What Happens After You Fulfil Your Destiny?: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

As much as I hate to say it, Chosen Ones is another one of those books with a great concept but not so great execution. I mean, taking the chosen one trope and grounding it in reality by looking at the aftermath and trauma that comes with it? Such a good idea! If only this fantastic potential had been better taken advantage of.

Who, What, Where?

Fifteen years ago, five teens – Sloan, Matt, Inez, Albie and Esther – were singled out by the government as potential chosen ones, prophesied to defeat a powerful entity known as The Dark One. Following his defeat, the world seemingly returned to normal. Now adults, the group is trying to adjust to living as regular people again. But how can they when they’re the most famous people around? More so, after everything that’s happened to them? Sloane, in particular, has had a hard time moving on – nightmares, PTSD, and secrets about her kidnapping by the Dark One that she hasn’t told anyone. Around the tenth anniversary of their triumph, one of the five shockingly dies and the remaining chosen ones are sent hurtling into another prospective battle with a new Dark One.

Too Long to Reach the Good Stuff

If I had to use one descriptor for this book, it would unfortunately have to be ‘a slog’. The last third or quarter of Chosen Ones is actually pretty enjoyable. Plotlines come together, secrets are revealed, there’s action, our villain develops a backstory…but gosh, does it feel like a trial to get there.

The pacing for most of this book leaves a lot to be desired. My interest would register in short bursts only to disappear again for large stretches of time. The earlier chapters deal with establishing the chosen five (plus their baggage) and the world ten years after the defeat of The Dark One. This was fine at first but after a while I found myself wondering where it was all going. Once part two hit, a major and unexpected shift in the narrative occurred which led me to believe things would start to pick up. Instead, I got some wandering around the city, character squabbling, and boring magic instruction (something I’m normally crazy about). Finally, at long last, some new characters were introduced and I began to get a better sense of the overarching conflict, allowing me to feel more engaged in the story. However, by this point, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was a case of too little, too late.

Not My Chosen Ones

When it comes to slower reads, I’m 100% fine provided I have characters I can connect with and get invested in. This wasn’t really the case here. I enjoy the occasional abrasive, emotionally complicated and typically ‘unlikeable’ character, but for some reason I just didn’t click with Sloane. I’m not sure whether it was the distance created by the third person narration but I never really felt as though the book got as emotionally deep with her trauma as it should have. Regrettably, I felt the same way about the rest of the chosen ones and for a book that I believed was going to focus on exactly this theme, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

In the end, my attitude towards most of the characters in this book can only be explained as indifferent. While I thought Albie was sweet, Ines disappeared for most of the book, Matt was annoying and boring, and Esther was…eh. Both Mox and Ziva were likeable with solid potential but because of their point of introduction in the story, there wasn’t enough time to properly develop them into anything substantial.

Documents and Files

One of the things I quite liked about the book was its use of files, reports, newspaper clippings, etc. to break up the third person narrative. There may have been one or two inclusions that I found a little pointless (poems?), but overall, these were a nice way to provide context to some past events in a different way than the standard flashback. Each excerpt isn’t always relevant at the exact moment it arises, but they do provide useful world building and background information for events further on down the track.

All Grown Up?

Chosen Ones is Veronica Roth’s first adult classified book. Despite it being targeted at an older audience, there’s a definite young adult vibe here. A couple of the themes seem slightly more mature, but the characters and writing often still have that YA feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I can understand why such an approach would fit this particular story. Here, we have several adults who lost a significant part of their teenage years training to fight a mass murderer magician in a fight they weren’t even sure they would survive. Consequently, they didn’t go through the usual milestones, learning experiences and development of normal teens and this has impacted on how they interact and behave as adults. Sure, it can be a bit frustrating to read about adults acting like bickering teenagers, but it’s believable in the context of the narrative.


The later parts of Chosen Ones give me hope for a more enjoyable sequel, yet I don’t really see myself picking up the second entry in this duology. I’m sure that the big bang ending to the book will pull a lot of readers in on curiosity to see how events play out, but I don’t think I can trudge through another 400 or so pages if I’m wrong.    

2.5 Stars

Vampire Romance Makes a Comeback: From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

I may not be twelve anymore (thank god), but for some reason my ears still prick up at the mention of ‘vampire romance’. I can’t help it. It’s like my brain’s been programmed against my will. So, you’ll understand why this + ‘most hyped romance of 2020’ lead to me giving into FOMO and reading From Blood and Ash.

Who, What, Where?

Our protagonist is Poppy, ‘The Maiden’ and chosen of the Gods. Poppy lives her life with strict restrictions on how she dresses and behaves as she waits for the day of her Ascension – a mysterious ritual that will supposedly secure the future of the Kingdom. However, Poppy longs to experience life outside her limited bubble and is drawn to activities and interests that risk her being found unworthy. After a kidnapping attempt, she’s assigned a new guard, the attractive and alluring Hawke who’s like no one she’s ever met before and makes her rethink her destiny. But when things inside the castle turn deadly and a fallen kingdom rises, determined to retake what was lost at any cost, Poppy begins to question whether everything in her world is what it seems.

You get a Trope! And YOU Get a Trope!

If you’re looking for something original, keep walking. However, if you’re a reader who eats tropes for breakfast, step this way. I knew going into this it’d be trope heavy, just not this heavy. Honestly, I wish I’d had a bingo card. Let’s start a list, shall we? Hidden/growing powers, dead parents, “The Dark One”, the servant confidant, ‘Not Like Other Girls’, the chosen one, a secret identity, forbidden romance, the virginal MC and experienced love interest…there’s more, but I’ll stop here.

Don’t Need a Crystal Ball to Predict This One

Tying in with what I said about the book’s reliance on tropes, From Blood and Ash is very predictable. Even going into this 100% blind, I guarantee you’ll work out all the major plot reveals from a mile away. Unfortunately, you then have to sit through the rest of the book questioning why characters (*cough* Poppy *cough*) are so freakin’ stupid that they can’t work it out themselves.

The Maiden & The Guard

In terms of our leads, Poppy is, for lack of a better word, okay. I love the fact that she knows how to kick ass and I do sympathise with her difficulties, but she also feels annoyingly young at times and extremely dense when it comes to seeing things right in front of her face. Hawke feels like many of the fantasy love interests I’ve seen before (especially if you’re a SJM fan). He’s generally likeable, has some depth, but he’s nothing new.

For the most part, I enjoy Poppy and Hawke’s relationship. It’s banter-y, fun, sexy and I love the scenes where they physically face off. Yet, there are a couple of things that bother me. First, Hawke does verge into toxic ‘alpha male’ territory at times and second, there are a few moments where their interactions verge on forced. For example, Poppy says something, and Hawke just has to give an arrogant/teasing/sexy reply even though it doesn’t really suit. They also weirdly have a couple of the same exchanges repeatedly (‘You’re so violent, it turns me on’, ‘There’s something seriously wrong with you’, ‘You love it’). I know they’re supposed to be in jokes but it’s a lot.

Steam Up Those Windows

No complaints here. If you’re in this book for some solid smuttiness just know that you’ll have to wait a long time to get there but it’s worth it. Also, bonus points for actually mentioning contraception. Woo!

Questionable World Building

Ah, world building. I wish I could say this book doesn’t fall into the trap of dumping boring bits of information on you in heaps right from the beginning, but I can’t, and it does. There’s even a chapter in which Poppy reads passages from a history textbook *face palm*. Even with these infodumps, I was mighty confused for a while. It’s probably all the terms – Rise, Rite, Ascension, Atlantians, Descenters, Ascended, Wolven…lord, help me.

This aside, there are elements that I liked. I just wish they’d been handled better than coming together at the end. I enjoyed the idea of the three different types of “vampires” and the distinctions between them – bloodthirsty traditional vampires, not-so traditional vampires, and the vicious, zombie-like Craven. I also enjoyed the reveal of the history between the Atlantians & the Ascended, although it does paint a very basic good vs evil scenario.

Pacing

The pacing in this book is messy at points. While the opening scenes which take place at a gambling den/brothel are engaging, following this, things get slow and take some time to pick up again. After this point though, I found the story pretty addictive and raced through to the end. The latter chapters, however, is where things get out of sorts again, slowing down and speeding up in a weird mish-mash of events that left me feeling serious whiplash and confusion.

Writing Issues

There were a couple of things that bugged me about the writing as I was reading:

  • Ellipses. I’m probably a hypocrite saying this, but boy were they overused in this book.
  • JLA has a weird habit of repeating the exact same information about something in dialogue and Poppy’s thoughts, almost word for word, very close together. It’s bizarre and unnecessary.
  • For a high fantasy book, the language used by the characters is extremely modern. It does make the book more digestible, but the idea of characters using words like ‘totally’ and ‘whatever’ in this context is disorienting.
  • Two words, ‘female’ and ‘male’. Just no. JLA you’re banned from reading Ms Maas.

Now, the two big questions, do I think this book deserves the hype and best romance of 2020? No x 2. Still, despite my massive amounts of complaining, I didn’t mind From Blood and Ash. It’s not amazing or revolutionary but it’s addictive, fun and a good way to shut your brain off. With this in mind, I’ll be reading the sequel.

2.5 Stars

Not Your Average Haunted House: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (ARC)

When I stumbled across Mexican Gothic several months back, my first thought was definitely: I have to read this. Okay, it was probably more like, is it possible to marry and have babies with this cover? But the immense need to read it was a close second.

Who, What, Where?

Set in 1950s Mexico, the story follows a young socialite named Noemi. After receiving a troubling letter from her newly married cousin, Catalina, Noemi travels to High Place, a crumbling, English-style manor in the countryside, to check on her.  Following her arrival, it doesn’t take long for Noemi to realise there is something off about not only High Place but the cold and mysterious family who live there. Her only ally is Francis, the shy and kind youngest son with a fondness for fungi. Determined to find answers about Catalina’s failing health, her cousin’s new family, and the weird occurrences in the house, Noemi sets out to dig deeper into the past and its secrets.

A+ for Atmosphere

The setting of this novel is easily one of its highlights. If you’re fond of misty, craggy moors ala Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, you’ll feel right at home here. I really enjoyed the concept of an English style house dropped onto the edge of small-town Mexico and the interesting mixture of cultures and imagery it created. High Place itself gives off this wonderfully eerie feeling which is perfectly suited to a novel of this type. With its moulding books, peeling wallpaper, strange noises, and foggy grounds, you can definitely see the gothic influence here. Where is the Addams family when you need them? 

Multi-Thread Mystery

The plot of Mexican Gothic has several mystery elements which cover Catalina, the family’s recent and older history, High Place, and the town. They’re all woven together into a confusing ball of unknowns which Noemi has to unravel. I liked this side of the story, particularly the questions surrounding the family mine and death of Catalina’s sister in law. My curiosity for answers is definitely what pushed me through this book, especially with its slower pacing in the first half or so. However, I can’t help feeling like these plotlines fell somewhat short of their potential in that the actual investigating and clues were very limited before Noemi was given the answers in the climax.

Nightmares & Visions

The incorporation of Noemi’s dreams and visions inside the house was interesting and really added to the sick, haunted feeling of High Place. I also thought it was a great way of supplementing Noemi’s learning about the family history with additional details that it would take time to decipher. I will say though, I wish that the information presented had been clearer for the reader to understand, especially considering its importance.

Socialite to the Rescue

As far as protagonists go, Noemi is a likeable character. She’s stubborn, confident and resourceful, but also this flirty, spoilt party girl who’ll doll herself up just because she can (which I kind of loved). More importantly, she’s able to go toe to toe with others in intellectual debates and what can I say? I love smart female characters. This aside, I would have appreciated a more noticeable character arc for her and wasn’t a fan of several scenes which forced her into a helpless position for very little reason.

Err…What?

The big reveal is where things got rocky for me. I have to give the author points for creativity and taking a direction I would never, ever have guessed. Yet, at the same time, I had trouble finding it believable, mostly because it’s…really weird and I’m still foggy on the nitty-gritty details of how it all works. This direction for the story’s climax felt fairly disjointed with the earlier, slower and more spooky parts of the novel, transitioning it from suspense to all out horror. I really wish I’d gotten the answers to the major questions with more graduality and build up than all together in a final rush to the finish line.

Chemistry Lite

The romance element of the book was, for lack of a better word, okay. I liked Francis, I liked Noemi, but I couldn’t see any particularly strong chemistry between them. This was especially the case for Noemi, who seemed to like Francis but never gave off a deeper romantic connection with him. She enjoys his company, finds him comforting and thinks he’s different from other men she’s met, but she’s always thinking about the fact that he’s unattractive and awkward. Still, I did enjoy some of their sweet interactions with one another.

Flat Characters

Other than Francis and Noemi, the characters in Mexican Gothic felt disappointingly underdeveloped. Despite Virgil, Catalina’s husband, showing up frequently, I know little about him besides him being attractive and a rape-y asshole. The family patriarch, Howard, whilst given some backstory and page time to espouse the value of eugenics, isn’t present enough to act as the threat he’s supposed to be. Catalina, meanwhile, is the catalyst for the entire story and having finished the book, I have absolutely zero feelings towards her whatsoever. And then we have Florence, Francis’s mother, who again, I understand nothing about beyond the fact that she’s completely awful.   


Overall, there were some things I enjoyed about this one but a lot of others that I wish had been done differently. While it may not have been the read for me, I see horror genre lovers finding something new and interesting in Mexican Gothic.

2.5 stars

**Thank you to Quercus Books who provided an ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a review.**

Room for (Home) Improvement: The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

When the world goes insane, there’s nothing like copious amounts of junk food and a solid romance novel to get you through. Having read two books by Christina Hobbs & Lauren Billings in 2019, The Honey-Don’t List was definitely on my radar for 2020. However, after seeing a bunch of mediocre reviews, I did what any reasonable bookworm would do: I lowered the hell out of my expectations.

Who, What. Where?

THDL follows two assistants named Carey and James who work for home renovation gurus and reality stars, Melissa and Rusty Tripp. The Tripps are on the verge of airing a new Netflix series and have just released a guide to marriage and relationships. The only problem is that they can’t stand one another. When Melissa finds out about Rusty’s latest affair, Carey and James are forced to join the couple on their book tour to help keep their image intact. Both would rather be anywhere else but with Carey needing to keep her medical insurance and James desperate to salvage his resume, they’re stuck. Although, the more time they spend together, the more it seems like this tour may be the start of something unexpected.

Carey & James

One of the major reasons I’ve enjoyed past CL books is their characters. THDL is told in alternating first person POV and while I thought Carey and James were likable characters, they weren’t exactly favourites. Of the two, I definitely found Carey more memorable and interesting. Carey has been with the Tripps since she was sixteen, back when they owned their first furniture store. Now twenty-six, she does all the design elements of their projects with zero credit whilst managing her dystonia and having almost no personal life. I really felt for Carey and it was great seeing her grow in confidence to eventually take charge of her life and stand up for herself.

James was hired by the Tripps as a structural engineer and to his frustration has somehow ended up Rusty’s babysitter. After the last company he worked for turned out to be acting illegally, he desperately needs something respectable in his work history. James is what you’d call the hot-nerd type – smart, clean cut, looks good with his shirt off, and caring. I really liked how supportive and understanding he was of Carey, but…he’s also a teensy bit boring which made connecting with him difficult.

Romance with Missed Potential

In terms of the romance, I’m on the fence, mostly because the relationship shifts felt rushed within the time-frame. The bickering between Carey and James becomes attraction very quickly, they “get together” at halfway, and say the ‘L’ word by the end. It’s too much, too fast and the development of the relationship is often sacrificed to serve The Tripps storyline (which feeds into Carey and James’s personal journeys). When it comes to the relationship itself, while they don’t have the ease of Josh & Hazel or banter of Olive & Ethan, I still found Carey and James well suited for each other and sweet to read about. With more attention and time given to their interactions, this relationship could have been something really good.

Less Laughs, More Drama    

One of the other boxes CL usually tick for me is humour. Whether it’s dialogue or crazy situations, they normally get at least a snort. With The Honey-Don’t List, not so much. The conversations don’t have the same charm and the story itself is more serious than past books. There’s a failing marriage, a muscle disorder, cheating, two young people getting taken advantage of by their bosses – it’s not a “fluffy” read. This isn’t a bad thing, just something to be aware of going in.

An Underwhelming Plot

As for the actual plot, it’s okay. Not keep-you-up-to-til-early-morning exciting, not boring. just middle of the road, ‘eh’. Things happen as expected but there’s enough going on with the characters to keep you mostly engaged. A few things to comment on though: first, I could have done without the police interview transcripts which frame the story and mess with the tone, two, I wish the ending had more closure on certain characters, and three, I wonder whether the story would have been better served by having it set filming the renovation series rather than on the book tour.


Overall, a quick and decent romantic contemporary, but missing a couple of things. If the blurb appeals to you, give it a go but if you’re after a great adult romance, I recommend picking up one of Christina and Lauren’s other works.

2.5 Stars

Giving It the Old College Re-Try: Again, But Better by Christine Riccio (ARC)

If you’ve been around the bookish pockets of the internet, then it’s highly likely you’ll have heard about popular booktuber, Christine Riccio, or PolandBananasBooks. If you’re a fan of Christine’s videos, then you’ll also know that she’s been working on a book since at least 2016 which is now finally at the end of the publishing road. It’s titled Again, but Better and I was lucky enough to receive an ARC.  

Who, What, Where?

Shane’s been doing college all wrong – she’s studying a major she has no passion for, has made zero friends, and her love-life is non-existent. In the hopes of changing things up, she applies for a semester abroad creative writing program in London and an internship at a prominent travel magazine. To ensure she makes the most of the experience, Shane sets herself a list of goals – kick ass at her internship, start a novel, kiss a boy, make friends, and have adventures. However, when reality begins to set in, things quickly start to fall apart. But what if, with the help of a little magic, Shane had the chance for a do-over?

Bogged Down or Too Blunt

Having watched a few snippets of Christine’s book writing videos, I know that the first draft of Again, but Better was around 120,000 words. I couldn’t understand how this could possibly be until I actually read the ARC.

Now, this is a book that would have needed A LOT of editing.

Why? There’s just so much unnecessary detail. Being able to vividly visualise scenes is great, but there’s a point where it becomes information overload. Do I really need to know every detail about every street, building, corner, and shop on Shane’s journey to the supermarket? No. You’re writing a novel, not a London guide book.

On the flip side, the chapter ends have the opposite problem. While a lot of the story feels almost gushy, the chapters always seem to end in abrupt (but not cliff-hanger-y) ways. It’s almost as though you’d expect it to be the middle of a scene rather than the end. Because of this they felt a little jarring and anti-climactic, impacting the flow of the novel for me.

Didn’t You Realise, it’s 2011

A large chunk of ABB is set in 2011. This is fine but, for some reason, the book feels the need to remind us repeatedly. If I’d been doing shots for 2011 references, I’d have been on the floor. Shane playing Angry Birds. Shot. Avril Lavigne’s ‘What the Hell?’ plays. Shot. Now it’s Rihanna’s ‘Who’s that Chick?’. Double shot. Shane is re-reading City of Glass for City of Fallen Angels. SHOOOOOTTTTT. Luckily for my liver, the name dropping does calm down in the second half. Even better, Christine stops trying to casually (or awkwardly) integrate the references. Instead, she even manages to turn them into a fun part of the time travel experience.

Christine, is That You?

As someone who isn’t a PolandBananasBooks fan, after I while, even I started to notice that ABB’s MC, Shane has…er…well, a lot in common with Christine. Visually, they’re both white, blonde girls with slim builds who like their eyeliner.  Both have Italian families, social anxiety, and dream of being published authors. Christine’s username is PolandBananas20 while Shane’s blog is FrenchWatermelon19. They like the same books and music, name their laptops, and speak in the same generally excitable, “quirky” way. I get that authors are encouraged to write what they know, but when your MC is basically you, it does mean that your writing starts sounding a lot like wish fulfillment. As a result, there were parts of this that ended up feeling just a little bit cringy – especially the happily ever after ending.

A Re-Do on Boring

Plot wise, I enjoyed the second half of ABB more than the first. The way the book is set out is: Shane does London take 1#, short intermission in the present before BAM time travel twist, then Shane does London take 2#. The problem with take 1# is that much of it feels like an extended prologue – laying down the ground work for parts of take 2#. While there were a couple of moments where things picked up, most of the time I found myself bored. There are a lot of mundane conversations, quite a bit of repetition, and lengthy sections involving Shane recounting uninteresting details of her day-to-day life in her notebook.

The beginning of take 2# is where things picked up a LOT. The humour was better, the writing smoother, and the plot showed more direction. Then, to my frustration, (a) it slowed down again and (b) the characters returned to making frustrating decisions. *groans*.

A Bit of Positivity

At this point, I feel like I’m crapping all over a young author’s debut novel. So, with that in mind here are a few of the things I liked about ABB:

  • The book does have some genuinely funny elements e.g. Shane’s war with the flat’s dining chairs and her recount of the way she spent her spring break. Basically me.
  • Despite having issues with them as separate characters, I did root for Shane and her love interest, Pilot, to end up together. They have some nice interactions, especially in take 2#.
  • While the ending was rushed, unrealistic and corny, I couldn’t help finding it very cute. Stupid swoony heart, you’re supposed to be a cynic! Must be the magic of Taylor Swift.
  • *spoiler* There’s a really lovely moment during take 2# in which Shane helps out her cousin who is struggling with coming out. Super sweet.
  • I’m sure there will be people out there who can relate with Shane’s anxiety issues, and she does have a couple of panic attacks during the novel.

While I hate to say it, I wasn’t much of a fan of this one and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a big Christine viewer (because it has her written all over it). Again, but Better has its brighter moments, but unfortunately they’re often overshadowed by the novel’s lower points.

2.5 Stars

*** ARC received from St Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.***

Demon Kings, Concubines & Lesbian Romance: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan (ARC)

2.5 stars

Kindle

I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Girls of Paper and Fire is a little like The Selection would be if it had (a) been set in an Asian inspired fantasy world, (b) involved a f/f romance, and (c) possessed slightly (okay, A LOT) more substance. Every year eight girls are selected from the lowest social caste to serve 12 months as concubines to the king. They are known as paper girls. After a group of soldiers hear about her rare and beautiful eyes, Lei is kidnapped from her small village and submitted as a candidate to gain favour with the king. To protect her family and investigate what happened to her mother, who was taken during a raid ten years ago, Lei agrees to play her role.  Things soon get complicated when she falls in love with one of the other paper girls, Wren, and becomes wrapped up in a resistance plot against the king.

A Compelling but Underdeveloped World

I found a lot of aspects of Ngan’s world, Ikara, interesting and the fact that she took inspiration from Malaysia in its creation is great! The population is broken up into three different castes – Paper, the fully human, Silver, humans with partial animal-demon features and some abilities, and Moon, full demons with significant animal-demon features and demon capabilities. This concept in itself was quite compelling and provided a very obvious challenge for rebellion on the lower caste’s part due to their inherent physical disadvantages.

However, the biggest issue I had with Ikara was that while there were things I was really interested in learning about, such as the history behind the current political and social structure, there was just so much of the world that I was massively lost or in the dark about. For example:

  • How did this whole human x demon thing happen and how does it continue? Giving me some vague folktale isn’t going to cut it.
  • What is this ‘The Sickness’ thing affecting the villages? What does it do? Why is it causing so many problems?
  • The world has a magic system involving Shaman and the use of something called Qi. I still have no clue how any of this works. None.

The world building has a lot of gaps and the book has a tendency to try to info-dump where it needs context for parts of the story (e.g. Wren’s family history). There’s potential here but a lot of work to be done.

Two Thirds Slow, One Third Fast

GoP&F starts off well but very quickly the story hits the brakes pacing wise. Much of the first half is devoted to Lei going about her new life – taking classes, having conversations with the other Paper girls, experiencing reactions to Wren she doesn’t understand, and basically just waiting to be called by the King for the first time. This goes on for a while and it’s hard to see what the purpose of everything is until you hit the last third. Here, we finally get some direction and things pick up a great deal. The romance ramps up, the emotions feel more tangible, and there’s some plotting, a little defensive training, and a few super dramatic, character shaping moments. I honestly wish this section had been more developed and less rushed.

While I was largely apathetic through most of this book, I really enjoyed the climax/ending. It’s entertaining, fast paced and pushed me to get invested in a way I hadn’t previously. I was even a little disappointed to see two side characters die so early in the series (it didn’t help that they were two of the very few I somewhat liked).  The epilogue is pretty good, too, and it almost, almost makes me want to read book two.

Lack of Likeable and Engaging Characters

The thing that let GoP&F down for me most was that I had terrible trouble connecting with or finding affection for almost all the characters (something I’m sure a lot of others will differ with me on). As an MC, I found Lei to be very generic. While she does show more “fire” (*winks*) as the novel goes on and I can admire her strength in some absolutely awful situations, she always lacked a really well defined personality in my eyes. Wren, her love interest, is far more interesting in traits and backstory, and I liked that she was both fierce and feminine. Although I can’t say she was a favourite, I do feel I could have grown to really like her were I to continue with the series.

As for the other paper girls, these characters came off feeling very two-dimensional and, aside from Aoki, Lei’s friend, & Blue, her “nemesis” and the age-old mean girl trope (ugh), they tended to blend into each other. Even the King, our big antagonist, isn’t much of a richly written character. Sure, we despise him for the awful things he does to the paper girls and other paper caste members, but all there really is to him is arrogance, a need for control, and religious superstition. I would have appreciated some more depth for someone so important to the story.

Yay for F/F YA Romance

The romance between Lei and Wren is kind of sweet and what I liked most was that the characters balanced each other so well – hard and soft, emotional and cool. I do wish there’d been more conversation and emotional/mental connection leading up to their passionate stage but the moments between them later in the novel are really nicely done and showcase the easy flow between them. The descriptions of their affection for each other are beautifully written, emotionally intense and definitely jump right off the page. My one big complaint is Wren’s unwillingness to tell Lei her secrets for so long. The constant back and forth of ‘You’re lying to me’, ‘I’m trying to protect you’ has been done to death in YA books and I am so damn tired of it.

Other Thoughts

  • Diversity and representation for the win – an Asian inspired world, populated by Asian characters and featuring a f/f romance. Hell to the yes. There’s also a huge focus on female characters in general which is a nice bonus.
  • Trigger warnings. First, with regards to sexual assault. As you can tell from the description, rape is a big plot point for this book and there is one scene that will be difficult for some readers to get through. While the act isn’t shown we do get to read the lead up, which is quite violent, and the aftermath, so be prepared. However, credit to Ngan for tackling this quite well. Second, animal violence. A dog has its throat slashed in the first few pages of the book, so again just be prepared.

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For me, GoP&F certainly has the potential to become something good with work to its characters, pacing and world building, but in saying that, I don’t think I’m prepared to stick it out to reach that point. I can see this being popular with others and I definitely commend Ngan on her debut, but I just don’t believe it’s the read for me.

2.5 stars

Scientific Magic, A Heroine Who Loves Pants & Fluffy Fantasy: The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

2.5 stars

Image result for the plastic magician

A few months back I got approved for an ARC of The Plastic Magician and in truly dodgy fashion, here I am only just having read it…now. Who’s an organised book blogger? *crickets* Clearly not me.

The Plastic Magician is a spin-off standalone of Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician series. I actually haven’t read any of the books in the original series but after being intrigued by the blurb for the book and seeing that it was perfectly okay to read without reading the others, I thought, why not give it a go?

Who, What, Where?

TPM is about a young, American, apprentice magician named Alvie Brechenmacher. Alvie is fascinated by Polymaking – a newly discovered branch of magic which deals with the manipulation of plastics. When she’s offered the opportunity to apprentice under the famous magician, Marion Praff, she packs her bags and heads to London. Here, she comes up with an innovative idea for a new polymaking project which she and Mg. Praff believe will help them to win the annual convention. The only problem is that Mg. Praff’s rival, Mg. Ezzell is determined to come out on top this year and may be directly trying to sabotage them.

Why You Should Read It

It’s Short & Light

If you’re on the lookout for something quick, straightforward and light in tone, TPM is a good pick. The book itself is only around 230 pages long and the writing is very easy to follow. There’s no heavy, dark undertones to the story –  what you see is essentially what you get. This means it’s a good way to break up other more dense and emotionally draining reads. The book almost reminds me of a Disney movie in that the characters are either good or bad and the plot follows the path you’d expect.

Sweet Characters

All of the “good” characters in this book are sweet and likeable. Alvie, herself, is smart, a little bit awkward, resourceful, and very hardworking. She can be scatterbrained at times but she has big dreams and is easy to relate to, especially in her preference for pants, bad hair days, and confusion regarding boys (girl, we’ve all been there). Aside from our lead, we also have Alvie’s romantic interest, Bennet, his sister and the inspiration behind Alvie’s project, Ethel, and Mg. Praff himself. All three of these characters have some nice interactions with Alvie and serve to add social elements to her London world.

Science & Magic

One of the most interesting parts of TPM is Holmberg’s magic system. It relies on language, the use of specific materials, and has a scientific feel to it which goes very well with the industrial era setting. Here, magic isn’t just about power or fun, it’s about blending it with technology to make things that advance society in some way or have a real ‘wow’ factor. We have paper messenger birds, mirror portals, universal keys, plastic that changes to reflect real-life images, and a whole bunch of other things.

I appreciated the fact that magic was more of a process in this book. You have to think about the effect certain words will have on your base materials and layer spells over each other in sequence using correct timing to achieve your desired result. Magic in this world is also still in progress, with magicians learning new words/spells as they go.

Why You Might Want to Skip It

Surface Level

I mentioned above that TPM was a very easy and straightforward read. The problem with this was, for me, it often translated to boring. While the characters are lovely, they’re also a bit two-dimensional and I have difficulty trying to find words to describe them other than “sweet” or “nice” or simply by their role in the book. The villain, Mg. Ezzell suffers from the same problem – he’s simply the “bad guy” who wants to beat Mg. Praff. There’s no real development there and he feels largely like the moustache-twirling villain of old cartoons.

Predictable

For most of the book I kept hoping there’d be some kind of twist or deviation from the obvious plot path laid out for us early on: Alvie goes to England, Alvie studies and comes up with an idea, idea to be presented at convention, bad guy attempts to steal idea, plot foiled, happily ever after. It didn’t have to be an extremely shocking variation, just something to grab my attention. Unfortunately I was left wanting, with the plot moving from point A to B to C exactly as expected and somehow making those 233 pages feel like a slog at times. Even the romance between Alvie & Bennet, whilst having its cute moments, overall felt unengaging, making me almost wish that Bennett would somehow do a Hans from Frozen and turn out to be working with Ezzell. Alas, no such luck.

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As a light, fluffy, and brief fantasy read, The Plastic Magician succeeds. However, if you go into this book looking for richness and depth with regards to  characters, plot or themes, you’re likely to be disappointed. Those seeking something fun, easy-going, with an interesting approach to magic and a fairly endearing heroine, will probably leave fairly satisfied. For my part, unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this one, I found myself wishing it would hurry up and finish so I could move on to something more interesting.

2.5 Stars 

**Thank you to 47North and Netgalley for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.