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

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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Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤

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❤

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole | ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: September 1st, 2020 by William Morrow

✨ Reviews you should check out: Bee’s, Jazmen’s, Carole’s

I have adored everything Alyssa Cole has written, so when I heard about this new mystery thriller I knew it would make my most anticipated releases of the year list! I enjoyed this immensely and I hope people read this and fall in love with this thriller, but I hope they also realize how deeply rooted racism and systems built on racism are still thriving because of racism.

When No One Is Watching switches back and forth between Sydney and Theo’s POV. Sydney is Black, recently divorced, and recently moved back to NY to help her mother who is ill. They have a brownstone in Brooklyn and the neighborhood and the neighbors mean a lot to her. Theo is white and recently moved into Sydney’s neighborhood and is currently living with his abusive ex-girlfriend while they try to renovate this home Sydney is trying to put together a more extensive compilation of the Black history from her neighborhood so she can do a tour, and Theo volunteers to help her. Meanwhile, more and more Black people in the community are going missing, and more and more white people are moving in acting as if they have always owned the neighborhood.

It is never a Black authors job to educate you, but Alyssa Cole truly and unapologetically talks about the privilege that white and non BIPOCs have. From gentrification and the many systems that are stealing land, and buildings, and lives still in 2020, to police brutality and who they are willing to protect and who they are willing take everything from, to the vast different microaggressions they are forced to endure every single day. This book does not shy away from anything, and I hope it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and I hope they sit in that uncomfortably and begin to check their privileges.

This book has a lot of scary parts, but the scariest part of all is how this country really is still running on racism and slavery, just a different (more well hidden) kind of racism and slavery. From prison systems, to the police forces, to huge corporations and all their different investments. It’s not even well hidden, people just don’t want to see, because they don’t want to be uncomfortable, and they don’t want to change a system that is working in their favor too. But friendly reminder that you can’t be compliant with racism and racist systems and not be racist.

Overall, I really loved 80% of this book, but the ending was way too rushed for me. I just felt a bit unsatisfied with how a few storylines and character’s stories went (and I wanted to know so much more)! But I still think this was such a powerful read, and a shining star in 2020 literature. Alyssa Cole is a gift to this world (and all the genres) and I hope you all pick this one up!

Trigger and Content Warnings: gentrification, racism, so many microaggressions, talk of slavery, loss of a loved one, a lot of talk of financial debt, (medical) debt harassment, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, talk of cheating in the past (not the main characters), talk of domestic abuse in the past, themes of abuse and cycles of abuse, talk of institutionalization, murder, attempted abduction, brief mention of animal abuse, brief mention of suicide, forced medical experimentation, talk of drug addiction, threats of calling ICE and the police, and police brutality.

4
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Buddy read with Maëlys & Penny! ❤

 

The Secret of You and Me by Melissa Lenhardt | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“We’d done everything together since we were ten years old. I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I’d never wanted to imagine life any other way.”

The Secret of You and Me is a sapphic adult romance that tackles some very serious topics and issues, all packed into a beautiful second-chance romance.

This story revolves around two women, Nora and Sophie, who fell in love when they were teenagers but couldn’t be together due to the prejudices in their small hometown in Texas. When Nora, after 18 years of being away, comes back into town for her father’s funeral, the old stories of what happened start to get unravelled and Nora and Sophie have to navigate being in each other’s lives again.

I will say that I have read less sapphic adult romances than I would like but the ones that I have read, were mostly more on the rom-com spectrum. And while I absolutely love getting a sapphic rom-com, this novel tackled some more serious topics and I very much appreciated that.

It is hard to really talk about the in-depth aspects of this novel without giving too much away, as I do think that this is the kind of novel that really works best if you go into it knowing as little as possible, especially because a lot of things that happened 18 years ago only get slowly revealed throughout the story.

“I didn’t realize until I saw you at Mel’s that you’ve held my heart in the palm of your hand all these years. Right now, I’m offering you my heart, Sophie. My soul. Can you promise me a future? ”

We get to read from both Nora’s and Sophie’s point of view in this novel, which works incredibly well and I found their voices to be easily distinguishable. While Nora and Sophie grew up in the same town, they end up having very different experiences, due to Nora leaving town, and so it was very interesting and important for this novel to feature both of their perspectives.

Sophie has known for a while that she is a lesbian but only really confronts this feeling when Nora returns to town. She is married to a man and they have a daughter, who she loves very much and is really the main reason that she is with her husband.
This was easily my favourite aspect of this novel and one that I thought was handled with incredible nuance and care. Seeing Sophie’s journey with her sexuality is powerful and so important to portray.

We see some flashbacks of her realizing that she is gay and that, while she can recognize her husband is an attractive man, she is not actually attracted to him, but that she still loves him and their daughter.
But only in the course of this novel does Sophie actually confront these feelings for the first time and talks about it and comes out to people too.

This novel manages to shine a light on the experiences that many lesbians go through. Being with men, questioning their feelings and attraction towards them and even going as far as marrying and having kids with them. And I love that this novel showed that there can be reasons why lesbians have sex with men that have nothing do with their attraction to them or enjoying or wanting it. It doesn’t make them any less gay if the reasons are something like protecting themselves (from being outed, for example) or compulsory heterosexuality.
Seeing a woman in her mid-30s come to terms with her sexuality and finally realizing that she has a right to truly be who she is and to live happily out as a lesbian, even with having been with a man for a long time, was so good to see.

Sophie is a recovering alcoholic and this is a topic that gets talked about a lot in this novel as well. We get flashbacks of how Sophie and her family realized that she has an alcohol addiction and decided to go to an AA meeting and her sponsor is a very present side-character in this story.

“My body was barraged with tiny explosions of desire and, deep down, I grieved for all the years this had been missing from my life, that Sophie had been missing. I wanted her as I’d never wanted before, and when our lips met, I fell into her.”

On the other hand, Nora has lead quite a different life. When she left her hometown, she joined the military and has PTSD due to it. Nora definitely talks about her life in the military and how it has shaped her.
And living in DC, she has lived a life as an openly bisexual woman. She is in an open relationship with a woman called Alima, who is a closeted Muslim lesbian, married to a man.

There was a paragraph where Nora talked about what identifying as bisexual means to her and I very much enjoyed the discussion on how this is a label that, while it has one general definition, still will mean something different to the people identifying with it.
I will say that in this conversation, Nora said that to her it means “enjoying connections with both genders” and I honestly never thought I would ever have to read the term “both genders” again. Genders outside the binary exist and even if this was a small part, it is very disappointing for a queer novel to not acknowledge that!

“It’s good to see being in the military didn’t turn you butch.” “Depends on your definition of butch. One definition, my personal favorite, is being able to kill a man with your bare hands. In that regard yes, the military turned me butch.””

The relationship dynamics in this novel are all complicated and messy and I think that it is very important to know that a lot of this novel has (grey-area) cheating. I know that this is an aspect that is an absolute no-go for a lot of people and so I definitely find it important to mention that this is a topic that is very present in this book.
But again, everything in this novel is handled with a lot of nuance and care and this not an element that is used as some sort of shock-factor. There is a lot of history between all the characters involved in this story.

In some ways I did think the ending was quite easily resolved. The book did a lot of good, unpacking all kinds of different things all throughout it, and the ending almost felt a little too convenient, ignoring a lot of the issues that are still present, especially considering the overall tone of the book.
That said, this didn’t hinder my enjoyment, as all sapphics deserve happy endings, especially when it is way too often taken away from us, as this story perfectly portrays. Plus, books that are marketed as Romance, especially if they are queer too, should always have Happily Ever Afters!

“Because I want to be with the woman I love, the only person I’ve ever loved. I want to feel your skin against mine, to be reminded how beautiful making love can be when you’re with someone who you want to absorb into your very being because the thought of ever being without them fills you with sense of despair so complete, so bottomless, that you’re sure you’ll never smile, or laugh, or feel whole again. ”

Now, while I loved this story so very much, I do want to point out that it is not ownvoices. The author does not identify anywhere on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum and in the acknowledgements the author talks about the love story between these women coming together as she wrote it, with no initial intention to make this a sapphic romance.

I read an interview with the author and it very much seems like the author is in one way acknowledging that the process of falling in love is not different just because of the genders involved, while also being very aware of the individual struggles that same-sex couples will go through. I am also glad to hear that the author will be donating 10% of her royalties to the It Gets Better Project.

While none of these things influenced my personal opinion or enjoyment of this book (and I had no idea prior to reading it), I do find it important to point all of this out, so that every reader going into it is aware of this.

I definitely wish that especially a storyline like Sophie’s would’ve been written by an ownvoices author but from what I have read, both as far as interviews and the book itself, the author took so much care in writing this story and I do think it is well done, to the point where I am truly in awe of how well this was written, considering it is none of the author’s own experience at all.
But at the end of the day, I wanna leave the decision to every reader themselves and that is why I thought it important to mention this.

“I pulled her to me and kissed her, pouring into her every bit of admiration I had for her generous heart, gratitude for her courage, and hope for our future. ”

Overall, this was a very intense reading experience for me and I think that the trigger warnings and general tough topics of this novel should not be underestimated. While this book made me very happy because of the representation and themes involved, it was also not an easy read.

But if you can handle the themes and topics, I absolutely recommend this story. It was really beautiful to read about these two women finding their way back to each other and finally getting the happy ending they deserve.
The Secret of You and Me is a novel that I will carry in my heart for a long time.

Trigger and Content Warnings for PTSD (after military service), loss of a loved one, homophobia (including physical violence due to it, mentions of/being threatened with conversion therapy and homosexuality being called a mental illness), biphobia (immediately challenged), alcohol abuse, cheating, racism, chronically ill loved one, sexual harassment.

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Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Córdova & Natalie C. Parker | ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: September 22nd, 2020 by Imprint

Maybe vampires are getting old? I’m sorry, friends. This was just not the anthology for me. I feel like I might have had way too high of expectations going into this, based on the author list alone. Sadly, I felt like most of these stories just left you wanting more, but not in the good way. In the way of the actual short story felt very pointless. There were a few gems throughout, but for the most part this was a very lackluster and forgettable anthology for me.

My favorite story was easily In Kind by Kayla Whaley, and it was the only story that I gave a whole five stars too. It had everything that I wanted, and I can’t wait to read more by this author. It was spooky, it was so atmospheric, it was diverse, and it was beautiful.

I will say that I love how diverse this anthology is, and how much ownvoices rep is within these stories. We have ownvoices Black rep, Latinx rep, Native rep, Indian rep, disability rep, fat rep, a whole lot of queer rep (both sexuality and gender)! This truly celebrates so many different voices, and I loved that aspect so very much. Sadly, that was one of the only few things I did love about this collection.

Like always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts and feelings!

Adventure Time Gif Marceline Gif Laughing Ghosts GIF | Gfycat

Seven Nights for Dying by Tessa Gratton ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I won’t lie, I was most excited to start this anthology because the first story was Tessa’s and Tessa is one of my favorite authors of all time! I still really enjoyed this one, but it just wasn’t my favorite. We get to see a young girl slowly getting turned into a vampire over the course of seven nights with seven drinks. I really loved that she got to decide for herself if this is what she wanted, and that she had a week to do so! I loved seeing the glimpses of each day and night, and I really loved how sex positive this was! And the main character is pan or bi, which you know I love a lot! I also loved the themes of belonging, loss, grief, anger, and how teenage girls are sometimes expected to carry all of those things, and how society has forced teenage girls to adapt to those things. (I also loved the brief introduction of Henry, who is trans, and I am also ready to become a vampire for Sett all on my own!) There is also a bit of a sapphic relationship kind of going on here, which I wish I was able to see more, also it very much gave off polyamorous vibes!

TW: loss of a loved one, underage drinking, grief depiction


Mirrors, Windows & Selfies by Mark Oshiro ⭐️⭐️
Okay, this one is a hard one for me to rate, because I love the parallel attached to this story, and I love the premise of this story, but I didn’t love the actual story. This is about a young adult Latino vampire, forced to move around the country with his family, and never being allowed to get close with anymore. Because he feels so alone and isolated, he starts up a blog where we get to see him talk about his feelings, his struggles, and his want of finally being able to see himself for the first time,, because that is another thing his parents’ protectiveness has kept from him. There are a lot of parallels here about being queer, and feeling like you’re alone, and nobody else is like you, and then the feelings you get when you find out how much you really are not alone! And I loved that, truly. But Cicso’s parents’ secretiveness really didn’t make sense, and we never really learned why they kept him so isolated, so the story just wasn’t my favorite at all, sadly.

TW: blood, gore, violence, captivity mention, death


The House of Black Sapphires by Dhonielle Clayton ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Oh, this one is such a hard one to rate. Listen, if I knew I could get my hands on a full-length of this family, setting, and story eventually? I’d give it five stars. But the ending just made it feel… so unsatisfied. Yikes. This story is about a Black family of Vampires in New Orleans who are forced to move around a lot. And the women in this family aren’t just regular vampires; the Eternal Women have a much darker origin and are extremely powerful! In fact, only one thing can put them to rest which are Shadow Barons who walk with death. So basically, we get to see them move (through this really cool and magical gate system) and start back up with their family beauty pharmacy and apothecary, and it’s amazing. I loved this entire premise and set up so very much. And the family consists of five sisters who all have been given a different power by their mother. And a couple of the girls go to a ball with their mother (because they are summoned) in their new city, and our main character, Bea, gets to meet Shadow Barons, but one isn’t at all what she was expecting. And might be willing to risk it all for love, but we will never know because of the abrupt and disappointing ending.

TW: blood and mention of slavery


The Boys From Blood River by Rebecca Roanhorse ⭐️⭐️
Whew! Okay, the start of this? Set in a spooky diner, in a very small down, where our MC is a young Native boy who is being bullied for being Native and gay, and he is also preparing for his mother’s passing because of an illness. At the diner, him and another coworker (and the only person nice to him in this town) are getting scared when the jukebox is playing a creepy song all by itself. And legend goes, the last time this song played, an entire family was drained of their blood! How amazing does that sound, right? Like, I was INVESTED! But then…. we got… morally grey cowboy vampires. I am still a bit speechless. I still am questioning their motives. I’m still wondering what will happen in a few years to our MC. And I’m still asking myself what in the hell did I just read.

TW: bullying, abuse, and loss of a loved one.


Senior Year Sucks by Julie Murphy ⭐️⭐️
Listen, just because you mention a Buffy joke, it doesn’t mean your story doesn’t feel like a Buffy rip-off. Our main character is from Texas, where pageants are all the rage, and she is a cheerleader named… Jolene. Oh, and she’s a slayer. But she is just trying to enjoy high school the best she can, because of the life she is forced to have, but getting home from a game one night, she meets a vampire who is also just trying to learn what it’s like to be a normal teenage girl. I loved the fat rep and the sapphic ending, but sadly this just also left me wanting a lot more, while making the actual short story itself not feel of much substance.

TW: animal abuse mention


The Boy and the Bell by Heidi Heilig ⭐️⭐️
I really loved the atmosphere of this one, and I’ve always found historical burial fun facts to be rather interesting, but especially expecting the dead to ring a bell if they turn out to be not so dead! Our MC is a a trans boy trying to learn all he can while trying to go to school to become a doctor, but one night when he is gravedigging for corpses to learn from, he hears a bell ringing. Listen, I know this sounds great, and I appreciate that it felt like a full story once I read the last sentence (which seems to be my main complaint with this anthology so far), but it just felt a little pointless. Even though I’m always going to be here the course of action this MC took with a transphobe.

TW: misgendering & attempted blackmail (that would out our MC)


In Kind by Kayla Whaley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Whew, finally, the first story I loved in this anthology. The power this one holds. First off, this story has a few articles/news casts helping present information and it was really expertly done. And in the first article, we learn that a 17 year old disabled girl was “mercy killed” by her father, but the body is missing. And you guessed it, she may be a vampire now! Her degenerative neuromuscular disorder makes it so that she still uses a wheelchair as a vampire, and I really loved that a lot. Because this entire story is about how this girl didn’t need to be “fixed” in any sense of the word, because her life is worth living, even if it is among the undead now. Truly thought this one was amazing and I loved it a lot.

TW: attempted murder (by overdosing), parental abuse, and ableism.


A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire by Samira Ahmed ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This short story is very impressive and very unapologetic and I read the whole thing with a smile on my face. Basically, this is told through an anonymous system set up in place for Indian vampires who are recently turned into vampires, and this one was turned against their will by a British tourist. We learn all about this new life these vampires will now have, and how it will work (yet also impact) their culture. And there is a lot of talk about biting colonizers, especially the ones that mock certain parts of your culture, while fully profiting from cultural appropriating other parts of it! This one doesn’t hold back against colonizers and all the microaggressions they love to still embrace in 2020, and we love to see. I didn’t love how the story was told, but I loved the entire contents within it.

TW: talk of colonization and mention of racism


Bestiary by Laura Ruby ⭐️
This one was just sadly (yet easily) my least favorite in the entire collection. This is about a young vampire girl living in a zoo and having a special bond with the animals. She really doesn’t have a place to call home after becoming a vampire and not willing to be around her abusive parents any longer. This story also for sure has themes of capitalism, while also trying to talk about what makes a beast and what makes a monster. Sadly, I just never cared, I never was invested, and the felt like the story was the most pointless of the whole collection.

TW: talk of domestic violence, underage drinking, attempted assault, and abandonment.


Vampires Never Say Die by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker ⭐️⭐️
Okay, I feel like this is the story that is going to be a bit on the controversial side. Basically, this is a story about a bunch of vampire Instagram influences who are hiding they are vampires. But one vampire who has been around for 200 years, started talking to a 15-year-old human girl who she really likes. The story takes place two years after they first started talking, so the girl is now 17 and throwing a big party in NYC for her Instagram pals and so that she can meet them for the first time. You can see where this is gonna go, right? But like, I just felt so uncomfortable with one of the MCs being fifteen and easily manipulated by people who aren’t being honest with her. I thought this had major sapphic vibes, even if it kinda tried to make it a “bff” thing. I don’t know, I just couldn’t enjoy it because I was uncomfortable, but I think many people will enjoy this one and maybe I’m being too sensitive.

TW: blood and…. grooming feels


First Kill by Victoria “V. E.” Schwab ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Maybe I’m just back to three starring everything by VE now again. Brb, gonna go cry. Okay, this one had a good twist that I really enjoyed, but I feel like if I say anything it will ruin the story a bit for you. But, we get to see two girls having crushes on each other, while also trying to figure out the other one’s motives. Has the sapphic angst, and also 60 seconds in a closet that really changes things for both of these girls. This one will for sure leave you wanting more, and I did enjoy the format that it was told in by seeing both girls’ POV over two days! I just wasn’t ever too invested, and again, I feel like not much happened, besides it just leaving the reader wanting to know how the actual story will play out.

TW: talk of murder & panic and anxiety deception.


TOBICgi
I gave Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite two stars overall, because out of a possible 55 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 11 stories) this collection accumulated 29 stars (52%)! But, if half stars were a thing, I would totally give this 2.5 stars, because it is almost exactly that when you tally all the stars up!

2
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Buddy read with DestinyMaëlys, & Lea! ❤

 

The Tea Dragon Tapestry (Tea Dragon, #3) by Katie O’Neill | ARC Review

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ARC provided by Netgalley
Publication: September 1st, 2020 by Oni Press

1.) The Tea Dragon Society ★★★★★
2.) The Tea Dragon Festival ★★★★★
*.) Aquicorn Cove ★★★★

”You feel like you’ve lost your path. It’s natural to be sad… it’s alright to let those feelings wash over you, and give them time to soak into the earth. That’s when things start to grow again.”

This entire series is just so special to me, and this newest installment is probably my favorite thing by Katie O’Neill to date. The Tea Dragon Tapestry truly feels like a love letter to remember loving yourself through all your phases.

I think something we just don’t really talk about enough as readers and reviewers is that sometimes we truly read a book at the most perfect moment in our lives, almost like it was destiny for us to choose this particular story at this particular moment, and that was very much me with The Tea Dragon Tapestry.I honestly don’t think I can put into words how much this story means to me at this time in my life, but I suppose I should give it a try still.

”The sadness, the loss, the hurt, as well as the joy, the love, the friendship – it is all part of you tapestry.”

This is a series about a small little village, where some of the community members have tea dragons! Tea dragons are little dragons that sprout little tealeaves when they are being well taken care of. And even though tea dragons are very rare, we get to fall a little bit more and more in love with their caretakers each installment!

This is also one of the most inclusionary graphic novels, which has some of the most beautiful diversity. This story has sapphic characters, gay characters, characters of all different skin colors, disability representation, nonbinary/genderfluid representation, and one of the most beautiful found families of all time.

Like always with my graphic novel reviews, I’m going to try to do little breakdowns of each chapter so I can come back and recap when needed! I’m going to try to keep this relatively spoiler free because this beautiful volume isn’t out yet but use caution still if you’d like to go into this one not knowing anything!

➽ Chapter One:
Brick is the cutest little coal sprite in the whole wide world. My heart’s quadrants still belong to Ginseng & Greta and Chamomile and Minette! Hesekiel and Erik and their tea dragons and little tea house mean everything to me too. And in this chapter, we get to see how tea dragons have an extremely strong bond with their caregivers!

➽ Chapter Two:
Minette starts to have magical dreams (that are drawn… so breathtakingly beautifully, oh my word, I’m still rendered absolutely speechless) and Greta is going to try for a blacksmithing apprenticeship!

➽ Chapter Three:
A lot happens in this chapter, but this is where the graphic novel starts to talk about our life’s purpose, and how sometimes our lives do not go the way we thought they would (even if extremely planned and laid out for us), but that is okay. We all experience phases where we question things, even ourselves, but we are never alone with that experience. Also, being nostalgic is very human (and dragon) things, that we all love to feel, but we shouldn’t compare the happiness of the past to the sadness we could be possibly experience in the present.

”It sounds strange, but I feel homesick for the person I used to be…”

➽ Chapter Four:
We get to see Rinn and Aedhan from The Tea Dragon Festival again and my heart felt like it had wings of it’s own! And how sometimes all our senses work together to remind us of happy or sad things and times.

”Taste has a strong association with memory”

➽ Chapter Five:
This was my favorite chapter, and I kind of just wept while reading it. Life can be so hard, and so sad, and so unexpected, and so all of these things at the very same time, but you just have to remember that it will get better, it can get better, and that this is only part of where you are at in life right now. One of the most beautiful things about life is that it is a full journey, where we will change, and people will change, and that’s okay, an that can be beautiful, but we have to keep changing and keep growing and keep living.

”…Little one, you are the person you are meant to be”

➽ Chapter Six:
And even if your journey might be a little unexpected, be happy that it is your journey. I truly know I sound like a bit of a self-help reviewer right now, but this chapter is just so beautiful, and hopefully, and left me so very excited to see where the rest of my journey will take me, no matter how many sad days are left and coming, because there will always be even more happy ones along the way, too.

”…Remember, that you are already whole.”

➽ Epilogue:
This epilogue was so good because it shows you the history on tea dragons! And Hesekiel is too kind to us to show us these secrets and stories of the tea dragons. And to remind us that all our stories are so very important and worthy to be told. And it’s also important to go on your own path and make many more new stories to keep on telling your loved ones who make you feel safe.

”Everything that happens is part of your wholeness”

The Tea Dragon Series is just a gift to the whole world. It feels like a comforting hug from my very own family and friends who are too far away to give me one. Again, this series just means a lot to me, and if you’re looking for a little light in a world that feels easy to be dark, then I really just recommend this installment with my whole heart and soul. Words and stories really have healing power, and this one truly made me feel so much lighter. And I promise, you are right where you are supposed to be too, friends.

5

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Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤