If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.
She's not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.
But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it's time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.
Which was the plan all along.
Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.
She's going to show them all.
Joining me are Lyn and Kara from Great Imaginations!
Jessie: This was my first official NA read! I pretty much have refused to recognize NA as a label or a genre or anything. Buuuuut… it’s Leah Raeder. She has built a strong fanbase and I do love pretty prose…
Kara: Definitely not my first. I mostly edit NA novels and Karina Halle writes a lot of NA and I read those as well. I mean, I work for her, but I would read those if I didn’t because I love her work. Outside of that, not really. I don’t read much NA romance, but I have a feeling Black Iris isn’t categorically like most of that either.
Lyn: So things came as a shock to me when I read this. I screwed up and thought this was YA, because I’m illiterate or something. Anyways, I am no longer a NA virgin.
Jessie: I have to say that I was interested in this book due to the writing. The plot wasn’t that alluring to me as a reader, but even seeing Leah Raeder quotes on Goodreads was enough to convince I wanted to read this. I was right; the writing is gorgeous and the highpoint of the novel for me.
Kara: I liked MOST of the writing. It was definitely pretty, but there were places where it got a bit weird for me. Why did she keep saying “skull” when she meant “head?” Little odd things like that yanked me out of the narrative. But yes, it was poetic and beautiful and atmospheric, so I definitely see where you are coming from there.
Lyn: The writing was my favorite part. I enjoy an author who can put a twist on her words and her theme. This is a novel that would make for a great study for showing instead of telling. Kara, I think she kept using skull for head to show that things were deeper than outward appearances, and dealt more with what was lying underneath.
Kara: No, I understand that she had a reason for this, but it was a stylistic choice that didn’t work for me. I liked most of it, but it got a bit purple in places. Which is really weird for me because I generally LOVE super thick writing that describes everything. IDK.
Jessie: I should specify – I loved the writing when it wasn’t about the romances/love interests. When Laney is just thinking or planning or existing, the writing is gorgeous. When she describes Laney’s various attractions, I get bored. I can only take so many descriptions about Armin or Blythe.
Lyn: I have to agree with Jessie on the writing portion. When it was outside the beat-you-over-the-head romance, it really worked, and worked well. It was like candy. But when it returned back to the too in-depth intimacy, it was very tedious.
Kara: Speaking of Armin and Blythe, what did you guys think about the characters? This is where I suspect the conversation will get interesting. As a surprise to no one, I am sure, I LOVED Blythe. I am guessing lots of other readers hated her, but not me. Why? Because I basically am her. At least I once was. How did you guys feel?
Jessie: I loved her as a character and liked her as a person. I loved what she did to the plot, to Laney, etc, and I loved how complex and unconventional Blythe was. She wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t easily defined, and she wasn’t even all that nice, but she felt so real. That’s my real complaint about the remaining characters. Blythe feels so real, so realized, and then Laney comes across… overwrought and overdone, and Armin feels shallow.
Lyn: Character wise: yes, you guys, I freaking LOVED Blythe. For me, I wish I was more like her. I admired her devil may care attitude and her intensity. There was nothing held back. She didn’t hold herself to someone else’s standards. By Odin, she flat out states that a slut is a girl who likes sex, and cuts through the chorus of bullcrap all around her, the sexism, the anger, the lies, all of it. She was amazing.
Kara: Agreed. She was just so out there and so real, and so confident in who she was, I think. But also, she had no filter and just stated whatever the hell she felt, whenever she felt it. Laney, on the other hand, I didn’t much care for at all. I kept trying to pinpoint WHY that was and I think you might have nailed it, Jessie. There was just so much going on with her that I could never stick with her for long. Her personality was all over the place, and yeah, maybe she was overwritten. To me, Armin was a non-entity. I am having trouble remembering portions of the book and he is one of them. He’s completely unmemorable and generic.
Jessie: He’s the background noise to Blythe’s rock and roll. He’s overwhelmed by both the plot and the other characters because his whole function is that of “boy.” While I love the center stage for two such disparate women, Raeder never really develops Armin into more than a list of virtues and a few vices. He doesn’t breathe life the way Blythe does, and so he fades into a set piece instead of a main character.
Lyn: I really thought I was the only one who couldn’t stand Armin. My biggest issue with him was his broken record lines: “Trust me, trust me, trust me.” “I’m in love I’m in love I’m in love.” “Let me buy your affection.” He was such a terrible attempt at a white knight, and he drug down the storyline. He was a prop: the ATM, the doctor, the head shrink, and next to all of the women, including his sister, he was a whiny, sniveling cardboard cut out. Yes, he was overshadowed, and I understand it was on purpose, but I never found anything redeeming about him.
Kara: Yeah, agreed. He was completely cardboard, and a device to move the plot along. To me, this was a bit unfair to his character on the author’s part. I loved all the strong female characters, and I wish the same attention would have been paid to Armin. Make him horrible, make him shallow, I don’t care, but give me a fully fleshed-out character. He was so BLAH.
Jessie: Boring, Thy Name is Armin. (How you manage to be so in a diverse revenge novel I do not know)
Lyn: Yes, just so flat. Even Zoller had a personality. I just gave me a taste that the writer didn’t know what to do with him until he was needed.
Jessie: Petition that we pretend Armin was really Hiyam all along?
Lyn: Yes, please.
Jessie: What about plot, guys? I admit, I wasn’t impressed for much of the novel. It’s got a new angle with Laney, but this revenge plot is pretty formulaic. That said, Raeder does get pretty creative with it. That twist? I further admit I wasn’t fully prepared for the reveal that came after or the eventual fallout. That did a lot to renew my interest in the last parts of the novel. I wasn’t sold on eeeevery part of the final twist, though. Part of it seemed to come out of nowhere and just serve to make the finale less believable.
Lyn: The plot. This is going to be such a tangled web. Like the rest of the book, I either loved it or hated it. I thought that the plot, the twists, the intentions – all of it was way too clunky. It needed to stick to a love triangle, a mystery, or a slow reveal on the backstory. It was all just too much for me. Maybe I am a black sheep here, but I was so ready to give up when the big shocker came. I sat there, thinking, “Are you freaking kidding me?? Where did THIS come from?” It was too much on the twists for my tastes. And don’t even get me started on the ending of this one. Not impressed.
Kara: It was just too much for me, guys. I loved the writing, I loved the characters, but there was just simply too much going on for me in this novel. And on top of that, I just found the way the plot unfolded was just too hard for me to believe. It turned into a freaking action movie of a sort, and it was just all a bit too corny.
As for the twist, that did reel me back in again a bit, but it wasn’t enough to save the novel for me. It felt rushed and slapped together a bit at the end too. I feel so black sheepy saying this, but this novel didn’t work for me like it did so many other readers I trust. It felt like a book that still needed a lot more editing. *shrugs*
Lyn: I think this could almost have been a series, give us more clues about what is happening. Yeah, lead up needed a bit more bait, instead of pages and pages of drugs and sex. Which are fine, but I feel that they got more than their fair share of spotlight, when there were other way more interesting things happening. Coupled with an ending that was just beyond cheesy and rather goofy for the theme, I slowly lost interest in this one. It was pretty much downhill.
Jessie: It wasn’t a complete win for me either. The things about this that I liked, I REALLY LIKED. The other aspects? Well, they aren’t dealbreakers for me reading this author but they may end up being dealbreakers for how I rate Black Iris as a whole.
Kara: Agreed. I rated it fairly high when I finished it, but the more and more I keep thinking about it, the more my rating keeps dropping. Like I wanted to love it, but where were the consequences for Laney’s actions at the end? Bad plotting, man. That was just so hard to believe.
Jessie: The ending was a mess, especially compared to how great the beginning of the book was. And it also felt….. rather open-ended? I wasn’t a fan of that. Nor of the ahem… committee?… forming at the end. DO NOT TRY TO SERIES THIS SHIT, OK.
Lyn: I agree with Kara. I was really disappointed by the conclusion of the novel. Look, I understand wanting to bring balance to the world, but if you have to turn into a monster to do it, is it even justice at this point? That ending was corny, and considering how well the novel held some heavy issues with grace, I was feeling a bit let down by the last page. Why did it go from NA to MG in the last chapter? Why? Totally pulled a Nolan there.
Kara: I agree, Lyn. That was one of the things I kept thinking while reading. Some seriously HORRIBLE shit happened to Laney. I felt awful and I wanted to make everything better for her. But the revenge rampage she went on, what was that? How do two wrongs make a right? I get wanting to maybe get a LITTLE bit of revenge–that’s human nature–but the shit she did made her just as awful, or maybe not just as awful, but almost as awful? I just don’t see how that was okay.
Lyn: Especially when the police were never contacted in the first place! Look, I can totally understand going a bit Batman on someone’s ass when the authorities do nothing, and look the other way, but the police and the school administration was just automatically discredited, because, you know, this is a book aimed towards college kids, but come on.
In the end – loved the f/f relationship, the writing, and some of the plot, so 3 stars from me.
Kara: Yeah, I’m going with 3 stars too. I agree. Loved the f/f relationship between Blythe and Laney. That was my favorite part.
Jessie: Final rating? Mine is 3.5/5 The writing was fantastic (mostly), Blythe gets a star for her general Blytheness, etc.