Retellings of Beauty and the Beast

IT’S FINALLY OUT. I’ve been waiting for the trailer ever since the first movie teaser was released! Beauty and the Beast is by far my all-time favorite fairy tale and I am ecstatic that it is finally getting a live action film. I also want to gush about all the recent book retellings of BatB so I will be listing several of my favorites below the trailer.


They are listed from my least to most favorite retellings:

7. Stolen Songbird by Danielle L Jensen (Review here)

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6. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

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5. Beauty by Robin McKinley

4. East by Edith Pattou

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3. Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

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2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Check out my review here)

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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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Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy, #3)The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Fantasy books rarely close on such a sweet note. I’m unused to a happy, hopeful ending. (Oh, you authors have broken my heart time over time with all your shenanigans.)

The Winner’s Crime ended on such a grim note that I wondered how the situation could resolve itself. Realistically speaking, war can only hold off imperialism for so long and the odds are not in Arin’s quaint colony’s favor. So even if he wins this spat, Valoria will return one day to conquer this nation again. However, brute force and guerilla warfare may leave scars that will desist Valoria from stepping on their land for a while. That doesn’t leave many choices. However, Arin and Kestrel are a force to be reckoned with and they are the perfect couple and tag team to tackled this dilemma. Arin is smart. Kestrel is smarter. With these limited resources at hand, the author really made them work hard for a happy ending.

“What formation would the general use,” Roshar had asked her, “for a march along a road of that width?”
Kestrel had paused, fingers on the worn map.
“She can’t know for certain,” Arin said.
“Here’s what I would do if I were him,” she said…

At the start of the book, Arin is return to his home heartbroken but not without a measure of hope to move on and deal with the looming war at hand. He struck me as a resilient character and this is such an apt description because he talked a lot about learning from his mistakes. He began to harden his heart to war’s brutality and although he bounced back from all these mishaps, he changed cynically. He’s determined and resourceful, but the author shows that he is merciful towards Valorian female warriors. In one scene, he hesitates in a moment of weakness which causes him to sustain an injury from a random Valorian female soldier. I liked that he still retains that core of decency and I don’t question his actions because this is wartime.

“But this was your true self,” he said. “Intelligent, brave, manipulative. Kind. You made no effort to hide who you were. Then I found that I wanted you to hide it. This was the luxury of your position, wasn’t it, that you didn’t have to hide? It was the doomed nature of mine, that I did. And that’s true. Sometimes a truth squeezes you so tightly you can’t breathe. It was like that. But it also wasn’t, because there was another reason it hurt to look at you. You were too likable. To me.”

Kestrel is worse off than she was in the previous books. I really felt for her pain and misery, and I understood why it was better to forget rather than torment herself with memories of her past. In all honesty, she is the better for her experience because her fundamental self is unchanged. She has been strong, tactical, and persistently independent with what she has to work with. As a general’s daughter, she lives up to her name and continues to play wargames despite her mental hardships. Arin coddles her with his protectiveness so it’s interesting seeing the dynamics between the two. True, Kestrel deeply cares about Arin but she is not as easily swayed by emotions. She does not let emotion color her decisions. However, she is by no means an ice queen. She is deeply traumatized by her recent experiences and suffers through a huge identity crisis. Much of it is internal and she does not express much of it physically.

She remembered how she’d wanted to explain to him that it had rattled her to try to slip into her father’s mind, to know that the general’s mind and her own felt upsettingly similar. She’d wanted to put her fear inside a white box and give it to Arin.
You, too, she would tell him. I fear for you. I fear for me if I lost you.
War is no place for fear, said the memory of her father’s voice.
“Take care,” she’d told Arin.
He’d smiled.

Arin, on the other hand, is irrational when it comes to Kestrel. I kept waiting throughout the book for it to come back to bite him in the rear but it seems that there were no severe consequences. Sure, there are some grave risks taken and several heartrending moment in which they suffered grievous wounds. However, they survived relatively unscathed. I think I should feel happy, right? I guess I’m so used to being tricked and handed bittersweet endings that The Winner’s Kiss almost seems like a miracle. But a gift is a gift and I’LL TAKE IT.

Thanks, Marie Rutkoski for writing a wonderful book filled with sweet moments, tender declarations of love, and gory descriptions of appendages lopped off.

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: Crown of Midnight by Sarah Maas

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

That whole stereotype about second book syndrome? CROWN OF MIDNIGHT COMPLETELY PROVED IT WRONG. Throne of Glass set up multiple plot threads that were picked up in this book and it was juggled so well. With the same four main protagonists, the story continues to expand and explore what Throne of Glass hinted at. A lot happened and Celaena was put through more hardships and pain but I loved every moment of it. That makes me sound like a sadist but all I mean is that the author wrote an engrossing story that continued to push the stakes higher and force characters out of their comfort zone. There are new revelations and subtle clues for readers to pick up on in order to learn how the past connects with the present.


While the first book leaves readers slightly intrigued, this one is a monster that sucks the reader in with juicy details a whole new world~~ The map displayed in the beginning of the book actually is of use and is somewhat relevant to the story. Celaena has more or less stayed the same in this book so it was super fun seeing how her wit and smarts allowed her to discover the ominous plans of the king. The first book has the ease of distraction through a survival competition but now that her position as Champion is secure, the real worries and identity crisis is back in her life. Celaena has some serious history to deal with and her childhood was so sorrowful and blunt. We as readers begin to empathize with her despite her flaw and determination to run away from her problems.

Nehemia clicked her tongue. “I didn’t realize that you’re just a coward.”
Celaena looked over her shoulder. “Say that again.”
Nehemia didn’t flinch. “You’re a coward. You are nothing more than a coward.”
Celaena’s fingers clenched into fists. “When your people are lying dead around you,” she hissed, “don’t come crying to me.”

Although she has proved her courage multiple times, she is still a coward at heart and it hurt her very much when Nehemia called her out for it. The author showed a great job of Celaena’s emotional instability and mental scarring by the way she seemed to loathe herself. That whole parade of arrogance, superiority, and nonchalance you saw in the first book? It was all a facade. Her mask has been neatly sewn on for ten years. Nevertheless, Celaena is still a protagonist that is fierce, vicious, and highly cunning. She’s reluctant to go against the evil king because she believes herself to be insignificant and powerless even though she has proven otherwise. In Crown of Midnight, Celaena literally leaps off the pages with her liveliness and there was never a dull moment with her around.

I have good things to say about Choal and Dorian since more light was shed onto their personalities and background. Dorian becomes more responsible and ‘kingly’ as a catalytic result of Celaena. How so? Dorian was portrayed as a devil-may-care womanizer whose meager involvement in court politics was by merely showing up at meetings. This new side where Dorian begins to stand up to his father is a complete reversal from his initial apathy and mere tolerance of his father’s atrocities. Whereas he offered his condolences upon hearing of the massacre in Eyllwe, his acts of defiance are more pronounced in the second book. I’d say Celaena imposes a positive influence that forces him to step up to the mantle and seek clarification of his kingdom’s situation. This, however, was only a possibility due to Celaena pushing him away. Instead of shunning his responsibilities by wooing the Champion and doing whatever idle things he did, he has to face court affairs because he still cares what happens to her in her assassin missions.

But this distance between them, this horrible gap that spread every day…it was for the best.
Dorian took a step closer, exposing his palms to her. “Do you want me to fight for you? Is that it?”
“No,” she said quietly. “I just want you to leave me alone.”

The relationship is not necessarily falling apart at the seams but both the prince and the champion are better off as friends when they don’t even have their own identities figured out. Dorian is weak-willed, and Celaena is still coming to terms with her past and learning to do what is right. Chaol is indecisive and his inability to align himself with a specific allegiance is a flaw that runs deep. (I haven’t said much about Chaol, right? He is an interesting character because he cares deeply for Celaena and is like a rock. Ever-present and steady even though he is very guarded in his feelings. Of course, he falls for her and in his own way, he tries to protect her and keep her safe. He has well-meaning intentions that truly comes back to bite him in the ass because he knows it’s not right towards the parties involved. He still does it though. In the end, I can only applaud him for his large heart even though I want to smack him around for acting so chivalrous when it hurts him to do so.)

Whatever shred of hope he’d had for a future with her was gone. She still felt something for him, she’d admitted, but she would never trust him. She would always hate him for what he’d done.
But he could do this for her. Even if he never saw her again, even if she abandoned her duties as King’s Champion…as long as he knew that she was safe, that no one could hurt her…He’d sell his soul again and again for that.

These are all characters that have a lot to sort through and this book dealt a lot with laying their problems bare. There is a lot of character development to speak of but it is more of “developing the characters to make them 3-D to the readers rather than actually making the characters change or become different”. Therefore, I’m expecting Heir of Fire to take the next step by resolving these problems and having characters confront/battle their inner turmoil.

Crown of Midnight brought new revelations to the table because honestly, I did not realize seriously how badly screwed up the kingdom was until Celaena, Chaol, Nehemia, and Dorian began researching. This book really stepped up its game and took it up a notch by highlighting exactly what’s going on with the villainous king. I loved that the author used the same castle setting to uncover new secrets when the conflict is usually laid bare in most books. The genre is now no longer fantasy-lite but high fantasy with a mystery base. The romance is still there but no longer the centerpiece which I’m so thankful for because it downplayed the complex plot.

Before the magic cleansing and tyranny of King of Adarlan, matter were quite different. War is now a constant and the current state of affairs is possible stirrings of rebellion. This is like most dystopian books that incite revolution and place their protagonists at the head of it *cough* Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior *cough cough*. However, I can feel the hopelessness that’s deeply rooted in Celaena’s mind which stops her from rebelling. Her only aspiration was freedom far away from the iron hand of Adarlan; her desperate wish to be normal is what makes her different from other protagonists. The ‘special snowflake syndrome’ may apply to her since she’s a deadly assassin good at her job, but the extent of the king’s power is hard to challenge. It’s actually ridiculously hard and extremely unlikely for revolutions led by teenagers to overthrow the government/monarchy. So I liked this fresh breath of cold, hard reality where Celaena feels insignificant and wants no part in going against the king. This is a subplot that runs throughout the whole story as she continues to discover more atrocities and the source of the king’s power. I want to write more about the plot but it’s hard to do so when I’m navigating over major spoilers. To sum it up, Crown of Midnight was addicting, quick-paced, and exceedingly suave. If you were less than bedazzled by Throne of Glass, be prepared to be awed by the sequel.

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass–and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.

I can definitely see why this book is so well-received by the community. It identifies well with hard-core fantasy fans because there’s gore, magic, and lots of badassery from yours truly. The protagonist Celaena is an assassin which is a smart pick since deadly archetypes are popular with fantasy readers who love to cheer on more than royal characters. There’s also a strong presence of romance to market towards YA readers and give them plenty to swoon and agonize over. Upon meeting Prince Dorian, I knew right away that she and he were going to get along just fine. It’s true to form for a novel to hint at their romance at the get-go but I felt that it eventually took over the plot and detracted my attention from the magic counterparts. Somehow, the book became a romance with fantasy elements instead of fantasy with romantic subplots. I love fantasy so the parts that I enjoyed the most were the fight scenes, training, and her tenacious ferocity whenever she confronts someone. On the upside, characters, plotting, and pacing were all commendable and expertly crafted.

Pros:

The author definitely sold the character because Celaena Sardothien is like any other 18 year old with the personality of an overly hyperactive puppy. She likes to eat lots of food, candy, dress up in pretty clothes, and read books. Her character development is by far the best because she’s turned out spectacularly expressive despite her overwhelmingly gruesome childhood. Her trainer Arobynn has put her through some serious trauma and it’s hardened her in some ways but also made her vulnerable in relationships. Being the best in her field of work also tends to acquire enemies and envy rather than friends. This is what led to her current situation when she trusted the wrong people. However, she vows revenge not for how it put her into a death camp but rather for the human collateral damage the betrayers wrought. I personally think it’s commendable because the author does a lot of showing, not telling when it comes to reflecting her personality and actions.
In some ways, she’s an open book and I like that because it makes her more realistic. She’s hardheaded sometimes and is very eager to display her talents but that’s reasonable since she gets provoked so often by weaker competition. I COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND, CELAENA. It truly hurts me when people of lower intelligence and achievements insult me like how dare they insult me when I’m better than them.

Do you know how insulting it is to pretend to be some nobody thief from a small city in Fenharrow?”
He stared her down, quiet for a moment. “Are you that arrogant?” She bristled, but he went on. “It was foolish to spar with you just now. I’ll admit that I hadn’t realized you’d be that good. Thankfully, no one noticed. And do you want to know why, Lillian?” He took a step closer, his voice lowering. “Because you’re some pretty little girl. Because you’re a nobody jewel thief from a small city in Fenharrow. Look around.” He half-turned to the other Champions. “Is anyone staring at you? Are any of them sizing you up? No. Because you’re not real competition. Because you don’t stand between them and whatever freedom or wealth they’re looking for.”
“Exactly! It’s insulting!”
“It’s smart, that’s what it is. And you’re going to keep a low profile throughout this entire competition. You’re not going to excel, and you’re not going to trounce those thieves and soldiers and unknown assassins.

Anyways… She’s not stupid though and it helps that she knows where her priorities lie. There’s a bit of feminism thrown into the mix when she makes an important decision at the end of the book. It ultimately cemented my support for whatever she does because her reasons are justifiable and well-thought out. How come so many female characters commit rash actions without properly thinking through the consequences? I hope Celaena continues to fight for her freedom and acts consistently in Crown of Midnight.

The elaborate establishment of characters took up a good chunk of the book so I’ll excuse much of the pointless games played between Celaena, Captain Chaol, and Prince Dorian. It quintessentially achieved what the author wanted: we understand the inner workings of their minds and also comprehend their feelings better than the characters themselves.
This in turn plays well into one of the major events at the end of the book. Chaol does something so out-of-character that it shocks many people but not the reader because we understand what drove him to that point. It is a great plot device that will eventually force him to evaluate his feelings and perhaps change the gears in his relationships. This is a book that explores relationships deeply and although there is a fantasy force that propels the action in the story, interactions are at the forefront.

I really like magic. And I especially like well-explained magic that puts readers at ease without baffling us. It’s not a lot to digest and I understand how it works by gleaning a few explanations here and there scattered throughout the story. It’s also pretty much in the background and introduced late into the story. There were hints of magic and its involvement a few pages in so I was expecting more once I hit the meat of the plot. The magic element is slowly enmeshed with Celaena’s life and Wyrdmarks (the magic in her world) gets mentioned more often as the book progresses. So by the time I start reading the sequel, magic should be in the foreground because it’s become crucial in light of the major events and history of the world.


Cons:

As some reviewers have said, it’s fantasy-lite. This saddens me be because this book had so much potential especially with those kickass fight scenes. There’s a bit of political intrigue but not enough to cover up the enormous backdrop of a romance. The whole story in fact, was dominated by the love triangle and I kind of got sick of it halfway through.

He wouldn’t be intimidated, even if she could grab that billiards cue and skewer him with it in a matter of seconds. “From your playing, it seems that you’re a great deal more than that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said, trying not to get lost in her strange, lovely eyes, “I don’t think anyone who plays like that can be just a criminal. It seems like you have a soul,” he teased.
“Of course I have a soul. Everyone has a soul.”
She was still red. He made her that uncomfortable? He fought his grin. This was too much fun. “How’d you like the books?”
“They were very nice,” she said quietly. “They were wonderful, actually.”
“I’m glad.” Their eyes met, and she retreated behind the back of the chair. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought himself to be the assassin!

Friendships were weak and I did not have a full understanding of the plight of the nation and the extensive tyranny of the king. I expected more from what the book blurb had marketed but the novel also exceeded my expectations in other ways.
Throne of Glass was undercooked and could have been better structured without the gratuitous interactions between Celaena and her love interests.

“I’m getting a drink,” muttered Chaol, and walked away. She watched the captain for a moment. It would be a miracle if he considered her a friend. Dorian caressed her back, and she looked at him. Her heart jumped into a gallop, and Chaol dissolved from her thoughts, like dew beneath the morning sun. She felt bad for forgetting him—but . . . but . . . Oh, she wanted Dorian, she couldn’t deny it. She wanted him.
“You look beautiful,” Dorian said quietly, running an eye over her in a way that made her ears burn. “I haven’t been able to stop staring at you.”

At the same time, the novel acts as an intricate setup for the next book so I’m looking forward to more fantasy and high-amp risks.

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Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Crimson BoundCrimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I swear I’m not biased towards fairy tale retellings!! I SWEAR. This is the second book I’ve read by Rosamund and her storytelling has gotten more advanced. Her concepts were fresh and world-building was stellar in Cruel Beauty and this one is no exception. I especially love that this book is a stand-alone because a single fairy tale is not meant to be stretched out into trilogies. It’s a slight reprieve from the onslaught of trilogy releases and foretold next ‘Hunger Games’ books.

Crimson Bound is a spin on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood but it doesn’t feel that way throughout the book. The only time that I felt a twinge of that parallelism is during the first couple chapters and near the end. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since seasoned readers are looking for new ideas and are not looking to read a formulaic plot.

Pros:

  • The cover is similar to Cruel Beauty but is still unique and pleasing to the eye.
  • One of the strongest assets in the book is the conflict between Rachelle’s actions and intentions. She starts out as a naive little girl who has high hopes and a keen focus on her goals. This is in fact her folly because she dreams so big about defeating the ominous forest/woodspawns and is willing to go the extra length to do so. Within the first few chapters, she is shamed and defeated by her curiosity. By talking to the wolf, of course. Fast forward a couple years and she is now cynical and pursued by her angst. However, I warmed up to Rachelle through her persistence and staunch beliefs in what she believes is right. She is confident in her combat skills, prideful, and of course initially vitriolic upon first encounter towards her love interest. Armand is an interesting case among the romantics archetypes. Typical of many fairy tales, he’s a prince but he’s a bastard prince at that; he also has no hands. Someone cut them off a few months before Rachelle met him and part of the story revolves around how it happened and who did it. This was actually one of the plot twists that I did not see coming. It significantly improved the plot and turned an otherwise docile story into something stark raving mad and rabid. I loved it, as you can see.
  • Upon Rachelle’s story, a legend is also layered on to give the readers background information about the origins of the Devourer and the gods people worship. Although it’s corny, the villain’s name works because it’s simple and the Devourer is a mindless abyss rather than a sentient being. Think of Voldemort’s reincarnations in a way.
    The legend of Zisa and Tyr who finally bound up the Devourer and restored the sun and moon back to the sky turns out to be frighteningly real in this book. Zisa and Tyr are siblings who’re are offered up one as a sacrifice to the Devourer and the other to join the Devourer’s forces. Zisa is driven by her love for her brother to find ways to free him; her determination is the original story of courage, wit, and sacrifice.

ZISA CARRIED THE BONES TO A GREAT YEW TREE. Beneath its roots there was a cave, and in the cave there was a forge, and chained to the forge was a man with a smile like dried blood and glowing embers.
This was Volund, the crippled smith. He had once loved a forestborn maiden, and so much did he delight her that for seven years she stayed beside him. But one night she heard the hunting horns of her people and rose to follow them. Before she had taken three steps, he struck her dead.
In recompense, the forestborn hamstrung him, chained him, and made him undying as themselves, an everlasting slave to craft their swords and spears and arrows.
“Old man,” said Zisa, “I must have two swords made out of these bones.”
“Little girl,” said Volund, “I must obey the forestborn, but not you.”
“And when I am one of them, I will remember you said that,” she replied.
He laughed like a rusty hinge. “And much I have left for anyone to take from me. But you, I think, have the whole world to lose.” He looked her up and down. “I will make you a bargain. Give me the delights of your proud body twice, and I will make you two swords such as the world will never see again.”
There was nothing she would not do for her brother.

It serves as a backbone to Rachelle’s story when it shows how far she is willing to go to defeat the Devourer. Why does she want to defeat it? Are her intentions noble enough? As the story gradually continues, her purpose for seeking and destroying the Devourer shifts as she goes through revelations about the evil. It is an arduous struggle and I empathized with her anger, self-hate, and impatience in search for the two legendary swords. The legends played a huge role in enriching the world-building and it drew up great comparisons between the deeds of Zisa and those of Rachelle.

Cons:

  • The writing is artfully arranged most of the time but there are moments that I got confused due to rough transitions. Within one line, the author ends the day before I even realize it. There would be anecdotes about what Rachelle goes through but they are written clumsily because they seem stringed together.
    Writing a sequence of events is difficult but I did not feel a sense of time when the story jumped whole days or skipped a week nonchalantly with a sentence or two. This threw off the pacing of the book because I knew with effort and better editing, the storyline will coalesce well. Nonetheless, this is only a minor grievance that did not detract me from wholeheartedly investing in the mystery.
  • Rachelle and Amelie’s friendship is sort of a poor excuse when it’s formed on the basis of a You-saved-my-life-now-let’s-be-friends. It slightly laughable but it reminds me of Shrek and Donkey. I’m not saying friendships can’t be formed this way because it totally can and friends have been made through less efforts. However, this is where the affinity ends because they literally have nothing else in common. Amelie does Rachelle’s makeup which is sweet but that’s about it.
    I understand that this friendship is proof that not all humans hate bloodbounds. Bloodbounds are those who used to be human but have killed a human in order to survive the curse placed upon them by a forestborn. (All you need to know about a forestborn is that they are minions of the Devourer. But it’s more complicated and you’ll understand once you read the book. Read it!) This murder is what merits the hate they get from humans. This is seriously one of the most underdeveloped relationships I’ve seen in a book; it’s literally the same thing as Primrose Everdeen and Katniss Everdeen. Rachelle and Katniss are both willing to go to strenuous lengths to preserve Amelie/Primrose’s innocence and safety. A noble feat that alas fails…what? Did I just say something? Please ignore that if you haven’t read the books lol

Rachelle looked at her. She noticed the careful way that Amélie leaned toward her, closing the distance between them but not ever touching. She noticed that Amélie was biting her lip, the way she always did when she was nervous. She noticed that this was, in fact, her only friend.

She still couldn’t tell her anything. Maybe it was foolish, but she had spent three years trying to shelter Amélie. She couldn’t bear to undo that now.

This reeks heavily of motherly authority and ideals of ignorance is bliss. Hasn’t anyone learned that confiding in your best friend is ultimately the only way to go if you wish to keep the friendship alive? Although I do think Rachelle is great as a character, she makes blunders and I forgive her so other characters should just as well forgive her.


Readers may not like Crimson Bound if they are looking for something that adheres closely to their beloved fairy tales. It is a dark tale that speaks volumes to today’s teens and the proclivities of the 21st century. If you’re ready for what’s next, I recommend this book. Otherwise, just stick to the classically sweet Beauty by Robin McKinley.

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ARC Review: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
This book will be published in August 4, 2015.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’m sure we’ve all dealt with book hangovers at one point in our life. You know that feeling when you miss a particular style of writing or an author’s quirks? It’s not even about hating that a book ended or having an empty feeling in our guts. I guess this is why I had highly anticipated reading Rebecca Stead’s newest book. When I read her Newbery Medal book, I felt emotionally drained from the ending and how bittersweet it was. Fear not, Stead fan!! Goodbye Stranger is a welcome home party with a new set of quirky characters and challenges!
I didn’t think much of middle school because it’s such a bad stage and kids are going through puberty so hormones are flying like crazy and people are plain mean to each other for no reason. Rebecca Stead understands that perfectly. The whole ‘awkward silence’ and painful moments of social humiliation and ‘uncool moves.’

The voice of our protagonist Bridge resonated with me because we all have that one friend (Em) who grew up too fast and is now part of the cool crowd. In its barest bones, this is about everyday life and navigating the social perils of seventh grade. That’s the year that means you’re not the top of the pile but neither are you the fresh-faced newbies. Stead gets it. Seventh grade is just plain grueling and making friends outside of your grade is even more difficult especially (for Em) if your crush runs in an 8th grade friend circle. Lucky for her, she’s in JV soccer and she’s good at it so up she goes to joined multiple friend groups. There’s a lot of hidden moments that boast of independence. Little actions that speak louder than words. The friendship between the trio is like super-glue strong and I loved how the author didn’t have to say it but instead showed it in each and every interactions. I believe that different people can become great friends and although it usually starts with similarities, it’s not what holds a bond together. I can attest through my 19 years of socializing and I can see that although I align myself with people like me, I enjoy making friends who are the complete opposite from me.

Some of the best epiphanies that Stead writes about is the time Bridge spends with Sherm. She says it should be awkward and I agree because they barely know each other and to more stress on it, conversation is two-way. It’s always safer to carry on a conversation with 3 or more people because that means there’s an extra person to continuously stimulate and extend a conversation. Bridge, luckily, instantly connects with Sherm and their conversations are easy and flow naturally. This, THIS is what I’ve been trying to find and it’s a rare occurrence that I can talk so comfortably with another person without feeling the need to come up with ‘topic-starters’. I’m not an awkward person but it just so happens that I get off on a rough start with strangers because I feel pressure to grill them about their life histories. I loved that Bridge and Sherm share a laidback relationship. Those are usually hard-won and come only after long periods of association.

Although Bridge is the main character, the drama mostly revolves around Emily and her encounters with peer pressure and double standards. The blurb says double standards and damn right, there is! Tab, the other best friend in the trio, is highly involved in feminism and learns a lot about the portrayals and reactions towards girls and boys. Girls can easily be labeled as a slut, whore, skank, but boys just downright get off the hook. I liked that there was lots of girl power and emphasis on the fact that clothing does not define a girl. I remember one passage in which Em complained why it was only okay if a girl took pictures in her bikini at a beach. Anywhere else entails baggage and judgment from others.

Schools need more books like this rather than The Scarlet Letter because people can actually relate to it and understand how messed up society is. It easily pertains to today’s curriculum and comparisons can be made to incidents of double standards. What a girl can wear to school is severely limited compared to a boy. It’s been unfair on so many levels and tell me why is it that a girl can’t wear shorts/skirts above the knees while guys strut around with their pants sagging and half their butts hanging out?

Rebecca also does this awesome thing called second-person narrative that she did in When You Reach Me and it was so intriguing because I can never resist a little mystery. The identity of the character is unknown because that person is referred to as ‘You’ and it steadily runs on the single day of Valentine’s Day. (Aside from that, the rest of the book progress chronologically.) I spent minutes on end speculating on the tantalizing clues that the author dropped. It didn’t take long for it to click but I still nonetheless relished the chapter of the character reveal to prove that I was correct. I gradually realized that the point of the unknown narrative was simply to show a different social situation apart from what Em, Tab, and Bridge dealt with. Although the Valentine’s Day narrator had a different life completely separate from the middle school, those two somewhat intersected in small unexpected ways. I enjoyed the dichotomy of the narrator’s life from Bridge’s and it made a juxtaposition of two person from diverse walks of life.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it in my When You Reach Me review but race plays a irrelevant factor throughout the book. Since the urban setting of Manhattan means diversity is all around, there’s a lot of holidays that need to be explained. Stead makes the point of bringing up Bridge’s nationality as Armenian and casually inserts a food from the country. I didn’t really pick up on the deliberateness of the situation because it was so tastefully done and the same went for Tab who was Indian. She joined the Hindi Club at school and her mother fasted for a moon holiday. It was actually very interesting and I liked how there was race but it was a thing that just is. Ethnicity is so hard for authors to deal with sometimes because they can either dispose of the whole ‘cultural background’ thing and just label a person and leave it at that. What a lot of people tend to forget is that culture partially defines a person and I, as a Chinese, have received quite a hefty amount of influence from Chinese culture. I admire the author’s tenacity in inclusion of cultural tidbits because sure, Goodbye Stranger, is a coming-of-age novel focused on friendship and love, but it can still incorporate other elements.

This all strengthens the book and I know I didn’t really talk about the plot and I really can’t because it’s something readers have to experience themselves. It’s complicated to explain the plot because it’s comprised of so many different plotlines and there’s so many stories involved that I don’t want to really spoil.

Thank you Wendy Lamb/Random House for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy through Netgalley.

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Review: All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry

All the Truth That's in MeAll the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lot rides on the shoulders of the book description which totes it as a mysterious town which shunned a girl who came back after 2 years of disappearance. In truth, Judith was abducted and it’s pretty obvious from the start because she returns with her tongue cut out. However, the blurb is extremely misleading and there are crucial details left out which forms the basis of the story and thus, I dove in confused with the setting. However, I’m still satisfied by the results and the mystery drove me on so curiously. Judith’s voice is compelling and her actions are reasonable and so well-understood within the boundaries of the flawed society she lives in.

There were so many strikes against this book and I should not have been able to enjoy it but I certainly did. Patricia McCormick’s Cut was told in second-person perspective in which the main character is talking or referring to someone else as ‘you’. This book, also does the same but it somehow did not annoy me as it did with Cut. It’s also split into short chapters numbered by Roman numerals and short (1-3 page) chapters are one of my pet peeves. However, Julie Berry’s writing is evocative and the ‘chapters’ actually flow well together and often stay on the current situation. In Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, the choppy writing and the 2-page chapters pissed me off some much despite how unique and tragic the story was. Needless to say, that book about Lithuanians and their harrowing experience in the Siberian concentration camps sadly did not stick in my mind. The Book Thief was far superior not because the plot was more tragic (because it’s not), but it was all thanks to the excellent writing. Okay, back to Berry’s book. I had all these pet peeves that somehow didn’t matter anymore when I cracked open this book and began reading furiously. Frankly, I read this whole book in one sitting and I even missed a planning meeting to cosponsor a multicultural festival.(Shhh!)

Pros:

I was really skeptical about Judith narrating this book as if she’s retelling it to the boy she’s in love with. Seriously? The girl doesn’t know enough about Lucas to be pouring out her thoughts to him. However, I got used to the reference ‘you’ instead of Lucas. Well, it was actually sweet and I ended up liking Lucas a lot because he’s such a noble character who stood out against the backdrop of a judgmental community. Yes, this is a romance but there’s a more important story to tell and Judith is slowly healing and picking up the courage to speak out and tell the truth about what happened to her best friend and the past two years of her life.

I predicted the plot twist halfway through the story but there were ambiguous parts of it that I only vaguely dismissed in light of the general picture. I loved the details that eventually matched up the mystery with why Judith chose to remain mute. It’s still a heartbreaking story but I felt so much hope emanating from Judith. She was an obedient daughter to her mother and brother despite their cavalier treatment and yet, she remained diligent and was determined to make the best of her situation. Her kindness to others and her lack of bitterness towards her lot in life was a bit far-fetched but I could perceive it as her being resigned to her position. I liked that Judith acted many times out of love for others and her selflessness is truly remarkable. The thrilling aspects of Judith being stalked by someone unknown and hostility from others kept me on my toes and I sometimes didn’t know which direction the plot would steer towards.

Cons:

The religion does not take centerpiece but a lot of the way religion is preached makes it out to be something twisted and manipulated for the church’s convenience. The community is quick to blame and shun girls for their indecent behavior and Judith’s mutism is seen as a seen of God’s punishment or divine retribution. Despite her faultlessness, many townspeople are not so open-minded and the church would call her a pariah and ignore her. I didn’t realize for a while that there are repercussions (castigation) if people don’t attend church regularly. I understand that the ultimate intention was the illustrate a puritanical society dominated by patriarchy but religion played too strong a force that it detracted from the central plot.


There is a lot of originality and the mixture of different settings and writing implements were strangely alluring. This was a memorable read and people who like mysteries or romantics would enjoy it.

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Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: Review

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3)Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bitterblue is the third book in the Graceling Realm and focuses on the eponymous heroine who had to rule a kingdom that was crippled by her sadistic father. I read this book last year and I want to talk more about it because it has made a lasting impact on how I perceived the fantasy genre.

Where to start…this is a book that deals with the heavy ramifications of mind rape and the resulting extended manipulation that continuously traumatizes the victims. Although this is a fantasy book about wild creatures, a kingdom, queen, and politics, it is much more than an fairy tale. The people handle serious issues and suffer from mental instability after the culprit of these disorders is long dead. The people’s state of minds and lives are the inner conflicts of the story. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made me click with the characters. I connected with the starkness, pain, mind-boggling mystery, and torture centralized in each character. At the root of the whole book are the unanswered questions that can be uncovered in the people’s minds and past. The answers are steeped in the suffering people themselves, the ones remember and know it all but are trying to forget and frantically bury.

Bitterblue has gaps in her memory but her advisers, soldiers, clerks, castle people all on the other hand, seem to retain the most grisly of theirs. Everyone is filled with secrets and unwilling to tell because they’re afraid to bring up the pain of the past. The chaos all stems from Leck and ends with Leck. The author did not have to fill the pages with gore or gritty details in order to convey to readers the extent of damage Leck wreaked. Over the course of 35 years, one man has single-handedly managed to destroy the fragile psychological minds of his citizens. Even the young ones like Hava, Teddy, and Bitterblue especially do not escape. Bitterblue must sever his legacy but at the least same time reveal the truths during his reign in order to lay to rest the ghosts of her childhood and people.

The book differs from the typical fantasy novel because it’s not an action-driven plot filled with assassinations, political intrigue, and war. Although all these fantastical elements are present in the novel, the foremost priority is the mystery and exploring the full extent of Leck’s reach and damage which still causes people to do crazy things years after his death. There are so many questions that Bitterblue brings up, countless others that people are unwillingly to ask. What is the purpose of Leck’s experiments. Where are his experiments? Who are his experiments? Why? How? The whole concept of his torture and fascination with animals and people alike is sickening, yet engrossing as I dive further into the book and learn more about it. The truth, when it is finally unveiled, is simply horrifying and just traumatizing; however, it galvanizes the road to healing. Ever since she became queen, Bitterblue discover most of her people only eager to forget and burn the history. Not everything is well in the end and in life, nothing is. But there’s so much hope and happiness that might appear in the future. I want a fourth book! A few things are still unsolved and I wish I could see Bitterblue fully mature into a greater confident woman.


Side Note/Commentary:

The fantasy genre is such a hard category to break into specifically because it’s already brimming with so much talent and also landmines. The obvious danger of writing fantasy is that the world-building needs to be built on a solid foundation that can support the story. A half-baked world makes for a half-assed story so I felt splendid returning to Cashore’s rich, vibrant kingdoms. There’s also bonus pictures in the back of the book that illustrates the multiple bridges the king forced the architect to build during his reign. And, of course, we have a map imprinted to give us the idea of where Bitterblue’s kingdom is situated and its relations with the neighbors.

Winged Bridge

There’s something so daring and empowering about having a strong female character that does not need a lover by her side or feel any need to marry anytime soon. Women were not commodity and no one questioned Bitterblue’s authority due to her gender. Her age (16) was brought into discussion and since she’s so young, a lot of characters tried to protect her by keeping her in ignorance. A lot of turmoil she feels is her struggle to come to terms with the fact that her mother was tortured extensively along with her servants. She reads Leck’s diary to find out where all the dead people were buried. The end is really bittersweet but the whole plot was driven by Bitterblue’s actions so kudos to female ACTION and PoWeR!

I was somewhat disappointed to know that Bitterblue was not really a sequel for Graceling (the first book) because the main characters were no longer Katsa and Po although they do appear sporadically throughout this book. But then, I’ve come to realize that Kat doesn’t need a continuation and maybe it’s better off to leave it as it is instead of dabbling in her affairs and missions. The author knows when to quit or specifically, knows to not stretch out content thinly just to cover more pages. *cough cough* Mockingjay parts 1 and 2 movie?! Twilight SAGA*cough choke* Less can be better and that’s why I’m satisfied. The story may be open-ended and it’s been a couple years since Cashore’s last book and sure, I don’t mind a sequel but the Graceling Realm functions just fine.

This trilogy introduced me to an intriguing side of fantasy, one that wasn’t a rip-off of Harry Potter and it taught me that there was more to offer. The imagination was not exhausted and fantasy was not all the same with battles of steel and blood. I found out that I liked books with medieval touches, monarchy, and castles…a lot. Although Paolini’s The Inheritance Saga (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, read them all except for that damn final book I got rotting away at home) was good, the countless battle scenes started blending together and the plot whittled farther from me. I became so enchanted that nowadays, I think about buying a ticket to go to Medieval Times LOL. Anyways, most of the books I read nowadays is fantasy and I happened to neglect my science fiction TBR pile because I just can’t seem to move away from fantasy!!

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