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Zachary Ying doesn’t want to stand out, a difficult task when he’s usually the only Asian kid in his school. He wants to finish summer classes and play Mythrealm, an augmented reality game that blends elements of Pokémon GO and trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! with classic mythology. Zack never learned a lot about Chinese myths and history from his mother, who had complicated feelings regarding their homeland. It comes as quite a shock when a Chinese transfer student, Simon Li, introduces himself and explains that Zack’s likely a direct descendent of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Before he knows what’s happening, the spirit of his ancestor has possessed him, or rather, his portal-lens, the AR headset he wears to play Mythrealm.

Qin Shi Huang is on a mission, and he needs Zack’s body to do it. The long-dead emperor has to seal a portal to the Chinese underworld to prevent all manner of demons and spirits from flooding out into the human world, and the clock is ticking. Zack needs to get to Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in China, and he needs to strengthen the bond between himself and the emperor’s spirit, or his mother’s soul may be devoured. Zack has to learn as much as he can about the Dragon Emperor and his exploits so that he can channel the magic necessary to close the gap between the realms.

Qin Shi Huang isn’t the only dead emperor setting out to save China. Simon is possessed by the spirit of his own ancestor, Tang Taizong, and he’s partnered with Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, hosted by her own descendent, Melissa Wu. Together, the three kids and their spirit partners navigate an escalating series of heists and battles with mythological figures and monsters. If they fail, China—and the rest of the world—are doomed.

Xiran Jay Zhao has crafted a most excellent middle grade adventure here. They’ve taken some of the best bits of Yu-Gi-Oh! (which I’ve loved since seeing the first episodes land in English back in 2001) and wrapped it in an intense love of Chinese history and myth, with an end result that will satisfy readers of all ages and make the folks at Disney jealous that they didn’t pick this one up for a Rick Riordan Presents title. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is fun, fast-paced, and clever. It’s out tomorrow, May 10th.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

And my additional thanks to Xiran for their signature on a copy of Iron Widow and a selfie with them back in April!

Selfie of me, Philip (he/they), standing in front of Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them), the author of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor as well as Iron Widow.

I’m late to the party, I know.

I saw so many of my twitter friends talking up a new fantasy novel earlier this year. Something outside the traditional realm of sword and sorcery, but embracing the roots of the genre and crafting it into a drastically different form.

I’m talking, of course, about Travis Baldree’s debut novel, Legends & Lattes. I don’t remember which author I saw first promoting it, but it caught my attention almost immediately. What’s not to love about the premise? An orc adventurer finally tires of the life she’s led and decides to cash out after one final score, wherein she claims a legendary artifact that’s believed to bring great luck to the one who owns it. Viv leaves her old group of companions (let’s not pretend that they’re all friends) and settles down in the city of Thune to found a business the likes of which no one in the area has ever seen: a coffee shop.

Putting years of earnings from monster hunting to use, Viv transforms an old livery into a bustling café. She befriends numerous locals, especially the succubus Tandri, who quickly learns the trade as Viv’s first official hired barista. Not everyone is thrilled with her success, however, and Viv’s past has a way of catching up with her at the least opportune times. Between jealous former partners, a local protection racket, and the fact that literally no one in Thune knows what coffee is, she’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she might just have found exactly the place and the people to help her leave her old life behind once and for all.

Legends & Lattes is ridiculously cute, y’all. It’s a fantasy adventure with a great heart, and without the fate of the world at stake. It’s a wonderful reminder that, as Viv herself says, “Things don’t have to stay as what they started out as.” Take a chance on it. You’ll be glad you did.

Wow.

I mean.

Where do you start a review for a book like Manhunt? I’m going to have to say it starts like this, because I’ve literally never read a book like Manhunt before.

The world has ended, at least for cis men. A virulent plague has torn through humanity, attacking people with higher levels of testosterone and turning them into violent, feral monsters. The survivors do what they can to get by, rebuilding where they can. Beth and Fran navigate through the New England wilderness, tracking and killing the men and harvesting their testicles and kidneys to bring back to their friend Indi. She processes hormones for the two trans women so that they can prevent the disease from transforming them into mindless beasts as well. Together, they might be able to hold on.

However, the wild men aren’t the only threat to Beth and Fran in this remade world. Militant TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) are sweeping the eastern seaboard, killing anyone who isn’t a cis woman. Their leader, Teach, is out to leave her own mark, and she’ll destroy anything or anyone who might even consider helping trans folks.

Gretchen Felker-Martin has crafted a horrifying, violent apocalypse that skillfully wraps its way around gender and sexuality. She blends beautifully erotic scenes with the grotesque, and leaves you terrified, but somehow still wanting more. Manhunt showcases the power of found family, even in the face of utter destruction. “Community is when you never let go of each other. Not even after you’re gone.”

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart or the delicate of stomach, but it was an absolute blast. It’s out now. My thanks to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for an eARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s October, and the month that I spend in celebration of Hallowe’en is one of my favorite times of the year. Nearly five weeks of spooky stories, movies, games, all building up to a night spent in costume asking strangers and friends alike for candy? I’m 100% in.

This year, one of the best scary stories that I had the pleasure of reading was Cassandra Khaw’s new novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth. I’m a big fan of horror novellas, as I love seeing how an author can build suspense over shorter texts, and Khaw absolutely shines here. They skillfully blend Japanese myths and history with a modern setting, leaving me wanting so much more.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is the story of a group of friends, horror fans all, who have overcome their intertwining pasts to gather at an ancient Heian-era mansion so that two of them can get married. Why not have a destination wedding in a haunted house? After learning about one of the spirits that is said to occupy the grounds, the friends soon find that their planned night of drinking and telling ghost stories may have gone a step too far. An ohaguro-bettari, the ghost of a bride-to-be, has claimed one of them as a replacement for the man who died before he could become her husband a thousand years ago.

Khaw presents us with a group of protagonists who are clearly genre-savvy, but their own interpersonal connections have grown strained, and may prove to be their undoing. “This is the problem with horror movies: Everyone knows what’s coming next but actions have momentum, every decision an equal and justified reaction. Just because you know you should, doesn’t mean you can, stop.”

I loved Nothing But Blackened Teeth, and devoured the novella in a couple of hours. It’s available for you to buy today!

My sincere thanks to NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

So, you’re planning a trip to England.

You’ve watched Midsomer Murders from start to finish, and read every Agatha Christie. You know what to expect.

Or so you think… Maybe there’s one more thing you should read first. Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village is a short but brilliant tongue-in-cheek book, preparing you for your inevitable demise in, well, Tongue-in-Cheek, or whatever little town you’re preparing to visit on your holiday. Maureen Johnson presents a very quick read with Gorey-esque illustrations provided by Jay Cooper. The guide introduces you to the titular village and its denizens and their various quirks (beware the vicar) before moving on to the nearby manor and the residents therein.

I loved this book. It took me maybe 30 minutes to read from beginning to end, but I vastly enjoyed every minute of it, spending a large portion of the time stifling my laughter so as to not wake my sleeping family members. Johnson’s humor is spectacular, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s out in the world today. Go find it. Just… Maybe don’t go to the little bookshop in the quaint English village to pick up a copy.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley for an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Okay, y’all. This was one weird book, and I absolutely loved it.

When Rainbow wakes up, she doesn’t remember anything. She doesn’t know who she is, where she is, or how she got there. She finds herself in a video game-like world, with memories slowly being returned to her. In order to fully regain her memories and (maybe) return home, she has to complete a quest. Chad01, the warrior assigned to escort her, is tremendously upset about being paired up with a Nobody, a character without an assigned class. They reluctantly set out across a bizarre world full of nightmarish creatures and magic that no one seems to fully understand.

Rainbow manages to retrieve some more of her memories along the journey, leading her to remember her time with her brother CJ and her struggles with her own mental health and suicidal ideation. The quest to find herself may be more destructive to her than she initially would have expected.

Sean McGinty has crafted a unique story here, with some parallels being drawn to The Wizard of Oz as far as a quest within a questionable reality. It’s a difficult story to describe, and a difficult one to read, but it pays off pretty well. 4/5 stars. It’s out in the world as of *oops* yesterday, so go check it out.

My most sincere thanks to NetGalley and Clarion Books for an eARC of Rainbow in the Dark in exchange for a fair review.

Évike lives in a small pagan village surrounded by walking trees. Like all of the villagers, she lives in constant fear of the Woodsmen of King János Bárány. Every two or three years, the Woodsmen have come and taken one of the wolf-girls of the village so that her gift of pagan magic might be put to use by the king. The women never return. When Évike was a young girl, her own mother was taken, leaving her to be raised by the village seer, Vírag. Now 25, Évike remains the relative outcast of the village, as she never developed any of the four magic talents possessed by the women of her home. She can’t spark a fire with a word, she can’t forge a blade with a song, she can’t heal the injured, and she has no gift of foresight. Blame falls on her father, an outsider who left the village again before her mother was taken.

When Vírag receives a vision that the Woodsmen will soon return to the village, a drastic decision must be made. She knows that the king has sent them to retrieve Katalin, one of Évike’s peers, and a burgeoning seer herself. Fearing the fate of their village left with only one, elderly seer, Vírag calls Évike to her hut. Quickly disguising Évike and Katalin as one another, Vírag tricks the Woodsmen into taking the one wolf-girl without a hint of magic. Évike is understandably bitter, as Katalin was one of those who bullied her the most in their youth. Now she must pretend to be her as she’s taken away to the capital.

The wild forest around Évike’s village isn’t the only threat along the path to the capital, however, and monsters are very real. Soon all but the captain of the Woodsmen group sent for her are killed. Her deception is revealed, but instead of killing her for the lie, the Woodsman reveals one of his own. He isn’t a mere Woodsman. He is Gáspár Bárány, firstborn son of the king.

Évike and Gáspár forge an uneasy truce. If she helps him find the turul, a powerful source of magic that could save the king from the manipulations of his second son, he will help her search the capital for her own father and protect her people. Time is short, and the journey will be perilous, but it may be that their growing tolerance for each other hides something more…

Ava Reid has provided us with a masterful debut novel, a blend of Eastern European and Jewish history and folktale that is sure to delight older fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Magic, monsters, and romance fill the pages, and the characters resonate with real-world people and events fantastically.

The Wolf and the Woodsman is available today.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Avon & Harper Voyager for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Kas worked her ass off to get to go off-world with the Scholarium’s archaeology survey. The chance to go see old Earth and study some ancient mech programming code was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a third-wave scholar. She was expecting to be cut off from network connectivity while on Earth, thanks to the toxic malware datasphere surrounding the planet. She was expecting to spend her week there helping the first and second-wave scholars like Gneisin collect data. She was expecting to see mech pilots using the ancient combat suits they had come to study to do battle in the Drome.

She was not expecting Zhi.

Zhi caught her by surprise, tricked Kas into using the Scholarium’s credit line to place a bet on a mech battle she was competing in. The young pilot had debts to cover, and a rich-looking off-worlder was a perfect mark for her plan. Bet big, beat Custis and his shitty slow DreadCarl, and use the profits to get parts to improve her own mech. Nothing to it. It’s just that the House will force her to pilot mechs for them for the rest of her life if she loses this time.

Now Kas and Zhi’s fates are intertwined. Kas can’t afford to lose the Scholarium’s money, and Zhi can’t afford to lose her next fight. The two young women must pool their skills and knowledge, with everything hinging on a piece of technology that hasn’t functioned in hundreds of years. Winning against Custis and taking down the House will take everything they have, and they’ll not survive to get a second shot.

Hard Reboot is a fast-paced novella from Django Wexler, author of The Forbidden Library series. The worldbuilding is incredibly deep in a handful of paragraphs, with hints about what happened to the Earth in the intervening centuries. The mech battles have a weight to them that lets you feel each collision. The development of the bond between Kas and Zhi is spectacular, too, with neither of them knowing how to interact with each other at the outset. I raced through the book in a couple of hours and was left hungry for more.

Django Wexler’s Hard Reboot is available on May 25th. My utmost thanks to Netgalley and Tor.com for the eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Eleanor Zarrin has come home from boarding school at last, back to the family home in Winterport. She’s longed to be back among her family for years, but never had any word from them after being sent away. She remembers bits and pieces of her life before, though, and some of her nightmares may have more grounding in reality than she ever would’ve dared to believe.

Upon her return, she finds that most of the people of Winterport are utterly terrified of her family, and by extension, her. For good reason, too. You see, the Zarrins are monsters. Eleanor’s father, grandfather, sister, and cousin are werewolves, hunting around the grounds of the family estate. Her mother spends her days in a washtub to soak the polyps that live on one side of her body. Grandma Persephone funds the family through her crafting of love potions and poisons, and reads tarot. Aunt Margaret doesn’t speak, but takes care of the house. Then there’s Arthur, the family’s assistant, who doesn’t seem to have aged a day since Eleanor left.

When tragedy strikes shortly after Eleanor’s return, the family is left in disarray, and Eleanor takes it upon herself to reach out to her mother’s mother in France for assistance. Little does Eleanor suspect that her Grandmere holds a dark secret of her own, that might just put an end to everything that the family has worked for. And then, of course, Eleanor herself is still a Zarrin…

What Big Teeth is a fantastic gothic fantasy that will wrap you up in its shadows and refuse to let you go. A debut novel from Rose Szabo, it’s available today. Go get yourself a copy.

Thanks to Netgalley for the eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Seanan McGuire has done it again. The Wayward Children series has been consistently amazing, and Across the Green Grass Fields is no exception. One year ago tomorrow, I posted a review for Come Tumbling Down, and I can’t believe that much time has passed since the last time I had a new book in this series.

The Wayward Children books, as you may know by now, are a series of novellas about young children who wander from our world through a magical door into another world. Eventually, once their adventures have come to an end, they make their way back into our world. Many of them are unable to cope with this, and end up at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a boarding school for those who have left and come back, and await the return of the magical door that will take them home once more. In this series, the odd-numbered books are set mostly at Eleanor’s school, and follow the adventures of the children waiting for their doors to come back. The even-numbered books tell the stories of children beyond our world. Across the Green Grass Fields is book #6, and serves as a solid standalone novella within the series, an excellent starting point for new readers, as our young protagonist, Regan, has not yet made her way to Eleanor’s school.

But it all starts at school.

Regan, you see, loves horses more than anything. Her best friend Laurel, however, does not tolerate the presence of anything that she deems “un-girly.” This means ostracizing another former friend for daring to bring a snake to school, and shunning anyone who dares to trample upon her ideals. Luckily, Laurel doesn’t seem to take umbrage with Regan’s love of horses. As the girls grow older Regan learns from her parents that she is intersex, and therefore won’t be undergoing puberty in the same way as the other members of Laurel’s group. Trying to make sense of it all, Regan tells Laurel what she was told by her parents. Laurel doesn’t understand, mistakenly believing that Regan was a boy, and was lying about being a girl. Regan, now scared of the one school friend she thought she could trust, flees the school and begins to head toward home.

She won’t be seen by another human for six years.

In her stumbling journey to her parents’ house, Regan encounters her door, the words “Be Sure” written above it. Upon entry, she finds herself in the Hooflands, home of unicorns, centaurs, kelpies, and more mythical hooved creatures. Adopted by a small herd of centaurs, Regan learns that it is a human’s destiny to come to the Hooflands at a time of great change. What that destiny may entail is a little fuzzy, but she will need to eventually be taken to see the Queen.

But Regan isn’t ready for destiny. Not yet. She needs to take her time, finding herself before she’s ready to change the world.

Y’all, I can’t accurately express how much I love this series. Across the Green Grass Fields is another strong entry, bringing fabulous new characters into the world via a magical door we hadn’t yet encountered. It’s out in stores today. Please go grab a copy and find out for yourself.

My utmost thanks to Netgalley and Tor.com books for an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review.