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ARC Review: Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

Publication Date: May 10, 2022

Synopsis:

From award-winning author Nghi Vo comes a dazzling new novel where immortality is just a casting call away.

It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic.

“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill—but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.

But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes—even if that means becoming the monster herself.

Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Gods I love Nghi Vo’s books, and they just keep getting better. This one keeps the same vibe as the Chosen & the Beautiful but lays the magic and raw ambition on much thicker. I absolutely could not look away from the Siren Queen as she clawed her way to stardom on the silver screen, finding her limits and her people along the way.

The whole idea of the movie industry as a place steeped in magic, where stars literally rise into the sky and a kind of immortality can be wrested by those who want it enough, where the cameras steal a piece of you even as they capture you on film, is brilliant. More than that, it’s written in a way that makes it believable and real and true in a way that Hollywood and show business often isn’t.

There is a hunger to these characters that echoes and leaves you empty. Pain that leaves you with a phantom ache. The way the queer characters have to hide but still find each other, the way the studios can scrape you raw and remake you and sacrifice you if you displease them is desperate and true.

The writing is gorgeous and to die for. I read it in over a little more than 24 hours and fell absolutely, madly in love with it. It is absolutely going in my top 10, probably top 5 books of the year.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, and Bookishfirst for providing an arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The trains had run the night before, and her hair, hanging over her shoulder in a braid, looked like a strip torn out of the world.

Women disappear, and even if you are famous, it can happen without a sound, without a ripple.

I liked being cold as the Atlantic, somehow monstrous and untouchable.

He looked like a man carved out of rock, like a mountain ready to fall.

Time stretched like a piece of taffy. I stood on Oberlin Wolfe’s rug, and names feel from my lips like rose petals, and then like rocks.

That was where I lost the very last of my Cantonese, and it died with a soft aspirate, a consonant rhotic.

“He was shrugging into a stiff, shiny new jacket, and though he’s still big, there was something different in his eyes. Maybe this was who he used to be, or maybe I chased him out, and something else came to live inside him instead.”

She couldn’t help what she was, and I couldn’t help what I was. We were stories that should never have met, or stories that only existed because we met. I still don’t know.

They were mostly terrible choices, and being smart and lucky only meant that they were ours. We made them because otherwise it was one more choice that the studios could take away from us…

He was kind though, and I remembered the glow in his eyes when he called me a monster. In his mouth, it was a compliment, and I would much rather be a monster than a victim.

The car slipped down the road as if it came on tiger’s paws, like a menace disguised in fog.

Would I be as brave now, in the light of day? I already knew that being brave didn’t mean anything unless you were willing to do it again.

I spent November haunted by October.

There was a cragginess to her features, her strong nose and her sharp jaw. It would crash ships rather than launch them, but I never knew a woman who didn’t want to crash at least a few ships.

The entire way to Jacko’s trailer at the back of the lot, my tall heels clacked a military beat. They still pained me, but I had learned years ago that there were things more important than pain.

When I drove north to San Francisco in a dead man’s car, the Pacific Coast Road was California’s dream turned flesh, the way Illinois dreamed of Chicago.

Beautiful but not pure, my mind whispered while I begged. Nothing we had done in the shadows of the Friday fires was pure. It was better than that. It was true. It was everything I was and everything I could be—was meant to be—if only I dared. It twisted inside me, hungry and vicious and clever.

It was worth dying for, it was worth living for, and now Nemo’s daughter was walking towards me as I writhed in the sand.

ARC Review: A Chorus Rises by Bethany C. Morrow

A Chorus Rises (A Song Below Water, #2)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was such an interesting novel. For the first half, maybe, I couldn’t stand the main character, Naema. She was such a rich, entitled, privileged b*tch. Her previous interactions with Effie and Tavia certainly didn’t help. But… over the course of the novel she slowly expanded her worldview and started to change. Very slowly, and very reluctantly, but she soon became someone I could cheer on and be fully invested in. Because underneath all the awfulness, she cares. Deeply. And not, as it first appears, just for herself.

I questioned Bethany Morrow’s judgement in making Naema the protagonist of this follow-up novel, but I have to admit it was a genius move. I actually ended up liking this novel more than the first one. Its exploration of race and privilege and how they intersect was thorough, brutal, and enjoyable. I will definitely be reading her future novels.

The audiobook was excellent, and the narrator captured Naema’s voice perfectly from beginning to end. The other character voices were also excellent, and it was a joy to listen to.

*Thanks to NetGalley, MacMillan Tor-Forge, and MacMillan audio for providing an e-arc and audiobook arc for review.

ARC Review: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Rating: 5 out of 5.

TW: this book contains rather a lot of a (former) abusive relationship, which is hinted at until near the end when there are some pretty vivid flashbacks. The abuse also really drives a lot of one of our mc’s actions for most of the book.

This book was such a joy to read. There were a lot of my favorite romance / fanfic tropes (more on that in a minute), sympathetic characters, conspiracy and peril, and enough drama and action to keep me reading for hours without even realizing it. You know the type – when you tear yourself away from the book and realize it’s nearly 11pm and you’ve been reading since early afternoon. There wasn’t a lot of worldbuilding but what there was was fascinating. I really need to know more about the remnants. Remnants of… what, exactly?

This is an arranged marriage slooooooow burn romance (mostly due to some misunderstandings at the start) which means you see each character fall in love while trying to hold themselves back because the other one *obviously* doesn’t feel the same. There is also a “there’s only one bed” moment and an absolutely delightful incident with a bear when our mcs find themselves the focus of a murder attempt and take an unexpected detour through the snowy wilderness. Kiem and Jainan have a distinct fanfic flavor to their personalities and relationship, which probably added to my enjoyment. I’m just really into the ‘affable, friends with everyone but can’t shake the mishaps of his college days so no one expects him to amount to anything’ and ‘uptight, private and self-contained, brilliant but mistreated and so just sort of floats along’ character types, I guess.

Kiem and Jainan realize pretty early on that they’re up against something big, which only gets bigger the more they try to discover the truth of what’s going on and who they can trust. I was really pleased with how it all turned out, as I didn’t guess a lot of it ahead of time. I also really liked how it ended. It was very satisfying.

Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an e-arc to review.

ARC Review: A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was hooked pretty much immediately with this book — in previous books in this series it took some time to get into them (especially with the archaic language) but I was either familiar enough with the world or it just started at a faster pace, I’m not sure which. But I was swept into Romy and her friends’ lives within the first few pages and read the entire book in 2 days.

As usual with these adventures, a seemingly small job turns into a much bigger problem over the course of the book, and there are definitely some big reveals here about the magic of the Costa Drago. One of my favorite things about these novels is the way Romy, Neri, Placidio, and Dummond’s magic work together – and the way Vashta’s non-magical help is necessary too.

I was a little surprised to see the blurb mention “the conclusion to the trilogy” when it doesn’t really feel like one? I mean, the immediate events get wrapped up, and a lot of the bigger mystery hinted at in the first two books is revealed, but it leaves off with almost an expectation of another adventure, and there’s certainly more to learn about the supernatural events. I think I would be disappointed if there aren’t more books about Romy and her friends in the future. At the same time, if we don’t ever get any more adventures, this one left me satisfied enough not to feel cheated.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing an e-arc for review.