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Search tags: fall-bookish-bingo-2018
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review 2019-03-19 19:55
Review: While You Sleep
While You Sleep - Stephanie Merritt

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This one came to me in one of those “read it now for the first 200 members” emails. I love gothic thrillers when they’re movies, particularly ones with a Scottish setting. So why not give it a go? I really liked what I read enough to buy a finished hardback.

 

Not my usual type of read, but this one caught my interest right away. I was intrigued with the mystery surrounding the main character, Zoe. She seemed quite cold and standoffish. She comes to a remote Scottish island to rent a manor with a foreboding location and gloomy history looking to get away from a tragedy and a failing marriage. The writing is delicious and the whole thing has a delightfully creepy and murky atmosphere to it.

 

Like with any small town, I would imagine, a community where people have known each other forever, Zoe is an anomaly and the subject of curiosity. The locals obviously know a lot more about the manor she is renting than they do. A strange history and the sight of recent traumatic event as well. Nosy neighbours galore, and unwanted attention from creepy men, Zoe does her best to keep to herself and deal with her own drama.

 

Doesn’t happen, of course. She finds herself drawn into the mysteries of the manor, the history and starts to get to know some of the locals pretty well. There was a surprising and well written erotic element to the mystery side of things as well. The characters were well fleshed out and believable,  even the unlikeable ones.

 

There were quite a few surprising twists, one or two of them I worked out, but some of them managed to surprise me. The tension was exceptionally well built throughout. The imagery was really vivid and the writing made it very easy to picture what was going on. I would love to see this book made into a movie.

 

Highly recommended and really, really good.

 

Definitely an author I will read again.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction for the review copy.

 

 

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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 2018-12-05 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 2018-10-31 19:14
Review: Mirage
Mirage - Somaiya Daud

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I was really looking forward to this one. I got approved for a review copy from Netgalley and then I got a gorgeous purple edged sprayed exclusive signed copy from my Fairyloot September subscription box. But unfortunately, no matter how pretty the book is – I just didn’t like it.

 

I was really disappointed. I sort of went in blind with this one, I didn’t reread the synopsis before I started – I was admittedly expecting a fantasy, and I got a sci-fi. The sci-fi actually read like a fantasy novel. The world building was interesting, the characters were okay, but the plot I found tedious and boring, the romance eye rolling and predictable.

 

At just over 300 pages it’s a relatively short book and was at least interesting enough that I didn’t DNF it, but it was a big snooze for me.

 

The basics of the plot are the heroine Amani’s people and her home planet have been conquered, and leaving under the harsh rule of the new rulers, the Vath. They are workers, live in a close community, Amani has siblings and friends and looking forward to her majority night ceremony. One thing I did actually like was the details to Amani’s religion, described in detail with deep history and stories without being preachy. Her faith gives her hope when everything looks bleak.

 

Until without warning Amani is taken away with Vath soliders and removed from her home planet to the Vath royalty homeworld. Her whole world is stripped from her when she learns she’s the exact image of the crown princess Maram, who needs a body double to attend public events as there has been threats upon her life. Maram is cold, cruel and emotionless. Amani is to be trained how to be Maram – dress like her, act like her, study her know her life and her world as if it were her own. If she fails or talks out of turn, she’s punished, harshly.

 

The writing is beautiful, it’s very poetic and poetry plays a large part of the plot, but it takes so long for anything to actually happen, the pretty writing gets flowery and annoying after a while. When Amani is training in her new forced position, it’s hard not to feel for the girl. Her family has been torn from her, everything she knows has gone, she’s got no one to help or anyone who can understand the pain she’s going through.

 

Though she determined to be strong and look for an opportunity to escape. Unfortunately, one of her jobs as posing as Maram includes spending time with Maram’s fiancée, Idris. Idris has his own backstory and was one of the more interesting characters, however, as soon as Amani has her first encounter with him…it’s painfully obvious where it’s going to go.

 

During the course of her training, Amari is sent on various outings as Maram, and learns that not everything is as it seems. There’s a rebellion brewing and she could play her own part to free her people. There’s a try at a political sort of side plot once Amari gets involved in both sides of the rebellion, but there’s a lot of talking and not much action.

 

Of course everything for Amani goes pear shaped and she finds herself in a terrible position – if things couldn’t get any worse – guess what – they do! Left on a cliff hanger of course, with two more books to follow. While it was kind of boring, I must admit I’m interested in seeing where it was going.

 

There were some interesting themes on family and standing up for your believes, being strong and trying to do the right thing in tough situations. The writing as I mentioned was lovely, so there’s definite potential there.  It would work better for me as a fantasy rather than a sci-fi as that’s what it reads like. Admittedly, it’s an interesting way of writing.

 

Amani and Idris felt like the only fleshed out characters, though the romance was kind of eye rolling. Maram herself had potential as well as she does show some growth as the plot wears on but quickly reverts to how she was when the novel opens. Lots to explore in a follow up.

 

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

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