Review: I Wish You All The Best

Review: I Wish You All The Best

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

“Whatever happens, I wish you all the best, Ben De Backer.” 

Just three words have Ben De Backer kicked out of his family home and living with their estranged sister and brother-in-law. After coming out as nonbinary, they are forced to start life anew in a different school, aiming to keep a low profile. But any attempts by Ben to live their life unnoticed is quickly interrupted by Nathan Allan, a charismatic student, who decided to take Ben under his wing. Slowly, Ben comes out of their shell and what began as a horror story could very well have a happy ending. 

When Ben is rejected by their parents, they are taken in by their older sister, Hannah, who has also left home suddenly due to their parent’s judgemental behaviour. With ten years lost between them, they begin to work fixing the gap they have between them. I appreciated Hannah and how she finally had enough of her parent’s actions and decided to make a move to leave. Deaver portrays her struggle well, and I enjoyed how it intertwined with Ben’s life, and her actions still resonate in the current story. Hannah and Thomas, her husband, try their best to help Ben get settled into a new school and create a healthier and affirming environment for Ben to thrive in. They’re learning, and doing their best to do it right. 

A shining point in this story is Ben’s support system. It begins with Hannah, but it doesn’t stop there. Mariam is their online nonbinary mentor who provides much-needed support, but the online space creates some disconnect. They also meet with a therapist who allows Ben to address what they’ve faced in a safe environment, allowing them to tackle their anxiety in a space that suits them. Ben also meets unlikely friends in school, including Nathan who brings in his friends and Ben thrives in their new environment. Ben still has trouble, but that’s okay because for once, they can think of a future that isn’t so unstable. 

I managed to get this book down in under three hours, and it was time well spent. Ben’s story is a much-needed one. Ben’s fear felt so real, and it showed on-page. They may have left their home, but their parent’s reaction isn’t far off from their mind, reminding them that everything they have now could go in an instant. Deaver’s debut begins with a tragic outcome but ends with a wholesome promise of a new beginning on one’s own terms. 

Overall, I Wish You All The Best is quiet but satisfying. A story about a nonbinary teen by a nonbinary author; this is a story that celebrates life amidst terrifying circumstances and is a shining example of what future contemporary YA literature has to offer. 


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Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*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.*

After growing up under the watchful eye of her wealthy benefactor, Cornelius Locke, who employs her father to travel the world in search of unique oddities and treasures to add to his growing collection, January Scaller can’t help but feel part of the furniture: well kept but mostly ignored. However, when her father disappears, she discovers a book that sends her into the new worlds which lay behind secret doors. With an unlikely crew including the grocer’s son and a mysterious woman hired by her father, January begins her search which will ultimately question what she knows and the world around her.

It’s been a few days between finishing the book and writing the review you read now, and I’m kept thinking about it. So I’m not even sure how to explain what worked so well with this book. I didn’t even have any expectations for this book, and its cover mainly enticed me. However, when I finished reading, I was utterly enthralled. The open concept of the story seems so simple, but Harrow does such a great job at making it so unique, spinning a tale of love and loss and finding yourself after a long time. The characters stood so well on their own, but when they come together, they are a team to adore. This book is what I’d call a quiet read: nothing loud nor brutal. Harrow creates such an atmospheric tone that shone through this book entirely. As a child, a common daydream of mine was finding doors to new worlds, so January’s journey truly felt like a love letter to my own childhood dream. 

January is a young girl who feels lost until she accidentally discovers a book that opens her world beyond the Locke estate. Set in the early 1900s, January is aware of her privilege and her ability to live a life of wealth that most mixed-race girls would never have been granted. I also appreciated that the book didn’t shy away from racism, classism and sexism, especially for the period its set in. She discovers the existence of Doors that open into new worlds and learns about the true circumstance of her family history. Reading this book felt quite dreamlike, the writing so lyrical and immersive, a calling to those who wish to wander to lands beyond our wildest dreams. 

January as our protagonist is incredible, a fish out of water and must survive on her own for the first time in her life. I felt for her need to leave and discover life on her own terms. Jane, hired by January’s father, is equally compelling. Samuel, the grocer’s son, is lacking in characterisation but can’t really give it much fault as he isn’t as crucial to the story as the two leading ladies. The book also follows two others: Adelaide and Yule Ian, two people who cross many worlds to find each other, their story the most heartbreaking in my opinion. The villains are corrupted, faceless men who move in the shadows they have created, and are hellbent on making sure January doesn’t bring a flame to their power. 

Overall, I adored the Ten Thousand Doors of January. A charming and magical adventure about a girl who persevers in the face of resistance. A story I didn’t know I needed, but I will appreciate for a long time. 


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Review: The Black Veins (Dead Magic #1)

Review: The Black Veins (Dead Magic #1)

Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)

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

After Blythe witnesses her family being kidnapped right in front of her and her best friend injured, she’s forced into a road trip like no other. In search of other powerful magicians like her or “Guardians”, she must make her way to Electric City. But in a world where magic thrives and an imminent war between the two magician governments forces Blythes and her new friends to think on their feet and discover magic in a new way.

I found The Black Veins an interesting read. The writing is easy and enjoyable, and I found myself barrelling through the book with much ease, despite my own issue with the pacing. I particularly enjoyed the way Monet brings together all these teens who seemly have nothing in common. It was hilarious and sweet, watching them fall apart and come back together as a team. All the guardians have their own quirks that make them stand out. At first, I wasn’t too sure about the comedy aspects of this book, but I found it so funny, and I really loved how realistic all these teens came alive.

Blythe is the leader whose family kidnapping kickstarts her journey across the states. Slowly, she comes in contact with the guardians. Cordelia is a stuck up hacker, Daniel has never left his parents side, Antonio is confident and brash with a hilarious comedic flair. The last three I’ll keep unnamed were equally exciting and fun to experience.

I found the pacing to be quite the biggest pitfall for this book, and the lack of consistency in its pacing is where I struggled the most in the book. The overall journey we witness was quite exhilarating, and Ashia Monet is clearly a talented writer, but the story felt quite long and what we’re given in terms of worldbuilding doesn’t feel the gaps as well as I expected it to. Given the number of Guardians we meet, I feel like I didn’t really connect with the last three as much. But I do believe this is something that will most likely be worked upon in the sequel.  

Overall, I found The Black Veins to be a strong debut. A YA urban fantasy that follows a group of teenagers. I found their journey to becoming a found family quite sweet, and I would definitely recommend this book. I might just chalk my negativity as the result of myself never really enjoying the first book as much as the rest of the series. If you’re interested in an urban fantasy road trip that follows a ragtag group of teenagers with enough power to destroy the world basically, then The Black Veins is definitely a treat for readers. And considering the ending of The Black Veins, I’m excited to see what happens next.


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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: 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: Ayesha At Last

Review: Ayesha At Last

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Ayesha’s dream of being a poet is on a standstill as she’s stuck paying off a debt to her uncle. So while she’s stuck being a substitute teacher, she’s also tailing behind her gorgeous cousin who has marriage proposals thrown at her every day. An identity mishap leads her to be in charge of a fundraising conference for the young Muslims at their local mosque and pairs up with Khalid Mirza to run it. Khalid is conservative and judgemental with secrets of his own. Why should Ayesha fall for a man who acts above her? But a surprise engagement blows everything out of the water.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I had expected. Like, wow. I couldn’t get enough Ayesha and her family. And her hilarious antics as she falls further down a web of lies by pretending to be her cousin. Each character was so unique and likeable. The narration jumps between different people. It was a bit too much, but each character has a distinct voice that separated them all, voices that were authentic and funny.

Khalid was the one that took me a while to get used to. I didn’t even think he deserved Ayesha for a good half of the novel. He just reminded me of most Muslim men I’ve met who are pretty ridiculous and judgemental before getting to know anyone. You can tell from the offset he’s grown to follow whatever his mum agrees to because of some background events that happened with his sister. And he does learn to become less judgemental, but when I say it took a while, it took a long while.

Apart from the growing relationship between Ayesha and Khalid, multiple complex conflicts grow in the back that adds to this drama-filled debut. Weddings to be planned and had, gossiping aunties that get their due and a very unexpected twist at the end.

Overall, I really enjoy Ayesha At Last. I think this book addressed so many issues and was so well done in that aspect. Workplace racism, Islamophobia, and double standards that women face. A great window into Muslim communities that explored the complexities of life, family and belief. Ayesha At Last was refreshing and hilarious.


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Content warning: workplace racism, Islamophobia, revenge porn

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