First Lines Fridays (71) – June 2, 2023

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!
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Monthly TBR – June 2023

Hello, everyone! Happy Pride month! My TBR, and my reading in general, is usually super gay anyway, but this month will be EXTRA SUPER GAY. 😁🌈 It is so gay, in fact, that it cannot be contained in one post. lol. I’m being super ambitious this month and choosing 15 books to read. You’ll find the first 10 down below, and the last five will be revealed in next week’s Top 5 Tuesday post. So, stay tuned.

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Monthly Wrap-Up: May 2023

May was an awesome month for me. I went on vacation for the first time in forever. My wife and I traveled to Massachusetts and visited Boston, Salem, and Plymouth. I’d never been to New England before, and it was a great experience. I’d definitely love to go back because there was so much to do, and we didn’t have enough time to get to it all. I loved the Museum of Fine Arts so much, and we spent almost an entire day there. Other highlights included visiting Harvard, the Boston Public Library (I could seriously live in there), the U.S.S. Constitution, the Mayflower replica, and the house of the seven gables. Of course, I had to visit some bookstores too. I shopped at Brattle Book Shop and The Harvard Book Store, which was so much fun. I bought so many books there and at all the gift shops that I almost had to buy more luggage to get them home. So, this month’s book haul, which I’ll get posted eventually, was my largest ever. Now that we’re on the topic of books, let’s get on with wrapping up my reading month. It was a bit less than usual because of everything else going on, but I still read plenty of great books.

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Top 5 Tuesday – Top 5 books I want to re-read

Hello everyone! Today’s prompt is a freebie, and I chose top 5 books I want to re-read. I cannot remember if I’ve done this topic in the past, and I’m too lazy to look. lol. Regardless, I’ve been giving re-reads a lot of thought recently because it is one of my goals this year to re-read at least six books. We’re almost to the middle of the year, and I’ve re-read NONE. So, I’m hoping this post will help motivate me to pick up at least one of these books soon. The covers all link to the book’s Goodreads page, and I’ve included the official covers and synopsis when available. Top 5 Tuesday was created by Shanah @ Bionic Book Worm, and is now being hosted at Meeghan Reads!

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Most Anticipated June 2023 Book Releases

The last few months have been absolutely stacked full of awesome book releases. June seems to be a bit quieter, at least in titles that interest me. My wallet and bookshelves are thankful for the change in pace. lol. There are still a few books I’m excited to pick up in June, though, and you can find out all about them below. All of the covers link to the book’s Goodreads page. So, it is easy to add something to your TBR if it catches your eye! You’re welcome. 🙂

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ARC Review – A Circle of Stars

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing A Circle of Stars by Craig Montgomery, which will be published on June 16, 2023 in paperback and digital. I randomly bumped into this book while doomscrolling my FYP on TikTok and was instantly captivated by the cover. So, I had to sign up for the ARC team! 🙂 The author is currently running a pre-order campaign with some really cool swag items. All you have to do is pre-order the paperback and submit your info on this form.

Sometimes you have to leave home to find it… 

All Casper Bell has ever wanted is to belong. But now, abandoned by his friends and family after being outed, he has nothing left to lose when the people of Novilem abduct him. Except Earth.

Teleported to a world where stars grant humans magic, Casper discovers he has the rare ability to draw power from all twelve astrological signs — a gift that makes him a political pawn for the Estellar Council. But Novilem’s inhabitants seem as hard and cold as the stone their city is carved from, and Casper’s new role leaves him more isolated than ever. Until he meets the grandson of the council’s most powerful woman. Helix is kind, playful, and heartbreakingly handsome, yet it’s how Helix makes him feel that gives Casper hope.

As rebellion brinks in the city, even the Council starts to fracture, reaching for extreme measures that could cost Casper not only his newfound abilities, but the first place he has ever wanted to call home. Together with Helix, he must uncover the secrets of
his full potential —  because the survival of Novilem hinges on Casper’s powers, whether he’s using them or not.

Set inside a hidden lunar city, where astrology is magic and your birth sign defines your social status, A Circle of Stars is a queer young adult fantasy filled with political intrigue and romance.

***Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I was invested in these characters and this story from the very first chapter. It started with the emotional gut punch of every queer kid’s worst nightmare, being outed and thrown out on the street with nowhere to go. I immediately wanted to give Casper a hug. The story went in a fascinating direction after the heart-wrenching start, literally out of this world, and incorporated a captivating blend of fantasy, science fiction, and coming-of-age elements that kept my eyes glued to the pages until the very end.

The world-building in this book was so elaborate, and I appreciated getting to experience it all first-hand through Casper’s point of view. The magic system was based on astrology, and people gained different powers from the stars based on when they were born. The history of this society and its many secrets kept my interest piqued, and I enjoyed how the author slowly exposed different aspects of the magic and history as the story unfolded. I also adored that Novilem was a queer-normative world because it provided a great opportunity to see Casper’s reaction to that kind of acceptance. That being said, the world-building wasn’t always very efficient or understandable. There was a lot to take in, and things weren’t always explained well. It was all still very fascinating, but I would have enjoyed the book even more if some aspects of the world were clearer much earlier, especially in regard to the magic.

The pacing and plot were my biggest issues with this book. The pace was quite uneven, with things often happening in jarring starts and stops with lulls in between. For example, Casper was abducted to the other world almost immediately after being thrown out of his house. It made the inciting incident of the book feel forced and created a lot of unanswered questions. How did they know he was the Telos? Why didn’t they abduct him as a baby instead and indoctrinate him into the role rather than having to train him so quickly? After his abrupt abduction, the book slows down significantly during his training before ratcheting up again later. However, the author did do a fantastic job of utilizing the alternating POVs to smooth out some of the pacing. When one POV slowed down, one of the others picked up a bit, and it definitely helped keep the story feel like it was moving forward while also adding to the world-building by giving the reader insights from people raised in this alien society.

As for the plot, this was a case where I really liked all the different components but not necessarily how they came together. I enjoy mystery, political intrigue, and a good coming-of-age story, and this book had all of that and more. I think the problem boiled down to having too many competing elements. By the end, it just all felt a bit muddled and convoluted. I had some trouble following all the interconnections between the different groups and their histories, and I think the book would have been stronger if it had been pared down some. I enjoyed the intrigue while reading and was constantly curious to see how it all came together, but in the end, it didn’t totally deliver. The book attempted to have a wide-ranging social revolution arc while also having a ‘big bad.’ While I enjoyed reading about the revolution, the character meant to be the big threat seemed really superficial and tacked on to the larger story, which made the ending less impactful for me.

I think I’ve said this already, but I adored the characters in this book. Both Casper and Helix grew up under the weight of extreme expectations that squashed their individuality. They also both experienced their worlds completely crumble, which left them with being themselves and following their own motivations and morals for the first time. I also really liked how the author had Helix navigate and come to terms with understanding how his immense privilege impacted his upbringing and his relationships with everyone around him. Speaking of relationships, Casper and Helix are definitely couple goals. lol. They were so cute together, and I’m so glad the author didn’t use miscommunication to make their romance more dramatic. Instead, their budding romance illustrated how to use good communication to resolve conflict and build a deeper connection with a partner. I just really enjoyed their individual journeys of self-discovery and self-acceptance, as well as their healthy and adorable partnership.

I feel like this review is probably coming across much more negative than I intended. So, I’m going to spend a minute just gushing about some of the other things I loved. The author did a wonderful job of bringing the alien world to life and writing a harrowing account of what it was like to live on its surface. The ecosystem was fascinating, horrifying, and totally riveting. The parts of the book where Casper and Helix had to battle against the elements on the foreign world were probably my favorite because we got to see the two boys bond amidst such a vividly imagined backdrop. I also really loved the third POV character and her intense love for her daughter. She provided the perspective of the commoner, as well, and I don’t think the social revolution plot would have been nearly as good without her take on the pitfalls of the Novilem political system.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book if you enjoy a good mix of science fiction, fantasy, and MM teen romance. It tackled some big themes and had impressive world-building and characters it was easy to route for. I think it bit off a little more than it could chew plot-wise, but there are definitely plenty of questions left to be answered by the sequel, which I will definitely be picking up. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review – Lords of Uncreation

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing a book that I’ve been waiting to read for so long, the epic conclusion of The Final Architecture series. Lords of Uncreation by Adrian Tchaikovsky completes this fantastic series in a satisfying way, although with a few bumps in the road. If you’d like to see what I thought about the first two books, check out my reviews of Shards of Earth and Eyes of the Void.

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Blog Tour ARC Review – Straight Expectations

Hello, everyone! Today is my stop on TheWriteReads Ultimate Blog Tour for Straight Expectations by Calum McSwiggan. I was going to pass on this one because I have so many other queer YA books on my shelf to read, but the premise of this one really stood out to me. I decided to give it a chance, and I’m really glad I did.

Genre(s): YA, Queer, Contemporary, LGBT

Publication Date: May 4, 2023 (UK); September 5, 2023 (US)

Length: 272 pages

Goodreads Amazon (UK) Amazon (US)

The brilliant debut novel from author, presenter and LGBTQ+ advocate Calum McSwiggan!

Seventeen-year-old Max has always been out, proud and just a little spoiled. Frustrated by the lack of romantic options in his small-town high school, during an argument with his lifelong best friend Dean, Max lashes out and says he wishes he had never been born gay.

Max gets more than he bargained for when he wakes up to find his wish has come true – not only have his feelings for boys vanished, but so has Dean.

With his school life turned upside down and his relationship with his family in tatters, Max sets out on a journey of rediscovery to find a way back to the life he took for granted, and the romance he thought he’d never have.

A deliciously romantic YA debut that’s What If It’s Us and One Last Stop!

***Thank you to TheWriteReads and Penguin Books for allowing me to be part of the blog tour and for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I absolutely adored this fast-paced, funny, and insightful queer YA contemporary story. It explored some important and fascinating themes in an incredibly approachable and relatable way. I have no doubt many teens will love it. I know I would have at that age. The characters, themes, and unique premise came together really well to create something quite special.

There were so many lovable characters in this book. Max really did have some great friends, and the found family vibes of his group at school were wonderful to read. They were all so diverse, and I appreciated getting so many different personalities and perspectives. Each of the characters had big personas, and all of them brought something unique to the story. The story centered on Max, though, and his struggle with identifying what he wanted for his future. He was flawed in many ways. He was selfish and often acted impulsively without thinking through how those decisions would impact others. He was so wrapped up in his own trauma and fear of missing out on the ‘normal’ high school experience that he was seemingly oblivious to all the great things he already had in his life. Does this sound like a teenager yet? lol. The author did a great job of crafting the character into a relatable teen undergoing a bit of an identity crisis while also feeling uncertain of the future.

After wishing he could be normal, Max woke up straight one day. He quickly learned that being straight wasn’t as perfect as it seemed. The grass isn’t always greener, right? I loved how this premise allowed for the exploration of what it means to be queer. Despite being attracted only to girls, Max was still the same person. He learned that his sexual orientation didn’t define his entire personality but was instead only one piece, albeit an important one. He still liked and disliked all the same things, and he even figured out what he wanted to do with his life while being ‘straight Max.’ With its unique premise, the story was also able to illustrate the differences between sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Despite the change to his sexual orientation, Max was still interested in a lot of feminine things while also being straight. Stereotypes often link being gay with being feminine, but that’s really not true. There are plenty of super masculine queer people, as well as straight men who present with more feminine qualities or interests. This story provided the perfect opportunity to analyze many of those stereotypes, and the author did a great job with it.

I also liked the subplot involving Thomas because I think it teaches such an important lesson. Thomas was a bully in elementary/middle school and tormented Max regularly. As a result, Max developed the mentality of ‘once a homophobe, always a homophobe.’ I don’t fault Max for that because what Thomas did to him was really horrible, but putting Thomas in that box with no chance for redemption isn’t good either. People change and grow. We are not static beings and none of us are perfect all the time. Thomas’ arc showed how people can change for the better and how giving them an opportunity to do so can actually help heal some trauma. Obviously, this isn’t always the case because not everyone changes, but I found that arc cathartic to read and wish I’d had the chance to have a similar ending with some of my bullies from earlier in life. However, I do wish Thomas would have been a bit more fleshed out as a character, and I really would have loved to see a bit more of him and Max reconciling. I still enjoyed what we got, though.

I wish the book had been a little longer with a tiny bit more emphasis on the world-building. I read a ton of sci fi and fantasy, and I found myself wanting to know more about the mechanics of Max’s parallel universe. Was it actually a parallel universe? Was it a dream? What happened to the original ‘straight Max?’ I just had so many questions. lol. I know that none of that is particularly necessary for the story the author was trying to tell, but I would have liked it nonetheless. Overall, though, I really loved this book and definitely recommend it if you enjoy contemporary queer YA stories. Therefore, I rate this book 4.25 out of 5 stars.

CALUM MCSWIGGAN is an author, presenter, and LGBTQ+ advocate. He’s worked for Attitude magazine, written for the Metro, Gay Times and PinkNews, and was recently placed in the Guardian’s list of the 50 most influential LGBTQ+ figures. Putting LGBTQ+ stories at the heart of everything he does, he’s produced award- winning films that have been showcased at film festivals around the world and racked up over 10 million views on his online videos.