Thursday, December 13, 2018

Pages to Tea (7)

P A G E S  to  T E A

I'm not sure if you know but I am a big tea fanatic. I have so many bags and tins of tea I probably can create a great wall of tea. I love how different teas have different properties. Some teas can be energizing and some teas can be calming. My favorite time to enjoy a cuppa is when I am reading a book. Hence why I am showcasing some fantastic book and tea pairings.


[Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series + Capital Teas Herbal Chai]




Luna Lovegood is one of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter series. Not only is she a Ravenclaw but she is unique and walks to the beat of her own drum. That being said, Herbal Chai it a good match for Luna. This is tea is a spicy blend that is a universal favorite among tea drinkers worldwide. Herbal Chai contains cinnamon, lemongrass, coconut chips, candied pineapple pieces, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and pink peppercorns. The peppercorns remind me of the mistletoe berries. It reminds me how Luna always talks about Nargles in the mistletoe. Luna is a bit sweet, a bit eccentric and so is this wonderful blend. It's a bit fruity and sweet yet a bit spicy. Luna can be feisty when it comes to people endangering her dear loved ones.



Feng Lu in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is based on the Silk Road and how fitting is Gold Silk for Feng Lu. With it's elegant and twisted black and gold leaves, this tea makes full-bodied, smooth, and rich. Overall there is a malty sweetness in taste with notes of chocolate and a hint of smokiness that lingers on the tongue. And if you're one for multiple infusions, you're in luck since you can get several cups from Gold Silk Black Tea. This tea is suitable for royalty.



Lei's fiery and confident personality is engulfing yet she is poised enough to be chosen to be a concubine for the Demon King. Adagio's Samurai Mate Tea blend includes yerba mate which is elegantly balanced with the spirit of chai spices and the essence of tropical fruit undertones. This mosaic of flavors delivers a graceful yet powerful kick fit for a warrior. The tea provides enough energy to power through even the toughest of days. This is just what Lei needs to gain confidence to plot her revenge against the Demon King and she gains enough courage to say enough is enough and no means no.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Cozy/Wintry Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and the meme moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. This week's Top Ten Tuesday asks bloggers to list their top ten cozy/wintry reads. I listed eight cozy/wintry reads. Harry Potter already counts as seven, right? The following books are in no particular order. 


1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is the perfect series for the holidays and during the colder months. I always love reading the series during the holidays curled up with a blanket on the couch and a mug of hot cocoa or tea. Picturing the Yule Ball or the trio wandering in Hogsmeade in the snow will cheer you up. You can never go wrong with this classic series.


2. My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins is the perfect anthology for this time of year. There is a story for everyone! My favorites include "Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell, "Polaris is Where You Will Find Me" by Jenny Han, "It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins, "What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman and "Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White.


3. Winterspell by Claire Legrand is a Nutcracker retelling perfect for December! The novel is about Clara Stole living in New York. It's timeless story about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.


4. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han is always a fun and cute book to read during the holidays. With decorating for Christmas and the cookie baking sessions, it definitely puts you in a festive mood to enjoy what the holidays is really about. Spend time with your loved ones and create memories just like Lara Jean does with her sisters and father.


5. American Panda by Gloria Chao has a wintery looking cover but don't let that fool you. This contemporary novel is about keeping true to yourself and finding your passion even if it means not following the path that is expected by your parents.


6. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a winter classic! With the colorful illustrations and the wonderful feeling of capturing the first snow, it's a book for all ages. Warm up nearby the fireplace while reading this!


7. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson is a novel where readers see how PTSD not only affects the individual but it affects a family as a whole. We see Hayley and her father support each other through the good and difficult times.


8. Landline by Rainbow Rowell is about Georgie who believes her marriage with Neal is trouble. Right before Christmas, this magical telephone literally saves everything!  This landline reminds Georgie why she married Neal and how important her family is compared to her crazy work life.



What are some of your favorite cozy/wintry reads? Do you have a TBR list for this winter?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Typography Talk: Jessica Hische Book Talk and Signing

Typography Talk is an original feature where I discuss about book cover design and typography. Even though people always say that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you know everyone does. A book's cover art needs to captivate the potential reader. There are some readers who will be more inclined to purchase a book not only based on the synopsis, but also based on how the cover looks like. Colors, typeface, medium, spacing and originality are all factors that help make up a cover.


In this post, I decided to fuse an event recap with Typography Talk since this is my first time meeting an artist who decided to pursue writing a children's picture book. Not only does this artist become an author, but she also illustrated the book she wrote.

Jessica Hische is a lettering artist and author who recently published Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave. She is
an accomplished artist and author who collaborated with companies to help them with their brand identity, advertising, and more. She has worked with Wes Craven, Jeni’s Ice Cream, Tiffany & Co., Mail Chimp, the Oscars, Penguin, etc. Originally from Philadelphia, Jessica has established herself as an artist at a very young age and eventually moved to Brooklyn, New York to start a life with a rigorous work life with 90 hours per week under her belt. She eventually relocated to San Francisco for a slower paced life working 30 hours a week when she started a family a few years ago.

I was fortunate enough to hear Jessica talk at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Over 100 people were in attendance for her lecture and book signing. Unfortunately, I missed the first ten or so minutes of the talk but she is a very engaging presenter. Not only are her slides on point but she converses with her audience like they are her friends and family. She laughs with them and is able to talk about herself very easily like she knows her audience for a very long time. It was interesting to hear her speak about her life chronologically and to hear about the creative artist process. The audience got to see and hear about some of her work with well known clients as well as her own pieces that she worked on over the years of her career.

I minored in graphic design and dabbled with typography occasionally. However, my major was in communications with a concentration in advertising. I found the lecture gravitated to my liking based on my interests. Jessica described how she doesn't work with other designers, yet she works with marketing and CEOs of companies who may not understand what the artist process looks like. She goes over her creative thinking process to show companies her thinking, broken down into segments, to show them how she envisions every detail. I found her process very intriguing and it's important for marketing and CEOs to understand that artists and designers take a lot of time and effort to hone their craft.

For my bookish readers, you may know of Jessica's work without even knowing it. Jessica illustrated the Penguin Drop Caps series. She created 26 book covers for book classics such as Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice. This is a series of 26 collectible and gift-worthy hardcover editions showcasing a beautifully foil-stamped illustrated letter of the alphabet that reveals an element of the story for each edition.

Jessica read Tomorrow I'll Be Brave while showing us slides of each page of the picture book. With its gorgeous lettering and rhyming short sentences, this book is a wonderful read for all ages. Before she ended the talk, the floor was open for questions. One question that a student asked was how can an artist network with others in a new city. Jessica mentioned that you need to put yourself out there and meet other people. Sometimes it's hard to do that but even asking someone to meet over a cup of coffee can help you big time. They can suggest little things like signing up for a mailing list to inviting you to an event that can help jumpstart your career. She answered another student's question about coping with coming up with new ideas and how to deal with the frustration. She recommends sketching out all your ideas that come to mind. Nothing is perfect but you learn from your mistakes. Great ideas evolve from mistakes.


One piece of advice that Jessica constantly told herself, "I need to make work that I care about and spend less time worrying about meeting imagined people's expectations."

Yes to this! This can apply to anyone! And I love how she told a room full of artists to make work for themselves and not for others.

Jessica also made an appearance at Trident Booksellers and Cafe later that night to talk about Tomorrow I'll be Brave. Tomorrow I'll be Brave is a book that is uplifting, encouraging, and empowering. It talks about the possibilities that tomorrow can bring and encourages the best kids can be. A child can be curious, confident, brave, creative, and so much more.

You can find more information at the Tomorrow I'll Be Brave website. There is more information about the book as well as a book trailer :).

Friday, November 23, 2018

A Very Harry Potter Gift Guide

The holidays are around the corner and it's that time of year again to bring out the gift guides. Of course for those who know me, I am a huge Potterhead so of course I have to showcase some Harry Potter related gifts to get for your loved ones. If you know a Potterhead and don't know what to gift them, check out some of these magical wizarding gifts.


1. Out of Print | Harry Potter Socks - $12.00

So I decided to include Out of Print's four latest Harry Potter socks. I have to say that the Dobby mismatched ones are my favorites but they also have Hogwarts house icons, Hogwarts crest and the Gryffindor lighting bolts and stripes. Wear your favorite fandom with style everyday. They are great for casual wear, for cosplays and for even work under your trousers.


2. Out of Print | When in Doubt, Go to the Library Tote Bag - $20.00

Have a lot of books that you need to take out from the library? Need a tote bag to haul all those books home? Hermione would definitely suggest this When in doubt, go to the library tote bag. Show your love for books and the library in one go.

3. Williams Sonoma | Harry Potter Cookie Cutter Set - $24.95

Do you know a baker who happens to be a Potterhead as well? Why not get them this cute set of cookie cutters that include the iconic lighting bolt symbol to Hedwig to the golden snitch? This cookie cutter set can be used year round and the set includes 8 cookie cutters, 12 icing bags, 4 decorating tips, 1 plastic coupler and 1 storage box.


4. Alex and Ani | Deathly Hallows Charm Bangle - $28.00

For those who love jewelry, an Alex and Ani Deathly Hallows bangle is the perfect gift. The bangle comes in silver finish and a gold finish. You can even purchase a matching Deathly Hallows necklace if your choose to splurge. Alex and Ani has a bunch of other Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts jewelry available as well.


5. Society 6 | Evie Seo HP Pattern Mug - $15.99

Evie Seo designs some of the most wonderful bookish items that can be turned into almost anything on Society 6. Here is one of my favorite Harry Potter patterns that Evie Seo designed. This is perfect for coffee, tea and all beverages. Your giftee will be using this mug everyday!


6. The Melting Library | The Restricted Section 8 oz. Candle - $15.00

Candles are often a popular gift to give during the season, especially bookish ones for the book worms. The Melting Library offers wonder fragranced candles with cute library borrower card labels that adds to the aesthetic. This particular scent sounds magical! Explore the restricted library with the fragrance of leather, parchment, dust and a bit of dark magic. There are other Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts related candles on sale as well.


7. Wildandfreeprints on Etsy | Harry Potter I Solemnly Swear I Am Up To No Good Flask Set - $16.57+

For those are old enough to partake in drinking alcohol, this is the perfect gift. Not only does the set come with a cute flask with one of the memorable sayings in the HP universe, but it also comes with four shot glasses to share some delicious fire whiskey or your preferred booze with your family and friends.


8. ColorfulGeekiness (The Colorful Geek) on Etsy | Books Ampersand T-shirt - $25.00

This shirt is perfection! The grey and purple look wonderful together and it's so subtle describing all seven books in seven words. Show your fandom love without being over the top. Check out this T-shirt in unisex fit as well.



What Harry Potter related items are you gifting this year to your Potterhead friends and family? I hope this list provides some inspiration. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Film Review


I finally got to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald this weekend. Let's say it didn't live up to its predecessor. Frankly I found this installment lacking in a definite plot and there were a lot of subplots that diverted the audience's attention. However, there were some small details that are worth noting which ties in with the plot from previous Harry Potter books and some details that will predict what will happen in future movies in the franchise. This review is more of a critical breakdown about some of the plot.

WARNING: This discussion post contains spoilers for Harry Potter series and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series. Read at your own risk. Image from comingsoon.net.


The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place a few months after events that occurred in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the year is 1927. The beginning of the film started off promising with Grindelwald being transported from New York City to another prison. However, Grindelwald, being the sneaky mastermind he is, thwarted that plan and escaped a magical flying stage coach. He gathers his followers and relocates in Paris, France.

Newt is comfortably living back in England until Dumbledore wants Newt to be the one to take Grindelwald down by finding Credence before Gridelwald does. The Ministry wants Newt to work for the Ministry to track down Credence but Newt doesn't acquiesce. Because of this, the Ministry denies him international travel privileges. The only reason Newt decides to pursue Paris is because of Tina. Still lovestruck over Tina, he goes to Paris to find her while encountering a few beasts such as the Zouwu and the Augurey.

Although the film is visually stunning and the costume design is superb, the quality of the plot is subpar. The main plot line is weak. There was no definite protagonist. We have the antagonist, no doubt about that. I don't even know when the climax of the film is. It is an ongoing film of two or so hours with the audience trying to figure out what the point of the film is besides tracking down Credence. I would like to have seen more interactions with Newt and magical creatures and with Newt explaining more about the creatures he interacts with. Many new characters are introduced in The Crimes of Grindelwald with very little backstory about them. I was very intrigued about Leta Lestrange and her history but unfortunately we only get a glimpse of her family and her past because her life is short-lived.

Many will notice that Dumbledore has another wand in his possession which makes sense because during this time period, Gridelwald has the Elder Wand. It isn't until 1945 when Dumbledore wins the wand's allegiance. Also, Newt's book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gets book launch party which is quite exciting! Newt also mentions his book to Tina when Newt and Tina are in the bank vaults looking for the Lestrange vault. Little does Newt know is that Tina already read the book.




Don't get me started about Dumbledore teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts class. In the books, we know that Dumbledore taught Transfiguration before becoming Headmaster. Either the director wanted him to mirror the scene with Lupin and the boggart or it's because they decided that hey, let's add Minerva McGonagall to the film. The problem is that McGonagall is was born around the 1930s and hence would not be old enough to teach at Hogwarts because she wasn't even born yet. I assume the director added McGonagall to give a reason why Dumbledore is teaching the DADA class. The only other theory is that the McGonagall Dumbledore is referring to is a relative to Minerva McGonagall.

Although some people may have been upset about how the director portrays Dumbledore and Grindelwald being gay but during that time period, people wouldn't outrightly tell others they are gay.  The Mirror of Erised didn't show Dumbledore's greatest desire has him pulling socks out of his pocket. Grindelwald appears in the mirror as his greatest desire but his love waned when Gridenlwald became consumed with the Dark Arts and became obsessed with pure blood. However, how can one admit that they used to be in love with a fascist leader? The blood pact showed them interlocked fingers and Dumbledore at one point mentioned that he and Gridelwald were closer than brothers.

Speaking of Dumbledore and the blood pact, he uses Newt just how he uses Harry. Dumbledore only tells Newt that Newt is the person who can take down Grindelwald. He only tells Newt this because of the blood pact. Because of the blood pact, Grindelwald determines that Credence is the only way to Dumbledore's demise.

Grindelwald talks about how Credence's brother wants to destroy him. The only other person we know that had an Obscurus that has a brother is Ariana. However, what if that Obscurus that killed Ariana was transferred in another human being when Ariana died? The Obscurus doesn't always die with the body; it can be saved. What if Grindelwald is talking to Obscurus that killed Ariana but is now currently inhabiting Credence? By telling Credence he is a Dumbledore, Gridelwald manipulates Credence to do his bidding which is ultimately killing Dumbledore since Gridelwald cannot. This will give him leverage to gather his followers to move forth with his pure-blood agenda.

Crime of Grindelwald is a long drawn prologue to movie 3. It acts as a filler from the first movie to the future movies. I am hoping the the next movie explains some of the plot holes and will convince the audience that the Fantastic Beasts franchise isn't a bust.

If you want an Easter egg refresher from the first film connecting wizarding worlds, check out this post I wrote last year.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix Event Recap

I was fortunate to attend the Kingdom of Blazing Phoenix tour stop in Brookline, MA at the Brookline Booksmith. Julie C. Dao was in conversation with Karen McManus. Not only is Julie an amazing presenter in general, Karen was a wonderful and engaging moderator with great questions. Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is the companion book to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. It's the second book in the Rising Empress Duology. While Forest of a Thousand Lanterns focuses on the story of the Xifeng who ultimately becomes the Evil Queen, Kingdom of a Blazing Phoenix focuses on Jade who is Snow White. This East Asian Snow White fairytale telling duology is captivating.

Karen asked Julie, "What prompted you to write the duology? What is your inspiration? Julie mentioned how Snow White is her least liked princess because Snow White continuously falls for the Evil Queen's tricks. Snow White is innocent, pure and has a good heart. These qualities don't exhibit weakness. Snow White is fierce! Julie wanted to write two books; one book in the Evil Queen's point of view and one book in Snow White's point of view. She wanted both books to fit together and present how the ultimate goal for both women is to rise to become the Empress hence the Rise of the Empress name for the duology. Xifeng and Jade achieve this goal differently however.

Karen asked about how Julie deals with different story arcs and characters in her novels. Julie mentioned how she writes a page or two for each character. Julie prefers to write with pen and paper instead of typing when she is brainstorming. These character sheets are very useful for reference. The character sheets help her create a richer story. She often will assign horoscopes and Hogwarts houses to her characters. This provides her a better feel for the characters before she writes. Karen actually does the same and creates character sheets but she types everything on her computer.

Karen talked about fairytales and asked Julie what fairytale elements had to be in the books. Julie mentions how if the reader knows what fairytale they are reading, it helps ground them. Julie started out by making a list of fairytale tropes from Snow White. The glass coffin, the poisoned apple and the mirror are three elements she definitely wanted in her books. Her books still have the flavor of Snow White. They have the fairytale feel but it was still an original story since the glass coffin becomes a pool of water, the poisoned apple is depicted as the last apple tree and the mirror is a waterfall.

Like in many book discussions, Julie was asked if she is a plotter or pantser. Julie is definitely a plotter. She knows all the destinations that she wants to end up at but she needs to figure out how to get there. Figuring out the road map to her destinations is half the fun. Julie turned the question onto Karen and asked whether Karen is a plotter or pantser. Karen mentioned that she is a reformed pantser. Her first novel, One of Us is Lying, is more character driven and less plot driven. Karen didn't plan too much about the novel's plot even though it ends up being a mystery. With her second and future books, she focuses on the plot a bit more than her debut book. Now Karen is a pantser. She talked about how her inclination is to just let everything flow.

Karen asked Julie, "Were there are characters that surprised you?" Ambassador Shiro is one of the characters Julie mentioned. He is the foil to Xifeng. He added more richness to the story but was trying to show kindness to Xifeng. Shiro makes an appearance in both novels. He is able to tell Jade how Xifeng took a different path and is not the same as the person he met before.

Speaking of characters, Wren is one of Julie's favorite secondary characters because of the comic relief that Wren provides. Even Karen agreed that Wren is quite vibrant. Wren provides levity to someone who is saving the world.

In terms of beauty, Karen asked Julie, "What are you saying overall about beauty in the worlds with characters?" Julie talks about how in a lot of fairytales, the older women are often the villains or considered evil and are ugly while the younger ones are considered pure and good. Xifeng is beautiful in every way. Her beauty is a weapon and her falling. She doesn't celebrate her other traits such as being ambitious or determined. Xifeng becomes obsessed about her beauty. On the other hand, you have Jade, who honors her other traits. She treats people as her comrades. Jade wants to live a quiet life and doesn't want to become Empress. While Xifeng is a Slytherin, Jade is more of a Hufflepuff.

Karen then asked Julie if she found a character more difficult to write about. Julie talks about Marie Lu's The Young Elites series and how Adelina becomes the anti-hero. Adelina is written in first person while Xifeng is written in third person. If Xifeng was written in first person, that darkness is very hard to get away from. Writing in third person was definitely easier to be removed from that very same darkness. Julie then talks about how she was worried what people would think about Jade compared to Xifeng. Her fear was that a lot of readers will deem Jade as boring because a lot of people love Xifeng in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Julie then decided to balance Jade to Xifeng. Jade took care about how her peers are doing. She is a leader that seeks counsel and advice from others. Jade needs help from others and she is not afraid to ask for help.

Julie talked about the cultural influences in the world building. She mentioned how her mother loves watching lush and dynamic movies about Imperial China. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is dedicated her to mother and Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is dedicated to her brothers. China and Vietnam are very similar. Folktales from childhood influenced the world of Feng Lu and she wove a Western fairytale in an Eastern setting. She has this idea since she was 13 to write a story that represented someone who looks like her. Julie wanted to write a story with a game with queens. These queens will be warring over a kingdom and a throne. Eventually she decided write about Snow White and the Evil Queen with an East Asian setting. She did a lot of research on Imperial China, the hierarchy, the court, the role eunuchs play and the Silk Road since Feng Lu is inspired by it.

One of her first books was a ghost story but it didn't sell well. During that time, paranormal wasn't booming. Julie wrote the right story at the right time when she wrote Forest of a Thousand Lanterns after she pitched it.

Julie discussed about her favorite writing advice. She mentioned how one should immerse themselves in the world of the book through music, candles, food and dish representation, trying something new, visiting a museum exhibit similar to the book being written about and creating a sensory experience.

Julie and Karen talked about their experience writing book #2. Julie claims how you can't make stuff up in the second book. There are rules to follow since a world is already created. Karen found the second book harder to write and she hated it. She doesn't read reviews anymore because she found them to be conducive and not helpful. The reviews start getting into her head. When she writes, she has a lot of false starts and there is a lot of rewriting involved. The first book flowed so easily. Her third book is actually the sequel to One of Us Is Lying. Two Can Keep a Secret, Karen's second book, is a standalone novel that up-levels secondary characters.

Julie was asked what are her favorite current and/or upcoming fantasy novels of the year. She raved about Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Crown of Thunder by Tochi Onyebuchi and Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh. In fact Renée just sold another series called The Beautiful which is about vampires in New Orleans. The first book comes out October 2019. Paranormal must be coming back. Julie was even joking around that maybe her ghost story might sell.

Julie switches gears and asks Karen if she would ever write about another genre. Karen reads a lot of contemporary and is interested in possibly writing fantasy but she admits that she is not strong in world building. Julie mentions that fantasy is her bread and butter and she loves to make things up. Her gothic paranormal ghost story has a Parisian music school. Julie said she would love to try something new or maybe even writing a Middle Grade novel. Karen talks about all her books end up being mystery thrillers. Her fourth book is also a mystery thriller. Karen talked about how she did research at a similar setting for her book but she cannot share anything else about the book.

Was there anything our authors fought to keep or cut from their books? In Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, Julie just had to polish it up but with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, she admits that Xifeng killed more people. She had to cut some of the deaths because she had to have a reason why Xifeng killed each person. Karen mentioned that in One of Us is Lying there was a side plot that had to be cut since it was distracting and it slowed the whole novel down. Karen needed to make sure that the characters become fleshed out more and are able to support the main plot better.

Julie talks about her third book which is standalone fantasy set in Vietnam. There will be cameos from Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. The publication date is October 2019. The novel has a title and a cover already but readers will have to wait until Julie gets the okay to release them to us.

Someone in the audience asked Julie and Karen about their average writing day. Julie talked about how when she drafted, she doesn't have a word count for the day. Instead, she has a word count for the week. It's easier to do a weekly word count instead of a daily one since it's less stressful. Julie writes in 30 minute segments with a timer. This occurs 9-10 times per day and she takes breaks. She is most productive in the mornings and afternoons. Karen, on the other hand, is a night writer. Her best work happens late at night.

Julie also figures out time when she can read other authors' books in order to write blurbs for the books. Authors often read to promote and support other authors. Blurbing is one way they show support. Julie usually reads at night since she writes during the day. Julie mentioned that she gets to chose what books she wants to read and blurb. She loves diverse fantasy books. She has blurbed 7-8 books since October 2017. Karen is currently closed to blurbing books. She already blurbed 12 books last year.

Julie and Karen were asked a question regarding when they started to write. Julie started writing since she was 8-years-old but her writing didn't increase until she started writing Harry Potter fan fictions. Although she studied biology and pre-med in college, her heart belongs to writing; it's her passion. Around 9-years-old, Julie wrote a book about how there is slumber party with a few friends and they wanted to get a midnight snack. When they went to the kitchen to get a snack, they saw the TV act strangely. This TV was actually a portal to a hidden kingdom where they had a waterfall, orange soda and unicorns. When Karen was younger, she wrote a series starring a witch that can't do spells but loves cats. Grizelda was the witch's name and she had 12 books in the series.

I have to say that the event was definitely an entertaining one. Both authors are terrific speakers and Karen had good questions to ask Julie. The conversation flowed well and it was a very immersive experience. The event was followed by a signing. 


Friday, November 2, 2018

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao

Title: Kindom of the Blazing Phoenix
Author: Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Pages: 384
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

This fairy tale retelling lives in a mystical world inspired by the Far East, where the Dragon Lord and the Serpent God battle for control of the earthly realm; it is here that the flawed heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns finally meets her match. An epic fantasy finale to the Rise of the Empress novels.

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as Empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn't want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the Empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with breathtaking pain and beauty, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is filled with dazzling magic, powerful prose, and characters readers won't soon forget.

Fans of Stealing Snow, Red Queen, and The Wrath and the Dawn will hungrily devour this page-turning read.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is the second book in the Rise of the Express duology. Readers don’t necessarily have to read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns prior to Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is a companion novel to Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. While Forest of a Thousand Lanterns centers around Xifeng’s journey to becoming Empress, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix focuses on Jade, Xifeng’s step daughter, who is the only one that can take back the throne of Feng Lu.

Julie C. Dao does it again with an entrancing retelling. Although the novel is not as dark and wicked as its predecessor, it still carries the charm of a twisted fairy tale. Of course the world building is fantastic! It's chock full of descriptive details and readers are sucked into the story. Dao's writing provides an immersive ride for her readers.

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix delves into the power struggle that Xifeng is trying to hold on for dear life while Jade tries to pry away the throne from Xifeng. Jade has been sent to a monastery for most of her life living humbly and as an equal. The novel begins at the monastery where Jade is summoned by the Empress.

Jade is on a quest to locate relics ala Harry finding the Deathly Hallows or Horcruxes. These Dragon Lord artifacts are the key to help bring Xifeng down. The one who finds all five relics, one for each kingdom, will bring peace back to Feng Lu. Just like how Harry Potter finds the Hallows because he does not seek to use the power to escape death, Jade finds the relics because she does not seek power of the throne. Dao weaves folklore such as The Crane Maiden within the retrieval of each relic. Each folktale teaches Jade important morales to stay alive and to succeed.

Dao pens two strong women who have different motives and desires. Xifeng has worked her way up from a nobody to someone who holds the power and who is feared. She learned the ways to work her way up to Empress, however, at a dark price. Jade, who is royal by blood, doesn't want the crown but she is the sole person who can defeat Xifeng. She takes charge and stands up to her stepmother. While Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is toxic, poignant and power-hungry, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is lighter, full of love and friendship and is emotionally charged. Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is the Yang to Forest of a Thousand Lantern's Yin. The two make a whole and make a wonderful balance.

Jade has won over many friends like Amah, Wren, Shiro and Koichi. Her humble life has lead her to become the princess that everyone hopes will be Empress one day. She sees everyone as her equal unlike Xifeng. As Xifeng relies on destiny, Jade relies on the power of choice. This is very similar of how Voldemort and Harry's relationship lines up. Their destinies are entwined and one must destroy the other.

If you love fairytale retellings with a twist and a twinge of darkness, I highly recommend reading Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Dao has created a phenomenal fantasy world where Snow White and the Evil Queen collide with East Asian setting, creating a unique storyline.