Book Tour - Under The Lavender Moon by Christina Mai Fong | ARC* |

2/13/2021

Under A Lavender Moon
Christina Mai Fong
(Nightingale Songs, #1)
Published by: Acorn Publishing
Publication date: February 11th 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old Rilla Marseas believes she has a calling to become a healer. Her soul yearns to help people and save lives. Why else would Heaven grant her a singing voice that can heal any ailment? But if the palace discovers her power, she’ll be selected for the annual Showcase, where the most beautiful and magically gifted girls in Seracedar Kingdom compete for the chance to enter the emperor’s harem. That’s the last thing Rilla wants. To avoid such a fate, she hides her power. No matter how the other villagers ridicule her for being worthless and talentless, she suppresses the urge to reveal her powerful voice and prove them wrong. When a palace scout poisons Rilla’s auntie and coerces her into revealing her power, she’s thrown into the competition. The scout threatens to harm her family if she doesn’t win. But Rilla learns there really is no winning. The emperor and empress keep girls with magical powers as pets. In cages. With some help from a handsome, but brooding prince and his mysterious bodyguard, Rilla must outsmart the palace and escape. If she fails, she’ll spend the rest of her life as the royal couple’s puppet, using her voice to grant them eternal youth.


Excerpt (613 words)


A peal of laughter broke the stillness, the noise as sudden as a crack of thunder on a cloudless day. My heart pounded, the rhythm pulsing against my throat.

Hands trembling, I crept low toward the cliff’s overhang and looked below, hoping and praying I wouldn’t see what I most feared.

Two heads bobbed on the surface of the billowing swell. At first, I thought the heads were detached from their bodies, but then limbs and torsos—translucent and fluid—ascended from the ocean. The bodies of two middle-aged women, one blonde and the other a redhead, solidified. Their skin was covered in a shimmering silver sheen of water, which morphed into bright blue and yellow silk kipa dresses that fit snug against them. The cedar tree emblem of the palace was emblazoned on the back of their dresses.

Scouts from the palace.

My heart thudded against my chest. What were the scouts doing here? They were supposed to be in town preparing for the tryouts.

The scouts waded toward the cliffs and climbed the rocks below me. From their vantage point, they would be able to see me, but for now, their gazes remained locked on the sunset. I was too afraid to move.

“There’s a lot of talent here in Cascasea Village,” the blonde said. “I like our new strategy. I get a better sense of what the girls are like when they don’t know they’re being watched. We might even discover a girl with a hidden tin-chai if we happen upon her unawares.”

“I agree, but if you do find one that way, she might not have registered for tryouts,” the redhead said. “Remember to make sure her birth date contains no inauspicious fours. We cannot make the mistake of bringing curses back to the palace. I hope that dancer doesn’t have a four in her birth date. She was stunning. “

The blonde made a dismissive snort. “Nothing special, if you ask me. She’s got more blubber than an yiwhal. The singer has much more promise. She made the water dance. Now that’s talent.”

“That girl? She’s all skin and bones, not to mention, she sounds like a wailing water wanpo. She’ll likely end up as a serving trifle, scrubbing a faela’s chamber pot.”

The blonde sniffed. “Well, it’s not up to us anyway. Madam Yasmina makes the final decision.” She turned to the stack of rocks. “Madam, would you rather represent a chubby dancer or a confident, poised singer who can make water dance?”

I jolted at the sight of a third woman. Her gray dress camouflaged her against the rocks. I could have sworn a snorting sihai had been sitting where she now lay. She stretched her lazy body, lifting her torso to sit up. “Shh. Both of you are making such a ruckus. A girl was singing the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard, and you interrupted her.” Her gaze lifted toward me. I ducked. “I believe it came from up there. Do you see anyone? Having a lovely voice means nothing if she doesn’t have the looks to match.”

I pulled the hood of my cloak over my head.

The redhead pointed. “Look, Madam Yasmina. That must be her.” She waved. “You there, can you hear me? Lift away your cloak and show yourself.”

I pretended not to hear and stood.

“Stay right where you are. By the command of His Royal Majesty, you are hereby—‍”

I bolted, almost stumbling in my haste.

“Stop!”

I propelled myself down the hill away from them.

“After her. She’s wearing a blue cloak.”

Their shouts mingled with the roar of the waves. I dared not look back. 




 

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Author Bio:

I was a Bio major, pre-med in college, but I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. I used to write poems and stories in the margins of my science notebooks. Well, after a reality check, I decided to pursue a career in Food Science because I like food, and everyone needs to eat. Meanwhile, I continued to write. My absolute FAVORITE books are YA Fantasy, so it’s no surprise that I chose to write it, too.

Having been raised in Southern California, where there’s a healthy blend of cultures, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put an Asian American spin in my stories. And having always been the “quiet, shy girl,” who often felt like a wallflower even though I wanted desperately to be the heroine, I’m so glad I now get the opportunity to make the underestimated good girls my heroines. But of course, I’m forcing them out of their comfort zones so they have to embrace their dark side and kick some villainous butt.

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MY THOUGHTS 

I received this Advanced Reader's Copy from Xpresso Book Tours and the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Rating:  2.5 - 3 stars 

I'm looking over at my notes at Notion and as I am reviewing it, I am torn between casting a two or a three-star rating. I  wish GoodReads allowed for the .5 increments because that makes such a huge difference. In the end, I was more comfortable giving it a two-star rating. 

The things I liked about this book are:
1) Pacing - chapters are really sectioned off nicely and trickle smoothly from one chapter to the next.

2) Radi - protagonist's best friend. She is a really well-rounded character and she felt authentic and real - even better than the protagonist in my opinion. Usually, I don't really like bubbly characters but she was the only character I cared about that has convinced me to stick around and finish the entire book and she's also the big reason why I kinda don't want to give this book less than a three-star rating. Actually, the very first time I rated the book I gave it a four-star rating, simply because of her. I hope we get to see more of her in action in Book II or in Book III. Not sure if the Nightingale series is a trilogy or if there are a lot more volumes to be made.

3) I liked the concept of the story and this book started off really strong. There were also maps and a glossary included with pronunciations of every character's name and a small dossier profile at the back of the book which was helpful in navigating the story. The cover is also well-done. 

4) The author's writing skill is quite decent and I enjoyed her writing style. Someone noted in one of the reviews that the songs placed by the author lacked a rhythmic direction, and that could very well be true (because they are coming from a musical background), but it didn't bother me while I was reading it. I already had this expectation of the songs embedded in the story to be similar to early song compositions where it sang more like a lore/ballad/poem than an actual song. 

What I didn't like from this book: 
1) The development of friendship between the MC and the Supporting Character (her best friend) has been shoved to the side in favor of building a romantic connection with one of the moody, brooding princes. It's such a missed opportunity because it had this perfect setup at the beginning for female alliance/female bonding to defeat the evil emperor but somewhere down the line, it discarded it for a shallow, romantic subplot that I honestly could have lived without. 

2) The romantic dialogues need a lot of work. They didn't feel zingy at all and I couldn't feel the chemistry between the MC and the prince. I'm not angry at the prince being included as a romantic partner, but I need that slow-built chemistry to really believe that these two characters are attached to each other and that they care for one another. The author could have even made a golden trio with the MC, the Prince, and her best friend, but she opted for a wonky romantic triangle instead with the Prince's bodyguard. The Prince paired with the MC also gave off very manipulative and toxic vibes. I know they're meant to be teenagers and there is supposed to be a conflict between them to inject some sort of realism, but it just feels like it's semi-bordering on a manipulative relationship ground. 

3) There is this Seduction Training that almost feels similar to Memoirs of a Geisha which was cool at first, but the author didn't really go into depth with it (Not saying it had to be an R-rating kind of thing) but it made me wonder what was the point of emphasizing the difficult training at the very beginning of the story when it turns out the MC just ended up having a lot of free time, exploring the palace. The MC was bored most of the time, and she could've used that time to help her friend Radi who IMHO, was suffering a lot of abuse more so than any other maiden imprisoned in the palace. She could have healed Radi’s wounds and cover it up with fake bruises using resources from the painter lady with who she’s shadowing. It would have given the MC a way to return the kindness of Radi during the lake scene.

4) There are spoilers ahead sort of? But not really. I mean I feel like TW needs to be included somewhere in a book or a review for someone before picking up the book so that before they decide to invest time in it, they've been adequately warned. So if you don't mind a light spoiler, then please go on ahead. If you would like to try the book out for yourself, the list I made above with the bullet points should suffice in conveying to you how  I felt about this book. //Light Spoiler Warning// This scene bothered me a lot after finishing the book. There is no way in hell, after experiencing something as heavily traumatizing as a gang rape episode, would you be able to trust a male after it's happened. And yet Prince Carrick is able to soothe Radi like she's a deranged animal when the chaos in the palace erupted? No, just no. I'm not trying to be an asshole to the author or the publisher, but this is such an egregious oversight. We're in 2021 now. Surely, the scene could've been re-written where the MC is the one who saves her friend and stays with her instead. 

5) MC's relationship with Radi. I know I touched up on this earlier, but this is a completely separate thing. For the first bullet point, I was asking for a space in however many chapters needed (maybe three or five) for a friendship to blossom deeper between the two. Instead, we get so many chapters of the MC abandoning Radi over and over again. See Bullet #4. You'll know what I'm talking about once you get to the lake scene and compare it to the chapters ahead. I wouldn't mind if the author releases a companion book to the first one, where the MC and Radi actually interacted with each other a lot more. Because then it would make more sense why they were introduced to one another in the first place. 

6) There was a scene at the beginning where the protagonist was trying to come off as unattractive as possible to the scouts. And she decided to get a chest binder to make her chest flatter. I'm not overly sensitive about this kind of thing. I know that in this fantasy world, it's trying to mimic our society where it has these absurd beauty standards, but that could also possibly be a trigger for someone who is struggling with their body image and identity. Like why couldn't this novel's universe be remade to where having a smaller chest doesn't equate to being ugly or hideous? It's a fantasy world. It should be easy to make those arrangements. 

Please note that book reviews are meant to be biased and subjective by nature. So my experience with this book may not resonate with yours and that's completely okay. 

Trigger Warnings: rape scene, gang rape,  death of parents, humiliation, violence, impossible beauty standards, abuse

You might like this book if you like the following tags: hero to villain arc; magical abilities, elemental powers

4 comments

  1. It seems like a really interesting option 💜💜

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it does :) Thank you for stopping by xx 💜💜

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  2. Difficult book because of rape scenes but I want to read it ❤

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you, Kinga. It is still quite a good read, despite of the cons I laid out. ❤ xx

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