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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 2018-12-04 22:32
The Water Rat of Wanchai
The Water Rat of Wanchai - Ian Hamilton

They had been profitable years, with Ava earning enough money for the condo and the car and an impressive investment portfolio. But the best thing about the jobs she and Uncle did was the ride getting to the money - it was never the same twice, and though it taxed her emotionally, it also forced her to expand her senses and her thought processes. Then there were the clients. Although she complained about them sometimes, especially those who in utter desperation were far too clinging and demanding, she also accepted Uncle's conviction that they were simply lost souls looking for redemption. "When we get them their money back, what we are really doing is saving their lives," he would say. Ava believed that, too.

Ava Lee is a forensic accountant, but we learn very little about what forensic accountants do in this book, because right from the get-go, Ava Lee turns into this shady figure tracking down people and information by using any means necessary - deception, coercion, chloral hydrate, but very little accounting.

 

Oh, I am so conflicted about this book. I really wanted to like this a lot. I was really hoping to find a new series that would fill that silly void left by other series about action-packed espionage. And this one looked good because the idea of a Bond-like figure written as a woman sounded too good to pass by.

 

However, the execution of the book didn't live up to my expectations at all. There are silly plot elements that required me to suspend disbelief just a little too much, like when Ava calls up a shipping company out of the cold and they remember every single detail about a one-off, very ordinary, transaction from 8 weeks earlier, and they didn't even have to consult their files? I found that hardly credible.  

 

There were other elements of the writing that also grated on me: the use of brand names instead of descriptions, was a major annoyance. I find this so lazy. Even if we get to learn that someone wore Adidas pants, it still doesn't tell me what colour or style or whether they were tracksuit bottoms or the more fashion-conscious kind. All I know is that they may have stripes down the sides (tho not all of them do...). 

So lazy. Yet, this book is full of this. Brand names appear so often that I once even laughed at how the multitude of product placement compared to a James Bond film, which is famously full of the same advertising. 

 

There was one particular scene where the author has Ava decide between two hotels in Hong Kong (or was it Macao), and I literally had to skip the page because I was not going to put up with reading an advertising leaflet for the Mandarin Oriental. Still, as we can see, the advert worked as I will forever remember the name of the hotel. Gaaaahhh...

I'm so annoyed about this. And I haven't even mentioned Ava's addition to a particular kind of Starbucks coffee sachet...

 

In all of this, what I can only describe as an exercise to replace descriptive writing with consumerist imagery, the plot and character development gets left behind. 

In the first half of the book, Ava does little else than answer phone calls and jump on planes to exotic locations. 

In the second half of the book, the plot thickens. Or rather, Ava breaks out her martial art skills to kidnap someone...

Ironically, this is where I should have really gotten into the book and just didn't. It took me a lot longer to finish the book than I thought, because I just could not face the tedium of reading about Ava's attempts to restore money to a company account. I think I'd have been more interested in it if the underlying purpose had not been quite so ... transactional, and if there had been more emphasis on the characters involved.  

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text 2018-12-02 14:17
Reading progress update: I've read 64 out of 412 pages.
The Water Rat of Wanchai - Ian Hamilton

I should be able to finish this book today, as I am having up to 2 hours of uninterrupted reading time while my car is getting new winter tyres put on.

The gent at the garage told me I could wait or I could leave and he'd give me a call when they have finished. Even he smiled when I pulled out my book asking him to point me to their waiting room.

 

So, reading the heck out of this book while fuelled by garage coffee. :)

 

As for the book, I'm still interested but there are elements that really annoy me.

 

For example,  I find it a stretch to believe that a shipping company would remember the details of a one-off job from 8 weeks ago, that was a normal job, without consulting its files.

That does not happen, and yet, this happened twice already.

 

Anyway, onwards...

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text 2018-11-30 22:15
Women Writers Bingo / Project: Tracking Post

 

Read:

A - Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke (all new); The Man With the Sack (revisited on audio);

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun (new);

Margaret Atwood: The Penelopiad (new) and The Blind Assassin (both audio);

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Solitary Summer (new);

B - Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (revisited on audio);

Phyllis Bottome: The Lifeline (new)

C - Helen Czerski: Storm in a Teacup (new);

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, Murder Is Easy, They Do It With Mirrors, N or M?, Ordeal by Innocence, The Murder at the Vicarage, A Pocket Full of Rye, and Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories (all revisited on audio), Crooked House (revisited on audio and DVD), Destination Unknown, and They Came to Baghdad (both new);

Peter Finn & Petra Couvee: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book (new);

Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber and Nights at the Circus (both new)

D - Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen (new);

Daphne Du Maurier: Frenchman's Creek (new) and Rebecca (revisited on audio);

Detection Club: Verdict of 13 (new) -- used for Free Square

E - Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters (new);

Esi Edugyan: Washington Black (new)

F - Karin Fossum: He Who Fears the Wolf (new)

G - Elizabeth George: For the Sake of Elena, Playing for the Ashes, Well-Schooled in Murder, Payment in Blood, and A Traitor to Memory (all revisited on audio);

Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford (revisited on audio) and Cousin Phillis (new)

H - Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Loneliness (new);

Mavis Doriel Hay: Death on the Cherwell and Murder Underground (both new);

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (revisited on audio);

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic (new);

Georgette Heyer: Penhallow and Behold, Here's Poison (both new);

Susan Howatch: The Waiting Sands (new)

I -

J - P.D. James: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (new), Original Sin, Death of an Expert Witness, Unnatural Causes, and The Skull Beneath the Skin (all revisited on audio)

K - Rosalie Knecht: Who Is Vera Kelly? (new);

Susanna Kearsley: A Desperate Fortune (new)

L - Valerie Plame Wilson & Sarah Lovett: Blowback (new);

E.C.R. Lorac: Bats in the Belfry (new);

Carole Lawrence: Edinburgh Twilight (new)

M - Val McDermid: The Distant Echo and Trick of the Dark (both new);

Ngaio Marsh: Death in a White Tie, Off With His Head (aka Death of a Fool), Clutch of Constables, Death at the Dolphin (aka Killer Dolphin), Hand in Glove, and Death in a White Tie (all revisited on audio);

Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new);

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion (new);

Patricia A. McKillip: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (new);

Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Frankie Silver (new)

N -

O - Emmuska Orczy: The Old Man in the Corner (new), The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio), and I Will Repay (new)

P - Anne Perry: A Dangerous Mourning and The Whitechapel Conspiracy (both new);

Ellis Peters: The Sanctuary Sparrow, Dead Man's Ransom, The Pilgrim of Hate, and The Confession of Brother Haluin (all revisited on audio);

Valerie Plame Wilson: Blowback and Fair Game (both new)

Q -

R - J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith): The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil, and Lethal White (all new);

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (all on audio);

Stella Rimington: Secret Asset, Illegal Action, and Open Secret (all new);

Mary Roberts Rinehart: Locked Doors (new)

S - Dennis McCarthy & June Schlueter: "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North -- A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays (new);

Diane Setterfield: The Thirteenth Tale (new);

Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire;

Dorothy L. Sayers: Unnatural Death (revisited on audio)

T - Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair (both new);

Amy Tan: The Chinese Siamese Cat (new);

Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new)

Helen Tursten: Detective Inspector Huss (new)

U - Ludmila Ulitskaya: Ergebenst, euer Schurik (Sincerely yours, Shurik) (new)

V - Barbara Vine: The Brimstone Wedding (new)

W - Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) and The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch) (both new);

Patricia Wentworth: Miss Silver Intervenes, Latter End, Poison in the Pen, The Watersplash, The Traveller Returns, and The Clock Strikes Twelve (all new);

Kate Westbrook: The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel (new);

Edith Wharton: Ghosts: Edith Wharton's Gothic Tales (new);

Jennifer Wright: Get Well Soon (new)

X -

Y - Banana Yoshimoto: Kitchen (new)

Z - Juli Zeh: Schilf (English title: Dark Matter) and Unterleuten (both new)

 

Free / center square: Detection Club: Verdict of 13 (new; anthology)

 

On the card, I am only tracking new reads, not rereads.

 

Read, to date in 2018:

Books by female authors: 123

- new: 84

- rereads: 39

 

Books by male authors: 73

- new: 63

- rereads: 10

 

Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies: 3

- new: 3

- rereads:

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review 2018-11-28 03:06
THE LIBRARY ON The EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes McCoy
The Library at the Edge of the World - Felicity Hayes-McCoy
 

 

 THE LIBRARY ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

 Felicity Hayes-McCoy

paperback, 368 pages

Published November 14th 2017 by Harper Perennial
ISBN:  0062663720 (ISBN13: 9780062663726)

 

 

 

 

 

Things start a quiet confusion while Hannah tries to figure out her life after divorce and moving back to her small, rural hometown. Then chaos when she starts renovations on her house and the community finds out they are losing governmental support for the library and seniors.
I am a library lover to begin with. Set that in Ireland, I am in heaven. This was a fun read. Some of the crotchety characters and the description of the landscape were great. Hayes-McCoy usually writes non-fiction about the Dingle Peninsula where this book is set, so she knows the area well. Her words bring out the beauty of the area wonderfully. Hannah's character was a little too stubborn for me, at first. But as I continued with the story, I soon realized why.

 

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