Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

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“The best way to keep a secret is to make sure no one knows you’re keeping one.”

Last call at the Nightshade Lounge is a debut, ownvoices story, staring an Asian main character, who is forced to move back to her hometown after graduating college, and is in search for work, with or without her degree’s help. Her high school friend offers her a job as a bar hand, but she soon discovers an underground network comprised of magical cocktails made by bartenders who also keep the streets of Chicago safe from hidden monsters. And, friends, I really enjoyed this unique tale and captivating story.

I feel like I did enjoy this one more than most of the people I buddy read it with, but I was completely enthralled each time I went to pick this book up. I thought it was witty, and smart, and funny, and such a good balance of those three things.

And I loved the diverse cast! Bailey is a Chinese-American ivy league graduate. But this story also gives the reader a side character who is blind, a trans side character, Asian and Black side characters, and a sapphic side relationship. I really appreciated the author’s depiction of Bailey’s Asian family, too, because it was pretty relatable.

I also really loved how this was a New Adult novel, and it shows how badly we need stories in this age bracket, instead of just classifying college romances as them. And I loved how Bailey graduated college and then came back home to live with her parents while looking for a job with her degree, because that is such a reality for so many, but we are seriously lacking books with that representation. Coming back to your hometown after living and graduating in your college town for four(+) years is truly an experience that I think so many can relate to, and I think Bailey’s situation will truly resonate with so many. I mean, besides the whole magical cocktail bars and all that.

“Booze is universal, it brings people together, and a lot of times it results in the creation of more people. What could be more magical than something that does all that?”

Overall, I really did enjoy this and I can’t wait to see what Paul Krueger does next. Especially because his next book, Steel Crow Saga, looks like everything I’ve ever wanted in this life and the next. This was a short and unique tale that put a smile on my face throughout, and I’m so happy that I was able to read it. Also, the magical cocktail recipes throughout? I’m on a quest to make them all now.

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Content and Trigger Warnings for alcohol consumption, grey area cheating, and for racism (assuming all Asian cultures are the same, and this is always challenged).

This was the March pick for the Dragons and Tea Book Club! 🐉☕

 

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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ARC provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

“Is it possible you willfully forgot about the biggest international event of the year because you don’t want to see your arch nemesis?”

I honestly do not think that any book has made me happier than Red, White & Royal Blue, ever. I laughed, I swooned, I cried, but, most importantly, I finished the last page and felt such a powerful amount of hope that transcends any amount of words that I could possibly string together for this review. This is easily the best debut novel I’ve ever read, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it ends up being my favorite book of the entire year.

First off, in this story, the characters are living in a world where the President of the United States is a democratic woman who was elected after Obama, and her 2020 reelection is quickly approaching. And I just need to take a minute to… *cries forever*! But this book really focuses on two young men, who happen to be very much in the media’s spotlight 24/7, because of the families they were born into. Oh, and one of them happens to be the First Son of the President, and up until this point he thought he was straight, that is until he finally is forced to spend time with his arch nemesis. And I’ll be damned, but this book made me simultaneously believe in love and believe in America.

Alexander Gabriel Claremont-Diaz – The First Son, who is quickly realizing that he is bisexual, but slowly coming out to those he feels safe with. Alex is also biracial (Mexican and white) and (thanks to my beautiful friend Alienor) confirmed to have ADHD!

“Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.”

Henry George Edward James Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor – A Prince of England, who is closeted gay to many in his family (and to all media), because he constantly feels the weight of the expectations placed on him by his family and his country.

“O, fathers of my bloodline! O, ye kings of olde! Take this crown from me, bury me in my ancestral soil. If only you had known the mighty work of thine loins would be undone by a gay heir who likes it when American boys with chin dimples are mean to him.”

Alex has followed Henry and his fame long before his mother became president. But at the start of this novel, both men officially meet, but quickly get into a very messy predicament at a royal wedding they were both attending, which ends up being a PR nightmare for both countries, but especially for Alex’s mom, who is up for reelection. So, they are both kind of forced to fake a friendship to appease the press to save face. But a fake friendship quickly turns to a romance, that leaves both men questioning what they are willing to risk, while the press is always watching.

“First, you’ve been, like, Draco Malfoy–level obsessed with Henry for years—do not interrupt me—and since the royal wedding, you’ve gotten his phone number and used it not to set up any appearances but instead to long-distance flirt with him all day every day.”

I also wanted to make sure that I stated in my review that the author is queer (I believe they ID as bisexual, like Alex!) And even though Alex and Henry are obviously queer in their m/m relationship, this book also has such a beautiful and full cast of diverse side characters! I’m completely willing to give my life for June, Nora, Pez, and Bea, right this very second.

Like, I absolutely loved the side characters in this book. Also, you all know that I am always here for strong sibling relationships, and this book has that in spades! Alex’s family in general was everything to me; both of his parents being so supportive and always putting him (and his pace) first really meant a lot to me and makes me so soft just thinking about it. Seriously, this book is found family and blood family goals.

The banter and one-liners were perfection. This author completely understands what it is like to speak and text in your twenties, and they have mastered the craft to perfection. I was either cackling like a banshee or clutching my pearls with heart eyes during all of Alex and Henry’s exchanges. Also, since there is an ocean in-between these two, they correspond a lot of the time through emails, all of which added five years to my life.

Speaking of those emails, the romance in this is just truly a tier above the rest! The dynamic that Henry and Alex are forced into, and then the new dynamics they are forced to overcome, makes for something that you can’t help but root for with everything in your soul. Also, they are truly polar opposites with their personalities, but seeing them together truly feels like you are witnessing soulmates interact. I hate to say this but, your OTP could never.

And obviously because of the setup of this novel, this book does not shy away from US politics, and you should for sure know that going in. But the most tears I shed in this book was when Alex talked about what he felt like to be a biracial kid, and how America truly is a melting pot of immigrants and how that is something beautiful, and should be celebrated, not shamed and something that people consider to be a crime.

This is a book about two men, both in their early- twenties, discovering what they want for their lives and for their countries. Both for themselves and together. In a world that is cruelly unaccepting to anyone who isn’t white and straight, or who are just deemed different. They find friendship, they find love, and they find their voices. And to this Filipino American, pansexual, whose grandparents are both immigrants, who a lot of times really struggles to find their own voice, it meant the world to me. I’ll carry this book with me forever and always.

Overall, this book was just everything I’ve ever wanted. Put your library holds and preorders in now, because I know that so many readers are not only going to fall in love with this tale, but it is going to be one of their favorites for the rest of their lives. I promise you, it is truly that good, and this truly feels like a once in a lifetime book. Casey McQuiston has created something that is going to mean so much to so many readers, and this book is going to bring so much joy to our much-needed world. I’m just forever thankful that I was able to escape into it for a little while, while doing everything I can to make my country’s 2020 and on just as hopeful.

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

Content and Trigger Warnings for homophobia (always in a negative light), talk of racism in media, anxiety depiction, talk of cancer (pancreatic) in the past, talk of past loss of a loved one, talk of past drug use, talk of attempted sexual assault (very briefly) in the past from a very minor side character, and (in my opinion) outing. Also, this is a New Adult novel, so there are many sexual scenes throughout this book, even though they are fade to black for the most part!

❤ I also gush about this in my February Wrap Up on BookTube!

Buddy Read with Kerri from Kerri The Book Belle! ❤

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

Once & Future (Once & Future, #1) by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy

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ARC provided by Hachette in exchange for an honest review.

“Buried in the trunk of the thousand-year-old oak was a sword.”

I have a very big soft spot in my heart for Arthurian legend and I will never turn down a retelling of the epic tale. And when I heard that we were going to get an ownvoices series, written by a couple, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist. Also, Morgana is one of my favorite villains of all time, and I actually think Once & Future is one of my favorite interpretations of her, ever.

King Arthur is a story about a king who was betrayed by the people he loved most in the world. He was trained and befriended by a wizard named Merlin, who helped guide him to become the king his people needed. He tried to fight for his people, and do what he believed was right for them, but in the end it was not enough for Camelot or his Knights of the Round Table.

Once & Future completely takes that tale and turns it on its head, making something really unique and really fun. Merlin and Morgana are magic wielders who sleep while waiting for the next Arthur to come and free Excalibur and to free them from their slumber, so they can try to change the world for the last time. This time, Arthur (42) is Ari, a girl who was rescued and adopted at very young age, but carries the scars (both externally and internally) of a past she can’t remember.

“Find Arthur
Train Arthur
Nudge Arthur onto the nearest throne
Defeat the greatest evil in the world
Untie all of mankind”

This book has so much good rep, that my queer heart was honestly living its best life while reading this entire book. From sexual and gender representation from all over the spectrum, to representation for disabilities, to mirroring the refugee crisis, to talking about how colonialism is a very real and very sad thing, to how important and simple it is to ask someone their pronouns and not to just assume. This is a very inclusive and very heartwarming book, truly. And so much of the rep I’m about to talk about is also ownvoices representation, and I believe this book should be completely celebrated upon release, because it is going to let so many kids see themselves in the badass SFF retelling of their dreams.

Ari – From Arabic descent, a refugee, and either pan or bi. (everyone is saying she is pan, but I didn’t read that word in my ARC copy, so… I’m not sure if it was added or not, but as a pan person you all know this would mean the world to me, so *fingers crossed*)
Kay – Ari’s big brother (adoptive)
Merlin – Wizard, aging backwards, gay, and set to train Ari.
Morgana – Also has a mission, but it might not be what Ari and Merlin want.
Lam – Black, gender fluid, missing a hand, and Kay’s bff.
Val – Black, Lam’s sibling, pan or bi.
Gwen – Pan or bi, and the new queen.
Jordan – Ace, and the black knight that protects Gwen. (Jordan is easily the best character, imo)

And this full (and super queer) set of characters come together and truly create a fun and fast-paced story where they are trying to push back against the Mercer corporation, who have a monopoly on the entire universe. But this book is truly about oppression, and how these kids are fighting a system that was built to keep them down. This may be a Sci-Fi retelling, but the parallels are so very real. And the unequal power distribution is a very real problem that impacts marginalized voices in every single walk of life.

Okay, but on to the not so great. I felt like this story really jumps around too quickly. It makes it hard to actually care about the characters and their situations, especially the side characters. And the time-frame feels very disjointed and abrupt because of the way the story is told. And, again, it makes it really hard to feel things, because the reader is just jumped to the next thing. Also, this has a trope that I personally really hate; where siblings have feelings for the same person, and it really hindered my reading experience.

“To wonder why your heart has turned into a hurricane and how love could be possible when you’re supposedly a cursed, dead king in the presence of a very powerful, very alive queen.”

Overall, I did enjoy this one, despite the trope I really dislike. But I still completely recommend this one and will support it with my voice completely. Also, this book is so sapphic, and the main f/f storyline and the side f/f of Ari and Kay’s moms really warmed my heart, too. And the m/nb romance also put a big smile on my face. I just think this story is so much fun and so unique and I honestly can’t wait to see where the authors take it with the second book.

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

Content and trigger warnings for abandonment, talk of plague, talk of past rape, animal death, suicide, loss of a loved one, and war themes.

Buddy Read with Imi & Ellie! ❤

Song of the Dead (Reign of the Fallen #2) by Sarah Glenn Marsh

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ARC provided by Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

1.) Reign of the Fallen ★★★★

“I’m Odessa of Grenwyr, and the dead answer to me.”

If you’re looking for a f/f relationship to swoon over, with ownvoices bisexuality representation, and story that focuses on found family and unconditional love within healthy friendships, in a book that also has the cutest little dragon companion and filled with undead and necromancers, then please look no further than Song of the Dead

Seriously, friends, I loved this with my entire heart and soul. This is the concluding novel in this duology, the first book being Reign of the Fallen, but I am still not ready to say goodbye. Sarah has crafted something so beautiful, so powerful, and so important, that I truly hope we get to see more of these characters in the future. Especially since most of them have already stolen pieces of my heart.

In this second installment, the kingdom of Karthia is in a very different place than we originally saw it in Reign of the Fallen. Without going into spoilers, there may be new royalty, there may be new laws, and there may be new dangers that are now completely risking everything these characters have done to keep their kingdom safe.

Our main character, Odessa, is traveling the uncharted waters, discovering places she never knew, while also discovering herself and relearning what is important to her. Odessa is also trying to chart her heart and her relationship with Meredy, when they are both grieving the same person, but very differently.

This series very much touches on grief and trauma and learning to live with those two things. And how those two things may never ever go away, and that’s okay, but how you need to learn how to live with them, and how to live with a loss that may feel like it is currently impossible to live without. This is truly such a beautiful depiction, and it really meant a lot to me.

“I could never outrun myself. Without the pin, without even my name, I’d still be a fighter. I’d still be a commander of the dead. I’d still be a girl too in love with life to commit to death, even when it’s calling to me more strongly than ever before.”

Besides the mental health representation, there are many different sexual representations (including the word aromantic on page!), there are also characters of color, and disability representation (main side character who uses a cane) that I think is very well done, but I do not have any physical disabilities, so my voice doesn’t really matter on the subject! But I also feel like this book talks heavily about how important it is to not be closed off from other cultures and how detrimental the reality of that really can be. (You know, coming from a citizen whose president believes a wall will solve all their problems.)

This entire story just has so much good in it! And it is so fast paced and completely enthralling. I could read a million more books about these characters, set all over this world that Sarah has created. Hell, I could read a million more set in the Deadlands alone. I feel like this story just has so many elements and I had such a smile on my face while consuming this entire book.

Overall, this duology just means so much to me and I would literally die for the happiness of the sapphic ship in this! But from the amazing characters, to the important themes, to the beautiful prose; Sarah and these books are just a gift to the world. I truly hope you all pick up Reign of the Fallen for yourselves, and I hope you fall just as hard as I did.

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

Content and trigger warnings for addiction, talk of loss of a loved one, mention of a plague, and heavy grief depiction.

Blog Tour Review | The Shadowglass (The Bone Witch #3) by Rin Chupeco

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ARC provided by Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review.

1.) The Bone Witch ★★★★
2.) The Heart Forger ★★★★★

“There are worse things than black heartsglass, Tea. Silver is just as capable of hate.”

Most of you know this The Bone Witch trilogy is a series I hold very close to my heart, but I truly have been looking at this word document for the last twenty minutes completely unable to start this review. I’m not ready to say goodbye, and I’m equal parts in denial that it’s over, but in awe of how perfect Rin Chupeco closed this series out. I am so thankful for these books, and I will truly carry them with me forever.

The Shadow Glass is the concluding book in an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy series, that stars a bone witch named Tea who has the power to resurrect and control things, which she finds out in The Bone Witch when she accidentally resurrects her brother at his funeral. From there, Tea and her newly risen brother, Fox, go on a journey for Tea to learn about her asha powers, but they quickly feel and realize the expectations that all eight kingdoms are going to put on her.

In this world, all the people wear heartsglass around their necks. Your heartsglass will change colors depending on what you’re feeling but will overall stay mostly the same color. Yet, silver means you draw runes and they are so very important and are so very sought after. Other ashas control elements; fire, earth, water, and wind. But Tea is a dark asha who can control death. Bone witches are not very respected in this world, even though their powers hold the most important job in this world; defeating Daeva, which are different demons who dwell in this world, who are resurrected every so often.

“The darkness was inside me, I think, long before I raised my brother from the dead. My silver heartsglass merely gave it a mouth, made the darkness realize that it too can hunger…”

This story is told in my favorite format ever, which is half of it being told in present day from a bard, where you see the ramifications of everything that has happened in the past, where Tea appears to be the villain, but the other half is the past, from Tea’s perspective, where we get to slowly see the events unfold to bring us up to date with current day. Two timelines brilliantly woven together to give us the most epic finale of all time and truly is a masterpiece.

I feel like I can’t say that much more of a synopsis, because this is the last book in a trilogy, but watching Tea grow, from this girl who was so unsure of her future and her new powers, to this woman who learned to love not only others, but also herself and this power that felt so uncontrollable, and it was an honor to read, truly. And seeing this new journey that Tea has to take for herself in The Shadow Glass was completely enthralling and such a treat to read.

“I knew that shadowglass spell; I had committed it to memory nearly two years ago, and it was now a mantra, buried so deep within my psyche that nothing could pull it loose. I had pored over those words for so long that sometimes they came easier to me than my own name.”

But I couldn’t write up this review and not talk about the romance and how it completely still leaves me weak in the knees. I would completely lay my life on the line for Tea and Kalen and they are honestly everything. Also, I am just such a sucker for the protector/bodyguard/personal-warrior element in romances, and I seriously will never stop swooning over them. Truly the stuff dream OTPs are made of.

I do want to take a minute and talk about the sexual and gender representation in this book! There is a side f/f romance, which you don’t get to see that much of in this installment, but I still love them with the sum of my being! But what I really want to talk about is Likh and her transition. In all three books, we see Likh discovering how fluid gender can be, yet also testing out the waters of new things because of the gender roles, and power imbalances, people place on so many things in the societies all these characters explore, but in this book she decides her pronouns and after that everyone instantly respects her pronouns and her transition and it’s truly beyond words beautiful.

Okay, so I feel like I should write up a little personal paragraph, even though I don’t want to take away anything from this masterpiece of a trilogy. Rin Chupeco pulls from many Asian inspirations, but as a biracial Filipino it just means the world to me to see a Filipino author not only writing books that are completely in my wheelhouse, but to really have it reflect so much of my culture. Then, I also get to see an Asian girl and her Asian brother be best friends and willing to sacrifice anything for one another, and if you’ve followed my reviews for a while, you will know my brother is my best friend in the entire world, and I would sacrifice anything for him, and I’m just weak and soft and it really means so much to me. But lastly, we really get to see Tea living during the good mental health days and living during some really terrible mental health days. Mental health and Tea’s guilt, grief, and trauma is never shied away from in this story, and to even see this in an Asian inspired fantasy story is enough for me to build a shrine to Rin right this instant.

“I will save the kingdoms, and I will save you in the process, and maybe I will save the bits and pieces of myself that need rescuing too.”

And I don’t have an eloquent way to say it, this ending broke me. I read the last twenty-percent of this book with tears streaming down my face. So much perfection. Overall, this really is the book of my heart, and Tea is the character of my soul, and Rin Chupeco truly wrote a love letter for every girl out there who wants to change the broken world that people think is the default. If you haven’t started this series yet, please give it a try. I truly love it with my whole heart and soul, and I truly think it is so very worth your time.

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Content and trigger warnings for violence, death, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, brief mention of past parental abuse, and war themes.

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

(Thank you so much FFBC, for letting me be a part of this tour!)

 

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin

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“I’ve hidden my love for a woman for fifty years”

Wow, I loved this second chance romance so much. It was sweet, and heartwarming, but so real, and so heartbreaking. I laughed, I cried, I wanted more. Seriously, I’m so dang happy that I picked this up.

This story is told in flashbacks from present day to 1963, where we see two young girls discovering their sexuality. Hazel is at the bingo hall when she lays eyes on the new girl, Mari, for the very first time. Both come from strict and religious homes, but Mari’s homelife is far less supportive. And because of the 60s being a product of its time, they are never allowed to be together. That is, until they meet back up at a bingo hall, fifty years later.

“Since when is it a sin to be in love?”

But both Hazel and Mari have families and are leading lives where people depend on them. But neither is truly happy, or at least they know that they could be happier, if they were willing to take a risk. This story really is about how life is short, but no matter how short it is it will always be worth listening to your heart and trying to live the life that you want to live.

I do want to touch on a few other things that I truly loved about this graphic novel. First this is ownvoices, Tee Franklin is black and queer! Next, Hazel says the word pan on page! Hazel is also plus-sized! And I really loved the normalization of talking to a psychiatrist! This story just had so much good in it, and it truly touched me so very much.

Overall, this was just exactly what I wanted. It was equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, and just made me really appreciate the life I am able to live in 2019. Not saying that 2019 is perfect, but it’s better than the 60s and easier to surround myself with people who love and support me. I completely recommend this graphic novel with my whole heart. The art is perfect, the story is awe-inspiring, and the characters are truly unforgettable.

Oh, and this panel? Added five years to my life:

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Content and trigger warnings for homophobia, grey area cheating, and talk of illness/loss of a loved one.

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

 

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals, #2.5) by Alyssa Cole

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#1.) A Princess in Theory ★★★★
#2.) A Duke by Default ★★★★

“Out of all the train cars in all the world you had to walk into mine.”

Oh my word, this was glorious. Alyssa Cole just keeps proving, over and over, that she is the queen of romance, and that the Reluctant Royals series is such a bright shining light for the romance genre. And I truly and utterly fell completely in love with Likotsi and Fabiola, and this is one of my new favorite f/f stories ever written.

Likotsi is the personal assistant to Prince Thesolo, who we get to know very well in A Princess in Theory! She is also Black, a lesbian, and (in my opinion) a sexual icon. Seriously, I haven’t swooned this hard over a character in a long time. But Likotsi finally has some free time and is planning on spending some time exploring the city, but technical difficulties make her train break down. But maybe fate is at play a little bit, when her ex spots her through the train window.

Fabiola is an up and coming jewelry maker, who is social media famous, bisexual, and is also Haitian and from a family of immigrants, who are having problems with deportation. This book is such a sexy second chance romance, but it really shines a spotlight on very real things that are going on here in America and weaves these important discussions into this beautiful story seamlessly.

But Likotsi and Fabiola decide to get some lunch together, which kind of turns into them spending the day together. And the chapters begin to alternate from the present, to them meeting on a Tinder-like app, and then to why they eventually called it quits eight months ago. And I was so damn enthralled in all the timelines. And the chemistry between these two? Out of this damn world.

Also, I just wanted to also say that this is ownvoices for the Black representation but also the queer representation! And if you all have time, you should check out this article from The Mary Sue because it is magnificent.

Overall, I hope Alyssa Cole never stops writing this series. I will honestly read ninety-nine more installments, with the biggest smile on my face. This series is the stuff that OTPs are made of and Once Ghosted, Twice Shy proves that the side characters are even equally as perfect. And friends, I don’t even have words for how excited I am for A Prince on Paper this April! Also, I totally think you could read this one without reading the previous full-length books in the series! And I completely recommend you do so, if you’re looking for something quick, steamy, and romantic.

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Content and trigger warnings for deportation and forced separation of families.

Buddy read with Kathy from Kathy Trithardt! ❤