ARC Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé // or: if you’re looking for hope, you’re in the wrong place

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

36445966._sy475_

The Blair Witch Project meets Imaginary Girls in this story of codependent sisterhood, the struggle to claim one’s own space, and the power of secrets

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. Moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming she’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★✩✩

This was my first book by Amelinda Bérubé, so I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t read much horror anymore and I haven’t read a lot of YA horror at all, so I feel like I had contrasting expectations from the end of this book, and it’s hard to say whether they’ve been met or not. But let’s start with the rest of the book before I talk about the ending.

I would describe this as Sadie meets Never-Contented Things(and those are both novels I loved). The quest of the missing sister, the uncaring parents and the overall failure of adults to be there for teens paired well with the creepy forest atmosphere, and it was at times almost terrifying. If I were someone who rates different points of a book to do a mathematical avg, I would definitely be giving the atmosphere a solid five stars.

I have a harder time judging the characters. My first instinct is to mark them as stereotypes, but that’s not exactly right. They’re more archetypes of teens, and a lot of them are terrible (more on this later). If I were to say something about any of them, is how the love interest is a soft boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and since the stereotypical YA love interest is the asshole, brooding type, I more than appreciate this. Whether this book was kind to him, or to any of its character for that matter, is something I doubt, and I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions.

While I enjoyed most of this book and it was definitely going to be at least a full 4 stars, the ending left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not, per se, a bad ending. I feel like it’s not the plot itself that let me down, but the message that was sent, or at least the message I understood. And here comes what I mentioned before: horror doesn’t have to be hopeful, but YA does. What does, then, YA horror need to achieve? Is it okay to stick to the genre’s message without taking into account the target group? Is it okay to do the opposite? Is there a way to achieve both?

I feel like strictly speaking, the ending tried to be both hopeful and hopeless, which probably wasn’t easy to do. But inevitably when there’s both hope and not-hope, the negative will always override the positive, like mixing a lot of light paint and a little dark one will inevitably result in a dark color. And here there was so much more dark than light. When I say dark I don’t mean tragic. Perhaps that’s what throws me off, it’s so dark because it isn’t tragic. Tragic we can handle, we can get closure. Here, I’m not sure we get closure of any kind. In a way, this is where this book diverges from my Sadie comparison: Sadie is tragic and it has very good reasons to be that. This book had every chance to be hopeful or at the very least tragic, but it wasn’t either.

Terrible teens exist, and there are often reasons why they’re terrible, and all of us are or were terrible as teens in our own way. And we need to see that we’re not alone. But to see that and accept that in a narrative that’s so, ultimately, hopeless, without seeing a sliver of light other than “you’re not alone in being terrible, you’re surrounded by other terrible people too”, is frankly a little disappointing and defies at least part of this novel’s genre. That’s, at least, how I felt about it.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book. If you need hope in your life, if you can handle a dark story as long as there’s light at the end, I would say maybe avoid it. If you don’t care and want to read a creepy novel, give it a try.

TWs: animal deaths, violence, missing girl, blood, gore

Advertisements

ARC Mini-Review: How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

42371064._sy475_

Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-gay, super-likable guy that people admire for his confidence. The only person who may not know Remy that well is Remy himself. So when he is assigned to write an essay describing himself, he goes on a journey to reconcile the labels that people have attached to him, and get to know the real Remy Cameron.

Release date: September 10th

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★.75✩✩

This book follows Remy, an out and proud gay teen, in his quest to find out who he is. I feel like the question “who am I really?” is something that everybody has asked themselves before, and this can be especially hard to answer when you are a marginalized person and you need to understand how your marginalizations intersect.

Personally I felt like the writing improved from the author’s debut and the book’s themes were also stronger. It was still a little awkward at times but I could overlook that in favor of the characters and the themes.

Overall I feel like this is an important book for all teens and I would highly recommend it if “who am I?” has ever crossed your mind.

TWs (taken from the end of the book): discussions of racism, homophobia, past minor characters’ death, and alcoholism, as well as depictions of homophobic bullying, and a scene involving brief sexual harassment/racial fetishism

Review: Failed Future (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #3) by Elise Kova

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

failed-future-final-ebook

When worlds collide, and things are rarely what they seem, there may be no one Vi can trust.

Having forsaken her crown for a chance to save her family, and the world, Vi Solaris washes up on the shores of Meru. She’s wounded and barely alive. But Vi’s fight for survival is only just beginning.

As a princess in a foreign land, everyone is after her.

The pirate queen Adela wants to sell her to the evil elfin’ra. The Twilight King wants to use her to settle an old score. And, perhaps most dangerous, is the scheming Lord of the Faithful who sees her as an opportunity to further consolidate his power.

The only path for Vi is forward. But she doesn’t yet know if she’s running toward salvation… or a brutal end to everything she loves.

Vi’s journey continues with even more betrayal, romance, magic, and a twist you never saw coming that leaves readers begging for the next book. 

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★✩

Third books in long series are always a turning point and this one was as well, in more ways than one.

In the first half of the book there was a lot I liked. Kova’s ability to introduce new characters and make them interesting right off the bat is something that works really well at the beginning of new series or, in this case, when our main character is somewhere new and has to make new connections.

However, the rest of the book was a little boring to me despite the fact that it was rather fast paced, or maybe that’s why, since I enjoy a bit more focus on characters and relationships. But I might have honestly just not been in the mood for this, because I was also bored with Vi and Taavin’s relationship since it took more page time than the prequels. I did enjoy some moments of course and I was able to focus on the final 20 pages more than I did for the second half of the book.

And that brings me to the ending (no worries, no spoilers from me). I think what Kova did in this book is very brave and I’ll be able to fully process what happened in this book when I read the next, but it’s certainly taken a turn I’d have never seen coming. I’m still not entirely sure what it all means for the rest of the series and for our view of Air Awakens, but I’m very curious to see what will happen next.

Speaking of Air Awakens, I truly believe that while it’s not necessary to read it for the first two books of this series, there will be a lot of connections that are lost if you haven’t read the original series. Especially going into the next books, I fully recommend catching up with the first series if you haven’t done so already.

Review: Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

39863312

I’m willingly not sharing the official summary of this book because I found it super misleading.

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★.5✩

This book’s biggest flaw was the way it was marketed.

First things first, I loved this book. I think it might have been a 5 stars under slightly different circumstances, and if I can ever bring myself to read it again I think I will be able to give this the 5 stars it probably deserves.

Before we get into what it did right and why I liked it, let me once again do the job that the publisher* failed to do and clarify that, first of all, that blurb is totally misleading. Prince is not the protagonist of this book and he’s frankly not even that important. Fairies in this book are just a clever excuse to explore humanity, or better said, some very fucked up and ugly sides of humanity. And that brings me to my second point, which you should keep in mind before even thinking about reading this book: this is fucking dark. It’s ugly, it’s triggering, it’s maddening, and if you manage to read enough of it it has one of the most satisfying character developments and conclusion of any book I’ve ever read.

To put this on Netgalley without a single trigger warning, and especially to set it as “Read Now”, was a huge mistake and a huge disfavor to both readers and the book itself. I’m sorry if I come off as harsh but I’m not just here to review the book, if the publisher really cares about feedback I hope they will take this into consideration for the next books they put up for review.

* (hi, publisher person that will read this when I send my review through Netgalley! please don’t take this review as your cue to never approve me for your books ever, again, thank you)

This is initially a story about the codependency between two foster siblings, Josh and Ksenia. Their relationship gets about as unhealthy as you can imagine, and because for the first good chunk of the book we only get to see things through Ksenia’s eyes, our reading experience can get incredibly frustrating. If you’re someone who while reading needs to be told at any given moment, “This is wrong, btw,” then you should stay away from this book. You know it’s so, so wrong, but the book *shows* you that it is instead of telling you, because character perspective matters and that’s the whole fucking point.

As the story progresses and the codependency slides pretty heavily into abuse, you get a different, healthier POV. And thank god, because reading Lexi’s POV chapters are like emerging to finally take a breath after being held under water by Ksenia and Josh. And still it’s a while before things can get better, because they need to get worse first.

What truly struck me about this book were two things: the writing, which is absolutely stunning and it completely captured me from page one, and the fact that Ksenia is given all the compassion, all the redemption, all the healing and forgiveness we usually bestow upon male characters. And I don’t know if she’s a female character, other reviewers have said she’s possibly genderqueer, although this isn’t explicit in the text, but she’s a character I feel was missing in YA, or maybe I just haven’t encountered one like her yet.

The leading theme in this book is how abuse will affect the mind and affections of a victim. How a victim is left alone, ignored, blamed even, and is left so vulnerable to the slightest hint of what they think is love. They think, this is the best I can ever hope for. This is better than it was before, so it must mean it’s all I’m worth. And sometimes things really are good, but sometimes they’re really fucking not, and Ksenia was unlucky enough to first read the definition of love from the dictionary of Josh, except Josh is a victim too and his definition of love is all wrong, too. This book does an amazing job at never victim-blaming anyone but also at showing the effects of your first, your second, your life-long abuse, because those things can’t be ignored when we talk about abuse and especially when we talk about surviving it.

Ksenia isn’t magically saved by her love for Lexi, or by Lexi’s love for her, but she’s given the tools to dig herself out of eighteen years of wrong, and that’s the most powerful message you can send readers.

There are so many other things I loved about this book. Everyone is queer (Ksenia is possibly genderqueer and attracted to multiple genders, Josh is fat, pansexual and gender non conforming, Lexi is Black and discovers her multiple-gender-attraction throughout the novel), the writing, as I said before, is absolutely beautiful and atmospheric. The faeries are seriously creepy as fuck and I loved (hated) them. The conclusion was the best one I could hope for. But seriously, the best thing of all is everything I talked about for most of my review.

Now more than ever I encourage you to read the trigger warnings and know that it’s okay if you think you can’t handle them; these aren’t things that are just mentioned in passing, they are very real in the novel and it WILL get super uncomfortable even if this stuff isn’t usually a trigger to you. But if you think you can, give this book a try because it’s so, so worth it.

Trigger Warnings: incest, codependency, abuse, sexual assault and rape, death on page, violence, body horror, parental neglect.

ARC Review: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

38465005

Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground…

With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?

Release date: July 30th

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★✩

An interesting worldbuilding and a perfect story for fans of The Dragon Prince, which was ultimately just a little too forgettable for me.

This book starts with a really great premise, a QPOC girl who decides to go save her girlfriend and undertakes a journey in a very interesting fantasy world with dragons that can bond to humans.

I thought the execution was okay for a debut, but if you’ve read a lot of fantasy books this will read a little too generic. The protagonist, Maren, is on a deadline to save her girlfriend, and yet we conveniently forget about the time issue for the time that it takes Maren to learn useful skills and important bits of worldbuilding and forge new friendships and relationships. Then time is suddenly relevant again and everything has to move forward rather fast. So, overall the pacing doesn’t usually bother me and it didn’t here, but it was definitely something I noticed. Some things were also very predictable, and all the foreshadowing was very obviously foreshadowing from the moment you read it and not 100 pages later when it actually became relevant. This is all just nitpicking and it’s just something you notice if you’ve read a lot of books, like I said.

Probably my favorite part of the whole book was the dragon egg that reminded me so much of The Dragon Prince, one of my favorite shows. It was really cute.

Maren is a bi girl in an already established relationship with a girl, that will be the reason for her whole quest. And here comes the part of this review that I dread to write, because it’s impossible for me not to mention it but as a bi girl I am aware of all the nuance in this. Of course, there’s a boy and Maren is like, immediately attracted to him. While still in a relationship with Kaia, her girlfriend. Think of it as you like, I personally was annoyed at this aspect of the story. There are other ways to show bisexual attraction without involving actual emotional cheating (and I use this term because it was more than just, “oh he’s so hot.”). Does it happen IRL? Of course. But maybe it’s not great in general and especially when the bisexual character is the one doing it. In any case I was mostly able to overlook it and pin it to the writer’s inexperience, I just want to warn other bisexual readers that this is something that happens.

So, would I recommend this book? I think the worldbuilding was interesting and it has a lot of potential for the rest of the series, if you can overlook some of the more debut-y aspects. I’m going to keep an eye out for the next installment if I remember, but even just a few weeks after reading it I don’t remember enough about this to really crave the sequel.

Audiobook Review: Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins /// royal f/f romance in Scotland

41734205

Summary: Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.

Millie can’t believe her luck when she’s accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute.

The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess.

She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.

At first, the girls can barely stand each other–Flora is both high-class and high-key–but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★.5✩

I devoured this book on audio in basically a day and oh my god, friends. There is a very specific emotion that us sapphic girls feel when presented with good sapphic content in fiction, and depending on our tastes in terms of tropes and genres, different sapphic books will hit us differently. The feeling I got from this book was one of pure joy from getting a royal romance, usually reserved for a girl falling in love with a prince, starring two girls.

I loved Millie, the protagonist, right away. She’s smart and she wants to be a geologist!!! She wants to go to a school in Scotland and part of the reason why she loves Scotland is because of its cool geology. Not to be so me, but give me any girl protagonist who’s a scientist or wants to be one and I’ll immediately be ten times more invested in her story. Also, her interest wasn’t just mentioned once in passing, it’s actually pretty much present throughout the book and she has her own collection of minerals and rocks (I do too!! okay, technically my mom does, but that’s not the point) and UGH I love her so much okay!! I have no actual idea how accurate some of the things she said were. Since I was on audiobook I didn’t feel like pausing every time and google or ask my mom if the geology stuff was correct BUT whatever, I appreciate the sentiment in any case (and if you’re a geologist don’t @ me I’m just here for a fun gay time). Okay now I made it sound like this is way more about geology than it actually is, but no, it’s just I feel very strongly about geology so pardon me.

After a brief introduction to Millie’s family and friends back home, she gets to Scotland and we get that Hogwarts-y feeling of arriving to a place you know very little about (despite all the research Millie has done) and having to navigate through a new school and new people, most of which are filthy rich or straight up aristocrats. Among which is HRH Flora and, surprise surprise, Millie’s roommate.

roommates

Their relationship can only be described as hate to love, as it often is when the couple starts off as roommates. Only after weeks of forced vicinity Millie’s perception of Flora starts to change, and I think although we don’t get Flora’s POV, the same could be said for her. I don’t want to wander too much into headcanons, but I believe that Flora started to view Millie under a new light after Millie’s coming out, and I found that such a realistic experience for sapphic people.

Speaking of coming outs, there were two, in two separate moments (Millie’s, which we know about since the very first page, but she comes out to her new friends in the school – she’s bi, and Flora’s, who is gay), and they both warmed my heart so much because of how they were handled. There’s also a “wait, you’re straight???” moment for one of the side characters that had me laughing for hours (okay, not literally but I have to laugh whenever I remember it). (No, don’t worry, there was no queerbait.)

While I wouldn’t call this book super diverse as a whole, it does deliver on casual queerness and on people never making a big deal out of it. I really appreciated both aspects and how much a non-issue it all was, I really felt like it was a book written for queer people instead of just about them, you know? ♥

Back to the romance, I loved Millie and Flora’s relationship. You can’t help but hate Flora in the beginning but by the end you’re almost as in love with her as Millie is (okay, not sure that’s possible actually). They got such cute and cliché romantic moments and they were TO DIE for. Twentybiteen is giving us such sapphic goodness!!!!

Anyway it’s been a while since a full-on gush review and I usually don’t really review audiobooks because those are the books I read purely for fun without reviewing in mind, but I couldn’t not talk about this. I went into it only for a good sapphic time and it never ever disappointed me.

I do want to say that if you’re expecting this to be completely realistic you should maybe change your mindset a little before you start reading. Yes, we all know there is no queen of Scotland and therefore no princess of Scotland. Maybe the blurb should make it more clear that it’s a fictional/alternate Scotland, but that’s hardly the first book series that does something like this. Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never been and I have no ties to Scotland, but I understand not liking the idea of changing things for the sake of the book. You do you and while it never bothered me I wanted to mention this aspect.

Another brief note for those who want to read this but haven’t read the first book in the series yet, go for it! I haven’t read book one either and as you can see I loved this book. It follows different characters and we do get to see the protagonists from the first installment (one of which is Flora’s older brother), but the book pretty much explains everything and we’re not left wondering who these people are. And if you’ve read book one and want to see them again, well read this book!

In conclusion, I don’t think this book is perfect, and if it hadn’t been f/f maybe I wouldn’t have liked it so much, but as you can see I loved it so much and I had such a good time reading it. I 100% recommend it to everyone!

TWs: mentions of loss of a parent in the past, mention of casual homophobia (“it’s just a phase”), several instances of “more than friends”(not challenged), sort of cheating (not the main couple).

ARC Review: King of Fools (The Shadow Game #2) by Amanda Foody

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

37545571-1

Summary: Indulge your vices in the City of Sin, where a sinister street war is brewing and fame is the deadliest killer of them all…

On the quest to find her missing mother, prim and proper Enne Salta became reluctant allies with Levi Glaisyer, the city’s most famous con man. Saving his life in the Shadow Game forced Enne to assume the identity of Seance, a mysterious underworld figure. Now, with the Chancellor of the Republic dead and bounties on both their heads, she and Levi must play a dangerous game of crime and politics…with the very fate of New Reynes at stake.

Thirsting for his freedom and the chance to build an empire, Levi enters an unlikely partnership with Vianca Augustine’s estranged son. Meanwhile, Enne remains trapped by the mafia donna’s binding oath, playing the roles of both darling lady and cunning street lord, unsure which side of herself reflects the truth.

As Enne and Levi walk a path of unimaginable wealth and opportunity, new relationships and deadly secrets could quickly lead them into ruin. And when unforeseen players enter the game, they must each make an impossible choice: To sacrifice everything they’ve earned in order to survive…

Or die as legends.

Release date: out now!

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★

King of Fools was one of my most anticipated sequels this year and I was not disappointed. Am I mad a this book and at Amanda Foody? Oh, hell yes. But I loved every second of it.

I believe that, in trilogies, second books should feel completely different from book one, and then book three should be an expansion of book two. We’ll see what book three has in store for us, but for now I can say that this book had a totally different feeling from Ace of Shades, and it was great.

Different were the themes, the stakes, the pacing, the POVs. We saw old and new characters in a different light, and the city of New Reynes took its own rightful place as almost a character of its own, with its rich history and legends, even more so than in the first installment.

This book is so rich and full of events, each leading to new and more complicated plot points, that it’s impossible to put it down. Even if you somehow weren’t hooked to the plot, the characters are so interesting and you love them so much that you can’t not keep reading.

Structurally speaking, KoF has two main differences: three POVs (Enne, Levi, Jac) and a both faster and slower pace. Faster because a lot more happens than in Ace, but spread out over several months instead of the ten days of Ace. I think that was necessary, although if we were to analyze it, some time skips were a little too convenient maybe, but I don’t care too much about that. It all flowed well and came together nicely (OR SHOULD I SAY NOT NICELY) for the grand finale.

If you’ve read Ace, you know how much Enne grew in those pages, and here we see the lovely results of that. Mainly we get to see Enne form her own girl gang and it’s everything you’ve ever needed in your life. I really appreciated the variety of girls there, even though obviously there needed to be a focus on only a few of them. Also, there was a lovely side f/f relationship and I’m ready to see more of it in the sequel.

While Enne changed a lot in a short time, Levi’s character development in Ace had more to do with our perception of him the longer we stayed in his head. In KoF, I think it’s fair to say that Levi does quite a bit of character development in the way that usually male characters (and men in general) do: his development is always the result of something that happens, usually something he regrets doing after seeing the consequences it had. I found this both realistic and frustrating at times, but in a way that was always consistent with who he was since the beginning of Ace.

Levi’s development was also integrated by an outside perspective, mainly Jac’s POV, into his flaws, but that’s not all Jac was there for, which was something I was afraid of at the beginning. I’m glad we saw Jac have his own story line and his own agenda, and I loved his POV so much. Jac’s POV also had one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever read, that literally had me forget to breathe while I was reading and I won’t easily forget. I just want to say: Jac Mardlin, I am so fucking proud of you.

I think the writing also did improve, and there were a couple of scenes like the one I just talked about that proved it, as well as certain……..decisions that Amanda Foody took. I am now equally excited and terrified for the sequel, because King of Fools was already a lot in terms of emotional wreckage.

In case it wasn’t clear, I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK AND I NEED BOOK 3 ASAP.

TWs: mention of drug abuse and addiction, character deaths, violence, blood, explosions, murder, torture, executions.