Serpent & Dove (YA Fantasy Review)

Saturday, March 6, 2021

You know those books that make you feel empty inside after you've flipped the final page? The ones that leave you hollowed out, like a sad shell, a semblance of what was once yourself? 

After two months of book slumping my days away, this book saved me. And then, it immediately broke me. Because how will I ever read something as magnificent as this again? 

Age: 16+
Tags: YA/Teen, romance, fantasy, witches, violence, mature themes and language, and (*muffled screaming*) enemies-to-LOVERS! 

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou's, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.
The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou's most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

My Thoughts: 

This book is absolutely brilliant. It's now my go-to recommendation for YA fantasy because checks every box.

- Great characters
From the protagonists to the antagonists to even the side characters, Mahurin makes sure that each and every one of them has their moment to shine. They all have enough backstory that even for the villains, readers can muster up some empathy towards them. This cast is one that I'm going to be thinking about for months down the line... Book of the year material...

- Insane (but greatly foreshadowed (i.e. if you pay close enough attention you can figure some of the more intricate turns out)) plot twists
There were some really great plot twists executed throughout the story. While some of them were predictable for me, others completely threw me for a loop. Serpent & Dove had on the edge of my seat at every corner--it's a page-turner, that's for sure.

- Brilliantly executed enemies-to-lovers trope
I mean, do I even have to explain this? Tropes can be controversial at times (a lot of people call them "unimaginative" or "unoriginal" or "boring") but Mahurin said sike. She said sike and dropped the mic. (BARS. Anyway:) It's enemies-to-lovers but NOT at the same time. The romance is delicious. Lou and Reid's dynamic is everything. I mean, just thinking of their petty arguments (and heartbreaking ones, too) gives me butterflies!

- Gorgeous world-building
I'm more of a sci-fi geek than a fantasy nerd but I think Serpent & Dove changed my mind because WOW is magic a really beautiful and complex world to explore. From the start, I felt that the concept was going to be extremely difficult to execute but Mahurin, I'm telling you, just gave everyone a masterclass in world-building. And for it being her debut novel as well? I'm absolutely floored.

- The philosophical implications!
Just me? There were so many interesting turns in this story that I felt like could be applied in life today. For example, the implications of falling in love with someone who has different values than you, whether it be religiously or politically. The question of what it means to be tolerant, or to have empathy, or to believe that the people who have been painted as villains have the ability to change.

It just flows, okay? Each chapter peels open another layer of the world, the characters, and the relationships between them, and the culminating chapters and the ending (while not fully resolute (I need to get my hands on book 2, Bloody & Honey, right now)) were supremely satisfying.

I think this might be the first book where I don't have any complaints (maybe other than wanting the next book and the rest of the series RIGHT NOW). Wow. Hats off to you, Shelby Mahurin. Hats off.

Final Verdict:

Would I recommend this book?
YES. No doubt about it. Like I said, first book without complaints. If you've been enjoying the same books I've enjoyed and have the same plights about the books that I don't like, then this book. Is made. For you. Trust me, okay? 

That's all I've got for you today. Hope to see you soon, and happy reading! :) 

Instant Karma (YA Reviews)

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Hi everyone! With the start of February (aka love month, aka the grossest month of the year) just around the corner, I decided that reading Instant Karma and forcing the rest of my book club to follow me in this excursion was the right thing to do. 

BUT. Here's the thing... 

Marissa Meyer has always been a bit of a hit or miss for me. I loved her Renegades trilogy and even today still regard it as one of the best-written villain perspectives in the literary world. On the other hand, I absolutely despised her Lunar Chronicles series (and have a rant on Goodreads about it, if you're so inclined to peek). I was a bit cautious heading into this book, but ultimately decided to give it a try after spotting it sitting on a shelf at my local Target. So... was Instant Karma worth it?

Age: 13+
Tags: YA/Teen, romance, fantasy, contemporary setting 

Chronic overachiever Prudence Daniels is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with her friends, she wakes up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her.

Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to mean gossips, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner. Quint is annoyingly cute and impressively noble, especially when it comes to his work with the rescue center for local sea animals.

When Pru resigns herself to working at the rescue center for extra credit, she begins to uncover truths about baby otters, environmental upheaval, and romantic crossed signals—not necessarily in that order. Her newfound karmic insights reveal how thin the line is between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed, love and hate . . . and fate.

My Thoughts: 

I'm impressed. I'll admit that I wasn't the hugest fan of Prudence when I first started reading--I found her to be pretentious, irritable, and overall a very funless person. That said, I think there are rare instances where unlikeable characters have redeemable qualities, and this was one of those cases.

Things I loved:
  1. The middle part onward: There are high stakes, wonderfully written angst, and a slow burn romance to check the boxes of the contemporary YA lit criteria. I was flying through those pages at around the 200+ mark and it was such a joyride to the end.
  2. The setting: I'm not usually a person who places importance on setting (I'm more of a character's gal myself) but Marissa Meyer does NOT disappoint with her worldbuilding on Fortuna Beach and beyond. A ton of research had to have been done for her descriptions of the gala venues and especially the rescue center but it paid off immensely. Despite this being a contemporary book, you'll feel as though you've been transported to a new world.
  3. Quint Erikson: I mean, what else is there to say? Dreamy YA bad boy with somewhat of a tragic past and a heart of gold. Like yes, it's the formula I've fallen in love with but COME ON. I can't control the <3s.
  4. Redemption: Redemption is such a key theme in this book that I almost feel like it's one of the threads that Meyer wove in there besides the supernatural instant karma ability that Prudence comes to have (though it's far more favorable and well done).

Things I didn't love:
  1. The randomness of Prudence's ability: Again, I understand that this is categorized primarily as contemporary (I mean, come on, look at the cover) but I still don't know if I was in love with how Prudence's ability was developed. Though there is so much to delve into related to this ability (e.g. the deeper questions of morality, the change in people when they have power), I can't help feeling as though we were robbed of further explanation. Also, the fact that she was okay with it and didn't tell anyone, even Jude... WEIRD. I need answers!
  2. Prudence's personality: Gosh. I mean, I guess there's the possibility of redemption in protagonists when they're unlikeable but Prudence was unbearably terrible. She was cruel to Quint (says the girl who was on #TeamQuint from the start, but ANYWAY), overly dramatic to her teacher, and overall just not a nice person to be around. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be her friend in the start. While I think there's value to having a protagonist you don't necessarily agree with, I think there's toeing the line between understanding why they are the way that they are despite their extremities (the explanation for why villains can be so well-loved by fans) and just completely being an arse. Prudence was an arse. Period.

Final Verdict:

Would I recommend this book?
YES - If you can storm through the beginning half, it is COMPLETELY worth it. Also if you're interested in marine life, typical YA bad boys with tragic pasts and hearts of gold, and the main character sometimes being unbearable, this book is perfect. Also, slow-burn romance. Angst. And tons and tons of plotlines.
NO - If you need something to get you out of a slump or something to consume quickly, this book is not it. I struggled through the beginning, and if you're trying to get out of a slump, another struggle is not what you need.

That's all I've got for you today. Hope to see you soon, and happy reading! :) 

Skyhunter (YA Reviews)

Monday, September 21, 2020

Hi everyone! I think some of you had the unfortunate experience of witnessing my quarter-life crisis, which occurred sometime after I read Marie Lu's absolutely glorious Warcross duology. If you are a part of my exclusive reader club (i.e. you are someone I frequently scream to about books), you've heard me recommend Marie Lu a dozen times over. Her sci-fi book Warcross is currently one of the top books competing with The Song of Achilles for book of the year on my blog. That said, perhaps we have another champion fighting for a spot....? 

This month, I had the pleasure of serving on the street team for Marie Lu's newest book, Skyhunter.  Although this book was sent to me for review from her publisher, per usual, you can expect my utmost honest review. I'm a difficult reader and I'm here to help out my fellow pickies! 

Tags: YA/Teen
Tags: Sci-fi/fantasy, ANGST, unrequited love, graphic depictions of violence, gore, and war, childhood trauma  

A broken world.
An overwhelming evil.
A team of warriors ready to strike back.
Talin is a Striker, a member of an elite fighting force that stands as the last defense for the only free nation in the world: Mara.
A refugee, Talin knows firsthand the horrors of the Federation, a world-dominating war machine responsible for destroying nation after nation with its terrifying army of mutant beasts known only as Ghosts.
But when a mysterious prisoner is brought from the front to Mara's capital, Talin senses there’s more to him than meets the eye. Is he a spy from the Federation? What secrets is he hiding?
Only one thing is clear: Talin is ready to fight to the death alongside her fellow Strikers for the only homeland she has left . . . with or without the boy who might just be the weapon to save—or destroy—them all. 

My Thoughts: 

My heart is pounding right now. I don't know what to think or even how to react. I feel oddly empty inside and I think tomorrow I'll be visiting Marie Lu's house and BEGGING FOR THE NEXT BOOK BECAUSE WHAT. WAS. THAT?!

What I loved:
- The concept. Before I even managed to get myself on the Street Team for this book, I was already hooked on the previews (which Marie posted on her IG: Tell me that doesn't spark your interest immediately, I dare you! I even sent the previews to some of my friends to squeal about the absolute chills I got from reading them, and to be quite honest, my excitement for this story was NOT a let down in the slightest.
- The characterization and relationships. This is one of the few stories where I resonated with the villains just as much as I did with the heroes. Talin is an excellent lead. She's everything you'd ever want in a strong female protagonist, she's strong, fast, powerful, cunning, and incredibly caring to those around her. She feels deeply, trusts slowly, and seeing the world of Mara crumble through her eyes never failed to give me the chills. As for relationships, I loved hearing about Jeran and Aramin's pining (<3 they are otp material, I'm telling you!), Red's slow development into a certain someone's heart, and just in general the dynamic of the Striker pairs. I loved everything about these relationships.
- The integration of the consequences of important issues that we still face today. Marie Lu is obviously very knowledgeable about the problems we face in our world today because she never fails to include them in her writing. Whether it be the issue of race, LGBTQ+ representation, or even colonization, she's prepared to deal with it in the stories she shares.
- The ending 10%. I HAD LITERAL GOOSEBUMPS during the last 10% of the book. There is a subtle feeling of dread that builds up from the very first chapters of the story, but the last parts of the book are where I felt the MOST ADRENALINE. The stakes are ridiculously high, the suspense a veil of smoke, and truly the heart-wrenching moments are the ones where blood is spilled and a connection is severed. I could wax poetic about my tenseness during Talin's story for days.

What I didn't like:
- For some reason, the middle part of the story (maybe the middle 30%) was a huge struggle for me. There was a lot of worldbuilding going on (Marie Lu is notorious for that!) but it felt like almost too much for me. It certainly felt like a massive slow-burn. I found myself putting the book down a few times because of how much I struggled to trudge through it. Marie did such an amazing job with the anticipation and suspense that I just wanted more and wanted it immediately! That said, hook and ending were stunning.
- I have to wait for the next book. God. The struggle is real.

Final Verdict:

Would I recommend this book?
This book is legitimately competing to be my book of the year for 2020. It's got some fierce competitors but it's everything you want in a good book--great characters and relationships, interesting concept, absolutely amazing execution and integration of real-life issues. What else could you ask for (other than the next book to be released sooner, pretty pLEASE OMG)? I don't say this often, but I highlY recommend this book. And although I may have received an eARC through the publisher, all of these opinions are true and my own. I'm not getting paid and I wouldn't lie to any of you even if I were. PLEASE READ THIS BOOK so we can talk about it together. I'm screaming.

9/29. Mark your calendars. It's gonna be a wild one.

Book of the Year Material: The Song of Achilles (YA Reviews)

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Hi everyone! I hope you're all doing well during this time. My summer has been extended by nearly a month because of my city's safety concerns, so I really do think I'll be able to get to read 50 books this year. I haven't done that since seventh grade maybe? :D Super exciting stuff, and I will definitely keep you updated. (You can check out my Goodreads sidebar to stay updated on the goods. Also, I am updating my writing blog every Sunday with new tips, so make sure to check it out and give me a follow!) 

I don't have much else to say besides hello and also you must read this book I will be talking about today because I finished it 2 days ago and I!!! Am!! Still!! A wreck!!! 

Tags: YA/Teen, Greek Mythology, LGBTQ+ representation, 
Age Recommended: 13+ (graphic depictions of blood, violence, war, amongst other PG 13 things...) 

Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. 

My Thoughts: 

To give this book anything less than five stars would be an injustice.

From character relationships to development to betrayal and redemption, Madeline Miller does it all and more with grace.

Basically to say, I'M SHOOK. I couldn't imagine the story unfolding and ending in an other way. Now that a few days have passed, I am ready to write a proper review.

This is one of THE best books I've read this year. Possibly in the last 5 years. It is currently my favorite book and will be the title I scream when someone asks me for a book recommendation. Please cover your ears if you still intend on asking, because I will yell. :)

In many ways, The Song of Achilles is exactly what you'd expect it to be. In many other ways, it absolutely isn't. To say more would be to spoil the book, but just please trust me when I say that this book is going to completely reinvent the way you see Greek mythology. If I knew Greek myths were this great, I would've paid more attention in Latin class! (Omg I hope none of my instructors are reading this...*awkwardly waves if they are* Please make your students read this book...)

This is the kind of book you can't read in one sitting. So little happens in the story and yet I found myself trying to slow down because I knew, in the back of my mind, what was going to happen. I was in denial, yes, and I didn't know how it was going to happen, also yes, but it also didn't make the tortuous process of waiting for the metaphorical knife to drop any less difficult. (If you are not familiar with the story of Achilles, well, you're in for a treat! Don't do research on him beforehand. It will make the reading process all the more painful.)

Madeline Miller absolutely NAILS the emotional beats in Patroclus's story. I went through a lot reading this book. I went through the annoyance, the stupid grinning at the CUTENESS, the nervous anticipation, the choked up feeling at the end of a book when you turn the last page and it's the acknowledgements and wait there isn't more??? There is an empty chasm in my heart now?? Two days have passed and I still haven't managed to let go of these characters, even after writing (omg Angel don't show them pls) the most ANGST-FILLED poetry because gods, if I'm not going to write fanfiction for them, at least let me turn my sadness into poetry!

I am a mess. Madeline Miller did this to me.

I couldn't be happier to have read this book. Halfway through I cut my losses and ran to purchase Circe. It isn't going to be the same, but if reading Miller's writing will quell the feeling in my chest even a little bit, I'll take it.

Final Verdict:

This book is absolutely incredible. Please read it. Seriously.

Feel free to jump into my email or dms (@cindytranwrites) with rants about this book. 

See you soon and happy reading! <3 

My New Website Launch!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Hi everyone! First off, DO NOT WORRY, Cindy Reads A Lot is not going anywhere. I will still be posting my book reviews here! This blog has a special place in my heart. <3 

As for the news, you read that right, I am launching a new website! *confetti* 

This new website is for all things related to writing--writing tips, writing rambles. My portfolio is also there in case you want to see where I'm up to and read up on my more creative side, hehe. 

You can check it out at 

Thank you all for supporting me through these many years of writing book reviews, and I'm so excited to expand my online presence into something that gives back to the writing community! :) 

Darius the Great is Not Okay (YA Reviews)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Hi everyone! This review is coming at your a little later that usual because of the busy week I just had. My writing fellowship closed out this Friday with a very emotional (and dare I say, insufficient) goodbye on Zoom, and well, it's been a heck of a ride! Even with my busy-ness during the fellowship, I still managed to cram in some reading time, which is why I present to you...a very late review of the lovely Darius the Great is Not Okay

Tags: YA/Teen, Existential Crises, Identity, Persian Culture 
Age Recommended: 12+ 

Darius doesn't think he'll ever be enough, in America or in Iran.

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it's pretty overwhelming—especially when he's also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom's family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.

Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what's going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don't have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he's spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.

Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he's Darioush to Sohrab. When it's time to go home to America, he'll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own. 

My Thoughts: 

The last, oh, 15-20% of this book was ABSOLUTELY STUNNING.

The beginning thought was a little slow. Here are my thoughts!

Things I loved:
- Learning about Persian culture! I loved that we were on this journey of self-discovery and learning with Darius. I haven't seen many Persian protagonists in mainstream literature, so it was super refreshing to get a new POV and to learn a little bit about a culture that, in my eyes, is super underappreciated.
- The mental health aspect. The way that Khorram writes about mental health really shows he's cares about representing it properly. The 1st person POV really helped with this aspect of it as well--I think Darius's depression is wonderfully written. It's not overly romanticized (which is what a lot of YA literature tends to do, unfortunately) and extremely realistic! The problems that he faces and eventually, overcomes, really resonated with me as a reader and as someone who suffers from anxiety as well. Kudos for some representation!!! <3
- The ANGST. The angst is wonderfully done, but the brunt of it shows up later in the book (around the 75-80% mark). I wish we could have seen more of that tension in the earlier parts of Darius's story because Khorram definitely has a way with creating GREAT SADNESS.

What I didn't like:
- It was incredibly slow. While the book was interesting in theory, a lot of the story is description. As someone who has an easier time digesting dialogue and action, the description heavy style that Khorram employs really made it quite the struggle to get through! I also believe that the slow pace of the story (akin to the angst portion, the story doesn't pick up until 75% through) made it difficult to digest in large portions. Frequently, I would find myself picking up the book, reading 20-30 pages, and then having to put it down because of how sleepy I was. I wish there was just a little more action or conflict that would drive the story forward AND keep the reader interested and engaged in the earlier parts of the story!

Final Verdict:

So...would I recommend this book?
NO - If you're looking for something fast-paced and action-packed. And for something that is a page-turner, because while this book tells a very interesting story, it is NOT easy to read in one fell swoop.
YES - If you're looking to expand your horizons and learn about Persian culture, mental health, and in general the conflicting lives that a lot of people of mixed cultural identity (like myself!) struggle with on a daily basis! Oh, and if you're into super slow-burn with a taste of sweet angst at the end. :) 

See you soon and happy reading! 

Loveboat, Taipei (YA Reviews)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Hi everyone! I'm back today with a review of a debut that really helped me feel more seen in literature. Asian Americans, represent! 

Tags: YA/Teen, contemporary, romance 
Age Recommended: 13+ (a lot happens okay) 

“Our cousins have done this program,” Sophie whispers. “Best kept secret. Zero supervision.

And just like that, Ever Wong’s summer takes an unexpected turnGone is Chien Tan, the strict educational program in Taiwan that Ever was expecting. In its place, she finds Loveboat: a summer-long free-for-all where hookups abound, adults turn a blind eye, snake-blood sake flows abundantly, and the nightlife runs nonstop.

But not every student is quite what they seem: Ever is working toward becoming a doctor but nurses a secret passion for dance. Rick Woo is the Yale-bound child prodigy bane of Ever’s existence whose perfection hides a secret. Boy-crazy, fashion-obsessed Sophie Ha turns out to have more to her than meets the eye. And under Xavier Yeh’s shell is buried a shameful truth he’ll never admit. When these students’ lives collide, it’s guaranteed to be a summer Ever will never forget.

My Thoughts: 

What I enjoyed:
- It's a page-turner! The story is exciting, the concept is fresh, and the characters are developed in a way that makes them 3D and emotionally compelling.
- ASIAN REPRESENTATION! PleASE let us have more Asian American literature in the limelight! We need that sweet sweet taste of understanding and NOT stereotypes. I am so here for this! I loved the Ever dealt with a lot of issues with her identity, and as an Asian American myself, I felt so well-represented by her inner conflict. 

What I didn't enjoy:
- The romanticization to the point of disbelief. There were so many instances in the book where I felt that important things were being brushed over without any real address? Like please, if you're going to include something taboo or controversial for kicks, at least have the guts to acknowledge it and show that it's WRONG. If you've already read the book, I'm talking about (in vague terms) Sophie's lack of true apology for the horrible things she did, Xavier/Rick's treatment of Ever, the mother's reaction to Ever's decision at the end...and so on. ALSO--if you've never practiced a lift with someone (ESPECIALLY who hasn't ever danced for real before), IT'S NOT GONNA GO WELL. ON STAGE NO LESS.
- Xavier deserved better. You heard it here first. He was so needlessly tortured and to me, the obvious choice for Ever. This book would've been over WAY faster if I were Ever, because I would've just said yes to Xavier and had my happy ever after. But nothing can be easy with protagonists, can it?
- Lack of satisfying closure. Sure you could argue that this is because there's going to be another book coming out, but I still find that even cliffhanger endings should leave readers with some small sense of satisfaction in the story they devoted hours to reading. BUT **** SPOILER ALERT****NOPE. No one important really gets redemption. Super unsatisfying and sort of a kick to the guts as someone who was rooting so hard for closure. D:

Final Verdict:

Do I recommend this book?
A part of me feels like I'm making it sound worse than it actually is, but all of what I said earlier is true. Objectively. Okay, maybe except for the Xavier thing. He really did deserve better though, in my humble opinion.

SO BACK TO THE QUESTION. No. I can't easily recommend this book. I think there's a specific audience for it (contemporary lovers, romance lovers, people who are okay with extremely unsatisfactory endings and with waiting for a sequel), but I don't think it was meant for me. And that's okay. There are plenty of books out there and this was an important experience for me to have. :)

See you soon and happy reading! 

City of Saints & Thieves (YA Reviews)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Hi everyone! Am I reading like crazy in order to procrastinate my writing? You got it! Am I going to write this review to further procrastinate my other writing? You got it! But let's get down to business. I read a good book. Now we'll talk about it. 

Tags: Contemporary, gangs, thieves, religion, a dash of romance 
Age Recommended:  13+ (graphic depictions of violence, gangs) 

In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn't exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill's personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.

My Thoughts: 

*slow clap* ...Can we have this as a movie?

The writing isn't standout amazing, but it's cinematic and gets the job done. The characters, on the other hand, are otherworldly. From scars to foreshadowing to personality, I love each and every character. I wish we got more time with certain characters (i.e. Bug Eye, Ketchup) because I think they have some very unique quirks that could be super intriguing to learn the origins of. I like the implementation of historical events--I think it raises awareness, even if the story is fiction. I absolutely love the character growth and arc of the protagonist, Christina, and mmMF I wish we could've learned more.

The only reason why I'm giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is because I felt it was TOO slow and focused, at times, on things that I didn't really want to know about. It felt like a slow-burn times 100, but instead of being enjoyable and stress-inducing (in a good way), it felt rather tortuous and boring. I definitely couldn't have read the book in one or two sittings--it was all too easy to get slowed down and it felt like it wasn't going anywhere a lot of the time.

THAT SAID, I believe that this story is a good one. The ending is a welcome surprise and although I didn't catch much foreshadowing in the get-go, I think it managed to tie everything together in a nice bow.

Also, can we all agree that the synopsis does not do this book justice? Seriously!
Final Verdict:

So...would I recommend this book?
NO - If you're in a hurry/have other things you want to read and want something fast-paced and action-packed.
YES - If you've got the time and dedication and want the satisfaction of finishing a very good story and taking your time with it. 

Warcross Dulogy (YA Reviews)

Monday, July 13, 2020

Hi everyone! There's a series I've been raving about on Goodreads, the Warcross Duology! I've already expressed my detail...about this series, but I thought, since I loved it so much, I should share it with you all! ALSO, I am in the process of moving to a new blog, which you can find HERE. It's very empty, but be certain that content is coming soon! 

Tags: YA, sci/fi, fantasy, cyber society, VR, futuristic worlds, Tokyo!, gaming (turned terribly wrong) 
Age Recommended: 13+ (graphic depictions of violence later in series, child abduction) 

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

My Thoughts on Warcross

One word: YES.

Two words: Absolutely brilliant.

Three: Chef's kisses everywhere.

Four: Pick up this book.

I can't believe how long it took for me actually give Warcross a chance. It's literally the epitome of perfection in every sense of the word.

1. Style. Marie Lu's writing might not be as flourished and elegant like industry beasts (read: Leigh Bardugo), but she definitely knows her strengths and plays to them well. I didn't really notice the writing much because of how much I was immersed in the writing, and I think Lu's simple storytelling-around-a-campfire style plays to emphasize the story over snagging the reader on technicalities. For once, I felt like a reader, not a writer.

2. ConceptReady Player One has a similar concept, but, at least for me, it struggles to get to the point quickly. Lu knows how to hook her readers and how to hook them for good. The world-building is immaculate and the pacing is practically perfect. I don't think there's a single thing for me to criticize. But I suppose I don't really need to explain myself: the premise itself should sell you on the book.

3. Foreshadowing (that even threw ME for a loops *cries). I pride myself in being able to predict things. I'm that person at the movie theater that everyone hates sitting next to because I have the tendency of leaning over and well, spoiling it. Lu literally went haha SIKE and threw even me for a loop. I was faked. We don't have to talk about this. Okay, we do. Lu definitely planned out this story beforehand, and the clues are planted literally everywhere. If you've haven't read this book yet, keep your eyes peeled like Sherlock, alright? And keep your guard up. Fakes are everywhere. (I did, however, predict the ending. Maybe you did too? Let me know.)

4. Characters. Emika is probably one of my favorite protagonists of ALL TIME. And I've only read the first book of her story. She's badass, she's got a history of criminal offenses, TATTOOS, and despite that, she's unbearably human and emotional and she seriously hurts me in ways I never imagined were possible. She seriously made me want to stop and cry at times (especially when she's remembering her past). I also loved Hideo. I can see where he comes from and his drive and mmMF THE BACKSTORY. We love backstory.

I swear to god, Marie Lu's Warcross is a masterclass in storytelling. She's nailed the characters, the plot, the concept, and even the faking of readers through foreshadowing. Truly excellent.

Would I recommend this book?
HECK TO THE YES I DO! Warcross is probably one of my favorite reads this year, and I've read a LOT of good books.

***I'm not going to include the summary here for anyone planning to read Warcross because this is going to be a spoiler-free review! 

Before I start this review, I want to preface it with the fact that well. Wildcard was underwhelming. BUT, I don't think that should stop you from reading the series, because Warcross is worth every page. 

I'm not surprised at the reception (both my own and of other readers) because it's hard to follow up an absolute GOD-TIER book with another one of the pedigree.

If I were to point to one thing that was the downfall of Wildcard I honestly just think that it was trying to do too much. The betrayals and flipping of tables got tiring and repetitive after a while, and I can't express how frustrated I became with the seemingly random alliance flips. They just seemed so uncalled for and the fact that there was no foreshadowing made each moment much more shallow than they were in, for example, Warcross.

I'm still giving this book 4 stars because, well, I still think Lu does an excellent job with her characters and with building relationships. If I were judging this book based on those two criteria alone, this book would be an easy 5/5, and Warcross an easy 18240981029309/5.

Read: I still love Emika and Hideo.

Would I recommend this book?
YES - if you need continuity and CLOSURE for that heck of an ending in Warcross.
NO - if you're expecting something to live up to the beauty that is Warcross and if you want to write your own ending for Emika and Hideo. :)

Final Verdict:

YOU MUST READ WARCROSS. No questions asked. Wildcard on the other hand is a bit...meh. I'm still giving both books high ratings because I think that's what they deserve, but Wildcard did not live up to my expectations for sure. If you want closure and more of Emika/Hideo, I say read Wildcard. If you're okay not knowing what happens and want to leave a memory of this series in your mind, I say read only Warcross and don't let your curiosity pull you into something you'll regret. :P Peace out and let me know what you think of this series if you read it! 

Don't Ask Me Where I'm From (YA Reviews)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Hi everyone! I hope you're all doing well. I'm just going to get into this review without much preamble because!! In case you can't tell!! From the exclamation marks!!! I'm excited!! Whenever I think about this book, I just want to throw my hands in the air and scream "YASS" at the top of my lungs because, well, YASS! I really loved Liliana's story, and I think you will too. 

Tags: YA Contemporary, Boston!, immigration, deportation, racism, discrimination, "token" of diversity 
Age Recommended: 12+ 

First-generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.

Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.

There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.

There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.

And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.

So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.
But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight. 

My Thoughts: 

Things I loved:
1. Attention to detail! I would be in complete disbelief if Jennifer De Leon told me she wasn't a plotter. Seriously. The attention to detail is magnificent. This story is like a puzzle that falls into place the farther you read. I loved learning little bits and having conflict introduced subtly. The feeling of impending doom definitely felt like we were tiptoeing into a haunted house in that expecting the scares didn't really help at all muffle my fear. In this case, knowing the conflict was coming didn't make it hurt any less when it did. I was absolutely wonderful.

Also, I can't noT mention the allusions to Boston! As someone who, surprise surprise, lives in Boston, I can vouch for the truth in her descriptions. I absolutely loved that detail. It really brought the whole story together for me!

2. Characters and their relationships! I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say I'd die for Liliana. I'll even take a moment here to talk about why I love her. Liliana isn't perfect. Her life isn't perfect. Her dad's missing and she has to carry the burden of her shadow of a mother and life is hard. Life is hard and things hurt but she doesn't let it get to her head. I love that about Liliana. She gets kicked down time after time after time, but never does she let her struggles stop her from fighting for what she knows is right.

To talk a little about relationships, I was immediately using my villain radar to try and figure out who the antagonists were. I predicted one of them, but De Leon does an excellent job fostering doubt. I definitely was on the edge of my seat or clutching my chest at certain moments because heartbreak and betrayal are hurtful even when you're bracing yourself for them.

De Leon does an excellent job of making her characters emotionally compelling and relatable to the reader. I have no choice but to stan!

Things I didn't love:
1. If I had to criticize anything about this book, it'd be like sometimes, not at all frequently, the narrator would sound a bit...childish? Jennifer De Leon is obviously an adult writing from a teenager's point of view, so cringy-ness is to be expected at times. That said, it doesn't detract from the story all that much, unless you're reading as critically as I am, haha. I was usually more captivated by the story anyhow, and that's a good thing! Good writing means that you notice the story, not the writing. :)

Final Verdict:

Would I recommend this book?
YES - If you're looking for a book to educate yourself on immigration, racism, and what happens when you become a "token" for diversity, or if you're just looking for something to do for funsies, but want to read something that's emotionally compelling and extremely relevant to today's issues.
NO - I'm not going to even go here. Read the book.