Book Review: Small Town Hearts

small town heartsSmall Town Hearts
by Lillie Vale
Young Adult / Contemporary Romance
324 pages
Published March 2019

This was a perfect summer read. Set in a tourist town on the coast of Maine, this was friend drama and summer romance and summers at the beach, mixed with coffee and baked goods and sand castles. Babe is that rare teen in a small town who has no desire to leave it; she loves her little community, lives in the lighthouse overlooking the town, and dreams of buying the coffee shop she works in and spending the rest of her life right where she’s always been. Her friends, however, are not so content with their lives, and her best friend’s narcissistic drama plays a large part in the plot of this charming little book.

I definitely wanted to shake Babe a couple of times, and tell her that her friend Lucy is SUCH a better friend than Penny, her “best friend” from high school. It’s definitely the boy in their little group of three that is responsible for messing it all up, but Penny blames Babe for it all, which is completely unfair.

But the friend drama is not what I loved about this book. What I loved was the charming romance that blossoms between Babe and Levi, the artist in town for the summer. He is sweet and direct and just perfect.

I also really liked how this book treated Babe’s bisexuality. So many books with bi main characters have the 95/5 version of bisexuality; where they’re basically interested in one gender, except one or two people of another gender. Some of them are a little more open, where the MC has been with many genders but is still primarily interested in one. I feel like it’s rare to see one that’s truly 50/50. Bisexuality does cover that spectrum of attraction, I just enjoyed seeing a book about this particular aspect. Babe falls in love with a boy in this book, but an ex-girlfriend plays a significant role. I really liked this passage:

I had gone on a handful of dates that never led anywhere beyond awkward “See ya arounds” and fended-off kisses at the end of the night. Most of them had been nice, cute and witty. Local boys who were salt of the earth, sunny girls who collected kisses like seashells.

I also really enjoyed the subtle theme of consent. In at least two instances, an action done with consent “Is this okay?” “May I…?” is received with enthusiasm, whereas the same action, done by someone else and without asking, meets with shock and betrayal. That’s a nice thing to see in YA.

I really enjoyed this charming little book, and it’s a great read for summer time. The bisexual main character is done really well, and issues of consent and being closeted are explored. Definitely recommend this one!

From the cover of Small Town Hearts:

Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.

And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?

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Book Review: Queen of Ruin

queen of ruinQueen of Ruin
by Tracy Banghart
Young Adult
325 pages
Published July 2019

This is the sequel to Grace and Fury, a book that surprised me with how much I actually really liked it. Picking up immediately where the first book left off, we’re thrust right back into the oppressive kingdom of Viridia and the women fighting for their freedom. I can’t say a whole lot about the plot in this second book without spoiling things, but the sisters find each other, split up, and find each other again, each collision shaking their beliefs and convictions, as well as those around them. The battles are bloody and visceral without being unnecessarily gory, the action kept the plot moving at a good pace, and the oppression was appropriately infuriating.

My only complaint would be that the overall plot was too easy – but these are short Young Adult books. You can’t give them too many obstacles to overcome or you’ll exceed your allotted pages, so I can give that a pass here.

Everything is wrapped up nicely by the end of the book; I appreciate that this was a duology and not a trilogy (though a trilogy would have allowed for more obstacles). I do enjoy the recent trend in YA towards duologies, though.

So – if you enjoyed Grace and Fury, this is a satisfactory conclusion. The first book was by far the stronger of the two, though.

From the cover of Queen of Ruin:

RESILIENCE
RESISTANCE
REVOLUTION

When the new, brutal Superior banishes Nomi from Bellaqua, she finds herself powerless and headed toward her all-but-certain death. Her only hope is to find her sister, Serina, on the prison island of Mount Ruin. But when Nomi arrives, it is not the island of conquered, broken women that she expected. It is an island in the grip of revolution, and Serina – polite, submissive Serina – is its leader.

Betrayal, grief, and violence have changed both sisters, and the women of Mount Ruin have their sights set on revenge beyond the confines of their island prison. They plan to sweep across the entire kingdom, issuing in a new ages of freedom for all. But first they’ll have to get rid of the new Superior, and only Nomi knows how.

Separated once again, this time by choice, Nomi and Serina must forge their own paths as they aim to tear down the world they know and build something better in its place. 

The stakes are higher and the battles bolder in Tracy Banghart’s unputdownable sequel to Grace and Fury.

Book Review: Wicked Fox

wicked foxWicked Fox
by Kat Cho
Young Adult / Romance / Fantasy
426 pages
Published June 2019

I loved everything about this book except the epilogue. But we’ll get to that. Wicked Fox is the story of Miyoung, a gumiho. Better known to most Westerners as a Kitsune, but this is Korea, not Japan. The difference is important, and evident. I really enjoyed all of the Korean culture included in this book; it’s not as common a setting as Japan or China. Americans often make the mistake of lumping all of eastern Asia together as far as culture, but they are very different. South Korea isn’t as unfamiliar to us as some East Asian cultures – like Mongolia, Taiwan, or North Korea – but China and Japan tend to overshadow the rest.

So in Seoul, we have Miyoung, whose nature drives her to absorb the life essence of humans to sustain her own. She tries to do this in the best way she can, by hunting evil men, but something goes wrong on one of her hunts, she saves a human boy’s life, and things unravel from there.

I loved Jihoon. The poor boy is thrust into the middle of an impossible situation, and tries to do his best by everyone involved. It’s easy to see why Miyoung is drawn to him, and I love the easy comradery between Jihoon and his friends, as well.

The book would easily be a perfect standalone were it not for the epilogue. I will probably just pretend to myself that the epilogue doesn’t exist, and be happy with the book as-is. I don’t think it needs a sequel, and it feels a little forced. Almost like the book was done and turned in and the publisher offered the author a sequel, and she decided she could make that happen and tacked on a few pages to lead us to the next book. It’s just – unneeded.

The epilogue aside, I adored this book.

From the cover of Wicked Fox:

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret. She’s a gumiho – a nine-tailed fox who survives by consuming the energy of men. But she’s also half-human and has a soft spot for people. So she won’t kill indiscriminately. With the help of a shaman, Miyoung only takes the lives of men who have committed terrible crimes. Devouring their life force is a morbid kind of justice . . . or so she tells herself.

But killing men no one would ever miss in bustling modern-day Seoul also helps Miyoung keep a low profile. She and her mother protect themselves by hiding in plain sight. That is until Miyoung crosses paths with a handsome boy her age as he’s being attacked by a goblin in the woods. She breaks her mother’s cardinal rule – revealing herself and her nine tails – to save Jihoon from certain death. In the process, she loses her fox bead – her gumiho soul. Without it, she will die.

When Miyoung and Jihoon next meet, there’s no doubt they are drawn to each other. But their tenuous romance could be over before it even begins, as Miyoung’s efforts to restore her fox bead by the next full moon ensnares them in a generations-old feud, forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

 

Book Review: The Hundredth Queen

the hundredth queenThe Hundredth Queen
by Emily R. King
Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance
287 pages
Published 2017

This is the first book of a four-book series, and I already have the last three requested from the library, because this was a fun bit of fluff. HOWEVER. I’m a little ashamed that I enjoyed it so much, because there is SO MUCH WRONG HERE. Just off the top of my head, there’s fridging, instalove, women ritualistically competing for a man’s affection, and a woman who “isn’t pretty” and “isn’t special” yet beats other women in combat and has men obsessing over her. It reminds me a lot of Empress of All Seasons, except Empress wasn’t culturally appropriative, either! The author is white and lives in Utah, while writing about a culture that takes a lot from ancient India. (Though she says the religion is based on ancient Sumeria.)

The silly thing I keep coming back to is at the very beginning, Kalinda is gifted a carriage and horses as an engagement gift; yet they ditch the horses for camels to cross the desert on the last leg of their journey. Nice gift.

The world-building could use some work, but I expect that to be further explored in the rest of the series. I wish the romance had built more slowly and not been so instant; I always find it hard to believe the heroine can trust her lover so much when she DOESN’T EVEN REALLY KNOW HIM. Like – seriously?

While this is a fun, quick read, I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

From the cover of The Hundredth Queen:

HE WANTED A WARRIOR QUEEN. HE GOT A REVOLUTIONARY.

As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death – and her growing affection for Deven – Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.

Book Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel

tell me how you really feelTell Me How You Really Feel
by Aminah Mae Safi
Young Adult / Romance / LGBT
309 pages
Published June 2019

This book was alright. There was a lot of hype around it before it released and I…don’t really agree. I liked both characters. I enjoyed the plot. Okay, I enjoyed the entire book, except. Except. Rachel BLINDLY hates beautiful people. Which is ridiculous, given (at least on the cover) she’s far from ugly herself. I just don’t get her blind hatred of beautiful people. She’s spent the last three years hating Sana because, what? Sana had the guts to ask her out while being pretty? That plot point just kept pulling me out of the story. Which was otherwise really good! But two pretty girls on the cover and one of them hates pretty people but has no self-awareness that she is ALSO pretty? I don’t recall the text actually saying whether Rachel is pretty or not, but Sana obviously thinks so.

This might be an issue with whoever designed the cover not understanding the plot of the book; I know authors don’t always have full control over their covers. But it REALLY made that particular plot point confusing.

This book is also another example of the cover description being misleading. Rachel doesn’t “realize” that Sana is perfect for the role and try to cast her; her supervisor informs her that Sana will be in that role and she’ll just have to make it work. It’s a bit of a different dynamic.

Sooooo I don’t know whether to recommend the book or not. It was good, but I was annoyed by that plot point. Rachel and Sana were the only developed characters; everyone else was only there to further their story. Which is not always a bad thing; but I generally like the supporting cast to be a little bit more developed. They are people too, they shouldn’t solely exist to drive the romance between the two main characters.

As a lesbian romance, this was great. As a well-rounded book, not so much.

From the cover of Tell Me How You Really Feel:

The first time Sana Khan asked out a girl – Rachel Recht – it went so badly that she never did it again. Rachel is a film buff and an aspiring director, and she’s seen Carrie enough times to learn you can never trust cheerleaders (and beautiful people). Rachel was furious that Sana tried to prank her by asking her out on a date.

But when it comes time for Rachel to cast her senior project, she realizes that there’s no one more perfect than Sana – the girl she’s sneered at in the halls for the past three years – to play the lead role. And poor Sana – she says yes. She never did get over that first crush, even if Rachel can barely stand to be in the same room as her.

Told from alternating viewpoints and set against the backdrop of LA in the springtime, when the rainy season rolls in and the Santa Anas can still blow, these two girls are about to learn that in the city of dreams, anything is possible – even love.

Book Review: Technically, You Started It

technically you started itTechnically, You Started It
by Lana Wood Johnson
Young Adult Romance / LGBT
374 pages
Published June 2019

So the biggest reason for my recent hiatus was that I was having trouble reading. If I can’t read, I can’t review! And every time I tried to read a book, I fell asleep. I just couldn’t pay attention to pages of text. I knew, however, that this book had a demisexual protagonist, and I thought that might be enough to keep my attention. I opened the book, and found that the entire thing was written in text message format with speech bubbles, instead of giant blocks of text. Which was EXACTLY what I needed to hold my interest!

This is a precious book, told entirely via text messages between Haley, a demisexual girl, and Martin, a bisexual boy. Which, hi, that’s my life? Most of the bisexual men I’ve been reading lately have been in M/M relationships, so it’s nice to see a bisexual boy in a relationship with a girl. AND that they address the viewpoint of many people towards bi boys – that they’ll cheat. (That’s a biphobic attitude that is aimed at bi people of all genders, but it seems especially prevalent from women towards bi men.)

I love both of these characters; I love that they bring up that things can be so much easier to say via text than face-to-face. I love the far-reaching, random conversations the two have, and the in-jokes they create.

You’d think a romance would be hard to tell without description – only text is similar to only dialogue. But Johnson manages, and does it superbly.

This was the perfect book to break my reading slump, and I love it so much.

From the cover of Technically, You Started It:

Is This Haley Hancock from Mrs James’s US History class?

Yeah.
Who’s this?

Martin Nathaniel Munroe II

Which one?
You’re both in my US History class.

The good one.

When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she knows which one is “the good one.”

A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.

There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster . . .