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.

ARC Review: The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

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

42369064

Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

Release date: September 17th

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★

What an utterly delightful story, and what a gift to the world is Katie O’Neill!

The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion-prequel to The Tea Dragon Society and it follows Rinn (they/them), who is an aspiring cook, and a Dragon (not a small tea dragon!) who’s been asleep for too long. We also see a young Erik and Hesekiel in their bounty hunters days and they’re just as cute as you might imagine if you’ve read TTDS. There’s also a side character who uses Sign Language and the whole village has learned SL because of her and it’s like, no big deal to them and it was so endearing to see.

As always the author has created a rich and inclusive world that radiates the positivity we so desperately need sometimes with escapism nowadays. This is both great for a younger audience and for everyone else who’s just looking to read a wonderful diverse story and look at seriously cute art. I can’t recommend it enough!

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: A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian // more F/F historical romance where women take revenge on shitty men? yes please

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

43386064._sy475_

A seductive thief

Lady’s maid Molly Wilkins is done with thieving—and cheating and stabbing and all the rest of it. She’s determined to keep her hands to herself, so she really shouldn’t be tempted to seduce her employer’s prim and proper companion, Alice. But how can she resist when Alice can’t seem to keep her eyes off Molly?

Finds her own heart

For the first time in her life, Alice Stapleton has absolutely nothing to do. The only thing that seems to occupy her thoughts is a lady’s maid with a sharp tongue and a beautiful mouth. Her determination to know Molly’s secrets has her behaving in ways she never imagined as she begins to fall for the impertinent woman.

Has been stolen

When an unwelcome specter from Alice’s past shows up unexpectedly at a house party, Molly volunteers to help the only way she knows how: with a little bit of mischief.

Release date: August 6th

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★✩

Historical romance is a genre I rarely read but with the recent surge of f/f historical romance I find myself more and more interested in the genre. Or maybe it’s just that I’m so starved of f/f that I’ll read it no matter the genre.

This was my first book by Cat Sebastian and after hearing great things by my friends I was maybe slightly disappointed that I couldn’t give this novella a full 5 stars, but I still enjoyed it a lot, and it did made me curious to try her full length novels.

The story follows Alice, a disowned woman, and Molly, lady’s maid and former thief. The book is quite short so things move quickly in terms of both characters realizing their attraction to each other, and what worked well is their difference in experience when it comes to attraction to other women. It was still “slow burn” enough if you keep in mind that this is a novella that has to start and end in less than 100 pages, and I really enjoyed it. There also was no relationship drama or misunderstanding/miscommunication, which I always appreciate.

The main social theme was how Alice, who comes from an abusive home, has been wrongfully disowned by her father because of, you guessed it, misogyny. And like in all the best fiction, the revenge is so, so sweet. I am personally all for f/f histrom being about badass women getting revenge on the shitty men in their lives, and this is the third f/f histrom I’ve read that follows this pattern and I have to say I don’t mind it one bit if all the other historical sapphic fiction sees not only women getting together but also overthrowing the patriarchy in small but significant ways.

In terms of what didn’t make this a 5 stars, it’s a mix of things but I feel like most of it is just this not being my comfort genre. I also felt like I could have done with a little more relationship development. I’m all for women liking each other and it not being complicated or too angsty, even in historical times. And I really did love the romance, I just think it was a little forgettable for my taste. But there was so much I loved, and it’s refreshing to see a relationship between two women where they’re certainly aware of the world they live in but they also never face homophobia on the page. Also, did I mention one of the main characters has a little daughter? I’ve never an f/f where one of them is a mom of a small kid that gets to be part of their eventual happy ending.

For those who haven’t read the rest of this series: I haven’t either and I still enjoyed it. I do feel like maybe I lacked a bit of context (both in-the-series and historical), but the book one cameo had me intrigued and curious to eventually read that book and properly meet those characters.

So overall I would say this is an excellent read both if you’re not a historical romance reader but want to read more f/f no matter the genre and if you’re used to historical fiction and are looking to read more diverse and get into some sapphic reading.

ARC Review: A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite // historical F/F goodness + women have always been present in science and art no matter what we’ve been told

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

42402528

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

Release date: June, 25th (today!!! it’s out!)

Add on Goodreads

review new

★★★★★

I don’t often read historical fiction but I’ve been trying to make exceptions for queer histfic, especially when they’re f/f. And there’s a special set of emotions I go through while reading, the most unpleasant of which is the fear that something bad will happen, that will make me recoil and make me want to put down the book not because it’s not good but because of the unnecessary bad stuff (read: homophobia, transphobia, racism, violence against women, etc) that traditionally has been associated with historical fiction. It’s realistic, you say, to which I say: ✨fuck off✨

This premise just so I can talk about what it did to me to go into this book and soon realize I needed to stop bracing myself for the stuff I mentioned above, because, amazingly, it kept not coming. And there’s a lesson for histfic authors: you don’t have to pretend that historical times weren’t a cesspool of misogyny, homophobia and racism, but it’s entirely possible to write a book for the people who have historically been hurt and marginalized that focuses on the good stuff instead of on the awful. This book is proof of that.

It’s not that this book shies away from a lot of stuff including misogyny and the fact that the two women won’t ever be able to live their relationship publicly. But it’s written so delicately and carefully that as long as you know the content warnings you don’t have to be scared that things are going to get bad. In fact, things get so, so good.

This is a romance that’s certainly good and wholesome and that made me so happy. But the romance is almost secondary to the beautiful messages this book sends about art, science, and the presence and importance of women in both fields, and how this presence has always been there, whether we care to know it or not.

And, you know, this is a book about two cis, white women. But it manages to be intersectional and acknowledge issues that wouldn’t necessary touch the lives of the two main characters, in a way that makes anybody feel welcome while reading. I can’t stress enough how books like this are so important.

The relationship itself was very cute and while the MCs got together a little soon for my liking (with necessary later drama), I still liked everything about it. Catherine, the widow, had never explored her attraction to women and although she’s older than Lucy she is kind of the more inexperienced of the two. I really liked that and it was so great to see them explore consent in every scene together. There’s also a little bit of an age gap (I think it’s about 10 years, Catherine is 35 and Lucy 25), which is not something I usually love in romance, but the fact that they’re both relatively older and both have experience in love/dating, as well as their own interests and expertise made me enjoy it and not really care about the gap at all. They both had things to teach each other and they helped one other out in so many ways, not in a “love fixes everything” way but in a way where they both figured out who they want, who they deserve to be and that was so beautiful to see.

I also loved the writing style so much I actually got mad that I was reading this with a read-out-loud app because I couldn’t highlight the best quotes. But that also means I definitely want to reread it sometime when time will allow me to, because it was so atmospheric and at times poetic, I just have to sit down and read it with my own two eyes.

Sometimes the endings of romance books can seem a little weak, but not this book’s. It was actually one of the most satisfying endings ever (and I’m not only talking about the romance but the actual plot too). Everything came together so nicely and I might or might not have started bawling my eyes out while I was finishing washing the dishes because it was just THAT good.

So, if it’s not obvious, I think if you are uncertain whether to buy this book or not you should definitely go for it. If you don’t normally read historical romance, let this one be your exception. If you’re a historical romance veteran, go for it without a doubt. If you’re craving sapphic romance, this is your fix. You can thank me later and scream @ me about how good it is.

CW: misogyny, talks of homophobic mentality, mention of past nonconsensual sexual acts, mention of a dead parent