Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh | Book Review




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.



---


“Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain. And you can do anything...” 


The last book that I read that had a feudal Japan setting was a mess. It was clearly written with the research of Japanese anime.

Flame in the Mist was no where near a mess, it was perfection. It is obvious that Adieh did her research based on history and not on anime. 

Flame in the Mist is about Mariko — the daughter of a powerful daimyo — being sent away to marry one of the son’s of the Emperor. On her way the carriage she was in gets destroyed and her entire escort gets murdered by the Black Clan. Soon everyone believes her dead, but Mariko escaped and pulls a Mulan. She infiltrates the Black Clan as she seeks revenge on the people who tried to kill her.

The entire story was set in feudal Japan, the Heain period to be exact. It was filled with mythology, samurai, geiko, sharp weapons, and tea ceremonies. Adieh weaves Japanese vocabulary into the story to give the reader a more Japanese feel. I think that readers that have no prior knowledge of Japan might be very confused with the terminology.

Unlike other YA fantasy novels Flame in the Mist is not all action, and the romance takes a somewhat back seat in the story. It is a subtle romance with no “You are my everything” intensity. The romance in this story was less of a big deal than your typical YA, breaking the story from its stereotypical YA mold. Flame in the Mist focuses more on gender expectations and how society expects each gender to act.

The plot itself was very character driven and amazing. The story was mostly told in Mariko’s POV and it always had me trying to search for answers along side Mariko. We were both in the dark and we both learned together. 

My all time favorite thing about the story was the character development Mariko goes through. I cannot go into too much detail because it is a key part of the story and spoilers. 

Then my least favorite part was the ending. It left too many questions, about character motives and the magic in the world. I understand this is the first book in the series but it is things being left in major climaxes and cliff hangers stress me out…a lot.

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.” 


My Rating: 4.5/5
GoodReads
Amazon

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keli | Book Review



Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

From Melissa Keil, the award-winning YA author of Life in Outer Space and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl.

I want to start that I am not a big contemporary fan, the book has to be extra special to even consider reading it. What hooked me into this book was the cover, it is so pretty. Also, the book seller literally shoved it in my hands after we had a chat and found out we had similar tastes. Also this book is not available in US or at least in Amazon US.

The story is the simple young adult contemporary template: boy and girl meet, boy likes girl, boy woos girl, they kinda get together, then there is a problem, boy and girl are no longer together, finally boy and girl find the solution and end up together. (This the reason why contemporary bores me)

This book is special not because of the plot but of it’s characters. Keli gives the reader a character that deals with panic attacks and anxiety, and it felt very realistic. Keli doesn’t just say “Oh Sophia got a panic attack” she shows us the symptoms and how Sophia tries to handle herself as she tries to calm down. If you have ever suffered from panic attacks ( I know I have suffered through my fair share ) you will relate to Sophia immediately.

While this does follow the template teen romance stuff, Keli makes sure to focus on the friendships the characters have with each other and the characters own personal geekiness. For example, Joshua loves magic tricks and illusions to the point that he uses that to woo Sophia, but he also lives and breaths its history and theory which is beautiful. Then we also have Sophia and Elise’s friendship where you can feel the love in their friendship, and even though they suffer metaphorical injuries in their friendship they pull through because of their understanding and love of another.

It is a very lovely novel and I would recommend it to those who want to indulge in a quick YA contemporary read.

My Rating: 3.5/5
GoodReads: 3.99/5



  

Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk



If you ever find yourself in Sydney, Australia there is one thing you must do during your time there. You need to put on some comfortable shoes, grab a water bottle and your favorite photography utensil and do the famous coastal walk that goes from North Bondi to Coogee.

It's is a 3 mile (6 km) walk where you are right next to the Pacific Ocean. The footpath is right by the rocks giving you various chances to climb on them and take some beautiful photographs. I went a few hours before sundown and I was able to marvel at the colorful skies. 


Something amazing about this coastal walk is that you have opportunities to enter pools ( like swimming pools ) that are salt water because they are right beside the ocean, with waves constantly crashing into it, allowing you to experience the ocean in a safe environment and away from the strong waves and dangerous currents.  













SimplyTravel - Sydney Eats



I seem to have become some sort of a foodie upon my visit to Sydney. I keep searching through Pinterest for yummy looking food and then go off looking for them. Is that the first step to becoming a foodie? I highly doubt I will become a foodie, I just like eating food and visually pleasing food can sometimes be the greatest thing ever.

Before my visit to Sydney I had a few food dishes I was dying to try and I have gone to a few of them. I have also found some other food places on the way. 

While some of these prices seem pretty expensive remember that I am putting it in Australian dollars and usually it is me and another person having the dishes. Also quality beats quantity. 






Sappho Book Cafe & Wine Bar
Iced Latte 
Chicken with veggies wrap
14 AUD

I originally wanted an egg brekky because it seem like the popular thing on the menu, but when it was my turn to order they had run out of eggs! I was devastated (and hungry) so I went with a simple chicken wrap, and it was okay. I also ordered a chai tea latte and somehow ended up with a iced coffee latte..I think my American accent my have been lost in translation. While the food might have been okay I felt like the atmosphere of old books more than made up for it.

51 GLEBE POINT RD GLEBE, 
SYDNEY, NSW, 2037








Paramount Coffee Project
Passionfruit and elderflower soda
Almond milk iced latte
Creole Jambalaya
Soft Baked eggs
48 AUD

The vibe of this place was very hipster and millennial, it had the whole chic combined with minimalism going on for it. It was also a bit pricey for a typical traveller or university student, but the food was so delicious it was worth the extra couple of dollars you pay for your meal. The drinks on the other hand were not worth the money, they felt bland and watery for my own personal taste. Especially the soda, it just tasted like boring fizzy water with no real flavor.

80 Commonwealth St
Surry Hills Sydney 2010





3 Williams
Golden Gaytime French Toast 
Iced Latte
Duck Narnie
39 AUD

I originally was super excited for this restaurant because the images I saw online showed a fruit overload french toast and what I got was a chocolate surprise. I think the fruity one is a seasonal. I just saw the word french toast without reading the description and just ordered it. It had chocolate crisps, cereal and chip and a bunch of chocolate sauce…it was too much for my taste buds ( I am not really a chocolate person….). The duck narnie was like a fajita but with veggies and peking duck…it was my first time trying duck and I am still not sure how I feel about it.

613a Elizabeth St 
Redfern NSW 2016





Aqua S
Matcha Sea Salt Swirl with extras
Royal Milk Tea Sea Salt Swirl
12 AUD

Oh my god, this ice cream was the best. It is hidden away in a plaza called Regent Place and it was everything I ever wanted and more. If there is one Sydney recommendation it would be have ice cream here! The ice cream flavors change fortnightly, they can range from matcha, royal milk ta, mango, milo, grape, creme brulee! Also you can add the most adorable toppings, but be warned…the candy floss is very sweet and if you are not a crazy sweet tooth it is unlikely that you will finish it. (Get it for the instagram picture though)

Regent Place 
501 George St 
Sydney
NSW 2000






Tenko Mori
Tamara Ramen on Miso Broth
Apple Qoo
9.90 AUD

This ramen house is located in the same plaza as Aqua S (the plaza is actually very Korean/Japanese). I haven’t had ramen since my time in Japan and this bowl of ramen brought back good memories. The place also offers Japanese curry and bento boxes, but I think you should have the ramen rather than that other stuff.

Regent Place 
501 George St 
Sydney
NSW 2000






Cicchetti 
High Tea for 2 - Includes:
tea (4 servings per person)
scones, cakes, sweets and savory finger sandwiches
65 AUD

I have never had high tea with the fancy china and the fancy finger food...and it was one of my dreams to have proper high tea while dressing super fancy. I was super happy I was able to do it, I was smiling all day. (Heehee) While this is pretty pricey it is an experience and the finger food was to die for and believe or not you are actually quite full and satisfied after feasting on all the goodies.

4th Floor of QVB



Off To The Down Under




My next adventure has begun. I will be visiting the not small island of Australia. It is a bit odd, after two summers in Japan I am going to Australia (it is kinda close to Japan…kinda). It is even odder that I have to pack autumn/winter clothes instead of summer clothes (btw it is always opposite day in Australia).

I will be staying in Sydney, which turns out to NOT be the capital of Australia…(it is Canberra) for an entire month. I know I know, Sydney doesn’t count as all of Australia, but my university student lifestyle and budget can only allow for so much, plus I have some super friends in Sydney that will keep me from feeling lonely in a new place.

Some fun facts about Sydney, Australia
 - It is illegal to hold a koala in New South Wales unless you have a fancy license to hold one.
 - Kinder eggs are legal
 - There is a suburb called Newtown and it is not new 
 - You can’t hug koalas
 - They have pretty decent public transportation (unlike Miami..)
 - University of Sydney has a building that looks like a castle
 - Most of the museums are free
 - You cannot hug or hold koalas 


Watch out for this tropical bird leave her comfort zone tackle autumn in the place where everything is out to kill you.




The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden | Book Review



“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives.”


At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.


“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”


This book is magical. Fall into the lands of Russ and experience the stories told between its inhabitants. The Bear and the Nightingale is a Russian folklore re-telling, but to me is was just a whole new adventure I never thought I would embark on.

In this story we follow the story of Vasya, a spirited young girl who lives in a village where they honor the spirits with offerings for protections. Vasya is special because she can see and speak to these spirits. Unfortunately, these spirits begin to suffer along with the villagers when a priests comes to spread the new religion of the new God. A new evil is rising, ready to consume everything in its path…and only Vasya can save them all..

I personally don’t know a single russian folklore, so this retelling filled me with curiosity and want for more. Especially with Katherine Arden’s story telling style. She doesn’t just tell you a story but she poetically paints you a picture.

If that isn’t beautiful then I don’t know what is. Her gorgeous writing weaves the plot and the world building together so flawlessly that you do not realize the difference between plot and world building. The subtleness Arden creates in her writing is award worthy. Although there are moments that it feels like the story is dragging on because it may be confused with her world building.

“In the space between one breath and the next, the wind told him a tale: of life and death together, of a child born with the failing year. After and fainter, like an echo, the stranger heard a roar and crash, as of wave on rock. For the barest instant in the reeking hall, he smelled sun and salt and wet stone.”

I want to gush about all the amazing parts of this book, but I do not want to spoil the experience of reading this book…to anyone.

It is fresh. It is new. It is magical.


My Rating: 5/5
GR Rating: 4.18/5

“You will walk a long road,” said Morozko. “If you have not the courage to meet it, better—far better—for you to die quiet in the snow. Perhaps I meant you a kindness.”





All for the Game by Nora Sakavic | Book Review



"It’s not the world that’s cruel. It’s the people in it. "



Neil Josten is the newest addition to the Palmetto State University Exy team. He's short, he's fast, he's got a ton of potential—and he's the runaway son of the murderous crime lord known as The Butcher.


Signing a contract with the PSU Foxes is the last thing a guy like Neil should do. The team is high profile and he doesn't need sports crews broadcasting pictures of his face around the nation. His lies will hold up only so long under this kind of scrutiny and the truth will get him killed.


But Neil's not the only one with secrets on the team. One of Neil's new teammates is a friend from his old life, and Neil can't walk away from him a second time. Neil has survived the last eight years by running. Maybe he's finally found someone and something worth fighting for.


Before I start I want to say that this is a heavy book. It has mental and physical abuse, rape, murder, suicide thoughts, and many other heavy topics.

I started this book knowing it was about sports, but part me thought it was gonna have some form of urban fantasy. I was wrong. This is 100% about sports, Exy to exact. (Exy is like an extreme version of lacrosse that has male and females in a single team with a lot more beating each other up with a racket.) 

As well as being about sports, the story also features a bunch of college students struggling because life is not fair. Through the trilogy we follow the story of Neil, a boy who has been on the run from his father. One night he signs up to play alongside a Class I Exy team, the Palmetto State's Foxes. The lowest ranking team in the division. 

Here Neil meets a dysfunctional team of monsters (Andrew, Aaron, Kevin and Nicky) and upperclassmen (Matt, Dan, Allison, Seth and Renee ). Together they all grow as a team as Neil deals with the people he tried to run away from. 

I read the three books back to back in a span of a week. I didn't think I would get hooked, especially on a contemporary about sports. But alas, I was wrong. Neil's story is full of pain and sass, and all I wanted to do was hug him. 

"Remember this feeling. This is the moment you stop being the rabbit."


Like I said before, this book deals with some pretty heavy themes that caught me off guard. There was an assault scene in the book that left me beyond angered, it made me hate several characters (whom I later forgave a bit but not completely). This book is not for everyone, especially if certain things trigger you. I don't even think the book has any warnings, even though it should because goddamn. These characters go through some pretty heavy stuff. 

Nora Sakavic's writing is pretty straight forward. It is not overly descriptive nor lacking detail. My only complaint is that the sports scenes (the games/matches) were a bit confusing when I read them. I am not a sports fan. Sakavic explains the rules of Exy several times throughout the three books but it just did not click in my mind...so the matches were just a big "What's going on!! Whaaaat!?"

My favorite part of the whole story was watching Neil allow himself to become an important player with his team, rather than an outsider watching this group of misfits from the sidelines. He goes from Neil the outsider to Neil, #10 Fox striker. 


"Hope was a dangerous, disquieting thing, but he thought perhaps he liked it."


My Rating: 4/5
GoodReads: 4.9/5
Amazon: 5/5