I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“She says she sees this version of Alice in me and reminds me almost daily that being brave simply means doing the hard thing—even if you’re terrified.”

I Kissed Alice is a YA Contemporary that I think will be incredibly divisive but that I loved so very much for its flawed and unlikeable characters and portrayal of the complexity of friendship.

I’m not gonna lie, this is one of those reviews that I’m almost dreading to write a little bit. I just think this book is going to have a lot of mixed reactions and will definitely not be for everyone but I personally loved every bit of it and I found myself relating to a lot of the inner monologue. I think this book offers a very realistic look at friendships and honestly it’s one of those books that I wish I would’ve had as a teen for many, many reasons.

Don’t be misled by the cover or the synopsis the publisher has provided. This book is not a fluffy sapphic rom-com whatsoever. This book is hard-hitting and emotional, filled with incredibly flawed, downright unlikeable characters. It’s honestly a book that turns most other YA Contemporaries completely on their head, where we get a cute falling in love story all throughout the book and then just a little bit of a fall towards the end, so we feel like the happily every after is especially rewarding.
This book is just one big fall. It starts out kinda messy and then it just gets messier as we go.

Our two main characters, Iliana and Rhodes, constantly fight with each other. This is not just some cute teasing, where you can see that they actually have feelings for each other. These characters are very mean to each other and the reason why they are is not only because they are competitors for a scholarship but because they have the same best friend, Sarah, and constantly fight for her attention or being “the better friend”. There are lots of things as to why the characters treat each other the way that they do but the synopsis is definitely quite misleading by just making it about the competition.

“My conversation with Mom a few nights ago hangs over my head, an entire childhood of Sarah standing too close to the blast zone while I pack dynamite into the crevices of each wall that has stood in the way of getting what I want. She has always been in the position to lose something where I’ve stood to gain.”

Really, the biggest theme of this book is jealousy, in all its ugly forms, and how messy and confusing friendships and feelings can be.
There is not only the element of Iliana and Rhodes not treating each other well. In their constant competition with each other, they also often make Sarah a tool to prove who is the better person or friend, more than ACTUALLY being a good friend. But Sarah is not any better. She, too, takes advantage of her friendship with the two, sometimes acting especially close with one of them to make the other jealous. You get what I mean when I say this is all very MESSY?!

But I would refrain from criticizing this book for portraying “girl hate”, as the motives for these behaviours become very clear throughout the book and it is much more complex than just that. I think this is exactly where this book stands out when it comes to the way the friendships are portrayed. There is depth to the dislike between these characters, which is something a lot of other YA books cannot offer because their focus simply lies somewhere else.

“No, I want to scream back to myself. Cheshire is the realest thing I have right now. Cheshire is real. What we have is real. And yet. The whispering continues. Anxiety doesn’t care about the laws of the universe. All it takes is one singular seed of fear and all bets are off.”

Honestly this book is really the hate to love trope in its truest form and maybe the only reason it works (although it still won’t work for many people) is that Iliana and Rhodes have an anonymous online relationship. They never really define what they are but it is clear from a lot of their texts but especially their thoughts that they both are not only in love with each other but want to be with each other too. You have to judge and see for yourself if you find this aspect realistic, especially considering that it is anonymous, and we obviously see how much they despise each other in real life, but I was feeling pretty soft about this aspect of the story.

I also loved the webcomic that the two write together. It is a fanfiction of Alice in Wonderland and it mirrors the relationship between the two perfectly and beautifully. Sadly we only get to see a little part of it and I honestly wish we had gotten more, especially as it includes beautiful illustrations by Victoria Ying!

“All I want is to curl up next to Cheshire and listen to all of her theorizing face-to-face, find some kind of a keyhole I could squeeze through into another life and another world where anonymity and distance doesn’t separate us. Sometimes I’m afraid that all she sees of me is a computer screen—to me she’s real, and she’s perfect. She’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

In the book we read from both Iliana’s and Rhodes’s perspective and I will say that I found their voices kinda hard to distinguish, to the point where there was one chapter in which I thought I was reading from the other POV. That’s definitely the biggest flaw with the writing for me personally. Iliana and Rhodes are two very different characters and that’s easy to tell from the story in general but their voices read very similarly and the tone of this book stayed the same all throughout, which was a little bit of a bummer but obviously didn’t really influence my overall love for the book.

Both the main characters are obviously queer. Iliana identifies as bisexual and is also fat. Rhodes does not use any label. Sarah is also queer but uses no label.
We also have Rhodes dealing with both depression and anxiety and going to therapy. I feel like there are little YA books that actually feature characters going to therapy within the book and us experiencing the sessions along with them and I immensely appreciated the inclusion of this aspect, although I can’t quite make up my mind on if I found the therapy sessions well done.

“I’ve been stretched about as far as I can go, and the only thing left is for me to snap.”

This book also puts an emphasis on falling out of love with your passion, which is a topic that I always appreciate deeply. Rhodes has trouble drawing for school and for the scholarship competition and the drawing for the webcomic and working together on it with Cheshire (Iliana’s online persona) is the only thing that still brings Rhodes joy.

But this novel also shines a light on privilege. It is a message that is subtly woven into the pages of this book but it is there. It shows how certain privileges do not only give you advantages in life but also that growing up with these privileges will give you a different perspective on a lot of things.

“According to Sarah, Iliana left Victory Hills High School like she leaves everything else: scorched earth, dousing every bridge with gasoline and dropping matches on her way out. Sarah told me once that she doesn’t know which came first: Iliana hating, or being hated.”

Especially in Rhodes’s chapters we also have some very interesting family dynamics. Rhodes has a really lovely relationship with her brother, Griffin, that I loved reading about. Maybe Griffin is actually the most likeable character in this entire book but it was especially wonderful to see their relationship and the way they unconditionally love each other, which felt especially comforting when everything else in this book feels so conditional, unsure and complicated.

Rhodes’s mother also plays a big part in this novel and is a good example for how a perfect looking, wealthy family, doesn’t necessarily have to be all that. Rhodes’s mum has a drinking problem and definitely acts questionable in a lot of ways.
On the other hand, Iliana’s mum positively stands out in this book, even though we don’t get to see that much of her. I loved seeing the very different relationships both of these girls have with their mothers.

“I gave her what she needed—space—and I turned my heart toward the very specific pain of getting used to the idea of what life will look like now without the person who filled it with color.”

As for the ending and if I ended up finding all of it believable? I honestly don’t know. But I’m still just head over heels in love with this story and the brutally honest way in which these characters were portrayed.
I think that this book is, if anything, brave. It depicts all the aspects in such a real way and it just doesn’t hold back in order to bring comfort to the reader and I liked that so much.

I think what eventually fully won me over, to the point where I could wholeheartedly give this 5 stars, is that at the end of this novel the characters have all gone through a lot of character development but they are still far from being perfect people.
They recognize their mistakes and fucked up behavior, they cut ties with some people and don’t just act like none of the things that have been said or done have never happened. I think the ending of this novel has a good balance between being hopeful, while still being realistic and that is something I very much appreciate.

“She walks past Sarah and me without another word, a girl who struck a match and doesn’t wait around to watch the entire world catch fire.”

Overall, I honestly have no idea if I would recommend this book. It is a study in flawed characters and I know it won’t be an enjoyable reading experience for everyone.
But for me personally, reading this book was a rewarding experience that emotionally captivated me on every page. I definitely recommend giving this a chance but don’t say I didn’t warn you if you don’t like it.

Trigger and content warnings for depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse (off-page, side character), cheating (off-page, side character).

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

The Princess Will Save You (Kingdoms of Sand and Sky #1) by Sarah Henning | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“True love is already yours. True love is the most powerful force on this earth—we just forget it because those with power here deal in fear rather than love.”

The Princess Will Save You is a YA Fantasy that, while feeling very familiar in a lot of ways, is quite a refreshing take on the genre.

I absolutely loved Sarah Henning’s debut novel, Sea Witch. It was one of my favourite books of 2018, and so I was very excited to read a new book by this author and I did not end up being disappointed.

The book follows princess Amarande after the death of her father and her being coerced into a political marriage. When someone kidnaps the stable boy, Luca, who she has a relationship with that clearly exceeds that of a platonic friendship, she goes after the kidnappers to save Luca herself.

“My father’s blood flows in my veins—that’s what is so precious to this kingdom. To this line. To these contracts. I have that blood—what does it matter if I’m a girl? What’s more important? The blood or the law?”

Immediately in the beginning of the book you can tell that Amarande is an incredibly strong character, who is ready to fight for her own rights. While she might’ve grown up as a princess, she was also trained in fighting and has no issues standing up for herself, both physically and verbally.

I feel like often in Fiction, people wanna make it seem like female characters can’t be in love and pursue their love interest, while still being strong and independent women. I feel like this book really tried to turn this “trope” on its head by making the princess the one who rescues her love interest. She takes matters into her own hands in many ways and while she describes Luca as her one weakness, in many ways her love for him is also what makes her strong and I very much enjoyed that.

Amarande is a nuanced and multi-faceted character. While she was trained in combat her whole life, it was also still clear that she grew up with many privileges and as a sheltered princess who never actually had to fight for her life. I liked that we got to see her as someone who would do so much to protect herself and the people she loves, while also still being overwhelmed with being put into a literal life or death situation.

Amarande also goes through some really interesting character development throughout the book which has me particularly excited for the sequel and also seeing her character deal with the aftermath of everything that happened within this first book.

“The princess swallowed and shut her eyes for a moment. She was not helpless. It was not hopeless. Again, her father came to her. A warrior made is a warrior alive. The tenet was an obtuse one, but said plain, the meaning was: Use what you have to your advantage to survive. ”

Overall this novel was absolutely screaming girl power and I enjoyed the focus of this story so much. Even though this Fantasy world is definitely a patriarchal society and a big chunk of this book is Amarande being on a journey to save Luca by herself, this book is still filled with amazing female characters that we will hopefully see so much more of in the sequel.

While people might expect this book to have a big focus on the romantic aspect, it honestly doesn’t. As mentioned before, the princess’s motive throughout the story is her love towards Luca but the romantic storyline in and of itself is kept quite brief as the development of the romantic feelings between the two characters has already happened way before this book. Really, it is an open secret that these two characters have feelings for each other and they’re both quite aware of it too. So we have a few, short romantic scenes, but really, it takes a back seat to everything else.

That makes the book also refreshingly void of angst. I definitely love me some good angst if it is well done but in this story, where the focus is on so many other things, I really enjoyed that the author decided to actually make the romantic aspect of this story one that is uncomplicated… especially considering the circumstances around them are complicated enough.

“That feeling in her heart was back, as if it were made of wax, melting into nothing within her chest. Her Luca. Amarande kissed him then—forehead first, then the bridge of his nose, the tops of his cheeks. ”

There was also a small part about consent and how it can be a complicated situation with the power dynamics that exist between a princess and a stable boy. The princess has a point where she questions her behavior towards Luca and while it was only a short section, I appreciated that this was brought up because it is something that I rarely see portrayed for relationships like this.

This also had one of the most exciting epilogues that I have ever read in my life and this definitely affected my enjoyment of the story in a very positive way. It was truly fascinating to me because there were some unanswered questions throughout the story that got answered in the epilogue but it also unfolded a storyline that has me shaking in my boots for the sequel. If I could, I would pick it up right now!

But thankfully it is not the kind of ending that leaves you completely hanging, fearing for a character’s life or the future of an entire kingdom. The ending feels immensely satisfying, both with how this particular story arc ends but also with it leaving you wanting more and being excited for all the possibilities of the sequel.

“She wouldn’t cheapen what he was worth to her. He was worth literally everything she’d been through thus far, plus what was to come, and more—diamonds, battle, the political ramifications. Everything. ”

So overall, I had a really good time reading this book. I think it definitely had its slow parts but I wouldn’t say that that was necessarily something negative within this book at all. I just think the author took her time with certain things and rightfully so, as it does pay off.

I would definitely recommend this book for anybody that enjoys YA Fantasy in general but especially for fans of books like Graceling or The Kiss of Deception.

Trigger and Content Warnings for sexual harassment, trafficking, vomiting, violence, blood, torture and forced marriage.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Bookish and the Beast (Once Upon a Con #3) by Ashley Poston | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by Netgalley
Publication: August 4th, 2020 by Quirk Books

1.) Geekerella ⭐⭐⭐⭐
2.) The Princess and the Fangirl ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Every place his lips touch – my mouth, my nose, my cheek, my neck – lights up like a star in a constellation for us.”

Bookish & the Beast was a very fun and enjoyable installment in the Once Upon a Con series, that to me sadly couldn’t live up to its predecessors.

I truly loved both Geekerella and The Princess & the Fangirl a lot and feel very invested in the Starfield world and storyline. I think where this book mostly fell flat for me was the element of fandom and especially spending time at a convention that I love so much about the other two books.

While this definitely tried a little bit of a new take on bringing the Starfield universe into this series, by talking about the book series and partly taking place in a library with special Collector’s Editions, it just didn’t give me enough of an emotional connection to the Starfield universe itself that I became so very attached to. I immensely enjoyed some of the snippets that we would get at the beginning of chapters but sadly there were only so few of them.

“Most of the time, I try not to think about it, but sometimes grief comes in waves. It laps against the sandy beach of your soul, again and again, soft and rushing and impossible to escape. She’s gone, but I miss her. She no longer exists, but the words she loved still do.”

While I enjoyed the characters, the one character that stood out the most to me was probably the female main character’s dad. I just found none of the characters to be very interesting or compelling. I didn’t dislike reading from their perspective or about them but I felt like they just weren’t all that exciting to read about either.
And again, Poston definitely tried to offer us a different take to the books before too, by introducing Vance, who is an actor for the Starfield series but currently taking a break from Hollywood. And while his character and journey was very different than anything we had seen before in this series, I just can’t say I found his journey to be very believable OR captivating. I just simply didn’t care. And the same goes for the female main character too. I feel like she put such emphasis on not just being “the girl with the dead mom” that she did end up being exactly that because I can’t point out many traits about her.

Again, none of these characters were dislikeable or not pleasant to read about, I just found them almost replaceable.
As for representation, both main characters read as queer (stating multiple gender attraction) but they don’t ever use labels. There is a non-binary side character that uses they/them pronouns and queer (one who is definitely bi) side characters. It seems like there is a Latinx side character too.. but that was never explicitly stated.

Just as the characters didn’t really stand out to me, the romance very much did not either and this was another really disappointing aspect for me with how much I squealed for the previous romances. Not only did I not really think the hate-to-love trope was well done but I also just found their entire development not very convincing just because I feel like we got too little of it. I barely felt chemistry, barely felt like they truly got to know about each other. We know they spend a lot of time with each other but I feel like we just didn’t really get to see that at all. Where was this entire process? There just wasn’t enough there for me personally.

When it comes to the retelling element of Beauty & the Beast, you could definitely see the elements but they didn’t stand out immensely. Some people might enjoy that, others not so much. As someone who is not a big fan of Beauty & the Beast I can’t say if that maybe affected my enjoyment of this story too? I normally never pick up retellings of the story cause I am just not interested in them or the original story but for me this was different, as I already felt invested in this universe.

At the end of the day I just don’t really think it worked all that well as the basis for a fluffy Contemporary story like this. But I also know that this was really the project of Poston’s heart and that does make me happy to know.

“With him, a little of her heart leaves, but it leaves room, too. For new people. For new loves. For new impossibilities.”

So all in all, while I enjoyed reading another installment in this series, it also just didn’t have the same magic as the other two for me personally. Nothing about this book set it apart from any other YA Contemporary, sadly, and that was a very different experience for me with the first two books. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s a fun reading experience, especially with other character’s cameos too, but it is really not a must-read at all.

3

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

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The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“History is who we are. The past shapes us. Even the parts you can’t remember.”

The Falling in Love Montage is a book that I picked up because of the f/f romance but I ended up loving for the family aspect.

At the center of the story is the protagonist Saoirse, who, after the break-up from her girlfriend, decides she no longer wants to be in a serious relationship. She comes up with this rule to only make out with straight girls because that doesn’t even give it the possibility of there being more (she has a clear rule to not do it for a dude’s attention, in case you are worried about that though).

Along comes Ruby, a girl that Saoirse is more than willing to make an exception for, knowing there is a time limit to it, with Ruby only being in town for the summer. Saoirse comes up with rules for this relationship too in order to not make it anything serious but as you can imagine, trying to recreate a movie’s “falling in love montage” doesn’t go well if what you want to do is NOT fall in love.

“See, the thing about the falling in love montage, is that when it’s over, the characters have fallen in love.

The romantic storyline wasn’t necessarily a weak point of the book but to me personally the aspect that stood out the least. Honestly, it was really more a way for the character to learn about herself and what she wants in life. And I don’t mean that in a bad way or like the love interest was the one who made the character change herself.

But what Saoirse really needed at this point in her life, was just to fall for someone and realizing that feeling deeply for someone and being with someone doesn’t mean that it has to be forever in order to make an impact or be of importance. I personally liked that portrayal because I think in YA we often have the feeling that a book needs to end with this feeling of forever for the romantic relationship in order for the book to have a happy ending and I just don’t think that’s true. So this definitely felt refreshing in a lot of ways.

My favourite aspect of this entire novel was the family dynamics though and the storyline about Saoirse’s mum having dementia, plus the element of Saoirse being at risk to have dementia herself. I loved Saoirse’s complicated relationship with her dad and his girlfriend. I thought that the way the author wrote this aspect was incredibly well done because as a reader you could very much see where Saoirse’s dad came from with the decisions that he made and the way he behaved in general, while also understanding Saoirse’s upset at it. It was a well balanced and nuanced portrayal of such a complicated issue.

I also liked when we got to the actual bottom of Saoirse’s anti-relationship rules, which is not so much the heartbreak but more so her potentially having dementia and forgetting everything, so that in her eyes basically nothing seems worth it. This aspect is surely not easy to write about but again, the author offered a really well balanced portrayal of this too.

I think that Saoirse’s development throughout this novel in general was very strong and the story leaves you with a feeling of hopefulness, especially about how things don’t always have to be forever in order to be meaningful and worth it.

“How about life’s too short to be second-guessing yourself the whole way? You can only go with what you feel right now and if you feel like it might make you happy, even for a while, jump in with both feet, girl, and get wet.”

Another aspect that I loved a lot was the friendship between Saoirse and Oliver, who is Ruby’s cousin. I feel like this was one of the most well written friendships, in general but especially between a guy and a girl. Their dialogues just seemed very natural and I liked that they were just teasing each other and still it was easy to tell, that they genuinely liked each other a lot. Their platonic chemistry was truly a pleasure to read about.

“Sometimes life knows what you need better than you do.”

Overall, I enjoyed this novel very much. I think all the aspects are well done and it is very refreshing in a lot of its execution of different aspects. If you are looking for a Contemporary with a f/f romance (plus points for lesbian being used on page) that offers a really interesting family relationship, I would absolutely recommend this novel.

Trigger and Content Warning for mention of assisted suicide and dementia.

4

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨
(but this is her first review on the blog and it feels extra special)

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