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

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

The Astonishing Color of Enlightenment

The Astonishing Color of AfterThe Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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

There’s no point in wishing. We can’t change anything about the past. We can only remember. We can only move forward.

Last December, many K-pop fans (myself included) were distraught when SHINee’s Jonghyun committed suicide. Following this tragedy, EXO’s Baekhyun was criticized for saying that he didn’t know why people get depressed. These events in the K-pop world piqued my interest and made me realize that depression isn’t something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially now that more and more people in Asia are falling into its dangerous clutches. Since I personally haven’t experienced depression or had suicidal thoughts, books like this provide an opportunity for vicarious learning. When I read such literature, I look for enlightenment, not entertainment. Hence, although 462 pages seems to long for a YA contemporary novel, I am glad that I pushed through.

The Astonishing Color of After is primarily a melancholic book. In fact, most of the blurbs at the back have the word “grief.” It is about a girl named Leigh, whose mother has committed suicide. Strangely, Leigh believes that her mother has turned into a bird. After Leigh finds her mother’s suicide note, she travels to Taiwan in order to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh reminisces about her past, tries to find the mysterious bird, and gradually unveils the painful secrets of her family. In totality, this book is both literally and figuratively heavy.

One reason why I enjoyed this book is that it reiterated the biological aspect of depression. As a Christian, I used to believe that depression was mostly spiritual in nature. With that in mind, reading this book made me acknowledge the fallibility of this idea. After all, if depression were only a spiritual problem, it couldn’t be cured or managed by modern medicine. In the book, Leigh’s mom underwent various kinds of therapy that made her feel better by altering the chemical composition of her brain. Research has proven that people with depression generally have lower levels of happy hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin. Thus, it would be foolish and unfair to assume that depressed people have something wrong with their faith or spiritual lives. Doing so could even be a form of ableism. Yes, my Christianity makes me experience life in a different way. But I don’t believe that it makes me immune to depression. I actually have a friend who suffers from depression, and it makes me sad that he/she was ostracized by some of the members of her own church. With all that said, I am grateful that this book taught me that we shouldn’t judge people with depression, an illness that has so many layers.

Another reason why I liked TACOA is that it exposed me to Chinese/Taiwanese culture. Aside from numerous descriptions of food, there were discussions on death, marriage, and more. Thus, this book made me hungry for food and information. I currently don’t have the means to travel to foreign countries, so I’m glad that books like this enable me to experience different cultures from the comfort of my bed. Hahaha. Chinese culture already thrives here in the Philippines, but I would love to experience it in its purest form by visiting China someday.

The last reason for my enjoyment has something to do with this thing called love. I mentioned before that TACOA is a melancholic book, but don’t worry because there are actually some light and fluffy parts. I was particularly fond of the chapters featuring Axel, Leigh’s best friend. I’ve always been a fan of the best-friends-to-lovers trope (because it prevents any case of instalove), and the author utilized it almost perfectly. Still, it would’ve been better if Axel hadn’t offended my feminist sensibilities by using a certain girl as a so-called distraction.

Looking back, the main problem that I had with this book was its color-related metaphors. In this regard, the writing reminded me of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval. Leigh and Axel were very gifted artists, and they had this thing of conveying their emotions by naming very unfamiliar colors. For example, jealousy was this special kind of green, guilt was this shade of orange, etc. You can just read the book’s title if you don’t get what I’m trying to say. It takes a lot of imagination to comprehend the color of “after” and other abstract concepts.

Despite the latter complaint, I highly recommend The Astonishing Color of After because it gave me an enlightening reading experience. It’s a book that can start discussions on topics that people usually avoid: depression and suicide. Also, it introduces readers to the beauty of Asian/Chinese culture. If anything, the sweet romance is just a bonus. Overall, kudos to another contemporary novel with very meaningful and relevant content.

P.S. Other noteworthy virtues of TACOA include:

1. Diversity (Leigh is half-Chinese and Axel is half-Filipino)
2. Heartwarming family dynamics
3. Magical plot twists

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Book Review

Cruelly In Love

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

What a great way to start 2018! This book is such a treasure, and I wish it would be adapted into a film ASAP so that I could see its beauty come to life on screen. ❤ I do not give 5 stars to books carelessly, so I hope that you will trust me when I say that The Cruel Prince is beautiful both inside and outside. It’s one of the best books in my personal collection, and I will surely reread it just for the sake of making myself happy and nostalgic.

Before I explain my love for this book, I want to clarify something. Contrary to what is being said on BookTube, The Cruel Prince is not about a mortal defying the High King of Faerie. Instead, it is about a mortal defying the youngest son of the said royal. This confusion was probably caused by the vague pronoun reference in the second paragraph of the official summary. With that in mind, please don’t go into this book expecting the High King to be a very important or fleshed out character; he actually doesn’t have any interaction with Jude, the heroine of the story. The stars of the novel are Jude and Cardan (the “cruel” prince). Okay? Okay. Let’s get back on track.

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I absolutely loved this book primarily because of its unpredictable content. There were a lot of cleverly crafted plot twists that made me gasp and grin like a lunatic. I guess I was too obsessed with the story that I didn’t bother to logically (or jadedly) anticipate certain plot points. The second half of the book was amazing because Jude’s political machinations made every chapter seem like a cliffhanger. In other words, I was hooked, helplessly invested in Jude and the world of Faerie.

Jude was a very well-developed character. She strongly reminded me of Kestrel from The Winner’s Curse in that she always had a clear head on her shoulders. She was an excellent fighter and schemer, so much so that she made the Fae (who were supposedly superior) insecure or intimidated. I was also intrigued by Jude’s complicated relationship with Madoc, her adoptive father. Madoc was the one who murdered Jude’s biological parents, but she learned to love him as the years went by. I wasn’t sure if Jude had some kind of psychological problem (i.e. Stockholm Syndrome), but I acknowledged the possibility that Jude’s love for Madoc wasn’t born out of something dark or twisted.

As for Prince Cardan and his troupe of jerks (Locke, Valerian, and Nicasia), I had so much fun hating them. The author clearly didn’t intend them to be “good” nor “likeable,” so it would be silly to lower my rating because of the latter annoying characters. However, I must disclose that this book depicts violence against women (i.e. Jude) in the form of choking and intoxication. I personally wasn’t triggered, but I understand if you would want to stay away from such content. I would like to thank my friend, Amber, for calling my attention to this potential flaw.

Prince Cardan was not my favorite character for legitimate reasons: he was petty, arrogant, and vengeful. In a way, he was worse than pre-Feminist Rhysand from ACOTAR. It was quite disappointing that Cardan’s cruelty was a result of…(whisper whisper). xD Looking at the bright side, The Cruel Prince would’ve been less addicting if Carden hadn’t been so…cruel. Hahaha. Furthermore, he was less despicable than Taryn, Jude’s twin sister. Oh man, I am so tempted to give some spoilers because I need someone to understand my hatred for Taryn. LOL

To sum it up, The Cruel Prince deserves all of the hype; I cannot overemphasize how much I enjoyed it. It isn’t a perfect piece of literature, but it met all of my high expectations. I hope that it will also meet yours. 🙂

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Book Review

Fiery Redemption

Fireblood (Frostblood Saga, #2)Fireblood by Elly Blake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Hachette Book Group, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Fear of my fire had ruled me when I’d had no control over it. Darkness, like fire, was a gift I could master. —Ruby

When I read Frostblood last November, I didn’t enjoy it that much. I only gave it three stars mainly because it didn’t bring something new to the table. Still, the ending was such a cliffhanger that I became invested enough to continue the series. With that in mind, I am happy to say that my optimism paid off; Fireblood is one of the best sequels I’ve ever read.

Looking at the preemptive “reviews” of this book, it’s clear that many readers are worried about the state of Ruby and Arcus’s relationship. After all, the summary insinuates that a new boy named Kai will come in between our two lovebirds. Hahaha. I myself was so excited to read this book because I shipped Ruby and Arcus so hard. I don’t want to spoil anyone, so all I can say is that by the end of the book, Ruby is…not confused. 🙂

Although romance is a significant aspect of Fireblood, it is predominantly about Ruby finding a way to destroy the Minax, which has been wrecking havoc in Tempesia. Surprisingly, the answer to her prayers can be found in Sudesia, her mother’s homeland. Essentially, the plot of this sequel is undeniably rich and fast-paced, and it will most likely make you fly through the pages.

For me, reading this book was like eating a stack of Pringles. I couldn’t get enough of it because my interest in the protagonists never wavered. I loved Ruby’s inspiring fortitude, Arcus’s charming “coldness,” and even Kai’s flirtatious audacity. The interactions between these characters were evocative and well-written. I was also very entertained by the expansion of the world’s mythology, which we didn’t get in the first book.

I obviously enjoyed this book a lot, but I couldn’t give it five stars because like its predecessor, it featured a number of YA fantasy tropes that made me feel a little jaded. To give you some hints, one trope has something to do with a certain character’s true identity. The other one has something to do with matrimony. :3

Nevertheless, Fireblood is leagues away from Frostblood. If you also disliked the latter, I encourage you to give the series a second chance. I certainly don’t regret my decision, so I hope that you will feel the same way. I can’t wait to read the third (and possibly last) book, Nightblood.

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Book Review

A Literary Cover of Let It Go

Frostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1)Frostblood by Elly Blake

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you, Hachette Australia, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

If you are also a fan of Frozen, you will probably enjoy Frostblood. I was very intrigued by the story of Ruby, a literally hot girl who struggled to harness her dangerous fire powers. She was practically a new version of Elsa, since her magic was also a major source of guilt and collateral damage. It was so much fun to read about her Let It Go experience.

I read my friend Lola Reviewer’s critique before reading Frostblood, and I now understand why she gave it a one-star rating. Besides the Frozen elements, tropes from other narratives were inevitably noticeable.

For instance, the books use of magical amplifiers reminded me of Shadow and Bone, and some aspects of the conflict were uncannily similar to those of either Red Queen or Throne of Glass. I wasn’t sure if these similarities were intentional or not. Nevertheless, they sometimes made me feel mildly disappointed. It was not fun to hear myself exclaim “I’ve read this before!” every now and then.

Honestly, I was quite tempted to also give Frostblood one star. However, I realized that doing so would be unfair because I did manage to enjoy it, for reasons surprisingly valid.

In retrospect, the tropes I discovered actually improved my reading experience. They made me become easily familiar with the plot, world, and characters. Hence, I was able to finish the book faster than I expected.

Moreover, Frostblood featured plot twists that were delightful and surprising. When I come to think of it, this book was very clever. Its tropes made me feel jaded, but there were events which I wonderfully failed to predict (with the exception of one in the climax).

Finally, I the relationships in this book were very charming. The characters had a lot of emotional baggage which made them very compatible. Yes, sweet romance happened, but I don’t find it necessary to identify the people involved. 😉

Overall, I liked Frostblood. Still, in light of its lack of originality, I wouldn’t be surprised if it would garner a lot of mixed reviews when it’s released next year.

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

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