Light Novel Review: BAKEMONOGATARI Part 02 by NISIOISIN (illust. Vofan) (2017)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2017
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Body horror, blood, animal violence against children, threats of violence

Araragi figured how to get rid of a crab that takes on people’s burdens and uncovered the truth behind the strange young girl with an enormous backpack. But one of Senjogahara’s friends and one of his sisters’ classmates both have aberrations attached to them, and he sees no other option that roping in Senjogahara and Hanekawa into helping him out with it.

This volume does a lot more digging into the world of aberrations and their relationship to what everyday people see, with plenty of deliberate wordplay and theming.

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Danmei Review: THE SCUM VILLAIN’S SELF-SAVING SYSTEM Vol 1 by Mo Xiang Tong Xio (illust. Xiao Tong Kong (Velinxi)) (2021)

Genre: Transmigration Fantasy Danmei
Year Release in English: 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Injury, demons, body horror

I forgot why I picked this one up because I’ve seen art, I’ve seen thoughts, and once it finally landed on my to-read list, I started reading and had a hard time keeping myself away.

Shen Yuan is an inappropriately passionate fan of a fictional web novel, Proud Immortal Demon Way. Upset at the ending, his biggest hope would have been to be transmigrated into the body of protagonist, Luo Binghe (LBH). Instead, he’s the scum villain, Shen Qingqiu (SQQ). (For those like me more familiar with Japanese light novels, this is essentially an isekai). And being the scum villain comes with a literal digital assistant making sure he doesn’t do anything out of character else he forfeits his life. While the characters around him function like normal human beings navigating their demon-battle-filled world, SQQ tries to course correct as if he too doesn’t have his own flesh to worry about it.

There’s a reverence for the genre, while pointing out the ways in which SVSS plays with subverts tropes and expectations. I think what kept me reading and in stitches is the fact that SQQ maneuvers the story as if it’s fiction or a video game, strategizing for points rather than taking into account that the people around him might also be human. His own unawareness of the machinations around him makes him a colossal idiot in a way that is just fun to read. He’s committing to fixing his problematic fave instead of being a character. The absurdity of his own obliviousness is incredible.

The world building and big chapter set pieces are so cool, but I do not have the familiarity with danmei or the cultivation fantasy genre to speak to its execution. I enjoyed myself nonetheless. My favorite sequence had to be the literal dream sequence in which Meng Mo tries to trap both LBH and SQQ. The demonstration of the different magic that permeates the realms really worked for me. The way MXTX threads emotional and system-stakes really works for me, and kept me so invested in the story, in addition to SQQ and his various relationships.

Now that the characters have gone off script and the System itself has shut down, I’m so excited to see how SQQ weasels his way through the shenanigans to come.

Light Novel Review: BAKEMONOGATARI Part 01 by NISIOISIN (illust. Vofan) (2016)

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2016
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Mention of an attempted rape, death of a child, cults, injuries, blood, threats of violence

This light novel series starts off with a fairly simple premise: a former vampire catches his classmate who slipped on a banana peel, only to find that she weighs literally nothing. And if full of stationery. And haunted by a crab. In the second half of the book, the two of them encounter a little girl haunted by a snail aberration, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Full of friendship, interesting exchanges, strange happenings, and explorations of past trauma that don’t get resolved with the resolution of the haunting, there is so much to like and see in this work told almost entirely through dialogue but does not at all feel like reading a script.

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Light Novel Review: THE HOLY GRAIL OF ERIS Vol 2 by Kujira Tokiwa & Yunagi (2022)

Genre: Supernatural Secondary World Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Beheading, murder, poisoning, kidnapping, suicide

We go back to the world of a cute blond girl haunted by a buxom woman executed under mysterious circumstances a decade prior to the events of the book.

This second volume features more of everything. More betrayals, more characters, more intrigue. I really enjoyed the pacing, which is not reflective of how long it takes me to get through. The chapters delve into backstories of characters we’ve heard of before, like Lily Orlamunde, and new players in the political games. There’s also a focus on the struggles of the working class, showing that the chaos has further reach than just petty rich people problems.

While there are villains in the sense of Scarlet’s antagonists, but there are much darker forces afoot. The crime syndicate of Daeg Gallus is a force to be reckoned with, being involved in threats and actual deaths of other nobles. It’s fascinating to see everything unfold, and the daggers and walls close in around on Connie, whose only crime coming into this story is being haunted by Scarlet.

It would introduce so many spoilers to talk more specifically about the title, but we finally figure out what the title refers to, and the conspiracy only thickens.

Light Novel Review: THE HOLY GRAIL OF ERIS Vol 1 by Kujira Tokiwa & Yunagi (2022)

Genre: Supernatural Secondary World Fantasy
Year Release in English: 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: Beheading, gore, murder, poisoning, kidnapping

It took me a minute, but I did enjoy reading this light novel, the first in a new series. It’s got a noble woman haunted by the ghost of another whose execution she witnessed, court intrigue, and conspiracy galore.

The book takes place in a secondary world with about as much technology as present in the late 1700’s on earth. There are viscounts and kings, emperors, delegates from other realms, and a smattering of international politics here and there.

The main character, Constance Grail, needs to do one thing to live up to her family name and that’s to be sincere. She’s also engaged to a lecherous duke and is haunted by Scarlett Castiel, who’s quite infamous among noble circles. She’s out for revenge and enlists Connie’s help . The dichotomy between these two is so fun so far. Where one is timid and polite almost to her own detriment, the other is ruthless. It’s this contrast that really keeps the story going. There are so many threads introduced, and, by herself, I’m not sure Connie can manage them all, but with having a new fiancé and Scarlett at her side, I’m sure she’ll get to the true reason why Scarlett was executed in the first place.

Nobles play badly and there’s conspiracy and artifacts afoot.

ARC Review: BUTCHERBIRD by Cassie Hart (2021)

Genre: Adult Supernatural Horror
Year Release: August 2021
Buy Links: Huia Site | Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an eARC from the publisher
Content warning: Arson, cancer, death of immediate family, self-disembowelment, alcoholism, murder, violence against birds

Jena Benedict returns to her family’s farm twenty years after a tragic fire which claimed the lives of her parents and her siblings. Her grandmother, her last familial connection to the property and tragedy, is dying of cancer and Rose knows more than she leads on. Will, Rose’s live-in caretaker, has a penchant for the supernatural and follows Jena down the rabbit hole of darkness that surrounds that fateful night.

Māori/Pākehā author Cassie Hart weaves a ghost story full of eerie birds, cursed jewelry, family secrets, and chills to keep the reader up at night from start to finish.

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Manga ARC Review: UNDEAD GIRL MURDER FARCE Vol. 1 by Yugo Aosaki & Haruka Tomoyama (2021)

Genre: Fantasy Mystery Seinen
Year Release in English: 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Read a NetGalley eARC
Content warnings: Blood, murder, nudity, disembodied head

In 19th Century France, vampires are allowed to live alongside humans. Detectives are called in but little does anyone expect, it’s the disembodied head who’s also a demon.

This manga opens up with a dead vampire, a family member suspected, and a kooky trio consisting of a maid, a himbo, and a disembodied head in a cage. It is wonderfully strange and not very deep. It ends on a cliff-hanger, and I’m eager to see what the cage user has hidden behind his kind lack of sense.

The art style is really neat, though at times, the background work gets in the way of comprehending the words on the page. I’m unfamiliar with the differences between ARC manga and finished copies, so perhaps it is cleared up, and I hope so. I had a ton of fun during this read.

If you’re looking for something with cheek, thought-out world-building, and engaging action, definitely give this a shot.

Review: THE SUN DOWN MOTEL by Simone St. James (2020)

Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Adult Supernatural Thriller
Year Release: 2020
Source: Library audiobook

Content warnings: Stalking, violence against women, murder

The book’s dedication is to muderinos, and it truly feels like it was written by and for a true crime junkie. In Fell, New York, the Sun Down Motel has a checkered past, which include mysterious murders and hauntings. Viv Delaney ran away from home and settled in upstate New York in 1982. Thirty-five years later, her 20-year-old niece, Carly, searches for the truth behind her disappearance.

The pacing is impeccable. I had such a hard time putting this one down. Reveals and scares were perfectly balanced against each other. What St. James does so well in this one is also bringing attention to more everyday fears and considerations, like being wary of walking by yourself at night and the unsettlement of men getting too close.

One of the main highlights for me were the friendships between all the women. The balance between genuine care, tough love, and no-nonsense approaches to the terrors of Fell, New York felt authentic. Everyone had a sense of a life beyond the immediate problems. Carly felt a little flat, but she also had been through much grief before we meet her in this story (her mother recently died and she had no leads on who her aunt was). That being said, there were some wonderful male supporting characters.

It’s a true crime, small town spin on “1408” by Stephen King, with driven female characters, eerie hauntings, and a satisfying mystery.