Reviews

Roam: The Story of a Homeless Teenager

RoamTitle: Roam
Author(s): C.H. Armstrong
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Published: 
February 5th 2019 by Central Avenue Publishing
LGBTQAI+: a gay side character
Other representation: homeless main character

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seventeen year-old Abby Lunde and her family are living on the streets. They had a normal life back in Omaha, but thanks to her mother’s awful mistake, they had to leave what little they had behind for a new start in Rochester. Abby tries to be an average teenager—fitting into school, buoyed by dreams of a boyfriend, college, and a career in music. But Minnesota winters are unforgiving, and so are many teenagers.

Her stepdad promises to put a roof over their heads, but times are tough for everyone and Abby is doing everything she can to keep her shameful secret from her new friends. The divide between rich and poor in high school is painfully obvious, and the stress of never knowing where they’re sleeping or where they’ll find their next meal is taking its toll on the whole family.

As secrets are exposed and the hope for a home fades, Abby knows she must trust those around her to help. But will her friends let her down the same way they did back home, or will they rise to the challenge to help them find a normal life?

4 stars

At first glance, Roam is your typical high school romance story: new girl arrives at the school, popular boy is immediately interested in her, popular boy’s bitchy ex-girlfriend goes on to bully new girl for the entire year… You know how it goes. Only this time, the new girl happens to be homeless, and next to worrying about homecoming, she also has to worry about her little sister getting enough food and not freezing to death in the van they’re living in.

Roam was tough to read at times. Although we have never been homeless, some of the financial struggle and awkward lies Abby tells were familiar to me. No teen should hear their parents desperately trying and failing to provide for them, and yet many do. There was a constant anxiety in the book – I as the reader knew that sooner or later Abby and her family would be caught, her secret would come out, she would have to deal with that fallout. And of course, it eventually happened, although it was very different from what I expected.

What I really appreciated in the book is that so many people meet Abby and her family with kindness. There were people willing to help everywhere, despite the awful situation they were put in. While it’s much less positive, I also liked Abby’s flashbacks, and the way completely innocent things sometimes reminded her of the trauma she was put through in her previous school.

I’m going to admit here that I really, really hate the mean girl bully type. Maybe I was just insanely lucky in my high school years, because while I didn’t get through them completely bullying-free, some of the stuff fictional bullies do just goes way over what I can believe. Still, in this case (while I can’t say much without spoilers) I felt like Trish’s case was handled nicely in the end.

Overall, Roam is a mix between your average hetero high school romance, and a story about a girl living homeless with her parents and little sister. It is an emotional read, but thankfully it has both negative and positive emotions, and ultimately ends on a positive note.

~ Alexa

Advertisements
Reviews

More Likotsi!! – Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals, #2.5)Title: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #2.5
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, LGBT
Pages: 106
Published: 
January 8th 2019 by Avon Impulse
LGBTQAI+: F/F ship, lesbian and bisexual mains
On-page sex: yes

While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

Rating: 4 stars

The Reluctant Royals series reviews:

Likotsi was my favourite side character in A Princess in Theory, and who can forget her iconic “High– Hi… man”? That, and the second book in the series, A Duke by Default was one of my favourite romance novels ever, so I was eager to pick up another novella by Alyssa Cole. This time with lesbians! (Well, one lesbian. Fab is bi/pan, I believe.)

This was a typical Reluctant Royals novella, in a good way: it had all the things I love about the series. Complex characters with interesting hobbies, funny lines and flirts, things I would never think of like mini museums in an elevator, puns like Fab’s username, and more. It also had Likotsi’s POV, and with that, more about Thesolo’s religion and their belief system, which I found really interesting and comforting at the same time. Their concept of the “second death” (that you need to grieve again after briefly meeting a ghost) was heartbreaking, especially the way it was woven into the story. Oh, and the shoes. I loved the beliefs about the shoes. (I swear that one makes sense in context.) I confess to my ignorance and say that I have no idea if Thesolo’s religion is based on any real-world beliefs, so I’m not sure how much credit Cole gets here, but regardless, I liked it.

There is another “typical Reluctant Royals thing” that this book has, something that I usually like, but in a novella this short it was gut-punching and left me with mixed feelings. I’m just going to come out and say this: wow, Alyssa Cole doesn’t do escapism. All her books are incredibly current, full of recent, recognisable events or issues – sometimes that’s the use of social media, a recent meme or musing about the importance of representation, and sometimes it’s the very real threat of deportation, hints to a new government, and things getting worse. Still, perhaps I’m harsh on the “no escapism” thing, because a foreign prince and his assistant do swoop in to save the day and give us a happy ending.

Overall, this novella might have been short but it fit perfectly into the Reluctant Royals series that I love. I hope we’ll get to see more of Likotsi and Fab, even if only as cameos in the later books.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Some Girls Bind: A Genderqueer Journey to Self-Discovery

Some Girls BindTitle: Some Girls Bind
Author(s): Rory James
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Genderqueer
Published: February 1st 2019 by West 44 Books
LGBTQAI+:  Genderqueer (they/them) protagonist, gay side characters.
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jamie knows that she isn’t like other girls. She has a secret. She binds her chest every day to feel more like herself. Jamie questions why she is drawn to this practice and why she is afraid of telling her friends, who have their own secrets. Could she really be genderqueer?

Rating: 4 stars

When I look in the mirror,
I don’t see a girl and
I don’t see a boy. I just see
my goofy glasses and Beatle-like hair.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the formatting of the ARC I read is horrible. There is a part where the same section repeats 4-5 times, and there are words that are either missing, or look more like keysmashes than actual words, and I have to try to figure out what it was supposed to be. I’m going to try my best not to let this affect my rating and opinion of the content itself.

I was a little skeptical when I saw that this book is written in a poetry-ish style (as in: no rhymes or real logic, but all the lines are really short for some reason), and I often wished that it had been written in prose instead – but despite that, this book felt really real. Seriously, some parts were as if they were taken straight from my internal monologue as an AFAB genderqueer/nonbinary person.

The whole book is really introspective, and there isn’t really a plot other than finding yourself, figuring out your identity, trying to figure out what others would think, etc. There are supportive parents, unsupportive parents, supportive friends, queer side characters, and going to poetry readings by queer poets. There was also a part about the dangers of unsafe binding, and how you might resort to it if you’re desperate but you really shouldn’t.

The main character also doesn’t have a love interest and kind of questions their romantic orientation, so if you’re looking for a queer book without romance, this might be your thing? They don’t consider being aro, though.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 stars because other than the formatting issues I don’t really have anything negative to say about it. I personally found the main character really relatable and close to my own personal experience, and I can’t recall any parts that could have been offensive or hurtful – but others might think differently, so proceed with caution.

~ Alexa

Reviews

If I Loved You Less: Queer Island Shenanigans

If I Loved You LessTitle: If I Loved You Less
Author(s): Tamsen Parker
Series: Classics Queered
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Retelling
Published: September 20th 2018
LGBTQAI+: queer wlw MC, unspecified wlw love interest, other wlw side characters
I received an ARC from the author through The Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on October 14th, 2018.

Matchmaking? Check. Surfing? Check. Falling in love? As if. 

Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike.

One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street. Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui has been the owner of Queen’s Sweet Shop since her parents passed away and her younger brother married Theo’s older sister and moved to Oahu. Kini’s ready smile, haupia shortbread, and lilikoi malasadas are staples of Hanalei’s main street.

However, Theo’s matchmaking machinations and social scheming soon become less charming—even hazardous—to everyone involved. And when she fails to heed Kini’s warnings about her meddling, she may be more successful than she ever intended. Theo has to face the prospect of Kini ending up with someone else, just as she realizes she’s loved Kini all along.

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma.

Rating: 4 stars (3.5 stars)

Theo Sullivan lives on an island like paradise with her slightly overprotective father, content with how things are. The community in Hanalei is tight-knit: everyone knows everyone, outsiders rarely stay for long, and nothing can really remain a secret. Personally, the island setting and its descriptions were my favourite part of the novel, as well as the descriptions of food and sweets. I could really feel the freedom and the sense of paradise, the lazy, slow way of life, that might seem boring to some, but it’s perfectly enough for Theo. And yet, this book really wasn’t what I expected based on the blurb.

First, let me talk about our protagonist, Theo. I loved that she defined herself as queer because her identity is complicated – she mostly likes women, but she’s not against maybe being with men, and she keeps a metaphorical little gate open for one man in particular, which is eventually explored in the book.

Despite this, I found Theo an incredibly unlikeable character at first. Her personality seemed to consist of butting into everyone else’s business, and trying to influence their lives in a very invasive way. Now, an unlikeable protagonist in itself is not a problem, but in a romance, it makes it pretty difficult to root for her. Since the blurb mentioned that Theo’s meddling will eventually get her in trouble, I was waiting for the inevitable character development. I also liked that her behaviour was continously called out, mostly by Kini but also sometimes by other characters. Although after a certain event Theo realises she messed up and genuinely tries to make up for it, I still caught her saying or doing things that made me cringe even towards the end. There was definitely some character development, but sometimes it felt like as soon as she took a step forward, she took at least a half back.

Still, what really surprised and even frustrated me wasn’t Theo’s character. It’s the fact that the whole “Theo realises she’s in love with someone just as that someone is about to get together with someone else” only happens towards the very end of the book, and it felt like it was solved really quickly. More than that, the last section of the book feels like a series of plot twists and revelations thrown together without time to really resolve any of them. When I finished the book, there were several plots with side characters that either came out of nowhere, or weren’t resolved properly, and just left me with many questions.

In the end, I enjoyed this book (or at least most of it, before the rushed ending) but not for the reasons I expected. I loved the interactions between the side characters, Theo’s friendships, her character development even if I felt it was lacking, the plot twists that surprised me (the one that made sense, at least), and the island scenery. But this wasn’t the book I expected based on the blurb, and what I expected to be the central conflict was pretty much one confession resolved in one chapter, so I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Soft on Soft: A Cozy, Diverse Sapphic Romance

Title: Soft on Soft
Author(s): Em Ali
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Published: September 10th 2018
LGBTQAI+: pansexual MC, demisexual MC, nonbinary & bi side characters
I received an ARC from the author through The Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on September 9th, 2018.

June Bana might post nearly daily makeup looks that gain thousands of likes but Real Life June has built a wall behind which she exists with her two cats.

But with messy feelings getting in a way of an early hermit life, June begins to realize that she wants more. She wants model/actress, Sunshine Reincarnated Selena Clarke. It doesn’t hurt that Selena is amazing with cats and quiets down June’s anxiety to bearable levels.

June is given the choice of facing her anxieties about relationships to gain not only a girlfriend but also a better understanding of how far she’d go for love.

But would she take it? Would she leave her comfort zone for something softer?

Contemporary fluffy piece where one homebody and one extrovert make one hell of a love story.

Content warning for a discussion of a passed-away parent in chapter 2 and a depiction of a panic attack in chapter 8. Both are from the POV of the MC and are #ownvoices experiences.

Last month, I reviewed a fluffy, romantic, low-conflict sapphic story with at least one protagonist who was fat, non-white, pan and/or ace-spec (Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss). This month, I’m reviewing a fluffy, romantic, low-conflict sapphic story with at least one protagonist who is fat, non-white, pan and/or ace-spec (Soft on Soft, a.k.a #FatGirlsInLove by Em Ali). Honestly, I love this trend, and I hope we’ll all have the chance to read many more diverse and positive sapphic stories like these.

Despite my comparison at the beginning, Soft on Soft by Em Ali (which I received as an ARC with a different title, #FatGirlsInLove, that appears to be a working title) is an entirely unique story. It’s a romance between two fat sapphic women: Selena, a Black demisexual model, and June, the Arab-Persian, anxious make-up artist. Thanks to the profession of the two protagonists, Soft on Soft is full of diverse bodies being celebrated, colourful descriptions, flowers, and altogether vivid mental images.

The book’s plot can mostly be summarised as Selena and June flirting, hanging out with friends, going on dates, making geeky references or working together. It is a character driven novel that is perfect for people who just want to read a cute romance and don’t mind the minimal plot – and really, the characters are worth staying for. The supporting cast has multiple nonbinary characters (with different pronouns), one of whom has depression and some really relatable remarks about mental health and therapy. Also, one parent of the main couple is bisexual, which is awesome – I very rarely see older queer characters, especially parents with adult children.

One strange thing was that the characters in this book talked in real life the way I’m used to people talking on Tumblr, and it was just a strange dissonance to see that kind of language being used in offline conversation. For this reason, some sentences seemed like they weren’t really lifelike, but I’m sure people actually talk like this and I’m just not used to it. (Also, “I’m green with enby” is a great pun I must use.)

In short, this was an adorable novel with diverse characters and colourful settings (and also, cats!). I admit I generally prefer books with a more exciting plot, but people who just want a cozy sapphic romance with fat characters will love Soft on Soft.

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Princess in Theory: African Royals, Secret Pasts and Women in Science

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1)Title: A Princess in Theory
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #1
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Published: February 27th 2018 by  Avon
LGBTQAI+: lesbian side character

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

My rating: 4 stars

Recently I had the pleasure of reading an ARC of A Duke by Default, the second in the Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole. It was one of the best romance novels I’ve ever read, with my favourite dynamic and a Scottish swordmaker love interest. Naturally, I bought the first book to see where it all started. (Note: The books each focus on a different member of the same friend group, so they can be read standalone with minor spoilers/cameos from the previous books.)

I admit that I enjoyed A Duke by Default more, but I still loved A Princess in Theory. The main character, Naledi grew up as an orphan and wants to work on identifying and stopping diseases and epidemics. Her parents died when she was small, so she doesn’t know anything about her past – including that she’s engaged to the prince of an African country.

What I love about Alyssa Cole’s books is that they truly feel real, as in they deal with real-world issues that are familiar and recent. A Duke by Default deals with a refugee crisis, while A Princess in Theory deals with sexism in science fields, the importance of representation, the effects of colonisation and exploiting African countries, and more. I also loved how it’s pointed out several times that while white people tend to think Africa is underdeveloped, Thesolo is more civilised than the US in many ways. (It’s basically contemporary Wakanda.)

An unironic display of how, when it came to Africa, foreigners had no qualms about taking the pieces they wanted and rearranging them as they saw fit.

A Princess in Theory also had incredibly loveable side characters, like Likotsi, Thabiso’s assistant – I kind of wish she had her own book, but she’s a lesbian and all the books in this series so far are M/F, so I’m not sure. But seriously, can anyone ever do any better than “High—Hi . . . man“?

It was also very strange to read this after A Duke in Default, because the second book hints at Portia being a mess before that story, but it was very different to see that in action.

All in all, I liked this book and I can’t wait to read more of Alyssa Cole’s work.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Benefit of Being an Octopus: A Clever and Brave Middle Grade Novel

The Benefits of Being an OctopusTitle: The Benefits of Being an Octopus
Author(s): Ann Braden
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Middle Grade
Published: September 4th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
LGBTQAI+: gay side character
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange from an honest review.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

My rating: 5 stars

This is a scary, brave, complicated, important book. It’s a book about getting out of abusive relationships, about the gun control debate, about things not being black-and-white, about bullying, about speaking up, about a girl with the weight of the world on her soldiers, and yes, about octopuses, too.

That’s one of the things about people on that beautiful tropical island: they can’t see who’s floating about in the ocean around them. Or maybe they can and they just choose not to look. I don’t know.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a 13-year-old girl Zoey who lives with her mother and her three small siblings in her mother’s boyfriend’s trailer. There is a lot of focus on surviving and supporting your family while poor, including the power being cut off, applying for benefits, not being able to wash your clothes, and the other kids at school laughing at you. It’s about the bitter feeling when it seems like the other kids are allowed to have Valentine’s Day gifts as their biggest problem, but you aren’t.

This book was really difficult to read at times, with many parent figures and adults who have failed these children. Some of them were trying their best and ended up doing better, while others were toxic and people you needed to get away from.

I remember thinking several times that these kids (both Zoey and some of her classmates) sound older than they are, that their debate club sounds like something we’d have at college, but then I realised that I have the wrong view on 13-year-olds and they are more mature than I’d think. I’m glad that they are, but it’s sad to feel like they have to be. There were so many things in this book that in an ideal world kids Zoey’s age shouldn’t have to deal with.

Overall, this was a difficult that very important book that deals with many different issues that some real kids have to deal with every day.

Also, shout out to teachers who notice when something is wrong and go out of their way to help.

Reviews

Learning Curves: A Fluffy, No-Drama F/F Novella with Ace, Pan, Lesbian and ADHD Rep

Learning CurvesTitle: Learning Curves
Author(s): Ceillie Simkiss
Series: 
Genre: LGBTQAI+ Romance, Contemporary
Published: August 16th 2018
Representation: Puerto Rican lesbian MC / white panromantic asexual MC with ADHD
This review first appeared on The Lesbrary on 2018.08.12.

Elena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Learning Curves is a 70-page novella with little conflict and a fluffy love story between two women at college. One of them is a Puerto Rican lesbian studying family law, and the other one is a white panromantic asexual woman with ADHD. You shouldn’t expect a huge epic plot: Learning Curves is more about everyday life, college, celebrating Christmas, a huge, loving Puerto Rican family, and two women falling in love.

I admit that I easily get bored if I’m reading a longer book with so little plot, but 70 pages was just the perfect amount to still hold my attention and let me enjoy all the little moments. I loved how overly supportive Elena’s mother was, and I loved the two women cooking and baking together, especially Puerto Rican dishes.

There were so many of these little things that I loved. Cora is bookish and loves reading about “magic, dragons and queer people”. Both women are very casual about mentioning their queer identity, and while she doesn’t elaborate, Cora also mentions how even the community itself can be hostile towards certain identities. There was also a throwaway mention of cocky-gate (controversy over one author literally trying to trademark the word “cocky” in romance novel titles), which made me laugh, although it might have been strange to people who didn’t know what it was referring to.

I did have a couple of issues, or rather some things that I found strange but weren’t necessarily bad. This novella felt like it was written from an outsider’s perspective, which isn’t automatically a problem, but I really would have appreciated more insight into the thoughts and feelings of Elena and Cora, or at least one of them. I also felt like the blurb was very misleading: while the two women go to college and meet at one of the classes they have in common, there is really not much focus on their careers, and basically no mention of either of them not having time for love like the blurb says. Moreover, I sometimes found the dialogue strange or clunky. And finally, this is a minor pet peeve, but there were a few acronyms that were never really explained and as a non-US person whose first language isn’t English, I still have genuinely no clue what they are. I could sort of guess from context, but I generally don’t want to be Googling acronyms while reading a book.

I was originally going to rate this 4 stars, but the ace rep and the way it was handled in the relationship pushed it up. I loved that Elena immediately accepted both that Cora is asexual and that she doesn’t want sex, and it wasn’t an issue for a single moment. It might not be the most “realistic”, but it was really nice to finally read a relationship between an asexual and an allosexual person where the allosexual person is the one who agrees not to have sex instead of the asexual person indulging their partner. Another thing I see a lot is that while the non-ace person agrees not to have sex, they still talk about how this is a huge sacrifice for them, which I find really guilt-trippy, but this absolutely wasn’t the case here.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this author’s works in the future.

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Duke By Default: My Favourite Dynamic in a Romance Novel

A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2)Title: A Duke by Default
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: July 31st 2018 by Avon
LGBTQAI+: none
Other representation: 
Black American heroine, Scottish/Chilean hero with a Jamaican stepfather, multiple side characters of color
I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange from an honest review.

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice—and his attraction to her—but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Rating: 5 (hundred) stars

I heard great things about A Princess in Theory, a romance novel with a Black heroine in foster care studying science, with a Black prince love interest. While non-YA romance with M/F pairings is a relatively new genre to me, I was excited to get my hands on an ARC of the sequel, A Duke by Default. In the end, this novel ended up being everything I hoped it would be.

In A Duke by Default, the POV alternates between Portia, an American woman who takes an internship in Scotland, and Tavish, a swordmaker who is really into Scottish history and is supposed to teach Portia how to make swords as well. From the very beginning, their dynamic was everything I loved: there is some age difference, but an even bigger difference in lifestyle. Portia is young, an expert at search engines and social media, and immediately eager to redesign the website of Tavish’s armory. Tavish hates being recorded, doesn’t answer the phone most days, and just wants to be left in peace to make his swords and take care of his community. Portia tries her best to act easy-going and confident, but in reality, she has extreme self-esteem issues due to her undiagnosed ADHD and dismissal from her parents. Tavish is a grump and kind of an asshole, but he holds free classes and hands out meals to the kids and teens in the community.

Since Portia and Tavish are so different, their relationship starts out rough. There is really only one thing they agree on: neither of them needs a workplace (or any kind of) relationship to complicate their lives even further, not even if sparks fly between them from the first moment. I loved how they both tried to convince each other they didn’t need or want this, even as their banter grew more playful and their attraction undeniable. While I usually scroll through sex scenes, with these two and this writer I found even those worth reading. In short, their dynamic was truly everything I wanted.

Our protagonists both have whole, vivid lives outside of the romance. Portia has issues with her family and feels constantly compared to her twin sister, who seems better at everything. Tavish works at the armory with his brother and sister-in-law, and calls her Chilean mother’s Jamaican husband his father instead of the white Scottish man he never met. Gentrification, racism and contemporary backlash against immigration in Scotland are all important themes in the novel, both before and after Tavish finds out that his absent biological father happened to be a Royal Duke. There is also significant criticism towards the aristocracy and royalty, and some glorious geekiness as well.

I loved both Portia’s and Tavish’s relationships with their siblings, and I really, really loved the relatable and validating portrayal of finding out as an adult that maybe you have ADHD and all the things giving you insecurity have an explanation. I also fell in love with Johan, who is a side character in this book but will be the hero in the next one, so I can’t wait to get my hands on A Prince on Paper as soon as it comes out.

~ Alexa

Reviews

You’re You: A Contemporary About Questioning Sexuality

You're YouTitle: You’re You
Author(s): Mette Bach
Series: 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: August 1st 2018 by Lorimer
LGBTQAI+: questioning main character (lesbian -> bisexual), multiple gay side characters
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In this book author Mette Bach offers a believable portrayal of an LGBTQ teen who has always identified as a lesbian. When she finds herself attracted to a South Asian boy, she comes to a new identity for herself as bisexual.

17-year-old Freyja is outspokenly lesbian and politically active about LGBTQ issues at her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. When her girlfriend Rachel breaks up with her, she suspends her work on the online video blog they created together to celebrate their pride. Instead she starts volunteering at the local food bank. But she can’t figure out why the team leader at the food bank, a guy named Sanjay, doesn’t seem to approve of her. Freyja learns about food justice, and becomes attracted to Sanjay’s passion for the cause. As her friendship with Sanjay grows, she realizes that they connect in a way she never did with Rachel. But can Freyja be in love with Sanjay if she identifies as a lesbian? When members of her school’s GSA assume that Freyja has “gone straight” and oppose her leadership of the group, Freyja has to choose between sticking with her old idea of herself — and taking a chance on love.

My rating: 3.5 stars

I picked up this book because it was about a girl who identifies as a lesbian realising she’s bisexual. This is something that is completely normal in real life, but it can be done really badly in fiction, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Overall, I’d say that Freyja’s character, struggle and questioning was realistic. There wasn’t anything to suggest that “lesbians will realise they like guys eventually” – the questioning was strictly about Freyja’s herself, as it should have been. However, while I think the questioning was handled well on Freyja’s part, the straight male love interest’s attitude sometimes made me uncomfortable, especially the way she suggested that labels weren’t important.

Now, onto the rest of the plot: One of my favourite things was that the book really dealt with important issues. Freyja thinks queer issues are important and leads her local GSA, but she also volunteers at the local food bank because she wants to make a difference and help people who are in need. I admit that sometimes both her and Sanjay seemed a little extreme and preachy, but overall I really liked that they were shown to be active and conscious teenagers.

I also liked that Freyja wasn’t perfect: she was a little too controlling, a little too aggressive sometimes, but it was called out. She realised that she had to improve, and actually made an effort to do so, which was great. That being said, Freyja also had the tendency to be really judgmental of other girls, and I don’t feel like this part was addressed adequately.

As for the writing style, this book used a lot of very short sentences that could have easily been combined for easier flow. This was sometimes really distracting, and I think it could have benefited from more… variety in sentence-lengths.

One issue I had with the book was that at least three times in the story, Freyja uses queer and lesbian interchangably. When people assume she is attracted to guys, she laughs and says “I’m queer” like that should explain why they are wrong, even though “queer” is an umbrella term that includes PLENTY of girls who are still attracted to guys. Just say gay or lesbian, damnit.

There were also a couple of lines about race that made me uneasy, but since I’m white, it’s not really my place to judge if they are bad, so I’m only describing them: It is not clear what race Freyja is, but I’m fairly certain she is white, and yet she has dreadlocks. There is also a part where she’s talking to the Indian love interest, Freyja says something about “guys like you”, Sanjay asks “what guys? brown guys?” and Freyja is immediately insulted because how dare anyone assume she would ever say something racist? The conversation itself was okay, but the fact that Freyja got so badly insulted by the mere assumption was just weird.

In short, this book had some issues but all in all it was a good read. I wish we had more questioning protagonists in YA who are allowed to question and have their identity change without being judged for it.

~ Alexa