Book Review: Hang the Moon

Image from BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

In a delightful follow-up to Written in the Stars, Alexandria Bellefleur delivers another #ownvoices queer rom-com about a hopeless romantic who vows to show his childhood crush that romance isn’t dead by recreating iconic dates from his favorite films…

Brendon Lowell loves love. It’s why he created a dating app to help people find their one true pairing and why he’s convinced “the one” is out there, even if he hasn’t met her yet. Or… has he? When his sister’s best friend turns up in Seattle unexpectedly, Brendon jumps at the chance to hang out with her. He’s crushed on Annie since they were kids, and the stars have finally aligned, putting them in the same city at the same time.

Annie booked a spur-of-the-moment trip to Seattle to spend time with friends before moving across the globe. She’s not looking for love, especially with her best friend’s brother. Annie remembers Brendon as a sweet, dorky kid. Except, the 6-foot-4 man who shows up at her door is a certified Hot Nerd and Annie… wants him? Oh yes.

Getting involved would be a terrible idea—her stay is temporary and he wants forever—but when Brendon learns Annie has given up on dating, he’s determined to prove that romance is real. Taking cues from his favorite rom-coms, Brendon plans to woo her with elaborate dates straight out of Nora Ephron’s playbook. The clock is ticking on Annie’s time in Seattle, and Brendon’s starting to realize romance isn’t just flowers and chocolate. But maybe real love doesn’t need to be as perfect as the movies… as long as you think your partner hung the moon.

Review

Read: July 2021

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My rule regarding romance novels is that I don’t read them if they occur in a realistic setting. I usually want the romance to be secondary to the overarching plot – I don’t normally like it as the plot. Too much romantic angst tends to put me on edge, and because I read for fun, I try to avoid that. But Hang the Moon is the exception to my rule because its premise isn’t overburdened with angst and drama. It’s good enough that I plan to read Bellefleur’s prequel as well as the upcoming third book in this series. It’s fun. It’s cute. It’s so, so wholesome.

Brandon, the CEO of the dating company One True Pairing (yes, this author is after my heart indeed), still hasn’t found the love of his twenty-six-year-old life, but all that might change with the arrival of childhood friend/sister’s best friend Annie. But how to win over the romantically jaded girl? Well, that’s another question. Refusing to let Annie get away without at least shooting his shot, Brandon embarks on a quest to romance her – all before her impending move to London just a few weeks down the road.

I love this book about love. I am an unapologetic sucker for friends-to-lovers romances, and Hang the Moon does not fall short. Like I mentioned earlier, this book isn’t as angsty as so many romance novels tend to be – or perhaps it’s less the amount of angst and more the nature of it. The question in this story is never “Which guy/girl will X person choose?” The questions instead are “Will she stay?” and “What do I need in a relationship and in my life in general?” Annie’s work life heavily influences her social life, both before the story begins and throughout its duration. Her attempts at relationships have ended in failure, in part because of her travel-intensive work schedule, and she doesn’t really have friends where she lives when she isn’t traveling. Although she’s young and successful, Annie isn’t really happy. It’s beautiful to watch Brandon and Darcy try to show her that success in your career and happiness in the rest of your life aren’t mutually exclusive while still giving Annie the space to make her own decisions. The cherry on top of all of this is Brandon himself. He’s absolutely the kind of love interest I love to love – the one who’s hot and sweet and drives a Smart Car with a replica of a windup key attached to it. Seriously, the last part is totally swoon-worthy. Hang the Moon isn’t solely about Annie and Brandon though. After all, Annie did come to Seattle to visit her best friend, Darcy, and meet Darcy’s new girlfriend. Annie and Darcy love each other like sisters, but distance doesn’t always make a friendship easy. As the book progresses, Annie and Darcy work through the knot that distance has created in their friendship, and Darcy promises to put more effort into that relationship.

It’s also worth noting that Hang the Moon contains a lot of queer rep: Annie and Elle are bisexual, Darcy is a lesbian, and Margot is definitely not straight (I can’t remember if she’s a lesbian or bisexual). On a more personal note, this book was validating to me. I recently realized that I’m bi, even though I’ve never dated a woman. Since Hang the Moon focuses on a romance between a bi woman and a man, it’s a reminder that just because you end up with someone of the opposite sex doesn’t mean you aren’t bi – nor does ending up with a same-sex partner mean you aren’t bi. Annie and Darcy each represent different relationships for bi people, and I’m here for it.

Packed with lovable characters, refreshingly non-toxic relationships, and beautiful friendships, this novel is a worthy beach read to talk about with your friends. Aside from the major characters’ lack of racial diversity, Hang the Moon is an enjoyable, light-hearted read that calls your name when you’re craving some fluff.

Spoiler-Light Review: Rule of Wolves (Nikolai Duology, #2; Grishaverse, #7)

Image from Barnes and Noble website.

Synopsis

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times–bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

Barnes and Noble

Review (Spoiler-Light Version)

Read: May 2021

Rating: 5 stars out of 5!

Spoiler warning: This review will contain spoilers for all preceding Grishaverse books (Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows Duology, King of Scars, and possibly even The Language of Thorns). I’ll try to be circumspect about the precise events of Rule of Wolves, but there will be mild spoilers for this book.

Spoiler version: Coming soon!

Two years of waiting have rewarded me with this enthralling, suspenseful, fulfilling masterpiece. Between finishing re-reading Six of Crows (via audiobook with my mother and sister) and reading Rule of Wolves, I’m reminded exactly why I love Leigh Bardugo’s stories so damn much.

This book is emotional. Be prepared for a hurricane of feelings. Be prepared to squeal with joy, and be prepared to sob. I don’t often cry over book character deaths, but the death in this book tore me apart. Yet, in love and friendship, there is still happiness to be found. This is especially true for fans of the canon ships. If you’re a diehard Kanej shipper like I am, even the brief allusions to their relationship will thrill you. And needless to say, the Zoyalai moments are smoldering, even without sex scenes. Bardugo has crafted an excellent romance in which she captures the intimacy between Zoya and Nikolai without much physical contact. Nina’s romance with Hanne, too, is natural, especially given how Bardugo balances Nina’s growing feelings for Hanne with her love for her deceased partner, Matthias.

Leigh Bardugo is skilled at handling multiple plot threads and bringing them together in a cohesive climax – which is fitting, because Rule of Wolves is, as I interpret it, meant to be a quasi-finale of the Grishaverse. (Bardugo has stated that this is a “farewell for now,” although she plans to return to the Grishaverse later.) While Nikolai and Zoya are in Ravka and Kerch preparing for war with Fjerda, Nina is also preparing for war from within Fjerda itself, and Mayu, Ehri, and Tamar head off to Shu Han to extirpate the kherguud. And all of it makes sense. The resolutions to our heroes many, many challenges are realistic and believable.

Rule of Wolves is one of those books in which you should pay very close attention to detail if you want a chance at correctly inferring any of the plot twists. I repeatedly would flip back through the book to refresh myself on details – partially because I’m a pedantic sucker for detail and partially because I wanted to formulate my best guess as to what would happen next. Everything is used – and there’s a lot of material to incorporate. Politicking! Magic! Spying! Mini-heists! War! Slow-burn romances! It’s all here, and Bardugo doesn’t waste a single scrap of it. If you haven’t read Rule of Wolves yet – or any of the rest of the Grishaverse, for that matter – you’re cheating yourself worse than Kaz cheats Pekka Rollins and Nikolai cheats death.

Book Review: Seven Devils

Credit: BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire–or die trying.

When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: February 2021

Format: Audible audiobook

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution.

Alright, folks, I’m back! I’ve been pretty busy with school (I expect to complete my bachelor’s degree by the end of this semester), so I haven’t had as much time to write reviews. Now that I’ve only got two classes and have sorted out my volunteer hours at the animal shelter, I should be posting more frequently. I promise my next review won’t take six more months to appear.

Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Between stumbling across this book at my local Barnes and Noble and a Redditor’s recommendation, I finally decided to give Seven Devils a try. That was a decision I do not regret – unless, of course, you ask me how it feels to await the next installment of this duology.

This book is action-packed and fast-paced. The very first chapter opens the story with the first of many skirmishes aboard a spaceship. It’s not all melee combat though: Lam and May do an excellent job of balancing the action between physical fights and intrigue. Be prepared for battles, espionage, and subterfuge! Even the heroes’ downtime propels the plot forward, and exposition is woven into the story in a palatable manner that keeps the reader in the loop without overwhelming them. Part of that exposition is delivered in flashback format – a judicious choice, given the frequency and quantity of content set in the past. It’s also convenient that the flashbacks are isolated to their own chapters, each with the name of the viewpoint character and the time of occurrence clearly stated at the beginning of the chapter. (I have a special appreciation for this right now because I’m currently reading a book that fucks up flashbacks to the point of abuse. Suffice it to say that it’s difficult to follow that story where flashbacks are involved.)

From my heterosexual white woman’s perspective, Seven Devils does a solid job with representation. For all the diabolical crap the Tholosian Empire fosters, skin color of Tholosian humans is not one of their primary concerns. (That story is very different for non-Tholosians.) Even so, I really appreciate that this book features some racial diversity amongst its viewpoint characters. With Black and Hispanic people still patently underrepresented in STEM fields, I find it particularly awesome that Ariadne plays the role of the gifted, brilliant science whiz. The cast also includes three queer characters. Kyla, the co-commander of the Novantae resistance, is a transgender woman of color; Clo and Rhea, both viewpoint characters, are attracted to women. Although Kyla doesn’t have a viewpoint in this installment of the duology, my fingers are crossed for her to have one in the next book!

The characters are vibrant and intricate. Lam and May do an excellent job of connecting the characters’ past experiences and their present-day habits and mannerisms. Ariadne’s behavior reflects what you’d expect from a socially deprived but mentally acute teenager. (She’s not unlike Cress from the Lunar Chronicles.) She’s depicted as eager to explore and friendly, but the authors also highlight the social anxiety you might expect from a kid who grew up with minimal human contact. The inclusion of Eris’s point of view as Princess Discordia, her former identity, chronicles the transformation of Eris’s worldview while also underscoring the similarities between these two personas. The gradual change of Discordia into Eris emphasizes both Discordia’s and Eris’s inner turmoil – emotional turbulence that, although Eris conceals it well, plagues her to this day. Nyx is very firmly portrayed as a former soldier. That mentality shines through not just in how she describes herself, but also in how she acts and thinks. She wrestles constantly with the effects of chronic exposure to Tholosian propaganda while burying the guilt over the murders she’s committed in the name of the empire; her thought processes are tactical. Clo’s childhood of poverty, the loss of her mother, and her own amputation well explain the angry, stubborn, and determined woman whom readers encounter. And Rhea, although she still carries the scars of her old life as a sex slave, strives for freedom in her own way – even if it’s somewhat subtler than the methods of her comrades. On the other hand, the authors leave many questions unanswered about Sher, and Cato’s and Kyla’s backgrounds aren’t nearly as fleshed out as I’d like them to be. But then again, this is the first of two books, which leaves plenty of opportunity for character development in the next installment.

Rebellion can obviously serve as a riveting plot if it’s done right, but Seven Devils addresses several other themes. Relationships of all kinds are a recurring motif throughout the story. After all, it was a friendship that led Eris to defect from her totalitarian government. The romantic scene between Clo and Rhea near the end of the book is both intimate and wholesome, even without sex. And yes, we get to see the whole squad forming friendships and protecting each other. Colonialism and extractivism fuel the Tholosian Empire’s expansion and induce its citizens do commit horrific acts – crimes that most of our cast has partaken in one way or another. Finally, Seven Devils offers tales of the monumental endeavor to achieve redemption.

Even though it missed a few things, Seven Devils is a thrilling and worthy read. If you’re in the mood for science fiction, rebellion, and women supporting women, pick this book up now.

Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

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The Blurb

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

*Spoiler alert!*

Fun fact: I considered purchasing this book to read it, but I was deterred by the texture of the dust jacket because it felt like a nasty-ass gritty chalkboard. Instead I saved myself some money and a lot of goosebumps by renting it from the library, complete with a nice, smooth library cover.

I’ve been trying to expand my horizons by reading more books with diverse casts of characters. In the current climate, that’s not so difficult to do, as the issues of diversity and discrimination have been brought into the spotlight by the rise of far-right ideologies and the resulting backlashes against them.

The setting of We Set the Dark on Fire isn’t as immersive as that of, say, The Hunger Games, but it doesn’t need to be. It functions as a commentary on current issues including sexism, homophobia, classism, and xenophobia. You might have heard comparisons of We Set the Dark on Fire to The Handmaid’s Tale because of its feminist elements and criticism of sexism, and those claims are accurate. But even more poignant than the discussion of gender equality is Mejia’s commentary on the struggles of undocumented immigrants. Dani herself is the equivalent of a real-world DREAMer, having immigrated from the outer island with her parents at the tender age of four. Her experiences as a poor, undocumented immigrant drive much of the story: Her fear of discovery and subsequent arrest and her desire to honor her parents’ sacrifices compel her to work with rebel group La Voz. Through both current events and Dani’s flashbacks, readers bear witness to the various obstacles manifested by Dani’s immigration status and class. The poverty she and her parents were subjected to in the outer island motivated her parents to cross the border illegally; the poverty and fear in which they lived in the inner island pushed them to sacrifice much to elevate Dani’s standard of living. Because of her immigration status, Dani balks from forming friendships with her fellow students, hindering the development of a healthy social life (or as healthy a social life as possible in this fucked-up society). And in perhaps the most alarming example, La Voz utilizes Dani’s immigration status to extort her into spying for them, an endeavor that – while perhaps might be considered beneficial – thrust Dani into a very precarious position that could have cost her her life. The use of flashbacks to explain Dani’s background might cause some readers to feel disconnected from the plights of the undocumented immigrants and the impoverished of Medio. I argue that this delivery tactic is aptly applied. Not only does the use of flashbacks highlight the distance that Dani has tried to place between her past and her present; it also emphasizes the theme of injustice existing even if it’s not directly in front of you. Dani eventually reaches this epiphany and becomes a willing agent of La Voz.

Mejia’s characterization of “good” characters is generally strong. Dani’s character in particular undergoes drastic changes, from the discovery of her sexuality to her growing urge to act on her animus against the regime, rather than simply accepting things the way they are. Carmen’s character develops too, but she is not as fleshed out as Dani due to her enigmatic nature. Likewise, Mejia grants readers satisfying yet tantalizing glimpses into Sota’s complex character without completely tearing down the mystery surrounding him. On the other hand, the antagonists are villains worthy of contempt, but for the most part they are not fully formed. For example, Mama Garcia resides in Dani’s mind as a threat for most of the book but has few interactions with Dani, and in the end it’s revealed that she is not wise to Dani’s illicit activities but is to Mateo’s before she dies in a car crash. She might have just been Mateo’s lackey, but I think that Mejia could have crafted her to be more sinister. Mateo himself is a little flat, although he’s still repulsively cruel and unhinged. As I mentioned before, though, Mejia’s glossing over of his methods might be a part of the “distant injustice” theme that plays such a huge role in this book. Interestingly, despite Mateo Garcia and Median government being at odds with each other, they are both separate antagonists and different iterations of the same antagonist: Mateo is both an embodiment of the regime and an embodiment of a worse version of it.

Although the romance sometimes seems rushed, it’s ultimately a sweet story about two young women discovering themselves and finding love even when it’s difficult or dangerous. Median high society isn’t exactly amiable toward the idea of same-sex relationships, so Dani and Carmen face adversity that stems not only from the possibility of the discovery of their affair (does it count as an affair when you’re sort of forced into a marriage?) but also from the resulting outing they would face. And at the end of the novel, Dani and Carmen are separated suddenly after Carmen is forced to reveal her allegiance to La Voz to protect Dani, who is heartbroken and bewildered by this turn of events. Readers will be anxious to find out whether Carmen will be able to make her way back to Dani!

Overall, I very much enjoyed reading We Set the Dark on Fire, even if it sometimes felt like there was something missing that I just couldn’t put my finger on and the world wasn’t as complex as I usually prefer it to be. When the sequel pops up on my library network’s catalog, you can bet I’ll place my hold on it ASAP.

I borrowed this book from my library. Remember to support your local library!