Melissa Febos: Abandon Me

In her critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart, Melissa Febos laid bare the intimate world of the professional dominatrix, turning an honest examination of her life into a lyrical study of power, desire, and fulfillment.

In her dazzling Abandon Me, Febos captures the intense bonds of love and the need for connection — with family, lovers, and oneself. First, her birth father, who left her with only an inheritance of addiction and Native American blood, its meaning a mystery. As Febos tentatively reconnects, she sees how both these lineages manifest in her own life, marked by compulsion and an instinct for self-erasure. Meanwhile, she remains closely tied to the sea captain who raised her, his parenting ardent but intermittent as his work took him away for months at a time. Woven throughout is the hypnotic story of an all-consuming, long-distance love affair with a woman, marked equally by worship and withdrawal. In visceral, erotic prose, Febos captures their mutual abandonment to passion and obsession — and the terror and exhilaration of losing herself in another.

At once a fearlessly vulnerable memoir and an incisive investigation of art, love, and identity, Abandon Me draws on childhood stories, religion, psychology, mythology, popular culture, and the intimacies of one writer’s life to reveal intellectual and emotional truths that feel startlingly universal.

How do I know a book deserves an automatic five-star rating? When I have eight pages of quotes in my journal. EIGHT.

I could have copied this whole book down and still needed to go back and copy it all again. Melissa Febos’ prose is FLAWLESS. God. It’s so beautiful that I can not find a single thing to criticize.

It is also DRIPPING with sex.

In fact, most of the negative reviews on Goodreads say something like “Why does this book have to be so sexual?” Um, guys, you picked a book by dominatrix…did you expect something G rated?

This isn’t so much about her time as a sex worker–that’s another book–but about every other loaded section of her life. As she puts it:

“I am Puerto Rican, but not really. Indian, but not really. Gay, but not really. Adopted, but not really.”

The memoir’s story follows her abusive relationship with a married woman and her constant struggle to escape it. She details her addiction to self-harm, then alcohol, then drugs, and then love–all in an effort to gain control over her own body. We get to know, some along with her, the heartbreakingly damaged people in her life.

But the most important point of this book is how she teaches us of the incredible psychological trauma of the Indigenous Peoples of America. At one point, she has a conversation with her agent about how no one wants to read about Native Americans, that she should write something more akin to her dominatrix book, something about her–urban and edgy. So she does just that with this book–writing her love story, but still managing to weave in Native American history in every stop that is made, and let us know just how that genocide and erasure has affected the people we have tried so hard to push down.

Prove that agent wrong. Order this book immediately, guys. It’s sexy, it’s beautiful, it’s IMPORTANT. There are LGBTQIA+ and Native and POC people everywhere in this. And you know, that agent is right about one thing–we don’t see too many Native American authors–but that shouldn’t mean a lack of wanting them published. We need more stories like this, and we can start with Melissa Fabos. GO ORDER THIS BOOK, YA’LL.

NetGalley and Bloomsbury provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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Malinda Lo: Huntress

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

How funny that I read Of Fire and Stars, and then IMMEDIATELY read another F/F book right after? That was not planned AT ALL! I had Huntress out from the library in an effort to read more POC authors, but I didn’t know it also had LGBTQIA+ characters. What a nice surprise!

I fell into this book right away. I was a little afraid that starting a fantasy right after fantasy would be redundant–sometimes I have to spread them out a bit–but no, this was wonderful. The world building in Huntress takes off right away, and it’s mystical and both lush and soft at the same time. I really appreciated the pronunciation guide at the beginning, too, and made sure to study it before diving in.

As for the romance, it is both steamy and modest. There are no explicit scenes, and certain things are left to the reader’s interpretation and imagination. I can’t really tell you why because, spoilers, but I sort of preferred it that way in this context. Also, if it allows this book to get into the hands of younger LGBTQIA+ teens, then I am ALL for it.

There were a few scenes that I felt were a tad rushed, or maybe should have been left for a next book. I kept thinking that the book would end and sequel time! …but then it kept going… Those hesitations/cliff drops were a little strange. But overall I loved this story and now I need to go pick up Ash as soon as possible.

DiversityBingo2017: LGBTQIA+ MC Of Color

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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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Lesléa Newman: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

A masterful poetic exploration of the impact of Matthew Shepard’s murder on the world.

On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. Gay Awareness Week was beginning at the University of Wyoming, and the keynote speaker was Lesléa Newman, discussing her book Heather Has Two Mommies. Shaken, the author addressed the large audience that gathered, but she remained haunted by Matthew’s murder. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is her deeply felt response to the events of that tragic day. Using her poetic imagination, the author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself. More than a decade later, this stunning cycle of sixty-eight poems serves as an illumination for readers too young to remember, and as a powerful, enduring tribute to Matthew Shepard’s life.

It’s official. This book has broken me. I knew when I picked it up that it would be sad but WOW I did not know that I would cry all the way through it.

I was 12 when Matthew Shepard was killed in a horrific hate crime in Wyoming. I vaguely remember it but until college it really didn’t register with me what had actually happened. I remember now, the anniversary being celebrated on campus and hearing the story. It was my first real understanding of what a hate crime was–outside of the history books, I mean. These things still happen? What kind of world did I live in? Back then the world seemed so big, but so much gentler. I never could have imagined a 2016 like we’ve had.

Newman took the stories and testimonies from the town of Laramie and turned them into a heart wrenching book of poetry. In it, she allows us to witness Matthew Shepard’s last night, and the following days of grief. She honors his memory by showing us just how bright his light was, and just how cruelly it was darkened.

A book like this is going to be hurtful to some people, so protect your heart if you need to. I can’t label this a MUST READ because it could be extremely triggering. But for those who can read it, read it as a way to bring awareness to the terrifying life of being LGBTQIA+ and being out. Hate crimes are an all too real thing in this world, and getting worse. We need this message shared until every LGBTQIA+ person is safe to live without fear of violence.

If you are LGBTQIA+ and need to talk to someone, please reach out to The Trevor Project. They are there for you 24/7. 866-488-7386.

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Robin Talley: Lies We Tell Ourselves

In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

I have SO many feelings about this book. And that makes sense–it’s a book written to evoke extremely strong feelings. It’s a book I may need to sit on for a few days before I fully comprehend everything I just read. Which means by the time you read this, I will have edited this review 100 times at least.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is written in dual POV:  Sarah, a senior POC moving to a previously whites-only school that is being desegregated; and Linda, a white Southern Belle who is diabolically opposed to desegregation. These two spiral around each other tighter and tighter as the year goes on.

My feelings on this book are so much like reading Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. Dual POV (except SGT had three). One white, one POC; written by a white author. Why is this necessary? Tolley very obviously did her research here. But that is not enough. There is no way a white author could ever put herself in the true voice of a POC in the middle of desegregation. There’s so much pain and abuse and complicated human experience that a white person–ie myself trying to write this review–could absolutely never appropriately put into words. This is why Own Voices is crucial.

In fact I actually had this on my Own Voices list. It is. Sort of. But for a completely different reason. And so I would very much hesitate to call this OV in the future–the author is white, and this is a story about the Civil Rights Movement.

There is an obscene amount of racist slurs in Lies We Tell Ourselves. Part of my brain (that old part that hadn’t been exposed to diversity and humanity still pops up way too often) says “Well, Haley, this is a book about desegregation in Virginia. Of COURSE there are going to be racial slurs. Of COURSE people are going to do hateful, horrible things.” I’m also disgusted, ashamed, and I want to protect all of my friends from what is said here.

This is also the epitome of the Oppressor/Oppressed romance trope. It’s gross. Linda is a racist. Even when she “changes her mind” she still only changes her mind about Sarah, not desegregation. Sarah is different, she’s special. And Sarah is constantly having to convince herself that Linda has changed, or that she can be changed, right up until the end of the story. It’s just so disgustingly problematic.

There are some good things about this book:  Queer characters, a diverse cast of POC, girls standing up to abusive parents–really just ladies figuring out what they want in general and going for it. Unfortunately all that is overshadowed by the major problems that this book has. I am really just striking out lately, it seems.

Kay Ryan: Say Uncle

Filled with wry logic and a magical, unpredictable musicality, Kay Ryan’s poems continue to generate excitement with their frequent appearances in The New Yorker and other leading periodicals. Say Uncle, Ryan’s fifth collection, is filled with the same hidden connections, the same slyness and almost gleeful detachment that has delighted readers of her earlier books. Compact, searching, and oddly beautiful, these poems, in the words of Dana Gioia, “take the shape of an idea clarifying itself.” “A poetry collection that marries wit and wisdom more brilliantly than any I know…. Poetry as statement and aphorism is rarely heartbreaking, but reading these poems I find myself continually ambushed by a fundamental sorrow, one that hides behind a surface that interweaves sound and sense in immaculately interesting ways.” — Jane Hirshfield, Common Boundary; “The first thing you notice about her poems is an elbow-to-the-ribs playfulness.” — Patricia Holt, San Francisco Chronicle.

Poetry collections are much harder for me to review. They are so much more subjective. Are they fiction? NonFiction? Sometimes they tell a story, but usually just snippets or pieces.

I’m not sure Say Uncle generated “excitement” in me, but I did like some of them. A few were worthy enough to be copied into my journal. Many, if not most, had some connection to nature, with an undertone of romance or heartbreak.

I’m interested enough to read more from Kay Ryan. I’m not gleeful, but perhaps…delighted?

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Rachel Sharp: The Big Book of Post-Collapse Fun

Mab is an unemployed feminist blogger with a philosophy degree, a deathly allergy to bee stings, and the real-world experience of a domestic rabbit. When Portland, Oregon is evacuated, no one thinks to look for her in her unlabeled apartment. She can still get news from the outside world for days. All the news is bad. The planetary Tarantella dance has started, and the world is shaking itself apart. Volcanoes and earthquakes abound. Taking stock of her supplies, she finds that her best survival gear includes a 49cc moped and clothing that wouldn’t keep a chihuahua warm in a Florida winter.
Left alone in the city, Mab fumbles along and documents her post-apocalypse adventures through the lens of mankind’s greatest coping mechanism: Inappropriate humor. She learns from experience as she misinterprets survival tips, battles wild geese, steals cars, befriends a buffoon of a dog, and discovers the difference between instinct and cultural training.
When Mab learns of a geologically stable place in Canada, she leaves Portland behind. Vet, the world’s dumbest remaining dog, goes with her, and while they try to navigate the wilderness, mountains become volcanoes. Strangers become bandits. Mab wasn’t prepared for this, but she writes the book on how to improvise in case of apocalypse.

My husband and his friend have zombie-preparedness plans. In fact, he’s so serious about them that we had zombie plans IN OUR WEDDING VOWS. Not even kidding.

But ya’ll, when it comes to fight or flight…I HIDE. So I completely related to Mab when she hid and hid and hid some more until she finally could nit hide anymore. When she came out of that third story apartment to realize “Um, hey, where’s everybody at? OH SHIT!” I almost died. Of course…so did Mab.

The Big Book of Post-Collapse Fun is written like a travel memoir–think Wild if Cheryl Strayed were walking the PCT while it was exploding. It’s also SUPER campy, thanks to Sharp’s incredible sense of humor. It’s equal parts serious, as in, OMG THE SUPER VOLCANO IS HAPPENING, but also HEY LET’S STEAL A HOT AIR BALLOON.

By the way, I would be dead, in this scenario because the Midwest just falls into a cavernous lake. All those dreams of Florida falling off into the sea? Nope. Rachel Sharp killed the Midwest. Thanks Rachel Sharp. Love you too.

I do though. This book is the very last book of 2016, and what a way to end the year. Actual fire and brimstone. Sounds about right.

Diverse Bingo 2017:  MC w/Anaphylactic Allergy

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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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Haruki Murakami: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel– a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan–from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

I very much wanted to give Haruki Murakami another shot, since 1Q84 was such an uncomfortable book. CTT fit my reading tastes much more, so I’m glad I kept his books on my TBR.

Aside from a weird side story about an old man and death, there wasn’t really a supernatural element to this. CTT was about friendship and how lies can tear it apart. Mental illness and sexual abuse are a big part of the story, and Murakami examines suicidal contemplation.

Murakami doesn’t hold back on sex. He’s indiscriminate about identities–while the main character is mostly attracted to women in his dating life, it would seem that he is bisexual. There’s also a friend who is gay that seems to encourage him to explore that side of himself.

But the ending. This author is the king of cliffhangers. And not even, “Here’s a tease, buy my next book.” Nope. He leaves everything open for interpretation. Do with it what you will. So frustrating, but I think that’s why I am so intrigued by him. Nothing is ever finished in real life. Life is always moving on without us.

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