Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao | Blog Tour

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ARC Provided by the Author & Caffeine Book Tours 
Publication: September 21, 2021 by Penguin Teen

“This world does not deserve my respect. It is not worthy of my kindness or compassion.”

I’ll be completely honest, when I read the author note at the start of this book I knew I was about to fall in love with a new story. Xiran Jay Zhao lets the reader know that you are about to get a love letter to Chinese culture, Chinese history, and the only female Chinese emperor! The author does not shy away from the ugly things, but always shines such a powerful light on all the beauty, and truly crafts such an inspiring tale of a girl who will rise up the ranks and become more powerful than anyone ever let her believe or dream, including her family, her country, and even herself.

This story is Asian, queer, and all about abolishing the patriarchy and gender roles that every society tries to make people fit with their judgement, expectations, and laws. “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China’s only female emperor” is the perfect tagline for this book! And this story is truly so powerful, so beautiful, and so high on my recommendations lists for you all!

Okay, on to the giant transforming robots and what the story is actually about! In this world, Huaxia is trying to protect the Great Wall against Hunduns and their alien mechs (who have already developed and established their own society and way of life on the other side of the wall And Huazia has modified versions of these robots that they call Chrysalises, and constant waves of battle are happening and being broadcasted for the people to watch and be entertained by. The pilots of these mechs are able to transform them into East Asian mythical creatures, and sometimes they are able to gain more special abilities under very specific circumstances when two pilots are able to bond together, weave their qi together, fight stronger together, and have a big adventure in battles together. But there are so few bonded pilots in this world.

But in Huaxia, young boys are hailed as heroes for piloting these machines, but it always takes two pilots, no matter how much society wishes to forget about the evils of the other seat. Young girls are given up by their families to serve the army and have their qi tested to see if they would be able to help pilot alongside a powerful boy. The thing is, most times the boy completely invades, using a psychic link, and uses up every ounce of lifeforce the girl has, killing her during battle.

“I wouldn’t live and suffer for anyone else, but I would die to avenge my sister.”

➽ Wu Zetian – our main character, who is ready to enlist herself in to the army, to the same pilot who her big sister was enlisted to, but only her ashes were given back. On a mission of pure vengeance, and being sick of being held back because of the gender she was assigned at birth, she finally wants to reclaim some semblance of power for her sister, even if she has to pay for it with her life. But when she gets into her first mech as a concubine-pilot, the world is not ready for the power she truly has to offer, even if it could change the war for once and for all. She also uses a cane and sometimes a wheelchair because of the seriousness and pain of her footbinding.

➽ Li Shimin – the Iron Demon, pilot of the Vermillion Bird, and the scariest and most powerful pilots of them all. Not a single girl has made it out of his mech alive during battle. Was on actual death row for murder because his qi power was tested and noticed and now he is forced to endure another type of prison. He also is bisexual and half Rongdi. He is also struggling with alcoholism and immense trauma and grief. (unrelated, but I would give my life for him this very second.)

➽ Gao Yizhi – son of a powerful man who controls many of the social and public relations standards of Huaxia. Yizhi would sneak out and meet Zetian once a month in the forest of her village and help teach her things and just be a good friend to her. When I tell you I would die for this character. I also feel like the author really gave him some 11/10 one-liners. He is also bisexual and really does such a beautiful job teaching Zetian about polyamory. (yes, these three end up in a relationship together, even though it is not the central plot, it is perfect and I hope we are able to see more stories in the future normalize polyamorous relationships in the seamless way this one did!)

“love isn’t some scarce resource to battle over. Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open.”

But we follow (and fall head over heels in love with) this trio, while they attempt to dismantle the patriarchy and different types of oppression these people have been facing since even before Zhou fell. I know I just gave you a lot of information, but I promise you the author does so much of a better job immersing you in this story and world. Their writing is actually the best writing I’ve read in the past few years and the amount of highlights my eARC has is actually sickening.

I also just deeply loved the themes of feminism and how sometimes things can feel exceptionally heavy when you have been raised your entire life to honor your elders and trust that they know best, when we still have so many systems (and corrupt governments) to dismantle in our world today. I’m typing this review in 2021 where you are still unable to get a divorce in the Philippines that isn’t an annulment, and how living in the US means constantly seeing powerful men make laws that take away women’s rights to their own bodies.

“I close my eyes, picturing myself taking command of a Chrysalis, towering over buildings and smashing the earth with my colossal limbs or luminous qi blasts. I could crush anyone who’s ever tried to crush me. I could free all the girls who’d love to run away.”

Overall this was just the Asian, queer, polyamorous, feminist sci-fi story of my dreams. The layers were so haunting and deep, the themes were so loud and important, the writing was pure perfection and genius levels of lyrical, and the characters were completely and wholeheartedly unforgettable. And I truly believe that book two, and the conclusion to this duology, will be even better come 2022.

Also, this author is just really cool and creates really amazing content on youtube and their blog. I truly think they are just so inspirational, and I believe one day they will have a few stories written about them and the hope and happiness they are giving to so many, including so many Asian kids all around the world who are feeling so seen and feeling even more pride in their cultures.

Also (lastly for real), this book being published on September 21st, the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, and celebrating another story about a woman, a rabbit, and their sacrifices brings actual tears to my eyes. Very galaxy brain of this author and pub house and just a really beautiful final touch.

Iron Window will for sure make my best books of 2021 list, and I am so truly proud and honored to have been on the blog tour for such a powerful story.

Content + Trigger Warnings: murder, death, torture, violence, gore, human sacrifices, thoughts of suicide, a lot of abuse (including domestic abuse and parental abuse), talk of sexual assault, extreme alcohol addiction, lots of consumption of alcohol, lots of depictions of blood, lots of depictions of trauma, depictions of depression, anxiety depictions and panic attacks, many mentions of needles, forced body modifications including footbinding and stolen organs, humiliation, misogyny and sexism, talk of disease, themes of colonization, and war themes

5


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

(i’m the worst) buddy read(er) with May ❤

Xiran Jay Zhao is a first-gen immigrant from small-town China who was raised by the Internet​. A recent graduate of Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, they wrote science fiction and fantasy while they probably should have been studying more about biochemical pathways. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Iron Widow is their first novel.

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A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee


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“Once upon a time I found it so easy to forget the stories about Godwin House and the five Dalloway witches who lived here three hundred years ago, their blood in our dirt, their bones banging from our trees.”

I feel like all of Goodreads was screaming “sapphic dark academia with murder and witches” at me to read this, which I very happily obliged, but even with keywords as magnificent as those I still found so many other things to fall in love with about this story.

This is such a beautifully crafted and hauntingly atmospheric book staring a lesbian main character who is coming back to finally finish her senior year at a very spooky boarding school. She is also living with an immense amount of grief, anxiousness, and psychotic depression.

Dalloway School is a very isolated school, and the house that Felicity is going to be sharing with four other girls is even more isolated from the rest of the campus. And even though there are beliefs of witchcraft all over the school, the Godwin House is where five young suspected witches lived before they were murdered 300 years ago.

The writing in this is so wildly fresh, and pleasing, and dare I even say the most aesthetic. The word choices and how each sentence is structured feels so very deliberate and it truly made the whole reading experience even better and even more haunting. Truly some of the best words and passages I’ve read in such a long while and it was truly a treat every single time I picked up this book, while I also seamlessly fell back into the story.

There is also a major theme and plot of literature and how these five girls are working on different theses. Felicity’s thesis is about misogyny and the portrayal of women in horror literature. Where a new girl named Ellis is working on an entire book, trying to research these murders to help be inspired for her next award winning novel. And because their projects kind of go together (and because they are living in a really creepy house that five women lived before they were murdered) they decide to work together, and Ellis very much wants to prove to Felicity that magic is not real once and for all.

I really loved the constant bringing up of mental health in the past and how women who were not understood (even without mental health struggles) were so easily deemed witches and made them pay for it with their lives. I also just loved how we get to see an unreliable narrator talk about lots of unreliable narrators! Again, the writing in this book is just so well structured and it is so impressive all the building layers.

But this book also centers around some very heavy and important things, like the importance of taking your prescribed medications, and how scary isolation can be and how it can also make you much more susceptible to be abused without necessarily realizing it easily. And also, how much darker things can turn when those two things are happening to you simultaneously!

I just had a really good time reading this, I think it’s not only beautiful but it’s so very important, and the ending will truly leave you screaming.

“…old and rotten tales about missing girls and desolate mountain cliffs, how Felicity Marrow claimed it was an accident, but no one else was there to say for sure.”


Trigger and Content Warnings:
murder, death, gore, violence, grief, loss of a loved one, a lot of blood depiction, rituals, a lot of alcohol consumption (under aged), a lot of smoking, substance abuse, talk of racism, anxiety, anxiety attack, vomiting, self harm (to get blood), talk of suicidal thoughts, actual suicidal thoughts, talk of being institutionalized in past, mention of illness with an elderly family member, lots of mentions of not taking prescribed antidepressants, gaslighting, manipulation, abuse, a situation with sever parental neglect and abandonment, and animal deaths that are pretty dark. in general, this book is very graphic, and have very visceral depictions of struggling with mental health, please use caution!

4
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Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

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“For almost the past year I’ve been in love with a girl named Laura Dean.”

Freddy Riley is a 17-year-old lesbian Asian-American who is seeking the advice of an online romance dating column, because her girlfriend keeps breaking up with her over and over. And each time Laura Dean comes back into Freddy’s life, Freddy feels more and more shattered when she leaves, and she is unable to see what she can do to change the situation.

“What is it like to love this person who keeps breaking up with you and then presumably coming back to you? What does your love with this person offer you? Does it make you happy? Does it give you what you need to be a better person?”

This graphic-novel has so many layers, but this is truly a story about an abusive relationship, and how sometimes it can be so hard to see even when the lows feel so low, because the highs are so high. Laura gaslights, manipulates, and emotionally abuses Freddy in so many different ways, while also fetishizing having an Asian girlfriend.

This is also a story about friendship and how sometimes those can be hard to maintain, especially when you are going through a lot in your own life. And sometimes, especially when you are young and discovering who you are and want to be, it’s extra easy to lose yourself while only thinking about being someone’s favorite. Yet, it is never too late to try to be a good friend. And life is truly full of phases, and all friendships are different.

The prose is lyrical and oh so beautiful. I feel like I could have highlighted more quotes in this story than any other graphic novel to date. And the art? The most beautiful black, white, grey, and pink pallet, with details that are insane. This combination truly is a tier above and feels like something of magic.

This is a very diverse graphic-novel. Again, Freddy is an Asian-American lesbian, but the rest of the cast are also queer and/or poc, with a lot of body diversity too. And this story never shames these teens for getting into hard situations. It’s also incredibly realistic, and even when the discussions are difficult, they always feel hopeful to the reader. There is also a good mention of how different seventeen and eighteen are when it comes to where you are at in life and dating, especially when one is in high school and one is in college. (Give me Vi’s spinoff, I am begging!) And polyamory is even briefly discussed and the difference between consenting healthy dynamics compared to dynamics of polyamory uneven power where people are being taken advantage of.

“Love is hard. Breaking up is hard. Love is dramatic. Breaking up is dramatic.”

Overall, I really loved this, and I think it is such an important graphic-novel that truly can change people’s lives, especially queer poc in high-school feeling like they are doing something wrong in their abusive relationships. Relationships can be so hard and so messy, and breakups can be even harder and messier. I truly so wish that I had a graphic-novel about a queer biracial Asian girl when I was in high school, living through toxic breakups, but I’ll still keep Freddy Riley in my heart forever and recommend Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me constantly. (And I really loved… the part with the mom!)

Oh, and lastly, Lea gifted me this for my birthday and I thought it would be cute to read it and review it on her birthday! I am very thankful for her and this story that I really will cherish forever and always. 💕

Content and Trigger Warnings: underage drinking, abusive relationship, emotional abuse, cheating, manipulation, gaslighting, microaggressions, racism, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, and a relationship with a minor (17 + not sure how old but over 18).

4
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Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley

“Reading will make you brilliant but writing will make you infinite.”

Juliet Takes a Breath is a graphic novel adaptation of the novel with the same title and unpacks so many different themes, from white feminism and intersectionality to finding your place in queer spaces, heartbreak and coming out.

At the center of this story is Juliet, who moves from the Bronx to Portland, Oregon, to start an internship with a feminist author called Harlowe Brisbane. During this internship she gets introduced to a super diverse group of queer people and finds a queer space to belong for the first time.

As time goes on, Juliet becomes more comfortable within queer spaces but also learns that Harlowe Brisbane is not everything that she had hoped she would be and represent for her.

“They didn’t even know me and it was like they loved me. I almost couldn’t accept it. Like the ache of Lainie had me numb way deep in my spirit too.”

There is truly so much to say about Juliet Takes a Breath because it unpacked so many different themes but I thought it was all done incredibly well. I haven’t read the original novel but this graphic novel had me so hooked and so in love, that it made me want to read it, even though I now obviously know the basic storyline.

But it just made me so intriguied to see how the novel unpacks all of these issues because if the graphic novel already did it so well in such a small amount of pages, then surely the novel will be doing an ever greater job at it!

I also just adored all the characters in this novel so much and I would want to read more about them. This novel features an incredibly diverse cast of characters! Most of them are queer and/or genderqueer, we have Black characters, Latinx characters and a biracial (White & Korean) love interest.
Juliet herself is Puerto Rican, fat and a lesbian. She also has asthma and is shown using her inhaler on page.

“And you get to decide what you believe and how you worship yourself.”

Even though Juliet has known for a long time that she is gay and feels quite comfortable and confident in that identity, and even has been in a relationship for a year, she hasn’t really been part of any queer community and she really finds a wonderful support system with these people.

The story actually starts with Juliet coming out as a lesbian to her family and while a lot of the members of her family are dismissive at first, most of them are accepting. But Juliet’s mother does not accept her sexuality and calls it “just a phase” and thinks that Juliet just needs to find the right guy. It was a storyline that obviously many queer people can relate to and that I thought was well done overall.

I really loved Juliet’s relationship with her brother, even though we only got to read about it briefly and later on in the novel we meet Juliet’s cousin and aunt who live in Miami, who were also such wonderful characters to read about and had a big impact on Juliet’s journey too.

“Juliet Milagro Palante. I love you like the seas love the moon. Whatever you are, whoever you love, I’m here.”

One of the biggest themes of this graphic novel was white feminism and the saviour complex that white people have. This is definitely a story that is not always a fun and happy read, it can be quite uncomfortable at times. But it shows a reality of our world and I really appreciated that the author was so blunt about it.

This graphic novel talks about casual racism, it talks about how reverse racism doesn’t exist, it’s about how white people will so often overstep and speak over people of colour when they are trying to help. And it’s also about holding people accountable.
All those aspects, while brief, due to the nature of this format, were so well done and surely very eye-opening for many people.

On top of all that, Juliet Takes a Breath also has themes of different kinds of romantic relationships and how self-love plays an important role in that. We see that the relationship that Juliet is in in the beginning of the story does not seem very healthy and it shows just how important communication is in a relationship.

But within the course of this novel, Juliet starts dating someone else and it is a really beautiful development. There is also a great f/f sex scene with a big emphasis on consent and masturbation is also explored in this graphcic novel. Neither of thoses scenes are explicit but make it very clear what’s happening.

“Kira felt like home. Like a million street bikes zipping down the bronx river parkway and popping endos under the elevated trains. Dinosaur-sized butterflies fluttered in my stomach.”

And of course there is the beautiful art style, that I truly loved and that only added so much love for this graphic novel for me. I loved the line art and how much very clear body diversity there was with these characters. It also has a very warm and pleasant colour palette, that just made it a very pleasing reading experience.

“Gender is a trip. Limitless like the universe.”

Overall, as you might be able to tell from this review, I truly loved this graphic novel and cannot wait to dive into the novel soon because I am just that in love with the characters and themes in this story!

Trigger and Content Warnings for homophobia, racism, fatshaming, sexual harassment, smoking (weed), use of d-slur (in a reclaiming nature).

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

Ruinsong by Julia Ember | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“These mages put too much stock in their songs. They never notice how much you can say in silence. ”

Ruinsong is a novel that really draws you in with its intriguing magic system and having a really refreshing take on some familiar YA Fantasy themes.

Ruinsong is set in a world with mages whose most powerful tool is their voice. Singing is their way of casting spells. One of our main characters, Cadence, is such a mage. She is employed by the queen to torture the noble people and make them compliant.

The other POV we follow is Remi, a noblewoman and old childhood friend of Cadence’s. She is one of the few nobles who really sees through the queen’s scheme and starts rebelling against the sytsem.

When Remi suddenly becomes the queen’s prisoner because her family is suspected to be involved in the rebellion, her and Cadence get reunited and Cadence starts questioning her upbringing and loyalty to the queen.

“Others around us begin to chant their thanks as well. Praise be to our most gracious, merciful queen, who has healed us, who has reminded us once again of our place, who keeps our country safe. How can they thank her? The queen is a monster, with a menagerie of torturers at her beck and call.”

I absolutely loved the magic system and it was for sure the stand-out element of this novel for me. Just the idea itself, of the magic being cast by singing, is something that I found so very intriguing. I loved reading Cadence’s chapters and seeing how the magic works and how you are attuned to certain things as a corporeal singer. It really seemed like the author put a lot of thought into the magic system, as it was describe very detailed.

I did feel like we didn’t learn too much about the world itself but it was easy enough to understand. And because the magic system was so intricate, it didn’t really bother me that we didn’t find out too much about the world building in general.

What we do find out about the world was that it had been a queendom for hundreds of years. It was also very interesting to read about the differences between the nobles, the commoners and mages. The nobels represent a more conservative society, who resist change, especially when it comes to views of gender and sexuality and they still engage in arranged marriages for political reasons.
Their views are seen as outdated, especially compared to the mages, who freely get to love and marry whoever they want to and the commoners are starting to adapt that same thinking too.

“If I had been born a mage, I would be free to flirt with pretty girls, and no one would judge me for it. I’ve imagined myself sometimes: strolling through the market with a mage’s badge pinned to my collar, winking at the shopgirls or seducing a fire-haired tavern wench over a mug of ale.”

One of my favourite elements of this story is Cadence starting to understand that she grew up in a very controlled environment and that her magical education was always very selective. I love elements like that in a story, where a characters eyes get opened to an aspect of their own magic that had been hidden from them before and I thought that this aspect was very well executed in this story.

In general I absolutely loved reading from Cadence’s point of view and finding out her story. Even with being loyal to the queen, she questions her ways and doesn’t want to be a singer that tortures the people. She sees herself in a position where her magic is still the best option for the folk because her healing powers are so strong too.
I thought that Cadence was a very nuanced, complex and interesting character to read about.

“Madam Guillard didn’t once mention that there were spells I could learn, even when I ran to her sobbing after Ren had hexed me. She always told me it was impossible to block. Has my tutor, my mentor, left me vulnerable by choice?”

There is a romantic storyline between Remi and Cadence and it is basically a childhood friends to enemies to lovers romance. I will say that their relationship didn’t really stand out to me much. Maybe it was because they already knew each other as children and so I felt like I missed out on their development and didn’t feel attached to their friendship or romantic relationship.
Their chemistry was very well written though.

Apart from the queer representation, Remi is described as chubby. There is one fatshaming incident in the book but it is challenged and Remi states that she generally does not mind being called fat, as long as it is said as a fact and not an insult.

“I wonder what it would be like to undo them one by one, to trace my fingers down the hollow of her spine, to follow the touch with my lips. What would her skin taste like? Would her back, so supple and firm, quiver when I kissed it? Would she arch up into my touch?”

Overall, I enjoyed reading Ruinsong a lot, even though I wasn’t super invested in all the elements of the story and found the ending to be anti-climatic.
But this novel’s magic system was one of the most intricate and intriguing ones that I have read about in a while and I would absolutely recommend it.

Trigger and Content Warnings for mentions of cancer, animal death (the death itself is not on page but the scene of the main character discovering the animal is very graphic), blood, torture, vomiting.

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

The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska | Drumsofautumn Review

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“A queen should answer to no one. Not the heavens, not the earth, not the sea. Especially not to something so temperamental as the tide.”

The Dark Tide is a novel that drew me in with its incredible world building and intriguing magic system but ultimately lost me when it comes to the plot.

This novel is about Lina, who fears that her brother will be the boy chosen to be the witch queen’s sacrifice to save the island this year. In order to protect him, she gets help from the boy she loves, Thomas, but then he ends up being chosen as the sacrifice.
Lina feels like it is her fault that Thomas got chosen and offers herself as a sacrifice in exchange for Thomas’s freedom, thinking she can find another way to appease the island.

And so we follow Lina on her journey of finding out more about the sacrifices and we also get to see the point of view of Eva, the current witch queen, mourning her sister, the witch queen before her, who sacrificed herself in the year prior in order to save the boy she loved.

“I’m not going to be made to feel bad for saving someone’s life. No matter how afraid I am now, I would still make the same choice. I’d rather die knowing I saved the person I loved than live knowing I abandoned them to save myself. But that doesn’t mean that I want to die.”

The atmosphere of this book is so amazing. I truly feel like it has been a really long time since I have last read a book with an atmosphere that I truly felt so captivated by. I very much found myself being able to envision all the places that I read about so very well and constantly wanting to know more about the history of the island and sacrifices.

The magic system was something that I was very much fascinated by, especially the fact that there is magic that the islanders can buy in the form of potions from the witches. Because this was an aspect that I enjoyed so much, I really wish this would’ve been explored even more because I truly couldn’t get enough of the possibilities of the magic that both the witches themselves were able to cast, but also the islanders through them.

“People claimed witches were nightmares, dreams, but Eva felt they were closer to plants; wild magic grew inside of each of them, waiting to be harvested in the strands of their hair, their salt tears, their spit and blood.”

I thought that the relationship between the witches and the islanders in general was a really intriguing and unique aspect. The Witch Queen is obviously not immensely popular with the islanders because she sacrifices a boy every year but they are grateful too cause they know they share the same interest too, which is to protect the island. While the main focus of this story is the conflict of the sacrifice, it was interesting to see that the witches and islanders actually live in peace, having a common enemy in the mainlanders.

“A witch’s house reflected those who dwelled within it. It was a mirror held up to their souls. Eva decided her soul must be a very black and twisted thing, because she missed the cold silence, the dark and its merciful shadows.

I also loved reading about Lina being a dancer, especially with her being injured and how that affects her. I have read a couple of Contemporary books focused on dance but it was really special to read about a dancer in a Fantasy setting and I don’t think I’ve ever had that experience before.

I very much related to Lina’s experience and could recognize myself in her thoughts and feelings about dance itself and about how it is so hard to recover from an injury when you have learned for years and years to constantly push yourself and you barely know what it is like to take a break. This was an aspect of this book that stood out to me specifically and that I feel very fond of.

“How strangely good it had felt, though. To leap. To spin. To sway. To dance as death stared her down. How alive she had felt in that moment. She’d held a monster captive with the turn of her body, the stamp of her heel on deck. A different kind of magic than the one Eva wielded, maybe, but magic all the same.”

I enjoyed reading from both the characters perspectives very much and I thought that it was very smart to include both POVs.
But I wanted so much more from the relationship between the two, especially as they had some really, really strong scenes. Their chemistry was through the roof and I loved the banter between them but ultimately I still didn’t really find myself invested in their relationship whatsoever, which was honestly the aspect that let me down the most.

And maybe I could blame this on my expectations too. I think I just went into this novel, thinking it would focus much more on the romantic relationship, when it actually more so focused on both main character’s family relationships. And that is an aspect that I do really love reading about but I just feel like the romantic storyline fell a little bit flat in comparison to that.
Now, I am not sure if there is going to be a sequel to this book but I read it thinking it was going to be a standalone and with that in mind, I just wanted more of Lina and Eva’s relationship.

I did love the casual queerness of this book, with obviously both of the main characters being queer (with Lina stating multiple gender attraction), but also Lina having two mums and there being a trans side-character.

“And something inside of her broke free, the lock wrenched off a door she hadn’t known existed, endless possibilities spilling over. Why hadn’t she ever thought of this? She was the rain—transformed. Floating and burning and falling, falling, falling.”

But in general I felt that, especially because I had been so intrigued by so many of the aspects in this story, I was extra disappointed by the overall plot of the book but especially the last 30% of it, as the ending felt quite rushed too.
As we were finally getting to a point in the last third that I felt like the plot was truly picking up, the scene was very abruptly cut off and we basically hit the epilogue section of this book. It just all felt almost anticlimactic to me.

And then there is Lina’s relationship with her brother, which needed so much more exploration on page. This is truly an aspect that I do not even know where to start unpacking because it is really complex but I just feel like this was not talked about enough at the end of this book. Lina has several conflicts with her brother and he is always described as someone with a temper, to the point where him getting mad was the reason that Lina’s ankle got injured. And Lina often describes being scared of her brother or how he might react to certain things.

“Every muscle in her body had braced instinctively at the first sign of his temper rising. She wondered if it would always be this way between them now. As if it wasn’t just her ankle that had broken, but something else, something irreparable.”

This relationship very much reads like an abusive one and I do not think that this aspect was explored enough in detail. It is one thing for Lina, as a character, to think that her brother’s behaviour is okay, because she knows that he loves her and she loves him and that he means no harm and it’s “just the way he is”. That is definitely behaviour that would be absolutely normal to obverse in a victim of abuse.

But it is never made clear to the reader, that this is very much not okay behaviour. And while many readers will still be able to see those aspects, I do not think abuse like this (especially in YA) should be something to be left so openly and to be interpreted by the reader.
I just really wish there had been some repercussions for the way Lina’s brother behaves.

“Lina liked to imagine she would be like that: fearless when it mattered most, unbreakable when it came to protecting the person she loved.”

Overall, I just wanted so much more from this novel. There are lots of aspects that I enjoyed and appreciated but ultimately I felt more so disappointed by this book because I felt like it couldn’t live up to its potential and tried to unpack too many aspects at once.

Trigger and Content Warnings for self-harm (for magical purposes), blood, violence and domestic abuse.

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

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston | ARC Review

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ARC provided by St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley
Publication: June 1, 2021

“August doesn’t believe in most things, but it’s hard to argue that Jane wasn’t put on the Q to fuck up her whole life.”

Red, White & Royal Blue was one of my favorite books of 2019. I was able to get a very early ARC of it, and I fell so deeply in love with this alternate reality I so desperately wanted to live in as a queer biracial with a hopeless romantic heart. Casey’s prose, characters, romance, banter, and (obviously) themes were everything to me, and I knew that they would take the book world by storm with their expectation-shattering debut. But then when they announced their next book would be sapphic Kate & Leopold, with an Asian love interest? Be still, my entire heart and soul. So when I tell you that I ignored every single ARC I needed to read and review before this one for the next eight months, I say that with my whole chest because there was no way I could stop myself once it hit my kindle.

One Last Stop is a story about a twenty-three-year-old bi girl named August who has moved from university to university, state to state, looking for a place that will feel like a home she has never known. Her whole life, her mother has expected her to assist in solving a missing person case from the 70s, but August just wants to find herself, her own way, and wants to feel like she finally belongs somewhere. At the start of this story, she has made it to New York where is she going to finish her degree, and thanks to a questionably placed looking-for-roommates advertisement in a Popeyes she starts to feel like maybe she could eventually call this city and these roommates home.

The Roommates:
Niko – trans Latino psychic (good) bartender (not so good)
Myla – queer Black electrical engineer turned artist (has an adoptive Chinese mom, who really added to the story so beautifully to me, so I am mentioning it here too!)
Wes – queer Jewish tattoo artist

Oh, and I am fully in love with all three of them and the found family depicted in this book is so heartwarmingly perfect, I promise you! There are even more side characters who will easily steal your heart, too, and there is also a big emphasis on New York’s drag scene, and how queer people of color are still paving the way in 2020. This book has a very diverse cast, and we see so many different cultures, sexualities, genders, religions, and more. (There is for sure bigger body representation with August, but I’m not sure that I would say it is fat representation. I will edit this and quote an ownvoices reviewer mutual once they read and review! Also, it is brought up a couple times that August’s mom conceived her via in vitro fertilization, and I just feel like we don’t really get to see that a lot in books and I really loved that too!)

But on August’s very first day’s commute to school, where she takes the Q train subway line, she is having a bit of bad luck and an exceptionally large coffee stain. But all that luck seems to change right before her very eyes, when she meets a girl who gives August her red scarf without hesitation. She can’t stop thinking about the girl who saved her bad day, and the low chances of her being at that exact spot when she needed someone in a city that is so busy second meetings never happen, especially on the subway. That is, until she sees the girl again, and again, and starts to realize that she not only is on the Q every time August is on it, but in the exact same train car.

Oh Jane, where do I even begin? Jane is a Chinese lesbian who is displaced from the 70s in some kind of magical timeslip, where she can’t remember much of anything about her past, only what she carries in her bookbag. That is, until Jane seems to be the only person who helps her remember, while also being the only person she can’t seem to forget. Oh, and come the Mid-Year Freak Out Tag? Every sapphic in the book community with have Jane Su as their fictional crush. On God and on everything else. When I tell you Casey McQuistion wrote most everyone’s sapphic dream, I say it honestly.

But basically, since August has been taught her whole life how to solve missing persons cases, and because she is very gay and can’t stop thinking about the incredibly swoon worthy girl on the train, she decides to do whatever it takes to help not only figure out Jane’s past, but to try to rescue her from the subway she is tethered to. Even if helping her means lots and lots of kissing, maybe especially so actually.

“It’s probably going to break my heart, and it’s still worth it.”

The romance in this book? A tier above. I feel like One Last Stop gave a new definition to the word “yearning” if you want my very honest opinion. Truly, this is the type of book that will make even the most cynical of readers believe in love. The emotions (and tears) it was able to evoke from me was nothing short of astounding. And now I will be forever longing for someone to have a notebook filled with me. Like, this book is truly so goddamn romantic, and the one-liners left me utterly gasping and fully quaking.

“but none of those girls were you.”

On top of the fact that the sex scenes were probably the best I’ve read in any f/f book in my entire life. The range of sexual acts, the different kinds of sex that queer people are extra blessed to have if they want to have sex, the learning of your partner’s wants and needs and body in general; it was all just so perfect, so sexy, and so realistic. And this book was so sex positive, especially when you are in your early twenties and learning what you want and like! Also, there was a very important (and seamlessly woven in) discussion on virginity and how the concept is truly something of dated myth, especially in queer communities.

“She read about San Francisco, about the movements happening there, about Asian lesbians riding on the backs of cable cars just to show the city they existed”

Casey McQuiston constantly pays homage to the lgbtqiap+ community (especially queer people of color) who came before us, who paved the way, and who are the reason that we in present day have so many more rights and freedoms. And they do not shy away from talking about the costs so many paid with heartbreaking loss.

The UpStairs Lounge fire happened in the 1973 and was the largest gay mass murder prior to the Pulse shooting in 2016. The Stonewall riots in 1969, where people refused to be silenced and erased by the police or anyone else, and in return gave us some many civil rights advances. To HIV and AIDS activists who had to live during the Carter and Reagan administrations who not only encouraged hate with racism and homophobia, but who heartlessly let so many die, while also eventually administrated drugs that would lead to toxic overdoses, simultaneously promising a vaccine that would never come. Victims had to wait until 2003 for baseline adequate help after so many had already been lost because of the virus.

There are so many challenges still with being unapologetically who you are in present day, but it is so important to honor and remember all of the lgbtqiap+ activists (again, especially the people of color) who came before us and made what we do have today possible. And Casey McQuiston truly keeps that at the forefront and makes it the heart of this story.

“two different generations of messy, loud, brave and scared and brave again people stomping their feet and waving hands with bitten nails, all the things they share and all the things they don’t. the things she has that people like Jane smashed windows and spat blood for.”

And surrounding yourself with people who see you, amplify you, support you, celebrate you, and love you unconditionally and unapologetically is so important, too. I think it’s always really important to mention that even though Casey honors the past, they filled me with so much hope for the future, and for future generations of marginalized voices who will more easily be amplified, more easily be heard, and so much more easily be seen.

Friendly reminder, if you haven’t found a place that feels like home yet, or the people who uncondiontally love and respect you, I promise you will and I promise are never alone in the meantime. Putting yourself and your safety first will always be the most important thing in all the different stages of life. And just know I see you, and I’m proud of you, and I’m cheering for you, always. But if you ever need extra help The Trevor Project and PFLAG can be wonderful recourses.

Overall, this book just meant so much to me, and I know it is going to mean so much to so many. 2020 has been so hard, so fucking hard, on so many, and this book was the 2020 escapism that I want to fold myself into forever. I haven’t left my home’s property in eight months, but with One Last Stop I got to feel whole and happy and seen on a New York subway, while watching two girls fall in love and carve out the lives that they want, unapologetically. Truly, this book made me even more proud to be a queer Asian, I only wish I was half as cool as Jane Su.

“you’re the first thing I’ve believed in since—since I don’t even remember, okay, you’re—you’re movies and destiny and every stupid, impossible thing, and it’s not because of the fucking train, it’s because of you.”

Oh, and this will probably be my favorite 2021 publication. Happy reading!

Trigger and Content Warnings: talk of loss of a loved one, talk of death, talk of anxiety and anxiety depictions, talk of the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina, alcohol consumption, talk of homophobia in the past, talk of racism in the past, talk of hate crimes in the past, mention of gentrification, and brief mentions of blood.

5

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

Buddy read with Maëlys❤