Bee reviews I am Out With Lanterns by Emily Gale

I am Out With Lanterns by Emily Gale

I often see people complaining that there is no WLW equivalent to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. I’m not really sure what the complaint is about: the popularity of the books? The tone? The content? The writing? I think that what people mean when they say this is that they are looking for a book with similarly affecting prose, with a convincing romance and a kind of wistful tone. While I’m sure that everyone reading this could probably offer up five, ten, twenty books that meet the brief, the one that does it for me is I am Out With Lanterns by Emily Gale. This is my personal WLW Ari and Dante – the book that makes me feel special things. To me, it is superior in every way.

I am Out With Lanterns is a companion novel to Gale’s book The Other Side of Summer. The focus is shifted from the titular Summer Jackman to her sister Wren, goth and moody and furiously bisexual. Along with Wren, there are five other teenage narrators, each giving their own voice to what it means to be young in Melbourne. Part of the reason why the book resonates so strongly with me because it is entrenched in my home town: the landmarks are real and tangible, and I can perfectly picture every scene. There is such a strong sense of place in this novel, and the characters only reflect the diversity of living in this city.

Aside from Wren, we are introduced to Adie, returning to Melbourne with her artist father after time in Europe and Tasmania. Juliet remembers Adie from their childhood together, but Adie doesn’t have the same recollections. There is also Wren’s neighbour and best friend Milo, who is autistic and also in love with Wren. Ben, a boy who mercilessly bullies Milo, is also afforded a POV. This may seem like a lot of perspectives, but the stories are deftly interwoven. The characters are connected in a web, one leading to the next, and the way they perceive each other is engrossing and believable.

A reason why this book works so well for me is that it understands what it means to be 17 and yearning for another person. Crushes in various forms play out on the page, and whether it be Milo’s interest in Wren, or Wren’s interest in Adie, the intensity of teenage feeling is given ample time and respect to develop. This is the wistfulness I mean; it is a pleasure to read YA which amplifies warm feelings about our teen years, when it is so easy to write them off as an embarrassment. This book champions the tumult of young love, in such a way that I was left looking back on my high school crushes with true fondness.

The identities of each character are also given respect and care. Whether it be Milo’s autism, Wren’s bisexuality, Juliet’s two mums, or the introduction of Hari, a lesbian, these parts are all shown to be integral to who these characters are as people: their foundations are clear, and their journeys are relatable and realistic. It is diversity which reflects the real world, and shows how important a sense of identity is to our formative years.

I am gushing, because I love this book. It is an excellent example of Oz YA, which is a small but thriving community which could always use more readers. It is beautifully told, with some gorgeous turns of phrase which truly reflect the Emily Dickinson poem referenced in the title. It is raw and real, full of complicated relationships and unrestrained feelings. If you’re looking for a YA read that will fill you up and leave you ruminating, this is a first class choice.

Danika reviews Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

This. Was. Adorable. I was between rating this 4 stars or 5, but I couldn’t think of anything that I would change about it to improve it, so I guess that makes it an automatic 5 stars!

Queens of Geek follows two point of view characters, Charlie and Taylor, as well as their friend Jamie. All three are going to Supacon, a big fandom convention. Charlie is a Chinese-Australian actress who is at Supacon both for the fun of it and to promote her movie. She’s also bisexual! Unfortunately, she is still living in the shadows of her ex-boyfriend and co-star, whom the fans would love if she got back together with (even though he’s a real jerk). Taylor is fat, geeky, anxious, and has Asperger’s. She’s excited to experience the fandom that she loves in real life, but she’s also overwhelmed by all of the elements of the con that can increase her anxiety. Luckily, Jamie is there to make everything seem less terrifying. He’s supportive, kind, and funny–and Taylor doesn’t want to endanger their friendship by acknowledging her feelings for him.

That’s a lot of summary, but it’s because there’s so much here that I love! I’ve only gone to a few conventions so far, but I absolutely love the ones that I have been to. The energy has been amazing and sometimes overwhelming. The idea of reading a whole book set at a con was exciting! And Queens of Geek lives up to that, really capturing the frenetic energy of a convention. It also reads like a love letter to fandom (while still acknowledging some of its faults). There are so many geeky references, too! And Taylor posts on Tumblr throughout the book!

As the cover would suggest, this is also about the two love stories of Taylor and Charlie. Although I picked this book up for the f/f romance, I was charmed by Taylor’s friends-to-lovers plot line with Jamie. They have a good friendship, built on trust and support. They also have some solid banter. Of course, I was just as invested in Charlie’s romance! In fact, given her experience with her awful ex, I was desperately hoping that she got a healthy, drama-free love story. Of course, it’s not much of a story with no drama at all, but I still was very happy with where it lead. Charlie meets a fellow Youtube star, and it turns out they are both fans of each other! Their flirtation is adorable, and it’s great to read a book that includes a romance between two women of colour.

Another thing that I appreciated in Queens of Geek is that there is no contrived obstacles to the romances. Typically, I find, a romance has a standard plot: couple gets together -> couple splits up because it’s not the end of the book yet, so the author had to invent a reason to break them up -> couple gets back together at the end of the book. Usually this contrivance is something that a simple conversation between the two would have fixed. Instead, the obstacles that Taylor/Jamie and Charlie/Alyssa face makes sense to their characters. Taylor is reluctant to add another change to this tumultuous time in her life while dealing with all of the anxiety that this change invites. Charlie is dealing with a very public break up and is reluctant to have another relationship in the public eye, while Alyssa’s last relationship was with someone who refused to acknowledge their relationship in public for the entire time they were dating (more than a year). Those are all legitimate positions to hold, and ones that conflict. It makes sense that it takes them some time in the book to work those out.

Did I mention that I read this book in one day? I don’t usually do that, and I wasn’t intending to, but I just kept getting drawn back into the story. I also found myself laughing aloud several times while reading. The banter between both couples works really well, and when there’s a fandom joke thrown in as well, I can’t resist.

Besides all of the diverse elements (did I mention that it actually uses the word “bisexual”?) and geeky fun, there’s also a well-paced plot, compelling romances, and memorable and fully-realized characters. This was such a fun, heartwarming read. Just lovely.

Marthese reviews Dare Seize the Fire by Cody L. Stanford

dareseizethefire

“gifts sometimes come with sharp edges”

Dare Seize the Fire is a young adult adventure book with a hint of fantasy. The story is set in Philadelphia and follows Katie Zielinski which is also called Kasia, Katarzyna, Kat and my favourite: cutie-Kat. On her way home, Katie finds an escaped tiger and connects with him. His name, turns out to by Jyoti and he can talk and reason when he is around Katie. In turn, Katie realizes she has some sort of powers whenever she is near Jyoti. Which is good, because Jyoti’s previous owner, Zadornin, wants him back.

Zadornin is a warlock and calls Jyoti, Firebright. He has had him since he was a cub, mistreated him a lot and has very sinister plans for Jyoti which expand to even more sinister. Zadornin is a really, really evil person and probably you will become squeamish while he thinks or tells his past. Let’s just say that it’s not only poor animals that he has killed.

Katie, whose only troubles before were that she was in love with her best friend Laurinda (Lauri) and taking care of her autistic brother Cassie, finds herself dodging the warlock’s attempts at getting the tiger back. She does this with the help of the before-mentioned Laurie and Cassie, Agni and his son and a tiger lady. There isn’t just one confrontation between Katie and Zadornin, but several in escalation.

The story is told from multiple perspectives. I thought the writing was realistic in portraying the characters. Stanford, who by the way seems to know a lot about felines, managed to write an autistic mind, a tiger mind and an evil mind quite well, which was a bit scary. Especially at first perspectives changed in the same chapter without warning and it took some getting used to. I would have preferred to have different chapters per character which was done later on. As well, there were some time or place jumps in a chapter without warning. Lines would perhaps have helped the reader orientate themselves.

Katie’s and Laurie’s relationship is based on cuteness, sharp sarcasm and teasing. All in all, very cute. Reading about an autistic character was hard but much needed and hopefully, this will help other  readers know more about autism.

The writing is very funny at times, especially with the similes and metaphors used. One example which I thought was extremely hilarious was: “Like the mincing of an offended flamingo”. The insults thrown around in this book are also quite funny.

There were some irritating things in the plot.  The parents usually make a lot of mistakes. I also thought that leaving parents on their own when you have a powerful enemy was not safe at all! And of course, when someone is in grave danger of losing their lives, no one can agree on anything.

However, all in all, I highly enjoyed this book which also gave me a break from reading just in the Fantasy genre. The main message of the book, I think, is to let go of secrets to feel much lighter and also to unlock the potential already there. Throughout the book, Katie becomes more confidents to protect both herself and the creatures she loves. After having finished the Engelsfors trilogy, reading about a ‘witch’ and her bond with an animal made me go into ‘fond-mode’ and indeed the friendship between Kat and Jyoti was supportive and quite positive. I recommend this book to animal and felines lovers, people that want to read a cute romance that is part of a bigger plot, to people looking for autistic characters and to adventure lovers.