Tag Archives: Book review

Book Review: How to Catch a Queen: Runaway Royals #1 by Alyssa Cole

How to Catch a Queen: Runaway Royals #1   

Authors: Alyssa Cole

Publisher: Avon

American release date: December 1, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Kindle/Multicultural Romance/384 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Shanti has wanted to be a queen for all of her life. That has been her goal, and to attain that end she has worked very hard, enlisting the aid of her parents in the realization of her dream, and registering with the matchmaking site RoyalMatch.com. But the road she has chosen to travel is not an easy one, and many have scoffed at her for their perceptions of what they consider a foolish fantasy. But Shanti is nothing if not stubborn, and refuses to allow herself to be derailed from her journey. Her reasons for wanting to become a queen are clear to her, even if not to everyone else—she wants to make a difference, to be a force for good, to wield royal power in a helpful way. Her desires have nothing to do with money or glory… or even a king.

Prince Sanyu is the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Nyaza. His father, Sanyu I, helped to reinstate the monarchy after driving out the Liechtienbourger colonizers, with the aid of his chief adviser and closest friend, Musoke. But that was a long time ago, and things are not going well. The king and his adviser have proven resistant to change, keeping their country mired in the traditions of the past, and refusing to entertain ideas concerning progress, or alliances with other countries. The trouble is that the king is dying, and soon Sanyu will sit upon the throne, and the very thought terrifies him. But even more troubling is that they have decided he needs to marry first. Marriages in Nyaza are different than in other places. Each time the king marries, there is a four month trial period, during which it is decided whether his wife is the True Queen or not. If not, then at the end of the trial period, she leaves and the process begins again. Sanyu has lost count of how many queens have come and gone, including his own mother, of whom he has no memories. And now they have chosen a wife for him from an online site? How can that end well?

Shanti is excited to have been chosen as the wife of the prince of Nyaza, even though relations between Nyaza and her home of Thesolo aren’t necessarily the best. She is determined to be the best queen ever. What does it matter that once she meets Sanyu, despite his less than warm attitude, she finds him desirable? That is immaterial. And it quickly becomes problematic, as he makes no move to get to know her. Shanti quickly learns there is a reason why there have been so many queens, and no True Queen. She is practically invisible inside her own home, unseen and unheard. How can she make a difference when no one listens to her? Maybe if she can put her finger on the pulse of the people… When she discovers the group Nyaza Rise Up, she rejoices to be able to offer them some of her great organizational and research skills. But is she secretly plotting with people to wish to harm her kingdom? How can that possibly endear her to her husband… or is that a lost cause anyway?

How to Catch a Queen is the first book in Alyssa Cole’s Runaway Royals series. It’s also related to the Reluctant Royals series, so look for some familiar characters. I have to admit that I loved this book from the start and devoured it in record time. Shanti is an amazing woman, strong, beautiful, intelligent, and with a mind and will of her own. What’s not to like? Sanyu had to grow on me because he appeared to be so weak and there were times I just wanted to shake him. But the nice thing about Alyssa Cole is that she makes her characters real. Even good people have weaknesses and faults, and those perceived as bad aren’t necessarily bad but misguided and simply human.

After Shanti, I loved Kenyatta, her guardswoman, who is strong and brave and not afraid to put a man in his place, even if he is a king. I hope she gets her own love story someday. I loved seeing some of the people I grew to love from the first series, especially Prince Johann, who has a special place in my heart.

This is a romance, without a doubt, but it’s also about friendship and family, and about standing up for what is right, and wielding the power you have to help those in your community, as well as the rest of the world. Everything just resonated with me. And I confess that no one makes me cry quite like Alyssa Cole does, tears of happiness and joy, and the satisfaction of having finished an extraordinarily good read.

Is anyone surprised that I’ve pre-ordered the second book in the series, which comes out next May? Once you read this one, I know you will too.

Book Review: Mexican Gothic by SIlvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic   

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publisher: Del Rey

American release date:  June 30, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Gothic/Historical Fantasy/320 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer:  Julie Lynn Hayes

Noemi is a pretty girl who likes to party and to socialize, happy to show off her extensive wardrobe of beautiful clothes. She’s attracted many suitors, but isn’t serious about any of them, including her latest, Hugo Duarte. She’s as fickle with her studies, having changed majors a few times, unsure what she wants to do. But when her father requests that she check on her recently wed cousin, Catalina, after receiving a disturbing letter from her, she reluctantly agrees to go. Catalina’s marriage was both shockingly sudden and secretive, and no one has even met the groom, Virgil Doyle. And now Catalina appears to be in distress, so what else can Noemi do?

Noemi travels by train to the home of her cousin and her new family. Known as High Place, it’s in a remote location, far from Mexico City. The house is huge, and at one time perhaps elegant, but now it is dark and forbidding and decaying. Besides Catalina and her husband, the other residents of the house are Virgil’s father, Howard Doyle, and Virgil’s aunt, Florence and her son, Francis.

Florence is buttoned-up and strict, and doesn’t hesitate to spell out the rules to Noemi, many of which seem ridiculous. No hot baths, only cold? No smoking? No using the car or leaving the house without permission or alone? Limited access to Catalina, who apparently sleeps a lot – doctor’s orders.  Is this a home or a prison?

Noemi tries to make sense of what is happening with Catalina, and thinks she may need psychiatric assistance. Not to mention a different physician, or at least a second opinion. The things her cousin says about the walls talking to her, and seeing things… this could be serious, beyond the ken of the family doctor, whom she doesn’t trust.

The house is dark and gloomy, a condition exacerbated by a dearth of light bulbs. But the inhabitants seem not to notice. The only person Noemi feels able to talk to, outside of Catalina, is Francis. But he’s so pale and weak, especially when compared to Catalina’s husband, Virgil, who is exceptionally good-looking. But there is something about Virgil that isn’t quite right either.

Can Noemi solve the mystery of High Place… or will it claim her and Catalina both?

Set in 1950 Mexico, this tale is both original and familiar. It kept me constantly guessing from beginning to end, wondering what was going on in this horrible place. And in the end, I wasn’t even close. Noemi might be a somewhat entitled heroine, and far from perfect, but she is engaging, and has spirit enough to match any traditional gothic heroine. I liked her as much as I disliked most of the inhabitants of High Place.

I will definitely have to read more of this author’s works, this is an amazing novel. I kept thinking it would make a great movie or series, and then I read that it is in development as a Hulu series, so keep your eye out for that. I know I will!

This is a must-read for those who love gothic novels and horror stories and appreciate twists. A definite page-turner.

Book Review: Ring Shout by P. Djèli Clark

Ring Shout   

Author: P. Djèli Clark

Publisher: Tordotcom

American release date:  October 13, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Historical Fantasy/192 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

1920s Macon Georgia is a time filled with prejudice and hate… and filled with the evil that is the Ku Klux Klan. But there is something not right about these Ku Kluxers, other than the obvious. Some of them are not what they seem, demons in human form, inhuman incarnations of hate. But Maryse Boudreaux can see them for what they are. And she has a sword that can whup them real good. And lots of friends who feel the same way and want nothing more than to send these misbegotten demons back to where they came, if not worse.

Now they’re about to re-release that damned movie, that Birth of a Nation, that stirred up so much trouble, so much hate, and so much violence, the first time it saw the light of day. There’s trouble brewing in the air, and Maryse isn’t about to sit back and let it be… she’s going to do something about it, no matter what the cost… and no matter how terrified she is of what’s coming.

I literally drank in this book in just a couple of days, a fascinating, brilliant tale that combines history with fantasy, and introduces us to some damn memorable characters. I cried at the end. Was it relief or sorrow? Read the book and find out for yourself.

This is my first book by this author, but it won’t be the last. He writes with a rich colorful language that sings, much like Maryse’s sword, and it’s filled with people you won’t soon forget. Even hateful ones, like Butcher Clyde. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Book Review: In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

In the Miso Soup   

Author: Ryu Murakami

Publisher: Penguin Books

American release date:  March 28, 2006

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Psychological Fuctuib/224 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Twenty-year-old Kenji works as a guide for tourists who come to Tokyo and wish to enjoy the seamier side of the city. He knows the “best” places to go to get the most bang for your buck and which places to avoid, no matter what it is you’re looking for. He knows what women do what for how much, and he is also a translator, speaking English pretty well.  But there’s something about this tourist, the American named Frank, that is frankly off-putting, although Kenji can’t put his finger on just what it is. On the surface, he seems like a regular guy. But then, at times, there is… the Face.

Frank is… for lack of a better word, different.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but Kenji has been reading about the recent deaths of young women. A serial killer is on the loose. Could Frank be the guy they’re looking for? And is Kenji in more danger than he’s ever been in before?

This is one heck of a ride, a great read from beginning to end. I was never sure how this one was going to turn out until the very end. Murakami is great at digging into his characters’ very souls, and making us question what is normal and what is not. Horror does not have to be in the form of a chainsaw-wielding maniac or a guy in a strange mask carrying an axe or knife. Horror can look like an average Joe. And it’s all the scarier for it.

I am really enjoying getting to know this author’s works and look forward to more. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates a good horror story.

Book Review: Bleach, Vol 26 by Tite Kubo

Bleach, Vol 26   

Author: Tite Kubo

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: March 3, 2009

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Supernatural/2106 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer:  Julie Lynn Hayes

 

While communicating with the Soul Society from Kakura Town, Captain Hitsugaya is surprised to see Hinamori up and about. She apologizes to him for having doubted him, of having accused him of murdering Captain Aizen, since obviously that didn’t happen. Her only request is that he not kill Aizen now.

Renji is frustrated with Uruhara, who more or less tricked him into training Chad, but the training is not going smoothly. Ichigo is still training with the Visoreds when Orihime suddenly appears, much to their surprise. How did she even know how to find them when their location is so off the grid, and how did she slip through Hachi’s barrier? Orihime delivers to Ichigo the important message regarding Aizen’s plan, which includes the destruction of Kakura Town for his own nefarious ends (when are his ends not nefarious?) Uyru’s training with his father is not going very well either, and the man is pushing him to his limits.

When Kiskue calls for Orihime to come to the training grounds, she assumes that she is to train also. But his message is quite different—he tells her that she is stay out of this battle. Orihime understands, but is crushed, nonetheless. Rukia finds her and promised she will help her find a way to grow stronger.

In Hueco Mundo, Yammy has received a new arm, but Grimmjow hasn’t, which means he is no longer an Espada. Ulquiorra and Yammy are called by Aizen and told to carry out the order given by him a month before. They are also to take along the new Arrancar, Wonderweiss. In the Seireitei, Ukitake and Hisagi watch Rukia and Orihime train. Ukitake is pleased to see them together, as Rukia has few friends and finds it hard to let people in.

When the Arrancars drop from the sky, they are met by the Soul Reapers. Ichigo tells the Visoreds he has to go, against their better judgment. While they are thus engaged, Ulquiorra carries out his missions…

In this volume of Bleach, we get a little more insight into what the despicable Aizen has planned. I can’t believe Hinamori still defends him, in spite of what he did to her. She has a rude awakening ahead of her. Training for all our heroes is difficult, but no pain, no gain, right? The Visoreds are running out of patience with Ichicgo, especially as he keeps interrupting his training to step into the fray. Wait until he finds out what Aizen has done now. Or rather what he has sent his minions to do. Ichigo will lose his mind. He will not less this pass.

A lot going on in this volume, all a prelude to something that will be some time in the making and has just barely begun. Another great volume, can’t wait for 28!

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom     

Author: Victor LaValle

Publisher: Tordotcom

American release date: February 16, 2016

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/dark fantasy/160 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Tommy Tester is a dutiful son. He works hard to take care of his dying father, to provide them both with a place to live, food to eat… just the basics. But life is hard in Jazz Age New York, especially for a black man. There are places where he isn’t meant to go, things he can’t do. People who look down on him because of the color of his skin. But with survival the name of the game, sometimes you do things that are necessary. Even if they’re a little dark.

Take for instance the book that Tommy delivers to the white lady in Queens. He’s not stupid. He knows what kind of book that is, and what she is, and what someone like her will use it for. But that’s okay, he’s fixed it so she won’t be able to, and he’ll still get paid.

And then a strange white man calling himself Robert Suydam offers Tommy $500 to play at his home. Now Tommy plays the guitar, and  hesings, but he knows he isn’t all that, not like his dad, so what’s up with this offer? Still, that’s a whole lot of money, and he and his dad can live comfortably for a long time. His decision is a no-brainer. So he agrees to play, and receives $100 as a down payment.

Suddenly, he’s on someone’s radar—a cop and a private detective, who shake him down and want to know what his business is with Robert Suydam. He tells them what he knows, which isn’t much, and they take his money. Okay, now he’ll still get $400, and that is worth it. He spends a few days practicing his limited repertoire, and his dad teaches him a new song. And then the night comes and he goes to the mansion and plays…

This story is engaging from beginning to end, as you tear through it, trying to figure out what’s going to happen, and what’s going on. It’s told from two different perspectives, between Tommy Tester and Malone, the private detective. Nothing is what it seems, and I certainly didn’t see the ending coming. This is an old school horror story, harking back to writers such as HP Lovecraft.

Well-written and well-told, I truly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to those who like to read horror stories, especially if you like HP Lovecraft.

Book Review: Twentieth Century Boys, VOl 4: Love and Peace

Twentieth Century Boys, Vol 4: Love and Peace   

Author: Naoki Urasawa

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: August 18, 2009

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer:  Julie Lynn Hayes

 

A man from Japan who lives in Bangkok, Thailand, and goes by the name of Shogun, is being sought by a dangerous element. Mostly because he helps girls in slippery situations out of those situations and sends them home, thus putting himself on the radar of some very bad people. But there is more to his being wanted than just that, as a business associate tells him, it has to do with the drugs he destroyed. A valuable new street drug called Rainbow Kid. The associate has a new job for Shogun. He’s to go to a hotel and remove some low-life drug user before he dies and ruins the reputation of the place. Shogun goes to the room, and the druggie tells him a story involving the police, and the military, and cabinet members… and he’s a cop himself. Nothing is making sense. Friends? What friends? And then Shogun finds a pin, a symbol long forgotten from his childhood….

Shogun learns the last girl he saved has been captured again, and so of course he goes to free her.  Once they get out of the place she is being held, she asks him why he is helping her, and Shogun replies, “ (because) I wasn’t there when my own kid died.” On the verge of being attacked, Shogun and the girl are assisted by a group of men, the leader of which introduces himself as a member of the house of representatives, and a member of the FDP—the Friendship and Democracy Party.

Shogun takes the girl to safety then returns to his business associate at the travel agency. But the girl suddenly turns up, much the worse for wear, with an important message about the politician they just met, where she’s seen him before. And an unexpected phone call from an old friend in Japan brings Shogun to the realization that it’s time to go back to Japan. But first, there’s something he’s gotta do…

This volume of Twentieth Century Boys is primarily about Shogun, a character we’ve been long awaiting to take his place on this particular stage. In filling in the blanks of his life, past and present, we get a more cohesive picture of our heroes, and what they’re about, and what they are capable of.

Some time has passed, with Kenji in hiding, blamed for the death of the homeless man. But he’s managed to eluded capture and fly under the rader, and his niece, Kanna, is now three, and cute as can be. Kenji, his mom, and Kanna, have all found shelter with the group of homeless men who insist they need his help, that he is the one who will save the world. Not that Kenji believes that, but at this point, he has few options.

Having learned in the previous volume who the baby daddy is, it’s not hard to extrapolate that at some point, Kanna will become a target for his group. Things are really happening. I love all the back story, as more and more things begin to make sense, and we get a lot of omg and wtf moments.  From the beginning of the series, we know that a group of men saves the world, and we can kindof guess who they are, but how they do it definitely remains to be seen. One can surmise that the how involves music in some way, but against this growing group of crazies who are hell-bent on achieving the destruction of the world, that doesn’t seem like a very strong defense.

With every volume, I think I love this series more and more. Can’t wait for the next one!

Book Review: Audition by Ryu Murakami

Audition     

Author: Ryu Murakami

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

American release date:  June 7, 2010

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Psychological Thriller/192 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

After seven years of being alone, widower Aoyama decides, after being prompted by his fifteen-year-old son Shige, to consider marrying again. However, Aoyama doesn’t know just how to go about looking for a wife, as he confides to his close friend, Yoshikawa. Wanting to see his friend happy, Yoshikawa hits on the perfect solution—he’ll announce an audition for a romantic movie (which may  never get made, but that’s show business, right?), and Aoyama can look through the resumes that are submitted and select about thirty or so for the two men to audition for the “role” of Aoyama’s future wife.

 

One resume in particular catches Aoyama’s eye, and he barely gives any of the other applicants the time of day, so intent is he on meeting Yamasaki Asami. And when he does, she is even more than he could have hoped for. Of course, he has to let her know she didn’t get the part, and hope that she won’t be too disappointed.

 

Is she Aoyama’s next great love… or a nightmare waiting to happen?

 

This is my second book by this author, the first being Piercing. Both are psychological thrillers which take us deep into the protagonist’s psyche. Audition is slow-paced, but well worth the time it takes to come to a boil. I’ve seen the movie, as well, and have to say I like the book just a little bit better, although the movie is good too. It’s a good read, and well done, and I plan to read more of this author’s books. The ending may be too graphic for some, so know that going into it. This story is not for everyone, but I really liked it.

 

 

The Way of the House Husband, Vol 4 by Kousuke Oono

The Way of the Househusband, Vol 4     

Author: Kousuke Oono

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: September 15, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Manga/Comedy/168 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

While at the market, Tatsu finds the perfect fish! While he is going into glorious details with the fishmonger about what he is going to do to that fish, it’s suddenly yanked from his hands by a four legged thief. And the chase is on!

Tatsu spies smoke coming from next door! Heading to the rescue, he finds the culprit to be a man and his grill. He invites Tatsu to join him, but the intensely smoky atmosphere inside the apartment is less than appetizing. Tatsu leaps into action, declaring, “I’m gonna show you how the Japanese handle a beef.”

One of Miku’s colleagues has given her tickets to Bremen Land, a big kiddie park, and she wants to go with Tatsu. Tatsu is reluctant about the whole idea, especially as the place is liable to be filled with… well, children. Will Tatsu be able to enjoy this excursion?

Tora is finding that crepe sales at his food truck aren’t what they used to be, so he needs to do something else. He hears that bubble tea is all the rage but he knows nothing about tapioca balls, so reluctantly approaches the one man who is bound to have all the answers—Tatsu.

Tatsu gives Masa a lesson in shopping for essential but inexpensive household items—“Don’t you ever underestimate homemaking!”

When the regular picture book storyteller cancels at the last minute, and no one else is available, the bookstore owner reluctantly calls on Tatsu, who very enthusiastically undertakes the mission!  He makes his own drawings to accompany the tale he chooses to tell, which seems to be taking an unexpected turn into not child friendly territory.

Tatsu and Miku are enjoying a day at the beach, when they are approached by a group of men. Tatsu recognizes the Bears, the volleyball team that beat Tatsu and the housewives in a match. They suggest a rematch but Tatsu turns them down. However, Miku is not about to let that fly, and now it’s Miku and Tatsu versus the Bears!

Tatsu is helping tutor a young boy in various subjects, including math, where he uses some rather unusual examples. Everything else accomplished, his last task is an independent project, such as a craft project or a science experiment or journal. The boy declares his intention to do something easy, like a wooden pencil holder. Tatsu is on it! Can anything ever be truly easy with Tatsu, though?

Tatsu is spending time at a restaurant with a couple of his housewife friends, trading stories. Tatsu tells them tales from his past, invoking completely different images in their minds than what he actually experienced.

Another fabulous volume of tales about Tatsu! I love this series so much! I’ve already pre-ordered the next one. I never get tired of reading of Tatsu’s adventures, and the way he applies his Yakuza background to his present life. The artwork is wonderful, the stories filled with humor, as well as some tender, heartwarming moments.   I especially enjoyed Tatsu and Miku’s time at Bremen Land. There are a couple of bonus stories, and the one about Miku is great! Not sure when the live action version is going to be available, but I know they’ve added a couple of original characters who don’t exist in the manga, including a daughter. I’ll reserve judgment on that until I see how that works out.

Fantastic as always, looking forward to the next one!

Book Review: Piercing by Ryu Murakami

Piercing     

Author: Ryu Murakami

Publisher: Penguin Books

American release date:  March 27, 2007

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Psychological Thriller/192 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer:  Julie Lynn Hayes

 

New father Kawashima Masayuki stands beside the bed of his infant daughter every night, in the still of the night, and tells himself he will not stab her with the ice pick he holds in his hand.

His wife has no idea of his thoughts, and would naturally be horrified if she only knew. Kawashima has to do something to rid himself of this urge. Better a complete stranger than his child, right? Not like he hasn’t done that before.

Kawashima is a very methodical man, as is very evident in the way he goes about making plants to inflict his urges on a prostitute he intends to hire. Nothing can be left to chance, and nothing can ever lead back to him. It won’t, not if he plays his cards right. And when he succeeds, his baby and wife will be safe, right?

This psychological thriller by Ryu Murakami explores the thought processes in this man, who otherwise appears to be normal, but beneath it all is filled with personal demons he struggles to control. Namely the impulse to cause harm with an ice pick. And then there is the prostitute he hires through an agency, Chiaki, who has demons of her own. A woman bold enough to pierce her own nipple.

This is my first book by this author, but it won’t be my last. I am currently reading Audition, also by him. I honestly had no idea what was going to happen, as we explore the minds of these two people, brought together by chance, both of whom struggle with painful pasts. I hope the movie is half as good as the book.

This book is very well written and flows smoothly, one of those hard to put down books you are too anxious to find out what happens next. I highly recommend it.