September 23, 2016

Why Intersectionality in Books is Important to Me: a Guest Post by Guinevere Tomas

I’ve struggled a lot with how to approach this post.


As the conversation for inclusivity in books, but not just books, but mirrors in media or all forms of entertainment, shifts and will continue to, I don’t think I need to tell people we need more inclusion in books.

But I think when it comes to inclusion we stop at one identity. Most people are an intersectional group of identities and are not able to survive as one without the others. When KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw, the scholar who created the term in 1989 coined it, I don’t think she could’ve been prepared for just how important it would be now, and how we approach conversations about being marginalized today.

It’d been difficult to express how different feminism treated women versus being a person of color, as if they were two separate issues. This is something I’m understanding more now, that it is difficult to say my struggle with identity has been separate, when I have no choice but to walk through life with each one.

September 19, 2016

Susan Koefod: "Naming the Stars"

Title: Naming the Stars [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Susan Koefod [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2016
Age: 12+
Stars: 2.5/5
Pros: Interesting premise. Doesn't rely on stereotypes. Tries to convey a message about self-image and self-esteem.
Cons: Execution is a bit confusing and not always consistent. Characters are not explored to the fullest.
Will appeal to: Those who like coming-of-age stories with an underlying mystery and without romantic undertones.

Blurb: 16-year-old Mary-Louise (note: it erroneously says "19-year-old" on Amazon) comes home from swimming lessons one day to find she is absent from family photographs, her bedroom has turned into a linen closet, and all of her possessions have disappeared. More troubling, her family goes on as if she never existed. The only person in town who can actually see her is a boy she calls Fish, a YMCA swimming instructor, but Fish is hiding from a troubled past and the person he sees is entirely different from who she thought she was. The teens discover the photo of a spirited, beautiful young woman photographed many years before - Pearl - who exactly resembles the girl Fish sees. The truth about Pearl's identity is the key to discovering why Mary-Louise has disappeared and why Fish left home. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes... 
This is one of those books where you recognise a potential and understand the author's good intentions, but that fall a bit flat for your tastes. We all have read at least one of those...well, more than one, I'm sure. I feel sad not to be able to rate it higher - but then again, the execution has to count for something :(. 

I'M NOBODY! WHO ARE YOU? *

It's difficult to write a review for NTS without giving away the whole twist. It's even difficult to categorise it. You can say it's a contemporary novel with magical realism elements, because that's how the story unfolds - but the ending puts something new on the table...or maybe not.
Mary-Louise is an insecure teen who entertains a couple of hobbies/interests (swimming and playing the saxophone) and has her heart in neither. She has a habit of introducing herself to anyone - even family members - as if afraid of slipping through the cracks. Which is precisely what happens to her one day. The only person her mysterious invisibility doesn't seem to affect is Fish, a boy she knows via her swimming lessons, who in turn has a couple of huge problems of his own. The biggest chunk of the story revolves around Mary-Louise and Fish's unusual interaction, and the lessons they learn from each other while they're trying to crack her mystery. I really appreciated how the author didn't weave a romantic plot around the two of them, neither did she make Fish "hot". He and Mary-Louise are indeed connected, but in a way that will only come clear in the end (BTW, this doesn't ultimately rule out a romantic connection, but doesn't affirm it either). And the path that goes there is full of mystery and philosophy, but avoids your usual girl-meets-boy scenario - of which I was grateful. 

* from a poem by Emily Dickinson [...]

September 09, 2016

Why Ratings Give Me a Headache (Sometimes)

Hello my stellar beauties! (OK, where did that come from? O_O).
(From the equation stars = rating, probably. I guess my subconscious was trying to tell me something...).


OK, here's my confession for today: a couple of days ago, I went and changed a handful of my old ratings. Nothing major, just half a star more here, half a star less there. But the thing is, I felt that I needed to do it, or my present and future ratings would be taunted. Here's the whole story...

September 08, 2016

Matthew S. Cox: "Nine Candles of Deepest Black" (ARC Review)

Title: Nine Candles of Deepest Black  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Matthew S. Cox [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2016
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Strong mix of supernatural and horror. Characters with authentic voices. Great development of a sibling relationship.
Cons: A little heavy on the descriptive side. Some aspects of the supernatural plot are a bit derivative, or leave too little to the imagination (e.g.: the demon).
WARNING! Blood, gruesome deaths and spiders in all sizes.
Will appeal to: Supernatural/horror lovers who can appreciate a coming-of-age story with a strong accent on family.

Blurb: Almost a year after tragedy shattered her family, sixteen-year-old Paige Thomas can’t break free from her guilt. Her mother ignores her, doting on her annoying little sister, while her father is a barely-functioning shell. He hopes a move to the quiet little town of Shadesboro PA will help them heal, but Paige doesn’t believe in happiness anymore. On her first day at school, a chance encounter with a bullied eighth grader reawakens a gift Paige had forgotten, and ingratiates her into a pack of local outcasts. For weeks, they’ve been trying to cast a ritual to fulfill their innermost desires, but all they’ve done is waste time. After witnessing Paige touch the Ouija board and trigger a paranormal event, the girls are convinced another try with their new fifth member will finally work. Once the darkness is unleashed, it’s not long before they learn it will give them exactly what they asked for - whether they want it or not. (Goodreads)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...
I'm a strong believer in reading a book at least twice in order to do it justice with my review. And sometimes I even like it more the second time around. This is one of those times.

INNER POWER

Paige has always been a loner, living in the shadow of her older sister. After tragedy striked, she was devastated - and now she's only going through the motions, occasionally lashing out at her little sister who, in turn, idolises her. She looks Goth without even trying, so she decided to embrace it. A witchy look, you think? Maybe, but Paige is far from being your stereotyped little necromancer. Cox does a great job in that he doesn't introduce her as a magic-endowed character; the things she can do (which were first triggered by her love for her older sister and the sense of an approaching tragedy) are actually revealed bit by bit, and Paige herself doesn't know the extent of her powers until they are put to the test. Hers is a coming-of-age story as much as a magic-gone-wrong one, where her efforts to revert the deadly effects of a spell she acted as a catalyst for go hand-in-hand with a journey to make her family whole again - though it's missing a vital piece - and finally empathyse with other people. [...]

September 05, 2016

Book Spotlight: "Naming the Stars" by Susan Koefod

  Curiosity Quills Press presents:
"Naming the Stars" by Susan Koefod


Today marks the release date for Susan Koefod's YA novel "Naming the Stars". It's contemporary with a magical realism angle (the kind of book I call "Contemporary with a Twist"). While waiting for my review (which should be up in a couple of weeks), here's the book ID...

August 28, 2016

Alison Goodman: "Singing the Dogstar Blues"

Title: Singing the Dogstar Blues [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None (but there's a companion short story/follow-up, The Real Thing, featured in the new edition of this novel, and first published in Firebirds Rising: An Anthology of Original Science Fiction and Fantasy. Also, here you can read the original story that later would morph and expand into STDB: One Last Zoom at the Buzz Bar. Note: don't let the original story scare you away from the book. They have very little in common...)
Author: Alison Goodman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 1998
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Full-fleshed, snarky, deliciously flawed, resourceful heroine. Adorable co-protagonist. Unconventional friendship. Lots of humour. Tackles themes of identity and gender/sexuality without making them "issues".
Cons: There's no use in racking your brain about the premise/reveal. It just is. Also, the smartest readers would probably solve one of the mysteries early on.
Will appeal to: Sci-fi fans. Not sci-fi fans too, if they like humour, unusual pairings and coming-of-age stories.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Joss is a rebel, and a student of time travel at the prestigious Centre for Neo-Historical Studies. This year, for the first time, the Centre has an alien student: Mavkel, from the planet Choria. And Mavkel has chosen Joss, of all people, as his roommate and study partner. Then Mavkel gets sick. Joss quickly realizes that his will to live is draining away. The only way she can help Mavkel is by breaking the Centre's strictest rules - and that means going back in time to change history. (Amazon)

Review: Oh boy, another tought one. Because in this novel there are not one, but two mysteries - largely interwined - and I shall make sure I don't spoil either of them for you. Shucks.

RIGHT ON TIME

First off: you don't have any prejudices about reading a book that is nearly 20 years old - do you? Well, maybe you don't, but come on...you regularly get distracted by new, shiny books, and/or new, shiny books that everyone and their hamster is reading - so what chances does a book written in 1998 have? Well...to its credit...I honestly don't think this particular book reads dated. It has a pretty strong timeless vibe to me. Which maybe should come as no surprise, since it deals with time travel ;D. Maybe a certain detail might have been written in a slightly different guise nowadays (more on this later), but all in all, STDB can easily be enjoyed by readers who weren't even born when it came out. Short book premise: Earth has developed time travel in the recent past, while Choria - Mavkel's planet - hasn't. For once, it's aliens who need human to teach them advanced technology. Cool, isn't it?

GENDER BENDER

I decided to give this book a try for two reasons: 1) time travel (my number-two obsession after dead-not-dead characters); 2) a supposed male/female friendship story (and an unusual one at that) without romantic undertones. I use the word "supposed" because it turns out that Mav (like Joss calls him) is not a "male" alien. "He" comes from a planet where both sexes cohexist in the same body (though Chorian physiology remains a mystery through the book - see: the humorous description of Mav's bathroom), and he's actually referred to as "it" until he becomes Joss' partner in the time travel academy. Only then the two of them agree on using the male pronoun, for the following reasons: 1) the obvious one: "it" is a pronoun used for objects; 2) Joss - when Mav asks her - admits being the kind of gal who would choose a guy as a sexual/romantic partner...so Mav basically argues that, since they are a pair now, she might as well have a male (though, I'll add, totally platonic) partner. The whole thing would probably have been played out a little differently now - maybe (just my guess) Mav would have been addressed as "they/them". I don't know if this detail is enough to turn genderfluid readers off this book, but the thing is, there's no judgement os disrespect for "alternate" sexualities in STDB. Quite the contrary. For example, Joss' mother is bisexual, and her ex long-time female partner, Louise, has a new family with a same-sex lover; also, Louise and her new partner have a son thanks to a sperm donor, who is actually involved in his kid's life. Goodman even took the time to weave a heartfelt memorial to all the AIDS victims into her book. [...]

August 22, 2016

Lindsey Roth Culli: "This Above All" (ARC Review)

Title: This Above All [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Lindsey Roth Culli [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2016
Age: 12+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Original premise. Funny and heartfelt. Likeable main character, with a clear, pleasant voice.
Cons: The last third of the book takes a dive into tropes land.
Will appeal to: Those who like theater/acting. Those looking for a coming-of-age story.

Blurb: When sixteen-year old Piper is cast as Romeo in her school’s production, she’s as surprised as everyone else. Not only because she’s a girl, but also because she’s from one of the region’s most notorious ultraconservative families. But when the school principal demands that the part be recast “appropriately” or the show cannot go on, Piper faces a choice: become the figurehead to appeal the principal’s decision or accept the message the administration’s ultimatum sends to the school’s gay students, including her new friends. Namely, that they should be ashamed of who they are or whom they happen to love. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...

OFF TO A GOOD START

I have a confession to make: I'm a sucker for stories about teens performing (Fame, anyone? I grew up with it, as this post reveals). Also, in this case, a girl cast as the male lead in a school production was a hell of a premise. Especially since Piper comes from an over-religious, ultra-conservative family. But when I started on the book, I found out that TAA was somehow exceeding my expectations. For one thing, we are thrust mid-action (or better, mid-acting), with Piper auditioning for the main female role in Romeo and Juliet, all while her inner monologue gives us enough backstory about her and her family without sounding info-dumpy. I could practically smell stage dust :) - and I took an immediate liking to Piper's voice. Her passion for acting, and Shakespeare in particular, dates back to when her deceased mother read "secular" books to her younger self - books that, of course, are frowned upon (to put it mildly) by Piper's pastor father. The author is able to convincingly shape a character caught between her family's and church's expectations (and the kind of God she's been taught to believe in) on one side, and her consuming passion for all things theater on the other - which, in turn, will lead her to question her whole upbringing and the dogmas surrounding it. [...]

August 16, 2016

A Round of Appreciation

I don't know what's gotten into me. After I spilled my 10+1 secrets a couple of weeks ago, I realised that not only I am no longer afraid of being a little more personal with my posts, but I indeed NEED to. Of course, there's a valid reason for it...it's not like I really have someone to talk to in real life. I managed to go from lonely child to lonely teen to equally lonely middle aged woman with zero friends - especially the kind of friends you REALLY talk to, the ones who know your real self and your deepest thoughts, the ones whom you can bare your soul to and who bare theirs to you. On a level it's a relief, because I've never been that good at the sharing-everything game - which, of course, it's one of the reasons why I've never had THAT kind of friends in the first place. I am, essentially, a very private person...at least when it comes to certain sensitive matters. What happens at home stays at home - especially if it involves, say, your family or your significant other. I can't allow myself to talk about things that implicate someone else than me. I've never been the kind of girl who goes to the bathroom with her pairs (um, gross?). I've never been one to follow trends or - goodness forbid - to CONFORM. And apparently, I haven't had much luck with finding kindred spirits. This is why, for all purposes, I've been friendless all my life.