A #Wikathon Wrap-Up (surprise, surprise I actually read)

Hello! It’s time for Part 2!

Do you know that read-a-thon where Filipinos just get to scream and read books with pride? There’s just this magical moment when it was announced, and I swore the high heavens just opened up on the gloomy day and everything was just rainbow and sparkles. We love to see it.

Anyway, as many of you may already know, especially if you are up to date with the shenanigans of the Filipino bookish community on Twitter, Wikathon is a month long read-a-thon dedicated to Filipino literature hosted by Kate from Your Tita Kate, Gerald from Gerald the Bookworm, Alex from Alex on the Block, Kat from Her Bookish Side, and Julienne from Love, Julienne. It is a read-a-thon that also coincided with what we call “Buwan ng Wika” which roughly translates to “National Language Month”. So put two and two together, it’s a wonderful month that really gives off much pride and joy.

This event actually partially influenced me to get back to writing, as I would have wanted to share my thoughts on the books I read for the event. Aside from that, and truth be told, the events in the past few months have been quite bleak especially here in the Philippines. So this read-a-thon was a wonderful event to participate in, even if it’s held virtually. It’s also the activity that I anticipate after work and the weekends, which made more motivated to finish the tasks I have to do for the day (aside from binging and watching all the movies I listed in a previous post.)

What surprised me the most is that I actually read something to fill in the prompts. I have a history of being really bad at read-a-thons, mostly because the TBR I set doesn’t usually get followed. So for this particular event, I just winged it. I sought out books that might fill a certain prompt, but I did not follow any list whatsoever. I ended up reading four books (technically five, but the book in question doesn’t exactly fit a prompt) and shocking no one, generally liked most of it.

Here’s a wrap on all of the books that I have read:

Book # 1: When Cocoy Became Kikay by C. P. Santi

Synopsis:

Cocoy’s not-so-secret dream is to one day become a gun-toting, ass-kicking secret agent. But she has another dream—and this time, even her best friends don’t have a clue—she dreams of someone.
Problem is, she finds out that Jaime Arguelles—a.k.a. the guy she’d been secretly crushing on for years—likes girls who . . . well . . . likes pink.
To Cocoy’s logical mind, there’s only one solution: it’s time to go girly. After all, how hard can it be?
With the help of her friends, Cocoy embarks on a pink-tinged journey that somehow turns her neat and orderly life upside down. But it’s all good—because in the midst of her blossoming relationship, Cocoy learns a whole lot about life, love, dreams, and friendship . . . and about the healing power of pan de sal, Chippy, and Nutella.

Prompt: The Modern Pinoy – Read a book by a Filipino author set in present-day Philippines

Composed thoughts: When Cocoy Became Kikay is a sweet and cool coming-of-age novel. I loved how it challenged the norm of gender stereotyping by giving us a female lead that discovers her feminine side. Cocoy’s self-discovery throughout the novel was a delight to read, especially with her guy friends and undeniably cool tita who served as constant supports. Overall,I can say that I would recommend it if you’re looking for a short and up-to-the-point young adult romance novella to read.


Book # 2: Another Word for Happy by Agay Llanera

Synopsis:

What does it take to come out of the closet?

Since he was thirteen, Caleb has always known he’s gay. Now a college freshman, he falls in love for the first time. If it’s true that love conquers all, then will Caleb finally find the courage to reveal his secret?

In this tale about family, friendship and self-discovery, find out how Caleb discovers the path to the freedom he’s always longed for. Here’s a hint: it involves doing things outside his comfort zone, such as joining a spoken word group!

Prompt: New to Me – Read a book by a Filipino author whose books you’ve never read before.

Composed thoughts: I absolutely adored Caleb, the main lead of the story. While he reminded me very much of a dear friend of mine, (Hi Miel.) I loved the dynamics explored in this novella: the friendships that are made; being reminded of the thrill of being a freshman at uni; seeing the first love and heartbreaks in his lens; and most importantly, being able to read about the self-discovery and acceptance that Caleb went through while navigating all of those experiences as a closeted gay new adult in the Philippines.


Book # 3: Hello, Universe by Erin-Entrada Kelly

Synopsis:

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends — at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

Prompt: The Filipino Diaspora – Read a book by a diaspora Filipino author

Composed thoughts: Maybe it was the way the story was told, or maybe it was Erin Entrada Kelly’s writing style. Or… I don’t know… Virgil’s lola (because, seriously, she rocks.) and Kaori? But either way, I was really engaged with this wonderful middle grade novel. The audiobook was well-narrated and a breeze to go through, very much supported by the interactions made by the sweet and lovable characters. Seriously, Filipino middle grade is awesome.


Book # 4: Start Here: Short Stories of First Encounters

Synopsis:

There’s a first time for everything. Gatecrashing a K-Pop concert with an oppa in a business suit. Taking shelter from the storm with the girl you’ve been meaning to shake off. That kiss that blurs the line between friendship and something more. A one-night stand (or, is it?) with your best friend from across the hallway.

Dive into these 10 stories of first encounters – unapologetically queer, happy endings required, with a smattering of that signature #romanceclass kilig. Whether you’re recalling your own firsts or out there looking for one, there’s a story in here for you.

So, go on.

Turn the page.

Start here.

Prompt: Filipino LGBTQIA+ – Read a book by an LGBTQIA+ Filipino author AND S2pid Love – Read a romance book by a Filipino author

Still incoherent thoughts: I… still don’t know how to unpack this book. In the word of my current favorite reactor, “Na-vertigo ako, friend.” My brain must have forgotten about the heat index level indicated for some of the stories so you can just imagine me reeling over some of the scenes. (Note to self: THIS IS WHY YOUARE SUPPOSED TO FULLY READ BLURBS YOU DUM-DUM.)

But that being said, I would have to say that my personal favorite stories from this anthology are In The Moonlight by Agay Llanera and Shipping Included by Danice Sison. But the stories that really made an impression on me are Come Full Circle by Bobbi Moran and The Other Story by H. Bentham.


And that’s it, friends. It must be said though, that I highly recommend all of these books. My composed (albeit some are just gush) thoughts are not enough to truly encompass the joy that each book has brought to me. If you can, I hope you could also show support to them by giving the work and the authors some love. And while August may have slipped away, it doesn’t mean that we can’t always have Wikathon. Our sense of nationalism towards our language can be expressed all year round. It’s just a matter of picking those books up.

How about you, dear reader? What books have you picked up for Wikathon? What are some of the books by Filipino authors have you read that you enjoyed? Will you be participating for next year?

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Leave It To The Butterfly || My Fate According to the Butterfly Blog Tour (Review)

Before Reading:

I first heard of this book when Gail attended Bookworms Unite Year 4. I was super pumped to hear her talk about it while we were featuring new releases. The premise alone sounds interesting enough, and I was all in with reading it come 2019. But when she briefly described the cover, and confirmed that a Filipino girl would be on it, I was more stoked than ever. Honestly I could not ask for more. I’m here for any book that features a Filipino main character. Let’s get to it!

39884772Title: My Fate According to the Butterlfly

Author: Gail D. Villanueva

Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary

ISBN: 133831050X

Date Published: 30th of July 2019

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Buy it on: Amazon | The Book Depository

Add to Goodreads

Summary:

Light and deep, smart and funny, crushing and hopeful all at the same time, My Fate According to the Butterfly will open your eyes to both the world’s potential for magic, and to its harsh realities.

When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows that she’s doomed! According to legend, she has one week before her fate catches up with her—on her 11th birthday. With her time running out, all she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her sister, Ate Nadine, stopped speaking to their father one year ago, and Sab doesn’t even know why.

If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears—of her sister’s anger, of leaving the bubble of her sheltered community, of her upcoming doom—and figure out the cause of their rift.

So Sab and her best friend Pepper start spying on Ate Nadine and digging into their family’s past to determine why, exactly, Ate Nadine won’t speak to their father. But Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths about her family more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever anticipated.

After Reading:

What a heartwarming read! The dynamic duo that was Sab and Pepper is absolutely delightful to read. Sab’s relationship with Nadine reminded me of my own siblings. Also, one of my parent’s home province was mentioned! I was just brimming with joy when I saw it constantly mentioned. I love this book very much. 😭

As a part of the tour, I received an e-ARC of this book. Huge thanks to Scholastic Press for providing copies for the tour. This does not affect my review and all of the opinions and thoughts reflected here are my own.

My Fate According to the Butterfly is an amazing middle grade novel. Quite in fact, it has become my favorite middle grade novel of all time. It tackles issues prevalent in Philippine society, opening its readers to the realities of the country. But at the same time, it delivers the same issues in a light-hearted manner, centering family and friendship in the core of its tale.

Gail’s writing is simply perfect. I cannot state how much I loved reading along Sab’s perspective. There is a distinct tone in her voice that lets you know that she is young, and there is so much of the world that she has to see. She also perfectly married this voice with a succinct writing style. Aside from that, it is not an easy to explain heavy topics such as drug abuse, the war on drugs, colonial mentality, and racism even for an adult book. But with My Fate According to the Butterfly, it is all in there, all explained in a way that young people can grasp.

As I mentioned earlier, I loved the fact that this book highlighted the importance of family and friendship. Sab was a delightful character to follow along. She is that little sister that you just cannot help but love. With the main premise of this book revolving around her as she thinks she is going to die because she saw a black butterfly, it is wonderful to see a character face the superstitions that the grown-ups have passed on to the next generation. Her inquisitiveness intrigued me, but I also believe that a lot of kids can and will relate to her frustrations and limitations. She’s a cool kid, but her character is also very dynamic and rounded.

Sab is also surrounded by an equal set of rounded characters with distinct personalities, two of which stood out throughout the novel as a counterbalance to Sab. Nadine is very much like a grown-up version of Sab, and her strong and intuitive nature makes her the perfect ate. I personally related to her more, being an ate myself. But like any other ate, there is a wall of respect that comes with her. While she is oftentimes stoic with Sab’s spur-of-the-moment requests, she does what she can to accommodate her little sister. Often, it is the scenes with Nadine and Sab that leave the largest impact on me, because their sisterly bond is the most relatable to my own self. On the other hand, Pepper, Sab’s best friend, is the yin to Sab’s yang. They are like two odd peas in a pod, but I love how they balance each other out. The dynamic duo that is their friendship deliver some of the more humorous parts of the novel, but they also have moments where it just uplifting to read about the support that they have for each other. Both characters have a recognizable role in Sab’s life, but they leave an equal impact as they also add a take on the social issues prevalent throughout the novel.

With that said, My Fate According to the Butterfly is a must-read. It is a heartwarming novel, wonderful and relatable to its very core. With its wonderful and engaging characters paired with an amazing writing style, it is easy to fathom why Gail D. Villanueva is an author for the ages. Such story speaks volumes when it brought up relevant social issues that is still happening in Filipino society.  I can say that it’s definitely a classic to beat. I wish I had read something like this book when I was younger, but I am so happy that the kids of today can read Sab’s story. It has the heart and soul of a Filipino, through and through.

Should I ever need a present to give to my nieces and nephews in middle grade, I would happily give them this precious gem. Thank you, Gail, for this wonderful story.

(Also, shout out to Lawin! You go, my friend!)

Know more about my rating system here.

GailDVillanueva

Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer, an entrepreneur, and a graphic artist. She loves pineapple pizza, seafood, and chocolate, but not in a single dish together (eww). Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and one friendly but lonesome chicken.

Her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly, is coming from Scholastic Press on July 30, 2019

Connect with Gail!

Website || Goodreads || Instagram || Facebook || Twitter || Pinterest

Get a chance to win kwek-kwek plushies! Click here to join! (Open to PH and international readers)

Follow the rest of the Butterfly blog tour here:

ButterflyTour Blog Tour Schedule

Also, heads up! Caffeine Tours will be hosting a Twitter chat for the Butterfly Tour on July 27, 2019. Please see the schedule below. Hope you can join in on the fun!

ButterflyTour Twitter Chat

Are you excited to dig into

My Fate According to the Butterfly?

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Woven Like Magic || Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim Blog Tour (Review + Giveaway)

Hello, and welcome to the last day for the Spin The Dawn blog tour hosted by Caffeine Book Tours! We have an exciting review and surprises ahead so I hope you prepared a snack or two while we bask on the glory that is this wonderful book.

Before Reading:

A MULAN RETELLING MEETS PROJECT RUNWAY?! WHERE DO I SIGN TF UP??

… that sounded better in my head but then I realized that’s basically my reaction for every book that catches my short attention span. In all seriousness, the bookish gods are forever great for making 2019 a literal goldmine for Asian book releases. One such release is Spin The Dawn. Not gonna lie, it was the cover (isn’t it always though, Bianca??) that solidified my inclination to pick up this book. Then Caffeine Book Tours (hosted by the one and only Shut Up, Shealea) opened up a tour for this book. So yeah, that’s where I signed tf up.

Now let’s get to it! There’s a lot of ground to cover here, people!

36683928Title: Spin The Dawn

Author: Elizabeth Lim

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

ISBN:052564699X

Date Published: 9th of July 2019

Series: The Blood of Stars #1

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Buy it on: AmazonThe Book Depository

Add to Goodreads

Summary:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

As a part of the tour, I received an e-ARC of this book. Huge thanks to the publisher for providing copies for the tour. This does not affect my review and all of the opinions and thoughts reflected here are my own.

I want to do my best not to spoil this book so please excuse me if my review is a bit short and vague.

Let’s start with the basics: there is so much to love about this book. Spin The Dawn is a paragon of young adult retellings. It sets itself on a familiar world, yet it is clear that there is so much more than to it than what lies beneath the surface. Inspired by the tale of Hua Mulan, Elizabeth Lim proves that there is more to tell when one decides to put their on spin on a well-known story. Elizabeth writes with passion and intricacy, similar to that of her main character Maia when given fabrics and needles. Readers can easily imagine the wonderful creations that Maia has crafted, but there is still room to the imagination on how they are executed. Much so, the words flow like a river, and every chapter promises to leave the reader hungry like a hawk for more. The writing is rich in lore, as if the places within the novel are tangible and exists with history.

As fitting for a royal tailor’s adventures, the setting became increasingly heavier but surprisingly lighter. By all means, the world building is simply phenomenal. Once the reader steps into Maia’s shoes, what we know of her world starts off like a hum. Then along with her steady pace, it steadily becomes vast—like drums beating to the rhythm of the heart. As Maia ventures in her quest to become the emperor’s tailor, the world beyond A’landi becomes more vivid and colorful.

For a tale of fantasy, what I also loved about Spin The Dawn is that it features a steady cast. Maia (our Mulan) remains the sole focus of the story, and it slowly invests the readers with her journey in (out)weaving her competitors to serve her emperor. But fret not, while it is archetypal, Maia as a character is still flawed and has her imperfections. There is so much love to give for all her indecisiveness and skepticism to the magic system introduced in this book. Her resilience and persistence in a society that constantly looks down upon her simply because of the gender that she was born can make readers want to scream “YES. PROVE THEM WRONG. OUT STITCH THOSE MEN.” Her love to her family is deeply admirable, and while it is heartbreaking to read, the hope for a better tomorrow remains. Maia’s strong attitude to doing anything for her family is reminiscent to that of the values that are etched in Asian family dynamics.

I would highly recommend Spin The Dawn to anyone looking for a great read. It also the perfect book to read if you are participating in the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge. I am already anticipating its sequel because it is just that darn good. Really, when it comes to finding your next amazing read, look no further. The sun, the moon, and the stars will gladly shine on you and they will point you to the direction of this book.

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Trigger/content warning: death, murder, violence, war, attempt of sexual assault

Author (Elizabeth Lim)

Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.

Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel — for kicks, at first, then things became serious — and she hasn’t looked back since.

Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Connect with Elizabeth!

Website || Goodreads || Instagram || Facebook || Twitter

3 readers will have the chance to win a copy of Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim! Check out the giveaway here. (Open intl)

Follow the rest of the tour here:

Schedule (Spin the Dawn)

And while we’re at it, there’s a Twitter chat hosted by Caffeine Book Tours happening in a few where two (2) readers can get a chance to win copies of Spin The Dawn! 

Invite (Spin the Dawn)

All right, now who’s with me on the Spin The Dawn hype train?

ARE WE ALL ON BOARD?

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Hungry Hearts || An #OwnVoices Food Crawl (+Giveaway)

Welcome to another stop of today’s food crawl for Hungry Hearts! Today, alongside Kate from Your Tita Kate, we will be highlighting the story from Rin Chupeco entitled Sugar and Spite. I am especially ecstatic because today in the Philippines, we are also celebrating our Independence Day! It’s not really a ‘July 4th’ kind of shindig, but it is a national holiday. And when there’s a holiday, there’s an excuse to eat good food. But when it comes to Hungry Hearts, it offers so much more than that.

HH CoverTitle: Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love

Edited by: Elsie Chapman & Caroline Tung Richmond

Hardcover, 352 pages

Date Published: 18th of June 2019

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Buy it on: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes and Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Add to Goodreads

Summary:

From some of your favorite bestselling and critically acclaimed authors—including Sandhya Menon, Anna-Marie McLemore, and Rin Chupeco—comes a collection of interconnected short stories that explore the intersection of family, culture, and food in the lives of thirteen teens.

A shy teenager attempts to express how she really feels through the confections she makes at her family’s pasteleria. A tourist from Montenegro desperately seeks a magic soup dumpling that could cure his fear of death. An aspiring chef realizes that butter and soul are the key ingredients to win a cooking competition that could win him the money to save his mother’s life.

Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, where the answers to most of life’s hard questions are kneaded, rolled, baked. Where a typical greeting is, “Have you had anything to eat?” Where magic and food and love are sometimes one and the same.

Told in interconnected short stories, Hungry Hearts explores the many meanings food can take on beyond mere nourishment. It can symbolize love and despair, family and culture, belonging and home.

We’re going to stray with the typical review for the meantime. I’m honestly giddy that I am actually posting this today. Being the historical nerd that I am, I want to give you some fun facts on why today is the perfect day to post this joyful crawl. (Which I love because I sincerely believe that the hosts considered the date as a perfect stop for the tour. Thank you so much, CW and Vicky! <3)

On June 12, 1898, we officially declared our liberation from 333 years of Spanish colonization. But did you know that we actually have another one? What is now known to be Philippine-American Friendship Day became our Independence Day from the American regime on July 4, 1946. Funny thing is, after the declaration there was this whole thing about Spain selling the islands for $20 million dollars. We have a third one as well, since Japan also took over the islands during World War II. In hindsight though I think it is rather fitting to celebrate our independence on June 12 because of the impact that Spain has etched itself in our country.

Anyways, with that little tidbit aside, let us talk about today’s stop for the food crawl! Rin Chupeco has written an insightful story that ties magic with the emotions that we feel while we cook. The intensity of the food being served makes sense, because it is a reflection; a mirror one might say of the various feelings that a human soul can have. Rin incorporated ‘kulam’, a form of “an eye for an eye” sort of magic wherein you have to exchange something to get the magic that you want done to another person in return in the story, and having tied it to food made with passion makes it eerily wonderful. While I was caught off-guard at first by the perspective of the story, I realized that it had a ring to it. The way the story went made it feel more intimate and personal. What made me personally resonate and feel for the story is its main essence: its heart. The dishes particularly mentioned felt like home to me. When the lolas serve the dishes, it reminds me of my own lola (even though we are not biologically related) and my nanay making those meals. As the story goes, while the recipes are handed down from one to the other, there is a balance in following what is taught and what can be done to call the dish your own.

It is easy to love the story when you can say “Yes, I can see myself in this story because my lola and my nanay says the same thing.” Or when the narrative tells you that “Yes, you can experiment and do things your way, but you have to earn the right to do it.” Because YES, this is Filipino cooking in a nutshell. You can learn about it a certain way, but when the time comes you can and it is amazing if you learn how to make one dish your own. YES, you have to be strong when people make you feel bad for being yourself but there are stakes to weigh if all your heart wants is revenge.

That being said, and before I say anything else that can and will spoil the story, I highly recommend Filipino readers to give Sugar and Spite a read when they want to engross themselves with Hungry Hearts. It is wonderfully written, with heart-hitting notes about our dishes and magical realism integrated to heighten your senses.

Also hot tip: Read Hungry Hearts if you are actually full. I mean I can only speak for the Filipino food represented in this anthology, but I got the mad case of the cravings with every food that was mentioned. AND THERE WERE A LOT. Honestly speaking, Rin made the best choice of highlighting one, yet incorporating tons of dishes in the narrative. Because in all seriousness, how can you just choose one dish? The insanity of it all.

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Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin Chupeco always maintains her sense of hummus. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. Dances like the neighbors are watching.

Connect with Rin!

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

Elsie Chapman

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 MG novel All the Ways Home, and co-editor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.

Photo Credit: Michael Meskin

Connect with Elsie!

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram

Caroline Tung Richmond

Caroline Tung Richmond is an award-winning young adult author, whose historical novels include The Only Thing to Fear, The Darkest Hour, and Live In Infamy. She’s also the co-editor of the anthology Hungry Hearts, which features stories about food and will come out in June 2019 from Simon Pulse. Her work is represented by Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich.

Caroline is also the Program Director of We Need Diverse Books, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that advocates for diversity in children’s publishing.

After growing up in the Washington, D.C. area Caroline now lives in Virginia with her family.

Connect with Caroline!

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest

Hungry Hearts gives a huge spotlight on the cuisines that we love and care for the most. When I signed up, I had this huge idea of wanting to maybe do something different and will drive me to do something out of my comfort zone. So I went with digitally drawing Filipino food. Sugar and Spite briefly mentioned a lot of dishes, so there was this whole thing about the pressure of trying to draw them all. Then I thought, why not just share my favorite ones? If I were to choose three dishes that will prove my worth to my grandmothers, these will be my top picks.

Sinigang

The first one would have to be Sinigang sa Miso. I have a love-hate relationship with the regular sinigang because it’s usually a hit-or-miss for me and the flavor doesn’t seem to be consistent. But when it comes to Sinigang sa Miso, even if we use different types of fish or even if we lack just one ingredient, the flavors still come together to form the hearty zesty soup that I want to drink when I’m having a bad day.

Pancit Canton

The second one would have to be Pancit Canton. While this dish is derived from noodles, us Filipinos put our own spin on it that made it our own thing to serve at birthdays (or even holidays!!). It is fairly easy to make, but what I love about it is that it is wonderful comfort food in all its glory. At its core is the noodles, but when you a little kick to it you can always add anything out of the blue. Carrots, lettuce, eggs… the possibilities are endless and it always leaves you full and satisfied. (Plus I’m also trash for the instant one we have here. I know it’s bad for me but it’s just so good especially when there’s an egg on top.)

Caldereta

The third and final dish would have to be Caldereta. For anyone who has trouble differentiating it with menudo, afritada, mechado, it’s time to pick the king of the orange dishes. It’s like beef stew, but elevated to perfection with the tomato sauce, liver spread, and peanut butter (and CHEESE!! Friends, take note! It adds tanginess!). I personally prefer beef, but even vegetable caldereta works. My nanay can make this as spicy as she wants it to be and I will still finish it until my plate is clean. It’s my favorite dish in the world, and I hope I can one day earn the right to cook it myself. 

Check out the rest of the food crawl schedule! Huge thanks to Vicky at Vicky Who Reads and CW at The Quiet Pond for organizing this lovely tour! ❤

June 10th – Introduction

Vicky (Welcome + Interview)

June 11th – Karuna Riazi

Naadhira (Review)

June 12th – Rin Chupeco

Bianca (Review + Creative Post) & Kate (Review + Recipe)

June 13th – Jay Coles

Nikki (Review + Creative Post)

June 14th – Elsie Chapman

Kevin (Review + Creative Post) & Natalia (Review + Creative Post)

June 15th – Sara Farizan

Em (Review)

June 16th – Caroline T. Richmond

Lili (Review + Creative Post) & Tiffany (Review + Creative Post)

June 17th – Adi Alsaid

Moon (Review + Creative Post)

June 18th – Sandhya Menon

Aimal (Review + Aesthetic/Mood board) & Nia (Review + Fave Quotes)

June 19th – S. K. Ali

Mish (Review + Creative Post)

June 20th – Phoebe North

Kayla (Review + Aesthetic/Mood board)

June 21st – Rebecca Roanhorse

Lila (Review + Aesthetic/Mood board) & AJ (Review + Aesthetic/Mood board)

June 22nd – Sangu Mandanna

Nandini (Review + Creative Post) & Prags (Review + Fave Quotes)

June 23rd – Anna-Marie McLemore

Nox (Review + Creative Post)

June 24th – Closing

CW (Review + Food Crawl)

Two winners – 1 U.S. and 1 international reader has the chance to win a finished copy of Hungry Hearts! Click on the giveaway button or here.

What is your favorite food? How hungry are you for Hungry Hearts?

Twitter || Goodreads || Letterboxd || MyAnimeList

#GirlGoneViralTour || Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi

Before Reading:

I will never say never to a book that tackles virtual reality. It is a topic that I am particularly fond of and I believe that it is already incorporated in our inevitable future. Plus hello, Arvin Ahmadi? Umm… yes, please! After reading his stellar debut novel, there are no questions asked: I love his writing style, his characters, and his plot. This author writes books that I want to read. I mean, Girl Gone Viral didn’t have a cover yet and I was sold the minute I saw glitches in the pitch. Alright, no pressure on this book but I know there’s a high chance that I will love it either way. Let’s get to it!

Title: Girl Gone Viral

Author: Arvin Ahmadi

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

ISBN: 125014454X

Date Published: 21st of May 2019

Series: None

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Buy it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | The Book Depository

Add to Goodreads

Summary:

The inventive and hauntingly timely story of a seventeen-year-old coder’s catapult to stardom, reminiscent of The Social Network with a Ready Player One twist.

For seventeen-year-old Opal Hopper, code is magic. She builds entire worlds from scratch: Mars craters, shimmering lakes, any virtual experience her heart desires.

But she can’t code her dad back into her life. When he disappeared after her tenth birthday, leaving only a cryptic note, Opal tried desperately to find him. And when he never turned up, she enrolled at a boarding school for technical prodigies and tried to forget.

Until now. Because WAVE, the world’s biggest virtual reality platform, has announced a contest where the winner gets to meet its billionaire founder. The same billionaire who worked closely with Opal’s dad. The one she always believed might know where he went. The one who maybe even murdered him.

What begins as a small data hack to win the contest spirals out of control when Opal goes viral, digging her deeper into a hole of lies, hacks, and manipulation. How far will Opal go for the answers–or is it the attention–she’s wanted for years?

After Reading:

OKAY, ARVIN AHMADI. WHO HURT YOU? First of all, HOW DARE YOU? Second, I swear to the virtual gods if this does not have a sequel, I will combine forces with Penguin Teen on Twitter.

As a part of the tour, I received an ARC of this book to borrow. Huge thanks to Penguin Random House for providing copies for the tour. This does not affect my review and all of the opinions and thoughts reflected here are my own.

*cracks knuckles* It’s been a while, huh? To start, let me just say that this book had me in total awe. I could not fully describe how I exactly felt because my emotions were all over the place when I read it. But for the sake of this review, I will try to do my best. Though I have to say something first.

I have been dying to talk to someone about this book FOR MONTHS. It is both a blessing and a curse to be able to read this book so early this year. I swear my head was going to explode only being able to talk about it in code. Like HELLO, a book this good and I can only go “Humina-humina.” Just a few more days, B. The world will eventually know your pain. I wish I could scream but I couldn’t. There is just a lot of ground to cover, but it’s all in a good way. THIS. BOOK. IS. REALLY. SOMETHING. ELSE.

Girl Gone Viral only proves that my love for Arvin Ahmadi soars beyond his debut novel. His gravitating writing style and world-building is remarkable. It is one heck of a ride and it keeps readers guessing, wondering, and questioning about what is real and what isn’t. There is a lot of ground to tackle, but it’s a good thing. There is something in this novel that many can and will find themselves in. I also love how he built the world of Silicon Valley into something eerily familiar yet ridiculously too far to grasp entirely. This book can easily be compared to an underground vault. It has so many floors and layers to uncover that it makes you question the truth of it all.

Another unique concept that I admire and enjoyed reading about this book was WAVE. (Note: if you don’t want to know about it, please skip this section entirely. Not that it’s a spoiler, but having no context about it will help if you want to go into the book blindly.) Imagine Youtube combining forces with all the other social media platforms. It’s like what Google+ wanted to be. Augmented reality combined with Youtube and/or Twitch livestreams, but the host gets to design their stage and is able to completely interact with their audience. The sky’s the limit with what the streamer wants the audience to see, and the most innovative creators compete to see whose show gets to the top. I mean, even late night show hosts knows that WAVE is where it is at. But mind you, Girl Gone Viral does not simply stop there.

The complexity of it all is why it is also easier to imagine this future through the eyes of our heroine Opal Hopper. As the story unfolds, so does she. It is interesting to see how she grows as a person amidst the spotlight that falls on her during her senior year. Imagine being a senior, balancing a scheduled show and her own studies, while trying to navigate university applications, first love, newfound allies and enemies, all while trying to uncover a mystery that has been unresolved for nearly decade. I know. It’s a whole lot but trust me, RIDICULOUS does not cover this book. Surrounding Opal are also some of the most genuine and morally gray characters you could think of. Yet somehow, she has this magnetic attitude, befitting the title that she truly deserves. Opal is the teen that I wish I was, and seeing how she grew in this story made me admire her even more.

That being said, Arvin Ahmadi delivered a fantastic sophomore novel in the form of Girl Gone Viral. The fantastic flow of his writing style will leave readers on the edge of their seats while clutching onto its pages. Its titular character Opal Hopper is strong and will-powered, yet still had the room to grow and challenge her own beliefs. It is a wonderful book filled with the scary possibilities of where the technology of the future can lead us to, but it also delivers to a point where it deeply reflects our current state. I applaud this novel for being audacious and bold for tackling social issues that deeply affect today’s society. If you are looking to start reading science fiction, look no further because this one is here to deliver.

Please do note the following trigger warnings: Death, attempted suicide, and depression

Arvin Ahmadi grew up outside Washington, DC. He graduated from Columbia University and has worked in the tech industry. When he’s not reading or writing books, he can be found watching late-night talk show interviews and editing Wikipedia pages. Down and Across is his first novel.

Much love and thanks to Bookworms Unite PH for hosting this amazing tour. Follow the rest of the tour here (will be linking posts once their tour stops are up):

May 16

JM at Book Freak Revelations (Official launch)

May 17

Bianca at The Ultimate Fangirl (hey, you’re here!)

Kate at Your Tita Kate

May 18

Pam at The Girl Who Cried Books

Zia at Accio Blog

May 19

Karina at Afire Pages

May 20

Marie at Drizzle and Hurricane Books

Alexia at The Bookworm Daydreamer

May 21

JM at Book Freak Revelations

Hazel at Stay Bookish

May 22

Miel at Bookish and Awesome

Salve at Cuckoo for Books

May 23

Inah at The Bibliophile Confessions

Simant at Flipping Thru The Pages

May 24

Kate at Reading Through Infinity

Carmel at Bookish Caramel

Are you excited to read Girl Gone Viral? Are you giddy to experience some virtual reality action? What are some of your favorite science fiction books?

Twitter || Goodreads || Letterboxd || MyAnimeList

Enlightenment Blog Tour (Excerpt)

Welcome to another stop for the Enlightenment Blog Tour hosted by Kate at Your Tita Kate. As a giddy fangirl game and all up for Philippine myths and legends, I was beyond excited to participate in this lovely tour. As such, this book promises a whole lot of action and your much needed dose of magical realism. With the modern take added on creatures from our own, it is easy to gravitate and appreciate this story.

While I will not be sharing my full thoughts on this book, I will be sharing an excerpt for you, dear reader. Read on to get a glimpse of the world behind Enlightenment.

Title: Enlightenment

Author: Reno Ursal

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mythology

ISBN: 098444081X

Date Published: 14th of March 2019

Series: Book One of the Bathala Series

Publisher: Pacific Boulevard

Buy it on: Amazon | Barnes & NobleThe Book Depository

Add to Goodreads

Summary:

“Enlightenment” is the first book in The Bathala Series, inspired by the beautiful folklore of the Philippines. This is the coming of age journey of Filipina-American Dorothy Dizon and transfer student Adrian Rosario, who teeter between friendship and intimacy throughout the novel.

“Enlightenment” introduces Dorothy as an 18 year old high school student in the United States, learning through Adrian about the mysterious folklore that binds them to the obscure history of the Philippines. She realizes that supernatural forces are no defense for a consuming love, a love that has her lean on her best friend for support, the beautiful Stella De Guzman. Adrian is a blood-eating Danag warrior sent to protect Dorothy from unseen enemies of his secret society in the Philippines, a society that changed the course of history prior to Spanish colonization. Adrian’s doubts about Dorothy are put to the test until the final moment when he feels a connection he could never predict. Together, Dorothy and Adrian experience a metamorphosis of historic proportions, a metamorphosis that changes their souls.

Chapter 6: Adrian

Living among humans wasn’t bad, except for having to protect a girl in Sin City. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

The casinos easy money was impossible to access when pretending to be an eighteen-year-old kid. And since eighteen-year-olds aren’t allowed to gamble in Vegas, I was out of luck. The adrenaline rush came from defeating the odds. My ability to predict the probability of things was considered a subtle intuition for my kind. But in Vegas, I could profit from the casinos and return home with something to talk about. Stupid human laws.

It wasn’t about making money, the most useless invention ever created. The greenback a valuable commodity? Anyone with half a brain knew money was simply pictures and numbers printed on paper! From trees! The real commodities were platinum, gold and silver stored deep in earth’s core. But humans still hadn’t realized the value of utopian wealth. Society’s sense of value was strictly tied to one’s annual gross income.

The row of lockers shook when I slammed my locker door. As the vibration dissipated, a nervous energy resonated behind me. The girl. Dorothy’s crooked smile disappeared as soon as we locked eyes. Based on the extra shine reflecting off her forehead, she looked like she was perspiring. Her hair was in that same ponytail—her bangs now to the side—giving her a different glow than yesterday. She walked past me athletically, her hair bouncing with each step. The smell of artificially flavored berries lingered in the air from her perfume.

Conscious of my strength, I ground my teeth to keep from overwhelming her. Dorothy looked back and our eyes connected again before she entered her first-hour classroom, not bothering to look back at the door.

I stared at the hallway’s linoleum floor, wishing I had the willpower to balance my energy. I hadn’t given her enough space to perceive me without feeling a connection. Yet she smiled at me. Didn’t she? Why did she look away when I smiled at her? My influence over emotions should have affected her, but she had the strength to break free. Maybe I pulled back too much?

And that’s when an staggering frustration overtook me. Humans were emotional, crying and whining over things like money and love. History had proven mortals didn’t know the true significance of their existence. And now, after the nightclub incident, Dorothy had somehow tapped into her ancestry that humans would consider to be a Filipino cultural one, not able to see that race was a facade that hid our truest form. There was no doubt the truth would shock them.

But it wasn’t my place to argue over the human condition. The only thing to worry about was protecting Dorothy Dizon. She had nearly suffocated a guy at the club, which sent signals to us in Mandalagan. Now I had to stay focused in case Sitan had received the same signals.

She glanced into her chemistry book as her teacher closed the classroom door. I went on to my class a few doors down, still wondering how she managed to look away from me in the first place.

Reno Ursal is a Filipino American author who received an English B.A. from The University of Michigan and resides in Northern California. He is the epitome of a familiar U.S. immigrant story when his parents moved to the States from the Philippines (by way of Guyana) in 1974 in search of a better life. He grew up in a small Northern Michigan town as his parents established themselves in their new life. His summer trips to Cebu kept him connected to his Filipino family. The hikes up the mountain from his ancestral home in Catmon had his imagination swirling with ideas, especially with the legends of duwendes and other creatures of Filipino folklore.

Reno was an active reader growing up and started writing during his participation in the Huron Shores Writing Institute in high school. When he took an Asian Pacific American Literature course taught by Dr. Stephen Sumida at University of Michigan, the idea of writing a Filipino American story stuck at the back of his mind. Life moved fast after college. He met a girl named Lynette in California. They married in 2000 and became proud parents of three 2nd generation Filipino American children. He had a full-time job and less time to write, but found time burning the midnight oil. His first novel “The Three Promises” was written when his kids were babies. This novel is currently an unpublished novel, but spawned the hunger to write another novel entitled “The Last Remaining.” Many drafts later, the title changed to “Enlightenment.”

Want to discuss more about Philippine myths and legends? There will be a Twitter chat on March 30, 2019 just for this lovely book. Mark your calendars and join in on the fun!

Have you put Enlightenment on your TBRs yet? What books with rich fantasy settings derived from myths and legends have you read?

Twitter || Goodreads || Letterboxd || MyAnimeList

International Blog Tour: Bloom (Review + Playlist)

Before Reading:

The graphic novels in my pantheon are at a staggering all time low. While I am a manga person, I never seem to have that spark of a connection with the illustrated novels out in the market. All of that changed in 2018 though. I was lucky enough to be able to read not one, but two graphic novels with LGBT themes. This novel was one of them. I was drawn to the calm exterior and the blue-green undertones, but I truly did not know what to expect with this book. It is becoming an ‘inside joke’ here that I really like judging books based on their covers, and in all honesty, this book became a subject of that partial indecisiveness.

Lucky for me, I was proven wrong and I found the perfect book to read on a hot November day.

29225589Title: Bloom

Author: Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau

Genre: Graphic Novel, LGBT, Sequential Art

ISBN: 1626726418

Date Published: 12th of February 2019

Series: None

Publisher: First Second

Buy it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository

Add this book on Goodreads

Summary:

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band―if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

Writer Kevin Panetta and artist Savanna Ganucheau concoct a delicious recipe of intricately illustrated baking scenes and blushing young love, in which the choices we make can have terrible consequences, but the people who love us can help us grow.

After Reading:

~ I’m a case of emotions ~ and again, it is unlikely for someone like me to finish a book within a day. I could have finished this book within a day, but I reckoned that it is also a book that I need to slowly dance through.

As a part of the tour, I received a physical ARC of this book. Huge thanks to Macmillan International for providing copies for the tour. This does not affect my review and all of the opinions and thoughts reflected here are my own.

Bloom made me realize that I am missing out on young adult graphic novels out on the market. In the literal sense, it is a refreshing read – a palette cleanser from the usual heavy books in the contemporary genre. Simply put, it is extremely easy to fall in love summery read.

Let me tell you of the tale of how I fell in love with a book. This story is simply one of the best as it satisfies my love for slow-burn romances, angst, family dynamics, and character development. The art style and the flow of the story can easily get you hooked, but it’s the self-discovery and the character interactions that makes you want to stay.

Our main characters Ari and Hector are easy to root for. There is that glimmer in their eyes when they do what they love. Ari is harder to grasp in general because of his stubbornness, but I loved him more than Hector (who I will get to in a minute). Probably due to my bias of his character, but Ari had more room to grow. He was lost, questioning if he really wants to pursue music or continue with the norm of baking for the family business. He’s lashing out like a normal teenager who makes incredulous decisions, which makes him relatable and dynamic. I don’t know if it’s a preference, but characters like Ari are the ones I usually resonate with the most. I can see why people may not like him as much as his love interest, but Ari being one realistic bean is just the cherry on top. He’s complex, he has a lot of emotions, and he has semi-horrible taste in friends. Yet what’s not to love? Hector on the other hand, is the lucky one who knows what he wants. But underneath that soft exterior is still a guy also discovering himself. It is so darn easy to live for the passion displayed by Hector’s eagerness and happy-go-lucky nature. Together, they make a wonderful team. The contrast and comparison in their personalities is what makes this book burst with life. The sequences where they are together can make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. What started out as a beautiful friendship turned out to be something more.

The art style is simply magnetic and mesmerizing, truthfully living up to the summer love contained in this book. I love the utilization of color to convey emotions. It is still evident when there’s a prominent reaction or feeling, which makes the art so much more powerful in connecting with its readers. I am honestly head-over-heels with the background, the little details, and its dialogue.

Bloom is not your ordinary graphic novel. It’s so much more. It’s not just a love story. It’s about family, friendship, exes, moving, and looking forward to what the future holds. It’s amazing how something so heartfelt can be considered cute and adorable. Props to both authors for creating an inspiring story.

Overall, Bloom is a fantastic story. It has heart and soul, key elements to note when reading a contemporary novel that will latch itself onto you. Delighfully charming on its own right, and with equally amazing style and art – the one book that you have to put on your radar in 2019. If you’re intrigued to read about two boys baking, exploring relationship dynamics with family and friends, and an amazing story set in the summer, this one’s for you.

Pro tip though: you may get a slight (or massive) craving for that delectable sour dough bread. Trust me, I was lucky enough to live near a bakery.

Know more about my rating system here.

Want a playlist to remind you about those hues? I made a playlist specifically for Bloom. Album art design included, as I made it prior to curating the playlist. Happy listening!

kevin_

Connect with Kevin!

Website || Twitter

Kevin Panetta is a Washington, DC based comic book and graphic novel writer. He has written licensed children’s comics from Boom! Studios. His first creator-owned series, Zodiac Starforce, debuted from Dark Horse Comics in August 2015.

200057865

Connect with Savanna!

Twitter || Instagram || Tumblr

Savanna Ganucheau is a comic artist from New Orleans, Louisiana with a BFA in Film from The University of New Orleans. She made her start in comics by self-publishing and selling her work in small comic book shops around New Orleans. Alongside creating the popular webcomic George and Johnny, Savanna’s artwork has appeared in notable publications including Jem and the Holograms, Adventure Time Comics, and Lumberjanes. Her first graphic novel Bloom is published by First Second.

A big thank you to JM at Book Freak Revelations for hosting this wonderful tour and Macmillan International for providing us with galleys.

Follow the rest of the tour here (list will be updated once the tour stops are posted):

Marie at Drizzle and Hurricane Books

Anna at Reading Peaches

Bianca at The Ultimate Fangirl (hey, you’re here)

JM at Book Freak Revelations

Kate at Your Tita Kate

Jessica at Endless Chapters

Kate at Reading Through Infinity

Jessica at Endless Chapters

 

Are you excited to read Bloom? Do you live for food in books? What are some of your favorite tropes to see in books?

Twitter || Goodreads || Letterboxd || MyAnimeList

PH Blog Tour: Empress of All Seasons (Review)

Before Reading:

Let me just state the obvious here: The Ultimate Fangirl is not exactly known for featuring fantasy books. It’s a genre that is quite literally out of my comfort zone. Sure you see me review some big fantasy books out there, but they’re not exactly my cuppa. It’s a either a really huge hit or a gigantic miss. But let 2018 be the 360 degree turn. Ever since Shealea at That Bookshelf Bitch recommended this particular tome on her Books On The Rice fantasy feature, I immediately added this book on my TBR. Seeing it just made a sudden realization struck me. “Hey, maybe I just need to be closer to what I know to actually ease into this genre.”

Empress of All Seasons is the perfect place to start. It’s inspired by Japanese folk lore, and heck I know a kappa when I see one. Years of watching anime and actually researching about the legendary creatures of Japan has prepared me for this. With that in mind, I truly hope I can get out of my comfort zone this time and not exactly dislike it.

(Spoiler: Yeah, I think this theory of mine is true.)

book_

37569318Title: Empress of All Seasons

Author: Emiko Jean

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

ISBN: 0544530942

Date Published: 6th of November 2018

Series: None

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Buy it on: Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | The Book Depository

Summary:

In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.

After Reading:

It has been a while since an ending satisfied me like that. I live for these empowering endings. I genuinely thought that it’s going in one direction but it kept me on my toes the entire time. It took me a while to finish because I had to put it down and I remembered that I have to breathe. NOW THAT IS HOW YOU DO IT, FOLKS. And it’s a standalone! (Honestly I can’t believe it either.) I felt like I climbed a mountain (pun intended). Okay I’ll stop with the jokes. In all seriousness, Empress of All Seasons is a beautiful book. It was wonderfully written and there’s no denying that gushing over it and making everyone want to read it is now a goal I have in life.

“EMPRESS OF ALL SEASONS IS AMAZING AND YOU NEED IT IN YOUR LIFE. THAT’S IT. THANKS FOR COMING TO MY TED TALK.”

final_thoughts

As a part of the tour, I received an e-ARC of this book. Huge thanks to HMH Teen for providing copies for the tour. This does not affect my review and all of the opinions and thoughts reflected here are my own.

While this is not the first review where I am simply baffled with what I want to say, I hope to do my best with the words in my arsenal. In the best way to put it, there were so many things that went down in Empress of All Seasons that I might not be able to fully review it and actually deliver what is in store for you, dear reader.

Being the blind reader that I am, which is something I do with the majority of the books I take a keen interest upon, I did not know what to expect asides from these major factors:

  1. It is a book set in Japan and it incorporated a lot about the folklore of the country.
  2. I guessed that it obviously involved seasons. (Gee Sherlock, that’s some amazing deducing.)
  3. There will be political aspects in the discussion seeing as it is a competition to be the Empress of Honoku.

Sure enough, all of these expectations have been fully met. Going into the book blindly was an even better decision because I have no idea how it will all unfold. So to avoid rambling like a mad man, let’s start with the technicalities.

For one, Empress of All Season was smashing because of Emiko Jean’s writing style and world-building. These two components complimented each other in a way because the writing style hooks you in and it engulfs you to enter the world at the same time. The descriptive narratives were enough to give you the full picture of what is happening, what our main characters are feeling, and the overall tone of the scenes described in the chapter. It is easy to just loose yourself in this world, but it does not shy away from its imperfections. At the same time, it is fast-paced and mindful of the time frame of the story. It holds its grip on you emotionally, especially in the beautifully tragic descriptions of various emotions felt by each of our leads and the people around them.

Which leads me to my next point: Mari, Taro, and Akira whose perspectives we see within this novel. There was a stark difference with the tones of their voices, but equally young, a lit bit naive and optimistic in general. Since the story eases you in, it was quite clear on what their motives were. A lot of their actions came from what was expected from them, and it’s quite complicated to actually explain each of their sides. Rest assured though, they are all intertwined. All of them had the tone of conflict in their voice, but it was quite evident how they each grew and developed as a character. All of them were rounded amidst a cast of characters with multiple motives. Mari having to hide her yokai form to compete and win the title of Empress, Taro being shut and cold like the machines he creates but suddenly taking a keen interest in Mari, and Akira trying to prove to himself that he is a mere half-mortal and half-yokai.

(I am really doing my best not to spoil anything why is this so hard.)

Now of course with two boys and a girl in the mix, there is a possibility of a love triangle. However, this triad begs to differ. I want to keep this review spoiler-free, but the triangle that played out in this novel is not your average love triangle. In fact, the subject of love shows itself in various forms. It also delivers something new (well at least for me), because it was something else and quite sensible when you think about it.

Lastly, there is no denying that Empress of All Seasons is such a lovely book because of it taking inspiration from Japanese mythology and culture. The plot plays out like an epic – a story that is one for the ages. With side glances to stories about their gods and goddesses, it pans out like a marvelous parallel. The many yokai mentioned in the story made the world bigger and richer in lore. It made me have a larger appreciation and respect to the culture the story is derived from. I would definitely want to read more about the various gods, goddesses, deities, and creatures that shaped Japan’s mythology.

There are so many takeaways that you can get that is very much reflected on the author’s culture. The book talks about loyalty to family and one’s clan, upholding the honor of one’s family, fighting for what is right with the people who have your back. There is also the incorporation of heavy issues such as slavery, which is seen with the yokai being forced to wear collars by the emperor. The role reversal of Mari – and not Taro – having to prove herself worthy of conquering all of the seasons is another note that makes this novel a must-read.

Honestly the only problem that I had was that the novel had a slow start and there’s no denying that it is a little bit hard to grasp what the world seems to be. But other than that and as I mentioned before, once you get hooked with the writing and the anticipation there’s no turning back. It will easily make your heart race and will leave you gasping.

Empress of All Seasons is a jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, and stunning novel that goes straight to the point. It’s the perfect fantasy story to sink your teeth into if you’re craving for a vast world that will make you fall in love with its rich lore. I would gladly recommend it to my fellow readers who wants to give fantasy a fair shot, especially if you’re extra scared in committing yourself to a series. This one’s for you my friend. There is a lot to grasp, but engross yourself in this fantastic standalone.

Honestly I know my review doesn’t give the book half the justice it deserves. But it is one of the best books that I have read for 2018, and I genuinely hope that you’ll have a grand reading time like I did.

author_

When Emiko is not writing, she is reading. Most of her friends are imaginary. Before she became a writer she was an entomologist (fancy name for bug catcher), a candle maker, a florist, and most recently a teacher. She lives in Washington with her husband and children (unruly twins). She loves the rain.

Connect with Emiko!

Website || Twitter || Goodreads

Need more convincing to read Empress of All Seasons? Follow the rest of the tour here:

November 12 

Rafael of The Royal Polar Bear Reads

Carmel of Bookablereads

Jonathan of Wander with Jon

Nikki of Take Me Away

November 13

Vivian of Vanilla Angel Pages

Jen of Jen D Bibliophile

Jenny of Levicorpvs Blog

Hanamae of The Wraith Reads

Cristina of Girl in the Pages

November 14

Shaine of Wanderer in Neverland

Akisha of akithroughbooks

Bianca of The Ultimate Fangirl (hey, you’re here!)

Princess of  Princess and Pages

November 15

Leilanee of ofsparksandmagick

Salwa of Salwa’s Reading Solace

Dexter of Dexterous_Totalus

Avery of B for Bookslut

Kat from Novels and Waffles

November 16
November 17

Myrth of Cliste Bella

Justine of Bookish Wisps

Athena of The Night Faerie

Ramnele of Bookdragonism

Erika of The Nocturnal Fey

Huge thanks to Carmel at Bookablereads and Rafael at The Royal Polar Bear Reads for hosting this lovely tour and HMH Teen for providing us e-ARCs and making this tour possible.

Now the real question remains:

Are you excited to have a blast reading this lovely novel?

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PH Blog Tour: Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (Review + Giveaway)

Before Reading:

I have way too many controversial thoughts when it came to the first book of this series. But we are not here to be mean because this time it’s all about the heroine that we have all been rooting for. This time, it’s all about the girl on fire. Wait… no. Figuratively, a phoenix is a bird that rises from the ashes. So Jade is a girl on a fire. Alright, move over Katniss Everdeen. It’s Princess Jade’s time in the spotlight, and I really truly hope that she delivers. I am going into this book as optimistic as I can be, and I hope that I can overcome whatever fear that I may have for this book.

(Spoiler alert: I did. It was glorious.)

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BlazingPhoenix CoverTitle: Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix

Author: Julie C. Dao

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling

ISBN: 1524738336

Date Published: 6th of November 2018

Series: Rise of the Empress #2

Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin Random House)

Buy it on: National Bookstore Hardcover | National Bookstore PaperbackAmazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | The Book Depository

Summary:

This fairy tale retelling lives in a mystical world inspired by the Far East, where the Dragon Lord and the Serpent God battle for control of the earthly realm; it is here that the flawed heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns finally meets her match. An epic fantasy finale to the Rise of the Empress novels.

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with breathtaking pain and beauty, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is filled with dazzling magic, powerful prose, and characters readers won’t soon forget.

Fans of Stealing Snow, Red Queen, and The Wrath and the Dawn will hungrily devour this page-turning read.

After Reading:

I honestly wanted more from this story. Jade don’t leave us yet! Honestly if this book was split in half and we had to wait for another one, I would have gladly waited! It was really great and fleshed out. I want more of Jade’s Feng Lu. *cries in a corner*

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As a part of the tour, I received an advanced reading copy of this book. Huge thanks to Penguin Random House for providing copies for the tour. This does not affect my review and all of the opinions and thoughts reflected here are my own.

To be fully honest, I was left in the state of being in the middle when I finished reading Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. I was furious because I simply did not want to believe that the kingdom of Feng Lu is left in the hands of such a cruel empress. I fell in the other side of the spectrum that loathed the anti-hero because everyone seemed to love her. But when it was confirmed that the second book in the series was going to focus on retelling “Snow White”, I was completely on board. I rooted for Princess Jade the moment she was hinted to exist. Upon reading this novel in its entirety, it fairly exceeded my expectations and I still loved and respected our heroine.

Let’s tackle some technical aspects first: the one thing that I loved the most about this series is its writing. Julie C. Dao’s writing style is simply magnetic, that even someone like me who’s not really into fantasy was able to inhale its story like a madman. A book with fantastical elements is out of my comfort zone. But I was able to ease in the world of Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix because her writing style can immerse a reader into the world of Feng Lu easily.

Meanwhile, the vast world in which the story is set in became richer with the travels of our heroes. While you can read Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix without reading its predecessor, having context on what went down in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns will surely leave you with a richer imagination of what the kingdom of Feng Lu is like. It was enriching to read about how vast their kingdom is through Jade’s adventure: from the deepest parts of the forest, to the depths of mighty rivers and lone islands, and deserts that go beyond what the eye can see. There was so much to explore, and it can easily make a reader giddy with excitement.

Now let’s get to our main point. In the case of its plot and characters, it was easier to get invested with Jade’s story. As I’ve noticed, the plot of the Empress series is deeply intertwined with the decisions that our leads make. When it came to Jade, she was easy to root for. She had this charming charisma, one characteristic much expected from a princess. She was also fearless and driven by her love for the people around her. Seeing her grow as the story progressed made me intensely root for her, as each page reveals how she dealt with the trickiest of situations in her adventure to save Feng Lu. Not to be biased but I see Jade as the exact opposite of Xifeng, which is probably the reason why I cannot help but cheer this girl on until the very last page. Speaking of the devil incarnate Xifeng, my aversion to her existence is still pretty much evident. She remains to be a character I live to despise. But the silver lining in every situation though: A great hero has an equally great villain. It contributed to what made this novel fantastic. With the tricky balance of good vs. evil, it made the plot similar to a rocky mountain terrain; it has its ups and downs when it came to the challenges that our heroes had to face, yet upon reaching the end of the trail, the view is breathtakingly magnificent.

Equally so, the friends that Jade gained in this novel, Wren and Koichi, were the absolute friends that anyone can ask for. Similar to Jade, they were loyal and fierce and would do anything for the people that they love. What made their group dynamic was simply because of their common goal: they all had the same motives. This is what made their bond and faithfulness to each other stronger. Though at times they clashed, their personalities complimented each other. Their equal love for their kingdom radiated throughout the pages of the novel. Their crew gained more people, but I intend to keep this review spoiler-free. Needless to say that lingering questions and presumptions made after finishing Forest of a Thousand Lanterns were answered thoroughly and directly.

Lastly, what I appreciated reading in this novel is the incorporation of the different stories that Jade and her companions utilized upon embarking on their journey to reclaim her place on the throne. It added more depth, a larger motivation, and a richer environment to the tall tale being unfolded. Somehow it made Feng Lu tangible and as silly as this may sound, may be true in a blink of an eye. There was a focus on how the stories reflected what their kingdom was. Seeing how Jade had so much respect for her history and the stories that shaped her nation was particularly endearing and is a sheer evidence of why she deserved to be in a place of power. It can truly make a reader respect and admire her.

With that said, there still are some noticeable flaws within this novel. While I truly loved it’s entirety, I found it somewhat predictable and has a tendency to lie on convenience. Although, those predictable aspects of the book somehow redeemed Forest of A Thousand Lanterns, but some of those aspects could have been expanded.

Nevertheless, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is the light to the darkness of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. The stark contrast between its two leads have never been more apparent. With that, it truly became a series worth tuning in on. Both retellings were beautiful in their own rights, but it was the ultimate conclusion of this duology that made me root for it till the end. A pristine ending fit for an empress. All the hails and praises for this marvelous novel is more than deserved. Highly recommended if you’re craving for a refreshing take on the tale of Snow White (apples included).

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(Know more about my rating system here.)

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Julie C. Dao

Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England.

Connect with Julie!

Website || Facebook || Twitter || Instagram || Goodreads

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PH readers! Want to win a proof copy of Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao? Click on the giveaway or here if you are not redirected.

Want more blogger action and reviews to hook you in? Follow the tour schedule here:

November 5th

Erika at The Nocturnal Fey

Rafael at The Royal Polar Bear Reads

Soleil at Queen Soleil

November 6th

Jennilyn at Rurouni Jenni Reads

Erica Mae at Living a Hundred Lives

Jen at Jen D Bibliophile

November 7th

Camille at Camillea Reads

Bianca at The Ultimate Fangirl (hey, you’re here!)

Vivian at Vanilla Angel Pages

November 8th

Myrth at Cliste Bella

Jenny at Levicorpvs Blog

Dani at dmcireads

November 9th

Shaine at Wanderer in Neverland

Leslie at Bibliophilekid

November 10th

Joel at Descendant of Poseidon Reads

Jon at Wander with Jon

Karina at Afire Pages

Huge thanks to Erika at The Nocturnal Fey and Rafael at The Royal Polar Bear Reads for hosting this tour and to Penguin Random House for providing the copies for this tour.

So, now the big question is: Are you excited to read Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix?

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Why So… Convenient? || Forest of A Thousand Lanterns Review

Before Reading:

There is always a thrill in reading something out of your comfort zone. When it comes to fantasies, I either extremely love it or hate it. In a way, I felt that Forest of A Thousand Lanterns seems like a fresh take, and me being the oh-so lazy synopsis reader that I am, was smitten by the highlighted words on every blurb that I read about it: East Asian setting and Evil Queen origin story. And above everything else, everyone was raving about it. So me being me, wanting not to pass up the opportunity to read, went in and I was expecting to be blown away. This is why expectations can disappoint us sometimes.

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Forest of A Thousand Lanterns CoverTitle: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Author: Julie C. Dao

Genre: Fantasy, Retelling

Date Published: 10th of October 2017

Series: Rise of the Empress #1

Publisher: Philomel Books

Summary:

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

After Reading:

Well, at least we can confirm that something was triggered inside me after finishing it. If I were to base it on the spur of my emotions alone due to the twists and turns that the book headed, Forests of A Thousand Lanterns would have received a near-perfect score from me. I found the story fantastic. But there was something off. There was this nagging voice inside of my head that kept on saying, “Did you really like it? Think about it. What would you say?”. So I reconsidered, since it is my duty as a book blogger to be honest and subjective with my reviews. In the end I decided to give in to the nagging voice, and I rated it as honestly as I could. Right there I realized: I had too much to complain about this book.

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I received an unsolicited digital advanced reader’s copy of this book from Penguin Random House. This did not affect my opinions about the book and it’s characters in any way.

In perspective, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an interesting take on the origins of the Evil Queen. Julie C. Dao has a pleasant writing style and I found the setting brilliant. Julie’s writing style is interesting in a way. Though it was a bit hard to get into at first, it becomes steady at a point. Once I found the rhythm, it was easy for my eyes to stay glued on the book. Meanwhile, the setting for this story became more extravagant as the story progressed, reflecting on our main character’s journey to become the Empress of Feng Lu. It started simple, then increasingly became more magical and stunning. The setting was rich, and imagining it can bring joy to the reader. The book also featured a colorful cast, coming and going as the beat of the story drummed to its climax.

I enjoyed the second part more, as it unraveled answers and mysteries that I had been questioning during the first act. It sparked a burning passion inside the head of our main anti heroine, to take the lead and do what she can to achieve the destiny that she is entitled to.

However, there are a few setbacks. I have some unpopular opinions about this book.

The array of characters felt like a double-edged sword. On one hand, you get to read about a whole cast revolving around our main character. But on the other, they also need to be handled properly. I felt like some of the characters had the potential to have an arc that could have been developed, yet they were not given the chance to do so. Due to this fact, they felt very flat and two-dimensional. This frustrates me because they were truly fascinating characters. I could feel them moving, animated to unfold a story. I was invested on seeing them grow alongside our main character. Instead, they remained under developed and eventually casually discarded. It was like they were just there for our main lead’s convenience. And speaking of our main lead, I thoroughly disliked Xifeng. Though the story was written in third-person perspective, her moral dilemma felt like it was just there to prolong the agony. I like that she took chances to unravel the fate that was destined for her, truly. Yet I felt that she was apathetic, only having concern when the situation is about herself, and her inner thoughts were never concerned with the people around her. Like the others, this is why she felt two dimensional and her actions predictable.

The plot, I could say, felt terribly convenient for Xifeng. There was no struggle, no nothing. A few bumps here and there, but that is just about it. Why not just hand everything to her in a silver platter? I also found the romance involved in this story to be cringe worthy. It lacked an emotional system and depth. There was no spark in the words uttered by our two lovers, and no matter how many times they said they cared for each other, the back of my head says “Really?”

This story actually caused an inner conflict in me. Since it is an anti heroine story, did Julie actually succeed with this story by making me loathe Xifeng? Or did she want me to root for her, but in the obvious sense I did not?

When it comes down to it, I wanted to like this book. It was met with such high praise, so I set the bar on top. In a way, I want more books like these, rich in folklore from cultures that I am fascinated by. There some aspects that I liked, and there were glaring aspects that I loathed very much. Would I read the second book of this series? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.

(Know more about my rating system here.)

*sigh*

So, penny for your thoughts?

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