Book review: The Extraordinaries by T.J Klune

Title: The Extraordinaries by T.J Klune

Publisher: Tor Teen

Publication date: 14 July 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 405 pages


Goodreads blurb: Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra. TJ Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is a queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes he loves.

Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?

After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).

Well I’m extraordinarily in love with this book. It was everything I wanted it to be and more, which, of course it was because T.J Klune is an absolute genius and I will read everything he writes from now till ever. This had me laughing out loud on one page and sobbing the next. It is a brilliantly fun take on the superhero genre, has wonderfully open and honest portrayals of grief, discusses ADHD so personally it reverberates on every page, has an absolutelyfuckingadorable romance, a killer friendship group, lots of funny fandom anecdotes that brought back so much nostalgia, and a tender and warm message about being extraordinary when you’re ordinary.

The Extraordinaries is set in a world where superheros exist (though here they’re called Extraordinaries). In Nova City, Shadow Star protects the city from the evil villain PyroStorm. In this city is Nick, Shadow Star’s greatest fan and fanfic author of the most popular fanfic about the Extraordinaries. When he runs into Shadow Star in an alley, Nick decides he wants to become an Extraordinary himself and so begins his plan to turn himself into a superhero, much to the consternation of his friends.

I don’t quite know where to start with reviewing this book because I loved everything so much. It was warm and cosy and so funny, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much at a book. Nick is just a brilliant and adorable character. He’s open and honest about his ADHD in such a relatable and funny way (and I just want to shout out that this is own voices ADHD rep too!) Nick is just an absolute precious gem, his complete blindness when it comes to his feelings for Seth is adorable, his realisation journey is so cute. Seth is quite possibly even more adorable than Nick, with his bowties (bowties are cool), cravats and a big secret he can’t possibly tell Nick. Alongside Gibby, Jazz and Owen, this is a friendship group that sounds like it must be some of the most fun. They’re all so hilarious in their own ways, so brilliantly, openly queer and pretty much everything I want in a rag tag team of misfits. Gibby is a butch lesbian who won’t take shit from anyone and has the most deadpan ringers; Jazz is sweet and kind and then she turns around and knocks you out of the park with a revelation; Owen is flirty and arrogant and popular (and his dad is the richest man in the city), but he can be so vulnerable at times when Nick gets through his walls.

Alongside the hilarity of these characters, there are several moments that had me almost sobbing. The book deals openly with grief, Nick having lost his mum fairly recently and Seth having lost both his parents when young. With his Dad’s job as a policeman, Nick is filled with anxiety about losing his Dad as well, and there are scenes so raw and gutrenching I thought it would tear me apart. I’m very glad I was in a different room from my partner when reading this because he always thinks it’s funny how emotionally invested I get in books!

I loved the sass towards the superhero genre as well. It flowed throughout the book, from the ridiculous villain speeches, to the need for capes. I also very much appreciated the fandom and fanfic references and excerpts throughout, this felt so nostalgic. I was completely brought back to my teenage days sneaking around writing fanfic, right down to the tags they used on Nick’s fanfic excerpts, it was all so reminiscent.

Everything about this book was just brilliant. T.J Klune astounds me with every book I read, I don’t think there’s another author out there who can quite make me laugh and cry as much as he does. It’s a fun, fresh, fandom enthusiastic take on the superhero genre with the most adorable romance. I read the majority of this book (the last 70%) in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down. I sincerely hope we get more books in this series as soon as possible because I will follow these characters for years!

Book review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Publisher: Flatiron books

Publication date: 7 July 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 336 pages


Goodreads blurb: A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

Fairytale retelling? Check. Descent to villainy? Check. Sapphic slowburn romance? Check. Monster girlfriend? Double check. Girl, Serpent, Thorn was every bit as magical as I wanted it to be. It has such a wonderful fairytale vibe to it, with picturesque forests and carved out mountains, and I want nothing more than to read f/f villain monster romances forever.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is inspired by Persian mythology and tells the story of Soruya, a girl poisonous to the touch. To protect her family’s reputation, she has been hidden away, alone and untouched, for all her life. When a young man begins to see who she is beyond her poisonous skin, she vows to rid herself of her curse, no matter the cost.

One of my favourite parts of this story was discovering all the mythology. Bashardoust goes into a detailed authors note at the end of the book to speak about her inspiration, but throughout the book, I just loved getting to see more of the mythology of Persia. From the creation stories, inspired by Zoroastrian beliefs, to the divs, demons who want to destroy the world, the world is magical. I would’ve loved to hear even more about the creation story and the origins of the divs, but that’s probably because I came to this book after The Unspoken Name, a large fantasy book that has intricately detailed religion and hence am dying to read some more books like that.

I found Soruya’s character particularly well written. There’s something so familiar about her. I think we have all felt that edge of resentment, have felt the awful emotions and thoughts it evokes in you, and so I found her incredibly relatable and understandable. Her actions made so much sense. And that made it very easy to root for her (whether you want her to be good or evil!) My favourite character however was Parvaneh. I have a thing for wings okay. I just loved her energy! She seems at times so mischievious (trying to work up Soruya’s anger), but also so full of regrets for her past. Her relationship development with Soruya is brilliant – I loved how both are so hesitant and yet so passionate at the same time. Both have been trapped by their circumstances, but together they’re able to explore freedom and just, this is the f/f content we need and we deserve!!! Bear in mind this is VERY slowburn. For the first 50% of the novel I was literally that John Travolta gif going WHERE IS THE F/F I WAS PROMISED.

The only real issue I had with this book was the enemy. I found their reveal abundantly obvious from literally their first moment on page and so I spent half of the novel going are we seriously meant to belief this?! I wish it had been so much less obvious because if it had been a shock, that would have been one of the most epic plot twists off all time. Sadly, because of this, I did feel a bit meh about the first half of the novel because I was dying to just get the reveal over with already. But after it happens, everything picks up and the story starts speeding forward with lots of drama and action and plenty of naive, foolish plans from Soruya.

Most of all, I loved the change in Soruya and her growth from a girl terrified of hurting someone with her poison, to someone who embraces her differences and learns to see their power. Sapphic goddess win. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a wonderful YA fantasy, and seriously, I hope Bashardoust writes more monster girlfriends in future, cause this shit is good.

30 Days of Pride: Contemporary YA

Hi everyone,

I can’t believe there’s only four days left of Pride month and that I’ve actually managed to post every day…. I’ve spoken a lot over the past month about fantasy and science fiction because that is by far the genre I read most. But last year, I also fell in love with YA contemporary, thanks in part to two incredible books which introduced me to the genre (Darius the Great is Not Okay and Deposing Nathan). Thanks to these two books, I was introduced to this whole new genre that I’ve found so much fun to explore! So today’s post is all about some of my favourite YA contemporaries and some of the ones I hope to read during the rest of 2020.

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

It’s no secret that this is one of my favourite books of all time, thanks in part to how personally I connected with Darius. This book follows Darius, a teen living with depression, as he visits his grandparents in Iran one summer. It’s a book about depression and losing people to depression through ways other than suicide, it’s about family and friendship, and is just such a beautiful story, it had me sobbing, I love it so fucking much.

Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Anger is a Gift is a heavy and very difficult read, and follows Moss after his father was killed by a police officer. Six years later, Moss has been left with horrific anxiety and panic attacks. But he’s sick of the way his school is treating him and his classmates like criminals, so they decide to fight back.

Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen

Today’s list has so many yellow covers and I’m very here for it. Late to the Party is a recent 2020 release about Codi, a teen who’s not exactly the most adventurous, having never been to a party and would rather spend time with her two best friends inside watching Netflix. But when she decides to crash a party and catches one of the popular kids, Ricky, kissing another boy, an unexpected friendship is formed. Ricky introduces Codi to a new wild summer, as well as a cute girl called Lydia. But Codi doesn’t tell her best friends anything…

By Any Means Necessary by Candice Montgomery

Yellow cover number 2!! And this one even comes with bees. By Any Means Necessary is about the impact of gentrification, class and cultural identity. It follows Torrey who, on his first day as a college freshman, gets a call that his uncle’s bee farm has been foreclosed. Torrey has to decide whether to save his uncle’s farm or to escape the neighbourhood that’s slowly killing him.

All the Things We Never Said by Yasmin Rahman

Beware a very heavy content warning for suicide in this one folks. All the Things We Never Said is a very difficult read, following three teens who sign up to MementoMori, an online service that matches you up with others wanting to commit suicide, and plans your death for you. Mehreen, a depressed, anxious, Muslim teen; Cara, a lesbian wheelchair user; and Olivia, sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, are matched with each other and MemontoMori starts giving them tasks to prepare. But the three girls bond with one another, and as they get closer to the day of their deaths, they begin to want out of the pact. But MemontoMori won’t let them stop. As I said, do not read this book if you are not in the headspace to handle the content. It’s a very dark book, but one about the power of friendship and the strength of survival.

Camp by L.C Rosen

I still haven’t read L.C Rosen’s first YA (Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)), but I’ve heard so many good things but L.C Rosen’s sex-positive, funny writing that I really need to get onto both Jack of Hearts and his newest, Camp. Camp is a comedy critiquing toxic masculinity in the queer community, and follows Randy, a queer teen who tries to ‘man’ himself up to get his crush to fall for him.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

A book I finished only last weekend, The Gravity of Us is a sweet contemporary romance set in a world still enthralled by the space race, with NASA preparing for an expedition to Mars. Cal’s father is on the team of astronauts for the mission, and so his family must uproot their lives to move to Texas. But in Texas, Cal begins to fall for fellow astronaut son, Leon, and the longer he stays there, the more it seems like there are secrets being kept from the astronauts and Cal must find a way to reveal them without hurting those he loves.

Look by Zan Romanoff

Look feels like such a current book! God, I feel like that statement makes me sound so old, pretending to know what’s current with the kids… It follows social media influencer, Lulu, after a video of her making out with another girl is accidentally posted and her boyfriend breaks up with her as a result. Look is a coming-of-age story for the social media world, full of commentary on presentation versus who you really are.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

A beautiful book about grief, We Are Okay follows Marin who hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since she moved to university. But her best friend, Mabel, has had enough and is coming to visit. This is such a soft, touching book about friendship, loneliness, complicated queer relationships, and coping with grief.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

I just picked this book up from my library and I’m very excited to give it a go, not least because of how cool this bright yellow cover is. Juliet Takes a Breath follows Puerto Rican Juliet as she spends a Summer interning with her favourite feminist author and coming out, to herself and her family. And an update at the time of scheduling: I have read this now! I’ll have a full book review coming in July, but this had such a great voice and managed to make a book that could be very preachy, not preachy at all.

Are any of your contemporary favourites on this list? Let me know your favourites in the comments! As this is a pretty new genre to me, I am certain I will have missed A TON.

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


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: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Title: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication date: 5 May 2020

Genre: Young Adult | Contemporary

Page extent: 368 pages


Goodreads blurb: From Stonewall and Lambda Award-winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

How do you describe a book which just completely floored you in all ways imaginable? A book that tells you you’re valid, even when your whole body says you aren’t, when society says you aren’t, when your own family says you aren’t. This book is amazing. It’s fun, the story is so engaging (I read it in less than 24 hours, I can’t remember the last time I read a book so fast), the voice is excellent, I can say with complete confidence that this book is going to be one of my favourites of the year!

Felix Ever After follows Felix Love, a 17 year old Black, trans, queer boy at art school. When someone puts up a gallery of his old photos before his transition, along with his deadname, Felix decides to catfish his bully to try get revenge. Instead, he somehow ends up in a quasi-love triangle, even though Felix has never even been in love himself.

First and foremost, this book has one of the most incredible YA characters of all time. Felix was written so realistically and so honestly. He makes terrible decisions, he’s impulsive, he doesn’t think before speaking and I loved how flawed he was. He just felt so much like an actual teen. But most importantly, there were so many moments when I had to just pause for a second because I was tearing up seeing how much I related to him. Felix is a character going through a journey of questioning who he is, he’s terrified he’s a fraud at being trans now that he as a niggling feeling that sometimes he doesn’t feel like a boy (though he knows he doesn’t feel like a girl then either). It’s always so heartening and validating to see characters in books going through the same journey you are, especially as someone who has always felt like a fraud in the queer community because I’m in a cishet appearing relationship. More than anything, I feel like I’m Felix at the start of his journey. I’m not yet at the stage of being happy and proud of who I am, I haven’t reached the end Felix yet. But seeing that it is possible is so hopeful (and also terrifying) and one of my favourite things about reading queer books like Felix Ever After.

This book is very clearly written for trans teens, and that’s what I love most about it. It’s so open and honest about the struggles teens feel when trying to work out who they are, and what they want to do in their future. It also shows the complicated relationship queer people often have with their families, and I liked the way Felix, and characters around him, struggled to resolve their feelings with family. In Felix’s case we see both the absent parent and the one who’s there, who clearly loves him, but who constantly causes pain and hurt by deadnaming him. We see the complicated relationship this results in: Felix knows his Dad loves him, after all he helped him get on T and have his surgery, but his Dad forgets or doesn’t seem to try at other things. We see this relationship contrasted again with Ezra’s parents, the rich absent parents who seem to care only for their son when he’s on show, and then again with Declan, whose parents don’t want him. We see so many of the difficulties queer people have in their families, I feel almost all of us will find a family we can relate to in Felix Ever After.

This book does have lots of transphobic comments (it’s literally about a guy trying to get revenge on his transphobic bully) so do be prepared for that going in. I really appreciated that Felix Ever After also addressed trauma and pain coming from inside the queer community. It’s something we don’t often talk about, but which occurs so readily for some of us. And when it comes from inside our community, where we’re meant to feel safe, it hurts so much worse than if it had come from somewhere else. We see how this furthers Felix’s fears that he’s a fraud, even down to the way he’s terrified he’ll be asked to leave Callen-Lorde (a queer only pharmacy and clinic) because he isn’t queer enough. It’s just so fucking relatable it hurts, and I loved that Kacen Callender confronted this trauma head on because fuck me, is it something that needs to change. The constant transphobia, biphobia, acephobia from members of the queer community is so unacceptable. Felix Ever After is set during Pride month, this month where we’re supposed to celebrate who we are, where we’ve come from and be proud. I’ve never been to Pride because I’m terrified of the hate I’ll receive from the queer community. And as much as I hate that others also receive this hate, I’m glad that Callender openly wrote and addressed this in Felix Ever After.

All in all, I think it’s very clear I adored this book. Despite the dark discussions it has, it’s also really fun and hopeful and Felix is pretty much my favourite character in YA now. This book is so important for anyone who’s ever felt left out, who’s felt like a fraud, or who’s questioning their identity. It’s just phenomenal!

Book review: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Title: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Publication date: 23 June 2020

Genre: Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 400 pages


Goodreads blurb: Danger lurks within the roots of Forest of Souls, an epic, unrelenting tale of destiny and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard.

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.

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

I’ve been quite disappointed in a number of recent YA fantasy reads, so I was quite nervous going into this one. But I was absolutely enthralled with this world! Forest of Souls is an action packed, fast paced, creepy forest driven fantasy. I can definitely see where the comp to Naomi Novik comes from, this felt very reminiscent of Uprooted, which I also loved. I’m so happy this turned out to be just as exciting as I wanted.

Forest of Souls is a magic driven world, with shamans born into five seperate callings. Sirscha discovers she is a lightwender when her best friend dies in battle, and then Sirscha brings her back to life. Ronin, an incredibly powerful shaman who is the only thing keeping three kingdoms from ouright war, summons Sirscha to the Dead Wood. The Dead Wood is a terrifying, alive forest where trapped souls strain to be free. He wants Sirscha’s help to control the souls to ensure he remains all powerful enough to keep the kingdoms from war.

It’s definitely a complex plot and world that isn’t as common in YA, and is something more usually seen in adult fantasy (which could be why I enjoyed this so much since I’m on a very strong adult fantasy binge right now). There is a huge magic system, lots of history regarding Ronin and the creation of the Dead Wood, and the history and politics of the three kingdoms, all of which need to be explained to really understand what’s happening. Because of the amount of information needed, it’s hard to avoid info-dumps, but I found them really intriguing and interesting. I think this was particularly helped my the voice of our main character, Sirscha. This book is first person POV, all told by Sirscha. She has a very easy and accessible voice, so the info dumps didn’t really feel like you were being overwhelmed with lots of information, it was really easy to get through and find out about the fascinating world.

The book is absolutely action packed and is very fast paced, which I really enjoyed. I absolutely raced through the book. There’s lots of new information and twists that help the surging of the plot. I think it’s definitely more of an action driven narrative than character driven. There’s not huge amounts of time to get to know the side characters because Sirscha is charging all over the place trying to save her kingdom. It’s a very different kind of fantasy to what I usually read (heavy character driven books), but I still found it thoroughly enjoyable.

Of the characters, I do have a soft spot for Ronin. Troubled, brooding characters are just the best. He doesn’t spend huge amounts of time on page but he still manages to have such a presence when we see him. Between him and the atmosphere from the woods, I think that’s what gave me the very strong Novik vibes. Which I am not complaining about at all because I love this vibe. The forest is a really scary and creepy place, the faces on the trees screaming ‘Run’ is definitely an image I’m not going to forget for a while!

All in all, I really enjoyed this book! It’s very different to the fantasy I usually read, but I thought it was a really well written, fast paced, action centric fantasy, with a fun voice and full of lots of atmospheric dead forests and brooding men! It’s definitely one of my favourite YA fantasies of the year so far!

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


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: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Title: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Publisher: Zephyr

Publication date: eBook – 7 May 2020 (Print: Summer 2020)

Genre: Historical | Fantasy | Young Adult

Page extent: 432 pages


Goodreads blurb: Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

Do you hear the people sing?! Singing the song of angry men! It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again!

I always knew “disaster queers in the French Revolution era” was exactly my type of shit and this book just proved it times like a million. This was such a fun riot of chaos: a rag tag group of teens get in way over their head when they rescue a prisoner who happens to control electricity. With both the Revolutionaries currently in control of France, and the Royalists desperate to return to power, both searching for the girl, the Battalion des Mortes must use all their wit, charm and sheer dumb luck to escape the clutches of all who chase them.

In Dangerous Remedy, the Revolution hasn’t really improved things all that much. Instead of a free France for all, the Revolutionaries have taken over with the same terror and fear as the Royalists before them, sending all to stand against them (and even some who don’t) to the guillotine, the symbol of the revolution. At the heart of this story are the Battalion des Mortes, a group of outcast teens trying to save the innocent from the guillotine. Our crew:

  • Camille, leader of the Battalion: headstrong, combatant and, despite her appearance of planning for her heists, sooooooo impulsive. She is at times a difficult character to like (her unwillingness to communicate causes oh so many problems and got me so mad) but this all comes from her complete devotion and passion to the Battalion which sometimes clouds her ability to think clearly.
  • Ada, our clever science researcher, desperately in love with Camille and terrified that Camille will never choose her over the Battalion. And also hiding a big secret about her father that she knows Camille will kill her for if she ever finds out.
  • Al, who I think is my personal favourite: destructive, sarcastic and just as combative as Camille, terrified to let anyone close in case they don’t care for him as he does for them, broken beyond belief thanks to his parents, and drinking himself to a slow death.
  • Guil, ex military softie, the biggest brain of them all, calm and clear headed in a crisis and the man we all need around to get us the fuck out of situations.
  • Olympe, the girl with magic, otherwise known as able to control electricity, scared and fearful of the world who hurt her but who will do whatever it takes to bring them down.
  • James, the man from Camille’s past, the healer who seemingly will do all he can to protect Cam.

These six will race against time to fool the Revolutionaries and Royalists in the most fun adventure ever. When Kat Dunn described this team as “queer disasters”, we all really underestimated how much disasters they would be, I love all of them so much. I just adore the way Dangerous Remedy opens and we’re immediately thrown into a prison break that keeps going wrong and then wrong again and then wrong again. I adore Ada’s complete “for the love of God/sounds about right” attitude throughout as disaster after disaster follows the team. They are simply the most fun to be around. I love the way Dunn both plays into and laughs at common tropes. The humour and snark really added to this book and made it into even more of the delightfully fun romp it is.

The setting is of course also fabulous. We are embedded in the artsy underworld that made Paris such a centre of the art scene, from the decadent, absinthe clubs, to the theatre scenes, I thought it perfectly captured the essence of Revolution France.

All in all this was a fabulously fun read and I can’t wait to see what happens to the Battalion des Mortes next. More disasters probably. Vive la révolution.

Five on my TBR

#5OnMyTBR is a bookish meme hosted by E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Nook and you can learn more about it here or in the post announcing it. It occurs every Monday when we post about 5 books on our TBR. Thank you E. for the awesome graphic for these posts as well!

Hi everyone,

I hope everyone is well. May the force be with you today! Sorry it has been a few weeks since joining this weekly meme, I have no excuse except that I could not stop playing Animal Crossing and so had no time to write blog posts. But I’m back this week! And excited to talk to you about five contemporary books on my TBR. Contemporary is a genre I really hadn’t read much of until last year, where I discovered YA contemporary and read so many favourites and thus fell in love with the genre. So here’s some of the books I’m desperately looking forward to read.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callendar

Starting off this list with one of my most anticipated books of the year that is releasing in just ONE DAY. And the stunning cover is not the only reason I’m excited. Felix Ever After is about a trans teen who tries to get revenge on his bully by catfishing them, and somehow lands in a quasi-love triangle. This a book about the exploration of identity and self-discovery and I’m pretty sure this will end up being one of the best books I read this year.

Cherry Beach by Laura McPhee-Browne

The first adult contemporary on this list, Cherry Beach is published by a small, independent Aussie publisher who I’m lucky enough to now work for! So I managed to snag a copy of this gorgeous novel! This is a book about friendship and desire, and tells the story of Hetty, confident and life of any party, and Ness, social wallflower, best friends who move away to live in Canada. But Ness has a secret: she’s completely in love with Hetty. But in Canada, Ness finds love in an art gallery while Hetty’s life deteriorates, and Ness might finally lose the person she loves most.

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

This book has been on my TBR since the middle of last year and I really really really need to read it because I know it’s going to be brilliant. It has just been shortlisted for several awards over here in Australia as well, so now seems like the perfect time to get around to reading it! This is a book about the intersections of mental illness, family and culture and promises to be an emotional but hopeful read.

Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

The other adult title on this list, Hex is about a biological scientist, Nell, who researchs poisons and antidotes (HOW FUCKING COOL, RIGHT?!) and her mentor, Dr Joan. Told through a series of notebooks/journals that Nell keeps, Hex explores the relationship between Joan, Nell, and several of their friends, the illicit relationships, grudges and obsessions between them.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

And now finishing with another of my most anticipated books of the year, The Henna Wars finally releases this month! It may take quite a while for it to get to me with the current situation but that means I’ll just be even more excited to read it by the time it arrives. If you haven’t heard about this killer book yet, it’s about two girls who set up rival henna businesses for a school assessment, though one of them is appropriating the other’s culture. But amidst “sabotage and school stress” their lives get tangled and a crush might develop into something more…

That’s it for this week. Are you excited to read any of these? Or have you read any of these already? Let me know what you think of them!

Book review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 14 January 2020

Genre: Historical | Contemporary | Magical realism | Young adult

Page extent: 309 pages


Goodreads blurb: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

I’m a reader whose favourite books tend to be massively detailed fantasy tomes, with lots of rich worldbuilding. I’ve always found this results in me not clicking with magical realism/fabulism/contemporary fantasy quite as much, because there is often some aspects of ambiguity or suspension of disbelief required for the world to make sense. So whenever I read a novel of this type, I find I either really love it or just feel a bit meh. And unfortunately this was the later for me, which I am devastated about because I was so excited to read my first Anna-Marie McLemore book. But saying that, I was every bit in love with McLemore’s writing as I expected to be, and I fully plan to continue my dive into their work!

Dark and Deepest Red is a dual timeline story: 1518, where a dancing plague rolls through the town of Strasbourg, and modern day, where a pair of red shoes force a girl to dance. Inspired by the real historical accounts of a dancing plague as well as Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale The Red Shoes. I’m not familiar with that fairytale so I came to this book very new to the story. This is also my very first Anna Marie McLemore book, and I was hugely excited because so many people in the book community absolutely rave over their books.

I’d like to start with the really positive which is that I 100% want to read more of McLemore’s work. I found the language and writing absolutely beautiful, and that really lived up to what I’ve heard from others about their work. The language was what drew me through the story and made me want to keep reading. As expected also, let’s shout out to the awesome rep in this story: there is a lead trans man and he is absolutely my favourite character! I adored Alifair. He’s actually the only character who doesn’t get his own POV, and I wonder if I therefore liked him so much because he felt so mysterious compared to the others.

Unfortunately, I think it was the story itself that I didn’t click with. The ambiguity and lack of explanation got to me and I think I would prefer the story a bit more resolved. I also felt the structure of three different POVs, each section only a few pages long, made it difficult to ever root for a character or get a chance to understand them a bit more. A story like this, which is so heavily dependant on its characters to make up for the ambiguity in its world/magic, really needs strong characters and I just didn’t get a chance to feel close to the characters because we were whisked away from constantly.

So whilst I wasn’t in love with this particular story and world, I really was awed by Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing and I will definitely be picking up one of their earlier books which might work better for me.