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

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?

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

This is going to be a short review, for a short book – but an excellent one ! 

The Deep is a novella (less than 200 pages) written by Rivers Solomon, and published in 2019. It’s shelved in adult science-fiction and fantasy on Goodreads, but I didn’t know anything about the plot when I borrowed it from the library : I just saw the cover, thought it looked nice, and decided to give it a chance. This was completely different from anything else I’ve read this year so far, and I definitely don’t regret it.

Synopsis 

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

And now for the review part :

I can’t use my usual review template for this one, because I usually split them in two parts : the points I liked, the ones I didn’t, and why – but for this book, well… I don’t have anything to put in the “disliked” category. And I really tried.

This novella is very slow-paced, and character-driven – in terms of actual story, over the nearly 200 pages of the book, there isn’t a lot of action. But that’s not a bad thing at all : it allows for more room and character development. And there’s a lot of it. 

I felt a lot for the main character, Yetu, whose development throughout the story is spectacular. A critique that’s been made is that her personality feels a bit empty in the beginning, which has been a reason to DNF the novella for some readers, but I personally think that critique is unfounded : when we see Yetu finally free of the burden of her duty to her people, she just doesn’t know who she is anymore

She’s been the historian for a long time, and it has stripped her of her identity, her own memories and experiences, and replaced it with the collective memories of her people. It makes sense, then, that she would feel “empty” – she has to work to build herself back from the beginning, and to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, apart from what she’s been told she should be all those years. It’s a slow rebuilding of her identity, step by step. 

Yetu’s escape and her subsequent journey is extremely touching, and is put into perspective with the story of her people’s origins. The authors use this opportunity to ask the difficult questions : Who are we without the knowledge of our history ? What place should memories have in our lives, in our identity as individuals and as a group ?

The writing itself is beautiful, and makes the sea floor ambience feel cold and heavy, and as terribly vast and beautiful as it actually is. The development of the lore and world-building is excellent, and blends well within the story.

When I finished this book and thought about what to develop in a review, I checked what others were saying on Goodreads and… someone pegged this book as “thinly veiled gender fluidity propaganda”. Which : 1) isn’t true (although there is intersex representation, in the fact that all members of Yetu’s species are described as intersex), and 2) wouldn’t be terribly bad if it was.

In conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this novella. If you’re in the mood for a thought-provoking, slow-paced, character-driven novella about lesbian mermaids (yes!), this is the book for you.

If you have good recommendations for books with a lesbian love interest and good character development, feel free to link them below ! I’d love to read a couple of novels with good LGBT+ representation in them.

ARC review : Only mostly devastated, by Sophie Gonzales

Finally, I’m writing this review I’ve been meaning to write for the past two weeks !

I’ll be honest and say that I asked for an e-ARC of this book without actually thinking I’d get one, and then… I did. I truly didn’t expect it, so I immediately downloaded it and read it in the subway on my way to and from class (really fast, because I just couldn’t put it down !).

Only mostly devastated is a fun, LGBTQ+ themed, YA contemporary romance with a 2020 release date, written by author Sophie Gonzales.

Synopsis

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

It’s time to admit something to you : I’ve never watched grease, ever.

So when this book was described as “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.”, as someone who hasn’t read or watched any of those references, I wasn’t expecting anything from it, because – well, because I just didn’t know what to expect. And I think that actually helped me enjoy this book more than some other reviewers who tended to compare it a lot to those references.

What I liked

Fair warning : the next paragraphs have some spoilers. If you don’t want to see them, feel free to skip until the end of the section.

For a YA romance novel, I thought this book tackled some heavy themes, and it hit me pretty hard. For example – Ollie has to stay in that new city to help a sick relative, and the themes of illness and grief are talked about in detail in a few chapters. This hit really close to home for me : this past year, one of my closest friends passed away after a long illness – the very same one that affects Ollie’s relative in the book, and a few months later, I lost my grandfather of sudden illness.

The character’s feelings and expressions of emotion in the book resonated with me a lot, and I had to take a few breaks at some points. This quote, specifically, felt so real to me that I had to stop and cry for some time before I could start again.

I lost it in the hallway. I pressed my back against the wall and sank to the floor, crying as quietly as I could. I didn’t want to be here in this house knowing [character name] would never be in it again. It was her house. We came here when we visited her. It’d been her house my whole life. This wasn’t right. None of it was right.

That quote echoes exactly my own feelings about grief, and about my personal losses, and I thought the author had managed an extremely just portrayal of what you can go through in that kind of situation.

The themes of fat-shaming and homophobia were also talked about in this book, and I really appreciated it.

What I didn’t like

I felt like some of the character’s relationships could have been developed a bit more – like Lara and Ollie, and Will and his friends. I also had some trouble getting over my initial dislike of Will on behalf of Ollie, even when the main character himself started getting over it.

Conclusion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, this was a good book for me. I really liked reading it, even if it wasn’t as lighthearted and fun as I expected it to be, based on the cover and the description. I’d still recommend it to readers of YA contemporary books without hesitation !

That’s it for today !

ARC Review : Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Mooncakes is a 2019 Graphic Novel written by Suzanne Walker and illustrated by Wendy Xu. Its release date is today, October 15th, which made it a perfect topic for this blogtober post !

Synopsis
mooncakes

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

What I liked
  • The art was really beautiful – I got this ARC from NetGalley so the last few pages weren’t in full color, but the rest of the book was, and it really made me appreciate the artist’s work ! The use of the colors in the story is captivating and helps understand a lot of details.
  • This is a very diverse book, but it never feels “forced” or badly done – the characters feel pretty authentic and it was easy to relate to them while reading, and understand their motivations.
What I didn’t like
  • I felt like it was lacking a bit in the plot department. For a book marketed towards Teens and YA, I was expecting a little more complexity in the intrigue. It stays enjoyable, of course, but feels a bit too simple for the themes it tries to talk about.
  • As you well know if you’ve read any of my posts about fantasy books, I love anything and everything magic. I would have liked to get to know more about the promising magic system that Mooncakes’s cover let me hope for, but it is mostly left unexplored through the course of the book, the author focusing more on the rest of her story than on explaining her world-building to the readers.
Conclusion

I’d give this book a solid 3 stars – not bad at all ! I overall enjoyed reading this and took my time to appreciate the art. I would maybe suggest it to an audience a little younget than the one currently reading YA, though, as the story itself isn’t one of the most complex there is.

Still, I’d definitely recommend this book if you have teenagers, or for something like the new acquisitions display of a school library !

Breaking up is hard to do… but you could’ve done better.

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Breaking up is hard to do, but you could’ve done better is a book by Hilary Campbell (who is also the co-illustrator of Feminist fight club), published in January 2019. I received a digital copy of it from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a really funny collection of short breakup stories, and I liked it a lot. A breakup is generally painful, sad, and sometimes a mess, whether you’re dumping someone or you’re the one being dumped by your (now ex-)significant other, but the author manages to make you laugh all the way through her book, starting with the dedication, in which she writes :

To that one dude, for being such an inspirational dick.

From “the guy who throws his gameboy at his ex when she dumps him” to “the one that demands she give him back the underwear he got her as a gift”, all 100 pages of breakup drama have their own cute little illustration, and even though some of those don’t add a lot to the story in itself, they do add to the humor in the harsher breakups.

All those stories come from different people, which explains the slightly different tones between the various texts, but the drawings serve a double purpose here, and help the author give to this collection a feeling of consistency.

A critic could be made that the premise of the book is a pretty simple one, and that it doesn’t require much effort (or time) to read it, but if you’re looking for something light and fun to read on a sad, rainy day, this is the book you want !