Binding of Bindings · Book Wrap-up

Binding of Bindings #49: July 2020 Book Wrap-up

I’m not going to lie…
the reading game has been tough AF lately.
It’s been month after month of no desire to read, less than thrilling books when I do read, and the relentless drooping of my eyelids when skimming lines.
But finally, it’s as if something has pulled me from the depths of my cookie over-eating, refusals to workout, and dark hole of The End of the F***ing World reruns, and has chosen to give me a gift
A new lease on life and a love for books about murder, stalkings and cannibalism.

 

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~* July 2020 Book Wrap-Up *~

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I know we’re halfway into August.

Just let it happen.

 

1. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Genre: YA/Fantasy/Retelling/LGBT

Girl Serpent

Okay so this one obviously isn’t about cannibalism or stalking, but you’ll notice that as this list goes on, it starts to take a dramatic shift from YA Fantasy to literal cannibalism.

What can I say?

The heart wants what the heart wants.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn was pretty mehhhhhh. It’s a mix retelling of Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and some other fairytale called Rappaccini’s Daughter. It’s about a Princess who is cursed with the touch of poison, and is forced into solitude so that the royals can keep her secret hidden…and so she doesn’t, you know…

kill someone with a poke.

What I had hoped would be an epic tale of sorrow and isolation of a Princess, and a slow-burn love interest where they both know they can’t have one another…was more like eye-rolling insta-love and too many instances where they could get around touching each other.

Meh. Not my jam.

3 Stars

(See my review here)

 

2. Accidental by Alex Richards
Genre: YA/Contemporary

Accidental

“𝑩𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒌 𝒕𝒘𝒊𝒄𝒆 𝒊𝒇 𝒚𝒐𝒖’𝒓𝒆 𝒕𝒓𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒆𝒅 𝒊𝒏 𝒂 𝒉𝒐𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒍𝒆 𝒔𝒊𝒕𝒖𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏.”

Ugh. This book.

Accidental is a tear-inducer and makes your teenage self want to crawl under your blankies and wail like a wounded antelope.

It’s the story of a teenage girl who has been living with her grandparents since she was a young girl, when her mother was killed in a car accident and her father bailed. But the reemergence of her father brings secrets to the surface, and this one being that Johanna’s mother didn’t actually die in a car accident.

She was killed by a gunshot wound, and Johanna was the one that pulled the trigger.

It’s about how Johanna comes to terms with something she did as a very young child. An event that she doesn’t remember, but one that changes her life forever. She is thrust into guilt for killing her mother, for taking away the only daughter her grandparents had, and for being the reason that they had to take her in.

This character goes through some serious pits of self-loathing…and damn if I wasn’t living for every second of it.

Obviously gun control is the big theme here, but don’t worry. BOTH sides of this debate are represented.

4.5 Stars

(See my review here)

 

3. Seasons of the Storm (Book 1) by Elle Cosimano
Genre: YA/Fantasy

Seasons of the Storm

I read this in early July and I still haven’t reviewed it.

Does that tell you anything?

The plot for this book is SICK, which is the whole reason I requested it.

Seasons of the Storm is about seasons being embodied by people, and each time it becomes a new season, the coming season has to KILL the current season in order for their time to start.

Summer kills Spring.

Autumn kills Summer.

Winter kills Autumn.

Spring kills Winter.

Unfortunately, it just wasn’t WOW at all.

It’s a story that has multiple characters that the reader has a chance to connect with and become invested in, but instead of their stories and personalities shining through, all we really get is that annoying trope of every pair coupling off.

The main plot is these “seasons” wanting to escape and live a life outside of this world they were brought into. Where there are constantly killing or being killed.

But their escape is rushed, and everything after their escape from the facility was soooooo BORING.

It was like a bad Maze Runner.

2.5 Stars

 

4. The Summer I Drowned by Taylor Hale
Genre: YA/Mystery/Thriller

The Summer I Drowned

Another book from early July that I have yet to review.

I haven’t decided on a rating for this book yet, and probably won’t until my review. But I will say this…

The Summer I Drowned was a bit forgettable, but still pretty attention grabbing.

It’s not a bad book by any means though!

It’s about a girl who comes back to her hometown after being away for five years. When she was a kid, she fell off a cliff’s edge and into the ocean where she almost drowned. Once a huge swimmer and lover of the water, now Olivia has a deep fear of going anywhere near it.

After countless years of therapy, she decides that going back to her hometown for the Summer (where it all happened) would be great for her healing process.

But when she arrives back, expecting her old friendships to be exactly the same, she realizes that she isn’t the only one who has changed.

The conclusion is actually quite creative and interesting, and definitely unexpected. It makes you question what you read and the main character, which is really all we want in a mystery/thriller isn’t it? But when it comes to that romance? UGH.

Gag me.

 

5. The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn
Genre: Adult/Horror/Thriller

The Shuddering

A Blizzard and cabin in the woods?

Check.

Group of adults focused entirely too much on themselves?

Check.

Wendigo-like creatures spraying red across the serene snowy landscape, butchering human bodies and expertly planning how they will get their prey?

Check.

The Shuddering is basically a fucked-up version of Until Dawn, but in book form and without Rami Malek.

*sad face*

It was the first pick in my newest book club:

If You Like Cannibalism.

Cute, right?

Five adults go out to a cabin as a last get-together before one of them moves to another country. But while there, in the dead of winter, they all start to get picked off.

One by one.

Your typical horror, right?

How one of these characters gets killed is sooooo beyond fucked. Beyond twisted, BEYOND DEMENTED…but oh so good.

5 Stars

 

6. I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick
Genre: YA/Mystery/Thriller

I killed zoe spanos

I Killed Zoe Spanos was another great YA mystery/thriller that I can add to my list of books that were just done right.

The story centers on the disappearance of a girl named Zoe Spanos, who vanished on New Year’s Eve from the Hamptons without a trace. The following summer, a girl named Anna Cicconi arrives in the Hamptons for a job as a nanny, and as a way to take a break from the partying she was doing in Brooklyn.

But when Anna arrives and begins to learn about the disappearance of this girl Zoe, she also learns how eerily similar the too look. It’s not long before Anna obsessively begins finding out more on this missing girl, and eventually…

…she ends up confessing to murdering her.

The story flips back between the summer when Anna arrives, and to a few months after her confession. But a local refuses to believe Anna is responsible for Zoe’s death, so she takes it upon her self to find answers.

Seriously, what a trip.

I had suspicions about where this would go, and some were correct. But where it actually ended up? I didn’t foresee that. And to be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the ending because it felt a little too forced and unbelievable, and I wanted things between certain characters to be tied up.

But overall, a solid mystery.

4 Stars

(See my review here)

 

7. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
Genre: Adult/Thriller/Mystery

Our Kind of Cruelty

OKAY.

On to the good shit

Stalkers.

July’s pick for the Psycho Sloth Book Club was Our Kind of Cruelty, and I seem to be one of the only people in the group who actually liked it.

If you don’t know about the Psycho Sloths – we all fell in love with Joe Goldberg from YOU and his stalkery yet totally justifiable means of murdering people who just aren’t good influences on the women he loves.

We love his passion. His dedication. His heart and soul!

And especially that Penn Badgley plays him in the show.

He’s a lover, not a killer.

Anyways, now the book club has turned into a stalker extravaganza!

Enter: Mike Hayes.

Mike is a sexy man with a great bod, a successful job and an unflinching loyalty and love for his girlfriend Verity. He works long hours to provide for her, built their dream home and keeps it the way she likes and always thinks of her first.

The only problem is that Verity is engaged to someone else.

Woe is Mike.

But the reason Mike continues to pursue Verity is because he thinks they are still playing Crave – a game they made up when they were dating where Verity would enter a club alone, and when a guy came up to hit on her, Mike would intervene and then they’d get all hot and heavy.

This isn’t just a tale of loving from afar though. This shit gets WILD.

Even now, I am so unsure of what the truth is. Is Mike crazy? Or is Verity just a bitch? I DON’T KNOW! But I will say this…

…I’m just trying to find my Crave partner.

4 Stars

 

8. Brother by Ania Ahlborn
Genre: Adult/Horror/Thriller

Brother

Hey,

Literally, the best for last.

This book means EVERYTHING to me, okay?

EVERYTHING!

It was the SECOND book in one month for the If You Like Cannibalism Book Club, and lemme tell you hooooney

So. Much. Cannibalism.

I feel complete. Almost whole.

As if I have been waiting my entire life for this fucked up, brutal and demented way of thinking that flows through Ania Ahlborn’s beautiful head.

She is the horror goddess.

Brother is about a sweet family of cannibals who live in the outskirts of Appalachia, some time in the 70’s. They lure cute, young strawberry blondes onto their property where they torture and kill them, and then eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But this story is SO much more than that. It follows main character Michael Morrow, who has never wanted to hurt people the way his mother and brother Reb seem to. He doesn’t get enjoyment out of his tasks of chasing the girls down when they escape, or chopping up their bodies. But when you’re a Morrow, it’s kill or be killed.

Any author who can make me love a character who is mentally unhinged and/or does horrible things has all of my respect. Ania Ahlborn is 100%, without a doubt, my new favorite author. She thrusts so much humanity and unrelenting hopelessness into her stories, and has made my skin crawl while putting the hugest smile on my face.

Read this, and everything else she writes.

5 Stars

 

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Stay Witchy

 

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Book Promo · New Releases

Release Day: Dearest Clementine (Letters, 1) by Candace Robinson

Book Title: Dearest Clementine
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Series: Letters, Book 1
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Authors: Candace Robinson
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~*~ Release Day ~*~

I have paired up with author Candace Robinson to being you the release of her newest short story collection of romantic tales, Dearest Clementine.

Is this cover stunning, or what?!

This collection of deeply dark and romantic tales is perfect for fans of epic, dark love. You will swoon for these monstrous characters!

~Click here to add it to your Goodreads shelf!~

~Click here to Order your copy!~

~Synopsis below~

Dearest Clementine

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Book Synopsis
Clementine has been taken by a creature of darkness.

Dorin is a fiend in love who must find Clementine before losing her forever.

While on his desperate search, Dorin pens eight dark and romantic monstrous tales, written only for Clementine. Each story serves a purpose, and that is, do monsters have the ability to love, too?

Dearest Clementine is a short story collection filled with dark romantic tales.

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Social Media Tags:
Instagram: @literarydust
Website: https://authorcandacerobinson.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @literarydust
Goodreads: CandaceRobinson
Binding of Bindings · Book Promo

Binding of Bindings #48 : 11 YA Contemporary Books That’ll Hurt

These are all heavy AF YA Contemporary stories that will hurt like hell, but need to be read.
This entire post comes with a trigger warning, and has elements of the following:
Abusesexual, domestic/physical, verbal, manipulation, control; Mental Healthbrain injuries, suicide, schizophrenia, anger/impulse control issues, Radical Religion, Kidnapping, Brainwashing, Incest (Yeah I know, it’s fine), Bullying, Self-harm, Attempted Murder, Survival, Death.
These are all beautiful and haunting books that have huge, unwavering voices.
Each book is packed with heavy material, and some may be hard to get through, but each has a powerful message of awareness, personal strength and vital information.
Please take care when you read and put the needs of yourself first.
This content can be triggering, so tread lightly.

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National Suicide Prevention/Crisis Hotline: 800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Website: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or TEXT: LOVEIS to 22522
Domestic Violence Website: https://www.thehotline.org/

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Stay safe, strong and keep those heads up, you beautiful babes ❤

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~* 11 YA Contemporary Books That’ll Hurt *~

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1. The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Abuse-Sexual/Self-Harm

The Way I Used To Be

When someone asks me for a book recommendation, it’s always this.

Always. Always. Always.

This.

The Way I Used to Be wrecked me beyond words.

I vividly remember the Friday night I started it, and every moment until the wee hours of Saturday morning where I sat on my floor in silence with tears running down my face.

This book hurt me more than any other YA Contemporary book I have ever read, and it’s because of how authentic, ugly and raw it is. It’s about how a girl copes with being raped at a party. The days, weeks and months after and what she does to herself and those around her in her grief and shame.

Amber Smith DOES NOT dress this shit up in a pretty bow and box. It’s a fucked up book of pure emotion, and it HAS to be at the top of your reading list.

You’ll be thanking me through your tears at 2am.

2. Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Romance/Abuse-Domestic

Dreamland

My second most recommended book, and one of three sets of books that I read every year.

And I mean every year.

Dreamland is also the only Sarah Dessen book I really give two fondues about as well, probably due to the fact that it isn’t as “summery” and “sun-shiney” as the rest of her work.

It is about a girl named Caitlin who starts dating a guy named Rogerson. Rogerson is a total hottie package. Tall and mysterious, a bit brooding, quiet with an intense stare that strips you raw.

You know the type.

The kind you’d let do some truly awful shit to you, just to get those little moments of pure and intense snippets of “trueunaffected love.

Dreamland is painful and complicated. It shows the intricacies of an abusive relationship, of how easy it can be to stay in one, and how confusing it is when your emotions are wrapped up so tightly.

It’s a book EVERY girl should read as a pre-teen.

Know your worth.

3. A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa B. Sheinmal
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Mental-Health

A Danger to Herself and Others

If you’d like to be completely mind-fucked while you cry, then A Danger to Herself and Others is for you.

This book got me HOOKED on Alyssa B. Sheinmel.

I don’t care what this woman writes, I will read it all. Everything, all of it, forever, until I die.

Her ability to familiarize the reader with Mental Health and show it in a dauntingly close-up, yet sincere and tender way, is true beauty. She can give you insight to the confusion and insanity that is somehow so precious and striking.

A Danger to Herself and Others is about a young woman named Hannah who is institutionalized after an accident involving her roommate at a summer program. Hannah knows that her being there is just a formality and that they will realize soon that she is innocent, she just has to persuade the staff that she is fine.

But of course…that’s only the surface of this story.

And damn is it a deep story.

(See my review here)

4. The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill
Genre/Trigger: YA/Retelling/Feminism

“A Woman’s no can so easily be turned into a yes by men who do not want to listen.”

Not 100% contemporary, but it holds the same powerful punch as any of these other books do.

If you are looking for powerfully feminist reads, add Louise O’Neill to the top of your list and never look back.

This lady knows what she’s doing.

The Surface Breaks is a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, and I am STILL shocked that this isn’t more well-known or praised.

It follows the tale we know fairly closely, but Louise has a way of highlighting all those little moments we seemed to ignore as kids.

This is not a sweet story of true love.

Our little mermaid is not surrounded by love, she is not gifted love, and she is treated in such a way that is…all too familiar to a lot of us. It is a tale of women not having a choice. Of women giving their voice up for love, and that choice being abused. It’s a story of possession, greed, pain and heartbreak.

“Either I am silent above the surface, or I spend the rest of my life screaming for mercy down here, the water muffling my cries.”

*sigh*

Just read it.

(See my review here)

5. The Liar’s Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Religion

The Liar's Daughter

“How does it feel? I want to ask. To have everything that’s precious to you taken away?”

In a perfect world, the publisher would not have given the entire plot and beauty of this story away in the description, but alas, they do not have my flare for dramatics and torturing suspense…or apparently any decency

The Liar’s Daughter is one of those books that you need to just read, without knowing much about the plot. In fact, it would have been 1000% better than the 100 times amazing it already is, if I had read it not knowing what it was about.

Therefore, humor me.

Please, do not look this plot up. Just trust me when I say, the book will blow you away.

It is about a girl who lives with her family on a compound in the forest. She adores her father and wishes to make him proud, to show how strong and capable she is, and her siblings bring her more joy than anything else. They all thrive in the wilderness away from societal distractions and obligations. They are happy.

Until she is taken from her family and brought to the home of a new family.

This story is about how Piper gets her bearings after being taken.

This. Writing. Is. Flawless.

The author makes the reader feel just as lost, scared, confused and distrustful of others as Piper is. It’s a mind jumble, an emotional roller-coaster and a creatively woven tale that will have you beyond hooked. You will both love and hate these characters, trust them and be suspicious of them.

It, is wild.

(Do not read my review, just read the book)

6. How I live Now by Meg Rosoff
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Romance/Sci-Fi-Dystopian

How I live now

“I was dying, of course, but then we all are. Every day, in perfect increments.”

“Staying alive was what we did to pass the time.”

If you haven’t read this book, or seen this beautiful movie starring Saoirse Ronan and George Mackay, then you need to prioritize your life and get it together.

How I Live Now is a tale of survival, love and finding your way back home.

Daisy is fifteen and sent from the states to England to stay with her cousins for the Summer. Not soon after arriving, London is attacked and bombed, and a war begins. Suddenly the kids, now without adult supervision, have to figure out how to survive on their own.

This book is…wow.

It’s a realistically beautiful and frightening story of what it means to stay alive in a world that has flipped into chaos. These young people are wild, free, strong, thoughtful, sharp and inquisitive. They have unflinching grit and unwavering hearts, and they deal with some insanely heavy shit at such young ages.

So read the book, don’t get weirded out by the romanceit’s fine, basque in the brilliance, and then watch the movie.

Shed some tears, have a good Friday night in.

You’re welcome.

(See my review here)

7. The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Romance/Abuse-Manipulation/Sexual

The Places Ive cried in public

Alright, back to the really heavy shit.

The Places I’ve Cried in Public

Sounds cheery, doesn’t it?

This is a story about a girl who is beyond distraught over her breakup with a boy. We follow her as she lives in the present and visits each place around town where her ex-boyfriend had made her cry, which eventually builds up to the real reason of why they split.

This book is on this list because it will make you crazy upset, but mostly because of the form of abuse that is represented. A lot of times, deep manipulation and mental abuse aren’t represented in books as much as physical violence, even though it is just as common and accompanies domestic abuse.

Mental and Emotional Abuse isn’t talked about a lot, but Holly Bourne wanted to talk about it.

This book hit me so hard in the gut because of how painfully relatable and realistic it is. It feels like a legitimate and authentic account of emotional abuse, how conflicting your thoughts and feelings are towards your abuser, and how easy it is to tell yourself you’re overreacting.

8. Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Abuse-Physical/Domestic/Attempted Murder

Sparrow

“Affliction is enamored of thy parts, and thou art wedded to calamity”

-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Sparrow is one of those delicate and fragile tales that sticks with you and makes you ache every time you think about it.

It poses the question of ‘Can you fight?‘ and if so, ‘how long?

Sparrow is about a girl named Savannah RoseSparrow. She is a ballerina with the death of her mother looming over her shoulders, even though years have passed. Sparrow was always taught to stay strong, to stay quiet, and to keep things to herself. But the growing aggression and physical nature from her boyfriend is growing, and one night, it goes too far.

Sparrow also has different forms of abuse represented, and they pack in punch in this eerily dark contemporary that is like Speak meets Black Swan.

I highlighted most of this book because damn do these sentences and descriptions cut into your soul. This story highlights how Sparrow’s unfortunate present connects with her childhood and the relationship she had with her mother.

This book dives deep into a dark hole of depression and sorrow, so please be mindful of your mental state before reading. But when you do feel ready, read this.

You might find some strength in it.

“‘What is the haunted name, the secret name of your deepest self?’

“And I answer, ‘Sorrow'”.

(See my review here)

9. The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Mental Health-Brain Injury

The One Memory of Flora Banks

Let’s bring things up a little, shall we?

Here is a nice break from all this bleaknessThe One Memory of Flora Banks.

Now THIS, is a unique and creative story.

When Flora Banks was ten years old, the part of her brain that stores new memories was damaged during a surgery to remove a tumor. Now Flora has no short-term memory, and throughout the day her brain can resent itself multiple times. To cope, Flora has countless post-it notes in her bags to remind her of who she is, what she is doing and anything important that she wants to remember. She has writing all over her hands and arms and relies heavily on her best-friend and parents to help remind her of…everything.

But then Flora kisses her best-friends boyfriend, and miraculously, the memory sticks.

This book is epic.

There is immense adventure in these pages, with a representation of beautiful and kind souls littered throughout. It shines such a bright, happy and thoughtful light on Mental Health and the limitations that society puts on a person.

It is heartbreaking, yes, but it is one of the most rewarding YA Contemporaries I have read in a long time.

10. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Suicide/Bullying/Abuse-Sexual/Self-Harm/Mental Health

13

We’re almost there, stay with me.

Thirteen Reasons Why

I know there’s a show an all, but who cares about that.

This book took over my teenage life. Never had I experienced a story of this emotional magnitude and thought-provoking ingenuity, and I probably never will again. This should be required reading in EVERY. SINGLE. SCHOOL.

If you don’t know it, it’s about a girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide. Before her death, she records the events/reasons that lead up to her decision on cassette tapes, and then sends it off to the first person that contributed to the spiral.

Each tape has a reason or event, and each one focuses on someone in particular. The crazy part is that the tapes are sent to each person mentioned in them, and they are directed to send the tapes on to the person mentioned after them, or else a copy of the tapes will be leaked.

WILD.

Thirteen Reasons Why was my first taste of suicide in YA Contemporary, and it is one that I will never forget. The message is powerful, the events are beyond emotional and the concept in general is phenomenal.

11. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Genre/Trigger: YA/Contemporary/Abuse-Sexual/Bullying

This post wouldn’t be complete without Speak.

If you somehow haven’t read this book, you need to RIGHT NOW.

Melinda is a freshmen in high school and a complete outcast. She was popular and had a group of great friends, but that was before the end-of-summer party that she ruined by calling the cops. Speak slowly unravels what happened at that party that caused Melinda to call the cops, and how her school and home life has changed for her.

It’s a really deep and powerful story of rape and bullying, and the fear that young girls have to come forward and tell someone. You will cry, you will hurt, and all you’ll want to do is give Melinda a hug and tell her it’s going to be okay.

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As always, Stay Witchy and take care of yourselves

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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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