Mini-Reviews: Knife, Lover, Campaign

Gu Byeong-mo, The Old Woman with the Knife (trans. Chi-Young Kim)

Hornclaw is a 65-year-old Korean woman whose ordinary appearance conceals the fact that she’s an extremely competent assassin. Because of her age, she’s worried about slowing down and losing the unique skillset that makes her good at her job. She’s also dealing with a hostile colleague and an assignment she is surprisingly reluctant to complete. As she considers retirement, it soon becomes evident that she may not make it out of her profession alive. I quite enjoyed this book, which isn’t so much a thriller as it is a reflection on aging and human connection (or lack thereof). Hornclaw is a fascinating character, and I was rooting for her despite her job. I would definitely recommend this book if the premise interests you.

Susanna Craig, One Thing Leads to a Lover

British intelligence officer Major Langley Stanhope is on the trail of a French codebook, which has accidentally fallen into the hands of Amanda, a young and attractive widow. Since her much older husband’s death, Amanda has felt stifled by her mother’s constant concern and the attentions of a worthy but dull suitor. When she meets Stanhope, she’s eager to experience an adventure, and their collaboration soon takes a romantic turn. I enjoyed this book more than the first in the series (and it can definitely be read as a stand-alone); the spy plot is a little more prominent, and Amanda and Stanhope are likable characters with good chemistry. I wish the book had delved into Stanhope’s backstory a bit more (there’s a lot there, but it’s pretty glossed over). But if you enjoy light, low-stress historical romances, I’d recommend this one. And the next book features a fake relationship (one of my favorite tropes!), so I’m sure I’ll be reading it soon as well.

Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign

This installment of the Vorkosigan series is full of romantic turmoil. Miles loves Ekaterin but doesn’t know how to woo her, since she’s wary of romance after her traumatic first marriage. Mark loves Kareen Koudelka, but she is torn between her Barrayaran roots and her exciting new life on Beta colony. Meanwhile, Emperor Gregor is getting married, and there are two contested seats in the Council of Counts, so Miles & co. have plenty of political drama to deal with as well. As expected, I absolutely loved the romances in this book (that letter from Miles to Ekaterin!), and I was delighted to see more of Mark, Ivan, and the Koudelka girls. I could have done without the butter bug subplot, and the political intrigue was a bit simplistic, but that’s understandable since the book’s main focus is the relationships. I’m excited to continue with the series, particularly to see what happens with Ivan’s love life!

Review: This Burns My Heart

This Burns My HeartSamuel Park, This Burns My Heart

This novel, set in 1960s South Korea, tells the story of Soo-ja, the daughter of a wealthy factory owner who has never had to work for a living. She longs to become one of South Korea’s first female diplomats, but her family wants her to uphold tradition by making an advantageous marriage. When Soo-ja meets the handsome Min Lee, she’s convinced she’ll have the best of both worlds: She will be married to an attractive young man, and she’ll be able to move to Seoul and pursue her dreams. But when she marries Min, she learns that she is expected to stay in the house and be a servant for her new in-laws. As Soo-ja comes to terms with her new life, she remembers the young medical student who once urged her to marry him instead of Min, and she wonders how different her life could have been if she’d made a different choice.

I found this book very readable at the time, but the more I think about it, the fewer good things I can find to say about it. I just didn’t really feel like I got to know any of the characters…something about the tone of the novel kept me at a distance. The book was (as far as I know) originally written in English, but it feels like a translation, if that makes sense. The language was too simplistic, maybe? I also thought that the character portrayals were too black-and-white — Soo-ja’s in-laws are basically portrayed as monsters, while it seems like Soo-ja is supposed to be always right. Personally, I didn’t find her very sympathetic, so maybe that’s why the book didn’t work for me. I don’t mean to sound harsh; I don’t think this is a bad book, by any means. It just wasn’t the right book for me, and I don’t plan to seek out more by this author.