With recent events, I could not be silent. On my Twitter is a range of resources and I’ve linked here a thread of bail funds to support protesters who are arrested for demanding justice for victims of police violence. Here is the Black Lives Matter Carrd and 74 bail funds to support as well. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions.
I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the last of which was just the other week! In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’m focusing on three fairly recent releases that all focus on LGBT+ characters. While Pride Month may be drawing to a close, LGBT+ books should always form a part of your TBR.
Firstly, I’m talking about the wonderful Read With Pride by Lucy Powrie, which is the sequel to the fantastic The Paper and Hearts Society. Thanks to Team BKMRK for granting my wish on Netgalley.
Olivia Santos is excited for her last year at secondary school. But when a parent complains about LGBTQ+ content in one of the books, the library implements a new policy for withdrawing books. Olivia is distraught – she’s demisexual and knows how important it is for all readers to see themselves represented.
Luckily, she’s the mastermind behind The Paper & Hearts Society book club, and she knows exactly what to do: start a new club, find ways of evading the system, and change the policy for good!
With two book clubs to run, exams to prepare for, and a girlfriend, just how long will it be before Olivia burns out? After all, creating a book club and trying to get the #ReadWithPride hashtag to get noticed is going to take a lot of energy.
Sometimes, when you’re in too deep, it’s up to your friends to look out for you …
TW: homophobia, anxiety, burnout, transphobia
I really loved being able to rejoin the Paper & Hearts society and particularly that this time, we got Olivia’s viewpoint (possibly my favourite character). She’s incredibly relatable, as she deals with exam stress, activism and burnout. Powrie discuses the high and lows of trying to bring about change and the strain it can place on an individual, especially the toll it can take on mental health. Change can only be effective if you’re in the right place to be able to continue the fight.
The general sense of acceptance, support and love in both the Paper & Hearts society and the Read With Pride gang is just so lovely to read and consider the positive impact this book could have on young teenagers struggling to find a group where they can truly be themselves. Powrie really celebrates the sheer joy of seeing yourself in a book and how devastating the impact of censorship can be. LGBT+ representation is vital and it is our place as readers to shout about it and all other forms of diverse representation in the media we consume.
I just always know that with these books, the characters will feel like real teenagers, right down to the tiny details Powrie inserts. It’s in the titles of books chosen, the dialogue that will bring a smile to your face and the way you find yourself transported back to high school instantly. To me, it shows the careful, considerate writing that never patronises its audience, weaving an enjoyable plot and expansion of side characters. There’s always more going on with people than you may initially realise, as Powrie shows throughout the story.
Read With Pride is a loud and proud call for love and support that I think will be hugely beneficial for so many readers.
Next up, I’m discussing the fantastic The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
TW: forced outing, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, bullying (there’s a list at the beginning of the book, which was brilliant)
The Henna Wars was just a beautiful, soft and warm-hearted sapphic contemporary that delves into cultural appropriation, identity and sisterhood.
Jaigirdar writes relationships in such a lovely way, from the strong sister bond between Nishat and Priti to the central romance of the book. Your heart just swells with love for this sweet romance, but it initially starts with the love interest being unlikable until she learns, grows and changes. The relationship seems to blossom naturally, slowly creeping from enemies to friends to more. Also the sibling relationship is completely supportive, straight from the crushing scene at the start when Nishat tries to come out to her parents. Jaigirdar hammers home every instance of racism and homophobia so you flinch from the impact on the page, as they even come from the closest people to Nishat. It exposes the ugly truth of the rampant racism still prevalent in the UK, as she is forced to defend her culture and her identity at every turn, facing endless microaggressions and the appropriation of a hugely significant art form to her. It’s intersectional in its vital discussions, including the style-shifting people of colour are often forced to do around white people.
I really enjoyed Jaigirdar’s writing style, which felt fresh and engaging. The dialogue never felt stilted or like it was trying too hard, rather natural and electric. She sketched out these authentic characters, who felt so much like real teenagers, especially in the party scenes. She just gets it and that comes across so strongly through her brilliant writing. I also love how much Bengali culture there is in this book, which I must admit I didn’t know much about before starting. It infuses the book with such spirit and joy, so I am thankful to Jaigirdar for sharing her gorgeous culture and educating people like me.
The Henna Wars is an amazing, heartfelt contemporary that you can definitely believe the hype for.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to shout about the staggeringly amazing Dangerous Remedy, which I got to read early via Netgalley.
Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?
In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.
TW: violence, death, gore
The ebook of this title is currently out, but the hardback has been pushed to August. I’d still strongly recommend that you preorder it!
This is one tightly-plotted, imaginative and epic historical fantasy tale.
I loved how Dunn interwove history, magical elements and gorgeous romances into one entertaining, heart-racing read. Her writing just envelopes you into the smoky shadows of her world and makes you never want to leave. The plot twists come at you thick and fast, adding to this tangled web of secrets and lies that are slowly unravelled to the reader. It’s such a compelling read that is reluctant to let you leave, especially with that tantalising ending. The way Dunn manages to weave multiple plot lines together without it becoming too convoluted is just superb. Her sense of pacing and plotting is exquisite, allowing us time to get used to the rich world and cast of characters Dunn has woven so well.
I loved how fleshed-out and brilliant the whole central cast of characters was, with the use of two main narrators cleverly allowing me to connect with each of them even more and see their various bonds. This is a rag-tag bunch of lovable misfits that have created their own found family, a trope which which I always love. They make mistakes, grow and change in such a believable way that makes them that much more human. Dunn adds just the right amount of wit to their dialogue to crack a smile on my face and like most families, there are arguments and fights. However, it is always evident that love and compassion lies behind their messy group. Every relationship established, romantic or platonic, feels natural and is allowed to breathe, a rare and impressive feat in a sea of insta-love romances.
Dangerous Remedy is a gorgeously written, mysterious and character-driven story that I cannot wait to continue in the sequel.