Friday, December 08, 2023

The Husky and His White Cat Shizun Vol. 4 by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Husky & His White Cat Shizun vol 4 by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou

The series has advanced to its fourth volume and I believe this is the best one yet (which I said of the previous volume too). The previous one left Chu Wanning to recover from being dead for five years, so the reader could expect a time jump in this one.

The volume starts with briefly telling what Mo Ran did during those five years. He’s taken to heart to become a man worthy of his Shizun and has spent the years travelling, cultivating, and helping people where he can. He’s built a heroic reputation for himself, not that he cares, and grown up quite a bit.

Chu Wanning wakes up in a good bodily and mental health, and he remembers everything that happened in the underworld when Mo Ran saved him. He’s also ready to admit his feelings for Mo Ran, but only to himself. He’s struggling with lust for the first time in his life too, having practiced cultivation method that forbids sex. The strange dreams that are flashbacks of a life he never lived don’t help. And as always, he never speaks of any of this to anyone, and definitely not to Mo Ran.

Mo Ran is having the exact same problems, made worse by his memories from the previous life. But he knows he isn’t worthy of his Shizun and tries to keep his hands to himself, tormented by his memories of how he behaved before.

But the story keeps throwing the two together in various ways. Mo Ran grows to realise that it’s love he feels for his Shizun, not having really experienced the emotion before. And Chu Wanning starts to give in to his needs and coming to terms with it.

It’s a story of two tormented people who simply refuse to communicate with each other, which would make things much simpler. While the author deliberately drags it on, it still manages to be interesting and entertaining throughout, with one of the best sex scenes so far. There wasn’t much of a plot beyond the romance—not a single monster attacked or ghost needed vanishing, and the mastermind after Mo Ran didn’t make a move—but it didn’t need more. The end wasn’t a cliffhanger as such, but it promises conflict to come in the next volume. It’ll be an agony to wait again.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Heaven Official's Blessing vol. 8 by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Heaven Official's Blessing by MoXiang Tong Xiu

It’s the end of the Heaven Official’s Blessing, and it didn’t go out with a bang. It was like a wistful thought that left the reader longing for more.

The volume has the last eight chapters, which take about 45% of the book, and several short stories from various points in the lives of Xie Lian and Hua Cheng. There’s the final battle with White No-Face, which dominates the narrative, and the aftermath. There are some emotional scenes and most storylines are wrapped up.

There’s the happily ever after too, but the romance didn’t quite deliver the emotions I hoped for after following it this long. Xie Lian and Hua Cheng keep their thoughts so tightly guarded that the reader is barely allowed a glimpse even at the end. The extra stories help a little, but without them, the ending would’ve been a slight disappointment.

That said, I’ve enjoyed the journey. After everything that has happened, Xie Lian was much like he was at the beginning, only happier and more powerful. And the reader can be sure that his love story with Hua Cheng will last the eternity.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Born to Be Badger by Shelly Laurenston: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Born to Be Badger by Shelly Laurenston

Born to Be Badger is the fifth book in the Honey Badger Chronicles that follow a group of basketball playing honey badger shifters who moonlight as thieves, killers and rabble rousers. They’re borderline sociopaths and a reader can never be sure how they react in any given situation (other than with violence.)

In this book, the playoffs that brought the girls to New York in the first place are still going on, but while it’s mentioned several times, not a single game is played. Instead, the group learns of a new poison that might be the only thing in the world that can kill them. Not that it worries them long. The story progresses to a violent ambush and a declaration of war among shifters. All in a day’s work for the girls.

The romantic (sub)plot is between Tock Meyerson-Jackson, the bomb expert of the group (not that she blows anything up in this book), and Shay Malone, a tiger shifter footballer. Like in previous books, the romance is sort of in the background, isn’t terribly romantic or emotional, and kind of just happens. There’s no inner monologues or other indications about why they like one another, let alone love, so it’s mostly about attraction and lust until it isn’t. The best interactions by far and scenes where both characters come to life are when they deal with Shay’s daughter Dani. In the end, she’s as good a reason as any for the two to become a pair.

Like always, the cast of characters is large and the reader never really knows who is important. Some appear for a scene, others clearly have elaborate backstories and might show up again. Some are characters from author’s earlier series that were given more than necessary airtime, but since I haven’t read those books, their appearance and tendency to take over wasn’t so much nostalgic as it was annoying.

Still, I would’ve like if the main pair was given as much space and as good descriptions as the guests. Now it wasn’t until half-way to the book that I realized that Tock is Black and Shay—the guy with Irish name—is Asian. Maybe earlier books brought that up, but I can’t remember things from that far. Their ethnicity doesn’t play a role in the story, but details like this are what bring these stories alive.

Compared to earlier books, the story advanced in a rather straightforward way. Like always, events and violence sort of spring up, and the plot happens in the background, moved by forces that aren’t shown, and the girls simply react to events. But side-plots were kept to minimum, and we sort of finally know who killed Shay’s father, so that’s progress. The ending promises more violence to come. I don’t really read this series for the romances, so I found this entertaining in a totally bonkers way. I’ll likely read more.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, November 03, 2023

System Collapse by Martha Wells: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

System Collapse by Martha Wells

System Collapse is the seventh MurderBot diaries book and it continues right after the events of the fifth book, Network Effect (book six, Fugitive Telemetry, was a skip back in time). SecUnit, ART the highly autonomic AI ship (or Asshole Research Transport), and their humans are still orbiting the planet that suffered from alien contamination. This time they’re trying to convince the colonists to evacuate—or at least not to accept the offer made by one of the horrid corporations, Barish-Estranza, as that would lead to slavery for them.

The story starts with SecUnit being in a funk of some sort, but it keeps redacting the explanation, like it often does with memory files it doesn’t want to handle. But the reader soon figures out it’s suffering from some sort of episode that is compromising it and its ability to make decisions, which isn’t good in a highly volatile situation where everyone relies on its ability to react fast. It takes a while before it’s ready to share with the reader what’s wrong with it.

SecUnit needs to pull itself together though, when it accompanies two of ART’s humans and Ratthi to an isolated colony they knew nothing about, hoping they get there before Barish-Estranza. They don’t. It’s time for SecUnit to save the day again, with the most SecUnit way so far.

This was a great book. SecUnit’s struggle to understand what is going on with its systems was real and relatable. The cast was small and things were kept tight, and while there were some action scenes, they didn’t take over. I had some trouble remembering who was who at the beginning, as no handy hints were given to the reader; I especially struggled to remember who Three was. But it didn’t matter for long. The ending was good, as SecUnit finally figured out what it wants to do next and who with. I simply must have more.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Friday, October 20, 2023

A Bright Heart by Kate Chenli: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

A Bright Heart by Kate Chenli

A Bright Heart has a familiar reincarnation plot from many Asian web novels, light novels, and mangas. The protagonist dies, but is given a new chance to make things right, or otherwise improve their life, by returning a few years (or decades) with all the knowledge of the first life. They’re usually fun and lighthearted stories where the small changes the protagonist makes on the second round often have large consequences.

Mingshin has helped Prince Ren to become the King, only for him to betray and kill her because he prefers her cousin and has only been using her. As her last dying thought, she wishes another chance, and is returned a couple of years back, right before she met Ren for the first time. She’s not about to waste the opportunity and sets out to destroy not only Ren but her cousin and uncle too.

Changes begin to happen almost immediately. Since Mingshin isn’t fooled by her cousin’s pretty behaviour anymore, she and her father move against Mingshin’s faster than in the original timeline. And Mingshin meets Jieh, another contender for the throne. She tries to keep her distance from him to not repeat the mistake she made with Ren, but decides rather fast that he’s the one who should get the throne. In the end, what took two years in her first life now takes place in a few months, with a lot of action towards the end.

I don’t quite know how to take this book. I went in hoping for a light-hearted, whimsical story in the style of light novels. They tend to be a tad messy, repetitive, and not very logical, not to mention the poor quality of translations, but there’s certain charm to them that keeps me reading them and giving them good reviews even though their literary merits aren’t all that high.

This wasn’t one of those novels. It’s relatively well-written, logical, and doesn’t repeat same things every few pages. But it also lacks the charm and whimsy, and instead turned out to be a bit of a slog to read.

It’s too long, for one. If it had kept to the length of a light novel, it could’ve concentrated on the revenge plot—and maybe the romance, though I didn’t find it necessary either. Now it added the plot with the emissary from the kingdom with magic that derailed the whole story and didn’t add anything worthwhile. Even the attempt to explain the reincarnation was unnecessary.

Mingshin, for all her determination, lacked agency and kept reacting to the changes from the original life. The romance was a typical YA affair where emotions don’t play much of a role, and felt an add-on too. I kind of kept expecting Mingshin’s friendship with the princess to blossom into something more. They had actual conversations, unlike with Jieh.

The setting felt a little off too. It’s Asian (names sound Chinese) but not entirely, or not enough to give a western reader a sense of being set there. It’s as if the author was so fearful to add details that might not be genuine (even though it’s a fantasy world) that the world never comes to life. Everything feels like it happens in a vacuum where nothing tastes, feels or smells like anything.

All in all, a bit of a disappointment. What the book gains in being better written than those it emulates, it loses in charm, heart and emotions. It’s not a bad book as such, and as an YA novel for younger readers it works fairly well. But I was left slightly bored.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.