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- 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!

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- 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!