If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If you know anything about lgbt+ YA books then you will have heard of this book. It has been everywhere the past couple years, with a huge reason behind that being that this book was part of the Zoella book club. This is why I will never say anything bad about Zoella’s book club because she is bringing books like this to teen girls who either aren’t huge readers or just may not have heard of this.

content warnings: transphobia, homophobia, sexual harassment, suicide attempt discussion, forced outing

If I Was Your Girl follows Amanda who is a trans teen who has moved to a new school. She wants to start off at this new school on a whole new leaf, without anyone knowing her history. She makes friends with a few people but she is always concerned that they will find out and all her new relationships will fall apart. On top of all that she has a fragile relationship with her dad.

Right off the bat, I am not trans, I am a cis woman so I don’t pretend to know about the representation in this book or the challenges that trans people go through. I tried to find an own voices review to link to but struggled, and I don’t have much time on my hands right now but if you know of one please send me the link and I will edit this review to include it.

This book was so easy to read. Now when I say easy I don’t mean the subject matter was easy to read because it 100% was not but the way it was written it just flowed and was unputdownable. I had to know what was going to happen next. I ate it up. Sometimes I had to put it down for a minute just to gather myself because it’s intense, but so worth it.

I adored Amanda, I just wanted to take her under my wing and look after her. She’s just a poor wee soul and deserves all the love. The rest of the characters are so well developed as well and it makes reading really tough content a joy. You hope Amanda’s new friends are accepting when they find out because they’re just so nice in the course of their friendship with Amanda and are so welcoming. You want Amanda to have friends who will be friends with her no matter what.

I’ve read a few reviews talking about the fact that Amanda gets forcibly outed and how they hated reading that and they wish that it had happened for Amanda a different way. And I totally get that, I felt so uncomfortable reading it and I could tell from the way it was being written that it was going to happen, there was this kind of gloomy feeling building up (great technique by the way). But I feel like marking the book down for that isn’t the right way to go about it, as it is an own voices review. Yeah sure if it was from a cis writer I wouldn’t be happy because it wouldn’t be their place to have the discussion, but this is Russo’s lane and she felt that this was this discussion needed to be had i the literary world from her own experiences.

Overall I think this book tackled the trans issues so well, now of course every human is different and every experience is different so if you are going into this thinking that this is the epitome of the trans experience it is not and nothing ever will be. The author herself is trans and the cover picture on the US edition also features a trans girl which is so damn important. Russo has 2 authors notes at the end of the book, one for trans readers and one for cis readers. The one for trans readers nearly had me in tears and the one for cis readers was really important for highlighting to readers what I have just said about this not being THE experience of trans people.

Also I just want to highlight how disrespectful I think it is that whoever wrote the blurb did not include that Amanda is trans just that she has a “secret” like that completely alienates the people that this book is for.

This book does tackle a lot of really intense issues and I just want to make it clear that if you are interested in reading this book now but are worried it may trigger you and you would like to have a discussion with me to see if it something you can read my inbox is always open, my contact email is listed on my about page and my twitter is listed below.

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The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

I saw a lot of buzz from this book on booktube last year and then I read Flame in the Mist and felt like I had to read this series because I really liked Ahdieh’s writing, so I was preemptively excited. And whilst it didn’t quite live up to the hype this was still an enjoyable read.

content warning: whilst I wouldn’t consider their sexual relationship as rape, it could be trigger if you are a victim of sexual abuse, death, uhhhh I’ve forgotten what else there is but if you’re interested and have a trigger, message me and I’ll look into it for you!

Every time the Caliph, Khalid, takes a new wife she is found dead the next morning. Shazi decides that she will be the next bride after her best friend is killed, in a move that she plans to use to take vengeance. To put off getting killed Shazi tells the Caliph a story every night. But there is more than meets the eye with Khalid and slowly Shazi begins to discover that he isn’t the murderous brute she believed him to be.

The best part of this for me is the world building and the writing. The writing itself isn’t poetic, flowery or anything like that, it’s pretty to the point but it was sooo easy to read, and I read it so quickly that I had to read the novellas and take the second book out from the library immediately. The characters are super fleshed out as well. Shazi is a kickass lead who I loved reading from, Khalid is super dark and interesting and whilst I’m mixed about how I feel about him as a romantic leadI loved reading about him and his inner turmoils. I also just loved Jalal, he’s the perfect side character, who cares about the good of everyone involved.

I honestly don’t know how to explain my feelings about the romance in this book. It could be described as insta-love as it happens over the span of a few weeks, but because there is so much happening it feels like longer. On top of all that you have the weird way they have entered the relationship, knowing full well that every woman he has married has died. They have sex a few times before romance even happens, and for both of them it’s very much like procedural, they do it because they feel like they have to, it’s never romanticised at this point. There’s even a point where he asks if she wants to have sex and she’s like “we’ve done it before”, but he still asks. I just have very confused feelings. I was very wary of the sexual relationship before the romantic relationship that I have flagged every time they had sex prior to beginning to like each other, so again if you need warnings or anything let me know and I’ll read over these pages to make sure what’s involved.

One thing I would say is that if the story this is based on is a story you grew up knowing you might not want to read this as Fadwa told me that it’s changed a lot from the original story and what she’d heard about it she didn’t like so just bear that in mind.

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Winter by Marissa Meyer

As this is the 4th book in the series this will be brief.

It took me a long time to get to Winter as it is SUCH a long book, and I think it suffered from that. I enjoyed it but not to the same extent as Cinder. There was a lot of time where it just felt a bit too drawn out.

I loved the ending of this book, it tied the series together so well. As much as it’s a cheesy happy ending it left me super content because when you have a series like this where there are so many characters that you start to get very fond of.

I’m glad I finally got around to finishing this series, especially finishing this book as I feel like I have a sense of accomplishment because it’s so long.

At times it did feel like some of the characters were being too smart, like they just knew what to do and what to plan but thats a big theme in YA to be honest.

I’m not really sure about the portrayal of Winter. I feel like it could be quite offensive to people who are mentally diverse.

All in all I’m glad to finish this series but it could’ve been tied together a bit faster in this book.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton | Blog Tour | Review

Synopsis

In the opulent world of Orléans, the people are born grey and damned, and only a Belle’s powers can make them beautiful. Camellia Beauregard wants to be the favourite Belle – the one chosen by the queen to tend to the royal family.

But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favourite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that her powers may be far greater – and far darker – than she ever imagined.

THE BELLES is the book Dhonielle always wanted to write, a must-read critique of the way teenage girls are taught to think about beauty and body image.

Review

CW: death, people disillusioned with their own looks, mental illness.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing style fits perfectly, a lot of the time I struggle with fantasy because the writing style is too heavy, which is fine if you have the time for it, but I don’t. This isn’t full of flowery language or huge off-shooting paragraphs, it’s straight and to the point and I loved it.

Clayton writes the novel in a way that to begin with you’re a bit confused but she slowly lets you into the world until you completely understand what it’s about and what’s going on without having a big explanation chapter or being taken out from the story to be explained to. My one problem came from this though as I felt that because of the way it was done, the pacing struggled a bit. The last half of the novel was super fast paced but the beginning didn’t have much going on. However I feel like this makes it a really good first novel in a series, I think the next book is going to be super involved and have a lot going on.

The way Clayton wrote the world I am desperate to read more about it. I want to know more about the Belles, I want to find out how the world got to be the way it is, I want to know why people are born grey and discovered how Belles and Arcana existed.

I liked Camille enough, despite growing up in an oppressive environment where you are supposed to do just what you are told she goes against the grain. The character I loved the most, however, was Sophia, she was terrifying. She’s one of the most convincing villains I’ve read in a while. She’s only a teenager but she’s so unbalanced that you literally have no idea what she’s going to do next and it’s actually really scary.

Something else that stood out to me in this novel was how seamlessly LGBT+ characters were in it. People just spoke completely off the cuff about same sex relationships. This shouldn’t be a big thing, but for fantasy this is rare and it made me happy to see that in my favourite genre.

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Thank you to Stevie Finnegan for arranging the tour!

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It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

Content warnings: mental health problems and substance abuse, discussions of consent and sexual abuse/rape

I don’t really know where to start with this review. I absolutely adored this book but I read it when I was staying at my Gran’s house a month before she unexpectedly died so it’s one of those books that I just have weird feelings towards now. I didn’t think this would be a hard review because the book was so good but here we are.

Audrey does not care for love. Her parents marriage ended and it left her mother in a weird state so Audrey does not want that to happen to her so she swears off romance. That is until she starts a new job at her local cinema and meets bad boy Harry.

If you have ever read any book by Holly Bourne before you will know that her writing style is wickedly funny and super easy to read. I get so lost in her novels and they take me back to my teenage years. Her writing is super truthful at times that it hurts, she talks about sexual assault, the lack of sapphic relationships in movies, racism etc. At one point one of the characters talk about not being able to orgasm through penetration which I think is just something that is super important to include off the cuff in YA. Like it’s just spoken about casually but having that being in books lets young girls know that it’s a thing and it’s ok to be that way.

I read this so quickly that I didn’t really take any notes and I kind of hate myself for it. I remember the mother in this story was a bit of a mess, but you can 100% see where it comes from and how poor her mental health is.

I’m not going to talk spoilers but I would love someone who has read this to let me know because I want to talk about the ending and how satisfying it was for me.

My only thing with this book was because he was called Harry I could not stop imagining Harry Styles, who is an absolute sweetheart and not a bad boy and it was a bit disconcerting every time I read the name.

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Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Thank you to Edelweiss and Harper UK for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Our main characters are unlikely friends, Gabby is completely introverted whereas Ryan is a huge extrovert. But they are super close and the novel starts with them sleeping together at the end of their final year of high school before going back in time so the reader can find out the top ten moments of their friendship that lead to this moment.

This was fun if slightly disappointing. I’ve heard good things about Cotugno and how she’s one of the queens of contemporary YA, but this was just fine.

One thing I liked about this book is that the main character is bisexual and this is on page. She talks about her attraction to boys and girls, and if my memory serves me correctly she has relationships with both (I read this a while ago and my memory is hay I’m sorry). This isn’t something we find often in YA contemporary with an opposite sex main relationship.

The way the story was told was really interesting, it’s told from dual points of view and through 4 years of high school. I thought this was a cool different take on contemporary, but because this is only the top 10 moments of their friendship/relationship we only get to see those 10 moments and I would personally prefer seeing more, I would prefer seeing the day to day life as well as these moments.

I think this is what caused me to not connect with this novel in the way I would like to. The pacing is good because it is super fast to get through the 10 moments but that caused me to not really connect to the characters, like I didn’t have any emotional feelings towards the relationship and just didn’t really care. That isn’t to say I won’t try more of Cotugno’s work because it was fun to read and one of those books that you read when you’ve got a lot going on and you don’t need to pay a lot of attention to the plot.

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Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

Princess Rhiannon Ta’an is about to become the Empress, but the night before her coronation someone tries to assassinate her. The rest of the world thinks she is dead but knowing her life is in danger she goes into hiding letting the world continue to think this as she figures out who tried to kill her. Alyosha is framed for the murder and also has to go on the run.

I really liked the dual POVs, we all know that multiple POVs can sometimes not work out and you end up hating on of them but this wasn’t the case with this book. Both characters were good to read from and Belleza wrote the chapters really well that every time the POV switched it was on a cliffhanger so you couldn’t put it down. It made the reading experience really fun.

The book is short-ish. I’m used to books of this genre being long, sometimes unnecessarily. Even though it is short it doesn’t feel like it, like it doesn’t feel like it’s going super fast and skipping details and it felt like it told the story it needed to tell and didn’t draw anything out.

This book is diverse and so well built. The cultures are super well constructed, there’s religion, different planets, different politics.

For a debut novel I’m impressed and I’m excited to read the sequel and see how Belleza’s writing progresses.

I really did like this novel and it did live up to the hype. It wasn’t a favourite and I think that’s just because it didn’t have that wow factor that I need from a fantasy/sci-fi Book.

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Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Thank you to netgalley and Orion for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. This was one of my most anticipated books of the year as I really enjoyed the Wolf by Wolf series from Graudin. And it didn’t disappoint.

Invictus follows a boy who was born out of time whilst his mother was travelling between centuries so he has no birth date which causes him a whole load of problems. When he doesn’t qualify to become a time traveller he takes matters into his own hands and finds a crew and a benefactor and goes time travelling himself. But then he comes upon a strange girl and his world starts unravelling… literally.

So if you are into paradoxes, time travelling and alternate universes then this is for you. At times this book was super confusing but not in a bad way, but in a way you felt a kinship with the characters. They didn’t know what was happening and I didn’t know what was happening.

I don’t really have any feelings for Far, the main character, I didn’t dislike him but I didn’t really particularly like him. What stood out for me were the side characters. They were so wonderful and well balanced. Priya was this wonderful, intelligent young woman who really was a huge driving force in my read of this novel. One thing that really stood out to me was that Priya was still very much involved in her cultural roots, this can be put to the side in futuristic novels as a lot of authors like to imagine a world where we all live irrespective of backgrounds which I personally think is a ridiculous notion. Also Graudin wrote “chai” instead of “chai tea” which just made me happy because chai tea is incorrect and just means tea tea.

Along with Priya my other favourite character was Gram, a geeky black boy who was pretty anxious and liked to keep to his technology but was an absolute sweetheart. There was an awareness I felt was obvious in this novel that Graudin knew she was writing POC time travelling and could get into some awkward and possibly racist situations, similar to Passenger by Alexandra Bracken. It can be easy for white authors to just ignore that kind of thing when writing POC characters because it isn’t something they’ve had to deal with.

My main issue with this book was the pacing. The first half was pretty slow and a bit heavy going whereas the second half was really fast paced. I don’t mind slow or fast but I’d rather have a consistent pace throughout.

I think this is a standalone novel and whilst I do love standalone novels for the lack of commitment involved compared to series, I would love to delve into this world more.

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Meet Cute Anthology

Thank you to Netgalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I was really excited for this anthology as I adore meet cute stories and a lot of authors I like were involved in this as well as some of those authors being marginalised. But I’ll be honest I was a little bit disappointed with it.

Some of the stories were really sweet and I found great enjoyment in them, but some stories were so lacklustre for me or just weren’t even what I would consider meet cute.

Siege Etiquette by Katie Cotugno – Honestly I can’t even remember what this was about, it was really forgettable want I wasn’t a fan. It also was not what I would consider meet cute as the couple already knew each other for years.

Print Shop by Nina Lacour – This was ok, I liked the use of twitter and PR on social media, however it felt like there was far too much background info and I didn’t really feel anything towards the pairing because there wasn’t much of a focus on it.

Hourglass by Ibi Zoboi – For such a short story this one packs a punch. A lot of it talks about fake allies which I think is an important discussion that needs to be had in all communities. And overall I found this one really sweet.

Click by Katharine McGee – I thought this one was pretty confusing. But it was also pretty hard for me as it featured the death of a sister, which has happened to me. I struggled to get through this one to be honest.

The Intern by Sara Shepard – This was another one which was ok, not terrible but pretty forgettable.

Somewhere That’s Green by Meredith Russo – This was really good for featuring current issues. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it being from the point of view of someone who was being transphobic but Russo is a trans author and the views of the character did change throughout the story. I think if a cis author had done this it wouldn’t have worked as well.

The Way We Love Here by Dhonielle Clayton – This was another one I found confusing. I’m not sure if short stories work in fantasy contexts the best. Obviously fantasy writers want to write with what they’re comfortable but I’m not sure.

Oomph by Emery Lord – I LOVED this one. It was so cute and it was exactly what I imagine as meet cute. Two cute girls meet at an airport when their flights are delayed. Perfect.

The Dictionary of You and Me – This one was also cute, though a little boring. I mean don’t all us romantically inclined people who love books hope we will meet someone between the stacks at our libraries?

The Unlikely Likelihood of Falling in Love by Jocelyn Davies – Now this was right up my street. This is a maths nerd meet cute. The girl does her report on the statistical probability of seeing a cute boy on her morning commute to school and what factors are involved. Her class get really into it too and I just found it super sweet.

259 Million Miles by Kass Morgan – This one was ok. It wasn’t really my cup of tea. I did like the discussion of how memes can really hurt people though. I found that interesting as someone who enjoys memes.

Something Real by Julie Murphy – This one was perfect and has served to remind me that I need to read Dumplin ASAP. I loved that it had something about idols not always being who they’re cracked up to be but finding something good in what could’ve been a rubbish day. And I just love that it has girls just being nice to each other.

Say Everything by Huntley Fitzpatrick – As someone who has done waiting a lot through the years I kind of liked this, for the little part of me that always wishes a cute person would leave me their number on their receipt like in the movies. But it was a bit farfetched, but hey that’s writing.

The Department of Dead Love by Nicola Yoon – This was so different and interesting. I do find unrequited love interesting and I don’t think it’s spoken about enough in YA, a lot of the time it’s brushed to the side when a new person comes along that takes the MCs fancy, so this was a new take for me.

As a whole I’d say the store in the latter half of the book are better than the first half. I was feeling really disappointed for a while and then it picked up a little.

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This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab – My first Schwab!

This was my first Schwab book (I know wtf Kirsty) and it did not disappoint.

Verity is a city where monsters are real, if you want protection from these monsters you have to pay Harker to keep an eye on you. Harker’s daughter Kate is returning to the city after being kicked out from yet another school. August is sent to spy on her in her new school but after an attempt is made on Kate’s life a whole system of corruption is discovered by the pair and they must run to protect themselves.

The world is so beautifully constructed in this book I felt like I really could imagine everything perfectly. It’s made me so much more excited to read more of Schwab’s work.

Monsters in this world are the products of sinful/bad actions by humans. This is probably one of the most interesting concepts I have ever read, and the type of characters that it has bred. I think it’s a bit of a spoiler but August is born after a truly horrible event and as a character he truly bears the brunt of that. He feels guilty for even existing and is unlike the majority of monsters does not want to ever use his powers. I just adored August to be honest. He was a little bean that I just wanted to tuck into bed.

I loved Kate and August and the absolute polar opposites they are that were kind of forced to work together. Whilst August was a big softie, Kate has a huge attitude. Her father is basically the big thug of the city and Kate is trying to live up to that, which was a bit cliche but hey ho. I loved that they weren’t romantically linked. There doesn’t always have to be romance in YA!

It was a little slow to begin with but the amount of world building involved made this necessary and once I really got into it I couldn’t put it down.

I’m excited to read the conclusion of this series, however I have heard it’s heartbreaking so I’m a bit worried.

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