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Vile Stars – Sera Milano

There are few things in life that cause as much pain as burying a parent, well before their time and during the part of life where your parent is who guides you most and is the provider of unconditional love. There are few things in life that make your stomach swoop and heart race as much as your first love. Vile Stars is a page turning story of teenage love, obsession, friendship, and of course, grief.

Luka Booth is on the cusp of adulthood. A good student and best friend, loving sister and daughter, Luka Booth has the world at her feet. Until her mother dies. Left with her younger siblings; Alec and Allegra, and in the care of her stepfather William, grief and loneliness consume her. Writing letters to her mother, Luka tells her the things she wishes she could say to her and the things she may not have ever told her if she was alive. She tells her mother her daily struggle to get to classes, the way she can’t forgive her for marrying William. For leaving her. She tells her about Cosmo and the galaxy of feelings that come with the boy she met under the stars at the observatory.

Roisin, Alec, and Theo – Luka’s best friend, brother, and his boyfriend, are all in the unenviable position of witnessing Luka lose traction in her life. As Cosmo edges into the picture, pushing the other three out day by day, they all try to bring Luka back to them, to show her she deserves more. But Luka is in love, and nobody understands, nobody is happy for her, and Cosmo is who she needs. Cosmo gets her like the others don’t, supports her in her independence and she wants to be his world. School is pointless now, Roisin doesn’t understand the hole in her heart, and Alec, well Alec has Theo. So why can’t Luka have Cosmo?

As always, Sera Milano’s writing is lyrical and realistic all at once. Diverse characters and the current world are threaded into her stories with ease, nothing feeling trite or overdone. Everyday teenagers navigating life and events they don’t expect to ever find themselves in, each character is believable and each voice unique. Our focal character, Luka, is easy to love, but much harder to like with each choice she makes and evoking that feeling in a reader is a talent not every author has. Luka is fractured, and that truth is wrapped in every letter she writes, even if it isn’t spelt out on page.

From quick banter between friends, to revelations of Cosmo’s character or to the quiet alone of Luka and her letters, it all feels effortless and unhurried. There are no wasted words or moments, and each chapter end propels you into the next, eager for one more page.

Told in alternating letters from Luka and podcast episodes from the people who love Luka most, Vile Stars is a captivating and stark examination of friendship, grief, and of course, love. Love lost and found and craved. Vile Stars is unavoidable destruction sealed with a kiss.


This Can Never Not Be Real- Sera Milano

When Ellie Kimber dances, it’s hard to look away. Whether it’s in admiration or envy, she is
magnetic. The night sky is clear, the music is loud and friend’s group together in the crowd. Parents with their children. Teenagers and teachers and a bonfire. An annual event for the town of Amberside, in the grounds of the historic Hearne House. What could possibly go wrong in a town where nothing of note happens?

Ellie and Joe are the same side of a coin. To all that know them, they are beautiful and popular. They glide through life, untouched and achieve great things. Both have secrets, Ellie weighed down with the expectations of who she should be, Joe who only matters outside the four walls of his house.
Violet is a good girl. She is close to her mother, dotes on her brother and achieves in school. Quiet and unassuming, Violet does the right thing all the time.
March, like Violet, blends into the background. He doesn’t draw attention to himself, he doesn’t
make waves or try and stand out.
Peaches is the outlier, chubby and a drama kid. She knows she won’t be amongst the elites and
that’s okay with her, she is happy with her group of friends, even if she isn’t happy with her size or the focus of her mother’s life.

Five teenagers with secrets and insecurities and varied outward personalities all live through a night of terror. Multiple gunmen begin to shoot indiscriminately through the crowd, forcing regular people to make impossible choices. Told through five sets of eyes in the form of witness testimonial, the reader follows Joe, Ellie, Peaches, Violet and finally, March, as they pull apart then back together to survive. Their stories intersect, overlapping to give the reader a layered view of the events unfolding.
Although this is a book about terrorism, the terrorists themselves are not a focus, they are never front and centre in this story any more than they have to be. We don’t know their nationalities, their motives, or their names because this story is not about them.

It is about the people who are caught up in these terrible events. Those that feature on the news for a couple of moments in an array of similar headshot type photos before the public becomes consumed with the who and the
why. The people we vow to not forget but do for 364 days of the year, dredging them up on the
anniversaries to show those same photos again. This is a story about terrorism, but it is not about terrorists. It is about survival, impossible decisions and the bonds formed in moments of distress.
There is no shying away from the true brutality and it is a story soaked in human emotion, leaving it’s beautiful vulnerability open on every page.

Sera Milano sets the scene perfectly, drawing you in to the magical night, before hauling you heart first through tragedy, forcing the air from your chest over and over again. The writing is at times lyrical, always compelling and paced perfectly. Each character voice unique and open and authentic, their diversity emerging organically. Sera is a champion of inclusivity in her writing and this book is no exception. Race, sexuality, and weight feature, as well as grief, disability and less than perfect home lives. All written with her undeniable skill and effortless prose. She has managed to step with grace from the quirky middle grade sector and land sure footed in a very grown-up Young Adult

This Can Never Not Be Real is wickedly clever, well-written and compelling. In a YA world of romance and fairy tale retellings, this stands out and once you are in its orbit, you have no choice but to be sucked in. If you like to be on the edge of your seat with your heart in your throat and tears burning your eyes, this is for you.
A solid 9/10 read and one that will stay with me for a long time.


Be Dazzled – Ryan La Sala

Son of a millionaire artist turned gallery owner, Raphael ‘Raffy’ Odom doesn’t quite live up to the expectations his mother has. Preferring the feel of a hot glue gun and foam to anything else, Raffy is determined that this year, he will blow minds at the most important convention in the cosplay world – Controverse. Even if he has to compete against his ex-boyfriend and former duo partner to do so.

Raffy is a seventeen-year-old stress ball, stuffed with a good dose determination and pure talent. Cosplay is his passion, his mind a magic laden nest where small ideas grow into wonderful actualities. He is painfully aware that if he wants to follow his dreams with a formal art education, he will need to fund it himself, ideally through scoring sponsorship when he wins the top prize at Controverse. Winning at ‘Trip-C’, as it is called by the cool kids, would solve his future financial problems as well as proving to his mother that his creations are more than a hobbyist phase. His costumes are works of literal art built with his own hands and passion. Raffy is single minded in his pursuit of his goal, self-deprecating at times, he is mostly secure with who he is and is unequivocally himself. The one person who seems to truly put dents in his confidence is his mother Evie. She frequently demeans him, has nothing but animosity for the store Craft Club and would sooner die than have a child that does cosplay seriously. Forced to lie about his passions, Raffy is often on the back foot in their interactions, with Evie’s cutting remarks coupled with her apparent lack of caring about him in general. A few times a week, hidden away from his mother in their mostly unused backyard studio, Raffy streams himself creating his works of art out of any material imaginable. His online following validates him in way Evie doesn’t and provides an outlet to gush about his passion.

Luca Vitale is a bit of a jock, has a touch of dudebro going on at times and is really very lovely to look at, which he knows. He plays soccer and hangs out with ‘the boys’ and generally stays within that social lane. Or that is how it would seem to most. Luca is bisexual but does not have the easiest time at home because of this. His mother is determined that he follow a more ‘straight’ path to appease his father, believing that outside things influence someone’s sexuality. She dictates what he reads and watches, insists he keeps playing soccer and encouraging female relationships. Luca knows he is absolutely not allowed to be watching anime, browsing Craft Club for Sea Foam Dream #6 rhinestones and most definitely not watching the soft gay boy from school be dazzling artificial fins on a live stream. Luca spends more and more time with Raffy, trying to learn the ins and outs of cosplay and burning his ass in the process, literally. He is a sweetheart at his core, seeking acceptance for who he is entirely and unsure of how he can make all the pieces of his life work together but wants Raffy firmly in it. He is warm and genuine, supportive of Raffy and in awe of his ability to be entirely himself. The moments that show his judgemental side and insecurities make him real, even when the narrative has you thinking you should dislike, its hard to do so.

Told with a dual timeline, the past picks up just over a year prior working steadily towards present day. Starting with surprise rhinestones and pulling the reader through a growing relationship woven with the secrets they’re keeping from their own parents. Raffy opens up Luca’s world, letting him lean into who he is and who he wants to be without expectation or judgement. He indulges his ideas and is happy to be distracted by Luca, craft no longer his sole focus 24/7. Luca has some preconceived ideas about conventions and the people that attend but through Raffy he opens up to it all, eventually being as sucked in as everyone else. Their love story was sweet, organic but not without flaws, it wasn’t rushed or lofty, just people falling in love. The present narrative is spread over three days, Raffy barely able to contain his emotions when he spots Luca in his beautiful craft world. Trip-C is his dream and his future, he won’t let one ex-boyfriend derail that, no matter how much he hurts. When twists and roadblocks are thrown in the way, it ultimately forges their paths back towards each other, though Raffy isn’t sure he wants to be near Luca at all, let alone lose himself in that relationship again, even if it means losing out at Controverse.

Be Dazzled is adorable, soul warming and plain old fun, each page sucking you in more until you’re at the end and don’t quite know why or how there isn’t any more brilliance left to read. Raffy and Luca are wonderfully individual, neither of them having any sort of wild cliché extremes that would take away from their realism. Ryan La Sala stitches the then and now timelines together effortlessly, the dialogue and interactions read like teenagers and everything perfectly unfolds thanks to the authors natural talent for storytelling. Be Dazzled should find a place on every bookshelf to be read time and again, particularly when you need a book hug from what I have no doubt will become a favourite.


Death of an Author and why we can’t kill JKR (for real or other)

Dear Book Community – 

This appeared in its bare-bones form as a post a while back on my page, I decided that a long-form explanation with more information was going up on my blog so here you go. Let us begin yeah?

Putting a disclaimer at the end of a post featuring Harry Potter books and/or merch stating you don’t support her views is a cop-out. Saying “Harry Potter has no author” isn’t a thing. Death of an author is not something we can apply to Joanne, and yeah if you follow my Instagram you’d have seen that I shared that meme in my storiesjoking that the series was authorless or with the various false authors credited. But it’s not reality. Harry Potter has an author, saying it doesn’t and that the fandom is owned by the Harry generation is not okay, it doesn’t fix what she’s done and is doing and you can’t change the fact and information available to suit your narrative. And I say that as someone from deep within the Harry generation. 

So, let’s break this down some; 

Joanne is a cis female billionaire who created a fantastic world. Her books have and will continue to offer an escape for many people, they are a coping mechanism for many, myself included. I had a childhood I often wanted to escape from, and Harry Potter was that for me. It was the book I dove into when my mother was in a drunken rage or even just after a day that felt never-ending. Every time I picked it up it was the warm hug of books. I will forever appreciate that. I will forever have that connection to it. It is undeniable that there are people out there who feel the same or more. This series of books shaped a generation and taught love and acceptance. However, JKR has created a fandom without precedence in a time of social media that affords her more power and influence than almost everyone, and that is why we cannot separate her from her work. 

Joanne is an author with a platform that enables her to reach a staggering amount of people. On twitter, her soapbox of choice, she has over 14 million followers, a number that can be hard to comprehend. She is, essentially, standing in a room with 14 million people listening to her words, frequently without question.That is over 155 full-to-capacity Wembley Stadiums, that is four million MORE people than the population of Sweden. That is more people than words in the entire seven books that make up the Harry Potter series. 

She uses her platform to spread her personal, genuinebeliefs as information, activism and feminism, whiletouting ‘I have spoken to a trans friend’, ‘I’ve received emails from the trans community’, and ‘research’ from sources that if you scrape below that surface layer lean heavily into her opinion while discarding actual research that has taken place in reputable settings. She plucks articles off the internet to support her belief and pushes it on the masses. To her core, JKR believes the things she is saying, that is why this is the particular hill she is choosing to (albeit so very slowly) die on. So why does this matter? Why can we not just ignore JKR and her TERF nonsense, enjoy posting the series, the merch, have the account names with Harry puns or spells? 

This ‘death of the author’ way of thinking is trying to find a logical solution to a problem that is rooted in morals and ethics. While you personally may make peace with a separation of artist and art, if you continue to engage in public forums online, particularly the book and film communities, then without any doubt, the artist will come into play, ultimately forcing them into their place whether you want that or not, regardless of the personal stance you have taken. 

Unlike an author such as (for example) Lewis Carroll, who has an iffy background and moral compass, he has been dead for some time now. He is entirely unable to partake in the work he created, use his profits to support his belief system and he is unable to speak to any of the claims against him, which means, to half-arse quote Hamilton, we can do whatever the hell we want cause he is Super Dead.

JKR is fairly young (55 as of 09/2020) and given her financial resources, will continue to be around for a fair long while yet. She has significant control over her product as well as a deep root within the fandom. There are very few creators quite so deeply a part of their own creation as her, and she knows this. She has had the masses on the hook so to speak, since she entered the public stage about the books. Dolling out information and approving concepts as ‘canon’, not to mention Pottermore, JKR has made sure that she is there and will continue to be there so long as she or the fandom live and this gives her an unfathomable amount of power when it comes to what she is putting out there, she has ready-built respect, a ready-built audience and she straddles a very wavy line in the sense that she has historically been supportive of the LGBTQIA+ community at large. She points back to this support, calling herself an ally and saying she will ‘march in the streets’ with the community (she hasn’t) all while she erases an entire margin of people. She also fails to realise that there are a lot of issues within the lgbt+ bubble, that there is a firm and steady section who do not believe trans people who identify as heterosexual should even be there. So, when she spouts off on her ‘real women’ crusade, at surface level it can be hard to spot her TERFery when you have her reference her ‘ally’ past, when openly lgbt+ people are supporting her and validating her, feeding into the rhetoric and reinforcing the concept on which she stands.

Also, let us be clear here. The concept she is arguing in a lot of her tweets isn’t even one that anyone inherently disagrees with. She has made comments along the lines of ‘if sex isn’t real…”. No one is saying that sex isn’t a real thing, we all agree that sex based on your chromosomes and the genitals you present with at birth is real. Sex being binary is a whole other conversation.Quite frankly, to say that only real women menstruate or get pregnant, that trans women are erasing ‘real women’ is asinine. Not all that are assigned female at birth menstruate or can have children, women who have gone through complete hysterectomies or menopause also do not menstruate or carry children. Are they still women? Hit me up Joanne, keen to chat. 

You cannot control the way an author uses their influence in this world and ultimately JKR is knowingly using her influence to takes us back important steps in the trans rights movement. She will, if she hasn’t already, build an echo chamber around herself of like-minded people to further stoke her fire of righteousness and none of this looks like it will change anytime soon. This is quite literally what she believes at her core, despite her access to various resources, she has made the choice to not educate herself and instead uses her platform to support her own beliefs with zero fear that she will slip into obsoletion. Reinforced by the success of her adult books under the pen name ‘Robert Galbraith’ (we ain’t even diving that wormhole right now) JKR took her transphobic belief so far as to make the murderer of her latest adult novel ‘a man in a dress’. While at a base level this doesn’t seem like a massive deal given that there have been killers who cross-dress to get close to their victim, JKR has set this up to solidify the idea that firstly, trans women are just ‘men in dresses’ and secondly that this is harmful to cis women. She is adamantly opposed to neutral bathrooms/people using the bathroom they associate with because of her bizarre idea that a man will state they are trans to access the female bathroom and go on some sort of sexual assault bender.

I bloody hate to break it to people but anyone, man or woman, in the mindset of committing murder or rape, isn’t going to get to a toilet door sign and think ‘this is the line I can’t cross’. They’ve committed to a heinous crime already Joanne, a stick figure in a skirt won’t be stopping them.

Her most recent foray includes a shirt that states, ‘this witch won’t burn’ and is sourced from a store that is quite firm on the TERF train. This is the level she is at, petty shirts that poke fun at people who oppose her and elevate her to a status that either aligns her with the witches she wrote about and people love, or the historical sort that was burnt at the stake for being nothing more than progressive smart females. If you take the former interpretation, well, she is definitely not progressive and for the latter – honey everything burns if you have the right fuel. 

All of this underlines how problematic JKR is as a person, without us even pulling apart the actual text that makes up the series itself. The fatphobic, racist, and stereotypical portrayals in Harry, things that as younger people went straight over our heads and as adults we could or would turn a blind eye to, things we didn’t fully comprehend and understand the true gravity of. When you combine those micro-aggressions with her current rhetoric, it shapes a wholly problematic author who pours all of these things into her books, continuously underscoring them to those who see them for what they are and subliminally telling the reader that these things are okay, that yes, a man in a dress is an inherently bad thing, again feeding into her platform. You can’t separate her from any of it when she has woven her feelings throughout. 

Every time you post Harry Potter books, Harry merch (official and unofficial) you’re feeding that platform and aligning yourself with her, despite the ridiculous ‘I don’t’ support JKR’ disclaimers. And for what? Because you love Harry Potter? Because Harry made you feel better when you were 11, 14, 22, 30 – whenever. Because Harry Potter was your warm book hug? Is showing your love of Harry publicly really more important than the health and safety of a person? Is your new scrunchie, bookmark, funko pop more important than a living, breathing, confused, terrified teenager. A person that doesn’t feel like their body is right, that doesn’t understand what’s ‘wrong’ with them. 

You may have posted pride stacks and queer YA books and jumped on the ally bandwagon for June. Maybe posted about your outrage in your stories when Joanne really let her TERF hair fly and the world took note. Now you continue to post Harry content, have your house displayed in your bio, or a ‘fun’ JKR related username all the while insisting that you love trans people and support them.

Honestly, I need to understand why. Why you need to know what my Hogwarts house is. Why your username or house is so crucial. I need to understand how any of those things are more important than a real person at times wondering why they are even alive. My messagesare open. The comments are on. Explain it to me, because morally and ethically, you can’t separate this.JKR quite literally, won’t let you. She has more wealth than she could spend in a lifetime and it is entirely self-perpetuating at this stage so all there is left is her influence and we need to do what is right here, we need to support our trans community, entirely, wholeheartedly.

I’m not saying you need to sell your books or throw out your merch, you can continue to love Harry Potter. Love that it made you feel safe. Love that it saved your life. Don’t ignore the very real damage the author is doing. If the lives and rights of the trans community are important to you (they damn should be) then just stopwith your public support of Harry and her. 

Also, as a community that lives and breathes books, there are more books in this world than you can ever hope to read in your lifetime. Find another book to obsess over. The potential is endless. 


Heartbreak Boys – Simon James Green

When Jack and Nate have their seemingly ideal relationships fall apart at the exact same moment, these ex-best friends set out to make an Instagram Summer highlight reel that will make their two timing ex-boyfriends realise what they’re missing out on. What starts off as a journey with purpose for Jack, and one of low-level torture for Nate, slowly becomes two friends finding their way back to each other.

Jack is unashamedly himself, he has ‘embraced the gay’ so to speak, complete with twinkling fairy lights and the odd dash of eye make-up. He is quick witted, self-aware and oh so funny. Out for a couple of years, 16-year-old Jack had faced more than his fair share of bullying for who he fundamentally is, including the abrupt loss of Nate as a friend. In response to this, he really dials up the level of his personality at times, striving to always seem nonplussed by others behaviour. He is, to all appearances, intelligent, unafraid to speak his mind, stands up for himself and what he believes in and has built a reputation for wanting the limelight.

Nate is awkward, very much an introvert and he takes his schoolwork mostly seriously. His often-prickly demeanour (mostly directed at Jack) and unintentional humour are nicely balanced by his pure nature.  Happy to blend into the background he has struggled to make peace with owning his sexual orientation. For Nate, seeing the way that Jack is treated by their peers makes him want to keep that closet door shut tight. Until he meets a boy in the library who maybe likes him back, who he no longer wants to keep secret and he bravely takes a leap. When it and he fall flat, he doesn’t want anything to do with anyone, certainly not Jack, who has entirely different plans and quite literally shoehorns his way into Jacks summer plans.

Both boys have different takes on the same situation from three years prior, ultimately the thing that fragmented their previously close friendship and neither are rushing to talk about it with the other. Despite the years of silence between them, Jack, always wants the best for Nate, consciously or subconsciously, and wriggles his way into Nates cross country road trip family vacation. The character development in this is wonderful, Jack and his chaotic good, edging Nate out of his shell bit by bit and never wavering on his acceptance of who Nate is – a grumpy, precious bean who needs to be protected. Jack darts from one adventure to the next and while out loud he screams confidence, his internal dialogue is much more sensitive. Seeing that move from his own thoughts to showing those emotions was lovely. Nate, for his part, is really struggling with his past treatment of Jack, with being comfortable in his own skin and embracing life when he can. The dual perspectives really enhanced the story, and unlike a lot of books told from more than one point of view, you don’t tend to prefer one narrator over the other with both Nate and Jack being interesting, compelling and individually quirky characters to read.

We come into the story with Jack already out and having been out for a couple of years and Nate not quite there. Both Jacks mother and Nates parents are the ideal example of how parents should react to their child being queer. Both boys face nothing but acceptance from their respective parents, with Nates dad being the one to comfort him when he is heartbroken about a boy, flying directly in the face of a lot of father depictions. Jacks mother is very much a ‘cool’ mum and Nates are more out there and eccentric, but all of them are wonderful.  The added character of Elliot in the latter part of the book should have felt disruptive, (he is a big personality after all) but he just slots into place albeit not at all quietly.

Once again, Simon James Green has displayed his true mastery of the written word and his unfailing skill to write a book showcasing very real emotions and expertly timed humour. He writes characters you can’t help but love, even when you want to shake them for being so dense and his story telling makes each and every one of his books unputdownable. Without a doubt, Simon James Green is a cut above and if you haven’t been chased by a banana boy, taken part in a pyramid scheme from your garden shed whilst hosting a (not French) French exchange student or taken a cross country road trip in the name of gay Instagram revenge, then you are without a doubt missing out.


Camp- L.C Rosen

How much would you be willing to change about yourself in the pursuit of love? Randy has spent the previous four summers watching Hudson Aaronson-Lim from a relative distance, convinced that if Hudson just noticed him then true love would prevail. Except this summer, Randy is done with waiting. He has a plan to snag a boy, and all it’ll require is a full physical make over, a willing supporting cast of friends and a dose of love.

Randy ‘Del’ Kapplehoff has attended Camp Outland, a summer camp for LGBTQIA+ teens since he was 12. A theatre kid from the very inside out, Randy is full of jazz and sparkle, despite his quiet life in small town Ohio. He attends a tiny school that doesn’t even have a GSA and lives for thefour weeks at sleepaway camp, the place he is surrounded by other queer kids and able to feel and be free. He adores being in the end of camp musical, his bunk mates who are also his closest friends, and the bone deep feeling of true acceptance he has when he is there. The one thing Randy wants from Camp Outland that he doesn’t have? A certain guy who is, by all appearances, the opposite of Randy in virtually every way. So, between last summer and this, Randy has hatched a plan and made a few changes. This new version of himself goes by Del and has transformed his previously soft body into muscle. He is forgoing the stage, signing up for all the sporty activities and trying not to feel the ache in his soul as his friends prepare for the end of camp musical. My heart hurt for Randy from the outset. The very idea that he needed to change who he was in order to be seen and loved by Hudson was painful, and every time he locked down a natural piece of himself, as a reader you felt it. His character development was beautifully written, for as heartbreaking as he was at times, he was also brilliantly funny, his journey to self-acceptance was organic and just, real.

Hudson Aaronson-Lim is a dream. He’s tall and muscular, really into sports and wouldn’t dare paint his nails. The very definition of male some would say. He also has a reputation at camp, having guy after guy fall for him each summer and ultimately moving on after he’s gone the distance with them.His final act – immortalising their tryst by carving their initials into the trunk of a tree. The tree. Hudson is a character that is just inherently hard to like from the start. He has an open preference for a ‘masc’ guy and for all appearances seems to draw issue with the flamboyant, the non-conforming and the queer. Throughout the story as Hudson begins to fall for the version of Randy curated just for him – ‘Del’ – his method of conquest changes, he slows down and gets to know him more. Over time, seeing all the pieces that make Hudson who he is and give him this dudebro attitude, you can’t help but want the best for him, for his ending to be so different from what he thinks he deserves and will get. The more, to use the cliché phrase, hidden depths of Hudson make him so well rounded, not a single dimensional character but a very real young man who has had someone else’s ideas of what is acceptable forced down his throat.

This book is unapologetically queer, every colour of the rainbow splashed liberally over each and every page. L.C Rosen has a style of writing that draws you in, a natural storytelling ability that keeps you turning page after page. This book is sex positive; it doesn’t shy away from any aspect while also giving you that warm rush, the heart skipping feeling that a new crush does. It dives headlong into accepting yourself, all of yourself, from your sparkled nails to your love of obstacle courses. The little dashes of previous camps and the overall character growth that takes place, really take this from merely a good read, to a genuinely wonderful story about the journey to not only accepting yourself but those around you. Without effort it remains light and funny, has you emotionally invested in Randy and deals with big issues, which is such a credit to the author.

This has been one of my favourite reads for the year, I will shout about its brilliance for some time and I cannot wait toread it again.


All Of My Friends Are Rich – Michael Sarais

Hurtling towards 30, Leo Cotton works at a job he loathes, his ex-husband has primary custody of his dog as well as a younger, mesh t shirt wearing boyfriend, his bank account is in the negative and now his best friend, Sara, is getting married. In Greece. When a Grindr hook-up surprisingly turns a profit, Leo thinks he may have found a way to increase his bank balance and afford to comfortably partake in events leading up to and including Sara’s big day.

From the first words of the book -literally- we are made aware of how Leo is doing financially, which essentially, is not well. Surrounded by his ‘rich’ friends, with the backdrop of the notoriously not cheap London, Leo struggles to keep pace in their world. Stretching his income as much as he possibly can to make ends meet and living in his overdraft is his normal. He is always the one having drinks and meals (happily and without judgement) bought for him, so it is no secret that he is not quite as well off as his friends, though the exact extent is seemingly unknown as his retail job keeps him in designer clothing. When Sara announces her engagement, Leo knows that he has no chance of taking part in everything with his current financial situation, so when opportunity presents itself, he sees a way to make it all happen. Leo is sarcastic and witty, has the right amount of self-deprecation and reads as a believable character. His life is so far from ideal that as a reader, you want nothing more than the ability to fix it all for him and let him know how loved and wanted he is. In the first chapter we accompany Leo to his psychiatrist, introducing the reader to his bi-polar disorder and the fact he is medicated and reliant on it to avoid the deep downswings and mania. Over the course of the book we watch as Leo struggles to keep everything in check and the very real impact his choices have on his life and mental health.

Sara Langaard is Leo’s best friend. Working under Leo’s ex-husbands flashy new boyfriend, Sara shares in Leo’s dislike for the man, and does not hesitate to voice her opinion as such. A decade of knowing each other has built a friendship most people dream of, with a sense of loyalty and understanding. Sara feels very much like Shazza from Bridget Jones. She swears, chain smokes and drinks like a drain but has always been there for Leo, until she somewhat unintentionally, becomes wrapped up in her own seemingly perfect life. Sara never comes across as nasty or malicious towards Leo, merely like her current life situation- her engagement and planning her wedding- is all consuming to an extent, something that happens to the best of us. Andrew, John and Dominic are all friends of Leo’s, creating a well-rounded supporting cast, further fleshing out Leo as a character. Andrew provides Leo with a place to live and a consistent, safe, reliable friendship, whereas John and Dominic, seem to be more fun, ‘out for drinks’ types, though no less available if Leo should desire.

Michael Sarais has managed to craft a book that takes you on a journey where you quite literally gag (more than once), laugh and try not to cry as Leo stumbles through his existence. His decision to make money from being an escort seeping into every corner of his life, despite his self-assurances that wouldn’t happen. Leo is so beautifully flawed, unaware of his self-worth and often downright hilarious, I routinely found myself wanting to throttle him for his poor choices. The continued struggle Leo faces with his mental health is so real, the way he is not fully aware of how his mental state presents to others really rang true, his mental health was a backdrop to this story that you didn’t feel suffocated by. It was more than a plot point or a box to check to make the story relevant in today’s reading world. The authenticity to Leo’s struggle and his desire to have a life and career he can be proud of isultimately what made me fall in love with this story, more than Leo’s spark and humour. I wanted Leo to find his path and succeed. My only real issue with this entire works would be in regards to the HIV testing, a clarification about the virus taking time to manifest in a persons blood and the quality of rapid result tests would improve things, but that is quite literally nit-picking and nothing more. The writing style is conversational, the story grows organically, never feeling stilted or dull and the conclusion is what you want in a book of this genre, with a tiny teaser for a potential future story. Though if that is the case, I would hope for Leo to be of a supporting nature and not centre stage. Either way, whatever Michael Sarais produces next is something I absolutely cannot wait to read. A wonderful debut novel and a solid 9/10 read.


The Extraordinaries – TJ Klune

How do you get the attention of an Extraordinary when you are simply a bit extra? The Extraordinaries is a wonderfully clever story about superheroes, friendship and discovering that sometimes the things we want most in life are actually much more within reach than we thought.

Nick Bell is your typical teenager, for the most part. Aside from having ADHD, a borderline obsessive crush on the day saving superhero Shadow Star and being one of the most popular FanFic writers on the internet that is. (Though nobody knows that last one is him, aside from his best friend ever, Seth). When Nova City’s superhero, Shadow Star, crosses paths with Nick in real life, Nick’s obsession somehow manages to reach all new levels, as his real life seemingly begins to mimic the fan fiction he writes. Living in a world where being Extraordinary is being someone special, Nick is convinced that the key to having Shadow Star fall madly in love with him, returning Nick’s own feelings, is to become Extraordinary himself. We follow Nick through some less than ideal plans, including much loved comic favourites, *cough* – spider – *cough*, and ultimately the one decision that leads to a great unravelling and spectacular cinema worthy ending.  

Seth Green is the bow tie wearing best friend and has filled that role since they were six years old and a playground encounter bonded them for life. Seth is so obviously, madly in love with Nick, while Nick remains fairly oblivious. After the death of Nick’s mother prior to the story beginning, Seth wants nothing more than to have Nick lead a trouble-free life. Nick and Seth are utterly adorable together, Seth barely managing to conceal how he feels about Nick, and Nick completely blind to it at first, not understanding all his jumble thoughts and feelings concerning Seth. With their friend Gibby and her girlfriend Jazz bringing their duo to a quartet, they are best of friends, supporting each other along the way whether they are entirely on board or not. There is a fair amount of ‘not’ where Nicky and his plans are concerned. “Nicky, no!” “Nicky, yes!”  
Their group is at times interrupted by Nick’s obnoxious ex-boyfriend, Derek, who seemingly enjoys provoking Seth as often as he can, completely aware of Seth’s feelings for Nick. Despite being cast as a quasi-villain within the group, it is hard to truly hate Derek and Nick himself has to remind himself how he feels.

The relationship between Nick and his father is wonderfully conveyed. We are given a real sense for how the previous year has been for them, following the death of Nicks mother, and the trials of dealing with an ongoing condition such as ADHD. His father is trying his best to manage the demands of raising a teenager alone, in addition to working full time as a police officer, though like all parents his best is not quite enough, and you can’t help but have your own soul ache a little for Nick. The relationship and dialogue between them felt organic, a lovely balance of proper parenting, exasperation and the genuine friendship that is built as a child matures, heading into adulthood.

TJ Klune has the ability to write characters you cannot help but fall in love with, stories which keep  you turning the pages and enough of a teaser at the end to make you furious the next book isn’t available yet. Nick is entirely loveable as our lead character, at times heartbreaking, hilarious and oblivious to the glaringly obvious, he is in good company with the supporting characters and no matter how hair brained the idea, a small part of me wanted him to succeed each time. The Extraordinaries has been one of my favourite reads for this year so far and I cannot wait for what happens next.


Reverie by Ryan La Sala

Kane Montgomery can’t remember how he ended up sitting in a river, how the car he was driving ended up crashing into (and exploding) the old mill or even who his friends are, if he has any. In an effort to piece together what happened, Kane, and his sister Sophia return to the scene of the accident and end up leaving with more questions than answers. The mystery of Reverie draws you in from the first page, gently building a world where sometimes your wildest dreams become reality, and not always in a good way.

Kane is our protagonist, found calmly sitting in a river with burns around his head and a much worse for wear historical landmark behind him. With no memory of the months leading up to his current predicament, Kane is determined to fill in the blanks. He is an out, gay teenager who from the start appears to prefer his own company. At times, Kane was surly, and he most definitely didn’t consistently make the right decisions, but you can’t help but like him and want him to succeed.

The villain of this tale, for me, was a delight. It isn’t often you find yourself in the position of being totally okay if the villain were to win, but that’s how I felt. Not because I believed in her cause as love to have had a little bit more of her, please and thank you.

One thing I wanted more of with Reverie was world building. I know definitely, for some people, they’d have been satisfied with it as it. I, however, tend to find myself wanting just a bit more. It felt pleasantly Alice in Wonderland like at times, with the Reveries being a place where everyone is completely absorbed into their role and a mere few are cognizant of the reality of the situation and trying to find their way through. I loved that each Reverie had a plot and that even minor actions could derail it and that each person had a specific part to play.

I know, traditionally, a book review should be written with the avoidance of ‘I’ statements in an effort to have the reader see you as an unbiased, impartial judge. Today, we are going to stray off this path momentarily.
Prior to reading Reverie, anyone I spoke to about it and reviews online would immediately inform me of how very ‘gay’ this book is, that it is incredibly queer, ‘so much gay’. What I expected and what I got were not at all the same. It is, unequivocally, queer. Kane is gay, the villain is in drag and there’s a sweet female/female love story tucked amongst the pages. No doubt about it, its queer fiction. Even with this and more, I didn’t finish this and think, ‘well that was super gay’. In fact it was almost the opposite. For me, Kane was written to be a hero, his orientation part of who he is but not the thing that defines him. He read as a regular (and I use that term loosely, given the fact this book is fantasy) guy who liked other guys. The villain being a drag queen was a pleasant surprise, she was appropriately flamboyant and villainous. A villain with flair if you please. It didn’t saturate the story though, there was no constant, endless drumming in that she was in drag. It again, was just a part of the character, the same as someone having brown hair or an ugly coat. There were no monumental coming out scenes, nobody was written in a stereotypical ‘gay best friend’ role we see a lot on tv and in books. For me, I didn’t finish this and think ‘wow gay’ in the same sense that I didn’t think ‘wow hetero’ when I finished Throne of Glass or whatever. Reverie is first and foremost a YA Fantasy, it has a hero, a villain and magic. I’d like to thank Ryan La Sala for taking the time to reply to my epic long rambling question after I spent 24 hours trying to decide if I had missed something other people had seen. Overall, Reverie was a much appreciated piece of well written escapism, an intriguing fantasy with enough mystery to keep me turning the page.


Such A Fun Age – Kiley Reid

I need to preface this entire review with this- I am like, white bread to the power of a million so I was a bit nervous to review this because one of the main themes of the book is race and I would hate to offend any people of colour due to my unintentional ignorance. So please, read on knowing that this is through the eyes of mayonnaise.

With the fun, flirty title you would be forgiven for assuming this was a lightweight book. Our story follows the lives of Emira, a young black woman struggling with who she wants to be in life and Alix, outwardly all together, successful and in control but constantly wanting to be more. Emira is 25, she has attended college and can type 125 words per minute. She has a tight friend group, a lot of self-confidence and absolutely zero idea what to do with her life. While her friends are making career strides and moving towards being “real adults,” to make ends meet in addition to two days a week of transcription work, she babysits for Alix. While there are two children to care for, Catherine is an infant, so the primary child is little Briar. Blonde hair, blue eyes with endless questions and anxiety, Briar is an absolute delight to read and will leave your heart aching come the final pages. The bond between Emira and Briar is incredibly pure, more mother and child than part time sitter to a charge.
Emira loves Briar and all her quirks, wanting to enrich her world and just love her.

Alix Chamberlain writes letters to get what she wants in life. When she was younger, she started to write to companies to get free things and would post about them online, building herself into a one- woman brand with the goal of empowering women. Preceding the birth of their second child, Alix and her husband, Peter, make the move from New York City to Pennsylvania. From the outside, or the little Instagram photos rather, Alix has her life together. Her husband is reasonably successful as a television anchor, they have a nice house and two little girls- baby Catherine and just turned three Briar. Using her lifetime of letters, Alix secures herself a book deal for them and hires Emira to regularly babysit- mainly Briar, so she can write. After Peter makes a remark on air with racist undertones, they find their house egged late one night, a broken window and the need to contact the police. Alix calls Emira and asks her to please take Briar for an hour or so, despite the late hour, so she doesn’t have to see the police. Emira agrees, explaining to Alix she has had two drinks and is not “dressed like a babysitter” due to being at the birthday of her friend. Alix absolutely does not care and just wants Briar out of the way so Emira makes her way to the Chamberlain house. At eleven at night this young, party ready young black woman takes Briar to a local supermarket to kill time. Briar likes to look at nuts and smell tea bags, so ideal place for her. Some impromptu dancing, a security guard, a concerned citizen and a monied white man with his camera on become the ingredients for an event that takes mere pages of the book but is the thing to knock this story onto a path I didn’t fully anticipate. It all felt utterly real, down to the way Emira brushed the entire event off and didn’t want it to become a “thing” in her life, because being slighted due to her skin tone is her everyday reality.

Alix, after hearing what transpired becomes fixated with Emira to the point of obsession, with Alix even acknowledging to herself that it is crush like. She tries to befriend her, takes to stealing glances at her phone to read her messages, justifying this to herself by saying she never tries to unlock the phone and ultimately seeing Emira as a project she is constantly thinking about. Her tolerance and
indifference to Briar is cleverly written. Her individual interactions with her eldest daughter as standalone moments don’t say much, but the further you read the more obvious it becomes. Briar is an inquisitive, talkative child with plenty of quirks and fixations. Described as having a raspy voice
and a never-ending supply of things to prattle on about, Alix, while I don’t doubt loves Briar,
struggles with her and favours baby Catherine blatantly who is content and quiet. Fundamentally, Alix isn’t a bad person, however she feels representative of a lot of white woman in similar circumstances, trying to be “woke,” (to borrow a term from today’s youths) yet is more concerned with how it makes her look than actually making strides towards any real world change. She doesn’t
think the of the end goal being; how does this help others, it all comes back to what Alix can get from it in some way, even though she doesn’t see it that way.

A pivotal part of this story rests heavily on an ever so slightly far-fetched coincidence when Emira’s boyfriend; white, successful and a handful of years older, turns out to be a person from Alix’s past. Alix is immediately dismayed by this revelation to the point that she doesn’t notice Briar becoming unwell, literally at the dinner table, due to being too caught up in her own thoughts, fixated on the idea that Kelley is only dating Emira because she is black. The interactions between Emira and Kelley felt authentic, with Kelley having genuine affection for Emira, and her for him in return. At one point she speaks of a future between them and how it would be for him, would he take their son to have his hair done, explain how to act around law enforcement simply because of his skin colour, things Kelley wouldn’t have experienced first-hand. Now, you can’t really discuss social class without talking about race but any issues with the progression of their relationship felt more about class than skin. Emira, about to be without health insurance and struggling to cover rent whilst there is Kelley who has a secure job with a fancy apartment in a good area. They are beyond living in different postcodes, they live in separate worlds with a very real monetary ravine between them.

As this book moves towards the final pages, we see Alix make bold decisions with real consequences for all involved when things don’t go, again, how she envisions. The grand finale felt a teensy bit out of pace with the rest of the book, just a touch more hurried though the circumstances are in fact quite fast paced due to what happens. Emira manages to hold her own, it isn’t a happily ever after in the traditional Disney sense (Briar will absolutely bruise your soul), but the way this book settles is authentic and satisfying.

Class and race walk hand in hand throughout this book, but never in a way that felt over the top or really thrust in your face. Kiley Reid has a unique way of telling a story, undoubtedly drawing on her own experiences as a nanny, in addition to being a woman of colour. It is fleshed out and complex without spelling out what you’re meant to think or feel, simply invoking genuine emotions. Her style of writing is so engaging this book is almost impossible to put down, flowing beautifully between dual point of views there is enough detail about the background characters that they didn’t feel flat, the dialogue is believable and appropriate for the different character interactions. However, the true magic here is how one event at the beginning of this tale, that when you read it feels like it can be its own whole different story, becomes the underpinning for so much more. From the first word to the last, this is a true triumph.

9.5/10 and I cannot wait to see what she comes out with next

Everything’s Not Fine – Sarah J Carlson

Rose is a teenager with big dreams of art school, she sees the reality of that dream slip away as her mother lives through an overdose. Rose is forced to truly grow up before her time and be the one to hold her family together as her father is seemingly unable to cope. ⁣

With a new person cropping up in her life and the chance to paint for her school however, Rose has a little spark of hope. ⁣

I found the writing style repetitive at times but overall the way the author deals with the very real impacts that addiction has on a family and the weight Rose is forced to bear, how her story is unfolded, is well done. This was a solid read I would likely recommend to friends but not read again and I would suggest this as a story for older teens. ⁣

Thanks to the @theffbc for the copy of this book. All thoughts are my own.

Giveaway below for a copy of book. ONE copy only. US only.