Barbara Dee: Star-Crossed

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel from the author of Truth or Dare.

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Back in March, I read a post from Barbara Dee that broke my heart. Dee had been asked to give an author presentation at a school. However, right before she was to speak, she was pulled aside and told that while the school was thrilled to have her speak on inclusivity…could she please keep it more general and NOT TALK ABOUT HER OWN BOOK?

Excuse me?

Of course I put Star-Crossed on my TBR immediately. Because obviously if a school is censoring the author…it’s probably something I want to read.

And it absolutely freaking is. Star-Crossed might be the best middle-grade fiction I have ever read…maybe the best Shakespeare retelling too! It follows Mattie, an eighth grade bookworm as she traverses the awkwardness of school play rehearsals–Romeo and Juliet, of course. Throughout the book, she slowly comes to realize she has a crush on fair Juliet.

Besides the cute story itself, there are two key factors that made me love this book. First, Mattie starts off with a crush on a boy, and then slowly falls into crush with Gemma. Later, her friend asks her if she might ever like boys again and she tells her it’s possible. Bisexual representation in a Middle Grade story! Yes! And Dee allows her MC to explore her feelings about it…which leads us to point #2.

Coming out is a process, and one that is mostly supported. We don’t see her come out to everyone–the story ends before that happens. But one friend helps her begin to come to terms with what is going on, and another person also helps her talk through it. Neither pressure her or ridicule her…it’s all very loving. I think this is something that is important to show in MG especially, so that kids can know that it doesn’t always have to be hard. It will be, sometimes, but there are supportive people out there.

I just loved this. I hope that not all schools are as closed minded as the one that shut Barbara Dee down, and that they put this book on their shelves. My library in Peoria had the book, and I’m so glad that they did. Books like this one should be available to kids who need to find themselves in the pages.

Retelling w/ MC LGBTQIA+

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Audrey Coulthurst: Of Fire and Stars

This review is a tiny bit spoilery, but if you know anything about the book at all, then they aren’t anything you haven’t already heard.

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

December was my very first OwlCrate, and I was PUMPED. I’d been wanting to try it out for awhile, and not only did they run a Black Friday discount, they ALSO made December’s theme EPIC. It included all of our fave fantasy franchises:  Harry Potter, LOTR, Game of Thrones. I couldn’t pass it up. The box was made even MORE amazing by including a romance about two princesses who fall in love. FISTPUMP!

The story itself is beautiful:  Denna travels to her new country, expecting to meet the prince she has been contracted to marry. The two countries are preparing for war, and everything is unstable. There is a group of magical rebels trying to siphon the power from the land. Denna’s soon to be sister-in-law hatches a plan to obtain information about these rebels, and along the way they fall in love.

I have mixed feelings about this book, and from looking at the reviews, I wasn’t the only one. Many people were disappointed.

But first, the good. THIS IS A WORLD WHERE GAY PEOPLE ARE ACCEPTED. Duty, class–that is important–but F/F or M/M is not a problem. It is referred to without shame or judgment. Mare is even bisexual and that seems to be a normal thing. Cheating is unacceptable, betrayal is unacceptable, and you are expected to stick to your rank. But you can sleep with whatever gender you please.

I saw a few people commenting that the girls fought hard not to share their feelings with each other, but in my opinion, it seemed that had more to do with their duty than shame. Denna felt she couldn’t back down from her promise to Thandi, and Mare saw that and didn’t think Denna felt the same way about her.

It’s the first fantasy novel I have read where this is the case. I think it’s the first novel altogether with F/F main characters. We need more books like these, for certain, and I’m happy to see one in a popular book box like OwlCrate.

I do need to make one comment about worldbuilding in fantasy novels, Of Fire and Stars included. It always seems like the good guys/MCs live in lands with temperate climates and have allies with mountainous lands with snow, or visa versa. But the bad guys are almost always from the desert, and shady characters have some kind of vague accent. This is a very problematic trope because it mimics the prejudices in our real life. We make judgments about the characters based on actual stereotypes–and I am beginning to find that lazy.

For the most part, I would call this book delightful. I enjoyed reading it, and anyone who likes a love story about princesses probably will too. Just be aware that it’s a little problematic where worlds are concerned. I do hope Coulthurst writes more fantasy–I’m interested to see what she does next.

DiversityBingo2017: Free Choice

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Zoraida Córdova: Labyrinth Lost

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Beautiful Creatures meets Daughter of Smoke and Bone with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

I’ve seen this book EVERYWHERE lately–it’s touted as the MUST READ for 2016. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why! A multiracial, bisexual main character who is also a witch? YES PLEASE.

There’s no skirting around that bisexuality, either. There are two love interests, though one is certainly stronger than the other, and Alex’s sexuality is never in question. It’s completely normalized and it’s WONDERFUL. More of this please!

The world of Los Lagos is incredibly beautiful–fans of Alice in Wonderland are going to find this book familiar, except instead of a bland British background you’ll see a vibrant canvas reminiscent of Day of the Dead celebrations and Afro-Caribbean influences.  Cordova’s worldbuilding is as magical as the magic of the brujas, which is interwoven through families, and blessed by the gods.

I only have one real criticism of this book. More than once, Alex refers to Nova as having “bipolar eyes.” What do “bipolar eyes” look like? That is not an acceptable descriptor, even if you WERE speaking about someone with a mental illness–and nowhere in the rest of the book, that I could find, is Nova described as having Bipolar Disorder. It shocked me that in a book as amazingly diverse as this, that such a harmful word choice was used.

Aside from that issue, though, I loved the book. Is it enough for me to tell you not to read it? No, definitely not. Labyrinth Lost is an incredible story with incredible diversity. Teens should be able to see this much bisexual representation is EVERY popular YA novel. But it was enough of an issue for me to keep it from my 5 book dragon list MUST READ list. I hope she leaves that descriptor out of the sequel.

DiversityBingo2017:  OV Latinx MC

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Magen Cubed: The Crashers

At 9:17 AM, a subway train crashed in East Brighton City. That was when everything changed.

Five survivors emerge from the accident: former detective Kyle Jeong; single mother Norah Aroyan; Afghanistan veteran Adam Harlow; the genius Clara Reyes; and the dying Bridger Levi. These five strangers walk away from the crash unscathed, only to realize the event has left each of them with strange new powers. As their city falls into chaos around them, they find themselves drawn into a story far more dangerous than they ever knew – and it will change their lives forever.

Death, undeath, superpowers, and apocalyptic visions. Welcome to East Brighton City – hope you survive.

When people start getting shouty on twitter about books I must read, they usually end up on my TBR. When people start getting shouty on twitter about books I must read that are free today on Amazon…well…they get added to my Kindle IMMEDIATELY DO NOT PASS GO OR COLLECT $200–especially when they out of the LGBTQIA and/or POC community. Please shout at me all of the books.

The Crashers was one of such shouty books, just before my vacation. I actually intended to take my Kindle with me, but already had a couple book books going so didn’t manage to get to it while traveling. It has everything: POC leads, gay leads, bisexual leads, disabled characters, mental illness, several badass women who take no shit, and did I mention they are superheroes?

Also, the author’s bio says she lives in Texas with a little dog named Cecil, so how in the world could I pass that up?

The story itself was just a little slow to start for me, but I think that was just the anticipation because I knew it was going to build up so much. It was a case of being TOO excited to read it. I LOVED almost all of the characters. There were one or two that I didn’t quite mesh with, but Adam? Ohhh Adam. I’m so in love with him. Is there anyone in the world who isn’t in love with Adam?

If you love cop dramas, superheroes–especially dark ones (think DC, not Marvel)–you’re going to love this. The Crashers has so much grit. SO MUCH, you guys. I think there’s still some in my teeth. I need a graphic novel version with blacks and grays and reds. Sin City style.

OOCH I cannot wait until Koreatown. GIMMEE GIMMEE GIMMEE.

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Anna Kopp: Rise of the Chosen

In Sam’s world there are two rules. Rule #1: Nobody dies. Protect the living at all costs. Rule #2: Everybody dies. At least once.

The Waking was a global event in which a force called the Lifeblood invaded all humans who died. The few strong enough to control it came back as powerful immortals. The rest let the bloodlust take over and awoke with one goal – to kill.

Newly appointed Watch Guard Samantha Shields has a legacy to uphold. Her father died a hero defending their city and now she wants to follow in his footsteps. Except for the dying part, of course. Unfortunately, fate has other plans as she discovers deep dark secrets that make her choose between her loyalties and the lives of everyone in her city. Both rules are in play as Sam is forced to make hard decisions that could cost her everything – including the person she cares about most.

My first thought when I started this ARC was “EW, a zombie book! I hate zombie books! They are always the same thing!”

This is nothing like that zombie book. Not even close.

First of all, the zombies–Woken–aren’t running around eating people. They are certainly monsters, and they certainly kill, but no braaaaiiiiins. Secondly, these guys don’t look like maggot ridden grave vomit. Take The Others/White Walkers from Game of Thrones and replace the blue with red, and you have a Woken.

If you take it a step further and add some Captain America Super Serum and keep the human consciousness along with the Woken immortality, you have The Chosen. Basically, Super Zombies who are used to keep the city safe. They run around with swords and sever the heads of the Woken from their hearts–the only way to end them.

I told you this isn’t your normal zombie book.

Did I mention the main character is bisexual? She is–and with the exception of one awkward “he is so hot” moment with one of her work partners–I thought her sexuality was presented really well. It’s normalized in the story. She likes guys, she likes girls, all is well in the world.

Except, ya know…the whole zombie thing.

The plot is laid out in a before and after sort of way, though. I won’t tell you how. It’s interesting to see how everything is set up and then how it plays out. I think Kopp shows all her angles really well. I didn’t think I’d like this at all, but by the end I was pretty enthusiastic. I’m totally on board to read the next installment!

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NetGalley and Blue Moon Publishers provided an ARC for my unbiased review. Releases October 4. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Juno Dawson: This Book is Gay

Lesbian. Bisexual. Queer. Transgender. Straight. Curious. This book is for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference. This book is for anyone who’s ever dared to wonder. This book is for YOU.

There’s a long-running joke that, after “coming out,” a lesbian, gay guy, bisexual, or trans person should receive a membership card and instruction manual. THIS IS THAT INSTRUCTION MANUAL. You’re welcome.

Inside you’ll find the answers to all the questions you ever wanted to ask: from sex to politics, hooking up to stereotypes, coming out and more. This candid, funny, and uncensored exploration of sexuality and what it’s like to grow up LGBT also includes real stories from people across the gender and sexual spectrums, not to mention hilarious illustrations.

You will be entertained. You will be informed. But most importantly, you will know that however you identify (or don’t) and whomever you love, you are exceptional. You matter. And so does this book.

WHY THIS BOOK WAS BANNED:

WHILE I COULD NOT FIND ANY SPECIFIC RESOURCES (BESIDES APPEARING ON MULTIPLE CHALLENGE LISTS), I FOUND NEWS ARTICLES LISTING TWO TOWNS TRYING TO REMOVE THIS BOOK FROM THEIR LIBRARY BECAUSE OF THE GAY CONTENT. IT IS NOT SURPRISING THAT THIS BOOK WOULD MAKE IT ON TO CHALLENGE LISTS DUE TO THE NATURE OF ITS CONTENT.

Juno Dawson’s book can’t be missed. It’s bright rainbow cover beckons to everyone. And that really is the message she wants to display– “Hello, welcome to our community. We see you, and we are waving the flag for you. Come on in, we have a place at our table. Join us.”

Her book covers every topic in the LGBT* space. (She uses that abbreviation throughout the book, according to him, not to exclude anyone, but for brevity’s sake.) There’s SO much information here from identifying your sexuality, to coming out, to actual gay sex, to activism. She also covers transgender issues in almost every subject.

I think she could have done a better job explaining asexuality and nonbinary topics. She mentions them at the beginning, and talks about asexuality a few other times by definition, but never really goes into details. This book is VERY MUCH about sex. I won’t go so far to say she erased asexuals, but the snub is there. And this book is pretty binary in its discussions.

It isn’t perfect, that is for sure. But Dawson tries really hard to open the doors to the community for young LGBT* people who need guidance. She provides a good deal of information, and then some testimony from people who have lived that situation.

It’s a start. We definitely still need to fill some gaps in other places, but I do think this book is going to help a lot of kids who are desperately needing information that they aren’t getting in school (at least not from their teachers). It’s not perfect. But it does have a lot of really great information that none of us had in book form when we were growing up. And I wonder how many of my classmates’ lives would have been helped by a book like this?

 

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Review: In One Person

A New York Times bestselling novel of desire, secrecy, and sexual identity, In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a “sexual suspect,” a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of “terminal cases,” The World According to Garp.

In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself “worthwhile.

I picked this book up because of the LGTBQA+ characters, and shortly after I did, #DiverseAThon was announced. Perfect timing! I could use it for my first book of the week. Sounded like a great plan at the time…

…Unfortunately, doing so turned out to be the biggest cautionary tale of reading #OwnVoices books of all time. John Irving is not gay. He is not transgender. And it shows in the writing of this book. Be careful when you are picking “diverse” books. Try to pick books by actual POC authors, LGBTQA+ authors, mentally ill authors. Don’t only pick authors who are writing about those characters.

The following is unpleasant, so I’m going to put a trigger warning on it. But I want to illustrate WHY you should be careful about reading books by authors who actually come from the cultures you are reading about. I’m going to gray out the triggering stuff. Skip that, if you need to.

This is not a book that is kind to transgender people. The narrator is so conflicted about his own sexuality and desires that while he is not completely homophobic–he IS sort of transphobic. He is sexually attracted to those he calls “she-males” and “transexuals.” At one point he dismissively tells us that he won’t use the term transgender because they didn’t ever call them that and so why should he change now? 

…Are you cringing yet?…

He speaks about the transgender women in his life cruelly, as if they are something Other. He does not understand them, why they would want to change the bodies he finds perfect and is offended by that need. They are his playthings and not people he totally respects. 

Now, the narrator was extremely unreliable. Probably one of the most unreliable narrators I have ever read, even against Harry Potter. We are completely in this guy’s head. But I still don’t find that as an excuse for such awful narration.

The other stomach churning thing about this book is the multiple adult-youth sexual relationships. The only reason I call them that and not the abuse they actually are is that the narrator sees them as consensual relationships. He sees them as seduction. He has his own, after hearing about two of his friends having them…but again, unreliable narrator…he does not realize how uncomfortable his friends are, and how not seduced they were.

I stopped reading this book about 3/4 of the way through. As the narrator grew older, the story only grew worse, and less interesting. I left him in Europe bullying a vomiting, anxious friend.

I get the general idea of where Irving was headed with his novel, and why he wrote this the way he did. But it was too disgusting to finish.

 

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#FridayReads: Results May Vary

She never saw it coming. Without even a shiver of suspicion to warn her, Caroline Hammond discovers that her husband is having an affair with a man—a revelation that forces her to question their entire history together, from their early days as high school sweethearts through their ten years as a happily married couple. In her now upside-down world, Caroline begins envisioning her life without the relationship that has defined it: the loneliness of being an “I” instead of a “we”; the rekindled yet tenuous closeness with her younger sister; and the unexpected—and potentially disastrous—attraction she can’t get off her mind. Caroline always thought she knew her own love story, but as her husband’s other secrets emerge, she must decide whether that story’s ending will mean forgiving the man she’s loved for half her life, or facing her future without him.

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When I read Bethany Chase’s debut novel last year, I knew it was going to be a hit. It was funny, heartfelt, and full of sunshine–a combination that is impossible to resist. When Random House hit me up for a blog tour for her new book, Results May Vary…I wont lie…I might have screamed out loud. I was pretty dang excited.

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Whereas Chase’s first book was lighthearted and full of Texas beer and falling in love, Results May Vary dives into the heartbreak of divorce and the messy, devastating wake it leaves behind. As a divorcee myself, I found myself nodding along with every familiar conversation and therapeutic paint splatter.

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Amidst all of the wine drinking and commiserating, there are a few particular things I want to point out about this book before I give my rating:

  1. One of the main topics is bisexuality and the stigma it holds. It was the one thing I struggled with for much of the book, because the Caroline’s husband cheats on her with a man–and so bisexuality was really shown in a negative light throughout much of the story. So much so that I was going to take away a “book dragon” because of it. By the end, that changed, and I was left completely impressed. I don’t want to say too much because, spoilers, but I do want to tell you not to let that ruin the book for you. It is an issue the main character is working through, and not a stigma of the author.
  2. There is a multiracial relationship and it is lovely. Strike that…it’s goddamn freaking sexy.
  3. There are some really interesting conversations about grief after death vs grief after divorce. The way the author handles these is extremely accurate and beautiful. I just really loved the way she dealt with this whole situation.

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I could go on. But mostly I wanted you to know that this isn’t just a gorgeous, moving story, it is also a diverse one. They are going to have to keep moving the fence back, because Bethany Chase just hit another one out of the ballpark (which, by the way, GO REDS! AND THE PATRIOTS SUCK!).

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I was sent an ARC by Random House as part of the Results May Vary Blog Tour. This post does include affiliate links.

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