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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 2018-04-03 11:54
Review: Dear Sweet Filthy World
Dear Sweet Filthy World - Caitlín R. Kiernan

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This particular author is one of my favourites of dark and bizarre fiction. Most of the time I love her work, there are the odd ones that I really don’t like or get at all. This collection of short stories has been on my radar since I heard about it. I was thrilled when I got approved for it on Netgalley (a hardcover is nearly $30). After reading a few of the stories I knew I had to have a finished copy and  I did purchase a finished Kindle version.

 

Stand out stories for me were:

 

Werewolf Smile – a narrator’s flighty girlfriend posing for a series of disturbing photos based on a Red Riding Hood theme. There was something so dark and powerful about the prose that made this story stick with me more than the others. First story in the collection.

 

Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint – this is about a dude who picks up a random girl hitchhiking and finds himself sharing her memories of violent acts throughout history. Very vivid and uncomfortable.

 

The Eighth Veil – I loved this one, I wanted a full novel of this one. A group of weird people gathering in a bar to watch some sort of stage show which seems to be an execution.

 

-30- This one is about a woman who receives an anonymous photo of some sort of monster – is it real? Where did it come from? Who sent it? What is it? An intriguing mystery though was a little disappointed with the end.

 

The Carnival is Dead and Gone – This was another favourite, dude and has friend visiting a carnival of oddities and freaks head into a special area where the strangest of creatures are held including some sort of quivering mass with theatricals that resemble a giant vagina following some strange sex act. It was another one that was quite uncomfortable but utterly compelling and erotic as it was disturbing. It feels wrong but you can’t take your eyes away.  The audience of the show seemed to find it really erotic.  Something like this should not be erotic, but it was and what does that say about the state of my mind?

 

Interstate Lovesong (Murder Ballard No 8) Two sisters who pick up randoms and kill them on their journey get a shock of their own when they pick up a girl with an attitude of her own. Gory and fascinating.

 

These were the stand outs for me.

 

This collection is a host of stories from the strange, the weird, the bizarre, disturbing, erotic and sometimes just plain what the fuck was that? 28 of them. Some of them I loved, some of them I hated. Some of them were just bland. One in particular - Tempest Witch - I read the whole thing and didn’t get a word of it.  The writing is beautiful and lyrical, dark and dreamy.

 

A good mixed bag.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Subterranean Press  for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2018-02-20 11:04
Review: Reign of the Fallen
Reign of the Fallen - Sarah Glenn Marsh
I received a copy from Penguin First to Read.

I finished this in December last year and I’m still struggling to put to words how to review it. I sort of liked it, I loved the diversity of the characters. This was one of my most anticipated January releases, but the actual book itself? Even after well over a month later I’m still undecided. 

I think my biggest issue with it was the whole the dead rule the world thing. In this novel you have a kingdom where Necromancers are the most powerful mages and when dead nobles die, it’s their job to go and retrieve their soul so the person can keep living and ruling as they have done. Maybe I’m getting too cynical but I’m struggling to grasp this concept. Mainly because from this reader’s point of view – it doesn’t teach anyone how to deal with the concept of death. Particularly the ruling class. Even their king is the living dead. I don’t get it. 

Best thing I loved about this book was BISEXUAL LEAD FEMALE CHARACTER!!! 

The novel starts with the lead female Odessa and her best friend/boyfriend Evander about to receive their commendation as official members of the Necromancer’s guild. As full Necromancer mages they can live in the palace and lead comfortable lives. Odessa sort of secretly wants to see the world, and you get the impression she thinks that Evander did too. Odessa has a friend (lady pirate) with a ship who can offer a passage out into the wider world. However, it’s forbidden to leaving their secluded comfortable little kingdom, even though the royals are mostly wise and seemingly well-liked and respected and everyone seems pretty comfortable. At least on the surface. There’s always going to be problems hidden in a kingdom like this which is never obvious to the people whom it should be. Which should raise questions as to why no one is ever allowed to leave. Why do the dead have to be brought back over and over? (There may have been an answer in the book I just can’t remember it).

The risen dead have certain rules to live by and there’s consequences, things can take a drastically bad turn and the risen dead can become murderous monsters known as Shades. On a seemingly routine job the kingdom princess Valoria accompanies Odessa and Evander and the reader gets their introduction into the land of the dead and the way things work.

Only a short time after the task is done there is a shock death. A loose Shade on the rampage. Odessa starts to question things about her relationship with Evander. The mystery in the dead lands is progressing, the Shade attacks are getting more frequent. 

Early on in the novel there was a really surprising twist I would never have guessed at.

The characters were great, I loved them all. A+ for diversity, a lesbian couple, a gay couple, and a bisexual lead female. The characters were well fleshed out, their emotions and actions believable. Though I did feel that Odessa could be a tad over dramatic. 

That being said, in the aftermath of an unexpected tragedy she falls apart. She breaks down. Completely understandable, but she also develops an addiction to a pain numbing tonic rather than dealing with the harsh reality and emotions. There was something very uncomfortable about this. I do understand and logical that it’s so much easier to give into an addiction rather than deal with the feelings when faced with something horrible.

I did find the pacing of the novel very slow, something would happen and then it would emotional turmoil and meandering and seemed like ages before anything else would happen. There didn’t feel like a whole lot of action going on. The second half of the novel picked up a bit, a new character is introduced who comes across as quite antagonising for Odessa and gives her more of a challenge, a new lead into the investigation into the increasing Shade attacks sets of a new direction which breathed more life into the novel. Also hinting at the possibility of a new romance angle as well. The character is mentioned in passing a few times earlier in the novel and comes in with her own agenda but finds herself becoming part of Odessa’s investigation. 

Meredy is a Beast Master, she can control animals as well as being a Necromancer. She’s smart, sassy and not afraid to call Odessa out on her bullshit. She doesn’t follow blindly, though she has some pretty misguided ideas of her own necromancy when she makes her appearance. She provides a good counter balance to Odessa.

When the force behind the Shade attacks is finally revealed there was a bit of eye rolling why didn’t I see this coming from a mile away? Kind of amusing in a way, should have been fairly obvious but actually it was quite clever that I never managed to figure out the twist to see it coming. 

While some of the novel I found slow and boring it did have its moments. I didn’t get some of the magical concepts. There were some of it I liked. It was certainly interesting and creative and not a fantasy type I’ve seen done a hundred different times. So plus points for uniqueness. I did buy a finished hardback, I may have to read this again at some point before the next one comes out. 
 
 

 

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review 2017-09-07 11:40
Review: Daughter of the Burning City
Daughter of the Burning City - Amanda Foody

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I had no idea what to expect with this one, and was pleasantly surprised to find out I completely loved this book. Definitely on my top ten for this year so far. Its premise and characters are so unique and interesting, and it appears to be a stand-alone, which is rare in YA fantasy.

 

This fantasy novel tells the story of Sorina, an illusion worker at the Gommorah travelling circus. Sorina has no eyes but she can see. She creates illusions. The illusions she creates are so real they have become almost as real as real people, to her, they are her family, and together they perform the carnival freak show. Each illusion has it’s own special ability. Sorina has also the adopted daughter of the festival proprietor. She is the heir and will take over running the whole show one day.

 

The festival is travelling across their land, they are from Down Mountain and travelling Up Mountain. The Up Mountain people appear to be the rich snobby people. There’s a war brewing between the two factions hinted at throughout the novel. Sorina’s illusions are being murdered. Each stop a different illusion dies and the novel tells the story of Sorina’s investigation into the Murderers and the truth behind the Gommorah Festival.

 

The writing is incredible, it’s quite a dark fantasy really. Sorina becomes enamoured with another illusion worker – a poison worker, Luca who’s unique talents make him impossible to kill. His show involves festival goers paying to try to kill him. The characters are all so different and well written. The plot is very twisty and impossible to predict. I was very surprised when the truth was revealed.  Sorina learns quite a few shocking home truths as her investigation progresses. The family connection was brilliant, how they all came together, not without drama and plenty of emotion wound through as various family members were brutally murdered.

 

Not a lot to recap as it would be really spoilery. There was hints of a romance but it wasn’t the sole focus of the plot and the characters were all delightfully diverse as well. Really interesting world building as well. A political undercurrent later on as the war brewing takes alarming shape. Morally questionably acts. It was quite violent in parts.

 

Over all it was excellently written. A fantastic read. I loved it so much I bought a finished hardback.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and HQ Stories for approving my request to view the title.

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review 2017-06-27 11:50
Review: Royce Rolls
Royce Rolls - Margaret Stohl

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I was really looking forward to this one. I’m actually not interested in reality television. (With the exception of Judge Judy and court TV)  I pretty much loathe the type of reality TV this book is based on. But I do actually like novels about reality TV.

 

Unfortunately, this book didn’t work for me at all. The satirical nature of it was almost too over the top, it seemed to be going one minute like it was making light of all the ridiculous drama that this scripted reality family go through, then tried to be deep and meaningful as the main character tried to do whatever it took to keep her family together.

 

The biggest problem I had was the main characters, the Royces,  were all horrible horrible people. The mother Mercedes is the worst type of all about me showbiz mother who only seems interested in keeping the show on air, the eldest daughter Porsche, who was an attention seeking bimbo, focused only on her own fame and her own product line of cosmetics. The sixteen year old daughter Bentley is the one the reader is supposed to be routing for, nothing like the vapid character she supposedly portrays on the show she’s really quite deep and smarter than anyone ever imagined. Problem for this reader was I just didn’t like her. And then there’s Maybach, the youngest brother, who’s sole purpose seems to be the cute gay brother. Though for Bach, he seemed to just have a gambling problem that was used as plot point later on rather than give him a romance or something.

 

The premise of the novel is the show is on the verge of cancellation, the family want to keep it going, Bentley wants out and wants to go to college instead. So they keep coming up with more and more ridiculous antics to keep the public watching. So the older sister comes up with an idea for making a wedding, which would give her new product lines and sponsorships and things. Of course it’s all a big fake.

 

But when the chosen groom makes an appearance it all goes wrong very fast. The drama is ridiculously increasing throughout the novel. And to be fair, Bentley does a pretty good job of playing her role as the brattiest daughter of the bunch, managing to ruin planned events and become the worst sort of paparazzi fodder. It’s told with a tone that’s meant to be humorous, but it’s the type of humour that I found got very old and very tiring quite quickly.

 

Bentley finds herself stressed more than she wants to be, she finds out a pretty shocking secret about her sister’s so-called fiancé. She can’t talk to anyone about it. She’s also dealing with constant bickering between her mother and Porsche who seem to be trying to one up each other in antics meant to get attention. And then there’s annoying network executives to deal with and producers and such.

 

She does get a little bit of freedom when she can sneak away and hang out at the library, where she chats to a boy named Venice who appears to be a vagrant. She can talk to him like herself, she doesn’t have to play a character. And Venice listens to her. He was actually one of the decent characters. He had a huge secret of his own as well.

 

Again to be fair, the twist at towards the end was pretty damn epic.

 

There was just too much annoying stuff about the book in general to care by then, too much of Hollywood image crap, the body shaming was really irritating. While there were some decent scenes of the family coming together, finally, when the answers to the twists are finally revealed. There just wasn’t anything really redeemable by the end for my liking.  Reading it was a bit like even though it’s terrible there was still a need to know how it all turned out.  

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ)

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