Review: The Chosen (Contender #1)

Review: The Chosen (Contender #1)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Throughout history, people have vanished with little to no explanation. And now Cade and his schoolmates are one of them. Six months into his new school, contemplating his new, drastic path, he is suddenly transported to another realm. A realm where prehistoric animals and ancient societies have seemingly made a home in this strange world. Cade and his friends have no time to relax when a mysterious being announces them as contenders in a game without rules but to survive. 

I’ll admit there was some confusion on my end because the cover and the original synopsis I had read lead me to believe this series was an extension of Matharu’s Summoner series which I mildly enjoyed. Once the talks of modern school and dinosaurs started popping up, I had a feeling we were not in the Hominum Empire anymore. I laugh at my mistake and then started the book over again. My first thoughts when I finished this book was mild confusion. Even with my initial mistake, I felt like I had been reading a different book than what I set out with initially. I wasn’t particularly blown away, it was good fun to read, but nothing was that special for me, personally. 

What made The Chosen unique was its take on using mystery disappearances. Cade soon learns that many people and creatures he sees before have been reported to have disappeared, never to be seen again. A lot of them have ended up here in this strange world. I was having some fun with this book initially. I initially felt some Lord of the Flies vibes. Matharu does an excellent job of setting the scene, bring together a group of boys as they try to figure out what’s happening to them. They discover buildings and materials from people before them and begin their journey to survival. It is from this moment onwards is where I think the story just loses itself. 

Cade is separated from his peers, and this is where the bulk of the story will continue. He meets more people, discovers bolder enemies and figures how most of his plan on his own. The writing is good, consistent and straight to the point. But I just felt like the story just didn’t know where it was going. Or maybe because it’s a trilogy, it felt stretched out far too much to make any real sense. The boys discover they are running on a countdown very early on in the book, and despite the reminder of the clock, it felt really underwhelming. Cade fights new enemies, creatures and humans alike, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Any semblances of an explanation are revealed only in the final chapter, and at the point, I was more confused than thoroughly informed. 

Overall, The Chosen had the potential to be a lot more eventful and exciting if the journey towards the ending wasn’t so underwhelming. Apart from Cade and another character introduced later on, the rest of the cast blur into each other. We are given signifiers and a somewhat decent backstory for them, but when they’re placed within this world, it becomes the Cade Show, where everyone loses relevance. The mystery does unfold quite interestingly, and I just some faith the sequel can do the series justice, but the introduction is not as exhilarating as it should have been.


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Review: Loveboat, Taipei

Review: Loveboat, Taipei

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

In her parents’ last effort to prepare her for a future in medicine, they send Ever to an educational program in Taiwan, hoping it would distract her from spending her last summer dancing. But what her parents don’t know is that the program is also their worst nightmare. Here is where Ever discovers the educational program is also known for its love boat reputation, where summer-long flings are the norm, and the nightlife is second nature to its student. Ever is eager to rock the boat and make it her mission to have the best summer ever. 

Romantic contemporary is far from my usual genre to read, but Loveboat, Taipei really stood out to me. I went into this with low expectations but came out feeling a really strong connection to Ever and her journey. Her passion is to dance, but her parents hope for her to take a career in medicine. So when she is forced to decline her dream university spot and go to Taiwan to improve herself, she’s discouraged and upset. That is until she realises that without her parent’s supervision, and even when their influence lingers, she is free to make her own choices with little consequences. 

What made Loveboat, Taipei stand out for me personally was Ever. After being contained by her parents for so long, she struggles to find out who she is without them. Her time in Loveboat is her worst and best. She breaks all the rules her parents set out for her, reflects on them in a rather thoughtful and relatable way. The way Abigail Hing Wen writes makes you feel right at home. I felt for Ever, her thoughts reflected my own, and I was surprised by how much I saw myself in her.

I never talk to my parents about the books I read or the music I love or the dances in my head. I can’t trust them not to take what bit of soul I offer them and hurl it into a dumpster.”

The plot was quite enjoyable, to say the least. I won’t lie; I was lost at the start because I genuinely had no idea what was happening. And then it takes a drastic turn that was surprising, but the story comes into its own. Ever breaks many of her parent’s rules: no drinking, clubbing and getting close with boys. She takes a leap of faith and becomes embolden by her time in Taiwan. When Ever arrives in Taiwan, she immediately hits a block and finds herself feeling isolated within her peers, other teens from wealthier backgrounds. But she isn’t the only one hiding secrets. Rick Woo is the bane of Ever’s entire existence, having remembered him from a childhood memory that is burnt into her mind. Perfect boy with a perfect life, family and girlfriend included. But Rick is carrying an onerous burden. Sophie Ha is boy-obsessed and Ever’s right-hand man into Loveboat. Her want to find a relationship reveals a heavyhearted past. Xavier Yeh is loveboat’s honorary bad boy whose character surprised me the most. The Second Lead Syndrome was strong in this one. They all come together to make a summer of memories that will change them for the better. 

Overall, Loveboat, Taipei was a refreshing coming-of-age novel that was fun and fast-paced. The story delved into some themes such as mental health, abusive relationships and racism, which can feel heavy to process, but Abigail Hing Wen does it with justice and clarity. Ever’s story is about coming to herself, and I enjoyed every moment of it all.


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Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Chih is a simple cleric, tasked with their magical hoopoe, to chronicle the lives of the people around them. When they meet Rabbit, an older woman, together, they recall Rabbit’s journey and her life story as the handmaiden to Empress In-Yo. Each chapter reveals something new, something harrowing. Before the effect of each tale can settle in, Rabbit asked Chih “do you understand?”, urging them and the reader to read between the lines and understand the truth behind a history that was erased.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a near-epic tale, all condensed into a hundred pages. As Chih sorts through the home, Rabbit recounts her story. Her being given up by her own people to joining the Empress in a game of loyalty, assassinations, and fortune tellings will ultimately topple an empire. In-Yo was brought to the court in a marriage of alliance, and it becomes clear, she would not go as expected. When her child is ripped from her hands, her people murdered and thrown out their land; Empress In-yo turns to the oppressed. She finds strength and power in what people chose to overlook and uses that to her advantage. These people have a story as well, and if you’re patient enough, you can hear it in all its glory.

There is a subtlety in how Nghi Vo writes that takes your breath away with so little words. A world unfolds with every new discovery Chih uncovers at the estate, leading to a new story, a new piece to the former Empress in her rise and fall, her exile and rebellion. These characters rarely stay a chapter, but their emotional impact resonates until the very end. Chih’s present with Rabbit’s past is a story of hidden history finally coming to light. The way Vo forms the conversation is immersive and elegant. A story that feels like a fairytale.

The term quiet fantasy was only made known to me last year, and I’ve been somewhat fascinated with finding books that fall under that category. And The Empress of Salt and Fortune hits every mark. In such little space, Vo has constructed a fantasy tale that is graceful and poignant. A forever recommendation.


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Review: Make Up Break Up

Review: Make Up Break Up

Rating: 1 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Annika Dev has high hopes for her app, Make Up. Born out of her passion and personal history, Make Up will be a revolutionary tool to mend relationships. But as struggles to raise her app from the ground up, Break Up, helmed by Hudson Craft, is rising in downloads, breaking up relationships faster than ever before. Annika thought she could ignore her summer fling with Hudson, but when his business moves next door, the two find themselves pitted against each other in a meaningful investment contest. 

I know this will sound really mean, but I can’t believe I wasted my time reading this. Like, I am trying so hard to think of something to say that isn’t so harsh, but Make Up Break Up was not good. The book lacks tension, the writing dragged, and the characters were truly so miserable to read that I genuinely could not understand what they see in each other.

The story did not work for me at all. It begins with Hudson and Co. moving in next door to Annika’s office. They’re popping champagne while Make Up is struggling to stay afloat. Annika soon realises that Hudson aims to win the same investment competition she needs to keep the place afloat. And then it becomes a cat and mouse chase between Annika and Hudson on who can be the most annoying person ever. They act so pettily and messy between themselves; you would think they were some teenagers and not adults. Like hiring a mariachi band to disrupt the other’s party or taking the charger out of a laptop before a major presentation? The stakes were nothing to feel invested about. The plot pretty much drags itself through Annika and Hudson just being assholes to each other. They’re both very self-centered, but Annika takes the cake because at least Hudson tries to be more sociable. He’s still rude in my view, nothing he does redeems him, but his place as a love interest was so two dimensional. He’s pretty, and he’s got a good body. His personality was to be blatantly in love with Annika while she rants about him for a good chunk of the book. 

Much of Annika’s anger comes from believing that Hudson had stolen her idea and was now profiting off the anti-dating app. She spends much of this book with this high and mighty attitude that Hudson is a creep and that his app is terrible. And she’s not wrong. Break Up is essentially pay-to-break up service where people are hired to break up on behalf of a person. There’s an interactive element where random people just dump terrible new on another, and it’s passed off as quirky. That alone just put me off Hudson as a romantic lead because how uncomfortable that app made me. And, strangely, Annika is the only person to mention how terrible the concept is. But then she thinks she had this moral high ground because her app fixes relationships, but there’s a problem with her app: she never considers whether a relationship is worth pursuing. That not every relationship needs fixing. You would think that would be discussed within the development team. Her own reasoning didn’t do much either, and it felt more like pieces of a draft that hadn’t quite finished developing. This is where you could think they could work together to create an app that takes both concepts into account, but the book’s actual ending was just so much more disappointing. There was a demi-decent discussion about women in tech and the boundaries they faced, but it’s all weak. Annika is too inconsistent in what she wants to say, so Menon’s actual message falls through. 

To summarise, Make Up Break Up is not the romantic story it thinks it is. The plot was weak, the characters were unmemorable, and its whole execution was quite muddy. There were so many points where the book could’ve turned itself around, but it felt like it was doomed from the start.


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Review: Cemetery Boys

Review: Cemetery Boys

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When Yadriel accidentally summons the ghost of school bad boy, Julian Diaz, instead of his missing cousin, he’s stuck with a ghost who refuses to leave. So now he’s left with Julian as he navigates the days leading up to the day of the dead and proving to his traditional Latinx family that he is a real brujo. Yadriel is a gay trans boy who struggles to get his family to accept him as a brujo, even as far as partaking in the ceremony alone. Everything is going smoothly until his cousin mysteriously passes away, and no one in his family can find his body. So Yadriel takes it upon himself to find his cousin’s spirit and help him cross over, securing his position as a brujo. But his plans prove difficult when Julian is determined to find out what happened to him as well. The countdown begins as the two boys must work together before Dia de Los Muertos to find the truth. 

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Review: Like A Love Story

Review: Like A Love Story

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.

In the midst of the AIDS crisis, three friends navigate first love and activism. Reza is about to start high school and is terrified that someone will figure out he is gay, and that a life of living happily is nothing but a dream. That is until he meets classmates Judy and Art. Jude is an aspiring fashion designer, while Art is her rebellious photographer best friend. Reza quickly finds himself involved with the ACT UP movement with the help of Judy’s uncle, Stephen; he sees the community he’s always longed for. That is until he starts dating Judy to hide his identity from his family while having growing feelings for Art. With the movement and protests rising each day, the three friends find themselves facing the hard truth of growing up and falling in love. 

I think this is a difficult review to write because how else can I talk this book other than say, read it yourself, no review can persuade you more than the actual book itself. This book has been quietly sitting on my TBR for quite some time now, and I’m mad at myself for taking so long to read this. 

Set in 1989, Reza is a closeted teenager who has recently moved in with his new stepfather and stepbrother. Reza is quiet and keeps to himself, mainly because he’s scared of what his family will think of him. This is also during the height of the AIDS crisis, so while Reza is struggling to grapple with his sexuality, the only thing he sees about it outside is an illness. But meeting Art and Judy gives him hope, gives him confidence. This is a book that I began to read with no expectations, but I immediately fell in love with. The emotions this story evokes is unbelievable. 

Like A Love Story is grounded in the harsh realities of its time, and while the story is fiction, the history is not, and Nazemian is very clear in the story he’s telling. They won’t teach it in schools. They don’t want us to have a history.” This book’s greatest strength is, quite simply put, everything. Nazemian’s story was incredibly moving and heartbreaking. 

Reza is an absolute sweetheart. Immediately you want to protect him from everything. His character hit me the hardest, his fear and vulnerability are laid to out to bare, and he chooses to become a ghost to keep him safe. To tell his family the truth and understand what it means is beyond all his power. 

Judy’s character was a surprise to me. A well-natured soul who, despite the comments about her body, pushes through expectations and grows into herself. Everyone deserves a friend like Judy. The only moment that didn’t feel right to me was her reaction to Reza’s coming out. I understood where she was coming from, but I felt somewhat shocked her at the response and then understood for plot sake, why it was treated that way.  

Art was something different. Reza is soft, Jude is calm while Art carries himself with a burning passion for change, even if it means burning all his bridges behind him. His love is photography, and his story follows him as he tries to capture all and every moment of the movement. To make sure no one forgets what they’ve been through. He reminds Reza that it’s okay not to be okay, and his feelings are more important than what anyone else thinks. I loved the trio dynamic, especially once they’ve all become comfortable with themselves.   

Overall, I loved Like A Love Story. It was an emotional portrayal of pride, activism and hope, all packaged into this one book. Nazemian captures a time that is not discussed in history lessons and has created one incredibly moving story.  


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