Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Note: This review was originally posted on my Goodreads in January 2019.

Goodreads: Girls of Paper and Fire (Girls of Paper and Fire #1)
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, LGBTQ+
Panda Rating:

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 demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

2020 note: I was super excited to read this book because there was a helluva lot to be excited for and so I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t love it more. I know it’s a super unpopular opinion because everyone adored this book. So, JFYI, there’s an unpopular opinion coming right up! 😅 Also, soz it’s a bit of a chunky review!

I’m kind of torn on how I feel about this one. I was super excited to start reading it and while I did enjoy it— especially the world that the author created—I think the story just fell a bit flat for me. I’m feeling disappointed because I wanted to enjoy it so much more than I did. That said, with her debut, Natasha Ngan presents a wild fantasy that is not only rich in detail, but has a diverse and representative cast of characters and a very open narrative on sexuality and on sensitive issues such as abuse. There is action, politics, coverage of social issues such as discrimination and poverty, and there is also a blooming f/f romance. TW: violence and sexual abuse.

“We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we’re given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable.

And there is a fire catching among us.”

We follow 17-year-old Lei as she is forcibly taken from her village to become an unprecedented ninth Paper Girl, where on her journey she discovers unexpected friendships and her first love, while also navigating the dark and harrowing experiences that come with being forced to be a consort to the Demon King.

Ngan stated that she wanted to tell a story that has diverse representation, one that more young readers can relate to, and I think she did a wonderful job delivering on that. Even though I’m not “young” anymore (lol), I thoroughly enjoyed reading a YA story that was so heavily influenced by Asian, specifically Chinese-Malaysian cultures, which also have many similarities to my own Indonesian culture. I found it refreshing to read a YA fantasy where I recognized words from my own native tongue and other familiar references from Asia in the text. I found that the cultural influences added an extra special element to the world building, which Ngan creates with a wonderfully bizarre fusion of human and animal forms, mixed with the rich spiritual beliefs and ritualistic practices from Asian cultures. Ngan’s writing offers such rich and vivid imagery that breathes life, not only into the characters, but into the surroundings, making it easy to picture exactly what’s being painted.

This was also the case when we encounter the ‘darker’ scenes in the story that involve abuse (sexual and physical). Although there was a CW/TW at the start, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever read a YA novel that’s as explicitly dark as this. If you’re okay with confronting and reading about these topics, then this book is suitable for you. Though I think that because Ngan is so open about it in her writing, it provides a good platform where young readers can gain an understanding, engage in discussions and explore these difficult issues in private or in safe spaces such as book clubs. Not only that, but I think the openness allows people to gain a sense of empowerment from the main character Lei—who ultimately chooses to not let what has happened to her define her life.

While Lei’s character was admirable in how she dealt with her situation, I have to admit that I didn’t really connect with her—which I think is perhaps the main reason why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected to. Yes, she’s undoubtedly brave for having stood up to the Demon King, but I also felt that (ironically) her character was a little helpless and lacked strength. Her emotions and actions were so dependent on other characters pulling her through and what I found really frustrating was that she would dive into these situations without any forethought into how it would affect others; especially if she failed, which she did almost every time. I know this is YA, and really, Ngan does a great job in capturing the internal coming-of-age struggles of a teenage girl and an even better job at capturing the struggles of a young woman discovering her sexuality. However, Lei’s character just didn’t latch on to me. In many ways, I see Lei as being so far from the typical ‘fierce, strong, warrior, self-saving heroine’ that YA fantasy is full of and this is definitely not a bad thing but for some reason she just didn’t work for me…

It was unfortunate that the majority of the Paper Girls and other characters experience little to no growth, save for one other Paper Girl, Aoki, who goes through just as much change as Lei. It was actually quite painful (in the best way) to see how Aoki’s character develops, especially in relation to Lei’s, and I can see her playing a much bigger and potentially more sinister role in the upcoming book(s). The next one is meant to come out towards the end of 2019 and Ngan will apparently make an announcement about the upcoming book’s title very soon. I personally hope that how I feel about Lei’s character improves or changes in the next book and that the pace of the story picks up a little bit. I felt the pacing was a bit slow for me at times and the climax I was anticipating towards the end, also didn’t hit that ‘satisfying’ spot for me.

But it really wasn’t all negative for me—even though maybe this review might make it seem so. I did enjoy this book, just not as much as I hoped to. That won’t stop me from picking up the next one though! I look forward to diving back into Ikhara and seeing where the story takes us next 🙂

Have you read Girls of Paper and Fire or is it on your TBR?

#TopTenTuesday: The Dreaded Book Hangovers!

It’s that time of the week again, friends! We’re back with another Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s prompt is: the last ten books that gave me a book hangover!

This is a toughie because I really can’t remember the last time I had a book hangover? I don’t think I have them that often and most of the time it’s because I try to push through those feelings (and I guess I’m pretty good at it)! 😂 When I think about books that have given me hangovers, they’re usually the ones that leave me so emotionally devastated and thinking “what in the actual f did I just read?!” They’re the ones I can’t get out of my head when I want to try reading something new; the ones whose stories and characters play on an endless loop because I want more of exactly that kind of emotional devastation (such a masochist but it’s true). Some books I’ve read lately have high book hangover potential, namely Love Lettering, but I refuse to allow myself to dwell too long on the feels because I have book deadlines! But the characters are definitely lingering in my mind.

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The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – #BookReview

Goodreads: The Immortalists
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Family Saga, Magical Realism
Panda Rating:

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

“Our language is our strength.
Thoughts have wings.”

It was difficult for me to write this review so apologies if it’s more nonsensical blabber than anything. I really enjoyed this touching novel about family and death. It sounds morose and it certainly isn’t the most fast paced storytelling, but as the story dove deeper into each characters’ life, I found that I couldn’t put the book down and very quickly sped through the pages. The Immortalists is a family saga that explores faith and the idea of destiny/fate. It asks readers the timeless question: if you could learn when/how you die, would you do it?

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2019 End of Year Book Survey: Part II!

I first discovered this post on BookLoversBlog on NYE and decided it was the perfect way to wrap up my reading and blogging year. The survey was originally created by Jamie @ The Perpetual Page Turner and asks us questions that reflect the last year of books, reading and blogging. As the survey was quite lengthy, I decided to break it down into three parts. You can see Part I with my 2019 Stats and Best in Books HERE. Part II will be about my Blogging/Bookish Life in 2019, and stay tuned for Part III, which will be about Looking Ahead to 2020.

1. New favorite book blog/Bookstagram/Youtube channel you discovered in 2019?

Since this was my first year of blogging and intensively bookstagramming, I discovered all the blogs and bookstagram accounts, so I really can’t just pick one because they have all quickly became my favorites. To say that choosing would be difficult is an understatement! I’ve discovered so many new book loving friends in 2019 and it’s not only been fun, but it’s been beyond amazing. I’m especially thankful for those who interact with me on a daily or regular basis on all my platforms, whether it’s the blog, twitter or instagram. I really appreciate all of you 🥰

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Friday Favorites: Top Reads of 2019!

It’s time for another Friday Favorites hosted by Kibby @ Something of the Book! This weekly meme is where you get to share a list of all your favourites based on the list of prompts on Kibby’s page. Sounds fun, right? This week’s prompt is: favorite reads of 2019! Well, I guess I can no longer afford to keep avoiding thinking about this question because… The year is very quickly drawing to a close. It’s the last Friday of 2019 (!!!) and I guess there’s a slim chance of more contenders for my top spot! I’m wondering if I should divvy this up into genres just like I did last week because I honestly don’t know if I can narrow it down to just 10 books in total? So I’m going to look at the top five (max) reads for these genres: Contemporary, Thrillers/Horrors, Fantasy, Romance, Non-Fiction, Graphic Novels… Let’s get to it…

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The End of the Year Book Tag – 2019 Edition!

I wasn’t tagged to do this one but I first saw it on Jenn @ Jenniely’s page and immediately thought I’d love to do it, especially after doing the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag! I really can’t believe it’s the end of the year already. We’ve got less than one week until we’re ringing in 2020, friends! How is it even possible when sometimes it still feels like February only just ended the other day?! Craziness… Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to it!

Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish?

I started The Goldfinch during The Worst Reading Slump of 2019. It was a bad time for my mental health and now whenever I think of picking it up again, I just feel dread… I wanted to read Good Omens before the show came out but I wasn’t in the mood for it and it was tough to concentrate. The same goes for My Lovely Wife! I hope I can at least finish one of these before 2019 ends!

Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year?

I’m… Not sure what this means? An autumnal book? But… It’s not autumn? Or am I just confusing myself? Lol

Is there a new release you’re still waiting for?

I’m taking this question to mean are there any more books that are coming out that you’re looking forward to and the answer would be no! 2019 has been an incredible year for books but there’s nothing else I’m waiting on now!

What are three books you want to read before the year ends?

If I really only had to pick three of the many, it’d be these: The Queen of Nothing (I just finished TWK and I’m not putting this off anymore!), The Toll and Well Met!

Is there a book that you think could still shock you and become your favorite of the year?

Ooh, I feel like this is a pretty tough question to answer because I’m not even sure if I can say what my favorite of the year is! I’m notoriously bad at making these kinds of decisions. I’m thinking of all the books that I still want to read before 2020 (beyond the three above) and I think there’s a strong possibility for one of them to be a contender… I’m not going to name which book though because I don’t want to jinx myself 🤪

Have you already started making reading plans for 2020?

I’m surprised to say YES to this question! In previous years I’ve never really made plans for reading but now that I have a blog and am participating in blog tours and have eARCs to read before certain dates, I’m hoping to get better organised by setting up a proper calendar for when I need to finish books! I really want to get on top of my eARCs (NetGalley mostly) in 2020 because then I won’t feel so guilty requesting more books to read 🤣

And that’s a wrap folks! I still can’t believe 2019 is pretty much over. I still have to think about my favorite books of the year and that’s for sure going to be a tough one since I’ve never read so many books in one year until now 🤣 I think I’m looking forward to the challenge though! Let’s see if I’m saying that by the end of it lol


It’s okay if you don’t like tags or don’t feel like doing this one. No pressure at all! Also, even if you’re not tagged and want to do it, consider yourself officially tagged! Don’t forget to link back so I can see your answers 😉

Jess | Mere | Emer | Joanna | | Nen & Jen | Ali | Sammie | Amanda | Leelynn | Mani


Friday Favorites: 2019 Releases!

It’s time for another Friday Favorites hosted by Kibby @ Something of the Book! This weekly meme is where you get to share a list of all your favourites based on the list of prompts on Kibby’s page. Sounds fun, right? This week’s prompt is: favorite 2019 releases! Well, here’s another reason I’m really glad that I keep track of my reads through my Goodreads reading challenge, otherwise I would’ve struggled with this one 😂 I think one of the reasons I ended up reading as many 2019 releases as I did this year is because of FOMO. I always see the hype and I get sucked right in and can’t resist. I’ve tried to narrow these down as much as possible and I’ve brought it down to 15 books (it’s hard to narrow down okay?! 😭) and I’ve broken them up into a few categories to make clumping easier: Contemporary, Thrillers/Horror, Fantasy, Romance. Chances are I’m totally forgetting some book or other (even with Goodreads’ help!) but this is what I’ve come up with:

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Friday Favorites: New to me Authors in 2019!

It’s time for another Friday Favorites hosted by Kibby @ Something of the Book! This weekly meme is where you get to share a list of all your favourites based on the list of prompts on Kibby’s page. Sounds fun, right? This week’s prompt is: favorite new to me authors in 2019. 2019 has been one of the most incredible years of reading for me. I’ve never in my life read near on 200 books in one year before and I’m shocked to know that it’s a good possibility that I might even read over 200 books at this point. As a result of all this reading, I’ve discovered so many new authors that I now love and some have even made it onto my auto-buy list! There are actually quite a lot of new authors that I have loved discovering this year and I honestly want to name them all, but this list might go on for ages if I do, so for now I’m sticking with this list of fivesix new to me authors from 2019

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Book Review: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Goodreads: My Sister, The Serial Killer
Genre: Crime-Thriller-Mystery, Africa, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: ★★★½ (out of 5)


One evening, Korede gets a call from her younger sister Ayoola asking for her help. It’s a call she hoped she’d never receive again but, you know, life. Ayoola has killed another man and so Korede takes her cleaning supplies and goes to help her sister cover up a crime she claims was an act of self-defense. Does Korede believe her sister—even after three men have now died by Ayoola’s hand—or does she do something about it? Korede loves Ayoola, but she also wonders how her sister ended up this way–does she have more of their abusive father’s blood running through her veins, compared to Korede? Although she is fraught with worry about being found out, Korede is convinced the police don’t need to be involved; that is, until the day Ayoola attracts the attention of the man Korede loves and she finds herself torn between obligation to her sister, and a moral duty to not only protect the man she loves, but all the menfolk of Nigeria.

“Have you heard this one before? Two girls walk into a room. The room is in a flat. The flat is on the third floor. In the room is the dead body of an adult male. How do they get the body to the ground floor without being seen?”

I want to start by saying that I love the title and cover of this book. Not only is the cover eye-catching, but the title definitely piqued my interest and these elements alone were enough to convince me to read it! I had also seen it a few times on bookstagram this year, so there was additional interest generated from positive reviews, and I was definitely ready to pick it up.

Oyinkan Braithwaite writes a compelling novel that explores the complicated relationship between sisters, the moral dilemmas that come from being complicit in a crime and male impropriety that spans across cultures. The big question she was posed though was: Just how far would you go to protect the one(s) you love?

This was a fast and easy read filled with lots of dark humor, which left me laughing out loud just as often as I’d mumble with disappointment at Korede’s enabling and be appalled at Ayoola’s remorseless and sociopathic tendencies. I found the novel’s exploration of male impropriety rather amusing, actually. All the men in the book had little to no character outside from being caught in Ayoola’s orbit. She was the ‘centre of everyone’s universe’ and it didn’t matter that she was fickle, narcissistic, a cheater, and cared for little other than herself, men loved and wanted her because she was beautiful. Ayoola had it right, “all they want is a pretty face”, but this pretty face knew that and used it to her advantage, and clearly, to their detriment. Although, to be fair, even the women were enraptured by Ayoola’s beauty, so maybe the issue is more about society’s acceptance of beauty on the outside, excusing the ugly on the inside? Because in this book that outer beauty literally lets you get away with murder.

The most enjoyable part of the book for me was in the realness of sibling relationships, particularly between sisters. No matter how much you care for your sibling and no matter how well you get along, there are always feelings of insecurity, jealousy, and bitterness, but also of love and the overpowering need to protect and defend. Korede’s struggle to reconcile her morals with being a big sister whose instinct is to protect her little sister, captured the complexity of these relationships very well. As much as she felt bitterness and jealousy towards Ayoola for her beauty and for having a relationship with the man she loved, Korede never seriously thought of exposing her sister to the public, no matter how desperate she was to do so. That said, their relationship was very messed up and there was a lot of underlying resentment and obvious manipulation between the two.

What I struggled with the were the characters because I didn’t particularly like any of them. I wonder if that was done purposefully because they all had highly unfavorable character traits that made it difficult to find any redeeming qualities in them. Most of the times I wanted to slap them really hard in the faces and shake them “awake”.

Ayoola, as princess of the family, has gotten away with everything her whole life because of her looks. She’s conceited, narcissistic, and selfish (also, a serial killer) and takes everything for granted. It was astounding that even in the face of getting caught, she so vehemently denied any wrongdoing by spinning absurds tale that everyone seemed to believe because of her extraordinary beauty. Korede’s character was even worse because of how she enabled Ayoola by falling into the same ‘trap’ she criticized everyone else for. Despite knowing the manipulative nature of her sister, she still allowed herself to be taken advantage of and constantly stepped on. Although at times I felt sorry for her because of that, Korede had such a cold and impersonal, ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards everyone—boxing herself off from those who could have potentially been her allies—that it rubbed me the wrong way and made it difficult to feel sympathy for her character. The men, especially dreamy Dr. Tade, were thoughtless and shallow. Apparently, all men really care about are your looks and you can cheat, act crazy, be cold and heartless until it suits you to be warm, as much as you want as long as you’re beautiful. Even a brilliant, charming doctor is not exempt.

“We are hard wired to protect and remain loyal to the people we love. Besides, no one is innocent in this world. …’The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.’”

I honestly thought that Korede would take a different route, especially after the (unsurprising) climax, so that was a bit of a letdown. But despite the unlikeable characters, I still enjoyed this read—which is rare for me to say because characters are everything! I do still feel like certain elements could have been explored better to give the book some more meat. Overall though, I thought this was a great debut by Braithwaite, that presents a daring, funny, but dark family drama that explored larger elements which other readers can perhaps relate to.

Have you read My Sister, the Serial Killer or is it on your TBR?