Here’s the first of my February review books! And two of the three I freaking loved. Hope you do too if you’re interested!
The sequel to Dread Nation is a journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.
After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.
But nothing is easy when you're a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880's America.
What's more, this safe haven is not what it appears - as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.
But she won't be in it alone.
Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by - and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.
Watching Jane's back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it's up to Katherine to keep hope alive - even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.
I loved Dread Nation. Loved, loved, utterly adored. And yet somehow, I loved Deathless Divide even more. So that has to tell you some stuff right off the bat! Now, in the interest of not spoiling anything for either book, I shall do my best to do a vague-ish review that still makes you want to pick up this incredible duology, because tbh you need it in your life.
- The author gives us a reminder of what happened in Dread Nation! This automatically makes her a damn hero, yeah? It’s done in a great way too- not at all an info dump, but the perfect amount to catch us up while still staying relevant to the current story. I need a finger-kissing-chef GIF right here because… perfection.
- More. Jane. McKeene. Good grief, there isn’t a better character in any series I’ve read lately. And I have read about some awesome characters, this is saying a lot! She’s flawed beyond measure, but also has so much heart and fierceness and just feels so incredibly authentic. Everything about her personality is well developed, and she feels like your actual friend more than a character. You know, a friend you often want to throttle, and therein lies the charm, IMO.
“Jane is the proverbial bull in the china shop, and while she is highly effective against the dead she is terrible at navigating the intricacies of human interaction.”
- Oh look, Katherine joins the band! Katherine has a POV in this one, and she is over here giving my girl Jane a real run for her money as my favorite character ever. Katherine, at first glance, is the antithesis of Jane. But the truth is, she’s so much more complex. And while I don’t want to say much due to spoilers, I will say that I am pretty much as in love with her as I am with Jane.
- The world-building gets more developed and I am beyond here for it. Sometimes a book/show (I am looking at you, The Walking Dead) focuses on the one little strip they’re inhabiting, but this book is so not like that! There’s so much more out there, and the author and the characters know it and reference it.
- Huge plot twists and unexpected directions! Like, you think you might know where a nineteenth century zombie book is headed, but frankly you have no idea. I shan’t say anymore because hi, that is the point of reading, and you must.
- Amazing side characters! Like honestly if the two freaking incredible main characters weren’t enough, we are blessed with a veritable gaggle of fabulous side characters to fall in love with. Which of course, makes the stakes even higher throughout the book!
- My emotions were emoting. Holy feels, all over the place! There’s sorrow, no doubt, but also hope and love and laughter. Obviously, it’s a dark book, please don’t misunderstand. There is a lot of crap going on- I mean, it’s the aftermath of the Civil War after all, and things are going extra bad because zombies. And many of our characters are black women who have to deal with a ton of racist, misogynist asshats. Obviously, black women deal with that now as well, unfortunately, but these women have to fight zombies while doing it which is a lot. But, for all the awfulness, there are rays of light. The author does an incredible job balancing the emotional flow of the book.
Bottom Line: If you don’t start and/or finish this series, you’re missing out. On phenomenal characters, an exciting (and important) story, and old-timey zombies, which if you ask me is the Trifecta of Awesome™ ?♀️
A forbidden attraction grows even more complicated when the guy Lane Jamison has crushed on for years suddenly becomes her step-brother in this sexy and gorgeously written debut novel about the lines between love, desire, and obsession.
What happens when the boy you want most becomes the one person you can’t have?
Lane Jamison's life is turned upside down the week before her senior year when her father introduces her to his new fiancée: mother of Grey McIntyre, Lane’s secret, longtime crush. Now with Grey living in Lane’s house, there’s only a thin wall separating their rooms, making it harder and harder to deny their growing mutual attraction—an attraction made all the more forbidden by Grey’s long-term girlfriend Sadie Hall, who also happens to be Lane’s friend.
Torn between her feelings for Grey and her friendship with Sadie—not to mention her desire to keep the peace at home—Lane befriends Sadie’s older brother, Connor, the black sheep of the strict, evangelical Hall family. Connor, a metal working artist who is all sharp edges, challenges Lane in ways no one else ever has. As the two become closer and start to open up about the traumas in their respective pasts, Lane begins to question her conviction that Connor is just a distraction.
Tensions come to a head after a tragic incident at a party, forcing Lane to untangle her feelings for both boys and face the truth of what—and who—she wants, in this gripping and stunningly romantic debut novel.
There is, blissfully, a content warning given at the start of the book. I will include it in my review, verbatum from the unfinished advanced copy, for your trigger warning needs:
This story contains content that might be troubling to some readers, including, but not limited to, depictions of and references to death, suicide, cutting and self-harm, vivid nightmare imagery, substance abuse, homelessness, childhood trauma, and PTSD. Please be mindful of these and other possible triggers, and seek assistance if needed from the resources on page 347.
Look, I know it might sound squicky, to have a case of the feels for your step-brother. But Lane knew (and liked) Grey long before anyone’s parents shacked up. I didn’t find it squicky in the least. I did, however, find it like the gut-gnawing, all consuming unrequited love that most of us have endured at one time or another. So I was sort of drawn to Lane from the start, because of how much I could relate to what she was going through in that regard. But soon, I became completely invested in her whole story. And kind of loved it, even when it broke my heart.
And it will break your heart. Lane has been through a lot in her life. She’s lost her mother, is dealing with her own precarious mental health and physical health (she has extremely severe endometriosis), and is now living with the dude she’s been in love with for ages. Oh and did I mention he has a girlfriend (Sadie)? Who even Lane can’t help but like? Yeah. The story mainly follows these three, plus Sadie’s brother, Connor, who’s been shunned from their family by their garbage father.
Speaking of, there are a ton of sideplots, which I think worked well. None of them felt like too much (well, maybe one small one, but that’s really not bad), and they all seemed to enhance the story. I liked that each character had some aspects of the plot that felt like their own. Because isn’t that how life works? We all have our share of the shit, frankly. And the author does a brilliant job reminding us of that.
The relationships among the four main characters are fabulously well-developed. While the relationship between Grey and Lane is a bit at the forefront, Lane’s relationships with each of them (and each of them with each other) are brilliantly showcased and seem so, so authentically messy. I also must add, Lane’s relationship with her dad and stepmother are incredibly well-developed as well. And the stepmom? She’s awesome, and it’s clear that everyone really loves and cares about Lane.
Bottom Line: Very thoughtfully done and so very readable, I would absolutely recommend this one for anyone who can handle the content warnings. It’s absolutely worth it!
Emilie des Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.
Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.
Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.
But when their nation instigates a frivolous war, Emilie and Annette must work together to help the rebellion end a war that is based on lies.
So. I will start out fully honestly and tell you that I almost DNFed this one at numerous turns. The beginning just seemed so very dull and unrealistic. I mean, there’s really no explanation why either of these complete strangers would want to, let alone be able to, fully trust the other woman with her literal life. Look, if some rando comes up to me and wants to life-swap… fine, I’ll be tempted but ultimately my mom taught me about Stranger Danger, so. And we jump right into the switcheroo, like it’s business as usual. It was hard for me to suspend disbelief is what I am telling you here.
The characters seemed a little too similar to me at first, too. They just didn’t start the book particularly fleshed out, and they were pretending to be each other, and there were so many other people around, I just got kind of overwhelmed. And the pacing just felt super draggy, I must say. At least for the first half. Then, things pick up, and since I am already half way in, I just keep going because I am determined to a fault, apparently. And it did get better! I started to actually care about the characters, enough that I did want to finish the book. The problem here is, I can’t really tell you much of what I liked because it’s all at the end and those are spoilers. But the pacing does pick up, and the characters definitely develop more over the course of the book.
Also! It’s a standalone, so you’re not invested forever. The concept of the doctors is pretty cool (and dark, but that’s always fun) and again, I can’t say more, but that was a plot point that I really enjoyed. I also liked a lot of the camaraderie each woman eventually found in her respective place. Again, vague on purpose. This is hard, let’s stop.
Bottom Line: It started so slow and unbelievable, but did eventually get to the point where I cared about the characters and what happened to them, so. It’s hard to give a definitive bottom line, kind of depends on whether you want to invest in the “meh” beginning.