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

Goodreads | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound | Bookshop

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.

Goodreads | Instagram | Booktube Channel | Twitter

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

Night Shine by Tessa Gratton

Goodreads | Amazon US | Book Depository | B&N | IndieBound | Bookshop

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

Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin’ | Ko-fi | Twitch | Wishlist | Youtube

Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤

Out Now: Queer We Go Again! edited by Saundra Mitchell | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

Goodreads | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound | Bookshop

ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

Out Now: Queer We Go Again! Is an anthology that clearly did not learn whatsoever from the criticism of its predecessor All Out.

This is an anthology that features queer stories throughout all kinds of genres but that is about where the variety with this anthology stops. I read and loved All Out but one of the biggest criticism about that anthology was that it did not feature enough different identities on the sexuality and gender spectrum and sadly this anthology was the same.

Especially knowing that the first anthology was so heavily criticised for it, it feels extra disappointing to look back at these stories and realize that we still got barely any representation on the asexual and trans/non-binary spectrum and (if I am not mistaken) no representation on the aromantic spectrum whatsoever.
And not only that, this story fails at intersectionality in general. I would’ve wanted more stories about queer characters of colour but what was almost completely missing from this anthology were queer disabled characters, characters with mental illnesses, characters with different religious beliefs and fat characters.

Apart from those issues, I also just genuinely was not a fan of A LOT of these stories. And while it is normal that some stories in an anthology will be hit or miss for you, this one had so many misses and stories that I genuinely just DISLIKED, that it really to me stands out as one of the worst anthologies I have ever read.
Victory Lap by Julian Winters was the story that positively stood out to me the most. It provided a lot of comfort and made me want to read more stuff from this author.

But as a whole I cannot really recommend this anthology and I’m also really disappointed by the inclusion of Meredith Russo in this anthology, who easily still could’ve been cut before release.
But here are my individual reviews for all the stories.

Kick. Push. Coast by Candice Montgomery ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I absolutely loved this! It was one of the shorter stories within the anthology but a very wonderful one about the fluidity of both sexuality/attraction and gender, which is something that I always deeply appreciate.


What Happens in the Closet by Caleb Roehrig ⭐⭐⭐

GAYNESS AND VAMPIRES! WHAT A COMBINATION! I didn’t have very many feelings towards this story, if I’m honest. I wasn’t really feeling the characters or the development of the story. But it was fun… because vampires!

“If there’s anything I’ve learned from my brother, it’s that I could die before my life even starts, and I like… I like kissing you. I don’t want to stop. I’m tired of being lonely.”


Player One Fight! By Eliot Schrefer

That was… uh… quite the questionable experience honestly. Like genuinely I do not know what to say about this story, it like.. didn’t really have much of a point and just made me cringe in several ways.


Lumber Me Mine by CB Lee ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was such a lovely story and it featured an asexual love interest! I really was super invested in this one, completely forgetting I was reading a short story and not a full length novel at some point.

“Ash’s eyes are warm and brown and she’s standing close enough for Jasmine to see little f lecks of gold, and she’s so happy, right here in this moment, just the two of them smiling at each other, a moment stretching out into infinity.”


Follower by Will Kostakis ⭐⭐⭐

This was a cute story! There was a lot of talk on what being romantic means and the two boys in this story shared their experiences falling in love. It wasn’t anything special but I had a good time reading it.


Refresh by Mark Oshiro ⭐⭐⭐

Now this was an interesting story. It features two Latinx boys meeting for the first after they’ve talked on a dating app for a little while and it had some important themes packed into it. I can’t really say too much but while I personally wasn’t the biggest fan of one of the elements, I do very much appreciated that this talked about being a guy and plus-size, which is representation that we get so little, and also how that affects your dating life. This was a story that felt really intersectional and that made happy to see.


Victory Lap by Julian Winters: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This story was about a Black gay boy trying to find a date for the winter formal and having a conversation with his dad about it and I loved it so very much. I was really invested in this character’s story and his relationship with his dad and it absolutely warmed my heart. This story also mentioned a bunch of different identities (one of the side-characters is non-binary, they talked about a character potentially being bi, pan or questioning and in the conversation with the father) and while all that was very brief, I always appreciate when we get introduced to numerous labels within a story because it always makes me think that it might get readers to research those more and maybe find something that they identify with too! This was definitely one of the stand-out stories of this anthology for me personally and really made me want to check out Julian Winter’s novels!

“Everyone says it’s a parent’s job to protect their child, but why can’t I protect him? Why are there roles when it comes to protecting the ones we love?”


A Road of One’s Own by Kate Hart ⭐⭐

Oh man, this story was confusing and all over the place. I just had such a hard time keeping all of these characters apart and connect their stories to them. And this story also just felt really unnecessarily long while really not providing all that much content. Plus when I read one of the characters saying she is pansexual but she just tells everyone she’s a lesbian because people don’t know the label… I just personally felt incredibly uncomfortable about this. I loved that this story featured many people of colour (Indigenous love interest, a Latinx and Korean side-character) but too much of this story made me feel uncomfortable.


Seditious Teapots by Katherine Locke ⭐⭐

Another one of those stories that I am trying to appreciate because it had such an important discussion on identity and labels and pronouns plus it included anxiety and kinda potential depression rep but… I was just (once again) uncomfortable because this story was really based on someone completely overstepping their boundaries. It all ended up great and the person was just trying to be helpful but like.. YIKES IN SO MANY WAYS! Also the writing was a little bit messy, where I could barely decipher the text messages because they had no quotation marks or any other way to help you distinguish them. Keep in mind I read an ARC copy though, so hopefully changes were made.


Starcrossed in DC by Jessica Verdi ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was definitely one of my favourite stories of this anthology, I loved the setting and important message! And this one also really worked for me because while we got a full story with a cohesive ending and beginning, there is still so much left beyond this story and I really enjoy when I feel satisfied with the story while still somehow craving more. That’s definitely not easy to achieve.

“My whole life, I’ve been in front of cameras and crowds, representing something big, something I didn’t choose. This moment is new. Scary. But I’ve never felt more myself.”


Floating by Tanya Boteju ⭐⭐

I am left a little bit confused by this story because I feel like it might’ve had a main character with autism but.. it’s just never quite clear? And searching through the Goodreads review, NOBODY MENTIONED THIS AT ALL. So I’m saddened by the fact that this might’ve been a story with disability rep (it could’ve been ADHD as well) but it is not actually clarified on-page, which I really would’ve appreciated, considering this anthology features little disability rep otherwise. This story sadly didn’t really draw me in in general.


The Soft Place by Hillary Monahan ⭐⭐

Okaaaaaaay, so.. the main character in this was high as fuck so this story was a little bit exhausting to read. It was a nice idea – describing getting high as it being the main character’s soft place and I liked the message this story tried to portray too but at the end of the day, it was just a little bit too wild as far the writing goes and it ended up not being very pleasant to read. Also it kinda felt like the author was trying to include the message of this story subtly.. but at the end of it I felt more like having been hit over the head with it. But at least it was a hopeful one.


A Pound of Flesh by Kosoko Jackson

I did not enjoy this story and thought it was all over the place and way too convoluted for a short story. I feel like I was supposed to be intrigued by this story but I wasn’t whatsoever because the origin of the curse of the main character was never made clear. Also you will be kinda lost if you don’t know Greek mythology well.. and my eye was twitching a little bit about what Athena was representing in this story. The underlying message in this was lost on me because the way it was written it really seemed like the police stood for justice.. eh. Really not a fan of this one.

“My brother loves you. But caring about someone and loving someone are two very different things. Love is a powerful emotion. Just like hate, or bloodlust, or valor. My brother feels all those things. But he cares only about war.”


One Spell Too Many by Tara Sim ⭐⭐

God, I was so looking forward to this story because I really like Tara Sim as a person and enjoyed her novel Timekeeper so much.. and the beginning of this story was so promising to me because I absolutely loved the concept. But honestly the writing didn’t really speak to me whatsoever, it just seemed really basic and a little bit like the fanfiction that I wrote when I was younger. I also did not enjoy the plot at all because it focused so heavily on miscommunication which is honestly a trope that I am so very sick of seeing and I think in 2020 we have progressed past the use of love potions in stories, even if you enforce boundaries with it.


Far From Home by Saundra Mitchell ⭐⭐

Oh man, I feel like these stories have been cursed for me a little bit since Jessica Verdi’s story because this was another one that I just did not enjoy whatsoever. I thought it was confusingly written in many parts and it was entirely too cheesy for me personally. I mean, I do not mind cheesy usually but when it is just a short story where I am not attached to the characters and their relationship whatsoever, it just doesn’t work for me whatsoever. The best aspect about this story was that the main character was non-binary.


Once Upon a Seastorm by Fox Benwell

I literally have absolutely zero fucking idea what I just read. Like I don’t even know what to say right now because I am left speechless with how.. nonsensical all of this was. I’m sure the author had a really amazing vision but sadly I did not understand what this story was trying to do whatsoever. Content Warning for this being a story about a trans boy who is pregnant!


Overall, this has definitely put me off from reading any more of Saundra Mitchell’s anthologies in the future, even if I enjoyed All Out. It is one thing to not like the individual stories, it is another if I feel like an anthology specifically including queer stories offers barely any intersectionality or doesn’t make any effort to include more underrepresented identities.

Goodreads | Instagram | Booktube Channel | Twitter

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

Ironspark by C.M. McGuire | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

Goodreads | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound | Bookshop

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).

Goodreads | Instagram | Booktube Channel | Twitter

✨ 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

Goodreads | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound | Bookshop

“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.

Goodreads | Instagram | Booktube Channel | Twitter

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

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab | ARC Review

Goodreads | Amazon US | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound | Bookshop

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley 
Publication: October 6th, 2020 by Tor Books

“Stories come in so many forms: in charcoal, and in song, in paintings, poems, films. And books.”

This is a book about a girl, a boy, a devil, and the stories that get told and repeated and remembered. This is a tale of power dynamics and imbalances and what humans are willing to do to not feel trapped and alone. This is all about a young girl who lives her life for herself, who lives her life in spite of the odds, who lives her life in hopes someone will recall her from memory.

Everything about Addie LaRue completely blew me away. This is the first book by V.E. Schwab that I’ve given five stars to, and I’m not sure a day has passed since reading that I haven’t thought about it. I will say that I think this book (and more importantly the ending) could be a bit polarizing, but this story, this main character, and the way everything was structured just really worked perfectly for me and my reading tastes.

How do I even begin to describe this book to you? There are truly so many layers woven together to make this story. Many of you know, this is something that V.E. Schwab has been working on for a decade and you can tell they really put their whole heart and soul into these complex characters:

Addie – A girl with seven freckles, and she is told that there is one for every love she would ever have. She was born in a small town, and had small town expectations placed on her, but Addie had big dreams and desired to see as much of the world as she possibly could. And when she turns twenty-three, and everyone thinks her time is slowly running out, she quickly finds out that time is something she will never have to fear again.

“Spells are for the witches, and witches are too often burned.”

Henry – Works at a bookstore in New York while trying to live his life to the fullest. And he happens to be able to see a girl that has never been remembered before.

“I remember you.”

Luc – A god you should never pray to after dark, unless you are very desperate, and feel very helpless, and are willing to pay the unknown price.

“I am stronger than your god and older than your devil. I am the darkness between stars, and the roots beneath the earth. I am promise, and potential, and when it comes to playing games, I divine the rules, I set the pieces, and I choose when to play. And tonight, I say no.”

And maybe, just maybe, Addie felt like she should be able to pay the price when she runs into the forest one night, willing to risk everything to have a life that is hers once and for all. We get to see Addie and her struggles and her growth over the course of three-hundred-years, starting in 1714 France and switching to 2014 America. We get to see so much of Addie’s hurt throughout the centuries, but we also get to see so much of her yearning. Yearning for love, yearning for knowledge, yearning for art, yearning for a life that is worthy of remembrance. Truly, this book was able to evoke such visceral reactions from me, and I could truly feel Addie’s yearning, and her hurt, on every page.

Now that I have used the word “yearning” one-hundred times, let’s talk about some of the rep in Addie LaRue, because there are lots of queer characters and characters who read queer! Addie is pan or bi, and we get to see her in relationships with different genders throughout this book, but the main relationship (and yearning) is m/f. I believe Henry is pan, but it is never said on page, but “he’s attracted to a person first and their gender second” had me and my pan heart ascending to new heights, I promise you that. Addie and Henry are both white, but there are POC side characters and other identities on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum (gay, lesbian, maybe some polyamorous hints)! And this book, has some very serious depression representation!

“It’s just a storm, he tells himself, but he is tired of looking for shelter. It is just a storm, but there is always another waiting in its wake.”

Being unsure what you want in life. Especially in your twenties. Feeling like something is wrong with you. Feeling like you’ll never be enough. Feeling like you’ll never be whole. Feeling like you are just disappointing everyone around you. Feeling like no one will ever take the time to see you, the real you, and choose to love you unconditionally anyways. Whew, it’s a lot, and V.E. Schwab really didn’t hold back while writing Henry and his mental health. I don’t want to make this too personal, but it means a lot to me, and I know Henry’s journey is going to mean a lot to so many people and impact a lot of lives.

(Also, friendly reminder that life is truly a vast range of up and down journeys! And you, and your journey, are valid, and I see you no matter how hard that journey feels at times. There will be lots of heavy days, but lots of light days too, I promise. And you are so worthy of love, and kindness, and respect, no matter where you are at on your journey. And feeling too much is not a curse, ever. And I’m proud of you, and you are never alone with what you are feeling, and sometimes we all need help with some storms: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

“His heart has a draft. It lets in light. It lets in storms. It lets in everything.”

Plus, a key component of this story is the god who Addie makes a deal with. Addie and Luc’s three-hundred-year bargain is so very messy and has so very many different elements. But the key element is the unhealthy power dynamic. Over this course of time, we get to see their relationship change, and morph, and grow, and we get to see Addie desperately trying to gain some of the power for herself. But, it is a very unhealthy cycle of abuse and this story is told in a way where the reader gets to see these power imbalances come more and more into play and Luc and Addie set the stage of their game(s) more and more. I’ll be the first to say I always wanted more of Luc, and I loved every chapter he was in, and I constantly wanted to know more about him, but I will also say that I personally feel like V.E. Schwab was very deliberate with his character and with making him charming and intriguing and a character to be romanticized, because abusers can have all of those characteristics and still be abusers.

But we get to see Luc, and Henry, and Addie, and watch their intertangled stories unwind. I truly feel like I can’t say much more about the actual story, and I believe it’s probably best to not know much more than what I’ve said above, but seeing these characters, during all their different phases in life, both alone and together, is truly something like a work of art.

“Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives—or to find strength in a very long one.”

This entire story truly is a love letter to art and the beautiful, awe inspiring, mind-blowing way stories are held within art, therefore held in so many hearts forever. Maybe even creating and inspiring other art, to make the sweetest ripple effect of them all. Art and stories are so powerful because they have the power to heal wounds that are too deep to be touched by other things. From feeling love, to feeling not alone, to inspiring, to escape, to be thought provoking, to be educational, to make you realize things you have been forced to internalize and unlearn, to something as simple yet as hard as happiness.

“Because time is cruel to all, and crueler still to artists. Because vision weakens, and voices wither, and talent fades. ” He leans close, twists a lock of her hair around one finger. “Because happiness is brief, and history is lasting, and in the end, ” he says, “everyone wants to be remembered.”

While I was reading this book, me and my best friend Lea watched a video that was reuploaded on V.E.’s YouTube. It was basically just an hour-long discussion that they had with Tessa Gratton, where they talk about many things, but one of the things they talked about that I especially haven’t been able to stop thinking about since finishing this book was that we never get to really pick what work we will be known for. Obviously, Victoria is very well-know from their series A Darker Shade of Magic, and it very well could be the greatest legacy that the world will know from them. Yet, they talk about how Addie LaRue is the book of their heart, and (I do not want to put any words in their mouth) it kind of felt like to me the book they may want the world to know them for. Yet, we never really get to choose what we are known for, do we? A very astounding concept to think about, truly, and one I couldn’t stop feeling deeply in my bones while I finished the last half of this book. Also, to think about how the human experiences could boil down to this hunger we all have to leave a mark on this world before we are forced to leave it all together? Very powerful stuff, truly. But I promise, V.E. Schwab and Addie Larue most definitely left their marks on me, and my heart, forever with this book.

“Humans are capable of such wondrous things. Of cruelty, and war, but also art and invention.”

Overall, this book made me yearn for so many things while also constantly making me question what it is to hunger. To crave your freedom, to crave someone who will see all the parts of you, to crave remembrance. I just feel like this book really touched on the human experience, but in such a incredibly raw and indistinguishably beautiful way. I really loved The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and it will without a doubt make my best of 2020 list. Thank you for letting me be a part of your story, thank you for always reading this part of mine, and I promise you will never be invisible to me.

5

Goodreads | Instagram | Bloglovin’ | Ko-fi | Twitch | Wishlist | Youtube

Trigger and Content Warnings: attempted assault, abuse depiction, loss of a loved one, substance abuse, depression depiction, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide, and mention of cancer in the past.

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

Buddy read with Maëlys! ❤

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

Goodreads | Amazon US | B&N | Book Depository | IndieBound | Bookshop

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.

Goodreads | Instagram | Booktube Channel | Twitter

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