SUMMER SONS by Lee Mandelo

Andrew and Eddie did everything together, best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, only days before Andrew was to join him in Nashville, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge.

As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.


Title : Summer Sons
Author : Lee Mandelo
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 384
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ horror/thriller
Publisher : Tordotcom
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Imagine the dynamic from Sakavic’s All For The Game mashed up with a certain dreamer and car-loving scoundrel from Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys but set in the American south and transplanted into an academia-focused horror.

That’s basically Summer Sons.

This was a hard one to sink into because when the story opens up you aren’t quite sure how things were between the main character, Andrew, and the man he’s grieving. Brother? Best friend? Lover? The intensity of his focus, his drive, to prove that Eddie was murdered, that he didn’t commit suicide, is.. well it’s intense. And in some ways it’s uncomfortable because the grief is so big, these feelings so intangible (and many unprocessed), and then of course he’s also being haunted, possessed, stalked, by a presence that he thinks — knows — is Eddie.

Thrown into Eddie’s world, his home, with his roommate, and a new group of friends, as well as new school and a graduate program all hand-picked for him, Andrew is suspicious of everything, and everyone, and trying to recreate Eddie’s last days, weeks, months, in the time they were separated. And it all harkens back to what happened to them as children; a mystery that is slow to be revealed.

The ultimate big baddie reveal isn’t quite a surprise but I guess.. I understood the reasons but not the rationale? Maybe there wasn’t one.

This group of characters are an odd mix of destructive, queer, diverse, and with a splash (or four) of recklessness. But somehow you do sorta fall in love with them. I didn’t like them at first, which I think is purposeful given how off balance Andrew is to be there among them and why, and how they tested him back, but I was compelled by them and then, eventually, well. Yeah, I got it. But on the whole it’s a strange mix of themes, vibes, plots, and aesthetics.

The real delight is the road Andrew travels to look back at his relationship with Eddie and how that shaped so much of him, and how it also held him back. There are two distinct ways he gets to relive some key moments and they are both pretty powerful.

While some of the plot dragged, and we endured some repetition, and to be honest the academia stuff didn’t really interest me as a driving force, it was the characters that kept me glued to the page. And while I did enjoy the atmosphere, and the horror elements, it was their character work that is the main draw for me and why I’ll definitely pick up another read by this author.

WINTER’S ORBIT by Everina Maxwell

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other. 


Title : Winter’s Orbit
Author : Everina Maxwell
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 429
Genre : Sci-Fi/LGBTQIAP+
Publisher : Orbit Books
Release Date : February 2, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Arranged marriage
Politics-heavy
Misunderstandings on misunderstandings
Pacey

Winter’s Orbit by rights should have been the kind of book I loved, sci-fi, arranged marriage but unfortunately, I could only find like for this book by the end. This story was based around a rushed diplomatic marriage and a heavy political plot unfurled quickly, alongside the two MCs Kiem and Jaidan trying to find a way to co-exist.

The strengths of this plot lay in the growth of friendship and more between Jaidan and Kiem but this theme was peppered with frustration for me as their constant misunderstandings added up and added up. It took a long time for them to really communicate clearly and openly with one another. Now there were reasons for that, but the pacing was off for me.

The theme of abuse in this story was handled well and that’s probably my favourite thing about the plot, not the actions themselves but how it was portrayed. I also eventually liked the MCs connection with one another but we had to wait a long time to see it.

The espionage, politics and political characters in this story sadly turned me off from rating higher. It was hard to plow through at times.

I’m glad I read this, I would read the author again but I would have expectations for a more coherent plot pace. I live in hope!

ACT COOL by Tobly Smith – double review!

A trans teen walks the fine line between doing whatever it takes for his acting dream and staying true to himself in this moving, thought-provoking YA novel from the acclaimed author of Stay Gold.

Aspiring actor August Greene just landed a coveted spot at the prestigious School of Performing Arts in New York. There’s only one problem: His conservative parents won’t accept that he’s transgender. And to stay with his aunt in the city, August must promise them he won’t transition.

August is convinced he can play the part his parents want while acting cool and confident in the company of his talented new friends.

But who is August when the lights go down? And where will he turn when the roles start hitting a little too close to home?


Title : Act Cool
Author : Tobly Smith
Format : ARC/Hardback
Page Count : 352
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ contemporary YA romance
Publisher : Quill Tree Books/Harper 360YA
Release Date : September 7, 2021

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


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I said this in another queer YA contemporary review recently that it’s important for queer and trans characters to have messy love lives, or messy stories, or just be messy, because so many of those stories already exist for straight and cis-gendered content.

However, queer or not, messy doesn’t always make it easy to love.

August is a trans boy who has recently run away from tinytown, Pennsylvania to not only avoid conversion therapy as a result of his religious parents rejecting his identity but also to attend a prestigious acting school in New York courtesy of his aunt’s connections. Suffice it to say August is going through it. He has baggage. He’s recently transitioned, come out, and he’s dealing with a new city, new school, and finally being his authentic self. Sorta. But because of all that, because he’s new to almost every aspect of his life, he’s also changing personas the way most people change shirts. This makes August a difficult character to get a read on. 

Now, listen, I get it, I’m old now but I was hip and young once. I understand the concept of having a different angle with different groups; hell, most of us still have elements of that to our personality : it’s called work and home life. However.. this isn’t just August at Home vs August at School. This is too many Augusts; funny guy, serious guy, acting guy, flirting guy, humble guy.. again, how am I supposed to know who I’m reading about if he’s just a mask?

Eventually this does phase out when he addresses it, or rather when he gets called out of it multiple times and then addresses it, and again, so much of it is understandable. But it’s also hard.

August gets caught up in the buzz and high of being well liked and successful, focusing on followers and curating his social media presence, lying about not reading the articles and posts about him, because he happens to land a starring role in his school’s play and then another opportunity shortly thereafter. Naturally.. things go to his head and he becomes outright unlikeable. 

Which phases into the next thing I disliked. All the lies. Again, tied into his shifting in and out of being who he thought he had to be in the moment.
Probably it’s just that, as much as I could empathize for August’s struggle and what he had endured, and what he was going through in general, I never liked him. Infact, the only characters I loved (yes, I did love some!) were August’s aunt and his trans fairy-godmother, Juliet. A+, five stars, for both of them. Everyone else.. meh? They were just too much drama for me, not going to lie, and that probably tied into why I wasn’t down for any of the various romances. Besides the fact that none of them were particularly well developed.

I have also found with previous stories that focus this much on theatre or acting just don’t interest me. And there was a lot of that in this one. Not helped, too, by August assuming his way was the right way to do things despite the advice of his teachers or discussion with peers — you know, at the prestigious school he probably didn’t deserve to be at and clearly didn’t respect enough — which also does get addressed, in a rather heartbreaking way, but it was one more thing that added to the arrogance and frustration around his character.

Much of the narrative in Act Cool is about getting transpeople other narratives that aren’t necessarily defined by their being transgender, telling different and happier stories, in addition to representation in general. And then there’s also the emphasis on found family and finding those who will accept you no matter what.There’s a lot of great in here. I just had to sift through a lot of less great to appreciate it.

That said, if you’re looking for a diverse YA contemporary, with drama and romance that does get a wee bit messy and soap opera-y, but with some heavier themes to keep it from being too frothy, you could definitely do worse than picking this one up. But if you hate theatre or Broadway.. maybe avoid.

** I received an unsolicited ARC from the publisher (thank you!) and this in no way influenced my review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Drama on and off the stage
Tough but still uplifting
Shitty parents

Call me enchanted by Tobly McSmith’s writing and stories, because this is the second book of his that has drawn me in, made me love all the things and left me thinking. Act Cool was the kind of story that had tough themes (and I expected it this time) but it is also a hugely uplifting and empowering read. It transports you into the world of August and for me, I became his cheer team.

August was a character that jumped off the page with his raw feeling, his ability to trust, his naivety as a trans character and his desire to be accepted. August was the unfortunate owner of some top-form shitty parents. I hated them, as I should, but these kind of ignorant folks exist, they’re not an illusion and they are harmful. Hooray for Aunt Lil to offset some of that.

August’s journey through a performing arts school, fresh opportunities and finding his feet with being a man was just 100% absorbing. The crew around August were a dramatic bunch and he spent time sussing out who was friend, foe or both. I really warmed to the side characters and even Mr Daniels. The performing arts backdrop, Broadway and how those themes intersected with August facing his gender dysphoria was emotional; I was gripped.

There were a number of quotes I tabbed, probably all a bit spoilery to share but amongst the witty banter, the fun of school life were deep thoughts, the odd profound inner monologue and interaction with others.

I simply loved this book, it made my Saturday and I avidly await Tobly McSmith’s next book.

Please do check out some trans reviewers for this book.

Thank you to Pride Book Tours and Harper 360YA for the review copy.

SUBTLE BLOOD by KJ Charles

Will Darling is all right. His business is doing well, and so is his illicit relationship with Kim Secretan–disgraced aristocrat, ex-spy, amateur book-dealer. It’s starting to feel like he’s got his life under control.

And then a brutal murder in a gentleman’s club plunges them back into the shadow world of crime, deception, and the power of privilege. Worse, it brings them up against Kim’s noble, hostile family, and his upper-class life where Will can never belong. 

With old and new enemies against them, and secrets on every side, Will and Kim have to fight for each other harder than ever—or be torn apart for good.


Title : Subtle Blood
Author : KJ Charles
Series : Will Darling Adventures
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 290
Genre : historical fiction / LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : KJC Books
Release Date : June 23, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

It’s strange to feel less than effusive over a Charles read but honestly since book one this series just hasn’t filled me with the usual love I come to expect from this author. But looking back I think I was slumping during book two and honestly I think I’m doing the same now. So maybe it’s just me. And in fact the only reason I’m even bothering with a review is because I’ve reviewed the first two. So maybe I’m also feeling a bit blah from having to force myself to sum up my thoughts.

An easy positive from this? Is my love for the couple. In book two I think I was more taken with the ladies who were secondary to the action — and they were still great, with a few very important key reveals in this third book — but I found my love for this couple again in this finale. I think it was the mystery and big conspiracy, woven through the series but coming to a head here, I didn’t much care for.

Ultimately, though, a lack lustre Charles is still a great read. My expectations from this author are just pretty huge after all these years. But again, it could just be me. As always, I look forward to what is to come from Charles next. If you have still yet to discover her? What are you even waiting for.

SAILOR PROOF by Annabeth Albert

The sexy Navy chief and his best friend’s adorkable little brother… 

It’s petty, but Naval Chief Derrick Fox wishes he could exact a little revenge on his ex by showing off a rebound fling. His submarine is due to return to its Bremerton, Washington, home base soon and Derrick knows all too well there won’t be anyone waiting with a big, showy welcome.

Enter one ill-advised plan…

Arthur Euler is the guy you go to in a pinch—he’s excellent at out-of-the-box solutions. It’s what the genius music-slash-computer nerd is known for. So when he finds out Derrick needs a favor, he’s happy to help. He can muster the sort of welcome a Naval Chief deserves, no problem at all.

Except it is a problem. A very big problem.

When Arthur’s homecoming welcome is a little too convincing, when a video of their gangplank smooch goes enormously viral, they’re caught between a dock and a hard place. Neither of them ever expected a temporary fake relationship to look—or feel—so real. And Arthur certainly never considered he’d be fighting for a very much not-fake forever with a military man. 


Title : Sailor Proof
Author : Annabeth Albert
Series : Shore Leave (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 320
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : Carina Press
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve read or requested anything by Albert but in truth it hasn’t been that long — she’s just put out so many books I’ve lost any and all sense of time. But the ones I have picked up have been few and far between and the results have been more fine or just okay than anything that really got me excited. I had sorta suspected I had outgrown the author. Or at least the books she was putting out after a certain point. But with this new series, and a return to her military-theme, I thought to give it a go.

But I was right.

There is nothing wrong or bad about this story. Nothing annoyed me, nothing was unforgivable, but I just wasn’t interested or moved. I was ambivalent or bored. This didn’t really do anything new, which is fine, but neither was I entertained by the content.

So I’m calling it. I think Albert and I are done. We had a great ride, though, I not only enjoyed but flat out loved so many of the author’s books and series. I’ve just clearly moved on.

But if you’re interested to give this a go, here are some fun tropes to expect: best friend’s younger brother. Fake dating. And “oh no there’s only one bed”. This’ll definitely hit the right notes for many readers. So take this review with the usual grain o’salt.

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

DARK RISE by C.S. Pacat

The ancient world of magic is no more. Its heroes are dead, its halls are ruins, and its great battles between Light and Dark are forgotten. Only the Stewards remember, and they keep their centuries-long vigil, sworn to protect humanity if the Dark King ever returns.

Sixteen-year-old dock boy Will is on the run, pursued by the men who killed his mother. When an old servant tells him of his destiny to fight beside the Stewards, Will is ushered into a world of magic, where he must train to play a vital role in the oncoming battle against the Dark.

As London is threatened by the Dark King’s return, the reborn heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war begin to draw battle lines. But as the young descendants of Light and Dark step into their destined roles, old allegiances, old enmities and old flames are awakened. Will must stand with the last heroes of the Light to prevent the fate that destroyed their world from returning to destroy his own.


Title : Dark Rise
Author : C.S. Pacat
Series : Dark Rise (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 464
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy
Publisher : Quill Tree Books
Release Date : September 28, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 review

Hmm. Hmm. Hmmmm.

Honestly, I don’t know about this one. Let’s get this out of the way first : I did not hate my time with this one. But did it grip me, surprise me, pull me in? I have to say.. no.

In some ways this book is pretty predictable. And by some I mean.. almost all of it? Add to that fact that the pitch of this set up an expectation of a big dark queer enemies romance and we get none of it in Dark Rise. The story ends in a way that implies it could still happen in book two but I obviously had prepared myself for something that I did not see pan out. So that’s kind of a bummer. So between the predictability, the lack of romantic tension, and then..

Well, I’ve kind of lost track of some of the POVs but most of them are new to this fantasy world. Only two really matter in the point I’ve trying to make though which is : the outsiders seem to have become bigger players than those who had been in this world, living this fantasy life, the whole time. And eventually there is a reason for this (a spoilery one) but at the same time I felt like there was just little to no shock value? No reluctance to believe? I feel there often should be a balance between struggling to come to terms and also settling in all nonchalant like and yet not being too much one or the other. I’m not sure I can properly explain this without you experiencing it but hopefully you know what I mean.

I’m also not sure I ever really felt any stakes after the first few chapters. Those had some good tension, a lot of uncertainty, but the deeper we went into the story, into understanding some of the world, which is when you would think the stakes get higher — and I definitely should’ve felt this because they are basically end of the world as we know it stakes — but.. I honestly felt nothing. Maybe because I wasn’t invested in the world? Or the characters? I was never quite pulled away from this story or distracted by other things but I definitely was very conscious of reading things, not living things. If that makes sense.

Ultimately, now that certain events have played out, I think this is very much a first book in a trilogy/series (whatever it’s going to be) issue. It’s very possible, now that we have our footing and our reveals, and we stand on the precipice of the romance I wanted, that book two will give me something to sink my teeth into. I sure hope, at least.

But in the meantime.. lower your expectations a smidge. And it’s possible you might enjoy this more than I did.

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

STAY GOLD by Tobly McSmith

Pony just wants to fly under the radar during senior year. Tired from all the attention he got at his old school after coming out as transgender, he’s looking for a fresh start at Hillcrest High. But it’s hard to live your best life when the threat of exposure lurks down every hallway and in every bathroom.

Georgia is beginning to think there’s more to life than cheerleading. She plans on keeping a low profile until graduation…which is why she promised herself that dating was officially a no-go this year.

Then, on the very first day of school, the new guy and the cheerleader lock eyes. How is Pony supposed to stay stealth when he wants to get close to a girl like Georgia? How is Georgia supposed to keep her promise when sparks start flying with a boy like Pony?

Funny and poignant, clear-eyed and hopeful, Stay Gold is a story about finding love—and finding yourself.


Title : Stay Gold
Author : Tobly McSmith
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 384
Genre : Contemporary YA/LGBTQIAP+
Publisher : Quill Tree Books
Release Date : September 2, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

Headlines:
Being a man
Being respected
Being brave
Tissues needed

This book grew and grew to steal my heart completely. This was a gently building story but it hit such a cresendo of feelings, I was almost overwhelmed. You need to know going into this that there are triggers a-plenty (feel free to DM me or check other reviews).

Pony was a stunning character, starting afresh as a male and he wanted to pass, without any drama. That whole approach came with a bucket load of problems which on the one hand Pony took in his stride but my heart hurt for him. His connection with Georgia, the cheerleader was sweet and real. What I particularly liked about this story of these two, was the reality, the rejections, the learning, the raw-ness.

The was a really difficult background story with Pony’s family but he had the sister of sisters in Rocky. She was an epic character. Max, his trans friend really upset me with his actions and that whole plot had me angry and crying.

That was only the start of my crying jag because this story hit a realistic fever pitch that shredded my emotions. I felt every single pain in my heart.

Stay Gold was a beautiful story despite it’s heartbreak. I will remember this story, these characters and I have learnt a little more of the experiences of trans people through Pony. This was beautifully written and had a light-hearted feel to it through Pony’s character which really balanced the tough stuff. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Pride Book Tours and the publisher for the review copy.

UNDER THE WHISPERING DOOR by TJ Klune – double review!

Under the Whispering Door is a contemporary fantasy with TJ Klune’s signature “quirk and charm” (PW) about a ghost who refuses to cross over and the ferryman he falls in love with.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, this absorbing tale of grief and hope is told with TJ Klune’s signature warmth, humor, and extraordinary empathy.


Title : Under the Whispering Door
Author : TJ Klune
Format : ARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ fantasy
Publisher : Tor Books
Release Date : September 21, 2021/October 28, 2021

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


Hollis’ 4 star review

Anyone else find they go back to the cover of a book they’ve just read and notice things they didn’t before? Because it me.

Here, at the end, he’d found a friend.

Surprising no one, this book made me cry. A lot.

I can’t grieve for myself.”
Of course you can. We do it all the time, regardless of if we’re alive or not, over the small things and the big things. Everyone is a little bit sad all the time.”

If you’ve read the synopsis for this one, there honestly isn’t a whole lot more I can say without ruining everything. But this story deals with grief, death, and the unfortunate reality of hindsight and perspective; and how often it occurs to us too late. But it’s also about being a better person, or trying to be, even if — especially if — there’s no benefit to you. Just doing the right thing because it’s what should be done.

What if across the top, written in bold letters (and in Comic Sans!) was a summation of Wallace Price’s life that was less than flattering? HE DIDN’T DO A WHOLE LOT, BUT HE HAD NICE SUITS! or, worse, NOT THAT GREAT, IF I’M BEING HONEST.

For all the tears, and for all the story is saying something lovely, though not particularly profound — though maybe the simplicity makes it profound? you decide — I’ll admit that, some fun antics with the characters who live in this bizarre tea house side, there was only so much that could happen, that we could see play out. The journey is mostly internal for Wallace, our lead, to relive moments of his life, to relearn things he had forgotten, to be better. We do sort’ve go through some motions, which makes sense because, I mean, he’s dead, all he has is motions to go through, but this story is almost all character-driven. There is more action, more excitement, near the end, though. Both related to, but also not, to all my tears. There’s one character, Cameron, well.. yeah, lots of tears for that one.

Honesty was a weapon. It could be used to stab and tear and spill blood upon the earth. Wallace knew that; he had his fair share of blood on his hands because of it. But it was different now. He was using it upon himself, and he was flayed open because of it, nerve endings exposed.

You’ll definitely find some Klune-esque humour, though not quite to the extremes he can often get, and some of his characters — Mei, Nelson — all but leap off the page in your face. As much as I enjoyed Wallace, and Hugo, they weren’t my favourites; and seeing as the story focuses the most of them, that might be why this isn’t a full five stars. Their parts were sometimes lovely, moving, and often sweet. But when I think back on this story, which I’m sure I will, they won’t be the first ones to come to mind.

We don’t murder people.
Maim, then.”
We don’t do that either.
Nothing’s stopping us. You told me that we should always try and achieve our dreams.
I didn’t have murder in mind when I told you that.”
That’s because you think too small.”

Full of thoughtful exploration and devastating observations, tea, and equal parts cozy and sad and strange, as long as you don’t go thinking this is another The House in the Cerulean Sea — though you may see a little blink and you miss it throwaway reference to it, and another of Klune series or two — I think you’ll really appreciate this story. But don’t forget to pack the tissues.

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


Micky’s 5 star review

Headlines:
Bruised but full heart
Whimsical beauty within
For tea-lovers

I’m sitting staring at my screen trying to find the words, after reading all the beautiful words in Under the Whispering Door. This story of Wallace’s journey from life and to the beyond captured my mind and my heart completely; I did not want to let go.

This story is about loneliness, finding a famiy and purpose while also finding out about the secrets beyond life, at least a fantastical representation of that. I thought what Klune has created here was poignant, whimsical, emotional and incredibly funny at times. Considering the themes of death and grief, the wit balanced out all the things, as did the characters.

This world was a surprise around every corner, from Mei to the tea plants and the manager to the door. The story of the husks was especially gut wrenching. The connection between Wallace and Hugo was something special, hearts pounded, love abounded and that was just me…

I cried, I laughed and I treasured. Just do yourself a favour and pick this book up.

Thank you to Tor and Black Crow PR for the precious review copy.

ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS by Rainbow Rowell

In Carry On, Simon Snow and his friends realized that everything they thought they understood about the world might be wrong. And in Wayward Son, they wondered whether everything they understood about themselves might be wrong.

In Any Way the Wind Blows, Simon and Baz and Penelope and Agatha have to decide how to move forward.

For Simon, that means deciding whether he still wants to be part of the World of Mages — and if he doesn’t, what does that mean for his relationship with Baz? Meanwhile Baz is bouncing between two family crises and not finding any time to talk to anyone about his newfound vampire knowledge. Penelope would love to help, but she’s smuggled an American Normal into London, and now she isn’t sure what to do with him. And Agatha? Well, Agatha Wellbelove has had enough.

Any Way the Wind Blows takes the gang back to England, back to Watford, and back to their families for their longest and most emotionally wrenching adventure yet.

This book is a finale. It tells secrets and answers questions and lays ghosts to rest.

Carry On was conceived as a book about Chosen One stories; Any Way the Wind Blows is an ending about endings. About catharsis and closure, and how we choose to move on from the traumas and triumphs that try to define us. 


Title : Any Way the Wind Blows
Author : Rainbow Rowell
Series : Simon Snow (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 579
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : July 6, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

After book two, I didn’t think this series could actually come back from where it had (and hadn’t) gone. I thought the magic was quite literally gone from both characters (some literally) and this world and my heart.

And then this one happened. Sure, my expectations were in the ground and maybe that helped but this did so many things right and in ways I’m actually finding hard to articulate. Which is one thing that wasn’t missing from this book : communication.

Overall, though, everything just felt.. more fun. Not lighthearted by any means but there were moments of joy and sweetness, absolutely. There’s no real baddie to battle but instead these characters are fighting for each other and for themselves and for a future, and a love, and that was really well done. There are still some reveals, still something of a villain, so there’s definitely some plot driving this and all of it is just really well balanced.

My one complaint might be the ending. Because it doesn’t feel like one, it feels a bit abrupt, but I don’t know how it could’ve made better, either. So there’s that.

Now that we have this finale I would like to one day reread, even if it means slogging through book two, only to see if, in hindsight, something about that middle instalment works. But also because now that it’s over.. I want to live it, again.

If, like me, book two put you off or made you hesitant to complete this.. give it a go. Pick it up. I do not think you’ll regret coming back to this world.

BLACKOUT by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

Six critically acclaimed, bestselling, and award-winning authors bring the glowing warmth and electricity of Black teen love to this interlinked novel of charming, hilarious, and heartwarming stories that shine a bright light through the dark.

A summer heatwave blankets New York City in darkness. But as the city is thrown into confusion, a different kind of electricity sparks…

A first meeting. 

Long-time friends. 

Bitter exes. 

And maybe the beginning of something new.

When the lights go out, people reveal hidden truths. Love blossoms, friendship transforms, and new possibilities take flight.

Beloved authors—Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon—celebrate the beauty of six couples and the unforgettable magic that can be found on a sweltering starry night in the city.


Title : Blackout
Author : Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 256
Genre : contemporary / diverse reads
Publisher : Quill Tree Books
Release Date : June 22, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : unrated


Hollis’ unrated review

I’m leaving this unrated and instead rating the stories separately with mini reviews.

Tiffany D Jackson’s story, The Long Walk, is the main driving force of these interconnected stories of Black kids during a city-wide blackout, with four parts that break up the anthology. This story focuses on a couple who have since broken up and both happen to arrive an internship there’s only one spot for. Before it can be resolved, the blackout hits. With nothing else to do, they agree to walk home together and, along the way, hash out their issues. This definitely got a bit overwrought at times, I’m mostly thinking of Act Three, and maybe I’m just used to Jackson’s more mature stories but this felt very.. young, on the childish end of YA, despite the fact that the characters were eighteen. And it’s such a bummer as I’ve loved so many stories from this author. But this one just didn’t do it. Two stars.

Mask Off by Nic Stone : a coming out/coming of age short between two boys who weren’t ever quite friends but were in each other’s orbit throughout the years. Until a queer masquerade party brings them together.. in a way. But it isn’t until they are stuck on the train together when the blackout hits that the masks (not literally!) come off. Honestly, this one was just.. fine. Nothing really remarkable. Two stars.

Made to Fit by Ashley Woodfolk : this short was set in an senior’s living facility, where two girls, one the granddaughter of a resident and the other, who visits the seniors with her therapy dog, meet. When a photo goes missing, the two girls search the home and, as they spend time together, sparks fly. This was a little too insta for me but it tied in with the theme of all the epic love stories being told around them. It was also a tiny bit repetitive RE the granddaughter’s sorta ex but it was cute. Three stars.

All the Great Love Stories.. and Dust by Dhonielle Clayton : hmm, sorta mixed feelings about this one. I love the idea of these two best friends with their history of bets combing through a library to find the greatest book of all time. She’s working up the courage to tell him how she feels and we get pieces of their history together; he’s got a revolving door of girlfriends, she never bothers. Does he feel for her what she feels for him? Again, love the concept, but some of this, despite being a novella, dragged out a bit. The pacing was a little off. But, still, it was cute. Three stars.

No Sleep Till Brooklyn by Angie Thomas : this short features a girl on a tour bus, on a school trip from Mississippi, struggling with feelings for her crush.. when she already has a boyfriend. I’m not going to say much more about this and risk spoiling it, because it didn’t end the way I expected, but the tie-in is that the driver is another character’s father and he may have accidentally gone off-route to drive them towards the block party happening in Brooklyn, where all the other characters we’ve met so far are also planning to attend. Four stars. And, in hindsight, though I loved Yoon’s writing best, this was my favourite story.

Seymour & Grace by Nicola Yoon : easily the best written of the bunch! And I enjoyed the story, too, even if it felt extra short. A girl is trying to find her way to the block party all the characters have made it to where she plans to confront her ex who dumped her because she’d “changed”. She ends up in a Ryde with someone listening to a philosophy podcast and they strike up a conversation; but it’s a rocky meeting. Things go wrong on the way to their destination but, eventually, they get there. And then.. well. Spoilers. I would’ve loved an extra chapter of this, instead of the extended Jackson story, and I’m sad it was so short. It’s a softer story but felt very Yoon-like. Which is a good thing. Four stars.

But while the little throw away tie-ins in Yoon’s story to bring everyone into the story, into the party, was nice, it still boggles my mind we didn’t get a concluding chapter that made it feel, after all this build up, that we were actually at this party?.That’s still confusing. It just kind of ends. Even though the Jackson wasn’t my favourite story, it held the anthology together, working as the glue. So couldn’t we have had a proper ending?

Overall, this wasn’t bad, but I expected to love a lot more from this bind-up than I did. So that’s a bit of a bummer. But I’ve not read anything by Woodfolk or Clayton before, though I’ve definitely had the latter on my radar, and I will definitely be picking up their solo offerings in the future.

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