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!

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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- Where Women Are Kings

Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Publication date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Other Press
Page count: 256
Star rating: 5/5

“She felt fiercely protective of him, with his slight frame and huge eyes. She realized that she loved him already, within days, that she’d kill anyone who hurt him.”

7 year old Elijah is looking for an adoptive family. In his short life, he’s been moved around quite a bit, as a result of being hard to work with and violent at some times. Finally, Elijah has found a couple who wants to permanently adopt him. Nikki and Obi make it their mission to provide the best home for Elijah as possible. Slowly, Elijah’s family history comes to light as his biological mother writes letters addressed to him. As more is learned about his birth and experiences as a baby, perhaps Elijah’s actions can be better understood. Nikki and Obi will no doubt try their best, and hopefully that’s enough for Elijah to prosper.

This is the first book in a long time that I finished in less than 24 hours. I. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Books don’t usually make me cry, but Where Women Are Kings made me cry TWICE. Christie Watson really knows how to play with your heart. This was an all around amazing title. I wish I could give it more than 5 stars.

Where Women Are Kings has a unique format. It’s written in 2 styles. About half of it is in the view of Elijah or his parents. The other half is in a letter format from Elijah’s birth mother. I loved slowly figuring out Elijah’s story and piecing together why he might act out or behave the way he does. Elijah is so delicate and innocent; I wanted to fight for him because he has such a big heart, despite invisible struggles he faces every day. Obi and Nikki care about him so much and it was heartwarming to see their love for him grow and grow. The character development was so beautiful in this book.

I initially picked up Where Women Are Kings because reviews say it touches on racism and mental illness. Both of these themes were very prevalent in the book, so I was not let down. Elijah is Nigerian and Nikki is white. I enjoyed reading the racial and cultural sensitivity that Elijah’s case workers, therapist, and adoptive family give him. A white mother adopting a child of color is something that is so rare in literature, at least in books that I’ve read. It was refreshing to read a title that talked about the thought that goes into adopting child with different colored skin as oneself. In addition, the way Christie Watson wrote about serious mental illnesses was respectful and factual. I don’t want to give away too much, so that’s all I’ll say.

I want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Other Press for sending me a copy of this title for review. I’ve officially added this book to my ‘favorites’ shelf on Goodreads, which says a lot. I’m extremely thankful that such a wonderful and moving book found its way to me. I honestly want to give out copies of Where Women Are Kings to my friends for the holidays. I finished this book about 2 weeks ago and I’m still continuously blown away.

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- 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!