Blog Tour: Direwood by Catherine Yu

In this velvet-clad 1990s gothic horror, Aja encounters a charming vampire who wants to lure her into the woods—just like her missing sister.

No one ever pays attention to sixteen-year-old Aja until her perfect older sister Fiona goes missing. In the days leading up to Fiona’s disappearance, Aja notices some extraordinary things: a strange fog rolling through their idyllic suburban town, a brief moment when the sky seems to rain blood, and a host of parasitic caterpillars burrowing their way through the trees. Aja’s father, the neighbors, and even her ex-friend Mary all play down this strange string of occurrences, claiming there must be some natural explanation. It seems everyone is willing to keep living in denial until other teens start to go missing too.

Aja is horrified when she meets Padraic, the vampire responsible for all the strange occurrences. His hypnotic voice lures her to the window and tells her everything she’s longed to hear—she’s beautiful and special, and he wants nothing more than for Aja to come with him. Aja knows she shouldn’t trust him, but she’s barely able to resist his enthrallment. And following him into the woods may be the only way to find Fiona, so she agrees on one condition: He must let her leave alive if she is not wooed after one week. Though Aja plans to kill him before the week is out, Padraic has his own secrets as well.

In the misty woods, Aja finds that Padraic has made his nest with another vampire in a dilapidated church infested by blood-sucking butterflies. Within its walls, the vampires are waited on and entertained by other children they’ve enthralled, but there is no sign of Fiona. Before her bargain is up, Aja must find a way to turn her classmates against their captors, find her sister, and save them all—or be forced to join the very monsters she wants to destroy.

Content Warning: body and bug horror, death, on-page violence, and racial microaggressions

*****

I received a copy of this book from the publisher Page Street Kids as part of the Direwood book blog tour through TBR and Beyond.

Review:

Direwood is one of the most well-written vampire novels I’ve read in some time. “Velvet-clad 1990s gothic horror’ is such an apt descriptor of the moody atmosphere, the subtle yet growing sense of dread, as well as the sensuality of the vampires.

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Leech by Hiron Ennes

In an isolated chateau, as far north as north goes, the baron’s doctor has died. The doctor’s replacement has a mystery to solve: discovering how the Institute lost track of one of its many bodies.

For hundreds of years the Interprovincial Medical Institute has grown by taking root in young minds and shaping them into doctors, replacing every human practitioner of medicine. The Institute is here to help humanity, to cure and to cut, to cradle and protect the species from the apocalyptic horrors their ancestors unleashed.

In the frozen north, the Institute’s body will discover a competitor for its rung at the top of the evolutionary ladder. A parasite is spreading through the baron’s castle, already a dark pit of secrets, lies, violence, and fear. The two will make war on the battlefield of the body. Whichever wins, humanity will lose again.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Every year tordotcom publishes something weird, spooky, and probably at least a little fucked up that takes me completely by surprise by how damn good it is and this year that book is Leech. A body-collecting parasite, a weird 18th-century creepy gothic house but in a post-post-apocalyptic setting, and creepy in-universe folk tales that slowly come to life. It’s really not a combination that should work but damn it does.

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Ruination by Anthony Reynolds

Camavor is a brutal land with a bloody legacy. Where the empire’s knights go, slaughter follows.

Kalista seeks to change that. When her young and narcissistic uncle, Viego, becomes king, she vows to temper his destructive instincts, as his loyal confidant, advisor, and military general. But her plans are thwarted when an assassin’s poisoned blade strikes Viego’s wife, Isolde, afflicting her with a malady for which there is no cure.

As Isolde’s condition worsens, Viego descends into madness and grief, threatening to drag Camavor down with him. Kalista makes a desperate gambit to save the kingdom: she searches for the long lost Blessed Isles, rumored to hold the queen’s salvation, if only Kalista can find them.

But corruption grows in the Blessed Isles’ capital, where a vengeful warden seeks to ensnare Kalista in his cruel machinations. She will be forced to choose between her loyalty to Viego and doing what she knows is right–for even in the face of utter darkness, one noble act can shine a light that saves the world.

*****

I recieved a copy of this book from the publisher, Orbit. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Riot has finally written a League of Legends novel!! I started playing LoL 10 years ago (holy shit) and my biggest wish with this game is for deeper lore dives. The world of Runeterra has such promise and there are so many interesting characters and stories that they deserve more than the single paragraph bios they’re given. Arcane was an amazing first step (and also a phenomanl TV series) but there’s something intrinsic with lore than only a book can deliver and We. Finally. Have One. Even better. the book is damn good!

This review is aimed towards readers with little to no familiarity with the League of Legends franchise. Maybe you’ve seen Arcane, maybe you’ve never even heard of League. This review is for you. For those familiar with League, check out the review I posted on Reddit instead.

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The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

This review will contain spoilers for book one, The Jasmine Throne. Read my 4* review here.

Review:

Holy hell Suri delivers with book two of this series. The Oleander Sword is a chonker and I just inhaled it. Something about the prose and the character work made this so smooth to read and the setup for book three promises amazing things to come

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Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao

Zachary Ying never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.

The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.

And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Zhao returns with another break-neck Chinese history-inspired sci-fi novel and it’s an absolute delight. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is marketed as Percy Jackson meets Yu Gi Oh and for once the comps are exactly what this book offers. Zachary, you average middle school boy, suddenly learns that the VR video game he plays isn’t just fiction and is thrust into a world of bickering historical and mythological Chinese figures, all while trying to save his mother’s soul. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, plays a weirdly prominent role with bizarre personalities in online media, from the Qin Huangdi RP twitter account to FateGO’s mothman and Zhao is here to add yet another delightful addition to that canon. Easily my favorite part of this book was the bickering between Qin and the various other figures Zach meets through his journey, each petty argument laced with historical references and stories that a younger me would have just loved. As usual, Zhao is unapologetic in calling out racism, both the racism Zach faces in the US for being Chinese, and the racism he faces when he travels to China, for not being the right kind of Chinese. At the same time, they deftly interrogate Zach’s Muslim identity and how a Western perception of China is often skewed. Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5.

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An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan

Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.

Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.

As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love… but time is running out, and fate will have its way.

****

Review:

I read An Arrow to the Moon in a single sitting amidst a covid fever so I can’t say I comprehended this book in its entirety but man were the vibes good. A deceptively normal contempt YA beginning, when Luna Chang and Hunter Yee start their senior year of high school as their parents passive-aggressively feud in the background, the reader is quickly exposed to the magical realism elements, quietly guiding the fates of the Chang’s and Yee’s. We follow two generations of Taiwanese-Americans, both the parents and the children getting POV chapters, as Pan depicts the struggles and joys of being Asian American and how and where cultures meld. I really love how each chapter felt like a short vignette, a quick snapshot depicting a single significant moment in each character’s life and how that affects the greater story. Also, because this is, in a way, a Chang’e and Houyi adaption, I absolutely have to give a shoutout to how Pan chose the names Luna Chang (Chang’e) and Hunter Yee (Houyi). The multiplier layers of puns and references in those two names are just fantastic. Overall I rate this book a 4.5/5

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The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories: A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation from a Visionary Team of Female and Nonbinary Creators, edited by Yu Chen, Regina Kanyu Wang, et al

From an award-winning team of authors, editors, and translators comes a groundbreaking short story collection that explores the expanse of Chinese science fiction and fantasy.

In The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, you can dine at a restaurant at the end of the universe, cultivate to immortality in the high mountains, watch roses perform Shakespeare, or arrive at the island of the gods on the backs of giant fish to ensure that the world can bloom.

Written, edited, and translated by a female and nonbinary team, these stories have never before been published in English and represent both the richly complicated past and the vivid future of Chinese science fiction and fantasy.

Time travel to a winter’s day on the West Lake, explore the very boundaries of death itself, and meet old gods and new heroes in this stunning new collection.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

We’re getting two different collections of translated short story collections within a single year! What a blessed time to be Chinese diaspora. The Way Spring Arrives covers a broad array of topics, from hard sci-fi stories like ‘A Brief History of Beinakan Disasters as Told in a Sinitic Language’, more traditional xianxia style works like ‘The Tale of Wude’s Heavenly Tribulation’, and stories that seamlessly blend the two together.

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The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh

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…

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

I don’t know what is it with 2022 Asian YA fantasy novels and absolutely stunning covers but I’m so here for it. This was a book that caught my eye from the get-go. Inspired by the Korean story “The Tale of Shim Cheong”, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea brings forth magical retelling, full of whimsy and wonder.

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The Red Palace by June Hur

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.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

June Hur is a name I’ve seen for several years, mostly due to the beautiful covers her previous books have gotten (Silence of the Bones, The Forest of Stolen Girls), but this is my first time delving into one of her works. And I’m simply in awe. The Red Palace is a stunning book, with beautiful writing that sucks a reader in, impeccable pacing, and a twisty, engaging historical murder mystery plot.

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Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, Translated by Jeremy Tiang

In the fictional Chinese town of Yong’an, human beings live alongside spirits and monsters, some of which are almost indistinguishable from people. Told in the form of a bestiary, each chapter of Strange Beasts introduces us to a new creature – from the Sacrificial Beasts, who can’t seem to stop dying, to the Besotted Beasts, an artificial breed engineered by scientists to be as loveable as possible. The narrator, an amateur cryptozoologist, is on a mission to track down each breed in turn, but in the process discovers that she might not be as human as she thought.

*****

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

Review:

Eerie, weird, melancholic, with a strong side of ‘what did I just read??’, it’s surprisingly difficult to put my thoughts into words. I can confidently say Strange Beasts of China is like no other book I’ve ever read. Written in a short story-like format, with each chapter centering around a different kind of “beast’ residing in Yong An city, readers are brought through a surreal tale that asks, ‘what makes humanity, humanity?’

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