SHINIGAMI by Xia Xia Lake

A coming-of-age love story between an orphan and the heir of the richest family in the Land of Yamato. The human world meets the yōkai in a power struggle for the fate of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu. 

While he battles to find his own path, Hirotsugu finds solace in a boy who will become his secret friend, then his salvation, and then as they become adults together, the love of his life.


Title : Shinigami
Author : Xia Xia Lake
Series : Takamagahara Monogatari (book two)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 352
Genre : LGBTQIA+ historical fiction/fantasy
Publisher : indie
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3.75 (rounded up) star review

I’m going to be honest. I have very different feelings for the first half of this book vs the latter half. The first half details the life and experiences of Hirotsugu as he grows up as the heir to one of the wealthiest, and respected, families. In contrast to those around him, particularly his family, he’s very aware, and almost ashamed, of the divide that separates him from the poor, and this is reinforced by a chance encounter with a young beggar. A chance encounter that happens not just a second time, but a third, thus sparking a friendship that would turn into a great love.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first half of this journey is very heavy on the historical elements, the traditions, the myths; if you love world-building, if you love losing yourself in cultural descriptions, you will be overjoyed with the author’s research and attention to detail. I’ll admit that while I did follow along (and had a handy glossary, along with chapter header definitions to help out), I wasn’t as engrossed by the history as I was the characters. So while I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t fully immersed or on the edge of my seat in the early chapters. It was easy to put down, even with the magical elements and the mystery surrounding this presence that ran parallel to the narrative.

Also I made the mistake of speculating a theory or two to a friend who had read this already and boy was I wrong. But hey, I’m owning up to it. I recommend you try and throw some guesses around, too! Ahem, anyway..

And then the second half of the story happened and it was sweet and lovely and all of a sudden I was punched in the gut with feels and this time I was putting down the book so I could finish crying. Which I did.. twice. I definitely felt the strength of these characters near the end, the events felt more high stakes, with the added element of some melodrama to really get those emotions flowing. As a bonus, much is revealed that is only teased throughout, and while some subsequent actions felt rushed or maybe a little unrealistic, you still feel it. It still hurts. And you’re still blown away.

Readers who pick up the book one, KOGITSUNE, might be surprised, and confused, when they follow it up with SHINIGAMI only to realize it isn’t a direct continuation. And does, in fact, happen long after the events of book two. But by the time you get to the end of this book, you’ll understand why it’s important, and necessary, to read first. So go do that now.

Overall, this is an experience unlike one I’ve read before. It’s detailed, rich in history, magic and myth and folklore, it’s about a forever love between two young men, and so much more. And it’s not over! There’s more to come. I cannot wait to see how these stories progress in book three.

GIDEON THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.

Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

Of course, some things are better left dead.


Title : Gideon the Ninth
Author : Tamsyn Muir
Series : The Ninth House
Format : eARC
Page Count : 437
Genre : LGBTQIA+ sci-fi fantasy
Publisher : Tor.com
Release Date : September 10, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

So listen. The only reason I’m not giving this five stars is because sometimes, while reading, I would feel a little lost. Confused, even. It’s been awhile since I read an adult science-fiction novel, particularly one as complex as this, with such a large cast, and during the over (!) two (!!) weeks (!!!) it took me to read this, between slumps and life chaos and other ARC deadlines, it was just.. a lot.

I would have thought you would be happy that I needed you. That I showed you my girlish and vulnerable heart.
Your heart is a party for five thousand nails.”

But I never stopped having fun.

Gideon would’ve sworn there were tears in her eyes, except that no such liquid existed. Harrow was a desiccated mummy of hate.

The characters in this series are.. just, everything. Gideon is a riot. I spent most of my time, confused and non-confused, reading this book and giggling. Snorting. Cackling. Highlighting. This isn’t a comedy but is comedic af. The author, through Gideon, is snarky and sarcastic and just.. relentlessly relatable. For all that she’s the cavalier, swords-person/bodyguard, of a necromancer, in space, who is battling to riddle out puzzles of which the end goal is to make them immortal and all-powerful. You know, totally relatable.

I cannot and will not read your thoughts, control your body, or look at your most intimate memories. I don’t have the ability and I certain’t don’t have the desire.
It’s for your own protection, not mine. I imagined Crux’s butt once when I was twelve.”

I’ve seen this pitched, and even pitched it myself, as ‘lesbian necromancers in space’ and that does such an injustice to the scope and breadth and complexity of everything, plot and characters, of this book. But it’s one hell of a great hook and if it’s what pulled you in, fantastic. Just buckle the hell up and know there is so much more to this.

I’ll still do it.”
Why?
Probably because you asked.”
That’s all it takes, [..]? That’s all you demand? This is the complex mystery that lies in the pit of your psyche?
That’s all I ever demanded, you asswipe.”

This book is spooky, funny, heartbreaking, hilarious, rich in ‘I’m too dumb for this’ science, and even weirder magic. The cast is vibrant and diverse and while sometimes I wish I had taken notes on who is what and why and what are the Houses.. even confused, I was happy. Truly. This is a book that needed more time than I had to give it and that’s on me. Even though, yeah, okay, it’s on me but I’m also knocking down a star.

Why was I born so attractive?
Because everyone would have throttled you within the first five minutes otherwise.”

But.

Nav, show them what the Ninth House does.
We do bones, motherfucker.

I will say, brace yourselves. This isn’t the standalone I thought it would be. And I was u n p r e p a r e d for the end of this book in many many ways. I may have cried. Well, okay, welled up. But regardless I need book two yesterday. The good news is I’ll definitely reread this before the sequel (is it a duology? a trilogy?) so I hope to a) maybe have a better handle on things earlier on in the unfolding of the story and b) maybe, hopefully, round up.

Gideon was experiencing one powerful emotion : being sick of everyone’s shit.

Regardless, if you’re comfortable with adult sci-fi, prepared to hunker down with a long book, and want hilarity alongside diversity? You need this. The fact that this incredible title is a debut just blows my mind. Just the way the book itself did. Infact, just putting this review together, and pulling the quotes, actually makes me want to just.. start reading it all over again. And that almost never happens to me. So I hope that says it all! Even though I said.. a lot. Already.

You are my only friend. I am undone without you.”

Oh, did I mention there’s a hate to love f/f romance? Hm? Did I?

You definitely need this one in your life.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

WELL MET by Jen DeLuca

All’s faire in love and war for two sworn enemies who indulge in a harmless flirtation in a laugh-out-loud rom-com from debut author Jen DeLuca.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek.


Title : Well Met
Author : Jen DeLuca
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : women’s fiction, romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : September 3, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

If what you’ve always wanted is a romance set against a Renaissance Faire, with a hate to love trope, then WELL MET is sure to be the book of your dreams. Or at least one of your top favourites from 2019.

I’ve only read one other book with this kind of setting, and honestly both the title and the author escape me, so that probably says a lot about how much I liked it. As a result I maybe went in to this one with lower expectations but whether that had anything to do with my enjoyment or if this is just that fun? Who can say (spoiler : it’s just that fun).

So, what, am I just supposed to pull an extra bard out of my ass now?
Not a bad idea. It might dislodge the stick that’s up there.”

This is a women’s fiction title but is more romance heavy than some of the more recent ones I’ve read and it was honestly just.. cozy. We have two sisters, separated by quite a few years, reconnecting when the older sister is injured in a car accident and needs help not only going to and from doctor’s appointments but also with her teenager daughter. As Emily’s life has recently imploded, losing her job and her boyfriend, it isn’t much hardship to uproot herself to her sister’s small town. Additionally, Emily thrives on organization and handling crises. Win win win.

Emma the Tavern Wench missed Captain Blackthorne greatly. She wanted him to come by the tavern he’d been neglecting lately, because she thrilled to see him and lived for those moments where his attention was like the sun. But Emily the Regular Person wanted to give Simon a good shake and ask him what his problem was.

Part of what Emily takes on is a volunteer position in the local Renaissance Faire. Her niece wanted to be part of it and the only condition is a parent or guardian volunteering alongside. So Emily jumps in with both feet; and splashes all over the event organizer, Simon. I don’t mean that literally. But Simon is basically the raincloud of Emily’s sun and it sets the whole tone for their relationship over the coming weeks.

A month ago I hated the guy, and I thought he hated me. This is like a summer romance on steroids.”

The Faire takes up the majority of the plot and events but it also acts as a great foil for some of the emotional issues that crop up over the story. DeLuca’s story touches on topics of grief and self-worth and I thought both were done really well and also just emotional enough without the angst or agony dragging on too long. I’ll admit there were brief moments where I thought Emily a touch too in her head or oblivious but it does fit in with her hangups and previous experiences and, in hindsight, I think it fits.

I wanted to crawl in to him, become part of him so he would never feel alone again. But I didn’t know how to tell him that without it sounding like the world’s creepiest Valentine’s card.

Additionally there were so many moments where I thought “well here comes the misunderstanding or lack of communication romance trope” and instead.. nope. I think that might honestly be the only thing that makes this stand apart from your typical romance. A few less frustrating tropes on the checklist.

Brace yourself. I’m going to woo your ass off.

If you want some great banter, some excellent tension, smoldering sweet swoons, and a good emotional backbone for a story set against old timey cosplay and fun, you should definitely pick this one up. I’m pleasantly surprised by yet another debut title and can’t wait to see what DeLuca does next. And if it involves a companion novel featuring a certain kilted not-so-meaty-meathead and a certain sister..? Here for it.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **