Review: XOXO

Review: XOXO

Rating: 3 out of 5.

**I received a proof copy from Harper360YA in exchange for an honest review**

When Jenny meets mysterious Jaewoo in her Uncle’s karaoke bar, she should have turned him away, but instead, they have a spontaneous night to remember in downtown LA. Numbers are exchanged, and Jaewoo disappears. Months later, Jenny and her mother move to South Korea to care for her ill grandmother, only to discover that Jaewoo wasn’t just a nobody but a member of one of the most prominent rising K-pop boy groups in South Korea.

Jenny is an aspiring cellist, hoping to follow her deceased father’s passion, to become a musician to make her family proud. After some harsh feedback, she feels deflated, which urges her to spend the night travelling LA with Jaewoo despite barely knowing him. When she comes to South Korea and discovers Jaewoo is no ordinary person, her life trajectory is suddenly off-balance. XOXO was fun to read; in a sense, it was like I was watching a K-drama unfold within the pages. If I were younger, I definitely would’ve enjoyed this more.  

The story is cute, and there were some adorable moments between Jenny and Jaewoo. Still, in the end, it lacked depth and any attempts to highlight the “darker side of k-pop” such as bullying and the strenuous training process fell flat and wasn’t as impactful as Oh might have intended. It’s also made me realise that these K-pop centred stories are just formulaic without any outstanding features. XOXO might be the only one that hadn’t made me feel second-hand embarrassment throughout the entire story. It suffers greatly from all tell and no show, clearly marketed towards K-pop/K-drama fans who won’t need any introduction to anything here. Jenny and Jaewoon have some highlights, but the repetitive back and forth made it a chore to read. The side characters are no better; interchangeable in my mind.  Having enjoy Oh’s other works, I was surprised to find myself so disappointed with this.

Overall. XOXO is a sweet but predictable read. That’s all I can really say, there was nothing special about it that jumped out and make it memorable. Though, through no fault of its own, has made me realise that K-pop centred stories are not for me.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Jay’s Gay Agenda

Review: Jay’s Gay Agenda

Rating: 3 out of 5.

**I received a proof copy from Harper360YA in exchange for an honest review**

Moving from his rural hometown to busy Seattle, Jay Collier hopes to finally find a place where he belongs after spending most of his teens as the only openly gay person in his town. While his hometown peers have already moved past first, second and third bases, Jay creates his romantic agenda in hopes that Seattle can cross them all off. As he slowly begins to check his list, life has a habit of throwing us all off track as Jay begins to realise life can’t be boxed into a neat list and if he wants to stay true to himself, he may need to go off plan. 

Jay’s Gay Agenda is surprisingly sweet and very messy. Jay is a bright young boy who wishes to have the same romantic endeavours as his peers. But being the only boy who is gay and out to his community, his chances for romance is slim to none. But when his mum is promoted at her job, and with that comes a new home in Seattle, Jay finally feels like he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. He creates his Gay Agenda to help him figure out his wants and needs and everything is going well when he meets Albert on his first day of school. I actually really enjoyed his journey of being this small-town boy finally getting the chance to explore his sexuality.  I actually adore many of the characters in the story. I could definitely see this as a live-action in a similar vein to Simon Vs. or Heartstopper

If you’ve already seen reviews for this, then you’ll already know that the reception for this is rather mixed since Jay cheats and lies to his friends and love interest. I personally did not enjoy the cheating plotline. It really depends on how you read the story as I understand people might not see it as cheating. For me, it definitely crossed into cheating once Jay and Albert had a discussion about their first time and he promises to wait for Albert, despite having slept with someone the chapter before. 

My main issue with this book was the writing style itself. It felt off, and not a realistic voice of a teenager in current times. Jay’s voice felt rather exaggerated and more so like someone was trying to write was a teenager sounds like rather than sounding natural. It felt like a  teen movie script which was rather disappointing. I wouldn’t cross this off as a do not recommend. While it wasn’t for me, it depends on who you’re recommending this for because Jay’s voice and humour won’t be for everyone. 

Overall, Jay’s Gay Agenda is about finding yourself in a way that works best for you. Navigating life isn’t perfect and Jay, despite his refreshing optimistic attitude, doesn’t always get it first try, which is why, despite my prior thoughts, thought it was still a great exploration of sexuality from the perspective of a teen youth.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Girl on Fire

Review: Girl on Fire

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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

When a police officer aims a gun at her brother, Lolo Wright discovers powers she never knew she had. And alongside tackling family drama and school life, she juggles the telekinetic abilities that she can’t seem to hide. When a neighbourhood dealer catches wind of her skill, it’s not long before he starts calling for her to join his gang. With her brother’s safety and father’s business on the line, Lolo learns that she must learn how to fight back before it’s too late. 

This was a surprisingly fun read! Key and Weiner do an excellent job setting the story up swiftly. The Wright dynamic is relatable and heart-warming. Despite all odds, they stuck together and became very relatable characters. Lolo is a great protagonist. She’s sweet, hardworking, and definitely a great fictional role model for younger kids. 

The story dynamic is natural and feels like a breeze to read. Secondary characters such as her brother, Michael, her father, James, while powerless, grow with their own strengths. Keys and Weiner brings together a colourful cast of characters that matter. In such a short time, young readers can be quickly immersed in this dynamic world. 

In all, Girl on Fire is bursting with energy. Keys and Weiner tackle teenagehood and heroic beginnings in this fantasy debut which is further elevated with art created by Brittney Williams.  It is an empowering start for any younger reader looking to get their hands on a newer hero. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Four Aunties and a Wedding

Review: Four Aunties and a Wedding

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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

Never the bride, always the photographer. Meddy Chan never imagined she would wed her college sweetheart. Instead, she hires another family-fun business, appearing like a dream. Everything is going fine until Meddy overhears them taking out a target at her wedding, and suddenly, she is forced to make sure another wedding doesn’t become a crime scene. Can the Chans save the day, or will this become a wedding no one will want to remember?

I was super excited to see what the Chans will get up to in this sequel; having enjoyed the first, deciding to speak so lowly of this was disappointing. 

The best part about Dial A for Aunties is getting to lean into the absurdity of it all. It’s so ridiculous, which is what made it so great to read. The Chan are endearing and fun. Four Aunties and a Wedding felt a lot more absurd, and while this isn’t a series where you should be caring about realism., the misadventures in here aren’t as marvellous as it was before. The humour is still the same, but the plot is just too similar, and none of the characters has grown since the events of Dial A. This is more of a personal ick, but the aunts doing strange British accents weren’t funny at all.  What made it less enjoyable was the fact it all takes place during the wedding, and no one seems to bat an eye that Meddy, the bride, is barely present. Nate really should’ve kicked up a bigger fuss. I think this would’ve been a lot more fun if the events occurred in the days going up to the wedding because having to witness what should be one of the best days in Meddy’s life go horrifically wrong did not feel fun at all. I’m surprised Sutanto managed to tie everything up in the end because it just sounds miserable. 

Overall, Four Aunties was fun, but it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the first. The plot is predictable without any redeeming elements and lacklustre development. If anything, this series is truly a test for anyone who wants to practise suspension of disbelief. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: The Boy with Fire

Review: The Boy with Fire

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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

In a world teetering on the edge of war, one man’s hunger for power might just doom them all. Yassen Knight was once a notorious assassin, now he’s on the run and his only ticket to freedom is defending the princess of Ravence. Elena is counting down the days she ascends the throne, but her inability to hold Fire threatens her crown. Leo isn’t ready to give the crown up yet, not when a looming prophecy threatens everything he holds dear. As the clock ticks till the coronation, the people of Ravence must prepare for change or fear seeing the land burn. 

What stood out about this book for me was the writing. I think Verma is a phenomenal writer. I really enjoyed how she writes, it’s rich and filled with details that make the world of Sayon come to life. She writes quite smoothly in a way that seems very experienced. There are too many good quotes from this book. I’m sure my Kindle copy is more highlights than plain lines. 

However, when I finished this book, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. The world-building is well done, and I enjoyed the universe Verma has formed. But I couldn’t seem to place where my disappointment lay, but I think, in the end, the characters themselves didn’t live up to the world they resided in. I feel like we really only got to understand the characters at a surface level.

Elena and Leo were interesting, and I liked the parallel between father and daughter as Leo struggles to make sure Elena will inherit a world worth fighting for, but fails to understand what is really best for his land. Yassen is introduced strong and I was prepared to adore him, but again there really isn’t any significant action aside from Leo’s chapters so much of the book is rather slow. It’s a constant cycle of being reminded that Elena can’t control her fire ability and Yassen is a former traitor. The book is advertised as “enemies to lovers,” but the energy between Elena and Yassen isn’t there. Elena is engaged in an arranged marriage between Samson, a friend of Yassen, and it feels like they had better chemistry. 

It’s been some time since I finished this book, and I still can’t figure out where I stand with it. Conceptually, its plot and characters should appeal to me but reading this book felt like a drag. Pitched as Dune meets The Poppy War, The Boy with Fire struggles to light a flame to its comp mates. The potential is there, and for another reader, it will be perfect, but the story barely made a mark for me.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: The Red Palace

Review: The Red Palace

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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

Through years of study, seventeen-year-old Hyeon has finally earned her place as a palace nurse, having worked through every obstacle an illegitimate daughter could face. But everything she’s worked for is threatened when four women are murdered in a single night, and the only suspect is Hyeon’s personal mentor. And Hyeon cannot do anything without jeopardising her position, and any mistake will have her father’s sight set squarely on her. Determined to prove her teacher’s innocence, Hyeon risks it all and in her hunt for the truth comes Eojin, a police inspector with his own hidden agenda. As their search begins to point the blame to the Crown Prince, the two find themselves uncovering the dark secrets behind all the bloodshed. 

In her newest release, June Hur returns to the Joseon era, now following the life of palace maid Hyeon. The Red Palace was gripping and mysterious as Hur paints a memorable image of Joseon Korean in another historical mystery. Hur has a knack for highlighting the lives of women in the Joseon era. I felt really immersed in the lives of these women who were considered lower class while playing a pivotal role in running the government. In a similar vein to The Silence of Bones, Hyeon must think on her feet to discover the truth. As an illegitimate daughter, her position is both a hindrance and an opportunity to find information that no one else can. While I found Silence of Bones to be more emotional, Red Palace was far better plotted and well-crafted. 

The plot was fascinating, and I loved how the mystery grew as Hyeon and Eojin involve themselves in dangerous business. Not everyone can be trusted, and even Eojin brings an air of danger around him, but Hyeon can’t help but be enticed by his mystery. The romance between them was unexpected but so sweet. 

If you’ve read any of Hur’s previous works, then you’ll already know that this one cannot be missed. Hur has improved in her craft, and it shows. The politics and intrigue keep you gripped for hours—a well-developed mystery within a vivid setting of 1700s Joseon Korea. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR