a ranty review: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert – 2 stars – released August 8th

I’m really disappointed. Brandy Colbert is a really talented author and a fabulous person who I have the utmost respect for. Her books have always been a hit-or-miss; readers tend to find them either fabulous or messy. Little and Lion falls into the latter category for me. I have no doubt that many people will love this, but it really did not work for me.

THINGS I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK

—> The complex, multifaceted sibling relationship is a plus. Suzette and Lionel have their disputes, but it’s clear they really love each other. I liked that they were a stepbrother and stepsister, because sibling-ish relationships between stepsiblings are so rare in literature and so common in real life. (Signed, a girl with a stepbrother who she loves like a brother.)

—> There’s also diversity! This is a very diverse book, with a bi and nonwhite main character. The author handles topics of racism, bisexuality, and mental illness without being horribly offensive, which is a lot rarer than I’d like it to be. Another star for that!

—> I’m kind of struggling with other pros; this really felt like just another contemporary to me. I do think Brandy Colbert has a great writing style and a lot of good ideas about the world. She’s someone I’d like to have a drink with.

THE LOVE TRIANGLE

oh my god, a girl and a boy at the same time? emotional cheating? how shocking and revolutionary for bi people. it’s never been done before!! definitely not enforcing stereotypes by doing this in every single fucking book with a bi main character!!

Okay, before I get into stereotypes and how annoying this element was, let me just mention my thoughts on the triangle itself. Neither of the relationships within the love triangle are developed that deeply, period. I felt pretty torn about who I wanted Suz to end up with, but I didn’t find myself caring much. Or, like, at all.

And I have a bone to pick with the cheating involved in this love triangle!! This book gets a plus from me for not involving actual cheating in this love triangle; however, there’s some content in here that comes close to cheating. Look, I know y’all want to pretend emotional cheating isn’t real cheating, but it ticks me off either way. And either way, my point stands that this love triangle element has really gotten tiresome. It’s so tropey.

But that isn’t even the main element that bothers me. What really bothers me is the plot element being so. fucking. stereotypical. Not every bi character has to be in a love triangle between a girl and a guy. To be completely fair, this isn’t entirely the fault of this specific book, but the trend really bothers me. I have quite literally read FOUR books with major bi characters where this happened over the course of the year 2017. IT IS MARCH 15TH. IT HAS BEEN LESS THAN THREE MONTHS. (Since someone asked, the other three books are Noteworthy, It’s Not Like It’s A Secret, and Ellen Hopkins’ new book.)

Also, while we’re at me bitching, please, why can’t someone change the the blurb. This blurb made me think I was reading a cute romance between two girls. Yet the endgame relationship here is a guy and a girl. It’s not bad for a bi girl to end up with a guy – I am all about that. Write a book about Suz and that cute neighbor boy getting together just as she questions her sexuality and I am here for it. However, this blurb implies that the major romance aspect is with another girl, when it’s just not. Not Colbert’s fault at all, but really, the marketing here is completely revolving around the girls when the book doesn’t really go there. I’m getting annoyed by books being marketed as f/f relationships and then not having them. Why not just market this as a story about a bi girl figuring out who she is, rather than marketing it as a romance between two girls?

OTHER REASONS I DISLIKED THIS

news: I’m not always a bitter Bitch!! sometimes I do genuinely also dislike books even if they don’t have such cringey ass love triangles

In general, Little and Lion did not inspire much emotion from me. It’s not amusing or enjoyable. But while it’s intense, I always felt one step removed from the characters. I didn’t hate any of them but I didn’t connect with any of them. Maybe that’s because the relationships aren’t developed enough. The brother/sister relationship is good, but it isn’t developed quite enough to inspire deep feeling. On the same thread, neither of the relationships within the love triangle are developed that deeply, period. Let’s talk about that whole element, because I have a lot to say.

Little and Lion does not seem to know where it’s going. There’s a story about bisexuality here, and a story about identity, and a story about family, and a story about mental illness, and all of those should blend together to form a narrative masterpiece. Yet none of the plot threads are really concluded?? In Colbert’s debut, Pointe, all the different stories and threads tied together very well. But this book doesn’t develop any of the stories quite enough for them to fit. Little and Lion feels like eight novels crammed into one book.

To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have bi characters with mentally ill brothers in fiction– that’s great and realistic. I want more representation as good as the representation in this book. That’s not the issue. The problem is that Colbert tries to create conflict in a ton of aspects of the protagonist’s life and it… really didn’t work out, at least not for me. The whole thing just feels messyand underconcluded.

Underconcluded might be an understatement. By “underconcluded,” I mean lacking real conclusion at all.Maybe this was supposed to be slice-of-life, but I literally feel like nothing happened in this book besides a really, really overdone love triangle. I mean, if you like slice-of-life, more power to you. But seriously, I don’t want to read a book that is entirely a love triangle. Bye.

New Release: Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Lucky in Love by Kasie West – 3 stars – releases July 15 2017

This is nothing particularly special, but it’s just the easy-to-read contemporary story I needed at this point in my month.

First things first: wow, this needed editing. A lot of the sentences are pretty awkward. This might be an unpopular opinion or something editors do, but can ya authors use contractions? When you don’t use contractions, your dialog doesn’t sound more sophisticated. It just sounds fake and ridiculous. Hear me out. If someone came up to me in casual conversation and said “I am going to the park,” I would think they were a pretentious asshole. Or possibly high. If you say “I’m going to the park” I wouldn’t think anything beyond “oh, you’re going to the park.” Do you see what I’m saying? It’s fake and it’s stupid.

Anyway, beyond the writing, it’s fine. The characters aren’t terrible, the romance is sweet, there are well-written family dynamics and all that. There’s a significant lack of girl hate and slutshaming!! I have to admit that I was kind of expecting girl hate?? But no. There’s actually a rich girl who becomes a true friend to Maddie. Also, there are a couple of good comments made by Maddie’s love interest, the adorable Seth, about racism. I liked that!! It was a minor thing but I really liked it. And there’s a popular reviewer on this page who I finally unfollowed because she made a lowkey racist comment in her review about this, so… yay, I guess?

Two things bothered me here. First of all, it’s cliche. Obviously. But I really feel like this was cliche in a bad way. When I think of a good cliche story, I think of bed sharing and fake dating. Those are cliches, but they’re fun cliches. This story is just… so cliche that everyone felt like a plot device.

The other issue is Maddie’s whole character-regression thing. I know this is a story meant to be about ambition and how wealth can corrupt you. I get that. I just don’t really like how the whole plot was done. I get that she’s rich now, but if you saved money your whole life, I feel like you’d think about it a little more. Fine, people are different. All I can say is Maddie’s throwing-around-money started pissing me off quickly. Kasie West wrote it in a fairly realistic and sympathetic way, but I felt like the person yelling at the horror movie characters to not be idiots. Fancy dinner is one thing, but it was so obvious the car and the yacht was all going to go wrong.

But I can’t even really complain about this, because this book was so clearly not for me to analyze!! It’s not meant to be serious or high-quality. It’s a fun YA contemporary story. She churns out three per year. Hopeless romantics will enjoy it maybe more than me. If you’ve liked Kasie West before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this too.

New Release: Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee – Released June 27th – 4.5 stars!!

THIS MADE ME SO HAPPY. I don’t know if it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book so much. Even my reading slump couldn’t conquer this book. After I got off my slump-creating kindle and on to the hardcover copy I read at the bookstore, I read this in less than 24 hours. YES.

The great tragic love story of Percy and me is neither great nor truly a love story, and is tragic only for its single-sidedness. It is also not an epic monolith that has plagued me since boyhood, as might be expected. Rather, it is simply the tale of how two people can be important to each other their whole lives, and then, one morning, quite without meaning to, one of them wakes to find that importance has been magnified into a sudden and intense desire to put his tongue in the other’s mouth.

(By the way: Mackenzi Lee loves this quote as much as I do. Proof: she read it out loud at a signing event and I have it on video. Also, she’s amazing.)

Just to be clear: I love pretty much everything about this book. It’s fantastically paced, especially for such a long book. It’s hilarious – I laughed out loud multiple times. Monty’s character arc is solid and well-written. The romance is one of the cutest and best I’ve read in YA. Maybe I’ll even talk more about this later and add something to this review. But you know what? You can find a thousand reviews about how cool everything in this book is, about the characters, about the plot. I want to talk about why this book is worth reading.

There are two things – no, three things – about this book that I think are really special. First of all, Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is hilarious, but not so light as to be flimsy. It’s a balance I think most books fail at; either we get books that are nothing but fluff, or books that are nothing but tragedy. This book is neither. It’s dark, but it’s also hopeful. When a book feels too light, it’s escapist; when it feels too dark, it’s depressing. This book made me feel like the universe doesn’t suck too much. Just because people are survivors of abuse or trauma doesn’t mean we always need to be in a world of angst.

Secondly, I love the themes here about not needing to be cured to be an important person. You have no idea how rare it is for chronically ill / disabled / neuroatypical people to be treated as whole, to be treated as real. This book really explores the fact that Percy doesn’t want to be cured; he just wants to be treated like a full person. I have never read a book that even mentioned this feeling. It was… perfect. God, I can’t put every emotion I felt about this into a full sentence. Just… if you’re looking for this theme, please pick this book up.

Third, and maybe most important; this is historical fiction about people who don’t get historical fiction. People love to declaim about how the historical fiction genre doesn’t need diversity because the only people who existed back then were white, straight, and abled. WRONG. People like us have always existed; we just don’t get books, especially historical fiction. Seeing representation like this in historical fiction is seriously new.

VERDICT: This is a cute historical romcom focusing on people who don’t get historical fiction because the world used to hate us. It’s adorable and hilarious and important and I had so much fun reading it. I can’t recommend it enough.

Arc Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire – Releases June 13th – 4.5 stars

Childhood dreams are fun to return to, aren’t they? Until you remember that childhood isn’t always an easy walk through the wildflowers. Until you remember that some of those dreams can turn to nightmares quick as a flash.

This was definitely better for me than book one. While I thought book one had the same amazing atmosphere and a fantastic concept, this book had far more solid character work.

If any of you remember my review of Every Heart a Doorway, you’ll remember that Jack was by far my favorite character. While I wanted to love Nancy, I found her a fairly bland character with not much of an arc. I felt that Every Heart A Doorway had no middle. But this book has both a middle section and significant character work. Seanan McGuire has definitely ironed out the kinks in her novella-writing talent.

With another sigh, Alexis took it and slid off the bed. “Those ‘village oafs,’ as you like to call them, will have houses and trades of their own one day. You’ll have a windmill.”
“A very clean windmill,” said Jack. “They’d be able to give me children. That’s what Mother says.”
“I could give you children,” said Jack, sounding faintly affronted. “You’d have to tell me how many heads you wanted them to have, and what species you’d like them to be, but what’s the point of having all these graveyards if I can’t give you children when you ask for them?”

Jack is probably my favorite thing about this tiny book. She’s a mad scientist and she’s brave and she’s hilarious. I could read eight books about her.

The relationships of this tiny book were all so intriguing. I absolutely loved the banter between Alexis and Jack. I also really enjoyed the relationship between Jack and Jill; their character clash is perfectly written.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Jack raised her head, reaching up to adjust her glasses as she did. “I thought it was a stray dog knocking the door open. Where I come from, people knock.”
“You come from the same place I do,” said Jill.
“Yes, and people knocked.”

This book is a lot darker than Every Heart A Doorway. The Moors are not on the same level as Nancy’s odd but lovable world. Jack and Jill are in a dangerous, scary world, but they’re owning it. I loved the eerie atmosphere to this story; I found this book incredibly unputdownable.

I also just really love how feminist this book is. The discussion on how forced gender roles fail is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

“The concept that perhaps biology was not destiny, and that not all little girls would be pretty princesses, and not all little boys would be brave soldiers.”

One final note before I go: I really desperately need answers on that ending. Answer my questions, Seanan McGuire. Please.

VERDICT: Even better than book one. This novella series is really so perfect, and I really hope you all read it and love it!!

Arc Review: Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill

Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill – 4 stars

I don’t know if the ending was quite as fabulous as the 300 pages of buildup. But darn it, the experience of reading this book was so fantastic. I can’t possibly give it less than four stars.

Man, what do I even say about pages 1-300? Terrill’s style is truly so compelling and unputdownable. I don’t know how she does it, but I was hooked. Her writing got under my skin in a very tangible way.

I feel suspense is the best when it causes me an emotional reaction. This book certainly fits that criteria. So many scenes went so far as to viscerally horrify me. I was so involved in the characters and their moments of moral disgust.

Speaking of which, I loved these characters! Nicholas was my favorite. Definitely. Lexi is cool too; she’s very complicated. I do take issue with the forced romance plot, but I liked the love interest’s character a fair amount.

What I don’t get is how you can take such a fabulous suspense novel and make the ending so obvious. Admittedly, I didn’t totally anticipate one of the final twists. I felt Terrill showed her hand too early and too far from the end; by 85%, we have a fairly close picture to what happens. Yes, there is a final twist of sorts, but that twist didn’t have the impact it needed.

Let’s discuss the final twist’s problems. I will still avoid explicit spoilers, but if you want to go in knowing nothing, move forward. First of all, I just feel it didn’t have much shock value. The way the twist plays out, it’s more a cheap explanation of whose idea the murder was, rather than a real change in what happened. If that first point were acting alone, the book would’ve been fine. Unfortunately, I found the twist laughably easy to guess. I had that twist in my head as a batshit absurd possible solution idea at the 70% mark. And then I turned out to be correct. Disappointing.

I do have to give props for a perfect open ending, though. That last line gave me the creeps.

VERDICT: While the ending isn’t amazing, this was truly a great book. Can’t wait to read more by Terrill in the future; she’s one of the most talented authors out there.

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”.

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.