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

Gideon the Ninth (The Ninth House #1) by Tamsyn Muir

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ARC provided by Tor in exchange for an honest review.

“The more you struggle against the Ninth, Nav, the deeper it takes you; the louder you curse it, the louder they’ll have you scream.”

Hi, my name is Melanie, and this was a really hard review to write for many reasons. First, I think I have hyped this book for all of 2019, and I have been very vocal about it being my favorite book of the year, and the best debut I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. Next, how do you write a review on the book of your heart? The book that feels like it was crafted for you? The book that has lit up the darkest places of your soul? It’s hard, friends. Truly. Lastly, I know nothing I say here will do this book justice. But I suppose I should give it a try regardless, aye?

Gideon the Ninth is a book about a swordfighter named Gideon who is my favorite literary character of all time. Gideon is so witty, so funny, so charming, and such a thorn in Harrowhark’s side. Harrowhark is a necromancer, while also being the main ruler of the Ninth’s planet. Both of these characters are harboring a few secrets of their own, but they are both so unsure of their pasts and their futures for so very many reasons.

That is, until one day the Emperor has invited all eight necromancer heirs, from all eight loyal Houses, to compete in unknown trails to possibly ascend into something that will make them immortal, but the costs of losing can very well be their lives. No necromancer can compete without a skilled cavalier by their side, and Harrowhark has no choice but to get Gideon to help her and save the future of the Ninth House.

“You are the honoured heirs and guardians of the eight Houses. Great duties await you. If you do not find yourself a galaxy, it is not so bad to find yourself a star, nor to have the Emperor know that the both of you attempted this great ordeal.”

But once Gideon and Harrowhark arrive on the Emperor’s planet, they soon realize that the tasks are going to be much more mysterious and much more difficult than anyone could have predicted. Especially when cavaliers and necromancers from the other houses start getting murdered. Gideon is not only tasked to help Harrowhark, she also has to ensure that she keeps breathing herself, while also trying to figure out who is doing the unspeakable things to other competitors.

Tamsyn then leads us on this beautiful adventure, where twist after twist occurs so seamlessly that you can’t help but feel completely enthralled. The writing is so beautiful, so intelligent, and so very impressive. And the way the entire story is told is so very transportive! I mean, this book has one of the scariest settings I’ve read all year, but I felt like I was right there battling for my life, with a goofy smile on my face. And the atmosphere and constant chill while reading? It’s unparalleled and truly an experience like no other.

“Maybe it’s that I find the idea comforting . . . that thousands of years after you’re gone . . . is when you really live. That your echo is louder than your voice.”

I love this book for many reasons, but I also love it because it’s over the top, and has so many one-liners, and it’s painfully romantic, and the girl gets the girl at the end. And it’s what’s I’ve been waiting my whole reading life for. This is a better, and way more unique, and 100% more impressive version of what straight, white dudes have been publishing in SFF forever. I keep seeing people say that they feel this book is too confusing, the characters too over the top, and the world too complex, but I just don’t feel that way at all. This is the story my sapphic loving heart has been searching for in epic fantasy my whole life. Gideon the Ninth is my queer, literary loving heart’s anthem, and I plan to play it on repeat forever.

This book has the best enemies to lovers romance I’ve ever read in all of my years. Yeah, you read that right. In my whole freaking life, this is my favorite. I’m talking OTP for the rest of my days. I didn’t exist before this ship sailed in this first book. And this book also has such a central theme of trust, and what it means to put your trust in another. Also, what it means to be trustful, and the privilege of having someone put their trust in you, unconditionally. And this book also has an amazing discussion on power dynamics and imbalances, and how important it is to be aware of these things while putting your trust in yourself and in someone else, simultaneously.

“You are my only friend. I am undone without you.”

Overall, this really just felt like the book I’ve been waiting my own personal eternity for. This felt like the book of my dreams and my hopes. All I want is ownvoices queer books, with f/f relationships, with cutthroat girls putting themselves first, but allowing themselves to be vulnerable enough to maybe let someone else get to see a softer side of them. Almost like I’ve been reviewing books for five years now, preparing myself to read and review Gideon the Ninth, even though I know no word combination or sentence structure I could ever come up with could do it justice for this story. Basically, I know this book isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you feel like you have similar reading taste to me, then I implore you to give this one a try. I mean, if the tagline “Lesbian Necromancers in Space” isn’t going to sell you, hopefully my emotional, bleeding heart self can. This book means everything to me, and I hope you enjoy if you pick it up.

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

Content and Trigger Warnings: graphic violence, gore, murder, mass murder, human sacrifice, many conversations about suicide, death, death of children, talk of depression, grief depiction, trauma depiction, loss of a loved one, lots of blood depiction, self-harm to get blood, and mentions of cancer.

Also, I was so blessed, and I was able to meet Tamsyn at BookExpo and she is honestly the sweetest necromancer in the world, and she truly made my entire convention! 🖤⚔️

A Lesson in Thorns (Thornchapel, #1) by Sierra Simone

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“Thornchapel knows my name and the crooked corners of my heart, and it wants me to make promises that I’m going to keep.”

Okay, I’m just going to be real with you all, if you love The Secret History, If We Were Villains, and/or Strange Grace, but wish they were all more sexually explicit? Then this is the book for you. This book is a love letter to polyamory, without ever using the word. This is f/f, m/m, m/f, and a whole lot of sexual group scenes. The atmosphere of all three of those books are the same, and a work of magic that most writers cannot craft, but Sierra Simone delivers and gave me a story that I’ve been waiting for what feels like my whole life for.

This is ownvoices for the queer representation and the narcolepsy representation. I only recall the word bisexual used once by one character (Beckett), but besides that bisexual or pansexual is never used on page (even though, if pansexual is used on page in book two, you will hear me screaming all the way from Vegas, this I swear), but all six characters express sexual attraction to multiple genders, and the author is bisexual. I have seen reviews that state all six characters are bi, but I just believe in my heart that there is no way that all six MGA (multiple gender attraction) characters are bisexual, I’m sorry. And if so, that’s not too inclusive and my pan-self wouldn’t want to read it, to be real honest with you all.

A Lesson in Thorns is a story that follows six characters who stayed at a remote manor, that is falling down, but is filled with secrets, called Thornchapel when they were young. The prologue of this book (which I really recommend you read on Amazon) shows them in the run-down chapel on the estate, where they are performing a fake marriage. And unexpectedly, the bride ends up marrying two grooms. Yet, the actual story starts out many years later, where all six of them are adults, but they all have returned to Thornchapel for one reason or another.

“I want him to be mine. Or I want to deny him the right to ever call me his. I want to heal him and I want to hurt him. All because of one broken kiss.”

Auden – The heir. Pan or bi, and owner of Thornchapel.

Prosperpina/Poe – The dreamer. Pan or bi, narcoleptic, total submissive, and just took a job at Thornchapel in the library, but she is secretly trying to figure out what happened to her mother after a mysterious note is sent to her.

Becket – The priest. Bisexual, and living his life for God.

Rebecca – The genius. Pan or bi, Black, and the Dom of my dreams.

Delphine – The socialite. Pan or bi, plus-sized, Instagram famous, and engaged to Auden.

St. Sebastian – The saint. Pan or bi, biracial (white and Mexican), and feels like he ruins all the lives that he touches.

“he wanted to shelter them from the rain and force them to kneel in the mud too, and he didn’t know what it meant or why it was happening”

And when these six characters get together, and get to re-know each other, secrets unfold and lives change. Even though Poe is the main character, each of these individuals feels completely fleshed out, and each are on their own personal journeys toward happiness, even if the road is very bumpy to get there.

But this is ultimately a book about finding yourself and your acceptance and happiness, even if it feels like your life has already been decided for you, regardless of your wishes and wants. It also showcases the importance of friendships and romantic relationships, and how sometimes those lines can blur, and sometimes they don’t, but sometimes they become something more. Also, I am just really into polyamorous stories right now, and I think that this one is really beautifully done, especially with the chilling atmosphere that leaves so much mystery in the air. This story is truly has so many compelling elements, it was just impossible to put down.

I also want to briefly mention that I really love and value the discussion this book has about the concept of virginity, and what a stupid pedestal so many people place it on. Also, how virginity (and losing it) can mean so much more than a penis going inside a vagina. I really loved how this book handled that, and I love how it completely shattered the stereotype of what it means to lose your virginity. Be still, my queer heart.

Overall, I just love Sierra Simone and I have enjoyed everything I’ve read from her, but A Lesson in Thorns is for sure my favorite. This is such an inclusive novel, from race, sexuality, and social and economic standings. This book also talks about reclaiming your body after someone takes a piece of it, while also discussing that there are so many ways to heal from loss and hurt. And I just think it is so wonderfully done, on top of being one of the sexiest things I’ve read all year. Like, I will never be the same after that spin the bottle scene, holy shit. But I absolutely cannot wait to read Feast of Sparks this summer.

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Content and trigger warnings talk of rape and assault in the past, abandonment, and loss of a loved one.

I read this for #smutathon, which is being hosted by Lainey and Riley! ❤

Buddy read with Riley, Jane, & Paloma! ❤

[EDIT:] Yes, I did drop my rating to four stars. I emailed the author and she was very kind and very respectful, but she did confirm that all six of these characters are for sure bi “but not deeply tied to their labels” for this entire series. I’m going to be probably a little too real with you, but this has been a really rough Pride for me in the book world. In my real life, I am so lucky to be accepted and supported as a pansexual and panromantic woman, but the book world constantly makes me feel like I’m a lesser version of bi and I can’t take it any longer. The fact that I am forced to try so very hard to see myself in literature, to force myself in cutouts that apparently weren’t made for me, and just knowing that authors could so easily give me a breadcrumb of representation without having to do any work what so ever, yet here I am crying over a romance book that refuses to acknowledge my queer existence once again. I’m just tired friends, and I’m fed up, and I can’t believe that I’ve still only read the word pansexual on page in about ten books for my entire life, when I read and review 100+ books a year. I’m sick of being erased, I’m sick of being not enough, and I can’t wait for the day when pan kids don’t have to figure out what pansexual and panromantic mean in their 20’s, because the book world proves over and over that we aren’t worth the representation and that bisexual and biromantic should always be the default for multiple gender attraction characters.

Fix Her Up (Hot and Hammered #1) by Tessa Bailey

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“Dammit, Georgie. You had to be exactly what I need, didn’t you?”

Best romance of 2019? Probably. Holy shit, friends, Fix Her Up blew me and every expectation I had out of the water. I will say, don’t let the *cute* cover fool you, this book has many explicit sex scenes, but it was some of the best sex, and best dirty talk, I’ve ever read in my entire life. BRB, buying everything Tessa Bailey has ever written.

But this is a story about two people who grew up in the same small town together. But when one comes back five years later, they both realize that maybe they can build a happier future with help from the other one.

Georgette Castle – 23, An actual clown for children’s birthday parties, and the baby of her family, and they always let her know it by never taking her seriously, no matter what she does.

Travis Ford – 28, Newly retired professional baseball player, because of an injury. But now he is very much struggling to be more than just a baseball player, especially after moving back to his hometown.

Both Georgie and Travis want to be taken more seriously, and they want to be more than the expectations that are already placed upon them. So they strike up a friendship agreement, that starts off with a few meals, some cleaning, and a fireplace, but eventually becomes a full on fake-dating element so they can change what people think of them. Travis wants desperately to look more wholesome to the press so that he can get a job he wants, and Georgie wants people to see her as more than a innocent comic-relief.

And obviously sex has to be completely off-limits, especially since Georgie is a virgin. Which is something that they both start to find difficult, yet Travis starts to realize that he might not want to be a steppingstone for Georgie. Meanwhile, Georgie knows that she wants things in life that Travis doesn’t want to give her. And, Lord, the angst is real, but it’s perfect, and I was living my best life watching these two also figure out how to deal with their attraction.

Also, another reason this book means a lot to me is because of the story as to why I picked it up. Basically, me and three of my best friends have a group chat that we constantly talk in throughout the day, and Chelsea set that group chat on fire describing the first sexual encounter in this book. So immediately, me, and Jane, and Madalyn all went and bought the audiobook. And we all listened together, updating swooning constantly, at our very different workplaces, and I will remember and cherish that experience forever. Fuck, my friends are the best, truly.

Overall, this book was just perfect in my eyes, and I completely expect it to make my best of 2019 list come December. The dirty talk was 11/10, the actual sex scenes were 11/10, and this was maybe the best fake dating setting I’ve ever read in my life. I am now obsessed with Tessa Bailey, and I feel so blessed that I am able to read her entire backlist now.

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Content and trigger warnings for abandonment and an emotionally abusive parent.

Buddy read with Chelsea, Jane, & Madalyn! ❤

 

A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti

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“She survived something big, and when you survive something big, you are always, always aware that next time you might not.”

I can truly say, with every single ounce of my heart, that this is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s so quiet, but so loud. It’s so heartbreaking, but so healing. It’s so impactful, it’s so powerful, and it’s completely and utterly unforgettable. I truly recommend this story with my entire soul. A Heart in a Body in the World is now one of my favorite books of all time.

On the very surface, this is a story about a girl who is feeling the astronomical weight of guilt and grief. She lives in Seattle, and one day while she is feeling particularly powerless over something that happened nine months ago, she decides to run to Washington D.C. regardless of how long it will take. Her family is a little shocked, but very supportive, so she begins her healing journey the only way her body and heart knows how; by running and pushing her body to the limits that her mind is forced to relive every single free moment. And watching her reclaim what was taken from her is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read in my entire existence.

Okay, so I went into this story knowing what the main theme was, and it did not hinder my enjoyment whatsoever. Yet, I have seen so many reviewers say that this story is best to consume not knowing, and that they consider the central plot to be a big spoiler. So, please use caution reading the rest of this review, because I am going to talk about what this book is about, and I don’t want to spoil you if you believe that it could be a potential spoiler! But regardless, this is one of the best books I’ve ever had the privilege of reading, and I implore you all to pick this up when you are able to, especially if you are a woman living in the United States.

“Danger can seem far away until the sky grows dark, and a bolt of fury heads straight toward you.”

A Heart in a Body in the World is a story about toxic masculinity and gun violence, and how that can be one of the most dangerous combinations that American women can ever face. Especially when we live in a country where it is easier to buy a gun than to vote. Especially when we live in a country that normalizes teaching young kids to hide under desks in the event of a school shooter. Especially when our country proves over and over that it doesn’t think we are worth protecting and that our safety isn’t worth more than an assault rifle. And especially when we live in a world that conditions girls to be scared to say no to boys, and that internalization is passed down every single generation, to both girls and boys, to truly create the most evil and most scary cycle.

This is the best depiction of grief and guilt I’ve ever read in my entire life. I could feel the weight Annabelle’s grief, and it constantly felt like it was going to bury me. This book took so much out of me, but in the best way possible; in the realest way possible. And violence took everything from Annabelle because we live in a world where it can be deadly to reject men.

Annabelle did everything right. She reached out. She asked for help. She told people. And it didn’t help, and these kinds of stories prove over and over again that it won’t help. But we live in a world where proving your masculinity and power will always be louder than a teenage girl asking for help. Being nice and being kind can potentially lead to someone taking absolutely everything from you.

Okay, I know this is a really heavy review, and I’m sorry for that, but this book honestly just does such an amazing job depicting so many young women’s realities. But to end on a sweeter note, the family dynamic in this novel is also a damn masterpiece. You all know that strong sibling bonds (especially with little brothers) is my favorite thing in books! And also, the relationship that Annabelle has with her Italian grandfather, and the unconditional love he shows her over and over again, made me so damn soft.

Overall, this is one of the most important, meaningful, and impactful pieces of literature I’ve ever read in my entire life, and probably ever will read in my entire life. I recommend it with every single fiber of my being. And I will truly carry this book in my heart forever. Also, if you want to see me cry over the perfection of this story, and how sad I feel to live in a country that doesn’t protect me, watch my day seven contemporayathon vlog!

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Content and trigger warnings for PTSD depiction, panic attacks, grief depiction, loss of a loved one, death, murder, stalking, mention of cancer, self-induced harm via running, and any and everything surrounding the gun violence in America.

Buddy Read with Lea from Drums of Autumn! ❤

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

Blog Tour Review | The Shadowglass (The Bone Witch #3) by Rin Chupeco

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ARC provided by Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review.

1.) The Bone Witch ★★★★
2.) The Heart Forger ★★★★★

“There are worse things than black heartsglass, Tea. Silver is just as capable of hate.”

Most of you know this The Bone Witch trilogy is a series I hold very close to my heart, but I truly have been looking at this word document for the last twenty minutes completely unable to start this review. I’m not ready to say goodbye, and I’m equal parts in denial that it’s over, but in awe of how perfect Rin Chupeco closed this series out. I am so thankful for these books, and I will truly carry them with me forever.

The Shadow Glass is the concluding book in an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy series, that stars a bone witch named Tea who has the power to resurrect and control things, which she finds out in The Bone Witch when she accidentally resurrects her brother at his funeral. From there, Tea and her newly risen brother, Fox, go on a journey for Tea to learn about her asha powers, but they quickly feel and realize the expectations that all eight kingdoms are going to put on her.

In this world, all the people wear heartsglass around their necks. Your heartsglass will change colors depending on what you’re feeling but will overall stay mostly the same color. Yet, silver means you draw runes and they are so very important and are so very sought after. Other ashas control elements; fire, earth, water, and wind. But Tea is a dark asha who can control death. Bone witches are not very respected in this world, even though their powers hold the most important job in this world; defeating Daeva, which are different demons who dwell in this world, who are resurrected every so often.

“The darkness was inside me, I think, long before I raised my brother from the dead. My silver heartsglass merely gave it a mouth, made the darkness realize that it too can hunger…”

This story is told in my favorite format ever, which is half of it being told in present day from a bard, where you see the ramifications of everything that has happened in the past, where Tea appears to be the villain, but the other half is the past, from Tea’s perspective, where we get to slowly see the events unfold to bring us up to date with current day. Two timelines brilliantly woven together to give us the most epic finale of all time and truly is a masterpiece.

I feel like I can’t say that much more of a synopsis, because this is the last book in a trilogy, but watching Tea grow, from this girl who was so unsure of her future and her new powers, to this woman who learned to love not only others, but also herself and this power that felt so uncontrollable, and it was an honor to read, truly. And seeing this new journey that Tea has to take for herself in The Shadow Glass was completely enthralling and such a treat to read.

“I knew that shadowglass spell; I had committed it to memory nearly two years ago, and it was now a mantra, buried so deep within my psyche that nothing could pull it loose. I had pored over those words for so long that sometimes they came easier to me than my own name.”

But I couldn’t write up this review and not talk about the romance and how it completely still leaves me weak in the knees. I would completely lay my life on the line for Tea and Kalen and they are honestly everything. Also, I am just such a sucker for the protector/bodyguard/personal-warrior element in romances, and I seriously will never stop swooning over them. Truly the stuff dream OTPs are made of.

I do want to take a minute and talk about the sexual and gender representation in this book! There is a side f/f romance, which you don’t get to see that much of in this installment, but I still love them with the sum of my being! But what I really want to talk about is Likh and her transition. In all three books, we see Likh discovering how fluid gender can be, yet also testing out the waters of new things because of the gender roles, and power imbalances, people place on so many things in the societies all these characters explore, but in this book she decides her pronouns and after that everyone instantly respects her pronouns and her transition and it’s truly beyond words beautiful.

Okay, so I feel like I should write up a little personal paragraph, even though I don’t want to take away anything from this masterpiece of a trilogy. Rin Chupeco pulls from many Asian inspirations, but as a biracial Filipino it just means the world to me to see a Filipino author not only writing books that are completely in my wheelhouse, but to really have it reflect so much of my culture. Then, I also get to see an Asian girl and her Asian brother be best friends and willing to sacrifice anything for one another, and if you’ve followed my reviews for a while, you will know my brother is my best friend in the entire world, and I would sacrifice anything for him, and I’m just weak and soft and it really means so much to me. But lastly, we really get to see Tea living during the good mental health days and living during some really terrible mental health days. Mental health and Tea’s guilt, grief, and trauma is never shied away from in this story, and to even see this in an Asian inspired fantasy story is enough for me to build a shrine to Rin right this instant.

“I will save the kingdoms, and I will save you in the process, and maybe I will save the bits and pieces of myself that need rescuing too.”

And I don’t have an eloquent way to say it, this ending broke me. I read the last twenty-percent of this book with tears streaming down my face. So much perfection. Overall, this really is the book of my heart, and Tea is the character of my soul, and Rin Chupeco truly wrote a love letter for every girl out there who wants to change the broken world that people think is the default. If you haven’t started this series yet, please give it a try. I truly love it with my whole heart and soul, and I truly think it is so very worth your time.

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Content and trigger warnings for violence, death, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, brief mention of past parental abuse, and war themes.

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

(Thank you so much FFBC, for letting me be a part of this tour!)

 

The Hod King (The Books of Babel, #3) by Josiah Bancroft

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ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.

1.) Senlin Ascends ★★★★★
2.) Arm of the Sphinx ★★★★

“The world is full of wolves and lambs, but precious few shepherds.”

I can’t believe that Josiah Bancroft did it again, but he truly did it again. This is such a wonderful installment in a world that I never want to leave. This entire series is such a unique treat that is truly unlike any other fantasy out there. Every paragraph is so smart, every chapter so perfectly crafted, and each book makes me more and more invested. I am at such a loss for words because of this book’s pure magnificence, but I’m going to try to write this review anyway.

The basic, starting premise of this tale is that a man named Senlin, who is from a small fishing village, recently has gotten married to a woman named Marya. And on their honeymoon, he takes her to this mysterious tower that he is obsessed with, and each level inside this tower is completely unique and an entire world all on its own. Senlin comes equipped with a guidebook and feels confident that he and his new bride will be able to have a safe visit, that is, until his new bride goes missing before they even are able to set foot inside the mysterious tower together. And not to get too spoilery, but we are three books in, and he still hasn’t retrieved Marya, but we have gotten to travel alongside him discovering the individual beauty and horror of each unique level.

Yet, this book is set entirely in Pelphia. And this book is all about the Hods that are forced to live as servants for the rest of the tower. Even though each level of this tower is completely different and unique, the Hods are always present, traveling through the inhumane passages, that are completely unforgiving, but they are forced to walk though nonetheless. But the true mystery of the tower, that this book focuses on, is who is The Hod King and what they and their followers are up to.

“It’s possible, I think, to be so many things at once, that you’re practically nothing at all. If you crush a mountain and spread it across a continent, it doesn’t make little mountains; it just vanishes into dust.”

And this book did surprise me with switching perspectives a few times, but this book starts out with Senlin being sent on a very important mission by the Sphinx, which also happens to be in the same Ringdom that he believes Marya is currently living in. Senlin is truly at a crossroads in this book, and he needs to make a choice to listen to his heart and do what he feels is right, or to listen to his mind and trust in the friends he has made during his time in the tower.

This third installment shines a spotlight on abuse, abusers, and the cycle of abuse those abusers will use to keep their victims stuck in the cycle. This book shows that abusers can be charming, they can be charismatic, they can be leaders and pillars in their community, and abusers can fool you and others into thinking that they are not abusers. But none of these things will ever negate the fact that an abuser is an abuser, and this is a constant theme in The Hod King that I really appreciated. And I truly think that it was so well done, and it really meant a lot to me.

“If someone has absolute control over you, it’s easy to believe they have absolute power over everything and everyone. They can’t be defied or challenged or disobeyed, and every opportunity for escape just feels like a cruel test.”

I also think this book discusses how the tower is very much like our own world, where men view women as resources and investments. Whether that means getting and keeping a woman’s name in the spotlight, to ensuring one will carry your child, to just forcing women in molds that cater to men’s wants and desires. I think Josiah mirrors a lot of relevant themes in our world, but this theme was expertly done and really stood out to me. Especially with how we live in a world that is always expecting and asking more and more of women.

I want this review to be spoiler free, and I don’t want to make this review about the author whatsoever, but I just also wanted to add a little caveat that I think that Josiah becoming a father recently may have subconsciously (or consciously) worked its way into his writing. And, friends, I’m soft, and weak, and I truly think that this element is why The Hod King ended up being my favorite of the series so far. I am not a parent yet, but I think most people can understand that being a parent raises the stakes higher for every aspect of your life. We get to see this very much so in this book, and I completely adored it. I also loved the constant discussion on what it means to raise a child, and what makes a caregiver a parent. Found family is always at the heart of these novels, but it shined so beautifully though in this third installment.

I also loved the theme on how societies do not want to take care or even acknowledge impoverished and underprivileged areas. The rich would rather ignore and exploit the poor than to make a conscious effort to help improve their living conditions that would in turn improve the entire society. In 2014, city officials switched Flint’s water supply to cut costs and poisoned an entire city. When I read Senlin Ascends two years ago, Flint was still without clean water. And in 2019, Flint is still without clean water, when powerful men in this world could easily fix an entire city’s plumbing without even noticing they donated the money. I don’t want to get too preachy, but Josiah is a really smart and really talented author, and the messages he wove throughout this book were not missed on me. And this entire story really shows that empathy could improve every world.

What else can I even say? Edith has my heart, Violet is such a badass, I want Iren and Ann to be my moms, because I would already die for that sapphic f/f side relationship, glimpses of Bryon, Goll, and Tarrou made my entire 2019 and we are only in the first month, and getting to learn a little bit about Marya felt like Christmas after being on this journey alongside Senlin for so long.

“I will find her. I will offer my help if she needs it, my heart if she wants it, my head, even if she would see it on a stake!”

Overall, I don’t think I’d fare as well at Tom has in this magical tower that has somehow taken root in my heart, but I’d love to be able to go nonetheless. I truly think that Josiah Bancroft’s storytelling is on a completely different plane of existence than any other SFF writer currently. I truly know that is a very bold sentence to write as a reviewer, but I truly mean it with my entire heart. These characters who I think are some of the best ever crafted, these themes that meant the world to me, these perfectly constructed sentences with a lyrical prose that leaves me highlighting quote after quote, these different adventures that are all completely enthralling, this hidden world that is unlike anything in literature, I am just left in complete and utter awe, friends. Just, please pick up Senlin Ascends if you haven’t already, and come gush with me forever about how astounding this series really is. This final book is truly going to slay me.

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

Content and trigger warnings for slavery, abuse, torture, talk of human trafficking, murder, death, loss of a loved one, violence, captivity, abduction, and war themes.