LGBTQ

Book Review: In Other Lands

In Other Lands
Author: 
Brennan, Sarah Rees
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

In Other Lands follows young Elliot Schafer as he tumbles through a wall (well, his teacher bribed a weird lady to let him through the wall, but whatever) into another land at age 13. He's given the opportunity to go home or go to magic school, and, like any bright young kid who has ever read, like, any book ever, he decides to go to magic school. There, he befriends golden boy warrior Luke and stoic elf warrior Serene (our fearful nerd Elliot decides to take the council course as he is deathly allergic to exercise and also, killing), and the book follows their exploits throughout the duration of their time in school.

Ok, so, that synopsis does not even begin to do this book justice. I will be forcing this into the hands of any person that walks into the teen center that says that they have even a remote interest in fantasy. Because this was so good. The best thing I've read so far this year for sure (and I've already read like 20 things this year, so that's not nothing). Anyway, on to actual information about the book.

Elliot is kind of a jerk. On purpose. But his jerkiness is mostly hilarious, and a lot of the book is his witty, spot on assessments of himself, the world, and the people around him. Luke and Serene are equally nuanced as characters and are quite lovable despite their flaws. One of my favorite parts of the book was that elf culture has the same messed up gender roles and sexism that we humans do...but the male and female roles are reversed. It makes not just for some of the most hilarious passages that I've ever read, but also serves as probably the most effective argument against said gender roles being a part of any society. It was, quite frankly, brilliant. For example: “Do not have a catfight, boys, even if it is that time of the month,” said Serene, and when she saw them staring at her, she explained: “You know—women shed their dark feelings with their menses every month? But men, robbed of that outlet, have strange moodswings and become hysterical at a certain phase of the moon?”

Insanely great egalitarian commentary aside, this was an excellent coming of age novel. The relationship and friendship between our three main characters is complex, but they all love each other and grow so much together throughout the book. And at the end of the day, this book is not really about other lands, it's about the peoples that occupy them. As an added bonus, it demonstrates that communication and shared experiences amongst peoples could almost always lead to peace. In doing that, it also effectively skewers nationalism.

I really liked the romance in the book, but you figure out Elliot's end game partner (yes, Elliot is bisexual!) at about 50% of the way through the book. They don't actually get together until the end and its one of those situations where you want to knock their heads together and yell COMMUNICATE DANG IT at them until they realize they like each other and just make out or whatever. Speaking of which, there is a lot of sex in this one. It's mostly off camera, but the one scene that makes it in is really sweet.

I obviously loved this book. If I were to try to compare it to something, it's most like Carry On by Rainbow Rowell in that it's kind of a love letter to classic fantasy (it's more Tortall to Carry On's Harry Potter) that then transcends the original source material. It's quirky enough that it won't be for everybody, but I think a lot of readers will love it. I just purchased my own copy. Like, without waiting for a Goodreads deal. It's that good. Or, in PPLD parlance, it was Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome! 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza

The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza
Author: 
Hutchinson, Shaun David
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Elena is not your average teen. As the only human proven to be birthed as a result of parthenogenesis (you might know this as a “virgin birth”), she’s been hearing voices from signs and inanimate objects. But things are about to go to the next level. One day, at work, the Starbucks Siren tells her to heal her crush, Freddie, who looks fine. But then, a kid they know comes out of nowhere and shoots Freddie. Then he disappears into the sky in a flash of light. And Elena DOES heal Freddie. And then, somehow, things get even crazier as the Siren tells Elena she has to keep healing people (which leads to more disappearances) or start the apocalypse.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of unique, quirky books that are more than a little strange (I call them wonderfully weird), and so this one was right up my alley. Elena is an extremely likable character, and we get to listen to most of her thought processes as she thinks about the mundane (her crush, her relationship with her ne’er do well stepfather) and the existential (why she has the powers, and should she use them?). The supporting cast is also pretty great: Freddie, the popular art student who didn’t even know Elena’s name before she got shot, was probably my favorite character. After getting killed, she really doesn’t care so much about what people think of her, and as a result her commentary was extremely snarky, sometimes hurtful and almost always spot on. Fadil, Elena’s best friend, was a good foil as the devout teen, but he also served to demonstrate a powerful male/female friendship. Because of the philosophical nature of the book, the plot takes a backseat to character development and metaphysical conversations. I probably highlighted more in this book than I have in any other in recent memory. The downside to this, though, is that the plot sags a little in the middle and the ending left me wanting a bit more as a lot of plot lines were left dangling.

Another big selling point of the book for me was that the premise immediately made think of this show called Wonderfalls which is a bit of a cult classic from the early aughts. Later on in the book, it’s pretty clear that the author had likely just binged all of Bryan Fuller’s early shows like Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and yes, Wonderfalls as this book contains elements of each of those shows, and there is a straight up name drop of a location that delighted me to no end. If you are a fan of Bryan Fuller’s properties (including recent hits like American Gods), this is a read you should definitely pick up.

If you like to think about the ethics and the big questions – why are we here, what matters, how can you decide the value of one life over another – then you will love this book. It’s a wonderfully weird thought provoking read, and while it’s not perfect, the diverse, likable cast and philosophical quandaries make it something of a rare gem of a book. 4 stars. I really liked it.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Simon Pulse for the eARC, which I received for review consideration.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: 
Black, Holly
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This was my first foray into Holly Black’s books, and I coming away from it not as impressed as I thought I would be. While I generally love fantasy and anything to do with faires, or fairy tales, there was just something about this book that made me not fully connect with the characters.

The general story line, I absolutely love! Of a small town forced to live in between two worlds that of fae and human and all the complications that comes with; Of a sleeping beauty like character waking after centuries of sleep; and of a hero that pledges her life to fighting the monsters in the middle of the forest. I also absolutely love the world building in this book, the description was beautiful, atmospheric, and haunting and made me wish fairy worlds were real. But the character development for me was just not as strong as it could have been, which is why rating this book was so difficult.

I am giving this one a solid 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Tawnie

Book Review: A Natural

A Natural
Author: 
Raisin, Ross
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY***

This book was, without a doubt, the gayest book I’ve ever read. Usually, I don’t read books with LGBTQ+ themes, but the cover and title led me to believe it was about soccer (or, in this case, football). I am not against books with these themes, per se, as long as the characters are likable and relatable. It’s just I would hope that Random House isn’t merely publishing books with these themes to get “automatic” sales from people who want to support the LGBTQ+ movement. Unfortunately, based on the weakness of the story in A Natural, I suspect this as the only reason a large publisher released it.

For a book I thought was about football, actual instances of the sport being played collectively comprises perhaps 1% of the entire book. That’s roughly 3.86 pages of football in a book about football players. If you’re looking for tension and action on the pitch, you’d be better off reading something like The Rook Crew instead of this. So, instead of football, what does this book have in it? In a nutshell: sexual assault, rape, and homophobia. I would have hoped that a story about coming to terms with a young man’s sexuality would have been more inspiring, but the undertone of the narrative certainly feels against the idea.

Like I mentioned above, I could let most of this slide if the characters were interesting. Instead, we’re left with a loner football player who gets in a relationship with someone involved with the team. I don’t know why the main character decided to do this, as the characters are all pretty flat. On top of this, we have to follow a side-plot of a failed marriage included only for a minor (and predictable) plot point near the end. I was actually more taken aback by the sexual abuse that was allowed/permitted as part of the team’s “hazing” than the gay sex scenes that lacked any description at all. By the end, nothing was resolved, and I felt unfulfilled. I honestly failed to see the point of this book, other than a cash grab.

A boring book with boring characters playing a boring sport, I give A Natural 1.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin

Book Review: Cherry

Book Review: Cherry
Author: 
Rosin, Lindsey
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This book follows a friends group of high school girls after making what they call a sex pact. They realize that they have just under a year of high school left and they want to experience something before they move on in life. In some ways this book falls into the romance category but it is not like your stereotypical romance novel. I know many people have concerns about things like this because they think it glorifies something very intimate and somewhat dirty but the way Lindsey Rosin wrote this book is very tasteful and, I would say true, to the high school experience and mind. After reading it, I would suggest that this was written to be empowering not objectifying. I really enjoyed reading it because there is a lack of media and acceptance of female sexuality specifically in the teenage years. Obviously it's not a book for everyone and if the topic makes you uncomfortable then I would suggest you find another book to read. With that said, I think it's a great book for high school age girls because not only does it talk about things lots of things not necessarily taught but it also has a lot of humor in it. In terms of vocabulary and book length it's not a hard book to read. Due to the fact that the subjects of the books are teenagers it's pretty easy to relate to the characters at my age. The overall concept of the book is very reminiscent of American Pie but it's much less vulgar. Rosin also makes sure to touch on the emotions and complications of relationships and sex. One thing I really like is that she not only included heterosexual relationships but homosexual ones as well which I believe is very relevant to our culture now. I would most definitely recommend this to any girl who is looking for a light hearted and relatable book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Olivia S.

Book Review: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: 
Lee, Mackenzi
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

In the 18th century, it was rather common for young wealthy English folks to embark on a Grand Tour of continental Europe between their school years and their careers or higher education. Henry “Monty” Montague’s Grand Tour, however, is anything but common. Monty’s formal education at Eton ended rather abruptly, due to being caught in a rather compromising situation with another one of the boys. Now his future as his father’s heir is in jeopardy, and his tour is his last chance to redeem himself.

So it is that Monty departs for the continent, knowing that if he doesn’t manage to behave himself (at least in his father’s eyes), he’ll be left penniless. He’s accompanied by his younger sister, Felicity, herself off to a school in France, and his best friend Percy, who will be leaving England for law school at the end of their tour.

Monty naturally feels a bit overwhelmed by the mounting pressure on him to completely turn his own life around. However, understanding the plights of others isn’t something he’s ever been good at, and Felicity and Percy each have their own deep concerns about what awaits each of them at the end of their trip. None of them expect Monty’s knack for attracting trouble to draw them into a web of intrigue that leads them from France to Spain to Italy, pursued by highwaymen, pirates, and vengeful nobles. And none of them, least of all Monty, expected him to fall desperately in love with Percy along the way…

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee was everything I wanted it to be and more. Adventure, mystery, and romance all fall neatly into place in this YA treasure. It’s available now, so do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Reviewer's Name: 
Philip

Book Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: 
Johnston, E. K.
Rating: 
2 stars = Meh
Review: 

In the near future, if Queen Victoria’s reign and the general principles of the time had been perpetuated, crown princess Victoria-Margaret is travelling to Toronto to masquerade as a commoner so that she can have a proper debut season. Regardless of who she meets, however, she will be required to marry a strong genetic match to ensure the strength of Queen Victoria I’s line. At the same time, non-socialite Helena and her beau August are heading to Toronto for Helena’s debut, and introduction into high society. The three will meet, and the events of the summer will change their lives forever.

I’m a huge sucker for books set in Victorian and Edwardian England, so I was eagerly anticipating this read. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. Part of the problem is that the charm of reading about Victorian England is that it is in the past. We certainly don’t accept a lot of those social sexist, racist and classist norms now (or at least, we pretend not to, but that’s a whole different discussion) and I think that’s for the best. It was weird to read a book about the future that’s not meant to be a dystopia where many of those awful norms are still acceptable. The author does acknowledge this in a note at the end, which is why I’m giving this two stars instead of one. There were also quite a few worldbuilding holes, if you will. For example, at one point, Margaret has a question about sexual identity. Bear in mind that this is a near future book in which the characters have access to computers and some form of the internet. So, instead of doing whatever the equivalent of googling the question would be, she e-mails her uncle, the archbishop, which no teen ever would actually do. Little inconsistent things like that popped up relatively often, and I found that it pulled me out of the story.

Speaking of the story, there’s not much in the way of plot here. That’s perfectly fine, if plot is being sacrificed for character development, but the characters here were not particularly compelling. The POV switches between the three main characters, and while all of the characters were nice and likable, they were also fairly bland. I didn’t care about anyone but Margaret until a big reveal about halfway through the story, at which point I started to find Helena interesting as well. I never could make myself care about August. All of that being said, I definitely think that romance readers will respond positively to this novel. I just kept getting bogged down in the worldbuilding or lack thereof, and never could connect with the characters. It wasn’t for me. Thanks to Dutton Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for the eARC. 2 stars.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: Six of Crows

Six of Crows
Author: 
Bardugo, Leigh
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This takes place in the same universe as Bardugo's other series, The Grisha Trilogy, but with different characters. It follows Kaz Brekker, a criminal prodigy who is offered to pull off the heist of a lifetime: to break into the Ice Court (which has never been breached) to rescue a hostage. He puts together a team of five other outcasts, which includes Inej Ghafa, a silent spy, Nina, a Grisha, Matthias, a convict, Jesper, a gunslinger, and Wylan, a runaway, to help break into the Ice Court. Keep in mind, my description of the characters is incredibly weak and do them no justice.
While the heist itself is brilliantly written and thrilling to read with twists and turns, this is a very character driven story, and these are incredibly well written characters. They each have their own voices, thoughts, feelings, way of expressing emotions, motivations, and backstories.
They are so complex and feel so real. While this book takes a while to get into (due to some confusing terminology) I got the hang of the world building reasonably well, it just took a bit. This is a very unique world, and along with the characters, makes for a strong, compelling, beautifully written read that makes me desperate to find the next book.

Reviewer's Name: 
Kate D.

Book Review: Jane, Unlimited

Jane, Unlimited
Author: 
Cashore, Kristin
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Jane's parents died when she was quite young, but she never felt like an orphan due to the amazing parenting skills of her quirky Aunt Magnolia. When Aunt Magnolia heads off to a photography expedition to Antartica never to return, Jane feels unmoored. She drops out of college and continues her dead end job at the university bookstore. When a surprise visit from an old friend results in an invitation to a mysterious mansion, Tu Reviens, Jane jumps on the chance to experience something new. Not only that, but Aunt Magnolia has told her to NEVER turn down an opportunity to visit the enigmatic island retreat, and Jane is eager to learn more about Magnolia's connection to the place.

That was a hard synopsis to write, as this is a book that somewhat defies description. The book starts off as kind of an Agatha Christie meets Jane Eyre meets John Fowler's the Magus, and then quickly turns into an almost Whitehead inspired choose your own adventure. Jane makes the same choice several times with different consequences each time, and the result is a compilation of strange, horrifying, thrilling and delightful stories and plot twists. Cashore's storytelling abilities are on full display here as she seamlessly weaves together a number of different genres. Character development, while it seems like it would be secondary, is also an integral part of the story. I loved all of the side characters (some of them almost eclipse Jane), and would read an entire book about almost any of them.

Jane, Unlimited is a book that I'll reread in a year or so, because there was a lot of intricate plotting and connections that I'm sure that I missed. I actually don't think I've ever read something quite like this, and that's saying something because I read a lot. The unique format of the book was attractive to me, though I can see it being frustrating for some readers; it's not until Jane makes her second choice that you really start to realize what is happening. If you read this book (and you should), I'd say just relax and enjoy the ride - it's a wonderfully weird one. I can't wait to see the art in the final copy, as I think that the right images before certain stories will add to the peculiar ambiance that permeates the book.

The ending felt both forced and rushed to me, but I think I'll enjoy it more the second time around (as I said earlier, this book practically demands to be reread). I almost loved this one, and now I really can't wait to see what Cashore comes up with next. 4.5 stars.

I received a free copy of this eBook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout

Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout
Author: 
Grace, Laura Jane
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

I love this book with all my heart. As a longtime fan of Against Me!, it was so exciting to read about how the band started off, the positive and negatives of touring and recording, the growth, decay and rebirth of the band and how the entire time the primary figure that has driven Against Me! from the very beginning was struggling with her identity. I'm utterly in love.

Reviewer's Name: 
Cassie

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