Review: Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick – She Gets the Girl

She Gets the Girl
Rachael Lippincott & Alyson Derrick

Molly’s social anxiety has made life hard for her during highschool – but she’s followed her dream girl to college, and damn it, she’s going to get the courage up this time. Alex on the other hand can’t seem to keep any girl, but she’s sure that this one is worth it.

A cute little love story that doesn’t ask you to think to hard, or get too invested. I love that their love came about by conversations, and that’s how many of the best relationships start and continue successfully. A relationship can only thrive if both people work at it – and unexpectedly, they’re working on other relationships yet forming a sneaky one on the side.

I thought that the treatment of some of the serious ‘themes’ here could have been a little more thorough. Alex’s mom is a chronic alcoholic, and Alex accepts responsibility for everything. Molly’s mom clearly has some issues about her adopted heritage that aren’t explored at all. Oh, and then there’s the fact that English majors find it very hard to find jobs – I actually thought Alex’s plan to do pre-med was very viable and even if it doesn’t mean she has to send the money home to her mom, it’s a good reliable job!

Phew, I got through this one in record time. I saw it come in my front door and proceeded to pounce and read it almost instantly. Then I gobbled it. A light-hearted read of young lesbian love – what’s not to like? It’s not deep enough for a reread, but I did really enjoy it. 4 stars from me.

Simon & Schuster | 1 May 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Erik J Brown – All That’s Left in the World

All That’s Left in the World
Erik J Brown

The superflu has wiped out 99% of the population. Pockets of people remain, some clustered, and some on their own. Jamie’s cabin-in-the-woods is well appointed and isolated, and Jamie is alone to contemplate life. When Andrew stumbles into the cabin, Jamie suddenly has to look after someone else – and maybe begin to care for someone he never thought would matter.

This novel was breathtaking. I couldn’t bare to put it down – I needed to read right to the very (bitter) end. Several hours later, and I’m still thinking about Jamie and Andrew and the future. I sank deeply into the universe and felt the dirty sneakers on their feet as my own. I couldn’t decide which character I liked more, which is quite rare for me with a dual narrator (usually I like the first one introduced the best).

I loved the slow-burn romance and the gritty reality of a world in pieces. I loved the fact that this was exactly how I imagined the next COVID-19-like outbreak to go in some countries. It doesn’t seem like society has learnt anything, and people are still demanding ‘rights’ across the world. I also appreciated how many issues the author managed to fit in, without seeming to over-dramatize the novel.

I’m desperate for another novel from this author. I am certain that he will reach the ranks of Adam Silvera and the like. I can’t wait to see the future of this debut author (and I hope the future comes soon).

If you liked What if it’s Us or Anything but Fine, this novel is for you.Β Even if you didn’t know you wanted a queer post-apocalyptic novel, you now need this one. Buy it for yourself, for the queer person in your life, or for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic fiction. I promise you won’t be disappointed. 5 stars from me.

Hachette | 8 March 2022| AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera – What if it’s Us Duology

What if it’s Us Duology
Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

What if it’s Us?

Ben and Arthur meet by accident as Ben tries to post a box of mementoes back to his ex-boyfriend and Arthur tries to grab himself a moment alone in New York. Arthur’s never dated a boy before, he’s not even sure he’s had a crush on one quite as badly as on Ben. In a world where summer is short, will the paths of these boys cross again when the Universe interferes?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the ending. It could have made or ruined the novel, particularly as I knew there was a sequel. It turned out to be perfect. I unfortunately made the mistake of reading the second before reviewing the first. Oops? But I was just so excited to keep reading about Ben and Arthur! I needed to still be with them.

Here’s to Us

Ben has mostly moved on with his life without Arthur. He’s sort-of dating a hot new guy, he’s making do with his college classes and job. Arthur has a great new boyfriend who’s sweet, caring and… isn’t Ben. A series of Universe Events means that they will collide, but will their worlds align again?

This novel is filled with hope, and real relationships where it seems crazy that things could line up. I honestly could have been happy with any of the relationships that formed and broke apart. Despite being a feel-good novel, it does still briefly touch on racism and socioeconomic bias. Not everyone is bright enough to get a scholarship for school, and not everyone wants to go to college (or finish college).

Thanks Simon and Schuster for these review copies. They look fantastic on my new shelves, and I loved reading both of them. This’ll be a reread when I’m feeling a bit down – a goodhearted and satisfying read.

Simon & Schuster | January 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Alicia Jasinska – The Midnight Girls

The Midnight Girls
Alicia Jasinska

Marynka has never been good enough for her Jaga. She’s always been too short, too slow and altogether unimpressive. The thing that keeps her going is her rivalry with Zosia. They clash frequently, looking to steal the hearts of princes for power. Finally a prince appears that has a pure heart, and they ride together to go to the capital – both with only one thing on their mind. Instead the girls find themselves falling for each other and they can’t let the other win.

First, the book title. There is only one Midnight girl. There’s also a Morning girl and a Midday girl. Technically they are all ‘monsters’, but to me they were more minions of their Jagas (witches). There’s a whole lot of alliteration going on there. Then again look at that glorious saturated colour in the cover.

Ok, my major question about this novel is – where are all the Princes coming from? It seems like Wack-a-Mole, as soon as a new prince appears one of the girls is after his heart. If all the princes keep getting killed, where are the new princes coming from? I can imagine them getting married and having their parents abdicate the throne sooner so that they can become king and survive, but I don’t think that’s quite how this works.

The implication is that there were many servants before Zosia and Marynka – what happened to them? Did they all get eaten by the Jagas? I need a little more detail! What is going to happen next? The original Jagas are sisters, what happens when one dies? How long have they actually been living for? How did they get to be witches? I’d read a prequel of that!

Can I get a drool about the delicious Polish delicacies showcased here? Maybe you are thinking at this point that I hated the novel – I didn’t! I actually really enjoyed it and kept thinking about it when I had to put it down to life. I loved the way that both protagonists refused to admit they were in love, rather than the usual trope of the main characters falling in insta-love at first sight. There was the backstory that at least showed their previous relationship.

I’m so sorry. I would have given this 4 stars, except once again Jasinska disappoints with the ending. Lesbian protagonists in a whole where being queer isn’t even mentioned (because it’s so normal)? Sign me up. But I don’t think I’ll be reading more from this author – The Dark Tide has the same ending problem, so I can’t expect it to change.

Penguin Random House | 30th November 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Tobias Madden – Anything But Fine

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden

Lucas’ life is wrapped up in ballet. Ballet is his whole life – he practices and practices and lets his schoolwork slide. Terrifyingly he slips and suffers a potentially career ending injury that also causes him to suffer the teenage fear of changing schools and losing his scholarship.

I’m not sure how I felt about Lucas’ relationship with his OT (occupational therapist). I also wasn’t 100% sure why he wasn’t seeing a physiotherapist? And honestly, it sounded like he would have also benefitted from seeing a psychologist. As many Australians would know though, mental health isn’t a ‘done thing’ and finding appointments is hard. Lucas’ dad is lovely and supportive though.

Starting at a new school is hard for anyone, but try being gay and on crutches in a small rural school. I think this novel is quite a realistic view of high school and homophobic people. Also, Lucas’ new friend is Muslim, and we also see some horrible Islamophobia. Oh! And don’t forget parental expectations for medical school. There’s a lot packed into this novel, and you won’t be disappointed.

The teenage love story is cute, but also filled with respectful relationships and understanding parents. There’s a few ‘racy’ scenes here, but nothing too blushworthy to a teenage male (from what I know about being a hormonal teenager, anyway). You’ll find it slightly less, um, provocative than Jack of Hearts (and other parts) for example.

This is a worthy addition to teenage queer fiction. It hits all the right notes about consent and waiting until you are ready, while also sensitively exploring the problems of high-school and jock culture. I’m giving this 5 stars, and giving it a pride of place on my shelf. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Penguin Random House | 31st August 2021| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan

Lei has been blissfully unaware of the wider society – apart from a raid that took her mother 7 years ago. When she is selected to become one of the king’s eight concubines she doesn’t feel it’s an honour and dreads serving a king brutal enough to order the complete destruction of villages. Lei doesn’t know how she will survive – but when she finds herself falling in love, she realises that there is more to life than serving and hating.

In a beautifully realized fantasy setting, it’s a love story, and yet at the same time other things are going on. To start with Lei isn’t that keen on being chosen – but decides to make the most of things to protect her family. I loved her fiery spirit, even if the early pages of the book were all a bit boring as they focused on the concubines getting to know one another.

I found the ending a little disappointing. Honestly, it would have been better if that particular character had died, because I could see where a power gap could still occur. For example, the mysterious shamans. What was their reasoning for keeping the balance of power stable? What did they get out of it?

Many reviewers have said this should come with a trigger warning for rape and abuse. I think it’s fair to say it did come with a bit of notice about that, as the beginning pages of the novel (at least in my copy) were links to rape and abuse hotlines for people who were in such terrible situations.

I picked this up at the library because I was pretty sure I’d seen other bloggers raving over it! I saw that there were the first two books on the shelf and promptly googled it to check how many books it was going to be. Unfortunately for me, it’s a trilogy and the third book isn’t published yet! I’ll give it four stars, and worry about reading the third when it comes out (probably again borrowed from the library).

Review: Kalynn Bayron – This Poison Heart

This Poison Heart
Kalynn Bayron

Briseis has a gift that is held in check by Brooklyn lack of green spaces. Her ability is to cause plants to thrive – even the deadly poisonous ones. After a rough year at school (trying not to cause the plants in her teacher’s windows to grow vigorously), Briseis is hoping to spend the summer helping her moms run their flower shop. Instead, she finds that she has inherited a rambling estate and garden from her birth mother.

I was a little hesitant to read this novel, because I had enjoyed Cinderella is Dead right until the disappointing ending! Once I picked it up though, I was hooked. Bri’s character was fleshed out and her feelings obvious. I didn’t mind the so-called ‘slow burn’, I liked getting to know Bri’s family, circumstances and normal behaviors before she was tossed into a new world of plants, poisons and family secrets. Add in some Greek mythology and there was a tale I wanted to keep reading.

Other reviewers have complained that the author doesn’t use words such as lesbian to refer to Bri’s moms. I actually appreciated that! It’s not like every straight couple in other novels are said to be straight! Equally, it’s not stated that Bri and her moms are people of colour – it’s up to the reader to pay attention to the little nuances in physical appearance and habits to realize this (although this is probably given away by the beautiful, luscious cover art).

Let’s talk about the ending in general terms at least. Did I like it? No, no I did not. I honestly felt as if the publishers had told the author “Hey, we think this will be a big hit, make sure you prepare to write a sequel.” So then Bayron was required to leave it open! In the end, I didn’t like the way the antagonists showed up as there were too many holes in the reasoning.

Ultimately my take on this novel is to go buy it! But without knowing when the sequel will come out (or whether this is a duology/trilogy etc.) try to go into it realising that you’ll have to be patient to see the next installment. I’m not patient! So it’s four stars from me (to be updated if the second book is as fantastic as the first).

Bloomsbury | 29th June 2021 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Alicia Jasinska – The Dark Tide

The Dark Tide
Alicia Jasinska

Lina just KNOWS that it will be her brother Finley who is chosen as the sacrifice this year. Finley is equally insistent on going to the revelries to find a potion to fix Lina’s broken ankle. Next thing Lina knows, she’s asking her heartthrob Thomas to find a way to save Finley – but instead finds herself falling for Queen Eva.

Thomas – the hero we love to hate? Does that make him the anti-hero? Because it certainly seems like he’s a waste of space. What did Lina ever see in him! Lina on the other hand is surprisingly poorly aware of herself and the effect she has on others. Her obsession with dancing means that I expected her to heal her ankle, but instead she gets great joy from terrorising Finley over it.

I guess it’s a teenage novel because there are some graphic descriptions of basically torture and some pretty vivid death. Honestly though, the level of the story is younger tweenagers, and I was left wholly unsatisfied with it. Surely there are better young reader fantasy novels with gay characters?

I found myself disappointed in this novel. Yes, it had queer characters, but the story overall wasn’t that great. I felt no sense of satisfaction at the ending, and the fantasy/storyline wasn’t convincing. I loved the idea of witches using parts of themselves to do magic, but I hated that none of them actually disappeared!

3 stars from me, and seriously put this book down further on your to-read list, it’s almost not worth your time.

Penguin Random House | 2 June 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Phil Stamper – As Far As You’ll Take Me

As Far As You’ll Take Me
Phil Stamper

Marty has always been the shy kid in the background, and he’s been happy like that. Being gay in Kentucky with a conservative community and Bible throwing parents isn’t exactly the best place to make waves. Marty decides to make the life he wants happen – he’s flying to London in order to play his beloved oboe and find a place to belong.

Did someone say that we needed more diversity in queer fiction? Even if they didn’t, this novel is a worthy addition to any gay teen’s bookshelf. It’s an accessible, friendly novel about Marty finally getting to live the openly-queer life he has always wanted since age six. The romance is a bit ugh, but I liked that it didn’t come to an obvious conclusion. Thank you, Marty, for not being a complete idiot.

I have suffered from anxiety in the past, and I could completely empathise with Marty that crowded spaces and new places freaked him out. However, the couple of times where he seemed to have a panic attack, and then had his new friends calm him down didn’t ring true to me. Thus, the ending to the novel seemed too neat.

Did I read this too fast, or something? I barely even picked up Marty’s disordered eating before his friends did. Yes, he seemed a bit obsessed about foods, but at the same time I felt like maybe it was harmless. I think that my sense of timing was off. The twelve weeks of summer seemed to go past faster than I realised. This was a complaint I had about The Gravity of Us as well.

I think that the blurb on this novel lets it down. I don’t think that Marty’s homesickness ever gets that bad, and he seems to be coping with his anxiety mostly ok. Also, I didn’t really get a sense of him running through his savings. And again, if it was so expensive to live in London, doesn’t that just mean that he should live at home with his aunt a bit longer? Certainly in Australia you are often expected to (or expect to) live with your parents for a while after you graduate high school.

I was very keen for this novel to come and I started reading it in short order. However, I took breaks in reading it because some parts just seemed too real and upsetting. I’m not sure that’s a complaint – just a comment that this book could potentially be triggering for some people. I won’t read it again, but I’d highly recommend it for any musically inclined travel-hungry teenager, gay or not. 4 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 9th February 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Kevan Van Whye – Date Me, Bryson Keller

Date Me, Bryson Keller
Kevin Van Whye

Bryson’s got a dare going – he has to date the first person to ask him out on a Monday morning. Kai has a secret – he’s gay, and perhaps a nice guy will notice him eventually. When Kai basically blurts out that Bryson should date him for a week, he doesn’t actually know what the week will have in store.

This came in the door, I read it right there and then, and then failed to review it. What can I say, COVID-19 has been sapping my energy because I spend way too much time in front of a screen. This is a heartfelt romance that starts out just as I would expect it to. Gay boy falls for straight boy, but there’s no gay baiting! Beautiful.

Kai is such an empathetic individual that it almost made me cry at times. I couldn’t bear it when he was hurt! And Bryson goes from a popular kid on a pedestal to being, well, human. Both are full realised characters that I enjoyed reading about.

I also really liked the cover. Mine was an ARC so it didn’t exactly match the one here, but it was cute. Oh, and did I mention that the Penguin on the spine (because it’s published by Penguin Random House) has a rainbow background? It would be easy to browse a (physical) bookshop and find a Queer novel that’s suitable for a young person in your life.

This novel is a cute love story that still manages to cover queer-phobia and coming out without being trite. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this as a teenage read, gay or straight. If you are looking for a gay novel that is a little more racey, try Jack of Hearts or CAMP. Oh! Or The Gravity of Us. There are some really excellent novels out there at the moment.

My only hope is that this book doesn’t trick young queer people into thinking that they can bring people over to being queer! But then, I imagine that they are already sick of reading straight romances where the queer person is the best-friend/side-kick/support-person. I had to resist rereading this again when I was going to review it, so it’s 5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 2nd July 2020 | AU$15.99 | paperback