Book review: The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Title: The Roommate by Rosie Danan

Publisher: Berkley

Publication date: 15 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Romance

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Synopsis:

House Rules:
Do your own dishes
Knock before entering the bathroom
Never look up your roommate online

The Wheatons are infamous among the east coast elite for their lack of impulse control, except for their daughter Clara. She’s the consummate socialite: over-achieving, well-mannered, predictable. But every Wheaton has their weakness. When Clara’s childhood crush invites her to move cross-country, the offer is too much to resist. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true.

After a bait-and-switch, Clara finds herself sharing a lease with a charming stranger. Josh might be a bit too perceptive—not to mention handsome—for comfort, but there’s a good chance he and Clara could have survived sharing a summer sublet if she hadn’t looked him up on the Internet…

Once she learns how Josh has made a name for himself, Clara realizes living with him might make her the Wheaton’s most scandalous story yet. His professional prowess inspires her to take tackling the stigma against female desire into her own hands. They may not agree on much, but Josh and Clara both believe women deserve better sex. What they decide to do about it will change both of their lives, and if they’re lucky, they’ll help everyone else get lucky too.

This was my most anticipated romance of the year and it was everything I wanted it to be! I’m not a huge romance reader so I don’t really know how this compares to others in the genre, but I personally loved it! It has some of the best sex scenes I’ve read, the two characters are adorable, and it’s all about overturning the porn industry to focus on female pleasure!

Let’s start with the characters, I love romances with complete opposites because it always results in hilarious moments and we definitely had that here! Clara is a button-uped rich kid from Greenwich who hasn’t ever stepped a toe out of line, but who moves across the country to chase a childhood crush when she realises she could walk out of the life she was living and nothing would happen. But when she gets across the country, the man she crushes on says he’s going on tour with his band, leaving her alone in the flat with none other than popular porn star, Josh Darling. Josh Darling is confident and sexy and so freaking adorable it hurts and Clara knows he’ll never ever fall for someone like her. But then they get drunk and decide it’s time to topple a porn empire by making their own platform that focuses on partner intimacy and female pleasure. These two humans are just so so different and yet so so perfect together. Josh brings out all of Clara’s confidence and helps her see beyond her self doubt and she does the same for him. They both make each other into these powerhouse individuals who are going to fight for what they want. And what they want is to say fuck you to an exploitative porn corporation.

I loved how sweet and innocent Clara is. I could relate so much to her, she’s so full of self doubt and this horrible self esteem thinking she could never be attractive to someone like Josh. She’s so focused on never letting her family down that she forgets how to live which is just so sad. But Josh comes into her life and helps her get out of her shell and find freedom and joy in life.

And omg THE SEX. HOLY SHIT IT’S HOT. It’s so good, Danan is definitely now one of my favourite sex writers. Every scene was just so different but so powerful and fun. I loved reading from Josh’s POV because he is just so blown away by Clara and it was just so lovely to compare that to Clara’s POV who is so shy and self-hating and all I wanted to do was scream at her to look at this man drooling over her?!?

I also really loved the huge focus on the autonomy of sex workers. It’s a book which explores the exploitative nature of some aspects of the porn industry, but alongside this critique, also places emphasis on the autonomy and choice of sex workers and those in the industry which isn’t usually seen when discussing adult entertainment. It also places so much importance on female pleasure, partner intimacy and sex education. It’s just wonderfully sex positive and I loved reading about this!

This book was everything I wanted. I needed something fun and lighthearted and this is definitely that, Clara and Josh are so incredibly adorable together. It’s so so sexy, but alongside this fun, lighthearted romance is a great exploration of sex work, both the exploitative nature of the industry at times but alongside a positive and empowering portrayal of sex workers.

30 Days of Pride: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Title: The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Publication date: 4 February 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary | Romance

Page extent: 314 pages

Rating:

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.

The Gravity of Us is YA for space nerds. It was a fun and enjoyable read but lacked substance for me. It felt very familiar to K.Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars, with just a bit more focus on the space science and a little less focus on the excellent character development. Which is probably why I thought The Weight of the Stars did gay space YA better.

The Gravity of Us follows teen journalist Cal as his family is uprooted from his home in Brooklyn to Texas, after his dad gets a job as the last astronaut on a mission to Mars. But when they get there, Cal’s journalism reveals unhappy truths about the project, and he needs to find a way to tell his family without hurting them.

The Gravity of Us very much hearkened back to the 60s era space race. The energy and passion in the book brought that era into a modern day setting, with new reality TV show ShootingStars following the drama in the astronauts lives. This felt so realistic and I could 100% imagine exactly this book happening if we ever did start a mission to go to Mars. I liked the emphasis on the fakeness of reality shows, it felt like a (lighter) version of Unreal, a show I absolutely adore for the way it utterly takes down reality shows like The Bachelor. It also started a journey to exploring the reasons behind space travel, thanks to the focus on the less central employees (i.e. not the astronauts) at NASA and their reasonings for joining the program. But I wish it had gone deeper. There’s a few vague ‘but what if this could change the future for the better’ lines but nothing that goes beyond surface level arguments for space travel, which I think would have made this more interesting.

There is also both anxiety and depression rep in this book, which is really great to see. However, both of these felt a little surface level 101 representation. Leon was sad. Cal’s mum didn’t like parties because she’s anxious. And….that was about the entirety of their mental health rep. Cal’s anxiety was better handled, it felt more fleshed out and delves deeper into the real impacts of living with anxiety, such as the way Cal always feels the needs to fix things, to want to be seen as a normal family etc. I wanted the secondary characters to be more fleshed out. Which leads to my main issue with the book: everything felt very surface level, except for Cal himself. It felt like the Cal show. I appreciated The Gravity of Us shows Cal fucking up multiple times, and him trying to change and realising his mistakes. But I couldn’t quite forgive the time he spent trying to change Leon. The way Cal handled Leon’s depression just felt….yeah not good. I don’t know how to put it into words. It felt like he didn’t understand (and didn’t really try to understand) how Leon’s depression appears. Cal spent a lot of time thinking about his mum’s anxiety, and about situations that would make her uncomfortable (the aforementioned parties), which is great to see a kid taking that kind of care with their parents! But why didn’t he do that with Leon as well? It made Leon’s depression seem less important, and less life-impacting, than anxiety.

But despite my issues with the book, as this isn’t a particularly deep book, my problems with it are therefore not particularly deep either. It was fun and cute, the romance was sweet, it was cool reading about a modern day space age and I liked the focus on the scientists and their passion in this book. I feel like most of my issues probably stem from the fact I went it knowing this had a very similar pitch to The Weight of the Stars and subconciously thinking I would get something similar. And K.Ancrum is particularly brilliant at writing difficult, sometimes dark, and deep discussions into her work so I think I expected a bit more of that, rather than all cute, sweet romance. But that’s my fault!

If you’re looking for a fun, light gay romance, or looking for a contemporary book with a bit of a space geek edge, then I totally recommend this book to you! If you’re looking for particularly deep discussions about space exploration or detailed mental health representation, this isn’t for you. But it does cute romance well.

30 Days of Pride: Queer romcoms

Hi everyone,

Romcoms are a genre I haven’t read much of, but have found very comforting in the past few months. They make you feel warm and cosy and wrapped in a hug which I think is something all of us need right now. I’m sure some of these probably aren’t technically ‘romcoms’ as defined by strict definitions, but these are queer books which made me laugh and have happy love endings so that’s the definition I’m going with.

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Only Mostly Devastated is one of the very first book launches I’ve attended, because I finally found an author who lives in the same city as me! I love this book, and not just because the cupcakes at the launch were spectacular (although they were). This is the gay Grease retelling you’ve always dreamed of. Ollie, the main character, is so hilarious. He’s so sarcastic and self-deprecating, and has very correct opinions on which Skittles are best. There’s also a fabulous bi side character called Lara who is brilliant, she’s so mean and fiesty and still coming to terms with her sexuality so very vulnerable too. This romcom is not be missed! Check out my full review here.

Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

Another Aussie writer on this list! I actually read a non-queer romcom recently as well by an Aussie, and I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone here can just write hilariously because the three of these are some of my favourites. Amelia Westlake is a feminist, rebellious fight against the strict, misogynistic standards at Australian private schools. Two girls, the school “bad girl”, and the star Prefect, join forces to take down their school, and in the meantime fall in love. This book is just absolute bliss! It’s funny, it’s current, the relationship development is really sweet, I absolutely love it!

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Another sapphic romcom, this one features a budding film director and an A-grade cheerleader who must work together to create a film, even though they absolutely despise each other. Or do they….? (That’s a definite no). I really loved that although the romance is the main plotline, there was so much going on around them. We spend a lot of time following Rachel and Sana in their individual lives as well as with their growing relationship, which I feel like isn’t often seen in this genre (at least that I’ve read anyway). It really helped you grow closer to both the characters because you know so much more about who they are and what they want. And in this case, they definitely do not want each other, no sir, not at all, not one bit…

How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters

How to Be Remy Cameron was I think my first “approved” ARC request on NetGalley (not a Read Now one), so it holds a very special place in my heart for that alone! It is a very heartwarming coming-of-age story, about the pressure of labels and identity, with adopted, Black, gay lead, Remy, who wants to be known as someone outside of those labels. This book is full of pop culture references that are actually done well, it has a sweet love interest who appears just as Remy signs off men for good, and really lovely, supportive parents which we really need more of in YA. Also Remy’s wardrobe is killer and I really wish I had it. Check out my full review here.

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

The first of two royal queer romcoms on this list, this is a genre I would read again and again and again. This fun sapphic romance is set at a Scottish boarding school, where an American teen falls in love with a Scottish princess. This features: rivals to lovers, the Scottish highlands, grumpy Scottish groundskeepers, a rebellious, dramatic Scottish princess and a cute romance. Its lighthearted and wholesome which is exactly what I want to read right now! You can read my full review here.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

And here’s the second of the queer royal romcoms, this time between the son of the President of the US, Alex, and Prince Henry of England. This is one of my absolute favourites. Alex is one of the biggest bisexual icons of all books. I love that we see him gradually fall in love with Henry, realise he isn’t quite as straight as he thought, his mum’s bisexual powerpoint presentation, I love it all!! Although this book deals with some dark topics, including politics, ethics, immigration and hate speech, it is also set in a world which feels just a little bit better than ours, in a world where a woman of colour was elected in 2016, so everything is just that little bit more hopeful. This is a really hilarious, queer as fuck royal romcom and I love it. You can read my full review here.

This Is Kind of An Epic Love Story by Kacen Callender

Please note Kacen changed their name since the publication of This is Kind of An Epic Love Story so the author name on the cover is no longer correct. I am in awe of Kacen and their ability to write in any genre they choose. This book takes the childhood best friends to lovers trope to a whole new level! Nathan has sworn off happy endings, since his dad died and his mum was destroyed by grief. But then his childhood best friend moves back to town, and now Nathan might get the chance to tell him about his feelings once and for all.

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

This book just realised in May, a mere few weeks ago. This is also Berkley’s first sapphic romance and whilst that’s so bad that it’s 2020 and they’re only on their first, SUPPORT IT SO THEY PUBLISH MORE!! Something to Talk About is all about the world of Hollywood and the dreaded gossip mag and ridiculous rumour mill that is the paparazzi. A powerhouse Hollywood showrunner Jo is pictured making her assisstant, Emma, laugh on the red carpet, so obviously they are madly in love and in a secret relationship, right?! But the rumour has come at the worst time, affecting the release of Jo’s latest film and any chance of a promotion for Emma. But as they are hounded by the paparazzi and forced to spend more and more time together, they begin to think their might be some truth to the rumours after all. For an extra slow burn (which I looooove) and sweet romance, check this one out.

How to be a Normal Person by T.J Klune

I’ve only discovered T.J Klune in the past year, but so far, I’ve loved absolutely everything I’ve read. He has a way of writing that leaves you laughing on one page, and sobbing the next, which is pretty much my favourite way to read a book. How to be a Normal Person is the story of Gustavo, a decidedly Not Normal man from Oregon who knows and accepts this and just wants to be left alone. When Casey, an asexual hipster enters Gus’s life, suddenly someone thinks the world of Gus. But Gus things Casey deserves someone normal and decides he wants to be that person so embarks on a journey to become the most normal person ever. This is also own voices asexual rep which is so fantastic to see!

You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson

So I haven’t read this one yet (though I have started the audiobook!) but that’s because it only released a few weeks ago on June 2. I can’t wait to finish this one, because it’s amazing! This is a story about queer Black teen Liz who decides to run for prom queen in order to win a scholarship, but then falls in love for smart and funny new girl Mack, who also just happens to be her competition. Doesn’t that sound amazing?!

Boy Meets Boy David Leviathon

It brings me much joy to know I now work for the Aussie publisher of David Levithan’s work. Boy Meets Boy is a quick (under 200 pages) romcom set at a high school that’s just a little bit different to every high school you’ve read about before. In this high school, cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen is a trans woman who’s also the star quarterback, and the GSA was created to help the straight kids learn how to dance. Sounds a hell of a lot better than my high school. Paul thinks he found the love of his life, but then he messes it up and now the school bookie has him at 12 to 1 odds to ever get him back (I have no understanding of odds and gambling so I’m going to assume this is bad). Paul plans to prove them wrong. A super fun, accepting and utopic high school society romance.

That’s it for my list of romcoms. It isn’t a genre I read much of, but I really would love to read more of them because we need happy and joyful books right now! Let me know your favourite queer romcoms in the comments!

30 Days of Pride: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

Title: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

Publisher: Avon Impulse

Publication date: 25 June 2019

Genre: Adult | Romance | Historical

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

Romance is a genre I really haven’t read that much of. Entirely due to my usual state of mind loving books that stab me in the heart and never let me recover. But after reading and loving the joyful The House in the Cerulean Sea, I immediately knew I had to finally read The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics because I need books with happiness and joy right now. And what a delight this book was!! I’m so happy this was my first adult romance read, because not only was it a really sweet and tender romance, but it also was so interesting outside of the romance, with lovely discussions about science and art and the importance of female contribution to these areas.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics follows Lucy, a budding young astronomer who wants to have a career and not be married off as her brother so desires, and Catherine, a rich and widowed Countess, who offers funding to Lucy to publish a translation of a well regarded French astronomy text.

First of all, what a sweet and tender, passionate and sensual romance! I must say, as a usual reader of slowburn, large fantasy novels, the fact these two were kissing within 100 pages was rather unexpected. I could have done with a bit more yearning but that’s probably because I’m used to a very different genre of romance! What I did love was Catherine’s hesitancy and shyness now that she’s found someone she truly loves, compared to the horror of her relationship with her husband. This is her first relationship with a woman, and I liked the way her slow discovery that Lucy could be a lover was handled. Celestial Mechanics also showed that whilst society might not allow two women to marry, there are ways of showing commitment and love to your significant other, thus addressing both the state of society at the time but without any unnecessary homophobia. (Thank God).

I really loved the astronomy focus of the book. It made for a very interesting read outside of the romance, because I wanted to know more about these female scientists that Lucy was finding and following. A big focus of the book is Lucy and her contribution to science, and the fact she’s often blocked and excluded because she’s a woman so can’t possibly have an understanding of science. But Lucy showed such determination and ferocity in the face of these challenges, she refuses to let them get the best of her and never even considers giving up when others try to bring her down.

I also really enjoyed the focus on art as well as science as being worthwhile lifetime pursuits. I don’t think I’ve ever read so much about embroidery before, and now, I really want to start doing it myself?! It was such a cool addition, to focus on not just truth and science but also art and what constitutes an artist. Like Catherine’s slow hesitancy over Lucy, I also loved her soft, unsure portrayal as an artist. She’s constantly had been told embroidery isn’t art and then she gets to slowly discover her greatness and artistry and embraces it. This book is just full of women realising their worth and I fucking love it.

I particularly loved the ending of this book. It rounded everything off so well, gives a brilliant fuck you to all the men who doubted, and there is a beautiful scene with Catherine and Lucy talking about their future. It was a really warm and happy ending, and I left feeling so overjoyed and thankful that this book was written.

All in all, I thought this was a wonderful romance and I’m so glad it was my first one. I really loved the focus on astronomy and art and can’t wait to read the next book in this series which is all about BEEKEEPING!!

Book review: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

Title: It Sounded Better In My Head by Nina Kenwood

Publisher: Text Publishing

Publication date: 6 August 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romcom

Page extent: 304 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: When her parents announce their impending separation, Natalie can’t understand why no one is fighting or at least mildly upset. And now that Zach and Lucy, her two best friends, have fallen in love, she’s feeling slightly miffed and decidedly awkward.

Where does she fit in now? And what has happened to the version of her life that played out like a TV show—with just the right amount of banter, pining and meaningful looks?

Nothing is going according to plan.

But then an unexpected romance comes along and shakes things up even further.

It Sounded Better in My Head is a tender, funny and joyful novel about longing, confusion, feeling left out and finding out what really matters.

As a disclaimer, please be aware that I do now work for this publisher (for about a month now!) This has in no way influenced this review nor did they ask me to review this book on my blog. All opinions are my own. I just read it and fucking loved it!

Yes!! I read a book on my TBR that isn’t sad and stressful but is happy and full of joy and fun and snark! This was so much fun. A brilliant romcom about a stressed and anxious teen who accidentally falls in love with her best friend’s brother. This reminded me of all my favourite romcoms, from Red, White & Royal Blue to Amelia Westlake to Only Mostly Devastated (I apologise for only having queer comps, turns out I rarely read hetero romcoms! Who’d have thought it!) This was absolutely the perfect book for me to read right now, it is lighthearted, fun, and the main character is such a mess, I adore her, she is me and I am her.

It Sounded Better In My Head is the story of Natalie, a young adult on the cusp of change, as she prepares for university in Melbourne. But on Christmas Day, her parents reveal they’ve broken up (and have been for 10 months, they just didn’t tell her). To top it off, her two best friends are dating each other so she constantly feels like a third wheel, she’s racked with fear, shame and anxiety over her acne scars which destroyed her self esteem as a young teen, and now, when she’s finally starting to fall for a boy, he just so happens to be her best friend’s older brother. Suffice to say: her life is a mess.

Natalie is quite possibly one of my favourite characters in YA. She is immediately relatable and likeable. I think this book joins Only Mostly Devastated as book with most lines I squealed at, screenshotted and sent to my partner to exclaim how similar she is to me. She is so self deprecating, so sarcastic, and incredibly destroyed from her experience as a young teen with severe acne. And underneath all her martyr-like behaviour to avoid being vulnerable, she is deeply hurt and broken by her parents divorce, and is terrified of being alone forever. She is such a brilliant character, she was so messy and imperfect and clearly aware of how messed up she was but at the same time totally unable to change, and it felt so realistic and relatable.

This book is light hearted and so full of fun. I absolutely raced through it and found it the perfect antidote to the constant stress and bombardment of bad news from the virus situation: this book felt like a hug. Highly recommend if you, like me, are an anxious mess and would like to feel warm and cosy and safe for the first time in a while.

Book review: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Title: The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

Publisher: Mantle

Publication date: 10 March 2020

Genre: Historical | Adult | Gothic romance

Page extent: 352 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .

August 1939.

Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.

Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.

As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?

Part love story, part mystery, The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is a gripping and atmospheric tale of family madness, long-buried secrets and hidden desires.

If gothic mystery and soft sapphic love surrounded by a creepy setting of taxidermy animals sounds amazing, then this is the book for you! I thought this was absolutely gorgeous, so much so, I have now added several of my favourite gothic classics to my immediate TBR and looked out all my old gothic romance films I watched as an impressionable young adult so I can show my partner and he can see how I became who I am. And why I really have A Type when it comes to my film and literature crushes.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor has one of the most interesting premises of all books releasing this year. Yes I said it! What kind of premise makes me give this statement? Well, it’s the start of WW2 and the Natural History Museum is evacuating its animals from London. Hetty, a young assistant at the museum, is tasked with looking after the mammal collection as it travels and stays at Lockwood Manor, a mysterious and haunting old manor house in the country, ruled by the irascible Lord Lockwood, a man who scorns and belittles Hetty for her passion, and his daughter, Lucy, a woman as equally mysterious as the house, who Hetty is immediately drawn to despite her oddity. (Well that was a long sentence). But when the animals start going missing, Hetty’s future at the museum is at stake as she fears any damage to the collection will be held as sorely her responsibility. And with Lord Lockwood refusing to aid in her efforts to find the thief/ghost/mysterious person behind the damage, she must discover the culprit herself.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a beautiful return to the setting of all of my favourite classics. This gothic romance and mystery is so reminiscent of my favourites, from Wuthering Heights to Dracula (though Lucy isn’t quite as brooding a love interest). I found the use of the museum’s creatures as a setting absolutely perfect for this style of book. It created such a disturbing atmosphere, always surrounded by thousands of the dark beady eyes of the animals, no matter where Hetty returned something following her and looking at her. It was so creepily delightful!! The story did perhaps start a little slowly, the more mystery part of the book not picking up until further through, but I found I really didn’t mind that much because the language and setting were so captivating I was happy to luxuriate and laze my way through the story.

When the mystery does kick in, the story heats up as Hetty struggles more and more viciously to live with Lord Lockwood as he exerts his control all through the house. You never really know who the real threat is, which is one the things I most adore about these gothic style novels. I was both overwhelmed with hatred for Lord Lockwood and the way he treated Hetty and the museum as if he owned them, whilst simultaneously being completely engrossed in the more supernatural elements: the woman in white who haunted Lucy’s mother and seems to haunt Lucy herself. And the longer Hetty stays at the Manor, the more she seems to be under the spell of this haunting as well…

Of course no book such as this is complete without the seemingly effortless romance of Hetty and Lucy. I love reading romances set in this time period, because the way everyone seems to laze about and lounge and languish is just so perfectly romantic to me. The start of this novel had me squealing in delight as Hetty and Lucy danced around each other, it was such a gentle and unhurried rush to the romance, full of soft brushes of fingers, a glance across a room and of course the drunken brush of lips against a cheek.

Healey has created an absolutely marvellous addition to the gothic romance genre, one I am pleased to say was as beautiful and mesmerising as I expected!

Book review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Title: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication date: 3 March 2020

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance

Page extent: 288 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease.

Summer love…gone so fast.

Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.

Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

All I have to say is HOLY F*CK, THIS IS EVERYTHING. 

Only Mostly Devastated is an incredibly brilliant, all consuming, 90s rom-com film in book form and it is amazing. Described as Simon vs the Homosapiens meets Clueless, by way of Grease, I can say with 100% confidence it is definitely that. This is a brilliantly fun, contemporary romance with reminiscent ties to all my favourite rom-com films of the 90s. In other words: this is my childhood and it’s super gay.

I fell in love with this book from the very first page:

It was late afternoon, on the very last Wednesday of August, when I realised Disney had been lying to me for quite some time about Happily Ever Afters.

The protagonist, Ollie, has been ghosted by the person he had been hooking up with over Summer. And now, instead of returning to his home and friends in California, his family will be staying in North Carolina to help out with his Aunt’s family, as his Aunt has cancer. Uprooted, and to top it all, late to his very first day of school, he probably doesn’t quite expect to see the very person he’s been hooking up with all summer at his school. But of course, this is a book reinvigorating the 90s romcom genre and so of course that’s exactly what happens. The only problem is that Ollie’s Prince Charming isn’t out at school. And thus pretends he has nothing to do with Ollie at all. What follows is a rapid whirlwind of teen romance, showcasing the trials of love and the fear and anxiety that comes with owning up to who you are. 

The writing style is utterly to die for. Ollie’s voice is exceptionally strong, he is snarky, sarcastic and completely hilarious. It felt like taking a walk through my own brain. I loved him so much.

I loved how overly dramatic he was (“after finding an appropriately melancholy playlist on Spotify”).

I loved his hidden throwbacks to the books’ comps (“I’d end up pining over him, all hopelessly devoted and hurt”).

I loved the hilarious honesty in admission of his own flaws (“It totally went against my personal philosophy of overanalysing everything and only taking risks when there was a 5 percent or less chance of failure”.) I mean, what a mood.

But most of all, I adore Ollie’s strong viewpoint on the most important issues impacting us all: “A sweaty red skittle is worth three green skittles.” A truer line has never been spoken.

The romance was a slow burn, angst filled, and yet somehow totally and utterly joyful mess of love. The book discusses themes around coming out and the difficulties of doing so. It also does so well at picturing the struggles of those on both sides: of the pain and hurt of those needing to stay hidden, who feel ashamed their partner doesn’t want to be seen with them; but also the fear and terror of those not yet out, of their panic at upending their lives and not knowing how to do it. 

Only Mostly Devastated is beautifully queer at its core. Alongside Ollie and Will are a host of characters, queer and not, who make this book the dazzling queer masterpiece it is. From the testosterone filled jock standing up for his bisexual crush, to Lara’s coming to terms and acceptance of her sexuality, this book is just heaven. I personally admired Lara’s struggles, and the discussions of the validity of bisexuality. Lara keeps herself, hidden behind this incredibly tough exterior, but as she opens up, you see how vulnerable and loyal she really is. She is an absolute gem of a character and I need to embody her sassiness way more in my day to day life. 

Alongside the romance, is the heartbreaking story of cancer and the impact it can have on entire families. It speaks of the strength of those fighting the disease, and the strength their families have to continue on and it was so emotional – please do take note if this is something that might particularly affect you, as these scenes do get incredibly emotional. 

All in all, I found Only Mostly Devastated to be the queer romcom I needed in my youth. It makes me think of all my favourite movies as a teen from Grease, to 10 Things I Hate About You. The writing style is fantastically deadpan and sarcastic and there were so many moments to laugh at, I absolutely loved this one!

Book review: The Language of Cherries by Jen Marie Hawkins

Title: The Language of Cherries by Jen Marie Hawkins

Publisher: Owl Hollow Press

Publication date: 11 February 2020

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult | Romance | Fabulism

Page extent: 260 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: When Evie Perez is cut off from everything she loves and forced to move to Iceland for the summer, she takes her canvas and paintbrushes into the picturesque cherry orchard behind her guesthouse. She stains her lips with stolen cherries in the midnight sun and paints a boy she’s never met.

Oskar is startled to discover Evie in his family’s orchard, and even more surprised to see himself on her canvas. Too ashamed to reveal his stutter, he remains silent as Evie returns day after day to paint, spilling confessions she wouldn’t even tell her priest.

As Evie’s life back home unravels, Oskar wants to comfort her with words, but he knows he’s waited too long, so he uses music instead. But when it all comes to the surface, he knows that if Evie can’t forgive him for lying, he may never forgive himself for surviving.

*mild spoilers included in the review*

A slow YA contemporary set in the beautiful and mystical Icelandic landscape, this book is told part narrative, part verse which makes for a beautiful picture and story, with hints of fabulism throughout.

Evie has been dragged to Iceland against her will, forced to leave her friends and possible boyfriend behind to move for her father’s Summer work. In Iceland, she is bitter and angry, but begins to find solace in the local Cherry Orchard she finds, which, along with Oskar, the boy she meets there, begins to inspire her to create magical pieces of art. She paints scenes she dreams of, of people she’s never seen before. They just so happen to be pictures of Oskar’s dead family. Oskar, still griefstricken 5 years after the deaths of his family, freezes when he first meets Evie. Terrified his stutter will push her away, he pretends he doesn’t speak English. Together, they find solace and inspiration in each other as Evie’s relationships with her family deteriorate.

The verse poetry sections, Oskar’s POV, were my favourite parts. The language and poetry is absolutely beautiful, filled with such emotion. It really gives insight into who Oskar is and why he continues with his admittedly stupid decision to pretend he doesn’t speak English. Oskar is clearly still suffering after the death of his family, and it really shows. He struggles to trust and be close with anyone, and his character devleopment over the novel as he grows and begins to live again is really well done.

I did find issues with some of the characters however. Evie is one of those annoyingly stubborn but not really in a good way female characters. Unwilling to believe her grandmother’s dementia, stupid decision after stupid decision causes a lot of pain and grief for her family. She has a complicated relationship with her mother, but it’s one I wish we saw a bit more of. Evie is vehemently angry at her mother, seemingly without much understanding of how it must have felt for her mother to a) have been forced to have a kid she didn’t really want by the father and b) who suffered horrific depression and was hospitalized at one stage for it. Evie seems neither sympathetic nor understanding to the struggles her mother went through. Instead, she idolises her grandmother, which contributes to her inability to see the quickening onset of dementia.

I also found Evie’s father unbearable. He desires to be so controlling over Evie yet never bothers to spend time with her, constantly breaking his promises; alongside his threats to kill Oskar at one stage, despite the fact he literally slept with Evie’s mother out of wedlock then forced her to keep the child because he’s Catholic. The hypocritical energy is strong with this one.

The fabulism was an interesting and mystical thread throughout the book. I loved the cherries and the spells and druids and how they very subtly swam through the plot. It brought such a mystical quality to what otherwise could be just another cishet YA love story.

All in all, the style of writing, particularly the verse sections, were my favourite part of this book, absolutely beautiful writing. However some of the characters annoyed me quite a bit, particularly Evie’s father and Evie herself at times.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Title: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication date: 30 January 2018

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs. 

Please note this review contains some mild spoilers.

I have rather mixed feelings on Angelo Surmelis’ The Dangerous Art of Blending In. It is at once both a realistic and emotional portrayal of domestic abuse, alongside an odd romantic arc and I don’t think the two stories fit well together.

Evan is a Greek immigrant in the US. His mother has physically, verbally and mentally abused him since he was young. His father does nothing to stop him. Evan has spent his whole life trying to hide the abuse, and the fact that he’s gay. But after a summer camp, when he comes back and realises his feelings for best friend Henry go beyond friendship, Evan’s worlds start to collide.

At its heart, this story is about Evan and his journey to find the strength to stand up to his parents, his pastor and himself. It’s just a pity he spent so much energy and motivation on Henry and their relationship. Henry…..doesn’t seem like the nicest person. There are parts of the romance arc I thought were great; and there are parts that are very iffy. One of my most hated things was that Henry didn’t seem to care if Evan got hurt by his mother if she had caught them in his house. He literally comes over and sneaks in, falls asleep, even though he knows what would happen if Evan’s mother caught then. I just can’t imagine how someone could completely risk the person they claim to love like that. I know you want to sleep with Evan – but like, do you want him to die as well?! He also got oddly angry at Evan for no reason multiple times, didn’t bother trying to do anything to help Evan, there’s some constant consent issues (both sexual consent as well as that related to my above comment on ignoring Evan’s concerns about his mother catching then) AND after Evan trusted him enough to tell him what the fuck was going on at home, he just left him for three months to suffer….. Some love.

What I did love was the very honest, uncomfortable and distressing portrayal of abuse. The systematic way Evan’s mother would be nice and kind one second and ferocious the next, the back handeded compliments, the constant faults, it was handled well and is very reflective of the reality of the abuse cycle. This impact of this constant system was clearly reflected in Evan, in the way he still hoped and yearned for love from his mother or father, or for something to change or someone to notice enough and actually do something about it. There were parts where I felt the dialogue went very stiff and stilted, but given the subject material, I think it would’ve been really difficult to do otherwise.

All in all, this book would’ve been a really great portrayal of domestic child abuse, but the focus on the problematic romantic relationship took up so much energy and I think that let this book down.

Book review: Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Title: Blood Countess by Lana Popović

Publisher: Harry N. Abrams

Publication date: 28 January 2020

Genre: Horror | Young Adult | Romance | Historical

Page extent: 320 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A historical YA horror novel based on the infamous real-life inspiration for Countess Dracula,

In 17th century Hungary, Anna Darvulia has just begun working as a scullery maid for the young and glamorous Countess Elizabeth Báthory. When Elizabeth takes a liking to Anna, she’s vaulted to the dream role of chambermaid, a far cry from the filthy servants’ quarters below. She receives wages generous enough to provide for her family, and the Countess begins to groom Anna as her friend and confidante. It’s not long before Anna falls completely under the Countess’s spell—and the Countess takes full advantage. Isolated from her former friends, family, and fiancé, Anna realizes she’s not a friend but a prisoner of the increasingly cruel Elizabeth. Then come the murders, and Anna knows it’s only a matter of time before the Blood Countess turns on her, too.

This book had one of the most intriguing premises of 2020 – sapphic romance with one of the most prolific female serial killers of all time?! Hell yes! I enjoyed this book, particularly the first half, but I do think it lacked a little horror. Don’t get me wrong, there is brutal torture and gorey murder in this book, but I felt like it needed more fear and tension. I wanted it to feel more terrifying and horrory.

The book is told from the POV of Anna, an impoverished healer who, when rescuing a kitten, runs into the new Lady of her land, Elizabeth Báthory. Elizabeth takes a shine to her, and employs her in her castle. What follows is a mix of witchcraft and lust and horror as Anna becomes bewitched by Elizabeth, and the slow realisation of all that Elizabeth is.

The first half of this book is excellent. The initial relationship between Anna and Elizabeth is incredible. The few hints of darkness behind Elizabeth’s facade, the way they stare at each other, how utterly bewitched it seems they are of each other, it is so beautifully done. The way Anna reacts to Fenrec, Elizabeth’s husband, and her fears he is causing the darkness in Elizabeth is both understandable and thrilling in how it causes her to react. I adored the start of their relationship and I really thought we might get an incredible villain romance.

But then the second half hit and it became a little predictable as Elizabeth begins her pursuit for youth and beauty. The ending felt very rushed compared to the first half, which languished unhurridely in the beauty of their developing relationship. I wanted more fear and terror and horror as Elizabeth deteriorated. I wanted to feel some of the passion from the first half of the book. Instead it just felt a little lucklustre in execution, just a little too descriptive to be impactful. All of the torture and murder scenes in particular lacked for me. It felt rather stilted. I understand this might be because this is a YA novel, and the need to keep it less gruesome and terrifying because of that. So perhaps this would have worked better as an adult when the true horror of Elizabeth could really be explored with more emotional impact.

Blood Countess was one I wanted to adore. And I think I would have if the passion and fire from the first half of the novel continued to the second half. But sadly, it didn’t and it got a little too rushed to be a satisfying ending. This is still definitely worth a read through, for the beautiful and incredible development of the sapphic romance.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco