Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles edited by Natalie C. Parker

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

First off, I did enjoy this, but this collection uses the term “love triangle” very loosely, in my opinion. Some of the stories could have probably benefited from a stricter use of the word. It was so very diverse in race, sexuality, settings, social structures, and more, and I really appreciated it. I honestly felt like the majority of these stories had a queer aspect to them and that brings so much joy to me. A few of the stories even beautifully showcases budding polyamorous relationships, which is almost unheard of in YA! But like all anthologies, this was a mixed bag, yet overall, I really did enjoy reading this anthology for the most part. I also feel like there is a big enough variety that most people will come out with at least a couple five star stories out of the sixteen.

And I stuck to my Fantasy roots, because my personal favorite in the whole collection was Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton, who was a completely new to me author before this anthology! Their story was a high fantasy short that beautifully features an open-minded start of a polyamorous relationship, set in an amazingly unique world, that also features a kingdom that heavily believes in their religion at all costs. This was smart, this was sexy, this was emotional, and this was honestly perfect for me and my tastes. Please, give me more from this world in a full-length version. But I also want to state that Julie Murphy’s Lessons for Beginners was a very close second (and so worth everyone’s time to read)!

But moving on, I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

Riddles in Mathematics by Katie Cotugno – ★★★★
This was such a good opening story, oh my word! This is a queer short story, set at Christmas/New Years’ time, and stars a girl that has just recently came out to her family. She is struggling with how they perceive her, even though they are really lovely and accepting, and she is struggling to stop feeling so lonely with her unrequited crush, who also happens to be her brother’s best friend. This felt so authentic, and real, and was able to evoke a lot of emotions from me. I loved this completely, and the only reason I gave this four stars was because I never really felt a love triangle! But this was still so amazing.

Dread South by Justina Ireland – ★★★★★
Okay, this was an extra good read for me, because I just read and loved Dread Nation last month! Well, this short story is part of that world, where an alternate history is taking place after the American Civil War! The blacks and Native children in this world have to go to combat schools to eventually protect the whites from the zombies that now walk among us. And our main character, Louisa, is gifted a girl to protect her, by the boy she thinks she is destined to marry. Louisa, slowfully and painfully, starts to realize her privilege, and then starts thinking about what she really wants from life. Oh, and in case you couldn’t tell, this is also a queer story! And that ending was honestly perfection.

Omega Ship by Rae Carson – ★★
This was a… very unexpected love triangle for this collection. Basically, an asteroid was going to destroy Earth in nine months time, so a space ship was launched with a bunch of kids so that that they could repopulate a new habitable planet. Well, this story is about how only three of those kids made it out alive and were able to get to the escape pod to land on the new planet. The three survivors are one girl and two boys, and the girl now feels the weight of the world on her shoulders (literally), because she is going to have to repopulate the human race with only her womb. And she has to pick what boy she wants to repopulate with first. This story just… felt not good? Like, it was trying to take a feminist angle on everything, and how the girl should be in control of her body, but it just felt like three hot teens were hanging out and excited to have sex with each other. But if this turns into a full length, NA, polyamorous story… sign me up for that.

La Revancha del Tango by Renee Ahdieh – ★
I really didn’t enjoy this one. It’s about a girl who just graduated high school and traveled to Argentina alone, to stay in a hostel for one night before her brother meets her. She is still grieving from her dad’s death, and she makes a few book references, and she… likes to salsa dance (all of these just feel so forced and random. But the main character, despite traveling alone and going to a nightclub with people she just met at a hostel, also felt so rude all the time to me. And, I’m still desperately confused as to who was the other point of the love triangle. The dancer? I honestly didn’t like anything about this, I’m sorry.

Cass, An, and Dra by Natalie C. Parker – ★★★
Cass is obsessed with the different paths in life a person can take. She is constantly thinking and analyzing what her choice(s) will lead to, since she can kind of predict and/or see what is going to steam from the choice(s). But the one thing Cass is always certain will be a constantly in her life is An, that is, until she meets Dra. This was a bit weird, and it felt really disjointed while reading, I also didn’t care for Cass not being completely open with her feelings and actions. And the ending really left a lot to be desired. But I loved seeing a genderfluid love triangle point, and everyone used they/them pronouns! But now, after I talked about this with Destiny, I’m questioning if this was just a huge metaphor for Cass’ self-identity because, CassAnDra…. And now my mind is blown, and I’m just unsure how to interpret this! But maybe that’s the beauty of it.

Lessons for Beginners by Julie Murphy – ★★★★★
Our main character is an expert kisser, and gives kissing lessons to other kids from her school. She has a website, and sets up everything online, so her identity remains anonymous until the teaching begins. Ruby only has one real friend, Paul, and everyone is always really surprised to find out that she is the “Kisser Fixer”. And then one day a childhood friend of hers and her boyfriend require her services. This was perfect. Heartwarming, emotional, everything, and had such good representation (queer, body, and race). I loved this so much. This is actually the first thing I’ve ever read from Julie Murphy, and now I want anything and everything by her.

Triangle Solo by Garth Nix – ★
This one just didn’t work for me, probably because it’s about two high school boys lusting over the beautiful new girl they knew in their youth. And even though this is sort of an SFF short, because they live and go to school on a planet that is not Earth, it still read like basic horny teenage boys. And I’m just not about that life. Especially when they are viewing something as lesser until they realize they can use it as a way to get the girl.

Vim and Vigor by Veronica Roth – ★★★★★
I really enjoyed this. This is about a girl picking between two boys to go to prom with, and then she realizes her value and how friends can love you just as well as any boy ever could. This was so pure, and I honestly just had fun reading it. Also, it’s about girls in a comic club that draw and love their fandom, while also grieving the loss of one of their members. This was just heartwarming, and easily one of the best stories in this collection. And give me all the stories about girls picking their friends who unconditionally love them!

Work in Progress by E.K. Johnston – ★
I’m not sure what would possess this author to think that writing three separate stories, all told in 2nd person, all feeling and sounding like the same person, even though they are all completely different points of view, would be a good idea. But needless to say, this did not work for me in the slightest. The third story was the strongest, but I was too annoyed, irritated, and confused at that point to even care.

Hurdles by Brandy Colbert – ★★★★
This story had so much good packed inside of this short little story. This story heavily talks about being the person your parents want you to be, while also trying to balance being the person you want to be. It talks about parents putting too much pressure on their kids, and maybe even trying to live vicariously through them. It talks about addiction, alcohol abuse specifically, and how we treat people once they come back from getting help. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this story meant a lot to me, and high school Melanie would have been able to connect with this story immediately. My only problem was the ending. I’m not saying that cliffhangers or open-ended endings are the worst thing ever, but I just wanted more. Like, write me this full-length novel, please, Brandy Colbert. I’m honestly begging you. This story was great, the characters were fully fleshed out (which is beyond impressive for a short story), and the writing was completely addicting. This was the first thing I’ve read by Brandy Colbert, but now I want to read everything. I really enjoyed this.

The Historian, The Garrison, and the Cantakerous Catwoman by Lamar Giles – ★★★★
Okay, I really enjoyed this one. Morally grey main protagonist, who is learning the life lesson that not everyone will love you the way you love them, while also being a story filled with monster hunting. Like, sign me the hell up for a full-length version of this. I’m legit only giving this four stars, because this could have been such a beautiful polyamorous relationship that would have given me everything I would have ever wanted.

Waiting by Sabaa Tahir – ★
Okay, this is going to sound horrible and petty, but… she picked the wrong guy. Like, I’m all about how you can’t tell people who to love, but like, no. This story is a perfect example of what I do not like in a love triangle. And that’s why it never truly feels like a love triangle and the girl picks the dude she first laid eyes on first anyways, because… reasons Seriously, Fèlix deserved so much better.

Vega by Brenna Yovanoff – ★★★
All the different names just being dropped at the start was really off-putting. But this short story does take place in Vegas, which is where I live, so I wanted to enjoy it, but it’s filled with the Vegas stereotypes of gambling, drug use, and addiction. I mean, I know that’s an important and very really discussion for many, but it’s a reality for many people in many cities, not just Vegas. I don’t know, maybe I’m being biased, but I just wish it didn’t feel so bad for me to read. I will say that this book feels very much like Vegas, and the author does a wonderful job teleporting you there. I also feel like this is a type of story that I really like though, and I think the love triangle between that stars a girl picking between a boy she has loved her whole life and a city is pretty genius. And it was a much different read than most in this collection, so I appreciated it.

A Hundred Thousand Threads by Alaya Dawn Johnson – ★★
This was just really boring to me and I honestly felt like I had to force myself to finish it. Maybe it was because the format was told in messages, but I’m not even sure I can blame the disconnect on that. Basically, the only thing I enjoyed was a Mexico City set in the future. And I can see some people really enjoying the plot twist, but I thought it was really predictable.

Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton – ★★★★★
I do think this was the high fantasy polyamorous short story that I was after while starting this anthology. Safiya is Moon Eater’s Mistress and her position is very important among her people. Her blessings mean the difference between everything, while her family also sits upon the throne. Unfortunately, Safiya is also unable to take a male lover named Enver, because she must be dedicated to their God. Yet, her best friend, Farah, has sworn her life to her. But Safiya and Farah both want Enver, and Safiya doesn’t want Farah to miss out because of her and the station that was placed on her. This was so freaking amazing. This was smart, this was sexy, this was emotional, and that first kiss, holy moly, that first kiss blew me away. I loved this. This was my favorite of the collection, and I’d love to have a full length story of these characters and this world.

Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen – ★★★★★
Um, this is about undead vampires at a Catholic boarding school who are thinking about a polyamorous relationship. It’s diverse with race and sexuality, the characters were phenomenal, the writing was excellent, and it’s pretty much the only thing I wanted for Christmas this year. I don’t want to say too much, because this story is definitely best to go into blind, but that ending was so damn shocking, but perfect in and of itself. I really loved this one.

I gave Three Sides of a Heart 3 stars overall, because out of a possible 80 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 16 stories) this collection accumulated 51 stars (~63%).

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Buddy read with Alexis over at The Sloth Reader (my favorite BookTuber) & Destiny (my favorite blogger)! ❤

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

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

“It’s a cruel, cruel world. And the people are the worst part”

Mark my words, this is going to be one of the biggest books that 2018 will offer, and it will be completely deserving of every award it will win. Dread Nation is the perfect mix of action and suspense, while always having oppression be at the forefront of the story. This book was thought-provoking, moving, intense, so very well written, and completely and absolutely enthralling. This book was nothing short of amazing and it’s one of the best things I’ve read this entire year.

Jane McKeene is a sixteen-year-old girl, who has never known a world where the dead don’t walk among humans. And I use the word “walk” to really mean that they are zombies that will bite you and make you into one of them to continue on their never-ending killing spree. They can be fast, they can be smart, but they will always be very deadly.

Jane grew up on a plantation in Kentucky, where her mother actually runs the plantation. Jane is biracial (black and white), but her mother tries to keep it a secret that Jane is her daughter. There are other women who help raise and take care of Jane, but once she turns fourteen she is taken to Massachusetts to attend Miss Preston’s School of Combat. And that’s where the story truly takes off.

“Keeping the peace in this country isn’t that hard, as long as nobody important dies.”

Just like actual history, even though slavery is abolished, white people come up with different ways to keep people of color as slaves, but just without the title. The blacks and Native children in this world have to go to combat schools to eventually protect the whites from zombies. Miss Preston’s School of Combat is actually one of the better schools, and Jane is learning to become an attendant, which means she will watch over a rich white woman and protect her at all costs upon graduating and/or purchase.

Jane isn’t sure if this is the life she wants, even though she doesn’t have many options. All she knows that she wants to get back to Kentucky and see her mother and the people she loves again. But Jane soon enters a world of conspiracy and sabotage, filled with people who warp religion to do their racist bidding. Jane then quickly realizes that humans are far more dangerous than the zombies that she’s been training to kill.

“The problem in this world ain’t sinners, or even the dead. It is men who will step on anyone who stands in the way of their pursuit of power.”

This story is told in two parts, and in a very unique way. Between each chapter there is a letter either from Jane or from her mother. This helps weave the story together, and lets you know more about Jane’s past and what will become of her future. My heart broke more and more as the correspondence went on, but I also found myself more and more desperate for more letters. I not only loved this story, but I love the way the story was told. I want to read everything by Justina Ireland.

This book mirrors the society we live in today and makes you think about all those uncomfortable topics that people would rather ignore and pretend do not exist. From prison systems, to black lives matter, to systemic racism, this book is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, specifically white people. But it’s the kind of uncomfortability people need in this day and age when we are normalizing hate speech and passing it off as free speech. Where we are living in a world where white supremacists can rally and spread their hatred at no cost, but black people fear for their life when being pulled over by the cops. Our country cares more about trying to stop football players kneeling for that injustice than doing anything to actually fix it, while also trying to misconstrue their protests as something that it isn’t. We need this uncomfortability and, more importantly, things need to change.

The racial diversity in this is so important, too, because not only is this book unapologetically black, it also heavily talks about what it is like to be a black person that is light enough to pass as white. What it feels like to feel like you don’t belong in either community, because you’ll be reminded that you’re not “black enough” and because people will constantly remind you that you’ll never be white. I have a very close friend who talks to me about this, and it’s just something that is near and dear to my heart and I love that Justina incorporated this element on top of an amazingly diverse cast of characters and while also having important discussions that reflects the world we live in today.

“Most important, it was my fault that my skin was brown and Momma’s wasn’t and that she had the terrible misfortune to love me anyway.”

Also, Jane is so not straight! I don’t feel comfortable giving her a label, but I do personally feel like she identifies under the bisexual umbrella. But it is important to note that there is not a relationship between Jane and another girl on page.

And there is a major character that is part of the ace community! I can’t personally speak about this representation, but I thought it was very thoughtfully done. Plus, we need so many more stories that just normalizes sexuality. And even though I think authors are being better about LGBTQIA+ representation, I still find it harder to find asexual characters. Even though this mention is brief, I loved this inclusion.

If you want to read a book about black girls killing zombies and putting a stop to white power-hungry men (because who honestly wouldn’t?) please give Dread Nation a try. And I hope if you do give it a try, that you will take something from it and help to raise and support marginalized voices.

This all being said; this review is coming to you from a very white and privileged reviewer. Closer upon release, when this book hopefully gets into more PoC’s hands, I would love to post some own voices reviews here and celebrate 1.) how truly amazing this book is and 2.) how PoC’s voices are the ones that matter and, more importantly, are the voices that need to be heard. Because you all might think a lot has changed in 2017 from 1865, but it really hasn’t.

Please preorder this alternative history masterpiece. The release date is set for April 3rd, 2018 and I honestly can’t sing this book’s praises enough. And please, Justina, give us more of Jane and this world! I loved this story with my whole heart. And I completely agree with Kelly that HBO should scrap their gross version of the American Civil War with Confederate and just buy the rights to this book immediately. This book is powerful, this book is beautiful, this book is life changing.


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

Buddy read with Elise & Destiny! ❤