CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by Elizabeth Acevedo

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance-and Papi’s secrets-the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Yahaira and Camino are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.

In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.


Title : Clap When You Land
Author : Elizabeth Acevado
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : Contemporary YA
Publisher : Hot Key Books
Release Date : May 5, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

CLAP WHEN YOU LAND is a compelling and poignant story of loss, deceit, finding lost relationships and coming of age. This book hit me in the feels almost straight away and kept me emotionally connected to the characters and story all the way through.

This captivating story is told from the POV of two teens Camiro and Yahaira who were 16, going on 17. They lived in New York and the Dominican Republic respectively and their lives were a complete contrast both financially but also in terms of freedom, access and prejudice. The story was told in normal narrative with elements of beautiful poetic prose. These aspects weren’t choppy, they wove beautifully into the unfurling story.

I am beautiful like a dark-skinned girl that is right here.
I’ve always preferred playing black on the chess board.
Always advancing, conquering my offending other side.

I really was gripped by life in the Dominican Republic and how Camino conducted herself, her life and her relationships. I admired her as a character so much. When Camino and Yahaira finally connected, it was a lot, brimming over on the page.

This is one of those books that you just have to read. You will lose yourself and emerge the other side affected. This is a book I will remember and as an already fan of Elizabeth Acevedo, I can confirm that this is my favourite of her books yet.

Thank you to Hot Key Books for the early review copy.

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED by Sophie Gonzales – double review!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right?

Right.


Title : Only Mostly Devastated
Author : Sophie Gonzales
Format : eARC
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books/BKMK
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★  .5


Hollis’ 3 star review

I’ll admit that this didn’t end up being the most amazing wonderful adorable hilarious queer YA rom-com I expected it to be back when it was first announced. But I think, based on how insane my expectations were, this was still a pretty good read; even if, despite the ages of the characters and some of the subject matter, it did read a little on the younger of the YA side.

If you’re picking this one up hoping to see some Grease references, you’ll be pretty happy, I think. They weren’t overdone, it didn’t stick to the script half as closely as I expected, and it ended up being very much it’s own thing — with it’s own emotional backbone to set it apart — but you don’t need to go hunting too hard to see some parallels. Though I’m still waiting to understand the Clueless connection, so, fair warning for that comparison.

That said, it was also kind of hard to read at times, too. I definitely didn’t expect the conflicts between the leads to hurt as much as they did. For all we are told of the sweetness of Will, mostly through flashbacks, and in a few quiet one-on-one moments, he did and said some pretty unforgivable things to keep up his “straight” pretense; and while I appreciated some of the lightbulb moments on Ollie’s side, some of which I agreed with and others I think just created so Will wasn’t made out to be, like, a villain, it was still pretty unbalanced between them. Actions speak louder, sure, but words are still hurtful af.

That emotional backbone, I mentioned? Well, it was emotional. And while there were times I disliked both of Ollie’s parents, I think in the context, some of it is forgivable. And in that same vein, it was nice to see a story like this were a teen is facing hardship and not resentful about it. Which, I mean, would be a completely valid thing but it was nice that this book didn’t lean too hard into that potential for angst. There was plenty as it was.

So, yes, not quite the lighthearted-adorable-this-was-everything that I wanted, but this was diverse, and queer, and I know that plus the adorable cover is going to make this a hit for so many readers.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I feel completely gushy about this book because I’ve devoured it in a day and it gave me fun, laughter, heartache, tears and complete escapism and enjoyment. This book exceeded all my expectations and I know for certain that I’m going to re-read this book.

This is a Grease retelling with fantastic LGBTQ+ characters front and centre. I can atest to how good the Grease framework to this story was, it was rich and familiar but with its own unique takes. The protagonist, Ollie was such a genuine nice guy, already out to his family and friends, he was pretty comfortable with himself. Family illness meant that he stayed past his summer vacation and his summer fling, Will found that to be a problem he hadn’t antipcated. He wasn’t secure in his sexual identity and he wasn’t out to anyone.

“What’s so funny?”
“We’re in a closet.” “I told you, I didn’t want -“
“You dragged me into a closet to have this conversation. Did you do that on purpose, or what? Unbelievable.”

ONLY MOSTLY DEVASTATED narrated the story from Ollie’s perspective with wit and heart. The family stories were strong and poignant, they caused my heart to ache, my eyes to leak and still I felt some warmth even in difficult parts. All that said, it was a bright and hopeful story and I was rooting for Ollie and Will as a couple. They were cute and lovely.

The friendships were definitely a building project in this book. After all, Ollie was new in the school and trust took time. I loved how this aspect developed and that what started as insecure, snarky interactions became true friendships with characters I came to like.

I don’t want to say anything more about the family story, I thought that was special and sensitively written. I thought the closeted and coming out elements were well written but please do check some own voices reviews on this book to be sure on that point.

Sophie Gonzales wrote in a way that engaged me from the first few pages and clearly I couldn’t put it down. I think this book has wide appeal and I want it to smash into the world.

Here walks Ollie Di Fiore. Master of his feelings, expert detacher, only mostly devastated.

Many thanks to TeamBKMRK for the early review copy.

DARK AND DEEPEST RED by Anna-Marie McLemore

Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal. 


Title : Dark and Deepest Red
Author : Anna-Marie McLemore
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Feiwel & Friends
Release Date : January 14, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

I’ve had a few reasons to not rate books over the years. But sometimes the reason is simply because I honestly don’t know what the book deserves. This here is one of those times.

This is my first McLemore despite hearing nothing but wonderful magical things about their writing for.. years. And I can admit, this was magical and at times wonderful. But did I enjoy the experience? I’m not sure. There is so much to be gained by this story, the message within, the truths, the history.. some moments really did wow me. But, again, was this ever actually enjoyable? Not really? So I’m not rating it.

Would I recommend? Maybe. If you’ve read and loved this author before, I think this is going to be another winner for your shelf. With the added bonus of it being a queer retelling. For someone new to this author? I don’t know if this is one to rush out and read. But if you’re curious, feed the beast. Borrow it from your library.

I still have every intention on working through some of McLemore’s backlist.. so maybe that, right there, says it all. Or at least enough.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

INFINITY SON by Adam Silvera – double review!

Balancing epic and intensely personal stakes, bestselling author Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son is a gritty, fast-paced adventure about two brothers caught up in a magical war generations in the making.

Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures.

Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day.

Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.

Brotherhood, love, and loyalty will be put to the test, and no one will escape the fight unscathed.


Title : Infinity Son
Author : Adam Silvera
Series : Infinity Cycle (book one)
Format : ARC/eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : HarperTeen/Simon & Schuster UK
Release Date : January 14, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : ★/DNF


Hollis’ 1 star review

Here’s the thing. I didn’t really want to be here, posting a review for a much hyped book that I clearly didn’t like, but up until the 60% mark I was at least hoping to have one or two good things to say to warrant a two star “hey man, you tried, good on you” rating.

But no. I can’t round up on this.

A combination of mostly annoying (oh god I wanted Brighton to go DIAF times infinity) and or doing-nothing-for-me characters, so little world building that I honestly only understood maybe like 15% of the structure of this universe (and literally, after everything, still don’t know the difference between some of the classification/terms), and the weirdest prophecy or, like, Three Step Apocalypse plan ever? I just can’t. 

I pushed on just to finish this because I was sorta hoping there’d be something worth looking forward to in book two and, again, because for the most part it was mostly meh with just a little frustrating.. until we got near the end and it became mostly frustrating, with lots of meh, and two handfuls of added what-the-fuck-ery.

We flip from action scene to action scene and half the time these kids are bouncing back like they just didn’t get their asses handed to them, while spouting the weirdest cheesey action drama dialogue, and.. yeah, I can’t. Sorry. I don’t even want to be writing this review anymore.

There’s lots of rep in here, which is great, and I’m glad Silvera was able to realize his dreams to write a fantasy with the representation that not only all books deserve but also where he can see himself, and others in, but. But. This just wasn’t a win for me in any way shape or form.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s DNF thoughts (can’t really call it a review)

I tried and tried and tried again but the world felt impossible without adequate world building and I could only stay confused for so long. The language for different beings was constantly thrown around without explanation. The writing style was what I can only describe as awkward. I didn’t once lose myself in the story but I was constantly jarred by the narrative style.

Excuse me while I weep as I wanted so much from this, having enjoyed Adam Silvera’s books previously.

CRIER’S WAR by Nina Varela

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war. 


Title : Crier’s War
Author : Nina Varela
Series : Crier’s War (book one)
Format : ARC
Page Count : 434
Genre : YA fantasy, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I think this is one of those books that can go either way for some readers. But, for me, I’m caught right in the middle.

First, let me say : if you considered picking this book up because you heard it was a hate to love, or enemies to lovers, or opposites attract, romance? I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This, unlike another fantasy series featuring an f/f pairing, was done so so well. I believed in the evolution of this.. not relationship but this connection. It totally won me over and oh man I want more. The dynamic between them.. (chefs kiss).

As for the dynamic of the story itself? Well, I was definitely under the impression this story was actually the opposite of what it has (haha #TeamNoBlurbs). Instead of the Made-character being the outlier, this is a society where Made-beings, the Automae, are actually in charge. They are the winners of a war where they have subjugated humans. Mostly. There are some who don’t despise humans, who want to live with them equally, but overall this is not the norm. And, to be honest, I think that element made this story even better for me than had it been the other way around, or the way I expected.

However. I’ll admit that sometimes I did feel a little confused by the actions of some of these Automae and how human they did seem, sometimes. And yet others, not at all. Maybe that was done on purpose? Maybe there is supposed to be that fluctuating line to make us see how close but not at all like humans they are? I’m uncertain. Certain actions, particularly that of the villain and his manipulations, just make it to to seem.. well, convenient, that some act more human than others. I don’t know. I’m not explaining this right but I think that’s mostly because, again, confused.

The world is very interesting, though, and how certain things came about in the end..? Yeah, wow, I am reading on for sure. But that said, I’m glad that we had two strong leads to carry this story during those moments where I was just not in it, because those moments did happen. And I’m glad for these leads because I was forever sad I didn’t love the aforementioned other series because diversity and f/f and all that good stuff. But this one? This one does it. I’m here for it.

So, yes, not a super high rating, but I absolutely think book two will knock it out of the park. And I can’t wait.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

FULL DISCLOSURE by Camryn Garrett

In a community that isn’t always understanding, an HIV-positive teen must navigate fear, disclosure, and radical self-acceptance when she falls in love–and lust–for the first time. Powerful and uplifting, Full Disclosure will speak to fans of Angie Thomas and Nicola Yoon. 

Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.

Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too. 

Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…


Title : Full Disclosure
Author : Camryn Garrett
Format : ARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ contemporary
Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date : October 29, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I fully admit that I requested this one because of the unique circumstances described in the synopsis. A YA contemporary dealing with HIV? Not a throwback story, or historical, set against the AIDS crisis but a real person, in today’s world? I had to read it. Adding to this already rare subject matter, was a diverse cast, dealing with topics of both race and sexuality.

But ultimately I think I loved the concept more than the execution.

This story reads a little like SIMON VS THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA. Our lead has a secret, she’s not out about her HIV at school (not after the disaster that happened at her last one), and she hasn’t even told her best friends; which means neither does her crush know. But someone does and someone threatens to out her if she doesn’t spill the beans by a specific deadline. The threats even get worse as her crush suddenly becomes her boyfriend. And Simone has to make a choice : avoid the chance at love and be browbeat by an unknown or come clean to those she cares about.

Throughout the story, there are little red herrings as to who this blackmailer is. And I’ll admit I did guess correctly. I won’t spoil anything about Simone’s choices (does she tell, is she outed, does she tell and end up outed anyway) but I will say that, not being represented by anything in this book — I’m not queer or black or HIV positive (though the author is the everything but the latter) — I thought everything felt true. What ultimately kind of failed for me was some of the side drama with Simone’s besties. I felt they sometimes transitioned into strange discussions or arguments that never felt relevant for the circumstances whereas her friends from the support group, a gathering for other HIV positive teens, were fabulous.

The romance was sweet, the obsession with musicals wasn’t really my thing but I appreciated the relevance of them doing a production of Rent, and I would 100% read a backstory/companion about Simone’s parents. She had a somewhat complex and blended family situation, being adopted and also with particular dynamics still present between her dads, but overall I just loved them both so much. It was particularly nice that, with everything else going on, parental angst was not present.

Additionally, Simone is very aware and very responsible about her diagnosis. She has maturity, respect, and agency in regards to how she has to manage it and yet also wants to be educated on protocol for being sexually active while protecting herself and her partner. This is a story about living with HIV and living a full, healthy, life. There’s no real tragedy here.

So, yes, I didn’t love this but I love what it represents, what it will offer to other readers, and overall the education it’ll give many people who just don’t know enough, or maybe rely on ignorant prejudice, about HIV. Highly recommend for that alone.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 3 star review

I requested this book because it oozed the grabby vibes with a YA context of a HIV positive protagonist. This book had lots of important themes and it was generally educational to those who might not know much about the virus in the context of adolescence and sexual relationships. However, it terms of execution and connection to the characters, the narrative left me on the outside looking in, disconnected and wanting more.

The protagonist, Simone was a secure person on the cusp of womanhood but with so many new questions about a health condition she’d lived with since forever. Simone was exploring her sexual identity, potential attractions and relationships and for the first time she was questioning what that meant in the now for her and her circumstances.

What I liked were the multiple reps of sexual identity and living with HIV, there’s so much in terms of widening knowledge and horizons for young people reading this book. I loved the dads, they were ridiculously protective on the one hand and everything precious on the other. I liked Miles but I found him unrealistic in a number of situations.

I struggled somewhat with feeling connected to Simone herself and her friends, Lydia and Claudia. There was something missing in these characters, something in the narrative that just didn’t hang right and I still can’t put my finger on it. The drama lama later in the story was predictable but I did enjoy how the story came together in the end. Although I remain unsure about Miles’ parents and any resolution of that issue.

I wanted to love this book, I appreciate its existence but it was just an okay read for me. I think maybe those younger readers than me might gain more from the narrative than I did.

Thank you to Penguin Children’s for the early review copy.


JACKPOT by Nic Stone

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Dear Martin –which Angie Thomas, the bestselling author of The Hate U Give, called “a must read”–comes a pitch-perfect romance that examines class, privilege, and how a stroke of good luck can change an entire life.

Meet Rico: high school senior and afternoon-shift cashier at the Gas ‘n’ Go, who after school and work races home to take care of her younger brother. Every. Single. Day. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she thinks maybe her luck will finally change, but only if she–with some assistance from her popular and wildly rich classmate Zan–can find the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize. But what happens when have and have-nots collide? Will this investigative duo unite…or divide?

Nic Stone, the New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out, creates two unforgettable characters in one hard-hitting story about class, money–both too little and too much–and how you make your own luck in the world.


Title : Jackpot
Author : Nic Stone
Format : Paperback ARC
Page Count : 339
Genre : YA Contemporary
Publisher : Simon & Schuster Kids UK
Release Date : October 15, 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

JACKPOT is the second book by Nic Stone that I’ve really enjoyed. She has a way of making you exist in her fictional world and get completely wrapped up her characters. This is book brimming with diversity, the have and have-nots and coming-of-age.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this read, I knew there was a lottery ticket and a young woman. What I got was the compelling character of Rico, working every hour outside of school to help her mum with keeping the eviction notice away, whilst looking after her young brother, Jax. It was pretty tragic to read as Rico had no kind of normal teenage existence. There was a sense of desperation around Rico that invaded the atmosphere.

Rico embarked on a quest to find a winning lottery ticket and she got up the courage to grab Zan to help her. He seemed to be her opposite in every way especially in terms of his financial situation. However, the more I got to know Zan, the more I realised that Zan and Rico were similar in many ways. What made this story was that Zan and others that entered Rico’s life, brought some normal teen experiences, some firsts and it was precious to read Rico having these experiences.

There were some unexpected twists to this story and some tragedies too that had me on the edge of my seat. I can honestly say this was a great reading experience and that I enjoyed the book from cover to cover. Nic Stone’s narrative felt realistic, representing poverty tangibly and with messages that need to be heard without a preachy feel. I love her writing style, it makes for ease of reading. Highly recommended.

THE LAST TRUE POETS OF THE SEA by Julia Drake

The Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family: Tall, funny, musical Violet can’t stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family’s missing piece-the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

Epic, funny, and sweepingly romantic, The Last True Poets of the Sea is an astonishing debut about the strength it takes to swim up from a wreck.


Title : The Last True Poets of the Sea 
Author : Julia Drake
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Disney Hyperion
Release Date : October 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating: ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

This is such a lovely, and rather hard-hitting, story (and from a debut no less!) that it feels a little strange to not rave about it and slap it with a high rating. But while there was so much good, so much of it moving, some of it also left me a little unmoved, too.

I became a bad sister and a bad daughter in an hour; an exile in just under two. By comparison, the Titanic sunk in two hours, forty minutes. Pretty impressive, to have sunk to the bottom even faster than the twentieth century’s greatest shipwreck.

Tackling issues of depression, anxiety, self-harm, grief, and self-destructive behaviour, the story takes place against the backdrop of a small seaside town in Maine, featuring the mystery of a shipwreck, a romance that bloomed after, and focusing on the ancestors of the sole survivor of that long-ago tragedy.

I didn’t think it was possible to be blindsided by a truth you’ve always suspected, but there you have it. As it turns out, it’s devastating.

The story is queer, and lyrical, and funny, with quirky weirdness and awkwardness and charm. All from the perspective of a tall girl — woo! It’s got a lot of things going for it and I really did love the writing, too. So while this one maybe, for whatever reason, didn’t quite hit the mark, I will totally be keeping an eye on this new author and definitely picking up her next book.

There wasn’t going to be magic healing; there’d be only a string of ands on which we’d thread our survival.

This is definitely going to be a hit for a lot of people, I think. I just wish I could count myself among them.

** I received a ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

SLAY by Brittney Morris

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?


Title : SLAY
Author : Brittney Morris
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Simon Pulse
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

This book is getting a lot of hype and, honestly, it deserves every single bit of it. I don’t remember exactly what it was, or who, inspired me to request this one but I’m so glad I did. So here I am paying it forward : watch out for this one.

The summary perfectly sums up (hah) what this is about, there’s no need for me to rehash anything in my review, and honestly the less I say about this, the better, I think. Not only because it isn’t my place to talk about representation (which I never would for an #ownvoices story) or what this book is or isn’t doing right (also not my place) — though I think it got everything right, to be honest — ultimately, all that matters, is this book both entertained and educated me and I loved the experience of reading it.

The wide-lens of this particular conflict is, I think, so important. It’s a multifaceted narrative. Race, identity, culture, gaming, ambition, history. It’s all tied up beautifully. I might even have teared up ar the end. Got me a bit in my feels there, Morris.

And speaking of beautiful. Beyond the relevant, and relatable issues, that readers will experience, the creativity? Incredible. The secondary setting of Morris’ story is this immersive VR online world and the way she infused not only Black culture but also Black history into this game was just unreal. Except, I want that to be real. I would wish for that kind of safe space, sans trolls, to exist for gamers who are otherwise treated terribly in the anonymous space that is the internet, who constantly have to listen to hateful vitriol spewed at them across the ether by strangers. A place that celebrates, and even educates, as well as focuses on mutual love and respect, even as opponents duel each other.

I enjoyed this book so much and absolutely hope the buzz continues post-release and this finds its way into many hands, no matter their colour. There’s something for everyone here, even if this book isn’t about you. Maybe, even, particularly if this book isn’t about you.

I know I’ll be picking up whatever this author comes out with next, too.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE by Natasha Ngan

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.


Title : Girls of Paper and Fire
Author : Natasha Ngan
Series : Girls of Paper and Fire (book one)
Format : eBook (OverDrive)
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA LGBTQIA+ fantasy
Publisher : jimmy patterson
Release Date : November 6, 2018

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

Though the current GR rating indicates I’m not the only one to not love this, I do think there are many who do, so please take this review (as one always should) with a sprinkle of salt.

Not that I’m salty about not loving this. To be honest, I don’t feel much of anything; not disappointment or frustration. Just pretty much nothing. 

I’ll admit that my understanding of this book was totally off base. I didn’t realize it was a fantasy, or at least not the particulars of the fantasy — with human, Paper Castes, and Demons, and the imbalance of power between them (lolz, I thought Demon King was an affectation, not, like, literal) — and all I really knew to expect was diversity and some darker subject matter. Both of which exist. But so does a lot of.. I don’t know, filler?

I’ll stop beating around the bush. I was bored. I didn’t particularly like any single character. I was traumatized by an early death within the first chapter or two and don’t think I ever recovered (how could you!). I did think the evolution of the romance was well done and like the whole long-awaited revenge plot/conspiracy but I just wish I could’ve cared about the characters themselves as opposed to just the general concept of their existence.

I’m.. not excited to read on but I do have an ARC of book two, which I will still be reading, and I hope that the change of pace, and setting, is more my speed than this one was.