Books Light Novels Reviews

Kieli Volume 2: White Wake on the Sand Light Novel Review

Kieli is an isolated girl in a world where everything is controlled by the Church of a God she doesn’t believe in. Driving and complicating her views and life is her odd ability to see ghosts. However her world expands rapidly after she meets Harvey, one of the legendary Undying. Perfect soldiers from the last great war made from lost technology, Harvey and his ilk are of no further use to Church or State and continually hunted. Tagging along with Harvey’s travels, Kieli finds their next destination is across the great ocean…

White Wake on the Sand is a complete story, and the opening illustrated color pages do a phenomenal job of summarizing previous events and key concepts. However this series is extremely character driven, and experiencing the nuances of their interactions adds significant depth to everything. I’d highly recommend starting with volume 1 (The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness).

The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness was an excellent, melancholy story about two complex, compelling leads in a fascinating world. White Wake on the Sand capitalizes wonderfully on the strong start and is just as powerful and captivating. The atmosphere gets creepier and more intense here, something that I can see continuing in later books. New characters and story threads are integrated seamlessly and enhance the book without overwhelming the reader.

The author has an incredibly deft touch with rationing little details and playing with expectations. It allows for tremendous world building that’s vivid and evocative while also being gradual and unobtrusive most of the time. The imagination on display in the particular’s of the environment and social structure and the subtle way it’s all conveyed to the reader without disrupting the narrative is just amazing.

I also adore the way the ghost story aspects are handled in this series. Important themes are touched on and the particulars of the ghost encounters always matter to both character and plot development. Another nice touch is how Kieli’s confusion of ghosts and real people is sometimes used to both progress the plot and heighten suspense. 

The Kieli series continues to find unique ways to explore heavy, melancholy themes in stories that are also extremely entertaining and engaging. Highly recommended.

Books Light Novels Reviews

Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation Light Novel Review

“You finally came to see me.”

This book builds heavily off of past storylines and exclusively features previously introduces characters. At least books 3 (Book Girl and the Captive Fool) and 4 (Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel) must be read first, though it’s best to start at the beginning (Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime). 

Here we go. The past that has haunted Konoha throughout the series comes to light in an incredible roller coaster ride of emotion and angst. Torn between the friends of today he finally made and the tragic events of yesterday, Konoha will have a lot of hard truths to face about himself and others.

It would be a disservice to this book and the ones before it to get into any real details. Book Girl and the Wayfarer’s Lamentation is an absolute masterpiece. Extremely hard to read in parts because of the raw emotion our leads are dealing with, but more than worth the effort. Everything from the way the chosen literary parallel is used to the resolution of several long running plot threads is pitch perfect and has tremendous impact. I hated certain characters, cheered for others, and wanted to shake sense into some so much at certain points I felt like screaming. 

In a lot of ways this seems like the culmination of the series, but a chilling closing line reminds us that there are more mysteries to explore before the end. 

I can’t praise this series enough. 

Books Light Novels Reviews

Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel Light Novel Review

The stories in each volume of Book Girl are relatively self-contained, but this book really builds off of previously established characters and plot lines. At least read book 3 (Book Girl and the Captive Fool) first, but better yet to start at the beginning (Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime). 

With Tohko’s college exams on the horizon, Konoha is left strangely devoid of literary club activities and somehow ends up helping the music teacher alongside Kotobuki after school. Then one of Kotobuki’s friends goes missing…

As always summarizing the premise of a literature eating goblin in school form and her trusted club mate embarking on adventures that parallel great literary works makes Book Girl sound like a much lighter series than it is. The events, themes and tone of these books are incredibly dark and troubling. Heavy and tragic subjects are the norm here, not the exception, and The Corrupted Angel continues the upward trend in intensity.

Kotobuki is a wonderful supporting character, and it was great to see her featured in a story that wasn’t just fantastic and gripping in its own right, but also tied to numerous established plot threads, explored several relationships between established characters, and added amazing depth to Konoha’s personal backstory. 

The framework literary story here is established immediately as Phantom of the Opera, and it’s used perfectly to enhance both the story and suspense as things unfold. It’s starts more subtly creepy than previous books which just serves to increase the tension and eventual impact as things get worse. The parallel storytelling here is just phenomenal. This book had me guessing all the way to the end, and then threw in some more mind-blowing revelations in the epilogue for good measure.

It’s the little touches and the fact that compelling, flawed characters are firmly at the center of every book that makes this series so impressive. I also like that it’s progresses forward in time. The looming separation of Tohko’s graduation adds an interesting complication to everything.

I’ll refrain from further detail to avoid spoilers, but I can’t recommend this series highly enough. Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel is yet another intricate, compelling psychological thriller with tons of layers and an incredible atmosphere of tension and emotion. 

Books Light Novels Reviews

Book Girl and the Captive Fool Light Novel Review

The stories in each volume of Book Girl are self-contained, fill the reader in on important character traits and could stand alone fairly well, but this story really gains dimensions by building off of established characters and plotlines in the previous books, so I really recommend starting at the beginning (Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime).

Our usual protagonists are at the center of this third Book Girl story – the self-styled “book girl” (who happens to be a literature loving and eating goblin in schoolgirl form) Tohko and her force recruited book club junior Konoha (whose responsibilities revolve around writing Tohko snacks). They often get caught up in mysterious happenings involving other students.

As I’ve warned before, providing an accurate summary of the series’ premise and its main characters is a bit misleading in that it makes the books sound much different in approach and tone than they are. The stories do not much deal with Tohko’s “unusual” appetite nor explain it. Her love of literature is much more relevant. And the weirdness of the premise seems to point towards light, happy-go-lucky stories. This could not be farther from the truth. The Book Girl series is VERY dark and addresses extremely heavy themes. They are great reads featuring compelling characters and are laced with bits of humor here and there, but know going in that this is much more psychological thriller territory than madcap adventures.

This third book features Konoha getting dragged into Tohko’s outrage driven investigation into a recent string of book vandalism presented in parallel with horrific letters written by someone having urges to perform mutilations beyond paper. After Famished Spirit I wasn’t sure the series could get creepier or more intense. I was wrong. Captive Fool escalates things several notches, keeping the reader guessing about who knows and is responsible for what as the character barrel closer and closer towards tragedy. As usual there is a thematic literary tie-in, which is exquisitely used and integrated into unfolding events.

Everything came togther beautifully and this is easily my favorite of the series so far. We have several recurring characters show up along with some strong new ones introduced and all of them have distinct personalities and motivations. There were no easy answers to the things that trouble them and they get scared, make wrong decisions sometimes, struggle to deal with the consequences of their pasts, etc. The author is excellent at dropping in little hints and retelling things we already know something about in a slightly different way that gives more information. It adds a lot of depth and intrigue because the reader is effortlessly learning more about the overarching plots and the characters’ long term problems while being firmly engaged with the current story.

And Captive Fool is a fantastic one. A tense, chilling atmosphere is kept throughout, the writing and translation are as impressive as ever, and I ended every chapter dying to know what was going to happen next. The climax of the unfolded in a wonderfully unique way that did justice to the all the preceding build up. Then just as my emotions were calming down the epilogue floored me with major developments that are likely to be felt throughout the rest of the series.

I will admit that it quite often wasn’t an easy read, and I don’t mean from a technical perspective (the writing flows wonderfully) but rather because of the subject matter. At the risk of repeating myself too much the story goes to dark, unsettling places and our characters are in for a lot of angst and emotional and mental turmoil. So fair warning – this is a brutal ride.

If you can handle it though Book Girl and the Captive Fool is simply phenomenal and it’s well worth accompanying the characters through their suffering. 

Highest possible recommendation.

Books Light Novels Reviews

Book Girl and the Famished Spirit Light Novel Review

The stories in each volume of Book Girl are self-contained, fill the reader in on important character traits and could stand alone fairly well, but even in this second book there’s a lot of development hinging on hints and background from Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime. I’d recommend starting there.

As with the first book, Book Girl and the Famished Spirit features self-styled “book girl” Tohko (a literature loving and eating goblin in schoolgirl form) and her force recruited book club junior Konoha. His job is to write Tohko snacks, and occasionally unravel strange events stemming from requests left in the club’s personal mailbox.

Describing the series’ concept and main characters is a bit of a problem because it makes the books sound different in tone and approach than what they are. Tohko’s “unusual” appetite is largely just a character trait in a sense – the stories at this point do not center around it nor explain what she is. Her love of literature is much more relevant. Also the absurdity and strangeness of the premise might seem to indicate light, whimsical tales. Not so. 

FAIR WARNING – while extremely well written, compelling, and laced with subtle touches of humor, the Book Girl series is incredibly dark and deals with very heavy themes. 

Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe the events Tohko and Konoha get caught up in this time, and it starts with a disturbing opening page description of an unknown character deciding to kill someone. A few pages of prologue follow recounting Konoha’s disastrous brush with fame in the past and the specters that still haunt him. It’s done in wonderfully direct fashion and before the fist chapter has even begun Nomura reintroduced the main character, discussed his personal demons in a way that ties to the themes of this particular story, and established a gripping, chilling atmosphere that will continue throughout the book. 

Strange notes in the club mailbox and the possibility of a ghostly presence are only the beginning. As Tohko and Konoha approach an answer from different angles they’ll each run afoul of distinct, unusual personalities and mysterious happenings. The supporting cast contains a good mix of familiar faces from the first book and newcomers, and is used remarkably well to build a multilayered mystery that gets scarier and more dangerous the more it unravels. The suspense elements are nicely done, with some pieces falling into place as the reader goes and some vital connections remaining elusive until they are explained. The clues are in place though, and the author “plays fair” with the storyline and the readers.

There is again a nice literary tie in to the themes and progression of the plot which is fully understandable even if you haven’t read the associated works. 

The writing flows well, is dripping with emotion and really establishes the proper feeling and atmosphere for the story. This is a great accomplishment both on the part of the author and the translator. The descriptions are quite detailed in parts but I never felt like the pace suffered. If fact I found the story moved along at quite a good clip while still fully conveying what was happening at any given time.

Despite being quite unsettled at times, I was very impressed with Book Girl and the Famished Spirit. But know what you’re getting into before reading. This is a very odd series that meanders a little sometimes, hits hard and isn’t afraid to deal with dark, depressing topics. What’s done with it all is top notch so if you can handle the caveats I mentioned I highly recommend checking out this strange duo’s adventures.

Books Light Novels Reviews

Kieli Volume 1: The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness Light Novel Review

Kieli is an isolated girl in a world where everything is controlled by the Church of a God she doesn’t believe in. Driving and complicating her views and life is her odd ability to see ghosts. But soon she will meet one of the legendary Undying, perfect soldiers from the last great war made from lost technology but of no further use to Church or State, and her world will change…

The Dead Sleep in the Wilderness is an excellent, melancholy story about two complex, compelling leads in a fascinating world. I was struck right away by the illustrations at the beginning. They’re gorgeous and give a very different feeling to Kieli than the manga art did. There’s a more subdued air to her here. I like this design just slightly better, but a more energetic feel to the character was the right choice for the short manga series. Not super important – just something I found interesting.

The prose gets off to a impressive, slick start as the prologue (Why isn’t God here?) establishes the atmosphere well and conveys a ton of information about both Kieli and her world in a few short pages. The momentum continues throughout the book. There’s great intensity and atmosphere maintained and the author’s pacing and general writing style makes it a smooth, gripping read. Kieli and Harvey are perfect leads, both likable yet three dimensional and flawed. The supporting cast (most notably Becca and the Corporal) are equally intriguing and contribute a lot to the story.

Another highlight is that the author is particularly great at knowing how to reveal that things didn’t quite mean what they first seemed to earlier in the narrative. It adds a ton of depth and enjoyment to the already intricately layered stories. The chapters are a mixture of an overarching plot and side stories that flesh out the characters. It all unfolds naturally and builds to a strong conclusion that finishes this story while setting up the series nicely. 

As should be obvious I adored this first volume of Kieli. It’s right up with the Book Girl series as the best light novels I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.

Books Light Novels Reviews

Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime Light Novel Review

I’ve read things with odd premises before, but the Book Girl series is near the top of the list.

The titular “book girl” (Tohko) is a literature loving (and eating) goblin in schoolgirl form who force recruited our main character (Konoha) into joining the school book club to hand write her snacks. If this sounds too weird to wrap your head around, you’re in luck. If you find it intriguing and can’t wait to learn more, you’ll be disappointed. Tohko and her unusual existence are just background noise for this particular story, which instead focuses on the more normal (well, human anyway) Konoha, a strange request from a classmate to ghost write love letters and a mystery connected to the works of an particular author. 

Fair warning – despite the absurd elements and the great touches of humor sprinkled in the themes are quite heavy and this is not a happy-go-lucky tale.

I really liked the story. There are a lot of interwoven layers and interesting twists and parallels. The different narration techniques used really draw you in, even if it’s quite confusing at times. There’s something particularly engaging about the interactions of our two leads and the tone of the story. 

The writing has a great feel to it and wonderful turns of phrase (doubly impressive for a translation). As an example, the narrator had me hooked two paragraphs into the prologue when I read the line “I simply dusted my dark wool in white powder and pretended I was a white sheep too.” I will admit it gets wordy, especially when Tohko starts rambling about books. So if overly detailed descriptions test your patience this might not be your cup of tea. 

While I can understand disappointment that Tohko is not the central focus and thus the promotional description is a bit misleading, it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed this as it was and there’s room for more about Tohko later in the series. 

There’s enough strangeness here between the unusual mythology being built, the lack of focus on that same mythology, and the dense interconnected plot threads that Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime is tough to generally recommend. But the writing is quite strong and if you can deal with it’s quirks it is certainly worth a try. Personally this is one of my favorite light novel series, and this entry kicked things off in strong fashion.

Books Reviews

The Winter Long (October Daye Book 8) Review

“Unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of experiencing things that sound reasonable when you try to explain them to other people.”

Toby weathered a storm a long time coming and the result is a rare moment of peace. But just a moment. Toby’s demons are coming back to haunt her. Even the one she never knew she had…

This is the eighth book in the October Daye series, paying off several long running plot lines going all the way back to the beginning. Start reading there (Rosemary and Rue).

“Please don’t mistake villainy for evil.”

It seems weird to say after the major confrontation and developments of  Chimes at Midnight, but THIS is is the story that the series has been leading to since the very beginning. I gushed in the previous review about how masterfully McGuire had built and layered the story across the series, and if possible it pays off even more here. There are a number of shocking yet logical twists that are done to perfection for maximum impact. I’ve been waiting a long time for a lot of the issues that are addressed in this book to come up, and it all comes together wonderfully.

Nothing further to say really, especially since I want to avoid all the potential for spoiling this suspenseful, excellently executed tale.

Highly recommended.

Books Reviews

Chimes at Midnight (October Daye Book 7) Review

“When you decide to up the ante on getting in deep shit, you don’t mess around, do you? You’re just like, hey, what’s the worst that could happen? That’s the worst that could happen? Great. Let’s do that.”

As a changeling knight with a unique perspective and even more unique abilities, October Daye’s priorities have always been a bit different from many of the ruling purebloods of Faerie. But when a favorite treat of the purebloods’ that’s an addictive, deadly drug to changelings starts resulting in an increasing number of dead bodies October becomes even more confrontational…

Unfortunately for Toby, the Queen of the Mists has had enough.

This is the seventh book in the October Daye series, and several long running plotlines come together here. Start reading with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

There’s a lot going on in this one, and again I marvel at how wonderfully McGuire has laid in the foundations of her epic in previous books. The meaning and significance of past hints become illuminated in stages in each new book, and there’s a number of significant developments in this one.

“I can’t believe I just said those words, in that order, like they meant something.”

Toby is in WAY over her head this time and the actions she takes, willing and unwilling, will have long lasting effects. There are a number of big reveals as well, with a definite feeling of escalation beyond what has come before.

I adore the way people’s strengths and weakness go hand and hand and sometimes morph in McGuire’s books. This series has many wonderful examples of it, as does her engrossing Indexing stories. Toby and her allies are extremely powerful, but not infallible and within specific, and often dire, constraints.

October Daye has become perhaps my favorite urban fantasy series of al time, and Chimes at Midnight is another tense and gripping installment with big twists and far reaching implications.

Books Reviews

Ashes of Honor (October Daye Book 6) Review

“Nothing is ever simple or easy when Faerie meets the mortal world. There are just times when I find myself wishing it didn’t have to be quite so hard.”

October Daye may have avoided a war, but the heavy personal costs continue to haunt her as time inexorably passes in the Summerlands. But she isn’t the only one with secrets and regrets, and she may be the only one who can help her friends find an overpowered missing changeling who’s existence could be a threat to the foundations of Faerie itself.

This is the sixth book in the October Daye series, and it addresses the aftermath of major events from the prior book, One Salt Sea. Best to start with Rosemary and Rue (book 1).

“We were winging it again. That’s my favorite way to deal with crazy.”

“Winging it” is the exact opposite of McGuire’s carefully layered stories, and Ashes of Honor is incredibly well balanced. It seamlessly progresses long running story threads underneath a tense and dire current story that itself deals with major implications from One Salt Sea while introducing new concepts and complications. The adventure presented here is intriguing and captivating in its own right, and both new and old supporting cast members really shine in the spotlight.

“I’ve stood by and watched you throw yourself against the walls of the world, because I hoped the impact might shake sense back into you.”

As I alluded to above the development of story threads across these books as a series really is fantastic. There’s growth and change in both characters and environment, with real effects of the fallout of past books. McGuire knows when to let her characters breathe a bit, and when the emotions and problems they’re dealing with are too urgent to avoid or ignore. The handling of the progression of time throughout the series is masterfully done, and even the most dramatic of changes are deftly built to and executed.

As usual I’m going to avoid specifics and spoilers (and believe me avoiding talking about some of my favorite characters and their actions/antics grows more difficult book by book), but I really enjoyed this installment of October’s adventures. It both calls back to several subplots from prior books and, as with the rest before it, lays a lot of groundwork for some major things to come.