Six Crimson Cranes (2021)

by Elizabeth Lim
ASIN/ISBN:  9780593300930
Publication: June 6, 2021
Series: Six Crimson Cranes #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.** (Loved it so much I had to purchase a copy though…just saying)

Six Crimson Cranes is a retelling of The Wild Swans that incorporates other legends such as Chang E the Moon Goddess and Madame White Snake. It reads as magical as a fairy tale with a princess, a kingdom in peril, and the deceptions of a stepmother. Lim’s descriptive prose, from the rendering of lush landscapes to the decadent food, immediately transported me to Kiata. I’ve always appreciated this nearly dreamlike quality that accompanies Lim’s novels that make them so enchanting.

After discovering her stepmother’s true identity, Shiori’s brothers are cursed and turned into cranes while she is forced to remain silent about their conditions lest she kills a brother with each word she speaks. Shiori begins as a headstrong troublemaker, used to being indulged by the family and getting her way. The curse forces her to be more thoughtful toward others while still retaining her headstrong tendencies. I appreciated that she didn’t completely transform into someone new because I liked her curious nature and willingness to stand her ground.

The sibling dynamics is another element I enjoyed. Despite their duties forcing them to spend most of their time apart, Shiori and her brothers all love one another dearly. There isn’t as much one-on-one time between her and each brother, but it’s easily discernible that her relationship with each is different, but she is cherished among all her brothers. (Being the youngest and the only girl can be so hard…hehehe.)The curse reinforces how much they love one another as they search for one another and work together to break the curse. 

The romance is both expected and unexpected. I couldn’t help but smile at the direction the book takes in terms of love interests. It’s gradual, beginning soft and subtly, seemingly not like much until a few key lines made me swoon. The book hints at a potential love triangle, and I’m hoping if that becomes the case in the next book, it is short-lived. I dislike love triangles a lot.

Lim includes a letter at the beginning noting the different tales she includes in the book. I grew up with similar tales and also watched some as wuxia movies. Familiarity with the stories does not take away from enjoying the book nor should being unfamiliar with the tales. Lim creatively weaves them effortlessly into each other, although there are a few times when just a bit too much was going on. It was fun identifying details from the various stories as well as trying to figure out how different parts would play out in the novel. Although more still needs to be done, the increase in diverse books creates positive opportunities like this one, allowing readers to not only see themselves in the books they read but also the stories they grew up with. Six Crimson Cranes is now my favorite of Lim’s novels.

Quarterly Progress 2021: Q2 (April – June)

YEARLY GOAL

  • READING GOAL: 125 Books
    I am nearly there. I think I might hit this goal by the end of Q3 (July-September). I am just 14 books shy of 125 books. Woohoo! I’m hoping there won’t be a slump. Also, Trope-ical Readathon will commence in August for it’s second round of the year. It should help me stay on track, and possibly even help me exceed my goal.
    • Q1: 60 books
    • Q2: 51 Books
  • BLOGGING GOAL: 1 YEAR MILESTONE
    It’s July! I hit my one year on June 27. I’m ecstatic! I really didn’t think I’d make it a whole year and I did. I posted a blogiversary post too! Who woulda thunk that was gonna happen? Not me!

QUARTERLY GOAL

  • 2nd QUARTER GOAL: CATCH UP ON NETGALLEY BACKLOG
    Current NetGalley Ratio: 72%
    I’ve been working away at those with the latest publication dates but I need to pick up my pace with those published in in February/March. Surprisingly, I kept my distance from the request button for most of the quarter but then I went on a small spree in June.
  • 2nd QUARTER GOAL: READ CINDERELLA IS DEAD
    I read it all the way through! Woohoo! I’m ecstatic about this because I’ve been trying to read it since it first came out last year.

GOALS ACCOMPLISHED

  • Blogging Goal: 51 Posts

FINAL ASSESSMENT: ON TRACK. TWO out of THREE YEARLY GOALS HAVE BEEN SMASHED!

  • one of my favorite blog hopping activities is to search and read reviews of books I’ve read. Not only does it help me keep my TBR down since I’ve already read the book (hehehe), but it allows me to interact with more bloggers. On the other hand, this also means the amount of bookmarks of reviews has slightly increased since I like to bookmark reviews of books I’ll be reading soon so I can return to the blog post and comment.
  • memes and tags help me take a break from reviews, allowing my mind to reset if necessary. Memes are a great way to interact with the bookish community but it’s also a chance to let my mind relax from writing reviews. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading one book after the next without giving myself time to breathe, to fully contemplate and appreciate what I just read before I’m moving on to the next book. Meme creators are awesome! Music Monday, Six Degrees of Separation, First Line Fridays, and Let’s Talk Bookish are now part of the blog and I hope to add a few more.

I read this in April and have not forgotten about it since I first read it. This is my favorite read of the second quarter. It’s a second chance romance but the massive amount of groveling swayed me to root for the couple. MacLean’s writing was also beautiful. There were so many quotes I loved from it. (Review)


MADe ME CRY

Nicole Lespearce throughly pierced me with Eli’s longing for her mother. I ugly cried heading into the end, and also missed my mom dearly. My partner also happened to find me in my sad state, wanted to record it for viewing later, and was immediately kicked out of the room so I could cry in peace. This was a memorable read for multiple reasons. Hahaha…(Review)

DESERVES MORE ATTENTiON

Please read books by Anela Deen! After reading In the Jaded Grove, I picked up more of her earlier novels to read and I’m excited to get started on them. (Review)

EXCEEDED MY EXPECTATiONS

I promised this book would show up again. I tend to gravitate toward emotional reads, which often ends up being slower paced as well. I was not expecting to like Before I Saw You as much as I did. It mostly took place in a single hospital room and yet I didn’t get bored. Most of the time we’re in Alfie’s and Alice’s heads and the bond that forms between them is lovely and sigh-inducing. It is such a lovely read. (Review)

  • I will try to catch up on my backlog of ARCs. This is likely the goal for the foreseeable future. My NetGalley ratio keeps fluctuating up and down. A book I requested long before the publication date was finally declined…a month after it was already published. Hmm… I promise I will try to keep my requests to a minimum while I play catch up. Keyword is TRY.
  • I will finally read
    • Jade City (2017). A friend recommended it and then I tried participating in a Jade City readathon, but still came up empty. I need to finish this especially with the final book coming out soon.
    • These Violent Delights (2020). I tried reading this for the Trope-ical Readathon and then for the Asian Readathon but was unable to complete it. I need to finish this because it’s companion is also going to be coming out soon.

Caster (2019) / Spell Starter (2020)

by Elsie Chapman
Series Review

**This is a series review that may contain spoilers for Spell Starter**

Caster_cover


Caster

ASN/ISBN: 9781338332629
Publication: September 3, 2019
3h-stars

Aza is left to ensure her parents’ debt to the Tea District’s gang leader is regularly paid after her sister is killed. Although against the law, she resorts to using full magic to make money while also trying to learn what happened to her sister. When she stumbles upon an underground tournament for casters such as herself, the prize money is too much to pass up. 

Caster grabbed my attention right away. I liked Chapman’s writing style, which immersed me in Aza’s life, even though it takes place in a matter of days only. It’s an atmospheric read that will have you also thinking about the potential demise of our world. The world of Caster is dark and bleak, especially for individuals like Aza. Losing her sister and trying to protect her parents spurs Aza to put her life at risk daily by casting full magic to make ends meet. The magic system Chapman creates is a harsh one, where its use exacts a high price. Not only do casters such as Aza pay with headaches and bruises, but the earth breaks down each time. This made me question why individuals would still choose to cast. From Aza’s perspective, it’s both a matter of choice and survival, but there’s also a need to cast that is created by magic.

Aza is a flawed protagonist, which was why I was both drawn to her and struggled with some of her decisions. Lies easily leave her tongue if her survival depends on it. It isn’t necessarily that she’s only interested in looking out for herself, but her family’s well-being is also her top priority. Don’t expect her to go jumping into a fire to save someone; she’s more likely to look the other way if it means she can keep those she loves safe. I found it admirable but also winced a little each time someone’s life was forfeit because of her. While her actions throughout the book are reflective of her priorities, there are glimpses of her fighting against herself to not care about other people, showcasing that if life were different she had the potential to be the protagonist I wanted her to be rather than straddling the middle.


SpellStarter_cover-rs


Spell Starter

ASN/ISBN: 9781338589511
Publication: October 6, 2020

Aza deals with the aftermath of her decisions during the tournament. Left beholden to Saint Willow, she becomes an enforcer, shaking debtors for late payments, until it’s decided her skills are more useful in one of Saint Willow’s new endeavors. Compliance is mandatory because refusing to do Saint Willow’s bidding could spell disaster for her parents.

Spell Starter feels similar to Caster but more dangerous due to Aza’s new circumstances. Just as things seem like they can’t get any worse, they do. I thought this was clever of Chapman because her magic system already requires such a high payment. While the second book ups the stakes, Spell Starter isn’t nearly as intriguing a book because it was mostly already done (and done pretty well) in Caster. Parts of the book also feels cheaper, but it’s obvious it is meant to feel this way. If you read it, you’ll understand what I mean and that it’s not a jab at Chapman because I think she purposefully does it well. Aza’s story is still compelling, but it doesn’t hit the same way Caster does with loss and revenge at the forefront of her decision-making. 

The beginning of the book had me a bit frustrated because it didn’t make sense why Aza didn’t just think about incapacitating or even just destroying Saint Willow until it was too late. She has full magic! My best guess is the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. While she tries to protect her parents throughout both novels, it also gets tiring and even frustrating, especially in Spell Starter. I started to question their obliviousness at so much of what Aza was doing and everything else going on. They couldn’t be that unaware…could they?


Overall Assessment

Caster is a gritty duology with a protagonist who isn’t always likeable. Aza goes to great lengths to protect her parents from the district’s gang leader and to find out the circumstances behind her sister’s death. The world is a bleak one, and Aza’s decisions aren’t always ones I readily approved of, even if I understood why she made them. The duology left me in a dreary state, with a less than positive outlook, as it moved from the impact of losing a loved one to the costs of a world where magic not only destroys the user but the world. Although I enjoyed Caster more than I did Spell Starter, the series is a worthwhile read, and there’s potentially more that can be added should Chapman continue Aza’s story. I’m all in.

Music Monday 1.5: I was caught in…

This meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You pick a song you really like and share it on, you guessed it, Monday.

I discovered Australian band The Paper Kites last year. Where have they been all my life? They fall under alternative/indie rock but for me they fall into the “best bands to listen to when driving at night” category. They provided a lot of stress relief when I needed it most. In March, they released a new album, Roses. Rather than sharing my favorite song, “Don’t Keep Driving” (kind of funny considering the category they fall into for me…hehehe), I thought I’d share the song I listen to most from the new album. “Crossfire” is a soulful ballad that features Amanda Bergman. Here’s an article about the album from Broadway World.

Could I be one for you? / If you’re the one for me

The Knockout Rule caught me by surprise, and I loved it. I have so many highlights throughout the book because I loved the poetry that flowed freely from Eric. I liked the chemistry between the two leads, even if it was first fueled by lust. They’re both attracted to each other but there are different barriers in the way so it fits well that the leads feel their connection but are unsure of how the other feels. (Review)

Six Degrees of Separation: July 2021

HOW IT WORKS:
Six Degrees of Separation is a meme that began with Annabel Smith and Emma Chapman and has been hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best since 2016. Each month a new book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Links can be formed in any way you want, including authors, themes, keywords, and pretty much anything.

Join in by posting your own six degrees chain on your blog and adding the link in the Linky section (or comments) of each month’s post. If you don’t have a blog, you can share your chain in the comments section. You can also check out links to posts on Twitter using the hashtag #6Degrees

STARTING BOOK: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss is again a book I have not read but it sounds interesting and quite witty. I especially loved the comma placed between “eats” and “shoots” and the pandas. A missing or misplaced comma can do a lot to a sentence!


CharlottesWeb_cover

1. While the book brought to mind a couple of different ways to go, I thought I would go with a particular author who co-authored a writing book but might be better known for a book featuring a pig, a spider, and the spider’s web. If you guessed E.B. White, you’d be correct! E.B. White not only co-authored The Elements of Style but wrote Charlotte’s Web. Charlotte wrote some witty things about Wilbur the pig.

JamesAndTheGiantPeach_cover

2. Another book with a spider that plays a pivotal role is Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. This was a favorite growing up and while it’s been a while since I’ve read the book and watched the movie, I remember Miss Spider was always one of my favorite characters. She tells James about how spiders are often hated despite all the good they do.

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3. While a bit of magic and a peach transports James, Miss Spider, and others to New York, in another novel a wardrobe transports four children to a very different place in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Where do they end up? In Narnia, a land that is under the spell of the White Witch. Aslan was always the most memorable character in the book for me. Also, look! The Oxford comma is missing here. What would Truss say about this title that should maybe have a comma between “Witch” and “and”?

JungleBook_cover

4. The Jungle Book also features a talking feline, although Shere Khan could not be mistaken as on the same side as Aslan. A Bengal tiger, Shere Khan is the main antagonist and is out to kill Mowgli, a human boy adopted by wolves. While I’ve never read the book, I’ve seen multiple movies based Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel including the Disney movies and the more recent one from Netflix. Along with Shere Khan there is also a memorable bear named Baloo.

Winnie-the-Pooh_cover

5. Baloo and Shere Khan are different from their brethren in Winnie-the-Pooh. I guess we could say they’re less stuffy. Heh. Pooh Bear is a teddy bear. Tigger the bouncy toy tiger doesn’t show up until the sequel. While I didn’t read the book, I did grow up with the cartoon and loved it. I always wanted to like Rabbit, but he was so grumpy.

6. Unlike the grumpy Rabbit, the white rabbit plays a smaller role in Alice in Wonderland and inadvertently leads Alice down a hole because, according to the Disney version,”he’s late, he’s late, he’s late for a very important date.” I was fascinated with Alice in Wonderland when I was in elementary school and read the book from beginning to end.

ENDING BOOK: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I don’t know about you all but June passed by so fast I nearly forgot to prepare for this meme! For this month’s #6Degrees, I focused on books with not just any animals or insects on the covers but those that talked. This was another trip down memory lane as well with books and shows that made constant appearances when I was growing up. What books are part of your chain this month? I’d love to know!

Next month: Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher

Let’s Talk Bookish: Prologues and Epilogues

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books and Dani @ Literary Lion. Discussions pertain to topics related to reading or books. Share your opinions, and spread the love by visiting other “Let’s Talk Bookish” posts.

Prompts:  What’s the difference between having something as a prologue vs. a chapter 1? Is it too much to have both a prologue and epilogue? How does having one (or both) affect how readers perceive the story? Do you think epilogues have more value because they might tie up loose ends? Do prologues have more value because they can set the scene? Do you prefer having neither?

I’ve never thought about how I feel about prologues much. I’ve welcomed them when they help set up the story, a primer of sorts to acclimate readers to what is ahead. On the other hand, they can be bothersome, especially in sequels, when I’m trying to jump right into the book. Good prologues have me thinking about them throughout the book, trying to make connections and predictions.  Epilogues are a different story.

I used to dislike epilogues because I mostly liked endings as they were. If an author included an epilogue, I wondered why it couldn’t have just been included in the last chapter or why the last chapter couldn’t have just been tied up more nicely. I have since changed my mind, at least as it relates to romance novels. Reading romance novels has made me more accepting of epilogues.  I’d go as far as to say I look forward to them. Epilogues have spoiled me by providing glimpses into a couple’s future, sometimes a few months to a few years later. Now, I am often disappointed when there is no epilogue in a romance novel because I don’t get the confirmation of their HEA. As I’ve grown to embrace epilogues in romance novels, my desire for them has also bled into other genres. I sometimes wish some of my favorite fantasy novels included epilogues. I would have appreciated some loose ends being tied up.

Generally, my feelings about prologues and epilogues have often depended on the individual novel. Not all prologues nor all epilogues are equal. I do wish some never existed. 

What are your thoughts on prologues and epilogues?

First Lines Fridays 1.3: The forest is still…

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

The forest is still, the branches streaked in sunset. Weeds and shadows press at my heels.

The silence is a lie. I don’t need my craft to catch the faint flutter of wings hidden behind broad summer leaves or the shuffle of small paws in the underbrush. But with my craft, every presence is amplified, like a dozen voices shouting at once.

Warning: This one is a sequel so the book description might ruin the first book. Proceed at your own risk.

BrokenWeb_cover


by Lori M. Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9781645672111
Publication: June 15, 2021
Series: Shamanborn #2

The Soulless has woken from his centuries-long imprisonment. Now, he lurks in the Dead Wood recovering his strength, while Sirscha and her allies journey east to the shaman empire of Nuvalyn. Everyone believes she is a soulguide—a savior—but Sirscha knows the truth. She’s a monster, a soulrender like the Soulless, and if anyone discovers the truth, she’ll be executed.

But there’s nothing Sirscha won’t risk to stop the shaman responsible for the rot that’s killing her best friend. While the Soulless is formidable, like all shamans, his magic must be channeled through a familiar. If Sirscha can discover what—or who—that is, she might be able to cut him off from his power.

With Queen Meilyr bent on destroying the magical kingdoms, Sirscha finds herself caught between a war brewing in the east and the Soulless waiting in the west. She should be trying to unite what peoples she can to face their common enemies, but instead, her hunt for clues about the Soulless leads to a grim discovery, forcing Sirscha to question who her enemies really are. (from Goodreads)

I’ve been waiting for Broken Web since I first finished Forest of Souls. I’m excited to pick up where the first book left off but I need to finish my current read before I can start on it. Hopefully I’ll get to it this month!

Cinderella Is Dead (2020)

by Kaylynn Bayron
ASIN/ISBN: 9781547603879
Publication: July 7, 2020

I’ve been meaning to read Cinderella Is Dead since it was first published nearly a year ago, but being a mood reader means wanting and doing are two different things. I finally finished it yesterday. The premise behind the book is rather interesting, providing readers with a retelling of the fairy tale and what happens after Cinderella and her prince supposedly lived happily ever after.  While I did enjoy the book, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations I built around it. 

Sophia is in love with her best friend Erin, and while Erin seems to return those feelings, she is unwilling to rebel. The laws are explicit that young women are to attend balls where suitors will choose them as brides. And just like the fairy tale, they are meant to then live happily ever after with some caveats. The happily is optional, women only have three tries at finding a suitor, and men can terminate the ever after if they choose to. The ball maintains the illusion of what Cinderella had to go through to find her prince including arriving in one’s best dress and finding a life partner at the end of it. For over 200 years, this has been the way of things, and women have been without rights. Forced to attend her first ball, Sophia makes a run for it, choosing an alternate path she carves for herself.

While Sophia is tenacious and daring, willing to risk her life not only for love but freedom for herself as well as those of other young women in her position, I found her character naively idealistic at times. I wanted to yell at her and tell her to consider the consequences including thinking through her actions more carefully before doing anything risky. Maybe it’s meant to be part of her character but I wanted more complexity from Sophia. With the plot moving so quickly, jumping from one thing to the next, Sophia hardly ever gets to think many things through. I was also bothered by how quickly Sophia moves on despite being adamant about her love for Erin and her willingness to risk everything to be with Erin. She jumps from one love interest to the next in a matter of what seems like days. This feeds into the too fast pace of the novel, which I was not particularly fond of. I didn’t get the depth I was expecting in a story with a premise that fascinated me. The lack of depth also extends to Constance, Erin, and a few other characters.

While it lacked depth, I did like the dominant themes in the novel. The recurring theme of empowerment was particularly done well. There are several lines from Sophia that highlighted this that I loved. One of my favorites is Sophia saying, “I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armor. I’d like to be the one in the armor, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving.” I also thought one of the most poignant lines in the book asks who the tale of Cinderella is really for. It highlights how problematic fairy tales can become and the book confronts this through the retelling.

Cinderella Is Dead offers a retelling of the classic fairy tale that turns it on its head. Rather than waiting for a prince or princess, the book emphasizes seizing the opportunity to be your own hero. While not all my expectations were met, those who look forward to alternatives to the stories they’ve heard or watched growing up may enjoy the book.