The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

  • My rating: 4.5/5 Stars35068705
  • TW: rape, gore, war, drug addiction/abuse, genocide, racism
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon
  • Genre: fantasy

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

So I’m a little late on this one, and this book already has an abundance of great reviews, but here I am giving it a late, great review. The Poppy War was a contender for best fantasy novel on the Goodreads 2018 choice awards, and one of my all-time favorite (and hard to please) reviewers, Kahn the Grinch on Goodreads, gave this one 5 stars, so I figured it was definitely worth the read. I wasn’t disappointed!

The beginning of this book was fantastic because I’m a sucker for school settings. The book starts with Rin, our main character, studying her ass off to be accepted into Sinegard, a top university in the country of Nikan. Sinegard is a military training school for the sons and daughters of powerful and rich men, of which Rin is very much not.  I did get somewhat of a Hogwarts vibe at first, but Kuang quickly shattered this with intensity and brutality far beyond that of Draco Malfoy. And unlike Harry, Rin wasn’t chosen; she wasn’t set apart by her birth–in fact, the very opposite. She actually had to work for what she wanted, which was a lot more satisfying than it being handed to her in the form of a lightning-shaped scar. Her drive and motivation set her up as an admirable and fiercely determined character.

The character development continues long after the school setting has been ripped away, and Rin and her classmates are forced to face the brutalities of war. We see depth of character and relationships being developed and shaped by the world and through shared experiences. We see characters who once seemed shallow and immature grow into real human beings with emotions and drive. I loved almost every single character in this book because there was no good or evil, just shades of gray and conflicting inner turmoil. The interactions between them were organic and enjoyable to read. There was an emphasis on loyalty and trust rather than insta-love. The characters range from quirky to cruel and everything in between.

Another fantastic aspect of this book was the world-building. It was interesting to see how Kuang used Asian influences to set up what could have been an alternate China. There were a complexity of politics, culture, and inner workings that were slowly built up until I was completely immersed in the world. The magic system, more aptly named shamanism, was deeply intertwined with the cultural aspect of the novel and was based on psychological and spiritual depth. I got some heavy Kung Fu Panda vibes with the smallest amount of Doctor Strange mixed in. I really enjoyed how Kuang used the essence of martial arts, meditation and balance, as a source of power. It was incredibly unique and made the book unpredictable because it’s something that fantasy (at least fantasy that I’ve read) hasn’t really explored.

As I mentioned in the trigger warning at the beginning of the post, Kuang does not shy away from the brutality of war. It is gory and awful, and definitely not for the faint of heart. The aftermath is described in especially sanguine detail. While this aspect of the novel wasn’t enjoyable, it certainly added verisimilitude and a sense of purpose to the plot and the character’s motivations.

I knocked the rating down to 4.5 stars because I thought the pacing was a bit slow. From the description, it sounds like most of the book would be about Rin at Sinegard. While this was a significant portion of the story, it wasn’t as much as I would have liked it to be. The rest of the novel gets a bit repetitive when it comes to the war. I can fully appreciate how Kuang laid out strategy and dove into principles of war, but personally I didn’t enjoy this as much as character interactions or the development of shamanism.

Thanks for reading my review! I’d highly recommend this to any fantasy lover looking for something a bit unique. It’s refreshing to see Asian influences rather than European ones, so the book really stood out to me.

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Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

Immediately upon its publication in Ireland, Claire-Louise Bennett’s debut began to attract attention well beyond the expectations of the tiny Irish press that published it. A deceptively slender volume, it captures with utterly mesmerizing virtuosity the interior reality of its unnamed protagonist, a young woman living a singular and mostly solitary existence on the outskirts of a small coastal village. Sidestepping the usual conventions of narrative, it focuses on the details of her daily experience—from the best way to eat porridge or bananas to an encounter with cows—rendered sometimes in story-length, story-like stretches of narrative, sometimes in fragments no longer than a page, but always suffused with the hypersaturated, almost synesthetic intensity of the physical world that we remember from childhood. The effect is of character refracted and ventriloquized by environment, catching as it bounces her longings, frustrations, and disappointments—the ending of an affair, or the ambivalent beginning with a new lover. As the narrator’s persona emerges in all its eccentricity, sometimes painfully and often hilariously, we cannot help but see mirrored there our own fraught desires and limitations, and our own fugitive desire, despite everything, to be known.

Shimmering and unusual, Pond demands to be devoured in a single sitting that will linger long after the last page.

Read below for my spoiler-free review.

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The Wicked King by Holly Black


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You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

Read below for my spoiler-free review.

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Rule by Ellen Goodlett

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The king is dying, his heir has just been murdered, and rebellion brews in the east. But the kingdom of Kolonya and the outer Reaches has one last option before it descends into leaderless chaos.

Or rather, three unexpected options.

Zofi has spent her entire life trekking through the outer Reaches with her band of Travelers. She would do anything to protect the band, her family. But no one can ever find out how far she’s already gone.

Akeylah was raised in the Eastern Reach, surrounded by whispers of rebellion and abused by her father. Desperate to escape, she makes a decision that threatens the whole kingdom.

Ren grew up in Kolonya, serving as a lady’s maid and scheming her way out of the servants’ chambers. But one such plot could get her hung for treason if anyone ever discovers what she’s done.

When the king summons the girls, they arrive expecting arrest or even execution. Instead they learn the truth: they are his illegitimate daughters, and one must become his new heir. But someone in Kolonya knows their secrets, and that someone will stop at nothing to keep the sisters from their destiny… to rule.

Magic, mystery, and blackmail abound in this sensational and striking fantasy debut.

Read below for my spoiler-free review. (Thanks to Netgalley for sending me this ARC. This is an honest review and all opinions are my own) Continue reading

The Last Wish of Sasha Cade by Cheyanne Young

  • 34802290My rating: 4.5/5 stars
  • Genre: Young adult contemporary
  • Publisher: KCP Loft
  • 320 pages
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon

The day Raquel has been dreading for months has finally arrived. Sasha, her best friend in the whole world — the best friend in the whole world — has died of cancer. Raquel can’t imagine life without her. She’s overwhelmed and brokenhearted.

And then a letter from Sasha arrives. Has she somehow found a way to communicate from the afterlife?

In fact, Sasha has planned an elaborate scavenger hunt for Raquel, and when she follows the instructions to return to Sasha’s grave, a mysterious stranger with striking eyes is waiting for her. There’s a secret attached to this boy that only Sasha—and now Raquel—knows.

This boy, Elijah, might be just what Raquel needs to move on from her terrible loss. But can Raquel remain true to herself while also honoring her friend’s final wish?

Read below for my spoiler-free review. (I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

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July Wrap-Up

Hello everyone! I hope you had a wonderful July full of lots of good books. This month was actually pretty successful for me, and I’m happy that I finally picked up the pace. I’m still seven books behind on my reading goal, according to Goodreads, buuuut that’s okay. We don’t worry about that. Hopefully I’ll have more good months like this to catch up.

This month I read a total of eight books, and I think I wrote reviews for most of them:

  • Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
    • My rating: 3/5 stars
  • Gilded by Christina Farley
    • My rating: 3/5 stars
  • Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon hale
    • My rating: 5/5 stars
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
    • My rating: 5/5 stars
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
    • My rating: 4/5 stars
  • Furyborn by Claire Legrand
    • My rating: 2/5 stars
  • The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle
    • My rating: 3/5 stars
  • The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
    • My rating: 4/5 stars

I was able to read these mostly due to the fact that it’s summer, so no school, but also because I did quite a bit of traveling this month. First was Boston, the week of July 4th. While there, I did my orientation for Northeastern University and also did a bunch of cool tours to see the history of the city, which was really fun. We also went to Disneyland! It’s one of our favorite places to go as a family, and this year it was exciting because we saw the redesigned Pixar Pier. It was super cool and I’d totally recommend going if you have yet to see it.

Other posts:

PLUS: A huge thanks to all the new followers who’ve joined me this month 🙂 I can’t wait to get to know all of you!

Books I tentatively plan to read in August:

Okay, well that’s all for now everyone! How was your July in terms of books? What books do you plan to read next month?

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The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

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  • My rating: 3.9/5 stars (petty, but I don’t want to give it 4 full stars lol)
  • Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • 385 pages
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon
  • TW: rape, sexual assault

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

Read my spoiler-free review and discussion below.

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The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

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  • My rating: 3/5 stars
  • Published by Central Avenue Publishing
  • 289 Pages
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon

Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out. Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.Then Kit starts dating Livy, and Skye draws Kit’s cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods. Skye and Grady are doomed to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever, unless Livy, the only one untainted by enchantment, can unravel the spell by walking a dangerous magical path of her own.

I have always loved stories about the fae that dwell just beyond the human world–this can include goblins, elves, fairies, and countless other creatures. Some of my favorites in this genre include An Enchantment of Ravens and The Treachery of Beautiful Things. I thought I’d give this one try, and it was about what I expected. Nothing amazing, but entertaining nonetheless.

If you’re looking for a story with depth, originality, and elegance, then this is not the book for you. I gave it three stars because it is average: nothing more, nothing less. The characters, while bland, aren’t annoying. The book is short enough that even the slow parts weren’t too boring, and the action was just intense enough to keep me reading. It’s a short, simple read with basic prose and very little stylistic voice. I would say that it is targeted towards younger readers, but it is a bit mature in terms of sex–there is no explicit detail, however, I wouldn’t recommend it for a pre-YA audience.

Overall, the book was simple with just enough intrigue to make me want to read it. It’s not a great novel by any standards, but it’s something I would pick up for a short read on a rainy afternoon. It’s super cheesy, but that’s what makes books like these fun to read sometimes. (Key word: sometimes. Normally I wouldn’t tolerate a book like this but I haven’t read something so unambitious in a long while).

(P.S. Sorry for posting twice in one day! I wanted to get my review up on Netgalley ASAP. Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Granted, it came out a year ago…but at the time I downloaded it, it was an ARC. lol it took me a while to get around to it)

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Furyborn by Claire Legrand

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  • My rating: 2.5/5 stars 😦
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon
  • Published by Sourcebooks Fire
  • 512 freaking pages

Description: When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable―until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world―and of each other.

My spoiler-free review is below.

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