Arc Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Now I Rise by Kiersten White – Releases June 27th – infinite stars. ALL OF THEM
**This review will contain minor spoilers throughout, with any major spoilers tagged.

This was even better than book one. In fact, in the months since I’ve read this book, it’s stuck with me so well that I think it’s one of my favorite books ever.

And I Darken was a well-written and developed book, but I had mixed feelings on the romance and wanted a bit more in the character department. I did not expect either aspect to improve. I definitely did not expect White to fix BOTH of my issues with book one. It’s not often a sequel can surpass my expectations so much, but this sequel is undeniably better than book one.

Now I Rise far surpasses book one in terms of character work. We got a real look at Radu, who I didn’t particularly care for in the first book. Here, though, he got an INCREDIBLE character arc. I am still reeling from this character arc. I cannot get over how much Radu has grown and changed and how much I LOVE HIM. Radu’s inner debate over which side truly deserves to win Constantinople really stands out throughout the book, in both his internal and external conflict. It’s incredibly difficult to write characters on both sides of the fence, but White executed it brilliantly.

Lada doesn’t get any less brutal during this book; in fact, she gets a little more brutal. Yet she’s not heartless; she has some very compelling relationship development with several side characters. The thing is, she just doesn’t have as far to go in terms of development.

There are some GREAT new side characters as well, from Nicolae to Nazira (my absolute wife) to Cyprian. The side characters really stood out here. None of them are one-dimensional; they all feel so REAL. Even my least favorite side characters never felt like plot devices. They’re all morally ambiguous and interesting.

There’s some great relationship development in this book, too. Lada and Radu and Mehmed’s relationships with each other are of course still significant, but the new relationships introduced really stand out. Nazira and Radu’s platonic relationship development is one of my favorite parts of this book. Their banter!! I loved the relationships between Lada and her many soldiers, as well as her relationship with a mentor she finds. But let’s be real here: there’s one romantic relationship which was the absolute crowning gem. They had so many heartbreaking moments and one of the most incredible slow build relationships I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. But don’t worry, this book focuses on romance even less than book one. Lada has so little romantic entity in her storyline. It was amazing.

The one issue with this book is that Lada’s actual plotline is slightly less entertaining in comparison to Radu’s. Part of this may be that Lada’s character had her initial character arc last book, while Radu’s character had almost all of his character arc in this book. Lada’s arc here is slightly more external, where Radu’s is both external and internal. It’s not much of an issue, though; Lada’s chapters would probably be my favorites in any other book. She’s still so effortlessly compelling if only through her character development.

This was truly an incredible book, and I can’t wait to see where the plot goes next.

I’d ask anyone who wants even more detail on this book to read Simona’s review, as I couldn’t agree more with everything she says.

Before I go, I wanted to give a mini shoutout to Kiersten White for guaranteeing that no lesbians will die in this series. It’s a really great guarantee to hear from an author in an environment where my immediate reaction to Nazira and Fatima’s existence is “they’re going to die, aren’t they”.

Fierce Fangirl Friday: Favorite TV Shows I’ve Ever Watched

Jackie over at TooMuchABookNerd has been doing her new tag, Fierce Fangirl Friday, for… probably a month now? And I have been loving it!! Thanks again to Jackie for establishing such a fabulous tag 🙂

For this week, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite tv shows ever!! I actually barely watch TV anymore, so this is basically all the tv shows I’ve been obsessed with. My life in TV shows? Maybe.

BONUS – Supernatural, seasons 1-5, season 8

This was my favorite show at one point. Please don’t talk to me about this part of my life. Seasons one to three were campy but awesome, four and five were just fabulous, and I’m sad the show went so downhill.

10 – Firefly, season one

This show is heartwarming and full of brilliant squad dynamics. I don’t know if this show is necessarily a masterpiece, but it makes me laugh and occasionally cry. It’s great. Go try it. I believe it’s only on DVD, not Netflix or Hulu, but it’s probably on Amazon too.

9 – Game of Thrones, seasons 1-4, maybe ongoing?

So I do enjoy this show. Yes, there are way too many pedophilic characters and rapists who are portrayed as morally ambiguous when they’re just dicks, and yes, there are so many racist and homophobic tropes I don’t even know how to begin.

At this point, though, I feel as if it’s just pain and more pain and oh look, more fucking pain. So creative. I had this issue with season four, but season five has just been a mess of boring or cringeworthy plotlines. Dany’s storyline is fairly boring, Sansa’s storyline is completely disgusting and handled in a super problematic way, and the capital’s storyline is so disgusting I have trouble watching it. The capital storyline essentially romanticizes a religious vie that calls for the death of all queer people, which is so blatantly disgusting I don’t even know where to begin. Not to mention that the characters whose pain is focused on are all heterosexual. Yeah, homophobia shouldn’t be a plot device. It’s disgusting and I want the whole season 50000 feet away from me.

That being said, I did truly enjoy the first few seasons. Before you ask, Sansa is my favorite character by far. I don’t even know why; she just kills me.

8 – Brooklyn Nine Nine, seasons 1-ongoing

A heartwarming comedy show. But a really high-quality heartwarming comedy show. It’s on Hulu. Go check it out.

7 – Revenge, seasons 1-2

I love this stupid tv show so much. It’s a Monte Christo retelling full of twists and revenge and awesome characters. Emily Thorne / Amanda Clarke is one of my all-time favorite heroines. She’s a little bit morally grey, but mostly just morally black. I love her. Check it out on Netflix.

6 – Jessica Jones, season one

This is a one-season exploration of trauma and rape culture, complete with a focus on friendship, a terrifyingly real villain, and one of my all-time favorite heroines. The ending of the last episode gave me chills, y’all. Definitely check this out on Netflix.

5 – Black Mirror

This is a series of standalone episodes, and so many of them are amazing. I originally watched this because of the buzz surrounding San Junipero. And yes, that episode is a masterpiece. But at my cousin’s house this winter, I watched Hated In The Nation, episode 6 of season 3. And it is probably my favorite hour of tv ever. This episode terrifed me more than any horror movie I’ve seen. Every moment is terrifying. That one reviewer who said it was messy can come into my home and fight me. Check it out on Netflix.

4 – Once Upon A Time, season one

A fairy-tale retelling – but INSIDE A TV SHOW.

Season one of this show is freaking brilliant; a dark and suspenseful fairy tale retelling, with focus on a trio of powerful women and their familial relationships, creative backstories for each fairy tale character, brilliant plot twists, two of the most incredible villains of all time, family bonds between adopted parents and birth parents, and a developed yet badass heroine named Emma to boot. Season two is fairly good; though the storyline is lukewarm, the characters are just as great as always, and there’s a fabulous redemption arc for former Evil Queen Regina.

And then it gets shitty. I’m sorry, I know all of you love Hook, he’s hot, he’s fabulous, whatever. Fine. But Emma’s character has lost her spark to this relationship. She has lost her personality, and not in a “character arc” way. She just doesn’t have a character anymore. I also miss the focus on female friendships and family relationships. WHERE DID IT GO. I MISS IT.

I’m bitter and I stopped watching. But I still stand by the masterpiece that is season one.

3 – Glee, seasons 1-2

Okay, yes, it’s not a masterpiece. But I LOVE THIS SHOW. It’s so cute and fun and I love all the cheesy duets more than my own life. Couples doing duet performances that parallel their own lives? I’m trash for it.

My advice would be: don’t watch past season two. Maybe watch season three if you really want to. But DO NOT CONTINUE. I promise you will regret it. I promise. Don’t do it.

2 – How To Get Away With Murder, season one

Season one of this show is freaking brilliant. The characters are fabulous and the plot twists are earth-shaking beyond anything else. It’s a Shonda show, guys; there’s a reason she’s so popular.

This show focuses on a team of law students and their teacher, Annalise Keating, after they kill her husband. Connor, Michaela, Laurel, and Wes are such individually complicated and interesting characters. I love seeing them develop through the storytelling methods.

While I’m not the biggest fan of season two, I want to recommend this anyway just for the brilliance of season one.

1 – The 100, seasons 1-2

Oh my god, I’m so bitter about this show. DON’T GET ME STARTED. But I love seasons one and two more than my own life.

I think I saw someone call this “teenage game of thrones” and I honestly think that’s unfair to this show. Game of Thrones is honestly torture porn with flashy environments. The 100 is not a flashy environment show and it’s not fantasy. It’s more of a show full of moral conflicts and depth.

I feel so strongly for every single one of these characters. Clarke, Raven, and Bellamy would all make my favorite characters of all time list. The relationships between all the characters are so compelling, too. I honestly ship each character with like five other characters.

And if you’re still reading this, my guess is you’re curious whether I’m team Bellarke or Clexa. And the answer is honestly… I ship Clarke with someone else really, really hard. I don’t hate Clexa or Bellarke; I find both of them pretty compelling pairings. But y’all are sleeping on a really fabulous ship here. Clarke and Raven are my forever otp and my favorite non-canon ship of all time. Their development is fabulous, their character dynamic is so compelling… it’s like they were written for me. You know that one episode Spacewalker? The ending of that episode makes me cry my eyes out just because of these two characters. If they got together I would literally watch the rest of the show, no matter how shitty.

Conclusion

If any of you like these shows, PLEASE COMMENT AND FANGIRL WITH ME!! I want to hear your opinions and your saltiness about when the show went downhill. Please, join my bitter ass.

 

Top Five Wednesday: Fave Unlikeable Protagonists

Um. Are there any other type?

I have a long history of loving despicable characters. Or at least characters who aren’t all good. All-good characters bore me. I know that sounds really bad, but I like my main characters realistic. Maybe that says something bad about my vision of humanity?

So without further ado, here are a list of some of my favorite unlikable and hated main characters.

5. Adelina Amouterou, The Young Elites by Marie Lu

All of you can hate on her all you want, I’m still #1 captain of her defense squad. She’s a self-hating badass, and I’m sorry to be cheesy, but that’s my all time favorite character archetype. I also like that she’s whiny and self-obsessed as a character trait, not just because the author doesn’t know how to write characters. A villain / antihero ( / antivillain?) for the times.

This could also apply to Katsa from Graceling by Kristin Cashore, one of my favorite characters of all time. But she’s a little less despicable and a little more “hates herself, but is really good at heart”. Still a great character, though.

4. Diana Ladris, Gone by Michael Grant

Diana starts off as an outright villain and ends as a morally ambiguous but fabulous member of the main squad. She was the first morally ambiguous character I ever read that did not die in the end, and this series has always been really important to me for that. I empathized with her self-serving nature so much.

Also, her sass is everything. I live for sassy morally black antiheroes.

3. Every single character except that shithead Eli, Vicious by V.E. Schwab

This is a book about heroes and villains. More importantly, it is a book in which the villains are far more sympathetic than the hero. Detailed character discussion below, with vague spoilers, I suppose? No big plot points spoiled, don’t worry.

Eli is the hero of this story, and although he’s an incredibly developed character, he’s also terrifying. Why? Because his villainy seems so human. He doesn’t feel like a nameless, faceless demon; he seems like a terrible person who we all know. His sidekick Serena, on the other hand, is a girl out for herself before anyone else. She’s incredibly selfish and barely cares for others, but I found myself empathizing with her at every turn.

The villain of this story, Victor, is selfish and manipulative and out entirely for himself. But I found myself loving him. I like that he’s selfish and owns it. His sidekick Mick is a lot of fun as well; self-serving, but caring for his friends. And 13-year-old Sydney is fun as well. Again, I love that all these characters are out for themselves, not for others, yet gained my sympathy nonetheless. Can’t recommend this book enough.

2. Every single character… but especially Kaz Brekker, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

OKAY, I KNOW YOU ALL EXPECTED THIS. I scream about this book 24/7. Let me scream just a little more.

First of all, I love the rest of the squad so much. Inej is awesome and badass and a great chosen one subversion. Jesper is hilarious and so sympathetic. Nina is badass and passionate and my inspiration. Wylan is hilarious and has a great “becoming less innocent” arc. Even Matthias, my personal least fave, has a good character arc.

But they are not this series’ morally black figureheads. That award goes solidly to Kaz.

Kaz is absolutely an antihero; yes, he’s on a mission to save the world, but does he care about saving the world? Nope, he cares about getting his cash. He still manages to be a complex, dimensional character, who genuinely cares about his friends not dying (though he’d never admit it). And also, his character arc is 10/10 the best ever. What a fantastic character.

Side note: just got my ex girlfriend to read this series finally!! and she loves it :’)

1. Adam Parrish, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

I. LOVE. HIM. Honestly, reading this character on page feels like I’m being called out because I relate to him so much. His jealousy of wealth, his cynical tone balanced with real care for friends, his high level of ambition, his odd balance between self-loathing and confidence, his entire demeanor… it’s sometimes uncomfortable how similar I am to this character.

Maybe my favorite thing about his character is that I didn’t really like him towards the beginning of book one, but I quickly began to love him. His emotional journey is so fabulous and I care for him so much.

Ronan also deserves a shoutout. He’s my very close second fave and probably would end up at the top of this list as well. His arc around depression is maybe my favorite ever.

Thanks for reading!! And hope you enjoyed all my super-long book chats last week.

Arc Review: Sovereign by April Daniels

Sovereign by April Daniels – 3 stars

No one is sadder than I am about the fact that this sequel does not quite live up to book one. I liked book one a lot, but I think this one feels like the same thing repeated and I’m not into superhero novels enough to really care.

Unnecessary sequels are honestly an epidemic that needs to stop. This entire book felt pretty pointless. Yes, there were a few loose threads after book one, but Danny had a great character arc and got some good friends. Here, it’s as if she barely developed in book one. The entire arc is sort of new, but it all feels like a bit of a rehash.

The only “new” thing in this book was the romantic arc. No one is more shocked than I am, but I found Sara and Danny underwhelming here. While they made for a shippable dynamic in book one, I found their romantic buildup here so instantaneous. One minute they’re fighting, next they’re together. It was so disappointing. I really wanted the tension to be drawn out in a better way, even with just one more angsty scene before they got together, because their getting together was so anticlimactic and boring. They are still cute, and I have to admit, it was awesome to see Danny get a gf. There are SO few trans wlw in media. I think Nomi and Amanita from the Netflix show sense8 are probably the only other example I can think of. I can’t think of any in YA lit.

Okay, we need to talk about Graywytch’s entire character and inclusion. Graywytch is a transphobe and a villain. The fact that she’s a villain does not bother me at all; I can totally understand and appreciate her being villainized by the narrative. My issue is that this very human, true-to-life villain talks like a comic. She comes off as a comical plot device rather than a very real threat to trans people. Using transphobia as a plot device just really rubs me the wrong way. I don’t know how to word this, exactly, but I really dislike the fact that a real threat talks like a comic book villain. I feel like she’s in here to tell cisgender people “hey, Danny’s life sucks” and I appreciate that, but I don’t think it’s executed well. I feel like she’d be more terrifying and educational to cis people if she felt real, and right now, she feels like someone’s parody of a comic book novel.

It’s not really bad; Danny’s still funny, the concept is still great, the action scenes are still pretty well-written. I loved the inclusion of an nb character. And the ending was fantastic; in fact, I think the ending may have been worth the rest of the book’s existence. All in all, the book was still good. But until the last 15%, I couldn’t shake the feeling that book one should’ve been a standalone. Get Danny and Sara tentatively together at the end of book one, leave it there. Perfect. This lukewarm sequel isn’t doing anyone favors.

Book Chat: LGBT or just GGGGGGGGGGGG?

This isn’t so much a post as a collection of thoughts and a discussion piece. I’d really love feedback and comments on this one, because I find this topic interesting to discuss. Let’s get into it!

There has been a good increase in amounts of lgbt books in literature recently. And a lot of those books have gotten popular. Which is great, obviously. As the chief Lesbian Diversity Stan, you know I think that’s awesome. I am not here to complain about the increase in gay main characters. If you don’t think that increase is awesome and you want to save the eyes of the children, this post is not for you.

But here’s the problem: it is all focused on gay guys. “Focused” might not be the right word; it’s pretty much only gay guys who are getting this treatment. And very, very rarely, bi guys in relationships with other guys. I haven’t seen nearly the same increase in popular books about trans, intersex, bi, or wlw (i.e. women loving women) characters. And when those books do come out, they rarely become popular. Can you name a single popular fantasy book with major wlw or trans characters? Because I can’t, and I’m someone who specifically seeks out lgbt books, especially in sff.

The thing is that despite the rise in diversity in YA, the only kind of diversity that gets popular is focused around (usually white) gay guys. It’s great that we’re seeing more gay guys, but I’ve gotten to the point where I hate reading “diversity recommendation lists”. They’re all like “here are ten books about gay guys, 90% of them written by straight women! and here are two contemporaries that use mental illness as a plot device! diversity!! confetti!!” Okay, okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s also… not. I am constantly shocked by the amount of lgbt recommendations list that don’t have a single book with gay or bi women or with trans characters. That’s not an lgbt list.

To be fair, this isn’t entirely a complaint about the people making those recommendation lists. It is also true that there are very few high-quality books published by the big four that focus on wlw, trans, intersex, etc characters. However, those high-quality books get totally ignored 90% of the time.

I don’t know exactly how to phrase this. I just feel like a lot of diversity lists in the last few years have been very superficial, not offering any diversity beyond gay men. And that’s important; it just could be more, you know?

Book Chat: What Is YA?

Something I often think about: what exactly defines YA? And yes, I know it’s technically the publication company, but why do publication companies publish books in certain genres?

Now, the traditional definition is having teen characters, but how true is that? Many YA books and adult books alike that I’ve read recently have 20-something characters. On the YA side, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, the list goes on. On the adult side, books like Vicious by V.E. Schwab has several younger protagonists, as well as in this case one twelve-year-old protagonist.

Some might say a lack of sex and violence, but even that isn’t necessarily true. A Court of Thorns and Roses contains fairly explicit sex, and a fair amount of YA novels contain fade-to-black-sex. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Adhieh, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor all contain this. And in terms of violence, who can forget the huge amount of rape in certain fantasy novels (which is another post), or that scene where the protagonist cuts someone’s eye out in Six of Crows? Adult fantasy definitely can be more violent, but it isn’t always more violent OR more sexual, even though it can be.

Some might say fast-paced plot, but that’s not true either. YA Magical Realism tends to be far slower; books like The Accident Season definitely fit this category. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston both defy this.

And then, of course, there’s the “cliche” definition. As an avid reader of both YA and adult fantasy, I freaking hate this definition. Yes, YA fantasy is full of cliches, and yes, many of them suck. 50% of fantasy books and 60% of contemporary books have the same story. Yes, YA has cliches. So does adult fantasy. Cliches are a part of literature.

Now, it is true that YA fantasy often has slightly different cliches than adult fantasy; for example, I’ve found more toxic romance tropes in YA fantasy than in adult fantasy. But so many YA fantasy books don’t have those cliches. Books like Six of Crows fit more into adult fantasy cliches than YA fantasy cliches.

I don’t know if this post really has a thesis; I’ve just been thinking about the definitions we use. Comment any thoughts or feelings on this topic below. I’m definitely interested in what you guys think!

Top Five Wednesday: Side Ships

Hey guys! It’s Wednesday, it’s summer (FINALLY), and it’s time for another TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY!! This challenge is hosted by my favorite booktuber (for real), Samantha at ThoughtsOnTomes. Challenges are all linked here.

I’m going to go for more than five this week, because I have a few duplicates and don’t want to cut my tried-and-true faves.

Lovey and Jenkins, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet

An AI and a technician fall in love and yes, it is beautiful and tragic. I really don’t want to give spoilers here, so just a brief section on these two. Their banter totally killed me. I’m also really liking the recent trend of characters in non-physical relationships that are still romantic. You all know I’m Kazinej trash because I mention it, like, every post. I think I’m just a fan of unique dynamics.

Liraz and Ziri, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die? Can I die?

Natalie and Hannah, Love Letters To The Dead

I know I talk about these two freaking constantly, but I’m mentioning them again because I LOVE THEM. They’re both such well-develop side characters and I found their relationship so fabulous. It’s a bit of a healing story. Just… give it a read. They honestly kind of remind me of the dynamic between Adam and Ronan in the Raven Cycle,

Fatima and Nazira, Now I Rise

If I can’t be Nazira’s wife, I’m glad Fatima can be??

Vivi and spoiler, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Does this count as a side plot? Who knows, who cares. Viviene was by far my favorite character in this book, and her character journey was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever read. She has a romance plot which is both tragic and authentic in its own way. She also has a romance plot which is more focused on healing. I don’t know which one is my favorite.

Ella Malikova and her alleged “best friend”, Gemina

I literally just want one character in this series to be bi. Just one. Just one fucking character. And I love Ella more than my own life. Let them date.

Diana and Caine her own badass single self, Gone

Diana Ladris is one of my favorite side characters of all time. Her and Caine have an incredibly twisted relationship, one which I don’t… know how I feel about. I don’t know, and I don’t think you’re supposed to know how to feel. They’re both complex enough characters that despite the terrible things they do to each other, there’s chemistry between them anyway. Again, I don’t know how I feel, but my heart definitely broke for both of them.

Ron and Hermione, Harry Potter

I. LOVE. THEM. Bantering couples are the shit. That is all. I’ll fight about Harry and Hermione staying platonic. I LOVE THEIR FRIENDSHIP.

Anyway, let me know what your favorite side couples are!! This was a lot of fun to write. Also, thank god I talked about some more couples. I feel like I have only two otps and I talk about them constantly?? BONUS POINTS: Find their mentions in this post!!