Thursday, June 01, 2023

Heaven Official's Blessing Vol. 6 by Mò Xiāng Tóng Xiù: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Heaven Official's Blessing by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu

The story of Xie Lian, the trice-ascended god, and Hua Cheng, the king of ghosts, continues where it left in the previous volume. They’re in the ghost realm, striving to reach the volcano where the ghosts will battle over who will emerge as the ghost supreme. Their job is to prevent anyone from becoming one.

Their journey takes them inside a system of caves that turns out to be Hua Cheng’s old lair. There, finally, Xie Lian learns just how far in the past their connection reaches. Nan Feng and Fu Yao (now in their true forms) are determined to keep the two apart, but they only manage to make Xie Lian declare his feelings for Hua Cheng in one of the sweetest scenes of the series so far.

But opposing force is at work too. White No-Face, who Xie Lian fears more than anything, shows up. Despite all their efforts, he reaches the volcano, and the final battle commences. But the combatants aren’t who Xie Lian thought they would be.

The rest of the volume takes place in the past. We learn why Xie Lian fears White No-Face, and it’s a tragic and heartbreaking story. Xie Lian is on the run with his parents and attendants, the future gods Mu Qing and Feng Xin, after the fall of Xianle. Things are dire and Xie Lian becomes more and more disillusioned with people around him who he’s worked so hard to protect.

When Xie Lian is at his lowest point, White No-Face appears. It’s a story of mental manipulation and physical torture, and it works. Reader follows in disbelief as Xie Lian sheds his godhood to become an instrument of avenge.

But there are small things around him trying to make him see the good in the world. A compassionate human, and a persistent ghost determined to make him remember who he is. But White No-Face is too powerful, and they might be too late.

This was one of the best volumes so far with true tragedy and growth. And for once, it didnt end in the middle of a scene or at cliffhanger but with a new beginning for Xie Lian. But the present-day battle inside the volcano is yet to come. It’ll be an agony to wait for the next volume to be translated.



Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Maiden of the Needle, Vol. 1 by Zeroki: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Maiden of the Needle by Zeroki

Maiden of the Needle is a Japanese light novel. A Tokyo woman finds herself reincarnated as a baby in a world with fairies and magic, with all the memories of her previous life. Yui’s new family has the unique ability to weave magic into clothes, but when it turns out she doesn’t have the ability, the family treats her like a slave.

At fifteen, Yui is sold to a man who is hated by her family. But he turns out to be a nice person and under his care she thrives and she’s finally able to show how skilled she is both as a seamstress and as a wielder of magic. Fearing for her safety, he instantly betroths her to the former king who can protect her.

This was a typical transmigration novel. The world is non-Japanese and organized like a video game, which Yui soon realizes. There are also elements of hero tropes, with labyrinths and the final boss that needs to be defeated. The bad guys are truly evil and good people are purely good. And the heroine turns out to be unique in her abilities and the saviour of the realm.

The story was light but interesting, and not in any way unique. Like most books in this genre, the narrative relied heavily on telling and was a bit all over the place, though I’ve read worse. The entire backstory is given in the first chapter, with random infodumps at odd times. Most of the book is from Yui’s first-person point of view, with occasional third person POVs by other characters.

The first volume has no romantic plot. Yui is fifteen, which apparently isn’t too young to become engaged. Her fiancée is in his fifties, which would’ve been grosswas a bit grossbut he gives to understand that the marriage will be in name only. All the other potential romantic interests already have their partners.

Unlike most light novels I’ve read, the first volume doesn’t end in a cliffhanger. It does set the story for the next volume though, and it sounds interesting enough to continue reading.

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

Monday, May 15, 2023

Shanghai Immortal by A.Y. Chao: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Shanghai Immortal by A.Y. Chao

Shanghai Immortal is Asian fantasy set in 1930s Shanghai and its counterpart, Immortal Shanghai, where the demon king Big Wang rules over ghosts and demons. Lady Jing is his ward, a half-vampire, half-fox spirit with anger management issues. Her hundredth birthday is coming up and with that she’ll finally take her place in the council governing the otherworld. Only, she doesn’t want to.

Neither does her maternal grandmother, the queen of fox spirits. She failed to kill Jing when she was a child and she’ll do everything to stop Jing now. But Jing is onto her plot. If only she could make Big Wang believe her instead of being sent to the human Shanghai like a rebellious child, with a human man who owes Big Wang a favour.

This debut novel was a good try. A good try at fantasy, a good try at historical novel, and a good try at romance. None of it really worked though, and the result was a mishmash with a hasty feel and no proper plot.

The Asian elements didn’t feel entirely Asian, as Jing was such an independent spirit who didn’t respect anything or anyone, and because the beings of Chinese folklore were made to behave like ordinary humans with no clues to what they were, Jings blood drinking aside. The historical elements of mortal Shanghai consisted of trivial facts with a lot of American things in the mix that made them feel inauthentic even if they had been genuine. And the romance was very unromantic. Partly it was because Mr Lee was a boring character, but mostly it was because of Jing.

This is marketed as an adult fantasy and Jing is turning a hundred. But she behavesand is being treatedlike a sixteen-year-old who’s never seen a man or heard of sex. It wasn’t cute; it was just aggravating. No matter how sheltered a person has lived, they’ve learned everything there is to know about human relations and everything else besides in a century. But Jing showed no signs of a life lived.

Making her behave like a clueless twit ruined the romance and didn’t do any favours for the book either. If you want an adult heroine, make her behave like one. Basically, this reads like a young adult fantasy with all the tropes that go with it, so treat it as such.

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

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki's Conjecture by Mikage Sawamura: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki's Conjecture by Mikage Sawamura

Associate Professor Akira Takatsuki's Conjecture is a Japanese light novel set in a university in present day Tokyo. Naoya Fukamachi is a first-year student trying to figure out college life and what he wants to study. What he doesn’t want are activity clubs and friends. If at all possible, he would stay away from people completely.

Naoya has a unique ability to hear lies. It’s a distortion of sound that is painful for him, so much so that if many people lie around him, he might faint. To survive, he hasn’t a single friend, and even casual acquaintances are upsetting, because he doesn’t want to know when they lie. Large lecture halls are a nightmare.

But they can’t be avoided. On a whimor so he tells himselfhe attends a course on folklore that specializes in urban legends, ghost stories, and strange phenomena. It’s held by professor Akira Takatsuki whose enthusiasm for his topic keeps the students glued to their seatsor it’s because he’s very handsome.

For extra credit, Naoya submits a story of a strange event that happened to him, and even though he doesn’t tell everything, Professor Takatsuki knows it’s real. He’s an eccentric person who gets excited fast, and so he decides to make Naoya his assistant, mostly because Naoya has common sense the professor lacks and can read maps. And then he learns about Naoya’s ability and it turns out that the professor has a similar story in his past.

The book consists of three cases the pair investigate. There’s a haunted house, a curse, and a girl who has been spirited away. They’re fun stories, though not particularly difficult to solve, with some exciting action too. And they are good windows to Japanese society and folklore. A lot of folklore. The author is either a folklorist himself, or a true enthusiast. Occasionally the book reads like lecture notes, but everything is always interestingat least for a historian like me.

But the main mystery remains unsolved for now. What happened to Naoya and the professor when they were children. Were they genuine supernatural events or something more mundane. What they know is that both have been permanently altered because of it.

This was a good start for a series. The cases were complete and the book ends at a natural point and not with a cliffhanger. Naoya and Takatsuki were great characters and complete opposites of each other; the teacher student dynamic was occasionally upside down, which probably doesn’t translate well to western readers. For a light novel, the story had a more mature feel than I usually associate with them, and it reads more like a paranormal cozy mystery than a young adult novel. I’d very much like to read more and I hope the rest of the seven volumes are translated too.

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

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation vol 5 by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation by MoXiang Tong Xiu

The English translation of Chinese boylove cultivation fantasy, Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, is now complete with the fifth volume. It’s been a fun journey of friendship, betrayal, and love. Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangi went through literal death before they were able to love in peace.

The last volume had the final battle with Jin Guangyao that takes the remaining of the story. We learn about his motives, which actually made him a slightly more sympathetic character, and also who set Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangi on the path of uncovering him, which offered a surprise. And we have the happy ending we’ve hoped for, although if that had been the ending of the book, it would’ve been slightly unsatisfactory with its briefness.

Luckily, we get more. The main story took about third of the special edition. The rest consisted of eight longish stories about the life of Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangi in their happily ever after. They were fun and very smutty, as Lan Wangi turned out to be not only insatiable but also to possess a great stamina. There are also a couple of before stories, one about Jin Guangyao even. I loved reading how the two had a normal, if not entirely calm life.

There were some complaints about the quality of translation when the first volume came out. Even I noticed some odd word choices, but those were gone by the last volume. Nothing had been done to the narrative inconsistencies though, that likely stem from the original webstory form. Timeline was occasionally all over the place and characters repeated actions like sitting without standing up in between. But these were small things that didn’t bother me as much as they might have if the story hadn’t captivated me.

I’m not sad that this is the end. The short stories were perfect in showing how the two live happily ever after and that’s how I like to imagine them. I very likely often will.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Remnants of Filth by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Remnants of Filth by Rou Bao Bu Chi Rou

Remnants of Filth is Chinese xianxia m/m (or danmei) fantasy set in some imaginary, distant past. A war between two countries, the empire of Chonghua that cultivates following the good path and kingdom of Liao that follows demonic path, has just ended. As a peace offering, Liao has returned Gu Mang, a once respected general of Chonghua who defected to their side and is now hated more than anyone, as a prisoner of war.

Mo Xi, a nobleman and a highly valued general of Chonghua, returns home from the war with one purpose: confronting Gu Mang and demanding answers. He’s not interested in why Gu Mang defected. He basically knows, though not why he chose Liao. He wants to know if Gu Mang ever truly loved him like he loved Gu Mang. But to his utter dismay and anger, the demonic cultivators of Liao have destroyed Gu Mang’s mind before sending him back.

The book starts in a roundabout way and takes a moment to get going. It follows mostly Mo Xi who is desperate to find the truth about Gu Mang and have a closure, only to be denied. Making his task more difficult is his need to keep everything secret. Gay relationships are frowned at in general and making matters worse is that Gu Mang is a slave. Mo Xi is a determined person who is perceived as cold and pure, but the reader is shown a passionate, angry, and highly compassionate man. He knows he should hate Gu Mang, but he can’t help trying to save him.

We don’t get Gu Mang’s side and we only get glimpses of him as he used to be in Mo Xi’s memories, a lighthearted, volatile person who is desperate to survive. He’s a pitiful creature now, believing he’s a wolf, forced to be a prostitute as a punishment by his owner Murong Lian, and constantly tortured to learn the secrets of Liao.

Then, in a burst of demonic energy, Gu Mang escapes. The story turns into a murder mystery and a hunt for an elusive killer. Volume one ends at a cliffhanger in the middle of a scene, with nothing resolved. It’s typical of Chinese xianxias, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

This was a sad but not a hopeless story. I felt for Mo Xi and couldn’t help hoping that Gu Mang would return the way he’d been. I will definitely read more.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London takes place in alternative London of 1983; alternative, because magic and magical beings exist, and because post-war Britain has seen greater advancement in women’s rights than the actual Britain, though the only evidence of that is an earlier woman prime minister and a woman detective at the Met.

Susan Arkshaw has turned eighteen and is about to start in an art school in London in the fall. She has the summer to experience the big city after growing up in a farm outside Bath, and find her father that her mother never talks about. The first clue leads her to a man that turns out to be not only a criminal, but not even a human.

This brings her to the attention of an organisation of booksellers, both left and right-handed, that exists to keep the Old World and its creatures in check. But the Old World is curiously interested in Susan, which makes the booksellers suspect that her father might not be a human either. Unfortunately for Susan, it has been the policy of the booksellers to kill such children outright.

Not all booksellers are so old-fashioned though. Helping her are Merlin, a left-handed bookseller and a charming manmost of the timeof nineteen, and his sister Vivian, a right-handed bookseller. Together, they journey through England to find the truth about Susan’s father. Action, adventure and a rather high body count follow.

This was a great book. Susan was a levelheaded young woman who took her new circumstances in a stride. For an art student, however, she was curiously uninterested in expressing herself with art. Only her encyclopedic knowledge of everything from old grandfather clocks to architecture and weapons revealed her hobby, and even then, it might be the narrator’s knowledge. Merlin was a delightful character with his interest in clothes, both men’s and women’s, and he made a good love interest. The booksellers were a fun bunch with their eccentricities and love for books.

Narration was from the third person omniscient point of view, which gave the book a somewhat old-fashioned feel. It also led to some abrupt changes in point of view, but for the most part it worked well. I’m definitely interested in reading more.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Fourth Wing starts The Empyrean series. It’s set in a preindustrial world that’s been divided in two by a war that’s raged for centuries. The kingdom of Navarra is protected by a barrier of magic upheld by dragons against the enemy’s griffins, but the barrier has started to break.

Dragons need riders that are trained in a brutal military academy where the weak are weeded by death. Violet Sorrengail has never thought to follow her older siblings there. She has a frail body and mind best suited to become a scribe. But her mother, the commander of dragon riders, orders otherwise, and so, at twenty, she joins the hopefuls of her age group to try and make it to the academy through a deadly test that’s only the beginning of the torments.

There is an enemy within the academy too. Children of a recent rebellion within Navarra are forced to take the deadly training to become dragon riders in the hopes that the academy will kill them. They all hate Violet as the daughter of the woman who killed their parents. And their leader, Xaden Riorson, is the most powerful wing leader in the academy, and Violet’s commander in the fourth wing.

This is a dark academy type of story that follows Violet’s progression through the military training. There is foul competition to best and friends and allies to gather, and the book doesn’t shy away from killing both. Violet struggles more than most, but she’s cunning and determined, and when she triumphs, she does it with flair.

There’s romance too, a not-so-difficult choice between a childhood friend and the gorgeous and sexy enemy. And since this is adult fantasy, and the author has written steamy contemporary romances before, Violet is a grown woman who goes after what she wants and the sex scenes are graphic and good.

The world is interesting with its dragons that bond with humans. They had very humanlike qualities too, making the reader root for them as much as the humans. The friendships were good, but since people could die at any moment, I didn’t dare to invest in themand had my heart broken anyway. Violet was an excellent character with a good growth arc, and Xaden made a perfect counterpart for her.

The last fifth of the book opens the story to a more epic narrative. There’s an enemy within the enemy that turns the world upside down, and Violet doesn’t know who to trust anymore. The ending leaves everything open, with a bit of a stunner added in the mix. I’m desperate to read more.

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

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Manner of Death vol 1 by Yukari Umemoto & Sammon: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Manner of Death by Yukari Umemoto & Sammon

Manner of Death is a manga adaptation by Yukari Umemoto of an original story and Thai TV series by Sammon. It’s set in a small town in Thailand, where Dr Bun works as a forensic examiner. An apparent suicide of a woman turns out to be a murder, but before he can rule it as one, he’s attacked in his home and ordered to make sure it’s considered a suicide.

Dr Bun won’t let the matter be and people he cares about start disappearing, so he begins his own investigation. His best suspect is Tan, the victim’s boyfriend, who claims he’s innocent and has an alibi. The two team up to investigate, even though Bun doesn’t trust Tan. Despite that, the two end up in bed together. Dr Bun is very much in the closet, which adds to tension between the men.

This was an interesting murder mystery involving mafia. Bun doesn’t know who to trust, and every time he does, he’s betrayed. The reader is taken on an emotional rollercoaster ride with him, with plenty of twists and turns. Things soon get out of his hands, but the volume ends before matters are solved. The story was long as it was, so I didn’t believe it could be stretched to another volume, but I was wrong. At least we know who the killer is, just not how to get Dr Bun out safely.

Dr Bun was an interesting but reserved character, mostly due to having to guard his secret of being gay. Tan was more open and a bit flaky, despite being the dominant in their odd relationship. Even though the two ended up in bed together a bit fast, the relationship with the secrecy and anger felt real. I hope there’s a happy ending for the two, but this was more a murder mystery than a romance, so it can go either way.

The art was black and white and beautiful. Since it’s done by a Japanese artist, it looks and feels Japanese, and only the character names point at Thailand. It makes the story feel more familiar, but I wouldn’t have minded more authentic imagery.

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

Friday, March 31, 2023

The Restorer’s Home Omnibus vol 1 by Kim Sang-yeop: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Restorer's Home by Kim Sang-Yeop

The Restorer’s Home is Korean manhwa that really spoke to my historian’s soul.  Sixteen-year-old Sungwoo Yoo has inherited a traditional Korean mansion from his grandfather and since both his parents are absent, he has to take care of it by himself, with no funds. That’s the smallest of his problems.

As an archeologist, his father was responsible of destroying an ancient tomb and now the spirit of the king buried in therecurrently looking like a ten-year-oldwith his retinue that includes a female bodyguard and a concubine, have moved into his house, wreaking havoc. They need Sungwoo to repair the original tomb, but since that’s not possible, they’re here to stay.

Sungwoo is special. He has an ability to see the spirits of artifacts and determine how he can repair the items to original condition. The story consists of requests of repairing things, each more unique than the other. Some involve his school friends; some are random encounters, and all are delightful, with Korean history added to the mix. The book ends at a cliff-hanger and I’m interested in reading more.

This was a wonderful mix of high-school drama, cartoon antics, and Korean traditions. It doesn’t seem like a combination that should work, but it does, very well. Sungwoo was a great character, caring and self-conscious, and determined to do the right thing. He suffers from being abandoned by his parents, which shows occasionally, but he doesn’t let that make him bitter. His house is filled with ghosts from 1500 years ago, which he takes in a stride, befriending them and all sorts of interesting people along the way.

Illustrations were black and white and good, with great attention paid to the details of the artifacts that were being restored. At times though, the characters looked a bit too much alike, which was slightly annoying.

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Hel’s Eight by Stark Holborn: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Hel's Eight by Stark Holborn

Hel’s Eight is the second novel in Ten Low sci-fi-dystopia-western-paranormal series, a combination that shouldn’t work, but which does, beautifully. The first book, Ten Low, was one of my favourite reads the year it was published.

We return to Factus, a desert moon at the edge of the universe that has resisted all attempts to terraform it. It’s a harsh, dry, airless place populated mostly by former convicts. Societies are violent, water is scarce, and games of chance mean automatic deathby the beings that were there first.

Ten Low is a former army medic trying to atone a massacre she was instrumental in. In the first book, she discovered the Ifs, as they are called, beings of possibilities that live on humans, and the Seekers who have dedicated their lives for them. At the end of the book, she became their mouthpiece.

Where they go, death follows, so Ten has lived five years outside all civilization. But then an old friend/enemy comes asking for help, and the Ifs are pushing her to action too. Reluctantly she agrees.

A businessman wants to harness the Ifs so that he can guarantee a future where he is the ruler of the moon. He believes Ten is Hel, the controller of the Ifs, because she’s able to manipulate the possibilities the Ifs show, so he wants to capture her. Ten knows she’s not Hel, because she knew the woman who was. But the Ifs know differentlyand to become Hel is to die.

The second book was as interesting and good as the first. The world is unique and the atmosphere tense and creepy. But it was a bit more difficult to get the hang of. I had no recollection of the Ifs, and since they weren’t explained in any way here, I’m not sure I understood them correctly. I’m not entirely sure what Hel was either, a leader, prophet or a speaker of the Ifs, or something else. In addition, the title of the book never became clear.

The book is told in Ten’s first-person point of view, but there were additional notes too by Pec Eight Esterhazy who was the previous Hel, as she discovers the Ifs decades before Ten. Ten remained an interesting character struggling with her past and the actions she had to take, including killing people even though she had sworn never to do that. Side characters were a bit distant, but I was invested in them. The ending was good, but maybe a bit hasty and vague, though that could be because the review copy seemed to be missing some scenes. But it leaves the door open for more books. I’m looking forward to reading them.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Thousand Autumns vol 1 by Meng Xi Shi: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Thousand Autumns by Meng Xi Shi

Thousand Autumns is Chinese xianxia fantasy set in three 6th century empires near Yangtse river, one of which lasted thousand autumns. Not being familiar with Chinese history, I can’t say anything about historical accuracy, but since it’s mainly cultivation fantasy with elaborate fight scenes, it doesn’t really matter. However, the plot is more political than in other xianxia I’ve read.

Shen Qiao is the leader of the top ranked Daoist cultivation sect. He and the entire sect have kept themselves secluded from the outside world, but when he’s challenged to a duel by a leading martial artists of a nomadic Turkic tribe, he acceptsonly to lose and almost die.

Yan Wushi is the leader of a demonic cultivation clan (demonic, I understand, is the word used by the translators of xianxia fantasies and not original; mainly it seems to mean here that they’re not followers of Daoism, Buddhism or Confucianism, but their own hedonistic intents). He’s been cultivating in seclusion for ten years and has emerged more powerful than ever. He has a lot of catching up to do, so when he comes across the mangled body of Shen Qiao, he almost leaves him to his fate. But a sparkle of secret cultivation energy in Shen Qiao that Yan Wushi covets makes him change his mind.

Shen Qiao wakes up blind and weak, without memory and any of the cultivation power he’d had. He sets out to make a slow way back to his sect, encountering all sorts of trouble along the way, slowly gaining his memory but not his strength or eyesight. When a hidden scroll about the secret cultivation method emerges, his and Yan Wushi’s paths cross again. The two travel together, with Yan Wushi challenging Shen Qiao to a duel after another so that he can learn the other man’s martial art secrets.

The book description gives to understand that this is a story of an evil man trying to corrupt a good man. There’s certainly a lot of talk about human nature, and Yan Wushi makes a lot of fun of Shen Qiao while trying to make him become his student. But Yan Wushi isn’t nearly as evil as some men they encounter, and Shen Qiao isn’t a paragon of virtue either and is capable and willing to kill when needed. Mostly Yan Wushi is a person who won’t help others until he himself benefits, and Shen Qiao helps everyone regardless of consequences for himself.

It’s also listed as a gay romance, but there isn’t even a hint of that between the men, even if Yan Wushi occasionally teases Shen Qiao by holding his hand. If there is going to be romance, it’ll be in later volumes. The men were very different and there wasn’t much interaction between them, so I’m not sure what kind of romance it would be, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

What this is, is a cultivation adventure with a political undercurrent. There are many players and dynasties in play, most of which are a confusing jumble, but luckily everything is repeated several times. There’s famine and refuges and several wars brewing. Shen Qiao learns that his loss wasn’t due to his lack of skill but political machinations, and Yan Wushi seems to have his own agenda in play. The book ends in a cliffhanger just as things became interesting.

While this wasn’t the book I set out to read, I was well entertained by it. I’m looking forward to reading the next volume.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Missing Piece by Kun Yi Wei Lou: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Missing Piece by Kun Yi Wei Lou

The Missing Piece is m/m romance set in modern China. I don’t know how openly gay one can be in China, but here it seemed to be fairly unproblematic, family disownments aside.

Shen Mo is an art graduate in his early twenties. Due to an accident that he cannot remember, he’s lost his ability to paint. The only thing he remembers with any clarity is that he was saved from homelessness by Ji Mingxuan, a wealthy businessman about his own age.

Mr. Ji is utterly devoted to his sister’s happiness, so much so that when the man she wants turns out to be Shen Mo’s ex-boyfriend, he strikes a deal with Shen Mo. They pretend to be lovers so that the ex and Mr. Ji’s sister can pursue their romance in peace. Out of gratitude, Shen Mo agrees, even though his ex and Miss Ji aren’t even in the same country to witness the fake relationship.

When they return to China, things start to unravel fast. Shen Mo’s memories begin to surface even as Mr. Ji seems to want to make their relationship more real. Inevitably, everything steers towards heartbreak for everyone.

This was the best fake relationship romance I’ve read. The past wasn’t at all what it seemed, and the fake romance wasn’t as fake as Shen Mo believed. Much relied on miscommunication, which normally is my pet peeve, but here it worked perfectly.

Shen Mo started as a tragic character who suffered from memory loss and PTSD and worked towards getting his life back in order. Mr. Ji seemed to be a cold, callous man who only used Shen Mo for sex, but the truth about him was different too. Sex scenes were great throughout.

The main story took about two thirds of the book and had a satisfying HEA ending. The rest consisted of ten longish stories about the past and after the HEA. The best story by far was the first, which told the same story from Mr. Ji’s point of view, but others were interesting too. The book left me happy and wistful and a bit sad at the same time. All in all, a wonderful read.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

I picked up Bitter Medicine thinking it was UF with romance in it, but it was romantic fiction with UF elements. It was also a somewhat odd book, consisting of two uneven parts. First storyline came to a point at around 60% mark. It was ok, even if the romance was very slow-burn with rather odd intimate scenes. If the book had ended there, I might have given it a better rating. Unfortunately, it continued.

The latter part was a meandering mess that didn’t need to be that long; a couple of chapters would’ve sufficed. The conclusion was very unsatisfying. It’s a happily ever after, but at a cost that went against the tropes of fantasy genre, and not in a good way. Kudos for originality, but … no.

Fantasy elements were a mishmash of everything, but mostly western. The description promised xianxia inspired fantasy, but it was inspiration in name only. The main character, Elle, was Chinese, but nothing in her behaviour made me believe it. She was very American in her thoughts and deeds, though incredibly stupid for some reason (she could use a computer but not a smartphone?). For his part, Luc didnt feel very French, and the Catholic elements seemed really odd.

I was especially disappointed with Elles family relations. As a western reader, one thing that makes Asian fiction feel authentic to me, is the idea of duty to one’s family and elders that is very alien to western society. Some lip-service was paid to it here, but in actual dealings with each other, the characters were wholly western. Even the premise was about Elle taking away her brother’s immortalitywithout his consent, I might addso that he could escape doing his duty to his family.

Maybe modern Chinese are more western in this respect, but these characters were over a century old and from the heartland of China. If the characters hadn’t been Chinese, the premise would’ve worked. Now it only irked me. As a whole, the book left me unsatisfied both as a romance and as a fantasy.

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

Monday, March 13, 2023

The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten

The Foxglove King by Hannah Whitten starts The Nightshade Crown series (duology, trilogy, I don’t care, I’ll read it all). The world has lost its gods. Five of them have died and one has disappeared and is now worshipped as the one true god, the god of life.

The body of the goddess of death rests underneath the town of Dellaire, heavily guarded. It’s oozing Mortem, a substance of death that needs to be regularly channeled away from humans so that it won’t kill them. Only the priests of the Presque Mort, people who have briefly died, can do it. And then there’s Lore who was born with the ability.

Lore has kept it a tight secret ever since she accidentally resurrected a dead friend when she was a child, as necromancy means a death sentence. So, when she does it again in a very public way, she’s instantly caught by the Presque Mort. But instead of killing her, the head priest—king’s brother—brings her to court and makes her spy on the crown prince, Bastien.

She’s also tasked with figuring out what’s killing a village after a village of people without a trace. Helping her is Gabriel, a Presque Mort and a former childhood friend of the crown prince. But things aren’t what they seem. Lore has no idea who she can trust or who’s pulling the strings behind the scenes. And the cause for the deaths may hit closer than she could’ve imagined.

This was an excellent book. Told in the point of view of Lore, it instantly drew me into its world. Lore was a great character with conflicting interests and a healthy self-preservation instinct. She wasn’t a simpering YA heroine, and she owned her choices, even the questionable ones.

Gabe and Bastien made excellent counterparts to her. Both had troubled pasts and neither was a black and white character, even though Gabe tended to see the world that way. I’m a bit over triangle dramas and I kept hoping the author would veer the romance towards a threesome, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Fingers crossed that’ll change later.

The world, and especially Mortem, was a bit complicated and I’m not sure even the author always knew what she meant it to do. The court drama and the king’s need to spy on his son seemed far-fetched, but there was a reason for that in the end. I was a bit frustrated at times when Lore was slow to figure out things the author all but spelled out to readers, but not so much it would’ve marred my enjoyment. The great showdown that everything built towards came and went a bit fast, but it laid ground for the next book. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Frontier by Grace Curtis: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Frontier by Grace Curtis

Frontier is set in the 29th century Earth. It’s a dry, desolate place that most humanity abandoned several centuries ago to conquer the space. Only a small fraction remained, a religious sect called Gaians who believe in the divinity of goddess Earth. No technology newer than 21st century (for some reason) is allowed and even the talk of space is sin.

Noelle, a scientist, wants to visit earth, the first time in three centuries, for humanitarian and other ideological reasons. With her as a security is Kei, a former army captain who has resigned from her post after a massacre. A romance forms between the women during the six-month travel through space. When they finally reach Earth, everything goes wrong. That’s where the book begins.

Stranger finds herself in a frontier town. She has no idea where she is, but she needs to find someone. For that she needs a communicator. But in the technology averse world, those don’t exist. So she travels, rather randomly, towards the only city where one might exist. On her way, she encounters people who either help her or try to kill her. She changes from Stranger to Courier to Darling, with no name of her own that she would introduce herself with, and no clear indication who she’s looking for, other than her love.

The book consists of encounters that are almost short stories from various points of view. Reader gets a good idea of what the life on Earth, or at least in that small part of it, is like. Some encounters remain one-off, some people appear again just when they’re needed. We don’t get the backstory of the main character until after the half-point, and only then does she get a name and we learn who she’s looking for.

This was a good story, easy to read and interesting. The atmosphere was a bit gloomy, and the main character remained distant, even in the chapters told from her point of view, thanks to the odd decision to not name her or give her any backstory until after the half-pointodd, because the MC really didn’t seem poetic enough to think of herself in terms other than her name. From then on, the book came to life in a whole new way, and Kei became a real person.

The world was interesting, a good combination of space travel and dystopian. But I wasn’t entirely convinced of the logic of the life on Earth. There was no new technology, and everyone seemed to be living on what they grew or scavenged, but there was petrol for 21st century carsstill in use several centuries laterand fabrics for clothes, for example. Only printed books existed, even though people didn’t leave earth until the 24th centurythough it was interesting to think that Alexander Dumas and Jane Austen were still read a thousand years after their books were first published. And in three centuries, no one had rebelled and started creating technology that would make life better for everyone. An outsider was needed to save them from the ill-effects of their religion.

I didn’t feel the romance between Kei and Noelle either. They were an uneven pair, and it seemed Noelle only spent time with Kei because there were no other options. For her part, Kei’s devotion to Noelle fit her single-minded character, but not so much that it made a believable character motivation. There was the massacre she felt guilty about; saving her crew to atone herself would’ve been a much stronger reason. Now it went completely unused other than in her reluctance to kill people.

Despite my misgivings, I enjoyed the book. For a debut, it was excellent. It’s a stand-alone with a satisfying ending, but I wouldn’t mind reading more about Kei.

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Villains Are Destined to Die vol 1 by Gwon Gyeoeul & SUOL: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Villains Are Destined to Die by Gwon Gyeoeul & SUOL

Villains Are Destined to Die is a transmigration manga where the MC is transported to the game she’s been playing. In the easy mode, she was the heroine winning over the affections of all the men around her. In the hard mode, as Penelope, she dies over and over again, and everyone hates her. Before the player manages to crack the hard mode, she finds herself as Penelope, desperately trying to survive.

This was an excellent story. At first, I was leery of a game where the goal was to win male characters’ affection, but the story turned out to be much darker than these light novels usually are. There was also greater integration between the MC’s backstory and current life than is usual in transmigration stories. I haven’t read the books by Gwon Gyeoeul the manga is based on, but I have a notion the MC deals with her own trauma as the story progresses.

Both Penelope and the person playing her are orphans brought into a rich family, with two older brothers that hate her and a cold, distant father. In her real life, she’d just escaped to an independent life at the university, and now she has to live similar life in a game. The game controls are visible, showing her progress. The only thing missing is the reset button, which she discovers to her horror when she tries to die to get a do-over.

In the first volume, Penelope makes some progress in settling into her new life. It ends with her gaining some affection from four of the five male leads, but she’s a long way from reaching 100%. The fifth guy will show up in the next volume. I’ll be interested in reading more.

The illustrations by SUOL were full colour and beautiful, with the past life depicted in black and white. They were enjoyable to look at and added greatly to the reading experience. Translation was very good.

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

Conquer the Kingdom by Jennifer Estep: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Conquer the Kingdom by Jennifer Estep

Conquer the Kingdom ends the Gargoyle Queen trilogy, the spin-off of the Crown of Shards trilogy. It had been a while since I read the previous book, but the author brought me right up to speed and I had no trouble following.

Milo, the enemy crown prince, is on the run and Gemma, the princess turned spy, is trying to find him. Failing that, she lures him to her kingdom—but he has a trap of his own. Gemma is forced to truly connect with her magic and her darling gargoyles if she hopes to defeat him.

I enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and the stakes were high. Gemma’s romance with Leonidas was satisfying and the side characters held their own, even if Gemma overshadowed them in the first person narrative.

The book had a good ending, but it seems the author isn’t done with the world and there is one more queen in the making. Looking forward to reading about her.

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Dead Country by Max Gladstone: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Tara Abernathy is back in Dead Country, a new Craft Sequence book that starts the Craft Wars trilogy. She’s returning home to bury her father she hasn’t seen since she was driven away from her village with pitchforks. It’s not a happy homecoming, but she’s not planning to stay.

Fate has other plans. The village is in Badlands and under siege by undead people affected by a curse. Half out of duty, half out of defiance, Tara decides to save the village. It would be easier if she weren’t affected by the curse herself.

Helping her are her new apprentice, Dawn, whom she’s saved from the cursed raiders, and Connor, a childhood friend who might become more. Dawn is talented, filled with the need to learn, and infinitely angry. Not a good combination when they face an enemy neither them had believed possible.

This was an excellent start for a trilogy that will take the series to a new direction. It’s not like the previous books in the series, which had a complicated mystery at their core that were solved with Craft. This is about family, trauma and forgiveness. It’s not quite as exciting or mind-boggling as the original series, but enjoyable. The Craft isn’t very complicated, so people new to the series might be able to enjoy the book too, but it’s best read after the original series.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Magician’s Daughter by H. G. Parry: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Magician's Daughter by H. G. Parry

The Magician’s Daughter is a fantasy growth story set in the early 20th century England and Ireland. World has been filled with magic wielded by mages for the benefit of ordinary people who don’t quite know it exists, though it doesn’t seem to be a secret as such. But for the past seventy years it’s been all but gone, after the cracks in the universe through which it had seeped in closed.

Biddy is almost seventeen and all she’s ever known is a tiny island where she lives with her guardian Rowan, a mage, and his rabbit familiar Hutch. She’s happy but restless, longing to see the world. But more than that, she longs for magic that Rowan scraps from all over the country, but she’s an ordinary person. The island is shielded by strong magic (though how, since the magic is gone, isn’t explained), and Biddy knows it’s to keep them safe. She just doesn’t know from what. Until she does.

Rowan has been hiding from the mages for seventy years (mages age slower and he seems maybe forty), but now they’ve found him. To prevent them from finding the island too, he and Biddy go on offensive that brings them to London and puts Biddy in danger. His enemies come after her and even allies can’t be trusted.

Biddy holds the key to the return of magic inside her. Problem is, the person who put it there doesn’t remember doing it. So, it’s up to her to save the day.

This was an excellent story, compact and complete. Biddy was a wonderful heroine who longed for a great destiny she’d read in books, but who comes realise that world isn’t quite as black and white as in them. Perhaps the best part of the book was how she came to question everything she knows about Rowan, understand that even parents make mistakes, and learn to trust him anew.

Since this was a growth story, the book doesn’t end when the action does. It ends when Biddy has come to a solution about her life, whether to stay on the island or enter the greater world. It made for a longish ending, but it was justified and satisfying. All in all, a great read.

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

Sunday, February 19, 2023

City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer

City of Nightmares is set into an alt-history world of maybe early twentieth century. For a hundred years, peoples’ nightmares have come to life, changing the person to their worst fears. Some become murderous, some live their lives as before, with altered looks.

Nineteen-year-old Ness lives in Newham, hiding among a ‘cult’ that offers therapy for people suffering from the consequences of nightmares. She’s afraid of all of them, to the extent that she becomes completely paralyzed by fear. But nightmares aren’t the only frightening things in Newham, which is run by mobsters and corrupt people who kidnap children to feed them to monsters, among other things.

Her life changes when a boat she’s on explodes and she’s saved by a young vampire man. Not only is she forced to trust him, in the aftermath she starts to question the safe haven she’s been living in. Little by little, she sheds her fears, so much so that when the worst monsters come at her, she’s able to face them with courage.

The book started a bit slowly and it wasn’t very compelling, but it picked up pace towards the end. The assassination plot didn’t make any sense even after it was explained, but luckily it wasn’t the main focus. That was Ness and her fears. Her transformation was believable at first, but then her fears were wiped away with a kind of deus ex machina solution that came out of blue, as her ability to lucid dreaming wasn’t used anywhere else.

Ness was a good character, but at no point did I believe she was an adult, as her inner life and behaviour were more suitable for a fourteen-year-old. Side characters didn’t really come to life, though I liked Cy.

My biggest problem was with the setting, which was a confusing mess. I thought at first that the book took place in 1930s, with Bakelite phones being the height of modernity, but then there were TVs everywhere. I thought Newham was somewhere in the US, but then there was the bit about annexing Sweden, which doesn’t make geographical sense. In the end, I just imagined it was a secondary world and ignored the odd bits.

This was a start of a series, but it has a good conclusion and the book can be read as a standalone. There were enough open questions left, but I’m not curious enough about them to read more.

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