ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven
This was one of those books that I was warned about before I read it. I went into it knowing how it was going to end, and that’s probably why this is a 2 stew and not a 1 stew.
Niven attempts to handle both manic-depression and suicide in this book, and both fall flat. I was hoping for a thoughtful struggle to stay alive and the necessary humor to buoy yourself out of the terrible times, but Finch’s darkness is balanced with Manic Pixie Dream Boy antics, mostly laughable. It is hard and uncomfortable to dig into this, but for a POV character I expected better than flamboyant declarations of suicide and none of the wonder, hope, or terror that you feel just as keenly as self-destruction. Finch and Violet’s relationship felt contrived–you could see the hand of the author too clearly moving them together– and Finch himself felt like he served more as a vehicle for Violet’s own enlightenment at the end than a character in his own right. It seemed like this was written more to work out the author’s own personal issues as a survivor of a significant other’s suicide than to dig deep into the mind set of self-destructive behaviors and present an accurate mirror.
There were some good scenes and nice feats of language, but without the necessary depth to make death an understandable though tragic consequence of suicide, this is not a book on suicide I’d recommend.
TAMED by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Contemporary Erotica (BDSM)
As someone into working out, I was curious when I heard about this series. I burned through the first novella, and this second one did not disappoint.
One thing I really loved in this was, while it is erotica that journeys more into the BDSM world of the series than the first book did, it still brought you very firmly into the protagonist Nailah’s Egyptian family. Her father loves her and is proud of her, but still has difficulty stopping micromanaging her life, a conflict many new adults face. The sex is hot and the tension between Nailah and Armando wire-taut, but I would have liked to have seen Armando suffer a little more. It was easy to connect with Nailah; Armando less so. I would have loved to dig deeper into his conflicts, but it is meant to be a novella so I’m not too upset everything didn’t get explored or that it wrapped up fast.
Sometimes you can see the strings being pulled behind the scenes, but it’s still a great resource for seeing how to handle heat and chemistry, especially romantic and sexual attraction that has to hook fast.
A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V. E. Schwab
After the triumph that was A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, a book I re-read and savored multiple times and pressed eagerly on friends, Schwab’s latest fell flat.
It starts out strong with our characters bringing us back into what they’ve been doing since we left them and preparing for the Essen Tasch, the Element Games, a tournament of skill for magicians. With so much of the focus on plots and plans at the games, it is surprising that the Games themselves don’t start until around 2/3 through the book, making the bulk of this sequel about preparation and behind the scenes machinations. While I would have normally been on board, I was just bored here: unlike the first book, when everyone is forced to make terrible, tough, and compelling choices, it’s hard to feel anyone’s suffering in AGOS: Kell mopes, Lila reminisces, and Rhy runs. Even the tournament’s magic feels stale: I previously hadn’t noticed that Avatar: The Last Airbender had been such a heavy influence, but with nothing more elaborate than the usual four elements as a base for magic, it felt stifling and unoriginal. Rhys’ love interest disappointed me because I was hoping seeds sown in the first book would come to fruit. The sequel ends on a cliffhanger without feeling like anything really happened besides character development: I would have liked to see more of the explosiveness of the first book rather than shocking us and leaving very little resolved.
Recommended for fans of the series, but a lot will be riding on the third and final book to prove itself and make me not recommend A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC as a standalone.
CAM GIRL by Leah Raeder
NA Contemporary Romance
This was one of those books that I was really looking forward to– I’d read UNTEACHABLE, and that was fantastic– and I loved Raeder’s prose (it’s not a Raeder book unless the word “bokeh” appears at least once).
As much as I loved the characters, the unique and complicated world of camming, the point where this fell apart for me was the reveal. It’s fairly obvious from the start what the twist is–who the mysterious Blue is– but a little under halfway we are presented with a scene that makes our leading choice impossible. I’d liked knowing Blue’s identity and drawing conclusions about that other character, so I was scrambling. However, in the end this twist ends up being a red herring and Blue is the person we thought all along, and the machinations felt less like legerdemain and more like a fake-out for one last cheap thrill before an inevitable conclusion. I would have liked this more probably if it had dug down more into the characters without feeling like it had to surprise me with Blue– the mystery of the accident is enough to compel me to keep going, though I would have appreciated perhaps some more complications from the world of camming as well.
The prose is, as always, stellar and incredibly personal, and that alone makes this deserve a spot on your TBR, even if the plot is a little conflated.