Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was doing when I picked up this book – I’d heard both good and bad reviews of it but didn’t want to go into the details so I could make my own opinion. So when my library hold came through last week, I hesitated a bit before finally picking it up on Friday on my way to university. 

Surprisingly – or not ? – the book ended up being a 4 stars for me ! I enjoyed reading it a lot, and even though some parts of the narrative really bugged me, they weren’t bad enough to make me DNF it on the spot. 

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm

A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates

A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder

An alien warrior with anger management issues

A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

What I liked

This book is entertaining, pretty fast paced, and it has space elves. Space. Elves. Do I really need to say more ?

Alright, so you also have space stations, space monsters, super cool spaceships, and even a space masquerade ball on a space station, covering up a space heist. Seriously. This book has everything I could ever ask for. I really liked the different alien species and their specific traits, although I would have liked a better display of the diversity of species that are mentioned in the beginning. 

Another point I really appreciated is the subversion of popular tropes. For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, I won’t go into too much detail, but if you did, or aren’t afraid of spoilers, the next paragraph is for you – it’s written in white, so it should show up when you select the text to see it ! Otherwise, you can just skip to the next one, which should be spoiler-free.

I thought the way the “member of the team betrays the others to the bad guys for a price” trope was used was brilliant ! I 100% believed in the treason up until the moment of the big reveal, and I loved the way the internal POVs were used to deceive you until the very end ! Those points of view are difficult to use well when you want to hide plot points from your readers, and I thought this one was brilliantly executed.

The reveal of the identity of the bad guys at the end was exactly the right amount of drama for me, and I liked the way the stakes kept getting higher and picked up the pace in the second half of the story. I got attached pretty quickly to the characters, and loved getting insight on their lives before the initiating event – and the LOTR references were a nice bonus !

What I didn’t like

There is, at some point in the book, mention of a “mating bond”. Now, I’m not fully against the idea in itself, but I thought the way in which the characters talked about it wasn’t really appropriate for the situation, and that there was an uncomfortable imbalance in the relationship that made the bond situation a bit… icky.

A second point that many other reviewers mentioned is that some of the character’s voices sounded a bit too close to each other, at times. I had to go back to the beginning of a couple of chapters to see whose point of view I was supposed to be reading. 

But the main thing that stuck out, for me, is the “sociopath” thing. You know which one. 

In the synopsis for this novel, the authors describe Zila, a young scientist and member of the team, as “A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates”. I disagree with the use of that term, and find it highly inappropriate in this situation

The sociopath etiquette is used as an excuse for the underdevelopment of the character and her use as a comic relief of sorts; even though the very few lines of her POV allude to extensive childhood trauma and complex emotions, both of which are mentioned but never discussed further in the book. As far as sociopaths go, she doesn’t exhibit much of their alleged traits, and it seems like the authors thought it’d just be a fun quirk to add to their character for a little bit more edginess. And frankly, it didn’t work at all for me.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this book, and I would give it 5 stars if it weren’t for the few aforementioned flaws. As it is, I’m giving it a solid 4 stars and I’m hoping the next instalment in this series will fix some of those problems – maybe by giving us more character development for Zila, for example, or by making a little more sense of that mating bond bit ?

Did you get a copy of this book ? What did you think of it ? What’s your opinion on the mating bond trope in sci-fi novels ?

Short reviews : 4 January quick reads

It’s already the end of January, and even if I didn’t post much, I haven’t been idle this whole month. I read a couple of books on my way to university in the morning and on my way home (the metro is a surprisingly good place to read one you’ve got your schedule figured out and know when your stop arrives), so here are 4 short reviews of those metro books.

Lagom, by Linnea Dunne

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It was interesting to learn about the philosophical aspects of Lagom, the swedish word that roughly translates to “not too little, not too much”, and the illustrations in this book were pleasing to look at. I didn’t feel extremely engaged into the rest of the content itself, though, as some parts seemed to completely miss their target – a recipe for cinnamon buns can be found in a cooking book, and I’m not sure I’d ever use any of the food recipes / advice mentioned in there. 

Still, it’s a pleasant read, and it looks very nice as a coffee table book, or as a Christmas / Birthday gift for someone you’re not extremely close to.

Find this book on Goodreads

How to become a straight-A student, by Cal Newport

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is a book for students who’d like to change their study habits from cramming everything the night before the exam to being able to relax and do other things than pull all-nighters whenever a big paper is due.The author goes over success studying strategies of various straight-A students, and explains a bit more about why they work, and how to improve your own study habits. It’s instructive, practical, solid advice. I knew most of these techniques already, but still learned some things about organisation and university readings, and didn’t see any methods that I’d tried that had failed to yield any good results. 

Bonus : the Cheat Sheets at the end of each part of the book are useful if you want to read it quickly, or just get to the point of the different methods.

Find this book on Goodreads

Dot journaling : a practical guide, by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

Rating: 3 out of 5.

If you’re completely new to bullet journals, this is the book for you. If you’re not, you won’t learn much more than what you already gathered by looking at bujo hashtags on Instagram. It goes over the basics, then shows you a few different ways to make the main types of bullet journal page layouts – monthlies, weeklies, etc. It might be a nice gift for someone who’d be interested in the crafts aspect of bullet journaling but doesn’t have social media accounts – but not for anyone with access to Instagram or Pinterest.

Find this book on Goodreads

Healthy as F*ck, by Oonagh Duncan

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I had absolutely no idea who Oonagh Duncan was when I picked up this book, and honestly, even though some of the advice she gave was pretty good, it just wasn’t memorable enough for me to actually go and check out what else she had to say on the subject. It’s full of logical advice on how to eat healthy, exercise, be more active… but most of that is common sense and can be found in any non-diet book about nutrition, or “how to go to the gym for the first time”. 

Find this book on Goodreads

This has been part of my January so far – I’ve been trying to read backlist books (books published before 2019) for the Pondathon organized by CW @ the quiet pond ! Since my character is in team Gen, three out of four of these books fit in the description, but only two were read during the Pondathon so far – I’m looking forward to some more backlist books reading soon !

I even successfully completed the first side quest, which gave me a really cute badge to add to my character card – CW’s art for this readathon is really beautiful !

ARC review : Tweet Cute, by Emma Lord

I know, I know, I’m super late in posting this review. I’ve been trying to adapt to my new university schedule and I thought I had everything under control, but this post was supposed to be up a week ago, in time for the publication of the book… and it clearly wasn’t. But hey, better late than never, right ?

Tweet Cute is author Emma Lord’s debut novel, a contemporary YA rom-com filled to the brim with cuteness, lovable characters, and a ton of food references. It’s everything I was looking for in a book at the end of 2019, and I was absolutely delighted to get to read an ARC of it through NetGalley.

Synopsis

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

What I liked

Finally, a novel where teens using social media actually act like teens using social media ! The cultural references used by Jack and Pepper make the twitter war much more realistic than lots of supposedly “teen” characters in other YA novels, whose only references are their Hogwarts houses and how much they love Lady Gaga – we get it, Harry Potter is very popular, but it’s clearly not representative of everything that teens have an interest in !

The main characters, Pepper and Jack, were what really sold me on this book from the first couple of pages in. Their characterization is well done and they come off as believable teenagers, and the alternating POV helps the readers understand their actions and their behaviours, outside of what they think of each other.

The way they talk about their challenges and struggles is extremely relatable, and the author doesn’t hesitate to tackle the subject of unhealthy competition between students and the academic pressure to get into a good college, be the best of your class, and the effects it has on teenagers’ mindsets.

What I didn’t like

One of the plot points described in the longer synopsis available on Goodreads mentions an anonymous text-chat app that Jack built – and as much as this could have been an interesting way to connect the two characters, I felt like it was a bit too underdeveloped, and could have been cut out of the story without losing much in terms of character development. For me, this specific part would have had its place in a story without the twitter war, but the two in the same narrative felt a bit too heavy in drama.

A thing I would have liked to see more of was Pepper and Jack’s respective parents. Without giving away any spoilers, they obviously play a big role in their children’s lives, and in the reasons for the “twitter war” that starts everything, and I would have loved to have a bit more insight into their motivations and their stories.

Conclusion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, I had a really good time reading this book, and I would recommend it to YA contemporary readers without hesitation : it’s fun, lighthearted, and the romance is terribly cute but also realistic enough to be believable. 

Did you get a copy of this book, or did you add it to your 2020 TBR ? Did you write and post a review of it on your blog ? Feel free to link it in the comments so I can check it out !

Short reviews : 3 NetGalley ARCs

I’ve recently reviewed a few ARCs on NetGalley that I really liked, so I thought I’d put the reviews up here too ! They’re pretty short, since I didn’t try to lengthen them a lot for Goodreads and NetGalley, so I’m making a post with the three together.

Bird brain, by Chuck Mullin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this extremely relatable, honest and funny book, Chuck Mullin talks about depression, anxiety, self-care, and other aspects of everyday life in a very touching way.

As a person who’s suffered from depression and anxiety for a long time, this book felt very real in its portraying of what you feel (and don’t feel) during these times. I’d definitely recommend this to people who would like to understand or empathize more with a loved one who has suffered / is currently suffering from mental illness, and to anyone interested to learning more about this.

Publication date : November 19, 2019

Out with the ex, in with the new, by Sophie Ranald

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was a very fun read for a day off – I picked it up on my way home from he university, and ended up reading it over the weekend and enjoying it a lot ! You get attached pretty fast to the main character, Gemma, who over the course of the book kind of “grows up” as a person and starts to become more independent, discovering things about herself, what she will or won’t stand for in life, etc. The settings, the Youtube and vlogging spheres, are interesting and well described by the author, and it doesn’t fall into the “everything is perfect a fame is amazing” clichés.

Also, I hated Jack, the boyfriend-ex-boyfriend, from the moment he appeared on the page, and I was 100% rooting for Gemma and her “living my best life as a revenge” plan. Just saying.

Publication date : December 3, 2019

Everything isn’t terrible, by Kathleen Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As a psychology student, I picked up this book by curiosity, and I was not disappointed. I really like reading books on this type of topic, and this one was very instructive and organized. It’s not a book that will teach you how to cope with extreme anxiety or trauma situations, but it will help you manage small to medium amounts of anxiety in your day-to-day life, deal with anxiety-inducing people, and be more mature in your interpersonal relationships.

I would recommend this book as a gift for someone who has problems with anxiety that don’t necessarily need them to go through therapy but that still bother them on a daily basis.

Publication date : December 31, 2019

Did you read ( and review ?) any of these books ? Would you be interested in reading them ? Let me know in the comments !

ARC review : Only mostly devastated, by Sophie Gonzales

Finally, I’m writing this review I’ve been meaning to write for the past two weeks !

I’ll be honest and say that I asked for an e-ARC of this book without actually thinking I’d get one, and then… I did. I truly didn’t expect it, so I immediately downloaded it and read it in the subway on my way to and from class (really fast, because I just couldn’t put it down !).

Only mostly devastated is a fun, LGBTQ+ themed, YA contemporary romance with a 2020 release date, written by author Sophie Gonzales.

Synopsis

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

It’s time to admit something to you : I’ve never watched grease, ever.

So when this book was described as “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.”, as someone who hasn’t read or watched any of those references, I wasn’t expecting anything from it, because – well, because I just didn’t know what to expect. And I think that actually helped me enjoy this book more than some other reviewers who tended to compare it a lot to those references.

What I liked

Fair warning : the next paragraphs have some spoilers. If you don’t want to see them, feel free to skip until the end of the section.

For a YA romance novel, I thought this book tackled some heavy themes, and it hit me pretty hard. For example – Ollie has to stay in that new city to help a sick relative, and the themes of illness and grief are talked about in detail in a few chapters. This hit really close to home for me : this past year, one of my closest friends passed away after a long illness – the very same one that affects Ollie’s relative in the book, and a few months later, I lost my grandfather of sudden illness.

The character’s feelings and expressions of emotion in the book resonated with me a lot, and I had to take a few breaks at some points. This quote, specifically, felt so real to me that I had to stop and cry for some time before I could start again.

I lost it in the hallway. I pressed my back against the wall and sank to the floor, crying as quietly as I could. I didn’t want to be here in this house knowing [character name] would never be in it again. It was her house. We came here when we visited her. It’d been her house my whole life. This wasn’t right. None of it was right.

That quote echoes exactly my own feelings about grief, and about my personal losses, and I thought the author had managed an extremely just portrayal of what you can go through in that kind of situation.

The themes of fat-shaming and homophobia were also talked about in this book, and I really appreciated it.

What I didn’t like

I felt like some of the character’s relationships could have been developed a bit more – like Lara and Ollie, and Will and his friends. I also had some trouble getting over my initial dislike of Will on behalf of Ollie, even when the main character himself started getting over it.

Conclusion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, this was a good book for me. I really liked reading it, even if it wasn’t as lighthearted and fun as I expected it to be, based on the cover and the description. I’d still recommend it to readers of YA contemporary books without hesitation !

That’s it for today !

Spark joy, by Marie Kondo (+ the year of Less)

I’ve been reading nonstop this week – I don’t know why, or how this is happenning, but I’m taking advantage of it and reading as many books from my TBR as I can. So for today, I’m making 2 short reviews. These books were on a very similar theme, and I read both of them in two consecutive days, so I felt like they went together pretty well !

Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo spark joy

The secret to Marie Kondo’s unique and simple KonMari tidying method is to focus on what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of. Ask yourself if something ‘sparks joy’ and suddenly it becomes so much easier to understand if you really need it in your home and your life. When you surround yourself with things you love you will find that your whole life begins to change.

I got this ebook from my local library, after reading Kondo’s previous book, the life-changing magic of tidying up, then watching every single episode of her TV show, and using her method to sort trough my stuff when I moved 18 hours away from home in September (with only 3 pieces of luggage to hold all of my belongings. I discarded, a lot.)

I loved the addition of the drawings – this was something that was lacking in her previous book, and that the TV show compensated for a bit : when explaining in detail how things are supposed to fit together, or how to fold or arrange objects, a visual representation is extremely useful !

I know that this isn’t a book for everyone : Kondo explains a lot about her philosophy (including why she speaks to her belongings and talks about their spirit), and from the few negative reviews that I read, it seems like Americans really have a hard time with that. It works well for me, though, so if you’re a bit into spirituality and open to a new worldview, it should be a pretty easy read !

I do think you need to have read her first book to appreciate the second one properly, though, so I’d recommend doing that first.

The year of less, by Cait Flanders
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In her late twenties, Cait Flanders found herself stuck in the consumerism cycle that grips so many of us: earn more, buy more, want more, rinse, repeat. Even after she worked her way out of nearly $30,000 of consumer debt, her old habits took hold again. When she realized that nothing she was doing or buying was making her happy—only keeping her from meeting her goals—she decided to set herself a challenge: she would not shop for an entire year.

I rated this book 3 stars on Goodreads – I liked it, mostly because the more I read memoirs, the more I realize that’s something I actually do enjoy reading a lot, but most of the tips and strategies described in it just weren’t things that I could apply myself, and that made me feel a bit disconnected from what the author was describing. I have a very small monthly budget and I just don’t have the money to spend more than the sometimes bare minimum, so the “shopaholic” lifestyle is a long way from mine.

The only thing I spend more money on than I should is food, which I often used as a point of comparison while reading – I actually think I might take the challenge, adapt it a bit for myself and see if I can reduce my food spending to help me be more secure with my finances, and make my sugar addiction a bit less severe.

I really liked the structure of this memoir, though : it’s separated into months, for the months during which Cait Flanders had her ongoing “shopping ban experiment”, and it really helped with seeing the evolution of her situation more clearly.

Overall, this was an easy read, even though I didn’t get that much out of it. I suspect it might be, in part, due to the similarity with the Marie Kondo method of discarding and tidying, something the author mentions while explaining her own thought process on the subject, early in the book.

Have you read any books on a similar topic ? Do you have any books on tidying and minimalism that you would recommend ? I’m open to suggestions !

ARC Review : Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Mooncakes is a 2019 Graphic Novel written by Suzanne Walker and illustrated by Wendy Xu. Its release date is today, October 15th, which made it a perfect topic for this blogtober post !

Synopsis
mooncakes

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

What I liked
  • The art was really beautiful – I got this ARC from NetGalley so the last few pages weren’t in full color, but the rest of the book was, and it really made me appreciate the artist’s work ! The use of the colors in the story is captivating and helps understand a lot of details.
  • This is a very diverse book, but it never feels “forced” or badly done – the characters feel pretty authentic and it was easy to relate to them while reading, and understand their motivations.
What I didn’t like
  • I felt like it was lacking a bit in the plot department. For a book marketed towards Teens and YA, I was expecting a little more complexity in the intrigue. It stays enjoyable, of course, but feels a bit too simple for the themes it tries to talk about.
  • As you well know if you’ve read any of my posts about fantasy books, I love anything and everything magic. I would have liked to get to know more about the promising magic system that Mooncakes’s cover let me hope for, but it is mostly left unexplored through the course of the book, the author focusing more on the rest of her story than on explaining her world-building to the readers.
Conclusion

I’d give this book a solid 3 stars – not bad at all ! I overall enjoyed reading this and took my time to appreciate the art. I would maybe suggest it to an audience a little younget than the one currently reading YA, though, as the story itself isn’t one of the most complex there is.

Still, I’d definitely recommend this book if you have teenagers, or for something like the new acquisitions display of a school library !

The priory of the orange tree, by Samantha Shannon

The priory of the orange tree, by Samantha Shannon, is a standalone 848-pages novel published in February 2019, and hyped everywhere from booktube to bookstagram, including book blogs and book twitter, for months on end. So, of course, when my local library obtained a copy – and by that I mean when I asked them to loan it from another library at the other side of the province –  I had to read it immediately.

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Synopsis

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

What I liked

  • The cover is gorgeous.

You know the “don’t judge a book by its cover” saying, that everybody ignores because a good cover is often the first thing that attracts someone to a book in a bookstore ? It’s especially true with bookstagram – I find I tend to bookmark books on there because of a gorgeous cover, then when I’m at the library or the bookstore I check their Goodreads rating and synopsis and decide whether or not they’re worth my time. This one looked incredible, and the various recommendations I saw on all book-related platforms convinced me to put it immediatly on my TBR.

  • The characters

I got attached to Sabran, Ead and Tané really quickly, and loved the way each one had the time to evolve and grow during the course of the book. They’re not perfect, they all have their flaws – some more obvious than others – but they learn from their mistakes and adapt to their environment pretty fast.

I also would like to note the fact that this book has several well-written same-sex relationships, and that’s something I haven’t found that easily in fantasy or in YA without it being the main plot point. I really appreciate that kind of representation.

By the way, for those of you who have read the book (or aren’t afraid of spoilers) : here’s some very nice fanart ! (And a meme – also a spoiler !)

  • The magic system and the overall plot

I found the first very original (and I’m always a hoe for original systems of magic), and the second just complicated the way I like. It’s been compared to Game of Thrones a few times, and while I can’t say whether or not it’s an apt comparison since I haven’t read all Game of Thrones books, it is filled with political intrigues and will keep you on your toes until the very last pages.

  • The extremely rich world-building & the length

With 800+ pages, you have all the time you need to build your world and show it to your readers in as much detail as you want – and Samantha Shannon did that well.

I read this book on a very long work day, where my job was to sit behind a desk and wait until people came up to me with problems to solve, while keeping an eye on the company’s Facebook page – not the busiest day ever.

Where, for some people, the length and all that world-building felt heavy and unnecessary (I read a review from someone saying it took the 6 weeks to get through all of it because of that), I personally loved it and would like to see more of this type of novel in my TBR.

What I didn’t like

Not much. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the dragons, though, and the draconic plague felt a bit under-developed. My least favorite character was Niclays Roos, the exile desperate to return to his home and ready to do anything it took to do so, but I think that’s only because I read him as a mix between protagonist and antagonist, and found it a bit confusing.

Conclusion

You know how, when you put a review up on NetGalley, they ask you if you’d be willing to meet the author or to buy this book for a friend ? I’d 100% do both. In fact, I’m buying this book for my boyfriend’s birthday in a month, and if I ever get the chance (if she comes close enough to my city for me to go !), I’m getting it signed by the author.

If you’ve been wondering whether or not you should read this ? You definitely should.

If you’ve read this book and have a different opinion, or liked something I didn’t – or didn’t mention – feel free to comment !

Spin the dawn (The blood of stars, #1), by Elizabeth Lim

I’m in love.

I preordered this book on my birthday, June 10th, without really knowing what I was getting into – I’d seen the cover a couple of times, and followed the author on Twitter, and it seemed like a nice and fun book for the summer. I wasn’t disappointed : it arrived at my local Chapters on Thursday (I skipped my lunch break to bike to the store in 40°C weather to go get that book before it closed for the day) and I just couldn’t put it down once I started reading.

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Synopsis

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.

On Goodreads, this book is described as “Project runway meets Mulan“, but I’d like to offer a different comparaison – Mulan meets the tailor’s version of Donkeyskin. If you don’t know what Donkeyskin is, there’s some information in English on its Wikipedia page, but the most important part is this :

She  (the princess) went to her fairy godmother who advised her to make impossible demands as a condition of her consent: a dress as bright as the sun, a dress the colors of the moon, a dress all the colors of the sky, and finally, the hide of his marvelous donkey (which produced gold, and thus was the source of his kingdom’s wealth). Such was the king’s desire to marry her that he granted all of them.

In the classic french tale, the king’s tailors work day and night to satisfy the princess’s demands – even though she doesn’t actually want them to succeed. Maia, for the most part of the book, does her best to obey her emperor’s commands, and sew the three magic gowns (three, like in Donkeyskin ! … sorry, I just really love that fairytale) he has asked from her.

What I liked

The writing is really smooth, and once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down anymore. The romance felt natural, and was very well done – I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trope…and some fake dating on top of that !

I got attached really easily to Maia and her desire to protect and support her family, and Edan’s backstory was very original and really interesting. The pretending-to-be-a-boy part was quite stressful, but had some pretty funny moments too (like Maia being the only one able to walk easily in her glass slippers, while all her male competitors struggled to take a few steps…), and I’m excited to see what will happen next !

The world-building is very well done, and I especially appreciated learning about the rules of magic in A’landi, and the mythology behind the story of the three dresses of Amara.

What I didn’t like

Almost nothing. I wish we would have gotten to see more of the Lady Sarnai, who seems like a really complex and interesting character, but I’m guessing we’ll get all of that in the next book in the series, so it’s not a big negative point. Some plot points were left unresolved, but again – this isn’t a standalone, so I didn’t read it as one, and won’t judge it as one.

Conclusion

Definitely one of my top 3 books of the year so far, 10/10 would recommend. If you like fairytales, brave women who fight for what they believe in, and creative magic, you absolutely need to get your hands on a copy of this book.

Did you get a copy of this book ? What character did you like the most ?

Family Trust, by Kathy Wang

I finally had the time to read Family Trust, by Kathy Wan, during the #AGameOfBooksathon readathon !

I’ve been seeing that book everywhere for such a log time now, and to be honest, now that I’ve read it, I’m a little disappointed. I almost didn’t want to write a review, because so many people had a good opinion of it and I felt like it just didn’t live up to the hype. Some reviewers recommended it to readers who liked Crazy rich Asians, (which I loved, and reviewed here) and most of the reviews I saw before getting it myself were really positive, so I had great expectations.

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Synopsis

Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For years, Stanley has claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. But the time is now coming when the details of his estate will finally be revealed, and Stanley’s family is nervous.

What I liked

Kathy Wang’s writing is really good, and easy to read, which is probably why this book didn’t end up in my DNF pile – I never had a moment when I didn’t understand what was going on, or who was who (which happens way too much in some books, to be honest). The pace of the story was also good, with enough action to keep the reader alert and interested, but not too much so they don’t have to .

The characters were all interesting in their own way, even though I didn’t always understand their motives for acting like they did. I loved how the author kept switching between each character’s point of view, so we could see how the others saw them, and themselves, and their opinions on the other’s stories. Each character had something new to bring to the story, and it all worked really well  as a whole.

What I didn’t like

The characters were interesting on their own, but I didn’t really feel that much engaged in their individual stories – the parts where they interacted together in me “main plot” was very interesting, but whenever those main characters were on their own, it wasn’t quite as captivating. It felt a bit underwhelming, and even though the idea of the story was really good – a dying man holding on to his secrets while his family members desperately try to secure their inheritance – I felt like it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

I also wish we had gotten to see more of Mary’s story (Stanley’s new wife, now caring for a rich old man while her own family tries to get a part of the inheritance too) – I felt like her character was a bit underdeveloped compared to the others, when her story seemed so interesting to read about !

Conclusion

I was expecting to be blown away by this story, but instead, I was left with a vague feeling of unfinished business – unsatisfying, even if the writing was very good. This book isn’t bad at all – it just didn’t work for me. It’s definitely worth reading, if you enjoy complex stories and realistic family dynamics 🙂

Overall, I think this is a 3/5 stars for me, but don’t let that stop you from trying it and make your own opinion ! (And if you do read and review it, feel free to link your review in the comments, I’d love to see what you thought about it !)