#Project14Lists: Best Books I Read In 2018

Welcome to another list! Wow, I actually continued posting. Yes, I’m aware that no amount of catching up can change the fact that I am failing this challenge. I’ve been a busy adult (huhu no I am not comfortable saying it) for the past few days. I had a hurricane of a Christmas, and I was basically depended on to do chores the entire weekend. Let me tell you, cleaning up dishes on Christmas is not fun especially when everyone seemed to just want to stuff themselves silly. Then after a long day, you just want to lie down and sleep. I just want to discuss about my favorite books gosh darn it. Where do I get the energy??

Anyways, rant over. It’s time to talk about books again, hooray! Since it’s already the 31st here in the PH, I decided that I will be posting two lists today for Project 14 Lists created by Shealea from That Bookshelf Bitch. The goal is to blog about lists, but I’m kinda failing here haha. Though I digress, I think this project made me think out of the box. Hence, I have a lot prepared for the next year without hopefully burning out and I received a lot of positive feedback with the posts I put up in participation of this event. While I was not able to share the posts I planned to put up, I’m optimistic that those will kickstart 2019 with a bang. Now, where were we? Right, of course it’s going to be all about the books and I am genuinely excited to be talking about my favorites for this year.

Analyzing it real quick, I love that this list is generally diverse and each book is quite unique. According to my stats, I rated 5 books with a will-save-from-a-fire status this year. One of them is a read that I’m not comfortable in sharing my feels on… yet, so I will only be tackling four specific titles today. Also, since I’m so extra, I have some graphics prepared! I thought, “Hey, why not design CD covers inspired by these books?” Because when a book inspires you so much, it’s easy to shower it with love. Plus, it’s cool to think about the possible songs that can be associated with these titles. Here are the best books that I read in 2018:

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

33294200Have you ever read a book so powerful and capable of delivering such a beautiful story in the form most endearing to you? That was The Poet X for me. Not only was it written in verse, but it exuded a driving and riveting story that speaks magnitude. Xiomara’s hauntingly beautiful story about finding her voice amidst the chaos of tradition, rules, and conventions easily made this novel a personal favorite of mine. With the writing bursting with the raw and purest emotions, it’s groundbreaking and deserving of all the awards that it has received. Never have I ever felt so strongly connected to a book like this one. It just spoke to me on a personal level and at the right moment. This book has inspired me so much that I decided to write my review in verse as well. Check out my full raving here.

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What If It's UsI still end up in a puddle of feels whenever I see or hear about this book. I’ve been itching to reread it since I was done reading it. (Count how many times Bianca says read.) That’s how good this book is for me. Nothing like magnetic and unputdownable writing to save me from the abyss of craving for a book I want to save from a fire. 2018 was a better year when it came to reading romance, and I was thankful for the type of relationship that Arrhur and Ben had. For one, it’s not picture perfect with the montage and everything. Two, they leave room to grow for each other. Finally, the ending that made my heart swell. It’s ridiculously rare for me to finish a book in a day – let alone a love story that’s 400+ pages long. Yet here we are and this book definitely surpassed all of my expectations and doubts. Read my full review here, and maybe have some earbuds at hand because this one’s accompanied with actual playlists.

Check, Please by Ngozi Ukazu

375345772018 really affirmed what I already knew about myself: I’m trash for stories as unique as Check, Please. It’s not common knowledge here on the blog, but I also love reading webcomics. They’re easy to read depending on the flow of the story, and you have a visual representation of what the characters look like. So when I heard that it was available online, I immediately jumped on the chance to read it. Now a public service reminder: Go do yourself a favor and update yourself with Ngozi’s fantastic work. Not only does it tackle hockey, but it also navigates through the topics of friendship, teamwork, and self-acceptance. Bitty’s pie-loving adorable self deserves all that is good in this world, and the slow burn romance makes you wonder if you should have been listening to Beyonce more. You’ll definitely fall in love with these characters faster than you can say “I can see your ha- YAAAAAAS THIS BOOK!” 😍😍😍

Bloom by Kevin Panetta & Savanna Ganucheau

29225589Yet another graphic novel about boys falling in love, this one easily got me hooked because of the gorgeous art style and the color scheme. Little did I know that I was breezing through it, and in every turn I fell in love. Honestly, what more can I say? It’s lightheartedly heartbreaking because for me, I felt for Ari as a teen discovering themselves. At the same time, I’m falling for Hector’s charm and perseverance. It’s a one-of-a-kind slowburn summer romance that can make readers giddy with the feels. Not only that, but all the talk about the family working and earning their keep from making bread is both a joy and a treat to read about, and the friendship dynamics ring true. Readers are in for a feast come 2019, because this will definitely be that one graphic novel that will send everyone in a frenzied hook.

There you have it! I had a blast making those covers and it definitely added to the overall feels that I have for these books. 2018, you’ve been a good reading year. The books on this list are definitely for keeps, and I truly hope you’ll have a blast reading should you pick up one of these reads.

What are some of your favorite reads for 2018?

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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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