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

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. 🙂

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Book Review

My Plain Governess

My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies, #2)My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Harper Collins, for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

For everyone who’s ever fallen for the wrong person, even though we agree that Mr. Darcy looks good on paper…and in a wet shirt.

I absolutely loved My Lady Jane when I read it two years ago. In fact, it was my favorite novel of 2016. Hence, I had nothing but high expectations before delving into My Plain Jane. In totality, it was a very entertaining novel although I wasn’t familiar with the story of Jane Eyre. Still, I couldn’t give it five stars because it was compared to My Lady Jane, it was not that good.

For the most part, My Plain Jane retains the main plot points of Jane Eyre. It follows an orphan girl who becomes a governess and falls in love with her suspicious employer. But in this case, Jane Eyre is a seer, which means that she is able to see and communicate with ghosts. Alexander Blackwood, the star agent of a failing organization called the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits, wants to hire Jane. Unfortunately, she doesn’t want to leave her darling Mr. Rochester. Alexander then enlists the help of Charlotte Bronte (yes, she is a character in this book), a talented writer who has taken it upon herself to write a novel about her best friend (Jane Eyre). To simply put it, this book is both a retelling and an origin story of Jane Eyre.

The Lady Janies sure do know how to make their readers laugh. I really had a good time reading this book, especially when they interrupted the narrative to address me and make me feel that I was a part of the story. The authors utilized this tactic in My Lady Jane, and it worked its magic once again in this book. Another magical thing was the cohesion of the writing. The book was written by three different authors, but I didn’t have the feeling that I was comprehending three different writing styles. In other words, the Lady Janies’ respective literary voices were super compatible.

In retrospect, even though Jane Eyre and the other protagonists weren’t problematic in the truest sense of the word, I didn’t become attached to most of them. I did like them, but they were quite plain compared to the characters in My Lady Jane. Looking on the bright side, at least I was very fond of Helen, Jane Eyre’s other best friend who happened to be a ghost. Helen was the primary source of humor in the story, constantly nagging Jane about things both trivial and important. It was also intriguing to see Charlotte Bronte as a fictional character. My reading experience became more meaningful because I often wondered if her personality was inspired by the real Charlotte Bronte. If the authors had to read biographies or whatnot before writing this book, then I applaud them for doing so. In any case, it was not surprising that I was able to relate to her love for reading and writing.

My Plain Jane actually downplayed the romance between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. This wasn’t necessarily bad because I wasn’t expecting to read a cheesy love story. However, Mr. Rochester lacked character development. He was not in Thornfield Hall most of the time, and most of his brief interactions with Jane Eyre made him seem like a villain. The cause of this phenomenon was eventually explained, but it would’ve been better if I had been given the chance to know the “real” Mr. Rochester. 😉 His “fake” personality was more bothersome than interesting.

The last problem I encountered was the inconsistent pacing. The pacing was generally smooth, but it became rushed, especially during the climax of the book. Many significant things happened in succession to the point that my brain found it hard to keep up. For example, the protagonists were caught in a number of problems throughout the novel, and it didn’t take more than a chapter or two to solve them. Sometimes, this caused the characters to be all over the place, as if they could teleport or something.

All things considered, My Plain Jane was an enjoyable and memorable read. If I took my love for My Lady Jane out of the picture, I would probably give this book a higher rating. Still, a four-star rating is high enough. Haha. I can’t wait to read another retelling by the Lady Janies. I wonder who’s gonna be their next inspiration. I’m sure that history has more Janes to write about. xD

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

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Book Review

My Lady Bookworm

My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies, #1)My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The past is malleable and flexible, changing as our recollection interprets and re-explains what has happened.

—Peter L. Berger

I happily give My Lady Jane five, heavenly stars. This is possibly my most favorite book of 2016. As I write this review, I am overwhelmed by this bittersweet feeling because I am very satisfied with how the story turned out, but I am very sad to say good-bye to such a wonderful historical retelling.

I loved this book primarily because it featured characters who were nothing but priceless. Jane, Gifford (G), and Edward are henceforth my literary baes. Even though My Lady Jane is nearly 500 pages long, I kinda wished it would never end because I wanted to spend more time with these pseudo-fictional characters.

Jane was unforgettably relatable. I adored her unwavering love for books, Hermione-like intellect, and ability to stand up for herself in a very sexist/patriarchal environment. She really wasn’t a girl whom people (especially men) could mess with. Yes, she was occasionally quite mean and stubborn, but I couldn’t help but think of her as every male bookworm’s dream girl.

Gifford (G) was charmingly bookish in his own way. He had a knack for poetry, which I found to be impressive and downright romantic. The “historical twist” to his talent with words also made him a very intriguing character. 😉 What really made him special in my eyes was his positive attitude towards femininity. Instead of being intimidated by the opinionated Jane, he did his best to understand, protect, and treat her as his equal.

As for Edward, he was the protagonist who made me laugh the most. It was interesting how his sexist comments sounded both annoying and endearing. Furthermore, his subtle advances towards a certain girl were hilarious. He was admittedly inexperienced in romance, but he was surprisingly good at it. I especially liked him because of his outstanding character development.

One of the best things I liked about this novel was it’s lively, quirky, and magical approach to history, which I humbly admit was not my favorite subject in school because it was often quite…tedious. There were lots of historical elements in this book, and although they were indeed altered according to the authors’ liking, I loved how they still retained essential bits of truth.

To be more precise, I particularly enjoyed relearning the familial troubles of the Tudors, the violent tension between the Catholics and Protestants, and the political alliance of France and Scotland (against England). I’ve been a fan of similar historical retellings like Reign and The Other Boleyn Girl, so I had a lot of fanboy moments while reading My Lady Jane.

In the end, I applaud the Lady Janies for a job well done. In light of all its virtues, I am sure that this book will go down in history as one of the best works YA literature has to offer. I do hope to read it again someday. 😀

*Featured image contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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Book Review

Don’t Mess with the Jews

The Librarian of AuschwitzThe Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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

In Auschwitz, human life has so little value that no one is shot anymore; a bullet is more valuable than a human being.

This review is way overdue. I was having another reading slump when I picked up this book two months ago, and though I was very intrigued by its rich, historical content, my reading speed was utterly slow. To simply put it, reading The Librarian of Auschwitz was like trying to push through a hefty textbook. I felt like nerdy Hermione Granger as I highlighted numerous lines and passages that captured the essence of the Holocaust. I was determined to learn as much as I could, especially because my Christian upbringing and education had made me sympathetic toward the Jews, God’s chosen people. With that in mind, it could be said that I was reading for enlightenment, not for mere pleasure or entertainment. I wish that I were able to finish this book quickly, but I’m glad that I somehow managed to reach the finish line.

As the title implies, The Librarian of Auschwitz has a very bookish plot. Just like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, it is a historical novel about a young girl who protects literature during World War 2. Based on the experience of a real-life Auschwitz prisoner named Dita Krau, this book is a powerful story that can make you so thankful for Hiter’s demise. If you already hate Hitler, be prepared to loathe him even more.

From the get-go, you should know that this book is very slow-paced. I recommend taking breaks in between chapters just to give your brain a chance to take in all the historical information. In other words, be prepared to encounter a lot of characters, places, and dates. For the most part, I enjoyed the book’s attention to detail; it was obvious that the author really did his research. However, I couldn’t help but feel sleepy during the info-dumpy parts. Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be fair to criticize the pacing of this book because “speeding it up” would probably require deviating too much from history. For instance, if the author had added a lot of action or romance to the plot, the book would have felt less authentic or meaningful.

The chapters about German violence were the ones that kept me wide awake. The descriptions of murder and torture were hardly filtered, painting vivid pictures of the Nazi’s “creativity.” I was both disgusted and amazed by their talent for killing the Jews. Hundreds of Jews were exterminated every day to the point that the incinerators were running out of space. I nearly cried when the book described what really happened in the infamous gas chambers a.k.a “bathrooms.” The Jews did nothing to deserve such treatment, so it pained me to vicariously witness them being slaughtered like a bunch of animals.

Thankfully, there were German soldiers who actually had a conscience. I found it very interesting that some of them even had romantic feelings for their prisoners. I felt a little conflicted about love blooming in such a dreadful setting. Still, I was glad that the book was objective. I would have hated all of the German characters otherwise. One of the things that I loved about this book was how it made me realize that not all Nazis deserved to go to hell; some of them might have been forced to join Hitler’s cause. Who would have thought that the Nazis deserved the benefit of the doubt?

Even though this book was focused on the past, I found it very relatable. Dita and I were generations apart, yet we were united in our love for books. Both of us saw books as priceless gateways to knowledge and a myriad of worlds. I found myself nodding my head vigorously whenever she said something about the importance of literature. In a way, this book is a tribute to all bookworms. ❤

Ultimately, I gave The Librarian of Auschwitz 4.5 stars because it gave me a deeper understanding of the Holocaust. This book effectively illustrates that we shouldn’t be foolish enough to mess with the Jews. I never want to be detached from such a significant part of Christian history, so I can definitely see myself rereading this book in the future. (Hopefully, its slow pacing won’t induce another reading slump.)

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Book Review

A Booknerd Bored and Ranting

A Poison Dark and Drowning (Kingdom on Fire, #2)A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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

People do what they think is right, but that does not make it good.

I can’t believe that it took me almost three months to finish this book. I did not have high expectations because I gave the first book 3 stars. Still, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by…a lot of things. I’ll try not to be too salty, but just know that this book was…meh.

A Poison Dark and Drowning resumes the story of Henrietta Howel, the not-so Chosen One of Victorian England. After visiting the home of one of the founding fathers of “magicianhood,” she discovers a set of mysterious weapons that can help her defeat the Ancients once and for all. Meanwhile, Rook’s transformation into a monster is accelerating, and everyone seems to think that he’s a lost cause. Of course, Henrietta fiercely disagrees. In this lackluster sequel to A Shadow Bright and Burning, readers follow Henrietta as she struggles to save both the world and her first love.

My first problem with this book was its lack of originality. For example, I knew that the author was a fan of Harry Potter (like most people), but I was bothered that one of the places in the book felt like a replica of Diagon Alley. Considering all of the tropes utilized in the first book, I expected the sequel to be a little more refreshing.

My second problem was the predictable content. One of the plot twists in this book was so unsurprising. I could see it coming from a mile away, and instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, I was overwhelmed by jadedness. You really don’t need to think hard if you wanna figure out the identity of Henrietta’s father.

The last straw was the chaotic romance, which resulted in a lot of corny dialogue. I couldn’t understand how Henrietta could attract nearly all of her male peers. Indeed, she was powerful and resourceful, but she also made a lot of stupid decisions that caused a lot of collateral damage. My fondness for her was diminished every time Henrietta acknowledged her own flaws and engaged in self-pity. Hence, I really didn’t care about her relationship with Rook, Blackwood, or Magnus.

I don’t want this review to be a complete rant, so let’s look at the bright side, shall we? I stopped myself from giving this book 1 star because I was a fan of the deep friendship between Henrietta and Maria. They were practically like sisters even though they came from different backgrounds. Their interactions were somehow my lifeline while reading this mostly boring novel. Also, I gave a few additional points to the diversity of characters. I really appreciate that many YA books nowadays aren’t whitewashed.

With all that said, I’m not sure if I’m still invested in this series/trilogy. I pushed myself to finish it just because the publisher sent me a galley. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in reading it, I won’t stop you. Who knows? You might end up enjoying it.

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Book Review

Make Way for Odin

Berserker (Berserker #1)Berserker by Emmy Laybourne

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

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

Embrace the Nytte. Open your heart to it, or it will be the ruin of you. —Aud

Filled with intriguing elements of Norse mythology and American history, Berserker is one of the most unique and surprising books I’ve ever read. I would’ve finished it sooner had I not been in a terrible reading slump caused by Korean dramas and K-pop music. xD

Berserker is basically a heartwarming story about four teenagers with powers bestowed by the old Norse gods. Hanne, the female lead, is a Berserker, which means that she flies into a killing state whenever her loved ones are threatened. Unable to control her murderous abilities, Hanne is eventually forced to leave her homeland (Norway) in search for her uncle, who is supposedly the only person who can help her. With the help of a handsome cowboy named Owen, Hanne and her siblings forge their way through 19th century America. Little do they know that many life-threatening experiences await them in such a “great” country.

For me, the best thing about Berserker was its emphasis on the special bond between siblings. In spite of their many differences (that caused a number of entertaining arguments), Hanne, Stieg, Knut, and Sissel did everything in their power to keep each other safe. Furthermore, each of them had a distinct personality that made me want to meet them in real life. Hanne was the ever protective sister who loved to cook. Stieg was a bookworm who was the voice of reason in the midst of chaos. Knut was a gentle giant who could be unexpectedly profound. As for Sissel, she was a brat who could disclose an ugly truth without flinching. I really enjoyed getting to know these unique and fascinating characters.

Another virtue of Berserker was its application of Norse mythology. Greek/Roman mythology has been a popular theme in literature (and other forms of media) for years; you must be living in a cave if you aren’t familiar with the stories of Zeus, Poseidon, and other iconic deities. With that in mind, this book was like a breath of fresh air because it deviated from the status quo. Although I was already quite familiar with Norse mythology, it was fun to catch a glimpse of Odin, Freya, and the Vikings (who were apparently good at poetry).

I will probably always remember Berserker because of its shockingly detailed fighting scenes. Hanne was a force to be reckoned with when her powers were triggered; she could kill/decapitate people without batting an eye. The same could be said about the villain, who never failed to creep me out. I didn’t exactly enjoy the violence in this book, but I liked that the author didn’t make a sugarcoated YA novel.

The last virtue of Berserker was its historical content. Hanne and her siblings were only a few of the Europeans who migrated to America with the goal of having a “better” life. It could be said that they were victims of the American dream. As a Filipino, I found this to be very entertaining. It is an undeniable fact that many people in “Third World” Asia still believe that complete happiness can be found in America. Gleaning upon all of the trials the protagonists faced in Montana, I couldn’t help but scoff at the latter belief. If anything, Berserker reminded me that our happiness is determined by our choices, not by our current location in the world.

In all honesty, the only disappointing thing about this book was its similarity to Disney’s Frozen. The quote at the beginning of my review can probably speak for itself. This trope made the ending predictable and quite…er, corny. Since the majority of the book was cool and badass, I expected the resolution to be the same.

Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun reading Berserker, and I’m confident that many people will enjoy it, too. If you’re looking for a fun, educational, and action-packed novel, you should definitely add it to your TBR shelf.

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