Category Archives: Review

TBR Challenge Review: Blossoms in Adversity

(This is a review of the drama (惜花芷)  not the book with the same name, because alas it isn’t translated. I just checked and it seems the book is 694 chapters with 18 “extras.” The length is often a bit misleading because the chapters are short and in no way compare to the ones we’re used to.)

ANYWAY! Blossoms in Adversity – LET’S GO!

The series description slightly edited from MDL:

A devastating tragedy of asset forfeiture to the throne suddenly befalls the Hua family. The men are forced into exile, leaving behind the women and children in dire straits. Hua Zhi, the young lady of the family, no longer stays low-key and steps up. She braves hardship and leads the women of her household to manage to avoid starvation and danger. She transforms not only their lives but also the feared Commander of the Security Bureau, Gu Yan Xi, into her beloved “Mr. Yan”. During these lively and heartwarming moments, Hua Zhi rises from a sheltered lady to the head of her family, leading her toward a brighter future.


The native title 惜花芷 actually means more like “Cherish Hua Zi” – I think the original drama title was going to be The Story of Hua Zi but it turned into Blossoms In Adversity which fits even better because 花 means flower, and it’s the family name. I loved the story and how everything made sense. Even when it was so frustrating I loved seeing the growth of the characters and how the family came together. I think it’s important to know that in ancient China society was made up of four classes: (scholar-)government officials, farmers, artisans and merchants. (And slaves). So the Hua family goes from the highest social class to the lowest. I think that helps explain the elders’ resistance to Hua Zi doing business. Also in the first episode, people might miss it, but Hua Zi shouldn’t even show her face on the street because she’s the daughter of an aristocratic house. (In fact she shouldn’t even have left the manor, but she’s an “unusual” girl and was “spoiled” by her grandfather who took her along with him to travel when he was performing his official duties when she was younger.) She goes into business not only to provide for her remaining family members, but also to redeem the menfolk from exile. Hua Zi knows under an obscure law that if she pays 500,000 liang (silver taels) one person can be redeemed. So she needs to make 21.5 million taels to bring back all 43 exiled family members. It is a staggering amount. I don’t know the dynasty equivalent or conversions, but at times one silver tael – a liang – was 1000 wen/copper coins. And I think there’s a scene that said an average family lives on 2-5 taels (though they said coins so 2-5k wen) a month. So … 21,500,000 is just … mind boggling and why her mother and aunts think she’s insane and just an immature child unreasonably dreaming. Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: 戾王嗜妻如命 (Tyrannical [Prince]’s Beloved Wife) by 昭昭 (Zhao Zhao)

戾王嗜妻如命 (Tyrannical Wang/[Prince]’s Beloved Wife) by 昭昭 (Zhao Zhao)
Chinese historical romance published in 2016

Tyrannical Wang’s Beloved Wife by Zhao Zhao book cover

Other people’s bad reputation, if not because of themselves, then it’s slandered by others. Jing Wan’s bad reputation wasn’t because of herself, but schemed by her future husband. Jing Wan’s bad reputation wasn’t caused by others, but of his design, only for the sake of marrying the woman he has had eyes on for two lifetimes! One unable to take a bride, one unable to marry. Because he was the number one handsomest man, but she wasn’t the number one beauty. So it was still her who has earned? What the hell?

After marrying, the husband’s close beautiful servant girls didn’t try to crawl onto the bed, but instead served her like an ancestor. The previous stewards didn’t monopolize the power, but instead handed over in great detail all the properties and even the husband’s private funds. So strange no matter how one looks at it! After getting along day and night, she discovered that her husband suffers from a severe case of crazy, please cure!

“Husband, just what do you like about me? I’ll change, just please stop being weird.”

His disease acting up in seconds, telling you with his actions, just how strong his possessive desires towards you are, that’s how much care you must give back.

Alright, for the sake of his disease not becoming more severe, and seeing how there’s no concubines or mistresses or other little demons, Jing Wan rolled up her up sleeves and went all out. – taken from NU 

I’m late with my TBR review because of life and site issues … and I didn’t know which book to review for the April TBR prompt of “No Place Like Home” … but I decided to go with Tyrannical [Prince]’s Beloved Wife because in the end the characters go home. It seems silly but this is a behemoth of a book. A quick estimate is that the book is roughly 2,356,000 words. (There are 1178 sections and the translator had indicated each was usually around 2,000 words. Formally the book has 589 chapters, and 68 extras.) What impressed me was despite how just almost insanely long this book was, I read all of it – I skimmed at most parts of five sections, which is not much at all. (And most of it was just schemes I wasn’t interested in.) There was so much rich history, character development, just an incredibly vibrant world created here. Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: 三嫁惹君心 (Marry You for Three Times) by 明月听风 (Ming Yue Ting Feng)

三嫁惹君心 (Marry You for Three Times) by 明月听风 (Ming Yue Ting Feng)
<dHistorical romance published by Jiangsu Phoenix Art Publishing House in 2012

Novel/original cover of 三嫁惹君心 (Marry You for Three Times) by 明月听风 (MingYueTingFeng)One is a blind girl, the embodiment of an orchid, intelligent with sophisticated grace, and the other, a young noble who loved his wealth as if it were his life.

His endless teasing, and her numerous counter-attacks. She planned every advance with detail, and he met her with each step. As he excitedly went about making life difficult for her, all she did was sigh at his childishness.

The uneasy-proud-young noble’s odd actions, contrasted against the calm plotting of an unfazed blind girl.

*Haih (sigh), one should never invite the attentions of a petty man…*

The two were at loggerheads from the very beginning, and to no one’s surprise, they soon saw each other as the enemy, and neither tried to understand the other’s position. And thus it came to this, as long as the Young Lady did not give in, then the Young Sir would not leave her in peace.

A blind girl thrice married, but to the same person every time.

Thrice wedded, thrice wedded to; but together forever after. (Taken from NU)

The premise for March’s TBR Challenge is “Not in Kansas Anymore” which was super easy for me as I’ve still only been reading translated Chinese romance novels. No rebirth, transmigration, or revenge in this one, and yet it was so very delightful. In fact I loved it so much as soon as the book ended I immediately hit play and listened to it all over again. The blurb this time is pretty clear – but I didn’t have it when I started the book. The blurb in Hoopla was:

Stingy man are not to be taunted, “Vent one is hatred better than create more enemy!” If the girl doesn’t apologize for a day, the man will be pestering for one day. The relationship of them started with a cup of tea. A piece of music lifted and touched his heartstrings. Although he does not understand her qin (a stringed instrument), he does understand her feelings. She is blind and considerate. Blind women marry three times with one person. No matter what happens, I will be with you.

(Fair warning I’m watching a Cdrama, listening to an audiobook in Mandarin, and writing this review all simultaneously so my zero attention span is really cresting today. Apologies for mess and confusion.)  I was really curious as to how and why our couple would have to get married three times – and honestly was expecting a lot of melodrama and angst and misunderstandings, and was pleasantly surprised we didn’t really have that. First of all, the premise is great, the story is engaging, and the characters are all so interesting. We also have a bit of “enemies to lovers” which is NOT my usual trope – but they of course were never actually enemies, and I loved it so much! Continue reading

Team TBR Challenge Review: It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager (宫斗不如当太后) by by September Flowing Fire (Jiu Yue Liu Huo, 九月流火)

It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager (宫斗不如当太后) by by September Flowing Fire (Jiu Yue Liu Huo, 九月流火)
Historical romance published in 2021

It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager by September Flowing Fire Book CoverTang ShiShi was the number one beauty. She was arrogant, domineering and aggressive. She accidentally acquired a book and learned that she was just a vicious female second lead in a palace struggle. Later, she would fight for favor with the female lead, and eventually she was ruined and died miserably.

Now, they have just entered the fief of Jing Wang, and the first meeting of the male and female leads has not happened yet. There are two paths before Tang ShiShi. The first is to hold the heroine’s thighs tightly and join the female lead camp early; the second is to please the male lead and steal the favor of the female lead.

Tang Shishi chooses the third way.

Tang Shishi knew that the male lead’s adoptive father Jing Wang seemed to be low profile, but in fact he was overly ambitious. In the near future, he will invade the capital and proclaim himself emperor before the imperial court, but it is a pity that he passed away before passing the throne to the male lead.

This year, Jing Wang is twenty-four years old, still young, and has yet to marry a wife.
Anyway, she already in the game. Instead of being the concubine of the male lead, it is better to be his adopted mother, the empress dowager in one step.

————–

Zhao Chengjun had no intention to get married, so he adopted his subordinate’s son as his heir. He thought he would be with his army his whole life.

Later, the imperial family sent a team of beauties to Prince Jing, and the leader was named Tang ShiShi.

His young, adopted son and his subordinates also persuaded: Your Highness, this is a beauty trap.
Jing Wang: I know.

The so-called beauty trap was merely a bait for those who wish. – lightly edited from Novel Updates

The prompt for this month was “Once More With Feeling” and I figured since this is the only Chinese romance novel I’ve re-read so far, it fits. We’re going with loose interpretations here. It’s Better to be the Empress Dowager features another delightful mad romp of a story with a loveable heroine, a grumpy but entirely devoted hero, and a frustrating cast of characters you love to hate. I described the heroine as an utter chaos muppet, and I stand by it. She’s such a delightful mess handicapped by what she thinks is a “life cheat” and it makes her constantly second guess herself and make the “wrong” choices that ultimately of course turn out to be entirely right. Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: Greetings Ninth Uncle (九叔万福) by September Flowing Fire (Jiu Yue Liu Huo, 九月流火)

Greetings Ninth Uncle (九叔万福) by September Flowing Fire (Jiu Yue Liu Huo, 九月流火)
Historical romance published in 2019

Book cover of Greetings, Ninth Uncle by September Flowing Fire Plain read book cover with a yellow gold rectangle running through about the middle third with the title written in Chinese vertically. Next to it is a small block with the authors name in the style of a Chinese shop sealCheng Yujin was the elder twin sister, who was supposed to be engaged to an excellent man. However she later learned that her fiancé, Marquis Jingyong, had proposed to her because he mistakenly recognized her as her younger twin sister. Marquis Jingyong and her younger sister had a deep relationship, and after many twists and turns, finally broke through all hardships and became eternal lovers. While Cheng Yujin was the villain who replaced her sister’s good marriage, kept framing her sister, and hindered the main couple to be together. A really wicked older sister and poisonous late wife.
After the younger twin sister was reborn, she revealed Cheng Yujin’s ‘conspiracy’ early on. Everyone scorned her, and her so-called fiancé was indifferent. Cheng Yujin sneered and tore off their engagement letter in front of her fiancé.
Everyone was gloating and happily waiting to see her regret her actions. However, before Marquis Jingyong had a chance to see Cheng Yujin’s regret, he saw his former fiancee marrying her uncle.
The ninth uncle of Cheng family was truly a hidden dragon, his real power frightening everyone.
***
Cheng Yujin, this coquettish little wife, lightly lifted her eyebrows and casually said, “A mere Marquis Jingyong, is he worthy? Do you think that robbing him away will affect me?”
Almost forgot to say, ninth uncle wasn’t surnamed Cheng. His real name was Li Chengjing, the crown prince.

If you’re randomly happening upon ALBTALBS, let me tell you, I’ve left the continent entertainment wise this year. If you’re a ~regular, or follow me on social media, you know I went hard on watching c-dramas for much of this year, then turned to reading translated novels. I’ve been having a grand old time, even with some really terribly translated books. Luckily this isn’t one of them – and in fact is one of my favorite reads of the year. I know the title is a bit lacking, especially in English, but 🤷🏻‍♀️. The point is the story is a delight – and in fact when I was reading it I kept thinking “the author has got to be a psychologist or something” – the analysis and interpersonal relationships are that good.

I’m a week late on the TBR challenge, but that’s pretty on brand for me. The “prompt” for this month was “Festive” and … does it count that the hero’s birthday is on a festival? This book spans a number of years so there are also multiple festivals mentioned … so I’m going with it. Also because this book is worth gushing about. Continue reading

Review: Rogue Familiar by Jeffe Kennedy

Rogue Familiar by Jeffe Kennedy
Fantasy romance released by Brightlynx Publishing on April 24, 2023

He left to save her from herself… But who will save him from her?

When Lady Seliah Phel wakes from a drugged sleep to find herself abandoned by her newly bonded wizard, she vows revenge—and to hunt him down. Tracking him through the familiar wilds of the marshlands of her home is the easy part; learning to use her nascent magical skills is something else entirely. So is facing the vast, uncaring society of the Convocation in a time of brewing war.

Jadren El-Adrel is not known for doing the right thing, but getting as far away from Seliah as possible before he drains her dry will be his one noble gesture. So what if she weeps a few tears. Better than her dying in his service—or enabling him to become the ravenous beast that crawls beneath his skin. Unfortunately, in his self-imposed exile, and without the power of his familiar, Jadren quickly runs afoul of the enemy.

As her vengeful quest for recapture becomes a rescue mission, Selly faces all she still doesn’t know about the greater world of wizards and familiars. And Jadren, once determined to walk his own path and stay far, far away from the idealistic fools of House Phel, finds himself aligning with them against the house of his birth. War is coming to the Convocation, which means a clever wizard should pick the side most likely to win.

Sadly, Jadren has never been all that clever…

I must confess, I’ve read this more than twice. It’s taken longer this year for me to
process how I feel and what I think about books, and then putting all that into words that
make some amount of sense. Which is to say, I’ve had this book glaring accusingly at
me, waiting for me to write a review already. This is the second full length novel in the
Renegades of Magic series, following the adventures (misadventures?) of Jadren and
Seliah, as well as Veronica and Gabriel. The structure reminds me of some early
romances I read where there were two couples, one more foregrounded, and the other
a compelling secondary storyline. This book also ends on a cliffhanger, and picks up
almost immediately where Shadow Wizard left off. Seliah and Jadren do even more
growing in this book, both as individuals and as a couple; we also learn more about the
way the other houses in this world work and how they may view Gabriel’s
noncompliance. Continue reading

Review: Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh
Science Fiction released by Tor on April 11, 2023

While we live, the enemy shall fear us.

Since she was born, Kyr has trained for the day she can avenge the murder of planet Earth. Raised in the bowels of Gaea Station alongside the last scraps of humanity, she readies herself to face the Wisdom, the powerful, reality-shaping weapon that gave the majoda their victory over humanity.

They are what’s left. They are what must survive. Kyr is one of the best warriors of her generation, the sword of a dead planet. When Command assigns her brother to certain death and relegates her to Nursery to bear sons until she dies trying, she knows she must take humanity’s revenge into her own hands.

Alongside her brother’s brilliant but seditious friend and a lonely, captive alien, Kyr escapes from everything she’s known into a universe far more complicated than she was taught and far more wondrous than she could have imagined.

This was one of the books on my list of anticipated books of 2023. I read an advanced copy after reading the first chapter posted by the publisher earlier this year. One of the blurbs on the cover describes the experience of reading this book as “palm-sweating,” and I have to agree. This is not a romance, not even as a science fiction novel with romantic elements, even though sexual orientation is an important element to the society that Kyr is a member of. This is very much a character-driven novel, but that doesn’t mean that plot and setting aren’t important–the main conflict is how making different choices effects the final outcome and the lives of people that the main character doesn’t even know. Emily Tesh provides important content warnings at the beginning of the book, and she was not exaggerating them at all, so if you are the least bit triggered by any or all of the things on that list, then please take care of yourself when choosing to read this book. The book is broken up into five parts or acts, with the last two parts retelling the story so that there are different choices available to Kyr. The parts are prefaced by in-universe excerpts of books, which serve to provide a bigger picture and context to what Kyr knows and believes, but not too much. This isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure type of book, because the reader doesn’t get to make the different choices; it’s all up to Kyr and her fellow characters. The book is told from Kyr’s point of view, but not in the first-person. It is important for you to be very clear on this point—Kyr is not a likeable character. She isn’t misunderstood, or prickly on the outside and soft on the inside. The most flattering description of her I can give is that she is a self-righteous, perfectionist, rule-abiding bitch. She’s smart and very good at being a soldier, but those are her main redeeming qualities for most of the book. Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: The Rebirth of the Malicious Empress of Military Lineage (重生之将门毒后) by Qian Shan Cha Ke (千山茶客)

The Rebirth of the Malicious Empress of Military Lineage (重生之将门毒后) by Qian Shan Cha Ke (千山茶客)
Historical romance published in 2014

The Rebirth of the Malicious Empress of Military Lineage by Qian Shan Cha Ke book cover - it depicts a painted image of a woman and the title written in Chinese charactersThe di daughter of military lineage, pure, amiable, quiet and yielding, foolishly in love with Prince Ding, throwing oneself to the role of a wife. After assisting (a ruler) for six years, she finally became the empress. Accompanying him to fight for supremacy, to expand the country’s territory, taking risk to be a hostage in another country, after returning five years later, there was no place for her in the Inner Palace.

The beauty in Prince Ding’s arms smiled brightly, “Older sister, the country is stabilized and you should retire.” Her daughter had met with a violent death and son the Crown Prince was deposed. The Shen family who had sacrifice themselves for the country, not one of them were lucky enough to escape. In one dynasty everything was overturned, her clan had perished and she needed to mourn for her children! Shen Miao never thought that as a married couple who went through trials and tribulations and mutually assisting one another was just a joke to him!

He said, “Seeing that you have followed *Zhen for twenty years, I will grant you with an intact corpse. Thank me for my kindness.” Under the three meters of white silk, Shen Miao made a malicious vow: In the time to come, she will take part in each and everyone’s end!

Upon rebirth, she returned to the time when she was fourteen, where the tragedy had yet to occur, her family was still alive and she was still the pure, amiable, quiet, and yielding di daughter of military lineage. Relatives hiding a black heart, elder and younger cousins are ruthless and malicious, the new Yiniang is like a tiger watching its prey and the disreputable man that wants to repeat events?

Family must be protected, the huge enmity must be avenged, the Imperial seat of the country must also be part of the trophy. In this lifetime, let’s see who can beat the others! But that little marquis from the Xie family, the arrogant and obstinate spear carrying youth, stood at her side and proudly said, “it’s just the fall of the Imperial power. Remember this, the world belongs to you. You– Belong to me!” – Summary taken and lightly edited from Chubby Cheeks Thoughts.

So November’s TBR “prompt” was “Once Upon a Time” and … why not Ancient China?  I have found my new most favorite romance hero ever. Xie Jing Xing (XJX) can’t be discussed too much without spoilers, but it’s him. I loved him so much. If you’ve visited the blog at all you know I’ve only been reviewing Chinese dramas this year – because it’s mostly the only media I’ve been consuming. However for whatever reason I got the urge to try to read the source material of an upcoming drama, and I was hooked. This book was my second read by the author, but I’m currently on my fifth book by her. I’m crushed I’ve blown through her backlist. Not only have cdramas been my jam this year, but specifically rebirth and revenge stories. Heavy focus on the revenge. This book brought me such joy. This is a pretty niche genre, and of course it requires some suspension of disbelief, but … what novel doesn’t? Continue reading

Review: Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler

*EN: I think it’s important to note Aidee submitted this review on November 26, 2022, and the delay was entirely my fault. Apologies to all.

Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler
Contemporary/light urban fantasy released by Tirgearr Publishing on November 15, 2022

Confirmed bachelor Nicholas Grey is more than the playboy perpetrated by the tabloids. Now his position as CEO of the architecture firm Grey & Company is on the line, and his mother’s interference is making things more difficult. Nick’s committed to his work, but, in order to be taken seriously, he needs to land a huge project. A stable personal life will help guarantee the contract.

Fairy Godmother Faye Delmore hears Nick’s plea and steps in to help. Posing as a publicist, she suggests a strategy to polish his public image, which includes convincing Beth to play his wife. Faye knows Nick needs the huge project to save his job, but she also knows he needs Beth in his life.

What happens when you add a fairy godmother who loves playing matchmaker into the equation? A future designed by destiny.

I want to start this review with a caveat. When I picked up this book, I was not in a great frame of mind, having just taken a long test which I find to be entirely pointless, but which I can’t avoid. It is entirely possible this book will work for someone out there, but it did not work for me. The premise is cute and caught my attention. However, it was difficult for me to believe in my heart that the couple actually fell in love over the course of the book or that they were going to have a fulfilling and loving relationship by the end of the book. There are elements of magic in this book, but because the main characters are not aware of them, they felt distracting, as opposed to adding depth to the world. Finally, the way the author handled the power differential in this book did not work for me – I could not stop thinking to myself, “But she’s only an intern!” Continue reading

OH DAMN Y’ALL! Team TBR Challenge Review: Miss Mystery

“Blurb”: 18 years ago a young and innocent Xue Tong witnessed her family being brutally murdered. Since then she has hidden herself quietly and patiently, waiting for the day she could put her revenge plan into action. Well that day has come, and Xue Tong has finally returned to her hometown as Miss Lin Bao Er, the daughter of a wealthy Nanyang businessman. Now an adult, Lin Bao Er is clever, cunning, good with a gun, and skilled at understanding the depths of human nature.

When she meets the charming young master Zhu Guan Wen, the two decide to pose as couple in order to progress their own interests. Neither can help but grow feelings for each other, but will their love be their greatest strength or their downfall? [– from MDL]

You. Guys. I am giddy as I write this review. Revenge, a kickass FL, and THE most supportive ML. I was constantly *STAR-EYES* and *HEART-EYES* while watching this drama. Honestly, I think you “need” both trailers to get an idea – it’s definitely got it’s dark moments (nearly all presented in trailer two), but there’s a lot of romance too. The TBR prompt for October is “Danger Zone” and … Miss Mystery really fit the bill here because our FL (female lead) Lin Bao Er/ Xue Tong is throwing herself into unknown dangers in order to avenge her family. She’s got a plan, but in life you never quite know how things will turn out. Lucky for her she has ML (male lead) Zhu Guan Wen who could be labeled “Mr. Supportive.” (ETA: I forgot to add that as a potential bonus, each episode is only 5-10 minutes long, so it’s not a big commitment.) Continue reading