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Book Review: Youngblood, by Sasha Laurens

I received an ARC copy of Youngblood, by Sasha Laurens as part of a book tour for the book. However, that tour was canceled on somewhat short notice. However, I’d already read the book. So, here’s a review.
Youngblood cover

High school sucks. Especially for the undead.

Kat Finn and her mother can barely make ends meet living among humans. Like all vampires, they must drink Hema, an expensive synthetic blood substitute, to survive, as nearly all of humanity has been infected by a virus that’s fatal to vampires. Kat isn’t looking forward to an immortal life of barely scraping by, but when she learns she’s been accepted to the Harcote School, a prestigious prep school that’s secretly vampires-only, she knows her fortune is about to change.

Taylor Sanger has grown up in the wealthy vampire world, but she’s tired of its backward, conservative values—especially when it comes to sexuality, since she’s an out-and-proud lesbian. She only has to suffer through a two more years of Harcote before she’s free. But when she discovers her new roommate is Kat Finn, she’s horrified. Because she and Kat used to be best friends, a long time ago, and it didn’t end well.

When Taylor stumbles upon the dead body of a vampire, and Kat makes a shocking discovery in the school’s archives, the two realize that there are deep secrets at Harcote—secrets that link them to the most powerful figures in Vampirdom and to the synthetic blood they all rely on.

my review

I think maybe—like Kat and Galen—I wanted to like this more than I did. The writing it quite readable. (I had an ARC, so I can’t comment on editing.) The idea is interesting, the self-discovery aspect seemed well done, and the characters had potential. But, in the end, neither was particularly likeable, the romance is put off too long to feel satisfying, and there’s just a whole subtle sense of ick to the story.

Part of the discomfort is in the blatant -isms of the vampires. And I’ll accept that people raised in eras past might carry some of the attitudes of that past with them. But a lot of it is just baked into the narrative and apparent in the way Kat is such a fair-weather ally. Sure, she notices how few BIPOC students there are, asks Taylor their pronouns, acknowledges various forms of privileged, throws the use of ‘boys and girls’ at the headmaster derisively, ‘as if non-binary people don’t exist.’ She says all the right things. But she’s perfectly happy to overlook it all for her own social advancement. In a very real sense, that’s the whole point of the plot (if looked at from a different angle than the author presents it to us).

And honestly, the author could have done SO much with that set up. What a chance to show self-reflection and growth in the main character…not to mention commentary on a lot of real-youngblood photoworld allyship. But she doesn’t take the opportunity. The end result is a book that feels like corporate allyship…you know, where they say the right things during June and purchase the right optics (or try to publish the right books), but don’t actually change their policies to protect anyone or improve lives and drop it all come July. So, ick. And bonus ick in a book with two baby-lesbians as the main characters and, one would presume, the primary audience.

All and all, this wasn’t a big winner for me. But I do love the art on the cover. That’s why I picked the book up in the first place.


Other Reviews:

ARC Review: Youngblood by Sasha Laurens

 

 

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Book Review: Raven’s Cry & Raven’s Song, by Charlie Nottingham

In May, when the SCOTUS leak first dropped, before the Supreme Court actually made their appalling ruling on Roe vs Wade, Charlie Nottingham organized a #ReadForOurRights event over on Tiktok. She and several other authors agreed to donate the proceeds from book sales that month to campaigns fighting to reestablish and/or protect women’s rights. I ordered several books from several authors during this event. (Something like 17, if I’m remembering right.) Raven’s Cry was one of them. Then, because I enjoyed Raven’s Cry I ordered Raven’s Song…then I saw the author was looking for ARC readers so I signed up, getting a copy a little early.


raven's cry cover

Everyone has skeletons in their closet, but Rain’s are learning to open the door.

Rain’s lost everything in the last decade. Her grandmother, her brother, and her family home might be next. All she has is Graham – a powerful Fae who illegally escaped the Fae Realm and has been her best friend ever since.

Until Ezra – the sexiest Vampire she’s ever seen – commissions her for one hell of a job. Cleansing dozens of vengeful spirits from an abandoned mansion for a life changing amount of money.

All Rain wants is to focus on her budding relationship with Ezra, but the ghosts in the mansion have awoken the ones Rain has spent a decade trying to keep locked up.

But Rain isn’t the only one with secrets. Ezra has a few of his own.

my review

This was my first Charlie Nottingham books and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I liked all of the characters, the world seems interesting, and the writing flows naturally. Focus-wise, I’d consider it much more a sweet building-of-a-polyamorous-relationship than anything else. (Which makes me laugh because it’s labeled a “Dark Paranormal Romance Reverse Harem.”) raven's cry photoI’m not suggesting the fantasy element is unimportant. But it is definitely given less page time that the romantic elements. And I found far sweeter than I did dark.

It’s also quite slow to build, both the 4-way relationship (with one of the men not even appearing until quite late in the book) and the fantasy/mystery/action element which only really ramps up toward the end of the book. None of this is said to discourage reading the book. I enjoyed the heck out of it. In fact, I finished it disappointed to discover book two wasn’t out yet. I pre-ordered it though. So, all in all, I think I’ve found a new author to follow.


Raven's song cover

Everyone has skeletons in their closet, but Rain’s are learning to open the door.

Rain’s lost everything in the last decade. Her grandmother, her brother, and her family home might be next. All she has is Graham – a powerful Fae who illegally escaped the Fae Realm and has been her best friend ever since.

Until Ezra – the sexiest Vampire she’s ever seen – commissions her for one hell of a job. Cleansing dozens of vengeful spirits from an abandoned mansion for a life changing amount of money.

All Rain wants is to focus on her budding relationship with Ezra, but the ghosts in the mansion have awoken the ones Rain has spent a decade trying to keep locked up.

But Rain isn’t the only one with secrets. Ezra has a few of his own.

my review

I enjoyed this a lot, though I’ll admit I didn’t love it quite as much as book one. The reasons are 100% personal preference sort of stuff though. Before I get to that, let me extol the virtues of the book. The writing is clean and easy to read. I adore the characters and that they believably struggle with learning to tolerate/like/love one another over time. I liked the inclusion of shards of real-life that often get glossed over during sex scenes, like washing hands after certain activities, etc. I love that we get everyone’s point of view and the mystery has kept me guessing. Over all, I’m 100% looking forward to book three. But I did have complaints, personal ones, but complaints all the same.

One of my biggest annoyances in sexy-time books is what I call ‘instructional sex’ or ‘instructional kink.’ It’s not that I think instruction or clear communication of boundaries and expectations is bad in any way. But you don’t have to have read many of such books before it all gets repetitive. I’ve just read explanations of various kinks or relationships or safe words/signs, etc so many times in so many books that I’m bored with it. It tends to make me skim.

And Raven’s Song has quite a lot. There are four people in the relationship, various kinks, and various interpersonal expectations. So, I felt like over half the book is ‘instructional,’ in the ‘this is how we do things’ or ‘this is how this works’ or ‘this is where my line is’ sort of ways. I thought it bogged the narrative down.

Understanding, of course, that readers were probably meant to go, ‘Aww, look how open and communicative they are all being’ and readers who enjoy that will love this book. Because I do think Nottingham did a good job with it and the characters are wonderfully communicative with one another. But I just find it boring in the extreme, since it’s all just a variation on something read before.

Similarly, the sex here didn’t light me up. I thought for having three men involved, who were all meant to be very different, all the sex felt same-same. I wouldn’t have been able to tell one man from another without names. And the descriptions themselves didn’t appeal to me. I understand that one characters has a rough bent, but I found myself pinching my knees together protectively during his sex scenes.

Note, I said knees. It wasn’t the slapping or even the degradation (though that’s not my favorite kink). I could handle that a lot more easily than just how generally indelicate his treatment of her delicate bits is. Everything is described as some sort of motoring in hard, fast, rough ways. But not in a sexy (for me) way. More like you’d push a doorbell or scrape paint—something that takes force to overcome resistance. I’m complaining, I think, more of the language in the raven's song photodescriptions than the use of kink or even the acts themselves. But it all felt very gross-motor and unappealing to me. But again, THAT IS A PERSONAL PREFERENCE sort of complaint, not a quality.

All in all, there were a few not-for-me aspects, but at least one of them I feel like has been done and shouldn’t need to be carried over into the next book and I’m eagerly awaiting further coming together of the four individuals and the mystery. I look forward to the next book.


Other Reviews:

Book Review: Raven’s Cry by Charlie Nottingham

 

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Book Review: Broken Moon & Blood Moon, by Laken Cane

I borrowed audiobook copies of Broken Moon and Blood Magic, by Laken Cane, through Hoopla.


About the book:

I’m a wolf shifter… who can’t shift.

Twelve years ago, I was hobbled by my alpha, cast out of my pack, and forced into an unfriendly world without any protection.

But I’m not exactly helpless.

Despite being unable to shift, I have talents the others don’t have. I can see the spirits of dead people, for one. And I have a knack for fighting rogue supernaturals.

My ex-alpha will never let me back in, but there’s another alpha in the city.

Something has been killing his wolves, and he wants me to destroy it before it takes another one. He’ll triple my going rate–but that’s not the thing that makes me agree to help him.

He says he can free my wolf.

It’s not possible, but…
What if it is?

I’ll help him, either way. Monster hunting is what I do, and if there’s a monster killing wolves, I will stop it. Because those two warring alphas might believe the city is theirs, but this is my territory.

The city embraced me when the packs wouldn’t have me, and I will protect it–with or without my wolf.

my review

I quite enjoyed this. Those familiar with the urban fantasy genre won’t find too much new here. But those of us who are familiar with the urban fantasy genre generally read it because we enjoy it and don’t mind a little more of the same. And this is my experience with Broken Moon. I recognized all of the elements that it is made of, but I savored them all the same.

I liked Kait. She’s a strong lead. I did occasionally feel like she was just a little too capable, triumphing against great odds when maybe she shouldn’t have been able to. I also felt like Cane stepped away from some of the most important fight scenes—creating a distance in their writing—rather than allow the reader into the thick of it and this removed quite a bit of the tension.

There’s a possible future love interest here. But there is no romance in the book. So, if you like your UF romance free, this is a safe book to pick up.

Sierra Kline also did a nice job with the narration.


audiobook blood magic coverAbout the book:

My new alpha did the impossible. He freed my hobbled wolf.

And though I’ve craved a pack and an alpha since I was a rejected kid, I rebel against being anything less than his equal–even as my wolf worships the very ground he walks on. It makes for an interesting dynamic.

Flung headfirst into the supernaturals’ world, I am no longer a lonely, agonized outcast running from the moon. My power is growing, I have amazing people around me, and the grateful mayor has set me up with an office and a legitimate job.

For a minute, everything is quiet. Too quiet. Even the demon seems to have disappeared. And all that peace is just a little unsettling.

But then a human hires me to go after the vampires–specifically the county master–and my world explodes into chaos.

Good thing I like chaos.

But when the demon returns with a vengeance, the council makes me an offer I don’t want to refuse, and an infamous and scary as hell hunter blows into my life, the peace and quiet starts looking pretty damn good…

my review
I have to admit that, while I still liked this, I didn’t like it quite as much as book one, though it is an arguably more robust book. Kait is definitely coming into her own and strengthening her place in society. But her tendency to be the strongest badass around is also strengthening and eventually, from a reader’s perspective, this becomes redundant. There’s no real tension left if she’s so strong she can easily overcome even the steepest odds.

I also kind of feel like she’s creating a harem. Like book one, there basically isn’t any romance in the book (though you know who she’d choose if there were). But she seems to be collecting useful, powerful men (but only men, with the noted exception of her mother and roommate). And I’m starting to wonder if Cane isn’t falling into the age-old literary trap of creating interesting fictional worlds, but still not being able to imagine them full of and equal number interesting, three dimensional women as men.

I did feel some of the conclusions were a little anticlimactic—the end of the demon from book one especially. Regardless, if a third book had been available to me through Hoopla, I’d have continued the series (and still might at some future point). I like Kait. I like her found family. I’m interested in how some of the dangling plot lines conclude. And Sierra Kline again did a good job with the audio.

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Other Reviews:

🎧 Broken Moon by Laken Cane