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Book Review: My Mechanical Romance

My Mechanical Romance exceeded my expectations for a YA rom-com! I had just finished The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and was in desperate need of something light with a happy-ever-after ending. My Mechanical Romance did just the trick.

The Romance

Told in dual POV from the main characters, the growth of Bel and Teo’s relationship was believable, organic, and totally swoon-worthy. Bel Maier has just moved to a new high school for senior year because of family problems. She’s creative and artsy, but lacks self-confidence and a direction for where she wants her future to go. Teo Luna is the exact opposite. He’s involved, focused, and has his eyes on the gold for his future in engineering. When a dedicated teacher, Ms. Voss, finds out that Bel has talent for building, she urges Bel to try out for the robotics team under Teo’s leadership. Teo recruits Bel, and the story follows the two teens’ relationship, their robots, and their friends for the rest of the school year.

Women in STEM

I loved all the engineering vibes! There was quite a thorough coverage, especially with their robots and the robot tournament. The important subplot about female representation in engineering got highlighted (YES!). I thought it was wonderful how #sisterhood played out as several women and girls support each other in the male-dominated landscape of robotics.

Epilogue

Too cute! I’m glad the author kind of gave Bel a direction that wasn’t the normal track. Instead, Bel’s alternative path brought her to her goals in a way that was just as (if not more) rewarding. An out-of-the-box solution that felt right with Bel’s personality. Takeaway: there are many ways to reach your dreams! The obvious route isn’t the only way.

If you like YA romance stories with a high school vibe and a lot of robots, definitely pick this one up! If you’re looking for more books with women in STEM, check out Ali Hazelwood’s The Love Hypothesis.

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Book Review: Beautiful World, Where Are You

Having now read all three of Sally Rooney’s books, I definitely think Beautiful World, Where Are You is my favorite! Normal People was a bit off for me because I had major trust issues with Connell. Conversations With Friends had more complex relationships and dynamics so that was cool. Beautiful World, Where Are You feels like it’s on another level entirely!

Vibes

As usual, Sally Rooney’s books are more vibe and character driven than plot driven, which is the same here. The vibes, though, are amped up in compared to the other two books. She goes into this cinematic panning out thing where it feels like you’re moving backward from the people involved in the scene to take in everything around them: the building, the nature/environment around it, the ocean. I love this kind of style, and I didn’t find it in her previous ones.

Structure

The structure of this book goes back and forth between Alice and Felix’s undefined relationship to Eileen and Simon’s best friends since childhood, girl next door, friends to lovers trope. In between their two stories, however, are lengthy email interactions between Alice and Eileen. I saw some Goodreads reviews that didn’t like these email exchanges. I found them a great tool for the author to insert her opinions and explorations on matters around her. She had interesting thoughts, presented them in a fascinating manner, and a platform that wants to know more of her philosophy, so why not!

Philosophical

There were a lot of mentions of Russian literature in this book. Being a fan of Russian literature, I have to say that this book even feels like something a modern Dostoevsky would write, with all the philosophical ponderings of the characters.

One topic that surprised me was religion. I seriously would never have expected Sally Rooney to start writing about Mass and Catholicism but there it was: Simon Costigan, one of her characters, is a devout Catholic! It takes a whole lot of courage and maturity for an atheist to view religious activities in a compassionate light, and vice versa. I have to say she did it quite well here, and I am very impressed.

Beautiful World, Where Are You has made me view Sally Rooney as not just an author but also a philosopher and leading thinker. As such, I’d be very interested to read more of her thought explorations via her next books.

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Book Review: Normal People

After reading Conversations with Friends, I picked up Normal People. At this point, I can safely say I have Sally Rooney fever. This review has SPOILERS (if you can even call it spoilers) because there isn’t much of a plot LOL.

Plot

Like I said, not much of a plot. Just two people with issues weaving in and out of each other’s lives, sometimes gorgeously, sometimes devastatingly. Despite the lack of plot though, I simply could not put it down.

Characters: Connell

Okay, this I can expand on a bit. I found the way Connell was portrayed in the book made me feel very uncomfortable with this guy. Honest. Because the book format shows us everything that’s going on in his head, I find myself being scared of him! It all started when we find out Connell is the type to say things without really meaning them or thinking about the consequences beforehand, which makes him highly untrustworthy.

Then for him to have thoughts of hitting Marianne (red flags for me). In the end, he still did something huge without telling her. Connell grew up a little bit when he stood up to Alan (Marianne’s abusive brother) but other than that I have to say the whole time I feel like this guy is volatile and at any time might change his mind so it’s best to just keep a FAR DISTANCE.

Characters: Marianne

As for Marianne, I didn’t mind her character, although it kind of bugged me that Sally Rooney seemed to be implying Marianne liked BDSM because she was so abused her whole life. I think this shines a poor light on the spirit of BDSM. What annoyed me (even more than the lack of quotation marks!) was how the author wrote in such a way to make other girls around her really dislike her. A lot of “pick me” attitude which is not directly from Marianne, but again, implied in the writing.

The other side characters with exception of Lorraine (Connell’s mom) fell flat and cartoonish, something which was really too bad since it made them unrealistic. Lorraine is a lifesaver though because it’s thanks to Lorraine’s parenting that Connell came around in the end.

The Ending

Hear this, I loved the ending because it was so consistent with their whole relationship. They had communication problems the whole time and even to the end (insert bitter evil laugh). Connell couldn’t decide what he wanted and what he had to give up or trade-off to get what he wanted, even till the last pages. Though it’s probably unsatisfying for a lot of readers, to me, the turn of events completely made SENSE. And feeling what I feel about Connell, if I was Marianne, I’d probably do the same thing (tell him to kindly stay on the other side of the ocean)!

I thought Marianne made some major growth, finally being at peace with herself. Although I didn’t like how she got there – basically Connell had to save her. Really? If he wasn’t there she’d never be able to save herself (or find a better savior)? Eh, I’m disappointed.

In conclusion, I finished Normal People with mixed feelings. I find myself liking Conversations with Friends better than Normal People, but I really couldn’t stop reading both of the books. Because of that, I’m looking forward to discovering Beautiful World, Where Are You. I also suspect Marianne and Connell’s “love story” (or not-love story?) will play out a bit better on screen, so I’m looking forward to watching the TV show!

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Book Review: Crying in H Mart

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but Crying in H Mart was recommended to me on #booktwt because I was looking for similar vibes to On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. I’m glad I picked Crying in H Mart up! Michelle Zauner’s writing is moving, right in your face, and yet manages to be compassionate and loving.

Main Themes

This memoir deals with the loss of the author’s mother due to cancer, and is as such necessarily painful. I feel the book does justice to the experience though (that’s a bad way of saying it, like what can ever do justice to an experience of losing your mother). But I guess what I’m trying to say is the writing isn’t flippant – it has gravitas. The topic of life and death is handled with care – something that is always tricky to do.

Crying in H Mart is also about identity. Being half Korean and half American, the author goes through self-identity crisis and search which is amplified when her connection with Korean culture is cut short because of her mother’s death. The author writes about how she slowly finds her way back to it through food and cooking. This is something which is surely relatable to everyone who has ever dealt with identity and cultural crisis. As such, anyone who loves books about food (especially Korean food) will also be attracted to Crying in H Mart.

Writing Style

Although nonfiction, the memoir nature of the book results in me reading it like a fiction, so I wasn’t bored at all. I didn’t cry (these days it’s loving relationships that make me cry, not sorrow) but I was very moved and ate a lot of ramen and shrimp prawn chips while I read it. The prose is to the point when necessary, but also poetic in certain scenes – perhaps because she writes songs!

PS: Here’s a shout out to Post Bookshop, a book shop in Pasar (market) Santa from where I ordered it. The delivery was quick, the packaging lovely, and the handwritten note so sweet! Friends in Indo, please support this bookshop!

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Series Review: Green Bone Saga

My friends, pick this up right now. I’m telling you, I read a lot of fantasy, and Green Bone Saga is UP THERE. One of the best fantasy series I’ve read so far – although it’s not the fairy tale, dragons, and wizard type of fantasy. Seriously, I can’t stop gushing about this series.

Jade City

The first book of the Green Bone Saga introduces us to the iconic Kaul family. The Kauls are the head of the No Peak Clan in the city of Janloon. Janloon is rather like 1970s Hong Kong except with jade. Jade in the whole series is a source of magical powers which Green Bones can tap into, endowing them with superhuman abilities. Naturally, such a substance is coveted throughout the whole world, from street rats to presidents.

Fonda Lee‘s worldbuilding is superb, complete with political power plays that reminded me of the first book of Game of Thrones. Of course, Green Bone Saga quickly exceeds Game of Thrones, in my opinion. The Kaul family relationships and dynamics drive the whole series. Let me say that I love every single one of them! All the characters in the Kaul family are complex and morally gray, but HEAVEN HELP ME I am in love. Their struggles are so relatable, especially if you’re Asian or familiar with Asian culture and the clash with “modernity”.

Jade War

The second installment took the whole thing to another level. As the political groundwork was so meticulously laid out, the pay off and stakes are visibly high. Plot wise Jade War is riveting. But the greatest joy of this book is seeing the main characters of the Kaul family really grow into leadership. Not only that, they also start influencing the wider world.

Kaul Hilo, I have no words. I am simping over this character – literally drooling. Anden Emery, the adopted son of the Kauls, actually has the most unexpected arc. His being half in and half out is an issue for him (though not for anyone else, it seems) and he really grows a lot in this book. Now Kaul Shae, this lady is larger than life here. There is a scene in which Shae duels the long-time family enemy: Ayt Mada of the Mountain Clan. This has got to be the most exciting scene in the whole series. Fonda Lee really knows her action flow.

Jade Legacy

The last and thickest book of the series (I finished it in two days) is thoroughly satisfying in story, but heartbreaking. I’m shattered, and will likely never recover.

Jade Legacy uses time jumps to cover the span of the decades. Some readers on Goodreads mention this to be skimming the story. I don’t mind because it actually works as a storytelling device, allowing characters to look back and reflect on key events. In this way we can also see the impact of those events on the characters’ lives. Fonda Lee milks these internal dialogues so that we really get closer the characters.

The arcs of the “main” generation of Kauls: Hilo, his wife Wen, his sister Shae, and his brother Anden, all wrap up very well. Even Ayt Mada’s arc was well resolved. The younger generation, Niko, Ru, Jaya, could have been given more treatment but then that’s probably a whole new series in itself. Which I wouldn’t mind, by the way.

There is one trope in this book that seemed to be a repeat of something in Jade Legacy, so that was kind of cliche for me. Other than that, however, I find myself a complete fan of the series, and will be reading the novella The Jadesetter of Janloon. After my jade withdrawal symptoms have slightly receded, of course.

Bonus

Since I’m a fan of booktok aesthetics, here is the best fan made aesthetic I’ve come across so far for Jade City. Oh and the sexy voice? Kaul Hilo would approve.

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Book Review: The Bride Test

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang is the second book of The Kiss Quotient trilogy. The main characters of this installment are Khai Diep (Michael Phan’s cousin from The Kiss Quotent and Quan Diep’s younger brother) and Esme Tran. This whole romance trilogy is connected by a couple themes: various shades of autism, Vietnamese-American immigrant perspective, and the Michael-Quan-Kai big family.

Plot

Khai Diep steadfastly avoids relationships because he thinks he is unable to love due to the way he processes emotions. His mom takes it into her own hands and goes to Vietnam to find him a bride. Esme Tran, chosen by Khai’s mother, flies to California to seduce Khai into marriage. With such a premise, you can be sure there will be lots of LOL and fun awkward moments!

One thing I didn’t expect was how big of a role Quan Diep played in this book. That just makes me love his character more, especially going into The Heart Principle (No 3).

Own Voice

I love that Helen Hoang is writing stories based on her experiences. The authenticity shines through all the books. Perhaps more so in The Bride Test than in the other two because the female protagonist is Vietnamese. In the first one Stella Lane (I think) is white and in the third one Anna Sun is Chinese-American. I’d definitely say I liked Esme’s voice best because she’s such a fighter. I mean, Stella and Anna are endearing too, however, they are extremely privileged with regard to their economic backgrounds.

Steam

I gotta say, Helen Hoang is pretty steamy. The Bride Test has some fun scenes, but I think The Kiss Quotient had more smutty content. The Bride Test for me has more humor and heart.

All of the books can be read as a stand-alone and not in order, but trust me, I think you’ll fall in love with these boys!

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Adult Book Review: Wicked Beauty

Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert is the 3rd book in Dark Olympus series. In this series Katee Robert does a freestyle retelling of Greek mythology and Olympians. I’ve very much enjoyed the previous ones on the series: Neon Gods and Electric Idol, so I knew I’d enjoy Wicked Beauty also.

Achilles, Patroclus….AND Helen???

I am utterly convinced to get the full impact one must read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles first. Get your heart utterly destroyed by the whole Achilles and Patroclus tragedy. Then, for a mood booster, pick this one up! It’s a happy ever after take on the two hot boys plus a certain woman for whom they went to war: Helen. Obviously, if you’re not a threesome person then this is not your thing. I found it quite fun 😀

Character Explorations

Katee Robert must have had so much fun with the archetype of these characters and turning them on their head. Achilles went through failure (gasp!) and picked back up his shattered ego for his loved ones. Patroclus faced his deepest insecurity, and the best character development of the three yet: Helen.

Our Helen in this book was just coming out of an incredibly toxic relationship with (who else) pretty boy Paris. Then her brother announced her to be the prize of the trials for the Ares position. In a truly feminist power roar, Helen enters herself into the competition. Her growth through the Ares trials and with the two men was sky high! Don’t expect a weak limpid Helen who just sits around looking scandalous. Expect Katniss Everdeen badassery in combination with Cersei Lannister’s sharp politic skills.

Steam

No need to doubt the steam with KR, she always delivers.

I’m a real convert to Katee Robert’s books and I’m so glad she has SO MANY. I’ll not tire of them anytime soon!

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Book Review: Of Myths and Men

Everyone who is a gamer or involved in any way with video games will love this book! If you’re not a gamer, there might be a few “insides jokes” which you might miss out on. Not to worry, they are but very minor. I was intrigued because I’m writing for a fantasy game at the moment, plus I love reading and supporting the works of contemporary Southeast Asian female authors. So, INITIATE CHECKOUT AND PURCHASE!

Gaming Vibes

Of Myths and Men by Catherine Dellosa is fast paced and action packed, perfect for people like me who are terribly impatient. The plot follows rather like a fantasy RPG game where you would go from quest to quest, solving missions until the bigger storyline slowly reveals itself. In that way I thought it was cool because the experience was like playing a game.

Cover

I had to mention this because I was thrown off by the artwork of the cover. The impression I got was that of a middle grade adventure vibe, when it’s probably more to YA or even NA with some spicy scenes.

General Thoughts

At a risk of a MINOR SPOILER, I’ll say I’m generally a fan of love triangles and Of Myths and Men had a hot one, wink wink. Hopefully in the sequel too :D! The main character, Ava, is a sassy, smart mouthed, and sarcastic narrator, which reminds me a bit of Percy Jackson.

One thing that slightly confused me was where this whole story took place. Was it somewhere in the Philippines, in the States, or in a different country altogether in an alternate universe? Several legendary characters / mythical monsters showed up that are very international (from Japan, the Arctic, etc) so that confused the geographical compass for me even more.

All in all though, Of Myths and Men was a fresh and exciting read!

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Book Review: The Kiss Quotient

Phew! The past week has been extremely busy with work transitioning out of the pandemic, but here I am to review Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient!

Steam

I got attracted to this book from @twentycharm bookstagram account in which she mentioned there was a lot of smut in The Kiss Quotient. I do love my steamy romances so that’s precisely why I wanted to get my hands on this. Having said that, since I do read straight up smut (Recommended: Katee Robert!) I actually think the scenes in The Kiss Quotient are quite mild. The amount also balances out quite well with the plot and characters, in my opinion. Which is to say I would have loved more but that probably won’t be the same for the general reader.

Plot

Helen Hoang mentions it in the Author’s Note, The Kiss Quotient is essentially a gender reverse of My Fair Lady. The gal Stella Lane is hecka rich and the guy Michael Phan is struggling with money and bills. A premise like this always makes for a fun poke into society, especially when it’s the female party that has more wealth. It takes a secure guy indeed to go into this kind of relationship and that was definitely part of Michael’s character growth, which I really liked.

Stella Lane

What really cool character! She’s got it almost all going for her: brilliant mind, high paying job, good-looking. She has flaws, mainly from her insecurity of being on the spectrum, which I imagine must be something totally relatable for readers that are autistic. Her character growth to embrace herself completely and face life with healthy attitudes is an empowering journey. Oh and of course, bonus points for her playing the piano 😀

Series

The Kiss Quotient is the first of a trilogy of romance books featuring autistic characters. The books can be read out of order since the plots are only loosely connected to each other. Coincidentally I read The Heart Principle first and it’s not as comedic and fun as The Kiss Quotient, but in my opinion it’s more romantic.

I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate authors like Helen Hoang who are spreading more awareness on matters that they really care about, and in such a lovely yet vulnerable way. The whole series is a 5 star read!

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The Joy of Annotating

I am officially deeply infatuated with annotating. Ever since my social media channels have been repurposed towards more of a bookish niche, I’ve been seeing all these gorgeous pictures of book annotations. I mean, take a look at Jules @yourstrulyjulietta annotations!

The only books I used to annotate were my textbooks. However, drooling over their pretty pics made me want to try it out too.

Equipment

I ordered transparent sticky notes and natural-ish colored tabs from Shopee and got to work annotating. At first I made smudges on my book GASP PANIC MODE. But well isn’t that life. The (very) first book I annotated was Galatea (Madeline Miller), followed by Transcendent Kingdom (Yaa Gyaasi).

I had the funniest feelings but what I didn’t realize was how much it would help me process my thoughts as I’m reading the book! WHAT! I’ve been missing out on this!

What About the Old Faithful Kindle?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be reading on my Kindle (it’s so convenient, really). But I’m also going to intersperse more physical books to annotate. I also enjoy doing giveaways on my social media channels, and guess what some of my #booktweet friends even said they liked to receive annotated books better than clean books! What do you know.

Ah, it’s so much fun I can’t wait to annotate more!