Dystopian

Review: Fight For You

Cover of "Fight For You," featuring a sunny picture of the Roman Coliseum with a girl holding a sword in one of the archways
Image from Kayla Bain-Vrba

Title: Fight For You

Author: Kayla Bain-Vrba

Genre: Dystopian

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/violence, sexual assault, whorephobia, sexualization of female characters

Back Cover:

Sold off to pay her father’s debts, Cherry spends her nights dancing and her days longing for freedom. Determined to break free of her life, she transfers from the dance halls to the stadiums, where all the real money is made.

The only problem with her plan is that she’s not a fighter. In order to learn, Cherry approaches Berlin, one of the best fighters in the stadium. Berlin, however, wants nothing to do with her, and Cherry realizes the hardest fights do not take place in the arena …

Review:

I was really excited about this book. It even made my Top 5 Want to Reads for this year. I guess the joke’s on me for getting so excited about the concept and not reading the reviews. This is the most disappointing book I’ve read this year.

So you know how based on the back cover, it seems like a lot of the story is going to be about Cherry convincing Berlin to teach her to fight? Yeah, Berlin agrees to train her on page 2. Right after their first kiss. Berlin gives Cherry an aggressive kiss after tackling her as a “show of dominance.”

Which leads me to my next problem with this book – Cherry and Berlin are both overly sexualized. At once point, Cherry says “I want people to see me as more than tits and ass,” and yet the author describes both girls mostly in terms of tits, ass, and how horny they make each other. There’s a lot of nudity. There’s a lot of random nipple sucking. There’s a lot of sexual situations that don’t fit the fact that these girls hardly know each other. And most of it reads like amateur erotica.

I don’t want to be That FeministTM, but this novella reads like it is by and for the male gaze. Cherry and Berlin are described in terms of sex appeal, their relationship develops through mutual horniness, and the level of physical intimacy they have as strangers is straight out of a random encounters erotica story. If there had been actual on-page sex when the girls had sex, I would call this amateur erotica with a veneer of gladiators slapped on top.

The pacing was also very bad. It moved much too fast and didn’t focus enough on anything to give either of the girls real emotions. The conflicts between Berlin and Cherry feel contrived and both girls get over them within a few paragraphs with no emotional growth shown, and you get no sense of the world (other than this is some sort of dystopian society where people or their family members are sold to work in The Zone if they can’t pay their debts).

A short list of other problems that I want to mention but not spend an entire paragraph on:

  • Both girls act like sex work is awful/shameful/makes you less of a person.
  • Two unnecessary sexual assault scenes.
  • It’s not really clear how one actually makes money off the fights. Maybe betting on them?
  • It’s mentioned offhandedly that the fights are mostly about the sex appeal – which is just, what???
  • The line “You’re going to be turned on when you’re fighting.”

This could have easily been expanded into a novel – and I think with time to flesh out the world and the characters of Cherry and Berlin, this could have been at least good. Berlin has an interesting past, and Cherry at least has some family history that could have been explored. The world could have been interesting. And I still love stories about fighting in arenas for money. I’m mostly upset about this novella because it could have been good, and I wanted it to be – it just wasn’t.

Advertisements
Contemporary

Review: The Melody of You and Me

Cover of "The Melody of You and Me," featuring white text over a picture of the legs and feet of a girl wearing ripped jeans and black shoes
Image from LGBTQ Reads

Title: The Melody of You and Me

Series: Lillac Town #1

Author: M. Hollis

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Trigger Warnings: Explicit lesbian sex

Back Cover:

After dropping out of university and breaking up with her girlfriend of three years, Chris Morrison’s life is now a mind-numbing mess. She doubts that working at the small neighborhood bookstore is going to change that. The rest of her time is spent mostly playing guitar and ignoring the many messages her mother keeps sending her about going back to college.

But one day, an adorable and charming new bookseller waltzes her way into Chris’s life. Josie Navarro is sweet, flirty, and she always has a new book in her hands. The two girls start a fast friendship that, for Chris, holds the promise of something more. But is she reading too much into this or is it possible that Josie feels the same way?

Review:

I picked this book up for two reasons: It was gay and it was free. And I read it because I had it as a PDF that I could put on my phone and read when I didn’t have a wifi connection.

Overall, I found it pretty unspectacular – but then again, contemporary romance is decidedly not my genre.

You have Chris, a music-loving college dropout who actually seems perfectly happy not going to college and just working at the local bookstore, except she’s getting very annoyed at her mother pushing her to go back to school. Then there’s Josie, a Filipino (or half-Filipino, I can’t remember) ballet dancer new to town who is cute, flirty, and energetic. This novella is so short, there’s not a lot of room for character development, although Chris gets a little.

The plot was short and sweet. Chris is trying to figure out what to do with her life and trying to start/navigate/not mess up a potential romance with Josie. There’s really not a whole lot else.

There was a lot of undeniable romantic – and sexual – tension between Chris and Josie. And there are sex scenes – several of them. Personally, they weirded me out, but I’m not sure if that’s because they were poorly written or because I’m just weird about sex scenes in books. Possibly both. So beware if sex bothers you.

I’m keeping this review short because I don’t honestly have a lot to say. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t a huge fan. But then again, that’s likely just me because this is absolutely not my genre. A fan of contemporary romance (or really just romance in general) will probably like this a lot more than I did.

The Lillac Town series:

  1. The Melody of You and Me
  2. The Paths We Choose
Science Fiction

Review: The Never Hero

Cover of "The Never Hero," featuring the silhouette of a person with short hair holding a staff and crouching; there is a city in the background
Image from T. Ellery Hodges

Title: The Never Hero

Series: Chronicles of Jonathan Tibbs #1

Author: T. Ellery Hodges

Genre: Science Fiction

Back Cover:

When Jonathan Tibbs awoke in a pool of his own blood, there wasn’t a scratch on him to explain why. In the days that followed, a violent and merciless otherworldly enemy came from nowhere. It killed in the streets, all the while calling out for its challenger, but only Jonathan understood the trespasser’s words. That was the night he discovered he had been drafted into an ongoing conflict, a war outside the grasp of mankind’s memory. Now, the man Jonathan had seen himself becoming is not the man who can endure his future.

The first installment in this mind-bending action adventure series, The Never Hero is a gritty and honest look at the psychological journey of a man forced to forge himself into a weapon. Abandoned with little guidance, and finding himself at the mercy of a bargain struck far beyond his reach, Jonathan races to unlock the means to surmount the odds. All the while, fighting to understand the mystery behind a war between two species, raging outside of time and memory.

Confronted with the knowledge that, should he die, no one will ever know he was all that once stood between mankind and the enemy; Jonathan must decide who he is willing to become to save a planet that can never know of his sacrifice.

Review:

The whole concept of The Never Hero intrigued me – a mysterious attack quickly followed by a monster, a war nobody knows is happening, and of course, the classic “only the main character can do anything about it.” It was too good to pass up.

Jonathan was an interesting character. An average college student victim of a really, really weird attack and suddenly required to fight for his life at random intervals with no explanation as to why. A surprisingly large amount of the story was him dealing with his emotions – fear, frustration, anger, and other not-so-nice stuff. He got progressively darker as the story went on. And while I can’t say I particularly liked him as a person, I really enjoyed reading about him as a character.

There was a surprisingly large cast of secondary characters, too – Jonathan’s three roommates, Collin, Hayden, and Paige; Paige’s boyfriend; his new neighbor and her brother; Heyer, Jonathan’s mentor-ish figure who knows about the monster attacks; and many more. At some points it was hard to keep track of the really minor ones, but the more important ones all had distinct personalities and made for a good group of characters.

There’s so many plots all weaving together that I don’t even know where to begin. There’s the whole thing with the monsters (what they’re doing there and why), which doesn’t hardly get touched on until the end. Then there’s Jonathan’s emotional struggles, which were surprisingly deep and brilliant in many places; his struggles with relating to people post-attack, both his roommates and the pretty girl next door; his attempts to balance a normal-seeming life with the dangerous parts; and even several chapters of people who are working against him (some of whom even surprised me). This book did an amazing job of weaving so many things together into one great and complicated story.

I had two main problems with this book. One was punctuation – The Never Hero really needed a good copy editor. The other was length. In the middle, the story covered Jonathan’s training and his struggle with his emotions repetitively with nothing new happening, and it really dragged on a little too much.

While it’s not a perfect book (but honestly, what book is?), The Never Hero was even better than I expected – a well-executed brilliant concept woven into a tapestry of plots and characters that made for a fantastic read.

The Chronicles of Jonathan Tibbs

  1. The Never Hero
  2. The Never Paradox

I received a free review copy of The Never Hero in exchange for a review. This generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Update 2018:

The Never Hero/T. Ellery Hodges sponsored an episode of Overly Sarcastic Productions! Overly Sarcastic Productions is a YouTube channel that talks about storytelling tropes, classic myths, and ancient history with a healthy dose of humor, sarcasm, and pop culture references. The Never Hero sponsored an episode about the “save the world” trope, and I highly recommend you watch it.