Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

Author: nisa-chan Page 1 of 39

K-ON! College by kakifly

It’s been a while since I last read K-ON!, and after a reasonably intense book, I thought that I could do with something a bit lighter and fluffier. And there’s nothing in my library quite as light and fluffy as that.

K-ON! College follows Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi as they go through their first year of university. Now having to deal with living away from home and being independent, they join the University’s Light Music Club in order to continue playing together. At their dorm they meet another first year band who seem to be setting up to be close rivals.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure where this was likely to go, given that the fourth volume ended on a pretty definitive note. Focusing solely on the older members of the band looked to be a good idea, as the university setting does fit well with the new theme that this volume brings to the fore. The introduction of the rival band, made up of the ultra-serious guitarist Akira, energetic drummer Ayame and shy bassist Sachi, force the group to consider how far they want to take music. Do they want to continue playing together as a hobby, or do they want to knuckle down and try to become professionals? It’s not a route that I was expecting from something that has until now been reasonably silly and inconsequential, but I think it worked well with the general growing up theme that university naturally brings. It’s not tied up by the end of the volume, but I think I’m okay with that. I certainly didn’t finish my first year of uni and know with absolute confidence where I was going, so it would seem weird if it had all been tied up.
The new characters are cute enough, although they act mainly as foils for one another. Ayame and Sachi become fast friends with Ritsu and Mio respectively, and it’s nice to see them interacting with people who are a bit closer to them in temperament. In contrast, Yui attaches herself to Akira, who can charitably be said to assume babysitting duties, although there is some grudging respect there. I think this was the relationship that I liked most, for two reasons. First, it’s always fun to see someone utterly lost for words at the chaos that is Yui. Second, Akira is just so damn sweet that seeing her come out of her shell is nice to see.

A bit more on the thoughtful side as the cast have to learn independence in their first time spent away from home. The new characters are cute enough, with Akira stealing the spotlight with ease. It’s as cute as ever and if you’ve made it this far, you’re unlikely to stop enjoying it here. 4.5/5

Next review: HOPE Engine by Andrew Lynch

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Narrows by Travis M. Riddle

Travis M. Riddle’s work graces this blog for the second time, this time in an entirely different genre. I remember enjoying the writing of Balam, Spring, but there was a big part of me that wasn’t sure how he would come across in modern horror after only reading cosy high fantasy. Either way, I liked the synopsis and was curious to see how it would pan out.

The Narrows follows Oliver and his childhood friends as they return to their home town of Shumard and prepare to attend the funeral of a former close friend, Noah. Haunted by the unexpected nature of his late friend’s death, Oliver finds himself drawn to the spot where he died. Whilst there, he sees the grotesque display of a man dissolving in the middle of the road, and is convinced that this is somehow connected to Noah’s death. Now facing the prospect that their friend may have been shielding them from something terrible, he decides to investigate further.
The easiest way to discuss The Narrows is probably to tackle the horror elements separately from the slice of life, coping with grief stuff. I’ll tackle the everyday stuff first, as Riddle really nails it. The thing that I find interesting about the regular world story-line is that it could probably stand by itself without the horror elements, had Riddle wished to do so. The grief expressed by various characters about Noah’s death is really complex and multi-faceted, as one would expect from dealing with the death of someone who used to be a friend. Davontae probably has the least complex reaction, sadness at the loss of a friend tempered by the distancing of their relationship. Sophia understandably decides that he stopped being their friend long before and so refuses to attend the funeral entirely. But, being the viewpoint character, Oliver gets the most interesting reaction, which is anger at his former friend’s apparent abandonment, but also a desperation for his subpar behaviour to be vindicated in some way. I can genuinely say that I would have read an entire novel of just those three dealing with grief.
That’s not to say that the horror elements don’t work. They definitely do, and it’s some of the more disconcerting and unusual imagery that I’ve seen in a while. The first sign of the supernatural is someone full on melting into orange fungi-vomit, so it doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time though, there’s not much explained about how the Narrows of the title actually works. In another genre, that would probably have bugged me, but I think it works in horror. The idea that this other world exists and there may be no real rhyme or reason behind it, it’s just something that the protagonists have to deal with now.

A great novel about grief and losing touch with childhood and the people in it, with a truly uncanny horror world lurking in the background. Definitely something that I would recommend to someone looking for some indie horror. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! College by kakifly

Signing off,
Nisa.

White Night by Jim Butcher

After the mind-screw that was The Automation and The Pre-Programming, it was nice to rest my brain with something a bit more familiar. And after enjoying the last book in the Dresden Files so much, I was keen to see how it continues.

White Night starts when Murphy summons him to the site of a suicide that just doesn’t strike her as quite right. When he realises that this is actually a sophisticated murder and that she was a minor magical practitioner, he finds himself on the trail of a supernatural serial killer. Which may possibly be his half-brother, Thomas. On top of that, he has a hard time getting other potential victims to trust him, when it is revealed that the murderer has been seen, an unidentified tall man in a grey Warden’s cloak.
I think this is the closest to a crime thriller that the Dresden Files has felt in a long time, and I absolutely loved it. While it does have some of the heavy political stuff that has complicated the narrative, as to be expected at volume 9 of a series, the majority of it is a cat and mouse game, trying to figure out who is innocent and who needs to be taken care of in a big ball of fire.
Additionally, there is a lot of great character stuff. Thomas gets a fair bit of focus, with Harry having to finally face the question of how his brother has been feeding without turning into a monster, or whether that is even possible. Harry’s ex Elaine turns up again, trying to turn over a new leaf by following in Harry’s footsteps as a detective and helping people with less magical potential. Molly gets a whole bunch of development as she keeps turning up at places that she shouldn’t, and having to deal with the consequences of her brashness. And, my favourite and the one that really caught me off guard, Lasciel, the shadow of a Denerian stuck in Harry’s head. I really liked this development, specifically because it answers the question of how much effort can she put into trying to tempt Harry to the dark side without it become an exercise in futility. As he says early on, she’s been trying to convince him to access the full power of the coin for years now, where previous hosts only needed a few weeks of temptation. In previous books, it had been one of those questions that was interesting, but ultimately not important in the moment, but there was only so long that you could feasibly keep the status quo going before you want some closure on the damn coin. So that was kind of answered here, which was unexpected but nice.

A thoroughly entertaining cat and mouse game with great stakes and some genuinely creepy antagonists. The character development was also on point, with special mention going to Lasciel. Really looking forward to how the series progresses from here. 5/5

Next review: The Narrows by Travis M. Riddle

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Pre-Programming by B.L.A. & G.B. Gabbler

After the strangeness of The Automation, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect beyond more screwed-up pseudo-family drama and weirdly intriguing metafiction. I figured that there might be some conclusion in sight with this volume too. Spoiler warnings for The Automation below.

The Pre-Programming follows on directly from The Automation, after Odissa revealed her deeper sordid connection with the last book’s mysterious villain, Leeland. And as people start to die, it starts becoming more apparent that Odissa is much more important to the plot than any of the cast had originally suspected. In addition, B.L.A. starts hinting at how they may have originally been Bulfinch, Odissa’s cat, with G.B. Gabbler about as incredulous about that notion as you would expect.
Honestly, this didn’t go how I expected at all, and most of the stuff that I want to talk about is spoilers. I will start off with some more generic stuff and then have a section with spoilers.
So I liked some of the character development that takes place in The Pre-Programming, as there’s a section dedicated to the Masters acting in ways that are opposite to their normal behaviour, and their various reactions and attempts to reconcile that with what they consider their true self to be. In some cases they manage the task, but in others they dramatically fail and have to face their own guilt and judgement. The development of the Odissa/Dorian relationship is interesting, but ultimately I don’t see a great deal of chemistry between them. They say that they love each other, but they only seem to alternate between bitching and sniping at one another, and Odissa coddling Dorian like he’s a small child with serious separation issues. I realise that the relationship is most likely not meant to be healthy, but there isn’t much in the way of normal behaviour that would explain why they like each other’s company enough to put up with the shit they put each other through.
So, now to the spoiler stuff. If you’re still intending to read The Pre-Programming, then skip to the final summary.
I’ve never read a book before that replaces a large chunk of the cast right before the end, and I don’t know how I feel about it. So by the end, all the Masters are dead by their own hand or by Odissa’s, including Odissa herself. And the Automata have sentience that is built from the souls of their past Masters, in preparation for the next stage of the series. It’s a pretty major change considering that before this point the Automata were less characters in and of themselves and more extensions of the Masters’ personalities, so what has essentially happened is a total cast kill. I’ve only ever seen that in stand-alone novels, understandably right at the end. Never in the middle of an in-progress series. There’s a part of my brain that is wondering why you would start the series where they did, rather than starting with whatever weird D&D game the gods will possibly be playing and providing The Automation and The Pre-Programming as backstory where necessary. But at the same time, I’m also kind of marvelling at the sheer brass balls that you’d need to pull off a left-turn quite that sudden and brazen. So I think I’m still interested, in spite of the critic part of my brain still trying to rationalise the complete cast replacement two thirds in.

On the one hand The Pre-Programming continues to do what it did well in The Automation, which boils down to a lot of really unhealthy relationships and interesting contemplation of the self. On the other hand, there is probably the most drastic left-turn that I have ever seen a series take, and I still don’t know quite what to make of it. I will probably keep an eye out for whatever comes next, just to figure out if that twist was worth it. 4/5

Next review: White Night by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Automation by B.L.A. & G.B. Gabbler

The Automation and its sequel The Pre-Programming were sent my way by the publisher S.O.B. Publishing, to try and drum up a bit of publicity for the second book in the series. Given the interesting premise and the unusual mythpunk genre, I was more than happy to oblige.

The Automation follows Odys Odelyn, a reclusive young man whose only real company is his twin sister Odissa. One day his life as he knows it is shattered after a stranger commits suicide in front of him, bequeathing Odys a tarnished penny as his last act. Odys soon finds that the penny is actually an immortal called an Automaton that runs off of a human host’s soul, and is quickly embroiled in the complex conflicts of other Automata and their masters. Throughout the book, the Narrator (B.L.A.) is simultaneously attempting to convince the reader of the story’s truth and embellish it to fit within the Epic genre, while their Editor (G.B. Gabbler) can only try and curb their wilder narrative flares.
I don’t know quite how to feel about The Automation, because while there is a big part of me that was thoroughly entertained by reading it, there was also a large part of me that was thoroughly irritated by it. And I can’t really untangle the two from each other. For example, let me talk about the single worst character in the book, Mecca. He’s one of the other masters introduced in the narrative, stuck in childhood for at least the next century or so, speaks about himself in the third person, and is a thoroughly nauseating blend of childish and perverted. Every time he turned up in the narrative, I wanted someone to punt the little fucker into traffic. But during his original introduction, there was a little aside that has confused the matter somewhat for me, in which the Editor states that they too hate Mecca and only allowed him to stay in the narrative because he plays an important role in the second book. On the one hand, I kind of feel vindicated, like my rush of ill feeling towards the character is justified and shared by others. On the other hand, the writer and reviewer in me is stuck asking “Well, if he’s that important to the story, why make him so intolerably fucking aggravating?”. This keeps happening throughout the narrative, and I still haven’t made up my mind which emotion should be the prevailing one.
There are two other things that I would mention that people may want to consider before picking up The Automation. The first is that it ends on a cliffhanger, one that you are literally taunted with at the end of the book, so those looking for a one-and-done sort of book should look elsewhere. Second is that the plot, while engaging, is mostly people talking. It’s especially odd considering that the narrative keeps making reference to Greek and Roman epics, in particular those of Homer, which I seem to remember being just a smidgen more violent. Not necessarily a bad thing, but after a pretty dramatic beginning, it does slow a fair bit.

The Automation is a book that entertains and vexes me in near equal measure. On balance, I think I like it enough to look into its sequel, but I would advise that this is for readers who are looking for a bit of a challenge and something a bit different. 4/5

Next review: The Pre-Programming by B.L.A. & G.B. Gabbler

Signing off,
Nisa.

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Returning to Discworld for this review, I was somewhat torn. On the one hand, it’s Discworld, so it’s going to make me laugh and probably think as well. On the other hand, Interesting Times is part of the Rincewind sub-series, which is by far my least favourite. So the question was more how it stacked up against the other Rincewind books, rather than would I enjoy it.

A strange message arrives in Ankh Morpork, originating in the insular and secretive Agatean Empire of the Counterweight Continent. In the note, a plea is made for the Great Wizzard to travel to the Agatean Empire is made, to save the country from a terrible fate. So of course, the Unseen University send Rincewind, the only idiot to misspell it like that. And so the least magical wizard on the Disc finds himself running away from power-hungry warlords waiting for the current Emperor to die, and a polite if incompetent revolutionary group who believe that he can lead them to successful political change.
So I can say for certain that Interesting Times is by far the best of the Rincewind books so far. This is mainly due to two factors. The first is the conflict that Rincewind finds himself inserted into this time. An obvious fantasy analogue to the Chinese Revolution, minus the child emperor that they had in the real world, there’s a nice black vs grey morality going on. Because while Lord Hong and the other warlords are obviously evil and perpetuating a broken system, the Red Army who aim to be rid of them aren’t necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. There’s a section that I really loved, where the Red Army have an opportunity to assassinate the Emperor and Rincewind is dead set against it, because of course it’s a trap. When he argues that there’s a high chance that they’ll die, there’s a revolutionary who retorts that the cause is bigger than their lives or the lives of their countrymen. And it really stuck with me, because of course Rincewind is horrified and can’t understand why you’d value a cause above people’s lives. Considering the times that we live in, where there are whole countries who are divided along ideological lines, I feel like this should be an attitude that is taken to heart more often.
The second factor is Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde, a group of barbarians who are firmly in old age. They were absolutely hysterical every time they appeared, especially considering that they were apparently trying to learn how to be civilised in their old age. They were the exact counterpart needed to balance out Rincewind’s cowardice and made up for the Luggage not being as big a part.

A pleasant surprise considering how much my enjoyment of the Discworld books has always been tempered whenever Rincewind was involved. But with Interesting Times, I think Pratchett finally got all the elements together to make Rincewind’s adventures actually work. The conflict at the Agatean Empire is more nuanced than expected, and the Silver Horde are a fantastic way to invite chaos into everyone’s nicely planned coups. 4.5/5

Next review: The Automation by B. L. A. & G. B. Gabbler

Signing off,
Nisa.

Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

After a brief rest with K-ON! I was ready for something a bit darker. Enter my next TBRindr book, Never Die, which promised to be both grimdark and part of a cool looking Asian-inspired world. A bit of a mood whiplash, but I really liked the sound of it.

Never Die follows Ein, a small boy who is on a mission from a god of death to kill the Emperor of Ten Kings. Alone, he has no chance of reaching the Emperor, let alone killing him, so he decides to recruit legendary heroes that he read about growing up. The only problem is that to recruit them to his cause, they need to die first.
There’s a lot that I liked about Never Die, so I’ll start with that. The main strength of the book is the characters, in particular the heroes recruited to Ein’s cause. There’s Whispering Blade, a swordswoman of few words and a strict code of honour, wielding two blades but only ever drawing one of them. The second to join is the Emerald Wind, a selfish and cowardly bandit who can teleport and leave copies of himself behind. Iron Gut Chen is a braggart only concerned with glory and a good meal, his skin impervious to damage. And the Master of Sun Valley is an honourable Wushu master, unbeaten in battle but rarely venturing outside of the confines of his valley home. Tagging along is Death’s Echo, a mysterious assassin who is convinced that Ein has the power to cure his leprosy. It’s a good mix of characters, with a nice balance of honourable and selfish characters. Their varied battle styles are fun to watch interact, which is a good thing considering the regularity of the battles that occur.
The plot is pretty damn strong, managing to be both action-packed and yet filled with subtle details that end up being more important than initially expected. There was one aspect of the plot that didn’t quite work for me though, and that was the ending. While it was very subtly signposted in the narrative, the ending kind of left a bittersweet taste for me, because while it made sense from a plot point-of-view, it made a lot of the character interactions feel a bit futile and sad. Not enough to invalidate the high quality of what went before, but enough that it marred what could have been a higher score.

A really strong story with an interesting world that I would like to see explored further. The characters and their growing camaraderie is the best part of the story by far though. The only thing that bothered me was an ending that felt a bit too bleak for my tastes. I would definitely look into Hayes’ other works, should the chance arise. 4.5/5

Next review: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

K-ON! Volume 4 by kakifly

It’s been a while since I read the last volume of K-ON!, and after an intense few books, it seemed to be the right time to finish off the main bulk of the series.

K-ON! Volume 4 follows the club members in their last months at high school. Now that the older club members have to focus on studying for university entrance exams and class activities, Azusa has contend with the fact that they’ll soon be graduating and leaving her alone.
This volume definitely felt more poignant compared to previous volumes, given the emphasis on partings and new beginnings. In particular it was good to see Azusa given the space to grow and try feeling things out. Related to that, Ui and Jun are featured a bit more as they look to continue the club after Yui and the others leave for university.
While I’m looking forward to the epilogue volumes looking at the older cast members at university and the new blood continuing the club at high school, K-ON! Volume 4 feels like a good place to end the series. It’s looking forward to a bright future and it’s maintained its warm and fuzzy feeling through to the end. I don’t know that the epilogues will add anything that is absolutely necessary, but K-ON! isn’t a series that you can get truly tired of.

A cute place to end the main bulk of the series, K-ON! Volume 4 continues to do what the series is good at. Not sure what the last two volumes will add, but I’m hopeful. 4.5/5

Next review: Never Die by Rob J. Hayes

Signing off,
Nisa.

Night Huntress by Mak Long

So Night Huntress is a bit of a departure for me, as it’s the first book that I have received direct from the publisher since starting on TBRindr. Intrigued, I took a look at the publisher’s WordPress to see what they specialised in. I wasn’t expecting fantasy and science-fiction erotica, that’s for sure. It was a niche that I wasn’t aware was filled much outside of fan-fiction, especially when the focus was queer relationships. Colour me interested.

Night Huntress follows a talented airship pilot, Ailrun, whose ambitions to pilot a vessel of her own are stymied by her place of birth, despite living and working within the Free Cities almost her entire life. Persuaded to take on a contraband run, she soon discovers that there are some unusual aspects to this particular run. First is the highly advanced engine that powers the boat she’ll be piloting. Second is Fia, an escaped Asura slave, bred specifically to maintain these kinds of engine. On their run, a faction from the Free City of Pollenza and an elven warrior-queen both aim to bring Fia and the engine under their influence.
As this is an erotica book, the first that I’ve reviewed on this blog, I feel that I should start with that. I was really expecting more of a build-up to the sex scenes, but then along comes chapter 2 and there’s a woman wrist-deep in someone else’s vagina. To say that it was a shock may be a mild understatement. I think the issue is mostly due to my previous experience of sex scenes, which was through romance novels. In that genre, the build-up is paramount, so sex doesn’t tend to show up until at least the half-way point. Evidently not so here. After the initial shock though, I found myself appreciating the sex scenes more than I would in a romance book. In romance, it’s almost always an affirmation of a couple’s love and can’t just be a thing by itself. In Night Huntress, there are a multitude of reasons to have sex, from just being in the right mood, to a religious ceremony, to sealing a diplomatic treaty. And there isn’t much of the toxic possessiveness that you see so often in romance. Here the characters change partners frequently and the number of participants change from scene to scene, which makes for a refreshing change. I guess that it’s nice to see characters who aren’t insecure about their partner’s affections and to see sex that isn’t inextricably bound with romantic love by necessity.
As for the plot, it’s a decent set-up for what looks to be an unexpectedly political series. There’s intrigue set up about the ancient technology that is so coveted, but as yet unmatched. The treatment of the elves is unusual, as they’re seen to be little more than savages by most of the human Free Cities. And while there isn’t much concrete said about either human or elven societies in this regard, there is a definite matriarchal trend from what has been shown thus far. I’d definitely like to see more of this world, so if another book is announced in this world then I would be more than happy to pick it up.

The plot is an interesting introduction to a political and backstabbing world. I’d love to see more of the weird magical engines and find out more about them. The sex is well-written and varied, although there is less build-up than I was expecting. 4.5/5

Next review: K-ON! Volume 4 by kakifly

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen

As if the continued adventures of Harry Dresden weren’t grim enough for me, my next book was The Blighted City, a dark fantasy novel dealing with a legendary city of the undead. Since it’s been a little while since I’ve read a proper dark fantasy, so I was definitely looking forward to it.

The Blighted City follows three mercenaries, Oriken, Jalis and Dagra, who are given a job to retrieve a burial jewel from Lachyla, a city known only in stories. Supposedly the city’s king angered the goddess of Life and Death, who cursed the city with a blight that converted the citizens into the undead. Dagra, who is a great believer in the gods, is dead-set against going, convinced that they’ll be cursed if they set foot in Lachyla. But his friends convince him to go, against his better judgement, and they soon find that there may be more to the stories than they first assumed.
It took me a while to really sink my teeth into The Blighted City. I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t until the narrative had really entered Lachyla that it picked up for me. While there’s a lot about the story that I liked, primarily some interesting worldbuilding around the city of Lachyla, I found some of the pacing to be a bit off. Like I said, the stuff in the city was great, but the sections covering the journeys to and from there could possibly have benefited from being less detailed. While the travelling covered some nice character interaction between the members of the mercenary party, the narrative spent long enough on the outward journey that it started feeling repetitive and claustrophobic, and then the journey back perhaps wrapped things up in more detail than I am accustomed.
With regards to the city itself, it looks into an interesting variation on how the undead work in this world, especially the origins of said undead. It’s certainly a world that I would be interested in returning to and see how Lachyla has changed.

The Blighted City is a cool variation on your standard fantasy undead lore, and a fun adventure while the characters are in the city of Lachyla itself. I personally found the build-up and wrap-up were a bit over-long and over-detailed, but that might not bother you so much. 3.5/5

Next review: Night Huntress by Mak Long

Signing off,
Nisa.

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