When You Get the Chance (Book Review)

When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson is unapologetically queer, but aside from that doesn’t have much to offer.

What’s it about?

Cousins Mark and Talia haven’t seen each other in years. They used to spend every summer together at their grandparents’ cottage, but haven’t done so since their parents fell out. When their grandfather unexpectedly dies and their grandmother suffers a health setback, their parents leave them alone at the cottage—along with Mark’s sister Paige—to clean it up and potentially get it ready to sell. Unbeknownst to the adults, though, Mark and Talia have plans in the big city: Talia wants to reconnect with her ex, and Mark just wants to cut loose at Pride.

What’d I think?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I read tons of LGBTQ+ books. I rarely read books that aren’t at least a little bit queer. I love stories about loving families and other platonic relationships. When You Get the Chance looked like it was going to be a home run for me. I mean, just look at the cover. It’s so joyfully gay! And since a lot of LGBTQ+ fiction is, for obvious reasons, focused on romance, I was extra excited about this one. The concept was appealing enough that I read it without taking even a preliminary look at any reviews. I probably shouldn’t have done that, because if I had I either would have skipped it or I would have prepared myself for a solidly three-star read.

There main problem with When You Get the Chance is that it’s scattered. There’s too much going on. Too many characters, too many plotlines, too many ideas, etc. There are two main plotlines that feel entirely disconnected from each other.

The first is the family drama with Talia’s dad and Mark’s mother. They were close as children and then had a falling out, possibly involving a childhood friend neither has ever mentioned to their own kids, and now they’re thrown back together because of their dad’s death. At the start of the novel, the two families head back to the summer cottage after the funeral to clean it out. Talia’s dad wants to sell it, but Mark’s mom wants to hold onto it. They’re eternally at each other’s throats, and Paige wants to dig deep and find out what is going on. Mark and Talia are less concerned, assuming that it’s just standard grown-up growing apart. Talia wants to be responsible and get the cottage cleaned up. Mark wants to bum around, get drunk, and flirt with the bad boy next door. This set up could have sustained a whole novel, but instead most of it gets quickly wrapped up for a road trip. After only a few short chapters, Mark’s guy ends up being a homophobe who was just hanging around to steal old tools, so Mark decides to totally bail and drive to Pride. Talia, who wants to reconnect with her ex, ditches the cleaning and they all go together.

Remember the apparently large plotline with their parents’ puzzling animosity? Mark and Talia don’t. They forget it entirely, only to remember it and have it quickly and anticlimactically wrapped up a few pages from the end when they get back from the city. Want to know what else they forget? Their dead grandfather. The dead grandfather is a really weird bit of this book. The authors go out of their way to tell us that he was in incredibly good health and that his death was a shock that no one saw coming… and yet no one really grieves. The parents are a  little sad, but our main protagonists apparently couldn’t care less. If Ryan and Stevenson didn’t want to engage even superficially with grief, they should’ve found a different way to bring the families together. Even changing it so that Grandpa had been ailing for long enough that everyone had already made peace with his passing would’ve made Mark and Talia’s apathy more palatable. Maybe Ryan and Stevenson could have leaned into the idea that his death was such a shock that no one has processed it yet. As is, it’s just weird and makes everyone seem heartless.

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The Silver Arrow (Book Review)

The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman is a deceptively simple young reader’s fantasy. What starts as a standard, straightforward story about a magic train slowly morphs into a nuanced and emotional reflection of humanity’s power regarding our environment.

What’s it about?

Eleven-year-old Kate loves to read, but she’s pretty much resigned herself to the fact that world-saving adventures don’t happen in real life. Still, she wants excitement so she writes to her mysterious and rich uncle and requests that he give her a birthday present. He complies, and brings her a full-sized train. When Kate and her little brother climb onboard one night, the train whisks them away on a journey full of talking animals and hard work.

What’d I think?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From the start, the narration style of The Silver Arrow caught me. It’s witty, full of direct addresses to the audience, and meta observations. This is a style of writing I’ve always been partial to. It keeps the story from feeling too earnest, and it adds an element of humor that might otherwise be lacking.

Interestingly, the writing style gets more traditional the farther in we get. The first chapter is full of silly asides—like the observation that Kate’s mother’s real reaction to seeing the train could not be printed in a children’s book—which served to get me hooked. I’ve aged beyond the target audience for this book, but the style still appeals. As the true stakes of The Silver Arrow become apparent, though, the silliness of the narration tapers off. I honestly didn’t notice it as I was reading; it’s only in retrospect that I see that as Kate and Tom got deeper into the realities of their adventure the frivolous tone was no longer entirely appropriate. The change is subtle and gradual, and it works incredibly well to mirror the style of the writing to the substance of the plot.

I’ll admit I was skeptical when I first got to the talking animals. I usually find talking animals annoying, but they’re not here. As I read deeper and deeper, I learned that these are not the typical talking animals. They’re real wild animals, given the power of speech so that they can advocate for themselves. At the beginning, Kate, Tom, and the readers don’t really know why the animals are boarding the train. Eventually, though, we learn that the animals are endangered and displaced; they’re traveling to new habitats because humans have made their old ones unlivable. We spend just enough time with the animals to become emotionally attached to them, and when we realize that we are the villains from whom they are running—and the only hero on whom they can depend to save them—it’s devastating.

The last few scenes, particularly the ones with the pangolin and the polar bear, are gut-punches. This all sneaks up. At the start of The Silver Arrow, I never would have anticipated tearing up at the end, but it doesn’t come out of nowhere. Grossman builds slowly but surely up to this heartbreaking climax.

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Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Adam Silvera, More Happy Than Not

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), here are a few amazing Hispanic and Latinx authors and books to add to your list!

Adam Silvera is one of my favorite writers. I love literally all his books, but More Happy Than Not is the first one I read and it therefore has a special place in my heart. It’s heartbreaking and brilliant and it’s mindblowing that this was a first novel. I’m really excited that everyone is discovering Silvera through They Both Die At the End nowadays, but I hope you won’t stop with just that book. It’s great, but Silvera has so much to offer in his other books as well.

Benjamin Alire Saénz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a mouthful of a title, and it takes a remarkable novel to stand up to it. This is a remarkable novel—poignant, heartbreaking, charming—and there’s an unexpected sequel coming out later this year!

Aiden Thomas, Cemetery Boys

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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Movie Review)

September 2021 is a gift to musical fans. Aside from Broadway reopening, a slew of musicals are coming to the screen. Dear Evan Hansen is coming to theatres at the end of the month. A proshot of Come From Away has already been released on AppleTV. Amazon Prime has been particularly busy, giving us a new jukebox version of Cinderella and a movie adaptation of the West End’s majorly successful Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing movie and musical reviews, not for any reason in particular. I’ve been trying to focus more on my creative writing and work has been crazy. But I watched Everybody’s Talking About Jamie the day it was released and was moved enough that I wanted to write a bit about it. This is no shade to the other two newly available musicals. I thoroughly enjoyed Cinderella (the “What a Man/Seven Nation Army” mashup was incredible and I would like to start a petition that Pierce Brosnan is only allowed to be in campy musicals from now on because between this, Mamma Mia!, and Eurovision he has found his niche) and I haven’t seen Come From Away yet (I have tickets to see the traveling production, and want to experience it for the first time live).

I’d been looking forward to Jamie passively. I’d listened to the cast recording a few times and even written about it once on this blog, but it wasn’t a show I knew a whole lot about. I’d kind of assumed it was a sort of Kinky Boots copycat with a bit of Billy Elliot mixed in. It isn’t.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy (Max Harwood) from a small town who wants to be a drag queen. There are some similar elements to Kinky Boots, of course. Both musicals are about drag, are based on true stories, and challenge the stringently enforced gender binary found in small, conservative communities. The overall feeling, though, is very different. When we meet Simon/Lola in Kinky Boots, he’s already who he is. He’s been through the hardships of his youth and while there are still struggles, he’s mostly pushing against the people who won’t accept him. The song “Not My Father’s Son” has the same feeling as Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, but overall Kinky Boots is about a grown adult and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is about a teenager still growing up. Also, much as Lola steals the show in Kinky Boots, it’s Charlie’s story. Jamie’s queerness is the story of his musical, and Lola’s queerness colors Charlie’s.

Jamie and his musical have a closer, more introspective story. He’s young. As his mentor Hugo (Richard E. Grant) says, of course he doesn’t know who he is yet. He’s sixteen. He’s still developing his drag personality, but more importantly he is still developing himself. He seems comfortable with himself—we find out in the first scene that he’s openly gay and thinks nothing of calling out the bullies who say anything to him about it—but much of that is a front; he is still working through a lot of internalized shame stemming from his father’s bigotry.

It’s easy to miss how absolutely devastating Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is when you’re just passively listening to the cast recording. Just listening, it’s the bold, confident songs that stick out—“And You Don’t Even Know It,” “The Legend of Loco Chanel”—but watching it pulls the subtler, sadder songs to the surface. Hands down, my favorite song is “The Wall in My Head.” It’s the second song of the musical, and it has Jamie expressing how difficult it is for him to overcome the internal shame that he has built over the years, but how desperately he wants to get over it. It’s beautiful and it’s powerful and it’s a gut punch right at the start.

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Malibu Rising (Mini Book Review)

The was no question of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s most recent novel Malibu Rising being anything less than excellent; it lived up to expectations.

I’ve been a big fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid for a while. I fell in love with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and was even more impressed by Daisy Jones and the Six. I hadn’t realized that those two novels, along with the new Malibu Rising, create a trilogy of sorts. They’re only loosely connected—one character appears in all three, and there are a few references to the other stories that are easy to miss if you’re not looking for them—but they have a lot of thematic similarities. They’re all about famous, beautiful women in or around the entertainment industry whose lives are shaped by the Hollywood, sex, infidelity, marriage, drugs, toxic masculinity, fame, and more; however they all approach these topics from different directions.

Evelyn reflects back on a lifetime of regret and love. It deals with racism, biphobia/homophobia, and objectification. Its titular heroine is a force of nature, but she’s also a beautiful, bisexual woman of color (mostly white-passing) in Hollywood in the 60s which means that her life is full of men who try to control her and do to varying degrees.

Daisy’s heroine is also famous in her own right. She is a talented songwriter and has an almost otherworldly voice. She makes bad choices and nearly throws her gifts away at every turn. Her band is plagued by in-fighting, drug use, and her ongoing flirtation/affair with her married bandmate; despite their incredible talent and lightning-in-a-bottle success, the group has no longevity because they seem determined to destroy themselves form the inside.

Malibu Rising is also about women in and around the industry, but it takes a step back from the spotlight. Evelyn and Daisy are headliners, while Nina—while well known and easily recognizable—is not. She is a model and married to a tennis superstar, but she also makes regular appearances at the seafood restaurant her grandparents owned and her dream is to live anonymously on the ocean where she can surf in peace. She actually has an uneasy position between fame and anonymity. She is very visible, but it is just her body. She is clothed and posed in ways she would not choose, and we’re specifically told multiple times that her most popular pictures make her uncomfortable (in one, her surfboard has been cropped out; in another, her swimsuit has gone nearly transparent, distracting from the fact that her poor form caused a wipeout mere moments later). Nina’s body is famous, but Nina herself—Nina the person—is nothing. Evelyn and Daisy are famous for their beauty and their talent; Nina is known only for her beauty, and if she were to retire, she’d be replaced quickly without a second thought.

It is fitting that Malibu Rising is not named for Nina, or for her siblings. It’s their story, of course, but it’s also their father’s story. It’s also the story of the insanely out-of-control party Nina throws. It’s about growing into adulthood with the scars of a traumatic childhood. It’s about Malibu. It’s a generic story told through the specific lens of these four young adults.

In the first chapter, we’re told the story will end with a fire that burns the Riva mansion to the ground, and then we’re presented with a plethora of characters and conflicts that may have caused the flames, but while the fire is literal it’s also metaphorical, because there’s a symbolic burning down of one way of life to make way for another. The fire is a destruction, but it is also a cleansing.

Malibu Rising is all about contradictions. Nina, the sex-symbol who just wants to be alone and unobserved. Jay, the champion surfer whose heart literally won’t let him surf. Hud, the nice guy who’s been sneaking behind his brother’s back. Kit, the woman whose family will never see her as anything but a child. A family who has everything except what they need, who have the adoration of many but the love of only a few. We get to know all four Riva children, both as who they are and who they might be without the pressures of a semi-public life. But the Rivas are far from the only characters. There are dozens of them, some who only pop in briefly to add to the obscene excesses at the party or who fill out the flashback scenes that chronicle the Rivas’ parents’ courtship and marriage. These characters provide a contrast to our protagonists. We can understand Nina more by comparing her to her peers, to her husband and his lover, than by merely viewing her in a vacuum.

Reid does such a great job. She’s such a decisive, composed writer. Malibu Rising does a lot with its 350-odd pages. It’s part mystery. It’s part love story. It’s part coming of age. It’s part family drama. It starts out as a fun, low-stakes romp: a supermodel is throwing a fancy party for other rich, famous, beautiful people. By the end, it has become something much more intimate, but emotionally bigger. I confess that when I started Malibu Rising I was concerned that it was more flash than substance in comparison to Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones, but it more than made up for that in the latter half. Once the party starts, and particularly once it winds down, it’s one emotional gut-punch after another.

It’s brilliant. Taylor Jenkins Reid has always been good, but she has improved so exponentially since Maybe in Another Life that she may as well be an entirely different writer. Malibu Rising is not exactly what I expected—it tells the story of the family left behind by an irresponsible superstar instead of following in the footsteps of the previous two books by telling the story of said irresponsible superstar, and its focus on family is likewise a change after the stories of two women who were essentially alone—but it is exceptionally well-written and is just as enjoyable and emotionally satisfying as Reid’s other recent work.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Paper Palace (Book Rant)

At the end of December, I make lists of my ten favorite and least favorite reads from the year. There’s still some time to go before I start compiling those lists, but I’d be willing to bet nothing beats The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller for the number one spot on the worst books list.

If I’ve read a book more detrimental to my mental health, I can’t remember it. I felt nauseated. I felt angry. I read with a visible grimace on my face because I was so disgusted I physically couldn’t hide it. It took me four days to read The Paper Palace (and that was aggressively pushing through it because I needed to be done with it for my own sanity) and I was irritable and unhappy the whole time. I slept badly and woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I wanted badly to DNF, but since I read the book for a book club that I’m leading for work, I couldn’t exactly nope out of it, even though I desperately wanted to. The Paper Palace is unrelentingly miserable and triggering, and for my money there’s nothing in the story or the writing that makes up for it.

Rating: 0 out of 5.

This review, as you can probably tell, is going to get into ranty territory. If you liked this book, this review is not for you. (Also, how did you like this book?). There are also a few spoilers, although I avoid the biggest one. If you want to be 100% spoiler free, this review is not for you. Lastly, there is no discussing The Paper Palace without discussing rape, incest, child abuse, and pedophilia. If you need to avoid these topics, this review is not for you and this book is DEFINITELY not for you. Please, please take care of yourself and do not read The Paper Palace if you have any sex-based triggers.

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The Inheritance Games (Book Review)

After hearing The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes repeatedly compared to Knives Out and The Westing Game, I knew I had to read it. But while those comps got me to pick it up, they ultimately doomed The Inheritance Games because, while entertaining, it is nowhere near their level.

What’s it about?

Avery lives in her car and all her plans revolve around practicality: what colleges are affordable, what career fields are the most lucrative, what can she do to get her sister away from an abusive boyfriend, etc. Everything changes when a billionaire she’s never met leaves her nearly his entire fortune. This stroke of fortune comes with with a caveat: Avery has to live a year in the late billionaire’s mansion with his family, who is convinced that she scammed her way into their money and is desperate to prove her a fraud.

What’d I think?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

On surface level, it’s obvious why people talk about The Inheritance Games in the same sentence as Knives Out or The Westing Game. All three are stories about incredibly wealthy men leaving their fortunes to unexpected beneficiaries, and in all three cases this leads to unscrupulous behavior on the behalf of those who feel entitled to more than their share. But the other two are absolutely brilliant. They’re entertaining, sure, but they’re deeper than just ‘entertaining.’ They’re full of riddles and red herrings and clues that the readers can try to solve alongside the characters. They’re also layered with interesting social commentary, particularly in regards to class hierarchy, racial discrimination, sexism, and other societal inequities. Would you ever read The Westing Game and say, “Ah, yes, this is a novel about sexism?” No, probably not, but it’s impossible to read it and not see how Angela’s womanhood has affected her and dictated many of her decisions. It’s impossible to be unaware of how Judge Ford’s Blackness has shaped her, or how Christopher’s neurological disorder and wheelchair use change how people respond to him. Likewise, Knives Out is a fun and twisty mystery, but when you look beyond that it’s impossible to miss the implications of Marta’s race, age, and social class, not to mention her family’s immigration status.

The Inheritance Games doesn’t have that same significant subtext. I think Barnes did try to put some in there, as there is one brown-skinned character in the white Hawthorne family and there is a hidden queer relationship that plays indirectly into final reveals, but these aren’t integral to the story and they don’t even seem to shape the characters particularly. In of itself, there’s no issue with that. I don’t think that diversity has to do anything. Books can and should have POC and queer characters just for the sake of having them (we’d never ask an author to justify why a character is white, after all, or straight), but in The Inheritance Games, the inclusion feels like it’s meant to be more meaningful than it actually is.

Even the class elements of the novel are understated, which is odd considering that this is the story of a homeless orphan who inherits an unfathomable fortune. She’s thrown into a situation in which she is surrounded by people who have only ever known spectacular wealth, but the differences between them are superficial at most. They don’t really approach the world in different ways, and in fact the Hawthorne boys are surprised by how unexpectedly suitable Avery is; she falls in with them without much fanfare, and her only faux pas is calculated to take the heat off her sister. Most of Avery’s transition from poverty to wealth is focused on a makeover. Once she glows up, she’s all but indistinguishable from the Hawthornes.

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One Last Stop (Book Review)

Unpopular opinion: I liked Casey McQuiston’s sophomore novel One Last Stop a lot more than Red, White, and Royal Blue.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Red, White, and Royal Blue a lot. It’s a sweet, optimistic queer romance and I’m always game for that. But there was a lot of hype for it, even when I read it. It has been immensely popular for a very long time. I read it back in 2019 because I was seeing rave reviews of it everywhere I turned, and it has only gotten bigger since then. I almost feel hipster because I read it before this huge wave, which is ridiculous because I was totally a bandwagon fan. The problem with overblown expectations is that they’re rarely met. I expected Red, White, and Royal Blue to be one of those I-can’t-stop-thinking-about-it books, but it wasn’t for me. I remember feeling the tiniest bit let down because everyone else liked it more than I did; I liked it when I expected to love it.

One Last Stop, however, hasn’t made the same waves. It has done all right, but it has not been a runaway success. It’s possible that this allowed me to come into it with more reasonable expectations, but I think that I’d’ve preferred it either way.

What’s it about?

When August, who spent her childhood helping track down the uncle who disappeared before she was born, moves to New York the last thing she expects is to fall in love with a girl who has been displaced from the 1970s and is stuck in the Q train of the subway. As August—with the help of her vibrant, kooky roommates—strives to help Jane get unstuck in time, she realizes that she might just be breaking her own heart in the process.

What’d I think?

One Last Stop is great. Before I read it, I saw the sales that lagged considerably behind its predecessor and a few less-than-stellar reviews and kind of resigned myself to disappointment. Yet another lackluster book for queer girls. And then I read it and loved it.

First and foremost, Casey McQuiston’s writing has matured between her first novel and this one. My biggest issue with Red, White, and Royal Blue was the pacing. It sped through periods I would have liked to spend more time in to rush to romantic reunions. One Last Stop, however, nails the pacing. Our leads, August and Jane, fall for each other relatively quickly—as is the case with most novels specifically coded romance—but their relationship still unfolds at a reasonable pace. August has things going on in her life besides her romantic entanglement, and although she does occasionally put them on hold to focus on Jane, she acknowledges this and has legitimate reasons for doing so. The rest of the world doesn’t disappear when August gets wrapped up in Jane: her coworkers notice when she misses work, she loses track of her classes and, and her roommates make fun of her for being single-minded. August spends enough time with Jane that the readers understand why she loves her and why it’s important that they be together, but she also spends enough time away and with other people that we never lose track of who she is as an individual beyond Jane.

Jane—by virtue of her supernatural situation—gets less chance to exist beyond August, but that’s forgivable. Jane is August’s love interest, but she is not an equal deuteragonist. She has significantly less pagetime, but through the various clippings and personal ads, we get a really good sense of who she is. August alone is our heroine, though, and I love her. She’s obsessive and meticulous and while obviously I did not spend my life obsessively dedicated to finding a missing uncle, I can relate to a lot of her neuroses.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it has an actual plot. That may sound like a weird thing to say, but a lot of romances don’t. Like, what was the plot of Red, White, and Royal Blue? A prince and the first son hate each other and then they love each other. If they’re not in love with each other, there is literally no story. In One Last Stop, August and Jane’s love story is a huge element of the novel that gives shape and flavor to the rest of it, but technically you could remove it and the bare bones plot would be mostly the same: our heroine discovers a woman who has slipped out of the time stream and is stuck in a subway, and she takes it upon herself to rescue her.

Now that I think about it, maybe that’s the disconnect with all the romance readers: they want more kissing and less time travel. (There’s still plenty of kissing).

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August 2021 Wrap-Up

This was not my usual reading month. I was all over the place. I reread two of my favorite novels, but I also strayed well outside my usual tastes to read a thriller and a romance. I usually read YA almost exclusively, but I only read one this month, instead reading five books for non-young adults. (I wish there was a good name for those. There’s young readers/juvenile fiction and young adult but books for anyone older is just called “fiction,” which is misleading because YA and JF is also fiction. And you can’t just say “adult books” without people thinking you mean erotica.) I read books that I adored (so many five-star books!) and at least one that I despised (it’s not often that I fantasize about DNFing before I’m past the first chapter). I read books that have been out for years, books that were released recently, and one that hasn’t been published yet. I read new books by favorite authors, authors I’d never heard of before, and one book from an author I’d previously been lukewarm about. It is quite the assortment, and that’s pretty fun. Overall, I’d say that despite the bad start, this month was more good than bad from a book standpoint.

Here’s what I read…

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Rating: 0 out of 5.

Genre/categories: contemporary fiction, romance (straight)

Read it or Skip it? Skip it.

This is the most emotionally taxing book I’ve read in a long time (in a bad way). I honestly think that the misleading cover-flap summary was irresponsible by everyone involved. People need a heads up for something like this. I had a happy, healthy childhood and was immensely upset. I cannot even imagine how traumatizing this book would be for anyone who has suffered abuse. I felt nauseated all the way through and would have DNF’d it a dozen times if I didn’t have to finish it for a book club. Even aside from the negative mental health effects, the book just isn’t very good. The character motivations are vague at best and the flashbacks are messy, overused, and poorly done. I am very, very relieved to be done with it. However, I will add the caveat that I seem to be among a minority who feels this way. The others in my group called it a beach read and were able to brush past the more traumatic elements to focus on the love triangle, so make of that what you will.

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre/categories: YA fantasy, meta fiction, romance (m/f and m/m), LGBTQ+ (bisexual and gay)

Read it or skip it? Read it!

I absolutely adore this book. It seriously could not be more fun. All my favorite things—ride-or-die friendships, great character development, relevant social commentary, smart humor, queer romance, fantasy shenanigans, fun worldbuilding, meta commentary—are here in abundance. It would be hard to find a book more perfectly catered to my tastes, and In Other Lands is every bit as great as that list makes it sound. I’ve now read this book twice, and I couldn’t put it down either time. It is somehow both hysterically funny and deeply emotionally touching. It feels like a let’s just chill out and have fun with it kind of book, but it also deftly incorporates more serious topics like sexism, mental health, and othering. A person could easily write an essay about this book, but it likely wouldn’t occur to them to do so because it is so much fun to read that it feels like a brain-off bubblegum book. I highly, highly recommend it.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre/categories: JF mystery, action/adventure, series (book 1)

Read it or skip it? Read it!

The release of the (excellent) Disney+ TV adaptation inspired me to reread this childhood favorite. Is there anything better than revisiting an old favorite and finding it just as lovely as you remembered? It’s easy to age out of stories, or to look back and realize with horror that there is stuff in it that is not okay/socially acceptable. Thankfully, that’s not the case here. The Mysterious Benedict Society is wonderful. It is so clever. It’s packed with puzzles, and the way that the four protagonists’ very different skillsets combine to create a formidable team is great. The loving and unquestionably supportive rapport between the characters is something you don’t often see. One character is a certifiable genius who can read at blistering speeds and remember everything; another is a clever leader; a third is street-smart and has a past as an acrobat that gives her incredible physical prowess. The novel celebrates what each member brings to the team and at no point is one character’s talents seen as preferable to another’s. And then there’s the simple fact that this book is funny. It’s heartwarming and clever and silly and it’s impossible to read it without a smile.

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre/categories: Magical realism (ghosts), fantasy, ghost story, romance (gay)

Read it or skip it? Read it!

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