Release Day Review – ‘Sugar Town Queens’ by Malla Nunn

TITLE: Sugar Town Queens
AUTHOR: Malla Nunn
GENRE: YA Contemporary, Coming-of-Age
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 312 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Allen & Unwin on August 3rd, 2021
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

From LA Times Book Prize Award Winner and Edgar Award Nominee Malla Nunn comes a stunning portrait of a family divided and the bonds that knit our communities.

When Amandla wakes up on her fifteenth birthday she knows it’s going to be one of her mother’s difficult days. Her mother has had another vision. If Amandla wears a blue sheet her mother has loosely stitched as a dress and styles her normally braided hair in a halo around her head, Amandla’s father will come home. Amandla’s mother, Annalisa, always speaks of her father as if he was the prince of a fairytale, but in truth he’s been gone since before Amandla was born and even Annalisa’s memory of him is hazy. In fact many of Annalisa’s memories from before Amandla was born are hazy. It’s just one of the many reasons people in Sugar Town give Annalisa and Amandla strange looks–that and the fact her mother is white and Amandla is brown.

But when Amandla finds a mysterious address in the bottom of her mother’s handbag along with a large amount of cash, she decides it’s finally time to get answers about her mother’s life. But what she discovers will change the shape and size of her family forever. 

This YA coming-of-age story centers around Amandla, a 15 year old biracial girl living in a South African township called Sugar Town. Born to a white mother with a black father who isn’t in the picture, Amandla has it tough growing up below the poverty line and trying to cope with her mother’s mental illness. 

Normally I wouldn’t pick up this kind of book as I assumed it was going to focus on misery porn, but I was completely mistaken. Yes, it addresses serious real life issues of poverty, racism and classism, but these are treated as factors that make up the background of Amandla’s life, it doesn’t dominate who she is or what she does. Amandla’s focus is on solving the mystery behind her mother’s past to try and bring her closure and help heal her spirit as it’s clear that Annalisa is suffering from unresolved trauma, and in the process, she discovers family she never knew existed in the wealthy Durban city. 

Amandla grows closer to some of her relatives, but also stirs up conflict and hostility as it transpires that deeply ingrained racism led to her mother being ostracized and worse. There are dark family secrets to be uncovered and a lot of heartache along the way, but what makes this book shine is that it highlights how strong the love is between mother and daughter, between Amandla and her best friend Lil Bit, and in the found family that develops as unexpected allies come together to help her reconnect with her roots. The author showcases how Amandla is blessed with love and support from many corners that the chief antagonist in this story lacks, for all their prestige and privilege. Instead of being a tough dreary slog, this ended up being heartwarming and uplifting and had many sweet moments that made me smile and a particularly hard-won victory that made me cheer. 

For a thoughtful, life-affirming story about the bonds of family and community, overcoming prejudice and proudly owning who you are, check out this book. You may shed a few tears (I certainly did!), but it’s a wholly rewarding reading experience not to be missed. 

Disclaimer: physical copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Book Review – ‘Love Is For Losers’ by Wibke Brueggemann

TITLE: Love Is For Losers
AUTHOR: Wibke Brueggemann
GENRE: YA LGBT/Contemporary
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 384 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Pan Macmillan AU on April 27th, 2021
RRP: $17.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

In this wry and hilarious queer romantic comedy, fifteen-year-old Phoebe realizes that falling in love is maybe not just for losers.

Did you know you can marry yourself? How strange / brilliant is that?

Fifteen-year-old Phoebe thinks falling in love is vile and degrading, and vows never to do it. Then, due to circumstances not entirely in her control, she finds herself volunteering at a local thrift shop. There she meets Emma . . . who might unwittingly upend her whole theory on life.

This is a laugh-out-loud exploration of sexuality, family, female friendship, grief, and community. With the heart and hilarity of Netflix’s critically-acclaimed Sex Education, Wibke Brueggemann’s sex positive debut is required reading for Generation Z teens. Think of this as Bridget Jones’ Diary, if it were written by Bridget’s daughter. 

LOVE IS FOR LOSERS is such a precious gem of a book, I want to hug it close and push it onto everyone to read. 

It’s narrated in the first person by Phoebe, a snarky, cynical teenager who is utterly self-aware about what a misanthrope she is and owns it. We witness every petty, immature thought that crosses her mind and while this is going to put off some readers, I LIVED for it. (only natural this resonated on a deep spiritual level since I myself used to be a petty, immature teenage girl) 

Phoebe has good reason to be a pent-up ball of insecurity and bitterness. Her best friend has ditched her for a boy just as her mother abandons her for yet another lengthy humanitarian mission. Sure, it’s selfish for Phoebe to begrudge her for caring about saving lives, but who wouldn’t be hurt in the same position? 

Fortunately, being in Phoebe’s head isn’t as miserable as you might think, I adored her sardonic inner monologue and biting, acidic observations about the people around her and society at large. She has a quirky, scientifically oddball way of analyzing things and it’s funny to read her conclusions.

This is a coming of age story that follows Phoebe in her transition from a loner who avoids people to…much the same, she’ll never be a people person, but  more vulnerable and allowing a select few people into her heart. A tentative friendship with fellow thrift shop volunteer Emma blooms into sweetest, most adorable slow-burn romance ever. And aside from dealing with normal teenage issues like crushes and exam stress, there’s also an examination of deeper themes of grief and depression which brought me to tears late in the book. 

Another winner for Pride Month, it’s a must-read! If the witty protagonist, female friendships and sapphic romance don’t reel you in, do it for the designer cats! (honestly died laughing every time they showed up on page)

Disclaimer: physical copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

ARC Review – ‘Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating’

TITLE: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating
AUTHOR: Adiba Jaigirdar
GENRE: YA Contemporary, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 352 pages (Kindle edition)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Penguin Random House on May 25th, 2021

Blurb from Goodreads:

Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.

Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after.

Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel  ‘The Henna Wars’ was about two queer teenage girls from culturally diverse backgrounds falling in love against a competitive school backdrop and examining deeper themes like homophobia, racism and cultural appropriation. Her new book ‘Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating’ is also about two queer teenage girls from culturally diverse backgrounds, also features a school competition in the form of Head Girl elections and also examines social issues. Formulaic? Quite the opposite!

Some authors pivot after writing their first book and jump to something completely different like writing for a different age group or in a different genre. This author has written another sapphic YA novel which could’ve easily been a re-tread of her debut (and honestly, there aren’t enough books in this niche, so you wouldn’t get many complaints!), but instead she impresses by taking a similar sounding premise and spinning it off into an entirely new direction.

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Book Review – ‘The Good Sister’ by Sally Hepworth

TITLE: The Good Sister
AUTHORS: Sally Hepworth
GENRE: Contemporary, Thriller
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 336 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Pan Macmillan Australia on October 27th, 2020
RRP$32.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

From the outside, everyone might think Fern and Rose are as close as twin sisters can be: Rose is the responsible one and Fern is the quirky one. But the sisters are devoted to one another and Rose has always been Fern’s protector from the time they were small.

Fern needed protecting because their mother was a true sociopath who hid her true nature from the world, and only Rose could see it. Fern always saw the good in everyone. Years ago, Fern did something very, very bad. And Rose has never told a soul. When Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart’s desire of having a baby, Rose realizes with growing horror that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome. What Rose doesn’t realize is that Fern is growing more and more aware of the secrets Rose, herself, is keeping. And that their mother might have the last word after all. 

This was my first time reading Sally Hepworth and I’ve turned into an instant fan thanks to this book! It’s a mesmerizing, tightly plotted domestic thriller that alternates between sweet, heartwarming scenes and then disturbing, uncomfortable moments that jolts the reader out of their complacency.

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Book Review – ‘Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares’

TITLE: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares
AUTHORS: Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
GENRE: YA, Contemporary
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 276 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Allen & Unwin on December 1st, 2020
RRP$19.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

I binge-read this book over the weekend weekend, it’s such a sweet holiday read! 

I love that this is a romance between two bookworms who connect without meeting in person and develop feelings for each other while exchanging notes and dares, it’s the most adorable plotline. Not even remotely realistic, there’s so much that had to go just right for Dash and Lily’s budding romance to flower, but I found it very easy to lose myself in this bibliophile’s wish-fulfillment fantasy. 

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Book Review – ‘ALL THIS TIME’ by Mikki Daughtry & Rachael Lippincott

TITLE: All This Time
AUTHOR: Mikki Daughtry & Rachael Lippincott
GENRE: YA, Contemporary
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 336 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Simon & Schuster on October 7th, 2020
RRP: $17.99 AUD (paperback)

ALL THIS TIME is a wonderfully moving YA novel that flirts with melodrama on occasion, but succeeded in making me invest in the protagonist and root for him to heal from the immense trauma he suffers and find new meaning in life. 

Kyle tragically loses his high school sweetheart in a car accident that leaves him seriously injured and adrift in life. To say he’s depressed would be putting it mildly! While he’s reluctant to reconnect with old school friends, he finds himself forming a bond with a fellow mourner at the cemetery, Marley, who is recovering from the loss of her twin sister. I found the development of their friendship to be super sweet and while I’m not normally into friends-to-lovers, their dynamic really worked for me because they were both so broken and being with each other helped them recover from grief. 

There were a couple of crazy blindsides in this book that had me stunned and applauding the authors for flipping the script so thoroughly. I didn’t expect it from a cozy contemporary novel and that really elevated the reading experience. 

Recommended for fans of starcrossed romance, complex friendships and sad but ultimately hopeful stories about characters dealing with loss.

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.

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Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Release Day Review – ‘Plain Bad Heroines’ by Emily M. Danforth

TITLE: Plain Bad Heroines
AUTHOR: Emily M. Danforth
GENRE: Gothic Horror, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 640 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Harper Collins Australia on October 21st, 2020
RRP: $32.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

Our story begins in 1902, at The Brookhants School for Girls. Flo and Clara, two impressionable students, are obsessed with each other and with a daring young writer named Mary MacLane, the author of a scandalous bestselling memoir. To show their devotion to Mary, the girls establish their own private club and call it The Plain Bad Heroine Society. They meet in secret in a nearby apple orchard, the setting of their wildest happiness and, ultimately, of their macabre deaths. This is where their bodies are later discovered with a copy of Mary’s book splayed beside them, the victims of a swarm of stinging, angry yellow jackets. Less than five years later, The Brookhants School for Girls closes its doors forever—but not before three more people mysteriously die on the property, each in a most troubling way.

Over a century later, the now abandoned and crumbling Brookhants is back in the news when wunderkind writer, Merritt Emmons, publishes a breakout book celebrating the queer, feminist history surrounding the “haunted and cursed” Gilded-Age institution. Her bestselling book inspires a controversial horror film adaptation starring celebrity actor and lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing the ill-fated heroine Flo, opposite B-list actress and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants opens its gates once again, and our three modern heroines arrive on set to begin filming, past and present become grimly entangled—or perhaps just grimly exploited—and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

A story within a story within a story and featuring black-and-white period illustrations, Plain Bad Heroines is a devilishly haunting, modern masterwork of metafiction that manages to combine the ghostly sensibility of Sarah Waters with the dark imagination of Marisha Pessl and the sharp humor and incisive social commentary of Curtis Sittenfeld into one laugh-out-loud funny, spellbinding, and wonderfully luxuriant read.

In the early 1900s, a series of deaths at the Brookhants School for Girls leads to its closure with rumors of a curse plaguing the school. In the present day, Brookhants is reopened for the filming of a movie about those tragic past events, spurring a new rash of strange and inexplicable events…

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Book Review – ‘Love, Creekwood’ by Becky Albertalli

TITLE: Love, Creekwood
AUTHOR: Becky Albertalli
GENRE: YA Contemporary, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 128 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Penguin Books Australia on September 1st, 2020
RRP: $12.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

Fall in love all over again with the characters from the bestselling Simonverse novels in this highly anticipated epilogue novella. Perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli, the movie Love, Simon, and the new Hulu series spin-off, Love, Victor!

It’s been more than a year since Simon and Blue turned their anonymous online flirtation into an IRL relationship, and just a few months since Abby and Leah’s unforgettable night at senior prom.

Now the Creekwood High crew are first years at different colleges, navigating friendship and romance the way their story began—on email.

I didn’t know how much I missed the Simonverse until I read 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦, 𝘊𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘬𝘸𝘰𝘰𝘥. ❤ Normally I don’t read novellas because I find them too much of a tease, but I’m so grateful to Becky Albertalli for giving us this follow-up so we could catch up with our favorite characters!⁣

𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦, 𝘊𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘬𝘸𝘰𝘰𝘥 is told in the form of email exchanges between Simon, Blue, Abby, Leah and the rest of the gang. It’s set in their first year of college as we check in to see how Simon and Blue are doing with the long-distance relationship scenario as well as how Leah and Abby’s romance is faring in its honeymoon period. ⁣

A novella is the perfect treatment for this because it allows us time to flash in and out of the characters’ lives over the course of days, weeks and months in that tumultuous first year as adults living away from home without growing tired of the email format. I also loved the explanation for why these tech-savvy teens are emailing in this day and age – because Abby’s Android doesn’t want to play nice with everyone else’s iPhones, haha, so plausible!⁣

This is a brilliant feel-good read that had me bubbling over with joy and excitement as I read the fun banter between the loved-up couples and the long-time best friends. 😀 I loved all the nerdy references and cackled at the witty repartee, I had to stop and re-read some lines because it amused me so much. There were also unexpected moments of tender angst and well-meaning brutal honesty which led to character growth and a sweet conclusion. ⁣

If you’re a fan of the Simonverse, it’s a no-brainer must-read, you will love this!

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.

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Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Release Day Review – ‘Loveless’ by Alice Oseman

TITLE: Loveless
AUTHOR: Alice Oseman
GENRE: YA Contemporary, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 448 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Harper Collins Australia on August 5th, 2020
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

The fourth novel from the phenomenally talented Alice Oseman – one of the most authentic and talked-about voices in contemporary YA.

It was all sinking in. I’d never had a crush on anyone. No boys, no girls, not a single person I had ever met. What did that mean?

Georgia has never been in love, never kissed anyone, never even had a crush – but as a fanfic-obsessed romantic she’s sure she’ll find her person one day.

As she starts university with her best friends, Pip and Jason, in a whole new town far from home, Georgia’s ready to find romance, and with her outgoing roommate on her side and a place in the Shakespeare Society, her ‘teenage dream’ is in sight.

But when her romance plan wreaks havoc amongst her friends, Georgia ends up in her own comedy of errors, and she starts to question why love seems so easy for other people but not for her. With new terms thrown at her – asexual, aromantic – Georgia is more uncertain about her feelings than ever.

Is she destined to remain loveless? Or has she been looking for the wrong thing all along?

This wise, warm and witty story of identity and self-acceptance sees Alice Oseman on towering form as Georgia and her friends discover that true love isn’t limited to romance.

There aren’t enough books with asexual protagonists, so my expectations were high, but thankfully Loveless lived up to them! ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ As a fellow ace, I related to a lot of Georgia’s feelings, I really could’ve used this book when I was in high school and thought there was something wrong with me for not being like my peers. My hope is that Loveless can help raise awareness for this largely invisible orientation so that asexual teens find some clarity through representation that matches their identity.

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ARC Review – ‘Bookish and the Beast’ by Ashley Poston

TITLE: Bookish and the Beast
AUTHOR: Ashley Poston
GENRE: Contemporary YA
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 288 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Quirk Books on August 4th, 2020

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Blurb from Goodreads:

In the third book in Ashley Poston’s Once Upon a Con series, Beauty and the Beast is retold in the beloved Starfield universe.

Rosie Thorne is feeling stuck—on her college application essays, in her small town, and on that mysterious General Sond cosplayer she met at ExcelsiCon. Most of all, she’s stuck in her grief over her mother’s death. Her only solace was her late mother’s library of rare Starfield novels, but even that disappeared when they sold it to pay off hospital bills.

On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.

Geekerella is one of the earliest contemporary YA books that I remember falling in love with and so I have a soft spot for the Once Upon A Con series, which is why it’s so disappointing that Bookish and the Beast fell flat for me.

It had the benefit of being a retelling, obviously inspired by Beauty and the Beast, which is my number 1 favorite choice of fairytale to retell, but this book just didn’t work for me. As always, just because something wasn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean it’s a bad book – heaps of other people loved it! So I’d always recommend that if it sounds interesting to you, then go and check it out.

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