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. 

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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!

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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.

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ARC Mini-review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman // western f/f + trans heist comic

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: In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor–also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk–robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

Release date: September 3rd

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★★★

This comic is set in the Wild West and it’s a fun, heisty story about a trans woman who gets kidnapped and ends up working together with her kidnapper, who is a queer Latinx.

The style of the comic is cute although maybe not a personal favorite, but I love the color scheme and how it fits the scenery, and the facial expressions are so good!

This first volume is divided in a few chapters and I assume it’s going to be the first in a series, because the story is by no means done. There’s no cliffhanger though, and it’s satisfying as a standalone too, until the next one comes out.

So! Heist, Wild West, badass women falling in love while having adventures! Get on it!

ARC Review: The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

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 Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year’s ExcelsiCon isn’t her last, she’ll consider her career derailed.

When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these “princesses” race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.

Release date: April 2nd

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★★★

Okay so first of all, I haven’t read Geekerella yet! But I wanted to read this for the F/F romance and I was lucky enough to get approved for it. Reading Geekerella is definitely not necessary but reading this book made me want to read it. I think those of you who have read it will enjoy the references to it (which were a bit lost on me).

I love books about cons, and fandoms, and meeting people you met online, and internet culture, and all that. This was more or less what I had thought it would be. Actually, it kind of was more than I had expected, in both good and bad ways, but I overall loved it.

First of all, you need to keep in mind this is a loose retelling of The Prince and the Pauper. I haven’t read it, but the modern setting made it kind of hard for me to really believe that thousands of people online and IRL would see photos of one girl and think she’s another, especially when one is a kind of famous actress. I mean, fandom twitter is better than the FBI at investigating so the premise of them both looking very alike and being able to effortlessly pass for one another was kind of a miss for me, but once I accepted to go with it I could sort of forget about it and it didn’t bother me so much.

The two MCs in this book are Imogen, fangirl who wants to save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off the franchise, and Jessica, actress playing said Princess Amara and currently under attack by a big part of the fandom, which she wants nothing to do with anymore. She’s actually glad her character is being killed off.

Things happen and they “must” exchange roles in order for Jess to investigate about a missing/stolen script. I say “must” because I thought the reason behind this exchange was not entirely believable for me, and there were too many risks from the start. But anyway, once they found themselves in each other’s shoes I could let it slide, and it’s not like I’m reading a cute contemporary for it to make absolute sense.

Jess gets to meet Harper, a Black fanartist and Imogen’s online friend, and spend two days with her. Jess is a closeted lesbian and Harper is also queer, and they have a really cute and endearing romance. Because this book takes place within a single weekend, things were a little fast, but I didn’t mind and I just enjoyed reading about them.

Imogen, under the guise of being Jess, spends her days with Ethan Tanaka, Jess’s Asian-American assistant, and they start off by hating each other. Their romance was cute if a little bit overdramatic, but I love that they’re both big nerds, and at least he knew about her being Imogen (as opposed to the other romance, where Harper initially thinks Jess is actually Imogen because they’d only met online).

I love when contemporary books throw a few pop culture references here and there, and I expect a book about fandom to have a lot of them, but I just didn’t expect them to be quite so many. I understood almost all of them to some degree but I wouldn’t have minded them being toned down a little. But I forgive Ashley Poston because she mentioned Yuri On Ice!!! and Zuko’s redemption arc too.

Anyway, even with a few issues here and there that didn’t make this a full five stars for me, this was a really fun read that I think a lot of contemporary readers will enjoy!

ARC Review: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum // queer found family, sapphic romance, and I cried a lot

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

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Summary: Ryann Bird dreams of traveling across the stars. But a career in space isn’t an option for a girl who lives in a trailer park on the wrong side of town. So Ryann becomes her circumstances and settles for acting out and skipping school to hang out with her delinquent friends.

One day she meets Alexandria: a furious loner who spurns Ryann’s offer of friendship. After a horrific accident leaves Alexandria with a broken arm, the two misfits are brought together despite themselves—and Ryann learns her secret: Alexandria’s mother is an astronaut who volunteered for a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system.

Every night without fail, Alexandria waits to catch radio signals from her mother. And its up to Ryann to lift her onto the roof day after day until the silence between them grows into friendship, and eventually something more . . .

In K. Ancrum’s signature poetic style, this slow-burn romance will have you savoring every page.

Release date: March, 19th

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★★★★

Okay let me tell you about this book and not because technically I kind of have to review it but because I just really need an outlet for what I’m feeling after finishing it.

THIS BOOK is very different from The Wicker King but it’s also very similar. But kind of not. I’M ALREADY NOT MAKING SENSE HERE but I’m really trying.

The Weight of the Stars throws you in an initially seemingly familiar contemporary YA setting. You have a MC, Ryann, who is a bit of a troublemaker and doesn’t have a typical teenage home situation, you have the new girl at school, and you have Ryann’s group of friends who don’t belong anywhere so they all belong together. And yet the way everything is presented already announces itself not to be so typical after all, starting from literally every character’s backstory.

By far one of my favorite thing was the found family element in this and all of the different bits of representation we are presented with. We have a mostly (all?) queer cast, a teenage single father with PTSD and selective mutism (I’m not sure if the terminology is correct but this is what I found googling it), a Sikh teen with three parents (two dads and a mom – if you’ve read The Wicker King I’m just going to say that…………you already know his parents), and of course our main f/f couple (I’m not sure exactly how they identify but Ryann says she’s mostly attracted to girls but once had a brief crush on a boy).

While The Wicker King takes you down a spiral where you have no control over your thoughts and feelings and then slowly brings you back to the surface (not a soft surface, but a surface nonetheless), The Weight of the Stars fools you into thinking you have more room to breathe normally when in fact what you should be doing is taking deep breaths in preparation for a final oxygen-less plunge into space.

There comes a point in the novel where you have to let go of your own plane of existence and fully embrace that you’re not in control, and your point of view and your perspective don’t matter anymore. This blank state is all I can recommend when you read the last 30% of this book. Just, don’t let gravity keep you grounded is all I’m saying.

TWs: alcohol and drug use, mention of death of parents, teenage pregnancies, mild violence, hospitals, mention of attempted suicide, mention of homophobia (the d slur)

ARC Review: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Modern Romance by Madeline J. Reynolds // a cute queer time travel romance

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: Elias Caldwell needs more than his life in nineteenth-century England has to offer. He’d rather go on an adventure than spend one more minute at some stuffy party. When his grandfather gives him a pocket watch he claims can transport him to any place and time, Elias doesn’t believe it…until he’s whisked away to twenty-first-century America.

Tyler Forrester just wants to fall hopelessly in love. But making that kind of connection with someone has been more of a dream than reality. Then a boy appears out of thin air, a boy from the past. As he helps Elias navigate a strange new world for him, introducing him to the wonders of espresso, binge-watching, and rock and roll, Tyler discovers Elias is exactly who he was missing.

But their love has time limit. Elias’s disappearance from the past has had devastating side effects, and now he must choose where he truly belongs—in the Victorian era, or with the boy who took him on an adventure he never dreamed possible?

Release date: March, 4th

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★★★.5✩✩

When I heard about the premise of this book I just knew that I had to read it. Time travelling gays from Victorian England? Hell yes.

The book is narrated in a dual POV: Tyler, a 21st century bisexual boy who wants to be a filmmaker, and Elias, who was born in the 19th century and has a hard time finding a sense of belonging in his Victorian London. Elias’ grandfather shares a secret with him and Elias finds himself in front of Tyler’s camera, across one ocean and more than one century away.

By far the aspect that was the most fun to read was Elias discovering everything there is to know about the world now: the technology, the music, the culture and language. In this aspect the book was everything I was hoping it would be.

On the romantic side of things, Tyler and Elias were cute enough but I didn’t lose sleep over them. I just felt like their only reason to like each other was the fact that they were both a novelty in the eyes of the other, and this meant that I wasn’t incredibly invested in the romantic conclusion of this. I cared more about Elias staying in our century because we have better hygiene and antibiotics than staying because of Tyler, but at the end it was just a cute lil love story (there wasn’t really a plot, just some drama that I didn’t care about) so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

Generally speaking, while I definitely liked this overall, I also found the last 25-30% kind of boring and repetitive, with some plot lines that went nowhere and writing that felt more immature than the rest of the book (but I guess endings are harder to write).

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who loves time travel and gay stories and is looking for something light-hearted and quick to read.

ARC Review: Graham’s Delicacies by Em Ali // three sweet and super queer short stories with different pairings and just a pinch of angst

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: 

Six people and three love stories all in one bakery. 

Saccharine
Jen goes to work, agonizes over college, and looks forward to the stolen moments in the kitchen. There she can watch Emilie bake love into every morsel. Their delicate friendship takes a step towards a budding romance, but will Jen’s anxiety help them survive their first hurdle?

Delectable
James has never been kissed but he wants to be. Especially by his co-worker Sam, who he can’t talk to without turning into a little jerk. Sam is made of all the good stuff, but will James’ deepest insecurities allow him to kiss the boy?

Ravenous
Alex won’t let some foodie with a video camera bash their beloved bakery, even if it means to be petty. Except they’re nowhere ready for Yujin, the one who got away and is now romancing them. Will Alex’s pride let them see the gold heart the bashful king hides?

Release date: March, 5th

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★★★★✩

One word: SWEET.

Graham’s Delicacies follows three different romances revolving around a bakery. Everyone is queer and every romance is differently structured with different tropes and different pairings so there is really something for everyone.

Saccharine follows Jen, a Black bisexual waitress with anxiety, and Emilie, the chubby and anxious nonbinary baker that caught her eye (and her heart). It is the type of story you want to read with a warm cup of tea and maybe a slice of cake or two.

The pining that was hinted at in the first story between James, who’s gay and Mexican-American and has never been kissed, and Sam, his gay Black coworker, is central in Delectable . This story was probably my favorite, I loved James’ characterization and how good Sam is.

The dynamic in Ravenous is closer to enemies to lovers and sees Alex, an Arab-American queer nonbinary baker, trying (and failing) to keep Yujin, his gay Korean-American one night stand and foodstagrammer, at a distance. I loved them both and I am a huge fan of the trope used here.

All stories are extremely positive and inclusive with queer and trans side characters. There are explicit scenes in all of them and I love how clear the consent is on every page. You can see that Em Ali cares a lot about their characters and about the readers, from the note about Emilie’s pronouns to the detailed content warnings at the beginning of the book.

I really recommend this as the kind of cute, not complicated romance that will melt your heart and give you everything you need from a story.

ARC Review: The Fever King by Victoria Lee // an incredible debut about trauma, magic viruses and wonderfully queer kids

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: In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

Release date: March 1st

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★★★★✩

It’s hard to say in a sentence what The Fever King is about.

You could say it’s about Noam, a Jewish Latino bisexual teen who survives the magic virus that kills most of the population and leaves him a witching, status which grants him a spot among the people he and his family have always fought against. You could say it’s about impossible decisions and the line between right and wrong. You could say it’s about intergenerational trauma and what it does to the individual and to a community.

The Fever King is a book that will draw you in and make you care about the characters and the story. Even if you are not familiar with the genre (I would say it’s YA political fantasy/dystopia), the narrating voice of Noam guides you through the book in a way that draws from more light-hearted YA books. That is to say, Noam is a joy to read and he manages to make you smile and laugh even amidst all the stuff that goes on in the book. Sometimes I found like this could have been toned down a little, and at times I felt like the type of narrative used was more proper of a first person POV than the third person used here, but that’s just a personal preference.

I loved the magic system and the fact that, even with magic powers, people still need to know the science behind what they’re doing (eg knowing physics in order to move objects with telekinetics). That’s something I wish was more present in books with magic because it’s always so interesting to see and much better than when magic has no explanation or rules.

One of the strongest things this book has to offer are the many political themes that I don’t feel qualified enough/entitled to talk about. I encourage you to read Victoria Lee’s words about some of the themes that shape this book.

I’m not going to lie, I struggled a lot (for months!) trying to write a review, because this is such an important book and I felt so bad not giving it a full five stars. I also read an early copy and I don’t know how much the final product will be edited, but I fully plan on rereading it because the only problems I had were in the writing, which to me feels somewhat debut-y. I felt like the worldbuilding could’ve been better interwoven into the plot instead of being sometimes dumped in a big bulk. Sometimes it was tell-y instead of show-y, and I think certain *hints* were a little too obvious for my tastes.

Those are just my personal preferences though, and I don’t want anyone to think that this isn’t an incredible debut. There were so many points that made me laugh out loud and others made me SCREAM because they were some of the most evil things I’ve seen done by an author, and I mean that in the best way possible of course.

Some reasons you shouldn’t go into this book is if you’re expecting it to be about 100% good people (they’re not) and also if you don’t like gay shit. But in that case you can gently go fuck yourself and it’s your loss I guess, because e v e r y o n e in this book is wonderfully queer.

TWs: list of trigger warnings on the author’s website, plus a few I feel like I should: sickness and death of a child, mention of c.p., murder, blood, gore.