They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

Publisher: Simon & Schuester
Release Date: 7th September 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

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When Mateo receives the dreaded call from Death-Cast, informing him that today will be his last, he doesn’t know where to begin. Quiet and shy, Mateo is devastated at the thought of leaving behind his hospitalised father, and his best friend and her baby girl. But he knows that he has to make the most of this day, it’s his last chance to get out there and make an impression. 

Rufus is busy beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Having lost his entire family, Rufus is no stranger to Death-Cast. Not that it makes it any easier. With bridges to mend, the police searching for him and the angry new boyfriend on his tail, it’s time to run.

Isolated and scared, the boys reach out to each other, and what follows is a day of living life to the full. Though neither of them had expected that this would involve falling in love… 

This is the first Adam Silvera novel where I haven’t cried, which is sad in itself because I love it when I cry at Adam Silvera novels. You’re supposed to cry; you’re supposed to have emotion pouring out of you. So while I enjoyed They Both Die At The End, there was always a small voice in the back of my head wondering why I don’t have butterflies in my stomach and my eyes not on the verge of tears.

I loved both Mateo and Rufus and how distinct their voices were. They definitely complimented each other and would have loved to see their relationship evolve, but I think it would have felt a little more realistic if maybe there was a bit more time in between them meeting and falling in love? I already had to suspend my disbelief with Death-Cast which, I really couldn’t, and it glared out at me while I was trying to concentrate on other part of the stories.

I want to point how happy I was when I found out that Rufus was bisexual. This isn’t a spoiler, a character’s sexuality isn’t a spoiler or a plot reveal, but it was so lovely to see the word used, to have a character to say that they are bisexual and to be proud and wear the label on their sleeve without any ‘I don’t use labels’ or ‘I’m just fluid’. Sometimes, people are bisexual, and characters who allude to be don’t say it enough in canon. So thankyou Adam Silvera. BISEXUAL VISIBILITY! *raises fist*

Great third novel by one of my favourite authors. But not my favourite novel by one of my favourite authors.

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Godsgrave (The Nevernight Chronicles #2) by Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: 7th September 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Mia Corvere, destroyer of empires, has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry do not believe she has earned it.

Her position is precarious, and she’s still no closer to exacting revenge for the brutal death of her family. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it is announced that Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself into slavery for a chance to fulfill the promise she made on the day she lost everything.

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Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold, secrets are revealed and the body count rises within the collegium walls, Mia will be forced to choose between her loyalties and her revenge.

WELL SHIT HAS CERTAINLY HIT THE FAN HASN’T IT LADS?

Falling in love with Nevernight was such a surprise for me. I hadn’t heard of it, was given an ARC, and fell head over heels with the language, concept, the setting, and just everything about it. I still can’t decide whether to call it YA or not, and whether it would be insulting to assume that this is not for adults just because of the violence, swearing and sexual scenes (like come on, young adults watch Game of Thrones, it’s not like they’re new to it), but at the same time, I can never find these books in the YA sections of bookstores, so the marketing is different, who knows.

But I’ve always shied away from adult fantasy because of some of the content; primarily male writers who can’t or won’t write female characters, with plots that are all just Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones regurgitated en masse. And while Nevernight and it’s sequel, Godsgrave, don’t have the most unique plot you’ve ever heard of, I am still enthralled by the twists and turns that this series has, and what it will do to keep you on your toes.

It’s getting better and better too, I cannot wait to stick this on lists of fantasy reads you SHOULD be reading this year and talking about it lots all over my social medias. If you love foul mouthed, bloody thirsty anti-heroines who possess the magic of shadows and will stop at nothing for revenge against the death of her family, including competing in one of the deadliest fighting matches in the country, then look no further than Mia Corvere.

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The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins)
Release Date: 27th June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

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Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

So this book was not what I expected, which, is kind of disappointing. But it doesn’t stop it from being a really fun adventure that made my need for LGBT+ Historical YA to sore through to the sky.

Judging from the synopsis, I imagined a ‘romp’. I think maybe that word was used once or twice in one lined reviews slapped on some promotional material. Yeah, ‘romp’ and ‘raucous’. I love, and I mean LOVE, cheeky male characters with soft hearts and giant smiles, and that’s definitely what Monty was in the beginning, in the very beginning, however. He’s just woken up after a huge piss up and he’s seeing the antiques from the night before. But, while I understand that character development and change are a thing in books where the character has to learn a lesson,I was disappointed that Monty was kind of carried through by his sister and his best friend, Felicity and Percy.

I expected a lot more laughs and silliness from a rather naive-to-the-world rich teenage boy going on a Grand Tour (which were quite an important thing for a young man before he became ‘responsible’), but what we got was a lot more serious and a bit boring.

Things I did love; Percy and Felicity defying expectations, stereotypes, and social norms of the time. Considering when you read historical fiction, authors don’t bother including POC characters at all and only have female characters as speaking mains if it’s a bodice ripper and they’re sleeping with a king/prince, so it was nice just to have them there, with plots and personality and futures! Oh my!

I did thoroughly enjoy this novel, despite the fairly critical review, and the fact that it took me a while to even write one. But, I think the synopsis could be worded a little differently just so you’re not surprised that you’re not laughing as much.

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A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 28th February 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise. Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive? Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible. And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

I always find it a lot harder to review books I adored as opposed to books I hated.

It’s harder because what do I say that doesn’t sound like I’m being a mushy, soppy loved up reader? With negative reviews I can be cold and professional, almost academic sounding with my shade, but when it comes to love, how can you turn it into a review?

Let’s talk about the series as a whole rather than this book itself, to avoid spoilers.

tumblr_omlwvhTmhw1u04fedo1_540I’ve fallen in love with the Shades of Magic series. I fall in love often but maybe not this hard, and especially not with a high fantasy series. High fantasy can often come across as samey and stereotypical, often missing great opportunities to do something different as this is a genre where the possibilities are endless. You are literally creating a world with the power of your brain and language, and yet so many books are filled with cliches and things you’ve seen before. Things that, though may seem relatable and familiar to our world, still aren’t what makes a story in high fantasy so imaginative and immersing.

But Shades of Magic has always been about spreading your imagination far and wide; different Londons, folded over one another like the pages of a book, in universes that are similar but also not, hiding secrets and magic and evil. Already, you’re handed that and you know already that this series is not like the others.

But then you get the characters who aren’t stock, aren’t just what would expect in a high fantasy novel. They’re all lovable, even the villains, even the side characters who still have enough agency and personality to be someone you can actually picture rather than just an extra. But obviously, the main characters; Kell and Lila Bard are funny, witty and you can feel comfortable going on this cut throat journey with them as they make it through multiple Londons, learning different languages, and becoming accustomed to different cultures.

And of course, A Conjuring of Light was the bittersweet ending that I wanted but also didn’t want, because it meant never waiting to see what happens next. This series has all my praise, and I guarantee you will love it too.

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

Publisher: Corgi
Release Date: July 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

After talking to myself (and anyone else who would listen), I’ve figured out what I liked and what I disliked about this book.

Firstly, about 90% of the book I thoroughly enjoyed. It was slow moving, but it just meant that the story was rich in setting, tension, political intrigue and showed how slow the process of rule and politics can be. I loved the characters, how complicated they were and how evil they could become.

But, unfortunately, a lot of that has been relegated to the bench because of how disappointing the romance was. The fact that there was romance alone made it so unfortunate and unnecessary. Is that how back stories to evil characters are? Do they always have a romance that was a bit sad and rubbish and that’s what makes them awful? I liked that Lada was clearly evil and nasty to begin with, but for a potential villain to ‘not know her emotions’ when it came to a boy was honestly just so boring.

And the fact that Radu, sweet and lovely Radu, is friendzoned (I hate this phrase, but I was annoyed for him in this sense) throughout the book and it’s just accepted. It’s a common theme that unrequited love is just a thing that has to happen for some, for who, however, I won’t spoil. Maybe I am just a salty person when it comes to a character not getting the love they deserve? There were so many instances where Radu could have been happy, and he always just chose the wrong way, and it infuriated me how obsessed and blindly in love he was.

It may seem that I HATED 90% of the book, but I still stand by what I said at the beginning.

This book was well written and drawn out superbly, and I am intrigued to see what happens in the next, but it was also really annoying.

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There’s Your Representation! Diversity & Responsibility

Earlier in the week, #JKRowlingisoverparty began trending on Twitter.

It seems that Twitter loves having parties celebrating the ending of a famous person’s relevancy. Which is ironic in itself, considering they’re partying to celebrate said person. But anyway.

Rowling (haha) my eyes and clicking on the hashtag, I wasn’t too sure what the topic was. I found myself liking a few conflicting tweets, and it wasn’t until some time later I realised what the reason for the hashtag actually was.

Sirius Black is not gay.

We’ve all done it; we’ve all had our fill of Harry Potter fanfiction. Whether it’s Dramione, Drarry, or Sirius/Lupin (Sirupin? Lupius?), we’ve all taken from the books we loved and shared our own little head canons together. I’ve always seen fanfiction as a celebration for works, and while many authors do not agree with that, it comes across that J.K. Rowling does agree.

A very common concept within fandoms is changing the sexuality of a character. There are many reasons why this may happen or why readers do this, but one glaringly obvious reason is the lack of LGBT representation within the majority of fiction. While I find YA in particular might be progressing towards a diverse community of characters, Harry Potter is still a hugely popular series with little to no diversity. It is literally a school of straight, white people. It’s not as if every character was described as white, but after almost all (bar 5, one of who was in one scene, and two who were hive mind love interests) characters in the films were cast as white, it hit the nail on the coffin.

Harry Potter is not diverse.

And so, Twitter. J.K. Rowling, in her Twitter bio, wrote an implicit answer to the question everyone was asking; is Sirius Black gay? It seemed the Twittersphere was split between praising an author for doing what she wants with HER characters, and the anger that an author, already with a series with little to no diversity, wants to deny even just a little bit of representation in her own works.

And it’s conflicted me too.

I read the books, watched the films, consumed every medium that had the words ‘Harry Potter’ in them. It wasn’t until I was older that I became disappointed that there were no Hogwarts students like me, or, in fact, like many other people apart from the obvious that dominates books and shows and movies. I still really enjoyed them, and that will not be taken away.

The outing of Dumbledore made it worse, because while people like to pipe on that there IS LGBT representation in HP, it was revealed that Dumbledore was gay after the series was over, in passing, during an interview. I’m sorry, but kids will not read that interview, and there is nothing in the text that says he is, or even hints at it. He obviously wasn’t gay when it was written, but maybe Rowling had been pressured to give representation, and instead of saying she would do better in the future, yelled “Here is your representation!” and gave us useless information that did nothing to contribute to the text.

As a reader, I am disappointed at all the opportunities that J.K. Rowling decided to side step for no reason.

As a writer, however, I pose a different argument.

Here you are, the writer. You are writing a story that is both epic and character driven. These characters are what you like to call ‘my babies’. They’re carefully crafted and you’ve thought of everything. Yes, many things are up to interpretation, such as skin colour maybe, or a character’s accent. You haven’t thought of each characters’ favourite types of cheese, but that’s OK.

You release said story into the world. People love it, and they create art and write stories and build a fandom surrounded by your work. The love is a gargantuan size and your so happy that people have found your work to be the grounding for how they connect and share. Your readers like to interpret the characters how they want; sometimes they make a straight character gay for their fanfiction, or draw a white character black.

But then, someone directly asks you if a certain character is gay. You’ve written the story, and you know they’re not, and that’s what you say; no, they’re not. Your readers get angry at your refusal to acknowledge their headcanons of your straight character. How dare you deny them the right of fair representation? And you’re there, stunned, because it’s not like you’ve refused them anything; they’re your characters as much as theirs…but the text. You’ve written the text, it’s done, that’s how you saw them. You appeal to them; the character is in a heterosexual relationship, maybe they’re bisexual instead? You talk about it, hoping they’ll get off your back for not including LGBT characters in your story.

It’s enough for some, but the rest are still disappointed.

You realise that you have to stick to your guns, because you can’t please everyone. This character is straight, you wrote them straight, and this is Word of God.

As a writer, I find representation is a given. I would not praise a writer for being diverse, but I do find it a bit weird when they’re not. While I wouldn’t do it to just make sure I’m inclusive and just for the sake of it, I would still feel a bit shitty if I made all my characters white and straight (and talk about boring too). But, at the same time, I can’t get too annoyed at a writer who has written a character a certain way. It is their character, and there are many other, more important reasons why you may dislike something in a book.

For example, the queerbaiting of Scorpius and Albus, which I’ll talk about in another post.

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You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LeCour

Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: June 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.youknowmewell

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

All I knew about this book before going in was that both main protagonists are gay and it’s set in San Francisco. I like that, I really do.

But this book had me asking more questions than just outright enjoying it.

It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s fairly dramatic at times when it needn’t be (putting that down to teenagers being teenagers) but overall, it’s an LGBTQ+ contemporary that is treated in the same way as a summer contemporary that’s about straight people and their romances and going off to college fear and the ‘future’ talks.

But I began tight rope walking around two ideas about the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters in, specifically, contemporary teen fiction. Because let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen often.

So, you have stereotypical plot lines, ones of coming out, of being the ‘gay best friend’ to the protagonist, of being pressured to be someone you’re not, of being in constant fear because it is what a lot of LGBTQ+ youth live through; fear, uncertainty, and distrust. Friends and family can turn against you, you can be hurt. But of course, it’s important to show hope and goodness in these novels too; characters who live happy and fulfilled lives, who become successful, where their sexuality is only a part of them and not the only thing that has to be written about them.

And this is where You Know Me Well fits in. I think every single character in this story is LGBTQ+, which is fantastic. But after reading a few tweets and other experiences with this and other novels, it got me wondering about the realism of a novel like this. A novel that portrays San Francisco as this LGBTQ+ bubble that has no conflict or struggle.

Ignorance and hate do not exist here, and while I would love, and I mean LOVE, for that society to exist, it does come into question whether or not erasing the struggle of LGBTQ+ youth is either an insult, or just a hopeful portrayal of the future. Although, this novel is set in today’s society (contemporary, after all.

I’m going to take this with a pinch of salt, because I genuinely did enjoy the fact that the characters were ultimately happy and fulfilled, as well as dealing with ‘normal’ teenage things that you might find in your bog-standard teen contemporary, rather than struggling with their sexuality; they know they’re queer, now let’s move on to the ACTUAL teen dramas like “WHY DIDN’T HE TEXT ME BACK??”

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