Book Review | Babel by R.F. Kuang

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, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 23 April 2022
Published by: Harper Voyager
Type: standalone
Genre: Asian Myth & Legend, History Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Fantasy / Historical, Fantasy / Dark Fantasy
Tropes: Dark Academia, Magic Fantasy
Author: R. F. Kuang
Book Length: 560  pages
Read: 09 September 2022
Shelved: 19 September 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide…

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? 


Review

Content Warning: child abandonment, abuse, and trauma, abandonment, racism, patriarch ideology, misogyny, death, murder, patricide,

POV: multi-POV

Topics: coming of age, colonialism, capitalism, dark academia, patriarchy, Politics, power of languages and translation

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★
Logic: ★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 4.6 ~ 5 stars ★★★★★

Without a doubt, Babel is in my Top Reads for 2022! It is raw, haunting, poignant, and enigmatic. It is a reminder about human nature, the constant search for belongingness, and the path to a purposeful life. The author is not afraid of exposing humanity’s darkest atrocities before carrying readers through to the ending. 

I felt excited and overwhelmed (a positive) all at the same time with the many resource references on etymology, race, and culture that connect well with each of the scenes/chapters. The deep dive explores England/Babel’s governing and political systems of England / Babel and shows the disparity of wealth and privilege between societies.

The world-building was spectacular and a pure literary delight! I didn’t know much about Babel aside from the olden belief that it’s the center of knowledge. The author pushed further the boundaries of this concept by adding a bit of magic to mold a fantastic backdrop of infinite possibilities for the plot and characters to grow beyond expectations.

Aside from colonialism, many controversial themes on identity, loyalty, and discrimination will have readers go through all the emotions in the alphabet! 

Many characters underwent internal changes that tested their faith in the establishment, cultural beliefs, and heritage. Heroes and villains were not clear, but there were many grey characters that one would not see coming. The author highlighted many valid connections that made me revisit my personal experiences as a student and immigrant. This book was an intricate exploration of human behavior and perspectives that was impossible to ignore and digest. Given that the topics are still relevant and current, I appreciate the author placing them at the forefront, and they still require much attention.
**Note: with the number of characters in the book, I had to have a list of names, identifiers, and background information noted down to better track who and what was going on.

I didn’t realize how complex the threads of industries and people are. This book laid it out – from slavery to drugs (i.e., Opium War), similar to the issues tackled in the author’s previous work – The Poppy Wars trilogy. Toppling an institution and going against one’s comfort level may seem impossible and hopeless, though how the author resolved the ending is well written and give readers hope in humanity, especially in the epilogue.

In summary, Babel is about diving into the infinite possibilities of knowledge and power through languages and translations, unforgettable characters, and gorgeous plot development that infuses and emphasizes human nature, survival, found family, and colonialism. The author offers a profoundly original, captivating, haunting, and inspiring story beyond the book’s last page.


Victory is not assured. Victory may be in the portents, but is must be urged there by violence, by suffereing, by martyrs, by blood. Victory is wrought by ingenuity, persistence, and sacrifice. Victory is a game of inches, of historical contingencies where everything goes right because they have made it go right.

Victoire, Babel by R.F. Kuang

About the Author

R.F. Kuang (also known as “Rebecca F. Kuang) is the award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Poppy War trilogy and Babel: An Arcane History, as well as the forthcoming Yellowface. A Marshall Scholar. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale, where she studies diaspora, contemporary Chinese literature, and Asian American literature.

Connect with Rebecca
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Review | Ink Blossom (Ink Blossom #1) by Lynn Robin

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, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 20 September 2022
Type: series, cliffhanger
Genre: paranormal romance, suspense/drama romance,
Tropes: YA Paranormal Romance
Author: Lynn Robin
Read: 29 July 2022
Shelved: 01 August 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

All her life, Gwyn has lived in a land suspended in eternal autumn—but her heart calls out to the Land of Spring. Leaves don’t fall when she’s around; they flourish instead, and cherry blossoms follow in her wake.

The only way to leave the Land of Autumn is by having the devil of the Ink Lake accept your offering—the very devil who steals Other Season Girls to feast on their bones—and only then he will allow a soul to leave his season.

But no one’s offering has ever been accepted.
Except for Gwyn’s.
Yet still, Autumn is trapping her, and she cannot leave.

Desperate to escape, Gwyn attracts the attention of a being she should not, and when her path crosses that of the devil’s, he’s nothing she thought he would be.

Beautiful. Soft-spoken.
A broken man haunted by nightmares and guilt and death.

Gwyn has a choice to make. To either remain trapped forever.
Or to risk it all and free the devil from his cage.

The Ink Blossom series consists of 4 books total.


Review

POV: Gwyneth (Gwyn) and Rafe, first-person dual

Words that popped in my head as I read Ink Blossom, Book 1 of the Ink Blossom:-

Grippingly captivated
Calming yet suspenseful
Yearning with much angst
Slow-build yet just enough
Delicate yet fierce

The world-building is excellent, and its cinematography in words is spot-on! The Autumn descriptions leap through with vibrancy and warmth, while dark death-like scenes show the grim, harshness, and stench of despair. 

I love the development of Gwyn and Rafe. Note that the story is slower than I am used to, BUT I understood why in the end – that one book will not be enough to sort through the many problems that come with Gwyn and Rene’s connection. It is fair that the story is slow since now I realize that it’s a 4-book series that revolves around Gwyn and Rafe and the many trials they will be going through as they seek to “free” the seasons.

There were haunting moments that grabbed my attention further and deeper into the story. The mystery and suspense parts sprinkled with much angst make the story work. Note: there will be many angst scenes as each turn seems to be direr than the first.

Ultimately, be prepared to be hooked from the very start for Ink Blossom! This book got me excited and enthralled with the concept, the story, and the characters. I love the unsettling, uncertainty, and unpredictability of the story with angst writing and grey characters that readers will empathize with. Jaw-droppingly good, especially the ending!

I am so glad that I picked up this series and thus cannot wait to get my hands on the rest of the books. I highly recommend this addicting read to paranormal romance YA readers.


Favorite Quotes:

” Every creature longs to belong somewhere, to someone. Every creature longs to have a name to answer to. No matter how wild they are. “

Rafe, Ink Blossom

Yet right now, he doesn’t feel as big as that. He feels small instead, so brekable that she forgets all about strength, all about whatever just made her heard pound and her cheeks flush. Whoever he is or isn’t, one thing wasn’t a lie: the brokenness she saw shen she met him…For tonight, she’ll hold together the pieces of him. Like she always longed someone else would do for her.

Gwyn, Ink Blossom

He wants to be able to see her when he does. To prove to himself, one last time, that it is true: that she can only feel his touch like nobody and nothing has ever been able to…not even Autumn, when it was still his.

Rafe, Ink Blossom

About the Author

Lynn Robin (1992) is an author of Paranormal Romance novels.
Born and raised in the historical city of Leiden in the Netherlands, she has felt the urge to write stories ever since she was little— preferably ones with ghosts and other spooky things (probably because her parents let her watch Stephen King film adaptions when she was nine).
Next to that, she likes to add a healthy dose of romance to her books; star-crossed lovers and forbidden romances, preferably about monsters hiding in the bodies of young men and girls blessed with angelic powers—or at least humans touched by magical abilities.
She made her debut in 2017 with her Dutch series entitled the Schimmenwereld Serie (the Phantom World series), containing six books about ghosts, angels, demons, music, dance, art, and—of course—love. She won the Best Book of 2018 award with the fourth installment, Schimmendroom (Phantom Dream), chosen by the jury of The Dutch Indie Awards.
In 2020 she debuted internationally in English with the highly romantic Kissing Monsters series, which concluded with 8 volumes in 2021. Her latest release is The Sea of Her, a still ongoing paranormal romance series in a tropical setting about the Weeper of Pearls, a Wild Stranger from the Sea, and a long-lost King of the Ocean.
Besides being passionate about writing, she’s also a rather dedicated running/fitness/yoga/martial arts enthusiast and likes to spend time with her family, play videogames, or freak herself out watching documentaries about haunted houses (for research, she claims).

Connect with Lynn
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Blog Tour | Grave Issue by Julia Vaughan

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Published on: 16 September 2022
Published by: Cahill Davis Publishing Limited
Type: series
Genre: Crime thrillers
Author: Julia Vaughan
Book Length: 370 pages

Universal Link:  www.books2read.com/graveissue

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Synopsis

Who killed Abraham and Esther Downing in the 1970s?

What is the significance of the seven tiny skeletons unearthed in the garden of Downing’s cottage?

And why does no-one care?

As DCI Kath Fortune and her cold case team deep dive into their second investigation, they come up against a wall of silence surrounding the reclusive couple. With Kath trying to piece together the clues and keep her personal and professional relationships on track, her past comes back to haunt her with time running out on all counts.

Grave Issue is the second book in the DCI Kath Fortune series and now available! This follows Daisy Chain, Julia’s debut novel.


Author Interview

What inspired you to write this book?

I knew I wanted a new investigation for DCI Kath Fortune and her cold case team. I did a Creative Writing module within my English degree and the final piece was a short story. Grave Issue is that story, which was originally set in the US, and I felt I could transport it to Shropshire without losing the essence of the story. I really just expanded a 2,000-word story into over 70,000 words!

If you could set the scene for this book in one sentence, what would it be?

Secrets don’t stay buried forever.

What did you find the biggest difference between writing the first book and writing a sequel?

My first book, Daisy Chain, was more like making a patchwork quilt. If I got stuck, I wrote separate scenes and then pieced them all together. Grave Issue flowed in a much more linear fashion. I more or less went from Chapter One through to the end. I knew the characters better as well, and how they would react to situations I put them in.

How do you keep track of the characters from one book to the next in the series?

I’d love to say I’m really professional and make copious alphabetised notes and sections, but I mostly rely on my memory! Sometimes I have to go back and check facts – I’ve been known to get names of husbands mixed up. I do make notes… and then forget where I’ve written them down!

In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing or being an author? 

I think the self-doubt never leaves you. Even with lovely comments and great reviews I guess, for me anyway, there are still ‘Yeah, but…’ moments. Then there’s the courage required to cut out what you think is a great passage. I am better now at asking myself ‘Does this move the story forward?’ If not, it has to go.

Where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration comes from everywhere! I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction and enjoy watching great TV drama. Genealogy is another great source. I also find I can be talking to someone, and they make a comment, and I think ‘That’s going in the next book’.

Favourite quote from the book?

I seem to make Marvin the butt of Ruth and Shirl’s jokes. I’m fond of ‘Cool your jets, Kojak’ when Marvin is excited about an aspect of the case. Of course, he has no idea who Kojak is!

What do you hope for readers to get out of the story?

I hope readers get involved in trying to solve the case along with the team. There are some sad moments in this one, and would like to think the readers feel the emotion when reading as I did when writing.

Excerpt

Chapter 3

They’d all spent twenty minutes or so quietly eating and looking over the notes Byron had provided, and now Kath was eager to get into it.

‘So, thanks to Byron for the abridged notes of the case,’ Kath said, waving her copy of the paperwork. ‘We pare it down to the bare facts. Feel free to offer ideas, suggestions.’ Kath moved the front sheet further away from her face, trying not to look as though she was squinting.

‘Get some glasses, woman,’ Ruth said, trying to hold in a laugh.

‘I’m fine. Leave me and my eyes alone.’ Kath shook the paper and cleared her throat. ‘Two adults, Esther and Abraham Downing. Police were called when a dog walker discovered Abraham’s body.’

‘Thank god for dog walkers,’ said Marvin.

‘Indeed. He was lying in front of his cottage with his head caved in,’ Kath continued. ‘A shovel, covered in blood, lay next to him. Presumed murder weapon. Police discovered a shallow grave containing the body of his wife, Esther. Cause of death: shotgun blast to the torso. Said shotgun was inside the house. Only one cartridge discharged. So, the first question is, why two different weapons?’

Shirl lay back in her office chair, almost horizontal. ‘Ruth, you’re gonna wear a hole in the carpet.’

Ruth was pacing at the other end of the office. She did her best thinking on her feet, the movement seeming to aid her brain in putting thoughts together in some sort of natural order. She liked her external world to be clean and ordered, everything in place, and now her brain was in chaos mode, trying to unscramble the information.

‘My question is, why was one body buried and the other left exposed?’

‘Marvin.’ Kath pointed at him, and he sat up straight at his desk. ‘You’re the killer. Go.’

‘Erm… well, I go to shoot Abraham, but Esther gets in the way.’

Kath nodded. ‘Okay. Shirl?’

Shirl tossed her papers onto her desk. ‘Why wouldn’t Abraham stop you?’ She peered at Marvin, who was tapping his pen against his forehead.

‘He can’t get to me in time.’

‘So, why not turn the gun on Abraham and shoot

him?’ Shirl asked.

‘The gun…’ Marvin struggled to focus his brain, trying to insert himself into the killer’s head. ‘Okay, how about the gun jams?’ He smiled and held out his hands. ‘So, I throw the gun to one side and pick up the nearest weapon, which is the shovel. I bash him in the head. Job done.’

‘Maybe Abraham wasn’t there when Esther was

shot,’ said Ruth, still pacing.

‘So, why didn’t he report it?’ Marvin was throwing questions out now. There was a moment of silence.

‘Okay,’ Byron said. ‘But why would you bury Esther and not Abraham?’

They all turned to Marvin for an answer.

‘I… don’t have time.’

Kath nodded. ‘It can take a while to dig even a shallow grave.’

‘Is that the voice of experience talking?’ Ruth laughed, and her colleagues joined in. Kath feigned indignation, but her insides flipped at the thought of her teammates discovering her own murderous past. She needed to bring the discussion back to the case in hand.

‘Marvin, why didn’t you bring your own weapon with you if you meant harm to them?’

The office was silent as Marvin processed the question.

‘I didn’t mean to do it; it was spur of the moment, so I used what was already there.’

Ruth nodded, flapping her own paperwork and causing a draft. ‘But why did you put the gun back inside the cottage? The shovel was outside, next to Abraham’s body, but the gun was inside.’

‘Maybe…’ Marvin shrugged. ‘I’ve got nothing.’

Byron picked up the thread. ‘Maybe someone else killed Esther, and Marvin—sorry, the killer—found out, and Abraham’s murder was something else entirely.’

Kath went back to her notes. ‘Autopsy showed Esther’s approximate day of death was the same as her husband’s.’

‘Which was?’ Shirl asked.

‘August sixteenth 1975,’ said Byron. ‘No one heard the gunshot and thought to go and see what had happened?’

‘Everyone’s got a shotgun in that neck of the woods, pardon the pun,’ said Kath. ‘It’s the regular form of maintenance, shooting foxes and such. All the farmers have one, and the cottage is quite remote, set back in woodland away from the main road, no other houses around.’

The cottage in question, at the heart of the case, was still standing but was a shell of a construct. With no traceable relatives, the Downing property had passed, after many years, into trust, and there was no possibility of selling the land to build on. Broseley was full of sinkholes from its mining history, and portions of woodland and road had slowly disappeared over the years as the land shifted and tree roots snaked their way through the underbelly. The cottage could just about be seen from the main road running from Broseley centre down the Ironbridge. In times of torrential, prolonged rainfall, the whole area in front of the cottage turned into a mini lake fringed by ancient trees and scrub. The cottage was still standing, despite the shifting of the land around it. The roof was all but gone, the window spaces resembling empty eye sockets.

‘You’ve picked a good one here, Byron.’ Ruth stopped pacing and perched on the edge of one of the tables in front of the window.

‘Sorry.’

‘No, don’t apologise.’ Kath grabbed her cigarettes and stood up. ‘I think what Ruth is hinting at is that this all happened in the mid-1970s. Forensics was sketchy, nothing at all like we are now blessed with, and there is practically a whole generation that has died off, so witnesses are few and far between.’

‘Didn’t anyone miss the Downing couple?’ Byron asked. ‘Surely someone would have said that they hadn’t seen them around and gone to check if they were okay.’

‘Can’t answer that one,’ Kath said. She headed for the door, and Shirl got up to follow her. ‘It’s the babies,’ said Byron quietly.

Everyone turned to look at him. He lowered his head, his curtain of hair falling forward to cover his face.

‘I had a baby brother.’

No one moved, not wanting to break the spell. Byron took a deep breath and looked up. ‘I was seven, I think. So excited to have a brother. But he died when he was around three months old. Sudden infant death syndrome.’

‘Oh, mate.’ Marvin moved to him and put a hand on his shoulder, wanting to give him a hug but feeling it was maybe too much.

‘It’s okay.’ Byron gave a weak smile. ‘Mum called him Percy. He was adorable.’

Shirl’s sudden movement made them all start, and she pushed past Kath and headed down the stairs. Kath frowned and looked over at Ruth, who shrugged and raised her eyebrows.

‘There’s no explanation for SIDS. I guess I just want to try and find out what happened to those seven little babies.’ Byron moved to the coffee machine, and Kath rubbed his back lightly as she passed him on the way to meet Shirl downstairs for a much-needed fag break.

‘We’ll find out, won’t we, guys?’ Kath looked over her shoulder at Marvin and Ruth, who muttered words of encouragement, and she continued downstairs to find Shirl smoking underneath her favourite tree next to the Madeley station.

That was the part of the case they were all not talking about: the seven baby bodies found in graves at the side of the cottage. It wasn’t until the council had released the ground many years after the deaths of the Downing couple that the graves had been unearthed. A developer had made inroads into looking at the prospect of using the land for building houses and had used a team of surveyors to look at the potential of the ground if the council was willing to let it go for the right price. The seven bodies had seemed to be a forgotten aspect as the police had concentrated their efforts on looking for Abraham and Esther’s murderer. Now, the babies were most definitely in Kath’s sight, and the team would be investigating their deaths just as thoroughly as the two adult bodies.

The case wasn’t so much cold as frozen. Although the adult bodies had been discovered in 1975, the corpses of the seven babies had only been unearthed, literally, when developers had been testing the soil. The officer in charge had amazingly had the bright idea of getting a local archaeological group to take a look, realising they may have some relation to the case of the two adults found murdered on the same spot eight years earlier. The would-be archaeologists had surmised the tiny bodies might even have stretched back into the 1960s, but the focus had been on the adults, and the seven skeletons were considered a mystery not worth the time and effort of investigation.

‘You okay?’ Kath lit up and waited for Shirl to speak. Shirl kicked at the mass of leaves already forming in the September sunshine under the tree.

‘I have to show you something.’ Shirl exhaled a plume of smoke and looked at her boss and friend of many years.

‘Will you take a ride with me?’

‘Of course, mate, whatever you need. We’ll go after we’ve finished these, okay?’

Shirl nodded, took one last drag, and dropped her cigarette butt, crushing it with force into the leaves.

‘Thanks, yeah. I’ll see you up there.’

Kath looked up at the branches as Shirl went back into the station. ‘Always another mystery.’ She flicked her cigarette butt into the road and followed Shirl inside.

The churchyard was quiet. A woman sat on a bench against the front wall of the church, hands clasped in her lap. The only other person was a man collecting grass cuttings from an old lawnmower. He moved to an area on the far side where the oldest graves leant at impossible angles against the low perimeter wall and deposited the grass into a boxed construction that appeared to be some kind of compost heap. Planks of new wood encased the cuttings and decaying flowers, and the elderly man stepped into the box and began trampling the contents.

Kath followed Shirl to a gravestone to the right of the lychgate. She still had no idea why Shirl had asked her to come but knew that her friend and colleague would tell her when she was ready. Shirl had seemed unsettled ever since Byron had produced the new case for the team.

The gravestone was an old one, rounded at the top and bearing two names.

‘Oliver and Mary Carling,’ Kath murmured as Shirl lay a small posy of roses against the headstone. They had stopped off at a florist on the way, Kath again choosing not to ask questions.

Shirl patted the grass and stepped back. ‘My grandparents,’ she said. ‘And also the resting place of Rose Thompson.’

Kath waited, watching her friend as she took deep breaths. Shirl turned to Kath and pulled her cigarettes from her pocket. Kath waited as she lit one. Shirl looked up at the clear sky and exhaled a large plume of smoke.

‘My firstborn. My daughter.’

‘Oh, Shirl.’ Kath put her hand on Shirl’s arm, searching for the right words to comfort her friend. She had not seen this coming. ‘Tell me about her.’

‘She breathed for two hours. Short, snuffly breaths. We were told she probably wouldn’t live very long. Heart defect.’ Shirl paused and took another deep drag of nicotine. ‘It was there on the scans. They said they couldn’t do anything but wait until she was born and then they could perhaps look at operating once she was strong enough, but even then, she might not survive the surgery.’ Shirl wasn’t known for being overly emotional and she kept it together now in the warm sunshine, with the sound of birdsong and the hum of tractors in the far fields.

‘You must have been really young.’ Kath took out her own cigarettes and lit one. Everyone knew that Shirl had four sons, two sets of twins, grown men now, who Shirl and her husband adored.

Shirl nodded. ‘Eighteen. Both of us. We knew we wanted a family straight away, and I was pregnant when we got married, here in this church.’

‘And she’s buried here?’ Kath stared at the gravestone, confused, failing to find another name on

it.

‘There’s a centuries-old tradition where babies who died were often buried with a grandparent or elderly lady so they could take care of them in… Heaven, I guess, or wherever.’

Kath smoked quietly and let her friend talk, amazed at the revelation. They had known each other for over eighteen years, and Kath had not had any clue. Shirl had been very careful to keep this little part of her past well and truly buried. She suspected that very few people knew this story, and she was humbled that Shirl could share it with her.

‘My family have been buried here for generations.’ Shirl pointed across the churchyard, next to the makeshift compost heap. ‘Great-great-grandparents over there, great-uncles next to them. We asked if Rose could be buried with my grandmother.’

‘That’s lovely,’ said Kath. ‘Comforting, I should think. For all of you.’

Shirl nodded and looked at her burned-down filter, flicking off the remaining ash and putting it in her pocket.

‘I understand now why this case has hit a nerve. We don’t have to carry on…’

Shirl held up her hand. ‘It’s fine. It’s time.’ She gave a weak smile. ‘It just made me sad when we started out. I mean, we were looking at the murder of two adults, then the dead babies turned up…’ She moved away, and Kath followed, keeping hold of her filter until she could flick it into the road.

‘Any time you want to talk about her, you know you can come to me now. Right?’

Shirl turned and embraced Kath. ‘Thank you.

But it’s all good. I have one day a year—her birthday—when I cry and come here to talk to her, tell her about her brothers, our lives.’

Kath released her and stepped back. ‘June fourteenth. You have it off every year.’

Shirl smiled. ‘What a good detective you are.’

They got into Shirl’s car and sat looking out across the fields.

‘It’s weird how Byron picked up on this case,’ Shirl said. ‘And how we now have this strange connection. Not that he knows.’

‘I don’t know… it might have something to do with Lane,’ Kath replied.

Shirl turned in her seat to face Kath. ‘Go on.’ Lane Petreus was the psychic who had helped the team on their first case a few weeks previous. Kath had watched the interaction between her and Byron as she’d said goodbye.

‘I think Byron has some… capabilities that even he doesn’t know he has. We can’t explain it, and we don’t want to because we just accept that it is what it is, but maybe Byron was just guided somehow to pick this case.’

‘Okay, I’ll take that. You may be right. He’s an extraordinary young man.’ Shirl paused. ‘Have you thought about inviting Lane onto this case?’ Kath had been wrestling with the idea. The team was still in its infancy, and she didn’t yet know if Lane could be a permanent part of the team, even if it were possible and it was what Lane desired. Her talent was in great demand, and Kath felt a little selfish in asking Lane to commit completely to them.

‘I don’t honestly know yet. I kind of feel we should press on as we are. If we hit a stumbling block and Lane is available to us, then maybe we can consider calling her in. What do you think?’

Shirl nodded and started the car. ‘I think your instincts are spot on, as ever. You’ll make the right call when the time comes.’

She nosed the car forward and headed back to the station, considering the idea of sharing an intimate piece of her past with the rest of the team.


About the Author

Julia Vaughan, author of Daisy Chain, is a Medical Secretary living in Shropshire with her husband and 2 cats. As a youngster, she wanted to be Destiny Angel or one of Charlie’s Angels. Neither came to pass. Julia completed a degree from Worcester University in English & Literary Studies with Associated Drama and has been writing crime and mystery fiction for years, with the odd short story published. She’s happiest when watching Columbo, Law & Order and Midsomer Murders. Daisy Chain is Julia’s debut full-length novel.

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Review | Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 02 August 2022
Published by: Tor Books 
Type: standalone
Genre: Speculative Fiction, British & Irish Horror, Fairytales and Folklore, Fantasy,
Author: Sunyi Dean
Book Length: 304 pages, Hardcover
Read: 22 August 2022
Shelved: 25 August 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

A gorgeous new fantasy horror – a book about stories and fairytales with family and love at its dark heart…
Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Coraline), Susanna Clarke (Piranesi), and Let the Right One In.

Hidden across England and Scotland live six old Book Eater families.

The last of their lines, they exist on the fringes of society and subsist on a diet of stories and legends.

Children are rare, and their numbers have dwindled, so when Devon Fairweather’s second child is born a dreaded Mind Eater – a perversion of her own kind, who consumes not stories but the minds and souls of humans – she flees before he can be turned into a weapon for the family… or worse.

Living among humans and finding prey for her son, Devon seeks a cure for his hunger. But time is running out – for her family wants her back, and with every soul her son consumes, he loses a little more of himself…

This is a story of escape, a savage mother’s devotion, and a queer love that will electrify readers looking for something beguiling, thrilling, strange, and new.


Review

RATING BREAKDOWN:-
Character: ★★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Intrigue: ★★★★★
Logic: ★★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★★
OVERALL: 5 stars ★★★★★

Note: After reading this book, I remember my jaw-dropping, and I was stumped! I had to sit down and digest everything. Even though I took my time savoring this book, there was a lot to absorb and sift through. I included a few trigger warnings at the bottom for reference.

The world-building and scene placements were terrific! The Book Eaters excellently wove together classic fairytale classics like Photogen and Nycteris and fantasy books of J.R.R. Tolkien, William Goldman, and George MacDonald Fraser. I felt like I was transported to where Devon and Cai were and felt every emotional turmoil they went through.

There were a lot of really dark and challenging themes. Still, the author did a great job of balancing moments of tension, suspense, and drama versus moments of familial and maternal tenderness. Many of the scenes were so poignant or full of perfect timing that they brought me to tears. The parts of the book that are hardest to read are the ones that make her question her beliefs through characters either creating doubt or even invalidating what she wants – to live peacefully and safely with Cai. 

The writing is so vivid in these moments, using flashbacks and metaphors that span Devon’s childhood, that it appeals to the universal human experience.

Devon is a relatable character, especially for mothers who had to give up their child (willingly or not), trying to do her best in challenging and ever-changing circumstances, including in her own home. My heart broke for her over and over with each promise broken by people she trusted or thought she could have. She is a woman of resistance. Trying to find solace and a haven for her and her child, Cai, Devon decides many risky actions that either work or backfire to place her in more precarious situations. I see more of her character development as relatable and believable during the latter. Her naivety at the start of the book transforms her into someone stronger, braver, confident, and determined. I love how it shows how one event shaped and changed Devon forever. 

Food for thought: the relationship between Devon and Ramsey was a fascinating exploration of class (book eater vs. knight), familial duty (?), and entitlement in the Family structure. All the characters felt incredibly justified in their ideologies, with histories, motivations, and unique personalities forcing them towards the final conflict. 

In summary, The Book Eaters is an outstanding read with so much to digest! It is intriguing and innovative in its idea and execution (the idea of absorbing ideas and concepts by eating books), making it a riveting read. Even if the book is pretty dark, dire, helpless, and horrific at the beginning, the ending will leave readers with much hope and love that it would be impossible to forget. This book shows a woman/mother’s resilience and creativity, even with limited resources offered from the start, as she crushes the repressive, patriarchal society she faces. Since I started my book review journey, I rarely had books that left an indelible impression. I must say that the Book Eaters will have a place in my mind for years to come! I hope a sequel will be in the works since I do not believe that Devon will rest until she finds the ultimate ending of her choosing.


POV: Devon Fairweather, dual timeline

Reps: LGBTQ+, Asian-Mix, Fantasy, Horror, Fiction, LGBT, AdultBooks, Queer, Lesbian, ACE

Content Warnings: PTSD, body horror, gore, explicit violence, domestic abuse including marital rape, abandonment (of parent/child), emotional/psychological abuse, patriarchial society, mental/physical manipulation, blood, death, dying out race, sexism, violence against children, imprisonment, murder


Favorite Quotes


“There has to be a moent, she thought, where you could pinpoint the dies of an ocean turing. A single specific flicker of time, recordable, measureable, where the waves stopped retreating and stared advancing up the beah again. This, surely, was such a moment for her.
For the first time in years, her heart seemed to float within her chest, free and light and calm. Fear had been an anchor, dragging her down, and the certainty of death had finally cut that chain. Fif all this politicking were a card came, the knights beleved they had stacked the deck against her, to cover every eventuality. And if she could not win, then she no longer had anythign to lose. She would play with all she had because there was no other choice. In taking away her options, Ramsey had set her free. All she had to do was figure out a plan of her own.”

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


“Information is not intellect. Computers can contain entire books, too, but they’re not considered intelligent yet. It si sone thing to have a repository of data, and quite another to use it, let alone creativity. Weston could do both.”

– Mani, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


The compass slid cold against her chest. Clarity doused her nerves like a bucket of water ot he face. Leaving him was not an option. Couprage, she told herself. Breathe in, breathe out; endure.

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


“Don’t look back, Hes. Never look bak. We make our choices and we keep going. Do you hear me?”

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Someday, Devon thought, her promises would have worth. Someday, she would have enough strength to force the world into the way it needed to be. She would be good, and so would Cai. Somehow, in a place far from here.

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Because despite her promises and her murders, and her fanatical commitment to protect him from the world, she hadn’t been able to protect him from his own choices, his own crimes that were his to commit. The sins he chose to bear, for love of her. Love

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

The sins he chose to bear, for love of her. Love was sometimes a terrible thing, and he had discovered that just as she had.

– Devon, Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

About the Author

Sunyi Dean (sun-yee deen) is an autistic author of fantasy fiction. Originally born in the States and raised in Hong Kong, she now lives in Yorkshire with her children. When not reading, running, falling over in yoga, or rolling d20s, she sometimes escapes the city to wild swim in lonely dales.

Her short stories have been featured in The Best of British Scifi Anthology, Prole, FFO, Tor Dot Com, etc., and her debut novel, THE BOOK EATERS, will be published on 02 Aug 2022 by Tor (USA) and 18 Aug 2022 by Harper Voyager (UK). Available at all good bookstores, in ebook, hardback, and audio.

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


Review | The Dragon’s Promise (Six Crimson Cranes #2) by Elizabeth Lim

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, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you would consider getting it at a local bookstore.

**Thank you to NetGalley, #HodderBooks, and #HodderPublicity for my advance copy!

US versus UK covers

Published on: 21 August 2022
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Type: duology
Genre: Fantasy Fiction, Teen & Young Adult Fairy Tale & Folklore Adaptations
Author: Elizabeth Lim
Book Length: 487 pages
Read: 20 May 2022
Shelved: 24 May 2022
Rating: 5/ 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Princess Shiori made a deathbed promise to return the dragon’s pearl to its rightful owner, but keeping that promise is more dangerous than she ever imagined.

She must journey to the kingdom of dragons, navigate political intrigue among humans and dragons alike, fend off thieves who covet the pearl for themselves and will go to any lengths to get it, all while cultivating the appearance of a perfect princess to dissuade those who would see her burned at the stake for the magic that runs in her blood.

The pearl itself is no ordinary cargo; it thrums with malevolent power, jumping to Shiori’s aid one minute, and betraying her the next—threatening to shatter her family and sever the thread of fate that binds her to her true love. It will take every ounce of strength Shiori can muster to defend the life and the love she’s fought so hard to win.


Review

Note: The Dragon’s Promise is Book 2 of the Six Crimson Cranes duology. I advised readers to best read the books in order, starting with Six Crimson Cranes. Although not required, this series can be further enjoyed by reading the Spin the Dawn series since there are some “hints” of things to come that readers may enjoy.

The Dragon’s Promise‘s pace was good and well done! The POV is still only from Shiori’anma. There were many new and “grey” characters in the book, BUT all intentional in shaping Shiori and the story’s development. The conflicts were a lot, if not abundant, to digest. There was always something to wedge between Shiori and Takkan’s HEA. Some of these were a hopeful suitor/friend, a lost pearl, people wanting the bloodsake (Shiori) sacrificed, and demons, dragons, ghosts, etc., are all thrown in the mix. I don’t know where to hug the author or cry my eyes out as many dilemmas, frustration, and grief riddled each chapter! I had little relief at each turn as new characters came forth complicated things – friend or foe is always at the back of Shiori’s head, even her beloved Takkan! There is some slight reference to the Spin the Dawn duology, but readers are not required to read it before diving into this series.

I enjoyed the comedy injection in perfectly timed scenes. Else, I would have been a total wreck! It would have taken me forever to finish the book with the many sobbing and emotional moments that the author wrote. Most of the clever comments and laugh-out moments came from Kiki, Shiori’s paper crane. From the witty banter and side comments, Kiki’s got spice, spunk, and humor tastefully delivered with a side of sarcasm that is an art form on its own! Each retort or comment will bring out a chuckle in any reader.

Six princesses, eight birds, one lordling, all here to catch you from falling into a well,” said Kiki, shaking her head at me. “Not your finest day, Shiori.” She landed on my shoulder, the glint of gold and silver on her wing shining brighter than ever. But we’ve been through worst.

~ The Dragon’s Promise, Elizabeth Lim

I love the author’s character development for Shiori. Shiori grew up a lot in this book. She evolved and grew stepped up on empathy, duty, and acceptance of her role in Kiata’s betterment. She is far from perfect, and there were many times Kiki would chastise Shiori of her. In Book 1, Shiori, the young, impulsive, and “carefree” princess of Kiata, learns about responsibility, humility, and destiny within herself and her royal duties – consequences and love. In this book, she further explores her magical side and its connection to Kiata. She discovers that she is more than just a princess.
Simply put, she embraces her fate while still holding to her beliefs. She matured to be a brave and honorable princess, even if faced with fierce temptation and times of giving up. She maneuvered the future to how she saw fit for everyone – sacrificing everything for peace in her country, upholding her word, and being impossibly selfless.

“If I am honest, usually by the time word of the bloodsake reaches the emperor, they are dead.”
Perhaps that was why I’d been chosen this time. Because, unlike the others born before me, I had the emperor’s ear. I had a voice. I had to use it.

~ The Dragon’s Promise, Elizabeth Lim

Overall, The Dragon’s Promise is an enchanting, fantastic read! There is much world-building that I am convinced that places like Kiata, Ai’Long, Tambu, etc., can be seen on the world map with the care and detail provided!
The story is written and developed very well. It honors all the characters as a bittersweet farewell, from the main characters, and from Emperor Hanriyu to temple keeper Oshri. Beautiful people who will imprint themselves into readers’ hearts.
Expect a rollercoaster of emotions and a winner’s circle win at the end! I am sad to see the end of Shiori and Takkan’s story, BUT I am also happy with how the author wrote the ending. There were still some twists (hint: more waterworks coming), BUT what a spectacular ending worthy of being termed “Happily Ever After” in its truest sense!
*Chef Kiss*

———————————

As I write this review, there are three critical events in The Dragon’s Promise

(a) Shiori in Ai’long (Dragon Kingdom)

Shiori fulfills her promise to Raimara and her promise to Seryu. I was smacked with a lot of grief, angst, frustration, and tears immediately entering the first third of the book. The section tested Shiori’s heart and mind. Very worn out with all the problems, Seryu had to give credit to Shiori – testing her limits in patience and sanity!

(b) Shiori returning the Wreath’s Pearl

Shiori’s return is only 1/3rd of the book, wherein initially thought the Dragon King would help her return the Wreath’s Pearl did more damage to it than help. After surviving a traumatic introduction to the Dragon Kingdom and narrowly escaping with her life, now, Shiori has to worry about another monster from Book 1! It’s also here that she calls on her brothers to bring back what happened in Book 1 and to have her brothers still accept the consequences of their commitment to their sister – brotherly love and familial commitment are fantastic!

(c) Shiori saving Kiata

After going through a long journey for the Wreath’s pearl, Shiori still has to survive the demons and the priestesses looking for her (to do bad things). Even after one task is done, more problems appear. Shiori’s ultimate “end-game” is to save her people and Kiata. The resulting actions and consequences were the most heartbreaking 2022 read.


8 (Lucky 8) Memorable Quotes/Moments that make The Dragon’s Promise the B-O-M-B!

A promise is not a kiss in the wind to be thrown about without care…It is a piece of yourself that is given away and will not return until your pledge is fulfilled.”

“If you wanted to be told you were beautiful, you would hide your scar. But you don’t. It tells your story, a story that’s meant only for those worthy of hearing it.”

“Fate watches you closely, Shiori’anma, as it did her. It never favored her. Do not assume that it favors you.”

“No task is beneath a princess,” she said with a smile. “My mother taught me that. It makes you stronger.”

“My father said she was a good judge of character,” she replied at length. “She could see the light in others, whereas they saw only the darkness in her. That was her greatest pain.”

“Surround yourself with those who’ll love you always,” I began, “though your mistakes and your faults. Make a family that will find you more beautiful every day, even when your hair is white with age. Be the light that makes someone’s lantern shine.”

Those were Raikama’s words to me – a last wish for my happiness.

I turned to Benkai. “When you are at war, who do you seek to be your ally?”
“The enemy of my enemy,” he replied easily.
“Exactly,” I said. “The priestesses’ enemies are the demons. I’ve…I’ve been thinking I should talk to them.”

“You’ll never lose me, Bushi’an Takkan,” I replied. “Be it bright or dark, you are the light that makes my lantern shine.”

Coming out on 30th August 2022 at all major bookstores and retailers!

About the Author

Elizabeth Lim is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Six Crimson Cranes, The Blood of Stars duology (Spin the Dawn and Unravel the Dusk), So This is Loveand Reflection. 
​Elizabeth grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars and posted them online to discover, “Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that’s kinda cool!” But after one of her teachers told her she had “too much voice” in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English. 
Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and she turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel—for kicks, at first, then things became serious—and she hasn’t looked back since.
​Elizabeth graduated from Harvard College with an A.B. in music and a secondary in East Asian Studies, and she completed her graduate degrees (MM, DMA) at The Juilliard School. She grew up in Northern California and Tokyo, Japan, and now resides in New York with her husband and two daughters.

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


Illustration by Tran Nguyen | Cover Design by Alison Impey | Lettering by Alix Northrup

Book Tour | A Venom Dark and Sweet (The Book of Tea 2) by July I Lin

Check out the other bloggers joining this tour here.

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, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

ILLUSTRATOR: SIJA HONG
DESIGNER: RICH DEAS

Published on: 23 August 2022
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Type: duology
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Author: Judy I. Lin
Book Length: 352 pages
Reading age ‏: ‎ 13 – 18 years
Grade level ‏: ‎ 7 – 9
Read: 18 July 2022
Shelved: 21 July 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Book 1 is out, and it is best to read it first!
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Synopsis

The enthralling conclusion to Judy I. Lin’s Book of Tea duology—A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet—is sure to enchant fans of Adrienne Young and Leigh Bardugo.

A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…


Review


I was delighted and ecstatic when I got word that I would be part of this tour AGAIN!!!
You can read my review of Book 1 here. I am thrilled to share my review for the final book of the tea duology and promote a fellow Asian who is also a fellow Canadian!

POV: first-person, Ning, the Shénnóng-shi, and Kang, the Banished Prince

Tropes: Asian myths and legends buff, Fantasy readers, coming-of-age, royal family scandal, LGBTQ+

Rep: Chinese and Taiwanese, Lesbian & Nonbinary

Top 5 Reasons to Read A Venum Dark and Sweet

1. Detailed world-building

This book did not spare each detail to help readers get the most concise visual and emotional highs and lows encountered by Ning and Kang. I was enchanted and mesmerized by the fantastic places both MCs went separately, then later finally bumped into each other to share their individual stories.

2. Complex Plot: the multi-level conflicts and predicaments 

It was explosive to discover that this book goes beyond winning the tea competition and saving her sister, as mentioned in Book 1. There is a lot more going on with the story that encompasses everyone in the book, and it doesn’t matter which side you are – Princess Zhen or Prince Kang. There is much more intrigue, deceit, and jaw-dropping manipulation tactics when the “pieces” all come together. 
Expect many more mystical discoveries and action with some angst on the side for everyone in the book.

3. Well-developed character maturity and personality

I enjoyed the many-layered relationships for the MCs – each raw, genuine, and honest makes them believable. 
The progression between an untrained Shénnóng-shi and a reluctant soldier/prince was long and harsh. There were a lot of relationships tested.


For Ning, it’s her sisterly bond, friendships with many allies, and most importantly, her connection with Kang that led her to accept and respect the limitations of her art and magic. Note: it’s not as immense and powerful as one would imagine operated alone. She is still very human and needs tea to access anything – that is, if anyone else will drink that tea with her.

For Kang, it’s his uncertain father-son relationship, his image as the Banished Prince, his relationship with his soldiers, and his relationship with Ning. He has the precarious position of seeing the carnage and destruction as a way to avenge the death of a loved one – which sometimes is NOT what it seems from the start.

Both have doubts about who they are from the beginning (even in Book 1), but Book 2 dives further because after Book 1’s ending, each realizes that things are more tenuous than they first appeared. They both grow and later accept the responsibility of the possible risks and sacrifices they will have to go through for the betterment of everyone. Failure is NOT an option.  

4. Ode to Chinese folklore

I relished the sprinkle of old folklore that further supported Chinese myths and legends like the Cowherd and the Weaver, the five gods of the tiger, the tortoise, the dragon, the crane, and the snake. Each one reminded me how much I love Chinese myth and folklore. It was good to be reminded of these stories again.

5. Epic ending to finish off the story

I gobbled up the action/drama scenes that combine and culminate the epic ending for the duology. Just when we think that all is lost, the author pulls everything back and gives us the spark of hope to push through the dire situation for a HEA that is unique and appropriate for its category as a YA novel. 
Honestly, I am sad to see this book end but the ending, rightly written, has many beautiful messages of love, honor, hope, family, and sisterly love.

NOTABLE Quotes/Thoughts:

**The below quotes come from an uncorrected proof/copy provided to me before the release of the final published edition.

“There is a difference between living the suffering and reading about it.”

~ Zhen’s thoughts

My sister’s love for me is simple. Father would have pointed out how my behaviour embarrassed our family, but Shu accepts me as I am, asking for nothing in return. Without her, I will always be lost; I see that now. She wants me to rely on her in turn, not only as someone I need to protect.

~ Ning’s thoughts

“The dead can’t come back, but we can carry on their legacy.”

~ Ruyi

“The palace forces you to hide your true self for survival; I understand that now. The suffocating rules and traditions, intrigues and deceptions. The princess I first met in the palace was very different from the person I know now.”

~ Ning’s thoughts

Desperation allows for innovation.

~ Ning’s thoughts

“One simple, little stroke and yet it means everything…
Such is the beauty of our written language.”

~ Mistress Bao

It is fate that brings me here, but not the way the chancellor believes it. We all believe we are the center of the universe, but we forget we are merely specks among the stars. Moving through the streams of possible futures, sometimes colliding.

~ Ning’s thoughts

——————

Words that popped on my read of A Venom Dark and Sweet: haunting, chilling, reflective, humbling, honest, raw, human, forgiveness, healing, redemption

Tropes: Asian myths and legends buff, Fantasy readers, coming-of-age, royal family scandal, LGBTQ+


About the Author

Judy I. Lin was born in Taiwan and immigrated to Canada with her family at a young age. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now works as an occupational therapist, and still spends her nights dreaming up imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. A Magic Steeped in Poison is her debut novel.

Connect with Judy
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This tour is hosted by TBR and Beyond Tours.

Review | Fire and Ice (Mauzzy & Me Mystery Book 2) by B.T. Polcari

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, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 15 August 15
Published by: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Type: series, no cliffhangers
Genre: Teen & Young Adult, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Humorous Fiction
Tropes: cozy mystery tropes
Author: B.T. Polcari
Book Length: 309 pages
Read: 01 June 2022
Shelved: 10 June 2022
Rating: 4 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Special Signed Bundle Pack

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Synopsis

After encountering a brief power outage at work, college student Sara Donovan might be allowing her imagination to run wild. The main vault in the Carlton Museum holds the Fire and Ice Exhibit, a collection of rare gems, including the Star of Midnight, a 175-carat diamond. Although all the stones are accounted for, Sara suspects the Star of Midnight was stolen and replaced with a fake.

While conducting her own investigation, what Sara uncovers is beyond even her wildest imagination: a coded message, papers with strange characters, and a mysterious set of numbers carved into an office wall. Despite dismissive historians and other experts, she is certain these clues point to a mysterious centuries-old legend.

Unfortunately, her colorful history of usually being right, but always being wrong, means she must solve the mystery to prove her theory.


Review

Disclosure:  I highly suggest readers start from Book 1 so as not to miss out on the “importance” of these guest characters to the plot and why Sara has to trust/not trust them, especially when they seem to know more than they say

As expected in most mystery theme books, Fire & Ice is told from Sara’s POV only. The writing is clear, descriptive, and fascinating, although with some “overwhelming parts, especially when ciphering codes and math jargon spewed out. 

The story continues with Sara Donovan working at another museum (different from Book 1) and on the trail of another mystery that seems to have her using her investigative skill again. She tackles interesting theories and intriguing locations that, at first glance, are not related to the questioned mystery until the many layers of mystery peel off.

It was great to see “the gang” from Book 1, helping Sara again, especially Mrs. Majelski! I miss that spunky lady’s sense of humor and cryptic messages to Sara. Mejelski’s more fierce in this book and will surely win readers again!

I love how the author portrayed other supporting characters like Zoe, Matt, and even her father, clarifying a lot of technical stuff about code-breaking theories Sara got herself into. Even with the many new cast of characters helping Sara in the book, the hero and problem-solving came from Sara.

Although many moments showed how “lucky” Sarah stumbled on relevant tips and essential clues because of her friends, everything still felt organically developed as the story progressed.

The writing is well researched, especially with the clues and connections. The pacing is just right, but I must mention that there were moments that frustrated me. It was when the author would add a specific detail that I thought would add to Sara’s advantage or not but later found out that it didn’t “work.” Some parts repeated, like Sara’s boyfriend, Connor (in Book 1), was mentioned often to vouch for Sara’s credibility constantly. It’s great and good that Connor reassured that particular friend of Sara’s credibility, BUT that friend’s faith in Connor showed less and less each time Sara discovered something extraordinary and even started doubting her at some point in the book. I am not sure if maybe that’s the author’s point – to provide much doubt and “stack everything against Sarah” that when it all came down at the end, it will have more “weight.”

Ultimately, Fire & Ice is an excellent cozy mystery read with many code-cracking mysteries, suspense, and danger. It was so engaging that I could not stop reading and then later reflect on each inch of the clues. I was taken out of my comfort zone of cozy mystery and thrown into the headspace of double meanings, misleading clues, and well-placed deflections. This book is full of twists and turns that will make one flip-flop between who is involved and who is the “mastermind.” It is one marvelous adventure anyone can have in problem-solving.

Don’t just take my word for it. Read it and find out for yourself!

PROS:

– cute doggie Mauzzy helping out then leading Sara to go further
– excellent character development versus Book 1 for MC
– new casts and old converging to help solve the mystery
– ample Mrs. Majelski’s “air time” that provided the fierceness and spunk
– bigger picture lies outside of the museum piece (the diamond) and becomes a more explosive revelation in the end
– code-cracking skills well used and explained thoroughly

CONS:

– repetition of some minor events seems to distract than emphasize; could have done without
– not enough of Connor Reed (!!!)


About the Author

B. T. Polcari  is a graduate of Rutgers College of Rutgers University, an award-winning mystery author, and a proud father of two wonderful children. He’s a champion of rescue pups (Mauzzy is but one example), craves watching football and basketball, and, of course, loves reading mysteries. Among his favorite authors are D.P. Lyle, Robert B. Parker, and Michael Connelly. He is also an unapologetic fantasy football addict. He lives with his wife in scenic Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Connect with B.T.
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Review | The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 22 February 2022
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Type: standalone
Genre: Fairytale & Folklore, Teen & Young Adult Historical Romance, Fantasy Romance
Tropes: Paranormal Romance, Fantasy
Reading age ‏ : ‎ 13 – 18 years
Grade level ‏ : ‎ 7 – 9
Author: Axie Oh
Book Length: 336 pages
Read: 08 August 2022
Shelved: 10 August 2022
Rating: 5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year, a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods, and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…


Review

POV: first-person – Mina Song (from the Songs of the Lower Mountain)

I couldn’t mention much since most of the storyline has a lot of underlying secrets that made the book memorable because they were all hidden well before their revelations. 

I do want to say that as an avid reader of myths and mythology, especially the Asian ones, expect a few unexplained things NOT mentioned. Instead, I would ask readers to keep an open mind and give some leeway for the impossible – i.e., Mina being able to breathe underwater when she fell into the Sea God’s court.

Storyline/Plot: intricate and multi-layered

The book retells the Korean folklore, The Tale of Shim Cheong – a dutiful daughter who jumps into the sea to sacrifice herself to help her blind father and, later, is granted to return to the human realm as a reward for her selflessness.

The spin-off of the story is that Mina is part of this and instead jumps to the sea to take Shim’s place in being the Sea God’s bride as a sacrifice.

I love the unpredictability and uncertainty upon Mina’s arrival at the Sea God’s court. The magic and mysticism of the Sea God’s court were eye-opening, where one’s intentions aren’t as straightforward as they seem. The pacing was slower at the beginning, but as Mina’s time becomes limited, things pick up, which is great since many things were getting affected as Mina stays longer in the Sea Realm – both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. The taciturn and dire situation of saving the Sea God and Mina’s village morph and evolve into a beautiful gift, in the end, wrapped with healing, redemption, and fated love.

The world of the Sea, Spirit, and the Living Realms collide with Mina at its center. Mina’s journey has a lot of connection to the past SeaGod brides. I loved the flashbacks and recollections she had, even before Shim Cheong, woven into the path she had to encounter. These recollections help make the story believable and more endearing.

Characters: dynamic, diverse, and distinct

I do want to mention that Mina was consistently brave and selfless. She is witty and clear enough to adapt her grandmother’s wisdom and storytelling to get her out of sticky situations. It was one of the most endearing traits that inked its way in the Sea God’s head even after everything was set right. Her grit, persistence, and love beyond her happiness make the story work and genuine to her purpose from the beginning.

The supporting characters of Namgi, Kirin, Mask, and Dai were perfect. They all supported Mina and Shin in saving all the realms. I love the brotherly love between Namgi and Kirin, which gave much comic relief. Mask and Dai were perfect in guiding and helping Mina navigate through the Sea God’s realm and fiercely protecting each other in one of the most heartwrenching scenes! I was smiling ear-to-ear when later, Mask revealed their connection to Mina.

Side note before I conclude: Who cursed the Sea God?

Before I end this review, I had a few reader friends mention how they felt when they read this book. One mentioned that she still didn’t know who cursed the Sea God in the first place. Without giving away too much again, note that many answers will come up at the end, and most are stated passively due to angst, frustration, and guilt. The reader may breeze over it in passing without realizing that fact, BUT readers can deduce and connect the answers. 

Conclusion

I highly recommend The Girl Who Fell Beneath The Sea to YA romantic fantasy fanatics and myth and legends buffs. Its colorfully depicted world-building and dynamic characters will surely entice and charm readers. The plot is simple, yet the characters and their added conflicts and personalities make the story glow and shine. The twists and turns left hidden until the very end are what will get readers hooked. Though it may feel short, the epic ending was executed perfectly, given all of Mina’s risks and sacrifices. 


**NOTE: This book has been in my TBR for the longest time, and whenever I try to start on it, something “comes up,” so I always believe that readers should approach books in the “right frame of mind and time.” Good thing that I was in a reading slump after a few books failed to impress me, and I had to DNF most than write a review that I feel might be more my fault than the author.


About the Author

Axie Oh is a first-generation Korean American, born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. She studied Korean history and creative writing as an undergrad at the University of California San Diego and holds an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. Her passions include K-pop, anime, stationery supplies, and milk tea, and she currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her dog, Toro (named after Totoro). Axie is the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, XOXO, and the Rebel Seoul series. Her fifth novel, The Floating World, releases in 2024.

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Review | The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Disclosure: All views expressed are only my honest opinion. A positive review is not required. Also, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 06 August 2013
Published by: William Morrow
Type: standalone
Genre: Asian American Literature & Fiction, Ghost Fiction, Cultural Heritage Fiction, Adventure and Romance
Tropes: Paranormal, Romance
Author: Yangsze Choo
Book Length: 368  pages
Read: 08 August 2022
Shelved: 09 August 2022
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

A startlingly original voice makes her literary debut with this wondrous coming-of-age story infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, adventure, and fascinating, dreamlike twists.

‘One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride…’

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, traditional ghost marriages are used to placate restless spirits. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor but also by her desire for the Lims’ handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits, and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.


Review

POV: first-person – Pan Li Lan (Li Lan)

PROs:

Detailed and unique world-building of Melaka (Malaysia)

This book dives into the fantastic world of the multi-racial population of Melaka, consisting of Chinese, Indians, and Malays, the Portuguese and Peranakan influences, beliefs, and culture of Malacca.

It is a page-turner with its exciting and engaging storyline making it hard to put down!

I remember wanting to hasten my read speed since many suspenseful moments kept me on edge! It is not to say that the author offered easy resolutions, too, since there were many sacrifices and self-discoveries that, if it weren’t for those, Li Lan would have made grave assumptions and more mistakes.

I enjoyed reading the secondary characters like Er Lang, Old Wong, and Amah. The story would not have worked for Li Lan without their insight, faith, and guidance. Ironically, I took more liking to Amah among the many characters in the book. She felt more like my grandmother with her superstitious beliefs and practices while my consciousness shuns away the young, naive Li Lan. I was more connected and invested in them than Li Lan. I am glad that Li Lan makes the best decision for her and her family in the end because of these characters.

CONs:

The limited character development of Pan Li Lan is because the author’s primary focus is on showcasing the culture and practices. Based on her situation, I felt the story is more about documenting the tradition and what happened to Pan Li than expecting much of her to take revolutionary steps in growing herself. 

There were too many “bad decisions” on Li Lan’s part that would not have been necessary if she had been patient and cool enough to find what she sought. She was inexperienced, naive, impatient, and more immature than someone who is supposedly wife material.

I have to credit Li Lan for hardening herself with each discovery of her family and the Lim family. Still, it didn’t progress enough, as seen when she returned to her home and started finding a way to get her HEA. She somehow still is the same girl from the beginning of the story, which frustrated me more! She is still lost and unable to overcome her dilemma and takes a lot of risks, even after escaping many dire situations! 

Determined and relentless qualities describe her very well, and she finally resolved so many questions in the end. I am happy that she followed her heart and found out the truth about herself, and resolved things for the families involved.

Final Verdict:

I rarely stay on a book if I can’t connect to the main characters or find them frustrating. I did love the storyline, so I pushed on even when the characters were “weaker” than I expected. There is a lot of suspense, action, and drama, but ultimately, I am glad that the ending was befitting and gave me much relief when it came time.

If you want a detailed look and the exoticism of Asia, namely the mix of mainly Chinese, Indians, and Malays, the Portuguese and Peranakan culture, AND a very plot-driven storyline. In that case, The Ghost Bride is for you!


About the Author

Yangsze Choo is a NYTimes bestselling novelist and a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. Due to a childhood spent in various countries, she can eavesdrop (badly) in several languages. After graduating from Harvard University, she worked in various corporate jobs and had a briefcase while writing fiction on a coffee table at home in her spare time. 

Her first novel, THE GHOST BRIDE (2013), was a Goodreads Choice finalist, CILIP Carnegie nominee, Oprah.com’s best book of the week, and now a Netflix Original series, which was released Jan 23, 2020. Her second novel, THE NIGHT TIGER (2019), was Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club Pick, Amazon’s Spotlight Pick, and a Book of the Month Club selection, as well as one of the best books of the year for Amazon, The Washington Review of Books, Bookpage, Chicago Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library, Parade, Real Simple, and Self Magazine.

Yangsze loves to eat and read and often does both at the same time. Neither of her books would have been possible without large quantities of dark chocolate. Yangsze is represented by literary agent Jenny Bent.

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Review | Need You Now (Nashville Star Series 3) by Ava Hunter

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, I may earn a commission on some affiliate links below, whose fees support independent bookshops. Hope you will consider getting it at a local bookstore.

Published on: 18 July 2022
Publisher: Julia Archer
Type: series, standalone
Genre: Sisters Fiction, Southern Fiction, Women’s Friendship Fiction
Tropes: Music/Band/Rocker, Second Chances, Small Town Boy/City Girl
Author: Ava Hunter
Book Length: 366 pages
Read: 12 July 2022
Shelved: 17 July 2022

Rating: 3 / 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐

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Synopsis

She saved him when he needed her. Now he’ll save her too.

After making a tragic mistake that nearly cost him his brother, his reputation, and his sobriety, playboy Seth Kincaid wants nothing more than to hide the secrets of his past. When he hears that his sometimes-secret fling—and his guardian angel in high heels —Lacey Sutton is injured, he’s determined to repay her by stepping up to take care of her.

But Lacey is off-limits. She’s Seth’s best friend’s little sister.

Even if her sassy banter, wild temper, and gorgeous curves are the best kind of addiction.

Event planner Lacey Sutton has time for only one thing in her life: her job. She doesn’t have time for relationships or injuries that could cost her the party of the century. And she definitely doesn’t have time for cocky country singers with ocean-blue eyes, broad shoulders, and chiseled jaws.

Love is not on Lacey’s carefully planned agenda. Even if the way Seth looks at her has her wanting to let him into her guarded heart.

However, their close confines soon transform their attraction from lust to love. But when Seth’s superstardom calls him back to Nashville—and reality—Seth and Lacey must face the truth about themselves and their secrets, or they’ll risk losing what they never knew they needed: each other.

Need You Now is the third book in the Nashville Star series. It’s a full-length second-chance country romance with no cliffhanger, no cheating, and a happily-ever-after guaranteed. Content and trigger warnings: references to drug abuse and eating disorders.


Review

Trigger Warning: drugs and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, mugging, impostor syndrome, bulimic tendencies, fractured/dysfunctional family dynamics

Story: Seth and Lacey’s story
POV: first-person, dual-POV; Seth and Lacey

The bad boy of the group, Seth Kinkaid, is showcased in this book. It discusses heavier topics from previous books in the series. 

Need You Now‘s plot is well-paced and developed, though there were moments when I felt it could have been shorter and still would have been effective for me. The characters were honest and raw, mainly based on past books. I appreciate the continuity that helped piece together the character traits and personalities. 

I like how readers of the series will get to know Seth and Lacey more this time through intimate conversations and admissions. There is much self-doubt for both characters, which pushes the story longer and more detailed. Both MCs shared heartbreaking backgrounds that impacted them during stressful situations.

It was interesting to see the character development process in these characters, but one more striking is Seth’s development to show his emotions to Lacey versus the latter. I must admit that the relationship from friendship to more turned out so cute in the end! I love how Seth was more forthright on his emotions versus Lacey, which is an uncommon trait for a man.

Did all the proclamation of love and devotion help me love the book more? Maybe, but I got frustrated when Lacey jumped two or more steps backward in her commitment to Seth and even to her sister, Sal, at some point. The self-deprecating moments were a sure downer. No matter what anyone said, Lacey wouldn’t believe she had so much strength and opportunities as she first realized.

I enjoyed seeing the previous book’s characters’ relationship with each other even after much turmoil and conflict happened in the past that were controversial and tragic due to being famous.

In conclusion, Need You Now is a slow-burn read, full of angst between two attractive MCs. The enemies-to-friends-to-soulmates theme runs deep in this book. I am glad these two MCs finally got their HEA after much pain and tragedy in each backstory. There are moments of self-doubt, even after much reassurance from everyone around them. It further shows readers how flawed these MCs are and had to work things out within themselves versus depending on others for the solutions outside.

Pros:
– Angst, slow-burn
– Character development is slow but steady
– Better insight of MC through past characters

Cons:
– Moment of repetitiveness was a downer at times


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. When Ava isn’t parked in front of the computer writing, she is coming, reading, traveling, drinking wine, baking, and watching good TV. She writes from her home in Arizona, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and a very chonky cat.

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