Review: The Good Luck Girls (Spoilers)

A black woman with natural hair stands in profile to the viewer. The skin on her neck and creeping up to her cheek has a difference in color from the rest of her skin. She is wearing a leather jacket, a bandana and a bandolier. Presumably pants as well.

This book’s a bit out of the ordinary for me, being more fantasy and action than pure romance, but its so fantastic I definitely had to review it. A note that this one’s content and trigger warnings are a little harder and more intense than my usual fare.

Content and trigger warnings: Attempted rape described on the page, telepathic intrusion, physical assault, murder, auctioning off of people’s first sexual experience, trauma, near death experiences, death of secondary character, description of traumatic event involving a gun, MC and SC’s dealing with traumatic experiences. The overall feel and intensity of violence is that of a Western, but with more described violence against women. The main character has distinct flashback experiences and disassociative like episodes due to trauma. 

Ok, so this book is not your average bear, either for this review site or in general. But oh my god, its such a beautiful breath of fresh air, both in fantasy, world building and in amazing survivor works. The core crew of this book is survivors of assault in one way or another and watching them band together and fight their way to freedom was cathartic and gorgeous.

The rough plot is this: in this particular universe, the equivalent of the ‘Wild West’ was settled by two groups of people, fairbloods and dustbloods. Dustbloods have in some way traded away their shadow in the past and have a legacy of being defined in this way. In this universe, sometimes girls who are part of families who are deeply poor are sold to brothels and become known as Good Luck Girls. They are kept by these houses until around 16 and then become sex workers, with their first sexual experience being auctioned off to local wealthy individuals in town.

Good Luck Girls are tattooed with a magical tattoo that blooms as they move towards puberty, which they are unable to cover without immense pain over time. When the tattoo reaches maturation, that’s when their first night is auctioned off.

I will not lie, the first quarter of this book is pretty massively trigger filled for survivors of sexual assault. It gets better, but its part of why I want to definitely stress the warning. 

Aster and her sister Clementine were sold to the Good Luck House several years ago. Aster’s already moved to working as a ‘Sunset Girl’, the term used for a person whose services are being sold by the house. Clementine is just about to go through her first night, after being auctioned off to a local big shot. A series of events which I won’t spoil for you (but can provide via DM if you are concerned about triggers) has them and several other Good Luck Girls on the run from the house, chasing the possibility of freedom.

Along the way, they meet up with the lovely and enterprising Zee, who works as a guide through the area known as the Scar and helps them find their way to the best possibility they have for freedom. There’s bank robberies, discussions about vengeance, learning about each other along the way and tons of revelations about life, each other and trust.

Mostly what I love about the book though is the camaraderie between the whole crew, how they stick together and the real and intense look at how survivors can band together to help each other out. Its inspiring, lovely and real. There’s a lot in here about healing as well and learning how to deal with the parts of trauma that stick with you.

So if you’re looking for a book that makes you want to cheer as people try to have healthy relationships in the wake of trauma and learn how to cope, as well as be one heck of a thrilling ride straight to the end, I’d highly recommend this book.

I give it 4 stars, not because of problems with the writing but because some of the setting bits could have used some more fleshing out and there were times the fantasy bits felt thin in places. I still don’t entirely understand what dustblood means and it felt like something that disappeared as the book went on. Also, though there is some discussion of how one secondary character is from an indigenous culture, I felt the backgrounds of some of the other characters were a bit more sketched than laid out. More time in the world might help and I hope we get to see more in this setting.

If you’d like to pick the book up, follow this link and NJB will receive a small amount from the purchase! Thank you so much for your help in keeping the site up and running.

https://books2read.com/u/bzopaz

Until next time,

NJB

 

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and it was so utterly magical. Books are amazing y’all.

 

 

 

 

Review: The Candle and the Flame (Light spoilers)

A brown skinned woman with long blakc hair stands with blue fire in her hands, wearing a red head chuni (head covering that also wraps around the body). She is staring at the viewer. Her eyes are gold colored.

Its a lovely day on NJB, because I not only get to squee about an amazing diverse book, but its also one that hits me close to home and brings with it something I’ve been looking for since I started reading books as a child. Not just satisfaction, but also a deep sense of being known, of not being alien to myself and others and thousands of tiny details that make me feel utterly transported and yet comfortable.

I’m talking about ‘The Candle and the Flame’, this incandescent debut book by Nafiza Azad. I won’t lie, I literally hoarded this book for a rainy day because I could tell it was going to be so good. I savored it and stretched it out and refused to be interrupted while reading it. I want to buy a paperback copy of it just so I can put it in my spice cabinet at home and smell all the things that remind me of home and love and comfort while I read it.

I literally don’t know how to tell you all the ways I felt about this book, but I’m going to try. First off though, content and trigger warnings. This is a little heavier than some of what I usually review. Its a YA novel, focusing on the city of Noor, which has a fair amount of complex political interactions happening, as well as a history of bloodshed. Controlling abusive relationships, in the past and present, along with child neglect, family estrangment, a massive loss of life prior to the beginning of the book, blood spatter and death. I wouldn’t describe it as gory however, but I could see the family estrangment and abusive relationships being a trigger for some. YMMV.

So this book. This book. This fabulous book. Its a mystery and a romance with some action and it fits so perfectly together. Its a soft, careful romance, fit for 90’s Bollywood with passionate kissing and hugging and not much else on the physicality spectrum. But damn, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. The love between the two main characters is so soft, careful and working on explicit consent. I love it so and I wish I’d had it as a teenager so I could have learned about healthy relationships and what they look like.

The other relationships in this story are also on a range, from healthy to unhealthy and provide a vast variety of looks, power differentials and ways of interacting. There’s a reason I’m going to recommend this to my young cousins. .

But here’s the thing I’m going to gush about until the cows come home. The details…the tiny, culturally specific details that made me feel as though I’d come home and my grandmother was waiting for me with a cup of chai and homemade mutthi. There’s no sense of this being a spectacle for the dominant culture or of requiring explanation. Everything is presented as what it is and the glossary is in the back if you need it. But for me, it was the first time ever I’d cracked open a work of fiction and felt as though I could  be transported to a place that felt simultaneously new and old. It didn’t hurt that the Maharani in this book has the same name as my mother, an experience I’ve never had until this book. To see names I know and cherish, foods I grew up with, experiences and moments I’d lived that previously had been absent from fiction I read….I don’t know how to describe this to you.

There are no words for the depth of feeling it created in me. Suffice to say, books like this are why I started Not Just a Buzzword. Because I knew that books like this were possible and real. I wanted to know them, love them, find them and experience them. I wanted to feel them in the depths of my soul and in every sense of my body. The Candle and the Flame delivers this, along with a story that twists and turns and keeps the reader engaged. I slowly devoured this book like the bikaner bhujia that used to come in suitcases from India and was rationed out, knowing there was no way to get more once it was gone. I highlighted words in Hindi and Urdu, just because it made me feel so much to see them in print, not as translations, but just existing. There was no apologizing, no explanation but just words in their context. There was an assumption of being understood and it filled my soul with peace.

I can’t describe this book to you. I can’t recommend it enough. Read it, cherish it. You may not feel how I did when you do, because for me, it was indescribable. But its an incredibly worthy addition to YA fiction and it embodies a richness of setting and a centering of diverse narrative that I want to see in every new work I read.

Nafiza is a true gem, in creating a world that felt like home but also was new and open. Her Djinn are fantastic and complex, with lots of possibility for future books. Her characters have complex relationships, internally and externally and grow and change as the story progresses. One of the secondary characters I liked the least became the one I admired the most and it felt utterly natural. The politics are fascinating and the characterizations are so real.

Giving it 5 stars feels somehow like a pittance, because I can’t even tell you what this book meant to me. So you’ll just have to read it and know that it meant the world to me. Its going on a shelf with G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, and I hope to fill that shelf with many more books like it.

If you’d like to pick the book up, follow this link and NJB will receive a small amount from the purchase! Thank you so much for your help in keeping the site up and running.

https://books2read.com/u/bP91JA

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

 

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I don’t think they were honestly expecting a love letter in return, but hey that’s not my problem.

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘Hither Page’ (Mild spoilers)

A row of small drawn houses in black stand against a snowy landscape. One of them has two lit windows with a small figure standing beside them.

Trigger warning/Content Warning: death of secondary characters, secret identities, mention of suicide, thoughts of suicide, depression and hate speech

You all know this blog has a special place in its heart for Cat Sebastian. And Hither Page continues that beautiful tradition. But why does it merit special mention?

In my opinion, its the disability representation. I mean, yes, its a M/M romance mystery and queer love of all kinds is still marginalized in so many places. But for me, what gets me is the compassionate and loving discussion of PTSD (known in the time as shell shock or combat fatigue) and how the characters cope with it.

There’s discussion of how PTSD affects everyone involved in war, not just combatants. There’s understanding and compassion for each other, that blooms into self compassion eventually. It makes my former therapist’s heart beat a little faster to see healthy relationships developing like this.

James Sommers is the adorable cinnamon roll of a country doctor who came back from the war looking for peace and quiet in the little country town he left. He doesn’t quite feel he has a right to be as shaken by the war as he was and he tries to keep his life as simple as possible so that he doesn’t spiral downward.

Enter Leo Page, who is ostensibly here to look at church tracings, but even I didn’t believe him in the first few paragraphs. Like, wow, that’s an impressively dull subject. Good job spy guy. He’s really here to figure out what the heck is going on in this tiny town for murders to be happening and investigate around. But as he does, he starts wanting and needing a bit of the peace, quiet and caring that Wychcombe St. Mary has to offer. Along with its murders, secrets, hermits and late night graveyard drinkers. (It will make more sense in context, promise)

Leooo…my soft little spy baby. I just wanted to wrap him in a blanket and say he could take a nap. God, Cat always gets me with these characters. I have no resistance to them. Keep your cinnamon rolls, I want my tired little soldiers who need to be told its ok to rest and care about people again.

(Ok, I also love cinnamon rolls but that is beside the point!)

Anyhow, the mystery progresses alongside the romance with tons of hidden trails and red herrings and all sorts of glorious things. There’s adorable old ladies in cottages trying to domesticate Leo, teenagers engaging in some creative rebellion, knitted scarves full of meaning and highly convenient emergencies that require Leo to stay overnight at James’s conveniently open guest room. (Sorry, there’s more than one bed. But its still good.)

I’m sort of a sucker for predicting endings but this one I didn’t manage. So good on you Cat, cause that’s usually easy for me. The amount of lovely minor characters is also kudos to her, cause I managed to care about more than James and Leo and everyone felt real. I would have to say my 2nd favorite character is a minor one, which is impressive. Leo takes the lead, sorry James. You’re adorable though.

I loved this book so much. Its a Cat Sebastian, so how could I not? But I found myself wanting more time for romance. Maybe this is just because I’ve been reading way too much slow burn fanfiction this week (cough, I partially blame Cat for this as well for introducing me to Stucky). It felt as though there wasn’t enough room for both the mystery and the romance at the end. There were a lot of loose ends to be tied up.

I also still have questions, such as why Wendy was left that money in the first place. Was it just so Mildred could be a troll? Did she care for her? I’m just not sure and that poked at me. It may have been addressed and I totally missed it in my voracious reading. That’s happened.

I also just wanted acres of more cozy fireside cuddles and smooches and little passionate love things. It felt a little fast for me at the end for a resolution on the romance end. But knowing its a series helps.

For that reason, it gets a very solid 4.25 out of 5, with a desperate need for the next book to be out so soon because I have needs for this level of squish and redemption.

If you feel like picking this book up, follow the link below and NJB will receive a small portion of the cost. Thank you for helping support the site!

https://books2read.com/u/4DyAOP

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I will love it, and pet it and call it George.