TTBF Author Repost Guest Review: More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera


Team Midsummer, Jessica & Lyv, are attending the Texas Teen Book Festival again this year in Austin, TX! To prepare and get ourselves amped-up for this event, we are reposting some of our reviews by some of the TTBF 17 authors!

This review was originally posted on October 31, 2016

eveThis review was done by another one of Team Midsummer’s favorite people, Eve.  She has submitted reviews to us before, so we were excited to have her on board for LGBT History Month! Thanks so much, Eve!

 

 

 

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again—but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely. 

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is. 

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

I was immediately drawn into narrative of this intriguing novel, although I’ll confess to being a little suspicious of its potential similarity to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with a sexuality angle rather than the desire to forget a past heartbreaking romantic relationship. But I was impressed by the way the focus wasn’t specifically on any one of the main issues addressed by the story, but rather a cleverly crafted weaving of the elements of grief, mental health, class and social structures, teen relationships, and love developing outside of an expected heteronormative paradigm. For this reason, while the book certainly addresses the complexities and struggle of coming out, I found the whole story to be involving and important – not just the relationship between Aaron and Thomas. It also isn’t a copy of Eternal Sunshine – it has one similar element, the neuroscience of forgetting, but it fans out to be much greater than that.

One thing I will note, because it stood out to me so much while reading that I texted Jess about it at the time, is that Aaron and Thomas say, “No homo” to each other a seemingly inordinate amount of times in the space of two pages. Now, it may be my heterosexual, cisgender privilege showing that I have never had to clarify my sexuality while interacting in an affectionate way with someone of the same sex as me, but I did feel that this phrase was somewhat overused. I’d be interested to know if this is a common experience among young men, because perhaps this phrase is used so frequently and that is part of the culture of hiding homosexual attraction.

Aside from this, the character development seemed very natural and totally solid within a few chapters – I feel like I know Aaron Soto, his friends and family, and have an understanding of his perspective on the world. The outstanding part of this book for me was how bravely and easily it tackled upsetting and painful topics, making it comfortable for the reader to continue (albeit through tears) even when the characters were suffering. Silvera does not shy away from the impact of suicide nor from the violence inherent in some relationships. On top of that, the balance of wit and warmth is spot on, throughout the happy moments and the hard ones.

I don’t want to give away too much about the plot but there are twists, and they’re the delicious ones that you sort of see coming but still have to pause and take a moment to think back on and process them once they do happen. The story will have you feeling all of the emotions and, while it certainly has a central homosexual relationship, I think it actually is a more profound commentary on humanity as a whole.

4.75 Bards

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Blog Tour Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets. But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters: Emma, the perfectionist; Mattie, the beauty; and Quinn, the favorite. But the marriage crumbled and the bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

The choices we make come back to haunt us; the effect on our destinies ripples out of our control…or does it? This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways none of them ever dreamed, in a novel about family relationships, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.

Release Date: April 25, 2017

When I started The Whole Thing Together, I immediately fell for Sasha and Ray.  I loved the way they spoke about each other.  Almost reverent tones reflected the lovely thoughts they each held for the other.  Ray reminisced about the summer they built a Lego city together and talked about the safety he found in their shared bed. Sasha mused about his stubble in the sink and their shared copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I was hooked from the start on the beautiful things they thought about the other and the fact that while they didn’t know each other, they had feelings beyond fondness.

As we stepped into the lives of the rest of the family, however, I had less love.  I felt disinterested in Emma’s perfection, irritated by Quinn’s sage thoughtfulness and downright hated Mattie’s bratty behavior.  I pressed on through the drama and the hardship though.  It was worth it for the beauty and simplicity of Ray and Sasha and their sweetness.  I rolled my eyes at the arrogant Robert, the timid Jamie & Evie and the flighty Lila.  Adam and Jonathan were barely on my radar.  Overwhelmed by character names? I was too, at first.  I often wondered, why did she include all these other character’s stories, why not just focus on Ray and Sasha and their perspective.

However, as I read on I began to relate to Emma and it hit me, this family was a lot like my own.  My parents were divorced when I was young and growing up I often wondered if they would ever be able to be in the same room without a brawl breaking out.  I have five younger brothers and sisters in total and I don’t bother with explaining the halves of any siblings.  As Ann Brashares newest book came to its conclusion, the answer to my question became clear.  Brashares included the stories of each character and the perspective of each kid because that’s how a family works.  If something happens in a family that seems small to one person, it can ripple its way to another and they can get hit by wave.  I used to think about this a lot as a kid.  Worry about how my life choices could hurt my mom or drive away my dad.  Eventually, thankfully, I discovered that our lives can’t be lived that way.  Everything we do can affect those we love but that doesn’t mean we should make choices for everyone else. It is the opposite actually. Choose love, kindness and goodness and it will give you the strength to ride out the waves that can be created.  This book reminded me of the importance of family, the good, the bad and the ugly.

It is a beautiful picture of love in its purest form and its darkest (also known as hate).  Life is not as two dimensional as it can seem; sometimes we are an Emma- overachieving our hearts out, occasionally we are a Mattie- misbehaving for attention or to hide a truth unspoken and maybe a few of you are lucky enough to be a Quinn- wise and thoughtful.  I strive to be a Sasha- modest, brave and overcoming my anxieties with love and beautiful thoughts.

This is a great story for teens and adults and just to top it off, it’s set at the beach, bringing the concept of ripple to wave full circle.

4.5 bards

 

 

Special thanks to contributor Lesley for reading and reviewing this book for A Midsummer Night’s Read.

 

 

 

#ReadIndie Book Review: Colorblind by Siera Maley

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Team Midsummer is proud to support Indie Author, Siera Maley, in our first READ INDIE review of the month!  Special thanks to contributor, Lesley, for reading and reviewing this excellent Indie novel!

Harper has a secret…and it’s not that she likes girls. She has a rare and special gift: she can see how old other people will be when they pass away. Nothing she does changes this number, and that becomes especially clear when her mother dies in a car crash. With only one other person in the world who knows about and shares her gift, Harper is determined to keep her distance from everyone. Then she falls for Chloe… whose number is 16. That means that Chloe doesn’t have twelve months to live. She doesn’t even have six. She is going to be dead by the end of the summer, unless Harper can find a way to stop it.

Colorblind by Siera Maley is a story about two star-crossed teens that fall in love and fight the odds.

Harper, 17, can see the number of each person she meets and that number is the age at which the person will die.  Her best and only friend shares her “gift” and is the only person that really gets her.  This “gift”, coupled with the loss of her mother at a young age has made Harper cynical beyond her years.  A heavy dose of teenage angst plus unusual circumstances have caused Harper to close herself off to life and love.  Like so many of us, Harper avoids joy because she believes it will help her to avoid pain.  Enter Chloe, a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie” with pretty eyes and a precocious puppy.  Chloe is trying to live life to the fullest, taking risks and looking brightly into the future.  Only Harper knows that Chloe’s future will be cut short because her number is 16.

Chloe pursues Harper without shame and Harper likes her in return, although she won’t express that to Chloe.  Harper tries hard to fight her feelings, knowing how hard it will be to lose Chloe.  She also morbidly tries to figure out how Chloe will meet her end and how she can stop it.  An accident brings Harper to the conclusion that she has no control when Chloe will die and she resolves to help Chloe achieve a summer of no regrets. Eventually love overcomes fear and Harper gives Chloe her whole heart.  They have a beautiful few weeks filled with the magic of first love but as Chloe’s seventeenth birthday approaches, Harper begins to panic.

On the surface Colorblind is a teen romance where a fun-loving kid falls for an emo kid and they share a summer of firsts.  As I dug into Maley’s lovely story, I found so much more complexity.  Seeing life through Harper’s eyes, I saw the fears and insecurities of my youth.  I was afraid of everything; coming out, losing loved-ones, being alone or never achieving my dreams.  I allowed that fear to guide, even make my decisions.  At times that fear paralyzed me.  Like Harper, I learned that love overcomes fear.

Maley tackles some of life’s biggest questions in this book.  Do our choices have consequences?  Is life a random bunch of events or is everything predetermined?  If we knew when life would end, would we live it differently?  While I related very much with Harper, the most significant reminder that Siera Maley gives to readers is that joy is found in the everyday, that each day is a gift.

Reasons that I loved this book:

The characters were three dimensional and relatable.  The plot line was unique and avoided a lot of the tropes that queer story lines tend to fall into.  It was a queer love story but it wasn’t about queerness: the action was in the foreground and the lovers just happened to both be girls.

I give it Five Bards!!!

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Guest Book Review: As I Descended by Robin Talley

cass-profileGuest Review for LGBT History Month is provided by Cassie! Cass and Jess met back in Graduate School when they were both pursuing their Master’s Degree in English Literature.  They’ve been friends ever since.

 

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

As a graduate student of English literature, I spent most of my career ensconced in the Renaissance era, happily devouring poems and plays and studying delightfully weird science texts and recipes from the 16th and 17th century, and I have a special place for all things Shakespeare and Shakespeare adjacent in my heart of hearts.

As such, I love a good Shakespeare retelling.

And let me tell you, As I Descended is a great Shakespeare retelling.

The author writes in her acknowledgements that she wants to write a Macbeth with ghosts and gay people (which are two of my personal absolute favorite things) and she definitely succeeds at doing that – there are an abundance of both in the text and both the ghosts and the gays represent a diverse spectrum; the novel takes place on a restored Virginia plantation, which is rich in history and legends and horrors, but two of the prominent LGBTQ characters are of Hispanic heritage, and I was pleased with the weaving of Hispanic folklore with that of the Old South.

I think that what I really enjoyed most about this novel was the fact that as a reader, you don’t at all have to be knowledgeable with respect to Shakespeare and his plays to enjoy the book – it stands alone as a good read and a great story – but if you are familiar, it just heightens the enjoyment of the novel. As a Shakesqueerian scholar, I love, love, love the homages to the Bard within the text, and how the chapter titles are lines from the play and elements of the hauntings within Acheron Academy are dripping with bloody good nods to the play itself. The narrative stands well on its own as a modern ghost story, but pairing it together with Macbeth makes it tenfold more appealing.

Knowing the play so well can serve as a double edged sword – or dagger, if you will – hanging over your head as a reader; if you know what happens in the play, you know relatively early on which of the characters within the novel will meet a most tragic end. And, ultimately, I found that I didn’t want those characters to meet a tragic end – and maybe that is my own personal bias, as 2016 has been a terrible year for lesbian characters and LGBTQ representation – the “bury your gays” trope has ruined some fantastic characters and storylines, but here, in this space, with these characters, it’s to be expected – but that doesn’t make it any easier to digest, which I think is a great testament to the quality of writing by Talley in this novel. As I read, I found myself feeling particularly sympathetic towards Lily, our Lady Macbeth (who, interestingly enough, to me at least, goes more the way of Ophelia from Hamlet, in a haunting scene on the cursed lake, than how I envisioned her off-stage death in the play itself), which given the nature of her character, I am uncertain as to whether sympathy is the right emotion to feel for her.

Despite knowing going into this that everything is going to end horribly and tragically, because Macbeth, the road to hell is worth riding on, and I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

4.5 Bards!

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Be sure to check out our Calendar to keep up with LGBT History Month here on A Midsummer Night’s Read!

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Guest Review & Author Interview: Daybreak Rising by Kiran Oliver

Team Midsummer has reached out to a few friends to participate in our celebration of LGBT History Month, and Jessica’s college friend, Leia, decided to step to the plate to hit this one out of the park! Check out her review of indie author Kiran Oliver’s Daybreak Rising, and the interview below!

 

Celosia Brennan was supposed to be a hero. After a spectacular failure that cost her people their freedom, she is offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance at redemption. Together with a gifted team of rebels, she not only sets her sights on freedom, but defeating her personal demons along the way.

Now branded a failure, Celosia desperately volunteers for the next mission: taking down the corrupt Council with a team of her fellow elementally gifted mages. Leading the Ember Operative gives Celosia her last hope at redemption. They seek to overthrow the Council once and for all, this time bringing the fight to Valeria, the largest city under the Council’s iron grip. But Celosia’s new teammates don’t trust her—except for Ianthe, a powerful Ice Elementalist who happens to believe in second chances.

With Council spies, uncontrolled magic, and the distraction of unexpected love, Celosia will have to win the trust of her teammates and push her abilities to the breaking point to complete the Ember Operative. Except if she falters this time, there won’t be any Elementalists left to stop the Council from taking over not just their country, but the entire world. 

Sitting down to write this review wasn’t the easiest thing. I’ll be frank with you; I loved this book. ADORED it. However, in the spirit of being honest, I should also tell you that I adore the author. He and I have been friends for about six years – and he introduced me to my husband. I’ve spent the past few days trying to separate my love for the book from my love for Kiran, but I’m not totally sure that that’s possible. I’m going to do my best to write this review in a non-biased, non-spoilery way!

First, Daybreak Rising’s main character, Celosia Brennan, has dealt with life-crushing failure. This isn’t a spoiler – you learn about it within the first few pages of the book – and it sets the frame for who Celosia is as a person. Through the book, she has this intense weight bearing on her shoulder for what happened before Daybreak Rising begins. You will have to read it to see how she grows from this position, but trust me… the journey is definitely worth it!

Celosia’s journey includes many characters who are people of color and characters who fall many places along the sexuality and gender spectrums. Honestly, I’m not sure that I’ve read a more diverse book. These characters added a richness to the story that made me feel like I was making new friends that were real. Kiran’s character development made them real for me.

Another unique piece of the book is the way that magic and technology is woven together. At first, I felt a bit uncomfortable and nervous about the combination, but the two coexisted so seamlessly that it felt natural.

Overall, I don’t want to say too much about Daybreak Rising. It was such a unique, exhilarating experience that I won’t soon forget.

4 Bards

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Author Interview:

Leia on behalf of Team Midsummer (LKC): Thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview. I am really excited to be reviewing your book and everything!

Kiran Oliver (KO): No problem! Thank you for thinking of it!

 

LKC: What inspired you to write this novel?

KO: Honestly my wife. We were doing email-based role-play based off Harry Potter …judge me all you want… and she actually put a stop to it and said, “Look. Your writing is at the point where you need to just sit down and write a book.” so I did. She’s been telling me to write one for years, but she finally put her foot down.

 

LKC: Did you purposefully set out to write with such a diverse cast of characters?

KO: Yes. Absolutely. That’s always been something I was focused on. Particularly as my wife is a queer person of color and I’m a transgender guy on the autistic/ace/queer spectrum myself along with being Jewish. The cultural, religious, and gender/sexuality/romance diversity was important to me to have in there.

 

LKC: One of the things that I love so much about Celosia is that, at the start of the book, she has experienced some major, seemingly life crushing failure. What made you decide to write about a character who had experienced this?

KO: I honestly was just like, “OK. I’m really tired of the standard heroine that has the world at her feet just waiting to be ordered around by her/she can do no wrong. Let’s flip that on its head.” so with Celosia, I was basically like, “Here, have some crushing failure. Now let’s see how you bounce back from it.” having her have to earn the respect of not only her comrades but the entirety of Esonith is something that’s very important.

 

LKC: I happen to know that you are an avid role player. Were any of your characters influenced by characters that you RP?

KO: You can put in there: Yep. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for about 7 years. Kayvun has a lot of ties to my character Caoilainn. Particularly her accent. Though I’ve got to say Kayvun had a better upbringing than Cai did.

 

LKC: What was it like writing about your RP character(s)?

KO: It was so loosely done that in the end I could see glimpses of Caoilainn in Kayvun, but she became her own person entirely by the end of it. The only things still really ringing true for Caoilainn’s influence are Kayvun’s accent.

 

LKC: Can you tell us a little bit about the world building involved in Daybreak Rising?

KO: That was honestly the best part for me. I really enjoyed it. I think my favorite locations have to be Dakul and Basau. Though, in the next book I’m really looking forward to showing everyone what the Ardonians have been up to over the last 7 years. I worked incredibly hard to bring realism in terms of religion and culture into it. This is really seen in Basau and Dakul especially. I also enjoyed the breakdown of not only currency and culture, but magic between regions.

 

LKC: I really loved the way that you combined magic with technology. What made you decide to do that?

KO: I figured it was something that’s usually not done. Often, books are either hard to the left or the right. Either it’s your usual fantasy with oil lamps and furs, or there’s so much technology you feel like you need a PhD in Computer Science just to read the book. I thought it would be best to create a comfortable blend of the two.

 

LKC: What can we expect from you in the future?

KO: I’m going to be working on the next book in the Embers of Redemption series for later next year to be put out by a new publisher, as will all my future titles. More on that publisher later, folks. I’m working on a novel called Dragonsong at the moment, which is a lovely blend of similar futuristic magic and technology in a much more modern secondary world, with a university setting for a large chunk of the story.

 

LKC: That sounds right up my alley.

KO: It involves shapeshifting dragons, centaur baristas, badass knife-wielding princesses, and Knights wearing neon that are kind of your average jocks. It’s glorious.

 

LKC: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

KO: That even if you fuck up beyond belief, keep pushing forward. Keep improving, and don’t give up. Anything is within your reach.

 

LKC: What do you want to say to young LGBT readers, maybe something that you didn’t hear?

KO: Your gender identity is valid. Your orientation is valid. It might change as you get older, and that’s OK. Don’t let anyone put you in a box. If you think a community is becoming toxic, get away from it as fast as you can. Find friends that will support and respect you.

 

Daybreak Rising is on sale for $1.99 this week.  Check it out!

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