Category Archives: Alex Reads

Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Aces, Alchemy, and Ancient Magic

YA mini reviews 2

It’s time for another set of reviews celebrating the vast and delicious variety to be found in young adult fiction! This time round we have a contemporary romance, a historical romp, and a quirky and delightfully haunting story about love and magic. Travel onwards for recommendations! Continue reading

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The Paladin Caper: The Gang Saves the World

paladin caper

And so Rogues of the Republic comes to its climax and conclusion, and so I come to the end of what turned into a trilogy of review posts. It’s been something of a rollercoaster ride, and, despite these not being my most view-grabbing posts, I’m glad I decided to write up my thoughts on each instalment separately. For one thing, hey, even if these aren’t my most view-grabbing posts, I want to put the word out about a story that I enjoy, and if coming across these gets at least one person to say “hey, that sounds like fun” and discover a new book they enjoy, I have done my work as a blogger and can be delighted with that. For another, I’ve had quite a different reaction to each individual entry in this trilogy, which has been interesting to chart. And the reaction to the third one… well, it’s not as positive as the previous two, but in a way that highlights why the previous two were so successful. Without further ado, let’s get into exactly why. Continue reading

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Queer YA Mini-Reviews: Music, Mythology, and Murder Mystery

YA mini reviews 1

YA is one of the most versatile and interesting fields of publishing right now, full of a glittering spectrum of stories of all genres and protagonists from all walks of life and identities. And you know me, I love a good coming-of-age story, whatever shape it may take… and what better way to celebrate those many shapes than to review three wildly different, but all brilliant, YA novels together? Let’s dive in! This time round we have psychological thrillers, we have mythology retellings*, we have ruminations on fame and friendship and fandom.  Continue reading

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Tash Hearts Tolstoy Is the Ace Coming-of-Age Story We Need and Deserve

Tash Hearts Tolstoy cover Simon + Schuster

Let me tell you a story about art, asexuality, and Anna Karenina.

Kathryn Ormsbee’s 2017 young adult novel Tash Hearts Tolstoy broke my heart and put it back together in the way only a good book can. It has everything you could want from a coming-of-age story: the last summer before graduation, familial conflict, heart-tugging romance, road trips, college anxieties, profound realisations set to pop-rock music, the power of friendship … and the personal story of one ace teenager navigating life and love. That last part, you don’t normally see.

Read the full post on The Asexual!

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The Prophecy Con: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Magic Crystals

prophecy con

Every time a trilogy’s Book Two is better than its Book One, an angel gets its wings. One of my early posts on this blog was a somewhat scientific (and pretentious, but hey, that’s what most of my early posts seem to sound like) study of what I called Second Book Syndrome, the curse that afflicts sequels and mid-point novels in trilogies that makes them… just not great comparatively, for a variety of reasons to do with both author heebie-jeebies and narrative structure. Well, my younger self would be pleasantly surprised to learn that I’ve found a series where Book Two is both better constructed and more enjoyable than Book One. It’s a Christmas miracle! It’s a rollicking fantasy action adventure! It’s Rogues of the Republic: The Prophecy Con!

If this sounds intriguing but you haven’t read my review of Book One and/or Book One itself, I would do that first—this review will naturally contain a few spoilers for its predecessor, since discussing the plot of The Prophecy Con will naturally involve discussing what happens in and after The Palace Job. Honestly, this book does a wonderful job both following on from the previous book and feeling like its own individual, fresh story, and perhaps it’s striking this delicate balance that helps it avoid Second Book Syndrome. It’s also a big improvement in terms of craft: the chaotic nature of the writing itself that threw me off about The Palace Job has mostly been ironed out, and the plot is much cleaner-cut into arcs that make a Three Act Structure more discernible. The prose on a page-to-page level, as well as the plot itself, are much easier to follow, and you get swept up in the adventure and intrigue with even more vigour than before. Also, this is the book where things get gay. Consider these your vague, non-spoiler recommendations, and proceed from here if you want more details. Continue reading

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The Palace Job: A High Fantasy Heist Fantasy

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Sometimes a family is a thief with a plot for revenge, a soldier, a safecracker, an acrobat, an unqualified wizard, a unicorn, a death priestess, an orphan with a grand destiny, and a talking warhammer with the soul of an ancient king inside it. And sometimes they steal stuff together.

The Palace Job is the first novel in Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic trilogy, and the very definition of “a rollicking good time”. It blends genres by planting an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist caper in a high fantasy setting, following a rag-tag group of lovable criminals (and you know I have a soft spot for those) as they band together to rob a powerful politician in a floating city. It’s a chaotic adventure in both content and sometimes in storytelling, but it absolutely hooked me with its diverse and delightful cast of characters. Continue reading

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Words in Deep Blue: Poignant, Poetic, and Only a Little Pretentious

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There’s a unique sort of eccentricity and, dare I say it, magic, that surrounds second-hand bookstores. There’s also a unique sort of intellectual pretentiousness that surrounds novels about how great novels are. Cath Crowley’s award-winning Words in Deep Blue blends a bit of one with a little of the other and somehow manages to be poignant rather than snobbish and literary, weaving together a story about love, grief, and the strange power that words have to preserve moments and feelings that are otherwise gone. There’s a somewhat dull collection of straight teen love triangles clustered in there as well, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Rachel and Henry have been best friends since they were tiny, and because this is YA and they’re a boy and a girl respectively, we can reasonably assume where this is going. Just before Rachel’s family is due to move out of town, Henry starts dating the beautiful, air-headed and kind of nasty Amy (all optimal qualities for a romantic rival), and Rachel realises this is her last chance to tell him How She Really Feels. She leaves a letter confessing her love tucked into The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock because she knows it’s his favourite poem, then vanishes into the night. In all the letters he sends her at her new address, Henry never acknowledges the love confession, instead opting to write gleefully about his adventures with his super cool new girlfriend. Rachel, increasingly and understandably bitter, lets communication with her once-dearest friend sputter out, to the point where she doesn’t even tell him when her younger brother drowns. Continue reading

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