Librarian Julia Winston is ready to ditch the quiet existence she’s been living. She’s made a list of new things to experience, but falling for Jamie Caine, her sexy military pilot neighbor, isn’t one of them. Julia’s looking to conquer life, not become the heartbreaker’s latest conquest. But when two young brothers wind up in Julia’s care for the holidays, she’ll take any help she can get—even Jamie’s.
Happy to step in, Jamie reveals a side of himself that’s much harder to resist. Not only is he fantastic with kids, he provides the strength Julia needs to tackle her list. She knows their temporary family can’t last beyond the holidays, but the closer she gets to Jamie, the more she wonders if things could be this merry and bright forever…
Read: December 2021
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
As I’ve said before, realistic fiction romance isn’t my typical domain, but after my success with Hang the Moon, I decided to dabble further with some holiday-themed fluff. Sugar Pine Trail just happened to be the first interesting-looking holiday audiobook I could get from Libby. (The Christmas Bookshop? My wait time is listed as “several months.”)
Sugar Pine Trail is the love story of Julia Winston, a librarian in a small Idaho town, and Jamie Caine, a former military man – and the brother-in-law of Julia’s best friend, Eliza – who moves into the upstairs apartment attached to Julia’s house. But it is also a story of compassion and parenthood: Julia’s house becomes even more crowded after she volunteers to foster two local kids, Clint and Davey, whose widowed mother has disappeared. So if you’re looking for something soapy, here it is.
There’s something refreshing about Thayne’s attempts to buck cliches in this story. Instead of being the asshole player or the overbearing, overprotective love interest, Jamie is a much gentler sort of casual dater. Julia isn’t a crazy cat lady spinster, but a kindhearted cat owner by circumstance. The plotline with Clint and Davey doesn’t wrap up the way you expect it to. Best of all, the romantic plot of the book doesn’t revolve around Julia “taming” Jamie or whatever. It revolves around Julia and Jamie each tackling their hangups about relationships and allowing each to challenge the other while also accommodating the other’s need for space. It’s so wholesome to witness Jamie and Julia fall for each other over the course of several weeks (no insta-love bullshit here!) as they bond over Julia’s foster children and the loss of their own parents.
This book ticks several boxes on the romance checklist. Sick fic? You’ve got it. Your ship unexpectedly having to act as parents together? On the house. Emotionally scarred love interests? Definitely. Neighbors-to-friends-to-lovers? Look no further. Holiday setting? Jingle, jingle, bitches.An actual healthy relationship? Yes, yes, yes. But although Sugar Pine Trail satisfied my craving for a holiday romance, it didn’t satisfy me overall. Perhaps it was the uncertainty surrounding Clint and Davey’s mother at the end of the story – what can I say? I like neat endings – but I think that Thayne wrote the story like that to emphasize the uncertainty that so many foster children experience. The cast isn’t diverse at all, but the book is set in small-town Idaho, and while racial and ethnic diversity are important to include in the world’s literary body, it’s not the end-all-be-all of a good story. I think my biggest issue is that the main characters’ relationships with minor characters seem shallow, or at least unexplored. For instance, Thayne writes that Eliza is Julia’s good friend, but there is a dearth of meaningful scenes between Eliza and Julia. Yes, it’s a romance, but people just don’t exist in a vacuum. This was something that Hang the Moon handled very well, and I guess my hopes were a bit too high after that.
Altogether, Sugar Pine Trail is a decent, easy read that will satiate your longing for a sweet holiday story. Even if it’s a bit skimpy on platonic friendships, it’s still an enjoyable book with a cute romance and a heartwarming story of opening your heart to those in need.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, richly imagined series continues with the journey of Feyre’s fiery sister, Nesta.
Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.
The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.
Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.
Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance – and healing – in each other’s arms.
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Read: April 2021
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Spoiler warning! There are major spoilers in this review!
Content warning: sex scenes, gore, violence, sexual assault, torture. Some of these topics might be discussed briefly in the review.
So I waited the last three years for this? Count me among the disappointed. It took a lot of consideration for me to settle on a rating for this, and even now I’m uncertain about the score I’ve assigned. I have so many thoughts on this book.
A Court of Silver Flames isn’t without its merits. First off, I’ve been a Nessian shipper since Day One, and this book fulfills my dream of seeing them finally get together. Second, I appreciate the emotional healing that Nesta, Emerie, and Gwyn undergo. I love witnessing the blossoming of supportive friendship between these three – and I love how they absolutely kicked misogynist ass in the Blood Rite. Finally, I see a great deal of promise in Emerie’s and Eris’s characters. Steadfast, reasonable, brave Emerie already has earned a special place in my heart, and Eris is fascinatingly flawed. Hopefully both of them will be further developed as characters in the next installment.
Unfortunately, my complaints about ACoSF far outweigh what I enjoyed about it. Much to the dismay of my grammar-loving heart, Sarah J. Maas has evolved a weird predilection for overusing sentence fragments. Sentence fragments can add dramatic effect when used judiciously; once the author begins liberally tossing them in, they become an annoyance that can only be overlooked if the rest of the story is solid. Maas employs them with almost no discretion. They pop up everywhere. Here are just a few examples:
She felt it a heartbeat later. The presence creeping toward them on soft paws.
Nesta seemed to glow with the attention. Owned it. Commanded it.
Nesta let him see it then. That she bore no ill will toward Feyre or the babe.
I actually looked back in some of my old Throne of Glass books to see if Maas has always been so fond of this writing style, and I don’t think she has. I noticed the frequency of sentence fragments really began to rise in Maas’s books around the time of Empire of Storms and A Court of Thorns and Roses. As of ACoSF, it appears that Maas has fully embraced this irksome pattern and doesn’t intend to rein herself in. Imagine it. If I talked to you like this. In these jagged fragments. Fragments that are disjointed. Fragments that interrupt speech and thought.
That’s fucking irritating, isn’t it?
Speaking of reining herself in, fucking hell, Sarah, dial back with the sex and horniness. Yes, I expect sex scenes in a new adult romance, and while I’m personally a bit more conservative about sex than a lot of people are, I don’t consider myself a super-prude by any stretch of the imagination. My problem isn’t that there are sex scenes – it’s that Maas seems to utilize sex scenes as filler content. There is so much sex in this book that I started skipping sex scenes not because I was offended, but because they were repetitive and generally not important. There is so much sex in this book that it gets boring. Even when they’re not having sex, the characters still think about it with such constancy that it’s a bit disconcerting. The viewpoint characters are endlessly, incorrigibly horny, and Maas spends so many words on that fact that the writing suffers because of it. No one can go seven pages without thinking about themselves or someone else gettin’ busy – and Maas absolutely has to tell you in detail about those thoughts. Instead of incessantly rambling about sex and how hot everyone is, Maas should focus her energy on developing the non-viewpoint characters she left to languish in the corner, only to be brought out to prop up our heroes.
This book lacks the intrigue and action I expect from a Maas book. Although I liked the Oorid scene and the Blood Rite, ACoSF is relatively devoid of the excitement that its predecessors had. The politicking and scheming and world-building potentials of this book are painfully underplayed, and Maas tries to compensate for that by contriving bullshit drama. Given the opportunity to delve further into the threat of Briallyn and Koschei or better explain Nesta’s powers beyond nebulous uber-powerful magic, Maas instead fabricates a last-minute sort-of love triangle between Eris, Nesta, and Cassian that lasts for less than a hundred pages and invents a convoluted, phenomenally stupid subplot surrounding Feyre’s pregnancy.
Seriously, the pregnancy nonsense might have been the biggest fault of the entire seven hundred fifty-page book. Feyre conceives a baby with Rhys, but because Feyre was in Illyrian form during the baby’s conception, the baby has wings. The baby’s bony wings will get caught in Feyre’s birth canal and kill her because of her High Fae anatomy. So what? you shrug. Feyre can shapeshift. Problem solved. Cassian had the same thought.
“So let her change back into an Illyrian to bear the babe.”
Rhys’s face was stark. “Madja has put a ban on any more shapeshifting. She says that to alter Feyre’s body in any way right now could put the baby at risk.”
So wait. Let me get this straight. Feyre can shapeshift her damn eggs, and those eggs are still capable of producing a viable zygote. Rhys knows that the baby’s wings will most likely kill his wife (and himself because of that stupid bargain they made to leave this world together). There are documented cases of High Fae women being killed by their half-Illyrian babies, and if they aren’t killed, they almost certainly will never bear another child. Grievous morbidity or death is certain. Yet even despite all of that, it’s still deemed too great a risk for Feyre to shapeshift so much as her pelvis.
How is the pelvis problem solved? Nesta – who has the power to imbue the House of Wind with a soul, Unmake a Made queen, and Make a brand-new Dread Trove, and who is capable of wielding all three components of the original Dread Trove simultaneously – must relinquish most of her power back to the Cauldron because she “doesn’t know how to save” Feyre from bleeding out. She unwittingly Made a new Dread Trove, but she has to “know” exactly what to do to save Feyre? Even with that weakness in her power, Nesta is somehow conveniently able to transmogrify both hers and Feyre’s pelvises to accommodate half-Illyrian babies with her power – never mind that Feyre can transform her own damn pelvis after she recovers from nearly dying in childbirth. This all becomes even dumber and more unnecessary when you consider the Blood Rite and the confrontation with Briallyn could have served as an adequate climax (although the Briallyn arc struck me as underdeveloped to begin with).
One of the worst parts about this whole thing is that Feyre is ignorant of the danger the fetus poses to her, and Rhys chooses not to share this information with her and orders his friends to shut the hell up about it. He loves Feyre and encases her in a fucking shield for much of her pregnancy because he wants to protect her so badly (um, ew), but he actively keeps this knowledge from her at her peril. Nesta tells Feyre, and his reaction is to tell Cassian to get Nesta out of Velaris “before I fucking kill her.” In addition to all of that shit with Feyre, he pulls rank on his brothers for asinine reasons, he’s unsympathetic to Azriel’s romantic situation, and he interferes in Elain’s love life out of concern for politics. In previous books, Rhysand is arrogant, sarcastic, and sometimes a bit too big for his britches, but ultimately he’s compassionate, loyal, and just. In this book, I hardly even recognize Rhys because he’s such a fucking prick.
This book is one of the biggest letdowns I’ve ever read. I consider myself a fan of Sarah J. Maas. Throne of Glass is one of my absolute favorite series, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sadly, A Court of Silver Flames fails to live up to – let alone exceed – my expectations of a Sarah J. Maas book. The pacing is inconsistent, the sex scenes are absolutely absurd, and two-thirds of the plot is stupid and/or underbaked. I’d like my twenty-eight dollars back, please.
Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading—and the end of the world may be at hand.
For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those who are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.
Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.
Rich in imagination and romance, and based on the legends and history of the Aztec and Maya people, The Seventh Sun brings to vivid life a world on the edge of apocalyptic disaster.
Rating: 2.25 stars out of 5 Read: October 2019
It’s so satisfying to see a fantasy novel with a non-European setting. The representation isn’t the only thing to cheer about, though: There is a bevy of fantasy books written about medieval white people, so a novel focusing on people of color often speaks to some creativity on the part of the author. Lani Forbes’s The Seventh Sun centers on the fictitious Chicome people, whose culture is based on those of indigenous Mesoamericans. While I can’t speak to the Forbes’s historical or cultural accuracy, I can say that I appreciate the change of pace.
For the most part, though, this book is lackluster. The characters are mediocre at best and obnoxiously dull at worst. Mayana struggles with her moral objections to ritual sacrifices, which the religious leaders of the Chicome empire have essentially enshrined as dogma. This powerful internal conflict could have propelled a very interesting narrative had it been paired with a well-constructed character. I don’t despise Mayana – I even connect to her on some level – but she is just kinda bland. Prince Ahkin, the fantastically handsome and high-status love interest, is even emptier. For all of Forbes’s insistence that Ahkin is an intelligent man governed by logic, his behavior doesn’t match her claim. Not only is he apparently prone to tantrum-like outbursts and impetuous behavior, but he also overlooks critical information an alarming number of times, all while sporting the naivety of a child. He literally decides to kill himself immediately after hearing from a captured enemy solider that the sacrifice of his life is what will bring the sun back. He doesn’t bother to even consider this for a day or think about who might have ulterior motives; he just asks the high priest for his opinion and promptly marches off to the pit entrance to Xibalba, the underworld, to stab himself in the gut. The guy is repeatedly played like a fiddle – which is fair to say even if you factor out reasonable trust in the perpetrators. It’s no wonder Ahkin can’t swim: he’s got a head full of rocks. The supporting characters are way more interesting than the main characters. I would much rather hear how Yoli or Zorrah became who they are, or how Yemania has struggled with her father’s mistreatment, or Teniza’s story – a far more intriguing love story than the rushed romance in this book.
The plotlines – both romantic and not – are too foreseeable for my liking. While I enjoy the satisfaction of finding that my inferences are correct, it’s no fun if there’s no challenge to it. I smelled Coatl and Metzi’s game miles away. Maybe I just watch too much Dateline, but when a politically powerful, perfectly healthy man drops dead for no apparent reason, chances are there’s perfidy; who better to execute the crime than the palace healer? And Coatl’s potential motives are quickly elucidated when his sister Yemania arrives in the capital to be a bride/sacrifice and Princess Metzi requests to sit next to Coatl. Once Metzi is introduced, her shady, manipulative behavior promptly singles her out as a suspect. The whole scheme is so transparent that the “big reveal” lacks the wonderful coalescent effect in which the reader sees all of the details that they’ve overlooked crystallizing in one epiphanic moment. Instead, the moment of truth comes as absolutely no shock to anybody who’s been paying attention. Even the battles are unexciting. Honestly, I found the four-way catfight more interesting than the actual skirmish with death-worshippers that Ahkin takes part in.
Neither is Ahkin and Mayana’s romance in any way surprising. It seems crazy that Ahkin and Mayana have fallen madly and irrevocably in love in the course of like six seconds. It’s easy enough to figure out that Ahkin and Mayana end up together, which would be fine – except that the progression of their romance is just as trite and stupid as its beginning. A few tests and couple of illicit makeout sessions later and the deal is sealed: Ahkin and gorgeous, sweet Mayana are meant to be. The bummer is that Forbes could have explored one of a few other romances instead, one of which she herself actually mentions in the book. Instead of focusing on Mayana and Prince Hissyfit the Dumbfuck, Forbes could have written a new version of Stockton’s “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by delving into Teniza’s tragic love story. In my opinion, another more interesting romance would have been Ahkin (if he wasn’t such a mega clotpole) and Yemania, who is the plainest and shyest of the princesses but truly a diamond in the rough. Sadly, she opted for the cliche.
The long and short of it is that a lush jungle setting can’t compensate for a dull plot and equally dreary characters. If you’re a fan of The Bachelor, you’ll probably love this book, since that’s essentially what it is. Otherwise, stay away.
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?
Read: March 2019
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
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!
Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.
Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.
When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland-one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun-Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.
As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun…
Read: March 2019
Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*
When I first began reading Jill Criswell’s debut novel, I really wasn’t certain that I was going to love it. Beasts of the Frozen Sun was… just fine, for maybe the first third of the book. But I was well rewarded for reading on.
This book’s biggest flaw is that the non-main characters simply didn’t feel as animated to me as they should have. Some character introductions and the subsequent interactions with other characters seem a bit abrupt. Quinlan, for instance, is introduced as Lira’s close male friend and someone whom Lira might or might not have feelings for, even though Lira does not mention him until his first physical appearance. Criswell often consigns minor characters brimming with potential to the sidelines, but I hope she will expand their roles in the next book. Right now it feels like she’s focusing so intently on Reyker and Lira that she’s skimping slightly on the other characters. Paying them some mind would, in my opinion, render this tale more colorful.
That’s not to say that the characters are unlikable, or that the main characters are uninteresting – just that there’s room for growth (and perhaps that’s what Criswell has planned for the sequel). While Reyker, a complicated warrior from Iseneld, embarks on a poignant and heart-wrenching redemption arc, Glasnithian Lira grapples with the societal constraints foisted upon her as both a young woman and a god-gifted individual and battles against the guilt she feels over the death of her mother several years prior. Lira’s elder brother, Garreth, proves to be noble and clever – and something of a maverick with a surprise up his sleeve, and Quinlan is a treasure – both as a friend and as a human being.
Although the lore of Criswell’s world isn’t complex, it’s not overly simple either – and that moderation suits this story. Likewise, Criswell is even-handed with her imagery: she doesn’t catapult her readers into a choppy sea of detail, but she provides enough for a reader to conceptualize the surroundings to a satisfactory degree. As far as the romance goes, this is one whirlwind love story. Despite the occasional over-gooeyness, Criswell executes the enemies-to-lovers trope well. Readers will find themselves invested in Reyker and Lira’s blossoming relationship and riveted by the parallels between their love and that of Aillira and the Great Betrayer. And at the end, the villain divulges a revelation that not only sheds a new light on his character but also leaves them bursting with questions.
Beasts of the Frozen Sun might not be a masterpiece, but it’s a solid beginning to Criswell’s series. I had some difficulty tackling the first portion of the book, but that hump was not insurmountable and the story ended up being entertaining. Adrienne Young’s Sky in the Deep has found its kin in Beasts of the Frozen Sun: If you read and enjoyed the former, I enjoin you to pick up the latter (which I’d argue is better).
You can purchase Beasts of the Frozen Sun at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, Indigo, and Amazon.