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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.

Plot

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.

Chemistry

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.

Rating

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!

Caraval

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.

Legendary

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.

Finale

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.

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Book Review: How Long ’til Black Future Month?

How Long ’til Black Future Month is a collection of short stories by NK Jemisin. Ever since I came across her Broken Earth Series, I’ve been a huge fan. It was a real treat to read her explorations in this book.

The Imagination

I gotta give major applause to Jemisin because the range of her imagination is wild! Some stories are sharp and witty in their commentary on society, while others have an undertone of religion, albeit with fresh (may one argue, necessary?) twists. Others have the apocalyptic futuristic sci-fi vibe that we all love. A few were downright hair-rising creepy (in a good way, of course). Not all stories have an equal punch to them, but for me, the great ones definitely outnumbered the ordinary few. Some of my favorites were: Red Dirt Witch, L’Alchimista, The Effluent Engine, The Trojan Girl, and The Narcomancer.

Experiments

Every bit as enjoyable and eye-opening to read is Jemisin’s self-written introduction to How Long ’til Black Future Month. On the writing aspect, it was fascinating because she credits her ability to write longer-form novels to short stories. She says, “writing short stories taught me about the quick hook and the deep character.”

The worlds of her longer series were originally tested out via short story form, and indeed it was cool to see that play out. The short story Stone Hunger became The Broken Earth series, and it was rather nostalgic to see an earlier version of that world.

Black Characters

One of the reasons I love NK Jemisin is that she doesn’t shy away from anger. Of course, POC books can be escapism too, and don’t have to be about social issues all the time. But in the hands of Jemisin, they become both. They are both great escapist avenues while still bringing to light centuries of racism.

“I still wrote black characters into my work because I couldn’t stand excluding myself from my own damn fiction.”

NK Jemisin

NK Jemisin often states that she has no interest in maintaining the status quo, and indeed her writings are about challenging existing paradigms, overthrowing order, and reimagining the future. The vibe of her stories reminds me of the poet Maya Angelou. Jemisin’s own words sum it best:

“Now I am bolder, and angrier, and more joyful; none of these things contradict each other.”

NK Jemisin

Rest assured I am on a mission to read all her works.

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Book Review: The Jade Setter of Janloon

The Jade Setter of Janloon is a novella by Fonda Lee. It takes place before the events of Green Bone Saga, in the same jade studded world. Since Green Bone Saga is one of my favorite trilogies (and I miss Kaul Hilo too much), I had to get my hands on this short story. Good news: it didn’t disappoint!

Plot

The Jade Setter of Janloon follows Pulo, an apprentice to Isin, the most revered Jade Setter in Kekon. Even Ayt Mada, the Pillar of the Mountain Clan has her jade setted by Isin. But when someone steals Ayt Mada’s moon blade from Isin’s shop, the stakes get very steep, very fast.

Short as it is, Fonda Lee weaves well paced drama about all the characters of the jade shop. You really start to feel their anxiety as their situation worsens. One thing I always enjoy about Green Bone is how authentic the Eastern themes are, and how the characters deal with the paradigms they have grown up with versus the modern culture and world. In the trilogy there were big themes of honor, family vs individuality, upholding your culture vs managing westernism, etc.

Here it is the master-student relationship which the author grapples with. This theme wasn’t explored so much in the main trilogy, so special nod to Fonda Lee for finding yet something else that’s ancient and incorporating it into her jade world seamlessly. She also raised a very important social issue in this novella (it would be a spoiler if I say it) so kudos for that!

Appearances

Yes, Hilo (still a Fist, not yet the Horn) has a major appearance with the Maik brothers. LOVE THIS. Not just Hilo, but Lan and Ayt Mada have their moments as well. I did miss Wen and Shae terribly, though I see how the plot would be forced if they were to be incorporated into this particular storyline.

As for the main characters of the novella, I didn’t feel so much for Pulo, but his character did get major development. Malla is an interesting character – I’d love to get to know more too. I think Pulo and Malla’s romantic relationship was a bit forced, but it’s a minor complaint.

In the end, if you loved the trilogy, I think you’d have a great time with this novella!

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Movie Review: Belle (2021)

This anime film completely exceeded my expectations! Here I was, thinking it would be a fun, futuristic(ish) metaverse vibe retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Which it kind of was, but then it went way beyond that.

Plot

Belle is the most popular influencer/singer in the digital world of U (aka the metaverse of the film). As a hit newcomer, of course she has everyone wondering who she is in the real world. Enter Suzu, a completely ordinary high-schooler on the shy, clumsy side of life. Suzu learned singing from her deceased mother, and as much as she loves it, Suzu finds she can only sing in the digital world using her avatar identity, Belle. Whenever Suzu tries to sing in real life, post traumatic symptoms set in to block Suzu’s voice.

Suzu feels like she’s all alone, but she actually has a great best friend named Hiro, a tech-savvy genius physicist who helps with all of Belle’s music productions and digital effects in the U. Basically, Belle would not have been that popular without Hiro’s skill. The two girls are the only ones who know of Belle’s true identity.

Since it is a teen drama, there is high school drama in Suzu and Hiro’s lives which they have to deal with, in addition to a threat in the U named the Beast. The Beast causes problems where ever he goes, but Belle takes a liking to him. When Beast gets into deep trouble with the Justices in the U, Belle thinks she is the only one that can help him. But how can she help him if she doesn’t even know who he really is?

Thus Suzu and Hiro begin their search for Beast’s identity in the real world, and what they find out will change Suzu’s life.

Thoughts

My gods, the plot twist of who the Beast was really got to me. It was completely unexpected, suspenseful, and emotionally gut wrenching. Writer and director Mamoru Hosoda did an excellent job superimposing the digital and physical realities of our times to show how both are real, both interactions on digital and physical platforms can really change people’s circumstances and lives. The side characters: Suzu’s dad, the community choir older ladies, and Suzu’s high school friends Shinobu, Ruka, and Kamishin, are also precious, especially as the film eventually reveals their relationships to each other.

The ending deeply moved me, and yes, I did cry in several climactic moments. As a plus, the animation and soundtrack (Belle’s songs) are beautiful. I highly recommend this anime film!

PS: the premise of this film reminds me of If I Stay, a novel by Sherry.

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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!