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.

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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- 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- 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- 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.

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- Charlotte and Daisy

Charlotte and Daisy by Amanda Rotach Lamkin

4/5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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