Posted in Books

“A Deadly Education” by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik has been the darling of fantasy in the last few years, with her best-selling award winners Uprooted and Spinning Silver, but she’s bit off a new challenge this year with A Deadly Education, the first of the Scholomance trilogy. 

While Novik is known for her spell-binding fantasy, this book brings a surprising amount of social commentary to the mix. Novik’s protagonist, El, is one of thousands of young wizards ensconced in a mechanical marvel of a school reminiscent of Howl’s moving castle. The haves in this case are “enclavers” young wizards from prominent or established families who belong to an enclave, a wizard community. The have-nots are pretty much everyone else, wizards from all over the world who are less well-connected, and less prepared for the trials of wizarding life. Isolated from the world, these teenagers must survive nearly constant attack by maleficaria, monsters with the fervent wish to consume tasty wizardlings. 

El is a have-not, a girl used to being disliked. She has no one but her mother, a healer who could have her pick of enclaves but chooses to live apart. El is just looking for her best shot to impress the enclaves, and with her particular power, she knows that a show of force would get her the moon. She did not plan on being aggressively befriended by the class golden boy, who suspects her of a kind of magical corruption. El is eminently likable, a character with a short fuse and an observant nature. While she is closed-off from others, she has a big heart and a huge capacity for love, just little opportunity to exercise it. She is a great view into a world teeming with complexity and potential. It’s also great to have a female character who isn’t a missish teen with a hero complex- El isn’t out to save the world, and she has a realistic, if a little cynical, view of things. She’s a sweet little prickly hedgehog and I adore her. 

The world Novik is building here is beautiful and interesting, although the book indulges a little too much in exposition towards the front end, by the halfway point, any reader will be on edge to find out if El will survive junior year. The book also leaves some lovely tension about El’s destiny to keep you excited for her next adventure. 

A Deadly Education is out on September 29, 2020. You can buy it anywhere books are sold, or borrow it from your local library. If you are buying it off of Amazon, you can do so using our affiliate link.

Posted in Books

“Instant Karma” by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer is a YA author best known for The Lunar Chronicles, her science fiction fairytale quartet that spawned a graphic novel sequel duology and a handful of short stories set in the same universe. Since their publication, Meyer has published a handful of other titles, but Instant Karma is her first foray into realistic fiction. It’s a YA romance, set in a Florida beach town just when summer is getting started.

Prudence is not just an over-achiever, she’s the over-achiever. Unfortunately, her lab partner, Quint, is the worst kind of slacker, and after a disastrous final project, Pru is determined to resubmit their assignment. However, their teacher won’t accept it without Quint and Pru’s input, and Quint is not inclined to spend his summer on schoolwork. Pru makes him a deal, but to hold up her end, they have to spend a lot of time together- like, a lot.

Not only does Prudence have to spend an unfortunate amount of summer with her nemesis, after a weird karaoke accident she finds herself the instrument of karmic justice. Pru realizes that with a gesture, she can dish out the universe’s recompense on anyone, and they will be rewarded or punished. Unfortunately, it isn’t up to Prudence to decide what people deserve, and karma can really be a bitch. When faced with the consequences of karmic retribution, Pru has to to figure out if the upside of instant karma is worth the potential fallout.

This book runs a little long for a YA realistic fiction title, and it definitely takes a while to get into. Prudence is an unpleasant, off-putting character, difficult to like. She has a tendency to judge and write-off others, and while she certainly has her moments, she’s not the best character in the book. Quint is more interesting, he has a lot of depth to him, and I enjoyed the parts with him most. The story does work, as Prudence is written to be unlikable, but it could have been a bit more subtly done. It’s supposed to be a big deal for Prudence to realize that she’s wrong and she’s been making snap-judgements, but the reader picks up on that from the third chapter. The pacing isn’t great, the story drags its feet for the first half of the book, and then picks up and doesn’t stop running.

The pacing problem comes from the book trying to do too much- this is a stand-alone novel, and it doesn’t have the space for character development a series does. There are too many sub-plots, which leaves the novel feeling bulky without adding at all to the narrative cohesion. The karma aspect of the plot is underdeveloped and seems as though it was put in just to justify some of the plot-twists rather than as a novel concept. It reads more like a romantic drama than anything else, which does work for the story.

While the book certainly has its flaws, Meyer’s fans will certainly enjoy it. The book is just as romantic as her previous work, and it’s a pleasant read. There are a lot of really fun characters, and the setting is really inventive, but it’s not what you might expect from the premise. The book veers less towards supernatural justice and more towards environmentalism, which isn’t a bad thing, but certainly isn’t something expected, given the cover and the publisher summary. 

I did like the Pride and Prejudice-like relationship between the two protagonists. Their animosity is amusing, and it’s fun to watch that slowly melt away. There are some pretty great side characters, and overall, the story holds together and ends satisfyingly.

Instant Karma will be available for purchase November 3, wherever books are sold, or at your local library. You can also purchase it from Amazon using our affiliate code. The reviewer was provided with an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Books

“Shit, Actually” by Lindy West

Film commentary comes in many forms, from the long-form newspaper review to the poster blurb. Lindy West’s new book Shit, Actually is a series of essays that offers a chatty, light overview of an eclectic collection of movies. While fans of West’s work might enjoy Shit, Actually, I found it to be a departure from her normal thoughtful, intense writing style and had trouble getting through it. West’s past work includes a lot of deconstruction of the societal norms that surround women and fat people in incisive, lingering prose, while this book is much less focused on actual film commentary and more interested in providing humorous summaries. While West’s previous work has been timeless, this collection comes across as very of-the-moment rather than evergreen. 

West introduces her work with a note on the COVID-19 crisis, and there are multiple references to the global pandemic throughout, which kind of puts a clock on how long this book can feel relevant. In a lot of ways, these essays come across much more as blog posts than essays edited and published in a book. While that works really well in some collections (see anything by Sam Urby) these essays have no flow, they don’t form a cohesive narrative about movies, the industry, or anything, really. There is a lot of use of Internet grammar, which does come across as very funny, and works well within the medium. The choice of films is also a bit difficult to parce, West offers her criteria for inclusion as movies she likes, cultural touchstones, and movies she thinks need to be talked about. She then proceeds to not actually talk about any of the movies, just summarize them and throw in the occasional one-liner. 

There were definitely great, funny parts of this book. The titular “Shit, Actually,” which deconstructs the 2003 British romantic comedy Love, Actually is far and away the funniest and most polished of these essays. This makes sense, as this was one of the essays, originally published on, that inspired the collection. This essay is truly funny, and provides pretty good commentary on the movie, pointing out the nonsensical elements and sexist tropes that populate the film. It’s not exactly an original take today, but it was originally published in 2013. There are some moments of genuine insight, but for the most part the entire book is just speed-of-light summaries of the movies that are still somehow too long. While the book is marketed as an examination of popular film, asking big questions, most of the essays come off as movie reviews dictated into a cell phone and promptly abandoned. West’s previous work might lead a reader to expect a thoughtful, well-constructed commentary for each film, that takes into account gender, race, and social stigmas, but that reader would be disappointed. Instead, Shit, Actually provides just under two dozen movie reviews containing a Wikipedia summary with a few jokes thrown in. West, normally a writer of startling originality and spectacular voice, really falls flat here. While I have in the past written a positive review of West’s work, this book was a big disappointment.  

Shit, Actually, will be published October 20, 2020. It can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. You can also buy a copy on Amazon, using our affiliate link here.    

Posted in Miscellaneous

7 Smaller YouTubers You Need to be Subscribed to

Everyone knows the bigger fish in the YouTube game, but there are a ton of smaller creators, especially queer creators and creators of color, who deserve way more subscribers. Here are a couple you’ve been missing out on, all of whom have less than a million subscribers.

TheGeekyBlonde – 36k subscribers

Rhiannon is a spoken-word poet who makes videos about feminism, Shakespeare, and writing. Her condensed Shakespeare recaps are super funny, and make the text really fun and accessible. She also has done a lot of work with Brave New Voices, and her poem “Rape Joke” with Belissa Escobedo has received over five million views. She hasn’t made any videos in a while, but her channel is still worth checking out.

STRANGE ÆONS – 760k subscribers

Strange Æons is a creator who does deep-dives on tumblr and Reddit, and reacts to weird stuff like the Girl Defined channel. She also a lesbian, and talks about queer topics. One of her funniest videos is about r/SaphoAndHerFriend.

Sabrina – 313k subscribers

Sabrina does videos on science, history, and being a person on the internet. She got her first big subscriber bump when she guest-hosted on the Vlogbrothers channel, and has been producing videos for her personal channel for the last four years. She’s also a Canadian Filipino, which is an excellent reminder that the great north isn’t as white as some people think! Plus, she dispels the myth that you have to be a science or humanities person- she’s both!

Jessica Kellgren-Fozard – 753k subscribers

Jessica vlogs about disability rights, queer issues, and vintage clothing. She talks about her own physical and cognitive disabilities, chronic illness, and cultural depictions of disability. She does some videos with her wife, and history videos about queer and disabled folks through the ages. She has recently come out with an amazing video that explains the #FreeBritney movement and why it’s a civil rights issue.

SAVY Writes Books – 7.65k subscribers

Savy is a writer, small business owner, and booktuber who also talks about MLM scams. She got her first big bump with a critical review of Rachel Hollis’ self-help book, Girl, Wash Your Face. Savy does amazing deep dives on scamming self-help gurus, and talks about her journey as a small business owner and author. My favorite of her recent videos is this one about Classically Abby, Ben Shapiro’s little sister who’s been in all of your YouTube ads.

Carlos Maza – 68k subscribers

Maza recently went independent on YouTube, after leaving Wired, and has quickly found his feet. He’s a queer creator of color, and anti-capitalist, which is basically all I need to know to subscribe. His production value is INSANE, and while he only has a few videos up so far, there’s definitely more to come.

courtreezy – 573k subscribers

Courtreezy gained notoriety in the last month or so because of videos she’s made about TikTok users using racial slurs. She’s a Nigerian-American creator with a really unique voice who makes some cool content. Her latest video is about Tyra Banks and all of the crazy stuff we let her get away with in ANTM.

Posted in Books

The Destruction of Sydney Sage

220px-Bloodlines_NovelThe character of Sydney Sage first appeared in the fourth Vampire Academy book, Blood Promise, introducing the alchemists, humans who hide vampire activity from the world. Despite an ingrained hatred of vampires, dhampir, moroi and strigoi alike, Sydney helps Rose, and comes to have a grudging respect for her. While Rose is much beloved by the fandom, Sydney has a special place in a lot of hearts: she is intelligent, complex, and is terrifyingly competent. It is remarked upon frequently that she can do anything, and she pretty much can. Syndey gets her own series, Bloodlines, six books which follow many of the characters from the Vampire Academy series.

Sydney goes through incredible growth in Bloodlines, but the end of the series completely destroys all of the progress she’s made, and relegates her to domesticity. Sydney begins the series disliking vampires, and distrusting them, forced to work with Adrian Ivashkov to protect Jill Dragomir, a moroi princess. Over the course of the series, Sydney overcomes her distrust of vampires, becomes adept at magic, and falls in love with Adrian. She makes friends, develops new skills, and discovers that the alchemists are not always the good guys. She makes tough decisions, overcomes seemingly impossible odds, and defeats those who seek to control her. All of that, to end up living in the middle of nowhere with Adrian, and to become a mother by adoption at twenty.

Sydney spends a lot of her life sacrificing for others- she becomes the alchemist in her family to protect her older sister, who was a victim of abuse. Sydney deals with an eating disorder brought on my control issues, which stem from her upbringing. She realizes that the alchemists are essentially a cult- a cult built on brainwashing, xenophobia, and fundamentalist Christianity. Sydney breaks free, and tries to get her sister out. This is no small thing- Sydney has built her entire life around a belief system, and has to break free of it almost completely without help. It is through the love of her friends, people she was told to distrust, that she detaches herself from the alchemists and makes her own choices.

growth GIF

Adrian and Sydney are a couple fans love, and for good reason. They started out with completely different world-views, and basically hating each other. Over time, they develop a mutual trust, an attraction, and then they fall in love. They each bring out the best in the other- Sydney helps Adrian with his self-destructive behavior, Adrian sees the best in Sydney and is proud of her at every turn. Both help each other to stop repeating patterns of behavior that harm them. Their love helps them grow, and it is a complex, nuanced relationship, which is tested both by its forbidden nature, and their differing backgrounds.

Sydney and Adrian go through hell to be together, before they marry to protect Sydney from the alchemists. This might have been earned by the trajectory of the previous books- since they have been separated by the alchemists, they need a way to never be torn apart again. I can buy them getting married, despite it not really being completely in character for Sydney to make an impulse decision like that. It makes some kind of sense for them to marry, considering how high the stakes are at this point, but it still feels  a little wrong. It doesn’t ruin Sydney’s character arc, though. She’s still herself, even if she marries Adrian, she has the potential to follow her dreams and live the life she wants. At the end of Silver Shadows, one has a reasonable expectation that they will find a way out of their predicament, defeat the bad guys, and live happily ever after.

And then The Ruby Circle happened.

shocked oh my god GIF

To make a long story short, Olive, a dhampir restored from being strigoi gives birth to a baby, one she claims is fathered by another dhampir. This should be an impossibility, but she thinks it’s because of the spirit used to restore her to life. She dies in labor, after being attacked by a strigoi, and tells Adrian and Sydney to bring the baby (whom she names Declan) to his father. His father rejects him, and later runs away, telling Sydney and Adrian to look after him. And then . . . they just do? They adopt Declan, pass him off as their child, and move to Maine, where Adrian teaches kindergarten and Sydney goes to college.

Bill Hader Reaction GIF by Saturday Night Live

There are a couple of reasons this makes no sense. Firstly, the reason Declan “needed” to be hidden is because he’s the child of two dhampirs, and his mother didn’t want him used for experiments by the moroi or the alchemists. This is an easy fix, one of two ways: either tell Lissa, the queen of the freaking vampires about it, and have her sort it out, or just lie about who his father is. Declan has a living aunt, Nina, his mother’s sister, who loved Olive so much that she nearly sacrificed her life to restore her sister’s. It makes zero sense to have Adrian and Sydney adopt him just to conceal his identity and abide by the wishes of a teenager who ran away from fatherhood. Sydney is way too smart not to realize these options.

Secondly, there is no way anyone would feasibly believe that Declan was Sydney and Adrian’s child. They have been in the public eye of the vampire court the entirety of when Sydney would have had to be pregnant with him, when she clearly wasn’t. Did they just hide him for a year, and then trot him out, hoping no one noticed that she was never pregnant?

Thirdly, even if Sydney and Adrian had to make a choice about taking him in or letting Nina have Declan, they would have let him be with his aunt. No matter how much they might have bonded with him, or felt bad about not saving his mother, they are young, dependent on others, and unready to be parents.

There are a few other reasons that this ending is unsatisfactory, and unworthy of the Sydney Sage fans love. After uncovering corruption in the ranks of the alchemists, Sydney merely bargains with them for the names of corrupted alchemists, in exchange for her freedom. She also has some words with her father, but just to get her younger sister the freedom to see their mother. Sydney knows that the entire alchemist organization is a corrupt, zealous cult, with dangerous, inhumane practices, and she just . . . walks away? She has been the victim of reeducation, brainwashing, and torture, and she just negotiates what amounts to amnesty for herself, and shared custody for her sister. The Sydney Sage fans love would have (and should have) torn the alchemist organization asunder. Allowing a corrupt institution like that to continue to exist would not be acceptable to her- Sydney is a pragmatist, but she’s also uncompromising in her morals. Whether Sydney would have destroyed the alchemists, or reshaped them, she wouldn’t have let them continue to do their work and just move away.


Another source of rage is what Sydney and Adrian do with their fresh start- move to Maine and live a low-key life. Sydney deserved to go to an Ivy League school, or run the UN, or do something equally extraordinary. She could have done those things, even with a husband and a young child, if she wanted. It doesn’t make any sense for them to settle in the middle of nowhere. Adrian becomes a kindergarten teacher, which is equally out of character. Sure, he loves art, and has a childlike sense of wonder, but Adrian can’t get up that early in the morning, nor does he have the qualifications to teach kindergarten. It would make more sense for him to go to art school, or become a reclusive artist who supports his high-achieving wife by providing childcare. This ending isn’t disappointing because they left the vampire world behind, Adrian didn’t have much to keep him there. It’s disappointing because they both wanted something else, and deserved better. They both grew so much, and learned so much from each other, and ended up in a completely illogical place. It is especially tragic for Sydney, who worked so hard, and achieved so much, only to live in relative obscurity in the human world, where she would never be able to be her true self. While Adrian certainly deserved better, the triumph of the series is Sydney, a young woman who went from being controlled to controlling her destiny, from being strong-armed to making her own choices, and from an isolated existence to a life full of love. She deserved to have a real ending, one worthy of her journey.

Posted in Books

“No Offense” isn’t just bad . . . it’s kinda offensive

I’ve been a Meg Cabot fan forever, since I picked up my first Princess Diaries book. While she’s best known for that series, Cabot is a prolific writer, and has dozens of novels available for both teen and adult audiences. I loved her Size 12 is Not Fat series, and the Queen of Babble trilogy. Her romances are engaging, her heroines are plucky, and I’ve always found her books enjoyable. I say all this to explain that it brings me no pleasure to hate on No Offense, her latest romance coming out August 11.

This is the second book in a new series of seaside romances set in small town Little Bridge, one of the islands in the Florida Keys. It follows newly arrived librarian Molly Montgomery, an unlucky-in-love new resident in Little Bridge, and John Hartwell, the sheriff. They bump heads when John is called to investigate a baby abandoned in the library bathroom, and sparks fly, despite their differing world views. Molly thinks that no one could abandon a baby in a bathroom without a good reason, and John thinks that anyone who could do it should face consequences. Both endeavor to find the baby’s mother, while John simultaneously juggles his teen daughter, and a thief breaking and entering all over town.

This book has a lot of problems, the worst of which is the main couple. Neither is all that compelling, and both lack enough traits to make up a personality. John is a career cop, which doesn’t really play well in this day and age, when the public is rapidly realizing that policing as it is traditionally undertaken in America does more harm than good. There isn’t a lot to him besides his job and his kid. Molly has a similar problem, she seems like an amalgamation of what people think of older millennials- she loves true crime, stalks her ex on social media, and drinks wine pretty much whenever she’s not at work. While Cabot’s protagonists usually like a drink or two, Molly might actually be an alcoholic. She gets drunk at a city function, as the guest of a prominent resident, and she is a city employee. She’s also intensely cringey. Also, as a library employee, I was personally taken aback at how little research Cabot appeared to have done about library operations. Completely inaccurate, with the notable exception of when a guy yells at Molly for no reason- that’s spot-on. Just to give an example, Molly keeps books in her bathroom. In her bathroom, where the moisture and the steam is. I can’t think of a self-respecting librarian who would expose books to that kind of environment.

48836843I saw my other main issue of this book written cleverly in another review, which I was unfortunately unable to track down. Basically, all of Cabot’s books now are “white woman solves mystery with associated man, featuring ethnic best friend.” Given how much better her other books are, it’s really sad to read this phoned-in claptrap.

I wasn’t originally going to write a review of No Offense, but then I saw it on a couple lists of exciting books coming out this summer, and I felt bad. Don’t waste your time on this, go read one of Cabot’s better books. I promise, they’re just as romantic and much less disappointing.

No Offense will be published August 11, 2020, and can be found wherever books are sold, or at your local library. You can also purchase it on Amazon using our affiliate code. The reviewer was provided with a advanced reader’s edition in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Books

“Spoiler Alert” is a match made in AO3

cover196169-mediumSpoiler Alert is the story of two friends who share a passion for fanfiction. Gods of the Gates is the biggest show on television, based on an incomplete series of beloved books, and April and Marcus both write fics online. Both keep their fanfiction intentionally separate from their real lives, for very different reasons.

April is a scientist finally moving into the public sector, and able to bring her passion for the fantasy world to her personal web presence. Finally, she doesn’t have to worry about trying to get individual jobs and can post her cosplay pictures.

Marcus is an actor- one of the stars of the Gods at the Gates TV show, and sick of seeing the books he loves destroyed by the show creators. His fanfiction helps him soothe his anger at the butchering of his character, and the coming end of the show, which promises outrage from fans. If his fics were to be discovered, his career would be over, and he would be sued to oblivion. Marcus and April read and edit each others’ fics, and have been friends online for years, when twitter brings them together, entirely by accident.

April and Marcus have distinct character voices, and nuanced inner lives. Both of them are real adults in their late thirties, not post-adolescents mired in indecision. April is an amazing, intelligent fat woman who knows that the world will only ever see her as the latter. She knows she is beautiful, and does not apologize for the way she looks. She faces her personal challenges with aplomb, and doesn’t allow people to treat her poorly. Her strength is one of her best qualities, and watching her shine is a delight.

Marcus has found that the best way to be in the public eye is to present himself as an empty-headed jock, a pretty boy who can act but doesn’t have much between his ears. He faces the difficult choice about whether to open up, or keep his real self inside. Marcus has always felt like a disappointment to the people closest to him, and if he wants a chance with April, he has to let go of that fear. Marcus is a hugely likable, fun guy who knows who he is, but isn’t sure if anyone else should be let in on the secret.

April and Marcus have crazy chemistry, this book is sexy, funny, sweet, and incredibly passionate. The secondary characters are just as interesting as April and Marcus, and add hilarity to a book that already has snappy writing and amazing dialogue. April is intensely relatable, with a voice TV fans and book-lovers will both fall for. Gods at the Gates is also a very thinly veiled analog for Game of Thrones, the last season that launches a thousand angry tweets. The criticism of the TV adaptation rings true, and adds a bit of extra humor to this already funny book. This book is an exciting new read, and one hopes it is a sign of even bigger things to come from Olivia Dade.

Spoiler Alert will be published October 6, 2020 by HarperCollins. You can preorder it wherever books are sold. You can also get it through Amazon using our affiliate link here.   

Posted in Books

“Lore” by Alexandra Bracken

Lore, upcoming release from best-selling author Alexandra Bracken (you may know her from The Darkest Minds) takes advantage of the mythology craze and brings you another tale of the Greek pantheon of gods in our modern world. The trend has ridden the coat-tales of the Percy Jackson phenomenon, but this book is different than the many other pretenders. 

The Greek gods have been cursed, and every seven years their godhood is stripped from them, and for one week, they are forced to walk the mortal world, vulnerable. If one of the mortal hunters kill a god, they take on that god’s power. There are few of the original gods left, and the hunters are not merciful. This is the Agon, a bloodthirsty trial of endurance and cunning. The hunters are a few families, descendants of great heroes, each vying for the chance to bring honor to their house, whether through battle or ascension to godhood.

Lore is busy prize-fighting, taking the edge off some grief, when an old friend stumbles into her path, an old friend who should be dead. Warned that her life is in danger, Lore half-heartedly plans to skip town before she and her housemate find a goddess lying in wait for them.

Lore is offered a choice: she can walk away from the world she’s been hiding from, or she can get the vengeance she has long desired. She can leave New York, where the battle has already begun, or she can stand her ground. If she can live through the next seven days, she might be able to discover the truth of what happened seven years ago, at the end of the last Agon. But the choice stands before her: will she pursue vengeance, or peace?

Lore is a great character, and her voice is refreshing. She wants to leave a world that has taken everything from her, but she also feels responsible for righting the injustices that have befallen her. She’s not a chosen one, she’s just trying to survive. She is a unique character the likes of which I haven’t seen in a while. Lore isn’t just a badass, nor is she firmly in damsel territory. Her moral compass isn’t fixed, but she values her humanity above all else. The secondary characters are all well-defined and have their own unique perspectives on the world they have been thrust into. The book is surprisingly romantic, despite the bloodshed, and will leave readers hungry for more. It’s an exciting story that can’t come out soon enough.

Lore has the expected publication date of January 5, 2020. The reviewer was provided an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. It can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. If you would like to buy it from Amazon, you can do so using our affiliate link.  

Posted in Books

“American Royals” is full of wasted potential

Young Adult lit is always exploring new frontiers, and royalty is often a fixture of the genre. Whether it’s alternate history, high fantasy, or dystopias, royalty and fairy tales have their place in YA cannon, and American Royals by Katherine McGee is the perfect storm of royalty tropes, designed perfectly to appeal to YA readers. The audience is there, and McGee is already the author of the wildly popular Thousandth Floor trilogy. 

The book is designed to be broadly appealing, and it succeeds, it’s a best-seller. However, the book is disappointing to avid young adult readers, and the answer why is obvious: the book isn’t what it’s been marketed as, it’s as one reviewer described it, “like Gossip Girl on steroids.” Having seen the buzz about this book, any reader might assume that the book is an alternate reality novel about how the US would be different if the government figurehead was a hereditary monarch, rather than an elected representative. Sounds exciting, no? Too bad that’s not what it’s about.  

Clichés galore

This book is one cliché after another. The heir to the crown can’t marry for love, the younger princess feels ignored and acts out, there’s a lot of pressure on the oldest child. The heir falls in love with her bodyguard, an unsuitable choice, but gets engaged to an approved suitor for her country. The father is terminally ill, adding tension to Beatrice’s choices. The prince has a scheming ex who wants to get him back, another royal, but he’s pursuing a commoner. There are no original ideas in this book. It’s pretty disappointing, considering the novel premise. 

Introduces an interesting premise and fails to deliver

This is objectively a cool idea- what would have happened if there was an American hereditary monarchy? The book squanders this really neat premise, barely addressing how the world is different because of this altered history. There are still royal families in Russia and Germany, and we do get some little tidbits, but mostly the coolest idea in the book is ignored for the intriguing question of whether Jeff is stupid enough to trust his ex-girlfriend over his sister’s lifelong friend. It’s more frustrating than anything else, because this book is disappointing!   

Fails to address race

One huge oversight in the book is that it basically ignores the issue of race in America. One of the main characters is Latina, and that is mentioned once. When she’s dating the prince, none of the condemnations of her are racist. There are a couple of Black royal families, so of course racism doesn’t exist! There are maybe two paragraphs total devoted to race in the book, one of which is about the abolition of slavery, which is quickly explained away. I guess this world is one in which racism is eliminated, but exchanged for elitism? It’s more acceptable for the future queen to marry a Black future duke than a white bodyguard, so we have to assume class structure has replaced racism in the social order. It’s just such an oversight in pretty lily-white book- the book also tries to address class, but the only middle-class characters are directly royalty-adjacent, and so experience “real life” but tempered with the privilege of proximity to power. 

There’s also some token gay acceptance in the book, mostly as a few throw-away lines. It felt half-hearted and squished into an already bloated, boring book. 

Bland, cookie-cutter characters

The characters in this book might have redeemed it if they weren’t so intrinsically boring. It’s impossible to get invested in Beatrice’s love story because she’s boring, she has no interests, friends, or even personality traits beyond being trapped by royalty, smart, and devoted to her country. I honestly felt bad for her love interest, because he deserved better. Sam is equally boring, she’s a stereotyped party girl whose only plot tension is jealousy of her sister and frustration over wanting a guy she can’t have. Jeff is clearly a dolt, and hard to be sympathetic to as a result. If he was dumb and sweet, it would be one thing, but he also pretty much lacks a personality or consistent motivation. 
Daphne is by far the worst offense- she’s a scheming lower-tier royal determined to marry the prince. She’s teased at the beginning of the book to have done something horrible, and when it is revealed it’s a total dud. She’s a liar, manipulator, and social climber, cruel and clever to a fault. She’s also the only character in the book to engage in sex, which is highly implied to be immoral? All of the royalty are not sexually active, which a pretty hard pill to swallow, but the one villainous character who actively is trying to sabotage our heroes is the only one having sex? This smacks of slut-shaming. 

Too many POV characters

Having four point of view characters is way too much- it certainly served the purpose of the story, but it’s disconcerting for the reader and some of the characters are less interesting than others. Beatrice and Sam are particularly boring, and despite being the villain Daphne is possibly the most engaging character in the book. At least you can hate her, as opposed to being casually disinterested in the other characters. I found that the male characters in particular were lack-luster, Jeff and Connor have almost no characterization to speak of. The best fleshed-out is Teddy, and his character is mostly parental pressure and feeling responsible for his family. 

Terrible Pacing

So there’s basically no plot until half-way through the book, as there’s no tension. Beatrice needs a husband, but we don’t know why, so there’s no urgency. Daphne is trying to destroy Jeff’s relationship, but we don’t know what she’s capable of, aside from media warfare, so there’s no fear. Plus, we care zero percent about the characters, so it’s not like we’d worry anyway. The book is also far too long for a book in which nothing happens.   

Derivative and unoriginal

This is one of the main issues I had with this book, it’s complete failure to bring something new to the table. It starts with the damn cover. Did it look familiar? It should.

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 2.16.03 PM

The cover looks strikingly similar to another recent best-seller, the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend. The art style is similar, but the details are what really stands out: the blue background, sunglasses, dark hair done up, even the barely perceptible nose. The similar cover is a short-hand for a potential reader, “This is like that other book you like.” 

But the biggest place this book draws its content from is The Royals, a TV show that aired from 2015-2018. Its subjects were a fictionalized British royal family, and their story might sound familiar. Here are a few notable similarities between the narratives: 

  1. There are three children, Robert, Liam, and Eleanor. Liam and Eleanor are the younger, and twins.
  2. Robert contracts a political marriage to a woman Liam cares about, angering Liam.
  3. Eleanor has a clandestine relationship with her bodyguard, which is considered inappropriate.
  4. While Robert is staid, and committed to his duty, Eleanor and Liam are wild and obstreperous, chasing their whims and indulging themselves.
  5. Liam has a crazy ex-girlfriend who is a part of the upper class, and schemes to get him back. Liam falls in love with the daughter of the head of palace security, and his ex sabotages that relationship. 
  6. The king dies suddenly, throwing the succession into a place of importance.

While The Royals is more intense, more murder, mayhem and intrigue, the bones are the same, at least in early seasons. Even if the author didn’t directly rip the show off, it’s clear that no original ideas populate this book.    

Posted in Books

“Written in the Stars” by Aisha Saeed

This book is a hard one. I will preface this review by saying that some people may be triggered by the content of this novel- it includes honor violence, forced marriage, rape, and domestic abuse. Please do not read further if these themes will cause you undue distress. Additionally, while this book is fiction, it reflects the stories of many real girls and women who experience this kind of abuse. This abuse is a crime against humanity, and a violation of the human rights of women and girls. It happens all around the world. It could be happening in your town, in your city, to girls in your class, to women you know. Naila’s story is fiction, but it is familiar to many.

See the source image

Naila is a young woman, seventeen, of Pakistani descent, but born in Florida. She has a scholarship to college, to a six-year medical program. Naila is the model minority we are all looking for. Her one secret is her boyfriend of one year- Saif. Naila can’t have the normal teenage love story- there are no sports games, cheering from the sidelines, but she can sneak out one night and go to prom. One night of romance at a school dance results in her parents finding out everything, and deciding Naila has betrayed all of their teachings. They tell her a month in Pakistan will help, visiting their family will remind her who she is. Little does Naila know, all along, her parents never intended for her to return and go to school.

Without her knowledge, Naila’s mother and father set up meetings with families, seeking out a husband for her. As their stay lengthens, Naila becomes suspicious, and eventually her cousin Selma breaks down and tells her the truth. Naila tries to run away, but is found, drugged, and eventually frog-marched through a marriage ceremony. Her in-laws have purchased her for the purpose of bringing her new husband’s sister to America, as she has failed to find a husband in Pakistan. Her husband seems initially kind, but fails to understand Naila’s situation, and rapes her to prevent her from being returned to her family. She becomes pregnant as a result.

Naila looses hope- her family has abandoned her, and she has no doubt that if she is returned to them, her uncle will kill her. Returned for a visit to her family, Naila wants to try to escape, but has no opportunity. She disowns her mother, and is taken  back to her husband’s house. All this time, Naila has remained in love with Saif, with whom she has sporadic contact. He tries to help her, but can’t do much from the states. Eventually, he and his father track her down with the help of her brother, and come to Pakistan, planning an escape. Naila’s spiteful sister-in-law reveals to the family that Saif is in town, and they cast Naila out, inflicting grievous bodily harm on her in the process. Naila’s husband allows her to leave with Saif and Saif’s father, instead of returning her to her family.

The book ends in an epilogue two years later, with Naila and Saif living and attending college together back in the US. Naila miscarried, probably due to the beating her in-laws doled out. Saif’s parents have welcomed her into the family, helped her get a divorce, and supported her emotionally. While she does not have her scholarship, and looses the opportunity to enter the prestigious medical program, Naila attends college with loans and is grateful to be in school. She and Saif get married. Naila even allows her parents to come see her, following the news that her mother is very sick. She has found peace, and happiness, and is putting the past behind her, one day at a time.

While this story is ultimately a hopeful one, about love triumphing, it is also deeply tragic. It is difficult to read about Naila’s family dehumanizing her, and treating her as an implement of the family’s destruction or honor, rather than as a person in her own right. Even though Naila is ultimately freed, it is hard to think about the other women in her family, who are stuck within the structures she has escaped. In the epilogue, Naila faces seeing her parents, knowing that they can’t do anything to her anymore. But her cousin of the same age, Selma, is still living with the family who abused Naila. They both say that they are like sisters, and Selma’s fate could just as easily be the same.

The ending is also a little rushed, not really allowing Naila’s new life and happiness to sink in for the reader. Her miscarriage and the trauma incurred from the beating her in-laws gave her is mentioned, but only as a sad experience that causes her regret. As Naila became pregnant by rape, as a result of her forced marriage, it rings a little false to me that her only feelings would be of sadness. I think having mixed feelings would certainly be realistic, anger, certainly, sadness, even relief. While it seems within character and very realistic for Naila’s in-laws to beat her, and for her to miscarry as a result, as a reader it seems like the author merely wanted to avoid wading into the controversial waters of abortion. The end of the book seems just a tad sped through. Naila’s journey to get to her happy ending was so fraught, I would have liked to savor it for more than a few pages. It would have also been nice to feel as though justice was served in some way- in reality, most women who escape abusive marriages do so with only their lives. It would have given me some closure as a reader to see Naila not just escape, but get some kind of restitution for her suffering. I suppose living well is the best revenge.