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Their views are seen as outdated, especially compared to the mages, who freely get to love and marry whoever they want to and the commoners are starting to adapt that same thinking too.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❤

The Lost Coast by A.R. Capetta | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“They were in love with each other, and that was good. Love wasn’t the problem. It was losing it that could hurt the Grays.”

The Lost Coast is a beautifully atmospheric novel about witches, female friendship and being unapologetically queer.

This story revolved around Danny, who just moved to a new town with her mother. There she meets the Grays, a group of queer witches, and she realizes quickly that more than just coincidence brought her to this new town. We follow Danny as she grows closer to the Grays and helps them discover the mystery of the forest that one of their friends has vanished in.

It is so hard to describe this story without giving too much away. It has a very mysterious atmosphere and vibe to it and I think it is best to go into it knowing as little as possible. But if you like queer, witchy stories that focus on female friendship and found family, this is an absolute must-read for you.

“I didn’t have friends before the Grays. That word was an empty outline until they filled it in. ”

I actually usually don’t feel very drawn to stories about witches but The Lost Coast intrigued me because I loved Capetta’s Echo After Echo and generally love all things sapphic, so I honestly didn’t even care that this was a witchy story!

And I actually ended up not minding the witchy elements at all. On the contrary, I loved that all the Grays had different abilities and individual things they felt more drawn to.

“That girl might have magic in her heart, but never forget how much of her power is handed right to her by other people.”

My favourite aspect of this book was how queer it was. All of the Grays are queer and so absolutely unapologetic about it. Having this diverse group of people all being so openly queer is something that made so incredibly happy. I also loved how Danny is so casual about making out with girls because I feel like YA does not often show that it’s totally cool to just casually make out with people (given, of course, that they’re all okay with it). Seeing a girl being unapologetic about this, especially with other girls, is something I have huge appreciation for.

As for the specific identities mentioned in the book, there’s Lelia who is non-binary (she/her pronouns) and “not allo”. Hawthorn is Black and bisexual. Rush is fat and June is Filipino. And there was definitely a huge polyamorous energy between them but they never really define themselves that way. The Grays are just the Grays and they love each other in many different ways.
Danny never uses a specific label but is definitely attracted to multiple genders and reads pan.

“Even with all the girls I’ve hooked up with, I sometimes find myself wanting to kiss a boy, and that makes it harder for a lot of people—I won’t declare myself and stick to one side of a fence. I don’t know how to explain that I don’t even see the fence.”

I totally loved the structure and writing style and it really worked for this story. In the beginning the writing felt a little bit distant and until the end I had some issues getting really emotionally connected but I ended up not minding this at all. The writing is so lush and beautiful that the feelings and thoughts of the characters came across incredibly well!

The story switches between different points in time and point of views and included things like the whole school and “the trees” as points of views as well. Which sounds a little bit confusing in theory but works so well.
I think that these perspectives really helped to create a certain atmosphere because it makes the world building almost seem like a character. It made the atmosphere so easy to grasp and I felt completely engrossed in it.

“The Grays are always touching and kissing each other because so many before us couldn’t. Each kiss carries the weight of so many kisses that never were. Every touch is an invisible battle won.”

The element of female friendship, found family and unconditional love in this novel is so incredibly strong, it is very hard to even find words for it. But it was easily my favourite aspect. The love that the Grays have for each other was yet another thing that they were so unapologetic about and the fact that they never feel the need to define it was a very powerful element of this story.

There is also an absolutely wonderful romantic storyline between Danny and one of the Grays. This is another aspect where Capetta’s writing really stands out because the way that Danny’s feelings were described was so very beautiful.
The book also features a very well done sapphic sex scene, which is something I hugely appreciate being present in YA.

“The way she walks, at home in her skin, with all the doors open wide, is what I want. She turns back to me and smiles. Rush wants me with her, and she doesn’t have to cast a spell to convince me. She is the spell.”

Overall, I think this is an incredible novel that is very underrated and deserves much more love. If you enjoy novels that center a group of girls that all love each other unconditionally and without any limits, this is a novel for you.
I loved this novel with my whole heart and am so glad queer girls out there get to read it.

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

Sasha Masha by Agnes Borinsky | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: Nov 10th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

“It really did seem like some monstrous force was suddenly rampaging through my life. I didn’t understand it, but I knew the name: Sasha Masha.”

Sasha Masha is a really moving ownvoices novel about exploring gender identity and understanding who you are.

Before I go into this, I just wanna say that I will be using he/him pronouns in this review, as that is what is used throughout the entire novel and because pronouns do not necessarily equal gender, I want to respect that.
I will not be using Sasha Masha’s deadname though, even though it is frequently used, as he mentions several times throughout the novel that Sasha Masha is the name he wants to be referred to as.

There isn’t much to say in regards to the plot of this novel but it is astounding how much was packed into this short novel. Really, in a lot of aspects it just reads like your good old coming-of-age novel, except it has the added element of Sasha Masha being trans and we follow Sasha Masha as he is figuring this out during all the other teenage experience shenanigans.

“But something was wrong. There was a high wall inside of me, and it made me angry, it made me stuck; there was a self on the other side—was this, now, the thing I’d failed to see? That in my heart of hearts I wasn’t a boy after all?”

I loved Sasha Masha’s journey and I thought that it was very powerful and moving. There is a lot of questioning and confusion going on in Sasha Masha’s inner monologue but it is so beautiful to follow him on the path to understanding his own gender identity and accepting who he is.

I especially loved the way the author approached Sasha Masha realizing he is trans, where he kinda has this persona of Sasha Masha and knows that that is who he wants to be and then slowly grows into it, but also learns that that person has been him all along, he just had to make sure to really embrace that part.

“I could only think of that picture, and I started to wonder whether I really just missed myself. You miss yourself? How could you miss yourself? You’re right here.”

There are definitely people in Sasha Masha’s life that struggle with him accepting his own identity but for the most part, he has a really wonderful support system in both old and new friends.

Especially seeing the queer support system that build up around him throughout this novel was an incredibly heart-warming aspect. These people not only accept him exactly as he is but they also support his journey, both with trying to help him figure his identity out but also just being patient with him and never pushing anything.

This novel also had several side-characters of colour and I very much enjoyed that there was a brief discussion about how a lot of queer riots were led by people of colour. This also introduced some discussions between a younger and older generation of queer people, which is something we so rarely get to see.

“We were like two pieces of rope that had been frequently knotted; even when we were separate, our bodies held the shape of the knot we made together.”

Mabel, Sasha Masha’s best friend who ended up moving away, especially stands out as a side-character. Even though they can only communicate via text and calls now, Mabel is still there for all of Sasha Masha’s journey and being accepting of him at all times.

I loved seeing moments from their friendship in the past and seeing Mabel always being an unapologetically queer presence in Sasha Masha’s life too. Their friendship is just incredibly well written and Mabel as a character within the book alone adds so much comfort.

“All of a sudden I felt far away from my parents. This road might take me places they would never go.”

I also found the relationship between Sasha Masha and his parents a very interesting aspect and I definitely wish we had gotten to see more of it because it was quite a complex relationship. They definitely care and worry a lot about Sasha Masha, especially as they’re starting to realize that something is going on and his behaviour changes, but they’re never actually there for their child to figure out the root of what is going on.

Throughout the story you are definitely wondering if Sasha Masha’s parents will accept him being trans. Long before he has come to the realization that he is trans, he is already wondering what his parents will think of the self-discovery journey that he is on.
I definitely liked this portrayal of Sasha Masha’s relationship with his parents and thought it added an important aspect to the story.

“The world was Real. This couch was Real, Murphy was Real, the light and the bookshelves and the creatures and the sounds of the city moving around me—they were all Real. Like it or not, the world is Real, and whoever we are, we are part of the world.”

I definitely think that overall a lot of the aspects in this novel were kept quite brief but that is very much due to this being a very short novel too. I would’ve loved to see a lot of the things talked about within this story to be discussed even more.

But ultimately, this showed us a glimpse of Sasha Masha’s life and his journey to not only understanding his own identity but also to get more comfortable within queer spaces and understanding and connecting with other queer people. And I feel grateful to have gotten such a glimpse and I know that his story will stay with me for a while.

Finishing this novel just gave me a really hopeful and positive feeling. And I know that there is lots more good things to come for Sasha Masha and people with similar journeys. After reading this story there is just such a wonderful, reassuring feeling, knowing they will find their path and people who unconditionally love and accept them.

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

The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky by Brianna R. Shrum | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: Nov 3rd, 2020 by Sky Pony Press

“It’s freezing and dark because this is how it is with us; this is how we connected, so it’s fitting that this is where we wind up, kissing each other like we are both hungry.”

The Liar’s Guide to the Night Sky is YA Survival Story that had some very promising aspects to it but ultimately ended up not delivering when it came to unpacking them.

The story starts with a group of teens, most of them cousins, who all got together because of a sickness in the family, sneaking out to an abandoned ski slope, when they get hit with a sudden mudslide and are stranded on this mountain with nobody knowing where they are.

Our main character Hallie decides that she doesn’t wanna sit around and wait for help but to go and search for it herself. Jonah, her cousin Jaxon’s best friend, joins her and we follow them on their survival journey but also them getting to know each other better.

I have read two other books by Brianna Shrum that I really loved, so I was very excited to pick this novel up, even if it was slightly out of my comfort zone, as I do not usually reach for (Contemporary) Survival stories. But I was excited by the diversity aspects in this story and my love for the author’s earlier books, so I wanted to give it a chance.

Sadly, I did not end up being very satisfied with this novel and the elements in it. I think that there are a lot of intriguing aspects to it but ultimately the things that I would’ve wanted to read more about were either not talked about enough or just didn’t get the on-page time they deserved.

“We touch each other, under the black sky and a million stars that shine a million miles away, stars that make up the backdrop of this crucial twenty-four hours, this life-altering turn of a night, and that do not give a single shit about us. We are not imprinted in the memory of the stars. Anyway, it’s the vastness of the black that’s imprinted in mine.”

One of the very promising aspects of this story are the complex family dynamics that are portrayed. Hallie lived away from the rest of her big family for a long time and feels out of place in between them, even when she wants to be part of this cousin group so very badly.

She struggles with not getting inside jokes and just feeling like she doesn’t know everyone as well as they all know each other. On top of that, whenever there were family gatherings in the past, it seemed like her parents wanted to mostly keep her away from the rest of the family and making her feel like they would have a bad influence on her.

One aspect that plays into this is racism, which absolutely did not get unpacked enough in regards to Hallie’s parents. We find out about a conversation between Hallie’s dad and his brother, that Hallie overheard when she was younger, where they are having a fight and Hallie’s uncle asks if this is about him being married to a Black woman. And in that moment Hallie even thinks to herself that her uncle is probably right.

But that is the most that this ever really gets talked about. I know that it can be hard to challenge your parents about their racism, especially when it has to do with family relationships and it being something that you think might be out of your lane.
But apart from the fact that Hallie is acknowledging this and being upset by it, this is never really brought up again, even by anybody else. And it is not like Hallie is the picture-perfect daughter in this novel who never says anything against her parents.. the fact that the racism is never brought up by her, was really disappointing.

It seemed like the author was making a point later on in the novel about how the main character in general didn’t seem to be super well informed about (anti-Black) racism, when she has a conversation about the racism in Denver and other “liberal-leaning” cities with Jaxon, who is Afro-Latinx and studies Political science.
And while that obviously would be a very valid point to make, especially considering Hallie’s parents, there was not enough substance to this conversation and, again, the topic is never really brought up again when it comes to her parents and the fact that they have basically completely separated themselves from the rest of the family due to racism.

Plus, the conversation ends with Hallie making heart eyes at Jason because he is so passionate about fighting racism… instead of her actually processing what he said. And the topic gets brought up again later, when Jaxon tells Hallie about his dad having been in jail for 10 years for smoking weed and how that is a systematic issue that many Black men have to face. All Hallie has to say about this is that it “fucking sucks”.

I am going to talk about the Black character doing all the explaining to the white character later in the review but the thing is that there is just such a wasted opportunity here. The least Hallie could’ve done is to really listen and learn and to later on confront her parents about their racism and how it kept her from being close to her family. It honestly feels like Hallie doesn’t take anything away from this conversation whatsoever.

“When he pulls me toward him with the smallest pressure in the tips of his fingers and kisses me. It is so slow that it fucking hurts. I think that maybe I’ve never kissed anyone in my life.”

Now while I don’t think that the racism was handled very well, I think that a lot of the representation was done much better. There is Hallie being Jewish (which is ownvoices) and I liked that this novel used lots of Jewish terms and talked about traditions, while also acknowledging that there is a lot of layers to being Jewish and practising (or not practising) Judaism.

Jonah and Hallie also have a really great conversation about romantic and sexual attraction. Hallie identifies as bisexual and Jonah identifies as pansexual and aromantic and the aromantic and bisexual representation is an ownvoices aspect. Now while I cannot speak for any of these identities, I liked that the author took the time for the characters to really have a conversation about this. This is one of the few novels that actually explains what pansexual means, while also acknowledging that sexuality is a spectrum, which made me really happy to read about.

Jonah also talks about being aromantic and what that means for him. There was definitely an emphasis put on the fact that it does not mean that he is broken or incapable of love, which is so very important to point out. Jonah also mentions that he is not monogamous and explains it to Hallie too because she basically immediately assumes what he means is cheating, when he is talking about consensual polygamy.

Now I am grateful for these barely represented identities to be so well-explained in a novel but especially as I was writing this review, I realized how much explaining there was within this novel and that most of it came from Jonah. He keeps educating Hallie about all of these different things and the author even makes a point for Hallie to point out that she would do research herself, if she had internet, but it is a really cheap excuse for the one, main person of colour in this story to do all of the explaining.

“I am absolutely suffocated by the fact that I seem to have changed utterly while my parents simply have not. Nothing else has. Nothing but me.”

Apart from all of those glaring issues with this book, I also just didn’t enjoy the Survival part of this story much. I will say that that very well might be a me-problem because I obviously didn’t really go into this novel because of that aspect but because I was interested in the author’s work in general and the character dynamics. But I just ended up being bored by the Survival aspect because, while the stakes were supposed to feel high, they never really did.

I also couldn’t handle the stupidity of the main character and her companion leaving the group in the first place. Throughout this story I kept thinking about there being a good chance that this group had already been found while these two people are still wandering around, with absolutely no indication of where they could be for any help on the way.

The really interesting aspect of this story could’ve been the aftermath of this traumatic event. The last part of this book was so fucking good because it dealt with the main character trying to live a normal life after her time hiking through these mountains, fearing for her life.
But sadly that was truly only on the last couple of pages. The main character very clearly suffers from PTSD and depression and it is so interesting to read her inner monologue and her not understanding how everybody else can just move on with their lives when she just has been through such a life-altering event. I absolutely wish that this aspect would’ve taken up so much more time of this novel.

Especially as this is also where the relationship between Hallie and Jonah truly becomes fascinating because they have been through this together and understand each other better than anybody else. This is where we could’ve really discovered the bond between them and if and how their relationships develops.

“I care that, for this second, all there is is me and Jonah and a hundred trees that have no opinion, a solid dark that surrounds us, that lets us both just exist in a way that is shockingly alive. Shockingly … connected.”

I will say that I liked the nature of their relationship a lot and it is something that we really do not get to see in Young Adult. They had a strong bond, were physically affectionate and had sex but this is not a Romance. I think it is so important to show that two people can have a genuine connection with each other and have a physical relationship too, without them having romantic interest in each other or falling in love.

Lastly I do want to say that Hallie is 17 and in high school and Jonah is almost 20 and in college. I feel like I have become very aware of age in YA relationships and do find it important to point it out, even though I struggle to talk about it, especially as someone who did not grow up or has ever lived in the US.
But I know that for a lot of people, while this age gap isn’t big, it makes a huge difference that one is in college and one is in high school. There is even a conversation in the beginning where Jaxon says to Jonah “stay away from the high schooler” and while I understand that this was more like some kind of protective older sibling joke, it immediately left a bad taste in my mouth about their relationship.

Overall, I finished this novel feeling disappointed and that is very much the lingering feeling after writing my review too. I feel like this had a lot of potential and I do believe that the author had good intentions but ultimately, this sadly missed a mark.. or many.

Trigger and Content Warnings for underage cannabis use and drinking, blood, injury, loved one with a terminal illness, PTSD, depression.

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

Our Year of Maybe by Rachel Lynn Solomon | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“He has a part of me, and I’m the one with a gaping hole that can’t be fixed.”

Our Year of Maybe is an incredibly well done book about unrequited love and friendship break-ups, a topic that I think way too little YA books focus on.

This book has many layers to it. One of the core events of it is Sophie donating her kidney to her best friend Peter, who she is also in love with. They grew up together and are basically each other’s only friends, but we realize throughout the book that their friendship is not perfect and both of them struggle with what they give and want out of it.

Sophie is dyslexic and Jewish. Peter’s dad is Jewish and Peter is trying to connect more with Judaism. He is also bisexual and chronically ill.

“Our lives have revolved around Peter always. He is the earth, and I am the moon. There was never enough I could do to get him to love me the way I wanted, to see me as more than just a moon. I have never been enough, and he has always been too much.”

I was first and foremost interested in this book because I really enjoy books that focus on music and so having a main character who plays piano and another who is a dancer was an incredibly intriguing concept to me.

But as I was getting into this book, I absolutely stayed for the friendship dynamic. While I wouldn’t necessarily say the music aspect fell flat, it completely took a backseat with all of the other stuff going on in this novel.

“And that’s the horrible truth of it all, isn’t it? Peter could slash me open and steal my other kidney, and I would let him. If it would keep him alive, I’d dig it out for him myself.”

The feelings both of these characters have for each other are messy and I loved every second of reading about them trying to figure things out. What really works about this book is that both fuck up and both say mean things to each other. But it doesn’t feel wrong but more like everything they say and do is inevitable and rather like something that needed to be said for a long time, even if it might hurt.
Especially Sophie’s thoughts were always brutally honest and it was so interesting to see her grapple with the hopes she had of the kidney donation bringing her closer to Peter.

Sophie’s unrequited love was unbelievably well written and it really made me question if I have ever read it as such a main theme in a book. While I love romances in books, my own teenage experience came far closer to what Sophie was experiencing and I know that this is a book that I absolutely would’ve needed.
I definitely wish that this was something that would become much more common in YA.

“I love you,” I whisper to him before we’re taken into the operating room. “Me too,” he whispers back, and my last thought before I surrender to the anesthesia is: You have no idea how much.”

But this book is not only about how the relationship between them changes but also them reflecting on their friendship in general, and recognizing that it hasn’t been very healthy for a long time.
They realize how they depended on only each other for so long, that they never looked outside to see if there are other people they wanna be close with. Both Sophie and Peter come out of their shell with other friend groups and it is great to see them develop and really understand themselves for the first time.

There was also a very cute m/m romance in Peter’s storyline. While the relationship between Sophie and Peter is definitely the main focus of this book, the romance between Peter and his other love interest was super well developed and very lovely to read about.
And for anyone that is now wondering – no, this book has no cheating! There is definitely some slightly questionable behaviour but for me personally everything got talked about and resolved in such a way, that it made sense for the story line.

“That’s why uncertainty is so safe: I can wrap myself in this potentially unrequited love and never risk getting shut down.”

I feel like YA is more and more featuring sex scenes that are not fade-to-black and still manage to be absolutely YA appropriate and I think that this book knocked it out of the park with that.
It had a male/female and a male/male sex scene and in both consent was a really important factor and especially in the male/female sex scene there was a focus on asking your partner what they enjoy.

It also talked about the female main character owning a vibrator and masturbating AND the male main character masturbating and how this had previously been affected by him being chronically ill. I was truly impressed by these aspects being included as I find it really important to normalize these things.

“It’s easy to fall in love with someone who’s a master of their craft. Peter at the piano has an intensity I’ve always admired. An electricity, like if I touched him in the middle of a Rufus Wainwright song, he’d burn my hand.”

We also have Sophie’s sister, who is a teen mum and not only did I enjoy her as a character a lot, it was also great to see her relationship with Sophie and how they grew much closer and understood that they both individually have completely different struggles to deal with that are each valid in their own right.
In general both Sophie and Peter had super interesting family dynamics as well and the parents were very present in both of their point of views.

“He didn’t owe me his love, and I didn’t deserve it because of the sacrifices I made. That’s not a friendship. Peter and I were unbalanced for a long time.”

Overall, I am so very happy that this book exists and I definitely would want more recommendations for these kinds of stories.
This book portrays a super messy and unbalanced relationship but the issue is talked about and resolved in a way that does not make it questionable or problematic but simply an important addition to all the Contemporary Happily Ever Afters out there.

I definitely highly recommend this for anyone that loves strong relationship, friendship and family dynamics!

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