Wednesday 11 October 2023

books i've loved and loathed│SMALL THOUGHTS #1

Hello, my fellow book enjoyers! It’s been a while since I’ve updated the ol’ blog – life has been a bit hectic. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading! In fact, I’m having one of my strongest reading years in a loooong time. It’s just that I haven’t been able to sit down and properly type up my thoughts. Whilst I will, of course, get back to full reviews very soon, I thought I’d do my own take on the classic Mini Review, just so I can share some of my opinions on books that might get lost in my ‘to-review pile’. Especially because I tend to focus on YA/NA books here, this is perfect opportunity to have a little chat about the other books I enjoy as well. So, here’s a little run down of some of the books I’ve been reading lately! 

Fence: Redemption 

Return to the thrilling world of high-stakes, competitive fencing with a brand new story featuring the beloved cast of characters from the original hit series. 

Are Seiji and Jesse really through? The rumors around Halverton, the prestigious fencing training camp, have spread like wildfire, but it’s not long before a mystery fencer arrives–one who may finally pose a threat to the #1 spot. 

Will Seiji’s unquenchable quest for rivalry be what finally makes him leave Nicholas behind?
For those of you who don’t already know, Fence is my absolute favourite comic series. These characters own my whole heart, and I’ve been anxiously waiting to see what happens next. The Redemption arc contains four short comics that were published across four months, and they have NOT disappointed after the wait. I feel like we’re finally reaching some of the plot points we’ve been waiting for all these years and I’m so excited. 

Royal Rating:

Darkhearts by James L. Sutter

When David quit his band, he missed his shot at fame. For the past two years, he’s been trapped in an ordinary Seattle high school life, working summers for his dad’s construction business while his former best friends Chance and Eli became the hottest teen pop act in America. 

Then Eli dies. Suddenly David and Chance are thrown back into contact, forcing David to rediscover all the little things that once made the two of them so close, even as he continues to despise the singer’s posturing and attention-hogging. As old wounds break open, an unexpected kiss leads the boys to trade frenemy status for a confusing, tentative romance—one Chance is desperate to keep out of the spotlight. Though hurt by Chance’s refusal to acknowledge him publicly, David decides their new relationship presents a perfect opportunity for him to rejoin the band and claim the celebrity he's been denied. But Chance is all too familiar with people trying to use him. 

As the mixture of business and pleasure becomes a powder keg, David will have to choose: Is this his second chance at glory? Or his second chance at Chance?
Ah, boyband novels. One of my favourite genres. I am a sucker for a story that revolves around bands, especially when there is a romance within said band. It just makes for a juicy plot. And Darkhearts sounded like it was going to be everything I’d want in a book. A band torn apart. Friends turned enemies, slowly becoming lovers. It should have been great. I wanted to love it - I really did! But it just didn’t deliver what I was hoping for, and there were actually parts of it that made me mad, if I’m honest. 

The main character was just irredeemably selfish and misunderstanding. I preferred Chance, so maybe it would have been more enjoyable if it was split POV. The building of the romance between them was nearly interesting enough to warrant three stars because there were moments that had me hooked. I just wanted David to open his eyes and realise he was just as much at fault for the mistakes that had been made in their past. Even when he did have a slight realisation of that fact, he still reacted terribly. He was just too much of an unlikeable protagonist for me. 

Royal Rating:

Arthur and Teddy are Coming Out by Ryan Love

When 79-year-old Arthur Edwards gathers his family together to share some important news, no one is prepared for the bombshell he drops: he's gay, and after a lifetime in the closet, he's finally ready to come out. 

Arthur's 21-year-old grandson, Teddy, has a secret of his own: he's also gay, and developing serious feelings for his colleague Ben. But Teddy doesn't feel ready to come out yet – especially when Arthur’s announcement causes shockwaves in the family. 

Arthur and Teddy have always been close, and now they must navigate first loves, heartbreak, and finding their place in their community. But can they – and their family – learn to accept who they truly are?
Oh, this one was adorable. Told in split POV between Arthur and his grandson, we see the two of them come out as gay to the people around them. It was interesting to have the story told by completely different generations, showing us the changes in the queer community and how far we still have to go. I actually enjoyed it way more than I thought I would. Arthur’s story is so important, proving that it’s never too late to live your life they way you deserve to. Everyone should be loved and accepted whilst living openly. If you need a pick-me-up book, then definitely give this one a try. 

Royal Rating:

Spell Bound by F.T. Lukens

Edison Rooker isn’t sure what to expect when he enters the office of Antonia Hex, the powerful sorceress who runs a call center for magical emergencies. He doesn’t have much experience with hexes or curses. Heck, he doesn’t even have magic. But he does have a plan—to regain the access to the magical world he lost when his grandmother passed. 

Antonia is…intimidating, but she gives him a job and a new name—Rook—both of which he’s happy to accept. Now all Rook has to do is keep his Spell Binder, an illegal magical detection device, hidden from the Magical Consortium. And contend with Sun, the grumpy and annoyingly cute apprentice to Antonia’s rival colleague, Fable. But dealing with competition isn’t so bad; as Sun seems to pop up more and more, and Rook minds less and less. 

But when the Consortium gets wind of Rook’s Spell Binder, they come for Antonia. All alone, Rook runs to the only other magical person he knows: Sun. Except Fable has also been attacked, and now Rook and Sun have no choice but to work together to get their mentors back…or face losing their magic forever.
It’s safe to say F. T. Lukens is an auto-buy author for me at this point, and Spell Bound might be my favourite of their books so far. We don’t have nearly enough light-hearted, standalone YA fantasy stories. The characters in this are absolutely adorable, and it had just the right amount of romance between them. The world building was easy to understand, whilst still packing in plenty of interesting info. I’d say that this book is perfect even for people who don’t read a lot of fantasy because the chatty writing style and character driven moments give it a slight contemporary feel. I’m still missing these characters after finishing the book months ago. Especially Sun – they’re an absolute delight!

Royal Rating:

So there we have it - that's just a small selection of the books I've been reading lately! I'll be back to full reviews soon but I'll definitely keep doing some mini reviews so I don't pressure myself to write a full review for absolutely everything I read. But if you'd like to keep tabs on all my bookish thoughts, then feel free to head over to my Twitter, where I unashamedly scream about books. 

Until next time, my bookish friends!

Tuesday 21 March 2023

REVIEW: Boy Like Me by Simon James Green

Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQ+
Release Date: March 2nd 2023
TW: Homophobia

It's 1994 and thanks to Section 28, there can be no mention of gay relationships in schools. When a school librarian leads Jamie to a disguised novel in the library that reflects his own confused feelings towards boys, he notices that he's not the only one who has checked the book out. In the margins of the pages, he and another student start to leave messages for each other, and Jamie starts to believe that he's not alone ... and maybe also has a shot at finding love. That is, until the secret novel is discovered by the head teacher and all hell breaks loose. 

THE SCENE: it’s 11pm and I’m sobbing in bed after finishing this incredible novel, in awe of how Simon James Green has managed to outdo himself once again.     

A love story that starts in the margins of a book? I was already in. But upon finding out this story took places in the 90s, a time when Section 28 was still a law, I knew this was going to be one of the most important stories I’d read this year. And I was completely right. 

When a hero librarian gives our main character, Jamie, a book about two boys falling in love, he discovers that another person who’d read the book had left a note inside. So, with his questions about his own sexuality, he starts a conversation with the mystery boy. 

My own high school years started during the year that Section 28 was abolished, so I wasn’t aware of the damage it had caused and the depths of its censorship until I was much older. But even throughout my five years, I only recall coming across a single LGBTQ+ story on the shelves of my own high school library. Section 28 ending didn’t cause a bunch of queer books to magically appear on our shelves. It was still down to the hard work of librarians and campaigners, and many regular people who spoke out for something they believed in, which Boy Like Me celebrates and highlights the importance of.  

GOD I LOVE THESE CHARACTERS SO DAMN MUCH. Jamie is the perfect main character. He has so many questions about who he is and what his future might look like. Though I’m a bit younger, it still reminded me of my own experiences growing up in the 90s and early 00s as a kid who was on the outside, not quite finding a place to belong. Though this story isn't always a happy one, it shows us that no matter what, there is always hope for a brighter future. 

I won’t mention the mystery boy by name because SPOILERS, however I can confirm that I love him DEARLY. His growing relationship with Jamie is adorable. I also can’t not mention the librarian in this story. What an absolute gem she is.  

  • FOOTNOTES. Including footnotes in this story was a genius move on Simon’s part. Not only did a lot of them give me a good giggle, but it made for a great way to give us little glimpses of the character’s futures. One of them had me in tears.   
  • CONNECTION. This story and these characters feel so real. It’s completely immersive and will wreak havoc with your emotions.  
  • 90’S REFERENCES. Am I making a playlist full of the songs mention in this book? Why yes, yes I am. 

This book took on a different tone from Simon’s other stories, but it’s easily become my favourite one yet. I was sobbing my heart out during the final few chapters. I know I am always telling you to read Simon’s books, but if you’re going to let me persuade you into picking up one, make sure it’s Boy Like Me

My own footnote: my sister and I searched absolutely EVERYWHERE for some Fruit Polos to include in our pictures of this book. The closest we came was a Post Office telling us they do, in fact, still stock them. They just have no idea when.

Royal Rating: 

Sunday 29 January 2023

EVENT RECAP: An Evening with Leigh Bardugo

As a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, I was able to meet her back in 2016 during her Worlds Collide tour with Rainbow Rowell, just after the release of Crooked Kingdom. Obviously, much has changed since then! With her first adult novel and a show adaptation for the Grishaverse, I was eager to see Leigh talk about all of the exciting things that have happened over the past few years. So when I found out she was coming to Liverpool on her tour for Hell Bent, I just had to go. 

I decided to wear the Shadow and Bone jacket I painted just before the release of the show last year! 

First of all, the location for the event was absolutely gorgeous. It’s commonly used as a wedding venue and there were fairy lights dotted around all over the place. On our way in, we got given our signed copies of Hell Bent that came with the ticket. We were allowed to bring one item to have personalised, which I loved because it gave people the choice as to what they wanted signed. 

The event itself started with Leigh speaking a little about Hell Bent and how it came to be, and the rest of the time was a Q&A so she could answer as many reader questions as possible, which I completely adored. It was a very relaxed and casual event, and though I wasn’t brave enough to ask a question, I enjoyed hearing everyone else speak! 

Leigh made it clear that no questions were off limits – it could be anything about any of her stories and projects. There were quite a few people who spoke about what Leigh’s books meant to them and I actually teared up a few times! 

One of the stand-out questions for me was when someone asked if she’d consider writing short-story updates for Six of Crows, to which she said no. She explained that she didn’t see that format working for the story and it would take a full sequel off the table if she ever did want to return to that world in the future. I couldn’t agree more! If we were ever going to get a continuation of SoC, I’d definitely want it to be a full-length novel. 

Taking questions about Ninth House, Leigh told us a bit about her experience in Yale and how that helped shape the story. She recalled how she got criticism when the book was first released due to its themes, but she stuck by why she included them and told them in the way that she did. 

Of course, there were questions about the Shadow and Bone TV show. Someone questioned whether the Crows would be getting their own story told, without the plot being weaved into S&B. Leigh couldn’t tell us anything other than to keep supporting the show as best we can. 

When it was time for the actual signing, I asked Leigh to sign my painted jacket, which she adored! She told me I was talented, and I nearly burst into tears right there, but I managed to hold it together. 

I’m SO happy to have my jacket signed! It was the first time I’d attempted denim painting on that scale, so it was quite the challenge and it paid off. 

It was such a wonderful event and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to go!

Monday 9 January 2023

REVIEW: Mysteries of Thorn Manor by Margaret Rogerson

Pages: 192
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Release Date: January 17th 2023

Elisabeth Scrivener is finally settling into her new life with sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn. Now that their demon companion Silas has returned, so has scrutiny from nosy reporters hungry for gossip about the city’s most powerful sorcerer and the librarian who stole his heart. But something strange is afoot at Thorn Manor: the estate’s wards, which are meant to keep their home safe, are acting up and forcibly trapping the Manor’s occupants inside. Surely it must be a coincidence that this happened just as Nathaniel and Elisabeth started getting closer to one another . . . ?

With no access to the outside world, Elisabeth and Nathaniel have to work together to discover the source of the magic before they’re due to host the city’s Midwinter Ball. Faced with a house filled with unexpected secrets, the couple will have to lean on their connection like never before to set things right before it’s too late . . . 

Sorcery of Thorns was a book I picked up on a whim last year, not knowing much about it. As fate would have it, it turned out to be one of my favourite books of all time. It was everything I was looking for in a fantasy book, and I’ve been gushing about it ever since. When I found out there was going to be a novella sequel? I was THRILLED.  

This novella is exactly what I wanted from a short story follow-up. It catches us up with the characters and gives us what is essentially an extended epilogue. It’s fairly low-stakes, full of fluff, and packed with a mixture of fun action and wholesome bonding moments. Genuinely, I wish more authors would do small sequels like this. I live for them.  

This story expands on the characters so much and I adore it. It was especially great to get small glimpses into the long history that Silas has. He’s such a fascinating character and I could happily read a full-length novel about him. (I am HINTING)  

The absolute best thing, though, was getting a chance to see Elisabeth and Nathaniel’s relationship bloom. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved their chemistry in Sorcery of Thorns. In this book, we see them explore their feelings more and come to terms with their love for each other. Absence of a world-altering plot made for much more time to get to know them as characters.  

  • Literally so much fun. I was giggling to myself throughout a lot of this novella. There are just so many funny moments. 
  • New lore. We get a bigger look into the past of the Thorn family and of the world within this story in general. 
  • Perfect amount of romance. Obviously, the romance between Elisabeth and Nathaniel is at the core of this story, but it’s also about them simply getting to know more about each other as well. 
  • Silas. That’s it.  

I’m so grateful that Margaret Rogerson decided to bless us with this adorable story. I love these characters so much and I fully enjoyed getting back to them. Am I satisfied with the way this wraps everything up? Yes. Would I happily take more content set within this world? Absolutely.

Royal Rating: 

Thursday 5 January 2023

Looking Back on 2022

Oh boy, what a year, huh? I don’t think you need me to recap how this year has been, well, a bit of a shit show for the world. So, I’m just going to focus on my little corner of the internet instead. 

In terms of how my Bookish Year has gone, I’m actually really proud. I didn’t write as many blog posts as I wanted to, or film as many videos, but what I did manage to do was get back out to book-related events

It was a huge deal for me because I haven’t attended an in-person book event since before 2020, and I’d missed them so much. But with my anxious self being out of practice at handling them, I was a little nervous about how I’d react. I can honestly say that the bookish events I’ve been to this year actually ended up being some of my favourite memories

It started back in May, when I finally got a chance to meet Simon James Green. Anyone who even casually glances at this blog knows how much I adore him, so it was wonderful to finally meet him in person. Then in the summer, I got to meet Cassandra Clare for the third time in an absolutely gorgeous The Last Hours event. And then there was November, when I got to see one of my all-time favourite authors, Alice Oseman. Being able to see bucket-list authors this year was absolutely not something I expected, but they visited places close to home and I’m SO happy I was able to go.

In other event milestones, I actually volunteered for my first book festival! It was the Wirral Kids Book Fest, hosted by my local bookshop, Bear Hunt Books. Helping Bear Hunt Books has been such a privilege over this past year, and I’m so thankful that this shop exists. Which leads me onto the next unexpected thing that happened this year… WINDOW DISPLAYS! 
I’ve been taking my art more seriously since my dad passed away, as art was his main hobby and should honestly have been his profession. Losing him encouraged me to actually put myself out there when it came to art. And in 2022, I ended up with the opportunity to paint some window displays for Bear Hunt Books. Never having done anything of that scale before, I was nervous of it going horribly wrong, but it turned out great! I’ve done three displays this year and I’m proud of them all. I know my dad would be, too. 

As for my reading, I hit my goal for the year! I set it for thirty and I managed thirty-two, so I’m happy with that. It’s not quite as high as last year but I’ve been focusing on choosing books I’m especially drawn to and not pressuring myself to read certain ones. That’s meant that I’ve adored most of the books I’ve read this year! If you want to see my list of faves, then I posted it over on my booktube channel. There is one that I had a very difficult relationship with (If We Were Villains) but that’s a discussion for another time. I also did quite a few rereads, some of which I didn’t document on Goodreads, so my actual stats are higher. 

On to my biggest achievement of the year, one I saved right until the last minute. On December 12th, I finally opened an Etsy store for my bookish creations. It’s something I’ve been debating for years but I’ve never had the confidence to finally make the leap. In 2022, I was determined. I chose that date because it’s the anniversary of the day I lost my dad. Instead of focusing on the weight of that loss, I wanted to create a happy memory, and that memory is Bookstera. It’s been a small and slow start but I’m very much hoping to grow the shop in the new year. Either way, I’m so proud I finally had the courage to make a start
So, what about 2023? Over the past few years, I’ve tried not to make strict goals to achieve, and it’s worked out much better for me. With that in mind, my only goals for the next twelve months are to keep reading what I love and to create as much bookish content as I can. I would also love to grow within the community as well. I’m super anxious when it comes to reaching out and chatting to people, so I find it difficult to build connections with other bookish creators. That’s something I’d like to be able to work on this year. 

I also need to work on my blog a little bit. I haven’t really put much focus on SEO in the past, so I think it’s finally time to start learning about how to improve it! My About and Policy pages could do with a refresh, too. 

As for things to look forward to, Leigh Bardugo is coming to my city for her tour at the end of January so I’ve gotten myself a ticket and I can’t wait! And there’s plenty of books I’m anticipating, too. Let’s hope we all have a better year – we deserve it

What are your highlights from 2022?

Tuesday 29 November 2022

EVENT RECAP: An Evening with Alice Oseman!

It’s no secret that I absolutely adore the work of Alice Oseman. They are easily one of my favourite authors, and I Was Born for This might just be one of the most read books on my shelf at this point. When I found out that Alice was going to do a mini-tour and Manchester was one of the stops, I just had to get a ticket! 

i wore my hand-painted jacket of course

Since I don’t get to visit Manchester very often, I went pretty early on in the day so I could visit some bookshops. My favourites are the Gay Pride Bookshop and Queer Lit. They have such a fantastic range of diverse books and you should definitely check them out if you’re in the area. 

Alice came by to quickly sign a few things at Queer Lit, so I was able to pop back there before the event and picked up a signed copy of my favourite Heartstopper volume, the third instalment! After that, I walked around to the venue to see where the entrance was because I’d never been there before, and I found someone queuing by the main door. Even though there was an hour before doors opened, I thought I might as well just stay there. I’m so glad I did because I met some wonderful fans who showed up just after.

I’ve spoken before about how much my anxiety messes with my ability to get out to events and signings, so to find fellow fans who were lovely and welcoming made the day even more memorable. Everyone was up for talking about why they love Alice’s stories and how they discovered them in the first place. I also loved seeing the diverse set of fans that came out to show support - there was no specific age-range that dominated the audience. 

The host for the evening was the lovely Joel from fictionalfates. He did such a fantastic job of asking all of the right questions, and we could see how much it meant to him to be asked to take part in the event.

Alice had a chat about Hearstopper in general for the first half of the evening, talking about the growth of the comic and, of course, the love for the Netflix adaptation that graced our screens back in April. Alice also spoke a little about the future for their career. After the final volume of Heartstopper is released to the world, they want to take a hard-earned break! But the only other thing they’ve been thinking about for the future is a potential sequel to I Was Born For This. Needless to say, I’m very on board with that plan. 

The second half of the event included audience questions. I didn’t get to submit a question because they had to be typed into a box during the ticket-buying process, and I was so stressed about actually securing the tickets that I didn’t put anything in the box. Oops. But it was exciting to hear what everyone else had asked! 

One of the questions Alice answered was about their advice to aspiring illustrators, something I kept a keen ear out for as a fellow artist. They recommended to simply draw what you love rather than focusing on what you feel like you should be drawing. 

When asked about their recent favourites, Alice said they’re loving Disney Dreamlight Valley at the moment. They’re also reading the ARC for the new novel by Allison Cochrun, which they’re particularly excited about since The Charm Offensive is one of their favourite stories! 

Alice was asked what her favourite musical moment was in the Heartstopper TV show, since the soundtrack is so adored by all of us. They said that Nick and Charlie’s snow day was the best, and they loved how it came across on screen. 

I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to see Alice in person after being one of my favourite writers for so long. It was just such a joyful experience and I’m thankful to everyone involved for making it such a memorable day!

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