Friday, April 1, 2022

Book Review - "The Jasmine Throne" by Tasha Suri


I'll admit that there were a few times that I wanted to just put away the book. It's not to say that there's anything wrong with the plot, characters or worldbuilding, but most parts of the story dragged out so much that the narrative in its entirety felt boring and tedious.

This in no way reflects on the author's crafting skills. In fact the writing was elegant and emotionally evocative and the world of magic was spun with dexterity. It's just that I couldn't get invested in any of the characters or even the sapphic romance. At times it just felt that the two main characters had spurious reasoning and suffered from a victim syndrome.
It gets 3.4 stars out of 5 from me.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Book Review - "Heaven Official's Blessing" by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu

This was certainly the most bizarre story I've ever read. The pacing was a bit slower than Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, but the plot twists were gripping nonetheless.

It's largely a gay romance story set in the "Three Realms" in popular Chinese folk beliefs. They are the Immortal Realm, the Mortal Realm and the Ghost Realm, each with its own set of governing rules and social customs. A Mortal can normally "ascend" to the Immortal Realm or "descend" to the Ghost Realm according to his/her deeds in life.

But the story hinges on exceptions to the norm, and that's what makes it interesting to follow the trajectories of the two protagonists. One is a kindhearted Crown Prince in his mortal life who struggles to "ascend" and is three times banished from the Immortal Realm. The other is an all-powerful Ghost King who derides and flouts all rules and who falls for the beleaguered Crown Prince.

I think the key message embedded in the novel is that things done with good intent may well end up causing harm to oneself.

But for Western readers, this novel might present some difficulties in terms of the cultural nuances and belief systems. Perhaps they would find the appended notes and glossary/terminology useful.

I'm giving this novel (Vol. 1) 4.3 stars.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Book Review - "Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation" by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu


One reviewer had commented that it's impossible to separate the reading of this novel (Vol. 1) from his fond memories of its live-action adaptation The Untamed. All I can say is I couldn't agree more with him.

Between the end of 2020 and the start of 2021 I had watched and re-watched the wildly popular TV adaptation on Youtube. It still left me wanting to watch for a third time.

As soon as Seven Seas Entertainment announced that an official English translation of the novel was released (i.e. on December 14, 2021), I lost no time in getting my hands on a printed copy at my local bookstore, not least because the novel achieved New York Times bestseller status a few days after release. Wow, the book cover art and the interior illustrations just blew me away! The book was worth the money just for the artwork alone.

The strengths of the novel (Vol. 1) that stood out for me included:-

- the subtle and witty bantering dialogues and hilarious interactions between the two lead characters (commonly referred to by fans as Wangxian, which combines one character from each of their names);
- the loyal and enduring friendship between them that survives a baptism of fire;
- the complex politics that surround the various cultivation clans and sects;
- the constant questioning of the meaning of good and evil; and
- the love and burden of the convoluted familial bonds (with blood ties or without) that encumber the main characters.

For Western readers who may not be familiar with wuxia or cultivation stories, I would recommend them to first watch The Untamed before starting the novel, because the huge cast of characters with foreign (hard-to-pronounce) names may be a tad confusing.

For me though, it was nothing less than a full 5-star read and I can't wait for the sequels to come out.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Book Review - "The Unbroken" by C. L. Clark

This fantasy novel tells a North-Africa-inspired story of colonial powers' glossed over prejudices and silky cruel oppression of those they subjugate. The heavy themes of empire and colonialism make this a grim and heart-wrenching read.

Touraine, the conscript who is made to serve Balladaire from childhood and who returns to her homeland Qazal on assignment, discovers she doesn't belong anywhere. Her master and cohorts abominate her at heart while making her toil for them; her folks in her homeland recoil from her as she is too foreign and not even speaking their language. Her struggles with the meaning of "belonging" are to impact on the hard choices she has to make when an uprising becomes inevitable.

Luca is the calculating Queen regnant who is a naked believer in empire but tries to polish the patina with empathy. She makes her share of bad choices with seemingly good intentions and Touraine, her lover, has no qualms tearing off her hypocritical mask.

Touraine finally throws in with the Qazali rebels' lot when she concludes that her loyalty lies with her own people.

This couple of sentences sums up the central theme:

Touraine was starting to think it was impossible to come from one land and learn to live in another and feel whole. That you would always stand on shaky, hole-ridden ground, half of your identity dug out of you and tossed away.

The writing is emotion-evocative and the author has done a superb job at characterization.

I'm giving this novel 4.6 stars, rounded up. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Book Review: "The Ming Storytellers" by Laura Rahme


This is a brilliant and humanizing portrayal of the great Ming eunuch navigator Zheng He, cast in an intricate and layered plot redolent of 15th century Chinese court machinations and commoners' fights for self-preservation and survival, with delicious side tracks to an array of ethnic and international scenes that are filled with indigenous colors, sights and sounds.

I can't imagine how copious the amount of research that was necessary to create this exquisite and complex story.

Having said that, I find some Chinese historical/cultural details to be a bit off, and that miraculous coincidences take place a touch too often throughout the story.

Overall, it was a most enjoyable read that's worth 4 full stars.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Zoom Book Talk re: Korean Edition of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong

 On October 30 Seoul time (October 29 Vancouver time), I made a Zoom presentation and joined in a panel discussion re: the Korean Edition of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong.

I would like to accord a vote of deep thanks to the book translator, Mr. Sungchan Cho from the Hananuri Institute for Northeast Asia, who tirelessly organzied the event and acted as MC. My gratitude is also owed to the three panelists for their insightful comments, especially Professor Jung-a Chang from the Incheon National University. Lastly but not least, I'd like to thank the charming interpreter Paul for his good work. He made a film recommendation to me that I take to heart - "Squid Game"; I'm so late to the party!

I'm also humbled to learn of the aspirations of young, passionate Koreans who care deeply about social justice, and I'm honored to have made acquaintance with some of the participants of the event. Thank you all for a lively exchange. I look forward to the day when I'll be able to pay a visit to Seoul and other Korean cities.

The book event has been reported in this Korean newspaper article.

For the Canadian Book Review Annual's review of my book, please click here.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Korean Edition of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong



 Sixteen years after I first self-published Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, the Korean Edition has now been released.

Here's a little publishing history of my book:-

2005 - I self-published the book in English in Canada.
2007 - Canadian Book Review Annual selected it as Editor's Choice: Scholarly in the Sept./Oct. issue.
2010 - The Chinese Edition "地產霸權" was jointly published by Enrich Publishing and Hong Kong Economic Journal.
2010 - It became a bestseller and was awarded the 4th Year Hong Kong Book Prize.
2010 - Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly) named it One of Ten Best Books (Non-fiction) in Greater China.
2011 - A Second English Edition was published by Enrich Professional Publishing.
2021 - Korean Edition published.