Book Review: Endless Water, Starless Sky

endless water starless skyEndless Water, Starless Sky
by Rosamund Hodge
Young Adult/Fantasy/Retelling
441 pages
Published 2018

This is the sequel to Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, in which we were introduced to Romeo Mahyanai and Juliet Catresou, and the city of Viyara. This book concentrates much more on Romeo and Juliet instead of Paris and Runajo/Rosaline, who were arguably the main characters of the first book.

So, as a quick recap, the city of Viyara/Verona is the last city anywhere in the world, as far as anyone in the city knows. A mystical event called The Ruining manifested as a white fog and spread over the entire world, killing everything in its path, and making the dead rise as zombies. The only reason Viyara stands is because some long-dead priestess managed to create mystical walls to protect it – but the walls are fueled by blood. Willing, sometimes coerced people are sacrificed on a regular basis to fuel the walls and keep the rest of the city safe. Juliet is not actually Juliet, but THE Juliet, a nameless girl raised and mystically bound to the clan of the Catresou, obedient to the head of the clan and bound to avenge any unnatural deaths of the family. She, however, falls in love with Romeo.

The first book plays out their love story, while seeing events around it through the eyes of Runajo and Paris. By the second book, Romeo and Juliet each think the other is dead, though Romeo has discovered that’s a lie, Runajo has ideas about how to save the city from the Ruining, and Romeo and Juliet have switched sides. Her mystical bindings have been transferred to Romeo’s clan, and Romeo, through guilt and remorse, has transferred his loyalties to Juliet’s clan.

The second book concentrates on saving the city, the last bastion of humanity. There are zombies, and sacrifices, and sword fights, and stolen kisses. Things really get complicated when Romeo accidentally kills a Mahyanai and Juliet’s mystical bindings kick in, compelling her to kill him. She operates under that compulsion for most of the last half of the book, while still being utterly in love with him and trying to fight the compulsion.

It’s hard to do this book justice; the web is very complex and, like any Romeo and Juliet story, only ends in death. In Hodge’s world, however, the mystical bindings on Juliet have made her a key to the land of death, allowing her to cross over while still alive. So we get a journey through Death’s kingdom, and it is fascinating.

I won’t say anymore, but if you like Shakespeare, and you like fantasy, you should totally read this duology.

From the cover of Endless Water, Starless Sky:

In the last days of the world, the walls of Viyara are still falling, and the dead are rising faster than ever.

Juliet is trapped – ordered by Lord Ineo of the Mahyanai to sacrifice the remaining members of her family, the Catresou, to stave off the end of the world. Though they’re certain his plan is useless, Juliet and her former friend Runajo must comply with Lord Ineo’s wishes unless they can discover a different, darker path to protecting Viyara.

Romeo is tortured. Finally aware that his true love is alive, he is at once elated and devastated, for his actions led directly to the destruction of her clan. The only way to redemption is to offer his life to the Catresou to protect and support them . . . even if it means dying to do so.

When Romeo and Juliet’s paths converge once again, only a journey into Death will offer answers and the key to saving them all – but is it a journey either of them will survive?

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Book Review: Unmarriageable

UnmarriageableUnmarriageable
by Soniah Kamal
Young Adult/Romance/Retelling
335 pages
Published January 2019

One of these days I really need to read Austen. I enjoy so many retellings – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and I know I have a copy of Mr. Darcy, Vampyre around here somewhere! (And now that I pulled up The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to link it here, I’m sorely tempted to sit down and watch the whole thing again but I have books to read!)

Anyway. Austen. I’ve read a bunch of retellings but believe it or not, I haven’t read the original. I really need to get on that, but instead, I read Unmarriageable, which is Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan! It’s SO GOOD. The themes of family honor, class structure, and rumors damaging reputations translates incredibly easily into Pakistani society, which is why Soniah Kamal wrote it. In her Afterword, she writes:

“Was there any worry more Pakistani than the concern about what might bring a family honor or dishonor? …. Was there anything more Pakistani than [Charlotte’s] calculated, ‘arranged’ marriage? … Was there anything more apropos to Pakistan than class issues, snootiness, and double standards?”

She goes on to say she was already reading the book as if it was set in Pakistan, so why not write it that way for other Pakistanis? Kamal explains that Pakistan is very much a mix of Pakistan and English culture, and that the emphasis on learning English and English culture comes at the expense of their own indigenous culture, something forced upon them by colonizers. Unmarriageable is her way of melding the two cultures.

I really enjoyed this version of the classic, and it has me even more interested in other versions, such as Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors. Book Riot actually ran a short list recently on diverse Austen retellings, and I’ve added every one of them to my To-Read list!

From the cover of Unmarriageable:

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry – until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider. 

A scandal and a vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that the family’s luck is about to change, excitedly prepares her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful – and single – entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal – and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.

Book Review: Royals

royalsRoyals
by Rachel Hawkins
Romance/Young Adult
296 pages
Published 2018

So I’ll admit. The only reason I picked this book up is because the second book in the series, Her Royal Highness, looks like an adorable lesbian romance and I thought I should start at the beginning of the series. I’m glad I did, because Royals is a delight. Daisy is a spirited, no-nonsense teenager who doesn’t get the appeal of all this “royal” stuff, and she’s not one to mince words for the sake of appearances. As you can imagine, that ruffles a LOT of royal feathers! Add in a posse of noble ne’er-do-wells trying to get in trouble, and you’re in for some fun.

Interestingly, I’m torn now on whether to read the second book! Rachel Hawkins is a fantastic writer, so I have no doubt she’ll write a great second book, but the love interest in the next book, Princess Flora, did not make a great impression on me in this book. I was glad she only made a short appearance. It doesn’t sound like the next book is told from her point of view, though, so maybe it will be okay. The series definitely has a lot of potential, as there’s still several members of the Prince’s posse to tell stories about!

I do enjoy a good royal romance, and these are interesting in that they’re contemporary, so the royals are concerned with their reputation, and treated like massive celebrities, but have lost a lot of their intimidation factor and power when it comes to normal people. Daisy sees it more as an inconvenience than anything else, it seems.

One content warning – there was a scene with an unasked-for kiss that could have been called sexual assault if Daisy had been less charitable about it. It wasn’t malicious. But it was questionable. So beware if that’s something you want to avoid.

From the cover of Royals:

Meet Daisy Winters. She’s an offbeat sixteen-year-old Floridian with mermaid-red hair; a part-time job at a bootleg Walmart; and a perfect older sister who’s engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy has no desire to live int he spotlight, but relentless tabloid attention forces her to join Ellie at the relative seclusion of the castle across the pond.

While the dashing young Miles has been appointed to teach Daisy the ropes of being regal, the prince’s roguish younger brother, Prince Sebastian, kicks up scandal wherever he goes and tries his best to take Daisy along for the ride. The crown – and the intriguing Miles – may be trying to make Daisy into a lady . . . but Daisy may just rewrite the royal rulebook to suit herself.

Book Review: Love à la Mode

love a la modeLove à la Mode
by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Young Adult/Romance/Contemporary Fiction
323 pages
Published November 2018

I’m a baker. I absolutely love baking, it centers me when I’m being scatter-brained and grounds me when I’m in a bad mood. So I instantly identified with Rosie in this novel, who wants to be a pastry chef, currently at a culinary school that focuses more on cooking savory things. I’ve been there. Granted, my culinary school was basically a crash course two-year program at a community college, not “the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world” but I identify with the feeling of being a fish not-quite-out of water. I’d also never seen this put into words before:

“…it was that not knowing that Rosie hated. That was why she loved baking. Baking was all knowing. If you followed the recipe, you got exactly what you intended. An apple pie never surprisingly turned into lemon meringue halfway through the baking process.”

I have some mild anxiety, and I hadn’t realized WHY baking helped, just that it did. But it’s true – baking is about knowing. That quote is in the second chapter, and I knew from then on I was going to love this book. (I was already pretty sure, but that moment drove it home.)

The descriptions of food in this novel – food and cooking, and WHY some people cook – are mouth-watering. I loved seeing the backgrounds of the various culinary students, as they came from all over the world to École Denis Laurent, the prestigious school in Paris. I liked the point made, eventually, that what looks like the “cool kids clique” from outside might not be what it seems. The book even addressed toxic masculinity in the form of Henry’s unwillingness to ask for help from his friends when he was struggling.

At its heart, Love à la Mode is a sweet, fluffy, clean romance with a romantic backdrop of Paris and good food. Sometimes a little bit of happy, lighthearted escapist fiction is what we all need. Especially when it doesn’t neglect representation to do it – there’s only a tiny bit of LGBT+ rep in the book, but the characters come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.

From the cover of Love à la Mode:

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir . . . 

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crêpes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love à la Mode follows Rose and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other. 

Book Review: The Weight of Feathers

the weight of feathersThe Weight of Feathers
by Anna-Marie McLemore
Young Adult/Romance/Shakespeare Retelling
308 pages
Published 2015

The Weight of Feathers is a Romeo and Juliet story, with two families feuding over real and imagined slights, and a young person from each family falling in love and fighting their conditioning and the control of their families to be together. McLemore has added a touch of magic to the story, but it’s deft enough that at first it can be mistaken for metaphor.

Lace Paloma is the Palomas’ youngest mermaid, only just allowed to show herself in the shows, but not yet allowed to interact with fans. A big part of their performance is not being seen out of the water, out of costume, so when the show is over, all the mermaids swim off to deserted edges of the lake they perform in to exit, change, and make their way home. On her way home after one such performance, Lace is caught in the woods when some kind of acid rain from the nearby adhesive plant coats the town. While somewhat caustic, the rain is really only dangerous if it hits cotton clothing, which Lace is wearing. One of the Corbeau boys finds her in the woods, rips off her cotton clothing, and gets her to the hospital. Because she was in her normal clothing and not her costume, he didn’t realize she was part of the rival family. This meeting and rescue is not actually the start of their contact with each other; they’d talked briefly in town, when each thought the other was a local, but it does turn it from a passing contact to something more, and when Lace is spurned by her family, she winds up under the Corbeau boy’s protection.

The book is about family secrets, corporate conspiracies, abusive families, and control of one’s own destiny, swirled together with a touch of magic, feathers, and mermaid scales. While it is definitely a Romeo and Juliet story, McLemore has taken the story and truly made it her own. Both the Paloma family and the Corbeau family have such a mythology woven about themselves that each family really has an identity that defines them. (Feathers and “flying” for the Corbeaus, scales and swimming for the Palomas.) When Lace and Cluck try to bridge the gap between the two, things get difficult.

I really loved this book, and it has made me even more eager to read Blanca & Roja, McLemore’s next book. Her writing is gorgeous and surreal and I love it.

From the cover of The Weight of Feathers:

The Palomas and the Corbeaus have long been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for more than a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows – the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught since birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep could be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees. 

Beautifully written and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.

Book Review: Odd One Out

odd one outOdd One Out
by Nic Stone
Young Adult/Romance/LGBT
306 pages
Published October 2018

DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH THIS BOOK. I mean it. This is one of those books that is so bad that I don’t plan to read anything else by the author, which is a little annoying as her debut book, Dear Martin, is the new One Book Baltimore pick. But this book, her second, is SO BAD that I can’t imagine her first is any better. I will get into details, but first.

TRIGGER WARNING. BIPHOBIA. ILLEGAL SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS. (big age gaps). 

Alright. With that said, let’s dive in. SPOILERS AHEAD.

We have three main characters in this book, of various races and ethnicities – the racial rep is actually one of the few good things about this book. First we have “Coop,” black straight male. Then we have his best friend, “Jupe” or Jupiter, lesbian female. Then the new girl, Rae, who appears to be bi, but never outright labels herself. She is assumed to be straight by Jupiter, one of many instances of casual biphobia in this book.

All three characters fall in love with each other. From this setup, and the jacket description, I was expecting a rare representation of polyamory in a young adult book. But not only do they not wind up in a triangle, the possibility isn’t even spoken of. This is supposedly a book about questioning labels and exploring your identity but alternate relationship structures don’t even seem to EXIST, which is SUPER frustrating. Even if they’d at least discussed it as an OPTION, I would have been happier. But no. Monogamy is not only the norm, but apparently the only option in this book.

And OH LORD THE BIPHOBIA. Jupe has a lesbian friend who is much older than her – in college – and said friend goes off about how she won’t date bi girls because they’ll always leave you for men. She’s not challenged on this statement. Not out loud, not in the text, nothing. And that’s not the only instance. Jupe also gets drunk and pleads with this friend to have sex with her. Resulting in a 20-year-old having sex with a tipsy sixteen-year-old.

I normally don’t have an issue with age gaps – and I don’t, actually, have an issue with Rae, who’s 15, and Cooper, who is 18 in the book. Other reviewers have mentioned that’s not legal in Georgia, where the book takes place, but please. It’s only a three-year age difference, and they’re all in high school. But the college student giving in to the tipsy high-schooler was a little more than just “an age gap.” That’s…very questionable.

BACK TO THE BIPHOBIA. There’s an inner monologue about if saying you’re bisexual also means you can be attracted to non-binary people or not. (Hint: bi means “attracted to your own sex AND OTHERS.” So yes.) And when Jupiter, the lesbian, decides she is attracted to Cooper, she flatly denies that that makes her bisexual.

To be fair, I’ve known at least two lesbians who identify as “lesbian except HIM” – one specific person. But that’s not what Jupiter does. She drops her label entirely – in a GSA meeting at her school that she leads – because she still likes girls but also likes a boy. When a bisexual member speaks up with “So you’re bi then? You can say it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m bi.” she IMMEDIATELY shoots him down, saying it’s not that cut and dried. Then she announces they’ll talk about negative stereotypes of different sexualities, including bisexuality, in their next meeting and ends the meeting. The only reason she doesn’t like the bisexual label, as stated a little earlier in the book, is because she’s attracted to nonbinary people so she “doesn’t know if bi fits.” That’s biphobia.

Oh, and let’s not forget when Rae kisses Jupiter and she goes off on her about keeping her straight-questioning cooties away from her. (Paraphrasing.) Rae had never explicitly talked about her sexuality, but obviously because she’s attracted to boys, she’s straight, right?

The book is advertised as having great representation, and it’s just bad. It’s bad and hurtful and frustrating and shouldn’t be on all these LGBT lists because this is NOT the kind of representation we should be pushing.

Ugh. And I haven’t even touched the quality of writing. Which is…not great. I don’t understand the people that liked this book or think it’s good rep. Did we read the same book?

From the cover of Odd One Out:

COURTNEY “COOP” COOPER
Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

RAE EVELYN CHIN
I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

JUPITER CHARITY-SANCHEZ
The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move . . . . 

One story.

Three sides.

No easy answers.