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Book Review: Crooked Kingdom

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.

Character Development

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.

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Steamy Book Review: Neon Gods

Adult steamy book review time! One of my guilty pleasure reads is steamy fantasy romances, and I just recently discovered Katee Robert. Wow, nice stuff here! The first book I read from her was Neon Gods (Dark Olympus #1). Neon Gods is a retelling of the eternally fascinating Hades and Persephone myth.

Premise

I enjoyed the premise: a modern Olympus ruled by thirteen power roles according to the names of the gods and goddesses. Zeus in this series is a real evil head of the thirteen. He’s set his desires to marry Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. Persephone runs away from this scheme and escapes into the “underworld”, which is basically the whole lower side of the city under the governance of Hades.

Surprise surprise, Hades is not as evil as his reputation! Persephone also turns out to be not as plasticky as all the tabloids portray. The development of their relationship is quite cute and well done in my opinion. The steam was 5 stars, I really enjoyed it. Another aspect I enjoyed was Persephone’s relationship with her sisters Psyche, Eurydice, and Callisto.

The lower side of the city under Hades’ rule also gets some nice world-building scenes via Hades and Persephone’s excursions slash dates. These scenes provide a nice balance to the growth of their relationship, making it more fleshed out-not just from the sexual perspective.

Consent and Safe Words

In their role play games, Hades always reminds Persephone that of the safe word, and should she say it then the role-play would stop immediately. Several times Persephone checks in on herself to see if this was indeed what she wanted to be doing with Hades, a man she barely just met. Remember, it’s not about judgment, it’s about consent!

It’s not about judgment, it’s about consent.

The ending is very cute, and honestly I really enjoyed this 5-star steamy read. Can’t wait for the second in the series: Electric Idol!

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Book Review : A Court of Silver Flames

A Court of Silver Flames is the newest, steamiest book in Sarah J Maas‘ series A Court of Thorns and Roses. Nesta Archeron, the older sister of Feyre Acheron, is the heroine (or rather, antiheroine) of this book. Careful, spoilers ahead.

Nesta Archeron

Nesta was changed into a faerie when she was forcefully dipped into the cauldron by the evil King of Hybern. In the process, Nesta’s will of steel won. She made a pact with the cauldron, taking more from its dark powers than it wanted to give her.

As a result, Nesta has unimaginable powers which make even Rhysand, the High Lord of the Night Court, shudder with fear. What would happen if Nesta turned all dark and decided to unleash her powers? Of course, it doesn’t help that Nesta is also emotionally traumatized over the death of the Acheron sisters’ father. She spirals down a pit of frustration, despair, turning to alcohol and sex to keep her body going. Here Feyre steps in and commands an intervention.

Nesta is moved to the House, a magical place on top of ten thousand stairs that could be reached only by climbing those stairs or flying. For those that do not have wings like Rhysand, Azriel, or handsome Cassian, then they had to be carried by one of those three hot guys. Not too difficult, considering Nesta and Cassian’s undeniable attraction for each other.

“Nessian” Steam

In addition to being relocated to a safer environment, Nesta is also required to do physical training. Guess who her trainer is? None other than the General of the Ilyrian army: Cassian himself.

Words of warning: A Court of Silver Flames has a lot of smut. Nesta and Cassian (or “Nessian” as the fandom calls it) are steamy hot. At some point they are friends-with-benefits with each other, which always makes for juicy relationship yumminess. I do like this, but A Court of Silver Flames was not branded as smut so some readers might have a problem with that, cuz really there was a lot of sex.

Another aspect that I liked was the Valkyries, an order of women warriors which Nesta reinstated with the help of some friends: Gwen and Emerie. This friendship was a pleasant surprise.

Overall I thought this book was long and to be frank boring plot wise, mostly because the author uses exactly the same twist devices as she did for the previous books. It did have some bright moments here and there though. I honestly kept going because of the delicious smut scenes. An author I would recommend if you like dark steamy books is Katee Robert.

Have you read A Court of Silver Flames? What did you think?

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Nisha Cover Art Process

A lot of my readers mentioned how much they loved the Nisha cover illustration by Inez, so Inez and I decided to share the step by step of Nisha cover art process!

A very interesting thing to note for the Nisha cover art process is that Inez picked up the leaves of the magical forest to be the background of the book. As readers of Sacred Rituals will know, these particular leaves become incredibly important later on. Funny thing is, Inez illustrated the cover even before I began writing the second book. So there was definitely a bit of cosmic intervention there!

Pretty cool stuff eh? You can purchase Nisha here for reading, or even get the audiobook which I narrated!

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Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury

A Court of Mist and Fury is the second novel in Sarah J Maas’ hit series: A Court of Thorns and Roses. My review of the first book can be found on my Goodreads here. With regards to A Court of Mist and Fury, I went through several stages. At first I was completely hooked, reading until 4 AM to keep seeing what would happen. How would the relationships play out? However, on second and third look, some things started to bug me.

Plot

A Court of Mist and Fury continues after Feyre broke Amarintha’s curse on the land, releasing all the High Lord’s powers. She returns with Tamlin, the High Lord of the Spring Court, back to his hillside castle to rebuild the court and prepare for their wedding ceremony. As we all know though, nothing can pull a couple apart as effectively as WEDDING PLANNING! It is the perfect time to get cold feet and to see all the bad sides of your partner. In this couple’s situation, Feyre finds out undercurrents of Tamlin’s possessive character which suffocates Feyre emotionally.

As their relationship breaks down, along comes Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court. This love triangle happens with the threat of the King of Hybern in the background, looming to destroy their lands with his massive army.

To be fair to the author, I am in love with Rhysand’s character. The friends he surrounds himself with ie the Inner Court: Amren, Azriel, Mor, and Cassian is a fun collection of characters that provides ample development in the future. Feyre and Rhysand’s relationship is probably now one of my favorite fantasy couples.

However…many of the readers of the first book cried out against the inconsistency of how Tamlin’s character gets broken down in A Court of Mist and Fury. All the while SJM lifts up Rhysand’s character despite the horrible things he did in the first book. I agree with this. It does feel like SJM got sidetracked developing Rhysand’s arc. As such, she decided Rhysand instead of Tamlin to be the ultimate love for our heroine.

Another protest is the word “mate” which gets thrown around quite an awful lot. Many reviewers didn’t like this. Again, I have to agree. It’s extremely cliche.

Too Humancentric

My last completely subjective disappointment is that everything feels too humancentric. The faeries and other creatures are all humanoid creatures, nothing of a different species flavor. The reason I like the dragon trope in fantasy books is that they remind us that humans aren’t really all as cool as we think we are. A complete world would have billions of crazy wild plants and organisms big and small which make the web of life so diverse. A series which does this very well is Nancy Springer’s Book of Isle.

A universe filled with just humans or human-ish characters ends up being too monotone for me.

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Book Review: Winter (Lunar Chronicles)

Winter is the thick and satisfying conclusion of Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Beginning with Cinder (a retelling of Cinderella), and ending with Winter (a retelling of Snow White), I have to say I am officially a fan of this series.

Fresh Retellings

One of the reasons I dig Marissa Meyer’s fairy tale retellings so much is because she does a great job balancing the familiar framework of old fairy tales with new twists and turns. This freshness gives the old stories new life. In The Lunar Chronicles, she weaves hit manga Sailor Moon into the narrative, and voila, you have a recipe for amazingness. It doesn’t stop there, however. Many authors have great recipes but fail in the execution. Here is where I truly appreciate Marissa Meyer because her execution was brilliant. Not too slow, not too fast, just the right amount of interpersonal drama against the backdrop of an intergalactic war.

Winter and Jacin’s Relationship

I’ve said that of all the relationships in this series, my favorite is Cinder and Kai. However, there is something lovely about Winter and Jacin’s relationship which essentially began when they were kids. They grew up together, and they both knew that for the other, there would be one else. They never questioned each other’s loyalty and love no matter how suspicious it certainly looked at times. Their trust for each other was absolute, and that is just beautiful. I don’t know how often this happens in real life, or if it ever actually happens. But surely this is the ideal relationship goal for everyone.

Worthy Ending

This whole adventure began with Cinder, and after falling in love, heartbreaks, kidnaps, fingers being cut, revolutions, the author had Cinder tying up all the loose ends quite nicely. I enjoyed the delicious length of the ending being prepared, and all in all, was very pleased. Five Stars for Winter.

If you want to read a fanfic I wrote based on this series, read Winter and the Komodo Dragon.

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Book Review: Roof Toppers

I came across this book via a discussion on Mad Tea Book Club’s Twitter account. We were talking about our favorite women authors. Mine is Diana Wynne Jones – I’m a huge fan of her character Sophie Hatter from Howls’ Moving Castle. From that thread, someone introduced me to Katherine Rundell, whose book Roof Toppers was inspired by Sophie Hatter herself.

In fact, Roof Toppers’ heroine is even named Sophie. Baby Sophie was found floating in a cello case wrapped in Beethoven symphony music sheets to keep her warm. Charles, an English gentleman who was aboard that ship, found her and decided to take care of this baby. Sophie grows up most unconventionally but was as loved as any child can be loved. Yet, she has a deep longing for her mother, whom she believed must be a cellist, and must still be alive all this time.

No one believed Sophie because at that time women did not play the cello. Women could not be professional musicians. Thank goodness we’ve come quite some way with this regard eh! Back to Sophie…

Mother Hunt

She finds a clue that the cello case was made in France, and so Charles goes with her to Paris on a “mother hunt”. It is here in Paris that Sophie meets Matteo and the other roof toppers. They are orphans who do not wish to live in orphanages. Instead, they choose to live free on the rooftops of Paris. They learn skills like climbing impossibly high trees, running and jumping from roof to roof, hunting birds to feed themselves, and swimming in the Seine for coins whenever they need some money!

“Do not mess with a mother hunter. Do not mess with roof toppers. Do not underestimate children, do not underestimate girls.”

Sophie, the rooftoppers

Will Sophie find her mother? And what happens to Charles, if indeed Sophie’s wishes are true?

This middle grade fantasy book is an enjoyable quick read with a definite emotional punch. In her Goodreads page, the author hints that she would like to revisit this world. When she does, I’ll be reading it too!

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Book Review: Daughter of the Pirate King

What a FUN read. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of my favorite movies and piracy, in general, is a fantasy genre I’m quite besotted with, so when I came across Daughter of the Pirate King duology on booktok (tiktok accounts which focuses on books), it went to the top of my To-Be-Read. Spoiler Alerts – a whole ship of them!

Synopsis

Princess Alossa is the daughter of the fearful pirate king. She was trained personally in the art of fighting, swordsmanship, and general pirate behavior directly by her father. Her body bears the physical scars. Yet, the result is she is one of the best pirates alive. She captains her own ship named the Ava-Lee, whose crew are mainly women pirates with various abilities. Captain Alossa is beloved by her crew and in turn she does everything she can to protect them.

In the first book, she is sent on a mission to retrieve a part of a hidden map which leads to a legendary treasure trove guarded heavily by sirens. Sirens are underwater she-creatures that sing to men, sleep with them underwater, then drown them and steal their treasure). Along the journey, we find out that Alossa is so strong because her mother was the Queen of the Sirens.

The second book goes into her relationship with her mother and finding out terrible truths about her father. Together with her crewmates and the sirens, Alossa leads a battle to begin the new era- the era of the Pirate Queen.

Romance

Oh yes, there is romance alright. Riden, the ridiculously attractive first mate just keeps distracting Alossa…until she realizes that their feelings and relationship is precisely what she needs to balance her human nature and her dangerous siren nature.

What I like best about how Tricia Levenseller presents the romance is how empowered the women’s roles are. These women pirates kick ass – or rather, slit throats – and are deadly, powerful fighters. They don’t let guys mess with them, and the only guys accepted onboard the ones that respect the women and are not insecure about their own abilities.

Men who are insecure of their abilities usually end up emotionally abusing their partners. I mean, the Alossa’s father is the perfect example! Let’s just say I’m glad the Siren Queen (Alossa’s mother) got her revenge in the end.

Do I fantasize about being a pirate on board the Ava-lee? You bet. Five stars for the duology.

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Creating Nisha Characters’ Looks

One of the intriguing behind-the-scenes process of the Sacred Rituals (Nisha sequel) cover is the back and forth discussion I had via WhatsApp with Inez. We were trying to create Nisha characters’ looks. From the first cover, we were quite clear on what Nisha would look like. But what about the others? And what kind of clothes did they wear? What would the look on their faces be?

Creating Nisha’s Look

Going back to the first cover, I knew I wanted Nisha to be South Asian or Northern Indian looking. Think Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai with her gorgeous features, but more warrior like instead of ladylike. The tricky thing was working out how her robe would look like. I found myself seeking inspiration from Kashmiri style clothes and scarves. That’s how her scarf came about. The scarf design and pattern became a theme going into the cover of Sacred Rituals.

Creating Saad’s Look

Saad’s character growth really gets quite developed in Sacred Rituals. He wasn’t just a sidekick anymore, it’s clear he now has a vital role in the plot. I was inspired by a friend of mine from Sri Lanka. This friend is dark-skinned, quiet, but very perceptive and smart. He’s the type that is soft spoken but tough. In real life, he leads many private sector investments in Sri Lanka and leads forward thinking high impact business initiatives. People like this are somehow always wearing glasses! LOL.

Creating Faris’ Look

As for Faris’ look, I had in mind a friend of mine from Spain. He’s extremely bright, and very handsome. It’s interesting that I took the name from my Sri Lankan friend Faris Fausz though. Another fascinating point is that you will notice Faris’ character is a bit ambiguous throughout. Whose side is he really on? You’ll have to find out by reading it yourself, but that mysterious feel was also inspired by this friend.

To get some more backstory behind other Nisha characters’ looks (especially the Aklumites!), subscribe to my newsletter. Support our work by purchasing at the shop, along with the first book: Nisha.

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Nisha Sequel Is Here!

And finally, after getting carpal tunnel syndrome, after going to Labuan Bajo, after producing a musical…the sequel to my fantasy trilogy Nisha is released.

I would like to thank Cung for putting up with me everyday, Chriswan my editor who completely believes in Nisha’s Universe and is always doing what he can to make it more believable, and all the book reviewers, bookstagrammers, book podcasters out there who read and reviewed my books. A special shout out to Krisandryka and Sherry, my Mad Tea Book Club co-founders. Last but not least, the gorgeous illustrations came from the hand and head of Inez Wandita.

Without further ado…. Sacred Rituals by Airin Efferin.

Support me by purchasing Sacred Rituals at the shop! Please send me your thoughts, feedbacks, and honest reviews. For a sneak peek and a view of the Nisha Universe Map fresh off the cartographer’s desks, visit here.

Happy reading!