I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston // Book Review

I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston // Book Review

Shara freaking Wheeler. This is my third Casey McQuiston and I’m so excited to read their first foray into YA fiction. And let me tell you, it’s so good! Thanks to Wednesday Books for a gifted copy.

Here’s more about I Kissed Shara Wheeler

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.

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My thoughts

I picked up this book because I was desperately in need of something different to read than the heavy fantasy books I was reading. I’m so glad I did what I did because this was such a wonderful story with an exploration in identity, persona, and really finding and being your authentic self.

Chloe Green is one of the top students in school. She’s been head-to-head with her biggest school rival, popular and pretty Shara Wheeler. But one day Shara kisses Chloe in an elevator and then disappears a few days later. In hopes of finding out what happened to her, Chloe sneaks into Shara’s bedroom only to meet Rory, another person Shara kissed. From there, they find the first note in a series of letters that lead them to Shara’s whereabouts.

I loved the level of mystery this book had. Shara wasn’t kidnapped. Nothing terrible happened to her. She ran away and created a puzzle for Chloe, Rory, and her ex-boyfriend, Smith, to uncover. With each letter they find, they learn a little bit more about where Shara may be as well as a little bit about Shara.

The story itself was super lighthearted with some serious conversations throughout. I knew that there would be big laughs and joking moments, but I also really appreciated the honest parts discussing gender identity, sexual identity, and just truly finding out who you are.

Another part that I truly appreciated was the consistency in the story. I always read YA stories where the characters are in school, but they never go to class. I loved that Chloe was still going to class everyday, showing up for final exams, and that part of their world was incorporated into the bigger story. It felt genuine for the kids to juggle their real lives with the mystery behind Shara.

This is definitely one of those propulsive books that make you keep reading. You want to find out what happened to Shara. You’re on this big scavenger hunt with Chloe, Smith, and Rory. You want to see what the next letter says and learning more about the kids (as well as the adults) in this book makes it feel more realistic. Although, I will admit there were some parts that really require you to suspend your disbelief, but it still made you laugh.

There’s a lot of play on persona in this novel and I commend Casey McQuiston for diving deep into Jungian psychology throughout the book. I think the only person in this book who didn’t have a persona was Chloe, who came to the school much later than the rest of the main characters in the story. Shara Wheeler was most definitely a study in persona and even Chloe was fooled by the multiple masks she wore. I won’t go any further into it because it might spoil the story, but once you think you’ve figured Shara Wheeler out, a new little twist appears revealing deeper layers behind her.

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!

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.

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor // Book Review

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor // Book Review

I was so surprised by how quickly I devoured this book! But who can resist a magical hotel that travels every night to a different city, holds powerful magic, and has a mysterious past that our protagonist is about to uncover. If you’re looking for something fun, magical, and reads a lot like Caraval, then I will highly suggest this one. Thanks to Penguin Teen for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Hotel Magnifique

All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.

The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.

With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.

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My thoughts

This was such a fun book and after slogging through March, I very much welcomed an entertaining book to get me back in my mood. It helped a lot! Filled with magical worlds, beings, beautiful sights to behold, I was definitely enamored by the story from the beginning.

It follows Jani and her sister as they enter Hotel Magnifique, a unique hotel with a high-class guest list and the only place in this entire world where you can practice magic and be a suminaire without hurting someone. So people love coming to this hotel for the entertainment and traveling for two weeks to different cities every single night. The only caveat is that you forget the entire experience when you leave. Very strange.

That isn’t the only strange part of this hotel and as you travel with Jani into the hotel and beyond, you realize there is way more going on than what you expected.

The writing for this one was good, easy going and not ever serious. It’s definitely the vibe you want when you’re reading for entertainment. I loved the descriptions of the different suites, the entertainment, and even the back kitchens where Jani worked. I will have to say that this book was overall fun to read and if you’re a fan of YA fantasy, then you’ll definitely love this one.

There was a lot of mystery behind this book as well because from the moment Jani steps foot into the hotel, things seem a little bit off. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Spirited Away and that scene when Chihiro meets Yubaba for the first time and she’s asked to sign a contract that owns her name. Yeah, it gets dark like that in this book. And I welcomed the darker portions of this story. I was honestly concerned that it would be all fun and games like Caraval, but I appreciated the level this book went and the twisty turns it made.

While it was a predictable story, I still had a lot of fun watching it all unfold. It’s beautifully brilliant, utterly cruel at times, and such a great way to spend some time with a book.

I think the only issue I had is that the world building was a bit unclear. I found myself trying to understand how the artefacts work alongside the magic, but it really wasn’t too big of a deal. You get the idea of it through context and I’ve come to term not to expect too much from YA fantasy when it comes to world building. Just hold on and enjoy the ride.

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir // Book Review

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir // Book Review

I just shared my thoughts with a friend and my review went basically like this:

Now, I’m not usually the type to express my emotions through gifs, but I’m making an exception for this book. Thanks to Penguin Teen for a gifted copy of this book.

Here’s more about All My Rage

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst.

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

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My thoughts

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book, but I didn’t expect what came from it. A story about two young people who are thrown into the mix of adulthood, parents who don’t act like parents, and that gnawing feeling that you have to do something because who else will? There’s so much to unpack in this story and it doesn’t read like your typical YA contemporary story. I honestly think Sabaa Tahir’s outdone herself with this one.

Sal (short for Salahuddin) is a young guy who’s mother is really sick and his father drinks too much. They own the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, but with his mother’s illness and his father’s drinking there isn’t much of a hotel left. Noor is an immigrant from Pakistan living with her uncle. While things seem normal on the surface, Noor’s uncle doesn’t like her speaking in Urdu or Punjabi. He doesn’t like her going to the local mosque. He doesn’t want her to go to college.

On top of all that, Noor told Sal how much she loved him and he didn’t say anything.

The story is told in dual perspectives and dual timelines. The timelines are about Sal’s familiy and how they made their way to the US and the events leading up to the present day. I really loved the dual perspectives and the timeline for this book. You get this sense there’s a lot of secrets shrouded in their past and as you read the book, these secrets slowly reveal themselves. You get a better understanding of why things have turned out so wrong for both Noor and Sal.

There’s a lot of complicated emotions happening in this book. Love, loss, hope, grief, pain, sadness, and happiness are all prevalent throughout the pages. Most of the time, I just wanted to reach into the book and hug both Sal and Noor and tell them it’s going to be alright. The book constantly pushes Noor and Sal into situations that require them to grow up much faster than they need to. It’s one of those stories where the adults in their lives have failed them and they feel obligated to take matters into their own hands.

Of course, they’re young. They’re still in high school with a huge future ahead of them, so when you see the kinds of decisions they make you definitely feel a sense of regret for them. You want them to make “good” decisions, but then you remember that they’re just kids and they’re trying to do their best without much help from the adults in their lives. It will definitely complicate you and in good Sabaa Tahir fashion, you’ll never see the ending coming.

Overall, this was such a great read filled with tons of heart, lots of emotion, and a real test of what Sabaa Tahir can do with a contemporary story. I loved reading every minute of it.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh // Book Review

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh // Book Review

When I heard there was a new fantasy book coming out featuring an old Korean folktale and written by a Korean American, I knew I had to get my hands on it. What I ended up with is a sweeping tale that takes you to the Spirit Realm, faces your biggest destiny, and fall in love. This book is out later this month, but thanks to Fierce Reads for gifting me an ARC.

Here’s more about The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

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My thoughts

This book hits the ground running. I mean, the first scene takes place on a boat as Shim-Cheong is about to sacrifice herself to the Sea God for another year without terrible storms that destroy their crops and flood their farms. But Shim-Cheong doesn’t want to go and instead, Mina jumps into the sea sacrificing herself. From there, she’s off to a Spirit Realm where the Red String of Fate ties her to the Sea God as a potential bride. I have to be honest, there were some jaw dropping moments throughout the story. The twists and turns throughout the book were spectacular and really keep you engaged with wanting to find out more.

The book is already compared to Spirited Away and that is so accurate. From the moment Mina is in the Spirit Realm, she only has a finite amount of time before she loses her soul and becomes a spirit of the world (related), then she meets a man who doesn’t remember why he’s the way he is (also feels related), and she helps him find out at the end (can we admit that they’re similar now?!). The swept-off feeling and entering a world of angry gods and vengeful goddesses with helpful spirits as well, it truly feels like you’re leaving the real world for another.

I also loved the running theme throughout the book; the gods and goddesses working to help out the humans and the reciprocal nature of worshipping them. You see how the gods and goddesses are sort of slacking in their work and Mina correlating that to how the real world suffers. I loved that Axie Oh dives into these because the symbiotic relationship between humans and gods was so prevalent in Korean history. The theme returns often throughout the story and really examines this Spirit Realm from the third-party observer.

I’ll be honest, there was a few things that irked me about the book. The book has a ton of potential. There were so many new things introduced in the story, there was romance, there was action, there were villains and dark plots. There was everything you wanted in an epic fantasy novel, but I just wanted the dial turned all the way up. These things were introduced, but not enough for me. I wanted to see the romance slowly play out between the characters, I wanted to clearly understand why the villains were the way they were. I wanted much more exposition and much more world building. The story doesn’t suffer from the lack of these things, but it would have launched the book into a favorite for the year for me.

But overall, I definitely felt swept away by the story, immersed in the world of Spirits and hoping that Mina was able to find a way to save her village. You’ll need to hold on for the ride on this one!

The Kindred by Alechia Dow // Book Review

The Kindred by Alechia Dow // Book Review

This was the first book I read by Alechia Dow and I don’t think it will be my last. I was so enamored by this story and it really blew me away! Thanks Get Underlined for the gifted copy of the book.

Here’s more about The Kindred

To save a galactic kingdom from revolution, Kindred mind-pairings were created to ensure each and every person would be seen and heard, no matter how rich or poor…

Joy Abara knows her place. A commoner from the lowly planet Hali, she lives a simple life—apart from the notoriety that being Kindred to the nobility’s most infamous playboy brings.

Duke Felix Hamdi has a plan. He will exasperate his noble family to the point that they agree to let him choose his own future and finally meet his Kindred face-to-face.

Then the royal family is assassinated, putting Felix next in line for the throne…and accused of the murders. Someone will stop at nothing until he’s dead, which means they’ll target Joy, too. Meeting in person for the first time as they steal a spacecraft and flee amid chaos might not be ideal…and neither is crash-landing on the strange backward planet called Earth. But hiding might just be the perfect way to discover the true strength of the Kindred bond and expose a scandal—and a love—that may decide the future of a galaxy.

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My thoughts

Give me a story with an interesting science fiction world and you’ve got me hooked. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, but then it just kept getting better and better.

The most interesting part for me was the Kindred program; being assigned a kindred at birth regardless of class or sex and have that person be their best friend, lover, sibling, whatever for the entirety of their lives. It becomes a huge component to the rest of the book and really blew my mind to see how deep the bond between Joy and Felix were. It’s interesting because humans have to create those bonds through time and effort of finding someone that can connect with you on that level. These folks are provided a kindred and I love seeing how it’s more than just a friendship to Felix and Joy.

And these two couldn’t be any more different. Felix is a royal who couldn’t care about his position or power. He spends his days going around with a band, drinking and partying without a worry in the world. Joy is the complete opposite who feels a sense of duty to her planet to marry someone she’s not entirely sure she likes. I mean, I wouldn’t like someone if the first thing they commented on was my weight. Ooph, her betrothed was so irritating throughout the story and just really proved how good Alechia Dow is with writing these characters.

The biggest component of this book was the romance. I didn’t expect it to be such a massive part of the book, but I loved watching Felix and Joy quietly pine for each other only to find out the truth in the end. I loved watching their love grow from then on despite the differences in class and their obligations.

Reading these two go through Earth was hilarious. I loved how creatively Alechia Dow tried to explain how the world was like in the small part of Florida and how to explain that to someone who doesn’t share anything remotely similar to us. There were definitely cute moments like when they all watched Black Panther together and it made me happy to see Joy find a love for chocolate-covered raisins. I also loved how open and welcoming Rashid was to Joy and Felix knowing nothing about them and how caring and understanding they were towards him. The book has so many beautiful displays of empathy and kindness that really wowed me.

While I really liked this one, I was still a bit wary with the pace in the beginning. There was a lot of info-dumping, but with good reason because with the focus on Felix and Joy’s time on Earth, meeting people, and figuring out how to clear their names, it makes sense to approach the beginning this way. I do love that the pace fixes itself and you get a pretty great story in the end.

I honestly think this book was a show of how great a writer Alechia Dow is. I’m seriously impressed and I definitely want to read her first book and any other books she writes in the future.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao // Book Review

Vengeful, kickass females are definitely one of my favorite genres and this one delivers in spades. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into because from the premise, it sounded like a wild fantasy novel, but it is so much more!

Here’s more about Iron Widow

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected–she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way–and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

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My thoughts

I was so shocked by how incredible this book was. Honestly, the story was so creative and blended Chinese history, tradition, and culture seamlessly into this science fiction world of mechs and monsters. It felt like what really good anime should be like; a story overcoming obstacles in a world that’s fitted for a bygone time that doesn’t suit modern thinking and beliefs anymore. I loved it. I love it when authors blend cultures to create new stories that not only uplift the worlds, but also defy it in many ways.

One of the main themes, I believe, is strength. Not just a physical strength because our main character didn’t have much of that (having bound feet, she’s not capable of walking without pain), but mental strength. Zetian’s ability not only to push her limits, but also her qi power to kill her male counterparts makes her one of the most interesting characters in the entire story. Honestly, I loved Zetian. She’s one of those main characters you want to see charging into the scene and kicking ass. I also loved that she had Shimin as well, who has a secret past within the military and unlike any of the other male characters in the story. I think it says something when I want to punch every man in the face.

I was totally surprised by the romance as well. I don’t want to give it away, but I thought it was going to go one way and it went a completely different way. Not mad about it, but intrigued by why Xiran went that route. I hope that the romance starts to get deeper in the next few books!

The action was so good as well! I loved how the mechs worked and the mechanics of the Hundun and how the yin and yang of their qi powers come together on this ethereal plane to power up the chrysalises. It really felt like I was watching an anime and I can’t complain about that.

As much as I loved this story and will be following the rest of the series, I felt like there were two major issues with it: it was too fast paced and it introduced a lot of information with very little explanation. I felt like if Xiran took their time to really pace the novel, they could have material for several books throughout the series. But for some reason, it was all mushed into the final 100 pages and that felt…weird. The pacing throughout had some really good themes with the way women are portrayed in this world, especially when the truth is finally revealed. It felt a bit abrupt that even more pieces were being introduced that could have been used in other books in the future. Even the ending ended with a cliffhanger that surprised me because it was so soon to be introducing something, but also delighted me because it makes me ache for the next book.

Overall, a really good start to a fantastic new YA series. I’ll definitely be following along and seeing what happens to Zetian, the world, and the secrets!

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson // Book Review

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson // Book Review

If you’re a fan of YA or if you want to get into Brandon Sanderson, I highly recommend this series. Because this just keeps getting better and better. Thanks to the publisher for a gifted copy of the book. My opinions have not been influenced by the author or the publisher.

Here’s more about Cytonic

Spensa’s life as a Defiant Defense Force pilot has been far from ordinary. She proved herself one of the best starfighters in the human enclave of Detritus and she saved her people from extermination at the hands of the Krell—the enigmatic alien species that has been holding them captive for decades. What’s more, she traveled light-years from home as an undercover spy to infiltrate the Superiority, where she learned of the galaxy beyond her small, desolate planet home.

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return.

To have courage means facing fear. And this mission is terrifying.

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My thoughts

If you’re a fan of the Skyward series and you’re wondering if Cytonic is worth the read, I will say yes. Unequivocally, yes. Because this is the book that will get you all the answers you need. Each book in the series explores a different world. Skyward explores the planet Detritus. Starsight explores the planet ship. Cytonic goes deeper and explores the world where people hyperjump through space, where cytonic beings go when they hyperjump themselves, where the Krell get their resources for flying, and the location where the Delvers exist. It’s the Nowhere and Spensa is exploring the whole thing.

I absolutely loved how this story takes place in the Nowhere, exploring the grounds within, the wild way things work in there, and the people who are captured and thrown in there. There’s pirates and even a new sidekick named Chet. I loved Chet and the clues hidden behind who Chet is. Of course, there’s a new group of alien races to also follow along as well, which is so much fun because I loved it in Starsight. And exploring the Nowhere was really interesting. I loved the different adventures Spensa goes on with M-Bot in this world.

And of course, it’s Brandon Sanderson so there’s a lot of details to the world that I really loved. I’m really trying not to spoil this book, but let’s just say that the details Brandon Sanderson put into this book really pay off and make it just a world you want to stay inside for a really long time.

There were also a few themes throughout the story that really drew me in. One of the biggest, I think, were the emotions or how we react to certain things and despite the way we feel, we continue to push ourselves beyond our boundaries (in a healthy way, mind you). It reminds me that sometimes we come across some scary moments in our lives and while we can easily run away, these are also the moments that can push us and our courage. I really loved that theme and how that plays out throughout the book.

It’s incredible how Brandon Sanderson is able to introduce you to these new characters in each book and you immediately latch onto them. While there were a few surprises when it came to characters, I really loved Chet and the story behind him. I had my doubts about him and wondered if he would turn out to be the villain in the end, but as the story moves on and you learn more about all the characters, you realize that it’s about survival, about redemption, and about personal growth.

I think the only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of is Spensa going to this world and kind of forgetting about what’s happening in the somewhere while she’s in the nowhere. It doesn’t go into what’s happening on the other side (only a few times), and the fact that she leaves right in the middle of a war felt strange. I assume we’ll be getting an idea of what happened while she was in the nowhere, but it definitely left me wondering while I read.

Overall, a fantastic read and definitely my favorite in the series so far. I can’t wait for the next book!