The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

Middle grade fantasy novel, 2020, HarperCollins

Read 9/18/2022, e-audio, first read

A Malaysian folk tale comes to life in this emotionally layered, chilling middle grade debut, perfect for fans of The Book of Boy and The Jumbies.

Suraya is delighted when her witch grandmother gifts her a pelesit. She names her ghostly companion Pink, and the two quickly become inseparable.

But Suraya doesn’t know that pelesits have a dark side—and when Pink’s shadows threaten to consume them both, they must find enough light to survive . . . before they are both lost to the darkness. (source)

Hanna Alkaf’s debut middle grade novel has been on my to-read list since it came out in 2020. I’m glad I picked it up at last! The Girl and the Ghost is a deliciously spooky story set in Malaysia and based on Malaysian folktales. 

The narrative alternates between Pink (the pelesit) and Suraya (the girl). They’re both engaging characters with very different perspectives on the world. 

As the story unfolds, we understand the ways that the history of Suraya’s grandmother and mother have spread like ripples to affect Suraya and Pink as well. I’ve seen the edges of some discussions about the way recent movies for kids engage with generational trauma and those themes seem very pertinent here as well. 

Personally, I felt that Hanna weaves a nice balance between remaining in the child’s perspective and allowing enough hints for readers to understand that we’re not seeing the whole picture. And the facts of Pink’s life, death, and afterlife are slowly revealed in a way that was very effective. Hanna doesn’t absolve him for the hurt that he’s caused, but she also shows the reasons behind it. 

I would absolutely recommend this book for fans of spooky mysteries that are strong in character and voice. 

Other reviews

The Quiet Pond




Saturday Reflection: 9.18.2021

A mug of coffee with a frothy top sitting on a wooden table

Hello, friends! I thought I might try out a new thing here, namely an occasional Saturday post that’s a space to share what we’ve been reading and thinking about this week. I’m drinking a fancy homemade coffee (a milk frother is truly a wonderful invention) and I’m about to start a groupwatch of Nirvana in Fire.

I’m almost finished rereading Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold. I had, uh, forgotten that the plot involves a deadly microbe. This bit struck me as a little too resonant in September 2021:

He suppressed his unstrung urge to explain to them Bel’s superior right, by old valor and love, to survive. Futile. He might as well rail at the microbes themselves. Even the Cetagandans had not yet devised a weapon that triaged for virtue before slaughtering its victims.


I’m in a bit of a rereading mood at the moment. I was just talking to my friend Kate (hi Kate!) about how the return of fall makes us want to pick up familiar books. I often try to read some Tam Lin retellings in September and October, so I’m trying to decide which one I should go for first. Or should I buck tradition altogether and read The Girls at the Kingfisher Club on the grounds that it’s been too long?

Fall also means folk rock around here. I’ve been listening to a lot of Steeleye Span in the car. I have to be in a truly majestically bad mood to resist the charms of Cam Ye O’er Frae France. Offa Rex, Pentangle, and Fairport Convention are also favorites.

My groupwatch is about to start (so excited!) so I’ll sign off for now, but please tell me all about what you’re reading and/or enjoying right now!


August 2021 Books

What I read

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian

Lightfall by Tim Probert

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

All in all, this was a fairly successful reading month! I loved Darius the Great Deserves Better (not a surprise, as the first book is one of my favorites from the past few years) and liked Hani & Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating quite a bit. Right now, contemporary YA seems to be more my speed than YA fantasy. It feels weird, but here we are!

I have to admit that I was less wild about The Queer Principles of Kit Webb. The premise was great and I liked the beginning quite a bit, but the emotional heft of the book just never quite landed for me.

Lightfall is a juvenile graphic novel with lovely art and an intriguing world. As an adult reader, I wished the story had advanced a little farther at the end, but I think it’s probably just read for the 8-12 crowd.


Sanity & Tallulah: Field Trip by Molly Brooks

Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds

Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold

Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison


Maureen’s favorite Untamed fics

I disappeared for six months and now I’m reappearing with a different sort of post! I have not forgotten about this poor, neglected blog but it’s been hard to find the time and mental space to write here. For now, probably the most regularly updated place I’m writing in is my newsletter. Also, I got very into The Untamed and here we are! If you are not into The Untamed, feel free to skip the rest of this post. I will be back here sooner or later. ❤

I have read a lot of fic for The Untamed and I wanted to share some of my favorites. These are chosen according to my personal taste, but I hope you find something you like! If you are looking for a starter pack, I highly recommend my friend forestofglory’s post here, and her thread on fic featuring women here. I am also only including completed works here, but I’ll add new titles as I read them/as they’re finished.

Duckling Content

How much do I love the ducklings? A LOT. 


A Civil Combpaign” | Ariaste | 19k | teen

This is one of the first Untamed fics I read after finishing the show and I love it so much. Jin Ling tries to reason himself through arranging a marriage with Sizhui and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Featuring: great uncle content, combs good, and the immortal line, “Ah, it is barren and empty, like my heart.” Plus the title is a Bujold reference, so how could I possibly resist? Follow it up with “Beseiged” (see below).


I want to spit out my heart” | annadream | 3k | general

Poor little angsty Jin Ling! I would like to squish his angsty sweet face and give him a hug. But don’t worry, Wei Wuxian will take care of that for us. 


The Absolutely True Story of the Yiling Patriarch: A Manifesto in Many Parts” | aubreyli | 19k | teen 

Post-canon, the ducklings are absolutely over the fact that Wei Wuxian and Hanguang-jun aren’t together when clearly they should be. So they write and publish a book that fixes that small detail! This is absolutely delightful and charming, and I speak as someone who does not enjoy RPF, like, at all. Features: Ouyang Zizhen being his most romantic self, Sizhui reluctantly roped into everyone’s nonsense again. 


seclusion, inclusion” | esmeraldablazingsky | 3k | general

Post-canon, the ducklings gently bully Lan Xichen into being a little more okay by cooking for him. This is just so sweet and I love how it plays with the theme of caring for someone by feeding them that runs through the show. Also features a flustered Lan Qiren. 

Extremely Married WangXian

I know they get married. You know they get married. Have some husbands doing their thing. 


Beseiged” | Ariaste | 11k | mature

Sequel to “A Civil Combpaign” and you probably should read that one first, really. I love the way Wei Wuxian is really attuned to Lan Zhan’s feelings in this one, while also trying to balance his care for Jin Ling and Suzhui. It’s a bit angstier than the first story, but also just really lovely. Featuring: my favorite tag (“wei wuxian’s avuncular powers”), weird negotiations, and WWX breaking into the library to study, because of course.


The only way out” | cafecliche | 12k | teen

This could just as easily go under the next category, because it’s all about Lan Zhan and Jiang Cheng learning to be a family for Wei Wuxian’s sake. But the appeal of it for me, besides being a sucker for the Yunmeng siblings reconciliation, is the way it shows Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan as husbands. Also features some amazing Jingyi sass for those of you who are fans of the loudest Lan.


Linger in the sun” | etymologyplayground | 39k | teen

Okay, technically they’re not quite married here, sort of. It’s complicated. Anyway, this is a really feelingsy casefic with a bonus alligator and some sibling stuff with Jiang Cheng just for extra emotions, I guess. A nice Teacher Wei Wuxian one! 


The Guests of Cloud Recesses” | cafecliche | 10k | teen

Post-canon, Wei Wuxian wakes up one night and sees a ghost in the Jingshi. One of the things I love about our disaster child is how immediately he wants to help people who need it. That really comes through here. It’s a lovely exploration of how he feels about Lan Zhan as well, AND has some really nice stuff with Sizhui.  

Family is hard and sometimes beautiful

A collection of fics about the various family relationships in the show. 


Nidicolous” | dorkangel | 2k | general

A short one about Lan Zhan raising Sizhui. It’s melancholy but also does a great job exploring how Lan Zhan wants to do better for the next generation. 


Gathered herbs & sweet grasses” | hansbekhart |19k | not rated

Another exploration of Lan Zhan raising Sizhui. I love this one a lot and although it is really, really sad in a lot of ways, there’s also a sense of tenderness and even hope. There’s one line that just lifts the whole thing beautifully (you’ll know it when you get there). 


filled with gold” | lily_winterwood | 4k | teen

Post-canon, Jiang Cheng and Wei Wuxian reluctantly team up to save Jin Ling and end up having to actually talk instead. Just the worst, really. 


tintinnabulum” |  respira | 8k | teen

Jiang Cheng learns how to be a good uncle and how to make amends. I really liked how this one had him work through both the ways he’s been hurt and the ways he’s hurt others and the last scene maaay have made me cry. 

Modern AUs

At first I wasn’t that into modern AUs in this universe, but they’ve gradually crept into my heart and now several of these are some of my all-time favorites. Growth, I guess?!


The Simplest Way Forward” | harrietvane | 71k | explicit

This is probably my favorite modern AU; A-Yuan gets dumped on Wei Ying by a distant cousin and Lan Zhan offers to marry him for legal reasons. It’s really sweet and funny, and I love the way the relationship unfolds. 


Unstrictly Ballroom” | ariaste | 47k | teen

Yes, they’re all competitive ballroom dancers, except for Wei Wuxian, who’s a disgraced former competitive ballroom dancer. The setup sounds lightish, but there are a ton of feelings here. Also the dancing is used really, really well, I think. It also features one of my favorite sub-tropes: Teacher Wei Wuxian. 


through a window softly” | impossibletruths  | 14k  | teen

I just read this one recently but it totally charmed me. Wei Wuxian as a grad school music education student, who starts playing duets with a mysterious violinist. It’s sweet and light but really lovely. 


请兔子吃晚饭; treating a bunny to dinner” | yiqie | 5k | teen 

A sweet little modern AU where Wei Wuxian invites Lan Zhan to Korean barbecue, not realizing he’s a vegetarian. This is very much on the fluffy side and sometimes that’s exactly what you need. 


plant a little happiness (let the roots run deep)” | fleurdeliser | 47k | explicit

Doctor Wei Wuxian moves back to Gusu 13 years later and promptly helps Jingyi and Sizhui after they get in an accident. This is one of my favorite longer modern AUs–it is a bit angsty and also very tender, and I just really like it.  


 “one good thing” | Yuu_chi | 27k | teen

This is a modern AU where Wei Wuxian is haunting his childhood home and then Lan Zhan moves in. It’s very, very, very good and very, very full of feelings. Like I cannot overstate how many feelings. It’s a lot, but the end is beautiful.  


Out of the bin and into your heart” | alaceron | 27k | teen

Fake dating AU, FAKE DATING AU!! I love this one quite a bit, not the least for the absolutely amazing puns on Hanguang-jun. I love the cultural details as well, and the narrative style is just a perfect balance of fun and feelings. 


This show is absolutely rife with great post-canon possibilities. I especially love the epistolary ones, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of them. These are mostly WangXian specific, although there’s some good duckling stuff in a lot of them too. 


爱不释手; never let me go” | yiqie | 68k | explicit

A post-canon casefic with feeeeeelings. This one is quite angsty, but I love the eventual resolution and the way the case and the emotional plot are woven together. Also features some great duckling content and I’m always here for that. 


No more looking, I’ve found home” | annadream | 3.5K | general

Post-canon fic for The Untamed lends itself so well to epistolary stories, and I love those. This one is a particularly nice version from Lan Zhan’s perspective. 


It’s Only Time” | etymologyplayground | 8k | teen

Another epistolary rec, which features letters from both Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan! I liked that tweak quite a bit. And I enjoy the idea that Lan Zhan is more verbose and eloquent on paper than he allows himself to be in verbal communications. 


my age has never made me wise” | idrilka | 63k | explicit

Oh ho ho, my friends, have some feelings. Wei Wuxian travels around post-episode 50 and uh, somehow is still very oblivious? I will admit that I personally do not think he is ever actually this oblivious, but I’m not going to argue with the results here. Features: a Significant Comb and some nice duckling content. 


I hope that you will come and meet me” | feyburner | 28k | mature

I’ve already mentioned that I love the epistolary post-canon fics several times, and I’ll be honest–I think the way this one weaves the letters into the rest of the story is absolutely amazing. It really deepens the emotional journey and it’s just lovely, and sad, and tender all at once. It’s from Wei Wuxian’s point of view and I think the author really captures his inner landscape. 


蓝色生死恋; a blue love (to live and to die for)” | yiqie | 24k | mature

I like this one mostly for the ways it manages to acknowledge the shadows of the past while still being very hopeful. Also, A+ Sizhui content, which, in case it wasn’t obvious, is one of my favorite things. 


let me come home” | cafecliche | 4k | general 

Little vignettes of Lan Zhan and Wei Wuxian as they travel around post-canon. I love this one for the way it draws together some of the relationship strands. Also, I really enjoy Lan Zhan’s sense of humor here. 

But What About The Ladies

I just have umpty-million feelings about the female characters on The Untamed. So here are some of my favorite fics centered on them & their stories. 


Spring’s Greening” | Shadaras | 600 words | general

I will restrain myself and not go on my rant about the lack of Lan Yi fic available when she is RIGHT THERE, and amazing and beautiful and all. But anyway, this is a lovely short fic from her point of view. 


Arpeggio” | Shadaras | 1k | teen

More Baoshan Sanren/Lan Yi content! I love the way this one depicts their partnership and the process of Lan Yi’s invention. 


Time held me green and dying” | twigofwillow | 1k | general

This is a self-rec because I’m going to be obnoxious for a second and say that I just really loved writing this and also (see above) I love Lan Yi and wanted to give her a second chance. 


Bloom in darkness” | EHyde | 1.8k | general

Oh, this one is really sad, and also so good. Fierce corpse Yanli tries to come to terms with her second life and her current family. This line is what hooked me: “You know that soup cannot mend a family, not one as broken as this, but even so, you’re going to try.”


My home is not a place, it is people” | forestofglory | 10k | general 

Wen Qing survives the Jin dungeons and finds a new life. I love the way this one explores the ripple effect of the characters’ choices in canon.


Written, never said” | sandorara | 6k | general

Mianmian and Lan Wangji correspond during the years Wei Wuxian is dead. I loved the way this gave me a different perspective on both of them, and the careful friendship they build together. 


A Simpler World” | GrapefruitSketches | 1.8k | general

A short fic from Mianmian’s perspective as she adjusts to life after leaving Carp Tower. I love the subtle way this deals with her changing perspectives on herself and the world. 

Non-modern AUs

When I was putting this list together, I ended up surprised at how many of these I found in my bookmarks. They take place across a variety of settings, some mashups and some canon-divergent. 


Rare the man who’ll hold to faith” | fahye | 13k | mature

Okay, if you just said, hey Maureen, WangXian + Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I might be a tad dubious. But this works. It works so well. It actually manages to be totally satisfying and revelatory as both an Untamed fic AND a Gawain fic? I don’t know. Trust me. 


what else is there?” | mme_anxious | 12k | teen

AU where Meng Yao turns Lan Wangji and Jon Zixuan into swans. Somehow this is super intense and beautiful? Lan Wangji is just always stubborn and intent, even when he’s a swan most of the time.  


asymptotic” | chinxe | 26k | teen

AU where Wei Wuxian died as a rogue cultivator and his spirit answers Lan Zhan’ Inquiry. This is sweet and sad and weaves around canon in some interesting ways. It’s from Lan Zhan’s point of view as well, which I think really works for this story. 


the way to purpose” | dea_liberty | 5k | mature

I get really sad whenever I think about Song Lan and Xiao Xingchen, so I’m glad this short but very satisfying fix-it fic exists. 


seldom all they seem” | fahye | 24k | explicit

AU where Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji have an arranged marriage. I love this one mostly for the way it explores the role of the Lan principles in Lan Zhan’s life and lets them be important to him.  



Weekly reading review: 1/20-1/26

Books finished

The Dinosaur Artist by Paige Williams: I found this one really fascinating and complex. Without knowing a lot of the background, I thought Williams did a decent job at boiling down some big themes and pieces of background to make sense of why this was a big deal. I did find the end, with its abrupt switch to a more personal tone regarding Eric Prokopi and his family a bit jarring. But overall, this one is recommended!

Sanity and Tallulah by Molly Brooks: Awwwww, what an adorable graphic novel! I loved the visuals of the space stations and ships, the humor, and the friendship between the two main characters. Totally recommended, especially for the Lumberjanes/Noelle Stevenson fans.

Currently Reading

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis: A follow-up to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart; it feels a bit different tonally but a smart and thoughtful fantasy.

What I’m reading next

The Spy with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton


I’m trying a new approach to my active to-read pile. We’ll see how well it works (so I won’t talk about it just yet). Do you have a system for deciding what books to read next? Or do you pick up whatever you’re in the mood for?



The end of Summer Reading intensity hit me with a vengeance at the beginning of July, and then I was in a friend’s wedding on Sunday. It was beautiful! (No surprise, since this friend is someone who’s very good at creating beauty wherever she goes.) But between Summer Reading and the wedding, I didn’t have a lot of brain space left for blogging.

All that to say, regular posting should be back soon. For now, here are the leftover flowers I took home and am still enjoying.


Recent links: 4-27

The underrated pleasures of Eastern European dumplings

A new interview with Rhiannon Giddens, who’s one of my favorite current musicians

On a less happy note, this idea is a big old NOPE from me; as I said on Twitter, this is why “but their careers!” is such a disingenuous and ridiculous defense. Their careers are fine, even when they shouldn’t be. They’ll get another chance. The people they hurt won’t.

I answered some questions about books on Twitter!

New Noel Streatfeild books! Ahhhhh!!



Glimpse of Augusts past

With what is now over eleven years of blogging experience, it can be easy sometimes to write posts and then never think about them again. I’m planning to semi-regularly link to old blog posts in the month they were first published and thought I might as well start now.


Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

The Exiles by Hilary McKay


Books of a Feather (three books I had mixed feelings about)


The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson


Two middle grade books from Filipino writers

Characters in exile (two books by Andrea K Höst)


Books I’d assign for Worldbuilding 202


Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

Josephine Tey Reading Notes: The Daughter of Time

Josephine Tey Reading Notes: All the other ones

Josephine Tey Reading Notes: A Shilling for Candles

Favorite scifi from the last five years

Landscape and Character

“One the one hand lies darkness, and on the other only hope”: why I love Galadriel

(who were you, 2016 Maureen??)

bookish posts reviews Uncategorized

Star Wars: Razor’s Edge and Rebel Rising

rebel risingI have to admit that I haven’t historically been a big reader of Star Wars tie-ins, despite loving the movies. But I’ve read several I liked recently, starting with EK Johnston’s Ahsoka.

Martha Wells’ Razor’s Edge has the advantage of being written by an author whose books I really, really like, and of being about Leia (my favorite character). I was initially slightly disoriented because for some reason I thought this took place after the end of the original trilogy. It’s actually between New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. It’s a relatively standalone adventure, featuring space pirates plus some fun banter between Han and Leia.

I really liked the way Wells shades in Leia’s competence–she’s shown to be a great negotiator and diplomat–but also her vulnerability–she feels incredibly responsible for the survivors of Alderaan. It’s a Leia that fits the movies while also giving an added sense of interority to the quippy Princess. This is enjoyable, although I didn’t feel that it ever reached the emotional depths of Wells’ strongest character work (Tremaiiiiine). At the same time, Razor’s Edge is a solid and thoughtful look at echoes from Leia’s past as well as her growing competence and strength.

While Razor’s Edge was published as an adult book, Beth Revis’s recent Rebel Rising is being published and marketed as YA. Telling Jyn Erso’s backstory, interspersed with scenes from Wobani, it goes a long way towards making her a slightly more coherent character than Rogue One was able to achieve.

This Jyn is shattered by the loss of her parents and then by subsequent loss after loss after loss. It’s grim, but we really do come to see the reason of her lack of hope. And we also see her talents as well as the training that made her one of Saw’s best fighters.

Saw himself emerges as a complex figure, and the book does a nice job of showing how his distrust and paranoia grow over Jyn’s years with him. I can’t say the male/female ratio is better than in Rogue One, but we do see a bit more of Lyra’s importance to her daughter, which is nice. (I still long for the AU where Lyra’s the scientist the Empire wants.)

There are a few inconsistencies that bothered me a bit, and the story felt long in places. Despite those quibbles, Rebel Rising is a solid YA that gives us better insight into Jyn and her motivations and background.


Guest post for Women in SF&F Month

I’ve got a guest post up today for a great month-long series at the Fantasy Book Cafe about women in SFF. My post is about what I learned from six favorite authors who formed my sense of the genre. Do check out some of the other posts as well! They’re from a wide range of authors and critics.