More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

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Aaron Sato, lives in the Bronx with his mother and older brother, he also has a loving girlfriend and friends in his complex. Thomas, enters Aaron’s life through the most mundane circumstances and the two quickly become close friends. As Aaron finds himself drawn more to Thomas, he discovers that his feelings for his newest friend aren’t strictly platonic. As others in the area, and his so-called friends, begin to notice the shift in the chemistry between Aaron and Thomas it becomes a problem. Due to the ignorance and hate filled experiences that Aaron is faced to endure he turns to the Leteo Institute to hopefully be able to undergo a memory-relief procedure and be able to forget his gay feelings.

Let me try to not have two word-vomit laden reviews in one week. Where Tuesday’s review was a frustrated rant, this review may well turn into an unabashed gush fest lol. The story is set in the not-so distant future where a facility called The Leteo Institute exists and performs a memory overhaul procedure. Leteo is able to remove unwanted memories and thoughts. Although this sci-fi element is very much present throughout the story it absolutely does not detract from the story. I half-expected for this aspect of the story to feel forced and arbitrary, but that wasn’t the case. The Leteo Institute and the procedure serve a purpose and lend themselves very well to the tone of the novel. More Happy Than Not, for a large part, is a story about being in a place where you aren’t allowed to safely be you, a place where you don’t want to be yourself, and what you would do if there was an option to change the things that have been deemed unacceptable about you.

It is widely known that Adam Silvera’s books don’t have happy endings. They don’t have the endings that you root for while you’re reading the story, but they are able to make you think, and they’re not ‘sad’ just for the sake of being tragic. This story is absolutely not “tragedy porn”. More Happy Than Not is an authentic, real, believably heart-wrenching story. Interesting, complex, well-developed characters enrich this novel and honest conflicts arise for many of them. Conflicts that explore the age old debate of nature vs. nurture, that delve into identity and show complicated family dynamics. Although Aaron’s developing romantic feelings for Thomas are a catalyst for many events in this story, it isn’t the dynamic of their relationship that stands out most. The friendship that blossoms between them provides a space where they both can talk about the uncomfortable things, the things that they aren’t otherwise supposed to bring attention to.

More Happy Than Not is a great novel with features racially and sexually diverse main characters. The characters are multi-dimensional and there’s a complexity and often times duality within each character. The plot is well executed and the conclusion leaves you wanting more. The ending is somewhat open-ended, but it feels methodical and adds another layer to the conclusion of the novel. I would recommend this novel to any reader that is looking for own-voices lgbtqia+ contemporary fiction. I rate More Happy Than Not 8.5/10 Unicorn Horns! Happy Reading! 

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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“Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.”  Goodreads

 

This novel is an absolutely beloved gem and is among a lot of book reviewer’s favorite books of all time. I always intended to read this novel, but I wanted to wait until the hype would not impact my reading experience and I could be sure that I wouldn’t have overly high expectations.

One thing that I was not expecting, was for this novel to be ableist AF! It took me completely off guard because I have heard/read reviewers reference the ‘amazing’ anxiety representation in this novel. Cath legitimately made my skin crawl numerous times and angered me to my core. The word “crazy” is used so loosely in this novel and with derogatory connotations NUMEROUS times and in reference to Cath, her father and her outlook on various habits people have.  The way that Cath’s father is written is so aggravating. Her father has bipolar disorder and the representation of this disorder is laughable at best and vomit-inducing at worst.

A little manic was okay. 
A little manic paid the bills 
and got him up in the morning, 
made him magic when he needed it most.

 

"No," Cath said, "Seriously. Look at you. 
You’ve got your shit together, 
you’re not scared of anything. 
I’m scared of everything. And I’m crazy. 
Like maybe you think I’m a little crazy, 
but I only ever let people see 
the tip of my crazy iceberg. 
Underneath this veneer of slightly crazy
 and socially inept, I’m a complete disaster."

 

And she thought about winning. 
About how she was letting this win, 
whatever this was—the crazy inside of her. 
Cath, zero. Crazy, one million.
Well, golly…I never knew that was how “crazy” worked. On top of the fact that “crazy” is used as a blanket term for any mental illness or disorder is deplorable in and of itself. What type of message are these snippets of the story/inner monologue/dialogue (these were just ones that I could find on Goodreads) sending to readers. At a certain point I’ve begun to wonder if it’s just me. Am I being overly sensitive and overly critical of something that isn’t really there? I am a literal unicorn on this one. A person who doesn’t love and/or like Fangirl…I might as well be a mythical creature. Well, on to the next instance and example of ableism in Fangirl
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Levi is the love-interest in this story, but for now let’s focus on Levi as a singular human being. Levi at some point confides in Cath that he doesn’t read books. 
"You’ve read the books?”
  “I’ve seen the movies.”
  Cath rolled her eyes so hard, it hurt. 
 “So you haven’t read the books.”
  “I’m not really a book person.”
  “That might be the most idiotic thing 
you’ve ever said to me."
Levi gets other students to read assigned readings to him. Often, that auditory assistance is from his ex-girlfriend and Cath’s current roommate, Raegan. He let’s Cath know that he has difficulty reading books, but is able to comprehend  and absorb the stories, if they are told orally.
"Of course I can read", he said. "Jesus Christ."
  "Well, then, what are you trying to tell me? 
That you don't want to?"
  "No. I-" He closed his eyes and 
took a deep breath through his nose.
  "-I don't know why I'm trying to tell you anything. 
I can read. I just can't read book."
  "So pretend it's a really long street sign 
and muddle through it."
Now, maybe, just maybe if Ranbow Rowell had left it at just this interaction I could have possibly been able to live this down, but oh no…it shall be brought up again.
 "This is why I can't be with Levi. 
Because I'm the kind of girl who fantasizes 
about being trapped in a library overnight
-and Levi can't even read."
Oh…oh, wow, okay then! You got any other opinions there Cath? 
 The fact that he misspelled "pumpkin" 
made Cath wince.
200w-3
 I wish I had a physical copy of the book with me so that I could throw it across the room right now. Just bash it against a wall until I understand what everyone loves about this novel.
 giphy
I am mentally preparing myself to say this next bit in a way that is coherent, concise, and that conveys why I could not ignore or gloss-over the “Levi can’t read books” portions of the story. Please can we just talk about the fact that although Levi is not stated to have any form of Dyslexia, that the author SHOULD have thought about how belittling and demeaning it is to suggest that someone who cannot “read”, or has difficulty reading written text is in any F**KING way less than anyone else who can “read”. OMFG!
Now…on top of that….Levi’s listening, instead of reading, the actual words on the page is a source of great dismay for Cath! Besides wanting to jump in the book and telling Cath to “f**ck off”, I would like to point out that there are people who are unable to read novels through what others think is the only conventional and correct way. What about readers who are visually impaired? Readers who rely on orated versions of stories to be able to consume them? Are you trying to tell me that there’s something wrong with those readers? Even people who just simply prefer to listen to stories instead of reading the written words….are they somehow reading something different? Does the audiobook of your novel leave out portions of the story which will prevent listening readers from grasping the story? Because that’s the only way I see this backwards a** outlook making any sense. 
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 Honestly, I think Cath was not a great character. Ableism of the general overall story aside, she was one-dimensional and uninteresting. To consider her interesting, I would have to admit that her anxiety is a character trait and I am unwilling to consider a mental illness in that way. Mental illness is not there to make a character “interesting”, characters should have mental illnesses and that representation is necessary in literature because real humans have mental illnessesThe side/supporting characters are the saving grace of this novel! Even though those characters felt like accessories and were not adequately fleshed out, if it hadn’t been for the moments of humorous interactions between Cath and the other characters she would have been void of any smidgen of a personality. I legitimately do NOT understand what could have attracted Levi’s character to Cath’s. And considering what the truth in that question would be makes my head hurt and I’m angry enough already, so I’m just not going to delve into that!
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 Cath and Wren’s father was an interesting character with a rather intriguing career. He was incredibly loving and supportive of his daughters. Wren was a rather complex character, it was interesting to see just how different she was from her twin sister. Wren often times felt a lot more emotionally mature than Cath, which I found interesting considering they had an identical upbringing. Levi, was a rather believable character, he  didn’t feel overdone or exaggerated. There are a few other side characters that add to the overall story and each bring an added level of interest, depth, and conflict to the novel. 
If you have no issue with the previous things that concerned and bothered me, are interested in a story about a girl who writes fanfiction, familial issues, branching out and trying to become your own person, coming of age, and that has mental heath “representation”  then you may enjoy this novel. I personally did not, and for a very long time I actually felt bad about not liking Fangirl, I considered never reviewing this novel. However, I ended up doing it in the end. My apologies for this turning into a rant. I really hope that my points came across through the outbursts of angry typing. I give this novel a rating of 2-out of-10 unicorn horns. Happy Reading! 

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

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This is another I came across at library (a recent “random find”). Of course the cover is what grabbed my interest at first (they are all gorgeous!). Though if I’m being honest I almost put them back since the synopsis hinted at a ton of romance, which I’m not all that into at the moment. But of course as usual the covers eventually won out.

Synopsis: This book takes place in an alternate universe where everything mirrors life as we know it, except for the addition of magic, mages, and an entire magical kingdom (known as the Domain). Split between two POV’s are main characters Iolanthe and Tintus. Iolanthe is a talented female mage living a peaceful life in the Domain on Little Grind-on-Woe…if you can call her guardian, Master Haywood’s, fall from grace and addiction peaceful. 

Tintus, on the other hand, lives miles away in the privileged life of royalty…except for the heavy weight of ruling the entire kingdom, engaging in a political battle with Atlantis (almost like the Catholic church in the Medieval Period, but with magic), and eagerly awaiting the beginning of his late mother’s prophecy. A lighting summoning, unveiling of dark secrets, and magic battle later, these two meets, sparking the start of an adventure filled prophecy.

Rating: 7/10 Unicorn Horns!

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I have mixed feelings about this one. The beginning didn’t do much to catch my attention, or give me reasons to expect much. Iolanthe wasn’t an appealing character, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck was happening since it was difficult to piece together where it was happening. I believe this is Sherry’s first YA (she’s primarily an adult romance writer), and it shows. Even after passing the initial confusion of the first few chapters, there were still more than a few awkwardly pieced together scenes. Ironically the romance itself, generally a plus in this book, at times felt strangely…off, and disappointingly cliched.

But of course, I kept reading for a reason. While the world building could use some more description, the magic system is nothing short of fascinating. Most notably the use of elemental (controlling natural forces) and subtle magic (using a wand to bend natural laws- Harry Potter style). Sherry explains all this in a pretty unique way; by including footnotes at the back of the book (set up as footnotes from a few magical texts available in the Domain). Though there were times flipping to the back would have been too much of an interruption, I found that around the mid-point you could usually leave the extra reading till later without becoming confused.

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Then there are the characters and story line. Admittedly, the story becomes awkward here and there (especially the pacing), and I can’t say it’s original, but for the most part it’s a pretty good one. I was invested in finding out how things would turn out, and even when I could see events coming from a mile away the execution would often be surprising.

For the characters, things really start to pick up once, Iolanthe Seabourne, with the help of Titus, begins attending an all boys school as a guy: Archer Fairfax. Is it wrong that I enjoyed her more as Archer than Iolanthe? She played her part beautifully, and getting to know more about her through this experience is another part of what made this book for me. Diving further into the past and motives of Prince Titus, a pleasantly complex character, was another major plus. Actually, both ended up being somewhat complex characters in their own right. There were even a couple side/supporting characters that stood out. Lastly, well…unfortunately I can’t say the antagonists were the best out there, but they did their part.  

Even with the negative points, I’m actually curious to the point of being exited to see where this goes after the way things ended. It’s a complete trilogy so at least I don’t have a wait ahead. If the synopsis interests you, I highly recommend you check this one out for yourselves despite my mixed feelings.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

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Lucy Hutton hates her co-worker Joshua Templeman, with a capital H. The hate is mutual and the two stop at no lengths to make sure the other never forgets. Lucy and Josh are the executive assistants of the Co-CEOs of a publishing company. When the new executive position of chief operating officer is created by their bosses Helene and Mr. Bexley, both Lucy and Josh are determined to win, because how could either of them bear to work beneath the other. Thus begins a story that reminds us just how thin the line between love and hate truly is. As Lucy begins to realize that they may not harbor as much unadulterated hatred for each other as she once believed they did. 

I have been hearing about The Hating Game for a few months now and I never foresaw myself ever giving it a read because I’m not the biggest fan of adult contemporaries. I finally decided to give it a chance because, 1) I had heard such great things about the novel from Chelsea from ChelseaDolling Reads on BookTube (you should totally check her out) and, 2) It was available in ebook format at the library on a day when I wasn’t interested in reading the physical book I had brought with me to work. Lol, I feel like every “how I ended up reading this book”  story involving a book I wouldn’t normal read has some mention of the library. What can I say…I’m a mood reader lol.

One of the sources of my greatest trepidation going into this story is because the novel is presented as an enemies-to-lovers, office romance. When it comes to literary tropes, the ‘enemies-to-lovers’ is one of the least enjoyable for me to read because it plagues sooooo many contemporary/romance/new adult novels. So, needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much better from The Hating Game. The story surprised me, or I should say, how much I ended up enjoying it surprised me. The dynamic between Lucy and Josh is golden. Granted there are moments where I had to roll my eyes, muttering “How did you not foresee ‘that’ getting lost in translation.” Also, there’s another trope that’s in this novel that if it wouldn’t be a spoiler I would mention, but spoilers are a thing, and the rest of the story makes up for it. 

The Hating Game is incredibly funny, witty and smart. It was fun reading a story that is largely set at a publishing company. Lucy is a reader, has a large smurf collection and grew up on a strawberry farm. She’s a dynamic, layered quirky female character without the author dragging her into “manic-pixie dream girl” territory…which I greatly appreciated. Josh is a smart, difficult, and uncompromising love interest. He’s a great character to be opposite Lucy and their characters complement each other in numerous ways. The two are able to challenge each other and bicker in the most entertaining ways. Although Lucy and Josh have spent so much time hating each other, their descent into their romantic feelings for each other is believable. I give this novel a rating of 7-out of-10 unicorn horns. Although this is Sally Green’s debut novel, it feels that the novel accomplishes what it set out to do, and that comes through during the reading experience.  

 

 

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

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During the month of June I read exclusively LGBTQIA+ books in celebration of Pride Month. I aimed to read as much own-voices fiction as possible, and in my search, it did not take too long to come across Queens of Geek, especially considering that it was a fairly new release. I was immediately drawn to the premise because I felt like this story would be a romp of fun and a celebration of fandom. The premise promised many different points of interest and definitely did not disappoint.  

Queens of Geek, follows a group of three friends who have journeyed from Australia to San Diego to attend SupaCon in celebration of one of them making their film acting debut. The story is told in alternating POVs between Charlie, a Chinese-Austarlian, Bi-sexual female YouTube star who has made a cross-over to film and, Taylor, a plus-sized cosplayer, who’s got anxiety and autism spectrum disorder, romantic feelings for one of her best friends Jamie, and has a Tumblr following to be jealous over. I appreciated going into this reading experience knowing very little about the story besides the information I provided above, so I will not delve any further into the plot to provide a more detailed synopsis.  

Queens of Geek was an incredibly fun read. There is so much within this story for readers to nerd-out over. The story feels a bit rushed towards the last quarter of the novel; however, I didn’t mind the change in pace too much as it actually adds a sense of authenticity to the atmosphere of the book. Anyone who has ever attended any sort of Con (books, comics, movie, fandom, cosplay) knows that the experience is incredibly fast paced and rushed. There is an overload of events, signings, panels etc, and the book delivers in giving you a feel of that. 

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

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I have been aware of Anna and the French Kiss since 2012 when I first started watching Booktube videos. I can admit that I was incredibly uninterested in ever picking these novels up. There was way too much hype surrounding the books, everyone seemed to LOVE them, and I couldn’t go onto any bookish social media without having them paraded in my face. Lo and Behold, I ended up picking up the series this year. I felt I was finally ready to give them a try because I wouldn’t be going into reading this novel with overly high expectations due to the numerous recommendations I’ve received.  

Anna’s famous Author father sends her from her family home in Atlanta to study abroad at the “School of America in Paris” (SOAP) for her Senior year of High School. Anna is devastated that she will be away from her best friend, Bridgette and Toph, the guy she has a crush on and finally got to kiss before leaving Atlanta. Anna resigns herself to communicating via email with the friend and crush she left behind, but finds herself having a hard time and breaks down on her first night at SOAP. Anna is eventually fortunate to find herself a group of friends and even a best friend in the charismatic and charming, Etienne St. Clair. As the school year progresses Anna feels that her friendship with Etienne could possibly evolve into something more than platonic. Problem is, Etienne in already in a relationship with his girlfriend Ellie.  

I will preface the ‘meat’ of this review by saying that I didn’t absolutely hate the story, but I for sure was not in love with it by any stretch of the imagination. Honestly, if I had read this novel when I had been younger I may have enjoyed it much more than I did. It is difficult to overlook the blatant emotional cheating that occurs during the story and the incredible display of double standards. The writing is very easy to read and the story has a consistent flow. The story is not disjointed until the end where certain issues that cause a certain level of conflict are not resolved in a realistic manner. Due to the fact that this story is a YA romance/contemporary fiction there is a certain level of teen angst that is to be expected; however, there are areas where it is difficult to relate to and/or understand Anna’s train of thought in regards to her “friendship” with Etienne and also with her bestfriend Bridgette from Atlanta. There is a well balance cast of side characters, some of whom the reader will get to see in subsequent books. For the most part the secondary characters were well developed and didn’t seem to be there just to take up space on the page. 

Overall I was underwhelmed with the story and with Anna as a character. She was wishy-washy and had a separate set of rules for herself than she did for others. Anna was fairly self-absorbed while managing to not have a very great level of self-awareness and not know what it is that she wants. I would recommend this novel to people who love YA romance reads and that would not be put-off by having a storyline that uses cheating to drive the plot forward and/or a main protagonist that is emotionally unreliable and unsure of themselves in an off-putting way. I give Anna and the French Kiss a rating of 3.5 out of a possible 10 Unicorn Horns. Happy Reading!

 

 

Seiho Boys High School, Vol. 1 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

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I still question my decision to do a review on this 8 volume manga series, and not because I didn’t wholly enjoy it. In fact, my hesitation comes from the fact that I not only enjoyed it, but from time to time found myself suffering from convulsions of laughter. Normally that’s simply a good thing, but I must admit that some of the often vulgar and at best inappropriate humour may have crossed lines here and there.

Synopsis: Seiho Boys High School is more or less exactly what the name implies. Despite being a shojo manga (Japanese comic targeted for young adult girls), the story centers a group of young males at an all male boarding high school in the middle of nowhere. The POV starts with a young 16yr old named Maki, but often switches between the small group of friends as the lament and curse their fate of being stranded without any female in sight. Worrying about forgetting how to talk to girls, past issues, grades, and getting caught with their secret stashes during inspections are just some of the typical things these boys get themselves caught up in as they search for love…or simply to get laid.

Rating: I rate this hilarious contemporary 7/10 Unicorn Horns!

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This ‘crossing of lines’ is something to be expected when a genre challenging series such as this hits the shelves. This shojo challenges it’s typical predecessors in two ways; It’s entirely male centered cast of characters, and it’s incredibly ‘inappropriate for it’s genre’ type of humour. Personally, with the exception of one character’s actions when it came to women, I didn’t see much wrong with the blunt sexual humour, but can easily say that many could find the more…unapologetic and inappropriate scenes/comments offensive. So a big warning to those that would be put off by raunchy humour.

The only negative thing I have to say about this series, other than a couple personally line crossing comments, is that this hilarious contemporary read does loose momentum in later installments as things begin to feel a bit repetitive here and there, or seemed to lack direction (something I believe the author pointed out themselves). Otherwise I loved the characters and the humour even more than I did the overall episodic story of a group of boys struggling to find love and keep it (though that was pretty funny in and of itself). 

I recommend this to anyone looking for some good romantic comedy, with an emphasis on comedy of the inappropriate kind.