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A Darkly Beating Heart

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A time-travel story that alternates between modern day and 19th century Japan as one girl confronts the darkness lurking in her soul.

No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published October 25, 2016

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About the author

Lindsay Smith

45 books439 followers
Lindsay is the author of multiple novels for young adults, including Sekret and A Darkly Beating Heart, as well as the comic series Black Swan. She is the showrunner and lead writer for Serial Box's The Witch Who Came In From the Cold, a Publisher's Weekly Best Book of 2017. Her short stories and comics have appeared in the anthologies A Tyranny of Petticoats, Strange Romance Vol. 3, and Toil & Trouble and on Tor.com. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and dog.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 138 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
October 26, 2016
"I am nothingness. An empty vessel. The core of me is rotted away, and I can never get it back. There’s nothing left to fill me but anger. There’s nothing left for me to sense but pain.”

1 1/2 stars. What a weird, weird book. And not in a good way.

A Darkly Beating Heart is about Reiko, a bisexual, American-born daughter of Japanese parents. As we are repeatedly told, she is "full of hatred" and longs for revenge. The book opens with Reiko in Tokyo, Japan, where she has been sent to deal with her issues after attempting to hurt herself. Seems like questionable parenting to me, but whatever. When she visits the historic (and fictional) village of Kuramagi, she finds herself pulled back in time into the life of Miyu - someone whose lust for revenge may be even greater than her own.

Smith spends the first 10% of the book listing every Japanese stereotype and buzzword you can possibly imagine. Ramen, sushi, karaoke, manga, chopsticks, pachinko, Asahi beer, J-pop, playstation, kimonos, more ramen, sake, ikemen, cosplay, kawaii, shinto shrines, gyoza, white gloves, Gothic Lolitas, Final Fantasy, Malice Mizer, ema prayer boards, Suntory Boss, platform boots...

It's very awkward. It feels like the attempts of an American author to convince an American audience that the book is set in Japan. Rather like Kristoff's Stormdancer, though maybe worse. I'm not Japanese and have never been to Japan, but I find it very hard to believe that everyone just eats ramen and sushi (or sashimi) and drinks sake. Every single day. Oh, and Reiko's father works in tech, obviously.

But I think I could have overlooked that. The worst thing, for me, was how comically melodramatic Reiko's narrative is. The book doesn't give us reasons for anything for a long time; we are simply reminded every few pages that Reiko is burning with rage or some other dark/fiery/bloody metaphor for anger. She's unlikable and super angsty. Between her violent artwork and her like for black metal music, there's something so simplistic and cartoonish about her villainy.
“I will master Hideki’s path of vengeance. I will make everyone listen to the dark pounding of my heart."
“So what if I like boys and girls? What if I don’t like anyone at all?” The darkness flashes through me - the rivers and rivers of blood. I raise my hand in front of me and imagine it drenched in red.

Jeez. Calm thyself, oh angsty one. The atmosphere of the book simply isn't dark enough to carry Reiko's inner narrative. It feels out of place and just kind of funny.

As I touched upon above, very little is given up for a long time. I'm not a fan of most books that keep the reader completely in the dark until the very end - it's not compelling to me. I found it hard to care about Reiko when I had no idea why she was seething with hatred and plotting the deaths of everyone around her. And - to be honest - I still feel her reactions to be melodramatic and unwarranted.

Everything is revealed in the last few chapters and the story ends rather abruptly. It's messy, and some things were too neatly tied up without being adequately addressed. For such a dramatic book, it was hard to believe it could just end like that.

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Profile Image for Molly.
456 reviews128 followers
July 5, 2016
Huge thank you to Macmillan for sending me an ARC of this book for review!

Okay, so I know that this book doesn't come out until October, but I HAD to read it as soon as I got it. For those of you who DON'T know, I lived in Japan for seven years and I generally find a lot of issues with YA books set in Japan. I've kinda taken it upon myself to read them and pick them apart. So I went into this book both excited and leary because I don't believe that the author has actually lived or even spent a significant amount of time LIVING in Japan (I did read her author's note and she went there for a vacation, I know).

That said I REALLY enjoyed this book. This is the story of a troubled Japanese-American girl who goes to Japan to stay with her Uncle and cousin while she tries to work out her issues. She's waiting to hear back from colleges and planning her own perfect revenge against... well you find out later on who and why, but for most of the book you just get glimpses at those who wronged her.

Reiko is an angry girl. She's a cutter (trigger warning) and she spends A LOT of time thinking about how she's going to kill herself and get revenge on her ex-girlfriend, brother, parents, and later this extends to her cousin and friends. We find out that Reiko had a passionate relationship with a girl named Chloe who unleashed Reiko's dark artistic side. Reiko is swept up in Chloe's orbit and does thing that she normally wouldn't, which later gets her into a lot of trouble.

While in Japan Reiko works for her Uncle's web design company and spends time with her cousin and the other employees who are also employed by the cousin, Akiko, who is trying to become a J-Pop idol. Akiko has her own lifestyle brand that she's trying to sell via her youtube channel, blog, cell phone novel and website. The other employees are basically her entourage as she tries to find ways to get her name out there. And Akiko's boyfriend, who is a washed up idol himself, gets Akiko a gig at a culture festival in a remote Japanese village.

So the group travels to Kuramagi village where Reiko is swept away to another time, the Edo period, where she inhabits the body of a young woman who is filled with her own rage and revenge plots. Reiko loves being in Miyu's body and feeling all of Miyu's hate. At first, when Reiko time travels, she thinks that her antidepressants are making her crazy and she gets rid off them. But we later find out that something much more sinister is happening, something that happens every year at the festival, something that the village is desperately trying to stop.

So the story was good, I really enjoyed it. As for the writing I thought that the whole"I walk the path of vengeance, I must get my revenge" parts were a LITTLE heavy handed. Like, we got it, Reiko is angry. And while I liked the glimpses of what had happened, and we do get the full story by the end, I was sometimes frustrated that I didn't have a full picture and was just filling in gaps and wasn't quite sure if I was even right.

As for the Japanese aspects a lot of them were pitch perfect. My only two nitpicks are:

1. Why in the world did Smith keep using the world "pallet" for a futon!? This boggled my mind to no end. She uses TONS of Japanese words (well) in the text with either direct translation or translation that follows not too long after. But the entire time they were sleeping on "pallets". And I really don't see why the word futon wasn't just used, defined, and then used for the rest of the book.

2. Names. In Japan it's Surname followed by Given name. There are many different honorifics that are used much like Mr/Mrs, Sir/Ma'am etc. Usually these name conventions fall away around foreigners. In the group and at work they should have ALL been referring to each other by Last name + san. Instead they all use first names. I chalked this up to them being around Reiko and falling out of the convention because of her, but from my own experiences even around myself the Japanese people (especially while speaking Japanese) would not have used first names. So while Reiko was being called Reiko and using everyone's first names, Akiko would NOT have been calling Kenji by his first name unless they were VERY good friends and even then she probably should have added "kun".

And then in the Edo period it was very odd that everyone was again using first names. Especially for Miyu who was so hated. And she would not have called Jiro by his first name from the very start. I'm not even sure if she would have used it after they got closer.

So yeah, those were my only two real issues. The rest of the Japan stuff felt very authentic and true to my experiences as well as those around myself. I enjoyed that Smith didn't get too heavy with the "weird" Japan and that she really seemed to have a grasp on the lifestyle brand culture that Akiko was going for. Major props.
Profile Image for Dana.
440 reviews290 followers
December 22, 2016

Crazy Emo Girl moves to Japan to....be more emo. Whilst contemplating her existence she happens upon a literal link to the past and finds herself in the body of a fellow emo girl from centuries past.

The story itself felt like it would have been better served as a short story as not much happened in this. It had potential but the ending felt rushed, almost lazy to me.

For a character to have a huge change of heart, in my opinion they should experience something worthy of said change. Sudden and random epiphanies don't ring true for me.

Buy, Borrrow, or Bin Verdict: Bin

Check out more of my reviews here

Note: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for mith.
750 reviews258 followers
October 20, 2016
(hiya guys, you can also read my review on my blog if that's what you're into xo)

This book was weird. Net necessarily a bad weird, but not necessarily a good weird either.

I'm actually very conflicted on how (what, I suppose) I feel about this book. On one hand, it was a unique and refreshing read, something I'd never come across before. On the other, certain aspects of the story, such as characterisation and plot, kind of irked me.

Reiko is an angry girl. Things haven't gone well for her in the past and things aren't going well for her now. Ever since her ex girlfriend "dumped" her and got her in trouble, Reiko has been seeking revenge. And thinking about her death a lot, constantly saying it has to mean something.

When her cousin forces her to go to Kuramagi, a sleepy if old-fashioned, village, some weird stuff begins to happen. Because she's not Reiko, she's Miyu. And it isn't the modern world, it's the nineteenth century.

I don't know how many times I'm going to say this in the review, but Reiko is angry. Like, unhealthy angry. Like, I'm going to remind you twice, maybe four times, just how angry I am. And it doesn't even come off as edgy--it comes off as annoying.

I get it. Life's dealt you a fair amount of shit and you sure as hell don't want to just take it. You're in a country full of your history and you don't know the language. You're surrounded by people you hate with every fibre in your being. You hate your parents for not caring, your brother for not being there, your ex for being horrible.

But it got repetitive. It got strange. It got unnecessarily dramatic. It had me both eyeing the page oddly or rolling my eyes. Reiko came off as a really unlikable main character which makes me sad because it's not everyday where you meet a character like her. I mean, sure, you meet those full of revenge, but I was hoping Reiko would be a different character. And in the end, she was, but it wasn't a good kind.

You find out more about Reiko's past as the story progresses and that was kind of weird, seeing as how Reiko also spends time as Miyu. I sort of understood why Reiko used Miyu as an escape, but at the same time, she just continually made things worse for her and for Miyu. Both girls are pretty fucked up but Reiko kind of just got free reign when she was Miyu. She made some questionable decisions and well, I did like that she thought about what she'd done after she got back to herself, but it was still a stupid move.

Also, I kind of expected a bit more from the time travel aspect of the story. It was just simply going back and forth between modern time and the Edo period and that just didn't interest me enough.

And that ending. What the hell? It was so abrupt, so quick and for a character who imagined blood running down her hands and everyone around her dying, that cookie-cutter ending was just a bad call. Everything was suddenly explained and everything went well and it literally made no sense to me.

So, overall, 2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
316 reviews2,769 followers
October 21, 2016
Really dark and twisted Japanese time travel story.

Looking for diversity in all forms? This is the book for you. We follow self-harming, suicidal, bisexual, Japanese-American, Reiko in this story. Did that cover all forms of diversity? I believe so.

Reiko is one angry chick. She would have all ready offed herself if she didn't want her death to exact some serious vengeance on those who have wronged her and brought her to this point. Serious wrath there. So obviously we are dealing with some tough mental issues in this story about a 16 year old girl who, after a dramatic break up with her art camp girlfriend and some serious offense committed by her older army brother, is shipped off to her relatives in Japan to sort her shit out. (I'm going to leave that run on sentence in there as a tribute to my third grade self...get all the thoughts out in one breath tiny Chelsea!)

While in Japan she follows her aspiring J-Pop star cousin around to video shoots and is all around mopey and dismal. When they go to a music festival in a small and run down town she somehow transports herself back into the body of Miyu, another angry 16 year old girl in the Edo period of Japan. After experiencing both her own miserable life and the lifestyle of a teenage girl who has brought shame upon her family in 19th century Japan she decides exactly how she wants to exact her revenge in her own life and attempt to continue on as Miyu. As her plan progress we learn more about what made Reiko the way she is and that Miyu may not be the better option and is in fact an even more bitter person than herself.

Eery, dismal and off-putting, this story claws its way into your head and spits you out on the other side in the best possible way. I know this review makes it sound like a terrible experience but it haunts you when you're not reading it and it was also short enough to not push you into your own mental cycle. Satisfying ending and innovative short(?) story concept.
Profile Image for Rashika (is tired).
976 reviews712 followers
October 11, 2016
***This review has also been posted on Xpresso Reads

I don’t write in books and have become too lazy to keep an actual notepad by my side while I am reading but recently I decided that I wanted to do a better job of keeping track of my feels so when I write a review two weeks after I’ve read the book, I have something to jog up my memory. Sticky Notes were the answer. And while I did not tab the shit out of this book (or really any book because I am more of a reader than a note taker), I did tab a scene in this book and write OMG!!!

You were probably wondering where I was going with the whole insight into my reading process thing weren’t you? I AM SORRY. I felt like backstory was important just so you could kind of begin to understand the kind of book A Darkly Beating Heart is. One that inspires OMG!!! stickies.

Reiko is an unlikable MC. I did not like her for most of the book because she is not a nice person. She does not do nice things and has hurt people in the past just because she believed it was justified. To be fair, she has been wronged a whole lot in her short life but her approach to making things ‘even’ is NOT the best. The thing is, Reiko IS a well-written character. Even when it seems impossible to support or justify her cruelty, it is easy to understand her and see that underneath all the awfulness, she is just a girl who has been hurt by people who she should have been able to count on.

This however is not the story of how Reiko realizes that she needs to deal with her feelings in a healthy way, at least not at first. Reiko’s parents ship her off to Japan to stay with her relatives for the summer and hope that the change might help her feel less hatred in her heart. That doesn’t quite work because when Reiko and a bunch of people are visiting the village of Kuramagi, Reiko gets transported into the life of Myu, a girl living in 1862 who has even more anger issues than Reiko does. Instead of being a tad terrified by Myu, Reiko is comforted by the anger and finds herself seeking out this alternative life more and more until well… that would be a spoiler.

A Darkly Beating Heart does have a PNR element to it and the transition into ‘believing’ is actually beautiful. Reiko is completely thrown off when she is transported in time but she connects the dots little by little and in a realistic manner so it was easy to believe her and even easier to get behind the whole time travel aspect (because the way it works in this book is a little odd). For those of you who like a little bit more sci-fic in your time travel and less paranormal, you might have that aspect of the book a tad unsatisfying because it isn’t really explained. It kind of just happens and to immerse yourself in the book you have to let go of the fact that there is no real reason for why she is being transported in time (there is a pnr explanation but not anything more grounded in science.)

There is a slight romance factor to the book that is important in some ways. Reiko has a crush on a girl who works at their bed & breakfast and when Reiko is Miyu she is in love with this dude (I am so good with names. I remember everythingggg.) BASICALLY Reiko has a love interest but no real romance which makes sense because Reiko really isn’t ready to be in a relationship since she really cannot relate to other people.

The best part about this book is the plot. I say this as a plot person though and there are LOTS of things to appreciate about this book. I love that A Darkly Beating Heart doesn’t necessarily fit into one genre category. Its got time travel, a little bit of a mystery, a coming of age, HORROR! The various elements work well  together without losing their essence (I totally feel like I am judging food right now) and are combined perfectly. I LOVE the nail-biting, fast-paced nature of this book and I love the horror aspect that makes me want to curl into a ball but most of all, I love the journey of Reiko as a character (does this make me a character person? WHAT? I am a confused banana).

I do feel like this review is turning into a rambling mess so I am going to stop BUT you should definitely check this book out when it is out in the world and hopefully you’ll love it as much as I did.

Note that I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Alexa.
2,145 reviews11.3k followers
September 16, 2016
I'm torn between a 3.25-3.5 stars. While the story in this novel is something I could totally see as an anime, it is actually Reiko that I found super interesting. She's angry and confused and hellbent on revenge for the stuff she's gone through, and while it made her very prickly, it made me curious about who she was. It does resolve a bit too quickly, and it plays out in a way that I guessed out. But I found it impossible to stop (unless I had to), and I liked the depiction of Japan, and I thought it was a very different read :)
Profile Image for Lyn *GLITTER VIKING*.
345 reviews99 followers
February 12, 2017
Wow. I really wasn't expecting so many of the twists and the sudden changes. I really ended up loving this more than I thought I would. Lots of love for an unlikable MC. I just wish that there were a few more consequences for some of the actions. But overall, pretty solid story about hate and revenge.
Profile Image for Amanda [darjeeling_and_jade].
361 reviews59 followers
October 19, 2016
All reviews are first found on [a cup of tea and an armful of books].

This is a book I wrote off as one I’d have to read after it was published. I was pleasantly surprised when I was given an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, so this became an unexpected October read. Perfect for Halloween, because the book deals with a lot of darkness. A Darkly Beating Heart is going to be published next week, so now is the perfect time for a review.

(I love this cover.)

Reiko didn’t go to Japan to enjoy herself. Packing herself away to a country where she doesn’t speak the language, Reiko allows the rage she has inside about the events preceding her senior year to fester. Consumed by thoughts of revenge, she manages day by day only because she is planning how to best get back at everyone. Comfortable with her routine, when her summer job requires her to go to an Edo-period town in Gifu prefecture, Reiko initially believes that leaving Tokyo is the worst thing that could have happened. It throws all of her revenge plans out the window.

Finding herself in a town with a curfew and deeply-rooted traditions, Reiko struggles with maintaining her revenge plot and coping with the anger that fills her head. Then she discovers a long-forgotten makeshift temple. It pulls Reiko back into the past into a time period rife with dangers. The connection that she feels with Miyu is immediate, her anger even more explosive than Reiko’s. But Miyu is keeping things from Reiko. And if Reiko doesn’t discover them in time, it’s not just Miyu’s time that will be affected.

This is a book that is odd to review. Lindsay Smith writes beautifully; the scenes she creates are so vivid that it’s very easy to see them in my mind’s eye. The setting just jumps off the page. Of course, it helps that I live in Japan. This book isn’t one that is “set in Japan,” where the setting isn’t realized. This setting is, and I loved it. This would have made me really nostalgic for Japan had I already moved back.

The world of modern day Tokyo and that of the Edo period were so clearly written that I had a very easy time picturing them. I’m such a fan of the Edo period of Japan that I was thrilled to read a story set in it. Or half set in it. Reiko is connected to both, and the differences and similarities in the town she finds herself in–and the times–is done really well. I liked how they both kept getting closer together and the connections that were being discovered. Despite the speed of the plot, the setting was built slowly and when it made sense for the readers to be given the information.

The writing itself is stunning. Each page seemed to have a beautiful description of a place or a spot on look at Japan or the characters that Reiko was spending time with. I was incredibly impressed with Smith’s writing style. It wasn’t too flowery or unnecessarily bogged down with details that didn’t matter. It was an absolute pleasure to read. When I first started reading this I was sure that I would love the book. However, beautiful writing is not the only thing I look for in a book.

That isn’t to say the story or premise wasn’t interesting. I just found that I was more interested in the Edo period parts rather than the modern day parts. While both are incredibly detailed, I’ve found that historical fiction novels are increasingly becoming some of my favorite books to read. I understand why the plot was divided between the two times, but I ended up wishing that the novel was completely set in the Edo period and was about Miyu. That was the story I was really interesting in. Whenever it switched back to Reiko’s point of view in the modern day, I was tempted to skim a little in order to get back to her.

The connection of the past to the present in this little Gifu town was done really well. There are a lot of places in Japan that place importance on the past, but Kuramagi takes it to the extreme. Something isn’t quite right about this town. They bury power lines (which actually does happen in some of these Edo-period towns), have a curfew, and place an emphasis on keeping the town as period correct as they are able. I liked that the town was the center of why the two different time periods were converging. I just felt like a great story was rushed.

A Darkly Beating Heart is a relatively short story, and that is where it fell a little flat for me. Because it’s short, a plot that I personally think should have been drawn out more feels rushed and half realized. In a book where the setting, writing, and emotions of the protagonist are written so well, a rushed plot (especially one that is actually really interesting) was disappointing. I did appreciate the element of Reiko missing half of Miyu’s story–I enjoyed that she only knew what she learned when she was in Miyu’s body and had to figure out what she had missed when the story had progressed without her–but ultimately I thought that it jumped back and forth too much without giving readers enough information about the two time periods and the conflicts in them.

I thought that the way that Reiko was pulled back into the past was really well done. There’s always an element of leeriness that I have when I go into a book that involves some form of time traveling, but I thought that the two story lines and the different time periods were perfectly intertwined. The time travel remained consistent throughout the story and it wasn’t made overly complicated just for the sake of making it complicated. More is revealed as Reiko shares a body with Miyu and becomes more comfortable with the past and I appreciated the effort that Smith made to show that there are consequences for every action.

Reiko as a character is…interesting. The entire time she is plotting revenge: on her family, the people around her, her former girlfriend. Things have happened to her that are given to readers IV drip like, and that was part of my eagerness to read. I really wanted to know where all this anger came from, because I have never read a book where the protagonist is this angry. It was really uncomfortable at times because Reiko is constantly thinking about harming herself and others. Yet, I found myself continuing the book, despite this darkness. Her anger wasn’t swept under the rug when it became inconvenient or when the novel ended. She is able to work through some things but also realizes that her life is far from perfect. But she learns how to manage her anger even as she still has it.

It makes sense that she connected so quickly with Miyu because of her anger. Miyu also functions as a way for Reiko to understand that holding in all of that rage will consume her to the point of no return. Although Miyu is also a different character, because they shared had shared experiences I felt like they were the same. That’s a reason why I wish the book had been longer. I think it would have benefited the plot to explore more of what Miyu was going through.

Smith also had a handle on the sometimes dual nature of those who are bilingual. Reiko overemphasized the negative nature of bilingual characters because she is so blinded by her rage. Moments where Reiko is treated kindly (in English) but later is treated cruely or like a child (in Japanese) is unfortunately familiar, though rare. This is an element of passive-aggressiveness that foreigners sometimes experience. However, I do think that Reiko is being overly judgemental and Akiyo and Mariko are viewed harshly through this lens of anger she has. Reiko reconciles with this issue by the end of the novel, suggesting that much of her interactions with these characters had been so tainted by anger that she wasn’t getting a proper read on them. There was closure with the promise to try harder to resist these moments in the future.

A Darkly Beating Heart had amazing words that had it sitting at a 5 star rating. Due to the rushed nature of the plot and what I believe could have been a longer story, I’m rating it a bit lower than that. I really recommend this for readers because it does have a very vivid setting and an interesting story that is plotted well. The only caveat I give is to be prepared for Reiko. Maybe I don’t read many stories with dark protagonists, but her nature was hard to read at times. She had a lot of issues that were very serious and may turn off some readers.

3 stars.

I received a copy of A Darkly Beating Heartt from NetGalley and the publisher. A Darkly Beating Heart will be published on October 25th, 2016.
Profile Image for Ava.
264 reviews315 followers
March 1, 2017
Ooh! I liked this one. I didn't love it, which is why the rating is as it is, but I would definitely recommend it. It's unlike anything I've read before. Featuring a bisexual Japanese-American (I think? I'll check) protagonist with self harm issues and set in Japan, A DARKLY BEATING HEART is dark. It's violent. But it's intriguing enough that you can't put it down. RTC.
Profile Image for Dahlia.
Author 19 books2,393 followers
April 20, 2017
Holy shit, this was so dark and so good. Obv I'm friends with the author etc. etc. but let's not pretend that always results in super book love. I pulled the "Just five more minutes!!" with this one about a billion times because it is just so compelling and unique and the two storylines interweave so well so that you're dying to know what's gonna happen next on both sides, and oh man as obsessed as I am with Sekret I think this miiiight be my new #1 Lindsay book. (Also, I've never been to Japan but I felt phenomenally well transported, which is my personal reading crack.)
Profile Image for joey (thoughts and afterthoughts).
139 reviews142 followers
Shelved as 'actually-dnf'
November 14, 2016

Made it 124 pages in. Not enough was happening and it felt as though there was a degree of information being withheld from the reader (aside from the continual reminders of anger) which deterred the overall reading experience in getting behind the protagonist. Additionally, the inclusion of the the setting re: English romanization of Japanese phrases was a bit much and rather a catch-22 situation; to include felt weeaboo-ish and to not include it might see the lack thereof of "Japanese" context (aside from structural world building).

I tried.

-- I read the ARC. Full review to come.
Profile Image for Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews).
1,695 reviews874 followers
October 9, 2016
I liked this well enough (the premise is perfection, let's not lie here), but it's an often confusing narrative with so many clarity issues. The author has a a great imagination and a good idea for the plot of A Darkly Beating Heart, but the execution is muddled from the outset and is an issue that never really resolves.
Profile Image for Chasia Lloyd.
699 reviews58 followers
February 7, 2018
If you like happy stories, you probably should find another book. A Darkly Beating Heart is dark and angry. Nothing else. It was so refreshing to dive deep into rage. Plus bisexual rep + Japanese American rep + timetravel shenanigans? Hell yeah. This was a cool read. Not for everyone, for sure, but for those who want to get thorny..

CWs: self-harm, abuse, suicide ideation, suicide attempt
Profile Image for Holly .
1,358 reviews291 followers
January 1, 2017
*Physical ARC kindly provided by Macmillan.

When I started this, I wasn’t sure what to think. I was actually never sure what to think about it until well near the ending. Until everything came together. Because I couldn’t see what this book was trying to do until all of the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. Whether it’s because I didn’t understand a lot of the Japanese culture and references in here, the unreliable narrator, or simply the talented writing, I’m not sure. But when it all led up to that ending, I could see exactly how good the book was and how the storyline that blended the past and present shined. Like I REALLY enjoyed A Darkly Beating Heart a lot! It took a while to get into the story, sure, but once it got going, I was hooked. It was super intriguing, and I know that’s at least 50% in part because of the voice.

The main character, Reiko, is not an easy person to like. She’s unreliable, mean, and is mentally unstable. And she’s so, so angry. Her rage is a living thing, a dark presence in her life. It affects not only her, but everyone else in her life. But she doesn’t seem to get that; and if she does, she doesn’t care. She’s a narrator you can’t exactly trust, because the way she views the world is so narrow and focused on herself. She wouldn’t take responsibility for her own actions, and you don’t even learn all of the things she’s done until the last 30 pages or so. But I liked her character a lot, could even relate to her a bit, with her need for control and her anger at the world. And because she also had depression, it affected her even more. So much so that she almost destroyed everything around her based on a need for revenge that wasn’t even completely hers.

When she is pulled back in time, Reiko finds herself loving the past more than her present. She starts to want Miyu’s life. She starts to fall for a samurai named Jiro and wants to spend more time there than in the present, but how much of that was Miyu and how much of that was Reiko? I have no idea. I was really confused on this supernatural aspect to the story. It seemed as if Reiko still had control when she was in Miyu’s body, but I wasn’t so sure, and it didn’t make much sense to me if she was. I wondered why there was never any conflict when Reiko was there. But things became clearer near the end, when the truth behind Miyu’s story comes to light and Reiko realizes that she’s kind of been played by this vengeful girl from 1862. Their rage was so intertwined that the main character couldn’t see her way out of it until it was almost too late.

I honestly preferred the past pieces more than I did the present. I found the present to be incredibly boring, more so because I didn’t like any of the other characters there, except for Kenji. They didn’t understand Reiko, and I can see why, given how she acts and what she says. And given that she’s kept a lot to herself, and as the readers come to realize, she’s unreliable as a narrator. So how Reiko perceived the world and the people in it could not be trusted 100%, but I will say that Akiko and Merika and Tadashi were awful and selfish people who did not treat Reiko like a human being who had her own feelings. Ugh, such jerks! Anyway. I didn’t much care for them, nor about what was going on in modern day Kuramagi.

The combination of the past and the present was so fabulously written. Parts were confusing, because I didn’t always understand who was in control: Miyu or Reiko, and you don’t get the full history until well over the halfway point. Even by the end, I’m not even sure I understood everything that had happened because the fast pace of the story made the ending that much quicker to unfold. And I don’t know much about Japanese culture, so the beginning was hard to get around. But once the story started to play out, I couldn’t stop reading. And I really loved the ending, how Reiko came to realize that vengeance was not the answer, that she didn’t have to be so angry. That she was only going to perpetuate the cycle of violence and pain. This story was about a girl who just wanted to take back control of her life and live more freely./b>

Rating: 4 Paw Prints!
Profile Image for Caleb Roehrig.
Author 17 books718 followers
July 5, 2016
A DARKLY BEATING HEART offered me a lot of exactly what I look for in a good, spine-tingling YA thriller: an intriguing protagonist, a unique plot, and beautiful prose -- in particular, Lindsay Smith delivers in spades on this last item. Her style fills this book with compelling imagery and atmosphere, making even the downbeats contribute to the sense of consistently growing tension as the story progresses.

The main character, Reiko Azumi, is a hard and brittle person -- a girl with a lot of damage, who reacts with anger to even the slightest of provocations. I LOVE characters like this. Dark, barbed, and antisocial, she is deliberately difficult to like in the traditional sense; but from page one, Smith engages the reader in Reiko's entrenched resentfulness, making you care about her, and making you like her in large part because she isn't soft or warm or uncomplicated. There's a pernicious mentality in YA lit that expects female characters to fall in line with the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope, and it is so, so refreshing to find a heroine (antiheroine?) that is all unapologetic sharp edges and messy internal conflict. It's also really great to see a bisexual protagonist whose attraction to both men and women is explored with frankness and accuracy.

Last but not least, I cannot say enough about how thoroughly Smith immerses her reader in HEART's fantastic setting. She really brings Japan to life on every page, both in the contemporary parts of the novel and the scenes set in its Edo-period history. As someone who lives to travel and craves writing that transports me to new places, this was such a rewarding read.
Profile Image for Vicky Reads MG.
157 reviews4 followers
March 17, 2017
This book in short: DISAPPOINTING.

Why am I so intrigued by this life?
Maybe it’s the anonymity-- the sense I am not myself.
I am uninhibited as Miyu. People expect me to be sour and hateful, and so pay me no mind.
As Miyu, my hatred can run free.

I’m absolutely obsessed with the anime/manga InuYasha, it’s referred to as a “feudal fairy tale” and it follows the adventures of highschooler Kagome Higurashi in modern day (errr circa 1990) Tokyo. One morning at her family’s shrine she’s inadvertently pulled down the Bone-Eaters Well by a demonic centipede. Kagome is dragged down the rabbit hole and is spit out in the “Warlord Era”, 15th and 16th century Japan-- also called the Sengoku Jidai period. And proceeds to go on a whirlwind adventure with half-demon InuYasha, a cursed monk Miroku, a playful fox demon kiddo named Shippo, and a demon-slaying prodigy named Sango who's seen more than her fair share of tragedy.

So when I heard tell of a new YA story A Darkly Beating Heart about another Japanese teen being transported through time to the feudal era I was FREAKING out!

WELL unfortunately, Reiko is no Kagome, and A Darkly Beating Heart is no InuYasha. *sad face* So if you're looking for that, turn back now and crack open one of those mangas instead. It's far more satisfying and infinitely more exciting, terrifying and hilarious.

In keeping with the title A Darkly Beating Heart is a very dark and heavy read. This may be triggering for some readers as Reiko OFTEN completes suicide and seriously harming herself. She actively cuts as a way to cope with the extreme anger and anxiety that she harbors inside of her, and she talks a lot about it, and spends a lot of time describing what the sensation is like for her.

This is definitely a read for a more mature YA audience. Reiko’s mental illnesses are tastefully handled BUT a little bit vanilla and by the books. It’s as though Lindsay Smith did a lot of reading on the mindset of teens with mood disorders and self harm tendencies and slapped together the most commonly reported influences and how it manifests itself. To give you an understanding of what this is like, had Lindsay given Reiko anorexia her experience would completely be ALL about Reiko being a “perfectionist” or having a poor relationship with her momma-- two VERY prominent influences, but by far not the ONLY experience. But uh nope. Reiko’s revolves around cliches and what’s most common.

Take this scene:

My scars are gone.
My thighs are blank. A cold, pale surface, unmarked.
No. No. Those scars were my history. My memory. How could they just be gone? The pressure swells against my eyes. Tears blur my vision as I search my stomach and hips. But there is nothing. None of the beautiful cuts I wrought the day I found out that Chloe had moved on, or the day Hideki came home from Iraq for good. Who am I without my scars? Who am I without proof of my suffering?

Reiko is an 18-year-old hurricane of rage-- her college plans didn’t pan out (she got wait-listed) ; the girl she had a fling with during a summer art camp disintegrated in a hot minute (and Rei, needy, clingy, constantly angry Rei got dumped for some punk rocker babe who definitely had it more together); and she’s had a notoriously rocky relationship with her elder brother, Hideki. She ends up going to stay with her uncle, aunt and cousin Akiko in Shibuya, Japan to take a break from the drama back home in Seattle, Washington. Reiko gets roped into a her glamour girl cousin Akiko’s project to launch, aki *LIFE* rhythm, her attempts to brand herself as a rising j-pop star and idol. With a trio of young twenty-somethings Mariko, Kenji, and Kazuo, Reiko is dragged along to an Edo-period village called Kuramagi, the backdrop Akiko insists on for her interviews and music videos.

Reiko has a laundry list of grievances of all who've hurt her and wronged her. Very little of which might I add is explicitly said in the book. The synopsis says she’s bullied in her highschool but we never see one SINGLE incident of any classmate being cruel to her. Honestly, she doesn't even come across as a misfit. Soooo why is she so freaking miserable? Because she's such a negative & hateful girl!

Reiko is NOT AN EASY character to like. Being in her negative headspace and endlessly looping thoughts of how PISSED. OFF. SHE. IS. made me want to punch her in her boobs. Her hate is one-dimensional and considering how that's the trait that MOST describes her, it’s an EPIC fail. Reiko is angsty, judgemental and FATALLY self-righteous. She victimizes herself and throws herself a pity party on every page. She doesn't EVER entertain the thought that she is in ANY SHAPE OR FORM RESPONSIBLE OR ACCOUNTABLE FOR HOW SHE FEELS. Cripes I wanted to throttle this jerk!

In keeping with how it’s the Big Bad Mean World VS Lonely Broken Little Reiko, she goes on to say that she spent so much time with Chloe, her summer lovin' girlfriend, because “She. . . possessed me.” ACTUAL quote from the book. She goes on to muse, “I wanted to change myself. Into whatever she wanted me to be. Anything to be loved. To be needed. Then I would have the power. Then I could possess her too.” Talk about melodramatic.

At first, upon reading the summary it was exciting to see that she identified as bisexual and how she’s a woman of colour but those little check boxes of diversity aren’t enough to redeem the novel. In fact, Reiko kinda seems to hate that about herself. Her sexuality I mean. Consider this one scene she has with Kenji, an ENDLESSLY patient and kind guy who tries to be friends with her:

Kenji is quiet for a few moments. “But you do, um...You do go for…” He winces. “Guys.”
I stare at him.
“It’s okay if not. It’s just--” His shoulders draw forward as he curls around his drawing. “I saw how you and Sierra talk, back at the inn, and I thought maybe...”
The tightness inside of me is imploding, crushing down hard, turning into a diamond of hatred. “Is that a problem if I’m bisexual?” I ask. “So what if I like boys and girls?” The darkness flashes through me-- the rivers and rivers of blood. I raise my hand in front of me and imagine it drenched in red. It feels sticky, throbbing, alive. Yes, this is what I’m after.”

Akiko is depicted as a ditzy and haughty wannabe pop princess. Her friend Mariko spends her time punching in trashy romance stories on her cellphone and playing shy and sweet when she’s not desperately trying to kiss up to Akiko. It’s not hard to see why Reiko dislikes both of the girls, but her extreme hate for them is WAY out of line. It only makes Reiko seem like an unapologetically hateful person. Which, uh she is. Which, BEE TEE DUBS isn’t exactly a lovely quality that makes us as the readers root for Reiko. One afternoon at Kuramagi Reiko steps off the forest trail while out with her Akiko and Mariko while the three are tromping around trying to film footage. She finds a sort of shrine inside a hollow, and a curious little object in it: “I spot a stone: black speckled with gray, round on one end, curved, shaped like a comma. The buzzing in my head mingles with the sounds of rain. Something inside me shifts-- a weary sigh, a head falling against a pillow after an exhausting day.”

Then, she finds herself transported back in time! OMG! To Kuramagi while it’s at the height of the feudal era! Holding, then dropping the rock allows Reiko to time-jump from the past back to her present. In Kuramagi she inhabits a woman named Miyu-- a gal who is angry AF (like Reiko!), disliked by every single person who meets her (like Reiko!), and who openly hates said people and wants to punish them and hurt them (like Reiko!).

Maybe Miyu’s revenge can help me in my life here, too. She’s focused in her hatred. She’s in total control. If I can master my plans as Miyu, then I can master my plans as Reiko, too. I can make everyone pay.

Finding out Miyu’s backstory is one of the things that kept me reading A Darkly Beating Heart, and while it turns out to be a pretty darn shocking and tragic tale it’s also not completely original. It reveals what a warped, twisted, girl Miyu was, and makes Reiko start to see sense that she doesn’t want to become equally crazy AF. Finally. But before that, Reiko spends every waking moment either living out Miyu’s life in Kuramagi (Having sex with a hot samurai! Scrubbing the tatami mats! Wishing her dad and every single villager screws themselves and go to hell!), or being a moody and argumentative Reiko. Especially to Kenji and Sierra, the two people who constantly go out of their way to be inclusive and kind to her, and who genuinely care about her. For some godforsaken reason.

They have insightful and positive advice that challenges Reiko’s defeatist and straight up miserable and bratty AF persona. It’s BEYOND frustrating that Reiko refuses to take it to heart and opts to continue on her path to destruction. Take this fascinating scene at a Shinto Shrine in the Kuramagi Village

“He’s [the priest] trying to teach you about the . . . dual nature of the kami. He wants you to understand that every kami -every spirit- has two natures, all right? That when you respect them, then they are more than happy to love and nurture and care for you. But he is worried you have a--mmm, how did he phrase it? A darkened neglect in your heart.”

I laugh like dry leaves rattling. Yeah he’s really got my number there. “Whatever. It’s not like I believe in that shit.”

Kenji makes a strained expression. “It doesn’t matter what you believe in, Reiko. If you feel angry, if you’re destructive, then you draw anger and destruction to you. Your mindset creates your reality, no matter what you believe.

* the bold emphasis is my doing

Her sexy samurai boy toy in Miyu’s world ALSO has his two cents

“We are all defined by our past,” Jiro says. “Our choices and circumstances have made us who we are. It’s all there, carved into us indelibly. But . . . it is not our present. Nor our future. That’s what we control. It’s what we choose to do with the past that’s entirely up to us.

I will say that Miyu intrigued me. If it weren’t for her storyline, and Reiko piecing together what happened to make Miyu so hated and vengeful, I wouldn’t have had any incentive to keep reading. We find out that Kuragami village is in fact, cursed. There’s a darkness to it that comes from Miyu’s lingering spirit, which, as it turns out possessed Reiko when she came into contact with the rock and continued to carry it around everywhere. So again, Reiko’s actions are justified as being NOT HER entirely, but AGAINST her. Once again we’re expected to see Reiko as a poor little victim. Not buying it. She was far too proud of the violence and pain she inflicted on everyone around her, and totally got her rocks off imagining causing MORE hurt and hatred to spread. Consider her reaction when she speaks with the Kuramagi museum historian, who helps her fill in the gaps and tells her the WHOLE story about Miyu.

The ending of this novel is rushed to say least, and attempts to slap a bandaid over the mess Reiko made and make us cheer for her. But it’s hard to go bananas over a girl who assaulted her ex-girlfriend’s new girlfriend, stalking her and then smashing her head with a glass bottle, and who spent hours designing bloody, gorey, and hateful collages of her peers and her school being hurt and punished. It’s hard to feel any kind of happiness or even a SEMBLANCE of liking Reiko, especially considering many of her conversations with people who befriend her are distigustingly emo

Look at this exchange between Kenji and Reiko more than HALFWAY through the book.

“Hey. Are you okay?” Kenji touches my arm, gentle.

“For fuck’s sake, Kenji.” I curl my arms around my legs. “Stop trying to be my goddamned nanny.”

He lowers his pencil; his face looks so soft, like if I punched it, my fist would sink in.
“Can I just try to be your friend?” he asks.

Friends. Right. Everyone wants to be friends with the antisocial whackjob.

“I’m not a good person, Kenji,” I tell him.

My final verdict? Don’t waste your time reading this novel. It’s a broken record of self-loathing and resentment, featuring an entirely flat and unlikeable protagonist, and a cheap and flimsy ending that doesn’t fit the tone of the book. There’s no pay off to get from reading this book. If you’re looking for an infinitely better ancient Japan and time travel book, you’re infinitely better off with InuYasha.

Profile Image for Alex.
125 reviews17 followers
April 15, 2017
**I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

This book is dark and strange and while I had a few issues with it, it is one of those 3 star books that is unique enough to recommend to those who are interested in the premise. The story follows Reiko, an angry, depressed Japanese-American teenager who moves to Japan for the summer to ‘work out her emotions.’ Reiko is an extremely dark character, she’s been hardened by some of her more traumatizing experiences and is quick to react with anger to any situation. We learn about her past as her narrative continues, but we learn that most of this trauma comes from being scorned by Chloe, a past girlfriend, and her estranged relationship with her brother. In Japan, Reiko travels to the historical village of Kuramagi with her cousin Akiko and her budding J-pop band to attend a festival. Hellbent on revenge, Reiko wants to ruin Akiko’s time in Kurumagi and it is also insinuated that she will commit suicide. As she creates her plan she simultaneously finds herself slipping back in time to 19th century Japan in the life of Miyu. She finds the Miyu is just as keen on revenge as Reiko and both of these stories unfold over the course of the book.

Reiko is an intriguing character. From the beginning of the book I could tell she is not your normal love-scorned teenager. She is much darker than that and most of her imaginary scenarios involved bloody, destructive revenge. Her thoughts were so dark and disturbing that I think she may have had other issues before all of the emotional trauma with Chloe and her family. While I found it hard to relate to her, I was intrigued by her character and wanted to learn more about her thoughts and desires, as disturbing as they were. For a while, I couldn’t even tell if the entire storyline with Miyu was even real or if it was just Reiko’s imagination.

Some aspects of this book were incredibly unique and refreshing to read. I enjoyed the insight into the Japanese landscape and culture in both present day and 19th century Japan. Smith’s writing was colorful and imaginative and at times I felt like I was right there with Reiko in the strange village of Kuramagi. Reiko is also a bisexual character and I really like how directly and candidly it was explored in the book.

I also like the way the time travel was handled, it was subtle and more of a ‘slipping back and forth’ between time so we got to experience dual story lines. The mechanism of time travel is only vaguely explained so the entire book had a certain mystical, mysterious quality to it. Miyu’s character is also extremely interesting. She lives in 19th century Japan during the shogunate rule in militarized Japan. Miyu is treated poorly by her family and the entire village, but we do not learn why she is so hated until the very end. Her story absolutely had me guessing and it was both thrilling and disconcerting to read.

While the story was intriguing, the climax and ending was too abrupt for me. I had so many questions throughout the book and suddenly everything was answered and the story ended. The book was delightfully bloody, vengeful and disturbing so I had a problem with all of the loose ends being tied up so neatly. I also have a hard time with the idea that Reiko is just going to go back to living normal life. I wish there was more of an explanation after the climax and this unfortunately seriously hindered my overall enjoyment of the book. While it was unique, I don’t think this will be one of my most memorable reads.

Overall, this book was an interesting read and I encourage you to try it out if the premise intrigues you. While I did give it three stars, I do think this book will really appeal to some readers.
Profile Image for Shannon (It Starts At Midnight).
1,144 reviews1,009 followers
October 24, 2016
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight
There were lots of things I really enjoyed about this book, and a few that I didn't as much. But I think overall, the good outweighed the bad for sure, so that is a win, right? Let's break it down!

The Good:

The setting! Japan is a bucket-list travel destination for me, so I was tickled to see a book set there! Also, it made me really want sushi, because there was a lot of food talk in the book! But yeah, the setting was phenomenal, I loved that aspect for sure.
Since it was set in Japan, there was cultural diversity of course, but that wasn't even the only diversity in the book! There were some LGBT+ themes too, which was such a win! While I can't speak on a personal level about the representations, it appeared to be incredibly well researched and thought out.
The historical part was fabulous. I think I liked that part of the story more than the present day, in fact. I was so drawn in by the Japanese history, and the commentary on the role of women in that time period, and I was so invested in the outcome of that storyline.
I was definitely kept guessing! I wasn't sure what would become of Reiko and her anger and self harming behaviors, or even what the catalyst was/would be. I also was definitely interested to figure out how/if the whole historical storyline would impact Reiko's modern day life, and of course how that particular story would wrap up too.

The Not as Good:

Oddly, I think this book could have benefitted from more pages, which is something I almost never say.  But by the end, I felt like there was almost too much I was a little unclear about, and that left me wanting a bit more. Both with Reiko as a character, and with the plot, I felt like they could have been fleshed out just a bit more.
I didn't quite understand Reiko. Maybe that's a good thing, because she is one dark character. She is very unhappy, that is clear, and she seeks revenge on anyone she's perceived to have wronged her in some way. I just never got a real sense of why. I mean, yes, I get that she is just a generally unhappy person with some very clear issues. But the whole need for vengeance was something that I simply didn't understand about her character.
The ending left me a little confused, honestly. I won't say anything more, but just be aware that it did. But maybe you won't be confused, and then you can explain it to me? Great. ;)

Bottom Line: I changed my rating on this about ten times- I went back and forth between 3 and 3.5 stars over and over. Let's say it's like, 3.25? I liked it, and I think had I felt a little better about the ending, it would have been a sure win, because I loved a lot of aspects about this book. Definitely worth a read, it's fast paced and the historical part was amazing.
Profile Image for Sam.
2,095 reviews32 followers
October 11, 2016
Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

I love books set in Japan despite having never visited. There's always something very atmospheric and lore driven, which A Darkly Beating Heart follows to a tee. I loved how well put together the story was, I thought the characters were very interesting, and the use of time travel was something quite special given our heroine goes backwards in time.

I loved Reiko and I thought she was a great character. I feel like we get such a huge sense of her emotions, her desire for revenge, and how she is struggling to define her anger given her circumstances. I also loved the Miyu half, because I think it perfectly manifests angry and aggression in a way that feels almost symbolic given Miyu's story. They were a neat fusion of characters, and I liked how Smith blended them together.

I also thought the way idol culture was presented was really interesting here. Aki comes across like quite the nutjob at times, but it's because you spend a lot of the story seeing her as her brand rather than a person. She's malicious and calculating at times, but it's interesting because you see it more from her being a businesswoman than just that type of person outright. It also doesn't help that certain characters really pander to her branding, which made for some great moments in the story. Personally, I liked Kazuo. He likes the PlayStation Vita, which makes me happy given that no one seems to love the Vita.

While I think the ending wraps up a bit too neatly, I do love this story and I think Smith has a knack for doing balanced research and transforming it into an interesting narrative. I loved reading her Author's Note where she explains where her inspiration came from, as well as the extent of her research went. There's a great sense of tension and emotion in A Darkly Beating Heart and if you love books that feel dark and mysterious, check this one out.
Profile Image for Bridget.
1,044 reviews33 followers
August 17, 2016
Really compelling, fast story with a bisexual Japanese American protagonist (yay for bisexual protagonists in YA!). I think it's a great read-alike for Carrie, mixing darkness and anger with vulnerability and fear. I might recommend it to teens who like books that deal with bullying, even though that's not precisely a focus of the story, and I'd also recommend it to fans of the game Life is Strange (and not just because of the Chloe characters, I promise). I can't speak as much to the authenticity or accuracy of the Japanese aspects of the story, but the author's note about her historical research seemed promising.

Netgalley and Roaring Book Press provided an ARC for my review.
Profile Image for Shelley.
5,157 reviews458 followers
October 24, 2016
*Source* Publisher
*Genre* Young Adult Fiction / Time Travel
*Rating* 3.5-4

*My Thoughts*

A Darkly Beating Heart is a young adult, science fiction novel by author Lindsay Smith. Smith is also the author of the Skandal duology which I loved. A Darkly Beating Heart is about a troubled American born girl of Japanese ancestry named Reiko Azumi. Reiko is sent to Japan by her parents to sort out her issues, while also waiting for word on whether or not she gets into the school of her choice.

*Full Review @ Gizmos Reviews*


Expected publication: October 25th 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
Profile Image for Shreya.
336 reviews7 followers
February 1, 2017
-slow plot is a minus (does get better towards the end)
-confusing writing at times is a minus
-plus for Japanese Culture
-Plus for an openly bisexual character (yay!!! representation!!!!)
Profile Image for Paige.
1,723 reviews80 followers
October 10, 2017
Rating: 3.5/5

Genre: YA Fantasy

Recommended Age: 17+ (trigger warnings for suicide, cutting, and depression. One of the main things in this book that the character struggles with and almost seems to take pride in are her self harming habits and scars. It is mentioned multiple times throughout the book that she cuts and even goes into detail about her scars and how she does the act. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure you can handle that or that your children can handle that before you read or let your children read this book) (Also language, sex, and gore).

I received a free copy of this book from KidLitExchange in exchange for my honest review. My opinions are my own.

A troubled girl confronts her personal demons in this time-travel thriller alternating between present day and 19th century Japan.
No one knows how to handle Reiko. She is full of hatred; all she can think about is how to best hurt herself and those people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt at her home in Seattle, Reiko's parents send her to spend the summer with family in Japan, hoping she will learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping backward in time into the nineteenth-century life of Miyu, a young woman even more vengeful than Reiko herself. Reiko loves escaping into Miyu's life . . . until she discovers Kuramagi's dark secret and must face down Miyu's demons as well as her own. – Amazon.com

I’ve never seen or read a character with so much vengeance in their heart except for Arya. I thought she couldn’t be topped until I met Reiko, who is our main character. There are basically three stories that go on in this book: Reiko’s past, Reiko’s present, and Miyu’s story. Reiko tells the tale of her past in a series of flashbacks, but when Miyu makes an appearance the story is told through Reiko as she is experiencing it. That’s right, Reiko is able to travel back in time to experience life as this other girl who is similar to her. Vengeance is her game and she does not aim to lose, especially now that Reiko is able to help her out. I thought that the way this story was told was very unique and I felt the plot was not at all obvious from the beginning. The story continued to have twists and turns along the way, some of them being completely unique to anything I’ve read before. The character development for Reiko and Miyu was fantastic, and the pacing was very well done. I also want to point out that Reiko is bisexual, which I thought was one of the most wonderful things about this book because it seems that Reiko struggles with her sexuality along with a lot of her other issues in this book, which can be very helpful for many teens today.

However, there were some issues with this book in my opinion. I really wanted to DNF this book until I was about 50 pages in. The book is wrote in a weird manner and the flashbacks make for a little bit of a confusing read until the reader gets used to the book’s format. The book also doesn’t development any of the minor characters outside of a handful of the many included in the book. The book also mentions suicide and goes into detail about Reiko’s attempted suicide A LOT during the book. While I did not mind and I thought that it made the character growth that much more unique, I do understand that this type of book can really hurt some people. Unfortunately because the book is set in Japan and uses a lot of Japanese terms, history, and because it discusses how Reiko is a Japanese-American who can’t speak Japanese and is basically an outcast in Japan, I feel that I cannot talk about these topics in this review because I am uneducated in those matters. If this is an important quality for you in a book, please find someone who can talk about this issue better. It would be very interesting to see a review from a Japanese-American or a native Japanese person’s perspective on this book and if you or someone you know has reviewed it and does have knowledge in these areas I’d really appreciate a link to their blog or whatever platform they reviewed on.

Verdict: While I believe this book was a good read, I did have some major issues with the book and some potential issues that might arise as this book obtains more reviews. I also felt a little uncomfortable with how much the author depended on Reiko’s cutting habits in order to make Reiko grow as a character. While I think this book is a good read and would be an excellent Halloween book, I want to implore you to really be careful if you want to read this book.
Profile Image for Aleksandra.
1,409 reviews
June 12, 2017
This novel surprised me! A Darkly Beating Heart is paranormal/horroresque novel with time-traveling element and unreliable narrator. I flew through the book!

Reiko is an unlikable female protagonist and it's my gem. I don't think we have enough of those. She reminded me of Gillian Flynn's protagonists. Also Reiko is Japanese-American bisexual artist. The story takes place in Japan where Reiko moved to live for a while with her relatives after the disastrous events at home in Seattle.
Reiko has a great arc, but I think the ending was a bit rushed.
I've got to mention that the book has 99% Japanese cast and one black American girl who works on the reception at the hotel. After GitS movie disaster I appreciate it a lot.
The story has an interesting focus of being an outsider in your family "country of origin". Reiko was born and raised in USA and she's a foreigner in Japan.

The themes of vengeance and justice are prominent in the story. I like the author's take on it. I'm not going to say much because spoilers.

The time-traveling element is unique in a way that Reiko comes to live into the body of 19th century Japanese girl. She's not an outside there. Also she miraculously learns Japanese, can't say I'm not jealous about this part.

All in all, A Darkly Beating Heart is a disturbing dark story about vengeance and injustice set in modern Japan, connected with 19th century Japan. I believe those who like Passenger duology, Mara dyer trilogy and Gillian Flynn's novels, will like this book as well.
Profile Image for Victoria Masters.
57 reviews1 follower
February 17, 2019
DNF. Reiko was a really melodramatic character and the story wasn't compelling enough for me to continue. The writing is good technically, but I found it really hard to sympathize with Reiko at all - her backstory wasn't very emotional and came off like she was just whiny. Trigger warning for self-harm and suicide, described graphically.
Profile Image for Orchid.
222 reviews69 followers
February 27, 2018
I have given this one three chances over the last two years, and I just cannot get into it.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 25 books45 followers
September 8, 2021
So tightly focused on the antiheroine’s rage, the story felt one-note. Not sure withholding the details of what she had done before getting shipped to Japan had sufficient payoff; might’ve been more interesting had she and the reader been forced to reckon with those deeds throughout the text. Otherwise, very capable portrayal of a fish out of water twice over and a solid portal fantasy.
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