Book Review – ‘One Last Stop’ by Casey McQuiston

TITLE: One Last Stop
AUTHOR: Casey McQuiston
GENRE: LGBT/Romance/Contemporary/Sci-fi
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 432 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Pan Macmillan AU on June 8th, 2021
RRP: $26.99 AUD (paperback)

Blurb from Goodreads:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Red, White & Royal Blue comes a new romantic comedy that will stop readers in their tracks…

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time. 

If you need a book recommendation for Pride Month, look no further! ONE LAST STOP is the sapphic rom-com of my dreams and I need everyone to experience this magic with me!

The bizarre premise of a time-displaced lesbian stuck on a train for decades wouldn’t normally fit in a contemporary setting, yet I bought it without hesitation because of how grounded the characters are, despite their fantastical circumstances. Jane’s subway limbo is a fascinating mystery running throughout the book, creating tension as the reader yearns for her and August to find their happy ending, but can’t visualize how that may be possible. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s beautiful and feels completely earned and YES, damn it, I shed tears. 

For a rom-com, the story is unexpectedly deep and emotional, and while our star-crossed lovers are the main focus, I appreciate how the importance of family and friendships is highlighted too. We meet August as a steadfast loner, then witness her barriers being eroded by her ‘aggressively friendly’ roommates even as she falls for Jane. Her world feels more real and lived-in with the care shown by the author in fleshing out numerous side characters and developing their complex social dynamics.

This book is a love letter to the queer community, from celebrating its vibrant culture to fierce moments of solidarity as characters band together to somber scenes delving into tragedies in queer history that many have forgotten. Jane’s character being entrenched in the 70s offers a unique perspective on these events and it ties into August’s life in an unexpected and rewarding way. 

Check this out for the swoonworthy sapphic romance and utterly perfect found family, hysterical banter and entertaining inner monologue, plus a nuanced exploration of queer identity and community. 10/10, whole-heartedly recommend.

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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ARC Review – ‘Victories Greater Than Death’ by Charlie Jane Anders

TITLE: Victories Greater Than Death
AUTHOR: Charlie Jane Anders
GENRE: YA Sci-fi
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 400 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Titan Books on April 13th, 2021

Blurb from Goodreads:

A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts.

Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.

And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

From internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky) comes a thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war—Anders’s long-awaited YA debut.

In many a book, the main character is the Chosen One with a special destiny which they are often unaware of and thrown into the plot with confusion and complaints of ‘Why me?‘ I’ve always wanted to read a story where the protagonist DIDN’T resist the Call To Adventure and embraced it whole-heartedly like many of the sci-fi nerds among us would if given the chance. Victories Greater Than Death gives me that story I’ve been waiting for with a great subversion where our Chosen One Tina is well-aware that she’s a clone of an alien commander just biding her time growing up hidden on Earth until she’s old enough to rejoin the war. Far from railing against her fate, we meet her impatiently testing out ways of activating the beacon inside her which will summon the aliens to reclaim her!

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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 – ‘A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor’ by Hank Green

TITLE: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor
AUTHOR: Hank Green
GENRE: Contemporary, Science Fiction
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 320 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Hachette Australia on July 14th, 2020
RRP: $29.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

April May and the Carls are back in the much-anticipated sequel to Hank Green’s #1 New York Times bestselling debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While they were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction without ever lifting a finger. Well, that’s not exactly true. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories.

Months later, the world is as confused as ever. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online about the world post-Carl; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda infiltrates a new scientific operation . . . one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension.

As they each get further down their own paths, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers; unexplained internet outages; and more—which seem to suggest April may be very much alive. In the midst of the gang’s possible reunion is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is the bold and brilliant follow-up to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It’s a fast-paced adventure that is also a biting social commentary, asking hard, urgent questions. How will we live online? What powers over our lives are we giving away for free? Who has the right to change the world forever? And how do we find comfort in an increasingly isolated world?

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing was an exciting rollercoaster ride of a book that gave me thrills and chills, a barrel of laughs and then caused me to internally screech in agony with a killer cliffhanger. I’ve been desperately craving this sequel for 18 months so it had a LOT of expectations to live up to…but wow, this book completely smashed through and exceeded them! ❤

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ARC Review – ‘Something To Talk About’ by Meryl Wilsner

TITLE: Something To Talk About
AUTHOR: Meryl Wilsner
GENRE: Contemporary Romance, LGBT+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 384 pages
PUBLICATION DETAILS: Penguin Random House on May 26th, 2020

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A showrunner and her assistant give the world something to talk about when they accidentally fuel a ridiculous rumor in this debut romance.

Hollywood powerhouse Jo is photographed making her assistant Emma laugh on the red carpet, and just like that, the tabloids declare them a couple. The so-called scandal couldn’t come at a worse time—threatening Emma’s promotion and Jo’s new movie.

As the gossip spreads, it starts to affect all areas of their lives. Paparazzi are following them outside the office, coworkers are treating them differently, and a “source” is feeding information to the media. But their only comment is “no comment”.

With the launch of Jo’s film project fast approaching, the two women begin to spend even more time together, getting along famously. Emma seems to have a sixth sense for knowing what Jo needs. And Jo, known for being aloof and outwardly cold, opens up to Emma in a way neither of them expects. They begin to realize the rumor might not be so off base after all…but is acting on the spark between them worth fanning the gossip flames?

Honestly, I requested this because I have a passion for Devil Wears Prada femslash fanfic and I’m weak for an ice queen boss who thaws out over her hyper-competent and irresistibly charming assistant (The Proposal is my fave rom-com because of this exact trope). Something To Talk About isn’t quite what I expected, however, as Jo isn’t the dragon boss lady that I assumed from the description of her in the blurb as aloof and cold. Far from being disappointed, however, this book met my long-held and rarely satisfied desire to see more female mentor/protege dynamics in fiction.

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ARC Review – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

Title: The Gravity of Us
Author: Phil Stamper
Genre: YA Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (paperback)
Publication Date: by Bloomsbury Australia on March 17th, 2020

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Blurb from Goodreads:

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

Expertly capturing the thrill of first love and the self-doubt all teens feel, debut author Phil Stamper is a new talent to watch.

I really enjoyed reading The Gravity of Us which has such a cool and unique premise. The protagonist’s father has been selected as a candidate for NASA’s next mission to Mars and without any warning, Cal’s unceremoniously uprooted from New York to Texas where his family joins the media circus that surrounds the Orpheus mission. However his frustration at having his life derailed is alleviated when he meets the handsome son of another astronaut and a mutual attraction develops!

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ARC Review – ‘Only Mostly Devastated’ by Sophie Gonzales

Title: Only Mostly Devastated
Author: Sophie Gonzales
Genre: YA Contemporary
Word/Page Count: 368 (paperback)
Publication Details: by Hachette Australia on March 10th, 2020
RRP: $17.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease

Summer love…gone so fast.

Will Tavares is the dream summer fling―he’s fun, affectionate, kind―but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairytale ending, and to complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to…except Ollie finds that the sweet, 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, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again.

Right? Right.

Although the year is young, I’ve been fortunate to have come across some FANTASTIC YA books already, and you can add Only Mostly Devastated to that list! This is a wonderfully engaging story with a lot of heart focused on a witty and endearing protagonist who is now one of my favorite male characters in YA.

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ARC Review – ‘The Unspoken Name’ by A. K. Larkwood

Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A. K. Larkwood
Genre: Fantasy, LGBT+
Word/Page Count: 464 (hardcover)
Publication Date: February 11th, 2020
RRP: $39.28 AUD (paperback)

The Unspoken Name

Blurb from Goodreads:

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

The Unspoken Name is an utterly captivating epic coming-of-age fantasy novel from a debut author who has immediately landed on my auto-buy list. The premise of an orc priestess destined to be her cult’s sacrifice who is instead swept away by a dashing ambitious wizard and trained to be his deadly right hand is bold and exciting, but I wasn’t prepared for how thoroughly this would enthrall me. It’s an early contender for my favorite read of 2020 and highly likely to top many other’s lists as well!

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ARC Review – ‘Beyond The Black Door’ by A. M. Strickland

Title: Beyond The Black Door
Author: A. M. Strickland
Genre: YA, Fantasy, LGBT
Word/Page Count: 400 pages (hardcover)
Publication Details: by Imprint on October 29th, 2019
Pre-order from: Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Amazon (further options here)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

Kamai was warned never to open the black door, but she didn’t listen …

Everyone has a soul. Some are beautiful gardens, others are frightening dungeons. Soulwalkers―like Kamai and her mother―can journey into other people’s souls while they sleep.

But no matter where Kamai visits, she sees the black door. It follows her into every soul, and her mother has told her to never, ever open it.

When Kamai touches the door, it is warm and beating, like it has a pulse. When she puts her ear to it, she hears her own name whispered from the other side. And when tragedy strikes, Kamai does the unthinkable: she opens the door.

A.M. Strickland’s imaginative dark fantasy features court intrigue and romance, a main character coming to terms with her asexuality, and twists and turns as a seductive mystery unfolds that endangers not just Kamai’s own soul, but the entire kingdom …

Do you like dark fantasy? Did you watch Labyrinth and wish that the Goblin King would romantically sweep you around a ballroom? Are you one of the Phantom of the Opera fans that think Christine made a mistake and should’ve chosen Erik? Fascinated by the myth of Hades and Persephone? Well, here’s the perfect book for you!

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