Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

A paperback copy of Girls of Paper and Fire is being held in front of a pool.


Whew, this book was darker than I expected; it centers around sexual abuse.

As a member of the lowest cast, the Papers, Lei is human. But because of her golden eyes, Lei is stolen from her home to become a Paper Girl—a concubine for the Demon King. 

I liked the sapphic romance that developed, though it felt a little insta-love to me. The worldbuilding was interesting, but this book was definitely tough to get through at times because of the dark themes. That being said, the best thing about this book is how well Ngan handled the dark themes. She depicted the upper caste, called the Moon caste, well by making them grotesque and sometimes beautiful through Lei’s eyes. Reading about the demons/Moon caste was also uncomfortable at times, especially since they’re described as humanoid animals. But through the grotesque demons, the castes, and the horrors of the Paper Girls, Ngan hammered themes of survival, rebellion, and sexual abuse/violence.

While I liked the plot, some plot points would’ve worked better if revealed earlier. Because the main plot was introduced late in the story, the beginning felt a little slow and meandering in comparison.

If you can handle dark themes, and are looking for a sapphic YA fantasy with strong female characters, then I think this one will work for you.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐/5

TW: Sexual abuse/violence/rape, sex trafficking, a forced medical exam, physical abuse, animal death, war themes

Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Anna: I’m finding this book very difficult to review. I love how detail-oriented the writing is and how Turtle’s internal dialogue dominates and drive the narrative. However, this book is hard to get through because of the horrific violence.

This is a survival/escape story. Strong warning for sexual, emotional, and physical abuse.

Tallent does a great job of building Turtle as a character, and we see her grow throughout the book. Turtles self-deprecating internal dialogue is really unique and shows the true impact of her dad’s abuse.

Turtle slowly realizes the extent of her father’s abuse. Part of what makes her realize she needs to leave is when she gets her period and therefore realizes she can get pregnant. She also helps realize that she needs to leave through her relationships with other characters, as she was isolated from other people for so long. Her romantic relationship with Jason is obviously a big part of this, too.

I like how Turtle ultimately defeated/escaped Martin with a skill that he taught her, i.e. shooting. It’s also her final revenge for so many things that he forced her to do, like making her shoot Cayenne. This showdown in also foreshadowed in the way that Turtle takes meticulous care of her gun and her knife, while Martin is so careless with his. It feels like Turtle finally takes ownership of herself. It feels full-circle.

I liked the ending. The fact that Turtle can’t even think about progressing in her relationship with Jason is realistic and I’m so glad Tallent ended it that way. I wouldn’t have believed it if they’d had a fairytale ending and if Turtle could automatically express her love for him. This also shows, like with the last scene with Anna and Turtle, that it’s going to take time for Turtle to recover from what’s happened to her, and that she never completely will.

Here’s what I had problems with:

There are lots of moments when it’s very apparent that the author is an adult male writing about prepubescent female anatomy, which honestly creeps me out. The way Turtle gets her first period IS NOT REALISTIC AT ALL. I thought she was having a miscarriage! There are so many scenes that are so cringy and obviously written by someone who does not possess female anatomy.

What in the world happened with the ocean, when Turtle and Jason got sucked out to sea? That scene is so abrupt and confusing that I had no idea what was happening, and I actually thought they were getting caught in a tsunami! Though I see the merit of stranding Turtle and Jason together on a cliff to grow their relationship, I still found this whole scene unnecessary and distracting (and not to mention so confusing). We know Turtle is tough and can survive in the wild and we don’t need to see it again here. I think a quieter bonding scene between Turtle and Jason would have been more effective.

I think there needed to be more Anna and Caroline. Both these women are presented as mother figures, yet they’re hardly developed. Anna’s character especially isn’t believable. As soon as she was introduced as the caring teacher I knew she would be the savior in the end. But then she’s hardly in the rest of the book, and she doesn’t even try to do anything when Turtle just disappears from school!

I wanted more about what happened to Turtle’s mom as well as more about the general past. For instance, Martin kept referring to another time when Turtle ran away, but we never get to see it as a reader. We’re told that Turtle’s mom killed herself to escape from Martin’s abuse, but that’s it. That’s also why I didn’t believe the bits about Caroline. If she was so close to Turtle’s mom, she had to have suspected something!

Mostly glaringly, there are bits of this book that feel violent for the sake of being violent. I think there’s a fine line between showing how something really is to bring light to an issue and exploiting it. Though Martin is clearly an awful person, this book sometime toed that line. Everything is shown to the reader, and it’s horrifying.

While I found I couldn’t put this down, there were aspects of this book that are so repelling and misguided that I can’t stand behind the book as a whole. I would love to hear other opinions from people who have read this!

VERDICT: 3 stars

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Alexis: Read 12/10/18

This is a hard book for me to rate. The story, as are all Holocaust stories, is dark, harrowing, and resonant. This is a story of survival and love. It focuses on Lale and Gita, who manage to fall in love amidst the horrors of Auschwitz.

Parts of the novel hit me hard. It’s impossible to read a book about the Holocaust and not come away emotionally affected by it. The knowledge that this was not only based on a real historical event but also on the lives of two very real people played in the back of my mind as I read. I liked that it was written in present tense, which propels you into the story.

But how do you rate a book like this? The perspective is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Lale, as the Tattooist, has a higher position than most of his fellow prisoners. I was wholly involved in his storyline of using his position in order to barter jewelry for food, help feed other prisoners, and help save other prisoners’ lives. His feelings of revulsion at tattooing his own people conflict with his instinct to do what he must to survive.

Yet chunks of this book still fall flat. The writing style is awkward in places. Half of Lale and Gita’s relationship feels real and raw, and half feels stitled. In the “about the author” section of the book, it’s mentioned that Morris originally wrote this story as a screenplay, and this seems to fit with the style of some sections of the book. Near the end, it’s mentioned that Lale’s way of dealing with the horrors of his imprisonment is emotional detachment. This could be the reason for the stiltedness, as the writing could reflect Lale’s repressed emotions. However, I don’t think this was a purposeful choice on Morris’ part.  

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 stars