Category Archives: book review

Book Review: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Release date: 10/6/20

Genre: contemporary romance

Rating: 4 stars

In the awfulness that was the first week of October, Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade managed to provide an extremely fun and relatable escape. It’s a contemporary romance that’s well-written, authentic, and delightful. We’re following geologist April, a superfan of the book and TV series Gods of the Gates (a Game of Thrones-esque series) who spends her free time immersed in fanfiction, cosplay, and fandom culture as a whole. A Twitter encounter with Marcus, the lead actor on the TV series and a closet superfan/fanfiction author himself, leads them to a real-life date–but it turns out that they’re already close friends online, which Marcus soon realizes but April doesn’t.

First of all, I loved that both protagonists are in their 30s; as a 31-year-old, it’s sometimes hard to relate to contemporary romances featuring 22-year-olds, and I liked that both main characters are career-focused and looking to take themselves to the next level. I also related so much to April’s struggles with reconciling her professional life and her personal life when it comes to fandom. There’s discussion about how some hobbies are more socially acceptable than others, and how it’s become normalized to talk about football with your coworkers but not things like fan conventions; even though Gods of the Gates is an extremely popular show, April worries her coworkers won’t see her as serious or professional if they find out the depth of her interest. (Kind of like how, even though books are an integral part of pop culture, I didn’t talk to my coworkers about going to BookCon; it’s as though there is a perceived threshold of how much interest is socially acceptable to have about a particular topic). There’s a lot to think about there with regard to feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Spoiler Alert is a great mix of relatable life and relationship issues with larger-than-life celebrity and fandom drama, and I think there are so many people who will be able to relate to one or both protagonists. I know that some readers don’t love the romance trope of “one character knows something about the other but won’t say that they know it,” so it may bother some people that Marcus realizes that he and April have been internet friends for years but doesn’t tell her, because he’s worried about his fandom involvement affecting his acting career (especially because his commentary on the show he stars in has not been entirely positive).

Definitely recommend to readers with ties to fandom, and to career-focused thirtysomethings looking to see themselves in a fictional character and enjoy a good romance at the same time.

I received a free copy of Spoiler Alert from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

September Reading Wrap-Up

In September, I managed to finish 6 books, most of which I really enjoyed. They’re also somewhat color-coordinated, which I’m also into, but was weirdly not intentional. Unfortunately, my 5-star drought has not yet ended, despite picking up several books this month that I thought had 5-star potential.

Reviews:

Emerald Blaze by Ilona AndrewsChosen Ones by Veronica RothSay Yes to the Marquess by Tessa DareWhen No One is Watching by Alyssa ColeThe Wicker King by K. AncrumNormal People by Sally Rooney

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews (4.25 stars) – I’ve been looking forward to Emerald Blaze since pretty much the minute I finished Sapphire Flames, the first book in Catalina’s trilogy in Andrews’s Hidden Legacy series, and it was great to finally be able to return to this world of dueling magical families in Houston. Catalina and love interest Alessandro have both grown and matured a lot since the previous book, and are able to deal with a new threat together despite lingering resentment. I continue to love Ilona Andrews’s fantastic world building, lovable side characters, and great relationship development, but I enjoyed this one just slightly less than its predecessor.

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth (4 stars) – I’ve been struggling with how to review this book, because on the one hand I fell completely in love with its premise, main character, and first section, but on the other I felt that it stumbled somewhat with aspects of one plot twist and its ending. You can check out my full review here.

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum (4 stars) – I love books with unconventional formats; if I’m ever on the fence about picking something up, hearing that it utilizes drawings or documents or notes in its narrative will always tip me over the edge. That and several positive reviews were what influenced me to pick up The Wicker King by K. Ancrum, which is about best friends dealing with the fact that one of them is seeing things that can’t be real–another world overlaid over their own, to be specific. In addition to text interspersed with illustrations of the other world, mix CDs highlighting characters’ personalities, and police reports, the book also colors its pages differently as its two main characters become more and more immersed in the alternate reality. I loved how thoughtfully this book was constructed, and also loved its main characters and their intense relationship; I’ll definitely be picking up more from this author in the future.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (3.75 stars) – I’ve read a bunch of Alyssa Cole’s contemporary and historical romances, so of course I jumped at a chance to read a thriller from her, particularly in the fall, which for me is mystery/thriller season. When No One is Watching is set in a close-knit Brooklyn neighborhood threatened by gentrification and follows our protagonist Sydney, who’s reeling from her divorce and subsequent move back to Brooklyn from Seattle, as well as her mother’s illness. Frustrated by the whitewashing of her neighborhood’s history on a walking tour of the area, Sydney gets the idea to develop her own tour that focuses on the area’s Black community, and dives into research with the help of Theo, a new neighbor Sydney isn’t exactly thrilled to have an as assistant. But strange and sinister things are happening in the neighborhood, and Sydney and Theo have to team up to figure out exactly what’s going on and how to protect their community from encroaching threats.

Alyssa Cole creates an extremely strong sense of place and community that grounds When No One is Watching and immediately makes you empathize with its characters and their plight. The side characters in Sydney’s neighborhood were possibly my favorite part of the book; I wanted to see more of all of them, and I also enjoyed the addition of neighborhood online forum posts as a way to track the growing tension between its longtime residents and interlopers. It’s a fantastic depiction of different forms of racism, both overt and insidious, that can affect peoples’ day-to-day lives, and I was extremely invested in the story and, at a certain point, unable to stop reading so that I could finally find out what exactly was going on. It’s a bit of a slow build, but the action-packed ending definitely compensates for the overall slower pace, and I thought that the book’s message was clear and extremely relevant. What I liked least was probably the story’s dual perspective; I liked protagonist Sydney’s chapters, but I could have done without Theo as a POV character, as I didn’t find him as compelling. I definitely recommend this one, especially if you’re looking for a mystery/thriller that’s relevant for 2020.

I received an ARC of When No One is Watching from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare (3.25 stars) – I’ve been reading a lot of Tessa Dare in 2020 (at the moment, she’s tied with Alyssa Cole for my most-read author of the year); her books are fun to read but also so well-crafted, with clever jokes and great chemistry. Even though I liked this one less than I have the others I’ve read of hers, it was still an extremely fun read, particularly the premise: tired of the eight years she’s spent waiting for her fiance to return from the Continent, Clio attempts to get his black sheep brother Rafe to sign a contract releasing her from the betrothal. Unbeknownst to Clio, Rafe has been long harboring feelings for her, but he’s also determined that she’ll still marry his brother, and this begins a battle of wills as Rafe tries to get her excited about the wedding while Clio tries to convince him that she’ll be better off alone and free to run her own castle and business.

Normal People by Sally Rooney (2 stars) – I picked up this book expecting to love it, and unfortunately I really, really didn’t. Normal People was one of the books on my Top 10 TBR for 2020 (I’m trying to finish all of them before the end of the year and am a bit behind schedule), and I’ve been hearing great things about it for so long, as well as about its Hulu adaptation. But this book, for me, did not at all live up to the hype. I was really frustrated with the aspiring pretentiousness of the tone, which never felt natural or authentic, and by its odd structure that repeatedly used the same technique of jumping forward in time several months but then flashing back to what had happened in those prior months, thus completely negating the need for a time jump in the first place. I felt that Marianne’s story and agency were jettisoned in favor of Connell’s in a way that felt regressive and frankly sexist, particularly when it came to the book’s ending, and I thought that making Connell’s character a writer felt very overdone, particularly the passages where he’s trying to make these profound statements about writing and literary readings but just never says anything new or fresh. I don’t actually write negative reviews very often, both because I’m fairly good at predicting what books I’ll like and picking from those, and also because if I’m not enjoying a book I’m very likely to DNF it unless it’s a review copy, but I just had to with this one. The last thing I want to do is take away from anyone’s enjoyment of Normal People; I know that a lot of people really love it, and I wish that I had too. But I really don’t recommend this one if you haven’t tried it yet–there are just so many books out there that do similar things in a better way.

Book Review: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve been struggling with how to review this book, because on the one hand I fell completely in love with its premise, main character, and first section, but on the other I felt that it stumbled somewhat with aspects of one plot twist and its ending. It definitely hasn’t gotten the attention that it deserves, but I also can’t say that it was unreservedly perfect due to its aforementioned issues (I’d try to go into them more, but we’d be entering spoiler territory). I sometimes get frustrated by books that I feel could have been amazing if handled differently, maybe even more so than books I feel indifferent about, just because I want to love them so much but find myself not being able to. (I’d say that for comparison I also felt this way about Middlegame by Seanan McGuire and Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas: both 4-star reads that I was really hoping to be 5-star reads, and that therefore felt unsatisfying even though I loved so much of them.) It’s possible, also, that I am just picky and weird.

Anyways, this book is about five twenty-somethings who, ten years ago, were the Chosen Ones who saved our world from the mysterious Dark One, and who are now dealing with PTSD and trying to adapt to somewhat normal lives in Chicago, although they’re also treated as celebrities and frequently harangued in public and sought after for various events. Sloane, our Jessica Jones-esque protagonist (that is how I pictured her for the duration of the novel), is having a particularly hard time and, in an effort to help herself cope with her trauma, requests the release of documents surrounding the project that recruited and trained the teens, based on a prophecy, to find magical objects and use them to defeat the Dark One, whose workings caused mass deaths in places he caused a sort of people-melting magic tornado called Drains. In addition to the underlying tensions between the Chosen Ones and their individual struggles, we also start to suspect that evil may not be as gone from the world as we’d thought.

I’ll say it again–I LOVED this premise. I love books that delve into tropes and genre conventions only to subvert them, and I felt like this book was doing for superhero narratives what The Magicians did for portal fantasy. Sloane is a prickly, haunted, self-sufficient main character, and I loved her dynamics with golden boy Matt, her long-term boyfriend, and Albie, the Chosen One she’s bonded with the most based on a shared trauma the others weren’t present for. The inclusion of government documents and articles were a great way to slowly reveal information, and for the first part of the book I was completely on board with everything the book was doing.

And then, there’s a big twist, which I will say nothing about, and which I was at first cautiously optimistic about and then gradually liked less and less, as I felt it took away from the fascinating narrative we’d been building up until that point. I wish the book had taken a different trajectory, and although overall I did have a great experience reading it, I think it could have been stronger if it had.

Book Review: We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

Genre: mystery/thriller

Release date: 8/11/20

Rating: 4 stars

We Are All the Same in the Dark is a  twisty, atmospheric mystery/thriller set in a small Texas town where secrets have stayed buried for too long. Our protagonist is Odette, a police officer whose leg was amputated after a car accident when she was a teenager, on the same night that her boyfriend’s sister and their abusive father both disappeared. Now, ten years later, hardly anyone in their community has really moved on from the girl’s disappearance, especially not Odette, whose search feels even more urgent after she rescues another missing girl with mysterious origins. Past and present seem constantly on the verge of blending together as Odette delves further and further into both missing girls’ stories and doesn’t know who she can trust in either case.

I haven’t been reading many mysteries or thrillers in the past few years, but I was drawn to We Are All the Same in the Dark due to its emphasis on strong, complex female characters. Odette is a multifaceted protagonist: she’s a police officer from a long family line of police officers, and one who returned to the small town in which she had a horrific accident despite the fact that it would seem like the last place she’d want to be. She doesn’t shy away from danger in pursuit of the truth or her own flaws, and she’s struggling with a crumbling marriage alongside complicated feelings for her teenage boyfriend, who’s remained a suspect in his sister’s disappearance. Neither missing girl (Trumanelle, Odette’s ex-boyfriend’s long-missing sister, nor Angel, the mysterious girl Odette rescues) descends into a stale stereotype; both are dynamic characters even when they’re not on the page.

Heaberlin’s writing style is addicting and compelling; it took me about 50 or so pages to feel really immersed in the story, but once I did, I didn’t want to stop reading. There were just enough clues and twists to keep the story moving, and one twist in particular really blew me away. However, I did feel that the final confrontation and reveal happened a bit quickly; I’d have liked more time to explore the secrets once they were revealed.

Overall, I found We Are All the Same in the Dark to be an excellent mystery/thriller great for readers who love complex female protagonists.

I received an ARC of We Are All the Same in the Dark from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Book Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

 

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sisters #2)

Genre: contemporary romance

Release date 6/23/20

Rating: 4 stars

The follow-up to last year’s Get a Life, Chloe Brown, which I enjoyed (check out my full review here), Take a Hint, Dani Brown follows Chloe’s younger sister Dani, a driven Ph.D. student who prefers casual hookups to relationships, and her friend-turned-love-interest Zafir, a former rugby player who runs a nonprofit dedicated to teaching boys about managing their emotions and avoiding toxic masculinity, while also working security at Dani’s university. The novel begins with Dani casting a spell (she’s a witch!) to find the perfect hookup buddy, because she’s afraid to enter into deeper relationships after being hurt in the past and internalizing the idea that she’s too focused on her own life to give enough in a relationship. A few months later, Dani’s trapped in an elevator during a fire drill at her university, and friend/security guard Zaf stages an overdramatic but sweet “rescue,” which is captured on the cell phones of the undergrads outside. They’re assumed to be in a relationship and given the moniker #DrRugBae and, although being social media famous is something neither of them are particularly looking for, Zaf discovers that it’s actually a great way to promote his nonprofit. Dani and Zaf agree to enter into a fake relationship, but Zaf has been harboring feelings for Dani ever since they met, and despite her aversion to relationships, Dani soon begins to fall for Zaf as well.

I can be picky when it comes to contemporary romance, but I loved this one. I actually liked it a lot more than I did Chloe Brown; not that I didn’t enjoy that one, but I wasn’t a fan of Chloe’s love interest. Both of Dani Brown‘s main characters are compelling, relatable, flawed, and trying to grow; there’s also a strong focus on mental health, as Zafir is dealing with anxiety and grief, and Dani is working on the way she perceives herself after past relationship issues. Although I loved both main characters, I identified with Dani SO MUCH–we’re both nerdy, obsessive, career-focused women who have trouble making time and emotional space for relationships. There were so many instances and descriptors of Dani that really resonated with me, and I felt so seen in this character. Like her, I’ve had a hard time picturing the kind of relationship where someone would not only not be bothered by my devotion to my career, but be supportive of it, and it was great to see a depiction of this on paper.

I also really liked that there was a reversal of traditional gender roles in Dani Brown, with Dani being commitment-averse and Zafir a relationships-only kind of guy; this theme is a constant throughout the novel. There’s also a meta discussion about the power of romance novels themselves that I really loved (Zafir is a big fan; Dani doesn’t read them and doesn’t quite understand the appeal) and great discussion about the importance of work/life balance. The entire book felt extremely current and relevant in its themes; I can’t wait to see what the next book, which focuses on youngest Brown sister Evie, will focus on.

I’d highly recommend this one to contemporary romance fans, and in particular to anyone who enjoyed Alisha Rai’s Girl Gone Viral, as both books involve fake relationship hashtags that spiral out of control, and also focus heavily on mental health issues.

I received an eARC of Take a Hint, Dani Brown from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

 

Girl Gone Viral (Modern Love, #2)

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

Modern Love series, #2

Genre: contemporary romance

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

Alisha Rai is one of my favorite romance authors, not just because she creates fantastic love stories, but because her books also focus on strong friendships, family dynamics, and mental health. In Girl Gone Viral, we’re following Katrina, a former model and current investor who suffers from panic disorder, and her bodyguard and love interest Jas, a veteran dealing with PTSD and the heir to his family’s peach farms. No one is ever just one thing in Alisha Rai’s books–people are multifaceted, the way they are in real life, and this is one of the best things about her writing. She shows us, over and over again, that people can struggle yet remain awesome, and that mental health issues aren’t something to be ashamed of. It’s a message that’s never heavy-handed, but instead infused into the story, as we see Katrina and Jas support each other, as well as how they’re supported by their friends, family, and therapist, and how, without fail, open and honest communication makes things better, not worse.

Katrina and Jas have a sweet relationship; both have unwittingly been pining for each other for years. I don’t always like when couples in romance novels have relationships prior to the start of the book, but Rai does a great job justifying why they aren’t together yet (not only does Jas work for Katrina, but he also worked for her late husband, and no one wants to cross any lines). I loved how supportive they were of one another throughout the book; what tips off the series of events that brings them together is a threat to Katrina’s identity that occurs when a chance encounter at a cafe with another man goes viral, akin to the live-tweeting of a possible couple on an airplane that went viral awhile back.

I can’t ever talk about an Alisha Rai book without remarking on her strong female friendships (although there’s also a developing friendship group with Samson and his former NFL buds from book 1 that Jas finds himself included in). Rhiannon, the heroine of The Right Swipe, the first book in the series; her badass associate Lakshmi; and Jia, a beauty influencer and Katrina’s roommate, support and love one another throughout the book. I also loved the scenes with Jas’s family, and their near-instant approval of Katrina.

If you love contemporary romance, and want to read a book that’s both extremely fun and extremely thoughtful, you’re really going to need to pick this one up. It’s one of my favorite romances I’ve read in a long time.

 

I received an eARC of Girl Gone Viral from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: What Shines From It by Sara Rauch

What Shines From It by Sara Rauch

Short story collection

Release date 3/3/20

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review: 

A fantastic short story collection focusing on fractured or fracturing relationships and incredibly human characters. The stories are thoughtful and beautifully written, and they stayed with me long after I finished reading them.

Some of my favorite stories in the collection:
-“Kintsukuroi,” about a woman who uses gold to repair broken pottery in her shop, as she focuses on the beauty despite the wrongness of the affair she’s having
-“Abandon,” about a woman who seemingly loses everything in the aftermath of an accident and a miscarriage–except her best friend, who’s there, like it or not, to help her pick up the pieces
-“Seal,” about a woman and her partner debating whether to relocate when they have their first child, and how she faces the aftermath of her mother’s alcoholism

And my absolute favorite of the collection was the final story, “Beholden,” which is the most sensitive and achingly real portrayal of post-9/11 New York that I’ve ever read, and which uses fabulism to convey the way that memories never leave us.

I look forward to reading more from Sara Rauch in the future, and hope that her next collection includes even more fabulist fiction in the vein of “Beholden.”

I received an ARC of What Shines From It from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross, a Stellar Paranormal Romance

Wolf Gone Wild (Stay A Spell, #1)

Wolf Gone Wild by Juliette Cross (Stay a Spell, Book 1)

Genre: paranormal romance

Rating: 4 stars

Release date: January 14th, 2020

 

I have so many good things to say about this book, I’m struggling to figure out how to form them into a coherent review. Romance, and paranormal romance in particular, can be really subjective and I can definitely get pretty picky about it; though I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary romance recently, I had yet to find a new paranormal romance author I loved in recent years until I picked up this book.

Wolf Gone Wild follows Evie,  who works with her sisters and fellow witches at the bar and magic shop they own in New Orleans, alongside ruling over NOLA’s magical community as their most powerful faction. Evie is a witch with a specialty in breaking hexes, and she’s also an unapologetic, delightfully nerdy aspiring comic book artist whose insecurity from a past relationship is keeping her from sharing her skills with the public. Mateo Cruz is a werewolf, and also a metalworking artist/gallery owner, with a very urgent problem–he’s been put under a hex that forbids him from shifting with the full moon and unleashing his wolf on a regular basis, so now his wolf is talking to him. Like, all the time, and it’s driving him crazy. When Evie starts working with Mateo to help him break his curse, Evie finds herself drawn to Mateo–and both Mateo and his wolf are drawn to Evie. But the hex is more complex than it first appears, and it’s going to take help from Evie’s sisters, and a whole lot of forced proximity, to help Mateo and his wolf find balance again.

OK, so as I alluded to before, there are so many great things to talk about with this one. Let’s start with the romance, which manages to be both cute and steamy, and lacks so many of the miscommunication tropes that tend to frustrate me. Evie and Mateo are both genuinely good people, with art as a shared interest, and I really loved how their relationship slowly developed over the course of the book. I also loved how Mateo’s wolf side was handled–because of the hex, his wolf presents as a secondary entity in his mind that argues with him and constantly urges him to give in to his werewolf instincts (I saw one review comparing this to a Venom scenario, and I think that’s pretty apt) which adds a secondary level of interest to Evie and Mateo’s dynamic, and also presents a genuine obstacle in their getting together.

One of my other favorite aspects of Wolf Gone Wild was the side characters, and more specifically the plethora of opportunities for the next books in the Stay a Spell series. Evie has five sisters, all of whom are witches with different abilities and very distinct personalities, and we also meet several of their potential love interests over the course of the book. (Juliette Cross, if you’re reading this for some reason, I’m very much hoping that book 2 focuses on Evie’s older sister and badass head witch Jules, and intriguing vampire leader Ruben, but honestly, I’ll read any book you come out with next in this series.) The side characters never feel gratuitous or underdeveloped, and Evie’s family dynamic of a group of sisters who may disagree but ultimately love and support each other is so much fun to read about.

But I think my absolute favorite aspect of this book was its message. Yes, it’s a stellar romance, and very fun to read, but it’s also a really inspirational story about learning to have confidence in yourself and embrace and nurture your creative aspects, and not to be afraid to share them with the world. It’s a message that I, as an aspiring writer, really needed to hear at this exact moment, and there are quotes from this book I know I’ll return to again and again when looking for inspiration.

Other things I loved (yes, we’re just listing them at this point): the New Orleans setting, which is perfect for a paranormal romance series (and also happens to be one of my favorite places to read about); the multitude of Star Wars discussions; all of Evie’s hilarious T-shirts; and the world-building surrounding the different supernatural entities, including the twist on werewolf mythology where each has a creative talent in addition to their wolfy curse.

To summarize: read this book. I think it’ll appeal to fans of paranormal and contemporary romance alike; it’s very modern, very fun, and also has a lot of heart.

 

I received an eARC of Wolf Gone Wild from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

The Beautiful (The Beautiful, #1)

 

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh

Rating: 4 stars

Genre: YA historical fantasy

Release date: 10/1/19

 

I’ve seen the phrase “vampires are back!” associated with The Beautiful more than anything else, and although I’m not averse to the idea (although I don’t believe vampires in literature really went anywhere in the first place, nor did I want them to), I think it’s misapplied to this book in particular. It sets up Twilight-esque expectations, or maybe a new version of True Blood, when that’s simply not the case. The Beautiful is a lot of things, but I absolutely would not call it a vampire book. That being said, I absolutely loved it.

A much more accurate description of this book would be that it’s a young adult romantic historical fantasy, which is, I guess, a less succinct genre tag than “vampires,” but, I don’t think, a less appealing one. I’ve seen a lot of reviews that express disappointment over the lack of vampires in The Beautiful, and a lot of ratings that may be lower than the book deserves, but all of this could have been avoided if different expectations had been set.

But I’m going to stop talking now about expectations and ratings, and talk about the book itself, which I don’t think we’re hearing nearly enough about. The Beautiful is the story of feisty, headstrong, fun-loving Celine Rousseau, the antithesis of a timid, clumsy, Bella Swan-type YA heroine, who flees to New Orleans haunted by what she had to do to survive in her hometown of Paris. In the company of several other girls from around the world, Celine takes up residence in a convent while awaiting viable marriage proposals and becomes drawn into the seductive underworld of New Orleans society when she meets a mysterious, confident, pants-wearing woman who wants to employ her for her dressmaking skills. While Celine is visiting the headquarters of this attractive, dangerous underworld known as the La Cour des Lions, a murder is committed, and Celine becomes sucked into the investigation as well as the orbits of two former friends and present enemies, dark and alluring leader of the Cour des Lions Sebastien Saint Germain and savant police detective Michael Grimaldi.

So, why did I like this book? The New Orleans setting was a huge part of that. Ahdieh’s descriptions of the lush, vibrant, diverse city portray a New Orleans that’s both alluring and sinister, and the perfect setting for a fantasy story. Celine is a heroine who isn’t afraid–of danger, of intrigue, to do what needs to be done, or to just have a good time, and I very much appreciated that. Female friendships and side characters aren’t overlooked in favor of the romance; I liked both Pippa, Celine’s conventional and loyal British friend, and Odette, a member of La Cour des Lions, who flaunts conventions and gender norms in every scene she steals. And the romance itself was a lot of fun to read about; I wasn’t aware that this book actually had a love triangle, and although I know a lot of readers can’t stand those, I am definitely not one of them. Did I need a lot more backstory about why Bastien and Michael hated each other? Yes. Did it make any sense that Michael was somehow the best police detective in New Orleans at age nineteen? Of course not. But if that’s what needed to happen so that we could set up an angsty love triangle, then I’m on board.

If you enjoy romance-centric YA, and the idea of a series that’s lighter on fantasy but heavy on atmosphere appeals to you, I think you’ll also really like The Beautiful.–just don’t expect it to be Twilight.

 

I received an ARC of The Beautiful from the publisher at Book Expo in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: My Favorite YA Book of the Year: The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

Genre: contemporary YA fiction, Shakespeare retelling

Release date: 10/1/19

Rating: 4.5 stars

The Last True Poets of the Sea is a book that wasn’t even on my radar prior to Book Expo, when I heard it pitched in a YA Buzz books panel discussion as, I’m not kidding, a book that’s really hard to describe. Despite the vagueness of this description, or perhaps because of it, I was drawn to pick it up, even though when the panel had started I’d promised myself to only pick up one book that was being pitched, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, because I wanted to limit the number of ARCs I picked up from BookExpo to ensure that I’d have time to read them all. I broke my promise to myself, which was pretty inevitable in hindsight, and I’m so glad I did, because The Last True Poets of the Sea is probably going to end up being my favorite YA book of the year.

It’s true that you could say The Last True Poets is hard to describe; you could also say that it’s a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as a YA contemporary, set in a small town in Maine, that focuses on mental health issues, sibling relationships, and family mythology. And yes, that is a lot of components for a premise, but it blends together perfectly through Julia Drake’s seemingly effortless writing style. We’re following fantastically flawed Violet (an incredibly dimensional, realistic main character), whose twin brother Sam has just survived a suicide attempt, and who’s been sent to live with her uncle in Maine for the summer while Sam receives treatment at a mental health facility, and where presumably she’ll be forced to stay out of trouble. Because while Sam has been struggling more and more with his mental health, Violet’s been partying more than she should, to the point where she doesn’t know how or where to draw the line. In Lyric, Maine, the small town where her family originates from and, legend has it, founded the town after her ancestor survived a shipwreck off the coast (one of the many Twelfth Night connections in this story), Violet gets a job at the local aquarium, falls in with an existing friend group, two of whose members, Orion and Liv, instantly appeal to her, and tries, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to do better–as a daughter, a niece, a sister, a person. Her efforts are flawed and halting some of the time, but she’s trying, and as she does, she starts to investigate the mythology behind her family and the town of Lyric, and simultaneously starts falling for Liv, an unofficial Lyric history truther.

It’s so hard to review a book when your primary thoughts are I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH, YOU ALL NEED TO READ IT, I PROMISE YOU WILL LOVE IT TOO. Because while that’s all true, I do need to also find other, more appealing ways to say it, so let’s try this: The Last True Poets of the Sea is one of the most authentic-feeling books I’ve ever read. It’s able to capture both the contradictions and complexities of being a teenager and also the atmospheric and unique Maine setting, seemingly without much effort, because Julia Drake’s writing is a style that almost seems simple until you realize just how skillful it is. It’s a beautiful book, but it doesn’t shy away from anything difficult or ugly, and it talks about mental health in ways that seem truer than most nonfiction I’ve read. It talks about love, not just first romantic love but sibling love and family bonds, and love for a place that’s wrapped in nostalgia and difficult to recapture as we get older. The characters are people that are so easy to identify with, because none of them are perfect, but messy in a way that’s somehow better. Reading this book made me feel and think about so many things; I was brought back to the three months I spent living in a small town in Maine during grad school, and also to the doubt and insecurities of being a teenager, and to the anxiety I deal with as an adult. The best books are like that, I think: consuming when you read them, and lingering long after you finish, to the point where you can’t help but keep thinking about them.

Hopefully somehow this messy, disjointed review somehow fits with this gorgeous book that’s impossible to simplify, and I hope that you all love it as much as I did.

 

I received an ARC of The Last True Poets of the Sea at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review.