Review: On the Fly by P.J. Trebelhorn // for the f/f sports romance lovers out there

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

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Summary: Courtney Abbott is a gold-medal-winning Olympian who always dreamed of playing in the NHL. But breaking into a man’s game is nearly impossible, and she’s put her all into playing in a semi-pro women’s ice hockey league.

Concert violinist Lana Caruso and her teenage son return home to care for her father. The move is only temporary, though—as soon as he recovers, Lana plans to return to Chicago and her position in the orchestra.

Court knows Lana isn’t going to be sticking around for long, but she’s used to living life on the fly. She doesn’t think for even a second she’ll end up truly falling for Lana, but when hearts are on the line, love becomes the one game she can’t afford to lose.

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★★★★.5

This book is a romance between hockey player Courtney Abbott and Lana Caruso, a violinist who has to take time off from her orchestra in Chicago in order to help out her family because of her father’s health issues. Lana also has a teenage son so there’s a single parent trope in this too, which I really liked. Because he’s 15 and plays hockey too, he had kind of a important role and I thought the scenes with him were really cute and endearing.

I thought that because the romance was going to be between an athlete and a violinist, this book wouldn’t focus so much on the sports element, but I was wrong and I really enjoyed this aspect. Particularly I loved how fierce Court’s teammates were when it came to backing up one of their own, even if it was usually against a new member of their own team who caused trouble. In this it reminded me a bit of The Foxhole Court, just in how violent and threatening some scenes were. It’s nowhere near TFC levels though. Although at the beginning it was cool to see this strong friendship among women, it also annoyed me that the main conflict had to be a teammate who was causing trouble for no reason other than the fact that she’s a bigot and has a problem with Courtney being a lesbian. That grew old soon and it distracted from the romance and the cute scenes. If I’m reading an f/f book I usually don’t want to be reminded of queerphobia. I also didn’t like the implication that because she’s a homophobe she has to be secretly closeted and not accepting of her own sexuality. It’s a tired argument that’s only meant to justify bigotry.

On Lana’s side of the story, she has to help out in her family’s pizzeria and try to find a relationship with her parents where she doesn’t really have one. I am Italian and I have to say that I recognized Lana’s family’s mentality as typically Italian and not in a stereotyped way. It was the small things that made it real and I don’t know if the author really did her research or what but I thought it was spot-on.

The romance itself was really good. I liked them right away and how flirty they were with each other. I really felt for them because they knew the time they had was limited since Lana would go back to Chicago after a few months. Something that was different compared to other romances was the fact that the book stretched onto a long time period, overall I think about two years? It had some necessary time jumps at the end but that was expected, however even while Lana was still in town sometimes I thought the pacing was a bit off.

There were a few other things that bothered me like the equivalence that having breasts = being a woman, or the fact that sex was treated as something everyone needs to have, and one comment in Court’s POV about bisexual women that I thought could have been edited out (Lana is a lesbian but Court initially thinks she’s bi because she has a son, and thinks in her internal monologue that she doesn’t have a problem with bi women but doesn’t want to hear about their sex with men, which….was really not prompted by anything and just made me uncomfortable) but overall I had a really good time while reading this and I would definitely recommend it for fans of f/f and sport romances.

TW: lesbophobia, mention of suicide, past death of a parent, cancer, hospitals, violence, the d slur

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ARC Review: Cretaceous by Tadd Galusha 🦖

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

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Summary: When a Tyrannosaurus Rex is separated from its family unit, it embarks on a harrowing journey to reunite with them before the raw, real dangers of the Cretaceous Era separate them for good. This heart-wrenching story takes to the skies and dives into the sea—and explores everywhere in between—in this research-based, fictional account written and illustrated by Tadd Galusha (TMNT/Ghostbusters 2).

Release date: March 26th

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★★★

If this review was a flow chart, and I asked you, “Do you like dinosaurs?” and your answer was Yes, then there’d be a handy arrow that would point you to the option “read this graphic novel”.

If you’ve ever seen illustrations of a dinosaur and the first word out of your mouth was “COOL!!!!”, then this book is for you.

Maybe I’m a little dramatic or maybe my whole childhood and consequently my whole life has been heavily influenced by Littlefoot’s mom’s death in The Land Before Time, but when I saw how stunning the title page was (not the cover, which is kind of…not good, compared to the art inside) I didn’t even care what the story would be about, I just knew I would love it if the whole book had art Like That in it. And I was not disappointed.

The fact that this book has no dialogue in it might make you think it’s a children book about cute dinos running about their lives, but I wouldn’t say this is for kids. Teens, maybe, if they can handle the gore. But basically, you should only go into this if you’re prepared to be the powerless witness to the brutality of a nature without finality or purpose, and leave your own human ideals in the Anthropocene where you belong. This is the Cretaceous, baby.

Review: Squared Away by Annabeth Albert

I was sent this book as an advanced copy for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 
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Summary: In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

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★★★★.5

Okay so don’t mind me while I SQUEAL because this book made me feel all kinds of feels. I was weirdly in the mood for an M/M romance where one of the guys has to raise a kid on his own, but get this: BOTH guys are raising THREE KIDS. Together.

I don’t think I could’ve asked for more from this trope. This had everything I wanted: cute domestic scenes, funny shenanigans, one of the guys who’s clueless about kids at the beginning and the other one who’s already a pro at it. It was also very emotional because of the circumstances in which Isaiah and Mark come to take care of the kids, since their parents died. I think the portrayal of grief (especially from Mark’s part) was realistic enough without making the book darker than it needed to be.

The romance itself was so, so good and soft. I can’t think of another word for it and y’all are gonna have to take it from my cold, dead hands. SOFT SOFT SOFT. While there is some lack of communication when it comes to the legal situation with the kids, the communication between Isaiah and Mark is great in their relationship. I don’t really want to spoil anything about it but it’s too cute and I’m still squealing.

Talking about the representation, Isaiah is biracial, just like the kids are, but it’s sort of a blink-and-you-miss-it thing. Isaiah is also gay and Mark is grey-ace or demisexual (he isn’t sure of the exact label, but he is ace-spec). I don’t want to go into the specifics of what I think of Mark’s asexuality and how it was handled, but I want to say that a thing I found a bit weird was how there didn’t seem to be a distinction between sexual and romantic orientation. Mark talks about sexual attraction and romantic crushes as if they’re one and the same, and while they might be for some people, I think the two are very different things. In any case, there’s never any talk of aromanticism or being on the aro spectrum as well as the ace one. Other than this, it was great to see that Isaiah was understanding and respectful of Mark’s sexuality and knew enough about asexuality without Mark having to explain the ABC of it, which is sometimes the case with m/m romances where one character is ace.

I 100% recommend this book if you’re a fan of the trope with kids, if you want to a super soft romance between two guys grieving and if you’re looking for ace rep.

TW for homophobia, death of loved ones, mentions of drunk driving, mentions of alcoholism, war injuries, grief.

ARC Review: Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler

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

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Summary: Josh Chester loves being a Hollywood bad boy, coasting on his good looks, his parties, his parents’ wealth, and the occasional modeling gig. But his laid-back lifestyle is about to change. To help out his best friend, Liam, he joins his hit teen TV show, Daylight Falls … opposite Vanessa Park, the one actor immune to his charms. (Not that he’s trying to charm her, of course.) Meanwhile, his drama-queen mother blackmails him into a new family reality TV show, with Josh in the starring role. Now that he’s in the spotlight—on everyone’s terms but his own—Josh has to decide whether a life as a superstar is the one he really wants.

Vanessa Park has always been certain about her path as an actor, despite her parents’ disapproval. But with all her relationships currently in upheaval, she’s painfully uncertain about everything else. When she meets her new career handler, Brianna, Van is relieved to have found someone she can rely on, now that her BFF, Ally, is at college across the country. But as feelings unexpectedly evolve beyond friendship, Van’s life reaches a whole new level of confusing. And she’ll have to choose between the one thing she’s always loved … and the person she never imagined she could.

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★★★★.5

This is a book that surprised me because of its unique format: the two POVs aren’t the MC and the love interest, but two MCs who happen to be (somewhat) friends.

Vanessa is a Korean-American actress and the protagonist of a TV show. All of her moves are monitored by the media and regulated by her publicist Jade. When Jade’s daughter Brianna gets close to Vanessa things get confusing for Vanessa, who’s always thought she was straight.

Josh is the son of an actress who’s down on her luck and wants him to be on a reality show about her family, something Josh reluctantly has to do unless he wants his Malibu house to be taken away from him.

I started out not really liking Vanessa and almost hating Josh, but I knew I’d end up loving both of them, and I have to say that even when Josh was at his worst I got attached pretty much right away and I wanted to keep reading and get that sweet character development.

There’s three main aspects to this novel:

• Vanessa’s story: her life as a Hollywood star, how this affects her relationships, and what it means to be a Korean-American actress and what it might mean for her career when you add “gay” to the equation. I loved Vanessa’s whole arc from denial to questioning to finally accepting her attraction to a girl and to being okay with coming out publicly. I also loved the romance between her and Brianna, it was very cute and the chemistry and communication between them was great.

• Josh’s story: his (non-)relationship with his family, his wild parties, the not really knowing what to do with his life or even who to be. I think Josh’s development was amazing especially considering there’s no romance for him in this book. Usually one way to show a character’s growth is to give them a partner and show how they are with them, how they become better people. With Josh, he does this on his own and with the help of his friends, and I think that’s a nice and important message that should be in more YAs.

• Vanessa and Josh’s friendship: in an alternate universe, Vanessa and Josh have a beautiful enemies-to-friends-to-lovers arc. Here, they get a beautiful enemies-to-friends arc that was incredible and rare to see. I love how they had to forcibly spend time together at first but then because of different circumstances they spent more time together, mostly helping each other out, and from that a feeling of friendship bloomed. This was one of the few books where it’s clear that friendship is a feeling before it becomes a type of relationship between two people, and although it kind of served Josh’s character arc the way a romantic relationship would have, I feel like it was much more than that and it’s just as important as the actual romance that happens within the book.

Overall I’m so happy with this book. I don’t really care for Hollywood and celebrity stuff so sometimes at the beginning I was a little bored with it, but that never made me want to stop reading. All I can say is: come for the f/f romance, stay for the beautiful variety of relationships and themes portrayed here.

ARC Review: Odd One Out by Nic Stone

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

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Summary:

Courtney “Coop” Cooper
Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin
I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez
The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move. . . .

One story.
Three sides.
No easy answers.

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★★★✩

It was messy but I feel like the message it was trying to give is very important. I just didn’t love the execution.

This is a book about how complicated it is to navigate personhood, relationships, past trauma, identity, social pressure, and basically everything else you might find yourself having to deal with in addition to your daily life as a teen. Books like this are the reason I, in my mid twenties, love reading YA. Because sometimes this “typically teenage” struggle doesn’t stop, or (some of it) is delayed until later, and seeing things through the eye of a teen can be both refreshing and healing.

We get three point of views in this book, not in alternating chapters but in three blocks. I wasn’t sure about this choice at the beginning but it ended up being both the best and worst thing about the book.

🐣 Courtney “Coop” Cooper – Black teen in love with his best friend, deals with past trauma and loss, intends to keep a promise he made as a kid even though it seems impossible that the conditions will ever be right for that to happen.

🐣 Rae Evelyn Chin – biracial Irish/Korean new girl at school, people-pleaser, abandonment issues, not as straight as she thought.

🐣 Jupiter Charity-Sanchez – Black out and proud lesbian, adopted daughter of two dads, caught between new and old friendship, number one fan of Queen.

First off, I thought that the POVs served their part of the storywell, they also were distinct enough and didn’t feel like an excuse to reveal things that the previous POV character didn’t know. But as things got messy (more on this later), I couldn’t help but feel that, a) I liked each POV less than the previous one; b) things had to be told instead of shown, and I couldn’t detect character agency for the previous characters.

Every main non-POV character felt like a plot device that served the current POV character. It was as if only because the focus had shifted on someone else, the other two’s ambitions and personalities were forgotten.

By the third and last POV, having previously been in the head of the other two POV characters, I couldn’t recognize their actions as their own and they felt only driven by what Jupiter wanted, and worst of all, most of it was just for the sake of drama. Now look, I know everyone makes bad choices and I’m not against that at all. I feel like I need to point this out because I’m aware that there’s a tendency to be less forgiving of POC characters as opposed to white ones when they do shitty things. But their actions, combined with the fact that the only POV I was reading from at that point wasn’t giving me any reason to sympathize with any of them, made it really hard to enjoy reading the last third of the book, as opposed to the first one which made me laugh and love Courtney so much.

It’s kind of hard to explain myself without spoilering anything so I’ll leave it that: this book got messier and messier and if you’re easily frustrated it could affect your enjoyment by a pretty big factor

A list of things I didn’t like paired with things I did like:

• I think having two questioning queer people in one YA book is amazing. The questioning queerness was the strongest point of this book and the reason despite all of its flaws this is a three star for me.

○ While it’s great to have different people question and explore their sexuality in different ways, some of the surrounding queerness (in side characters) was sometimes something that didn’t sit well with me. For example, a lesbian girl says she doesn’t mess with bisexual girls who have “touched the D” or something like that. This is something that might be called out later but not right away and I didn’t see the point of this. Another example of something that was personally a bit hurtful to see was the assumption from Jupiter’s part that every girl who wanted to “experiment” with her was actually straight. For being so openly against heteronormativity, she sure assumed that straight is the norm.

• The talk about labels came late but it was powerful and important enough to somewhat fix that ending for me. Labels can change and it can be scary to change them or to go without for a bit, regardless of your experiences with your previous labels.

○ This might be me overthinking things, but at some point I felt like a correlation was made between being attracted to one specific gender through attraction to their genitalia, and even discovering said attraction because of uhh…having seen their genitals. This felt cisnormative and I think too much focus was put on body parts.

• All books need as many Queen references as this one.

○ This is not exactly a thing I didn’t like (at least until some point) but I need to point out that this is a love triangle, and not the best one I’ve read, but it’s a love triangle among queer teens of color, which is something that I’m glad got its own spot in YA.

So overall, would I recommend this book? It depends on what you’re looking for and your tastes (who would have thought?!), and I hope my review gave you an idea whether you might like this or not.

ARC Review: Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi // not very Greek but nicely sapphic

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

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Summary: The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Release date: November, 27th

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★★★✩

I liked this book and especially for a debut I think the author did a great job, but there were also things I was looking for in a book set in ancient Greece that simply weren’t there, and that’s the reason why this isn’t a five star, but let’s slow down a little.

The book is narrated from two alternating POVs, Atalanta’s and Kahina’s. I think this type of narration was the best choice for it, but one problem I had with it is that the two voices weren’t distinct enough. I think it makes some sort of sense, because the two characters are kind of similar on many levels, but that made it difficult to differentiate their internal monologues. But other than that, I think they were both well-written, just like well-written was the whole book. Sometimes, dare I say, a little too well written. This might make no sense, but I don’t know how else to put it. I just felt like every sentence was thought over meticulously, with great attention paid to the show, don’t tell and other rules, but sometimes that made the narration a little dry and perhaps impersonal. That’s obviously a very minor thing and it’s not really something I even thought about until writing my review, and it didn’t influence my rating negatively.

My favorite aspect of the book was probably the f/f romance, and not just because it’s f/f. It honestly wasn’t even a huge part of the book, it’s just something that happens within the book, but that’s what made it special. I don’t really want to say much about it because it should be experienced while reading the book.

The plot was at times a little slow and I think a few elements could have been removed or made less relevant in order to focus more on other aspects. Something else I didn’t necessarily agree with is the characterization of Artemis and Apollo, but I respect the author’s choice, and it’s true that Greek mythology isn’t always consistent and that there’s not two versions of a god or a Greek hero that are the same.

But speaking of ancient Greece, I didn’t find it in this book. If you replaced the names of places and people with random ones, this would read as a generic fantasy. I didn’t see Greece in the culture, in the way gods were worshipped, in the way men and women related to each other, I simply didn’t see it anywhere. The author note explains that liberties were taken, since the mythological Atalanta belongs to the first generation of heroes, even before the Trojan war, and not a lot is known about many aspects of life back then. This, in my opinion, resulted in a worldbuilding that’s not here nor there. You could tell me it’s set in the same universe and time period as Cinderella and I’d believe it. I think that a retelling of a Greek myth loses a lot of its value if it doesn’t transport the reader back to ancient Greece, and that’s truly what bothered me most about an otherwise above-average book.

All in all, I would recommend it if you can look past the missing ancient Greece and are looking for a f/f romance that’s not the focus of the book.

ARC Review: A Hidden Hope by Laura Ambrose // a cute f/f romance between former critique partners turned enemies

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

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Summary: Natalie and El used to be writing critique partners, sharing their work chapter by chapter. Falling in love off-page was like the next part of the story. But after a huge falling out, three years have passed in bitter silence.

When they both appear at a science fiction convention in London, Natalie, a struggling writer, wants nothing to do with El, the hot debut novelist who sold her book at auction under a male pseudonym. But over the weekend, ignoring each other–and their attraction–proves impossible, not least because they have several panels together. Can El hope to atone for the mistakes of their past, and is Natalie willing to let hope fly?

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★★★★✩

This was a fun f/f romance about former critique partners turned lovers turned enemies turned lovers again (basically one of my favorite romantic tropes ever).

Natalie and El meet again at a book convention in London, three years after their falling out that never got a closure, and they have the chance to fix the past between one panel and another.

It was a fun dip into the author/publishing world (I know we bookworms are always curious about that) and I really liked both main characters. They’re definitely flawed and that’s what made them interesting, but most importantly they both acknowledged what was and what wasn’t working in their relationship and in themselves and tried to work through it. This is a novella so it all had to be done pretty quickly, but the pace worked for me.

You can get the free prequel A Frozen Night if you sign up for the author’s newsletter. I’d recommend maybe reading it after the novella instead of before, but it doesn’t really matter.

If you like f/f romance and a setting that’s intriguing to us bookworms (or if you’re an author yourself) I definitely recommend picking this book up!

TWs: mention of death of a parent, grief