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DNF The Wicked Vampire

The Wicked Vampire (Last True Vampire series) - Kate Baxter

It’s bern nearly two months since I last picked this book up and current have no desire to finish it. While there are some deliciously steamy sex scenes the plot seems repetitive in the I love you but I hate you theme. It’s not badly written or anything it’s just not doing anything for me personally right now.

Thank you Netgalley and St Martin’s Press for the review copy.

Review: Sawkill Girls

Sawkill Girls - Claire Legrand

 

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

It’s been a long time since I read a book and thought what the fuck was that when I finished. I was rather looking forward to this one as well. I’ve heard of the author and have most of her YA books on my shelves. So I was quite excited when I got the approval for this one. I saw it featured around Halloween a lot on my YA twitter feed last year.

 

I usually like books that are quite different, especially ones that promise a spooky atmosphere and a strange plot. But in this case – I really just did not like this book at all. Right off the bat something didn’t sit well with me on this one. I didn’t connect with any of the characters and the style of the writing was weird. It had some really descriptive lines, some scenes almost boarding on poetic.

 

Then something would happen and try to be gory and freaky and it came across as more comical than anything. One thing I really did like was plus points for diversity in the characters – one character is asexual, and the other two girls hook up and there is some really hot girl/girl scenes.

 

The plot was too bizarre for words. I only kept reading because I wanted to know what was going on, but the more I read the more annoyed I got with it. This book was a major disappointment.

 

Thank you to Harper360 for approving my request to view the title.

Review: A Thousand Perfect Notes

A Thousand Perfect Notes - Christine Drews

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I honestly don’t know how to feel about this one. I wound up getting a finished paperback, I saw it in the bookshop and couldn’t resist after seeing how pretty the cover was. At just under 300 pages it’s a fairly short read.

 

A contemporary YA set in Australia. – Trigger warnings for abuse both mental and physical.

 

15 year old Beck lives with his mom and younger sister Joey. Beck’s German mother was a piano prodigy in her youth but circumstances cut her glorious career short so she’s decided to live her dreams through her son instead. Beck is forced to practice complicated classical piano all his spare time before and after school. He lives in a very strict environment where everything revolves around his piano playing.

 

His mother is one of the most brutal, violent YA parents I have come across in a long time, she was absolutely vile. She ridicules Beck every opportunity, as if she’s looking for anything to criticize his playing. She uses threats and violence. Beck is allowed no friends, no freedoms, only focus on the piano; even school seems to be a second thought. The mother has spent every last cent she has on the piano Beck plays and they are not well off. Something she never fails to remind him of.

 

Poor Beck is a shrunken, pitiful mess. He’s afraid of his own shadow. The story is told from his point of view and his voice is just heart breaking. I spent most of the novel wanting to hug this poor kid and take him away from his horrible home life. He has a small relief in his delightful younger sister Joey. Joey is a loud and bright kindergartner who loves her big brother.

 

Because of the violence hanging over his piano playing Beck has no idea just how good he is, since all he’s heard is he’s never going to be good enough. He has a secret hobby of writing his own music. For a school project Beck is paired with August, a flighty girl who’s a big animal rights activist. She’s airy and full of personality, doodles on her hands, walks around with no shoes. August was nice enough, but there was something about her that I didn’t get. I couldn’t really connect with her character at all.

 

While Beck is trying to get through school with as little effort as possible, August despite her somewhat flaky personality, is a straight A student. She’s determined to get a good grade on the project. She slowly begins worming her way into Beck’s life, meeting with him before school so they can walk Joey to the kindergarten together and discuss their project. She bonds with Joey and tries to find out more about Beck. He’s clearly resisting and doesn’t want to know, but she just doesn’t seem to want to accept that.

 

As the days progress they get to know each other and little by little, Beck slowly starts opening up to August, learning to like some new music, some new foods. It’s sweet watching them come together, but…eh, there was just something not working for me where August was concerned. She gave off this sort of “I’m so speshul because I’m different” vibe I didn’t gel with as a reader. One thing I really did like about August was her parents. Her parents run an animal sanctuary, and they were awesome. I loved August’s parents.

 

Meanwhile Beck has the threat of several very important performances hanging over him, and things are not going well. When things don’t go well his nightmare of a mother goes into violent overdrive. It’s horrifying to read as things go from bad to worse for Beck. We learn a little about his mother’s background when Beck’s uncle – a very famous pianist comes to visit. But it’s no excuse for her behaviour. And the uncle is not trying to excuse it, at least.

 

It’s not an uplifting story at all, really. As mortifying as some of it is, there are some scenes that were beautifully written, capturing Beck’s terror at home, the loathing he has for the piano, the secret desires and longings. While some of it was rather boring and slow. It has its moments as well were hope shines through in a rather grim story.

 

Certainly shows a lot of promise for a debut. I rounded up and gave it three starts (it’s somewhere between a two and three for me).

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Orchard Books for the review copy.

Review: Charlotte Says

Charlotte Says - Alex Bell

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

An enjoyable creepy prequel to Frozen Charlotte. I remember Frozen Charlotte vaguely, and it was really the hot pink cover on the prequel that drew me in. I don’t really like prequels, but I thought I’d give this a shot. Went into it without looking at reviews or anything, just going off the synopsis.

 

It’s a historical set at a gloomy boarding school in the Isle of Sky in 1910. The main character Jemima has gone there with an assistant teaching position after the deaths of her mother and stepfather. Something horrible happened and Jemima is tormented with flashbacks as the novel opens. The opening catches the misery and nasty weather perfectly. The school is an institution for non-criminal destitute girls to teach them working skills. Mostly serving work.

 

Jemima is late on arrival and reprimanded immediately by the horrible ogre of a head mistress, the nasty school maid gives her a hard time. The only saving grace is her childhood friend Henry who lives nearby and works at the school as well. Some sort of butler/ grounds keeper. She gets along with the children, who treat her with respect. She’s appalled at the way the headmistress treats and frequently punishes the children for the slightest infractions.

 

It’s very well written and atmospheric. It’s certainly got a sense of gloom and foreboding to the storytelling, and at moments is downright creepy. Through flashbacks we learn more about Jemima’s history with her mother (there’s no father in the picture) – her mother posed as a “medium” to make money. She attracts the attention of a rich and powerful man who woos her into marrying him, but he of course, has sinister motives for marrying a medium. Things got bad quickly after the marriage and took a dark and unpleasant turn.

 

At the start of the novel, a box arrives for Jemima of Frozen Charlotte dolls and a big doll house, which she donates to the school. Shortly after, Jemima starts seeing scary things out the corner of her eye, thinking she’s hearing things – people taking to her who aren’t there. The behaviour of some of the children starts rapidly changing, accidents happen, and fatalities start happening. And when questioned the children all have the same answer – the dolls did it. The Frozen Charlottes told them to.

 

Jemima was a likeable character, she had a no nonsense attitude about her, but showed a softer side in how she interacted and cared for the children, helped them when no one else would. There’s not much lightness to the story, it’s a murky one and unpleasant. Though Henry is Jemima’s light in the dark and even though she tries to deny her feelings for him, she can’t hold it in. The other characters were well written – the maid and the school mistress were really awful people. (The sort you hope something nasty will happen to).

 

There was quite a dark twist at the end when things started unravelling and truths were revealed. And a creepy end that left me with a twisted grin.

 

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable read if you like horror-themed mysteries.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Stripes Publishing/Little Tiger Group for the review copy

Review: Bonfire

Bonfire - Krysten Ritter

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I snagged this one when it was offered on a read it now for the first 100 members. I take a break from the YA I read for grown up mysteries and thrillers, this one sounded good and the fact it was written by Krysten Ritter caught my attention immediately.

 

Unfortunately, I just didn’t like this book. The story has been done before in one form or another, there wasn’t any particular character I necessarily liked. Most of them were horrible people. The story line was interesting enough – a small town girl leaves and goes to college, becomes a lawyer and winds up working for a centre for legal advocacy. Something to do with environmental law. Finds herself returning home to investigate a big company who make plastic and give the dying town new life and new employment opportunities. With some nasty side effects to the environment and some of the people who live there.

 

Nothing unfamiliar. The main character fell fowl of the school’s mean girls. The most popular one who used to be a childhood best friend turned toxic became the queen bee and disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Some sort of sinister Game is hinted at, to do with risqué pictures and blackmail and a whole host of perverted things related to it. There’s something going on and may be related to things that happened when the MC went to high school there, only things have taken a significantly darker turn. And of course there are people who don’t want the past digging up or the MC to connect the dots to what’s really happening.

 

Technically speaking there wasn’t anything terrible about the way it was written – it had its moment and really managed to capture the small dull life of a town without much going for it. The novel did a pretty good job of showing how horrible people can be behind the smiling facades they put on. Girls who were bullies in high school that don’t learn from it and don’t become good people.  The main character is reasonably level headed and intelligent and the investigation is interesting enough that it kept me wanting to know what was going on. One or two characters had some redeeming moments, but for the most part, nothing stood out.

 

Overall, it was just okay.

 

Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone for the review copy.

Review: The House by the Cemetery

The House by the Cemetery (Fiction Without Frontiers) - John Everson

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

This book was immensely fun in a twisted way. Haunted houses are my favourite type of horror movie, from the downright creepy to the laughably bad and gory to the what the fuck did I just watch? This book reads like a combination of all of the above.

 

Down on his luck Mike is in desperate need of a job, his buddy Perry has a plan to renovate a spooky old house into a Haunted House attraction in time for Halloween. The house is in the perfect creepy location next to a cemetery and there are boundless rumours of the house being haunted. Satanic rituals and murders on the property. Anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie or read a horror novel should know that to logical people building a haunted house in a place with this kind of history should scream bad idea, bad idea! Something is going go hideously wrong!

 

And of course, therein, lies the fun.

 

Mike starts building the house, a girl Katie, and her creepy friend appear and random intervals, Katie is pretty and younger than Mike. She and her friend start helping Mike with the renovations. Weird things start happening, odd noises, strange…things…turning up out of nowhere.  Meanwhile a host of other characters are introduced, the people who are getting involved in designing and making the haunted house.  The set designers, the costume makers and prop-makers, the actors, the makeup artist and her boyfriend. They get together and start working on their project.

 

And at the same time, two paranormal investigators are ranting about what a spectacularly bad idea this haunted house thing is. Restless spirits, a dark place etc. Their attempts at getting into the house fail miserably.  Katie has a secret. Halloween night arrives and with it, a blood bath! Not a lot happens until the opening night of the attraction, its short chapters, lots of characters. And the plot doesn’t require any kind of thinking or figuring out deep ulterior movies or anything.  It’s atmospheric and has some creepy moments. The characters have absolutely no depth to them. The secret behind the old murders, and weird things happening is just stupid. And there is a murderous rampage of epic proportions. But it doesn’t matter how ridiculous it all is.

 

It’s entertaining, and daft haunted house fun is the whole reason for reading it. Thoroughly enjoyable.

 

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

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.

Review: Sea Witch

Sea Witch - Sarah Henning

This book was one of my most anticipated releases of last year. The Little Mermaid is one of my favourite fairy tales (and my favourite Disney movie). So a sea witch origin story? Hell yes! I pre ordered as well and was so excited when my review request was approved.

 

Only…I can’t say I was overtly impressed. It was almost 70% of the book before anything resembling The Little Mermaid cropped up into the story and the first half was slow and kind of boring.  The setting was beautiful – inspired by the original tale not the Disneyfied version, the Danish kingdom by the sea sounds absolutely beautiful.

 

The heroine, Evie, is interesting as she is not the most likeable of characters. She’s kind of blunt at times, an outcast. Her mother is out of the picture (can’t remember why) and her father is away a lot working on the fishing boats. Evie lives with the local witch, and is learning her magic. And sneaking glances at magic she’s not supposed to know.

 

Already looked down upon because of where she stays, she also feels the stigma of the death of her childhood best friend Anna. They were both playing in the sea, something happened, Evie survived, Anna did not.  Evie also has developed a close friendship with the Crown Prince and his handsome cousin, all are about the same age. Many of the nobles don’t like this, another reason Evie is frowned up on.

 

Yet despite this she keeps a strong outlook and doesn’t let people’s disdain of her stop her from being friends with the Prince and hanging out with him and his cousin whenever she can. She’s also not opposed to using magic she’s not supposed to.

 

The first half of the book focuses on how Evie deals with day to day life, her friendship with the two princes, the upcoming festival. The hints of her darker nature just showing through. It is beautifully written, but it is very very slow. And despite showing hints of a strong character, Evie spends a fair bit of time mooning over the Prince’s cousin who she may or may not have feelings for. The dude is a known player yet seems to give her special treatment more than any other girls he’s supposedly courted.

 

When a strange new girl arrives in town looking almost identical to Anna, Evie’s world is thrown. She’s convinced the girl IS Anna, but the girl is firm she is not. She and the girl develop a close friendship and Evie learns the girl’s secret – she is in fact, a mermaid and needs to find her true love in order to stay on land and keep her legs. This new girl also develops a close friendship with Evie’s prince and his cousin. The cousin is convinced there’s something not right about this girl.

 

The girl has some unusual magic of her own, Evie is determined to help the girl, she failed one friend she won’t fail another. But things start unravelling as the girl’s history and secrets are slowly revealed and truths are learned. Things take a drastic turn and change for Evie in ways she never imagined.

 

The latter half of the book was much more fast paced, but as I said earlier it’s almost 70% before the pace finally picks up and things start happening – fast. It almost seems rushed. The characters of Evie and the mysterious new girl were quite well fleshed out, but the two princes just felt like generic YA love interest characters. One nice and friendly with good honourable intentions, the other a charmer with a not so good reputation. It’s been done a hundred times.

 

There was enough of an interesting narrative to want to know what was going on – but it was still a little bit disappointing.

 

It appears there is a sequel, I can’t honestly say I am that interested in continuing this story, though I would definitely read something else written by this author.

 

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK Children’s books for approving my request to view the title.

Review: Grace & Fury

Grace and Fury - Tracy Banghart

I received a copy from Netgalley.

 

I had forgotten I pre ordered this one so wound up with a finished Kindle copy as well. The premise of this YA fantasy sounded interesting enough, two different sisters have spent their lives prepping for a certain roles and something happens and their positions get switched over.

 

I’m torn on this one because the story itself was interesting enough to want to know what was going to happen but everything felt very flat and under developed. In this fantasy world women have no rights. They’re not allowed even allowed to read, or study – they’re there to either marry and raise a family or work without questions in dull factories. The most coveted role for a woman is a Grace – the perfect example of the demure subservient woman.

 

Perspective Graces are chosen and get to live a life of luxury at the palace to be of service to the King and his Heir as and when called for. Serina has been prepping her whole life to be a Grace, her younger more rebellious sister Nomi is going to be her Handmaiden. At least that way they will be together. A Grace’s family is looked after and lives a life of wealth as well.  Serina is all light and fluff. Nomi is the more serious twin. She wants to be able to make her own choices, her own decisions without the approval of a man. She’s already rebelled in her own way and learned something she shouldn’t be able to do.

 

Yet when the girls get to the palace, it’s Nomi who’s chosen as a Grace, and has no idea how to handle it. She’s never been interested in learning things like dancing and needlepoint. She has also caught the attention of the king’s Heir, Malachi, who’s supposed to be cold and mean. And dangerous.

 

At the start of this I had the feeling that the reader is supposed to be rooting for Nomi because she doesn’t want to conform to the role set out for her. However, I found Nomi to be an idiot. She makes a major error and Serina pays for it to protect her sister. Nomi is floundered by being a Grace, and now has to do it without Serina’s help.

 

She also manages to catch the eye of the Heir’s brother Asa, who’s very handsome and charming (and much nicer than Malachi). He’s kind and helpful. I found Nomi to be utterly annoying and eye rollingly stupid in some of her actions while she gets to know Asa and starts falling head over heels for him. Graces are not permitted to take lovers. They are for the Heir only.  

 

Serina’s story, meanwhile, took a really unexpected turn. She’s forced into a tough situation where she has to rely on her strength and self preservation to survive, it’s a massive shock to her system and it’s utterly captivating. Quite horrific as well and brutal as Serina navigates her new word. Serina turned out for me to be the much stronger sister, and she was the one who drove the story forward to keep me interested in reading.

 

Nomi’s chapters made me want to throw things.

 

While the story was fairly fast paced, there was something…lacking from the story as a whole. The characters weren’t really fleshed out much, Serina was the only one in my opinion who showed some major growth. And if the novel was all about her, then I probably would have rated it higher. She’s the reason I want to read the next book.

 

One thing I did really like was the sense of family and belonging to each other the girls have, they would do anything for each other. Their older brother Renzo has a part to play in the story too and he’s part of that close-knit family unity. The end picked up a bit, there was a twist which is one of those I should have seen that coming from a mile away (but didn’t) things. While this is never going to be a favourite fantasy, it certainly had potential and I’m interested to see where the story will go next.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Hachette Children’s Group for the review copy.

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.  

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.

Reading progress update: I've read 13%.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely - Brigid Kemmerer

The formatting on my kindle copy from netgalley and the pdf on Bluefire Reader is all over the place and it's annoying me and sapping the enjoyment of the book. Putting this one aside until my finished copy arrives. 

Fall Bingo Wrap Up

Fall Bingo 2018 from Pretty Deadly Reviews

 

 

All Squares Completed!!

 

Made Into A Movie (Can be a TV show) – a Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – 5 Stars

Middle Grade – The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken – 3 Stars

One Word Title  - Shatter by Aprilynne Pike – 4 Stars

Fire in Title or on Cover – The Arsonist by Stephanie Oaks (Fire on Cover) 5 Stars

Mystery – While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt –  4 Stars

History with a Twist – In The Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters – 4 Stars

Set in a School – Blythewood by Carol Goodman – 2 Stars

Witches – Toil And Trouble Anthology – 3 Stars

2018 Debut – Mirage by Somaiya Daud – 2 Stars

Black Cover – Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust – 4 Stars

Space or Stars – Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston – 5 Stars

Fall Release – Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan – 5 Stars

Free – My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Frady Hendrix

Purple Cover – Wicked Like A Wildfire by Lana Popvic – 2 Stars

Dual POV – Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean  - 2 Stars

Copper Bronze or Gold Cover – The Merciless 2 (Gold cover) by Danielle Vega –  5 Stars

Found Family – The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Scares You – Into The Drowning Deep – Mira Grant – 5 Stars

Myth or Legend – The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwell – 2 Stars

Set in Another Country – Wildcard by Marie Lu – 4 Stars

Pretty Spine – The Cruel Prince by Holly Black – 3 Stars

Killers – Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite – 5 Stars

Less Than 300 Pages – A Murder of Magpies by Sarah Bromley – 1 Star (my paperback is 282 pages)

Features Animals – The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie – 1 Star

LGBT+ - Drawing Blood by Poppy Z Brite -3 Stars

 

Best Books

Heart of Iron – Sci-Fi Anastasia retelling. Brilliant – fantastic characters and world building, and totally gripping – just couldn’t put it down.  

 A Discovery of Witches – totally Twilight for grownups but so much fun and better than I had anticipated it to be.

Into the Drowning Deep – Killer mermaids in the depth of the ocean *shudder* Deep ocean life fascinates me but creeps the hell out of me at the same time, and this one did a really good job of the carnage and creep factor.

Exquisite Corpse – reread of an old favourite, just as good now as when I read it over and over in my teens. Not for the faint of heart. Very disturbing but completely addictive.

Girls of Paper and Fire – fantastic fantasy, with a lesbian ship.

The Arsonist – made me ugly cry. I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry so much.

The Merciless 2, Wildcard, Girls of Snow and Glass.

 

Honourable Mentions

Toil and Trouble – mixed bag of witchy stories, some of which I liked, some I didn’t get at all. Some authors I knew of, some I didn’t. Great way to introduce new authors to look for as well.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Reading – fun middle grade scares, spooky and entertaining, perfect autumn reading. Beautifully written as well.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism – enormously enjoyable romp through high school in the 80s – 80s pop culture galore, and creeptastic too. Quite silly in places and a little gross as well. Very horror movie like and a lot of fun.

 Drawing Blood – Another Poppy Z Brite book I read over and over in my teens, never got this one quite as much as some of the others. Part mystery part psychotropic trip. I did love the gay couple in this one, and how they came together and fell in love. The surrounding story I didn’t really get but in all worked in a weird way.

While You Sleep – creepy Scottish mystery with a really good twist at the end.

 

Meh Books

Blythewood – Boring and disappointing for a historical boarding school training girls to fight fae monsters, went on too long.  

The Cruel Prince – Black Sheep on this one it seems – it was okay, I  just wasn’t blown away by it as I have been by Holly Black’s other fairy books. Found it a bit slow, but picked up towards the end. I’m curious about where it’s going.

Wicked Like a Wild Fire – I didn’t have a clue what was going on in this one. Something about a line of witches and plants and singing and a deal with death and goddess gone wrong resulting in a family curse. Another one that was beautifully written but the characters were flat.

 

Worst Books

A Murder of Magpies, The Abyss Surrounds Us –futuristic fantasy/scifi about genetically engineered sea monsters. The heroine who is trained to raise these beings to protect ships at sea is captured by pirates and forced into breeding one to belong to the pirate ship. Finds a love to hate relationship with a girl in the crew. It’s lesbian pirates. I’m dying for a book on this subject that I like but this is the second type of book I’ve read on that theme I really didn’t like at all.

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.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 480 out of 480 pages.

— feeling star
Heart of Iron - Ashley Poston

Possibly one of the best most exciting books I have ever read.

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.