Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim // Book Review

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim // Book Review

Get ready because I’m about to gush over this beautiful YA fantasy book. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew that it was loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Wild Swans. I think Elizabeth Lim might have hit the mark with this one for me and it absolutely blew me away.

Here’s more about Six Crimson Cranes

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

My Thoughts

Ok, this was a wildly beautiful and breathtaking novel. I was so impressed by this book and it was my first from Elizabeth Lim. I can definitely see myself reading more of her books in the future.

I loved how much excitement and adventure this book has. There was bit of suspsense, romance, fighting, and magic. It had a little bit of everything and it was so well done. I really appreciate a book I can fully immerse myself in and just feel like I’m along for the adventure.

Shiori was definitely the female character I was looking for; someone who doesn’t have the skills to survive in the world initially, but with intuition, drive, and finding their own strength they realize so much more about themselves than they imagined. I absolutely loved Shiori and her resilience to let things like her curse or the extreme poverty she found herself in to keep her from doing what she needed to do; survive and find a way to free her brothers.

And the cast of characters in this book were exceptional. I loved Seryu, the dragon, who was a bit arrogant and yet had a soft side to him. I loved Kiki, the paper bird that Shiori brings to life. I felt like a part of why Shiori survived is because she couldn’t bear to lose her paper friend. Takkan, the prince and her betrothed was definitely my kind of guy; the kind that is strong like a warrior, but soft with the ability to sing songs, recite poetry, and paint. And I loved Shiori’s six brothers.

But I think the one person who I wished made more of an appearance throughout the story was Raikama, her stepmother. It was a total surprise to see what happens at the end, but I wish there was more of her presence throughout the story. She felt more like a reason to be pursuing the ultimate goals, but her involvement felt more passive.

The relationship between Takkan and Shiori was relationship goals as far as I’m concerned. I loved that they were so caring for each other and it didn’t feel forced or insta-love. It was more innocent and kind, which honestly is my favorite kinds of romances. I cannot wait to see what happens to them in the next book.

The worldbuilding here was fairly good, but there were parts where I was confused by where they were or what was happening. These happened more towards the end and I had a few issues with the pace of the ending as well. It might just be me, but there definitely felt like a rush towards the end to wrap everything up, so much of it was lost. However, I felt like I was able to really see this world vividly and the map at the beginning of the book lends a huge hand to understanding how the characters moved across the world.

Although there felt like a rush to get to the end, I was seriously surprised by how things turned out. I won’t say here because of spoilers, but so much was revealed in such little time that I ended up finishing the book with more questions than I had answers.

But I felt like the book left with enough to end the first story and make room for the next. I’m so excited to read the end of this story (which will probably happen in a year) and see what happens to Shiori, her brothers, and the world they live in.

Thanks to Get Underlined and Knopf for a gifted copy of the book. My opinions have not been influenced by the author or the publisher.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron // Book Review

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron // Book Review

When I first heard about Cinderella is Dead, I thought this would be another Cinderella retelling with a person of color at the forefront of the story. However, what we got was something way different and I truly appreciate Kalynn Bayron’s creativity in weaving this story.

Here’s more about the book (from Goodreads)

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

My Thoughts

I really loved that this wasn’t a retelling of Cinderella, but a post-Cinderella world where the tale has been made into laws. It’s extremely patriarchal bordering on Handmaid’s Tale level of government. I also loved how Bayron turns Cinderella’s story into something completely different. It went from being a fairy tale to a full-blown fantasy novel. While there wasn’t a lot of world building, I assumed we’re suppose to use what we already know about Cinderella’s story to color the gaps in this world. However, I would have loved to see more world building here. Not a big deal, but something to note.

But the surprises were very eye opening. I think many of the twists and turns in this book kept me reading. I wanted to know how it all ends and Bayron definitely provides it for you. I wish I can provide those, but I won’t. They would spoil this book and the creativity Bayron put into changing Cinderella’s story.

I also loved the message. This story definitely has that defiant feeling of the young voices of 2020. It felt seriously relevant to what’s happening right now. Sophia’s determination to end this for herself and others hopefully will stoke the flames of progress and change in our reality.

However, there were a few things I wasn’t a fan of. First, this book moved quickly. Much of the ending was wrapped up in a few sentences than showing the battles of naysayers who don’t want things to change vs people working to overrule the current laws. I would have loved to see that.

Everything was also easy and convenient for Sophia. She had the tools she needed at times when it was difficult. She just stumbled across different rooms within the castle when she finally was inside. She somehow uncovered something without having to look too hard. It was too Mary Sue and I’m just not a fan of that trope. I want there to be some difficulty. I want there to be some reflection and deep thinking into what she’s about to accomplish. I wanted her to fail a few times just so that she can get up and keep trying.

The last thing I wanted to mention was Sophia’s love story. I feel like Sophia’s love story with her friend was put on the back burner. I thought there would be a more Sapphic romance in this book, but it felt a little neglected.

Overall, I thought this was an entertaining read with a deep message for us to take away. I loved the spin on Cinderella as I love any re-imaginings of fairy tales and folklore. Despite its issues, I really enjoyed it and truly just wanted more from this story than what was provided.

I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury YA for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

 

 

 

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware // Book Review

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware // Book Review

I became a late fan of Ruth Ware’s after reading The Death of Mrs. Westaway, so I picked up this one as well. Sadly, the ends didn’t make the means for me.

40489648._sy475_The Turn of the Key starts off with Rowan. She’s currently imprisoned for the murder of a little girl that she was taking care of. It then launches into Rowan’s story of how she came to meet this little girl and what happened. She recently landed a job as a live-in nanny with the Elincourts and their beautiful home in the Scottish highlands. Their home is bedecked with the latest technology making their house the Happy Home that takes care of everything from building grocery shopping lists to opening the front door. Immediately after interviewing with the Elincourts, she gets the job and heads on her way up to Scotland and live with this family.

However, the moment she gets there, the girls she’s nannying tell her that there’s ghosts and a mysterious girl who was murdered by the previous owner. Nervous about the rumors, Rowan starts to hear footsteps above her head, things go strangely out of place, and the girls don’t help with figuring out the truth. But as the scary noises and bumps in the night persists, Rowan starts to investigate what is causing these problems to finally find who the real killer is.

The whole book is written as a giant letter to a lawyer Rowan would like to represent her and her case. In these letters, she divulges everything to him including how this little girl ended up dying. I thought that reading letters from someone would create an unreliable narrator, but that’s the least of this book’s issues.

First off, it’s incredibly slow. I’ve read Ruth Ware before and I know that she’s a slow burner. She loves to suspend that thrill all the way until the very end, but I found myself really frustrated about 75% in the book and seeing that not much has happened. She does include her little hints and suspenseful moments to keep you going, but I think that if you’re really invested in the story and you want to know how the little girl died, then it’ll be motivation enough to read until the end.

That said, I was not happy about the ending. I don’t want to talk too much about this because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but let’s just say that when the truth was finally revealed, I yelled “WAIT WHAT?!” My husband was so concerned by my reaction he stepped out of the other room and asked me if everything was okay. No, everything wasn’t okay.

On those two points alone, I felt like I could give this 2 stars, but after the shock of my initial reaction wore down I thought some more on this and realized some things.

First off, I really liked how Ruth Ware just straight up messed with us. You have to give her props for leading you in one direction and then sidelining you so hard you didn’t even see it coming.

Secondly, the suspense was incredible. Honestly, I was on the edge of my seat with every little nugget Ruth Ware gave us. While you can probably get upset with the extensive drawn out descriptions of their daily life, those pockets of information and the closer Rowan got to the truth really had me biting my nails. The atmospheric suspense made you really feel like you were there experiencing everything alongside Rowan.

So where does that leave me with my review? Well, in the middle. When I think about this book on some levels it was amazing. On other levels, it could definitely use with more editing. But when I think about the overall experience, I did read till the end. Ruth Ware did get my heart rate up and I did want to know what happened. It might have been a middle-of-the-road book for me, but it does have merits within it that made me finish the book.

I received a copy of this book from Gallery Books for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon // Book Review

Frankly in Love by David Yoon // Book Review

I recently received a copy of Frankly in Love to help promote the book before its release. So of course, I read it because what responsible blogger doesn’t read the book they’re promoting. Turns out, it was better than I thought it was going to be.

39847584Frank Li is looking for a girlfriend. It’s the last year of high school and Frank’s working on applying to colleges, taking the SATs, and finishing up his AP classes. He’s ready for love and who else would be a better fit than Brit Means, a girl in his Calculus class with wit and as much smarts as everyone else.

But Frank has one dark secret, his parents want him to date a Korean girl. Every month, his family gathers with other Korean families that went to school together back in Korea. Amongst them is Joy Song, a girl in Frank’s class who just so happened to be dating a Chinese guy unbeknownst to her family.

When Frank decides to date Brit, he contacts Joy and sets up a system where he and Joy can date their respective partners without their parents finding out. For all intents and purposes, it looks like Frank is dating Joy, but no parents go on the dates so they don’t know.

However, things take a turn when Joy and Frank start to have feelings for each other. Now Frank has to figure out if he really loves Brit or if he’s falling for Joy and how to manage all of this without telling his parents.

This book is hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud a few times. David Yoon also has similar wit to say, the Green brothers (Hank and John). The witty one-liners and philosophies on love and life, and puns really made this book much better than just another story of a kid trying to date another kid.

It’s also filled with heart. I love how Frank is nerdy and talks about gaming and structures his sentences in weird ways. I love how he and his best friend Q play Dungeons and Dragons and that’s a fulfilling weekend. I love how intelligent Joy and Brit are and how their intelligence makes them more attractive to Frank. I think there are a lot of parts of this book that many folks will find funny and insightful. All of this and ton of representation? Count me in.

Let’s talk about themes

Ok, first off, the gatherings. This part freaked me out a little because my family would go to gatherings like this when I was a kid. My father’s high school friends who moved to the States would throw big barbecues in the summer and we would all get together, play games, eat some really amazing food, and just hang out. I remember us wearing matching t-shirts and meeting people our age and hanging out in a massive park somewhere. I thought my family was the only ones who did this, but I guess many Korean families try to keep the bonds of their friendships together even in America. I was shocked to hear this family do the same thing.

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The second part I found surprising is that Frank’s parents were okay with him dating. When I was growing up, my main focus was always school. No dating for Simone because she’s gotta make sure to get into the best college at the time. But when it came down to dating in the future, the only prospects my family saw were Korean ones. Sadly, I already came to the conclusion that I was way too Americanized to be a Korean dude’s wife, so that ship sailed and my parents got over it. They probably also got over it because they realized they can’t control anything that happens in my life.

Third theme: racism. I wouldn’t say that this book is inherently racist, but there is a lot of racism used to explain the ethnocentric behavior of Frank’s family and friends. If you’re not aware, Asian people can be pretty racist and not only against other races, but also within the Asian community. I loved that David Yoon brought this up because I’ve grown up with this as well. Granted, nothing stuck and I love all races and people from Asian countries, but I don’t think it’s well known that Asian people can be really racist against themselves. I think it’s because we come from a country that’s been governed by different Asian countries in the past and that kind of merciless history can really make you think differently about them.

Fourth theme: fitting in. Frank describes the folks that live between two cultures as “Limbos” and I resonate so hard with this. It reminds me of all the times I grew up thinking “am I American or am I Korean?” There was a moment in my childhood where I went to two different churches. One was the American church and the other was the Korean church. My mom asked me and my sister to decide which church to attend because we couldn’t go to both every Sunday. I thought the American church because at least I can understand what the sermons were saying, but then I also thought the Korean church because I’ll meet more peers who live the same life as me. It’s a constant push and pull. I feel worthless as a Korean if I don’t know the new thing coming out of there or when people ask me about this Korean thing or that Korean thing. And many people in the US make an effort to emphasize the fact that I am Korean. Sadly, I wish I can figure this out, but I think it’ll be something that plagues me my entire life.


Finally, the way David Yoon wrapped up the story was interesting. I loved that in a state of family crisis, his parents were able to see that life is too short to be biased against people. They finally accept that race doesn’t count for anything and that egos need to be smoldered to grow. I don’t want to say more than this because I don’t want to spoil it.

I will say the only thing I wasn’t a fan of was the pacing. While witty and still hilarious, I did find that the ending dragged out a bit longer than I expected. I don’t think it really hurts the story, but it’s just something to keep in mind if you’re going into the book and noticed the same thing.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin Teen for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz // Book Review

Dominicana by Angie Cruz // Book Review

A friend of mine recommend this book to me months ago. She read it for work and told me that it was definitely going to be something I would really enjoy. So, when I got the opportunity to pick up an ARC of the book, I grabbed it. After working with the publisher to give away two copies of the book, I decided it’s a great opportunity to read and whoa. The results blew me away.

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Dominicana is the story of a young girl named Ana, who’s about to embark to New York from the Dominican Republic to marry Juan, a man twice her age. The reason? For the opportunity to make money in the country that promises a lot of big dreams. However, the reality of the “American Dream” comes fraught with a husband who doesn’t hesitate to hit her, who doesn’t let her leave the house, who doesn’t let her talk to anyone, who doesn’t give her anything but sadness and a baby. And all along the way, her family asks for money to send home and help them out.

So Ana begins to hustle selling suits, her home cooking, and doing small jobs from her little apartment while her baby continues to grow in her belly and Juan continues to mistreat her including sleeping with another woman.

But when Juan hears about the turmoil in the Dominican Republic, he rushes off to defend his country leaving Ana alone with his younger brother, Cesar. What Cesar provides to Ana is everything she wanted with Juan; nights at the movies, working together, going to Coney Island, eating a hot dog, and the security of someone who can navigate the twisted American streets. What Cesar provides is exactly what Ana wants including a loving companion and when Juan finally returns from his trip, she has to decide if she wants to run away with Cesar or stay at home with her husband.

When I was reading this at first, I thought this had a lot of the same feelings I had for A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. But as you continue on, you find that this book is much more complex than just a woman struggling to find her voice in her family.

The story takes place over the span of a year during the 1960s right at the height of the Vietnam War, Malcolm X’s death, and around the time 42,000 US Marines are sent to the Dominican Republic to avoid another Cuba happening. Angie Cruz does a great job incorporating a little of this into her book, but with a lot of subtly. It was interesting to include this especially when Juan decides to go down to the Dominican to help. It would have been nice to have this incorporated more into the book, but I can also see how that would deter the reader from the main story. Also, I don’t fault fiction authors for leaving information out. That’s just up to the reader to look up later.

The biggest theme in this whole book is the American Dream. I found it so great that no matter what gets thrown at Ana, she just dusts herself off and creates a new dream for herself. Right before she left the Dominican, she and her family plans on how she’ll go to school in America, then send for some people to continue making money, and eventually getting her whole family to America. Each time her plans fail, she makes up a new plan on how she’ll prosper in this world. When I think about it, this is what we do all the time. We make big plans, try to bring them to fruition, and while we get knocked down by our circumstances or some third-party fails us, we continue to dream about the next thing that’ll get our families into America and hope for the best.

I really love the scenes where Ana’s age is obvious. For the entire book, she’s 15 years old. In some situations, she’s beholden to the “wife” role her mother put on her. She cleans the entire house. She cooks all the meals. She listens to her husband. But then there are moments where her age is apparent. She’ll be wearing Juan’s suits dancing around the house and mimicking him. She’ll listen to music on the radio so loud that the neighbor downstairs knocks on the floor for silence. She even feeds Juan a pigeon she catches on her windowsill just to see if he’ll get food poisoning. I love that Angie Cruz incorporates this into the story. I feel like a lot of times in these stories, the teenager ages way beyond their years because their situation forces them to. While this is happening for Ana, I love that she’s able to keep a little part to herself. It also reinforces the fact that all these terrible things are happening to a kid. Ana is someone you want to look out for because no one is really looking out for her.

Angie Cruz’s writing style also needs to be mentioned. While peppered with fragmented sentence structures and no quotations over the dialogue, I felt like it really embodied Ana and her youth. She’s young and the writing reads that way, but it also has a sense of maturity you don’t see in YA. The phrasing and word choices really make you think you’re reading from Ana’s mind and that immersion ties together her youth, her vulnerability, and her strength extremely well.

The last thing I want to mention is how desperate Ana is to find someone who will stay with her. Being alone in a country where she barely speaks the preferred language and with a husband that treats her poorly, she clings to the people she encounters. From Juan’s clients to her ESL teacher, she’s always looking for a kind hand to spend her days with. It’s obvious that she does feel something for Cesar especially since he’s such a kind person, but when she finally has her baby, she sees who’s the most important person that she knows she can rely on.

I received a copy of this book from Flatiron Books for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

 

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay // Blog Tour

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay // Blog Tour

I was so excited to read a book with Filipino representation! It feels like I’m always on the hunt for books from marginalized voices and Filipino was one I haven’t heard in a while (or at all). And for the first book with Filipino rep, it definitely delivers a fantastic story that’s unafraid to be real and reveals some truths about what’s happening in The Philippines.

CoverPatron Saints of Nothing starts off with Jay. He’s your average American teenager living in the Midwest, playing video games with his buddies online, and having no clue what he wants to do with his future. When his parents tell him his cousin, Jun, in The Philippines died, Jay wants to find out more. Being pen pals and friends from when Jay visited The Philippines as a kid, he was saddened by the news and determined to find out what happened. But his father isn’t the kind of person who likes to talk and doesn’t want to go over the details of how his cousin died. In fact, no one in his family was willing to talk about what happened.

With the strength of his love for his cousin and his curiosity to how this could happen to someone at such a young age, Jay convinces his parents to send him to The Philippines on spring break. They agree and he goes off to spend a week with his family there and learning about what happened to Jun.

As Jay slowly learns the truth about Jun through pieces of info he gathers with the help of a friend he makes, he also learns he doesn’t know much about The Philippines and what’s going on there. It’s not until he’s really in the thick of his search that he sees that President Duterte’s policies on drugs are targeting addicts and sellers without trial or a chance. It’s a multi-themed story that will make you google everything and make you reconsider the “truths” you’re told as a kid.

I’m going to be real with you, I cried. It was one specific moment right at the end when I did but if a book brings me to tears, then it’s a good book. I don’t cry often. I was most definitely pearl-clutching for sure and having my heart break over and over again.

For the most part, this book reads like a mystery or a thriller without the suspenseful parts. There’s no creepy murderer. The story is very much steeped in real life and the horrors of reality. There’s only the suspense of finding out the truth in a place that wants to forget just as quickly.

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Randy Ribay doesn’t pussy foot around the reality. He doesn’t dumb it down with magical realism or make you go on this journey his cousin left behind for him. He literally walks into the slums of The Philippines where homes are made of corrugated cardboard, pallets, and metal sheeting. He hears about women being raped just because they walked down the street and a president who hides behind his belief he’s saving his country. This is not the beautiful tourist photos people see. This is the reality of a place that I believed to be a beautiful country and a place many of my IRL friends are from.

Themes are all over this book, so I decided to break them down and what I felt about them.

Being American and Being Filipino

I think this is something a lot of us Asian Americans feel. We’re American because we immigrated here when we were super young or we were born here, but we also are Asian. It’s tough when you’re not accepted in certain areas and then you go to the country everyone tells you to go back to and you don’t fit in there either. The displacement is real for any kid who’s grown up with immigrant parents and I love that we read this book from Jay’s point of view and see what it’s like from that particular lens. The insecurities of not keeping up with your culture, knowing what’s going on in the news, and not even being able to speak the language is a feeling I know much too well. Nicely done.

Coming to terms with the fact that adults aren’t always right

I thought this was a little more subtle, but there’s some subtext around growing your own opinion and beliefs that aren’t quite the same as your family’s. I really liked the juxtaposition of Jay against his Tito Maning. Tito Maning plays as the voice of many Filipino people who voted Duterte into office. He believes that despite the number of losses his drug policies have caused, Duterte’s done “good” for the community and country at large. Randy Ribay brings up often how many people are complacent with the losses because a few dead drug addicts means safer streets. It’s a really good topic to bring up and I loved that Randy Ribay wasn’t afraid to share this point of view as well.

Tito Maning is legit everyone in my family that’s told me I needed to be a doctor, married with two babies all by the time I was 30. These are the people who made it difficult for me to be myself because I had to follow these ridiculous rules of behavior. I understand respecting your elders and all that, but come on. Something’s gotta give sometimes.

But I think this is a valuable lesson for folks who are just getting to the adult ages. Please keep in mind that your parents don’t know everything and that adults can be wrong too. You don’t have to be disrespectful about it, but understanding their view and then comparing it to your own allows you to see the full breadth of opinions and make a much better opinion on your own.

The War on Drugs in The Philippines is very real

If you’re going to read this book, I strongly STRONGLY advise you to google “Rodrigo Duterte” and what’s happening in the Philippines right now. While the story Randy Ribay wrote here is fictional, the events taking place are real. I can’t do the topic justice and I strongly urge you to read his Wikipedia article at least to know what he’s doing. Basically, what’s written in the book is true. Duterte’s has encouraged police and vigilante groups to kill any drug dealers and drug addicts they see. This is in an effort to “clean up” the streets of The Philippines and make it safer.

However, we have to keep in mind the fact that not every drug addict is a criminal. Everyone has their story and reasons for getting to the place they are. I highly doubt they’re all doing illegal things and while I don’t condone drug use, I also don’t believe someone should be judged based just on the fact that they use drugs. Where’s the human aspect to this? It’s nowhere because the death tolls are in the thousands and they can’t even pin down an accurate number.

The fact that Randy Ribay incorporated this into his story is legit what makes this book one of my favorites. He’s unapologetic and he does a good job sharing both sides of this massive debate, so it’s not just one sided. The theme carries throughout the novel and really you can’t finish this novel without googling the events that take place. It may make people a little uncomfortable, but that’s what makes this book special. You have to give it credit for that. You can go on about how he didn’t dive into more, but also keep in mind the fact this is a fictional story and not the oral history of The Philippines. It encourages you to research and google and I strongly advise you do.

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The final thing I want to mention, which is touched lightly but made a huge impact while I was reading is the number of rapes happening there. There was one scene in the book (and this doesn’t spoil the overall story) where a woman wasn’t okay with having a male adult in her home because she doesn’t know his intentions and worried he’ll rape her. I tried to do some research on this and found this article where the same President Duterte speaks about the rape cases. He says “as long as there are beautiful women, there will be rape cases.” Jesus, take the wheel.

All of these themes take place while Jay continues to be a teenager who likes girls and just wants to play video games with his bros. Randy Ribay is such a prolific and efficient writer that it really boggled my mind how he fit so much into about 300 pages.

I will say the only thing I had issues with is the believability of Jay’s story. For all intents and purposes, the events taking place in the story lead Jay closer and closer to the truth, but at some points it felt too easy. Information too conveniently falls into Jay’s lap. While I don’t know how hard or easy it is to find someone who runs away from home, I felt like Jay didn’t come across enough road blocks. It doesn’t take away from the book at all because the themes in the story carry you throughout and honestly, this didn’t bother me and doesn’t take away from my 5-star review. I just wanted to bring it up.

Ok, I’m done reviewing and ranting. This book was amazing and doesn’t read like your typical YA novel. Even though there was the average “oh I’m just a teenager who doesn’t know what I want from life,” it opens your eyes.

I received a copy of this book from Penguin Teen for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston // Review

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston // Review

I’m so happy to start off Pride month with a Pride book and truly blessed I got to read Casey McQuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue!

The story starts with young Alex heading off to England with his sister to attend a royal wedding. He finds out that Prince Henry of Wales will be there, but that doesn’t make him excited. In fact, it makes him aggravated as he found Henry to be a little full of himself and totally sold on the royal life. But when Henry and Alex are forced to be best friends due to the shenanigans taking place, Alex starts to warm up to Henry ultimately starting a cross-continental relationship so risky even Alex’s mother, current president of the US, faces scrutiny as the big presidential elections approach.

This isn’t your average romance. Yes, there’s a whole romantic theme that follows the rules of the Romance Writers of America, but it also discusses LGBTQIA issues, geo-political issues, and the politics of running for president. I felt really bad for Henry and Alex because they weren’t two boys in love and they were in the same high school. It wasn’t that they were in college. It was two boys who were very public figures and one even being royalty. I loved how McQuiston brought their relationship to fruition.

Of course there was the sneaking around and praying to God that they won’t get caught, but the fallout was way harsher than I thought it would be.  I actually that felt super realistic as the world tries to dissect a young couple’s relationship. It’s already hard enough to be in a relationship in a private life, but when your life is in the public eye it becomes the center of judgment and scrutiny. I loved Henry and Alex so much that I wanted them to have a fighting chance.

I also really loved the scandal surrounding their relationship. In real life, I don’t want anyone to feel that way, but to see how it’s used and manipulated for the gains of someone else was interesting. I loved that Casey McQuiston included that despite how dark and real it feels.

The writing itself is also very sophisticated especially for a romance novel. I thought I would finish this one in a day, but it took me four days of reading to finish it. I would strongly recommend taking your time with this book because it is pretty long and pretty detailed. I loved this about the book, but I can also see a lot of folks losing their patience waiting for the author to get to the point.

Which leads me to the thing I didn’t like. I think the one big issue I had with this book is the ending. While I won’t give away what happens at the end, the ending basically covers the night of the election. THE WHOLE NIGHT. Page after page it was just waiting for the results of the election coming in from every state. I thought it was a little overwrought and too much for a romantic novel. It would make sense if the election was a bigger theme than the relationship between Henry and Alex.

As great as that was, it didn’t really lend anything extra to the story and really just made it longer. I can understand the author wanting to make the election results suspenseful, but it felt too extra. I honestly think the last 30 pages could have been written as a paragraph summing up the election results and then sharing something more about Alex and Henry’s relationship after the election.

I received a copy of this book from Booksparks for free in exchange for promotion. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo // Review

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo // Review

Alright, I’m going to do my best reviewing this book because thing 1) I’m not Afro-Puerto Rican so I don’t know that life and thing 2) I don’t have any children.

Not to say you need either to read this book. I’m just saying this perspective won’t be as nuanced as someone who may #ownvoices this book. But as the general public who loves to read authors of color, I’m glad this book exists.

Let’s get started:

This is the story of young Emoni, a 17-year-old teen who’s about to enter her final year of high school and embarking on the next part of her journey. However, she’s also a single mom living with her grandmother and desperately trying to make ends meet. She’s constantly berated by the other students at school for her status as a teen mom and her life decisions need to include her baby. When her school offers a culinary course for the first time, Emoni is super excited. She loves food and cooking and has a knack for flavors and spices. However, the class also offers a week in Spain and Emoni hasn’t left her kid’s side since she had her. She can see herself pursuing a career in culinary arts, but also needs to consider her daughter and their struggle to stay afloat.

Wow, I mean, this story discusses some big themes. I think one of the biggest themes is being a young mother. I don’t think I’ve read any YA stories with teen mothers, but it really was interesting to read. Many decisions Emoni needed to make also required the addition of her daughter. She wanted to go to college, but she needs to find a school close to her. She’s about to go on a trip to Spain and she needs to figure out how to manage that. She’s interested in someone romantically, but she needs to be mindful of her daughter’s feelings before introducing him to her. So many of her decisions were based on very adult and mature thinking. Emoni doesn’t do anything impulsively…until she gets into the kitchen. I also really loved that Elizabeth showed life as a young mother. Emoni has to juggle school, work, and taking care of her baby. I know many moms from my old job and it was difficult to juggle work and taking care of their baby, so I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for someone who’s still trying to graduate high school.

Another big theme is the prejudice, discrimination, and racism Emoni faces everyday. She’s ridiculed because she can’t speak Spanish well. She doesn’t look “black” enough. She’s taunted because she had a daughter at such a young age. People think she’s “easy” because she had sex early. I loved that Elizabeth Acevedo brought up these points because it really brings the story to reality. And the best part is that it’s mostly micro-aggressions. You don’t ever hear someone straight up calling her the N word or telling her to go back to her country, but it’s there. You see it in the way people ask their questions or even the pursed lips of an older woman on the bus. These micro-aggressions are what many people of color face (myself included). It’s the wrong question or a comment you don’t know what to respond with. You may not think it’s racism because it doesn’t blind you in the face with words, but that silent judgment is enough to make a good day into a bad one.

I think what I loved the most is how much Emoni loves her daughter. She tries to juggle school and homework and an after-school job and her friendships while getting home in time to spend time with her kid. While Emoni has the attitude of a teenager sometimes, many of her decisions are considered thoroughly (through the pros and cons) and mature. And all the while she’s still learning and observing and becoming more enriched. It was most definitely a coming-of-age story, but one many adults can get behind because it reminded me a lot of post-graduate me. This girl’s got it all figured out before she finishes high school and I’m still struggling.

Finally, the food! OMG when I heard that this book will also be about food and cooking, I was already intrigued. The story includes a couple of recipes for you to try and it also convey’s Emoni’s personal culinary expertise which I thought was so great. I kind of wish there was more descriptions of food. For example, what does the risotto taste like to Emoni? How did she feel trying tapas in Spain? I would have loved those descriptions to be richer.

What I absolutely love about Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is that it isn’t complicated. She embodies Emoni’s voice and personality and doesn’t break for a minute. I absolutely love writing like this because it feels real. It feels like you’re reading from the actual perspective of the character with their specialized language. I loved the nicknames she had for her friends and family. I loved that she called her daughter Babygirl, but unafraid to bring out her legal name when she’s in trouble. The writing is most definitely a draw and keep you fully immersed in the story.

I think the only issue I had with this book is that everything seemed to resolve itself at the end. I don’t want to say it was easy and there were some things that will probably take time to heal (like forgiving her father or working together with her baby daddy), but many issues just kind of happily ended.

Aside from that, it’s a great story about a young person’s decisions for the next part of life. I think this book works for anyone between the ages of 17-35 because I’m 34 and I’m still struggling to figure everything out.

I received a copy of this book from Epic Reads for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

My Thoughts on The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

My Thoughts on The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

I picked up this book for my IRL book club.  My friend, Ani, was so in love with this book and surprised by its ending so we’re reading it. Once I was done, the only thing I could think of was what did I just read? LOL. This is the second twisted family story I’ve read this year and it was definitely twisted.

The story follows Hal (or Harriet). She’s down on her luck. Her mother died a few years ago and she doesn’t know who her father is. She’s been living in her apartment alone and reading Tarot cards on the pier to make ends meet. But life is super hard for Hal and surviving is a daily struggle.

When she comes across a letter saying her grandmother recently died, Hal is intrigued. While she knows her grandparents passed 20 years ago, she’s curious as to why this lawyer is telling her another grandma just passed. Is it her father’s mother? Is it a huge mix up? She decides to spend the last of her savings to get to Trepassen, the estate her grandmother lived in, and find out the truth (and maybe take a little inheritance).

When she gets there, she uncovers truths about her mother, her father, and the rest of her family. It’s definitely up there with twisted, but it’s difficult to explain without reading the book.

I’ll start by saying this book was a slow burn. It almost reads literary because you’re following Hal around and seeing her try and discover the truth. Honestly, I didn’t think anything “thriller-y” was going to happen and then it did at like 90% (I read this on my Kindle). Throughout the story, I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. When is the big thriller part going to happen? It really takes its time and I get that people aren’t happy about the pacing. It really irks me more.

But I absolutely loved Hal. I almost thought this book was literary because you’re following Hal and the character-driven journey to find the truth. There’s not a lot of actual action, so you’re waiting in suspense for what happens to Hal. She’s like your best friend in this entire situation; the confused character that you follow along with to find the truth. But she’s also a bad ass.

The ending is definitely worth the wait of the whole book. While I wouldn’t call this a thriller in its traditional sense, the atmospheric suspense and the ending feeds whatever you wanted out of a thriller at the end. I would strongly say read this book, take your time, get to the end. You will not regret it.

My Thoughts on A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

My Thoughts on A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

I needed a few days to think about this book before I wrote my thoughts down. As beautiful as it was, it did bring up some personal feelings I’ve had in the past. There were just a few pieces of dialogue that set me off, but you might not have the same reaction as me. I want to preface this because the book is heartbreaking, but not in the way it broke my heart. That’s just all on me.

TRIGGER WARNING: One of the major themes in this novel is the cycle of abuse within a small family, so there are a few scenes of abuse, violence, and some frustrating things to read.

The story is about a Palestinian family living in Brooklyn. It follows three narratives: Deya, Fareeda, and Isra. Deya is 18 years old and about to start meeting suitors for possible husbands. She lives in Brooklyn with her three younger sisters and her grandparents. Fareeda is Deya’s grandmother. She’s the one setting up Deya with suitors. She’s originally from Palestine and lived as a refugee there with her husband and children. She’s also adamant about Deya finding a husband and becoming a wife ASAP. Isra is Deya’s mother. While her story is told throughout the novel, she’s currently deceased in Deya’s current timeline.

All three of these women were born into families who believed a woman’s place is in the home raising her children and pleasing her husband. They don’t have educations beyond high school and they were all strictly sheltered by their families. The big difference is that the family lives in America.

This book blew me away. Etaf Rum writes simplistically, but don’t let that fool you. Her details and scenes felt like me standing in the middle of their basement apartment. I could smell the food they were cooking. I can taste the blood in my mouth. Her vivid components made reading more exciting, but also more suspenseful. I don’t think I can even do the synopsis justice.

This book was like a rose, beautifully layered petals revealing the inner truth behind a small family looking to marry off their eldest daughter to a Palestinian suitor. From there, the story follows her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother’s life. I don’t want to get into the details of what happens because that will spoil it a little. However, I do want to chat about what I read.

One of the major themes of this story is being both Palestinian and American. Being torn between two worlds is something I’ve struggled with for a really long time. You’ve got your family who wants to continue sharing their traditions and passing them down to new generations. But then you’ve got American culture and tradition. America’s cultural sway is so strong many 1st and 2nd generation kids abandon their heritage for it. So when you want to make your family happy, but also be a part of American culture you have to give a little and take a little. For Deya’s family, there was no give and take. It was all Palestinian or nothing.

Another major theme in this story is the cycle of abuse that’s being passed off as “tradition” and “culture.” I know what it’s like to come from a patriarchal family. I’ve been asked to clear the table while the men talked or serve cake to my grandfather first. My dad even considered hiring a matchmaker because I wasn’t married by 26. In A Woman is No Man, domestic violence and abuse are signs of a disobedient wife. For them, a wife is supposed to stay at home, raise the kids, and service her husband. I think with that piece of info in mind, you will get an understanding of where this book is coming from.

What I loved about this book is that despite it being women-focused, there are glimpses into this cycle of oppression even from the male perspective. It’s a subtle nod, but it’s obvious that both men and women struggle with keeping up with the traditions and culture. However, this book is mostly about women and their place in the world, how the world is changing, and how some traditions are better left in the past.

I also loved that there were polar opposite options for Deya. She has both her grandmother Fareeda and her aunt Sarah telling her the choices available. She can either get married and become the dutiful wife and mother her grandmother wants her to be or she can run away and have the kind of life America has to offer. Both are difficult. Both have its pros and cons, but what I love is that Deya finds a compromise that works for her and the next generation of women.

I received a copy of this book from Harper Books for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.