by Eileen Cook

4 Stars

You Owe Me a Murder, written by Eileen Cook, tells the story of 17-year-old Kim going on a school trip to London. However, Kim hasn’t even boarded the plane and she’s having a terrible time watching her ex-boyfriend Connor and his new girlfriend together. Later on, Kim meets a fellow passenger Nicki, a charming young woman. Unthinkingly on the plane, Kim tells Nicki that she wished Connor, her ex-boyfriend was dead, turning out that Nicki wishes her mother was dead as well — both having someone miserable in their life. Nicki jokingly suggests a proposal for their problems, “I kill your ex. You kill my mum. We both get what we want”. Kim thought it was a joke until a few days later her ex-boyfriend mysteriously had been announced dead after having fallen under an underground train track in London. Kim immediately thinks of Nicki but is unsure of guessing right away. Kim’s assumption is confirmed once Nicki comes back, expecting Kim to return the favour. Kim’s only option is to come clean to the police about wanting Connor dead or get blackmailed by Nicki into committing a crime.

You Owe Me a Murder is an enjoyable twisty thriller that makes teens never wanting to take a break from reading. Personally, I thought Kim was an amusing character because she is such an awesome heroine, relatable but at the same time being a whole savage and powerful character.

Amina F.

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by Raina Telgemeier

5 Stars

Telgemeier’s writing continues improving, and this is her greatest novel yet. Her whole body of work has been tremendously successful and multi-award-winning, thanks in part to her infectious joy and energy. Smiles and Sisters were memoirs that I felt were wonderful for pre-teens but that I still read now that I’m older. Cat, our primary heroine in Ghosts, is a tween who must leave her friends to travel to Bahia de Luna to treat her breathing-challenged sister, Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. Bahia de Luna is inspired by foggy Half Moon Bay, coastal California, a magical area, and her narrative is also influenced by Dia de Los Muertos. For the joyful Maya, the possibility of death and ghost hood is ever-present. It’s a good thing to be aware that individuals may die. Ghosts, the spirits of the people we love that Dia de Los Muertos honours, are extremely prevalent in this foggy village in this story.

A local boy named Carlos introduces Maya and Cat to spirits and a Day of the Dead celebration, and from there, we witness how each of the characters gets to know one another on a personal level, as well as how Cat and Carlos develop some romance. Ghosts is a wonderfully vivid, interesting story that celebrates family and tradition while also embracing death as a part of life. Another benefit is that Telgemeier shows an understanding of sister dynamics. I enjoy all of the characters (even the ghosts and silent spirits!). Maya, the character with cystic fibrosis, in particular. She’s spunky, charming, and a lovely younger sibling. And I could really connect to her older sister, Catrina, who is always trying to be the responsible one while still wanting to get along with everyone. Overall, Ghosts is a great escape book for me when I’m stuck for anything to read or simply want to unwind. I definitely suggest it!

Manaal I.

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by Sarah Suk

5 Stars

Made in Korea is billed as a rom-com, and it delivers with a hilarious and dynamic he-said/she-said dual narrative centred on two Korean American teenagers. Valerie is an ambitious and resourceful young woman with a keen business sense, whereas Wes is less assertive and socially awkward but still astute in his own right. The plot in K-drama is worthy of the top, with twists and turns as the story unfolds. Valerie and Wes are in this stage where they are supposed to want the other person to fail but can help but respect and even be in love. The enemy is borne with grace and humour by the lover’s trope. What gives me great joy in this book is that the lighter rom-com elements are based on a more serious topic. Both Valerie and Wes desperately long for their parent’s approval and support throughout the story. Valerie is always in competition with her older sister, while Wes’ dad demands that he search for a stable field, even if that means him throwing away his dream of becoming a musician.

These conflicts deepen the motivation of the protagonists in their competitors and create common ground for their flourishing friendship and eventual romance. Furthermore, the romance that blossoms between the characters were beautiful. I enjoyed the tenderness of their attraction to one another contrasted with the vulnerability of their relationship and opening themselves up due to their competitiveness. Overall, this was a great book to read, both in terms of premise and character, and it’s one you won’t want to miss!

Manaal I.

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by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

5 Stars

Ace of Spades is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s first novel and it is impeccable. This book caught my attention not only for its beautiful cover but also for its intriguing description…

Ace of Spades follows the story of two private school students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo. Devon Richards is a quiet and introverted student who is passionate about getting into Julliard. Chiamaka Adebayo is a success-driven student who will stop at nothing to be the best of the best. So, when Devon and Chiamaka are selected to be part of their senior class prefects, something is off. Chiamaka isn’t surprised that she has once again been selected. But Devon is confused. He has never been one for participation or school spirit, but if it means impressing his ma, he will take it. After this announcement is made, someone who goes by the name Aces starts sending anonymous and threatening text messages to the entire school. These messages are directly targeted at Devon and Chiamaka, the only two black students in the school. Could this be a simple coincidence, or is there something deeper to uncover?

This book had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. I was mind-blown, shocked and impressed. I didn’t want to put it down. I strongly recommend this book to both teenagers and young adults who like suspense books. I can guarantee you won’t be able to guess the ending of this novel. Ace of Spades is an incredible debut for Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, and I hope she has more books in the works.

Emily O.

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by Elizabeth Bear

3 Stars

Do you happen to like steampunk or historical science-fiction, murder mysteries, lesbians, sapphic relationships, amazing writing, or Jack the Ripper retellings?

Well, if so, I recommend Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. Just to be upfront though, there are some racial slurs in the book and Elizabeth Bear is a white woman and it was published in 2015, so that’s something to be aware of.

Now, a really quick summary of the book: Karen Memory is a prostitute working in the late 19th century and like all prostitutes, she tries to live an uneventful life and stay out of trouble. That all changes when two runaway prostitutes from a rival brothel show up on the door steps of Madame Damnable’s bordello. Things only erupt further when a dead woman shows up in their trash. Soon, it becomes a deadly race to find out who is killing women — before they end up dead too.

As mentioned, I found the writing absolutely stunning. I adore writing set in the earlier centuries that was written in modern times and it helps that Elizabeth Bear is a phenomenal world builder. I also enjoyed the characters: Karen was such a unique and refreshing character to read the perspective of and the other characters were equally as interesting. The plot, however, disappointed me. It was very basic and the ending was rushed and frankly a let-down. The murder wasn’t someone whom I expected but it also wasn’t someone who shocked me that much, so that sucked. Taking all those factors into consideration, I rated this book 3 / 5 stars.

Representation: Lesbian main character, Asian, Indian and Black characters, transgender character.
Make sure to look up the trigger warnings!

Jazleen H.

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by Kelly Yang

5 Stars

Parachutes is a book about opposite worlds. Clarie and Dani, two girls who are so alike but couldn’t have been raised more differently, struggling with trying to figure out who they are while battling wealth, power, friendship, and trauma. They are asked how much they are willing to pay for freedom and how far they will really go for the life that they want. This story is told from the POV of Clarie “parachute” from Shanghai and Dani, the host sister in California. Based on the cover, I was expecting a story about high school drama. While this story is about high school students, it actually addresses themes as they traversed the toxic environments the girls are in: classism, sexism, racism, and xenophobia. This was a really powerful and important YA story.

The book focuses on many issues that are really relevant to high school and college-aged students today. There are warnings at the beginning of the book because two of the topics are sexual harassment and sexual assault. I wouldn’t recommend this book for a young teen. But this book is not graphic, and I think that this book tells two important stories. There is some romance in this book. But it is woven in between the more important issues that the author focuses on. I was invested in both girls’ stories. I was fascinated by Dani and her debating team, and I was really interested in Claires and the fact she was sent to the US on her own to study. It was very interesting to read the author’s note and see how her own experiences mirrored some of what was in the story. This was such a moving and emotional story. I really enjoyed it.

Manaal I.

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by E. Lockhart

1 Star

We Were Liars is a novel by E. Lockhart. I was in the market for an interesting “mystery” type novel, and I had seen this book praised on social media for the longest time. I finally gave in and decided to read the book. I was not impressed.

We Were Liars follows the story of a rich and distinguished family who spends each summer on their private island. The main characters include a group of four teenage friends who call themselves the Liars. The story especially concentrates on one of the teenagers, a girl who develops amnesia following an accident that happened during the summer when she was 15. We follow along as she tries to remember what truly happened during that summer.

Although I was intrigued at first by the storyline, I did not end up enjoying this book at all. I found the characters hard to relate to, probably because of their rich world. I also found the story to be bland. It took the longest time before getting to any “juicy” parts. The author gives small hints about “the accident” here and there, but nothing of importance and nothing to keep the reader really hooked. I almost gave up reading it several times because of how slow the development was. The only interesting part in this book is the ending… but even with that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend it. The time spent on reading the first 190 pages of the book is not worth it, not even with that shocker ending. Lockhart did not meet my expectations with this book. I was disappointed.

Emily O.

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by Jaye Robin Brown

3 Stars

Do you like books featuring lesbians, lesbian relationships, horses, contemporary romance, and has easy to follow writing?

If you answered yes to at least 3 of those, I recommend The Key to You and Me by Jaye Robin Brown. Now, in full honesty, I enjoyed Jaye Robin Brown’s other books more than I did this one but I will never NOT recommend Jaye Robin Brown to sapphics (especially lesbians) so without further ado, here is the summary and review.

Piper has just been dumped by her cheating girlfriend, Judith, so, she obviously takes the only option available to her: running away to her grandma to train with a former Olympic horse rider and try to make Judith jealous from afar. Except when Piper arrives, her perfect plan gets wrecked. Not only is her grandma forcing her to learn how to drive but Piper’s driving instructor is also a very, very pretty girl. Straight girl. Or so Piper thinks… Kat has been struggling with her sexuality and who she is so when openly lesbian Piper comes along — as her driving student, no less! — Kat pounces and they strike a bargain. If Kat drives Piper around, Piper will, in turn, help Kat figure out her sexuality. What could possibly go wrong? It’s not like they’ll fall for each other… right?

Jaye Robin Brown is a phenomenal queer writer but I think this book was a bit… average. It wasn’t BAD (Jaye is not capable of writing anything bad!) but it just fell a little flat to me. There was no real plot but the writing was engaging enough that I still finished the book in 1 day. I would say this is a fun light read but don’t expect to be mind blown when you’re done.

Jazleen H.

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by Rainbow Rowell

In the novel Carry On, written by Rainbow Rowell, Carry On dives into the world of wizardry, magic, and mages. Carry On is a part of a series that Rainbow Rowell has created. In this magical world, Rowell has created its main protagonist as a young eighteen-year-old wizard named Simon. Simon is a talented wizard who is a little famous for his special magical arts and does he had vanquished. Simon shares a strong love for magical art as he encounters many other very powerful wizards such as Penelope, who Simon stated “Is much more powerful than me” and the Mage who is a master in the arts of magic. This Mage casts spells with ease, such as the “clean-up spell” that as the name suggests takes impurities off of your clothes and body. 

In Carry On, Simon acts as the narrator telling his own story, mentioning his childhood and some of the heroic things he did in the past. Simon is going to a magic school where he meets some friends such as Baz, his roommate. Readers that enjoy the Harry Potter series might like this novel as it involves magic, spells, and mystical creatures. Carry On mentions many mystical creatures such as vampires, dragons, a face mimicker, and more.  

I really liked the spells and magic, no matter how silly or unrealistic they may be, such as the “clean-up spell” Alas, I found the book a little boring as Simon, as the narrator, usually talks about his adventures in the past and when he does talk about events in the present Simon’s pace is a little slow from the beginning to around the fifth chapter. In the fifth chapter, he talks about the sword in his possession named “The Sword of mages”. This is when I started to get interested in the book when it added a little bit more magical items. In all, I liked this book even though it had a slow start. I feel like other people will love this book and all the magical aspects of it.

Leo S.

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by Laurel Fantauzzo

5 Stars

My Heart Underwater by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo is written about a Filipino-American girl named Corazon Tagubio, living in California with her parents, who she calls Mama and Papa. She’s young and figuring herself out, specifically her sexuality in regards to her crush on Ms. Holden, the AP European History substitute teacher. Corazon, or “Cory” for short, has conflicting feelings about her queerness and her religion. Cory’s morality class says that her feelings are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to Natural Law.” One day, her secret is uncovered. Cory’s Papa goes through something that seems like it will change him forever. Everything seems to crumble; to make it worse, Cory is sent to the Philippines to live with unknown relatives. She seems afraid of these unfamiliar people, unfamiliar mannerisms, and an unfamiliar country. Readers may appreciate Fantauzzo’s wonderful ability to understand how to give the readers a proper look into the intensity or sadness of a moment. My Heart Underwater features the integration of Tagalog and Taglish (Tagalog & English), which adds to the genuineness of its Filipino perspective. This added aspect can help other Filipino readers to feel seen in a way not commonly found in books or any media before. Personally, its authenticity in speaking to the Filipino perspective in North America really spoke to me and made me feel heard, warm and sad in all the right ways. One quote that really resonated with me that made me pause and think was this, “‘Some men,’ she begins, ‘Sometimes… all they know how to do, is control. If you try to be away from their control, in any small way, they punish. I was not like my sister, ready to please, ready to obey. If you must reshape yourself, contort yourself, for their love, anak, it is not love.'” The banter between parent and child really brought joy to my heart, and seeing how Cory’s relationship with her parents evolve and change with many surprises was truly lovely to read through.

Though the story felt so perfect, there were some flaws. Some writing techniques felt a little repetitive and boring at times. For example, the use of continual commas that might have indicated Cory’s worry repeated so much that it was uninteresting to read. There were also some parts within the book that was a little dull such as her arrival in the Philippines. Some parts of the plot seemed too rushed to fully take in, for instance, Cory’s romances throughout the book.

Overall, even with some minimal imperfections, the book was so worth reading. All the fierce scenes of emotional rollercoasters or happy little moments were so amusing and entertaining to read. As a queer Filipino living with immigrant parents, in a North American country, it depicted my life almost perfectly. It made me feel seen and important, which is crucial and major to literature now. My Heart Underwater, for me, was a 9/10. It’s definitely a must-read for anyone looking to see a different cultural perspective you may not be used to, and it is very enjoyable to absorb yourself into.

Leo V.

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