Review: Peter Darling by Austin Chant

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

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★★★★

Release date: today! (Feb. 15th, 2017)

Goodreads synopsis:

Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.

But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.

TW: suicide attempt, improper use of personal pronouns (I don’t know if the latter counts as triggering but better safe than sorry?).

Let me get something out of my system first of all:
W
O
W
Okay, now that that’s out of the way: wow. I was completely blown away by this short book, which was a couple of firsts for me: mainly first trans story and first Peter Pan retelling.

Actually, I have to admit I didn’t know the first thing about Peter Pan, that is, if you don’t count the Disney cartoon, which I’m going to assume is not a very accurate representation (and even though I loved that cartoon as a kid, I kind of grew to hate it and its story over time).
Despite this, the premise of this book sounded like something right up my alley, and I’m glad to confirm that it was indeed a perfect book for me.

I just love retellings that turn the stories upside down and make them new with refreshing ideas, and the fact that in this book Peter’s assigned identity was Wendy made me click that request button on Netgalley so freaking fast.

As always when I’m feeling so hyped about a book, I’m also really scared once I do get to sit down and read it. What were my particular fears for this one?

– since it’s such a short book, I was really afraid that the romance (or the whole story) would have felt rushed (I was really dreading the much-hated insta-love);
– I thought that not knowing the original story would make me like this book less.

Well, I’m glad to say that both fears had no ground to exist.

First of all I want to address the pacing of this book: it’s only 140 pages short, so I really thought there would no room for things like subtlety and introspection, but it managed to give me both of those, together with everything I look for in both a fantasy and a romantic book.

The fantasy: while the essence of Neverland’s magic itself wasn’t explained, there was a very satisfying explanation for at least part of the things that happened there (it’s kind of a plot twist so I won’t go into detail)
I also loved how the fairies were described as having different shapes and colors and the role they played in the story (they mainly served to move the plot forward but they were also interesting enough that I was genuinely curious to find out more about them), and the other mythical creatures like the merpeople and the kraken were such good additions to this story.

Peter’s backstory: having read the blurb, one already knows who Peter used to be, but it’s something that gets gradually revealed in the first part of the book, and in a very delicate way, at least in my opinion. I know the author is trans himself so I trust him to have done a good job in this particular aspect. Not having experienced the struggle of a trans person, I still found myself crying in certain parts of the book and I felt real pain whenever Peter’s brothers or parents called him with his birth name and used the female pronouns to talk to/about him.
As per author’s decision, there is no big reveal/coming out between Peter and Hook, and I think that worked out amazingly.

Peter realized he was waiting for some kind of probing curiosity in return-some remark on what Peter sounded like, or worse on his body-but James’s only encroachment on the subject was to say, “Your shirt has seen better days. Would you like one of mine? Assuming all my clothes haven’t been eaten by moths.”
All at once it became easier to breathe. “Yes,” Peter said. “Please.”

The romance: let me demonstrate in .gif form my feelings about the romance:
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You can’t expect me to be rational about my absolute favorite romantic trope (enemies to lovers). Plus we all know I have a thing for pirates, right? Right.

“I win,” he panted, grinning. He slowely lowered his sword to aim at Hook’s heart. One thrust, and it would be over. Peter wet his lips with his tongue. “This is it. You’re mine.”
“Am I?” Hook asked, as Peter drew back his sword. “Or are you mine?”

This romance was perfect and healthy. It wasn’t too sudden or rushed, I genuinely felt like it had reason to exist and I loved everything about it.
For example, I love how Hook seems to understand Peter in that way that sometimes only your enemies tend to do.

“I find that enemies are the most satisfying people to share secrets with,” Hook said. “If you must tell someone, tell someone who’s sensitive to all your vulnerabilities, on account of trying to exploit them.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“I’m making excuses for you,” Hook said impatiently. “You seem like the type to bottle up without an excuse.”

Both my BR partner and I were squealing so hard and honestly I’m glad I wasn’t reading this alone because I was in serious need to vent my feels™ about these two.

“Obsession?”
“Is that not what they call it,” Hook said, “when two men can think of nothing but each other?”

Other things I enjoyed:

The pacing: it was mostly consistent throughout the book and, while I noticed that things were kept as brief and as necessary as possible, it didn’t impact my reading experience (I’m one who usually prefers a slower pace). There was even some room for exploring a little bit of a secondary character (Ernest) and I quite enjoyed that.

The (eventual) dual PoV: if we don’t count the prologue, we get some chapters from Hook’s PoV only after The Twist happens, and I think that decision was spot-on. I really think his PoV allowed us to enjoy the romance a lot more and to see Peter under a different light.

The last thing I want to say is that this was a perfect story to read on Valentine’s Day ♥

As you can see I loved loved  l o v e d  this book and I’ll make sure to keep an eye on the author’s next works.

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Review: The Darkest Part Of The Forest by Holly Black

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★★★★

Ben told stories. Hazel became those stories.

There are many ways to describe The Darkest Part of the Forest. Everyone will tell you something different, probably. To me, it’s a story about brothers and sisters.

“You and your sister are very dear to each other. To show your regard, you give each other lovely bouquets of lies.”

Hazel and her brother Ben live in a town where fae and humans live on…not exactly friendly terms, but those who are born and raised in Fairfold are relatively safe (unlike the tourists who often visit it, many of which end up missing or dead).
When they were kids, Hazel had dreamed of being a knight, and she’d become one, hunting “bad” faeries with the help of Ben’s magic. Until things became too scary and dangerous and they’d stopped. That’s when they began keeping secrets from each other.

Sparing another person is a tricky thing. It’s easy to think you’re succeeding when you’re failing spectacularly.

Hazel makes a deal with the faeries and that changes the way she goes on with her life.

She seemed to be running toward trouble, leaving no stone unturned, no boy unkissed, no crush abandoned, and no bad idea unembraced.

She and Ben are still very close but everything is different now.

Flirting didn’t mean anything to her.[…] While she was flirting, Ben was falling in love for the first time.

But one of the things they still have in common is their love for the faerie prince who sleeps in the forest, in a glass coffin, to whom they have told their secrets for many years, but who has never woken in…decades? Centuries? (I’m not entirely sure about the timing in this.)

They were in love with him because he was a prince and a faeries and magical and you were supposed to love princes and faeries and magic people. […] They loved him as they loved the Eleventh Doctor with his bow tie and his flippy hair and the Tenth Doctor with his mad laugh. […] It wasn’t like it was real. It wasn’t like he could love them back. It wasn’t he’d ever have to choose.

Except now he’d woken. That changed everything.

His awakening has moved things and there’s a monster in town that they have to defeat, with the help of Jack (Ben’s best friend and a changeling) and the faerie prince himself, who is very much involved in this whole deal.

This is a very folklore-heavy book, but it doesn’t feel heavy at all. There’s a lot of myths mentioned and interwoven in the plot, but they’re all explained (in a very nice and non-boring way – I always lose my focus right away whenever a story is told within another story, but that never happened once in this book). Furthermore, if you grew up in an English-speaking country and/or have read a lot of YA fantasy, you might be familiar with some of these already. I personally was only familiar with this one I’m about to quote and let me tell you, I got tears in my eyes because this myth is told in my favorite German poem (Der Erlkönig) and to see it mentioned in a YA book made my day.

‘But Alderking has a more sinister meaning, too. Perhaps you’ve heard this before:

“Mein Vater, mein Vater,
Jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!”’

The other myths that I actually didn’t know anything about (we don’t really study northern/Anglo-Saxon mythology in Italy -faeries and such are completely out of our lore) were extremely interesting and told in such a way that made me want to find out more about them for the first time since I started reading fantasy.

Another element that I loved in this book was the romance. Don’t let the synopsis fool you, there’s no love-triangle in this (at least I don’t see it as such). This is also a really good example of how to include more diversity in fantasy. A character just happens to be gay, and instead of being only defined by his sexual orientation, that’s just part of who he is.
Let me just add that the whole gender-role-reversal was amazingly done. Hazel was the one who wanted to be a knight and there is no shame in that. That didn’t make her masculine-looking or other stereotypes like that. Not to say that she couldn’t have been masculine-looking, but that would have really been a little bit too stereotypical and frankly we can all do without that. At the same time, Ben wasn’t just uselessly waiting for his sister to save him, and even if he wasn’t the knight, he helped fight the faeries with his magic, and saved the day at times when physical force wasn’t going to be of much help.

As I was saying, the romance. It felt refreshing in a way. There’s a lot of kissing and talking about kissing -kissing for fun, kissing because you’re scared, because you don’t know what else to do at a party, because the boy you want to kiss is the sleeping faerie prince inside the glass coffin that won’t break. If you judge Hazel for the way she acts I will personally fight you.

When actual romance (and not just random kisses) develops, it is so sweet and -combined with the amazing writing- it makes me want to reread parts of this book right away because they were just too good.

“When I heard your voice that night, I recognized it instantly. It’s a voice I know better than my own. […] You know, it nearly drove me mad to listen to so many voices, a cacophony of sound, of words I didn’t know piling up, of time slipping in skips and jumps. And then you, speaking to me-to me. I started to know the length of a day in the interval between your visits.

While reading this book, I couldn’t help often being reminded of The Raven Cycle. There are some parallels – the town where magic stuff happens, the kiss-talk – but this book is also more…grounded? I adore TRC with all my being but the actual fantastic elements can be confusing at times, just because they’re not explained, whereas with this one everything is explained and it leads back to a myth.

There are no loose ends (it’s a real standalone) and I found the ending very satisfying and I would recommend this book to everyone ☺

Standalone Sunday: Truth in the Dark by Amy Lane

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Standalone Sunday was created by the lovely Megan @bookslayerreads for a chance to talk about your favorite standalone books (which is, books that aren’t part of a series). I’m not sure I’ll manage to do this meme every week, since I rarely read standalones. But after finding it, I knew I needed to take this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite standalones that I read this year.

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Truth in the Dark is a book that surprised me in many ways. I went into it knowing next to nothing, except that it was a MM-romance. When I started it, the first thing that caught my attention was the writing. The story is told in a first PoV perspective and it’s extremely raw. That’s truly the best adjective I could find to describe the writing style: it won’t spare you any details (good or bad) and it won’t be nice. Oh, and there’s cursing.
The writing perfectly matches the protagonist and narrator: Naef/Knife is a disabled boy that hates the world. Rightfully so, I might add. The story is an Eros and Psyche and Beauty and the Beast retelling, and I don’t think I can even begin to express how much I loved every single thing about it. The romance is adorable and hot. Both main characters are well-rounded and both Naef’s character development and the romance felt very realistic. I will go even as far as saying it’s one of the best love stories I’ve read in my life, so yeah.

It’s definitely a book I will read again, and I recommend it to anyone that is into romantic fantasy adult books.

Review: The Fairy’s Assistant by Sasha L. Miller

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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This story is a gay-friendly Cinderella retelling seen from the point of view of Hayden, assistant to Lily, a fairy that helps other people in need. That’s everything that fairies do in this fictional world: they appear to be sensing other people’s needs and desires and they help them achieve them, but they can’t really work alone. They need to be bound to a human to have the energy to do their magic, and after some time they bind themselves to someone else. Fairy-magic is not the same as mage-magic, but all magic is outlawed in this kingdom. For this reason, Hayden needs to keep Lily hidden, especially since a knight named Sidney has already tried to catch him a few times in different towns where he’s helped people through fairy magic.
Hayden begins to work for a family where the person Lily has chosen to help also works. Her name is Renee and she’s our Cinderella: stepdaughter to the lady of the house, but only a servant now that her father has died.
The story sees Hayden as he helps Lily prepare the magic necessary to bring Renee to the masked ball, and the way his relationship with Sidney develops.

I think the premise to this book is great. I generally don’t care for the original fairy tales, but I do love their retellings, especially when they’re done in a gay-friendly way. So I was really expecting to like it, and while I did like a couple of things, I didn’t really enjoy my reading experience overall.

The characters were really flat in my opinion. I guess stereotypical characters fit in a fairy tale world, in a way, but I like my retellings to have some more grey-area people in them. The protagonist felt like a teenager, and only around half of the book is it mentioned that he’s actually twenty-seven. Mh. Okay.
The world building was very simple, but I found it fit well in the story, and we were given all the information we really needed. I especially liked the take on fairies and magic: Lily wasn’t described to be an all-powerful being, she has her limits and needs to be bound to someone to be able to do her thing, and even then, the things she can create out of thin air are very few, and she usually needs some base to work from. Overall, the world building was the part of this book that I enjoyed the most.
The plot was very lacking, and I find it more so the more I think about it. It was really simple and it did nothing to create an atmosphere or a deeper understanding of the characters. At one point, Hayden tells Renee he will tell her about the people he’s already helped with Lily in other towns, and I was hoping he would actually do that before the end of the book, but nope. That didn’t happen, and I wonder why the author would even include this dialogue if she didn’t intend to build on it. That’s just one example, but I could mention the way the bad guy gets dealt with (you’re left thinking Really? That’s it?) and the pacing of the story that seems to be really off.
Even with all these problems, I was at the very least expecting to enjoy the romance. I’m sad to say that didn’t happen. It made me feel nothing, and I don’t like feeling nothing when I should be smiling from ear to ear.
But let’s get to the worst thing about this book: the writing. I was so annoyed and disappointed with it. First of all, the use of the personal pronouns. Or should I say lack thereof? Really, in every page there were at least two or three sentences where a certain name was repeated over and over where it could have easily been written as him/her or himself/herself. Then, there was a lot of tell instead of show. And the internal monologue of Hayden was either a constant repetition of itself or an endless list of things that could go wrong/suppositions/things that did nothing to improve my curiosity about what was going to happen next.

With all of that said, I give this book 2/5 stars instead of 1 (you can check out my rating system if you want) because I think that there are some people that might enjoy this book, specifically occasional/inexperienced readers that are looking for something light. I wouldn’t otherwise recommend it to other types of readers.

★★✩✩✩