Review- Idlewild

Idlewild by Jude Sierra

51siHUGjx-L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Romance
Format: Paperback
Publication date: December 1, 2016
Publisher: Interlude Press
Page count: 234
Star rating: 4.5/5

 

“It’s been more than long enough for Asher to move past the debilitating stages of grief, past the longing and loneliness, past knowing he’d never be able to love someone else that way and past the moment he realized that though he’d never have that again, he could have something.
Somehow, that realization required it’s own grief.”

I haven’t read a romance in so long. But, man, did I love this. It’s full of EVERYTHING—passion, fluffiness, parts that make you smile so wide your face hurts, and parts that make you put down the book and cry for a quick second. I’m so happy I picked up Idlewild at the Interlude Press booth at BookCon. This is my first ever review of a romance, and I’m so, so excited to write this!

Asher is starting anew. He’s firing his entire staff at his restaurant, Idlewild, and clearing the slate. He and his partner, John, started Idlewild back when they both dreamed of owning a restaurant in Detroit. Now, years after John’s death, Asher wants a crew that never knew his old life. Tyler, a young man with passion-filled eyes, joins his team as a rookie server. From the beginning, Asher is drawn to Tyler in ways that he cannot explain, and the feeling is mutual. Tyler, in an unsteady relationship, yearns to find a place at Idlewild and Asher searches for someone to connect with after John’s death. Perhaps, these two men can find what they’re looking for in each other.

Let’s start with the quotation I highlighted above—

Idlewild brings up the parts of grief that aren’t usually talked about in romance novels that involve love after loss. Asher has long accepted that he’ll never again have what he and John had, but he’s at the point where he can see himself having some sort of relationship with someone new. This realization brings up its own kind of mourning. Asher is torn because finding solace in Tyler can feel like pushing John out of his mind and life. Tyler does an amazing job showing Asher that talking about John instead of bottling his grief up can be very healing and release so much guilt about starting a new relationship. This is something beautiful.

I loved the contrast between Tyler and Asher. Tyler is young, he is not quite sure who he wants to be, and he’s full of light and charisma. Asher has more life experience under his belt, he keeps to himself, and he doesn’t show emotions easily. The two men are very different, but they complete each other in ways that make their relationship function well. It was such a journey to see Asher help Tyler find his place in the world, as well as Tyler help Asher confront his grief. Many scenes with the two of them together were so moving that I actually cried. Yes, this is the first book to make me cry real, physical tears in 2017. Idlewild certainly put me through it.

Well, now I really want to read more romance. But seriously, it was such a pleasure getting to witness Asher and Tyler’s budding relationship. I can’t believe I actually cried, but I’m also not too surprised because there were many emotion-filled scenes. This novel left me feeling very pleased, which I’m grateful for. I’m not one for books that make me uncomfortable, so Idlewild was right up my alley. I’m excited to read the other Interlude Press books that I got at BookCon!

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Review- Rosie Colored Glasses (ARC)

Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson

cover112238-mediumGenre: Adult fiction
Format: ARC paperback (thank you Harlequin!)
Publication date: February 20, 2018
Publisher: MIRA
Page count: 329 (keep in mind that this is an uncorrected proof)
Star rating: 5/5

Wow! I loved this book. I’m so grateful that Harlequin gave me an ARC at BookCon. This is easily my favorite read of the summer, so far. There are a few content warnings I’d like to give, but some of them will spoil the plot. The big one that I’ll mention is that this book talks about addiction in great depth. I’m really looking forward to this review, so please read on!

Even though she was stoned.
Even though she promised herself she wouldn’t do this.
Even though she wished none of this was happening.
Rosie drove to Rex’s house to pick up her children.”

Willow is just a fifth grader trying to navigate through her marshmallow cereal, a little brother with a lisp, and her parent’s divorce. Besides a few accidents, including one on the playground with her classmates, Willow is doing a pretty great job keeping herself together, especially with the strict rules at her dad’s house. Rosie, her mom, is the more fun parent. Rosie lets Willow and her brother eat ice cream late at night and put on makeup and costumes before watching a movie. Things are going particularly well for Willow, Rosie even visits her at recess, but then something in her mom changes. Willow wants her fun, care-free, loudly loving Rosie back, but she’s afraid that mom is gone forever.

This book is told in the different perspectives of Willow’s family members. I was blown away by the narrations from Willow and Rosie because they are so raw. Seriously, I felt like I was looking into their souls. Willow is so full a fear and just wants love. She wants love from everyone, especially her father, Rex, who she does not get any love from. She craves that father-daughter love so badly that it hinders her relationship with Rex. What she doesn’t know is that Rex wants that love too, but shuts himself out. This is a beautiful (that somehow feels like the right word to use here) dilemma that taps into deep concepts of love in family dynamics. I’m taken aback by how much Willow’s need for affection and comfort touched me.

I want to go back to the quotation that I inserted above the synopsis of this title. One thing that many addicts use to distinguish themselves from recreational substance users is the fact that they cross boundaries they lay out for themselves. For example, someone may tell themself that they will drink no more than twice a week; and they will stick to that rule. On the other hand, someone who struggles with substance abuse will break rules that they set for themself, as the disease makes it impossible for them to stop. A lot of people don’t understand this aspect of addiction. Although it encourages self-blaming thinking, it is not uncommon for people to think “why can’t addicts just choose to stop taking their drug of choice?” I’m really glad that Rosie Colored Glasses included this passage about Rosie breaking the boundaries she sets for herself and what she will not do while on drugs.

In addition to the quotation I inserted into the beginning of this novel, I want to point out one more:

“Vicodin welcomed Rosie’s affinity for her high. Vicodin coiled around Rosie and squeezed her so tight she was unable to move. Unable to parent. Unable to do much of anything at all. Except lie there alone and breathe.
Until she couldn’t even do that.”

I don’t really have much to say about this quotation, because I know what I write will not do it justice. I’d just like my readers to reflect on what this is trying to say about substance abuse and how much drugs can both bring someone up and push them back down.

I’m so excited for this book to hit bookstore shelves in February. This was the realest, most raw book I’ve read in 2017, so far. Willow’s crippling desire to be loved is something I’ll never forget. Rosie’s growing dependence on opiates and how it affects everyone in her family will stay with me, as well. I’m ready to name Rosie Colored Glasses to every adult who asks me for book recommendations. Brianna Wolfson did an amazing job with this book. Thank you to Harlequin for kindly giving me a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

May/June 2017 Wrap Up!

May/June 2017 Wrap Up

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Books read: 11

Hello everyone! I’m back on track with my wrap-ups. I tried to take a good photo of them all, but then remembered that some were from the library. So, not all of them are pictured, but I tried my best! Overall, I had a solid reading month and got through many requests and books from BookCon. My reviews averaged a little lower than usual, at a 3.09. Here’s the breakdown:

I Must Have You by JoAnna Novak // fiction // 3 stars.
~~~~I picked this up because it was the first book I’ve seen in a long time that deals with eating disorders. To build on this, most books about eating disorders are YA, so they often don’t elaborate on the ugly parts of the illnesses. This book really showed how scary anorexia and bulimia can be. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a big fan of the plot, so that affected the review for me. If you want to see my full review: click here x.

It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura // YA fiction // 4 stars
~~~~I was so excited that my workplace was sent the ARC for this title. It’s about a queer, Asian-American girl who moves to a new school and finds herself crushing on a female classmate. It’s such a wonderful story that also touches on racism and homophobia. There was one chapter that made me cringe, so my review went down one star. Other than that, I loved this book!

Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley // YA fiction // 4 stars
~~~~My first Robin Talley book! It was everything I could want from a ‘queer girls goes off to summer camp and finds herself’ novel. I went to the Harlequin booth at BookCon, in search of recommendations, and they named this book. I had already read it, but I was so happy that the representative and I got to chat about it briefly. Beware, this is a really cute book. In addition, has a few sexual scenes, if that bothers you. This was my favorite book of May!

Rest in the Mourning by r.h. Sin // poetry // 4 stars
~~~~This is the best poetry book I’ve read in a while. I had a dry spell where I couldn’t really get into any poetry books I picked up. This one definitely got me out of that funk. The poems were mostly short, but they touched on delicate subjects, like consent and rape. r.h. Sin really captured me with this work.

Cottonmouths by Kelly J. Ford // fiction // 3 stars
~~~~I picked up this book because I hadn’t read a F/F mystery in a long time. It ended up not being very F/F or mystery at all. It is mostly a very, very uncomfortable fiction novel with a queer main character who is super unlikeable. I kept reading because I was intrigued at how squirmy I was getting. If you want to see my few review of this book, click here x.

Memories by Lang Leav // poetry // 3 stars
~~~~I didn’t care for this collection of poems very much. This is probably because I can’t relate to break-up and broken hearted themes. I ended up skipping through most of the book just for the sake of getting through it. I’m disappointed, because I’ve heard so many great things about Lang Leave, but I just couldn’t do this one.

Smack by Melvin Burgess // fiction // 3 stars
~~~~I picked up this book because it was on a Goodreads list with Crank and Go Ask Alice, both which I loved. I aim to read a lot of books about addiction, as I believe that it’s a disease that the general public needs to know more about. This book was a very quick read, similar to the two books I mentioned before. Unfortunately, it wasn’t executed as well as the other ones and was much less interesting. Still, a great read with important takeaways.

Charlotte and Daisy by Amanda Rotach Huntley // science fiction // 4 stars
~~~~This was the first book I read after I got back from BookCon. It was the perfect start to my enormous pile of 27 books. The story touches on mental illnesses, specifically depression and PTSD, and has many educational scenes in it. I am very pleased with the amount of research and effort Amanda Rotach Huntley puts into her writing. If you want to read my full review, click here x.

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell // science fiction // 4 stars
~~~~I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All 20 short stories brought me into their own wacky world. I’m not a short story fan, but these really blew me away. If you’re looking for a quick, weird sci-fi read, this is it. My full review can be found here x.

10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac // YA fiction // 3 stars
~~~~I’m really looking forward to writing a full review of this. This book touches on anxiety, alcoholism, and LGBT themes. I was not a fan of how the anxiety piece of this book was executed. It wasn’t written in a way for neurotypical people to enjoy reading it. Once the book got past that and into the second half, it was AMAZING. The way the main character’s budding queer relationship developed and the scenes with her alcoholic father played out were very well written. Be on the look out for a review in the future!

Understanding the Alacran by Jonathan LaPoma // fiction // 3 stars
~~~~This was another request that the author kindly sent to me in exchange for a review. This book truly showed the reality of alcoholism. The characters were also very developed, although unlikeable. I’m so glad this book made its way to me, because I learned a lot from it. If you want to see my full review, click here x.

That’s it for my wrap-up! I’m noticing that I mostly stuck to fiction for the past 2 months. I did read a lot of YA, though, which is different. I’m glad that I read so many LGBT themed books, since June was pride month. Thanks for tuning in with me and I’ll see you at the end of July!

Review- Understanding the Alacran

Understanding the Alacran by Jonathan LaPoma

Genre: Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 422
Publisher: Almendro Arts
Publication Date: August 23, 2017

3/5 stars

UnderstandAlacran_FrntCvr_3.13.17“I think that, maybe, you get too close to things that are ugly because you want to make them beautiful. I see that you are suffering. But you have a gift. I don’t think you realize how special you are.” 

After seeing the darker side of teaching in the US, Will moves to Mexico to escape what could turn into a drug problem. Though he has a limited amount of savings that quickly dwindles, he manages to have some good times there. Most of Will’s days are filled with excessive drinking, partying, flirting with girls, and more drinking. He sees a pattern with the girls he gets involved with—they all leave him after a few days of fun. In a time of darkness, Will meets a woman who changes the way he views himself and the world.

-I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review-

The first thing that I want to mention is that I really, really disliked the main character, Will. This is not completely a bad thing, because it means Jonathan LaPoma wrote him as a very developed and multifaceted character. In the first few chapters, Will is meh, for me. He is just a young man trying to run away from a dark lifestyle that almost consumed him. As the story goes, his true colors of misogyny come out. He continuously treats women badly, hooks up with them, and then thinks horrible things about them once they dump him. He’s in this thought pattern of “woe is me, women are monsters and won’t give me a chance”, even though he has many preconceptions of different women before he meets them. I mean, this guy is super unlikeable. As I said, this means that he was written well and is a dimensional character.

I think the most important part about Understanding the Alacran is that it illustrates the ugliness of alcoholism. Will is obviously an alcoholic. He binge drinks almost every single night. There is a scene when he’s traveling with a woman who really wants him to stop drinking for a little while because they’re riding a bus with strangers. Will basically laughs at her and drinks excessively the whole trip. In addition, he also spends all his traveling money on beer and forces his angry companion to pay for his bus ticket. Blowing all of one’s money on alcohol and not caring how it affects other people is a sign of a drinking problem. There are also multiple times when he tells himself that he will not drink as much on certain nights. Without fail, Will always breaks his promises and gets blackout drunk. Not keeping promises that one sets for oneself is another sign of alcoholism. Describing traits of a drinking problem without trivializing it is important for education. I’m glad Jonathan LaPoma wrote about alcoholism in a responsible way and put this work out there for the public to learn from.

One thing that I didn’t like about Understanding the Alacran was the pace of the story. I remember at page 255, I was still wondering when I would get to the point of the book. Most of the book was just describing a man’s life without a big picture or purpose. The first 53% (I remember checking the percentage on GoodReads) really dragged on and I considered putting the work down completely. I’m really glad I didn’t, but the temptation was there. I wish the book had been 2/3 the length and left out some of the superfluous details of drunk nights and parties.

I have mostly good things to say about Understanding the Alacran, but the slow first half of the book bumped my rating down to a 3/5 stars. This book comes out in August, so be on the lookout for it! I recommend it to people who want to read about the reality of alcoholism. I want to thank Jonathan LaPoma for sending a copy of his work in exchange for an honest review.

Review- Nothing is Strange

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell

4/5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 144
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication date: December 31, 2015

25099252A man called Dunce who is bald with a pointed head, a couple who wishes that their genitals would fall off, and a clone who gets locked up in a shed, are all different types of people who make appearances in Nothing is Strange. The 20 short stories exist in their own fantastical lands that each have their own special laws of physics. What happens when right arms are nonexistent or the act of crying is never heard of? These things are just normal occurrences in Mike Russell’s writings.

Earlier this year, I was gifted a copy of Mike Russell’s other book, Strange Medicine. It was the first short collection in a long time that I actually enjoyed. I went into Nothing is Strange with high expectations and I was not disappointed. Thank you to the Strange Books team forsending me this title!

Mike Russell has a brain similar to Douglas Adams’. His stories make almost no sense at all, which actually makes them sort of make sense. He begins each short story in a world with at least one strange concept and then builds off of that with seemingly random events and characters. Reading his work is almost like riding a roller coaster, except you can’t see and don’t know where all the curves and drops are. Although, I don’t like roller coasters, but I liked Nothing is Strange.

My favorite thing about these short stories is that most of them don’t make any sense until the last paragraph or last sentence. Or in some cases, the stories don’t make any sense and the last sentence makes even less sense. For example, “Lesley Visits the Barber” ends with “thus beginning the universe”. While reading the story, I had no idea where I would end up, but the beginning of the universe was not it. I haven’t read a book that blindsided me so many times since finishing the “Dirk Gently” series a few years ago. That’s truly saying something about Mike Russell’s writing technique.

I also want to comment on the story length, as I think it says a lot. The stories range from 3 to 9 pages. That is not very much room to develop a made-up world and characters. The fact that Mike Russell can give enough detail and context for a reader to imagine the setting of each story is amazing. While reading Nothing is Strange, I never felt confused due to the short length of the book.

It’s clear to me that it takes quite a bit of talent to successfully write a collection of short stories such as Nothing is Strange. I’m so honored that Strange Books sent me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. It was such an enjoyable read for me, as I love science fiction. If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams, you’ll love this book.

Review- Charlotte and Daisy

Charlotte and Daisy by Amanda Rotach Lamkin

4/5 stars

Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Line by Lion Publications
Publication date: August 19th, 2015
Page count: 448

51YFXSPYupL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Charlotte has lived her life crippled by severe depression for too long. After multiple hospitalizations, she decides to apply for a procedure that would alter the way her mind functions. To Charlotte’s surprise, the doctors choose her to be their patient, the operation is done, and her brain is reconstructed. Suddenly, Charlotte’s life is turned around and she becomes interested in things that never appealed to her before, such as relationships and a career path. The only thing that could hinder her development is a malfunction in her programming, but her new life is worth the risk.

Amanda Rotach Lamkin does an amazing job depicting the realities of depression and how scary the illness can be. Charlotte has spent long periods of time in treatment centers, experienced bouts of the inability to get out of bed, and been prescribed many, many medications. These are all things that happen to real people who suffer from depression. It’s refreshing to read a book that doesn’t tip toe around the ‘unattractive’ symptoms of mental illnesses. It was also nice to see that, even after Charlotte gets her operation done, she is not 100% ‘cured’ of her illnesses. She still has times when her brain reverts back to things like catastrophic or black and white thinking patterns. Even with the brain surgery done, Charlotte still has to manage stress and triggers. Mental illnesses are always a work in progress, you cannot just ‘get better’ and be relieved of all symptoms forever, even in Charlotte’s case.

I really liked Charlotte’s boyfriend, Aidian, as well. He is the perfect example of how a loved one of someone with depression should act. Aidian is always there for Charlotte, good day or bad, and loves her unconditionally. I think that Amanda Rotach Lamkin did an excellent job writing the scene in which Charlotte has flashbacks while her and Aidian are being intimate. Flashbacks are a very real experience for people with PTSD and sex can be triggering. The way Aidian reacts to Charlotte’s flashbacks is very raw and it is easy to tell that he deeply cares about her, even though he doesn’t completely understand what is happening. Aidian truly is a good guy and the way he was written was perfect.

Actually, I want to dedicate a paragraph to a discussion about the flashback scene. Charlotte closes her eyes, experiences a flashback of being forced into sex when she was younger, and then runs away from Aidian and locks herself in the bathroom. Charlotte’s whirlwind of emotions of fear, confusion, and shame are all too real for people that suffer from PTSD and trauma related illnesses. Her body reacts in a way that she doesn’t understand and she feels ashamed of it. She is so ashamed that she doesn’t even want to explain what happened to Aidian, basically leaving him in the dark and unsure of what the problem was. This scene really proved to me that Amdan Rotach Lamkin is a responsible author who does her research on the characters she writes about.

Charlotte and Daisy was an excellent start to my BookCon haul. I wanted to read a new book about characters with mental illnesses for a while, so I’m really happy right now. I admire the work that Amanda Rotach Lamkin puts into her writing and character development; she wrote about depression and PTSD in a very responsible and educational way. In addition, this book is such a great homage to Flowers for Algernon. If you’re looking for a good diverse book, this is it.

Review- Cottonmouths (And Update!)

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for being a bit distant over the past week or so. I went on vacation for a week (apartment hunting!) and then attended BOOKCON! Last weekend was one of the best times of my entire life. I spoke with a lot of authors and publishers, some indie and some not, and connected with so many wonderful people. Everyone I talked to was very kind and we bonded over our shared love of diverse books. I can’t wait to read and review all the books I got from the convention! Stay tuned!

Now, for the review.

Cottonmouths: A Novel by Kelly J. Ford

 2.5/5 stars

Binding: Hardcover
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: June 6th, 2017
Page count: 286

51TkKyf-iOL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Emily Skinner, newly dropped out of college, is now back in her hometown in Arkansas. She’s living in her parents’ house, surrounded by gossip and judgment from her mom. To top it all off, Emily’s old crush, Jody, is back in town with her baby. Although Emily knows she’s trouble, she can’t stay away from Jody. After getting kicked out of her parents’ house over a dispute about her sexuality, Jody offers Emily a job as a babysitter and invites her to stay in her spare bedroom. Emily has always dreamed that maybe someday Jody could love her, especially considering the hints she’s giving lately. Soon, Emily realizes the mess that she’s walked into and, more important, realizes that she can’t escape it.

I’m always on the lookout for upcoming lesbian fiction. I constantly watch and track new releases on Goodreads and BookRiot. I hadn’t picked up a lesbian mystery in a while, so my gut told me to start Cottonmouths. It isn’t my favorite book of June, but it is certainly interesting. If you’re not into F/F storylines, do not fear, because this book doesn’t really revolve around Jody’s sexuality, it’s more of a side topic.

I’m trying to pinpoint why this book wasn’t a 5 star rating for me. It has a lot of components that I usually love, like queer themes, so I’m a bit confused. I’ve done a lot of thinking and realized that Cottonmouths made me really, really uncomfortable. I’m generally not good with books that make me feel unnerved, creeped out, or otherwise squirmy. Some books are just too much for me– too scary, too gory, too cringeworthy, you name it. I’m not sure what this book was too much of, but something left me feeling unsettled. I’m not someone who enjoys uncomfortable books, but this book is perfect for someone who is able and likes to stomach them.

Something that I did like about Cottonmouths was how much it reminded me of Gillian Flynn’s writing style. It’s most comparable to Sharp Objects, in my opinion. There is less blood, but it has the same concept of a protagonist who the reader slowly beings to like less and less as the book goes on. In the beginning, Jody is someone who you can really feel sorry for, since she just dropped out of college and is struggling to find a job. As the chapters go by, Jody becomes less relatable and more unlikeable. This is something that makes me admire an author, because it’s not easy to do well. I think Emily J. Ford did a nice job transitioning Emily from a sweet girl into a dangerous woman in love with the wrong person.

Another great thing about Cottonmouths is the character depth. Emily and Jody both have so much going on inside them. Neither of them is all good or all bad, which can make it difficult for the reader to determine who is the one they should be “rooting for”. Kelly J. Ford does an excellent job making some things obvious (Emily is in love with Jody) but keeping a few key things secret (but, does Jody love Emily back?). I really have a hard time with books with no redeemable characters, so this was a downside for me, but I’m sure it’s an upside for some people.

I really wish I had been able to stomach Cottonmouths a bit more. The characters were very well developed and Kelly J. Ford excelled at making all her major characters very dislikable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right pick for me, for personal preference. I’d recommend this to someone who wants a good mystery that leaves them feeling uncomfortable and angry with the main characters.