Review | Wicked as You Wish, Rin Chupeco

WickedAsYouWishCover“Just because you’ve never been to the Philippines doesn’t mean their rivers don’t course through your blood. It doesn’t mean you don’t have their mountains in your eyes. It’s not where we are, it’s who we are. You’ll always be both a Makiling and a Warnock, and always a Filipina. Never forget that.” [page 46]

I’ve long been wishing for a Filipino-inspired fantasy, and Wicked as You Wish delivered in spades. Not only is the main character Tala Filipino-American, but her family’s magic is steeped in Filipino culture, and all the scenes with Tala’s family are basically a love letter to all things Filipino. To name a few: Tala and her mom’s side of the family, who are the magic users, are called the Makilings, after Maria Makiling, and they call their magic ‘agimat’ (amulet). Tala’s grandmother Lola Urduja and the other kickass adults in her family are called the Katipuneros (a reference to historical Filipino rebels… there’s even a character called Heneral Luna!). There’s a full scene with a Filipino feast, including lechon, adobo and even some ersatz kakanin that Tala’s poor Scottish father bought in a store and Lola Urduja relegated to the trash. Tala fights with arnis sticks, which is an awesome Filipino martial art. There’s even a scene where Alex (the prince that Tala and her family have to protect) asks why they’re helping him, and Tala’s family responds by explaining the concept of bayanihan (community coming together to help each other). The beginning of this novel is very much steeped in Filipino history and culture, and I was hooked.

Unfortunately, overall, I found the world building too convoluted. Beyond the Filipino references, it often felt like Chupeco tried to cram in as many fairy tales as possible into a single world (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, the Snow Queen), and except for the Snow Queen (a villain in this story), none of the other fairy tale references were really relevant to the story. Like Sleeping Beauty was actually a fierce warrior whose spindle was a sword? It’s a cool idea in theory, but it never went anywhere, and soon there were just too many references to keep track of.

There are also a lot of different kinds of magic (spell tech, Tala’s agimat, curses, something about ice maidens and shape shifters, and so on), which is likely a callout to the series title A Hundred Names for Magic, and similar to the fairy tales, they never quite pulled together into a single cohesive mythology. The novel’s world straddled a kind of fairy tale land (Avalon) mixed with legends (Excalibur) mixed with our own world (Carlyy Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe in a pretty kickass training scene), and I couldn’t quite get a clear grasp of what the world as a whole was like.

In a way, I see what Chupeco was trying to do: bring all sorts of world mythologies, fairy tales and legends into a single world where all the different approaches to magic intersect. There are some pointed references to America being a melting pot of cultures, and in a way, this book is like a melting pot of a bunch of different fairy tales and magics. But while the book may have managed to stitch these all together, it didn’t quite manage to convey their meaning as a whole. The result feels more like a hodge podge than a fully realized world, and I wish Chupeco had focused a bit more on fleshing out one or two main threads than in trying to cram it all in.

The characters were all right. Tala was incredible, and, unusually for a YA book, I actually found the adult characters (her family) the most compelling. So many YA books keep the adults away from the action, so I love that Tala’s entire family, including her grandmother, were right in there kicking ass with her. It struck me as very much a Filipino style of superheroics, where the extended family is integrated into the the main character’s life and journey.

To be fair, this may be a personal bias, in that I liked them best because of their Filipino mannerisms. But most of the younger characters felt a bit flat to me. Ryker, who is Tala’s love interest, is pretty complex and has a fantastic back story, so I look forward to reading more of him in future books. I also really liked the developing romance between Zoe and Cole, whose dynamic reminded me a bit of Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books. I also sympathized with West, a shape shifter whom Alex straight up calls ugly at one point. Most of the team had some pretty cool powers, but I never really got a clear sense of why they had banded together and why they cared about bringing Alex back to Avalon. Chupeco does give us a bit of each character’s back story, but not quite enough for me to connect with them emotionally.

Alex, who was Tala’s BFF and the main impetus for the characters’ quest, turned out to be the most disappointing. Despite being nominally the other main character, he mostly faded into the background. I loved the whole concept of the firebird, and the firebird itself was an awesome character, but Alex, as the heir to throne of Avalon and the Chosen One who can harness the firebird’s powers, barely did anything nor showed any personality apart from a few strong scenes in the beginning and the end.

Still, I loved the Filipino references, and the fact that each character’s magic had some kind of connection to the mythology of their family’s country of origin. Chupeco also explores real world issues like homophobia and racism, and in a fantastic scene where Lola Urduja and the Katipuneros encounter ICE agents, they straight up call out the double standards in how they treat white persons and BIPOC persons.

The series name references one of my favourite passages in the book, which I just found absolutely lovely. I especially love how some of the Tagalog words Tala’s father uses to refer to magic don’t quite transliterate to ‘magic’ exactly, but rather to similar words like serenade and fate. I love how this expands our understanding of what magic is.

“Yer mum’s people have a saying,” her father said quietly. “About there being a hundred names for magic in the Tagalog language. A bit like that old song about native Alaskans having fifty words for snow. Every culture gets to make that claim, but it’s particularly true with Filipinos, I think.”

“Like agimat?” Tala’s Tagalog needed some brushing up, but that’s what they’ve always called their Makiling curse.

“Aye. And kulam, and anting-anting, and some others you don’t expect. Harana, tadhana. Yer mother would know more than me. What I mean is, you’ve got magic in your blood, love. You can’t take it out of you any more than you can will yourself to stop breathing. Y’got a whole language of charms.” [page 46]


Thank you to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.


Review | Safe House, Jo Jakeman

SafeHouseCoverIn Safe House, a woman named Steffi is trying to escape her past by changing her name to Charlie and moving to a remote coastal village. In her life as Steffi, she inadvertently helped her ex-boyfriend cover up a murder, and her mistake gave him the opportunity to commit another murder before he was caught. Even though Steffi was ultimately the one who provided police with the evidence to jail him, she still faced the brunt of public censure and had to spend a couple of years in jail. As Charlie, Steffi hoped to get a completely new start, but instead finds that someone from her past is determined to track her down.

Safe House is a solid and emotional thriller. I like how the author delved a bit into Steffi/Charlie’s psyche, and how she was so easily gaslighted by Lee because she grew up with a similarly abusive father. Part of me wished the author had leaned into that part of the story a bit more, but another part liked that the author maintained a subtler take on the subject.

The story was interesting enough for me to finish the book, but it never really grabbed me and made me NEED to keep reading. Based on the description, I thought it would be a super tense cat-and-mouse game where Steffi/Charlie could feel the person from her past breathing down her neck. There was some scary stuff going on, we also had chapters from the point of view of the person tracking Steffi down, and there was a satisfyingly surprising reveal near the end. But the story for me didn’t quite have as much urgency as I expected / hoped for.

I was also kinda meh about the beginning, where we meet Steffi’s lawyer friend Conor and the cops who were investigating the initial murders. The way it was set up, I thought Conor would play a much bigger role in the story, but he pretty much disappeared for most of the book. I didn’t really get much of a sense of his friendship with Steffi/Charlie and why he’d be the one person she’d trust at that super vulnerable part of her life.


Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Review | The Happy Ever After Playlist, Abby Jimenez

HappyEverAfterPlaylistCoverOkay, how much do I love this book?! The Happy Ever After Playlist begins with a meet-cute facilitated by an adorable dog jumping into the heroine’s car. As if that weren’t enough to make me melt, we then have the hero admitting that he loves his dog like his own child. As a cat mom myself, I absolutely fell in love with both Sloan and Jason within the first couple of chapters. As their long-distance flirtation deepened over their shared love for Tucker the dog, I very quickly found myself eager for them to find their happily ever after.

Sloan and Jason had the cutest chemistry together. I remember taking a while to warm up to Kristin and Josh in The Friend Zone — I hated the whole ‘not like other girls’ vibe, and their flirtation felt more snarky/angsty than flirty/swoony at times — but I fell in love with Sloan and Jason almost immediately. I’m still not too keen on their shared love for hunting, but that’s a personal bias rather than a book flaw.

I love that the will-they/won’t-they question of Sloan and Jason getting together was based on a very real predicament: Sloan was still grieving the death of her fiance, and struggled to be able to move on. Jason very quickly decided he wanted Sloan in his life, but was dealing with a major career shift and had to decide if being with him at this time would be best for Sloan. Despite some heavy issues to work through, the first half of the book was very much a fun and fluffy rom com that was just a pleasure to read.

The second half switched to a more serious exploration of how Sloan and Jason can actually fit into each other’s real lives, and the story became even stronger for it. I love that Jimenez explored both the swoony heart-racing aspects of falling in love and the harsh realities that real life goes beyond the swoon.

Jason is a singer on the verge of stardom, and Sloan is an artist who has to figure out if she can actually live with the touring rock star life style. Jimenez does a great job of showing the physical and psychological toll that touring takes on Sloan, and the immediate improvement when she takes a vacation to focus on her artwork. We also see Jason’s dilemma, how he quickly tires of the touring / stardom aspect of his career, but has worked too hard to give it up easily. Neither of them is a jerk about it — both are incredibly supportive of each other’s happiness and respective careers; it’s just a matter of figuring out how to make a difficult situation work.

There was also a subplot about Jason being stalked and Sloan being targeted. The prime suspect is Jason’s ex Lola, whose flagging career could use a boost from Jason’s rise, but as this thread develops, it begins to move away from the jealous ex trope to a more expansive critique of celebrity culture and the superstardom industry. This was probably my least favourite part of the book — I’m meh on the jealous ex trope in general, though I did like how things eventually turned out. But I found this plot thread to be somewhat melodramatic and unnecessary, especially given all the very real issues that Sloan and Jason were already working through without it.

There’s also an author’s note where Jimenez explains that she’d written this before The Friend Zone, which I appreciated. I thought that Sloan’s fiance dying in The Friend Zone was totally random and unnecessary, and apparently some other readers felt the same, but the author’s note explained that because she’d written Playlist first but Friend Zone came first chronologically, that twist was necessary.

Overall, I loved The Happily Ever After Playlist. From the best ever meet-cute over a dog to a delightfully cheesy over-the-top resolution, this story was super sweet and cute and feel-good.


Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.