Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao | Blog Tour

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ARC Provided by the Author & Caffeine Book Tours 
Publication: September 21, 2021 by Penguin Teen

“This world does not deserve my respect. It is not worthy of my kindness or compassion.”

I’ll be completely honest, when I read the author note at the start of this book I knew I was about to fall in love with a new story. Xiran Jay Zhao lets the reader know that you are about to get a love letter to Chinese culture, Chinese history, and the only female Chinese emperor! The author does not shy away from the ugly things, but always shines such a powerful light on all the beauty, and truly crafts such an inspiring tale of a girl who will rise up the ranks and become more powerful than anyone ever let her believe or dream, including her family, her country, and even herself.

This story is Asian, queer, and all about abolishing the patriarchy and gender roles that every society tries to make people fit with their judgement, expectations, and laws. “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China’s only female emperor” is the perfect tagline for this book! And this story is truly so powerful, so beautiful, and so high on my recommendations lists for you all!

Okay, on to the giant transforming robots and what the story is actually about! In this world, Huaxia is trying to protect the Great Wall against Hunduns and their alien mechs (who have already developed and established their own society and way of life on the other side of the wall And Huazia has modified versions of these robots that they call Chrysalises, and constant waves of battle are happening and being broadcasted for the people to watch and be entertained by. The pilots of these mechs are able to transform them into East Asian mythical creatures, and sometimes they are able to gain more special abilities under very specific circumstances when two pilots are able to bond together, weave their qi together, fight stronger together, and have a big adventure in battles together. But there are so few bonded pilots in this world.

But in Huaxia, young boys are hailed as heroes for piloting these machines, but it always takes two pilots, no matter how much society wishes to forget about the evils of the other seat. Young girls are given up by their families to serve the army and have their qi tested to see if they would be able to help pilot alongside a powerful boy. The thing is, most times the boy completely invades, using a psychic link, and uses up every ounce of lifeforce the girl has, killing her during battle.

“I wouldn’t live and suffer for anyone else, but I would die to avenge my sister.”

➽ Wu Zetian – our main character, who is ready to enlist herself in to the army, to the same pilot who her big sister was enlisted to, but only her ashes were given back. On a mission of pure vengeance, and being sick of being held back because of the gender she was assigned at birth, she finally wants to reclaim some semblance of power for her sister, even if she has to pay for it with her life. But when she gets into her first mech as a concubine-pilot, the world is not ready for the power she truly has to offer, even if it could change the war for once and for all. She also uses a cane and sometimes a wheelchair because of the seriousness and pain of her footbinding.

➽ Li Shimin – the Iron Demon, pilot of the Vermillion Bird, and the scariest and most powerful pilots of them all. Not a single girl has made it out of his mech alive during battle. Was on actual death row for murder because his qi power was tested and noticed and now he is forced to endure another type of prison. He also is bisexual and half Rongdi. He is also struggling with alcoholism and immense trauma and grief. (unrelated, but I would give my life for him this very second.)

➽ Gao Yizhi – son of a powerful man who controls many of the social and public relations standards of Huaxia. Yizhi would sneak out and meet Zetian once a month in the forest of her village and help teach her things and just be a good friend to her. When I tell you I would die for this character. I also feel like the author really gave him some 11/10 one-liners. He is also bisexual and really does such a beautiful job teaching Zetian about polyamory. (yes, these three end up in a relationship together, even though it is not the central plot, it is perfect and I hope we are able to see more stories in the future normalize polyamorous relationships in the seamless way this one did!)

“love isn’t some scarce resource to battle over. Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open.”

But we follow (and fall head over heels in love with) this trio, while they attempt to dismantle the patriarchy and different types of oppression these people have been facing since even before Zhou fell. I know I just gave you a lot of information, but I promise you the author does so much of a better job immersing you in this story and world. Their writing is actually the best writing I’ve read in the past few years and the amount of highlights my eARC has is actually sickening.

I also just deeply loved the themes of feminism and how sometimes things can feel exceptionally heavy when you have been raised your entire life to honor your elders and trust that they know best, when we still have so many systems (and corrupt governments) to dismantle in our world today. I’m typing this review in 2021 where you are still unable to get a divorce in the Philippines that isn’t an annulment, and how living in the US means constantly seeing powerful men make laws that take away women’s rights to their own bodies.

“I close my eyes, picturing myself taking command of a Chrysalis, towering over buildings and smashing the earth with my colossal limbs or luminous qi blasts. I could crush anyone who’s ever tried to crush me. I could free all the girls who’d love to run away.”

Overall this was just the Asian, queer, polyamorous, feminist sci-fi story of my dreams. The layers were so haunting and deep, the themes were so loud and important, the writing was pure perfection and genius levels of lyrical, and the characters were completely and wholeheartedly unforgettable. And I truly believe that book two, and the conclusion to this duology, will be even better come 2022.

Also, this author is just really cool and creates really amazing content on youtube and their blog. I truly think they are just so inspirational, and I believe one day they will have a few stories written about them and the hope and happiness they are giving to so many, including so many Asian kids all around the world who are feeling so seen and feeling even more pride in their cultures.

Also (lastly for real), this book being published on September 21st, the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, and celebrating another story about a woman, a rabbit, and their sacrifices brings actual tears to my eyes. Very galaxy brain of this author and pub house and just a really beautiful final touch.

Iron Window will for sure make my best books of 2021 list, and I am so truly proud and honored to have been on the blog tour for such a powerful story.

Content + Trigger Warnings: murder, death, torture, violence, gore, human sacrifices, thoughts of suicide, a lot of abuse (including domestic abuse and parental abuse), talk of sexual assault, extreme alcohol addiction, lots of consumption of alcohol, lots of depictions of blood, lots of depictions of trauma, depictions of depression, anxiety depictions and panic attacks, many mentions of needles, forced body modifications including footbinding and stolen organs, humiliation, misogyny and sexism, talk of disease, themes of colonization, and war themes

5


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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

(i’m the worst) buddy read(er) with May ❤

Xiran Jay Zhao is a first-gen immigrant from small-town China who was raised by the Internet​. A recent graduate of Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, they wrote science fiction and fantasy while they probably should have been studying more about biochemical pathways. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Iron Widow is their first novel.

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How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (The Folk of the Air #3.5) by Holly Black

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1.) The Cruel Prince ★★★★★
1.5) The Lost Sisters ★★★★★
2.) The Wicked King ★★★★★
3.) The Queen of Nothing ★★★★★

“Hate that was so bright and hot that it was the first thing that truly warmed him.”

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is an illustrated novella following Cardan Greenbriar, during many different stages in his life, while we slowly see all the different things that shaped him cruelly. The sound that left me when I opened this book and realized we were going to get present day with Jude from Cardan’s POV… be still, my hopes and dreams and heart.

Rovina Cai’s art is truly so beautiful that it renders me speechless. I was already in love with her and her art because of her work with The Wayward Children series, but this entire book feels like am immersive work of art. From the perfect color palette, to the most perfect details, she executes the vibe of Cardan and his story in a way that I don’t think another artist could.

In this story, Cardan’s life is very much impacted by a troll named Aslong who was wronged by Cardan’s father. She tells a story about a boy with a heart of stone, who finds himself in a predicament with a monster girl who won’t scare him away, until his heart starts beating again. And then all throughout his life, she tells his alternate versions of this same story, each version with a new meaning for a new version of Cardan himself.

“She was the only real thing in a land of ghosts.”

We also get to see so much of Cardan’s perspective during The Cruel Prince, much like we did with Tarryn in The Lost Sisters, and it was everything. Nicasia and Locke have much wanted character development in this book, too, and I am literally on my knees begging for Holly to just give us the trilogy in Cardan’s complete point of view. But we see Nicasia being fostered on the land because her mother, Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea, wants to start putting pieces in motion. We get to see Locke, and his empty house and even emptier heart, teach Cardan the word “cruel” on every page. And these two, in addition to a prophecy looming over this young prince, are truly the first catalysts to this story and I was so in love seeing behind the scenes. And when Holly gives us Locke’s perspective one of these years…

“Playing the villain was the only thing he’d ever really excelled at.”

Each part, each mini story, we get to see Cardan questioning who he is and who he wants to be. Not to make this too deep, but Cardan very slowly realizes that he is not responsible for the terrible acts his family committed; both to him and to the people they ruled over. He struggles with his identity of a prince who should feel like he has everything, and a boy who feels like he has nothing. But seeing him finally understand that he deserves not only love but unconditional love? Him slowly appreciating that his heart can be warm and beat unapologetically? Truly some powerful stuff.

On a personal note, I think most of you know that Holly Black is an author who means a lot to me. Her fae stories are what first got me into YA when I was young, and it really changed me as a reader and probably a human as well. I know most of you know that 2020 has been a hard year for everyone and everything, very much including my reading, so being able to curl up and read about my emotional support fae, from my emotional support author, just meant a lot to me. I truly think reading this book a day before release (bless you Waterstones and my mail person) was the best reading experience I’ve had all year, and for that alone this book was probably the easiest five star I’ve given in a year of not a lot of five star reads.

“Feels as though she has to earn the crown on her head over and over again.”

Overall, this felt like the fairytale of my dreams. Cardan is my favorite character in The Cruel Prince series (or any of Holly’s books, I think) and this truly was such a magical, wonderous, unforgettable addition to this world. I am incredibly biased over this series because so much of my heart and nostalgia are wrapped up within this world, but I honestly think there is just so much to love on every page of this book. I feel blessed to read about each time Holly gives us a new book, and this will for sure be a favorite of mine for all of 2020. Lastly, I cannot believe we really got to read about Cardan going out for boba.

Content & Trigger Warnings: abandonment, bullying, abuse, mention of drug use, humiliation, talk of cheating, and a lot of drinking.

5

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab | ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley 
Publication: October 6th, 2020 by Tor Books

“Stories come in so many forms: in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books.”

This is a book about a girl, a boy, a devil, and the stories that get told and repeated and remembered. This is a tale of power dynamics and imbalances and what humans are willing to do to not feel trapped and alone. This is all about a young girl who lives her life for herself, who lives her life in spite of the odds, who lives her life in hopes someone will recall her from memory.

Everything about Addie LaRue completely blew me away. This is the first book by V.E. Schwab that I’ve given five stars to, and I’m not sure a day has passed since reading that I haven’t thought about it. I will say that I think this book (and more importantly the ending) could be a bit polarizing, but this story, this main character, and the way everything was structured just really worked perfectly for me and my reading tastes.

How do I even begin to describe this book to you? There are truly so many layers woven together to make this story. Many of you know, this is something that V.E. Schwab has been working on for a decade and you can tell they really put their whole heart and soul into these complex characters:

Addie – A girl with seven freckles, and she is told that there is one for every love she would ever have. She was born in a small town, and had small town expectations placed on her, but Addie had big dreams and desired to see as much of the world as she possibly could. And when she turns twenty-three, and everyone thinks her time is slowly running out, she quickly finds out that time is something she will never have to fear again.

“Spells are for the witches, and witches are too often burned.”

Henry – Works at a bookstore in New York while trying to live his life to the fullest. And he happens to be able to see a girl that has never been remembered before.

“I remember you.”

Luc – A god you should never pray to after dark, unless you are very desperate, and feel very helpless, and are willing to pay the unknown price.

“I am stronger than your god and older than your devil. I am the darkness between stars, and the roots beneath the earth. I am promise, and potential, and when it comes to playing games, I divine the rules, I set the pieces, and I choose when to play. And tonight, I say no.”

And maybe, just maybe, Addie felt like she should be able to pay the price when she runs into the forest one night, willing to risk everything to have a life that is hers once and for all. We get to see Addie and her struggles and her growth over the course of three-hundred-years, starting in 1714 France and switching to 2014 America. We get to see so much of Addie’s hurt throughout the centuries, but we also get to see so much of her yearning. Yearning for love, yearning for knowledge, yearning for art, yearning for a life that is worthy of remembrance. Truly, this book was able to evoke such visceral reactions from me, and I could truly feel Addie’s yearning, and her hurt, on every page.

Now that I have used the word “yearning” one-hundred times, let’s talk about some of the rep in Addie LaRue, because there are lots of queer characters and characters who read queer! Addie is pan or bi, and we get to see her in relationships with different genders throughout this book, but the main relationship (and yearning) is m/f. I believe Henry is pan, but it is never said on page, but “he’s attracted to a person first and their gender second” had me and my pan heart ascending to new heights, I promise you that. Addie and Henry are both white, but there are POC side characters and other identities on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum (gay, lesbian, maybe some polyamorous hints)! And this book, has some very serious depression representation!

“It’s just a storm, he tells himself, but he is tired of looking for shelter. It is just a storm, but there is always another waiting in its wake.”

Being unsure what you want in life. Especially in your twenties. Feeling like something is wrong with you. Feeling like you’ll never be enough. Feeling like you’ll never be whole. Feeling like you are just disappointing everyone around you. Feeling like no one will ever take the time to see you, the real you, and choose to love you unconditionally anyways. Whew, it’s a lot, and V.E. Schwab really didn’t hold back while writing Henry and his mental health. I don’t want to make this too personal, but it means a lot to me, and I know Henry’s journey is going to mean a lot to so many people and impact a lot of lives.

(Also, friendly reminder that life is truly a vast range of up and down journeys! And you, and your journey, are valid, and I see you no matter how hard that journey feels at times. There will be lots of heavy days, but lots of light days too, I promise. And you are so worthy of love, and kindness, and respect, no matter where you are at on your journey. And feeling too much is not a curse, ever. And I’m proud of you, and you are never alone with what you are feeling, and sometimes we all need help with some storms: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

“His heart has a draft. It lets in light. It lets in storms. It lets in everything.”

Plus, a key component of this story is the god who Addie makes a deal with. Addie and Luc’s three-hundred-year bargain is so very messy and has so very many different elements. But the key element is the unhealthy power dynamic. Over this course of time, we get to see their relationship change, and morph, and grow, and we get to see Addie desperately trying to gain some of the power for herself. But, it is a very unhealthy cycle of abuse and this story is told in a way where the reader gets to see these power imbalances come more and more into play and Luc and Addie set the stage of their game(s) more and more. I’ll be the first to say I always wanted more of Luc, and I loved every chapter he was in, and I constantly wanted to know more about him, but I will also say that I personally feel like V.E. Schwab was very deliberate with his character and with making him charming and intriguing and a character to be romanticized, because abusers can have all of those characteristics and still be abusers.

But we get to see Luc, and Henry, and Addie, and watch their intertangled stories unwind. I truly feel like I can’t say much more about the actual story, and I believe it’s probably best to not know much more than what I’ve said above, but seeing these characters, during all their different phases in life, both alone and together, is truly something like a work of art.

“Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives—or to find strength in a very long one.”

This entire story truly is a love letter to art and the beautiful, awe inspiring, mind-blowing way stories are held within art, therefore held in so many hearts forever. Maybe even creating and inspiring other art, to make the sweetest ripple effect of them all. Art and stories are so powerful because they have the power to heal wounds that are too deep to be touched by other things. From feeling love, to feeling not alone, to inspiring, to escape, to be thought provoking, to be educational, to make you realize things you have been forced to internalize and unlearn, to something as simple yet as hard as happiness.

“Because time is cruel to all, and crueler still to artists. Because vision weakens, and voices wither, and talent fades. ” He leans close, twists a lock of her hair around one finger. “Because happiness is brief, and history is lasting, and in the end, ” he says, “everyone wants to be remembered.”

While I was reading this book, me and my best friend Lea watched a video that was reuploaded on V.E.’s YouTube. It was basically just an hour-long discussion that they had with Tessa Gratton, where they talk about many things, but one of the things they talked about that I especially haven’t been able to stop thinking about since finishing this book was that we never get to really pick what work we will be known for. Obviously, Victoria is very well-know from their series A Darker Shade of Magic, and it very well could be the greatest legacy that the world will know from them. Yet, they talk about how Addie LaRue is the book of their heart, and (I do not want to put any words in their mouth) it kind of felt like to me the book they may want the world to know them for. Yet, we never really get to choose what we are known for, do we? A very astounding concept to think about, truly, and one I couldn’t stop feeling deeply in my bones while I finished the last half of this book. Also, to think about how the human experiences could boil down to this hunger we all have to leave a mark on this world before we are forced to leave it all together? Very powerful stuff, truly. But I promise, V.E. Schwab and Addie Larue most definitely left their marks on me, and my heart, forever with this book.

“Humans are capable of such wondrous things. Of cruelty, and war, but also art and invention.”

Overall, this book made me yearn for so many things while also constantly making me question what it is to hunger. To crave your freedom, to crave someone who will see all the parts of you, to crave remembrance. I just feel like this book really touched on the human experience, but in such a incredibly raw and indistinguishably beautiful way. I really loved The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and it will without a doubt make my best of 2020 list. Thank you for letting me be a part of your story, thank you for always reading this part of mine, and I promise you will never be invisible to me.

5

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Trigger and Content Warnings: attempted assault, abuse depiction, loss of a loved one, substance abuse, depression depiction, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, and mention of cancer in the past.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤

The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R.F. Kuang

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1.) The Poppy War ★★★★

“Our world is a dream of the gods. Maybe they have other dreams. But all we have is this story unfolding, and in the script of this world, nothing’s going to bring [him] back to life.”

This was a masterpiece. I really loved The Poppy War, but this second installment was the book of my dreams. I’m a bit speechless, and I am not sure I can express exactly how much this story meant to be, but I shall try. Especially because that means I can start my ARC of The Burning God and immediately start crying for another 500 pages.

This series is an ownvoices Chinese inspired military fantasy, and this sequel, The Dragon Republic, picks up after the dark events in book one.I am going to try to be a little vague about the plot in this review, and just focus on the important themes and discussions, while also talking about the characters who own my entire heart. But this book very much focuses on shamanism, and I was very invested from the first to last page!

You may also all call me president of the Fang Runin defense and protection squad. I live my life for one sneaky snake, and it is her. Also, Kitay, my baby, will love and cherish and protect at all costs. Also, seeing the way that this world has changed him has broken me beyond repair, but his friendship with Rin means everything to me. Not at the way I was praying for his life throughout the last half of this book though.

Next, I was already sailing on this ship in part two of The Poppy War, but let’s talk about how rinezha is my new OTP of all time. Like, I cannot believe. I truly don’t want to get into spoilers for the middle book of this series, but when I tell you the end of this book had me gasping for air like a fish out of water, I’m not lying. The forehead kiss will haunt me until the end of my days, I promise you.

(the most breathtaking arc by paper-ish)

Seeing Nezha try to live his life for his family, for his country, for something within him, and for his immense loss that he is still harboring, is just heartbreaking. Rage and grief can take so many forms, so very differently. Carrying things you didn’t ask for can be the heaviest of all burdens, but the way my heart breaks double for Nezha. I think we all can feel like sometimes something is living inside us, but seeing him and Rin both try to live these lives that they are now forced to live is very harrowing and you can’t help but feel all the empathy in the world for them. (And I can’t help but ship them until my last dying breath!)

Something that I really love how it was depicted in this book was Rin’s healing. Rin is dealing with the aftermath of all the actions she committed, and she is living with immense grief, immense depression, immense trauma, and immense PTSD. I feel like so many times in stories we get to see characters “heal correctly” or whatever our society deems is correct. Yet, we get to see Rin make “bad” choices in her healing process. From drug addiction, to denial, to darker thoughts even. Yet, this is such a real depiction of trauma and grief, and one that we normally never get to see, especially in a fantasy setting. Rin is so rightfully angry, and her pain is so loud, you hear it unapologetically, and I loved it a lot.

“She was afraid that if she stopped being angry, she might crack apart.”

The Dragon Republic really focuses more on colorism more than The Poppy War did. Yes, we got to see Rin getting treated as lesser because of her darker skin, but in this second installment we really get to see how colorism runs rampant in this whole world, not just in small towns, or private school settings, or military branches. And Rin calls other characters out on this, and my heart was soaring, truly. Also, just the entire discussion of xenophobia at the heart of this story, while also always highlighting colonization, is so important and I can’t wait to see all of this discussed even more in The Burning God.

“Rin was so tired of having to prove her humanity.”

Another thing that I also really loved about The Dragon Republic is that it really showcases how bad things don’t only happen on battle fields. Humans are capable of terrible, horrible, evil things, and they don’t need to use war as an excuse. The backdrop of war will only ever be a backdrop, and heinous acts can be committed in the safest seeming of cities and places. Again, not to get into spoilers but every scene with Petra left me shaken to my very core. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt so deeply uncomfortable over a character ever, and it’s truly a testament to this story.

I feel like at this point I am witnessing Rebecca Kuang become a literary legend. The themes she isn’t only touching upon, but she’s completely dissecting. Her writing is truly so out of this world it’s mind-blowing to think how this is her first series, and how many more series she will be able to craft if she wishes to do so. Her characters are so beautifully flawed, and raw, and grey, and real, that I forget they only live between these pages.

It’s an honor to read and review these books. Also, I’m just so proud that a young Asian girl is putting all these old, crusty, white, cis, SFF men to shame. And I truly believe this is a once in a lifetime series, but I more so even believe that Rebecca Kuang is once in a lifetime author.

Trigger and Content Warnings: genocide, colonization, racism, colorism, murder, substance addiction, grief, PTSD, depression, talk of suicide, suicide, self-harm, abortion, talk of rape, rape, forced medical examinations, human experimentations, humiliation, animal death, animal torture, loss of a loved one, genital mutilation (to a character who was doing a bad thing), abandonment, violence, gore, and war themes. This is a very dark book at times, please use caution and make sure you are in the right headspace, friends!
5

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(Extra special thank yous to my 2 emotional support bbies: Maëlys & May! Who both got to laugh at me for spiraling about tridents, got to listen to my heavy breathing over my OTP, and also crying as every theme developed. I’m sorry & I love you.) 💕💕

The Tea Dragon Tapestry (Tea Dragon, #3) by Katie O’Neill | ARC Review

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ARC provided by Netgalley
Publication: September 1st, 2020 by Oni Press

1.) The Tea Dragon Society ★★★★★
2.) The Tea Dragon Festival ★★★★★
*.) Aquicorn Cove ★★★★

”You feel like you’ve lost your path. It’s natural to be sad… it’s alright to let those feelings wash over you, and give them time to soak into the earth. That’s when things start to grow again.”

This entire series is just so special to me, and this newest installment is probably my favorite thing by Katie O’Neill to date. The Tea Dragon Tapestry truly feels like a love letter to remember loving yourself through all your phases.

I think something we just don’t really talk about enough as readers and reviewers is that sometimes we truly read a book at the most perfect moment in our lives, almost like it was destiny for us to choose this particular story at this particular moment, and that was very much me with The Tea Dragon Tapestry.I honestly don’t think I can put into words how much this story means to me at this time in my life, but I suppose I should give it a try still.

”The sadness, the loss, the hurt, as well as the joy, the love, the friendship – it is all part of you tapestry.”

This is a series about a small little village, where some of the community members have tea dragons! Tea dragons are little dragons that sprout little tealeaves when they are being well taken care of. And even though tea dragons are very rare, we get to fall a little bit more and more in love with their caretakers each installment!

This is also one of the most inclusionary graphic novels, which has some of the most beautiful diversity. This story has sapphic characters, gay characters, characters of all different skin colors, disability representation, nonbinary/genderfluid representation, and one of the most beautiful found families of all time.

Like always with my graphic novel reviews, I’m going to try to do little breakdowns of each chapter so I can come back and recap when needed! I’m going to try to keep this relatively spoiler free because this beautiful volume isn’t out yet but use caution still if you’d like to go into this one not knowing anything!

➽ Chapter One:
Brick is the cutest little coal sprite in the whole wide world. My heart’s quadrants still belong to Ginseng & Greta and Chamomile and Minette! Hesekiel and Erik and their tea dragons and little tea house mean everything to me too. And in this chapter, we get to see how tea dragons have an extremely strong bond with their caregivers!

➽ Chapter Two:
Minette starts to have magical dreams (that are drawn… so breathtakingly beautifully, oh my word, I’m still rendered absolutely speechless) and Greta is going to try for a blacksmithing apprenticeship!

➽ Chapter Three:
A lot happens in this chapter, but this is where the graphic novel starts to talk about our life’s purpose, and how sometimes our lives do not go the way we thought they would (even if extremely planned and laid out for us), but that is okay. We all experience phases where we question things, even ourselves, but we are never alone with that experience. Also, being nostalgic is very human (and dragon) things, that we all love to feel, but we shouldn’t compare the happiness of the past to the sadness we could be possibly experience in the present.

”It sounds strange, but I feel homesick for the person I used to be…”

➽ Chapter Four:
We get to see Rinn and Aedhan from The Tea Dragon Festival again and my heart felt like it had wings of it’s own! And how sometimes all our senses work together to remind us of happy or sad things and times.

”Taste has a strong association with memory”

➽ Chapter Five:
This was my favorite chapter, and I kind of just wept while reading it. Life can be so hard, and so sad, and so unexpected, and so all of these things at the very same time, but you just have to remember that it will get better, it can get better, and that this is only part of where you are at in life right now. One of the most beautiful things about life is that it is a full journey, where we will change, and people will change, and that’s okay, an that can be beautiful, but we have to keep changing and keep growing and keep living.

”…Little one, you are the person you are meant to be”

➽ Chapter Six:
And even if your journey might be a little unexpected, be happy that it is your journey. I truly know I sound like a bit of a self-help reviewer right now, but this chapter is just so beautiful, and hopefully, and left me so very excited to see where the rest of my journey will take me, no matter how many sad days are left and coming, because there will always be even more happy ones along the way, too.

”…Remember, that you are already whole.”

➽ Epilogue:
This epilogue was so good because it shows you the history on tea dragons! And Hesekiel is too kind to us to show us these secrets and stories of the tea dragons. And to remind us that all our stories are so very important and worthy to be told. And it’s also important to go on your own path and make many more new stories to keep on telling your loved ones who make you feel safe.

”Everything that happens is part of your wholeness”

The Tea Dragon Series is just a gift to the whole world. It feels like a comforting hug from my very own family and friends who are too far away to give me one. Again, this series just means a lot to me, and if you’re looking for a little light in a world that feels easy to be dark, then I really just recommend this installment with my whole heart and soul. Words and stories really have healing power, and this one truly made me feel so much lighter. And I promise, you are right where you are supposed to be too, friends.

5

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Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3) by Holly Black

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1.) The Cruel Prince ★★★★★
1.5) The Lost Sisters ★★★★★
2.) The Wicked King ★★★★★

“By you, I am forever undone.”

I can’t believe it’s over. I feel like I’ve been in love with Holly Black’s fae stories my entire life and seeing this series finally close means more to me than I have words for, truly. This series, this world, these characters, have brought me so much unconditional happiness, and I truly am not ready to say goodbye, but I do think this was a very perfect ending.

Also, a few things before I start this actual review: 1.) I vlogged this entire reading experience (and how I wrote this review) and I hope you enjoy! 2.) Jess’s playlist is perfection and you should give it a listen! 3.) This review will talk about events that happened in The Cruel Prince, The Lost Sisters, & The Wicked King, so please use caution while reading! And I will have a spoiler section for QoN later!

After the very heartbreaking end of The Wicked King, Jude is now exiled from Faerie and a crown that no one knows she wears. Madoc is ready and willing to do anything to put Oak or himself on the throne, regardless of what Oak wants while living in the mortal realm with Vivi. Taryn is now married to Locke, for better or for worse, and regardless of what Jude thinks on the matter.

“We have lived in our armor for so long, you and I. And now I am not sure if either of us knows how to remove it.”

Everything feels like it is chaos, and at the start of this book we see Jude slowly accept her fate, while also learning the pain of her anger and betrayal. She is taking side-jobs from the fae residing among humans, and she just takes on a job that is about to really test her skills. Especially when she comes out of the job realizing that things might really not be going that great for Cardan in the realm of the fae. But Jude doesn’t care, right? But she gets an opportunity to go to faerie and see for herself, regardless of her exiled status, and the situation is a matter of life and death.

It’s hard to say anything else without going into spoiler territory, but I truly loved this book so much. I can’t believe how much Holly Black was able to surprise me, especially with the amount of theorycrafting I truly believed I did. From the cover, to the title, to the sneak peaks we were given; I was truly not ready for the twists and turns of this book and this entire trilogy is just masterfully crafted.

“I spent much of my life guarding my heart. I guarded it so well that I could behave as though I didn’t have one at all.”

And at the heart of this book, I just really enjoyed the theme and discussion of all the different and complex relationships we will have in our lives. We see Jude constantly battling with herself and her feelings; from her past to her future, from her family to her crown, from her feelings to her heart. There are so many wars in this book, but most of them truly are from within Jude, and Holly Black really expertly talks about the human experience and existence.

“But for one final night, he’s the father I remember best, the one in whose shadow I have—for better or worse—become what I am.”

Relationships can be so very hard and so very not pretty. Obviously we get to see Jude and Cardan, obviously we get to see Jude and her sisters, but seeing Jude and Madoc? That’s what kept breaking me. How do you love a father who became your father by killing your own? A father that loves you so very much, but loves power more? Jude and Madoc are truly the kings of this book and this chessboard, and their dynamic is truly unlike one I’ve read before. So heartbreakingly beautiful, truly.

This next section of my review is going to have SPOILERS! Please do not read on if you have not read The Queen of Nothing and all the rest of the books in this series! Also, like always, I’m going to do fangirl breakdowns because it warms my heart.

“It feels good to be fighting someone other than myself.”

Jude Duarte – My actual queen. Seeing Jude realize not only her worth, but that it is okay to hurt and to be angry, yet also that it is worth the risk to let people in sometimes; I don’t even have words, friends. Jude’s pain just resonated so much inside my heart and soul and I truly think she is one of the best literary characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about.

“He’s so beautiful, so perfectly, horribly, inhumanly beautiful that I can barely breathe.”

Cardan Greenbriar – My entire heart. All of Cardan’s lines truly broke and healed me throughout this entire book. Seeing him be the king of his people’s dreams, but also the king of his own dreams? Forever crying. Also, we stan an otp power couple for life. Truly, for life; Jude, please never leave faerie again.

Nicasia – We love a good redemption arc, wow.

Grima Mog – Nothing but love and respect for my war general.

Taryn Duarte – Oh Taryn. Listen, her pregnancy was expected, but her actually killing Locke was not. I will say that I think this was the weakest part of the story, and I truly wish we could have seen more, but maybe Holly Black is going to give us another few novellas or something. Especially with a certain bard boy? But seriously, I need so many more answers.

Vivi – My 2019 bi-icon. I was rooting for Vivi and Heather so damn hard, and I was so scared at what Vivi was going to do this book, but she was amazing through and through. When she told Madoc to bring his entire army? The biggest flex in all of 2019 literature and I was quaking.

Oak – Wow, I’m going to love me a good spin-off.

Madoc – Madoc was the character that probably made me cry the most throughout this entire series. Loving people can be so very hard, and each journey is so very different, but Madoc just really amplifies these statements and it hurts (in the best way possible) to read. The parallels between him and Jude, both truly born in blood, and seeing the different paths they take to fight each other, while always loving each other, it’s really something that I don’t have words for, but it is truly heartbreakingly beautiful.

Locke – Wow, he actually did die and Taryn actually did kill him. The biggest bamboozle of the entire book, and please call me boo boo the fool from now on while I apply my clown makeup.

Okay, let’s talk about some of the big things in this book while we are in this spoiler section, too. Let’s just get the snake out of the bag (end me). You know, with all the buzz about the 2019 YA book snake, I really didn’t expect for Cardan to turn into her. Wow, truly wow. I love a good fairytale twist in my fae stories, and it was truly one worthy of ballads. Seeing Jude realize that she would rather not have Cardan than only being able to have him controlled? I will be forever crying. So beautiful. Also, the sword she did it with? Truly forever crying.

I will forever and always be so surprised that Locke was not the big bad of this series and honestly? He deserved a better death and storyline ender. Like, I couldn’t believe Madoc was truly the endgame villain. This book was still so perfect to me, but this was what truly let me down the most. I wanted a satisfying Locke death and a true villain story, but it felt bad that we didn’t get that.

“Tell me what I must slay, what I must steal, tell me the riddle I must solve or the hag I must trick. Only tell me the way, and I will do it, no matter the danger, no matter the hardship, no matter the cost.”

I also didn’t love how Cardan told everyone that him and Jude got married. I mean, trust me, I screamed and rolled around in my bed like I was thirteen, but I still wanted something more. Also, the exiled scheme he made up? Baby, that’s not it. But whatever, because when he told her that he loved her it was truly the best thing my eyes have ever read for all of 2019 and you won’t hear me complaining. Truly OTP status worthy and the best enemies to lovers I will probably ever read.

I’ve had a few people tell me that they thought I’d find the ending a bit cheesy (no, this isn’t a pizza dad joke), and that’s valid, because it is a bit cheesy. But I just love these characters so much and they deserve so much happiness that I just felt really blessed to be able to experience that with them for an epilogue. Also, I have really high hopes for what is to come with Oak, because there is no way that Holly Black set that up to not masterfully tell what is to come for Faerie.

I will also be honest and say that this was probably my least favorite in the series. Also, these books are always split up in two parts (or books), and the first half of this was six star worthy. Truly better than anything I’ve read this entire year. It was the last half (and cheesy epilogue) that didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But again, this series just means so much to me and it truly feels once in a lifetime to me.

Overall, I just believe this is the series of my heart. Holly Black and her fae stories have truly shaped me into the reader and reviewer I am today. I owe her so much, and this concluding novel just felt like lifeblood to me. No other book has made me as happy reading. No other book has had me spam refreshing my kindle app to make sure it downloads. No other book has ever been more my brand. And I’m not sure if any book series ever will. It is a truly honor to read and review this book, and it’s more of an honor that some people correlate it with me. I know that no amount of words that I string together will ever adequately do justice to how much these books mean to me, but I promise to shout about them forever, and keep them in my heart always. And I hope that every reader has a series that makes them feel the way The Folk of the Air has made me feel.

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Content and Trigger Warnings: death, murder, war themes, gore, blood depiction, talk of cannibalism, and torture.

Bonus – Park Jimin, forever and always my Cardan. Bye.

(Bless Annaveeart/Kuhleesee for the best art piece I’ve ever seen in my entire life!)

 

Blog Tour | Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

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ARC acquired at Book Expo in exchange for an honest review.

“Trying to get better at the thing you want to be the best at is humiliating.”

Hello to my favorite contemporary of 2019. Friends, this book was so quiet, but so loud, and really impacted me more than any other book I’ve read all year. This is the type of story that makes you want to see the world, the type of story that heals wounds you didn’t know you had, the type of story that makes you feel seen and loved and realize you are worthy of unconditional happiness, and the type of story that will make you want to find that happiness and hold on to it with both hands. I know I probably sound so very cheesy, but this really is the type of book that you close and you just want to be a better person, and want to live a happier life, and it’s a reminder why books truly have the power to change lives. I loved this book with the sum of my being, and I’ll carry it with me and pass it along for the rest of my life.

This is a book that borderlines on Young Adult and New Adult, about two characters who find each other while they are at the crossroads of trying to find themselves, too. They have very different backgrounds, and very different current living situations, but they both bond over the unknown and the bursts of happiness that they feel while communicating with each other.

Pablo Neruda Rind – biracial (Korean and Pakistani), 20, working at a bodega in NYC, was an actual meme and now has a little bit of Instagram success because of it, and is thinking about going back to college after dropping out with a large sum of debt following him.

Leanna Smart – biracial (Mexican and white), 22, childhood star now pop singer, and trying to be happy with the content she is putting out in the world.

And one very late night, while Pablo is working in the bodega, Leanna comes in and their lives change. They are both searching for happiness, in very different ways and very different forms of outlets, but they start to think that maybe they can also find happiness together.

And Mary HK Choi delivers a story that is so beautifully written, so heartfelt, so very real, that I won’t forget it, ever. Some of the themes and discussions in this book are so important and I truly think this story is going to change lives. I feel like I normally only read one book a year that changes my life, and I think that this year’s is without a doubt Permanent Record.

Seeing Pablo question what he wants for his life, while also entering into depression because of this overwhelming debt he has accumulated because of doubt and uncertainty is something that I’ve never read about before. Never has a book really forced me to understand that Americans truly expect seventeen-year-olds and eighteen-year-olds to make choices that will impact them financially (and so many other ways) for the rest of their lives. Graduating college with 100k debt is the reality that so many people in their young twenties have, but so many also have that debt without a degree as well. It’s heartbreaking, truly, that we put this pressure on young adults and that we expect them to know how they want to spend their lives at such a young age, while also feeling that weight from society, from schools, and from their families.

“God, this country. It’s so predatory.”

And people have so many options that don’t involve school. Sometimes people find happiness chasing dreams that don’t require degrees. Sometimes people find happiness becoming celebrities in many different forms. Yes, sometimes people do find happiness with a degree that will help them live the life with the job they want. But sometimes people will find happiness simply by being on the journey of searching for happiness in the first place. There is no wrong way to find happiness, and it can be so very hard to find, but it is always so important that you search for it, because you’re so deserving of it.

I think Pablo and his situation is such a reality for so many. Finding happiness, and determination, and inspiration… it can be so very hard. And Pablo, much like many of us, is someone who doesn’t make it easy. This book, in my eyes, is also a love letter to depression awareness and how depression can come in many forms unknowingly. Pablo’s life and struggle, both academically and with his loved ones, was something so very raw, and I was so easily able to connect with, and I think many others will feel like that too. Because sometimes the weight of other peoples’ expectations can be so very heavy.

“Life isn’t a destination. It’s the continual practice of things that make you wiser and happier.”

This is ownvoices for the Korean representation, but I just want to touch on how I really loved seeing Leanna and Pablo talk about them both being biracial. It was so important and meaningful for me to see characters talk about how they are both of their races, instead of half and half. This seems like such a simple concept, something that should be easy for me to say, “hello, my name is Melanie and I’m Filipino” but it is something that I really struggle with, and I always want to break my racial identity of being Filipino and white up in percentages as a kneejerk reaction when talking about myself. And this small conversation between Pablo and Leanna just really meant so very much to me, and really hit me extremely hard. Also, just seeing Pablo having a tough time not feeling as connected to parts of his identity was really important and moving, too.

And, like always, seeing an older sibling help take care of their younger brother is something that will always resonate with me and inside my heart. Pab’s entire family dynamic really was perfection actually, because I feel like in literature, we either get really horrible parents or really perfect parents; we never really get the messy in between, where parents are supportive and loving but have a hard time showing their love and support.

Overall, I just really loved this book and it means so very much to me. The messages in this book really are life changing and I truly wish I could put this book in everyone’s hands. I feel like, much like Emergency Contact, this could be a polarizing book, but I also think it is a book that is going to touch and impact so many. I know a lot of people probably won’t love the ending, but I truly thought it was perfection and really made this book standout as a true masterpiece. And if you read through this whole review, I hope you know that I appreciate you, and that it is never too late to follow your dreams and find the happiness you deserve. Oh, also, be warned that the mention of all the snacks in this will make you extremely hungry.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and Trigger Warnings: anxiety, debt, the debt crisis, credit debt, bill collectors, talk of sudden death briefly, talk of cancer, minor scene involving childhood cancer and the Make A Wish foundation, depression, codependency, and talk of assault (unwanted touching).


About the Author:

Mary H.K. Choi is a writer for The New York TimesGQWired, and The Atlantic. She has written comics for Marvel and DC, as well as a collection of essays called Oh, Never Mind. Her debut novel Emergency Contact was a New York Times bestseller. She is the host of Hey, Cool Job!, a podcast about jobs and Hey, Cool Life!, a podcast about mental health and creativity. Mary grew up in Hong Kong and Texas and now lives in New York. Follow her on Twitter @ChoitotheWorld.

Blog Tour Schedule:

August 26th – Vicky Who Reads

August 27th – Adventures of a Book Junkie

August 28th – Utopia State of Mind

August 29th – Read by Tiffany

August 30th – Rich in Color

August 31st – Your Tita Kate

September 2nd – Books on Pointe

September 3rd – Andi’s ABCs

September 4th – Book Scents

September 5th – Twirling Pages

September 6th – Bookshelves & Paperbacks

September 9th – YA Bibliophile

September 10th – Mary Had A Little Book Blog

September 11th – Chasing Faerytales

September 12th – Nicole’s Novel Reads

September 13th – Mel to the Any