Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Córdova & Natalie C. Parker | ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: September 22nd, 2020 by Imprint

Maybe vampires are getting old? I’m sorry, friends. This was just not the anthology for me. I feel like I might have had way too high of expectations going into this, based on the author list alone. Sadly, I felt like most of these stories just left you wanting more, but not in the good way. In the way of the actual short story felt very pointless. There were a few gems throughout, but for the most part this was a very lackluster and forgettable anthology for me.

My favorite story was easily In Kind by Kayla Whaley, and it was the only story that I gave a whole five stars too. It had everything that I wanted, and I can’t wait to read more by this author. It was spooky, it was so atmospheric, it was diverse, and it was beautiful.

I will say that I love how diverse this anthology is, and how much ownvoices rep is within these stories. We have ownvoices Black rep, Latinx rep, Native rep, Indian rep, disability rep, fat rep, a whole lot of queer rep (both sexuality and gender)! This truly celebrates so many different voices, and I loved that aspect so very much. Sadly, that was one of the only few things I did love about this collection.

Like always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts and feelings!

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Seven Nights for Dying by Tessa Gratton ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I won’t lie, I was most excited to start this anthology because the first story was Tessa’s and Tessa is one of my favorite authors of all time! I still really enjoyed this one, but it just wasn’t my favorite. We get to see a young girl slowly getting turned into a vampire over the course of seven nights with seven drinks. I really loved that she got to decide for herself if this is what she wanted, and that she had a week to do so! I loved seeing the glimpses of each day and night, and I really loved how sex positive this was! And the main character is pan or bi, which you know I love a lot! I also loved the themes of belonging, loss, grief, anger, and how teenage girls are sometimes expected to carry all of those things, and how society has forced teenage girls to adapt to those things. (I also loved the brief introduction of Henry, who is trans, and I am also ready to become a vampire for Sett all on my own!) There is also a bit of a sapphic relationship kind of going on here, which I wish I was able to see more, also it very much gave off polyamorous vibes!

TW: loss of a loved one, underage drinking, grief depiction


Mirrors, Windows & Selfies by Mark Oshiro ⭐️⭐️
Okay, this one is a hard one for me to rate, because I love the parallel attached to this story, and I love the premise of this story, but I didn’t love the actual story. This is about a young adult Latino vampire, forced to move around the country with his family, and never being allowed to get close with anymore. Because he feels so alone and isolated, he starts up a blog where we get to see him talk about his feelings, his struggles, and his want of finally being able to see himself for the first time,, because that is another thing his parents’ protectiveness has kept from him. There are a lot of parallels here about being queer, and feeling like you’re alone, and nobody else is like you, and then the feelings you get when you find out how much you really are not alone! And I loved that, truly. But Cicso’s parents’ secretiveness really didn’t make sense, and we never really learned why they kept him so isolated, so the story just wasn’t my favorite at all, sadly.

TW: blood, gore, violence, captivity mention, death


The House of Black Sapphires by Dhonielle Clayton ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Oh, this one is such a hard one to rate. Listen, if I knew I could get my hands on a full-length of this family, setting, and story eventually? I’d give it five stars. But the ending just made it feel… so unsatisfied. Yikes. This story is about a Black family of Vampires in New Orleans who are forced to move around a lot. And the women in this family aren’t just regular vampires; the Eternal Women have a much darker origin and are extremely powerful! In fact, only one thing can put them to rest which are Shadow Barons who walk with death. So basically, we get to see them move (through this really cool and magical gate system) and start back up with their family beauty pharmacy and apothecary, and it’s amazing. I loved this entire premise and set up so very much. And the family consists of five sisters who all have been given a different power by their mother. And a couple of the girls go to a ball with their mother (because they are summoned) in their new city, and our main character, Bea, gets to meet Shadow Barons, but one isn’t at all what she was expecting. And might be willing to risk it all for love, but we will never know because of the abrupt and disappointing ending.

TW: blood and mention of slavery


The Boys From Blood River by Rebecca Roanhorse ⭐️⭐️
Whew! Okay, the start of this? Set in a spooky diner, in a very small down, where our MC is a young Native boy who is being bullied for being Native and gay, and he is also preparing for his mother’s passing because of an illness. At the diner, him and another coworker (and the only person nice to him in this town) are getting scared when the jukebox is playing a creepy song all by itself. And legend goes, the last time this song played, an entire family was drained of their blood! How amazing does that sound, right? Like, I was INVESTED! But then…. we got… morally grey cowboy vampires. I am still a bit speechless. I still am questioning their motives. I’m still wondering what will happen in a few years to our MC. And I’m still asking myself what in the hell did I just read.

TW: bullying, abuse, and loss of a loved one.


Senior Year Sucks by Julie Murphy ⭐️⭐️
Listen, just because you mention a Buffy joke, it doesn’t mean your story doesn’t feel like a Buffy rip-off. Our main character is from Texas, where pageants are all the rage, and she is a cheerleader named… Jolene. Oh, and she’s a slayer. But she is just trying to enjoy high school the best she can, because of the life she is forced to have, but getting home from a game one night, she meets a vampire who is also just trying to learn what it’s like to be a normal teenage girl. I loved the fat rep and the sapphic ending, but sadly this just also left me wanting a lot more, while making the actual short story itself not feel of much substance.

TW: animal abuse mention


The Boy and the Bell by Heidi Heilig ⭐️⭐️
I really loved the atmosphere of this one, and I’ve always found historical burial fun facts to be rather interesting, but especially expecting the dead to ring a bell if they turn out to be not so dead! Our MC is a a trans boy trying to learn all he can while trying to go to school to become a doctor, but one night when he is gravedigging for corpses to learn from, he hears a bell ringing. Listen, I know this sounds great, and I appreciate that it felt like a full story once I read the last sentence (which seems to be my main complaint with this anthology so far), but it just felt a little pointless. Even though I’m always going to be here the course of action this MC took with a transphobe.

TW: misgendering & attempted blackmail (that would out our MC)


In Kind by Kayla Whaley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Whew, finally, the first story I loved in this anthology. The power this one holds. First off, this story has a few articles/news casts helping present information and it was really expertly done. And in the first article, we learn that a 17 year old disabled girl was “mercy killed” by her father, but the body is missing. And you guessed it, she may be a vampire now! Her degenerative neuromuscular disorder makes it so that she still uses a wheelchair as a vampire, and I really loved that a lot. Because this entire story is about how this girl didn’t need to be “fixed” in any sense of the word, because her life is worth living, even if it is among the undead now. Truly thought this one was amazing and I loved it a lot.

TW: attempted murder (by overdosing), parental abuse, and ableism.


A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire by Samira Ahmed ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This short story is very impressive and very unapologetic and I read the whole thing with a smile on my face. Basically, this is told through an anonymous system set up in place for Indian vampires who are recently turned into vampires, and this one was turned against their will by a British tourist. We learn all about this new life these vampires will now have, and how it will work (yet also impact) their culture. And there is a lot of talk about biting colonizers, especially the ones that mock certain parts of your culture, while fully profiting from cultural appropriating other parts of it! This one doesn’t hold back against colonizers and all the microaggressions they love to still embrace in 2020, and we love to see. I didn’t love how the story was told, but I loved the entire contents within it.

TW: talk of colonization and mention of racism


Bestiary by Laura Ruby ⭐️
This one was just sadly (yet easily) my least favorite in the entire collection. This is about a young vampire girl living in a zoo and having a special bond with the animals. She really doesn’t have a place to call home after becoming a vampire and not willing to be around her abusive parents any longer. This story also for sure has themes of capitalism, while also trying to talk about what makes a beast and what makes a monster. Sadly, I just never cared, I never was invested, and the felt like the story was the most pointless of the whole collection.

TW: talk of domestic violence, underage drinking, attempted assault, and abandonment.


Vampires Never Say Die by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker ⭐️⭐️
Okay, I feel like this is the story that is going to be a bit on the controversial side. Basically, this is a story about a bunch of vampire Instagram influences who are hiding they are vampires. But one vampire who has been around for 200 years, started talking to a 15-year-old human girl who she really likes. The story takes place two years after they first started talking, so the girl is now 17 and throwing a big party in NYC for her Instagram pals and so that she can meet them for the first time. You can see where this is gonna go, right? But like, I just felt so uncomfortable with one of the MCs being fifteen and easily manipulated by people who aren’t being honest with her. I thought this had major sapphic vibes, even if it kinda tried to make it a “bff” thing. I don’t know, I just couldn’t enjoy it because I was uncomfortable, but I think many people will enjoy this one and maybe I’m being too sensitive.

TW: blood and…. grooming feels


First Kill by Victoria “V. E.” Schwab ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Maybe I’m just back to three starring everything by VE now again. Brb, gonna go cry. Okay, this one had a good twist that I really enjoyed, but I feel like if I say anything it will ruin the story a bit for you. But, we get to see two girls having crushes on each other, while also trying to figure out the other one’s motives. Has the sapphic angst, and also 60 seconds in a closet that really changes things for both of these girls. This one will for sure leave you wanting more, and I did enjoy the format that it was told in by seeing both girls’ POV over two days! I just wasn’t ever too invested, and again, I feel like not much happened, besides it just leaving the reader wanting to know how the actual story will play out.

TW: talk of murder & panic and anxiety deception.


TOBICgi
I gave Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite two stars overall, because out of a possible 55 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 11 stories) this collection accumulated 29 stars (52%)! But, if half stars were a thing, I would totally give this 2.5 stars, because it is almost exactly that when you tally all the stars up!

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Buddy read with DestinyMaëlys, & Lea! ❤

 

Seafire (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker

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ARC provided by Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

“Never underestimate the girls of this world”

And the award for best prologue of 2018 goes to Seafire! Seriously this prologue was beyond words amazing. It not only made me feel every single emotion under the sun, but it had me on the edge of my seat for the entire twenty pages. Perfection, seriously perfection. And such a wonderful way to start this amazing story!

I hate comparing books, especially two new releases, but Seafire is everything that I wish These Rebel Waves was. Pirates, the open sea, a beautiful f/f side romance, a found family of girls who feel lost, but come together to create something so powerful. You all, I loved this book.

Seafire stars a young pirate crew leader named Caledonia, and her first mate Pisces, as they are picking up the pieces of something catastrophic that happened four years ago. And during those long, four years, they have found a family of fifty-two girls who they sail the waters with. And all of these girls are willing to do anything to protect their captain and their crew.

In this world, a mysterious man named Aric rules the water! He has fleets upon fleets all under his control, and rules most of the ports with his power. He also takes and receives boys from all around the waters and trains them to become Bullets, who are as cutthroat as they come. And Caledonia and her crew know to never believe a word that any of them say, because they are also as untrustworthy as they come, too.

That is, until the day one saves Pisces from death, betrays his crew of Bullets, and is brought on to Caledonia’s ship. His name is Oran and despite his good deed Cal and her crew want to throw him overboard. Yet, he is harboring information that completely changes everything that Caledonia and Pisces have ever believed. And they are forced to risk it all on the word of one Bullet, who they have spent their entire lives promising to never trust.

Seafire has some really amazing themes on top of this amazing story, too. I know I touched on this briefly above, but the found family in this book is so damn beautiful. Probably one of my favorites I’ve ever read, and that’s really saying something. There is also a constant and underlying message of how people shouldn’t be judged by the mistakes or actions of their family, both blood and found.

“Our first family shall not be our last.”

Also, give me an entire book just about Hime and Amina, because I am weak and in love with them being in love. Seriously, I was living for these side characters and their love for one another. And Hime also uses sign language to communicate with the crew and is dealing with a tremendous amount of PTSD from her past. Needless to say, at this point in my life, I would completely die for this fictional pirate baby. Thank you.

Overall, I loved this. I had such an amazing time while reading, and I truly never wanted to put this book down. From the addictive writing, to the captivating setting, to the heartwarming girls, to the heartbreaking twists; I loved it all. I think this book is going to be a complete hit upon release, and I recommend it with my whole heart. Well, what’s left of it after the ending of this book. Seriously, I need the next installment immediately!


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

Content and trigger warnings for murder, death, grief depiction, physical abuse, captivity, loss of a loved one, violence, and many battle scenes.

Buddy read with Amy at A Court of Crowns and Quills & Lilly at Lair of Books! ❤

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)! ❤