A cute bisexual romance for fall: Never ever getting back together, by Sophie Gonzales

Sophie Gonzales’s latest YA romance

It’s no secret that I loved Sophie Gonzales’ previous books, Only mostly devastated, and Perfect on paper. With that in mind, I had high expectations for her latest YA romance novel, coming out in November this year! So when I saw it on Netgalley earlier this summer, I automatically requested it. (Before even reading the synopsis on the presentation page, which tends to happen with authors I know I’ll enjoy reading from!)

And, as always with this author, I was not disappointed.

The story so far

It’s been two years since Maya’s ex-boyfriend cheated on her, and she still can’t escape him: his sister married the crown prince of a minor European country and he captured hearts as her charming younger brother. If the world only knew the real Jordy, the manipulative liar who broke Maya’s heart.

Skye Kaplan was always cautious with her heart until Jordy said all the right things and earned her trust. Now his face is all over the media and Skye is still wondering why he stopped calling.

When Maya and Skye are invited to star on the reality dating show Second-Chance Romance, they’re whisked away to a beautiful mansion—along with four more of Jordy’s exes— to compete for his affections while the whole world watches. Skye wonders if she and Jordy can recapture the spark she knows they had, but Maya has other plans: exposing Jordy and getting revenge. As they navigate the competition, Skye and Maya discover that their real happily ever after is nothing they could have scripted.

A light and cute contemporary tale

I loved this plot. A good revenge, lots of drama, quid pro quo in the beginning, enemies-to-friends-to-lovers… what’s not to love?

Sophie Gonzales has a talent for tactfully and emotionally writing the experiences of bisexual youth. That’s something many authors struggle to do, and that I deeply appreciate in her work.

The animosity between the main characters in the beginning was very entertaining, and I especially appreciated the development of the romance, which felt very natural (and appropriately awkward at times!). The alternating points of view helped to get to know both main characters in all their complexity (even in the “enemies” phase of enemies-to-lovers).

The main antagonist, Jordy, is probably the character I’ve hated the most all year so far. However, with the dual POV, I got attached pretty quickly to the two protagonists! Skye is an easy character to love, and her anger and heartbreak when she discovers Jordy’s duplicity were very touching. Maya’s cold determination, on the other hand, was refreshing to see and moved the plot forward at a steady rhythm. There was never a dull moment!

I do feel like it would have fit the story better to have them be one or two years older than they are here, if only because it would seem more believable for Jordy to have so many exes a couple of years later. (But that might simply be me being a bit disconnected from teenagers’ experiences!) Overall, that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story.

Is this novel for you?

This book is scheduled to come out on November 29, 2022, and it is definitely for you if you enjoy :

  • contemporary romances
  • enemies-to-lovers
  • Wlw stories
  • dating show settings

In conclusion : I strongly recommend this book – and will definitely get a paper copy for myself when I see it hit the shelves in my city!

Book tour : Manic Man, by Jason Wegner & Dr Kerry Bernes

If there’s one thing I like more than receiving new books to read, it’s receiving new psychology books to read. And this one certainly did not disappoint!

Manic Man, written by first-time author Jason Wegner and clinical psychologist Dr. Kerry Bernes, was just published on October 14th, 2021, and is a raw, open memoir relating Jason’s firsthand experience of living with type 1 bipolar disorder.

Synopsis

The story begins with an outline of Jason’s normal life and then describes the hypomanic stage of his illness. The mania starts with his experience of taking the dangerous psychedelic drug LSD and takes off a few weeks later in Tanzania, Africa. He is in a full-blown manic episode while in Africa, and his behaviours and thoughts captured demonstrate this. Weeks of mania continued after he was home from Africa until he was tricked into going in an ambulance and taken to the hospital’s emergency wing. He would be hospitalized in the acute psychiatry ward for 57 days, and seven months of depression follows his hospitalization.

To lift himself out of his severe depression, his psychologist, Dr. Kerry Bernes, develops “The Octagon of Life,” which is the eight areas of life that he gets Jason to focus on. Following the plan, Jason gets out of depression and experiences post-traumatic growth and becomes a more successful person than he was before his diagnosis. 

Of all mental health concerns, personality disorders are certainly some of the most taboo in our society. We tend to avoid the subject as much as possible, and when we do have to talk about it, it’s usually mentioned with concerns about homelessness, danger to others and/or suicidal risk.

Which is why, amongst a sea of bleak portrayals of mental illnesses in current media, I find such a memoir essential to our collective understanding of what it’s really like living with a severe mental illness.

Representation matters, and what better representation than stories that come directly from the people living with the illnesses themselves?

Three things I liked in this book

The honesty

Memoirs are a difficult genre to write. Gloss over reality a bit too much, and your readers will be able to perceive the lies, the varnish coming off of the polished version of your life that you’d like to sell them between the pages. But be a little too truthful, and you might be confronted with intimate realities on the page that you might not have intended to share with such a wide potential readership.

Being honest with yourself and with your readers when sharing intimate personal experiences is a difficult challenge, and one that author Jason Wegner takes on without hesitation. It takes here the form of a heartbreaking but genuine description of manic episodes, from his perspective, that must have taken a lot of bravery to write and that leaves the reader with a new understanding of the trials of living with such a severe mental illness.

Speaking of recovery

One of the thinks I dislike the most in mainstream media’s portrayal of mental illnesses is the near total focus on the worst parts of people’s lives. What about the after, when a person has received their diagnosis and is in a better place to receive the help they seek in managing their condition?

Manic Man doesn’t shy away from that part of the process, and explains in more detail the difficulty of the work done by the author on recovery from manic episodes, and on managing his type 1 bipolar disorder in the future.

The difficult topics

Type 1 bipolar disorder is sometimes also called “manic depression”. This describes the two main emotional phases of the disorder, which are phases of intense mania – lasting at least a week, and during which the person usually exhibits extreme erratic behavior, and might require hospitalization for their own safety – and phases of deep depression, lasting at least two weeks.

The honest and raw descriptions of Jason’s experiences while in either one of these phases is something I found very educational for people wanting to broaden their understanding of the emotional cost and psychological effects of bipolar personality disorder on the individuals it affects.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in psychology, cognitive therapy, or just looking for an excellent memoir to read this winter.

Find it on Amazon here, and on Goodreads here.

Book tour : Take charge of your diet, by Sylvie Boulay

Let me just start with how happy I am to be reviewing this book. One of my greatest passions in life is reading, and the other one is psychology, so you can imagine how excited I was when I received an ARC of a psychology book in the mail!

Take charge of your diet, written by author Sylvie Boulay, was just released on September 30th, 2021 – and if you’re interested in any way in psychology, self-help or weight management, then you should definitely add this short workbook to your TBR.

Synopsis

This is a short, accessible workbook offering a new approach to weight loss based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Rather than proposing a particular diet, the workbook offers practical tools to help slimmers adhere to whatever plan they have chosen. Written in plain language for the general reader it is based on principles widely discussed in academic research on addiction treatment.

The reader is taken through ten easy to follow stages. These are similar to those suggested in addiction recovery, but here they are applied to weight loss: keeping a diary, building motivation, identifying unmet needs, drawing a plan, creating new habits, identifying triggers and risk situations and learning how to deal with cravings and relapse. The last chapter also contains information for family, friends, carers or professionals to support loved ones or clients through the ten stages.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with food. For as long as I can remember, eating has been a form of reward or coping mechanism for me – I eat when I’m bored, scared, stressed, angry… every “ugly” emotion I can’t properly process or express translates in as many iced frappuchinos (Hi, Starbucks!), molten lava cakes, pizza slices or entire chocolate bars just bought at the corner store.

I’ve been trying to lose weight for a while, now, and had some measure of success… before taking it all back on, and then some. I’m just one of many who tried on a couple of diets, and just can’t seem to make them stick.

The goal of this workbook is to help people like me figure out why we just can’t stick with it, and how to make it stop – in twelve easy to follow steps.

Three things I liked in this book

The simplicity

One of the things I look for the most in a self-help book that aims to make accessible to the general population key psychology concepts is simplicity – specifically, the way the author explains keywords and crucial concepts so that all readers will understand them, without losing any of their meaning.

Scientific vulgarization is a difficult exercise, and one that Sylvie Boulay has mastered with brio in this book.

The exercises

As interesting as textbooks or general self-help books are, in my opinion, there’s nothing that beats the workbook format in terms of practicality and direct usefulness in readers’ lives. That is – if the workbook is well-constructed, and the exercises are relevant to the theoretical materials.

Here, the exercises are pertinent to each chapter, and bring the reader to self-reflection rather than making them find pre-prepared answers to their questions – an approach that echoed my recent training course in applied humanist psychology, and that I found particularly important in the context of weight management.

The theory behind the scenes

My favorite branch of psychology is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT for short. It is rooted in several core principles, including but not limited to :

  • The belief that psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking
  • The belief that they are also based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior
  • The following conclusion that people suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, in order to relieve their symptoms and become better adjusted in their daily lives.1

This book follows current CBT theory and its practical applications, and I found it extremely well done. The structure of the reflection, mirroring that of the 10-steps program used in addiction recovery programs, is efficient and clinically sound. Unlike a certain kind of self-help book that I will abstain from quoting here (but you know what I mean…), this is a document that can be taken with all the seriousness its topic requires.

Conclusion

Interested in weight management, CBT, or just self-help in general? Want to finally figure out what’s blocking you from feeling in charge of your own behavior, and at ease in your own body?

Then this book is the one for you. Seriously. You’ll thank me for it.

Find it on Amazon here, and on Goodreads here.

Reference : 1American Psychological Association. (n.d.). What is cognitive behavioral therapy? American Psychological Association. Retrieved October 9, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral.; 

Valentine’s day update

If someone were to check on my stress hormone levels right now, I’m pretty sure they’d be through the roof. While I had initially expected February to be more quiet and restful than January, what is actually happening… isn’t it.

The university admissions process is much more complicated and stressful than expected, and I’m battling terrible anxiety about my future every single day – winning, so far, but still. It’s taking a lot of effort to stay positive and optimistic for the future, and my hobbies are suffering from it.

Still, I’m back today for a weekly update, because blogging and reading are things that bring me a lot of joy, and I want to keep that well in mind for the rest of the month.

Personal update

Life is hard. I feel like I’ve been coping pretty well with lockdown for the past year, with everything being closed and only seeing, like, 4 people in one year. But I went to see my siblings in the park yesterday, for the first real time in almost a whole year even though we literally live in the same city, and… it’s been hard.

I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of their lives and they’ve grown so much in my absence that they’re almost wholly different people now – and I don’t know them that well anymore. I know it’s for a good reason, I know I’m doing the right thing by respecting all lockdown rules and not seeing anyone, even my family members, but… it doesn’t make it any easier in the long term.

Fortunately, everything isn’t as bad as that – so here are three things I’ve been doing that made me feel good this week :

Playing video games

I’ve been doing a brand new playthrough of Kingdoms of Amalur, the re-reckoning, and going on my third year in my Stardew Valley 1.5 playthrough – I’m hoping to complete the collection challenges before the Grandpa’s ghost comes in and judges my farm! I’m really happy with my progress in both these games, and I’m planning on going back to Don’t Starve and The Witcher 3 once I’ve manages to finish these first two.

Working out

I’ve started a Chloe Ting challenge and I’m really happy about it. I’ve been thinking of talking about my relationship with food and exercise in a separate blog post, so if I do end up writing it, I’ll link it here so you guys can go check it out! The bare bones of it, though, goes like this : I haven’t had the healthiest relationship with food and exercise, ever, but I’ve been making a lot of progress since the beginning of the year, and I’m finally at the point where I actually enjoy doing a morning workout, and eating good food no matter how much calories I’ve burned in the day how how much I’ve “worked for it”. It’s been… good. Relaxing. Freeing.

One of the things that’s helped me a lot with this has been Linda Sun’s YouTube channel, which you can find here. She’s a fitness youtuber who’s not dieting, not counting her calories, and not pushing a pro-diet agenda on her viewers, and her content is really wholesome and refreshing (and yes, the titles are clickbait, don’t worry!).

And on the topic of repairing my relationship with food and my body : speaking with a Registered Dietician has helped me a lot with this, and I highly recommend doing so if you think it can help you too. 10/10, absolutely worth it.

Meeting a friend outside

I’ve seen around, like, 4 people since the beginning of this pandemic, and one of them is an amazing friend who lives a couple of blocks away from our apartment, so I’ve met up with her this week outside to hang out and take a walk in the snow. With a hot chocolate in hand, of course, and at a safe distance, with masks on.

It’s done wonders for my mental health – both the social interaction and the walk outside – and I’m hoping we can do that again sometime next week!

Reading update

I’m back here with the short reviews! I’ve been mostly trying to get through all my remaining ARCs this month, with the goal of not requesting any more until at least June if I can stay away from the NetGalley request buttons, but I’ve still managed to grab some copies of books on my TBR from my local library!

The Andromeda Strain

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I had added this book to my TBR a while ago, following a recommendation from one of Emily Fox’s booktube videos (which are amazing, by the way, if you don’t watch them you should check out her channel!), and I really loved it!

The suspense and the science worked well for me, and as I’m already a big Sci-fi fan, it wasn’t hard to like this. The writing is quite dry, but as it’s supposed to be some form of military/scientific report, it didn’t bother me or dampen my enjoyment of the story.

The poppy war

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I finally read The Poppy War! I can’t believe it took me this long to start this series – every reviewer I’ve seen talking about it only had nice things to say, so I knew I was going to like it, but I also knew I would suffer all the way through it… and I was right.

Illuminae

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Another one I’ve waited a long time to read, and ended up appreciating a lot. However, contrary to The Poppy War, this book surprisingly didn’t leave me wanting to read the next one in the series.

I say surprisingly because I absolutely loved the ending, and was at the edge of my seat the whole time I was reading this – so why not want to pick up the next one immediately ? I think it has more to do with the very last pages of the book : even if they wrapped up the story nicely and revealed some nice plot twists, they didn’t bring about enough mystery and excitement about book 2 for me to want to pick it up immediately.

However, while that’s clearly not a good sign, it doesn’t mean I’ll never continue this series – I enjoyed this book a lot, and would be vaguely interested in further adventures in the Illuminae universe, so I might still come back to it later in the year!

My progress so far in 2021 : 18 books read out of 104

That’s it for me today! I’ll be back in the beginning of the week with – hopefully – a discussion post, and a book review sometime later next week, so, see you around!

Weekly update : first week of 2021

It’s been an… interesting week.

Personal update

I’ve been super busy this week, going from one appointment to another, doing all the urgent administrative work that needs to be done before the end of January – they days go by so quickly that I worry I won’t be able to finish it all up in time.

The deadline to apply to the program I’d like to be accepted into next year is February 1st, and I haven’t heard back from one of the people I asked a recommendation from – I need three letters of recommendation, and only have 2 so far, but hopefully, I’ll be able to secure a third one before January 15th. If I don’t get an answer from the teacher I emailed on Tuesday, I’ll urgently contact someone else, and hope for the best.

On top of that, our province’s covid-related rules have just been tightened, and Montreal is now under curfew from 8 pm to 5 am every night, with every “non-essential” shop closed, and the essential ones closed at 7:30 pm to give people enough time to go home before the curfew comes into effect.

This complicates things quite a bit for us, as my partner is currently working in an essential workplace and I’m a full-time student : on the days where he’s working from home, since he’s using the only desk we have, I’ll have to find somewhere else to go study, as most of his work is confidential and we don’t have the space for me to go study in another room. Which, since everything is closed down… will be tricky. Hopefully, though, the university will keep the library open for students who really need the space to study, as we can’t really go anywhere else anymore!

I’ve also had my first appointment with a dietician this week – I’ve been trying to eat healthier and make progress on my own, but lately, I’ve come to realize that even with my best efforts, I still need to ask for some help with this. And that’s okay! There’s no shame in asking for help if you’re in a situation where you need to, whether it’s about physical or mental health. I’m incredibly lucky that my university has a partnership with a dietician / nutritionists group, which gives students a medium discount that compensates a little for the absence of insurance coverage for these services. (Which – don’t get me started on that, I could rant about it for hours. Who thought it was a good idea to exclude nutritionists from health insurance benefits??)

Blogging update

On the blog lately, I’ve written two posts : a late Bookending winter post, about 2021 reads I can’t wait for, and a reading challenges announcement!

Reading update

Progress on my Goodreads goal : 3/104

I’m trying a new format here! I’ve been doing reviews in their own separate posts, but by doing them this way, I didn’t review most of the books I read, as I just couldn’t find the time to write an entire post about them. So here are short, 1 paragraph reviews of what I read this week!

Kingsbane, by Claire Legrand

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My first book of 2021 – I ended 2020 by reading the first book in this series, and I had gotten a copy of the next novel through my local library, so I followed up immediately with it.

Where the first book was setting up the scene a lot, and teasing some dark mysteries without revealing much to the reader, this one unveils secret after secret in a captivating story filled with unexpected plot twists and heartbreaking moments. I didn’t expect the cliffhanger at the end, and I liked that more than I expected – it’s been a while since I’ve given a real chance to a fantasy series, and an even longer time since I’ve read a book ending with a cliffhanger that I was actually interested in enough to make it to the next one and find out what was happening. I’m definitely reading book 3 as soon as possible.

Find it on Goodreads here.

A sky beyond the storm, by Sabaa Tahir

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I read the first three books in this series in 2020, and enjoyed them a lot, so I have no idea why I didn’t pick up the last installment in this series as soon as it came out, in December 2020. I liked this conclusion to the story, and thought it wrapped up all the different character arcs pretty well, even if I didn’t connect with it as much as I had with the previous books. I had some issues with the ending – especially the treatment of one of the main characters. (To put it without too many spoilers : one of the characters has a power that could save their loved one… yet doesn’t use it at the end when it could be the most useful. For no apparent logical reason. Yeah, didn’t like that.)

Find it on Goodreads here.

The ever cruel kingdom, by Rin Chupeco

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Another follow-up on a book I read last year, The never tilting world. I found the first one okay, but enjoyed the second one much more!

I think it had to do with the pacing of the story, and the advancement of the plot that felt like it was moving forward much better than the first book. I loved the character development in this, and the much more detailed backstories we got than the ones alluded to in book 1, which made it easier to get attached to the characters (and made it worse when they died… but I digress). The love and the romance between the main characters was also lovely (and after bingeing Bridgerton, I was in the right mood for romance!).

Find it on Goodreads here.

Fireside favorites : 10 of my favorite 2020 reads

Welcome back to another Bookending Winter post! Today’s prompt is hosted by Lauren and Becky @ Northern Plunder.

Bookending Winter is a book blogging event run by Clo and Sam, in which different bloggers host a couple of prompts each during the month of December. Anyone who wants to participate can register on the announcement post, make 3 (or more) posts during the event, and link them up on the challenge spreadsheet so others can find them easily!

Prompt Explanation : Take a look back at your favorite reads of 2020. Hopefully these will make it to someone else’s TBR for them to pass the time whilst snuggled in with a hot coco next to the fire.

At the beginning of 2020, I set my Goodreads challenge to 52 books – one a week, I thought, was perfectly attainable, seeing as I used to read a lot more than that, and my current classes at the time weren’t that time-consuming. 52 books, I reasoned, was a perfectly adequate challenge, and one I’d surely be done with in September, at the latest.

That didn’t age well. I’ve been trying my best to get through my ARCs and finish the books I currently own, to maybe get to the 52 books goal, but it might very well not happen this year. Still, I’m trying to not be too bummed about this, and this prompt serves as a good reminder that, even if I didn’t read a ton of books this year, I still read a couple of really good ones!

So here’s – in random order – my 10 favorite books I’ve read so far in 2020.

Note : ⏳ are ARCs gotten through NetGalley or the publisher, 📚 are books I own or borrowed from my local library.

5 stars books

⏳ Better sleep, better you

I enjoyed reading this book a lot! It’s full of useful information on the science of sleep – why we do it, and what we’re doing wrong – and has a ton of advice adaptable for almost every situation so that its readers can improve their sleep habits. I learned a lot by reading this – definitely would recommend as a gift for a friend interested in science or how things work, or for your friend running every day on 5 hours of sleep and not understanding why they’re feeling like crap all the time!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Happily Ever After & Everything In Between

This is the cutest and most relatable thing I have read in a very long time, and every single one of the pages seemed like a situation taken out of my own life. I laughed so much out loud reading this that my partner came over my side of the living room to check if I was okay (and if I needed snacks).

It was my first book from this author, but I’m planning on checking out her other works too!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Surrender your sons

This was… wow. Just wow. You can check out my review here on Goodreads – I wrote it right after reading and I honestly couldn’t say it better right now. Excellent novel and amazing author, 10/10 would recommend.

⏳ Perfect on paper

I was really excited to see what Sophie Gonzales was going to give us next, and she did not disappoint! You can read my full review on the blog – I wrote an entire post about it, it’s just so good – but if you’re just looking for the short version : this is an excellent queer YA contemporary, and you should definitely read it as soon as it comes out.

Find it on Goodreads here.

Related post : check out my review of Perfect on Paper, by Sophie Gonzales

📚 The starless sea

I’ve been trying to write a review of this book for months now, but nothing I can write renders it justice. While this author’s previous novel didn’t work for me at all, this one was so poetic and beautiful that it went into my favorites in January and stayed there the whole year long. I’m planning on re-reading it in the second half of December, if I get stuck on my current TBR and need a break in the form of the most beautiful prose I’ve read so far in 2020!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Leviathan wakes

I read the first three books of the The Expanse series, and rated them all 5 stars, so I’m only citing the first one here or they would take way too much space in this list. I love the narration, the different points of view, the intrigue and the space battles – everything fits neatly into place and it’s extremely entertaining!

If you like politics and spaceship, this is the book you need to pick up for the holidays. I’m waiting for next weekend to get into book 4, and I’m really excited to see what happens next!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 The way of kings

One of my first Sanderson books, and I must admit – this one put him immediately on the list of authors I’ll automatically give a chance to, whatever the subject of his next book may be. It had been a while since I’d read such a long and good novel, and even longer since I’d started a really challenging series – I’m planning on reading more from him next year, maybe make it a small reading challenge?

Find it on Goodreads here.

4 stars books

📚 Skyward

Another Sanderson book! I rated this one 4 stars instead of 5, mostly because I do agree with some other reviewers in the sense that, even though this book was really good, it felt more like a prelude to a bigger novel than an actual first installment in a series. Still, I can’t fault the quality of the writing, and the characters were easy to love and well developed.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Maybe you should talk to someone

A non-fiction book! I love anything and everything psychology-related, so this book by a therapist about her job and her experiences with therapy sounded right up my alley. I really enjoyed reading this, even if it felt a bit longer than it should be in the end. It’s not as informative as I thought it’d be from reading reviews about it, but the experiences described in this book are very touching and complex.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Aurora Rising

2020 was a pretty good year for my sci-fi loving heart! Aurora rising was a fun and easy book to read, filled with humor and nice plot twists. I liked the ending a lot, and my preorder of Aurora burning couldn’t come to my local bookseller soon enough!

Find it on Goodreads here.

What are your favorite 2020 reads ? Did you read and review any of these ones? Let me know in the comments! (And link your reviews if you did, so I can go read them!)

Perfect on Paper, by Sophie Gonzales

Perfect on paper is author Sophie Gonzales’s third novel, coming out in March 2021 – and if you like queer romances, YA contemporaries or just love YA romance in general, then you should definitely add this gem to your TBR.

Synopsis

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes—for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89—out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service—that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach—at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?

What I liked

I had high hopes for this story, and… they were all met. And then some. Oh boy.

The themes Sophie Gonzales approaches in this book hit extremely close to home, and, as was the case with her previous novel, Only Mostly Devastated, were written in a very thoughtful, delicate way that left me unable to put it down until I had read it entirely.

The story touches on themes of internalized biphobia, LGBT+ relationships, parental conflict, lying… Expressions of emotions and feelings are on point (I might have cried, more than once) and the book is full of all the complicated relationships and drama that are so characteristic of high school experiences. The romance is also super sweet, which is always a great point.

Darcy and Brooke… the unrequited love trope is something I’m very partial towards – if it’s done well, it can be so much fun for the readers, and this one is done perfectly. I also loved the relationship between the main character and her transgender sister, and the way all of the characters were fully fleshed out and each had their own journeys throughout the course of the story. These characters aren’t perfect, they make mistakes, (and downright questionable choices, looking at you Darcy) but they try to learn from them and do better – and that makes them all the more likeable and attaching for me.

What other people didn’t like

Some people have mentioned the common plot points with the show Sex Education (the secret locker and giving advice to other students part) but, as with OMD, since I haven’t watched that show, I didn’t have any sense of déjà-vu. (Additionally, as the author said in a tweet recently, this book was mostly written by the time Sex Ed came out – it’s not plagiarism in any way!)

As an additional note : some reviewers have mentioned that this story was “unexpectedly mature” and “not appropriate for YA”. I won’t elaborate too much on that here, because it would honestly deserve an entire post, but I’ll tell you this : the most mature thing in this book is a kiss, and I think we know exactly what this person had in mind when they made this critic.

LGBT representation is not inherently “mature”. Our existences aren’t “mature”, they just are. Leave queer kids alone. Stop policing queer books.

Conclusion

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is absolutely a five stars book for me, and I would definitely recommend it to YA romance readers, and contemporary YA readers in general. Sophie Gonzales is now firmly on my list of authors I’ll read every book of, and I’m so excited to see what she writes next!

Related posts : Only Mostly Devastated, by Sophie Gonzales

Empower yourself, by Xenia Tchoumi

I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and as much as I’m usually happy with the books I request on NetGalley, this one was a miss for me.

I read a lot of nonfiction, especially personal development books, which I greatly enjoy reading. My ratings usually follow the Goodreads scale, with 1 = did not like it, 2 = it was okay, 3 = liked it, 4 = really liked it and 5 = amazing. Sadly, Empower Yourself by Xenia Tchoumi didn’t live up to its hype, as I rated it a 2/5.

So, why such a low rating?

Synopsis

Xenia takes readers on a practical, no-nonsense journey to self-empowerment, covering topics such as taking responsibility, using your pain and your failures to push yourself further, and learning digital dominance instead of letting yourself be digitally dependent. She offers a wealth of tips for creating productive habits, setting goals, protecting your mental health and resisting society’s pressures to confirm.

She shares her stories of struggling against prejudice as the child of recent immigrants, battling the restrictive structures of the fashion industry, making her mark in the digital space and ultimately making herself into an ultra-successful brand. Questioning exactly what empowerment looks like today, she also offers the inspiring stories of empowered people she has met all over the world and shows that, while empowerment can seem very different in different cultures, there are certain key traits that empowered people share – habits that anyone can learn and use to become a success in life.

What I liked

The book was well organized, with a page of important things to take away from the chapter at the end of each and every one of them. The #Powertrick inserts in the middle of the chapters, with practical tips on how to put in action the advice given in this part of the book, were interesting and well thought out.

On the content itself, most of it was very sound advice, like using daily journaling as a way to know yourself better and figure out your goals and ambitions, or making sure you don’t skip your self-care in favor of your work because that’s never going to end well… nothing revolutionary, but nothing inherently bad either.

The use of scientific evidence to support these tips was an excellent addition, at it served a lot to support the author’s claims that something would be beneficial for you – that’s something I’d like to see more in self-help and personal development books, as lately it seems to me that very few of them bother sourcing their advice or supporting their theories with psychological studies or sound research, even when including those references might help convince more strongly their readers of the legitimacy of their opinions.

What I didn’t like

I didn’t know anything about the author when I picked up this book, and from the very first chapters, this seemed to come from an extremely privileged place – completely detached from my reality and difficult to reconcile with my personal experiences.

I had a hard time finding any flaws to her behavior and character – it seemed, from her descriptions, that she did everything almost perfectly, from eating good food cooked at home to doing physical activity every day, journaling, communicating with loved ones, to being productive while still having time for her personal life… The problem with perfection, however, is that it puts distance between you and your readers, who see your behavior as an unattainable goal – if the people who do it are this immaculate, and I’m not, how and I ever going to succeed ?

Likewise, when I’m reminded more than once that the author “turned down an offer to work full time at a leading investment bank”, and that when she was looking for an internship, she was so sure she’d get into a top company that she felt offended and outraged when her therapist told her there was a lot of competition and it wasn’t a done deal… I’m having a hard time relating to these experiences.

This specific situation, with the therapist trying to make sure she wasn’t setting herself up for a terrible disappointment, served as a way to advance the idea that confidence is the only thing that makes the difference between you and other people – no mater your and their diplomas, experience, skills… of you have the confidence, you’ll get that job/internship/work offer! Except… for most of us, that’s not how life works. And treating the therapist as if she was actively trying to undermine her self-belief instead of trying to help her and make sure no matter what happened, she’d be okay… isn’t a good look at all. (Neither is qualifying people who weren’t productive during a worldwide pandemic as “sad and lazy“.)

Overall conclusion

On the positive/negative balance, the scale tips a bit too strongly on the negative side for me. This is not to say that this is a terrible book – to reuse the Goodreads scale qualification, it was okay. Sadly, with the amount of self-help and personal improvement books published every year, just okay isn’t good enough for me anymore.

Did you read this book, and have a different opinion? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

The Guinevere deception, by Kiersten White

The Guinevere deception is the first book of Kiersten White’s Camelot Rising trilogy, which came out in November 2019.

I bought it as a gift from myself, to myself, for Christmas (if you want it done well, do it yourself!) and… have been sitting on this review ever since. There’s no specific reason why – I enjoyed reading this book, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get the next one as soon as it comes out too, so there’s really no logic to this except me just forgetting to write this post every week since January.

Synopsis

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

What I liked

I loved the characters! Guinevere was terribly cute and tried her best to make herself useful in a strange place, alone and uncertain of her place in the world. Arthur was kind and just, and trying his best to do right by his new wife, and all the secondary characters had interesting backstories. (Also, no spoilers, but : Lancelot is the best.) There’s also some LGBTQ+ representation, which is always a nice thing to have.

The system of magic seemed very original to me – I always think of magic in Arthurian retellings as elemental magic, like Merlin’s, or very complex spells and potions, but knot magic was a refreshing take on this and helped bring novelty to the story.

Merlin and Arthur’s complex relationship, as seen through Guinevere’s eyes, was interesting and made me want to see it more developed in the next part of this series, The Camelot betrayal, coming out in November 2020.

And one last point : Mordred. Mordred was excellent. I don’t want to spoil anything – if it is even possible to spoil Arthurian mythology – so I’ll stay super vague, but Mordred stole my heart in a couple of pages and then broke it. Damn you Mordred.

What I didn’t like

The pacing of the story was a little strange – it was very slow for the first half / two thirds of the book, then accelerated exponentially until the end. Personally, it didn’t bother me too much, but I can see why it might feel too slow to some reviewers.

At times, Guinevere’s decisions seemed hasty and not well thought-out, even though she was supposed to be in dangerous territory with the goal to defend her king at all costs – but I guess that could be blamed on the character’s age and naïveté : after all, she’s supposed to only be 16 when the story starts, and her backstory strongly suggests she hasn’t met a lot of other people before being sent by Merlin on this top-secret mission to Camelot.

Conclusion

This was a very fun read for me, I enjoyed it a lot and will most definitely try to preorder the next one when it comes out!

The never tilting world, by Rin Chupeco

I read this book as part of the January read-along for the Books and tea bookclub, and it was my first-ever book by Rin Chupeco, also author of the acclaimed series The bone witch – which I have added to my TBR, after hearing so much good about it on book twitter over the last few weeks, by the way.

Synopsis

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses —along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger —set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands

I’ve got some conflicting opinions about this book, so I’ll try my best to express them intelligibly – it’s past midnight when I’m writing this and I haven’t slept well in a few days, though, so I can’t promise anything. (Please do warn me in the comments if something I wrote didn’t make any sense, and I’ll try to fix it if possible!)

What I liked

First of all : the cover is ridiculously good. It makes you want to pick up this book immediately. I absolutely love it.

Secondly, I really liked the concept of this story : a world that has been broken in half and has stopped spinning on itself, damaging the climate in the process – it sounded super interesting when I read the synopsis.

This was a very character-driven story, with both goddesses traveling all the way from their respective home cities to the breach in the middle of the world, to try and repair it to the best of their abilities. It made for a lot of character development, and you can really see the changes in both girls, from the beginning of their journey to its end.

A third thing I liked was the romance – I’m not usually a fan of romance in books when I’m expecting adventure or saving-the-world shenanigans, but this one had love interests that were actually likeable, made sense, and it was overall adorable.

Finally, on the topic of LGBT representation, this novel does have a lesbian main character and an f/f ship at the center of the story. The topic of PTSD was also mentioned via Lan, Odessa’s bodyguard, and it seemed tactfully written to me (although I’m not an expert on the subject, so if there’s something I’ve missed, feel free to notify me!)

An honorable mention : the sand dolphins were the cutest things ever. Best fantasy animal of the year so far.

What I didn’t like

I think this is the first this year – I wasn’t a fan of the system of magic in this book. It just never seemed to make sense to me, and I didn’t find it as engaging as the other parts of the worldbuilding. The overall mythology and legends were interesting, but I didn’t manage to grasp the actual rules of the magic in this world, and it might have diminished my enjoyment of the ending a bit. (Also, I’d like to know what exactly makes Odessa and Haidee goddesses? I mean, they’re clearly different form other people, but what distinguishes a goddess from, say, a really strong sorceress?)

The 4 narrative points of view were also a bit too much for me, as I felt like the story kept switching to another character’s perspective right when things became interesting in the current chapter, and so on. Even with all the character development and the drama going on in their respective sides of the story, the changing POV made it difficult to get attached to the goddesses.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t put this book in my all-time favorites list, but it was a solid fantasy novel and it did leave me wanting to read more. Hopefully, since the second part of this duology is expected to come out in 2020, I’ll be happily surprised by the ending of the story!

Even if I haven’t been blown away by this book, I still intend to read the next one – maybe I’ll change my opinion once the full story is complete!

Have you read other works by Rin Chupeco? If I wasn’t a fan of The never tilting world, do you think I should read The bone witch nonetheless?