Kate’s Review: “Behind Her Eyes”

28965131Book: “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Why is everyone talking about the ending of Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes?

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Review: 

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I know Serena has used that gif before, but this is the only way that I can describe my reading experience of “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough. Let me tell you, I slogged, SLOGGED through this book because it was promised to be one of the great thrillers of 2017. I have friends whom I greatly love and respect who really liked this book (and my disdain in this review is only a reflection of my own tastes, guys, not yours), so I kept going even though it took me almost a WEEK just to get through the damn thing. A WEEK, YOU GUYS. I can usually put away a book in two, three days, four tops. I went on because I was promised a twist, a game changing twist. I went on because I liked “13 Minutes,” the YA book that Pinborough did that I picked up on a whim. I WENT ON. AND WHAT DID I GET?

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Okay, let me be constructive now, I just needed to rant.

“Behind Her Eyes” does have the goods to back up the fact that it’s not like other psychological female driven thrillers that we’ve seen as of late. I will one hundred percent give it that, no problem. Pinborough tells the story through a few different perspectives: the chapters from Louise’s point of view, the chapters from Adele’s point of view, and the ‘Then’ chapters about Adele and her rehab friend Rob. The story is pieced together bit by bit through all of their unreliable and partially constructed POVs. For whatever reason, I had a really hard time caring about any of it. Adele is emotionally unstable and deeply vicious in her plotting, Louise is simpering and so easily manipulated that she just pissed me off, and the Rob and Adele chapters were (seemingly) random and superfluous. They would jump and flip between narratives and none of it was enough to really keep me interested. You throw David, Adele’s husband and Louise’s love interest, into this mess through their conflicting POVs and you get a guy who is possibly a violent manipulator, and is assuredly a lying drunk. So what does anyone see in him? Why is Louise still interacting with him when 1) he’s married, 2) he’s her BOSS, and 3) he’s potentially an abusive spouse? I usually like to be able to find someone to connect with in these books when there are so many toxic players, but in this one there were none to be had.

But my biggest problem? That lays in the twist. And I am just going to throw it out there. So those of you who still want to give it a go, and by all means DO still give it a go if you want to, this is where you may wish to stop or to jump past the last paragraph this review. Here is your hearty

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So Adele and Rob, whilst they were in rehab together when Adele was younger, experimented in lucid dreaming. When Adele and Louise become ‘friends’, Adele gets Louise into lucid dreaming. So what is lucid dreaming, you ask? It’s when the dreamer knows that she/he is dreaming, and because of it may be able to control what is going on inside of the dream. But what is it in this book? It’s FULL ON ASTRAL PROJECTING. In fact, it’s astral projecting that can therein turn into possession. Because what is the big twist folks???? Adele is NOT Adele! Rob, becoming obsessed with David back in the day, taught Adele how to astral project, and then killed her, and timed it JUST right that he could SLIP HIS CONSCIOUSNESS into her body!! So ‘Adele’ is actually ‘Rob’ the WHOLE TIME. And not only that, at the VERY end Rob manipulates Louise to astral project into Adele’s body, and then kills her too and astral projects into Louise’s body, so he can be with David once more!! That’s the end, folks!! I know that twists are kind of well expected in these kinds of thrillers these days, and that the less guessable the twist, the better. But when you have a book that is seemingly based in a real world situation without any basis or foundation for magical systems, I feel like you can’t just be like ‘AND THEN MAGIC!’ and try to pass it off as an actual phenomenon to craft a twist that no one saw coming. That feels like cheating! I actively rolled my eyes and tossed this book to the foot of the bed when I was done with it. Because WHAT THE HELL? Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Because that’s how I felt.

“Behind Her Eyes” just frustrated me more than anything else. I am going to do my usual disclaimer, because as a librarian I know that just because this book isn’t for me, it doesn’t mean it’s not for anyone else. So therefore:

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I didn’t enjoy “Behind Her Eyes”. Perhaps you will. But know that it gets weird, and not in a way that I found enjoyable.

Rating 2: A plot that didn’t suck me in, unlikable characters, and a ridiculous twist that completely threw all credibility out the window really turned me off this book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Behind Her Eyes” is included on the Goodreads lists “Emotion Overload”, and “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense Written by Women”.

Find “Behind Her Eyes” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Cruel Prince”

26032825Book: “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Warning: This review contains a lot of ranting, and because it’s so popular on Goodreads and other places, I know this will be an unpopular opinion. But it’s mine. It doesn’t have to be yours and, while I think that even those who like this book deserve better, especially as far as the romantic interests go, everyone’s tastes run differently! And that’s ok! That’s why we have libraries packed full of options for everyone! But if it’s hard for you to read negative opinions on things you love (which I totally understand), it’s probably best to just pass on this review now.

Review: This was one of the few books that I broke down and bought without having read it before. Sadly, it is also further reinforcement for why I have that general policy to begin with. But I was beguiled by the beautiful cover and a book description that was right up my alley. Perhaps also the hype, which really should have been my warning sign, as I’ve found that very few books that are super hyped in the fantasy YA community these last couple of years actually turn out to be my cup of tea. Alas.

As I said, there is a lot to love in this book description. I’ve always loved stories about Faerie courts. I also love stories about sisterhood. And, of course, political intrigue. What should have been my warning was the concept of the cruel prince himself, Cardan. My bookclub comrade, Alicia, was also reading this book when I was and asked what I thought about this book when I was only 50 pages in or so. At the time, I said that I was enjoying it but that the main character had better not get together with the titular “cruel prince.” And Alicia just looked at me and laughed. Well…yeah…touche, I guess!

I like to try and say positive things about all books I review on here, and this book in particular seems to be getting a lot of raving reviews, so I know there must be things here that many people are liking. But honestly, I just don’t see it. The writing was technically good, I guess, and the Faerie court was appropriately capricious and beautiful, but that’s about all I have.

Though even with these aspects, Black wasn’t introducing anything we haven’t seen a million times before with fantasy like this! Yeah, yeah, beautiful food that is actually rotten. Faerie folk who have animal aspects like hooves and wings. Dancing. Mermaids. And this speaks to one of my first problems: the world-building and storytelling. If an author is going to write a Faerie court book, the fact that there a million others out there should serve as a motivation to put extra effort into plotting and characters. You already know you’re playing in a very full sandbox as far as the world itself, so you need to challenge norms in other areas. Unfortunately, Black does not. Instead we get a long checklist of YA tropes being ticked off one by one.

This book is a case study in “telling, not showing” writing. We are simply informed of most of the plot points with very little build up, no clear arc, and characters who behave and say things simply because they must, but without any written character support for their choices. We’re told that Jude wants to be a Fae Knight, and there is some hand service to her wanting to gain power, but none of this is set in any concrete character position that we are consistently shown throughout the story. At one point early in the book, we get to this grand tournament, an event she’s been training for her entire life and where she can exhibit her skills…and I’m pretty sure we get this exact line: “I fought harder than I ever had before.” End scene. Great. She’s a fighter whose been telling us for pages how important this all is and how much she’s trained (again, we’ve seen none of that) and then the moment comes! And we’re just told she fought hard.  How intriguing! I’m definitely invested now! It’s sheer laziness of writing and the kind of things that drives me crazy.

And this bland writing is paralleled in bland characterization. Throughout the entire book, I never understood Jude. What’s really important to her? Why did she do one thing here and another there? How is she growing, learning, and reacting to pretty big events happening around her? There was just nothing consistent going on with her character that readers could latch on to.

What’s more, most of her story is directly contrary to the message that I thought this book was going for, and the one thing that could have really given Jude depth as a character. She saw her parents murdered before her eyes and then was raised by the man who killed them and in a land where she and her sister are systematically abused and terrorized by those around them. This is the set up for a strong story of resilience and of reclaiming one’s own power. At its most basic level, you could get a pretty good revenge story out of this.

But no. Jude is every YA heroine we’ve ever read. We’re told she’s bad ass, despite never seeing it.  She makes horrible decisions with apparently no sense of self-preservation, and worse, no sense of the fact that her choices also result in harm to others. We’re told she’s terrified by those around her, but she still wants to be one of them. She’s thoughtless and impulsive, with no foundation to speak of that would explain why she does what she does when she does it.  Her thoughts on Faerie and its people are completely dependent on what the story needs her to do, or feel, next.

With all of this, Jude’s own Stockholm-syndrome-esque behavior and her sister’s passive victim hood, I thought the book was building up towards some sort of commentary on the effects of bullying, terror, and abuse. But nope. There’s nothing there: like the Faerie food, it looks beautiful and complex, but at its core, it’s nothing. It’s honestly confusing. Was this just a coincidence, that the author set up all of these factors around abuse and victim hood? Did she do it on accident while trying to write a fairly typical YA fantasy story? Because, as it stands, its as if she honestly didn’t realize that that’s what she had written for all of the attention its given.

And, worst of all, we have yet another YA love interest who is the epitome of abuse and bullying. And I am absolutely sick of this persistent and pernicious trope of authors creating a character who does despicable things, giving him “a past,” and then hand-waving away his own behavior (especially if he’s done it because secretly he’s kind of into the heroine). This is not a message we should be sending to young women. Yes, people can survive terrible things, and often those who commit them had darkness in their past. But they are still responsible for the terrible things they do, and while you can pity the circumstances that brought them to that point, they ARE NOT love interest material. They need help. Professional, practical, and ongoing help.

I’m completely fed up with this, and it is disheartening to see it continue in YA fantasy books and have those books receive rave reviews. In a year full of #metoo and terrible stories about women being subjected to horrendous behavior by men in power, the fact that we are still reading about YA heroes who outright abuse the heroine but are then presented as potential love interests just makes me sick. This is not ok. Even the final twist of the book doesn’t save this from what’s been set-up: multiple love triangles between victims and their bullies.

Ultimately, this goes down as my first major disappointment of the year. I’m not sure why this book is as hyped as it is or how it is receiving all of the positive reviews it is. At best, it’s presenting a pretty familiar story with all the elements we’ve come to expect: a story that is told to us, not shown; a heroine who has no clear characterization and whose decisions are nonsensical at best and outright stupid at worst; and a love interest who has no right being a love interest at all. I don’t recommend this book. Instead, if you want to read an amazing Faerie court book that’s come out recently, check out “An Enchantment of Ravens.”

Rating 2: A major disappointment. I expect more of YA fantasy. And, at this point, we have a responsibility to those who suffer from real life abuse and bullying to put away this notion that cruelty in any form, for any reason, can be “sexy” or “charming.”

Reader’s Advisory:

I’m not going to include the lists it is on, but if you’re looking for good Faerie court books, check out “An Enchantment of Ravens” and “Wildwood Dancing.”

Find “The Cruel Prince” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Etched in Bone”

22062213Book: “Etched in Bone” by Anne Bishop

Publishing Info: Roc, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…

As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.

With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.

Previously reviewed: “Marked in Flesh”

Review: GAHHHHH!!!! What is it with the number of series that have failed to stick the landing recently?! (“Recently” being my own recent reading history, mind). I guess I really should be reading the writing on the wall a bit better. Just like the Gemma Doyle series, Bishop’s “The Others” series has slowly, steadily, agonizingly determinedly, been working its way down the sad decline into the land of boredom and “who cares.” That “Etched in Bone” finally lands this decline at the very bottom and adds a nice kick in the butt right at the end for your effort…maybe shouldn’t be surprising.

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Me, about this series. If that’s harsh? I’m not sorry. (source)

There will be some spoilers in this review, because I’m definitely talking about the ending for this one!

It’s on the record that I didn’t love “Marked in Flesh,” either. But the one thing that it did deliver was the massive, destructive climax that had been building up between the Humans First and Last movement and the Others for the last several books. Shit went down. Cities were systematically wiped out. And because most of the human characters (other than all the special ones that seemed to live in Lakeside) were truly awful people, there was some sick joy in watching them go.

“Etched in Bone” opens shortly thereafter with the powers-that-be conferring together and still asking their one driving question: “How much Human do we keep?” To determine this, a select few travel to Lakeside to witness this hybrid example of Other/Human life being lived in harmony, all due to the changes brought about by Meg. With the massive damage dealt in the last book, this one had a problem right from the start: is it really credible that any humans would still be holding to these crazy views? Literally thousands of lives have been lost and the Others didn’t even blink an eye. It was hard to buy in the last several books that people could be willfully this stupid, but it got to a point of complete ridiculousness here.

And, as always, the villain character was the worst of it all. It seemed that he was evil purely for evil’s sake, and the fact that anyone would still buy his crazed philosophies after witnessing the prior destruction and knowing the thin knife’s edge that human life as a whole balanced upon was just too big an ask of my imagination.

On top of this all, the previous book also fully cracked the rose-colored lens through which I had been reading this series. It’s no surprise that I (and I believe many fans of these books) have been following the series primarily out of a love and interest in the two main characters, Simon and Meg. As their relationship has floundered (more on that) and more side characters have been introduced, the series’ flaws have begun to show more and more. Specifically, its very stereotypically gendered roles. References to the “female pack” that before were a funny little quirk, now read as supremely uncomfortable in light of the fact that all of the women, aside form a sassy elderly woman character, exist in very narrow confines. None of them are in leadership roles, and their friendships and lives are littered with pitfalls of silliness.

Beyond this, the series’ other main weakness has been a penchant for info-dumpy chapters full of mundane details. In my last review I complained about the pages devoted to stock piling toilet paper, and nothing has changed here. In the first few chapters, we’re already enduring pages and pages full of characters (not even the main ones!) discussing the ins and outs of Lakeside’s economy and trading. It’s just…dull.

And then. AND THEN! Simon and Meg. I knew I was going to be disappointed right from the beginning. In the end of the last book, it seemed that there were a few steps being taken in the right direction. Meg asked Simon to go skinny dipping, very PG skinny dipping of course, but still. But here, in the second chapter of the dang book, we have Simon recounting how that pretty much went nowhere and that, while he was potentially interested in Meg that way, he wasn’t willing to risk there friendship. And then Meg gets her own chapter and what do you know? She thinks the same! And so on and so on. Any progress that readers thought they saw in the last book was immediately walked back, and for the majority of this book, it was business as usual.

Until the end. And what do we get? What do we get for sticking through 5 damn books of packing lists and excruciating infodump conversations? We get one, very brief scene where Meg and Simon agree to try to make something work. And a kiss. IT’S ONE SCENE AT THE END OF THE BOOK!! There is no build up. There is no follow through. No relationship learning and stumbles. Nothing.

Not only do we get absolutely nothing out of this scene, but this same chapter could have been tacked on to the ending of any of the 3 books that came before it and you wouldn’t have noticed. We’ve all been going along trusting that this slow burn relationship was just that, a slow burn relationship. Instead, now, we realize we’ve been tricked the whole time. It wasn’t a slow burn, it was nothing. “Slow burn” implies we are building towards something. This book makes it very clear that either Bishop didn’t know what to do with these characters’ relationship (and hasn’t for the last several books) or never cared to begin with and just tacked it into a series where her main interest was writing about the minute details of the world itself, only to be dismayed by fan reaction and throw in this final scene as some attempt to quell readers.

At this point, anyone who is reading this book has read the ones that came before it. If you did enjoy those, maybe this one won’t be as frustrating for you, as much of the actual plot is lather, rinse, repeat with the conflict between dumb, evil people and the Others who are bizarrely still enamored by Meg (her special snowflake status has reached a peak, if you’re curious). But I have a hard time seeing many longtime fans being satisfied with this conclusion. I know I’m not.

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It was an audiobook, so I couldn’t do this. But I would have if I could have! (source)

Rating 2: Not only did this book continue to trot out the tired themes of the previous books, it failed to provide any resolution for the one part of the story that had retained any of my interest throughout.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Etched in Bone” is on these Goodreads lists: “Bad Bitches of Urban Fantasy”(Meg probably doesn’t belong on this list, tbh) and “Not The “Normal” Paranormal.”

Find “Etched in Bone” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Ice”

6321845Book: “Ice” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

Review: I recently read and liked “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst, and after putting together our list of favorite holiday reads that included a re-telling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” I discovered the perfect combination of the two with “Ice!” Or…what I thought would be the perfect combination. Sigh.

The story starts out strong enough. I enjoyed the unique approach of setting the story in the modern world with Cassie and her father living in a research station in the Arctic. Cassie herself is introduced as a capable and intelligent protagonist. She conducts research herself and knows much about the Arctic environment and local wildlife. Enough to know that the polar bear tracks she’s seeing are much too large for the regular animals that roam the area.

Another plus has to do with some of the fairytale aspects and their interpretation in this story. The mythology and characters that were introduced were interesting and cleverly tied together, working well within the original fairytale mold while not feeling too tied down by it. The author struck a nice balance between incorporating these portions while also tying the story neatly into Intuit culture and folklore. I also enjoyed the more proactive role that Cassie originally takes in this tale> She makes a bargain of her own with Bear, insisting that she would only agree to marry him if she saved her mother. That said, this initial level of competence and independence on Cassie’s part only serves against the story later when she loses these exact traits in rather disturbing ways.

Most of the portions of the book that I enjoyed most arrived in the first half of the book, and I was pretty fully on board. But then…look, one of the main falling points for retellings of this story is giving the character of Bear a strong enough personality that he stands on his own and makes the slow-burn romance believable. And, while Bear does have somewhat of a personality, the story starts faltering right off that bat. Their relationship, one based on distrust and a forced situation, develops far too quickly to friendship and love. And while this is frustrating, it’s a familiar pitfall. But then…it’s the story takes a nosedive into “Breaking Dawn” territory with a forced pregnancy. Essentially, Bear magically deactivates Cassie’s birth control and then informs her of this after she’s three months pregnant. And from there on out the story just kind of died for me.

While Cassie is initially angry, she comes around to things way too easily. Bear as a romantic lead was killed for me, as this type of behavior is the epitome of abusive. Further, not only has Bear treated Cassie as the human equivalent of an incubator taking no consideration for her own choices about motherhood (she’s 18, remember!), but for the last half of the story, almost every other character she interacts with takes the same approach. Her decisions are constantly questioned with the worry that she’s “risking the baby” and it all gets to be too much. First, the fact that there is no concern expressed for Cassie herself, but only for the child, is saddening. And secondly, Cassie has already had the decision to be a parent taken out of her hands, but now her decisions for how to prioritize her life, protect those she loves, not just the baby, and operate as an individual are being questioned at every moment, as if she has no other purpose than to be pregnant. All of this was incredibly frustrating to read. And I could never get back on board with any romance between Cassie and Bear.

This was a very disappointing read for me. I have read other books by this author and really enjoyed them, so I had high expectations for this story. And the first half is so strong that it makes the large missteps of the latter half all the more frustrating for potential squandered. I really can’t recommend this book. There are much better re-tellings of this story, like “East,” the one I recommended in our “Holidays Favorites” post.

Rating 2: A strong start brought down by some really poor story decisions and an icky non-romance.

Reader’s Advisory:

Note: I don’t agree with this book’s deserving of being on these lists, quality-wise,  but hopefully there are some better ones to be found!

“Ice” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems” and “Fractured Fairy Tales & Story Retellings.”

Find “Ice” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “Forsaken”

9775490Book: “Forsaken” by Leanna Ellis

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2011

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: “Hannah cannot move on.”

She pines for Jacob, the boy who saved her life when she drowned, bringing her back from the brink of death by breathing life into her.

“But Jacob is gone now, buried.”

Levi’s love for Hannah burns just as strong. But he knows how much Hannah loved his brother Jacob. He also knows the troubling event that took Jacob out of their lives. And he lives with that lie every day.

So when a stranger named Akiva comes to their community, he carries with him two secrets that will change their lives forever: he is in fact Jacob, whom Hannah had lost. And he is now a vampire.

When passions stir and secrets are revealed, Hannah must choose between light and dark, between the one she has always loved and the new possibility of love. But it’s more than a choice of passion; it’s a decision that will determine the fate of her soul.

Review: Did you know that there is not only Amish Romance, but apparently there is also AMISH VAMPIRE ROMANCE???

DID YOU!?!?!?

Because I didn’t, and the moment that I found this out I was like

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WHY IS THIS A THING?! (source)

So what did I do? I requested it as soon as I could because OH MY GOD HOW BIZARRE. I don’t know what I expected. I mean, it’s laid out pretty plainly just what this book is going to be. We have a pious and pure Amish woman who is tempted by a vampire because he’s her long lost love, so of course it’s going to be filled with over the top moments, dialogue, and nonsense. And I know that this book is SO not written for me. But….. Let’s be real, Amish Romance is a special niche of Christian fiction that lets people enjoy wholesome romantic scenes without having to worry about smutty moments. So to me, adding a vampire isn’t going to end up in any way outside of good conquering evil and goodness triumphing over the unholy. But this book gives it the ol’ college try of making the story unpredictable. As if we didn’t know that ultimately Hannah was going to choose the side of the light. Which, hey, more power to Hannah and more power to that kind of story, as some people like that kind of thing. But there sure were a lot of things about this book that rubbed me the wrong way outside of my own predilection for walking on the wild side, fiction wise.

And okay look, you’re going to get some spoilers here, so buckle up.

First of all, I was a bit taken aback by the implications that Jacob (or Akiva, as is his vampire name), the Amish boy who was so taken with travel, art, poetry, and a potential life outside of the Amish community, was effectively punished for his wanderlust by being turned into a vampire. And beyond that, he was portrayed as selfish for being intrigued by a life outside of his community, as if even deigning to imagine a life outside of it is an act punishable by vampirism. Though it seems not to happen terribly often from my limited research, Rumspringa does sometimes lead to people leaving the Amish community. So what is that saying about those who legitimately don’t fit in within the community they were born into and do want to leave it? As it was it kind of came off as judgmental and kind of shame-y, as if you were going to be corrupted for the rest of your days by choosing a different path. Or in Jacob’s case, even thinking about it, as he did, in fact, return home to be baptized! He was just turned into a vampire before he could be. So even thinking of it is so bad you’re punished in such a way? Jacob was this whole concept personified, especially since we had the contrast of his brother Levi (who is the other point in the love triangle with Hannah and Jacob/Akiva). Levi is not only a true and devout Amish man, but also the TRUE hero of the story here in more ways than one. The part that had me absolutely incensed was that when Hannah, our heroine, was younger she almost drowned, and as she remembers it Jacob pulled her out of the water she was caught up in and saved her by breathing air back into her lungs. It was actually a kind of nice backstory to their romance, in my opinion, as it displayed bravery on Jacob’s part and also affection, as well as showing why Hannah may have had a deeper connection to him outside of being essentially betrothed to him. But then, at DEFCON ONE of the climax, it is revealed that it was actually Levi the whole time that had saved her! And JACOB was panicky and scared and did nothing when she was unconscious! So Jacob, who is a freaking vampire and couldn’t even have ultimately won Hannah’s hand in this kind of gross and weird love triangle in the first place, doesn’t even get to have that act of heroism going for him, and is in fact a total coward!! Was that necessary? I don’t think so. I don’t understand why Jacob couldn’t have been more well rounded and multi-faceted, but oh well, apparently you can only be purely good (the steadfast and dependable Levi) or purely evil (the flitty-dreamer-coward-turned-vampire Jacob/Akiva). Heaven forbid there be complexity to these characters. Jacob could have been brave once in his life is all I’m saying.

I also took serious umbrage with poor Hannah’s portrayal. At one point I thought that we were getting a kind of self assured and headstrong female lead who could handle herself, as at one point she told Levi that she didn’t need him to protect her and that she could take care of herself. I’d hoped that that was going to be a theme for her throughout the book, but then it became abundantly clear that no, she couldn’t actually take care of herself and she quite obviously did need Levi’s protection and guidance. After all, Jacob encourages her to dance, drive in a car, and drink alcohol, and this is portrayed in a negative way as if he’s leading her astray IN SPITE OF THE FACT that Hannah never did participate in Rumspringa! So this could feasibly be seen as her doing what most Amish kids are encouraged to do!!! Not once is Hannah portrayed as her own person. She either belongs to Jacob, Levi, or a higher power. Never herself.

And again, I know that this is a different value system than mine, and that this book is not for me but more for them, but the moment you bring vampires into a story, it’s fair game for me. So let’s talk about the vampires. I liked that they are portrayed as more animalistic and less romantic. I liked the mythology that Ellis gave them, as limited as it felt at times. But I also felt like there wasn’t much research done into the history of vampires and how they are portrayed in literature. There was a scene with a character named Roc, a cop from New Orleans with his own personal vendetta against vampires (and a character that I actually thought was pretty okay, when all was said and done. Of course I like the hot mess abrasive cop who drinks too much). In this scene he’s talking with a childhood friend who is now a priest, and he asks if sunlight is indeed something that can hurt vampires. His friend says no. I was pretty excited, because yeah, in older vampire lore sunlight didn’t play into it, that’s a comparatively new part of the mythology. But then the priest said something along the lines of falsehoods being perpetuated by vampires and vampire sympathizers to keep their actual weaknesses hidden, to which Roc asked if that meant that Bram Stoker was a vampire or vampire sympathizer, to which he got a veiled yes.

Guys, in the book “Dracula”, Count Dracula WALKS AROUND IN THE DAYLIGHT. And by this books logic, that confirms that vampires can walk around in daylight! So how would being totally truthful make Stoker a vampire or vampire sympathizer?! I’m okay with promoting fun ideas of vampire myths being propaganda that can be twisted to what suits them, but if you’re going to do that, know which myths apply to which stories!

So yeah. This book wasn’t for me. I couldn’t even really enjoy it in a guilty pleasure ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of way. But, that said, I know that a lot of people probably would like this book, both legitimately and ironically. And so it’s with this book, “Forsaken”, that I finally get to pull out Ranganathan’s Rule Number 3 as I side eye the HELL out of it.

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Amish Vampire Fiction is not for me, but it may be for you. “Forsaken” is certainly unique, and while I didn’t enjoy it, that doesn’t mean that others won’t. Every book its reader. Just gotta keep repeating that.

Rating 2: I had high hopes for silly fun, but ultimately really didn’t enjoy this one. Some of the vampire stuff was pretty okay, but overall it didn’t do it for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Forsaken” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Amish Mysteries”, and “Magic, Adventure, Romance”.

Find “Forsaken” at your library using WorldCat!