Book Review: Three Sides of a Heart

Three Sides of a Heart: Stories About Love Triangles
Published By: HarperCollins
Publication Date: December 19, 2017
Page Count: 448
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Young Adult - Anthology

The love triangle trope is one of my least favorite things in YA literature. It ranks up there with instalove in my opinion as one of the things to be avoided at all costs. So, why in the world did I jump at the chance to review this anthology that is all about love triangles? The answer to that question is simple - just look at that author list! I was excited to see some of my favorites such as Katie Cotugno and Tessa Gratton, but was also intrigued to read work from authors I have never read before. While I didn't love every single story in this collection, I did find merit in each one. Natalie C. Parker has collected stories from a wide range of genres that capture diverse and detailed characters. I am in awe of the way each author was able to craft such a detailed piece in so few pages. I bow down to their writing prowess. 

As with other anthologies I have reviewed in the past, I will be giving a brief description of each short story as well as my thoughts on the characters, plot, etc. I also have pulled some of my favorite quotations to share to give you a flavor of the various writing styles you can expect from picking this one up. I still may not adore the love triangle in novels, but I do have a new appreciation for the complexities it can bring to a story after spending time with this collection.

Natalie C. Parker best explains why the love triangle captures readers' imaginations when she writes in the Introduction, "Perhaps you lost your heart out on the moor of England, or secretly wished the cards fell in Olivia's favor. Or perhaps you started a petition to end any and all fictional romantic entanglements involving more than two people" (Kindle Location 46). I think we have all had those moments when we were caught up in a love triangle and weren't sure which couple to ship, but I also more often than not find myself lodged in the second half of her statement. I decided to put my personal bias about love triangles aside and go into this with an open mind.

Story #1: "Riddles in Mathematics" by Katie Cotugno
Rating = 5

It was nice to see a favorite author begin this collection. This story revolves around Ro, a girl who is struggling with her identity. For years, Ro thought she wanted to be just like Taylor, her brother Steven's best friend. Ro did everything Taylor did and mimicked her style. As the years passed, Ro began to realize that she didn't truly want to be Taylor, but that she had some serious feelings for the older girl. It was a difficult pill to swallow as she is convinced that Taylor and Steven will get married one day. Ro must find out who she really is and what that means for her feelings toward Taylor. I loved the holiday setting and would like to see these characters get a full length novel.

And just like that I'm pissed at him too now, Steven and his self-satisfaction and his early decision and his easy life, swashbuckling his way through adolescence while the rest of us founder and drown. ~ Kindle Location 254

Story #2: "Dread South" by Justina Ireland
Rating = 5
Historical Fantasy

I have been ridiculously excited about Justina Ireland's upcoming novel, Dread Nation, since I first heard about it. The concept of zombies + the Civil War + strong heroines kicking butt = happy reader! I was thrilled to find a short story in this anthology that gave me a glimpse into the Dread Nation world, but I am not sure if the characters in this story will make an appearance in the larger work. I do expect that the zombie lore is consistent with what I will read about in the novel. This one focuses on two young women living near Savannah, Georgia during the Reconstruction era. Louisa is a white southern belle who spends her days longing to learn to fight the restless dead while she balances her duties and responsibilities as a young lady of a marrying age. She can't fathom why she'd ever need a protector, but when her beau secures her an Attendant (aka zombie fighter), Louisa knows it will do no good to make a fuss about it. Juliet, the beautiful and fierce Attendant, comes to live at Louisa's plantation and keep the family safe. The Savannah setting and the historical fantasy elements made this one of my favorite stories of the collection. This was my first experience reading Justina Ireland, but I will certainly be checking out her other works.

Once, they would've traveled to town in a  finely appointed carriage, with coachmen and a matched set of four horses. But that was before the restless dead stalked the woods and flatlands, hungry for flesh. Horses were a beacon for the undead creatures and rarely survived the encounter. ~ Kindle Location 421

Story #3: "Omega Ship" by Rae Carson
Rating = 4.5
Science Fiction

Eva is jolted awake and instantly knows everything is not as it should be. The handsome face of a blonde boy is urging her to make haste as the ship is foundering. It soon becomes clear that Eva is on a spaceship of sorts and that she is in a position to save mankind. Eva never asked to be the only female to make it off the ship and she's not sure she wants to be all alone with the guy, Dirk, who saved her - even if he is gorgeous. She wants to check all the pods that hold the sleeping bodies of others on the journey, but the situation becomes dire much too quickly for that to be possible, but Eva does manage to save one more life, a boy named Jesse. As the story progresses, hard truths come to light and Eva must make difficult decisions that will alter her fate as well as the lives of the two boys. If you're looking for an intriguing science fiction story with a feminist slant, this is a must read.

We step gingerly on bare feet into a humid world of white sunlight and waxy, wide-leafed foliage. Jeweled insects larger than butterflies flit from plant to plant, sending proboscises into thistly red flowers. Warm mud squishes between my toes.
The dark-haired boy says, "Welcome home." ~ Kindle Location 917

Story #4: "La Revancha del Tango" by Renee Ahdieh
Rating = 5

Argentina is such a magical setting in my mind. I don't know a lot about the South American country, but I do know that dance is a huge part of the culture. Like Maya, the main character, I was swept up in the dancing segments of this story. I have always been envious of those who know how to dance with skill as I lack such talent. I was also a huge fan of the banter between Maya and Blake, the English guy she meets at her hostel before heading out to the Tango bar. Blake comes across as a nerd who tries way too hard which is off-putting for both Maya and the reader, but by the end of the story, I had a soft spot for good ole Blake. Maya can be a bit harsh from time to time, but she also won me over in the end. This was another personal favorite from the collection. I loved all the Harry Potter allusions! I have several of Ahdieh's novels, but haven't read them yet. This story makes me think I need to bump them up higher on my TBR list. I also think Argentina should be a setting in novels more often.

I trudge down a hall reminiscent of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, its crown molding stained black and its tiled floor fraying at the edges. ~ Kindle Location 1167

Story #5: "Cass, An, & Dra" by Natalie C. Parker
Rating = 4.5
Magical Realism

Cass comes from a long line of women who have mystical powers that allow them to see the possible outcomes of the future. Like Alice Cullen, the future is not set in stone and can be altered based on choices, but Cass and her sister have always been told that they must make a conscious choice to live in the present and not dwell too much on the future. An aunt was lost within her own mind unable to discern reality from the unfollowed paths of her future. Cass vows that she will never allow herself to have the same fate. As the story progresses, Cass sees various futures that show her spending time with her girlfriend and childhood best friend, An. Cass doesn't want to see a future without An in it, but she starts to see another person, Dra, in her visions and she realizes that if left to her own devices, Dra may become the wedge that drives Cass and An apart. What's a girl to do when she can see the outcome of all possible choices? Is it cheating if she only imagines one route but avoids the steps that would lead her down that path? Can you truly outrun fate or will it catch up to you one way or another? This story gets an extra nod of approval for its Pacific Northwest setting and nod to the fates.

I remember every future I've never lived, so sometimes choosing one over the other seems irrelevant. Why bother if I'll have both from this moment on? But Mom's story about my great-aunt haunts every choice I meet. So I choose the brightest of the two, because that's the moment I'll remember. ~ Kindle Location 1416

Story #6: "Lessons for Beginners" by Julie Murphy
Rating = 5

Ruby and her best friend, Paul, have formed a lucrative small business based on secrecy and client referrals. A chance game of seven minutes in heaven, helped the pair realize that Ruby was an amazing kisser. Paul wasn't, but he was willing to learn. After lessons with Ruby, Paul was able to step up his game in the lip locking department and their entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. Now Ruby helps her classmates get the perfect pucker power to keep their relationships sizzling. Ruby always works with clients on an individual basis, but she decides to make an exception and do a little couples therapy after some encouragement from Paul. Her first needy couple just happens to be Annie and Theo, which is less than ideal as Theo is the preacher's son and Annie is Ruby's former friend. Annie and Ruby never had any official closure to their friendship - things just sort of faded away between them, but the kissing lessons will force them to dissect the past and find out what exactly went wrong. It may also lead them down new paths they weren't expecting. I admired Ruby's confidence and loved that she was not a skinny model sort.

Use whatever kind of euphemisms you want. Curvy, big-boned, junk in the trunk, heavyset, chubby. I'm the fat girl. Always have been. Not many people regard me as a romantic interest, but the proof is in the pudding and my pudding is kissing. ~ Kindle Location 1716

Story #7: "Triangle Solo" by Garth Nix
Science Fiction
Rating = 4

Anwar and Connor are best friends who take their life on Mars seriously. Anwar is the competitive sort and he is always trying to one up Connor. The pair are percussionists in the school orchestra and they have made no secret about the fact that they do not consider the triangle to be an actual instrument. Both staunchly refuse to play any pieces that contain parts written for the triangle, but things start to change when a new orchestra teacher refuses to cut out a triangle solo. The boys instantly start to plan how they can force the other one into playing the part. While the whole literal triangle is being worked out, a triangle of the heart is also introduced when Kallie returns to school after living on Earth with her family for several years. Kallie has certainly grown up and it doesn't take long for both boys to set their sights on her. Anwar is convinced as the better looking and more talented of the friends, he will be able to win Kallie over fairly easily, but Connor decides he isn't going down without a fight.

His best friend from the first days of school to that terrible, awful day four years before when she'd told him about her parents' irrevocable decision: their whole family was going back to Earth.
She was beautiful. He felt instantly many years younger. ~ Kindle Location 2038

Story #8: "Vim and Vigor" by Veronica Roth
Science Fiction
Rating = 5

Edie hasn't really been the same since the night of the accident that took the life of one of her best friends, Amy. Edie and Amy were part of foursome of friends who were total fangirls over a group of female superheroes. Each of the girls had a nickname in honor of one of the heroes and they spent their time dreaming of movies, writing fanfiction, creating artwork, and talking about the ins and outs of the comics. Amy's death left a hole in the group that couldn't easily be filled and the three remaining members, Edie, Kate, and Lynn, go their separate ways. 

Edie has always been most drawn to the sister Vim and Vigor. She shared that trait with her former best friend, Kate, but they haven't spoken in ages and Edie's new group of friends just wouldn't understand her fangirl obsession. She tries her best to keep it under wraps, but when Lynn approaches her about a reunion to see the new film starring Vim and Vigor, Edie decides its time to break her silence and see the film with her former group. This choice leads to finding out that making decisions aren't always easy, but friendship never truly dies.

Edie was always running into the barriers between people, wishing they were easier to break. 
~ Kindle Location 2304

Story #9: "Work in Progress" by E.K. Johnston
Science Fiction
Rating = 3

This one revolves around three teens who are attempting to survive in hiding aboard a spacecraft that has been taken over by a violent group of mutineers. The narrative style was unique, but I found it slightly difficult to follow. I had trouble losing myself in this story and while it will certainly appeal to Science Fiction lovers, it was one of my least favorites within this collection.

There is only the dark, the muted breathing of your companions, and the desperate need to not be found. ~ Kindle Location 2601

Story #10: "Hurdles" by Brandy Colbert
Rating = 4

Mavis is a track star who is planning for a future as a college athlete and a trip to the Olympics. She loves the way she feels when she leaves the ground to launch herself into the air above the hurdle before landing on the track's surface for another round. While track is one of her favorite things, it doesn't come without its stressors. For one thing, her father is the coach and he puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Mavis to be the best. She knows that he does it out of love, but she can't help wondering if he is always trying to live vicariously through her after a torn ACL shredded his own Olympic dreams. Her mom isn't much better as she is a high powered attorney who works in environmental law and is rarely home. Mavis' parents love her, but she isn't sure that they truly know her. Her best friend, Edwina, and her boyfriend, Jacob, thought they knew her, but things have gotten murky ever since Edwina's older brother, Bobby, returned from rehab. Mavis has had a crush on Bobby for as long as she can remember. It doesn't matter to her that her life has a path and Bobby is as lost as a feather on the sea, drifting from one place to the next with no particular direction in mind. When Bobby seems to return Mavis' affections, she must decide if she wants a life full of support and love that will make her parents proud or one of passion and freedom that will leave them wondering what they did wrong.

I'll never forget the deadly look their father shot Bobby when he brought up the fact that maybe he should examine how the systems set up in this country fail us instead. ~ Kindle Location 2949

Story #11: "The Historian, The Garrison, and the Cantankerous Cat Woman" by Lamar Giles
Rating = 5

Virginia isn't only for lovers in this creative paranormal tale; supernatural beings walk the streets of small towns bringing fear and violence on unsuspecting townsfolk. It's up to the Historian to have all the knowledge required to combat these beings and the Garrison is the muscle of the operation. I couldn't help but make comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my mind as they both have a scholar of sorts who provides crucial information so the hero can save the day. While this story doesn't contain a hellmouth, it does have broken ley lines which allow the paranormal to come into the modern world. Alas, I almost forgot to mention the Cantankerous Cat Woman. She's a shapeshifter fighter who falls in love with Jermaine, the Garrison, much to the chagrin of Tatiana, the Historian. This love triangle gets serious real fast when Jermaine is killed be an unknown entity and the girls hatch a plan to resurrect him. I loved everything about this story; if I was pressed to choose one absolute favorite from this collection, it would probably be this story. I loved the supernatural elements, the lore, and the twists. My first experience with Lamar Giles was such fun that I am off to add more of his work to my TBR list.

"Because you can't just read a spell and make magic. Maybe someone can recite some" - I made air quotes with one hand - "'cursed Latin' or whatever in a movie and summon the dead, but in real life just having a spell is like just having bullets. You still need the actual weapon." ~ Kindle Location 3365

Story #12: "Waiting" by Sabaa Tahir
Rating = 5

Ani lives in a small town in California that isn't particularly important or famous aside from being a spot on the map to refill your gas tank and grab some road trip snacks as you cruise down I-5. Ani has enough of the small town in her veins to realize that she will miss it and her best friend, Sam, when she heads off to Stanford in the fall, but another part of her craves something bigger and better. She plans to be a physician and hopes that Sam will follow her to whatever city she lands and work as a paramedic or something else beyond continuing to work at the gas station her dad owns. Everything changed the night Sam kissed Ani. She can't seem to get it off her mind, but things got more complicated when Sam landed in jail for drug possession. Ani doesn't believe for one second that Sam actually had an intent to sell or use the drugs; she is convinced its all his brother's fault who is known for making poor decisions, but regardless of the circumstances, Sam is behind bars and won't get out until Ani is almost finished with her first semester at Stanford. On top of all her worries about Sam and leaving for college, Ani is also trying to figure out why Felix, the local basketball star and fellow Stanford bound student, wants to spend his summer working at the gas station with her. As summer fades into fall, Ani must decide if she wants to continue to grow with Sam or if it's time to stop waiting and grow towards someone new - maybe someone like Felix.

My friends play Assassin's Creed, read J.R.R. Tolkien, and worship Pink Floyd. His friends play basketball, limit their reading to the Taco Bell menu, and worship Floyd Mayweather. ~ Kindle Location 3560

Story #13: "Vega" by Brenna Yovanoff
Rating = 3

This was another of the stories that didn't resonate with me, but I know it will be a favorite of others. I've enjoyed Yovanoff's work in the past, but this piece wasn't long enough for me to truly care about the characters. I wasn't a fan of the setting or characters. I did find it intriguing that the city of Las Vegas was personified in this one. That was my favorite aspect of this story.

There's a certain kind of magic to being a kid with someone. They always have this little private piece of you. They own your heart, even if you don't remember giving it to them. ~ Kindle Location 3940

Story #14: "A Hundred Thousand Threads" by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Rating = 3

This was another story I didn't connect with while reading this collection. The narrative structure is unique, but I didn't like the characters, which made it difficult to keep my focus. The setting of Mexico City was also a positive, but this one just didn't hold my interest in spite of the theme of political resistance playing a major role. I also didn't mark any specific passages for this one.

Story #15: "Before She was Bloody" by Tessa Gratton
Rating = 4

This story had a high fantasy feel set in a kingdom with some interesting lore. The main character, Safiya, holds a religious title in the kingdom while her brother is set to be the next King once her grandfather passes away. While the brother is not keen on violence and aggressive retaliation, Safiya seems to thrive on it. She plans to keep the kingdom under her family's control by any means necessary. Full of political intrigue and romantic tension, this one felt vastly different than others works of Gratton's that I have read. I liked that she created a setting and lore that felt unique. I could easily see this becoming a larger work. My only complaint is that there were moments when this felt a little more New Adult than Young Adult. It was a bit more suggestive than I prefer. Gratton is still one of my favorite YA authors and I can't wait to read her reimagining of the King Lear story.

One can achieve much more when others do not even realize they do your work for you. 
~ Kindle Location 4783

Story #16: "Unus, Duo, Tres" by Bethany Hagen
Rating = 5

Savannah + Vampires = 'buff said

Seriously, I wasn't expecting to find vampires in this collection, but was pleasantly surprised when my favorite supernatural beings made an appearance and in Savannah. Savannah is one of those places I love to visit because it just feels like the paranormal is plausible. The old homes, the Spanish moss, the old cemeteries all speak to a lengthy history full of gothic tales and ghosts that supposedly still haunt the streets. It wouldn't be a stretch to believe that the large trees in the squares at night were hiding an immortal who was looking for his next meal. The main character, Enoch, is one such immortal who is forever destined to be a teenager. Along with his boyfriend, Cas, he has enrolled in an exclusive boarding school. The pair meets Esther, a beautiful Savannah native who doesn't have much time left as her leukemia has returned and treatment options are dwindling by the day. I loved Hagen's take on vampire lore. This story was atmospheric and haunting. It's another favorite!

The early April wind is warm and humid as it blows past us, and there's a faint whiff of decay that always seems to linger in Savannah, like the smell of a cemetery after a long rain. 
~ Kindle Location 5036

One Last Gripe: I would have liked to see a few more paranormal pieces. That's just a personal preference though.

Favorite Things About This Book: I loved the Savannah settings. It's always such fun to read stories set in places I have actually been. I also liked seeing the diversity in the characters. There is truly something for everyone in this collection.

First Sentence: The love triangle.

Favorite Character: Esther from "Unus, Duo, Tres" by Bethany Hagen

Least Favorite Character: Elle from "Vega" by Brenna Yovanoff

You may think you know the love triangle, but you've never seen love triangles like these.

These top YA authors tackle the much-debated trope of the love triangle, and the result is sixteen fresh, diverse, and romantic stories you don’t want to miss.

This collection, edited by Natalie C. Parker, contains stories written by Renee Ahdieh, Rae Carson, Brandy Colbert, Katie Cotugno, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Bethany Hagan, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, EK Johnston, Julie Murphy, Garth Nix, Natalie C. Parker, Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, and Brenna Yovanoff.

A teen girl who offers kissing lessons. Zombies in the Civil War South. The girl next door, the boy who loves her, and the girl who loves them both. Vampires at a boarding school. Three teens fighting monsters in an abandoned video rental store. Literally the last three people on the planet.

What do all these stories have in common?

The love triangle.