New Release: QUEEN OF INDEPENDENCE by Karen Frances

QUEEN OF INDEPENDENCE by Karen Frances
for the benefit of the Karen Frances Literacy Foundation

Cover Design ➩ Kari March Designs

Get it here:
Amazon US | UK | CA | AU

Add Queen of Independence to your TBR: Goodreads

Synopsis

Most people see Amelia Campbell as a socialite party girl.

But beneath the frivolity of her public persona, she is the driving force behind a serious charity fundraising portfolio.

Beautiful and intelligent, romance isn’t high on the list as she enjoys her life of independence. With friends in royal circles, her influence and connection to events are always in high demand.

However, while pairing up with the Scottish government in a joint fundraising initiative, Harry Donaldson, the First Minister uncovers a secret that has the potential to rock the UK establishment. This secret poses a question that could threaten Amelia’s existence as she knows it.

With a referendum on Scottish independence looming, Harry, seeing an ideal opportunity to shake the foundations of the UK government, should the vote land in his favour, he will do anything to make this happen.

When Harry enlists the help of bodyguard Liam McKenna to guard his asset, the plot thickens further when Liam uncovers the truth behind Harry’s real intentions.



About the Author

Karen Frances was a much-beloved member of our book community who fell ill and passed away earlier this year.

At the time of her passing, she was in the final stages of completing this story. With the assistance of her editor and her husband, this novel was completed with much respect & love.

It is her husband’s hope with the proceeds of this release, along with her backlist, to keep Karen’s memory alive by creating the Karen Frances Literary Foundation in her honor to assist future authors realize their dream of publishing.

KAREN FRANCES LITERARY FOUNDATION

Facebook Author Page: https://bit.ly/3yp016y
Goodreads Author Page: https://bit.ly/3oTv0UY
Instagram: https://bit.ly/3s4P1Kl
Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/3F14qir
Bookbub Author Page: https://bit.ly/3dSVrEc

Daughter of the Moon Goddess (The Celestial Kingdom Duology #1) by Sue Lynn Tan

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. Also, if you follow the Bookshop.org links, I may earn a commission from them, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Published on: 11 January 2022 (US) / 20 Jan 2022 (UK)
Published by: HarperVoyager
Type: duology
Genre: Fantasy Fiction, Asian Myth, and Legends,
Author: Sue Lynn Tan
Book Length: 512 pages hardback
Read: 11 January 2022
Shelved: 14 January 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Support Independent Bookstores!
Bookshop.org US | UK
Books-A-Million book | audio
IndieBound | Indigo CA | libro.fm

Other retailers:
AMAZON US | CA | AU | UK
Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Waterstone | Harper Collins | Google Play

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!


Synopsis

A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm.​

Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing the elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.

Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.

To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies. However, when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom—she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream, striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology, which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic, of loss and sacrifice—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.


Review

Daughter Of The Moon Goddess is the retelling of Chang’e and Houyu’s epic love story after Chang’e takes the immortal elixir and ascends to the moon to become the Moon Goddess. The author gives readers an alternative reason why Chang’e drank the elixir with much remorse and left Houyu – a more realistic and valid reason, as readers will see. All because of the survival of Xingyin, their daughter. 

The story is from Xingyin’s POV and explores her journey to discovering her past and finding a way to free her mother’s imprisonment. Her journey of self-discovery, self-enlightenment, and self-worth will take her from one end of the celestial world to down to the mortal world in finding a way to free her mother from being bound to the moon.

Top 5 Reasons to read Daughter Of The Moon Goddess.


1. Great World-Building and spectacular views

There is so much research on history, myth, and imagery in each scene – from elaborate architecture to intricate costumes and scenes! There is so much color and richness in the chapters that it was impossible NOT feel the importance and intensity of the scenes! I.e., Walking through an osmanthus forest, trekking through Eternal Spring Forest, or entering a cave in Shadow Peak – each location is unique in its purpose and beauty. 

This book is so engaging that readers will bury themselves into this book until the end.

My head began to throb at the bewildering assortment of items. Over a dozen teapots in varying sizes, of clay, porcelain and jade. A large tray was crammed with jars of tea leaves: bacak oolong curls, pearls of jasmine, and leaves of golden-brown and green. In a corner was a pile of bricks and cakes of pressed pu’er. Tiny procelai bowls heaped with dried flowers were lined up beside them. I picked up a few items and lifted them to my nose – earthy and heady, flowery and sweet – the aromas only comfounding me further.

~ Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan

2. Complex and genuine character development

This book is a coming-of-age and self-discovery of Xingyin- about fighting to find herself back to her family and fighting to protect the people she now fights alongside. 

Xingyin was not privy to many things in her quest that made her question her head and heart. There was a lot of twisted deceit that would break any character. Still, maybe because of her naivety, isolation from the rest of the celestial world, plus strong-willed love for her mother, this only made her braver and more resilient when faced with dire situations (and there were a lot in the book). She is wise to use her past mistakes (trusting the wrong person, etc.) to push her to forge other solutions to the problem. 

Plus, this book dives into further exploration of love, hope, despair, and real-life struggles for all the characters, not only the protagonists, and seen in the facial signs written in the scenes, impossible to miss. Yes, even the supposed bad guys have their moments that turned the story 180-degrees or even 360-degrees from what I expected.

Why was it that the times which called for greatest strength were when we were at our weakest? I looked away from him, not from spite, but to hide my tears.

~ Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan

3. Spicy love triangle

Crown Prince Liwei versus Captain Wenzhi 

I can see the “stans” coming on! I love to see two men vying for the right to be Xingyin’s partner! They both pulled out “all the stops” that may be considered crazy and manipulative but also romanticized and swoon-worthy.

Liwei and Wenzhi have their flaws. Both saw their actions as valid (even if despicable), at the cost of ruining their relationship/friendship with Xingyin. It is complex, and although both are similar to a point, their intentions and what they were bound to are very different, which the book explained very well. 

Who will break her heart? Who will deceive her? Who will love her for everything? Who will use her? Those were some of the questions answered in the book, but let us not be too complacent – expect more questions to come at the end.

“When the battle lines are drawn, advance with a clear mind.”

~ Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan

4. Emotional rollercoaster that will pull you apart then put you back together!

What makes this book uber-awesome is the wide range of emotions I went through! It’s like my own coming-of-age story of love, gushing, hate, deceit, despair, selflessness, and redemption moments through Xingyin and even both male protagonists. It was hard not to empathize and feel for all the characters (yes, even the evil ones) because the author does a great job of inserting the right amount of back story to help support the scenes and expected reactions.

“We should appreciate the flower, regardless of its roots.”

~ Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan

5. The unpredictable plot twists 

Balancing familial love versus sovereign love is hard. One is to give way to the other, but if the path forks, how should one decide? Expect the unexpected and be prepared to be surprised at each turn. Trust no one but yourself, but Xingyin had to find this out in the worst ways possible. The twists will wrench your stomach and make you question everything you believe. It will gut you but also bring you back into hope, just when you think you want to give up on Xingyin’s ominous circumstances.

Note: Before I round out this review. I have to mention that the ending was epically beautiful! This book can hold up as a standalone, which is lovely BUT knowing this is a duology, why would you stop here? Most significantly, if you already know that the author would give us dramatic scenes, stellar character, and excellent plot development, it would be sacrilege NOT to follow up on this duology!

“Titles are inherited, talent might be blood-bound, but true greatness lies within.”

~ Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan

As an avid reader of mythology, legends, and folklore, especially Oriental ones, the retellings are always tricky and sometimes most criticized books. It is tough to follow up on a well-loved story since some readers may want to keep the story untouched and as it is, but add that this is a debut novel – even high standards are involved! 

Overall, Daughter of the Moon Goddess IS MY BEST “CUP-0F-TEA” to date! (A great start to my 2022 reading list.) This book really got me! From the intriguing premise, the stunning cover(s), and the promise of what will surely be amazing, I was all in, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT! This book gave me sleepless nights and had me reread, revisit, and reevaluate everything (!) I thought about the folklore. This book delivers above and beyond expectations AND is a beautiful example of how impressional retelling should be:- respectful to the original BUT giving us something new and breathtaking to make you love the story more. 

Daughter of the Moon Goddess is a beautiful ode to Chang’e and Houyi’s epic story that will mesmerize, captivate and enchant readers for years to come!


About the Author

Sue Lynn Tan writes fantasy novels inspired by the myths and legends she fell in love with as a child. Born in Malaysia, she studied in London and France, before settling in Hong Kong with her family.

Her love for stories began with a gift from her father, her first compilation of fairytales from around the world. After devouring every fable she could find in the library, she discovered fantasy books – spending much of her childhood lost in magical worlds.

Her debut, Daughter of the Moon Goddess, will be published by Harper Voyager in January 2022, with a sequel to come. It is an enchanting fantasy of love and family, immortals and magic – inspired by the beloved Chinese legend of Chang’e flying to the moon upon taking the elixir of immortality.

When not writing or reading, she enjoys exploring the many hills, lakes, and temples around her home. She is also grateful to be within reach of bubble tea and spicy food, which she, unfortunately, cannot cook.

She is represented by Naomi Davis of Bookends Literary Agency.

Connect with Sue Lynn
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


She Who Became the Sun (The Radiant Emperor 1) by Shelley Parker-Chan

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. Also, if you follow the Bookshop.org links, I may earn a commission from them, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Published on: 20 July 2021
Published by: Tor Books
Type: duology
Genre: Alternate History Science Fiction, Asian Myth & Legend, Historical Fantasy, LGBTQ+, Historical Drama
Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Book Length: 416 pages
Read: 23 December 2021
Shelved: 05 January 2022
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Support Independent Bookstores!
Bookshop.org (hardback) or (paperback)
Books-A-Million | IndieBound | Indigo CA

Other retailers: Amazon US | UK
Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | MacMillan Publishing | Google Play | Audible | Book Depository | Waterstone

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!

Synopsis

She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attacks orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

Character Pronunciation Guide
Content warnings


Review

Artworks (top to bottom, left to right): Image from the site https://shelleyparkerchan.com/, Fan-art by https://mossillustra.tumblr.com/ and https://twitter.com/_senqin

A rebel with no future learns to seize the future that she wants and deserves.
A warrior who loses his lineage learns to exact his revenge, and justice befell him.
Sacrifices. Honor. Pride. Love.

She Who Became The Sun is an intriguing and mesmerizing take on Asian fantasy history and how far a person will go for survival. A gender-bending, role-reversal protagonist realizes that her limitation is only up to how far her imagination, creativity, and ingenuity can take her. This book is, as advertised, “historical fantasy reimagining of the rise to power of Zhu Yuanzhang,” and I was “so IN” with this!

The book is from a multi-POV of various characters, executed well but may get overwhelming for a reader to absorb if read straight*. The story revolved around the “unintentional conflict” between Ouyang and Zhu Chongba/Zhu – fighting for control/power and becoming Emperor. Although both main characters only meet a handful of times in the book, they seem to consume each other’s thoughts due to pride, mission, and intentions.
* With a busy holiday schedule, reading gaps were often for this book, which is NOT my usual reading sprints. So, I made side notes on each character, which I refer to, which helped me remember and jump back to the book quickly.

I will admit this took me some time to finish. Not because there were other books that I needed to finish earlier than this, but because the pacing is slower with documentation type speed mixed with meaningful conversations inserted. There were moments when the author dragged a particular moment then rushed the ending of that scene, like the battle for Jiankang, wherein concerns were discussed at length (costing many lives), then written it abruptly with minimal details and a quick resolution.

Even with this, I love how the story is very character-led. Each step is from Zhu and Ouyang, seizing their futures with passion and conviction. There may be impossible moments, BUT both characters focus and draw strength to garner their “light” within. It is how humans push through and psych themselves to be resilient in the toughest of times. This part resonates with me, and thus I got deeply invested in these characters after further character exploration. I love how either character changed their fates, controlling their outcomes through sheer determination and wit!

The ending brought about many unexpected twists. Both main characters had to deal with the “obvious,” wherein they are more alike than they realized, even on opposing sides. They are connected beyond the physical realm and have their fates intertwined from the very start. Once Ouyang and Zhus’ connection and fates aligned, their prophecies and predictions became a reality. The last few chapters’ pacing is faster as all the “important pieces” resulted in unexpected consequences.

Although this is a duology, the closure provided in Book 1 is sufficient that it doesn’t count as a “cliffhanger” for me; but instead, it came out as “what’s next.” I like books like this where I am looking forward to the next saga but not overly restless for the sequel. Don’t get me wrong – I cannot wait to see the next book!

Within her she felt a glorious, swelling sense of the future, and all its possiblities. A brief in her fate that shone brighter and brighter until the darkest cracks of herself were split open by light, until there was nothing left inside her but that radiance that was pure desire. She didn’t want greatness. She wanted the world. The breath she took felt like joy.

— She Who Became The Sun, Shelley Parker-Chan

In summary, although She Who Became The Sun was a challenging read for me than some other retelling fantasy book I’ve encountered, I thoroughly enjoyed the retelling and characters. I admit that it wasn’t a full-on fascinating read until 2/3rds of the way – but I believe this is just because of the reading gaps. Once I could continue for a more extended read, I enjoyed the journey better. 

I appreciate the author’s writing style, storytelling, especially the portrayal of the characters as a whole – ambition, motivations, and turn of events at the end. The characters were deeply explored and made me think even after finishing the book. 

I commend the author for exploring many controversial topics that is current and relevant. This book will test the reader’s boundaries on tradition and start breaking gender borders, questioning hierarchical patriarchy, and challenging archaic stereotyping. To avoid spoilers, I can say that the book will not have exact answers to readers at the end, aside from the obvious. It will resolve the premise of the book, but it’s the “what comes next” for Ouyang and Zhu at the end that will make readers anticipate Book 2. 

PROS: resilience, patriotism, familial duties and responsibilities, self-determination, focused character development, world-building, and passion

CONS: slower pace can seem documentary-like (good and bad in this), not a CON but saddened about the eradication of a lineage

Tropes: historical retelling, strong protagonists, non-binary heroes, broken heroes


About the Author

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Shelley Parker-Chan is an Asian-Australian former diplomat and international development adviser who spent nearly a decade working on human rights, gender equality, and LGBT rights in Southeast Asia. Her MA in International Relations focused on war crimes and restorative justice processes for victims of atrocities.

Named after the Romantic poet, Parker-Chan grew up in a book-filled household on a diet of Greek myths, Arthurian legend, and Chinese tales of suffering and tragic romance. Although her childhood dream was to be a warrior-monk, or perhaps a fighter pilot, she settled for a black belt in taekwondo and the mildly adventuresome life of an itinerant ex-pat. Her favorite activity in any new country is visiting the supermarket. Her special travel skill is being able to cook almost any kind of food in an electric rice cooker. While she would have preferred to be six feet tall and burly, she takes some consolation from being short enough to sleep comfortably in even the most budget long-distance bus seat. She has flown on an unfortunately large number of the world’s least safe airlines but still finds even Lion Air preferable to any form of boat travel.

In 2017 she was awarded an Otherwise (Tiptree) Fellowship for using speculative narrative to expand our understanding of gender. She Who Became the Sun is her first novel.

After having lived in eight different places (in three countries) in the past ten years, Parker-Chan has returned for now to placid Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her family.

Connect with Shelley
Website | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


Follow Me Darkly (Follow Me #1) by Helen Hardt

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author and/or publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, if you follow the Bookshop.org links, I may earn a commission from them, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Published on: 28 September 2021
Published by: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Type: trilogy, series, inter-connected
Genre: Billionaire Romance, Dark Romance, New Adult & College Romance
Author: Helen Hardt
Book Length: 400 pages
Read: 02 January 2022
Shelved: 10 January 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Support Independent Bookstores!
Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | IndieBound | Indigo CA

Other retailers:
Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Google Play

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!

Synopsis

I’ve always been a control freak. But he makes me crave submission…

Working for a hotel heiress and social media influencer may not be my dream job, but at least it allows me time to do what I really love—take photographs. Pretty good for a wholesome farm girl from Kansas trying to make it in Boston. Life may not be easy working for a diva, but at least I know what to expect.

Until blue-collar billionaire, Braden Black strides into the office. He’s beyond handsome and sexy but also domineering with a definite hard edge. I’m not sure why he’s interested in me, but within a few weeks, he’s showing me a world I never knew existed.

He’s opened up a side of me I can only face in the dark, and it’s quickly becoming an obsession. How can I give up something this addictive—even if his secrets could ultimately destroy me?

Check out the Follow Me series here


Review

I am very fortunate to have received this book series, just in time, when I was starting to miss dark romance! I remember this book when it was first released but was in my YA fantasy momentum, so I am happy to have the chance now to get back to the start of my dark romance reads again after so long.


Move over, Christian Grey.
Down to #2 for you, Gideon Cross.
Braden Black is the new dark character that has me swooning!

Follow Me Darkly may mimic its predecessors’ dark characteristics, but all they have in common is dark and mysterious. This book goes out of the ordinary – tangent to a point for past characters. There is more honesty, directness, and rawness when Braden gives Sky a peek into his mind. I am also thankful for Sky’s more rational and direct approach to everything in the book. I like how well the author wrote and orchestrated everything – making it current to the times. Given her background and upbringing, Skye’s simplicity and often naivety with a billionaire like Braden is refreshing, charming, and genuine.

Skye and Braden are interesting characters, both individually and as a couple. Both are unique on their own, but sparks fly, and the attraction is magnetic when they are together! Skye’s outgoing personality is infectious and positive, and I couldn’t help but not like her. Braden’s confident, domineering yet secretive (dark in the bedroom) personality is what will captivate readers. He is different from other dominant alpha’s I have encountered, and that’s a good thing. I love how serious Braden is on one end, then counters with a quirky remark to counter the tension. It throws me off since it makes a serious moment less scary and more approachable! Braden is definitely in a category of his own in this book.

Now, for the best part – the steamy scenes are HOT HOT HOT! There were unexpected moments that will definitely “wet” one’s appetite and imagination. This book will “inspire” readers to have “sexy time” with their significant one immediately after each “sexy” chapter! 

Overall, Follow Me Darkly is gorgeously sexy and sophisticated! It is a more mature yet sometimes frustrating take on an insta-attraction between two strong-minded protagonists – in and out of the bedroom! It is impossible NOT to love, and I am pleasantly surprised at how much I am obsessed with Braden and Skye! It is an easy read and impossible NOT to speed through and finish the book. It will capture one’s attention from start to finish! The ending is good enough to pique readers to push on to Book 2, which I am devouring after this review. 

Keywords popping out of my head as I read Follow Me Darkly: dark, hot, steamy, spicy, intense, romantic, mysterious, naive, a balance between light and dark, inexperienced

Tropes: alpha male, billionaire dominant, light BDSM


About the Author

#1 New York Times, #1 USA Today, and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author Helen Hardt’s passion for the written word began with the books her mother read to her at bedtime. She wrote her first story at age six and hasn’t stopped since. In addition to being an award-winning author of romantic fiction, she’s a mother, an attorney, a black belt in Taekwondo, a grammar geek, an appreciator of fine red wine, and a lover of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. She writes from her home in Colorado, where she lives with her family. Helen loves to hear from readers.

Connect with Helen
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Newsletter | Amazon | BookBub


check out the initial cover when the book was offered

Cover Reveal: Notebook Mysteries: Changes & Challenges by Kimberly Mullins

NOTEBOOK MYSTERIES: CHANGES & CHALLENGES
by Kimberly Mullins
Release Date: March 16

Publisher‏ : ‎ JKJ Books, LLC
Publication date‏ : ‎ March 16, 2022

Pre-Order Today!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books

Synopsis

Emma’s adventures continue as she solves crimes and mysteries in book three of The Notebook Mysteries series.

Chicago, 1885 Emma Evans is surprised when she is contacted about the reading of a will involving a prior client.  She must determine if the inheritance is a good thing or not, it remains to be seen. Papers and business review requires Emma to go to New York City.  A trip is quickly organized, during which Jeremy and Emma draw closer to each other and their relationship deepens. As they return home, they realize that they do not want to be apart. How can they do this? What are their choices available in 1885 for a young couple?

The will comes with responsibilities and complicated tasks that also allow her to continue to expand their team’s reach and bring old friends closer.

A new case will involve hidden plots, murder, drugs, kidnapping, new and old friends from the first two books in this series.  Secrets about Jeremy and Emma’s personal life are exposed during that dramatic case that will keep you guessing. Emma will have to use all of her skills to save those in danger.

Emma adds to her adventures by meeting Tony in Paris. He needs help and Jeremy has an ulterior motive when he convinces Emma to go alone to Paris to help a friend. How can she say no?

Review: “This tale will draw you in and will delight those who are a bit of an amateur sleuth themselves.” Don’t miss book 3 of this engaging series!  



About the Author

I am Kimberly Mullins, the author of a published mystery novel set in 1881 Chicago.

 I have a Bachelors Degree in Biology and an MBA in Business. I have been working as a certified Process Safety Engineer at a large chemical company. I have also been a contributing author in a technical book in my field. I have also written several technical papers.

 I live in South Texas with my son, husband, and three cats. We do live close to the coast, so hurricanes are a normal part of life here. In 2008 we lost our house in Hurricane Ike and found out I had breast cancer in the same two-week period. 2009 was a struggle to rebuild and beat cancer- we did both successfully!

 I find that that challenge made everything else seem easier. So, when I decided to try writing, I didn’t let myself think I couldn’t do it; I just did it. I took a year to figure out how to write a book and used many resources to help me. I have friends and family that were willing to read early drafts and read later versions over and over. I have since written three more in the series since that time. I am hoping to continue past book 10.

 I love my books, and I hope so will you.

Connect with Kimberly
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | BookBub

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sōsuke Natsukawa (author) / Louise Heal Kawai (translator)

Published on: 07 December 2021
Published by: HarperVia 
Type: standalone
Genre: Friendship Fiction, Romantic Fantasy, Animal Fiction
Author: Sōsuke Natsukawa (author) / Louise Heal Kawai (translator)
Book Length: 208 pages (hardbound)
Read: 20 December 2021
Shelved: 20 December 2021
Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Support Independent Bookstores! Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | IndieBound | Indigo CA

Other retailers: Amazon US | UK
Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Waterstone | Google Play | Audible

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!


Synopsis

A celebration of books, cats, and the people who love them, infused with the heartwarming spirit of The Guest Cat and The Travelling Cat Chronicles.

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners. 

Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, Tiger and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter… 


Review

First things first, Grandpa’s gone.
Reality gradually begins to take root in Ritaro’s heart. He finally manages to squeeze out a few words.
“This is messed up, Grandpa.”
But there’s no reply.

– The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa

Disclosures: My suggestion is for readers to approach this book without reading the synopsis and basing one’s interest on the book title itself – a special cat who saves books enlists the help of the bookshop’s son! 

Trigger warnings: death of a parent, grief, internal struggles, personal loss, kidnapping, depression, alienation

—————————

The Cat Who Saved Books is a story about a boy named Rintaro Natsuki, who has to deal with his grandfather’s recent, unexpected death. Rintaro, a high school student, becomes a reclose (termed as hikikomori in the Japanese culture) with the loss and would seek solace in his grandfather’s secondhand bookshop. The book revolves around how Rintaro meets a mysterious tabby cat named Tiger, who sought Rintaro’s help to “save books” from their various demise. Through a series of trials called the Labyrinth, Rintaro finds his healing and comes out of his “slump.” 

The writing is graphically fantastic and easy to relate to. Each line and sentence and action translated so well to an emotion appropriate in each scene, like grief, hesitation, and fear that would later transition to confidence, bravery, and happiness. These emotions signal a well-thought plot that enhances Rintaru’s strengths that he didn’t know existed until he started the Labyrinth. The descriptions of the places Tiger takes Rintaro to are worldly, whimsical, and captivating.

The concept of these “adventures” reminds me of A Christmas Carol, where a visitor shows the main character how much potential they have within. In this case, the theme lovingly emphasizes the importance of books, concept, love of reading, AND doing nothing is unacceptable. The author wrote a unique world beyond the bookstore – each distinctly unique from the next. 

I enjoyed how the author made each villain believable. These villains were not the “bad guys” in their heads but instead “saviors” with slight flaws in their actions. At first, these minor flaws were enough to “convince” Rintaro but good thing Rintaro had the presence of mind to overcome these “half-truths” with his grandfather’s passed-on teachings.

My favorite part of the book is the last quest that Rintaro had to face because he had to dig deep within him to find the answer. He became brave and accepted his feelings and emotions, and the people around him were sending him. He knew what he needed to do to save everyone, not only the books. At that moment of enlightenment, Rintaro “came to his own.” 

Overall, The Cat Who Saved Books is a must for anyone and everyone who loves cats, Japan, mystery, adventure, puzzles, and most especially, cats! 

It is a great coming-of-age book with a tragic loss to cope with and heal from. It is an easy read with many exciting and world-building places, scenes that invoke part of Japan’s culture. 

There is an abundance of invaluable advice and timeless life lessons that can apply to anyone, so best to read this book slowly with pauses for “self-reflection” to appreciate it better. BECAUSE – it talked about the love of books, reading, life’s philosophies, belonging, love, family, and friends.

Because of all the above reasons, I firmly believe that:-

a.) all readers will want this book in their library to pass on to the next generation AND

b.) reread it again for the timeless quality of the lessons.


Some (though there are a lot more) memorable quotes from the book are:-

1.) Books have tremendous power. But take care. It’s the book that holds the power, not you.

2.) There are timeless stories, powerful enough to have survived through the ages. Read lots of books like these – they’ll be like friends to you. They’ll inspire and support you.

3.) The important stuff is always difficult to understand…Most people don’t get that obvious truth. They just go about their everyday lives, and yet it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

4.) It’s not true that the more you read, the more you see the world. No matter how much knowledge you cram into your head, unless you think with your own mind, walk with your own feet, the knowledge you acquire will never be anything more than empty and borrowed.

5.) It’s all very well to read a book, but when you’ve finished, it’s time to set foot in the world.

6.) If you’re going to climb, make it a tall mountain. The view will be so much better.

7.) Books have a soul. A cherished book will always have a soul. It will come to its reader’s aid in times of crisis.

8.) Books teach us how to care about others.

9.) If you find it difficult, it’s because it contains something that is new to you. Every difficult book offers us a brand-new challenge.

10.) There’s no such thing as having no choice… There were many roads to choose from. What was important was not to let yourself roll along aimlessly but pick a road.


About the Author

Sosuke Natsukawa is a doctor in Nagano, Japan. His first book Kamisama No Karute (‘God’s Medical Records’) won the Shogakukan Fiction Prize and received second prize at the Japan Bookseller Awards. It sold over 1.5 million copies and was adapted into a film in Japan.

Goodreads | Pan MacMillan | Amazon


Louise Heal Kawai has been a translator of Japanese literature since 2005. She loves to translate all genres of contemporary fiction. Besides the novels on this list, has published many short stories in online magazines and journals, play scripts, and odd poems. She is always working on something, so look out in 2022 for her newest translations.

Connect with Louise: Amazon | Goodreads


Find You Again (Nashville Star Series 2) by Ava Hunter

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

Cover Design: OkayCreations

Published on: 03 January 2022
Type: HEA, standalone, series
Genre: Country Romance, Second-Chance Romance, Contemporary Romance
Author: Ava Hunter
Read: 08 November 2021
Shelved: 09 November 2021
Rating: 4.5/ 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Get it here: Amazon
Add Sing Your Home to your TBR: Goodreads

Synopsis

Nashville’s pop-country princess Alabama Forester is drowning in debt and a bad reputation after a tabloid scandal gone off the rails.

In fact, her entire life’s gone off the rails. Without a manager, she’s working at a podunk diner unsure if she’ll ever record another song again. That is, until she’s offered the chance of a lifetime: join country-rock bad boy Griff Greyson on tour and pay off her debt.

It should be easy.

Except it isn’t.

Because Griff, the boy who broke her heart all those years ago, is now a man. A rough and rowdy rocker, with a muscled, tattooed body, and tawny-colored eyes that have her wanting to break every rule in the songbook.

♥♥♥

Country hellraiser Griff Greyson is trying to get his music career back on track after being arrested for disorderly conduct. The last thing he needs is bruised and beautiful Alabama Forester on his tour.

The girl he gave up for the spotlight.

The woman he still loves.

He vows to stay away from her. Vows to keep the real reason he left Alabama all those years ago a secret.

Now, on a whirlwind tour across the United States with hot tempers and even closer quarters, sparks fly whenever they’re on stage together. But when Griff’s old rock-and-roll lifestyle puts Alabama’s life on the line, both discover they could lose everything—before they ever really had it.

The entire Nashville Star series is coming soon!

0.5. Know You More (Sal and Luke’s prequel) ➜ here
1. Sing You Home ➜ check out my review on this here
2. Find You Again

Coming Soon!
2.5 Love You Always (novella)
4. Need You Now
5. Bring You Back


Review

Alabama “Al” Forester, a one-hit washed-out country superstar, caught in the most recent public scandal to rock the country music scene. Labeled as a “problematic” artist, Al wants a fresh start after trusting the wrong people with her career. Desperate to get back to the music and start earning, Al accepted the offer to tour with someone from the past, who betrayed her from the very beginning.

Griff Greyson is the typical out-of-control country rocker with a knack for getting himself into trouble without even trying. Griff’s record label has had enough of his “antics” and instead assigned a front act to rejuvenate his image with having someone more scandalous than him and still haunts his world. 

These two old friends need each other to get what they want badly – an epic tour and a fresh start. But what happens when the country-pop star and the bad-news, bad-boy tour realizes that what they initially thought was important is no longer that.


Things I LOVE about Find You Again:

1.) The chemistry of Al and Griff.

I am a goner for “childhood sweethearts” themes with “deeper connections.” Sizzling and undeniable attraction thought initially by both Al and Griff, as forgotten. Oh, how wrong they both are. I got all excited with slowly started understanding that they are so “meant-to-be!” This book has it and more!  

2.) Theme of self-worth – count me in!

Two broken characters are trying to find their way back to each other. The book is very different from Book 1, wherein the theme was more “sensationalized” with the rediscovery of Sal with her memory loss. This story is more believable and relatable than the previous storyline – “not being worthy enough” syndrome. I also like the honesty and grit of these very vulnerable characters.

3.) Songs that will have readers melt to!

Many new “penned” songs in this book got me swooning then understanding the depth of emotions for Al and Griff.
It also gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at what happened – what went wrong that fateful night that tainted their relationship. If the story doesn’t get readers bawling or gushing, the songs cranked out by Al and Griff are epic! 

4.) Past characters reunion!

Book 1’s Luke, Sal, and the rest of the Brothers Kincaid all lend their support in this book. There was some tension since Al’s position from the last book, although remedied, wasn’t a positive one. It is an interesting take on how Al is responsible for curbing Griff’s frustration and anger, wherein Al’s like Griff’s calm whisperer. It showed how much peace (and sometimes grief) Al provides to Griff – cute in many ways.

5.) Bonus Novella at the end!

I am now curious as to how the Kincaid family are doing after Book 1’s ending. The short cameo paved the way for a short novella to answer the burning questions hopefully and resolve a few “concerns” mentioned in this book, wherein there’s more to their story than a few paragraphs in Book 2 got me excited!


Overall, I love the character development and raw emotions in Find You Home! It is a newer set of emotions brought by fear, misjudgment, betrayal, and abandonment – which are very different from the previous book. It’s as heartwrenching and REAL as one gets after the challenges and failures Al and Griff went through. I am very SOLD with whatever Al and Griff were selling – even more than Sal and Luke! I hope they will be mentioned for other new development in the following books to know how far their HEA will be!

Before I end, I have to say – the cover is EVERYTHING! 
Am I a cover fan, and can it sway my review? Yes and no. I love cover art and design, but a cover cannot influence my review. It can help, but a great story and writing still rank higher than a beautiful cover. I gravitated to the cover that made me love the book more. It was impossible NOT TO READ this, and I am sure readers will feel it!

Tropes: rock star romance, country legends, second chances, childhood sweethearts, enemies-to-lovers, long lost loves 


About the Author

Ava Hunter is a strong believer in black coffee, red wine, and then there’s-only-one-bed trope. She writes contemporary romance with healthy amounts of angst where the damsels are never quite damsels, but the men they love (good, bad, and rugged) are always there for them. Her first series, Nashville Star, centers on sexy country singers and their honky-tonk drama-filled lives.

Ava is married to her high school sweetheart, loves writing strong, stubborn women that only make their men fall harder, and adores all things pink, and can never ever get enough of protector romance.

Connect with Ava Hunter
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub

Retaliation (Destiny Series #5) by C.J. Cooke

Disclosure: I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the author and/or publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required.

Published on: 31 December 2021
Type: series, standalone (but best to follow the series), HEA
Genre: Paranormal Suspense, Occult, Drama, Reverse Harem, Romance
Author: C.J. Cooke
Book Length: 573
Read: 25 December 2021
Shelved: 27 December 2021
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Available at: Amazon

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!

Synopsis

Tragedy strikes and Echo, one of Aria’s fiercest Elites, finds herself facing unimaginable loss. But in true Elite fashion, she doesn’t take it lying down. Setting out on a journey for retribution and retaliation, Echo discovers new bonds and hidden truths about her own identity.

The Elites are done waiting for the next blow. It’s time to strike back! But how far is Echo willing to go and what will happen when those they’re up against decide to strike back.

Reader warning: this book contains explicit scenes and deals with themes that some readers may find triggering. This is a reverse harem book with adult content and is intended for 18+ readers only.


Review

Five pack members – four out of the five have impossible feats to accomplish, all as important as the other – life-dependent. I had never encountered all the pack members having massive missions and issues until I read Retaliation.

What to expect in Retaliation:-

– a reverse harem cast with Echo as the leading mate and LOTS of steamy hot mates coming into the picture one-by-one. Echo’s mates come from all types of paranormal beings, so expect a few surprises in-store.

– more than one battle to prepare for, and each one will have readers in total suspense

– a truckload of revelations and secrets to uncover, wherein some were pretty gruesome in true paranormal style

– paranormal galore in the sweetest and sexiest way possible with the intimate scenes

– multi-POV: the more, the merrier and gives the “why choose” category a whole new meaning in “open relationships.”


All of the pack in the story has the main objective of retaliating after all the hurt and pain inflicted on them by various people – the majority are close family members. 

We have a stellar cast of new and old in this book, and one needs to keep a score or a record on what character is what because, trust me – a lot of them have “crazy” pasts!

Without giving too much away, here’s Echo’s mates and some short background details:-

Echo – shifter, one of the Elite members trained by Aria in Book 1 of the series, comes into the story with a vengeance after the death of someone important. She evolves slowly throughout the book into something beyond anyone’s imagination, save for Frannie, and later becomes the “next generation” of avengers leading up to the final book.

Stone – mage, brother of Dom, Lyra’s mate and is one of the mages with access to The Library, has a vendetta to keep regarding his heritage and pursuit to “clean” his family from the dark magic of succumbing some of his family members.

Damon – vampire, former human and is considered a newly created vampire (2 years), deflected to Aria’s side in the previous book, wants to find out how he could take back his life after his creator left him to “fend” for himself. He becomes the much-needed comic relief in tensioned moments in the book, is one of the most emphatic mates in the group. 

Aubron – fae, the younger brother of Virion, Aria’s mates who stayed in Galvinae to support King Haryk after the demon war, holds a secret that comes at a heavy price to keep his people safe. He comes to his own with the help of his mates in the end, but it was a long road to recovery for him as things weren’t what they seemed in the end.

Tas – fae, advisor, and protector of Aubron, protected Aubron’s secret. He is the most patient among the male mates and seems to act more rational and level-headed during stressful times in the book. Tas is the rock you want on your side when the going gets tough.

Samuel – angel, a.k.a. “snuggle blanket” with his wings. He is part of a rebellion that didn’t seem to make sense in impact, and it is when Echo enters into the picture, things start to gain traction. His role changes dramatically from rebel fighter into something beyond comprehension.


I enjoyed how the author brought back a few expected and unexpected cast members from previous book series (like Frannie, Aria, Viron, etc.) as a way of honoring the vital roles they played in the series and still focusing on the five main characters above for the book. 

The plot twists kept coming from all fronts (all over is an understatement). Suspense and mystery at every turn. When one problem is solved, new revelations unfold and complicate the already dire predicament Echo, and her ever-growing mates face. The best quote from the book that sums it all until the last chapter is below:-

“Some days, it felt like our problems kept getting bigger. Nothing we did seemed to bring us any peace. On the contrary, our actions just kept revealing more and more treachery and pain.”

Lastly, this book is FULL of steamy scenes, composed of tangled bodies and creative positions in every combination possible. The creativity and imagination that have come from all this is something. I may have enjoyed this too much, but heck, this is what reverse harem and paranormal romance books is all about. It’s an essential, most anticipated moment, aside from morphed or “realized” magic.

In summary, Retaliation is a “meaty” book filled with world-building, intricate plot twists, suspenseful mystery, a slow-burn story peppered with complex character growth, and full-on steamy scenes that will amaze, excite and overwhelm readers. It is best read at a slower pace to appreciate everything fully. 

It is true: one cannot expect to shake “the heavens” and not see the consequences of such groundbreaking changes to the world — so I’m on the edge of my seat for the next book. WHAT?!?!?!
Yes, one final book is coming and will wrap up everything and bring readers back to Book 1. The book doesn’t end in a cliff-hanger, but more of a “to be continued” ending with revenge, the next theme – with an appropriate title Revenge.


Tropes: reverse harem, MM/MF relationships, fantasy, dystopian, paranormal, adventure-seeking readers

Disclosures: necromancy, cannibalism, bloodletting, blood-drinking, violence 18+ above


About the Author

C.J. Cooke lives in Nottinghamshire, England with her husband and son. She was born and grew up in Yorkshire and even though it is only up the road, she will always be a Yorkshire girl in her heart.
Her love of reading naturally evolved into a love for writing and she released her debut novel in February 2020. She wrote her first book aged seven. A few decades later, her work is published in 23 languages, has won numerous awards, and has been optioned for film and television.

Connect with C.J.
Amazon | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads | Bookbub
Join her Reader Group here!

The Donut Trap By Julie Tieu

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

Published on: 19 November 2021
Published by: Avon 
Type: standalone
Genre: Multicultural Romances, Romantic Comedy
Author: Julie Tieu
Book Length: 368
Read: 17 December 2021
Shelved: 18 December 2021
Rating: 3 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Support Independent Bookstores! Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | IndieBound | Indigo CA | Libro.fm

Other retailers: Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Google Play | Audible

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!

Synopsis

Jasmine Tran has landed herself behind bars—maple bars that is. With no boyfriend or job prospects, Jasmine returns home to work at her parents’ donut shop. Jasmine quickly loses herself in a cyclical routine of donuts, Netflix, and sleep. She wants to break free from her daily grind, but when a hike in rent threatens the survival of their shop, her parents rely on her more than ever.​

Help comes in the form of an old college crush, Alex Lai. Not only is he successful and easy on the eyes, to her parents’ delight, he’s also Chinese. He’s everything she should wish for until a disastrous dinner reveals Alex isn’t as perfect as she thinks. Worse, he doesn’t think she’s perfect either.​

With both sets of parents against their relationship, a family legacy about to shut down, and the reappearance of an old high school flame, Jasmine must scheme to find a solution that satisfies her family’s expectations and can get her out of the donut trap once and for all.


Review

I was excited to start the book since it touched on many things I went through as a Chinese migrant, family honor, familial duty, and relationships.

The story is about Jasmine “Jas” Tran, a college graduate, working at her family’s donut shop, as she tries to find what she wants to do after finishing university. It’s something that a few friends of mine went through since the family business is always the immediate option to continue with after earning one’s degree. In the process of coming back home and working for the family business, Jas:-
(a) gets reacquainted with old classmates in high school,
(b) adjusts to having her brother back for the summer,
(c) learns to accept her best friend moving away,
(d) discovers what work she wants to pursue,
(e) and tries to find a way to revamp her family’s donut shop image.
That list gets longer and more complicated when her past comes into her donut shop – two past men in her life seem to want Jas’ attention this time around.

The author touched on many controversial topics that I got excited about, like cultural integration, family acceptance, individualism, and a “coming of age” at twenty-two.
I enjoyed and related the thought-provoking topics since I encountered quite a few of those things from having conservative Chinese migrant parents. I smiled and agreed on many things, especially in the high school secret Jas withheld – I also had that same secret! In Jas’ case, she successfully kept it a secret after all those years while I wasn’t as lucky.

Even with all the relatable traits and experiences, I did not feel anyone in the book – not Jas, Alex, her parents, best friend, and co-workers, which is sad! There were moments that I thought would bring me into a connection to a character, but it fizzles out as fast as the possibility came. I had trouble empathizing with any of the characters, even when I focused on Jas’ flawed ways and wanting to be a better person.
There was a bit of push-pull between Alex and Jas, while parental issues were happening from both sides. Add to this an ex that seems to be popping up often when the opportunity arises. BUT I was happy with how truthful and straightforward Jas has been…though sometimes I feel that she’s too naive not to realize the “intentions” of either ex or Alex.
Nonetheless, I believe that if there is more focus and time given to making Jas better through self-discovery and realization than having other people help her “find the answers,” things might have developed fully or organically to be better appreciated.

The characters were colorful and compelling, so I am frustrated that their stories were enough to connect with any of them. Take, for example, Jas’ strict yet quirky parents. I should love them since they balance seriousness and the comedic side. They have their flaws, but not enough for me. Or her best friend, Linh, who pushed her out-of-her comfort zone to have Jas meet Alex, who ironically was looking for her after their cute and flirtatious encounter years ago. The best friend seems to be in a world of her own aside from getting the scoop of Jas or giving tips for Alex to “win over” Jas. Things seem to be “half-baked.”

There were constant reminders – whether they said it or not – of their sacrifices, of their lives interrupted. It was easy to see why they pushed for what they thought were surefire ways toward stability and success. So, it seemed like the right thing to do was to do what they wanted. When it was hard to do that, it was easier to lie.

– The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu

Overall, I like The Donut Trap’s theme of family, cultural differences, and respect while still giving the space of the main character on their independence. Although I wasn’t as invested in the story or characters, I expected so much more. However, I still believe that readers who love good Asian representation will enjoy this book since it was spot-on, especially with the generation gap, ideology, and philosophy. I will still follow the author to check out her subsequent book offerings.


About the Author

Julie Tieu is a Chinese American contemporary romance author based in the Los Angeles area. Her debut novel, THE DONUT TRAP, is loosely inspired by the years she spent working at her family’s donut shop. When she’s not working, she’s eating her way through new destinations with her husband and two energetic kids.

Connect with Julie
Website | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


Keeper of the Night (Keeper of the Night Book 1) by Kylie Lee Baker

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. Also, if you follow the Bookshop.org link, I may earn a commission from them, whose fees support independent bookshops.

Published on: 12 October 2021
Published by: Inkyard Press
Type: duology
Genre: Teen & Young Adult Myths & Legends
Author: Kylie Lee Baker
Book Length: 400 pages (hardbound)
Read: 13 December 2021
Shelved: 15 December 2021
Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Support Independent Bookstores! Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | IndieBound | Indigo CA | libro.fm

Other retailers: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play

Add to your Bookbub | Goodreads TBR!

Synopsis

A girl of two worlds, accepted by none… A half Reaper, half Shinigami soul collector seeks her destiny in this haunting and compulsively readable dark fantasy set in 1890s Japan.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

CONTENT WARNINGS: death (on-page & discussed frequently), racism, sexism (brief slut-shaming), ableism, bullying, emotional neglect of a child, mentions of child abandonment, violence, murder, blood, gore, 


Review

Main character details:- 

Name: Wren Scarborough in London/ Ren of Yakushima
Occupation: Reaper, collector of souls
Mother: unknown aside from a Shinigami from Japan who abandoned her to her father at a young age.
Father: Ambrose Scarborough, a Reaper in the High Court who married another Reaper to save his reputation after being with a non-Reaper
Siblings: Neven Scarborough, stepbrother to Ren

Story:

Ren, half-Reaper/half-Shinigami, has been discriminated against, abused, and bullied because of her lineage, or lack thereof, all her life. She has kept secrets to keep her safe, but something that happened at the beginning of the book exposed her secret, so she ran from London to Japan to find a better and safer life for herself and her half-brother. What she needed to do to find sanctuary and acceptance in Japan would pull her into a world of the supernatural beyond the textbooks that she had read and learned.

Story / Writing:

First-person POV, Ren’s
This type of POV forms excellent suspense and drama since readers will relate and connect more to the main character while keeping other characters’ thoughts to a minimum. Readers can focus more on the main character’s motivation, and in this book, a lot of it is very action-driven versus expressing things in words.


Top 5 things I love about The Keeper of the Night:-

1.) Great world-building backdrops and mystical exploration of Japan 

Readers will dive into many colorful and imaginative worlds from the land of the living to the Yomi world to different parts of Japan through Rens “trials.” She will also go through Japan’s folklore, customs, and tradition in each of these places. Beautiful country farmlands and harsh cold mountainous areas will test Ren and her companions physically and mentally. Many cultural heritage and beliefs, some pretty ugly, especially for Ren’s last test on how far people would go to survive the harsh lives some of them lead.

2.) Page-turner adventures through captivating narration

With so many cinematography details on each page, readers can expect the action and adventures of Ren in Japan to be astounding. I gobbled it all up, and it kept me going through the chapters faster than I usually am. There is a lot of mystery, suspense, and drama at each turn.

3.) Fascinating storytelling of Japanese folklore – amazing creatures, spirits, monsters

I appreciate the author sharing the stories of each Yokai’s origins in her and Neven’s travels. Not many were familiar to me, so it was highly appreciated to have a quick summary about spirits Ren had to face before things were happening – sort of like a flashback of her “past learnings” done in secret in London.

4.) Complex and flawed characters with intricately interwoven stories that muddle the line between “right” and “wrong” AND the focus of “sense of belonging” are discussed at length 

It is the reason Ren goes through what she did – to find one’s purpose and “place” in the world.

I love the author’s exploration and growth of Ren’s character. There is a lot of self-pity from those internal reflections that may sound “selfish,” but with a first-person POV and trying to maintain a level of mystery to the story, this is normal and expected. A young version of me would act and say the same selfish things because I was a very immature teen also. And even if Ren is already centuries old, she is still has a lot to learn outside the Reaper world. The shinigami’s rules are a whole new world for reapers like Ren. The author uses a slower and more elaborate build-up to emphasize Ren’s potential is much bigger than just being a soul collector, as readers will see later.  

The book reminds me of the Bone Witch series with a more pronounced Japanese folklore. I love the struggles both main characters faced in “finding themselves” in a society trying to put them “in a box” or naming them a specific “category.”

5.) The ending was despair and hope all rolled into one!

I know many things are going on as the book neared the end. The author resolved quite a few questions asked initially, but as each problem is “answered,” new and more tricky problems come to light. Although I foresaw some scenes, many unexpected things left me shocked and baffled, leaving me with more unanswered questions. Just know that there are a lot of plot twists that will make your head spin!

Is it a cliffhanger? I wouldn’t say that, but it would be good to find out what happens next to Ren and her new quest. After all, this is a duology!
All I can say, I cannot wait to see what the author comes up with for Book 2. 


Overall, The Keeper of the Night is a “keeper” (!) that will captivate and enthrall readers into the world of Japanese culture, beliefs, and superstitions. It will also show characters making mistakes, trying to fix them but later realizing that not all are fixable by then. I love characters that will grow from mistakes that seemed so dire at the time but through those mistakes, which makes them supersede the impossible and unimaginable until they are right at the cusp of victory. This book is that and more! Also, with an ender that, I refuse to feel anything else but hopeful, Ren will find a way no matter what!

Tropes: paranormal, Asian folklore/culture fans, Asian warrior, underdog, monsters, and ghosts, myth and legends fans


About the Author

Kylie Lee Baker grew up in Boston and has since lived in Atlanta, Salamanca, and Seoul. Her work is informed by her heritage (Japanese, Chinese, & Irish) as well as her experiences living abroad as both a student and teacher. She has a BA in creative writing and Spanish from Emory University and is pursuing a master of library and information science degree at Simmons University. In her free time, she plays the cello, watches horror movies, and bakes too many cookies. The Keeper of Night is her debut novel.

Connect with Kylee
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | BookBub


Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started