Book-Talk: Regency Romance, Joseon Court Intrigue, Psychopomps, Wizards and Eco-Warriors

Hi Everyone

Welcome or welcome back; my name’s Katja.

I’m glad to be making this video, as it’s been a bit of a whirlwind week with all going on around me. One of which was that my puppy dislocated his patella following a spectacular aerial display trying to catch a ball and not worrying about where and how he was going to land. 

All part of life, but I certainly hope you’ve had less stress and if you have the little rascals I hope your pets have been pain free. 

I have a nice mix of books to chat with you all about. First up is 

The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin; this is based on a true story; Victor de Plancy was the actual legate to the Korean court in the late 1800s. And the story is based on an account co-authored by de Plancy’s successor, Frandin, about a Korean dancer given to a diplomat as a “gift”. Also, the book culminates with the fate of Korea’s last Empress, who, in this book, becomes a central character in shaping the life and destiny of  Kyung Sook Shin’s Court Dancer,Yi Jin, an orphan favoured by the Empress and who wins renown in the late Joseon Court.

I buddyread this with Anne from Anne with a Book and we both felt the first half was a bit slow although there were interesting historical facts and beautiful descriptions of the court. I’ll link Anne’s wrap up video in the description below

 I enjoyed the historical details, including the tensions within the court because of China and Japan fighting over Korea and the political manoeuvring with Russia and Western European nations. 

For me, the last half of the book flowed more naturally and it’s where most of the events occur. The section with Yi Jin in France kept me engaged throughout. Not everything about her move to France is positive, and her eyes opened to European prejudice. Still, it is lovely to see her explore things that interest her and go on to demonstrate talents that extend beyond dance; it’s the section that gives us more insight into her character. 

If you pick this up don’t expect a happy read, which may go without saying for anyone who knows their Korean history, but I wasn’t one of them and looked up certain events that take place at the end of the book.

Despite the slow start, I thought The Court Dancer worth reading – given the historical detail and how Shin evokes time and place for France and Korea when she places the humble Yi Jin amongst the upper classes in both countries. 

Close to 1700 people have given this an average rating of 3.74 on Goodreads and I think that’s fair.

Vermillion by Molly Tanzer what a ride!

This book mixes up more genres than you can shake a stick at – including steampunk and western.

The main character is not your average 19-year-old. Lou Merriwether is a gunslinging, chain-smoking, Stetson-wearing Taoist psychopomp, keeping San Francisco safe from ghosts, shades, and geung-si. She might have an important job, but it’s one most find spooky. Some even accuse Lou of being more comfortable with the dead than the living.

When Lou learns that some Chinatown boys have gone missing deep in the Colorado Rockies, she saddles up to investigate. She might not be able to bring them back alive, but if her talents mean she can placate their spirits, it feels like the right thing to do.

So here the story starts. This book was written in 2015 and amidst the twists and turns – think bears, desperate men, an undead villain, and meagre chances of Lou making it home alive – the book examines a range of topics including gender identity and is an odd and pretty cool coming-of-age story. 

Just under 2000 people have given this an average rating of 3.6 on Goodreads and I think that’s fair.

Indigenous Species

A young girl is abducted and smuggled aboard a boat bound upstream on an Indonesian river through a landscape scarred by ecological destruction and historical greed. As we move through the story from the girl’s perspective, she starts to see herself rooted and at one with nature. 

This poetic narrative examines man’s destructiveness and how such destruction – combined with our lack of foresight – is robbing our futures of a richer past. It got me reflecting on my missed opportunities to get close to the wildlife in Malawi. My love for animals was mainly for dogs and cats and even the geese my mother tried to keep for two years were a little too wild for me. I was blessed to see hummingbirds sipping nectar outside my bedroom window more than once, and I loved that, but I didn’t appreciate the house geckos hanging off the walls and ceilings. I declined the offer of my friend’s father to stay in hides to observe hyenas on Michiru Mountain, which was just a walk away from my home.

It’s a powerful read especially when you combine the story with the author’s introductory essay about their appreciation and respect for wildlife. In this short narrative, Khairani Barokka addresses pollution, consumerism, and habitat destruction through poetry and the accompanying artwork, which is modern and incorporates traditional motifs. Indigenous Species is also a bold experiment in making a sight-impaired-accessible art book: Tilted Axis is producing a separate edition which will feature Braille alongside text for sighted readers and tactile, embossed imagery.

I very much enjoyed this; if you enjoy poetry and cli-fi, I think you will too, but you may want to pick it up from your local library since it’s pricey at £12.99 for 52 pages.

Only 49 people have rated the book on Goodreads and while I think the rating of 4.06 is fair I suspect that when more people read this book the average rating is likely to come – a little bit – as I doubt that the unconventional style will be for everyone.  

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Rich and handsome, the darling of the town, the hope of ambitious mothers and despair of his sisters, the Marquis of Alverstoke, at seven-and-thirty, sees no reason to put himself out for anyone. Until a distant connection, ignorant of his selfishness, asks him for help.

Frederica is a typical Georgette Heyer romp; it has the obligatory twist two-thirds of the way in, a reprobate male lead, and a long-suffering female lead 

The format of the books might seem predictable, but they remain a guilty pleasure I can read without overstraining my mind.

Heyer wrote her fun-filled romances between the 1920s and the 1970s, and this book was published in 1965. It is possibly the only book she didn’t complete to deadline because she fell ill, but even so there’s only a gap in her writing for 1964; if you look at the publication dates before then she had a book out yearly for the decade before and then again for the decade after. A delay for her was a matter of months.

Frederica is one of the most lighthearted of her stories, and I wonder if it’s because she was feeling so unwell that she decided to pack in a lot of fun for Frederica and her naughty younger siblings. I also feel this one’s dated better than some of Heyer’s other books – I’m thinking of the grabby male lead in Venetia who smooches any attractive country girl even if he’s only seen them for two minutes. No doubt the so called upperclass men could feel entitled to treat women not of their class that way but it’s quite nice not to have Alverstoke being so handsy.

Over 20000 people on Goodreads have given Frederica an average rating of 4.19 and I think this all comes down to fans enjoying these reads as a light-hearted distraction. You could sum up the book on the back of a receipt but fans will instead read all 384 pages to enjoy the bonus of hot air balloon shenanigans, elopements, plotting mamas, and overly large destructive pet dogs. 

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the most significant threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change after a puzzling murder when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who …happens to be a ghost. 

So clearly, suspension of disbelief is required here because, as you’ve just gathered, this is an urban fantasy novel. Our main character is pretty flawed, he’s a bit immature and oblivious, so I can totally understand the frustrations of his new boss and his former partner. However, Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead makes up for his flaws. So Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other uncanny manifestations, takes him on as an apprentice. 

The story centres on the brutal and bizarre murders engulfing London; it pulls Peter and the reader into a world of folklore, one in which gods and goddesses mingle with us mere mortals, and we have things that go bump in the night to fear. 

I highly recommend this to urban fantasy fans who appreciate new twists being added to old folklore. There’s a bonus if you’re familiar with London and appreciate references to streets and neighbourhoods you’ll recognise.

Just over 10000 people on Goodreads rated this 3.87 and how very dare they. This is a 4 star read for me. I’m not without criticism. I did think the last section of the book was suddenly rushed and you’re almost jolted by how the dark undertones that were there earlier in the book properly take over, so there’s something there that wasn’t smooth.

Speaking of ratings I find them so subjective which is why I didn’t used to rate books but after speaking with a friend I realised how much other people rely on overall ratings and that is why I now share the Goodreads ratings and let you know if I agree the rating, or would personally rate a book higher or lower. 

Do you pay a lot of attention to book ratings when deciding whether to read something?

Is there something you’ve recently read that you’d like me to read and share my thoughts on?

Let me know in the comments and if you enjoyed this don’t forget to like and subscribe for more book talk.

Thanks for stopping by and see you next time.

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