Buba’s Book Reviews: Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

Title: Bitter Medicine

Author: Mia Tsai

Genre: Romance, Romantic Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy

Publisher: Tachyon

Publication Date: Coming out March 14, 2023

Rating: 10/10

Big thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon for providing me an ARC to review.

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai is a gorgeously written debut romantic fantasy that takes place at a fairy temp agency. When it comes to Romance I am not normally a fan of office/workplace romance, but Bitter Medicine might just have changed my mind about the whole subgenre. I cannot say enough how much I adored the concept of the Bureau and all the fun and fascinating details of the fae world that Tsai developed around the most heart wrenching story of love, family duty, and self-acceptance I’ve read in a long time.

Ellie is a Chinese immortal, posing as a mediocre magical calligrapher. She’s been sacrificing any chance at joy and hiding her true magical potential in order to protect her eldest brother from their youngest brother who needs them both dead to fill the role of family heir that her eldest brother refused to take up.

Luc is a French half-elven fixer for the controlling head of the bureau whose terrifying reputation and lack of interpersonal skills have cut him off from his colleagues and left him desperately lonely. His only goals are to impress his boss enough to earn leave to pursue a curse breaking personal project whose victims have haunted him for years.

When Elle starts personalizing Luc’s glyph orders and saves his life, he comes requesting a magical commission that might challenge her for the first time in years, but at the same time could reveal her and her eldest brother to the brother hunting them.

The chemistry between these characters is electric from the first moment they’re on page together. I adored how absolutely in love Luc is from the very first page. The adoration between these characters who so clearly and deeply want to be seen and loved and yet whom familial duty and work hold back and force them apart has my whole entire heart.

Elle is such a self-effacing and yet unbelievably badass character. Luc is the unbelievable badass that you will love for how soft he can be for Elle (and also his cooking, nothing sexier than a man who can cook omg the way this book made my mouth water)

The way Tsai writes magic made my heart flutter from page 1. I could not get enough of Elle’s xianxia-inspired magic, and the oh so cool calligraphy/glyph magic. Every new and inventive use felt fresh and fascinating and yet so innately a part of who Elle is as a person.  I hope to read so much more fantasy from this author. I could lose myself in her magical world for hours and I absolutely did, binge reading this straight through in 6 hours.

On top of being eminently bingeable Tsai handles an interracial/multicultural romance with so much nuance and grace I was swooning. We love a man who doesn’t tolerate racist microaggressions. The multicultural aspects definitely hit me in all the Asian diaspora feels, of having family and a home impossibly far away that you can never return to because you have been irreparably changed by leaving. Of having expectations and duties heaped upon you and feeling that no matter how much you sacrifice it will never be enough in the eyes of your family and the harrowing journey to self-love and self-acceptance for who you are instead of what you can do for those you love. I actually wept my heart out at multiple points and then had it pieced together masterfully.

Bitter Medicine is hands down my favorite read of 2022 and I already can’t wait to read it again to linger with my new favorite couple.

Buba’s Book Reviews: Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile

Title: Queen Sugar

Author: Natalie Baszile

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary literature, Domestic Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Books

Publication date: 11/05/19

Nominations: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author

Rating: 8/10


Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile is a riveting family drama that follows Charley Bordelon, a widowed black single mother from California moving with her daughter, Micah, to her father’s hometown in the rural south after discovering that he has sold all his California properties to purchase a struggling 800 acre sugar cane farm in Louisiana. The land held in trust precludes her selling or the proceeds will go to charity. On this premise that exposes the complicated, loving, yet controlling relationship between Charley and her father we along with Charley and Micah are sucked into the realities of rural Louisiana, the intricacies and back breaking labor of running a successful cane farm, Charley’s colorful family, the tense realities of an industry dominated by white men who are the sons of the sons of plantation owners.

This book didn’t shy away from digging into the social realities and struggles of the rural south and I trusted Baszile’s handling of these difficult subjects implicitly from the beginning and she never let me down.  I was particularly impressed with her handling of Charley’s romantic relationship with Remy, a white sugar cane farmer, Baszile did not shy away from all of the biases and cultural assumptions and even casual racism that have to be tackled in an interracial relationship and I appreciated that she didn’t sugarcoat the situation.

In parallel to Charley’s story is that of her half-brother Ralph Angel, also widowed and raising his son Blue, except due to dropping out of college and stealing tuition money to fuel his drug habit he was cut out of the will by their father. While Charley’s story is one of successfully adapting to every challenge that life throws at her, with pluck, creativity, a lot of damned stubborn, and never being afraid to reach out to family and friends for support, Ralph Angel’s is a lament of a man who has been so traumatized that he is, at his core, too fragile to face what his life has become and what he might need to do to turn it around. His story is not a triumph, it is the bitter counter note needed to balance the tale, to remind us that even in a feel good save the farm story, nothing is that simple, and there is always grief, and we live with the consequences of our actions and those of the people around us. Ralph Angel is a reminder of how the deck is stacked, that Charley’s triumphs are as much luck as anything, and that it can all be lost just as quickly.

I listened to this as an audio book and have to say the narrator did a beautiful job, her voice really helped drag me into the narrative.

Buba’s Book Reviews: A Memoir Of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Title: Hunger, A Memoir Of (My) Body 

Author: Roxane Gay

Genre: Memoir

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication date: June 2017

Rating: 9/10

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Self-Harm, Eating Disorder, Trauma, PTSD


This memoir sat with me, it stayed on my mind and kept me thinking about how I interact with the world and with my body. This is a memoir about trauma. In the early chapters Gay claims this is not a story of triumph over her body. And it is true. This is no weight loss success story, but it is none the less a story of triumph. And that triumph is no less for being a hard won triumph over the damaging and toxic stories that society tells us so often we begin to tell it to ourselves.

While my struggles are not PTSD and weight, the candidness with which Gay discussed her trauma, a rape at the age of 12, and how she was dependent on the comfort of food, the secretiveness she imposed on herself for 20 years, the determination to make herself impervious to harm by making herself large was breathtaking. The way she describes and forgives herself for her self-destructive coping mechanisms is something I think every woman needs to hear. The way she discussed her weight, her family, and her love life a complicated and congealed tangle all tied together by her ravenous hunger, for food, to be loved, to be accepted, to be seen, and how that hunger is inextricably tied to her body spoke to me. At times it brought me to tears.

This is a memoir that not only asks you to look more closely at those around you who struggle with weight when society would have you look past or through them, it asks you to forgive yourself for your own self-destructive tendencies and asks you to be more gentle in your own healing.

I cannot thank the author enough for sharing this story with the world. If you like audiobooks this one is author-read and truly moving.

Buba’s Book Reviews: The Hob’s Bargain by Patricia Briggs

Title: The Hob’s Bargain

Author: Patricia Briggs

Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Publisher: Ace Books

Publication date: 2001

Rating: 6/10


Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite contemporary fantasy authors, so I thought I would dig into some of her early work. This standalone traditional fantasy was a really great read that brought a lot of great things into a genre that can get really tied up in its own tropes.

The Hobb’s Bargain is a twist on beauty and the beast, where beauty is a happily married 30 year-old with the second sight named Aren. She loses her family and her husband to raiders and then the village is plunged into peril when the blood magic that held the magic of the land is released and the very earth shifts. Aren’s occasional visions become true power. Another consequence is that wildlings, creatures of magic, are returning to the world. The combined threats of the raiders and the wildlings place the village in great peril and so she goes to the Hob and offers to make a bargain with him for his protection of the village.

I loved every single concept in this book.

I loved that it had a 30-year-old woman as the heroine discovering her powers and saving the day, I want more stories with women in their 30s. I loved that she was involved with and invested in her community. I loved that there was no weird much ado about sacrificing a virgin to the demons/dragon/Faries. I loved that she made the decision to make the bargain with the Hob.

I loved that there was disability representation in Kith, who was awesome and deserves everything. I loved that Aren and Kith had an honest to goodness friendship between a man and a woman and did not fall in love.

I loved that the traditional beauty and the beast twist did not have the traditional Stockholm Syndrome.

I loved that they made a deal with a magical creature and then were like wait, you have got to hold up your end for a year before we pay the price.

I loved that this was a book about courtship.

And I loved the Hob, he was fantastic, and a true “beast” as in this is no spoiled princeling turned monster, this is a wildling, it thinks like a wildling and it stays a wildling, and I loved his mischievous bent and his ability to love the heroine exactly as she was.

I loved the world and its fascinating details and myriad wildlings coming alive.

Yet somehow with all these lovely pieces together I was never in love with the story. I never disliked it. I made it all the way through quickly and easily, but I was never quite swept away by the story. I cannot quite answer why. I loved all the pieces separately, and having dissected the experience for a week I cannot pick out any one thing that I disliked. Except perhaps the assumed voice the narrator used for the MC Aren. I cannot suss out if my lack of enthusiasm for this book is due only to my mild irritation with the tone of the narrator or the story itself. If I ever have the chance to pick this up at my library I may give it another read and see if without the audio the book can successfully suck me in. If you love beauty and the beast re-tellings this book is certainly worth the read.


Buba’s Book Reviews:  On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl

Title: On Swift Horses

Author: Shannon Pufahl

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction/LGBT lit

Publisher: Riverhead

Publication date: 11/05/19

Rating: 7/10


On Swift Horses is a haunting and beautiful historical fiction set in the late 1950s. It follows the story of Muriel, a newly married waitress from Kansas who with her new husband, Lee, has set out to San Diego to make a new life. Intertwined with it and in parallel to it, is the story of Julius, Lee’s brother, a drifter, gambler, petty thief, and a gay man. Although she doesn’t originally know what it is about Julius that draws her in, Muriel recognizes the otherness of him that is growing slowly within herself and is fascinated.

The story is a coming into self-possession for Muriel, as she uses the gossip of her jockey patrons at her work to bet on racehorses eventually winning enough for build a home in California and start a future together with Lee, at least until she discovers that perhaps perfect domesticity is not at all what she wants.  Muriel is a woman who lost her mother young and cut adrift, follows the script that was left for her. She finds a serious young man back from the war and sets about building a world of obligations to tie herself down and build walls so that her life will make sense again. It doesn’t begin to become about joy until she discovers that the otherness she admires in Julius is in her too.

Meanwhile, Julius is a man only at home on the edges. The war and the difficulties he faced in the navy due to his closeted lifestyle have made him cynical and unwilling to settle. He spends much of the book fruitlessly chasing after his gay lover in a search that is both haunting and endlessly hopeful.

The book is a beautiful read, lyrical and evocative even as it takes the post-war idealism and scratches away the gilt, looking straight into the eyes of atomic tests, the rapidly chilling cold war, gay men struggling to not be constantly at the fringes, and women striving to be seen.

I admit that I spent much of the book in pleasant confusion, drifting along on the lyricism and sweet melancholy. I also despite my best efforts began to dislike Julius, I kept wanting him to take charge of his life, instead of repeating the same mistakes, but that didn’t happen, and honestly, I don’t think it should have, that’s not what his story was about. On the other hand, I was deeply engrossed in and enchanted with Muriel’s journey of self-discovery, her bald fearlessness, and her determination.

If you like historical fiction from this era I cannot recommend it enough, it’s really a peek behind the curtain of all the huge momentous happenings of the era into the smaller happenings of little lives that are just as momentous. I’ll also say I went into the book knowing I’d rather burn money than gamble with it, so while the window into the world of gambling and betting was fascinating it really only cemented my desire to never ever gamble.

Buba’s Book Reviews: Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

Title: Salt Slow

Author:Julia Armfield

Genre: Sci-Fi, Lesbian Literature

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Publication date: May 28, 2019

Rating: 8/10


I want to preface this review with the statement that I don’t normally enjoy horror. I hate how women become objects for punishment and titillating unnecessarily graphic violence. I often find the character’s decisions stupid and lacking a blind chicken’s sense of self-preservation.

Salt Slow, a collection of eerie, horror-tilted, speculative fiction short stories by Julia Armfield has none of the shortfalls that often make me put aside stories of this theme.

The titles include


The Great Awake

The Collectables

Formerly Feral

Stop your women’s ears with wax



Cassandra After salt slow

All of these stories explore with lyrical sensitivity and raw feeling a different facet of uniquely feminine horror. Despite this, there is an undeniable sense of empowerment. There is also a delightfully bald-faced assumption that women prefer the company of other women as friends and as lovers. In a wash of books and horror where heteronormativity is not just the norm its a staple, this was a refreshing delight.

In these stories, women are not the beautiful punching bags of loved ones or masked men or horrors unspeakable. In these stories, girls metamorphosize from struggling disjointed girlhood into beautiful monsters themselves and devour the boys pressuring them for sex. Women are allowed to embrace the grotesque and heedlessly follow an all-woman band of beings, guised as humans, whose siren songs urge their all-girl roadies to turn Maenad, like the wine and blood mad followers of Dionysus. They wreak unspeakable horrors on the men around them in paroxysms of joy. There was something almost Morrigan and threefold goddess about the band that fascinated me. I think it was the crow feathers and the whispers of murder and atrocity that follows in their wake like bloody streamers.

This is a collection of stories for every woman who’s struggled with the grotesque realities of life. They are as much about metaphor as the speculative monster being unveiled one layer at a time. The entire collection is threaded together with little callbacks to other stories, like echoes. There is a fascination with curiously clinical collective nouns, such as smack of jellyfish and an intentional lyricism and beauty of language that makes the spare descriptions of dismemberment and ruin seem all the more shocking.

I cannot recommend this read enough, I hope it leaves you feeling strange and wistful and a little bit more monstrous.

Some Thoughts on Tiffany Aching: A Hero for Young Bookish Girls Part 1

In the light of the terrifying conflict that seems to be once more looming in the horizon, I decided I would return to one of those series that reminds me we have the power to make our own good in the world. Since the new-year I’ve read The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett.

I cannot stress enough how Tiffany Aching and Sir Terry’s absolutely lovely bildungsroman shaped the way I thought about the world. When they came out I was growing up with Tiffany.  Tiffany Aching was exactly what small, bookish, bullied, young-me needed. She had read the entire dictionary back to front and was a bit annoying with this information, but no one was cruel to her for it. She liked things to be correct. She read stories and thought things like:

“She couldn’t be the prince, and she’d never be a princess, and she didn’t want to be a woodcutter, so she’d be the witch and know things.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

I also wanted to know things. And from that moment I was hooked. These books were a cornerstone of my growing up. They feel particularly timely at the moment. They breathe hope back into my disenchantment with the world. These books really equip you in just a few short words with all the grit that you need to face down nightmares with nothing but a frying pan.


Title: The Wee Free Men

Author: Terry Pratchett

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication date: 2003

Rating: 9/10


For those unfamiliar in the Wee Free Men, Tiffany at 9 years old discovers the Queen of the Fairies is trying to bring her court of nightmares into her home, the human world, the Chalk. After beating an evil water spirit in the head with a frying pan and staring down the headless horseman her little brother is stolen away by the queen, and with the help of the Wee Free Men, little blue pictsies, and a frog that was once a lawyer, Tiffany has to save him.

I think my biggest takeaway from the book today is that you can’t wait for someone else who will know how to do the job better. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got, even if that’s just a frying pan and a book about diseases of the sheep.

You have a duty in the face of evil. In the words of Sir Terry:

“’All the monsters are coming back.’


‘There’s no one to stop them.’

There was silence for a moment.

‘There’s me,’ she said.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

The second thing I learned from this book, which has stuck with me all my life, is that humans are not intrinsically good or kind, in fact we are largely selfish. But we can choose not to let this tendency make us terrible people. There is tremendous power in intentionally deciding to be good and kind to those around us.

 “All witches are selfish, the Queen had said.

But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

I have a duty!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

I still weep reading these lines. The world today makes it so easy to curl up against the endless stream of terrible news and do nothing, to lean into cynicism and pettiness, but there is so much more power to be had in standing up against it, and choosing to do what’s right, even if it will only help in the smallest way.

On that thought let me leave you with this, where Tiffany tells Miss Tick about an old woman who was burned out of her home because the people thought she was a witch.

“I bet Mrs Snapperly had no teeth and talked to herself, right?” said Miss Tick.

“Yes. And she had a cat. And a squint,” said Tiffany. And then it all came out in a rush: “And so after he vanished, they went to her cottage and they looked in the oven and they dug up her garden and they threw stones at her old cat until it died and they turned her out of her cottage and piled u pall her old books in the middle of the room and set fire to them and burned the place to the ground and everyone said she was an old witch.”

“They burned the books,” said Miss Tick in a flat voice.

“Because they said they had old writing in them,” said Tiffany. “And pictures of stars.”

“And when you went to look, did they?” said Miss Tick.

Tiffany suddenly felt cold. “How did you know?” she said.

“I’m good at listening. Well, did they?”

Tiffany sighed. “Yes, I went to the cottage next day, and some of the pages, you know, had kind of floated up in the heat? And I found a part of one, and it had all old lettering and gold and blue edging. And I buried her cat.”

“You buried the cat?”

“Yes! Someone had to!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men


Title: A Hat Full of Sky

Author: Terry Pratchett

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication date: 2004

Rating: 7/10


In A Hat Full of Sky Tiffany now 11 goes away from her home on the Chalk to study witchcraft with Miss Level, in the mountains, she learns that real witching is mainly just helping folks. Unfortunately she is pursued by a Hiver, a creature which takes over the minds of the powerful to hide in their bodies, slowly driving them mad. After she is taken over, with a lot of grit, the power of the land, and the help of the Nac Mac Feegal she is able not only to free herself from the Hiver, but to save the monster from its eternal fear.

In this book the theme of community is stressed, while we are reminded, up close and personal how not pleasant that community can be. But that

“someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky


“You can’t not help people just because they’re stupid or forgetful or unpleasant… If I don’t help them, who will?”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I think the American mindset in particular can get very hung up on people needing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and that you are only responsible for you, and individualism and forget that we are each of us part of a community and we have a duty to those in our communities who struggle.

In A Hat Full of Sky you are reminded

“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

In a world that so often doesn’t seem fair or right, there is something so important about this reminder that we can all do something about it, that every little step in the right direction helps.


“Even if it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

It is also a story of belonging and power and respect. Tiffany is becoming a young witch to be respected instead of a child who has stumbled into a situation with no one else to lean on.

After all,

“ Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

Right now I have The Wintersmith on hold on my library app, so until part 2 then… be kind, even when you don’t want to. Do what you can because you are there and you can help, even if only in a small way, and never give up hope.

P.S. if any of you lovelies want to get me a shirt or mug with

“Be the witch and know things.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

Printed on it, I think it’s so much better than the GoT version.

Buba’s Book Reviews: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

Title: Tempests and Slaughter

Author: Tamora Pierce

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication date: February 2018


After literally 8 months on hold, I finally got my hands on my library’s audiobook copy of Tamora Pierce’s Tempests and Slaughter. (I spend nearly two hours of my workday commuting. Most of my reading these days, that isn’t for CPs, is in audiobook form) I cannot tell you how hyped I was about getting back into the Tortall universe. I re-read the Song of the Lioness and the Wild Magic Quartets several times a year. I’m pretty sure I sold my heart and soul to Pierce as a kid. The magic and adventure in her worlds were a favored refuge to someone who was an ugly duckling for years. So let me tell you finally getting to see baby Numair Salmalín, i.e. Arram Draper before he gets his fancy new proper mage name was the best Christmas treat.

I want to start with the fact that you in no way need to have read any other Tortall books to jump right into this one, but knowing the end of the story added a richness to the experience. I wondered if Pierce would be able to make the Empire of Carthak with all the rich history we know from all her many books come through without feeling like an info dump, but as always I should never have doubted Pierce. The many cultures and traditions of Carthak, even the problematic ones like the realities of empire, and slavery, really come alive through the eyes of Arram Draper a precocious young mage from Tyra, sent to study at the school of mages in Carthak after he sets fire to one too many of his parent’s workshops.

The knowledge that this small, awkward maglet becomes one of the most feared black mages on the continent, and a steady teacher for our heroine Daine was fantastic. You can see threads of the honorable man he becomes in a child who is sick with fear for his gladiator friend, Sarge, who is forced to fight in the arena.

Everything about Arram’s early struggles to make friends as the youngest student ever admitted to the school really resonated with my experience as a gifted kid who was put through a lot of grade skips and advanced classes growing up. Right down to those nerve-wracking ones where they’ve given up trying to find other students to teach with you and it’s just you and the master. I was really happy that, unlike me, Arram soon finds a pair of other gifted kids Prince Ozorne (the leftover prince who becomes the emperor Mage), and Varice (A gifted mage and self-proclaimed kitchen witch whose affection both boys vie for).  Both Ozorne and Varice challenge Arram in different ways and one can see the effect all three have on each other as they grow through the book

The main focus of the book is on the boys Arram and Ozorne, who are roommates, and for a long time nigh on inseparable. But as the pair experiences different tragedies and triumphs there is always the foreboding sense of knowing, how it all ends, the yet unknown betrayal, the run into exile and Numair’s student bringing about the end of the reign of the Emperor Mage. It’s like when you’re watching the star wars prequels and the imperial march starts playing. It was exactly the shiver down your spine you needed while enjoying what is otherwise a very fun book about 3 kids in a magical school full of delightful things such as lightning snakes, crocodile gods tricking you into caring for mystical firebirds, mysterious yet benevolent old mages muttering cryptically, and of course baby mage disasters such as flooding your classroom and uncontrollable fireballs.

I was also very interested to see Arram taking an interest in healing, in my memory of adult Numair, he was the slightly mad scientist and Alanna was the healer, learning that Numair actually has years of healing training and is bowing to Alanna’s greater affinity and skill was a fascinating insight to their relationship.

In Tempest and Slaughter, there were times when it almost felt like one of the Emelan universe books, which have so much more focus on magic and mages. Rather than on the kind of sword and adventure stories, Tortall focuses on. Now that I say it I know Arram with his fascination with wild magic would kill for a day in Winding Circle, he and Tris could even take their noses out of books for a moment to play in the lightning together. Oh boy, if I’m not careful that will be a whole fic I need to write, so back to the book review.

Read Tempest and Slaughter, it’s a fantastic romp through another one of the rich cultures Pierce has so lovingly crafted. I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the next book so we can see what great betrayal awaits our star-crossed pair, the Emperor Mage and his best friend and advisor, destined to be each other’s doom.

Rating: 8/10 

If you are new to Pierce’s work or also a life-long fan tell me about it! I’m dying to gush about this book some more, and need only the slightest encouragement.