Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“For Emory to take his father’s place as king, he must do as his father had done, and his father before him. He must conquer a dragon and rescue a damsel, and take that maiden as his bride.”

I get what this book was trying to do, I really do, and I appreciate it, but I just don’t personally think it was well done. This is a play on the “damsel in the tower, guarded by a dragon, and a brave knight comes to save her” but I don’t even feel like that was very powerfully done either. This just reads really boring, really forced, and really overly graphic. And a few of my friends have five starred and really loved this one, and I obviously don’t want my personal feelings to invalidate anyone, especially those I love and especially abuse survivors.

But this is a really graphic and dark book, so content and trigger warnings so much animal abuse and death, sexual abuse, sexual assault, threats of rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, humiliation, captivity, talk of past rape, self-harm, gaslighting, grey area cheating, misogynistic and sexist comments, and I don’t really know if I want to call this rape or bestiality: but a scene where a guy has sex with an opening that his sword made on a dragon. (I can’t believe I just typed that!) But I just wanted to put this all out there before I really start this review, because these topics are going to get brought up.

Basically, in this world, from this small kingdom, a prince always goes to slay a dragon once the king dies so that he can prove himself a worthy ruler and become the new king. Once the prince, or king in waiting, slays the beast, he will rescue the damsel in distress, bringing her back to his kingdom so that he can get crowned and they can get married. She will then produce him one, male heir and the cycle will repeat forever and ever. The dream, right? Wrong.

The book starts out with us seeing Emory approaching this tower, then slaying the dragon, and then rescuing the girl to take back with him. He names her Ama, since she has no memory or recollection of her past and promises her that she will have a life that others only dream of having.

“The damsels are a legacy of nothing—no memory, no past, no family. Accept your nothing, and pray it stays that way.”

But you will quickly find out that this book is a statement on abuse, and how the cycle continues and continues throughout relationship and throughout generations who go on thinking abusive actions are okay and justifiable. Ama has no choice in any of the actions she performs, and her only escape is her pet lynx, Sorrow, who Emory constantly threatens to kill and uses as leverage for Ama to do his bidding.

And Emory is awful; he sexually assaults her, physically abuses her, allows his friend to do the same, and completely controls every aspect of her life and happiness. And he expects her to thank him for it. Again, there are a lot of parallels to our world, and this entire book is more of a statement to that testament. Yet, this book isn’t fun to read. And I don’t mean that in the, “books about abuse are always hard to read!” because hard and not enjoyable are two very different things. Yes, this was a hard book to read at times, but it was also ungodly forced, heavy handed, and boring, too. Oh, and if I ever read the word “yard” referring to a person’s penis again, I am going to scream.

And the animal abuse in this was some of the worst I’ve ever read. That is a personal trigger for me, but something that I knew going in and believed I was in the right headspace for. Yet, it was very hard to read, especially because it continues to happen throughout. So, again, just, use caution, and I wanted to make note that this probably added to me not really enjoying the book even more so.

The one element I really did enjoy about this book is its minor discussion on gaslighting and sympathizing with your abuser. There were times that Emory was really sweet, kind, and giving to Ama and would make her question everything. There were times Emory was really convincing that the bad things that happened to Ama were her own fault. And there were times that you actually thought that maybe Emory wasn’t a complete piece of shit. Well, these are all tactics that abusers know and love, and I really did like how the author showed that in this story.

“I saved you,” Emory said.
And Ama believed him.”

Overall, I think you’re going to love this one or you’re just not. For as many friends that I have that have five starred this, I have even more that have DNFed it. This just reads so introductory and forced, to me personally. But I think both ends of the spectrum are very valid. And again, I’m sorry if this is one of your favorite reads of the year. But if you’re looking for feminist novels with a little more substance, that pack just as an emotional punch without feeling forced, I very much recommend: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Her Body and Other Parties, and The Power.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Candance at Literary Dust! ❤

Long Shot: A HOOPS Novel (Hoops #1) by Kennedy Ryan

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First and foremost, I really want to emphasize that this is a book about abuse and what it is like to be in a very dangerous and abusive relationship. MAJOR trigger and content warnings for a lot of graphic rape, stalking, being trapped, and a lot of very graphic physical, emotional, and mental abuse. This read is not easy or light, but it very importantly talks about taking back your own body after someone has been forcefully taking it for so long. Also, if you need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.

“I spoke because maybe there’s some girl like me. Young. Vulnerable. Naïve. Flattered by his attention. Maybe she thinks his jealousy means he loves her more or that it’s cute. Does she realize that slowly, surely, she’s being cut off from her friends? Isolated from her family? Being molded into something she’s not? Into what he wants her to be?”

This book also puts on display how difficult it can be to leave an abusive relationship. We live in a world where people never want to believe a woman’s word, on top of the hundreds of other factors that come into play when someone is trying to leave their abuser. The author put in a lot of research and interviewed a lot of survivors, social workers, and women’s shelters and it shows on the pages. This book feels so real. But again, this is a book about reclaiming your body and your mind from your abuser. And if you are in the right mindset, I very much recommend this read.

“Strength. Dignity. Courage. All these things belong to you. Take them back. Your soul is yours. Your heart is yours. Your body is yours. Yours to keep and yours to share.”

Long Shot is a basketball, sort of second chance romance that starts with one night at a bar that changes two people’s lives forever. It is the night before August’s big college final game, and Iris is a basketball fanatic that came to the bar to catch her beloved Lakers play. August was just looking to blow off some steam, but he wasn’t planning on meeting someone who he would never forget. The chemistry is instant and so damn good. I truly believed that these two characters were real and were soulmates and it was a damn treat to be inside their heads.

This is also an ownvoices for the two black main characters that the points of view shift between. Actually, both August and Iris are biracial (white and black) and this book always holds an important discussion about growing up biracial and never feeling like you belong to either half of yourself.

Also, this book talks about Hurricane Katrina and how so many families were broken apart and forced to flee New Orleans, and become refuges in their own country. I’m telling you all, Kennedy Ryan packed this beautiful romance novel with some important topics and discussions that so many writers wouldn’t dare bring up. She’s made a fan for life.

But after having an amazing night just baring their souls to one another in a bar, Iris confesses that she has a boyfriend, so their relationship can go no further than friendship. And August is a standup guy and understands, until he realizes the next night at his game that Iris is dating his childhood nemesis.

From there we get to see how Iris and August’s lives go on different paths; him in the NBA and her with her abuser, but somehow their paths always connect back to one another. And the abuse I prefaced this review with? It starts out suddenly, with Iris being told what to wear, then telling Iris how her future should go, to eventually trapping Iris into something that changes her life forever. Again, this is a hard book to read, but I promise it is so rewarding.

“The heart speaks in whispers, but sometimes by the time we listen, it’s too late. I learned that the hardest way. And maybe that girl can change her course before it’s too late.”

The romance in this book is so damn swoon-worthy. August West is a God among men, and Iris is one of the strongest protagonists I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about, and August is so deserving of her. And not only is the romance perfect and the sex amazing, Iris and August’s friendship is always on display and seeing it grow into something more was something more beautiful that I have words for.

“I’ll never take this for granted. Not his kindness, when I’ve known cruelty all too well. Not his tenderness, when I’ve been handled roughly in the past. Not his love, when I’ve been possessed and owned and mistreated.”

And this book is just a love letter to why it is so important to surround yourself with people who have your back and will always unconditionally love you. The love between Iris and her cousin, Lotus, was so important to me. And seeing Iris reconnect with her grandmother was also one of my favorite moments in the book. Yet, again, this book showcases the important of found family and how important it is to cut out toxic family members from your life, because blood is just that; blood, and nothing more.

This is a real and raw novel, and I know a lot of people won’t be able to read it because it is so triggering, but I also think this book has so much power to heal abuse victims. I will be forever thankful for Kennedy Ryan for creating this masterpiece and using her voice for so much good. And for somehow writing this novel that will evoke every emotion out of you, but will leave you believing in love again. If you are in the right mindset, and are looking for a good romance, I completely recommend Long Shot, and I anticipate it making many people’s best of 2018 lists. And I can’t wait to see if we get a story about Lotus. *crosses fingers forever* And girls? Make sure you always get a partner that always plays you at the five.

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I loved this interview from Steph so much that I knew I had to finally pick something up by Kennedy Ryan!