Tag Archives: lgbt literature

ARC Review – Past Tense by Star Spider

Title: Past Tense

Author: Star Spider

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Julie Nolan is a pretty average girl with pretty average problems. She’s been in love with her best friend, Lorelei, ever since they met in grade three. Only Lorelei doesn’t know about it — she’s too busy trying to set Julie up with Henry, her ex, who Julie finds, in a word, vapid.

But life gets more complicated when Julie comes home to find her mother insisting that her heart is gone. Pretty soon it becomes clear: Julie’s mom believes that she has died.

How is Julie supposed to navigate her first year of high school now, while she’s making midnight trips to the graveyard to cover her mother with dirt, lay flowers and make up eulogies? And why is Henry the only person Julie feels comfortable turning to? If she wants to get through this, Julie’s going to have to find the strength she never knew she had, and to learn how to listen to both her mom’s heart and her own.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel when Past Tense showed up in my mailbox. It looked like a story that was going to play with my heartstrings, though I admit, it took me awhile to get into.

Our heroine Julie is in love with her bestfriend Lorelei, and her mother has a rare disease, where she insists that she is, in fact, has died. Notdying, has already died, how weird and different is that? I will say, that aspect of the story was what drew me to the book in the first place — the idea that someone believes they have already died… I admit, I wondered what that would be like to read about. Julie has it truly difficult given she is trying to understand her own sexuality, on top of now having to work with her mother to try and make her see, that she hasn’t died at all.

I will say, this book was slow going at first. Julie is a challenging character to connect with, although she did grow on me as the story went on. In a lot of ways, what I liked about the story is we are seeing Julie being forced into adulthood a lot quicker than she’d like, and this aspect is done well. You can see the cogs turning in her mind, trying to understand and cope with all her newfound feelings and anxiety, and I liked that about the book. I also liked how she grows throughout the story, especially when dealing with her mother.

That being said, I was a bit uncomfortable with the Lorelei plotline. Not so much in Julie’s interest, which I thought were great, but there were some decisions in how Lorelei’s story developed that made me cringe a bit. I like how Julie deals with this situation, but I feel like the way this situation was handle hit a few of my trigger points. I also just didn’t like her as a character, and I felt how she treated Julie and her feelings to just be manipulative, shallow and utter deplorable to say the least. I liked Henry, though much like Julie, he has a slow burn for growth, and in his situation, it actually works super well.

Overall, I did really enjoy Past Tense and I think it’s worth checking out. While I loved the aspects of sexuality identity and exploration, there are parts of this book that just didn’t work for me. There’s a lot of great messages in this book and many of the characters do see some excellent growth, it’s just a shame that other characters come across much more one dimensional than I’d like.

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ARC Review – Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Title: Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I learned about the existence of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, I was intrigued. Middle grade has always been fantastic at teaching diversity, particularly it’s shown vast growth on LGBTQIA+ subject matters. This novel focuses on a twelve-year-old girl whose family home is destroyed by a devastating tornado, and how she begins to find herself.

A lot of this book looks at Ivy’s notion of what it means to be a lesbian in a construct where children are constantly told that “girls like boys” and “boys like girls.” She wants to challenge this given she has strong feelings for her friend June, and the fact that she wants to be treated normally. What I loved about this story is that we feel for Ivy and we see her ups and downs in both her feelings and understanding of the world around her. She behaves like many kids do when they feel different — they try to combat the feelings themselves instead of reaching out, and that makes sense given she has to make herself vulnerable to people she might feel could harm her.

This novel is very raw and heartbreaking. It’s also super hopeful as well. Ivy’s family accepts her for who she is, which is kind of wonderful and it was great to see them being present in the story, which doesn’t happen enough in middle grade or YA. They love her, they try to understand what she is going through and the want to help her in any way they can. I loved that aspect in the story because we just don’t see enough of it anymore.

Having Ivy’s narrative being the core focus, she is a character I know many readers will love and relate with. Ivy’s letter to the world sort-to-speak is powerful, it’s passionate, and most of all, it’s authentic to her experience. We need more middle grade novels like this that can teach great lessons about hope, friendship, sexuality, and personal growth. I cannot wait to read more by Ashley Herring Blake, because she is a fantastic storyteller.

Late to the Party ARC Review – They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Title: They Both Die at the End

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read this book in two long sittings. I was glued to the pages and intrigued by the concept of The Last Friend app and Death-Cast calls. The idea of having a phone call tell you that it’s your last day to live is utterly terrifying, but also a bizarre motivator to attempt to live your last day to the fullest. Silvera pulls no punches with this story — it’s emotional, it’s raw, and it’s going to hurt like hell.

As the title suggests, Mateo and Rufus are going to die at the end of the story. The problem with this is that Silvera makes you fall deeply in love with both boys so that when this happens it rips your heart out and the belief in love is destroyed. You never truly feel ready for the impact of the end of this book and that’s probably why it works so well. There’s moments where Silvera tries to fake out the reader in when the boys are going to die and it just pulls at the heartstrings.

I loved Mateo and Rufus. Mateo’s anxiety, his father being in a coma, and his fears of leaving the world without real accomplishment was something I truly could empathize with. He doesn’t hold himself in high regard, but once he meets Rufus you see Mateo come out of his shell, even if it almost feels like it’s too late. As for Rufus, he’s a character that understands the kinds of wrong-doings he’s committed, and you get a large sense that he wants to atone for past action and strive to be someone better… even if he only gets a day to do it. In a lot of ways that’s why this story works so well is you’re seeing all these positive changes in these characters, but you know that this is all brought down because it’s their last day to be alive.

I even liked the side characters, especially Aimee and Lidia. I feel like they added a lot of characterization to both Mateo and Rufus. I also liked the little vignettes of other people in the story either receiving the call or not and how that affects their day or last day for that matter. They are cleverly done and just as punch as the main story.

And it hurts so much. I cried, I was angry, I felt tired after finishing this book because my feelings were all over the place. They Both Die at the End was a heavy, emotional read for me, but it was one I flew through because I found myself connecting so deeply with the story and it’s characters. There is no right headspace for reading this book, just remember that the title rings true and that you’re going to need a lot of tissues to get through this one.

ARC Review – Like Water by Rebecca Podos

Title: Like Water

Author:Rebecca Podos

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book is a beautiful slow burn. A part of me hates how long it took me to read, but I found myself putting it down, and realizing little parallels in my own life. A lot of the feelings that Savannah has in this story are ones I’ve shared, especially in my high school years. I was a closeted bisexual who went to a Catholic school. I never had the courage when I was younger to be open about that, and only late in my adulthood am I finally embracing it.

Savannah is a wonderful and raw heroine. Her feels about her bisexuality are all over the place, causing anxiety. Her feelings are so natural and genuine, and you get the sense that she feels as though she is coming a part at the seams because she wants to have an identity. But I had her home life at one point, and it’s a hard pill to take sometimes. I think Podos describes Vanni’s feelings perfectly. Whenever she talked about feeling trapped or lost, I found myself nodding along in understanding. She makes a sacrifice to take care of her family and that’s no small feat at any age, honestly.

And I loved reading the spiral mess that was her and Leigh’s romance. Podos captures this kind of new found love with such tenderness, yet she also shows how messy, raw and confusing it can all be. I felt like that was super spot on. I also loved Leigh despite some of the things she does in the story, but I feel like her confusion and emotional distress is captured very well. Neither girl is always likable, but their actions make sense given the course of the story.

Like Water is a beautifully written novel that shows the messiness of self and of loving others. It’s a slow read for such a short novel, but it builds in wonderful ways making it worth sticking with. I’ll definitely have to go back and check out Rebecca Podos’ first novel, but this has me sold on her as an author to watch.

ARC Review – That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

Title: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Author: E.K. Johnston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel like based on the Goodreads reviews that I am in the minority for this book. I really love E.K Johnston’s work and I think there is something interesting discussions that can be had with a book likeThat Inevitable Victorian Thing.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is an interesting read. It focuses on the idea that colonialism didn’t have it’s chance to manifest in North America and Europe, and the idea that groups of people regardless of race or religion can live in harmony. While that concept is somewhat very unrealistic, the idealism behind it is quite wonderful in my opinion. I would love to live in a world where racism doesn’t exist, where people respect one another. Again, it’s not perfect given racism isn’t entirely abolished in the story and classism still exists, but you get a sense of hopefulness from the cast of characters that they want a better world.

I do want to stress that I think a lot of the Canadian content and Ontario pride in this story may go over the heads of non-Canadian readers, as Canada has some impressive rep in this story. As someone who lives in Ontario, I loved reading the maps and Johnston’s discussions of the province within the story, and it was fun to see name droppings for people, places and things that are indicative of Ontario. I recognize this is something not everyone is able to appreciate, but I enjoyed it a lot.

This Inevitable Victorian Thing is wonderfully diverse and I loved how well marginalized people are handled. I think Johnston put a lot of care into the world-building and characters, making the world feel like it could be believable. Margaret, Helena, and August are all characters who, despite their flaws, want to change the world for the better, and I appreciated their hopefulness throughout the narrative.

Personally, I loved That Inevitable Victorian Thing. Yes, it is a slow burn, and perhaps a bit too ideal, but I found myself loving the world and the characters. I loved the larger theme of hope, connection and respect that existed throughout the narrative, and the romance in the story is pretty darn darling all things considered. I think there are aspects that will be difficult for some reads to appreciate, but if you’ve enjoyed Johnston’s works in the past, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by this book.

ARC Review – Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Title: Top Ten

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ryan McCullough and Gabby Hart are the unlikeliest of friends. Introverted, anxious Gabby would rather do literally anything than go to a party. Ryan is a star hockey player who can get any girl he wants—and does, frequently. But against all odds, they became not only friends, but each other’s favorite person. Now, as they face high school graduation, they can’t help but take a moment to reminisce and, in their signature tradition, make a top ten list—counting down the top ten moments of their friendship: 

10. Where to begin? Maybe the night we met.
9. Then there was our awkward phase.
8. When you were in love with me but never told me…
7. Those five months we stopped talking were the hardest of my life.
6. Through terrible fights…
5. And emotional makeups.
4. You were there for me when I got my heart broken.
3. …but at times, you were also the one breaking it.
2. Above all, you helped me make sense of the world.
1. Now, as we head off to college—how am I possibly going to live without you?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was super disappointed by Katie Cotugno’s 99 Days. It was one of those books I had high hopes for given how much I adored How to LoveTop Ten is closer to How to Love for me, as I found myself engrossed in it.

I can understand why other reviews DNF’ed this book — the style of going back and forth between Ryan and Gabby’s perspectives at different points of their lives can feel a bit jarring. Cotugno’s writing is beautiful, but the reader is just completely dropped into Gabby and Ryan’s friendship without build up. The timelines go back and forth, and it can feel a bit confusing. I, however, embraced what the author was trying to accomplish with the writing, and I loved the message she was going for.

Gabby and Ryan are awkward. They suffer from social anxiety. The are best friends, though Ryan is in love with Gabby, and Gabby has a crush on a girl. Gabby is learned to embrace her bisexuality, but she doesn’t want her relationship with Ryan to take a hit. All their messy feelings make so much sense and it’s easy to feel empathy for them. Cotugno provides us with two main characters who are messy, thoughtful, and you get the sense that there is so much that us unclear surrounding their friendship.

I even loved the sloppy, confused romance in this novel. You get the sense that there is so much emotion and inanity of teen angst and love. Top Ten is just such a unique experience for a contemporary novel, just in terms of how it is written. It’s not going to gel with every reader, but I found myself engaged from beginning to end, and I feel like regardless of my feelings on 99 Days, I’ll still read anything Katie Cotugno writes just for the experience alone.

ARC Review – Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Title: Little & Lion

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started Little & Lion. The synopsis gave me some indication that this book was going to be about sexuality and mental illness, but I wasn’t anticipating the intensity that Colbert puts into this story. I haven’t read Pointe yet, but I had only heard amazing things about Brandy Colbert’s characters and her writing.

Little & Lion was slow going for me. Not because it was a bad story, but because it is an emotionally exhausting and rewarding story. Little’s narrative is very heartbreaking, sometimes tough to read. She cares a lot for Lionel, especially when it comes to how his mental illness has transformed him. You see bits and pieces of his character’s evolution and at times it feels hard to read.

I also loved the way Colbert explored Little’s sexuality and being bisexual. I think showing her conflicting romantic feelings was done in a very sensitive way, and it was easy to emphasize with Little’s emotions throughout the story. Between iris, Rafela, and Emil, you see three different kinds of romantic feelings throughout the story, and Little’s connection to each person hints at a bigger picture in regards to her understanding her bisexuality. I felt like I knew each of her love interests very well when I was reading this story.

I liked Saul as a character as well, and I think he gets some great development with Little in terms of helping her understanding her sexuality, her connection to Judaism, and her family life. He doesn’t make things easy, somewhat overreacts, but does it entirely out of love. Family as a theme in this story is just spectacularly done here, and you see the emotionally drain that Lionel does put on his family. This isn’t shyed away from, which I appreciated so much.

This book is emotional, it’s intense, it’s thoughtful, and it leaves you thinking long after the story is over. Little & Lionhas a lot to offer for those who lover tougher contemporary YA. It only has solidified that I need to get off my butt and check out Pointe.