The Pondathon: TBR & character creation!

Pondathon: The Quiet Pond's story-driven readathon. Image: Two swords with vines wrapped around it frame the words 'Pondathon', with three little forest sprites sitting on top. One forest sprite has a leaf on its head, the middle has twigs for horns, and the right has a mushroom on its head.

Hi everyone,

I am so excited today to talk about the Pondathon! I think this might be the most excited I’ve ever been for a readathon. To find out all about the readathon, my fierce forest muffin, Florian, my character for the readathon, as well as my TBR, please read on! The team I’ve joined, Team Varian, needs a bit of thought behind when I read what books, as you will find out… 

What is the Pondathon?

The Pondathon is a co-operative and story-driven readathon hosted and run by CW from The Quiet Pond. The aim of the Pondathon is to read books and collect points to protect the friends over at The Quiet Pond from the encroaching malevolent forces that threaten our friends in the forest.

Have fun participating in the Pondathon readathon by joining one of five teams, each with a unique way to collect points and signing up! You can also follow the story of the Pondathon as it unfolds, and participants can also complete ‘side quests’ during the readathon to collect extra points. The readathon takes place from January 24th 2020 to March 7th 2020. More information about the readathon can be found here.

Information about Joining the Pondathon

  1. To join the Pondathon, simply sign up anytime between January 18th 2020 to March 5th 2020.
  2. Choose a team, create your own animal character for the Pondathon and create a character card!
  3. Create a blog post, bookstagram post, booktube video, Twitter thread, or whatever medium you wish, with ‘#Pondathon’ in the title or your tweet. Share the character you have created and your character card!
  4. Link back to this post so that others can find this readathon and join in.

Share your updates on your blog/bookstagram/booktube and social media. You are more than welcome to tag @thequietpond or @artfromafriend on Twitter or Instagram in all your updates! We’d love to see all of the beautiful and awesome characters that you create!

My Pond Character

Florian Character Card

Let me introduce my Pond Character, Florian. Florian likes to think they’re the fiercest fox of all the forest. Known for their skill with blades, Florian is ready to be the shield to protect their forest friends. But inside, Florian is scared and shy. They want to be able to protect their friends, but just don’t know if they have the skills needed.

Florian has joined Team Varian to help add their magic to the shield around the Pond, and thus needs to read book in different genres to get the most points. For each set of three books of different genres finished, Florian will get more points to help protect the Pond.

team varian full


My Pondathon TBR

As mentioned above, I have joined Team Varian who is in charge of the shield protecting the Pond. I need to read books of different genres to get points, and for each set of three books of different genres, I get a bonus (and the genres reset – thank GOODNESS because the amount of fantasy books I have to read is HIGH). I’ve therefore set out my TBR in sets of three below! 

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Genre: Horror, Science fiction, Adult

This is all about a lethal virus which viped out a population on a ship, and now people want to go back to the ship, awakening whatever deadly outbreak killed everyone years before. This sounds so thrilling and terrifying and I can’t wait to be scared.

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Genre: Contemporary, YA

A queer contemporary romance, I’ve wanting to read this one for a while and it was finally free at my library! Falling in love with your best friend + Greek family + abusive mother, it sounds like a heartbreaker.

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar

Genre: Historical, YA

Set during the 1980s, with discussions of the AIDS crisis, a group of friends trying to figure out who they are. Apparently this has actually been picked up for screen rights by Jaime Lanister’s company? We need more queer teens on screen so I am all for this.

These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Genre: Contemporary fantasy/paranormal, YA

Queer! Teen! Witches! Plus blood magic, which is always one of my favourite kinds of magic.

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

Genre: Contemporary, YA

I actually have a signed copy of The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling after I met Wai at a book event last year, and I can’t believe I haven’t got around to reading it yet. As my bookshelf is very fantasy heavy currently, this book is perfect for Team Varian!

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

Genre: Historical fantasy

This is one I randomly picked up at the library as I thought the cover looked interesting, so fingers crossed! Follows a group of girls after one accidentally murder someone, in a Western style world.

All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Genre: Mystery, YA

Mystery with a tiny it of fabulism thrown in! Deena’s sister Mandy went missing a year ago, and now Deena has started receiving letters claiming to be from Mandy, talking about a curse on the family…

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J Hackwith

Genre: Fantasy, Adult

As soon as I hear queer librarians, I am in. This particular pansexual librarian needs to hunt down the escaped hero of a book, but everything goes wrong when an angel attacks them convinced they have the Devil’s Bible.

Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Sapphic, grammar school romance, when the school bad girl and the girlfriend of a future prime minister come together to expose the school’s problems.

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Genre: Fantasy

Thank you to Shealea at Shut Up Shealea for the most amazing book review of this one, the only time I’ve ever closed a book review and literally immediately purchased a book. Also it has magical animal companions which all fantasy books need.

Tell Me How You Really Feel – Aminah Mae Safi

Genre: Contemporary romance

Enemies to lovers sapphic romance between the Straight A cheerleader and a wannabe director, when they decide to make a film.

The Seep by Chana Porter

Genre: Science fiction

Alien entity invades Earth and changes everything – anything that can be imagined can be made true. Trina’s partner imagines being a baby again, and vanishes from Trina’s life. All about grief and moving on, with a older trans MC.

I am so excited to start this readathon tomorrow: I can’t wait to find out what all the additional quests might be…

Let me know if you’re joining the Ponadthon too – I’d love to see your characters!

Top 5 Tuesday: Reasons I Rate a Book 5 Stars

Top 5 Tuesday is created and run by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm. You can join the fun by checking out the topics for the month here.

Hi everyone,

This week I’m coming to you from:

  • The middle of a work conference…
  • Which I was forced to go to during the middle of manuscript deadline hell….
  • And where there is a strict “no exceptions” to the evening social rule…
  • So if we want to get any of our work done (because of course the deadline doesn’t change even if you pull us out of the office for a week!!), we have to stay up until the early hours to do so….

So life is great right now. So great.

Okay rant over. Let’s get onto to celebrating why I rate books 5 stars! You know, I’ve never actually considered what makes me rate 5 stars in huge detail, outside of thinking about the one specific book I’m reviewing. I’m not even sure if there are recurring elements – I think to rate 5 stars, pretty much every part of the book needs to be incredible right? So I decided to go through all my 5 star reads of 2019, and go down a very statistical direction to identify the common themes and elements between those books. This is what I got.

It’s gay

Yup. No surprises here. If a book has LGBTQIA+ characters, I am on the squee express and will love that book. For some stats, 71% of my 2019 five star reads were queer! And that makes me so happy. I love reading books about people like me, so it is no surprise that most of my 5 star reads are loudly, proudly queer. Bring on the 2020 gays.

My 5 star examples:

A morally grey protagonist/villain

Give me our morally grey protagonists and villains. I love characters that do bad things for good reasons. I love when authors play with the idea of good and evil, when I don’t know who I’m supposed to be supporting, when there’s no clear idea of who is good and who is evil. God I love it so much. Give me morally grey every day.

My 5 star examples:

Excellent mental health rep

Much like queer books, seeing characters cope with mental health, in both real life-settings or fantasy worlds, just makes my heart hurt because I’m seeing people like me. It can be hopeful, which for obvious reasons, is fantastic to read as way of finding hope myself. But even if it is hopeless, it makes you feel seen and understood as a reader, and for a second, you can feel less alone because there’s someone out there who feels like you do.

My 5 star examples:

Nails the ending

So many of my 4 star books last year were fantastic….until the ending. Nailing the ending is such a difficult part of writing, and it has such an impact on my ultimate enjoyment of the book. I want an ending that is as brutually emotional as every page before it has been. I want knowledge and understanding of what’s happened. I don’t need all the ends tied up, but I want to feel something on the last pages. You can shock me, hurt me, thrill me. But the ending should make me feel something.

My 5 star examples:

Breaks my heart

So almost 50% of my 5 star reads of 2019 broke my heart. I don’t necessarily mean they made me cry – I’m a difficult reader to make actually cry, though I do tear up a lot. I like books that make me have a visceral emotional reaction, and let’s be honest, that kind of reaction usually comes when a book is stabbing you in the heart and ripping you open. I want to feel my chest physically hurt because I can’t believe what’s happening on the page. I need to be so emotionally invested in the characters, that what happens to them hurts me as much as possible. That’s definitely worth 5 stars.

My 5 star examples:

So to conclude, basically I want a queer, depressed, murder muffin to make me cry. Which does actually sum up several of the books I’m very excited for this year, so I clearly definitely have a 5 Star Type.

Book review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Title: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication date: 2 April 2019

Genre: Horror | Adult

Page extent: 432 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

I let this book languish on my Kindle for months WHY RACHEL WHY?!? What idiocy was I thinking?!? This book, in all its terrifying, claustrophobic madness, was incredible.

Gyre is a caver. Taking a high paying job so she can escape the planet to find her mother, Gyre sets out to explore an uncharted cave system. But her handler, Em, is enigmatic and keeping secrets. Like why does she not have a team of handlers keeping her alive in these dangerous caves? Why is she really down here? And why are there bodies down in the caves….?

This is a tense and atmospheric delight of a book. Well delight makes it seem happy and joyful. It isn’t. It’s terrifying and dark and so fucking scary, but brilliant in every word. The fact that such a marvellous book could be written, when really there’s just one setting and two characters is incredible. I expected it to be very repetitive – I mean how many ways can you describe a cave tunnel? But it really wasn’t! The book manages to exceptionally stay tense and exciting throughout the story. As Gyre spends more time underground, and more time discovering the secrets Em is hiding, the more unhinged and unreliant she becomes. As we travel further into the book, and into the cave system, both the reader and Gyre begin to have no idea what’s real and what’s not. There are so many twists and turns, I would finally be convinced ‘yes this is real this is definitely the way the story is going’ only to have it veer off into more unexpected twists.

Both Gyre and Em are flawed and exceptional characters. Em, the monster, controlling Gyre from afar, drugging her and controlling her limbs if she desires. When beneath her facade is a tired woman, someone searching for something she’s never going to find. And then there’s Gyre, headstrong, stubborn Gyre, who refuses help even when she could use it, unwilling to admit defeat in her body. These two are both so strong to fight to the end. Until the very last pages, I honestly had no idea how the book would end. Would Gyre get out? Would she die? Would Em come for her? Was Em even real? My mind was as uncertain in reality as Gyre’s and I loved it.

This book is a horror masterpiece! A queer horror masterpiece to be even more precise, which makes this book even better for me. For such a simple narrative (explore the cave) there is such a depth to the writing and the emotions of the characters, the fear and horror at what lies in the system, and ultimately at what is happening to Gyre as she journeys further. Cannot recommend this one enough.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Title: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 24 September 2019

Genre: Horror | Young Adult

Page extent: 416 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side.

Continuing my exploration into horror, Dahlia at LGBTQReads recommended Rules for Vanishing for my November subscription. It’s probably the first novel I’ve read that really goes into traditional horrory things – terrifying paranormal ghosts and spirits and the like. And I loved it!! It was scary, the format was spectacular, the only thing that let it down was a less than clear ending.

One year ago, Sara’s sister Becca went missing. Everyone thinks she ran off with her boyfriend, but Sara disagrees. She thinks she went to find Lucy Gallows, a girl who vanished 50 years ago. It’s said that in the woods, there is a road, and if you follow the road, you will find Lucy. When a text message floods the town, urging everyone to play ‘the game’ to find Lucy Gallows, Sara knows it’s the only chance she has to find her sister. So she, and a group of friends, go into the woods to find the road and hunt down Lucy and Becca….

My absolute favourite part of Rules for Vanishing was the structure and format. Very similar to another of my recent favourite reads, Into the Drowning Deep, Rules for Vanishing is told through first person POV, alongside interview transcripts, video exercepts, text messages and emails. There’s something about the reader feeling more knowing than the characters that just makes a story infinitely more terrifying to me. The format of Rules for Vanishing really makes this happen. By interspersing the story of the journey with emails, texts and interviews from the future, we learn and see more about the current situation. We’re given the info in these short extracts to make the first person POV more terrifying and it works so well!! There were so many moments I was terrified, particularly in the first half of the novel. The set up of the initial Lucy Gallows myth is really well done, and it really does sound like a traditional small-town legend. I grew up in a small town, and we had a poet who wandered on our local moor and walked through a gateway to the fae.

I enjoyed the death and gore of the first part of the journey as well. To get to Lucy, the group has to travel through seven ‘gates’ on the road to reach her. There are rules to follow, and challenges to pass, and if you don’t….well bad stuff happens. Up until about gate 4, I was loving it. It was very much the Blair Witch, paranormally vibe. After gate 4, it begins to get a bit more fantastical and I found I didn’t quite enjoy that as much. Previously, it had felt very real and I almost thought this could genuinely happen. But, after it left to more fantasy monsters, it lost a bit of the terror.

In addition, I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Not only did it go full fantasy with the Dahut storyline, but the ending is very open and I’m still not sure what actually happened?! If anyone has read this book, and has any insights or thoughts, I would love to hear them!

All in all, I really enjoyed Rules for Vanishing. The first half of the book is a terrifyingly creepy paranormal story, with whispers and voices and spirits trying to kill you. The structure and format of the book is so awesome and really helps add to the tension and fear. Whilst I wasn’t happy with the ending, this is still definitely worth a read!

Top 5 Tuesday: Books I Need to Read in 2020

Top 5 Tuesday is created and run by Shanah at Bionic Book Worm. You can join the fun by checking out the topics for the month here.

Hi everyone,

It’s the first Top 5 Tuesday of 2020! You may notice I’ve had a little bit of a blog lift. That is thanks to Vinny over at Artsy Draft! Last year, I was THE LUCKIEST PERSON EVER and actually won a blog redesign! Vinny has spent the last little while redesigning my entire blog and drawing the most amazing illos to use and I am so incredibely grateful and amazed by their work! I’m still in the process of updating all my backposts, but it’s getting there!

So I was tempted to put a very similar list for this week’s topic as one in December (the ‘2019 books I never got to’ because I SWEAR I will get to them in 2020). But I also have several others on my shelf that I really need to get to, so let’s just add to that pile….

Steel Crow Saga – Paul Krueger

I picked this one up after seeing Shealea at Shut Up Shealea write the most amazing review I think I’ve ever read for it! It sounds honestly mind-blowingly good. I know I will definitely get it to it in 2020 – I’m participating in #FFFeb, a sapphic readathon in February! One of the challenges is a book with a bisexual character, which this does! So I plan on getting to this one very shortly…

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

I (rather embarassingly) only got around to reading The Night Circus late last year. But I adored it! It was absolutely perfect. So of course I immediately got my hands on a copy over her second novel, The Starless Sea, which I can’t wait to read in 2020!

A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir

So this adds to the awfully long list of sequels I really need to read…. Alongside The Dragon Republic, The Kingdom of Copper and Jade War (which I’m currently reading!), I really need to read the sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s incredible fantasy An Ember in the Ashes. It was one of my favourite fantasy books I read last year. I don’t know why I struggle so much with sequels!

The Bone Witch – Rin Chupeco

I actually almost go a chance to read The Bone Witch last year! I ordered it from my library, but then didn’t quite get time to read it before I left on holiday, so had to return it. Perhaps a second attempt this year will be luckier!

The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

Okay so I know I said I wasn’t going to put any books from my Book I Didn’t Get to in 2019 list….But this one I swore I was going to read ALL YEAR and didn’t. So once again I am vowing to read Priory in 2020. I’m actually considering it for my next read – I’m trying to get all my massive fantasy tomes read before any 2020 preorders come in….I guess we’ll see if I’m sucessful in the next few weeks!

That’s it for this week’s Top 5 Tuesday! I can’t wait to read everyone’s lists. My key reading goal for this year is very much ‘please Rachel for the love of God read all your sequels.’ I feel like it should be achievable?! But I failed last year so, do I really know anything?

I hope everyone has a great week~

Book review: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Title: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 29 October 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance

Page extent: 290 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In a community that isn’t always understanding, an HIV-positive teen must navigate fear, disclosure, and radical self-acceptance when she falls in love–and lust–for the first time. Powerful and uplifting, Full Disclosure will speak to fans of Angie Thomas and Nicola Yoon.

Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.

Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…

Full Disclosure is a book which looks at the impact of HIV in a modern setting. It is both a fun and hilarious YA contemporary as well as a timely reminder about the fear of HIV still prevalent in our society.

Simone is our protagonist. She has had HIV since she was born, passed on from her birth mother. She has recently moved to a new school after her HIV status was revealed and everyone turned on her at her last one. Now, someone at her new school is blackmailing her, threatening to reveal her secret if she doesn’t stay away from Miles, the boy she’s crushing on.

Simone really is the star of this book. She exudes energy on every page. Her interactions with both her best friends, Claudia and Lydia, as well as Miles, were hilarious. Full Disclosure really captures what’s it’s like to be a teen and discovering your sexuality. From the sex shop scene to the constant jokes about sex in her friend group, it feels so real. I love how Camryn wasn’t afraid to shy away from talking openly about sex and masturbation as a teen. It’s abundantly obvious this was written by a teen, by someone with a clear understanding of how teens actually act – because Simone’s voice, the characters, their interactions, they all sound like teens. It was very refreshing to read!

Miles is also an absolutely adorable and lovely character. His sincere support and love for Simone, and the way he tries to watch musicals so he can know more about what Simone enjoys is just wonderful! He is like the opposite to your traditional moody white boy YA love interest and I LOVE HIM.

The casual diversity in this book is incredible. From Claudia’s asexuality to Lydia’s bisexuality, Simone’s two dads, Simone’s own exploration of her queerness, to the conversation at the GSA about whether you can be a non-binary lesbian, it really shows the range of diversity within the queer community. I wasn’t expecting the internalised (and external) biphobia in the book, it hasn’t been mentioned in any of the other reviews I’ve read. It is challenged at the end of the book, but just note there are some discussions about the validity of bisexuality and what makes you “queer”. Claudia makes some nasty comments in the heat of an argument, as well as Simone’s ex, Sarah. I appreciate and understand the need for discussions such as this in YA, however it did make me feel a little sad about this book. I feel like every book I’ve read this year that deals with bisexuality has the same thing, and I’ve just gotten a little tired of reading biophobic lines this year. But as I say, I understand the importance, I’m just personally not really in the place to read books that deal with this issue right now.

There was also quite a few heavy info-dumping sections. These generally were when there was medical info to give, and whilst it was interesting to hear about U=U etc, I feel there could’ve been a more natural way to do so rather than the very large info dump at the start of the book.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed Full Disclosure! It brought the experience of HIV into a modern setting, which I don’t think I’ve read in a YA before. Simone is a fantastic character, and the heavy issue driven nature of this book was lightened by the hilarious discussions about sex. Great debut and I will definitely keep an eye on what Camryn Garrett writes next!

Book review: I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi

Title: I Hope You Get This Message by Farah Naz Rishi

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication date: 22 October 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Science fiction

Page extent: 400 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Seven days. Seven days. The Earth might end in seven days.

When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

For high school truant Jesse Hewitt, though, nothing has ever felt permanent. Not the guys he hooks up with. Not the jobs his underpaid mom works so hard to hold down. Life has dealt him one bad blow after another — so what does it matter if it all ends now? Cate Collins, on the other hand, is desperate to use this time to find the father she’s never met, the man she grew up hearing wild stories about, most of which she didn’t believe. And then there’s Adeem Khan. While coding and computer programming have always come easily to him, forgiveness doesn’t. He can’t seem to forgive his sister for leaving, even though it’s his last chance.

With only seven days to face their truths and right their wrongs, Jesse, Cate, and Adeem’s paths collide even as their worlds are pulled apart. 

Quiet SFF won 2019, yes I said it. This is another genre-blending book combining the mystery and magic of science fiction with the heavy character driven narratives of contemporary YA. In I Hope You Get This Message this results in an emotional portrayal of three teens at the end of the world, trying to keep their families together.

The book follows three POVs: Jesse, a kid who struggles with depression and has had a hard life after his dad died with high debt; Cate, living with her schizophrenic mum as her hallucinations worsen, trying to track down her father at her mother’s request; Adeem, desperately hurt and angry at the sister who abandoned him two years ago but desperate to find her before the end of the world. These three stories take all three to Roswell, where their journey to find their families and discover what matters to them at the end of the world will merge, and end.

I Hope You Get This Message is a wonderful debut. Each of the three POVs have their own voice and unique character which makes it a really easy and unconfusing read, which is a fault I often find with multiple POV books. Of the characters, I do think Jesse’s voice shone above the rest. I can’t say I liked him as a person (he seems to have a bit of the ‘I’ll destroy everything good in my world then blame the world for it’ trait), but his voice was so incredibly strong. I also think his flaws are incredibly realistic for the life he has held – so whilst I don’t necessarily like him because of them, I understood him and his actions so well. But sometimes I did just want to scream through the pages at him ‘JESSE NOOOOO’. I also thought the portrayal of his depression was well written; particularly the handling of his self-harm/wrist cuff: to clarify, there are no scenes of self harm, just mentions of the past event, but when it is discussed it really grabs you with the intensity of emotion.

Cate and Adeem are both still strong, but I think perhaps lacked a bit of the intensity of Jesse. Cate’s journey to find her father is interesting, living as she is for her mother’s desires and not her own. It was interesting to see her come to terms and accept that this is how she lives across the book, with an exceptional line ending her last POV. Adeem has another very interesting journey with his sister: from the strong desire to find her to reconnect his family, to the anger that courses through him that she left, his feelings are complicated and in-depth.

I really loved the crossovers between the POVs. Side characters we know cross between these three lives but without the three at the centre knowing this. I love that sense of all knowing as a reader, and I loved seeing the three characters come together and intersect as the book progressed.

The sci-fi element, whilst forming the basis of the premise for this novel, is not at the forefront. Instead, it’s an ever constant but quiet guiding force throughout the book for the characters. I enjoyed the short interludes interspersed throughout the book about the aliens discussing the fate of Earth, which kept the sci-fi more central, though I felt these short sections lacked a sense of urgency. There was no progression of tension amongst them, as I would have expected as the aliens get closer and closer to their deadline of Earth destruction.

All in all, I think I Hope You Get This Message is a brilliant debut. With easy, everyday diversity (take note SFF authors, this is how to do it!!!), well developed characters and the different discussions of family, this is definitely one to pick up!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

2020 TBR: Most anticipated contemporary

Hi everyone,

In 2019, I was introduced to the world of contemporary novels! Previously, I was very much a heavy speculative fiction reader, but found myself a little exhausted reading all of fantasy last year. So I picked up my first contemporary and fell in love with the genre! They are so easy to read and always feel like a breathe of fresh air compared to SFF. Here’s a list of 31 of my most anticipated contemporary novels publishing in 2020!

Loveboat, Taipei – Abigail Hing Wen

Quick summary: Crazy Rich Asians crossed with La La Land?!

Release date: January 7

Goodreads blurb: For fans of Crazy Rich Asians or Jane Austen Comedy of Manners, with a hint of La La Land

When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.

Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.

Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?

We Used to be Friends – Amy Spalding

Quick summary: Two best friends growing apart

Genres: Contemporary, young adult

Release date: January 7

Goodreads blurb: Two best friends grow up—and grow apart—in this innovative contemporary YA novel

Told in dual timelines—half of the chapters moving forward in time and half moving backward—We Used to Be Friends explores the most traumatic breakup of all: that of childhood besties. At the start of their senior year in high school, James (a girl with a boy’s name) and Kat are inseparable, but by graduation, they’re no longer friends. James prepares to head off to college as she reflects on the dissolution of her friendship with Kat while, in alternating chapters, Kat thinks about being newly in love with her first girlfriend and having a future that feels wide open. Over the course of senior year, Kat wants nothing more than James to continue to be her steady rock, as James worries that everything she believes about love and her future is a lie when her high-school sweetheart parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Funny, honest, and full of heart, We Used to Be Friends tells of the pains of growing up and growing apart.

Tweet Cute – Emma Lord

Quick summary: Rival fast food workers who hate each other in real life fall in love in anonymous chat room

Release date: January 21

Goodreads blurb: A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

Not so Pure and Simple – Lamar Giles

Quick summary: Confronting toxic masculinity and what it means to be a ‘real man’

Release date: January 21

Goodreads blurb: In his first contemporary teen novel, critically acclaimed author and two-time Edgar Award finalist Lamar Giles spotlights the consequences of societal pressure, confronts toxic masculinity, and explores the complexity of what it means to be a “real man.”

Del has had a crush on Kiera Westing since kindergarten. And now, during their junior year, she’s finally available. So when Kiera volunteers for an opportunity at their church, Del’s right behind her. Though he quickly realizes he’s inadvertently signed up for a Purity Pledge.

His dad thinks his wires are crossed, and his best friend, Qwan, doesn’t believe any girl is worth the long game. But Del’s not about to lose his dream girl, and that’s where fellow pledger Jameer comes in. He can put in the good word. In exchange, Del just has to get answers to the Pledgers’ questions…about sex ed.

With other boys circling Kiera like sharks, Del needs to make his move fast. But as he plots and plans, he neglects to ask the most important question: What does Kiera want? He can’t think about that too much, though, because once he gets the girl, it’ll all sort itself out. Right?

Don’t Read the Comments – Eric Smith

Quick summary: Online trolling breaks into real life; gaming gaming gaming I cannot wait!!

Release date: January 28

Goodreads blurb: Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

The Gravity of Us – Phil Stamper

Quick summary: Kids of NASA employees falling in love

Release date: February 4

Goodreads blurb: As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

Foul is Fair – Hannah Capin

Quick summary: Macbeth retelling, revenge fantasy of girl destroying her rapists!

Release date: February 4

Goodreads blurb: Elle and her friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Elle’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Elle as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Elle transfers to St. Andrew’s. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes. 

Break the Fall – Jennifer Iacopelli

Quick summary: Gymnastics, romance with coach’s son, teammate rivalries

Release date: February 18

Goodreads blurb: Audrey Lee is going to the Olympics.

A year ago, she could barely do a push up as she recovered from a spine surgery, one that could have paralyzed her. And now? She’s made the United States’ gymnastics team with her best friend, Emma, just like they both dreamed about since they were kids. She’s on top of the world.

The pressure for perfection is higher than ever when horrifying news rips the team apart. Audrey is desperate to advocate for her teammate who has been hurt by the one person they trusted most–but not all the gymnasts are as supportive.

With the team on the verge of collapse, the one bright spot in training is Leo, her new coach’s ridiculously cute son. And while Audrey probably (okay, definitely) shouldn’t date him until after the games, would it really be the end of the world?

Balancing the tenuous relationship between her teammates with unparalleled expectations, Audrey doesn’t need any more distractions. No matter what it takes, she’s not going to let anyone bring them down. But with painful revelations, incredible odds, and the very real possibility of falling at every turn, will Audrey’s determination be enough?

Of Curses and Kisses- Sandhya Menon

Quick summary: Modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in a boarding schools yes please1

Release date: February 18

Goodreads blurb: From the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi comes the first novel in a brand-new series set at an elite international boarding school, that’s a contemporary spin on Beauty and the Beast.

Will the princess save the beast?

For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. When the loathsome Emerson clan steps up their centuries-old feud to target Jaya’s little sister, nothing will keep Jaya from exacting her revenge. Then Jaya finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, and it feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows what she must do: Make Grey fall in love with her and break his heart. But much to Jaya’s annoyance, Grey’s brooding demeanor and lupine blue eyes have drawn her in. There’s simply no way she and her sworn enemy could find their fairy-tale ending…right?

His Lordship Grey Emerson is a misanthrope. Thanks to an ancient curse by a Rao matriarch, Grey knows he’s doomed once he turns eighteen. Sequestered away in the mountains at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, he’s lived an isolated existence—until Jaya Rao bursts into his life, but he can’t shake the feeling that she’s hiding something. Something that might just have to do with the rose-shaped ruby pendant around her neck…

As the stars conspire to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey grapple with questions of love, loyalty, and whether it’s possible to write your own happy ending. 

Only Mostly Devastated – Sophie Gonzales

Quick summary: Every romance movie of your teen years in perfect book form: Grease meets Clueless meets 10 Things I Hate About You. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this, and it is INCREDIBLE!

Genres: Contemporary, romance, young adult

Release date: March 3

Goodreads blurb: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right?

Right. 

Anna K – Jenny Lee

Quick summary: Anna Karenina retelling!!

Release date: March 3

Goodreads blurb: Every happy teenage girl is the same, while every unhappy teenage girl is miserable in her own special way.

Meet Anna K. At seventeen, she is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and Newfoundland dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather an sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie.

As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all.

Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K.: A Love Story is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless love story, Anna Karenina―but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak.

If These Wings Could Fly – Kyrie McCauley

Quick summary: Magical realism, crows invading a town, with sisterhood bonds and impact of domestic violence

Release date: March 3

Goodreads blurb: Perfect for fans of Laura Ruby, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Mindy McGinnis, Kyrie McCauley’s stunning YA debut is a powerful story about the haunting specter of domestic violence and the rebellious forces of sisterhood and first love.

Tens of thousands of crows invading Auburn, Pennsylvania, is a problem for everyone in town except seventeen-year-old Leighton Barnes. For Leighton, it’s no stranger than her house, which inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things.

Leighton doesn’t have time for the crows–it’s her senior year, and acceptance to her dream college is finally within reach. But grabbing that lifeline means abandoning her sisters, a choice she’s not ready to face.

With her father’s rage worsening and the town in chaos over the crows, Leighton allows herself a chance at happiness with Liam, her charming classmate, even though falling in love feels like a revolutionary act.

Balancing school, dating, and survival under the shadow of sixty thousand feathered wings starts to feel almost comfortable, but Leighton knows that this fragile equilibrium can only last so long before it shatters.

And the Stars Were Burning Brightly – Danielle Jawando

Quick summary: Mental health and suicide, trying to find out why a family member took their own life

Release date: March 5

Goodreads blurb: An emotionally rich and current story of suicide, mental health, bullying, grief and growing up around social media.

When fifteen-year-old Nathan discovers that his older brother Al has taken his own life, his whole world is torn apart.
Al was special.
Al was talented.
Al was full of passion and light…so why did he do it?
Convinced that his brother was in trouble, Nathan begins to retrace his footsteps. And along the way, he meets Megan. Al’s former classmate, who burns with the same fire and hope, who is determined to keep Al’s memory alive. But when Nathan learns the horrifying truth behind his brother’s suicide, one question remains – how do you survive, when you’re growing up in the age of social media?

Harley in the Sky – Akemi Dawn Bowman

Quick summary: After Starfish I will read anything by Akemi, including this amazing circus runaway story

Release date: March 10

Goodreads blurb: Harley Milano has dreamed of being a trapeze artist for as long as she can remember. With parents who run a famous circus in Las Vegas, she spends almost every night in the big top watching their lead aerialist perform, wishing with all her soul that she could be up there herself one day.

After a huge fight with her parents, who continue to insist she go to school instead, Harley leaves home, betrays her family and joins the rival traveling circus Maison du Mystère. There, she is thrust into a world that is both brutal and beautiful, where she learns the value of hard work, passion and collaboration. But at the same time, Harley must come to terms with the truth of her family and her past—and reckon with the sacrifices she made and the people she hurt in order to follow her dreams.

We are Totally Normal – Rahul Kanakia

Quick summary: Complicated process of discovering your sexuality after hooking up with friend

Release date: March 31

Goodreads blurb: Nandan’s got a plan to make his junior year perfect. He’s going to make sure all the parties are chill, he’s going to smooth things over with his ex, and he’s going to help his friend Dave get into the popular crowd—whether Dave wants to or not. The high school social scene might be complicated, but Nandan is sure he’s cracked the code.

Then, one night after a party, Dave and Nandan hook up, which was not part of the plan—especially because Nandan has never been into guys. Still, Dave’s cool, and Nandan’s willing to give it a shot, even if that means everyone starts to see him differently.

But while Dave takes to their new relationship with ease, Nandan’s completely out of his depth. And the more his anxiety grows about what his sexuality means for himself, his friends, and his social life, the more he wonders whether he can just take it all back. But is breaking up with the only person who’s ever really gotten him worth feeling “normal” again?

From Rahul Kanakia comes a raw and deeply felt story about rejecting labels, seeking connection, and finding yourself.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know – Samira Ahmed

Quick summary: Part contemporary, part historical, elements of mystery, I would read anything by Samira after the absolute incredibleness of Internment

Release date: April 7

Goodreads blurb: Told in alternating narratives that bridge centuries, the latest novel from New York Times bestselling author Samira Ahmed traces the lives of two young women fighting to write their own stories and escape the pressure of familial burdens and cultural expectations in worlds too long defined by men.

It’s August in Paris and 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet—American, French, Indian, Muslim—is at a crossroads. This holiday with her professor parents should be a dream trip for the budding art historian. But her maybe-ex-boyfriend is probably ghosting her, she might have just blown her chance at getting into her dream college, and now all she really wants is to be back home in Chicago figuring out her messy life instead of brooding in the City of Light.

Two hundred years before Khayyam’s summer of discontent, Leila is struggling to survive and keep her true love hidden from the Pasha who has “gifted” her with favored status in his harem. In the present day—and with the company of a descendant of Alexandre Dumas—Khayyam begins to connect allusions to an enigmatic 19th-century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Lord Byron.

Echoing across centuries, Leila and Khayyam’s lives intertwine, and as one woman’s long-forgotten life is uncovered, another’s is transformed. 

Little Universes – Heather Demetrios

Quick summary: Aftermath of a tsunami, two sisters trying to recover from the loss of their parents.

Release date: April 7

Goodreads blurb: One wave: that’s all it takes for the rest of Mae and Hannah Winters’ lives to change.

When a tsunami strikes the island where their parents are vacationing, it soon becomes clear that their mom and dad are never coming home. Forced to move to Boston from sunny California for the rest of their senior year, each girl struggles with secrets their parents’ death has brought to light, and with their uncertainty about the future. Instead of bringing them closer, it feels like the wave has torn the sisters apart.

Hannah is a secret poet who wants to be seen, but only knows how to hide. The pain pills she stole from her dead father hurl her onto the shores of an addiction she can’t shake and a dealer who turns her heart upside down. When it’s clear Hannah’s drowning, Mae, a budding astronaut suddenly launched into an existential crisis—and unexpected love—must choose between herself and the only family she has left.

Little Universes is a book about the powerful bond between sisters, the kinds of love that never die, and the journey we all must make through the baffling cruelty and unexpected beauty of human life in an incomprehensible universe.

What I Like About You – Marisa Kanter

Quick summary: A love triangle with only two people – and their online personna; and a cupcake book blog!

Release date: April 7

Goodreads blurb: Can a love triangle have only two people in it? Online, it can…but in the real world, it’s more complicated. In this debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Morgan Matson, Marisa Kanter hilariously and poignantly explores what happens when internet friends turn into IRL crushes.

Is it still a love triangle if there are only two people in it?

There are a million things that Halle Levitt likes about her online best friend, Nash.

He’s an incredibly talented graphic novelist. He loves books almost as much as she does. And she never has to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him in real life. They can talk about anything…

Except who she really is.

Because online, Halle isn’t Halle—she’s Kels, the enigmatically cool creator of One True Pastry, a YA book blog that pairs epic custom cupcakes with covers and reviews. Kels has everything Halle doesn’t: friends, a growing platform, tons of confidence, and Nash.

That is, until Halle arrives to spend senior year in Gramps’s small town and finds herself face-to-face with real, human, not-behind-a-screen Nash. Nash, who is somehow everywhere she goes—in her classes, at the bakery, even at synagogue.

Nash who has no idea she’s actually Kels.

If Halle tells him who she is, it will ruin the non-awkward magic of their digital friendship. Not telling him though, means it can never be anything more. Because while she starts to fall for Nash as Halle…he’s in love with Kels.

Clique Bait – Ann Valett

Quick summary: Thriller contemporary about a girl taking down a clique of mean girls – this sounds so much like Mean Girls the film and I am so here for it

Release date: April 28

Goodreads blurb: Pretty Little Liars meets Burn for Burn in this thrilling debut from Wattpad star Ann Valett.

Chloe Whittaker is out for revenge. Last year her best friend Monica’s life was unceremoniously ruined by the most popular students at their high school, so this year Chloe plans to take each and every one of them down. She traded her jeans and T-shirts for the latest designer clothes, deleted everything on social media that would tie her to Monica (and blow her cover), and carefully devised a way to befriend the members of the popular clique. Now all that’s left to do is uncover their deepest, darkest secrets and reveal them to the world.

Chloe has the perfect plan…that is, until she begins to fall for one of the people she’s determined to destroy.

Loveless – Alice Oseman

Quick summary: ACE PROTAGONIST, coming of age, journey to self-acceptance

Genres: Contemporary, young adult

Release date: April 30

Goodreads blurb: The fourth novel from the phenomenally talented Alice Oseman – one of the most authentic and talked-about voices in contemporary YA.

Georgia feels loveless – in the romantic sense, anyway. She’s eighteen, never been in a relationship, or even had a crush on a single person in her whole life. She thinks she’s an anomaly, people call her weird, and she feels a little broken. But she still adores romance – weddings, fan fiction, and happily ever afters. She knows she’ll find her person one day … right?

After a disastrous summer, Georgia is now at university, hundreds of miles from home. She is more determined than ever to find love – and her annoying roommate, Rooney, is a bit of a love expert, so perhaps she can help.

But maybe Georgia just doesn’t feel that way about guys. Or girls. Or anyone at all. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe she can find happiness without falling in love. And maybe Rooney is a little more loveless than she first appears.

LOVELESS is a journey of identity, self-acceptance, and finding out how many different types of love there really are. And that no one is really loveless after all.

The Life and (Mediaeval) Times of Kit Sweetly – Jamie Pacton

Quick summary: Mediaeval themed restaurant who only get boys dress up knights so let’s fight the fucking patriarchy yaaaaaassss

Release date: May 5

Goodreads blurb: Moxie meets A Knight’s Tale as Kit Sweetly slays sexism, bad bosses, and bad luck to become a knight at a medieval-themed restaurant.

Working as a wench―i.e. waitress―at a cheesy medieval-themed restaurant in the Chicago suburbs, Kit Sweetly dreams of being a knight like her brother. She has the moves, is capable on a horse, and desperately needs the raise that comes with knighthood, so she can help her mom pay the mortgage and hold a spot at her dream college.

Company policy allows only guys to be knights. So when Kit takes her brother’s place and reveals her identity at the end of the show, she rockets into internet fame and a whole lot of trouble with the management. But the Girl Knight won’t go down without a fight. As other wenches join her quest, a protest forms. In a joust before Castle executives, they’ll prove that gender restrictions should stay medieval―if they don’t get fired first.

Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo

Quick summary: Verse novel from contemporary queen Elizabeth Acevdeo

Release date: May 14

Goodreads blurb: Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance – and Papi’s secrets – the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Camino and Yahaira are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.

In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives

Something to Talk About – Meryl Wilsner

Quick summary: Romance between Hollywood showrunner and her assistant when media declare them a couple

Genres: Contemporary, romance, adult

Release date: May 26

Goodreads blurb: A showrunner and her assistant give the world something to talk about when they accidentally fuel a ridiculous rumor in this debut romance.

Hollywood powerhouse Jo is photographed making her assistant Emma laugh on the red carpet, and just like that, the tabloids declare them a couple. The so-called scandal couldn’t come at a worse time—threatening Emma’s promotion and Jo’s new movie.

As the gossip spreads, it starts to affect all areas of their lives. Paparazzi are following them outside the office, coworkers are treating them differently, and a “source” is feeding information to the media. But their only comment is “no comment”.

With the launch of Jo’s film project fast approaching, the two women begin to spend even more time together, getting along famously. Emma seems to have a sixth sense for knowing what Jo needs. And Jo, known for being aloof and outwardly cold, opens up to Emma in a way neither of them expects. They begin to realize the rumor might not be so off base after all…but is acting on the spark between them worth fanning the gossip flames?

I Kissed Alice – Alice Birch

Quick summary: Enemies-to-lovers f/f romcom in the fanfic community

Genres: Contemporary, romance

Release date: May 26

Goodreads blurb: For fans of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and FangirlI Kissed Alice is a romantic comedy about enemies, lovers, and everything in between.

Rhodes and Iliana couldn’t be more different, but that’s not why they hate each other.

Hyper-gifted artist Rhodes has always excelled at Alabama’s Conservatory of the Arts despite a secret bout of creator’s block, while transfer student Iliana tries to outshine everyone with her intense, competitive work ethic. Since only one of them can get the coveted Capstone scholarship, the competition between them is fierce.

They both escape the pressure on a fanfic site where they are unknowingly collaborating on a graphic novel. And despite being worst enemies in real life, their anonymous online identities I-Kissed-Alice and Curious-in-Cheshire are starting to like each other…a lot. When the truth comes out, will they destroy each other’s future?

You Should See Me In A Crown – Leah Johnson

Quick summary: Queer girl falls in love with the competition for prom queen

Genres: Contemporary, romance, young adult

Release date: June 2

Goodreads blurb: Becky Albertalli meets Jenny Han in a smart, hilarious, black girl magic, own voices rom-com by a staggeringly talented new writer.

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Six Angry Girls – Adrienne Kisner 

Quick summary: Feminist novel set within mock trial teams, with a side of knitting

Genres: Contemporary, young adult

Release date: June 2 

Goodreads blurb: A story of mock trial, feminism, and the inherent power found in a pair of knitting needles.

Raina Petree is crushing her senior year, until her boyfriend dumps her, the drama club (basically) dumps her, the college of her dreams slips away, and her arch-nemesis triumphs.

Things aren’t much better for Millie Goodwin. Her father treats her like a servant, and the all-boy Mock Trial team votes her out, even after she spent the last three years helping to build its success.

But then, an advice columnist unexpectedly helps Raina find new purpose in a pair of knitting needles and a politically active local yarn store. This leads to an unlikely meeting in the girls’ bathroom, where Raina inspires Millie to start a rival team. The two join together and recruit four other angry girls to not only take on Mock Trial, but to smash the patriarchy in the process.

The Falling in Love Montage – Ciara Smyth

Quick summary: Binding agreement to have a romance only for a summer….what could possibly go wrong?!

Genres: Contemporary, romance

Release date: June 9

Goodreads blurb: Saoirse doesn’t believe in love at first sight or happy endings. If they were real, her mother would still be able to remember her name and not in a care home with early onset dementia. A condition that Saoirse may one day turn out to have inherited. So she’s not looking for a relationship. She doesn’t see the point in igniting any romantic sparks if she’s bound to burn out.

But after a chance encounter at an end-of-term house party, Saoirse is about to break her own rules. For a girl with one blue freckle, an irresistible sense of mischief, and a passion for rom-coms.

Unbothered by Saoirse’s no-relationships rulebook, Ruby proposes a loophole: They don’t need true love to have one summer of fun, complete with every cliché, rom-com montage-worthy date they can dream up—and a binding agreement to end their romance come fall. It would be the perfect plan, if they weren’t forgetting one thing about the Falling in Love Montage: when it’s over, the characters actually fall in love… for real.

I’ll Be the One – Lyla Lee

Quick summary:What a stunning cover!!! Competition to be the next K-Pop star!

Release date: June 16

Goodreads blurb: The world of K-Pop has never met a star like this. Debut author Lyla Lee delivers a deliciously fun, thoughtful rom-com celebrating confidence and body positivity—perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Julie Murphy.

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.

The State of Us – Shaun David Hutchinson

Quick summary: Kinda makes me think of a YA Red, White & Royal Blue? Sons of two presedential candidates falling in love.

Genres: Contemporary, romance

Release date: July 21

Goodreads blurb: David Linker at HarperCollins has bought We Are the Ants author Shaun David Hutchinson‘s The State of Us, the story of Dean and Dre—the 16-year-old sons of the Republican and Democratic candidates for President of the United States—who fall in love on the sidelines of their parents’ presidential campaigns. The book is planned for summer 2020; Katie Shea Boutillier at Donald Maass Literary Agency brokered the deal for world rights. 

Girl, Unframed – Deb Caletti

Quick summary: Contemporary thriller about unwanted attention – and what a killer cover!

Release date: September 1

Goodreads blurb: A teen girl’s summer with her mother turns sinister in this gripping thriller about the insidious dangers of unwanted attention, from Printz Honor medal–winning and National Book Award finalist author Deb Caletti—perfect for fans of Courtney Summers’s Sadie.

Sydney Reilly has a bad feeling about going home to San Francisco before she even gets on the plane. How could she not? Her mother is Lila Shore—the Lila Shore—a film star who prizes her beauty and male attention above all else…certainly above her daughter.

But Sydney’s worries multiply when she discovers that Lila is involved with the dangerous Jake, an art dealer with shady connections. Jake loves all beautiful objects, and Syndey can feel his eyes on her whenever he’s around. And he’s not the only one. Sydney is starting to attract attention—good and bad—wherever she goes: from sweet, handsome Nicco Ricci, from the unsettling construction worker next door, and even from Lila. Behaviors that once seemed like misunderstandings begin to feel like threats as the summer grows longer and hotter.

It’s unnerving, how beauty is complicated, and objects have histories, and you can be looked at without ever being seen. But real danger, crimes of passion, the kind of stuff where someone gets killed—it only mostly happens in the movies, Sydney is sure. Until the night something life-changing happens on the stairs that lead to the beach. A thrilling night that goes suddenly very wrong. When loyalties are called into question. And when Sydney learns a terrible truth: beautiful objects can break.

The Roommate – Rosie Danan

Quick summary: Creating a women’s pleasure focused and fighting a porn empire this sounds incredible

Release date: September 15

Goodreads blurb: Rosie Danan’s THE ROOMMATE (previously Never Have I Ever), in which an awkward socialite gets more than she bargained for in her new roommate and the sparks that fly between them, risking their hearts and the wrath of a porn empire after they launch a website focused on women’s pleasure.

I am so impressed with all of these covers! Bookshelves everywhere are going to look stunning! Are there any contemporaries you’re looling forward to that I haven’t mentioned? I would love to know!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

Title: The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication date: 29 October 2019

Genre: Science fiction | Young Adult

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Goodreads blurb: Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters.

At the end of the twenty-first century, the world has changed dramatically, but life continues one thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. In Great Britain, sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the Earth.

Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen has her own problems to deal with. Her father’s been arrested, accused of taking advantage of victims of the Seasickness-a debilitating malaise that consumes people,often claiming their lives. But Leyla knows he’s innocent, and all she’s interested in is getting him back so that their lives can return to normal.

When she’s picked to race in the action-packed London Submersible Marathon, Leyla gets the chance to secure his freedom; the Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. The race takes an unexpected turn, though, and presents her with an opportunity she never wanted: Leyla must venture outside of London for the first time in her life, to find and rescue her father herself.

Now, she’ll have to brave the unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a secretive, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If she fails, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–and her father might be lost forever.

***

The Light at the Bottom of the World was one of my most anticipated 2019 releases. It didn’t quite live up to my hopes but was still an interesting and exciting premise.

I’m not sure if I somehow misread all marketing material for this book, but what I read was entirely unlike what I anticipated. Going in, I expected to see more mystery and investigation in London, leading up to the big race (this is what I gathered from the blurb). However, the race happens in the very first few pages, so what followed was a book completely unanticipated for me! Which was quite exciting as I has absolutely no idea what was going to happen.

Leyla lives in a world where Earth flooded, so the humans took to the seas. Above the water line, fierce storms rage making any possibility of living on the surface unlikely. Below, a new Britain has emerged. In London, Leyla lives under the water, using submersibles to get around the city. When she is randomly selected to take part in the annual City marathon, she is delighted. If she wins, she gets to ask the Prime Minister for anything she desires and he will grant it. Leyla plans to ask for her father’s release. Months ago, Leylas father was arrested for something he didn’t do, and she is determined to find him. However, things don’t quite go to plan (ofc not), and Leyla finds herself on a frantic hunt to find her father and run from a corrupt government.

The first incredibly exciting and unexpected element for me were the sea creatures! I don’t want to give too much away, but they are SO COOL. Several different creatures have been genetically engineered by humans for various different purposes and I really want to find out more about the creation of these. It looks like we might find out in the sequel so I am waiting with baited breath!!

Second was the corrupt government. Yes somehow I missed that on the blurb. I really just saw ‘underwater London’ and wanted it. The discovery of the government’s corruption is slow, but it creates a very mysterious and tense atmosphere. As with the sea creatures, I just wish there had been a little bit more to sate my curiosity.

Of the main characters, Armen is definitely the strongest and my favourite. He had such a fabulous air of intensity and mystery about him. His backstory is so compelling and I loved hearing about his life and where he came from. Sadly, Leyla, our protagonist just wasn’t as strong for me. She felt very naive and young for the story. Her constant ‘oh my god, what on earth, I am surprised’ six reveals in really got on my nerves. Given her backstory, I really don’t think she would be that trusting and naive. She felt very very young for the story. I realise this is a YA, but Armen felt so much older and level headed than she did. The difference between how these two behave and act is really quite striking. Either he is a lot older (in which case the romance is really weird) or Leyla’s behaviour didn’t match her age. I did appreciate her strong love for her family though, her driving force throughout the novel.

As a debut novel, I really was impressed with the scope and idea behind this world. But there were a few flaws with execution: dialogue felt stilted at times to me, and I didn’t flow through the story. It really jumped from action to action with no flow.

However! Please don’t let that put you off. Leyla really comes into her own by the end of the novel, and I’m really keen to read the next in the series to find out more about the mystery behind Leyla’s father and the sea creatures!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

My 2020 Goals

Hi everyone,

I am finally beginning to get back to normal after my trip so it’s time to start writing some blog posts! I desperately need a distraction from the dread that fills me when I think about going back to work on Monday.

Today I’m going to chat about my 2020 reading, blogging and writing goals! 2020 will be my first full year as a blogger, as I only started in May last year, and I’m so excited to continue my blog, expand into bookstagram and actually (I really really mean it this time) finish writing my book… To help with all this, I’m putting down my explicit goals for the year to help keep me in line!

Blogging goals

Bookstagram

I have officially started a Bookstagram! I won’t lie, I feel like such a beginner at Bookstagram. I’m still trying to figure out what themes are and how to use hashtags best. But I would absolutely love a follow, you can find me on there at anxiousnachos. I promise I’ll improve!

Reviewing

I want to review at least 60% of the books I read – and ALL of the 2020 releases I read. My 2020 TBR looks amazing, there is so much diversity this year and I really want to celebrate these authors!

Bullet journal

Okay so last year I bought a bullet journal and did practically nothing with it except organise new books publishing that I wanted to keep track of. This year I want to really get more into using my bullet journal more to assist with both my blog/reading and day to day life. I really don’t know where to start though. If you have any tips or tricks, I’d love to hear them!

Reading goals

My targets

In 2019, I managed to read 109 books, which I think might be my most ever. So, this year I’m aiming for 100 to continue to challenge myself and read as many books as possible. I’m going to be using Kal’s (Reader Voracious) wonderful spreadsheet to keep track of all my reads.

Year of the Asian Reading Challenge (YARC 2020)

Another super exciting goal for the year is participating in the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge! This readathon is a year-long readathon hosted by Lily (Sprinkles of Dreams), CW (The Quiet Pond), Shealea (Shut Up Shealea) and Vicky (Vicky Who Reads)! You can follow them here:

The goal of this readathon is to read as many books by Asian authors as possible. Each month, the hosts will give some reading prompts for a more challenging readathon, or you can just try and read whatever you want! I’m aiming for at least 30 which would give me the Malayan Tapir award! Though the Asian Elephant badge is so adorable I really want to try for that one… If you’d like to join, check out the readathon Twitter page (@YearOfTheAsian) to get all the details! Or, you can check out any of the blogs above to see all the sign up info (e.g. Sprinkles of Dreams sign up post).

January TBR

For my January TBR, I want to get all the books I really wanted to read in December, actually read. Most of these are large fantasy tomes, several are sequels and I really need to finish them before the third books come out this year! Ideally, I’ll then have all of them out of the way by the time my January pre-orders finally make it to Australia. I also visited the library on the very first day they re-opened to collect some reservations so I have 5 library books I want to read! It will be a pretty difficult task I think, purely because of how large and heavy some of these books are but fingers crossed!

Jade City – Fonda Lee

Jade War – Fonda Lee

The Dragon Republic – R.F Kuang

The Kingdom of Copper – S.A Chakraborty

The Good Luck Girls – Charlotte Nicole Davis (library)

The Dangerous Art of Blending In – Angelo Surmelis (library)

The Library of the Unwritten – A.J Hackwith (library)

We Are Lost and Found – Helene Dunbar (library)

Salvation Day – Kali Wallace (library)

Writing goals

Last year, I tried to write a book. But mental health kicked my butt, my lack of outlining made life very hard and therefore I didn’t get hugely far. But this year, I am feeling reinvigorated. At the recommendation of Gabhi, I’ve got a copy of Save the Cat to help me outline, and hopefully this will make writing a lot easier. My main writing goals of the year are therefore:

  • To finish my angry bi pirate WIP (adult fantasy)
  • To start research for a queer sciencey vampire book (adult sci-fi)
  • To start research for my queer historical Scottish romance (adult historical – though this may end up a little fantasy as well)
  • To join a writing group! This will actually help me meet THREE of my New Year Resolutions: to be more social, to tackle my social anxiety, to write a book.

That’s it for my 2020 goals! Last year really sucked. But I’m hoping 2020 can be a little better for me, and I will actually make some headway towards my author dreams!

What are your goals for 2020? Let me know in the comments!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco