Iron Widow | ARC Book Review + incoherent thoughts

Title: Iron Widow
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Publisher: Rock the Boat
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Where can I get this? Goodreads | Booktopia | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble
Recommended for: fans of unhinged, selfish protagonist, Poppy War (similiar to Rin—angry protagonist fighting in a war)
CW: death, war, torture, murder, reference to sexual assault (no on-page depiction), misogyny, suicide ideation, and alcohol depiction

Check out the Goodreads synopsis below!

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Upon finishing this book I was so incoherent. This was one of my highest anticipated read for 2021 and I’m at loss for words.

OKAY! Before I get into the review, here’s an original piece inspired by the book.
As I was telling my partner about this story, this song came into fruition.
They made this song and this is their interpretation (when Zetian gets out of the chrysalis).
I named the song “Rise from the Chrysalis”

Let’s do my typical Gush / Gripe and then I’ll get into more details with everything.

𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐇:
• Addictive to read. The writing style is simple and straight-forward.
• The relationship developing into a polyamorous relationship, exploring different avenues and boundaries of romantic love.
• I did like how this book made me think about it even a few days later. I love it when books do this.

𝐆𝐑𝐈𝐏𝐄:
• I didn’t feel grounded in the world. Despite this being in a new, vast world, I failed to see beyond the pages (this could be a me thing, though).
• Wish there were more development in the polyam.
• The take on “smashing the patriarchy” in this book.

𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐃𝐄𝐓𝐀𝐈𝐋𝐒

Characters

Wu Zetian: the protagonist, inspired by the only female emperor in Chinese history.
• Angry and unhinged
• pilots mecha
• looks mean, is mean


Li Shimin:
• replace the coffee with alcohol
• pilots the “Vermillion Bird”, is a mecha partner to Zetian
• looks mean, is a cinnamon roll


Gao Yizhi:
• blessed with good looks and money
• superpower is being rich
• looks like a cinnamon roll, can be mean

The Romance

I appreciate how this story develops a love triangle into a polyamorous relationship. I liked that. However, I wished the relationship had more depth into it. As readers, we witness the characters interact and develop however, I feel like the romance could have had more build up especially between everyone and Li Shimin. In saying that, I did like how it explored more avenues in love and to not be bound by just one person and have the ability, trust and openness.

World-building

I loved the premise of this story (sci-fi Chinese inspired world), however, I just wished there were more descriptions and world-building. I wasn’t too familiar with what chrysalis were and what they really looked like until I googled images. I do like straight-forward prose, but I didn’t feel grounded in the world whilst reading this.

Men = bad, women = bad (AKA my biggest gripe) (minor spoilers, ahoy!)

I just have a few qualms regarding Zetian and the narrative: whilst I’m aware this is fiction and Zetian nor the author is not here to “teach” the reader anything (a common emotional and mental burden for many minorities), I can’t help but question how this is a “smashing the patriarchy”.

This is supposed to be smashing down the patriarchy but I feel like it’s just killing evil men.

I failed to see how this was a feminist read because it does not bring women up. Zetian questions the world and the systematic evils whilst simultaneously looking down on other women, especially those who live a life that is viewed as a traditionally feminine role (being a mother, married, etc.). I thought the point of equality should be women could choose their paths in life “traditionally feminine” or not? Furthermore, there’s hardly any positive female relationships throughout this whole novel. Zetian speaks of love for her “Big Sister” (am unsure of her name) yet we the audience never experienced nor witnessed their relationship other than a few flashbacks here and there. How can this ring true to us? Despite Zetian being “for women”, she has very few positive female relationships and interactions. The majority of Zetian’s relationships with women are negative or end negatively. Furthermore, she looks down on others due to their choices (what about survival and social conditioning?) I do hope this means there’s room for growth or exploration in future novels.

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way was how the notion of traditional femininity (for example through the sister and the kind friend) is questioned then rejected and then deemed as “the bad choice”. Instead, reacting in anger and fully rejecting femininity is the “right answer”.

It feels so… binary. There’s no nuance. No discussion. Yes, perhaps finding true equality is to break down the systemic oppression and foundation. Perhaps the answer and the actionable steps will be messy. However, what Zetian truly wants is freedom and choice. Yet, she looks down on other women should they choose to marry or have children?

Also, there’s no discussion regarding her love interest’s complicity in this world. One killed his family due to a horrible circumstance, he feels bad about hurting women… The other, well, his mother was killed by his evil father so naturally, men = bad. Finding Zetian and her morals made them realise, that yes, women do get a say???!!

Whilst there is a passing acknowledgement of privilege and guilt of both her love interests… that’s it?

In a world where everyone is indoctrinated to think and therefore act a certain way, where did they gain this insight? I can understand Zetian’s thought process as she’s endured the hardship. But the men? They are most comfortable in this world. They have the most to gain. Especially, the rich love interest. How did he dismantle his thinking? His mother died? Right, that would fuel his fire to hate his father and to jump onto the father issues bandwagon…

Let’s talk about the family dynamics.
From Zetian’s point of view, her family has failed her due to their complicity and their treatment towards her. In response to her family failing Zetian, she kills them. I can’t get over how Zetian kills her own family. In cold blood. Yes, her family wasn’t good to her. I’m not here to defend either action, because there is no excuse for abuse. Let me reiterate: there is no excuse for abuse.

I wanted to scrutinise Zetian and her relationship between her mother (and grandmother). Zetian states she would want it better for her mother and grandmother… but let’s look a little deeper, shall we?? Zetian states her mother plays the role of being subservient to the father.

“It’s not about having it easy. It’s about keeping peace in the family.”

Zetian’s mother to Zetian

“She’d [the mother] step cautiously around him [the father] as if he were a bomb, worrying about her every move for fear of setting him off.”

Hmmm… this quote and scenario reminds me of abuse… Walking on eggshells with your partner, being afraid, not being able to be open, difficult to say “no”, partner dictates everything… Yeah, it sounds like abuse. Perhaps the mother is a victim of abuse and remains complicit in it towards Zetian. However, it’s important to note how hard it is to get out. So hard!! How can her mother and grandmother break such a vicious traumatic cycle?? With no therapy or support or knowledge? In a world where women solely rely on men (their husbands), how will they survive? How? Zetian wants her mum to create a scene, to fight back for her. But how? There’s no resources. There’s no help. Whilst Zetian may not be afraid to die, that doesn’t mean other people want to. Zetian vilifies/looks down on her mother (which, sounds like the mother is a victim of either domestic/emotional/mental abuse). There’s no redemption for them. Just death. I…

“You tell them over and over, until it’s the only truth they’re capable of living.”

The rage is natural and understandable. However, challenging and breaking down systems with cold blood murder and no remorse or afterthought? I really don’t think killing people in cold blood is the answer. Because it begs the question, who gives you authority to deem who dies and who doesn’t?

“It is not me who is wrong. It’s everyone else.”

Zetian

Whilst I enjoyed this, these characters are definitely not the heroes.

I really am convinced that this is a villain origin story, in which I don’t mind. In fact, I love selfish female main characters!!! But don’t sell me that this is how you smash the patriarchy—with NO rationale logic, no compassion or empathy for anyone but your love interests.

Zetian is flawed and unhinged. As an audience, we see her wrath and rage. It’s palpable. It’s understandable, even. However, I don’t think she’s someone we should deem a hero. I cannot agree killing innocent is the answer to smashing the patriarchy (friends, this is a war crime help). Nor do I agree with the whole hypocrisy of it all.

“I’ve destroyed the Kaihuang watchtower. I did not care who was in there.”

Zetian

The thing is, I don’t mind questionable morals and morally grey characters (love unhinged and selfish characters) but what really unsettled me was the fact that the narrative never questions Zetian’s actions or morals. Instead, we’re positioned to think that every move Zetian calls for a cheer and that THIS is how you break down the patriarchy. Yay! You killed your only female friend because she betrayed you (never mind the fact that she had her two toddler children held as hostages). Yay! You killed your own mother! Yay! You tortured and killed a man! Yay! You tore down a whole fucking tower with people in it. Innocents? What’s that! War crime? Never heard of her!!!!

There is literally this quote right here:

“New bargain: defy us, and all of you and your family will die!”

Whoa, what the fuck.

For a topic as complex as breaking down systematic misogyny and the patriarchy, I feel like there needs to be a range of discussion, a messy journey of learning and unlearning and questioning everything including yourself. Everyone needs to take the internal journey and intentionally address their own bias and comfort. Unfortunately, this did not happen to that extent throughout the novel.

There’s no nuance. There’s no conversation. Just death.

Despite my gripes, I do hope that this means there’s consequences and growth in future novels. I am curious to see where this will go.

𝐈𝐧 𝐚 𝐧𝐮𝐭𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐥, 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞:
✔ Pacific Rim / Zoids / Gundam Wing / Neon Genesis Evangelion / mecha vibes
✔ Poly love triangle (finally!!)
✔ Unhinged main character taking on the patriarchy with her own bare hands in her own manner
✔ inspired by East Asian mythology and historical figures

𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐬: misogyny, sexism

𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐟𝐨𝐫: fans of unhinged, selfish protagonist, Poppy War (similar character dynamics—angry protagonist fighting in a war)

𝐂𝐖: death, war, torture, murder, reference to sexual assault (no on-page depiction), misogyny, suicide ideation, and alcohol depiction

Thank you to @NetGalley and the publisher (Rock the Boat) for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

𝘗𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘦: 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘲𝘶𝘰𝘵𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘤𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘢𝘯 𝘈𝘥𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘙𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘊𝘰𝘱𝘺 (𝘈𝘙𝘊) 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘢𝘺 𝘣𝘦 𝘴𝘶𝘣𝘫𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦 𝘶𝘱𝘰𝘯 𝘱𝘶𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯.

Have you read this? Will you be reading Iron Widow?
If you’ve read this, what’s your thoughts on it?

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Jade Fire Gold | Book Review + Tour

Hello and welcome to my stop. Here, this post will include a review, creative content (music), and favourite quotes.
Many thanks to @CaffeineTours and Harper Teen for the opportunity take part in this tour.

You can check out the Tour Schedule here.

UK edition
Art: Aaron Munday
US edition
Art: GUWEIZ


Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June CL Tan
Publisher: Harper Teen (US)
Age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Where can I get this? Goodreads | Booktopia | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble
Recommended for: fans of character-driven stories, fans of YA fantasy,
On-page Representation: POC (Chinese-coded characters), LGBTQ+ (Sapphic, gay)
Trigger and Content Warnings: self-harm (gouging, eye horror; non-graphic), child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional manipulation/gaslighting), parent death (implied, off-page), character deaths, mentions and descriptions of fantasy/magical violence (blood, war, political violence), mentions and descriptions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia, alcohol consumption

Check out the Goodreads synopsis below!

Girls of Paper and Fire meets The Tiger at Midnight in June CL Tan’s stunning debut, inspired by Chinese mythology, with rich magic and an epic slow-burn romance.

In an empire on the brink of war . . .

Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.

Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.

When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.

But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.

I asked my partner to create music to accompany this book.
I thought this tune was so fitting and atmospheric whilst read the book—especially at tense times!
Feel free to listen to it.

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book from the publisher and Caffeine Book Tours as part of my participation in their tour.

OKAY. First things first, we’ve all read the synopsis? Yes? Yes! Now, let me get this off my chest:

This book was pitched as ‘Avatar the Last Airbender’ inspired! More specifically, inspired by Zutara (Zuko X Katara) dynamics??? My little twelve-year-old self is celebrating. OUR TIME HAS COME!!! Zutara!!!! 😩😭🎉

Yes, please play the song included above as it adds to the hype. Trust me.

AND THEN! Not only does this novel pays homage to Xianxia (Chinese fantasy influenced byChinese mythology, martial arts, religion, and other traditional elements) perfect for fans of We Hunt the Flame?? Good-bye, monies!

Yes, as exemplified above, Jade Fire Gold was a highly anticipated read.

Alright, now that’s out of my system, the review time.

Told in dual POV, we follow Ahn, the orphaned girl with a mysterious past and Altan, an exiled prince with revenge on his mind. When their paths in twined Ahn sees the opportunity to unlock her memories and powers whilst Altan see this as a means to avenge his family and reclaim the throne.

However, in order to gain, one must give. And the two may have bargained more than they can pay.

𝐖𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠:
The writing is simple and easy to follow which makes the narrative easily digestible. Despite the writing being quite straightforward, it paints beautiful scenery, strong emotions, and great attention into little details which are important aspects (such s as weaponry, colour and clothing).

However, my main concern whilst reading this was that I found the pacing jarring at times. For example, there would be moments where I feel like I was trudging through the desert, in the middle of the day with no water (this was only the first ~30%). And then there are times were it feels like we’re rushing through a whirlwind of events.

Of course, this could be a “me” thing as I like to get into the ‘meat’ of the plot early in the book soo I can divulge myself with more details throughout the journey. Don’t let this deter you!

𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝-𝐛𝐮𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠:
I’m a huge fan of Asian mythology and Asian-inspired stories, so I found it enjoyable finding little nuggets or Lore sprinkles throughout the novel.

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬:
Ahn: one of the protagonist starts off naive and I found her passive at the beginning but I did like how she started to develop and become more confident and critical.

Altan: I found it hard to connect to his character due to his angst, however, I did come to appreciate his character. I liked how he started becoming more open and honest.

𝐑𝐨𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞:
I admit I’m a huge sucker for the enemies-to-lovers trope, I enjoy it mainly because I love seeing the relationship develop over time (and often begrudgingly 😏) and I love the banter. In this case, there was no romance until about halfway, which I didn’t mind it so! I just wished we could’ve seen the two develop their relationship more. As I really enjoyed reading Ahn and Altan’s interactions and dynamics.

𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐇:
• The writing is simple and easy which made this book quick to fly though
• Intriguing world-building yet consists of common elements in a YA Fantasy, therefore perfect for those who enjoy certain tropes (Royal characters, reunited with someone, dislike to like, finding the magical artefact, etc.) and genres (fantasy).

𝐆𝐑𝐈𝐏𝐄:
• The pacing at times (tit took me a while to get into the first 30% or so of the book but then I got so hooked after that)

• Why was there a need to put chopsticks in ones hair?? That really took me out.

Being of Asian descent and being a diaspora, I’m aware of the historical context of the use of chopsticks in the hair and the micro aggression regarding that. However, I acknowledge that I am not a Chinese and therefore, perhaps I’m not familiar with all the nuance.

Edit:

I read another review and noted that the author responded to concerns regarding chopsticks in the hair. I suggest you check out this review!

The author stated that the chopsticks were not for use of eating but rather a concealed weapon.

𝐈𝐧 𝐚 𝐧𝐮𝐭𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐥, 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞:
✔ Zutara inspired dynamics (exiled Prince X peasant girl with mysterious powers)
✔ forbidden magic
✔ East Asian (Chinese) mythology inspired fantasy

𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐬: empire (explores imperialism), legacy, fate, choice, and power

𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐟𝐨𝐫: fans of character driven stories, fans of YA fantasy or new to or enjoy Xianxia or Chinese influenced mythology

𝐂𝐖: death, war, gore, torture, murder

Thank you to Caffeine Tours and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Some favourite quotes:

“𝐇𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 𝐢𝐬 𝐧𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐧 𝐛𝐲 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐯𝐢𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐬.”

“𝐈𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐢𝐜𝐞. 𝐁𝐮𝐭 𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬: 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲 𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐢𝐜𝐞 𝐡𝐚𝐬 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐞𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞, 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐦𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐰𝐞𝐢𝐠𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐞𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬.”

“𝐒𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞𝐬, 𝐝𝐨𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐧𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐝𝐨.”

June CL Tan grew up in Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. She holds various degrees in communication studies, education, and film. After teaching for a few years, she took a detour into the finance industry. To no one’s surprise, she soon realized her mistake and made her escape. Now, she resides in New York City, talking to imaginary people and creating fantastical worlds under the watchful eye of her crafty cat. She enjoys telling stories that draw on both the traditional and modern to create something fresh to the eye, but familiar to the heart. Jade Fire Gold is her debut novel. 

Website | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | TikTok

Again, please feel free to follow the next tour stops. The Tour Schedule can be found here.

Have you read this? Will you be reading Jade Fire Gold?

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Lakesedge | Book Review

UK edition
US edition

Title: Lakesedge
Author: Lyndall Clipstone
Publisher: Titan Books
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Where can I get this? Goodreads | Booktopia | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble
Recommended for: fans of gothic romance fantasy, fans of For the Wolf, House of Salt and Sorrow, fans of flowery writing
CW: emotional + physical parental abuse, body horror, gore, exploration of death + grief, drowning, self-injury (e.g. cutting)

Check out the Goodreads synopsis below!

A lush gothic fantasy about monsters and magic, set on the banks of a cursed lake. Perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Brigid Kemmerer.

There are monsters in the world.

When Violeta Graceling arrives at haunted Lakesedge estate, she expects to find a monster. She knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

There are monsters in the woods.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn…

There’s a monster in the shadows, and now it knows my name.

Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.

𝐆 𝐔𝐒𝐇:
• Dark, gothic read incorporating a simple yet beautiful writing style. The beautiful descriptors evoke a rich and eerie atmosphere. Normally, I enjoy a straightforward type of writing, but here the narrative was fun and easy to read.
• Intriguing premise with promising concepts—magic? Broody love interest with a mysterious past? Suffocating atmosphere and spooky mansions? Yes, please!

𝐆𝐑𝐈𝐏𝐄:
• I know I mentioned how I enjoyed the writing, however, I understand that it won’t be for everyone. The flowery language paints pretty pictures and can get repetitive if you’re not a fan or think about it too closely (I don’t know what silt and shadows taste like? And I’m not sure I want to…)
• Whilst I somewhat like the main character, she can seem a bit too self-sacrificial at times and her poor choices™ did frustrate me more than once. I also didn’t appreciate how she never communicates anything with anyone!! Despite promising her younger brother that “we’ll figure things out together” she runs out and does things herself with no consideration of anyone. I really empathise with her younger brother. How can someone be so “selfless” and selfish at the same time??
• I really enjoyed the first part of the book and then… arghhh!!! Why did I think this was a stand-alone??

𝐈𝐧 𝐚 𝐧𝐮𝐭𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐥, 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞:
✔ monster boys
✔ sibling love
✔ eerie atmospheric reads

“𝐈’𝐯𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐝𝐚𝐫𝐤𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐧 𝐡𝐢𝐦 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐨 𝐚 𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐫.
𝐈’𝐯𝐞 𝐬𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐢𝐭 𝐟𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐟𝐞𝐥𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐡𝐮𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫.
𝐀𝐧𝐝 𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐈 𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐛𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐡 𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐭.”

~ 𝑳𝒚𝒏𝒅𝒂𝒍𝒍 𝑪𝒍𝒊𝒑𝒔𝒐𝒏𝒆, 𝑳𝒂𝒌𝒆𝒔𝒆𝒅𝒈𝒆

Please note: This is NOT a stand-alone.

𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐬: first love, sacrificing yourself for others

𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐟𝐨𝐫: fans of gothic romance fantasy, fans of For the Wolf, House of Salt and Sorrow, Down Comes the Night

𝐂𝐖: emotional + physical parental abuse, body horror, gore, exploration of death + grief, drowning, self-injury (e.g. cutting)

Thank you to @NetGalley and the publisher (Titan Books) for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

𝘗𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘦 𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘦: 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘲𝘶𝘰𝘵𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘤𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘮 𝘢𝘯 𝘈𝘥𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘙𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘊𝘰𝘱𝘺 (𝘈𝘙𝘊) 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘮𝘢𝘺 𝘣𝘦 𝘴𝘶𝘣𝘫𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦 𝘶𝘱𝘰𝘯 𝘱𝘶𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯.

Are you reading any spooky reads this month?
Otherwise, what do you plan to read?

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Like A Love Song | Book Review

Title: Like a Love Song
Author: Gabriela Martins
Publisher: Underlined
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: ★★★★
Where can I get this? Goodreads | Booktopia | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble
Recommended for: fans of YA contemporary, fake-dating trope, and cute, fluffy romance
CW: racism, public humiliation

Check out the Goodreads synopsis below!

This debut paperback original romance follows a Latina teen pop star whose image takes a dive after a messy public breakup, until she’s set up with a swoon-worthy fake boyfriend.

Fake boyfriend. Real heartbreak?

Natalie is living her dream: topping the charts and setting records as a Brazilian pop star…until she’s dumped spectacularly on live television. Not only is it humiliating—it could end her career.

Her PR team’s desperate plan? A gorgeous yet oh-so-fake boyfriend. Nati reluctantly agrees, but William is not what she expected. She was hoping for a fierce bad boy—not a soft-hearted British indie film star. While she fights her way back to the top with a sweet and surprisingly swoon-worthy boy on her arm, she starts to fall for William—and realizes that maybe she’s the biggest fake of them all. Can she reclaim her voice and her heart?

Honestly, this was such a cute and entertaining read!

𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐇:
• Light-hearted, fast-paced and fun read
• This book explores assimilation and how it connects to one’s identity (I could personally relate to this aspect and appreciate reading it because I haven’t read many books that explore this). I love how it delves into one’s culture and the importance of self-acceptance and love. My younger self definitely needed a book like this!
• Positive female friendship. I adored how they celebrated and brought each other up. Love it.
• Love Nati’s growth and her journey.
• Would’ve loved this and needed this book when I was younger!

𝐆𝐑𝐈𝐏𝐄:
• Maybe it’s just me, but I would’ve appreciated more communication on William’s end, especially towards the end of the book.

𝐈𝐧 𝐚 𝐧𝐮𝐭𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐥𝐥, 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐢𝐟 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞:
✔ fake-dating trope
✔ golden retriever/cinnamon roll love interest
✔ only one bed
✔ opposites attract
✔ celebrity main characters

“𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐝𝐨 𝐈 𝐭𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐈 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐛𝐞 𝐛𝐨𝐭𝐡 𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐠𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐭 𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐢𝐦𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐭 𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐮𝐚𝐠𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐚𝐥𝐬𝐨 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐰𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐠𝐨 𝐛𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐭𝐨 𝐦𝐲 𝐡𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐭𝐫𝐲 𝐭𝐨 𝐝𝐨 𝐯𝐨𝐥𝐮𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬 𝐢𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐨𝐟 𝐰𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐦𝐲 𝐦𝐮𝐬𝐢𝐜 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐥𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐦𝐲 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞?”

~ 𝑮𝒂𝒃𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒍𝒂 𝑴𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒔, 𝑳𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝒂 𝑳𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝑺𝒐𝒏𝒈

𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐬: assimilation and reconnecting to your culture (Brazilian-American), identity, coming of age

𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐟𝐨𝐫: fans of YA contemporary, fans of fake-dating trope,

𝐂𝐖: racism, public humiliation

Thank you to @NetGalley and the publisher (@GetUnderlined) for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 ❀

𝐐𝐨𝐭𝐃: What are you currently reading and what’s a song that reminds you of it?

𝐀𝐨𝐭𝐃: Obviously, I thought of “Love you like a love song” by Selena Gomez when I read this book and man that song is so nostalgic for me.

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Ace of Spades | Book Review

Title: Ace of Spades
Author: Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé 
Publisher: Usborne Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller
Rating: ★★★★
Where can I get this? Goodreads | Booktopia | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble
Recommended for: everyone, fans of YA thrillers and thrillers
CW: racism, death, homophobia, gaslighting, abuse (bullying, etc.)

Check out the Goodreads synopsis below!

An incendiary and utterly compelling thriller with a shocking twist that delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism, from an exceptional new YA voice.

Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light.


Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power.

Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game… 

𝐆𝐔𝐒𝐇:
• love the narration, the tension and the suspense! I NEEDED to find the answers and refused to put this book down
• I love the two main characters—Chiamaka and Devon are both strong and endearing characters in their own right. Chiamaka’s strong-willed, go-getter attitude is something I admire
• Devon is sweet and caring, but willing to do what it takes for his loved ones
• The ending!

𝐆𝐑𝐈𝐏𝐄:
• pacing at the first 20% felt slow although I can understand the set-up

𝗧𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵𝘁𝘀 𝘄𝗵𝗶𝗹𝘀𝘁 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴:

0-10%: Wow, this is so fun. I already like the narration. Chiamaka is the best and I like Devon

Wait WHAT!!!!!! What are they talking about???!!

17%: Ahhh!! The gaslighting is so annoying!!

I don’t know if it’s just my version and the format, but it’s difficult to know who’s narrating at times. (Or maybe I just lack the brain cells… yes, that must be it…)

Chiamaka is pretty naive at times… I DON’T LIKE THIS PERSON, CHI!!

Ahhh!! Don’t trust anyone!! PLEASE!!!

25% ONWARDS: asdhjlsgkl;gslk ????!!!!

Cue song: ‘Oh no’ by Capone.

Honestly, from the 25% mark to the 100% I was on the edge of my seat, anxiously flying through the pages. BUT to ease things up, I did enjoy the ending.

but I’m still thinking about everything… and it’s got me like this:

TO SUM IT UP:

𝐖𝐡𝐲 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤:
• A nuanced take on and the exploration of institutional and systematic racism, classism, white supremacy, and sexuality
• A queer black story that shows a peek of living under the gaze of white supremacy

♠️ Ace of Spades is a heart-racing and heart-wrenching story with compelling and endearing characters and haunting social commentary. Real and raw, terrifying and thought-provoking, Ace of Spades is a must-read.

“𝐈 𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐩 𝐦𝐲𝐬𝐞𝐥𝐟 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐚𝐩𝐨𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐢𝐳𝐢𝐧𝐠-𝐛𝐞𝐜𝐚𝐮𝐬𝐞 𝐰𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐰𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐈 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧 𝐛𝐞 𝐬𝐨𝐫𝐫𝐲 𝐟𝐨𝐫? 𝐄𝐱𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐨𝐨 𝐥𝐨𝐮𝐝?”

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, Ace of Spades

𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐦𝐞𝐬: race, class, sexuality, and familial themes

𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐟𝐨𝐫: everyone, fans of YA thrillers, and thrillers

𝐂𝐖: racism, death, homophobia, gaslighting, abuse (bullying, etc.)

Thank you to @NetGalley and the publisher (@UsborneYA) for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

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Anticipated ARCs Everyone Should Check Out | Book Rambles

The ARC Gods have been quite generous and I feel that I must share some ARCS Im so excited to read. Some of these have been on my highly anticipated reads list and some Ive discovered via NetGalley.

Six Crimson Cranes • by Elizabeth Lim
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 8 July 2021

Why I’m excited to read it:
– fan of Elizabeth’s writing (written Spin the Dawn)
– intriguing premise
– arranged marriage trope

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These Hollow Vows • Lexi Ryan
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 20 Jult 2021

Why I’m excited to read it:
– promising premise! desperate to read it
– love stories to do with Fae
– love triangle (lol we know I love the drama)

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She Who Became the Sun • Shelley Parker-Chan
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, Mantle
Publish Date: 22 July 2021

Why I’m excited to read it:
– historical fantasy re-imagining of Zhu Yuanzhang!!
– intriguing premise
– tragedy, yearning, ambition, and magic

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Not Here to be Liked • Michelle Quach
Genre: Romance, Young Adult
Publisher: Usborne Publishing
Publish Date: 16 September

Why I’m excited to read it:
– rivals to lovers!!
– features an unlikeable female character & intersectional feminism
– coming of age

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Little Thieves • Margaret Owen
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publish Date: 5 October 2021

Why I’m excited to read it:
– huge fan of Margaret Owen (author of The Merciful Crow)
– LOVE the premise!
– unlikeable MC, yes please!

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Iron Widow • Ziran Jay Zhao
Genre: Science Fiction, retelling
Publisher: Oneworld Publications, Rock the Boat
Publish Date: 7 October 2021

Why I’m excited to read it:
– retelling of Wu Zetian!!!
– FINALLY! A Polyam instead of a love triangle!
– Im in love with the premise, the cover, everything

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Within These Wicked Walls • Lauren Blackwood
Genre: Young Adult, Retelling, Fantasy
Publisher: St. Martins Press
Publish Date: 9 November 2021

Why I’m excited to read it:
– Ethiopian inspired retelling of Jane Eyre
– Okay, Ive never finished reading the original Jane Eyre but Im excited
– Intriguing premise, gothic atmosphere


Have you read any of these books? Or are any of these books are on your radar?

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FairyLoot August 2020 | Unboxing

FairyLoot August 2020: Let the Games Begin

Featured Book: Star Daughter by Shveta Thakar

Monthly Character Cards: Nevernight inspired characters illustrated by Katherine Britt

An Ember in the Ashes inspired Book Sleeve (Laia & Elias): designed by @monolimeart

Hunting Prince Dracula inspired Hardcover Notebook: by @noverantale with artwork by @taratjah

Aurora Rising Enamel Pin: designed by @ironandinkdesigns

Nevernight (Mia & Mr Kindly) Metal Bookmark: designed by @taratjah

Golden Egg Bath Bomb: created by @littleheartgifts

Scythe inspired Magnet: by @tararjah

Upon opening my box I actually gasped. This box left me speechless. I’m so in love with everything 😭🤩 FairyLoot definitely spoiled us with this book. One could say everything here was out of this world 😁✨

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Lobizona | Review

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Title: Lobizona

Author: Romina Garber

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Where can I find this? Goodreads | Book Depository | Booktopia | Google Play | Apple

“You’re saying if no one’s told my story before… I get to tell it the way I want?” ~ Romina Garber, Lobizona

Behold! Marvel at this cover art! Read the synopsis! Isn’t this promising? Doesn’t this make you wish you had a copy? Because, yes—after seeing the cover art and the synopsis, I desperately wanted to read this book. I needed this book. And the bookish gods of Netgalley smiled graciously on me and granted my earnest wish.

4agazm

my face @ netgalley. yes, I’m aware I’m probably annoying lol

In Lobizona, we follow Manuela (Manu) as she navigates life without detection. Hiding from both the US government and from the people of her father’s past, Manu is undocumented and unprotected. Isolated due to hiding, secrecy is Manu’s constant companion besides Perla and Ma. But hiding Manu isn’t the only secret that gets discovered. When Manu’s mother is taken by ICE, Manu discovers a magical world that is eerily familiar… Now in a magical world, Manu wages forward to uncover the secrets that gnawed on her since childhood. And just like the secrets that fought so hard to remain hidden, Manu must fight harder to uncover the truth.

Plot
The book weaves Argentinean folklore surrounding lobizon and bruja into Manu’s world which presents an interesting aspect into the novel. I liked how Argentinean culture was incorporated into the storytelling. Garber naturally incorporates Spanish into the dialogue. I appreciate how flawless and natural it was. However, the Spanish can make the reading experience disjointed if you’re not familiar with the language. There were times where the narrator (Manu) will translate, and other times where one can gauge the meaning from context and times where you won’t get it. I’ll be honest, I’ve never formally learnt Spanish nor learnt how to read it but can only understand and pick it up from sound (because 1. I’m uneducated hahah and 2. that’s how I learnt—when a family member spoke). Often, I’d have to pause and read passages aloud for my two brain cells to figure out the translation. Yes, I’m a child of immigrant parents and as a result, lost my mother’s tongue to assimilating to the culture I lived in… I’m like the meme:

‘Me? Bilingual? More like, bye-lingual’

Therefore, pausing and rereading some phrases often impacted my reading experience. I’m already a slow reader haha… ANYWAY! I like how Garber unapologetically and fluidly weaves Spanish into her novel.

Lobizona is broken down into four phases. I won’t say much to spoil the story; however, the story really picks up in phase two for me. In phase two, we discover more about this magical world. The world-building felt a little thin and due to that, the story felt more of magical realism rather than fantasy.

This book takes a while to get into the promised action. After the 40%, that’s where all the action began and it was great. Although, the pacing felt disjointed at times. For example, the first 40-50% of the book we are dragging our feet to this magical world. And then, at the last 15-20% action happens! All! At! Once! I’d appreciate if there were moments for the audience to process all that is going on.

Despite the pacing, I did appreciate Garber’s writing style. Garber weaves emotions well into her characters without weighing down the narrative with too many descriptions. The read was compelling and I read this novel in one sitting.

Characters
I love an underdog character. With everything going on, you can’t help but root for Manu! I was invested in her and her dreams. Yeah, she has her insecurities and doubts, but Manu is determined despite all odds. She dreams and yearns for more and when an opportunity shows itself, she’ll take it. I liked that about her. However, the chosen one trope is strong in this one. If you’re not a fan, you may not enjoy the incessant specialness of Manu. I’m a fan of the chosen trope so I’m never really bothered by such things—in fact, I relish in it.

Other than Manu, there is a large cast in this book (I can’t remember all their names but I remember Cata and Sasya—the two other girls). I enjoyed Manu’s and Sasya’s interactions. Sasya is a kind and gentle soul, the welcoming friend to Manu. Whereas, Cata is perceived to be the ‘mean girl’ who is ruthless to Manu. I wasn’t a fan of how that part was portrayed like the typical ‘popular girl mean to the new girl’ trope.

Another aspect I didn’t enjoy was the romance. long sigh yes, the romance. I didn’t like how the romance gave a forbidden vibe to it (spoiler-y: more like almost cheating vibes). And when the truth came out it felt convenient and cheap. Also, I couldn’t understand why the love interest and Manu had feelings for each other? It felt superficial. I would rather focus on other pressing matters, such as Manu’s mother and Manu’s discoveries.

Enjoyment
Aside from the romance, there were many aspects I liked. I liked how alienation and challenging the norm was a major factor in this book. I liked how the themes of alienation and immigration were woven in the story. Manu’s fear of discovery rings true to too many people. Garber writes well, enveloping the reader into Manu’s world that you feel the constant fear and even the threat in living. But despite the fear, there’s the unyielding hope. It was hope in the characters that I loved in this book. Lobizon grapples with and comments on various themes such as misogyny, privilege, undocumented immigrants, amongst many more and I deeply appreciated it did so.

I, myself am a child of immigrants and I have experienced cultural assimilation so on one side, parts of this book resonated with me. I liked how powerful Garber wrote various aspects (especially the first phase). Again, I liked how she wove another language into her book so naturally and how this book was an easy and compelling read. I just wished there were more. In actuality, I think I had higher expectations due to wanting to really love this book. (Why do I do this to myself?) Despite that, I’m very curious to see where this tale (or… tail) will go.

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Recommended for: fans of fantasy schools with magical creatures, fans of YA fantasy, latinx readers looking for latinx authors, people looking for diverse books

Content warning: xenophobia, sexism, bullying, trauma, misogyny, homophobia

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Unboxing: May FairyLoot 2020

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May FairyLoot 2020: Desert Dreams

I was pleasantly surprised upon seeing a FairyLoot box on my doorstep. And this month did not disappoint! This was such a gorgeous box and I’m so glad to be subscribed to FairyLoot. And now, for the unboxing…

Featured Book: Girl, Serpent, Thorn: by Melissa Bashardoust

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

Blurb from Goodreads

With an exclusive pink cover, green sprayed edges, reverse artwork in the dust jacket illustrated by @orikye, and signed by the author, this book is my favourite cover change yet from FairyLoot! This edition is absolutely gorgeous.

Monthly Character Cards: Throne of Glass inspired characters designed by @Gabriella.bujdoso

City of Brass inspired Tea Towel: designed by @eviebookish

Dessert Bath Salts: made by Little Heart Gifts

An Ember in the Ashes inspired Tribal Desert Candle: by Wick and Fable

The Forbidden Wish inspired Sunglasses Pouch: designed by @kitstercronk

Hero of the Fall inspired Wooden Spoon: designed by @kdpletters

We Hunt the Flame inspired Bookish Tin: designed by @chattynora

This box arrived earlier than my other boxes so I was surprised when it turned up. Also, my tracking wasn’t updated. Yes, my boxes had been shipped with Hermes…

Anyway! Other than the book, I absolutely loved the Bookish Tin! I love the design and how useful it can be. I’m not sure what I’d put in the tin right now (probably tea, or something) but I’ve already placed it on my shelf. Overall, this was a gorgeous box and again, I was thoroughly impressed.

What are your thoughts on this box? Like any of the items?

 

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Bookstaversary (Bookstagram Anniversary)

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Like many people, I’ve always enjoyed reading and then stumbled a little corner of the internet filled with fellow book lovers. I discovered Bookstagram, Booktube, and later, Book twitter and loved the concept of it. After many hours (possibly hours) of perusing Bookstagram and binge-watching Booktube, I decided to join the Book community. One year later, and who knows how much dollars spent, I’ve joined a beautiful community and filled the spaces of both my bookshelf and heart with amazing friends and books. 

I’ve made many book friends in the book community and they spark so much joy in my life. Not only do they hold bookish chats, readathons, but also go above and beyond and somehow sent me bookish candles for my birthday. How sweet and thoughtful! 

The candles my beautiful bookish friends gifted me included two candles—’Cardan’ and ‘Jude’. The two candles are inspired by the characters in The Folk in the Air trilogy (The Cruel Prince). The Cardan candle has a fruity aroma and smells so delicious! On the other hand, the Jude candle smells of cinnamon. Also, not only do these candles smell amazing, they are also gorgeous to look at!

Anyway, the past year has been truly amazing and I am so glad to have joined the online book community.

Bookstagram made me do it. Cruel Prince was the first book Bookstagram influenced me to read. This book is Illumicrate’s edition of The Cruel Prince. Also, look at the gorgeous candles my Bookstagram fam gifted me—aren’t they so pretty?

 

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