Marthese reviews Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

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“There’s more to you than how you look, you’re more than a package”

Fat Angie is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while because it seemed like a complex and intersectional queer read. Spoiler: it is.

Fat Angie is about Angie, a rerunning freshman in Ohio who has a lot to deal with but never seems to give up. She takes on her sister’s advice and tries to ‘follow through’. Her sister, who, after a stint as a great basketball player, joins the army and is taken hostage. Angie still has hope that her sister is alive and fights everyone that tries to mud sling her sister.

Angie is bullied but she does stand up for herself sometimes. She wants to please her mother who sends both her and her brother Wang to therapy (and is dating their therapist) but her mother is never pleased. Be warned that her behavior could be triggering to some. Despite this, I find the characters in this book to be multidimensional. The bully may have reasons, the perfect popular star may not be perfect, the main character herself makes mistakes. Most characters are hurting and they cope differently.

Then there’s KC Romance, the new girl who falls for Angie and Angie falls for who sees Angie as Angie, without the fat. KC is a complex character, who is seen as ‘alternative’ but is popular yet she has a somewhat dark past but whose mother probably is the only mentioned parent that’s a parent role model.

Angie copes with her sister’s ‘MIA’ status with two, seemingly paradoxical things: binge eating and sport (first basketball in the steps of her sister and then another sport). At the beginning of the year, it is mentioned that Angie tried to commit suicide and this became a public event. Yet, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t fit in, she’s awkward but she takes steps to move on despite being stuck somewhat in the past, when her sister was still with them.

Angie’s and KC’s relationship is deep, connecting, sweet with a cup of drama and misunderstandings and awkwardness thrown in. It’s a mature, teenage relationship that is not perfect but supporting the individuals within it.

Be warned that this book contains some triggers: suicide attempt, self-harm, body issues, mentions of death and torture, bad parenting and bullying. Sometimes, especially with Angie’s mother and her therapist, the reader is left bubbling with anger. At the end, I think that although not justified, we see also different sides to the characters that we do not like. The character development in this book was subtle, but well executed.

I would recommend this book, which I rated as five stars, to people that want to read a queer book where the main focus isn’t the relationship (it’s still a big part though).

I listened to this book as an audiobook- my first one- thanks to the Sync Audiobooks Summer program which means that this audiobook is free to download until today (21st July 2016)! I will try to read the book in the future to compare my experience but I think that the narration was done quite well and helped to immerse me in my experience (I coloured while I listened).

Marthese reviews Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

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Emma Donoghue is a phenomenal writer take is able to make you related to her narrative. So when I heard about a new book, I knew that I will someday buy it and read it especially one with such a nice cover!

Frog Music is a historical fiction with some basis in reality as it deals with an unresolved crime. It is based in 1876 in San Francisco and it follows Blanche, a French dancer. Blanche lives with her lover, Arthur and his friend Ernest. She is also friends with one Jenny Bonnet, who ends up murdered in the beginning of the book.

The book follows Blanche in her misadventures as she tries to do what’s best while at the same time searching for answers. Who killed Jenny? Who was Jenny?

Jenny is an interesting character and we get to see her through the story that swings between the past and the present. She’s a butchy character with seemingly no care in the world, but as later Blanche discovers, Jenny had a lot of mysteries surrounding her. Comparatively, Blanche is an open book. She’s a survivor and we see her character grow and mature in the book. Blanche is a character that may infuriate the reader, but one cannot help but pity her in turn.

I think this book should come with a lot of warnings. There is explicit heterosexual activities, some consent issues, victim blaming and slut shaming to begin with. Moreover, there was some gore (there was a murder after all), racism and neglect. A lot of the characters will make you angry as well but I thought that their actions were representative of their times and their believes and were realistic. I went through the last chapter really quick, I must have missed reading mystery and detective novels!

There is queer content in the book, but it comes up later on in the book. Frog Music in general has a lot of interesting thoughts on power dynamics, gender, race, consent and sexual activity, it is also a well done historical fiction book that shows its research and turns it into a vivid account of what it was like living in San Francisco in 1876.

Although I felt uneasy reading some scenes, even in the very beginning where there was gore and seemed like a horror scene (I don’t do horror) I thought that overall the themes were done well. It is an adult book, with adult themes that made me think about how it was to live life in those conditions; from clothes to housing to jobs and vehicles. The story was hooking and things were tied well. Like a good detective story, hints were there for us to notice later and leave us guessing until the very end. The end was not perfect, but it was fitting. It wasn’t happy but it wasn’t sad.

I recommend this book highly to readers that can stomach hard themes. The writing style is just exquisite. You will find yourself repeating sentences just so you can experience the writing again! I would give it as 5 stars for being a historically accurate crime story, whose background in reality was also interesting to read about (and Emma Donoghue did go out of her way and provide us with her research on the story, songs and glossary) and dealt with themes that are still relevant and good to question today.

Danika reviews the Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie

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The overwhelming image I get when trying to describe The Summer We Got Free is the moments just before a summer thunderstorm: the charged anticipation, the humid heat, the claustrophobia of it. It also reminded me of Toni Morrison’s Beloved in that this is a story about a family and a house haunted by their past. The story alternates between the family’s present, where they are still dealing with the fall out from a tragedy that happened decades earlier, and the past just preceding the tragedy.

This alternating structure really works in maintaining tension. Even though it’s mostly focused on the internal lives of the characters, I found myself eagerly turning the pages to discover what exactly happened to shatter this family. You get just enough information to not be frustrated, but you have to hang on all the way to the end to really understand the whole picture.

I also loved the main character, Ava. As a child, she was passionate, vibrant, and unrestrainable. Her adult self is closed off, dulled, and practical. Part of the journey of The Summer We Got Free is Ava’s reconnecting with her childhood self, and trying to find a way to reclaim personality traits that she had long buried.

The only complaint I had with this book was that I found the male characters unsympathetic and a bit flat in comparison with all the other major characters, but even that I feel like was resolved to some extent by the end. This was a five star read for me and one that I intend to reread multiple times in the future. It will take its place on my bookshelf next to The Color Purple for a story that is cutting and brutally honest about the state of the world, but inspirational in spite of that–or, more accurately, because it acknowledges that and find joy and hope regardless of that.

I’ll leave you with the first paragraph, which should convince you to pick it up if nothing else does.

Ava did not remember the taste of butter. It had been seventeen years since she had last moaned at the melt of hot-buttered cornbread on her tongue. She was not bothered in the least by it, because she did not remember that she did not remember. At breakfast, when she dropped a square of butter on grits, or on yams at dinner, and laid a spoonful of either on her tongue, she believed what she tasted was butter. She did not know that she was only tasting milkfat and salt, the things that make up butter, which, of course, is not the same thing. She certainly did not know that the taste of butter was a thing that had once made her moan. Ava did not remember what it was to moan

Amanda Clay reviews What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

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“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, 
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken…”

If only.

Toni and Gretchen have been in love from the moment they met, dancing with each other’s dates at the Junior Homecoming Dance. They don’t differ, don’t disagree, don’t want to do anything but be together. Even after they graduate,   they’ve got it figured out: Toni to Harvard, Gretchen to BU and there will only be a few subway stops between them. Then Gretchen accepts a last-minute admission to NYU and suddenly everything changes. It’s not that she doesn’t love Toni, she just needs to find out who she is, who she can be on her own. And once Toni gets to Harvard and hooks up with the Trans* group, she starts to wonder who she is as well.   It’s a year of change, a year of discovery, love and loss. Who will they be when it’s all over? What will they be to each other?

What We Left Behind is a very good read. The story of Toni and Gretchen–  their actions and reactions, thoughts and feelings–  is not one we’ve read before. All the characters, main and supporting, are so well-imagined and well-presented the reader is at once drawn in to their world; the dialogue so realistically rendered it speaks in the ear.  You want to root for the girls, for their relationship, and for the people they are realizing themselves to be. The disconnect breaks your heart even as it breaks theirs. The only criticisms I have are small~ Toni’s quest for a gender identity label can sometimes seem a bit like a list of every gender expression tumblr has to offer, and in no part of Great Britain is Guinness ‘the ultimate British drink’, but these are minor quibbles and easily overlooked in a major work.  Beautifully done.

Danika reviews Falling In Love With Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

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First things first: this is a short story collection with only one story that has queer women content. (Though it is the longest story, for what it’s worth.) Usually, I probably wouldn’t include a book with that little queer women content at the Lesbrary, or at least I would only review that particular story, but here’s the thing: I loved this book. This was a book that I tried to draw out the experience of reading because I didn’t want it to end. It had me hooked from the introduction. Actually, the first sentence had me sitting down and paying attention: I didn’t used to like people much.

Besides, there is additional queer content beyond “Ours Is the Prettiest”. One of my favourite stories was a cozy narrative about a gay couple (who are in a BDSM relationship) that have a missing chicken. The stories vary throughout in tone and genre, some feeling light and airy, and some veering into horror. What holds the collection together is Nalo Hopkinson’s effortless blending of the fantastic and the mundane. They are usually rooted in reality, but they have elements that transcend it.

“Ours Is the Prettiest” is a Borderlands series, which is a series of books and stories where authors share the same characters and settings. I haven’t read any of the other Borderlands books (though I was intrigued enough by this story that I certainly will now), but I thought this worked really well as a stand-alone. I can’t say how well it fits into the established world–in the introduction Hopkinson mentions getting complaints that her more diverse take was criticized by some readers–but I am definitely inclined to side with this story, which felt like it had more world-building informing it than even made it into the text.

After I finished this book, I just wanted to hug it to my chest and sigh contentedly. Hopkinson introduces each of her stories and gives a little explanation, and those not only add to the experience of those stories, they also show her personality so much that she’s been added to my list of dream authors to have at a dinner party. This is the third book that I’ve read by her, and though frankly I was bewildered by The Chaos, reading this book in addition to The Salt Roads has made me determined to read her entire back list. If you have any interest at all in fantastical or magical realist short stories, if you like sharp humor or flawed and compelling characters, definitely pick this one up. It’s one of my favourite reads this year.

Danika reviews Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey

LostBoiI don’t even know where to start in describing how much I loved this. I am tempted to just tell you “This is a queer punk retelling of Peter Pan.” If that intrigues you (as it did me), don’t hesitate. It will be all you dreamed of and more. And if that doesn’t interest you–if a D/s leather queer homeless youth interpretation of Peter Pan complete with sex worker mermaids, pigeon fairies, and Leather pirates doesn’t sell you on it–then it probably won’t be your cup of tea. But because I have a lot of feelings about this book, I’ll elaborate anyways.

Just from first impression, Lost Boi is a beautiful book. With the black cover, gold framing, and deckle edges, it looks reminiscent of a bible. I also was immediately struck by the perspective of the novel: it’s told by one of the lost bois, Tootles. The whole time I was reading, I was considering whose story this is. Is it Wendi’s? Pan’s? Tootles? I think you could argue for any of those convincingly, but having it from a lost boi’s perspective gives a lot more weight and consideration to their circumstances, to their real experience of living out Pan’s vision of Neverland.

Sadly, I haven’t read the original Peter Pan (but now I want to just to re-read Lost Boi and get even more out of it). But even without an intimate understanding of the original text, it’s obvious how much has been incorporated into this interpretation. Every adaption feels completely natural, even one-off lines like “second streetlight on the right and straight on till Morning street!” work equally well as references and as in their own context.

What made fall in love with Lost Boi was how much it caught me off balance. I loved the variety of pronouns and identities, and how Lowrey doesn’t explain everyone’s gender identity to the reader. It’s incredibly queer, and though I would like to think that I don’t assume people’s gender identities or expressions, I would find myself surprised when descriptions of bodies or clothes didn’t match up with what I imagined. “Huh, so that character wears a sports bra!” “Oh, so one of the bois uses she/her pronouns.”

Beyond the gender and sexuality aspect, there’s also the whole question of the D/s dynamic between Pan and the bois. Pan is significantly older than the other bois, maybe close to twice some of their ages, and consent and safety are not top of his priority list. At times I was uncomfortable with Pan and wondering whether he was a positive character–and then I realized that this is an interpretation of Peter Pan! He’s not supposed to be a perfect person, or even someone you always like. That’s part of the refusal to grow up: his refusal to consider the consequences, or to necessarily take responsibility. Pan/Peter Pan have magic to them, and wonder, and definitely an attraction, but they’re also dangerous and reckless. He’s supposed to be a character that the reader has a complicated relationship, I think, and that makes perfect sense considering the complicated relationships he has with everyone else.

It also made me think about the association of queer identity with youth–how little representation there is for being a queer grown up. And the further you are along the scale of GLBT+, the fewer representations you’ll have of being an adult, or god forbid being elderly. That makes it difficult to know how to be queer and an adult at the same, suggesting that you have to choose one. And of the course the term “boi” itself, a gender identity, is dependent on that association with youth. I loved Sassafras Lowrey’s look at the difficulties of this, and hir acknowledgement that there are things you lose growing up, magic you lose. But ze still offers a glimpse of alternative kinds of adulthood, that you don’t have to lose your identity to become an adult.

The first book I read by Sassafras Lowrey was the collection ze edited about and by queer homeless youth, Kicked Out. That is also an excellent book, but it’s interesting to read Lost Boi with that in mind, because although the Pan and the lost bois’ story is told through the interpretation of Peter Pan, it doesn’t use their homelessness as just a prop in the story, an interesting setting for Neverland. Lowrey cared about the kids who have to live this, and that really shines through when we get glimpses of the lost bois’ lives before Neverland and why exactly they “fell out of the pram”.

This was one of my favourite books I read this year, only the second 5 star rating I’ve given since January (The Color Purple was the first). I highly, highly recommend this one, though do be warned that this has a lot of D/s and the “battles”/scenes can be pretty brutal. In conclusion: “Queer punk Peter Pan reimagining.” Go read it.

 

Danika reviews Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

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As soon as I heard about Ascension, I knew I was going to read it. Although I haven’t read a lot of sci fi, it’s a genre that I want to get into more, and adding a lesbian main character is the best way to draw me in. In fact, in theory this seemed like exactly the kind of book I want a lot more of. In addition to being a lesbian, the main character is also black and has a chronic illness. The other main characters of the book are also diverse (in ways that are mostly spoilers), and all wrapped up in a space adventure story. Plus, that cover is gorgeous. In fact, I was a little bit worried to start this book because I wanted so badly for it to deliver.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Alana is a compelling lead, and though her life–her passion for repairing spaceships, her frustration with having a chronic illness–is not anything I have experience firsthand, it was described so well that I felt immersed in her experience. The plot was interesting and kept me turning the pages (especially that ending), but it was the characters that made this stand out to me. The romance is well done, but it’s a subplot, not any more important that the relationship between Alana and her sister. All the supporting characters were fleshed out, and I loved the intricate relationships and rapport they have with each other that seems to exist outside of Alana’s role. In fact, she finds it unintelligible at first.

This was a lot of fun to read, but is also thoughtful. There were several times that I stopped to note quotations to come back to, despite the apparent simplicity: “Standing near Tev felt seductively dangerous, like waving my bare palm over a flame.” Or:

My heart thundered. I almost wanted her to not answer Birke, to never move. If she never spoke. . . if we just didn’t look at them, we wouldn’t disturb those possibilities. We wouldn’t shake one reality into existence, eliminating all others. We could just hold our breaths and live inside this moment, letting endless possibility eddy around us. All that potential would go on and on, and one day the glass leaves outside would fall, shattering around us like stars, but we would persist, frozen in time.

There were a few plot points I didn’t understand (Spoiler, highlight to read: why did they have to detonate the device inside the ship? Why not just throw it out the airlock? Why did Birke blow up Adula? The explanation didn’t make sense to me.), but other than that I had no complaints. (And that confusion is very likely my own oversight.) I am really hoping that Jacqueline Koyanagi continues this series, because I’m invested–in the characters, in the world, and in the plot. This works well as a standalone, but I want more.

Marthese reviews The Eldermaid by K.Henderson

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“Death is never more than a breath away”

I binge read this book in a day! I had wanted to read this book as soon as I read the blurb, but, well, I was late for my review. It helped that it was a very enjoyable story that made you want to read more. This story is short and is a mixture of Fantasy and Adventure, but not the epic kind, more like the kind where the protagonists are always curious and searching for answers.

This story is told from the perspective of Hedda and spans from her childhood onwards. In this world, most deities left the Earth, but left in their stead countless spirits with different elemental powers. There are three types of spirits: maids, knights and jacks. Hedda bonds at a young age with an Eldermaid, although not the one she thought she would at first. When spirits bond with humans, it is not like a marriage or sexual in nature but similar to having a constant life companion and partner in crime.

Hedda lives with her mother, Augusta and her own spirit: a firemaid named Ember. I loved the names in this book, especially of the spirits! What I loved most about this book though, where the genders (not binary!), the relationships (a mixture! Even poly-relationships were hinted at), the pronouns (a variety, xirself serving as a neutral pronoun and ser as the neutral honourific) and the normalization of different races. This could seriously be a recommended piece of literature for people wanting to learn how to think and speak less binary and learn not to stereotype–for example in the story there is mentioned that not all those that bleed are females. There was also a variety of trans characters in the book and a variety of relationships–and they were not seen as strange.

“mixture of throne room and magpie’s hoard” p.51

Anyway, if I get started on how good it was in terms of representation in such few pages, I won’t be able to stop. Hedda, her Eldermaid, Augusta and Ember leave their village life to go to the city of Firehaven, supposedly to train further Hedda but there are other ulterior motives. We get to learn more about Augusta’s past and the secrets that she kept. It was interesting because I felt that this book did not have one or two protagonists but many: there were Hedda and Leaf, and even Luccia and Augusta and Sofiya.

The mysteries in the plot were tense, but we weren’t kept waiting too long before some pieces started to fall in place. Hedda has to fight, but she’s not the catalyst but just another character. There isn’t the waiting-for-the-saviour cliché. The world building wasn’t too quick or too slow or too much, but just right for the story. As Hedda said, most things were on a need-to-know basis. The chapters were short and the writing got better although I felt that there were too many commas in the prologue.

This book was a hope for literature and diversity for me. I love fantasy and I love discovering new books that cater for a variety of people. I think this book is truly LGBTQI+ because it had a variety of characters from the spectrums. I think this book is good if you want to learn how to use neutral pronouns or want to read about diversity or want to read a feel-good book if you’re queer–this is the book that you should read next.

Amanda Clay reviews Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour

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Sometimes falling in love is easy.

Emi knows a lot about love. She loves movies, she loves her job as a set designer. She loves her brother and her best friend Charlotte. She loves L.A. and helping people and solving mysteries.  She even loves the ex who keeps breaking her heart. All these loves come together one summer when Emi and Charlotte are given the keys to a fantastic Los Angeles apartment and told to make something wonderful happen. Easier said than done, but Emi is determined and has Hollywood magic on her side.

At the estate sale of an iconic film cowboy, Emi and Charlotte find a letter from the man to the daughter he never knew and set out to track the woman down.  The daughter is gone, but the girls find a granddaughter, Ava, a tough and beautiful girl who has no idea of her glamorous roots. Emi falls hard for her, and thinks the feeling is mutual, but as all three young women begin a collaborative film project, everyone has to reevaluate her ideas about how people become who they are really meant to be.

On the surface this story is nothing. Love and romance and Hollywood and dream jobs that fall right into your lap. There are struggles and troubles and disappointments, but nothing insurmountable nor earthshaking. It’s fluffy and romantic and sweet and fun and that’s the very best part. Sometimes we just need a book about pretty girls getting together and having fabulous lives. That’s what this book delivers, delightfully, and for that reason I highly recommend it.

Elinor reviews Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

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I loved poetry as a teenager, but post-college I’ve hardly read any. As an adult, I read novels largely for escape and relaxation, and nonfiction for information and/or work and grad school. Poetry is a different animal, grounded in emotional truths, ideals, and sensations. It’s not something I make time for much anymore, but I jumped at the chance to review Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha‘s new book of poetry, Bodymap. I picked it up not because it’s poetry, but because it’s Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I first read her work in Colonize This! as a college student. Her essays have popped up in many anthologies I’ve liked over the years, and I’ve admired Piepzna-Samarasinha for more than a decade now. Once I saw her at Femme Conference and it felt like seeing a celebrity. After you read this book, I think you’ll feel the same way.

Like her other writing, Bodymap is deeply personal and political. The poems are mostly short, rooted in her life as a Tamil/Burgher Sri Lankan and Irish/Roma disabled queer femme. Her life, love, activism, sexuality, identity, body, and family all tangle through pages. As in previous writing, she explores the difficulties and joys of chosen family and community, and brings generosity and maturity to the subject. In many ways, this was the book I wanted How to Grow Up to be. Piepzna-Samarasinha wrestles with real, difficult topics with emotion and intelligence. By the end of this book of poems, she is a parent with an impressive career, meaningful relationships, and more than a little insight into how to care for herself and those she loves. This book is wise without being preachy or self-aggrandizing, and loving without being cliche or saccharine. The writing itself is straight-up gorgeous.

The first night I read it, I intended to skim this book but got sucked in right away. Piepzna-Samarasinha’s descriptions are evocative, and at times made me cry. It also made me wonder if I should call my ex-best friend and try to talk things out. It made me want to read tarot cards and cook vegan food and whip up homemade beauty treatments. Reading this slim book was a wonderfully emotional experience that connected me to my values and priorities.

Normally in my reviews I suggest who might and might not be interested in a particular book, but I think just about everyone should read Bodymap. If you read poetry, this book is a reminder why you love it. If you don’t read poetry, you should read Bodymap because it’s accessible and beautiful, written with deep maturity and open-hearted honesty. If you’re a long-time fan, you won’t be disappointed as she covers familiar topics with precise and vivid language. If you haven’t read Piepzna-Samarasinha’s work before, Bodymap is an excellent place to start.

Elinor Zimmerman is sometimes on tumblr at http://elinorradicalzimmerman.tumblr.com/