Book Review: Wicked Fox

wicked foxWicked Fox
by Kat Cho
Young Adult / Romance / Fantasy
426 pages
Published June 2019

I loved everything about this book except the epilogue. But we’ll get to that. Wicked Fox is the story of Miyoung, a gumiho. Better known to most Westerners as a Kitsune, but this is Korea, not Japan. The difference is important, and evident. I really enjoyed all of the Korean culture included in this book; it’s not as common a setting as Japan or China. Americans often make the mistake of lumping all of eastern Asia together as far as culture, but they are very different. South Korea isn’t as unfamiliar to us as some East Asian cultures – like Mongolia, Taiwan, or North Korea – but China and Japan tend to overshadow the rest.

So in Seoul, we have Miyoung, whose nature drives her to absorb the life essence of humans to sustain her own. She tries to do this in the best way she can, by hunting evil men, but something goes wrong on one of her hunts, she saves a human boy’s life, and things unravel from there.

I loved Jihoon. The poor boy is thrust into the middle of an impossible situation, and tries to do his best by everyone involved. It’s easy to see why Miyoung is drawn to him, and I love the easy comradery between Jihoon and his friends, as well.

The book would easily be a perfect standalone were it not for the epilogue. I will probably just pretend to myself that the epilogue doesn’t exist, and be happy with the book as-is. I don’t think it needs a sequel, and it feels a little forced. Almost like the book was done and turned in and the publisher offered the author a sequel, and she decided she could make that happen and tacked on a few pages to lead us to the next book. It’s just – unneeded.

The epilogue aside, I adored this book.

From the cover of Wicked Fox:

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret. She’s a gumiho – a nine-tailed fox who survives by consuming the energy of men. But she’s also half-human and has a soft spot for people. So she won’t kill indiscriminately. With the help of a shaman, Miyoung only takes the lives of men who have committed terrible crimes. Devouring their life force is a morbid kind of justice . . . or so she tells herself.

But killing men no one would ever miss in bustling modern-day Seoul also helps Miyoung keep a low profile. She and her mother protect themselves by hiding in plain sight. That is until Miyoung crosses paths with a handsome boy her age as he’s being attacked by a goblin in the woods. She breaks her mother’s cardinal rule – revealing herself and her nine tails – to save Jihoon from certain death. In the process, she loses her fox bead – her gumiho soul. Without it, she will die.

When Miyoung and Jihoon next meet, there’s no doubt they are drawn to each other. But their tenuous romance could be over before it even begins, as Miyoung’s efforts to restore her fox bead by the next full moon ensnares them in a generations-old feud, forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

 

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Book Review: The Bride Test

the bride testThe Bride Test
by Helen Hoang
Romance
300 pages
Published May 7, 2019

I received The Bride Test on Saturday, a few days before today’s release date, through Book of the Month. I’ve been really excited about this one, because it’s another adult romance with an autistic main character, like the first book, The Kiss Quotient. (The author is also autistic.) There’s actually a lot of #ownvoices representation here; Hoang has an author’s note at the end talking about how much of Esme’s personality and struggles are based on her own mother, who immigrated from Vietnam as a refugee at the end of the Vietnam war. I love that in writing the book, Hoang grew closer to her mother as she learned about her history. Definitely don’t miss the author’s note at the end of this book, if you read it!

I have mixed feelings about this one, but unfortunately the part I really have mixed feelings about is very spoilery, so I can’t talk about it without ruining major plot points! Overall, I did really like the book, and Khai showed a lot of the same traits my husband does. The first book’s autistic character is female, so it was nice to see a character so similar to my husband this time. The characters from The Kiss Quotient do make a token appearance in The Bride Test, and I’m hoping Hoang will finally write Quan’s story next! There is an untitled third book in the series due out in 2020, so I’m crossing fingers for Quan!

I absolutely adored Esme in this book. She is hardworking and strong-willed, and knows what she’s worth. I wish she’d been a little more honest with Khai, but I can understand being too afraid to be fully honest with someone who could have such control over your future. I did really enjoy this sequel, and I can’t wait to hear what the plot will be for the third book.

From the cover of The Bride Test:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but he doesn’t experience big, important emotions like love and grief. Rather than believing he processes emotions differently due to being autistic, he concludes that he’s defective and decides to avoid romantic relationships. So his mother, driven to desperation, takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect mail-order bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity to marry an American arises, she leaps at it, thinking that it could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working . . . but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who believes he can never return her affection.

Esme must convince Khai that there is more than one way to love. And Khai must figure out the inner workings of his heart before Esme goes home and is an ocean away.

Book Review: Empire of Sand

empire of sandEmpire of Sand
by Tasha Suri
Fantasy
432 pages
Published November 2018

This is one of my reads for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge. It follows Mehr, a half-Amrithi, half-Ambhan girl who refuses to let anyone erase her Amrithi heritage, even if the Empire oppresses the Amrithi tribes horribly. When her gift manifests, the Empire comes for her, and she learns the horrible truth behind the Empire’s longevity. Most empires inevitably reach a point where they can expand no longer, and gradually decline. This Empire has not done that, and the Amrithi pay for it with their blood. Along the way, she finds a daiva willing to bargain with her, and an Amrithi man bound by his vows but trying to circumvent them for her sake.

I really liked the magic in this book, and just the world-building in general. Mehr is a strong-willed character, and shows character growth in the book, transforming from the pampered daughter of a governor to a woman willing to fight and die for her beliefs and those she loves.

The sequel, Realm of Ash, appears to follow Mehr’s younger sister, which makes sense, as Mehr’s book seems pretty self-contained. You could easily just read the first book and be perfectly happy at the ending, but I’m quite happy to see there’s more written in this world. I am eager to see what happens after the events of the first book. It’s coming out in November, so I’ll have to make a note to myself to remember it exists!

From the cover of Empire of Sand:

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended from desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember but whose face and magic she has inherited: She can manipulate the dreams of the gods to alter the shape of the world.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda – and should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance . . . .

Friday 56 – Empire of Sand

empire of sandThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week’s quote is from Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, a book I’m reading for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge.

“I allowed your mother to keep her customs,” her father acknowledged. “But in raising you as I have, I have kept mine. Make no mistake, Mehr: You are my daughter. You have been raised in my household, fed with my food, clothed from my coffers. You are your mother’s daughter . . .” He faltered. “But you are also mine. And half your blood is Ambhan, noble and strong.”

Book Review: The Bird King

the bird kingThe Bird King
by G. Willow Wilson
Historical Fantasy
402 pages
Published March 2019

I have not yet read G. Willow Wilson’s first novel, Alif the Unseen, but I really want to now, because this one was beautiful. I really enjoyed this story, watching Fatima mature through her travels and change from the sheltered Sultan’s concubine/possession to become – well – what she becomes.

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, concubine, and Hassan, mapmaker, on the run from the Inquisition. They were both members of the house of the last Sultan in Iberia. When the Spanish (and the Inquisition) came to negotiate his surrender, one of their conditions was they wanted Hassan, because of the magic he used in his maps. Hassan has been Fatima’s only real friend; he’s the only man that wanted nothing from her, because he’s gay and unmoved by her beauty. His sexuality has been largely ignored by the court; his maps were too important to the war effort, so it was tolerated and just not spoken of. When Fatima discovers the Sultan intends to turn Hassan over, she runs away with him. She has some unexpected help in her journey, which, along with Hassan’s mapmaking, makes this a kind of magical realist historical fantasy novel. It’s not really alternate history, because nobody’s actions change how history plays out on a large scale.

I really enjoyed Wilson’s writing style, and while I’d already been interested in the description of Alif the Unseen, given how much I like her writing here, I really need to read that as well. I’m pretty sure it’s on my Kindle!

From the cover of The Bird King:

G. Willow Wilson delivers her long-awaited second novel set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultan in the Iberian peninsula.

The Bird King tells the story of Fatima, a concubine in the royal court of the sultan of Granada, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. Hassan has a secret – he can make maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality with his pen and paper. His gift has proven useful to the sultan’s armies in wartime, as well as entertained a bored Fatima, who has never step foot outside the palace walls. When a party representing the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrives to negotiate the terms of the sultan’s surrender, Fatima is tasked with welcoming their women. She befriends one of the women, little realizing that she represents the Inquisition and will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery, and therefore a threat to Christian rule.

In order to escape the Inquisition, Fatima and Hassan embark on an epic voyage across Spain in search of refuge on a mysterious, possible mythic island. With everything on the line, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is, and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate. A triumphant tour de force with shadings of Pullman, Gaiman, L’Engle, and C. S. Lewis, G. Willow Wilson’s The Bird King is a jubilant story of love versus power, religion versus faith, and freedom versus safety.

Book Review: Unmarriageable

UnmarriageableUnmarriageable
by Soniah Kamal
Young Adult/Romance/Retelling
335 pages
Published January 2019

One of these days I really need to read Austen. I enjoy so many retellings – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and I know I have a copy of Mr. Darcy, Vampyre around here somewhere! (And now that I pulled up The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to link it here, I’m sorely tempted to sit down and watch the whole thing again but I have books to read!)

Anyway. Austen. I’ve read a bunch of retellings but believe it or not, I haven’t read the original. I really need to get on that, but instead, I read Unmarriageable, which is Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan! It’s SO GOOD. The themes of family honor, class structure, and rumors damaging reputations translates incredibly easily into Pakistani society, which is why Soniah Kamal wrote it. In her Afterword, she writes:

“Was there any worry more Pakistani than the concern about what might bring a family honor or dishonor? …. Was there anything more Pakistani than [Charlotte’s] calculated, ‘arranged’ marriage? … Was there anything more apropos to Pakistan than class issues, snootiness, and double standards?”

She goes on to say she was already reading the book as if it was set in Pakistan, so why not write it that way for other Pakistanis? Kamal explains that Pakistan is very much a mix of Pakistan and English culture, and that the emphasis on learning English and English culture comes at the expense of their own indigenous culture, something forced upon them by colonizers. Unmarriageable is her way of melding the two cultures.

I really enjoyed this version of the classic, and it has me even more interested in other versions, such as Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors. Book Riot actually ran a short list recently on diverse Austen retellings, and I’ve added every one of them to my To-Read list!

From the cover of Unmarriageable:

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry – until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider. 

A scandal and a vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that the family’s luck is about to change, excitedly prepares her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful – and single – entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal – and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.