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review 2019-01-08 12:00
Review: Empress of All Seasons
Empress Of All Seasons - Emiko Jean

Another YA fantasy I was really looking forward to. I jump on anything that’s Asian inspired. One review request was denied, and another was approved, so I was really pleased.

 

Only to find myself quite disappointed. It was okay, just felt like a generic YA fantasy with a predictable romance. The concept was quote unique and the world building was interesting, but something was just missing from this book for me.

 

The world focuses on humans and yōkai, demon like creatures with human faces and the power to transform into monsters. Some yōkai clans live in secret, those in the cities are servants and slaves to humans, and wear special collars to prevent them from using their powers.

 

The heroine Mari is part of an all-female clan of yōkai, they live in a secluded mountain village and make their lives by seducing men to marry and stealing their fortunes, only girl children are permitted to live. Mari is not the prettiest girl in the clan, she is one of the strongest and fastest. The best hope her mother has decided is for her to enter the Seasons contest. Girls from all over the land travel to the palace to conquer the magical Seasons rooms – Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, the sole survivor is the winner and will win the hand of the Emperor’s son and become Empress when the son inherits the throne.

 

Mari has been training as long as she can remember to enable her to win the contest. Slight issue though – yōkai are forbidden from entering. So Mari will have to keep her true identity secret.

 

Mari sets off for the Capitol city, running into friend Akira a half human, half yōkai outcast. Akira decides to head off to the Capitol to do what he can to help Mari. The third main character, the prince Taro. The emperor is a cold and brutal man, who rules through threats, fear and intimidation, particularly taken out on the yōkai slaves. Taro is much nicer, and much more gentle natured, he’s an inventor, he’s not interested in things like warring with the yōkai and conquering them.

 

As the story progresses, all three characters interact with each other. Mari is a strong, likeable character, Akira though is a love sick puppy. He’s determined to prove himself to Mari and seeks out a special kind of physical training with a mysterious legend of the art, who has a secret ulterior motive involving the yōkai and rebel yōkai.

 

Taro and Mari find themselves meeting. Taro was okay, if a bit boring and two dimensional, it’s obvious where the romance angle is going and, and for the most part, the plot is predictable. It’s got a decent pace to it. One thing I really did like was the mythology angle, every now and then there is a chapter which tells a God or Goddess’s origin story. It all ties in with the novel. There was a fair bit of action, and Mari handled herself surprisingly in the Seasons contest. There are lots of other girls competing and even though it’s winner takes all, you’re going to need allies to survive. Mari was strong and forward but she wasn’t nasty about it, like some of the girls were. Mari was honourable.

 

Mari was really the only character I actually liked. The plot took an unexpected twist towards the end of the novel. It’s one of those things that you know at some point something’s all going to go wrong. It’s a stand-alone so you know it’s going to wrap up. There’s got to be more to the story than just the Seasons contest. Didn’t see the end coming at all. And it did all wrap up in a way which concluded things and didn’t leave unanswered questions. The end did make me smile.

 

It wasn’t my favourite fantasy, it was okay. It had its moments.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2018-12-16 12:37
Review: Legendary
Legendary - Stephanie Garber

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I had also pre ordered a hard cover copy after finishing the first book last year. I had to reread Caraval before starting this one to refamiliarise myself with the world and the storyline. I think I actually liked Caraval more after a reread.

 

However, I was very disappointed in this lacklustre sequel.  It took me forever to get through and was frankly, boring.

 

Spoilers for the first book.

 

The sequel takes place just after the first book finishes, the night Caraval ends. The sequel is told from Donatella’s POV. After her sister Scarlett spent the first book trying desperately to save her sister, I was curious to know more about Tella’s character. While Scarlett was quite sensible and almost timid during Caraval Tella seemed to be the more lively sister. Scarlett’s character grew tremendously throughout her story.

 

I didn’t like Tella at all during her book. I found her vapid and irritating. She’s headstrong and acts without thinking, she lies, she manipulates and finds herself in trouble a lot. She’s supposed to be stronger sister, yet I found she whined and pined far more than Scarlett ever did. She makes stupid decisions and doesn’t seem to know how to deal with the consequences of her actions.

 

We find out a little more in this book about the disappearance of the girls’ mother – Tella knows a few things Scarlett never did. She’s kept the secret and makes a bargain with a mysterious stranger to help her find some answers. In the sequel, the stranger wants to collect his payment – Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

 

As it’s the Empress’s 75th birthday, there is a special Caraval game to celebrate, so Tella figures this is the opportunity to get what she needs. The only clue she has to her mother is a special deck of cards – a Deck of Destiny.

 

The story revolves around something to do with Fates who are trapped in the cards and a fiendish plot to release them and wreak havoc. Tella tells a lie to get into an exclusive party and her lie causes her to become involved in a very dangerous plot with a scary evil Prince, with a deadly and dark secret.

 

The writing is beautiful and lyrical just like the first book, the descriptions are vivid and so clear and there were some truly amazing passages. There were moments when Tella’s inner strength shines through but then she’ll go and do something stupid and make her irritating all over again. The romance in this one revolves around Dante (we met him briefly in Caraval) and he seems like the male version of Tella.

 

They flirt, they kiss, Dante appears throughout the book helping Tella out. He can be hot one minute – seem like there’s something more to him than a handsome flirt – then he acts like a total jerk. He has secrets of his own. (Of course) Tella spends a great deal of the book pining over him. She can’t decide how she feels about him and it gets very tiresome.

 

The other problem I had with this story was while the mystery with Tella’s mother and the Fates story was interesting enough, it takes place during a Caraval game. There’s more mysteries to solve, but it felt no different from the first book. It had all been done before and without the magic. It felt boring and long winded.

 

It did have its moments, some of it was pretty good, but there was just too much I found irritating. And it took a long time to get through as well.

 

Though despite the fact that I didn’t like this one much, I will be reading the finale to find out how it all ends.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for approving my request to view the title.  

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review 2018-12-05 19:27
Review: Girls of Paper and Fire
Girls of Paper and Fire - Natasha Ngan

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I went into reading this one with minimal expectations, sounded good but wasn’t really expecting much as I have read so much fantasy this year, and most of it has been a mixed bag. The premise was interesting enough as was the Malaysian inspired premise – but reading in the blurb protagonist chosen to be part of a king’s harem and does the unthinkable – falls in love with someone else.

 

Initially there was a bit of eye rolling on my part and a guess – oh she’s going to fall for some guard or male servant or a prince who’s going to wind up helping her some way. Did I ever get a surprise on that department!

 

I found myself absolutely loving this book. I had started reading by ebook review galley, to find this was the book of the month in my Fairyloot subscription box and got a signed edition with the prettiest cover and pink sprayed edges. This is one of my top ten books of this year.

 

Trigger warnings – sexual assault. There is actually a warning for this on the inside cover of the hardback.

 

The world building is rich and well developed, in this fantasy there are three castes – Paper, the lowest caste, the humans, Steele – half human, half demons  - the middle cast – these people have demoneseque features and powers. Moon caste are the highest – complete demons form. The demon form is usually some sort of animal basis.

 

The heroine Lei lives a hard but happy life in her village with her father in his shop, they are both Paper, they live with her father’s assistant, a Steele class lady who has worked there as long as Lei can remember and is like family to them. Lei’s mother disappeared 10 years ago, taken by a demon army.

 

Every year a number of girls are chosen (read taken) by the Demon King’s army to be Paper Girls – the King’s Concubines – it’s not a request if you’re chosen. Lei finds herself taken by the army, she has unusual gold eyes – goddess touched – which earns her the army chief’s attention and he takes her thinking he can gain favour with the king.

 

Lei’s world is shattered. Lei has a strong voice and is fiery and determined. She was a brilliant lead, full of personality and promise, without being overly head strong or making stupid decisions and rash actions. She’s naturally completely against being a Paper Girl but figures once she’s at the Imperial Palace she might be able to find out what happened to her missing mother.

 

Paper Girls for this year’s crop have already been chosen so Lei’s addition is unusual. Her goddess touched gold eyes make her a viable option. Some of the girls there have been training for this for years and are from high class families, and your typical mean girls. Others are colder and more remote, and one girl is nice and friendly, if very naïve.

 

Lei reluctantly starts to settle into life at the Palace – an elevated life of culture and learning. The girls have a maid who helps them, and lessons, it’s very exclusive and luxurious – but there’s something quite oppressive about it as well. As there is always the threat of the reason why they are there – to serve as concubines to a demon king who doesn’t care if this is something the girls want or not.

 

The girls have to attend various Court events after they are presented to the King. The King makes his choices and one by one the girls are called on to perform their duties. The reactions they have after their night with the King is different for each girl. It’s very uncomfortable to read about.

 

The King is a young man, very handsome, but brutal, a bully, he has moments where you think there might be more to him than a cold ruler who has very little thought for anyone else other than what he wants. But just as quickly as you get that glimpse – something happens and he’s horrible again. And gets worse and worse throughout the novel.

 

While regular Paper Girl life is going on Lei finds herself becoming enamoured with one of the other Paper Girls. This is one the best slow burn romances I’ve come across in a long time. It’s so so slow but the build of anticipation is brilliant as Lei gets to know the girl, Wren. Wren was one of the ones who was cold and dismissive at first, but Wren is as mysterious as she is beautiful. Lei’s yearning comes through so vividly, as she tries to figure out her ceilings, worrying about waiting for her own turn with the king.

 

As the romance slowly blossoms, Lei starts learning some of Wren’s secrets. The plot starts picking upwards the end. There’s a few mysteries and some plot twists and a good burst of action towards the end. And a really WTF cliffhanger at the end. Just when you think everything might actually be okay… of course it’s not!

 

I can’t find enough words for how much I loved this book. There’s not much more I can say without being overly spoilerly about the overall plot. It’s hard to read in some places and deals with some serious issues. It gets uncomfortable. Other places it’s beautifully written with a moving romance, and some lovely female friendships.

 

I can’t wait for more of this series.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2018-11-13 18:34
Review: A List of Cages
A List of Cages - Robin Roe

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

Not something I would probably have picked myself, I got one of those pre approval emails from Netgalley for this one. Since I never get approved for anything by Disney Hyperion I jumped at the chance to try something they were offering.

 

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book much.

 

Trigger warnings for extreme abuse – both physical and mental.

 

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, I did skim a few reviews on Goodreads before-hand so I was aware of the subject matter. The novel deals with two different boys who were once friends, despite a few years age difference. Quiet and reserved Julian the younger boy, and off the wall Adam. Adam is bright, friendly handsome and very chatty. He has ADHD. Something that’s referenced throughout the novel.

 

Julian lives with his uncle and suffering terrible abuse he keeps hidden. He’s miserable at school, not doing well in his classes, and doesn’t talk to anyone. Adam is popular with lots of friends, not the best student, maybe. He finds himself reconnecting with Julian when he gets a job as an assistant to the school psychologist and has to collect students to go to their appointments – Julian is one of those students.

 

We learn that they spent some time living together some years ago after the sudden and unexpected deaths of Julian’s parents. Adam and his mom became Julian’s foster family. Until Julian’s uncle showed up.

 

The uncle is a monster. I can’t even go into the level of manipulative torture he inflicts. It’s gut wrenching and horrible to read. I just wanted to hug Julian and keep him safe. He finds solace in Adam and his friends, who include him as one of their own. And they all get involved and help when things start going south and they discover what’s going on at Julian’s home and try and remove him from it. Uncle is slipping and becoming more off balance and cruel.

 

One thing I really liked was the sense of friendship and togetherness of Adam and Julian and how Adam’s friends helped Julian fit in and open up again.

 

There was just something about this book that wasn’t working for me. And I think it mostly had to do with the fact that every adult in this book was a villain of some sort. The teachers were mean, Julian’s teachers seemed to single him out, the psychologist wouldn’t listen, the police when they were involved were bullies who wouldn’t help. Adam’s mom was portrayed as the only competent adult. She had some odd ideas about how to handle Adam’s ADHD – herbal remedies instead of proper medication?!? I know nothing about ADHD so I shouldn’t judge but that doesn’t sound right.

 

The novel had its moments, but I didn’t really enjoy it all that much.  The writing had some potential, so I would definitely read this author again.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Disney Hyperion for the pre-approval email.

 

 

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review 2018-11-07 21:36
Review: The Belles
The Belles - Dhonielle Clayton

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I read this book twice in a relatively short few months space of time and even after two reads I’m still unsure how I feel about it. This is one of those uber hyped books that I saw all over my Twitter feed and Goodreads. Needless to say it very high up on my highly anticipated reads.

 

So I was very excited when my review request was approved. Only to find that…I wasn’t blown away by it as I had hoped. There was something about the world building that made me very uncomfortable, and I didn’t particularly like the main character much. I found her annoying and childish, the villain cartoony and the barely there romance was completely unnecessary in my opinion.

 

I didn’t feel comfortable reviewing after the first time I read it since I couldn’t put enough thoughts together on whether or not I really liked the book or not. I did wind up buying a finished copy (cover love among reasons) and reading it again a few months later.  It’s still taken me months later to finally put a review together.

 

The novel is set in a fictional kingdom where above all else beauty is the most prized thing in the world. There’s a really interesting origins story at the start of the novel explaining about the Goddess of Beauty and her spurned jealous husband and how the people of the kingdom came to be, and how they were all born grey and ugly. As a gift to the people the Goddess created Belles, who have the power to make people beautiful. Belles are born into each generation. They are revered and worshipped, when the Belles reach sixteen they are presented to society, and Royal Court. In each generation of Belles one is announced as a Favourite and she works at the Palace for the Royals.

 

In this generation, there are 6 Belles we meet on the eve of their presentation into Society. The heroine, Camellia yearns to be chosen as Favourite. It’s all very opulent and glamorous. The excitement is evident in the writing. One thing I really liked was how close all the Belle girls were, they were sisters who adored and loved each other – no obvious dislike or rivalry. They’ve grown up together, learned their gifts together, and support each other. There’s arguments of course, it’s not all harmonious, but the camaraderie between the girls was lovely.

 

Once the Belles make their debut, votes are cast and the Favourite is announced. Not the result anyone expected, the girls are sent to different Tea Houses where they will perform their services. Belle services are highly prized, and the girls live in extravagant luxury.  However, there are very strict rules they must live by – one is they are not to be alone with a male outside of beauty appointments. They cannot fall in love. Yet in a brief moment of weakness when Camellia is caught alone – she finds herself talking to a handsome young man. Someone she finds herself meeting again and again at odd moments. Feelings start to develop.

 

I think it’s supposed to hint at Camellia’s curiosity – she’s never been alone with a boy before, there’s new emotions to explore. The banter between them is amusing, the boy, Auguste, is quick witted, handsome and appears intelligent. He’s bringing out new ideas in Camellia she’s never thought about. To this reader, it was eye rolling, annoying and unnecessary. She finds herself rather lose lipped about him as well. Things she’s not supposed to tell anyone have a strange habit of spilling past her lips before she can stop herself.

 

While the world building is certainly glamorous, rich and elegant, and with hints of some fancy technology mixing in with the fantasy setting there was something very uncomfortable about it, at least in my opinion. I just couldn’t get on board with a society that is just obsessed with looks. People go to Belles to get themselves beautified anyway they want – though there are trends and rules and endless amounts of Belle products to make the client’s beauty dream come true. Though it appears Belle treatments are not without pain. People don’t seem to care. Though I must admit – if I had the option of a Belle – hell, I would probably take it.

 

Camellia settles into her own new routine, she’s worked very hard. Though she learns things in the new tea house she’s assigned to. There’s secrets about the Belles from the generations before her, she hears strange crying in the night and no one will answer her questions. One thing I liked about Camellia was she didn’t take things at face value – she asks questions, she investigates when things are off and she doesn’t let things drop. She’s definitely strong willed and inquisitive. On the other hand though, she’s very rash and impulsive, also bull headed and stubborn. Normally impulsive and stubborn is a trait I admire in my heroines, but there were some of Camellia’s actions that just irritated the hell out of me and came across as childish more than anything. After all, she has lived a very sheltered life and probably doesn’t know how to control herself in certain situations.

 

Something else about the Belles also bothered me – even though they have the most sort after gifts in the kingdom, their power is beholden by everyone – even Royalty doesn’t have the magic the bells do. Yet the Belles are not…free. They live their lives according to the strict rules set out by others – they are not allowed to use their magic as they see fit. They are worked until they are exhausted. They don’t get to make their own choices in a lot of things. Services are bought and paid for. They may live in the lap of luxury but it seems to come at a price. And as the plot progresses, some of this seems to sink into Camellia. Is being a Belle really all it’s cracked up to be?

 

Things for Camellia change and she finds herself voted the new Favourite and shipped off to the palace to work for the Royal family – the Queen and her daughter, Princess Sophia.  The Queen is getting ready to announce her Royal Heir – the oldest daughter – Princess Charlotte has been in a coma for several years. No one knows why and no one knows what causes it.  Torn between the desire to be the best Favourite she can be and the burning questions about what happened to the previous Favourite, Camellia finds herself getting to grips with the pressures of living in the Palace. Princess Sophia appears to be rebellious and rule breaking – she can be very very generous – but she can be a viper.

 

There are more mysteries and the Queen has a special mission for Camellia regarding saving Princess Charlotte. Princess Sophia is to be announced as Heir if Charlotte can’t be woken, and no one wants Sophia as Queen – she’s manipulative and cruel to an almost cartoon villain level of giddy evilness, and her crowd of Ladies in Waiting and court friends are forced to go along with her, no matter how mean or awful. They are punished terribly if not.

 

Nothing is simple and there’s more mysteries to solve. And it doesn’t help matters when the truth about who Auguste really is comes to light as well. The more Camellia learns about Sophia the more horrified she becomes. The mystery of Princess Charlotte is begging to be solved as well – I certainly have my theories about that one! More questions, hardly any answered. And Camellia is not the only Belle who has been digging into things.

 

Things take a bad turn before the end. The plot is a little slow in the middle but picks up towards the end.

 

There’s also a really interesting author’s note about the end which explains a little bit about the inspiration behind the story and helped tremendously in making sense of the fact that the world building made me so uncomfortable. I understand a lot more now about the overall message behind the book.

 

I can’t say even after two reads I particularly liked this book, but I am very interested to see where this is going to go story wise. Camellia irritated me a lot throughout the book but she did show enough growth over all that I want to know what happens next.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for approving my request to view the title.

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