Reviews

I Wish You All The Best: The Story of a Nonbinary Teen

I Wish You All the BestTitle: I Wish You All The Best
Author(s): Mason Deaver
Series: 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Published:
May 14th 2019 by Push
LGBTQAI+: bisexual nonbinary teen protagonist, bisexual dark-skinned (unspecified) cis male love interest, nonbinary side character, nonbinary author

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.

4.5 stars

[ source: pre-ordered with my own money ]

I Wish You All The Best is the story of a nonbinary teen with anxiety who gets kicked out of home by their parents after coming out. The coming out scene is in the first chapter, so the book starts with a pretty big punch. Ben moves in with their sister and brother-in-law, who are both supportive, and they make new friends and continue making their art at school. Oh, yes, and there is a boy.

I loved Nathan, he was funny and bright and supportive, and I also liked the two girl side characters, although they didn’t feature as much. I also loved that Ben has a nonbinary long-distance friend (who is older than them, although I’m not sure by how much) who has helped them as both a best friend and a kind of “mentor”.

Ben goes to a therapist and takes anxiety medication, and while they are unsure about it at first, it’s ultimately presented as a positive thing, so that was nice.

Still, this is another one of those queer books that I expected to be fluffy based on the cover and title, and it’s… not really? It has a happy ending and a cute romance, but it also has shitty parents, anxiety, panic attacks, conflict with the sibling, and I feel like there was more of that than the fluff.

Ben comes out to Nathan really, really late in the story. Of course, you as the reader logically know that Nathan won’t react badly, but it’s strange to see them grow closer and have a crush and everything while Nathan doesn’t know such a defining thing about them, and keeps unintentionally misgendering them. It is understandable based on Ben’s bad experiences, but it still surprised me.

I also wished there was some more about what being nonbinary means for Ben. It was nice that it wasn’t the only focus and they had other interests, but there was more about the negative consequences of coming out than the positive, affirming sides of being nonbinary, which I really missed. I loved the small scenes like Ben choosing to have their sister paint their nails, and I would have loved more.

tldr; This is a really good and important debut (!) book about a nonbinary teen, and it has a happy ending with a supportive circle. However, it’s not as fluffy as I expected, and it fell a little short of my expectations in other ways too. That’s just me, though.

content warnings: asshole parents, being kicked out, stressful coming out situation, anxiety, panic attacks, misgendering (both intentional, and due to not being out)

EXTRA WARNING: There is a scene where Ben goes to a party and they are pressured into drinking even though they really don’t want to, one of the guy’s is being loud and I think actually slaps their butt, and then they have a panic attack, so yeah, it was a lot.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell: Awesome Bi Rep and Musicians

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell (Tour Dates Book 1)Title: The Love Song of Sawyer Bell
Author(s): Avon Gale
Series: Tour Dates #1
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 256
Published:
(originally) September 23rd 2017 (re-published) July 8th 2019 by Carina Press
LGBTQAI+: main F/F relationship between bi and lesbian main characters, bi side character, ace side character

Indie rocker Victoria “Vix” Vincent knows a good thing when she hears it. The moment Sawyer Bell picks up her fiddle, magic happens. Beautiful and wildly talented, Sawyer is the perfect match for Vix’s band—and, just maybe, for Vix. The dynamic in any group is a delicate thing, but with Sawyer and Vix thrown together on tour, it’s not long before the line between bandmates and lovers gets a bit blurry.

The indie rock life is not what Sawyer ever saw for herself. She worked hard to get where she is—in her second year of Julliard, with a bright future in classical music. But instead of spending her summer working and rehearsing, she’s on tour with her secret high school crush. And even though it was only supposed to be temporary, Sawyer feels like she’s finally found a place she belongs.

This summer with Vix has been like a dream. But every tour must come to an end, and when Julliard comes calling, Sawyer will need to make a choice: continue on the path she’s chosen, or take a leap of faith and follow her heart.

4.5 stars

Yes, I know I’m super late to this party, but the book is getting re-released so it counts, okay?

The Love Song of Sawyer Bell is a wonderful F/F New Adult romance between two girls who just really love music. Although Vix has hookups and I know some people might find this bad rep, but it is made clear on several occasions that this is not because of her bisexuality. Personally, I loved the bi rep, and I especially loved that while there were some ignorant comments, they were all addressed and dealt with.

Meanwhile, Sawyer is just realising that she is a lesbian, while also figuring out that her prestigious, super competitive school is not making her happy. This was so important and nice to see, because often what you dream of and really want to achieve can turn out to be bad for you as well. Just like Sawyer, you need to recognise it and walk away.

Vix and Sawyer go from hooking up to falling in love. The book has a lot of sex scenes, but even as a sex-repulsed person I wasn’t as bothered as I usually am, because the sex scenes were full of consent, dialogue, jokes, and just generally felt like two real people who really like each other wanting to please the other.

There was also a side friendship between a bi girl and a bi guy, which is one of my favourite dynamics and I really need more of it. If you have any books like this, recommend them in the comments, please!

My only complaints are that 1) there was a brief comment where Sawyer is worried that if Vix can’t get her off then she is “defective”, which sounded pretty anti-ace to me, 2) while Sawyer’s jealousy is addressed, I felt like it wasn’t REALLY addressed that biphobia contributed to it. Like, it was kind of brought up but I still found it lacking?

Still, there was a lot of addressing of stereotypes, communication and consent, and despite some arguments this is still mainly a lighthearted and music-filled romance.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Play it Again: Long-Distance Romance Between Youtubers

Play It AgainTitle: Play It Again
Author(s): Aidan Wayne
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288
Published: 
April 22nd 2019 by Carina Press
LGBTQAI+: M/M relationship between a blind, Jewish bisexual guy, and a homoromantic asexual guy with anxiety. (Aro)ace side character.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When Seattle-based blind YouTuber Dovid Rosenstein finds Sam Doyle’s Let’s Play channel, playitagainsam, he’s instantly captivated by the Irish gamer. Everything about Sam is adorable, from his accent to his personality, and Dovid can’t get enough of his content.

Dovid’s glowing shout-out on Don’t Look Now, his own successful channel, sends Sam’s subscriber numbers skyrocketing overnight. He has more comments than he can read. And while the sudden surge in popularity is anxiety inducing, Sam decides it’s only right to dedicate his next episode to Dovid…which soon leads to a heart-pounding exchange of DMs.

They may have never met in person, but Dovid’s never felt this close to anyone before. What they have feels worth exploring—no matter the distance. But is it possible to already be in love with someone who’s half a world away?

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

3.5 stars

Play It Again is a M/M romance by a nonbinary author that involves YouTubers and social media, and one of the main characters is blind – at least that was how much I found out based on the blurb and the author’s bio. As the story went on, I was very happy to find out that Dovid and Rachel are Jewish, along with Rachel being (aro)ace and Sam being ace. (Rachel is only called sex-repulsed ace in the book as far as I remember, but it’s implied she’s not interested in romance either.)

Overall, Play It Again is a sweet, low-conflict romance that deals with internet fame, as well as living while disabled, or having emotionally abusive parents. If you are looking for a comforting read and aren’t too bothered by the toxic parents, this could be a good pick. I also loved how Dovid and Rachel review restaurants and venues based on accessibility as well as their food, taking into consideration not only blind people, but wheelchair users as well. Dovid also mentions a wheelchair user friend at one point, although disappointingly she doesn’t actually appear.

I admit that I didn’t always enjoy this book, although you might have guessed this from the fact that I didn’t give it 5 stars. There were some scenes that gave me intense second hand embarrassment, and sometimes the long discussions about how to handle internet fame and YouTubing were just boring to me. I also admit I have no experience with similar matters, but Sam becoming a sensation and actually getting PAID enough to be able to leave his job so fast felt unrealistic to me. I know realism isn’t the most important, but it was still a little frustrating.

Dovid and Sam are also in a long-distance relationship, with all the troubles that brings – including that most of their scenes aren’t physically together, but through phone or chat conversations. There is a lot of discussion of consent and boundaries, which I really appreciated.

I also couldn’t figure out how old the characters are, but I’m guessing early twenties, which would actually put this as New Adult? It’s definitely not YA, although it doesn’t have explicit scenes.

~ Alexa

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

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.