Review: Kevin Christopher Snipes – Milo and Marcos at the End of the World

Milo and Marcos at the End of the World
Kevin Christopher Snipes

Milos and Van have been besties forever. It doesn’t matter to Milos that she’s sworn off organised religion, and it doesn’t matter to Van that Milos is a bit of a religious pariah. When Marcos walks back into their lives, Van is excited and Milos feels betrayed. How dare this boy who made him feel the wrong things be back? As they get closer and closer, the world begins to end – coincidences pile up, and leave Milos asking – does God hate gays?

What was good about this novel was the internal anguish of Milo trying to reconcile his homosexuality and his religious beliefs. It’s impressive how much internalised homophobia Milo had even after a single summer of feeling feelings for the wrong gender. Milo is very distressed, but also an idiot.

I felt so hard for Marcos! And personally, I never would have forgiven Milos for being a dirtbag. Milos continually proves that he is unreliable and a bit of an ass, yet Marcos is trying to make something of his life. Nup. Wasn’t sold on the ending because of this either.

I listened to this book as an audiobook borrowed from my library. The reader was pretty good, and my conure who is fond of male voices came and tried to sit on my phone the whole time I was listening. However, I was surprised by how long this novel was. I think that some of it (particularly the ‘Milo is a good Presbyterian boy’ repeated line) could have been skipped.

Uh, was anyone else a bit thrown by the ending? It all just seems too neat. Also, ‘making love’ – really? In a teenage novel? I know a little about the logistics of this, and it’s not really as simple as all that. If you’re looking for a book that unpacks a bit of the intersection between homosexuality and religion, this could be for you. If you’re looking for a more realistic gay romance, try Anything but FineΒ or Jack of Hearts. 3-4 stars from me.

Review: Tobias Madden – Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell

Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell
Tobias Madden

Noah is in love with his best friend… who he doesn’t even know the name of, and has only ‘met’ online. Well, if we’re being honest, it’s Noah’s only friend. Noah’s mum is desperate to have him participate in a musical theatre so it could be an in…

I unfortunately found this novel quite cringeworthy, and I struggled to keep reading it. I knew from the beginning that things weren’t going to go well for Noah! Was I ever so stupid in highschool?

I was so worried about what Noah’s big secret was to why he has no friends at school, but in the end I felt a bit letdown. I also felt tricked by Eli’s mom and her job – it didn’t seem to actually be all that relevant to the narrative in the end. Oh, and what about Alex just reporting back to Noah’s mother? That was a bit weird too.

It’s been a year or so since Anything but Fine, but unfortunately I didn’t feel like the author’s style has progressed much (or maybe the topic is too same-y). I look forward to seeing more #ownvoices work from this author, but I hope that he will continue to broaden his writing out of his own experiences and into new areas (not ballet or theatre that I feel are stereotypically gay).

I feel terrible writing such a negative review. I’m sure this novel will be reassuring to some gay teens, and maybe reinforce that parents aren’t always what they seem. For me though, I was disappointed and I’m only giving 3 stars. I’d recommend Camp or Jack of Hearts over this novel, or of course the debut by this author – Anything but Fine.

Penguin | 30 August 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Alice Boyle – Dancing Barefoot

Alice Boyle
Dancing Barefoot

Patch has crushed on Evie for forever! Unrequitedly, of course. Patch knows she’s the least likely person for Evie to get involved with – but that doesn’t mean she can’t ogle Evie when she gets the chance. There’s only the tiny hurdle of not having even admitted to herself that she’s gay, her terrible hair and trans best friend. Can Patch make it past the things working against her?

This novel was phenomenal, and I don’t use that term lightly. I’ve just finished reading it and I’m still having happy thoughts and feeling a warm cuddliness towards the characters. I loved Patch, I loved Evie and I loved Edwin. I even loved Abigail just a slight bit too – even if when her motivation came out it didn’t actually make sense with the time chronology of the novel. I read an ARC, so maybe that’s been ironed out by the time this review goes live.

I’m not 100% in love with the title, but the cover makes up for it I think. It nicely reflects that even if you’re in love for the first time, it can’t just be about two people. Patch knows she has great things in life, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t nervous. Most of the action time in this book really is action time without too much ‘this is highschool and it sucks’.

What I particularly liked was the treatment of Edwin being trans. Some other authors make a huge deal out of it and their main character often struggles to remember the right pronouns for their best friend. Here, Edwin is already one of the guys. It’s a fact. I also like how Patch still feels awkward to come out to anyone, even if it’s probably that Edwin won’t care.

Is it too niche for Patch to be gay, with a single dad, a trans best friend, a scholarship kid at a swanky private college and amazing at art? Have I read too many novels where the lesbian main character is special in some way? Ok, maybe. But this novel makes it into my top of the list for lesbian teenage romances.

In the same way that I loved Jack of Hearts (and other parts) and Camp for their ‘real’ dramas, this novel creates a genuine Melbourne feel and an Australian-ness that isn’t overdone and beachy. I want to spread my love of this novel as far as possible! I want it to be on recommended reading or as a highschool English text.

I feel so distracted and unable to stop thinking about this novel. I don’t feel ready to leave Patch’s home turf – maybe I’ll just have to read a non-fiction book next instead. 5 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 30 August 2022 | AU$24.99 | paperback

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: 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: 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