. He keeps on encouraging his readers to put down (or DNF) the book, but it only makes me more invested in the story. I am also amused by his brief definitions of words that might be unfamiliar to children. In totality, Lemony Snicket’s (Daniel Handler’s) writing style is an utter delight.

Overall, A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of my favorite series of all time. I am excited to reread the next 12 novels, but I plan to take it slowly because I don’t want to be depressed. Let’s face it. Marathoning sad stories is not healthy. xD

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

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)