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 Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska


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(This was such a thoughtful birthday gift from Pamela!)

“Witches. Murderers. Queens who chained boys to stone pillars and drowned them on full-moon nights.”

The Dark Tide centers on an island that relies on a yearly human sacrifice by the witch queen who must fall in love to protect them, except the last few sacrifices haven’t worked because the wrong hearts were broken and now the island cannot stay afloat. Once a year, the witches come and give magic to the island town mortals if they are able to impress them, and if they are brave enough to leave their homes while the witch queen seeks a new sacrifice. Yet, the boy who was the one to disrupt the spell that was saving them all gets picked again, but there is a girl who is unable to let his life be at risk again.

Eva – The new witch queen, who can’t seem to feel anything since her sister passed away. Yet she must pick a new sacrifice for St. Walpurga’s Eve, and when she sees Thomas Lin, the only boy to ever escape his sacrifice, she knows that she must pick him.

Lina – Left her home to search for her brother, Finley (who left their home to try to get a healing spell for her), but when she sees Thomas get picked, she and Finley go to try to retrieve him.

“There was a deep and ravenous hunger inside of her. Sometimes she wasn’t sure if she wanted to kiss him or eat him whole.”

But when they get to the Water Palace (which is truly the coolest palace of all palaces), Lina realizes that a life must be sacrificed, she offers Eva her own life in exchange for Thomas’, which Eva accepts. And in the days leading up to the drowning, Lina does everything to think of another way, while her and Eva get closer and closer. And stakes get much higher because we know that Eva must fall in love with Lina for the protective magic of the sacrifice to work.

As for the sexual representation, I’m not sure if it is ever stated that Eva only likes women (or if the author has said something somewhere) but I’ve seen many reviewers say she is a lesbian! Lina is on page attracted to multiple genders, but a label (like pan or bi) is never used. Regardless, this is very, very beautifully sapphic and my gay heart was very, very full. As for other representations, there are PoC side characters, and I think Lina could also have OCD but it is never stated on page again.

This book very much talks about grief and loss and how those feelings can take over every aspect of your life when you lose someone you didn’t think you could live without. This book also talks about how you are allowed to feel everything, even anger, while grieving, because sometimes life will just never be fair. There is also a good discussion on how you can love someone so much that you would sacrifice everything for them, even if they have treated you badly in the past.

“Do not let anyone make you feel like you owe them forgiveness. Not even family.”

Yet, this is ultimately why I gave this book four stars. I feel like Lina’s past with Finley was never addressed for more than that little talk of how his anger has scarred her for a lot of her life and how it even was the reason her ankle was hurt. There is a beautiful talk about how family members are not worthy of your forgiveness just because they are your family, but I feel like nothing came of this very important subplot about abuse. Especially since Lina and Eva both kind of bond over them both having someone taking advantage of them and their kindness, yet Eva’s gets a full narrative arc.

“You can have the city or the person you love, but you cannot have both.”

Overall, I really enjoyed this so much. The atmosphere was truly decadent, from this sleepy little island, to the witches bonfires when they visit the town once a year, to the palace and all the hidden rooms and magic, I could never get enough of any of the settings in this book. The premise of a witch being forced to sacrifice a new love once a year to save their home was heartbreakingly beautiful. The talk of hard sibling relationships and what people are willing to do for the people they love had me completely hooked. The writing in general was so lyrical and beautiful and left me speechless (and with way less page tabs)! The romance (and first kiss, holy shit) between Lina and Eva was amazing, I only wish we could have gotten even more of it. This book just had so many keywords and themes that worked for me and I truly had an amazing time while turning every page. Oh, this book also has a really cute sea monster who loves dance, and it made my heart very happy, too.

Trigger and Content Warnings: loss of a loved one, human sacrifices, drowning, self-harm for blood for spells, blood depictions, violence, magical compulsion, grief depiction, brief mentions of abuse, and I felt like there was a lot of talk of drinking alcohol throughout this book, so please use caution if that could be a trigger for you.

4
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LandiceMaëlys, & Lea! ❤

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

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“Now my heart is with a girl in a coffin in the ground. But that girl wanted me to be better, she wanted my heart to be in it, so I could keep running with her. So for her, I’ll try.”

Who I Was With Her is an incredibly powerful YA Contemporary about grief and figuring out what you want from life.

This story is about 17-year old Corinne, whose girlfriend, Maggie, suddenly dies in a car accident. But because both girls were still in the closet, nobody knew that they were in a relationship and so we follow Corinne as she tries to deal with this loss while nobody knows what Maggie meant to her.

So as you can tell from this synopsis, this is a very hard-hitting novel. The tone of this book is overall rather sad and melancholic and it is definitely not an easy read, so for sure be in the right headspace when going into this novel.
But it is also a very powerful read, that turns a devastating experience into a journey for Corinne to focus on herself and figure out what she really wants from life.

“I start to run down the hill, push myself as hard as I can. Running down this hill doesn’t feel quite like flying, not when I’m trying to pace myself, but it’s sure damn close. I just hope my wings don’t burn up in the sun.”

The grief depicted in this book is incredibly well done. Corinne feels like she no longer knows who she is without Maggie and she has trouble really defining for herself what not only the relationship but also this grief means for her when she can’t even talk about it with anyone or be open about the way she is feeling.

There is also a lot of guilt that Corinne deals with. Whenever she feels a second of happiness or she is laughing with friends, she immediately has thoughts about how she can’t believe she forgot about Maggie and her grief so easily.
And there is a lot of looking back to her relationship with Maggie and wondering about the way she behaved, how she should’ve reacted differently sometimes or certain things that she didn’t know about Maggie.
All those aspects add to a very nuanced and realistic depiction of grief.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be the girl she saw me as. I loved her, I loved her, I loved her. I don’t know who I am without her. She wanted me to be all these big, grand things; she had these dreams for us and—That’s not me. I am not out and proud; I am scared out of my mind. Maggie wanted, so I didn’t have to.”

The only person who knew about Corinne and Maggie’s relationship was Maggie’s brother, Dylan. They have a really messy but interesting relationship in this book too and you can always feel all the anger and sadness from the grief flowing into their conversations. But at the same time, you can also see how they both know they are two of the people who knew Maggie best and they definitely bond over that way more than they ever have before her death.

Dylan is also the one who introduces Corinne to Elissa, Maggie’s ex-girlfriend. Now this is a storyline that honestly feels a little bit questionable in parts but ultimately also offers a lot of realistic aspects. Dylan hopes that Corinne can find some comfort with Elissa, as they have dated the same person and can lean on each other.. and they do, which quickly turns into there being some chemistry between the two.
This all happens not too long after Maggie’s death and throughout the book you are definitely questioning the nature of these feelings. I felt like this aspect was handled okay and was very much just another part of Corinne’s grieving process but I also wish it would’ve been explored more and especially sooner in the book.

Especially the power dynamic between the two was off sometimes. Corinne is 17 and still goes to high school while Elissa is 19 and at college and Elissa also reads older than 19 to me personally. On top of that, she was definitely placed in this book as someone that Corinne could lean on for support while dealing with her girlfriend’s death. While I understood where Corinne’s attraction and thoughts about Elissa came from, I really would’ve wanted for Elissa to be more of a sensible and responsible person in this scenario. Obviously she is also still quite young and grieving too and you can tell she has her doubts about this whole situation sometimes but I wish it would’ve been on-page a little bit more, especially when it feels like, again, her purpose in this book was to help Corinne with her grief. It just made me feel weird and slightly uncomfortable about their dynamics sometimes.

“I thought I didn’t have more tears left but I guess I do, because I’m crying into her shirt, because I don’t want her to lose me, either. I don’t want to be lost. ”

This story also very heavily deals with Corinne’s family relationship. Her parents are divorced and her mother struggles with alcoholism. While the divorce was a while ago, we can still see Corinne struggle with it and especially feeling like her dad just abandoned her mum and her alcohol issues, which Corinne now has to deal with herself.

Apart from the obvious sapphic storyline and Corinne being bisexual, we also have an asexual side-character, Julia, who figures out that she is asexual and finds this label for herself throughout the story. I thought that it was a really well-done element and showed that this is an aspect that can be easily packed into a side-storyline, while still being done with care.

In general, the friendship between Corinne and Julia, who is her best friend, was a really interesting and nuanced aspect of this book too. Their friendship definitely suffered in the past year because Corinne spend so much time with Maggie and also could never tell Julia what she was doing and so that definitely created a rift between the two. Within this book, they find their way back together and I very much liked seeing their development throughout.
They also had a short but important discussion about privilege, as Julia is a woman of colour, as is her boyfriend, but I think there is no description beyond Julia having “deep brown skin”.

On top of all that, this book obviously also has a huge focus on coming out and talks a lot about how different circumstances can really influence your experience with coming out. All the actual on-page coming out processes are super good experiences and show that it is also different for everyone but there are definitely discussions in this book that are quite tough when it comes to other people pressuring you into coming out or making you feel not valid for being scared to do so. I think that it was a well-done aspect and the discussions were always nuanced, where you could understand everyone’s POV but I definitely think that in part it very hard to read.

“This is my coming out. One person at a time. No big statement, no grand gesture. Only people I want to tell. Why should I come out the way everyone else wants me to?”

I also very much enjoyed the form of storytelling. We go back and forth in time, to when Corinne and Maggie met or had their first kiss and then back to the current times. This worked perfectly for this kind of book! Plus, all the chapters, but especially the ones in the past, where super short, which is honestly my favourite kind of chapters.

This book also talks about Corinne getting her period and masturbating and there is a sapphic sex scene (with an emphasis on consent) that is not explicit but still makes it very clear what is happening, which are all elements I am always glad to see in YA.

“I have stopped counting how long it’s been since she died. She deserves to be remembered, not measured by the days of my grief or how long it’s been since she left. She deserves to be remembered for who she was.”

Overall, this book just deals with so many different things, so many messy characters and relationships but I enjoyed reading about it all so much. There is a lot of guilt-tripping and forcing people to do stuff and not accepting what people want and changing who you are or what you want for another person.. but after finishing the novel you are left with a sense that all these characters have learned from their mistakes and really developed as people.
And that, ultimately, is all that I wanted as I was reading the book.

The aspects are very nuanced and I am deeply impressed with how many topics were packed into this short Contemporary novel.
If you can handle the tougher themes within this book, it definitely comes with a huge recommendations from me.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, car accident (off-page), grief, alcoholism, underage drinking/alcohol abuse.

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

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

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“We’d done everything together since we were ten years old. I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I’d never wanted to imagine life any other way.”

The Secret of You and Me is a sapphic adult romance that tackles some very serious topics and issues, all packed into a beautiful second-chance romance.

This story revolves around two women, Nora and Sophie, who fell in love when they were teenagers but couldn’t be together due to the prejudices in their small hometown in Texas. When Nora, after 18 years of being away, comes back into town for her father’s funeral, the old stories of what happened start to get unravelled and Nora and Sophie have to navigate being in each other’s lives again.

I will say that I have read less sapphic adult romances than I would like but the ones that I have read, were mostly more on the rom-com spectrum. And while I absolutely love getting a sapphic rom-com, this novel tackled some more serious topics and I very much appreciated that.

It is hard to really talk about the in-depth aspects of this novel without giving too much away, as I do think that this is the kind of novel that really works best if you go into it knowing as little as possible, especially because a lot of things that happened 18 years ago only get slowly revealed throughout the story.

“I didn’t realize until I saw you at Mel’s that you’ve held my heart in the palm of your hand all these years. Right now, I’m offering you my heart, Sophie. My soul. Can you promise me a future? ”

We get to read from both Nora’s and Sophie’s point of view in this novel, which works incredibly well and I found their voices to be easily distinguishable. While Nora and Sophie grew up in the same town, they end up having very different experiences, due to Nora leaving town, and so it was very interesting and important for this novel to feature both of their perspectives.

Sophie has known for a while that she is a lesbian but only really confronts this feeling when Nora returns to town. She is married to a man and they have a daughter, who she loves very much and is really the main reason that she is with her husband.
This was easily my favourite aspect of this novel and one that I thought was handled with incredible nuance and care. Seeing Sophie’s journey with her sexuality is powerful and so important to portray.

We see some flashbacks of her realizing that she is gay and that, while she can recognize her husband is an attractive man, she is not actually attracted to him, but that she still loves him and their daughter.
But only in the course of this novel does Sophie actually confront these feelings for the first time and talks about it and comes out to people too.

This novel manages to shine a light on the experiences that many lesbians go through. Being with men, questioning their feelings and attraction towards them and even going as far as marrying and having kids with them. And I love that this novel showed that there can be reasons why lesbians have sex with men that have nothing do with their attraction to them or enjoying or wanting it. It doesn’t make them any less gay if the reasons are something like protecting themselves (from being outed, for example) or compulsory heterosexuality.
Seeing a woman in her mid-30s come to terms with her sexuality and finally realizing that she has a right to truly be who she is and to live happily out as a lesbian, even with having been with a man for a long time, was so good to see.

Sophie is a recovering alcoholic and this is a topic that gets talked about a lot in this novel as well. We get flashbacks of how Sophie and her family realized that she has an alcohol addiction and decided to go to an AA meeting and her sponsor is a very present side-character in this story.

“My body was barraged with tiny explosions of desire and, deep down, I grieved for all the years this had been missing from my life, that Sophie had been missing. I wanted her as I’d never wanted before, and when our lips met, I fell into her.”

On the other hand, Nora has lead quite a different life. When she left her hometown, she joined the military and has PTSD due to it. Nora definitely talks about her life in the military and how it has shaped her.
And living in DC, she has lived a life as an openly bisexual woman. She is in an open relationship with a woman called Alima, who is a closeted Muslim lesbian, married to a man.

There was a paragraph where Nora talked about what identifying as bisexual means to her and I very much enjoyed the discussion on how this is a label that, while it has one general definition, still will mean something different to the people identifying with it.
I will say that in this conversation, Nora said that to her it means “enjoying connections with both genders” and I honestly never thought I would ever have to read the term “both genders” again. Genders outside the binary exist and even if this was a small part, it is very disappointing for a queer novel to not acknowledge that!

“It’s good to see being in the military didn’t turn you butch.” “Depends on your definition of butch. One definition, my personal favorite, is being able to kill a man with your bare hands. In that regard yes, the military turned me butch.””

The relationship dynamics in this novel are all complicated and messy and I think that it is very important to know that a lot of this novel has (grey-area) cheating. I know that this is an aspect that is an absolute no-go for a lot of people and so I definitely find it important to mention that this is a topic that is very present in this book.
But again, everything in this novel is handled with a lot of nuance and care and this not an element that is used as some sort of shock-factor. There is a lot of history between all the characters involved in this story.

In some ways I did think the ending was quite easily resolved. The book did a lot of good, unpacking all kinds of different things all throughout it, and the ending almost felt a little too convenient, ignoring a lot of the issues that are still present, especially considering the overall tone of the book.
That said, this didn’t hinder my enjoyment, as all sapphics deserve happy endings, especially when it is way too often taken away from us, as this story perfectly portrays. Plus, books that are marketed as Romance, especially if they are queer too, should always have Happily Ever Afters!

“Because I want to be with the woman I love, the only person I’ve ever loved. I want to feel your skin against mine, to be reminded how beautiful making love can be when you’re with someone who you want to absorb into your very being because the thought of ever being without them fills you with sense of despair so complete, so bottomless, that you’re sure you’ll never smile, or laugh, or feel whole again. ”

Now, while I loved this story so very much, I do want to point out that it is not ownvoices. The author does not identify anywhere on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum and in the acknowledgements the author talks about the love story between these women coming together as she wrote it, with no initial intention to make this a sapphic romance.

I read an interview with the author and it very much seems like the author is in one way acknowledging that the process of falling in love is not different just because of the genders involved, while also being very aware of the individual struggles that same-sex couples will go through. I am also glad to hear that the author will be donating 10% of her royalties to the It Gets Better Project.

While none of these things influenced my personal opinion or enjoyment of this book (and I had no idea prior to reading it), I do find it important to point all of this out, so that every reader going into it is aware of this.

I definitely wish that especially a storyline like Sophie’s would’ve been written by an ownvoices author but from what I have read, both as far as interviews and the book itself, the author took so much care in writing this story and I do think it is well done, to the point where I am truly in awe of how well this was written, considering it is none of the author’s own experience at all.
But at the end of the day, I wanna leave the decision to every reader themselves and that is why I thought it important to mention this.

“I pulled her to me and kissed her, pouring into her every bit of admiration I had for her generous heart, gratitude for her courage, and hope for our future. ”

Overall, this was a very intense reading experience for me and I think that the trigger warnings and general tough topics of this novel should not be underestimated. While this book made me very happy because of the representation and themes involved, it was also not an easy read.

But if you can handle the themes and topics, I absolutely recommend this story. It was really beautiful to read about these two women finding their way back to each other and finally getting the happy ending they deserve.
The Secret of You and Me is a novel that I will carry in my heart for a long time.

Trigger and Content Warnings for PTSD (after military service), loss of a loved one, homophobia (including physical violence due to it, mentions of/being threatened with conversion therapy and homosexuality being called a mental illness), biphobia (immediately challenged), alcohol abuse, cheating, racism, chronically ill loved one, sexual harassment.

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

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4

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

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