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Series Review: Winternight Trilogy

Winternight Trilogy consists of The Bear and the Nightingale, its sequel The Girl in the Tower, and the conclusion The Winter of the Witch. This is the first series I read in 2023. If I was still living in Michigan, I would probably completely feel the wintery mood. Luckily for me, I now live in the tropics and all is warm and well!

The Bear and the Nightingale

It is quite clear to me that this first book is mainly to set up the most climactic battle of the Winternight trilogy. That battle happens in the third book, near the very end. Here we see our main character Vasya born, her childhood life, and all the way until she becomes a maiden. We also get to meet key people in her family, those that will eventually shape history.

Despite being mainly setups, I feel Katherine Arden did it very well with a lyrical poetic writing style. Even from this first book, we know this trilogy will be full of mystical magic, painful sacrifices, the caged role of being a woman in those times in Russia, and the ever-present issue of state religion versus indigenous beliefs.

The Girl in the Tower

One great thing about this middle book is it has no middle book syndrome. The plot thickens and the stakes are higher as Vasya gets involved (as a boy) in the Grand Prince of Moscow’s court. It complicates things that her brother Sasha is now an iconic monk and trusted advisor to the Grand Prince, and her sister Olya is now (by marriage) the Princess of Serphukov, a high-ranking noblewoman in court. In Moscow, people who still honor chyerti (the spirits of the land) are shamed and outcasted. So much so that the chyerti are now fading away, pushed out by church bells and priests.

To be honest, I actually liked this second book best because of all the crazy things that happened here plotwise. There were also some shocking reveals about the past of Vasya’s family that made everything fall into place. However, even after finishing the trilogy, I am still unsure who exactly the girl in the tower was. There were several prominent girls in the tower, and they all had their shining moments. Or perhaps, the author intended it this way!

The Winter of the Witch

It was climactic alright, but I was so angry at myself at the end! I am usually pretty good at spying out which beloved characters will end up dead, so I am able to not get too attached. BUT I DID NOT SEE THIS COMING! My heart is utterly shredded. But yes, it was an exciting and dangerous conclusion, and at some moments I genuinely feared for these characters, something which I rarely see in fantasy books.

A great rustic fairy tale, one that I will not mind rereading sometime in the future.

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Book Review: Babel

Babel is the last book I read in 2022, and I can’t tell you if it destroyed my end of year, or made it amazing. This is the state of mind that I’m at: I’m writing this review at 4 AM because I can’t sleep after having finished the book. Yes. It’s that…intense.

Reading RF Kuang

I have read her Poppy War trilogy before, which was a mixed experience for me. I love the way Kuang writes, her prose sucks you in and leaves you naked in the midst of her scenes. The Poppy War blew my mind. The Dragon Republic had some good twists which gutted me, but The Burning God (the conclusion of the series) just didn’t work for me. Naturally, I went into Babel with some hesitancy after that experience. However, just a couple chapters in and I could already tell how much Kuang grew as an author. I knew then that I would resonate with the rest of the book.


In two words, the premise is FUCKING BRILLIANT. I literally have those two words annotated throughout the book. Babel is set in an alternate reality where the world is industrialized by silver magic. This silver magic is controlled by The Royal Institute of Translation (otherwise called Babel) in Oxford, England. The silver magic gains power by invoking meaning lost between words when translated into another language.

Being a bilingual, I can attest to how much meaning and nuance is given up in translation between languages, and the idea to capture that and make that a source of power is…well, fucking brilliant.


I just recently read The Secret History so yes, I’m on a dark academia streak which will be continuing into 2023. I noticed some similarities which is that with dark academia, you kind of already know what will happen. The main character comes from a sad childhood, goes to an elite school where they will find belonging and temporary utopia. Then this haven will be picked apart and destroyed chapter by chapter until we reach the tragic ending. That’s pretty much the plot in Babel too, with the exception that Kuang gets really down and dirty into colonialism and racism.

Now, having studied in the US as an international student, I can tell you every word she says there is true. Every scene she wrote, my colored friends and I have experienced to some extent. And even having experienced that, I still think of my college years as some of the best years of my life. So Robin’s dilemma was no made-up, contrived situation – it is precisely what colored students go through, including Kuang herself.


What can I say? I love every character the author wants me to love: Robin, Ramy (my dear, dear Ramy), Victoire (QUEEN – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her name is VICTOIRE), Professor Chakravarti. I hate all the characters the author wants me to hate: Letitia, Professor Lovell, Professor Playfair (who never once played fair, another smart play on names).

Some reviewers say that Kuang really caricaturized the villains, but in my opinion that’s not the case. I think she actually created the villains based on real people she must have come across, because again, let me tell you, I have known Letitias. I have met Lovells and Playfairs. Luckily, I have also met Victoires and Chakravartis. Even luckier still, the Ramys I know have now returned to their homelands and are happy (though I don’t keep as well in touch with them as I should…). So no, they aren’t caricatures. They’re real.

The Necessity of Violence

The full title of this book is Babel, or The Necessity of Violence. The first thing written on the back of the book is: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal. Throughout the book, Kuang has successfully convinced me of both: the necessity of violence to shake a cruel system (colonialism, and its aftereffects), and that every translation is indeed a betrayal of the original meaning. Beyond these statements, however, are some absolutely heartfelt, hopeful, and beautiful thoughts, only revealed in the very last pages. Kuang gives them to Ramy and Victoire to voice. I won’t share them here because it will ruin the effect of the whole book for you (if you haven’t read it), but please, trust me and read Babel for yourself. It’s a masterpiece.

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Book Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

First of all, let’s all agree on how absolutely, drop dead, breathtakingly gorgeous the cover is to this book. Well done to the illustrator, where ever and who ever you are, you have brought joy into my life by your art!!! There were some mixed reviews about The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, some of my friends really liked it while others not too much. This made me adjust my expectations to the book, but I bought it because I thought hey at least, it’s gonna make my bookshelf look very pretty.


The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a retelling of Shim Cheong, the classical Korean story about a girl name Shim Cheong who threw herself into the Indang Sea so that her blind father can see again. As a result of this dutiful act, Shim Cheong is resurrected, becomes an Empress, and her father’s eyesight is restored.

As wonderful as that plotline sounds, I must admit I did cringe when I read the original story. And so I was very glad to be reading this retelling by Axie Oh in which Mina, another girl, decided to jump into the sea so that Shim Cheong could live and be happy with Joon (Mina’s brother).

Under the sea, Mina comes across various adventures which lead her to love and undoing a century long curse upon the Sea God and her country.


For some reason, I couldn’t fully connect with Mina. However, I did quite like Shin, the main male character. I found the story to be a bit slow at first, but it definitely picked up at halfway point to an exciting ending.

I read this book after I binged on Under the Queen’s Umbrella (a highly recommended period Korean drama), and this book did kind of soothe the dark hole in my soul after having finished an unforgettable series. Plus, like I said, how can I say no to that cover.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is the second book I’ve read by Axie Oh (the first was XOXO), and I’d definitely read more books by her in the future.

PS: Am I in my Kpop era? You bet.

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Nisha – The Indonesian Edition!

Hi friends! Sorry to have been totally MIA on my blog for the month of November! It was quite a majorly eventful month to say the least. I had a scuba diving trip to the Banda Sea for a full week without internet (glorious, indeed). Bandung Philharmonic, an organization I co-founded had our Finalia Concertante. And last but not least, NISHA, the first book of my Nishaverse trilogy, is now available for pre-order in Bahasa Indonesia! Finally! It wasn’t an easy journey but we made it with the support of dear friends from Omah Library and The Mad Tea Book Club.

The Indonesian Edition

This version of Nisha had gone through a hefty translation process (my appreciation is skyrocketing for translators) PLUS it has EXTRA ILLUSTRATIONS from the amazing Inez Wandita who did all the covers for the ebooks! At the moment physical books are available for pre-order via Omah Library here: At the moment the price is very special, so save yourself some money and get it now. You’ll also be supporting indie publishing, women authors, women illustrators, and women empowerment through the power of storytelling.

Coming Soon to Shopee

After this special pre-order time, the Indonesian version of Nisha will be hitting The Mad Tea Book Club’s Shopee with some extremely delicious BONUSES which are still secret for now 😉 But be on the lookout because you can also purchase the bonuses separately.

Previous Reviews

Since the English version of Nisha has been released back in 2020, you can see some of the reader’s reviews on Goodreads. If you want the English, digital version, you can purchase it directly from my shop. Pst: there’s an audiobook version as well!

Obviously I’m so proud with Nisha’s journey so far, and thank you, THANK YOU all so much for supporting my writing!

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Book Review: To Kill A Kingdom

To Kill a Kingdom has got to be one of my favorite Little Mermaid retellings so far! Imagine the Ariel we all know being a hard, sharp killer, with the sea witch Ursula as her mother instead of sweet King Triton. And substitute the lovely mermaids we know with deadly, bewitching and ferocious sirens. You get Alexandra Christo’s To Kill a Kingdom.


Since it’s a Little Mermaid retelling, we know the basic structure of the narrative: sea creature girl fall sin love with human prince. The original Hans Andersen story has a tragic ending with the mermaid dissolving into sea foam while Disney paints a happily ever after. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that To Kill a Kingdom will have you smiling instead of crying at the end!

Enemies to Lovers

The siren creatures are at war with the humans, with Lira, our siren princess being the most famous prince killers and prince slash pirate Elian being the most famous siren hunter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an enemies to lovers carried out this convincingly before. There was no “they actually loved each other this whole time”, or Romeo and Juliet love at first sight between two enemy parties. Here it was real fear and hatred that our two main characters felt for the other. That changed to grudging respect, comradery, flirting, and then finally to love. I found this super satisfying and a lot of fun to follow.


Okay the one thing that seemed a bit odd to me was how magic played a deux ex machina role without much constraint in the worldbuilding. It’s literally oh this person can suddenly appear here and it’s because of magic (video game-esque, I must say).

Four Stars

All in all though, with just a little over 350 pages, To Kill a Kingdom wasn’t a long book. But the standalone had everything I was looking for: gory fairy tale retellings, fantasy world adventure, pirates, royalty, sirens, a great enemies to lovers relationship, and even a bit of politics on Elian’s part! I honestly wish it was a bit longer, but give me short, sweet, to the point any day over unfocused ramblings just length sake.

If you’re into pirate vibe books as much as I am, you might also like Daughter of the Pirate King duology.

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Duology Review: Sands of Arawiya

I have been curious about Sands of Arawiya duology for the longest time. I mean just drooling over the gorgeous covers at bookstores. This month I finally got around to ordering and reading both We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars. Here’s what I thought.

We Hunt the Flame

Before we go further, I have to say the print for my edition was way too small for me. My poor eyes really struggled there, and it made me wish I was reading on my Kindle instead. It definitely had me in a predisposed irritated mood which no reader wants to be in when reading!

Honestly, the set up for We Hunt the Flame was a bit too similar to Hunger Games. Zafira, the female protagonist, is almost exactly like Katnis. Her skill with the bow, the little sister (Primrose, Hi!). Even down to the boy next door who has grown up with her and is in love with her but sadly gets a nonfrontal rejection. Luckily I am a sucker for south Asian fantasy settings so the ancient Arab imagery kept me interested.

The plot itself unfolded quite fast with a lot of action so that I didn’t feel bored. However it did seem like the standard collection of YA event tropes. I liked Nasir’s, the male protagonist slash assassin prince, POV better just because I think it was more interesting – with the family pressure he had to deal with (from his Sultan father) and the pull of his growing feelings for Zafira.

There is quite an appeal to found family sentiments (the zumla), but in this first book, I just didn’t feel the chemistry and comradery of the group. Nasir and Zafira’s chemistry worked though, and that’s what tugged me along to the second book.

We Free the Stars

We Free the Stars is almost 600 pages long, and it felt that way, especially for the first 200ish pages. The story felt very slow, and even Nasir’s POV became a bit too pining for me. The one redeeming factor, I think, is Altair’s character (who, by the way, reminds me a lot like Nikolai Lantsov in Shadow and Bones). He’s the General of the kingdom, and well, his identity has a bit of a twist in it.

Once it got to the middle point the plot was much more interesting. Towards the end there was even a bit of Zafira descending into delicious madness thanks to the power of the Jawarat (a magical book). I didn’t understand why this was painted as morally bad. I honestly thought it was one of the coolest things she did! Like finally, Zafira’s villain era, yeay!

That brings me to one of the aspects that irked me during this duology. I feel that there was quite a heavy hand on being good and getting on that moral high ground, while at this point of my life I have to say I’m much more interested in gray anti-hero stories (cue Taylor Swift).

Oh, the writing throughout Sands of Arawiya was definitely atmospheric, though at several action points it got me confused as to what actually happened. All in all, if you’re looking for a standard, happy end, romantic YA fantasy adventure, then I think Sands of Arawiya will do fine.

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Book Review: Instructions for Dancing

It can be said that I’m a fan of Nicola Yoon. I’ve read one of her other books: Everything, Everything and the plot twist to that was one of the most memorable plot twists ever. So when Instructions for Dancing showed up on the Bootopia discount shelf at my local Periplus, I decided to go for it. This review has SPOILERS so beware!

Plot Twist

In line with plot twists, Nicola Yoon definitely threw another major (and painful) twist towards the end of Instructions for Dancing. I’m quite sad to say that it didn’t work at all for me. Basically, a mysterious bookkeeper witch suddenly gives (or curses) Evie (our main character) with the ability to see the beginning, middle, and end of people’s relationships as they kiss. Witness a kiss, and BOOM, see what happens to their relationship.

Now the reason the plot twist didn’t work for me was because it involved the boy X (the love of Evie’s life) getting a heart attack and dying more or less 10 months after Evie has the vision. And she didn’t do anything about it! I mean, granted she didn’t know it was a heart attack, but if it was the love of my life I would at least BEG for a full medical check up! I know there was a conversation in which X had said he didn’t want to know when he would die because it prevented him from living life to the fullest, but I’d be hard pressed to believe that a young, seemingly healthy boy in love with life wouldn’t want to at least put up a fight before the face of death. At least, to have that chance. Thus the plot twist ended up rather upsetting for me.

Cheating Trope

Another unhappy issue I had with this book was that it romanticized cheating trope. Evie’s dad cheated on her Mom, which caused them to get a divorce. Now, I don’t mind cheating tropes, but I think there is a way to do it (even maintaining the same endings for the parents) so that it’s not romanticized.

Writing Style

Having said those two main issues, I have to say the writing was delightful. The banter between X and Evie, and their chemistry was so sweet. And I did like the ultimate message: that love is worth it even with all the painful thorns. I just really wished it was handled a bit differently. Will I be reading more Nicola Yoon? You bet.

For a sweet, happily-ever-after young adult romcom, check out My Mechanical Romance.

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Book Review: Klara and the Sun

It’s been such a long time since my last Kazuo Ishiguro read, which was the highly acclaimed Never Let Me Go. I wasn’t quite as attracted to the premises of his following books, but Klara and the Sun intrigued me right away. It didn’t disappoint, though I’m left with this feeling of trying to grasp something that is continuously slipping away from my fingers.


Klara is a solar powered robot, an AF, an Artificial Friend, who has very high observational qualities. In the beginning of the story, she is at the store with her robot friend Rosa. Along with other AFs, they eagerly await families to purchase them. One day, a girl with a limp named Josie comes to the window display where Klara is stationed. They have a small conversation, through which they fall in love with each other. Josie promises Klara that she will convince her mother to come back to the store and purchase Klara.

“It is for the customers to choose the AF, never the other way around.”

After sometime, Josie and her mother does come back into the store. After a strange inquisition by her mother, Klara is bought. The second half of the book has Klara acclimating to her new home. There she slowly discovers the dynamics and tensions of Josie’s family.

Point of View

In sci-fi, it’s always interesting when we get the story from a machine’s perspective. In this case, we get it from Klara. We know that she isn’t the most reliable narrator. The limitations of how she experiences the world is imposed on the reader. The result is that at times it can feel a bit disjointed, disconnected, and honestly a bit confusing. However, here lies is the brilliance of such a writing device! As a reader I’m getting both a “robotic experience” while also comparing it with what is actually probably happening. I honestly love books like this, where some of the meanings are not stated so extrovertly, but rather left open to the reader for their own interpretations.


Klara and the Sun explores themes such as what it means to be human – can advanced Artificial Intelligence replace humans? Perhaps the question is not can, but when. And when that happens, then what? How about love – can Artificial Intelligences love? How do they show it? In return, can humans love robots? To what extent?

Of course, those themes are not new in sci-fi, they’ve all been explored before (even Disney’s Toy Story, to an extent). In fact, because of the “age” of the main character, and the issues she mainly has to deal with, this feels like sci-fi for younger readers. With that said, I did still enjoy it very much, and Klara is a brave, unique protagonist that will stay with me for a while.

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Book Review: Seven Days in June

OH MY GOD. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams had me on me such an emotional rollercoaster, I’m not likely to forget it anytime soon. Shane Hall and Eva Mercy, y’all are iconic. But wait. Even more so is Eva’s daughter Audre! Wait what? Okay, let’s get to the review.


Seven Days in June is an epic romance featuring two black authors: Shane Hall and Eva Mercy. Shane writes literary fiction, while Eva writes erotic fantasy (I want to read it!). The two first met when they were teenagers (17-18 years old), fell in angsty dramatic love, and got separated all in just one week. They meet again in their thirties. By this time, both are celebrated authors in their fields. Eva has married and divorced. She is mommy-ing twelve-year-old Audre, an emotionally brilliant teenage girl. Shane mentors at-risk black boys and is getting over his alcohol addiction.


Let me tell ya, Shane and Eva’s chemistry is crazy. Every time they share a scene together, it’s charged on super high voltage. Rocketing off the page. I saw some reviews that didn’t like their relationship because it was problematic – the first time they met both of them were on substances, then it all happened so fast (hence, the title), and they are basically codependent. I agree with all of this, however, the author states that the story is a Romeo and Juliet retelling with this premise: what if they were both black and they didn’t die? What would their relationship be like as adults? With this frame, the whole narrative makes perfect sense. It’s heightened drama, for the sake of the story, and I loved it!

The Heroine

Now the real heroine of Seven Days in June though is Eva’s daughter Audre. What a character. I’m so glad she’s a big part of the story – and she steals the show every time. Teenage girls rule the world!

Black Community

One of the reasons I read it was because I wanted to learn more about the modern black community. Seven Days in June definitely doesn’t shy away from the hardships, but it also accentuates the joys.


Overall, I’d give it 4 stars because I felt like the Epilogue was really main story material for another book. Also, a major plot point was not resolved, regarding what Eva told Audre about Lizette (Eva’s mother and Audre’s grandmother). For the steam, I’d give a 3 star because I was hoping (begging) for more, honestly!

If a sequel ever comes out, I’d definitely get it. For another emotional (and steamy) adult contemporary romance, also check out The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang!

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Series Review: Caraval

Caraval by Stephanie Garber is a super hype series I’ve been curious about. I pretty much binged all three books over a weekend. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed the series. It’s as magical as it promises, twisty, and quite fun. Nothing stood out as groundbreakingly new or brilliant, but there were a few shining moments here and there!


Three stars for me, with some extra sparkle for Scarlett’s self-changing gown. What I’d give to have that kind of dress- I don’t have to buy new clothes or change, ever! As a beginning this was solid, introducing the mysterious realms between real and unreal. A few times I thought for sure I’ve guessed the plot twist, but Stephanie Garber throws some cards of her own.

The descriptions, while some were lush and enjoyable, sometimes bogged down the story. I guess I didn’t totally LOVE it because I just didn’t feel any natural chemistry between Scarlett and Julian. It was only at the very end where I started sympathizing (a wee bit) for the couple. On the other hand, Scarlett and Donatella’s sister bond was beautiful. Sadly, due to the plot, Tella was missing for about eighty percent of the book.


Four stars! Despite the start being rather slow, I think the book picked up quite excitingly from halfway to the end. Did it need to be this long? I don’t think so. Were the descriptions still superfluous? Yes. That aside, while Scarlett was the main character of the first book, Legendary features our bad girl Donatella. Tella’s perspective is indeed more interesting precisely because she’s a baddie. I could also feel Tella and Dante’s chemistry more (in comparison to Scarlett and Julian’s).

Stephanie Garber also introduced the Fates in Legendary, and I must say that makes everything more interesting. Gods frolicking around the mortal world always makes for good potential drama (hence why it’s so popular). The author definitely used it to her advantage.


This had me in a bit of a mix. Back to three stars, mainly because of some rather disturbing plot points. They were minor, but ugh. Clue: even the Targaryens of Game of Thrones didn’t venture this territory.

Caraval’s Finale was told from both Scarlett and Donatella’s perspective, which I think is pretty cool for the overarching structure of the trilogy. Sadly, what I think is the heart of this series: the sister bond between the Dragna girls, were cast to the side in favor of their romantic rollercoasters. Tella’s point of view had too much pining from me, at sometimes bordering glorification of toxic relationships. What tugged me along was the quick action points of the plot. I know some went nowhere and were probably not too necessary to the main plot, but at least it provided action. As in, at least it was better than Tella pining for Legend.

Sparkle points go to Scarlett’s gown (you kick ass piece of fabric, you), the Count’s dog (oh my baby), the Zoo in the Immortal Library, and a couple of Jacks’ villainy lines.

Bonus Contents

Oh, and a special mention to the bonus contents in the end of each book: there was a playlist, author annotated pages, and deleted scenes. I really liked these!

If you like semi dark young adult magical adventures with romance and happy endings, I’d also recommend Hotel Magnifique or The Folk of the Air trilogy.