In Deeper Waters (Mini Book Review)

I finished a reread of one of my favorite series and was loathe to move on. You know that feeling when you read something incredible and just want to stay in that world for as long as you can? It puts whatever you read next at a disadvantage. The series I didn’t want to leave? A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. My favorite character from that series is Alucard Emery, the mysteriously charming gay pirate who waltzes into the series in book two and quickly wins over both the other characters and the readers. There’s nothing precisely like A Darker Shade of Magic, but when I was looking for something to fill that hole it was with Alucard in mind that I picked in Deeper Waters by F.T. Lukens. It was already on my TBR, and from the outside looking in it looks a heck of a lot like a story about magic pirates and queer romance.

What’s it about?

Prince Tal has been hidden from the world his whole life because he possesses a kind of rare magic that he inherited from a power-mad ancestor who torched pretty much everyone and everything. Despite the fact that everyone is afraid of him and the family has been pretending that he’s sickly for his whole life, Tal is permitted to go on the traditional coming-of-age tour to see the world. While onboard his brother Garrett’s ship, Tal stumbles upon a stranded boy with a chest full of gold. The brothers rescue him and Garrett demands that the boy—Athlen—explain what is going on with the gold. Athlen refuses, charms Tal into releasing him with his magic, and disappears over the side of the boat. Tal is heartbroken, but that’s not the last time he hears from Athlen or the mysterious gold.

What’d I think?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

First of all, there’s significantly less pirate nonsense than I expected. This seems to be a trend with me. I go into things expecting silly pirate shenanigans and then I don’t get them. Every couple of months I’ll read something and be like I wanted pirate stuff and all I got was romance. Chalk up another one for that category. All things considered, Tal and Athlen don’t spend a whole lot of time asea. Even when they are, Garrett is the head of the navy, so all their seafaring is legit. 

Like my last disappointing pirate read, In Deeper Waters skews more toward romance. Yes, it has some magical and political shenanigans, but mostly it is about Tal and Athlen falling in love. But also they fall in love pretty much immediately, almost at first sight, which means that a lot of the plot is the two guys just being like “I’ll protect you because I like you!” “No I’ll protect you because I like you!” 

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My Dearest Darkest (Book Review)

Every month Barnes and Noble picks several books of the month, and I almost always try to read one of them. For April, I read My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham. It could have gone either way because on one hand it is a LGBTQ+ fantasy novel, which is right in my wheelhouse, and on the other hand it’s a horror novel and historically I haven’t done well with horror. 

What’s it about?

After auditioning for a prestigious school, Finch and her parents are driven off the road by an eight-eyed deer and drowned… but Finch survives her death only to discover that a strange ghost is offering magical boons to schoolgirls in exchange for an increased connection to their world. As the ghostly woman gets more demanding and dangerous, Finch and her new friends—including popular dancer Selena and cryptoid enthusiast Simon—must find out what and who she is and how to stop her before bloody history repeats itself. 

What’d I think?

I’ve spent my whole life thinking that I’m a horror wimp. Disney villains terrified me far beyond when it is socially acceptable to be terrified of Disney villains, and I had nightmares for months after watching not-that-scary movies like The Prestige and Angels and Demons. When I read Native Son as a senior in high school, I had to leave it on the sofa overnight because I couldn’t sleep with it in my room. So any time I hear that something is scary or actually creepy, I assume that it will be too much for me. I was very concerned when I kept reading reviews of My Dearest Darkest that reiterated how it’s legitimately scary, not just YA scary. 

I’m starting to think I may need to reassess my own wimpiness, because with one exception at around page 200, My Dearest Darkest didn’t particularly scare me. It has some gross moments, and the body horror is strong in some points. I wouldn’t necessarily want to read it while I was eating, but it’s also not one that made me lose any sleep or anything like that. Is it not scary or am I just not a wimp anymore? I’m not really sure. 

I read an interesting thing from Kayla Cottingham in which she talked about how she used to be a fan of Lovecraftian horror before turning to a slightly different genre, cosmic horror, which makes space for the types of people—women, people of color, queer people, disabled people, etc.—that Lovecraft othered and made monstrous. It was an interesting read.

The best thing I can say for My Dearest Darkest is that it keeps you reading. I did want to know what would happen next. I was fascinated and horrified to find out what Nerosi really wanted from the girls she was dealing with. I supported Finch and Selena’s romance and was eager to see it unfold. So the base story, for the most part, worked. 

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One Italian Summer (Book Review)

Another month, another book club book. One of my coworkers read this one ahead of me and promised that it wasn’t depressing or traumatic, so I knew that One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle was going to be a step up from what I’d been reading recently for the club. I’d also heard good things about Serle’s previous novel In Five Years, so I was cautiously optimistic.

What’s it about?

Katy had a very intimate relationship with her mother, so Carol’s death left Katy absolutely devastated. Without her mother to show her what to do and how to live, Katy barely knows who she is and finds herself questioning everything… including her marriage of nearly a decade. Unsure what else to do, Katy decides to follow through on the two-week trip to Italy she and and her mother had planned to take before Carol’s death. Leaving her grieving father and husband behind, Katy checks into her Italian hotel… and unexpectedly runs into a young, healthy, and very much alive Carol.

What’d I think?

There is one short passage in One Italian Summer that really describes the whole novel. Here’s that passage:

I eat. And eat and eat.

“I could constantly consume food here,” I say. 

Well, it almost describes the whole novel. Remove the word ‘could’ and you have a brilliant summary of literally everything that happens in this book:

I eat. And eat and eat.
“I constantly consume food here,” I say. 


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Kiss and Tell (Book Review)

Is there anything better than one of your favorite writers releases a new book? Well, Adib Khorram—who wrote the brilliant Darius the Great is Not Okay— just published his new novel Kiss and Tell. I would’ve read Khorram’s newest book regardless of what it was about, but I was particularly excited by the premise of Kiss & Tell (I love books that touch on fandom, as I am a huge fangirl), and it did not disappoint. 

What’s it about?

Hunter Drake is a singer/songwriter in the gigantically popular Canadian boyband Kiss & Tell. They are about to kick off a national tour of the US when Hunter’s ex-boyfriend Aidan leaks some of Hunter’s old texts that reveal that their relationship wasn’t as chaste and G-rated as he—and more importantly, The Label—had previously acknowledged. Hunter finds himself in a PR maelstrom, and his team quickly moves to rehabilitate his image to be more easily palatable to his primarily straight fanbase, including setting up a fresh, controlled romance for him. 

What’d I think?

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Before reading Kiss & Tell, I’d seen some reviews that indicated that it is a significantly different book than either Darius the Great is Not Okay or Darius the Great Deserves Better. On surface level, that’s clearly true, as the Darius books tell a very internal and culturally rooted story of a regular boy while Kiss and Tell follows a celebrity playing out his personal crises on the world stage. Ultimately, though, they’re not so drastically different. The emotional heart and complex interplay between internal self-worth and external validation are strong in both. Darius is more about Iranian culture with a minor sprinkling of queerness and Kiss & Tell is the opposite, mostly focused on queer issues but with an eye out of intersectionality and race. Would someone who didn’t know these were written by the same author be able to tell immediately without being given clues? Maybe not, but that’s a good thing. It proves that Khorram isn’t a one-trick pony. 

At its heart, Kiss & Tell is about the commodification of queerness. There are a lot of openly gay celebrities out there these days, but Khorram deliberately puts his protagonist in a place where there still aren’t many of them: the modern boyband. Anyone can enjoy boybands, but there’s no question that their primary demographic is young straight girls. For that reason, Hunter’s Label keeps a particularly close eye on his public persona. 

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March 2022 Wrap-Up

Happy April, everyone! I hope you had a good March and that you read some good books. I somewhat uncharacteristically read lots of new releases and graphic novels, neither of which is characteristic for me.

Here’s what I read…

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye

This book is basically if you took the African fantasy setting from Children of Blood and Bone and combined it with the bloody intensity of The Hunger Games. It is a bold, confident debut novel that taps into racial trauma and rage to tell a story that is uncomfortably real but powerfully magical.

Full review here

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

I’ve heard that this is actually a retelling of The Brothers Karamazov, and people’s opinions about it seem to depend on whether or not they’ve read it. Those who have see The Family Chao as a cleverly done homage to the Russian classic. Those who haven’t are bothered by stereotypical elements, unlikable characters, and iffy pacing. I have not read The Brothers Karamazov, and unsurprisingly I fall into that latter group. The Family Chao didn’t do it for me. It’s not terrible, but I didn’t like it all that much and it really just made me crave Chinese food.

Full review here

Love and Freindship: And Other Youthful Writings by Jane Austen

If you’re wondering how much I love Austen… my puppy’s name is Darcy

I adore Jane Austen, and while I’ve read all her official novels and most of her more popular unfinished work—Lady Susan, Sanditon—I’d never gone deeply into her early work. Knowing that, a friend gave me a pretty version of Love and Freindship, a collection of Austen’s childhood writing. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it a great read on its own, it is fascinating from the standpoint of a writer and longtime Austen fan. Even in the earliest writing, you can see glimmers of the writer who would eventually produce the novels we all know and love. I thought the pathways to Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility seemed particularly clear. Austen’s love of parody and satire was borne young, and her stories are funny and surprisingly dark. Not being a historian, I also really appreciated the notes and cultural references that are clarified in the back, because the information back there is fascinating and added a dimension to the work that I would have entirely missed without it. For what it’s worth, though: if I ever get super famous and someone decides to posthumously release all my young writing… don’t feel like you have to preserve my spelling errors.

Heartstopper Vol. 3 & 4 by Alice Oseman

I adore Alice Oseman’s novels. They’re incredible and Oseman is easily one of my favorite writers. I’ve been pushing her books for years, so it has been really exciting to see her popularity blow up in the last few months. I’m less delighted that it’s Heartstopper that’s climbing the charts and making it to Netflix, though. Don’t get me wrong: Heartstopper is sweet. It’s cute. I enjoyed it a lot, but when I compare it to her other novels—particularly Solitaire, as it is where Nick and Charlie originated—I’m disappointed. If I were to summarize my favorite things about Oseman’s novels, I’d go with the diversity (particularly her inclusion of criminally underrepresented groups like asexuals), the way she deftly handles mental health, and the complex relationship her characters have with growing up in the modern world. At least in volumes I and II, Heartstopper doesn’t engage with those themes quite as much. It’s fun to see Nick and Charlie fall in love, but one of my favorite things about them initially is the way that Oseman navigates their relationship concurrently with Charlie’s OCD and anorexia. Heartstopper is straightforward and happy, which is great, but it’s not really what I read Oseman for.

Then a coworker told me that volumes III and IV start to engage with Charlie’s mental health, and I got interested again. That plus the recently announced TV show release date (April 22) told me that it was time to reengage, so I did. I’m glad I did, because I like these volumes better. I like the increased presence of the boys’ friends and family members, including Radio Silence‘s Aled and Solitaire‘s Tori and Michael. I like the increased focus on Charlie’s health, particularly since it engages important subjects like the fact that romantic love can’t fix mental health issues and that mental health issues do not make one unlovable. I like that the story engages with LGBTQ+ issues like the difficulties of repeatedly coming out in different situations to different people, continually, forever. I like that the secondary cast is diverse (there’s a pair of lesbians, a Black girl, a trans girl, and an Asian guy). I like that Nick’s cute dog gets more pagetime and that he gets a second cute dog. I still don’t love Heartstopper as much as I do Oseman’s more traditional (yet more groundbreaking, in my opinion) novels, but my affection for it has certainly increased. I just hope that eventually the enthusiasm for Heartstopper extends to Oseman’s other work (and makes it easier to find in the US faster)!

The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

Yes, apparently I was into reading graphic novels this month. I don’t do that often, but occasionally I step outside my comfort zone. I’m still not great at it, but I’m getting better! This book is on the shortlist for the Barnes and Noble YA book of the year, and I decided I’d pick it up. Ideally I’d read all the nominees—I eventually want to read The Sky Blues, Ace of Spades, and potentially Iron Widow—but this one was short enough that I could knock it out in less than an hour. It’s the story of a closeted young lesbian who, thinking she’s dreaming, kisses a selkie and thereby grants her the ability to walk on land. What follows is a sweet story that is part romance, part uncomfortable coming-of-age, and part call to environmental action. It feels a bit like a Little Mermaid retelling, but is ultimately its own thing. It’s very cute and very quick, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in queer graphic novels.

Loveless by Alice Oseman

I told you I love Oseman! In honor of Loveless finally getting released in the US and being picked as the BN YA book club, I decided that it was high time for a reread. It’s a really great platonic love story, and we need more of those. It’s also a really great coming out story. There just aren’t a lot of aroace protagonists, so having a novel with not one but several ace characters (Georgia, Sunil, Jess, Ellis, and arguably even Jason) is incredible. Rereading it, I also found and enjoyed a bunch of fun Easter eggs. Georgia reads Jimmy/Rowan fanfiction and listens to Universe City. Just those tiny references have really put me in the mood to reread the rest of her books. They’re just so thoughtful and lovely. Loveless still isn’t my favorite—I love it a lot, but a lot of it feels like visiting my own brain and calling it fiction—but it’s still great and I’m super excited that it’s getting mainstream attention. And how cute is that new cover!?

Full review here

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I’d been meaning to read this book ever since I found out that it is author Maggie Stiefvater’s favorite of her own work. It’s no secret that I am a huge Raven Cycle fan, so I was interested to see what it was like. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I expected or hoped to. I mean, I LOVED Ronan, Adam, Noah, Gansey, and Blue. I would read about them just sitting around doing nothing. So it was a little disappointing to go into The Scorpio Races expecting to fall in love with the characters and walk away feeling largely ambivalent. I cared a bit. I didn’t root for them to fail or anything, and I wanted them to get what they were after, but I wouldn’t have been deeply devastated if it didn’t end with a happily-ever-after. It’s always a risk when there’s a romance at the heart of a story. If you don’t buy Puck and Sean together, their novel isn’t going to hit right and even though I liked them both and supported them individually, I simply couldn’t get invested in their teamwork or their relationship. Still a good book, but I’m not exactly itching for a sequel (which is for the best, since it’s a standalone).

Full review here

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

This was a book club pick, so I never expected to adore it. For what it’s worth, I liked it more than previous book club books, and I did read it relatively quickly. Divorced from the comparisons to actively bad books, One Italian Summer looks pretty good. Against books generally it doesn’t fare as well, as the emotional core of the story is lost in the countless descriptions of food and clothing. I don’t care how good at packing someone is; there’s no way someone could pack that many pairs of shoes for a vacation. The main character seems to change clothes for every meal, and she has a meal at least every one or two pages. It’s frustrating, and would be frustrating enough even without the weirdly codependent relationship our protagonist has with her mother and the half-hearted and quickly-reached conclusion. If you like reading food descriptions and are deeply nostalgic for the Amalfi Coast, by all means check out One Italian Summer. If you don’t and aren’t, this is certainly not a must-read.

Full review here

What did you read this month? Did you find any new releases that you particularly loved?