Category Archives: Japan

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker -a review

the keeper of the nightThe Keeper of Night (The Keeper of Night #1) by Kylie Lee Baker

I am too dangerous to let live any longer.

It is written in the Book of Ankou, decreed by the High Reaper himself.

Death will come to find me…but I will no longer be there.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers, who despise her due to her mysterious mother and even more mysterious Shinigami powers, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her developing Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan in search of the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters Yomi, the Japanese underworld, to serve the Goddess of Death…only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy.

Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task — find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons. With help from only her brother and a new ally who might be less than trustworthy, Ren will learn how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.

Published 27 October 2021|  Publisher: Harlequin Australia  |  RRP: AUD$19.99

Buy it at: Dymocks |  Booktopia |  A&R  |  Abbey’s  | QBD

My Blurb (4 / 5 stars)

As I grew up reading a tonne of manga, I’m always keen for any Japanese inspired fantasy novels. The Keeper of Night is a beguiling tale, set in the beginning of the 19th century Japan, of a mixed race child seeking her place and identity in worlds that neither recognise nor welcome her.

The story is told solely from main protagonist’s, Ren’s, view, so readers are privy to all her thoughts; from her confusion as to her identity, her desperate dream to feel that she belongs, to her destructive intent to do and sacrifice all to be loved. By definition, Ren is a monster without any feelings but, in fact, she feels too much and darkness is ever encroaching. In her journey, she is accompanied by her half brother who loves her & wants the best for her and an enigmatic ally who appears to also wants her to have what she wants but why is he being so helpful?

I found author’s prose to be beautiful and I have really enjoyed this book. There was just something mesmerizing even if, now that I’ve finished and am reflecting upon the it, it was all very heartbreaking and very very dark. As a migrant myself, I can sort of sympathise with protagonist’s struggle in seeking her place of belonging though I obviously have no wish to do the things she did! That twist at the very end just crushed me. I look forward to its conclusion in the next book.

My thanks to Harlequin Australia for this paperback copy of book in exchange of my honest thoughts

About the author

Find author on:  goodreads  |  website  |  twitter  | instagram

The Peony Lantern: Q&A

I mentioned yesterday in my review of The Peony Lantern that we were able to ask questions to Frances Watts as we read along.  Here are the Q&As (excluding spoilers).  I’ve also removed names except for mine or Frances.

the peony lantern

Q: Frances, love the cover for The Peony Lantern! Did you choose it?
A: So glad you like it! It’s all the work of the wonderful designer at HarperCollins – with some special criteria I supplied to make sure the girl was true to Kasumi in the book.

Q: The haiku are beautiful! Did you write them, Frances?
A: I did write the haiku, Tien – thank you so much for noticing them!

Q: Did you write the haiku after the book? Is there a particular reason there are haiku? Is it just to replace headings? Or just to set the atmosphere for the chapter?
A: I did write the haiku last – I liked the idea of including a form of literature unique to Japan and, as you suggest, Tien, felt they would add to the atmosphere. That marriage of simplicity and minimalism with depth makes haiku so beautiful.

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Left: Setting for chapter 1 ~ the village of Tsumago
Right: The torii at the foot of the shrine

Q: Are there actually 65 steps there? Did you count or was it a local knowledge? Is that a significant number?
A: Yes, there are 65 steps (I counted) but I don’t think the number was significant. I just liked that the shrine was high above the village, in the trees, and wanted to give a sense of the climb.

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Left: The Torii pass on the Nakasendo Highway (chapter 3)
Right: A summer kimono – note the cooling design

Q: Is the story about the samurai and the servant and the broken plate based on a real
folk tale?
A: The story about the samurai, the servant and the broken plate is an actual Japanese
ghost story.

Q: I was trying to look up an image of a peony lantern but all I get is the ghost story… is a peony lantern different from a normal lantern? How?
A: A peony lantern is basically a lantern with peonies painted on the rice paper. If you google images of “peony lantern” you can find illustrations of the story with the lantern pictured. (There are lots of variations.)

wpid-img-20150825-wa0003.jpgQ: Frances, how did you research flower arrangements?
A:This is how I researched flower arrangements!  I did an ikebana class in Tokyo.  SO difficult, I am not a natural!

Q: Frances, is it a low – born female thing back then? That they’re not being taught to read / write.
A: I’m afraid educating low-born girls wasn’t a priority – especially in the country areas.

Q: Do you have any pics of Edo?
A: And here’s an amazing fact: Edo is what Tokyo was called until 1868, when the shogunate ended.

Q: Frances, the beauty prints that Isamu shows to Kasumi in the book sounds interesting. Are they like posters?
A: They were a little like posters – about A4 in size.wpid-img-20150831-wa0002.jpg

Q: is there any significance to this painting other than the feeling that it triggered in Kasumi?  I thought, at first, it’s somewhat equivalent to “Playboy” or something lol Please correct me, Frances hahaha… in my defence, Isamu is a teen & a boy ;p
A: Interesting question about the beauty print! The women were fully dressed, I can assure you! I think Isamu’s interest was artistic

Q: Oh I realise they’re fully dressed but the mention of the way the line was of the neck etc… made it sound a little more risqué ;p
A: The bare nape of the neck was considered rather risqué!

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Left: The inscription is the artist’s description of seeing the moon on a beautiful night in mid-autumn.
Right: A kaiawase

wpid-img-20150816-wa0001.jpgFrances Watts was born in Switzerland and grew up in Australia. She has published 20 books for children, including picture books and books for younger readers, including Goodnight Mice!, the winner of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Fiction, and 2008 Children’s Book Council of Australia award-winnerParsley Rabbit’s Book about Books. Her latest book, The Raven’s Wing, is her first novel for young adults. Frances lives in Sydney and divides her time between writing and editing.

Pictured on left: Frances on her research tour in Tokyo; in front of a temple in Ueno Park

My thanks to Frances Watts and the ladies at Read3r’Z Re-Vu

Review: The Peony Lantern

the peony lanternThe Peony Lantern by Frances Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Source: purchased own copy

I had the privilege of a read along of this book with some girls from Read3r’z Re-Vu on Whatsapp featuring the lovely Frances Watts, the author. I was deliriously ecstatic and probably, then, read it so very closely so I can come up with ten thousand more questions than I would have if I read normally. However, Frances was so very gracious and answered them all with aplomb. I’ll be posting some of these Q&A in the next couple of days.

I have this fascination of the Japanese culture since my early teen years. I still remember vividly waiting for what feels like forever for the first volume of Sailor Moon and when the day arrived, hurriedly left school to get my hands on a copy. I’ve never since looked back though I have extended my tastebuds to include other Japanese flavoured literature. Nevertheless, I found that I still had lots to learn about Japan from my reading of The Peony Lantern.

Kasumi is a wonderful heroine. Born as a peasant, she lacks education and yet, she has the natural ability of observation. Needless to say, this often gets her into trouble. Her parents (we must believe, out of concern of her wellbeing) continue to remind her that

“the stake that sticks up gets hammered down.”

As the novel is told from Kasumi’s perspective, the readers are treated to her insights. And this ranged from her search of own identity to some hilarious conspiracy theories. Kasumi does not kick ass but is much fun to be with and with whom readers can identify with ease.

Fireworks festival (woodblock print)
Firework Festival (ukiyo-e / woodblock print)
An inspiration to write this story was a woodblock print (not necessarily this one)

The plot itself was truly enjoyable. The first half wasn’t slow but the pace was ramped up in the second half and it really became un-put-down-able then. You just want to keep going to find out what the secret really is (I guessed correctly for this part) and then, you want to find out the answer to the mystery (this was a twist I appreciate). The Peony Lantern engaged my interest from the beginning and had me enthralled to the end.

If you’re a parent, let me assure you that this book is clean. There’s a bit of romance but Kasumi was quite the sensible girl to the end (and I just love her all the more!). There are many themes / topics for good conversation of gender, rank, education, culture, etc. I won’t hesitate in presenting this book as gifts to my nieces.

View all my reviews