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The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson

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The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson The Girl with Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Series: Xian Li-lin #1
Published by Audible Studios on February 23, 2016
Source: Purchased
Genres: Historical Fantasy
Length: 9 hrs 51 mins
Format: Audiobook
Buy on Amazon or Audible
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It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

With a rich and inventive historical setting, nonstop martial arts action, authentic Chinese magic, and bizarre monsters from Asian folklore, The Girl with Ghost Eyes is also the poignant story of a young immigrant searching to find her place beside the long shadow of a demanding father and the stigma of widowhood. In a Chinatown caught between tradition and modernity, one woman may be the key to holding everything together.

The Girl with Ghost Eyes is an enjoyable read, but I felt like it was straddling the line between YA and adult historical fantasy, which threw me off a little. I can’t put my finger on why it felt like that. Li-lin is not a teenager, she’s in her early 20s, I think, and a widow. So, it’s not her age. There isn’t a love triangle. I listened to the audio, and maybe the writing sounded a bit simple at times and there were definitely repetitive sections. I don’t know. Am I the only one who got that feeling? I listened to the audio and was glad that I did. Zeller brings Li-lin to life, but I also like to hear the Chinese words and phrases, not try to struggle with reading them.

Li-lin is a good character. She is tough and strong and a talented martial artist. She’s also a Daoist exorcist who has ghost eyes, meaning she can see all the spirits, ghosts and monsters that others don’t. But being a woman – and a widow, in Chinatown in the late 1890s is not easy. Her father is mean. I’m sorry, I know the it fits for the cultural and time, but he is condescending to her, does not give her the respect she deserves. The whole time I’m thinking maybe he does truly care about her, just isn’t able to show it, but in the end he totally disappointed me. Maybe that’s part of it, the issues with her dad. He treats her as if she is younger and less experienced than she is and she constantly needs to prove herself. She tends to dwell on things too, which gets a little annoying.

Tongs control Chinatown, but there is conflict between the new ways and the old ways. There’s a power struggle shaping up and the magical power that might be unleashed could destroy hundreds of lives. Of course, it’s up to Li-lin to save the day. I will say the author does not make it easy for her. She has helpers, but not many and she’s forced to make deals that may backfire on her. In some ways though, the constant need for action and fight scenes takes away from the story, at least for me.

I haven’t read many (any?)  fantasy novels that use Chinese folklore as their base, and I really liked that aspect of the novel. I loved the descriptions of the creatures and spirits. I think Boroson did a good job building his Chinatown, giving us a good feel for both the Chinese culture and the immigrang experience.

About M. H. Boroson

M. H. Boroson was obsessed with two things as a young man: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and kung fu movies. He has studied Chinese religion at Naropa University and the University of Colorado and now lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife and three cats.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

The Thief by Claire North

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The Thief by Claire North The Thief by Claire North
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Series: The Gameshouse #2
Published by Hachette Audio on November 3, 2015
Source: Purchased
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Length: 3 hrs 41 mins
Format: Audiobook
Buy on Amazon or Audible
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The Gameshouse is an unusual institution.

Many know it as the place where fortunes can be made and lost through games of chess, backgammon - every game under the sun.
But a select few, who are picked to compete in the higher league, know that some games are played for higher stakes - those of politics and empires, of economics and kings . . .

In 1930s Bangkok, one higher league player has just been challenged to a game of hide and seek. The board is all of Thailand - and the seeker may use any means possible to hunt down his quarry - be it police, government, strangers or even spies . . .

I’m not a fan of playing hide-and-seek. When I was a kid, I was always afraid everyone else would go inside or to another kid’s house and just leave me hiding. I don’t think it ever actually happened, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry about it. And it was even worse if it was dark.

The hide-and-seek game in The Thief is awesome though. The “board” is Thailand in the 1930s and the stakes are huge, but the game might be unfairly weighted. This is the second in the trilogy and I think they should definitely be read, or listened to, in order. Thene’s game in The Serpent was not exactly fair either, but that was nothing in comparison to the disadvantages our player is dealing with here. It’s a thread thoughout – the Gameshouse may not be as fair as it (she) would like you to believe.

Once again, North does  wonderful job building her world. Thailand in the 30s is not a place I’m familiar with but I love how she made us feel like we were there. Once again, the story is narrated by an unseen watcher who takes us with him to observe the game being played, which makes it a natural fit for audio. Remy Burke is the first to hide. He agreed to the game when he was drunk, and is a half-English half-French six foot tall white man with little money trying to hide in Thailand – he stands out. But he’s an experienced player and knows that not only is it a game about hiding, it’s also about finding the other player when the sides switch.

This one definitely sets up the third. I even like the three novella set up . Each is a self-contained game, but they need to be read in order to get the full feel of the series.

About Claire North

Claire North is the pen name for the Carnegie-nominated Catherine Webb, who also writes under the name Kate Griffin. Catherine currently works as a theatre lighting designer and is a fan of big cities, urban magic, Thai food and graffiti-spotting. She lives in London.

The Serpent by Claire North

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The Serpent by Claire North The Serpent by Claire North
Narrator: Peter Kenny
Series: The Gameshouse #1
Published by Hachette Audio on November 3, 2015
Source: Purchased
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Length: 3 hrs 56 mins
Format: Audiobook
Buy on Amazon or Audible
Add on Goodreads

In 17th Century Venice exists a mysterious establishment known only as the Gameshouse.

There, fortunes are made and fortunes are broken over games of chess, backgammon and every other game under the sun.

But those whom fortune favours may be invited to compete in the higher league . . . a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on a scale as big as the British Isles.

Not everyone proves worthy of competing in the higher league. But one woman, who is about to play, may just exceed everyone's expectations.

Though she must always remember: the higher the stakes, the more deadly the rules . . .

We play a lot of games at our house- for me it’s mostly board games. I just don’t feel the draw of video games that Amber and David do, but I love board games. We play a variety, from old standards to newer ones, board games, card games, dice. That’s what drew me to the Gameshouse trilogy. I love that North took playing games and made into a world transforming power.

The Serpent is the first of the novellas. The story is told to us by the narrator, an unseen watcher who takes us with him as he observes the gamers. He’s sly and smart and his outlook rubs off on us. I listened to the audio and this narration style worked really well that way. The narrator was the narrator, if that makes sense.

It’s short, but rich and full. I love the way North uses language and world she creates, both of historic Venice and the Gameshouse itself.

Thene is an amazing character. Her husband, who is pretty awful, introduces her to the Gameshouse. As he gambles away everything, she becomes an adept, intelligent player, making her way through the ranks until she is invited to play in the higher league, where armies and battleships are real, where even immortality can be a prize.  Thene has strengths and weaknesses, but she is playing to win.

We have the feeling too, that though the game Thene is playing really only affects Venice, the Gameshouse itself has more secrets that we will learn about.

I loved The Serpent. After I was finished I immediately picked up #2. It’s fantasy, but mostly it’s political maneuvering and manipulating people, using your assets and outwitting your enemies. And playing the game.

About Claire North

Claire North is the pen name for the Carnegie-nominated Catherine Webb, who also writes under the name Kate Griffin. Catherine currently works as a theatre lighting designer and is a fan of big cities, urban magic, Thai food and graffiti-spotting. She lives in London.

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