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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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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Book Review

Divine Neutrality

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

Thank you, Hachette Book Group, for giving me a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.

I finally finished this book after reading it for more than a month. I have seen nothing but praise for Madeline Miller’s books. I genuinely liked this one, but unfortunately, I did not love it.

Circe is essentially a story of female empowerment. It’s the story of an ostracized goddess who gradually finds strength in isolation. Many wayward visitors come to Circe’s island, ranging from malicious humans, to haughty gods, to demigods on the run. Hence, this book has multiple story/character arcs. In a way, Circe is less like a novel and more like a collection of short stories. If you’re a fan of Feminism and Greek mythology, you’ll definitely have an enjoyable reading experience.

When I come to think of it, I probably didn’t love this book simply because it was a far cry from the YA books that I usually devour. Out of the 10 books that I was currently reading, Circe was the only adult book. Hence, reading it felt like going out of my comfort zone; I wasn’t that excited to pick it up.

Objectively speaking, I honestly had a problem with the pacing. It was quite dragging since Circe was stuck on an island for almost the entire novel. Also, some of the characters and events seemed irrelevant or just there for fan service. For example, I didn’t care about Jason and Medea and how they stole the Golden Fleece from Aeëtes. I guess I would have liked this book more if it had less than 400 pages.

To be fair, I did enjoy Circe’s character development. I had fun reading about how she discovered her magical abilities. I was impressed that Circe was able to antagonize Athena just by utilizing the power of various things found in nature. Furthermore, I liked that Circe’s best quality was her humanity. Compared to her divine peers, she was the most sensitive, compassionate, and forgiving.

Another thing I enjoyed was the romance. Circe had many love interests, but I particularly favored Daedalus, Odysseus, and Telemachus because each of them brought out Circe’s redeeming qualities. Even though Circe’s romantic relationships didn’t last for a long time (her lovers weren’t immortal like her), I appreciated that they were very evocative and meaningful.

Overall, I liked Circe enough to give it 3.75 stars. I most likely have an unpopular opinion, but that’s okay. After all, it can also be fun to be a part of the minority. I personally didn’t love this book. Still, in light of its empowering content, I won’t stop anyone from buying a copy.

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Book Review

Love Is Love

The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful BoyThe Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy by B.T. Gottfred

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A man who reads effeminate may well be consistently heterosexual, and another one might be gay. We can’t read sexuality off of gender. —Judith Butler

Have you ever been subjected to gender stereotypes? That’s probably a rhetorical question. Hahaha. I myself have experienced being criticized for not conforming to traditional or hegemonic masculinity. Even though there are many kinds of masculinity, most people prefer only one: the kind that includes athleticism, big muscles, and other “macho” qualities. The same can be said of traditional femininity, which is typically tantamount to outward beauty, gentleness, and silence. In college, I learned about a feminist named Judith Butler. According to her, gender is a social construct or performance. In other words, your gender (behavior) isn’t determined by your sex (genitals); males aren’t necessarily “masculine,” and females aren’t necessarily “feminine.” Following this logic, I can’t help but think that gender stereotypes are stupid.

The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy is a novel that powerfully illustrates the latter truth. It’s the story of two teenagers who are bombarded by gender stereotypes. Because of their divergent looks and behavior, Zee’s and Art’s sexuality is always put into question. It eventually comes to a point where they themselves aren’t sure of their orientation. However, as Zee and Art become closer, they realize that gender is not as solid as people want it to be.

It was my first time to read a book by B.T. Gottfred, so I was pleasantly surprised by his humor and candor. He didn’t sugarcoat anything in this supposedly YA book. The emotions and conversations of the characters were raw, and the love scenes were pretty graphic. Hence, although this book features YA characters, its content is for a more mature audience. I personally did not enjoy the explicit scenes, but I commended the author for deviating from the norm, just like his characters. I plan to read more of his novels, so I guess I should prepare myself. xD

Zee and Art were unquestionably quirky and fascinating. I had never encountered such a weird yet perfect couple. Zee was turned on by Art’s effeminate looks and behavior, and vice versa. There were times when I was so confused because I didn’t know if they were straight, gay, or bisexual. Seriously, there were so many mixed signals, and it was impossible to label them using gender stereotypes. In the end, it occurred to me that that was probably the author’s intention. Zee and Art were in love with each other, so what was the point of labels?

In addition to gender discourse, this book had lots of family drama. Zee suddenly met her biological father after losing her mother to cancer, and Art’s parents separated after one of them became unemployed. I found their problems to be of equal magnitude, but I was particularly invested in Zee’s dilemma. She had a lot of hang-ups to address before she could start a relationship with her dad. That being said, I loved Art because he was selfless enough to set aside his issues and help Zee attain reconciliation.

Overall, I gave The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy 4.5 stars because it was very funny and insightful. Readers who are familiar with Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity will definitely enjoy it. Art and Zee powerfully illustrate the fluidity of masculinity and femininity, so this book is perfect for anyone who hates gender stereotypes.

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