Today’s mini reviews are full of love in all its forms.
Romantic? Yep. Platonic? Sure thing. Familial? Oh, definitely. In today’s mini reviews, we love love, and that’s that.
And since love comes in different forms, so do these books! Varying in genre and age range, we’re really covering a lot of ground this morning. What’s not to love?
Reverie by Ryan La Sala
All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.
As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.
This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.
“Saving the world was not usually a matter of want.”
Sometimes, saving the world does mean being gay, shooting literal rainbows from your hand at a drag queen sorceress, and staggering through the elaborate and dangerous daydreams of the people around you. Highly specific, I know. But it makes Reverie a fun, exciting read! With an element of surprise that could take the story anywhere (there is a splash of genre-hopping at its finest!), and a lead who just wants to have hope for his future, this book is outstanding and fun, packed into a standalone shape. Plus, there’s an excellent brother and sister team, which is never a bad thing!
My only complaint is largely in the characterization of the supporting cast. Kane, the lead, feels like a fully rounded character, and a teen to boot. He’s trying, and he’s also making mistakes as you would expect of a kid under immense pressure. But the characters around him sometimes feel flat. Glimpses of brighter characterization shine through late in the book, but by and large, I wish they’d been stronger figures all around rather than a strong trait overemphasized in most scenarios.
CW: car accident, suicide, homophobia, violence (including gun violence), loss of a loved one
Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson
FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX!
At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams. Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together… And they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here.
Collects Lumberjanes No. 1-4.
Lumberjanes is to me what would happen if Gravity Falls and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power had a baby and that baby was a graphic novel.
Partly because Noelle Stevenson is a major force here, as in She-Ra, partly because there’s weird stuff in the woods as in Gravity Falls, but mostly because it has the same kinds of charming quirkiness and emphasis on friendship and loyalty in both shows.
Following five girls attending the Lumberjanes camp, Beware the Kitten Holy is the first glimpse into the weird, weird woods surrounding camp, and the mysteries waiting to be unlocked. There’s creatures with three eyes, arm wrestling statues, river monsters, and more to reckon with, but it’s nothing these eager, over-prepared Lumberjanes can’t handle!
I believe this was originally a webcomic, though, and I gave it four stars because it charges straight in, when I wish we had a little more grounding information. What brought the cast to Lumberjanes camp? How long are they there? Why is it just their cabin that seems to encounter weird stuff? An in media res beginning works in most ways, but it does leave me floundering a tiny bit, especially when it comes to learning characters’ names. Multiple characters reacting in a panel or multiple names in a speech bubble slows the process of narrowing down who’s who.
(That said, my favorite so far is April, who is remarkably prepared for the strangest obstacles.)
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.
The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.
As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?
“On purpose. I love him on purpose.”
When people say this book reads like fanfiction, they aren’t kidding. It has the same present tense, emotionally involved, slightly outlandish feeling that romcom AUs often have. It’s a remarkable achievement in terms of tone, and makes some of the oddball banter even better because it’s fun. Really, in some ways, it has the air of self-indulgent fic, simply polished for publishing, and it makes for a familiar feeling, provided you read fanfic in your spare time.
That said, I’m not as 100% in love with it as so many folks on Twitter and in the blogging world seemed to be. It was a fun romp with some heartfelt queer moments, not to mention some delightful witty exchanges that channel the essence of friendship with zero filters, but at the end of the day? I wasn’t especially invested or particularly eager to see any more of it.
Truthfully, this is probably personal taste. While I’m finding a growing love for contemporaries, stories with a heavy romantic focus continue to fall short for me, simply because that’s not a genre I enjoy. Subjectivity is a hell of time, huh?
CW: sex scenes, loss of a loved one, suicide mention, drug use, homophobia, smoking, implied sexual assault