Quick Reviews of Fiction eBooks #1

Big Boned
Jo Watson

Lori has been the fat girl, with an odd brother, for a long while. But she used to fit in with her artistic talents – then her mom went and uprooted their lives to find the best place for her brother. Can Lori swim? I liked this novel. Go fat girls who end up being ok with being fat. The evolution from fat girl to fat girl with a better attitude towards herself was nice! I love the claimback by Lori of being fat and being healthy not being mutually exclusive. The novel reminded me to some extent of The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge. The ending was pretty much as I expected but it was cute anyway.

Please Don’t Hug Me
Kay Kerr

I received this as an ARC eBook copy a long time ago but never got into it. I read the first chaper or so, and then got distracted by other physical books. In transperancy though, I did finally read it as an ebook from my local library! I didn’t find it particularly riviting again the second time either. I struggled with Erin just having a single goal of Schoolies and her writing letters to her brother who could be in jail? We don’t even know? Until we do know, and then, oh, I hate Erin’s psychologist. I much preferred Social Queue and the non-fiction Love and Autism (I read them in very quick succession).

Social Queue
Kay Kerr

Zoe’s made it out of highschool with only a few quirks in behaviour that are the direct result of bullying – most is ‘just’ her autism. Or actually, she’s still trying to get used to being a teenager with autism, but she knows that she wants to be a writer. I enjoyed this novel much more than Please Don’t Hug Me because autism is less of a disability and more of a character trait that makes Zoe really good at some things, and not others (just like non-disabled people). Zoe reasonated with me as a character who wasn’t sure of her attraction to other people, but was willing to try going on five new dates! Even if the results weren’t what we/she expected. I think this is a great novel to add to any teenager’s shelf who struggles with being their authentic self, and learning how to love as a neurodivergent human.

Review: Alexandra Rowland – A Taste of Gold and Iron

A Taste of Gold and Iron
Alexandra Rowland

Arasht is known for its pure currency that is determined by touchtasters. A plot with counterfeit coins could threaten the whole realm, and Kadou needs to solve it. Kadou is a bit of a mess, so it’s a good thing that he has a beefy bodyguard to keep him out of trouble. Will there ever be something more between them?

It took me ages to read this novel because 1) I thought it was the first in a series and I didn’t want to commit and 2) I didn’t notice that it had gay protagonists. Unfortunately the plot was lacking. I’m not sure why I kept reading it – maybe I got too attached to poor Kadou and his panic attacks? Then again, I hated Kadou’s ex- who was just a comical steriotype of a gay man calling everyone ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’. Evemer tries to be the hard counterpoint to the ex- but never really becomes a 3D character.

The plot of this novel was quite weak, and it was very easy to see where the book would end up. It was obvious who the villians were from the start, and it was clear that it didn’t actually matter if they were caught! I mean, there was a moment where they couldn’t trust anyone, but it was all good! They just pulled in a truth-seeker.

What I loved most was the use of another non-binary gender in a way that the author just created a new term. The author just rolled with it and didn’t give the reader a chance to be transphobic. The role of male partners was also curtailed by body-father (basically sperm donor) and women only giving another person law/love control over the offspring if they wanted to. Seliha is a bit dopey, but gets there in the end I guess.

This reminded me a bit of Ash PrincessΒ in the way that it had a (to me) traditional feel of bodyguard falling for a princess/prince/whoever. It was inevitable that they would fall in love, because why else would the book exist? I’m giving this a generous 4 stars since I did keep reading it, but the plot was just pathetic.

Pan Macmillan | 30 August 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Amanda Woody – They Hate Each Other

They Hate Each Other
Amanda Woody

Jonah and Dylan have nothing in common. Nothing. Never. It’s why their friends are so determined that they will end up together – enemies to lovers. When they end up accidentally sleeping in the same bed, they decide to fake it until their friends get over it. But will Jonah and Dylan discover that they have more in common than they thought?

Is this too neat? I mean, it’s gonna be a teenage romance, so OF COURSE they will end up together. The author digs a little more deeply though into each of the boy’s home lives, and deals with some difficult topics including sexual harrassment, abuse, trauma and body image. It could be triggering for some people – don’t believe what TikTok tells you about the book, go and actually read the publisher’s website to be sure that it’s a book for you.

Reminicent of Lose You to Find Me, this book is a worthy additional to #ownvoices Queer novels. I’d put this near the top of my recommendation pile for someone with a young gay in their lives. It’s not always a comforting or comfortable read, but it is pretty good fun in parts. I couldn’t decide if I was on Team Dylan or Team Jonah – I love a great baked good, so I guess Dylan wins. Both are well-rounded characters that have been given unique quirks and flaws rather than being one-dimensional standins for “best practice gay boys”.

I ate this book up in a single afternoon, so it must have been good! On a couple of occasions I almost found myself crying for the characters. 5 stars from me, with a thought that after the storyline fades nicely in my head, I will want to reread it. Only time will tell.

Hachette | 9 May 2023 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Karelia Stetz-Waters – Satisfaction Guaranteed

Satisfaction Guaranteed
Karelia Stetz-Waters

Cade never expected to inherit anything from her family – it’s not like she’s ever fitted in and she’s always privately thought that she must have been adopted. Serena on the other hand hasn’t been able to plan for the future after her last falling-out left her with nothing. Thrown together to try to save a sinking sex toy store, will Cade and Serena be able to save the shop, their sex and their lives?

Cade and Serena are great examples of characters that some people will recognise themselves in (I graviated towards Cade) and others may think are just too stereotypical. The good news is that you don’t have to like them both to enjoy the novel! You also don’t need to like sex toys (it’s perfectly ok if you don’t like or need sex) or art to appreciate the novel.

Karelia and her publisher kindly provided me with a eBook copy – which I promptly failed to review (darn, I hate eBooks). I then waited patiently until my physical copy arrived in the mail, and then began reading it aloud to the other two lesbians in my household. Unfortunately, I was really REALLY invested in the story again, and so I wanted to read ahead of them. So… I finished it without them. My copy is actually looking a little beaten up, which I guess shows how much I love it.

I then wrote a review… and WordPress ate it! Grah! I’m back again now considering my third re-read because I loved it so much. I thought it was much better than the previous novel in this ‘series’ which was Worth the Wait. I’m now waiting impatiently for the next book, Behind the Scenes. If you’re a person who identifies as queer, know someone who identifies as queer (which is surely just about everyone?) – this author is for you.

I passionately recommend all of Karelia’s novels to the Queers in your life. Karelia writes a really enjoyable romance style where the sex is a bonus rather than expected. I find that most of her characters come alive for me, and even though I know what the ending will be, I still feel certain that I might be tricked and there won’t be a happily ever after.

Review: Luke Rutledge – A Man and His Pride

A Man and His Pride
Luke Rutledge

Sean’s out and sexed up on Grindr – he’s proud to be gay, even if his family doesn’t like him for it. His job as a moderator is boring but pays the bills. When his three month relationship fails Sean is back on the market for meaningless sex. But is it what he wants in the long term? Do he have a plan?

I liked Sean! Poor guy. Honestly the title and the cover made me feel a bit worried about hating it, but I empathised with Sean quite well. I was the same as Sean when Australia decided to waste money on whether we should let gay people marry or not. There’s plenty of perspectives to choose from here, and the author has done a great job of illuminating just some of the problematic attitudes in Australia. I hope we’ve come a lot further than 2017, but I’m honestly not sure.

Various pieces fell together across the book, but some were so late I felt like it lessened the story. It didn’t have the effect of keeping me reading.Β  I didn’t like the ending. Then again, I’m not sure how I wanted it to end! I guess I wanted more for Lawrence, and I needed William to grow a bit more of a spine.

I’m not going to re-read this, but it was pretty good. I’d really recommend it for anyone who is gay and unsure of their identity, or any person in their life that needs to be reminded that as a gay person you often have to come out over and over again. Heteronormativity is still a problem. 3.5 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 31 January 2023 | AU$32.99 | paperback

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