Sasha Masha by Agnes Borinsky | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: Nov 10th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“It really did seem like some monstrous force was suddenly rampaging through my life. I didn’t understand it, but I knew the name: Sasha Masha.”

Sasha Masha is a really moving ownvoices novel about exploring gender identity and understanding who you are.

Before I go into this, I just wanna say that I will be using he/him pronouns in this review, as that is what is used throughout the entire novel and because pronouns do not necessarily equal gender, I want to respect that.
I will not be using Sasha Masha’s deadname though, even though it is frequently used, as he mentions several times throughout the novel that Sasha Masha is the name he wants to be referred to as.

There isn’t much to say in regards to the plot of this novel but it is astounding how much was packed into this short novel. Really, in a lot of aspects it just reads like your good old coming-of-age novel, except it has the added element of Sasha Masha being trans and we follow Sasha Masha as he is figuring this out during all the other teenage experience shenanigans.

“But something was wrong. There was a high wall inside of me, and it made me angry, it made me stuck; there was a self on the other side—was this, now, the thing I’d failed to see? That in my heart of hearts I wasn’t a boy after all?”

I loved Sasha Masha’s journey and I thought that it was very powerful and moving. There is a lot of questioning and confusion going on in Sasha Masha’s inner monologue but it is so beautiful to follow him on the path to understanding his own gender identity and accepting who he is.

I especially loved the way the author approached Sasha Masha realizing he is trans, where he kinda has this persona of Sasha Masha and knows that that is who he wants to be and then slowly grows into it, but also learns that that person has been him all along, he just had to make sure to really embrace that part.

“I could only think of that picture, and I started to wonder whether I really just missed myself. You miss yourself? How could you miss yourself? You’re right here.”

There are definitely people in Sasha Masha’s life that struggle with him accepting his own identity but for the most part, he has a really wonderful support system in both old and new friends.

Especially seeing the queer support system that build up around him throughout this novel was an incredibly heart-warming aspect. These people not only accept him exactly as he is but they also support his journey, both with trying to help him figure his identity out but also just being patient with him and never pushing anything.

This novel also had several side-characters of colour and I very much enjoyed that there was a brief discussion about how a lot of queer riots were led by people of colour. This also introduced some discussions between a younger and older generation of queer people, which is something we so rarely get to see.

“We were like two pieces of rope that had been frequently knotted; even when we were separate, our bodies held the shape of the knot we made together.”

Mabel, Sasha Masha’s best friend who ended up moving away, especially stands out as a side-character. Even though they can only communicate via text and calls now, Mabel is still there for all of Sasha Masha’s journey and being accepting of him at all times.

I loved seeing moments from their friendship in the past and seeing Mabel always being an unapologetically queer presence in Sasha Masha’s life too. Their friendship is just incredibly well written and Mabel as a character within the book alone adds so much comfort.

“All of a sudden I felt far away from my parents. This road might take me places they would never go.”

I also found the relationship between Sasha Masha and his parents a very interesting aspect and I definitely wish we had gotten to see more of it because it was quite a complex relationship. They definitely care and worry a lot about Sasha Masha, especially as they’re starting to realize that something is going on and his behaviour changes, but they’re never actually there for their child to figure out the root of what is going on.

Throughout the story you are definitely wondering if Sasha Masha’s parents will accept him being trans. Long before he has come to the realization that he is trans, he is already wondering what his parents will think of the self-discovery journey that he is on.
I definitely liked this portrayal of Sasha Masha’s relationship with his parents and thought it added an important aspect to the story.

“The world was Real. This couch was Real, Murphy was Real, the light and the bookshelves and the creatures and the sounds of the city moving around me—they were all Real. Like it or not, the world is Real, and whoever we are, we are part of the world.”

I definitely think that overall a lot of the aspects in this novel were kept quite brief but that is very much due to this being a very short novel too. I would’ve loved to see a lot of the things talked about within this story to be discussed even more.

But ultimately, this showed us a glimpse of Sasha Masha’s life and his journey to not only understanding his own identity but also to get more comfortable within queer spaces and understanding and connecting with other queer people. And I feel grateful to have gotten such a glimpse and I know that his story will stay with me for a while.

Finishing this novel just gave me a really hopeful and positive feeling. And I know that there is lots more good things to come for Sasha Masha and people with similar journeys. After reading this story there is just such a wonderful, reassuring feeling, knowing they will find their path and people who unconditionally love and accept them.

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

The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky by Brianna R. Shrum | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: Nov 3rd, 2020 by Sky Pony Press

“It’s freezing and dark because this is how it is with us; this is how we connected, so it’s fitting that this is where we wind up, kissing each other like we are both hungry.”

The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky is YA Survival Story that had some very promising aspects to it but ultimately ended up not delivering when it came to unpacking them.

The story starts with a group of teens, most of them cousins, who all got together because of a sickness in the family, sneaking out to an abandoned ski slope, when they get hit with a sudden mudslide and are stranded on this mountain with nobody knowing where they are.

Our main character Hallie decides that she doesn’t wanna sit around and wait for help but to go and search for it herself. Jonah, her cousin Jaxon’s best friend, joins her and we follow them on their survival journey but also them getting to know each other better.

I have read two other books by Brianna Shrum that I really loved, so I was very excited to pick this novel up, even if it was slightly out of my comfort zone, as I do not usually reach for (Contemporary) Survival stories. But I was excited by the diversity aspects in this story and my love for the author’s earlier books, so I wanted to give it a chance.

Sadly, I did not end up being very satisfied with this novel and the elements in it. I think that there are a lot of intriguing aspects to it but ultimately the things that I would’ve wanted to read more about were either not talked about enough or just didn’t get the on-page time they deserved.

“We touch each other, under the black sky and a million stars that shine a million miles away, stars that make up the backdrop of this crucial twenty-four hours, this life-altering turn of a night, and that do not give a single shit about us. We are not imprinted in the memory of the stars. Anyway, it’s the vastness of the black that’s imprinted in mine.”

One of the very promising aspects of this story are the complex family dynamics that are portrayed. Hallie lived away from the rest of her big family for a long time and feels out of place in between them, even when she wants to be part of this cousin group so very badly.

She struggles with not getting inside jokes and just feeling like she doesn’t know everyone as well as they all know each other. On top of that, whenever there were family gatherings in the past, it seemed like her parents wanted to mostly keep her away from the rest of the family and making her feel like they would have a bad influence on her.

One aspect that plays into this is racism, which absolutely did not get unpacked enough in regards to Hallie’s parents. We find out about a conversation between Hallie’s dad and his brother, that Hallie overheard when she was younger, where they are having a fight and Hallie’s uncle asks if this is about him being married to a Black woman. And in that moment Hallie even thinks to herself that her uncle is probably right.

But that is the most that this ever really gets talked about. I know that it can be hard to challenge your parents about their racism, especially when it has to do with family relationships and it being something that you think might be out of your lane.
But apart from the fact that Hallie is acknowledging this and being upset by it, this is never really brought up again, even by anybody else. And it is not like Hallie is the picture-perfect daughter in this novel who never says anything against her parents.. the fact that the racism is never brought up by her, was really disappointing.

It seemed like the author was making a point later on in the novel about how the main character in general didn’t seem to be super well informed about (anti-Black) racism, when she has a conversation about the racism in Denver and other “liberal-leaning” cities with Jaxon, who is Afro-Latinx and studies Political science.
And while that obviously would be a very valid point to make, especially considering Hallie’s parents, there was not enough substance to this conversation and, again, the topic is never really brought up again when it comes to her parents and the fact that they have basically completely separated themselves from the rest of the family due to racism.

Plus, the conversation ends with Hallie making heart eyes at Jason because he is so passionate about fighting racism… instead of her actually processing what he said. And the topic gets brought up again later, when Jaxon tells Hallie about his dad having been in jail for 10 years for smoking weed and how that is a systematic issue that many Black men have to face. All Hallie has to say about this is that it “fucking sucks”.

I am going to talk about the Black character doing all the explaining to the white character later in the review but the thing is that there is just such a wasted opportunity here. The least Hallie could’ve done is to really listen and learn and to later on confront her parents about their racism and how it kept her from being close to her family. It honestly feels like Hallie doesn’t take anything away from this conversation whatsoever.

“When he pulls me toward him with the smallest pressure in the tips of his fingers and kisses me. It is so slow that it fucking hurts. I think that maybe I’ve never kissed anyone in my life.”

Now while I don’t think that the racism was handled very well, I think that a lot of the representation was done much better. There is Hallie being Jewish (which is ownvoices) and I liked that this novel used lots of Jewish terms and talked about traditions, while also acknowledging that there is a lot of layers to being Jewish and practising (or not practising) Judaism.

Jonah and Hallie also have a really great conversation about romantic and sexual attraction. Hallie identifies as bisexual and Jonah identifies as pansexual and aromantic and the aromantic and bisexual representation is an ownvoices aspect. Now while I cannot speak for any of these identities, I liked that the author took the time for the characters to really have a conversation about this. This is one of the few novels that actually explains what pansexual means, while also acknowledging that sexuality is a spectrum, which made me really happy to read about.

Jonah also talks about being aromantic and what that means for him. There was definitely an emphasis put on the fact that it does not mean that he is broken or incapable of love, which is so very important to point out. Jonah also mentions that he is not monogamous and explains it to Hallie too because she basically immediately assumes what he means is cheating, when he is talking about consensual polygamy.

Now I am grateful for these barely represented identities to be so well-explained in a novel but especially as I was writing this review, I realized how much explaining there was within this novel and that most of it came from Jonah. He keeps educating Hallie about all of these different things and the author even makes a point for Hallie to point out that she would do research herself, if she had internet, but it is a really cheap excuse for the one, main person of colour in this story to do all of the explaining.

“I am absolutely suffocated by the fact that I seem to have changed utterly while my parents simply have not. Nothing else has. Nothing but me.”

Apart from all of those glaring issues with this book, I also just didn’t enjoy the Survival part of this story much. I will say that that very well might be a me-problem because I obviously didn’t really go into this novel because of that aspect but because I was interested in the author’s work in general and the character dynamics. But I just ended up being bored by the Survival aspect because, while the stakes were supposed to feel high, they never really did.

I also couldn’t handle the stupidity of the main character and her companion leaving the group in the first place. Throughout this story I kept thinking about there being a good chance that this group had already been found while these two people are still wandering around, with absolutely no indication of where they could be for any help on the way.

The really interesting aspect of this story could’ve been the aftermath of this traumatic event. The last part of this book was so fucking good because it dealt with the main character trying to live a normal life after her time hiking through these mountains, fearing for her life.
But sadly that was truly only on the last couple of pages. The main character very clearly suffers from PTSD and depression and it is so interesting to read her inner monologue and her not understanding how everybody else can just move on with their lives when she just has been through such a life-altering event. I absolutely wish that this aspect would’ve taken up so much more time of this novel.

Especially as this is also where the relationship between Hallie and Jonah truly becomes fascinating because they have been through this together and understand each other better than anybody else. This is where we could’ve really discovered the bond between them and if and how their relationships develops.

“I care that, for this second, all there is is me and Jonah and a hundred trees that have no opinion, a solid dark that surrounds us, that lets us both just exist in a way that is shockingly alive. Shockingly … connected.”

I will say that I liked the nature of their relationship a lot and it is something that we really do not get to see in Young Adult. They had a strong bond, were physically affectionate and had sex but this is not a Romance. I think it is so important to show that two people can have a genuine connection with each other and have a physical relationship too, without them having romantic interest in each other or falling in love.

Lastly I do want to say that Hallie is 17 and in high school and Jonah is almost 20 and in college. I feel like I have become very aware of age in YA relationships and do find it important to point it out, even though I struggle to talk about it, especially as someone who did not grow up or has ever lived in the US.
But I know that for a lot of people, while this age gap isn’t big, it makes a huge difference that one is in college and one is in high school. There is even a conversation in the beginning where Jaxon says to Jonah “stay away from the high schooler” and while I understand that this was more like some kind of protective older sibling joke, it immediately left a bad taste in my mouth about their relationship.

Overall, I finished this novel feeling disappointed and that is very much the lingering feeling after writing my review too. I feel like this had a lot of potential and I do believe that the author had good intentions but ultimately, this sadly missed a mark.. or many.

Trigger and Content Warnings for underage cannabis use and drinking, blood, injury, loved one with a terminal illness, PTSD, depression.

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

This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“She felt new, fresh. She felt cleansed. From all the loathing that had been welling up inside of her. From the slow creep into the darkness. Wild Nights had saved her. Again.”

This Is All Your Fault is a YA Contemporary with a really refreshing storyline, unpacking a whole bunch of different themes and topics.

At the centre of this story is the indie bookstore, Wild Nights, and all the characters trying to save the store from being closed. The story starts with a bit of a wild attempt by one of the employees, Eli, to invest a whole bunch of money by buying and re-selling Jordans.. but things just get worse from there.

The story is told from three point of views. We have Daniella, who is very much the employee with the most responsibility in the bookstore and can come across quite bossy. She writes poetry and publishes it on a anonymous Instagram account.
Then there is Imogen, who starts this story out by shaving her head and is clearly going through some stuff. She has a Middle-Eastern heritage and is queer and while she is not diagnosed within this story, probably has depression.
Finally we have Rinn, who has a super bubbly and happy exterior and makes bookish content online. She is biracial (Mexican-American and German) and has anxiety.

“We pay attention to tons of things we don’t realize at the time. But they become the voices in our head anyway.”

When I realized that this story was actually going to take place over the course of one day and only in this book store, I definitely felt a little bit apprehensive. I thought that it would probably make it hard to get attached to the characters and to really feel invested in their storylines.

But ultimately, while reading this story, I realized that the way it is written works really well for it. You are just invested enough in the individual characters and their issues but the aspect that keeps you captivated is all these storylines coming together to tell the story of this closing bookstore.

And I absolutely loved the setting of the bookstore. I think that the author did an amazing job at truly making this bookstore come to life. It was almost like it was its own character and I loved the fact that we had all of these very different characters who came together to tell its story.
After reading this novel I really wish that this was an actual read bookstore that I could visit.

“And when Rinn had an idea, nothing could stop her, come hell or high water—that much had always been apparent about Rinn Olivera.”

One of my favourite aspects of the story is Rinn and the fact that she has a pretty huge social media platform talking about books. I feel like we have gotten so many YA stories about characters who love books and/or who are writers but I cannot remember ever reading about someone who is a “bookish influencer”. It was genuinely SO MUCH FUN to read about Rinn and her creative process for making content.

But this also highlighted some of the darker aspects of the bookish and author community in general. There is a storyline with a popular male author who sexually harasses one of the girls in the bookstore and we find out about him having shown behaviour like that for many years.

This is of course in general an incredibly timely topic in our society but especially something that keeps coming up in the bookish sphere and I really loved that Aminah Mae Safi made this a theme in the novel because it is a very realistic, sadly all too common thing that might get talked about a lot in certain social media circles, but other than that is often an aspect that gets ignored.

“The vulnerable risk everything. The powerful can just point at everything that they have amassed, as though that’s an argument against potential injustice and misbehavior.”

There is also all the mental health issues that the characters deal with. Apart from the storyline of the closing bookstore, this is truly the main theme of this story for me. I personally really liked the portrayal of these issues because they showed how different things can manifest in people and how different situations can trigger people.

There were some situations where the characters messed up and didn’t treat people well because of their bad mental health, which should obviously never be an excused, but it all gets unpacked and talked about and I very much enjoyed that.

In general while I truly didn’t feel very attached to these character because of the nature of this story and the short time span, I just genuinely adored the way these characters were portrayed as flawed but willing to learn and grow. Some of these characters are truly unlikeable but it doesn’t make them any less enjoyable to read about.

“It was understanding what sadness was—sometimes more than a feeling—and that it was a thing she could almost taste, could almost touch at times, it was so real.”

I will say that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the relationships between the characters and how they developed. This was genuinely the weakest aspect of this story for me and I think that this is definitely an aspect that suffers if you write a story that just takes place over the course of one day.

Especially when you think about the fact that these characters have known each other and worked together for a while, a lot of the development that happened in this story just seemed like a very quick change of heart. It definitely makes sense that a huge event like a bookstore closing would bring people closer together but it still seemed quite a lot for just one day. I think that you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit with the relationships in this book.

“Off camera, three girls were burying their secrets. Maybe one day they’d dig them up. Maybe they wouldn’t. But the city would guard their memories, regardless. Waiting, until they were ready.”

Overall, I had a really good time reading this story. I don’t think it is anything that will stay with me for a long time but there is also nothing that I actively disliked about it.
I definitely recommend it if you want to read a novel that is set in a bookstore.

Trigger and Content Warnings for sexual harassment, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, smoking (vape).

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

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco | ARC Review

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ARC provided by Netgalley
Publication: October 27th, 2020

“In the end, the monster we feared didn’t come from Hell. He came from privilege.”

Oh, this review is going to be a wild ride. The range of things I feel for this book is very unreal. Listen, the atmosphere of this? The settings? The premise? I couldn’t get enough. Dare I even say close to perfect? And the plot had me so very invested in every single way. But this actual story and the plot conveniences, the characters and their lack of critical thinking, the obvious plot twists? The Lord might be testing me. The whiplash I felt while reading this was a full experience and deserves a star rating of its own, truly.

When you open this book for the first time, the prologue will transport you to a stormy night in 19th century Italy, where two little twin girls are being gifted very special necklaces while slowly learning their witch powers and history from their grandmother. There are seven demon princes but only 4 the witches should fear, but somehow their necklaces will keep them safe, even though they are instructed to never place them together.

“One will crave your blood. One will capture your heart. One will steal your soul. And one will take your life.”

Then the story actually takes place ten years in the future, where Emilia and Vittoria are now eighteen-years-old, but we see how that night has shaped their lives for the last decade in so many different ways, but for sure centering on those necklaces that were entrusted to them. Both girls are trying to help their family with their restaurant, find and follow their dreams, and lead normal lives, but they soon find out that normal and safe and happy was never in the cards for them.

Again, I do not want to give much away, because I think I very much benefited from not reading the synopsis of this story. But the gates of hell are weakening, and their city and family are no longer safe. Not only do they have to worry about hiding the fact that they are witches, but now they have to worry about demon princes, witch hunters, and other creatures that go bump in the night! But Emilia is thrust in the heart of it all, with her witchcraft on full display, when she makes a deal with a demon when she is most desperate.

Together, Emilia and Wrath (be still, my BDB heart) are forced to work together to investigate brutal and mysterious murders that are happening, but they are both looking for clues for very different reasons. My favorite part of this book was truly going alongside Emilia and seeing all these different settings. From secret casinos, to her family’s kitchen, surprise palaces, spooky beaches, to the scary and dark corridors within the church, I couldn’t get enough of all the different adventures in all the different places.

“Grief carved me in half. And fury honed the pieces into a weapon.”

I really loved the depiction of grief and depression in this book, too. How the weight of sadness can be unbearable, especially alone, when your world and future are taken from you right before your eyes. I also think Kerri Maniscalco did a really good job portraying not only the different stages that can be held within grief, but to also tell the reader that there is truly no wrong way to grieve. Heartbreak can be sadness and pain, but it can also be anger and revenge.

I also did really enjoy the romance and I think if you are looking to indulge in a new OTP that will remind you of 2015 then you are in luck with this one! I did enjoy Wrath a lot more than Emilia for the most part, but I feel like the plot convenience (and Emilia acting stupid) was the downfall of this book. I am not good at unraveling mysteries, but I truly unraveled this one instantly, I only wish Emilia could have a little sooner and it made the reading experience a bit annoying. Also, she gets upset at the strangest things, and wholeheartedly accepts the wildest things for no reason. I truly feel like her character was mostly used to move the book along conveniently instead of actually making her feel like a main character with depth and identity.

Also, I’m just going to say it, the grandmother in this book is one of the most infuriating characters I’ve read about all 2020. Like, regardless of prophecies, how are you going to be this mysterious with eight-year-old little girls and then really not fill them in on any blanks for the next ten years of their lives too? The grandma is really written to look like this cool and wise character who helps save the day, but I truly could not stand her or her shocked reaction when things would fall apart around her.

On top of the mysteries in this book being a bit of a letdown, I will also say that I felt like so many big events in this book kind of happened just for (hopefully) set ups for the next installment. I’m all for setting up things in early books, but it just kind of feels bad when absolutely nothing happens regarding these big chapters after the scene has ended. I feel like if this book felt more cohesive throughout, instead of just setting up for what is to come, I would have gotten so much of a higher rating from me, but I have to rate and review off the material that is given to me and it made for a bit of an infuriating reading experience.

“Man had a funny way of blaming the devil for things he didn’t like.”

Overall, I couldn’t put this book down. Truly. And I would bet you a great sum of money that I will also pick up the next one, because this book ended on a very perfect cliffhanger set up that I greedily want to know everything about. This book really did give me nostalgic feels for some reason, it made me very hungry most of the time, and it made me truly never want to put it down. The writing is so easily consumable, and I really did fall in love with the setting and plot set up. I only wish it felt a little bit more like a full story and not just a set up book. I still predict that this book will do really well, and I think most people will have a very good reading experience with this with.

Trigger and Content Warnings: gore, violence, blood depiction, self-harm to get blood for spells, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, murder, death, brief mention of unwanted touching, and magical compulsion.

3
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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Maëlys & Lea! ❤

Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“Now my heart is with a girl in a coffin in the ground. But that girl wanted me to be better, she wanted my heart to be in it, so I could keep running with her. So for her, I’ll try.”

Who I Was With Her is an incredibly powerful YA Contemporary about grief and figuring out what you want from life.

This story is about 17-year old Corinne, whose girlfriend, Maggie, suddenly dies in a car accident. But because both girls were still in the closet, nobody knew that they were in a relationship and so we follow Corinne as she tries to deal with this loss while nobody knows what Maggie meant to her.

So as you can tell from this synopsis, this is a very hard-hitting novel. The tone of this book is overall rather sad and melancholic and it is definitely not an easy read, so for sure be in the right headspace when going into this novel.
But it is also a very powerful read, that turns a devastating experience into a journey for Corinne to focus on herself and figure out what she really wants from life.

“I start to run down the hill, push myself as hard as I can. Running down this hill doesn’t feel quite like flying, not when I’m trying to pace myself, but it’s sure damn close. I just hope my wings don’t burn up in the sun.”

The grief depicted in this book is incredibly well done. Corinne feels like she no longer knows who she is without Maggie and she has trouble really defining for herself what not only the relationship but also this grief means for her when she can’t even talk about it with anyone or be open about the way she is feeling.

There is also a lot of guilt that Corinne deals with. Whenever she feels a second of happiness or she is laughing with friends, she immediately has thoughts about how she can’t believe she forgot about Maggie and her grief so easily.
And there is a lot of looking back to her relationship with Maggie and wondering about the way she behaved, how she should’ve reacted differently sometimes or certain things that she didn’t know about Maggie.
All those aspects add to a very nuanced and realistic depiction of grief.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be the girl she saw me as. I loved her, I loved her, I loved her. I don’t know who I am without her. She wanted me to be all these big, grand things; she had these dreams for us and—That’s not me. I am not out and proud; I am scared out of my mind. Maggie wanted, so I didn’t have to.”

The only person who knew about Corinne and Maggie’s relationship was Maggie’s brother, Dylan. They have a really messy but interesting relationship in this book too and you can always feel all the anger and sadness from the grief flowing into their conversations. But at the same time, you can also see how they both know they are two of the people who knew Maggie best and they definitely bond over that way more than they ever have before her death.

Dylan is also the one who introduces Corinne to Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend. Now this is a storyline that honestly feels a little bit questionable in parts but ultimately also offers a lot of realistic aspects. Dylan hopes that Corinne can find some comfort with Elissa, as they have dated the same person and can lean on each other.. and they do, which quickly turns into there being some chemistry between the two.
This all happens not too long after Maggie’s death and throughout the book you are definitely questioning the nature of these feelings. I felt like this aspect was handled okay and was very much just another part of Corinne’s grieving process but I also wish it would’ve been explored more and especially sooner in the book.

Especially the power dynamic between the two was off sometimes. Corinne is 17 and still goes to high school while Elissa is 19 and at college and Elissa also reads older than 19 to me personally. On top of that, she was definitely placed in this book as someone that Corinne could lean on for support while dealing with her girlfriend’s death. While I understood where Corinne’s attraction and thoughts about Elissa came from, I really would’ve wanted for Elissa to be more of a sensible and responsible person in this scenario. Obviously she is also still quite young and grieving too and you can tell she has her doubts about this whole situation sometimes but I wish it would’ve been on-page a little bit more, especially when it feels like, again, her purpose in this book was to help Corinne with her grief. It just made me feel weird and slightly uncomfortable about their dynamics sometimes.

“I thought I didn’t have more tears left but I guess I do, because I’m crying into her shirt, because I don’t want her to lose me, either. I don’t want to be lost. ”

This story also very heavily deals with Corinne’s family relationship. Her parents are divorced and her mother struggles with alcoholism. While the divorce was a while ago, we can still see Corinne struggle with it and especially feeling like her dad just abandoned her mum and her alcohol issues, which Corinne now has to deal with herself.

Apart from the obvious sapphic storyline and Corinne being bisexual, we also have an asexual side-character, Julia, who figures out that she is asexual and finds this label for herself throughout the story. I thought that it was a really well-done element and showed that this is an aspect that can be easily packed into a side-storyline, while still being done with care.

In general, the friendship between Corinne and Julia, who is her best friend, was a really interesting and nuanced aspect of this book too. Their friendship definitely suffered in the past year because Corinne spend so much time with Maggie and also could never tell Julia what she was doing and so that definitely created a rift between the two. Within this book, they find their way back together and I very much liked seeing their development throughout.
They also had a short but important discussion about privilege, as Julia is a woman of colour, as is her boyfriend, but I think there is no description beyond Julia having “deep brown skin”.

On top of all that, this book obviously also has a huge focus on coming out and talks a lot about how different circumstances can really influence your experience with coming out. All the actual on-page coming out processes are super good experiences and show that it is also different for everyone but there are definitely discussions in this book that are quite tough when it comes to other people pressuring you into coming out or making you feel not valid for being scared to do so. I think that it was a well-done aspect and the discussions were always nuanced, where you could understand everyone’s POV but I definitely think that in part it very hard to read.

“This is my coming out. One person at a time. No big statement, no grand gesture. Only people I want to tell. Why should I come out the way everyone else wants me to?”

I also very much enjoyed the form of storytelling. We go back and forth in time, to when Corinne and Maggie met or had their first kiss and then back to the current times. This worked perfectly for this kind of book! Plus, all the chapters, but especially the ones in the past, where super short, which is honestly my favourite kind of chapters.

This book also talks about Corinne getting her period and masturbating and there is a sapphic sex scene (with an emphasis on consent) that is not explicit but still makes it very clear what is happening, which are all elements I am always glad to see in YA.

“I have stopped counting how long it’s been since she died. She deserves to be remembered, not measured by the days of my grief or how long it’s been since she left. She deserves to be remembered for who she was.”

Overall, this book just deals with so many different things, so many messy characters and relationships but I enjoyed reading about it all so much. There is a lot of guilt-tripping and forcing people to do stuff and not accepting what people want and changing who you are or what you want for another person.. but after finishing the novel you are left with a sense that all these characters have learned from their mistakes and really developed as people.
And that, ultimately, is all that I wanted as I was reading the book.

The aspects are very nuanced and I am deeply impressed with how many topics were packed into this short Contemporary novel.
If you can handle the tougher themes within this book, it definitely comes with a huge recommendations from me.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, car accident (off-page), grief, alcoholism, underage drinking/alcohol abuse.

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Night Shine by Tessa Gratton

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ARC provided by the author

“I would destroy a thousand heart to find you, again and again.”

Sapphic enemies to lovers romance, queer bodyguard and royalty romance, dark fairytale setting! Magic, gender and sexual fluidity, yearning! Demons, dragons, unicorns, lots of cute tiny creatures to love! Atmospheric, lush, purple prose perfection! Are any of these keywords getting you? Because I’m still ready to sell my soul for Tessa’s deleted scenes and notes! Okay, how about the Howl’s Moving Castle comparison that completely is 100% accurate? This book is the book of my heart and dreams. Easily the best book I’ve read in 2020, so far.

At the very start of this story, our main character realizes the prince is missing and chooses to set out on a quest with another to try to locate them. Meanwhile, there is a witch who lives in seclusion in the Fifth Mountain, except when she needs to kidnap beautiful girls to steal their hearts, never stopping until she finds the most beautiful girl of them all.

I feel like I should just make a mini paragraph about demons, because this book is very demon heavy! There are so many kinds of demons in this book (from little ones, to big ones, to part demons like one of our characters), but greater demons live in places of power in this world! There is one in the Fifth Mountain and one living in the palace too! Also, there are other mountains (Second, Third, etc) where other powerful sorcerers live! But let’s get into our actual cast of characters!

➽ Nothing – queer, orphan who can’t remember anything from her past, not even her name, and the only thing she has as a reminder is a scar on her chest. She lives in the royal palace, where she is best friends with the prince.
➽ Kirin – non-binary, queer, crown prince, recently kidnapped
➽ Sky – queer, bodyguard for the royal family, demon-kissed
➽ The Sorceress Who Eats Girls – queer witch who lives in a mountain and waits and won’t give up

“Everyone is capable of being bound. By duty or love or blood.”

And Tessa is being very deliberate in naming our MC Nothing (and the love interest the Sorceress Who Eats Girls)! Words have power, names have power, reclaiming things has immense power, what you choose to give to people has power! We are all products of our surroundings and circumstances, but ultimately only you get to decide who you are, and you get to choose all the parts of you, every single part of you. Sometimes it’s easy to just be nothing or a wicked witch, sometimes picking your own name is the most powerful thing in this whole wide world.

“Everyone can be bigger than they seem, hold more than their bodies are capable of holding. You have always chosen to grow.”

Tessa normally doesn’t use actual terms in their books, but always shows constant multiple gender attraction and a lot of non-binary feels throughout. Honestly, everyone always feels pan in their books to me, but it could be me completely projecting. But we have main sapphic relationship (that is truly to die for), and a male and non-binary / gender queer character relationship (which also made my heart very, very full). But truly everyone reads queer and/or gender fluid, and we all know that gender and sexuality can be so very fluid, and we just love it here a lot. Also, like in true Tessa fashion, there are hints of polyamory and a constant beautiful light of how romantic and platonic relationships can be equally as important and… Tessa’s worlds >>>

“You decide what you are. You.”

Also, all of these characters are flawed and make mistakes and can look villainous! There is a lot of ownvoices rep between these pages, and I think that Tessa perfectly executes villains who just also happen to be queer, instead of… queer villains, if you feel me. There are a lot of questionable actions throughout this book, maybe even some villainous acts, but it’s just done in a very realistic way from these characters and their circumstances. (Okay, maybe not Sky, who is a perfect angel always, imo!)

This book does very gently talk about abuse and toxic relationships and how those things can be very hard to see when the word love is involved. Codependency is also something felt in this book, and how that can also be something that is very unhealthy. We also get to see a lot of power dynamics and power imbalances and how those things are not okay and can easily also become dangerous. But people who really love you, unconditionally love you, will not only wait for you on your journeys, but they will support you and respect your boundaries, too.

“I love you,” the sorceress said. “What you are now.”

But seeing Nothing become the person she wants to be? Despite her past, despite her current situation, despite an unknown future? So very beautiful. And to have someone showing her that she is worth the wait, that she has always been worth the wait, that she never has to be alone, and that she has never and will never ever be nothing. Please, hold me. Forever preferably.

“How strange, how thrilling, to be told your heart is half of someone else’s. A gift from a woman who loved you once.”

The romance in this book is out of this world. The perfect one-liners that Tessa has laced throughout this book? Makes me a bit speechless to even think about. All of you who constantly say you love enemies to lovers, who want to viscerally feel yearning, who want the characters to go through hell and back together, and you want it sapphic? Pick this up! I promise you, Tessa has some of the most gorgeous prose to every exist, and the way they weave these lines together is something of magic. Also, I’ll never eat a pear the same again, on all the higher powers.

My only complaint is that some characters in this world can change their appearance magically, and in the ARC I realized that in the past one character had lighter skin, and now her skin is dark because she altered it that way. I am a biracial person with white skin, but it for sure made me side-eye a bit. But every other aspect of this book was absolutely perfect for me.

Overall, I truly believe this will be my favorite book of 2020, just like how Strange Grace was my favorite book of 2018. Tessa and their worlds, and their characters, and their writing just makes me feel so seen in a way that no other author does. This book means so much to me. Tessa truly gave me the romantic, sapphic, whimsical, love story of my dreams. This story is everything I’ve ever wanted, and I feel like I’ve wanted it for so very long. I also feel like Tessa maybe redefined the word “yearning” and their power is just unmatched. I just want to spend the rest of my life reading their stories over and over again and feeling seen, and happy, and in love. Forever.

“Everything poured into Nothing.”

Trigger and Content Warnings: gore, violence, murder, death, blood depictions, self-harm, magical coercion, kidnapping, incorrect use of pronouns upon meetings someone (is immediately corrected and the character learns and corrects themselves) and war themes.

5

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Horrid by Katrina Leno | ARC Review

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ARC provided by The Novl
Publication: September 15th, 2020

“Three little girls all eating things they weren’t supposed to eat. Three little girls all eating things in order to fill their bodies with something other than the anger, the rage, that would otherwise consume them.”

I have loved Katrina’s books for so long and each of them are equal parts whimsically beautiful and intensely raw. From Summer of Salt and You Must Not Miss are still my favorites by her, but if you are looking for something very spooky, very introspective, and very profound this fall season, then I really recommend Horrid with my full heart. And this Agatha Christie vibe check will make so many of you happy, I just know it.

Jane has recently lost her father to a heart attack, and her and her mother are forced to leave their California home and move back to her mother’s childhood home in a very small town in Maine. Not only is the shift from west coast to east coast big, because LA and New England are so very different, but it is also the extra hurt from leaving everything she has ever known, and the mystery surrounding her family and the big house that she now has to call home.

Her mother made it a point for them to never travel out east to see where she grew up, and she is very secretive about her upbringing and the reason she left so quickly to the west coast. Yet, after people in town treat Jane a little differently when they realize who her family is (and where she is living), curiosity starts to be peaked. Oh, and especially because the house seems very haunted. From Jane seeing lights turn on upstairs by themselves, to hearing music being played by no one, to having mysterious object interacting with her, to the roses in the garden growing back regardless of how hard her mother tries to kill them.

“I think you’ve had a tremendous loss. And grief manifests itself in unpredictable ways.”

We get to see so much grieving in this book. People grieving their pasts, people grieving loved ones, people grieving the unknown, people grieving so loudly it feels palpable. It is very intense, and it feels very real, and very harrowing. There are truly so many ways to grieve, and so many ways to cope with that grief, and this book very much explores that. And this book very much talks about how the weight of grief can be all consuming and the most heaviest of all things to carry. And sometimes grieving isn’t only sadness and weeping, but it can be anger and violence.

“She felt like her hands didn’t belong to her, like her skin didn’t belong to her. Like the only thing real and true in her body was the anger.”

We also get to see Jane (and other characters) show their anger in very not okay ways. Jane does not handle her triggers in a healthy way, and we also get to see many flashbacks from the past that she has blocked out even. Jane has present day moments of blacking out that really makes her a bit of an unreliable narrator. Yet, I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read where the main character is dealing (and suffering) from their anger management issues.

Ever since Jane was a young girl, and her feelings and anger were overwhelming to her, she sought comfort by eating pages out her books and then replacing those hollowed out books with fresh pages that she could journal in. Pica is disorder where a human will eat things with no nutritional value for a number of reasons, and there are so many components of this disorder and such levels (from ice to sharp objects to poisonous things!), and sometimes this overlaps with other health conditions (like OCD or anemia), but this is a main component of this book, and I have never experienced this before so I’m not sure how people will feel about how it was represented.

“She imagined the paper re-forming in her belly. She imagined the words dissolving off the paper and sinking into her bloodstream. She imagined her body filled with words. Made up of them. Words instead of blood, words instead of organs.”

I also think there is a discussion to be had about mental health and how genetics can very much pass down mental health issues. Also, how important it is for parents to recognize these signs and be in check with their own mental health, so that they can help their children get help if they need it. This isn’t an easy book to read at times, and I think people are going to feel a vast range of emotions for Jane and her mom, but I think their situation is very real and something that needs to be talked about a whole lots more. Depression, and anger issues, and unhealthy spiral grieving is a hell of a combination, but one that is a big reality for so many.

I have loved Katrina’s writing forever now. I feel like she just has such a gift, and her prose is some of the most beautiful in the whole entire world, truly. Yet, her words are so very raw and so very sharp every book. The combination is quite jarring, and the impact is felt very deeply, and her writing is very unforgettable. In addition to the imagery of this small town, or this extremely spooky house, of all these characters dealing with grief so very differently, the entire atmosphere of this story is perfectly done in my opinion.

The reason this isn’t a five star for me (even though it is so close) is because of the ending. Katrina is notorious for ending books in a way that makes the reader think for themselves and kind of pick the ending they want to see most. Which I do adore so much, but this was one I just wanted a tiny bit more from, because I feel like the ending was actually pretty straightforward for the most part. Like, I truly can’t say anything without completely ruining this spooky tale, and maybe it was the perfect ending for a thrilling tale! But I do know I will be thinking a lot about a teddy bear for many moons to come.

“She leaned into it gratefully, letting it fill her, letting it wash over her in a warm embrace. With it, she was not alone. She was never alone. She let it carry her into darkness.”

Overall, this is just the perfect read for this autumn season if you’re looking for something a little spooky, very beautifully written, with very important themes that I don’t see talked about as much as I wish they were. All of Katrina’s books are just bright lights in the YA genre, even when they are spooky thrillers with a maybe unreliable narrator! I never wanted to stop reading this, and when I wasn’t reading this I was thinking about it nonstop. I really recommend this one with my whole heart, and I can’t wait to see what will come next from one of my favorite authors of all time.

Trigger and Content Warnings: pica (mostly xylophagia/paper, but mention of hair and flowers, too!), loss of a parent, loss of a sibling, loss of a child, talk of hospitalization, intense grief depictions, intense depictions of anger issues, blood depictions, panic attacks, depictions of situations that could make one feel claustrophobic, underage drinking, brief mention of animal abuse in past, child abuse in the past.

4
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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Maëlys❤