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- 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!

Review- Our Own Private Universe

Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: YA fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Page count: 384
Star rating: 3.5/5

Aki knows she’s bisexual, but she’s never actually had a girlfriend. Still, she knows that she likes girls. The only person who knows is her best friend Lori, as she’s afraid to come out to her religious parents. Aki and Lori spend their summer away at a mission trip in Mexico, held by their church. There, Aki meets Christa and they immediately click. The two girls are a great match, but the constrictions of their religious group force them to lie, hide, and cover up their feelings. Aki and Christa could have something extraordinary, but are they willing to make that sacrifice for each other?

I had some mixed feeling about Our Own Private Universe, but, ultimately, the positives outweighed the negatives. One extremely important topic this book highlights is safe sex. I haven’t read another F/F book, young adult or adult, that touches on safe sex. Aki goes out of her way to find female condoms, which I thought was so cool. I bet the teen and early twenty’s audience that Robin Talley is aiming for might be a bit uninformed about safe sex, the importance of condoms, and protection against STDs in queer female relationships. I was pleasantly surprised when Aki started thinking about how she would obtain dental dams. For this reason, I would 100% recommend this book to queer females who are looking to see themselves represented in literature.

Another awesome thing about Own Our Private Universe is that it features two women who are both interested in men and women. Aki is bisexual and not confused. The stereotype that bisexual people are merely confused is harmful because it erases their identities and invalidates their feelings. In addition, sometimes books about marginalized demographics are harmful for individuals who are part of those demographics to read (they’re triggering, disrespectful, or just not factual). This is definitely a book with bisexual representation that is safe, considerate, and realistic of bi struggles. Often, books that trivialize LGBT lives are written by straight, cisgender authors. It was awesome to read a book written by a queer author.

After I finished Our Own Private Universe, I skimmed a few reviews. I found one that pointed out something that unsettled me in the novel and I think it is worth mentioning. Although Aki is not white, her church’s mission trip sent a message of a white savior complex. Wikipedia defines this as, “a white person who acts to help non-white people, with the help in some contexts perceived to be self-serving”. I believe that Robin Talley should have tried to educate her readers about the harm these self-serving intentions can cause. I felt a little disappointed in this aspect of the book.

Overall, I think Own Our Private Universe was a realistic, healthy, respectful way of looking at a bisexual girl discovering herself. The cast was diverse, but I believe some of the racial implications of the mission trip could have been clarified. I will recommend this book to young, queer women who are looking for literature that features characters like themselves. Our Own Private Universe introduced many topics that other LGBTQ YA books neglect, which was exciting. I just found out Robin Talley is supposed to have a novel coming out in 2018 and I can hardly wait!

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- Blood Sacrifice

Blood Sacrifice by Barry Hoffman

“Though he doubted himself more than ever, he was too close to succumb to despondency. He owed it to himself to persevere. More importantly, he owed it to Yvette. To all his Yvettes”

BloodSacrificeGenre: Mystery
Format: Paperback
Publication date: March 27, 2017
Publisher: Rebel Press
Page count: 391
Star Rating: 4/5

Thea Hughes and her police partner, Ariel, are called to duty when someone dumps the body of a runaway girl covered in a painting of her own blood. Thea, the only openly lesbian officer on her squad, knows she was only put on homicide because of politics and is working on proving herself to her partner and boss. The two cops are moving too slowly while solving the murder, as the case could be leaked to the media at any moment, until Thea meets Ali. Ali is Thea’s twin; they look exactly the same, aside from a scar on Ali’s face, but have almost opposite personalities. Ali has unique insight into the killer and is, actually, destined to meet him. Thea, while simultaneously falling in love with her, prepares Ali for her meeting with the murderer. Thea is trying to piece together the case before her other half becomes the next victim of her case.

First, I want to start off by highlighting how interesting and gripping Blood Sacrifice is. I don’t read mysteries very often, as I think they can be formulaic, but I’m very glad I chose to pick up this book. There were many scenes in which I thought I could guess what would happen next, and I was wrong every time. Honestly, this is a great feat because I’m, surprisingly, a great plot guesser! I’m extremely satisfied with the amount of twists and turns this mystery took. It was a really enjoyable ride, getting to know Thea and see her evolve into someone more confident.

I also want to mention that this book is complex. It has a lot of characters and relationships going on. A paragraph summary is certainly not enough to cover all the important people and themes. Intricate relationships and characters certainly are what make this book so thrilling. Although this is a huge positive for Blood Sacrifice, it’s also something that made the book hard to digest. There was so much going on that it was a little hard to keep everything straight. For example, I thought the concept of twins wasn’t explained well enough. I was a bit confused trying to figure out what exactly a twin was, but I slowly figured it out as the book went on. I’m not sure if an explanation was left out to keep the reader guessing, but I felt a little left out by the lack of description.

For me, the only major thing that bothered me in Blood Sacrifice was the F/F sexual scenes. I could tell that this book was written by a man. Many of the sex scenes involved food in ways that would not be pleasurable or comfortable for people with vaginas. I think that a little more research on this would have made this book a 5 star rating for me.

I want to give a big thank you to the Golden Brick Road Publishing booth at BookCon for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I had a really fun time reading Blood Sacrifice and getting to know Thea. The relationships, the characters, the murders, and the motives were very intricate and enjoyable to follow. Ali and Thea are certainly a couple to watch out for, as twins and life partners.