BLOG TOUR | The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco : Book Review + Mini Book Talk about Worldbuilding + Giveaway!

I know that it’s generally a bad idea to judge a book by its cover but when the cover for The Never Tilting World was dropped in Shealea’s blog, I knew right then and there that I had to get my hands on it the moment it was published. Lucky for me, I’ve had the incredible honor of partaking in a major perk of being an active book nerd in this little community: blog tours! That’s right, somehow I was able to get my hands on an eARC of The Never Tilting World and fangirl about it months earlier than I expected. 

Here’s an abridged version of my experience reading The Never Tilting World
breath: stolen
jaw: on the floor
heart: full
hotel: trivago (I couldn’t resist)

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To Kill a Fairy Tale Retelling: Outgrowing the Source Material

One of my most disappointing reads last year was Alexandra Christo’s To Kill A Kingdom, the hyped up “dark” retelling of the Disney classic The Little Mermaid. That YA fantasy was such a let down that I felt personally betrayed. Not because Ariel was my favorite princess back in the day, mind you, but because the book was genuinely enjoyable for the first few chapters. To Kill was a gorgeous blend of fantasy and gore – the main character, Lira, literally ripped out a prince’s heart in the first chapter! It was intriguing. It was exciting. And, best of all, it was refreshing. Anti-heroes might be a dime a dozen these days but Lira was outright morally bad that I was convinced that her development was going to be very nuanced.

Thus, my massive disappointment was set up.

Right around chapter 10 when I was reminded in an excruciatingly cringey, convoluted, ridiculous scene that this book was indeed a Little Mermaid retelling – at that point, the book had done a good job in distracting you from its marketing ploy – I knew in my heart how wrong I was. After I finished reading To Kill a Kingdom, I considered writing a review on it but couldn’t really bring myself to put in the effort because I had no special enough feelings for it. I didn’t like it, didn’t really hate it – I just didn’t care about it. And for a whole year I put it out of my mind until one afternoon when I remembered the prince that Lira killed at chapter 1.

You see, that prince turned out to be a really good friend of the other main character/Lira’s love interest, Prince Elian. And you might think that that the simple fact that Lira killed Elian’s friend completely for shits and giggles would throw a wrench in their budding romance… well, you’d be wrong. I was extremely disturbed at how Elian still got together with his friend’s coldblooded murderer. Personally, I don’t think I’d ever even consider being friends with anyone who’d hurt a good friend of mine, regardless of how physically attractive they are. How anyone can not only forgive but also conveniently forget the killer of a good friend is just… it boggles the mind.

Having remembered that messed up factoid, I was dragged back into the story and the more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me how absolutely hopeless the book was after it announced to readers that it was (and could only ever be) a retelling. What bothered me about this book was that I actually do love retellings. In fact, one of my favorite series of all time, The Lunar Chronicles, is a retelling of several fairy tales. And even in cases where I didn’t know for sure that they were retellings, I still enjoyed them. Ella Enchanted, for instance. If you weren’t told in advance that it was a Cinderella reimagining, you wouldn’t know it until halfway through the book. 

So where did To Kill a Kingdom go wrong? I wanted to answer that question rather than just roasting the book for the entirety of this post. But in order to understand how To Kill failed as a retelling, I’m going to compare it with a retelling that didn’t, Ella Enchanted. The two are vastly different books (one is YA, the other is Middle Grade) but they are both high fantasy retellings of popular fairy tales that were adapted into Disney classics (which I suspect was the two books’ main source but we’ll get to that in a minute). 

First, an overview of the two books in question:

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Sequel Sundays | Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell

I’m a bit late yet again but considering all the blog tours I’m scheduled for this month, I figured it’s better to post this month’s Sequel Sunday a day late (or six days early?). No one really cares about this except for me but still… it’s in the name, y’know?

But whatever. This month I’m finally going to talk about an ongoing fantasy series that’s, in my humble opinion, criminally underrated: Sebastien de Castell’s Spellslinger series. I raved about the first book, Spellslinger, about a year ago and I even described it as the Harry Potter antithesis that we didn’t know we deserve. No tea, no shade to The Boy Who Lived, of course. Just saying that Harry Potter’s story, compared to other fantasy books, is really quite underwhelming, even considering the younger target audience. Also, HP’s magic system is so basic that it’s walking into class late with the latest Starbucks monstrosity and constantly on the verge of cultural appropriation every time it speaks.

Anyway. On to the review!

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Book Talk | Magonia, a Good Story Trapped in Bad Writing

A well written book isn’t the same as a well told story. That’s the first important lesson I learned as a writer: the distinction between writing and storytelling.

Now that I’m both a reader and a writer taking a shot at fiction, I value story and structure more than writing style because the former is a tad more difficult to master than the latter. I don’t judge books on the simplicity of writing but instead focus more on how well it draws me in and how good its story is.

When I read Magonia, I realized that while a great writing style may not redeem a bad story *cough Daughter of Smoke and Bone cough*, bad writing can doom a potentially good story on the very first chapter. 

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Book Talk | Three Dark Crowns and the Virtue of Verisimilitude

Fiction is a powerful escape from the humdrum of reality. Naturally, readers are expected to suspend their disbelief if they wish to maximize the reading experience. When readers enter a story, they have an unspoken agreement with the book: I’ll accept the book’s version of reality as long as the book itself provides a reality that’s believable and consistent enough to get behind. Simple.

But there’s a catch. Even though it is fiction, stories should do the heavy lifting when it comes to suspending disbelief. Readers can’t and shouldn’t be expected to suspend all of their disbelief because then they’d just be a passive observer of the story’s events, barely critical of the characters, hardly conscious of what the story is trying to tell.

Fictional stories may not be real but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any realistic elements in them. The best stories are grounded in a conceivable perception of reality which is why readers can easily get lost in those worlds – at some level, the fictional world feels solid enough that readers don’t need to stretch to imagine themselves in that reality. You can accept that a secret world of witches and wizards coexist with ours and that only a little orphan boy can save that magical world from crumbling. You can buy a young Texan girl trapped inside her house is blown away into a weird and colorful world with talking lions and heartless tin men. You can even believe that a small island kingdom can have triplet queens born every generation and that they must fight to the death for the crown on their 16th birthday. All of those fantastical concepts are fine on their own and don’t really need to provide an in depth lore to explain each and every how and why.

However, when a book only spews concepts and ideas without the least bit effort in the building of a logical reality… well, readers can suspend their disbelief only for so long.

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BLOG TOUR: Enlightenment by Reno Ursal | Filipino Urban Fantasy

Alright! It’s my turn to talk about Reno Ursal’s Enlightenment, the first book of the Bathala series and, boy, do I have a lot to talk about. At the risk of sounding cliche, I was pretty enlightened after reading this book and I can’t thank the author and Kate for giving me this opportunity.

About Enlightenment

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First and foremost, let me tell you a little bit about the book. Enlightenment is the first book of The Bathala series. Set in the weird and dry desert lands of Las Vegas, United States, the book is about a young second generation Fil-Am (Filipino-American) girl Dorothy Dizon who despite seemingly having it all – straight A’s, an athletic build, a loyal and loving best friend – is actually slowly losing everything she knows about her life. Her mother is dying of cancer, her father has gone and left them years ago, and, to top it all off, Dorothy realizes that she actually knows very little about her mother’s home country and even less about her bloodline. Things get weirder when the new kid, a Filipino transfer student named Adrian, befriends her. Dorothy starts having paranormal experiences around the mysterious Adrian and the more she tries to look for answers, the more her life is at risk.

Some reviewers have likened this book with Rick Riordan’s mythology adventure series since Enlightenment brings Filipino myths and creatures in modern times but if you’re a veteran reader of young adult books, you’ll recognize that this book feels more like a YA paranormal/fantasy romance a la Melissa dela Cruz. Secret magical society, chosen ones, mystic dream sequences, inexplicable magical elements, and, most importantly, a hunky male main character that’s destined to protect the female lead – the recipe for a lot of YA paranormal romance in the past decade.

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Double Book Review | The Wicked Deep and A Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Spoiler Free)

Hello friends. I’ve been meaning to go back to my roots and write book reviews for this blog again but, honestly, most of the books I’ve read so far into 2019 haven’t really given me enough to dedicate a whole post about them. Oh, I’ve read plenty of 5-star books and a handful of 2- and 1-star books but for some reason, whenever I sit down and actually try to draft a review of an individual book, I get discouraged. I worry that I’ll just reiterate what other reviewers say.

As you know, a book has to be especially good or especially bad for me to want to write a full blown review of them. Ironically, both The Wicked Deep and Daughter of Smoke and Bone are neither. However, the two books were surrounded by a lot of hype when they first came out and even held a lot of promise at the beginning. When they inevitably disappointed me, I was especially stung.

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Book Talk | Ruthless Magic Pt. 2: Characters, Variations on Theme

Part 1 | Part 3

In the first part of this Book Talk, I went on a lengthy diatribe about how Ruthless Magic‘s story and structure did its theme absolutely no service though it had every opportunity to do so. Narrative decisions and worldbuilding concepts did little to assert the book’s moral argument – the story basically just meandered in a contrived direction, clumsily handing the reader hints of what it was trying to say at some point in the journey, until eventually it reached an unsatisfying end.

The first part discussed the book’s inefficiency at themes on a general level. Now it’s time we talk about the book more in depth. As I mentioned in the first instalment, there are different ways of applying the theme in the story, mainly by relating it to the story elements. One particularly effective way to do this is by designing characters as variations on the theme.

Ruthless Magic’s theme is harmony so it shouldn’t have been too difficult to write characters who had varying and contradicting approaches to that idea… right?

Well.

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Book Talk | Ruthless Magic Pt.1: Much Ado about Theme

Part 2 | Part 3

Although I’ve been a self-proclaimed book reviewer for nearly a decade now, if there was ever a story element that I shied away from as much as possible, it’s themes. And with good reason. Themes are intangible and vague, requiring in-depth analysis to figure out, especially on a long-form story like a novel. For me, if a book is good, it’s good; I’ll leave the theme analysis to people more capable than me. The more concrete story elements like character and plot are more of my jam.

Of course, now that I know better, I realize you can’t actually treat individual story elements without touching upon the theme at all. In fact, story elements don’t exist separately from one another. They’re all interconnected, they’re all related and defined by all the others. The theme just so happens to be the one element that’s more pervasive and subtle than the rest. It weaves the whole story together, makes the sequence of scenes, dialogue, and conflict have some higher meaning.

I didn’t quite understand just how important the theme was until I read a Megan Crewe’s Ruthless Magic, a book that failed at communicating its theme at the most basic level despite having all the necessary tools at its disposal.

Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe

Summary:
Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages’ Exam. 

Disadvantaged by her parents’ low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic. 
Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth. 
Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win?  [blurb taken from GoodReads]

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