Midyear Book Tag ft. 100 books read!!

Hello everyone! I’m hoping to post more over the next month – I’ve been busy with my academic summer program. However, I am proud to say that I’ve read 100 books as of 7/24 – I thought Darling was my 100th book, but it was actually Radha and Jai’s Recipe for Romance. No spoilers except for plot descriptions to sequels! So minor ish spoilers for We Hunt the Flame, The Tiger at Midnight series.

Favorite Book of 2021?

Obviously, I cannot choose just one: here are three RELEASED books that I consider to be new favorites. We Free the Stars by Hafsah Faizal is about Zafira and Nasir’s journey after WHTF and after magic is restored, the Zumra have to figure out what to do next.

Ace of Spades is one of the best dark academia novels I’ve read. Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé is an author to watch and her debut is definitely a #1 YA must read. AOS talks about anti Blackness and how pervasive it is in schools and how it pervades society and generations. Chiamaka and Devon are great characters and that epilogue!!!

The Chariot at Dusk by Swati Teerdhala is a fantastic ending. I love morally grey characters and will definitely miss Esha and Kunal. I hope to see Teerdhala write more and I hope more people read The Tiger at Midnight series.

Honorable mentions: XOXO by Axie Oh, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao (it would be up here too but I don’t have a finished copy yet), Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao (simply magnificent, best new fantasy series of 2021)

Favorite Sequel?

Fun fact: I was on the Zumra (Hafsah Faizal’s street team)!!! That didn’t influence how much I loved WFTS – I am also doing a re-read with some others on bookstagram and I love Nasir and Zafira’s dynamic.

Sequel you haven’t Read Yet, But Want to?

Technically, I am reading these ones right now, but Our Violent Ends and When Night Breaks!! Chloe Gong and Janella Angeles are amazing and Gong was the first author I interviewed on my blog. Also, The Bronzed Beasts by Roshani Chokshi – have not read this one yet.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

Literally all of these. I don’t think I need to explain.

5. Biggest disappointment?

Oh gosh. Please don’t come at me, but Counting Down With You – listen, the author seems super nice, but I just didn’t like it? And the brown girl is “saved” by the white guy trope is so old. *note: others have read this book differently and I know it is important, so please don’t take my opinion as saying you shouldn’t read it. Also, A Dark and Hollow Star – I noticed after reading a goodreads review that EVERY mc is white – I think there’s a discussion around having token diversity vs. actively seeking out sensitivity readers when white people write about people of color and being inclusive. I am not educated enough about this topic, but I think it is something to think about. (Obviously token diversity is never good.)

6. Biggest surprise

The Iron King by Juliet Kagawa! It made faeries better for me. I am in love.

7. Favorite new author (debut or new to you)

Katie Zhao is incredible and I am so grateful to be a part of the Sinclair Students. I read HWFA before I joined, so I knew I wanted to talk about this book and get others to buy it. It’s the first YA academia book I’ve read with an all Asian cast. HWFA is a murder mystery yes, and it talks about anti Asian racism and mental health.

*Note: I am not East Asian American or an immigrant so I cannot speak on the representation. I also got a copy early from the publisher and that did not influence my opinions of this book, my opinions are only influenced by me.

8. Newest fictional crush

9. Newest favorite character

10. Book that made you cry

None.

I am lying. Brown Boy Nowhere – as a Filipino American I feel very seen.

11. Book that made you happy

XOXO!! I have no pictures but it is on my wishlist!

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

how i have no images of the entire fairyloot aeita set is wow to me but i bought it last year and got it this year.

13.What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

you already know lol – our violent ends, a psalm of storms and silence, the holiday switch, jade city.

14. Favorite book community member

May @foreverandeverly, Kate @yourtitakate, Shealea @shutupshealea, Humnah @rootedindreams, Sagarika @sagarific, Maya @mnmbooks, Jesse @bowtiesbooks.

Thank you for reading and I hope you all know that you don’t have to read 100+ books a year. I used to read 300 and that was not good because I pressured myself to not DNF a book. On a positive note, I’ve liked a lot of 2021 books!

What has been your favorite books of 2021?

Mini Book Reviews

The cover of Heiress Apparently by Diana Ma. It looks like the girl is in a frame in an art gallery. The girl has light skin and dark brown hair, and she is wearing red glasses. The tagline is Fortune favors the bold. The girl is Chinese American, and her name is Gemma Huang.

I think I’ve written this multiple times: I struggle with writing reviews. However, the only way to get better is to keep practicing. Here are three mini reviews of books that I received ARCs of in 2020. The fact that I received these books from Netgalley/the publishers did not impact my opinions.

Heiress Apparently by Diana Ma

This is the first book in a series called Daughters of the Dynasty. The main character, Gemma Huang, defers her college acceptance at UCLA to follow her dream of becoming an actress. She ends up going to Beijing for her movie. Admittedly, I don’t really remember the storyline because I read this in September 2020, but I do remember the social commentary was a nice element in addition to the main storyline about Gemma and her family.

Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant

I think this was the first 2021 book I read, and I absolutely loved it! Tessa Johnson loves writing and reading about romance, so when she’s accepted into a creative writing program at an arts school, she accepts. However, she’s unable to find the words she needs to write. Her friend, Caroline, suggests she try to live out the romance that she wants to write about. If you’re looking for a book with a fun and introspective plot, then read Happily Ever Afters.

Overall, I read this book in September of 2020, so I do need to re-read it. I greatly enjoyed the fact that this book is about all types of love: romantic, friend, and self all play a role in this novel.

American Betiya by Anuradha D. Rajurkar

This is the very first book I read this year, and it was another read I loved. Recently, I’ve gotten into books that take place during senior year of high school. Rani, who is South Asian American, is going through her senior year of high school. Rani starts to date Oliver, who is white. As a teen, I definitely related to Rani’s journey of learning who she is. This book needs to be read, as I also am learning about my own identity. Please note that this book deals with toxic relationships and fetishization.

What have you recently read? What review advice do you have for me?

2021: Most Anticipated Books

Some of my most anticipated 2021 fantasy books!

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I updated my blog (nearly a month), and I’m typing this today as I try to find inspiration for my research project for school. I thought that typing about my most anticipated books of 2021 would help me. So far, I’ve read three new books this year. This list will consist of books that I haven’t read yet (just so everyone knows, Wings of Ebony by J. Elle is one of my favorites of 2021 and will for sure be on my end of the year list. I love Rue and how she learns about her identity and forges a new path for herself). There will be spoilers for sequels!! If you see a * (asterik), that means there will be spoilers for the previous book.

A Queen of Gilded Horns by amanda Joy*(asterik)

Amanda Joy was one of my favorite debut authors of 2019. I re-read A River of Royal Blood in December and absolutely love the story of Eva and Isa. The world of [name here] is so well-built, and I love seeing Eva’s character development over the course of the novel as she teaches herself that she might be a real contender for the throne. At the end of A River of Royal Blood, Eva and Isa were tied together in the Entwining ceremony, meaning each can only die by the other’s hand. However, in A Queen of Gilded Horns, Eva and Isa are on the run and are looking for allies to help save the Queendom of Myre. I highly recommend picking up this duology if you like tapping into your unknown magic powers, uniting with someone who you previously thought was an enemy, and a world with a very interesting magic system and history.

The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

First of all, I love this cover. The orange, blue, yellow, brown, and black all work so well together. This is a “thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community.” I’m also excited for this book because the main character, Daunis Fontaine, is an older teen like me. I haven’t read a lot of thrillers, and I’m looking forward to expanding my reading tastes in 2021. Furthermore, there is a preview of what sounds like a stunning start on Entertainment Weekly. I also saw that this book will be getting a TV series adaptation, so this is a high priority novel for me to read this year. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley comes out March 16th.

Xoxo by axie oh

Let’s all take a minute to enjoy this absolutely stunning cover. I would frame this. The details of the buildings as well as the romantic atmosphere make this one of my favorite YA contemporary covers of 2021. Xoxo by Axie Oh features the trope of a romance that develops between a celebrity x regular person. What I’m most looking forward in this book is seeing how Jenny learns how life doesn’t always have to be completely planned. I highly relate to this because I am going to be applying to college soon, and am already feeling the pressures of needing to be completely organized. I look forward to seeing how Axie Oh writes contemporary, as I know she’s also written a science fiction series titled Rebel Seoul.

A psalm of storms and silence by roseanne a. brown* (Asterik)

I am not exaggerating when I say that A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown made me love YA fantasy again. In 2019, I became so disillusioned with YA fantasy, as I fell out of love with so many loved YA fantasy novels. But ASOWAR? Oh my gosh. Although I have to re-read it, I distinctly remember feeling so amazed and awed by (I think this happened, correct me if I am wrong) Karina taking her throne back after learning that her advisors betrayed her. Also, Malik is allowed to be an emotional boy, which is so great to see. Furthermore, the worldbuilding makes you feel like you are right there in Ziran along with Karina and Malik as they race to find out what is stirring in the shadows of their world.

The Chariot at dusk by swati teerdhala* (Asterik)

I cannot believe The Tiger at Midnight trilogy by Swati Teerdhala is coming to an end this year. Esha and Kunal have been on such an incredibly heartbreaking journey together. This is another series I love because of how well written the political intrigue is, and I love the fact that this world is so intricately written. At the end of The Archer at Dawn, Kunal left Esha, causing both of them to become enemies yet again (I am still a bit heartbroken over this). However, from the looks of this cover, Esha and Kunal will have to work together again. I must admit that this is another series I have to re-read because I tend to forget what happens in a book unless I re-read it.

She who became the sun by shelley parker-chan

I’ve recently gotten into adult fantasy novels, so I am super excited for She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan! This book is described as a “queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty” (from the summary of the novel). First of all, this cover is amazing! The yellow is so eye catching. Second of all, I cannot wait to see Zhu’s power and journey in possessing the Mandate of Heaven. I love characters who are willing to do whatever it takes because there’s so much to analyze about their motivations. I have a feeling that I’ll be seeing a lot about this book this year and beyond.

The Gilded Ones by Namina forna

I think The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna was originally supposed to come out last May, and I am so glad it is almost here!! The detailing on this cover gives me hints into how amazing the world builidng in this novel will be. I might try to convince my parents to let me end my book buying hiatus a bit early because I’ve been looking for a fantasy YA noveel to lose myself in for a while. Additionally, this is the start to a trilogy, and I love fantasy series so much. I am also excited to see this group of girls who are warriors that Deka joins.

Illusionary by zoraida córdova* (Asterik)

Incendiary was one of my favorite novels of 2020, and I’m looking forward to seeing the continuation of Renata’s journey along with Prince Castian. That twist at the end of Incendiary was so shocking. (Perhaps I should write a blog post about my favorite or most shocking moments in my favorite books? That’s a thought for another day.) I love how Renata is taking back her life and power. One element I would love to see in Illusionary is a map of the world.

When Night breaks by janella angeles* (Asterik)

Yes, I hope to get to cosplaying Kallia again when When Night Breaks by Janella Angeles comes out! I did a different version of an outfit I think Kallia would wear when Where Dreams Descend came out. This is one of the most aesthetically pleasing duologies I’ve ever read. At the end of WDD, we saw Kallia fall into the mirror world with Jack. Now, Kallia is on a journey to escape this world of illusions and darkness. I’m wondering what exactly Kallia’s “darker destiny” will be, and I am sure that Janella Angeles will write a show stopping conclusion to one of my all time favorite duolgoies.

the bronzed beasts by roshani chokshi

@ book boxes: You should 110% make a special set for The Gilded Wolves trilogy by Roshani Chokshi because I will buy it. This is another ending to a series that will live in my heart forever. By the end of The Silvered Serpents, I wanted to sit down and have a nice chat with Séverin, as there is the trope of once again ommitting vital information from your team. It looks like the team will be going to Venice in this novel. Roshani Chokshi’s writing styles is one of my favorites because it feels like you’re dressed up in a fancy gown in an elegant palace, however, you must be wary as danger and surprises lurk around every turn. I’m most looking forward to seeing Enrique survive and gain the renown and resources he needs as a historian. Also, cake.

The chosen and the beautiful by Nghi vo

Jordan Baker is finally getting to tell her own story and as an adopted person, I am so ready!!! In this version, Jordan is an adopted Asian woman living in NYC. One of the reasons I’m excited for The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo is because we’re getting to see Jordan stand on her own, rather than a side character to Nick’s story. Also, I just noticed her gorgeous outfit. I will definitely be informing my literature teachers about this book because I have a feeling that this will be a welcome addition to the historical fiction genre.

Witches steeped in gold by Ciannon smart

By this point, you probably know that fantasy is my favorite genre, especially high fantasy novels. I mean, the tagline “Their order divides them. Their revenge will unite them.” is incredible and dramatic. I’ve been looking forward to Witches Steeped In Gold by Ciannon Smart for a while now, and we are so close to the release date. A prisoner and the daughter of a queen will have to work together to “take down a mutual threat.” Iraya and Jazmyne sound like such compelling characters, and the fact that they’re witches? I have a feeling that this will be one of my favorite books of the year. I love it when two enemies have to work together because you never know what will happen.

Girls of fate and fury by natasha ngan* (Asterik)

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan is another one of my favorite trilogies of all time. Girls of Storm and Shadow broke my heart. Lei and Wren are once again separated and the excerpt on The NOVL’s website reminded me of just how much Lei has gone through since the first novel. I’m excited for Girls of Fate and Fury because 1. Wren is on the cover, and 2. I remember the feeling I had when I first read Girls of Paper and Fire. I think it marked a turning point in my reader journey, as I’d never read a book like it before. I cannot wait to have this book in my hands, and I am so ready to see how Lei and Wren’s journey ends (or begins. . .).

We free the stars by hafsah faizal* (Asterik)

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal. I still haven’t read this book and I am so close to spending money to download it on my parent’s Kindle. Seriously though, Zafira and Nasir have one of the best enemies to uncertain allies to friends to maybe lovers dynamics out there. The Zumra are one of my favorite teams of all time. Additionally, this cover is so evocative. A lot of my friends in the online book community have already read this, and once I do, I will definitely be sharing my thoughts with everyone in the form of a spoiler free review and a spoiler review. I’m thinking about doing a 100 thoughts Isabella had while reading We Free the Stars post. Let me know what you think of this!

Thank you so much for reading!! Let me know what your most anticipated books of 2021 are. I’ve only read six books this year, and I am looking forward to what 2021 has in store in the form of these 14 books.

The Burning God by R.F. Kuang – Spoiler Free Review

This review of The Burning God by R.F. Kuang is spoiler free, however, I will be sharing how I felt about the book (ex. my emotions). If you consider that a spoiler, please do not continue reading. There will be spoilers for The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic!!! If you have not read those books, do not continue reading. I will be writing a spoilery review in 2021 once I know more people have read it.

The Burning God by R.F. Kuang is one of my top 5 books of 2020. I first read The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic in August and loved them both. Kuang creates a world that is vibrant and draws you in. For being 500+ page books, I found myself easily lost in them.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from The Burning God. I went in with no expectations, which I think helped because I didn’t want to set myself up for disappoinment. The Dragon Republic had one of the most shocking cliffhangers ever: Nezha stabs Rin in the back and Rin vows to have her revenge by using the southern provinces of the Nikara Empire. To be honest, I forgot the exact details of TDR, but it was pretty easy to connect the dots as I read TBG.

What I found most compelling was the relationship between Rin and Kitay. They’ve been through so much together, and seeing them work together in TBG is one of the best parts of this book. I also loved seeing Venka, and even started to understand Nezha (I still don’t like him). Seeing them grapple with the meaning of humanity and what it means to be a leader really impacted me emotionally because, again, they’ve been through a lot.

Again, the world building is so incredible. I can see characters journey throughout this vast world, a mark of Kuang’s amazing writing. I felt like I was right alongside them as Rin experiences a lot throughout this book. Additionally, the action scenes in this book are so well written: the pacing is pretty much perfect, so it’s possible to get through this book in one sitting.

As for the ending, I loved it while also feeling so many emotions. I’ve re-read it about three times already and Kuang is able to satisfy the readers (or at least, this reader). I cannot wait to see what Kuang writes in the future because I know I will 100% be reading it.

Have you read The Burning God? If so, what did you think? Please keep the comments spoiler free!!

A Sky Beyond the Storm Review – MAJOR SPOILERS. SPOILERS.

Cover of A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir. Laia is holding a scythe and Elias is holding a wooden armlet.

THERE WILL BE MAJOR SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS REVIEW OF A SKY BEYOND THE STORM. I AM TELLING YOU NOW TO NOT LOOK IF YOU HAVE NOT READ A SKY BEYOND THE STORM. DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW UNTIL YOU HAVE READ IT. IF YOU READ MY REVIEW AND GET SPOILED, YOU WILL BE SAD.
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If you are here, I am assuming you’ve read the entirity of A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir. If so, here is another warning: my style of writing reviews is VERY incoherent after I’ve read a really great book that is amazing and makes me want to cry and also just stare at the ceiling for a few hours contemplating my life choices.

Listen, I only checked my laptop and phone twice when reading this book from 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. today. I audibly gasped at some moments. I 100% stand by this statement: THIS IS HOW YOU END A SERIES.

I first read An Ember In The Ashes in January 2018. I then read A Torch Against the Night and A Reaper at the Gates in September 2018 in the span of three days (I honestly don’t remember doing this but I am proud and also wonder how I managed to do that). I read A Thief Among the Trees in October of this year and now I’ve finally done it!! I finished a series this year!!!

Sabaa Tahir is an excellent writer. I feel like the series can be divided up into two parts: AEITA and ATATN and then ARATG and ASBTS. The first two books seem more political fantasy focused while the last two books have this element as well as containing a lot of action and magic. This magic system is so unique and I agree with another review I read: THERE IS NO DEUS EX MACHINA. In fact, I love that Laia defeated/gets rid of the Nightbringer with the power of love and stories. I love endings like that.

I never felt bored while reading this. I definitely raced through some parts, but those were the action parts (like when Dex sacrificed himself, or the battle between Helene and the Commandment). I don’t remember the name of the Commandment’s mom, but OMG!! Commandment = lovey. I was not expecting that at all.

I also didn’t mind Helene’s point of view. Yes, she is still my least favorite character for being for colonization and how she treated Laila, and I do like seeing how she grew throughout the story. Her ending made sense. I was very sad when Harper died. I would love to see a novella about Harper’s childhood and maybe of interactions he had with Elias at Blackcliff.

Also, Darin’s journey!!!!!! This death made me the most sad because for a while, he was the only family Laia had left. I would like to see a novella about Laia dealing with the aftermath of the war. I also need to re-read a physical copy of ARATG because I didn’t comprehend why that other country was attacking. I also want to know how the government will work now that Helene is empress?! Like I was almost expecting there to be debates on having a representative government (or maybe I forgot this part).

Let’s talk about Laia. Laia is my favorite character AND YET that moment when she played into the Nightbringer’s hands made sense while also irritating me. However, I feel like this pushed her to see how she fights and I know that Tahir doesn’t favor certain characters/doesn’t allow Laia to be the perfect main character: to quote Rose Tico, “We win by saving what we love, not killing what we hate.” Yes, the Nightbringer went away, but again, Laia defeated him with love. Laia’s love for Elias is so strong, and that scene where Elias repeats Always Victorious almost made me cry, or at least I was sobbing in my mind. Elias went through so much and I truly believe he and Laia deserved the happy ending they got.

See, I absolutely despise it when authors kill off the main characters or make them die and come back. No resurrections allowed!!! They’re the main characters for a reason. This is why A Sky Beyond the Storm has the perfect ending. I love the character arcs of Laia and Elias and to see them rise beyond who they were in An Ember in the Ashes is so beautiful. Tahir is an excellent writer and every page made me want to keep reading.

Basically, I’m happy because Laia finally gets to be free and live on her own terms. In the other books, she was attached to her past and now in ASBTS, she knows how to work past her fears and tap into her powers. The legends/stories in this novel are so beautifully interwoven.

Finally, I cannot wait to see what Tahir writes in the future. This is the most perfect fantasy series I’ve ever read (besides The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – no I have not read The Burning God yet oops), and I’m not just saying that because so many of my friends love this series. This is what fantasy should be: a world that expands as you read the series with characters who will live in your minds forever.

Last thoughts: I would love a wedding novella about Laia and Elias!!!! Or them going on dates or something because I want to see them together!!!! Most of this book was Elias acting super grouchy (haha) and being all like, “let me tend to my ghosts,” and yes I know that’s not him but I just want to see more of them!!! Also, I definitely think this series is in the upper YA category because I could definitely analyze some of the darker themes in this book/moments like when Helene crosses that pit of bones. I hope Tahir writes an adult fantasy series, and I’ll be happy with anything she writes. Again, I would love that Harper novella and maybe one about Musa. As well as a textbook of the history of this world.

Anyway, time to re-read the entire series!

What did you think of A Sky Beyond the Storm?

YA Rom-Coms to Brighten Up Your Winter

I am in a really good mood right now. I feel focused and like I know what I am doing, so here’s a fun post for today: YA rom-coms to brighten up your winter because my city’s had such great weather the past three days, I feel good about this FRQ I just took, and it’s the start of the second quarter at my school. #NewBeginnings

Anway, here are 7 YA rom-coms I highly recommend. Rom-coms are my new favorite genre (it used to be fantasy but now I want more happiness in my life).

I’LL BE THE ONE by Lyla Lee

I received an ARC of this from Edelweiss, and I absolutely adore I’ll Be the One. Skye Shin is one of my favorite characters in YA contemporary.

KEYWORDS: Korean American mc, bisexual mc, K-pop, competition, cute dates

NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU by Kristina Forest

Kristina Forest follows me on bookstagram, everyone!!!!!!! Authors don’t even have to do that, and I really appreciate it when they do. Anyway, I LOVE NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU!!!! It’s so good and takes place in NYC in summer.

KEYWORDS: Black mc’s, NYC summer, celebrities, running around and solving a mystery with a friend (or is he more?)

HAPPILY EVER AFTERS by Elise Bryant

Best rom-com of 2021, calling it now!!! Elise Bryant actually reached out and asked me if I wanted an e-ARC and she’s so generous!!!! Also, the preorder campaign is open and I highly recommend preordering HEA because it’s so awesome.

KEYWORDS: Black mc, cute dates at bakeries, LA, high school, best friend is Filipino, family matters!!!, self love

CHARMING AS A VERB by Ben Philippe

Ben Philippe also follows me, which is very nice!!! I loved Charming As A Verb because it takes place in NYC and because I love the dynamic between the mc and his friends.

KEYWORDS: Black mc, Black love interest, NYC school year, senior year of high school omg, college apps, the future is not always what you think it’ll be

the way you make me feel by Maurene Goo

Maurene Goo’s books are some of my favorite YA romances of all time. They are consistently good and all have unique characters with different motivations.

KEYWORDS: Korean American mc, summer love, working at a food truck, enemies to friends, food, travel

I LOVE YOU SO MOCHI by Sarah Kuhn

TBH, I read this a while ago so I do not remember exactly what happens. However, I have this marked as one of my favorite books of 2019. It’s very cute and I loved the atmosphere.

KEYWORDS: cute, travel, love the writing style, yes I need to re-read this

THE BEAUTY OF THE MOMENT by Tanaz Bhathena

Another book I read a while ago!! This came out in 2019 and I really enjoyed how Bhathena subverts the “bad boy” trope. It’s very cute and romantic.

KEYWORDS: subverting tropes, cute, mc has interesting motivations, yes I need to re-read this

Have you read any of these books? Any YA rom-coms by authors of color you recommend?

Author Interview: Chloe Gong (These Violent Delights)

Chloe Gong.

I read These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong from July to August. In fact, the day that I finished it, I finished it in one sitting. TVD is one of the most captivating books of 2020, and I was absolutely elated when Chloe Gong agreed to do an interview with me over e-mail. I am so happy that the first author I am interviewing is one of my favorites of all time ever. TVD will change the YA game forever, and I am so grateful to have been able to “speak” to Chloe because her journey is just getting started.

1. What impact do you hope your book has on Own Voices readers? As a reader, I am so happy to see more Asian representation in YA, and especially representation of Asians who are proud of who they are.

When I wrote These Violent Delights, I was thinking about all my fellow diaspora Asians, and the importance of seeing our faces on shelves—not just to be the center of an identity story, but to be a fully-fleshed protagonist who is allowed to rage and cry and fight monsters. Identity stories are super important, and the book interweaves a lot of Juliette’s musings about her place between the Western world and the East, but I wasn’t content with that being all we’re allowed to see. I needed a balance: delving into what it means to be Asian up against these forces of Western colonialism and imperialism, alongside the sort of plot that white protagonists in YA have been allowed to occupy. At the end of the day, that’s what I hope to do for Own Voices readers, to provide the sort of cool, adventure-filled stories that we’ve been lacking on bookshelves, without watering down the intrinsic part of our cultural identity which colors the way we see the world.

2. What has been your favorite moment (or moments) of becoming an author and why (besides getting your book deal)? How has this moment impacted your life?

I’ve been writing since I started high school, so long before I got my book deal, I had already been putting my stories online and seeing what real readers thought of my work. Some of my favorite moments were undoubtedly when people messaged me their reactions after I put a chapter up—sometimes it would be a paragraph about what they enjoyed, sometimes a whole big spiel to tell me that they’re so nervous about the fate of a character. I’ve chosen to be an author because I love telling stories, and storytelling isn’t storytelling if I’m only yelling into the void: I absolutely need an audience as well. So those little moments—when my readers made themselves known and reacted to my stories—were the best part of being an author. They’ve shaped my desire to continue pursuing this on a larger level, and go the traditional publishing route to put my books on real shelves.

3. Your book takes place in an urban historical fantasy setting. What research advice would you give to aspiring writers in this genre?

While historical facts are important in writing something with a historical setting, it’s also about atmosphere and feeling! The beauty of creating a fantastical or historical world is that you can choose what is relevant to your story, and which parts to emphasize in order to slice out the most compelling narrative. A setting can fall flat if you only throw true facts at a reader; what they want to know is how the air smelled, how the streets sounded, how the falling rain hit the character’s skin with just enough softness that it didn’t feel like rain at all. So my advice is to not get bogged down by research, even though it is important! The most critical part about creating a visceral setting is to close your eyes and use the research you’ve done to then trigger your imagination.

4. (Bonus-ish) Is there anything else you want readers to know before your book is published? 

I want teens to know that this book is for them. That I conceptualized this book at 18 and finished writing it at 19, and though the world keeps trying to look down on young people, we deserve to have stories about us, centered around us, without influence from what grown-ups think we like.

Mini Questions:

1. Top three favorite underrated books of the past five years?

The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, and Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

2. Dream place you’d go for an author retreat?

Venice, Italy!

3. I read your “YA Heartthrobs as Viral Tweets” article. It was very funny! Would Juliette and Roma be friends with anyone from The Gilded Wolves world?

Oh, absolutely. Juliette and Laila would be the bestest of friends. 

Cover + Synopsis + Author Bio

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: Cover.

Synopsis: Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule. 

Author Bio:

Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and International Relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. You can find her on Twitter @thechloegong, check out her website at thechloegong.com or email her at chloegongwrites@gmail.com. Her instagram is @thechloegong .

Once again, thank you Chloe Gong for agreeing to do this interview!!! I hope to meet you someday. My review of These Violent Delights will be up November 17 (the day TVD comes out).

Caffeine Book Tours Review: Spell Starter by Elsie Chapman

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“For a second, hope runs wild. Huge. I feel nothing else.” #SpellStarterTour for @elsiechapman ‘s Spell Starter. Every single line of this book made me want to keep reading. Aza Wu’s journey is astounding, and as soon as I reached the last page of the book, I knew that I wanted to read it again. There is magic in everything Elsie Chapman writes, and Spell Starter is up there as one of my favorite sequels of 2020. I will remember those last lines forever (no spoilers though for those who haven’t read it). In fact, I would for sure read a sequel to this book and also loved where Elsie Chapman ended the story. From Aza’s relationship with Nima to her relationship with Saint Willow to her relationship with her family, I was absolutely captivated. I loved the fact that I loved reading about. Finally, Elsie Chapman is an amazing human. She’s commented and liked my posts when I’ve tagged her in the past and I so appreciate it. It’s nice when authors see their fans, so after reading this, please read her short story in her Hungry Hearts anthology that she helped edit and participated in. It’s my favorite anthology of all time. My full review will be up in less than a day. Thank you to the amazing @caffeinetours for running such an inspiring and professional tour. I am in awe of everything you do. Once again, thank you for the ARC. I am honored every single time to be one of your tour hosts, and hope to do every book justice with what I post. Caffeine Tours is the best tour company I’ve worked with, and I’m not just saying that because @shutupshealea and I follow each other: it’s because I see the work Shealea puts into everything she does. She always puts 100% effort into everything and all that I know from the book community comes from her insights and wisdom and overall, she is one of my role models and inspirations. #SpellStarter #ElsieChapman #Bookstagram #2020Books #FaveBooks #Read #YABooks

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MY SPELL STARTER INSTAGRAM POST

Hello, everyone! I am so excited to be a part of the Spell Starter Tour for Elsie Chapman. Chapman is one of my favorite authors ever since I read her short story in the Hungry Hearts anthology (which she helped edit) and the first novel of her duology, Caster.

This year, I actually haven’t read many sequels. Some were pushed back and I’d started a lot of series last year because I read a lot of books. I had to prioritize which series/duologies/trilogies I would continue. At the top of my TBR? Spell Starter by Elsie Chapman. SPOILER FREE; SPOILERS FROM CASTER.

REVIEW

Let me just say that every single sentence in this book is captivating. I’m re-reading it right now and decided to annotate this time because I have a physical ARC (thank you, Shealea and Caffeine Tours!!!), and I already have so many pages marked despite being only a fifth of the way in.

First of all, I love seeing Aza’s point of view. While she’s been able to gain her magic back, the reader can see that she is still uncertain about who she is. She’s pulled into a situation she does not want to be in with Saint Willow.

Aza’s relationship with Saint Willow really captivated me. You can clearly see that Aza is afraid but also wants to exert some sort of control over situation, and recognizes Saint Willow for who she really is. Instead of joining magical fights on her own, Aza is forced into them because of Saint Willow. This power imbalance is striking to me, and the entire time I felt the same negative emotions Aza felt around Saint Willow.

Sometimes, sequels end up focusing on romance or a slow build up to a strong finish. Spell Starter is not like that at all: The writing in Spell Starter is strong the entire way through. I can honestly say that the ending of this book has me wanting to write fanfiction about [redacted] and [redacted] because the world Chapman creates feels so real. The atmosphere of Spell Starter pulls you in, and made me forget about my own life while reading. And that’s what my favorite books do: they make me feel a little less alone and more like I am walking or running on a journey with these characters.

Finally, as a teen girl myself, I relate to the fact that Aza so strongly wants control over her own life and powers. The outside world loves telling us what to do, how to act, and where we should go. However, this book made me think about how while it’s important to not walk alone, it’s also important to realize what we are truly capable of ourselves, and that in the end, our choices need to be our own.

BOOK INFORMATION

Title: Spell Starter
Author: Elsie Chapman
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: 06 October 2020
Age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis:

The Sting meets Fight Club in this magical, action-packed sequel to Caster by Elsie Chapman.

Yes, Aza Wu now has magic back. But like all things in her life, it has come at a great cost. After the tournament, Aza is able to pay off her parents’ debt to Saint Willow. Unfortunately, the cost of the gathering spell she used to strip Finch of his magic has put her permanently in the employ of the gang leader. Aza has been doing little errands using real magic — collecting debts, putting the squeeze on new businesses in the district. But that had never been the plan. Saint Willow is nothing if not ambitious and having Aza as a fighter is much more lucrative than as a fixer. Especially if she can control the outcome. Aza is going to have to put it all on the line again to get out of this situation!

BOOK LINKS

Amazon — https://amzn.to/31ioSK6  
B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spell-starter-elsie-chapman/1135037083?ean=9781338589511 
Book Depository — https://www.bookdepository.com/Spell-Starter-Caster-Novel-Elsie-Chapman/9781338589511 
IndieBound — https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781338589511 
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49090458-spell-starter 

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Bio:
Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, Canada, and has a degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the YA novels Dualed, Divided, Along the Indigo, and Caster as well as the middle-grade novel All the Ways Home, and the coeditor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.

AUTHOR LINKS:

Author website — https://elsiechapman.com/ 
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5441417.Elsie_Chapman 
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/elsiechapman/ 

REVIEW: The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi

THE SILVERED SERPENTS by the INCREDIBLE ROSHANI CHOKSHI.

DISCLAIMER: I received an e-ARC from Netgalley. This did not influence my opinion of the book in any way.

DISCLAIMER #2: I also received a free copy from Wednesday Books as well as a finished softcover of The Gilded Wolves. This did not influence my opinion of the book in any way.

SPOILERS: will CLEARLY BE MARKED AT THE END!!!!!!!!!

THANK YOU TO ROSHANI CHOKSHI because she literally made my 2020. I am not joking. This sequel blew me away and I will be waiting for Book 3. First of all, the plot is so tightly written that there are no plot holes, which is great! There is a lot more action compared to TGW, which I really enjoyed. I LOVE SEEING THAT IN A SEQUEL!!! The world is already set up, and I’ve read TGW multiple times, so I remember what happened.

I was slightly worried that the romance between the main cast would take over the book, however, this is not the case in the slightest. The romantic moments are sweet, heartbreaking, and at times, wow. Roshani, just let them be together. *sobs over blank and blank* Roshani excels at writing slow burn romances and ones that I actually care about.

As for the characters? I will say that a certain someone got on my nerves. I am still reeling from redacted’s actions and have not recovered. Enrique, my favorite, is still my favorite and he’s a historian awkward nerd bookworm like me, so I would love him even if his characterization was different. Zofia surprised me because she got a lot more page time in this one, and I love her because she’s so much more relevant than redacted. And LAILA!!!! Wow. I love her as well. Also Hypnos.

The villains? Honestly, I read this ARC in July in less than two hours, so I don’t really remember. I do remember that I felt very surprised where Roshani took the story, in a good way! I forgot the history of the Order, so I will definitely be looking for that during my re-read.

The worldbuilding just gets better. There is a lot more in Serpents than Wolves, which I again loved so much. I want to see more forging in Book 3. However, I read this two months ago, and I paid more attention to the plot and characters, so I don’t have many thoughts right now on this part of the book.

Overall, this is my favorite sequel of 2020 and will likely be in my top 5 if not top 10 books of 2020. Roshani solidifies herself as an age category bending author because this book gets pretty dark towards the end. I would love to see Roshani write an adult fantasy or adult romance in the future because she is definitely capable of it (I’d go as far to say that this series grows with the readers: I was a freshman when I first read TGW and I am now a junior, and I can say that reading this almost two years ago would have been pretty intense in terms of the action). Also, the setting is freaking gorgeous. This is a perfect book in terms of craft and how it made me feel and actually, everything about it is perfect. Highly recommend.

SPOILER SECTION: turn back now if you have NOT READ SERPENTS!!!!!!! TURN BACK!!!! YOU DO NOT WANT TO GET SPOILED!!!!!!!!

Seriously, go away and read it if you haven’t then you can read this section.

If you’re still here, get ready to be spoiled!

I am so mad at Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. WHAT THE —-!!! I swear that that ending and cliffhanger is the BEST. It’s better than the one in Mark of Athena, which I didn’t have to wait for HOH to release because the whole series had already released. BUT THIS? 2021?!!!!! Roshani, please take your time because I would wait five years for the last book. I need time to feel the things Serpents made me feel.

THE ROMANCE? Laila oh my gosh!!!!!!!!!!! Why do I suddenly ship her and Enrique or her and Zofia? COme on, does anyone see it? Just me? Also Enrique!!!! He needs to live. Hypnos? needs friends!!!!!! needs a good romance with someone who will also be there for him.

Yeah. I will never be over the perfection that is The Silvered Serpents. Roshani Chokshi, you are the best author and I am just so amazed that this book can impact me months later even though I forgot most of the plot.

WHAT DID YOU THINK?

Character Analyzation #1: Rin from The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang cover! Love this edition.

Repost because I re-started my blog! The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang is one of my favorite fantasy novels and series of all time. The worldbuilding and plot are amazingly done, and the characters are well fleshed out, ruthless, killers. I spent a good half hour writing this, so that was a lot of fun. This character analyzation of Rin from TPW and The Dragon Republic will include massive spoilers for both books. Please do not read on if you have not read both books. Turn back now. Also, TW for mentions of: genocide, death, murder, torture, abusive people, and violence.

Ok. At the beginning of TPW, Rin is just trying to get out of her province and away from the abusive people who take care of her. I loved how Rin dedicated herself to her studies in the beginning. From the very start, we see a girl (she is 16 at the beginning) who is willing to do anything to achieve her ends. And I mean a n y t h i n g. She uses hot wax to keep herself awake and stays up for hours and days to memorize what she needs to know to for the test she needs to get into Sinegard Academy, the empire’s top military academy.

And she is the only student from her province accepted because she scores the highest. As someone who is super dedicated to school, I loved seeing a smart character who was very motivated (especially a brown skinned, Asian coded character). Once Rin gets to Sinegard, she is intimidated by how all of the other students seem better than her. However, she quickly gets over this. I mean, this girl decides to get rid of her uterus in order to stay focused on her studies. I’ve seen reviews saying this is anti-feminist. However, I see this action as more related to how someone will survive in a ruthless world. After all, we see that Rin was the top scorer in her province, so it makes sense that she would take this action. Additionally, Rin is one of three girls at Sinegard, and I see this as an advantage for Rin (as someone who gets a period, I know that they are VERY painful and bothersome).

As we progress throughout Part 1, Rin continually rises to the top at Sinegard. At the beginning, I found Rin easy to root for since she, well, hadn’t used a god to commit genocide against an entire country (although her thought process behind this is SUPER nuanced, and something I will be writing about as we go through this). She is smart, willing to do whatever it takes, and uses the library. The inner nerd in me (Perhaps I shall do an analyzation of Kitay next?) felt so happy about this.

I know anyone reading this has read the first two books, so I am going to gloss over some stuff and get straight to three points: Rin’s battle with Nezha is one of her turning points into ruthless goddess (yes, she is a goddess. Or at least I hope she will be on in The Burning God.). She finds out she is one of the last surviving Speerlies, from Speer, which was destroyed by a genocide led by the Federation of Mugen. This motivated the Republic of Hesperia to act with the Trifecta. (Also: Hesperia is a clear allegory for the U.S. colonizing/getting involved in war at the last minute.) Rin is connected with the Phoenix, which I found represents renewel, ressurection, and victory (TBG theory: Rin will be reborn and we will think that she is dead OR she will make a sacrifice play to save Kitay or Venka.). Rin develops these powers to connect with the gods, but her mentor does not want her to use her massive powers, which could destroy the world.

Anyway, Rin graduates from Sinegard and the third Poppy War begins. She uses her powers against a general who won’t die, and also sees her mentor fall. This is another turning point for Rin because while she couldn’t control her power, she knew for certain she wanted this Mugenese general to die and suffer. Rin gets sent to work with the Cike in a coastal city, which is led by Altan, a survivor of the Speerly genocide, and the only other Speerly left. Let me tell you: Altan was so unexpected to me because I expected him to be this boring commander who thought he knew everything, like most of the characters who might be like him. What I got was someone very different. Rin’s relationship with Altan seemed like her first true connection/maybe friendship of TPW. They both survived the destruction of their people, but ended up in very different places. Both of them are ruthless, however, there is a moment in Part 2 where I knew Rin had turned to a dark and brutal killer: when they saw the destruction of Golyn Niis. Seeing all of that destruction after hearing about what happened to her people changed the Rin on page one to someone as dedicated to someone still dedicated, but also a brutal person who you should avoid. Additionally, Venka’s talk with Rin after was so brutal to read, and I cannot imagine what Rin was thinking about the Mugenese in that moment except for the fact that she wanted to destroy all of them.

Also, Altan dies. So here’s Rin, all alone, after being tortured, in a cold ocean, swimming to Speer to destroy the Mugenese with the Phoenix god. I mean, the amount that Rin changed makes sense to me! Here is someone who knows genocide destroyed her people, saw ruthless acts in school, saw Nezha die, saw the complete destruction and murder of Golyn Niis, got captured and tortured (and saw Altan tortured), and saw Altan die. No one person could handle all of that, and that is why Rin’s actions make sense (although it is a war crime. So please keep that in mind). She uses the Phoenix god and has the Phoenix commit genocide on her behalf against the Mugenese. This completes Rin’s dark descent.

Next, we go into TDR. The pace of this book was a lot slower but with some action, which I liked. I found that there were less vivid descriptions (but still take heed if you read this!!). Anyway, Rin is living with the aftermath of her choice, but it seems like she is ignoring it. Which again makes total sense!! She knows genocide happened to her people, she knows the horrors of war, and yet she did the same thing! I can’t argue whether or not she was in a position to use a god to cause a genocide in a second because it makes sense that Rin wanted revenge. She wanted revenge for all of her people who died in the genocide against the Speerlies. I understand her actions, but still condone them.

So Rin is ignoring her choice and feels horrible in about the first 50 pages of TDR. However, Nezha and Kitay come back, and it seems like she’s still angry but is controlling it to kill the empress. The empress does not die and Rin kills Feylen. The two biggest moments of this book are 1. Nezha’s betrayal, and 2. Rin saying she is the most powerful force on the planet.

How do these events/words impact Rin’s characterization? Well. Rin obviously hated Nezha in school, and then he came back, and then they worked together, and then he LITERALLY stabs her in the back! I mean. Rin has a right to be angry. I am! I hate character betrayals, and that is why I hate Nezha and don’t ship him and Rin. Rin is a strong goddess all on her own, and it’s amazing how quickly she turned on Nezha, although, once again, this makes sense because she’s chosen to work with the bloodthirsty Phoenix god. This goes into reason number 2.

Rin knows that she is powerful, she wants bloodshed, and she wants the South to war against the Dragon Warlord (who wants democracy. That’s probably not going to happen in TBG). This is probably the hugest moment other than the genocide at the end of TPW because now Rin has completed? maybe? her ARC from angry peasant to angry, bloodthirsty goddess. Once again, this makes perfect sense: add up the events of book one, take the bloodshed and betrayal of book 2, everything Rin has seen/heard about her people, the Speerlies, and you get a very brutal person you do not want to cross.

Overall, this analyzation is meant to make me think about Rin more. Rin is sooo complicated, and is one of the best hero-villain combos. You are not meant to root for her actions, but I think you are meant to feel some sympathy for someone who’s been through a lot as a younger person. While she makes all of the choices, I feel like her circumstances and choices put her in a position where she was tired of being stepped on. This isn’t mean to excuse her actions, and that is why Rin is one of the most compelling characters to read about. We know she isn’t the villain, yet she’s commited really appalling actions. “Power is getting to higher places than those who’ve stepped on you.” This quote fits with Rin 1000000%! What do I think will happen to her in The Burning God? Stay tuned for my TBG top 5 theories post next week. I do feel like it’s a bit synopsis heavy, so any advice is appreciated for my next character analysis: comment if you want Nezha or Kitay.

Do you agree? What do you think will happen in TBG? Do you want more of these?