A Throne of Swans is the first book in Katharine and Elizabeth Corr’s new marvelous YA fantasy duology inspired by Swan Lake, but with its own incredible world building, intrigues and amazing characters. I’m so in love with this book! I couldn’t agree more with the quote on the cover, that this is “A dark and glittering fairytale to make your heart take flight”. This amazing fantasy tale is full to the brim with mysteries, royal and political intrigues, love, friendship and betrayal, trauma, loss and hope. It draws you in from the very first page and is completely unputdownable until the very end.
The world building in this book is so rich, detailed and unique. I love the whole concept of the royal descendants and nobility being able to transform into birds of their heritage, and the wonderful and well-written characters. I immediately rooted for the compelling protagonist, Alderyn. Still suffering from the trauma after witnessing the death of her mother she hasn’t been able to transform into her swan shape for many years. When also her father dies just before her eighteenth birthday, she inherits the throne and role as Protector of Atratys. To protect her kingdom and keep her subjects safe, she must keep her flightless status a secret, and fight for her right at the corrupt royal court. The only advice she has to guide her in the new and secretive world full of hidden agendas, whispers and rumors, is from her clerk, Lucien, to “not trust anyone”. Not even him. An advice harder to follow than could be expected… Every time Alderyn was on her own without Lucien I was so nervous for the consequences of her decisions. Katharine and Elizabeth Corr sure put Alderyn through so much hardship, sorrows and tough choices! My heart ached for her so many times. But her character development was amazing; from an innocent, sheltered and naive teen, to a strong, mature and thoughtful ruler willing to make sacrifices for her subjects and for finding out the truth of her mother’s death. I also loved Alderyn’s compassion and empathy for the flightless and the way her relationships with her clerk Lucien and her cousins Odette and Aron developed into friendship and mutal respect (and something more for one person…) during the story.
This story is wonderfully dark, much more than I first expected, and does not shy away from difficult topics such as trauma, abuse, betrayal and grief, but always in a hopeful and compassionate way. It’s such a suspenseful story, with layer upon layer of deceit and unexpected twists and turns, that everything felt on a knife edge from start to finish. On the same time, it’s a fast paced and humorous story with a sweet, lovely romance that gets you so invested. I cannot wait to find out how the story thickens and what happens to Aderyn, Odette, Lucien and Aron, but at the same time I’m so scared to get my heart broken and what hardship the authors have in mind for my favorite OTP…
All in all, this is a breathtakingly wonderful YA fantasy book, with strong and loveable characters, a unique world building, intrigues, secrets and betrayals, and forbidden love, that I recommend with all my heart!
Find out more about the book and the authors here: The Corr Sisters
The Music of What Happens is a beautiful, emotional story of two very different teenage boys meeting by chance and ending up spending the summer together to fix a food truck mess. In the course of the summer, they discover not only the attraction for each other, but trust and comfort, and the courage to face their biggest fears.
This book is at the same time funny and heartbreaking. Despite dealing with some pretty heavy subjects, such as addiction, parental neglect and even rape, it is nevertheless a truly wonderful, breathtaking and hopeful story. It also feels absolutely authentic and real, with amazing characters.
The main characters, Max and Jordan, literally leapt off the pages and took hold of my heart from the very first moment. There is some remarkable personal growth in them both along the way and there are so many layers to their characters. As it was in all characters in this book; there are some wonderful secondary players in the boys’ mothers and their group of friends. They were all real persons, with flaws, good and bad sides (Jordan’s mother had mostly bad ones, but I won’t go into much into that as I don’t want to spoil anything).
What I especially loved about this book was how different Max and Jordan were from one another, but how the attraction between them nevertheless felt completely real and natural. Max on the one hand was the cool, easy-going jock. Capable and popular, but with a tendency to bottle his feelings and “warrior up” like his father always told him to. Jordan on the other hand, was the shy and awkward emo guy, suffering from low self-esteem and the chaos and grief caused by his father’s death and his mother’s gambling problems. But the way they complement and support each other was so wonderful; I loved how Jordan taught Max to open up and become more vulnerable, and how Max in his turn helped Jordan to stand up for himself.
This book really shows the problems with toxic masculinity and the importance of admitting and sharing your problems. Even a tough and strong jock can get raped, and the built-up anger and fear, the feeling of not being able to breath, won’t go away until you face it. It was so well described how Max tried to push all thoughts away, but how they still affected him, and how he questioned his own actions.
All in all, I absolutely loved this book, even though it almost broke my heart at some points, and I know that it will stay with me for a long time! It reminds me a bit of another favorite book of mine, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, so if you’re a fan of that book you will definitely love this one as well!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Bill Konigsberg
A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a coming-of-age story following Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl, in the extremely turbulent times after 9/11. Tired of all the rude stares, degrading comments, even the physical violence, she’s met with, Shirin has built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother and his friends. Until she meets Ocean, who sees her for who she is behind the stereotypes and refuses to let her rejection keep him from getting to know her better. Slowly, slowly he manages to break down her walls. (Yes, the title of the book is a very clever and poetic way of naming the book after Shirin’s love interest.)
I loved the first books in The Shatter Me-series by Tahereh Mafi and her unique, beautiful writing style just blew me off. So when I found out that she had written a new book with a Muslim main character who is completely herself, I had such high expectations of another wonderful breathtaking reading experience. Unfortunately though, the writing style is not at all the same in this book. The language is much more plain and nowhere near the feverish, raw, amazing way in which The Shatter Me-series was written.
Story-wise, I also feel that this book could have been so much more. I have settled for a 3 star rating of this book, since it on the one hand was very emotional and heart-breaking, showing Shirin’s anger and frustration at all the injustice and prejudice she’s suffering, but on the other hand, I didn’t connect with Shirin and the story was written in a tell-not-show-way while leaving too much out to make you fully invested in the story. There was so much more I wanted to know; like how could her parents be both so controlling and yet so disturbingly uninterested in her struggles, how was Shirin’s connection to her faith, did she pray, what did she think about kissing and being with a non-Muslim boy from that perspective, and more about the friendship with her breakdance-crew. I understand why Shirin kept everyone at arm’s length, but as a reader it was frustrating not to learn more about her thoughts and considerations. It also made the romance less real, less emotional, than it could have been. Ocean was adorable, so sweet and kind, but you never got really close to him either. It was as if he was too perfect to be a real person somehow. I wish it could have been more of Shirin actually seeing Ocean playing basket and being with his friends, to allow us readers to see him through her eyes. The romance and the story felt rushed, and I couldn’t invest emotionally in it as much as I’d like to, especially considering that it was such a huge part of the book.
Still, A Very Large Expanse of Sea is an important, emotional book dealing with racism in post-9/11 America, showing the anger, pain and struggle that a Muslim teenager may have to deal with and how horrible, hateful, mean and prejudice people can be. And even though the romance part wasn’t one of my favorites, the sibling relationship between Shirin and her older brother Navid was. I think Navid is now one of my favorite book brothers of all time. He was so protective of her, but also so supportive in the decisions she made. I just wish that the book had been MORE. More of Shirin’s sense of identity, her religious and cultural beliefs. More of her friendship with the breakdancing crew. More of the relationship with her brother and parents. This book had the potential of being the THUG for a Muslim main character, but unfortunately it did not live up to that. Still, I’m really happy that this book exists for Muslim teens to identify with and for opening the eyes of readers to all the horrible islamophobia in the world.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Tahereh Mafi
After reading Defensive Play by Jamie Deacon, she kindly sent me her new Boys on the Brink-story, Off Course, in exchange for an honest review. Since I loved Defensive Play so much, I couldn’t wait but dived into this book right away! And loved it just as much!
Off Course is an adorable short story about seventeen-year-old Jason Connor, the star of the cross country team, and his arch enemy Tarek “Taz” Bahrani. The first time Jason laid his eyes on the new team mate Taz, he was immediately intrigued by him; suddenly his stomach was full of butterflies just because Taz smiled at him. But the connection Jason thought they had, turned out to be a scheme to gain competitive advantage. Taz’s betrayal at their first race made Jason retaliate in a way that turned them into sworn enemies ever since. So when an injured ankle leaves him stranded in the woods with no means of calling for aid, the last person he wishes to find him is Taz… But what really happened that day six months ago? Who betrayed who? Forced together in the woods as a thunder storms breaks lose, they can’t avoid talking about the event that drew them apart, and maybe, mabye find a way back to each other again.
Just like Defensive Play, this is another lovely, sweet and heartwarming story about first love. Even though it’s a short story, Jamie Deacon manages to craft characters that you immediately root for. After reading two of the books in the LGBT YA series Boys on the Brink in just one day, I recommend it with all my heart and can’t wait to continue reading more of Jamie Deacon’s adorable books!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Jamie Deacon
“One glance is all it takes to bring his defences crashing down…”
Defensive Play is my first Jamie Deacon-book but certainly not my last! This novella drew me in from the very first sentence and kept me in a feverish grip the whole way through. Now I can’t wait to discover more of Jamie Deacon’s LGBTQ+ fiction for young adults!
Defensive Play is a very quick read, something to be read in a single sitting. It’s a novella only about 80 pages or so, but oh my how Jamie Deacon manages to tell a wholesome story and describe the characters and make you root for them on those few pages! Reading this book was a pure pleasure. It’s emotional, sweet and realistic and focuses on the gentle romance between two teenage boys, Davey and Adam.
Seventeen-year-old Davey is shy, anxious and does not makes friend easily, but has nevertheless earned respect and acceptance at school for his soccer skills. He is deep in his closet though; afraid of his teammates’ rejection, he’s kept the fact that he is gay a secret from everyone, even his own family. But when he meets Adam at a soccer tournament, the ache is too strong to resist. One look and sparks start to flare between them and Davey has to make a choice. Should he follow his heart and take a chance on finding love and happiness with Adam, or should he stay closeted and not risk losing his teammates, the closest thing to friends he has ever known?
It was really refreshing to see two such different characters in a sport setting, and that both Davey and Adam felt like real teenager, with a lot of depth and that neither of them was casted as a stereotypical nerd or jock, but a little of both. The way Davey feared not being liked and respected for who he is was so relatable. And even if Adam was confident, popular and comfortable with his sexuality, he had his own heart-ache and pain to deal with. It was so amazing to feel the chemistry between them and the way they complemented each other. I also really liked that there was no forced outing and that Adam didn’t put any pressure on Davey in that respect, but realized that it was all Davey’s decision if and when he felt ready for it.
Overall, this was a lovely, sweet and heartwarming story about first love and coming out that I recommend with all my heart! My only wish is that Jamie Deacon will let us read more about Davey and Adam in the future, I have not had enough of them. Not by close…
Find out more about the book and the author here: Jamie Deacon
The Demon World is the sequel to the wonderful, adorable and adventurous The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green.
Just like in The Smoke Thieves, this book has five main POV characters: Catherine, Ambrose, Tash, Edyon and March. In the first book I thought all of the POVs were a little too much at first, but now that you know all the characters better it was no problem at all.
The writing, the characters and the plot was really good this time around as well and there was a lot of action going on. Nevertheless, it did feel like not as much happened in this book as in The Smoke Thieves and I didn’t connect as much to the romance between Princess Catherine and Ambrose this time. To be honest, I didn’t like the way Catherine treated him at times, and I also think there might be another way Catherine could go relationship-wise in the next book, if we get to see more of Prince Tzsayn there... I really missed his character in this book!
All in all, this was a good read, but it suffered a bit from the typical second book syndrome. It felt a lot like Sally Green was moving her characters into position for the grand finale in the third book. So I’m definitely eagerly awaiting it to see what happens in the end!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Sally Green
The Stranger I Knew is a wonderful novella, a psychological YA mystery with a twist you do not see coming. It reminds me a bit of Dennis Lehane’s books; it’s a story where nothing is what it seems and as a reader you start to question what is real and what is just a dream, and if you can even trust the narrator at all. It’s so clever and brilliant and will keep you hooked all the way to the end!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Bound to Writing