Review- An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

51SaGVChQwL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Science fiction
Format: Paperback (advanced copy)
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: Akashic Books
Page count: 340
Star rating: 4.5/5

Aster lives in the lower-decks of a spaceship that is flying through the cosmos in search of a safe planet. Although she lives in this ‘underworld’, a place where inhabitants are considered almost sub-human, she is assistant to the Surgeon. The Surgeon is of the highest rank, the man who solves all the ship’s medical problems, and one of Aster’s best friends. Although the two make an odd pair, they are the perfect match. Aster is teased for not being feminine enough and Theo, the Surgeon, is called names like ‘sissy’ and much worse. Not only is she busy acting as a medical assistant, Aster is also on a mission to figure out what happened to her mom, who died the day she was born. She knows the secrets are hidden somewhere on the spaceship, she just has to piece all the clues together.

An Unkindness of Ghosts opens with a scene portraying Aster amputating a young child, Flick’s, leg. Gender identity is one of the first things mentioned in the book, which was very interesting and exciting. Flick comes from a low-deck where children are referred to with gender neutral pronouns. Even though, on Aster’s deck, children are assigned feminine pronouns, she does not consider Flick’s identity weird or strange in any way; it’s just the way Flick is. This automatic acceptance of someone’s identity, despite it being different than the one Aster grew up around, is amazing. Someday, I hope it’s the norm to respect other’s identities without second thought, just as Aster did. I already knew I was going to love An Unkindness of Ghosts from the first few pages.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you probably know that strong female characters are my FAVORITE. Reading about brave women who stand their ground in the face of evil that is bigger than them gives me hope that, in the future, well-known books won’t mostly feature male protagonists. I’ve found that science fiction, especially, is male dominated. For this reason, I am so thrilled about An Unkindness of Ghosts, because Aster is the powerful sci-fi lady that I’ve been waiting for. She was such a pleasure to get to know. I found this book comparable, in a strange way, to The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet, which is one of my all-time favorite books. Both of these novels highlight space women who don’t take any BS from their opponents. I absolutely love that.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is a science fiction book that deserves to be on ‘must read’ lists for feminism in sci-fi. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice science fiction novel with a bad-ass female protagonist and interesting commentary about sexuality and gender identity. Thank you to the publisher for sending me an advanced copy of the book after I expressed my interest in it. I enjoyed it very much and I won’t forget Aster and her adventures.

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Review- Elmina’s Fire

Hey everyone! Sorry for the delay between reviews. I got really sick last weekend and it set me way, way behind. But, I’m back with a review request I got from Selby Ink a few months ago. I’m so excited to share my thoughts with you all!

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Elmina’s Fire by Linda Carleton

51mICVoYh3L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: She Writes Press
Page count: 330
Star rating: 3.5/5

Elmina’s mind, full of guilt, torments her daily. Her father raised her as a Catholic, but didn’t have the funds to set her up with a husband and sent her to live with the Cathars, who oppose Catholicism. Elmina respects the Cathars, since they treat her kindly, but feels like a traitor living in a house run by people who don’t agree with her views. The Catholics and the Cathars are in the midst of a war that’s only getting worse and Elmina feels like she’s in the middle of it. Elmina has urges to run away from the generous people who have become like her family, in hopes of finding refuge within the religion she’s always loved. Living in a house full of those who do not respect her faith is too much guilt for such a young girl to handle.

I like Elmina a lot—her character, her voice, her mind. Her faith and loyalty to Catholicism is very admirable. The internal hell that her mind resides in is one I’ve seen in many stories featuring strong females that are faced with big obstacles, like Elmina. She certainly tackles the war within her body and mind with determination not often found in women that young. Elmina’s depression is very evident in the tone and choice of words that she uses; it made me very sad to hear such hopelessness. The book reads as a letter to her God, whom she has tried so hard to devote her life to, but been faced with opposition to almost all her young life. I wanted so badly to hold Elmina’s hand and tell her that it is possible to calm the battles within your mind; it just takes practice and hard work. The entire book felt so raw, it really touched me.

Elmina’s Fire is the first book I’ve read that talks about the type of guilt that can be associated with religion and questioning one’s faith. On the other hand, this book also sheds light on how healing and uniting religion can be. Elmina experiences both of these extremities. The pain and shame she feels while living among Cathars is enormous, and yet, the sense of community she feels when surrounded by Catholics is also huge. This book definitely showed me some aspects of religion that I had never been exposed to before.

Even though I liked this book a lot, I have one critique. For me, Elmina’s Fire was a little slow in the beginning. I could tell that the pace was going to pick up closer to 1/3 the way in, but the first 50 pages or so were hard to get through. I’m very glad I stuck with the book, because I ended up enjoying it. I do wish the beginning of the book had been as interesting as the rest of it, though.

I want to give a big thank you to Selby Ink for the giving me a copy of this wonderful book they represent in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed getting to know Elmina and being exposed to aspects of Christianity that I hadn’t known before. Empowered, brave female characters are my favorite, and Elimina is certainly one of them.

Review- Blackmail, My Love

Blackmail, My love by Katie Gilmartin

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Mystery
Format: Paperback
Publication date: November 18, 2014
Publisher: Cleis Press
Page count: 290
Star rating: 3.5/5

Before I start this review, I want to give a shout out to Cleis Press. I discovered them at the New York City Pride Festival, where they had their own booth. We exchanged information and they have been very kind in every email. I was gifted a copy of Blackmail, My Love in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Cleis Press!

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“No one else can know what is right for you. What’s right for you might seem wrong to someone else, and that’s okay, because maybe it’s wrong for them. But if your heart wants it, God put that desire there, and it is the right desire for you.”

Josie is on the search for her brother, Jimmy, who recently disappeared. Jimmy is a gay man serving on the San Francisco police force, who frequented local queer bars until the community thought he was ratting them out. As the search goes on, Josie experiments with the way she presents herself to others and becomes closer to people in gay nightlife of San Fran. Josie is determined to clear her brother’s name and get to the bottom of his unsolved missing persons case that has been suspiciously swept under the rug.

My favorite parts of Blackmail, My Love were the queer history lessons it gave. I learned a lot about what it was like to be gay in the 1950’s and I, now, very clearly recognize how lucky we are to live as minorities in the present world. I usually feel satisfied with myself while reading a book that is both educational and interesting, so Blackmail, My Love was a great choice.

This book was raw, it really told the story of 1950 San Francisco in a blunt manner. There were scenes of police officers abusing queer people, suicides committed because of homophobia, and gay hate crimes. For most of the book, Josie presents herself as a man by the name of Joe. (I’m using female pronouns because the back of the book uses them.) In the beginning chapters, Josie is still learning how to shop for and wear men’s clothing. I want to highlight a couple paragraphs in which Josie is looking for a new men’s suit. The employees in this store pretty quickly realize that Josie is not biologically a male and begin harassing her. Actually, it gets to a point when the readers know that Josie will be sexually assaulted if she gets trapped in this situation. The men say,

“Is that your big prick? Come on girly, lay it down and take a look at a real one.”

This line really shook me. This is the moment when the verbal exchange goes from verbally to sexually harassing a transgender person. I remember sticky tabbing this quotation because the turning point in this speaking scene is so blatant and…horrifying. The sticky note was also to signify something in the book that made me extremely sad. This portion of the book, in general, made me sad because I know that there are people who still, today, would say these things to a transgender individual. These types of people are on the news; they’re marching on college campuses and holding rallies in big cities. It’s very depressing.

Blackmail, My Love truly educated me on parts of queer history that I’m not well versed in. For example, I was not very familiar with gay bars paying cops not to raid them. I mean, bar owners really had to hand over envelopes of cash so police officers wouldn’t arrest people for just occupying space in a gay bar. I’m lucky to live in a time and place where people aren’t actively thrown in jails for nothing more than which bars they like to attend. In the 1950’s, people weren’t that lucky.

The actual story of this book wasn’t as interesting as the history lessons it provided. I was really captivated by learning about what life was like as a queer person 60 years ago. The solving of the mystery didn’t stand out very much to me, maybe because I was too engrossed by the other aspects of the novel.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The lessons it gave were crucial to my understanding of the privilege it is to live in a post 2010 United States. I want to thank Cleis Press for my copy of Blackmail, My Love. I’m extremely glad that I stopped by their booth at NYC Pride. If you’re looking for a captivating book to educate you on gay history, this is the one for you!

Review- Get It Together, Delilah!

Get It Together, Delilah! by Erin Gough

51aXj4JnGAL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Page Count: 336 pages
Star rating: 3.5/5 stars

Delilah has a lot of responsibilities for just a high school student. Her dad is away, so she’s stuck managing The Flywheel, his coffee shop. With that commitment, on top of relentless bullying from homophobes at school, Delilah decides to leave academics to work at The Flywheel full time. On a positive note, this gives her more opportunities to not-so-randomly run into her long-time crush, Rosa. Delilah daydreams of Rosa confessing her undying love for her, but she’s aware that this probably will never happen. With big coffee shop competition down the road, Delilah struggles to balance The Flywheel, her gigantic crush on a girl who may not ever like her back, and her school friends who pester her to come back to school.

I want to start out by mentioning the title of this book. Before it was released outside of Australia, this book was named The Flywheel. I, personally, think this was a much better name. The Flywheel is the most important location in the novel, so that was a very fitting title. The title Get It Together, Delilah! confused me a bit.

My favorite part about this book was watching Delilah come to accept that not every queer person can easily come out of the closet like she did. She gets frustrated with some of the other characters in the book who are scared or unable to come out to their families and friends. I’ve seen this frustration in people that I know, personally. Sometimes, LGBT folks who have open-minded loved ones don’t understand why others, in scarier situations, can’t openly call themselves gay. Not everyone is lucky enough to be close to people who are accepting of queer folks, and this is an unfortunately reality for many LGBT people, especially youth. Getting to see Delilah grow into someone who is sensitive to those in rougher situations was very comforting. I love character growth like that!

I actually found myself laughing at one point in the book. I don’t know why I found this so comical, maybe because it’s relatable for queer people, but when Delilah was drunkenly ‘experimenting’ with her male friend, I laughed out loud. It was funny seeing them try to make it work, but in the end they just made a joke of it and decided it could never happen. This is something pretty common in the gay community, but I’m sure this scene is funny to basically anyone.

The only thing that disappointed me about Get It Together, Delilah! was the plot depth. I don’t get a bigger picture kind of feeling after finishing this book. It doesn’t really have a meaning to the reader once they turn the final page. It’s just…over. I wish this work affected me in some way, but it didn’t.

Overall, I liked Get It Together, Delilah!. I read a lot of LGBT fiction, and this wasn’t my favorite, but it was still a good choice for me. It’s fairly short, so it made for a quick read. I’m very glad I stopped by the Chronicle Books booth at BookCon this year and picked it up!

Review- Blood Sacrifice

Blood Sacrifice by Barry Hoffman

“Though he doubted himself more than ever, he was too close to succumb to despondency. He owed it to himself to persevere. More importantly, he owed it to Yvette. To all his Yvettes”

BloodSacrificeGenre: Mystery
Format: Paperback
Publication date: March 27, 2017
Publisher: Rebel Press
Page count: 391
Star Rating: 4/5

Thea Hughes and her police partner, Ariel, are called to duty when someone dumps the body of a runaway girl covered in a painting of her own blood. Thea, the only openly lesbian officer on her squad, knows she was only put on homicide because of politics and is working on proving herself to her partner and boss. The two cops are moving too slowly while solving the murder, as the case could be leaked to the media at any moment, until Thea meets Ali. Ali is Thea’s twin; they look exactly the same, aside from a scar on Ali’s face, but have almost opposite personalities. Ali has unique insight into the killer and is, actually, destined to meet him. Thea, while simultaneously falling in love with her, prepares Ali for her meeting with the murderer. Thea is trying to piece together the case before her other half becomes the next victim of her case.

First, I want to start off by highlighting how interesting and gripping Blood Sacrifice is. I don’t read mysteries very often, as I think they can be formulaic, but I’m very glad I chose to pick up this book. There were many scenes in which I thought I could guess what would happen next, and I was wrong every time. Honestly, this is a great feat because I’m, surprisingly, a great plot guesser! I’m extremely satisfied with the amount of twists and turns this mystery took. It was a really enjoyable ride, getting to know Thea and see her evolve into someone more confident.

I also want to mention that this book is complex. It has a lot of characters and relationships going on. A paragraph summary is certainly not enough to cover all the important people and themes. Intricate relationships and characters certainly are what make this book so thrilling. Although this is a huge positive for Blood Sacrifice, it’s also something that made the book hard to digest. There was so much going on that it was a little hard to keep everything straight. For example, I thought the concept of twins wasn’t explained well enough. I was a bit confused trying to figure out what exactly a twin was, but I slowly figured it out as the book went on. I’m not sure if an explanation was left out to keep the reader guessing, but I felt a little left out by the lack of description.

For me, the only major thing that bothered me in Blood Sacrifice was the F/F sexual scenes. I could tell that this book was written by a man. Many of the sex scenes involved food in ways that would not be pleasurable or comfortable for people with vaginas. I think that a little more research on this would have made this book a 5 star rating for me.

I want to give a big thank you to the Golden Brick Road Publishing booth at BookCon for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I had a really fun time reading Blood Sacrifice and getting to know Thea. The relationships, the characters, the murders, and the motives were very intricate and enjoyable to follow. Ali and Thea are certainly a couple to watch out for, as twins and life partners.

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!

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.