Thursday 29 July 2021

#bookreview: Monkey Around | Jadie Jang

Monkey AroundMonkey Around by Jadie Jang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, the great part about Monkey Around is that you don't need to be a Journey to the West kind of person to know what's going on! Though I suppose if you come with that kind of literary background you'd probably pick up things (clues? inside jokes?) that I might have missed. But not knowing is also cool and doesn't detract from the story as a whole, because you're taken on a journey of discovery with Maya herself!

Maya MacQueen is on a journey of discovering what she truly is - is she just a were-monkey, or is she something more? What lies behind the supercool powers she has that Ayo, magic-human-boss, doesn't seem to recognise? But in the midst of protesting at Occupy, barista-ing at Cafe Sanc-ahh, and taking on odd jobs for Ayo (like tracking down a missing aswang), supernatural creatures are turning up dead. Like Wayland Soh, the harimau jadian, and Bu-Bu, the bajang. And the only clue she has is that this soul-eating shadow is just like her.

What I love about Monkey Around is the wide range of cultures and supernatural creatures from all around the world that just appear, but is somehow still so rooted in place. Jang explores the many different were-creatures and magic users around the world that have migrated to (or pass through) the Bay, though two cultures are featured with some prominence - the Asian-American and Mexican (Mesoamerican?) communities.

With so many things going on, it feels like the disparate cultures and creatures should pull the story apart - or at least confuse it too much. Yet it doesn't. There's one thing that pulls them together, that provides a defining feature - the San Francisco Bay Area. The place feels like a character of its own. It speaks to Maya, it searches for its guardian. It's actively trying to save itself, and I love it. I also admit to having a soft spot for it in my heart due to the many times I once travelled there for work.

The most annoying thing about Monkey Around, though, is in my opinion, Maya. And that's actually a very personal thing. Okay, I should explain that a bit. Many readers gush about how much they *love* a character. I don't...fall in love with characters. There are very few characters that I super like, and that's also mostly because there are very few real people that I like. But there are very, very many characters that I hate, and that kind of correlates to the amount of real life people I just find annoying and tiresome and don't want to deal with. So back to the story, you know how you meet someone and they just...irritate you for no definable reason? Just one of those personalities that grates on you but everyone else is ok with (and maybe even like)? That's Maya for me. She's amusing to a point, until she protests "but the Monkey in me...." one too many times and [Anna stabs the Main Character].

At any rate, Monkey Around is a fun urban fantasy read that explores the diversity of the Bay, identity, and place.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday 21 July 2021

#bookreview: Mist Bound: How to Glue Back Grandpa | Daryl Kho

Mist Bound: How to Glue Back GrandpaMist Bound: How to Glue Back Grandpa by Daryl Kho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't recall how I stumbled upon this, because honestly, the marketing around it is... non-existent?? But I somehow found Daryl Kho's website! And realised there was a preorder sale! So I ordered it!

Mist Bound tells of Alexis' quest to cure her Grandpa after he was hit by a Fog of Forgetting spell. She just has to travel across the magical world of Mist with her scary Grandma and the annoying kenit who cast the spell to find the 8 ingredients to make Memory Glue. As Alexis journeys across Mist, she discovers a wonderful (and scary) thing - all the wild tales Grandpa has been telling her are true!

As an MG book, lame jokes abound - which was a little meh for me, but I'm not the main target audience. The concept itself isn't terribly new (my Coexist is written in a similar vein), but what I love about it is the delving into of Asian folklore. Not only do we have the kenit, Paeri, and duyung, there are also the Nangmais from Thailand, Baku from Japan, and pixiu from China (and a lot more lah!). While this is primarily Alexis' journey (and ours) of meeting these strange and wonderful creatures, Kho also weaves in short snippets of actual folklore and regional myths.

There are also all these cute little illustrations!! by SillyJellie!!

Whilst this is an exciting journey to a magical land, there's also a sad note to it - book Alexis' Grandpa is hit by a spell that makes him forget, but real-life Alexis, Kho's daughter, will never be able to know her grandfather before dementia struck.

Mist Bound: How to Glue Back Grandpa offers a determined story of faith, hope, and love, glued together by family.

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Wednesday 14 July 2021

#bookreviews: A Castle Contended | Sharon Rose

A Castle Contended (Castle in the Wilde #2)A Castle Contended by Sharon Rose
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So basically I sat (lay) down and read the whole thing in one sitting past midnight. Is that review enough? lol

Lemme see, where do I start?

I gave the first book, A Castle Awakened, 4 stars mainly because the writing style jarred me a little. The writing here is still somewhat old and stuffy at points, but either it flows better here or I'm more used to it now(?) so this sequel was a rather entrancing read. Or maybe I've reconciled myself to the fact that it just fits the style and the story.

Beth is learning what it truly means to be Princess of Layvacia (Lavaycia? I can't spell) - and that involves acting through seeming inaction quite often. Her parents have accepted the fact that she's grown up and are now involving her in their discussions. There's politics galore, including whole sections debating the finer points of the kingdom's laws, so if you're not one for those, you might get a bit bored in those chapters. There are still many unspoken secrets, frustrating as it is for Beth and the reader, but many things FINALLY get revealed in this one!

While I enjoyed the very clean, very slow burn between Beth and Tristan, it doesn't really appear much, other than some pining on both sides. The meat of this story is really the politics between kingdoms and the tricky navigation of opposing cultures without causing offence. It's also a very witty novel - not laugh out loud hilarious - but with a generous sprinkling of humourous turns of phrase and wry observations.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday 7 July 2021

#bookreview: Heart of Snow | Katherine Buel

Heart of SnowHeart of Snow by Katherine Buel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd rate this one somewhat more than 4 but somewhat less than 5, so maybe a 4.5?

Heart of Snow is kind of a typical fairy tale retelling/mash-up. It's Snow White and Rose Red, but Rose Red is dead, killed by her murderous aunt. And now this aunt, Lyric, is ruling as Queen of Cresilea whilst Snow is biding her time, plotting her revenge. But it's also Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Swan Maiden, the Fairy King, the Hunter, and many, many little references and familiar fairy tales rolled into one.

Which made for a meh beginning, where things were muddy, and all you had was "maimed, conflicted, deposed teenage princess hungry for revenge against all advice". I mean, that's where most stories start anyway.

So no, this book didn't capture me right from the start, though it was entertaining enough (Eh, probably a 3+, she says, after putting the Kindle down multiple times) but then THINGS HAPPEN (somewhere past the 50% mark) and REALISATION DAWNS and it's like OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

The ending was brilliant and complex and finely spun, also heart-wrenching while we're at it. If I had more time, I'd consider reading the start again to see what I missed when I was bored and didn't know better.

Side note: I'm slightly ambivalent about the romance. I mean, it makes sense in the overall scheme of things, and it was a very powerful motivator for the climax & conclusion, but... idk. A part of me isn't quite convinced.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book via Victory Editing NetGalley Co-op on NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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