review: the bride test

the bride testTitle: The Bride Test
Author: Helen Hoang
Published in 2019 by Atlantic Books
Genre: Romance (adult)
Rating: ★★★ – it was okay

I received this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

my thoughts on june 19

I went into this book with high expectations because I absolutely adored Helen Hoang’s previous novel, The Kiss Quotient. Getting approved for this book on Netgalley was such a joyous moment, not only because it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year but also because being an international reader on Netgalley at the moment is rough.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love The Bride Test nearly as much as I did The Kiss Quotient and I’ll get into the reasons why today.

First, let’s discuss what I liked about the novel.

The autism representation is one of my favorite aspects of Helen Hoang’s novels. It is #ownvoices in that regard as well. Both The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test have main characters who are neurodiverse. Khai is autistic, like Stella is in the previous novel. While both are autistic, I think the author does a fantastic job at showing that people experience autism in extremely different ways. Khai can’t handle light touch, as it causes him physical pain. He’s not great with touch in general, and needs warning beforehand so he can prepare. I love that the main characters communicate on this, and that Khai tells Esme what he needs and what she can’t do. It’s so important to have a proper discussion, and I’m glad that happened.

Another aspect of the book I adored was the importance of family. I love a good family in novels because I feel that for a lot of people, family is one of the most important parts of life. Khai’s family is so wonderful and supportive, even though his mom went to Vietnam to find a wife for him… In Esme’s life, family is equally (if not even more) important. Her mom, grandmother, and daughter are her entire life and she wants to give them the world.

Lastly, I also really loved Esme’s story. She moves to the US for two months, and has to adapt to living in an entirely different country and culture. Helen Hoang shows the difficulties of that experience through small things like not noticing the smell of fish sauce, startling at the lack of a garbage smell, etc. Esme’s story line is about making your own path in life, and not letting the opportunities you get pass you by. I absolutely loved it.

[Something I forgot to mention before posting this review this morning… I really appreciated how the first sex scene unfolded between these two characters. While it was intensely awkward to read about and I was suffering from secondhand embarrassment the entire time, it was so real. It wasn’t “perfect” like it so often is in romance novels.]

Unfortunately, it’s time to move on to the aspects I didn’t like.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t read a lot of adult romance novels lately, but I was caught off guard by some things in this book. Like the neverending references to Khai’s dick. I’m not even kidding. I can’t tell you how many (terrible) euphemisms I had to endure. In the first 20% of the novel, it’s on almost every page. EVERY PAGE has a reference to his genitals, and I’m tired. I’m also side-eyeing the author for the incredible unsubtle ways of telling the reader that he is… well-endowed. Why did I need to know that??

The sex scene at about 85% of the way through the ARC also made me incredibly uncomfortable. If you’ve read the book, please talk to me about this.

I was also irritated by what I started to call Esme’s absolute idiot moments. Throughout the novel, Helen Hoang tells us that Esme is quite smart through different ways, for example the test she takes at the end of the novel. However, those are all things told to the reader. What we are shown, is the complete opposite. She knows Khai’s mom is rich because of her clothes, bag, restaurant, etc. And while Khai doesn’t live in a villa, he doesn’t hesitate to spend money on things he deems worthy of it – like his car. So why does Esme constantly remind us that she doesn’t understand why everyone thinks Khai is rich? It just makes no sense to me. It’s these small things that undermined what the other told us about Esme.

Lastly, I can’t help but wish they had the conversation about Khai being autistic earlier. They bring Esme to the US for him, make her move in with him, and never tell her about it. It makes absolutely no sense to me? Obviously, if they want her to win his heart wouldn’t it be easier if she knew what not to do at the very start? That way, she would never do something that causes him pain or discomfort. Instead, they let her blunder around, causing both of the characters pain. It makes no sense to me.


While I enjoyed quite a few aspects of this novel, I was a tad disappointed by the overall reading experience. I still adore Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient, and will continue to read the novels she releases. This one simply wasn’t it for me.

Have you read The Bride Test? What did you think of it?

 

review: the three-body problem (an epic Chinese science fiction novel)

the three-body problemTitle: The Three-Body Problem
Series: Remembrance of Earth’s Past #1
Author: Cixin Liu
Translator: Ken Liu
Published in 2014 by Tor Books
Rating: ★★★★.₅ – loved it

In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death.

Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.

my thoughts on june 19

The Three-Body Problem had been on my to-read list for ages. When it comes to translated works, especially in science fiction and fantasy, it is one of the most well known and loved ones. I sent in an acquisition request for this book at my local library, because a) adult SFF is incredibly expensive, and b) I didn’t know how well I’d fare with hard sci fi.

I’m happy to say I really liked this book, and I hope someone else will discover this book at my local library as well. That’s why I love acquisition requests. It helps broaden the horizons of other people in my local area.

storyline

Here comes the difficult part. I’m not quite sure how to explain the storyline of The Three-Body Problem. There’s a lot going on in this novel, and most of it is not easy to convey to others who haven’t read it. I’ll try my best.

This book follows three main storylines.

First, we have Ye Wenjie, who witnesses her father’s death by his ex-students during the cultural revolution. As physicists, Wenjie and her father were targets of the Red Guards. After his death and being accused of sedition, she starts working at a remote defense research facility that is heavily guarded and shrouded in secrets.

Second, in modern day times there have been an inordinate amount of physicist suicides. They have been dying at an alarming rate, choosing to commit suicide. While the strings of death do not appear to be related to one another, it can’t be a coincidence either.

Third, Wang Miao is a nanoscientist who has been called in to work with the police and investigate the mysterious deaths. He stumbles upon a game called Three Body, and becomes obsessed with it.

It takes quite a while to understand how these storylines tie together while reading the book. The first half of the novel left me somewhat confused, because we seemed to jump from plotpoint to plotpoint without them being truly connected. As Liu gets more time to develop the world and story, we see the three different stories come together. The second half of the book was far easier to get through for me. It was more captivating, and the stakes were higher.

I found the deaths of the scientists and the Three Body game to be the most fascinating aspects of the story, though I was intrigued by the secrecy surrounding the defense base as well.

I have to admit that a lot of the explanations and details on astrophysics and the Three-Body Problem went way over my head. Well, not just a lot of it. Absolutely all of it. I did feel kind of dumb and lost at times because I simply couldn’t comprehend what they were talking about. In the end, I just adopted the principle of accepting what the main characters stated as correct and not thinking about it further.

characters

What I find absolutely fascinating about reading books translated from other languages is the difference in writing style. In the few Japanese books I have read, for example, I have noticed that there’s more of a distance between the reader and characters. In North America and Europe, we usually try to connect with the characters and their development is often pushed forward in the reading experience. In Japanese novels, it’s usually far more subtle which can lead to a more distant feeling.

I’m not sure whether this goes for Chinese novels as well as I can’t recall having read many, but it is certainly the case for The Three-Body Problem. It’s a style I had to get used to at first, but can now appreciate. It allows you to get to know the characters on a different level, as you are actively searching for the slightest change in demeanor or posture described. It’s a subtle way of writing, and I do enjoy it.

overall thoughts

I think this is an incredibly fascinating book. As I do not speak and cannot read Chinese, I can’t speak for the accuracy of the translation. However, as a reader, I think Ken Liu did a phenomenal job at bringing this story to an entirely new audience. I’m glad I finally took the plunge and read it, and have since sent in an acquisition request for the sequel at my library.

Will some of the scientific explanations on physics go over your head? Most likely, yes. However, it remains a captivating and intriguing book, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

review: winter garden

winter gardenTitle: Winter Garden
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published in 2010
Genre: contemporary/historical fiction
Rating: ★★★★★ – a new favorite

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night.

On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. 

my thoughts on june 19

I have put off writing this review for months now, because I’m not sure how to explain my love for Winter Garden. However, I’ve realized that not talking about it at all is not an option either. I’ll try to sort out my thoughts today, and hope that the resulting review is at least somewhat coherent.

When the novel kicks off, Meredith and Nina’s father is dying and the family has to come to terms with losing the linchpin of their household. Their mother has always been standoffish and cold, which is why the sisters have a much deeper connection with their father. Aside from dealing with the grief of losing a loved one, they also have to find a way to connect with their mother now that their dad isn’t there to mediate anymore.

The two sisters couldn’t be more different, really. Meredith is the “responsible” one. She’s the oldest, has a husband and two adult children, and works for the family company. When their father passes away, she takes over the family business. Nina is the “free” one. She’s a photojournalist, and travels around the world capturing photos of heartbreaking scenes. One is portrayed as uptight, strict, and a creature of routine while the other is free and following her dreams.

At first, I disliked Meredith and loved Nina. As someone who loves to travel and consider themselves independent and free, her character spoke to me more. Whereas Meredith spent a lot of time judging her sister’s choices at the start of the book. About halfway through the story, my perspective on the sisters changed. I started to see Nina as not only free, but also more of a selfish person than Meredith (which is not always a bad thing, people). Meredith is the one who shoulders the responsibility to make life for her loved ones easier, and that’s not an easy role to take.

There’s this weight of guilt and responsibility that comes with taking care of your family. How do you find a balance between taking care of them enough, yet not losing yourself in the process? Meredith reminded me of my mom, in a way, since she is the one who is always working for others and always ready to help, yet never seems to receive any thanks in return. It’s something I’ve been trying to work more on, to say thank you more often, because I don’t want people’s efforts to go unappreciated.

The main plotline of the story is related to the fairy tale their mother tells. I don’t want to give much away here because that would take away from the impact of this story, but just know that it is absolutely heartbreaking. I wanted to hug this woman so badly.

If you’re interested in adult contemporary fiction or adult historical fiction, I would highly recommend this story. While it isn’t my favorite Kristin Hannah novel, it still had the emotional impact I expected from her stories.

Have you read Winter Garden?

review: his majesty’s dragon | Napoleonic war + dragons

his majesty's dragonTitle: His Majesty’s Dragon
Series: Temeraire #1
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: historical fantasy (adult)
Published in 2006 by Del Rey
Rating: ★★★★ – really liked it

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

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His Majesty’s Dragon is the story of Laurence, a captain in the marines, and Temeraire, his dragon. Laurence’s crew captures a French ship and discover that it has an unhatched dragon egg on board. They’re months away from reaching land, however, and the egg might hatch at any moment. It’s crucial that the dragon bonds with someone as soon as it hatches so they can strengthen the British Aerial Corps. Some unexpected things happen, and Laurence ends up bonding with the dragon, Temeraire.

This book is set during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s. I like how Naomi Novik managed to fully immerse the reader in the time period itself, through different tactics.

First is the writing. As I was reading this book, it occurred to me that the writing style reminded me of Jane Eyre. It has that same sentence structure and feeling to it. After looking it up, I realized that Jane Eyre was published in 1847. I don’t think I’ve ever read a fantasy novel in which I could tell the era it’s set in from the writing itself.

There’s also the obvious difference placed between men and women. It shows in little things, like how surprised Laurence was when a woman wore pants, or in the “proper” way he felt like he needed to interact with them, or in the way he would not give a female trainee the same privileges as the male ones because he needed to “protect” her. Is it annoying that this happens? Yes. However, Naomi Novik managed to show both history and present here. She added those things to the novel for historical reference, but challenges them as well. Either it’s someone else pointing his discrimination out to Laurence, or it’s him realizing how unfair it is.

I will say that my knowledge on the Napoleonic Wars is very limited, and it showed. I was quite confused at times, because you’re thrown in the middle of the war and have to figure out what’s happening by yourself. The sheer amount of places mentioned as well as the tactics and strategy behind the battles went over my head at times.

The story itself is a good mix between battle, training, and character exploration. The pacing never felt off, and it made for a pretty quick read even though the writing is not as easy to digest as most contemporary writing is.

First, Laurence and Temeraire have to get to know one another after the hatching. While I love both the main characters, my heart goes to Temeraire. I love that dragon! He made me laugh out loud multiple times, and I wish to protect him from all evil. As their bond deepens, their affection towards another is so sweet.

I do have a question though. The dragons all talk out loud in this book. In most books I’ve read, it’s more of a telepathy thing. How odd must it look when a dragon talks out loud? How do their mouths form the necessary shapes?

Laurence was an interesting character for me because I usually read about thieves, assassins, mercenaries, etc. when it comes to fantasy novels. Here, we follow a guy who is devoted to his country and duty, and prides himself on being a gentleman. It is so fascinating to read about someone focused on doing his duty and being a good citizen, even if it makes you want to push him into some mischief at times.

The one downside to this book, I would say, is that it’s clearly a set-up for a long series. You have the main characters meet, get to know one another, and train together, so that they can become a well-oiled machine for the battles to come.


I’m glad I finally picked this book up. It sat on my shelf, unread, for years… A few days after finishing it, I went to a used bookstore I love and discovered the next 3 books in the series there! I can’t wait to discover more of Laurence and Temeraire’s adventures. I would highly recommend this series, if the premise sounds at all appealing to you. 

review: the way of kings | 1200+ pages of epic fantasy goodness

the way of kingsTitle: The Way of Kings
Series: Stormlight Archive #1
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Published in 2010 by Tor
Genre: epic fantasy (adult)
Rating: ★★★★★ – a new favorite

I long for the days before the Last Desolation. Before the Heralds abandoned us and the Knights Radiant turned against us. When there was still magic in Roshar and honor in the hearts of men. 

In the end, not war but victory proved the greater test. Did our foes see that the harder they fought, the fiercer our resistance? Fire and hammer forge a sword; time and neglect rust it away. So we won the world, yet lost it. 

Now there are four whom we watch: the surgeon, forced to forsake healing and fight in the most brutal war of our time; the assassin, who weeps as he kills; the liar, who wears her scholar’s mantle over a thief’s heart; and the prince, whose eyes open to the ancient past as his thirst for battle wanes. 

One of them may redeem us. One of them will destroy us.

my thoughts on - review black (1)

I put off reading The Way of Kings for years because it is such an intimidating book. It’s an adult epic fantasy novel of over 1200 pages. That’s a serious commitment  reading-wise, is it not? I finally bit the bullet late last year, and I’m so glad I did. After the first few chapters, I found myself falling in love with the characters, and wanting to know more about the world. I’d highly recommend this book, even if it might seem daunting to you.

CHARACTERS

The Way of Kings is a multiple POV fantasy novel with three main perspectives – interspersed with some small chapters from other people’s point of view.

The main characters of this book are Kaladin, Dalinar, and Shallan. I would say that this novel is more of an exploration of their characters and the world, rather than an action-packed fantasy novel. I assume the sequels will focus more on events happening rather than character introduction and build-up, as the first book has set the PoV characters up pretty well. I find it hard to choose a favorite character, to be honest, as they are all intriguing in their own way.

There are other characters who have their own POV as well, but don’t have as much page-time as the previous three, such as Szeth-son-son-Vallano (who is endlessly intriguing), Adolin Kholin (Dalinar’s son), and Navani Kholin (widow of King Gavilar).

Kaladin is the character you would follow to your own death, but is simultaneously the one you want to wrap in a blanket and protect from the universe. Dalinar is a man to look up to, one you can’t help but admire, even if you feel he’s somewhat naive at times. In fact, he reminds me a lot of A Song of Ice and Fire‘s Ned Stark. Shallan is a woman you grow to love and understand. She’s been placed in a position that leaves her unsure of what course to take, and I would not know what to do either. I can’t help but admire her eagerness to learn, and adore her witty retorts. I also wish I could draw even half as well as her.

“Ignorance is hardly unusual, Miss Davar. The longer I live, the more I come to realize it is the natural state of the human mind. There are many who will strive to defend its sanctity and then expect you to be impressed with their efforts.”

There are other characters that are incredibly important to the story, like Jasnah. In fact, she might be my favorite character of all. I don’t want to say too much about her, but know that Jasnah has taken Shallan on as an apprentice. She’s also an atheist in a world where it’s seen as insane, and is a woman who is not afraid to walk her own path, regardless of what other people think.

“Regardless,” Jasnah continued, “tonight’s actions came about because I chose this path, not because of anything I felt you needed to see. However, the opportunity also presented a chance for instruction, for questions. Am I a monster or am I a hero? Did I just slaughter four men, or did I stop four murderers from walking the streets? Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her? Did I have a right to defend myself? Or was I just looking for an excuse to end lives?”

I especially loved this conversation she has with someone trying to convert her to their religion.

[talking about being an atheist]

“I wouldn’t say I have nothing to believe in. My brother and my uncle, my own abilities. The things I was taught by my parents.”

“But, what is right and wrong, you’ve… Well, you’ve discarded that.”

“Just because I do not accept the teachings of the devotaries does not mean I’ve discarded a belief in right and wrong.”

WORLD BUILDING

One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the world-building. We have become quite used to fantastic world-building from Sanderson’s novels, as he always manages to create a new, epic world without confusing the reader. However, the same cannot be said for The Way of Kings. It’s, in my opinion, intentionally confusing at times.

He starts off with the basics of the world: the fact that in Alethkar people with “lighteyes” are nobility, while the “darkeyes” are peasants, the fact that there’s been a war between the countries for years, that they are fighting on the Shattered Plains after Alethkar’s king has been killed by the Parshendi, the highstorms that determine the climate of the world, and so on.

We are also told of a previous time in history, where the Heralds protected humanity and the Knights Radiant were incredible knights/warriors with Shardplate – armor that is almost impossible to breach and lends power to the wearer – and Shardblades – same but a sword. Why the Heralds turned their back to humanity, the Knights Radiant seemengly betrayed the world, and what happened next is a huge mystery throughout this book. Why? Records from that time don’t seem to exist, and so no one truly knows the details of that turning point in history. It’s fascinating to discover more of the world, because it’s not only new to us but to the characters as well.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Way of Kings is such a fascinating start to what I’m sure will be an epic series, and I can’t wait to pick up the sequel. I know it’s daunting to start the Stormlight Archive because the books are so long, but I promise it’s worth it. The first hundred pages or so may seem somewhat confusing or less captivating, but soon you’ll be unable to put the book down. I’m already so attached to these characters, am intrigued by the magic, and excited to discover the history of this world. I recently ordered the sequel, Words of Radiance, and I swear it won’t sit on my bookshelf for a year, unread! I promise. Truly.

review: solve for i | a wonderful f/f contemporary

solve for iTitle: Solve for i
Author: A.E. Dooland
Published in February 2017
Genre: contemporary (adult)
Rating: 4/5 stars – really liked it

Maths wiz Gemma Rowe has found the one problem her maths can’t solve: she’s fallen for her female & very heterosexual best friend. 
– 
Gemma Rowe is a shy maths nerd from Sydney who, despite having an affinity for probability and logic, only just worked out at 28 that she’s not actually straight. Not only is she not straight, but she’s developed feelings for her best friend Sarah. 

Sarah and Gemma go way back—since they met at university, they’ve been completely inseparable. They’ve travelled together, got jobs at the same company, and shared each other’s triumphs and sorrows. There was even that one memorable time when Sarah, completely drunk, told Gemma she couldn’t live without her. A relationship seems like the perfect solution. 

There’s just one teensy little problem with this whole equation: Sarah is straight. 

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I have no idea how I came to buy this ebook, but it had been on my Kindle a while before I decided to read it. I’ve been trying to read more LGBT+ fiction, especially f/f relationships since they’re so underrepresented compared to m/m ones. Solve for i is an adult contemporary novel that revolves around Gemma, a 28-year-old woman who is coming to terms with the fact that she might not be straight after all.

Gemma has been in love with her best friend, Sarah, for years but has always blown it off as the love of a best friend or a girl crush. However, she’s been struggling with being just friends with Sarah more and more, and her painful shyness does not help her case at all. What is she supposed to do? She can’t tell Sarah, because Sarah is not only heterosexual, but also in a loving relationship and pregnant. But how do you get over someone you spend all your time with? That’s the dilemma Gemma is currently facing.

I have to admit that I struggled a bit with the first half of this book. Gemma is 28 years old, but I constantly felt like I was reading from the perspective of a woman who is definitely younger than I am – I’m 24, by the way. I guess that’s because I’m not incredibly shy, and while I am afraid to speak up at work sometimes, I don’t let it hinder me as much as she does.

What I had most trouble with at the start is how the friendship between Gemma and Sarah was way too dependent. It’s like they couldn’t function without each other! They were angry when the other didn’t immediately answer a call or respond to a text or were worried when they didn’t want to spend an evening together or had other plans. That seems so utterly ridiculous to me, at 28! People live busy lives, and can’t always respond to a text or answer a call. And maybe they’re busy and can’t spend a day with you. That’s not the end of the world! It just seemed so ridiculous to me, that these two adult women could have a friendship that didn’t allow room for much else in their lives.

That’s especially notable in where Gemma works. She only started working at that company because Sarah works there, and even requests a transfer into Sarah’ team – marketing – even though she has no interest in it whatsoever. That’s so messed up to me!

However, the author made up for that in the second half. We watch Gemma accept herself, and admit to herself that she’s gay. We watch her go on dates, and become more involved in the other friendships in her life. She learns to let go of Sarah somewhat, and become more of her own person. Their relationship becomes much healthier, and I couldn’t be happier to see that.

I have to admit that I flew through the second half of the book. I suddenly cared so much about Gemma, and her new date (won’t say who though). I fell in love with the side characters, especially Min, and wanted to read more about them too. The second part of the book was basically the feel-good f/f romance I was expecting to read from the beginning.

I will definitely read more works by A.E. Dooland! I discovered that there are two books that focus on Min, who was by far my favorite character in this novel. I can’t wait to check those out!


Overall, I would recommend this if you’re searching for more LGBT+ contemporary with f/f relationships. It was fun, cute, and made me root for the characters by the end. Just be warned that it starts out with a not-so-healthy friendship (in my opinion). I think there is 1 more explicit scene, but if you don’t like to read about sex, you could easily skip that part. It’s not very relevant to the plot at all. If you are into that, there you go! From what I remember, there’s only one though.