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

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

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)

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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.

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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.

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