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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Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

 A small American town finds themselves back in the limelight after a murderer remerges to terrorise its citizens. Twins Ellery and Ezra move into town to live with their grandmother when their mother is admitted into rehab and find themselves in the centre of the murder mystery. As they settle into their new home, they discover that Echo Ridge thrives on gossip and the new drama brings up old wounds of their missing aunt and creates new ones when people begin to wonder if they have a copycat or the original killer on their hands.

The main problem with the story is that there’s too much, and not much being done with it. Too many characters, too many side plots, and not enough focus on the original mystery that there is a lack of depth to everything. Ellery and Ezra’s aunt went missing before they were born, and her disappearance doesn’t seem to impact or intertwined with the current mystery like it’s suggested to be until the end. McManus relies on clichés without working on them further. Rich, snobby girls and all-American jocks. And their voices weren’t distinct enough to be remotely memorable.

What I appreciated the most about Two Can Keep A Secret was the little things. I really enjoyed the theme of family, and while this book does go on a tangent at some points, the family was a key motivation in all the characters. There’s also some discussion by the side character about being a minority in a heavily white population and how you are forced to be perfect in fear of lash back.

Like McManus’s debut, Two Can Keep A Secret followed through with that intriguing and suspense building flair. It certainly keeps you guessing and enjoyed how this small town both mixed and clashed with each other. The chapters alternate between Ellery and Malcolm, whose brother was accused of killing the first girl five years ago. Malcolm, I think, had the most substantial chapters. He has to struggle with everyone pointing the finger at him and no one willing to listen to him. Ellery is a true crime fanatic which was born out of never knowing what happened to her aunt. She’s rather exciting, and I liked how she thinks. But I found it a little inappropriate at times for her to be digging into an actual crime and treating it as her own plaything. Being stubborn isn’t a bad thing, but I could never take her seriously because she never did.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Two Can Keep A Secret much more than I did with One of Us is Lying. Both books have their strengths and flaws, but I think TCKAS was a stronger and more enticing read. It was a satisfying read about a small town with big secrets. I was super invested quite quickly, but I found my interesting waning towards the end. But it was still a satisfying read, and a quite quick read I might add, I would recommend reading if you have an afternoon to kill.


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Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)

In a strictly divided society, where high ranking men each marry two women, a Primera and a Segunda, Daniela has risen to the very top of her class despite her forged identity.

Medio is an island nation divided by a wall and aligned by class. The mythos of the world reveals it was born after two sibling gods fought over a woman. Those who sided with the salt god were cursed to live in barren and ruined lands. The descendants of the sun god who reside in the capital are wealthy and refused to change their disproportionate way of living. The role of Primera and Segunda comes from the sun god and his two wives: one who is responsible for running the household and one who must bear their husband’s children. And the Medio School for Girls is accountable for raising girls suitable for marriage.

Daniela is days away from graduating and getting married into one of Medio’s high-ranking families. When an agent of La Voz, a group of rebels within the city who protest the violence and disparity of the divide between the island, calls out her fraudulent papers and supplies her with new ones. Soon, she is blackmailed into spying on her new family. As she settles into her role as Primera, she must make some unexpected choices if she wants to survive.

We Set the Dark on Fire is certainly engaging, a story not so far removed from our reality. It’s a part thriller, part forbidden (sapphic) romance, and full on drama. I can’t quite put my finger on what precisely, but it has that old school dystopian flair. And Mejia brings her own Latinx twist to YA dystopia which I really enjoyed.  

Mejia has crafted quite a world. I found it quite sparse at first, especially with no map, I couldn’t really picture anything that wasn’t the space that Daniela occupied and her descriptions of the border. Which is such a shame because it really weakens the rebellion when you almost nothing about it. Other than visual, there is a lot of detail in different ways. Mejia takes on immigration, class disparity, corruption and oppression. And I really enjoy the use of the salt and sun god’s actions which led to the way their current society was formed.

I’m still a little wary over how the romance between Dani and Carmen developed. I do like “enemies to lovers”, but this felt more like bullies to lovers, and I really couldn’t put aside the fact that Carmen tormented Dani for over five years. The romance is good, I would say it’s one of the books strongest points, but how we got there was the issue. Other than these two little titbits, I would still say this is quite a good read.

Overall, We Set the Dark on Fire was a refreshing read where my high expectations were surprisingly met. An action-packed narrative that discusses privilege and immigration, mirroring our own headlines. The plot twist at the very end actually threw me off completely. I am definitely excited to see where the story will go further in the next instalment.     


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Review: The Battle (The Gauntlet #2)

Review: The Battle (The Gauntlet #2)

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.*

Years after The Gauntlet, the Architect returns with a new partner, MasterMind, to take revenge on the Mirza family. Now twelve-years-old, Ahmad Mirza must face their latest creation, The Battle. Ahmad is forced back by the Architect to a brand new Paheli. A slicker and more modern update raises the stakes, and with New York frozen in time, Ahmad must beat the game again before it beats him.  

Like the first book, the story is structured around three challenges that Ahmad and Winnie must complete to defeat MasterMind’s game. Riazi again gives readers not much time as our characters must rush all over the city of Paheli. Ahmad remembers little from his past adventure, so he’s just as confused as Winnie is. What definitely carries on the from the debut is the fast-paced mix of monsters and high-stakes battles for survival. I loved the descriptions of the new Paheli, it’s an entirely new landscape with some familiarity with Ahmad and returning readers. The world-building of the novel and game design shines through. The old Paheli isn’t there anymore, but parts of it still manage to linger with a more significant emphasis on the steampunk design this time around. I enjoyed the level of detail given to the setting. I’m obviously not the intended audience, but this book is good fun, full of action and adventure.

A similar issue I had with The Gauntlet was the disparity in characterisation between the lead, now Ahmad, and its secondary characters. The Battle introduces Ahmad’s classmate, Winnie, as his companion into Paheli. Throughout the novel, you really get a feel for Ahmad and watch him grown as a person, but Winnie is not as fully developed. She’s a smart and confident girl but doesn’t really impact the story as much you’d expect and felt like a paper character meant to just tag along with Ahmad.

Overall, I have no doubt that younger readers will enjoy the new Paheli landscape with high-rise landscapes, flying cars and familiar faces. A surprising reveal at the end makes me wonder where the future of Paheli could lead.  I personally didn’t enjoy The Battle that much which is quite disappointing, especially when I adored the first one. I absolutely loved The Gauntlet, but its sequel doesn’t match up with the magic of its predecessor. It is a solid and fascinating return but to those who loved the world created before may be disappointed by its execution.


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Double Review: Shadow of the Fox and Soul of the Sword

Double Review: Shadow of the Fox and Soul of the Sword

Double rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*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.*

Shadow of the Fox follows young Yumeko who is forced on the run when her temple is destroyed by demons in search of a piece of an ancient text which summons one wish once every thousand years. With nothing but her kitsune powers, she teams up with a samurai who wields a demon-possessed sword and is unaware the very thing he’s searching for is hidden within the folds of Yumeko’s clothes.

This book was quite fascinating. Inspired by feudal Japan, I found Shadow of the Fox quite refreshing in the first chapters. It’s a great mix of samurai fighting, demon magic and folklore. Every thousand years, a dragon returns to grant one wish to the bearer of its scroll. Fearful of its power, the scroll ripped and scatted across the lands. Yumeko is a kitsune who was taught to hide from her abilities, making her quite a naive little child in the beginning chapters. But once evil descends on her temple, she is thrown right out of her comfort zone and into the real world where foes are at her every step, and every village seems to be hiding a secret that can kill. Tatsumi is our brooding love interest, who fears that he’s unable to carry the sword he wields.

The rest of the group that ends up in Yumeko’s journey are the highlight of this series. Despite the dark theme, they’re quite cheeky and unique that provides a strange presence of entertainment that I hadn’t expected from the book.

Despite enjoying their group dynamic, their mini-adventure detracts from the main plot for a vast majority of this book that felt quite formulaic. Yumeko and Tatsumi are clearly on opposite ends of each other, and their journey was just one long love angst that I didn’t really have much interest in. While I really enjoyed Yumeko’s growth and it felt like it kept digressing a lot. There’s a lot of switching up: one minute she’s naïve, and the next page she’s cunning before returning to appearing like a common fool for the sake of the comedic moment. The inner struggle between Tatsumi and the sword deserved more than what we’re given.

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