Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/29/22) – The All-Consuming World

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I never learn, do I? Every few weeks, I always start craving sci-fi again, and when there’s nothing readily available at the library or on Kindle, I just sift through the dust bunnies in my TBR until I find something interesting. And to be fair, The All-Consuming World did sound interesting. I was willing to give it a chance despite the pitifully low ratings it’s been getting (a 3.28/5 on Goodreads, as of now), but it turned out to be exactly the disappointment that the reviews promised.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The All-Consuming World – Cassandra Khaw

Maya’s glory days are over. After being resurrected dozens of times, she’s slowly outgrown the Dirty Dozen, the galaxy’s most infamous criminal group, and decided to make her own way. But when the galaxy’s ruler, an all-powerful, sentient AI, threatens to hold their realm in a chokehold, it’s up to Maya to recruit the disbanded bunch of cyborgs, clones, and lowlives to save the galaxy from complete control.

TW/CW: body horror, sci-fi violence, amputation/emergency medical procedures, suicide

DNF at 35%.

I genuinely can’t think of a book with a more jarring writing style than this one. Jarring can sometimes be good, but in the case of The All-Consuming World, it seemed like a case of vast stylistic indecision, and this indecision dragged the entire book down with it. I really wanted to like this book—queer space opera is always up my alley, and I always want to try and support queer authors—but it ended up being a sore disappointment all the way through. (What I could stand to read before I gave up, anyway.) As I always say with my negative reviews: I completely understand. Putting yourself out there as an author is an immensely hard thing to do, and I always admire the work put in. But this book just did not click with me at all.

The writing style is what, for me, made The All-Consuming World crash and burn. Maya was clearly supposed to be a rough-around-the-edges character, battered and bruised, and all around Tough and Gritty™️, and at least half what I read seemed to try and get that voice…with at least 15 f-bombs dropped within rapid succession of each other on each page. Now, I don’t have a problem with swearing at all, and I appreciate the art of a well-placed, well-timed swear. But the excess of ill-placed cusses (along with more f-bombs than there are leaves on the trees in the Amazon Rainforest)—half of which were in combinations that made absolutely no sense at all—made for writing that read more like a middle schooler trying to be edgy than a tough and hardened criminal.

But on the other hand, the other half of what I read was some of the wordiest, floweriest prose I’ve ever read. And some of that had moments of being good—I’ll give Khaw some credit for that—but it was such a jarring contrast. Sometimes, juxtaposition like this works, but the two, distinct voices that Khaw was trying to go for had such a vast gulf in tone between them that it lacked any sense of cohesion whatsoever. I really wanted to stick it out to see what happened, but it was just giving me such a headache to try and weather the writing, so I had to quit.

I stopped at 35% of the way through, and I still don’t have a clue what was going on, plot-wise. I seriously can’t remember if there was a plot beneath all of the flashbacks and exposition, impenetrable prose, and multitudinous f-bombs. From the synopsis, I was told that Dimmuborgir was supposed to be a central plot point, but I only remember it being mentioned a single time. Yes, 35% of the way in isn’t all that far, but that close to the halfway point, I would’ve thought that the characters would have at least moved the slightest bit towards their destination. It was all very…vague. Vague sense of rebellion towards a vague concept of an omniscient, ruling AI with a vague set of characters that fell into either AI or Hardened Criminal™️ boxes. And the worldbuilding? Left the building before the book had even begun. Trying to read The All-Consuming World felt like trying to dig through a messy closet, and emerging an hour later without having found the thing you needed to find in the first place.

All in all, a book that it pains me to rate so low, but crashed and burned in almost every conceivable aspect. 1 star.

The All-Consuming World is a standalone, but Cassandra Khaw is also the author of the Persons Non Grata series (Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet), Nothing but Blackened Teeth, These Deathless Bones, and several other novels and novellas.

Today’s song:

BACK TO BLUR AGAIN!! so far, this is my least favorite album of theirs that I’ve listened to, but it’s still a fantastic listen—take this song, for instance

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

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Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (5/24/22) – A Magic Steeped in Poison

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I saw A Magic Steeped in Poison pop up on several blogs I follow whenever it first came out, and I figured I’d give it a go; I’ve become slightly jaded with a lot of YA fantasy by this point, but I was intrigued by the unique concept of tea magic that this novel promised. I bought it the other day, and I just recently finished it—lush and immersive, with a world that I loved getting lost in.

Enjoy this week’s review!

A Magic Steeped in Poison (The Book of Tea, #1) – Judy I. Lin

In Ning’s world, tea is everything. The shennong-shi—masters of the art of tea-making—are revered in her society, known for conjuring magic and omens through their tea.

After an incident with poisoned tea kills Ning’s mother and incapacitates her sister, she turns to the only option to save her family. In the imperial city, there is a competition to find the most worthy shennong-shi in the kingdom; the winner earns the favor of the princess. Knowing that it may be the only way to save her sister, Ning ventures into the city, but what waits for her there may be more than she bargained for.

TW/CW: poisoning, loss of loved ones, violence, murder, animal cruelty

my brain can’t decide between “Tea” by Jim Noir or “Have a Cuppa Tea” by The Kinks as my internal soundtrack for this…a little help here?

As a reader, I’ve started to grow tired of some many of the beats that most YA fantasies follow—chosen ones, love triangles, and not much “fantasy” other than a basic magic system. I’m glad to say that A Magic Steeped in Poison was a breath of fresh air in that department, filled with lush prose and steeped (no pun intended) in Chinese culture and mythology!

First off, can we all take a moment to appreciate how beautiful this cover is? WOW. Seriously still in awe of how gorgeous it is. DANG. That is ART right there.

now, back to our scheduled program…

What immediately stands out about A Magic Steeped in Poison is Judy I. Lin’s prose. Like the brewing tea that shows up in so much of the book, it’s lush and immersive, filled with all sorts of sensory details that make the world feel all the more fleshed out. Lin’s writing makes it easy to picture the world that she’s created, from Ning’s rural home province to the luxury of the Imperial City. I could smell the tea, feel rain on my skin, and sense the tension that hung in the air during the shennong-shi competition.

I didn’t get overly attached to any of the characters, but Ning worked as the perfect kind of protagonist for A Magic Steeped in Poison; her determination, her hard-working spirit, and her devotion to her craft and family made her just the kind of protagonist to root for. For me, most of the other secondary characters weren’t as fleshed out, but I did like Lian as a secondary character, and the budding romance between Ning and Kang was totally sweet 🥺 (more of that!!! please!!!) I wanted more from these characters, but as a baseline, they were still good to work with.

However, I will say that the plot felt disorganized at worst. Amidst the main plot of the shennong-shi competition, there were a lot of secondary threads that only lasted a few chapters. Their resolutions were often very rushed, and I found myself wondering whether or not they were really relevant to the plot in the end. It felt a bit like an unfinished tapestry; the main picture was all there, but all of the loose, fraying threads at the edges made it almost look sloppy.

All in all, a refreshing fantasy that engaged all of my senses with ease. 3.75 stars, rounded up to 4!

A Magic Steeped in Poison is Judy I. Lin’s debut, and the first book in the Book of Tea duology. Its sequel, A Venom Dark and Sweet, is slated for release this August.

Today’s song:

GOOD GOD this is SUCH A FANTASTIC ALBUM UGH

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books

YA Books for AAPI Heritage Month (2022 Edition)

Happy Monday, bibliophiles!

For those of you who didn’t know, in the U.S., May is Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage month! I made a list of YA reads for the occasion last year (click here if you’d like to parse through), but since I’ve read so many more incredible books by AAPI authors since last May, I figured I would make another list. These are books from all genres, but all of them are from authors of AAPI heritage. And with all of these kinds of posts, I always want to impress the following: reading diversely should never be confined to one part of the year. That being said, it’s always important to uplift marginalized voices—AAPI in this case—and reading is a key way to do so.

Let’s begin, shall we?

THE BOOKISH MUTANT’S YA BOOKS FOR AAPI HERITAGE MONTH (2022 EDITION)

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea – Maggie Tokuda Hall

GENRES: Fantasy, romance, LGBTQ+

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

One of my favorite reads of last year, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was a raw and tender read filled with pirates, mermaids, and resonant love. Highly recommended!

The Weight of Our Sky – Hanna Alkaf

GENRES: Historical fiction, fiction, mental illness/disability

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A searing and powerful read that follows the story of a sixteen-year-old girl with OCD in the midst of the Malaysian race riots in the late sixties.

Gearbreakers – Zoe Hana Mikuta

GENRES: Science fiction, dystopia, romance, LGBTQ+

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Gearbreakers is no ordinary YA dystopia—filled with mechs, found family, and fierce feminism and queerness, this is a must-read!

The Ones We’re Meant to Find – Joan He

GENRES: Science fiction, dystopia, mystery

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Mind-bending and endlessly thought-provoking, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a unique and unforgettable tale of sisterhood in the darkest of times.

Rise of the Red Hand – Olivia Chadha

GENRES: Science fiction, dystopia, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Rise of the Red Hand certainly wasn’t perfect, but it’s best element was its representation; it’s one of the only dystopias that I’ve seen that’s set in South Asia!

Forest of Souls – Lori M. Lee

GENRES: Fantasy, high fantasy

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A rich and spooky fantasy that’s perfect for readers who like their traditional fantasy with a dash of necromancy, vengeful souls, and spiders.

Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao

GENRES: Dystopia, science fiction, LGBTQ+, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Raw, fierce, and relentless, Iron Widow is a searing ode to those who are unafraid to take down the status quo—no matter the stakes.

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know – Samira Ahmed

GENRES: Contemporary, fiction, historical fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A love letter to all of the women that history erases, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know is a sharply feminist story set in alternating timelines.

Summer Bird Blue – Akemi Dawn Bowman

GENRES: Contemporary, fiction, LGBTQ+

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A powerful and unforgettable story of grief and starting over. Akemi Dawn Bowman’s writing never fails to stir up all kinds of emotions in me.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think of them? What are your favorite YA books by AAPI authors? Let me know in the comments!

Today’s song:

That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books

Start ‘Em Young: YA Books to Transition Younger Teen Readers into YA Literature

Happy Monday, bibliophiles!

I’ve been an avid reader from a young age. I read voraciously throughout my pre-teen years, but as I got older, I began reading “older” books—I had been introduced into the wonderful world of YA literature. But it wasn’t quite as smooth as I thought; although young adult books generally encompass a teenage experience, there can often be a wide range of content. While some YA books are lighter and more suitable for younger teens, many range into the “older” teen spectrum that often deals with heavier and more mature subject matter. For me, at least, I think it’s good to have “transition” books for younger YA readers—books that are distinctly “teen,” but aren’t quite as graphic for someone who isn’t mature enough to handle certain topics. I’m doing my best not to make generalizations about the maturity of younger teenagers here, since I was one not so long ago, but I feel like it’s not the best idea to start an 11 or 12 year old on something as dark as Six of Crows or Illuminae. So for those reasons, I’ve decided to compile some books that I think would be great to introduce younger readers to the wide world of YA literature.

Let’s begin, shall we?

📖BOOKS TO TRANSITION YOUNGER TEEN READERS INTO YA 📖

Sorcery of Thorns – Margaret Rogerson

GENRES: fantasy, high fantasy, romance

Sorcery of Thorns had the feel of a lot of middle-grade fantasy novels—not enough magical libraries in YA literature, such a shame 😤

For me, this novel had the perfect balance of whimsy and complexity, and presented a beautiful fantasy world full of magical books and demons!

The Kingdom of Back – Marie Lu

GENRES: historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism

Marie Lu’s books tend to stray on the darker side, but The Kingdom of Back is the perfect standalone for any reader to get into her books. This one is a favorite of mine—such a beautifully-crafted fairytale!

Sisters of the Wolf – Patricia Miller-Schroeder

GENRES: historical fiction

Sisters of the Wolf wasn’t my favorite book, but part of what stood out to me about it (apart from the amazing research that went into the prehistoric setting) was that it hit the perfect balance between middle grade and YA—it’s dark enough to be separated from middle grade, but still palatable for a younger reader transitioning between the age groups.

The Soul Keepers – Devon Taylor

GENRES: fantasy, paranormal, horror

Like Sisters of the Wolf, The Soul Keepers is the perfect bridge between middle grade and YA; even though most of the characters are written as older teens, the level of dark elements struck the perfect balance between younger and older teen readers.

Curses – Lish McBride

GENRES: fantasy, retellings, romance

Nothing like a good fairytale retelling to introduce a reader to YA! Lish McBride’s sense of humor never fails to make me smile, and Curses was a continuously clever and hilarious retelling of Beauty and the Beast. If there’s any Beauty and the Beast retelling to start a reader on, it’s this one.

The Tiger at Midnight – Swati Teerdhala

GENRES: fantasy, high fantasy, romance

The Tiger at Midnight has all of the elements of a classic YA fantasy book, and it’s the perfect choice for introducing a reader into the vast world of YA fantasy! I don’t know why I haven’t picked up the next few books—book 1 was a lot of fun!

Geekerella – Ashley Poston

GENRES: fiction, romance, rom-com

For a reader who wants to jump into romance, the Once Upon a Con series is a perfect starter! Plus, what’s not to love about comic cons, books, and tons of pop culture references?

Once & Future – A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy

GENRES: LGBTQ+, science fiction, retellings, romance

Speaking of retellings…here’s one for readers who are keen on Arthurian legends! Once & Future presents one of the most inventive Arthurian legends I’ve read in a while—space, corporations, curses, and more! It’s wonderfully queer all around as well.

The Light at the Bottom of the World – London Shah

GENRES: dystopia, science fiction, romance

There are a lot—and I mean a lot—of astoundingly mediocre and ridiculous YA dystopias that tried to jump on the Hunger Games train, so why not start off a reader with something that’s genuinely fun and inventive? The Light at the Bottom of the World is a stand-out, action-packed and creative, with a determined protagonist that you can’t help but root for!

I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn

GENRES: fiction, romance

Here’s another light and sweet romance! I Love You So Mochi is the perfect feel-good romance, and it doubles as a spectacular coming-of-age story about finding your passion and your place.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are some other books that you’d recommend for younger teens who are just starting to read YA? Have you read any of these books, and if so, what did you think of them? Tell me in the comments!

Today’s song:

this is such a fun album!! not a bad song here

That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books

Feminist YA Books for Women’s History Month (2022 Edition)

Happy Thursday, bibliophiles!

Women’s History Month is here again in the U.S., and I figured I’d gather some more books to celebrate! Literature has always been an act of resistance, and it’s so important for readers—especially young girls—to see characters and narratives like their own to inspire change in our world. And as always, these books aren’t just for March—they’re for all year round; feminism doesn’t start and stop in March. My goal here is to uplift marginalized voices, and now is the perfect time to uplift those of women.

If you’d like to see my list from last year, click here!

Let’s begin, shall we?

FEMINIST YA BOOKS FOR WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, Samira Ahmed

GENRES: contemporary, historical fiction, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

Told in intersecting timelines between the present day and 19th-century. Paris, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know is a love letter to all the women whose stories have been overshadowed and lost to history. Samira Ahmed is such a wonderful author!

Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao

GENRES: sci-fi, dystopia, romance, LGBTQ+, retellings

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Iron Widow is a fierce, fast-paced sci-fi tale that deftly explores themes of rape culture, institutionalized misogyny, and society’s treatment of women through the eyes of a spitfire pilot determined to tear down an empire. (DESTROY THE PATRIARCHY WITH ROBOTS! I said what I said.)

Squad, Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle

GENRES: graphic novels, contemporary, paranormal, LGBTQ+, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

Squad presents a timely theme—when holding rapists accountable, where is the line between accountability and pure vengeance?—and puts a paranormal spin on it. If the premise of werewolf girls hunting down rapists doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what will.

Slay, Brittney Morris

GENRES: contemporary, fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Though this isn’t my favorite of Brittney Morris’ books that I’ve read (that title would go to The Cost of Knowing as of now), Slay was a wonderfully proud and feminist novel about gaming and Black pride.

The Mirror Season, Anna-Marie McLemore

GENRES: magical realism, fantasy, fiction, LGBTQ+, retellings, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

Anna-Marie McLemore never misses a beat with their books, and The Mirror Season was no exception! All at once raw and beautiful, it presents a searing tale of love after trauma and the fight to hold rapists accountable.

The Good Luck Girls, Charlotte Nicole Davis

GENRES: alternate history, fantasy, paranormal, dystopia, LGBTQ+

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Through a blend of several different genres, Charlotte Nicole Davis presents the stories of five girls, bonded through sisterhood and trauma, who take control of their own fates and fight their fair share of patriarchy—and demons.

Juliet Takes a Breath – Gabby Rivera

GENRES: fiction, contemporary, LGBTQ+, historical fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Juliet Takes a Breath is a fantastic, queer coming-of-age novel about sexuality, self-discovery, identity, and being a feminist. There’s an especially important discussion of the harm of “white feminism,” which, for a YA novel, is crucial to discuss.

A Phoenix Must First Burn, Patrice Caldwell et. al. (anthology)

GENRES: short stories/anthologies, fantasy, contemporary, paranormal, science fiction, LGBTQ+, romance, historical fiction

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

There’s not a single bad short story in A Phoenix Must First Burn! Through several different genres, all of these stories center around the experience of growing up as a Black woman, and include everything from aliens to sorcery to the American west.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are your favorite feminist YA books? Have you read any of these books, and if you have, what did you think of them? What have you been reading for Women’s History Month? Tell me in the comments!

Today’s song:

NEW SOCCER MOMMY IN JUNE?? I’m convinced that 2022 is the year of being blessed by the music gods

That’s it for this list! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Music

Laurel Hell – Mitski album review

Happy Wednesday, bibliophiles!

2022 is shaping up to be a year full of highly anticipated albums—Spiritualized, girlpool, Spoon (THIS FRIDAY AAAH), and so many others. Mitski’s Laurel Hell was the first of these; I’ve been a fan of Mitski since around 2019 after hearing “Washing Machine Heart” on the radio. Since then, I’ve delved more into her catalogue, but I’d say that 75% of what I’ve heard of hers, I’ve liked—hit or miss, but mostly hits. Bury Me at Makeout Creek was a near perfect album for me, but I haven’t listened to any of her other albums in their entirety.

So when I heard that Mitski was coming out with a new album, I was excited to take another dive into her catalogue. What I got, however, was an album that simultaneously stayed true to her past and branched out in new directions—with varying degrees of success.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Mitski: Laurel Hell Album Review | Pitchfork

LAUREL HELL – MITSKI ALBUM REVIEW

TRACK 1: “Valentine, Texas” – 7/10

“Valentine, Texas” is a sparse and eerie album opener. It slowly creeps along with only faint synths and Mitski’s breathy vocals, but eventually sprawls out into bright piano chords and a steady drumbeat. For me, it’s the musical equivalent of wading through pitch-black water—a beautifully atmospheric song and a great start to this album!

TRACK 2: “Working for the Knife” – 8/10

The fact that “Working for the Knife” was the first single released for Laurel Hell is a blessing and a curse—a blessing that it’s such a fantastic song, and a curse in that…well, it’s the highlight of the album for me, and it got released before everything else and raised my expectations. Nevertheless, this is classic Mitski at her best, with steady instrumentals and raw, biting lyricism aplenty.

TRACK 3: “Stay Soft” – 6/10

Open up your heart

Like the gates of Hell…

Mitski, “Stay Soft”

What Laurel Hell has revealed to me is that Mitski has begun to lean in the direction of poppier material. After the success of songs like “Washing Machine Heart” and “Nobody,” her songs have become more synth-dominated and upbeat (…well, musically upbeat) while still retaining their signature lyrical vulnerability. “Stay Soft” is just that, but for me, it didn’t reach the level of the latter two songs; the lyrics are some of Mitski’s best, but musically, it feels…strangely weak. Restrained, almost. Mixed feelings.

TRACK 4: “Everyone” – 8/10

And I left my door open to the dark,

I said, ‘Come in, come in, whatever you are,’

But it didn’t want me yet…

Mitski, “Everyone”

Although this isn’t *quite* as strong as “Working for the Knife,” it’s doubtlessly one of my favorites from this album. Like “Valentine, Texas,” its instrumentals are sparse, but it’s just as powerful and moving a ballad as any of her previous works. The imagery the lyrics evoke are especially strong, almost like dark fairytales in their sensibilities.

TRACK 5: “Heat Lightning” – 7.5/10

Sleeping eyelid of the sky

Flutters in a dream…

Mitski, “Heat Lightning”

By now, everyone’s made this comparison, but “Heat Lightning” REEKS of The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs”—and it’s great. There’s a feeling of quiet helplessness to it, a reluctant lament accented by pianos and synths. It adds to the feeling I’m getting from most of the album—a distinctly nighttime atmosphere, nighttime in a forest clearing with a lake.

TRACK 6: “The Only Heartbreaker” – 6/10

Out of the four pre-released singles for Laurel Hell, “The Only Heartbreaker” was my least favorite. It was still enjoyable and catchy, but the synths felt bland to me. The fact that it was only co-written by Mitski detracted from it as well; Mitski is her best when the lyrics are all hers, and for a Mitski song, these lyrics bordered on simplistic. Not that simplistic lyricism is all bad, but for an artist like Mitski, it’s uncharacteristic. Still a decent pop song, though.

TRACK 7: “Love Me More” – 8/10

Out of all of the more pop-oriented songs on Laurel Hell, “Love Me More” is my favorite. Unlike with songs like “Stay Soft” or “Should’ve Been Me,” Mitski throws off all restraints on her vocals, letting her beautiful voice soar along with the synth notes that seem to climb with the lyrics. It’s the happy medium between what Mitski once was and what she seems to be aiming to be—vulnerable, but infectiously catchy.

TRACK 8: “There’s Nothing Left For You” – 6.5/10

Like “Valentine, Texas” and “Everyone,” “There’s Nothing Left For You” shows the quieter, somber side of Laurel Hell with soft vocals and bare-bones instrumentals. Although I still like it, it doesn’t pack the same punch as the latter two songs I mentioned—it does have a “kicking in” moment, but it’s in the middle of the song, and fades away to the same as the first third once the song ends. It’s still good, make no mistake, but not quite as powerful.

TRACK 9: “Should’ve Been Me” – 5/10

“Should’ve Been Me” is where Mitski’s pop direion steers into mixed-feelings territory for me. Strangely, although songs like “Nobody” worked with upbeat music and not-so-upbeat lyricism, the musical pep of “Should’ve Been Me” seems far too peppy for the message it attempts to put out. Part of why it doesn’t succeed is where it sits in the album—right next to one of its quietest moments. The transition from “There’s Nothing Left For You” to this makes for a jarring listening experience—and not in a good way.

TRACK 10: “I Guess” – 7/10

“I Guess” should have been the album’s closer. A haunting refrain soundtracked by strains of muffled pianos, Mitski’s vocals reach their fullest potential in this second-to-last track. The production only adds to the “swimming in a lake at night” atmosphere—it’s a beautiful song.

TRACK 11: “That’s Our Lamp” – 5/10

It’s a shame that this is what closes off this album—the worst song, in my opinion. “That’s Our Lamp” is a strange attempt to create an 80’s-esque pop song, but although the music reaches some crescendos, it’s another instance where it feels as though Mitski is restraining herself vocally. The combination makes for a jarring song and a disappointing album closer.

Mitski's 'Laurel Hell' confronts the wild complexity of feeling : NPR

I averaged out all of the song ratings, and it came out to about a 6.7. That feels accurate for the album—I would still consider it an alright album, but there were songs that dragged it down too much. However, there were some hidden gems in the mix, and those are ones I’ll be sure to treasure. I don’t regret listening to the album, but it wasn’t Mitski’s best.

Review: Mitski - Laurel Hell | RANGE

Since this post is an album review, consider this whole post today’s song.

That’s it for this album review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (1/4/22) – Rise of the Red Hand

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Since I haven’t been able to go to the library lately, I’ve been going through some books on my wish list at the Kindle library. I found this in the sci-fi section, and despite a lot of mediocre to bad reviews, I figured that I would give it a try. And yes, it was a little messy at times, but it presented a unique addition to the YA dystopia genre.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Rise of the Red Hand (The Mechanists, #1) by Olivia Chadha

Rise of the Red Hand (The Mechanists, #1) – Olivia Chadha

25 years after a devastating nuclear war, Ashiva ekes out a living in the slums of the South Asian province. While the rich gorge on new technology, the poor barely get by on secondhand tech and scarce food and water.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, a revolutionary organization with the goal of dismantling the oppressive government of the South Asian province. As a new sickness ravages the province, Ashiva is forced to ally with Riz-Ali, a rich uplander who may hold the key to exposing a dark conspiracy within the government.

ohapplejuice.tumblr.com - Tumbex

TW/CW: human experimentation, pandemic, graphic violence, emergency medical procedures, death, blood, faked disability, attempted murder

Rise of the Red Hand was more than a little messy, but it had enough unique takes on the average dystopia to pull it through.

What sets Rise of the Red Hand apart from most everything else in the YA dystopian genre is its setting; it’s set in a futuristic South Asia, which is really cool to see, especially since 90% of the dystopias I’ve read are set somewhere in the U.S.! That, along with the atmosphere of the future world that Chadha created and the interspersed South Asian culture and slang, was a breath of fresh air.

Along with that, the highlight of Rise of the Red Hand is that it made dystopia feel…human. There were slices of life that the reader witnesses amidst the horror and destruction—the last real-food vendor in the market, a group of children putting a “kick me” sign on a government robot—that made the setting feel genuine. Dystopias are supposed to be bleak and horrible, of course—that’s the definition of a dystopia in the first place—but elements like these are what make it believable. No matter the circumstances, little pockets of life always thrive. Or, in the words of Jeff Goldblum, “Life finds a way.”

I have mixed feelings about the worldbuilding. On the one hand, Chadha did a good job of making a thorough buildup to the current state of her world, and I didn’t feel as though I were missing anything as I read it. On the other hand, this information was delivered in chunks that were often hefty and distracted from the present dialogue. Good worldbuilding, but ruined by getting dropped on the reader’s head like cinderblocks. Also, on the subject of the provinces…if Asia was divided into the South Asian province and the Asian province, why were North America, South America, and Africa just provinces on their own? It made sense for Europe and Australia, since they’re both fairly small as far as continents go, but…North and South America and Africa are huge. How could that be one province?

The plot itself wasn’t terribly unique; Chadha’s writing made it compelling enough, but underneath all its trappings, it was your garden-variety “take down the oppressive government (that is oppressive for very vague and unspecified reasons) kind of dystopian plot. It’s not to say that it isn’t bad, just overdone. Take away the thorough worldbuilding and unique setting, and this could have been something from 10 years ago, post-Hunger Games. However, I will say that at least it was specified why the government was so oppressive—and a lot of it’s horribly sinister. But again, the setting was the saving grace here—not much else.

Other than that, the characters were decent—not terribly interesting, but not cardboard either. The romance between Ashiva and Riz-Ali felt very rushed and insta-love-y, and was ultimately very unnecessary. Taru’s chapters didn’t feel very necessary, and her voice bothered me. And on the subject of Taru—why exactly did they fake her having brittle-bone disease? Not only are we supposed to be rooting for Ashiva, who conspired to do this, how is that even a solution? That part just felt…weird.

Overall, a dystopia that boasts a unique setting, humanity and atmosphere—but not a lot else. 3 stars.

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Rise of the Red Hand is the first book in the Mechanists duology, and it is followed by an untitled sequel set for release this year. Olivia Chadha is also the author of Balance of Fragile Things.

Today’s song:

the harmony at the very end is so pretty 🥺

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (12/28/21) – Squad

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

After finishing and loving The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, Squad immediately came on my radar—with the details of the Mermaid sequel being hazy at best, I needed more of Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s writing in my life. I found it in Squad, a punchy and timely graphic novel with bright colors and inner darkness.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Amazon.com: Squad: 9780062943149: Tokuda-Hall, Maggie, Sterle, Lisa: Books

Squad – Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle

In her junior year, Becca moves to a new high school, thinking that she’ll have to settle with not fitting in. To her surprise, she’s taken under the wings of the three most popular girls in school, and soon, she is swept up into a world of new clothes and rowdy parties. But these three girls have a secret—they’re werewolves, and their prey are the predatory boys they find at their parties. But as the police investigate their most recent killing, Becca must decide if she still wants to be a part of their werewolf Squad.

Squad : Tokuda-Hall, Maggie, Sterle, Lisa: Amazon.ca: Books
art by Lisa Sterle

TW/CW: attempted rape, misogyny, racism, graphic violence, gore/blood

With its juxtaposition of a bright color palette and the darkness of werewolves out for blood, Squad is the perfect graphic novel for this day and age, and presents a timely theme—when does justice become purely revenge?

I’ve been a fan of Tokuda-Hall’s since The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, but I hadn’t seen anything of Lisa Sterle’s before this. Now, I can definitively say that they make a fantastic graphic novel team! The combination of Tokuda-Hall’s dark and witty writing and Sterle’s bright colors and distinctive faces (both human and wolf) meshed so well together, making the storytelling all the more cohesive. Sterle’s art style is one that I really liked, and it’s the perfect style for this story. I’d like to see something else from this team—their respective writing and art styles were perfect for the aesthetic of Squad!

Right off the bat, I loved the concept of this novel and the implications it had. The idea of a clique of werewolves preying on rapists at parties already had my attention, and this part was executed so well! But beyond this, Squad asks us the question that’s become so prevalent with #MeToo and the growing movement to hold rapists accountable: when does getting back at the perpetrator become pure revenge and not accountability? Seeing all of this through the eyes of Becca—the newest in what we find out is a long line of werewolves—is a perfect way to show these themes from the perspective of a newcomer.

Becca’s perspective also serves as a wonderful way to show how dangerous trying to fit in can be. Over the course of Squad, a rift begins to form between these four girls, especially with Arianna, who has begun to break all the rules set by their previous “alpha,” and Amanda, who seems to be the only one willing to stick to their original plans. All of this threatens to tear Becca apart, even when her own mother pushes her to continue climbing the social ladder. It presents a great dilemma for Becca—is it worth it to go against what she feels is right for a chance at power?

However, there were a few things that I didn’t quite like about Squad. First off, the ending felt very abrupt and unresolved. It went from point A to point B with no real correlation, and it simply…ended. From reading two of her works now, I’d say that endings aren’t Tokuda-Hall’s strong suit; I didn’t mind the ending of The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea as much as I did this one (although my friends in book club would probably say otherwise lol), but it still felt rushed. Squad’s ending was still sweet, but it lacked a cohesive resolution.

In addition, while I loved the idea of a sapphic werewolf romance, the relationship between Becca and Marley was very rushed. Like the ending, I loved what little I saw of it (especially that last scene!), but it felt crammed into the last third of the story and bordered on insta-love. Plus, I have mixed feelings about Becca being paired with Marley; it made sense in concept, since they were both caught up in the conflict of the rest of the squad, but given some of the offhand comments that Marley makes about Becca in the beginning, it didn’t make sense that Becca would immediately tolerate all that and fall in love. Maybe if we’d seen if Marley had a change of heart or at least apologized about some of those comments, it might have made sense. But the romance ended up being sweet, but sloppily done. Almost an afterthought.

All in all, a biting (no pun intended) and important tale of the line between accountability and revenge. 4.25 stars!

Squad : Tokuda-Hall, Maggie, Sterle, Lisa: Amazon.ca: Books

Squad is a standalone, but Maggie Tokuda-Hall is also the author of The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea. Lisa Sterle is also the illustrator of Witchblood and the creator of the Modern Witch Tarot Deck.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday, and the last Book Review Tuesday of 2021! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/16/21) – Aurora’s End (Aurora Cycle, #3)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Wow. The day has finally come, folks. 1 and a half years of waiting, and now I have answers. My favorite series has come to a close, and yet it doesn’t feel like the end. It’s surreal to think that this may be it—the series that changed the course of my life, finally capping off. But if this really is the end, then Aurora’s End is the best conclusion that I could have ever asked for, and a book that I will no doubt cherish just as fervently as the first two books.

Now, TREAD LIGHTLY! If you haven’t read Aurora Rising or Aurora Burning and intend to, beware of spoilers! If you want to read my previous reviews, look no further:

Enjoy this week’s review!

Aurora's End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | Penguin Random House Canada
F I N

Aurora’s End (Aurora Cycle, #3) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

my copy ft. Aurora Burning and Aurora Rising, plus a cool filter and some crystals (not Eshvaren crystals oop)
last picture, I promise—here’s Finny boy with Hobbes, one of my cats

For all intents and purposes, the Battle of Terra was the end for Squad 312. They failed to stop the Starslayer from harnessing the Eshvaren’s Weapon, and intergalactic war is imminent. Meanwhile, the Ra’Haam slips in through the chaos, threatening to cover the entire universe in its spores.

But by a cosmic twist of fate, Tyler, Auri, Kal, Zila, Scarlett, and Finian are unscathed. They’ve been separated by time, and the only chance they have at thwarting the Ra’Haam is turning history itself inside out. Time is not on their side, though, and it may not be enough to save civilization itself from being wiped out.

karlmordo - This is how things are now! You and me. Trapped in...
Aurora’s End without context

TW/CW: graphic violence, mild sexual content, blood, near-death situations, severe allergic reaction, emergency medical procedures, loss of loved ones, death, descriptions of injury, body horror

[WARNING: this review may contain spoilers for Aurora Rising and Aurora Burning!]

I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that this is really the end of the Aurora Cycle. But as someone whose life was permanently altered for the better by this trilogy, I can say with certainty that this is the best end to the series that I could have ever asked for. My heart is so, so, so full of love.

There were so many factors that went into the separate situations that Squad 312 got themselves into, but Kaufman and Kristoff have once again proved that nothing is impossible. Time is distorted, there are future selves to be dealt with, technology and ancient aliens races are as complicated as ever, and of course, Past Pete is here to kill Future Pete. Lucky for us, Kaufman & Kristoff have been rapid-firing Chekhov’s gun, and every detail from the past two books comes full circle. After how mind-boggling the plot and cliffhanger of Aurora Burning were, Aurora’s End brings everything back in superbly clever and surprising ways, making for a trilogy that’s more cohesive than ever before.

And my emotions…MY EMOTIONS! After so long apart, reuniting with Squad 312 felt like reuniting with long-lost friends. Despite this being the last book, the development that many characters got was such a beautiful way to bring them all the way back and display the enormous growth many of them have had over the course of the series. Out of all of them, though, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see Finian and Scarlett’s relationship develop; they’re such an unlikely couple, but the love they have for each other is so consistently tender and heartwarming. Plus, a) NORMALIZE BI PEOPLE IN STRAIGHT PASSING RELATIONSHIPS! STRAIGHT-PASSING RELATIONSHIPS ARE SO VERY VALID!, and b) DISABLED PEOPLE!! IN LOVING RELATIONSHIPS!! WE NEED MORE OF THOSE!! Nothing can top Kalauri, but Fin and Scar come very, very close. I LOVE those two. Power couple. Finian is the once and future disaster bisexual.

Also, Tyler trying to be all “space pirate”-y after an entire lifetime of being Captain America was a train wreck…comedy gold

One aspect of Kaufman and Kristoff’s writing that I haven’t often touched on is how they build tension. Their skill at developing heart-pounding tension is especially evident in Aurora’s End; they did such a masterful job of raising the stakes over the course of these three books, and bringing it all to a nail-biting cataclysm towards the end. The last 100 pages of Aurora’s End had me stressed out to no end, but…in a good way? It made me genuinely worried for everybody involved. Look, I’ve gotten way to attached to my space misfits over the past two years. Let me off the hook this once.

Along with all that, Kaufman and Kristoff once again more than delivered with everything that made the first two books so strong. The universe was expanded upon in surprising ways, the characters were more fleshed out and lovable than ever, the chemistry was impeccable, the action sequences had me clutching the book in a vice grip, and the dialogue hit the perfect balance of levity, tenderness, and solemnity. The found family of Squad 312 is stronger than ever, and my heart is still bursting with love for all of them.

It’s hard to end this review. It isn’t every day that a series changes my life, but the Aurora Cycle truly did. These books taught me so much about moving through this world as an outsider; Auri taught me that I didn’t have to be brave or strong to be a hero, and that people with the fate of the world on their shoulders can have their big feels too. She was the first time I’d really seen a mixed-race hero, and having a character like her means the world to me. I’ve come to see myself in Finian, and he’s taught me that I deserve love just as I am. And Squad 312 has taught me that no matter who you are, there will always be a home for the outsiders. It cemented, more than ever, that even if you think that you are alone in the world, somebody out there loves you, and will give you a home.

All in all, the perfect ending for a series that changed my life for the better. 5 stars for the sake of Goodreads, but realistically, however many stars there are in the known universe.

Squad 312 forever. 💗

never again shall we submit

Aurora’s End is the final book in the Aurora Cycle, preceded by Aurora Rising (#1) and Aurora Burning (#2). Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have also written the Illuminae Files together; Amie Kaufman is also the author of the Starbound trilogy (co-written with Meagan Spooner) and the Elementals series, and Jay Kristoff is also the author of the LIFEL1K3 trilogy and Empire of the Vampire.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (10/5/21) – Iron Widow

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

This novel came on my radar a few months ago, and I just had to put it on my TBR–what could go wrong with giant robots, aliens, and patriarchy-smashing? What more could a reader want, really? I preordered it, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint–and it got me out of a week-and-a-half-long reading slump too!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1) – Xiran Jay Zhao

my copy ft. a nice filter and some more red and orange books

Hordes of aliens are invading Huaxia. Their last hope lies in the Chrysalises, supersized robots piloted by the best young boys that the country has to offer–and powered by girls, who inevitably die from the exertion.

It’s not a dream that most of the girls of Huaxia would entertain. But for 18-year-old Zetian, there’s more to the job than certain death. There’s a chance of revenge, specifically for her older sister, who was sacrificed by a Chrysalis pilot. Her murder successful murder plot garners her the rare title of Iron Widow, a role reversal where she pilots the Chrysalis and can only sacrifice boys. With her newfound title, Zetian has one more mission–tear the misogynist foundations of Huaxia’s army to shreds.

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TW/CW: misogyny, rape, graphic violence, death, past loss of loved one, alcoholism/substance abuse, withdrawal, torture

I’m ashamed that we didn’t think of this solution earlier…DESTROY THE PATRIARCHY WITH ROBOTS

After a long slump, Iron Widow was just what I needed. Even if I’d been on a string of amazing books beforehand, though, this book would have been just as much of a wild ride as it was when I read it. Unapologetically feminist and action-packed, Iron Widow is sure to please sci-fi fans and those new to the genre.

The feminist aspect of Iron Widow is what stood out the most for me. Throughout, there’s unapologetic commentary on the harshest treatment of women in society, from the constraints of the gender binary to rape and institutionalized misogyny. Sure, we have hordes of aliens attacking the country in droves, but the rampant sexism and misogynist violence is the real antagonist here. Xiran Jay Zhao did an excellent job of showing all the facets of misogyny–and then having a character like Zetian tear them down little by little.

Zetian was the perfect protagonist for Iron Widow, and she’s a near textbook-perfect example of a flawed but sympathizable character. She’s ruthless, she’s fierce, she’s fiery, but what’s more important than her traits is why she became the way she did. It’s a perfect example of how oppression can shape a person’s character–Zetian might not have been so blindsided by revenge and filled with self-doubt were it not for the ingrained misogyny of Huaxia’s culture. Her character was such a well-crafted exploration of this theme.

On top of that, Zetian’s character made for the perfect catalyst to drive the plot forward! There was no shortage of drama or action that she either caused or that came in her wake, rocketing an already action-packed novel at a fast but consistently entertaining pace. The combination of Zetian and military drama, robots, and aliens made for a novel that never slowed down–in the best way possible.

Another aspect that Zhao handled well was the balance of plot elements. There’s more than a few heavy topics discussed in this book (see the TW/CW at the top), but they depicted their realness while also reveling in the more fantastical plot elements. I hesitate to call the latter “levity,” but there wasn’t an imbalance of either of those sections of the novel.

Now, I’m a little torn on the worldbuilding. For the most part, I loved it, especially the Chrysalises. Each one was based off of a creature from Chinese-inspired mythology, and I was so excited to see all of them come to life. Zhao also did a great job explaining the whole qi system without info dumping–there were just the right amount of evenly-spaced tidbits of information that I wasn’t deluged with anything, but by the time that these elements came in, I was able to go “oh, right, I understand how that works.” I just wish the same care was put into the Hundun aliens! Although I can’t wait to see how the twist with them is resolved in the next book, all of the details about them were so vague that I could hardly picture them.

Also, a big selling point about Iron Widow was that there was a love triangle solved by polyamory. I was so excited to see it come into play, but…it never seemed to happen? Maybe I missed something (is it just going to be slow-burn?), but I swear there was only some romantic undertones with both Li Shimin and Yizhi and the three of them haven’t been together for a very long time. Again, maybe I missed something, but I was a little disappointed by that. Maybe it’ll appear in book 2…

All in all, a raw and unapologetically feminist piece of YA sci-fi. 4 stars!

Iron Widow is Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut novel and the first in the Iron Widow series. The series will be continued by an as-of-yet untitled sequel set for release in 2022.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!