Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

34433755Series: Girls of Paper and Fire #1
Pages: 400
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Release Date: November 6th, 2018
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

I really don’t know what I was expecting going into this. I was thinking it would be more like Wither by Lauren DeStefano, where these girls are selected to be more like brides for the king, and I was expecting more of a competition aspect in that they’re all fighting to be the chosen Paper Girl. I was wrong.

The premise of this book is dark, be warned. Each year eight Paper Girls are chosen to basically join the Demon King’s exclusive harem. They are selected against their will, trained in the ways of the court, and expected to perform for the king. Their duties reminded me quite a bit of The Handmaid’s Tale, though they are not trying to get pregnant. They’re chosen to be the playthings of a vicious and paranoid ruler whose monarchy has ruled for the past 200 years.

When Lei is brought to the palace, she is determined to rebel in any small way she can. What she doesn’t expect is to make friends, and even fall in love with one of her fellow Paper Girls.

This world is so richly developed. There’s a map at the beginning but it’s only of the palace itself. Still, I was able to picture the entire kingdom of Ikhara so perfectly. There are three castes in this society: Moon, Steel, and Paper. The Moon Caste are demons, half human half animal, and make up the upper class and the nobility. Steel Caste is a little closer to human but still have animalistic features. Paper Caste are purely human and are the lowest of the low. The descriptions of the palace and the gowns and even the food are so detailed and beautiful that I was completely immersed in this world. The descriptions of the Moon Castes were so detailed and eerie. One of the main characters is an eagle woman whose face narrows into a beak and who has feathers down her arms that, when extended, make up huge wings. There are wolves, foxes, bulls, and even lizards. Watching the way these different creatures interact in a formal court setting was fascinating.

Lei is an excellent main character. She really struggles with missing home and her family while also starting to feel comfortable in court and make friends, and then with the guilt that comes from starting to feel happy away from her family. She wants to be compliant and do her duties as a Paper Girl to keep her family safe but is also horrified by what’s expected of her and wants to fight against it.

All of the side characters are equally excellent. Wren, Aoiki, Zelle, and Tien are so richly developed that you can’t help but feel for them. The slow revelations we get alongside Lei as we learn about Wren was written so wonderfully, it felt so genuine.

Honestly, this book was just incredible. Some definite trigger warnings include: forced sexual activity/sexual assault, violence, and cruelty to animals (brief), so be aware of those going in. If those don’t deter you, I highly recommend picking this up.

_Tia

Review: An Affair of Poisons by Addie Thorley

40046019._SY475_Series: N/A
Pages: 391
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: February 26, 2019
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
After unwittingly helping her mother poison King Louis XIV, seventeen-year-old alchemist Mirabelle Monvoisin is forced to see her mother’s Shadow Society in a horrifying new light: they’re not heroes of the people, as they’ve always claimed to be, but murderers. Herself included. Mira tries to ease her guilt by brewing helpful curatives, but her hunger tonics and headache remedies cannot right past wrongs or save the dissenters her mother vows to purge.
Royal bastard Josse de Bourbon is more kitchen boy than fils de France. But when the Shadow Society assassinates the Sun King and half of the royal court, he must become the prince he was never meant to be in order to save his injured sisters and the petulant dauphin. Forced to hide in the sewers beneath the city, Josse’s hope of reclaiming Paris seems impossible―until his path collides with Mirabelle’s.
She’s a deadly poisoner. He’s a bastard prince. They are sworn enemies, yet they form a tenuous pact to unite the commoners and former nobility against the Shadow Society. But can a rebellion built on mistrust ever hope to succeed?

Wow. An Affair of Poisons. This was amazing.

I hadn’t heard of this until I stumbled upon it at Barnes & Noble. I think they might have put it out before its actual release date? I purchased it February 19th and the Goodreads release date says the 26th, so I don’t know what happened there. I went to Barnes & Noble after surprise getting out of work early to get a pretzel and wander around, and when I saw this cover I was instantly drawn in.

This book starts off so strong! I was instantly hooked right from the first chapter. It starts with Mira, an alchemist for the Shadow Society, a secret society run by her mother with the goal of offering assistance to peasants who have been neglected by King Louis the XIV. Her mother convinces her to brew a poison to kill the abusive husband of a society member, and when Mira goes with her to witness the effects of her poison, her mother instead uses it to kill the king.

The story is action-packed right from the start. I loved the characters. This story is told from a dual perspective, that of Mira and that of Josse, bastard son of the late Sun King. I loved the character arcs and the growth that these two go through during this uprising. There are also A+ side characters and some of the best redeemable characters I’ve read.

When raving about An Affair of Poisons to my friend after informing her that she’s borrowing it and that she’s going to read it, I told her this book has everything: Historical fantasy/alternate history, political intrigue, uprising, alchemy, and definitely the most wholesome first kiss scene I’ve ever read.

Y’all. Read this.

_Tia

Review: Three Mages and A Margarita by Annette Marie

39676313._SY475_

Series: The Guild Codex: Spellbound #1
Pages: 312
Publisher: Dark Owl Fantasy Inc.
Release Date: September 14, 2018
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
Broke, almost homeless, and recently fired. Those are my official reasons for answering a wanted ad for a skeevy-looking bartender gig.
It went downhill the moment they asked me to do a trial shift instead of an interview—to see if I’d mesh with their “special” clientele. I think that part went great. Their customers were complete dickheads, and I was an ***hole right back. That’s the definition of fitting in, right?
I expected to get thrown out on my ***. Instead, they… offered me the job?
It turns out this place isn’t a bar. It’s a guild. And the three cocky guys I drenched with a margarita during my trial? Yeah, they were mages. Either I’m exactly the kind of takes-no-*** bartender this guild needs, or there’s a good reason no one else wants to work here.
So what’s a broke girl to do? Take the job, of course—with a pay raise.

I was so pleasantly surprised by this book. When it showed up on my facebook ads, the title was just bizarre enough to pique my interests. Since it was free on kindle unlimited, I gave it a go, and it captured my attention immediately.

We follow Tori, a sassy twenty-something living on her brother’s couch. Since moving to the city three months before, she’s been unable to hold down a job and has been blacklisted from every restaurant around. When she stumbles across a flier for a bartender position in a sketchy part of town, she figures she’ll give it a shot. The frazzled manager tells her to come back later to cover the bar during a busy gathering and the job is hers. Tori soon realizes that this sketchy bar is actually a headquarters for a mage’s guild, and this job is going to be much different than she realized.

I’ve been reading quite a bit of urban fantasy lately. It’s a fun escape from reality without needing to understand an entirely new world. In my quest for urban fantasy, I’ve also discovered that it’s not easy to find good ones. I’m not generally a fan of YA urban fantasy, as they tend to be romance-heavy and follow all the same tropes as Twilight (nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s been done to death), and a lot of adult urban fantasy tends to be heavy on the sexual content. They also haven’t been super popular lately and, given their roots in the real world, don’t tend to age well.

While this definitely isn’t for those looking for a deep, heavy fantasy with politics and enriching worlds, it’s a super fun, short book if you’re in the mood for sassy characters getting into all sorts of mischief. It’s a solid start to a series and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes!

_Tia

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

13160619._SY475_Series: Seraphina, #1
Pages: 530
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: July 1st, 2012
My Rating: StarStarStar EmptyStar EmptyStar Empty

In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans live and work side by side – while below the surface, tensions and hostility simmer.

The newest member of the royal court, a uniquely gifted musician named Seraphina, holds a deep secret of her own. One that she guards with all of her being.

When a member of the royal family is brutally murdered, Seraphina is drawn into the investigation alongside the dangerously perceptive—and dashing—Prince Lucien. But as the two uncover a sinister plot to destroy the wavering peace of the kingdom, Seraphina’s struggle to protect her secret becomes increasingly difficult… while its discovery could mean her very life.

goodreads

This book has been on my radar for quite some time, as when it initially came out it was very popular on BookTube. I was curious about it: it sounded like an interesting story, it was getting excellent reviews, and the cover is gorgeous, but for some reason it took me seven years to finally pick it up. Maybe if I’d read this when it came out I would have enjoyed it more, but where I am in life now I just couldn’t get into it.

The story was fine. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with it. In this world, there has been a treaty between humans and dragons for forty years. Still, the two races generally detest each other. As part of the treaty, whenever dragons leave their designated dragon areas, they have to assume a human form called a saarantras and wear bells at all times in order to identify themselves as dragons. Seraphina Dombegh is a half-blood whose mother posed as a human and tricked her father to fall in love with her, even though dragon/human relations were illegal.

I definitely think if I’d read this book when it first came out I wouldn’t be as bothered as I am by the manipulation on the part of Seraphina’s mother. Seraphina also struggles with this, but she resents her mother for creating a half-dragon, not for the manipulation. It feels very rapey to me and I think the characters overlooked that aspect in their shock at the merging of the two races and the fact that there were other half-bloods as well.

The relationships between Seraphina, Glisselda, and Kiggs was also bothersome. Glisselda is second heir to the throne of Goredd and Kiggs is her bastard cousin. The two have been betrothed for years and are obviously very close. We know that Seraphina is going to fall for Kiggs as soon as she meets him (even as soon as you read the synopsis you know it’s coming) and since this is told from Seraphina’s perspective we see her struggle with falling for a human even though she can never have an authentic romantic relationship because no one can know of her heritage. With as much as she struggles with her feelings, she never seems to consider Glisselda in this equation. Glisselda is clearly fond of Seraphina, is non-judgemental, and wants to help Seraphina acclimate to life at court, yet Seraphina doesn’t think twice about hurting her in order to get to Kiggs. Kiggs doesn’t seem to mind harming his cousin, friend, and fiancee either. Had I read this when I was younger I probably would have thought this plot was romantic, but now it’s just a betrayal that the characters are far too casual about.

Aside from the characters’ gray morals, there is a weird psychic element to Seraphina’s character that I don’t think was necessary. It was a cool concept, but I think it should have been a separate story. The race relations were an interesting enough plot without it. The language used was also far too confusing in my opinion, and I’m a 25-year-old English major. I can’t imagine reading this as a teenager which is the audience it’s geared for.

In general, I was just bored. This book took me far longer to read than I would have anticipated. It is a little on the longer side, but I just didn’t have any desire to pick it up throughout the day and ended up only reading it when I was going to bed. I originally rated this three stars, but that was immediately after I finished it and I was on a little bit of a high from the ending. Upon further reflection, I think it’s really a two-star read for me. It was fine. Some people like it. I am not one of those people.

_Tia

Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

truly deviousSeries: Truly Devious, #1
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: January 16th, 2018
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar Empty

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

goodreads

Truly Devious is a book that I was hesitant about for the majority of 2018. I had never read anything by Maureen Johnson before, but just the knowledge that she wrote the Little Blue Envelope series, which I perceived as being very cutesy and romantic, was enough to make me drag my heels on reading her interpretation of a true crime fanatic working on a real case. In the end, I’m glad it took me so long to read it so I could pick up the sequel as soon as I was finished.

To say this book took me by surprise is an understatement. The care with which Johnson crafts each character is astounding and the diversity represented was so refreshing. Stevie is a young murderino living with anxiety and panic attacks who dreams of becoming a detective and solving the elusive Ellingham Affair. Her struggles with anxiety, her strained relationship with her parents, her interest in a taboo subject that has often secluded her from her peers… She’s everything I could wish for in a protagonist. Janelle is unapologetically black, queer, and interested in inventing (a stereotypically masculine interest). She mentions a past girlfriend, yet her sexuality is never questioned or used as a plot point. Vi is nonbinary and always referred to using they/them pronouns without question, and their gender/sexuality is never used as a plot point. Not only that, Vi is of Asian descent (I think Korean but I’m not sure), and Janelle and Vi’s interracial relationship is literally the cutest.

When this novel was plugged as a mystery I was a little nervous. I have not read many YA mysteries and the one that immediately comes to mind is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart which I was not a fan of. That was not the case with this, Maureen Johnson must truly be a murderino and her depiction of characters interested in such taboo subjects is excellent.

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_Tia