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.

Advertisements
Standard
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.

Standard
Book Review

Tickle Me Orange

Orange: The Complete Collection, Volume 1Orange: The Complete Collection, Volume 1 by Ichigo Takano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe it’s impossible to live life without any regrets. Even when you know the future…you’ll still mess up.

Orange was a wonderful introduction for me to manga. Yup, I’m a manga neophyte! 😀 I’m sorry I joined the bandwagon only now. I am not really fond of reading on electronic devices, so I deigned to buy the actual, printed collections regardless of their…high prices. Now, I’m happy to say my monetary sacrifice was worth it.

After reading the first half of the manga, I can say that Orange is predominantly a heartwarming story of love and friendship. If I were to compare it to an actual novel, I think its plot could be likened to that of a YA contemporary, with an interesting element of sci-fi (i.e. time travel) on the side. It sounds like the perfect summer read, doesn’t it?

I’m deliberately being vague because I have yet to read the second collection. But so far, I am primarily invested in the characters, who are endearing both individually and collectively. Orange gives its readers six unique characters to choose from, an equal division of three boys and three girls. Furthermore, each of them has an important role to play, and if anyone of them is “removed,” the beauty and intricacy of the story would be diminished. It is obvious that the author values all of her characters, and I cannot help but feel the same way.

As a final note, the anime adaptation of Orange is currently ongoing, and I am having a delightful time watching it after finishing a chapter of the manga. Also, I really don’t care if Orange is classified under the Shoujo genre. I assure you that its message resonates across both sexes. Hmm. Girls are not criticized for reading Shonen, are they? 😉

P.S. Thank you JesseTheReader for inspiring me to read this manga. 🙂

Standard
Book Review

Matters of the Heart

HeartlessHeartless by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. — Oscar Wilde

Heartless is such an emotional masterpiece. If The Lunar Chronicles gave you a lot of feels, then this book will give you tons more. I cannot go into detail in fear of spoiling anyone. However, trust me when I say that this book won’t make you think about rainbows, unicorns, cotton candy, and the like. After all, it’s about the early life on an anti-hero.

Since Heartless is a prequel to Alice in Wonderland, it inevitably gave me a Tim Burton vibe. The world was very whimsical, fantastical, and sometimes dark or creepy. Hence, thoughts of Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp often came into my mind. But of course I did my best to imagine them in their younger years. Haha.

Gleaning upon her previous works, Marissa Meyer has always been good at crafting unique, captivating, and well-rounded characters. Thus, I was happy to find new fictional beings to like, love, and hate in this book.

Catherine was unsurprisingly my favorite protagonist. My heart now bleeds for her, out of both pity and understanding. All she really wanted in life was to be a successful baker and possibly marry for love, but her royal parents blindly forced her into a life/fate they sincerely believed would make her happy. I really felt so emotional seeing her evolve from a hopeful lass to a heartless queen. Even though her story was heartbreaking, it was beautiful and unforgettable nonetheless.

As for Jest, he reminded me a lot of Rhysand of A Court of Mist and Fury. He was delightfully mysterious and somehow omnipresent. It was strange how he managed to be there for Cath every time she was in major distress. Furthermore, Jest’s intentions were often questionable. He didn’t seem malicious in any way, but there was something about him that conveyed a fondness for secrets. In totality, he was a very attractive character (not only physically speaking).

The antagonists in this book were downright despicable, but it was in the best possible way. I absolutely loved to hate them, Cath’s parents in particular. Ugh, they were so dense and presumptuous that I could hardly contain my temper every time they appeared in a scene. I also disliked a few more antagonists, but disclosing their names would make this review spoilery. Just know that they will surely tick you off, as the author probably intended them to do. 😉

What I admired most about Heartless was the intricacy of its plot. Whilst I was quite annoyed that I managed to predict some events or outcomes, I loved how Marissa Meyer was able to flawlessly connect all the circumstances leading to Cath’s imminent transformation into the Queen of Hearts. Overall, I honestly did not detect any plot hole whatsoever.

In conclusion, I sincerely believe that Heartless is worthy of all the hype it’s receiving. Yes, it shattered my heart, but I still enjoyed it because it made me realize that authors aren’t necessarily obliged to make their readers happy. When I come to think of it, sadness has a beauty of its own.

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

Standard
Book Review

A Legendary Sequel

Legendary (Caraval, #2)Legendary by Stephanie Garber

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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

She’d thought that she was the key to his entire game. But, of course, Legend was playing more than one game.

Caraval took my breath away last year. This sequel messed with my brain. I delayed my review for almost a month because I needed some time to process everything that happened. I felt so deceived…yet enlightened.

In Legendary, Tella learns that her mother has been trapped in a set of magical cards. To solve this problem, she makes a deal with a malicious prince. In exchange for saving Tella and Scarlett’s mom, he asks her to bring the real Legend to him. The only way to unveil Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella goes through the typical, difficult process of finding clues in the dead of night. However, the stakes are higher because if Tella doesn’t win the game, she will die. In other words, Caraval might not be just a game this time.

Like its predecessor, Legendary is a testament to Stephanie Garber’s talent for misleading her readers in the best way possible. As much I as liked the characters in this book, I absolutely didn’t trust anyone of them except for Tella. It was implied that Legend could be female, so my list of suspects kept on expanding. I tried so hard to guess who was who, but my efforts were to no avail; I was caught off-guard when Legend’s identity was finally revealed. My usual talent for predicting plot twists was rendered useless by the author’s cunning.

Personally, I thought that Tella was quite annoying in the first book because she seemed to be just a pretty airhead. Hence, I was glad that she became likable and relatable in Legendary. Of course, she retained her flirtatious and secretive nature, but the other layers of her personality were gradually revealed. Despite her tendency to be frivolous, I rooted for Tella because of her ardent desire to be reunited with her not-so-admirable mother. I couldn’t help but notice how she was more empowered than her sister.

Speaking of Scarlett, I was surprised by her suspicious behavior. Just like Tella, I had a hunch that she was in cahoots with the real Legend, who was supposedly someone close to Julian. Since Tella deceived her during the first Caraval, it was possible that Scarlett wanted to return the favor. It was interesting to see the new cracks in their sisterly bond. Still, I wanted them to me more honest with each other; it is an undeniable fact that secrets have the potential to destroy even the closest of relationships.

I would’ve enjoyed this book more if the male characters hadn’t been so…sexualized. All of them (e.g. Dante, Julian, and Jacks) were described to be hot or handsome in Tella’s eyes, and I couldn’t help but sigh. Caraval was a carnivalseque event, so one would expect it to have diverse participants. So why were all of the men attractive? Oh c’mon.

Ultimately, Legendary met most of my expectations. I loved the unpredictable plot as well as the multi-faceted female protagonists. I actually expected this to be a concluding novel, but looking at the last page, I can say that another sequel is a must. Kudos to Stephanie Garber’s powerful imagination.

Standard
Book Review

Thank God I Got Carried Away

Caraval (Caraval, #1)Caraval by Stephanie Garber

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

In many ways, loving Tella was a source of constant pain.

The latter quote perfectly describes what Caraval is about: a girl who goes through a lot of suffering because of her sister. In a way, this book is another tribute to Frozen. The plot mainly revolves around Scarlett desperately trying to find Tella, who is kidnapped by the mysterious Caraval Master Legend. With the help of another secretive man named Julian, Scarlett follows the ever winding trail towards her sister. In this magical, carnivalesque world, only three things are for certain: love, deception, and sacrifice.

When I finished this book, I did not know what to do with myself. I was on the verge of having a book hangover because the story just took my breath away. I am strongly tempted to start a gush fest now, but I shall restrain myself and simply tell you three reasons why I loved Caraval.

1. The Epic Sisterly Love

Scarlett and Tella’s relationship rekindled my ardent desire to have a sister (whom I could turn into a bookworm like me). Although it often seemed that they did not love each other equally, I admired how they strove to protect each other from a particularly diabolic character. Just like Elsa and Anna of Frozen, Scarlett and Tella proved that nothing could sever the bond between sisters.

2. The Beautiful Writing

Although it took me a month to finish Caraval, it introduced me to the satisfying pleasure of speed reading. I was able to read the second half of the book in one sitting because the writing was flowery yet comprehensible. Every scene was vividly described, and the language had this unique, conversational tone that sped up my relatively slow reading pace. It felt like my best friend was telling me a story, and I could not get enough of it. Finally, this might sound irrelevant, but I was also amused by the author’s fondness for “spidery” metaphors.

3. The Phenomenal Plot Twists

When she enters Caraval, Scarlett is warned that she shouldn’t get too carried away by her experiences. After all, everything that happens in Caraval is supposedly just a game. In retrospect, I really should have listened to the warning myself, because the plot twists in this book left me astounded. GAAAAAH! I CANNOT GET OVER THEM UNTIL NOW! I applaud the author for successfully blurring the distinction between literary fantasy and reality. I am usually able to predict plot twists in YA novels, so I loved how Caraval defied all of my suspicions and expectations. With that in mind, this book is perfect for buddy reading because it will surely make you want to share a lot of feels!


Even though I loved this book, I was bothered by how it reinforced the “Bad Parent” trope in YA. Seriously, I’m exasperated whenever I read books featuring parents who are unworthy of their title (and authority). I admit that there are parents in real life who get in the way of their children’s happiness. Nevertheless, I do not appreciate this trope because it can be interpreted as a pessimistic view of parenting or family life.

All things considered, Caraval is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m so thankful that it didn’t turn out to be overhyped. In light of its wonderful and breathtaking content, I’m amazed that this is Stephanie Garber’s debut novel.

Standard
Book Review

Crows Are Not Better than Roses

Lost Crow Conspiracy (Blood Rose Rebellion #2)Lost Crow Conspiracy by Rosalyn Eves

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

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

You think because I am a girl, I am weak. Because I speak for those who are given no voice here, my voice should matter less. You are wrong, on both counts. —Anna

Sequels are very unpredictable. You never know if they’re gonna hit the mark or miss it completely. I loved Blood Rose Rebellion when I read more than a year ago, so I was eager to dive into this book, believing that it would be even better. Unfortunately, most of my expectations weren’t met. To be optimistic about it, at least I enjoyed this book enough to give it more than 3 stars.

For the most part, Lost Crow Conspiracy was a very educational read. Just like the first book, it integrated much history into its fantastical plot. I rarely pick up historical fiction, so reading this book was an opportunity to widen my horizons. I enjoyed how the author retold the Austrian-Hungarian War and its global repercussions. She did it in a way that was unique, refreshing, and comprehensible. In other words, it was anything but info-dumpy. I was particularly fascinated by discriminated praetheria because their standpoint in European society was similar to that of the Jews during World War II. I wasn’t sure if this allusion was intentional. Nonetheless, I really appreciated it as someone fond of Christian history.

I also enjoyed Anna’s character development in this book. Anna continued to be underestimated because of her sex, but she didn’t hesitate to address the corruption in her society. Breaking the Binding definitely made her more mature because it pushed her to be a voice for the weak and oppressed. In a world ruled by men, she was one empowered female. Truth be told, the only thing I didn’t like about her was her tendency to lie to her loved ones; her refusal to tell anyone about Matyas’s “death” resulted in much undue stress. xD

As for Matyas, I was surprised that the author decided to keep him. I totally didn’t expect him to be resurrected. I had already become used to the idea of him being dead, so I didn’t care about his story arc. It didn’t help that his chapters were less interesting than Anna’s. In a way, his chapters felt like…fillers or padding. However, in light of his new powers as a shaman, it was clear that he still had much to contribute to the plot. I guess Anna would have had no allies if he hadn’t been there.

This book’s main weakness was its pacing. Oh my, the last 100 or so pages were difficult to get through because I almost fell asleep with boredom. It was weird because the climax was supposed to be the most exciting part of the novel. Anna had a price on her head, and her journey through various forests and villages was a drag. There was hardly any interesting confrontation since all she did was run and hide.

Overall, Lost Crow Conspiracy was intriguing and educational. I loved Anna’s character development and the book’s rich historical content. Still, some parts of the book were utterly boring. I gave the first book a higher rating, so I guess this one suffered from second book syndrome. Hopefully, the third installment will be better. 🙂

Standard