graphic novel, LGBT

My Review: Heartstopper (Vol. 2): by Alice Oseman

Publish Date: July 11th, 2019
Number of Pages: 320 Pages
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre(s): LGBT, Graphic Novel, YA Fiction

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in this series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of Heartstopper, Volume 1 – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

I Like Charlie Spring! In a romantic way not just a friend way!

– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

~~~

A charming, sweet, and absolutely heartwarming second volume to this warm and lovable story, Heartstopper continues to steal my heart!

These graphic novels are the perfect amount of light-reading and feel-good material to make you believe in true love and happiness in this wild and unpredictable world. I am just so happy that there are stories like this that are so easily available to find for those looking for LGBT+ books to enjoy, and their such a nice change of pace from the heavier and more action-packed fantasy I also read. I know I repeat myself so much on here about this with books like these, but it’s all so true, just call me grateful I guess!

The story continues literally right where we left off in the previous volume that ended on a very dramatic, soap-opera-esque cliffhanger with Nick kissing Charlie at a party, but then freaking out and leaving him behind because of his confusion over his feelings/sexuality. Charlie is crestfallen until Nick meets up with him later to talk and hash things out, and—spoiler but not really—admits he likes Charlie and wants to try being with him. He’s still not sure what his orientation is or what this all means, all he does know is that he enjoys being with him and he wants to act on his feelings that he has!

One complaint I had in the previous volume was how rushed Nick’s revelation was that he wasn’t entirely straight. To me, it just felt rushed or that not enough emphasis was put on it, so I was very happy to see it explored further in this book, and it was nice to see how despite being unsure of himself and what his orientation was, Nick still wanted to be with Charlie and kiss him and be a happy couple with him, even if he wasn’t exactly ready to go public with it.

That brings me into another interesting subject that this graphic novel brought up: dating someone who hasn’t come out or has even fully come to terms with themselves and their sexuality. It’s a slippery slope and both sides in the relationship have so much pressure on their shoulders in figuring it all out. Everyone deserves to come out on their own terms and at their own choosing, but how long until the other one loses patience and can no longer be kept a secret? This issue is handled incredibly well throughout the story, and Charlie somehow becomes an even bigger sweetheart than how he already is with the patience and tenderness he shows Nick as he’s figuring things out. A major highlight for this specific volume indeed! On the other hand, I’m also glad it’s challenge a little bit in one of Charlie’s friends, who thinks Nick is just using him or that it’s some elaborate prank Nick and his friends are pulling on him. It’s a lot of amazing tension that really adds to the story, and really puts a test on Nick and Charlie’s relationship!

The story is character-driven, so the pacing is a little slow at times, but the soft and tender moments definitely make up for it, and before you know it, you’ve finished this volume too and are already online to get the next volume ASAP—guilty!

There are many issues faced in this story so far that are so relatable to anyone in the LGBT+ community who has come out at a young age; the pressures of two people at different points in their lives, friends who question the legitimacy of their relationship and miss them because they don’t spend as much time with them like before, homophobia from people you thought were your friends, and even the whole coming out to your parents and not being sure how they’ll react. It’s a lot, but anyone who’s been in similar situations to these characters understands what it’s like and it just makes the story so real and so relatable; it’s like a voice being heard after being ignored for so long.

…honestly I’m having a proper full-on GAY PANIC.

– Alice Oseman, “Heartstopper (Vol. 2)”

What I Liked:

  1. Nick’s Not Sure What His Sexuality Is! While I’m sure there are a few guys in the queer community who can complain about a guy who they really liked but didn’t really know what his sexuality was, I really liked this storyline for Nick. It was explored a lot more in this second volume and I kind of liked how he still didn’t have a concrete answer, but it didn’t stop him from wanting to be with Charlie and act upon these feelings he had that were a little strange for him, but still felt so right. There’s a kind of beauty in that; not letting the fear of the unknown keeping you from experiencing joy and happiness from something that so obviously makes you feel those emotions!
  2. Charlie Continues To Be so Freakin’ Adorable! I still love how Charlie is this kind, sweet, awkward, shy, and all around lovable guy who just wants to be happy. We’ve all felt like him at some point in our lives, and my heart just warms at how he has such a loyal and strong circle of friends and family who have his back whenever he may need it. He has the strength to move forward on his own, but there’s nothing wrong with having some help from others who care about you.
  3. Friendships Are Tested! Things get a little tense with Charlie and one of his friends at one point in this volume, and to be fair, it’s not entirely unjustified. It comes from a place of love and compassion, and I thought it was a great representation on the theme of friendship that these graphic novels also showcase.
  4. The Representation! Okay, but people are going to love all the queer representation that’s in these books. It feels like there are more gay people than straight people at times, and the fact that there is a nonbinary character along with even having queer POC characters is also great to see! People looking for this specifically in their reading material should pick these up for this reason!
  5. The Scene With Nick & His Mom! So heartwarming and touching, It reminded me of the scene in Love, Simon when Jennifer Garner tells him that he can breathe and be who he wants to be….it’s just something that every kid who remembers the fear of the anticipation of coming out to their parents and not knowing how they’re going to react needs to hear. It may have also been all the pollen in the air lately, but my eyes were freakin’ watering up when I read this scene.
  6. There’s A LOT Of Kissing! Nick and Charlie are such an adorable couple, and even though Nick has quite a few questions about himself, that certainly doesn’t stop him from being with Charlie and enjoying the pleasures of what romantic couples experience. He definitely makes up for lost time, and seems to really like kissing Charlie, which who can blame him when Charlie is just so…Charlie!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Homophobic Bullying…While it’s actually a pretty accurate portrayal of how certain teenagers react towards homosexuality or anything that’s outside the realm of heteronormativity, it’s still just so tiring to see it and the I still continue to hope that one day it goes away—the hatred and exclusion of LGBT+ people—but this has nothing to do with the author including it in her story. For that alone, this conflict works because it’s real and it’s something queer teens—and adults—deal with sometimes on a daily basis! It’s more me putting it on here to say how I just can’t wait for homophobia and hatred of queer people to go away as time moves forward.
  2. It Felt Like Not Much Had Happened…By this point in reading the graphic novels, part of me thought to myself that for how many pages it is, it felt like not a whole lot actually happened, or I just wanted more to happen that what actually did. The pacing can be a little slow, but to be fair, that’s usually the case with character-driven plots much like this one, so it was a little expected. I think it was more along the lines of I just want the story to move even further along, but there are still two more volumes of these books too!

Conclusion:

Overall, I continue to gush about these graphic novels because they’re such an uplifting and seriously adorable story; I know I repeat that word a lot on here, but it’s also the one word I’d use to describe these books if someone asked me! The story continues on and gets better and better as Charlie and Nick grow closer and their bond become stronger.

I’ve got the next volume in this 4-part series, so I can say it’ll be sooner rather than later to when I’ll start that one and include it on my blog too! Stay tuned!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Us (Him #2): by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: March 8th, 2016
Number of Pages: 322 Pages
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book in this duology, read on at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Him – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Love is friendship set on fire.”

– Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy, “Us”

I absolutely adored the first book, Him, by these two amazing authors! They’re my go-to writers for anyone who’s looking for a funny, raunchy, well written, and overall entertaining contemporary new adult romance series to get into! Looking at a few reviews of this sequel, I was curious why some people were hesitant to start it…I mean, the first book could totally work as a standalone with how it ended, but if people loved it so much, wouldn’t they want to keep seeing what happens next? Sure, some people brought up the cash cow argument, and I can understand that argument, but kept an open mind as I’d opened this book and got back into the world of Ryan Wesley and Jamie Canning.

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed in this book and enjoyed it immensely! It had all the characteristics of what I’d enjoyed so much about the first book besides the obvious “second chance” and “friends to lovers” romance tropes. If anything, this sequel showed an incredibly realistic portrayal of the struggle of finding ones place in the world as the newly emerged adult group aged 18-25. The struggles of finding that dream job, financial worries, even still the coming to terms of one’s sexuality and their first serious relationship. The relationship is explored and shows how both people need to work in order to make the relationship work past its initial honeymoon phase.

While I enjoyed this book a lot, I can say I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book too. I felt like Him would’ve been just fine as a standalone novel, and despite the relatable issues the characters dealt with in this title, I felt like maybe this book was a way for the authors to possibly bridge into another project of theirs, and I’ll go more into that later on in this review. The main thing I dislike the most about this book was the issue of the lack of communication between Jamie and Wes, but it wasn’t for the same reasons I usually dislike that conflict.

There also was a big emphasis on a fictional lamb disease that was treated similarly to the bird flu and even the 2020 COVID-19 situation, but on a much smaller scale. I was scratching my head about this plot point, mainly because it really makes a bigger presence in the story than I thought it needed to, and with how the world is right now with the novel virus, I was hoping for less and less focus on this sort of issue…

There were a great amount of side characters, a lot more this time around than in Him which is great! The main characters had more people to really interact with that were around their age and for us to get to know and fall for too! Blake in particular is an acquired taste, and is a lot to take in at first, but he does eventually grow on you.

I would argue that this next title is actually a stronger novel than the previous book, but maybe because of it being too realistic with the real world issues, it’d diluted the entertaining factor and was less “fun” I think. That, along with repetitive issues we thought were solved in the first book, and with my thought on it being a bridge into more future projects amongst these authors, maybe that’s what people didn’t like as much this time around.

Despite all that, It’s still an incredibly well written continuation of an amazing queer love story!

What It’s About:

Book #2 has us brought back into Wes and Jamie Canning’s world five months after they reunited at the end of Book one. They’ve confessed their love for each other, they’ve moved in together into their apartment in Toronto, Jamie introduced Wes to his family, and Wes started his rookie season in the NHL and is absolutely KILLING it on the ice!

Everything seems perfect for the two childhood best friends-turned boyfriends in love, except for how they have to keep their whole relationship a secret…there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL, and who knows how it’ll go if a rookie were to come out of the closet and cause a media field day. While it isn’t the greatest set up, Jamie and Wes both agree to wait with the news until his first season is over and their schedules aren’t both so hectic. It starts off easy enough, but soon the secret becomes a much bigger burden to carry on their shoulders.

Jamie’s job isn’t exactly what he signed up for either, and the hiding really takes a toll on him especially, but at least when it’s just him and Wes in their apartment, everything goes back to euphoric bliss and they can just be themselves…at least, until Wes’s noisy teammate moves in upstairs and pops up at their door without any warning!

The world seems to want to keep them apart, and is constantly throwing just about everything it can between the two of them, so can they overcome it all? Their relationship will definitely be put to the test…

What I Liked:

  1. The Hint of More to Come! What I mean by this is there is a spinoff book series that gets going that I definitely saw coming after a few interactions between two secondary characters: Wes’s teammate, Blake, and Jamie’s sister, Jess. There’s a few moments between them that had me guessing, but then they both disappear for awhile, and part of me wondered what’s going on there…turns out, plans for them to start a spinoff were happening! The first book is called Good Boy, and based off some other characters, there’s a slew of stories coming our way for the WAGS series these authors have going for us!
  2. What Comes after the HEA! We all know the first book could actually totally be a standalone with how much of a Happily Ever After we get with Wes and Jamie! This book showed us what goes on after that moment, after the honeymoon phase, and how a relationship needs work in order to survive. Both guys try to do so much to make each other happy, and both realize how hard the real world can be, even for a pro hockey player. I thought the idea of them trying different things and trying to work at their relationship was an intriguing and realistic portrayal that anyone in the New Adult age range can relate with, queer or straight.
  3. Just as Sexy as Book #1! While there’s plenty of fluff to melt out hearts with the soft and tender confessions of the heart from both male main characters, BUT there is plenty of raunchiness and sexiness in this book that smut lovers can also appreciate.
  4. Great Secondary Characters! There were actually quite a bit of fun side characters that added to this sequel, and more people closer to Wes and Jamie’s age than the coaching staff at the camp, and the teenage players they coach. There’s Blake, Wes’s teammate who moves into their apartment complex (I go more into him below), there’s Jess Canning who is always finding some new business venture to try out, and there’s Wes’s other teammates who tease him for his bright green dress shirt. They added a lot to the story, and I can see some of them starring in the spinoff WAGS series I’d mentioned above too!
  5. Jamie Canning’s Struggle! Wes was kind of the star of the first book for me, so I’m glad it got switched over to Jamie for book #2. Let me also make it clear that I’m not happy about Jamie’s suffering in this story—I’m not really a sadist, masochist or whatever term you say—but more with how it was handled and the issues that were brought up. I get Jamie’s growing frustration with him and Wes having to keep their relationship under wraps. With it was a growing fear of losing each other, and whether they’ll be able to overcome all the adversity, and some of the communication issues with that. A lot of people struggle with talking about that emotion: fear. Those fears turned to doubt on both the situation and themselves: Do I sound unreasonable?…Am I being selfish?…Is it worth bringing it up?…Am I asking too much?…Do I love the person enough to put them through this?…Do they love me enough to stick by me not matter what? Both guys ask themselves these questions, and both are terrified of ending up having their hearts broken in the end, and adding the fact that they hardly see each other as much as they’d like, neither guy wants to bring up these heavy topics with the time they are allowed, and thats totally valid and a realistic worry we all can relate to. These communication issues I can get behind…
  6. Jamie’s Mom! The woman continues to be a total saint who doesn’t change this time around in the net book, and continues to be a great mom for both Jamie and Wes, especially for Wes since his parents are pretty much MIA and have left him behind to rot.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Repetitive Lack of Communication…Now, I usually get annoyed by this being a big issue in ANY romance novel, which is ironic because I know I am someone who is terrible at communicating my feelings. I am such a moody bitch sometimes, and will do the passive aggressive act with the silence or the “I’m fine.” line—I can’t help it, it’s a character flaw of mine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lie awake at night kicking myself for it—and for a m/m romance I can see why it’s an actual plot point. Speaking as a guy myself, I can say that guys are not the greatest when it comes to sitting down and communicating that stuff…it’s just the way we’re programed, and I’m not trying to make this a toxic masculinity thing; it’s just not all guys like talking about that stuff, even if they’re queer. Not all girls like to either, so don’t get at me! The issue I have with the communication issues in this book in particular are because we’ve already dealt with the same issue in the previous book. They’d already gone through it, so I’d hoped they’d learned their lesson this time around…yeah, not so much I guess.
  2. Blake’s Immaturity…I like Blake; he really grows on you. At first, he’s pretty obnoxious and does the text lingo in his dialogue and gives people lame nicknames (example: Jamie is “J-Bomb“… #lame) Plus, he’s yet another obstacle that gets in the way of Jamie and Wes’s happiness, so that alone instantly makes you annoyed with the guy. Like I said, he grows on you, but it takes a while for that to happen.
  3. The Use of Illness and Medications for the Plot…Maybe it’s because as I’m typing this, America is in a pandemic with COVID-19 and I’ve been in the whole isolation and #socialdistancing, but this whole part of the story didn’t resonate all that well with me, and also just became a bigger thing than I thought it needed to be. I understand the whole thing that happened with Jamie and his meds, it’s happened to me in the past and is an actual side effect for certain people and medications they’re prescribed, but it felt like the whole thing could’ve been handled differently to make it better for the story.

Conclusion:

A good sequel to an iconic LGBTQ+ m/m sports romance, but not as strong as its predecessor; I still enjoyed the real world struggles Jamie and and Wes faced not only with themselves, but also their relationship and the steps they both needed to take in order to keep their relationship still working past the HEA. It felt incredibly realistic and is completely relatable to anyone who’s close to their age and trying to find out where they exactly belong in the world today as a new adult. The issues they both face are great examples of the emerging genre between Adult and YA, and prove it can be more than just the angsty romance that has filled a lot of the genre itself.

While showing more of Jamie and Wes’s relationship, it also lays some easter eggs for the next project the authors are working on, which is a WAGS series that most likely will star the notable side characters you meet in this book as well, which just means us readers can remain in this world of queer hockey players, and the romance on and off the ice!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, LGBT, YA Fantasy

My Review: Sawkill Girls: by Claire Legrand

Release Date: October 2nd 2018
Number of Pages: 450
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Genre(s): Young Adult (YA), LGBTQ, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

One of the worst things of being an avid reader is that it ruins a lot of other books for you. You’ve read so many amazing stories with rich, complex worlds and memorable characters that you followed with along their journey, and seeing anything that either feels like a copy of that or isn’t possibly up to the same standard as that last book that made you fall in love with reading just falls flat in your mind…

This title was recommended to me by a friend, and we’ve read a lot of the same titles and enjoyed them for the most part, so of course I snagged a copy of this when it arrived into the bookstore one day. I had high hopes that I’d found something spooky that would keep me up late into the night and make me jump at every shadow that I thought even slightly moved, but this one just didn’t do quite that.

It’s by no means a bad book at all; any book that has any sort of fanbase with those that are able to explain what they liked about it can be considered a great book to read. Certain writers, of course, are better than others, but thats another topic to get into some other time. The point I’m trying to make from earlier is that I didn’t connect with the book as much as I’d hoped.

Everything about it led me to believe that it would have everything necessary for me to absolutely love it: the beautiful cover design, the exciting blurb, and the personal recommendation from my friend. Unfortunately, for myself at least, it just wasn’t fully able to live up the hype.

What It’s About:

Marion Althouse moves to Sawkill Rock with her mother and older sister, Charlotte, as a way for them to hopefully move on in life after the unexpected death of her father. Sawkill Rock is an island town off the East coast (I believe), and the very day she steps foot on the island, Marion discovers that beneath the seemingly perfect, pristine town hides a deep, dark, terrible secret that goes centuries back into the past, a malevolent presence thats infiltrated the land from its wide trees to the stones and decay. Any sort of hope that Marion had for her and her family is swiftly taken away through the night when Charlotte goes missing, just like the others…

Zoey Harlow, the police chief’s daughter, is continuously haunted by the sudden disappearance of her best friend, Thora, that happened a year ago. Determined to find out what happened exactly happened, she makes the startling discovery that there have been disappearances of girls from the island for many years, and somehow it’s overlooked and covered to the point that hardly any of the townsfolk seem to notice. Somethings not right, and Zoey starts to suspect the elite Mortimer family who may know something, or even be involved…

Val Mortimer has been brought up in wealth and privilege with the generations of women in her family, but beneath the luminescent pearl necklace, the flawless hair, sharp smiles and the spotless, silky exterior hides a secret that they’ve kept hidden that could not only threaten their welfare, but the fate of everyone should it escape…

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep. He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.”

– Claire Legrand, “Sawkill Girls”

The mysterious, hungry presence has preyed upon the young women of the island for so long, devouring them in its long, scythe-like claws, and it’s been slowly gaining strength to untether itself from its willing host and be able to freely walk on this world in which it doesn’t belong in. It’s a campfire story, a child’s folktale, a myth of an insidious monster that lurks in the shadows of the trees and is always watching, and is always hungry…

What I Liked:

  1. The LGBTQ+ Representation! The three main characters are on the queer spectrum of sexual identity! Zoey is ace (asexual for those not with the lingo) along with being black, so she’s representing multiple groups within the story, and it’s revealed that both Marion and Val become openly queer as well and develop feelings for each other. Their mutual attraction felt somewhat out of the blue, but was still satisfying nonetheless.
  2. The Mortimer Reveal Right Away! So there’s an actual big reveal of Val and her dark family secret rather early on in the story, and part of me was questioning as to why the author would have something like that not wait until later to make a shocking reveal, but as you read the story, it makes more sense for how it develops and Val’s character evolution, which is actually pretty amazing because I felt like her character had the most development within the story, even with her interesting initial position.
  3. The Connection of the Three Girls! They didn’t know it at first, and neither did we to a degree, but the girl’s fates were all connected in a strong way that grew along with the story as more and more happened. All three of them have an initial connection– having lost something close to them from the monster (Marion – her sister, Zoey – her best friend, and Val – her freedom), but also learn that they’re connected in other supernatural forces that play a huge part in how things play out. A theme that sticks out is female friendship amongst these diverse characters, and the author illuminated that in a beautiful, if unorthodox way.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Book Unraveled Along with my Interest…The book started off with a bang; it brought up the main conflict almost within the first couple of chapters of the story, but really became a slow burn towards the middle, and I found myself struggling to keep going on for a lot of it. It’s not exactly a long story, but it took me so much longer than expected to actually finish it. I think honestly that it was because that most of the twists were revealed so early on in the story, and some were kind of predictable too. Everything after that, up until the climax, felt more like repetitive filler. I hate to say it, but part of me was considering to add it to my DNF (Did Not Finish) pile on several occasions. I just lost so much interest in it; it was like how I felt whenever I was assigned a book back in school. Somehow the required reading assignment always made me subconsciously want to read the book less.

Conclusion:

Overall, It wasn’t my favorite book, but it does hold quite a bit of potential, and my lack of excitement about it doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, or not worth checking out! The author’s style of writing is gorgeous and so well done in some areas, but this story just felt like it was missing something, like Claire Legrand needed to go another step further with it. I wish I could say what that was exactly, but unfortunately I can’t. All I can say is that I just didn’t connect with it as much as I’d hoped, which makes sense since it doesn’t exactly fall under what I normally read.

I recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a thriller with strong diverse female lead characters, anyone wanting to add to their LGBTQ stacks of books, or those looking for a great feminine read.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell