Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

31447601It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.

Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped … revered … all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

I received an electronic copy from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Books about characters cross-dressing to get into places they can’t reach as their own gender are always a bit of a risk. Movies like She’s The Man are wildly cissexist and therefore insensitive towards transgender people, which is frankly unnecessary. But I’ve heard good things about this book and had been assured the subject matter would be handled sensitively.

The first thing that jumped out to me was the rich writing style. Riley Redgate has a real talent for description and figurative speech. The narration and dialogue is filled with humour–from the clever to the downright puerile because hello teenagers–in a way that feels totally organic. I kept reading more than I intended at a time because it kept sucking me in.

I also really related to the struggles of attending a performing arts school, as a musical theatre kid myself, especially that feeling of never being the best everything and being shunted aside because of things you can’t change about yourself. I have the opposite problem to Jordan in that I’m a ridiculously high soprano who doesn’t belt (or dance particularly well, and therefore was never going to be a certain teacher’s first choice for anything), but I could definitely still relate to what she was dealing with.

Jordan has such a rich inner world in a way that is sometimes missing from novels, in that there’s so much going on with her that she keeps to herself. Her struggles coming from an impoverished family were raw and hard-hitting and, as a non-American, I appreciated how well it was explained how the restrictions on these particular welfare programs often mean they don’t help the people in need as much as they should.

I also related really hard to Jordan coming to terms with her bisexuality. It’s something I still struggle with a little bit, and other people’s attitudes about it (which is addressed a tiny amount in this book) are a part of that. The whole thing about there being signs that you don’t take for what they really are until much later also really resonated with me.

This novel has a diverse set of characters across ethnicities, sexualities, religions, class and also a character with dyslexia. As I said earlier, I was a little nervous how the cross-dressing angle would be handled in that it’s very easy to disrespect trans people while doing so. Jordan does become aware of this quite early on, which eased some of my concern. She also has an opportunity to do something later in the book that would’ve been a massive betrayal of this but chose not too, which I was glad to see. However, that moment came after an accidental reveal involving nudity which can be a common and not-so-good trope for showing a character is trans, so I’m not 100% comfortable with it. I’ve yet to see any other complaints on this front at this time of writing, so I don’t know if I’m being too nitpicky. My opinion of this, given I’m cisgender, is not entirely complete. Overall, it does seem Riley Redgate has done a good job on this front, with the exception of that trope I’m unsure about.

This book also tackles issues of sexism and toxic masculinity. Jordan feels alienated at times from the boys in the a capella group when they make some off-colour comment or an inappropriate joke relying on sexism for the punchline to work. As time wears on in her disguise, she becomes more aware of the particular pressures of masculinity, as well as that old chestnut “man up.”

People who’ve been following me for a while will likely be aware I have a lot of trouble with m/f pairings in stories, being that it’s very easy to fall into the same old cliché sexist nonsense. I didn’t have that issue in this book. The pairing grew organically out of friendship, so there was no instalove to grind my gears. I’ve seen claims that there’s a love triangle in this book. There isn’t. I don’t know where they’re getting that from. Jordan has an ex-boyfriend and kisses one other character, but I’d hardly call any of that a love triangle.

The characters were rich and multi-dimensional and I really got the sense that I knew them, especially the members of the a capella group. And it was clear, even before I read the acknowledgements at the end, that the author knew what she was talking about when it came to a capella groups and singing in general–which just made the singing-related jokes even funnier because of how truth-based they were. All this resulted in a rich, entertaining novel that is funny, relatable and heartwarming.

Review: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

ashala-wolf“There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centres. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. . . . And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.”

Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. A man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured and vulnerable and with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind.

And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move.

Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

I haven’t read many books by indigenous authors, let alone those from my own country, so I was glad to have an opportunity to read this.

Getting into the book was a little difficult in that it felt like I’d just been dropped into the middle of something with little explanation. The reason for that became clear as the story continued, since Ashala didn’t really have the full picture of what was going on, either. The main pairing in the novel seemed like a typical (and horrible) relationship where the male character was a completely dreadful person who undeservedly receives redemption from the female character. Fortunately, that actually isn’t the case.

The twist in the midst of the story came as a surprise but it made everything that came before it make much more sense (and also made me stop hating the main pairing).

A lot of the worldbuilding appears to have been based on the Dreaming, while still making enough sense to readers without any knowledge of Aboriginal spirituality. Ashala Wolf’s connection to her ancestry also makes her uniquely qualified to fight the government’s oppression of people with supernatural abilities.

I also found the use of loaded terms such as Illegal (to mean people with supernatural abilities) and Detention Centre (where those caught alive are usually held) to be an interesting commentary on contemporary Australian issues, in that Australia has a long and horrible history in our treatment of asylum seekers and putting them into what have been called detention centres. The Question–“does a person with an ability belong to the Balance?”–takes on an additional kind of meaning with these parallels. Are these people really a threat to our way of life the way our politicians like to claim? No. They’re not. Just as innocent people with supernatural abilities in this book don’t actually threaten the environmental “Balance” the in-story society is attempting to achieve in the wake of an environmental disaster of humanity’s own making.

All this, in addition to the twists of the plot and characters, made for a rich reading experience.

The one thing about this book that I couldn’t stand, however, was the ableism. Early on, the language was more casual and mostly directed inwards while Ashala Wolf was questioning her own perceptions. But then, during the scenes leading up to the climax, it shifted from poor use of language to something far more insidious. Pretty much every villain in the story is described as crazy or unstable, often while they’re about to commit an act of violence. One character was petulant and possessive while another was grief-stricken. Those things were enough to push the characters to behave the way they did without having to throw mentally ill people under the bus. It is worth noting this book was published in 2012 and therefore doesn’t have the benefit of the more recent dissemination of activist discourse, but it’s still difficult to read and could very easily hurt people regardless of the author’s knowledge at the time. I hope Kwaymullina’s subsequent books don’t rely on this kind of writing.

 

Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

27969081Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Beautiful Creatures meets Daughter of Smoke and Bone with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

Labyrinth Lost is a really engaging story with a fully-realised magic system that draws from real-life Latin American traditions and cultures. It also has a gorgeous cover. I mean, look at that thing.

The protagonist, Alex, is terrified of her own magic. And pretty much of her own shadow, though, given the horrible things that have happened around her since she was a child, it’s understandable. Nobody wants to be attacked by possessed creatures or have a corpse fall on you, much less when you’re a child. So while I felt the actions she took to remove her own powers were highly irresponsible, I can understand why she thought that was the only option she had. Her godmother, who should have been around to teach her but had died too early, wasn’t around to guide her and she shied away from any kind of magical training, leaving her knowledge woefully limited.

There is a love triangle in this book, but it’s not the typical ‘girl loves two guys and has to choose between them’ kind. Alex is bisexual, though the word isn’t used within the text given she’s still figuring out who she is, and one love interest is a boy and the other a girl. Alex, still in the process of awakening to her own orientation, picks up on her feelings towards the female love interest much later than the reader does. The female love interest is also funny and adorable and I love her.

Zoraida Cordova has a lovely writing style; not too flowery, but still rich and beautiful to read. She has a knack for description and I want to learn how to write like her. This book is an education in how to cultivate a gorgeous yet non-invasive writing style. One section that really grabbed me is from near the end of the book, about Alex’s mother:

I look at her face. The smattering of gray hair that she’s named after each of us, the crow’s-feet at the corner of her eyes. Other brujas get glamours to hide them, but my mom never does.

It’s just so endearing. Alex’s mother doesn’t feel as real to me as her sisters, but I imagine that’s by design given the woman was a single mother who didn’t get to spend as much time with her children as she would’ve liked, busy being the sole breadwinner in the family.

Just before the climax, one of the characters does something absolutely deplorable and I was honestly afraid that they would be forgiven for it, no matter how badly that character knowingly screwed things up for Alex and her entire family. The decision Alex ultimately makes I definitely feel is the right one.

There were a few little things I didn’t like about this book. First, the repetitious use of the phrase “bipolar eyes” to describe a character whose eyes couldn’t decide between green and blue. I hope Cordova learns it isn’t appropriate to trivialise an actual mental illness in that manner and avoids it in the rest of the books in this series.

There are also a few uses of “crazy” here and there, but it might be up to individual readers to decide whether they find the uses offensive or not. I’m not an authority on the matter. One use is to describe the protagonist’s “crazy Uncle Julio” who is an eccentric older man who likes to talk conspiracy theories. There is an occasion Alex uses it to describe herself when she could be genuinely worried she is imagining a voice she’s hearing. Just thought I’d mention it in case it bothers anyone.

One of the characters also uses the phrase “man parts” in a cissexist manner to assume a statue of someone is male. She is somewhat corrected in that the Deos don’t really fit the male/female binary.

The problematic aspects were fairly limited, but I thought they were worth mentioning to people sensitive to them could either avoid them or prepare themselves in advance.

Overall, I really loved this book. The way it ended has me excited for the sequel and where it could all be going next.

Review: Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember

unicorn-tracksAfter a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.

Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.

I wish this book had been my first read of 2017, because it is vastly better than what my first read actually was. As such, I’m counting this for my Diversity Bingo 2017 free space square, rather than the racist trashfire that originally had that honour.

While the society of Nazwimbe–an analogue for South East African culture as The Bookavid notes–where Mnemba lives is patriarchal, the other nation, Echalend, that Kara hails from is much the same, only in a different manner. I was glad the author was careful to point this out so as to not paint Nazwimbe as some kind of backwards society. The book is full of lascivious men and there is a near-rape, in addition to Mnemba being a rape survivor from events prior to the beginning of the story, and it would have been all too easy to have tarred a South East African-based nation all with the one brush.

The worldbuilding wasn’t particularly expansive, but I felt it served the purposes of the story. Julia Ember has a knack for succinct but effective description and for conveying worldbuilding information with limited words. The magical wildlife was woven seamlessly into the environment.

I also felt–in my admittedly limited knowledge–that Mnemba’s experience as a rape survivor was handled delicately and realistically, and the way her cousin Tumelo offers her a way out of her village where it happened adds an extra layer to his character rather than him just being the one-dimensional greedy tour guide that he easily could’ve been. It’s an interesting contrast, given many characters who would be considered more “moral” were powerless to provide Mnemba a way to deal with such a stifling environment. Tumelo, unlike some of those characters, understood that she had to get out.

In terms of the plot, I did feel it was a little unbalanced in favour of the first section of the story. It dragged here and there and the end was rushed. The romance between the two women was a little underdeveloped. I wouldn’t quite so as far as to call it instalove, but it wasn’t far off. Fortunately, I liked both characters anyway so it didn’t bother me too much. The plot and romance issues could have been solved if the book was a little longer. Kara did get on my nerves every so often, I will admit.

What I really liked about the way Kara was written, however, was that she was a beautiful and athletic fat woman. She was allowed to be loved not in spite of her weight, but because it was just another part of her that Mnemba adored. The only judgement comes from Kara herself, talking about the way her homeland views her weight in a less positive light than the residents of Nazwimbe do.

Overall, this was a good book that could’ve benefited from having a little more space to develop. I’m still giving it a high Goodreads rating because I really enjoyed reading it.

EDIT: I neglected to mention that the word “crazy” is used once in this book. It’s the only incident of ableism as far as I can tell, but I’m not disabled and therefore not an expert on that.

Review: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit

Joanna Gord28003097on has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.

Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

(Note: all page numbers are from my hardcover edition and I spoil some plot elements late in the review when I’m talking about Mary Carlson getting away with shit)

I wanted to like this book. I’d been excited to read it for months. On a basic writing level, there’s nothing wrong with it. The writing style is easy to read and the protagonist’s voice is fairly strong. I also really liked the peach motif that cropped up here and there, usually tied to sumptuous descriptions that made me kinda hungry.

However, I find I had a lot of issues with the book in terms of structure and prejudice. I’m not an expert on racism, being a white person, but the more I think about it, the more it seems so obvious that I don’t understand how so many people have missed it.

My first issue circulates around the one and only black character in the entire book, Gemma. As far as I can tell, the author is white, and Gemma’s manner of speech was very stereotypical. I almost wanted to keep a tally of how many times she prefaced a sentence with “girl” or threw in some other awkwardly-executed AAVE grammatical mannerisms.

Page 70:

“Because, girl.” Gemma growls. “Our dance parties are epic.”

Page 140:

Her eyes narrow and it’s like I can hear the “Oh no he didn’t” loud as a bullhorn.

Page 150:

“Girl, don’t you lie.” Gemma is straight to the point.

Page 187:

“Girl.” Gemma is attacking a slice of veggie pizza.

There are undoubtedly more examples. These are just the ones I noted in my Goodreads statuses.

I know it’s not just a quirk of being southern since, with the exception of some really uncomfortable AAVE appropriation coming from Jo and her friend, Dana, she was the only character who consistently spoke like this. If the representation had been more varied (as in, Gemma wasn’t the only black character in the whole book), it wouldn’t have been as much of an issue.

EDIT: Jay Coles also pointed out that this perpetuates the “sassy black girl” stereotype, which I should have noted originally.

Sidenote: we as white people need to stop saying “yaaaas” (which Dana says on page 22). Can we stop appropriating from AAVE already? Please. My crops are dying.

Unrelated to the racism of the dialogue, I also hated that Gemma’s attempts to invade Jo’s privacy by getting into her phone were treated as a silly little quirk rather than a horrible thing to do.

Biphobia also rears its ugly head in this book. The most blatant occasion is on PAGE THREE where Jo, the lesbian narrator, says:

I nod toward the late twentyish, early thirtyish bi-curious cougar Dana had been flirting with before she deigned to check up on me.

There’s no good reason the word needs to be there as it does not impact the plot in any way. As a bisexual, this is a word I never want to see again because it is used to invalidate bi women’s queerness as just a phase she’ll grow out of once her so-called curiosity has been sated.

I also had issues with the plot, especially after the mid-point of the book. Honestly, most of the drama could’ve been solved with one basic conversation. Jo’s internal freakout over thinking Mary Carlson would be angry to find she was lying would have been nothing compared to what ultimately transpired because she just would not communicate. Seriously. One little conversation explaining to Mary Carlson why she couldn’t come out and so much of the drama would’ve been resolved before it began.

And don’t get me started on Mary Carlson trying to force Jo out of the closet. That was not okay, even if Jo wasn’t being entirely honest at that point. And yet Mary Carlson isn’t criticised for this. Jo is the one who is forced to apologise for lying and Mary Carlson gets away with everything, even though it was horrible of her to try and force Jo to out herself before she was in a position to do so. They’re living in a judgemental small town in the South, for God’s sake. You’d think she’d know better.

Also, the rival love interest was such a flat, cardboard villain. At least give her some complexity. Come on. Just because she’s an antagonist doesn’t mean she has to be a horrible human being with absolutely no depth or redeeming qualities.

When things weren’t being ridiculous between the main couple, they were pretty cute together. I also liked the development of the relationship between Jo and her stepmother, even if I didn’t think the stepmother should’ve gotten away with as much of her low-level homophobia as she did. But all that cuteness was often punctuated by these issues so ultimately I couldn’t like the book as much as I wanted to.

My #DiversityBingo2017 Reading List

I’ve been chopping and changing my reading list over the last couple weeks, but I think I’ve finally gotten a pretty solid hold on what I’m going to read. Some of these are books I already owned or planned to read anyway. Other ones I’ve only heard about because of this reading challenge. Most are YA, but a few aren’t.

First, for those unaware, Diversity Bingo 2017 is a Twitter-based reading challenge dedicated to reading more diverse books. The aim is to fill all 36 squares, but the organisers do encourage people to still participate on a smaller scale if that’s too many. Here’s the sheet:

diversity-bingo-2017-sheet

And here is what I’m planning to read for each square (disclaimer: I’m not an expert so while I don’t think these books have bad rep as far as I know, I could be wrong). Thanks to Anjulie for telling me about Canva so I could actually at some artistic decency to my blog posts.

 

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1-replacement

 

Romance w/ a trans MC: Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

Nonbinary MC (ownvoices): Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz (this was originally something else that wasn’t ownvoices because I am a goof)

SFF w/ disabled MC: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Practicing Jewish MC: Wide Awake by David Levithan

Indian MC (ownvoices): When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Displaced MC: Shadows Cast By Stars by Catherine Knutsson

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MC w/ an underrepresented body: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy–I’m changing this one to Ida by Alison Evans because I’m reading it for a book club anyway and it saves me having to buy another book. If the rep sucks, I’ll shell out for Dumpin’.

Neurodiverse MC (ownvoices): History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (OCD character and author)

Retelling w/ MC belonging to LGBTQIA+: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Bisexual MC (ownvoices): Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

MC w/ an invisible disability: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

MC w/ and anaphylactic allergy: My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros

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MC of colour in SFF: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Ownvoices Latinx MC: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Free choice: Georgia Peaches and other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – I’ve read this one now. It was racist and biphobic as well as having some major plot issues. Here’s my review. So I’m going to use Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember for this category instead.

Non-western (real world) setting: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Ownvoices: The Flywheel by Erin Gough (also known as Get It Together, Delilah!)

MC w/ chronic pain: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

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West Asian setting: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

Arab MC (ownvoices): Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye

MC w/ wheelchair: The Defectives by Burgandi Rakoska

Book by author of colour: Another Word for Happy by Agay Llanera

Biracial MC (ownvoices): The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Pansexual MC (ownvoices): The Melody of You and Me by M. Hollis–I got in touch with the author who tells me this book isn’t ownvoices. Given I haven’t been able to find any that are and people better-versed haven’t had luck either, I’m going to drop the ownvoices part of this category.

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Black MC (ownvoices): The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

MC on the ace spectrum (ownvoices): Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari

LGBTQIA+ MC of colour: Not Your Sidekick By CB Lee

Visually impaired MC: Run by Kody Keplinger

Book set in Central America: The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez

Contemporary World arranged marriage: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

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Indigenous MC (ownvoices): The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

Diverse non-fiction: Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

PoC on the cover: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

D/dEAF/hard of hearing MC: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

Immigrant or refugee MC: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Hijabi MC (ownvoices): Does My Head Look Big in This? By Randa Abdel-Fattah


I might still change some of these, depending on if I find something else that sounds more up my alley. Some categories, such as the LGBTQIA retelling category, proved difficult since I’ve already read so many LGBTQIA retelling because of the 12 days of diversity challenge I took part in last year. The LGBTQIA character in the book I chose is the slightly less main character out of the two POVs, but I’m going easy on myself on that front because I do have quite a few queer reads anyway.

Hopefully this list will help anyone still struggling to find books for all the categories.

Book Roundup for 2016

As tempted as I am, I’m not going to read any more books this year. I’ve read 35, which is 15 more than I was aiming for. I think I’m good.

This was the year I rediscovered my love of reading and the first year I started reading more diversely. Yeah, those are definitely related. Somewhere between my bisexual epiphany in ’13 and the start of this year, I lost my patience for stories that were exclusively white, straight and cisgender. There are so many great diverse books out there that I’d never need to read anything else unless I had a damn good reason.

Anyway, this year–this month, actually–I completed two diverse reading challenges: Diversity December Bingo and Julia Ember’s 12 Days of Diversity Christmas Retelling Readathon. I read 11 books in this month alone. Being on break does wonders for my ability to do whatever the heck I want, clearly.

Out of those 35 books I read this year, I have a few favourites.

My Favourite Books Read in 2016

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

By Benjamin Alire Saenz

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-universeAristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

We Are the Ants

By Shaun David Hutchinson

23677341There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

Far From You

By Tess Sharpe

18296034Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer—but can she track them down before they come for her?

The Song of Achilles

By Madeline Miller

11250317Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.

But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

The Captive Prince Trilogy

By C.S. Pacat

24706405Damen is a warrior hero to his people, and the rightful heir to the throne of Akielos, but when his half brother seizes power, Damen is captured, stripped of his identity, and sent to serve the prince of an enemy nation as a pleasure slave.

Beautiful, manipulative and deadly, his new master Prince Laurent epitomises the worst of the decadent court at Vere. But in the lethal web of Veretian politics, nothing is as it seems, and when Damen is caught up in a dangerous play for the throne, he must form an alliance with Laurent to survive and save his country.

For Damen, there is just one rule: he must never reveal his true identity. Because the one man Damen needs is the one man who has more reason to hate him than anyone else . . .

Sidenote: Captive Prince is absolutely my problematic fave because it is fucked up, okay? It’s also not YA by any stretch of the imagination so definitely inform yourself of the potential triggers before reading if you need to, slavery, rape and pedophilia being chief among them.

And I Darken

By Kiersten White

25324111No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.

Highly Illogical Behavior

By John Corey Whaley

26109391Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?

Enter Lisa.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.

If I Was Your Girl

By Meredith Russo

29470648‘Important and brave. Read this wonderful book, just read it.’ — Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places

Amanda Hardy is the new girl at school.

Like everyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is holding back. Even from Grant, the guy she’s falling in love with.

Amanda has a secret.

At her old school, she used to be called Andrew. And secrets always have a way of getting out.

A book about loving yourself and being loved for who you really are.

The Sidekicks

By Will Kostakis

25574212The Swimmer. The Rebel. The Nerd.

All Ryan, Harley and Miles had in common was Isaac. They lived different lives, had different interests and kept different secrets. But they shared the same best friend. They were sidekicks. And now that Isaac’s gone, what does that make them?

Will Kostakis, award-winning author of The First Third, perfectly depicts the pain and pleasure of this teenage world, piecing together three points of view with intricate splendour.

Some others

The above books aren’t the only ones I enjoyed, but they’re definitely the ones I most vividly remember being my favourite. That doesn’t mean there weren’t others I didn’t enjoy just as much. My memory is fickle so here are some others I also liked:

  • Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  • Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  • You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
  • The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer
  • Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
  • Ash By Malinda Lo
  • As I Descended by Robin Talley (another problematic fave)

Anyway, every book I’ve listed anywhere in this blog post has at least one viewpoint character who is queer. That’s the way I like it. Next year, I’m going to aim for 40 books and most of that will be taken up by the 2017 Diversity Bingo.

Good fucking riddance, 2016, and let’s batten down the hatches what is likely to be an… interesting 2017.

 

#12DaysofDiversity Marian by Ella Lyons

Crossposted to Goodreads and Amazon. And I accidentally posted it on the Australian version of Amazon as well because I don’t know how to internet. My rating between the American and Aussie site is slightly different owing to the fact I was the only reviewer on the Aussie site and didn’t want to be mean.

Category: Wildcard

Sub-categories: Published 2016, LGBQIA, Small Publisher

28928362When Marian Banner moves to the glittering city of Nottingham with her father, Sir Erik the Fortunate, her entire life changes. She is no longer allowed to run about the countryside in trousers and braids, climbing fences and shooting turkeys, but is thrust into a life of dresses and jewels and dancing lessons, none of which Marian is particularly pleased about. Her dark mood changes when she meets a tiny whip of a girl called Robin Hood. Robin is fierce and brave, and wants more than anything to become a knight, regardless of her gender. Together they explore the city, becoming fast friends along the way.

As time passes, their friendship into something bigger and scarier and far more wonderful. But then Marian’s father is killed in service to the king and she catches the king’s eye.

Can Robin save her one more? Or will Marian discover how to save herself?

My last book. Wasn’t sure I’d make it, but here we are. I only had to read six but I wanted to read eight because of reasons.

I started off quite liking this book. The writing style was easy to read without appearing overly simplistic and, while that remained the case for the whole book, I did find my opinion of the plot and characters souring a little bit.

I didn’t mind Marian. Early on she was quite whiny, but given her age and circumstances at the time, I was willing to cut her some slack. She became a lot more tolerable once she was a bit older. Robin was entertaining at first, but her later possessiveness and outright cruelty to Marian due to circumstances outside her control really grated on me.

There are multiple cases of almost-rape in the story. The first could’ve easily been removed without affecting the story all that much, but the second was tied right into the plot. I suppose I should’ve expected it given many version of Robin Hood have Marian under the same kind of threat, but I still found it a little bothersome.

I also found the ending to be a little lacking. Marian was put in a horrible situation, but the solution, when it did come, was almost glossed over. The ending in itself also seemed very sudden.

All this said, I did like Marian’s use of her femininity to persuade those at court and also keep herself informed of the goings-on in the kingdom and abroad. It’s great to see that kind of strength being promoted here, since not every girl can be a warrior but that doesn’t mean those who aren’t are weak.

I did like this book. I just wish there had been a little more to it.

#12DaysofDiversity The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Crossposted on Goodreads and Amazon.

Category: Wildcard

Sub-category: LGBTQIA

23301545A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

Lavishly produced, packed with glorious Chris Riddell illustrations enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.

To start, I was led to believe this would be a story with heavy LGBTQIA themes. It wasn’t, really. Aside from one kiss, the only real mention of sexuality was related to an impending heterosexual marriage. So I felt a little misled on that front.

This was an odd little story, clearly set out to be similar in style to fairytale picture books aimed at children. It weaved the tales of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White together. Snow White is now a queen about to marry when she learns of a sleeping curse spreading through the neighbouring kingdom. With a knowledge of magic and a resistance to the sleeping curse due to having been in an enchanted sleep herself once, she sets off with her dwarf friends to save their neighbours.

The illustrations were pretty cool and delightfully creepy, but were not strictly necessary to the story. They served as more of a distraction than an augmentation. The story was a little thin, but the twist at the end was interesting.

I don’t have many thoughts on this story, probably due to it being quite insubstantial. It was an okay read and I’m glad it wasn’t too drawn-out, but I also would’ve preferred spending my time doing something else.

#12DaysofDiversity Fairest by K.S. Trenten

Crossposted to Goodreads and Amazon.

Category: Wildcard

Sub-categories: 2016, LGBTQIA, Small Publisher

28586144On the eve of my sixteenth year, I’m cursed to prick my finger on spindle and fall into a hundred year sleep. This is what the witch with the snow white skin and haunting dark eyes promised me, as I lay in my cradle. I haven’t been able to get her out of my mind, since. She haunts my dreams, steals into my quiet moments, when I think I’m alone. Everyone thinks she’s my enemy. Everyone thinks I need to be protected from her. I can’t think of her as an enemy, no matter what anyone else thinks. Who is she, truly? The only name she’s ever been given are a few, enigmatic words. The fairest of them all.

I knew I was in for a hard time within the first couple pages, already mentally editing sentences as I read. Fortunately, this is not a long story so my suffering wasn’t too drawn-out.

The best thing I can say? This was an interesting concept, having a (sort of) love triangle between Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella. The idea that enchanted sleep would change the victim and give them magical powers? Also could’ve been very cool. The execution, however, left much to be desired.

The biggest issue I had, aside from basic writing technique, was the sheer volume of abuse apologism contained in this story. Just… the sheer number of times the protagonist claimed the so-called “good” witch, despite all the horrible things she did, really cared about the “evil” witch, honest. Seriously, you’re hearing about all these abusive behaviours and still haven’t latched onto the fact it’s abuse?

Hell, some of the abuse elements could’ve worked if they’d actually be treated with the gravity they deserved, rather than having the protagonist mentally hand-waving everything she was told.

Speaking of telling, there’s a reason the phrase “don’t, don’t tell” exists. This book is an exercise in what not to do. The protagonist somehow being in love with the “evil” witch who cursed her could’ve possibly worked if so many of the things that created a connection between them hadn’t been glossed over with a few sentences in a prologue. There were also a few convenient things that were brought up at the end of the story to help the protagonist get what she wanted that honestly should’ve been hinted at earlier so they didn’t come off as something of a deus ex machina.

Because neither witch really had a redemption arc that I found particularly believable, the ending seemed rather off to me. However, there was one line I thought was pretty great:

“As Lord Harold said, we are a queer couple. If you’d like to honor our queerness, please feel free to join us, with someone you might not normally dance with at a ball.”

I tried to find the positives in this story, but they were few and far between. An occasional good line here and there, and an interesting concept. This could have been a good book and I’m rather sad I found it lacking.