Thursday, January 14, 2021

Cruising (by Alex Espinoza)

This is a memoir attempting to disguise itself as a scholarly text. Which is fine! Just good to know going into it.  

Espinoza touches on the history of cruising, recounts his own cruising experiences and summarizes other sources, sometimes in a very choppy way.  Often I was hoping he'd dig deeper on a topic, whether that be the actual mechanics of cruising, the history of the cruising subculture at various points, or the points he's trying to argue.  (The idea that cruising is egalitarian, for example.)  He interviews a few men (presented as "countless" men), which you gather was more about trading cruising war stories than any sort of research. He mentions a lot of times. He mentions "connecting emotionally" a lot of times but doesn't explain exactly how using a glory hole means you are "connecting emotionally."

Anyway there is a lot of interesting stuff here about a fascinating subculture, but mostly it is clear that Espinoza really really loves cruising, and a bit more distance, originality, and depth would have served this book well.

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Final Six (by Alexandra Monir)

The Final Six has a really fun premise: 24 teenagers are competing to be the six who get to fly to Europa to colonize it.  Only perhaps the mission is more sinister than it seems!

Our two point of view characters are Leo (a boy from Italy who has lost his family in a climate disaster) and Naomi (a girl from a Persian-American family in Los Angeles), and over the course of the competition they fall in love.

So many ways in which this book let me down. We don’t get to know any of the other characters, except for Beckett, who is basically a cartoon villain. (It’s improbable he even sticks around, because teamwork is essential to a group of astronauts and there is no way someone with Beckett’s attitude would make it past the first round of cuts.) Leo and Naomi fall in love, of course, except there is no chemistry and I see no real reason they even like each other. The pacing is off.  Some of the things described as part of the training seem to violate the laws of physics.  (Speaking of which, in The Martian it takes like three years to get to Mars. In this book they don't even mention how long it's going to take to fly to Jupiter. I want more science in my sci fi, damnit!)

The second book in the series is available from the library but after reading reviews I’m going to skip it.

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Saturday, January 09, 2021

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot (by Mikki Kendall)

This is a highly regarded book of essays about intersectional feminism that I might just not be the target audience for. I know I fall into white feminist blind spots so I went into this ready to hear about them, but her examples are like "actually Lena Dunham is a bad feminist!"and "Pocahontas costumes are racist!" and.. I think we all know that at this point? At some points, she builds a strawman of a white feminist who doesn’t really exist. (Like "feminists" who supported Brett Kavanaugh. Again, I think we know these are not real feminists.)

Kendall also enmenrates other issues that are feminist issues but often presented (or dismissed) as racial issues, but she's not arguing for anything outside of general liberal progressive politics at this point. I already agree with her about defunding the police, Black maternal health, and housing as a basic human right, and so do most of the white feminists I know. We're probably failing on a lot of counts, but not those.

What resonated with me the most strongly were the sections on respectability politics, the "Mommy wars" (wherein the idealized standards of motherhood are based on women with resources and money), and the idea that white feminists want to "pass the buck" to white men instead of owning their own failures (god knows that's usually my first instinct). The writing itself is a bit scattershot though and I would have appreciated more hard data, more focused arguments, and stronger calls to action.

I came away feeling it is flawed but there is a lot of important food for thought here, and I wholeheartedly agree about this: if your feminism isn't intersectional, you're doing it wrong. 

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Sunday, January 03, 2021

Romances and Romcoms

 My last book of 2020 and my first two reads of 2021 all qualify as romances or romcoms, so we'll bundle them together!

First was Beach Read by Emily Henry, which had some funny moments but was more emotionally complex than you might expect. The main characters are both writers, and they decide to trade genres for a summer; she will write litfic and he will write romance.  She is also dealing with the source of her writer's block: after the death of her seemingly perfect father, she discovers that he had a secret lover on the side and questions everything she once believed about romance. There are real emotional stakes here along with the romance.

Secondly, I'm not putting it on my official list, but one of the RHC categories for 2021 is "a fanfic" so I did read a Villaineve fic called for hire. It had a fun plot and captured the characters well! There is also a whole lot of sex, which should shock nobody.

And speaking of a whole lot of sex, the final read was Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade, about two fanfic writers.  One is a proudly fat woman and the other is secretly the star of the show he writes fanfic about. It's very inside baseball about the fanfic world, and very wish fulfillment fantasy too. (Not one but two male leads on the show write fanfic about it? Mmm okay.) (The running jokes about pegging were hilarious though.) (Yeah this book is definitely very explicit.) 

I abandoned a book recently because of a very similar premise; in this case the fanfic setting and the plus-sized heroine kept me reading, but I did get similarly frustrated by the fact that one character just needs to tell the other character the truth and then the situation is resolved. [Spoiler] The fact that he didn't tell her before they had sex meant it was unforgivable to me. I loved the character of Marcus but it was such a betrayal of trust. [End spoiler]  I also do not think the fatness was handled as realistically as it could have been but maybe I'm just not as self-actualized as these characters. 

I am also trying to read some litfic for the Tournament of Books but I keep stalling out on Deacon King Kong. Obama liked it and so did all the peeps on Goodreads, so I will keep trying!

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Friday, January 01, 2021

Year-end Book Wrapup 2020

My goal this year was to read 70 books and to complete the Read Harder Challenge. Achieved! You can see all my Challenge books on last year’s wrapup post

This year, I read 80 published books and 4 unpublished books by friends, which I did not blog about for obvious reasons but will when they are published! (They are all great. My friends are hella talented.) I read 60 books by women, 23 by men, and one collaboration between a nonbinary writer and female graphic artist.  At least 25 of these were young adult novels, mostly queer. Definitely my comfort reading of the year.

Top five books of the year:

1.  The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

I didn’t read a ton of litfic this year, it turns out (I am 0 for 12 in the Tournament of Books shortlist) so this is actually the only litfic in my top five!  But it is really great. The story of a girl who is granted immortality but cursed not to be remembered by anyone she meets. There are some plot holes in how this is handled, and the modern-day stuff is stronger than the flashbacks, but still a book I really enjoyed.

2. Stay Gold

This is a romance in which the main character is a trans teenager. Both he and his love interest are well-drawn and their chemistry and banter are wonderful. But this book is not light and fluffy. It has extremely vivid transphobic content and could potentially be triggering. If you are sensitive to transphobia and homophobia (against the lesbian characters), I would go read what others have to say about this book before listening to a cisgender person. All that said, I put this at the top of my list because not only are the characters great, it viscerally conveys what it feels like to be a trans man in an authentic way. (The author is a trans man.) I ugly cried at the end of this and felt a greater level of empathy for my transgender friends. That, for me, made it worthwhile.

3. The Murderbot series

This was recommended all over the place this year; I think Ask Metafilter was where I first heard about it.  Murderbot is a sentient humanoid robot who goes rogue, definitely does not want to be human, and loves watching their favorite series, Sanctuary Moon. They somehow end up being in charge of protecting a lot of humans and, unfortunately for them, having some emotions from time to time. Murderbot is a unique and completely loveable character. I didn’t always follow the broader intrigue and corporate espionage stuff, but who cares. Murderbot is delightful.

4. Catfishing on CatNet

A full length novel by the author of Cat Pictures, Please.  If you like that short story (and you must, right?!?) you will love this book. Creative, funny, entertaining, and overall such a pleasure.

5. Amelia Westlake Was Never Here

I read a lot of great (and some bad) YA romance this year but this was one of my favorites. Loved the characters and their chemistry and this was pure, unadulterated, fluffy lesbian goodness. I chased this high all year and never quite reached it again.

Honorable mentions: Frankly In Love, All This Could Be Yours, Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, Real Queer America, More Happy Than Not, Hot Dog Girl

Bottom three books:

Once again, since I abandon most books if I really don’t like them, this is more a list of “meh” than anything I truly disliked! That’s the one downside of being a DNF-er: I don’t get to truly rip into terrible books anymore.

1. New York 2040

Stuck with this because of the Read Harder Challenge but ultimately did not add up to much and was a slog to get through. Not my jam.

2. Like a Love Story

Figured I should probably identify my least favorite YA of the year, and this is it. A great premise torpedoed by unconvincing relationships and unrealistic events, along with some problematic content.

3. London Calling  

Lesbian romance without a good plot or a convincing romance. I probably finished this out of inertia, or maybe misguided optimism that it would get better at some point. 

On to 2021!

Last year I almost made my 2020 goal to read 100 books (I’m glad I didn’t, nobody needed more pressure in 2020).  I think 80 is a good goal though and I’ll up my goal to 80 books in 2021.

Of course, I’m going to keep going with the Read Harder Challenge as I enjoy challenging myself!  I’ll be updating this post as I get through the challenge and use a label on my posts so you can follow along.

I have ideas for some categories, but recommendations are always welcome. I’m not sure how to handle the very first category, “Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read.” A lot of people are doing books like Ulysses or Infinite Jest or War and Peace, but I’ve read all of those. #humblebrag. I never finished Swanns Way but I wasn't intimidated by it; I was just bored.

On the other hand I was really intimidated by Just Mercy this year, because I find it difficult to read about injustice and systemic racism. (Great book, though.) So I think I have to find a book that deals with something enraging or tragic or confronting. (This must be the right approach as I’m intimidated just thinking about it.)

Here are the categories:

Total: 4/24

[  ] Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read
[X] Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism: Hood Feminism
[  ] Read a non-European novel in translation  
[X] Read an LGBTQ+ history book: Cruising
[  ] Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author  
[X] Read a fanfic: for hire
[X] Read a fat-positive romance: Spoiler Alert
[  ] Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author
[  ] Read a middle grade mystery  
[  ] Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color
[  ] Read a food memoir by an author of color
[  ] Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color
[  ] Read a book with a cover you don’t like
[  ] Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada
[  ] Read a memoir by a Latinx author
[  ] Read an own voices book about disability
[  ] Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain
[  ] Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader
[  ] Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist
[  ] Read a book of nature poems
[  ] Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability
[  ] Read a book set in the Midwest
[  ] Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness
[  ] Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die

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Monday, December 21, 2020

The Other Bennet Sister (by Janice Hadlow)

I was going to start on the ToB shortlist, I swear, but then this popped up in my library holds and I couldn't resist! It's a retelling and continuation of Pride & Prejudice focusing on Mary Bennet.

This is absolutely fanfiction, though of course this version of Mary is easy to root for and her London adventures and romantic plot are delightful. I liked Hadlow's take one some characters (Mr. Collins, the Gardiners) and less so others (Charlotte, Elizabeth, Caroline Bingley) but almost all of them felt out of character. Hadlow borrows plot elements and references from other Austen novels, which makes it feel even less organic.  

But that being said I enjoy fanfiction, especially in a case like this, where Hadlow really nails the narrative voice and the milieu. I would love to see her take on Sanditon (it needs a decent ending). I should probably have saved this for 2021 and counted it as "fanfic" for the Read Harder Challenge, but I've got a Villaneve fic ready to go.

If you're an Austen fan and don't mind fanficcy interpretations of all your characters, you could do worse!

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Friday, December 11, 2020

Exit Strategy and Network Effect (by Martha Wells)

Murderbot is back! Exit Strategy is the fourth novella in the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells and kind of wraps up the first big plot arc. (Where does Murderbot belong, and with whom.) This was a really good one, with a conclusion that is both very satisfying and leaves the door open for a lot more. I immediately moved on to Network Effect, which is the fifth book and first full-length novel in the series.

It's great to have a novel-length Murderbot story; it works just as well on a larger scale, and I loved the relationships in this one. I saw some people (on Metafilter, maybe) saying this series was their favorite read of the year. I don't think it will end up in my very top, but then again maybe! It is really really delightful, if you're a sci-fi fan.

I so far have resisted the urge to start on Read Harder 2021, specifically the novel-length, really intriguing Killing Eve fanfiction I have discovered. Move over Johnlock, it's time for Villaneve!

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Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Today Tonight Tomorrow (by Rachel Lynn Solomon)

Yes! This was a charming and super funny contemporary YA novel. Two high school seniors who have been half-bitter, half-bantery rivals for four years participate in a treasure hunt around the city of Seattle on the last day of school. They end up teaming up and of course, romance ensues! With many feels and some nice layers of complexity. Very very good, and extremely well-written.

As a side note, the Read Harder Challenge for 2021 is out! I feel like "read a book with a cover you don't like" is a repeat challenge but that's fine. I'm already starting to choose books for the categories so if you have recommendations, leave 'em in the comments! "Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read" is an interesting category. People are choosing stuff like Ulysses or Infinite Jest (read 'em) but I don't think I am intimidated by literaryness. Instead I may choose something that intimidates me because it's emotionally difficult to engage with. Just Mercy was intimidating for sure! Something along those lines maybe.

I also look forward to see what they recommend, even though sometimes their recommendations are a bit off, which is so weird since they designed the challenges. But hooray anyway!

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Monday, November 30, 2020

My Dark Vanessa (by Kate Elizabeth Russell)

 A book full of Nabokov references (its title comes from Pale Fire and it is full of references to Lolita) and a dark but compelling plot about a woman in 2017 looking back at her "affair" with a schoolteacher, when she was 15 and he was 43.

There is some controversy about this book due to the similarity with a memoir by a Latinx author, although I don't think that this story is that unique, sadly enough. In fact, my high school geometry teacher was well known for "dating" students right after they graduated and turned 18, and even married a former student. Our friend group was friendly with him and with his wife back in the day, but in hindsight he was a super creep!

This book is potentially triggering if you had an older adult predatory male in your life when you were a teenager and, let's be honest, which of us women didn't? To a greater or lesser extent, this story is familiar, and unflinching, and raw. A compelling read.

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Thanksgiving Reads

I read a bunch of books on our Thanksgiving staycation, and here now are those books.

By the Book (by Amanda Sellet)

A YA romance about a bookish narrator named Mary, who is delightfully awkward and literary.  Very light, but enjoyable. As you know I’ve read a lot of YA recently and it definitely stuck out that the characters here were for the most part very white. These days, most YA novels have a more diverse cast of characters.  Just an observation.

Rogue Patrol (by Martha Wells)

The next book in the Murderbot series and another enjoyable installment. I must confess I don’t quite understand the big picture conspiracy (probably because it takes a while for me to read each book in the series since the library hold list is long) but I loved the story here, especially the arc of Miki, another bot who Murderbot semi-befriends. How do you not love Miki?

Long Bright River (by Liz Moore)

The 2021 Tournament of Books longlist is out, so let the reading begin! This is an atmospheric, litficcy thriller about a police officer named Mickey who is trying to find her sister, an addict who has disappeared. There are twists and turns, and a compelling plot. A page-turner.

Full Disclosure (by Camryn Garrett)

Love the premise: a girl who is HIV-positive navigating first-time romance and figuring out how to disclose to her friends and new love interest that she is positive. There was something off about this though; many weird moments that didn’t feel quite real (starting with the opening scene, Simone being all sex-positive and asking questions of her gynecologist while one of her dads is in the room being controlling, except he’s a doctor and of all people should know better).  There are numerous jarring moments like this, or where what people say or do doesn’t quite work with what has been established about them previously.  A bit rough.

Her Royal Highness
(by Rachel Hawkins)

Very witty writing and a fun plotline (Millie goes off to school in Scotland and falls in love with her roommate, a princess) but torpedoed by godawful pacing. There are three long chapters before she even goes to Scotland (like, come on, we know she ends up there, we don’t need a full journey) but then the climax and denouement happen so fast it seems like the author was on some kind of deadline at the end.  And it doesn’t even quite make sense how it unfolds. Not in a rush to read the other books in this series.

I Wish You All the Best (by Mason Deaver)

Another strikeout in the world of YA. (I keep checking them out thinking something is going to live up to the amazing YA I’ve read this year, like More Happy Than Not or Stay Gold or Amelia Westlake Was Never Here). This is about a nonbinary character named Ben, great! But they are so angsty and unlikeable from beginning to end that it makes the romance part not work. (What does Nathan see in Ben? Why are they even friends?) Ben is described towards the end as “kind” and I honestly can’t recall a single instance in this book of where they were kind to someone else or even had a particularly kind thought. I also can’t help but compare it to Stay Gold, where I emerged with a visceral understanding of the main character as trans, but here I didn’t learn much about what it means for Ben to be nonbinary, and I really wanted to! Disappointing.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

More YA Books

What's this, am I still reading LGBTQ YA books? Why yes, yes I am.

Love, Creekwood (by Becky Albertalli)

This is a fun little epistolary novella set in the same universe as Love, Simon and Leah on the Offbeat. Our main couples (Simon and Bram, Leah and Abby) are in college and navigating their relationships. The biggest tension here is that Simon and Bram are bad at long distance relationships. It's funny and fun and breezy and fast. Worth a read for Creekwood fans.

Only Mostly Devastated (by Sophie Gonzales) 

A young adult version of Grease, basically. Gay Grease. Ollie and Will have a romantic summer at the lake, then Ollie transfers to Will's school and finds out that popular, jock, closeted Will is not the Will he remembers. Extra points for a sensitive handling of a relative's illness and for bisexual representation! Negative points for being too on-the-nose with Grease references. Yes we get it, we don't need the words "hopelessly devoted" to tell us this is about Grease. But mostly super cute.

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

You Should See Me in a Crown (by Leah Johnson)

I love this book! Our protagonist, Liz, is a young Black lady from Indiana who has social anxiety but needs a scholarship, so decides to run for prom queen.  (An undertaking that is taken to absurd levels of seriousness by her small town.)

She learns a ton about herself along the way, her relationships with friends and former friends evolve, and she falls for another girl running for prom queen. (I enjoyed that “coming out to my family” was a non-issue in this one whereas coming out at school was a problem, a nice twist on the usual formula).

I can nitpick (for example her main prom queen rival is probably a smidge too cartoony; she should definitely not have ever forgiven the betrayal she finds out about towards the end) but otherwise, it’s a great addition to the YA canon.

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Monday, November 09, 2020

The Rosie Result (by Graeme Stinson)

It’s not Graeme Simsion’s fault that this book has the wrong title. I almost guarantee this book (the third book in the series that started with The Rosie Project) was called The Hudson Project, and then his editor was like “but you need Rosie in the title, it’ll sell better and people will be less confused.”

It bugs me anyway. Rosie is not in this book that much, and her impact on the plot is minimal. This is about Don (our main character) and his relationship with his 10-year-old son, Hudson. I loved it. Had all the fun and charm of The Rosie Project, I adore the characters, and Hudson himself is just perfect.

Just has the wrong title, is all.

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More Happy Than Not (by Adam Silvera)

This has everything I love in a young adult novel: LGBTQ content, an unreliable narrator, all the feels.  I don't want to give too much away, but the main character is Aaron Soto, a Puerto Rican American from a poor neighbhorhood in the Bronx, dealing with the death of his father and his own recent suicide attempt. He has an amazing girlfriend, but when he makes a new best friend named Thomas, he starts to question things about himself.

It is not in any way light and fluffy. It vividly depicts life in the projects, homophobia (internalized and otherwise), and it is not wrapped up neatly in a bow. All of that creates a huge impact, and the ending is amazing. Oh, and you may have noticed the scifi tag: this takes place in a world where there's a place you can go to have memories erased, which one of Aaron's friends has done too.

I'm excited to see there's an updated edition with an epilogue, which I have not yet read (on hold at the library of course). But even without it, this novel is well worth your time.

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Friday, October 23, 2020

How to Be An Antiracist (by Ibram X. Kendi)

I read this as part of a book club for work. There are about seven of us reading it, and it's a really diverse group with a mix of perspectives that has made for great discussion.

Overall I found this engaging and thought-provoking. He challenged some of my ideas, too. I now agree with him that black people can be racist or use racist power structures to their benefit, but I also think it's not up to me as a white woman to call that out. However, I disagree that "microaggression" is not a useful term, as to me it really captures something that I didn't have words for before. I also don't think he was particularly thoughtful in discussing intersectionality. 

In the end, the book's strongest takeaway was that attacking racist policy at the root is the answer, and that sometimes policy change comes first and social acceptance comes later. (As in school integration, or Obamacare, or interracial or gay marriage.)  Supporting antiracist policy and policymakers is important, and talking about how to do that on a micro scale is something I'm looking forward to discussing at our last book group meeting today!

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (by V.E. Schwab)

Such a great premise, and such a great book, reminiscent of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Addie LaRue, born in France in 1714, makes a deal with a god of darkness. She gets immortality and eternal youth in exchange for being forgotten by everyone she meets. (She's unable even to write, or draw, or speak her name.)

We catch up with her 300 years later, in New York City, where she has figured out how to live with the curse as best she can. Until one day, something incredible happens: for the first time in 300 years, someone is able to remember her. How? And why? And what happens next?

Things I loved about this book: the premise. A perfect ending. Bisexual representation. The character of Addie herself. All the nitty gritty details of how the curse works.  I only have a couple of nitpicks: one is that I found the flashbacks way less interesting than the modern-day stuff (especially when we spent seemingly forever in the 1700s.) We briefly get cameos of famous people who have supposedly sold their souls to the same god, which makes sense in this world (like of course people would sell their souls for genius or fame) but came across a bit silly. And there is one plot hole that drove me crazy the whole book. (Will put it in spoiler tags just in case; RSS readers avert your eyes.)

Addie often will have day-long relationships with people; for example, she meets Toby, a musician, and hangs out with him and takes him home and sleeps with him, on multiple nights. Her night with Remy is described in detail as lasting many hours. And other nights as well (for example, with Sam.)  But how do any of her relationships last over several hours when human beings need to pee? This drove me crazy! And at a dinner party, one person does gt up and go to the bathroom and then forget her instantly so it's not like there's some kind of bathroom loophole. So how are all these dates even happening? Like they are hanging out eating and drinking! Sometimes it's specified that they have multiple beers somewhere and then go hone to have sex. People pee before sex! Does nobody ever have to pee? Does Addie not ever have to pee? 

Yes, this is a nitpick but could I forget about it? No, no I could not. But don't let that stop you from reading this book, it's amazing and I devoured it.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Like a Love Story (by Abdi Nazemian)

I possibly should have quit my queer YA reading spree while I was ahead, with Stay Gold. 

Loved the premise of this book,  a coming of age novel set during the AIDS epidemic in New York. The fear of AIDS, the deaths of so many, and the general homophobia of society reminds us how far we've come since then -- and the fact that the novel ends with a mention of the Pulse nightclub shooting reminds us how far we have to go. However, I had a lot of issues with this book.

  • The relationships don't work. I never got a sense of friendship between Reza and Judy, other than he is very good looking and she is a horny teenager. Reza and Art have this love at first sight thing that also only seems to be based on good looks and horniness. (Which is fine and probably realistic, but don't expect me to get emotionally invested, because I won't, and I didn't.) 
  • Art and Judy's friendship was the best drawn one, but their fight makes absolutely no sense. Judy decides to reject both of them without finding out what happened, and Art and Reza fail to point out that the big "betrayal" is Art trying to give Reza a flower and Reza saying "I'm not gay." Like, how is this a massive betrayal? It's not. So the giant fight (in which everyone including the adults acts like Reza and Art are horrible people) makes no sense and makes everyone look bad.
  • The answer to "The Lord be with you" in a Catholic mass in the 1980s is "And also with you." The fact that "And with your spirit" is in there drove me insane. This is a small thing but as a former Catholic I couldn't let it go by.
  • Other reviews have pointed out transphobia and issues of sexual consent, and I agree with those reviews.
Mostly though, I just wasn't emotionally engaged. Which sucks, because the premise is so great and there definitely are amazing moments and a deep history here.

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Stay Gold (by Tobly McSmith)

This book had me absolutely weeping by the end of it. It is marketed as more light and fluffy than it is, so be forewarned, the main character, Pony, a trans boy, goes through some major shit in this book and it gets dark. There are very detailed content warnings on Goodreads so I won't go into it, but do give them a read-through if you like.

This is a love story between Pony, a transgender boy going stealth at his new school, and Georgia, a popular cheerleader with more to her than meets the eye. I absolutely loved their relationship, their chemistry, and these two characters, even when they broke my heart. Their friendship and banter really captures the chemistry of that high school friends-to-lovers energy.

There is a bit of "trans 101" content, which I don't think is a bad thing, and it helps make it very visceral. (Especially when a character like Georgia is completely ignorant at the beginning of the novel.) The Max character made me really angry in pressuring Pony to come out as trans. However, although there is a lot of "out and proud" messaging, I don't think the novel thinks Max is correct. He admits at the end that he was wrong and it could easily have ended horribly. But I can see why other readers (again, Goodreads) don't like the message that being stealth is somehow the same as "lying" when being out can be so dangerous. I think McSmith gets this but could have emphasized it more.

I was in tears at the end of it and will be buying my own copy in addition to making a donation to the Stay Gold fund, which helps transgender people get gender-affirming surgery.

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Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Henna Wars (Adiba Jaigirdar)

Yes, it's another queer YA! Who would have thunk it? This one is about two girls in Ireland, one Bangladeshi and one Brazilian-Irish, who create rival henna businesses. It's mainly about Nishat, our Bangladeshi heroine, who has to navigate coming out to her family, racicm and homophobia at school, and other relationships and friendships. It gets a little depressing (the low point is very low) and the "henna wars" are not really very central to the plot, but the ending is charming.

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Friday, October 02, 2020

Robopocalypse (by Daniel H. Wilson)

The penultimate category of the Read Harder Challenge was “a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author.” And I will be honest that I didn’t want to read something overly literary (sorry Louise Erdrich) or depressing (sorry, so much indigenous literature). Sherman Alexie would have been perfect, except hard pass forever, I’m not sorry to that man.

Robopacalypse, by Cherokee writer Daniel H. Wilson, seemed perfect. Indeed, it’s a fast paced technothriller in a Crichton-style, which I have a soft spot for (though still grossed out that Crichton turned out to be a climate denier). In fact, Wilson even has written a sequel to The Androneda Strain! I have a soft spot for The Andromeda Strain, so I might even check it out. 

This was a fast, page-turning read, but I have some issues with the writing itself. I love reading oral histories, but if something is supposed to be spoken dialogue, I cannot handle the inclusion of phrases that no human would never actually say aloud. This book lulls you into a false sense of security with all these reasonable sentences (“We spread out in a circle and keep our distance,” okay, sure) and then suddenly you get “He runs one gnarled hand through his stiff black hair.” Who would describe something like that? Nobody. NOBODY. 

Speaking of editing, as you might have noticed above, everything is told in the present tense, even though some chapters are supposedly interviews or transcripts and they are all different POV characters. I suppose one could argue that the person compiling the whole chronology (one character) just loves the present tense. But when it’s supposed to be “a transcript” that kind of breaks the suspension of disbelief.  

And a side note: I appreciated the inclusion of Native characters, both Osage and Cherokee, and the exploration of the culture in a way that just made the characters richer. But, while there are female characters here and there, most of the POV characters (and the characters in general) are men. 

Still, overall this is a great, cinematic story somewhat let down by bad editing. I hear the sequel is better, and I may well give it a chance!

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Monday, September 28, 2020

Loathe at First Sight (by Suzanne Park)

A feminist romcom set in Seattle's computer gaming industry. My husband works in this industry and everything about it was hilariously (if also depressingly) on point.

Melody Joo is our main character, a junior producer who jokingly pitches a game about male strippers stopping the apocalypse that ends up getting produced. I enjoyed the characters here, especially her Korean parents (reminded me very much of my Dutch parents) and her friends. It was refreshing to have a wedding bridezilla storyline that was handled reasonably. Melody was smart and good at standing up for herself, which I loved.

The weakness here for me was the romance itself. The "Loathe at First Sight" title would have worked better if she actually did get together with the character she loathed, a totally different person from her somewhat generic love interest, who she didn't exactly ever loathe. But I enjoyed everything else so much, I didn't really focus on the romance. Not ideal in a romcom but still made for an enjoyable read. 

(Note that she gets attacked by racist/misogynistic online trolls, and it's quite realistic, and potentially triggering.)

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Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Lacemaker And The Princess (by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley)

Category is: "a middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the U.S. or the UK" and thus I read this middle-grade historical novel about a young lacemaker named Isabelle who encounters Marie Antoinette one day, and becomes a companion to her daughter. This is based on a real story about a commoner who did become a companion to Marie-Therese at Versailles.

This novel shows the French revolution from both sides: on the one hand, Isabelle lives in the palace, where the royal family is kind to her; on the other she lives in relative poverty, and Isabelle's brother George has revolutionary ideas and works for the Marquis de Lafayette (who I definitely did not envision as Daveed Diggs, similarly to how I definitely did not envision Marie Antoinette as Kirsten Dunst).

This was a solid middle-grade offering, which made me want to go back and reread Antonia Fraser's biography of Antoinette and also visit Versailles. It's 2020, so I can do the former, but not the latter. Someday!

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Friday, September 25, 2020

More Queer YA

If you noticed my edits to this post you may have noticed that I'm on a queer YA kick right now, I finished another one last night, re-read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (boy I do not like Leah) and am halfway through my fifth queer YA in three days.  Maybe I'll keep this post in drafts until the time is right to publish.

I'll Be The One (by Lyla Lee) 

This is about a plus-sized Korean-American singer and dancer who joins a reality Kpop competition. I particularly enjoyed: looking up all the different Kpop songs and artists referenced; the complicated relationship she has with her mother, who is vocally ashamed of her weight; and as opposed to the last book I read, the amazing depiction of bisexual characters. No spoilers but one twist in particular made me extremely happy. There is some cartoon-level fatphobia but I can't be mad at it, really, since the message is so good. 

Hot Dog Girl (by Jennifer Dugan) 

Okay this is what I'm talking about! The perfect queer YA. Not super predictable, which I appreciated, and the setting (a dilapidated local amusement park) was so vividly drawn. This was funny and charming, and I absolutely loved the central romance. Highly recommended!

The Meaning of Birds (by Jaye Robin Brown)

This is about a girl grieving the death of her girlfriend from a flu-like illness compounded by asthma, so not exactly escapist fare. I was hoping there would be more of a healing narrative but she's really only starting to heal by the end, which makes for a realistic and touching read, but I really wanted less grief and anger since I am immersed in grief and anger right now. This was possibly not the book for this particular moment in time. 

Late to the Party (by Kelly Quindlen)

This was good but there was something off about it, perhaps a slight lack of a spark from the characters, particularly the main character. I wonder if it was the dialogue? Not sure! It was good but not great, for reasons I can't quite articulate. I feel like I have to keep reading these queer YA novels until I find one I enjoyed as much as Hot Dog Girl. Or well it's been a week since I started this binge, maybe it's time to read something else!

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found (by Mary Beard)

I read this for the category "a book about a natural disaster." I picked this up after our visit to Pompeii a few years ago, but hadn't read it before. 

It is this weird mix of very interesting and very disappointing. Beard is one of the foremost experts on Pompeii, and it's chock-full of fascinating tidbits about the life of the city. I'm glad to have read it on paper too; the illustrations and colored plates really bring everything to life.

But the title ("fires of Vesuvius") implied a focus on the actual disaster that the book didn't pay off. Other than a prologue about some of the bodies found by archeologists, there was very little about the disaster itself, which was a bummer. I would have second thoughts about counting this at all given the lack of focus on the disaster for the "about a disaster" category, except that 1) it took me a long time to read; and 2) it's a particularly awful month in a particularly awful year, so I'm cutting myself some slack.

I also was looking forward to reading about the meaning of the phalluses and the experiences of the brothels but she kind of didn't cover that in much detail. I was like "yay the penis chapter is coming up" (er, no pun intended) but she was kind of snide about tourists not spending that much time in the brothel? Her authorial voice didn't quite win me over. 

Anyway it was okay, the topic was interesting, but I'd rather read another book about Pompeii, to be perfectly honest.

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Friday, September 18, 2020

LGBTQ Young Adult Romance

Updating this post because a daily dose of LGBTQ YA is my current comfort reading, and I will probably read another one today to be quite honest.

Girl Crushed (by Katie Heaney)

I was going to highly recommend this, as it was a sweet queer romance with excellent writing. Also there was a bisexual character, which I always appreciate! But it turns out the author has made some biphobic statements in the past, particularly attacking "bisexual women married to straight men" which happens to include me. This made me see the bisexual character (and her commitmentphobia) through a new lens, as this does play into bisexual stereotypes. So I'm disappointed.  Yay amazing writing writing! Boo biphobia.

The Summer of Impossibilities (by Rachael Allen) 

This suffered a tiny bit by having some overly black-and-white characters and wrapped up a bit too neatly but still enjoyed this. Also had some similarities to my own YA in Amelia Grace's story (and makes me think I should potentially make my villains less black and white). 

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Date Me, Bryson Keller (by Kevin Van Whye)

 This book of young gay love has a fun premise and great messaging! But it falls short in comparison of Love, Simon, for me. 

I loved Bryson as a character, but found his overall arc not fully believable. I also loved Kai, but found the idea that he, a deeply closeted person, would out himself as part of an extremely public challenge and then be like "but it's secret!" did not quite track. Maybe his subconscious was nudging him to do it, but the opportunities he had to back out and didn't, rang false. 

 There was also a bit of didacticism (didactic-ness?) around the fact that being gay is AOK even if you're religious, but my own similarly themed young adult novel does this too, so I shouldn't throw stones. I see it as aimed towards the young adult audience moreso than adults who are reading young adult, if this makes sense.

Overall I liked it and found it charming! Just not quite a five-star read for me.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Murderbot and Meal

Here are two completely unrelated books that I read this week. (Well, one thing they have in common is that they are both short.)

Artificial Condition: The Murderbot Diaries (by Martha Wells) 

The second book in the delightful Murderbot series! I was actually halfway through the third one and then my library checkout expired, so it will take a bit for it to come back around. But I love Murderbot and am excited to keep reading the series. If you know, then you know. 

Meal (by Blue Delliquanti and Soleil Ho)

Allow me to take a moment to point out how annoying it is when Bookriot creates a category for the RHC and then recommends books that don't fit.  The category is "A food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before" and they suggest Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat? How does that make any sense? I hold myself to a higher standard.

It turns out I've tried a lot of cuisines so was stuck for a bit, until the Goodreads group recommended Meal, a graphic novel about entomophagy, aka eating insects. I once sat across from my husband as he ate crickets in a Oaxacan restaurant, and I had delicious chicken mole instead, because no. I enjoyed learning more about the tradition of entomophagy, even if I have a very typical White westerner reaction to the whole thing. The book was a quick read and the romance was cute.

I find it impossible to believe any restaurant would have a crowd outside excited to eat whole tarantulas, though.

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You (by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

This was for the "audiobook of poetry" category of the RHC, which means it was narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  It seems to be a compilation of bookended tweets, which start off with a "gmorning" and ends with a "gnight" and expresses love, affirmation, and optimism. Here's an example:

This moment will pass.
This fatigue will pass.
Tonight will pass.
But look at you, with the gift of imagination.
You can teleport to where you're happiest just by closing your eyes and breathing.
Then come right back to now, check in with the present.
You magic thing, you.

I'm considering buying the audiobook (this was a library loan) because he's so positive and uplifting, and his messages are so great, I think Mina could use this in her rotation as well. LMM is a treasure. (And, I will never neglect to mention, called me "sweetheart" once outside the Richard Rodgers theater.)

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Monday, August 31, 2020

Final August Books

I finished up two books at the end of August in my quest to catch up on my reading goal; they were my 44th and 45th books of the year.

Midnight Sun (by Stephenie Meyer)

I bought this (yes, with money) so I could livetweet it with Jen, except she gave up on it but I couldn't stop so I livetweeted anyway. It was honestly so fun. Meyer retconned some of the more egregious moments, and there was a whole section with Edward talking about the importance of consent, lol okay Stephenie. But being in his emo brain made the book so much more enjoyable. My ironic love of Twilight continues. It's definitely ironic, okay.  Ironic love.

Real Queer America (by Samantha Allen)

Now here is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend, the memoir of a transgender journalist exploring rural America and kind of hating on coastal LGBTQ liberal elites, of which I am one, in the process. Her take gave me a new appreciation of the strength of queer communities when those communities are smaller and more endangered. It also made me want to take a roadtrip across America (sniffle) immediately. I appreciated her acknowledgement of intersectionality, the breadth of folks she interviewed, and the new perspective on rural America. And the writing, which is wonderful! A great read. 

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Friday, August 28, 2020

One to Watch (by Kate Stayman-London)

Such an awesome, fun, body-positive book! About a fat-positive blogger (omg I was one of those!) who goes on a Bachelor-type reality show as the "Main Squeeze." She faces fatphobia, insecurity, and romantic complications. I can't imagine a character I would root for more! And I immediately recommended it to my other plus-size friends. 

Just look at the cover! Really loved it.

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Monday, August 24, 2020

Austenland and Midnight in Austenland (by Shanon Hale)

As soon as I found out this book existed, I immediately had to read it, then watch the movie, then read the sequel. This is the kind of escapism that 2020 is crying out for.  Plus, Midnight in Austenland turns out to be a romance about a single parent (she is divorced) so it qualifies for Read Harder also! Score!

Both books are about an immersive Jane Austen-esque vacation house in England called Austenland; both books feature American women who go there for different reasons - Jane in the first book because she is Austen-obsessed and no man can live up to Mr. Darcy; Charlotte in the second book because she feels trapped in her life post-divorce.

I loved both of these romances (and incidentally also the movie) and all the delightful Jane Austen shoutouts along the way. Pure delightfulness to read, and based on the ending of the second book I would love to read a third one. Shannon Hale, are you listening?

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