Two contemporary YA novels

I’ve been away for a while now – exam week has taken its toll on me and I haven’t been able to do much of anything lately other than studying and stressing about my midterms.

I do, however, have some days of rest now, which I’ll use to get back on track here and read the ARCs I still have on NetGalley because I probably should get around to doing that asap

So to celebrate coming back to the blog, here are two short reviews of contemporary YA books ! I had planned this post for February 14th – you can see how my posting schedule has been delayed!

Red, white and royal blue, by Casey McQuiston

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I picked up this book at the library because everybody was talking about it, and I was not disappointed ! It’s fun, light, and as I am a hopeless romantic, I absolutely loved it. 

Alex and Henry’s relationship, from enemies to lovers, is a good example of one of my favorite tropes, and well executed enough to make it a very good romance novel. It’s got nice LGBT representation, super cute banter, an amazing sibling relationship, and it’s filled with easy-to-love characters. 

This story also has some idealized fictional American politics, which might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed escaping for a few hours in a reality where everything was fluffy and worked out well in the end. 

One of my favorite quotes (which may or may not be from one of the book’s sex scenes, but honestly it’s such a mood I just couldn’t let it go) :

“Awesome, fuckin’ love doing things out of spite,” he says without a hint of sarcasm. 

What a mood

These witches don’t burn, by Isabel Sterling

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m a hoe for a nice magic system. This one isn’t the exception to the rule. I really appreciated the way the magical elements were mixed in with the contemporary ones of teen girls’ lives – going to parties, working part-time somewhere, dating… and trying to figure out if an evil witch is trying to take over your town. 

It has really good LGBT+ representation (yes, there’s a theme to the books I’ve been reading lately) and the plot twists at the end surprised me a lot. I enjoyed reading this so much that the second book made my list of 2020 new releases I’m excited about

Did you read any good books in February ? Do you have any recommendations to share ?

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

This is going to be a short review, for a short book – but an excellent one ! 

The Deep is a novella (less than 200 pages) written by Rivers Solomon, and published in 2019. It’s shelved in adult science-fiction and fantasy on Goodreads, but I didn’t know anything about the plot when I borrowed it from the library : I just saw the cover, thought it looked nice, and decided to give it a chance. This was completely different from anything else I’ve read this year so far, and I definitely don’t regret it.

Synopsis 

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

And now for the review part :

I can’t use my usual review template for this one, because I usually split them in two parts : the points I liked, the ones I didn’t, and why – but for this book, well… I don’t have anything to put in the “disliked” category. And I really tried.

This novella is very slow-paced, and character-driven – in terms of actual story, over the nearly 200 pages of the book, there isn’t a lot of action. But that’s not a bad thing at all : it allows for more room and character development. And there’s a lot of it. 

I felt a lot for the main character, Yetu, whose development throughout the story is spectacular. A critique that’s been made is that her personality feels a bit empty in the beginning, which has been a reason to DNF the novella for some readers, but I personally think that critique is unfounded : when we see Yetu finally free of the burden of her duty to her people, she just doesn’t know who she is anymore

She’s been the historian for a long time, and it has stripped her of her identity, her own memories and experiences, and replaced it with the collective memories of her people. It makes sense, then, that she would feel “empty” – she has to work to build herself back from the beginning, and to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, apart from what she’s been told she should be all those years. It’s a slow rebuilding of her identity, step by step. 

Yetu’s escape and her subsequent journey is extremely touching, and is put into perspective with the story of her people’s origins. The authors use this opportunity to ask the difficult questions : Who are we without the knowledge of our history ? What place should memories have in our lives, in our identity as individuals and as a group ?

The writing itself is beautiful, and makes the sea floor ambience feel cold and heavy, and as terribly vast and beautiful as it actually is. The development of the lore and world-building is excellent, and blends well within the story.

When I finished this book and thought about what to develop in a review, I checked what others were saying on Goodreads and… someone pegged this book as “thinly veiled gender fluidity propaganda”. Which : 1) isn’t true (although there is intersex representation, in the fact that all members of Yetu’s species are described as intersex), and 2) wouldn’t be terribly bad if it was.

In conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this novella. If you’re in the mood for a thought-provoking, slow-paced, character-driven novella about lesbian mermaids (yes!), this is the book for you.

If you have good recommendations for books with a lesbian love interest and good character development, feel free to link them below ! I’d love to read a couple of novels with good LGBT+ representation in them.

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was doing when I picked up this book – I’d heard both good and bad reviews of it but didn’t want to go into the details so I could make my own opinion. So when my library hold came through last week, I hesitated a bit before finally picking it up on Friday on my way to university. 

Surprisingly – or not ? – the book ended up being a 4 stars for me ! I enjoyed reading it a lot, and even though some parts of the narrative really bugged me, they weren’t bad enough to make me DNF it on the spot. 

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm

A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates

A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder

An alien warrior with anger management issues

A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

What I liked

This book is entertaining, pretty fast paced, and it has space elves. Space. Elves. Do I really need to say more ?

Alright, so you also have space stations, space monsters, super cool spaceships, and even a space masquerade ball on a space station, covering up a space heist. Seriously. This book has everything I could ever ask for. I really liked the different alien species and their specific traits, although I would have liked a better display of the diversity of species that are mentioned in the beginning. 

Another point I really appreciated is the subversion of popular tropes. For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, I won’t go into too much detail, but if you did, or aren’t afraid of spoilers, the next paragraph is for you – it’s written in white, so it should show up when you select the text to see it ! Otherwise, you can just skip to the next one, which should be spoiler-free.

I thought the way the “member of the team betrays the others to the bad guys for a price” trope was used was brilliant ! I 100% believed in the treason up until the moment of the big reveal, and I loved the way the internal POVs were used to deceive you until the very end ! Those points of view are difficult to use well when you want to hide plot points from your readers, and I thought this one was brilliantly executed.

The reveal of the identity of the bad guys at the end was exactly the right amount of drama for me, and I liked the way the stakes kept getting higher and picked up the pace in the second half of the story. I got attached pretty quickly to the characters, and loved getting insight on their lives before the initiating event – and the LOTR references were a nice bonus !

What I didn’t like

There is, at some point in the book, mention of a “mating bond”. Now, I’m not fully against the idea in itself, but I thought the way in which the characters talked about it wasn’t really appropriate for the situation, and that there was an uncomfortable imbalance in the relationship that made the bond situation a bit… icky.

A second point that many other reviewers mentioned is that some of the character’s voices sounded a bit too close to each other, at times. I had to go back to the beginning of a couple of chapters to see whose point of view I was supposed to be reading. 

But the main thing that stuck out, for me, is the “sociopath” thing. You know which one. 

In the synopsis for this novel, the authors describe Zila, a young scientist and member of the team, as “A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates”. I disagree with the use of that term, and find it highly inappropriate in this situation

The sociopath etiquette is used as an excuse for the underdevelopment of the character and her use as a comic relief of sorts; even though the very few lines of her POV allude to extensive childhood trauma and complex emotions, both of which are mentioned but never discussed further in the book. As far as sociopaths go, she doesn’t exhibit much of their alleged traits, and it seems like the authors thought it’d just be a fun quirk to add to their character for a little bit more edginess. And frankly, it didn’t work at all for me.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this book, and I would give it 5 stars if it weren’t for the few aforementioned flaws. As it is, I’m giving it a solid 4 stars and I’m hoping the next instalment in this series will fix some of those problems – maybe by giving us more character development for Zila, for example, or by making a little more sense of that mating bond bit ?

Did you get a copy of this book ? What did you think of it ? What’s your opinion on the mating bond trope in sci-fi novels ?

Time for a change

I’ve been thinking about change for a while now.

While I started blogging in French when I created this blog, I’ve gradually switched to English during the past year, and I didn’t feel like my French blog title still represented what I wanted to do here. I also wasn’t 100% sure about my graphics, mainly because they felt a bit too generic and didn’t really match the color palette I wanted to use. I absolutely love my blog, and I want to keep loving it for a long time, but I can’t do that if I don’t like the way it looks. 

So, I changed my blog title. It took some time (and some stress), but I’ve found something that feels like me, with a color palette that I like, and that I’d like to keep for as long as possible. (And hey, the social media handles for Psyched about books were available too, which is a nice bonus !)

Reading the 2019 and 2020 Blogiful series by Kat @Novels & Waffles and Tracy @ Truffle’s literary wonders helped me take the next big step towards this change : during the next few days, I’ll be busy doing a bit of blog spring cleaning, starting with redoing all of my graphics to match my new header and theme, updating my old posts, redoing my categories and tags…I’ve already changed the header, the little blog icon on the computer tabs, and updated my sidebar, but there’s still a lot of work to do ! 

I’ll try to keep posting somewhat regularly doing this time, so keep an eye out for new colorful blog posts here !