Book Review: Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

Book Review: Ivory and Bone by Julie EshbaughIvory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh
Series: Ivory and Bone #1
Published by HarperTeen on June 7, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
2 Stars
A prehistoric fantasy—with allusions to Pride and Prejudice.

Hunting, gathering, and keeping his family safe—that’s the life seventeen-year-old Kol knows. Then bold, enigmatic Mya arrives from the south with her family, and Kol is captivated. He wants her to like and trust him, but any hopes of impressing her are ruined when he makes a careless—and nearly grave—mistake. However, there’s something more to Mya’s cool disdain…a history wrought with loss that comes to light when another clan arrives. With them is Lo, an enemy from Mya’s past who Mya swears has ulterior motives.

As Kol gets to know Lo, tensions between Mya and Lo escalate until violence erupts. Faced with shattering losses, Kol is forced to question every person he’s trusted. One thing is for sure: this was a war that Mya or Lo—Kol doesn’t know which—had been planning all along.

Book Review:

IVORY AND BONE originally caught my eye because, historical fiction set way, way, way in the past? With mammoths and saber cats and the Ice Age? Gimme. I’m always on the lookout for historical fiction set in different eras than the popular ones.

Author Julie Eshbaugh did a good job of making me feel like I had gone way, way, back in time. She described the camps, clothing, food, kayaks, setting, etc. The prehistoric setting of IVORY AND BONE was probably my favorite part of the book.

The biggest problem I had with IVORY AND BONE is the way it’s written. The author took a risk by having Kol narrate to Mya. On one hand, it makes sense, since there was such a big tradition of storytelling back then. But at the same time, Kol’s telling distanced me from the story and from the characters while slowing the pacing to a crawl.

I was bored for the majority of IVORY AND BONE, because I just didn’t care about anyone or what was happening. Halfway through the book, I was still waiting for something big to happen, something to keep my attention. I only kept reading because the author didn’t stick to traditional gender roles — a leader of one clan is a woman, other women hunt with the men, and so on. Historically improbable I’m sure, but I liked it.

Overall, I liked the idea of IVORY AND BONE, but the risk of Kol narrating the story to Mya (you speak, you disappear, you are rude) just didn’t work for me. The writing style kept me too distanced from everything, and I thought Kol sounded like a whiny girl for a lot of the book, making lover boy eyes at Mya. Maybe some of that is the Pride and Prejudice allusions, but I’m not a fan of that classic, so I can’t say for sure. IVORY AND BONE is the first in a trilogy, but I can’t imagine where the series will go from here.

Socialize with the author:

Julie Eshbaugh:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Book Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani ChokshiThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on April 26, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Mythology, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you're only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father's kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran's queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar's wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire...

But Akaran has its own secrets -- thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology. The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.

Book Review:

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN is a beautifully written book. The author has a lush, dreamy, descriptive writing style that goes hand-in-hand with her story. The whole time I was reading, I was swept into the different places Maya visits: Bharata, the Night Bazaar, and Akaran.

The book is a bit Beauty and the Beast, a bit Hades and Persephone, with Indian mythology. Maya grows up under the shadow of a deadly horoscope, which forecasts that she’ll bring death wherever she goes. When her father uses her marriage ceremony as a way to try to stop endless war, Maya doesn’t expect that he’ll tell her to kill herself. At the last second, she’s rescued by Amar, Raja of Akaran. Akaran is an empty land, but the palace is full of wonders and secrets.

While reading the book, I was caught up in it. In Maya’s time in Akaran and then her journey afterwards, her struggle to learn the truth about herself. But after I finished THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN, I was left feeling a bit… empty. I feel like the author focused too much on making every sentence beautiful and descriptive at the cost of describing the various Indian mythological creatures, developing Maya and Amar’s romance, and just telling me more of the story, instead of showing everything.

I needed more from THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN. I needed the author to tell me more about the various creatures Maya sees and interacts with. Kamala the pishacha, aka demon horse who wants to eat everyone? Kamala was awesome. One of the best parts of the book, hands down. I understand not every creature can be given that same development, but I would have liked to know a little more about various creatures that were mentioned. What’s a pey? What’s a raksha? And so on. There might be a glossary in the finished copy of the book; I read an early review copy. But still, I wanted more detail in the text. Most readers likely won’t be familiar with Indian mythology, and who wants to be pulled out of a story to Google something? And so on, with other elements.

Overall, THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN showed promise, and it was good while I was reading. But when I finished, I was left wanting more substance and explanation.

Socialize with the author:

Roshani Chokshi:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

Book Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle MeadThe Glittering Court by Richelle Mead
Series: The Glittering Court #1
Published by Razorbill on April 5, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
For a select group of girls, the Glittering Court offers a shot at a life they’ve only ever dreamed of, one of luxury, glamour, and leisure. To high-born Adelaide, whose wealthy family is forcing her into a loveless marriage, the Glittering Court represents something else: the chance to chart her own destiny, and adventure in an unspoiled, prosperous new land across the sea.

After a chance meeting with the dazzling Cedric Thorn, Adelaide poses as a servant to join the crop of impoverished girls he promises to transform into proper ladies. But her familiarity with upper class life comes with a price: she must hide her identity from her new friends, mysterious refugee Mira and fiery former laundress Tamsin, and most importantly, from Cedric himself—even though she’s falling in love with him.

Everything begins to crumble when Cedric discovers Adelaide’s ruse, and she catches the eye of a powerful young governor, who wants her for a wife. She didn’t leave the gilded cage of her old life behind just to become someone else's property. But nothing is as daunting—or as wonderful—as the potent, forbidden attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. One that, if acted on, would make them both outcasts in a wild, dangerous, uncharted world, and possibly lead them to their deaths.

Book Review:

For some reason, I thought THE GLITTERING COURT was a book about faeries and their courts. I don’t know why — maybe the title gave me that impression? Anyway, that misconception aside, I’m not sure why THE GLITTERING COURT is classified as fantasy. There’s no magic, extraordinary creatures, special powers. Nothing.

Basically, THE GLITTERING COURT is THE JEWEL + THE SELECTION set in a pseudo-Frontier America. A young countess escapes an arranged marriage by taking her servant’s identity and place in the Glittering Court. The Court takes impoverished girls who want a better life and shines them into jewels to be sold into marriage in Adoria, a land low on women and high on money. In Adoria, the girls are displayed and advertised by the value of their scores on subjects like dancing and polite conversation.

If you like books full of glitz and glamour and descriptions of dresses and rooms, THE GLITTERING COURT might be the book for you. But I like my fantasy with substance and worldbuilding and magic, so I was quite disappointed.

Even if I ignore that the book is classified as fantasy (and this might be the fault of the publisher, not the author), there’s still a lack of worldbuilding and some wild leaps that just made my head hurt. For example, Adelaide runs away from an arranged marriage by going into the Glittering Court… to be sold as a bride. Instead of being smart and trying to get high scores, she downplays her abilities to be in the middle of the pack, where she’s unlikely to get her choice of husband.

I was bored and/or frustrated by the majority of THE GLITTERING COURT, and I almost put it down several times. I kept reading in the hope it would get better, only to be annoyed by “hey, let’s reveal secrets at the end, but keep them from the reader until book two!” or “hey, let’s save the characters from their own stupid with a miracle!” The author brings up topics that could have been interesting, like religious heresy, but doesn’t dive into any of them. Everything stays on the surface in a very bland way, even attempted rape, without any consequences or the characters doing any emotional processing.

Socialize with the author:

Richelle Mead:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

Book Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie JordanReign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan
Series: Reign of Shadows #1
Published by HarperTeen on February 9, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
1 Stars
Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

With lush writing and a star–crossed romance, Reign of Shadows is Sophie Jordan at her best.

Book Review:

REIGN OF SHADOWS is the first in a new YA series by Sophie Jordan. It’s set in a world of darkness where an eclipse has reigned for 17 years. The rightful princess of the land lives in a tower hidden in the forest, waiting for daylight to come back to reclaim her kingdom.

I liked the idea behind REIGN OF SHADOWS — the world of darkness and the hidden princess. Unfortunately, the author didn’t deliver on anything, from worldbuilding to an actual story. Why’s the world dark? Because of an eclipse. That’s the entirety of the explanation. Where do the dwellers come from? Underground. How can a blind girl run through a forest like she’s Usain Bolt, without tripping or falling?

Yeah. Luna is blind, which could have been very cool, but the author turned her into Superwoman with no basis. I understand that one’s other senses do amp up, but Luna’s abilities are unbelievably superhuman.

Then there’s Fowler, the bad-boy love interest who is incredibly broken. He’s lost too much in life to care about anyone. But Luna’s love fixes him in a matter of days. Every single one of their kisses is good enough to cause a volcano to erupt.

Lastly, what the heck happened in REIGN OF SHADOWS? The book read more like a prequel to a series than a real first installment. I just finished the book, and I’m trying to remember what happened… not much.

I’ve read one of the author’s other books — UNINVITED — and had many of the same issues with that book. So, I’m thinking Sophie Jordan just isn’t an author for me. She has cool ideas, but the execution is off and there are just too many cliche tropes in her books for me to enjoy them.

Socialize with the author:

Sophie Jordan:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn HamiltonRebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Series: Rebel of the Sands #1
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 8, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
2 Stars
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him...or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

Book Review:

I was looking forward to REBEL OF THE SANDS — I love me a heroine that can shoot and a setting other than Medieval European fantasy– but the book fell flat for me. I’m a black sheep on this one; from reading other reviews, I can see that most people are loving it.

Amani’s a smart-mouthed girl desperate to escape her small town. She’s always had dreams of life in the big city, but now she has to get out before her uncle forces her into marriage. The only problem? She has no money, and when she tries to win money in a shooting competition, she and a foreigner end up setting the place on fire. Naturally, foreign boy Jin is handsome and full of secrets, with “the sort of smile that would turn over whole empires to the enemy (p. 132).”*

REBEL OF THE SANDS didn’t have anything special to keep my attention. The first few pages were good, and then the book meandered around. I wasn’t sure exactly what the plot was — Amani and Jin spent a lot of time traveling, getting in each other’s way and then dealing with obstacles that kept getting in the way. The middle of the book dragged. The end was better, and at least there wasn’t a cliffhanger, but I’m not sure this is a series I’d continue.

There were some interesting fantasy bits, but they were at the end of the book, and by then I was kind of over it. I was very meh on the romance and the action. I think the author needs to choreograph her action scenes better in the future — they were hard to imagine and some were unrealistic and/or too short.

For me, REBEL OF THE SANDS = smart-mouthed heroine + boy full of secrets + generic desert setting + no real plot until the end of the book.

*Quote from uncorrected review copy

Socialize with the author:

Alwyn Hamilton:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Book Review: Firstlife by Gena ShowalterFirstlife by Gena Showalter
Published by Harlequin Teen on February 23, 2016
Genres: Dystopian, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 480
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
1 Stars
ONE CHOICE.
TWO REALMS.
NO SECOND CHANCE.

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies.

There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

Book Review:

Oh, FIRSTLIFE. I wanted to like you, but I should have put you down after the first few chapters instead of forcing myself to finish you. You have such a pretty cover and a good-sounding idea, but we just weren’t meant to be.

I just finished FIRSTLIFE about twenty minutes ago, and this is one of those books where all I can think is, “WTF did I just read and why did I waste my time?” Originally, I thought the idea of your first life on Earth being a sort of dress rehearsal for life after death was cool. So were the two different realms, Troika and Myriad, each with their different view of that Secondlife. And the beginning of FIRSTLIFE? With Ten in the asylum, being tortured into picking a side? That was good.

But then the 400+ pages of the book turned into one thing: Ten’s inability to pick a side. There was just one small problem: I had NO clue as to why Ten wouldn’t pick Troika or Myriad. The author never offered a compelling reason as to why she would endure over a year of daily torture to stay Undecided. Then when Ten escaped, she continued to waffle in the midst of multiple attempts on her life, and oh yeah, two super hot boys trying to get her to pick their respective side. Why? Because Ten is a special snowflake.

By page 100, I was extremely bored and annoyed with FIRSTLIFE. At first, I liked Ten’s prickly “I won’t submit” personality. But when she kept putting herself into danger over and over, as well as constantly getting into fights and never having injuries impede her, I had enough. Based on all the torture and losing fights, Ten should have died early on, not whined for 400+ pages. I forced myself to keep going, hoping FIRSTLIFE would get better, but here’s something telling: when I had only 20 pages left, I almost didn’t bother finishing because I had completely checked out. I just didn’t care any longer.

Part of that is because the author’s worldbuilding is super complex yet confusing. I appreciate her trying to do a different spin on Good vs. Evil, but I’m just so confused! Where are the realms physically located? In what year does FIRSTLIFE take place? Why in the world does anyone think torturing undecided teens into picking a side would have any effect? Do the sides control humans on earth? Why must all the spirits be super gorgeous, with special golden eyes and sexy accents and glittery diamond lifeblood? Why are Troika and Myriad at war, anyway? And so on to the hundredth power.

I’m not even going to get into the romance, other than to say it’s an obvious one-sided love triangle, with the alpha bad boy who falls instantly for Ten because she’s special, not like any of the hundreds of girls he’s recruited. And of course, Ten thinks she’s the only girl who can fix him because he opened his big bad boy heart to her.

I’d rather have spent hours in the purgatory of Many Ends than plodding through FIRSTLIFE.

Socialize with the author:

Gena Showalter:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Raging Sea by Michael Buckley

Book Review: Raging Sea by Michael BuckleyRaging Sea by Michael Buckley
Series: Undertow #2
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on February 2, 2016
Genres: Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
In the first book of Michael Buckley’s Undertow trilogy, the Alpha arrived and the world was never the same. At the start of the second book, most of south Brooklyn is in ruins and the nation is terrified. Nearly everyone that Lyric Walker loves is either missing or presumed dead, including the mesmerizing prince Fathom. It’s up to Lyric to unite the Alpha before the second wave of a cataclysmic invasion wipes out mankind for good. The Undertow trilogy is an unforgettable reading experience that author E. Lockhart calls, "Allegorical and romantic, the book nevertheless reads like an action movie with especially awesome CGI."

Book Review:

Last year, I quite liked UNDERTOW, the first in Michael Buckley’s series on the Alpha. The Alpha, a race of sea people, had camped on the shore of Coney Island. When their enemies the Rusalka showed up, New York was nearly destroyed.

After such a cliffhanger, I was excited to continue the series. RAGING SEA is a decent second book. There wasn’t a lot of rehashing of book one, some important stuff happened, and there was lots of action. There’s another cliffhanger, but I’m okay with that, because after the last quarter of RAGING SEA, I’m even more excited for the last book in the trilogy.

In RAGING SEA, Lyric’s very happy to unleash her superpower whenever possible. I liked that side of her — I mean, who wouldn’t be excited and maybe a bit vengeful if you suddenly had a superpower at your fingertips? She makes a couple of stupid decisions, and even though I cringed, her decisions are realistic for the circumstances. I also liked the friendship between her and Bex. I can’t remember the last time I saw two besties be so stubborn and support each other. And Lyric’s devotion to saving her family is great.

The first half of RAGING SEA is a little slower than the second half. There’s a lot of time spent in Tempest, the secret Alpha and human prison. Let’s just say, the author strongly believes in hurting his darlings. A lot. There’s some meta in the book too, a few sly instances of the author poking fun at common YA tropes. I liked it. And while I’m still not on the Fathom/Lyric bandwagon, I did like what Fathom said to Lyric about how he expects her to be who she is, that he won’t coddle her.

After finishing RAGING SEA, I’m again looking forward to more of Lyric and the Alpha.

Socialize with the author:

Michael Buckley:
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– leeanna

Book Review: By Moon’s Light by Rachel E. Bailey

Book Review: By Moon’s Light by Rachel E. BaileyBy Moon's Light by Rachel E Bailey
Series: Dyre #1
Published by Bold Strokes Books on January 19, 2016
Genres: LGBT, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
2 Stars
In a modern world where Packs of werewolves exist side by side with a none-the-wiser humanity, what if one person stood between a lasting peace among the werewolf Packs and all-out civil war? A young female werewolf called Des is bound by a blood oath with the guarding of this person, the aging leader of all the Packs: the Dyre. But when the Dyre is murdered on Des’s watch, she’s sworn to protect the new Dyre, a young woman named Ruby. Des must deal with her emerging feelings for her stubborn new charge while they both try to uncover who’s behind the continuing murders of powerful werewolves. It’s stable employment—nice work, if you can get it…at least until the silver bullets start to fly.

Book Review:

BY MOON’S LIGHT is the first in a series called Dyre, a LGBTQ paranormal romance series about werewolves. I really wanted to like this book, because hey, queer werewolves! is something I’ve wanted for a while, but there were a few faults that kept me from really enjoying it.

The beginning of BY MOON’S LIGHT is a tad confusing. I had to read the first chapters a few times, because there were a lot of new terms — Loup, Hume, Dyre — thrown around without any real explanation. I could figure out that Loup meant werewolf, but I still felt like I had missed something important. While we’re on the topic of wolves, I wish that more had been explained about Des’s wolf, because I got the feeling Des wasn’t like other Loups, but because I didn’t know about other Loups, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong.

I also wish BY MOON’S LIGHT had more action to keep me interested. There were some big scenes, but then also a lot of … nothing. Events that didn’t really seem connected to what was going on. Maybe all those events will be important in the next book, but I wanted to see more page time on important stuff, like Ruby’s first full moon, instead of multiple pages of baby feeding. I guess what I’m trying to say is the author never really hooked me — I didn’t care much about Ruby or Des, or what was going on. I wanted to care and to be interested in them, but I didn’t know enough.

Even though I didn’t like the first book of the Dyre series as much as I wanted to, I would check out the next one. Based on the ending of BY MOON’S LIGHT, I think there will be more action, and hopefully some Ruby/Des without some Alpha wolf blocking.

Socialize with the author:

Rachel E. Bailey:
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– leeanna

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

Book Review: What We Left Behind by Robin TalleyWhat We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on October 27, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the critically acclaimed author of Lies We Tell Ourselves comes an emotional, empowering story of what happens when love isn't enough to conquer all.

Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.

The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.

While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

Book Review:

Robin Talley’s first book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, was one of my favorites of 2014. When I saw she had a new book, one about a genderqueer protagonist, I couldn’t wait to read it. Books are slowly becoming more diverse, but it’s still rare to find one that explores gender identity. Just like the author’s debut, WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that touched me deeply, made me think a lot, and is one I want everyone to read.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND kind of straddles the line between Young Adult and New Adult. Toni and Gretchen are eighteen, just starting their first year of college. That’s an important time for a lot of people, because it’s the first time you’re on your own, with the chance to explore your interests and start to figure out who you really are. I think the author captured the chaos and freedom of that time quite well, when you’re trying new things, juggling old and new friendships, distant parental expectations, and maybe even an ongoing relationship.

I like just about everything in WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, but a few things stand out. One is the relationship between Toni and Gretchen. Very rarely do YA books show the meat of a relationship — so much of the time, a book is focused on getting the characters together. In WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND, Toni and Gretchen have been a couple for two years. So they’re sure they can handle the distance between Boston and New York City. For a couple that loves each other as much as they do, a few hundred miles is no big deal. Nevermind the fact that Gretchen didn’t tell Toni she applied to NYU, instead of following Toni to Boston. That’s fine, because they don’t fight. But when you don’t fight, and you don’t really talk about the issues that bother you, how well does a relationship work? And when you’re used to being Toni-and-Gretchen, what happens when you’re just Toni or just Gretchen? Does love change, or does it always stay the same?

I really appreciated that the author delved into Toni and Gretchen’s relationship. Both of their perspectives are given, and while the adorable first meeting/hookup scene is included, there’s so much more than that in the book. There’s actual relationship growing pains, and while at first their relationship is perfect, it becomes less perfect when Toni feels unable to talk to Gretchen about all the new life things. How can Gretchen be the perfect girlfriend when it seems like Toni doesn’t want to see her?

The second standout of WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is Toni’s gender explorations. At the start of the book, Toni identifies as genderqueer. At Harvard, Toni becomes friends with upperclassman who are all over the gender spectrum, which makes Toni think a lot more about where, exactly, Toni belongs. Is Toni gender nonconforming, gender fluid, non-binary, trans? Something else? Toni’s never felt like a girl, but being surrounded by others who know their gender identity, and also having the freedom for the first time ever to explore options, sends Toni on a quest to try everything from different pronouns to chest binding to more. Toni thinks about this a lot, and talks about with the new friends a lot, which resulted in me getting a good introduction and look into all the different labels out there, and why people would identify with/use different ones. Thanks to Toni, I also started thinking a lot more about pronouns, and how they reinforce gender constantly. Here’s a little example — it’s taking a lot of conscious thought to not use “she” or “he” to refer to Toni in this review. For another ah-ha moment, look at how Toni refers to others and how Gretchen refers to Toni in the first ~50 pages.

With Toni’s mad rush to figure everything out, Toni sometimes comes across, as well, somewhat of a jerk. Toni gets super wrapped up in figuring out the perfect pronouns and labels, and also fitting other people into neat little labeled boxes. Toni is often quite judgmental of other people. At first, that bugged me — I wanted to give Toni a good whack — but then I got it. If I wanted to be sure of myself and not constantly trying to figure out what label fit me, I’d probably act the same exact way.

WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND is a book that spoke to me and made me think. I enjoy books like that, especially books that push outside the boundaries of the conventional boy and girl fall in love the end stories.

Upcoming:

In the near future, I’ll have an interview with Robin on the blog, so be sure to check back!

Interview with Robin Talley.

Socialize with the author:

Robin Talley:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie MurphyDumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer & Bray on September 15, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, Edelweiss
Goodreads
2 Stars
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Book Review:

DUMPLIN’ is a book with a lot of hype behind it. I tend to be disappointed by heavily hyped books, and unfortunately, DUMPLIN’ was another one of those disappointments.

Willowdean Dickson, self-proclaimed fat girl, is comfortable in her own skin. She’s not going to diet or try to lose weight to make her mother, a former pageant queen, happy. She’s not one of those girls who looks in the mirror and thinks about how to be better. So you’d think that DUMPLIN’ is about body positivity and accepting who you are and being comfortable with that person.

But I thought Willow was quite judgmental. Example: “Mille is that girl, the one I am ashamed to admit that I’ve spent my entire life looking at and thinking, Things could be worse (p. 5).” Or: “Maybe Priscilla’s life is an even bigger mess than mine and I’ll walk away feeling like I’ve at least got it better than this poor girl (p. 91).”

Willow is supposed to be some sort of rebel by entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. In the summary, the pageant’s described as her attempt to take back her confidence. But for an event that’s such an important part of the book, it really has very little page time, which disappointed me. Willow looks down on the pageant a lot, and after she enters, it’s more of an afterthought than anything else. I wish more of the pageant had been detailed, rather than just getting a few pages at the end.

Because instead of seeing a lot of the pageant or pageant prep, Willow spends way too much time angsting about her boy troubles for me to like DUMPLIN’ very much. Her “relationship” with Bo is a big thing, because when he touches her, Willow’s loses the comfort she’s always had with her body. But I saw absolutely zero chemistry in that relationship — and I’m using that term loosely, because Bo keeps Willow a secret. She spends the school year angsting about their summer spent making out behind a fast food place. I looked through DUMPLIN’ a second time, trying to figure out why Bo liked Willow, and I got nothin. Their relationship seemed like pure wish fulfillment to me: yes, the fat girl can have a cute jock! Add in another sort of relationship that I didn’t like either because Willow used the guy, and I was more than finished with Willow.

I was bored by a lot of DUMPLIN’. Willow just didn’t grab me. She’s like so many other YA characters with the exception of her body. I was much more interested in her deceased Aunt Lucy, who was also overweight. Or Millie, who seemed much more comfortable with her body than Willow. I wish DUMPLIN’ had been written from Millie’s perspective, because she really was comfortable with herself, and because the pageant was actually important to her as a dream, not Willow’s random reasons.

Socialize with the author:

Julie Murphy:
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– leeanna