Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel by Moe Bonneau

I never thought I’d find a contemporary-adjacent YA that fits in my books that will cause problems on purpose list, but now I have!
The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel is gorgeous and deeply, unapologetically weird, to the point that there are entire sentences of which I don’t understand the meaning; it’s full of strange choices in wording and imagery that contribute to it becoming a goldmine for cursed™ quotes; and there’s a deliberate attention to rhythm in word choice and sentence structure to mimic the pattern of anxiety-fueled obsessive thinking acting on language. It’s really good and kind of unreadable, by which I mean perfect in a genre that most of the time doesn’t even know how it would look like to take a risk. Weird is a good thing to be!

⇝ so, what is this book
This is technically a story about Lu, who during the last year of high school starts to reconnect with a girl who was once her friend and may now be something different. At the same time, she’s dealing with the fact that her grandmother is terminally ill.
This is actually a queer coming-of-age story that feels at the same time surreal, unrealistic and more real than reality, dancing between completely removed and uncomfortably close. It talks about periods, masturbation, sexual desire, drug use, self-harm and the significant repercussions of casual homophobia more unflinchingly than most contemporary YA I’ve read, but does so in its own way – which is to say, everyone speaks in slang all the time for reasons that aren’t given. They’re clearly there – I don’t think anything in this book can be described as casual – and I do not get them. This choice gives this book a very unique voice, and also got in the way of me feeling actual emotions about what was happening multiple times. Unusual choices were also made when it came to imagery, and I want all of you to witness what is probably the most cursed description of a sex scene I’ve ever had to read:

She’s anemone and I am clown and I swim gently into her stunning embrace.

This book: metaphors!
Me, a person who has sadly experienced tumblr: I never want to see the world “clown” in anything related to sex ever again

⇝ hypotheses on the slang
A common critique seems to be that no one speaks like this. I think the book is fully aware of that, given that in here everyone speaks like this. I don’t think this was a failed attempt at connecting with the youth, given that as far as ESL me understands, this is… not necessarily modern slang? Like, girls are betties and cigarettes are tars and I don’t think that’s contemporary – the author isn’t that old. Was this an unusual attempt to make the story feel timeless by dating it the wrong way?
Or maybe it’s a choice based on sound over meaning. Because:

⇝ an interpretation that turned out being canon
I was drawn to this book mainly because the writing has a rhythm I’m familiar with, the one my brain has when it gets stuck on something. It’s hard to define anxiety-disorder-sourced obsessive thoughts in terms of sound, but one thing my brain does is to turn certain sentences whose rhythm it finds pleasing in the non-musical version of an earworm. Well, so many sentences here match that rhythm and have repetitive and rhyming patterns, which, again, is a stuck brain hour™ sign. To give you an idea of how… unmistakable it is, this is the quote from the preview that made me decide I had to read this book:

And she’s cracking up and I’m all aglow.
Glow little glowworm, glimmer, glimmer.
I laugh and hum and pick up my marker and draw.
Shine little glowworm, shimmer, shimmer.

Sometimes it’s not that blatant, sometimes it’s just in the descriptions of a person being everyday, every-guy, average hit hero, or Lu being errands-girl extraordinarie (notice how this time it didn’t use “betty”! It’s a sound thing), or the beach being clash, rubble-and-trash-strewn excuse of a shore – the oh-so satisfying feeling of these words, they match! It feels almost cozy. And it takes a lot of skill to get there, because while I have this, uh, gift, I can’t actually make it happen deliberately to write weird poetry.
Then, as it turns out:

Then I get all slo-mo OCD and spell each word out, fitting spaces and hyphens into random places, feeling the different sizes and rhythms on my tongue. Just me and my obsessive anxiety disorder, having a blast, […]

&

Phrases loop in my mind, round and round, like a rogue Ferris wheel spun way out of whack. I count and I count. So mop, so OCD. Hello, my name is Lucy Butler and I’m a compulsive letter counter.

As I said: deliberate! This book only causes problems on purpose, as the best ones do.
More seriously: I love weird, clearly, and I love talking about it half joking and half in awe. What I don’t love is people calling something bad writing because it doesn’t match their experience of how a human mind works.

⇝ an interpretation that didn’t, but hear me out
Identity is a complex matter. At the same time, such strong non-binary vibes from Lu.

⇝ but Acqua, the story?
It’s mostly about finding courage – to take a chance and tell a girl you like her; to dump your toxic boyfriend and homophobic friends; to be there for the rest of your family when they need you. The F/F romance is sweet and just messy enough, because the characters are dealing with mental illness and casual homophobia, both internalized and not – even though most people in Lu’s life don’t actually mean to hurt her that way.
It’s good and at the same time enhanced and overshadowed by the writing.

My rating: ★★★★

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen

Late to the Party is a contemporary novel about what happens when the narrative about yourself you built in your own head starts hindering your potential. It is about the differences between yourself, your perception of yourself, and others’ perception of you, and how one can find spaces for exploration in those gaps as well as places to get stuck in.

On the surface, it’s a very typical coming-of-age story about Codi, a white American teenage lesbian living in Atlanta, who has always been “the quiet kid”. She has her art and her two best friends, but after forming an unexpected new friendship with a “popular” boy (who is gay and closeted), she decides she wants to change that.

Like most coming-of-age stories, it includes a romance (F/F, of course), but it’s not the focus – because, beneath the surface, Late to the Party is mostly a story about friendship. It follows Codi as she understands what her relationships mean to her, why she feels stuck, and how friendships can be outgrown but can also shift in their meaning to you as you change. It does all of this while following mostly queer characters, and how that influences the dynamic.
I feel like often the message of this kind of book can be very one-note, become the party-lover you were always meant to be! get out of your comfort zone! who cares about your boring friends!, but this book deals with it with enough nuance for it not to feel this way.

It’s one of those stories that have just have enough truth to them to hurt. While I did enjoy this as an adult, I know that probably wouldn’t have been true as a teen – sometimes when you’re struggling there are things you’re not ready to hear or deal with, and they hurt. (I would have taken it personally, probably; one thing that you won’t learn in this community when talking about “hurtful books” is that sometimes when a book hurts you isn’t because there’s something wrong with it but because you need therapy.)
Despite this, I did feel like something was missing. There isn’t much to Codi as a character apart from her shyness, her desire to grow out of it, and her love for her art. To make some examples, she struggles with her self-esteem but mental health isn’t even discussed in this book; and while this is a story about friendship between queer people, it’s yet again a gay book in which the portrayal or discussion of anything but rigorously cis and gender-conforming queerness is very lacking. And I think that’s where many of my issues with this book come from – it’s good and it achieves what it sets out to do, but it still feels somewhat surface-level; I think it could have done so much more.

On other minor negatives:
🏠 it has no sense of atmosphere and relies on the reader’s assumed familiarity with America to make up for that. Too bad for the book that I have no idea of how Atlanta looks like;
🏠 the characterization could have used some help in general; while Codi’s close friends and brother are well-drawn characters, the same can’t be said about most of the supporting cast, and sadly this includes the love interest.

My rating: ★★★¾, and I can say that the audiobook was pretty good.

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

There’s nothing as powerful as reading books involving Pride in June.

Felix Ever After is a story about love. It’s a love story just as much as it is one about how love can be difficult to accept, especially when you’re a Black trans person and so much of the world seems to want to tear you down. Felix’s arc in regard to recognizing and accepting love instead of chasing the approval of people who hate him was wonderful to read.

Felix Ever After is also about questioning. There isn’t much questioning representation out there that isn’t specifically about a character first discovering they’re queer, but like coming out, questioning is usually a process. I loved how both the internet and the people at the LGBT discussion group were important to Felix’s journey – who at the beginning of the book identifies as a trans boy (and has already transitioned) and then discovers that demiboy fits him better.
By the way, it’s great to read an all-queer friend group in which various people have different opinions on labels, parades and LGBT spaces (many love them! Many find them overwhelming, in different ways.)

Like many other queer YA books, this has a plotline involving outing, and yet it’s handled in a way I hadn’t seen before, one that felt completely different. From the beginning, the emotional impact of it is never brushed off. Other characters, the ones portrayed as supportive, don’t make it about themselves. And, most importantly, the question hanging in the air isn’t whether people will accept Felix, this story grapples with outsider approval in a completely different way. What matters to this book is that the main character gets to reclaim what was taken from him – in this case, with his art (Felix is a painter). It doesn’t just feel different, it is different, which is why ownvoices reinterpretations of “tired tropes” are vital.
While we’re on this topic: this book has a love triangle, as the main character is in love with and loved by two boys. One of the two relationships works out, the other doesn’t; I still really appreciated how this book talked about loving multiple people at the same time, true love doesn’t need to be one.

Let’s get to the… not exactly complaints, let’s say complicated points. I’m in awe of how much this book is doing, and not only in the sense of representation – so many things are discussed: the many forms privilege can take & their consequences, marginalized people’s relationship with outsider approval, queer intra-community dynamics, unsupportive parents, labels and their limits, the role of morality in art (and many others I would tell you about if not for the fact that I can’t highlight an audiobook).
And here’s the thing: this is very unsubtle and sometimes its dialogue and introspection sound like a repurposed twitter thread, disclaimers included. However, I don’t think that lack of subtlety is necessarily a bad thing when it comes to difficult topics in YA, and we’ve seen that being subtler and allowing teens to be messier on-page can have consequences, especially for queer authors of color, so let’s move on.

Overall, I loved this and think this is how quality YA contemporary looks like. There’s a mystery aspect that isn’t obvious and yet isn’t exactly the center of the story, there are not one but two romance dynamics to explore (one friends to lovers, one enemies to lovers), supportive friendships and friendships that have to end, all inside an queer friend group (glad this book knows that’s realistic)… and I’m just realizing now that this is shorter than 400 pages. How.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Adult · Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Reviews: Similar Ratings, Very Different Books

Here I am again, back with some very gay books I read recently of which I haven’t posted the reviews yet. One is a novel in verse with an F/F established couple; the other a genrebending M/M novella.


I think that at this point it’s safe to say that dual PoV novels in verse don’t work for me. I’ve looked at what set the poetry novels that did work for me and the ones that didn’t apart, and the pattern is clear.

I love Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing style, so I did end up liking this, but when I think about my experience with her previous novels, Clap When You Land pales in comparison – despite having something that her previous two books don’t have but really matters to me, a sapphic main character and F/F romance. Unsurprisingly, the very sweet, supportive and already established relationship between Yahaira and Dre was my favorite part of the novel (also because I could see a lot of myself in Dre; I, too, was a teenage plant gay who easily fell into all-or-nothing thinking).

When talking about Acevedo’s books, many people will recommend the audiobooks. This time, I will too, but for the wrong reasons: I read this alternating between ebook and audio, and the two narrators really helped me tell the two girls apart in the scenes in which they’re both in the same place, as I didn’t feel they had distinct enough voices in that situation. It wasn’t a problem for the rest of the book, as they are apart for most of it – but that’s also something I didn’t love, because it takes so long for them to even learn about each other, and we end up not seeing a lot of them together.

I appreciated that this was more than anything a story about sisterhood, family, grief, and the double-faced nature of tragedies, how they can tear you apart while bringing you closer to other people. After all, this starts with two sisters discovering each other’s existence because their father, who had two families in two different countries, just died in a plane crash.

This book has many things going for it: it’s about Black women supporting each other, it’s a contemporary mostly set in the Dominican Republic, and it talks about what it’s like to have to leave, what it’s like to be bilingual in the DR compared to the US, and many other differences between the two countries with all kinds of impacts. I wish I had liked it more, that I hadn’t felt like the characters were more like faded outlines than people, which I really do think was caused by the format. Poetry, to me, feels personal in a way that just doesn’t suit the added distance inherent to a multi-PoV book.

My rating: ★★★½

[apart from all I’ve already mentioned, TW for sexual assault in both plotlines]


On the surface, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is a story about Demane, a “sorcerer” accompanying the Captain he loves in a dangerous journey across the desert and then the Wildeeps, where he’ll have to face something powerful and horrible. It’s not necessarily always linear, and there’s very little plot, because its heart is elsewhere.

I want to point out that I can’t do this novella justice. This is a book whose very structure and use of English is a commentary on language and what’s considered respectable, portraying the experience and struggles of a multilingual protagonist with that. I know I missed half of it because I’m ESL and don’t recognize the nuances of different forms and registers of the English language that well. The irony isn’t lost on me and I’m not sure how I feel about it?

That’s far from the only thing this novella did with language, however. Code-switching is part of its structure on multiple levels, and language is used to lay down the worldbuilding, which even holds a sci-fantasy twist inside. One of the things I look for the most in short fiction is the unraveling of genre boundaries, so I really appreciated what I understood of this book. There are pieces of dialogue written in other languages as well – not something I often see in fantasy stories that don’t seem to be directly tied to the Earth we know currently. I think this choice might have been made to use how these languages are coded in American society to “translate” the situations in terms an American might understand, which I have mixed feelings about.
(There are some… let’s say puzzling choices made with Italian words, but this is an American book and I don’t have it in me to have expectations anymore.)

It’s also really gay! (But keep in mind, this is not a happy story.) It explores expectations placed on male sexuality and the meaning of masculinity across cultures, and the shock Demane feels relating to this as well, for many reasons – one of the more prominent being that while he’s great at fighting (superhumanly so), his heart has always been in protecting and healing.
My appreciation for this is somewhat dampened by the absence of even one named female character (especially given that of the few women who do appear is an underage sex slave).

My rating: ★★★


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Adult · Book review · contemporary

Review: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

40539165._sy475_Queenie is an adult contemporary novel following a Jamaican-British woman navigating mental illness, trauma, and a breakup.

Queenie is one of the most developed characters I’ve read so far this year. She’s full of contradictions, humor, denial and confusion, obviously dealing with a lot while doing her best to ignore that there’s even a problem (and isn’t that just the anxious person’s experience). Her coping mechanisms and self-esteem issues put her in degrading and sometimes dangerous situations involving men, which lead her to spiral.

Stories that manage to portray what is like to be mentally ill and the recovery progress while being completely honest about all the contradictions mental illness is made of aren’t common, especially ones that are as effortless as Queenie. I flied through it – and don’t get me wrong, for the most part, it’s all but a happy story.
Queenie has to deal with a lot of racist aggressions, in many different contexts, and there are several instances of men pursuing her as a fetish instead of as a person they could date, often while dating or being married to non-Black women. And the only man she’s shown dating – the one she’s breaking up with – was just racist enough to think that the overt racism coming from his family wasn’t a problem.

Queenie spends a lot of time being gaslit, being told that she was overreacting, that everything is her fault. It’s upsetting and infuriating to read, and yet this book doesn’t feel like a chore, because it feels so real and earnest. And it’s not only a story about men being horrible, it’s also about the importance of supportive friendships, and navigating difficult family relationships.
I loved reading about Queenie’s family. It’s clear that they love her, and want the best for her, but can’t always communicate or understand what would actually be best for Queenie. They eventually support her in her journey of dealing with her childhood trauma and mental illness, and I’m always glad to see both that and stories about adult characters in which grandparents have an important role.

What I liked the most about this, though, was the portrayal of therapy. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that quite gets how it feels be told to do breathing exercises while your life is falling apart, or having your therapist truly help you but sometimes say the wrong thing when you’re in a vulnerable state.

There are a few things about Queenie that I feel iffy about – most of which revolving around the character of Cassandra.

There’s a specific coincidence that broke my suspension of disbelief

In a city as big as London, what are the chances of Cassandra and Queenie sleeping with the same Guy, and also those of Guy being the guy’s name, creating the whole miscommunication… eh

I’m also wondering why money-lending was a relevant part of the only Jewish character’s plotline.

Overall, I really liked this, and I’m so glad that Queenie got the ending she deserved. I’m hoping to get more into adult contemporary fiction now – there’s a lot this did that a YA contemporary could have never done in terms of portrayal of mental illness, and I definitely feel like I’m ready to read more stories about adults in the real world.

My rating: ★★★★

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

44603899._sy475_The Last True Poets of the Sea is a contemporary story about the importance of communication. Having read so many stories that only use miscommunication as a plot device, it’s so refreshing to find something that truly tackles how difficult it can be to open up to others, even when you need it; how easy it is to not understand each other inside a family.

Violet’s family has a history of mental illness. Her younger brother Sam has been hospitalized after a suicide attempt, and she has been sent to a coastal small town in Maine to spend the summer with her uncle. She’s very much not ok: she’s dealing with dissociation and panic attacks and a general feeling of not belonging in her own life, of only existing to ruin everything.
Violet is a kind of YA main character I’m not used to reading about – she tries to distract herself through partying, drinking, flirting, sometimes ending up in dangerous situations, and yet she’s never a cautionary tale. She’s queer but doesn’t have everything figured out. And, more than anything, she’s never afraid to take up space, and likes to attract attention: I’m not used to seeing this, because there’s a stigma to women wanting attention (it’s not a case the most common insult used for people who want attention has a gendered slur in it), and characters like Violet are often seen as “unlikable”. I loved her and her growth.

One of the things I liked the most about The Last True Poets of the Sea is how it handles mental illness. We rarely see books deal with the fact that sometimes (often? more often than fiction would have you think) these things run in families, but present themselves differently depending on the person. At the same time, some parts were weird to read for me, because seeing yourself in a side character can be like that (and, by the way, I really didn’t like how they referred to Sam’s panic attacks as “tantrums”. That’s not what that is), but for the most part I can’t complain: this book is uncomfortably accurate in portraying many things, and I really appreciate its dedication to realism.

The teens in this book feel like actual teens. They have acne and ugly feet and questionable taste in clothes (…this is the first time in my life I’ve seen a book with a love interest who has acne), they drink and smoke even though there are times in which they wish they didn’t, they’re reckless and immature and can’t communicate, they have almost nothing figured out. All of these things shouldn’t be so uncommon, and yet I found myself surprised again and again by how real this felt, when its overarching plot is about a group of friends looking for a lost shipwreck of all things.
It also has a very realistic queer love triangle ending in a very sweet romance! And it’s one of the few books in which I’ve seen someone apologize for unintentionally walking over another person’s feelings in this context. It’s… such a gem. And it’s really atmospheric as well: Lyric, Maine doesn’t exist but it sure felt like a real place.

The only thing that didn’t make it feel as real was the audiobook narration, because all the characters, the majority of which are under 17, sounded like middle aged women. (I often couldn’t distinguish them or Violet’s narration from her dialogue.)

I’m giving it four stars mostly because around halfway through I was kind of bored and felt like not much was actually happening, but the last 20% managed to almost make me tear up, which doesn’t happen often.

My rating: ★★★★

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

34522727._sy475_The Grief Keeper is a contemporary story with sci-fi aspects following Marisol, a Salvadorian lesbian who fled her country for her life, together with her younger sister Gabi. To legally stay in the US, she is forced to take part in a program in which she’ll have to bear the weight of someone else’s grief, all of this while dealing with her own trauma.

I feel weird about calling this a sci-fi book. It is one, because it features technology that doesn’t exist in our reality, and it’s not like sci-fi isn’t made for commenting on current, relevant issues. It’s just that I’m used to having more layers of unreality between a sci-fi book’s reality and our own. What makes The Grief Keeper so heart-wrenching is knowing that if this technology did exist, this is exactly what would happen: less privileged people would have to bear the weight of more privileged people’s trauma.
There is a part of this book in which a character says that if this program is successful, it will “ease a lot of suffering.” Marisol’s well-being is barely considered, and if it is, it’s just to ensure that she still exists to protect the other subject, the privileged white American Rey, from her depression.

It’s a painful read, a necessary one, and yet it’s so hopeful. This is not a tragedy, even though some of the characters are forced to endure things no one should have to. The circumstances are horrible, but the relationships between the characters are the light in the darkness for them. Marisol and Gabi’s sibling bond was so well-written and layered: Marisol wants to protect her sister and her sister is what she is surviving for; Gabi loves Marisol but also wants to break free, to rebel like someone on the cusp of teenagehood would.
I also loved the romance. I didn’t know if I would, because Marisol is falling in love with the other subject, Rey, the girl whose trauma she has to re-experience over and over. This could have turned ugly really easily, and it didn’t. We see this connection build slowly, help Marisol with her internalized self-loathing about being a lesbian, help Rey in many ways the technology she didn’t consent to either could have never, and it’s beautiful. Their scenes in the last 30% of the book were everything.

There were so many ways this could have gone wrong. It could have been a “romance cures mental illness” story, and it wasn’t; it could have had an ugly power dynamic and it didn’t. There was only one thing I didn’t like, only one thing in the whole book – this book didn’t shy away from psychiatric medications’ side effects like many YA books dealing with mental illness do, but it does somewhat fall in the opposite cliché with one quote: medication turns you into a zombie. Marisol says that the medication she’s taking is working as intended, which means that she is still anxious and depressed, but has no will. While it could be that this is a sci-fi medication meant to do exactly that, the book says that Rey is taking SSRIs, and implies that her and Marisol are taking the same pills. That’s not how antidepressants are supposed to work. Maybe some people experience this as a side effect and the book meant to show that, while also implying Marisol doesn’t know she’s experiencing side effects? I don’t know. I really would have liked more clarification about this.

One of the things that meant a lot to me was how The Grief Keeper talked about bilingualism. The main character is a Spanish native speaker, and English is her second language. Across different first languages, it was interesting to see how our feelings about English were similar, and for once, it’s so great to see a main character who has gone through the same things I do with language: struggling with idioms, with figures of speech; feeling like she has to be perfect because anything less than perfection in an ESL speaker is a sign of ignorance to monolingual speakers who don’t know a word of your language; the way we both have a relationship with language that people who don’t have to be fluent into two languages can’t understand. The amount of Spanish in this book, and the way it isn’t necessarily translated every single time, made me happy.

Another thing I loved was how Marisol and Rey connected over a (fictional) TV show, and how their understanding of their own queerness was also shaped by that show. I think that fandom has an important place in many queer people’s journey of self-discovery in a way that goes deeper than pop culture references built into a story to be relatable, and I love when books reflect that.

I was also surprised by several things: a slight twist in the ending I won’t talk about for obvious reasons, and the character of Indranie. She is an Indian-American woman, and I thought that what this book did with her and the way she is complicit in Marisol’s suffering and yet not portrayed as a fully bad person was such an interesting direction to take.

My rating: ★★★★¾

content warnings: on-page suicide attempt, depressive thoughts, rape threats and threats of homophobic violence, homophobic slurs in both English and Spanish, detention, psychological abuse of a minor at the hand of a doctor, discussion of trauma and grief, and the main characters have to deal with racist and xenophobic rhetoric and with the way the US treats latinx immigrants.

Adult · Book review · contemporary

Review: Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn

43199360._sy475_This was suspenseful, intoxicating, queer, and incredibly fucked up; I loved every moment of it.
Bury the Lede is a contemporary graphic novel following Madison, a bisexual Asian-American intern at the newspaper Boston Lede, as she gets drawn into the investigation of a murder that will end up having political implications.

One of the first things to draw me to this book was the art. Stark and beautiful, with a lot of blues, purples, grays – it sets the dark atmosphere right from the beginning, and it’s dynamic and detailed without becoming overwhelming. I loved it before I started to love the story, which – I have to admit – took me a little to warm up to; there are a lot of names I needed to remember to be able to follow this, and during my first read I was somewhat confused (it was also late at night, because I needed to finish this, I needed to know the truth; I was confused but I could tell it was great). However, during my second reread I understood that this was one of the best graphic novels I had ever read.

Books like these remind me how often queer women in media aren’t allowed to be full, flawed human beings. Madison is all of these things, and so is her sometimes-lover Lexi, or the mysterious alleged murderer Dahlia, also queer like so many other side characters. They all choose to pursue what they believe is justice, and to do so, they do some incredibly unethical things. As Madison gets more and more entangled in the case, she finds herself breaking the law multiple times, using people with barely any remorse, and yet the story never treats her like a villain.

Books like Bury the Lede also remind me that portrayals of queer women as sexual beings that are neither predators nor meant to be entertainment for men are not as common as they should be, especially in graphic novels and outside of stories that are specifically meant to be romances. This isn’t in any way a romance, and I loved that about it – and it still has a sex scene between two women on the page, one that is explicit and drawn in a way that cemented my feeling that yes, this was really written with queer women in mind, and not heterosexual men (as most graphic portrayals of queer women are).
It’s a story that portrays queer women engaging in casual sex, having multiple partners, and it’s not fetishizing in the slightest. Madison sleeps with a woman and kisses a man (who is also bisexual) and is in a relationship with neither; about this I also recommend reading the author’s post about bi representation, stereotypes, and who she writes for.

I don’t know if this is meant to have a sequel, but I really hope it does; I want more. More from Madison but also from “Harold”, from Dahlia, even from the reporter of the Trombone.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Content Warnings for: murder (on-page, bloody); talk of suicide that might not be suicide; mentions of pedophilia and people covering for child predators (no on-page sexual abuse); roofied drinks; on-page sex scene.

Book review · contemporary

Reviews: Two F/F Romances

Because apparently, lately I review books two at a time.


41734205Looking back, there are many things I didn’t love about Her Royal Highness, but the book was entertaining enough to make me forget about that for most of its length, so does it really matter? Sometimes all you need is a quick read that won’t require that much of your attention and I’m glad that there are traditionally published queer YA books that fit this requirement.

Her Royal Highness is an f/f royal romance set in Scotland with an American main character. One of the first things that stood out in a bad way, to me, is how much this is specifically an American’s wish fulfillment story. I am not Scottish, so I might be wrong about this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were significantly annoying to read if one were; I have read books in which my own country was on the end of an American main character’s weird obsession-borderline-fetish and it’s the worst kind of unintentionally unsettling. I have a lot of feelings about Americans and their portrayals/interpretations of other cultures (which gets listened to and exported over everyone else’s, even said culture’s) and they’re definitely not wholly this book’s fault, so I’m not going to get into this, but it’s still relevant because it’s the only thing that the book never managed to make me forget (it’s far more difficult to ignore in a contemporary book than in the fake fantasy versions).

Maybe this wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if everything about this book hadn’t been reliant on it being wish-fulfillment, one that was clearly not written for a non-American audience. The main character Millie is as devoid of a personality as any decent audience surrogate would be, which is not inherently negative – sapphics get to have cheesy self-insert romance like everyone else, too – but if you’re not the target audience (so you’re gay but not American), it stands out. This girl’s supposedly favorite hobby is geology. I think about rocks more than she does and I don’t even like them, and the book also manages to gets its geology facts wrong! Wonderful.

To get through the other main thing that didn’t work: the ending. I love every romance book whose ending isn’t the step-by-step typical romance ending featuring a breakup, but the thing is, I can love one that does that as well; reading romance means signing up for a certain degree of clichés and that’s perfectly fine. However, I don’t think this book managed to pull it off in a believable way and the ending felt both rushed and kind of forced.

Now, onto the things I liked. This was an adorable, fun read that got the instant-dislike to love dynamic just right, and it was just as dramatic (it’s alternate reality with royals. It can’t not be dramatic.) as it needed to be to be fun while not becoming cartoonish. I also think it captured the feeling of being a teenager and relationships being confusing really well (are we a thing? are we not?) and I really appreciated what was done with the Jude subplot. Teenagers are messy and I’m glad we let queer girls be messy as well without anyone turning into the caricature of a villainous ex.
And about the side characters as a whole and the love interest… are all the characters other than Millie well-developed? No. Did they need to be? Also no, so I guess we’re fine.

Overall, if alternate reality contemporary royal romance is your thing, this is really good and you should probably ignore me, as it’s exactly the easy, fun read it promises to be. If not, you might enjoy it anyway! In the end, I did.

My rating: ★★★¼


23294595Treasure is a sweet f/f romance following two young Black women who meet at a strip club.
Alexis is an 18-year-old college student trying to make sense of her life after a really rough year; she has ADHD and is a lesbian, which her family – especially her father – doesn’t really approve of.
Trisha, aka Treasure, is 20 years old, a college student and a stripper, and finds herself in the same classes Alexis attends. Unlike Alexis, she is not from a rich family.

I loved Treasure. It’s a cute, quick read in which the characters have chemistry, and there are not that many books around with positive portrayals of sex workers – it was great that in the end the main conflict didn’t completely revolve around Trisha’s job, too, and Alexis wasn’t close-minded about it.
While for the most part I didn’t love the writing, I thought the sex scenes were really well-written, and I liked how the relationship developed; that’s what matters.
Also, as usual: novellas really are the best format for romance.

I really liked Alexis’ character arc. She is a suicide attempt survivor, and in this story, we see her go from someone who doesn’t really know what she wants and just goes along with what would please her overachieving, perfectionist parents, to a young woman who can stand up for herself.

This isn’t a full five stars for me because of a few minor things, the main one being the fact that, while I loved Trisha, it stands out when in a dual PoV story one character has a fully developed arc and the other doesn’t, not as much. Also, there were multiple occurrences of unintentionally aro/acephobic lines and I could have done without those.

My rating: ★★★★½


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Book review · contemporary · Fantasy

Reviews: Two Books I Loved

Today I’ll review two books I loved this summer, the flash fiction collection The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales by Yoon Ha Lee and the poetry novel The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. I’ve already mentioned them on this blog multiple times, but I never got around to reviewing them, and that needed to change.

Since we’re nearing the end of the year and many of us are behind on various reading challenges, I also want to mention that both of these are really short and quick reads.


25733384._sy475_The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales is a collection of flash fairytales, many of which gay, many of which featuring shapeshifting foxes and fox spirits, all of them delightful.

This was the book equivalent of a chocolate box. Every story is just a few pages, and maybe not all of them are as memorable, but all of them are pretty and a pleasure to read. And the ones that are memorable are the kind of stories I will never forget, for their wonderful atmosphere or their clever endings or just for how much they made me happy. I feel like we tend to talk a lot about the books that manage to make us cry, and while I can appreciate occasional heartbreak, books like this one will always be more valuable to me.

In The Fox’s Tower and Other Tales you’ll meet dormouse paladins, non-binary oracles, stories about animal wives with a gay twist, and so many surprisingly cuddly foxes. Here you’ll find stories to remind you that a dragon is a state of mind, stories that will give you some insight into the lives of carousel horses, stories that will show you how shadows are just another reminder of the importance of heartlight.

Apart from the really appreciated casual queerness these stories are full of, what I loved the most about this collection were the descriptions. They’re as unique as they’re beautiful, and maybe talking about crystals unfed by unsunlight and the ice-fruit of stars shouldn’t make sense but it does, it always does.

Also, if you’ve read Ninefox Gambit, a fun part is noticing how in some of these stories there are small references to the trilogy, so much that I almost think of this book as “what the people in the world of the Machineries of Empiretrilogy tell as fairytales”. I think the three prose poems – How the Andan Court explicitly, but very likely also Candles and Thunder – were written specifically with some of those characters/parts of that world in mind. The prose poems are really pretty even if you don’t know the context, but with context… I have too many feelings that I can’t put them into words.

Apart from the prose poems, my favorite stories were The Virtues of Magpies, featuring a non-binary youth and their mischievous magical magpie friends, and The Red Braid, whose ending was everything to me. Also, The Firziak Mountains made me laugh, and stories like The Youngest FoxThe Fox’s Forest and The Crane Wife were adorable.

My rating: ★★★★★


41020406._sx318_A beautiful coming-of-age story about a gay biracial black boy as he find his voice through poetry and drag.

For me, it’s always a breath of fresh air to read about marginalized characters who are not from the US. Yes, Michael is British, and it’s not difficult to find stories set in England, but stories about marginalized characters in contemporary are overwhelmingly American. In this story, you’ll see Michael come to terms with what it means for him to be British and Jamaican and Cypriot; to be all of these things and also a gay man, one who wants to be a drag artist.

It’s a really emotional journey, one I would really recommend to everyone who liked The Poet X. The poems in here were so beautiful, especially the ones about biracial and multicultural identity not being made of halves, about best friends being the ones who can hurt you the most with their internalized homophobia and racism (House of Mirrors. That hurt so much), about toxic masculinity, and the final one about coming out.
I also thought that the way this book focused on family relationships – Michael’s somewhat complicated relationship with his mother, who accepts him but still messes up; Michael’s nonexistent relationship with his father; his connection with his uncle and grandmother on his father’s side – and friendships was something that isn’t as common as it should be in YA. Daisy’s (his best friend) storyline was probably my favorite part of the book.

I also really liked the flamingo symbolism, and all the illustrations.

My rating: ★★★★½


Have you read any good short fiction/poetry lately?