Book Review: Georgia Peaches and other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown

Joanna Gordon has been out and proud for years, but when her popular radio evangelist father remarries and decides to move all three of them from Atlanta to the more conservative Rome, Georgia, he asks Jo to do the impossible: to lie low for the rest of her senior year. And Jo reluctantly agrees.

Although it is (mostly) much easier for Jo to fit in as a straight girl, things get complicated when she meets Mary Carlson, the oh-so-tempting sister of her new friend at school. But Jo couldn’t possibly think of breaking her promise to her dad. Even if she’s starting to fall for the girl. Even if there’s a chance Mary Carlson might be interested in her, too. Right?

I’m not going to lie to you, the beginning of this novel put me off almost immediately.  As a born and bred southerner, I too, grew up in the church, but I grew up in a denomination that is much more accepting and less judgmental than that of the Southern Baptist sect that is depicted in this novel.  Yes, I have been to a few Southern Baptist churches, and I’m not condemning them for their style of worship, because some of them were wonderful, but I do take issue with the church I remember specifically (and subsequently the church in Brown’s novel) preaching fire and brimstone with prejudice against those different than them.  But, unfortunately, this is a real reality in some churches, and not just in the South. Initially, this, and the ridiculous request of Jo’s father to “re-closet” herself for a year really just ticked me off.

Seriously, I hated her father for doing that to her.  But all of these things really culminated in me wanting to continue reading Jo’s story to see if these issues are resolved, and they were.  I can’t fully understand how hard it is to come out as LGBT in the south, since I am a straight, cis woman, but I have a number of close LGBTQ friends and I have witnessed how hard it can be for them.  Disclaimer: I also live in Charlotte, North Carolina, a giant blue dot in a red state, so I can’t totally imagine Jo’s situation in a backwoods Georgia small town.  Brown did a good job of keeping me interested and involved despite almost alienating me with Jo’s father’s request.

The overall message of this book is a good one: do not hide who you are for anyone or anything.  

Sure, the stakes are raised when Jo meets and falls for the picture perfect Christian girl, Mary Carlson, only to find out that Mary also has feelings for her.  A roller coaster happens with Mary desperate to come out and have the small town recognize her as a Lesbian and in a relationship with Jo, but of course that pesky promise she made to her dad kind of hinders that. Serious praise-hands emojis for Mary Carlson, who was the biggest star of this novel for me. I’d pay Jaye Robin Brown for more stories about Mary Carlson and Jo’s adventures after they get out of Rome, Georgia.

More shenanigans and heartbreak ensues, and Jo eventually creates a LGBTQ friendly youth radio program through her father’s ministry, and it made me so happy to have the warmth and love of that ministry involved as a juxtaposition to the bigoted church at the beginning of the narrative. So I think that it was important that Brown started out with the alienating church experience towards the beginning.

I loved the dynamic of the friend group that Jo finds in Rome, and how much they grow to accept her (save for one character and good riddance).

I grew to really enjoy this whole tumultuous story and the way that Brown was able to manipulate my emotions from the polarizing start to the accepting and wonderful ending.

Overall this was a really well written novel, the characterizations and the plot was well executed. Plus, if a novel can make me feel strong emotions, regardless, I will recommend it everyone.

A solid 4 Bards!

fourbards

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

How I have owned this book since it was released in 2014 and not read it before now is definitely something I’m kicking myself for.

Not only does Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda touch on all of the things that a good LGBTQ novel should: the aspects and emotions that come with Coming Out, what chaos can be caused by being Outed by someone else, and the joy in being accepted by those who love you.  ALSO, falling in love for the first time.

Albertalli’s writing is succinct and fast-moving, so much so that I couldn’t put it down and I read this book in one three hour sitting. Also, all of the snark and sarcasm.

Simon is a wonderfully complex character, and the relationships between him and his friends are well developed and equally complex.  It all flows together so well.  I just applaud Albertalli so much for her skill in writing.  It turns out that the author is actually a child psychologist – don’t worry, she doesn’t base any characters off of any of her clients (patient-doctor confidentiality), but is inspired by those she has gotten to know over the years – so it shouldn’t surprise me that she is excellent at developing these complex characters alongside her complex narrator/protagonist.

The narrative structure rotates between first person limited Simon and chapters that show the email exchanges between Simon and his crush, Blue.  I think this was one of my favorite narrative devices that I’ve read recently, (and again, I should have read this book a long time ago! SO GOOD) because it really shows how deep the friendship between the two of them is and it also shows the reader how their relationship progresses and it helps the reader fall in love with Blue alongside Simon.

I applaud Albertalli’s fearlessness when discussion teen drinking, masturbation, and first sexual experiences.  Not to mention all of the cussing.  I love all of it.  It makes the narrative so much more realistic and relatable to the reader.

As a straight, cis woman, I just loved how realistic and emotional Simon’s journey was throughout the whole novel.  He struggles with the need for approval but also his privacy.  He is a normal teenager lusting after his crush, defining his emotions, and finding who he really is.  It was also important for me to really see how much it affected Simon that he didn’t get to choose how he came out, he was forced “out of the closet” by an angry kid in his class.  It was despicable and very hard to read, I broke down into tears for Simon and for his agency that was taken away from him.

All the high fives for the diversity in this novel, not only with two gay main characters, one of them is a person of color, a person of color is Simon’s best friend, there’s a Jewish main character, and a bisexual character.  It really does exemplify the melting pot that is Atlanta and America.  I adore that the two of the couples in this novel are interracial and it is not a big deal.  Because it isn’t. The south has all of these old, ridiculous prejudices and I love that it just wasn’t a major issue in this book.

Some powerful quotes from the novel:

“White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.”

“People really are like house with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it’s a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.”

“It is definitely annoying that straight (and white, for that matter) is the default, and that the only people who have to think about their identity are the ones who don’t fit that mold. Straight people really should have to come out, and the more awkward it is, the better. Awkwardness should be a requirement.”

I adored this book.

5 Bards.

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Keep following along with us for Midsummer’s LGBT History Month Celebration!

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Book Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

queenofheartsAs Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

It has been a long time since I’ve read a novel where I genuinely dislike almost every character.  I understand why this was necessary in a novel like Queen of Hearts as it is the story of a villainess becoming who she is meant to be by the time Alice arrives in Wonderland.

However, I couldn’t quite get past the feeling that all these characters needed a good slap.

Seriously.  Not only is Dinah hardly likable until the events at the end of the novel, but she is a spoiled brat who has some serious daddy issues.  Now if this had been done in a way to make her more sympathetic as a character, then I would be fine with it.  But it is almost as if Dinah is all hard edges and no smooth curves.  The King of Hearts is just as bad, a petulant adult still steaming from a past transgression and taking it out on his oldest daughter and doting on his illegitimate offspring despite the traditional lineage of the throne.

(^^^Seriously, the cover is absolutely gorgeous and it really does look like it could be the companion to the limited edition Queen of Hearts doll by Disney.)

Speaking of Vittiore, she is about as flat as a cardboard cut out and it was fairly obvious from around halfway through that she was simply a plot device and another way for Dinah to be enraged.

I think the only characters that really redeemed anything about characterization in this novel was her younger brother, the Mad Hatter character, who suffers from a sort of mental illness rather than mercury induced mania that Victorian hatters were known to succumb to.  Harris, the white rabbit character, I also found endearing, but he was very simply the same embodiment of the follower that he would be in the original novel.

I think the world building was the strongest point in this novel, as I really enjoyed the different aspects of the Court of the Hearts and the different rankings of Cards (which served as Security, Torturers, Accountants, and Soldiers), and the Black Towers.  That was the only part I found to be significant to the plot, as the rest of the novel sometimes felt like Dinah was just complaining to her long-time crush, Wardley.  Who, by the way, is so obviously uninterested that it made Dinah seem more like a mooning preteen than a teenager and future Queen.

The entire novel really just felt like it could have been a prequel short story in a lot of ways, or maybe a short novella.  However, as I am a giant Alice in Wonderland fangirl, Oakes can count on me reading the next installment, out January 2017.

I’m going to give it around 3 Bards as I found it average but with potential.

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http://www.amidsummernightsread.com/2717-2/

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: May 24, 2016

They’ve left the cage—but they’re not free yet.

After their failed escape attempt, Cora, Lucky, and Mali have been demoted to the lowest level of human captives and placed in a safari-themed environment called the Hunt, along with wild animals and other human outcasts. They must serve new Kindred masters—Cora as a lounge singer, Lucky as an animal wrangler, and Mali as a safari guide—and follow new rules or face dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, Nok and Rolf have been moved into an enormous dollhouse, observed around the clock by Kindred scientists interested in Nok’s pregnancy. And Leon, the only one who successfully escaped, has teamed up with villainous Mosca black-market traders.

The former inhabitants of the Cage are threatened on all fronts—and maybe worst of all, one of the Hunt’s Kindred safari guests begins to play a twisted game of cat and mouse with Cora. Separated and constantly under watch, she and the others must struggle to stay alive, never mind find a way back to each other. When Cassian secretly offers to train Cora to develop her psychic abilities—to prove the worthiness of humanity in a series of tests called the Gauntlet—she’ll have to decide fast if she dares to trust the Kindred who betrayed her, or if she can forge her own way to freedom.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: April 26, 2016

There’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.” Just ask the girl who wished to be thinner and ended up smaller than Thumbelina, or the boy who asked for “balls of steel” and got them-literally. And never wish for your party to go on forever. Not unless you want your guests to be struck down by debilitating pain if they try to leave.

These are things Lennie only learns when it’s too late-after she brings some of her uncles’ moonshine to a party and toasts to dozens of wishes, including a big wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was abducted and murdered six months ago.

Lennie didn’t mean to cause so much chaos. She always thought her uncles’ moonshine toast was just a tradition. And when they talked about carrying on their “important family legacy,” she thought they meant good old-fashioned bootlegging.

As it turns out, they meant granting wishes. And Lennie has just granted more in one night than her uncles would grant in a year.

Now she has to find a way to undo the damage. But once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: February 23, 2016

Asleep for a hundred years, awoken by a kiss, Aurora’s life was supposed to be a fairytale. But since discovering that loyalty to the crown and loyalty to her country are two very different things, Aurora knows she can only dream of happily ever after. Once the enchanted princess, savior of her people, she is now branded a traitor.

Aurora is determined to free her home from the king’s tyrannical rule, even if it means traveling across the sea to the kingdom of the handsome and devious Prince Finnegan—someone who seems to know far more about her magic than he should. However, Finnegan’s kingdom has perils of its own, and any help he gives Aurora will come at a price.

As Aurora and Finnegan work together to harness her power—something so fiery and dangerous that is as likely to destroy those close to Aurora as it is to save them—she begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding the curse that was placed on her over a century before…and uncover the truth about the destiny she was always meant to fulfill.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: June 14, 2016

The only life seventeen-year-old Kol knows is hunting at the foot of the Great Ice with his brothers. But food is becoming scarce, and without another clan to align with, Kol, his family, and their entire group are facing an uncertain future.

Traveling from the south, Mya and her family arrive at Kol’s camp with a trail of hurt and loss behind them, and hope for a new beginning. When Kol meets Mya, her strength, independence, and beauty instantly captivate him, igniting a desire for much more than survival.

Then on a hunt, Kol makes a grave mistake that jeopardizes the relationship that he and Mya have only just started to build. Mya was guarded to begin with—and for good reason—but no apology or gesture is enough for her to forgive him. Soon after, another clan arrives on their shores. And when Mya spots Lo, a daughter of this new clan, her anger intensifies, adding to the already simmering tension between families. After befriending Lo, Kol learns of a dark history between Lo and Mya that is rooted in the tangle of their pasts.

When violence erupts, Kol is forced to choose between fighting alongside Mya or trusting Lo’s claims. And when things quickly turn deadly, it becomes clear that this was a war that one of them had been planning all along.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: March 1, 2016

The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John Watson–wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else.

Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: February 9, 2016

Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

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