Chachic's Book Nook


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Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier

I enjoyed reading Rachel Neumeier’s House of Shadows so I jumped at the chance to read Black Dog when I was offered a review copy. I was intrigued when I first found out the premise of the book. Also, I wanted to see how Rachel’s writing will translate from epic fantasy to urban fantasy.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Black DogNatividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle

It’s been weeks since I finished reading Black Dog and I still have fond memories of it. I remember staying up late one week night to finish reading this novel. It didn’t take that much effort for me to be immersed in the story and I found myself absorbed until I reached the end. I found the characters intriguing and felt that the worldbuilding was solid. I like how the reader is thrown into the story without lengthy descriptions, you just learn more about the world as you keep reading. The magic in this world can be found in black dogs and the Pure. Black dogs are shapeshifters who can change from their human to black dog forms as needed. While Pure women are able to wield their magic to invoke peace and to protect other people from malicious magic. The calmness that the Pure can provide serves as a counterpoint to the anger and violence that are part of a black dog’s nature. Natividad is a Pure, her brother Alejandro is a black dog while her twin Miguel is human. I like how these three siblings each have their own strengths and weaknesses. They each have something to contribute to their family, and eventually the Dimilioc clan. Even Miguel, who has no supernatural abilities, has skills in other areas. Aside from having magical skills, I also found it interesting that these siblings are half-Mexican and half-American. They were brought up in Mexico but had to flee to North America to run away from danger, and to hopefully gain allies in the Dimilioc clan. The Dimilioc black dogs also have a mix of interesting characters and I was curious about them as well.

I like how the point of view shifts from Natividad to Alejandro, giving us a better understanding of what this world is like from both Pure and black dog perspectives. I did wonder if the story would have been richer if we also got Miguel’s POV but it wasn’t a major issue. Black Dog was such an enjoyable read for me. I liked how the story progressed until the climax was reached. So many things happened in a short span of time but I thought the events were paced well. I really wasn’t able to predict how things will go, so I kept turning the pages to find out. It’s a good introduction to the world in this series and it made me want to read the sequel even though it hasn’t even been released. I would be more than interested to find out how the members of the Dimilioc clan will adapt based on recent changes that they’ve implemented. The world is on the cusp of change as they enter a new age where vampires no longer exist. I found that aspect of the story intriguing, as well as the history and culture of black dogs. There’s also a tentative romance in the first book that I’m hoping will be further developed in the sequel. I felt that the love story was barely there and would have loved more scenes between the two characters. I also thought that Black Dog had beautiful writing – here’s a non-spoilery snippet to illustrate my point:

“Out there in the cold, mountains rose against the sky, white and gray and black: snow and naked trees and granite and the sky above all… The sky itself was different here, crystalline and transparent, seeming farther away than any Mexican sky. The sun seemed smaller here, too, than the one that burned across the dry mountains of Nuevo Leon: this sun poured out not heat, but a cold brilliant luminiscence that the endless snow reflected back into the sky, until the whole world seemed made of light.”

Further proof of how much I enjoyed reading this book was that it reminded a little of the World of the Lupi series by Eileen Wilks, which was one of my favorite discoveries last year. I’m happy to report that I feel like Rachel Neumeier made a successful foray into urban fantasy with Black Dog. Like I said, I look forward to reading the next installment in the series.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliphile
By Singing Light
Charlotte’s Library


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Retro Friday: Medair by Andrea K. Höst

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

MedairHaving previously loved Andrea K. Höst’s sci-fi novels And All the Stars and the Touchstone trilogy, I picked up her Medair duology when I needed to be fully absorbed by a good novel. It’s funny because out of all of her books, I wanted to read this epic fantasy duology first but I didn’t get the chance to read them until recently. Once again, I would like to thank the author for providing a review copy of the omnibus edition which contains both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost. I feel that both books have to be read together so I’m glad I got them in one edition.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Medair an Rynstar returned too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. Centuries too late.

When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic, no artefact, no enchanted trinket which can undo the past.

But no matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, there are those who will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles.

With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?

Silence of MedairI was completely immersed in Medair’s world right from the start. I read the whole thing in just one weekend because I couldn’t get enough of the story and just had to reach the end as soon as I could. I wanted to be swept away into a wonderful world filled with magic and adventure and I’m happy to report that Medair lived up to my expectations. Having had prior experience reading Andrea K. Höst’s other novels, I knew there would be surprising twists and turns in both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost and I was right. I was immediately intrigued by the premise – Medair is a Herald of her kingdom, tasked with finding a powerful magical object that will help her people win the war. She succeeded in finding what she was looking for, but she stopped to rest in a place outside of time and when she woke up, she discovered that 500 years have passed. Not surprisingly, Medair feels lost, with no idea how to move forward. A large part of the reader’s enjoyment of Medair would depend on whether one will be able to sympathize with her and the issues that she faces. Her narration is very introspective, going back and forth from the past to the present, and trying to reconcile the differences between them. There’s a lot of reflection on her part as she reluctantly becomes involved in making decisions that would irrevocably change the world she found herself in. I loved Medair’s character, I understood her hesitations, her feelings and her worries. She’s an intelligent and resourceful woman, loyal to her liege and her country, and inherently a good person. But completely at a loss with how much has been altered in her world. I do admit that there could have been less of her thoughts going around in circles, even Medair was self-aware enough to realize that she keeps doing that, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. I can see why the narration wouldn’t work for everyone but I’m delighted that I was completely engrossed by it. Aside from Medair, I was also invested in several other characters in the story and I loved seeing her interact with them even as she tries to keep a distance.

Voice of the LostThere’s a whole lot of history and political intrigue intertwined with the story, partly because of the invasion centuries ago, and also because of the alliances of the various governing bodies around the region. I enjoyed these aspects and how magic was also involved in all of it. I like that there weren’t any lengthy explanations on how the magic works but it never got confusing for me. I felt that it was seamlessly woven into the story. I believe that this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the romance in these two books. While I could see it coming, it was how the characters got there that mattered. In keeping with her personality and the situation she’s in, Medair doesn’t take her attraction to a certain someone lightly. As a result, there’s tension and ambiguity. I really had no idea how things would unfold between them. Andrea K. Höst has consistently surprised me with how she builds and develops relationships in her books. While I wasn’t exactly able to predict how things would end, I can say that there was a nice build up and I couldn’t see Medair’s story ending any other way. Similar to the Touchstone trilogy, I can see the Medair duology will be a very good reread. I look forward to finding the time for it. In the meantime, I need to work on convincing more readers to pick up her books because I seriously find it surprising that they’re not as well-known as they should be. I had a book hangover after reading these two books and the only solution I could think of was to start on another Andrea K. Höst title.

Other reviews:
Me and My Books


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Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K. Höst

I really liked Andrea K. Host’s And All the Stars last year and even included it in my best of 2013 list. I have been meaning to read the rest of her books since then. I know that several friends (namely Rachel, Estara and Li) have loved the Touchstone trilogy so I requested a review copy from the author and started reading it as soon as I was in the mood for sci-fi. I used to say that I’m not much of a sci-fi reader but given how much I enjoy reading Andrea K. Höst’s novels, it seems like I should read more from that genre. I read the omnibus version of the trilogy so this is a review for all three books – Stray, Lab Rat One and Caszandra – although I wouldn’t be mentioning any spoilers.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Touchstone TrilogyOn her last day of high school, Cassandra Devlin walked out of exams and into a forest. Surrounded by the wrong sort of trees, and animals never featured in any nature documentary, Cass is only sure of one thing: alone, she will be lucky to survive.

The sprawl of abandoned blockish buildings Cass discovers offers her only more puzzles. Where are the people? What is the intoxicating mist which drifts off the buildings in the moonlight? And why does she feel like she’s being watched?

Increasingly unnerved, Cass is overjoyed at the arrival of the formidable Setari. Whisked to a world as technologically advanced as the first was primitive, where nanotech computers are grown inside people’s skulls, and few have any interest in venturing outside the enormous whitestone cities, Cass finds herself processed as a ‘stray’, a refugee displaced by the gates torn between worlds. Struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture, she must adapt to virtual classrooms, friends who can teleport, and the ingrained attitude that strays are backward and slow.

Can Cass ever find her way home? And after the people of her new world discover her unexpected value, will they be willing to let her leave?

Aussie teen Cass tells her story in diary format, so a big factor of the reader’s enjoyment of the Touchstone trilogy is based on how well you can relate and connect with her character. At first I thought it wasn’t going to work for me since I’m not a big fan of stories where the main character is stranded somewhere by herself. However, I found it easy to like Cass and the pace picked up considerably once she was rescued and brought to the alien planet Tare. Cass is smart, funny and has realistic reactions to finding herself suddenly stuck in an unfamiliar world. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to adjust to living in a foreign country, finding yourself in another planet with a drastically different civilization and language is probably a thousand times worse. I could definitely understand her homesickness and loneliness. I also feel like Cass handles herself quite well in spite of the physical and emotional obstacles in her path. Plus, I always think it’s a good thing when the main character of any novel is a book lover. Some excerpts:

“I’ve spent my life with stories of people who don’t walk away, who go back for their friends, who make that last stand. I’ve been brainwashed by Samwise Gamgee.”

_____________________________

“I’ve spent my whole life reading books. I vaguely remember Mum reading to me in our own bedtime sessions, and our house is practically a library. The way I think, the way I act, most of that’s because of the books I’ve read.”

How can I not like someone who says things like that? I was also fascinated with the technologically advanced world that Andrea K. Höst created – with nanotechnology and tiny computer interface that can be injected in human brains. You can do all sorts of amazing things with the interface like record what you’re seeing, watch movies, read books and play interactive games. In this world, there are also psychic space ninjas called Setari who are specially trained military personnel tasked with keeping the known planets and the space around them safe. Setari have special talents like telekinesis and enhanced sight/senses. Due to certain developments, Cass spends most of her time with the Setari and even befriends some of them. To be honest, I was a little confused with the number of Setari and their talents but I didn’t let that bother me and just kept reading.

One of the aspects of the story that I truly loved was the romance. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what will happen with Cass having such a big crush on someone. I thought she was destined to have “On My Own” as her theme song but fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Slowest burn romance that I’ve read in a while! It reminded me a little of the romance in Crown Duel, with a male character who’s all stoic and unreadable, skilled in combat and also a great leader. I was so absorbed by this series that I kept squeezing in time to read it even though I was supposed to do other things – like pack for a trip home or get some sleep. I even read bits and pieces of this in the car, which I don’t normally do because it makes me dizzy. I hope that gives the rest of you an idea of how engrossed I was. The story lingered in my mind days after I finished reading it, giving me one heck of a book hangover. I devoured the Gratuitous Epilogue, which features the events after the trilogy, right after I finished the three books. What’s interesting is that I think Touchstone will even be better as a reread because I wouldn’t be confused by some of the things that initially bugged me and can pay attention to other details instead. I can now safely say that I’ve become an Andrea K. Höst fangirl. Seriously, more of my reader friends should be introduced to her work. If you haven’t read any of her books, consider this a push in the right direction. I already have Medair in my Kindle and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Touchstone and hot choco

“All these planets, and none of them have chocolate. Severe oversight in world creation.”

Other reviews:
Me and My Books (contains spoilers)
The Book Smugglers – Stray, Lab Rat One, Caszandra


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Welcome to Envy Park by Mina V. Esguerra

I think it’s pretty clear by now that I’m a Mina V. Esguerra fangirl. I grab copies of her novellas and short stories when they’re released and I try to read and review them as soon as I could. The early chapters of Welcome to Envy Park were uploaded to Wattpad so I was able to sample part of the story. I was really looking forward to reading this particular title because it’s about a Filipino lady in her mid-twenties who worked in Singapore for five years and is now back in Manila, trying to figure out what her next move is. I think Welcome to Envy Park’s cover looks pretty good. I like how bright and happy the colors are. I think it’s a great idea for Mina to partner with Filipino fashion bloggers for her book covers. I think the outfit that the girl is wearing is cute and girly although I don’t really picture Moira wearing something like that.

Welcome to Envy ParkHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

Moira Vasquez is a doer. A planner. A get-up-and-goer. At twenty-two, she left her hometown to work in Singapore, to satisfy a need to travel as well as give her savings account a boost. Five years later and she’s back in Manila, with a shiny new apartment to her name, but no job, no career, no boyfriend. She meets Ethan Lorenzo, the quiet hunk of an IT consultant on the ninth floor of her condo building, and he’s a welcome distraction during this period of having absolutely nothing going on in her life.

But she has a plan – of course she does – and this is just a short layover on the way to the next country, the next job, the next big thing. Or will she be missing out on something great that’s already there?

I’m glad that Mina gave us a character who has lived and worked abroad because that’s such a common occurrence for Filipinos. I’m proof of that. I think half of my friends are currently studying or working abroad and I’m not sure when they’re planning to go home or if they’d rather settle down outside the country. I could totally relate to Moira because of the similarities in our working experience and because we’re about the same age. Her descriptions of what her life was like in Singapore is pretty accurate, although I was hoping it included more details. I would have wanted to know what her hobbies were, where she hung out, what her favorite restaurants or dishes were, etc. But maybe I’m just curious about those things because I’m currently based in Singapore. I feel like I could be friends with Moira, we would have conversations about OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) life while trying out new restaurants. Once she’s back in Manila, it was expected that she’d compare herself to her friends who stayed back home and here’s a section of the book that I really liked:

Maybe it was the tequila buzz, but I really did think that I had come out ahead. Surely the lessons in independence that leaving home provided a person counted for something. Counted for more, at least, in terms of emotional growth, and maturity, because those years were the most difficult and humbling of my life so far.

You got that right, sister. Living independently, away from the support system of family and friends, is definitely good for emotional maturity and growth but it’s damn hard. It’s the second most difficult experience of my life, the first was when my dad passed away. I can’t believe that in the five years that she was away, Moira only came home for Christmas visits. I think I wouldn’t last here if I didn’t get to go home three or four times a year. I liked that Moira was also not sure about her career plans, that she was still trying to decide what to do next. I’m also at that stage in my life and I believe most of my friends are also like that – in the process of understanding in what direction our career should go or figuring out what our calling is. The one big difference between me and Moira is that’s she’s a doer and I’m more of a go with the flow type of person, which makes me more like Ethan in that regard. I didn’t really plan to move to Singapore, the opportunity presented itself and I knew it would be stupid not to take it. Anyway, I liked how Moira and Ethan got to know each other through their gym sessions and food trips. I always enjoy reading Mina’s books because of the romance and while I have no complaints about how Moira and Ethan’s relationship developed, I would have loved to see more swoon-worthy scenes. That’s a minor quibble because I enjoyed it overall. What I really liked was that while Welcome to Envy Park is a light and fun romance, it still makes you think about life choices – why people choose to work abroad and why others would rather stay in the Philippines. I will definitely be recommending this title to my friends because I feel like they would be able to connect with the story, regardless of what their choices are. There’s just something about Mina’s novellas that make it easy for me to both read and review them. In my dashboard, there are several other drafts of reviews for other books that I’ve read but here I am talking about Welcome to Envy Park.

My reviews of Mina’s other books:
My Imaginary Ex
Fairy Tale Fail
Love Your Frenemies
No Strings Attached
That Kind of Guy
Interim Goddess of Love
Queen of the Clueless
Icon of the Indecisive
Young and Scambitious


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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

My very good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous has been raving about the Saga graphic novel series so I’ve been really curious about it. Last Friday, Kinokuniya Books was having a sale and I decided to drop by and see if I could grab any interesting books. I ended up buying the Saga Volume 1 and Volume 2 since the cost wasn’t too bad after the 20% discount. I found it hilarious that the copies that I got had stickers that said “Unsuitable for the young.” I opened up Volume 1 on Sunday afternoon to try and read maybe one chapter and I ended up finishing it in one sitting. I picked up Volume 2 right after. I was in the middle of other novels but I chose to ignore them in favor of Saga.

Saga

I’m not really much of a graphic novel reader. I’ve only read a couple of them and I think the only other graphic novel / comic book series that I’ve reviewed on the blog is Trese by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo. It’s not that I have anything against graphic novels, it’s just that I’m not familiar with what’s out there and I find them a bit more expensive than paperbacks or hardcovers. But I’m usually game to try something that comes highly recommended (or if a friend lets me borrow his or her copy so I could check it out). I’m so glad I decided to give Saga a try because I really enjoyed reading it, it’s now right up there with Trese as my favorite graphic novel series. But again, that’s not saying much since like I mentioned, I haven’t read that many graphic novels. Saga is the story of Alana and Marko, two soldiers from the opposite sides of an ongoing war. These two are from different worlds and different species and yet they find a way to bridge their cultural differences and connect. Even their personalities are poles apart but I feel like they balance each other well – Alana is sassy and quick to anger while Marko is more reserved and is a pacifist. Alana and Marko’s relationship is new and definitely not perfect, they argue and bicker but I love that their conversations are peppered with humor. There were actually some scenes that made me laugh out loud while I was reading. Also, I think it’s awesome that Alana’s favorite book plays a significant role in the story.

Saga3

I think the art also complements the story very well. I feel like it reads like an animated film, with some very unusual creatures and settings thrown in (because of the space opera / sci-fi nature of the story). It never got confusing even though the points of view shifted quite a bit. That’s another thing that I liked about the story – there are people after Alana and Marko, those who oppose their union and think that it will have a huge impact in the war effort. But even these characters are portrayed as complex individuals with their own motivations behind their actions. Like with any kind of war, there are a lot of gray areas instead of clearly defined good versus evil. In a war that has been going on for so long to the point that the fighting has been outsourced, it gets even more complicated. Ultimately, I feel like Saga is about family, relationships and how war affects human interactions. Saga is something that I wouldn’t have picked up if I wasn’t curious about it because of Maggie and another friend IRL who read it about the same time I did. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a space opera adventure story with some romance in it. Can’t wait for Volume 3.

Saga4


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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I’ve been meaning to read another book written by Rainbow Rowell because I really enjoyed Attachments. But you all know how it goes, so many other books in the TBR pile kept me from doing this. I finally decided to try Fangirl when my friends Angie and Michelle recently gave it such glowing reviews. I just had to know more about Cath and Levi and see whether I’ll like them just as much.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

FangirlCath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

I don’t really read, let alone write, fan fiction. The main reason for this is because I feel like I’ll get confused between the events of canon vs. fanfic. It’s funny because I’m not big on fanfic and my college experience was very different from Cath’s, yet I could still relate to her. I think every person who is a fangirl or fanboy of fictional worlds will be able to relate to Cath. I love her definition of what a nerd is:

“To really be a nerd, she’d decided, you had to prefer fictional worlds to the real one. Cath would move into the World of Mages in a heartbeat.”

Using that definition, I’m definitely a book nerd. I wouldn’t even be able to choose what fictional world I would want to live in. There are so many fantasy settings that I would love to visit and book characters I would love to meet. I also understood how plugged into the online world Cath was because I’m like that as well – I could stay holed up in my room for hours just browsing, staring or typing into my laptop. Aside from being able to relate to Cath’s nerdiness, I also really liked how the book focused on Cath’s relationships with various people in her life – her twin sister Wren, her dad and mom, her roommate Reagan and of course, Levi. These relationships are all complicated, with dialogue and banter that I really enjoyed reading about. I liked that I was able to get most of the references that they used. I feel like I keep saying this but I adore slow burn romances and oh boy, Fangirl had a really good thing going on in that department. I also liked the Nebraska college setting because otherwise, I wouldn’t have found out that there were courses related to farming. I thought it was great that their school also offered writing and young adult literature classes, I certainly wouldn’t have minded taking up those courses if those were available in my own school. One thing that I love about of Rainbow Rowell’s books is that they are all standalones. As much as I enjoy reading books in a series, there are times when I’m in the mood to read something that is wrapped up nicely in one installment. I am now definitely a Rainbow Rowell fan and I look forward to reading Eleanor and Park, I already have the hardcover waiting on my bookshelf.

Just a note on the cover, I feel like Rainbow Rowell has been really lucky when it comes to the cover design of her books. Fangirl’s cover is such a good fit for the story. I also like the artist’s style, here’s another Noelle Stevenson artwork that I think matches Cath’s personality well:

The Upside of Being an Introvert

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read
Angieville
Book Harbinger
Random Musings of a Bibliophile


4 Comments

Retro Friday: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I enjoy reading retellings because I like seeing how authors adapt the foundations of an older story and make it their own. I especially like reading fairy tale retellings because I’m a sucker for fairy tales in general. My favorite retelling of Sleeping Beauty is Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment. It’s been a while since I last read it but I still have fond memories of my reading experience. Isn’t it nice when a story stays with you months or even years after you’ve read it? I thought it’s the perfect title for a Retro Friday review – an old favorite that I recommend other readers to pick up.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

EnchantmentThe moment Ivan stumbled upon a clearing in the dense Carpathian forest, his life was forever changed. Atop a pedestal encircled by fallen leaves, the beautiful princess Katerina lay still as death. But beneath the foliage a malevolent presence stirred and sent the ten-year-old Ivan scrambling for the safety of Cousin Marek’s farm.

Now, years later, Ivan is an American graduate student, engaged to be married. Yet he cannot forget that long-ago day in the forest – or convince himself it was merely a frightened boy’s fantasy. Compelled to return to his native land, Ivan finds the clearing just as he left it.

This time he does not run. This time he awakens the beauty with a kiss… and steps into a world that vanished a thousand years ago.

I liked so many things about Enchantment. I found the storyline so interesting – what if Sleeping Beauty woke up in the modern world? There’s a nice blend of modern and medieval in the setting of the story – it was fascinating to see how a medieval character reacts to the modern world and vice versa. Both Katerina and Ivan are pretty much clueless when it came to exploring the other person’s world and they had to rely on each other. As much as I love reading medieval fantasy, I never realized the inconveniences in living in that time period until I read about them in Enchantment. I also really liked the Russian folklore weaved into the story because I’ve only read a handful of books that have a Russian flavor to them. I’m always curious about stories based on mythologies, folktales or legends that I’m not familiar with.

“The old tale of Sleeping Beauty might end happily in French or English, but he was in Russia, and only a fool would want to live through the Russian version of any fairy tale.”

One of the highlights of any good fairy tale for me is the romance and Enchanment had a really good love story. It’s funny how Katerina wasn’t initially impressed with her “prince” but that was mostly because she didn’t know him and wasn’t familiar with a modern person’s way of doing things. It was entertaining to see both Katerina and Ivan get to know each other as they explore the two worlds that they both inhabit. It was also a plus that their families are so involved in their lives and their parents had a stake in the bond that was forming between the couple. I felt like all the elements of Enchantment’s story came together nicely, making it such a delightful read. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy and fairy tale retellings.


9 Comments

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

I have been meaning to read another Liza Palmer novel ever since Seeing Me Naked surprised me by how good it was. So many other titles have distracted me and I wasn’t able to get back to her writing until I recently picked up Nowhere But Home. I was feeling a little homesick and thought it would be a good idea to read a book about coming home. I found it funny that the main character is named Queen Elizabeth because this isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of someone with that name – Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao chose that name for his second daughter. I had a feeling it would be interesting getting to know Nowhere But Home’s Queenie and I was right. Also, how pretty is that cover? I like the vintage, nostalgic design of it and I think it goes well with the story even though the picture portrayed in it isn’t an actual scene in the book.

Nowhere But HomeHere’s the summary from Liza Palmer’s website:

After Queenie Wake is dismissed from her restaurant job, she returns to North Star to cook meals for death row inmates.

Hopeful that the bad memories of her late mother and promiscuous sister (now the mother of the captain of the high school football team) have been forgotten by the locals, Queenie discovers that some people can’t be forgotten — heartbreaker Everett Coburn — her old high-school sweetheart.

When secrets from the past emerge, will Queenie be able to stick by her family or will she leave home again?

A few pages in and I knew Nowhere But Home will be a very good read. Right from the start, I kept highlighting lovely passages that stood out for me. Queenie and her sister Merry Carole, grew up with the stigma of being daughters of the town slut. Nothing much was expected of them and Queenie wanted nothing more than to leave all of that behind. Which is why she has been flitting from one city to another, doing any kind of work that would let her stay away from her hometown. My heart went out to Queenie and Merry Carole for the difficult life that they’ve had, for everything that they’ve had to go through because of their mother’s reputation. I used to think small towns must be charming with how close-knit and warm everyone is but there’s an ugly side to it. Queenie is such a prickly character at the start of the novel but I liked her right away. She has more than enough reason to be like that. I might not have had the same experience that she did but I understood her reactions. Here’s a passage early on, before Queenie decides to go home, that resonated with me:

“I can’t be the only one faking it. I’m not the only lonely small-town girl drowning in this big city. I’m not the only refugee feeling invisible and alone. I’m not the only one who wants to scream, “NOTICE ME! I MATTER!” Maybe everyone is faking it. Maybe they’re just better at it than I am.”

THIS. Even though I was born and raised in a city instead of a small town, I get what Queenie feels. Maybe that’s why home is such a comforting place – it’s where you don’t have to feel invisible or alone. Even if being visible means being judged by others, like in Queenie’s case. I loved that each chapter heading was about a meal – either one that Queenie just had or one that she cooked. Seeing as I’m a big fan of food, I was able to appreciate this. Queenie is passionate about the meals that she cooks, she believes in the comfort that food is able to provide. When things get too much for her, she also turns to cooking:

“I need to cook something. I need to lose myself in something else besides the fractured light of my own memory.”

Beautiful wording, right? Another instance where I could relate to Queenie – just replace cooking with reading because I lose myself in books all the time. The reason why Queenie cooks is the reason why I read. Nowhere But Home is filled with the heartaches of Queenie’s life but all that pain is soothed away by a strong sense of family and belonging. Plus there’s such a beautiful, bittersweet romance that I was more than happy to devour. If anything, I would have loved for there to be more romance in this book. As it is, I loved spending time with Queenie as she tries to battle her demons and figure out what she’s meant to do with her life. Queenie’s hometown, North Star, is also very big on football (one character mentioned that it’s like Friday Night Lights with how serious everyone is about the sport) and that’s something that I’m familiar with and yet it didn’t affect my reading experience. I only mention it now because I know some readers might be drawn to the book because of that aspect. I feel like Nowhere But Home is contemporary romance (or literature for women? I’m not really sure what to call it) that has more depth than chick lit. It is more emotionally layered and complex, and can make readers ache and feel for the characters. I would love for more readers to pick up Liza Palmer’s novels because I feel like they aren’t getting the attention that deserve. Nowhere But Home is one of the best books that I’ve read this year, I feel like it was exactly what I was looking for when I picked it up. I look forward to reading the rest of the author’s back list. I think Nowhere But Home has the same tone and feel as Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols and All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield, it just has older characters instead of teens. I recommend that fans of those two books give Liza Palmer’s latest a try.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Ivy Book Bindings
write meg!


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Young and Scambitious by Mina V. Esguerra

I grabbed Young and Scambitious while it was available for free on Amazon. I think the cover looks great, it has an intriguing and glamorous feel that goes well with the premise. Yesterday, I couldn’t decide what to read next so I thought I’d start on this short story because it would be easy to get into. I started reading it on the train ride on the way to work in the morning and was able to finish it on the way back in the afternoon.

Young and ScambitiousHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

Who is Elizabeth Madrid, exactly? She’s Manila’s latest It Girl–stylish, staple of the club scene, new best friend of famous-for-being-famous Chrysalis Magnolia. She’s also a jewelry clan heiress, a former model, an Ivy Leaguer… except no one actually knew of her until last year. Shouldn’t her new society friends be more suspicious? Especially “BFF” Chrysalis, who reportedly already lost an expensive ring to a friend who turned out to be a thief?

I like that this story focuses on the Manila socialite scene and the people who prey on the rich. While I’ve never been into that kind of scene, I think it’s interesting to read about it. Even though Jane is a con artist, I really liked her as a character. I feel like she’s only doing what she has to do in order to survive. She’s good at playing out different roles and she takes advantage of that skill. I also like that she’s a reader, I think it’s always nice when a character likes to read.

“Jane liked to go to libraries. She spent a lot of time in them growing up, and she had had to grow up in several places. Later she started seeing how each building was different. In one place, old and regal; in another, shabby and musty.

So since the preparation for the Chrysalis Magnolia job had her visit Singapore, a city with a (shiny and modern) public library, she naturally had to go there on her only day free.”

I thought it was pretty cool that the story was partially set in Singapore, in a library! I could totally relate to that. I also liked that even though the story is so short, there was still enough room for some romance. My only issue with this short story is that I felt like the whole thing ended a bit abruptly. I kind of got the feeling there should be more to the ending that what I got. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded if I knew that the ending was meant to leave readers hanging? According to Mina, there will are probable sequels to this but no definite date on when they will be published. I think that will give readers a fuller perspective of the story that was introduced in Young and Scambitious. Check this out if you want a quick read that you can finish in one sitting or if you want to give Mina’s writing a try.


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Retro Friday: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

The moment I saw my good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous give My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger such a glowing review, I knew I would want to read it. I went on Goodreads and also realized that another friend, Flannery of The Readventurer, rated it highly. I wanted to grab a copy as soon as I could but since books are expensive here in Singapore, I waited until I was in Manila before buying the paperback. I’ve had my copy since December last year and only felt like reading it recently. I was in the mood for a fun contemporary YA read and thought My Most Excellent Year would fit the bill. It was published in 2009 so I realized it’s the perfect choice for a Retro Friday review.

My Most Excellent Year outdoors

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Best friends and unofficial brothers since they were six, ninth-graders T.C. and Augie have got the world figured out. But that all changes when both friends fall in love for the first time. Enter Alé. She’s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Alé‚ is playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Augie realizes that he’s got a crush on a boy. It’s not so clear to him, but to his family and friends, it’s totally obvious! Told in alternating perspectives, this is the hilarious and touching story of their most excellent year, where these three friends discover love, themselves, and how a little magic and Mary Poppins can go a long way.

I am happy to report that My Most Excellent Year lived up to my expectations. It is such a feel good, heartwarming kind of read. I have no idea why it isn’t more well-known. It’s been out for a while now and I think only a handful of my blogging buddies have read it. It’s a good thing I love spreading the word about under-the-radar titles because I need to convince more people to read this. At first glance, I didn’t think My Most Excellent Year was the kind of book that I would enjoy mostly because the story has alternating POVs (T.C., Augie and Alé) and their interests lie in American history and politics, baseball and musicals. While I love seeing musicals, I’m not a die-hard fan who knows all the songs, actors/actresses and notable performances. And I know next to nothing about baseball and American history. In spite of that, I was absorbed by the story because at its core, My Most Excellent Year is about family, friendship and first love. I was charmed by the thought of two boys, T.C. and Augie, deciding to be brothers when they were 6 years old. Not like two best friends who think of each other as brothers, they really act like siblings to the point that even their parents have gotten used to having two sons instead of just one. So they have a Mom, Dad and a Pop. They share their rooms in two households and they have vacations together. I thought it was so sweet how warm and accommodating their families were. This book has such great parents in it, I think it’s worthwhile to point that out since we rarely see wonderful parents in YA.

My Most Excellent Year - headings

During ninth grade, both T.C. and Augie have to deal with falling in love for the first time. It was so much fun to see them struggling to adjust to what they’re feeling (especially Augie, who hasn’t even figured out that he likes boys instead of girls). It was sweet how supportive they are of each other, not just in their love lives but also in their interests in general. Like T.C. would watch musicals with Augie even if he doesn’t really enjoy them. Being great guys, it’s not surprising when T.C. befriends a lonely, deaf six-year-old boy called Hucky and Augie was right there along with him. T.C. wanted to reach out to Hucky because he sees a young Augie in the little boy, while Augie thinks Hucky was exactly like T.C. when they were that age. I hope it doesn’t seem too confusing that there are a lot of characters in the book because it was very easy to get to know the characters. I also really liked the format of the book – emails between various characters (I loved how even the parents email each other about their kids), IM messages and diary entries. I could relate to the format because that’s also how I communicate with friends and family, especially now that I live away from home. This was such a lovely, immensely readable book, the kind that lets you end on a happy sigh. While younger in tone and feel compared to some of the other contemporary YA novels that I loved, I still highly recommend My Most Excellent Year to anyone who needs an uplifting type of read. I’m mighty curious about the rest of Steve Kluger’s back list.

My Most Excellent Year - Augie

Other reviews:
Young Adult Anonymous
The Readventurer
The Book Smugglers
Book Nut

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