Book Review: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

This. Book. Was. Amazing.

It’s been so long since I’ve read a novel of magical realism that touched me as deeply as When the Moon was Ours. It’s hard to live up to 100 Years of Solitude in terms of magical realism, but hell yeah McLemore has earned her spot in my heart along with García Márquez.

This story is so much deeper than what the synopsis implies; in fact, I find the synopsis doesn’t do this narrative justice. I wish that it would mention how inclusive this story is and how beautifully it explains the fears, memories, and secrets that everyone holds inside them wishing no one would hear or discover. I interpreted Miel’s roses as a way of expressing how those things can affect our outward world completely, and while we all don’t have roses growing beautifully and painfully out of our wrists, our emotions affect how we present ourselves to those around us. So much applause for McLemore on this.

Be aware that magical realism might take a few chapters to draw you in, but stick with it- it’s worth it!

Seriously, this review is going to be me gushing for the most part.  I understand the town that McLemore has created around Miel and Sam. The small town where any weirdness is outcast and those who don’t fit into the picture of normality are the topic of hurtful gossip, name calling, and more.  It’s so realistically done even though the narrative is told specifically through the eyes of Miel and Sam.

This is probably a spoiler, so I’m going to preface it by saying that, but Sam’s journey throughout this novel was absolutely wonderful. Sam is a transgender boy and I can honestly say I’ve not read a passage from a book about transgender identity that has described the experience for those individuals better than this one:

The endless, echoing use of she and her, miss and ma’am. Yes, they were words. They were all just words. But each of them was wrong, and they stuck to him. Each one was a golden fire ant, and they were biting his arms and his neck and his bound-flat chest, leaving him bleeding and burning.

He. Him. Mister. Sir. Even teachers admonishing him and his classmates with boys, settle down or gentleman, please. These were sounds as perfect and clean as winter rain, and they calmed each searing bite of those wrong words. 

Beautifully written with the narrative full of lush depictions of nature this is a book you don’t want to miss. Anyone looking for an LGBTQ book recommendation: here it is. Read it, Love it, and Share with others.

4.5 Bards to When the Moon was Ours.

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!

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Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.

I looooooooooove this book. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve had it for almost a year and I can’t believe I didn’t read it right away. In the last year or two I’ve realized I really love mysteries, and this book is perfect for that. I love trying to figure out who did it. But even though I guessed who it was, I still think that Sharpe does an excellent of keeping readers of track with other possible suspects.

The back and forth from present to past was done really well. I’ve read a few books where authors don’t have the right rhythm and it ruins the whole flow of the story. But Sharpe does an excellent job of keeping us in the present while still giving us a great glimpse into the past. Especially, since this is the only way we get to know Mina. Get to know how Sophie really feels about her. Their entire relationship takes place in the past before Mina died and we don’t get a chance to see them in the present time, but we still get great insight into Mina’s character through those flashbacks.

Their relationship is flawed and beautiful. From best friends as little kids to growing up to realize that what they felt for each other was more than just friendship. As we see more flashbacks we see that Mina struggled with her identity because of her religion, and with her feelings for Sophie because of her brother’s feelings for Sophie as well.

The fact Sophie actually says the word “bisexual” makes me so happy. In so much of today’s media, it’s almost like it’s a bad word to say. Which is so damaging to anyone who identifies as bi, like no one in the world can actually validate their identity. It’s so important that Sophie says the word, that she doesn’t struggle with it (even if Mina did). One of the things I loved the most about this book is that it felt real. The characters and their relationships and their struggles are just so wonderfully done, and I can’t wait to read more from Tess Sharpe.

5 bards for this.
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Be sure to keep up with Midsummer’s LGBT History Month Celebration by keeping your eyes on our schedule!
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Book Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

After a slow first half, I really enjoyed the second part of the Ash. While the writing is beautiful and it flows really well, the first part is essentially just the Cinderella introduction. That said, there were some obvious differences, in that fairies are just a part of this world, even if only in legend for some. It’s clear that Ash’s mother believed in the fairies and the “old ways” even if Ash’s father didn’t and didn’t keep up with them after she died. And that definitely leaves you wondering how that’s going to play into this retelling.

Turns out it’s a really big deal. And it took me until the second part to realize that Sidhean was basically her fairy god…father? I guess? Mostly because he was set up as a potential love interest from the beginning. The way that Ash talks about him and the way that he speaks to her, it’s obvious there’s something there. Until Ash meets Kaisa. I love the slow budding relationship between them so much. You can tell it’s very sweet and just overall, more equal. With Sidhean, it always felt like he had power over her and was using that to his advantage, it wasn’t an equal partnership, and for most of the second part of the book, it was easy to see that she felt more for Kaisa than she did for Sidhean.

However, I was always worried/confused about where the book was going. I never knew how it was going to end… until the end. Sometimes I like that in a book, but I can’t totally decide how I feel about it in this one. I am glad that she was able to go back and be with Kaisa, but I feel like I would have liked to be sure about that sooner.

Two things I did love about the book as a whole, were that there were old fairy stories and old love stories about women falling in love and that the most famous hunters in the land were huntresses. Always. I love when fantasy authors actually make that decision to actually have something different than the perceived nonsense of “oh, that’s just how it was back then.” You are writing a fantasy. The only “back then” is the one you make. I wish more fantasy authors would just do this.

Overall I’d give it 4 bards.
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Be sure to keep up with Midsummer’s LGBT History Month Celebration by keeping your eyes on our schedule!

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Review Repost: Luna by Julie Anne Peters

In order to keep up our celebration of LGBT History Month here at Midsummer, we are going to spotlight a few of our favorite LGBT young adult reads from over the years!  This review is from former Midsummer teammate Missy *waves to Missy* and it focuses on a Transgender main character! Check it out:

Regan’s brother Liam can’t stand the person he is during the day. Like the moon from whom Liam has chosen his female namesake, his true self, Luna, only reveals herself at night. In the secrecy of his basement bedroom Liam transforms himself into the beautiful girl he longs to be, with help from his sister’s clothes and makeup. 

Now, everything is about to change-Luna is preparing to emerge from her cocoon. But are Liam’s family and friends ready to welcome Luna into their lives? Compelling and provocative, this is an unforgettable novel about a transgender teen’s struggle for self-identity and acceptance.

I am on the home stretch of Molly Horan’s list of 15 Young Adult Books Every Adult Should Read.  The next book I read from the list was Luna by Julie Anne Peters

I was very excited to read this book.  I had not previously seen a young adult book that focused on the LGBT community, specifically on a Transgendered person.  Liam/Luna’s story is one that needed to be told.  I thought the concept of having the POV from the sister of a pre-trans woman (genetically male transitioning to female) was exceptional.  Because being a Trans affects the whole family and I thought this book did a great job showing that.  I really liked this book.  It was interesting, factual, captivating, heartbreaking, tragic, and a true must read for everyone.

I liked that while the topic of the book was super heavy the author still managed to create levity by having the POV from the sibling (Regan) as opposed to Liam/Luna.  If the book focused on Luna it may have been too heartbreaking to read.  It was touching to see Luna come to terms with who she is while at the same time watching Regan live “normal” her life.  It shows how completely life altering decisions can affect one person so completely and yet the other person has to try to continue living their lives.  I love that it also shows the complete love and dedication that Regan has for her sister.  That bond between the two is priceless and beautiful.

I thought the way Julie Anne Peters was able to portray a wide variety of emotions through her writings was phenomenal.  My emotions ran from scared for Luna, to relief for Regan for finally not having to keep this secret, to heartbreak for Aly (who discovers that she won’t get the man of her dreams) and then back to scared for Luna when she decides to be herself all within one sentence.

I think that this is an important book for all teens to read, not just for an LGBT teen.  This can help people understand how hard this decision is for any Trans person and how hard it is for the family to come to terms with this change.  I also believe that it could help any LGBT teen feel less alone and like an outsider.
4 Bards.

 

Be sure to keep up with our LGBT Celebration by checking our calendar!

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Author Spotlight: Caleb Roehrig

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Unfortunately technical difficulties attacked Team Midsummer and we had to transcribe the interview with the fabulous and wonderful Caleb Roehrig.  We hope he forgives us, because we adore him!

We were lucky enough to connect with Roehrig when he was promoting his book at the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin, TX on October 1, 2016.

A Midsummer Night’s Read (MSNR): What inspired you to write this novel?

Caleb Roehrig (CR): Well, I love thrillers, especially anything with missing persons.  But also there was very few young adult books when I was growing up, and even less with LGBT protagonists. So I wanted to write a 25036310book that combined both of those elements and it ended up coming out as Last Seen Leaving.

MSNR: Well, you kind of answered this question already, but did you set out to write an LGBT novel?

CR: Yes, as I mentioned, there were very few novels that were written featuring LGBT characters and I really wanted to be able to show readers that there are characters and people like them in literature and in the world. 

MSNR: What is your writing process like? Do you outline, or do you just sit down and write?

CR: Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard but there are two types of writers, pantsers and plotters. I am definitely a plotter, otherwise I will go in too many directions. One time I wrote 160,000 words, but I kept writing myself into a corner, then took forever writing myself out of a corner, then wrote myself into ANOTHER corner.  I definitely have a start and an end, but sometimes I figure it out from there.

MSNR: What was your favorite part about writing this novel?

CR: I think it was being able to put red herrings in everywhere to deter readers from the actual answer. Although I did keep giving everyone an airtight alibi at first, so that made it difficult!

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

CR: Well, I have two finished manuscripts, but my publisher is trying to decide which one will come out next!

MSNR: That’s awesome!

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

CR: Well, I really want them to be in suspense and to be thrilled, but also for LGBT readers to see themselves in the main character, oh I think I just gave away a spoiler. SPOILER ALERT. Although the main goal is for all readers to identify with the journey that Flynn takes through the story. 

MSNR: So, your biography says you’ve lived in a lot of different places, where has been your favorite place to live?

CR: It is really hard to choose, because I’ve liked everywhere I’ve lived! I lived in Michigan, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Europe.  We did just move back to LA, and I guess that means I chose LA? I remember not liking it at first when I moved there, but once I found my tribe and my place in LA, I loved it. So, if you go to LA, you have to find your LA.

MSNR: Where would you like to live that you haven’t lived?

CR: Hmmm, well, I’ve always wanted to live in Sweden! 

MSNR: Because it’s neutral?

CR: That and it just seems like such a nice place to live!

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

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Jess sucks and this photo is blurry, but he’s awesome.

CR: Okay, you might hear this a lot, it does get better. Everything feels heavy when you’re a teenager and that it might be the end of the world, but it really does get better. Please, never stop having adventures.  You’ll always have time for new ones.  I mean, I just started this whole new book adventure, and that could be you. 

Thank you so much to Caleb and Fierce Reads for being so enthusiastic about Team Midsummer. We are so honored to support this sweet and enigmatic debut author and his novel!

Be sure to keep an eye out for our review of Last Seen Leaving in our celebration of LGBT History Month.

Also, we not so low key are in love with Caleb, so you should be too.

You can follow Caleb on his social media outlets:

Twitter. Instagram. Website.

Order his book now!

 

 

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common.

But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

I easily connected with Ari as a teenager who doesn’t quite know where he fits in the world. The beauty of the writing is that I was so easily able to connect with a Mexican-American gay teenage boy growing up in the 80’s, while I am straight white woman who was a teenager in the early 2000’s. His struggles with identity and his pent up anger are things I think every teenager goes through at some point.

But my favorite thing about Ari is the way we get to know the people that’s love him. With only Ari’s POV for the whole book, we still get excellent insight into everyone else in his life. Especially the fact that the people that love him seem to know him better than he knows himself. Even if he is “unknowable.” His relationships with Dante and his parents show the complexities of real, loving relationships and all of the ups and downs that come with them.

I feel like Sáenz touches on so many things without it being overwhelming to the story. Dante is so sure of himself in everything he does, but he struggles with his Mexican-American identity, whereas Ari has the exact opposite problem. He paints a great picture of two families that can. And do exist in the US, even today.

I was completely blown away by this book. The writing is effortlessly profound and I was just so moved by Sáenz’s words. I can’t wait to read more from him.

5 bards, hands down.
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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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