black iris

Review: Black Iris by Leah Raeder

blackirisIt’s easy to wax poetic about a favorite author or book. That’s even more true today, when showing your approval of something is as easy as clicking “Like” or posting relevant GIFs of swoony faces or crying Tobey Maguire.

But if there is a 2015 new adult novel that deserves all the hype and GIFs and five-star ratings, it’s Black Iris by Leah Raeder. Black Iris, set to release on April 28th, is a welcomed departure from a more conventional new adult story. It’s no secret I loved Raeder’s debut novel, Unteachable (I wrote about the book being my “book soul mate” here), but Raeder has really branched out with this unique second novel. You can tell right away – a book with a dedication page that reads “To all the girls I’ve loved” is sure to be an emotional roller coaster. And not in the weepy Nicholas Sparks’ way, either.

The protagonist – and self-proclaimed unreliable narrator – of Black Iris is Laney Keating. She wants you to understand something right off the bat:

I am not the heroine of this story.

And I’m not trying to be cute. It’s the truth. I’m diagnosed borderline and seriously fucked-up. I hold grudges. I bottle my hate until it ferments into poison, and then I get high off the fumes. I’m completely dysfunctional and that’s the way I like it, so don’t expect a character arc where I finally find Redemption, Growth, and Change, or learn How to Forgive Myself and Others.

Laney Keating feels a darkness inside of her, planted at birth by her mother. She struggles with this darkness, but she loves it, too. She describes her actions in violent terms: she bites, she draws blood. She is fierce, and unapologetic, and I became addicted to her manner of storytelling.

Laney befriends two enchanting figures: strong, serious Armin and flirtatious, temperamental Blythe – and the three of them enter into an intense friendship. Bonds are formed, lines are crossed, and all along, Laney nurses her desire for revenge against the people who have harmed her. When Armin and Blythe, loyal and both a little bit in love with her, offer to help her carry out her plans, it alters their relationships and their lives forever.

Girls love each other like animals. There is something ferocious and unself-conscious about it. We don’t guard ourselves like we do with boys. No one trains us to shield our hearts from each other. With girls, it’s total vulnerability from the beginning. Our skin is bare and soft. We love with claws and teeth and the blood is just proof of how much. It’s feral.

And it’s relentless.

Black Iris is actually one of the first books I’ve read that centrally focuses on a girl/girl relationship, and it’s certainly one of the first new adult books that I’ve come across. I thought the connection between Laney and Blythe was perfect. Throughout the novel Laney struggles with her identity – sexual and otherwise – and I am so glad to see that there are books entering the mainstream that tackle these themes. Leah Raeder wrote a great post on her blog about sexuality in Black Iris, so I’ll let her do the talking here. I know the new adult market (which is, let’s face it, new) is still just starting to see diversity in its characters and topics – but I know with books like Black Iris and authors like Leah Raeder, things are finally getting interesting – and it’s beautiful and inspiring and very, very cool. But I don’t just want to praise the relationships in the story for being “different” from other new adult relationships – the author makes the connections between people so intriguing and intoxicating, it’s easy to understand the attraction. I found myself falling for Armin and Blythe along with Laney. They are physically beautiful; Leah Raeder describes bodies in such a stunning way. They are intelligent, and their dialogue is razor-sharp.

Black Iris woke me up as a reader and forced me to focus and think and feel, and I struggled along with Laney on her journey. It was an intense, emotional reading experience, and it took me a long time to process my feelings. I’d say that’s the mark of a good book, wouldn’t you?

On a final note: if you’re looking for a book with dreamy landscapes and startling, colorful imagery: Black Iris is totally for you. You may think that the sky’s been described in just about every way it can be described, but here’s Leah Raeder, shaking things up again. And thank goodness for that.

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

My Reading Resolution Check-In

It’s been a few weeks since we posted about our 2015 Reading Resolutions here on BiblioSmiles. My resolution was to read the books that I already own. This was done partly so I wouldn’t spend a ton of money on books, and partly because – hey – I have stacks of books on my shelf that I’ve yet to read!

I specifically mentioned wanting to read all the Hollywood biographies I own. They’re big, hulking accounts of the lives of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Frank Sinatra, and they were all purchased at library sales or thrift stores for a quarter.

How am I doing with my reading resolution?

I haven’t touched the biographies yet. They all sit on the bottom shelf of my bookshelf back at my parents’ house in New Jersey, so I have to make room in my overnight bag next time I’m there!

As far as reading books I already own vs. acquiring new ones? I think I’m doing pretty well for a book blogger (and someone whose job puts them in the path of a lot of books looking for homes!). I still receive ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) of books that I feel the need to stop-everything-and-read because I’m so excited about them (ie: Leah Raeder’s Black Iris, which I will review in April). And sometimes, I get really inspired by the reviews or recommendations I see here on BiblioSmiles and I have to pick up what you’re reading!

I’ve read fifteen books so far this year. Want to take a peak at my 2015 shelf?

doctorsleepDoctor Sleep by Stephen King: I started off the year with the sequel to my favorite Stephen King novel, and it didn’t disappoint! The Shining terrified me as a reader and a movie-goer (though I stand by the fact that Jack Nicholson is my number-one Hollywood heartthrob). Getting to catch up with a grownup Dan Torrance was really intriguing. I felt like King nailed exactly who Dan would turn out to be, based on his family life and childhood experience. I wasn’t sure about the supernatural elements at first, but about halfway through the novel I realized I didn’t want to stop reading.

theprinceThe Prince by Sylvain Reynard: I was happy to receive an ARC of Reynard’s novella, which acts as a bridge between the author’s Gabriel’s Inferno series and The Raven, published in February. I blogged about it here.

yespleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler: Unfortunately I didn’t get to hear Amy Poehler talk about her book at The BookCon last year, but I finally got around to reading it on my Kindle! The chapters are funny and easy to get through, but don’t write this off as a piece of fluff – I felt very empowered and inspired by her words. And the way Poehler writes about motherhood? Shoot, I want to have my own children someday!

funnygirlFunny Girl by Nick Hornby: This was a post-New Year’s treat from Riverhead Books: an ARC of Nick Hornby’s newest novel! You can read about it in my review here.

honesttruthThe Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart: A great middle grade novel I picked up at work. I reviewed it here!

sirsandmadamsSirs & Madams by Joanna Valente: I was lucky enough to go to the same college for undergrad as Valente, who released her first book of poetry in September 2014. I recognized versions of some of these poems from on-campus readings, which was very cool! Her writing is really intense and beautiful. A few of my favorite lines from her poem, “When They Were Lonely:”   She says she loves men / who are dead, they are the men / who love the most. / It was then he became / afraid of her.

boynextdoorThe Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark: I reviewed this novel from Swoon Reads here.

summerhouseSummer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch: I still haven’t read The Dinner. It also took me like, a year to read the ARC I owned of Summer House with Swimming Pool, so clearly I’m a little behind. I went into this thinking I’d be reading a dark comedy, but I ended up feeling profoundly sad through this one. Worth a read, but not for the squeamish.

notthatkindofgirlNot That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham: Featured in my post “Like GIRLS? Read These Books,” Dunham’s memoir is honest, funny, and well-written. She may have gotten a lot of backlash for her honesty, but I found it refreshing.

notesonmelancholiaNotes on Melancholia by M.A. Vizsolyi: This was another post-New Year’s buy. I wandered into the Housing Works bookstore on my lunch break one day, and I was drawn to the cover of this slim little poetry collection. It was three dollars, so I bought it ASAP.

ifistayIf I Stay by Gayle Forman: Finally got around to reading this gem of a YA novel, which Gabriele reviewed here. Forman has crafted, in my opinion, a perfect story here. It was an intense reading experience for sure (ask my mom, who heard me sob on the couch), and one that I’m glad I had.

stationelevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: Gabriele’s review of Station Eleven here on BiblioSmiles compelled me to pick up a copy post-New Year’s. I’m generally not a big dystopian fan, but this book deserves all the praise it’s received. It was the meditation on love, life, and legacy I never knew I needed.

whereshewentWhere She Went by Gayle Forman: Thanks to mom, I also had the sequel to If I Stay on my bookshelf! I breezed through this book in one afternoon, fueled by cups of tea and my desire to find out – well – where she went.

blackirisBlack Iris by Leah Raeder: Guys and gals – back in 2014 I declared that this would be my “Most Anticipated Book of 2015.” And oh, I’m so glad I got to read it already, because I was getting crazy and impatient. I can’t wait to share my review of it a little closer to its April 28th release date.

mosquitolandMosquitoland by David Arnold: As I type this blog post, I’m still sporting the remnants of sticky mascara tears on my cheeks, having just finished this book. So expect a review next week!

Nine out of my fifteen 2015 reads were books I already owned, so I’m feeling pretty good about my resolution! I feel like I’m seeing my bookshelf (and my virtual Kindle bookshelf) with new eyes. It’s easy to get caught up in the action of buying and hoarding books, and in the process we can forget about some real gems! I’ll continue to grab books off my shelf, but I won’t feel too bad about reading something newly-acquired, either. Another good reading resolution? Reading as much as you can!

How’s your reading life been treating you this year? Have you made any reading resolutions? What have been your favorite reads so far? (And hey, if you want to write your own Reading Resolution Check-In — be my guest!)

Danielle Villano is the editor of BiblioSmiles, and she is really glad you’re here. Learn more on the About page.  Tweet @daniellevillano.

It’s Cover Reveal Time: Black Iris by Leah Raeder

I’m so thrilled to be taking part in the cover reveal for Leah Raeder’s new novel, Black Iris. If you couldn’t tell from my post entitled “My Book Soul Mate: Unteachable,” I am very fond of Raeder’s first novel. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Black Iris! Here’s a description of the book, which releases on April 28, 2015:

It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for. 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.

And now, the part you’ve all been waiting for: the cover reveal!



Atria Books | 384 pages | ISBN: 9781476786421 | On sale: April 28, 2015 | List price: $15.00 | eBook ISBN: 9781476786438 | eBook list price: $5.99

Isn’t it gorgeous? So bold! I know I’d pick it up off the shelf based on just the cover alone. What do you think of the cover reveal? And I have one more surprise for you! Leah Raeder and the folks at Atria Books have decided to share an excerpt from the first chapter. Between this cover reveal and a sneak peak – I’ll be dreaming of this book until April 28th!

BLACK IRIS by Leah Raeder

April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot said, and that’s because it kills. It’s the month with the highest suicide rate. You’d think December, or even January—the holidays and all that forced cheer and agonized smiling pushing fragile people to the edge—but actually it’s spring, when the world wakes from frostbound sleep and something cruel and final stirs inside those of us who are broken. Like Eliot said: mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. In the deepest throes of depression, when sunlight is anguish and the sky throbs like one big raw migraine and you just want to sleep until you or everything else dies, you’re less likely to commit suicide than someone coming out of a depressive episode. Drug companies know this. That’s why antidepressants have to be marked with the warning MAY CAUSE SUICIDAL THOUGHTS.

Because what brings you back to life also gives you the means to destroy yourself.


Leah Raeder is a writer and unabashed nerd. Aside from reading her brains out, she enjoys graphic design, video games, fine whiskey, and the art of self-deprecation. She lives with her very own manic pixie dream boy in Chicago. Visit her at

(You can also follow Leah on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I do all of these things, because I am an unabashed fangirl.)

Has your curiosity been piqued? You can pre-order Black Iris at the following websites: AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-a-MillionIndieBoundUK LINKS: AmazonBarnes & NobleWaterstonesFoylesKoboAppleGoogleAUS LINKS: AppleAmazonGoogle. (Don’t worry… we have all you readers covered!)

Are you looking forward to reading Black Iris? I think it sounds like an incredibly unique addition to the new adult genre. I’d love to hear your thoughts below. I also want to give a huge thanks to the people at Atria Books for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of the cover reveal for one of my most anticipated books of 2015!