Recommended Read, Review Revisited

Review Revisited: Holly’s Take on Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai (2023)

After Erin read Bitter Medicine, she told me I’d probably like it. And I was feeling like reading something that I’d probably like that wasn’t a bonkers historical romance, so I did. 

She was right, I liked it. 

I also would have written a completely different review than Erin did, because she said basically nothing about the plot. 

So here I am, to talk about the plot. Not spoilers or anything, but to highlight some of the central themes, and also to address the plot structure, which is kind of unusual. 

The basic premise is that Elle’s younger brother tried to kill her older brother; in order to stop him, Elle destroyed her older brother’s magic. The two of them have been in hiding for the past twenty years. (Elle, being magic, is about 100 years old, and hasn’t really aged during this time.) Elle feels tremendous guilt for what she did to her brother, as well as a deep responsibility for keeping him safe—as well as sadness for the rupture in her relationship with her younger brother. She hides her abilities so that she won’t be discovered. All in all, she’s living a shadow of her former life, until Luc makes her feel again.

The blurb says that Elle and Luc collaborate, hinting that this collaboration is in hunting down Elle’s younger brother, who has finally tracked her down. This implies that the Big Epic Climax will be the showdown between Elle, Luc, and the wayward evil brother. And while this scene happens, it does so at about the halfway point, leaving Elle irrevocably changed. So be aware: if you’re reading this for a suspense-y fantasy epic showdown, that’s not what this book is doing. 

Instead, this book is interested in what happens in the after. What do you do when something horrible—something bitter to swallow, even—happens? How do you come to terms with the fact that sometimes those bad things are ultimately good for us? Since the title of this book is Bitter Medicine, maybe it should have been obvious to me that this was the theme, but the blurb and the opening worldbuilding set up my expectations for something else.

I would also like to note that a central theme of this book is drawing and maintaining boundaries with parents / parental figures. It’s never too late to take the boundaries you need, even if you’re 100 years old! Some readers might fight these scenes difficult; others might feel seen in these moments.

Finally, while I liked this book, I do want to say that there were a lot of loose threads at the end. I was left wondering things like:

  • What the heck happened to that fox spirit with the sense of smell? She seemed pretty desperate.
  • If Elle is an “agent” in the same organization that employs Luc, why does this agency also think that Elle is deceased? Do fairies not have fingerprints?
  • And the biggest question mark of all: At the end of the book, both Elle and Luc have lost huge pieces of themselves. Can they truly be happy without these defining parts of their former identities? 

Read on for Erin’s review, which will fill you in on the worldbuilding and the feel of the story.

Continue reading “Review Revisited: Holly’s Take on Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai (2023)”
Recommended Read, Review

Review: Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai (2023)

Heat Factor: the eroticism is more in the emotional than the physical descriptions

Character Chemistry: slow-building and respectful

Plot: ancient history returns to the present, threatening the tenuous and secretive connection that Luc and Elle have been flirting with

Overall: WOW

Continue reading “Review: Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai (2023)”
My First Smut

My First Smut: Epic Multigenerational Saga Edition

My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?

This week, author Mia Tsai shares her memory of the first romance she read. The title is a mystery, but the story sure was exciting.

First romance novel you read

I can’t even remember the title of the book–it was a historical romance set during World War II, though.

How old were you?

Early high school

How’d you get your hands on the book?

I found it in the attic, in a box belonging to my mother, which was a surprise, since she doesn’t read romance.

What was the reading experience like?

Fascinating. I had never read adult romance books before, especially not historical fiction, and especially not with sex scenes. I went back and reread some sections several times, but it didn’t cross my mind until much later that there would be more books like this one and that there would be a whole subgenre devoted to it.

What made the experience special?

It was a memorable book in the sense that I’d never read a historical romance; in hindsight, this was a terrible book to start my romance journey since it was a multigenerational saga about Jewish people falling in love, not always with each other, during World War II. It was incredibly problematic, which I had a feeling about but couldn’t put into words. There was a Nazi romance element. There was a blond and blue-eyed Jewish character who was written to be the most sympathetic. There was, if I remember correctly, nominally a happily ever after, maybe. I’d actually love to have someone tell me that no, I didn’t read a romance, I read a historical saga with sex in it, just so I could redo my answer and pick a different book.

What role does smut play in your life?

I love it, full stop, and I also read it when I have the time and inclination. That doesn’t always mean I want it in everything I read, but I have the highest respect for authors who can craft wonderful scenes that get you to put the book down and take a break. I feel like I was forged in the smut fire of lemons, fanfic communities on LiveJournal, and “why does Ao3 keep logging me out and forcing me to hit the ‘I agree’ button again.” There’s a joy inherent in reading, writing, and recommending smut, a glee I think is delightful.

Mia Tsai is an author, editor, and musician whose debut contemporary fantasy (with lots of romance), BITTER MEDICINE, arrives March 14, 2023 from Tachyon Publications. She adores a lyrical turn of phrase, a rhythm section in the pocket, and that one Reddit user who said BITTER MEDICINE “has some of the most loving and hot sex scenes I’ve ever read.” She can be found on Twitter at @itsamia, on Instagram at @mia.tsai.books, and on the web at She blogs seldomly and has a newsletter at

Thanks Mia! Anyone have any ideas about what this multigenerational saga was, so we can tell Mia that she actually read a historical epic with sex in it? Either way, we look forward to reading Bitter Medicine in March.

Have an early smut experience you’d like to share with us? If you’d like to see your story featured, send us an email or fill out our questionnaire and we’ll post it in an upcoming week.