Mini Review Monday #20

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 last 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 fantastic books that are all either recent or upcoming releases and I will organise them in order of publication date, starting with House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess. I was lucky enough to receive a finished copy of this in exchange for an honest review by the lovely Sam at Penguin Random House UK.

Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win?

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year, these five outcasts will answer the call….

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne. 

Publication Date: 12th May

TW: death, mention of rape, mention of sexual violence, violence, gore, war, torture

Goodreads | Waterstones | Book Depository | Amazon

My Thoughts:

I really loved the blend of introspective character study and action in Hosue of Dragons. It felt perfectly paced so, as though I picked it up in sections as it was a buddy read, I could always easily find myself falling back into the flow of Cluess’ enveloping prose. This made it so easily bingeable and consistently able to hold my interest.

In particular, I loved the use of the multi-perspective voice and how we really got into the heads of each character. Cluess could’ve easily fallen into character cliches but she always steered clear in favour of developed, nuanced people who are deeply flawed in their own ways. None of the characters were perfect or overly likeable and I liked how dark Cluess went at points. It really emphasised the dark and merciless nature of survival and struggling for power. Hyperia was probably my favourite viewpoint to read, as she was just so interesting and ruthless. I also really loved the different bond between the characters and their dragons. I was largely sold on this book by the dragons and boy did it live up to my expectations. We got plenty of dragon content and I loved it!

The world building and politics were superb, really fleshing out this complex world and its intricate web of loyalties and secrets. There was definitely room for more exploration, which I would love to see play out in the sequel. From the very start, Cluess ensures that there are real stakes in this brutal story, making it feel like there was always a genuine sense of danger underlying the procedures. I really appreciated this as often authors shy away from the more gory details of power struggles; it set a darker and more intense tone that was maintained throughout. Similarly, the plot twists were intriguing and well-executed, keeping me on my toes constantly. From that ending, I would be extremely excited to see how the sequel will play out, which is the best reaction I think you can have from the start of a fantasy series.

House of Dragons is an imaginative, lush fantasy with real bite to it that gives it an edge over its peers.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next up, I’m shouting about the fabulous Boy Queen by George Lester! I loved everything I hear about this title and was overjoyed when Amber Ivatt at Macmillan Children’s Books sent me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.

While his friends prepare to head off to university, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.

Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realises there might be a different, more sequinned path for him . . .

With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.

Publication Date: 6th August

TW: homophobia, hate crime, toxic relationship, use of a homophobic slur

Goodreads | Waterstones | Amazon | Book Depository

My Thoughts:

This YA contemporary is one that is sorely needed, with its exploration of learning to follow your own path. It’s set in that uncertain time of finishing school and moving into the world, with an incredibly accurate depiction of the uni process of application and rejection. Lester completely captures that sense of uncertainty and lost being untethered. As someone in this exact position, it felt so reassuring to see Robin’s journey. He’s a fantastic protagonist that is just so easy to empathise with. However, he is not without flaws, he is messy and all the more human for it. This is completely his story of self-discovery and learning to love every part of himself.

On a lighter note, this book just exudes joy from every fibre of its being. There’s such happiness in finding a community and friendship group that accepts you for your true self. The central trio of friends felt so real, with hilarious and witty banter & the way that we often keep secrets for our friends in order to protect them or ourselves. In fact, all of the teenage characters in the book felt really authentic and genuine. Lester shows through them that we all have our own individual parts to follow and it’s not a one fits all experience. Robin goes through a toxic relationship with someone that casts such a shadow over the rest of life, including a hate crime that has haunted them since. Lester is unafraid of showing the hateful prejudice LGBTQ+ youth still face today, but also shows the hope that lies beyond. The book doesn’t have a nice, conventionally neat ending but it feels optimistic and more like the beginning of something new.

It would be wrong for me to write this review and not mention a central subject of Boy Queen: drag. I really loved learning more about this joyous art form and how Lester really emphasised how drag is more than a certain TV show. It is an accepting and beautiful space that accepts everyone and all different forms of drag, which Lester generously educates his readers about. I adored all of the drag names, which showed such wit and skilful wordplay. Also, I loved how Lester wove in so many pop culture references effortlessly. They can often feel forced or cliched, but here they always felt fresh and relevant.

Boy Queen is a brilliant book that I am so glad my peers and I get to have in our lives. Robin’s story is going to resonate with so many people and it’s a fiercely proud tale of self-love.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Finally, I’m discussing the mysterious, thrilling and original Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp, which was generously gifted to me by Rob Richardson at Melia in exchange for an honest review.

FIVE friends go to a cabin.
FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.

Are you ready to play?

Publication Date: 15th September

TW: death, car accident, gore, violence, transphobia, transphobic assault, addiction, torture, panic attacks

Goodreads | Waterstones | Amazon | Book Depository

My Thoughts:

Nijkamp has a real talent for keeping you on your toes, always having to second guess what you think you know. Their writing is so compelling and the tension is kept taut constantly. All of this adds up to a fantastic mystery that delves into found family and friendships. The characters are pulled together because of their bond through a RPG game, which we get snippets of throughout and they play an iteration of the game during the book. I was utterly fascinated by the game and the psychological aspects of why each person chose to be a particular character within their own fantasy. It’s so impressive how these two worlds and storylines are maintained so distinctly, showing Nijkamp’s vast imagination and skill.

I absolutely loved the casual representation included in Even If We Break. There’s a non-binary MC, a trans MC, two bisexual MCs and disability representation, autism rep and rep for chronic pain. This representation meant so much to me personally, as disability rep is so scarcely in YA, let alone it not being the defining trait of a character. We also have such a lack of trans and non-binary MCs in YA and as I buddy read with Ocean, they were mentioning how much little details meant to them.

The actual story is stellar too, with a really solid mystery at its centre. It was twisty and genuinely chilling, with a creepy atmosphere that permeated every page. The reveals, when they eventually come, are clever an shocking. For me, the best twists are when they effectively make you reexamine all previous events and Nijkamp succeeds with that repeatedly here. Matching this are the brilliant characters, who are well-developed and so loveable. It doesn’t take long for you to fall in love with them and their genuine, strong bond of friendship. It felt so natural in the way that their group formed and in the way that it broke, due to a number of factors which I can’t really talk about. You know from the start that they walking in as a fractured group, skating on thin ice with layers of secrets and betrayals hiding beneath the surface. Slowly the truth is revealed and the pacing is immaculate.

Even If We Break is a gripping, unique and brilliantly diverse YA mystery that will keep you thinking long after the final page.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

6 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #20

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