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- I Hate Everyone But You

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

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I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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- 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.