Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Published: 7 July 2020 (print)/7 July 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Sourcebooks Casablanca/Dreamscape Media
Pages: 427/13 hrs and 11 mins
Narrator: Joe Jameson
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I adored this book but I have found it incredibly hard to write a review for it which is always a weird experience. The set up for Luc and Oliver’s fake dating is interesting and realistic in that it is a wild idea that needs persuasion and rules which I loved because it is an inherently strange thing to start to do and seeing it being set up like a contract was great.

Having there be a semi long term date to aim for meant there was a solid investment in these boys that wasn’t the following week and it gave plenty of time for the plot to unfurl and have all the wonderfully devilish chaos, drama, emotional toil and evolution of feelings one needs for such a sweet story as this.

What I liked about this is the drama comes from two messed up people, one more open to admit they’re messed up than the other, and seeing the pair of them grow and learn, become comfortable with themselves and each other, but then also have to face their own fears breaks is brilliant.

Luc’s wall to suppress his feelings and not look any deeper than the surface is slowly broken down beautifully and the way Hall has built up his character for the reader means you understand him quite quickly but also have so much more to learn about him.

Oliver seems perfect from the start as we see through Luc’s eyes, but he too is broken down into more complex pieces and realise he’s putting up a wall and façade in his own way.

The story itself was well told, we explore the depth of their lives and see friends, colleagues and families in a way that makes them full, rich characters and you see the worlds in which they live where a fake boyfriend would be a necessity at times.

I loved the use of mirroring scenes and the in-jokes are incredibly cute. I love these boys and their unorthodox relationship and friendship and seeing them try to act naturally around one another when they are both a small mess is highly endearing and entertaining.

I haven’t read many (maybe any?) fake dating stories but this is a fantastic one because Hall gives it time to be convenient, messy, complicated and heartfelt and as the days and weeks and months go by the relationship between Luc and Oliver reshapes itself multiple times which benefits them both as people, but still leaves you wondering whether they will stay together in the long term.

The writing is amazing, the story is clever and funny, full of love and heartbreak, vulnerability and hope. For all the extra plot and life happening around them it all comes back to the focus around these boys which is perfect because they are delightful even when they’re being fools, which to be fair is a lot of the time.

You can purchase Boyfriend Material via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal (#3) by Clint McElroy

Published: 14th July 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 First Second
Illustrator: Carey Pietsch
Pages: 272
Format: Graphic Novel
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Star

START YOUR ENGINES, friends, as we hit the road again with Taako, Magnus and Merle, the beloved agents of chaos from the #1 New York Times Bestselling books The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins and The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited.

Our boys have gone full-time at the Bureau of Balance, and their next assignment is a real thorny one: apprehending The Raven, a master thief who’s tapped into the power of a Grand Relic to ransack the city of Goldcliff. Local life-saver Lieutenant Hurley pulls them out of the woods, only to throw them headlong into the world of battle wagon racing, Goldcliff’s favorite high-stakes low-legality sport and The Raven’s chosen battlefield. Will the boys and Hurley be able to reclaim the Relic and pull The Raven back from the brink, or will they get lost in the weeds?

Based on the beloved blockbuster podcast where three brothers and their dad play a tabletop RPG in real time, The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal has it all: blossoming new friendships, pining for outlaw lovers, and a rollicking race you can root for!

The third graphic novel of The Adventure Zone podcast adaptation is as wonderful as the audio episodes it’s representing. This was my favourite arc of the podcast and seeing it come to life on the page with stunning illustrations and the humour and charm of the character dialogue is fantastic.

My favourite thing is at the start of the book there is a fantastic game board where you can catch up on what happened previously. With +1 and -1 consequences for certain events and a fun and informative way of reminding readers what has happened it is an incredibly clever addition that doesn’t take away from the incoming story but it adds a whole lot of extra entertainment.

The story combines Petals to the Metal arc as well as Moonlighting episodes once more. It’s a great way to combine the interlude episodes because they have a lot of important plot, and it’s a great frame for the narrative to have. Once again Pietsch is a master at including visual references from the podcast as well as creating incredible illustrations for the spectacular and creative narrative Griffin has created.

The standards of the novel series remain, each time a character is introduced they have a mini ID chart telling us about their race, class, and proficiencies like a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet but my favourite thing is the proficiencies change each time and are relevant to the scene at hand or are used to tell you a bit more about their character, always with the Pietsch humour attached.

The depiction of the battle racers and the action of the entire race was full of drama and action, often no words were needed as Pietsch captures facial expressions, and action incredibly well. It’s not all action though as the McElroy humour and the hilarious, weird, and sometimes strange moments from the podcast are included. There are also heartfelt moments that are beautifully conveyed and the alterations to the podcast are fantastic as it brings a more bittersweet moment of hope and rectifies previous miscalculations when it was a more free form storyline.

There’s the usual mystery and intrigue around the B.O.B and the mystery Red Robes which furthers the larger plot and it all fits together seamlessly for a well-rounded story and fantastic addition to this series.

What I love most about these adaptations is that the smallest thing reminds me of the magic of the podcast and it resurfaces my desire to relive it again for the first time because Griffin created such a beautiful and creative storyline and the boys as a group made a fantastic story. Seeing it transported into this graphic novel shows that while a few things have been changed and adapted for the format, the essence of the story is there, and these characters I’ve grown to love over the years come alive on the page. It’s a wonderful feeling to read these stories and be brought back to those moments alone listening to the audio and creating the story in my mind. The fact the book provokes the same feeling and emotion is a test to Pietsch and the McElroy’s skill.

You can purchase The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

 Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Birthday by Meredith Russo

Published: 31st May 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Usborne Publishing Ltd
Pages: 300
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Meet Eric and Morgan.

Born on the same day, at the same time, in the same place. They’ve always shared this one day together, but as they grow up they begin to grow apart.

Everyone expects Eric to get a football scholarship, but no one knows he’s having second thoughts.
Former quarterback Morgan feels utterly alone, as she wrestles with the difficult choice to live as her true self.

Both of them are struggling to be the person they know they are. Who better to help than your best friend?

Told on one day every year, over six years, this is a story about how change pulls people apart… and how love brings them back together.

This book. Oh my gosh, this book. Birthday is an absolutely beautiful story that in part broke my heart and moved my soul.

I am not going to lie, it was heart wrenching and painful to read at times but Russo does a superb job getting you inside the minds of Eric and Morgan, especially Morgan. We feel their pain and anguish and the discovery of self when not a lot was being said and anything LGBTQIA was a punchline or a flippant insult. The same is said for the sexism because there is plenty of that as well. It’s full of the harm of toxic masculinity and the pressure and heartbreak boys are put through in order to live up to what they are “supposed to be”. It was incredibly sad, even in fiction, to read about how these characters were told off for saying they loved each other and weren’t allowed to cry.

Russo captures the derision of a town obsessed with football coupled with the reality that it is the only way out of a place that is dying. The dead end existence of their small town is well explained and the catch-22 of hating football but knowing it’s the only opportunity you’ll have to get into a good university and escape was a refreshing approach to other US novels where football is simply the town obsession for no reason (I mean it is a bit of that too). At least Russo makes it evident there is no real escape otherwise and the way this plays into both character’s choices and mentality is amazing.

Structurally I love how this story is laid out. With one day each year we see the lives of Morgan and Eric, their alternate views on same experiences and different lives as they start to grow up. Every year that passed for Morgan made me hurt, but every year that passed I saw how much Eric was still a loyal friend. Even with this one day we still discover how the rest of the year has been, it never felt like we were missing information of chunks of time. It was incredible how through one day over many years we get to see the whole lives of these characters and see their lives unfold.

I cannot praise this story enough. It is full of pain and sorrow, the confusion of being a teenager and the failure of the adults, but it is also about the power of friendship – especially friendship struggling under the damaging rules of society, bigotry, and ‘being normal’. There are many content warnings obviously such as parental death, self harm, homophobia, depression and bullying, but there are also moments of pure joy and the love, exploration and value of true friendship.

It’s a brilliant book because being inside Morgan and Eric’s head makes you angry and sad, and this isn’t even the distant past – there’s no exact year stated but with references to VHS video cameras, YouTube, and getting Netflix in the mail it’s not that long ago. It’s relatively recent in the scheme of everything and the story does an amazing job in showing how damaging this whole mentality can be while also showing there is always hope and there will always be people who love you and surprise you. I loved this book even though it made me hurt and I think even though it covers some tough subjects it’s an important story to tell and being an #OwnVoices story I think there is even more power and importance in these words.

You can purchase Birthday via the following

QBD | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (#1) by Hank Green

Published: 25th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Dutton
Pages: 343
Format: Paperback
Genre: Science Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

The Carls just appeared.

Roaming through New York City at three AM, twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armour—April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the centre of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.

I waited a very long time for this book and it did not disappoint when it finally came. I was excited to see what Hank Green’s stories would be like given his love for science fiction as well as his internet experience and what I got was an absolutely remarkable story (I had to I’m sorry!).

Green pulls you along with intrigue and a casual writing style that you fall into comfortably. There’re also so many twists and turns that keep you guessing throughout that it’s hard to put it down for want of knowing what is happening next. The mystery of the Carls and their influence on the world plus April’s involvement and the impact it has on her life is so gripping and astounding it really shows the highs and low of internet fame.

You can certainly see Hank’s years of YouTube knowledge and experience coming through, also perhaps in part his experience of internet fame, maybe not to the extent shown in the book, but it feels like it stems from truth. I liked how we are shown the best and absolute worst of the internet and it never sounded exaggerated or unbelievable. Parts of this story also reminded me of Ready Player One which was delightful because I adore that book, but I think that’s just my mind seeing similarities.

I loved the complicated, flawed characters and their friendships and connections with one another. April’s friendship with Andy, as well as her relationship with her girlfriend, could be just as complicated and messy as the drama surrounding the Carls. Human nature is on show and the behaviour of society felt real and scary and the imperfectness of these characters was refreshing in a way.

The ending was the best kick in the guts you could ever want and because so much has happened you don’t even know how to process it. After going on this wild adventure and all that happens my mind pretty much short circuited when it finished and then the intense desire of not only wanting but needing the sequel kicked in.

You can purchase An Absolutely Remarkable Thing via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

My Shadow is Pink by Scott Stuart

Published: 1st April 2021Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Larrikin House
Illustrator: Scott Stuart
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

My Shadow is Pink is a beautifully written rhyming story that touches on the subjects of gender identity, self acceptance, equality and diversity.

Inspired by the author’s own little boy, ‘Shadow’s’ main character likes princesses, fairies and things ‘not for boys’… he soon learns (through the support of his dad) that everyone has a shadow that they sometimes feel they need to hide.

This is an important book for a new generation of children (and adults alike) which exemplifies the concepts of unconditional love, respect and positive parenting.

This story is a great example of defying gender norms and being your true self, also a great book showing examples of positive parenting and accepting friends. Stuart tells us that our shadows show us what’s inside, who we really are no matter what is presented to the world.

There is so much to love about this story. The fear of liking things “not for boys” is explored so well and there are so many different interpretations of what this could apply to. Stuart doesn’t specify but instead explores how whatever the reason, a pink shadow is ok and a boy with a pink shadow is not something to worry about.

The narrative is told through rhyme which has a lovely flow and it fits in and around the illustrations so you can compare and appreciate each one as you read. The themes are easy to understand for kids and the feelings of acceptance and loneliness in a new place like school are explored well and succinctly. I loved the dad a lot. His shadow is big and blue but at the same time he is anxious for his kid on their first day of school but doesn’t prohibit what they want to wear.

The illustrations are wonderful. I loved the colour contrast and the expression of the different shadows. Stuart shows how they can be their own individual self but connected to a person as well. The pink/blue scheme was an interesting choice given the theme, but as a base starting point it was clear Stuart was using well known and established gender colours to show young readers in the simplest manner about gender identity and defying gender norms.

This is a beautiful book that made me tear up at the end because from the start where there is so much uncertainty and worry, with the dad saying things are “just a phase” I was curious where the story was going. But seeing him come out and be supportive in so many different ways was amazing. It is a super adorable story that doesn’t have anything too complicated in it, the message is simple – people can be different on the inside to other people in a lot of different ways and there is nothing wrong with that.

You can purchase My Shadow is Pink via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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