Spotlight Sunday

Spotlight Sunday (April 30)

SundaySpotlight Sunday is hosted by Closet Readers!

CHALLENGER DEEP by Neal Shusterman was a book I didn’t expect to like. I’d previously stayed away from his books due to the appropriation and problematic nature of his UNWIND series. But this book hit me in the best of ways.

Deads kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.

So many times I have picked up a YA book about mental illness and realize with horror that the books is romanticizing it, but Neal Shusterman has done an excellent job showcasing mental illness as it actually is: painful and embarrassing. He shows not only the descent of Caden’s mental state but also the start of the uprise and all the messy moments in between. From lashing out, to disturbed cognitive behavior, to hurt friends and family, to vomiting because sometimes the medicine just makes you do that.

As someone who has been hospitalized due to mental illness, who has suffered through that mental collapse, I can honestly say that I’ve never read a book that got it this right.

I was I could write a review that would do this book justice, but I can’t. There’s no words to describe how much I loved and appreciated every moment of this text.

I will say to keep an eye out for the drawings in the book. They were drawn by Brandon Shusterman, the author’s son, during his own hospitalization!

This was the first book I ever read that showcased my mental illness in the right way. While there are problematic elements to the story (particularly around the mentioning of a fat character), it is also the first book that I can say “This is what happened to me. This is what it feels like.”

Spooky Saturday

#SpookySaturday (April 29)

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This week’s Spooky Saturday is brought to you by the letter H. As in, HOLY HELL.

I first read 127 HOURS ON THE MOON by Johan Harstad at the first of 2016. I had seen a few reviews on it that said the book was just ok until the last 50 or so pages and then it was terrifying. I generally will not read a book that has to be nearly finished to be good, but on the insistence of a friend, I read it.

It’s not a lie that the first 75% of the book is kind of lacking. There are huge info dumps that make everything drag and the plot feels flimsy. But when the action in the book starts rolling, holy hell, is it terrifying.

Me, myself, and I love aliens and space and all the wonderings that come along with both. However, this book scared the space loving right out of me for a while. It was bad enough that for several nights, if something was out in my car that I needed, well, it was just there until morning (I live in the country. It’s dark.). It made me think a lot about if I actually wanted there to be aliens (spoiler alert: I do) and what kind of things our first space explorers might have seen but aren’t allowed to talk about. And then I came across this picture.

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The face of a man who has seen some space shit.

 

And I’m convinced that maybe Johan Harstad’s novel isn’t that far off base. I mean, if you were any alien, would you want a bunch of people traipsing through your backyard? I think not.

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Flashback Friday (April 28)

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Flashback Friday is hosted by Leah!

Flashback Friday’s aim is to put a spotlight on books we used to love that aren’t getting as much attention as they deserve. In the book community, we put a lot of stock in the newest releases so it’s good to step back occasionally and remember books/series/authors that sparked our love of reading!

This week, I want to flashback to the first Queer book I ever found in my local bookstore: HOW I PAID FOR COLLEGE: A NOVEL OF SEX, THEFT, FRIENDSHIP, & MUSICAL THEATER by Marc Acito. I was probably 17/18 at the time and just starting to come to terms with my own Queerness. I remember browsing the local bookstore with a friend and coming across this book with its blaring orange cover and just being drawn to it. I read the synopsis and knew this book was for me.

I haven’t read the book in several years, so I can’t promise that there isn’t problematic themes in it. I do remember it features a hugely diverse cast: a jock, a bisexual girl, a Persian lesbian, a fat bisexual boy, a fat girl with supreme self-confidence, and their nerdy friend who wants to own a politician. It’s a perfect summer read full of friendship, sex, money laundering, and getting even with people who have wronged you. It’s the perfect book for anyone who has ever wanted to get back at their parents- Edward definitely has the last word in this one with his father.

This book also contained my first glimpse into a poly relationship. While I do remember the relationship didn’t start the best way, it was the first time I’d ever seen it on page.

On top of that, there are strong friendships, musical theater, teenagers dressing like nuns to get beer, and general shenanigans that satisfied an entire summer for me.

Have you ever read this book? Let me know in the comments!

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is hosted by Aimal!

If you follow me on twitter, you know diverse books and authors are a subject close to my heart. I hope to always, always put diverse book and authors at the forefront of everything I do, but I also wanted to have a specific day to talk JUST about diverse books as I do sometimes read white/ciscentric books.

1

STELLA BY STARLIGHT by Sharon M. Draper. This is a middle grade book set in 1932 in Bumblebee, North Carolina. Stella and her brother witness the KKK burning cross near their house. This sets off a chain of events that shake the town, and Stella, down to its core. I read this one back in February for Black History Month with my oldest godson and we both loved it. We both really loved the scene where Stella’s father and several Black men in her community register to vote.

2

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon. I have actually owned this book for quite some time now and I am so afraid it’s going to break me that I haven’t picked it up yet. THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR follows Natasha, a girl 12 hours away from deportation, and Daniel and the few hours the universe has given them. I’ve heard rave reviews about this and I swear I’ll get to it… one day.

3

THAT THING WE CALL A HEART by Sheba Karim. Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew. Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.  With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms. Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, THAT THING WE CALL A HEART is a honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.

I will be reading the ARC of this in the next week or so and I am SO excited for it! I had the pleasure of meeting Sheba Karim at SEYA Fest in March and she is so sweet and kind.

Have you read any of these books? Post thoughts/opinions in the comments!

Reviews

Review: THE AGONY OF BUN O’KEEFE

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I received a free eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book: THE AGONY OF BUN O’KEEFE
Author: Heather Smith
Rating: 4/5
TW: Child abuse, ableist language, sexual assault of a minor, suicide, queerphobic language, abuse of a First Nations person.

THE AGONY OF BUN O’KEEFE by Heather Smith follows Bun O’Keefe, a 14 year old girl who has had limited contact with the outside world, immediately after her hoarder mother tells her to their home. Within the first few pages, Bun meets Busker Boy, an Inuit musician who takes her to his boarding house when he realizes Bun has nowhere else to go. At the boarding house, Bun finally finds a family in the interesting cast of roomates- Chris/Cher (a drag queen), Big Eyes (a Catholic school girl who ran away from her mother to avoid becoming a nun), and Chef (a pot-smoking gourmet chef).

This is a short book and the beginning of it felt very off to me. In order to really enjoy this book, you have to suspend disbelief. Is it logical that a 20-something year old man would randomly take a girl off the streets and have it be totally innocent? In the greater scheme of things, it would be nice to believe that’s what would happen… but the real world news tells us otherwise.

While there are a few light-hearted moments in this book, the title doesn’t include the words ‘the agony’ for no reason. Bun has lived with her hoarder mom alone since her dad walked out on the family. The mother is described as a slovenly woman who weighs 300 pounds and roosts in a pile of garbage bags. In all honesty, this made me roll my eyes. Will there ever come a time when authors don’t make their villains out to be fat and lazy?

Without ruining the story, do be aware that when Bun goes to the boarding house, she is severely underweight (to the point that she does not have a period), has untreated asthma, and still wears the glasses she got when she was five. This girl has clearly been neglected and abused.

Other trigger warnings include: the suicide of one of the roommates, sexual abuse of a minor at the hands of a much older adult, queerphobic language (f*gg*t), and a fight between two characters that includes queerphobic language (this is challenged in text and the offending character admits their wrong and apologizes).

This isn’t an easy story to stomach. It is, however, a wonderful story about wounded people sticking together.

WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday

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WWW Wednesday is hosted by Samannelizabeth.

The three Ws of WWW Wednesday are:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What did you recently finish?
  3. What do you think you’ll read next?

CURRENTLY READING: I am still in my never ending battle with IT by Stephen King. I had planned to make some major progress with this book last weekend but between Family Fundays and t-ball, I didn’t even pick it up.

Also working my way through WELCOME HOME anthology. It’s been a great read so far, but I’ve found that I have to put it down after a few stories. This is an anthology about adoption, foster care, and finding a family with a sometimes sci-fi twist. It hits close to home for me so I’m taking my time with it.

RECENTLY FINISHED: HAVEN by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I have a review for that already posted. It was a great read and I would highly recommend it if you’re into sexy, sexy consent and banter.

NEXT UP: I am still working my way through a pile of ARCs, so I hope to start WITCHTOWN by Cory Putman Oakes and SUCKTOWN, ALASKA by Craig Dirkes.

What’s on your reading list this week?

Reviews

Review: WELCOME HOME

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I received a free eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

WELCOME HOME is an anthology of short stories ranging from contemporary to sci-fi that deal with the pain, complications, and joys of adoption. The stories include a mix of POVs: children dealing with being adopted and parents dealing with giving children up for adoption.

This was an anthology I knew I wanted to read. My older sister is adopted and I’ve seen first hand the confusion and frustration that sometimes goes with being adopted. This book touched on all of those basis and it was genuinely good read. I felt like it took me forever to finish it because I would have to set it down after a few stories. While there are some sci-fi stories (like the parents who are stuck in 1985), there are a few contemporary stories that hit me hard. This anthology takes a good, hard look at blended families, foster care, and the adoption process. I appreciated that it showed the good side of adoption- the stories we want to see where everyone gets the family they wanted- but I’m also thankful that they showed the bad side of adoption- feeling cut off from your culture and the fact that sometimes “forever families” aren’t forever.

There are trigger warning associated with this text. Child abuse is at the front in center in several stories (particularly in SALVATION by Shannon Gibney). EMPTY LENSE by Tameka Mullins has a trigger warning for transphobia. It’s a throw away line that I plan to email the publisher about. The MC talks about meeting a transgirl and says “She is growing into her pretty but I can still see the boy in her.” The line is completely unnecessary.

While I do recommend this anthology, do be aware of it’s sometimes heavy subject matter.

Reviews

Review: HAVEN

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I received a free eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

 

Book: HAVEN
Author: Rebekah Weatherspoon (twitter: @RdotSpoon)
Genre: Romance… with a little murder… and a lot of BDSM.
Rating 4/5 stars
TW: Assault, murder, blood (all in the beginning)

I am generally not a fan of romance books especially ones that involve BDSM. I blame 50 Shades of Grey for this. It always feels like there’s a lack of consent in these books, an uncomfortable feeling that the female main character feels like she can’t say no without upsetting the male MC or ending the relationship.

After seeing so much hype around this book and seeing a rave recommendation from The Book Voyagers on Twitter, I decided to give it a shot. I was not disappointed.

HAVEN follows Claudia and Shep, two strangers who are thrust into each other’s lives after Claudia and her brother are the target of a pair of serial killers. After saving her life, Shep finds that he can’t quite get her out of his mind… and Claudia is feeling the same. Claudia comes back to the mountain, and to Shep, looking for closure on a terrible part of her life but ends up getting more than she bargained for.

This book is filled to the brim with consent, witty banter, and a woman who takes no shit off any man- dom or not. Too many of these BDSM stories play out with the woman taking whatever the man dishes out (sexually, emotionally, and otherwise) but Weatherspoon has created two characters that understand you can be dominate and submissive without letting that part of your life completely overtake you. I’ve read BDSM stories where the female MC has a smart mouth and the “dom” feels he has to break her of that and by the end of the story, the female MC is a completely different person. That doesn’t happen here. Claudia is sexy, witty, and a complete and utter smartass from start to finish and Shep loves every minute of it.

If you’re looking for a sexy BDSM romance that isn’t over the top with whips and chains, this is the book for you.

Top Ten Tuesday

TOP TEN TUESDAY

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Top 10 Tuesday is hosted by BrokeAndBookish!

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday asks the question: What are the top 10 things that will instantly make you NOT want to read a book?

In no particular order…

  1. Cheating. I can’t stand a cheater! At this point, I can’t tell you how many books I’ve DNFed because the MC cheated on their spouse. Y’all, there is literally never an excuse to cheat on your partner. Ever.
  2. Love Triangles. I don’t think so. That’s borderline cheating. Hell, sometimes it IS cheating.
  3. When a slave owner falls for a slave. Because in a relationship like that, where one person owns another, the party that is “owned” doesn’t exactly have the ability to say no, do they? And if they do say no, will it be taken seriously? Will they be punished for saying no?
  4. Redemption arcs for Nazis/Nazi falling for a Jewish person. Get. The. Fuck. Out. I’m so tired of seeing this. It’s disgusting and it’s putting the pressure on the oppressed to make the oppressor see not only them but all of their people as human. Again, Get. The. Fuck. Out.
  5. Anything about “half-Natives” written by white people. Yes, David Arnold, I’m looking at you.
  6. Savages, dark skinned aggressors, “red people”. If the bad guys in your book are all brown, black, or “red” (we know who you’re talking about, asshole) guess what? You’re actually the bad guy.
  7. White savior trope. If your MC is an unassuming, privileged white girl who befriends a helpless PoC/Native and then decides to save them all… keep it to yourself. Or better yet, burn it.
  8. Rape. I don’t read any books involving rape.
  9. Wide age gaps. Especially when it involves teens and adults.
  10. Mothers dying. This is a very specific one, but I absolutely cannot read a book where the mother dies in the text. The last one I did read was THE CROWNING GLORY OF CALLA LILY PONDER and I absolutely cried for hours. It hits too close to home with the death of my own mom, so I steer clear as much as possible.

What are some of your “I don’t think so!” tropes and “Not today, Satan!” themes? Let me know in the comment section!

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Middle Grade Monday: The Jumbies

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THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste is a story about Corinne Le Mar, a fearless girl who isn’t afraid of anything- not scorpions or bullies or even the jumbies that live in the woods behind her house. In fact, she doesn’t even believe the jumbies exist… until she meets one who puts on a human face and ensnares her father. When the jumbies decide to come out of hiding, it’s up to Corinne and her friends to stop the jumbies from destroying their home… and maybe stop their home from destroying the jumbies.

My godson had been asked by his teacher to read a book steeped in Caribbean folklore for his class project and THE JUMBIES turned out to be the perfect book for that as it’s based on the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree”. Baptiste writes a creepy middle grade book that is just the right amount of supernatural and has an underlying message that sparked some great conversations between my godson and I.

The jumbies on the island were there first. That’s their home and it had been since the dawn of time. When the humans arrived, they first tried to murder the jumbies and then pushed what was left of them so deep into hiding that they became a tale that parents told their children to keep them in line. No one believes in the jumbies anymore. I think it’s a great way to bring up settler colonialism and have a talk with younger children about how invaders have taken Native homelands and lives. When my godson talked about being “mad” at the jumbies for what they were doing, I compared it to the way our families are and have been pushing for land sovereignty and the right to exist in a space that was violently taken away from us. Are we the monstrous jumbies? No. Do we kidnap children? No. But there are those that want us to stay in the shadows and be content with what we’ve been given… and that’s not the right course of action for us… or the jumbies.

There’s also commentary on what it means to be biracial to both self and others (shown through Corinne as she finds out truth about her heritage) and I’m excited to see how that progresses in the sequel, RISE OF THE JUMBIES, which is due out in September 2017.