Books Books

Girls of Paper and Fire

Like the vast majority of my book purchases, I came across Girls of Paper and Fire in QBD when I was randomly looking through the YA section for anything that might happen to take my fancy. The title and the cover drew me in, then I was sold when I read the blurb. Due to some enthusiasm on my part, as well as understanding, this review does contain a couple of minor spoilers. If you don’t wish to be spoiled, I recommend you read the book first.

Is it just me or is the whole “Royal Male Figure” gets what’s basically a harem a popular genre at the moment? Okay, it might just be me. But then, there’s The Selection series, which has the Prince in what’s essentially a The Bachelor situation, picking from a… well, a selection of pretty girls. Then there was Grace and Fury, a fantastic book that came in one of my OwlCrates (before I had to give it up ;_;) where the ruler, or in this case his heir, had a similar selection from a bunch of girls preened and polished to take on the role, to select three women for his wives/consorts. Then Girls of Paper and Fire… Okay, yeah, sure, it’s no Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy, The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, Evernight, House of Night, Cirque Du Freak, etc. Vampire craze, but maybe I’m not crazy in seeing a pattern here.

Beyond the blurb, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Girls of Paper and Fire when I first opened it up. Until I read the Author’s Note at the beginning. That Author’s Note made me desperately want to find Natasha Ngan and give her the biggest hug I could (if she wanted one).

I am so thankful for the existence of this book, and that it was apparently in one of the latest OwlCrate editions. (Sad I missed out on it through them, though it’s even more evidence that the OwlCrate people and I have a shared excellent taste!)

Ngan wrote this book because she knows that everyone deserves to have their story told. That’s how a gay Malaysian girl who had to deal with rape and abuse came to have her story told. (I am talking about Lei. I have no idea if Ngan is gay and has had to deal with rape and abuse, though all the more reason to hug her if she has.)

Lei was a wonderful character who I found myself feeling deeply for very quickly. Smart and strong, I found my heart breaking at her situation, even more so when we got to further know Wren, and Wren’s situation.

The world was immersive. I found myself vividly picturing the Moon and Steel caste walking around. From bird demons to wolf demons, and the bull Demon King, I could easily envision them as a part of the world, looking down on mere humans for not having the same abilities as them.

The story was absolutely stunning. I was cheering for Lei as she stood up against oppression every chance she got, and found myself saddened when she was kicked back down by those who are on top. The love story had me cheering (in so many ways. I cannot stress enough how much seeing a gay love story happen without very clear signposting on the book makes me happy.)

The characters were truly wonderful. From Lei, who stood up when she could, to the spoiled Bull King who played with his toys. Of course there’s Wren, strong, determined Wren. But mostly I found myself loving Ngan’s depiction of Aoki, if for no other reason than the truthful depiction of how not everyone who’s abused sees it that way. They can often overlook the bad times and think of the good. That, and her being the youngest of the girls being the one to see the King as kind makes the most sense, as when we’re younger we’re more eager to look for love in the wrong places, and see the tiniest things as signs of something better.

I cannot possibly recommend this book enough. It enraptured me, and as a lover of diversity in YA I want to throw it at as many people as possible to make them read it. That being said, it does deal with some very heavy topics, particularly rape and abuse, and I can understand that not everyone can handle such things. If you are one of those who can handle it, I highly recommend Girls of Paper and Fire, and I hope you find yourself as drawn in to Ngan’s world as I was.

I will most certainly be reading this again at some stage. Likely before the next one comes out. (If there’s not going to be a next one, I will protest quite vigorously!)

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The Best a Man Can Get

I’m hardly the first person on the internet to talk about the Gillette commercial. It seems to be quite a popular topic at the moment, and for good reason. As far as commercials go, it’s quite a weighty one, and it has a message to send the world that stands out far stronger than simply asking people to buy their product.

Now, there’s quite a lot to unpack in this commercial, so I’ll start from the beginning.


The “Me Too” movement.

Sexual harassment

Toxic masculinity.

“Is this the best a man can get?”

The commercial starts with buzz words that are incredibly topical for the world at the moment. These are all big problems that people face in the world today.

I was bullied throughout most of my school life. Halfway through grade 2, I moved schools because I was being bullied. It was stupid stuff. It always is in primary school. All because my last name was McDougall and I was chubby. I remember they called me “Marlee McDonalds.” So creative, I know. That didn’t mean that it didn’t have an effect on me.

Being bullied is hard. Particularly when you’re young. You don’t know why it’s happening to you, and you have no methods to deal with it. It can be hard to talk about it to other people, be it older kids, parents, or teachers. And when it’s over something as silly as that? There’s not much a teacher can do. “Stop calling each other names.” But there wasn’t much in the way of reinforcement. Not when I went to primary school. Just telling me to ignore the people who called me that.

I don’t remember much bullying happening in my second school. I don’t remember much about that school at all, really, except that I would frequent the library. Already I would retreat into books to escape what felt like an unfair reality. No bullying, perhaps, but I didn’t exactly make any wonderful life long friends that I can remember. I was already isolating myself from other people even that young.

My third school I remember a bit more clearly, and there was more bullying here. It’s never helpful being the new kid at school. It also didn’t help that I was the new kid who frequented the library and made friends with teachers. I did manage to make some good life long friends at this school. Though I can vividly remember one incident where a friend of mine was being bullied because she was my friend. Student council elections were coming up, and one of my friends was going up against one of the “popular” girls (a bully, with her bully friends). The other candidate made sure to point out that she was friends with me, and that therefore the other students shouldn’t vote for her. Of course, this was all on the playground, out of teachers’ earshot.

Although I wasn’t aware of it then, I know now that even in primary school I had anxiety. There was one time when a particularly antagonistic girl was annoying me in class, and I gave up trying to ignore her and confronted her instead. The teacher saw this, and sent the girl to see the principal. When she came back, she told me that the principal wanted to see me after school.

So, dutifully, I sat outside waiting to see the principal after school. I knew that my Mum would be coming to pick me up that day, so at least I didn’t have to worry that I was missing the bus. But as I sat there, wondering why I was in trouble, and how much trouble I was going to be in, I started to panic, and it was quite a while later when another teacher saw me waiting there, crying. She asked me what the problem was, and went in to see the Principal for me, only to come out and tell me that the Principal had never wanted to see me in the first place. Stupid, and petty, I know. Childish, would be the word for it. And when you’re a child, even silly little things like that can have a big impact.

High school didn’t exactly lessen the bullying. I went to the same high school as most of the people from my third primary school. I managed to make a few more good friends there at least, and I managed to find myself slightly more equipped to deal with things by this point. Of course, by this point, I’d been bullied for so long that I just ignored it. There was never anything physical, or anything too bad. It was all still so childish and stupid. What would the teachers care if such and such called me fat?

The “Me Too” movement and sexual harassment can come under the same banner for the most part. I know so many people who have their “Me Too” stories. I even have some of my own. My own may not be as bad as many other people’s, but they’re still there. Some of these stories are big. I have friends who have been raped, or otherwise sexually harassed. Others may seem smaller, people not accepting “no” for an answer so easily. People taking advantage of younger people because they don’t know better. People pushing others into things even though they’re uncertain about it.

I say people here for a reason. Girls aren’t the only ones with “Me Too” stories. Just as boys aren’t the only ones who bully. Though, that’s neither the purpose of the ad, nor my blog.

Toxic masculinity. The best example I can come up with for this are those who are reacting negatively to the commercial. It’s much like the “Boys will be boys.” It’s a mentality that has been drilled into us. A boy pulls on a girls hair because he likes her. A man who is weak is “girlish”. A man can’t get a manicure or a pedicure. Real men don’t cry.

One of the most poignant comments I’ve seen about the commercial is how men are reacting poorly to being told to act in a certain way, when that’s almost all women’s commercials ever do. We’re told we can’t have body hair, or that we can’t be too fat or too thin. If we don’t show off our bodies something’s wrong with us, but if we do we’re whores. That’s just what toxic masculinity is, too though. Men are told how they have to act. They have to stand tall, and be strong. They need to be smarter and stronger than girls. The biggest insult to them is to be called a girl.

Personally, I think the commercial is brilliant. It’s making a stand. It’s stating that Gillette is firmly against bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity. The commercial isn’t demanding that men stop being who they are. All it’s asking is that they understand that the world is progressing forward, and that people (in this case men) aught to do so also. It challenges men to be “The Best a Man Can Get” by breaking the habits that have been formed over so many generations. By standing up for what’s right, and against something you know to be wrong.

Something so many people don’t seem to understand is that the ad isn’t calling men bad. It’s simply stating that these are problems that exist in the world. It’s not saying that all men bully, and rape, and are involved in the spread of toxic masculinity. What it is saying is that Gillette doesn’t support that. It’s saying that standing by when you see something not right, and allowing it to continue, is also wrong.

No, men aren’t the only problem. Nor is it saying that all men are part of the problem. But every small intervention can help.

Books Books

Spellcaster Review

When I started reading Two Dark Reigns on Wednesday, I assumed that I would be giving my review for that series today. However, as I got closer to the end of the novel, it became increasingly clear to me that this would not be the case. It’s fine, I managed to be quite composed when I finished the novel, and didn’t throw it at the wall when I realised that the series wasn’t quite over yet. Dangit Kendare Blake!

So, I won’t be reviewing that series today, because the series has not yet finished, and with the exception of newly released novels I’m trying to stick to reviewing finished series. Well, newly released novels, and Indie novels I suppose. Instead of reviewing the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake today, that will wait until sometime next year, when I manage to get my hands on the next (and hopefully final) book. Well, I wouldn’t be unhappy if it weren’t the end of the series. I’d actually be quite happy in some ways, because I do really enjoy the world and the series. That being said, I’m now stuck with that annoying feeling of waiting for the next book in an amazing series. It always seems to take forever.

Instead, today I’ll be reviewing the Spellcaster series, by Claudia Gray. I had no idea what I was getting into when I picked up the first book in this series. All I knew was that it was YA, and it had something to do with magic. I was sold enough on that.

I found the characters incredibly investing. Nadia was a compelling protagonist, Mateo was an interesting and sympathetic romantic interest. Elizabeth was an outstanding villain. Then there was my favourite character, the lovely dynamic Verlaine. It would be safe to say that Verlaine utterly captured my heart. Mateo was cool and all, but Verlaine stole the show for me when it came to characters.

As interesting as the characters were, I would have to say it was the magic system which really drew me deep into my love for this series. Instead of the typical wands and magic spells, or chanting and using will, each “spell” was crafted by using the spellcaster’s memories. This method of spellcasting absolutely floored me.

The story itself was also quite interesting, and again, the world and magic system were absolutely stunning. I will most definitely be recommending this book to lovers of YA, romance, urban fantasy, and anyone who has any interest in interesting magic systems.

It’s also on my to be read again pile. When I make it through my to be read for the first time pile. <_< I’ll get there.

Blog Posts

Advice on Advice

No two people are exactly alike. What works well for one person, won’t necessarily work well for you, or for someone else. There might be times when you’re given advice and when trying it out it works well for you. That does not mean you always need to try advice from that person, or similar seeming advice if you don’t feel comfortable with it.

I have been seeing a lot about Marie Kondo lately. Mostly on some book lovers pages I’m on on facebook, which is usually focused on her advice to ideally keep less than thirty books. This advice is definitely not for everyone. I know that I, for one, would be absolutely unable to cull my library down to only thirty books. Especially if I go by her other advice of “keep it if it sparks joy.”

This blog post isn’t going to be about Marie Kondo. At least, not entirely. My point today is that advice that works for someone else might not necessarily work for you, and there will be times you will have to accept that, and work things out for yourself. For example, I can’t take Marie Kondo’s advice, because to me, having my collections of books, DVDs, games, and plushies? They make me happy. Each one makes me happy. I will rewatch the DVDs, I will reread the books, I will replay the games, and I will find comfort in my plushies.

I could give you advice which I have worked out for myself over my life. Do what makes you happy. Work hard on your studies. Always have a book to read. Don’t be afraid to leave people behind in your life if they don’t make you happy. Always live with a pet. These are things that I have found which work for me. I am in no way saying that they will work for you.

Then there are times when you’ve found advice that works for you, but it might be hard to enact. For example, I should always wear sunscreen when I’m going to be outside for more than ten minutes. I just burn up in the sun. The other day I was out with some friends, and sitting under the shade, and I did indeed put sunscreen on after a little while. I still got burned. Often it’s a case of me forgetting to put it on, or there not being sunscreen available. In this case I mustn’t have gotten it on quick enough. Some people might think “always have sunscreen in your bag” would be a great way to remedy at least part of that, so I always have it with me when I need it, however my anxiety prevents me from doing so, because I’m absolutely certain it would leak, and there would be sunscreen throughout my bag. (I can’t even put a bottle of liquid in there for the same reason. Especially not if it’s cold. Condensation would just ruin the books I have in my bag!)

I cannot stress enough that the same advice will not necessarily work for two different people. Let’s look at advice like medication. There are plenty of different types and brands, for different diseases. You might take some cough medicine one day, to find that your cough is fixed perfectly. That doesn’t mean you should recommend it to someone with chicken pox. Or to look at the same metaphor in a different way: two people may have depression. One pill might work for one of them, though that doesn’t mean the same pill is going to work for the other person as well.

Decluttering can be great, and I do need to get into my stuff and declutter. I am even going through my books and choosing some to give up, as hard as that may be to believe. I’m not going to follow Marie Kondo’s advice for doing so, however. I’m simply going to go through in my own little way and go through things that I don’t or won’t use or wear in the immediate future.

I would call it Spring Cleaning, but it’s a bit late for that, with it being the exact middle of Summer right now more or less. I wish luck to anyone else who might be going through the same, and my advice of: Don’t just follow every bit of advice you hear. Work things out for yourself, and find what works for you.

Books Books

The Laughing Man

I have some amazing friends, and some of my amazing friends are amazingly talented. One such friend, who I have known since High School, has recently published his second book. Just because it’s with an Indie publisher does not make that any less impressive. I’ve even had the pleasure, though a lot more recently, and through a different friend (amazing how your friends can know each other without you when you all like writing!) to meet the main brains behind Ouroborus Books, which is the Indie publishing company several of my friends have been published through.

In an even more amazing coincidence, I was at a different friend’s party a little while before Christmas. This is a friend I knew from my first high school, before I met the previous fr5iend I was talking about, who I’ll get to again shortly. While talking with the other people there, I discovered that one of her work colleagues is also published through Ouroborus Books. Okay, well, I thought it was an insane and amazing coincidence, though I can understand if you don’t find it the same.

So, my friend from high school. Let’s call him… Robert J. Barlow. Although I mostly knew him as just Rob in high school. I honestly don’t think I could tell you what his middle name is, aside from the fact that the initial is J. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you that much if he hadn’t opted to include it for his nom de plume with his debut novel The Laughing Man.

So. The Laughing Man. There’s a lot I could talk about here. Both Rob, the author, and Sabrina, the publisher, are my friends, so I don’t want to chew him out, but I also want to be truthful. So, here goes:

The story: I was, like everyone I know who has read this book, captivated by the story. It’s an amazing story, well written, with an incredibly interesting world, and some fabulous (some in more ways than one) characters.

The characters: I can’t fault anything here, they were all wonderfully well written. They were engaging, dynamic, thoroughly interesting, and all wonderfully individual.

I was absolutely honestly thoroughly into this book, the world, the plot, the story. It was incredible.

My issues? There were a few places where the editing could have been a bit tighter. The copyediter didn’t seem to do the best job. I feel kinda bad saying this, but it took me so long to get through this book (I started reading it last month) because there were moments I just had to massage my brain to get through it.

On a passing glance, it would absolutely pass muster. Unfortunately, there were some paragraphs in later chapters that weren’t indented properly. Sometimes a single paragraph contained two different characters speaking (Something I distinctly remember being a huge no-no in one of my classes last semester, when my tutor thought two different characters were speaking, when it was just the one…) which made me unfortunately a bit confused at times. There were a few cases of “in” in the place of “on” and vice versa, or other similar slip ups, and a few little spelling errors.

That, and there were a few phrases here and there which I found I had to stare at for a while in order to understand what it was that was trying to be conveyed. Though honestly I’m not sure how much of that was my not necessarily being 100% engaged in the book at that time for whatever reason, or something that might have been able to be clarified by a little bit of editing.

So, on the whole, absolutely do love and would recommend the book. (Not just because one of my friends wrote it and another published it) It might have a few kinks still, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an absolutely stunning read. I will absolutely be reading this book again, and hopefully when I have money again sometime I’ll be able to buy The Spinning Sister, which is the second book in the series, and has already been out. (Okay, so it took me a while to get around to buying the book, and then reading it… I’m not the best at reading books I buy promptly. Also not always great at buying books immediately when they come out, which is mostly a money thing, and sometimes a “that book caught my eye more immediately” thing.

Blog Posts

My Mind Won’t Change

“You’ll change your mind.”

I am sick and tired of hearing that phrase. Thankfully, there’s only one person in my life who says it to me with any regularity. Unfortunately that regularity is “every time I see them.” I know that I am not the only one dealing with such people, and that I am honestly lucky to only have the one person openly saying that I don’t know what I want to my face. Plenty of other people have to face the same or worse.

For one thing, I’m not trans. There are so many horror stories out there of trans men and women who aren’t accepted by their family. They’re being told that they’re “just going through a phase”. Some are lucky enough to have supportive people in their life, but not everyone is that lucky.

No, what my Stepdad thinks I’ll change my mind about is that I don’t want to have kids. In his mind, every woman must want to reproduce. To settle down with a husband, and have kids. That’s what life is about. Then again, he also can’t understand how lesbians get by because “everyone needs a good dicking” (and no, he fails to see the irony when I point out how he thinks gay guys are unnatural).

I don’t want children. The idea of being pregnant and putting my body through all of that horrifies me. I don’t just mean the childbirth part, either. That would be nine months of my hormones being more messed up than they already are. I’m barely keeping together as it is, I don’t want to even think about what that would do to me mentally.

Then there’s the fact that I’m currently unemployed, and very much single. I’m hoping to fix the first part. Ideally, I’d like to be employed quite soon. Being on Centrelink doesn’t exactly do much for my mental health either. That being said, it’s a lot easier said than done. As for the second part, I really don’t know.

I’ve tried to be in relationships before. I don’t know that it’s for me. Yet another thing my Stepdad would never accept as a life choice. Just as clearly I’ll change my mind and want kids, I just haven’t met the right guy yet. Yeah, right.

A lot of people my age don’t want kids. There are plenty of examples out there for the curious mind to explain why. The truth of the matter? When you get right down to it, we just simply don’t want kids. An absolutely mind blowing thought, I know.

It’s one that’s so hard for a lot of people to accept. The problem is, it’s hard for a lot of people to understand that not everyone has the same desires as them. Some people want to do the best they can in their jobs, and have high goals set for themselves to achieve. Other people honestly just want to get by, and live peacefully. Similarly, some people want to have kids, and other people just… don’t.

Just as there are many people in the world who don’t want kids, there are still plenty out there who do. If everyone wanted to have kids, and did so, the world would be a very bleak place with a vast population problem. Honestly, it’s bad enough as it is.

I am 26 years old. I’m not a teenager, or a child. People accept (by now. At least partially) that I want to be a writer and editor. Something I have been talking about since I was in high school. Why is it still so hard for some people to accept that I don’t want kids? I think I know my own mind a bit better than they do.

Books Books

Throne of Glass Review

I had seen the popularity surrounding Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas for a few years now, yet it took me a while before I decided to check it out. It’s only been within the past couple of years that I’ve truly become spend-happy when it comes to buying books, and until then I mostly relied on being able to find something in the library, which isn’t always the case with extremely popular books.

Barely a chapter into the first book and already I found myself understanding the craze. The first book drew me in with its wonderful competition for the title of King’s Assassin. I found Celaena interesting, although there were certainly times when I may have rolled my eyes a bit. I mean, she’s a deadly assassin, she’s insanely smart, she has an obsession with books, and chocolate.

Not going to lie, when I read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I saw how much Maas has progressed since her first series in how Feyre was less of Mary-Sue than Celaena. She’s still likely somewhere on the spectrum, but Celaena almost seems as though she could easily take the cake there. Particularly when the bomb drops in a later book and it’s revealed that she’s Terrasen’s missing Princess Aelin.

Even with the strong Mary-Sue vibes given off from the main character, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the series. Just as I could see Maas’s writing progress with more well-rounded characters in her second series, I could see the same progression within this series, particularly as it went on. The first book focuses primarily on Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol. The last book has a large main cast who are all integral to the plot, and manage to be interesting and well-rounded characters.

The series is a lovely blend of action and fantasy, which is just what I needed when I first picked it up. The writing is compelling, and the characters interesting (particularly if you can get past any eye-rolling moments that might occur when you see badass assassin Celaena make herself sick by gorging on chocolates).

I also found it quite wonderful to see just how much the series progressed from what started as a simple competition for the King to a battle that could give Middle Earth a run for its money.

I will definitely have to be reading this series again sometime. After I’ve gotten over my current book hangover thanks to Kingdom of Ash, the final book in the series.