Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

38739562With the Fire on High follows Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Puerto Rican teen mother, during her senior year of high school. She has always dreamed of being a chef, and this is the story of her finding out what she wants from her life through her Culinary Arts class. It’s a story about learning to believe in yourself and taking the steps to pursue your dreams even though they feel impossible; about finding a balance between your interests and needs and those of the people around you.
I loved every moment of it.

I loved it for Emoni’s character arc, her growth, for how she learns to believe in herself and make difficult choices about her future. I’m two years older than her, and making this kind of choices is still really anxiety-inducing; I can’t imagine how it would be to have to do that while dealing with the college application process in the US, which sounds like a nightmare.
I loved it for how it talked about the link between food and culture and memory, which is a topic I love to read about, and that matters a lot to me and that I’d love to see more of in books. I had never read of a main character who loved to cook as much as Emoni does, especially not in a book with the smallest maybe-magical twist (Emoni’s food awakens memories in other people and she has a sense for what a dish needs) and it was so refreshing. Also, I loved the inclusion of recipes. Be careful, though – apart from the recipes, the descriptions of food in the story itself are perfect and this is the kind of book that will make you hungry.

Another thing I appreciated was how this book portrayed a romantic relationship in which the love interest had no problem with waiting, with taking things slow, because Emoni needs that after the failure that was her previous relationship. She has responsibilities that the average teenager doesn’t have, as well – babygirl – and that also changes the whole dynamic. While I love reading about messy romances with complicated sides, showing that relationships like this can exist is important.
However, I wish the book had developed Malachi a little more. I did like him, but I never got a sense of who he was as a person apart from being a good boyfriend for Emoni.
Of the side characters, my favorite was Angela – she’s a lesbian and now also in a relationship and I loved her and Emoni’s dynamic, it felt real to me.

Overall, this was a beautifully written and heartwarming read that also encouraged me to learn a little more about my family’s recipes and cooking in general, so I really recommend it.

My rating: ★★★★¾


Acqua and Cooking

For an Italian, I know embarrassingly little about it. Because of past circumstances we’re not going to get into, my cooking skills pretty much stop at “how to hard-boil an egg”, and this book reminded me just how much I’d like that to change. I want to be able to do something more by myself, and I want to learn to cook like my family does. (I’m sure there are many great and easy recipes for beginners on the internet, but this isn’t only about the food.)

When I was eleven, I tried to convince my grandmother to teach me some of her recipes, which I still have written down. I never got around to actually trying them myself, and eight years later (and with help, of course), here we are:

This is called “pesce serra in zuppa“. I’m not sure how to translate that. “Pesce serra” is the Italian common name for Pomatomus saltatrix, known in English as “bluefish”, so this would be “bluefish in soup” if translated literally, but I don’t think this is the kind of thing people think when they hear the word “soup”. Anyway, it was good, so that’s something.


Have you read any of Acevedo’s books?

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Book review · contemporary · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum + Small Haul

My physical copy of The Weight of the Stars arrived yesterday, which led me to realize that I haven’t posted my review of it – of one of my favorite novels of the year, which I can now confirm is also beautiful in person – on this blog yet. I read in in June as an ebook and I have talked about it multiple times, but never scheduled the review, so here it is:

36952571The Weight of the Stars is the kind of novel that reminds me of the power of quiet books. There are no grand revelations, surprises or explosions; just two girls, their friends, and the stars – and yet it feels so wide, carrying so much weight sometimes in just a paragraph, so much emotion in the unspoken moments.
It does feel like looking at the stars.

This is a story about Ryann, a queer butch girl, who falls in love with Alexandria, a biracial black girl whose mother left to live in space and never returned to earth. It’s a story about them and their friend group, a group of teenagers (many of which queer and/or people of color) just trying to make it work despite their trauma and the general unfairness of life. It’s about humanity, and the ways we look at space. It’s so many things, and I won’t lie, just like The Wicker Kingit’s such a strange book. It will either speak to you or not make much sense, but I’m sure that in either case it will be unlike every other thing you’ve ever read.

The romance felt also very different to me. Not only because it’s f/f, even though that’s always something I look for, but because Ryann and Alexandra’s relationship isn’t… soft, unlike most f/f romances I know, especially in YA. It’s angry, it’s raw, it’s deeply beautiful.
The friendships are far softer, though not always, but I loved them too. Of the side characters, Ahmed was my favorite, and I was living for the cameos of the characters from The Wicker King (so, Ahmed’s three parents. Who are happy and in love. Polyamory rep and Sikh rep!)

Just like with the previous book, there are some mixed media aspects to this. I’m not only referring to the way chapters are structured – extremely short, with a time in the place of a title – but also to some things that happen near the end. I thought that part was beautiful; I thought it was necessary, because one can’t think about space and not be aware of their own smallness, one can’t think about space and not be aware of being just a part of a whole – one can’t think about space without thinking about humanity.

I loved most of this book. However, I don’t see it as a full five stars. Because I liked these characters, and cared about them, and yet I didn’t understand them, and something got lost along the way.

I think I know what happened. A big plot point in this book is people being separated because they decide to live the rest of their lives in space, away from earth. I think I was supposed to feel that mix of wonder and grief and longing for infinity they felt, and at times I did, but mostly I couldn’t. I am the kind of person who sees the meaning of life on leaves, and feels so strongly about plants that is afraid of them. I… have roots, and the idea of leaving it all behind, the plants of which I want to learn the names of or the combtooth blennies or even the polychaetes living in polluted waters – I don’t think I will ever be able to understand that decision.

I understand that not everyone sees things like I do, but I was so caught up in how horrifying I found even only the idea of teenagers deciding to leave the earth to live shut off in a box floating in nothingness, so away from life, that the ending landed with half the impact it could have had.

It still made me feel so much, and for that, I will always remember it positively.

My rating: ★★★★¾


Small Haul

I only buy physical copies in English a few times a year, not counting the rare occasions in which a book worth buying mysteriously appears in my Italian bookstore’s minuscule English section. (For example, that’s how I got my paperback of The Kingdom of Copper. If you’re wondering, no, the first book in the series never showed up. Neither do far more popular high fantasy series. Italian bookstores really are a mystery.)

This time, I got:

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  • Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: this… this was a replacement goldfish, basically. You might already know that I almost only buy physical copies of favorite books, and only make exceptions for some authors (Yoon Ha Lee, mostly) and really, really, really anticipated releases. The really anticipated release this time was Gideon the Ninth, but when I saw that the price (30€? Is that a joke? I hope gets reasonable before next year), I decided to get something else instead of buying nothing, because I could. Middlegame was half the price, which is saner.
  • The Weight of the Stars by Kayla Ancrum: see review. If physical copies are an option for you, I really recommend it, as the mixed media aspect works even better (the background of some pages is different, which wasn’t true for the ebook).
  • Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear: one of my favorite books of the year, another of which I still need to post a review of (yes, I fully admit that I was lazy about scheduling this summer). I don’t know if the picture shows that very well but this is a Tome. Such a beautiful book, inside and outside, and really heavy (only on the outside… mostly.)

Have you read any of these?

 

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Reviews: Two F/F Summer Romances

Today, I’m reviewing two f/f books with the word “summer” in the title. One of them I really liked, the other I liked less, but both delivered cute f/f couples and summer-y atmosphere.


31246717If you like Becky Albertalli’s books, you need to read The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding. It’s the same kind of happy queer book, with a similar sense of humor and characters who are just as charmingly messy and trying to figure things out, but in my opinion it’s even better, as it’s ownvoices and isn’t obsessed with pop culture references.

My pre-review of this book was “help I can’t stop smiling my face is stuck”, and it is true – every time I think of this book, especially of certain scenes, I smile. This is the kind of happy, summer-y f/f romance I would never have thought I could get a few years ago, and I can’t believe I almost didn’t read it because of the mixed reviews. The romance starts out with mutual pining and continues with really cute dates, some misunderstandings, and character growth. I loved Abby and Jordi as a couple so much – to give you an idea, I read it in less than an afternoon.

I’ve already mentioned that this book is f/f – both girls are lesbians – but it’s really diverse in other ways, since the love interest is Mexican-American and Abby is a fat fashion blogger who specifically talks about plus-size clothes. Fashion is a relevant part of this book, as the main characters meet during an internship at a local boutique, and the book makes you feel both Abby’s love for it and Jordi’s love for photography.

One of the things I liked the most about this novel was the message: at its heart, The Summer of Jordi Perez is a story about how you don’t need to be anyone else’s, and not even your, definition of perfect to find happiness, and about how the person you love doesn’t have to be perfect either for you to love them. Despite talking a lot about body positivity and fat acceptance in the fatphobic world of fashion, Abby is insecure about her body, she’s not quite comfortable with it yet – and that’s fine, she’s 17 and the world can truly be awful to fat girls. Even her mother wants her to change. In this story, Abby becomes more comfortable with herself, and learns that mistakes and imperfections – hers, or other people’s – don’t have to be the end of things. This is a really important message.

In this book, the main characters actually feel like teenagers. Which means that they make a big deal out of crushes and dating and not having kissed anyone yet. Immature? I prefer to say realistic. However, some parts of this were kind of alienating to read as an aromantic person (and some parts could be for asexual people, too). I mention this because, while this doesn’t hurt me now, know this would have been the kind of book that would have hurt me at 17, when I was still trying to understand my romantic orientation – reading about characters who thought that not having kissed anyone at 17 is clearly abnormal, that it must mean there’s something wrong with you, made me feel terrible. I felt pressured to date – specifically, I was told that at this age I had to have, or at least want to have, a boyfriend – even though I was not interested in boys and probably also not interested in dating.

What made me give this book a four stars instead of a five, apart from some not always developed side characters and what I mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, were the last fifty pages. Romcoms always have that part in which the main characters split up and get back together again, and in this book, Jordi and Abby get back together only right before the end. I would have liked to see them together again for a little longer.

But let’s get back to the things I liked: this book is set in LA, and it makes you feel the atmosphere, and since food is a relevant part of this book – Abby and her friend Jax (relevant platonic m/f friendship!) are trying to find the best burgers in the city, and there are some wonderful scenes in which Abby is cooking with Jordi’s family – I can also say that the food descriptions were great, and I always love those.
Anyway, I’m glad this book exists and I wish it were more well-known; it may not be flawless but there are never enough atmospheric lesbian romcoms.

My rating: ★★★★


35230420Summer of Salt is a slow-paced, atmospheric contemporary fantasy story with a dash of mystery. It follows Georgina, a Fernweh girl who, unlike the rest of the women in her family, hasn’t developed her powers yet. While I thought it was far from a perfect book, I can say that I liked the half that I read while on the beach immensely more than the other, so I do still kind of see it as a perfect summer book. It’s a quick, nostalgic novel to read while you have salt on your skin and waves in front of you.

What stood out the most to me about this book was the atmosphere. It kind of reminded me of The Price Guide to the Occult – a less creepy, summer-y version of it – and the flowery writing helped with that. Maybe it was a little overwritten at times, going from pretty to awkward really quickly, but for the most part, I liked it. Also, can I say how much I love that I can now easily pick up f/f atmospheric summer romances? And so many other kinds of f/f books that have nothing to do with homophobia? 2016 me would never have thought, but even if Georgina and Prue weren’t the most developed characters ever and even if the romance wasn’t the most well-developed or even the most interesting, their interactions made me so happy.

Which is why it hurt even more when I started realizing that the aromantic representation in this book was pretty terrible. At first, I was liking it, as the side character Vira didn’t just say that she was “asexual and didn’t care about dating”, she specifically said she was aroace. Yes, she wasn’t the most interesting character ever, as she had exactly the same personality as all the aromantic best friends (is this a new trend?) I have seen in YA so far – cold-but-soft-on-the-inside, tries hard to be edgy and dresses unconventionally. That was fine, if boring.
But then, it came up that her hobby was taxidermy. That was when I started worrying, because aroace characters being associated with death is actually a common stereotype in fiction, and not one with positive implications. Summer of Salt didn’t go into that direction, not really; in my opinion, it did worse.
There’s a scene in which Vira shows her new kitten to Georgina and then says, unprompted, that when it will die, she’ll make a lamp out of it.

Now.
I don’t know how many people know what the most common aromantic stereotype is, but it’s exactly that we are “sociopaths”. It comes from the ugly idea that romantic love is the only thing that makes humans… well, human, and so aromanticism is inherently evil and creepy. And more people probably know how cruelty against animals/obsession with animal death has been traditionally associated with “sociopathy”.
I like to think that these things aren’t well-known, and that’s why no one thought to mention that in this book the aromantic character collects roadkill and makes flippant remarks about her pet dying and what she will do with its body. The idea that aromantic people don’t feel romantic love and then that must mean that they don’t get attached to anything is more widespread that one would think, and it’s horrible, damaging and false.

And like… Vira isn’t evil. She’s mostly portrayed as a loyal friend, but really, this isn’t the ~quirky hobby~ you should give your aromantic character (by the way: flippant remarks about pet death are generally unwelcome no matter the romantic orientation of the character) and in any case, I shouldn’t have to settle for bad representation just because it doesn’t try to outright tell me that aromantic people are evil, just weird and obsessed with death and corpses.
(To give you some context: she is the only aromantic character I’ve met in a book so far this year, and I almost only read queer books.)

But let’s get back to the book as a whole. Another problem I had with Summer of Salt is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. For the first half, it looks like a summer-y romance, then it becomes a mystery about a missing, magical bird, then in the last third it’s a story about rape, but not from the point of view of the person who is directly affected by it. While having “lighter” stories that deal specifically with that topic but in which the characters are supportive and no one ever victim-blames is important – books that deal with heavy topics but that go out of their way to not be triggering are necessary – I felt like this was completely aimless for at least half the story.

My rating: ★★★¼

Adult · Book review · contemporary · Fantasy · Uncategorized · Young adult

Reviews: Very Different Books, Same Rating

Today, I’m reviewing two books I read at the end of June, the urban fantasy mystery Borderline by Mishell Baker, first in a series, and the contemporary with a paranormal twist Release by Patrick Ness.

I rated them the same way, even though I rounded one up and one down on goodreads, (and you can probably tell which one I gave four stars to), because when you don’t have half-stars but your rating system does, “[book] is not that much better than [other book] but [book] feels more like a four and [other book] feels more like a three” is sometimes necessary.


25692886Borderline is the first book in an urban fantasy trilogy following Millie, a bisexual amputee with borderline personality disorder who, at the beginning of this book, starts investigating the case of a missing Seelie noble.

I’ve read a lot of books with diverse casts, but even in them, disability is almost always an afterthought. Not here: Borderline has a mostly-disabled/mentally ill cast, with a heroine who is a wheelchair user (lost her legs in a suicide attempt) and side characters who are dealing with trauma, side characters with dwarfism, side characters who have bipolar disorder.
I really appreciated how this book made the characters’ disabilities relevant to the plot while not becoming in any way an issue book – it’s a fun and sometimes dark urban fantasy mystery, just more diverse than average.

What I liked the most about this book is Millie. I’ve never read about a main character quite like her – she’s a liar, she has a certain amount of charisma, and she’s emotional, unreliable, manipulative and the book allows her to be horrible at times. She faces consequences for what she does, but at the same time you understand her and for the most part still like her. Female characters usually aren’t allowed to be any of these things without being flattened to unpleasant stereotypes, and she isn’t. She’s a mess, and the book doesn’t shy away from the fact that sometimes living with mental illnesses is just ugly, but she isn’t portrayed that way for shock value, and you can feel that. [the portrayal of BPD is ownvoices.]
How Millie talked about her own behavior and sometimes explained “this [lashing out] made me feel less terribly in that moment but it was definitely not a victory, don’t try this at home” – I understand that more than I’d like to, and her narration made everything feel so real.

However, I can’t say the same about the side characters. I never really got to know them – maybe because Millie doesn’t either, at least in this book? – and didn’t care about certain deaths I was probably supposed to care about.

The plot itself revolved around the role of the fae in the entertainment industry. I thought there were a lot of interesting ideas in the set up, as this book plays with the concept of “muse” with its idea of the “echo”, but as I don’t care that much about filmmaking and as Millie’s narration didn’t manage to make me care about it either, I didn’t feel strongly about most of the plot.
I also thought that for a book set in Los Angeles with a main character who was once a director, there was surprisingly little sense of setting or atmosphere.

My rating: ★★★½


33640498As one might imagine from the title, Release is a story about letting go. Of a somewhat toxic relationship, of some insecurities, of a family that doesn’t love you. It follows Adam Thorn, a seventeen-year-old gay boy who grew up in a family that loves him… conditionally: they’re religious and homophobic, and will never let him be who he truly is.

This is also a story with an odd paranormal element, something that feels like a fairytale in fragments: it’s both Adam’s story and a story about a dead girl that I think was making a point about breaking cycles of violence. I also couldn’t help but think that this story would have been more cohesive, would have made more sense, without this scattered fairytale, but I’m not sure. All the times I’ve ever seen someone say this about a magical realism/contemporary fantasy/fabulist book I liked, my reaction was “how could it have been a better book when the whole message of the book was in the paranormal element? You wanted to read a different story that said different things”, so I will just say that this probably made sense in some way, and I didn’t get half of it. Maybe if I had read the books this novel is inspired by I would have? I don’t know.

Apart from that, I don’t have much to say. The portrayal of what it’s like to grow in a religious place when you’re queer and not religious was very intense to read, as always, and Adam’s character arc was very well-written – especially when it came to those scenes about him struggling with feelings of self-loathing (he doesn’t fully believe his romantic love is lesser because he is gay, or that he asked to be sexually harassed, but these are insecurities in the back of his head) because that’s what happens to kids who are told that they have to hide what they feel, that their feelings don’t matter, that they are a nuisance.
I also really liked how this book didn’t shy away from portraying “explicit” (by YA standards) queer sex – and, also, from what the main character felt on an emotional level in those scenes.

Apart from Adam, the characters didn’t stand out. They performed the role they had in the story, but they were never more than “the supportive best friend”, “the loving new boyfriend”, “the homophobic parents” or “the cowardly ex”.
Overall, this is a solid story, but I’m not sure how much it will stay with me.

My rating: ★★★½

Adult · contemporary · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #6

My sixth post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

The last post was about movie adaptations of YA contemporaries; this one is about full-length adult contemporary romances.


My History With Romance

I’ve said in the past that I don’t really read romance, and that’s not true. When you say “romance”, people immediately think about contemporary/historical adult novels. But romance is so much more, and I’ve actually read plenty of it – YA contemporary romances like Under the Lights, YA fantasy romances like The Star-Touched Queen, adult fantasy romances like Witchmark, and novellas like Once Ghosted Twice Shy are still romances.

It’s just that none of them are full-length adult contemporary romances.

37648566Of these, I think I’ve ever only read and finished one, Syncopation by Anna Zabo, a non-romance story with an aromantic character in the romance genre – and even then, I read it just for the aro representation (which I really liked, even though me and that aro character had nothing in common but that).

It’s not the only adult contemporary romance I’ve tried. I’ve tried several by Rebekah Wheaterspoon because of twitter hype, and DNFed them (I think I just don’t like her writing style); I tried excerpts of Helen Hoang’s and other well-known authors and always got bored before the end of the sampler. They always fail to hold my attention, and I’m not really sure why. Because I’m aromantic? Because I’m reading the wrong ones? Because sometimes you just don’t like a genre?


What I Read

This time, I decided to read two novels, one from Alyssa Cole, who wrote one of my favorite romance novellas, and one from an author I had never read anything from before, Avon Gale.

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A Princess in Theory: so, this didn’t start out badly, but it ended pretty much as I expected, which is to say, I was really bored for half of this book and just wanted it to end. It wasn’t that it was bad, because it’s really not, and it wasn’t that I was annoyed with certain tropes I often find in m/f romances, because this time those weren’t there. It was that after 50%, there was basically no tension, and the political subplot was so lackluster that I couldn’t wait for the book to be over. Also, I found the writing significantly less… detailed than it was in Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, and I missed the atmosphere I could feel in that one. I loved the beginning, however, and thought it was really cute – it’s just that me and adult contemporary romances almost always lose each other before halfway through.

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The Love Song of Sawyer Bell: this was an interesting experience, as it started out boring and became interesting a quarter of the way through instead of the opposite. I like this combination a lot better, and I also like how this author writes sex scenes (no awkward euphemisms! the character talk and joke and you can tell they’re having fun! doesn’t read like a grocery list!). Also, I will always be a bit biased when it comes to f/f romances. However, this was very short (under 300 pages) and I know that if it had been any longer I would have been so bored, because the characters weren’t that interesting to begin with and the author decided that atmosphere and setting were for the weak.


Will I Read Other Adult Contemporary Romances?

Maybe, but only if the premise sounds really interesting to me (and, probably, only if they’re queer). I still want to at least try the really popular ones (for example, I will try Red, White and Royal Blue at some point) but if the samplers don’t work for me, I won’t continue, because adult romance always ends up being some kind of boring and I can’t rely on the idea that they will get better.

I think part of the reason they don’t work for me is that a romance isn’t enough to carry a book. You either need internal conflict (often fueled by miscommunication, and that’s… usually annoying to read and not something that will make me think the relationship will last much) or external conflict, which will be something I probably won’t care about – in YA, the characters deal with external conflicts I have experienced or have seen other teens experience; with contemporary adult characters, I… haven’t been there, so what happens to them doesn’t hold as much emotional weight (one of the reasons I don’t really reach for adult contemporary fiction in general). This might or might not change as I Grow Up™.
Also, I’m aromantic. All of this is by definition unrelatable, which doesn’t affect me too much but that I can’t completely ignore; another reason for why I’m not dying to read more romance.

Another thing that doesn’t help is that the authors often don’t bother to describe anything about the setting. If YA contemporary seems to try once in a while, I still haven’t found an adult one that did, but that could be because I haven’t read many of them. And if I avoided historical romances up until… last month, basically, I have discovered that queer historical romances aren’t always full of homophobia and that they usually have something resembling an atmosphere (The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was especially good at this, but it’s not like A Little Light Mischief was bad). Maybe I do like historical more than contemporary in this genre, which is not something I would have ever seen coming, but again, I’m only interested in the f/f ones.


What do you think of adult contemporary romance? Do you read it? And if so, what are your favorites?

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju

42202063Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens is a contemporary story following Nima Kumara-Clark, a biracial Sri Lankan lesbian, as she learns the benefits of going out of her comfort zone through the local drag scene.

I have read a lot of queer books, but none of them prominently featured drag performers. In this novel, the main character, the love interest, and various side characters have been drag performers at some point. With every year we get more YA books about so many different sides of the queer experience, and I’m so glad that’s the case.

This novel has a slice-of-life feel to it. It’s slow-paced, it’s kind of open-ended on some sides, and more than everything, it’s messy. But the messiness is one of its strengths, in a way, and while me and Nima didn’t have a lot in common, I could definitely understand her. She’s awkward, she makes a lot of bad decisions, she is… imperfect in so many ways, and I loved her for that. If you’re the kind of person who needs teen girls to be perfect, I really don’t recommend this, because Nima makes so many mistakes. As teens do.

I especially liked seeing how insecure she was, how she felt what I call “queer imposter syndrome”, because there are moments in which she sees herself as far too bland to even have the right to interact with other queer people. (By the way: answering that your hobby is reading and, when asked for more details, saying that your hobby is reading novels is something I’ve done. It’s what people who have been mocked for their “boring/weird” hobbies or have this specific insecurity would do. Being vague is a shield.)
Also:

Maybe I was assuming too much. I could be making up any interest on her part. Why in the world would she be interested in me? She was probably just being friendly. She seemed really friendly.

Nima is such an awkward lesbian icon. I love her, and I loved her narrative voice, for the most part – but if you plan to go into this, keep in mind that it’s often overdramatic. To make a few examples of weird, emphatic figures of speech in her narration:

“I swallowed my heart back into my chest”
“my heart played hopscotch around my chest”
“her teeth took up her entire face”
 (…what)
“I had a whole mob of butterflies flapping around in my stomach”
“made my heartbeat quicken until I thought she might actually be able to see it through my chest”
“I could feel a heart attack coming on”
“I woke up feeling like someone was making scrambled eggs in my stomach”

And more. It got distracting at times, especially since I don’t love this kind of writing, but for Nima’s personality, it made sense. But my personal favorite was this one:

That was pee-your-pants kind of nervous. This—this was shit-your-pants kind of nervous

As you can see, she’s a poet, and has such a way with words. But, surprisingly, all of this ended up feeling endearing more than annoying.

As I said before, I saw this book as slice-of-life. I say this because a few aspects of this could feel lacking in closure, but I don’t necessarily agree. This is Nima’s story, what her mom is doing isn’t relevant to her – realizing that it isn’t relevant to her is one of the plot points. And I liked Gordon’s storyline. He’s a side character who has a lot of internalized queerphobia and is struggling because of toxic masculinity, but who is also dealing with bodily dysphoria – and it’s implied that he might be trans, even though by the end of the book he’s either still figuring himself out or not ready to come out to people. In any case, it wasn’t Nima’s business: what mattered, what gave closure to the storyline to me, is that by the end they were friends again.
In a way, the ending felt more like a hopeful beginning than an ending, and I really liked that about it. It reminded me a bit of The Gallery of Unfinished Girls: the book might have ended here, but Nima and her friends have a whole life ahead of them. Because of this, and because of how messy this book was, everything felt more real to me.

However, while the drag queen Deirdre is unambiguously a black trans woman, I would have loved if this book had used the word trans even just once. For something that is named Kings, Queens and In-Betweens, this book was surprisingly binarist at times, by not acknowledging non-binary trans people explicitly and using some binarist phrasings here and there.

Another thing I didn’t love was the writing, and not for Nima’s awkward metaphors, but because of the complete lack of atmosphere or sense of setting. I know she’s supposed to live in boringland, but I had no idea how anything looked like.
I also had mixed feelings about the romance: the love interest, Winnow (who is biracial Japanese), is one of the less developed characters, and there’s a significant age gap (3-4 years I think) that didn’t make that much sense to me, especially considering that Nima reads even younger than her age at times. But as this book doesn’t really focus on it – the romance is more of a motivation for Nima to get into the drag scene, in a way – it didn’t bother me too much (…maybe because I’ve read a book with a truly uncomfortable and weird age gap a week ago and this is nothing confronted with that? I don’t know.)

My rating: ★★★★

Adult · Book review · contemporary · historical fiction · Short fiction

Reviews: Two M/M Adult Books + Two Non-Binary Graphic Novels

After making a post with two short reviews of F/F YA books I had read recently, today I’m making one for two M/M adult ones (a novella with a trans main character and a historical fiction book with steampunk aspects) and two graphic novels with non-binary main characters.


Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

32146161Coffee Boy is a new adult romance novella following Kieran, a young trans intern who gets a crush on his supervisor Seth, who has himself a crush on their boss.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one, because it’s very short, but I can say that the romance was adorable (novellas are the best length for romance, it’s the truth), and that it’s so refreshing to read a contemporary romance with trans representation in which there is no outing anywhere in the book. There is some misgendering, because the main character doesn’t always pass, and there are some scenes about well-meaning but condescending and sometimes outright clueless “allies” that were… very awkward and very real, at the same time – but, overall, this is a happy story.

Anyway, if “younger person who can’t keep his mouth shut” and “older, distinguished grump who is actually secretly a mess” is your kind of thing, I really recommend it! And it’s for sure a short, cute romantic read perfect for Pride month.

My rating: ★★★★½


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

22929563What happens when you care about the characters a lot but the writing meanders so much that you almost end up DNFing a book? You end up skimming. Which is why I didn’t enjoy The Watchmaker of Filigree Street as much as I could have.

It was as if the author felt the need to describe every single thing. Which, sometimes, was interesting, as I love details – especially when it came to the steampunk aspects, and the atmosphere was perfect – but for the most part, wasn’t. There were whole scenes that could have easily been cut, or maybe I just missed their significance because at that point I was so bored that I was skipping paragraphs. That’s possible. It’s just… how can one put together such a compelling premise, featuring historical gay people, steampunk technology, clairvoyance and bombings and make a boring story out of it? I don’t know. This book managed, and its characters weren’t even that bland.

Or – Nathaniel could have won the “blandest man of the year” award, but Grace wasn’t bland at all, if unlikable, and Mori was… unlike every character I had ever read about before, in a good way. The romance was also very sweet, and there was a mechanical octopus, and the book said so many interesting things about chances vs. choices, but this book was still so boring that nothing could save it – not even that ending, the best possible ending, or the fact that I knew it was going to be slow beforehand.

One more thing: I feel iffy about some things in here – it’s not my place to talk about how the anti-Asian racism is portrayed, but know that, if you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a lot of it in here (and, just like the misogyny in this book – which is also what you would expect from English people of the time, but still, ehh – not all of it is explicitly challenged).

My rating: ★★★


The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

34506912I wouldn’t have thought the day people in my country could walk into a bookstore and find a YA book with a non-binary main character on the shelves was going to be anytime soon, and I’m so glad to know that I was wrong.
I knew that book was probably going to be translated, seeing how the popular Italian YA books usually are. This one was, and I can’t even complain: it’s a graphic novel with a happy ending, one that doesn’t make a mess with the character’s pronouns, and overall a cute read.

It means a lot.

I’ve seen a few reviews say that we shouldn’t call this cute, or fluffy, because the main character gets outed. And I know. But this had such a light tone overall, and the main character is accepted by the people around him (the prince is genderfluid and both he/him and she/her pronouns are used during the story), including his family, so that by the end this story felt more like a reassurance to me – even if bad things could happen to you, you can still have a happy ending.

What I’m more annoyed by is the fact that books with this exact storyline (this one, Simon vs., and more recently Red, White and Royal Blue) or books that I really did found to be about queer pain (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoare the ones that get the most popularity and then are almost the only ones that could even get a chance of being translated, so that the message becomes more “bad things will happen to you”. But you know, we don’t really get to be picky about representation here.
[This is why, by the way, I’m so glad that Leah on the Offbeat exists: no outing or queer pain in that one, and it got translated.]

Anyway. This is a story about a dressmaker with big dreams and a prince who likes to wear dresses, with an f/non-binary romance, set in an alt-history version of Paris. The art is very cute, and while it isn’t exactly my thing – I think I just prefer more realistic stlyes? – I still had fun with this.

My rating: ★★★★


The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

42369064The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion prequel to the graphic novel The Tea Dragon Society, a cute fantasy graphic novel I liked but didn’t love. This installment convinced me a lot more. It features both old and new characters and just as many adorable dragons. The art is gorgeous, as always, but this time I liked both the characters and the setting more (there were fungi and beautiful woods! I loved that a lot.)

The story follows a non-binary main character who loves gathering food from the forest, and a confused dragon who woke up after eighty years of sleep. The story was cute, but what made it truly stand out was how it normalized queerness and sign language. Also, it’s so refreshing to read about a world in which people of many different ethnicities coexist and the world doesn’t always default to western customs – see which kinds of food was drawn and sometimes the eating utensils, for example.

Another thing I really appreciated was that this graphic novel said that just because something is easy for you, it doesn’t mean it has no value. More than anything, this is a story about community, and finding your own place in it, and I thought it was wonderful.

The only thing I didn’t love was the part at the end that attempted to explain dragon taxonomy, made a mess in which it mixed up species and subspecies, and capitalized specific epithets. I kind of wish it hadn’t been there at all, because I care about that sort of thing.

My rating: ★★★½


Have you read or want to read any of these?