BOOK REVIEWS

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson

Although I enjoyed the premise of this one, it kind of lost me halfway through. A Complicated Love Story Set in Space follows Noa, an American teenager, who one day just opens his eyes to find himself in space. On the spaceship, named Qriosity, with him are two other teens, DJ and Jenny. I thought that this would be more a mystery, possibly even a murder mystery, but the story is more intent on exploring Noa’s state of mind. Not knowing why they woke up in this empty spaceship and what will happen to them Noa, DJ, and Jenny all find different ways of occupying themselves. Noa himself understandably does not cope well with the situation. As he spirals into depression he finds comfort in the presence of DJ. Alas, DJ’s kindness and selflessness are also a source of discomfort to Noa who after a particularly bad relationship (his ex is a real piece of merda) does not trust others easily.
The action sort of picks up towards the end but prior to that there are many weird events that felt rather superficially explored. A few interesting threads (the murder, the alien) have little to no impact and a lot of the ‘action’ happens off-page.
The ‘truth’ behind the Qriosity and our characters’ circumstances left me a wee bit disappointed. While I do appreciate the author’s message it just didn’t work for me. The few answers we get are rushed and I was left wanting a more in-depth explanation. The story is, as the title suggests, a love story. The relationship between Noa and DJ, although certainly sweet, wasn’t particularlycomplex’. Perhaps this is because the characters themselves weren’t very layered. Noa is kind of typical. His angst and selfishness, however, understandable given the situation he was in and his past, were a source of frustration. While I recognize that DJ and Jenny call him out on his behavior, his actions and thoughts were still irritating. It would have been nice to have DJ’s or Jenny’s pov as they end up being very one-dimensional. Jenny is the classic female secondary character who appears in YA m/m romances. She’s strong-willed and a feminist…and that’s about it.
Still, why this novel did not hit me in ‘the feels’ like Hutchinson ‘s At the Edge of the Universe, I am sure that YA aficionados will find it more A Complicated Love Story Set in Space more rewarding than I did.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a wholesome and thoughtful YA coming-of-age. Within the first chapter I was invested in Dove and her story. There was something so tender about her sensible yet sensitive narration that made me immediately care for her.
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph follows sixteen-year-old Dove, also knows as Birdie, who is devoted to her studies, used to obey her parents’ strict rules…that is until she starts seeing Booker. Knowing that her parents would disapprove of Booker’s ‘troubled’ past, Birdie decides to keep their relationship secret.
When Carlene, Birdie’s estranged aunt, moves ‘temporarily’ in with Birdie and her parents after her latest stint in rehab…things get complicated. In spite of Carlene’s fraught relationship with Birdie’s mother, Birdie finds herself really connecting to her aunt. Unlike her parents, Carlene is open-minded and easy to talk to. As Birdie starts to really fall for Booker she begins to test her parents’ rules, landing herself in a bit of trouble
There were some very genuine discussions about addiction, sex, coming out, and sexuality. The kids in this book are under all sorts of pressure: to succeed, to live up to their parents expectations, to prove themselves to a society that is quick to write them off. We are shown the positive and negative effects that this ‘pressure’ has: when Birdie sole focus becomes her studies, she has no time to switch off, to experience normal teen life (socialising with friends, doing something for fun, going to parties).
The dialogue is engaging, the story has a great sense of place, and the characters are believably nuanced. While there is a revelation later in the narrative that might strike readers as slightly predictable, Birdie’s reaction to this ‘knowledge’ is what counts.
I really enjoyed reading this. It is a quick, but by no means superficial, read. The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a sweet and affecting novel that I would thoroughly recommend to lovers of contemporary YA.

My rating: 3 ¾ stars

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You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson — book review

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“Maybe things don’t need to be exactly as I’ve imagined them. Like maybe in this universe I’ve suddenly found myself in, things could be different. I could be different.”

You Should See Me in a Crown is an incredibly thoughtful and wholesome YA book. Liz’s first person narration won my heart within the very first pages. Leah Johnson’s simple yet engaging prose perfectly conveyed Liz’s perspective. Liz is in many respects a regular ‘awkward’ teen who is a dedicate student and friend, a good older sister and a responsible niece. But Liz has to contend with a lot more challenges, from her mother’s death to her family’s financial troubles. She’s also black, queer, and has anxiety, and is often made to feel like an outlier at her high school (which is mostly attended by rich white kids). Understandably, she’s eager to leave her small-town to attend the exclusive Pennington College School of Music.

“Music is something I understand—the notes are a thing that I can always bend to my will.”

Readers quickly get how and why music is everything for Liz. To attend Pennington she has to win their music scholarship…but she doesn’t. Not wanting her grandparents to sell their house, Liz’s brother convinces her to compete for the title of prom queen as their high school endows the king&queen with large checks. Although there is nothing Liz hates more than being in the spotlight, she finds herself campaigning for prom queen.

“This whole race is set up to mimic some twisted fairy tale. The queen is supposed to be the best among us: the smartest, the most beautiful, the worthiest. But the people who win are rarely the people who deserve it. Like with any monarchy, they’re just the closest to the top. You don’t earn queen; you inherit it.”

Winning other students’ votes isn’t easy, especially when she’s competing with the most popular girls in her school. In the stressful weeks to follow Liz reconnects with an old friend (some great male/female solidarity here) while her relationship to her controlling best friend becomes frayed. Also, she falls for the cute new girl in her school, Mack.

“I don’t believe in fairy tales and love at first sight and all that, but for just a second, I think this girl and those eyes and the way her freckles dot the entire expanse of her face are cute enough to make a believer out of me.”

While on paper the story might not scream originality, Johnson’s novel is far from predictable or superficial. Girls that may initially strike us as little more than the queen bee’s cronies, straight out of Mean Girls, may not be as passive or stupid as they might first appear. Liz herself finds herself gaining self-assurance.
As much as I liked following Liz’s campaign and witnessing her character growth, the thing I most loved about this book was its romance. Although the relationship between Liz and Mack doesn’t take the centerstage, it does underline much of the narrative. Their cute and tentative flirting had me grinning like an idiot. Their romance was equal parts sweet and heart-melting.
As a non-American I was horribly fascinated by Liz’s school’s ‘prom-culture’. It seems so bizarre to me…but thanks to Liz’s narrative I could see why prom is regarded by many as ‘the event’ of their school years. The dialogues are heavy on cultural references, some of them niche, some of them downright funny, all spot-on.
The only thing I could have done without is the ‘food-fight’. I really don’t get the ‘appeal’ of these scenes…(such a huge waste of food!).
If you like YA fiction that combine romance with coming of age (set against a background of music a la Night Music), touch on contemporary social issues, and present a more realistic view of high school, you should definitely check this one out (not going to lie, Liz&Mach’s scenes alone are worth the read).

“People like us. And that feels sort of good in a way that surprises me. She’s right. High school is complicated, and the lines of demarcation that The Breakfast Club said divided us aren’t quite so clean-cut. The athletes are also the smart kids; the theater kids are also the presidents of the student council. But there’s still those outliers. The people who are everywhere but fit nowhere. People who are involved but not envied—present but imperfect—so the scrutiny pushes them out of the race.”

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

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Camp by Lev A.C. Rosen — book review

52880287._SX0_SY0_.jpgBecause last year I read, and really enjoyed, Lev A.C. Rosen’s Jack of Hearts, I decided to give Camp a go, even if I was worried that the whole premise of ‘pretending to be different to make someone fall in love with you’ would be cring-y. Within a few pages however I was rooting for Randy Kapplehoff’s and his rather theatrical ‘plan’.
First off: I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with some many queer character. Gay, non-binary, ace, transgender, demisexual…this is a wonderfully inclusive novel. Hurray!
While Camp follows a somewhat clichéd plot—not-so-popular-theatre kid has a glow-up and tries to make the hot guy fall for him—the setting (summer camp), characters, and the humour make this novel worth a read. While I definitely felt the chemistry between Randy (Del) and Hudson (their flirting was on point), I simply adored Randy’s friendships. George and Ashleigh makes such an impact on Randy’s story. And although they are there to help him, advise him, and occasionally make fun of him, they are also given their own arcs.
While there are quite a few silly moments here and there, for the most part I found Camp to be hilarious. Rosen portrays the highs and lows of being a teenager. He really allows his characters to act like teens: they make mistakes, they are awkward, they are unsure of who they and who they want to be. Rosen also manages to include thought-provoking discussions about toxic masculinity and gender conformities.
Rosen also manages to make minor characters, such as Mark, stand out. They all have distinctive personalities and different ways of expressing their identity. Rosen’s depiction of sex is so refreshingly frank (it would be nice if YA books stopped treating sex as taboo).
The only thing I didn’t particularly like were the stars/galaxy metaphors (Randy feels ‘filled with stars’ one too many times).
Camp is a funny read perfect for the summer. Randy’s absorbing narration made me all the more invested in his story.

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye — book review

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“But what does normal even mean? Who decided that? And why are gay teens still forced to keep secrets and live double lives?”

It seems I’m not an Ice Queen after all…this book melted my heart.
Date Me, Bryson Keller is an incredibly sweet and thoughtful YA romance that can be easily read in one sitting. Before I move onto my actual review however I wanted to address some of the bad rep this book has been getting. Some reviewers (who haven’t even read it) are insinuating that this book is a rip off of Seven Days a BL manga. The two works do share the same premise and Kevin van Whye acknowledges this in his author’s note. In fact he says that a number of stories influenced him:
“I owe a great debt to all of them, including the Norwegian web series Skam (particularly season 3), To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (as well as the film adaptation, Love, Simon), the manga Seven Days: Monday-Sunday by author Venio Tachibana and illustrator Rihito Takarai, and the ’90s romcom She’s All That. Date Me, Bryson Keller is my #ownvoices take on these prior works.”
YA romances are not renown for their originality so I’m not sure why some are crying ‘outrage’ without even having read Kevin van Whye’s book. His novel reworks the ‘popular guy dates different people each week’ premise of Seven Days. These two works have very different characters, settings, and themes (also, most BL and GL mangas do not realistically portray the struggles of those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community).

Anyway, moving onto my actual review: Date Me, Bryson Keller is a delightful and surprisingly heart-rendering read. Kai Sheridan narration is compelling and I deeply felt for him. In spite of his awkwardness he’s capable of admirable self-respect. Due to a dare the most popular boy his private school has to date someone new every Monday. The first person to ask him gets to date him for a week. Although Kai wants to keep his head down, and is not ready to tell his friends and family that he’s gay, he finds himself asking Bryson out. To Kai’s surprise Bryson agrees. Over the course of the week the two secretly fake date. They meet up in the morning, go out for breakfast together, study together, and quite quickly they get to know each other. As Kai’s feelings towards Bryson intensify he begins to question whether they are reciprocated.
To begin with this struck me an impossibly cute and lighthearted story. Bryson is an actual Cinnamon Roll™ and it was so refreshing to see his relationship with Kai develop without any unnecessary angst. I also really appreciated Kai’s character arc. Things do eventually take a turn for the worst, and Kai has to deal with a lot. Through Kai’s story Kevin van Whye dispels this myth that homophobia’ no longer exists or that if it does it never originates from young people. Kevin van Whye maintains a wonderful balance between love story and coming of age, and alleviates the more heart-rendering parts of his novel with humour. The interactions between Kai and Bryson had me smiling like an idiot.
I will definitely be reading this again and I’m looking forward to Kevin van Whye’s next novel.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare — book review

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“Romance was a lot of work.”

The Red Scrolls of Magic is a fun throwback to Cassandra Clare’s TMI in which Magnus and Alec finally get the stage for themselves. After the Mortal War the couple takes a well-earned romantic getaway in Europe. Once in Paris however an ‘old friend’ of Magnus breaks some bad news to him: a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand, which Magnus himself may have founded as a ‘joke’, is killing downworlders. From then on Magnus and Alec go from France to Italy, trying to find and stop the cult and leaving mayhem in their wake. Getting to know each other isn’t easy, getting to know each other when demons are trying to kill you…well that complicates things.
There is plenty of action and wit in The Red Scrolls of Magic. Even in the most deadly of situations Magnus remains a joker. By contrast Alec finds himself mingling with Magnus’ downworlder acquaintances, most of whom are suspicion or hostile towards Shadowhunters.
This was a very entertaining read. It has plenty of amusing dialogues, it gives some insight into the early stages of Magnus and Alec’s relationship (bonus: we read of Aline and Helen’s first meeting), and it has plenty of romance.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

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Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne — book review

30189974.jpgA delightful and thoughtful summer romance meets the classical music world in Jenn Marie Thorne’s criminally underrated Night Music.
Ruby, the seventeen-year-old daughter of the renowned composer Martin Chertok, has always felt the pressure of her name. However, unlike her older siblings, who have all embarked on successful musical careers, Ruby messes up her audition for Amberley School of Music. Having dedicated the last ten years of her life to her piano, Ruby struggles to envision a future outside of the music world. Her mother, a famous piano player, is far more concerned with her tours than Ruby. Her father, who is on Amberley’s faculty, is also far too devoted to his work. Ruby decides to figure out who she is and what she wants to do over the course of the summer…and then she walks in on her father’s new protégé playing her piano. After a viral YouTube video Oscar gained the attention of Martin and Amberley.
While Ruby certainly feels somewhat envious of Oscar’s musical genius, she soon developed feelings for him, and their bond is solidified by their love for music.
Oscar, who is black, knows all too well that his relationship with Ruby might jeopardise this one in a lifetime opportunity. Regardless, the two find themselves falling for each other.
Their relationship struck me as refreshingly ‘grown-up’. There is no ‘will they, won’t they’. Ruby is immediately drawn to Oscar, and their close-living quarters allows them to spend a lot of time together.
In many ways Night Music is a coming of age. Both Ruby and Oscar struggles against social and familial pressures: Ruby’s name may be ‘prestigious’ but it is very much a burden, while Oscar has to reconcile his love for classical music with its institutional racial bias.
I simply love the realistic way in which Thorne interrogates themes of privilege and failure. Being branded a genius or a prodigy is not all its cracked up to be.

One of my favourite shows is Mozart in the Jungle and Night Music provides us with a similar take on the classical music world. Thorne’s setting (New York) too is also wonderfully rendered.
The romance between Ruby and Oscar is incredibly sweet. Ruby’s relationship with her parents was complicated and believable. More than anything I appreciated Ruby’s self-growth, her self-awareness, and her willingness to recognise and call her self out for her own privileged background or for the presumptions she makes about others.
I’ve read this twice and I look forward to reading it a third time.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

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Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen Corcoran — book review

42442934._SY475_.jpgQueen of Coin and Whispers is a very generic YA fantasy novel. While it is not necessarily badly written, its story, setting, and characters are both forgettable and lacklustre.

What initially drew me to Queen of Coin and Whispers was its F/F romance. Once I began reading this book I quickly realised that the queer romance was the only thing that makes this story somewhat more interesting than your usual YA fantasy. The world-building is poorly rendered, the plot, as such, consisted in a succession of cliché after cliché, and most disappointing of all is the romance, which severely lacked chemistry.

The World-building/Setting
The setting is a generic fantasy one. There is an attempt to make this world different by dividing social classes into steps (barons are third steps, while lord and ladies are sixth and seventh steps). This whole step system was wholly unnecessary as the characters already have titles, and readers could therefore workout who sits where on the social hierarchy. The rest (clothes, customs, architecture, the kingdom’s history) is barely hinted at. The country’s attitude towards same-sex relationships is briefly hinted at towards the beginning, and later on we discover that same-sex marriages are legal, but we don’t really know more details than that (when this happened, whether homophobia still occurs, etc). We are told that Edar, the country Lia rules, is no longer religious, but we don’t get much more information beyond that. What sort of religion? What about Edar’s myths and or lore?
Most of the story takes place in inside Edar’s royal palace, and you would think that we would get an extensive history of it (when it was constructed, its dimension/style) but we don’t. We know that nobles live in apartments inside the palace, but we don’t really know how they are set out (on more than one floor?).

The Story
Like many YA books out there this book stars a newly crowned queen who has to assert her power. She decides to make Xania into her spymaster. There is gossip, some drama between different factions, an assassination attempt or two, and some foreign princes. As the queen Lia has to marry in order to have an heir. Lia and Xania fall in love. That’s sort of it.

The Characters
Lia: most characters describe her as an idealist…so I guess we could say she is that. Other than that nothing about her stood out.
Xania: much is made about her…she is Lia’s Whispers, aka her spy, and should therefore be feared by the court…to me however she was way way way too green to be a convincing spymaster. She is seventeen, she must have only recently started working at the palace’s treasury, and that would hardly make her well-versed into the art of spying. When she describes those instances in which she extrapolates informations from others she is so self-dramatising. She goes on about how dangerous she is…and for some reason she has learnt self-defence even if she was raised at the palace…I just wasn’t convinced by her character.
Other characters: they are either good or bad, but most of all they are forgettable.

The Writing
Lia and Xania have first person narrations…and they sound exactly the same. There were a lot of unnecessary attempts at making them sound edgy (so we have many metaphors involving thorns and blades). Other than that the writing was all-right, nothing too elaborate.

Final Verdict
I just didn’t feel the chemistry between the two main characters. The story was predictable, the setting was barely rendered, and the writing was unremarkable. All in all, I would not recommend this. If you are looking for a satisfying F/F YA fantasy novel I would suggest Marie Rutkoski’s The Midnight Lie.

My rating: ★★✰✰✰ 2 stars

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Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare — book review

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“We don’t always love people who deserve it.”

To be honest, I thought I was over Cassandra Clare….and it turns out I was very wrong. There is something about the Shadowhunter world that I find interesting. And over the past ten years or so I have grown fond of it and the characters that inhabit it.
Chain of Gold sees Clare at the top of her game. The Infernal Devices series is my favourite by Clare…and Chain of Gold has the same atmosphere. Clare is great at rendering historical settings and I just loved the way she depicts the beginning of the 20th century.
There is angst, quite a few battles, drama, secrets, a few complicated love hexagons, and a lot of longing.

“Would you like to be a muse?”
“No,” said Cordelia. “I would like to be a hero.”

Cordelia Carstairs is perhaps one of my favourite heroines by Clare. Kind, just, not afraid of calling out her loved ones for their rude behaviour. There are so many other characters and relationships that I really loved. I was particularly fond of the bond between Cordelia and Lucie. The somewhat fraught relationship between Cordelia and Alastair was surprisingly poignant. The romantic relationships, often restrained, were engrossing.
The merry thieves (James and his friends) brought to mind Maggie Stiefvater’s the raven boys. James and Grace’s story had quite a few parallels with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
This book made me laugh out loud, squee in delight, and stay up all night.
If I had to pick a favourite character it would probably be Alastair who is far from perfect but has a wonderful character arc.

I loved the setting (London), Clare’s writing, the atmosphere, the characters, the action, and the various mysteries that pop up in the narrative. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski — book review

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“It was hard for me to tell what was real. Lies made it worse. It is a midnight lie, she said. A kind of lie told for someone else’s sake, a lie that sits between goodness and wrong, just as midnight is the moment between night and morning. ”

Having loved and agonised over Marie Rutkoski’s ‘The Winner’s Trilogy’, I had quite high hopes for The Midnight Lie. Set in the same universe as her previous trilogy, this book is narrated by Nirrim who lives on an island divided by strict social classes (High Kith, Middling, Half Kith, and Un-kith). As a Half Kith Nirrim is forced to live in the Ward, forbidden to wear certain colours or materials and foods. No one seems to question why there is such a social divide, nor do they question their city’s history, and rather than wondering why they live in such an unjust system they say to themselves and others: ‘It is as it is’.

“We had been taught not to want more than we had.”

Nirrim, an orphan, has been subjugated and oppressed her whole life. An encounter with a mysterious a traveller called Sid dramatically alters the course of Nirrim’s life. Sid, who is unapologetically unabashed and outspoken, is unlike any person Nirrim has met. To the disapproval of Raven, the woman who raised her and her employer, Nirrim finds herself tagging along Sid’s quest for magic.

“It can be hard to imagine things beyond your reach. It feels like you will be punished just for wanting what you’ll never have.”

While the premise is not very innovative, the romance in this book is simply off-the-charts. Usually, I find romance in YA fiction to be…dull. From their very fist meeting the chemistry between Nirrim and Sid is simply…sizzling (these lines: “Nirrim, I can’t be good to you.”, “Then be bad.”) . Given that they have been raised in completely different circumstances it takes them some time to understand each other. Readers quickly realise that Nirrim is in more than one toxic relationship and that she does not deserve happiness or freedom. Sid however challenges Nirrim’s worldview and encourages her character growth.

“There is no possible way to understand fairness and guilt when your world has already determined a set of rules that doesn’t make sense.”

The scope of the story is definitely far more narrow than the one in the ‘The Winner’s Trilogy’. Given that the characters themselves do not know why their city is the way it is, the world-building remains vague. The novel depicts the way in which those in Nirrim’s position can be indoctrinated and abused. The narrative also does not shy away from revealing just how horrifying systematic oppression is.
As Nirrim begins to question the system, she comes more into her own and her relationship with Sid develops in a beautiful way.
The plot as such is a rather slow burner yet the dramatic finale will undoubtedly leave readers desperate to read the next instalment. The story is very much about Nirrim: coming to grips with the nature of those around her, realising her self-worth, and her search for answers.

“I had never felt or seen anything so beautiful, and it was only then that I realised how starved I had been for beauty.”

Marie Rutkoski writing is as beautiful as ever. From her metaphors to her insightful observations. Her prose perfectly reflects Nirrim’s worldview.
I also appreciated the Ancient Greece inspired setting and the allusions to Sappho.

While part of me wished for the ending to have provided us with some more answers, I still thoroughly enjoyed this novel. In spite of the swoon-worthy romance the story deals with many serious issues. It was also interesting seeing the way in which the world-building slowly unfolded.
Heart-rendering and engaging, The Midnight Lie is a must-read for fans of ‘The Winner’s Trilogy’.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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