Book Reviews · New Releases

Book Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Girl Serpent

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, Flatiron Books, for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Fantasy/Retelling

Plot: There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

Opinion:

“I am both the Sleeping Beauty and the enchanted castle; the princess drowses in the castle of flesh.”

-Angela Carter, Vampirella

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a heavily Persian influenced mythology retelling with elements from classic fairy tales like “Sleeping Beauty“, “Rapunzel” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” It tells the story of a young Princess who was cursed with the touch of poison after her birth, and has since been hidden away in one of her family’s castles to keep her ailment secret. But when the royal family returns to her castle for the season, they bring with them a captured div – a demon who tried to kill the princess’s brother – whom they are keeping locked in the dungeons. For Princess Soraya, this is her only chance to find a way out of the curse that has caused her to live a life without human contact. But Soraya quickly learns that nothing is given for free, and consequences weigh heavily.

“There was and there was not.”

 

This unique retelling has been at the top of my TBR list for months. I originally found it on Goodreads while in one of a 3-hour book pit of browsing and knew it was going to be a top read of 2020. And though this story started out great, with rich culture spilling through the pages and a luscious world wrought with magic and danger, I felt myself begin to drift about 25% in.

It was an enjoyable read, but I was expecting an extra emotional punch and a little more excitement.

I hate to say it, but I was a bit bored for the middle and end of this book. I have been having trouble with YA Fantasy lately, so maybe it’s just me, but I just wasn’t as invested in the story as I wanted to be. I think a big part of this could be that the story went in a direction I wasn’t initially expecting it to. I guess I was expecting a “Throne of Glass” meets “Ash Princess“, and got more of a “Damsel” vibe that I wasn’t really feeling.

Soraya was an intriguing character at first, but her ‘doe in headlights‘ act started to get old pretty quickly. It bothered me how fine she was with her family practically shunning her and shoving her into a castle like Quasimodo, barely visiting her or even trying to communicate with her. I wanted her to show some semblance of anger or a grudge for her treatment, but it seemed innocence and being too trusting were her only major driving traits.

I also wanted her poisonous curse to be portrayed a bit darker.

Obviously this story is going to be written how the author wants and with their own preference to overall lightness or darkness in terms of overall theme, but I was hoping this was going to be a grittier and more raw tale. I wanted to really dive into the way this curse made Soraya feel. How the solitude and isolation has contributed to her personality and thoughts, and what flaws it causes her to develop. Yes, the girl is naive. But this book left her feeling like a Disney princess, rather than a relatable female who has been thrust into horrible circumstances.

The romance is a love triangle, and it was sweet and exciting in parts, but the original start between Soraya and Azad was…odd. I have a really hard time with insta-love and insta-intimacy. Upon their first actual meeting Azad basically professes his love and is shockingly not at all freaked out that one touch from Soraya will kill him instantly. He starts touching her hair (how did you know that her hair wasn’t also poisonous?!) and basically tells her how he’s always imaged being/rescuing/marrying her…? And Soraya instantly meets him halfway. What? This just felt so unbelievable for me.

I think the best part of this book is the world building and nod to Persian culture. Though this world isn’t as crazy outlandish and complex as some other YA Fantasies, it is perfectly detailed and the Arabian styled setting is described beautifully. Though of course more would have been so appreciated, the amount given is perfect for the reader to visualize and enjoy the tale.

By the end of Girl, Serpent, Thorn I was pleased with what happened, but I did find it a bit boring and somewhat predictable. I think I was just expecting a different story than what I got. It seems the majority of readers really loved this, so I would definitely read it and come to your own conclusion.

3 Stars

 

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Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases · Upcoming Releases

Book Review: The Anti-Virginity Pact by Katie Wismer

The AntiVirginity Pact

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me via Netgalley for an honest review. 

Genre: YA/Contemporary

Plot:

Preachers’ daughters aren’t supposed to be atheists. They’re also not supposed to make pacts to lose their virginity by the end of the year, but high school senior Meredith Beaumont is sick of letting other people tell her who to be.

Spending the last four years as Mute Mare, the girl so shy just thinking about boys could trigger panic attacks, Meredith knows exactly what it’s like to be invisible. But when a vindictive mean girl gets her manicured claws on the anti-virginity pact and spreads it around the school—with Mare’s signature at the bottom—Mare’s not so invisible anymore. She just wishes she was.

Now the girls mutter “slut” as they pass her in the hall, and the boys are lined up to help complete her checklist. When she meets a guy who knows nothing of the pact, their budding romance quickly transforms from a way to get her first time over with to a genuine connection. But when the pact threatens to destroy her new relationship and the fragile foundation of her seemingly perfect family, Mare has to decide what’s more important: fixing her reputation and pleasing her parents, or standing up for the person she wants to be.

Opinion:

“For the record, I don’t normally have a predisposition for making bad decisions.”

Cause girl,

yeah you do.

The Anti-Virginity Pact is a YA Contemporary about two senior girls who make a pact to lose their virginity before the end of high school. As the closet-atheist daughter of a preacher, Meredith’s anxiety has always made her shy and kept her in the shadows. Wanting to finally gain experiences, she and her best friend sign a contract to lose their virginity. But when the pact gets leaked and the entire school sees that Mute Mare signed it, she is suddenly descended upon by every guy in school who wants a turn.

This had so much potential to be an emotional, gut-wrenching, femi-empowering YA about familial expectations and self-exploration. It could have showcased the overwhelming guilt and obligation we feel to please our parents, and how our own wants and desires can be obliterated in doing so. Or put a blinding spotlight on rape culture, bullying and the endless double standards that exist in our society. Or the crippling fear and physical ailments that come with extreme anxiety. The panic, shortness of breath, feelings of drowning or being buried alive. The sheer peril that one experiences.

It had all the potential in the world to be deep, beautiful, raw and authentic.

But instead of my heartstrings being yanked and my tear ducts overflowing, I felt

not much of anything.

The Anti-Virginity Pact has a fairly slow start that continues until about halfway, where it switches gears drastically and becomes a book with zero direction. The first 55% actually wasn’t bad, even though the banter between Meredith and her best friend was a little eye-roll inducing, I was enjoying the slow buildup.

Meredith is a senior in high school and the daughter of a preacher. But for years, Mare had began rejecting the idea of religion and now considers herself an atheist, unbeknownst to her family. Due to growing up in a highly religious family and also having severe anxiety, Mare has always kept to herself – blending into the wallpaper and speaking to few people. So when her best friend Jo suggests a pact to lose their virginity by the end of high school, as a means to experience everything they missed out on (sex, parties, sports) she signs her name on the dotted line. And then the girls go about picking the lucky guys, and of course…

one of them HAS to be a teacher.

Honestly, this angle didn’t bother me that much, probably because of the countless YA Thrillers I’ve binged. But the execution of this trope was odd. It’s a lot of Jo swooning over their teacher and expressing plans on how to seduce him, Mare telling Jo it’s a horrible idea, and then Jo stomping her foot because Mare isn’t jumping for joy and celebrating her wanting to SEDUCE A TEACHER.

But honestly, this and Mare’s anxiety are about the most and only emotional follow-through in this entire book. Every time a BIG moment happened (because yeah, there’s a lot of them shoved in here) Mare and Jo just brush over it and move onto the next tragedy. Moments that would cause a person to break down in sobs, scream at the sky and start shattering things are let go with a “this is shitty or this sucks”, and thrown away. And it’s not like they are being brave or strong and can just handle what’s being thrown at them.

It’s that all that happens in this story are “hot topic explosions.

One explosion detonates, and before it can be dealt with or dissected, three more explosions go off, making it a ticking time-bomb of craziness that keeps falling from the sky in the most unrealistic way possible.

In a Middle Grade book, the story is set up to have the “and then, and then, and then” format to keep the young reader’s attention. That is exactly how this book is formatted. It’s a series of dramatic and controversial topics smashed together, without proper time and care being spent on each tragedy. Religion, bullying, sexuality, rape, anxiety, animal abuse, religious camps. It’s all here. But instead of each issue adding to the story or making an impact on the reader, it made it inauthentic and ridiculous. As if any detailed description and emotional focus would deter the author from checking off the mention of these “hot topic” issues.

I just couldn’t handle how Mare could experience crippling anxiety, and it being described in such a relatable and clear way, but then not having any strong reaction to the BIG situations that happen at the party, with Sam or with her parents. Mare’s life literally implodes, and instead of there being even a SINGLE moment of her having a reaction to it, her character is more concerned with talking to Sam about ignoring his phone calls.

Am I in 7th grade again?

But the WORST moment for me in this story, was the allude to a rape that…wasn’t a rape? Or…was it? I’m still not even sure. But the fact that I don’t even know, leaves such a bad taste in my mouth for how this was even done.

Firstly, it was ONE paragraph. And it wasn’t even a long paragraph. But I reread it about 15 times trying to figure out what actually happened, and honestly, I still have no idea. And with how the incident is then brought up, with Mare’s reaction to it being the same as if she was talking about what kind of sandwich she would like to have for lunch…well.

I just don’t even have words.

But just like every other moment of trauma in this story, the main character brushes it under the rug because I guess she’s just a robot.

Bottom line, don’t waste your time with this

1.5 Stars

 

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Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases

Book Review: The Boundless (The Beholder, Book 2) by Anna Bright

The Boundless

(See my review for Book 1 – The Beholder, here)

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the publisher, HarperTeen, via Edelweiss+ for an honest review. 

Genre: YA/Fantasy/Retelling

Plot: When Selah found true love with Prince Torden of Norway, she never imagined she’d have to leave him behind. All because the Beholder’s true mission was a secret Selah’s crew didn’t trust her to keep: transporting weapons to the rebels fighting against the brutal tsarytsya, whose shadow looms over their next port of Shvartsval’d. A place Selah hoped she’d never go.

But gone is the girl who departed Potomac filled with fear. With a stockpile of weapons belowdecks and her heart hanging in the balance, Selah is determined to see the Beholder’s quest to its end.

Opinion:

Assuming you read my review of The Beholder (book 1), you will have quickly realized how much I was LIVING and BREATHING for this world.

The messy romances, the adventure, court politics and gowns, propriety, sensibility, duty, folklore and fairy tales

AMAZING!

But when I was knee-deep in The Boundless and sloshing around in enemy territory with a very odd tension/competition dynamic, and a heroine that seems to have blossomed into a badass over night, I was just a bit…

…well…

Le sigh.

After being rushed out of Norway and back onto The Beholder, Selah and the crew are forced to continue the tour to find Selah a husband. But the next stop on the list is the one place they have all been dreading since they embarked on their journey – Shvartsval’d. Within the territories of the Imperiya Yotne and the feared tsarytsya, whom they refer to as Baba Yaga, dangers are lurking around every corner and their moves are closely monitored. The crew plans to get in and get out as quickly as possible, but with Lang having trouble contacting the rebels to unload their weapons, Selah must take matters into her own hands. But even after having to leave the boy she fell in love with, and a confusing romantic spark growing, Selah knows that one wrong move could bring her entire world crumbling down.

This wasn’t horrible by any means, but it was just a little too dull and I was rolling my eyes a liiiiiittle too much.

The intense and emotional roller coaster I was on in The Beholder didn’t cross over into The Boundless, by any means. In the first book, I had practically ever other sentence highlighted, I was overwhelmed with feelings and dazzled by the constant misleading directions the author threw me into. I was smiling like an idiot one moment, squealing like a schoolgirl the next, and gasping like a nun at the sheer audacity and turmoil ensuing. But with The Boundless, I was left feeling like the author missed the mark.

In comparison with book one, these are pretty different books. The Beholder focused on the Selah’s stepmother shipping her off to various countries and eligible Prince’s, so it was very much a Bachelorette styled story that felt like The Selection series, with pirate-like vibes. There was court politics, wooing, and romance. But in The Boundless, the story shifts focus more towards the rebellion and the Imperiya Yotne – the “bad guys” of this tale.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a rebellion series and the shift in the focus isn’t what is irking me about this installment. It’s that the shift between YA Romance to YA Fantasy-Rebellion-Badass Female Lead felt…bumpy? In book one, Selah is SO new to being courted. She had only one crush her entire life, and she had never even kissed the guy. So obviously our girl is shy, awkward, innocent and sort of fumbling through what is expected of her. She has no idea what she’s doing, is too trusting of those around her, and seems to just rush headfirst into every emotional situation.

So when we get to The Boundless, it’s like she suddenly just figured everything out and is now wholly confident, strong, brash, forceful and a master schemer?

I know, I know.

“Those experiences helped her unlock her potential.”

Maybe so, but the transition just didn’t feel organic, and I think it’s because there wasn’t enough focus on building Selah’s character. These books are LONG and there is a lot that happens, but what I was really needing was some extra attention put towards molding Selah so that we, the readers, could actually form a strong connection with her.

After reading book 1, I didn’t completely love Selah but I felt like I had a good understanding of who she was. But now? I can’t really stand her. Her strength felt forced, her wit and quick-thinking seem to have appeared out of nowhere, and she suddenly knows how to put her emotional entanglements aside and focus on taking a dictator down?

Her “I’ll do it myselfattitude wasn’t consistent with who the author had been writing about. In one instance Selah just takes charge and says she doesn’t need anyone. But then she is always waiting to be saved. Waiting for “you know who” to come and save her. Well, which is it? Are you wanting to be saved, or are you doing your own saving?

And speaking of emotional entanglements

Wtf was going on with that weird little almost, but not quite, love triangle?

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’m going to keep the details on the DL, but I will say this: it felt like the author was trying to emulate a Bella-Edward-Jacob situation, but the execution was just weird and left my face all scrunched up and stuck in a state of annoyed confusion. There was no connection between Selah and “he who must not be named“. In The Beholder, I was hardcore panicking about them getting together, especially after I fell in drooly love with the “you know who” guy. But the fear of it going the way I didn’t want was exciting, and he had an allure and bad-boy/NAGC/mystery sort of aura about him.

But in The Boundless, I just wanted to smack him.

Their relationship got competitive and made even less sense than before, and I was hating every second of it. He was NOT a desirable character in this sequel, and I found their banter and interactions totally strange. THANKFULLY, things turned out how I hoped. But even so, those romantic reunions were so anti-climactic. I wanted to be punched in the face with emotion, not gently handed my wishes on a silver platter by a butler.

Like c’mon, make me beg for it!

Anyways. Once again the names of places and people’s names were confusing and I had a horrid time trying to connect things. I was hoping that was going to be ironed out in this sequel, but it wasn’t. But I am pleased with the book’s outcome and the added levels of intricacies that the author wove in. I just wish there would have been more of this type of plot in the first so that there could have been a seamless transition between the books, but even so, it works.

One of my favorite aspects of this series has been the blending of this new fantasy story with a few other classic fairy tales. We had mentions of The Odyssey, similar elements to Cinderella, and the obvious comparison of Baba Yaga. In Boundless, we get a few extra tales as well. There are a few Little Red Riding Hood mentions, but my favorite was the ode to the The Twelve Dancing Princesses. This gave the story intrigue, mystery and a means to connect certain plot points.

Overall, I liked it, but I definitely didn’t love The Boundless as much as I loved The Beholder. I was riding high on swoon clouds in book 1, and sitting in an even-paced horse and carriage in book two. It was a great story that had a ton of exciting adventure and turmoil happening, and even blended in some new fairy tales that readers will recognize. I guess I just wasn’t ready for the switch in story style, and was expecting a bit more focus and attention on the romance

3 Stars

 

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Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases

Book Review: The Sky is Mine by Amy Beashel

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the Publisher, Rock the Boat (Oneworld Publications), via Netgalley for an honest review.

Genre: YA/Contemporary/Abuse-Sexual and Domestic

Plot: No one has ever asked Izzy what she wants. She’s about to change all that…

In a house adept at sweeping problems under the carpet, seventeen-year-old Izzy feels silenced. As her safety grows uncertain, Izzy know three things for sure. She knows not to tell her mother that Jacob Mansfield has been threatening to spread those kinds of photos around college. She knows to quiet the grief that she’s been abandoned by her best friend Grace. And, seeing her mother conceal the truth of her stepdad’s control, Izzy also knows not to mention how her heart splinters and her stomach churns whenever he enters a room.

When the flimsy fabric of their life starts to unravel, Izzy and her mum must find their way out of the silence and use the power in their voices to rediscover their worth.

For fans of Sara Barnard, Louise O’Neill and E. Lockhart, The Sky is Mine is a powerful exploration of rape culture and domestic abuse, and a moving story of women learning to love themselves enough to demand to be heard.

Opinion:

Then he lets out this laugh that’s like a puff of disgust and says something like ‘gotcha’ before the blast of cool air lets me know I’m still here, on the wrong side of the door, having been coaxed in by the surprise of Jacob’s smile.”

Because this is what happens to girls like me with boys like Jacob. This is what we deserve. And I fall deeper and deeper into the well, away from the sun and the moon, where embers of whatever my voice could have been are immediately starved of air.”

 

If I thought it would make any difference, I would scream.”

 

Izzy doesn’t know where her voice went. Why her lips stay shut when Jacob is near, why she allows his hands to touch her skin. She doesn’t want it to happen, she wants it to stop. But Jacob is dangling shame over her head and Izzy is all too familiar with the tricks of men. How he twists his words and so easily takes her power. To say nothing is almost easier. To just bear the weight of the ugliness and keep moving forward. That’s what her mother does with Daniel, her stepdad. She keeps her mouth shut, her head down, and falls in line. But the loneliness that Izzy’s secrets bring are weighing her down. She can’t talk to her mother, who is just as silenced as she, and her best friend Grace is too preoccupied with her new girlfriend. So Izzy has to deal with it alone. Unless, she can find a way out.

‘I should go,’ I say, but my words are an echo and his room is a cave with its closed curtains and the bedside lamp suddenly switched off by his swift fingers, which somehow turn to fire in the dark, spreading wild across my body so I can no longer tell which bit of him is where because the whole of Jacob is on me, against me, burning itself into me as my echo presses into what might be his chest but could be his shoulder.

Whatever piece of him is so close to my mouth, it melts my ability to speak, any words I try to summon seeping into a wet patch of nothing on his shirt.”

I’d disappear if I could, but I can’t.”

I have never highlighted so many quotes in a book, in my life. But the quantity of these highlights, though very large, doesn’t even compare to the quality and punch they pack. Amy Beashel has reached into the heart of so many young girls and women and extracted those feeling of loneliness, fear, regret, shame, self-loathing, anger and sadness. She took the ugliness that we have all felt, and sometimes still feel, and she has screamed it through black ink on thin pieces of paper. This book is powerful. It hurts, it hits an all too familiar nerve, and it leaves an ache in your gut. It is something so many of us have felt, and something so many of us have always been afraid of.

‘You were gone, Izzy.’

‘No more than you or Jacob or any of your other mates.’

‘Isn’t the same for us though, is it?’”

This isn’t a lighthearted story. It’s about sexual abuse and rape. About domestic abuse, manipulation and control. It’s about a daughter who is going through hell in the confines of a boy’s bedroom, and a mother who suffers in her own home, while her daughter watches. It is pure heartbreak and sorrow, and this author captures it in a way that feels all too real.

Everything just kind of gives in.

I shouldn’t be here.”

Izzy’s character feels so true and authentic. A girl who knows she doesn’t want the things that are happening to her to be happening, but is unable to speak up. And as the reader follows her into her memories of the party, and into the bedroom of a boy that is blackmailing her, we begin to realize how and why that is. The relationship between her mother and her stepdad is volatile and and confusing, as is her own relationship with her stepfather, Daniel. So many controlling phrases said with smiles, or harsh japes delivered with an upbeat tone. And even a lingering of Daniel’s hand on her back for a second too long, or a look down towards her chest. It is no wonder that Izzy says nothing, because that is exactly what her mother does.

…and me looking at my thighs in the mirror wondering how all those other girls do it. Fall out of hate with their bodies, I mean.

‘You’re beautiful’, Mum whispers when Daniel leaves the kitchen, but her voice is too much like tissue paper to wrap me up in anything that feels like safety or strength or truth.”

The abuse that Izzy’s mother endures through her marriage is easily frustrating as you read. Her timid behavior, the way she says nothing when Daniel talks down to Izzy, or the way she refuses to speak with Izzy when Izzy attempts to reach out to her. It is painful to watch, but unfortunately, it mirrors so many true relationships of how a woman will hold on, even if it’s hurting her. I was angry that her mother would stay and not get Izzy out of that house, or that she wasn’t more observant to how Daniel behaved around around her daughter…but I imagine that is the point, isn’t it? To spark an anger in the reader, because these situations are all too real and and equally emotionally confusing.

And how the behavior of her mother intertwines with how Izzy treats her own relationships and situations is…devastating. There were tears constantly in my eyes and a sickness in my stomach as Izzy describes her despair. Her loneliness and fear, or how she goes along with a boy’s request because she feels she has no other options.

My chest and my belly turning from chalky mass to scarlet mass in the rush of the water, which, no matter how high I turn the dial on the shower, still can’t shift the stickiness of Jacob’s hands and mouth and his tongue that slicked those words: ‘Relax, Izzy. It’ll be so much better if you just fucking relax.’

Cos those words, they’re as wedged as the earplugs I’ve used on the worst kinds of nights when Daniel’s done what he’s done, and he’s left, and Mum’s crying is as quiet as she can make it, but for all her effort, that sinking weep of hers seeps through the walls like blood on toilet paper.”



But what really stands out to me about this story, is the imperfections and unsavory characteristics. Of how not everything turns out perfectly. Of how some things improve and change, but how the trauma molds these two women. How it shifts their mother daughter relationship and jumbles it up into a ball of confusion and assumptions about how the other had been feeling. The author so beautifully displayed how Izzy saw things from her perspective, and then how her mother saw them and what was going through her head. But even so, the theme of this story is their silence and how they learn to find their voices.

…she doesn’t even try, just sits there as I work on being a rock, dry and deserted, pulling back the tears and filing my mouth with biscuits so it doesn’t accidentally fill with words.”

There is a romance aspect that comes to Izzy, and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure it was necessary or that I even wanted it to be there. I wanted Izzy to find self-worth and strength on her own or with her mother. And though she does in some ways, the fact that part of it came from a boy sort of…rubs me the wrong way. Izzy’s best friend Grace on the other hand, is everything I wanted and needed. Grace is so sure, so herself…it’s astounding. She is her own body and her own soul, and it was the most beautiful thing to witness, especially as she builds Izzy up and forces her to see her own beauty.

‘You’re fuckin’ perfect. Look at us,’ she says, dragging me to the mirror, ‘we both are.’”

This book was so sad and beautiful, I am so glad I found it. I always gravitate towards stories like this, but the last few I have read were less than impressive. Thankfully, Amy Beashel has blown me away and made my entire demeanor deflate from sadness. Which I know sounds bad, but I love when a book does this to me. Bravo Amy.

‘Would you like to talk to me about what happened?’ she asks.

‘Yes,’ I say.

And the word is an expanding universe. Any my voice?

Well, My voice is the goddamn Big Bang.”

 

4.5 Stars

 

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Book Promo · Book Reviews · Netgalley · New Releases

Book Review: Last Girls by Demetra Brodsky


Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the Publisher, Macmillan-Tor/Forge via Netgalley for an honest review.
Genre: YA/Contemporary/Dooms Day Preppers (It’s a genre now)
Plot:

No one knows how the world will end.
On a secret compound in the Washington wilderness, Honey Juniper and her sisters are training to hunt, homestead, and protect their own.
Prepare for every situation.
But when danger strikes from within, putting her sisters at risk, training becomes real life, and only one thing is certain:
Nowhere is safe.

Opinion:

Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?

-Pink Floyd

“Preparedness is the root of prepping.”

Sisters Honey, Birdie and Blue know they’re weird. Unlike regular teenagers who worry about school dances, dating and shopping, the Juniper sisters are more versed in survival skills and tactical combat. For years they have been moving around with their mother Alice, never without their EDC bags or each other. But after settling in Washington and working and training along fellow doomsday preppers on a secret compound in the outskirts of town, things for the Juniper sisters are getting…strange. After a mission set by the compound leader goes wrong, one of the boys from the compound is forced to go out on his own as punishment. But what really happened that day on the mission is the real question, and why the mission was ordered in the first place. Suddenly life isn’t all government conspiracies and stock-piling food. While trying to keep their prepper identities secret, they soon realize the truth is much more toxic than they ever expected.

‘Why did we ever come here?’

‘To find our way home,’ Blue says.”

I think this is my new favorite book of 2020. I mean sure, nothing can really beat the gut-punch and epic fantastical emotion show that was HOEAB, but for me…Last Girls comes damn close.

Maybe it’s just the conspirator in me, or the slight hope for an apocalypse so I can run around the world mostly scared, yet completely badass in my combat boots, unpractical black jeans, ripped shirts and unnaturally large knives strapped to my legs. But in truth, it’s probably the fact that I am a sucker for badass females that can take care of themselves – ESPECIALLY in the woods with a bow or a rifle. And that is exactly what the Juniper sisters are. BAD. ASS. They’re fiesty, they’re sharp and witty, they are experts in weaponry and hunting and can lay you on your back in .25 seconds. They are teenagers who posses the innocence of young women, but also carry a wisdom and complete sense of comfort as to who they are. They are thoughtful, tactful and at ease in their bodies. I adore them.

We can handle them.

My sisters and I can handle anything.”

The girls live on a compound with a bunch of other preppers. Men and women, boys and girls. The compound is separated into two two sections: The Burrow, where the men reside with the weapons and artillery, and The Nest, where the women reside and grow food for the compound and tend to the animals. Every day the girls are required to take care of the animals that are used for food, to train with the rest of the compound, and to remember the most vital rule of all:

The first rule of prep club is you don’t talk about prep club.”

The compound is ultra strict about keeping the prepper business on the DL, and anyone caught violating their rules or putting their fellow preppers at risk are swiftly dealt with and banished. This lifestyle is all the juniper sisters have ever known, and it’s almost like they were made for it. So even though they are always labeled the Weird Sisters at whatever school they end up attending, they also are quite aware that if a disaster ever hit, they would definitely be the last ones standing.

“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”

HONEY

Honey is the oldest Juniper sister and tasked with the responsibility of keeping her sisters in line and ensuring they always stay together. She is compassionate and strong, fierce yet approachable, thoughtful and definitely acts as the mother hen. The story is told by her and seen through her eyes, which I think was the perfect choice for a voice for this story. She is the balance of her two sisters. A piece of Blue’s calm and a piece of Birdie’s brash nature. She is the glue and the rational authority for her sisters, always thinking ahead and making sure they are safe.

“…a look that rides the line between aloof and ready for battle.”

BIRDIE

Now Birdie…she’s my girl. I connected with her SO much, even though she’s still a bit of a mystery. She has the Fury/Amren vibes of cool and carefree murder in her eyes, and a sassy mouth like Aelin and Bryce. She fully lives up to her name in the sense that she flies out the door on a whim, doing what she pleases and when. She acts before thinking and refuses to be told what to do, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t an excellent prepper. Because she is. She is just as dedicated to her lifestyle as her sisters, but she likes to bend the rules more. She is the strength and unwavering determination of the sisters.

“A calm blue sea with hair to match…”

BLUE

Blue is also my favorite! So yeah, okay…I love them all. But Blue is perfection! She is the youngest Juniper and is an enigma of cool, calm and collected at all times. She is unwavering in her thoughtfulness and passive nature, and is always spouting odd prophecy-like sentences that even make her sisters look at her strangely. But of course, that was why I was obsessed with her. Well, and the cobalt blue hair. Blue is so sweet and loving, definitely the heart of the sisters.

So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”

But this story has so much MORE of an underlying purpose weaved within it, but I of course can’t say a damn thing about it because OHMYGAH, it’s so good. By the end of the book I had tears forming, and when Birdie flies at someone near the end…well. I just about broke down and started happy weeping. How this tale comes together is really crafty and sly, and I loved how slowly everything was revealed. It broke me a little, in a good way, and I am still oohing and ahhing about the beauty of it all. And to make the story EVEN BETTER, the writing in it was fantastic! The sarcastic jokes, ironic Hunger Games references and witty banter between Honey and her classmate Remy was so enjoyable. I was highlighting SO MUCH while reading because I couldn’t get enough of these personalities.

There are a few romantic notions in this tale, but I really liked that it didn’t encompass the story or overpower the real plot. It added to the characters by bringing a necessary softness and realistic nature to them. It helped make the girls feel like actual teenagers, rather than gun-toting soldiers looking for a fight.

Overall, I loved this book. I want it to become a movie, I want to play Birdie, no I cannot act, but I have that “f**k you” look ready and the hair to match, so bring it on. Read this book. Get into the culty/Dooms Day/Apocalypse/prepper lifestyle with me and let’s go be weird together.

Currently taking applications for my other Juniper sisters.

5 Stars

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