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! ✨

Ironspark by C.M. McGuire | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“Her soft lips against mine felt like hope. Somehow, some way, we were going to see morning, and I was going to have the chance to do that again.”

Ironspark is a book that I picked up because I was very excited by the prospect of it being a book about Fae featuring a lesbian love triangle but sadly I was let down in a lot of aspects.

This novel is about a girl called Bryn, who moved from Wales to the US with her family nine years ago, after her mother got abducted by the Fae and her father was cursed by them, because her father had deemed it a safer place for them.
But even away from Wales and the immediate danger of the Fae, Bryn made it her goal to learn how to kill the Fae in order to protect her family and in this book she needs to make use of those skills.

Now I will start this review very honestly, saying that I am not the biggest fan of any Fae stories in general. But I do enjoy the occasional one, especially if it’s diverse in some way, so I was definitely drawn to this book, especially because a lesbian love triangle sounded so very promising.

But sadly, I found much of this book boring and a lot of the storyline and world building confusing. Some of it definitely is based on the well-known Fae mythology, like the Seelie and Unseelie Court, but a lot of the things in this book I was also very unfamiliar with. There is a glossary but sadly it is at the end of the book, so I had no idea until I finished it. I am sure that it would’ve helped a little bit but my problem was also the connections between all the different kinds of Fae and mythical creatures and I just had trouble following how all of the events connected to Bryn and her family.

“I couldn’t help it. In spite of everything, a startled laugh escaped me. It felt like the worst possible time to be laughing, with everything going on… but it was sort of like grass growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. I couldn’t stop it, and it only made the cracks bigger, and soon I was laughing and tears streamed down my face.”

Now this book definitely brushed on some interesting aspect but none of them were explored enough for me personally. There is Bryn’s panic attacks, which she has throughout the novel but never get talked about more. There is her father’s hallucinations and the fact that (it seems like) doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia due to it and he takes meds for it which never help because the actual cause is a farie curse. There are her two brothers, who she has basically raised, but the relationship between them or even their own issues they have after everything they’ve been through are never quite get explored enough. It feels like none of the aspects in this book were really fleshed out or that there was much depth to any of the characters.

There are these little Fae-like creatures called shadelings, that are good creatures and there to protect Bryn and her family. There is one in particular called Marshmallow, that basically becomes Bryn’s side-kick later on in the novel and was truly my favourite character and also the one that had the most interesting relationship dynamic with Bryn, which definitely says a lot about the other relationships in this novel.

Other than that, barely any of the side-characters had a personality that stood out and so the relationships with these people seemed dull too.
There is Gwen, a kind of water farie. Gwen and Bryn were in a relationship but Bryn broke up with her because she knew her time in this town was coming to an end soon because of going to college next year. And then there is Jasika, a girl from Bryn’s school who has a connection to the faeries too.

“At this point, it was just a physiological reaction my body seemed to have to her, one I doubted I’d ever really outgrow, no matter how long we stayed split up. There would always be the lingering sensation of fireworks inside of me where the smoke hadn’t quite cleared. My lips curled up in an automatic smile. The whole world could be burning around me, and somehow Gwen’s presence would always make it better.”

This is where the supposed lesbian love triangle aspect comes in but.. it is really not a love triangle whatsoever. Gwen and Bryn are still really good friends and Bryn worries about having broken her heart but she doesn’t really have any sort of romantic relationship with her anymore.
Bryn and Jasika develop something along those lines throughout the book but the romantic storyline was not very well done. I didn’t feel any chemistry or romantic tension between the two characters whatsoever. It honestly seemed like they barely knew each other and then one day they kiss and that’s kinda it, they’re dating. They never really talk about what they are to each other after that… or honestly talk much to each other at all, except when it is about Fae stuff. So there was absolutely nothing between the two that made me think there were romantic feelings.

I am also disappointed by the use of “lesbian” love-triangle in the synopsis. I am assuming this was done by the publisher, not the author, because the main character literally says at one point, that “not all girls who likes girls are lesbian”, and clarifies that she likes guys too and isn’t quite sure if she’s bi- or pansexual. Jasika then mentions she is questioning.

But it’s honestly very disappointing to see this labelled as a “lesbian” love-triangle when none of the characters withing this book identify as a lesbian and, even if both Gwen and Jasika would’ve identifies as such, it is still not a “lesbian” love triangle because Bryn is not a lesbian.
I know people will find this nit-picky but.. just don’t bait me with labels that do not exist in the book. Sapphic love triangle totally would’ve done it. Again, not blaming the author here, but just something I wanted to point it.

“Maybe I ought to grab her or kiss her back or do something, but mostly I was trying to wrap my head around the notion that Jasika Witters wasn’t straight and she must have read me like a freaking book and why were her lips so soft?”

The one other character that stood out was a boy called Dom. Next to Marshmallow, he was for sure my favourite character and I enjoyed the friendship between him and Bryn too because there was an actual good development between the two.
Also Dom is asexual and that term is used and explained on page. The scene does include some probing questions regarding this identity like “are you sure you’re not attracted to anyone” and “but have you tried”. I wouldn’t necessarily call it aphobia and it gets quickly challenged but I still wanna mention it.

Upon finishing this book I realized that it is not a standalone. Sadly, the ending was very anticlimatic to me. Now I don’t know if that is just because I didn’t really very invested with the characters and storyline in the first place or if others might’ve felt that way too. But I just found myself extra disappointed with the ending, leaving me with absolutely no motivation to ever seek out the sequel (which I don’t think has been announced yet though).

“People looked at me differently, and unfortunately nobody had invented an armor for pity.”

Overall, Ironspark sadly was a very disappointing reading experience. None of this book really worked for me and I found myself having to push myself through it, to the point where I even thought of DNFing it, but had too high hopes for the love triangle.. that did not happen.
I personally cannot really recommend this book, although you might wanna give this a chance if you are really into Fae stories.

Trigger and Content Warnings for panic attacks (including vomiting due to it), blood, violence, murder, hallucinations, house fire, coma (minor character).

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

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“She played for the girls they used to be and the ones they were now, and all their fallen-apart pieces that had gotten lost or ruined or discarded along the way.”

This Is What It Feels Like is a really wonderful YA Contemporary, that has so many topics and issues packed into it.

At the centre of the story are three girls, Hanna, Jules and Dia. The three were in a band together for a long time but then two years before this story starts, a lot of things happened in their lives and they stopped making music together. The friendship between the three of them took a toll as well, although Jules and Dia remained best friends.

Jules is a Black lesbian and her love interest, Autumn, is fat and questioning her sexuality. I think that Dia is also Black but the book only mentions that she has deep-brown skin. She is also the mother of an almost 2-year old so this deals with raising a kid as a teen. Dia’s good friend and love interest, Jesse, is also Black. Hanna went to rehab for her alcohol abuse and has been sober for over a year when the story starts.

So as you can already tell, this book dealt with so many amazing and important topics and I thought everything was handled incredibly well. Because all three of them have alternating POVs, we see everybody’s perspective to all of the issues and it offers a really insightful and multi-layered discussion off all these things.

“Dia played a concert for her audience of one, under the clouds, and the moon winked in and out of sight, and she felt the anchor of the earth release her the slightest amount.”

I was really happy to see this book deal with different parent relationships. It was so refreshing to see the parents so involved. Dia’s parents are very supportive and help her raise her kid.
Hanna’s parents are super well portrayed too. They are worried about Hanna and her alcohol abuse, even after her being sober for so long. I loved the way you could tell that they were coming from a good place, even if it wasn’t received by Hanna that way or that, even when she does understand where they’re coming from, she eventually just started feeling suffocated. I thought it was a very important and well portrayed child-parent relationship.
Hanna’s sister, Molly, is also very involved and a lovely character. Seeing her relationship with Hanna, after everything they went through, was really precious.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a teen mum. I feel like usually books that feature teenage pregnancy or being a teen mum are focused on that and it will be the main topic of the story and in that case it doesn’t really interest me. But seeing Dia and her relationship with her daughter was wonderful and really great to read. I also loved that it seems like most of her environment was pretty accepting. We never saw anyone make any inappropriate comments about her young pregnancy (although we know these comments do get made) and on the contrary, people seemed very supportive and I really enjoyed that.

Jules and her developing relationship with Autumn was another wonderful part of the novel. Seeing such a beautiful and wholesome f/f relationship in a book still gets me every time. There is also an incredibly well written sex scene between the two.
On top of that female masturbation is mentioned twice, although just in passing. But I’m always glad to see it in any YA as it is still a very taboo topic and truly shouldn’t be.

“But being drunk made her feel invincible, gave her cover for so many things. She said whatever she wanted, she did anything and everything that she got the urge to, and when she fucked up, she’d brush it off: ‘I was drunk! It’s no big deal.”

And then there’s Hanna’s alcohol abuse which might have been my favourite issue that was talked about in this novel. Now while I was never addicted to alcohol, I found so many of Hanna’s reasons as to why she drank and how it got so bad, incredibly relatable and seeing this in a YA and how much this could open some teen’s eyes? It was fantastic.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of alcohol, ESPECIALLY for teens. And as someone who grew up and lives in a country, where you can start drinking beer and wine with 16, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. While reading this novel, I thought a lot about how trivialized alcohol is. I remember a girl from my school who had to get her stomach pumped after a party and I thought a lot about how we talked about this back then, like it was just a funny mishap.. sometimes even like something to be proud of. Looking back at how this was handled back then absolutely haunts me until this day.

On top of all these topics and issues, that were handled so very well, this also had a great storyline about friendship and music and how it can bring people together and reunite them. I loved the portrayal of the bond that you form when you make music together, especially when it’s in your “formative” years. The way these girls found their way back together through music warmed my heart immensely.

“Her skin felt raw, too tight for her body, every movement testing her limits, every rub of her clothes burning. And this whole place felt too small to contain her, pushing back against her, and how dare it, how dare it try to put a limit on what she was feeling right now.”

­
And that is still not all. There is also the aspect of grief. And there is a wonderful m/f romance as well. And as I said, almost all of these topics get portrayed from different POVs. So while Hanna’s addiction is obviously important in her storyline, we also see the way Dia and Jules feel about it, the way it impacted their lives and the decisions that they made.

Honestly I can’t quite believe how many things were in this 400 page novel and I could probably write a 400 page novel about all of the things packed into this and how amazing they all were.
But I think you get the picture.

I’m really sad that this book never got the attention it deserved. It is a really beautiful summer-y Contemporary, filled with a lot of intense topics that all get handled well.
So please pack this onto your must-read list! It is so great and important and I hope many more YA books tackle issues in such an amazing and open way.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, alcohol addiction, grief.

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

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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I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4

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

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Blog Tour | Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1) by Nina Varela


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ARC provided by HarperTeen in exchange for an honest review.

“It was never really a choice, was it? Wanting her. Killing her.”

Friends, if you are looking for a book all about revenge, filled with mystery and betrayals, while also showcasing the best enemies to lovers f/f romance I’ve read in a long while, please immediately pick up Crier’s War. I’m telling you right now, this is going to make so many best of 2019 lists come the end of the year, and I don’t even have words for the amount of pure joy I felt while reading this book.

Crier’s War is set in an alternative future where alchemists have crafted mechanical people, called Automaes, who now rule over the humans. The humans originally created them so a powerful queen, who could not bear children, could have an heir, but soon Automaes were forged for other human pleasures. But then they rose up and conquered the humans who originally made them. Now the world is a very unsafe place to live for humans who are still alive after the war, and they are allowed very few liberties.

Crier – Lesbian! A girl artificially crafted to become the daughter her father needs to carry on his powerful legacy, while being betrothed to a man who promises to help her hone that power for both of them.

Ayla – Bi! A human girl who lost her family and everything else after the Automaes raised up and overthrew the humans.

And after Ayla saves Crier’s life, Crier offers her an opportunity to become a servant for her, which is a very high honor for humans. So, Ayla becomes Crier’s handmaiden, while also seeing this as an opportunity to go undercover and maybe seek the vengeance she has been after for so long. That is, until both girls start realizing that maybe they are on the same side, and maybe they could be something more than enemies if they only were able to learn to trust.

“A thought came to her: a story of its own, one that only just began writing itself in her mind: a story of two women, one human, one Made.”

The romance in this book? It honestly gave me at least twenty years on my lifespan! This is the slowest burn, angst filled, most beautiful enemies to lovers between two women of color! It is so expertly crafted and delivered, and it was a tier above the rest. And the alternating points of view, opposing sides, filled with secrets and betrayals; it was just everything, friends. I bet this will be my favorite ship of 2019. True OTP status.

But this story really begs the question of what it means to be human. Is the capability for empathy, love, trust? What does it mean to have be alive? Simply because we are born or because blood flows through our veins? Is it because we have free will and are able to change our outlook on things and people? Or is it because we choose to take on the title human and make it into whatever we believe it to be?

“Like she was more than a human girl. Like she was a summer storm made of flesh.”

Yet, this story also constantly puts the theme of oppression and privilege at the center of it all. How people appropriate and steal from cultures and pretend that it’s okay, or worse, their own. How dangerous it is for the privileged to not acknowledge their privilege(s). And how oppressors will stop at nothing to maintain the power they have gained that privilege from.

This was such a quick read, and I completely inhaled all 400+ pages and couldn’t put it down. I started it right before a readathon, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all week, and when the readathon was over I read it in one sitting. My queer heart couldn’t stop smiling, crying, swooning, and evoking every other emotion.

Overall, this was just a masterpiece and one of the best debuts I’ve read in a long while. If you like books filled with political intrigue, twists and turns, a beautiful and horrific backdrop, lush writing, captivating characters, and girls loving girls, I really recommend this one with my whole heart and soul. Also, just in case you aren’t completely sold yet, so many of my friends have compared this to Jude and Cardan from The Cruel Prince, but for the gays, and that is so 100% accurate.

“For the queer readers. You deserve every adventure.”

(Two extra things I need to add: 1.) this is ownvoices for the queer rep + 2.) the author is ARMY = no choice but for me to stan forever. Okay, goodbye. I’m off to pray to all the higher powers for book two immediately. Also, jokes on all of you, because this is ghost Melanie reviewing this, because I died at the tide pool scene.)

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

Content and Trigger Warnings: war themes, abandonment, loss of loved ones, grief depictions, blood depiction, animal death/gore, and general violence.

Buddy read with Lea! ❤


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.

You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at www.ninavarela.com



Thank you so much to Karina @ Afire Pages

TOUR SCHEDULE

Sept. 23 – Afire Pages | 21 Questions with Nina Varela

Sept. 24 – The Sparrow’s Perch | Fan Art
F A N N A | Reasons for Game of Thrones and Westworld Fans to Read Crier’s War

Sept. 25 – Forever and Everly
Your Tita Kate | Bookstagram Photos

Sept. 26 – Lori’s Bookshelf Reads 
Pages Left Unread | Characters Aesthetics

Sept. 27 – Caitlin Althea 
Pages Below the Vaulted Sky | Fan Art

Sept. 28 – Lauren’s Bookshelf
Reads Rainbow | Playlist

Sept. 30 – Boricua Reads | Sapphic Rebellious Women in YA
Read With Ngoc 

Oct. 1 – Once Upon A Bookcase
Read at Night | Favorite Quotes

Oct. 2 – Mel to the Any
A Cat, A Book, and A Cup of Tea

Oct. 3 – Novel Nerd Faction | Playlist
Shut Up, Shealea

Oct. 4 – Sage Shelves | F/F Fantasy Recommendation
The Book Bratz