Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan

Title: Girls of Paper and Fire
Author: Natasha Ngan
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult/LGBT
Pages: 400

Enter a world of Asian beauty and human darkness. A world where hope is dying under the oppressive rule of the Bull King. Find within these pages, a special girl with golden eyes, who despite her human frailness will rise up against the tyrant that has claimed her body for his own. But he can never take away the one thing he wants most, her soul.

Everywhere I look people are talking about this story and I had to know why. I was excited this past week to delve in and learn the secrets behind the life of a Paper Girl.

Now I hate series, I really do. I am a huge fan of standalone books that don’t make you wait five years to complete the story-line. But alas, Girls of Paper and Fire is a series, so I sucked it up.

What an amazing world! Ngan created a world in which humans are the enslaved/marginalized race to the Moon Caste people, which are essentially humanoid animals. I loved the concept, the characters, the romance and the commentary on the slave/sex trade that parallels our own world.

My only criticism is that the trauma caused by rape was reduced more than I think is realistic. But it is a Young Adult book, so the darkness can’t be too strong.

I recommend this story to all fantasy readers, whether you like Young Adult or not, it deals with mature themes that I believe will connect with many readers.

You can find the story on Amazon in multiple formats.

Synopsis: 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 cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

Please note: The story contains scenes of violence and sexual abuse.

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The Price Guide to the Occult – Leslye Walton

Title: The Price Guide to the Occult
Author: Leslye Walton
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Fantasy/YA/Magical Realism
Pages: 272

I saw this recommended from a book blogger I respect and was excited to start reading it. I love fantasy and young adult fiction, so what could be better?

The premise of the story was inventive and felt original. I enjoyed the characters and their individual relationships. Nor (the main character) played traumatized well and I was glad she evolved as the story progressed. I loved her grandmother Judd, and how all the families were connected by history. Additionally, I loved the nature components of the story and how Nor was so connected to them.

However, I was a bit disappointed in the overall flow of the story. It felt rather uneventful for about 50% of the storyline. Additionally, there were moments of confusing dialogue and descriptive scenes. I felt they would of benefited from some clarity.

Overall, I appreciated the story and the experience, but I could have liked it more. I do feel like Walton is someone who will grow as an author and in time I could really love her, I am just not there yet.

If you are looking for a creative fantasy story that has a different character struggle than what you are used to, you may find this an enjoyable experience.

You can find the story on Amazon in multiple formats.

I feel I should warn readers that the story deals with the theme of self-harm, so if you are sensitive to this you may want to steer clear.

Synopsis: From the author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender comes a haunting maelstrom of magic and murder in the lush, moody Pacific Northwest.

When Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island more than a century ago, her otherworldly skills might have benefited friendlier neighbors. Guilt and fear instead led the island’s original eight settlers to burn “the witch” out of her home. So Rona cursed them. Fast-forward one hundred–some years: All Nor Blackburn wants is to live an unremarkable teenage life. She has reason to hope: First, her supernatural powers, if they can be called that, are unexceptional. Second, her love life is nonexistent, which means she might escape the other perverse side effect of the matriarch’s backfiring curse, too. But then a mysterious book comes out, promising to cast any spell for the right price. Nor senses a storm coming and is pretty sure she’ll be smack in the eye of it. In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self-acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author — Nor’s own mother — looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.

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If You Leave Me – Crystal Hana Kim

Title: If You Leave Me
Author: Crystal Hana Kim
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary Fiction/Cultural
Pages: 432 pages

I started reading this story slowly, a page at a time, until I fell under its spell. It is a slow moving tale that winds itself around a tragic love story set in Korea during and after the Korean War (1950s-1960s). If you ever read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, you might see a similarity between the two stories. It is a tale of broken dreams, whispered promises, caged aspirations and heart break. A story of tragedy and flawed individuals. But within this sadness there is a heart and a history that is worth immersing yourself in.

I absolutely loved this story. It was emotional, dark, forbidding and moved me to tears. The three main characters: Haemi, Jisoo and Kyunghwan, are not the most angelic people in the world. At times they are selfish and sometimes cruel, but they have redeeming moments. I found that I loved them all and equally was angered by them, but I never hated them. They were real and not just characters on a page. I felt they reflected my own selfish nature back at me.

However, even with all their selfishness, I forgave them for their moments of wickedness because in the end I empathized with them and their choices that led them to their individual destinations.

A truly passionate experience that I became trapped in and am still struggling to come out of.

You can find the story on Amazon in multiple formats.

Synopsis: An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.

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Private Number/Claws – Derek Muk

Title: Private Number
Title: Claws
Author: Derek Muk
Publisher: Unnerving
Genre: Horror/Paranormal

My latest reading experience ended up being two short stories lumped into one book. The cover calls it a double feature. It was a quick read, taking at most a couple hours to whip through the two separate stories and I got a chance to see a little more of what Muk has to offer.

I like monster hunting stories so much that my favorite game, The Witcher is essentially that, a long monster hunting experience. So I was intrigued to start reading this.

I have read Muk before and this was a definite improvement from the last story I read by him. I found Private Number to be the more intriguing and original story as Claws was more predictable. As stand alone stories they were developed, mysterious, and of course gory. Overall, the character of Albert Taylor, a paranormal investigator was catchy and I liked the initial concept.

However, I felt Albert needed more character development, as he felt monotone and lacking in personality. I think that was the crux of the issue for me for both of these stories. I just wanted more from Albert. He made some sarcastic comments here and there, but they weren’t enough to solidify who Albert is? Give him a vice, give him passion, make him a jerk, or make him the nicest guy ever, but make him something and someone I can remember. I would say that this is the major issue Muk needs to work on as far as all of his characters go.

Overall, it was a decent diversion for the evening. I look forward to watching Muk grow as an author as I know he will. If you like monster hunting stories, this will satisfy that longing. You can find the story on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.

Synopsis: An Albert Taylor Mystery Double Feature

Private Number: A radio station receives a strange call from a caller from beyond the grave, at least that’s what’s claimed. But is it a hoax, a crank caller, or is the person truly dead? When things get more baffling paranormal investigator, Albert Taylor, steps in to look into matters that harbor a dark and evil secret.

Claws: A series of brutal and savage animal-like murders rattle the small mining town of Brewster, Nevada, a quiet, little community where such atrocities are unheard of, where everyone knows each other’s name, and where you can leave your door unlocked at night…until now that is. Weird animal hairs are discovered at each of the crime scenes. Is it an animal or a sinister creature of myth and lore lurking in the woods? When the body count starts racking up and tension among the townspeople rises, the town turns to paranormal investigator, Albert Taylor, to sort matters and lay his traps for the predator.

THE MAN BEHIND THE STORY

Derek Muk is a writer and social worker from California. His short stories have appeared in various online and small press magazines.

He has three chapbooks published: “Three Parts,” “The Sacrifice and Other Stories,” and “Sin after Sin.” In addition to writing, he enjoys reading, traveling, museums, art, dining out, and meeting new people. He has a bachelors and masters degree in social work.

“The Occult Files of Albert Taylor” is his first full length collection of short stories.

 

 

 

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**We received the story for free in exchange for an honest review

 

Voyager (Outlander Series #3) – Diana Gabaldon

Title: Voyager (Book #3 of the Outlander Series)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Bantam Dell
Genre: Romance/Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Book Length: 1059 pages
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback

After finishing the second book, I was itching to continue the story and I jumped right into the third. In hindsight, I regret this decision. Every book in this series is a serious time commitment. They are often 800+ pages long and very detailed. In comparison to the first two stories, I was often bored and annoyed at some of the repetitive themes and characters that often feel contrived.

Here is what I didn’t enjoy: Characters long thought dead or gone popped up everywhere Claire and Jamie went. I found this unrealistic and convenient for the plot-line. As a result, I was annoyed and felt it was rather cheating of the author. Instead of creating new villains or characters, we continue to deal with the old.

At times, I felt the story was racially offensive. I understand it takes place in the 1960s and later 1700s, but I feel you can tell a historical story and not necessarily make your characters racial stereotypes. Mr. Willoughby, was a character portrayal I was offended by. I felt that Gabaldon was relying on circus portrayals of the Chinese from the 1800s, and I found this distasteful. Just because the story takes place in the 1700s does not mean the one Chinese character needs to be portrayed as a side-show act.

Thirdly, why does Claire constantly act aroused every time she is sick or dying? Her nipples are constantly erect when she is feverish with death and ready to be ploughed. This is just outright ridiculous and I found myself rolling my eyes.

Fourthly, neither Jamie nor Claire has barely aged. They are both almost 50 and yet, they are as youthful as the day they were parted (aside from some gray hair). Really? Unrealistic again.

Here is what I enjoyed: I enjoyed the back story of Jamie and seeing them reunited. The fact that Jamie has a past that Claire was not apart of is honest. The fact she has to accept him as the man he is now and not the man she left, is relatable. They have both changed and led different lives. So the first chunk of this book was acceptable and helped create the version of who they are today.

Brianna and Roger’s story is becoming the more intriguing one and I look forward to that as the story progresses.

I love that Gabaldon writes about all these different countries that Jamie and Claire visit. You get to see and feel some of the history of the time period.

But overall, I had to push myself to finish this installment. And I am decidedly taking a bit of a break from this series. I do plan to continue on with it, but perhaps not until 2020.

If you want to continue the story, you can find all the books on Amazon in multiple formats.

Synopsis: From the author of the breathtaking bestsellers Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, the extraordinary saga continues.

Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her… and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.

Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her…the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland… and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Ninja Theory (Video Game Review)

Title: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Creator: Ninja Theory
Genre: Mental Illness/Dark Fantasy

I like to throw a different type of review into the mix every now and then.

I recently played Hellblade, a game that explores the darkness in mental illness. Senua is a troubled girl who has lost her lover and journeys to Helheim to save his soul from the goddess known as, Hela. Senua is a pict warrior, who learns about Norse mythology from invaders and believes that through conquering their gods/goddesses she can bring peace to her love.

I don’t want to reveal too much more about the story because this is a game that is best experienced with knowing little of what is to come. Suffice to say though that this was an intense, anxiety inducing experience, that left me drained and on edge. However, there was beauty and learning that coincided.

I give major kudos to the Ninja Theory team for the conception and creation of this masterful game and story. It shows to the best of its ability, what living with psychosis might feel like, sound like and look like. This was not just a game, it was an immersive journey that sets the bar higher for all others to follow.

You can play the game on multiple formats, including PS4, Xbox One and PC.

I played on PC and purchased my copy through Steam.

Synopsis: From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness.
Set in the Viking age, a broken Celtic warrior embarks on a haunting vision quest into Viking Hell to fight for the soul of her dead lover.
Created in collaboration with neuroscientists and people who experience psychosis, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will pull you deep into Senua’s mind.

Game trailer:

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Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) – Diana Gabaldon

Title: Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Romance/Historical Fiction/Fantasy

I read the first book back in January of 2016 and loved it. I immediately plunged into the second book, but it took me three years to finally finish it. I have started and stopped the first two hundred pages ten times now. I kept checking it out from the library, but having forgotten what I read had to keep restarting. Finally, I broke down and bought the book, because I obviously needed to read at my own pace and not be rushed by library due dates.

Why did it take me so long? I’m not sure. As a self-confessed Scottish cultural nerd, one would think I’d have read the whole series by now. I like to read several books at one time, so perhaps it’s because this book was a huge time commitment. I prefer my books within the three hundred to four hundred page range and this was over nine hundred pages. And I’m not the fastest reader, especially when there is tons of detail.

I wasn’t sure the exact point of this story for most of the book. It seemed to be a rather long and drawn out political dinner party that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. And oh my lord, how many times do we need to talk about nipples! Claire’s nips were hard constantly. It was over the top and quite frankly unrealistic.

However, even though it was rather slow and inactive, I still enjoyed it. The characters are all lovable and even the villains have a certain repulsive draw. In addition, it’s an incredible historical journey.

I kept Googling the historic references so that I could fully embrace the story. Reading this series has helped me understand other Scottish themed entertainment that reference Scottish wars and political parties.

For example, I was watching reruns of Monarch of the Glen this past weekend. It was a popular family drama/BBC show that highlighted modern/fictional Lairds of Scotland. While watching it, I realized how much more I was understanding. While cast member Hector MacDonald played toy battles with his friend Kilwillie, I suddenly was able to follow along as they discussed the wars they wanted to reenact. These were conversations I previously ignored, but now I understand there cultural significance.

It is a slow climb through this series, but I am finding the journey worth it. I am learning history and loving how the characters are evolving. It might take me ten or fifteen years to finish the series, but I know I will keep plugging along. Gabaldon has created such a rich and vibrant tale that truly captures the imagination.

You can find the story on Amazon in many different formats. I went with the Mass Market Paperback because I’m a cheapskate.

Synopsis: With her classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters—Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful sequel to Outlander.

DRAGONFLY IN AMBER

For twenty years, Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to the mysteries of Scotland’s mist-shrouded Highlands.

Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as shocking as the events that gave it birth: the secret of an ancient circle of standing stones, the secret of a love that transcends centuries, and the truth of a man named Jamie Fraser—a Highland warrior whose gallantry once drew the young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his.

Claire’s spellbinding journey continues through the intrigue-ridden French court and the menace of Jacobite plots, to the Highlands of Scotland, through war and death in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

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The Earth Dwellers (The Dwellers Saga) #4 – David Estes

Title: The Earth Dwellers
#4 in the Dweller Saga – #7 in the Dwellers/Country Saga
Author: David Estes
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Dystopian/Young Adult

Finally! After several years I have finished this series. This installment, which is really the final installment of two connected series was the big finale. It had all the expected plot points and tidily summed up the entire saga.

It was entertaining and fast paced, but I am so glad it is done.

It became somewhat of a chore to get through this book. I was constantly checking how far I had read and watching the clock, which is never a good thing. The series had just gone on too long and I needed the ride to be over.

I found the ending was a bit drawn out, with the author trying to make sure all the characters individual stories were resolved. As a reader, I appreciate this, but I skimmed most of the final pages.

While I enjoyed the series as a whole, I felt there was one or two too many installments. I still would recommend it because it was different and creative, and for the most part I liked the series.

If you are a literary snob then you might not like the series, but if you like dystopian fiction that comes with an imaginative flair then you might find it fun to read.

You can find it on Amazon in Kindle and paperback format.

Synopsis: The Earth Dwellers is the 4th book in BOTH The Dwellers Saga and The Country Saga. The author recommends that BOTH series are read in their entirety before reading this book (The Moon Dwellers, The Star Dwellers, The Sun Dwellers, Fire Country, Ice Country, Water & Storm Country).

Your favorite Dwellers and Country Saga characters come together in this epic seventh book!

As President Borg Lecter threatens to annihilate the Country tribes in order to expand his glass-domed empire, Adele ventures into the belly of the beast. Her only hope of survival is the consolidation of Dwellers and Country power before it’s too late.

Former demagogue President Nailin is eliminated, yet civil unrest infects every alliance. To save Adele, President Tristan faces his greatest challenge yet: unifying unfriendly Dwellers in the Tri-Realms to raise an army against Lecter. Meanwhile, Dazz must convince the Ice Country leaders to march with Siena and the Tri-Tribes on the gates of the Glass City.

The world sits on the edge of a knife. Will Adele, Tristan, Dazz, and Siena defeat Lecter and his army of killers before the Glassies wipe them off the face of the Earth?

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Fountain Dead – Theresa Braun

Title: Fountain Dead
Author: Theresa Braun
Publisher: Unnerving
Genre: Horror/Paranormal

Looking for a haunted tale that will keep you up at night? Imagine having your reality supplanted with evil and benign spirits warring for your attention. This is a story that explores the dark side of revenge and the heartbroken cries of the dead.

This story has been calling me for several months to read, but since it’s horror I had to push myself a little more to pick it up. I will start by saying that horror is not my preferred genre and that may sometimes sway my interpretations/enjoyment. It’s not that I don’t like horror, it just takes a particular writing style/story to really pull me in.

I have read Braun in the past, and I anticipated that I would enjoy most of the story, which I did. The beginning was slow though, interesting, but slow.

I enjoyed the switching between timelines and felt it helped carry the story and enhanced the mysterious history of the house and the specters, which are the main antagonists. About fifty percent into the book, the story-line began to pick up speed and I found myself getting sucked in. I finished the last half of the book in one sitting.

Additionally, the fact that the main protagonist is gender fluid was a nice change of pace. It was refreshing to read a story about a teen struggling and finding his sexual identity.

However, I like endings that have a firm resolution and this one did not. I also have some unanswered questions.

If you crave happy endings with nice bow-ties, then you might be disappointed. I will say the ending fell flat for me and I was a bit grumpy. It was not the ending I wanted.

I recommend this story because Braun is a good writer and the story was compelling. Even though the ending left me bereft, it was still a haunting tale that will leave you on your toes. And I am confident many readers will appreciate her finale.

You can find the story on Amazon in Kindle format and in paperback.

Synopsis: Mark is uprooted from his home and high school in the Twin Cities and forced to move with his family into a Victorian in Nowhere-ville. Busy with the relocation and fitting in, Mark’s parents don’t see what’s unfolding around them—the way rooms and left behind objects seem alive with a haunted past.
Of course, Mark keeps his ghostly encounters to himself, all the while sinking deeper into the house’s dark, alluring, and ultimately terrifying history. As romantic entanglements intensify, the paranormal activity escalates. Past and present come together. Everything is connected—from the bricks in the walls to the hearts beating in their chests, all the secrets of Fountain Dead are finally unearthed.

THE LADY BEHIND THE STORY

Theresa Braun was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and has carried some of that hardiness with her to South Florida where she currently resides with her two fur babies, who are her creative sidekicks. She enjoys delving into creative writing, painting, photography and even bouts of ghost hunting. Traveling is one of her passions—in fact, her latest adventure took her to Romania for a horror writers’ workshop where she followed in the steps of Vlad the Impaler. She writes horror fiction and the occasional romance. Oh, and she likes to guest blog about writing, television shows, movies, and books, mostly in the horror genre. Her short story “Shout at the Devil” appears in Under the Bed Magazine, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in Hindered Souls, and “Dead over Heels” is soon to be published by Frith Books.

 

 

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*We received the story for free in exchange for an honest review

The Caller (Shadowfell #3) – Juliet Marillier

Title: The Caller (Shadowfell #3)
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult

The Caller is the final conclusion to the Shadowfell series. Within its pages we fight alongside Neryn, as she summons the courage to battle tyranny and violence to bring a better world into existence.

The finale was just as good as the previous two books. Readers get what they want — a bit of magic, a bit of love and an ending that satisfies the journey readers have been on.

Marillier is an excellent storyteller that understands relationship building and patience, as well as magical world-building. Her stories often combine folklore twists with a romantic edge.

Her protagonists are always likeable, though a bit familiar. I always come back to her in the end, because no one does the fae world like Marillier.

If you are interested in reading more, check the book out on Amazon.

Synopsis: In the final book in this gripping, romantic fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of Robin McKinley, Kristin Cashore, and Shannon Hale, the band of rebels reach their climactic confrontation with the king.

Just one year ago, Neryn had nothing but a canny skill she barely understood and a faint dream that the legendary rebel base of Shadowfell might be real. Now she is the rebels’ secret weapon, and their greatest hope for survival in the fast-approaching ambush of King Keldec at Summerfort.

The fate of Alban itself is in her hands. But confidence is stretching thinner by the day when word of another Caller reaches the rebels: a Caller at Keldec’s side with all of Neryn’s power and none of her benevolence or hard-earned control. As the days before the battle drop quickly away, Neryn must find a way to uncover—and exploit—her opponent’s weaknesses. At stake lies freedom for the people of Alban, a life free from hiding for the Good Folk—and a chance for Flint and Neryn to finally be together.

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