Sunday, June 11, 2017

Book: China Rich Girlfriend (Crazy Rich Asians, #2) by Kevin Kwan

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Blurb:
On the eve of her wedding to Nicholas Young, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Asia, Rachel should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond from JAR, a wedding dress she loves more than anything found in the salons of Paris, and a fiancé willing to sacrifice his entire inheritance in order to marry her. But Rachel still mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won’t be able to walk her down the aisle. Until: a shocking revelation draws Rachel into a world of Shanghai splendor beyond anything she has ever imagined. Here we meet Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy known for Prince Harry-like antics; Colette, a celebrity girlfriend chased by fevered paparazzi; and the man Rachel has spent her entire life waiting to meet: her father. Meanwhile, Singapore’s It Girl, Astrid Leong, is shocked to discover that there is a downside to having a newly minted tech billionaire husband. A romp through Asia’s most exclusive clubs, auction houses, and estates, China Rich Girlfriend brings us into the elite circles of Mainland China, introducing a captivating cast of characters, and offering an inside glimpse at what it’s like to be gloriously, crazily, China-rich. (via Goodreads)
One word: CRAZY. I knew even before reading this book and finishing the first one that I am signing up for some other-worldly crazy antics of these outrageously privileged people, but I still came out surprised. Color me slightly weirded out that I am still giving out 4s for books in this series knowing that I have this "slight" (what? the term is relative) aversion to shallow and selfish characters -- but you know what, I don't care. It keeps me entertained and I am not any bit sorry for it. Though I loved the first few chapters leading up to Rachel and Nick's eventual marriage (is this even a spoiler?), the couple took a back seat in this story. Instead, it centered on the opulence of the "china-rich" as they may call them. Of course, there is the over-the-top unnecessary drama - but the books in the Crazy Rich Asians series won't be complete without it. Hilarious (and annoying) characters were introduced and re-introduced. Plot lines were picked up. I loved Astrid's story line since Crazy Rich Asians, and this continued on to China Rich Girlfriend. I think I might even like her more than Rachel Chu. As with my comment in the previous book, I wish they made use of some of the more interesting characters - like Sophie Khoo, who mysteriously disappeared from the pages ever since his brother, Collin's, wedding. I found her to be quite the character and I wish she'll have some part in the next book.

Overall, this is a fun read if you need a quick pick-me-up. Heck, I just read it during my daily taxi ride to the client's office and I still finished it in a whim! I never knew I would get hooked to this. Maybe to compensate with the stressful life I've been leading these past few days? This is definitely a fine distraction and a hilarious way to pass time. Recommended!
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My Rating: ★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
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Quotable Quotes:

Beauty fades, but wit will keep you on the invitation lists to all the most exclusive parties.
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This is the 24th book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge#Bookworm2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

#AsianLitBingo 2017 Wrap-Up Post

And just like that.... we managed to finish the #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge. Sad I wasn't able to this in the link-up but who says I can't do a wrap-up? 😁


I've pledged to complete the third line in this board and I am so glad I did. As a recap, the following are the books I've read in this challenge (in no particular order), with the corresponding linked reviews:
  1. SFF with Asian MC: The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi*
  2. Contemporary with Asian MC: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
  3. Free Space: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
  4. Retelling with Asian MC: The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
  5. Historical Fiction with Asian MC: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
* The Star Maiden was actually a short story, a part of the Shimmer Zine, but I got it from the list of recommended items from the #AsianLitBingo master post so I guess this qualifies. :)

That was such a roller coaster ride. I participated from May 9 to May 31 and I barely made it -- see, I'm a veeeeery slow reader. Even I surprised myself by finishing this challenge. Besides from the unusual speed (for me, at least), it was also quite surprising that I liked it - I mean, the books I've read are not the usual book I was used to reading. Heck, I may even confess that, without this challenge, there is a high chance that I wouldn't turn my attention to these (maybe except #2 and 3, y'all know how much I love contemporaries). Well, guilty as charged. So it wouldn't be something new if I say that I felt like my reading roster got wider, more diverse, by finishing this reading challenge. 

If I have to pick my favorites and rank them, it would be like this: The Forbidden Wish came out on top, followed by Crazy Rich Asians. Always and Forever, Lara Jean, on the other hand, came in close third. Everything was unexpectedly good! This challenge aimed to raise awareness of books written with representation in mind -- and it totally did that to me. I would definitely add more of these kinds of books to my TBR. I mean, all the things I've read? Definitely recommended. And, oh, this challenge also helped me finish my 2017 Reading Challenge so early in the year -- so, it's all good! x
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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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Blurb:
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. (via Goodreads)
I must admit that I am extremely biased when it comes to book covers. If it is, in any way, good, then there is a high chance that I'll read it. So I am not exaggerating when I say that the moment I saw Inside Out and Back Again's book cover, I immediately decided to read it -- that, and of course, the high rating on Goodreads. I chose this from the roster of book recommendation for the #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge and I am so glad I did.

Told through the perspective of , this book is written on a verse-like style that is both breathtaking and easy to read. Thanhha Lai managed to capture that innocent voice of a 10-year old little girl that is both innocent and wise beyond her years. Set in the 1970s - when the Vietnam War broke - this book tells the story of a family displaced by war, the racism and discrimination they encountered when they moved to America, and how, slowly, resolve to adjusting and finally settling down to their new life.

I surprised myself with how fast I finished this - maybe it was the rush of the reading challenge deadline (5/31!) - so I think there were a couple of elements I overlooked. It was a rather short book, given the format, and one that targets younger audiences. Thanhha Lai disclosed that most part of this book is based on her actual experience - and I am really grateful that she decided to relive her formative years and share it through this book.  With increasing number of refugees around the world nowadays, this book can really give so much inspiration and hope for those who need it. There were many heartbreaking moments throughout the book, delivered in the most straightforward way in the perspective of Ha. Those moments, especially during the time when they started living in America, makes me cringe at how immigrants are being treated back in the days - like they are lesser creatures. I sure do hope that it wasn't the case now.

Overall, this read was worth it. I might reread this when I had the time because poignant children's books like this always has a way to reveal something new to you at every turn. Read away!
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My Rating: ★★★☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars)
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Quotable Quotes:

"I love her more for her scars."

"But I know at times, words are just words."

"Not the same but not bad at all."

"The more mistakes you make, the more you'll learn not to."
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This is the 23rd book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. This is also the 5th book I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Historical Fiction with Asian Main Character#Bookworm2017

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Book: The Forbidden Wish (The Forbidden Wish, #1) by Jessica Khoury

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Blurb:
She is the most powerful Jinni of all. He is a boy from the streets. Their love will shake the world... When Aladdin discovers Zahra's jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn't seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra's very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.
But when the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to be free of her lamp forever, she seizes the opportunity—only to discover she is falling in love with Aladdin. When saving herself means betraying him, Zahra must decide once and for all: is winning her freedom worth losing her heart?
As time unravels and her enemies close in, Zahra finds herself suspended between danger and desire in this dazzling retelling of Aladdin from acclaimed author Jessica Khoury. (via Goodreads)

Jessica Khoury's The Forbidden Wish is a retelling of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp from the book of One Thousand and One Nights a.k.a. Arabian Nights - only this time, the jinni is a girl and she falls in love with HIM. Interesting, right? 

I can't really remember the last time I read a retelling so this was really a thrilling experience for me: the familiarity, the references. First few pages, few chapters, and this book already charmed my socks off! I initially picked this in the list of recommendations for the Asian Lit Bingo challenge and I didn't really expect to like this book so much -- but man am I so wrong. This book haunted me even at work (I am a slow reader so it was daysssss) and that left me distracted most of the time. But I am not even the least bit sorry. 

Jessica's writing was immaculate. I can't quite put my finger to it, but it was golden. The Forbidden Wish was written in the perspective of the jinni, Zahra. The voice that felt like having the wisdom of a thousand years and, at the same time, the uncertainty of venturing in unexplored territory, the panic and confusion of falling (romantically) in love for the first time. I honestly don't know how Jessica Khoury did it.
  
"Wishes have a way of twisting themselves, and there is nothing  more dangerous than getting your heart's desire. The question is, are you willing to gamble? How much are you willing to lose? What are you willing to risk everything for?"

Zahra and Aladdin are two lost souls - burdened by pasts they cannot escape, uncertain as to what they really want. The romance was spoiled by the blurb, but I got to shipping them not immediately after the first few pages. It took time - like the dance of Fahradan, it was tension-filled, passionate, a slow-burn. And did I already mention the tension?! For some reason, I am captivated and drawn to this world because the tension in the scenes are through the roofs! Maybe I was just reading the right things at the right moments but the goosebumps it induced in me was amazing.  

But you know what? It feels too wrong to be calling it just another romance YA because there's so much going on in here. For starters, there's Princess Caspida and her Watchmaidens. Roshana the Wise, the greatest Amulen Queen to ever live. This book presented some issues that, even now, are still rampant throughout Asia and, to some extent, outside. That women are not fit to lead. That women need someone, others, to make it and be successful. That women's choices are not entirely her own. This retelling broke many barriers and is very feminist in it's own special way. Zahra is fierce, independent, willing to go to great heights for the ones she loves. Caspida was a destined leader, a queen in her own right. Roshana was a dreamer and a visionary. Even Caspida's Watchmaiden's refuses to take a shit from others. It was great, great.

"Our names are like the meaning behind names, sensations and images rather than words, communicated by thought and not voice."

One unique thing that really caught my attention was how the jinns were named in this book. It was something I haven't encountered before and it proved to be a charming aspect for the book. Like for example, Zahra's jinn name is: Curl-of-the-Tiger's-Tail, Smoke-on-the-Wind, Girl-Who-Gives-the-Stars-Away. There's also Serpent-Scale, Water-Drips-in-Darkness, Echoes in Cave. Zhian's is Sun-Burns-Bright, Scale-of-the-Red-Dragon, He-Who-Makes-the-Earth-to-Shake.  Can't you see how beautiful this thing is? "I am the Girl-Who-Gives-the-Stars-Away." Awesome.
"Wish for her love, and I will deliver it for you."He smiles grimly. "Then it wouldn't be love.""And what do you know of love?""That it must be a choice.""Oh, my naive thief." I pause briefly to meet his gaze. "Love is rarely a choice."
Despite it being a retelling, the plot felt fresh and not forced. The story line was heartwarming and at the same time goosebumps-inducing. I loved the way Zahra narrated the story, telling it to her Habiba. I loved the word, and how it was used in the ending. The story of friendship so dear was highlighted and a sight to behold - making that unexpected reunion near the end of the story heartwarming and heartwrenching-ly good. I loved how the element of time ("Time is the strongest magic.") was used and how it gave the revelation at the end more impact. The ending was majestic and one of the better closures I've read in a while. Personally, I am at awe. Definitely recommended.
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My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

If you follow me on Twitter, here's my The Forbidden Wish Reaction/Quotes Thread: CLICK HERE.
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Quotable Quotes:

Stories are truth told through lies.

"Being underestimated isn't flattering - but it's an advantage."

You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose who you become because of it.

"...nothing - nothing - is worth betraying someone you love."

"Loving someone is never wrong. [...] it's not a choice. It just happens, and we're all helpless in it's power."

"If you're not free to love, you're not free at all."
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This is the 22nd book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. This is also the 4th book I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Retelling with Asian Main Character#Bookworm2017



Book: Crazy Rich Asians (Crazy Rich Asians, #1) by Kevin Kwan

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Blurb:
When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers. (via Goodreads)

Few days after I finished reading this, one thought runs over and over on my mind: this is a book (series) I never knew I needed. I've had this book in my shelf for a while now but for some reason, I always always put it off - but now, I know that I've been blindly walking over a gold mine all this time. This book is delicious, light, over-the-top, funny and on-all-marks entertaining. This book was a sleeper hit for me, in a sense that I initially dismissed it as another chick lit that I'm just gonna read for the heck of it -- but then pages and pages after, I was hooked! (I even changed my rating from 3 to 4 after a week!) It was fun AND relatable. I am not crazy rich but being an Asian myself, some of the elements really hit home. The importance of family, class, the speed to which gossip travels among the clan (LOL), unrealistic expectations on children, the sub-class societal expectations for women (psssshhhhh!), the sad prejudices for single parents, and gaaaahd, the parading of wealth I can only glimpse following entertainment blogs and news. This was a crazy good ride.

The book introduced too many characters at once that made it a bit confusing at first. The sudden shift in POVs inside a chapter also presented a challenge and needed some getting used to. There were so many things that were left hanging at that ending. Maybe because it has a sequel (thank God it's already available) but I just wished Kevin Kwan milked out some of it more. There are so many things you can close and work with there that can give this a more decent ending without missing the "wanting" element for a sequel.

But you know what? Despite the obvious flaws, it still achieved what so very few chick lits failed to give me - it kept me wanting, it kept me entertained, it kept me interested. Some reviews remarked that this reminds them of Gossip Girl, but set in Asia - and I can see why. And also, Nick Young? He made it to my book boyfriend list! (Though I seriously think she should've prepared Rachel BEFORE bringing her to SG.)

P.S.
Charlie Wu freakin' broke my heart. *softly cries*
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My Rating: ★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
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Quotable Quotes:

"At some point, we all have to pay the price for our excesses, don't we?"


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This is the 21st book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. This is also the 3nd book I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Free Space#Bookworm2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Book: Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All The Boys I've Loved Before, #3) by Jenny Han

The To All The Boys I've Loved Before series are books that are really close to my heart. I've read the first book and found it really charming, so I moved on to the next, which I read last year, and it made me fall in love even more. I thought Jenny would finish Lara Jean's story right then and there: there was closure, but apparently, not enough. Now we've come to the conclusion of yet another charming series, the 3rd and final book (serious, this time?), this is Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han. No one's complaining, though.

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Blurb:
Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.
Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.
But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.
When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?
 (via Goodreads)
I've been too foolish to not write a review for the previous two books - but I was in a reading frenzy and writing slump back then so it got buried along with other book reviews I've yet to write at that time. That was a grave mistake - so I guess my thoughts on this post will reflect the series as a whole, just highlighting enough things for this one book.

First off: Lara Jean is such a charming main character. She's awkward, nice, all the goody-two-shoes that she was raised to be - but as someone said in her yearbook - "it's always the quiet ones that are the most interesting." We watch her grow up and experience things from that sweet-sixteen Lara Jean to now, this almost-college-girl eighteen-year-old Lara Jean. It was hard to read sometimes, but as a teenager, that was a necessary phase. Her denials, her insecurities, and her love - for her family, for her friends, for Peter. It was such a joy to witness all that. Plus, her style is on point! Pinterest-worthy, even. Jenny Han curated the perfect style that I loved. Lara Jean is, head-to-toe, my aesthetic. Like everything spells like pastel, knee-high socks, cute clothes, girly things. It was all I ever wanted to be when I was that age (and maybe even now? LOL). I find it really cute and alluring since I am really drawn to today's Korean pop culture - and it shows. If I have a comment, I guess I wished for more emphasis on the Korean heritage thing here.

Then again... there's Peter. Hmmmm... what can I say. Reading about all these potential book-boyfriend-list-worthy characters these past few months definitely drowned Peter's existence in my head. Lara Jean and Peter's story wasn't really that gut-wrenching and punch-in-the-stomach inducing compared to others. But it was special because of its sheer simplicity. When I read the first few pages, the spell was immediately back. I forgot how easily it is  for Peter K. to captivate a lost heart. He was adoooorable in this. The braiding, the Fight Club couple costumes, the promposal -- everything. And he was definitely more fleshed out in here than in the previous two books, at least for me - reflecting how he opened up more to Lara Jean compared from before. I love how their relationship made me remember that it's the little things that matter.

And alsooooo, how can I forget? The FAMILY. If there's one thing, besides the cute romance, that I'll take away from this series, it's the lessons about family - specifically the relationship between the Song sisters and the brief glimpses, emotions, towards the memory of their mother. All the mommy-memories are too much for me sometimes - but it was one of the reasons why I fell in love with the series in the first place, so it was a necessary thing to include in this experience. And I guess it was fitting since I read this book when Mother's day was just around the corner.

As someone who lost her mother just recently, this theme really hits home. I remember crying over the brief emotional moments from book 1 and 2 when they are missing their mom - spoiler, no shortage of that either in this book. Their family life served as the foundation of how they interact and how deeply their relationships with each other go. I love the Song Sisters to death, and though Lara Jean is the center of this series, you can't think of her without thinking of the other two, Margot and Kitty, too.

"How crazy, how thrilling that your whole life trajectory can change in just one night. I've always been scared of change, but right now I don't feel that way. I feel excited. I'm seeing now what a privilege it is, to be excited about where I'm going."

This book is about dealing with the inevitable changes that come along with growing up and accepting possibilities that, no matter how uncomfortable they are at the onset, may make all the difference in the life you make for yourself. I love how it doesn't feel like this story just revolves around Peter and Lara Jean's love story - but also about family, friendship and figuring out what she really want to do. Because life is like that - each aspect overlapping one another, all at the same time. This reminded me so much of the time when I was also preparing to leave high school and start college. Too much going on, too many drama. And when I look back, the experience just always leaves a smile on my face.

This was such a bittersweet goodbye to a series that is so close to real life, it's hard not to get attached. Weddings, college, decisions to make, things to leave behind. It's the perfect closure. I can't have it any other way.
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My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars)

If you follow me on Twitter, here's my Always and Forever, Lara Jean Reaction Thread: CLICK HERE.
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Quotable Quotes:

"Never say no when you really want to say yes."

"Is this how it goes? You fall in love, and nothing seems truly scary anymore, and life is one big possibility?"

"The thing is, you get used to it. Before you even realize it's happening, you get used to things being different..."

"There's so much to be excited about, if you let yourself be."

"...love is about making brave choices every day."

"It feels good to say a proper goodbye, to have a chance."
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This is the 20th book I've read this year and this has been part of my 2017 Reading Challenge. This is also the 2nd book I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Contemporary with Asian Main Character. #Bookworm2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Short Story: The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi


I am a Filipina and reading this story felt like being slapped by the wind whispering "it's yours, it's yours." The first mention of the word "Lola" sent me reeling. And then there's the "anak", "salbahe", mention of the Santos I grew up with, the monster in the stories they told us when we were young, even the puto and others - delicacies only a true born-and-bred Filipino will understand. It was a different experience, that I immediately scoured the internet for Roshani's background because I am pretty sure she's not Filipina - well, judging by her name alone. Turns out, her mother was.

The use of Tagalog unnerved me because it's been too long now since I read a story set in the Philippines, much less without a shortage of sprinkled tagalog words here and there. It was the familiarity I guess, the ease to which I imagined the scenes: typical provincial life, with the nice little bungalow, the festivities, the family. First few sentences and I can almost see my life reflected back at me. I won't be surprised if this post would mostly be about me talking how relateable this story has been.

The story was bittersweet - simple but magical. This reminded me so much of my early elementary days when digging for old literature books for children was my thing. It was reminiscent of the stories in the children's local school books - the tone, the setting. My own Lola was a teacher, you see, and I do think that sparked my love for reading at an early age.

"I don't want to lose anything. Not again."

The moment before the party, that conversation with her Lola, broke my heart. Maybe I was more affected than necessary - but I can't help it because it did reminded me so much of my grandmother. The storytelling, the gentleness, the love. Each mention of the Tala's Lola sent me gasping for air because I can clearly see my own with her's.

The ending made me cry. And the description of the dress won't leave my mind. If I could draw a proper sketch, I might've made one - but, alas, I can't.There was such mystery to the star maiden myth, that fed my curious mind - is her Lola telling the truth? Is she really a star maiden, tied to the Earth, and destined to come back to where she really belong? I would never know. But one thing's for sure: this story is such a magic to behold as it is entertaining to read. Kudos, to Roshani for this one.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)


You can read the full story HERE.

Quotable Quotes:

"The curse is to love, and be loved in return, and still have to leave."
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This story, The Star Maiden by Roshani Chokshi, is originally a part of Shimmer zine #26. This is the first I finished for my #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge for Science Fiction and Fantasy with an Asian Main Character. #ownvoices

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