REVIEW: The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life #1

One of my 2021 goals is to read more light novels and honestly, one thing that always makes me laugh are the series with overly long titles. When it comes to The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, the long title was half of the reason why I picked it up, but the other half was the cute art for sure.

For those unfamiliar with light novels, it’s a genre of Japanese novels that are a more serialised format that also tend to feature full-page illustrations with varied frequency throughout the novels. It’s basically a genre made from anime-in-book-form without being manga. The majority of the light novels I’ve read have fallen into the action-fantasy genre but there are also slice-of-life romance novels as well. But back to reviewing this one.

The Alchemist Who… follows Mariela, an alchemist who put herself into a magical state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster attack on her home city only to wake up 200 years later. Realising that she is now alone in the world with no home, no friends, and no knowledge of what has happened while she was “asleep”, Mariela is in a bit of a fix. Even when she makes friends out of a group of adventurers, she learns quickly that there are hardly any alchemists in the world, and none within her old home city.

The synopsis makes it sound like a typical action-packed fantasy novel, but this series is definitely more slice-of-life, at least for the time being. The story is about Mariela’s loneliness and her fears from being asleep for so long. It’s about her kindness and generosity towards others that may stem from her naivety, but deep down all Mariela wants is to care for others. The guards she befriends look out for her, knowing that she’s just a young woman, but more than that is the man, Sieg, who she saves from a death sentence of slavery.

I know the inclusion of slavery is very off-putting for many readers even in “English” fantasy novels. What I will say is that I think it is more of a translation thing here. In this world, those with massive debts have the option of being a debt-labourer, given the option to sell their labour to nobles or other wealthy folk in order to pay off those debts. However, if the person in question commits a major crime or violates the terms of their contract, they are condemned to being a penal labourer until the end of their days. Sieg falls under this category, but is saved from his fate as a penal labourer when Mariela sees how unwell he is and how abused he is at the hands of the other guards.

Her kindness towards this man who feels he is unworthy of such generosity is so heartwarming and as we learn more and both of them, I found myself adoring Sieg and Mariela with my entire being. The book on the whole is so sweet and stress-free with how soft it is and how tender the characters are. The only issue I really took with it was that at almost 400 pages long, it could have been shortened significantly had all of the repetition been cut out. The herbs and plants Mariela requires for her secret alchemy get a little complicated, but the constantly repetition of three of the plants’ effects does get tiresome.

What I have found interesting though about reading as many light novels lately as I have been, is how the fantasy genre specifically still tends to be very video game or TTRPG (table-top roleplaying game – think D&D). By that I mean in three separate light novel series that I have stuck my nose into, there is a levelling system and a magical power system that feels very much like it would in a game. It’s curious to see in novels that are not game based (such as Sword Art Online) and I’d love to do more readings into why this might be such a common trope with light novels. I also wonder if that kind of system is common in other Japanese fantasy novels that don’t necessarily fall under the light novel categorisation.

All in all I really loved this book and look forward to getting deeper into the series. As of right now, there are five volumes of 350+ pages each translated into English by YenPress, and I’m looking forward to reading them. I definitely had to fight the urge to immediately jump into the second book once I finished this first one. Mariela and Sieg are just so perfect I need to read more about their relationship as I hope it moves from a budding friendship into something more.

REVIEW: Dune Messiah

After closing 2020 by re-reading Dune for the second time in the year, I opened 2021 by jumping right into Dune Messiah.

Set 12 years after the war with the Harkonenns, Paul as very much unwillingly followed the path of the Jihad he feared and is struggling with the aftermath as well as the consequences. This second book is heavily about the fate of the those who are stuck on the path of a future they don’t want and the pain that comes with power. It’s also about humanity; losing it, struggling with it, finding it again. It’s about sacrifices and love. It is not a happy book.

At the same time it makes a lot of really strong point about blindly following along with fate and the important of knowledge.

You can’t stop a mental epidemic. It leaps from person to person across parsecs. IT’s overwhelmingly contagious. It strikes at the unprotecte sie, in the place where we lodge the fragments of other such plagues. […] The thing has roots in chaos.

Syctale the Face Dancer in Dune Messiah

In this book having knowledge is useless unless the one who possesses it knows what to do with the information. And even then, will doing anything change the outcome? Does knowing the future mean it can be changed or will the attempts to change it only lead to greater suffering? As Paul struggles with the losses he has faced and the ones yet to come, the reader is forced into his position. The ending of the book – which I will not give away – is an ending that is easily predicted but as unchangeable to the reader as it is to Paul. It needs to end the way that it does, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

This book made me sad. It made me angry. It thrust forward a lot of very complicated thoughts and feelings and I appreciate a book written in the 60s still being capable of eliciting such strong emotions. I also enjoyed seeing possible inspiration points used by more recent series such as Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and a handful of others.

With four books left in the series I look forward to what is to come for everyone involved, especially Alia and the children.

REVIEW CATCH UP: Cabin Pressure [Complete Series]

Somehow I wrote this review towards the end of 2020, but never posted it so let’s have it now:


I’m going to start this review off by saying that Cabin Pressure was actually a radio show on the BBC and doesn’t technically count as an audiobook, but the entire series is listed as an audiobook on Goodreads and is also available in its entirety on Audible so I’m counting this as reading.

John Finnemore’s Cabin Pressure is a radio series following the misadventures of a small airline with an all-star cast of Stephanie Cole as Carolyn, Roger Allam as Douglas, Benedict Cumberbatch as Martin, and John Finnemore as Arthur. It even has Anthony Stewart Head as a guest star on several episodes as Herc and it’s, in a word for fans, brilliant.

I’ve listened to Cabin Pressure about a hundred times over the years and it always makes me laugh because of how silly it is (and yet “Zurich” always makes me cry). Given how upsetting the entire world is at the moment, I wanted a laugh and was so excited to see the complete series available on Audible. I downloaded it right away and have been listening to it over the last few days, especially when anxiety starts to seriously act up. It’s not a long series and I can definitely see myself having it on repeat when I go back to my day job (something I am not looking forward to at the moment given that it’s far too early to reopen non-essential businesses, but that’s another story).

The banter of the show is really what gets me every time. Douglas is so quick and witty, I aspire to his level of sarcasm one day. His back and forth with Martin (especially in the episodes where Martin just gets more and more annoyed) is always so funny, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve listened to this show, I always laugh. But it’s also really sweet. When bits tease out regarding Martin’s or Douglas’s personal lives outside of flying, it can get sad but they’re there for each other like best mates are, even if Douglas is always teasing Martin. They’re my favourite parts of the show, but Arthur’s cluelessness and Carolyn being just as sharp as Douglas are also wonderful.

In these times of unrest and upsetting news smacking you over the head every thirty seconds, I highly recommend this ridiculously pleasant and funny series. You won’t regret it.

REVIEW CATCH UP: Upstream

2020 was a year that I really explored books out of my comfort zone. Stumbling upon some poetry from Mary Oliver, I decided to pick up her essay collection, Upstream.

The essay collection is incredibly soothing look at the quiet parts of life related back to nature in a spiritual way that creates a sense to hope and a desire to be calm. I read this essay collection in an attempt to break a reading slump after going back to my day job, and it was just what I needed. I don’t normally read essay collections as I find – much like with short story collections – I find I get tired of reading a bunch of short things all in a row. However, as I struggled with my sense of self upon returning to a customer service job during a global pandemic, I really needed the reminders of the beauty and the peace that exists in the world.

I highly recommend this essay collection, and even Oliver’s poetry, for anyone who needs a moment to themselves to think.

REVIEW CATCH UP: Beastars #1

Thank you to Viz Media and NetGalley for the ARC of this manga.

The first manga review I have to catch up with is the first volume of BEASTARS by Itagaki Paru. I had heard about the anime when I was approved for the digital ARC, but other than the fact that all the characters were animals, I had little knowledge of it.

The story revolves around a school for animals where students are sorted based on their species as well as their status in the world as predator or prey. Someone on campus has been attacked prey animals and everyone has their eyes on Legoshi, an awkward wolf who has a habit of weirding the other students out through his introverted demeanour as much as his huge stature. On top of the mystery, there is something of a challenge among the students over who will be the Beastar – the one who will rise above the predator and prey hierarchy to unite the world as much as run it.

I enjoyed the story of this first volume. It’s intriguing as much as it is cute and the deep part of my soul that loves the creativity that goes into furry art fell in love with all of the characters. That being said, I feel like it’ll take me a minute to warm up to the artwork as it does feel a little rough around the edges.

This is definitely a fun series and I hope to have time in future to read more.

MANGA BINGE REVIEW: One Piece [ part one ]

I don’t need to tell anyone that this year has been a grease fire in a dumpster in your basement. It has a lot of us desperate for even an once of serotonin to get through this waking nightmare of doom scrolling, and for me in these final days of December, I have turned to the last of the Big Three manga series: One Piece from Oda Eiichiro.

For the better part of 20 years, I’ve always laughed at One Piece. I thought it was silly and needlessly long and wasn’t into the art style much. I would poke fun at my friends who loved it and always rolled my eyes whenever someone tried to get me to read it or watch it (as of the 20th, there are 998 chapters of the manga and almost 1000 episodes of the anime not including the movies).

Well in this, the year 2020, I have to apologize to every One Piece fan I’ve poked fun at because I have never had so much fun with a shonen manga before.

For anyone unfamiliar with the manga, One Piece is the lengthy adventure of Monkey D. Luffy as he travels far and wide to become King of the Pirates and locate the ever sought after One Piece treasure. Along the way, he builds his crew from other misfits with lofty dreams they have often been ridiculed for and together they all build each other up and remind each other of what’s important: family, friends, and goals that make you happy. Having been in publication since 1997, One Piece is one of the Big Three Shonen Jump titles (the other two often being Naruto and Bleach although some argue for the many variations of Dragon Ball to be included) and the only one to remain incomplete. It’s the fact that it’s so long that has been the main cause of my avoidance of the series – I mean, I stopped reading Naruto around the 350-400 mark and didn’t finish it until the final chapter dropped (700) – but let’s get into my thoughts now that I’ve taken the plunge, shall we?

Right off the bat, One Piece hits you in the feels with the Luffy’s backstory of being an orphan with dreams of the open sea and being a pirate with his father figure, Shanks, who is constantly telling him that he’s too young to come out to sea. Each time a new character is introduced, their backstory and their dreams for the future are all heart-wrenching and tender. The first ten volumes of the manga is a fair amount of setting the stage for everyone’s goal while some big bad pirate thinks they can bully Luffy due to how chaotically stupid he is.

But Luffy isn’t stupid. He cares passionately about people and one only needs to ask for his help for him to be on their side. He is willing to give everyone a chance and understands what it means to have a bad go at things. Luffy is the king of giving people a second chance and he will die defending that second chance. Zolo (or Zoro, depending on the translation) is given a second chance after his murderous reputation as Luffy learns of his goal to be the greatest swordmaster in the world. Usopp is given a second chance after living his life telling nothing but lies when Luffy learns it’s his goal to find his father and be a real pirate. Sanji is given a second chance to find the All Blue – a section of the world where all the seas connect and contains all the kinds of fish a chef could dream of – when Luffy offers him the opportunity to be a chef and travel along. And Nami… *sigh* I can’t talk about Nami’s story in case people want to read this series as blind as I am, but oof, that is a chapter of flashbacks that will make you cry.

The bad guys are also hilarious. I remember Buggy the Clown from when the anime was dubbed into English by 4!Kids and I’ve always hated him, but wow. The variety in the character designs, the power levels that are off the charts while still not being OP, it’s all absolutely incredible. It’s easy to tell why this series has been running so long and remained as popular as it is.

Luffy is such a wholesome, chaotic moron but watch him defend his friends even if they’ve only just met, is so precious. This is a series I never knew I needed in these trying times and I look forward to reading more of it.

I know this “review” didn’t really do much in terms of discussing what actually happened in the first ten volumes, but I highly recommend reading them yourself and I don’t want to risk spoiling any of the best moments. Going forward from here, I’ll be getting more specific, but that will be in the new year.

Until next time, LET’S GO, LUFFY!!!

REVIEW: The First Sister

Thank you to Simon & Schuster as well as NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book.


When I first saw the cover for Linden A Lewis’s debut novel, The First Sister, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. The second I stated it, I fell in love with each of the characters immediately and didn’t want to put it down.

The story follows three POVs between The First Sister – a priestess aboard a starship headed to the moon Mars where the Gean people reside, Lito sol Lucius – a soldier who fought with the Icarii during the Battle of Ceres, and Hiro val Akira – Lito’s battle partner who has gone rogue and disappeared. Each of the POVs is written is first person which confused me slightly with the first few chapters, but I quickly got the hang of it and each character has such a distinct way of talking, it is easy to remember who is talking.

The comp titles for this book were Red Rising (by Pierce Brown) and Handmaid’s Tale(by Margaret Attwood), but I honestly felt it was closer to Red Rising meets Dune (by Frank Herbert) with a hint of Star Trek in there. The Sisterhood, the main religion of the Geans that also happens to run their government, strongly made me think of a more dictatorial version of the Bene Gesserit from Dune in the way that the training is strict and aggressive and the rules must be followed to a T or else there are drastic consequences. The addition of these priestesses acting as consorts or concubines in a sense just added to that and made me think of Jessica from Dune. When it came to the levels of society within the Icarii race and the advanced technologies they have, that’s really where theRed Rising aspect fits so well. The rankings of society and the commentary on how poverty works within this alternate future really reflected our current society where the poor “don’t deserve” basic things like fresh food or proper living conditions, or even medicine. The two clashing societies were also fascinating and the natural vs altered debate was a curious one especially given that the genetically altered (read as: perfected) Icarii honestly have a better way of life in a lot of ways compared to the Geans.

But what hit hardest was the characters.

The First Sister was thrust into the Sisterhood because she was housed in a Sisterhood funded orphanage. She was stripped of her voice and her dreams and her freedom to become a part of a religion she didn’t entirely understand. Lito risked it all to rise up from the lower levels and make it into the military where he met Hiro, only to be punished for the military’s failure in battle. Hiro… I have a lot of thoughts about Hiro.

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Hiro is a non-binary character. A person who has faced ridicule and abuse at the hands of his father as well as classmates and superiors. They lost their mother who couldn’t bare it all. They were shown the horrors of the world and couldn’t stand to turn away from them again. After the failure of the Battle of Ceres (set before the events of the book), Hiro was terribly wounded and instead of being allowed to rest, they were drugged and mutilated, shaped into the female warrior who had nearly killed Hiro and Lito, both. Lito was able to make Hiro feel welcomed, feel loved and cared for, and began to love themselves as a result of that, only to be forced into a gendered role by the people who dislike and/or disprove of them.

Reading these moments, as a trans person, hit so hard. It is so hard to explain to cisgendered people what it is like to be perceived as someone you are not, to be seen as something you are not. Hiro being forced into a female body for the sake of espionage and being unable to look at themselves or feel at all like themselves is something I’ve felt personally (well, maybe not the espionage part) and it is the most painful thing in the world. For these reasons, Hiro is a character I immediately grew attached to and I wish I had a friendship, a bond, with some like Lito the same way he has bonded with Hiro.

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Another thing with this book that I really appreciated was the depiction of Japanese. I am white and English is the only language I’m fluent in. However, I can understand several languages including Japanese. This was the first time I’ve read a book that didn’t romanize the Japanese dialogue and instead included hiragana, katakana, and kanji to spell out the words. The same was done for the small instances of Chinese that were in the book. I’ve read a lot of books (and even more anime fanfiction) that have romanized Japanese in them and there was always something that felt off to me about it, so seeing it this way in a sense felt more authentic and respectful to the language.

I would honestly be really curious to hear what other people think in regard to this formatting of language in books. I know that romanizing it makes in “more accessible” to those who don’t speak the language but I think it’s little things like this that can prompt avid readers to learn a few words here and there in other languages. It’s not hard to look up a character chart or to put a sentence through google translate, but even literary fiction like Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman has large sections in Italian or Latin that aren’t translated. Even Lord of the Rings or Star Wars have lengthy moments of made up languages that aren’t translated but we all get the gist. If we’ve reached a point in the world where you take university level classes in Klingon, we can all take a moment to learn a few phrases in Japanese using the proper character alphabet.

But back to the book.

As is usual with science fiction, there were lulls in this, and I did find myself wondering where the story could go in order to carry out a full trilogy, but the last handful of chapters had me majorly freaking out. With several plot twists happening all at once, It really is a thrill ride and Ineed more of it. The chess pieces are set, and a few have fallen, but the real game is only just beginning.

RELEASE BLITZ: Marauder

Happy [ belated ] birthday, Cash!!

RELEASE BLITZ

WordPress sadly ate this post yesterday, but today is no less of a day to celebrate the release of Bella Di Corte’s latest book, Marauder!

Book two of the Gangsters of New York series hits the ground running as we get to see Keely’s side of the story during Capo and Mari’s courtship from the previous novel, Machiavellian. As we learned at the end of the previous book, Harrison’s boss wasn’t just some rich man and Keely clearly knew more about the mysterious Cash Kelly that she was willing to admit, getting all of the gritty details is more than a delight.

Cash Kelly, Irish mobster in Hell’s Kitchen, is out of prison and out for revenge against the cop who put him there in the first place. But Cash isn’t satisfied with anything straight forward and has his sights set on Stone’s heart: his girlfriend, Keely Ryan. Not taking “No” for an answer, Keely is pulling into a relationship with Cash in order to keep her brother from being killed. All fire and brimstone, Keely isn’t the kind of girl to just go with something she doesn’t want and she hits Cash with as much sass and passion as she can muster. He wanted a spitfire of a girl? She will give him a girl so firey he doesn’t know what hit him.

As the drugs and the violence escalate in Keely’s world, two lonely and traumatized children enter the strange family she is beginning to form with Cash and tensions rise and Keely begins to question Cash’s line of work along with his morals. For a man who wants to keep his streets safe and clean, he has a lot of blood on his hands.

Right from the getgo, this book made it clear it was going to be very different from Mac. I loved it right away. As much as I loved Mari and Capo, theirs was a softer kind of romance in the face of violence. Keely and Cash? Right from the start, they go toe-to-toe with sass and wit, fighting against and for each other to prove where both of their hearts actually are. I loved their dynamic and the way that once things hit the fan, Keely was just as ready to fight as Cash was. The feral rage she contains makes her such a strong female lead. Keely shows she is rough and tumble and fearless while Cash learns to show he isn’t made entirely of nails and steel.

With how different Marauder was, it felt so fresh and new and exciting while still very much remaining a clear instalment of the Gangsters of New York. I’m so proud of Bella for this book and even if we were only just introduced to Cash, I can’t wait for  what’s next with the final book in the trilogy.

Bring on the Mercenary!!

PS. As of right now, Marauder is a #1 best seller in the Amazon store! Congratulations to Bella on her latest success!!


Machiavellian_Ebook_Amazon img_2453 Mercenary_Placeholder
Read MACIAVELLIAN now on Amazon! Read MARAUDER now on Amazon! Preorder MERCENARY on Amazon and add it on Goodreads!

About the Author: 

Bella Di Corte has been writing romance for seven years, even longer if you count the stories in her head that were never written down, but she didn’t realize how much she enjoyed writing alphas until recently. Tough guys who walk the line between irredeemable and savable, and the strong women who force them to feel, inspire her to keep putting words to the page.

Apart from writing, Bella loves to spend time with her husband, daughter, and family. She also loves to read, listen to music, cook meals that were passed down to her, and take photographs. She mostly takes pictures of her family (when they let her) and her three crazy dogs.  

Bella grew up in New Orleans, a place she considers a creative playground.

She loves to connect with readers, so don’t hesitate to email her at belladicorte@gmail.com if you’d like to reach out. 

You can also find her:

At Home: http://belladicorte.com
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BellaDiCorteAuthor
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Follow:
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Mrs. Dalloway Double Feature

With wanting to go back to school this fall, something I decided to do over my two-month leave from my day job for quarantine was to try and read at least a handful of books listed on the English course reading lists I was looking at. With my mother being an English Major, she decided to join in and we read Mrs. Dalloway together with the intention of watching the film The Hours (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2003) when we finished it.

Mrs. Dalloway was a tough read for me. It’s a really dense story that follows several characters over the course of a single day with flashbacks to various points in time throughout. As someone who has never really had to do a close reading before, I found it difficult looking for things that I don’t even think were there to begin with (like a point), and it made for a very long time spent pushing through the dense prose. While Virigina Woolf has some seriously great quotes in the book, and an interesting look at female independence in that time period, I found the number of characters and the muddled paragraphs very difficult to follow. I get that it’s “stream of consciousness” writing, but I found myself re-reading things several times and – at moments – entirely giving up and just continuing on with the book whether or not I understood what I was reading. When I finally finished the book I was more annoyed than anything else because I seriously felt like I missed something.

While waiting for my mom to finish reading, I learned that The Hours film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham. Having read one of Cunningham’s books in the past and enjoying it, I jumped on trying to read The Hours.

In three days, I finished reading one of the most beautiful books I’ve come across this year. The Hours follows three women over a single day: Virginia Woolf as she plans on writing Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown as she fights depression while planning her husband’s birthday, and Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a celebratory party for her friend that has won a significant literary award. The storyline that I loved best was Clarissa’s as the involvement of the AIDs pandemic fallout of the 90s and the harsh reality of the suffering AIDs patients went through… It’s heartbreaking and raw and beautiful. With so many context cues to the source material that is Mrs. Dalloway, adding AIDs on top of the tragedy of the adaptation of Septimus’s life makes so a heartbreaking and layered reason for the horrible end.

I definitely enjoyed The Hours and I feel like I picked up on a lot more nuances having read Mrs. Dalloway first. Of course, the film was a different story (for a different day but… how do you ruin a movie that stars Meryl freaking Streep?!) and I honestly hated it, but I’m so pleased to have picked up Michael Cunningham’s novel. It was an interesting exercise reading both of these books with my mom as well and really reminded me how much I enjoy talking about books with people.

REVIEW: The Dreamers

Originally published as The Holy Innocents, Gilbert Adair’s novel was re-released as an updated edition after he had the chance to write the screenplay for the 2003 film, The Dreamers based on his work. I was so happy to get my hands on a copy of the re-released The Dreamers novel and was not disappointed.

This book came on my radar while I was revisiting the history of people running through the Louvre. I was familiar with the film (though I have not seen it save for the running scene) because of my love for actor Michael Pitt, but once I found out it was a book I was determined to get my hands on a copy. The day my copy of The Dreamers arrived, I was over the moon. And then proceeded to read the entire book in a day.

The novel follows twins Isabelle and Theo as they welcome American student Matthew into their tight little circle of obsessive French cinema worship. As their friendship grows, Matthew learns of the debauched relationship between the twins and is welcomed into their way of life. As the three are left to their own devices, secluded alone in the twins’ apartment, they lose all sense of the world around them and the only world that exists is the one inside the flat. Meanwhile, the riots of May ’68 are grasping the nation, creating a huge contrast between the two ways of life.

While I know this book is problematic by the standards of many, it was exactly what I was hoping it would be and was absolutely magical in the way Adair manages to create such an intense relationship and make the isolation of the trio feel natural. The style and flow of the writing was so beautiful and hypnotizing, I absolutely adored it from cover to cover. The Dreamers was exactly what I had hoped it was going to be and it was such a breath of fresh air after struggling through the book I had finished prior to starting this one.

In all honestly, the only part that grated on me was whenever French New Wave director, Jean-Luc Godard, was mentioned. As a film grad, I had to watch Breathless (1960) every damn semester and I hate it so much. Considering this isn’t even an issue with the book (and me mentioning it is literally a joke to any of my fellow grads who feel my pain about that stupid movie), I couldn’t have asked for anything more from this book.

Adair’s books seem to be mostly out of print these days, but I look forward to tracking down his other novels because I am obsessed with his style of writing.