plumpaperbacks's reviews
768 reviews

Our Violent Ends, by Chloe Gong

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dark emotional mysterious tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

Cheese and rice. I knew this book was going to be intense, but I was absolutely not prepared for how intense it actually was. I think I survived all of the other books I’ve read over the years just so this one specifically could kill me. Very rarely do books evoke such physical reactions in me; as I read, I was laughing, gasping, and my heart was pounding. I don’t think it slowed down at all during the second half of the book.

There’s not much I can say that’s spoiler-free, and honestly, I don’t have either the physical or emotional energy right now for an in-depth review. Just know that as much as I loved the first book, somehow I love this one even more. Juliette, Roma, Marshall, Benedikt, and Alisa stole my heart; Juliette and Roma in particular own my soul. I’m legit reevaluating my mental list of favorite series of all time to make room for this duology in the top five. Anything that affects me as much as this did sure as hell deserves it.

So yeah. My heart is a pulp and my brain is mush and I don’t really know what to do with my life right now. If these books weren’t already one of my main personality traits, they are now. I’ll definitely reread them at some point, but I need to prepare myself for that first. I’m eagerly (and nervously) awaiting Chloe Gong’s next book.

Representation
  • Chinese protagonist and side characters
  • Chinese trans girl side character
  • Korean queer side character
  • queer side character with OCD

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Jade Fire Gold, by June C.L. Tan

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adventurous emotional tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

3.5

My experience with this book was a weird one, because from the very first page, I was intrigued by Tan’s world and story and quickly grew attached to the characters; however, I just… wasn’t in the mood to read. So it took me about a week to trudge through the first half, and then I sped through the second half in a couple of days. And while I did really love the characters and character dynamics, right now I just feel unsatisfied.

The story was great until the last quarter, in which things began to seem too easy. I saw one of the twists coming a mile away, and there was another event that, though it was emotional, didn’t have much of an effect on me because it was fixed two chapters later.

I was rooting for the romance for most of the second half of the story, because not only was it enemies to lovers but it was also an agonizing slow-burn, a.k.a. one of my favorite combinations. But not even that worked out. There was no drama or passion; the whole ordeal ended up being so nonchalant, which was a tad disappointing. It’s like when you’re making food and you turn the heat down too soon, so instead of the delicious meal you saw in the recipe photo, it’s an undercooked, only vaguely recognizable distant relative.

As for the epilogue, I’d heard from the group I was buddy reading this with that it was intense and unexpected, so I was very curious. Yet it evoked absolutely no reaction from me. Sure, it *was* unexpected, but it’s the sort of thing that sets you up for a sequel, and this is a stand-alone. So what was the point, honestly??

I know this hasn’t been the most stellar review, but I swear, I did enjoy this book. Tan’s ensemble cast was brilliant, and I especially loved Tang Wei. What an absolute icon. In broader terms, I liked multiple aspects—the story was intriguing and kept me on my toes even when there wasn’t much action, the world was well-developed, the banter was top tier, and Tan did an excellent job depicting grief and trauma in her protagonists. I’m just conflicted, for the multiple aforementioned reasons, and a bit disappointed as well because I really thought this would end up a new favorite.

This review is all over the place, but I don’t think I could do better if I tried because my feelings are also all over the place. I started out planning to give this book 4.25 stars, then lowered it to 4, and have now settled on 3.5 stars. It’s been less than an hour since I finished reading, but my mind is going a mile a minute and words are hard enough when it’s going at normal speeds. I’ll end by saying this: I don’t think Jade Fire Gold is a bad book by any means. Overall, it was pretty good, and I think Tan has a lot of potential. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Representation
  • full Asian cast
  • queer side characters (includes sapphic rep)
  • sapphic side couple

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In a Holidaze, by Christina Lauren

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funny lighthearted medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

This is my first book by Christina Lauren that isn’t YA, and though I didn’t have high expectations going in, I ended up seriously loving it. It was a fun, festive, heartwarming story of self-discovery, a big blended family, and childhood friends to lovers, and exactly what I needed at this point in time. Mae and Andrew are adorable, their families are endearingly hilarious, and I couldn’t stop smiling over the last 30 pages. I’m definitely buying my own copy, and searching for more books by this duo to read ASAP. 🎄❤️

Representation
  • achillean side couple
  • autistic side character

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The Inheritance Games, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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mysterious slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

3.25

Why do bookstagram’s favorites keep disappointing me? :’)

I was hoping for an intense thriller, but instead I got a rather slow mystery. Now, to clarify, the mystery was clever and kept me interested; it’s clear Barnes knows how to write this genre.

My issue was with how mediocre everything else felt—the characters and character dynamics in particular. I didn’t like or dislike Avery; she was just kind of there. I didn’t like any of the Hawthorne brothers, and Grayson and Jameson in particular annoyed me more often than not. And don’t even get me started on what’s most likely going to be a love triangle, since somehow Avery is attracted to both boys, even though one is a pretentious prick and the other is all dramatic and melancholy. I’m too gay for this.

I’m planning to read the next one solely because the story’s ending intrigued me. Fingers crossed it’s better.

Representation
  • side characters of color (includes Black and multiracial rep)
  • bisexual side character

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Star Daughter, by Shveta Thakrar

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emotional mysterious reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

4.0

[Buddy read with Shar 💛]

I kept getting this book from the library and then running out of time to read it, so a buddy read was exactly the incentive I needed to finally read it. And surprisingly, it was really good, and I quite enjoyed my time with the story.

Thakrar’s writing reminded me very much of Roshani Chokshi, specifically her book The Star-Touched Queen, and Anna-Marie McLemore—lovely descriptions seemingly infused with magic, making even the ordinary seem extraordinary. That and the three-dimensional characters were definitely her greatest strengths; I liked the protagonist Sheetal, and loved her best friend Minal and their relationship.

The story is undeniably slow, and more character-driven than plot-driven, but worth sticking with. While the majority of the book is a series of smaller-scale events that kept me intrigued, the last third was a whirlwind of music, discoveries and power plays. It was entertaining without pause, and led to a rather satisfying conclusion.

Though not a favorite, I’d definitely say Star Daughter is one of the most pleasantly surprising books I’ve read this year. I recommend it, and I certainly want to read more from Thakrar; if this is her debut, I look forward to seeing how she grows.

Representation
  • almost entirely desi cast
  • sapphic side couple
  • minor achillean side couple

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Playing the Palace, by Paul Rudnick

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lighthearted fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

1.0

I’m always hesitant to berate books, since so much time and effort went into writing them and I put considerably less of both into reading them. However, try as I may, I can’t think of anything positive to say about this book. It was a train wreck I couldn’t look away from. Though I picked it up because of the similarities between it and my all-time favorite romance, Red, White and Royal Blue, there’s really no comparison to be made.

Playing the Palace was a story of insta-love between two poorly developed characters, with a slew of rather shallow, stereotypical side characters and an absurd number of moments where I cringed so hard, I had to put the book down. A few especially cringey parts included Carter and Edgar going into the former’s bedroom to have sex while his roommates were home, Edgar using a lion puppet to ask Carter for sex, and Carter repeatedly asking his framed photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg questions and imagining her answers.

Honestly, I’m not sure what else to say about this book. The whole thing felt rushed, and kind of like a fever dream. It was clear that Rudnick was trying to do a lot of things with PTP, but all he succeeded in, as far as I’m concerned, is making a mess. I’m sorry to say it, but there’s just no way for me to sugarcoat that and still be honest. 🤷🏼

Representation
  • gay Jewish protagonist
  • gay love interest
  • queer Black side characters (includes gay and sapphic rep)
  • achillean romance
  • achillean side couple

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The Number of Love, by Roseanna M. White

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challenging emotional mysterious fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

4.0

I was browsing the adult section of my library for romance books and picked this up because the title caught my eye, even though I’d never heard of it. The synopsis interested me, and when I skimmed the first couple of pages, I found that the writing was easy to read. So I took a chance on a random book.

I’m glad I did! White did a great job with basically everything. I haven’t read many books set during either of the world wars, and the few I did read never featured characters actively involved in the war, save one. I liked that Margot was not only a codebreaker, but one that the men around her had grown to respect. I liked Drake, Dot, Red, and Margot’s family, as well as the found family consisting of Margot and the first three in that list. The various dynamics between them were very well-written.

Some things I appreciated: a) the other characters’ acceptance of both Dot’s agoraphobia and Red’s disability, rather than any attempts to “fix” Dot or disdain toward them both, as I’d kind of expected from a story set in the early 20th century, b) Drake’s understanding of Margot’s way of thinking and life goals and his willingness to let her set the pace of their relationship, and c) the inclusion of Margot’s job as a codebreaker that was easy to understand and didn’t bog down the story. I also liked Margot and Dot’s friendship, and found both of the romances that developed over the course of the book to be very sweet.

A couple of things I wasn’t such a fan of: a) Margot’s condescending views of women that were interested in fashion, as she herself didn’t see the point of it, and b) the fact that she was only eighteen, and newly at that. I’d thought her older since this isn’t a YA book, and honestly, she doesn’t act like a young girl. Granted, in the midst of a war circumstances were definitely different, but she felt like someone in her early twenties, at least. Maybe about twenty-five. Ultimately, the former bothered me more than the latter, but both nagged at me enough to be worth mentioning. (Note: the age gap between Margot and Drake isn’t an issue to me. It’s only six years, and one of my favorite ships of all time has a seven year age gap. So yeah, just wanted to clarify.)

Overall, this was a surprisingly good read! More of a historical fiction than a historical romance, as I’d expected from the blurb, but enjoyable nonetheless. White’s writing was very easy to read, and I’m definitely interested in reading more from her. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction, and/or books with strong platonic and familial relationships, found family, women in STEM, and war settings that don’t involve anyone actually on the frontlines.

Representation
  • side character with agoraphobia
  • amputee side character with a prosthetic foot

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The Hollow Heart, by Marie Rutkoski

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dark emotional slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

After thoroughly enjoying The Midnight Lie, I was so excited to dive into The Hollow Heart. Unfortunately, I found it incredibly underwhelming, and even considering DNFing more than once. I pushed through because of how much I liked the first book, thinking it had to get better. And while it did, marginally, it never managed to achieve the same levels of intrigue, emotion and romance as its predecessor.

The slow pacing and long chapters made reading this feel like an uphill battle. At risk of sounding dramatic, it was sort of a Sisyphus situation—every time I would start to get invested, an especially long, boring chapter would ruin that for me. I shudder to think of what this book would’ve been without Sid’s chapters; I love her to pieces, 10/10, my favorite character, book girlfriend material. In all seriousness, her narration was what saved the story for me.

The girls were reunited in the final third, making it somewhat but not entirely better than the first two thirds. What really could’ve upped my opinion is a more detailed ending, because I feel like I was cheated. Not nearly enough sapphic content or story resolution, in my opinion.

Honestly, this might be one of my most disappointing reads of the year, alongside Kingdom of the Wicked. Whereas KOTW was a case of a book not living up to internet hype, The Hollow Heart was a sequel that I don’t think lived up to the first book, and that, I think, is so very sad. :((

Representation
  • sapphic protagonist of color
  • biracial lesbian love interest
  • sapphic romance
  • queer side character
  • side characters of color

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The Grimrose Girls, by Laura Pohl

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dark emotional mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

5.0

I’ve been excited to read this book ever since I found out about it a few months ago, and it didn’t disappoint. Pohl’s story is the perfect blend of fairytale magic and thrilling dark academia, a combination I didn’t know I needed in my life. I formed all sorts of theories as I read and trusted hardly anyone, yet I was still surprised as pieces of the puzzle fell into place. The intrigue never stopped, and I didn’t want to stop reading.

I loved all four of the protagonists from the beginning. Ella, Yuki, Rory and Nani were amazing, complex and well-written characters, and there were some equally well-written side characters. It was surprisingly fun to try to connect people and events to different fairytales as I read.

I also loved Ella, Yuki and Rory’s friendship, and seeing Nani slowly become a part of their group. The dynamic among the girls was brilliant, as were the two slow-burn, friends to lovers romantic subplots. I say subplot because, while both involved a member of the main squad, the romance was definitely not a focus of the story. Emphasis was instead placed on the girls themselves and the mystery of Grimrose, which I think was the right choice. Be that as it may, what bits of romance we did get were adorable, and I’m hoping there’ll be more in the sequel. There’s one relationship I think could turn romantic, and I’m hoping that it does. Fingers crossed! (What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.)

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by just how great this book was. It pulled me in immediately and I was hooked from cover to cover; now that I’m done, I’m wondering just long the wait will be for the sequel. (Probably a year or so, since this just came out.) I’ll definitely have to check out Pohl’s other books in the meantime. And if it wasn’t already clear, I love and highly recommend The Grimrose Girls!!

Representation
  • biromantic demisexual protagonist with anxiety and OCD
  • Japanese aromantic asexual protagonist
  • lesbian protagonist with fibromyalgia
  • Black-Hawaiian fat lesbian protagonist
  • queer trans girl side character
  • Black side character

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Fire with Fire, by Destiny Soria

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adventurous emotional tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.75

While the concept of this book intrigued me, I have mixed feelings on the book itself. I liked the well-written cast of characters, complex sister dynamic, and the unique lore surrounding the dragons, slayers, and sorcerers. I especially liked the resident snarky dragon, Nox. He’s undeniably my favorite character.

What I wasn’t such a fan of, though, was the uneven pacing in the first half of the book vs the second, the rather rushed events in the last third of the story, and just how chaotic things ended up. In the last 100 pages, it felt like there was too much going on, like Soria wanted to fit too much into too few pages, and more than once I had to reread paragraphs to grasp what exactly was happening. I think the best solution here would’ve been to either add a few chapters to the book or split it into a duology. Either one would’ve allowed for a bit of breathing room between action sequences and room to further flesh out the story and characters.

ETA:
SpoilerOne thing that seemed unrealistic to me is that Eden was so familiar with her magic as soon as she got it. The girl was a sorcerer for less than half an hour before chasing Dani and managing all of these complex attack spells. Granted, I’m a human without magical experience, but uh… I don’t think it works that way??


The ending was satisfying, I’ll give it that, but as I write this review, my brain feels muddled. I’m not sure if that’s because of the time (it’s almost 4:30 a.m.) or the book or my alarmingly small number of brain cells or all three. Whatever the case may be, even if Fire with Fire didn’t end up being the spectacular urban fantasy I’d hoped it would be, I do recommend it. Soria has a lot of potential if she can figure out her pacing, and I look forward to giving more of her books a try in the future.

Representation
  • bisexual Mexican protagonist
  • Mexican protagonist with anxiety
  • side characters of color (includes Latine and Black rep)
  • sapphic side character

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