Mini-Reviews: YA Backlist Titles # 1

Um yes, hi. I know there is no excuse and proper explanation for my unplanned absence these past few weeks, -er months, -er what?! Oh wow is 2017 over? Yeah, it seems so. And looking around the reading community, everyone seems pretty settled in with 2018 already. Well, except me of course. Gah, I wasn’t even able to make any New Year’s post or anything!

Okay, I will process and panic privately about this later. In the meantime, let me unceremoniously drop mini-reviews of some books that I’ve read while I was away from this blog. It’s my first time doing mini-reviews and it’s basically just bullet points of bookworm blabber, not my usual word wall style of reviews. You probably know how I’m a proponent of do-not-abandon-your-TBR-of-backlist-titles movement, so these mini-reviews are all for YA backlist books.

The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love
by Sarvenaz Tash

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Archie and Veronica. Althena and Noth.…Graham and Roxy?

Graham met his best friend, Roxy, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since.

But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever—moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books.

When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Chronicles of Althena, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be…even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize fictional love stories are way less complicated than real-life ones.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genres: YA Contemporary, YA Romance
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 
Publication date:  June 14th 2016
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
  • This book immersed me in geek culture. It’s set in the four days of New York Comic Con and the whole time reading, I feel that I am there with the characters visiting different booths, signings and panels.
  • The pleasures and pains of being fanboys and fangirls are so real here. Like camping out the whole night just to get a glimpse of your comic creator idol or meeting fellow fans and flying your fandom flags together.
  • Graham is a pleasantly earnest narrator. It’s hilarious how he is so seriously focused on planning and executing a grand gesture of professing his love for Roxy in the Comic Con but the geek gods are like so against it and have other plans. Our hero is no quitter tho, so I kept rooting for him. He kept on revising his plans, worked around his misfortunes and did everything in his (non-super) powers to tell Roxy how he feels.
  • I instantly liked Roxy and she joins my roster of YA heroines who are passionate about Harry Potter.
  • Graham and Roxy are not only BFFs, they are also a budding writer-artist tandem of their own unpublished comic series. These already strong existing relationships between the two came to play and what’s at stake with Graham’s plans on confessing his romantic feelings for Roxy. 
  • I like how the book shows their young creative process especially on Graham’s part when he incorporates his recent real love life experience on his work.
  • I adore the supporting characters as well. Everyone has something to do and contribute to their Comic Con adventures.
  • It echoes one of my favorite things to be reminded of as a bookworm when reading books: it’s all fun and games in fiction until reality hits you.
  • Fantastically realistic ending. And my heart fluttered with the promise of a budding romance.
  • Such a fluffy and fast read. Loved it so much.

Diversity Watch:
Graham Posner is described as tall, lanky, pale, redhead.

Roxana “Roxy” Afsari is Persian. She is described as dark haired and dark eyed.

Casey Zucker is described as black haired.

Felicia Obayashi is Japanese.

Callie and Drew McCullough are Graham’s stepsiblings, described as both redheads.

Amelia , a girl they met in Comic Con, is described as black, with a smattering of freckles on her nose, and dark hair dyed red on the side.

Devin is a British boy that they also met in Comic Con with jet black hair and bright blue eyes.

My Rating:

Saint Anything
by Sarah Dessen

Peyton, Sydney's charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion's share of their parents' attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton's increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans. 

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Genres: YA Contemporary, YA Romance
Publisher: Viking
Publication date:  May 5th 2015
Source/Format: Bought/Paperback
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
  • I’ve heard lots of good things about Sarah Dessen’s books and this is my first time reading one.
  • There is no doubt about the author’s skills. Her writing is very engaging. This is a big book for me (400 plus pages) but I kept reading, that’s how engaging it is.
  • I wanted to like it but there are some mild disappointments.
  • What I felt about Sydney in the beginning is pretty much the same until the end. I don’t think that her character grew and she became her own person. She was like, when she can’t get the shield and protection that she needs from her brother and parents, she projected those needs to the Chatham family.
  • Insta-friendship between Sydney and Layla, ugh!
  • There is a proper build-up to the romance but I don’t know, it still felt so-so for me.
  • Lots of characters that are always mentioned that have nothing to do with anything, like Irving and Ford.
  • The ending is a bit lacking for me. I felt unrewarded after all those 400 pages. I just thought that after that build up about Sydney’s brother and his victim, David Ibarra, there will be more.

Diversity Watch:
Sydney Stanford is described as olive skinned and dark haired with brown and almost black eyes.

Mac Chatham is decribed with shouler-lenght brown hair.

Layla Chatham is described as blond with green eyes.

Irving Fearrington, a periphery character is described as black, muscled and tall.

My Rating:

Denton Little's Deathdate
by Lance Rubin

**WINNER of the ILA Young Adult Book Award!**

Get ready to die laughing: this is an outrageously funny ride through the last hours of a teenager’s life as he searches for love, meaning, answers, and (just maybe) a way to live on.

Denton Little’s Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own except that everyone knows the day on which they will die. For Denton, that’s in just two days—the day of his senior prom.

Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle—as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend’s hostile sister. (Though he’s not totally sure—see, first hangover.) His anxiety builds when he discovers a strange purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton’s long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters. . . . Suddenly Denton’s life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Denton Little #1
Genres: YA Sci-Fi, YA Romance
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date:  May 5th 2015
Source/Format: Bought/Hardcover
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:

  • Another derivative of the funny guy narrator.
  • It’s funny but not the laugh-out-loud kind of funny for me.
  • It’s an easy and fast read. Denton’s voice is casual and light, it’s like talking to a friend.
  • Not shallow and not too deep, either. Just the right kind of discussion about death and life. Death is so blank and scary. But so is what’s next in your life, especially when you’re young.
  • There’s an air of freshness with having a seemingly healthy, YA character deal with his imminent death. Denton has a chaotic, full of bluff and adventurous death date. Just in case you need a breather from sad, angsty terminally ill YA characters, here’s one for you.
  • There are elements of mystery on how Denton will eventually die and on finding out her dead biological mom’s past.
  • The pacing gets a bit of boring in the middle but action eventually picks up at the end.
  •  The romance part is meh.
  • Love Denton’s bromance with his BFF Paolo, tho. It felt genuine.
  • The ending is no big surprise but I kinda liked it.

Diversity Watch:
Denton Little is mentioned as looking like his biological mom. She was described as having brown curly hair.

Paolo and Veronica Diaz are Hispanic.

Taryn, Denton’s girlfirend, is described as having light brown hair and hazel eyes.

My Rating:

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian
by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: The Martian #1
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publication date:  February 11th 2014 (first published September 27th 2012)
Source/Format: Bought/eBook
Purchase link: Amazon 

My Thoughts:
Hey-o, of course this book needs no introductions, with a strong 4.39 average rating in Goodreads from over half a million account users and with a movie adaptation starring Matt Damon. I’ve seen the movie and I liked it. I’m trying to decide if I want to read the author’s sophomore book, Artemis, being released this month. I have a copy of “The Martian” lying around so I guess it’s high time to read it and have a feel of Andy Weir’s writing style.

Happy to report, I am with the majority on this one. High stakes and humor are what I enjoyed most in this book. I mean, what could be more dangerous and high stakes than being stranded alone in a hostile planet? And yet Mark Watney, despite his dire circumstance is joke-y, has a never-say-die attitude and has ace problem solving skills which, made his character easy to root for. The periphery characters — NASA employees, Mark’s crew mates, and basically all the humanity — are all rooting for Mark’s survival, too so there is really no villain character here. Man versus Mars, bring it on!

I admit there are boring hard science stuff, this is why I do not read sci-fi that much, but I mostly skimmed over these parts and still found the book enjoyable. I will keep this post short now because there is nothing much I could add to the glowing reviews other people wrote. “The Martian” is entertaining and I decided that I will read Andy Weir’s next book.

Diversity Watch:
Mark Watney is racially indeterminate.

Director of Mars Missions, Venkat Kapoor’s ethnicity is not explicit in text but I am inferring he has Indian roots. He mentioned his religion is Hindu.

Director of JPL, Bruce Ng’s ethnicity is not explicit in text but I am inferring he has Asian roots.

Martinez, one of Mark’s crewmates, explicitly mentioned that he is Mexican.

Vogel, one of Mark’s cremates, is the European Union’s delegate for the Ares 3 mission. He is German.

Guo Ming, Zhu Tao, Su Bin Bao from the China National Space Administration.

My Rating:

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
by Julie C. Dao

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress--and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date:  October 10th 2017
Source/Format: Netgalley/eARC
Purchase links: Amazon Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks | Book Depository

My Thoughts:
“Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” follows Xifeng, a peasant girl with exceptional beauty and great destiny. Her witch aunt Guma groomed, disciplined and taught her poetry, history and other ways of the aristocrat, as preparation for her future. A part of Xifeng doubts her foretold great destiny but another part wants to believe it. One day, while being fed up with her aunt Guma’s beatings, the part of Xifeng which believes fate won over and she decides to run away with her lover, Wei. Together, they chase their luck in the Imperial City.

Xifeng’s character is a re-imagined origin story of one of the most iconic fairy tale villains, the Evil Queen. As a villain in the making, Xifeng is not intended to be likable at all but she will grow on the reader just the same. She never lets people who step on her get away with it. When people underestimate her, she does every thing in her power to prove them wrong. The Feng Lu Empire is a man’s world but Xifeng gets to do a little smashing of the patriarchy in the end. Murky morality aside, she is a strong character for sure.

I like how Xifeng’s character takes the reader to an exploration of the concept of freedom. A large chunk of the book is about Xifeng starting to figure out her way to being free and her own person. There is this thought Xifeng had earlier in the book where she questions if running away with Wei is the freedom that she wanted after being finally free from Guma’s clutches: “When had she gone from being Guma’s possesion to Wei’s?” Hey Wei, dude, don’t mess with this girl, she can think for herself. And then there was this instance when she killed small animals for their hearts to heal a scar in her face. This ritual had always upset Xifeng before when Guma made her do it but when she does it on her own volition, there is this hint of triumph in Xifeng. I had goosies when it dawned on me that she was upset in sacrificing animals before not because she thought it was wrong but more of because she was being forced to do it.

Being on top has become Xifeng’s idea of ultimate freedom. Xifeng one by one discards any thing (poverty, love) and any one (there are murders, gasp!) she thought would suppress her from ascending the ranks of the Imperial court. She totally becomes out of touch from herself, even succumbing to an evil spirit so she can ensure the fruition of her goals. Am I giving away too much plot here? Sorry, I just cannot stop with too much pleasure in discussing all things Xifeng. Just as I told you, she grows on the reader.

The book’s world-building is not that defined yet. I hope it gets more enhanced on the sequels. The Feng Lu Empire appears to be vast but I experienced only a glimpse of it. Aside from Xifeng’s travel from her obscure village to the Imperial City, most of the story’s setting is limited inside the city of women, which is a place she cannot leave as a court lady. There are still a lot of people (the Five Tigers, the Crimson Army, the royalty of the other Kingdoms) and places (Kamatsu, Surjalana, Dagovad) mentioned that I hope to meet and visit in the next book/s.

The supporting characters are serviceable but aside from maybe Aunt Guma and Empress Lihua, they are mostly broadly written. There is a distinct lack of humor that I know is not really required but could pick up on the unexciting bits of the book. The pacing is a little uneven with the first parts going slow and steady day by day, week by week and then rushing to year by year on the last parts, using casual birth and death of periphery characters to indicate the passing of time.

Strangely enough, I am willing to let go of these little flaws and jump right into the next book in the series. I just want to bear witness to the terrible things Xifeng has in store for the Feng Lu Empire. I also can’t wait to meet the Snow White equivalent of the series, although I believe I’ve already saw her briefly in this book. I hope she becomes a formidable foe to Xifeng. “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” is a confident set-up piece for a book series, with a strong anti-heroine at its front and center. It delivered a promising origin story and an excellent character study for Xifeng whom we all know is bound to unleash her reign of terror in the future. I don’t know about you, but until someone proves to be a worthy adversary to her, I’ll be standing here holding a sign: U DA BADDEST & DA FAIREST, XIFENG!

Sidenote: Check out the ongoing PH Blog Tour of "Forest of a Thousand Lanterns", hosted by Erika @ The Nocturnal Feyfor giveaways and reviews from other Filipino book bloggers!

Diversity Watch:
Although The Feng Lu Empire is inspired by Imperial China, there are mentions of other people of color (brown skin, copper color skin, etc.) in its capital.

Shiro, the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Kamatsu, is a dwarf.

My Rating: