Wikathon Author Interview | Caris Avendaño Cruz (Marikit and the Ocean of Stars)

At the beginning of 2021, I heard about an upcoming middle grade novel about Filipino gods and monsters and a young girl whose dress was also a map to a magical world. I was super thrilled about the book since it combined two of my favorite things to read about: magic and Filipino mythology. The fact that it was a middle grade book and written by a Filipino author? I clicked that want-to-read button on GoodReads so fast it’s actually ridiculous.

Ever since then, I had been keeping a close eye on Marikit and the Ocean of Stars. With each little teaser the author, Caris Avendaño Cruz, shared on booktwt, I got more and more excited for her debut novel.

Sadly, Marikit and the Ocean of Stars won’t hit the shelves until October of this year so I wasn’t able to include this gorgeous book for my Wikathon TBR. However, I was granted the immense privilege of being able to ask Caris some questions about her debut MG book as well as her own journey to getting published internationally while living in the Philippines. Caris gave me such interesting and wholesome answers. She was a delight to interview!

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Wikathon Author Interview | Gail D. Villanueva (Sugar and Spite)

Way back in 2019, I was introduced to Gail Villanueva’s debut middle grade novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly and was even lucky enough to be part of the book’s blog tour. Butterfly tells the touching story of a very superstitious young girl who convinces herself that she’s going to die after seeing a black butterfly. Set in the early days of the Duterte administration and the start of the government’s war on drugs, Butterfly tackled important topics that young readers needed to be educated about now more than ever. It was a smart and empathetic novel that immediately had me smitten with Gail as an author.

Last year, Gail came out with her sophomore novel, Sugar and Spite, a contemporary middle grade fantasy that featured messy friendships and even messier magic.

This Wikathon, I had the great honor of being able to ask Gail some questions I had about her sophomore book. I wanted to know her inspirations for her second book, her struggles with releasing a book during the pandemic, as well as her upcoming two-book project.

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BOOK REVIEW | Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf: Scrabble Games, Dark Secrets, and One Deadly Mystery

I haven’t said this on my blog before but I am a HUGE Hanna Alkaf stan. Seriously, she is one of those authors whose books, regardless of genre, I would immediately pick up because I know that I’ll love them. From her debut novel, the heart-stopping historical YA novel, The Weight of Our Sky, to her sophomore novel, the wholesome supernatural MG novel, The Girl and the Ghost, Alkaf has consistently had me swooning over her stories and her writing.

When I learned that her third book was a YA murder mystery, I was shookt to my core. As a longtime murder mystery lover and a former “competitive” Scrabble player, it was like a dream come true. A murder myster! Set in the world of competitive Scrabble! I was smitten even before the book cover art was released.

While I’ve had reservations about most YA murder mystery books published recently (plenty of hyped up mystery novels ended up disappointing me), I knew that if there was anyone who was going to do it right, it was Hanna Alkaf. I was completely confident that I was going to adore her third book, Queen of the Tiles.

And I was right.

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January Highlights and Blog Updates

Yes, I know it’s a week into February but considering *gestures broadly*, is anyone surprised?

Though with the blog updates I do wish I posted about it earlier so I could open the new year with it. In my defense, I had to basically reevaluate my blog’s identity so I could finally be rid of my dumb, TERF K. Rowling-adjacent blog name. A blog name that has bothered me for years but I never got around to finding enough brain cells to come up with a new one. Again, in my defense, coming up with a catchy name is astronomically difficult. It took me so long to decide on this new name, but more on that later.

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BLOG TOUR | The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng by K.S. Villoso

Three years ago, the inimitable Shealea (of Shut Up, Shealea) announced that she was organizing a blog tour for K.S. Villoso’s Wolf of Oren-Yaro, the first book of The Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy. I heard nothing but great things about this particular adult fantasy series so of course I signed up for the tour as fast as I could. Somehow I nabbed a spot as a tour host and got to reading the first book of the trilogy. And, just like Queen Talyien setting sail to Anzhao to (try to) reconcile with her husband Rayyel, I had absolutely no idea of the whirlwind of an adventure I was jumping into.

In my review of The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, I described the book as one of the best high fantasy book I’ve read that year. And considering how 2019 was also the year I read heavy hitters like Heart Forger, War of Mist, Descendant of the Crane, and Muse of Nightmares, that’s saying something. The Ikessar Falcon kicked my heart in the ass, a worthy sequel if there ever was one.

So I guess it’s no surprise that The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng, is, no exaggeration, one of the best (if not the best) finales to a trilogy/series I’ve ever read. And, trust me, I’ve read my fair share of book trilogies and series. The Dragon of Jin-Sayeng shines above the rest.

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Sequel Sunday: Red Glove

SEQUEL SUNDAYS | Red Glove by Holly Black

Holy crap. I just realized that my last Sequel Sunday post was two years ago, way back in September of 2019. Two. Years. I don’t know why I thought it had only been less than a year ago. My mind keeps trying to erase all memories of 2020 and it’s starting to freak me out. Though I guess I really should have remembered since 2019 was my blog’s busiest year.

Anyway. Since it’s been so long, I guess I should explain what this little blog series is and why I started it. Basically, Sequel Sunday is where I review the second book of a series, discuss it on its own merit and also compare it to the first book. Sequels, I’ve noticed, are really interesting to talk about since they have the unenviable task of picking up where the first book left off, but not take the story too far to actually end it (except in the cases of duologies, of course). There’s a reason why writers fear the Second Book Syndrome. It’s all too easy for a sequel to bomb.

For my Sequel Sunday comeback, I’m going to talk about the second book of Holly Black’s Curse Workers trilogy, Red Glove. I adored the first book, White Cat, when I read it some time ago. A lot happened in that first book, even some major world altering stuff for the main character, so Red Glove had its work cut out as a sequel. The question is, did it deliver?

(SPOILERS for White Cat, since it’s near impossible to talk about the sequel without revealing the major twists in the first book. Sorry.)

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Epistolary #8: Second Draft Slog, Relearning to Drive, and Art Journaling (for some reason)

It’s been so long since I’ve bothered with my blog that I nearly forgot I had this series where I allow myself to talk about just random personal things not necessarily about books. The last time I wrote an Epistolary post was last June. I honestly don’t even remember writing it. Though, to be fair, I think I’m not the only one trying to scrub all memories of 2020 from my brain.

In any case, since my last Epistolary, a couple of things have happened in my life that I’d like to write about. They’re not particularly good or bad things just… y’know, things.

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Sugar and Spite by Gail Villanueva: A Warm, Wholesome, Whimsical Read

It’s been ages since I wrote anything in this blog. Though, to be fair, the world was in literal chaos for most of 2020 and I was hardly able to function properly, let alone think about this little book blog. Things are still pretty bad a year into the pandemic but I’ve sorely missed doing what I love – writing about books. So to distract me from endlessly doomscrolling, I’ve decided to blog again.

Last year I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of Sugar and Spite, a Middle Grade book by Gail Villanueva (author of the fantastic 2019 MG book, My Fate According to the Butterfly). I finished Sugar and Spite basically in one sitting last December and I’ve been meaning to rave about it for some time now but kept on putting it off. Since this beautiful book is gonna come out this April – a few weeks from now! – I figured now’s as good a time as any to write my review of it and, hopefully, convince people to give it a shot. 

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BLOG TOUR | The Ikessar Falcon (Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #2) by K.S. Villoso

Alright, alright. I know that I said I’d take some time away from blog tours and focus on my own writing this year. Yes, I already broke that promise when I joined Kate’s Spellhacker’s blog tour but after that I resolved not to participate in any more, even as Caffeine Book Tours posted their lineup and the upcoming titles beckoned me to surrender.

Obviously, when CBT announced that they were doing a HUGE blog tour for The Ikessar Falcon, not even the sharpest of blades could have stopped me from signing up. The Ikessar Falcon’s the sequel to one of my favorite high fantasy books of all time, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. I had to join the tour.

If you read the first book of the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, you’d understand my visceral need to know what happens next to Queen Talyien. When we last saw her, she was trapped in a foreign land, abandoned by her own people, entangled in a political scandal that could very well start a war, and betrayed by her husband Prince Rayyel. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong for Tali in The Wolf of Oren-Yaro. How could the sequel possibly make things worse for her?

Well…

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BOOK TALK | The Wolf of Oren-Yaro and the Power of a Plot Twist

Plot twists have gotten a fairly bad rep in recent years. With every story with a plot twist done well, there’s about five other stories with anti-climatic or outrageous twists that ruin the story. And it’s not hard to understand why since it’s really, really difficult to pull off a good plot twist. Especially nowadays where people have been exhausted with so many stories pulling off cheap twists just for the sake of it.

However, done right, plot twists can enhance a reader’s experience with the story, make it more impactful and memorable. Which is why although I read The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S. Villoso about a year ago, I still think about it and, in particular, how it ended. Not only is the book a profound yet exciting fantasy, it also had a plot twist that nearly made me drop the book from my hands. Since I first finished it, I’ve been fascinated with the masterful way the twist was handled and revealed, how it made the story so much more compelling than it already was to begin with. So with the sequel, The Ikessar Falcon, coming up, I’ve decided to finally sit down and explore this aspect of the book and talk about how a good plot twist can add so much to a story.

Oh, and obviously since we’re talking about plot twists here, SPOILERS for this book. While I don’t think that knowing the big twist at the end before picking up the book will ruin your experience, it is still pretty fun to plunge into a story unprepared. So if you haven’t read the book, well, 1.) you should because it’s great; and 2.) you may want to skip this Book Talk for now.

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