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!

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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- Blackmail, My Love

Blackmail, My love by Katie Gilmartin

Processed with VSCO with t1 presetGenre: Mystery
Format: Paperback
Publication date: November 18, 2014
Publisher: Cleis Press
Page count: 290
Star rating: 3.5/5

Before I start this review, I want to give a shout out to Cleis Press. I discovered them at the New York City Pride Festival, where they had their own booth. We exchanged information and they have been very kind in every email. I was gifted a copy of Blackmail, My Love in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Cleis Press!

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“No one else can know what is right for you. What’s right for you might seem wrong to someone else, and that’s okay, because maybe it’s wrong for them. But if your heart wants it, God put that desire there, and it is the right desire for you.”

Josie is on the search for her brother, Jimmy, who recently disappeared. Jimmy is a gay man serving on the San Francisco police force, who frequented local queer bars until the community thought he was ratting them out. As the search goes on, Josie experiments with the way she presents herself to others and becomes closer to people in gay nightlife of San Fran. Josie is determined to clear her brother’s name and get to the bottom of his unsolved missing persons case that has been suspiciously swept under the rug.

My favorite parts of Blackmail, My Love were the queer history lessons it gave. I learned a lot about what it was like to be gay in the 1950’s and I, now, very clearly recognize how lucky we are to live as minorities in the present world. I usually feel satisfied with myself while reading a book that is both educational and interesting, so Blackmail, My Love was a great choice.

This book was raw, it really told the story of 1950 San Francisco in a blunt manner. There were scenes of police officers abusing queer people, suicides committed because of homophobia, and gay hate crimes. For most of the book, Josie presents herself as a man by the name of Joe. (I’m using female pronouns because the back of the book uses them.) In the beginning chapters, Josie is still learning how to shop for and wear men’s clothing. I want to highlight a couple paragraphs in which Josie is looking for a new men’s suit. The employees in this store pretty quickly realize that Josie is not biologically a male and begin harassing her. Actually, it gets to a point when the readers know that Josie will be sexually assaulted if she gets trapped in this situation. The men say,

“Is that your big prick? Come on girly, lay it down and take a look at a real one.”

This line really shook me. This is the moment when the verbal exchange goes from verbally to sexually harassing a transgender person. I remember sticky tabbing this quotation because the turning point in this speaking scene is so blatant and…horrifying. The sticky note was also to signify something in the book that made me extremely sad. This portion of the book, in general, made me sad because I know that there are people who still, today, would say these things to a transgender individual. These types of people are on the news; they’re marching on college campuses and holding rallies in big cities. It’s very depressing.

Blackmail, My Love truly educated me on parts of queer history that I’m not well versed in. For example, I was not very familiar with gay bars paying cops not to raid them. I mean, bar owners really had to hand over envelopes of cash so police officers wouldn’t arrest people for just occupying space in a gay bar. I’m lucky to live in a time and place where people aren’t actively thrown in jails for nothing more than which bars they like to attend. In the 1950’s, people weren’t that lucky.

The actual story of this book wasn’t as interesting as the history lessons it provided. I was really captivated by learning about what life was like as a queer person 60 years ago. The solving of the mystery didn’t stand out very much to me, maybe because I was too engrossed by the other aspects of the novel.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The lessons it gave were crucial to my understanding of the privilege it is to live in a post 2010 United States. I want to thank Cleis Press for my copy of Blackmail, My Love. I’m extremely glad that I stopped by their booth at NYC Pride. If you’re looking for a captivating book to educate you on gay history, this is the one for you!

Review- 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.

Review- Idlewild

Idlewild by Jude Sierra

51siHUGjx-L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Romance
Format: Paperback
Publication date: December 1, 2016
Publisher: Interlude Press
Page count: 234
Star rating: 4.5/5

 

“It’s been more than long enough for Asher to move past the debilitating stages of grief, past the longing and loneliness, past knowing he’d never be able to love someone else that way and past the moment he realized that though he’d never have that again, he could have something.
Somehow, that realization required it’s own grief.”

I haven’t read a romance in so long. But, man, did I love this. It’s full of EVERYTHING—passion, fluffiness, parts that make you smile so wide your face hurts, and parts that make you put down the book and cry for a quick second. I’m so happy I picked up Idlewild at the Interlude Press booth at BookCon. This is my first ever review of a romance, and I’m so, so excited to write this!

Asher is starting anew. He’s firing his entire staff at his restaurant, Idlewild, and clearing the slate. He and his partner, John, started Idlewild back when they both dreamed of owning a restaurant in Detroit. Now, years after John’s death, Asher wants a crew that never knew his old life. Tyler, a young man with passion-filled eyes, joins his team as a rookie server. From the beginning, Asher is drawn to Tyler in ways that he cannot explain, and the feeling is mutual. Tyler, in an unsteady relationship, yearns to find a place at Idlewild and Asher searches for someone to connect with after John’s death. Perhaps, these two men can find what they’re looking for in each other.

Let’s start with the quotation I highlighted above—

Idlewild brings up the parts of grief that aren’t usually talked about in romance novels that involve love after loss. Asher has long accepted that he’ll never again have what he and John had, but he’s at the point where he can see himself having some sort of relationship with someone new. This realization brings up its own kind of mourning. Asher is torn because finding solace in Tyler can feel like pushing John out of his mind and life. Tyler does an amazing job showing Asher that talking about John instead of bottling his grief up can be very healing and release so much guilt about starting a new relationship. This is something beautiful.

I loved the contrast between Tyler and Asher. Tyler is young, he is not quite sure who he wants to be, and he’s full of light and charisma. Asher has more life experience under his belt, he keeps to himself, and he doesn’t show emotions easily. The two men are very different, but they complete each other in ways that make their relationship function well. It was such a journey to see Asher help Tyler find his place in the world, as well as Tyler help Asher confront his grief. Many scenes with the two of them together were so moving that I actually cried. Yes, this is the first book to make me cry real, physical tears in 2017. Idlewild certainly put me through it.

Well, now I really want to read more romance. But seriously, it was such a pleasure getting to witness Asher and Tyler’s budding relationship. I can’t believe I actually cried, but I’m also not too surprised because there were many emotion-filled scenes. This novel left me feeling very pleased, which I’m grateful for. I’m not one for books that make me uncomfortable, so Idlewild was right up my alley. I’m excited to read the other Interlude Press books that I got at BookCon!

Review- Cottonmouths (And Update!)

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for being a bit distant over the past week or so. I went on vacation for a week (apartment hunting!) and then attended BOOKCON! Last weekend was one of the best times of my entire life. I spoke with a lot of authors and publishers, some indie and some not, and connected with so many wonderful people. Everyone I talked to was very kind and we bonded over our shared love of diverse books. I can’t wait to read and review all the books I got from the convention! Stay tuned!

Now, for the review.

Cottonmouths: A Novel by Kelly J. Ford

 2.5/5 stars

Binding: Hardcover
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication date: June 6th, 2017
Page count: 286

51TkKyf-iOL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Emily Skinner, newly dropped out of college, is now back in her hometown in Arkansas. She’s living in her parents’ house, surrounded by gossip and judgment from her mom. To top it all off, Emily’s old crush, Jody, is back in town with her baby. Although Emily knows she’s trouble, she can’t stay away from Jody. After getting kicked out of her parents’ house over a dispute about her sexuality, Jody offers Emily a job as a babysitter and invites her to stay in her spare bedroom. Emily has always dreamed that maybe someday Jody could love her, especially considering the hints she’s giving lately. Soon, Emily realizes the mess that she’s walked into and, more important, realizes that she can’t escape it.

I’m always on the lookout for upcoming lesbian fiction. I constantly watch and track new releases on Goodreads and BookRiot. I hadn’t picked up a lesbian mystery in a while, so my gut told me to start Cottonmouths. It isn’t my favorite book of June, but it is certainly interesting. If you’re not into F/F storylines, do not fear, because this book doesn’t really revolve around Jody’s sexuality, it’s more of a side topic.

I’m trying to pinpoint why this book wasn’t a 5 star rating for me. It has a lot of components that I usually love, like queer themes, so I’m a bit confused. I’ve done a lot of thinking and realized that Cottonmouths made me really, really uncomfortable. I’m generally not good with books that make me feel unnerved, creeped out, or otherwise squirmy. Some books are just too much for me– too scary, too gory, too cringeworthy, you name it. I’m not sure what this book was too much of, but something left me feeling unsettled. I’m not someone who enjoys uncomfortable books, but this book is perfect for someone who is able and likes to stomach them.

Something that I did like about Cottonmouths was how much it reminded me of Gillian Flynn’s writing style. It’s most comparable to Sharp Objects, in my opinion. There is less blood, but it has the same concept of a protagonist who the reader slowly beings to like less and less as the book goes on. In the beginning, Jody is someone who you can really feel sorry for, since she just dropped out of college and is struggling to find a job. As the chapters go by, Jody becomes less relatable and more unlikeable. This is something that makes me admire an author, because it’s not easy to do well. I think Emily J. Ford did a nice job transitioning Emily from a sweet girl into a dangerous woman in love with the wrong person.

Another great thing about Cottonmouths is the character depth. Emily and Jody both have so much going on inside them. Neither of them is all good or all bad, which can make it difficult for the reader to determine who is the one they should be “rooting for”. Kelly J. Ford does an excellent job making some things obvious (Emily is in love with Jody) but keeping a few key things secret (but, does Jody love Emily back?). I really have a hard time with books with no redeemable characters, so this was a downside for me, but I’m sure it’s an upside for some people.

I really wish I had been able to stomach Cottonmouths a bit more. The characters were very well developed and Kelly J. Ford excelled at making all her major characters very dislikable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right pick for me, for personal preference. I’d recommend this to someone who wants a good mystery that leaves them feeling uncomfortable and angry with the main characters.