The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller | Drumsofautumn Review

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“Once, there was another boy who made me feel this way. One who made me feel full and seen and loved. Now the bugs of the earth have feasted on his flesh.”

The Shadows Between Us was such a delightful reading experiences and one of the best YA romances I have read in a while. This author clearly wrote this book with the intention to focus on the characters and their relationship and it paid off well.

In this novel we follow Alessandra, who is planning to woo the Shadow King so she can kill him and become the ruler of the kingdom herself. Not knowing the extent of his powers and what exactly the mysterious shadows around him do, she starts her scheme to get close to him, so she can become queen and learn all his secrets. But as she spends more time at his court, she realized it won’t be easy to win over the Shadow King without risking developing some feelings herself.

I went into this book without knowing much about it. Mostly I was interested in it because I really enjoyed Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King duology and knew I wanted to read more work from this author. I liked the basic premise and thought the main character sounded really interesting and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

“But now everything is different, and I want so much more. At the same time, I’m terrified of having more and so glad he cannot touch me, that he will never hurt me because we will never be allowed to get that close.”

The main character was truly amazing and while she went through a lot of character development within this novel and developed feelings for the king too, she stayed true to her villainous nature. I loved seeing a character like her discover more about herself and really growing as a person while not changing who she is at her core.

The author also put an emphasis on how it’s okay to have sex with people without being emotionally attached to them or have romantic feelings. This character had casual sex with several partners and she was not ashamed of enjoying it and I think that is incredibly important representation in YA and we do not get it enough.
I just really enjoyed the all-around sex positivity but also emphasis on not being influenced by society’s views to DO have sex in this book!

“Waiting. Not Waiting. One lover. A hundred lovers. There should be no judgement either way. A woman is not defined by what she does or doesn’t do in the bedroom.”

I also very much enjoyed the love interest and thought his character development was incredibly well done. Because this book puts a lot of focus on the character and their relationships, it all felt very believable and well fleshed out and I felt super invested in the relationship between Alessandra and the Shadow King.

I especially loved seeing the way these two characters learn from and inspire each other. They start admiring each other just for the person that they are but they also both grow and learn by being in each other’s company and because they want to make their relationship work despite a lot of obstacles in their way.

“I’m not going to spend my life alone so I can reach a hundred. Three hundred. A millennium. I don’t care about a long life anymore. I can’t stand being alone for one second longer. I can’t stand being apart from you for one second longer.””

The aspect that was probably lacking the most in this novel was the world building. We don’t really get much of that at all and there is never really an explanation of the King’s shadows. We don’t know what exactly they are, where they came from or just how they fit into the context of this world.

For me, personally, this was not really an aspect that bothered me, as I enjoyed the characters and relationship so very much and was happy that we got a well fleshed-out romantic storyline. But I will say that if world building and understanding all aspects of it is really important to you, this book might not be for you.

As far as the general plot goes, I really enjoyed it overall and thought the whole mystery in this book was intriguing enough. Again though, this is not the aspect that made the book for me and also not the aspect I would sell this book with.

“I think that when you care enough for someone, you reach a point where it’s far more painful not to have him at all than to have him and risk losing him. You realize the risk is worth it. Because happiness, however short-lived, is always worth it.”

Overall, this book really shines because of its focus on the characters and really giving the main relationship time to develop. If you enjoy YA Fantasy with a big emphasis on the romantic storyline and want to read a truly well done take on the enemies to friends to lovers trope, I would absolutely recommend this.

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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! ✨

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! ✨

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

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What Happens in the Closet by Caleb Roehrig ⭐⭐⭐

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

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


Player One Fight! By Eliot Schrefer

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


Lumber Me Mine by CB Lee ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

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


Follower by Will Kostakis ⭐⭐⭐

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


Refresh by Mark Oshiro ⭐⭐⭐

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


Victory Lap by Julian Winters: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

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


A Road of One’s Own by Kate Hart ⭐⭐

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


Seditious Teapots by Katherine Locke ⭐⭐

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


Starcrossed in DC by Jessica Verdi ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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

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


Floating by Tanya Boteju ⭐⭐

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


The Soft Place by Hillary Monahan ⭐⭐

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


A Pound of Flesh by Kosoko Jackson

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

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


One Spell Too Many by Tara Sim ⭐⭐

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


Far From Home by Saundra Mitchell ⭐⭐

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


Once Upon a Seastorm by Fox Benwell

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


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

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

Ironspark by C.M. McGuire | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“Her soft lips against mine felt like hope. Somehow, some way, we were going to see morning, and I was going to have the chance to do that again.”

Ironspark is a book that I picked up because I was very excited by the prospect of it being a book about Fae featuring a lesbian love triangle but sadly I was let down in a lot of aspects.

This novel is about a girl called Bryn, who moved from Wales to the US with her family nine years ago, after her mother got abducted by the Fae and her father was cursed by them, because her father had deemed it a safer place for them.
But even away from Wales and the immediate danger of the Fae, Bryn made it her goal to learn how to kill the Fae in order to protect her family and in this book she needs to make use of those skills.

Now I will start this review very honestly, saying that I am not the biggest fan of any Fae stories in general. But I do enjoy the occasional one, especially if it’s diverse in some way, so I was definitely drawn to this book, especially because a lesbian love triangle sounded so very promising.

But sadly, I found much of this book boring and a lot of the storyline and world building confusing. Some of it definitely is based on the well-known Fae mythology, like the Seelie and Unseelie Court, but a lot of the things in this book I was also very unfamiliar with. There is a glossary but sadly it is at the end of the book, so I had no idea until I finished it. I am sure that it would’ve helped a little bit but my problem was also the connections between all the different kinds of Fae and mythical creatures and I just had trouble following how all of the events connected to Bryn and her family.

“I couldn’t help it. In spite of everything, a startled laugh escaped me. It felt like the worst possible time to be laughing, with everything going on… but it was sort of like grass growing through the cracks in the sidewalk. I couldn’t stop it, and it only made the cracks bigger, and soon I was laughing and tears streamed down my face.”

Now this book definitely brushed on some interesting aspect but none of them were explored enough for me personally. There is Bryn’s panic attacks, which she has throughout the novel but never get talked about more. There is her father’s hallucinations and the fact that (it seems like) doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia due to it and he takes meds for it which never help because the actual cause is a farie curse. There are her two brothers, who she has basically raised, but the relationship between them or even their own issues they have after everything they’ve been through are never quite get explored enough. It feels like none of the aspects in this book were really fleshed out or that there was much depth to any of the characters.

There are these little Fae-like creatures called shadelings, that are good creatures and there to protect Bryn and her family. There is one in particular called Marshmallow, that basically becomes Bryn’s side-kick later on in the novel and was truly my favourite character and also the one that had the most interesting relationship dynamic with Bryn, which definitely says a lot about the other relationships in this novel.

Other than that, barely any of the side-characters had a personality that stood out and so the relationships with these people seemed dull too.
There is Gwen, a kind of water farie. Gwen and Bryn were in a relationship but Bryn broke up with her because she knew her time in this town was coming to an end soon because of going to college next year. And then there is Jasika, a girl from Bryn’s school who has a connection to the faeries too.

“At this point, it was just a physiological reaction my body seemed to have to her, one I doubted I’d ever really outgrow, no matter how long we stayed split up. There would always be the lingering sensation of fireworks inside of me where the smoke hadn’t quite cleared. My lips curled up in an automatic smile. The whole world could be burning around me, and somehow Gwen’s presence would always make it better.”

This is where the supposed lesbian love triangle aspect comes in but.. it is really not a love triangle whatsoever. Gwen and Bryn are still really good friends and Bryn worries about having broken her heart but she doesn’t really have any sort of romantic relationship with her anymore.
Bryn and Jasika develop something along those lines throughout the book but the romantic storyline was not very well done. I didn’t feel any chemistry or romantic tension between the two characters whatsoever. It honestly seemed like they barely knew each other and then one day they kiss and that’s kinda it, they’re dating. They never really talk about what they are to each other after that… or honestly talk much to each other at all, except when it is about Fae stuff. So there was absolutely nothing between the two that made me think there were romantic feelings.

I am also disappointed by the use of “lesbian” love-triangle in the synopsis. I am assuming this was done by the publisher, not the author, because the main character literally says at one point, that “not all girls who likes girls are lesbian”, and clarifies that she likes guys too and isn’t quite sure if she’s bi- or pansexual. Jasika then mentions she is questioning.

But it’s honestly very disappointing to see this labelled as a “lesbian” love-triangle when none of the characters withing this book identify as a lesbian and, even if both Gwen and Jasika would’ve identifies as such, it is still not a “lesbian” love triangle because Bryn is not a lesbian.
I know people will find this nit-picky but.. just don’t bait me with labels that do not exist in the book. Sapphic love triangle totally would’ve done it. Again, not blaming the author here, but just something I wanted to point it.

“Maybe I ought to grab her or kiss her back or do something, but mostly I was trying to wrap my head around the notion that Jasika Witters wasn’t straight and she must have read me like a freaking book and why were her lips so soft?”

The one other character that stood out was a boy called Dom. Next to Marshmallow, he was for sure my favourite character and I enjoyed the friendship between him and Bryn too because there was an actual good development between the two.
Also Dom is asexual and that term is used and explained on page. The scene does include some probing questions regarding this identity like “are you sure you’re not attracted to anyone” and “but have you tried”. I wouldn’t necessarily call it aphobia and it gets quickly challenged but I still wanna mention it.

Upon finishing this book I realized that it is not a standalone. Sadly, the ending was very anticlimatic to me. Now I don’t know if that is just because I didn’t really very invested with the characters and storyline in the first place or if others might’ve felt that way too. But I just found myself extra disappointed with the ending, leaving me with absolutely no motivation to ever seek out the sequel (which I don’t think has been announced yet though).

“People looked at me differently, and unfortunately nobody had invented an armor for pity.”

Overall, Ironspark sadly was a very disappointing reading experience. None of this book really worked for me and I found myself having to push myself through it, to the point where I even thought of DNFing it, but had too high hopes for the love triangle.. that did not happen.
I personally cannot really recommend this book, although you might wanna give this a chance if you are really into Fae stories.

Trigger and Content Warnings for panic attacks (including vomiting due to it), blood, violence, murder, hallucinations, house fire, coma (minor character).

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

This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“She played for the girls they used to be and the ones they were now, and all their fallen-apart pieces that had gotten lost or ruined or discarded along the way.”

This Is What It Feels Like is a really wonderful YA Contemporary, that has so many topics and issues packed into it.

At the centre of the story are three girls, Hanna, Jules and Dia. The three were in a band together for a long time but then two years before this story starts, a lot of things happened in their lives and they stopped making music together. The friendship between the three of them took a toll as well, although Jules and Dia remained best friends.

Jules is a Black lesbian and her love interest, Autumn, is fat and questioning her sexuality. I think that Dia is also Black but the book only mentions that she has deep-brown skin. She is also the mother of an almost 2-year old so this deals with raising a kid as a teen. Dia’s good friend and love interest, Jesse, is also Black. Hanna went to rehab for her alcohol abuse and has been sober for over a year when the story starts.

So as you can already tell, this book dealt with so many amazing and important topics and I thought everything was handled incredibly well. Because all three of them have alternating POVs, we see everybody’s perspective to all of the issues and it offers a really insightful and multi-layered discussion off all these things.

“Dia played a concert for her audience of one, under the clouds, and the moon winked in and out of sight, and she felt the anchor of the earth release her the slightest amount.”

I was really happy to see this book deal with different parent relationships. It was so refreshing to see the parents so involved. Dia’s parents are very supportive and help her raise her kid.
Hanna’s parents are super well portrayed too. They are worried about Hanna and her alcohol abuse, even after her being sober for so long. I loved the way you could tell that they were coming from a good place, even if it wasn’t received by Hanna that way or that, even when she does understand where they’re coming from, she eventually just started feeling suffocated. I thought it was a very important and well portrayed child-parent relationship.
Hanna’s sister, Molly, is also very involved and a lovely character. Seeing her relationship with Hanna, after everything they went through, was really precious.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a teen mum. I feel like usually books that feature teenage pregnancy or being a teen mum are focused on that and it will be the main topic of the story and in that case it doesn’t really interest me. But seeing Dia and her relationship with her daughter was wonderful and really great to read. I also loved that it seems like most of her environment was pretty accepting. We never saw anyone make any inappropriate comments about her young pregnancy (although we know these comments do get made) and on the contrary, people seemed very supportive and I really enjoyed that.

Jules and her developing relationship with Autumn was another wonderful part of the novel. Seeing such a beautiful and wholesome f/f relationship in a book still gets me every time. There is also an incredibly well written sex scene between the two.
On top of that female masturbation is mentioned twice, although just in passing. But I’m always glad to see it in any YA as it is still a very taboo topic and truly shouldn’t be.

“But being drunk made her feel invincible, gave her cover for so many things. She said whatever she wanted, she did anything and everything that she got the urge to, and when she fucked up, she’d brush it off: ‘I was drunk! It’s no big deal.”

And then there’s Hanna’s alcohol abuse which might have been my favourite issue that was talked about in this novel. Now while I was never addicted to alcohol, I found so many of Hanna’s reasons as to why she drank and how it got so bad, incredibly relatable and seeing this in a YA and how much this could open some teen’s eyes? It was fantastic.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of alcohol, ESPECIALLY for teens. And as someone who grew up and lives in a country, where you can start drinking beer and wine with 16, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. While reading this novel, I thought a lot about how trivialized alcohol is. I remember a girl from my school who had to get her stomach pumped after a party and I thought a lot about how we talked about this back then, like it was just a funny mishap.. sometimes even like something to be proud of. Looking back at how this was handled back then absolutely haunts me until this day.

On top of all these topics and issues, that were handled so very well, this also had a great storyline about friendship and music and how it can bring people together and reunite them. I loved the portrayal of the bond that you form when you make music together, especially when it’s in your “formative” years. The way these girls found their way back together through music warmed my heart immensely.

“Her skin felt raw, too tight for her body, every movement testing her limits, every rub of her clothes burning. And this whole place felt too small to contain her, pushing back against her, and how dare it, how dare it try to put a limit on what she was feeling right now.”

­
And that is still not all. There is also the aspect of grief. And there is a wonderful m/f romance as well. And as I said, almost all of these topics get portrayed from different POVs. So while Hanna’s addiction is obviously important in her storyline, we also see the way Dia and Jules feel about it, the way it impacted their lives and the decisions that they made.

Honestly I can’t quite believe how many things were in this 400 page novel and I could probably write a 400 page novel about all of the things packed into this and how amazing they all were.
But I think you get the picture.

I’m really sad that this book never got the attention it deserved. It is a really beautiful summer-y Contemporary, filled with a lot of intense topics that all get handled well.
So please pack this onto your must-read list! It is so great and important and I hope many more YA books tackle issues in such an amazing and open way.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, alcohol addiction, grief.

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

Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Córdova & Natalie C. Parker | ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Publication: September 22nd, 2020 by Imprint

Maybe vampires are getting old? I’m sorry, friends. This was just not the anthology for me. I feel like I might have had way too high of expectations going into this, based on the author list alone. Sadly, I felt like most of these stories just left you wanting more, but not in the good way. In the way of the actual short story felt very pointless. There were a few gems throughout, but for the most part this was a very lackluster and forgettable anthology for me.

My favorite story was easily In Kind by Kayla Whaley, and it was the only story that I gave a whole five stars too. It had everything that I wanted, and I can’t wait to read more by this author. It was spooky, it was so atmospheric, it was diverse, and it was beautiful.

I will say that I love how diverse this anthology is, and how much ownvoices rep is within these stories. We have ownvoices Black rep, Latinx rep, Native rep, Indian rep, disability rep, fat rep, a whole lot of queer rep (both sexuality and gender)! This truly celebrates so many different voices, and I loved that aspect so very much. Sadly, that was one of the only few things I did love about this collection.

Like always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts and feelings!

Adventure Time Gif Marceline Gif Laughing Ghosts GIF | Gfycat

Seven Nights for Dying by Tessa Gratton ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I won’t lie, I was most excited to start this anthology because the first story was Tessa’s and Tessa is one of my favorite authors of all time! I still really enjoyed this one, but it just wasn’t my favorite. We get to see a young girl slowly getting turned into a vampire over the course of seven nights with seven drinks. I really loved that she got to decide for herself if this is what she wanted, and that she had a week to do so! I loved seeing the glimpses of each day and night, and I really loved how sex positive this was! And the main character is pan or bi, which you know I love a lot! I also loved the themes of belonging, loss, grief, anger, and how teenage girls are sometimes expected to carry all of those things, and how society has forced teenage girls to adapt to those things. (I also loved the brief introduction of Henry, who is trans, and I am also ready to become a vampire for Sett all on my own!) There is also a bit of a sapphic relationship kind of going on here, which I wish I was able to see more, also it very much gave off polyamorous vibes!

TW: loss of a loved one, underage drinking, grief depiction


Mirrors, Windows & Selfies by Mark Oshiro ⭐️⭐️
Okay, this one is a hard one for me to rate, because I love the parallel attached to this story, and I love the premise of this story, but I didn’t love the actual story. This is about a young adult Latino vampire, forced to move around the country with his family, and never being allowed to get close with anymore. Because he feels so alone and isolated, he starts up a blog where we get to see him talk about his feelings, his struggles, and his want of finally being able to see himself for the first time,, because that is another thing his parents’ protectiveness has kept from him. There are a lot of parallels here about being queer, and feeling like you’re alone, and nobody else is like you, and then the feelings you get when you find out how much you really are not alone! And I loved that, truly. But Cicso’s parents’ secretiveness really didn’t make sense, and we never really learned why they kept him so isolated, so the story just wasn’t my favorite at all, sadly.

TW: blood, gore, violence, captivity mention, death


The House of Black Sapphires by Dhonielle Clayton ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Oh, this one is such a hard one to rate. Listen, if I knew I could get my hands on a full-length of this family, setting, and story eventually? I’d give it five stars. But the ending just made it feel… so unsatisfied. Yikes. This story is about a Black family of Vampires in New Orleans who are forced to move around a lot. And the women in this family aren’t just regular vampires; the Eternal Women have a much darker origin and are extremely powerful! In fact, only one thing can put them to rest which are Shadow Barons who walk with death. So basically, we get to see them move (through this really cool and magical gate system) and start back up with their family beauty pharmacy and apothecary, and it’s amazing. I loved this entire premise and set up so very much. And the family consists of five sisters who all have been given a different power by their mother. And a couple of the girls go to a ball with their mother (because they are summoned) in their new city, and our main character, Bea, gets to meet Shadow Barons, but one isn’t at all what she was expecting. And might be willing to risk it all for love, but we will never know because of the abrupt and disappointing ending.

TW: blood and mention of slavery


The Boys From Blood River by Rebecca Roanhorse ⭐️⭐️
Whew! Okay, the start of this? Set in a spooky diner, in a very small down, where our MC is a young Native boy who is being bullied for being Native and gay, and he is also preparing for his mother’s passing because of an illness. At the diner, him and another coworker (and the only person nice to him in this town) are getting scared when the jukebox is playing a creepy song all by itself. And legend goes, the last time this song played, an entire family was drained of their blood! How amazing does that sound, right? Like, I was INVESTED! But then…. we got… morally grey cowboy vampires. I am still a bit speechless. I still am questioning their motives. I’m still wondering what will happen in a few years to our MC. And I’m still asking myself what in the hell did I just read.

TW: bullying, abuse, and loss of a loved one.


Senior Year Sucks by Julie Murphy ⭐️⭐️
Listen, just because you mention a Buffy joke, it doesn’t mean your story doesn’t feel like a Buffy rip-off. Our main character is from Texas, where pageants are all the rage, and she is a cheerleader named… Jolene. Oh, and she’s a slayer. But she is just trying to enjoy high school the best she can, because of the life she is forced to have, but getting home from a game one night, she meets a vampire who is also just trying to learn what it’s like to be a normal teenage girl. I loved the fat rep and the sapphic ending, but sadly this just also left me wanting a lot more, while making the actual short story itself not feel of much substance.

TW: animal abuse mention


The Boy and the Bell by Heidi Heilig ⭐️⭐️
I really loved the atmosphere of this one, and I’ve always found historical burial fun facts to be rather interesting, but especially expecting the dead to ring a bell if they turn out to be not so dead! Our MC is a a trans boy trying to learn all he can while trying to go to school to become a doctor, but one night when he is gravedigging for corpses to learn from, he hears a bell ringing. Listen, I know this sounds great, and I appreciate that it felt like a full story once I read the last sentence (which seems to be my main complaint with this anthology so far), but it just felt a little pointless. Even though I’m always going to be here the course of action this MC took with a transphobe.

TW: misgendering & attempted blackmail (that would out our MC)


In Kind by Kayla Whaley ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Whew, finally, the first story I loved in this anthology. The power this one holds. First off, this story has a few articles/news casts helping present information and it was really expertly done. And in the first article, we learn that a 17 year old disabled girl was “mercy killed” by her father, but the body is missing. And you guessed it, she may be a vampire now! Her degenerative neuromuscular disorder makes it so that she still uses a wheelchair as a vampire, and I really loved that a lot. Because this entire story is about how this girl didn’t need to be “fixed” in any sense of the word, because her life is worth living, even if it is among the undead now. Truly thought this one was amazing and I loved it a lot.

TW: attempted murder (by overdosing), parental abuse, and ableism.


A Guidebook for the Newly Sired Desi Vampire by Samira Ahmed ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This short story is very impressive and very unapologetic and I read the whole thing with a smile on my face. Basically, this is told through an anonymous system set up in place for Indian vampires who are recently turned into vampires, and this one was turned against their will by a British tourist. We learn all about this new life these vampires will now have, and how it will work (yet also impact) their culture. And there is a lot of talk about biting colonizers, especially the ones that mock certain parts of your culture, while fully profiting from cultural appropriating other parts of it! This one doesn’t hold back against colonizers and all the microaggressions they love to still embrace in 2020, and we love to see. I didn’t love how the story was told, but I loved the entire contents within it.

TW: talk of colonization and mention of racism


Bestiary by Laura Ruby ⭐️
This one was just sadly (yet easily) my least favorite in the entire collection. This is about a young vampire girl living in a zoo and having a special bond with the animals. She really doesn’t have a place to call home after becoming a vampire and not willing to be around her abusive parents any longer. This story also for sure has themes of capitalism, while also trying to talk about what makes a beast and what makes a monster. Sadly, I just never cared, I never was invested, and the felt like the story was the most pointless of the whole collection.

TW: talk of domestic violence, underage drinking, attempted assault, and abandonment.


Vampires Never Say Die by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker ⭐️⭐️
Okay, I feel like this is the story that is going to be a bit on the controversial side. Basically, this is a story about a bunch of vampire Instagram influences who are hiding they are vampires. But one vampire who has been around for 200 years, started talking to a 15-year-old human girl who she really likes. The story takes place two years after they first started talking, so the girl is now 17 and throwing a big party in NYC for her Instagram pals and so that she can meet them for the first time. You can see where this is gonna go, right? But like, I just felt so uncomfortable with one of the MCs being fifteen and easily manipulated by people who aren’t being honest with her. I thought this had major sapphic vibes, even if it kinda tried to make it a “bff” thing. I don’t know, I just couldn’t enjoy it because I was uncomfortable, but I think many people will enjoy this one and maybe I’m being too sensitive.

TW: blood and…. grooming feels


First Kill by Victoria “V. E.” Schwab ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Maybe I’m just back to three starring everything by VE now again. Brb, gonna go cry. Okay, this one had a good twist that I really enjoyed, but I feel like if I say anything it will ruin the story a bit for you. But, we get to see two girls having crushes on each other, while also trying to figure out the other one’s motives. Has the sapphic angst, and also 60 seconds in a closet that really changes things for both of these girls. This one will for sure leave you wanting more, and I did enjoy the format that it was told in by seeing both girls’ POV over two days! I just wasn’t ever too invested, and again, I feel like not much happened, besides it just leaving the reader wanting to know how the actual story will play out.

TW: talk of murder & panic and anxiety deception.


TOBICgi
I gave Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite two stars overall, because out of a possible 55 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 11 stories) this collection accumulated 29 stars (52%)! But, if half stars were a thing, I would totally give this 2.5 stars, because it is almost exactly that when you tally all the stars up!

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Buddy read with DestinyMaëlys, & Lea! ❤