Book Review: Black Wings Beating

black wings beatingBlack Wings Beating
by Alex London
Young Adult/Fantasy
426 pages
Published September 2018

This highly-anticipated young adult fantasy was – alright. I’m a little disappointed, actually. I love birds. I grew up with a number of parrots, and crows are still one of my favorite animals. So a book where falconry is a central part of the culture, and they have to go hunt down a mythical bird? Count me in! Unfortunately this book suffers from the “reluctant hero” trope, which is far too common in YA and gets tiring.

The two main characters in this book are twins. We have Brysen, who was never good enough for their alcoholic father, and was beaten regularly. He’s also stubborn, irresponsible, and reckless. His sister has an ancient power to control falcons, but she refuses to learn how to control it because she doesn’t want to overshadow her good-for-nothing brother. (She also might be asexual, but it’s not explicitly stated in the book. It’s heavily implied, though.)

The two dysfunctional siblings set out to capture the near-mythical bird that killed their father, in order to save the life of Brysen’s lover, falconry trainer, and manipulator, Dymian. They’re joined by Nyall, a boy in love with Kylee who doesn’t care that she doesn’t love him back. (In the truly-good-guy way, not in the creepy way. I like Nyall. He’s good people.)

They of course run into dangers in the mountains that the bird lives in, and the book is about that journey. Interspersed with their story is the occasional scene of the invaders sweeping across the land elsewhere. I wish we had a better sense of time – both how long before the invaders near the Six Villages where Brysen and Kylee are, and how long their journey in the mountains takes. That could have been much better communicated.

Kylee frustrates me – she could be so badass, and if she’d use her powers, it could get her what she wants. She’s trying to earn enough money catching and selling birds of prey to get out of the business entirely. (She has to pay off their father’s debts first.) So why not use her powers to call down a few of the most valuable birds and BE DONE WITH IT? How does this not occur to her? As far as I can tell, the only real reason she doesn’t want to be a falconer is she knows she’d be excellent at it and she doesn’t want to overshadow her brother, whose dream it’s been to be a great falconer. News flash. Your brother is worthless, girl. If he wants to be great maybe he should buckle down and focus instead of blaming those around him for his misfortunes.

So I’m not sure what my overall opinion of this book is. The world-building is shaping up to be interesting, but needs more fleshing out. The writing itself is pretty good, it flows nicely but needs a better sense of time. The characters’ motivations are clear but occasionally frustrating. I am a little invested in seeing what happens in the next book, but I’m not sure I’m invested enough to spend the time to read it. I’ll make that decision when it comes out, I suppose.

From the cover of Black Wings Beating:

THEY’LL RISE TOGETHER OR FALL ALONE

The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than birds of prey, and no one is more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists. 

Brysen strives to be a great falconer, while his twin sister, Kylee, possesses ancient gifts for it but wants to be free of falconry altogether. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward the Six Villages, with a rebel army leaving nothing in its wake but blood and empty sky. No bird or falconer will be safe from this invasion.

Together the twins must embark on a journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the near-mythic ghost eagle, a solitary killer and the most feared of the Uztari birds of prey. They each go for their own reasons: Brysen for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and protect her brother’s future. But they both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.

With this book, Alex London launches a soaring saga about the memories that haunt us, the histories that hunt us, and the bonds of blood between us.

Book Review: Give The Dark My Love

give the dark my loveGive The Dark My Love
by Beth Revis
Young Adult/Fantasy
351 pages
Published September 2018

Yet another lady necromancer book! I do really love this topic. It’s also really interesting to see the different flavors various authors can give it. Sometimes it’s binding wandering spirits into physical objects, or bringing spirits back from the Shadowlands to live in our world as normal people, or being a warden against great undead beasts, or, in this case, trying to stop a cursed plague that might have necromantic origins.

There are a lot of commonalities, though, even with how different these ladies’ reasons are. There’s always some line, usually the line into “true” necromancy, that she shouldn’t cross, and which she normally does. There’s always a loved one who ultimately supports her even if they’re not sure she’s doing the right thing. There’s always a sense of desperation driving her to what she sees as the only solution.

What’s amazing is that given that framework, these books continue to surprise and delight me. Each one is still such a unique take on the “dark art” of necromancy. These ladies aren’t evil. Nedra, here, is trying to save her family and her people from a plague that evades any kind of scientific explanation. They have no idea how it spreads. It usually starts in the extremities, and if you cut off the infected limb, sometimes that stops it. But sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it starts over the heart, or right in the brain. Some people simply seem to be immune. Nedra works with the sick for months and never gets it, but some people come down with it without having any contact with a sick person. Her teacher at school finally confesses that he thinks it might be necromantic in origin, and things begin to cascade from that point.

There is a romance in the book, though it’s definitely a side plot. Nedra’s studies and work on the plague is the main focus. We have a bisexual character in Nedra’s twin sister, but again, she’s really just a side note. The book ended on a bit of a cliff hanger, and the second book doesn’t have a title or a release date yet, unfortunately. “Sometime in 2019” is all we’ve got, which is quite disappointing because I need it NOW!

While Give The Dark My Love wasn’t the best of the lady necromancer books I’ve read recently, it was still pretty great. I am eager for news of the sequel!

From the cover of Give The Dark My Love:

Seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yügen Academy with only one goal in mind: master the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island’s wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids at Yügen.

Until she meets Greggori “Grey” Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who, he notices, is especially invested in her studies. And that’s for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the north, and it’s making its way toward the cities. With her family’s lives – and the  lives of all of Lunar Island’s citizens – on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.

Grey and Nedra grow close, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy’s most dangerous practices. And when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.

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.

Book Review: Analee, In Real Life

annalee in real lifeAnalee, In Real Life
by Janelle Milanes
Young Adult/Romance/Contemporary Fiction
400 pages
Published September 2018

I picked this one up because of the mention of the online roleplaying game. Somewhat disappointingly, the book spends almost no time actually in the game. We’re told that Analee used to escape into the game all the time, but in the book itself we see her putting aside the game for “real life”, over and over again. I was expecting her to be more reluctant to leave it.

That aside, this is a great YA book about adjusting to changes in family life and social pressures at school. The clique and rumor mill and popular kids are all there, with Analee on the outside – until she agrees to fake-date Seb. We watch as she goes from being invisible to being known at school, and how that affects her.

Analee’s also dealing with the impending wedding of her dad and his girlfriend, two years after Analee’s mother died, and all the emotions that brings up.

It’s a cute YA book, with a lot of character development, but the part of it that drew me didn’t get as much screen-time as I was expecting, so it just wasn’t really my cup of tea.

From the cover of Analee, In Real Life:

Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.

Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything that real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner in crime, Xolkar – aka a teen boy named Harris, whom Analee has never actually met in person.

So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.

But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You

ps i still love youP.S. I Still Love You
by Jenny Han
Young Adult/Romance
339 pages
Published 2015

PS I Still Love You is a continuation of Lara Jean’s story from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. It really is a seamless continuation – it picks up almost immediately where the first ends, in the holidays, with Lara Jean pining over Peter.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first – the sisters are still here, but Lara Jean doesn’t spend as much time worrying over her dynamic with her sisters as she did in the first book. This second book is all about Peter, his ex, and what’s going on at school. That’s fine – obviously the story needs to evolve and move, but the sisters were such a huge part of the charm of the first book that I really miss them in this one.

A second boy is introduced in this book – John – and to be honest, I like him more than Peter. I know Peter and Lara Jean are really set up as THE couple in this series, but – John’s so nice. And Peter’s so oblivious.

There’s one more book – Always and Forever, Lara Jean – and while I’m sure it won’t happen, I’m holding out hope that John will come back in book #3 and win Lara Jean over. I really, really liked him.

From the cover of P.S. I Still Love You:

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

They were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean has to learn what it’s like to be in a real relationship and not just a make-believe one.

But when another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him suddenly return too.

Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean is about to find out that falling in love is the easy part.