Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

The Epic Crush of Genie LoTitle: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
Author: F.C. Yee
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books
Availability: Available now!

Summary: The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo’s every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Way back in 2016 (feels like a millenia ago, huh?), this tweet by Zen Cho about a new book came across my dash. And because I’m easily persuadable, I was immediately on board. The bit about the heroine becoming powerful enough to “break through the gates of Heaven with her fists” was my jam.

Imagine how psyched I was when, over a year later, the book came out and I saw mentions of the monkey king. Sun Wukong in YA lit? Hell yes. Get me some toast, because this was even more my jam. I know I say this a lot, but this book did not disappoint.

The heroine Genie Lo is a super motivated elite SF prep student with her eyes on nothing but the prize – Ivy League glory and a better life. When new kid on the block Quentin Sun shows up and tell her that she’s really someone straight out of Chinese mythology, she has to step up to bat to defend the people she loves against a host of monsters. Genie’s character – cynical, motivated, yet unwaveringly protective of her friends and family – is what drives the story and kept me reading through the night. And it was awesome to see how she clashed and then worked with Quentin.

Speaking of Quentin… I’m not going to spoil anything. But, also, that reveal of who Genie was? I laughed, then had to take a reading break while I digested what had happened. That was amazing.

Basically, this is a must-read for everyone. But if you’re Chinese American (or, like me, Taiwanese American), this is a next level absolutely-no-excuses-must-read. There were so many moments that I knew all too well — like the relief of seeing your mom get to have a meaningful conversation with someone else in Chinese and be happy. Not only that, I’m from the Bay Area and attended a super competitive, majority (86%!) Asian school growing up. What Genie was going through was a hauntingly familiar creature.

Now I’m just rambling. Look, just put The Epic Crush of Genie Lo on your reading list. You’ll love it, I promise you. And if there’s going to be a sequel, someone tell me ASAP.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

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Review: The Library of Fates

Title: The Library of Fates
Author: Aditi Khorana
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 354
Review copy: Library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

Review:The Library of Fates is a timely book that calls for action on the part of individuals. Amrita is not sure who she is, but in the midst of turmoil she must find out what she is willing to do and what she believes. Mala, the woman who helped raise Amrita, explains that you find out who you are by the choices you make and the actions you take. When we reflect on what we do and how we decide things, we see what is actually important to us. I really love that in this discussion Mala also tells Amrita “Develop some swagger” and “You’re far more powerful than you know.” I think many young people can stand to hear such encouragement.

As Khorana mentioned in her author’s note, some issues in our nation right now seem to be much like the things happening in this book. The Emperor Sikander comes from a place where things are wonderful for the wealthy, “but if your poor, or disabled, if you’re a foreigner, or even a woman, Macedon isn’t so kind. This country is built on the backs of the disenfranchised.” The author explains the moral of the story at the beginning of the book. “When we act with only our selfish interests in mind, disregarding the rights and experiences of others, everybody loses. But when we act in the service of the greater good, even if it costs us something–even if it costs us a lot–we are deeply and profoundly transformed by love, empathy, and wisdom.” If things matter to us, we can’t stand by and just watch – we must act and create change. Amrita decides to do something, but definitely struggles as she tries to figure out how best to help her kingdom. There are so many unknowns and that is more than a little terrifying to her. Amrita’s physical and emotional journeys are both intriguing.

Amrita has grown up hearing stories of magic, but she has also been taught that as royalty, logic and strategy can save the day. Amrita hasn’t put a lot of faith in magic, but as her world is crumbling and she sees possible evidence of magic, she begins to question her unbelief. The book is filled with magic and reminds me that there is more to our world than what we can see. I tend to believe that if we are still and listen, the world will share its mysteries with us. They may not be quite as fantastic as what Amrita and Thala experience, but there are still plenty of mysteries to discover if we only pay attention.

And yes, there are also some romantic relationships within this tale. The relationships do have a physical aspect, but companionship tends to have a high priority.

Recommendation: Get it soon especially if you enjoy fantasy with a little romance.

Extras:
Interview

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Interview: Aditi Khorana

The Library of Fates was released yesterday and sounds amazing. The author, Aditi Khorana, answered a few questions for us and I’m excited to get my hands on a copy of this lovely piece of lit soon.

Summary: A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn 

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on one another. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

Your first published novel, Mirror in the Sky, was science fiction. Was there a big difference between writing that type of story and writing fantasy for The Library of Fates?

Yes and no! When I’m writing a book, I’m mostly focused on themes and characters and the transformation of a character. Mirror in the Sky is a book about belonging, finding one’s place in the world, what it means to be a part of a family or community, to be a citizen of the world, and also about how the choices we make, big and small, collectively have a huge impact on the people around us. With The Library of Fates, I wanted to explore the journey of a character who has always belonged, always been beloved by those around her, and what happens when she loses everything. Essentially, how does one start over when everything is lost? Beyond this, I was investigating this question of what are the things worth sacrificing for and where do we draw the line and refuse to give in? What does it mean to be a feminist? A good friend?

I did a lot more outlining for The Library of Fates, and in many ways, it’s much more intricate in terms of plot, but the fundamental process was similar.

Amrita is facing the unknown. What does she draw on to forge ahead in spite of having no idea of what she will come up against?

The Unknown is basically navigating your own psyche, your worst demons, your greatest fears. And Amrita is a character who has essentially no life skills and is forced to navigate a world she has always been sheltered from. It’s a terrifying idea. But the unknown – as scary as it is – doesn’t exist to cruelly taunt and terrify us. It forces us to shut out all the voices that come from outside of ourselves that are urging us to find safety or comply or compromise ourselves or our vision. The unknown exists to help us find out who we truly are and what we’re truly capable of. It gives us a breadcrumb trail of clues that we can follow, and that trail comes from within ourselves. To trust the unknown inevitably means to trust yourself and I wanted to show a character who does this, despite all her fears, her loneliness and her doubts.

Your TedTalk, “Harnessing the Power of the Unknown” seems to be related to The Library of Fates in a few ways. Can you explain the relationship?

I think being a writer or working in any sort of creative profession, you’re facing the unknown every day. You are creating something out of nothing. And that’s exactly what Amrita is doing once her life is turned upside down. But I think this is what real life is about. Those kernels of inspiration, insight, the exploration of your true self, facing your greatest demons: that’s what the unknown forces us to do and hold and contend with, and try as they might, nobody escapes this.

What do you enjoy about being a writer? What is the most difficult thing about being a writer?

Without sounding too pretentious, I love thinking about ideas. I like being my own boss, and devoting my mental energies to what I want to think about rather than what someone else wants me to think about. I love exploring new themes, and I feel like I learn so much with each book that I write. It’s the closest thing I have to some sort of devotional practice. I work through everything with the simple act of writing. It’s made me a more empathetic, creative and disciplined person.

The most difficult part is probably the long arc of publishing. It’s often a year between the time that you finish a manuscript and it’s out in the world, sometimes longer.

What are some of your favorite books? Have any of them inspired or influenced your writing?

My favorite book of all time is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. It’s the book that made me want to become a writer.

What’s up next for you as a writer?

I’m working on experimental feminist fiction for smart women and teens. It’s contemporary, it’s dark and it challenges the conventions of the novel as well as the conventions that women are often forced to abide by. It’s really fun to write.

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Book Review: Flame in the Mist

Title: Flame in the Mist
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Genres:  Fantasy
Pages: 368 pages
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Review: I loved Renee Ahdieh’s Wrath and the Dawn duology, so I was really excited to read Flame in the Mist. From the summary it looked like it would hit all the beats that I love about fantasy – smart heroine, dashing fight scenes, a bit of magic, and a plot where nothing is as it seems. Flame in the Mist does hit all those beats, but for some odd reason it took me a while to get into the story. I initially wasn’t feeling Mariko; I can’t truly figure out why it took me so long to warm up to her. Markio is an extremely intelligent young woman who is quite observant (a quality that I love in a character) and is not afraid to speak her mind. She is inquisitive, always asking questions which was a wonderful device Ahdieh used to get background information across. She’s decisive and is full of agency in this novel. When she learns that her parents had arranged her marriage, she rebelled in the most unique way – not that her parents know it, but Mariko feels like she has taken some control over her life with that one act. When the kiss comes between her and the mysterious Wolf, she is the one who initiates it. Clearly, as I describe her Mariko is a great character, but for some odd reason it took me a while to make a connection with her. I think it is because while Mariko is main character and we are in her head a good portion of the book, we are also in the heads of other characters fairly early in the book as it sets up the mystery. To me, it brought a sense of distance from Mariko that I didn’t fully connect with her until the plot became fully focused on her time with the Black Clan. I also feel like the pace of the novel changed from that point on as well and I was really able to dive into who the Black Clan truly were and what they stood for, as Mariko became comfortable with her abilities and becoming a member of the group.

On the other hand, Ahdieh did her due diligence in her research on feudal Japan. Granted, I am not an expert, but the world that Ahdieh created felt very real and believable, with the exception of the inclusion of magic, as if the events in the story could really have happen in history. The detail to which she describes the various locations bring to life Mariko’s world and all who inhabit it. Ahdieh weaves folklore into the story, such as the terrifying Jubokko tree that feeds off of human blood, as part of the every day world. Feudal life is accurately depicted as well as the tension between nobility and commoner when a call for change begins. Mariko is from the noble class and very quickly learns what life is like for those who are not. This is never more apparent than when Mariko and the Wolf have to run from a teahouse and visit an orphanage that the Black Clan gives money to. Ahdieh describes the teahouse with such glamor, from the motions the geikos use when performing dances, to the descriptions of the building itself, that when Mariko encounters the orphanage, the feeling of the book practically changes. The orphanage is the exact opposite of the teahouse and Ahdieh’s powerful prose juxtaposes the harshness of the orphanage to the teahouse beautifully. Ahdieh’s careful and accurate description of Mariko’s world is ultimately what makes Flame in the Mist so enjoyable. It’s so easy to get lost in the world Ahdieh created and imagine the time of the samurai.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a good fantasy, buy this book.

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New Release

This week brings us a fantasy release.

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renee Ahdieh
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Book Review: A Crown of Wishes

Title: A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen #2)
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genres:  Fantasy
Pages: 369 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: She is the princess of Bharata—captured by her kingdom’s enemies, a prisoner of war. Now that she faces a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. But should she trust Vikram, the notoriously cunning prince of a neighboring land? He promises her freedom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together they can team up and win the Tournament of Wishes, a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor. It seems like a foolproof plan—until Gauri and Vikram arrive at the tournament and find that danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans, mischievous story birds, a feast of fears, and twisted fairy revels. New trials will test their devotion, strength, and wits. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

Review:  I really enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen so I was really looking forward to A Crown of Wishes. Initially I was hoping it would be more of Amar and Maya’s story, so I was a bit sad that it was not. However, I do love “sequels” that are not really sequels to a story, but rather the story of a peripheral character from the first book. I do like when authors do that because it gives us more of the world but from a different perspective. We get a sense of the young woman Gauri has become from her and Maya’s brief interaction in the first book. We learn she has become a fierce warrior and is willing to take risks her brother won’t. Outside of that we don’t know much about her, so A Crown of Wishes allows us to learn more about Gauri and so much more. We also learn more about Vikram, the soul whose thread Maya has to make a decision about in the first book. In Crown of Wishes, we ultimately learn what her decision was and how it has affected his life. All that being said, I totally and completely loved the book!

One critique of The Star-Touched Queen”that I had was there was so much description that it sometimes slowed down the story a bit. With A Crown of Wishes, while Chokshi’s signature lyrical descriptions of the Otherworld are there, the strength of this novel comes from the character interactions between Gauri and Vikram. In this novel, Gauri and Vikram both narrate so we get to spend time in each of their heads as they go on the journey to the Tournament of Wishes, and their time in Alaka, where the tournament is held. They begin their relationship as enemies, barely trusting each other. In fact, their first interaction was a delight to read as their chemistry practically flew off the page. Both are equals to each other and treat each other as such, which is refreshing as Vikram doesn’t see Gauri as a “female warrior” but just as a warrior. Both also have emotional walls surrounding them due to the way they were raised, and through their experiences, they eventually learn to open up and trust one another. As they do, the sarcastic barbs between them become less and less, and they become more honest with each other. Again, refreshing as there was none of the “noble idiocy” trope in this novel at all. They truly become a team who works together to solve problems and survive the tournament. Of course they fall in love too, but the development of their relationship is a healthy one full of mutual respect for the other’s skills and their flaws. And as they came to love each other, they were able to grow as individuals as well. Gauri and Vikram’s personal growth and relationship growth is what made this book so wonderful.

Chokshi also added a new character to the narrative who reflects the main theme of the story – personal choice. While the premise of the tournament is to gain wishes, through their experiences Gauri and Vikram learn that wishes cannot solve all problems, and that it’s our choices and how we use them that do. The character, Aasha, is a vishakanya who was taken from her family at the age of 4 and raised to be an assassin. She longs for a different life, however, and her attendance at the tournament allows her that opportunity as everyone, both human and non-humans, are all contestants in the tournament. For her, all she wants is to have choices in life, and through her actions, befriending Gauri and Vikram when it is dangerous to do so, is an example of how our choices matter in who we become, who we believe ourselves to be. I loved her character and I’m hoping that if there is a third book, we’ll have more of Aasha’s experiences.

Recommendation: I was planning on reading this novel slowly, but got so caught up that I did a marathon session. You know what that means, you have to get A Crown of Wishes now!

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