Book Review: If I’m Being Honest

if i'm being honestIf I’m Being Honest
by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Young Adult / Shakespeare Retelling / Romance
359 pages
Published April 2019

So I either forgot or failed to notice that this book was written by the same pair of authors that wrote Always Never Yours, a book revolving around a stage production of Romeo and Juliet with a main character based on Rosaline. I LOVED that book, and I don’t think this one would have languished on my shelves as long as it did if I’d realized the connection! (They have two more books coming out, Time of Our Lives in 2020 and an unnamed book in 2021!) The plots of the books are completely unconnected, but the two main characters in Always Never Yours did make a cameo in the end of If I’m Being Honest!

So. This book! I got STRONG 10 Things I Hate About You vibes off this book, and I loved that movie, so that alone should tell you what I thought of this book! I’m just a sucker for Shakespeare in any form, though. What I like about these authors is they don’t really retell the plays – they take one character out of the play and tell a story about HER. In Always Never Yours, it was Rosaline. In If I’m Being Honest, it’s Katherine/Kate. I’m eager to see who Time of Our Lives will be based on!

heinous bitch
So Cameron, our heroine, is a bitch, but as the reader we see her home life and the things she’s struggling with and WHY she is the way she is, so I was rooting for her the whole way. Her otherwise absentee father pays for an expensive private school, so there’s a lot of student politics and status-waving going on. When Cameron yells at another student at a party, her crush sees and is turned off by it, so Cameron decides that in order to win him back, she needs to make him see that she’s a good person. How to do that? Fix the things she’s broken. She starts with apologies, but has to up her game to actual ACTIONS when the apologies aren’t enough.

Through the course of the book, she finds herself actually making friends with the people she’d wronged, and falling for Brendan, who reminds me strongly of – well:

10things
(oh man, I REALLY need to watch this movie again.)

Oh! And Brendan has Celiac’s Disease, which doesn’t play a big part in the present-day plotline of the book, but is a HUGE part of why he’s an outcast.

I like Cameron and Brendan a lot, and this book was another great read from this pair of authors.

From the cover of If I’m Being Honest:

Cameron Bright is gorgeous, popular, and – according to 99% of Beaumont Prep’s student body – a bitch. That doesn’t bother Cameron, who knows how important it is to be honest. But when her crush, Andrew, sees Cameron’s cruelty up close, it’s a major turn-off, and suddenly Cameron’s consumed with winning him back. So she devises a plan: she’ll “tame” herself like Shakespeare’s illustrious shrew, Katherine, and make amends with everyone she’s wronged. If she can reverse her reputation as a mean girl, Andrew will have to take notice.

Cameron’s apology tour begins with Brendan Rosenfeld, the guy whose social life she single-handedly destroyed in the sixth grade. But earning his forgiveness requires befriending the school’s geeky crowd – which isn’t as easy as it looks. Soon, though, Cameron begins to see that her new friends bring out the best in her, especially Brendan, who views her honesty as an asset. Now Cameron’s left wondering if maybe she doesn’t have to compromise who she is for the kind of love she deserves.

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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?

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: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire

bright smokeBright Smoke, Cold Fire
by Rosamund Hodge
YA Fantasy
437 pages
Published 2016

I read the description of this book somewhere and immediately requested it from the library – a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet in a dying world with necromancers? SIGN ME UP. And it did not disappoint!

Hodge has written a few other books – Cruel Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and Crimson Bound, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. (She also has a novella that spins Cinderella.) You all know how much I like my redone Fairy Tales! Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, is a little different in that it’s a Shakespeare play, instead of a fairy tale. I recently read and reviewed Miranda and Caliban, another Shakespeare reskin, but this, I think, is much better.

The Capulets have become the Catresou, and the Montagues the Mahyanai in this dark fantasy. The Ruining has killed every human outside the city of Viyara/Verona – only stopped by the mystical walls put up by a long-dead priestess and maintained by a mysterious cult of nuns.

My favorite characters in this book – and arguably the main characters – are Runajo (Rosaline) and Paris, rather than Romeo and the Juliet. (It’s a title, not a name – her name was stripped from her as an infant when the magic was worked to make her “the Juliet.”) The original play doesn’t give either of them much time, and they are both fascinating characters in this novel – Runajo a little more than Paris, in my opinion. Runajo is a member of the Sisters of Thorns – the cult of nuns keeping the walls of Viyara up against The Ruining. When she accidentally brings the Juliet back from death, she becomes – or at least thinks she becomes – that which she and the city fear the most. A necromancer. Runajo and the Juliet both believe they will (and should) die for this crime, but still use the time they have left to try and save the city from the necromancers operating within.

Meanwhile, Paris and Romeo have found themselves bound by the magic that should have bound Romeo and Juliet, had it not gone terribly wrong. They can feel each other’s emotions, see each other’s memories, hear each other’s thoughts. This is understandably awkward for Paris as he feels Romeo’s grief for the Juliet’s supposed death, and occasionally catches flashes of more intimate moments between the two. They decide to take on the city’s necromancers in memory of the Juliet.

I liked how, similar to the play, Romeo and Juliet both operate for the entirety of the book under the assumption that the other one is dead. They both take risks and agree to things they would not have done if they didn’t each welcome death in their own way.

I also very much enjoyed a side, non-binary character who I really want to see more of!

The book ended on an upsetting cliffhanger, which is really my only problem with it. The sequel is due out this summer (Endless Water, Starless Sky) and I will definitely be picking it up.

Great book, but you may want to wait a few months so you can immediately follow it with the sequel!

From the cover of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire:

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the city of Viyara was left untouched. 

As the heirs of Viyara’s most powerful – and warring – families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life. But the magic laid on the Juliet at birth compels her to punish her clan’s enemies, and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die. 

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding the Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong, killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city – but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls the Juliet from the mouth of death and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl, only to learn she might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara. 

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the city’s walls, death is waiting.

Book Review: Miranda and Caliban

mirandaMiranda and Caliban
by Jacqueline Carey
Shakespeare retelling
348 pages
Published February 2017

I love fairytale retellings, and Shakespeare retellings are usually pretty good, and this is from Jacqueline Carey, of Kushiel’s Dart, so it ought to be awesome, right? Well. It certainly wasn’t bad. But it also wasn’t as fantastic as I was expecting.

Miranda and Caliban is more of a prequel to Shakespeare’s Tempest than it is a retelling. It begins when Miranda is 6 – when she’s just aware enough to start remembering what’s happening on the island she and her father live on. The book details the childhood friendship of Miranda and Caliban, who was abandoned on the island as a child and had reverted back to “uncivilized” ways. Miranda and her father teach him their language, and how to behave like they do. As Miranda matures into a young woman, Caliban does, too, turning their childhood friendship into – something more, though Miranda is too naive to understand what’s going on.

Miranda’s father is the villain in this book, using Miranda for his own ends and abusing Caliban. Abusing them both, really. He’s a manipulative, gaslighting bastard. To be honest, none of the characters in this book are all that likable – Ariel is a backstabbing, untrustworthy jerk, Miranda is stubbornly, obnoxiously naive, and Caliban is bullish and closemouthed.

All that said, the book is well written, with a lyrical quality to it. It’s a logical prequel to The Tempest. If you liked The Tempest, it might be worth a read. If you’re not familiar with The Tempest at all, though, definitely give this a pass.

This fills the “book about a villain or antihero” for the PopSugar 2018 Challenge.

From the cover of Miranda and Caliban:

Miranda and Caliban is bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey’s gorgeous retelling of The Tempest. With hypnotic prose and a wild imagination, Carey explores the themes of twisted love and unchecked power that lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, while serving up a fresh take on the play’s iconic characters.

A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.

We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?

In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin—the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.

Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.