The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us cover

(Chantel)

5/5 – The first official five-star rating I’m giving to a book and I’m about to explain why. There are three characters in this book that I think are very well written. One is our protagonist, Cas. The second is Swift, the love interest. The third is Santa Elena, the antagonist. Except, the three of them don’t fit neatly into those categories at all. This is one of the few YA novels I’ve read that deals with complicated moral codes. I’m not saying there aren’t others out there, but this was one where all three of these characters were morally gray and I loved it. I particularly loved Cas’s journey throughout the book. Which, I won’t say much more about, but when I saw the bold The End on the last page I wasn’t sure what to think. Was I rooting for her? Was I disappointed? I don’t know, honestly and that questioning of the protagonist’s choices is excellent.

Despite their decisions being seen by some as wrong, there are legitimate reasons behind doing what they do and all three of them are protecting someone. Wouldn’t you do anything for someone you loved? Our world isn’t black and white and even though we’re in a time where it’s easy to get caught up in that dichotomy, it’s not that simple all the time. In the world of The Abyss Surrounds Us, it’s the same thing. The people Cas thinks are horrible people, the pirates who capture her and imprison her, they are human and are out to protect themselves and their families.

Now, there’s one more point I’d like to touch on and that’s the romance aspect. This is a f/f romance and I have a type, let’s be honest, so that’s why I picked up this book. However, this book intertwines the relationship between Cas and Swift so well that it’s not a YA romance where two people instantly fall in love and live happily ever after. It’s incredibly complicated. In fact, their relationship isn’t romantic at all, because they are not on equal footing. Cas is a prisoner and Swift is part of the crew holding her captive. In fact, Santa Elena the Captain of the ship, intertwines their lives so if Cas fails in training the Reckoner, they both die. So, not only are Swift’s intentions unknown to Cas (the book is in first person perspective), but when Swift’s feelings are revealed it’s not a warm reception.

In fact here’s an excerpt from that scene:

“Swift,” I start, but I don’t know what to finish it with.

“Forget…forget I said anything. It was off base. I-“

“Swift, I’m a goddamn prisoner on this ship.”

“I know. I-“

“We aren’t on equal footing, not in the slightest. You realize how messed up this is?”

“Cas, I didn’t mean I want to-“

“I’m in no position to be thinking about any of that shit right now. I’ve got bigger problems to deal with than you and your feelings.” (Skrutskie, 166)

End. Fucking. Scene. Holy shit! This is absolutely a realistic reaction to your captor telling you they have feelings for you. Even if you are starting to have feelings for them too. When both of your lives are in danger you don’t go on a whirlwind romance, you fight to stay alive and that is just one more reason I loved this fucking book. It was amazing, and I can’t wait to see how the story concludes in The Edge of the Abyss.

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars Cover

(Chantel)

4/5 – I’d just like to start by saying that this is a queer romance within a fantasy setting and I need more books like this, right now.

I’m no stranger to contemporary LGBTQ+ books, as evidenced by books that I’ve reviewed already, but this was a whole different experience for me. Honestly, I should’ve finished this book soon after I started reading it because it took me about three days to get through the majority of it.

What I was taken aback by was the political intrigue and the mystery of the book, there was something more than the romance at the forefront of the plot and I loved it. Instead of the two Princesses, Denna and Mare, instantly falling for each other and having that be the main conflict. They don’t like each other at all and slowly develop a friendship which then becomes romantic. I found it beautiful to read and it was hard to put down, and I mean that literally because I stayed up past midnight to finish the book. I had a similar experience with Everything Leads to You.

On top of the political conflict is the problem that Denna is betrothed to Mare’s brother who is in line to be King. That is one more thing that keeps them apart once they realize their feelings and honestly, I had no idea how it was going to turn out. I didn’t know if things were going to end happily or not. That’s what kept me reading. I had to figure out how or if they were going to be together. I was invested.

There are a few negatives I had, sometimes the political intrigue was hard to follow, the pacing was inconsistent, and there are a few other things. However, none of those things took away from my enjoyment of the book. I’m easy to please and this book was very pleasing. It was something new to me and a breath of fresh air. I will absolutely read more by Audrey Coulthurst when she publishes new books.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns cover

(Chantel)

4/5 – I’ve always struggled to get into fantasy because there’s always a lot of detail and world building. However, I love world building and I love when it’s done well. So, I have to ask myself why I resisted fantasy for so long. When fantasy is done well, it’s absolutely engaging and fun. It can just be intimidating when there are series of seven books that are 500+ pages long. Luckily, you can start small and start with specific authors.

Caidyn recommended Mark Lawrence to me, and specifically Prince of Thorns which is the first book of his Broken Empire series. It’s his first series and the first book he’s ever written, and all I can say after finishing it is I can’t wait to read the next book. Even before I’ve finished this series, I can’t wait to read his others.

Now, Caidyn did warn me about the main character of the series, Prince Jorg. To put it simply, he’s a little shit. He’s a horrible human being. He’s a murderer, rapist, and overall despicable person. I did avoid reading the book at first because I was worried. I’m not a huge fan of unlikable characters and anti-heroes. I don’t root for the villains and while I don’t see the world in black and white, things like rape are unforgivable in my eyes. Not everyone is going to like Jorg and honestly, I don’t blame you if you don’t.

However, Jorg is a complex, well-written character, and a charming narrator who just happens to be an awful person. It’s important to remember he’s thirteen years old, which just makes the book that much darker and him more unreliable. He could easily be embellishing the things he’s doing.  He knows he’s a terrible person and he’s unapologetic about it. Throughout the first book, he’s not seeking redemption. In fact, he’s seeking revenge. I am certainly not rooting for Jorg to go around murdering and raping, but I’m curious as to what he’s going to do next and how the series continues.

I don’t think I can really put into words how I feel about such a complex character this soon after I’ve finished the book. All I know is he’s a terrible human being and he knows it. He’ll admit it to your face and probably stab you while doing it.

 

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime

(Chantel)

4.5/5 – I became a fan of Trevor Noah through his standup comedy. However, I think that Trevor Noah is delightful no matter what he’s doing, whether it’s standup, The Daily Show, or narrating a collection of stories from his life. It was only fitting that I listen to this on audiobook because I like the way he performs.

Of course, it wasn’t all comedy. Trevor Noah is from South Africa and was born under apartheid to a black mother and a white father which was illegal at that time. The heart of the relationship was the relationship between Trevor and his mother. It reminded me a lot of my own relationship with my mother. He talked about her honestly and talked about decisions he didn’t understand. She wasn’t perfect and he didn’t talk about her like she was, but you knew he loved and respected her. She made him the man he is.

My favorite part of the book was how he integrated South African history into his own story because the two intertwined. In South Africa, he could’ve been taken away from his parents if they’d found out he was mixed, or colored which is what they call biracial people. I didn’t know a lot about South Africa at all, but I know a lot more about it coming from someone who lived there and lived through a huge part of their history.

I’d love to talk about my favorite stories or the passages that made me laugh the most, but honestly go out and read it or listen to it. I’d highly recommend it. It was one of my favorite reads so far this year.

At its core, I saw it as a tribute to his mother and I found that very powerful and moving.

Dreadnought by April Daniels

Dreadnought book cover

(Chantel)

4.5/5 – This is a book about a trans superhero written by a trans author, hell yes. I was absolutely in on this book when I first heard about it. It did not disappoint either. The main character Danny was nothing short of lovable and a few amazing supporting characters were what hooked me most. That combined with this fictional world of a nondescript Pacific Northwest city that seemed like a combination of Portland and Seattle, but was also filled with futuristic technology that doesn’t seem too far off.

Now, I did only rate this 4.5 out of 5 because I personally am not a superhero fan. I don’t watch Marvel or DC movies and I’ve never really been interested*. However, I was very eager to read about a trans superhero who also identified as a lesbian. The only way I’d ever really be interested in superheroes is if I saw something I could relate to.

I will say my only issue with the book were the combat sequences. Not because I thought they were bad, but because they weren’t my favorite parts. I wanted to read about the interpersonal relationships and Danny’s struggle. That being said, I loved the parts where Danny wasn’t perfect in her fighting. For example, in her first big rescue, she had no idea what she was doing. She didn’t automatically know what she was doing and I loved that. She was getting used to her powers, which were incredible, and it took some struggling before she got the hang of it.

Sarah, one of the supporting characters is Latinx and is the funniest character in the book. I enjoyed every moment she was around and I wanted more of her.

On the flip side, there were some disgusting and awful characters that played their parts well. Unfortunately, Dreadnought doesn’t take place in a world where transphobia doesn’t exist. It very much exists and is very prominent in Danny’s life with multiple characters. None of these awful characters is the main villain. They are worse! However, transphobia and really any other form of bigotry exists and aren’t going away anytime soon.

Dreadnought is a superhero who is incredibly powerful, however, those powers don’t automatically make it easy to stand up to those who bring you down. The difference between physical strength and emotional strength is key. This book is ultimately about freely being your true self and I happen to think that’s beautiful. Ultimately, I would absolutely recommend this book and I can’t wait for the second book to come out later this year.

 

* Unless it stars Benedict Cumberbatch.

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Openly Straight Cover

(Chantel)

3/5 – This is a funny and frank book that explores different points of view when it comes to exploration, sexuality, male friendship, and labels. As a female, that was really interesting to read.

This book is about Rafe, a gay teenager from Colorado who is tired of being “the gay kid” at his school, so he enrolls at an all boys school on the East Coast and decides not to tell anyone he’s gay.

First off, this book had me laughing out loud in multiple parts and I love that. It was one of the best parts of the book. I will always pick up a funny book over a depressing one and the reason I finished this book so quickly was I needed a bit of levity. This book had a lot of charm to it and even though it wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed it overall. I can normally excuse flaws if I enjoy a book and nothing really was terribly off-putting.

One thing that was refreshing was seeing a book written about high school kids that didn’t seem watered down. I definitely cringed at some of the things said, but I can remember saying stupid shit when I was younger.

The main character, Rafe switched between likable and whiny for me and even though by the end of the book he seemed to have learned his lesson I didn’t completely buy it. It seemed rushed. As someone who has switched her labels and avoided labels until I finally found one I was comfortable with, I get it, but I don’t think I was ever on his side. I don’t think I ever understood his desire to get away from being “the gay kid”. Perhaps this is because I’m not in high school anymore or because it’s tied into his male identity, even if I didn’t understand it, I found it interesting to read.

However, I found the character of Ben far more interesting. There is a sequel to this book called Honestly Ben and it’s through his point of view. I was hoping it was a continuation and not a retelling through his point of view, and I’m glad it is a continuation. I’m hesitant to read it, however, because he goes on a very different journey and I don’t know if I’m interested in reading about it. He is a very interesting character and I don’t want to spoil too much, but a lot of the exploration comes from his character. I’m just not certain I want to read a book that continues that arc.

In the end, I was satisfied with the book and felt it read quickly and was a funny, cute YA book with a gay main protagonist. I’m just not sure if I’m invested enough to keep reading about these characters.  

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Everything Leads to You cover

(Chantel)

4.5/5 – If you are looking for a great book with a lesbian relationship, then definitely check this book out. I highly recommend it.

I’ll get my only negative criticism out of the way first. I was planning on taking off a whole star, but I loved the book so much, I took off half a star because this is really a nitpick. I’m not sure why the characters needed to be eighteen, they easily could’ve been twenty and it would’ve made the fact that two of the characters worked in the movie industry a lot more realistic. I had to suspend my disbelief, especially early on in the book.

There was one point where I thought I’d get annoyed if a specific thing happened because it was too perfect for my liking and even though it did happen I wasn’t annoyed. I’m being intentionally vague on purpose. I think that says a lot about how well the book was written and how well the characters were written.

Now, I loved all of the characters except the few characters you weren’t supposed to like. I adored Charlotte and Ava and Jamal, they were just as interesting as Emi and I enjoyed how they spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t just the two love interests. They hung out together as a friend group which is a lot more realistic. Even Emi’s ex-girlfriend who doesn’t come off very well at first ends up being really likable because things don’t linger for long. Once it’s over, it’s over and I appreciated that.

The characters are also involved in filmmaking which combines two of my favorite things, lesbians, and movies. I’m so easy to please.

Out of all the Contemporary LGBTQ+ YA books I’ve read this is one of my favorites. The couple is one of my favorites ever. I would definitely read more of Nina LaCour’s work simply on the merit of this book.