Friends, it’s been ages — five months, in fact — since I last wrote a wrap-up post of any sort. And knowing that has made me feel a little bit too sad for the past few days.
One of my major goals for this year was to share more about myself and my life outside books — and wrap-up posts, I believe, are an excellent method to let all of you know what I’ve been up to both online and offline. Ironically, I’ve been so overwhelmed and busy that I haven’t been able to share much at all! And while I am still very much active on Twitter, sharing personal stuff in 280-character increments isn’t all that satisfactory or fulfilling.
Fortunately, I’ve had a recent burst of writing energy, and I decided to latch onto it with desperation and force myself to churn out a very long blog post. Which you are currently reading. I wanted to specifically write a personal blog post because my blog has been cluttered with so many bookish and/or promotional content for what feels like the longest time — and that’s made me feel unhappy with my platform.
I mean, of course, it goes without saying that I am infinitely grateful for the opportunities I’m given. I appreciate and adore all the authors, publishers, and bloggers who are happy to work with me! But sometimes I can’t help but feel like my content isn’t totally mine, you know? Sometimes it’s hard to find pieces of myself in my content, and sometimes I read my own posts with a lack of personal connection that genuinely frightens me.
But I digress.
In this blog post, I will attempt to go through five months of my life in terms of reading, blogging, and of course, just trying to yeet that wheat (or, you know, get that bread) on a daily basis. For your sake and mine, I’ve smartly decided to split my wrap-up into two! For today, I present to you The Ultimate Reading Update wherein I will smother you all with bookish love and salty rants. Here we go!
MY MONTHS IN BOOKS
ON WHAT I READ
The overall busyness and eventfulness of 2019 have definitely been taking a toll on me, my mental health, and my reading. Currently, I’m eight (8) books behind on my Goodreads reading challenge of finishing sixty-nine (69) books before 2019 ends. If I’m being honest, it doesn’t really bother me that I’m hilariously falling behind on my reading goal since the target is arbitrary and self-imposed. Plus, by the end of the day, I know what my priorities are, and reading for leisure is at the bottom of that very long list.
Nonetheless, I am very excited to share — however briefly — my thoughts regarding the books I’ve read in the past five months. Twenty-nine (29) may not be an incredibly impressive number, given the huge time frame and all, but the mere fact that I’m still able to squeeze in some reading time is all the victory I need, in my opinion.
📚 The Queen’s Game by Carla de Guzman // As an avid consumer of #romanceclass books, I have read more than a handful of novellas from Carla de Guzman, and I quickly learned that her work strikes me as either an exciting new favorite or a lukewarm hit. The Queen’s Game falls under the latter category, which is mildly disappointing because it feels like I had been eyeing this particular title for the longest time. I had been expecting an enthralling modern fairytale romance with heavy political themes (I mean, this is set in a fictional monarchy with Filipino characters as royalty), but this novella gives more attention to the public relations side of being a public figure instead of the actual governing side of the equation. Nonetheless, I loved the premise of a fake dating trope between two Filipino royals, and ultimately, Prince Felipe is a buttery cinnamon roll I will adore for the rest of my life. // Read my GR review.
📚 Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan // This was a buddy read with Alyssa. Following the adventures of an unashamedly ambitious dyslexic acrobat warrior, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon packs one hell of a punch! Its story and its fantastically crafted world (where steampunk technology and magic collide!) are built from a seemingly endless array of little details, which have understandably made it challenging for some readers to enjoy this book; but I completely loved all the wild complexities and thoughtful nuances that this fantasy stand-alone has to offer. I really hope more people give this one a chance. // Read my entire review.
📚 With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo // Hands down, this is one of the most beautifully written novels I have ever read! No ifs, ands, or buts. Revolving around the life of an Afro-Latinx teenage mother who aspires to become a chef, With the Fire on High is utterly phenomenal and resonated with me on such a deeply personal level. This is a compelling contemporary novel that will definitely leave stomachs hungry and hearts overwhelmingly full. // Read my entire review.
📚 The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala // I buddy read this one with Julianna. Although The Tiger at Midnight greatly deviated from my expectations, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the almost literal cat-and-mouse chase across a brutally damaged fantasy land. I liked the elements of Indian mythology integrated into the world-building, as well as the copious amount of humorous banter between Kunal and Esha. This was fun and refreshing! // Read my GR review.
📚 Just for Clicks by Kara McDowell // If I’m being honest, Just for Clicks baffled the cheese out of me. I’d like to think that I understand what this novel is trying to do, and I don’t want to unfairly dismiss the merit behind its key message. However, there is definitely something in its execution that led to a disconnect between me and the story, which I was never able to overcome — and I think that something is the fact that Just for Clicks reeks of unchecked privilege and white girls constantly framing themselves as “oppressed”. While I applaud how this book delves into the terrifying dangers of Internet fame and social media (which is absolutely an issue that concerns everyone), the characters fail to sufficiently reflect on their many, many privileges. Plus, the family dynamics and sibling relationship made me feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Yikes. // Read my GR review.
📚 The Bride Test by Helen Hoang // Truthfully, I was somewhat iffy with several things about The Kiss Quotient, which was Helen Hoang’s debut novel in 2018. After my reading experience with The Bride Test, I am fully convinced that I’m just not the right audience for her books. Much like in The Kiss Quotient, the premise of her sophomore novel involves very glaring power imbalances between the main character and the love interest that were difficult for me to ignore. And are we really going to frame all the deception and manipulation that happened in this story as “romantic?” I’m so sorry, but that’s really gross, in my opinion, and I cannot get on board with the love train that most readers have willingly hopped on. // Read my GR review.
📚 The Chai Factor by Farah Heron // Y’all better listen. The Chai Factor undoubtedly excels in what Helen Hoang’s books have failed to achieve: everything. Unapologetically and fiercely feminist? Rich with nuance and introspection? A burly lumberjack man who will make chai to cheer up our beloved STEM heroine? The purest and most adorable gay couple in the world? An interracial romance that will have readers curling their toes in delight? Farah Heron’s debut novel has got everything covered, and it is absolutely criminal that The Chai Factor isn’t receiving the attention and praise it deserves. // Read my GR review.
📚 Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi // In 2018, this African-inspired YA fantasy was my most highly anticipated release. However, the hype surrounding Children of Blood and Bone was so huge and intense that I became intimidated, fearful of disappointment, and despite owning a hardcover edition, I repeatedly put off reading this debut book. Until this year. And now, the moment of truth: Does Children of Blood and Bone live up to the hype? Yes and no. I can’t say that this one’s your typical, run-of-the-mill YA fantasy (because the African influences are clearly visible and work well for the story), but admittedly, it is hard for me to pinpoint specific elements in this book that really stand out. // Read my GR review.
📚 Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan // Aside from all my college-related deadlines, I blame this book for my reading slump. I powered through this literary atrocity for two whole months (with a ton of skim reading on my part), only to feel utterly shortchanged and empty-handed by a confusing conclusion. And not the “Wait, what’s going to happen next?” confusing, but like the “MAKE IT MAKE SENSE, MOLLY!” kind. Despite going into this with very low expectations, Wicked Saints still managed to frustrate me with its nonsensical events (imagine making out with someone after witnessing them murder a person in front of you), mediocre writing, glorification of abusive relationships and self-harm, and its devotion to being the book equivalent to those awful memes that make fun of a marginalized group and are branded as “dark humor for edgelords” (but, of course, don’t mention any of these things on social media, lest you want the author to write childish subtweets about you). // Read my GR review.
📚 We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia // I had been eyeing this 2019 debut since last year, and while I was Kate’s temporary roommate (for, like, a week), I grabbed her copy. There are so many things that I adored about We Set the Dark on Fire that I really don’t know where to begin! That gorgeous, gorgeous book cover? A dystopian society with harrowing parallels to current real-life political issues, namely, wall-crossing “illegal” immigrants? A forbidden Sapphic relationship between two intelligent Latina women? Smashing the patriarchy and setting everything ablaze? YES! I want the sequel in my hands already. // Read my GR review.
📚 Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim // I hosted a blog tour for this 2019 debut, and I was so hyped because Spin the Dawn has one of my most favorite book covers in the history of book covers. Although my expectations were not met, I was swept away by this Chinese-inspired fantasy! I do have a few questions about its magic system, but I don’t care — I loved all the fairytale references that were lovingly sprinkled throughout the book, I loved the slow-burn romance, and I loved the story’s uniqueness. // Read my GR review.
📚 Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay // From the perspective of a Filipino-American teen, this book gives readers a terrifying glimpse of an ongoing problem in my country: a government-sponsored, anti-poor movement disguised as a drug war campaign. If I’m being honest, Patron Saints of Nothing has come to mean so much to me, as a Filipino forced to deal with the fear of dying as a drug war victim every single day (just to be clear, books are my only high), and it’s very difficult to translate all my feelings into actual sentences. I love this book, it’s an easy all-time favorite of mine, and I just want to carry my copy with me wherever I go. // Read my GR review.
📚 My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva // I consider Gail as one of my closest author friends, and I was very happy to be involved in the blog tour for her debut novel, which follows a superstitious young girl and her attempts to reconcile the strained relationships within her family. Knowing Gail personally, I had fairly high expectations as I dived into My Fate According to the Butterfly — and even so, her masterful storytelling still managed to blow me away. Much like Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing, this book depicts the current political climate in the Philippines with a focus on the ongoing drug war; however, Gail’s portrayal feels a lot more personal, a lot more emotionally invested, and a lot closer to home. My Fate According to the Butterfly is a literary masterpiece that made me cry twice and an immediate new favorite that I will hold as closely to my heart as possible. // Read my GR review.
📚 Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa // I reread this book in preparation for a blog tour dedicated to its sequel, Soul of the Sword, which I totally missed (I’m so sorry!). I have been an avid fan of Julie Kagawa since my high school years, and the idea of her finally writing an #ownvoices Japanese-inspired YA fantasy made me all sorts of emotional. Shadow of the Fox was such a joy to reread because I had missed the whimsy and hilarity of its characters amidst the darker undertones of its story. // Read my GR review.
📚 Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa // This sequel immediately picks up from where the first book ends, and unfortunately, it pales in comparison and nearly falls victim to the Second Book Syndrome (aka when the second installment consists of gigantic filler content between the first and last books). The adventure-filled journeying format from its predecessor is retained, albeit the writing is not as strong and tends to drag in places. Ultimately, I tried really hard to love Soul of the Sword, but I just couldn’t. Nonetheless, I am cautiously optimistic about the final book of this trilogy. // Read my GR review.
📚 Jade City by Fonda Lee // Naturally, I just had to reread this one before diving into its sequel. Jade City is an adult fantasy that, according to a recent Twitter poll, I scream about constantly. Exploring the city of Janloon for the second time was as magical and breathtaking (more like, literally forgetting to take breaths) as my first time. It honestly felt like falling in love with the series again, and I’ll probably reread (again) to prepare my heart for the final installment, Jade Legacy. // Read my GR review.
📚 Jade War by Fonda Lee // Where do I begin? I went into this sequel with the full awareness that Fonda Lee was on a mission to break
my her readers’ hearts, and it did just that. In the most beautiful, most heart-wrenching way possible. Considering the extremely high bar Jade City had set, I was in complete awe at how Jade War managed to raise the stakes even higher, while simultaneously introducing new, albeit equally urgent, conflicts and smoothly inserting thought-provoking themes. Honestly? I am deeply afraid of what lies ahead in Jade Legacy. I will never be ready. // Read my GR review.
📚 Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer // My third time reading this self-published fantasy novel! Yes, third! My love for The Oremere Chronicles spans whole years. Helen Scheuerer is brilliant in developing flawed and dimensional characters whom you can’t help but root for, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of Bleak, Henry, Princess Olena, and the rest of the cast! Until this very day, I’m gobsmacked that something so beautifully, intricately written is someone’s debut novel. Heart of Mist is absolute magic, and I cannot recommend this highly enough. // Read my GR review.
📚 Reign of Mist by Helen Scheuerer // I reread both Heart of Mist and Reign of Mist in anticipation for the trilogy’s final installment. What I loved most about this sequel is its exploration of the rest of the magical realm! Aside from the continued growth of my beloved characters and the unearthing of their individual motivations, Reign of Mist serves readers an incredible, incredible journey that no one should miss out on. // Read my GR review.
📚 War of Mist by Helen Scheuerer // After writing two brilliant, page-turning books, I was a little bit worried about how Helen was going to raise the bar even higher. But all my worries were unnecessary because War of Mist definitely delivered with nail-biting tension, solid writing, and a very satisfying conclusion. Seriously, just pick this series up. // Read my GR review.
📚 Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith // After I learned that Bloodleaf is a dark, gritty reimagining of the classic Goose Girl, it immediately became a 2019 debut fantasy that I had been greatly looking forward to. So, I’m saddened to admit that this one sort of let me down. The story starts with an impressive first few chapters, but eventually declines into a huge drag towards the middle, and then magically regains momentum to give a semi-satisfying ending. I just think that, while interesting and decently written, Bloodleaf fails to live up to its potential. // Read my GR review.
📚 No Two Ways by Chi Yu Rodriguez // The synopsis for No Two Ways is quite misleading because it hints at a love triangle coming into play; but, there was nothing of the sort in the story. Nonetheless, while I was relieved that the bisexual protagonist was not caught in a chaotic love triangle between two past lovers, I found the romance novella to be quite lacking and unpolished. As a heterosexual woman, I cannot speak on the quality of the bisexual representation (especially when this book is #ownvoices for the Filipino bisexual representation), but I did feel uncomfortable with the love interest’s biphobia never being fully resolved. I just don’t think the love interest genuinely grows out of her prejudice, but instead learns to “tolerate” her lover’s sexuality. Or maybe that’s just me. // Read my GR review.
📚 A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna // The year is 2019 and the rest of the world is still sleeping on this book. Listen. I reread A Spark of White Fire in preparation for the inevitable heartbreak that is A House of Rage and Sorrow (not that it helped in lessening the devastation I felt but I digress), and I stand by what I’ve said over and over: this novel is an absolutely unique, genre-defying game changer. A Spark of White Fire gives its audience so much in just a limited number of pages, making it an extremely addictive, tension-filled read with astronomical stakes. // Read my GR review.
📚 A House of Rage and Sorrow by Sangu Mandanna // The second installment of this Mahabharata-inspired trilogy really lives up to its name: full of Esme’s unrelenting rage and my endless sorrow. I mean, Sangu Mandanna did not have to snap that hard, but she did(!!!) and my heart is both grateful and shredded into bleeding pieces. Immediately picking up from the first book’s ending, A House of Rage and Sorrow unflinchingly reveals the terrible ramifications of the characters’ decisions, particularly Esme’s new devotion to seeking vengeance, and also poignantly explores the often-overlooked forces that lead to war. And I loved every bit of it. // Read my GR review.
📚 A Conspiracy of Stars by Olivia A. Cole // I impulsively bought a hardcover of this book in a sale mainly because I recalled Kate’s glowing review. Unfortunately, although this book is objectively very well-written, I wasn’t able to immerse myself in its world as much as I would have liked. I think this is partially because I read it during my flight to Malaysia (not-so-fun fact: I am prone to motion sickness) and partially because the romance was too big of a focus for my preference. However, the direction that its story takes is incredibly intriguing, and I do want to know what happens next. // Read my GR review.
📚 The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco // In an epic fantasy world where people are suffering from goddess-made climate change, this book follows the respective journeys of four characters (all of whom I love, adore, and would protect with every inch of my life) as they all attempt to restore the balance of magic. I think the right words to describe Rin Chupeco’s upcoming novel is oh my god. Because, in all seriousness and without exaggeration, The Never Tilting World is an addictive page-turner that spectacularly delivers on an incredibly fascinating premise. And that’s all I’m willing to say for now! // Read my GR review.
📚 Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan // I am genuinely so mad at myself for taking nearly forever to finally pick this one up. A Filipino-authored space opera that’s led by an Asian teenage criminal mastermind? Complex sibling relationships? A love interest named after a kitchen utensil? God. Ignite the Stars is definitely A Ride and A Half — I don’t know what that unnecessary capitalization means, but I do know that I literally could not put this book down! I was so obsessed with finishing it immediately because it gave me all the chills and anti-imperialism feels and wow, what a rush! I could barely handle all the badassery in this book. // Read my GR review.
📚 Eclipse the Skies by Maura Milan // I rushed to pick up Eclipse the Skies literally minutes after I finished the first book because I just badly needed to know how this spectacular, heart-stopping duology ends, okay. In the final installment, Ia is tried and tested over and over. In fact, all the characters go through a Lot of Intense Things, which allow them to grow so wonderfully. Ultimately, Eclipse the Skies is about loyalty, the shakiness of morality, and finding hope in unexpected places. But also, it’s about Maura unapologetically crushing my heart like an insignificant insect. // Read my GR review.
📚 Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu // This tender, proudly queer graphic novel is a huge breath of fresh air from all the fantasy books trying to (and succeeding in) wrecking me. I breezed through this one effortlessly! Plus, the illustrations are so adorable and I just felt all warm and soft throughout the story. // Read my GR review.
ON WHAT I WILL READ
For the month of September, I am keeping my TBR small and unambitious because I know that a lot of legwork is needed to whip my thesis into tip-top shape. Plus, so far, my electives have been requiring more work and energy than I anticipated. Having said all of that, here are four (4) titles that I’m hoping to read!
I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 Not to sound like a Frozen character, but it feels like the first time in forever! How are all of you? I hope things are going well on your side of the globe! (Psst, did you write a wrap-up post for August? Leave the link in the comment section below and I’ll check it out as soon as I can!)
🌻 Have you read any of the books mentioned in this reading update? Did you like them? Did any of them become new favorites?
🌻 I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been hurt by a lot of sequels over the past few months. Are you also facing this struggle? Has a sequel — or any book, really — break your heart recently?