I loved everything about She Who Became the Sun, happy sigh. And General Ouyang? I get that he’s a eunuch and he doesn’t swing my direction, but I’m still swooning over him. Okay, so what’s this book about?
She Who Became the Sun is a historical fantasy retelling of Zhu Yuanzhang, the Emperor who founded the Ming Dynasty, expelled the Mongols, and unified China. The topic is already something I’m incredibly interested in – China’s deliciously dramatic history. Add to that the twist of Zhu being a girl? Automatic read. It does have Mulan vibes but it’s much more – think Mulan slash Daenerys Targaryen of Game of Thrones.
Shelley Parker-Chan‘s writing is gripping from the very first sentence to the very end. One thing I especially like are her analogies – Zhongli village lying in the heat of the sun like a dead dog? Amazing. The book has many such sentences like this, which brings the atmosphere of ancient China alive for me. They way she retells and brings alive the characters: the to-be Empress Ma, General Ouyang, and of course Zhu makes these historical figures into people I won’t forget.
Exactly as the title promises, the empowerment narrative is good. As someone with Chinese heritage, I feel Shelley gets the idea so well that it hits home. Girls in the Chinese culture were just so itemized, so unimportant, so…nothing compared to boys. Boys are everything. Girls are meaningless, expendable. I lived this growing up. So I loved that in this fantasy, at least, we can show that we are not meaningless.
Women too can have mandates of heaven, lead armies, and leave a legacy of our names.
If you’re into women empowerment fantasy, check out my Nishaverse series.
I picked The Fifth Season up because my editor Chriswan recommended it to me, with flying colors. The author NK Jemisin has won multiple Hugo Awards so I was pretty excited to dig in. I wasn’t disappointed. Having just finished a stellar fantasy series by Megan Whalen Turner called The Queen’s Thief, The Broken Earth Series mended my sad heart.
What amazed me about The Fifth Season was the courage of the author’s original writing voice. Told through multiple Point of Views, the author uses a style of narration I haven’t seen before in a book. Some reviewers on Goodreads couldn’t stand it, but I thought it was uniquely mysterious. When I found out later who the “I” was, it all clicked in. That’s why the narrator talks like this, I realize. I love AHA moments in books which have been planted carefully by the author from the beginning.
There is a powerful fearless message about racism in this book. In fact, it’s one of the premises of the whole series. Jemisin even dedicates it to “those who have to work hard to be respected in ways that others naturally have.” I love books in which the author is uncompromisingly tackling a difficult topic with such style. Amazing.
Hats off to NK Jemisin for excellent worldbuilding through a creative way: the end of every chapter is suffixed with various interesting lore. Some of them have a subplot to them. The dystopian Earth she creates is vivid and dangerous, compelling and fascinating. Granted, it can sometimes be confusing because she creates a lot of new vocabulary that doesn’t really exist in the English language as we know it. To be honest, I’m still unsure what exactly the fifth season is (there were a lot of seasons mentioned, way more than five, I thought). But I can accept that because it doesn’t really bother the plot.
Mysterious, intriguing, and powerful. From the madman Alabaster, our heroine Syenite, to the stone eater Hoa, all the characters were so awesomely in between badness and goodness. None of the stereotypical bad guy good guy here.
In conclusion, my editor hasn’t yet recommended a book I haven’t enjoyed or learned something from, and it’s the same with the Broken Earth series. I can’t wait to see the developments in the sequel: The Obelisk Gate. If you like epic dystopian fantasy, this is the series for you. Another epic fantasy you might consider is The Priory of the Orange Tree.
Funny thing I thought this was one of Lang Leav‘s poetry collections at first. Turns out Peomsia is a contemporary fiction about a young girl who wants to be a poet. When her Instagram account suddenly becomes viral, Verity Wolf is thrown into the glittery world of celebrity poets. She gets everything she could have wanted, so what next?
The plot is quite straightforward. Poemsia is fairytale-esque with first love, a supportive best friend, evil sidekick, and quick fast glamorous success. To be honest it’s a bit simplistic because all the problems get resolved immediately. Nice, but not always the best reflection of reality – hence perfect for fairy tale happy ever after fans.
Before Poemsia I read Love Looks Pretty On You which is one of Lang Leav’s poetry collection, and I must say I like that one better. She seems to be able to dig into so much artistic depth in her poems, but is unable to bring that out in the structure of a fiction. That said, there were some poetic sentences in which I though THIS IS LANG LEAV. The scene about Verity’s mother impersonating a butterfly and Verity’s answer to someone who asked her on advice for how to be a poet – those transcended above a majority of the narrative.
I do like the lesson in Poemsia though. Verity tastes a bit of microwave success, makes some money as her poetry book becomes a best-seller, and then decides what she wanted was right in front of her all along – the bonsai garden, the small bookstore, her boyfriend Sash, her grandfather Pop, and her best friend Jess. I love these kind of lessons. As a wise mentor once told me: if you think you have problems because you don’t have money, think again. You will have twice as much problems when you do have money.
Indeed success if it’s defined ONLY by material wealth, pretty looks, and thousands of Instagram followers probably needs redefining. I’m not saying it’s bad to be rich, pretty, and be an influencer on social media. I want all of those things too! But that’s not my end goal. I want a lot of money so I can be financially secure and then support awesome charities my friends set up (from anti stunting to music education to saving the rainforest).
Another goal is to be healthy which often results in looking pretty (yeay!). I want to be an “influencer” because I want to use my voice for issues I care about (like women empowerment and sexual harassment). I also want to reduce my trash output (long term zero-waste life goal) and see more marine animals before they go extinct thanks to our collective trash load – worthy lifestyle goals to consider other than financial, health, and career goals.
Thus, any story that invites the reader to look deeper into perceived success and fame through a more critical mindset is a book I welcome.
Alright, here goes me reviewing a very hype book. By now, I’m quite aware my taste in books are somewhat different than the trendy ones – although I do get curious every now and then.
Our main character is a journalist named Monique Grant, who was chosen by retired Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo to write her biography. Throughout her glamorous and scandalous life, Evelyn Hugo has collected and outlived 7 husbands, including outliving a daughter. Evelyn has engineered her public image in such a way to hide unflinching truths, which she now gives to Monique. A question runs throughout the whole narrative: why Monique?
I rated it 3 stars on Goodreads because I think it was so-so for me. I can understand the hype – who isn’t interested in the glitzy behind-the-scenes of Hollywood? The empowerment themes for people of color and LGBTQ are also a plus point going for this book.
However, some things didn’t sit right with me because the author does a lot of “forcing a point” through Evelyn’s story. There was not much room for the reader to arrive at their own opinions nor to disagree. The whole book feels like it’s teaching how to live life, and it had some alright lessons, but also some I disagreed with.
An example is this quote:
My Kindle has automatic highlight function, and it’s showing me that 8 thousand other readers highlighted this quote. So I guess a lot of readers like it. For me though, I disagree. The statement actually contradicts itself, having stated “opportunities are given” then in the next breath “nothing is given, you have to take it.” But didn’t the text just say that opportunities are given?
The world gives free air for us to breathe, soil for us to grow crops, a whole planet for us to enjoy. And from the moment we popped out of our mothers’ wombs to the moment we decompose, all we do is take from the world and emit harmful poisons to our planet. Unless we are very careful with our lifestyles and have a strong commitment to leave this earth a better place, then I assure you that both you and I are criminals in nature’s eyes. I am guilty of it myself.
Obviously this book is not about relationships with nature and with our environment, it’s more about human relationships and it’s got some great lessons on that. Yet my personal bias is kicking in whenever I read narratives that are only about humans. Because the world isn’t just about humans.
We know that after the pandemic. A tiny virus slammed down our activities and plans, and we had no choice but to work around how to survive with a constantly mutating virus in the air.
Ending (Spoiler Alert!)
The ending is controversial, as the whole book tries to be. And here is one point where I do agree with the author. Yes, I honestly believe that individuals in their right mind should be able to exercise their right-to-die. Done properly, it can be a meaningful and relieving experience for everyone. Take the case of Betsy, who was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease.
So all in all, I thought The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was so-so. If you like scandalous, empowering, well-rounded tragedy narratives, try the classic Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.
Leigh Bardugo definitely notches up her writing game with the Six of Crows duology. Crooked Kingdom is the sequel to Six of Crows and the fifth book in the Grishaverse. In this installment, Kaz Brekker and his band of thieves and thugs conclude their grand heist, which began in Six of Crows.
The story arcs of Kaz and Inej, the Suli assassin indebted to him were just beautiful here. Fans of Kaz-Inej relationship will be very happy. Nina Zenik played a smaller part in this book in comparison to Six of Crows, but that’s alright because in the next duology (book 6 and 7 of Grishaverse), she is HUGE. Like larger than life. In this book however, well. Let’s just say I know all too well the horrors she has to go through in Crooked Kingdom. Enough said or it will spoil the ending.
I think that Jesper’s character was developed very well and brought to a nice ripe growth, especially with the appearance of someone special to him. Jesper started off as someone unwilling to face his true identity. He masked sorrows with a huge addiction to gambling and adrenaline. Through his adventures in Crooked Kingdom, however, he is able to somewhat come to terms with himself. I can almost smell future development for Jesper! What will a bright energetic person like Jesper be able to pull off once he has fully acknowledged his strengths and weaknesses? I can’t wait to see.
Full of Deceit and Trickery
With a grand heist, layers of deception from the antagonists and the protagonists (read: Kaz Brekker’s schemes), Crooked Kingdom can honestly be a bit tricky. Leigh Bardugo also employs a lot of flashbacks to flesh out the backstory of her characters, which I loved. I really enjoyed getting to know them better. However, I wonder if there is another way to pull this off so that it’s not so confusing to the main plot. I can see it working extremely well in movie format though. And I’ve heard rumors of a Six of Crows spinoff by Netflix…
I also must mention that as much as I enjoy Leigh Bardugo’s poetic writing, I feel sometimes it got bit carried away. As a result, some descriptions were a bit unclear for me because it went into the realm of poetry instead of being crisp and clear about what was going on.
All in all, I loved Six of Crows duology – so much that I even wrote a fanfic of it! Check out my Six of Crows fanfic ,told from Jesper’s point of view.
Six of Crows duology consists of Six of Crows and its sequel Crooked Kingdom. Both books take place in the Grisha Universe (the fans know it as Grishaverse) created by Leigh Bardugo. The original trilogy, Shadow and Bone, is now a hit Netflix series which was excellently done. Having watched the first season and read the original trilogy, I recommend just watching the Netflix version. HOWEVER.
When it comes to Six of Crows, this is a definite must read. While the original trilogy takes place largely in Ravka, Six of Crows centers around Kerch – an island country built on trade and commerce. In a setting where everything is regulated by its price in the market, our criminal heroes rise from the slums to grandiose glory.
The Gang of Misfits
Okay, not quite. At least, not YET in Six of Crows. Six misfits and rejects, suffering various traumas, gather together under the command of the ultimate bad boy / gang leader Kaz Brekker. What is so special about Kaz is that he is a cripple. But don’t underestimate his cane because it might just very well crush your head. Kaz’s love interest and second-in-command is Inej Ghafa. Inej is an acrobat turned slave-whore because she was stolen from her family by slavers and sold into the Menagerie, an elite whore house in Ketterdam. Kaz pays off her debts and recruits her to be his Wraith (secret intelligence aka information gatherer) slash assassin. Their relationship is one of the most interesting couple relationships in fantasy, because of the traumas they have gone through.
Jesper Fahey, an excellent shooter and horrible gambler is the third in their crew. Hailing from the farmlands of Novyi Zem, Jesper is embroiled in gambling debt. He desperately needs the money from a grand heist the crew has been hired to do. For this grand heist, Kaz recruits the remaining three: Nina Zenik, Matthias Helvar, and Wylan. If you’re starting to think Ocean’s Eleven, YES. That’s the vibe, but with a lot of Grishas involved.
One of the most dangerous Grisha ever is indeed Nina Zenik, a Heartrender (Grisha who can manipulate heart pressure in humans) who just happens to be in love with Matthias, a Fjerdan who hunts Grisha for a living. Obviously their relationship is tricky, to say the least. Half the time they are trying to kill each other, and the other half of the time they are saving each other. Wylan, the last addition to their crew, starts off being rather dull, but slowly grows in importance throughout the book (can’t say more or it will be a spoiler).
As much as this book is centered around the grand heist that this crew has been hired to pull off, it is also about their relationships with each other and with themselves. All of the six have major life issues they have to deal with. In the course of their impossible task, they find themselves – and each other.
I’ve grown so attached to these characters that I wrote a Six of Crows fanfic! Enjoy my little take of these Ketterdam gangsters.
The first time I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette was several months before I met my first husband: Oky Kusprianto. Why, do you ask, is this important? BECAUSE BERNADETTE IS AN ARCHITECT! Many things happened in my life (like Oky suddenly dying), and I forgot about how much I loved this book until the Mad Tea Book Club was born. Several weeks ago I was doing some content planning with fellow co-founders Sherry from The Cozy Library and Krisandryka Wijaya. Our theme for March is women-themed books, so I remembered Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.
I re-read the book and it was every bit as hilarious and touching as the first time around. This time, the significance of Bernadette being an architect was highlighted because I also watched the film with Cung, my second husband. Cung is also an architect, by the way. The film version stars Cate Blanchett who was amazing as the genius and reclusive Bernadette Fox.
Two days before Christmas Break, Bernadette Fox disappears. She leaves behind Elgin Branch, a top officer at Microsoft, Balakrishna “Bee” Branch, their bright teenage daughter, and Ice Cream, the beloved family dog. The whole family was supposed to go on a holiday to Antarctica as a treat to Bee for her stellar grades in school.
The story is told mainly from Bee’s perspective, with heavy use of emails, texting, recorded phone communication, and also written letters. Bee shifts through all this material to try to find out exactly what happened to her mother.
I love this book because…
Maria Semple’s satiric style is absolutely a kick. Even the plot is satirical, although in an all too possible way in this digital age and time. Bee is a lovely girl, and it is her relationship with her mother that this whole book lies upon. At the heart of it is not a detective story, but a story of the incredible bond between a daughter and her mother, and how that relationship can look like in this modern era.
There is nothing I don’t like about this book. That should tell you something because I’m very, very picky with the books I read. I love Bernadette so much, I even started copying her fashion style!
After I finished all of the Enola Holmes series (check out that review), I decided author Nancy Springer must be on my favorite writers’ list. Imagine my delight when I saw that she also wrote my favorite genre: fantasy! In fact, she is more known as a fantasy writer than for mystery series. One of her favorite sets was the Book of Isle (in 5 novels).
The 5 books were my 4th to 8th reads of this year for the read 60 in 2021 Goodreads challenge. I finished the whole thing in 2 weeks. That should tell you how irresistible her stories were. The Goodreads description of the series called it a “classic epic fantasy in the grand tradition of J. R. R. Tolkien.”
On the island of Isle, gods, goddesses, and magical beasts lived together with humans. Some were good, some corrupt, some downright evil. Ellid, a lady as fair as the sun fell in love with Bevan, son of the High King and the goddess of the moon. Their relationship triggers events that resulted in the rebuilding of a peaceful kingdom. Generations and legends go by until the changeling Dair befriends the cursed wanderer Frain, and through their bond peace in the mainland is able to be restored. Ok, so it’s the usual fantasy plot. But isn’t that why fantasy readers read fantasy?
The magic is ancient good against evil, not unlike CS Lewis’ Narnia. It’s not children’s fantasy though. It’s for adults, although thank goodness she writes so much better than GRRM (Game of Thrones slowly became only about sex, war, and food). Nancy Springer delves deep into human nature, exposing love, lust, greed, ego, and a longing for death that is a constant theme from Book 1 to Book 5. Her battles were fast and action-oriented, but never more violent than is necessary.
A feminine epic fantasy.
One of my favorite things about the Book of Isle was how un-patriarchal it was. Goddesses were as powerful as gods, sometimes even more so. The One (the creator of the world) was genderless, never mentioned as “he”, nor “she”. In Book 5, a goddess gets the revenge that she sought because a human king had shamed her. This act was not seen as an act of revenge that spiraled out of control. Rather it was portrayed as a fair act because the king completely deserved it.
Like Lord of the Rings, the Book of Isle often used poetry form to communicate older myths that existed within the island. It worked very well, adding an air of grace to the tales. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Book of Isle.
Do you like fantasy? Have you read this series? What did you think?
I first heard about Sherlock’s younger sister through the recently released Netflix film: Enola Holmes (September 2020). The film is a must watch. It is utterly delightful with great acting from Millie Bobby Brown who plays Enola. I then discovered the 6-book mystery series by Nancy Springer, of which the film was based upon.
Did I like the books?
YES! Fast paced, action filled, with surprisingly dark mystery themes as befits Victorian London (late 1800s to early 1900s). The author most definitely has an agenda which is to show the massive gap of gender inequality during those times, and how Enola and her mother managed to still make a life for themselves. I especially liked how the corset was used as a continuing imagery to suffocate women, but Enola brilliantly and very practically used it as a tool to hide her most precious belongings (money), including a dagger to protect herself.
How did the film and the books differ?
Films and books always have huge differences. In this case I liked both, although I will say the film tried to appeal to a more “traditional” mindset when they added possible romantic nuance between Enola and Lord Tewksbury. In the books there was no such shimmer. All Enola wanted to do was go to university and make friends with the like minded, strong-willed Lady Cecily. Oh and the ending? No spoilers but the the sixth book punches a much stronger ending.
Is it worth the investment?
The books are about $7 each. The whole set is available on Amazon Kindle for $36, so you can save some money if you buy all six books. They are very fast reading of about 10 -12 hours per book. If strong girl heroines shattering society perceptions are your thing, then this series is definitely worth the time and money.
Have you seen the movie or read any of the books? Let me know what you thought in the comments!If you are looking for more young adult fiction with strong girl heroines, check out my book Nisha.