Review- Twelve Steps to Normal

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetTwelve Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn

Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: March 13, 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Page count: 384
Star rating: 5/5

Kira just wants her old life back—before she was forced to move away for a year, before her grandma died, and before her father started drinking too much and was sent to Sober Living. Unfortunately, as soon as she steps back into her childhood home, nothing is the same. First, there are 3 other alcoholics, who her dad met in treatment, living in her house. Second, her best friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, who she still has feelings for. Third, all her friends seem to be mad at her for ignoring their text messages, which she only did because she couldn’t stand hearing about all the events she missed out on. Kira makes a list of 12 steps, just like her father’s 12 step program, that will help revert her life back to the way it was before. Unfortunately, writing a list is easier than actually doing the work, and going back in time just isn’t possible. Maybe Kira will find a way to make a few compromises and accept her father’s illness at the same time.

First, I want to thank Little, Brown and Company for sending me a copy of this title. I was so excited when I saw Twelve Steps to Normal mentioned in PW and I just had to get my hands on it as soon as possible! I’m excited to share this review because addiction and recovery programs hit very close to home for me and providing education about this disease through literature is crucial.

I really enjoyed how Farrah Penn portrayed Alcoholics Anonymous in Twelve Steps to Normal. Kira has been down this road before with her father and he’s always relapsed despite trying the 12 steps in the past. Her dad’s sponsor has faith that AA will work for him this time and he will be able to properly care for Kira again. One of Kira’s steps is to forgive her father, which proves hard, but not impossible. It was refreshing to see a young adult who loves and cares about her dad enough to try and understand his illness. Many addicts never regain the trust of their family after spending years in active addiction, so it made me feel happy as I started to see Kira make an effort to grasp alcoholism.

Kira struggles with self-blame throughout the entire novel, which is something many teens (that I know) deal with. Kira knows the reason she ignored her friends text messages was because she hated the feeling of missing out on fun times. Unfortunately, they can’t understand this and make Kira feel like it was her fault they drifted apart. I feel terrible for her, as it’s completely understandable that moving away from your closest friends would cause jealousy and hurt feelings. I’m glad Farrah Penn wrote a young adult character that is relatable for teens with anxiety. I wish I could somehow jump into the book and tell Kira it wasn’t her fault for taking a step back from friendships to take care of herself.

I loved reading Twelve Steps to Normal and getting to know Kira. It was also great seeing her father progress in his recovery. Farrah Penn represented the recovery process and community well and Kira’s path to understanding her dad’s illness was perfectly crafted. If you’re interested in reading about the realities of having a loved one who struggles with alcoholism, please put Twelve Steps to Normal on your reading list. It comes out in March of 2018. I can’t wait for everyone to get a chance to read this amazing novel. Thank you, again, to Little, Brown and Company for sending me this title in advance!

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Review- Femme Confidential

Femme Confidential by Nairne Holtz

IMG_7620Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: August 10, 2017
Publisher: Insomniac Press
Page count: 290
Star rating: 4/5

It’s hard for me to write a summary of Femme Confidential, because it reads more like a collection of short stories. The title follows a group of queer femmes who grow up in different cities, but find their way to each other as they get older. Their lives intertwine in interesting and oftentimes sexual ways. Liberty, the most central character, raised in a Quaker family, ran away from university. Veronika didn’t realize she was queer until she hooked up with her best friend in high school. Dana, first introduced as a man, learns what it means to live as a transgender woman in Toronto. Although the book focuses on these three women the most, other queer females go in and out of their lives as friendships and relationships bloom and fail.

First, I want to thank Insomniac Press for generously sending me this title in exchange for an honest review. Queer ladies are my favorite characters to read about, so this was quite a treat.

I really enjoyed Femme Confidential’s writing style. The way the short chapters jumped around from different characters and different years made the book very gripping. Now that I’m writing this review, I realize this format could easily be confusing, but it was executed so well that it didn’t raise any questions for me. It’s quite a skill to be able to pull such a complicated storyline together, but Nairne Holtz did a wonderful job making sure there were no plot holes or missing parts.

Sometimes, books portray most of their queer, female characters with similar (or mostly the same) personalities. People who are aquatinted with more than one gay woman know this stereotype is not true, as LGBTQ individuals don’t all have the same interests and mannerisms. I loved how Liberty, Veronika, and Dana all had completely different personalities, passions, and sexual preferences. Each woman had her own career, relationships, and general life path. I also enjoyed the diversity in the way lesbian sex was portrayed. It’s easy to tell when a straight person writes queer female sex scenes because the anatomy isn’t right or the positions don’t make any sense. I actually understood where both parties were during intimate moments of Femme Confidential, which was awesome!

The only thing about this title that doesn’t quite sit with me is the ending. I think the book should have ended around 30 pages earlier, to be completely honest. Something about the way Liberty’s story wrapped up just didn’t make me feel right. Despite this, I’m sure the author has valid reasons for why she chose to end with certain events and I respect that. The ending did not change how much enjoyed Femme Confidential, it just left me with a weird feeling for personal reasons.

I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Insomniac Press for sending me a copy of this title. It was very nice to read a book with a diverse set of queer ladies who have their own personalities and identities. Liberty is my favorite main character, but they all sound like people whom I would like to hang out with. I look forward to reading future works from Nairne Holtz!

Review- Sodom Road Exit

Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn

514ml4X1etL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: May 2018
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Page count: 404
Star Rating: 4/5

Starla is disappointed that she has to move back in with her mom after dropping out of college. Originally from the small town of Crystal Beach, she’s been living in the city of Toronto while slowly falling more and more into debt. Upon coming back home, she begins working as the night shift manager of a campground and RV park, The Point. One would imagine that this job might entail some pickup around the grounds and a little downtime, but Starla’s experience is much more extraordinary. From the very first day, strange things start happening at The Point. The ghost of a girl who died in Crystal Beach takes special interest in Starla and begins communicating with her inside her head. As Starla becomes closer to the residents of the campground, the ghost’s pull on her gets tighter. The strangely sexual bond that the two have may end up hurting Starla in a way that her new friends can’t understand or see.

I’m so excited that Arsenal Pulp Press agreed to send me an ARC of this title. Ever since I discovered they were releasing a lesbian, ghost novel, I’ve wanted to get my hands on it. I’ve read a few lesbian mystery-ish books that ended up being too predictable or too much like fan fiction, but Sodom Road Exit is not like those at all.

Starla is queer and mentally ill and her struggles are very realistically written. I think the way that Amber Dawn portrays her symptoms of PTSD and general suicidal ideation is accurate, which is a great feat because these illnesses can be hard to describe. I especially liked learning about Starla’s way of coping with triggers and stressors—spelling out words to calm herself down and distract her brain. This is a real technique taught in therapy and seeing it in literature was pretty cool. I found the way that Amber Dawn imagined that a ghost would affect someone with these illnesses interesting as well. PTSD and irregular moods can be difficult to manage on their own; putting sexual chemistry with a ghost on top of them certainly wouldn’t help!

One of my favorite things about Sodom Road Exit is the ending (and not because I’m glad it’s over). It is neither too happy nor too unsatisfying. The ability to wrap things in a way that’s believable and concluding is one that I admire in authors. I really appreciated the character evolution that Starla and her friends at The Point went through. It’s weird that a supernatural/lesbian mystery made me feel so good after finishing it, but I guess that’s Amber Dawn’s special talent.

Lastly, I want to comment on how Sodom Road Exit dealt with one of its character’s wavering sobriety. Hal, someone residing at The Point, struggles with alcoholism. Starla notices that Hal’s drinking is interfering with him properly treating his wife and son, so she works to get him set up with a twelve step program. The way that AA is discussed in this book is really positive and educational. Sometimes addiction and alcoholism are displayed in such a negative light in works of fiction, which is not helpful for reducing the stigma around the disease. Amber Dawn did an excellent job writing about alcoholism in a respectful way.

Overall, I loved Sodom Road Exit. As someone who enjoys reading books with supernatural elements and books with queer characters, I knew I was going to like this book from the very beginning. It definitely met and exceeded my expectations. I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Arsenal Pulp Press for sending me this title in exchange for an honest review. I know I’m going to be thinking about Starla’s story for a while. I’m excited to read more Arsenal Pulp Press books in the future!

Review- Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor 

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: November 1, 2017
Publisher: Rescue Press
Page count: 240
Star rating: 5/5

“Dykes were so cool. What could be more punk than being a dyke? What better way to say fuck you to the Man?”

Paul is a young man, thriving in his college town full of queer kids and working his way through school. Paul has a secret, though: sometimes he can choose to be in a female body. He’s always on the hunt for a new hookup and the fact that he can change his body helps him connect with different types of people and attractions. Paul has always identified with his male self, as it’s his body’s natural form. Suddenly, after Paul spends time at a women’s retreat and develops feelings for a lesbian, he’s unsure where he stands identity-wise. He’s always been a male attracted to all sorts of people, but now he wants to be in his female body for his new love interest. Paul has a lot of learning to do as he realizes he has the power to remain in a female body for longer periods of time than he thought.

I’m so excited to write this review! After a dry spell of LGBTQ books that I didn’t enjoy very much, I’ve hit the Holy Grail. One of the first things that immediately made me like this book was the fact that it used so many queer references that only a queer person would fully understand. Everyone knows that gay clubs play Madonna and sport rainbow flags, but not everyone knows references to queer zines and movies (Paris is Burning!). I enjoyed recognizing some of the culture that Paul mentions and also enjoyed the fact that not every reader would get it the way I did. Books written by queer people for queer people specifically are hard to find. I’m so glad I received this book for the holidays this year (from my girlfriend!) because it put me in a great mood to read more LGBTQ fiction.

There truly was a light bulb over the head moment while I was reading Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl. When Paul begins spending more and more time in a female body, he starts seeing ways in which women are mistreated by men in sexual situations. A man that Paul (as Polly) is flirting with basically forces him to perform oral sex, even though he does not want to. Paul ends up wondering if he was asking for it since he had been flirting with the man. The book outlines common thinking associated with victim blaming and the self-blame victims of sexual assault face. I think Andrea Lawlor introduced many very important lessons throughout her novel, including this one on rape-culture.

I’ve already told my girlfriend that she could start reading this book once I’ve posted my review of it and I plan to recommend it to many other queer people in the future. Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl was almost a feel-good novel for me, as a queer person, because it just made me feel happy to be friends with so many great LGBTQ people who lift me up. That being said, straight, cis people will definitely enjoy this book as well. It  gives a close look into gay culture and straight, cis people can learn a lot from reading it. I’m very pleased that I picked up this book and I look forward to reading more titles from Rescue Press and Andrea Lawlor in the future. I’m eagerly waiting for a sequel!

Review- I Hate Everyone But You

Hi, everyone! I’m sorry it’s been a little over a week since my last post. I came down with a bad cold and was bed ridden for a couple days. I couldn’t even read! It was so frustrating. Hopefully, I can catch back up on my reading goal and power through a few books in the remainder of January. Thanks for sticking with me!

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I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

51HmRkrR+4L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Page count 352
Star rating: 2.5/5

Ava and Gen are best friends who go their separate ways for their freshman year of college. They still communicate constantly via text and email, and the book is written in these electronic formats. The 2 girls couldn’t be anymore different and sometimes these differences cause small fights. Long distance friendship is hard, but Ava and Gen have a chance to make it work. As Gen experiments with drugs and girls, Ava battles social anxiety and her first college parties. Maybe, their differences can actually make their unique friendship thrive.

I’m so disappointed that I didn’t like this book. It is a quick read, yet it took me almost a week to finish it, because I kept putting it off. I wanted to like it (or love it) so badly! I’ve had such bad luck with young adult books with LGBTQ themes lately…I need a redemption soon!

The main reason that I didn’t enjoy I Hate Everyone But You is because it relied WAY too much on tropes and clichés. Ava is the classic ‘good’ girl who has never been to a party before and Gen is the classic bisexual girl who experiments with girls and drugs. I have been both these people—I am a queer girl who struggles with many forms of anxiety and mental health issues—and it is absolutely not this cut and dry. I found myself rolling my eyes whenever Ava or Gen said something too stereotypical, which happened more than a few times. Queerness and social anxiety have so much more to them than this book talk about, which I’m sure the authors know. As someone who knows what it’s like to spend time figuring out her own sexuality, I had high hopes for Gen’s character. Unfortunately, she was stuck with too many of the ‘bad’ girl clichés and became cringey.

Among all the negative things I’ve said about this title, there were a couple of good lessons hidden in the book. Ava continuously says non-politically correct statements, which Gen, annoyed, corrects. The way that Gen educates Ava about LGBTQ issues is very well articulated and inclusive to all demographics included under the queer umbrella. I’ve had some of these key conversations with friends and family members (who, like Ava, only meant well), and the way that Gen explains queer struggles is very on-point.

I was extremely excited for this book and was, ultimately, let down. More than anything, I’m just sad that this title fell flat because it features both a girl who comes to terms with her sexuality AND a girl who faces her mental illnesses. If the two authors of this title ever released another book, I would love to read it because there is a lot of room for growth to fix these things and make a powerful novel. I’m sorry that I had to post another negative review on here, but I felt inclined to share my thoughts on I Hate Everyone But You because of how pumped I was for this book and how well the themes of the title fit my blog.

Review- Like Water

Like Water by Rebecca Podos

31556136Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: October 17, 2017
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Page count: 320
Star rating: 2/5

Savannah Espinoza has a big plan to leave her small town in New Mexico. She wants to be one of the only people to successfully go off to college and not get stuck in the confinement of her hometown. This plan is going well until her father is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. Suddenly, her future does not include moving far away and college is not an option. Savannah completely isolates herself from her high school friends to keep herself from getting hurt. That is, until she meets Leigh. Leigh changes her world and makes her question her identity in very deep ways. She definitely is something extremely special and Savannah wants nothing but to become closer to the girl who makes her feel at home.

This book was a miss for me, which is really disappointing. It had so much potential to be great representation of a queer woman of color, but it missed the mark. After deciding between 2 and 3 stars on Goodreads, I settled on 2 stars. I rarely give books with LGBT characters anything less than 3 stars, but it just had to be done.

There is one scene in the book that was a huge red flag for me. Savannah and Leigh steal Leigh’s brother’s car and drive off to spend time alone. After they pull over and find a nice spot, the two begin drinking alcohol. I’m well aware that many young adult books show minors drinking, so this is not the issue for me. The problem is that the two drive back home, drunk, with no real consequences. Besides Leigh getting yelled at by her brother and drifting over the double yellow line once, nothing bad happens to them. I think this is an irresponsible lesson to put in a book catered to young adults. Drinking and driving is incredibly dangerous and needs to be talked about in literature in a way that reflects how serious it can be. This scene left me with a terrible feeling inside.

One thing that got me super interested in this title was a review that commented on Rebecca Podos’ use of diversity. The review complained that it seemed like the author just threw in as many marginalized groups of people as possible just to win diversity points. To me, these kinds of reviewers seem like old men shaking their fists at the clouds, but I wanted to see if this one had any merit to it. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I specialize in books about diverse topics because I believe representation and education about them are crucial. Despite this, I sort of agree with this other reviewer. Sometimes, I think including too many minorities in a book, just for the sake of including them, can have the opposite effect on a title than the author is (probably) aiming for. The final straw for me was the very end of the book, which I don’t want to spoil. It felt like Rebecca Podos was adding a marginalized demographic just so the book could check off another box. This final addition to the story had no character development leading up to it; it was just kind of…there. If an author wants to add something surprising to the end of a title, it should make sense and connect to the rest of the book. The ending of Like Water just seemed tacked on.

I’m really disappointed that I didn’t like this book as much as I could have. The characters felt very flat to me and I wasn’t a fan of the story in general. I’m glad I gave Like Water a try because I had my eye on it for a while, but I want to warn my followers that the book is not worth your Holiday money. I rarely do completely negative reviews, but it is time for me to step out of my comfort zone. Thanks for tuning in!

Review- Where Women Are Kings

Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Other Press
Page count: 256
Star rating: 5/5

“She felt fiercely protective of him, with his slight frame and huge eyes. She realized that she loved him already, within days, that she’d kill anyone who hurt him.”

7 year old Elijah is looking for an adoptive family. In his short life, he’s been moved around quite a bit, as a result of being hard to work with and violent at some times. Finally, Elijah has found a couple who wants to permanently adopt him. Nikki and Obi make it their mission to provide the best home for Elijah as possible. Slowly, Elijah’s family history comes to light as his biological mother writes letters addressed to him. As more is learned about his birth and experiences as a baby, perhaps Elijah’s actions can be better understood. Nikki and Obi will no doubt try their best, and hopefully that’s enough for Elijah to prosper.

This is the first book in a long time that I finished in less than 24 hours. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Books don’t usually make me cry, but Where Women Are Kings made me cry TWICE. Christie Watson really knows how to play with your heart. This was an all around amazing title. I wish I could give it more than 5 stars.

Where Women Are Kings has a unique format. It’s written in 2 styles. About half of it is in the view of Elijah or his parents. The other half is in a letter format from Elijah’s birth mother. I loved slowly figuring out Elijah’s story and piecing together why he might act out or behave the way he does. Elijah is so delicate and innocent; I wanted to fight for him because he has such a big heart, despite invisible struggles he faces every day. Obi and Nikki care about him so much and it was heartwarming to see their love for him grow and grow. The character development was so beautiful in this book.

I initially picked up Where Women Are Kings because reviews say it touches on racism and mental illness. Both of these themes were very prevalent in the book, so I was not let down. Elijah is Nigerian and Nikki is white. I enjoyed reading the racial and cultural sensitivity that Elijah’s case workers, therapist, and adoptive family give him. A white mother adopting a child of color is something that is so rare in literature, at least in books that I’ve read. It was refreshing to read a title that talked about the thought that goes into adopting child with different colored skin as oneself. In addition, the way Christie Watson wrote about serious mental illnesses was respectful and factual. I don’t want to give away too much, so that’s all I’ll say.

I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Other Press for sending me a copy of this title for review. I’ve officially added this book to my ‘favorites’ shelf on Goodreads, which says a lot. I’m extremely thankful that such a wonderful and moving book found its way to me. I honestly want to give out copies of Where Women Are Kings to my friends for the holidays. I finished this book about 2 weeks ago and I’m still continuously blown away.