ARC Review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

A List of CagesA List of Cages by Robin Roe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t let the blurb mislead you.
It makes it sound like the main character is Adam, and he is, but Julian is also the main character. The book follows two points of views but it starts out with Julian’s voice in the first chapter. His personality and voice was easily distinguishable because it is Adam’s foil. They are polar opposites in dispositions, mannerisms, and thought processes. It was at first distracting but I nevertheless powered through because I wanted to see how Julian’s story would unfold. It was quite devastating, to be honest. Events in his life stunted his character development severely and I empathized with his feelings of insecurity, shyness, and fears. So when Adam was introduced, his optimism and all the things that were going well in his life felt like a slap to my face. It was almost like the author was saying ‘How could someone be suffering but elsewhere, others are living carefree lives?’ This made me dislike Adam’s group of friends because they felt contrived solely to represent Adam’s popularity and contentment; was Adam was only friends with them out of convenience? It did not help that the author did not fully flesh out his friend group or provide more insight about their personalities. Aside from Emerald and Charlie, it seemed they were just there because it added numbers to his friends list. Side note: Charlie is practically the MVP of this book, I’m kind of proud but I wish there was more background information about him. He played a pivotal role and I wished he had more screen time since he’s actually important.

“I used to think struggle was what aged you, but if that were the case, Julian should’ve been a hundred years old. Now I wonder if the opposite if true. Maybe instead of accelerating your age, pain won’t let you grow.”

Additionally, this book should come with a trigger warning just in case because I cried a lot. The tears did not come until the last quarter of the book. I was eating dinner while reading and tears were streaming down as I crammed food into my mouth. I SWEAR I’M NOT AN EMOTIONAL EATER. But wow, things escalated quickly and I liked that it was not all fully resolved by the end. The story Roe wants to tell is one that cannot be tied together neatly with a bow. In a way, the story ends with a marked change within Adam and Julian; this is a good place to leave off because they’re still hurt and broken, but they now have each other to lean on and heal together. Although the genre indicates many tragic incidents, this is ultimately a story about courage, support, and friendship.

I would like to thank NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book for my honest opinion.

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Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched QueenThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Star-Touched Queen is heavily infused with Indian mythology and purple prose. The lyrical metaphors and lush descriptions really makes this book stand out from the plethora of books that are released this year. It is definitely a book to savor and it is not made to rush through as many would with the  typical straightforward writing in YA.

I admit the premise intrigued me and I’ve always been interested in the Persephone and Hades mythology. There’s some sort of allure that defines that myth and it’s interesting how it plays out although it does technically center around Stockholm Syndrome. Of course, there are ways to play around that particular sore spot and that is exactly what the book does. However, nothing is what it seems and Amar is never portrayed as a villain. The circumstances of Maya’s position in society makes her an expendable pawn in the game of kings. Thus, when Amar and Maya meet, it’s not the ideal situation but Amar does not commit any nefarious deeds. There’s a lot of mystery shrouded around his character so there is a shaky ground of trust that forms their relationship. I think the dynamic between the two is a weak part in the story because they barely know each other. A strong relationship, as Maya has mentioned, requires trust and no secrets. Although secrets are interwoven as a necessity in the plot, it is the root of conflict and it could have been better portrayed without making it seem like a redundant obstacle. I did not feel like the chemistry and Amar’s character was not as fleshed-out as it can be. In short, his background felt lacking and could have been expanded on to make him a viable love interest.

The strongest point of the plot is the ethnic culture and the wealth of vocabulary that enriched the story. The worldbuilding was well-written which makes sense because a lot of it was taken out of the history books. I can definitely see that the author did her research and the fashion, specific vocabulary, and labels for certain items all fit to create a rich realistic storyline. I don’t have extensive knowledge of Indian culture and history but I felt immersed into the world and the glossary in the back of the story definitely helped me get more acquainted. The mythology is interesting and I loved the passages when Maya told a myth. They were relevant to the plot and added more depth into understanding how her life can be fitted around these myths. Chokshi weaves a simple but elegant story that mixes eloquent prose to create a tremendously powerful book. It is a retelling and thus people who know the tale may not be impressed. And this is where the writer’s strength shines the most because she takes this type of retelling and maximizes the charm of each part through her descriptive writing. If it was any other author, I am not sure she/he would be able to pull off the same effect that Chokshi’s writing did. I anticipate the next book she writes.

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ARC Review: Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip

Dreams of Distant ShoresDreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anticipated release date: June 14, 2016

The series of stories were each unique and contained within different settings. The continuous transition from one story to the next was extremely jarring and I felt like a fish flailing on land. There was so much detail and the characters were all so diverse that I felt overwhelmed…in a good way. The tales were simply bewitching and bewildering. I’m a new reader to Patricia McKillip but I loved the prose and the way the writing immediately sucked me in. I liked some stories better than most and each has something that snags my attention, but I favored The Gorgon in the Cupboard. There’s just something about it that fits and connects with me since I’ve always had a fascination for the Victorian era. I left that story (and many others) wishing to know more.

Weird (4 stars)

This was the shortest of the stories and thus does away with the formalities of introducing the characters’ names, the settings, and the conflict. It utilizes a common TV trope -in media res- with a man asking a woman what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened in her life. There are no contexts and in short, we are given no explanations. It’s a clever hook and I loved how things were left open-ended.

Mer (3.5 stars)

Witches and goddesses are given a new meaning in this story.
Note: By the time I started in on this story, I think I got the hang of ‘magic’ in McKillip’s mind. It’s a difficult concept to write about because it’s elusive and overridden with so many cliches. In a book, magic oftentimes must be explained and made sense of in order for readers to understand how it’s usually used to create a power struggle. However, McKillip does not manipulate the ‘magical element’ to exert power on characters. As readers, we simply observe the effects it has on people and how they react to it.

The Gorgon in the Cupboard (5 stars)

The moral of this story was very realistic and the fantasy element is kept to a bare minimum. I liked the combination of Greek mythology that played into the inspirations of Victorian artists. It’s a story rife with beauty and had much more character development than any of the stories. The characters had despair, fear, and hunger who was captured so well that it’s not hard to see why it’s my favorite. Character development is always a +1 for me along with a lesson well-learned at the end.

Which Witch (3.5 stars)

Witches in the modern-day world have animal familiars. I can’t say much about this because they live rather mundane lives as band members playing for a club. The writing is exceptional but I didn’t derive much enjoyment out of this story.

Edith and Henry Go Motoring (5 stars)

I’m not sure if there was a typo because Harry, not Henry, went motoring with Edith. This seemingly innocuous trip led to a visit inside an ‘abandoned’ house. Edith and Henry appear to be fanciful people prone to a little bit of adventuring so I’m pleasantly surprised that the author delves into the multi-layered nature of a person’s life.

Alien (3 stars)

Rational relatives deal with their old mother who they believe is going cuckoo because she’s spouting some ridiculous nonsense about aliens abducting her at some point in her life. A story steeped in reality, I can’t say that it goes hand in hand with the fantasy/sci-fi genre. These relatives take everything with a healthy dose of skepticism but in a while, they question it. The multitude of names being thrown around irritated me because many of them were never mentioned again.

Something Rich and Strange (4 stars)

Taking place in a touristy beach town, the story starts out with a couple who are content with living by the sea and indulging in their hobbies. One of them loves discovering fossils while the other loves drawing the sea and everything underwater. A string of mysterious incidents and visitors leads to some turbulent upheavals in their lives. The longest of the stories, Something Rich and Strange places a heavy emphasis on the ecological effects of humans on the sea. It’s a very insightful writing piece and I thought the subject was handled very well along with the involvement of mermaids that played into it. The two main characters were rather lackluster but they weren’t meant to be drawn out as magnificent protagonists. It rather underlined the moral of the story through ordinary people who share an affinity for the sea.

Thank you to Tachyon Publications and to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Becky Albertalli honestly gets kids. She understands us on a deep level and Simon is like my spirit animal. Leah, on the other hand, is my inner fangirl and she’s literally so shameless with her cosplay of Tohru from Fruits Basket and all the anime plushies.


I admit this book is not one I would voluntarily pick up on my own will. The cover doesn’t really scream ‘BUY ME’ and the title is confusing because it gives no hints as to the plott. However, the clothes on the guy is contemporary and that’s a genre I generally steer clear of.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against contemporary YA but I think I’m past my prime because it no longer interests me. I’m not in high school anymore and I can’t seem to get immersed in high school YA nowadays. It was never really my cup of tea because I had always enjoyed the fantasy genre more. Besides, I’ve basically read them all: the cliques, tropes, mysterious guy, gossip, and drama all ensconced within a classroom.

So I’m pleasantly surprised by this book because Simon is a refreshing character with his own unique traits. People have pegged him as the theater geek but he knows he is more than that. He is also more than just a gay character. As a teenager, identity crisis is very real and no one knows it better than Simon. He believes that he is always changing and he’s afraid of who he’s becoming because he doesn’t ‘feel’ the same.

It’s not even about me being gay, because I know deep down that my family would be fine with it. We’re not religious. My parents are Democrats. My dad likes to joke around, and it would definitely be awkward, but I guess I’m lucky. I know they’re not going to disown me. And I’m sure some people in school would give me hell, but my friends would be fine. Leah loves gay guys, so she’d probably be freaking thrilled. But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.

His innate fear of change doesn’t stop him from trying new things aka beer, parties, and making new friends. Simon and his group of friends have the best types of interactions: they’re casual, they talk about everything and nothing, and they bond through their experiences. Ahhh, it reminds me of my happy-go-lucky days.

Since this story takes place in a backwater town in Georgia, Albertalli shines light on relevant issues that exists in such an area. There’s the racism, bigotry, and anti-gay mindset which makes Simon reluctant to reveal his orientation.  Simon has a great support system and he has long come to terms with his sexual preference. He also has a multicultural group of friends. (That’s an A+ in my book for promoting diversity in books!) In that sense, he’s got most of his life figured out but it’s not ideal to come out of the closet in front of his non-progressive town. The plot was character-driven heavily and it was so sweet and cute (YES, IT WAS ADORABLE) to watch Simon grow and experience new things through his snarky, ingenuous perspective. His voice was hilarious and relatable. I really felt like a teenager again.

[Email to Blue:] So, I keep thinking about the idea of secret identities. Do you ever feel locked into yourself? I’m not sure if I’m making sense here. I guess what I mean is that sometimes it seems like everyone knows who I am except me. Okay, I’m glad you mentioned homecoming, because I totally forgot that Spirit Week is this week. Monday is Decades Day, right? I guess I should check online so I can avoid making an ass of myself. Honestly, I can’t believe they schedule Spirit Week right after Halloween. Creekwood really blows its load on costume days all at once. How do you think you’ll dress up for Monday? I know you’re not going to answer that. And I totally figured you’d be ogling the cheerleaders on Friday, because you’re all about the ladies. Me too, Blue. Me too.

Thank you Albertalli for mentioning how hard the job of a teacher is! Yes, teachers get some credit for doing a good job in this book and I’m elated because it gives me hope for positive representation in YA as a future teacher! (Oftentimes, teachers are insignificant and pushed aside in contemporary YA but we want our parts too!) I love the email exchanges between Simon and his secret guy, Blue. They’re very honest and open with each other which is rare because communication is so complicated in the real world right now. People be playing mind games whenever they text each other.

So should you read this book?

LGBTQ is an important topic and I’m glad to read a book that showcases it from a gay teen’s perspective. Sure, you can read books that have gay characters but it’s different when you are involved and reading about a gay main character. So yes, read this book and enjoy it not just as an LGBTQ book but as a book about high school, Oreos, romance, and Oliver! musicals.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince: Volume Two (Captive Prince, #2)Captive Prince: Volume Two by C.S. Pacat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The alternate title for this book is called Prince’s Gambit and I prefer it much more than the ‘Volume Two’ because it sums up this middle book so well.

Gambit <noun>: (in chess) an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.
A device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage.


 

Minor spoilers for Captive Prince: Book One

So who do you think is the gambit? Too bad, you won’t find out unless you read the book.
Laurent, hands down, dominates the game with the crazy tactics and strategies that he comes up with to subvert his enemies and stay three steps ahead of his uncle. The risk to his life is much more apparent as the Regent makes more indirect, daring attempts on Laurent. You thought Laurent was clever? WATCH THIS. He begins revealing just how deep his deceptions can go and readers see exactly how intelligent he is. Damen is also a warmonger and he’s very charismatic alongside Laurent. As a duo, they are a force to be reckoned with. They are very capable individuals that have commanding presences to capture the respect of an army.

Laurent said it as though producing from the depths the answer to a painstakingly weighed question. ‘I can do this alone. I know I can. It’s only that right now I can’t seem to…think, and I can’t…trust anyone else to stand up to me when I’m…like this. If you could give me three days, I–‘ He forcibly cut himself off.

Damen has always chafed under his shackles so it was eye-opening to see what he can do if Laurent gave him the keys. With a semblance of freedom, Damen shows his prowess…on the battlefield. HAAA, did you think I was going to say something else? Anyways, there’s a lot of sexual tension throughout the book and Pacat does it so well. The characters continue to develop and show a resilience in how they deal with tricky situations. The duo hit many problems along their travels but they stick together through them all. Although Laurent is secretive and holds many of his underhanded tactics close to heart, he still confides the most in Damen. Their slow buildup of trust was a wondrous thing to witness and in tough times, they really came to rely on each other’s strengths. I loved seeing Laurent push his army to their limits with drills and combat practices. Dealt with a rather lackluster set of cards, Laurent is showing his hidden sides that can transform even a rotten soldier into something respectable.

So then comes the huge elephant in the room. How can Damen tell Laurent that he is Prince Damien, the one he loathes for killing his brother?

He thought of Laurent’s delicate, needling talk that froze into icy rebuff if Damen pushed at it, but if he didn’t–if he matched himself to its subtle pulses and undercurrents–continued, sweetly deepening, until he could only wonder if he knew, if they both knew, what they were doing.

The story becomes much more centered on Damen on Laurent’s story; it’s really sweet to see that a relationship can blossom in the face of the tribulations that they face. In the fight for a king’s seat, they are both determined to ensure success. Damen is an asset to Laurent, a collaboration that many could not see taking place. The dynamics of their relationship is explored more deeply in this book because there’s just so much going on. Their interactions are always anticipatory for me because they’re polar opposites in many ways. Laurent is the icy, lean prince and Damen is the brutish, forceful one. How can  they deal with each other when they’re so different. I guess it’s true that opposites attract because chapter 19

Laurent’s fingers had tightened around the towel. There was a self-consciousness in him now, as though he had become aware of the strangeness of what he was doing: a prince serving a slave. Damen looked again at the cup of water, which Laurent had brought–for him, he realised.
Laurent’s flush deepened. Damen shifted to regard him better. He saw the angle of Laurent’s jaw, the tension in Laurent’s shoulders.

Laurent has a lot of tricks up his sleeves and he reminds me so much of a sterner, serious version of Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief by MWT.

Following the pattern of Captive Prince: Book One, here are more words that I had to look up: verisimilitude, immanence, percipient, abstemious

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Review: Captive Prince by C. S. Pacat

I don’t know whether to be quite proud or embarrassed that I finished this trilogy within two days because I don’t think I’ve ever read an entire series that fast. The books started out as an online serial and it took me a little over three hours to complete each one. The vocabulary is complex and very colorful, a rare treat, and it really satisfied my appetite. I can’t remember the last time I consulted my online dictionary multiple times throughout a book. This was probably back in early high school but I found myself highlighting half a dozen words when I read Captive Prince. (I had to look up all these words: catamite, provenance, appurtenances, apothegm, peripatetic, aseptic)


Captive Prince: Volume One (Captive Prince, #1)Captive Prince: Volume One by C.S. Pacat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I applaud C.S. Pacat’s skill because she has long surpassed the debut novelist’s amateurity with her level of depth and characterization in Captive Prince. She is very familiar with her worldbuilding and it is obvious that she constructed the plot with the ending very much in mind. There are so many plot twists and revelations that accompanies the two main characters that it awes me completely at every turn. As an m/m romance, the first book only set the foundations of the relationship and it is a full-on hate on first sight. This is reasonably ironic as Damen is in a precarious situation where they are sworn enemies. It’s almost like Romeo and Juliet except there’s a load of history that warrants much hate between the two kingdoms. So color me surprised as I see the author blur the lines of right and wrong and uncover the intricate layers of Prince Laurent. He’s not someone that I can support as a love interest for Damen as their relationship is that of a slave/prince right now. It’s unbalanced and Damen’s identity is shrouded so he can never act as a prince. It’s degrading to stoop to the level of a slave and we suffer through a lot of humiliations with him. And believe me, Laurent is really resentful and he’s actually terrible to Damen.

‘He cares for your pleasure,’ explaiined Erasmus.
It took a moment for those words to attach to their correct meaning, and when they did a breath of helpless laughter was the only possible response. Laurent’s precise instructions and their inevitable result had not been intended as a kindness, but rather the opposite. There was no way to explain Laurent’s cool, intricate mind to the slave, and Damen didn’t try.

Laurent is manipulative, cold, and tightly-controlled. However, nothing is as it seems. We glimpse many reasons that attributed to his current personality and it’s very interesting as Damen discovers the different sides of Laurent. As a prince, he exercises some power over the kingdom but the one who is truly in control is the Regent, Laurent’s uncle. The sheer amount of influence and background dealings that the Regent has makes this novel shine with the plot twists and trickery. Damen is way out of his water (literally and figuratively) and the reader blatantly sees that he cannot handle any court dealings and has a shallow understanding of political intrigue.

‘You can’t go to Delfeur,’ Damen said. ‘It’s a death trap.’
The moment he said it, he understoof that Laurent had always known this…
The words were an unfolding realization. It was clear now why Laurent had worked to exonerate his slave and obfuscate the attack…
‘Why are you doing this? Is it a forced move? You can’t think of a way around it?’ Damen searched Laurent’s face.

In short, Laurent is his foil and whereas Damen is trusting of everyone and gives them the benefit of the doubt, Laurent’s shield is always up and his every move is an act with a distinct purpose behind it. I loved their parallels and the plausible concept of them complementing each other with their different traits. I thought they were an excellent match in that sense because Damen is charismatic and automatically loved by all with his leadership and fighting abilities. His Akielon people adored him and were exceedingly loyal (except for those who betrayed him, of course) but Laurent grew up in a secretive court filled with scheming royals. Vere, on the other hand, is under the rule of the Regent meaning most of the supporters are in Regent’s favor. Laurent may certainly attract several blindly devoted followers but his actions are constantly under watch and his cards are limited. Ironically, he is also trapped like Damen.

Guion had dined on mouth-watering spiced meats wrapped in grape leaves, the noon-day heat fanned away from his reclining form by attentive slaves. He felt generously willing to admit that this barbaric country [Akielos] had its charms. The food was rustic but the slaves were impeccable: faultlessly obedient and trained to efface and anticipate, nothing like the spoiled pets at the court of Vere.

I find the world of Vere and Akielos highly fascinating with the inspiration of Greek/Roman architecture and fashion, and the Akielon slave culture that is compared to the ‘pet’ culture of Veretians. Akielos is pro-slavery and it’s so long established as the norm that Damen doesn’t really question its moralities until he arrives in Vere as a slave himself. But Vere doesn’t own slaves; royals keep ‘pets’ that are dolled up and kept as a trophy by their sides to satisfy their sexual cravings. Rather barbaric, that’s what the readers and Damen think. Unlike the heteronormative Akielos, Veretian culture frown upon heterosexuals as an aberration which causes bastardry and they tout homosexuality as the norm.

Female pets were kept by the ladies, male pets were kept by the lords.
‘You mean that men and women–never–‘
Never. Not among the nobility. Well, sometimes, if they were perverse. It was taboo. Bastards were a blight, Jord said. Even among the guards, if you screwed women, you kept quiet about it. If you got a woman pregnant and didn’t marry her your career was over.

It’s interesting seeing the set-up of this environment as what pushes this towards the M/M genre because Damen is allegedly bisexual and Laurent is homosexual like everyone else in his kingdom. However, these details are not the crux of the plot because fantasy is Pacat’s forte. In many author’s hands, this premise would not have worked but Pacat has forged a memorable story that garners the attention of hardcore fantasy-lovers while catering to romantics, the lgbt genre, and mature readers. The sophisticated vocabulary and sentences are unique and it took me much longer to read this book than when I read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. (By the way, I’ll write a nice review about Simon hehehe) Now that I thought of it, these books are both about lgbt but they polar opposites in so many ways and Simon’s story is really sweet and positive whilst Captive Prince takes a much darker turn into the gritty power struggle between two kingdoms and characters.


So I ended up writing much more than I thought I would for Captive Prince…meaning I’m going to write up a separate review for Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising.

Review to come for:

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Review: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's CradleCat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vonnegut’s full-blown disillusionment with the modern world is clearly outlined in this book. It’s cynical and readers can draw parallels to current events. Yet, it is also fun to read and laugh over the satirical tidbits. It’s been a while since I last read something by Kurt Vonnegut (4 years actually) and I remember enjoying it as a youngster. Cat’s Cradle follows in the same vein as Slaughterhouse-Five in terms of satirical humor, caustic remarks, and epigrams. Vonnegut’s writing style is sure unique, I thought.  Cat’s Cradle relies heavily on a single character’s driven determination to uncover more information about a famous scientist who helped build the atomic bomb in WWII. This then leads to him encountering more people in his search and a ridiculous string of events that follow. Although the story is arranged into chapters that are the length of one or two pages, the plot is composed of implicit sections in which each take a turn into specific directions. Nevertheless, the short chapters effectively shows the reader independent thoughts and occurrences that eventually intertwine to coherent form the grand picture.

The absolute ridicule that Vonnegut attacks religion with should not be taken seriously. Although there’s a lot of serious issues that he touches upon, he writes about it in a cavalier way that shows how little he’s invested in it. For me, it was a book I would want to read if I wanted something relaxing. The ending is actually tragic but I wouldn’t put too much thought into it. My point for reading it was not for the story line but for the philosophical theses. Anyways, I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot take any Vonnegut that I read seriously.

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