2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge: July Check-in

In an effort to support and promote book bloggers further in 2022, Pages Unbound is hosting a (very casual) “Support Book Bloggers” Challenge. The idea is simple: we will work together to read blog posts, share them, comment on them, and boost book bloggers in other ways. To learn more about the challenge and the 12 prompts involved, visit the original post here(The above banner was created by Pages Unbound.)

If you decide to join in on the fun, the social media hashtag to use is #BookBloggerSupport22.

Continue reading “2022 Support Book Bloggers Challenge: July Check-in”

Monthly Book Blog Wrap-Up: October 2021

Happy first of November, everyone! (I can’t believe it’s already November?!) I thought I’d try a new post series where I summarize everything book blog-related that I did during the past month. That way, in case you missed anything, all my blog activity will be in one post. I might even throw in a few personal updates here and there.

Early in October I felt stressed because I had two blog tour deadlines, my very first blog tours ever; I wanted to finish and review at least one more NetGalley request to boost my percentage; and I had a library due date for a book I’d been trying to finish for over a month. So I set myself some goals in a pinned tweet and I’m happy to say I met them all!

So what was I up to in October 2021?

Book Reviews
I posted six reviews in October, two of which were for blog tours. From earliest to latest, I reviewed:

Book Memes
I only posted one book meme during October:

Other Book-ish Progress
I finished reading The Bone Ships by RJ Barker after seeing it pop up over and over on Twitter. Look for my review before the year is out! I also binge read A Deal With the Elf King by Elise Kova to lift my mood and absolutely loved it. It was exactly what I needed to read at that point in time.

I started my NetGalley ARC for The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. I’m very happy to be reading about Mephi again.

Lastly, I finally wrote my review for For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten. I finished it in July, but then we moved and writing a review for it got lost in the shuffle. But, again, look for that review before the end of the year.

If you’ve been following me, you probably know we moved to a new place (our first house!) in August. Since then we’ve mostly unpacked. We also did a lot of big outdoor projects during the hottest part of the summer. (Because why do it any other way?) In October we finally tackled the front yard landscaping. And by that I mean we dug up most of the shrubs/plants close to the house and put in all new shrubs/perennial flowers. That was a lot of work to remove established plants. We replanted a few of them in the back yard; we’ll see if they survive.

Now we need to tackle things like hanging up artwork, fixing dry wall, etc. Luckily we didn’t have to order a lot of additional furniture. But we did order a love seat for what I call the “fireplace room,” which will be a large reading nook. It’s velvet and emerald green and supposed to arrive tomorrow! Then we can finally decide if the 3 different rugs we bought match or if we need to return them.

We also had family visit to check out our new place. It’s nice to actually have comfortable space to host family overnight, not to mention perhaps entertain for a dinner. I also started my Christmas shopping because the news keeps talking about all of the shipping delays. Yes, some of those gifts will be books. Obviously.

What have you been up to during October?

Book Review: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Publisher: Tor Books
Publish Date: July 20, 2021
Pages: 416
Type: Hardback

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Official Synopsis
She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

My Review
After seeing glowing reactions and reviews to She Who Became the Sun on Twitter, this became a highly anticipated read for me. I think it’s safe to say (in my very subjective opinion) that Shelley Parker-Chan’s book lives up to the hype. Parker-Chan’s writing is phenomenal and really made me feel like I was in ancient China watching events unfold. I’m not sure I’d categorize Parker-Chan’s writing style as lyrical (e.g., The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue), but it’s full and rich with detail.

The story mainly unfolds through two points of view: Zhu Chongba and Ouyang, a general for the Great Khan’s army. Occasionally Ma Xiuying, daughter of a general for the Red Turban rebels, offers a third point of view. Parker-Chan does a great job defining each character’s worries, fears, and ambitions. If I had to pick a favorite it would either be Ma Xiuying’s or Ouyang’s stories.

Ma is very keen and able to accurately assess people’s characters. Though she understands the politics going on around her, she feels acutely for those caught in the middle of the political game–those whose lives end up forfeit for someone else’s desire for power. I often find myself thinking similarly about modern politics, so I completely empathize with her feelings. Ouyang plays the long game driven by revenge. I can’t say what drives him without spoilers. However, this makes his story and interactions with those around him incredibly complex emotionally. I admire his focus and outward stoicism, the latter of which starts to crumble once his fate actively goes into motion. Initially, the will to survive drives Zhu and she wills her brother’s identity to subsume her own. After Zhu and Ouyang cross paths at the monastery, her fate of greatness launches, transforming her drive to survive into one of ascension.

Zhu’s storyline, in my opinion, is most interesting the first and last third of the book. I think I’m in the minority here, but the middle portion of the book lagged a bit for me regarding Zhu’s storyline. I was more interested in Ouyang and Ma. Even though Zhu is the main character, her storyline overall felt the most detached. Ouyang’s and Ma’s emotions and thoughts come across clearly. I felt more aloof about Zhu’s even though I understood her motivations. However, that’s my overall impression; there are definitely poignant scenes where Zhu slows down for a moment, allowing time for self-reflection and questioning of her identity and fate.

The concept of fate plays a huge role in She Who Became the Sun. I wouldn’t say I’m a big believer in fate. So I found it intriguing how invested Zhu and Ouyang are in their own. I love how Parker-Chan wove the activation of Zhu’s and Ouyang’s fates on the actions of the other. This sets Zhu on the path to greatness and Ouyang to revenge.

From the moment Ouyang visits Zhu’s monastery she feels a strange pull towards him, a like connecting like, for neither is as they appear outwardly. Zhu has taken on her brother’s identity and appears male. Ouyang, made a eunuch in his youth, is described at first glance as woman and at second glance as someone with a “…hard, haughty superiority that was somehow unmistakably that of a young man.” Thus, they’re able to visit spaces they otherwise wouldn’t be able to in their society. This brings another level of complexity to the story: the exploration of gender and gender roles, which Biblio Nerd Reflections does a wonderful job of summarizing.

The fantastical aspects of this novel involve ghosts, the manifestation of light, and the ability to feel the intertwining of fates. Though we eventually learn why certain people can see the ghosts of the dead, I would have loved if that had been explored more. It added an eerie element to the story, but the ghosts are more of a background element. The exception, in my opinion, is an important scene involving the Prince of Radiance.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book. I wasn’t able to completely connect with Zhu, which is why my rating isn’t a 5 of 5. But no doubt there are other readers out there who will. She Who Became the Sun is a shining work of fantasy fiction that weaves together the concepts of fate and gender and how one can influence the other.

Rating: 4.25/5
Content warnings: murder, bodily injury, hunger/starvation, death, sex
Reading format: Library hardback