I hope you’ve been enjoying the holiday season by eating too much, sipping on bubbly and just maybe, rewatching all the Harry Potter movies. 😉
If you’re anything like me, you’re currently in that post-Christmas but pre-New Years bliss where time slows down, you end up staying in your pajamas all day, and even forget what day of the week it is!
All of this, of course, is very condusive to quality reading time, and I’ve been zooming through an interesting mix YA books, some of which were noteworthy enough for me to share with you!
SO LET’S DO THE REVIEW THING *FIST PUMP*
Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
REASONS TO READ: Own voice Asian inspired YA fantasy | Feminist vibes | Hunger Games style competition
I AM SO CONFLICTED ABOUT THIS BOOK.
On paper, this story is made for me, in reality, I found it oddly executed.
The world set up of this novel is fascinating. Mari is a Yokai who comes from a village of gorgeous women, whose culture is to use their charms to woe men, steal their fortune and then return to their village to share the riches. Love is frowned upon, and any boys born are floated away on the village river. Mari is not beautiful, so her mother has trained her for another destiny, to take place in a competition where she must battle four rooms that represent the 4 seasons.
If she wins, she will become Empress and can steal the Prince’s fortune.
However, there are a few barriers, Yokai are second-class citizens who are collared and regulated, if Mari’s true identity is discovered she will lose her freedom. Not all the competitors are playing fair either. The Prince has also taken a shine to Mari, and she feels her hard centre softening to his charm.
This novel should have been SO GOOD, but overall, I found it quite disjointed. The initial draw for me was the season-themed competition, but I actually found this the least interesting part of the book.
Each room seemed to be over very quickly and Mari usually got through them by chance rather than using her years of training. I found the palace set up and Mari’s culture far more fascinating!
Mari was a reasonably solid protagonist, even if I didn’t always agree with her choices, and there’s an interesting cast of side characters to back her up. Her friend the Son of Nightmares joins the Yokai resistance. The Prince is somewhat morally grey and loves to tinker with mechanics. Mari’s relationship with her mother is also complex and interesting.
Most of the relationships and conversations also had a distinct feminist undertone.
Ultimately, though, the characters all felt a bit… basic and lacking depth. I also didn’t feel the romance arc was successful although I could see SO CLEARLY what the author wanted to do with it and so wanted her to pull it off! I think if the characters had gotten the same attention as the worldbuilding and the story had an extra 100 pages (being a stand-alone novel), it may have been a different rating!
My Heart Goes Bang by Keris Stainton
REASONS TO READ: Set at University | Friendship goals | LQBT and pan rep
This was lightweight and fun!
My Heart Goes Bang follows 5 friends in their second year of university living a house together. One night, getting drunk on their rooftop (which is super cool, but come on guys, no one can afford that on a student budget!) they come across a magazine that recommends a list of men everyone should sleep with before they settle down.
OBVIOUSLY, this list is a terrible idea.
BUT, it is exactly what I could imagine a set of uni students doing when they are looking for new adventures and experiences, certainly the ones I knew anyway.
There are some cute friendship moments, romances are formed, sexuality is explored and questioned, and there’s also bi and pan rep.
However, what I loved most about this novel was that it was completely non-judgemental and talked about sex in a very positive way. Many of the characters enjoy one night stands and no one is judged for their preferences, no one is labeled with the S word. This book promotes that it is okay to explore and enjoy for the sake of enjoyment and that’s so important in this modern age when we are quick to judge others!
Overall I really enjoyed this novel so you may be wondering about the middling star rating.
This is mostly because although I enjoyed the story it didn’t have much of an emotional effect on me. I also felt that it was ultimately quite forgettable and I think I will probably be scratching my head a year from now trying to remember the characters names!
Overall, My Heart Goes Bang is a quick and fun read that would be great for summer. It was fantastic to read a novel set at university, too, so consider this a call out for more New Adult books!
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
REASONS TO READ: Romance and fanfic in space | Anxiety, trauma and grief rep | Story of perseverance and heart
This was SO MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED.
Confession alert: I’m not a big fan of books and movies set in space, and I would not have picked this up of my own accord, but I was gifted a copy at a blogger event and I’m so glad fate put it in my hands!
This story follows Romy who is alone on a spaceship, on a mission to set up a colony on a new planet, Earth II. Romy was born on the ship and has never known grass or even the wind, and due to unexpected circumstances, she faces the journey alone. Romy is an incredibly brave and self-sufficient protagonist, who loves watching her favourite TV show and writing fanfic in between ship maintenance and managing her anxiety and panic attacks.
Yes, guys, Romy is completely relatable!
One day, Romy is told that another ship has been launched to aid the expedition. This ship has new technology and will not take long to catch up, where Romy’s ship previously wouldn’t have reached the new planet until she was 40. Soon, the two explorers strike up communication by email, building the sweetest rapport, emotions swell and cheeks blush. The only catch? Their messages take a year to get to each other.
Can you fall for someone you’ve never met or seen who is LITERALLY across time and space? And will they be who you expect when you finally meet them?
This story is a heartwarming tale of bravery and determination with sensitive anxiety, grief and trauma rep that blew me away. I cannot get over the fact that despite Romy’s situation and the horrors she has seen, she feels like a completely ordinary girl I would happily hang out with in everyday life. If I bumped into her in the street I wouldn’t be surprised; she feels that real.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe twists and turns in ways you wouldn’t expect and packs a punch, covering a lot of ground considering it’s quite a short novel!
Lauren James has a background in the sciences, and you can tell. This novel doesn’t shy away from adding lots of physics theories and discussions. While this would normally make my eyes glaze over, the author made it completely accessible and interesting. So thank you, Lauren Janes, for making space cool for a disbeliever!
If you pick up one recommendation from this post, make it this one!
Have you read any of the novels above?
Do you find that you manage to read more over the holidays or is your calendar packed with social engagements?
Have you come across any great new novels this month?
Let me know in the comments!