My May 2022 Highly Anticipated Releases

My May 2022 Highly Anticipated Releases

What’s better than starting the month with new books to be excited for? I know that this month is filled with new releases that I’ve been dying to get my hands on and I know that’s the same for you. The best part? Most of them are publishing on the first Tuesday in May! While there’s plenty of books publishing this month, here’s what I’ve got my eye on:

Tokyo Dreaming by Emiko Jean (May 31)

When Japanese-American Izumi Tanaka learned her father was the Crown Prince of Japan, she became a princess overnight. Now, she’s overcome conniving cousins, salacious press, and an imperial scandal to finally find a place she belongs. She has a perfect bodyguard turned boyfriend. Her stinky dog, Tamagotchi, is living with her in Tokyo. Her parents have even rekindled their college romance and are engaged. A royal wedding is on the horizon! Izumi’s life is a Tokyo dream come true.

Only…

Her parents’ engagement hits a brick wall. The Imperial Household Council refuses to approve the marriage citing concerns about Izumi and her mother’s lack of pedigree. And on top of it all, her bodyguard turned boyfriend makes a shocking decision about their relationship. At the threat of everything falling apart, Izumi vows to do whatever it takes to help win over the council. Which means upping her newly acquired princess game.

But at what cost? Izumi will do anything to help her parents achieve their happily ever after, but what if playing the perfect princess means sacrificing her own? Will she find a way to forge her own path and follow her heart?

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


Siren Queen by Nghi Vo (May 10)

It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic.

“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.

But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.

Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.

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The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah (May 17)

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

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Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire (May 3)

Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.

Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.

So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.

But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.

It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all….

“One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter.” —Thoreau

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Misrule by Heather Walter (May 10)

The Dark Grace is dead.

Feared and despised for the sinister power in her veins, Alyce wreaks her revenge on the kingdom that made her an outcast. Once a realm of decadence and beauty, Briar is now wholly Alyce’s wicked domain. And no one will escape the consequences of her wrath. Not even the one person who holds her heart.

Princess Aurora saw through Alyce’s thorny facade, earning a love that promised the dawn of a new age. But it is a love that came with a heavy price: Aurora now sleeps under a curse that even Alyce’s vast power cannot seem to break. And the dream of the world they would have built together is nothing but ash.

Alyce vows to do anything to wake the woman she loves, even if it means turning into the monster Briar believes her to be. But could Aurora love the villain Alyce has become?

Or is true love only for fairy tales?

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Darling Girl by Liz Michalski (May 3)

Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy–yes, that Wendy. She’s running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her . . . until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.

Eden’s disappearance is a disaster for more reasons than one. She has a rare condition that causes her to age rapidly–ironic, considering her father is the boy who will never grow up–which also makes her blood incredibly valuable. It’s a secret that Holly is desperate to protect, especially from Eden’s half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the crucial role she plays in his life. Holly has no one to turn to–her mother is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she’s always imagined. Desperate, Holly enlists the help of Christopher Cooke, a notorious ex-soldier, in the hopes of rescuing Eden before it’s too late . . . or she may lose both her children.

Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.

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Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel (May 17)

A girl would be such a blessing…

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…

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The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray (May 3)

A summer house party turns into a whodunit when Mr. Wickham, one of literature’s most notorious villains, meets a sudden and suspicious end in this mystery featuring Jane Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a house party, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. The unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.

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Book of Night by Holly Black (May 3)

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

With sharp angles and prose, and a sinister bent, Holly Black is a master of shadow and story stitching. Remember while you read, light isn’t playing tricks in Book of Night, the people are.

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I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston (May 3)

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


Book Lovers by Emily Henry (May 3)

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

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Something Wilder by Christina Lauren (May 17)

Growing up the daughter of notorious treasure hunter and absentee father Duke Wilder left Lily without much patience for the profession…or much money in the bank. But Lily is nothing if not resourceful, and now uses Duke’s coveted hand-drawn maps to guide tourists on fake treasure hunts through the red rock canyons of Utah. It pays the bills but doesn’t leave enough to fulfill her dream of buying back the beloved ranch her father sold years ago, and definitely not enough to deal with the sight of the man she once loved walking back into her life with a motley crew of friends ready to hit the trails. Frankly, Lily would like to take him out into the wilderness—and leave him there.

Leo Grady knew mirages were a thing in the desert, but they’d barely left civilization when the silhouette of his greatest regret comes into focus in the flickering light of the campfire. Ready to leave the past behind him, Leo wants nothing more than to reconnect with his first and only love. Unfortunately, Lily Wilder is all business, drawing a clear line in the sand: it’s never going to happen.

But when the trip goes horribly and hilariously wrong, the group wonders if maybe the legend of the hidden treasure wasn’t a gimmick after all. There’s a chance to right the wrongs—of Duke’s past and their own—but only if Leo and Lily can confront their history and work together. Alone under the stars in the isolated and dangerous mazes of the Canyonlands, Leo and Lily must decide whether they’ll risk their lives and hearts on the adventure of a lifetime.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


Elektra by Jennifer Saint (May 3)

The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.

Clytemnestra
The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them, and determines to win, whatever the cost.

Cassandra
Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.

Elektra
The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But, can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


Together We Burn by Isabel Ibanez (May 31)

Eighteen-year-old Zarela Zalvidar is a talented flamenco dancer and daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia. People come for miles to see her father fight in their arena, which will one day be hers.

But disaster strikes during their five hundredth anniversary show, and in the carnage, Zarela’s father is horribly injured. Facing punishment from the Dragon Guild, Zarela must keep the arena—her ancestral home and inheritance —safe from their greedy hands. She has no choice but to take her father’s place as the next Dragonador. When the infuriatingly handsome dragon hunter, Arturo Díaz de Montserrat, withholds his help, she refuses to take no for an answer.

But even if he agrees, there’s someone out to ruin the Zalvidar family, and Zarela will have to do whatever it takes in order to prevent the Dragon Guild from taking away her birthright.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

April 2022 Bookish Wrap Up

April 2022 Bookish Wrap Up

April was definitely full of challenges. Not only was I reading the books I set up for myself, but I also started doing some experiments on my reading life. Whenever I do experiments like this, I always end up burnt out and exhausted from reading. However, the challenges also share some interesting insights about my reading life and how I want to continue pursuing that in the future.

Two of the main challenges I set myself for April was to read 125 pages a day and also read two books at a time. You might be thinking that it’s not a good idea to schedule out your reading like this, but I will note that the challenge of reading more throughout the day made me find pockets of time where I could read. Also, I found that I needed to really keep my phone away from me so I’m not distracted by my phone.

This month, I read 10 books. This is more than average and definitely met with a ton of challenges. By the end of the month, I was severely burnt out with wild swings in my mood. I picked up three books I decided weren’t right for me at the moment. I tried reading a few romances to thwart the burnout I felt creeping in. And I think I learned that it’s not about the quantity of books I read, but the quality. It’s good to know because that overwhelming sensation that I won’t read all the books I want to read before I die is crippling.

My favorites of the month

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne: My first foray into a high fantasy novel that takes place in Norse mythology. And I somehow came out of the book wishing I was a viking and that dragon existed. Brutal in the treatment of its characters, but also left with this hopeful feeling that will carry you into the next book.

Nettle and Bone by T Kingfisher: If you’re a fan of unconventional fairy tales, then this is the book for you. This was my first T Kingfisher book and trust me, it won’t be my last. The princess goes to save her sister in this one with the help of some unusual characters including her fairy godmother, a necromancer witch, a dog made of bones, and a demon chicken. Oh, of course there’s a knight in shining armor, but he’s wanted for murder.

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel: I’m a huge fan of villain stories and I was blown away by this one. Based on the story of Ramayana, this will make you think differently about the position of wicked stepmother. Beautifully written and deeply moving, if you’re a fan of well-written characters, then you’ll fall in love with this one.

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez: This was such a fun one for me and nice foil throughout my month of ups and downs. If you like stories featuring a good-hearted dude who falls absolutely in love with the hardworking and rich doctor, then you’ll like this one. I absolutely loved the small town vibes, the cute baby goats, and the little romance budding between these two

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin: I’m a huge fan of tea, so when I heard about a YA fantasy story where the young hero needs to brew tea to be the Empress’s advisor, then you’ll really like this one. Filled with political intrigue, a magical competition, and big reveals, then you’ll find yourself at the edge of your seat for this one.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse: A reread for me, but I’m so glad I did it. It was my last book of the month and it made me so happy to end on a high note. A chosen one, a destiny to meet, and a huge twisted world of politics that you won’t have any problems losing yourself in this fast-paced fantasy book.

Honorable mentions

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer: I read this one to start my Hugo Awards reading early. It’s a YA thriller about a young person who’s on the run from her estranged father. With the help of her new friends and an AI with too much personality, you’ll find yourself worried for the young person and if she’ll ever get away from her dad.

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan: Imagine if the goddess of the moon and the god of hunting fell down to earth and met as young people. Well, that’s what you get with this story. A bit more romantic than I imagined and with an ending I didn’t see coming, I thought this was such a great little story with some well-executed fairy tale in the mix.

A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Caña: If you wanted a romance story with all the tropes, then this is for you. Second-chance romance, fake dating/engagement, a grump and sunshine couple, and two small businesses to save. I really loved getting into this one and hoping the best for both.

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel // Book Review

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel // Book Review

It’s been such a good reading year for me and after finishing Kaikeyi, I can say that I’ve found another favorite of 2022. Filled with magic, adventure, political intrigue, feminist themes, and a woman who believed her fate was much bigger than what was foretold, I think everyone will truly appreciate Kaikeyi. Thanks Orbit Books for the gifted read.

Here’s more about Kaikeyi

“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind.

A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

While I’m not the leading expert on Ramayana, I had some idea of how the story goes before I started reading the book. I knew that Rama is supposed to be the hero. I knew that Kaikeyi was essentially the wicked stepmother that condemns him to exile for 14 years in the forest, to fight evil monsters, and then return to become king of Ayodhya. I expected to watch Kaikeyi and shake my head at all the nefarious ways she tried to gain control and power, but what I ended up doing was feeling so bad for her. I felt empathy for the villain, but the uncanny part of the story is that she actually isn’t the villain. In fact in her small way, she was a hero.

I think one of the downsides of villain stories and myth retellings is that you end up seeing the exact steps a villain takes to become the person they’re portrayed. The evil queen was evil because people made her evil. The wicked stepmother had no choice but to be wicked. However, Vaishnavi Patel approached Kaikeyi in a different way. Instead, she shared a villain that’s only flaw was loving her family. She shared the story of a woman redefining her role in the kingdom that didn’t listen to her and giving voice to the voiceless. There was no evil in Patel’s Kaikeyi, just a series of unfortunate missteps that led to her losing almost everything.

And that’s how you garner the level of empathy you feel for Kaikeyi throughout the story. It shapes itself into its own story creating a modern tale of empowerment and strength. It’s less about how she wickedly banishes Rama so that her son can become king and more about a woman who lived in a world that granted her no power and she did what she could.

Let’s not forget that Kaikeyi’s biggest passion outside of her family was bringing a voice to the voiceless; namely to the women of this time. Beholden to older beliefs that women are child rearers, home carers, and any choice they make is an offense against their beliefs and the gods. I loved that Patel explored this throughout the book not only for Kaikeyi, but for the people she served. It’s truly the biggest component of the book that lends itself in ways I didn’t even see by the end.

The magic in the story is also incredible. Aside from the monsters and gods that make appearances throughout the story, the magical power Kaikeyi has was also very interesting. I won’t get into the details of it because it plays such an important role in the story. I want you to read about it and see how it works itself into Kaikeyi’s life. And it really weaves itself throughout the book not as a tool for manipulation (which is what I thought because she’s supposed to be the villain), but as a tool of self-assurance; that what she’s doing is the right thing and that she can help others with it as well.

Each of the characters are also so well written. They play such vital roles in Kaikeyi’s life and you can see that enforced through her bonds with them. I loved that there were men in her life that loved the change she was bringing. I loved that her husband, Dasharath, was supportive of her work in the city. I also loved that there was opposition; that the ways of the past continued to encroach on the progress she’s led. I loved that it didn’t come easy for her and that she had more to protect than just her family. Even the gods and goddesses that made their way into the story were elegantly written to give the readers an understanding of their power and their intelligence.

The story is almost poetic in its writing and the pacing kept you reading on. There were moments where I didn’t want to put the book down! That’s always a good sign that the book has my full attention and my mind isn’t wandering off on some menial task I needed to accomplish.

Overall, Vaishnavi Patel has written something truly special. It’s a story that will win over the adventure seekers and fantasy readers, but it will also speak deeply to those who feel hopeless and bring a level of light to those who are wandering in the dark.

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher // Book Review

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher // Book Review

It’s my first read from T. Kingfisher and I think I’ll be reading more from her in the future. If you’re a fan of unconventional stories like The Princess Bride or Shrek, then I highly recommend this one.

Here’s more about Nettle and Bone

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

This is my kind of fairy tale. It’s a little bit dark, a lot bit hopeful, and features an interesting group of misfits that all work together to storm the castle.

The story sets off running as we follow Marra, our heroine, around the banished lands in search of bones. What does she needs the bones for? Well, she needs them to resurrect a dog. Yes, she’s making a dog out of bones. It’s the first task of three that she’s willing to do in order to garner the help of a gravewitch. If she’s able to get the help of the witch, then she can begin her journey to saving her sister.

The beginning jumps between what Marra accomplishes for the witch and what’s already happened. Marra is the third princess from a super small country. Her older sister is married to the prince of the Northern Kingdom and deeply abused by him. While Marra is a princess, she’s been spending the last half of her life in a convent in the Southern Kingdom waiting out her fate. But after seeing the state of her sister and seeing that no one is willing to help her, she’s taken it upon herself to try and save her from a cruel husband and a life of pain.

As Marra completes the impossible tasks for the gravewitch, they head off with a demon-possessed chicken and come across a disgraced knight who can’t go home, and a fairy godmother who’s only good at casting curses on children. Together, they plan on storming the castle, saving the queen, and breaking whatever spell that lives on the land and keeps the cruel prince’s family in power.

Most of the story is the journey to the castle. Marra comes across the different characters of her group as she gets closer to her sister’s new kingdom and you see a glimpse of this world through their journey. The world building was exquisite. I was worried that some things would be sacrificed because of the length of the book, but there was no exceptions for world building. You can really imagine this place with strange monsters and weird magic all throughout it. It felt like a real place you can visit and while this wasn’t the highest of high fantasy novels, it was nice to escape from reality for a little while. Dogs made from bones and monsters who can play a song to dance your teeth out of your mouth, it was such a wild ride and I found myself enjoying every minute of it.

It’s a lot of fun following Marra and the group through their world in hopes of saving Marra’s sister before it’s too late. Each character is so inspired and hold their own personality. I can imagine the faces they made and the language that they use feels spot on with their personality. I even liked that the chicken had a personality. The fun part is that they were so flawed; as flawed as Marra herself. The gravewitch was just a snarky old lady who takes care of her demon-possessed chicken. The disgraced knight was looking for something to fight for after being banished from his own kingdom. The fairy godmother who can only do bad, but wants to be good. They all had flaws, but I loved seeing them be more than that throughout the story.

It was interesting to watch Marra grow so much from the character she starts with to the character she ends up. At first, she’s timid. She’s spent most of her life in a convent embroidering tapestries and helping birth babies. Then, she goes off to save her sister without a clue where to start and fosters help along the way. Nothing comes easy to her and she does fail a few times, but I love that she’s not willing to quit especially since her sister’s life is on the line. I feel like the strength of the people she collects as she’s journeying to the capital really lend to help pull her from her own shell and become the stronger person she is. At the end, she knows who she is. She knows what she wants. And she’s done playing puppet to a family who only see her as a bargaining chip.

Of course, it also deals with some bigger themes of domestic abuse and violence. Hearing Marra’s sister dealing with the pain her husband doles out and the lack of help from the people around her, I really felt for Marra and her situation. It would hurt me to see my sister in such pain and going to such destructible lengths to avoid it. I definitely would leave my life as a nun to help her even if I didn’t even know how to help her.

Quite a fun story and definitely the kind I love finding myself dreaming about. I may not want to get in the way of that chicken, but I will definitely read more from T. Kingfisher.

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan // Book Review

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan // Book Review

The long-awaited sophomore book from the writer of An Astonishing Color of After. It was beautifully written, deeply discusses themes that young Asian Americans face, delivers a beautiful retelling of Chang’e and Houyi, and even has a cute rabbit.

Here’s more about An Arrow to the Moon

Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.

Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.

As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love…but time is running out, and fate will have its way.

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My thoughts

The story first starts off like you’re reading Romeo and Juliet: two teenagers from families that hate each other fall in love and want to be together forever despite their parents’ wishes. But the conflict in the story felt less about being from two warring families and more about the romance between Luna and Hunter, the unexplained happenings in the town, and the eventual ending that both these characters were fast approaching.

While this book is marketed as a Romeo and Juliet meets Chinese mythology retelling, it felt less like Romeo and Juliet and more like a story of Chang’e and Houyi. I actually much preferred it being more about the Chinese myth than the Shakespearean play. As much as I love both, Romeo and Juliet is such an overdone trope, especially in YA so I’m glad it seldom showed up throughout the story. However, the book is most definitely a YA romance story more than it was a fantasy story. To be honest, it felt like a YA romance where the magic just made the love between the two main characters even more special. I found myself fawning over their romance, sighing at the little things they did for each other.

The writing here is just as I remember Emily XR Pan writing. It was lyrical, poetic, and lush in description. I couldn’t get enough of her writing and wished that I could read more! Her writing is always done with a great amount of care, making sure that the reader never worries about how something looks, acts, or require extra explanation. It was subtle and injected the bits and pieces of the Chinese mythology into the story. I loved how she treated Hunter and Luna. Their traits as individuals were well described and executed, but their relationship together was tender and sweet making it the kind of couple you want to root for. In many ways, they complemented each other bringing different parts of themselves into their relationship making it much deeper and sweeter than other romantic YA couples I’ve read.

There are also many themes in this book directly related to the experiences of Asian American teenagers. Not only did she discuss the overbearing nature of immigrant parents, but she also touched on the differences between Chinese and Taiwanese culture, the usage of bound feet as a beauty statement, and being slung between two very different worlds with very little navigation. I honestly felt seen and all the things that I felt as a kid growing up in the U.S. and also being the kid of immigrant Asian parents were spot on.

There were so many different narratives in this story. While the bulk of the story derives from Hunter and Luna, you also get the perspectives of their parents, Hunter’s brother Cody, and a mysterious man named Rodney. I loved the way that this was setup because there was a lot going on and all of it is slowly explained as you progress in the story. You see a little bit of Luna and Hunter’s romance, but then you see the difficult dynamics between them and their parents. Then you see how Rodney fits into this whole story and it definitely pulls you in, begging you to continue reading for that ultimate ending.

As much as I loved reading this story, there were a few things that bothered me. First off, the world building. I know that I shouldn’t be trying to criticize a YA fantasy for not having enough world building, but I felt in the dark a lot of the time. There were a lot of strange things happening in the small town that they lived; cracks in the earth, an indescribable funk that permeated the emotions of people in town, a strange stone with mystical powers being hunted down by a gangster, fireflies that kept following the characters, and money just being found randomly. Maybe it’s because of my ignorance and I don’t know enough about Chang’e and Houyi, so I wanted some explanation about that. It was never explained.

The second part were all the things happening to Luna and Hunter’s families. There was a lot of backstory for both of their families; where they came from, the lives they lived before Hunter and Luna came along, their hopes, dreams, and wishes are also very realized here. However, nothing really came from it. I actually loved these perspectives because they gave you such a deeper look at these families and what they’re going through, but the ending really lacked any kind of resolve and leaving you with a lot of unanswered questions. At the same time, I understand why Emily XR Pan did that. Because destiny doesn’t wait for you to resolve everything; sometimes destiny does what it wants to do and the rest takes its cues from that.

But the legend of Chang’e and Houyi ended the way that it did as both Luna and Hunter relive the tale right at the very end. I absolutely loved that part of the story and I didn’t see it coming to that conclusion. I was so bogged down by all the questions I had about everything else that when it finally did happen, it took me by surprise. It was a beautiful ending for a beautiful book.

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer // Book Review

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer // Book Review

The Hugo Award finalists have been announced and I’ve already got a head start on my reading. While I wait for the other books to finally come in from the library, I’ve already finished the first book on the list. And let me tell you, it’s a sleeper success.

Here’s more about Catfishing on CatNet

How much does the internet know about YOU?

Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.

When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.

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My thoughts

I didn’t know what to expect from this YA sci-fi thriller. I don’t think I’ve read anything set in the real world with real technology and a tiny tinge of fiction in there to make it all impossibly possible. And yet, here we are with a book that I would have picked up years ago if I knew anything about it.

It follows Steph Taylor, a teenager whose been on the run with her mother from her estranged father. They’ve been running for the last ten years worried that Steph’s father will find them again. And it’s definitely messed with Steph’s mental health; trouble with making friends since they move so often, trouble with stability because they don’t stay in one place long enough. It felt like for much of the novel Steph was looking to find somewhere to belong, which is why she loved CatNet.

CatNet is an online community of people who love to share cat photos. Steph was able to find a specialized chatroom filled with friends she can always talk to regardless of where they lived. They don’t know her real name, what she looks like, or where she lives because her mother forces her to keep that information under lock and key. Much of her mother’s paranoia leaks into Steph’s life, but at the same time she just wants to be a regular teenager.

The technology in this story was probably the scariest part because it felt so real. While I don’t know if there’s conscious AI out there, I do know that the idea of sentient AI makes me nervous. What I know from similar sci fi movies (like the Terminator, I, Robot), you don’t want to be hanging out with these kinds of inventions. However, the AI in this book felt more like Haley Joel Osment in AI than it did Arnold Schwarzenegger and it made it more palatable.

In fact, the AI in this story reminded me a lot of Murderbot from Martha Wells’s series. Instead of a soap opera loving killing machine that protects its humans, it’s a sentient AI technology that loves cat photos and protecting its humans. Seriously, this book was Murderbot Lite for young people, so if you’ve ever loved Murderbot, then you’ll like this one as well.

In terms of thriller, this one is pretty mild. In fact, the story read more contemporary YA than it did sci fi or thriller. You read a lot of Steph’s POV; how she wants to make friends, how she finds Rachel to be a kindred spirit, and how she loves bats and photography. In fact, I really loved Steph throughout the story. She reminded me of so many people I knew in high school; the artsy weirdos who had a found family among their friends and never felt self-conscious around them. But the thriller elements were there and provided a level of suspense that kept me reading. It does get much deeper as the story progresses (sorry, no spoilers here) and I couldn’t put the book down without knowing what happens at the end.

And I loved how it ended! The story here definitely wraps up, but it opens it up for something bigger in book two. The second book, Chaos on CatNet, is the one that’s up for a Hugo award this year, so I’ll definitely grab that from the library and read it soon!

The 2022 Hugo Award Finalists Are Announced

The 2022 Hugo Award Finalists Are Announced

It’s the best time of the year! The Hugo Award finalists have been announced! Over the last couple of years, I’ve truly fallen in love with reading science fiction and fantasy novels. One of my favorite challenges throughout the year is reading the Hugo Award finalists and determining who I believe should win these awards.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to accomplish my own self-proclaimed challenge because my mental health put me behind in my reading. However, that isn’t the case this year and I’m so excited to continue the challenge for 2022.

This year, I plan on reading the books from three specific categories: Best Novel, Best Novella, and the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult.

And as I look at these three categories I notice something I didn’t realize; I’ve already read most of the books! I feel like I’ve finally become a part of the SFF communities because I’m actually reading the books up for an award. So I put together the list I need to read, the books I need to catch up on, and the timeline for when I need to read these by.

Here’s the plan

The Hugo Awards will be hosted by Chicon 8 and the award ceremony takes place the first weekend in September. Over the next four months, I’ll be reading the books I haven’t read yet. Because I’ve read so many over the year, the list is pretty minimal.

However, there’s a few sequels and continuations of series that are nominated this year. Of course, me being me, I need to read everything leading up to it. So while I won’t be reading a ton from the finalist list, I will still be reading a ton.

Here’s the finalists

For Best Novel

  • A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine (Tor)
  • The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager / Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki (Tor / St Martin’s Press)
  • A Master of Djinn, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tordotcom / Orbit UK)
  • Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir (Ballantine / Del Rey)
  • She Who Became the Sun, by Shelley Parker-Chan (Tor / Mantle)

From this list, I’ve read four of the six books. I’ve already read and loved Light From Uncommon Stars, A Master of Djinn, Project Hail Mary, and She Who Became the Sun. I’ve linked all my reviews for those books if you’re interested in knowing where my head is at.

I haven’t read A Desolation Called Peace or The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. However, these are two books I’ve been meaning to read for a while, so I feel like I’m killing a few birds with one stone here. I also want to catch up in the Wayfarer series before I read this finale and I want to reread A Memory Called Empire because I read it during the pandemic and I don’t remember anything.

For Best Novella

  • Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom)
  • Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tordotcom)
  • Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard (Tordotcom)
  • The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom)
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom)
  • A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow (Tordotcom)

I’m so glad that I’m caught up on Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series. I actually don’t need to rad that one! But this category is where I’m most delinquent and will read the most books. In fact, I’ll be reading three books from this category: Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Fireheart Tire by Aliette de Bodard, and The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente. I might be secretly rooting for one novella in particular, but I won’t give out which one that is until we get closer to the awards ceremony.

The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

  • Chaos on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
  • Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao (Penguin Teen / Rock the Boat)
  • The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey Books)
  • Redemptor, by Jordan Ifueko (Amulet Books / Hot Key Books)
  • A Snake Falls to Earth, by Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)
  • Victories Greater Than Death, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Teen / Titan)

This category is not technically a Hugo Award, but I love that they incorporate young adult fiction into it regardless. Similarly to the novel category, I’ll be reading two books from this list. While I should be reading three books, I’m not a fan of a particular author on this list (it’s Naomi Novik) and no matter how many times I try to read her books, i just can’t get into them. So I’ll only be reading Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer and A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger.

Here’s what I’ll be reading

With every year I do this challenge, I find my reading list growing exponentially to not only read the books I haven’t read yet, but also catch up on the books I need to read before it. Some of these finalists are continuations in a series and me being me, I need to read the books prior to the one nominated. I just need to have all the facts before I can dive into a series. So, without further ado, here’s what I’ll be reading over the next four months before the Hugo Awards:

  • Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
  • Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard
  • Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
  • The Past is Red by Cathrynne M Valente
  • A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine
  • Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Chaos on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer
  • A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Now the question is, can I actually do it?

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez // Book Review

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez // Book Review

I don’t know about you, but I’ve read pretty much everything Abby Jimenez has written to date. And I have to say, I really loved this one. It’s probably now my new favorite from her and I can’t wait to read the rest. Thanks to Read Forever for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Part of Your World

After a wild bet, gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich, and cuddle with a baby goat, Alexis Montgomery has had her world turned upside down. The cause: Daniel Grant, a ridiculously hot carpenter who’s ten years younger than her and as casual as they come—the complete opposite of sophisticated city-girl Alexis. And yet their chemistry is undeniable.

While her ultra-wealthy parents want her to carry on the family legacy of world-renowned surgeons, Alexis doesn’t need glory or fame. She’s fine with being a “mere” ER doctor. And every minute she spends with Daniel and the tight-knit town where he lives, she’s discovering just what’s really important. Yet letting their relationship become anything more than a short-term fling would mean turning her back on her family and giving up the opportunity to help thousands of people.

Bringing Daniel into her world is impossible, and yet she can’t just give up the joy she’s found with him either. With so many differences between them, how can Alexis possibly choose between her world and his?

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My thoughts

This is quite possibly my favorite Abby Jimenez book to date. The Friend Zone and the others were great, but this one hit differently and I welcome it very much.

The story hits the ground running as our protagonists, Alexis and Daniel, meet when Alexis’s car is stuck in a ditch and Daniel happened to be around and help. From there, Alexis goes to the local watering hole only to see Daniel there again. Daniel’s friends have a bet going to see who can pick up the girl at the bar. Alexis and Daniel discuss the bet and Alexis decides to help him win it by walking out with him. From there, these two start their romance with some major exceptions.

Alexis Montgomery comes from a very long line of doctors who’ve worked in this one hospital for decades. They’re the rich, legacy family who only breeds to make more Montgomerys and continue their line of work. After her brother ran off with a pop star and moved to Cambodia, Alexis is now the new face of the Montgomery family. And while Alexis is an excellent doctor, she’s been thrust into this role against her will. Her parents are overbearing believers of “we know best” forcing her to stay in an abusive relationship because the guy has the reputation deserving of their respect as chief of surgery.

Daniel Grant is quite the opposite. He’s also from a legacy family, but his legacy is much smaller being the mayor of a super small town in rural Minnesota. He also runs the local B&B, makes furniture from reclaimed wood, and honestly cares for the townspeople and his guests. And while he is a legacy, no one in his family is forcing him to do anything. He wants to continue what he’s doing because there’s no one else around to do it.

And their relationship together is beautiful. It’s the kind of relationship you want; where your partner is supportive and caring and doesn’t get bogged down by petty things like wealth or status. However, with Alexis’s family breathing down her neck to make something of her career and marry the man her father approves, she doesn’t see the relationship lasting in the long run.

I also really loved the conflict in this story. There are some romances I read where the conflict just feels so not real. However, being from two different worlds where you’re not sure if it’ll mesh well but doing it anyway felt real to me. Rich girl, poor boy dynamic? Yeah, pretty much but not in a condescending way. It was obvious at the beginning that Alexis was a bit of a snob, but as the story unfolds and she learns more from Daniel, she really takes on some serious character growth. It really made me proud for her. And the opposite can be said about Daniel as he learns to step out of his comfort zone, take charge, and live the dream life he’s always wanted.

One of the major themes in this book (as Abby Jimenez always has a bigger theme around her novels) is physical, mental, and emotional domestic abuse. You see it in many ways and it resonated deeply with me. Being emotionally abused to believe that love is earned and conditional really takes a toll on your brain and seeing a main character who exhibits the same behaviors I did when I was younger truly made me feel seen. It’s not something that just goes away overnight, but permeates into everything you do and the relationships you hold in the future. I’m still learning from it. But it was really nice to see and feel seen because of it. I wish it wasn’t that particular part of my life that I resonated with, but I appreciate its existence regardless.

I truly loved the characters in this book. Not only were Alexis and Daniel interesting characters to read and see what happens to them, but their friends and relatives also felt extremely well developed. I know this book is only the first in a new series for Abby Jimenez, so I know that the next few books will be based around the secondary characters from this book. And I can’t wait! Bri, Alexis’s best friend, was definitely the kind of person you want to root for, and Doug, Daniel’s best friend, was another.

The story was also laugh out loud funny. I found myself giggling more than one time throughout the book (especially during the dick pic photo shoot scene). It felt like I knew these people when in reality they were just pure fiction. And the prose were really beautiful. I found myself bookmarking more than one really great quote about love.

Overall, this was such a great read and a romance where I felt like the ending wouldn’t be an HEA. I was on the edge of my seat to see how it all ends and while I’m not a huge fan of the epilogue, the rest was definitely worth the read.

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne // Book Review

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne // Book Review

This is my first John Gwynne and I have a feeling it won’t be my last. The level this book took it when it comes to fantasy and world building was definitely worth not understanding a bit of the Norse language.

Here’s more about The Shadow of the Gods

After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.

All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods

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My thoughts

I’m always intimidated when it comes to big high fantasy books because I’m worried it’ll be confusing and hard to follow. Trust me, I’ve had so many fantasy books that I’ve had to start again because I couldn’t really get a grasp of it from the start. But The Shadow of the Gods was different in a good way. It wasn’t complicated keeping it to a three-person max with narratives and kept you pretty entertained throughout the entire story.

The story starts off in a world where the gods are dead and no one cares. Because of their ruthless fighting throughout their time alive, the people of this world want little to do with them and want to live their lives in peace without them. Anything to do with the gods is shunned or destroyed. The Tainted (god-born humans who also have their power) are mostly enslaved or killed because of who they are on the power they possess. Most of them are trying to just live their lives, but others are looking for reparations for what people have done to them.

There’s three main characters in this one and a dozen other side characters that these three interact with throughout the story:

Orka – a former warrior whose now a mother and homemaker. When her son is kidnapped by a mysterious band of troublemakers, she sets off to find him leaving a path of death and destruction in her wake. My favorite line from her was “I am blood. I am death. I am vengeance.” to give you some idea of her bad assery. I think Orka was my favorite character from the entire story.

Varg – a former thrall (which I think are the enslaved people of this book) whose looking to avenge his sister’s death. He doesn’t know much of what happened, but he’s determined to find a witch to help with seeing her final moments before she died. He comes across the Bloodsworn, a band of warriors who kill monsters, hunt for treasure, and protect the lands. And as he becomes one with them, more is revealed about himself.

Elvar – a warrior of the Battle-Grim group. They’re basically guns for hire looking for treasure and enslaving Tainted people to sell to wealthy land owners. Elvar is trying to prove that she’s more than what her father has planned for her.

The more I sit on this story, the more I learn that I loved it. The Viking vibe with the Norse mythology was truly a unique concept to explore and it was probably my favorite part of the entire story. This book isn’t for the faint of heart. I honestly found myself grimacing at more than a few of the battle scenes because of the graphic level of blood and death happening. And I’m pretty good when it comes to graphic violence having been exposed to it since I was a little kid. But wow, John Gwynne goes really deep into the descriptions making sure that nothing is incorrectly portrayed.

It’s also supremely well written. Aside from the Norse language that I couldn’t understand (and no glossary), it was so visualized, plot-driven, and interesting to dive into. The pacing is a bit slow in some areas and I definitely felt a lull here and there, but there’s so much action taking place either contributing to the overall plot or just happening to the characters that you won’t be bored. I mean, I devoured this book over four days and it’s not a small book.

I will say, you need to pace yourself with this book because it took a while for the plot to show itself. It also took some time for the characters to really mean something to the overarching story. It might have just been me, but I kept expecting things to come together much sooner than it did. But this seriously is one of those stories you need to sit back and let it be told and trust that the author will deliver what you’re waiting for.

And the ending was superb. The last 100 pages of this book was the most intense part and I can see it all culminating to the big reveal, which didn’t surprise me, but definitely the part I was anticipating the entire time.

Overall, this was such a great start to a new epic fantasy series. You get all the characters, their personal development, the world building, and bigger plot points. And at the end, you get this glorious sweet treat that really sets you up perfectly for the next book. I can’t wait to read the next one.

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin // Book Review

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin // Book Review

I’m seriously going to write this review with my head and not my heart. Because my head noticed a few little things that I wanted more clarity on, but my heart just wants to give it five stars. I might just split the difference and call this 4.5 stars, but that always rounds up.

Here’s more about A Magic Steeped in Poison

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

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My thoughts

I think the star of this book is the tea. I mean, you have to consider the fact that the book uses metaphor as a title, the main character is a tea-making apprentice, and she’s on her way to a tea competition to be the royal tea master. Tea plays a vital role in this story and the culture of this story expertly combining with real world tradition including the use of medicinal herbs is just fantastic. There were moments throughout the story where I worried that this tea business would take a backseat to the rest of the plot, but it didn’t. It was prominent and it was bold like a really well brewed cup.

But the story is about young Ning, a physician’s assistant who’s sister is summoned to the palace and win a coveted position as the princess’s “shennong-shi”. This isn’t some simpleton position making tea everyday of your life, but you’re a wielder of magic and using that magic not only for its medicinal purposes, but also to guide the hand of the kingdom. I mean, this position is important and comes with the ear of the princess at your beckon call. However, Ning has her reasons for going in her sister’s stead; her sister has been poisoned by tea and she needs the help of the princess to save her.

What Ning doesn’t know is that there’s some bigger problems brewing (pardon my pun) within the kingdom. There’s word of a rebellion and an old banished prince who wants to claim the throne for his own. And as Ning spends weeks in the capital city earning her place as the Shennong-shi, she learns that there is much more at stake for the entire kingdom.

Ning was my kind of main character. She doesn’t have it completely together and easily able to insult the leaders of the country by accidentally reciting the wrong poem, but she’s smart. She may stumble and perhaps make the wrong deduction from time to time, but that’s what I love about her. And what I love about the writing in this story. Judy Lin is able to really lay the character out for you through her almost poetic tone. I felt like I knew Ning and following along with her as she finds out more truths within the palace. I loved that I was seeing what was happening rather than being told or worse, being left behind while the characters go off to carry out some truth the reader doesn’t even see.

The royal and political drama was palatable and I really loved the pacing here. The competition stages weren’t rushed, but you also get an idea of what’s happening beyond that. I found it so difficult to see where Ning’s loyalties lie, which is great because that level of mystery kept me reading. Is it with the princess? Is it with the mysterious boy, Kang, who’s somehow captured her heart? Is it with her sister and ensuring that she can save her life? A lot is held back and even as I approached the final pages of the story, I found more of it unfolding in front of me. Judy Lin holds a lot close to the chest only revealing enough for you to know who really is behind the mysterious deaths throughout the kingdom, but doesn’t give you the resolution you crave.

Because this is a duology and the cliffhanger is nasty. The second book hasn’t come out yet, but oh yes, I’ve already requested it.

I think the only things I found issue with is the magic and world-building. Probably like every other review I write on here, I’m looking for that well-developed magical system that doesn’t leave me with a bunch of questions. This did leave with a few questions especially with how the magic worked. It was a bit…confusing. At one point, I thought I understood it; the shennong-shi are magical people who imbue their powers in the cups of tea they brewed. But then it got confusing when Ning started Shifting and drinking cups of tea I thought were brewed for other people. It was difficult for me to really get my head around, but I think I got it through context.

Overall, this book captured me and after a month of pretty meh reads, I’m so glad to finally have a five-star read again. I can’t wait to see what happens at the end.