Hello friends, Vera here. While I love organizing my mini reviews based on the genres the books fall into… today’s post contains two novels that, frankly, couldn’t be more different from each other. 😅 One is a beautiful YA Contemporary, while the other is a dark, creepy thriller novel that chilled me to my bones. One thing they do have in common, though, is that they are both new favorites of mine, and I really want to scream about them.
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
content warning: homophobia, transphobia, racism, drug and alcohol use
Apparently, 2020 is the year I realize that I was an absolute fool when I thought I was no longer interested in YA Contemporary. My “best of” list of the year is filled with YA Contemporary novels, and Felix Ever After has just joined that illustrious gang. This book, friends, this book is incredible and I need you all to pick it up. Before we get into my review, I need to mention that the audiobook was bloody fantastic; Logan Rozos, the narrator, did an exceptional job, so for those who like audiobooks? That’s the way to go.
What makes this one of the best books I’ve read this year are the characters, especially Felix, the protagonist. From the get go, I adored Felix; he was complex and well-written, a character who felt real. Felix didn’t have it easy – among other things, he was trying to uncover the identity of his bigoted harasser while also questioning his identity – which means that, at parts, Felix Ever After was difficult to read. At the same time, it’s also one of the most wholesome novels I’ve read this year.
“I’m not flaunting anything. I’m just existing. This is me. I can’t hide myself. I can’t disappear. And even if I could, I don’t fucking want to. I have the same right to be here. I have the same right to exist.”
How can that be, you might ask. The thing is, even in Felix’s darkest moments, he has his best friend, Ezra to rely on, and you all, this friendship is so damn beautiful. I loved how supportive, loving, and protective these two boys were of each other, and it was such a pleasure to see the development of their relationship throughout the novel.
Speaking of relationships – if you’re like me, you may be worried about the fact that the blurb is very open about the novel containing a love triangle. Don’t be! Like it says, it’s a quasi-love triangle, which is written in a thoughtful way and which feels extremely realistic. It made sense for Felix to develop feelings for both people, and these feelings were handled well.
In conclusion, Felix Ever After is a terrific novel. It’s well-written, incredibly diverse (most of the cast is made up of LGBT+ and characters of color), and a story you don’t want to miss out on.
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
What was it like? Living in that house.
Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.
Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.
content warning: dementia, death, murder
There are few authors whose books have never disappointed me, Riley Sager is one of them. His books always leave me at the edge of my seat as I wait for the twists to be revealed, most of which I couldn’t ever begin to guess. Home Before Dark was no exception.
While Sager uses the well-known (and beloved) haunted house trope, he does so in a wholly unique way. While the novel focuses on Maggie and her quest to figure out what happened to her family when she was a child, every other chapter gives us a glimpse into the nonfiction novel Maggie’s father wrote about their experiences. Both parts managed to suck me in; not only were they well written, there were also some nice parallels that connected past and present.
In on itself, the novel doesn’t sound too creepy, especially to someone who reads and watches a lot of horror… and yet, I regretted my decision to read Home Before Dark in the, well, dark. Sager nailed the atmosphere of this frightening house, and I found myself feeling as though I was right there with Maggie as she was moving into the house on her own. The fact that we spend much of the novel trying to figure out if the supernatural is real or not only added to the atmosphere of the book.
I know I haven’t told you a ton about this title, but I do think it’s best to go into it with little information. It’s an excellent mystery-thriller, easily the best I’ve read this year, and one of my favorite novels of the year. I’m already awaiting Sager’s next project, whatever it may be.
Have you read these novels? Maybe something else by the authors? What have been some of your favorite novels of 2020? Have you read any good thrillers? I could use some recommendations for the Halloween season!