Review- Chasing Shadows

Chasing Shadows (The Star Hunters Book 1) by K.N. Salustro

51CGs2hbiiL._SY445_QL70_Genre: Science fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: February 24, 2014
Publisher: CreateSpace
Page count: 234
Star rating: 3.5/5

Lissa is one of the most dangerous bounty hunters known to the Star Federation. Her latest victim put her on the list of high priority criminals that the army is searching for. The Feds believe they’re hot on Lissa’s trail by searching every ship that leaves the planet of her most recent kill. When they end up successfully tracking the right ship, the Feds don’t realize they’re falling into the trap of Neo-Andromedans, an alien species who alters human DNA to form faster and smarter super-humans. Lissa is trying her best not to get caught by the Star Feds or Neo-Andromedans, while the Star Feds have no idea what they’re getting into. Ultimately, someone is going to surrender and lives are going to be lost, right? The Star Feds are large and mighty, but the killer aliens may be one step ahead of them.

I met K.N. Salustro at BookCon this year when I visited her booth and picked up a copy of Chasing Shadows. She was extremely nice and a pleasure to speak with, which made me excited to read her book. I was not disappointed with her work and I’m very excited to publish this review!

I haven’t read a classic hunt-and-chase science fiction novel in a long time. Chasing Shadows was the perfect book to get me back into sci-fi, as I had forgotten how much I love it. I really enjoy reading about strange, alien planets that authors create with their imaginations, and this book is certainly full of them. I thought the Neo-Andromedan storyline was very clever; a species that genetically mutates humans is not a common occurrence in sci-fi literature that I’ve read. I was both fascinated and terrified of them! N.K. Salustro has an extraordinary brain that managed to create one of my favorite animals I’ve heard of—Arkins. They’re kind of like flying pet dogs, so, of course, I NEED one. A quick search on Google just told me that K.N. Salustro’s booth at Bookcon was selling Arkin stuffed animals and now I’m super bummed that I missed out. Anyway, Arkins sound like the coolest pets ever.

Lissa is a very strong female character—something that I’m a huge fan of. I’ve noticed that many genres, especially science fiction, are dominated by books that feature almost no females, aside from female slaves. It’s very refreshing to read an adult sci-fi book that focuses on a female who is brave, powerful, and stands up to the male characters she encounters. The contrast between how caring and soft Lissa is towards her Arkin and how unmoving and cold she is to her Star Fed enemies really touched me. I wouldn’t change anything about the way her character was written.

I’m very glad I bought a copy of Chasing Shadows at BookCon this year. It was a pleasure to read and get a glimpse of the world inside K.N. Salustro’s mind. Lissa’s character will stay with me for a while, as strong female characters in adult science fiction are a rare occurrence for me. Thank you to the author for introducing me to a sc-fi lady who I ended up loving!

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Review- Guapa

Guapa by Saleem Haddad

9781590517697Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Other Press
Page count: 354
Star rating: 4/5

“This Arabness. This Muslimness. This was all new. A new marker of difference. A “thing” I had been my whole life. A thing which I had previously not given a second thought. But this was not just any old thing. No. This was a thing that killed and maimed and destroyed.”

Rasa is a gay man living in a Muslim country. He has previously been part of the protests and rebellion in his country, but at this point in his life, he is unsure where he stands. Rasa currently lives with his grandmother, who, to her horror, caught him and his lover in bed the night before. The two aren’t on speaking terms, as Rasa flees the house in the morning and his grandmother coincidently sleeps in abnormally late. Rasa is frantically texting his lover, begging that they try and make their relationship work. The responses he’s getting are short and unpromising. In the span of 24 hours, Rasa contemplates his identity—his homosexuality and Arabness—and his place in his country and the world.

Disclaimer: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK IF YOU GET SAD EASILY! Wow, Guapa made me feel depressed. I seriously spent an entire night moping around after I finished this book. It really took a toll on me. That being said, I still enjoyed it very much and want to share my thoughts with you all!

Guapa is a brilliant novel. It has so many components to it: a political revolution, a religious battle, the questioning of the narrator’s Arabness, and homophobia. I feel like I should read this book a second time in order to process everything. The part that grabbed my attention the most was Rasa’s internal dialogue about his homosexuality. He doesn’t like how his lover is one foot in and one foot out the door, ready to cover up all of his feelings for Rasa in order to conceal his homosexuality at the snap of a finger. His lover doesn’t like to spend time at the local drag bar, in fear that someone he knows will recognize him. Rasa is not like this, though he hides his sexuality, he is not as secretive as his lover. It was really interesting reading Rasa contemplate his relationship in his head. He feels like his lover has betrayed him, because he promised that last night wouldn’t be the last time they saw each other, but now he’s acting like he needs to think their relationship over. This fascinated me.

I liked how Guapa took place over a span of 24 hours. Much of the book was told in flashback format, though the writing was not confusing at all. I enjoy books that successfully tell a lot in a short timespan, like The Catcher in the Rye, because it proves that an author does not need to write about many events in order to make a book great. So much went on in Guapa, so much that I’m not sure that I understood it all. Rasa’s entire life, spanning from the death of his father when he was a child, through his cultural experimenting in college, and to the protests in present day, is described in this book. Yet, only 24 hours pass by in the 354 pages. Saleem Haddad did a fantastic job with this book.

I’m so glad I got this book from the Other Press booth at BookCon. I enjoyed getting to know Rasa and seeing him sort through his internal battles about his identities. Guapa taught me a lot of lessons about general racism and internalized racism; some of which I really needed to hear. Thank you, Saleem Haddad, for writing this wonderful book. I look forward to reading more titles from Other Press in the future.

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- Words on Bathroom Walls

Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

25695640Genre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Page count: 304 pages
Star rating: 4/5 stars 

“When she started crying, I wished the bats had been real. That the creepy little bastards had eaten me in the chemistry lab and I’d never had to see the way my mom looked at me in that moment: like I was crazy.”

Adam has visions of people who are not real. He is able to keep these characters to himself, until he has an incident in school involving flying bats. After that, Adam is diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to a new school, where he doesn’t know anyone. Adam begins making friends at his fancy, religious high school and relies on his medication to keep new classmates from knowing about his mental illness. Then, Adam meets Maya. He knows that he should tell Maya about his diagnosis, but he just can’t do it. As long as he keeps taking his medication, he shouldn’t have to tell anyone. Right?

Words on Bathroom Walls was a great book, especially for young adults, about mental illness. This is the first YA book that I’ve read about schizophrenia and I’m surprised by how much I liked it. I don’t know enough about schizophrenia, specifically, to say if Adam’s experience is an accurate representation of the illness, so I won’t make comments about that. Despite this, I do know a lot about mental health, in general, so I will talk about that. Perhaps, another reviewer with a background in schizophrenia can analyze the accuracy of Adam’s symptoms and behaviors.

Words on Bathroom Walls is an example of literature that talks about mental illness in a respectful and educational way. Although Adam has people that support and love him, there are many characters who do not understand what he’s going through. Writing about the ways to NOT treat someone with a mental illness is very educational for readers. For example, Adam had friends at his old school who totally ditched him after he had the courage to tell them about his struggles. They gave no explanation; they just completely stopped answering his phone calls. This, obviously, is the wrong way to treat a friend with an invisible illness. Adam feels horrible that something he has no control over made all of his friends leave without a goodbye. I sense this book is a great thing for young people to read, as 20% of youth in the US are affected by a mental disorder in their lifetime. This shows friends how to treat people they care about and it shows people with mental illnesses how others should treat them. Education is important, people!

There was one scene in the book that made me cold down to my bones. Actually, it was just two sentences. Adam’s grandmother (his step dad’s mother) says these glorious lines:

“Where is he going to live when the baby is born?… If you’re going to endanger the life of my grandchild-“

Boom. That’s it. That’s how so many people, even some I know, see mental illness. There’s a major disconnect with a large percentage of adults who truly believe that mental health is this huge, scary monster that is out to personally get them. Mental illness does not make someone a bad person. That person is not inherently bad because of something they do not control. These sentences from Adam’s grandmother really, really shook me.

I think this is a very important book for young adults, as I’m pleased with the way Julia Walton wrote about schizophrenia and its proper treatment. Words on Bathroom Walls seems like a great book to have in high school libraries so it’s accessible to students looking to learn more about mental health. I’m very glad I came across this book! Thank you, to the author, for writing about a mental illness in a way that does not trivialize peoples’ experiences.

Review- 10 Things I Can See From Here

Hey all! I’m sorry for my absence from WordPress. Life got in the way, you know? A sick cat, work, and general life changes all struck me in the past 2 weeks. Hopefully, I’ll be getting my reading back on track in the next few days. I’m excited for this next review, because I believe it’s an important YA book for youth today. Thanks for reading!

10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

“Don’t look down. Look around. Tell me ten things that you can see from here.”

31019571Genre: YA fiction
Format: Paperback ARC
Publication date: Feburuary 28, 2017
Publisher: Knopf Books
Page count: 320

Star rating: 3.5/5 

Maeve struggles with extreme, debilitating anxiety. She has hundreds of facts about death rates stored in her brain, and they pop up out of nowhere. For example, when riding the train, she constantly thinks about how many people die on trains per year. Maeve is often told to ‘think positively’ or ‘keep her chin up’ when the subject of her anxiety is brought up. This is very irritating and it feels like people who don’t have an anxiety disorder just don’t get it. Despite this, Maeve meets a girl who can see past her anxieties and coach her through panic attacks. Navigating through a new relationship has its ups and downs, but this girl is certainly worth it.

This review is going to be challenging for me. The beginning of 10 Things I can See From Here really turned me off. I almost set the book down after the first 100 pages. After that, I started enjoying the book and, by the end of it, I was so glad that I didn’t put it down. If I forget about the first half of the book, this was one of my favorite reads of the year. I’m going to split this review up by first half and second half of the book.

~~~~First Half~~~~

I’m totally for writing about mental illnesses in literature, especially young adult fiction. I think it’s really important for representation and education for people of all ages. That being said, I think the way Maeve’s anxiety disorder was written was not the best. I have two reasons why I think it could have been written better.

  • Reading about Maeve’s anxiety gave ME anxiety. In almost every change of scenery, Maeve worries about many different catastrophic scenarios in which freak accidents happen. It wasn’t that I was anxious that these same horrible deaths would happen to me; just reading about someone having so much anxiety made me feel that way too. The thing is, I don’t usually have such a visceral experience when I read books with anxious characters. To me, this means that Maeve’s anxiety was not written in a way that is beneficial to people who struggle with anxiety. I would have liked to see a novel about a protagonist with anxiety that is better for readers with anxiety to read.
  • In addition to the fact that Maeve’s anxiety disorder was not written well for readers with anxiety, I also don’t think it was written well for people without anxiety. Maeve’s constant spew of death rates and facts about dying was almost annoying. I think people who don’t experience severe anxiety would stay away from this book, as they would be irritated. One of the points of writing about mental illnesses is to educate the general population. But, in order to educate, people must want to read these books. I think there is definitely a way to make books about mental illnesses interesting to people who have never experienced symptoms. Unfortunately, this book didn’t do it as well as I hoped.

The first half of 10 Things I can See From Here mostly dealt with Maeve’s anxiety. I couldn’t get into it, for the two reasons I listed above. The book truly got much, much better in the second half. Here’s why:

~~~~Second half~~~~

“Being queer was also about not being into boys. Just as it was about attraction, it was also about the absence of attraction, like white space…Girls shimmered as if all the light shone on them and not on the boys at all. Boys were hardly there, just shadows and background noise.”

Maeve’s sexuality becomes a big part of this book in the second half. I absolutely loved how this was written. Maeve truly loves herself and doesn’t judge who her body loves. Maeve meets Salix and their romance is written like any heterosexual YA love. 10 Things I Can See From Here doesn’t rely on any lesbian stereotypes, which is a huge deal for YA. Maeve and Salix’s relationship develops very organically and is so refreshing to read. This made the book wonderful.

In addition, there is a scene in which Maeve becomes annoyed with Salix acting as if she ‘gets’ anxiety, despite not having an anxiety disorder. Maeve is hurt that Salix doesn’t understand. Salix later explains that she does experience anxiety, as most people do, but not to the degree that Maeve does. Using the skills that Salix learned from her own anxiety, she coaches Maeve through an attack by telling her to name 10 things she can see around her. This is a real skill that therapists tell their patients, as a mindfulness and grounding technique. This shows readers that people who don’t have certain disorders can still understand and can definitely still help those who suffer from them, which is an important lesson.

Also, I loved how Maeve’s father and his sobriety were written. Addicts relapse, this is something that many addicts and their family know. Maeve’s dad relapses and essentially hits rock bottom, as that’s what often happens when addicts relapse after long-term sobriety. Reading about how her father picks himself back up and goes to AA meetings every day is a healthy representation of what recovery looks like. It’s nice that a positive light was shone on a twelve-step program in a YA novel.

There were many parts that I didn’t like about 10 Things I Can See From Here, but there were more things that I did like about this book. Maeve’s anxiety was not written well, but the parts that I did like were done in such a great way that it made the book, overall, very enjoyable. I applaud Carrie Mac for writing a young, lesbian relationship in a manner that makes her queer audience feel safe and happy. In addition, I applaud her for writing about addiction and AA in a respectful manner. Despite the rocky beginning, I liked this book a lot.

 

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- 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.