Fantasy

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Okay, first of all I have to confess that past!me gave The Gauntlet a pass because I have read too many samey MG fantasies and I had so many other books on my TBR already. But then, I kept seeing all these good reviews/comments about it from those I follow on Instagram, and I started to think that I must try it out.

In this book, a trio of kids get trapped in a board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, and have to win in order to save the main character Farah’s younger brother. The board game is set in a steampunk Middle-Eastern city called Paheli, mostly populated by all the people that have previously played and lost the game.

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Fantasy

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Sal is a thief who decides to audition to be a member of The Left Hand, who are the Queen’s personal assassins. The problem: the audition is basically a fight to the death with the other auditioners, who are all professionals with a lot more experience (and privilege) than Sal. At this point, I probably would have written the story off as a generic YA fantasy (which it kind of is), except for one thing – Sal is genderfluid.
I enjoyed reading this, but it was also forgettable in a way – as many have pointed out, the plot is similar to The Hunger Games and the Throne of Glass books. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t as strong as Suzanne Collins’, and it isn’t as catchy/easy-to-read as Sarah J. Maas’. The court politics is intriguing but hasn’t been fleshed out to my satisfaction (maybe in future volumes?), so in the end I only had Sal to keep me interested. Sal isn’t much, but it helps that the other characters are mostly known by their audition numbers (Sal is 23), so knowing Sal’s real name puts them ahead of everyone else in terms of being memorable.
Verdict: I really wouldn’t have read this if it wasn’t for wanting to read a genderfluid character, and I think if I hadn’t read it, I wouldn’t have missed it, it’s so generic. However, since I did read it – I do like all the bits where Sal outwits the other contestants, and am interested in their backstory enough that I may read the next book. Someday.
Comics · Fantasy · Science Fiction

Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds

I was really looking forward to this book when it was first announced, because I’m a huge Miles Morales fan and Jason Reynolds is high on my “want to read” list. Not to mention that this would be the first story featuring Miles written by a black author.

 

For those unfamiliar with Miles: originally from the Ultimate universe, Miles is a black/Puerto Rican American teen who became Spider-Man after Peter Parker’s death. His comics were the only Ultimate universe comics I read, and after the Secret Wars event he was “moved” to the main Marvel universe. By the way: Aaron Davis, the character played by Donald Glover in Spider-Man: Homecoming, is Miles’ uncle!

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Contemporary · Romance

Perfect Ten by L. Philips

I wanted to read this because (1) the cover is cute, and (2) it looks like a fluffy romcom, which I prefer in movies but sometimes still read in books. It didn’t QUITE live up to my expectations, though – there’s a slight magical element to it which I’m okay with but was surprised by at first, and Sam Raines, the protagonist, isn’t really someone I was rooting for all that much. I sympathised with his dilemma – having broken up with the only other (eligible) gay guy at school, he had no one else to date – but his list of ten traits (that he wants in a boyfriend) was just too shallow for me.

Of course, I was expecting him to learn that there are more important things than looks or money or talent, since this was a romcom. I was ready to overlook his list. The way he treated his best friends and potential boyfriends, though, almost had me DNF-ing this one. I’m glad that I persisted, as by the end Perfect Ten revealed itself as more than a fluffy romcom, and Sam Raines learned more than the fact that there’s no such thing as a “perfect ten” – he also learned that there was more to love than the romance, and that a healthy relationship requires work. Now that, I truly appreciate.

Note: I received a review copy from Times Distribution Malaysia through work; thank you, Jacky!

Contemporary

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Maya Aziz is Indian, Muslim, and American. She is also crushing on a non-Muslim classmate and dreaming of going away to film school one day, both of which are far from what her parents expect from her. The first part of the book focuses on Maya’s inner conflict, and are mostly cute as her relationship with Phil (her crush) progresses, and she gets to know Kareem, the guy that her parents would approve of. When I read this I knew that some of my Muslim friends are going to hate this book, because while Maya is Muslim, she isn’t exactly devout. Continue reading “Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed”

Contemporary

I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin

I originally gave this book a 5-star rating on GoodReads, which I only give to books that either (1) completely blew me away, which doesn’t happen that often, or (2) affected me in a very personal way, which happens more often. Obviously, I have this 5 stars because of reason no.2, but after having a LONG time to think about it, I’ve re-rated it with 3 stars, which to me means that I like it okay.

This epistolary novel is about two best friends who go to college on opposite sides of the country (for some reason that is never explained). Told in a series of texts and emails between Ava and Gen, the book pretty much chronicles their first year in college… where a lot of things happened, and yet not a lot of things happened.

Verdict: To be honest, I both loved and hated reading it – on the one hand, Ava has anxiety and OCD and I related to the anxiety bit, and all the ways it affected her college experience. On the other hand, Ava also said a lot of transphobic and biphobic things in her texts/emails that Gen calls her out on (which is good), but she never learns (which is bad). And Gen. I don’t know. I’m just tired of the trope of bi/pansexual characters sleeping with everyone, and I’m equally tired of the whole college = lots of drinking and sex and drugs thing. I guess if that’s your thing, you’d like this book? As for me, my favourite YA book set in college is still Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin.

Note: I received a digital copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Comics

The Backstagers Vol. 1 & 2 by James Tynion IV & Rian Sygh

The Backstagers Vol. 1: Rebels Without Applause by James Tynion IV & Rian Sygh

This comic was marketed as “Lumberjanes for boys”, and I love Lumberjanes, so of course I wanted to read it straight away. The story centers around Jory, a new student at an all-boys private school – a fact that freaks him out not only because he’s transferring around a time where most people would have already fallen into their own cliques, but also because an all-boys school would be full of BOYS. He ends up joining the backstage crew, who immediately took him in as one of their own, and discovers that backstage is a place of very literal magic (and danger!) Continue reading “The Backstagers Vol. 1 & 2 by James Tynion IV & Rian Sygh”