#RIPXII The Bear and the Nightingale



From the very start of the book, I am hooked.

And that is not a usual thing. I am a reader of many books. By that I mean that I tend to read several things at once. So it can sometimes take me several tries to get into a book.

(You might just wonder then, why not just concentrate and read that one book, finish it, and then move on to another? Well, that’s just not the way I work. I just like multiple books going on!)

First of all, I love that it’s a fairytale. And more than that, that it’s a snowy, wintry kind of read. I have lived most of my life near the equator – where the only seasons are hot and dry or hot and rainy. And I now live in Northern California where winters are, at the most, rainy, although we could easily drive a few hours to find snow. So I’ve never really been in that kind of dense and intense winters that  the north of Russia must have.

Vasilisa is the youngest child of a wealthy lord of a northern Russian village. She can see  the spirits of the house, forest, river, the spirits that protect them from evil, like the domovoi, which lives in the oven. Her new stepmother can see these spirits too, but she calls them demons and seeks refuge in the church. She soon forbids the household from honoring these spirits with offerings. But Vasya tries to continue this ritual when she can, fearing that something bad is about to happen.

“The domovoi was small and squat and brown. He had a long beard and brilliant eyes. At night he crept out of the oven to wipe the plates and scour away the soot. He used to do mending, too, when people left it out, but Anna would shriek if she saw a stray shirt, and few of the servants would risk her anger. Before Vasya’s stepmother arrived, they had left offerings for him: a bowl of milk or a bit of bread. But Anna shrieked then, too. Dunya and the serving-maids had begun hiding their offerings in odd corners where Anna rarely came.”

Things get even more interesting when Father Konstantin is sent to their village and the villagers grow more fearful, and so is bold and brave Vasya.

“No, Vasya was frightened of her own people. They did not joke on the way to church anymore; they listened to Father Konstantin in heavy, hungry silence. And even when they were not in church, the people made excuses to visit his room.”

Something is waking, something evil. And without these spirits’ protection, crops start failing, the creatures of the forest roam closer, danger lurks.

The Bear and the Nightingale was an absolute charmer of a book. I loved all the Russian folklore throughout and the rural setting. Perhaps the only part that didn’t sit too well with me was the last act, which seemed a bit rushed.




This is my fourth read for RIP XII

Joining #RIPXII

Happy RIP season! I’ve been taking part since RIP IV – it was the very first challenge I took part in, so it will always be special! Every September 1 through October 31 for the last 11 years Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. And now it’s being run by Andi of Estelle’s Revenge and Heather of My Capricious Life.

But it remains the same, it’s always about books of:

Dark Fantasy.
And I always go for
Peril the First:
“Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.”

I’ve decided this year to focus on women writers!

Here’s my pool:

The Vicious Deep – Zoraida Cordova

Ink and Ashes – Valence E. Maetani

Waiting on a Bright Moon – JY Yang

The Reader – Traci Chee

The Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson

Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor

City of the Lost – Kelley Armstrong

The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

The Unquiet Dead – Ausma Zehanat Khan

RIP XI: Dark Matter

This was definitely an exciting read. No doubt about it.

The kind of book you open and read and read and then when you’re done it’s 1 am and you can’t sleep. Well perhaps that would be me if I wasn’t such a stickler for my 1030 pm bedtime (I have two kids who are up before 7 even on weekends – I need my sleep!).

Dark Matter has an intriguing beginning. A guy is abducted by an unknown man then wakes up to find himself strapped down to a gurney surrounded by people he doesn’t know. And then he discovers that he is in a world that isn’t his. His wife is not his wife. His son does not exist.

Dun dun dun!! It’s a parallel world!

It felt very much like it was written with a future movie in mind. A lot of action, what is probably an explosive soundtrack with a lot of electric guitars, or maybe that was what was in my head at the time when I was reading this book. (Is that just me?)

Blake Crouch is very fond of short staccato sentences.

A lot of pages read like these few lines.

One after another.

That’s how he seems to like to write.

It’s not really my style.

Unless you’re talking about blogging.

Cos then I could go on writing these sentences



And so Dark Matter makes for a quick and exciting read. One that will have you up all night, if you’re the up-all-night-reading types. One that is suitable enough for RIP, because the main character is definitely (1) imbibing and (2) in peril.

It’s the kind of book that makes me give it 4 stars on Goodreads immediately after reading. But some weeks later, as I think about it, I may knock it down to 3.5 or 3. Because while I was reading it – and really enjoying all its heartracing action – I don’t think I got very involved with its characters. I think that in fact I may have disliked Jason through most of it.

So read this for a quick fun read. Hey the readathon is coming up, and while it’s not exactly a short book at 342 pages, it’ll be a pretty good readathon kind of read, especially when you’re flagging in the middle of the night!


I read this book for Readers Imbibing in Peril XI

(here’s the link to the review site)

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan


While not as well-rounded as Beauty is A Wound (my thoughts), Man Tiger, first published in 2004, is a great introduction to Eka Kurniawan and Indonesian literature. After all, it tops out at 172 pages, versus Beauty is a Wound (first published in 2002) which has 470 pages.

Man Tiger is not so much a whodunnit as a whydunnit. There is a murder. A man in a small village has been killed. Everyone knows that it was Margio, who insists:

“It wasn’t me,” he said calmly and without guilt. “There is a tiger inside my body.”

There are a lot of mystical elements to the story, which is told in a cyclical, rather conversational manner (perhaps in the Indonesian storytelling fashion?). But this is also a story about an ill-matched relationship, a couple who are constantly at loggerheads, a broken family.

Man Tiger could be described as crime fiction, maybe magic realism (although when I see those two words, I tend to flee from the book, so scratch that), domestic fiction? I don’t know, I guess the easy way out would be to file it under ‘translated fiction’ as it doesn’t really seem to fit into any proper genre. But if you’re looking for a different, diverse, translated read, one that’s quick, one that’s different, and yet also gory (you should see the way Margio kills the man), passionate, and just completely apt for autumn (i.e. ripe for any Readers Imbibing in Peril, or just up for a weird read).

If you’re interested in reading more from Indonesian writers, may I suggest The Girl from the Coast by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (my thoughts)

Some things you might not know about Indonesia.

  • It’s the world’s fourth most populous nation with some 261 million people speaking over 580 languages and dialects.The main language is Bahasa Indonesia
  • It’s made up of 17,000 islands and some 130 active volcanoes



I read this book for Readers Imbibing in Peril XI

(here’s the link to the review site)


Akilah’s Diversity on the Shelf 


 Read Diverse Books Year-Round

RIP XI: Akata Witch 

Nnedi Okorafor’s books are always such a treat.

Akata Witch is the story of Sunny, born in America but who now lives in Nigeria with her brothers and parents.

“I’m Nigerian by blood, American by birth, and Nigerian again because I live here. I have West African features, like my mother, but while the rest of my family is dark brown, I’ve got light yellow hair, skin the color of “sour milk” (or so stupid people like to tell me), and hazel eyes that look like God ran out of the right color. I’m albino.”

Sunny confuses people. She doesn’t fit in. Not at school, where she is called “akata” which means “bush animal” and is used to refer to black Americans or foreign-born blacks. She doesn’t really fit in at home either – her dad doesn’t seem to know what to do with her.

Then she becomes friends with Orlu, a boy in her school, who introduces her to Chichi, a rather strange girl who lives in a  house full of books. And they reveal that they are Leopard People, powerful, magical. And that she too is one, except that she is a “free agent”. That is, despite her parents being ordinary folk, she is in a Leopard spirit line, and that she had magical abilities too, abilities that need to be unlocked and developed.

There is a whole world out there just for Leopard People. A place called Leopard Knocks with shops, restaurants and the Obi Library. For Leopard People, it’s all about learning.

She has to learn, to study juju, spells, magic. And this is on top of all the studying she already has to do for school. Add to that the sneaking around because she can’t tell anyone else about her newfound magical abilities, or the Leopard People.

Young and inexperienced as she is, she – and three other Leopard People friends- are tasked to catch a serial killer.

It’s such a fun read, as we explore this new world with Sunny, learn about her powers and this strange new double life she leads. Also there’s that element of darkness and danger lurking, not just with the serial killer, but all the tasks and skills training she goes through. Even a visit to a mentor’s house could be deadly!

And this magical world that Okorafor has created! One with an artist wasp that creates sculptures out of things it finds in nature like crumbs or mud – and will sting you if you don’t appreciate its work! The way Leopard People earn money, called chittim – when they learn something, the gold coins fall from the sky and land at their feet!


Akata Witch reminded me a lot of Zahrah the Windseeker (another fab read), in its strong young female character and fascinating world, and in this article with SFWA, Okorafor explains:

But they’ll also find that all my novels are connected, they are telling one big story. Akata Witch is a prequel to The Shadow SpeakerZahrah the Windseeker is directly linked the Who Fears Death. There is technology in Who Fears Death that is more explained in The Shadow SpeakerThe Shadow Speaker shares characters with Zahrah the Windseeker. The Nigerian writing script Nsibidi plays a pivotal role in Who Fears DeathZahrah the Windseeker and Akata Witch. Aro (from Who Fears Death), The Desert Magician (from The Shadow Speaker), Papa Grip (Zahrah the Windseeker), Long Juju Man (from Long Juju Man), Junk Man (from Akata Witch) — he shows up in all of my novels in various forms.

Also, good news! Akata Witch has a sequel coming out soon!


I read this book for Readers Imbibing in Peril XI

(here’s the link to the review site)


Akilah’s Diversity on the Shelf 


 Read Diverse Books Year-Round

A Diverse list for Readers Imbibing in Peril #ripxi

RIP or Readers Imbibing in Peril is in its 11th year! It was first started by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings, and last year was hosted by Andi and Heather of the Estella Society. Carl is back hosting it again this year!

This fall reading challenge is all about books of:

Dark Fantasy.

Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

I always go with Peril The First:








Read four books, of any length, from the very broad categories earlier defined as perilous. They could all be by the same author, a series of books, a random mix of classic and contemporary or whatever you like.

I’ve taken part for quite a few years now but this year I’ve decided to write up a list of POC authors whose works fit into those categories above. I’m still working on this list, so please let me know if you have any recommendations!

Octavia Butler

NK Jemisin

Nnedi Okorafor

Nalo Hopkinson
(For these four writers, I’m gonna say, pretty much all their work fits in!)

Tananarive Due (I loved The Good House)

Attica Locke (Pleasantville and The Cutting Season)

Helen Oyeyemi 

Natsuo Kirino – Grotesque; Real World; Out

Asa Nonami – The Hunter

Keigo Higashino -I’m reading his latest translated work, Under the Midnight Sun, right now. It is massive but I CANNOT PUT IT DOWN. Also The Devotion of Suspect X

Liu Xiaolong – Inspector Chen series

Han Kang – The Vegetarian

Ken Liu – The Paper Menagerie and other stories

Zen Cho (Sorcerer to the Crown)

Yangtze Choo (Ghost Bride)

Daina Chaviano

Alain Mabanckou (Memoirs of a Porcupine)

Those whose books I’ve yet to read

Indra Das
Hao Jingfang
Cixin Liu
Alaya Dawn Johnson
Malinda Lo
Shizuko Netsuke
Miyuki Miyabe
Koji Suzuki

Kazuhiro Kiuchi

Are you taking part in RIP IX?? Also, here is the RIP IX review site!

#Diversiverse and #RIPX : Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

sorcerer_front mech.indd

“I’m surprised at you, Lorrie,” said Rollo. “It stands to reason no one can have a picnic if it is raining cockatrices and dragons. A hugeness mermaid don’t improve the view, either.”

It is always refreshing to read a fantasy/magical story that isn’t all about people fair of skin and golden-locked. And it is always wonderful to read of a strong feisty main female character who doesn’t bow down to tradition, even if it is a Regency setting, where women are not supposed to practise magic.


Sorcerer to the Crown is all about breaking with tradition.

In truth magic had always had a slightly un-English character, being unpredictable, heedless of tradition and profligate with its gifts to high and low.

Sure, there are elements of popular fantasy reads here. A school for magic (or rather anti-magic) for girls. Squabbling magicians (males of course). The land of faery. A Regency England setting. Very proper and what not.

Magic was too strong a force for women’s frail bodies – too potent a brew for their weak minds – and so, especially at a time when everyone must be anxious to preserve what magical resource England still possessed, magic must be forbidden to women.

But at its heart is the Sorcerer Royal Zacharias, a black man in a sea of white. He was a freed slave who was adopted by the Sir Stephen Wythe, then the Sorcerer Royal. He inherited the title from Sir Stephen. Well sort of. The thing with the title is that it comes with a staff and like Thor’s hammer, it is only wielded by the rightful owner. But mutter mutter there rumour rumour here, everyone is convinced that Zacharias had something to do with Sir Stephen’s death. After all, where is Leofric, Sir Wythe’s familiar? Doesn’t the Sorcerer Royal need a familiar? And also, they blame him for the mere trickling of magic that England now has.

So besides all this politicking (and assassination attempts and constant worrying about lack of magical resources) that Zacharias has to fend off, he has to make a speech at Mrs Daubeney’s School for Gentlewitches, a school in which girls learn to suppress their natural magical abilities. Because women aren’t supposed to be magical. Of course they aren’t! There he meets Prunella, a sort of ward/teacher/servant of the school, a very magical young woman, who seeks his help in leaving the school and, well, she’s not the kind of person who takes no for an answer. And also, she’s a mixed race, half-Indian orphan.

Then there’s Mak Genggang, a witch from Janda Baik, and she’s stirring up trouble for everyone, especially Zacharias, who pretty much has his hands full by now.

Mak Genggang was a puzzle. In manner and appearance she struck Prunella as being little different from an English village witch, of the sort who plied villagers with love philtres and finding charms, far away from the disapproving eye of the Society. Yet she had walked through Fairyland to England; the Sorcerer Royal treated her as an equal; and she was possessed of such a serene and persuasive conviction of her own power that neither fact seemed remarkable.


So Zacharias’ life is changed forever, and so is Prunella’s. And they set out to put England right too. Things aren’t ever as simple as that, especially since this is only the first book in the series, but just take it from me, this is a delightful delightful book. It is a book that made me laugh and smile and just be so glad for someone like Zen Cho to have written this magical book of magic. A book full of life and colour and vivacity. A book that simple soars.

(I do have the tiniest twinge of disappointment that this book was not set in Malaysia, or even somewhere in Asia – Cho was born and raised in Malaysia but currently lives in England. But I have hope that she will write one novel set in Asia sometime soon.)

Zen Cho’s Bibliography (her website)
Spirits Abroad (short stories)
Cyberpunk: Malaysia (editor)





I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 

RIP X and Diversiverse: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

I knew I would be reading a book by a Japanese author for RIP X. I just didn’t expect it to be Haruki Murakami. He does write slightly odd books but I guess I never thought any of them really fit into the RIP mood. I can think of plenty of other Japanese writers that would easily do that like Natsuo Kirino, Keigo Higashino, Koji Suzuki.

So it was interesting to read this little volume from Murakami. The American version of it has a flap-over cover. Or whatever the professional term for that is. See the photo in the middle. Essentially the red cover flips open as does the bit at the bottom. And each page has an image on one side and text on the other. The text is alarmingly large but you’ll get used to it. I suppose that is how the publisher managed to turn what is essentially a short story into a book-length publication.

I’m not complaining though. I like the use of the images through the book. It made for a different read.

Opening the book up, top flap then bottom is a little like opening a box. A boxful of secrets, a hidden room, a library of deep dark weirdness, a prison of sorts.

Our nameless young boy goes to the library to return books and read up on Ottoman Empire taxation. And he is led to a room downstairs, a room he never knew existed. There he is told that he will be imprisoned in a room in the library and he has to memorise three books on the Ottoman Empire tax system. If not, his brains will be feasted on.

(Way to encourage kids to spend time at the library, Mr Murakami!)

Anyway, a strange little read from the master of Japanese fiction. Suitable indeed for RIP and whatever odd reading mood you are in.

What I found fascinating also is that the British version of the book has different illustrations, as this article from The Guardian shows. 

The Millions examines this a bit more, and shows us the cover of the original Japanese book, and further ignites my curiosity about the British version: “Open up that edition to any page and the word “vintage” will spring to mind, from the lovely marbled endpapers to the reproduced antique plates of dogs and birds.”

Apparently, Chip Kidd’s American design had some familiar with Japanese publishing shaking their heads in dismay!




I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 


RIP X: Zombillenium




I came across Zombillenium while randomly browsing the Scribd catalogue. I would never have heard of it otherwise.

And it was perfect for RIP! A monster-staffed monster-themed amusement park! It’s latest recruit is Aurelian, a random guy the director (who himself is a vampire) hits and kills with his car. And of course the best solution to that in this case is to turn him into a vampire. And tada, a new employee for the theme park! Except that a werewolf also bites him so they’re not entirely sure what the new employee is now – vampire-werewolf? Something completely new altogether? Well, whatever he is, he’s making the other employees a little annoyed with his rather sensational new look which is stealing the show. Everyone, from the dancing zombies (This is Thriller! Thriller night!) to the werewolves and demons, wants to get Aurelian fired from the park, because when you are canned at Zombillenium, you are gone forever.

A surprisingly entertaining comic that’s just right for RIPX! There are currently three volumes of Zombillenium. All of them are available on Scribd.

Vol 1: Gretchen
Vol 2: Human Resources
Vol 3: Control Freaks



I read this book for RIP X (see the rest of my book list here)

RIP X: The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin



It is with such excitement that I leap blindly into a new Jemisin book.

I leap, I dive, I plunge into a new world, trusting in Jemisin to lead me wherever she wants this story to go.

Entering a new world is never easy. It takes a while for a reader to understand the characteristics of this unique world, its people, its problems, because of course there are problems.

This time, it is the mighty empire of Sanze, it is where we find the oregenes.

Orogeny is a strange equation. Take movement and warmth and life from your surroundings, amplify it by some indefinable process of concentration or catalysis or semi-predictable chance, push movement and warmth and death from the earth. Power in, power out. To keep the power in, though, to not turn the valley’s aquifer into a geyser or shatter the ground into rubble, takes an effort that makes your teeth and the backs of your eyes ache. You walked a long time to try to burn off some of what you took in, but it still brims under your skin even as your body grows weary and your feet hurt. You are a weapon meant to move mountains. A mere walk can’t take that out of you.

It begins with the earth. It begins with the shaking.

It begins with a woman named Essun whose life, whose heart, is broken, after she discovers that her husband has killed her son and taken her daughter with him.

Needless to say, this is a dark place. And it is an especially dark one for orogenes, those who can feel the earth, who can both still a tremor and cause one. And for that they are hunted or sent to the Fulcrum – for training they call it, but really to be controlled.

“The orogenes of the Fulcrum serve the world,” he says. “You will have no use name from here forth, because your usefulness lies in what you are, not merely some familial aptitude. From birth, an orogene child can stop a shake; even without training, you are orogene. Within a comm or without one, you are orogene. With training, however, and with the guidance of other skilled orogenes at the Fulcrum, you can be useful not merely to a single comm, but all the Stillness.”

It is never easy bringing a reader into a new world, and making them want to linger and not shut the book (or device) and find someone else’s realm. Jemisin always does so well with her world-building, dark as they may be. Maybe it’s because her characters are diverse. They’re not all fair-skinned, golden-locked and dewy-eyed. They’re not all straight.

And there is no dark evil force from without threatening the society. The society is threatened by their own kind, by a flawed way of thinking, by a over-controlling authority that seeks to enslave and harness instead of involve and embrace. I’m trying not to get into specifics, so go read this book yourself!

But yes, it is an exciting read. An absorbing read. And when I finished it, I went back to the start to read the prologue all over again, because it is that kind of book. It puzzles a little at the beginning, when you’re just entering this world she has created, and one which you don’t fully understand yet. But as you read on and things begin to take shape in your mind, you realize how powerful a writer Jemisin is. The way she creates this world, so odd, so interesting, so different, yet one you can easily see. The way she writes in these characters that you believe in. And by the end of the book, whether it is a character you like or whether it is one you completely abhor, these are characters that stick in your mind, hold on to you. This is a book that gives me a sort of book hangover, it makes me unable to jump straight into another book as I usually do.

What can I say, I loved this book, as I have loved all of the other books by NK Jemisin.

If you’re new to Jemisin, you’re in for a treat! She has one other excellent trilogy, another equally excellent duology. And well, we will just have to wait for the rest of the Broken Earth trilogy to come out.

The Inheritance Trilogy
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
The Broken Kingdoms
The Kingdom of Gods

The Dreamblood Duology
The Killing Moon
The Shadowed Sun

The Broken Earth Trilogy
The Fifth Season


I read this book for RIP X (see the rest of my book list here)