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!

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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.

April 2017 Wrap-Up

April 2017 Wrap-Up

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Hello everyone! If you didn’t notice, I totally forgot to do a March Wrap-Up. I’ve decided to skip it because I didn’t read that much in March. I’d rather just jump ahead to April because….. I got through 11 books this month! I’m so happy with my reading progress over the past 30 days. I read a lot of books that had been on my to-be-read since the fall. Before I do a breakdown, I want to give a quick update on my blog:

  1. I’m trying to post reviews more frequently now, since I’m reading a lot more than February/March. I’m aiming to publish one every 3 days or so.
  2. I want to focus my reviews on books that involve topics that I think should be normalized in literature. These topics include people of color, mental illnesses, LGBTQ people, chronic illnesses, and strong female protagonists. Of course, I’m going to read books that don’t focus on these themes, so if that’s not your thing, don’t worry.
  3. I currently receive one bimonthly book subscription box, Paper Street Books, and will be posting full unboxing reviews every time I get a box from them. So far, I’ve gotten 4 of their boxes and I haven’t been disappointed yet. I just got a box about a week ago so I’ll be posting a review of that shortly!

Now, on to the breakdown!

 

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (science fiction,) 5/5 stars

This book absolutely blew me away. The main character is a queer woman of color with chronic pain. I’ve never read a book about someone who struggles with an invisible physical illness before Ascension, so this book really makes the top of my ‘favorites of 2017’ list. I actually ended up contacting Jacqueline Koyanagi and telling her how much her book touched me. She was extremely nice and I hope she publishes more work soon. If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

  

Strange Medicine by Mike Russell (fantasy/short stories), 4.5/5 stars

I am so honored that I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, because I really enjoyed it. I’ve never been a fan of short stories, but I got into this collection very easily and couldn’t put it down. I just received another one of Mike Russell’s books and I can’t wait to start it in the next few days! If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

  

Burned by Ellen Hopkins (fiction), 3/5 stars 

This is the second Ellen Hopkins book I’ve read, and I was really disappointed with it. After Crank, I had such high expectations for Ellen Hopkins. Her verse style of storytelling is so unique and makes for a fast-paced page turner. Burned was not like this. The story is very interesting– a girl raised in a religious family with an abusive father, who is sent away for the summer– but is told in a very boring way. I definitely will be giving Ellen Hopkins another chance sometime soon.

  

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (young adult fiction), 4.5/5 stars

I read an ARC of this book, so I’m not sure how much it differs from the final publication. That being said, this was a great first YA read for me in April! It is unconventional, as the two main characters are different genders but they do not have any romance between them. Alice Oseman wrote their relationship perfectly and it made for a very feel-good novel. I also like how she included a lot about internet culture. I can tell she really did her research into ‘fandom’ communities and networks. This book reminded me about why I love YA lit!

  

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous (fiction), 4.5/5 stars

Reading Crank last month inspired me to pick up this book in April. I was looking into more books that educate people about addiction, especially in young people, and this was at the top of many lists. I’m not going to say much in this blurb because I don’t think I can type anything without it turning into a rant about how addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as one. If you want my full review, please click here: x.

  

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz (young adult fiction), 4/5 stars

Yay! I spent all of last year waiting for Benjamin Alire Saenz to release a new book after Aristotle and Dante. I think he is a master at developing wholesome relationships between friends, but especially between parents and their children. This book doesn’t have much of a plot, but it is still so worth it. If you liked Benjamin Alire Saenz’s writing style from his previous publications, then you’ll absolutely love this book. If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

  

Such Small Hands by Barba Andres (fiction), 2/5 stars

This was the only book I read in April that I truly didn’t like. I found this book on the New Release Index on Book Riot Insiders, which often has books that I wouldn’t hear of otherwise, and it seemed really interesting. It ended up being a creepy novella about girls taking turns dressing up as a doll every night and performing rituals on said doll. Maybe, if the book had been longer, I would have liked it more.

  

Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately by Alicia Cook (poetry), 3.4/5 stars

This is another book that I found thanks to Book Riot Insiders! I picked up this book because I read that it was written for anyone who has struggled with addiction or loved someone who struggles with addiction, which is something I’ve recently been striving to read more about. I thought, maybe, it would include poems from the perspective of the addict, but they were mostly written for people who have a loved one who is an addict. To me, this made it a lot less interesting. I was hoping it would give more education about the disease, but the poems were too vague to teach the readers much. I did find a few that I liked a lot, though.

 

One Year Left by J.C. Robinson (romance), 3/5 stars

I’m so grateful that I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This was my first romance of the year and it was a great start! The characters were both extremely likable, although predictable, and were a match made in heaven. I do wish there had been more depth to their character development, but, overall, they were very fun to read about. If you want to see my full review, click here: x.

 

Colorblind by Siera Maley (LGBTA, young adult), 5/5 stars

This was the only young adult book I read in April with a lesbian protagonist. Of course, with me being me, I LOVED it. It was so cute that I needed to put the book down a few times to just take it all in. Reading F/F young adult books is so refreshing because it reminds you that there are authors out there who want to normalize lesbian characters (especially teens!) and relationships. If you’re looking for an queer YA book, this is it. I’m excited to write a full review for this soon, so keep an eye out!

  

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (science fiction), 5/5 stars

If you’ve been following my blog since I read The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet (review: x), then you know how much I adore Becky Chambers. I was so pumped for this book, that I ordered the UK edition, because I’d have it sooner than my fellow US readers. Rationally, I NEEDED the hardcover in order to survive, so I did what I had to. I’m mad at myself for putting this book off for so long because it was the perfect sci-fi book to finish the month off. This is a companion novel to Becky Chamber’s previously mentioned book, so you don’t necessarily need to read the first one before A Closed and Common Orbit. There are some references to the Wayfarer crew, so I think at least reading up on the first book is important. Becky Chambers will remain one of my favorite science fiction writers for a very, very long time. I plan on writing a full review for this book soon!

  

And there you have it! I’m looking forward to reaching my reading goal of 40 books this year (I’m already at 36) and I’m excited to be sharing some of my favorites with all of you. I’m working on making big changes to my blog this summer, as I stated at the beginning of this post, so bear with me. Thank you for your continuous support, I really appreciate the people who read my blog.

 

Review- The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

23447923The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

4/5 stars

Sal has a very comfortable life with his adoptive gay father and their dog; just the three of them, no drama and no changes. During Sal’s senior year of high school, he begins to experiences changes within his body that he cannot quite name. He starts acting out by throwing punches at guys who call him and his father slurs. He also finds himself wondering about his biological father and which genes could have been passed down from that mystery man. Sal has always been the one with his emotions under control, especially compared to his best friend, Sam, who seems to be all over the place feeling-wise. Suddenly, Sal is not quite sure what’s going on with himself and he questions his place in life and family.

This book is so cute. I’m going to reiterate something that I read in a few Goodread’s reviews and mention that it doesn’t really have a plot. Although there’s not a climax or much of a resolution, it’s still a great story with lovable characters and beautiful family dynamics.

Family and relationship dynamics seem to be Bejamin Alire Saenz’s specialty. His best selling book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, is full of families and budding relationships that make your heart happy. He’s a pro at showing readers the different ways a curious son and a father, two different gender best friends, and a distant mother and daughter can love each other. The Inexplicable Logic of my Life really emphasizes that love can be shown in different, unconventional ways that the recipient may not be able to see. Everybody needs someone to point out the ways they’re being loved at some point in their life. I’m glad that Sal was able to narrate that to me in his own, 17-year-old voice. It was really refreshing to hear it from someone learning to recognize the ways his friends and family showed their feelings, even if they were hidden.

I really like the way Saenz incorporated gay characters into this book. Sal and Sammy, the two most prominent characters, are both heterosexual and actively talk about liking the opposite sex. Sal’s father is gay, but that is not his primary identifier. Sal thinks of him as his dad, not a gay man. This is an important way to write about LGBT secondary characters because it normalizes queerness. It is a great way for LGBT readers to see themselves in literature and a great way for them to be REPRESENTED. Queer people want to see themselves in books, even when a gay relationship is not the center of the storyline. This is mostly because LGBT people exist everywhere, everyday, so of course it would be normal to have them in every book. Everyone, take notes from Saenz: Just because a book does not center around a queer relationship doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have queer characters.

I also want to comment on Sal, as a character. He was extremely likable and multidimensional, which is often not well executed. I’ve read a lot of books where the characters were filled with crowd-pleaser personality traits but had zero depth. This was not one of those books. Sal had many, many things that I admired about him but he also had a lot of thought go into his emotional complexion. In the first few pages, I thought Sal would fit into the typical “good boy” trope, but soon learned that he has a lot more to him and his thought patterns. Getting to know him was an honor.

The only negative critique I have about The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is the lack of plot. I do wish there had been a climax and true resolution at the end. I had to motivate myself to pick up the book a few times and an ongoing plot line would have helped me push through it. Other than that, this book was the perfect feel-good read. I’m glad that I got to meet Sal and I hope to read more of Saenz’s work in the near future.