Review: Slay

Review: Slay

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

A teen game developer finds herself facing an online troll after her Black Panther-inspired game reaches mainstream media and is labelled as exclusionary when a young Black boy is murdered over an online dispute. No one knows that Kiera Johnson, an honours student, runs the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. So when her game’s existence is thrown out into the open, she must save her game while also protecting the safe community she has created for Black gamers. 

SLAY comes to life when Kiera Johnson’s experiences of being a Black gamer means she is ostracised and faces continuously racist abuse. SLAY becomes her refuge where she can put aside her fears about college and whether her future with her boyfriend is the one and, simply put, slays in her self-made game environment. I loved the gameplay detail a lot. For some, it can feel overwhelming, but I loved the detail Morris put into bringing SLAY to life! The gaming culture is one of the book’s strongest point. 

When word of SLAY leaks to the media, Kiera is devastated to see what was a safe space for so many people suddenly branded and portrayed in a negative light, this book is a discussion of the importance of space spaces, and they have the right to exist without being labelled racist. 

In my opinion, the book struggles to make me feel like Kiera developed this game. I thought we’d get a better explanation to how she manages to run SLAY, a VR MMORPG, but we get so little that it made the reading experience disappointing. SLAY is Kiera’s baby, but to maintain a game like SLAY for years with no one in your family realising and only having two people moderating a game with 500k users doesn’t make sense. I would’ve loved to have seen Kiera actively working on SLAY rather than pushing it to the side and with little to show of her skill in game development. Also, the ending was rather disappointing as well, and a lot is glossed over, and not developed. So it’s a shame the side characters weren’t as impressive as they had the potential to be better. Kiera deserves better friends after everything she’s been through. 

Overall, despite my own shortcomings with SLAY, Morris’s debut is a sweet love letter to Black gamer girls. SLAY is born out of Kiera’s wish to promote Black culture from across the diverse diaspora. Collectable battle cards are grounded in Black culture, each with a deep meaning and can kick ass on the digital playing field. SLAY was a good read, and I’ll happily check out anything else Morris will release in the future.  

Here are some #OwnVoices reviews from Black book bloggers: Leila and Liselle Sambury


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Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

 A small American town finds themselves back in the limelight after a murderer remerges to terrorise its citizens. Twins Ellery and Ezra move into town to live with their grandmother when their mother is admitted into rehab and find themselves in the centre of the murder mystery. As they settle into their new home, they discover that Echo Ridge thrives on gossip and the new drama brings up old wounds of their missing aunt and creates new ones when people begin to wonder if they have a copycat or the original killer on their hands.

The main problem with the story is that there’s too much, and not much being done with it. Too many characters, too many side plots, and not enough focus on the original mystery that there is a lack of depth to everything. Ellery and Ezra’s aunt went missing before they were born, and her disappearance doesn’t seem to impact or intertwined with the current mystery like it’s suggested to be until the end. McManus relies on clichés without working on them further. Rich, snobby girls and all-American jocks. And their voices weren’t distinct enough to be remotely memorable.

What I appreciated the most about Two Can Keep A Secret was the little things. I really enjoyed the theme of family, and while this book does go on a tangent at some points, the family was a key motivation in all the characters. There’s also some discussion by the side character about being a minority in a heavily white population and how you are forced to be perfect in fear of lash back.

Like McManus’s debut, Two Can Keep A Secret followed through with that intriguing and suspense building flair. It certainly keeps you guessing and enjoyed how this small town both mixed and clashed with each other. The chapters alternate between Ellery and Malcolm, whose brother was accused of killing the first girl five years ago. Malcolm, I think, had the most substantial chapters. He has to struggle with everyone pointing the finger at him and no one willing to listen to him. Ellery is a true crime fanatic which was born out of never knowing what happened to her aunt. She’s rather exciting, and I liked how she thinks. But I found it a little inappropriate at times for her to be digging into an actual crime and treating it as her own plaything. Being stubborn isn’t a bad thing, but I could never take her seriously because she never did.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Two Can Keep A Secret much more than I did with One of Us is Lying. Both books have their strengths and flaws, but I think TCKAS was a stronger and more enticing read. It was a satisfying read about a small town with big secrets. I was super invested quite quickly, but I found my interesting waning towards the end. But it was still a satisfying read, and a quite quick read I might add, I would recommend reading if you have an afternoon to kill.


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Review: Red, White & Royal Blue

Review: Red, White & Royal Blue

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5)

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz finds himself falling in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an accident launches their non-existent friendship into international light. Damage control turns into an unlikely friendship and with his mother kicking off her re-election bid, the choices Alex must make can upend everything his family has worked for.

RWRB was strangely entertaining. I dived in not expecting much but came out with a good laugh and a feeling of warmth. McQuinston creates a world in which Trump never happened and instead, the first female president was elected. Alex is proud of his family and will do anything to help them. And that even means putting aside his disdain for Prince Henry for the sake of American-British relations.

Contemporary books that try to get with the current lingo often come across as embarrassing. But RWRB made it surprisingly work. Alex was a hilarious main lead. He’s very full of himself but I’m saying that in a nice way. I personally didn’t like Henry, he just came across as a stereotypical British person. But their relationship together was pretty sweet. Henry is gay, but Alex is questioning his sexuality for most of the book, before coming out as bisexual. They work really well together, and they try their bests to help each other out, despite the circumstances. The side characters are really great to read. I really enjoyed the strong sibling relationship and the whole unlikely yet supportive friendship group that develops in the book.

The political backdrop will be a hit or miss for some readers. I’m sort of in the middle. I feel like this book wanted to stay completely on the romance path but couldn’t ignore the political context in which it’s set in. I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of it,, but I particularly loved the message that Alex sent about being a non-white person in America and how the melting pot that is the country is what makes America and diversity should be celebrated, not shunned away.

I didn’t really have much issue with this book. Adiba Jaigirdar says its more eloquently than I ever could, but because this story is essentially these two people, children of national figures, falling in love. And one of the people being a member of the royal family, you’re given this idealised image of British royalty. An empire which has committed many crimes against humanity. McQuiston does acknowledge the awfulness and Henry is aware of this privilege but positioning him as this ‘not like the others’ prince really wasn’t cutting it for me. But I don’t think I’ll knock off anything from my rating for it, it’s just a personal taste.  

Overall, I personally really enjoyed it. Another review called it a “bookish security blanket” which is rather fitting. It’s hilarious and heart-warming. I found myself engrossed at most. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for an international royal romance.


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Review: All the Things We Never Said

Review: All the Things We Never Said

Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

This is not a spoiler-free review. Content warning: Suicide (suicidal thoughts, discussion of ways to die by suicide, including two on the page attempts), sexual assault (implied and attempted rape on the page). More to be added…

Three different teenage girls join a website (MementoMori.com) that matches people and allocates them a shared date where they must die by suicide together. As they prepare for their final days, they slowly realise they don’t want to go through with it anymore, but the website won’t let them.

All the Things We Never Said (ATTWNS) is hard. Honestly, I found this such a difficult book to read. This is definitely a book to check for trigger warnings before picking it up because while I don’t suffer any of the issues that the main characters suffer with, it was just so emotionally draining, which is why I rated it a three, but I do believe the overall content is worthier of four. (4/5)

As mentioned before, ATTWNS follows the lives of three completely different girls.

Mehreen, a Bangladeshi girl who suffers from anxiety and depression which manifests into something she calls The Chaos. She always feels like she doesn’t fit in with her Muslim family and community. Cara suffers from the guilt of surviving a car accident which resulted in her dad’s death and her being in a wheelchair. Olivia looks picture perfect but is hiding the fact her mother’s boyfriend is abusing her.

With nothing in common but the website, these three girls come together to plan their joint suicide together. Tasked with a to-do list from MementoMori, the girls must submit evidence to completion. But slowly, these girls become friends and see good help in each other. They grow to depend on each other positively, and they bond so well. Each chapter was very distinct and showcased their varied personalities. Mehreen is more collected, Cara is loud, and Olivia is quite challenging to pin down. But they all worked together, and they realise how they all bring the best of each other out of themselves. Sure, they mess up, and that’s chalked up to just being young and inexperienced and being afraid to ask for help.

Overall, ATTWNS is quite the page-turner. The way MementoMori terrorises them was horrifying. And it’s not something that’s completely detached from real life, the way people online use people’s insecurities to gain pleasure is terrifying. (see: Blue Whale or Momo Challenge – both hoaxes but still dangerous) I appreciated that this story highlights stuff like that while also treating it sensitively and realistically.  


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Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a physical copy via the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

I’m not sure where to start because there’s so much to this story. After discovering his cousin, Jun was murdered and fuelled by a mysterious Instagram message, Jay Reguero heads to the Philippines to find out the real story. There, Jay must reconnect with a life he barely remembers and family who refuse to acknowledge what has happened.

Told through a mix of narrations, switching between Jay and the letters addressed to him, Patron Saints was deeply emotional. It’s a coming of age story that really tugs at your heartstring.

If you don’t know much about Duterte’s war on crime, this book really sets the scene really well. It’s not going to hold your hand and tell you the violent history of Philippine’s current president, but it really highlights and summarises the political background Jay is set in really well. We get an understanding of the situation from different characters. And I thought it was discussed really well and didn’t shy away from controversies and really emphasises how the context impacts Jay and his search for the truth.

The story follows Jay as he’s moving from different family households in his visit to the Philippines. His extended family play a huge part in this story as we’re introduced to an army of aunties, uncles and cousins. I loved how it showcased how diverse family can be. Each house brought something new and helped Jay in his search. His uncle is a police officer who Jay suspects of being complicit in his son’s death. His rigid way of raising his children has his cousins opening up to him. He then moves in with his aunts, a lesbian couple, who are more caring toward Jay. Then he eventually comes to his grandparent’s house where everything that the story accumulated finally comes free.

Patron Saints tackles a lot of heavy subjects. It discusses colourism, the impact of American Imperialism, ethnocentrism and privilege. And that isn’t even all of it. The second Jay comes to the Philippines, he’s very much confronted with his more privileged way of living. He quickly realises how easier it is for him, a light-skinned man, to navigate the space he’s in. He even finds himself speaking overturn but is quick to learn and acknowledge the privilege he has.

The one thing that follows Jay in the Philippines is how much of an outsider he feels. A child of mixed heritage (White and Filipino), Jay is seen as very much whitewashed in the eyes of his family. After being away for much of his life, his family don’t see him as Filipino. I could really relate to Jay: having not knowing your country’s language, history or culture and feeling like an outsider at any given moment. I really think Ribay showcased the diaspora struggle and was dealt with spot on. His internal conflict was realistic and deeply emotional.

The only criticisms I could have are how Jun was treated and the character of Mia. The mistreatment of Jun, especially with his ending.

Overall, it was an illuminating and compelling story that delved deep into justice and grief and identity. It’s a coming of age novel that was character driven and offered an emotional and powerful punch. Rarely do YA novels tackle global issues that are often buried under Western domestic problems, and I found it an excellent read.


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Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life

Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Winnie Mehta dreams of getting her Bollywood forever after. For her, everything was perfect. Her life was going according to the words of her family pandit, who swore Winnie would find the love of her life, whose name starts with R, before her 18th birthday. And suddenly, everything is going wrong. Her boyfriend Raj had cheated on her. She’s lost her chair position in the film festival, lowering her chances of getting into film school. Winnie decides to look her prophecy differently, begins taking control of her destiny, in any way possible.

It’s always disappointing not to like a book that you really wanted to enjoy.

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