[Blog Tour] Review for A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

Hello again. I am currently struggling through the last stretch of finals week, but I’m excited to kick off this year’s Taiwanese American Heritage Week, where I celebrate authors of Taiwanese heritage on my blog, with my review for A Magic Steeped in Poison, written by a Taiwanese Canadian author. Thanks to Colored Pages for hosting the blog tour. You can find the rest of the tour stops on their tour launch page.

Book Information

Title: A Magic Steeped in Poison
Author: Judy I. Lin
Series: The Book of Tea
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 29th, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, fantasy

Synopsis

I used to look at my hands with pride. Now all I can think is, “These are the hands that buried my mother.”

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shénnóng-shī—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

Review

A Magic Steeped in Poison was one of my most anticipated releases of 2022, and it definitely delivered everything I wanted and more.

This book was really a treat for me as someone who grew up with Chinese dramas. It was atmospheric and trope-y in all the best ways while also delivering a fresh story with an innovative magic system, written in lush prose that stimulates all the senses.

Ning, the protagonist of A Magic Steeped in Poison, is the kind of person you can’t help but root for. Her family is the center of her world, she’s competent but humble and kind, and she’s always just Trying Her Best. Even as the story is an epic fantasy with a broad political landscape, it’s also a deeply personal coming-of-age story for Ning. Having grown up in a far-flung rural village in the empire of Dàxī, leaving her family behind and traveling to the capital city for the shénnóng-shī competition dumps her into a world much bigger than what she’s used to. There’s the culture shock of moving to a big city but also the stark class disparities between herself and most of her fellow competitors. Her interpersonal interactions in the capital are intertwined with higher political stakes, and she has to decide who to trust, what she values, and where her loyalties lie.

Chief among the people who test her ability to judge others’ character is Kang, a mysterious, handsome, and brooding boy full of secrets. They meet seemingly by chance and then establish a magical bond through a shared brew of tea that brings them into a surprisingly intimate closeness while also giving them reason to question whether the other person is everything they seem to be. There is sweetness and angst, disclosure and mistrust, and the tension between them extends throughout the story.

Another key player in the story who is full of mystery is the regent, Princess Zhen, who is the host of the shénnóng-shī competition. Ning doesn’t know what to make of her but is pulled into her orbit when she gets entangled in the royal court’s lethal power plays. I may have a soft spot for Zhen because of her romance with her bodyguard, Ruyi, but having a sapphic romance among the major supporting characters was a nice surprise. I can’t say too much about the princess without spoiling the story, but I definitely grew more attached to her as the story progressed.

A Magic Steeped in Poison is the first in a duology, and the setup for the second book is definitely there. When I finished the last page I was beside myself clamoring for the sequel and even though the wait is much shorter than usual because book 2 comes out in August of this year, I am cursing the publishing gods for not dropping it into my lap now.

In the second half of my tour stop, I have a book playlist, so stay tuned for that. 🙂

Book Links  

About the Author

Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband and daughter. 

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore

Hello again! This is part 2 of my tour stop for the Lakelore book tour hosted by Colored Pages. You can find all the info about the book and my review in the first part.

Today, I’m presenting some of my favorite quotes from Lakelore that I found resonated with my experiences and/or were just beautiful to behold. These are spoiler-free, so don’t worry!

Quote #1

I planned to help them hide out behind the rocks. Then I saw the first flicker of iridescent blue lift off the water. It fluttered through the air, a slice of lake-silver wafting like a leaf. Then another followed it. Then a few more, then a dozen. Then a hundred, each of them like a butterfly with its wings made of water. Then a whole flock of blue-green and silver-blue wings, their backs shining like the surface of the lake. They spooled away like they always did, showing me the dark underneath the water.

Bastián

Quote #2

I look up, and track that rush of blue. First I take in what it is as it crosses the sky, a spotted fish with a feathered tail that looks blade sharp . Then I take in that the sky is no longer daylight-gray, but purple, dark as the rind of an eggplant. The fish swims through that sky like it’s water. Ocean plants twist up toward that sky. A starfish with blue swallowtail wings rustles the stalks. The sky ripples with threads of light like sun bowing on the bottom of a pool. The memory of what this boy once showed me brushes against my neck.

Lore

Quote #3

Lore’s glance catches on my wrist. They give my watch a weird look. No one our age wears watches, and I know that. But I’ve also noticed that wearing a man’s watch signals something to people looking at me that they don’t even register. It makes it more likely that they’ll call me him instead of her, and while him might not be quite right, it’s a whole sky closer to right than her. That’s worth my friends telling me that an analog watch makes me look about a thousand years old.

Bastián

Quote #4

What I don’t say , what I want to say: All my friends liked me. And most of them even stuck with me when I came out (and those who didn’t, I chose to forget their names). I was the one they asked what shirts to wear on first dates, what were the best grocery stores to buy flowers to bring their mothers after they stayed out too late. But I don’t hear from most of them. I’m the kind of friend that’s fun when I’m there and forgettable when I’m not.

Lore

Quote #5

ADHD medication helps give me more of a buffer against changes in my brain weather . I used to get startled by a noise and be thrown off for hours. Someone would give me a look that could have meant nothing, and the ground of my thoughts would dry out and crack. That still happens, but it happens less often , and it happens slower.

This morning I missed the time I usually take my meds. I woke up groggy, tired from dreams of the lake flooding onto the shore, the water pulling into the shape of flames and licking across the hills. So I’m back to setting alarms. If I’m not on top of my meds, the weather in my brain dries out faster, like lightning might catch in the sky.

BAstián

Quote #6

“It was a lot like that ,” Lore says. “Sometimes I kind of wish I could give the people around me a daily report on my gender. Just so they’d know what to expect. So no one would give me that confused look whether I was wearing a binder or makeup or whatever.”

When I don’t say anything, Lore looks up. “I’m not making any sense, am I?”

“No,” I say. “You’re making a lot of sense. The world could use daily gender forecasts.”

The minute I hear myself say it, I know how stupid it sounds. Yes, I sometimes imagine that state of my brain in terms of weather. That doesn’t mean I tell anyone about it. It must sound even weirder about gender.

But Lore’s face lights up. “Yes,” they say. “Sunny, forty-two percent expected femininity.”

“Tonight,” I say, “cloudy with likely masculinity.”

“Exactly,” Lore says.

Bastián

Quote #7

I want to ask. Of course I want to ask. But it’s none of my business. And even if it was, how would I ask? Hey, random question, but did you grow up thinking there was maybe something weird about your own brain? Or that your brain was doing things the wrong way? That you were doing things the wrong way?

Even in my head, it sounds like a bad infomercial. It comes with a flourish of harp sounds. There’s an Amanda the Learning Specialist for that.

Lore

Quote #8

“Your turn.” Bastián looks at me. “Gender forecast.”

“For right now?” I ask. “Yeah.”

“Right now?” I shake the glitter jar. “I think it might be this.”

“Okay.” Bastián’s smile is shy, and they don’t quite look at me, like I’ve given them some kind of compliment they want but don’t know what to do with . “What about yesterday?”

“I guess”— I think about it, how I felt, how to put it in terms other than masculine and feminine, boy or girl, neither or both or somewhere in the space between—“ really strong coffee. Or maybe that popping sound soda makes.”

“A gender fizz.” Bastián nods. “Sounds like the next big drink.”

Lore

Quote #9

I can feel Bastián’s wince so clearly it presses into my chest plate. I know that feeling of not asking because you don’t want to admit that you didn’t understand something, that after several more repetitions you still might not understand it, the worry that the other person’s patience will thin and fray before you can.

Lore

Quote #10

I want to tell them that sometimes it’s okay, and sometimes it’s exhausting. Sometimes it means trying to change the weather in my own brain and finding it as impossible as moving the clouds in a storm. The weather in my brain may or may not match up with what’s going on, but an atmosphere of something being wrong can permeate everything even if I can’t figure out what it is. Sometimes it means not saying anything when someone misgenders me because I don’t want to be flagged as a problem any more than I already am.

BastiáN

[Blog Tour] Review for Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore

Hello again! Spring is in the air here, and while school is kicking my butt (as always), I am currently on spring break, so I managed to fit in some pleasure reading for this blog tour! I’m excited to present my tour stop for Anna-Marie McLemore’s newest book, Lakelore! Thanks to Colored Pages for hosting the blog tour. You can find the full tour schedule on their website.

Book Information 

Title: Lakelore
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore 
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: March 8th, 2022 
Pages: 304
Genres: Young Adult Fantasy

Book cover for Anna-Marie McLemore's novel, Lakelore. The illustration features two dark-haired brown-skinned youths standing back-to-back, half-immersed in vivid, multi-colored water with a flight of blue-green butterflies perched on their heads. A large yellow sun, partially eclipsed by clouds, looms behind them. In the water, the word LAKELORE is printed in bold white font with a distortion that resembles light reflecting off dapples in water.
Book cover for Anna-Marie McLemore’s novel, Lakelore. The illustration features two dark-haired brown-skinned youths standing back-to-back, half-immersed in vivid, multi-colored water with a flight of blue-green butterflies perched on their heads. A large yellow sun, partially eclipsed by clouds, looms behind them. In the water, the word LAKELORE is printed in bold white font with a distortion that resembles light reflecting off dapples in water.

Synopsis

In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake – but can they keep their worlds above water intact?

Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.

Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.

Review

You know how some books hurt to read because they hit close to home, but then they heal you and tell you it’s okay to exist as you are? Lakelore is one of those books for me. I mean, I love all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, but this one really spoke to me on a deeper level than any of their previous books (which again, are all marvelous still in their own right). The intersections of being trans, neurodivergent, and a person of color are explored in this story from dual points of view, and both Bastián and Lore’s experiences really resonated with me in various ways.

At its core, Lakelore is a story about the Terrifying Ordeal of Being KnownTM. Vulnerability is difficult enough to begin with, but being neurodivergent, trans/nonbinary, and brown in an ableist, transmisic, and racist world, both Bastian and Lore have been made to feel like there is no space in the world for them to exist, like the only way to live is to shrink themselves into digestible packages and to make sure nobody ever sees the unacceptable sides of themselves. In each other, they find kindred spirits. They can info-dump on each other about their favorite niche interests, they can joke with each other about gender, they don’t have to explain life as a brown person in a white world. However, the tension between their desperate hunger for intimacy and their all-consuming fear of rejection keeps every interaction between them balanced on a knife’s edge, where one wrong move or word feels like it could ruin everything. The acts of self-sabotage as a defense mechanism to preempt the possibility of being hurt by the other person? Maybe a little too relatable.

Of course, as usual, Anna-Marie McLemore brings their characters and setting to life with gorgeous prose that invites you to linger and bask in every turn of phrase, to let yourself get swept away by each emotionally charged ebb and flow of words. I kept highlighting passages for the favorite quotes portion of this book tour (coming up in my next post) and quickly found myself stressed by the need to narrow the list down.

Conclusion: Just read the book! It is an Experience.

Content/trigger warnings: misgendering, general trans-antagonism, ableist bullying, gendered harassment

Book Links

About the Author

Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) writes magical realism and fairy tales that are as queer, Latine, and nonbinary as they are. Their books include THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and was the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; MISS METEOR (co-authored with Tehlor Kay Mejia); DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List selection; and THE MIRROR SEASON, which has recently received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and School Library Journal, and the forthcoming LAKELORE (March 8, 2022) and SELF-MADE BOYS: A GREAT GATSBY REMIX (Fall 2022).

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] 5 Asian Fantasy Book Recommendations for Fans of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

Hello and welcome to part 2 of my blog tour stop for The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea. You can find the full details about the book in part 1. Here I’m presenting some book recommendations based on The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea. Some are older than others but they’re all Asian fantasy stories. If you’ve been following me/my blog since 2016 you might have seen me talk about one or more of these before. The book publishing world moves so quickly that backlist titles get neglected and forgotten pretty easily when they’re not part of an ongoing series, so I decided I’d give these a spotlight again.

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

This book was basically the first high fantasy YA by an Asian author published by one of the Big 5. Set in a Chinese-inspired fantasy world, it follows the story of Ai Ling, a young woman who sets off on a journey in order to find her missing father. Her journey takes her far beyond the world she knows to the realms of the gods themselves.

Prophecy by Ellen Oh

The first in a Korean inspired sword and sorcery fantasy trilogy, Prophecy features a kickass heroine on her quest to save her kingdom from foreign invaders and step into her destiny as the Dragon Warrior.

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

The Forbidden Wish is an ode love both platonic and romantic, told from the point of view of a female jinni who is woken from her lamp by a charming thief centuries after watching her closest friend’s kingdom fall. It’s a fresh twist on the story of Aladdin by an author of Syrian descent that remains one of my favorite YA fantasy romances to this day.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Like The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, The Star-Touched Queen, which draws on Hindu lore, features a young woman named Maya who becomes the bride of a god as the result of a cursed horoscope. She struggles to forge her own destiny while navigating the realm of Death and the shadows of her past life. The whole series set in this universe is a gorgeously written feast for the imagination, and I recommend reading the companion, A Crown of Wishes, and the novellas collected in Star-Touched Stories.

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

While Julie Kagawa is best known for her Iron Fey books, Shadow of the Fox is a must-read in its own right. Japanese folklore serves as the inspiration for this trilogy, which follows a humble kitsune (fox spirit) as she takes on the heavy burden of protecting a piece of the scroll of the Kami Dragon, whose power to grant any single wish every millennium would be devastating in the hands of the wrong sort—and there are many who covet it and will do anything to get their hands on it.

[Blog Tour] Review for The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

I’m about 1/3 of the way through the spring semester and am mentally hanging by a thread to the point that I mixed up the date for this blog tour post, but! I got a nice reprieve from school while reading The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea, which was one of my most anticipated reads of early 2022 since I’m a long-time Axie Oh fan and also the cover for this book (by artist Kuri Huang) is gorgeous! Thank you to Colored Pages for hosting this tour. You can find the schedule with all the other tour stops on the tour launch page.

Book Information

Title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea
Author: Axie Oh 
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: February 22nd, 2022 
Genres: Young Adult, fantasy

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

Not to be punny, but The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is such an immersive read. Nearly all of the story takes place in the undersea kingdom of the Sea God, which is populated by spirits and immortals of all kinds. Although it feels like a cliche to say so, I got Spirited Away vibes from the story, but not just because it’s Asian. The alienation and wonder of being in a completely different world with its own rules, the race against time to save what one holds most dear, the ever present beauty and danger of the spirit world, and the deceptive appearances of many of the characters—all of these elements lent the story the same enchanting qualities as Spirited Away.

Our protagonist, Mina, is nothing special on the surface, not the most beautiful or talented girl in her village, not even the original bride chosen to be sacrificed to the Sea God.  Yet her love, for her family, for her people, and for the gods themselves makes her shine as the protagonist and spurs her to acts of bravery. Her physical strength may be unremarkable, but her mental fortitude is admirable. She finds strength from the bonds she forges with others and holds them close to her heart.

The supporting cast of characters includes a wide array of beings, from friendly spirits in the form of children to spiteful gods with their own whims and agendas, as well as several of the other girls who were previously sacrificed to the Sea God. Although this story is a standalone, I found myself wishing I could return to the world of the Sea God to hang out with the many friends and allies Mina makes along the way.

At its core, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a story exploring the meaning of fate and the power of love to overcome all. Even as she is pressed on all sides by forces that try to bend her to their will, Mina persists in following her heart and holding on to hope. Her story is a guiding light in the storm and a perfect read for times of trouble. Overall, this book is a lovely start to Axie Oh’s venture into the fantasy genre and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Don’t forget to check out my book recommendations for the blog tour in my next post!

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). She is the author of multiple books for teens, including The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea.

Author Links: 

[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes from The Red Palace by June Hur

Hello, welcome to the second half of my tour stop for The Red Palace by June Hur, hosted by Colored Pages. You can find the details about the book and my review in my previous post. I’ve kept this spoiler free, so worry not.

Note: These quotes were taken from the digital advance reader copy I received from the publisher. The final edition may differ slightly.

Quote #1

Moonlight drifted as quietly as falling snow, illuminating the pavilion roofs and the animal shaped statues that lined the swooping eaves. Floor lanterns spilled golden light across the frosted courtyards, and against the latticed labyrinth of doors and windows. Silence reigned, except for the distant ring of the great bell, echoing through the capital and rumbling over Changdeok Palace. By the twenty-eighth ring, the palace gates would be bolted shut for the night.

Chapter 1

Quote #2

I knew how to keep my heart calm in the face of death and dying, screaming patients, and yet one sharp word from my father, and I turned into a fragile child. Before him, I never knew how to keep myself from crying—the type of crying that left me in a heap of violent shudders and gasped attempts to speak—no matter how much he resented the sight of it all. I wanted so much to be accepted by him. And I hated this feeling; I wished it to go away.

Chapter 6

Quote #3

It was no wonder that I’d read of Segeomjeong Pavilion so often in literature and poems. The pavilion nestled under a forested mountain and next to a trickling stream that sparkled in the setting sun, casting a spell over one’s mind with the thought that everything was well with the kingdom. There was no famine. There was no horror, no pain. There was no grief. There was only water, earth, and trees.

Chapter 7

Quote #4

He held my gaze, his brows drawn low with concern. “I promise. I promise on my father’s grave that nothing you tell me will ever be turned against you.”

And in that moment, I felt a strange feeling.

I trusted him.

Chapter 7

Quote #5

With that, I gave the servant a faint smile and stepped into my home. Silence and shadows swarmed around me, heavy with Mother’s grief, the one wound I couldn’t stitch up. A wound that made me feel so helpless I wanted to run away from it—but I was her daughter. We were family.

Chapter 8

Quote #6

Letting out a heavy sigh, I slid open the door to her chamber, and as the glow of candlelight filled my vision, for a moment, I saw Mother as she had once been. A gisaeng of exquisite beauty, and so intelligent that powerful men would come from all around the kingdom to converse with her. One of the men had been my father. A whirlwind love story, it was, Servant Mokgeum had once told me. They could hardly survive a day without each other.

But the pool of candlelight faded, and I stared at the mother who’d raised me, with her severely tied hair and a face that looked as empty as a storm-washed sky, eyes so dim they reminded me of a pair of burnt-out wicks.

Chapter 8

Quote #7

Within a few paces, I caught sight of the flared tile roof of the police bureau rising above the sea of thatched huts like dark storm clouds. I saw, too, a group of young police officers standing outside, speaking with someone. My gaze gravitated toward the tallest officer, a veil of rain dripping from the brim of his black hat.

Chapter 9

Quote #8

I was suddenly filled with the urge to burst into laughter. Laughter over the terrifyingly ridiculous situation I’d found myself, and from the sheer sense of wonder that the darkest time had brought a friend into my life.

Chapter 10

Quote #9

My stomach tightened into a knot as I wrung my hands, and forced my gaze onto the floor. But I couldn’t refocus myself. My guard fell away like a sigh of defeat, and I admitted to myself a truth that made my ears burn.

I wanted to love and be loved.

I wanted to be known.

I wanted to be understood and accepted.

Chapter 11

Quote #10

The great bell struck, its resounding ring rumbling down the streets. Massive gates on all corners of the fortress thundered shut, and we narrowly made it out on horseback. Hooves pounded across the earth as the capital and its guardian mountain dwindled into a black-ridged shadow.

Chapter 16

[Blog Tour] Review for The Red Palace by June Hur

It’s a new year already, which sounds fake since it feels like just yesterday we were starting off 2021. I haven’t kept up with my blog as much as I hoped over the past year, but I’m still hanging in there and getting all my blog tour posts in. Today’s review is for one of my most anticipated 2022 releases, The Red Palace by June Hur, as part of the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages. You can find out more about the tour and view the tour schedule on the Colored Pages site.

Book Information

Title: The Red Palace
Author: June Hur  
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 25th, 2022 
Genres: Young Adult, historical fiction, mystery

Synopsis

Joseon (Korea), 1758. There are few options available to illegitimate daughters in the capital city, but through hard work and study, eighteen-year-old Hyeon has earned a position as a palace nurse. All she wants is to keep her head down, do a good job, and perhaps finally win her estranged father’s approval.

But Hyeon is suddenly thrust into the dark and dangerous world of court politics when someone murders four women in a single night, and the prime suspect is Hyeon’s closest friend and mentor. Determined to prove her beloved teacher’s innocence, Hyeon launches her own secret investigation.

In her hunt for the truth, she encounters Eojin, a young police inspector also searching for the killer. When evidence begins to point to the Crown Prince himself as the murderer, Hyeon and Eojin must work together to search the darkest corners of the palace to uncover the deadly secrets behind the bloodshed.

June Hur, critically acclaimed author of The Silence of Bones and The Forest of Stolen Girls, returns with The Red Palace—a third evocative, atmospheric historical mystery perfect for fans of Courtney Summers and Kerri Maniscalco.

Review

(Note: I received an advance reader copy of the book from the publisher as part of my participation in this tour in exchange for an honest review.)

Honestly I feel like I might be repeating myself somewhat from my review of The Forest of Stolen Girls, but June Hur has delivered yet another masterful bone-chilling page-turner. Something about the way she writes infuses each page with the atmospheric essence necessary to immerse you in the world of her stories. There’s not a word wasted, each sentence a silken thread in a grand tapestry that you cannot fully grasp until it has finished being woven before your eyes. It’s like magic.

At the heart of this tragic serial murder mystery is nuanced commentary on gender and class inequality in 18th century Joseon Korea, the ghosts that haunt Hyeon at each step of her investigation and her life as a whole. As a young woman and an illegitimate child of a noble and a former courtesan, she has few prospects in a world of strict gender segregation and class stratification. Her attempts to pursue truth and justice on behalf of the murder victims and the innocent scapegoat for their deaths put her at odds with the prevailing social order, which would prefer that she keep her head down and mouth shut—if she doesn’t want to end up dead as well.

The story makes it clear who is treated as disposable and who can largely harm with impunity, and the challenge of solving the mystery is very much tied up in social power differentials and access to knowledge and resources. Yet the lurking threats to Hyeon and to those who refuse to let the truth remain untold ironically betray the fragility of the powerful and the faults in the system that allow those with less privilege to gain leverage and turn the tables. Thus the story does not fall into a fatalistic view of society but instead instills hope that toxic systems can be upended and justice can prevail.

As with her previous novels, this newest book of June’s centers on family and the complex feelings of daughters toward patriarchal figures. Hyeon’s desperate desire for validation from her emotionally distant and unforgiving father informs her choices and creates internal conflict throughout the story. Her investigation could jeopardize the achievements she has worked hard to attain as a palace nurse, so she must choose between doing what’s right and doing what is expected of her.

One notable way that The Red Palace diverges from its predecessors is the inclusion of a romantic subplot. Folded into the story’s broader theme of gender and class inequality is an aching tale of forbidden love. Eojin and Hyeon share analytical minds and an eye for detail, a strong sense of justice, and a stubborn streak that puts them in danger of retribution by those who feel threatened by their investigation. Yet the strict rules of gender and class dictated by their time and place cut a wide gulf between them, barring them from forging a socially sanctioned friendship and bond of intimacy. The result is a slow-burn romance replete with soulful yearning, stolen glances, and unspoken affection. It is devastating and beautiful, and you’ll have to read the book to find out not only who killed the palace women and why but what the future holds for Eojin and Hyeon. Trust me, it’s worth it.

In my next post, I’ll share some favorite quotes from the book to give a taste of what you’re in for.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Blackwells | Book Depository | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | IndieBound | Indigo | Kinokuniya USA

About the Author

a black and white photo of a pale-skinned young East Asian woman with long black hair who is smiling widely with teeth showing and eyes crinkled; a veil of maple leaves are faintly visible in the unfocused background

June Hur was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. She began writing her debut novel after obsessing over books about Joseon Korea. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop. She is the author of The Silence of BonesThe Forest of Stolen GirlsThe Red Palace, and A Crane Among Wolves, published by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and she currently lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

[Blog Tour] Book Playlist for Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!

Hello again! If you missed my review for Bounce Back, please refer back to that post for more information about the book. This post is for the playlist I curated.

For this book playlist, I decided to lean into the 90s-00s shoujo nostalgia I mentioned in my review. All five of the songs I picked are from anime, and four out of five are in Japanese (the other being from an English dub of an anime). Of those five, three come from magical girl anime from that time period, specifically Sailor Moon (the original, not Sailor Moon Crystal!) and Cardcaptor Sakura (not the more recent Clear Card), which were formative pieces of media for me. The central themes of this playlist are the uncertainty and growing pains of adolescence as it relates to self-confidence and friendship.

Full YouTube Playlist

1. Platinum – 坂本真綾/Maaya Sakamoto (Cardcaptor Sakura Season 3 Opening Theme)

Selected Lyrics (translation source uncertain, but possibly by the uploader of the video linked):

A world yet unseen…
No matter what awaits me there,
Even if it’s not the ideal
I won’t be afraid
The birds travel on the wind
On a journey from today to tomorrow

I want to convey it, I want to shout it
I am but one entity in this world
But like a prayer, like a star
Even with a small light, someday
I want to become stronger and stronger

2. “らしく”いきましょ/“Rashiku” Ikimasho (I’ll Go As “Myself”) – Meu (Sailor Moon SuperS Second Ending Theme)

Selected Lyrics (translation taken from Anime Lyrics.com, credited to Alex Glover <kurozuki@nwlink.com> ):

Lalala
Never give up, keep on trying
I’m betting it all on this game
My heart is pounding with joy
In the age of adolescence
It’s okay to rewrite
What is in your loving profile

3. Chase the Core – 佐久間貴生/Takao Sakuma (Skate Leading Stars Opening Theme)

Selected Lyrics (translation taken from Anime Song Lyrics and refined by me):

Chase the core
Seek out your yet unseen potential
Feel your heart
Seize your freedom now
You’ve learned enjoyment, right?
You can’t lie to yourself
Be proud of your best moment
Let’s do this
Chase the core
The frozen time, start moving
Come on, let’s go!

4. Tell Me – Queen of Hearts (Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie Insert Song)

This song is dedicated to Lilico and Nala.

Selected Lyrics:

Now there’s clouds on the horizon
And it’s starting to feel like rain
Now I hope you’re realizin’
I want you back again

So tell me
Are we gonna talk about it?
Are we gonna still be friends?
(Tell me)
You don’t ever have to doubt it
This doesn’t have to be the end

5. しょっぱい涙/Shoppai Namida (Salty Tears) – 阪本奨悟/Shougo Sakamoto (The Royal Tutor Opening Theme)

This song is for Nicco the guardian spirit.

Selected Lyrics (translation taken from Anime Song Lyrics, edited by me):

Tens of times, tens of times
You gave my back a push
I no longer want to cry these salty, such salty tears

Promises and bonds
Do they really mean anything?

“I want you to understand me.”
“I want someone to help me.”
My heart is screaming that
But I’m not being honest with myself

Tens of times, tens of times,
I kept lying
But why, tell me why
Were you the only one to remain here for me

That’s why I’m not running away
From myself nor from you anymore


Thanks for listening! (And I promise I haven’t forgotten about the Jade Fire Gold playlist that I was supposed to post for my last blog tour. Unfortunately, I got hit by a massive schoolwork/depression combo at the time and wasn’t able to do it on schedule. It’s coming later this week.)

[Blog Tour] Review for Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!

So…it’s winter already, and there are only 6 more weeks left of 2021…Sounds fake but isn’t. I’ve been drowning in schoolwork since it’s the last one-third of the semester, but I managed to carve out some time for the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages for a new middle grade graphic novel release, Bounce Back by Misako Rocks!. You can find the tour information on the Colored Pages site.

Book Information

Title: Bounce Back
Author: Misako Rocks!
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan
Publication Date: November 16th, 2021
Age Range/Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Synopsis

Friendship, a new school, and a bit of magic converge in this full-color graphic novel.

Lilico’s life in Japan is going well. She has great friends and is the captain of the school’s basketball team. She’s happy!

Then comes her parents’ news: they’re moving to America! Before she knows it, Lilico finds herself in Brooklyn, New York, forced to start all over. And that won’t be easy with her closest friends thousands of miles away or a school bully who immediately dislikes her.

Luckily, anime-loving Nala and Henry eventually befriend Lilico and with help from them—along with her guardian spirit who looks a lot like her cat, Nico—Lilico just might figure out where she fits in.

Review

Before I move on to the substantial aspect, I just want to note that the first thing that struck me when I looked at the cover for Bounce Back was a wave of nostalgia. The art style is highly reminiscent of some popular shoujo manga from the late 90s and early 2000s that I grew up with. In particular, I was reminded of the artwork of Natsumi Matsumoto (St. Dragon Girl, Yumeiro Patissiere) and Arina Tanemura (Full Moon wo Sagashite, The Legend of Princess Sakura, Idol Dreams), but there are others from the same era whose works that I’m not familiar with feature that cutesy, huge-eyed look (Mihona Fujii, Natsumi Ando).

The talking cat on the cover calls back to Luna and Artemis from Sailor Moon, and the story even mentions that resemblance on-page.

It’s always interesting to see how trends emerge and then go out, and when I saw Bounce Back, I felt like I was having a retro moment (not in a bad way though). I definitely feel like this book pays homage to those older shoujo manga.

Blending a shoujo manga-like style with a full-color left-to-right Western graphic novel format, Bounce Back delivers a charming and heartfelt middle grade story about a Japanese girl adapting to her new life in New York City.

Since this is a novel rather than a serialized comic spanning multiple volumes, it definitely feels denser than the typical shoujo manga. There are multiple interwoven plotlines introduced and resolved within the 250-odd pages: Lilico’s adjustment to a new culture; her friendship with the two resident otaku of her school, Henry and Nala; her ascendance to basketball stardom; a blossoming romance with Noah, a popular boy who’s the star of the boys’ basketball team; and the ever-present tension with a basketball teammate Emma who is Nala’s ex-BFF and also the catty Mean Girl of their school.

Throughout all of these events, Lilico’s guardian spirit, borrowing the body of her cat Nicco, acts as her mentor, confidante, and conscience. Though Nicco doesn’t give her a transformation pen to become a superpowered warrior, he does help Lilico tackle the difficulties of social relationships, acting as messenger and liaison in critical moments. He is the embodiment of unconditional love and friendship and a source of comfort that Lilico can depend on. Honestly, I wish I had my own Nicco to snuggle.

At first I was a bit apprehensive about Nala and Henry since interest in Japanese culture can easily slide into fetishizing Japanese people as a whole. Thankfully, their weebiness tones down a bit after the beginning and they establish bonds where they can talk to Lilico about things like fashion and interpersonal relationships rather than Japanese things. The two of them act as valuable guides to Lilico at school.

Though Noah plays a role in helping Lilico come into herself as the star of the girls basketball team and makes a sweet love interest, the primary focus of the story is friendship dynamics and the growing pains that come with them. The bigger question seems to be: How far will Lilico go to gain acceptance in her new school, and can she still be friends with Nala while trying to placate Emma and the rest of the girls on the basketball team?

One of the nice things about the art is that the full-color format allows for darker-skinned characters to shine. Shoujo manga from Japan has a colorism problem where everyone is pale by default despite the range of skin tones in the real life Japanese population, and darker-skinned characters are typically either absent or subject to negative stereotypes. In Bounce Back, brown-skinned Nala is an avid cosplayer and clothing designer who gets to be artsy and versatile while rocking colorful Harajuku-inspired fashion.

In a more general view, the ink wash texture and color patches that don’t quite touch and completely fill the outlines in the backgrounds create a softness that is easy on the eyes and brings out the earnest feelings of the tween characters. The creator’s use of exaggeratedly large eyes along with closeups of the face also helps convey a range of emotions ranging from comedic to sober while underscoring the youthfulness of the characters.

Overall, Bounce Back is a story that brings comfort in the face of big life changes, delivered in a cute and colorful package.

In my next post I’ll be sharing my little playlist I put together for this book.

AmazonBarnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | GoodreadsIndieBound | Indigo | Kinokuniya USA

About the Author

MISAKO ROCKS! is the creator of Biker Girl and Rock and Roll Love. A self-taught artist from a family of law-enforcement officials, Misako moved to the United States from Japan as a teenager. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

[Blog Tour] Review for Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan

2021 is already more than 3/4 over, which sounds like fake news even though it isn’t. I’m trying my best to juggle my various responsibilities, and even though I was wary of overloading myself, I simply had to sign up for the blog tour for Jade Fire Gold. This tour is hosted by Caffeine Book Tours, and you can find more details about it on the CBT website.

Book Information

Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June CL Tan
US Cover
: GUWEIZ
UK Cover
:  Aaron Munday
Publisher
: HarperTeen
Publication date
: 12 October 2021
Age group:
Young Adult
Genres
: Fantasy

Synopsis

Girls of Paper and Fire meets The Tiger at Midnight in June CL Tan’s stunning debut, inspired by Chinese mythology, with rich magic and an epic slow-burn romance.

In an empire on the brink of war . . .

Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.

Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.

When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.

But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Ferocious action, shadowy intrigue, and a captivating romance collide in June CL Tan’s debut, a stunning homage to the Xianxia novel with a tender, beating heart, perfect for fans of The Bone Witch and We Hunt the Flame.

On-page Representation

  • POC (Chinese-coded characters)
  • LGBTQ+ (Sapphic, gay)

Trigger and Content Warnings

  • self-harm (gouging, eye horror; non-graphic)
  • child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional manipulation/gaslighting)
  • parent death (implied, off-page)
  • character deaths
  • mentions and descriptions of fantasy/magical violence (blood, war, political violence)
  • mentions and descriptions of physical symptoms that might be triggering to those with emetophobia
  • alcohol consumption

Review

Note: I received a review copy of Jade Fire Gold as part of my participation in this tour in exchange for an honest review.

Jade Fire Gold was one of my most anticipated releases of 2021 and I’m happy to say that I had a great time with this xianxia inspired fantasy. I haven’t read a fantasy novel that’s this many pages in a long time, but I never got bored. There were many things to love about it.

First, I love that this story plays with familiar tropes from Western fantasy and Chinese xianxia. The Chinese-inspired setting was easy for me to immerse myself in as someone who grew up on a steady diet of period cdramas. It was fun to see how June tweaked and repurposed cultural elements that resonated with my experiences. For those who aren’t acquainted with them, she provides ample scaffolding to bring this world to life with poetically drawn descriptions.

Epic fantasy vibes aside, what really kept me invested in the story was the characters. The two main leads, Ahn and Altan, each have their own traumas and desires, and a cruel twist of fate brings them together for a life-or-death mission. I found myself questioning what choices and sacrifices they would make to reach their goals, and whether they’d succumb to their inner darkness.

At first, the romance between Ahn and Altan felt a little too insta-attraction-y for my tastes, but it gradually developed enough that I started genuinely rooting for them and dreading the star-crossed lovers trajectory of their relationship. Slow-burn enemies-to-lovers fans: this one’s for you.

I also really loved many of the supporting characters, particularly the four of who are explicitly queer (including a f/f pairing). The story really built up their personalities and backgrounds as their lives converged with Ahn’s and Altan’s, with some interesting twists thrown in. I was distraught any time it seemed like one of them was going to get hurt, or actually did get hurt. I would totally be down to read companion stories about any of them.

Although the conflict in this book gets resolved enough that it could stand alone, the epilogue of the story creates a clear jumping off point for a sequel. I’m guessing the publisher hasn’t committed to one yet until Jade Fire Gold succeeds, but I hope it happens since I am 👀👀👀 at the revelation in the epilogue. Fingers crossed and please check this book out to help make that book 2 a reality.

Also, as usual, stay tuned for my blog tour bonus content in a separate post. 🙂


Book links (note: you are free to use your own affiliate links or to other booksellers):

About the Author

June CL Tan grew up in Singapore where she was raised on a diet of classic books and wuxia movies, caffeine and congee. She holds various degrees in communication studies, education, and film. After teaching for a few years, she took a detour into the finance industry. To no one’s surprise, she soon realized her mistake and made her escape. Now, she resides in New York City, talking to imaginary people and creating fantastical worlds under the watchful eye of her crafty cat. She enjoys telling stories that draw on both the traditional and modern to create something fresh to the eye, but familiar to the heart. Jade Fire Gold is her debut novel. 

Author links: