JJ Reads

Mini Reviews July: Novellas, Superheroes, & Autistic Rebels

My reading has been a bit all over the place, but I’ve finally reviewed the last book I read last month, along with a couple novellas, a short story and also two books for this post! And as usual for these mini review posts I’m going to dive right in.

Waking up the Sun by Laura Bailo ***** (Review Copy)

A quiet stakes sweet m/m fantasy romance novella that was an easy and cosy read. Lander enters the forest near where he lives on a dare but when he turns around the tree line is nowhere in sight. Trapped inside the magical forest that refuses to let him leave he meets Yban who is keeping secrets about the creatures living there. I did think the start where Lander was getting lost felt a bit…. Meandering. I didn’t really feel the intense emotions he was feeling while it was happening that would have made it more interesting. But once he meets Yban this novella becomes such a heartwarming and fluffy read that I really enjoyed. The slower softer pace of them getting to know each other was really well done and it has great discussions about Landers anxiety and Yban being demisexual (it’s always great when it’s stated explicitly in the text). I also loved how Lander was aware of his thoughts and anxiety in general. He knows how to look after himself, he was clever even in the midst of a stressful situation and he stood up for himself too.

Rep: m/m, anxiety and panic attacks, demisexual, trans female side character.

TW: bullying, transphobia

The Test by Sylvian Neuvel *****

This sounded like a really interesting novella. Idir is taking the British citizenship test when the questions turn much more real than he expected. It’s not really a new concept and it was very black mirror in the way it shone a light on choices and morality. I love things that analyse society and the choices we make in different situations. BUT, considering it did shine a light on so many issues, I really don’t think it did enough to get its message across. There were all kinds of bigoted language and scenarios that are kind of just assumed to be wrong as a given but never truly refuted. The novella simply wasn’t long enough to do what it tried. I did love the characters but I just feel like it didn’t go deep enough to cover any of the topics it tried to bring up which left it feeling shallow and underwhelming and rather like it was reciting research in parts (albeit interesting research!). I don’t mind ideas that aren’t original. No idea is original. But as much as it was a quick and interesting read, it wasn’t as well executed as I would have liked.

TW: can I just say all of them? There’s mentions of transphobia, sexism, racism, graphic violence,

Green Toes by Avery Flinders *****

This is such a brilliant contemporary fantasy short story. It’s about a bi woman who moves out of the small farming village she lived in having broken up with a boyfriend she loved to find herself and a place where the whole of her (queer identify included) fits. Also, she has magic gardening boots. I loved the fact this story brought to light the problem with the lack of queer spaces outside of the nightclub/drinking scene and how hard it is to find your people without it. I loved Terri, the nonbinary person she meets and falls for. But it’s not just about Terri and falling in love. It’s about found family, friends and finding a place to belong and feel whole. I also loved the set up Terri has living with her two favourite people. Screw social conventions. Be happy and be Queer.

Rep: MC is a bisexual woman, love interest is nonbinary. Other queer side characters.

Underdogs by Chris Bonnello***** (Review Copy)

This is a difficult book to review because the premise is a bunch of neurodivergent teens are the only free citizens and rebels left after the UK has been taken over by clones. Which sounds awesome and I loved that there were multiple autistic characters as well as other conditions (adhd, downs, anxiety, mutism) that would be the heroes and have adventures. which happened but I didn’t like where some of the rep went (killing off a certain character felt very problematic) and the phrasing used to discuss certain issues left me quite uncomfortable. I also didn’t feel the chemistry between Ewan and Charlie, who we’re told are best friends, until the latter part of the book and as someone whose favourite part of books is the relationship between characters I just felt like it lacked the emotion for me to connect with. Having said that it is an action packed adventure. And if you go in looking for a fun exciting read, especially in the second half, you won’t be disappointed.

Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee *****

I’m going to be completely upfront here and say the only reason this isn’t a 5 star is because I REALLY don’t get on well with 3rd person present tense. It feels removed and like I’m reading stage direction rather than something I can really sink into. Having said that, the actual story and characters here are AWESOME and anyone who isn’t so ridiculously fussy about writing style should go read this book. Jess, the daughter of the towns local superheroes, is desperate to come into her own powers and not end up a disappointment. But when she’s offered an internship at the base of the local villain’s company she finds out there’s something very wrong going on with the hero villain system they’re forced to live in. I loved Jess, I loved how diverse all the characters were and how easily they all fit. I loved her growing relationship with the girl she has a crush on. I loved her family, her friends, the questions of morality about whether the good guys are really the good guys (throw all the books that do this to me. It’s my favourite trope). I even loved how predictable the twists were because they were meant to be and they just added to the fun of this book. It’s a super diverse superhero story where the superheroes aren’t as good as they seem.

Rep: Jess is a QPOC (specifically her and her family are Asian American and she’s bisexual which are Ownvoices) its f/f. One of her best friends (and the MC in the next book) is a trans guy.

Have you read any of these and if so, what did you think? And if not are you planning to?

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