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

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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Author Interview

Q & A with B.T. Gottfred

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Happy Tuesday, bookworms! I recently finished The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy and gave it 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed reading this YA novel because it powerfully depicts the fluidity of masculinity and femininity. I’ve always been a fan of gender discourse, so this book was a pleasure to read. Hence, I’m very grateful that the author granted my wish for a written interview. I highly encourage you to pick up THGAHBB when it comes out next month. 😀 If you want to know my thoughts, feel free to check out my review. Happy reading! ❤


 

  1. What inspired you to write THGAHBB? Is the topic of gender stereotypes close to your heart?

“Almost all my books are born first with the character voices speaking inside my head. Unlike some of my books (like Nerdy and Dirty), I always knew Art and Zee would be in the same book opposite each other. So then the question of “If Art and Zee are voices in your head, are you gender and sexuality fluid?” arises and my answer is I think ALL people are, even if many if not most people don’t identify that way publicly or even consciously. So yes, this topic is close to my heart. ;)”

  1. Among all of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community, who do you think is the most marginalized/misunderstood nowadays?

“Trans people are going to be the most marginalized until there is a major break through in understanding gender. If not a total deconstruction and rebuilding of what gender even means. I have friends who are as progressive and liberal as one can be on many topics, yet are downright archaic when thinking about gender.”

  1. Is it possible to identify or label the sexual orientation of Art and Zee?

“They certainly try to make sense of it, in their own way, with the ‘Zert Scale’ (which is a bonus at the end of the book). But part of what both they (and I) are trying to do is say that labels and identification should only be used if they are (1) self defined and (2) self empowering. No one anywhere ever should be telling anyone else who they are or who they should love.”

  1. How much research did you have to do before (or while) writing  THGAHBB? Are you a scholar of Feminism?

“An academic scholar, no;) I’m far too lazy for such a feat. But I was raised by a feminist and I married one so I feel like my scholarship has been lived more than studied. I do think all any writer (or person for that matter) with any ounce of imagination has to do is imagine, “what if I was born differently than I am” and they would immediately realize that equal rights is the most important thing there is. Period.”

  1. What gender stereotypes do you dislike the most?

“Anything aimed at children. I have two small boys (2 and 4 years old) and you can see they pick things up from classmates and others such as “that’s a girl’s show” or “that’s a boy’s toy” and yet, when they are not being tricked into stereotypes, both of them love to sing princess songs and have their toenails painted like their mom. I guess in a broader sense, I hate any stereotypes that tries to limit people’s ability to be the person that makes them most happy.”

  1. If you had the chance to go on a picnic with one of your characters, whom would you pick and why?

“Asking me to pick one of characters is like asking me to pick one of my kids… just can’t do it. I will say that as for Art and Zee, I would bring Art for his joy and Zee for her strength.”

  1. When it comes to gender/sexuality, on which side are you on: nature or nurture?

“I’m on the side of only the individual has the power to decide who they are. There are dangers to both nature or nurture and I don’t want any individual being told who they are by anyone or thing else.”

  1. Are you friends with Cale Dietrich? Who are your YA author buddies?

“I do not know Cale, but I just followed him on twitter because of this question. 😉 Jessica Brody got me into YA, so I will always credit her first. I’m in a writers group with Gretchen McNeil and Jennifer Wolfe and they both helped a ton with my book. I have dozens of others friends in YA and meet more every week. I must say some of the nicest/kindest people in the world are YA writers.


About the author:
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B.T. Gottfred (Brad T. Gottfred) is a screenwriter, producer, director, playwright and young adult novelist. He wrote and directed the digital series THE BOONIES, which premiered on go90 in 2017. His debut novel, FOREVER FOR A YEAR, was released in July 2015 by Macmillan/Holt, followed by THE NERDY AND THE DIRTY in November 2016. His third book, THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY, will be released in May of 2018.

 

Visit B.T. Gottfred’s website

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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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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. 🙂

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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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