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: You Truly Assumed

Review: You Truly Assumed

Rating: 2 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.*

After a terrorist attack near her home, Sabriya’s summer plans are thrown out the window. Instead, she turns to an online journal to express her feelings. You Truly Assumed (the blog)  becomes a hit as Muslim teens gather around the new community. Soon, Zakat and Farah join the team to help, but as their numbers rise, so makes the malicious comments. And the community they’ve worked so hard to build might just come tumbling down if they don’t speak up. 

You Truly Assumed is a story that had a lot of potential. And I feel like it almost hits the spot but fails to keep its momentum. Let’s start with the plot. Three girls, Bri, Zakat and Farah. Bri is a ballet dancer whose summer auditions are cut short after a terrorist attack makes her hometown standstill. Her sister encourages her to put her pen to a digital paper and sets up an online blog to discuss her thoughts privately, or so she thought. Instead of auditions, she’s helping the terror attack victims while YTA thrives.  She recruits Farah, who is currently spending the summer with her estranged father and joins the team to help run the tech side of the blog. Zakat’s artistic flair brings a new image to the blog; however, her family aren’t supportive of her future in art. When Bri notices an influx of hate comments, a physical threat almost tears them down, and they have to figure out how to control it or risk shutting the site down. 

You Truly Assumed thrives in concept. I adored the idea of three young women using the blog to tell their stories, creating a community where they can discuss what they want on their terms. It also highlights the voice and individual levels of three young Black Muslim girls. I really enjoyed seeing the diversity in their lives and how Sabreen explores the different ways a person can experience Islamaphobia and racism. 

My main issue with You Truly Assumed is that while the plot is engaging, the writing simply isn’t. It felt weird reading the story of Sabriya, Zakat and Farah because it reads like three stories forced into one book. It’s one big book telling the readers what happens and not an ounce of showing. We are told their blog is thriving, yet we only see three, maybe four, posts within the book. If I can recall correctly, only two of them were actually blogging content.  We are told these girls have become close friends, but their conversations are limiting and most of their development happen off-page. This entire book hinges on the emotional connection between these girls, but the emotion isn’t there, so readers are left just to watch it all happen. 

Overall, I wasn’t impressed. The heart of the story is so there and close within our reach. It feels like a story incomplete, and it was exhausting to read, mainly because I was imagining what the book could’ve been. 

GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Jade Fire Gold

Review: Jade Fire Gold

Rating: 4 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.*

Ahn is a village girl with no family and a secret that will break the world. Altan is a lost heir of a dangerous empire. When their paths cross, Ahn finds a key to her past, and Altan sees a way to his future. But when the price of magic is far deadlier than both of them can handle, can they survive when their homeland is on the edge of destruction?

Jade Fire Gold was exhilarating. June C.L. Tan has really hit it out of the ballpark with her debut. I personally went into this book with zero expectations, and I left feeling so satisfied. It has a lot of fun tropes and utilises them in a way that is entertaining and hilarious. But it also keeps to its dark roots and the danger that Ahn and Altan face in their journey. 

The narrative is split into two POVs, Ahn and Altan. With Ahn, you follow her journey being a simple village girl, hiding her abilities in a dead-end town, working to afford the medication her grandmother so desperately needs. Suddenly, she is thrust into the life of royalty, her powers gaining the attention of even the Crown Prince. Altan was the heir to the throne until his family were murdered; now, he has spent years trying to get revenge. He never would’ve expected the answer to be found in Ahn, and the closer they get, the harder he finds it to go through with his plans. I had so much fun reading Ahn and Altan’s journey. Tan does a great job differentiating their voices where I couldn’t even decide whose perspective I enjoyed more. 

Not only did I love our main protagonists, but even the supporting characters were also unforgettable. Tang Wei is Atlan’s closest confidant and skilled with her weapons. Their banter and not-so seriously rivalry were brilliant. Linxi is a spy planted in the courts and becomes a great source of friendship for Ahn when she desperately needs it. Leiye is Ahn’s mysterious saviour and Altan’s old friend. There is so much detail that Tan incorporates so well into her words. A beautiful world inspired by Chinese mythology, from deserts to mountains, villages to palaces, the expanse from just this novel alone makes me really excited to see how the series will continue 

Jade Fire Gold was an absolute gem of a read! Sometimes you just need a good book to enjoy, and this is one of them. The banter, plot and sense of adventure left me unable to put this down—a definite recommendation for anyone interesting in the xianxia genre. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Midnight in Everwood

Review: Midnight in Everwood

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.*

Marietta Stelle was born to dance, but she must put her dreams aside after Christmas as obligations must take precedence. Struggling to maintain a balance between her traditions and goals, the answer comes in the form of an eclectic toymaker who moved in next door. Dr Drosselmeier is charming and has her entire town wrapped around his finger. When Drosselmeier promises Marietta an elaborate set for her final performance, the last thing she ever expects is to be transported into a snowy forest and rescued by a guard who escorts her to a palace made from sugar and dreams. Marietta is enchanted, but the thrill doesn’t last long when she realises she is now held captive by King Gelum. And Marietta’s only choice is to dance or starve. Now confined to her sugar prison, Marietta must work with the King’s other captives if they want to escape alive. And in this sugar-coated world, Marietta can’t trust anyone. 

Oh dear, I had such high hopes for this one. Midnight in Everwood is sweet and dream-like, but I was not a fan of the overall story. Reading this was a rollercoaster of emotions of being set up to witness a thrilling tale, only to reach the end and find out it really wasn’t all that memorable. 

The story begins in Edwardian society, and it is evident how restricting the world is for Marietta. The Christmas performance is her last time before she must give up her pointe shoes. When she is transported to Everwood, the change is instant. The influence of the Nutcracker really shines through in worldbuilding. Whimsical barely scratches the surface of what Marietta witnesses in Everwood. I really loved the detail and information we see about Everwood and its surrounding areas. There is lore and knowledge that captivated me, and it’s such a shame that much of it isn’t particularly relevant to the story. 

I can see what Kuzniar was trying to do when she was building Marietta. A girl who is desperate to keep her passion alive in a very restrictive world. I wanted to feel proud and empowered by her decisions, but the execution falls flat. Her attitude is very inconsistent, and her judgement is all over the place. The plot is just repetitive: Marietta gets in trouble, someone else taking the fall for her actions while she moans about her position. The growth of her character feels like it was just dumped towards the end. The supporting characters almost seem to be propped up like cardboard, with no voice or life of their own except to deal with Marietta’s moaning. The villain had so much potential to be much more terrifying if the story even focused on him. The best way I could describe Marietta’s journey is incomplete. She doesn’t feel completely present in the story, which is such a shame because the level of detail we receive about the world doesn’t feel fully utilised in the story that is told here. 

Overall, Midnight in Everwood is a sweet reimagining, but I have to admit it was definitely not my style. But I can see this book finding a home in another reader, someone who is more passionate about winter fairytales and sugary whirlwind adventures. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Iron Widow

Review: Iron Widow

Rating: 5 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 devastated by monsters, humanity must persist through the use of giant mecha machines. Male pilots are treated like heroes, and their female pilots must serve as their concubines and often die quicker from the mental strain. Eighteen-year-old Wu Zetian volunteers to become a concubine in hopes of her avenging her sister’s murder, and she gets her wish. She kills him through the psychic link that should’ve killed her and emerged the victor. As the military becomes unnerved by her abilities, she is immediately paired with Li Shimin, a convicted murderer and the most vital male pilot in Huaxia, whose female pilots never survive a battle. Zetian refuses to count her days and uses this new position to leverage her survival and figure out why the system fails the girls before it can take any more of them away.

Any book that is inspired by Pacific Rim will always immediately capture my attention. Throw in a sci-fi world inspired by Chinese history and a love triangle that ends in a satisfying polyamorous relationship? I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I decided that Iron Widow would be epic, and Zhao does not disappoint. 

What I loved the most about Iron Widow was the immense amount of passion you could feel resonating off the page. It was so much fun reading about Zetian as she grows from being a village girl to one of the most influential people in Huaxia. Revenge plots are usually a hit or miss with me, but Zetian takes it out of the ballpark. She is fueled by revenge for her elder sister, who died at the hands of one of Huaxia’s best male pilots, but her anger doesn’t stop there. Once the pilot is dead, she turns her wrath to the military of Huaxia, the ones who declared that girls were weaker than boys, their energy simply not strong enough to survive when in battle. It’s bullshit, and Zetian knows it; she’s been through too much to be told she is worth nothing and risks everything to prove she is everything. 

The mechanism behind the mecha machines can be a little confusing, but Zhao’s writing is straight to the point. No messing about, and their writing abilities just illuminate the world. Personally, I would’ve loved more world-building detail but what we have is impressive and, simply put, a lot of great fun! 

The characters are where Zhao and their writing really shines for me. Zetian is one big ball of anger, and justifiably so. Her anger might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I lived for it.  She is unwavering in her stance, refuses to take no and the status quo as the answer to everything. From her family to the higher-up of Huaxia, she will prove to them all that their misogyny will be their downfall while she plans to re-write history for everyone the world has abandoned. Shimin was a character who grew on me. The best character comparison I could give is Altan from The Poppy War. A boy raised to be a weapon and so entirely misunderstood by everyone around him. Yizhi seems like the typical first love interest, the one who knew the protagonist first, but he’s brilliant. He uses his wealth and influence to help Zetian and Shimin navigate the upper-class societies who lean onto the pilots are a source of entertainment while they risk their lives. Polyamorous relationships are not common in Young Adult, and Zhao did a great job with their relationship. The story is very heavily invested in its remarkable fight scenes, but I would’ve loved to have seen the trio interact a lot more on the page. Knowing that the first draft of this was more Adult orientated, I can’t help but feel it’s also the one who got away. Zhao teased some pages on Twitter, and I’ve never been so jealous of anyone who got to read that early version. 😂

Nonetheless, Iron Widow was action-packed and tremendous to read. The epilogue teases an even more dangerous journey as Zetian discovers the danger isn’t just the people at the top. Pitched as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, Zetain’s story is about a girl who is driven by revenge and her journey to offset her patriarchal society leads to an even more significant threat that pushes her to the limit.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR