Review: The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

May Contain Spoilers

Review by Poo Penny

Jing is first sold at 11 years old, at the insistence of her Aunt Mei, who I came to despise. She is sold as a bride-to-be to the Guo family for their 3 year old son, and it turns out he is quite nice to her, but everyone else in that family is horrible to her. One night during a ghost festival she learns that she can see and speak to jing, which are spirits that can be in animal or bug form, or… apparently any form in this book, later there is a tree form. I guess it is more accurate to say they reveal themselves to her, since her sister in law apparently heard one of the jing and freaked out. She endures most of her time there stoically, but when her sister in law accuses her of stealing, she is basically tortured. It was horrible, ugh!

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Cover Shot! The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained in the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Holy cow!  Once again, Jeannie Lin is blessed by the cover gods.  The cover for The Sword Dancer is gorgeous!  I love everything about it, and I can hardly wait to read this!  There aren’t enough romances set in Asia, let alone historicals,  so I’m happy every time I Jeannie has a new book coming out!

This hits stores in May

The Thief Who Stole His Heart

Sword dancer Li Feng is used to living life on the edge of the law—a woman alone in the dangerous world of the Tang Dynasty has only her whirlwind reflexes to trust. She will discover the truth about her past, even if that means outwitting the most feared thief-catcher of them all…

Relentless, handsome and determined, Han sees life—and love—as black and white. Until he finally captures the spirited, courageous Li Feng, who makes him question everything he thought he knew about right and wrong. Soon he’s faced with an impossible choice: betray the elusive sword dancer he is learning to love, or trust his long-disregarded heart and follow her to dangerous, tempting rebellion…

Review: My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin


Title: My Fair Concubine

Author: Jeannie Lin

Publisher: Harlequin

ISBN: 978-0373296941


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Yan Ling tries hard to be servile—it’s what’s expected of a girl of her class. Being intelligent and strong-minded, she finds it a constant battle.

Proud Fei Long is unimpressed by her spirit—until he realizes she’s the answer to his problems. He has to deliver the emperor a "princess." In two months can he train a tea girl to pass as a noblewoman?

Yet it’s hard to teach good etiquette when all Fei Long wants to do is break it, by taking this tea girl for his own….


I love historical romances, but I occasionally want a change of scenery from the flood of Regencies that crowd stores shelves.  Don’t get me wrong – I love a good house party as well as the next Regency junkie, but every now and again, I want something different.  I have always been interested in history, so I’m game to read a romance set in any time period.  My favorites are Greece, Rome, and Asia.  There are not enough books of any kind set in these locations, so when I saw Jeannie Lin’s latest release, a Harlequin Historical set in China during the Tang Dynasty, I was excited to check it out. 

First off, I wanted to comment on the cover.  It’s beautiful.  I love the pinks and the splashes of blue, but most of all, I love that the male looks Asian (the heroine, not so much, as her head is turned, I’ll give it the benefit of doubt).  I love his hair, I love his expression, and I love his armored tunic.  The cover is distinctive, and it made me look at it twice.  I don’t normally read the Harlequin Historical imprint; I’m not sure why, but I usually gloss over these titles every month, preferring to grab a couple contemporary romances instead.  This cover made me stop and want to read the book, because I could immediately determine that the setting wasn’t Europe or the American West.  Pubs, can we please have more diversity in romance, both in terms of characters and settings?

When Yan Ling is tossed out of the only home she has ever known because of her temper, she is forced to beg a favor from Fei Long, the man she dumped a pot of tea on and the reason she got herself into trouble in the first place.  Because Fei Long is in a pickle himself, he agrees to help Yan Ling in a moment of desperation.  His sister has run off with her lover, abandoning her duty to marry a Khitan tribal leader.  Now without a “princess” to present to the Khitan to cement their uneasy alliance with the Tang Empire, Fei Long fears that his family name will be shamed.  With nothing to lose, he convinces himself that he can teach the peasant Yan Ling to carry off an impossible ruse.  He will instruct her to be a lady, and pass her off as his missing sister Pearl.

Yan Ling’s act of temper opens up the world for her.  The tea girl finds herself traveling to the capital, away from the small village where she grew up.  Yan Ling has never known her parents; she was abandoned as an infant, and the owners of the tea house took her in.  She has known nothing but hard work, and the thought of being treated like a princess is so alluring that she can’t turn it down.  Not only will she have enough to eat, she’ll also have a warm place to sleep, and she’ll never have to work again.  But first she must learn to behave like a well-bred lady, and not a lowly tea girl.

Because of the class differences between Yan Ling and Fei Long, the romance is very subtle for most of the book.  There are forbidden glances, the tantalizing brush of fingers during writing lessons, the glimpse of a bare forearm.  The sexual tension tormented both characters, and it was a nice change of pace that they didn’t shed their clothes within the first ten pages.  I never considered how sensual the act of writing could be, but when Fei Long instructs Yan Ling how to write hanzi characters, the mere act of stroking the brush against the paper was transformed into a drool worthy exercise.  Think about it for a moment.  Fei Long’s strong hand directing Yan Ling’s clumsy fingers to sweep the brush against the paper with a bold flourish, his chest pressing ever so slightly against her slim back.  Yeah, sign me up for that, because the artistry of that scene was beautiful and poignant. 

I liked Yan Ling, and found her a feisty, sympathetic character.  While I liked Fei Long, too, there were times when I found him so frustrating.  He is an honorable man, and his family’s reputation means the world to him.  It is how he defines himself.  After his sister throws duty away to be with the man she loves, and after learning that his father wasn’t as disciplined with his own pleasures, Fei Long slips behind a unapproachable mask.  His father ran up a ruinous debt, and honor dictates that he pay it back.  He closes himself off from Yan Ling, shutting her out of his concerns and anxieties, as he takes on the weight of the world.  This leads him to make some very unwise decisions, and I wished he would just open up and let go of his constricting pride.

If you enjoy subtle, slow-burning romances, give My Fair Concubine a try.  If you are looking for something different, don’t look any further.  This was a quick enjoyable read.

Grade: B

In stores May 22, eBook available June 1

Review copy provided by author


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Interview with Jeannie Lin, Author of My Fair Concubine

Jeannie Lin is the author of My Fair Concubine, a Harlequin Historical with a oh so pretty cover.  This is her third book set in during the Tang Dynasty.  I get exhausted by the number of Regency romances released every month, so it’s exciting to see a historical romance that tackles a different time period, as well as a setting other than Europe or the American West.  I was delighted when Jeannie took the time to drop by the virtual offices to chat about her book – check out what she has to say!  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Jeannie Lin] Twin mommy and ex-high school science/technology teacher turned romance author. I’m a bit of a geek and a sentimental fool.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about  My Fair Concubine?

[Jeannie Lin] My Fair Concubine is a Tang Dynasty twist on the classic "My Fair Lady." In the 9th century, the Chinese imperial court would send "princesses" off to foreign kingdoms in a practice called heqin, which means peace marriage. What the barbarians didn’t know was that these princesses were often concubines or daughters of noble families rather than true royalty. In My Fair Concubine, Fei Long is a nobleman who’s been put into a difficult position and has to train a tea house girl to become such an alliance bride. During the process, the two of them start falling in love, of course.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jeannie Lin] The My Fair Lady concept is a classic one for romance. It has wonderful elements of class conflict and commentary. For me, the idea actually revolved around first my research into the practice of heqin. Also, I knew that in Chinese opera, men traditionally played the female roles. I started forming this idea of a nobleman and his friends trying to train a commoner and a scene of a male actor trying to teach a young woman how to act, ironically, like a woman stuck with me.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?

[Jeannie Lin] This book was a little bit of a departure from my previous two novels. It was lighter in tone with some comic elements. I wanted to balance humor with deep emotion and historical detail. The sexual tension in the story was also understated and I wanted the right touch of romance. So the big challenge for me was how to execute this balancing act in a way that still yielded an emotionally satisfying and interesting story.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Yan Ling?

[Jeannie Lin] Hard-working, eager, lively

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Fei Long would never eat with his tea?

[Jeannie Lin] Hee hee…
Crab Rangoon, General Tso’s Chicken, Crumpets (because none of these are Chinese)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Jeannie Lin] I’m hugely influenced by the wuxia genre, specifically the movie adaptations of the books of Jin Yong. I also read Chinese poetry translated in English to get a feel for how the language is translated. Very often, I’ll get inspiration from the poetry, either from the tone, the imagery, or the subject matter. Historical research gives me many ideas, of course. And then the historical romance genre to top it all off. I love the sweeping historical romances that are full of adventure and angst.  

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jeannie Lin] My laptop. Coffee.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jeannie Lin] Broken by Megan Hart. I’m on a contemporary kick right now and Broken is exactly the sort of emotionally complex and psychologically deep erotica I love. It’s the second book of hers I’ve read and I love how Broken pushes the boundaries and poses difficult questions about love, loyalty and desire. It made me want to go and seek out everything she’s ever written. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jeannie Lin] The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It may be the book I’ve re-read most often. I read through all the S.E. Hinton books in middle school, but I loved her first book the most. I felt like all the others were fragments of that first one. I thought about this book. Kept it on my bed and read it whenever I had insomnia…which was often. I used to cry every time I read it.

I chose this book because the characters in it talked about Gone with the Wind and how the Southern gentlemen kept on riding off to die. I read Gone with the Wind because of it and GWTW is also one of my all time faves.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jeannie Lin] I’m a big foodie. I like to watch the Food Network, cook, look for new restaurants and bakeries to try, and of course eat!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jeannie Lin] I’m off and on Twitter all day since my day job has me online all the time. I also have a contact form on my website and actually have most of my correspondence with readers after I send out my monthly newsletter. That’s when readers tends to e-mail with little notes and comments or questions and it’s become  nice time to catch up with the long time subscribers.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

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