Posted in review, young adult

The Loneliest Girl In The Universe – Lauren James

“It’s hard to focus on the future when the past is so distracting.”

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Blurb: “Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.”

As I’ve said many times before, sci-fi is a genre that I’ve never been able to fully invest in. More often than not, it can get too complicated for me to follow so I tend to avoid it. For some reason, when scanning the shelves at my local library, I came across The Loneliest Girl In The Universe and decided to give it a go as it seemed like something my tiny brain could handle. Quite simply put: I adored this book.

Romy is the only astronaut on her ship and her only correspondence is with a woman called Molly at NASA, and even then she has the time delay of only just receiving messages that had been sent to her a year ago. It’s far too easy to relate to her character, in the sense of feeling alone. Sometimes it can be crippling and feel like it might never end and in the modern age, we’re able to turn to a virtual world where we can communicate with other people at the click of a button. As I pursued the narrative, I felt the rush alongside Romy when she took to her computer and found a new notification waiting for her. When she’s informed that another ship has been launched to meet her and complete the mission, she finds herself messaging this new boy J who is on the same page as her; he’s the only one who really understands what she’s going through. Again, it highlights just how much power technology has and how, in certain situations, it can actually be used for good. I just loved this weighted aspect in a story consisting really of just one character.

I found the actual space elements quite easy to digest which made it easy for me to just fly through this story. Though I couldn’t shake the claustrophobia of being on this one ship for so long. Romy is faced with the monumental task of creating a new civilisation on a new habitable planet and that’s just a lot to bear, especially on your own. Every little layer of her backstory to create this beautiful, well-written character who felt so real that my chest ached whenever she was going through a negative moment. For the most part, she’s just a normal teenager, writing fan fiction about her favourite TV show, doing homework and slowly starting to fall in love with a boy on another ship trying to catch up.

Another awesome thing to note is that there is a period mention because, after all, being in space doesn’t negate the fact that a teenage girl will still have her monthly cycle! Not only does the reader experience Romy going through it, but it’s also mentioned at different intervals as the amendments to her ship are made and so on.

It’s very much a story about characters and Romy is one I’m going to be thinking about for a long time.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

A Map Of Days – Ransom Riggs

“I had just survived the most surreal summer imaginable – skipping back to bygone centuries, taming imaginable monsters, falling in love with my grandfather’s time-arrested girlfriend – but only now, in the unexceptional present, in Suburban Florida, in the house I’d grown up in, was I finding it hard to believe my eyes.”

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Blurb: “Having defeated the monstrous threat that nearly destroyed the peculiar world, Jacob Portman is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma, and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery—a subterranean bunker that belonged to Jacob’s grandfather, Abe. Clues to Abe’s double-life as a peculiar operative start to emerge, secrets long hidden in plain sight. And Jacob begins to learn about the dangerous legacy he has inherited—truths that were part of him long before he walked into Miss Peregrine’s time loop. Now, the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom—a world with few ymbrynes, or rules—that none of them understand.”

The Miss Peregrine series was one that I never expected to love as much as I did, and if it hadn’t been for the news of an adaption directed by Tim Burton it would have completely passed me by. The ending was one of those rare ones where I felt incredibly emotional, but also content with it. So when the news came out that the series was going to be extended by three books, I was incredibly apprehensive. In fact, I got myself so worked up that I honestly didn’t think I’d even be able to read this book.

A Map Of Days offered me one of the big things I wanted: character development. As the peculiars move from the loop world to present day Florida, they are forced into drastic changes in order to fit in. It was hilarious seeing them try Pizza for the first time and have to go shopping for regular clothes and the wit, especially from Millard won me over again. As the main crux of the plot comes into effect, the group is split with a select few joining Jacob on his mission to learn more about his grandfather and try to bring order back to the peculiar world. This worked really well because it eases the reader back into the cast of characters by focusing on a select view and padding them out in new surroundings. I found myself leaning more towards characters such as Enoch who I never really cared for in past books.

As usual, Ransom Riggs proves his talents in storytelling and world building as the reader explores new parts of the universe, accompanied by the peculiar photographs that give the series its unique element, but outside of that, this book fell really flat for me.

After the amazing arc the original trilogy had, is A Map of Days really needed? No. It isn’t. If anything, it’ll hopefully appeal to those fully invested in the series, but at just short of 500 pages, it’s a very long slog with a rushed action packed ending to try and keep the reader waiting for the next installment. I just didn’t really feel like it had that many revelations that it was marketed that it would have.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Evan Hansen – Val Emmich

“Fantasies always sound good but they’re no help when reality comes and shoves you to the ground.”

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Blurb: “When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?”

 

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Trigger Warnings: talk of suicide and death, themes of depression.

Dear Evan Hansen is a book inspired by the incredibly popular Broadway musical of the same name. With the news of it finally crossing the pond and finding a home in the UK West End next year, I felt that it was finally time to take the plunge into this story.

Evan Hansen is a trouble teenager: his family life isn’t stable, he doesn’t really have any friends, and he’s in therapy where he’s asked each week to write a letter to himself in order to process the struggles he’s facing. The narrative encourages you to feel, and in some cases, be able to relate to what Evan is experiencing, and then express horror when one of his self-written letters ends up in the hands of his classmate, Connor. When it’s announced that Connor has taken his own life and Evan’s letter is believed to be Connor’s suicide note, Evan is put in a difficult situation: break the family’s heart and tell the truth, or maintain the lie. This is where the book just gets really uncomfortable. Evan is determined not to tell the truth. He employs another classmate to forge email exchanges that create the appearance of Evan and Connor being friends, has dinners with the family where he shares more fake stories, becomes close with Connor’s grieving sister, and even becomes the front of a foundation to raise money in Connor’s name. It’s a very difficult and unfortunate situation to be in but I just couldn’t fathom all the lengths that Evan goes to in order to back up all the things he comes out with, and any of the good that comes from the campaign and foundation was muddled by the intentions behind it.

The campaign itself is nice to see and very relatable to true life and I liked how social media was tied into it, and how it was showed that the news was getting around to the point where strangers were starting to donate. Again, the co-creator, Alana, didn’t know or really care about Connor and is forcing Evan to be the face of it, clearly using the traction it’s getting for her own personal gain. I guess, in its own way, the book highlights how some people will use bad instances to their own advantage, and some people are just unaffected; including Evan’s therapist. In fact, Connor’s passing is the catalyst for Evan to ignore his own life and pretend to be someone else for a while.

The book flits occasionally between Evan and Connor’s perspectives which I feel works a lot better in a stage setting where you can see the actors. The formatting in my E-Arc was really off which meant that I spent a good portion of the reading experience confused when these perspective shifts happened and when text conversations happened because there wasn’t any distinction in font. Also the perspective shifts just felt really jarring. I get that maybe it was to make the reader feel more for Connor who is essentially a non-character and viewed solely through Evan’s eyes otherwise.

This a story that I imagine works really well on stage, but as a book I feel it missed the mark. Now I’m going to listen to the soundtrack.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Odd One Out – Nic Stone

“None of this is simple as we want it to be. And I think that should be okay. Being who you are and losing who you love may not be easy, but it’s always worthwhile.” – Author Note

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Blurb: “Courtney “Coop” Cooper: Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin: I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez: The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move. . . .

One story. Three sides. No easy answers.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Like her debut, Dear Martin (of which my review can be found here), the topic of her latest book is something close to Nic Stone’s heart. In her acknowledgements, she talks openly about her own struggles with sexuality and why she felt it important to add to the growing list of LGBT titles for Young Adult readers.

Odd One Out is told through three perspectives: Courtney who is in love with his lesbian best friend, Jupiter. New girl Rae who kind of loves both of them, and Jupiter who thinks she likes Rae but really like Courtney. On top of this, Courtney appears to have this sense of ownership over Jupiter as if, despite her being unobtainable, she is meant to be his and Jupiter is struggling with her sexuality as she experiences that same desire of ownership for Courtney, and Rae is stuck in the middle. Basically, it’s one giant complicated love triangle.

Normally I’m very wary of multiple perspective stories because it’s rare that I like them all. In this case, I found some to be weaker than others and my favourite ended up being Jupiter. She’s a big fan of the rock band Queen which feeds a lot into her narrative and it made her more fleshed out than the other characters because she stood on her own separate to them. It made her feel more like a real teenager. Also her struggles with sexuality were very relatable: she identifies as lesbian but begins to worry about whether that label fits and if she will add fuel to the stigma that LGBT teens are just seeking attention or “waiting to be turned.” I could just feel the hurt she was going through and I was powerless to help her. I also think that she experiences the most character growth overall. Rae is of the similar vein; battling with the bisexual label and the ever-present stigma that she doesn’t want to validate. In fact, the only one who is firmly comfortable in their sexuality is Courtney.

This book also features awkward sex scenes combined with the handling of consent which is really nice to see becoming more common in YA books. It just came across really natural and authentic in the scenes and added to the characters experiences.

Another important point to note is how it’s shown that everyone experiences situations differently and this book does a fantastic job of showing how a character perceives an event compared to how it actually exists.

Once again, Nic Stone proves that she is a writer very much worth watching.

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Posted in adult fiction, review, romance

When The Curtain Falls – Carrie Hope Fletcher

“A certain kind of magic is born when the curtain rises. Intoxicated by the smell of the greasepaint and powered by the glow of the footlights, lovers successfully elope, villains get their just deserts and people die in epic stunts and yet live to tell the tale.”

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Blurb: “In 1952 two young lovers meet, in secret, at the beautiful Southern Cross theatre in the very heart of London’s West End. Their relationship is made up of clandestine meetings and stolen moments because there is someone who will make them suffer if he discovers she is no longer ‘his’. But life in the theatre doesn’t always go according to plan and tragedy and heartache are waiting in the wings for all the players . . .”

Almost seventy years later, a new production of When the Curtain Falls arrives at the theatre, bringing with it Oscar Bright and Olive Green and their budding romance. Very soon, though, strange things begin to happen and they learn about the ghost that’s haunted the theatre since 1952, a ghost who can only be seen on one night of the year.

Told through Past and Present narratives, the reader learns of the great tragedy that befell Fawn Burrows during a performance of When The Curtain Falls and things turned out that way. In the present, the production has been rebooted and the leads Oliver and Oscar are unable to ignore the ghostly happenings plaguing their rehersals. I can’t remember if I’ve ever read a book set in a theatre and, as someone who goes to the theatre often, this was a nice,refreshing change of scenery. Alongside that, as Carrie Hope Fletcher is well known for her acting roles, the book reads like she is very much in her comfort zone.

I liked the feeling of things coming full circle: Fawn and Walter’s love story and how in ways it mirrors Olive and Oscar as the show gets underway. There are themes of self worth and stength littered through the story well.

However, those are the only good things I really have to say. The initial premise had me intrigued but I’ve had an issue with every single one of Carrie’s fiction books. Her characters never seem to grab me and *When The Curtain Falls* is no different. I’ve discovered that my main grievance is with her actual writing style and that is not as easily solved as a different plot. There’s one chapter set in the past which reveals the exact details of that aforementioned tragic event and then the chapter following it is a present day where Walter reveals the details to Oscar of what we’ve just seen. Which seemed a really odd choice but I guess the true drama of the book would have been fine if the former was removed.

I think, overall, that Carrie’s books are just not for me.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

“Last night changed me. I don’t wanna walk around all pissed off and looking for problems, but I know I can’t continue to pretend nothing’s wrong.”

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Blurb: “Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.”

Note: I am aware that as a white reviewer I have privilege and can’t fairly comment on the racial aspects of this book. Any Own Voices reviews are greatly appreciated and I will add them here.

In an attempt to “examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings”, Nic Stone began writing her debut after seeing the responses to the real-life shooting of unarmed African American teenagers.

Dear Martin follows high school senior Justyce McAllister who starts to question his racial identity after spending three hours in handcuffs for something he didn’t do. Classroom discussions and societal stereotypes come to the forefront of his attention more than they did before. When introduced to a gang, he identifies them as “the ones that make us look bad” and starts to worry more about everything he has to lose.

The book flits around different formats from more script based interactions for the classroom discussions, to prose for present happenings, to the letters. It’s the latter that really stood out to me. Letter writing to someone who won’t read the letters, especially an idol, can be so cathartic and it seems to work for the protagonist. While Justyce feels like he must remain silent in his daily life, especially when topics of equality come up, his letters to Martin Luther King are raw and unfiltered; it’s in these moments that it feels like the reader get the “real” Justyce.

The media fallout following another shooting by a police officer mimics what readers see too often in the real world and the predictability of questions thrown in front of Justyce are predictable and not surprising.

It was interesting to have the white male character, Jared, who starts off as someone who “doesn’t see colour” and truly be lives society is equal start to shift with the events of the book, to the point where he starts to acknowledge his privilege and own up to things he’s said and done in the past. Which is the kind of person I think all of those in a similar positon to him should be trying to do in our own lives.  Alongside this is a white girl called SJ who acknowledges her position from the start but speaks out on important issues and also helps lift up and push Justyce to the front as his voice is more important.

I found it thought-provoking that Dear Martin didn’t just focus on what it means to be a black boy in society, but how that transends into older age: The dad of Justyce’s best friend, Manny, talks about how he has a position of power at his current employment and yet his white colleagues still look down to him or refuse to answer his requests. All of which prompts the further questions in Justyce’s mind of “is this my life now?”

This book can seem almost simple at points. Like I mentioned earlier, certain chapters are just listed dialogue between characters and it feels very reserved in places, but a lot of this is down to it being a lot shorter than I expected. But it still leaves your heart aching at the end. In just over 200 pages, Dear Martin has the reader in the palm of its hand with a protagonist to root for from the very first page, until the very end. My only wish is that it was longer.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

“At the beginning of the world, the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty.”

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Blurb: “Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.”

Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, “bury the gays” trope.

I was on the fence for quite a while about this book until I saw FantasticBooksAndWhereToFindThem’s review  which finally swayed me to give it a go. So with a shiny new audible credit, I decided to opt for the audiobook and straight away, this was the best decision. The narrator – Rosie Jones – is utterly incredible. Her range of accents is phenomenal and she captures the character of Camellia perfectly: all her innocence, passion and naivety. It’s almost impossible not to feel completely sucked up into the world of Orléans with our remarkable protagonist.

In this world, the beauty industry mirrors our own with its set of trends, magazines and beauty rooms where residents can get makeovers but for a price. However, in Orléans, Belles have the ability to make people beautiful but it’s never permanent. The process is brutal and more detailed than I even expected. I often found myself stopping what I was doing and sitting back to just listen to Camellia talk about what she was doing.

The writing is gorgeous. Everything is described through the use of food imagery which was a very clever technique as it made the world feel rich and enticing.

Princess Sofia is a standout character for me on the grounds that she is simply terrifying. Whenever she appeared in the scene I physically tensed as if that would change the course of events in some way.

However, this book was incredibly slow. There’s no real action until the last quarter and by that point I was just feeling bored. The Belles reads very much as a set up book and I feel that the sequel is when that characters are really going to hit the ground running.

As I referenced at the start, there is a scene of sexual assault that is quite heavy and the perpetrator is not reprimanded for it. Also a gay character is killed off for absolutely no reason other than shock value. Please exercise self-care before reading.

Also Clayton wrote a twitter thread about the need for more POC reviewers in general, especially ones talking about her book. Here’s a link to Rich In Colour’s review  that picked up on specific themes I didn’t and if you know any others, please let me know so I can link them as well!

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, romance, young adult

What If It’s Us – Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

“I was the guy in the hot dog tie. You were the guy mailing stuff back to your ex-boyfriend. I loved your laugh. Wish I’d gotten your number. Want to give me a second chance here, universe?”

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Blurb: “Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it. Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things. But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

While being a big Becky Albertalli fan, I’m not that keen on Adam Silvera so when What If It’s Us was announced I was very wary about whether I’d like it or not, but it did feel inevitable that these two authors would come together to co-write a book.

What If It’s Us starts with a meet-cute in a post office and becomes the catalyst for everything that follows in the story. It was an unbelievably adorable moment that has such an impact that when Arthur stupidly forgets to get Ben’s name – let alone his number – he ends up trolling through the internet in the hopes of finding this cute boy again. I adored the internet aspect and think it’s something that will be so relatable to other readers. I found myself willing that one of them would eventually find that virtual breadcrumb that would lead them on the path back to each other.

Ben is a white-passing Puerto-Rican recovering from a break up with his boyfriend who is forced to be around in summer school, which doesn’t really help the “moving on” process. Arthur is in New York for the summer and very much believes in signs from the universe.

My favourite thing about What If It’s Us was the idea of re-doing moments. After their piovetal first meet, Arthur is determined for things to be perfect, while Ben wants to replace memories of his old relationship with a new one. Whenever something goes slightly wrong, they agree to redo it and have several first dates to try and make it the best it can be. When it comes to sex, it was wonderful to see consent discussed and how when one of the boys changes his mind, the other is fully supportive and waits for another time without pressuring him. Everything about the relationship just felt real; there were bumps in the road, miscommunication, worries about what happens after the summer, all of which were nice to see and just showed them growing as a couple. Not all of it is plain sailing as there are moments of homophobia which  is a sad reminder than not everyone in society is as accepting as those close to us may be. Another thing I loved was how they were willing to look into each other’s passions (such as Hamilton) to get to know the other person. It was little things like that which had more of an impact than words.

My only real issue was that there didn’t seem to be much distinction in the narratives which was a big shame given how much world/character building there was in the different perspectives. I often found it difficult to work out who I was following and I had to go back to the start of the chapter to check.

Overall What If It’s Us is a ridiculously cute story that shows the power of the universe, and fighting for what you love.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth

“Maybe I still haven’t become me. I don’t know how you tell for sure when you finally have.”

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Blurb: “The night Cameron Post’s parents died, her first emotion was relief. Relief they would never know that hours earlier, she’d been kissing a girl. Now living with her conservative Aunt in small-town Montana, hiding her sexuality and blending in becomes second nature to Cameron until she begins an intense friendship with the beautiful Coley Taylor. Desperate to ‘correct’ her niece, Cameron’s Aunt takes drastic action. Now Cameron must battle with the cost of being her true-self even if she’s not completely sure who that is.”

The first time I heard about this film was when the news came out that the adaptation, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, had won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Slowly, it started to peak my interest more.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the epitome of someone exploring their sexuality without really focusing on labels. Cameron goes through the novel experiencing attractions to certain girls not really even identifying those feelings. She just likes it. She kisses her best friend and then her parents die the next day and, as any young person would, she sees this as some sort of punishment for her actions. In fact, she has a few semi-romantic attractions before getting to the infamous Coley Taylor who is mentioned on the blurb.

I like the way this book handled the topic of grief and how everything in this story, however unlikely, leads Cameron to processing and moving on from the dark parts of her life. Set in a small religious town in the eighties-nineties, it’s predictable in the places it goes when it comes to differing sexualities but all of it plays a part in building how Cameron sees herself not through her own lens, but the lens of everyone else. Those she has sexual encounters with are more than happy to get physical with her but feel shame and push her away when Cameron tries to return the favour. There are no big twists that will leave the reader shocked (bar one in the latter part). It’s fundamentally about Cameron just going through the “important” stages of her formative years.

There is a big conversion therapy section to this book and as harsh and manipulative as imagined. But at the same time, it felt almost like more of a summer camp with religious pressure and didn’t go in as hard as I was expecting it to.

The writing style itself doesn’t do much for me, there’s a lot of run on sentences and the book is much longer than it needs to be. But there was just something about Cameron’s character that kept me wanting to know more.

A coming of age story that tackles sexuality, grief and religion, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is worth a read.

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Posted in review, Uncategorized

Virtually Sleeping Beauty – K.M.Robinson

“Find the girl; get out.”

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Blurb: “She may be doing battle in the virtual world, but in the real world, they can’t wake her up.”

K.M.Robinson has become known for fairytale retellings and Virtually Sleeping Beauty is no different. In this novella, she takes another classic tale and, this time, gives it a sci-fi twist.

The story follows Royce who learns that a girl called Rora has been playing the virtual reality game for longer than the allotted time. Becoming the hero, he delves into the universe hoping that he can be the one to break her free.

From the outset, the tension is palpable: there is the real sense that Rora’s life is on the line if the cast of characters don’t work quick to get her out of the game. Given this is a novella, I was glad to see this woven into the plot from the very first page. I thought it was a really interesting choice to tell the story from Royce’s point of view as it made him an onlooker to what Rora had to do due to the limitations of the game; he spends a lot of the story looking on, unable to help. Everything in this novella just seemed to pull together so perfectly that when I turned the page and was met with the acknowledgements, I felt almost cheated.

I did have a few typos in my kindle copy so I wish more time had been taken to make sure these errors weren’t present, and I wish the story was a little more developed as I would’ve liked to see more details and places within the game itself.

But overall, K.M.Robinson adds another marvellous read to her catalogue.

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