Review- Twelve Steps to Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review- Femme Confidential

Femme Confidential by Nairne Holtz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review- Sodom Road Exit

Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review- Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of A Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review- I Hate Everyone But You

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

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I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Books of 2017

Happy New Year to everyone reading my blog! Thanks for sticking by me as I discover new genres, authors, and titles that continuously blow me away. I’m thankful to be able to do this in my free time and even get books sent to me from publishers in exchange for honest reviews. I love sharing my thoughts (both positive and negative) with whoever is willing to listen and I hope my reviews encourage people to pick up books that I enjoyed. I decided to make a ‘Best Books of 2017’ list, so here it is! I read 69 books in 2017 and I narrowed it down to my top 9 favorite titles. I couldn’t decide on a particular order, so they’re just in the order I read them.

  1. The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace (read 1/4/17)

My 2017 started with a huge poetry kick. After finishing Milk and Honey in December of 2016, I began searching for poetry written by empowered women. The Princess Saves Herself in This One continues to be my favorite poetry collection I’ve ever gotten my hands on. Many of the poems are about mental illness and/or feminism and they were exactly what I was looking for. I truly think this is a must-read for young women. If I’m remembering correctly, Amanda Lovelace has another collection coming out early this year, so I’ll be sure to snatch that up as soon as it’s released!

  1. Crank by Ellen Hopkins (read 3/8/17)

I find it so amusing that I picked up my first Ellen Hopkins book in 2017. Almost all of my friends read her books back in middle and high school, but I thought I was ‘too cool’ to read titles that everyone else was reading. I’m actually glad that I waited so long to read Crank, because I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of it back in 2008. I’m a big advocate for education about addiction and the effects that the disease has on an individual. Crank is one of the many books I’ve read about addiction and it is my very favorite. Ellen Hopkins wrote about addiction in an educational way that didn’t trivialize the experiences of addicts. I’m very glad this book exists for young adults to access.

  1. Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (read 4/7/17)

This book made it to my top 5 books of ALL TIME. I loved this title so much that I sent my review of it to the author, explaining how much it meant to me. The protagonist in this book is a queer, chronically ill, female of color–just like me. We both suffer from chronic pain and I truly identified with her struggles. I don’t think I’ve ever related to a character as much as I related to Alana. In addition, I loved that the book worked to combat the stigma around taking medication. I’ve recommended this book to other people who deal with fibromyalgia, because my guess is that they’ll love it too.

  1. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (read 4/29/17)

Another one of my all-time favorite books is The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I was so excited for this second book of hers that I bought the UK edition because it was released first. Becky Chambers definitely did not let me down with this novel. It didn’t make it to my “best books in the whole world” list, like her first, but A Closed and Common Orbit was still an amazing installment to the Wayfarer adventures. 2017 was the year of great sci-fi for me! I know there is a third standalone in the works and I’m just as hyped about it as I was for this one.

  1. Rosie Colored Glasses by Briann Wolfson (read 7/3/17)

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I went to BookCon last June. You also might know that I left with 27 books. One of them was an ARC of Rosie Colored Glasses, given to me by Harlequin. The title isn’t coming out until February of this year, but you need to have it on your radars right now. This is an adult book that talks about mental health, addiction, and divorce. It is an extremely important title to me because it serves as education about these topics. This book quickly made it to my “books that changed my life” shelf on Goodreads, which says a lot. I can’t wait for Rosie Colored Glasses to be released so everyone can get enjoy it as much as I did.

  1. Idlewild by Jude Sierra (read 7/11/17)

This is another title that I took home from BookCon! During my time at the convention, I quickly found my way to Interlude Press, a publisher that focuses on LGBTQ titles. I was so excited to find people that prioritize queer authors and characters. Idlewild blew me away; it’s the perfect gay, male love story. I hadn’t read a M/M book in a while, as I had been focusing more on lesbian romances, but Idlewild reminded me of how much I love reading about two men falling in love. I can’t wait to get to more Interlude Press books in the future!

  1. Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (11/9/17)

Can you tell that I was getting through my BookCon haul? I got Earth Girl from the Prometheus Books booth and ended up absolutely loving the story. This title touches on themes of racism, a topic not often talked about in sci-fi literature. It is a great book with planet/space traveling and different species of humans– classic sci-fi ideas. I’m very glad that the person from Prometheus Books handed me this book because it really changed the way I look at sci-fi. Science fiction has the absolute capability of tackling topics like racism and discrimination, just like Earth Girl did. I’m really looking forward to reading the other books in this series!

  1. I Know Your Kind: Poems by William Brewer (read 11/19/17)

I had extremely high hopes for this collection of poetry, as it’s about the opioid epidemic in the US. Prior to reading this, I had read one poetry collection about the same topic and it completely fell short. I was reluctant to start another in fear that it would also disappoint me. I quickly got over this fear when I saw that Milkweed Editions was releasing I Know Your Kind. This is such a touching collection and I urge all my followers looking to learn more about addiction to check this book out. I’m so grateful that this collection made its way to me and it will remain on my ‘favorites’ list for a very long time.

  1. Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson (read 11/12/17)

This book is truly something special. Where Women Are Kings was sent to me in a package from Other Press and it was the first one I picked up from that bunch. I feel so lucky that I happened to choose to start with it because it blew me away. This is the only book I’ve ever read that made me cry twice. I seldom cry while reading, so crying twice is probably a once in ten years type of thing. For anyone searching for a book that gives you feelings, like real, genuine feelings, this is the title for you. I have already recommended this book to many personal friends and I will continue doing so in 2018. I’m very thankful for this title.

Review- Like Water

Like Water by Rebecca Podos

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

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

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

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

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

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