Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Casiopea Tun dreams of a life beyond her small Mexico town until she accidentally releases a God of Death and her time is soon limited, as she is now bound to the Mayan God, Hun-Kamé, and must help him regain his missing body parts in order to reclaim his throne in Xibalba (Mayan Underground) from his thieving brother. Failure means Casiopea will lose herself and with the clock slowly ticking, together, they embark on a life-changing journey that has Casiopea leaving the clutches of her strict grandfather and experience an adventure of a lifestyle.

The central tale focuses on Casiopea and her journey from sheltered girl to a confident person who rediscovers the world beyond her small village. Her determination to go beyond what is expected of her is entertaining and thrilling. A tale of a young woman and a God with their fates tied so close together, the world they discover takes centre stage. Casiopea and Vacub-Kamé hurry though Mexico in the 1920s, beginning in Yucatán and onwards into northern Mexico. The bright lights of a changing world is a brilliant contrast with the darkness of Xibalba, crafty magic and the mischievous demons that reside beside the civilians. I really enjoyed the level of detail as you can really imagine the world unfold in front you as Casiopea experiences it all for the first time.

I really loved the inclusion of Casiopea’s cousin. Like Casiopea, he is forced to embark on a journey to bring his cousin back home. I love that it gave deeper depth to how he has come to hate his cousin and where is narcissistic tendencies comes from, and how easily things could’ve been different between them if it wasn’t for their upbringing. I wasn’t a massive fan of Vacub-Kamé, Hun-Kamé’s brother, and his chapters, but appreciate how it showed a difference in leadership between the brothers and added a lot to the major theme of family that runs through this novel.

In terms of pacing, it was quite even between the journeys to each body parts, but I do have to admit, each obstacle does give up rather easily which was quite jarring considering the stakes and risks presented to us. However, I did really enjoy each side character that we meet. Most we don’t ever meet again but were definitely memorable enough to enjoy. I especially really adored the lull moments between each trip where Casiopea and Hun-Kamé get to know each other. I’ve never been a big fan of romances where one person is like a thousand years older than the one, but each to their own, I guess.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think any other reader will enjoy how Moreno-Garcia’s blend of mythology and history. Gods of Jade and Shadow was an enchanting story of self-discovery with an ending that is satisfying but could hint at a potential sequel. If so, I would gladly read whatever comes next.


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Review: Verify

Review: Verify

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Meri Beckley is forced on the run when she discovers the world she lives in isn’t as truthful as she was thought it was. Months after the death of her artist mother, Meri tries to understand her mother’s thoughts in her unfinished pieces. Then one day, someone thrusts a piece of paper in her hands with one world: verify. There she discovers questions no one is willing to answer and learns a history that she didn’t know existed. However, the government is close on her tail, and she has no choice but to fight back. 

This book is a mess. I’m actually surprised that this book is being published in the state that it is in. If this was 2013, Verify could have stood a chance in the dystopian young adult market, but right now, it’s nothing new and falls exceptionally flat. I really wish I could say this book just wasn’t for me, another reader might like it, but I honestly can’t in good faith recommend this book to anyone. 

Meri Beckley discovers the government is censoring anything that doesn’t align with their views. She learns of a secret organisation whose primary role is to remind the world of the history they have forgotten, but their work is continuously halted by secret government agents which snatch members off the street, never to be seen again. Meri meets Atlas, whose father ran [org name] but went missing, and takes the risk of reaching out to Meri in hopes that her mother might’ve passed some information before her death. 

The plot’s conflict was all over the place, and it doesn’t really settle on anything. It felt somewhat stretched out to become a duology because there is no shred of resolution that felt like the first novel was finished. This world is ridiculously dull, and the lack of stakes just made me laugh. Nothing really keeps you rooting for Meri, and we’re told how to feel, rather than seeing. The book’s climax where Meri and the others spread their message all over the city felt uninspiring. Meri is hopeless, she learns of a secret organisation where certain words can trigger the police to come after you, but she continues to act reckless, and we’re supposed to believe in the space of like a week, she is suddenly a key player in this “revolution” when she’s done nothing but cause trouble.

She’s a paper lead, with no personality, no reason or spark to root for her. The secondary characters were so forgettable, existing for scenes where they’re needed and quickly discarded. A love interest that I just felt terrible for, honestly, and there was zero connection between them. I had to laugh when they kiss in the middle of their vital life or death mission. Honestly, this entire book was so underwhelming that nothing could really save it. 

Verify is set far enough in the future that the government can easily remove everyday words from our vocabulary to the point where no one knows how to pronounce them. Paper usage is frowned upon and illegal to own. In this universe, much of the world’s darkest history is erased. But the only thing parts of history the book relies on is the Underground Railroad and WW2. I would’ve loved to see Meri reflect on the history and what happened during those times. But it’s very vague and doesn’t even talk about them at all. If you’re going to use specific elements from history, the least you could do is acknowledge them in your books, rather than being vague.

Overall, I can see what this book is trying to do, in a digital era, information is distorted and unverified information has the potential to do great ruin in our lives. But this entire book was unclear and not at all enjoyable to read, which is such a shame because its premise is so important. I don’t think this book is worth reading. 

If you want to read a YA book about the power of information and censorship, I’d suggest The Great Library series by Rachel Caine. (It’s not at the forefront like Verify, and it’s more fantasy aligned)


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Review: Slay

Review: Slay

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

A teen game developer finds herself facing an online troll after her Black Panther-inspired game reaches mainstream media and is labelled as exclusionary when a young Black boy is murdered over an online dispute. No one knows that Kiera Johnson, an honours student, runs the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. So when her game’s existence is thrown out into the open, she must save her game while also protecting the safe community she has created for Black gamers. 

SLAY comes to life when Kiera Johnson’s experiences of being a Black gamer means she is ostracised and faces continuously racist abuse. SLAY becomes her refuge where she can put aside her fears about college and whether her future with her boyfriend is the one and, simply put, slays in her self-made game environment. I loved the gameplay detail a lot. For some, it can feel overwhelming, but I loved the detail Morris put into bringing SLAY to life! The gaming culture is one of the book’s strongest point. 

When word of SLAY leaks to the media, Kiera is devastated to see what was a safe space for so many people suddenly branded and portrayed in a negative light, this book is a discussion of the importance of space spaces, and they have the right to exist without being labelled racist. 

In my opinion, the book struggles to make me feel like Kiera developed this game. I thought we’d get a better explanation to how she manages to run SLAY, a VR MMORPG, but we get so little that it made the reading experience disappointing. SLAY is Kiera’s baby, but to maintain a game like SLAY for years with no one in your family realising and only having two people moderating a game with 500k users doesn’t make sense. I would’ve loved to have seen Kiera actively working on SLAY rather than pushing it to the side and with little to show of her skill in game development. Also, the ending was rather disappointing as well, and a lot is glossed over, and not developed. So it’s a shame the side characters weren’t as impressive as they had the potential to be better. Kiera deserves better friends after everything she’s been through. 

Overall, despite my own shortcomings with SLAY, Morris’s debut is a sweet love letter to Black gamer girls. SLAY is born out of Kiera’s wish to promote Black culture from across the diverse diaspora. Collectable battle cards are grounded in Black culture, each with a deep meaning and can kick ass on the digital playing field. SLAY was a good read, and I’ll happily check out anything else Morris will release in the future.  

Here are some #OwnVoices reviews from Black book bloggers: Leila and Liselle Sambury


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Short Review: Aphrodite Made Me Do It and Mooncakes

Short Review: Aphrodite Made Me Do It and Mooncakes

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a copy of both books via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

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Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer

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“Regardless of whether you desire it, love is what sits at the core of the world. It is stronger than greed and hate and jealousy and pain. What brings us together will always be more powerful than what keeps us apart.” 

A poetry and prose collection that uses mythological goddesses to create a story of self-love and healing. I’m a not a massive fan of poetry collections anymore, but something about Aphrodite particularly caught my attention. Maybe, I’m just a sucker for mythological goddesses.

 The poetry collection begins with Aphrodite and the author conversing before weaving into different pieces that discussed topics such as body image, abuse and queerphobia. I think about stood out the most was how Mateer framed this collection and its narrative. The collection flows through Aphrodite’s life, while also mentioning other women such as Medusa and Pandora, intertwining their stories with her own experiences. 

I absolutely loved the illustrations and the designs of the tarot cards. I haven’t read anything previously by Mateer, so I don’t know if it’s a common thing, but I wasn’t expecting it. So it added such a nice touch to the entire collection. I would definitely consider buying a physical copy because of the art. 

“I belong to no one. They never wrote that part down.”


Mooncakes

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker (Author) Wendy Xu (Artist)

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Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Nova Huang either spends her time at her grandmothers’ bookstore or investigating supernatural events that occur in her small town. Nothing new rarely happens, until the appearance of a white wolf changes everything. Her childhood crush returns, fighting a horse demon, asking for Nova’s help.

Damn, this story is sweet as hell. Reading this was quite comforting. The autumn vibes were really up my alley. I love Wendy Xu’s style, and it’s what drew me to Mooncakes in the first place. Nova, a Chinese-American, is struggling to cope with the loss of her parents and her duties of being a witch. Tam Lang, a nonbinary werewolf, returns to their childhood home to bring down the demon the resides in the woods, and returning home can bring up some not so good memories. Despite having not seen each other in ages, they return to each other unconditionally, and their support for each other was so endearing and sweet. 

I’d hate to pit the writing and art style against each other since they’re two different things, but, personally, the art carried most of the book. I felt like the writing was more on the weaker side. I think the character development was great, Tam and Nova are adorable. Nova’s grandmothers were funny and great. However, the plot is a little underwhelming at first. I was very interested in the wolf magic and Tam’s past, and how it all connected together in the end. So it’s a shame that wasn’t fleshed out as much as you’d expect, along with the magic system. It felt a little rushed at the end, in my opinion. However, I wouldn’t hold it against the series though. There’s so much to love and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Roger Weathersby barely scrapes by making a living out of stealing corpses for medical schools, dreaming that one day, he’ll be a reputable doctor that saves lives. But when he’s framed for a murder of one of his steals, he is forced to reunite with an old friend to save the city and, hopefully, clear his name. The old friend in question is none of than Princess Sibylla, who returns to her childhood city on request of her Queen grandmother, who is keen to see she is married off to her cousin to further their magical bloodline. But when her own suspicions tie in with Roger’s situation, it’s up to them to save the country before it’s torn apart.

I’m not going to lie, this was quite a surprising read. The Resurrectionist of Caligo is quite intriguing. The royal family of Myrcnia rule by divine right due to their magical skills that comes from their bloodline. Everyone has a different ability, and due to it only being manifested in a person’s biology, the reigning Queen is quite hellbent on making sure it stays in the family. And that means killing off any illegitimate children and only allowing marriages within the family. And this has Sibylla on edge because her half-brother is hidden within the city and she is sure Queen is close to discovering his identity. Roger is in a strange position where in the town, the people are restless, and science is growing and questioning the supremacy of the magical users. A Resurrectionist is simply a cooler term for grave snatcher in the name of science. And Roger begins to notice a pattern in the corpses he has been collecting and the victims of a well-known strangler who has been terrorising the women of Caligo.

I loved the magical features and the development of the political intrigue of this universe. But, the world-building is a hit or miss situations where within Myrcnia, and its capital Caligo, it is quite packed with a lot of detail. I was quite impressed with the quasi-Victorian design that is set up. Trimboli and Zaloga draw on the challenges of the Victorian-era lifestyle, echoing a steampunk design, which creates the Myrcnia’s landscape. A pivot part of Sibylla’s arc is her interaction with the neighbouring country, but I was disappointed how bland they were in comparison. You get a lot of rich detail within the city, but they’ve resorted to merely being the outsiders, and it just didn’t sit well with me.  

I personally loved Sibylla and Roger as characters in their own right, but the story really hinges on their childhood connection and, personally, I never really caught on to what drew them together. And a lot of their communication is passed between Roger’s half-brother, who is also Sibylla’s warden.  They appear to despise each other, and there’s little given to understand their connection, aside from their forced situation.

Overall, I found The Resurrectionist of Caligo quite entertaining. It was quick, easy to read. The characters are great, I enjoyed the mix of comedy and mystery, and it was quite heart-warming in most scenes. The magic system is by far the most exciting aspect of this novel, but not as utilised as you would expect. But I would definitely be interested in checking out in any future sequels.


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Blog Tour: Jade War

Blog Tour: Jade War

Title: Jade War

Author: Fonda Lee

Publisher: Orbit Books

Publication date: 23 July 2019

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Synopsis

In Jade War, the sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Jade City, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis. 

On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years. 

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals. 

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon. 


The universe was clearly working in my favour when I was given the honour of participating in the Jade War blog tour organised by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours.

Of course, the biggest thank you to Shealea for hosting this mammoth of a blog tour and working alongside Fonda Lee and her publishing team to give us all physical copies to review! The participants of this tour are all wonderful and extremely talented and I can’t wait to see what everyone’s thoughts are on this brilliant gem of a book! Check out my review and playlist!

photo taken by zaheerah

Review

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

*I received a finished copy via Caffeine Book Tours in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

We return to the city of Janloon, where the Mountain and No Peak clans have seemingly announced a public truce. But secretly the leaders of their respective clan continue to fight for control of their nation Kekon, home to the only source of jade, a magical energy source which strengthens its users. With the rise of jade smugglers, the Kaul family must work together to if they wish to bring down Ayt Mada while also squashing rising tensions within Kekon and its neighbouring countries.

My first thoughts after finishing Jade War weren’t even something I could describe. An incoherent stream of yelling seems rather fitting. The sheer joy I experienced from reading this novel is something that can’t be easily replicated.

I can’t decide what makes this series so exhilarating. It’s smart, action-filled with an intricate plot that doesn’t let you down. It truly has the perfect blend of brilliant worldbuilding and damn near perfect characters that reside within it. Everything felt so vivid and realistic and, more importantly, believable. The attention to detail is spot on, and nothing is forgettable. Jade War takes us out of Kekon and really delves deeper into the other countries. Usually, I would lean towards one or the other, worldbuilding or characters, but the Green Bone saga really hits the mark on everything.

Like in Jade City, there are many alternate perspectives, but the core ones remain the members of the Kaul family. And Lee solidifies her cast of characters that are immensely complex and ridiculously compelling.

Hilo was the game changer for me. There is so much growth and development with him that he has become one of my favourite male characters. His initial dangerous demeanour can be dissuading, but he is so protective of his loved ones that he has no choice but to act out to protect them. He is one of the series’ best characters.

Shae really stood out the most for me, personally, and her character truly grabbed my heart and was clearly unwilling to let go. Her role as Weather Man continues to be undermined daily, and she’s trying her hardest to prove to everyone she can her job, and not letting her personal life, which introduces a romantic relationship, conflict with her duty to the clan. Wen, now wife to Hilo, really makes her mark in Jade War. Hilo naturally fears for her since she’s resistant to jade, making her an easier target. But she refuses to let anyone stop her from helping her clan, her family. Her compassion and strength really amazed me. Wen and Shae, especially, are unstoppable and when they work together, shit gets done.

Anden is genuinely my favourite character in the series. In Jade War, he embarks on a new life, jade-free, on his cousin’s order, and even then, he can never truly escape the green life he was born into. What I loved, especially about Anden’s arc is that it brought to life the land beyond Kekon. And Anden he comes as a stranger and slowly learns that there’s a way to living green that is entirely different from the way he was brought up. The rules are stricter in different ways. Everything is on a different playing field when living jade-less, making it quite different from his own upbringing where Jade was crucial to your identity. And despite his promises to his family to keep a low-profile, he still manages to find trouble.

Family is such a core theme, and the circumstances the characters face put them under all sorts of pressure. Whether it be tradition, duty, honour or personal feelings, they return to each other because that’s what they’re fighting for. Stories that focus on familial love is what I love the most, and this series has, hands down, one of the best fictional families ever.

I realise I haven’t touched on this on my previous review of Jade City, but the fight scenes deserve a more extended discussion of its own. It truly comes to life and takes your breath away. The fight scenes are so brutal that I wasn’t sure if I would survive what would happen next. Having a story this ambitious and complex is not an easy feat, and Lee is incredible to have created a story so intense and satisfying.   

I was already head over heels obsessed with the Green Bone world, but Jade War just confirmed every feeling I had from Jade City wasn’t a fluke or a one-off. Jade City glittered with a promise of something bigger, and Jade War delivered that with a big bang. I have zero ideas of what will happen next, but I do know that is the clan is my blood, and the Pillar is its master. Fonda Lee deserves every word of praise and accolade she gets from this series, this series deserves it all and more.


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About the author

Fonda Lee writes science fiction and fantasy for adults and teens. She is the author of the Green Bone Saga, beginning with Jade City (Orbit), which won the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, was nominated for the Nebula Award and the Locus Award, and was named a Best Book of 2017 by NPR, Barnes & Noble, Syfy Wire, and others. The second book in the Green Bone Saga, Jade War, releases in the summer of 2019. Fonda’s young adult science fiction novels Zeroboxer (Flux), Exo and Cross Fire (Scholastic), have garnered numerous accolades including being named Junior Library Guild Selection, Andre Norton Award finalist, Oregon Book Award finalist, Oregon Spirit Book Award winner, and YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. In 2018, Fonda gained the distinction of winning the Aurora Award, Canada’s national science fiction and fantasy award, twice in the same year for Best Novel and Best Young Adult Novel.

Fonda wrote her first novel, about a dragon on a quest for a magic pendant, in fifth grade during the long bus ride to and from school each day. Many years later, she cast her high school classmates as characters in her second novel, a pulpy superhero saga co-written with a friend by passing a graphing calculator back and forth during biology class. Fortunately, both of these experiments are lost to the world forever.

Fonda is a former corporate strategist who has worked for or advised a number of Fortune 500 companies. She holds black belts in karate and kung fu, goes mad for smart action movies (think The Matrix, Inception, and Minority Report) and is an Eggs Benedict enthusiast. Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, she currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

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