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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Reading Update

Hello everyone! I’ve been settled at school for about a month now so I figured that it was time to post a little update.

Living in Boston definitely has its perks for finding books. I recently got a library card at the Boston Public Library, which is not only aesthetically beautiful but has hundreds and hundreds more books than my library back in Vegas. I’ve recently checked out Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson, and Twisted Palace by Erin Watt.

PictureI also went to the Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF) where I may have *accidentally* spent like $80 on books. Oops. I got to see some great authors like Heidi Hielig, Mary Pearson, Sasha Alsberg, S. Jae-Jones, Holly Black (!!!) and a lot of other cool people that I don’t have room to name. Unfortunately I had to leave before the signing, but I did get to see some pretty interesting panels.

So, what have I finished this month? Well I am kind of ashamed to say that I hardcore binged the Paper Princess series by Erin Watt. For those of you who don’t know, Erin Watt is the pen name of two erotica authors. Let’s just say this series is as cheesy as Riverdale and as explicit as Game of Thrones, which makes for some super-addicting soap-opera-esque trashy fiction. I highly recommend for anyone who’s looking for something with high entertainment value at the cost of style, and realism, and subtlety, and brain cells…

29283884I’ve also read Year One by Nora Roberts (4 stars, but huge cliffhanger) and Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (3.5 stars, also huge cliffhanger). I might be reviewing these in the future. I listened to Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (4 stars), and am currently listening to Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker through Kobo Books. Right now I’m reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, but so far it isn’t living up to the hype. Reagan at Peruse Project highly recommended it, so I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt even though I’m almost done.

That’s it for now! In October I plan to attend another book festival. I’m also going to NYC with my roomie, and I’m incredibly excited to visit the Strand while I’m there.

ALSO. OCTOBER IS THE HEART OF BOOK RELEASE SEASON. WE’RE GETTING A MUSE OF NIGHTMARES AND KINGDOM OF ASH THIS MONTH. PREPARE YOURSELVES!!!

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

Discussion: Physical or E-Reader?

Hello everyone! I thought I’d break up the monotony of reviews I’ve been posting in favor of one of the most frequently debated topics of bookworms: do you prefer physical books, or eBooks? Like most people, I’d say there are pros and cons to both.

I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember, and until recently I was a staunch advocate of physical books. A project I was forced to do in my Language and Writing class forced me to take a look at both sides, and now I find myself (reluctantly) using my Kindle more often than usual. Here are my thoughts on the two formats.

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Just some pretty physical books I’d like to share 🙂

Physical books: pros and cons. So, I think this one has a lot of pros. It’s all about sensation–the weight of a book in your hands, the smell of the freshly printed ink and creamy paper. While researching, I found that this haptic connection we have with physical books actually helps us form deeper connections because we remember plot and sequences better when we can feel the pages shift from one side of the book to the other, which absolutely fascinates me. The format of books in a culture is directly tied to how we perceive the events that take place in it. How cool is that? Plus, who doesn’t love collecting, or browsing at a bookstore? It’s one of my favorite feelings to place a new book on my shelf…though this leads to some of the cons of physical books. The main issue I have is sustainability. It’s pretty clear that books use a lot of paper, and mass consumerism means that many more books are printed than are actually needed. And then what? They sit on our shelves, collecting dust, until we decide that we don’t need them anymore. Then they get donated and passed on to libraries, where they’re discarded when they aren’t presentable anymore. Yes, I’m sure some end up in recycling–that’s great. But how many more end up taking space in a landfill? Of course, there’s also the convenience factor. While I don’t think this is a big deal (I have spacious purses), this is one of the main reasons people have for liking eBooks better. What do you guys thing of this?

eBooks: pros and cons. It is with great reluctance that I admit that eBooks are very convenient. Not only are they cheaper, but they’re easily accessible from almost anywhere–no shipping or printing necessary. I can buy a new release on the midnight it comes out, right from the comfort of my home. I can borrow and return digital library books with the touch of a button. I can read on the bus, on the subway, while standing in line. I see the benefits for publishers as well, especially with ARCs–it’s a practically free way to publicize new novels. Of course, there’s also the lack of environmental footprint. While there is energy used to create and read eBooks, it’s almost nonexistent compared to physical books. So, there must be a trade-off for this seemingly magical way to read. That brings me to this question: what are we sacrificing for convenience? Are there connections we can make with a physical book that are impossible to forge with an eBook? What do you guys think about this? For me, the answer is absolutely. There’s something about real books that an eBook can never capture, and I think it comes down to a sense of ownership. In a way, when we buy or borrow a book, we become the masters of that story. We are holding it in our hands–the way we read and perceive it belongs solely to us. Each book feels different, just as all of the stories they contain are different.

I think there needs to be a balance between the old souls inside of us and our more practical, modern selves. For me, I’d say that balance needs to start with buying books that I know I’ll like. I’ve found that, for the most part, I agree with the general population of Goodreads. If a book has more than four stars, I’ll probably enjoy it enough to buy a physical copy. If it has bad reviews but I still think I’ll like it, I borrow it from the library. Anything that doesn’t fall under those categories will be found on the Kindle store, Kobo, or Netgalley. (You guys just witnessed me make a promise to myself. Hopefully this will help my wallet and cut down on my TBR of books that I own).

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you agree with me? Which format do you prefer, and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Quick side note: Thank you all for 150 followers! I know this may not seem like a lot to some bloggers out there, but I think this is a pretty hefty milestone. Huge gratitude to those who have followed since the beginning as well as those who have recently decided to join me on my journey. I was thinking about maybe hosting a giveaway when I reach 200 or 300 followers, so stay tuned :). I’m so glad that I’ve become a more active blogger, because I love this bookish corner of the internet. Everyone is super friendly, responsive, and informative! I’ve learned so much from everyone’s thoughts, opinions, and comments, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

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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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Underrated Female Heroes Book Tag

Hey everyone! I decided to do this cool tag in between reviews because I’m in a bit of a book slump right now, but I am down to talk about my favorite heroines any time. I got this tag from Thrice Read, so go check out their post! The original tag was created by the lovely Kate at meltingpotsandothercalamities.

1. Name a heroine you like, but whom you feel is always overshadowed by the male characters in the story:

Blue Sargent from The Raven Boys! Granted, the book is named after the boys, and Blue did get plenty of time to shine, but I always wanted more! She is such a lovely and quirky character, and I would have loved more of her and her family.

2. For that matter, name a heroine whom you feel is always overshadowed by the other female characters in the story.

Helene Aquilla from An Ember in the Ashes series, for sure. Most people I talk to dislike her, but she is totally amazing and overshadowed by Laia. I’m glad we’ve gotten a lot more of her perspective, because she is compassionate and loving while also being a bamf.

3. Name a character who had potential but was greatly underutilized in her story.

This one is kind of random because I couldn’t really think of anyone, but Honey Harper from Renegades has a pretty cool superpower. I would have liked to see more of the Anarchists in general, because they had a lot of unexplored backstories.

4. Name a female character who you either find better in her book than her movie, find better in her movie than her book, or whose portrayals you find equal.

ARYA DROTTNING GUYS. ERAGON WAS AN AMAZNG BOOK AND ARYA WAS A TOTAL BADASS. MOVIE-ARYA SUCKS. Well, the whole movie kinda sucked…

5. Name a character who you want more backstory on.

I will have to agree Thrice Read on this one, because I would have loved a more thorough backstory on Nehemia. Sarah, we’re waiting.

6. Name a character with traits you feel are sadly overlooked by everyone.

For this one I’m going to choose Circe from, well, Circe. Although Circe is a well-known Greek goddess, I feel like this retelling in particular rendered the most complete and complex character. The novel is pretty popular, but I really expected there to be more hype. And I’m going to shamelessly self-promote… read my review here.

7. Name a morally grey character. (Villain or anti hero!)

There are so many to choose from for this one, but I’ll have to go with Citra from Scythe. I think she is one of my favorites because we get to see the evolution of her struggles and morally gray decisions. Once again, read my review here.

8. A character you’re stunned isn’t more famous. 

Sydney from Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series. Okay, I know everyone got caught up in the cheesiness of Vampire Academy. And Bloodlines has its fair share of cheesiness too…especially the covers. BUT REMEMBER THE NUMBER ONE LESSON OF READING, GUYS. NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER (only sometimes). This series as a whole is so underrated, and Sydney is an amazing and strong character! We ignore the covers.

9. A character from a piece of fiction you’re amazed isn’t more famous.

Well…this is the same question as #8, so…once again, Sydney from Bloodlines.

I tag:

(Feel free to ignore if you’ve already done this or have no interest in it)

PLUS anyone else who would like to do the tag! Feel free to leave your link in the comments, I would love to check out your list. Do you agree with my choices? Disagree? Let me know 🙂

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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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Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

Read my spoiler-free review below.

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