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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: 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: Six Crimson Cranes

Yeay for more representation of Asian fantasy in western bookstores! Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim has a gorgeous cover which winks at me every time I walk into Periplus. Irresistible.

Expectations Check

I think the cover got me too excited though, because I started Six Crimson Cranes with too high expectations. The writing is poetic, fairy tale like, and quite enjoyable. However I couldn’t connect with the main character Princess Shiori, nor any of the other characters except maybe Raikama. She is the stepmother who fondly takes me back to memories of Pai Su Chen the White Snake! Princess Shiori, on the other hand, falls flat, although to her credit she got more interesting towards the end.

Plot (MILD SPOILERS!)

The middle section is draggy for me, and rather repetitive. The plot twist at the end is very much appreciated because if not Six Crimson Cranes would have been nothing new. Another story we’ve all heard before. Granted the tale might be new to a western reader, but as someone who grew up watching Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Indonesian dramas, well…let’s just say there’s not enough of a hook.

Arranged Marriage Trope

Maybe I just can’t find it in me to appreciate arranged marriage tropes, which is the crux of the whole book. Princess Shiori is to marry a lower lord, and she despises him (whom she’s never met). Then when she actually gets to know the said Lord Takkan, and Shiori (of course) falls in love.

I suppose it sounds romantic for someone (perhaps from a non Asian culture) who hasn’t actually ever been forced into a setup. But for someone who’s gone through that whole process: sorry, I gotta say I hate the trope. Not to mention I am of the belief that marriage itself is an institution that is outdated (it has its roots in women as property) and well I’m just gonna rail off so let’s stop here.

All in all, if you ask me what I didn’t like about this book, it has nothing to do with the writing, and more to do with the fact that I just don’t like the story because of personal taste and experiences. If I do read the sequel, it will be because I’m interested in Eastern Dragons and would really like to see how the author fleshes out the dragon court. (Yes, I wished this book was more about Seryu than Shiori.)

If you like a good female power (feminist!) Asian vibe fantasy, do try She Who Became the Sun, or Land of Sand and Song by Singaporean author Joyce Chua.

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Book Review: Cinder’s Adventure

Cinder’s Adventure was released March 2022 in honor of 10 years of Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I’m a big fan of this series, so I gulped this right in. Afterwards, I saw a lot of mixed reviews from fans on Goodreads. Some fans are terribly disappointed because they have been waiting a decade for Cinder and Kai’s wedding, and well, Cinder’s Adventure didn’t have a lot of that. Some others enjoyed it for the fluff it is and are satisfied. I’m in the second camp. I’ll explain why below.

First Book

So I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I bought Cinder’s Adventure is because Marissa Meyer announced that she is donating all her royalties to First Book. It’s a non-profit that helps to promote literacy and a love of reading in underserved areas. Okay, support that cause and get a Cinder fluff in the meantime? I’m in. I do think reviews should keep this initiative in mind before slaying the author down.

Interactive Novella

I haven’t read one of these since I was a little girl. I’ll admit they’ve never been one of my favorite book formats. Such a format doesn’t really develop much plot or character or relationship due to the nature of readers choosing their own paths. I ended up jotting down what happened in each chapters and going through in chapter order to read what I missed. It’s like reading a not-so-connected collection of fanfics.

Marissa’s Multiverse

One thing that is fun if you’re a Marissa Meyer fan is the multiverse-ness of this book where characters intertwine and interact with each other. Pst…there is a happy Heartless ending in there somewhere! I haven’t read Instant Karma yet, but the snippet of it in this ebook makes me want to read that too.

Worth it or Not?

To go back to the question. If you keep your expectations in check: this book isn’t canon at all and is a collection of fluff, with a noble cause behind it, then yes I think it’s worth it. Note that it’s only available in ebook so no trees were wasted in the making. I do hope it stays that way!

Last but not least, check out this fancast Tiktok video I made in honor of the occasion: #Lunar10YearsLater

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Book Review: Land of Sand and Song

I came across this book on Jacq’s bookstagram account and have since been really curious about it. I wasn’t let down! I’m always looking for good fantasy, especially good Eastern fantasy written by Asians. Land of Sand and Song by Singaporean author Joyce Chua satisfied that thirst beautifully.

Joyce Chua’s writing style reminds me of fairytale storytellers such as Marissa Meyer and Shannon Hale – that poetic undercurrent explicit during descriptions. It’s a style I enjoy because I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings. Plot-wise Land of Sand and Song is a bit on the predictable end but I don’t mind because most fairy tale story vibes are like that. Having said so, I didn’t expect there to be a love triangle between the protagonist Desert Rose and the two princes so hey that was a little yummy bonus!

Another thing I liked about this book was the strong women characters. Desert Rose is pretty kick-ass and can hold herself up in any situation. The organization she is a part of is an organization of women assassins: of course, I’m gonna love it.

I think anyone who is into Eastern fantasy, Asian myths, and strong women characters would enjoy this read. I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel! Another Asian (historical) fantasy I would recommend is She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan.

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Book Review: Gilded

I usually read on my Amazon Kindle, but this time Sherry from Mad Tea Book Club informed me of something I couldn’t resist. It was a signed version of Gilded by Marissa Meyer!

Signed version of Gilded

Okay so the cover is also exquisitely beautiful. Somehow I didn’t even see the dark eyes until I finished reading it. I took another adoring glance and realized there’s our wicked king staring at me right there on the cover. Yikes.

Gilded was deliciously dark and with a distinctively “Grimm” vibe. I’m a big fan of Marissa Meyer’s writing; I love the Lunar Chronicles (I even wrote a fanfic of it). She takes on a poetic tone that I find very suitable to the whole atmosphere. Take Heartless, for example. The only downside is she can get a bit repetitive with the internal monologue of her protagonists. The beautiful writing made up for it though.

Plotwise, it is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin with several other German fairy tales meshed in. So far she seems to stick pretty close to the main structure of the tales, so there isn’t much of a surprise. I did wish with all my heart that in a sudden twist the romance would be between Selene and the Erlking, but after the Erlking’s last atrocious acts, that hope was dashed. Gild’s character is alright, though Gild and Selene’s chemistry seems rushed like those old Disney movies.

All in all, Gilded was an enjoyable retelling told by a fabulous writer. It turns out that Gilded is the first book of a duology, and you bet I’ll be reading the sequel, Cursed, too when it comes out.

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Elements (Nishaverse #3) Official Release

This is the day! I’m so excited to share with all of you Elements (Nishaverse #3) which is the conclusion of the Nisha trilogy. Thank you to to all the readers for being a part of this ride with Nisha and her friends. To celebrate this special day, I’ve commissioned from fantastic bookstagrammer @yourstrulyjulietta to make a book trailer video.

Music: Game of Survival (Ruelle)

You can now purchase Elements (Nishaverse #3) in epub and/or mobi format at the shop. Take a moment to rate and review the book on Goodreads – I love going through what readers’ think because it is great feedback for me and for the story development in the future… wink.

To see what advanced reviewers’ and readers have thought so far, check out this page.

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Book Review: The Stone Sky

The epic conclusion of the Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin snatched 3 awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus Award. The Stone Sky was, indeed, grande.

Core Magic

In The Stone Sky, Mother (Essun) and Daughter (Nassun) separately goes into the core of the Earth. There they both experience Earth’s utter power and magic. Only after surviving that can they reach the other side: Corepoint. It’s quite a feat of fantasy and science fiction. What Jemisin pulls off so well is the grand scale of time.

The three books of this series have encompassed between them thousands of years and generations. In this way it reminds me of the Dune series. However, unlike Dune, Jemisin is able to do it while following the lives of mainly two characters: Essun and Nassun.

At the core of the story is how the privileged and powerful of the society treat the marginalized. Jemisin is able to make you feel like you are the one being marginalized, manipulated to benefit the system. Sounds familiar? I am so glad she is writing. As a black woman, her perspective of the human experience is so needed by the world right now.

In her own words: “…a character who is angry at the system, but has learned how to cover that anger in ways that allow him to survive in a system that doesn’t welcome that anger – Lord knows I’ve learned how to do this too.”

Narration

I’ll admit even I got confused several times with the second-person narrative style in The Stone Sky. It’s quite tricky to follow, yet I couldn’t have imagined it told another way, as the impact would not be the same.

Apparently TriStar Pictures has secured rights to adapt the trilogy into a series, with Jemisin herself doing the adaptation! I cannot wait. I think done right, the story has potential to be better than Dune as a film!

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Book Review: She Who Became the Sun

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?

Historical Fantasy

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.

Women Empowerment

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.

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Elements Cover Reveal

Is it Christmas yet? Naaahhh just the breathtaking picture of Inez’ cover for Elements, the 3rd book in the Nishaverse series!

Elements cover goes back into the same vibe as the first cover after seeing some feedback from reviewers and readers. Most seemed to like the cover of the first book better, although both images gathered solid praise. So we went back to that vibe, but with a different emotion on Nisha’s face. If you read the book you will understand why…

Illustrated by Inez Wandita

Elements will be officially released at the shop on 31st January 2022. In the meanwhile, advanced reader copies are now available for reviewers! If you are a book reviewer, have reviewed both Nisha and Sacred Rituals, and would like to review Elements (in exchange for a free digital copy), please fill out this form.

So now that all three covers are out, what do you think? Which one do you like best?