Saturday, December 30, 2023

Paladin’s Faith by T. Kingfisher: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Paladin's Faith by T. Kingfisher

Paladin’s Faith is a fourth book in The Saint of Steel fantasy romance series by T. Kingfisher. It follows the paladins of a dead god who try to find their place in a world where they are no longer needed, set in the same world as the Clocktaur War duology, though a few decades later.

Shane is a paladin abandoned by two gods, which has given him a huge inferiority complex and a fear of getting everyone around him killed. He’s ordered to protect Marguerite Florian, a spy who is trying to locate an artificer who has created a device that’ll potentially disrupt the economy of the entire world. She’s a resourceful woman with few compunctions about her work and how she gets it done, which doesn’t always sit well with Shane. Naturally, a romance ensues, albeit slowly, as one of them fears he’s not good enough and the other doesn’t really have a need for a romance.

Despite the interesting premise, this is by far the weakest book in the series. The entire first half of the rather long book is basically filler events, with a token attempt made to locate the artificer. The romance doesn’t go anywhere. Things pick up on the latter half, but what was supposed to be the driving force of the plot takes a back seat when a new storyline appears, and is all but forgotten. It’s Shane’s story, and it’s a good one, but it doesn’t really mesh with the romance. That the pair ends up together in the end is because this is a romance, and the book would’ve been fine without.

On top of the weak story, this lacks the charm and delightful whimsy of the earlier books. Marguerite doesn’t make a very interesting romantic heroine and while Shane has his moments, he’s not much of a romantic hero either. Side characters exist to fill the pages, but I suspect their story will come later. And not a single gnol made an appearance. The epilogue promises an interesting story to come though, and even though this was a disappointment, I’ll definitely read on.

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.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Remnants of Filth vol 2 by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Remnants of Filth vol 2 by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou

Volume 2 continues where the cliffhanger ending of the first volume left things, the desperate situation with the sword spirit who has been killing women. A miraculous rescue solves the situation, after which the reader learns the tragic story behind the spirit.

That is as much action as we get in the second volume. The focus is on Mo Xi and Gu Mang. The first has been given the custody of the latter, and it isn’t easy for him. Gu Mang is like a skittish wolf, and Mo Xi doesn’t have patience with him. Luckily his housekeeper, Li Wei, understands the situation better and under his care, Gu Mang starts trusting the people around him.

Mo Xi needs Gu Mang to recover his memory, and he requests the services of the best medicine master, Jiang Fuli, who manages to help Gu Mang. We get scenes from Gu Mang’s point of view, as he tries to make sense of what his past has been like, what kind of relationship he had with Mo Xi, and why everyone hates him. But it isn’t until an old friend finally explains to him what ‘traitor’ means that he starts to understand why Mo Xi considers him filthy.

This was a very slow read. There wasn’t much action or a plot, and the story advances in leaps of description. But there were moving and even heartbreaking moments when the men tried to understand each other, Mo Xi through his hate and Gu Mang with his poor grasp of the world around him. The book ends in the middle of a scene again, but not with a cliffhanger. I’ll have to read on to find out if Gu Mang ever recovers and if the men can mend their relationship.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

The Waking of Angantyr by Marie Brennan: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Waking of Angantyr by Marie Brennan

The Waking of Angantyr is based on an old Norsk saga the author had come across during her academic studies and found lacking in excitement, so much so that she decided to give the story a new spin. She does it with a well-researched historical setting (not reflected by the cover) and a lot of goriness.

Hervor is a bondmaid, a person forced to work in the service of a jarl’s household until she earns her freedom. Only, she knows she’ll never be allowed to do so. That’s not even her biggest grief. She can hear dead people and the residents in the village think she’s cursed. Turns out, she’s a berserker. Pain can turn her into a bloodthirsty warrior no one can stop.

After an incident where Hervor kills a man, a blood witch tells her she can silence the voices and sends her on a quest through the land for a person who knows best. It’s not an easy journey; she’s an escaped bondmaid hunted by everyone. But she has occasional help, like from a group of Vikings who teach her how to fight and eventually help her to the source of the voices in her head.

They are Angantyr and his twelve sons, berserkers who have been killed in what was outwardly an honest duel. Foul play behind the duel has kept the spirits from moving on though, and it’s up to Hervor to avenge them. In order to manage it, she’s given Angantyr’s cursed sword with dire warnings that she ignores. She shouldn’t have.

This was an excellent book. From a gloomy and hopeless start, Hervor forges herself a path through a violent society to do what she needs to do in order to live in peace. She leaves behind a trail of bodies, most of them unintentional when her berserker side takes over. There aren’t really any good things in her life, and the brief respites are always followed by more pain.

The story is set in a pre-Christian Norsk society with a set hierarchy, strict laws, and its own pantheon that doesn’t utilize the overused Odin’s. People and settings weren’t described much though, and I relied on my own knowledge of the era to bring it alive. From a relatively realistic beginning, the story gradually evolves towards more fantastical, but so naturally it doesn’t seem like a shift in the genre.

Hervor was a formidable character, but while I rooted for her, I’m not sure I liked her very much. The ending is good and conclusive, but Hervor had to sacrifice so much for it, I’m not sure I’d call it a happy ending as such. But I’m satisfied with it.

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

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki's Conjecture, Vol. 2 by Mikage Sawamura: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki’s Conjecture vol. 2  Mikage Sawamura

The second book was as delightful as the first. It continues a month or so after the first, and again Naoya Fukamachi, a student at a Tokyo university, helps Professor Takatsuki, his folklore teacher, solve three cases that seem supernatural. All are interesting, but they all fail in what the professor finds most important: no real ghosts are involved. The last one is most heartbreaking and it brushes the professor’s past.

Naoya is still a very reserved charcter and difficult to get a hang of, even though the narrative is from his point of view. It’s difficult for him to let people close, even when he needs help. But when a bad flu makes him lose his ability to hear lies, he realises he doesn’t know how to be ordinary either. Professor Takatsuki is as delightful as ever, but the tragedy behind his cheerful exterior is starting to unravel. I’ll have to read more to learn everything.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Husky and His White Cat Shizun Vol. 3 by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Husky and His White Cat Shizun by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou

Volume 3 of The Husky and His White Cat Shizun continues where the previous one ended. I expected some kind of tension from the revelations at the end of the previous novel, namely Mo Ran running into the woman he married and hated in his previous life. That didn’t happen.

Instead, events of the current life catch up with Mo Ran and his Shizun, Chu Wanning. The ghost of the vengeful bride they thought they’d dealt with has managed to kill everyone in her village, and Chu Wanning is being blamed. As they are trying to solve the mess, the event Mo Ran has feared the most since he reincarnated, arrives three years early.

In his previous life, a Heavenly Rift unleashing demons killed the man he loved the most, Shi Mei, plunging Mo Ran on the path of destruction. Determined to avoid the same fate for both of them, he takes Shi Mei’s place next to their Shizun to close the rift. His plan is successful, but only partially. The aftermath throws Mo Ran on a new path of self-discovery that takes him to hell and back, literally and figuratively.

This was the best volume so far. The story flowed well, action was good (including a NSFW scene right at the beginning), and Mo Ran’s soul-searching was emotional and heartbreaking. Mo Ran learns things about his Shizun he had no idea about, which causes him to reevaluate his two lives. It brings him to his knees and what emerges is a completely new man who knows one thing: the most important person in his life is Chu Wanning. If only Chu Wanning had been on a similar path, but he guards his emotions as tightly as ever.

The book ends at a natural place, but with a small cliffhanger that hints at a time jump between this book and the next. I wish I could jump in time too, to get the next book immediately.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Heaven Official's Blessing Vol. 7 by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Heaven Official's Blessing Vol. 7 by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù: review

Well, if this wasn’t a ride. The book starts in the Kiln where Xie Lian and White No-Face are supposed to fight it out, but after the build-up of the previous book, it was over rather fast. A lot of action follows, as Xie Lian and Hua Cheng try to stop White No-Face’s plans to destroy humanity.

And then, we finally learn the identity of White No-Face. I for one was gobsmacked. It was more interesting than learning what he wants with Xie Lian. Things get rather difficult for all gods, with an epic battle following. Everything rests on Xie Lian, but before he can find a solution, the book ends.

This volume was full of action and not so much about romance. But Xie Lian is more comfortable with showing his emotions with Hua Cheng, and everything was cute and sweet. A lot rests on the last volume. I can’t wait to read it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

All the Dead Shall Weep by Charlaine Harris: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

All the Dead Shall Weep by Charlaine Harris

All the Dead Shall Weep is the fifth book in Harris’ alt-history western series, Gunnie Rose, set in 1930s America that’s been divided to small, lawless countries. After the events of the previous book in the point of view of Lizbeth’s sister, Felicia, the story returns to Texoma and Lizbeth’s hometown Segundo Mexia, where she has settled with her husband Eli, the grigori prince from the Russian governed San Diego.

But all is not well. Lizbeth has recently suffered a miscarriage and Eli doesn’t seem to care. The arrival of Felicia and Eli’s brother Peter push things to a point, and Eli leaves to his home in San Diego, taking Peter with him. The things he says before he goes indicate that he’s not coming back.

Lizbeth and Felicia are left behind; Felicia mainly because her growing powers as a grigori mean she’s not safe in San Diego. But turns out she’s not safe in Texoma either. Word of her powers have spread and a magic family after another sends their most eligible members to woo her—and not all of them do it nicely. People are targeting Lizbeth too, on top of which a strange militia keeps attacking her hometown.

After several books, the world is familiar and the backstory has grown interesting. Lizbeth is as tough as ever, but with a vulnerable side too. Felicia’s death magic is terrifying, but it’s not a complete cure-all, as the story shows. The narrative alternates between the women, giving the inner thoughts of both of them—and they both have a lot on their plates. Death still comes easily and is easily cast away, but only when it’s about people trying to kill them.

This was a fast-paced, quick read and another excellent book in the series. However, I was a little disappointed with how things were solved between Lizbeth and Eli. It seemed a bit of a copout after everything she went through. The addition of details from Europe, like Agatha Christie’s books and Hitler seemed a bit superfluous, but they help to ground the story in its era and promise interesting things to come. I’m looking forward to reading more.

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

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Guardian: Zhen Hun vol 1 by Priest: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Guardian: Zhen Hun by Priest

Guardian: Zhen Hun is urban fantasy set in an imaginary Dragon City in modern China, with references to party politics and complete with a nepo hire, when a nephew of a high-up party official is given a job at the Special Investigations Department, the supernatural division of the Ministry of Public Security.

Guo Changcheng is a recent college graduate and a shut-in who has no idea what he has been signed for. Learning that some of his coworkers aren’t human, or even alive, is a bit too much for him, but after the initial blackout, he promptly (timidly) sets out to work, only to spend most of the book fainting, screaming, and crying. But he has an empathic nature and isn’t quite as hopeless as his boss originally feared. And after encountering some really bad ghosts, his coworkers don’t seem so scary anymore either. The only one who frightens him is his perfectly human boss, Zhao Yunlan.

Zhao Yunlan is the Director of the Special Investigations and in charge of investigating supernatural crimes. He’s in his early thirties, a handsome and temperamental chain-smoker and a bit of a player. He’s also the Guardian to the Soul-Guarding Order, which allows him to freely move in all three realms (heaven, mortal realm and the netherworld) and hobnob with the people there, like the Soul-Executing Emissary feared by everyone but him.

The book consists of two stories. In the first, Guo Changcheng and Zhao Yunlan investigate a murder of a university student that’s supernatural in origin. At the university, they encounter Shen Wei, a handsome, mild-mannered young professor whom they end up pulling into their investigation, mostly because Zhao Yunlan is attracted to him at first sight. But the professor isn’t what he seems, as the readers are soon shown.

The second story takes place in the mountains after an earthquake. Wang Zheng, a ghost employee at the SID, is from that region and she wants to return to rebury her bones. By coincidence, Shen Wei is going there with his students too, and the two parties travel together. But things aren’t how Wang Zheng has let them believe, and Zhao Yunlan ends up needing the help of the Soul-Executing Emissary to get everyone home safely. And once there, it’s finally time for Zhao Yunlan to confront Shen Wei to find out who he truly is and if he’s as indifferent to Zhao Yunlan as he pretends to be.

This was an excellent book. The mysteries weren’t complicated but they were suitably scary. Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei were interesting characters, and even though there wasn’t as much interaction between them as I wanted, theirs is clearly a romance larger than life. Side characters were fun, especially Daqing, a talking black cat who is thousands of years old. There was a lot of information about Chinese mythology, but I would’ve wanted more about the everyday Chinese life too. The book ends at a natural point with a promise of interesting things to come. I will definitely read more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Thousand Autumns vol 2 by Meng Xi Shi: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Thousand Autumns vol 2 by Meng Xi Shi

The second volume of Thousand Autumns: Qian Qiu, a xianxia set in alternative 7th century China, picks up where the previous left, at the banquet where stunning revelations have ruined the party. Battle after battle ensues, barely giving the reader time to adjust. In the end, Shen Qiao has to step in to save the night and reveal who he is.

Pace calms a little after that, but not by much. The narrative is much tighter than in the first volume. The politics of the backstory have been set aside, the cast of characters is smaller, and Shen Qiao has a clear goal: finding his treacherous friend who poisoned him. He parts ways with Yan Wushi, only to have the man return in his life in a most unfortunate manner possible.

It’s clear by now that this isn’t a love story. It’s the story of Shen Qiao’s trials and tribulations. He’s tested time and again, beaten to near death, only to rise back up and grow even stronger. Yan Wushi barely makes an appearance, and there are no scenes from his point of view. But I still read it like a love story, rooting for the pair, only to have my hopes crushed.

Even without a romance, it’s a wonderful story. Shen Qiao is a great character with excellent morals and kind personality. It’s wonderful to follow his journey. Yan Wushi is ever the schemer and it’s difficult to get a hang of him. The volume doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, but there’s a promise of an interesting story to come. And I haven’t given up on Yan Wushi yet—and neither has Shen Qiao. I absolutely have to read more.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads
Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

Thornhedge is a good retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It’s short, but it has everything a story needs: a sweet, resolute heroine and a hero who believes in her, great emotions and a happy ending.

Toadling is born human, but she’s replaced with a changeling right after birth and brought to the fairy land where she grows up being loved. Then, one day, she’s brought back to the human world to keep in rein the changeling who has replaced her. But it’s easier said than done. Out of options, she spells the changeling to sleep for eternity—until a kind knight arrives and frees them both.

This was a quick read that left me feeling happy. Toadling was delightful, and while Halim was a somewhat forceful character who did what he wanted, he learned to listen to her in the end. I don’t think the story improved for being set in the ‘real’ world instead of a fairy tale land though. The historical references tended to yank me out of the story. But if you want a quick, cute read, this is for you.

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

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Ravensong by TJ Klune: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Ravensong by TJ Klune

Ravensong, the second book in Green Creek urban fantasy series continues where the first ended. I’ve wanted to read Gordo’s (and Mark’s) story since then, and it didn’t disappoint.

It wasn’t an easy read though, and I’m not sure I was emotionally in a right place for this book. I almost gave up several times when poor Gordo was put through the wringer over and over again. These wolves are such assholes in how they treat people.

Like the previous book, the narrative consists of short scenes in unchronological order, some important scenes playing out several times. The tight narrative makes it a heavy reading when there are no breathers, only important scenes.

But I’m glad I persevered to the end, because it’s good. It’s not a happily ever after—that’s impossible with these wolves—but it’s happy for now. And there’s already a promise of more pain to come. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to read on.

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

Friday, July 28, 2023

Stars of Chaos: Sha Po Lang Vol. 1 by Priest: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Stars of Chaos by Priest

Stars of Chaos is Chinese BL fantasy set in a slightly more modern alt-history Empire than the other books in the genre I’ve read. Westerners (spearheaded by the Pope!) have established trading and diplomatic relations with the Empire, and there’s new, exciting steam technology powered by violet gold. There are airships—with kites instead of balloons—and automatons among other things. The army especially makes use of these inventions, keeping the Empire powerful. But everyone covets the violet gold, making it worth wars and treachery.

Chang Geng is thirteen when barbaric northerners invade his small rural town, breaking a peace that’s lasted fourteen years, to stop the Empire draining their huge reserves of violet gold. But their presence in his town isn’t random: they want Chang Geng.

Turns out, Chang Geng’s life has been a lie, and he’s a more important person than he thought. Not that he believes a word of it, a great cause of internal conflict for him. But even worse is to learn that his godfatherso elected because he once saved Chang Geng’s lifeisn’t who he’s claimed to be either.

Chang Geng is whisked off to the Empire’s capital to live with his godfather there. The story follows the pair trying to come to terms with their new life as a family. Gu Yuo is utterly unsuitable for a father figure; he’s too young and selfish, and he’s mostly absent with the army anyway. But when, at fifteen, Chang Geng tests his limits by setting off to see the world, Gu You follows, only for the pair to stumble on a coup.

The story is advertised as a boylove romance, and it’ll likely head there eventually. In this first volume, Chang Geng rather abruptly becomes aware of his feelings for his godfather, a cause of great agony for him. Gu Yuo, however, sees him only as a child, and isn’t interested in men anyway. He has his own troubles to deal with, issues that he hasn’t shared with Chang Geng, making the boy mistrust him.

Chang Geng and Gu Yuo were interesting characters, more nuanced than in average web novels. The side characters were fun and had a proper role in the story. Narrative was more coherent too, with no internal inconsistencies that so often plague these stories. Either it’s written as a novel and not serialised first, or it’s been properly edited for a book.

I don’t know how many volumes there are in the story, but if each take only a couple of years of their lives, it’ll be a long time before it reaches the romance part. But I’m here for it.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Resonance Surge by Nalini Singh: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Resonance Surge by Nalini Singh

Resonance Surge is already book 7 in Psy-Changeling Trinity series and we’re back in Moscow with bears. Which is as it should be.

Yakov is a laid-back bear-changeling who has inherited the ability to see future from his F-Psy great-grandfather. All his life, he’s seen visions of a woman he knows is his mate. But now the visions have changed and she dies in all of them.

Theodora Marshall is a low gradient Psy and a great disappointment to her brutally ambitious family, especially her grandfather Marshall Hyde, the villain in the original series, now dead. If she weren’t deeply connected with her brilliant twin Pax, she would’ve been killed already as a child. The family has kept them separated and made a use of her as they’ve seen fit.

Now that he’s in charge of the family, Pax sends Theo to Moscow to unravel the family’s dark secrets. Yakov is ordered to be her bodyguard, and the connection that has existed since his childhood brings them fast together. But it turns out that this particular family secret is very personal for Theo.

This was an excellent book, with a good balance between the fun and the mystery. Yakov and Theo made a good couple, even if the romance happened a bit fast. She had a lot going on as she tried to make peace with her past and he was her stalwart support.

There was also a secondary romance, between Yakov’s twin Pavel and E-Psy Arwen Mercant, which has been going on for a couple of books already. It’s a nice, uncomplicated romance, which is probably why it never made its own book. At the beginnings of the chapters, we follow a heart-breaking story from the past during the time the Psy first implemented Silence protocol. And there’s a buildup for Pax’s story, which might end with him becoming the villain of the series—or the saviour.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Golden Terrace vol 1 by Cang Wu Bin Bai: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Golden Terrace vol 1 by Cang Wu Bin Bai

Golden Terrace is Chinese m/m romance set in an imaginary Chinese empire in a distant past. It’s not wuxia/xianxia fantasy; there are no extravagant martial arts scenes, cultivation sects, magic or supernatural elements. It’s historical romance with court intrigue and political machinations.

Fu Shen is a third-generation leader of cavalry troops that have kept the empire safe for decades. At 23, he’s revered and feared. When he is badly injured in an ambush, the emperor seizes the opportunity to order him back to the capital, ostensibly to recuperate, but in reality, it’s to weaken his influence.

For a further measure, the emperor orders Fu Shen to marry a man so that his family line can’t continue. The husband (or wife) to be is Yan Xiaohan, 25, a feared general of the imperial investigator guard that the emperor uses as his secret police. For him, the marriage is yet another step up in his slow path to the top, whereas Fu Shen opposes it. It doesn’t help that the two don’t really get along.

But Fu Shen is in for a surprise when it turns out Yan Xiaohan is determined to look after him in his convalescence. And as he remembers events from their past, he and the reader realise that there is more to Yan Xiaohan than his reputation.

The romance unfurls slowly. Most of the attention is in several mysteries. Fu Shen wants to find out who organised the ambush and why. Yan Xiaohan has to investigate odd deaths in rivalling imperial troops, a mystery that seems to implicate Fu Shen. And at the background there’s court intrigue and machinations of an emperor who isn’t ready to die just yet.

The mysteries didn’t always follow logic or make sense to a western reader. The bad guys sprang from nowhere and the actions and investigations seemed rather random. There were side characters that went unused as plot devices, like Fu Shen’s sister, the wife of a prince, who made a brief appearance, never to be mentioned again. And the romance seemed to happen behind the scenes. The reader had an impression a lot had taken place behind the closed doors, only to learn at the end that the marriage hadn’t even been consummated yet.

I had some issues with the translation as well, especially when it came to indicating the speakers. At times it was really difficult to figure out who was acting or thinking and who was the object of action when only the pronoun he was used for both in the same sentence and paragraph. I dont know if the same happens in the original text, but the translator could have used given names at several places to make the narrative clearer. 

Nevertheless, the story and the main characters were compelling, and the atmosphere and the historical setting were interesting enough to make this a pleasurable read that I found difficult to put down, transforming a three-star read to a five-star one. The first volume ends at a natural point without a cliffhanger. I’ll definitely read more.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Three Oaths by Josh Reynolds: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Three Oaths by Josh Reynolds

Three Oaths is the fourth Daidoji Shin mystery set in the Legend of Five Rings game world. It’s an Asia inspired historical world where same sex marriages are allowed and women can become army generals, samurais, and sumo wrestlers. Like with the earlier books, knowledge of the game isn’t at all necessary, as the game doesn’t play any role in the series. There is some continuity between the books, and the characters and settings will be more interesting if one has read the earlier books, but its not entirely necessary.  

The powerful Lion clan in the City of the Rich Frog is preparing for a wedding. But Lady Minami (whom we met in the first book) believes the groom isn’t who he claims to be, and she asks Shin, the no-good trade envoy of the Crane clan turned theatre owner to investigate. He agrees, on a condition that he’s allowed to plan the wedding too. She’s more than happy to let him.

The mystery reminded me of The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davies, a true 16th century account of a man convincing the entire family and village of his presumed wife that he was the husband who had abandoned her ten years earlier, only to be thwarted by the return of the real husband. Here, Itagawa Mosu has been taken captive by the pirates, only to return as a broken and altered man to claim his role as the groom to the powerful Akodo family. Some people are happy to believe he is who he claims to be, others are less so.

Shin soon discovers that there is more to the mystery than the true identity of the groom. There is a conspiracy afoot, but by whom and to what end. This and the wedding preparations keep him, his bodyguard Kasami, and manservant Kitano busy. Like before, the solution isn’t so much about justice as it is about compassion and avoiding a clan war.

This was again a slow and meandering mystery where the people Shin encounters are at front. Most of the book is from Shin’s point of view, with some chapters by Kasami and Kitano, but we don’t get the other players’ points of view this time round, which was for the better. Shin and Kasami spent most of the book in different locations, so we were robbed of their banter, but a bodyguard borrowed by Lady Minami proved to be a suitable replacement.

The wedding preparations are easily as diverting as the mystery itself, and on top of it, there’s personal trouble brewing for Shin in the form of the accountant sent by his powerful grandfather. It may be that Shin’s carefree days as a bachelor are over. I’m looking forward to finding out how he wiggles himself out of it this time, or if he is saddled with a wife or a husband. I’m hoping for a handsome Dragon lord myself.

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

Friday, June 30, 2023

Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs

Soul Taken is the 13th book in Mercy Thompson series. It came out last year and is being reissued so I got a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It had been a while since I read the previous book, but I caught up pretty fast on who was who and what was going on. Wolfe, the insane vampire who has been stalking Mercy goes missing and Mercy and the wolf pack are issued an order to find him. But things aren’t what they seem and she realises pretty fast that it’s the other vampires that need finding. Wolfe, on the other hand, is in much greater peril.

A centuries-old possessed weapon has found its way to Tri-Cities and whoever is wielding it is killing people who possess a little magic. And now it wants Mercy.

This seemed a shorter book than usually. The book had barely gotten on the way when we were already facing the final battle. There were all sorts of side plots going on, like Sherwood finally figuring out who he is—a huge surprise there—which threatens the pack dynamic. But everything was interesting and held my attention well like always.

The final battle was shorter and less destructive than usually. I like how Mercy isn’t all powerful, even if she yet again managed to win against great odds. I must say though, that at this point in the series, the battles aren’t as interesting as the family and pack stuff—probably why the book was balanced towards the latter. Still, I’ll continue with the series, if for nothing else then to find out what’s going on with Samuel.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Poison River by Josh Reynolds: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Poison River by Josh Reynolds

Poison River, the first Daidoji Shin Mystery, is set in the Legend of Five Rings RPG world. It’s a mixture of Asian cultures, mostly Japanese Samurai culture, set in some imaginary historical period. In the game, there are dragons, and kaijus that threaten the society, but that wasn’t even mentioned here and there was only a hint of fantasy. I wasn’t familiar with the game world before reading, but it didn’t matter. The world was suitably Asian to feel different and western enough to be understandable.

The main character, Daidoji Shin, is an unrepentant wastrel of an important Crane clan sent to the City of the Rich Frog as a penance. He’s supposed to watch over the clan’s interests in a place where they don’t really have any clout so he can’t muck things up too badly. He’s happy to spend his time in various entertainments, much to the annoyance of his bodyguard Kasami.

Then the governor gives Shin a job. He’s to find out who poisoned a shipment of rice and prevent a war between clans if at all possible. He sets eagerly out to work and finds himself enjoying solving the mystery. It isn’t a complicated one, and the reader knows from the start who the players are, as they are given their own point of view chapters. Only the mastermind is kept hidden, and even that it isn’t all that great a mystery. The solution, when Shin reaches it, isn’t so much about justice as it is about keeping peace.

This is the kind of mystery I currently enjoy, set in a strange culture that makes both the crime and solving it feel fresh and unique. The story took a roundabout way to get to the truth, and it was slow at times, but it kept my interest from start to finish.

The worldbuilding was rich, with interesting details that felt authentic even if they weren’t. Writing was good and nothing gave to understand this was merely gameworld merchandise. Shin was a great character, seemingly lazy but with sharp mind, who was happy to gather useful people—and a theatre troupe. I’d be happy to read more about Shin and his mysteries.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Translation State by Ann Leckie: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Translation State by Ann Leckie

Translation State is another brilliant addition to Imperial Radch series. It has a less complicated plot than the others, touching the lives of three people—two of them profoundly. But it asks what it is to be human, a question that gets a whole new meaning in a universe where all kinds of beings claim the word for the sake of the treaty with the terrifying Presgr. By stating that everyone has the right to decide for themselves, the book stays true to the inclusive heart of the series.

Enae has been given a task to find a Presgr Translator who disappeared two centuries ago, a fool’s errand until sie succeeds. Reet knows he’s a human, even if he’s not exactly genetically like the other humans. Learning that this isn’t the case, and that in order to survive, he will have to become someone else, isn’t easy for him.

Presgr Translators are genetic constructions the Presgr have created to communicate with humans. Qven is being grown to become a Translator once they are an Adult, which requires merging their being with another of their kind. But they’re terrified of it. So when Reet is thrown in their way, claiming that he’s a human, they also want to become one.

Their demand creates a diplomatic problem that involves several spieces and the intelligent ships with their ancilliaries who also want to be recognised as human. But before a solution can be found, the Translators demonstrate just what in their genetic mix comes from the Presgr.

This was kind of a slow story, but constantly interesting enought that it didn’t become boring. Enae could’ve been a pitiful person, but sie found hir strength. Reet with his search of connection like any orphan was very relatable. Qven was the most alien of the three, and also most complicated. It was an interesting choice to have their chapters in first person point of view (others were in third), as it emphasised their individuality among their kind. All three wanted to belong somewhere and with someone, and in the end they succeeded.

The universe becomes larger and more colourful with every book. There weren’t any complicated point of view chapters where a ship would observe several scenes simultaneously, so the narrative was easier to follow. We still don’t know what the Presgr are, but maybe they’re some kind of dimensional beings that exist in all places and times simultaneously. I’m looking forward to learning more.

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