Book Review: Shatter the Sky

shatter the skyShatter the Sky
by Rebecca Kim Wells
Young Adult / Fantasy
294 pages
Published July 2019

I saw this described as “angry bisexual dragon riders” and while I didn’t know if the bisexual applied to the dragons or to the riders, I really didn’t care. Either way, I NEEDED THIS.

It’s fantastic. It’s a -little- simplistic, but I loved it anyway. Maren loves her girlfriend, Kaia, and when Kaia is abducted by the emperor’s prophetic servants to be inducted into their ranks, she gets mad. She would have been happy to live a quiet life with Kaia, but instead our girl’s going to BURN IT ALL DOWN. You’d think prophets could avoid this drastic misstep, but then we wouldn’t have a book!

Maren is biracial; her father is from down the mountain, from a more accepted ethnicity, while her mother is Verran. Verrans used to be dragon riders, but the emperor stole their dragons and refuses to let any Verrans near them for fear the dragons will go back to them. Maren is able to disguise herself as Zefedi, her father’s ethnicity, to get work in the fortress where dragons are hatched and trained. Her Verran ancestry gives her some advantages with working with the dragons, though.

There’s a bit of a love triangle, though it could turn into a polyamorous situation. I’m obviously hoping for the latter, but we’ll have to wait for the second book, Storm the Earth, to find out.

Sexuality in this book was very matter-of-fact – Kaia has two moms, absolutely no one has a problem with two women being together. Lovers/spouses are called Heartmates, rather than anything gender-specific. I love it so much when fantasy books do this! And Heartmates is a BEAUTIFUL term that I adore.

I really enjoyed Maren rediscovering dragon lore – I find it a little unbelievable that the Verrans didn’t keep some secrets passed around under the nose of the emperor, but I suppose even if they did, that doesn’t mean some random village girl would know about it. So Maren has to learn it all for herself.

To sum up: LOVE this book. Cannot WAIT for the sequel!

From the cover of Shatter the Sky:

Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia – until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory – the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground . . . .

With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?

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Book Review: Naamah

naamahNaamah: A Novel
by Sarah Blake
Historical Fiction / LGBT
296 pages
Published April 2019

It took me until just now, staring at my screen, to realize those are supposed to be water droplets on the cover, distorting the image behind them. Fitting, with the huge part that water plays in this story. Most of the narrative takes place aboard the ark during the flood – water is ever-present and overwhelming.

Naamah is an odd novel. I can’t really explain why I chose to read it; I’d heard that Naamah was bisexual in the book, and I think maybe a queer, feminist retelling of a Bible story appealed to me? It then took me a month or so to get around to actually reading it because of the Bible story part!

The narrative, while always told from Naamah’s point of view, dips into her memories, where we learn about the widow Bethel, her lover before the flood, and into Naamah’s dreams, where we meet Sarai. Sarai, or Sarah, is Abraham’s wife in the future. Well. Naamah’s future. Our ancient past. Sarai shows Naamah the far future – our present – and claims to have ascended to near godhood. She seems to take pity on Naamah’s despair, trying to show her what her time on the ark begets later. It’s strange.

Naamah is clearly depressed, and sorting out her dreams from what is actually happening is difficult for both her and the reader, I think. The whole book is fuzzy and a little dream-like.

It’s interesting, but I can’t say I’d recommend it.

From the cover of Naamah:

With the coming of the Great Flood – the mother of all disasters – only one family is spared, left drifting on the endless waters, waiting for them to subside. We know the story of Noah, moved by divine word to build an ark and launch an escape. Now, in a work of astounding invention, Sarah Blake reclaims the story of his wife, Naamah, the matriarch who kept them alive. Here is the woman torn between faith and fury, lending her strength to her sons and their wives, caring for an unruly menagerie of restless creatures while silently mourning the lover she left behind. Here is the woman escaping into the unreceded waters, where a seductive angel tempts her to join a strange and haunted world. Here is the woman tormented by dreams and questions of her own – questions of devotion and self-determination, of history and memory, of the kindness or cruelty of fate.

In fresh and modern language, Blake revisits the story of the ark and discovers the agonizing burdens endured by the woman at the center of it all. Naamah is a parable for our time: a provocative fable of body, spirit, and resilience.

Book Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel

tell me how you really feelTell Me How You Really Feel
by Aminah Mae Safi
Young Adult / Romance / LGBT
309 pages
Published June 2019

This book was alright. There was a lot of hype around it before it released and I…don’t really agree. I liked both characters. I enjoyed the plot. Okay, I enjoyed the entire book, except. Except. Rachel BLINDLY hates beautiful people. Which is ridiculous, given (at least on the cover) she’s far from ugly herself. I just don’t get her blind hatred of beautiful people. She’s spent the last three years hating Sana because, what? Sana had the guts to ask her out while being pretty? That plot point just kept pulling me out of the story. Which was otherwise really good! But two pretty girls on the cover and one of them hates pretty people but has no self-awareness that she is ALSO pretty? I don’t recall the text actually saying whether Rachel is pretty or not, but Sana obviously thinks so.

This might be an issue with whoever designed the cover not understanding the plot of the book; I know authors don’t always have full control over their covers. But it REALLY made that particular plot point confusing.

This book is also another example of the cover description being misleading. Rachel doesn’t “realize” that Sana is perfect for the role and try to cast her; her supervisor informs her that Sana will be in that role and she’ll just have to make it work. It’s a bit of a different dynamic.

Sooooo I don’t know whether to recommend the book or not. It was good, but I was annoyed by that plot point. Rachel and Sana were the only developed characters; everyone else was only there to further their story. Which is not always a bad thing; but I generally like the supporting cast to be a little bit more developed. They are people too, they shouldn’t solely exist to drive the romance between the two main characters.

As a lesbian romance, this was great. As a well-rounded book, not so much.

From the cover of Tell Me How You Really Feel:

The first time Sana Khan asked out a girl – Rachel Recht – it went so badly that she never did it again. Rachel is a film buff and an aspiring director, and she’s seen Carrie enough times to learn you can never trust cheerleaders (and beautiful people). Rachel was furious that Sana tried to prank her by asking her out on a date.

But when it comes time for Rachel to cast her senior project, she realizes that there’s no one more perfect than Sana – the girl she’s sneered at in the halls for the past three years – to play the lead role. And poor Sana – she says yes. She never did get over that first crush, even if Rachel can barely stand to be in the same room as her.

Told from alternating viewpoints and set against the backdrop of LA in the springtime, when the rainy season rolls in and the Santa Anas can still blow, these two girls are about to learn that in the city of dreams, anything is possible – even love.

Book Review: Technically, You Started It

technically you started itTechnically, You Started It
by Lana Wood Johnson
Young Adult Romance / LGBT
374 pages
Published June 2019

So the biggest reason for my recent hiatus was that I was having trouble reading. If I can’t read, I can’t review! And every time I tried to read a book, I fell asleep. I just couldn’t pay attention to pages of text. I knew, however, that this book had a demisexual protagonist, and I thought that might be enough to keep my attention. I opened the book, and found that the entire thing was written in text message format with speech bubbles, instead of giant blocks of text. Which was EXACTLY what I needed to hold my interest!

This is a precious book, told entirely via text messages between Haley, a demisexual girl, and Martin, a bisexual boy. Which, hi, that’s my life? Most of the bisexual men I’ve been reading lately have been in M/M relationships, so it’s nice to see a bisexual boy in a relationship with a girl. AND that they address the viewpoint of many people towards bi boys – that they’ll cheat. (That’s a biphobic attitude that is aimed at bi people of all genders, but it seems especially prevalent from women towards bi men.)

I love both of these characters; I love that they bring up that things can be so much easier to say via text than face-to-face. I love the far-reaching, random conversations the two have, and the in-jokes they create.

You’d think a romance would be hard to tell without description – only text is similar to only dialogue. But Johnson manages, and does it superbly.

This was the perfect book to break my reading slump, and I love it so much.

From the cover of Technically, You Started It:

Is This Haley Hancock from Mrs James’s US History class?

Yeah.
Who’s this?

Martin Nathaniel Munroe II

Which one?
You’re both in my US History class.

The good one.

When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she knows which one is “the good one.”

A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.

There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster . . . 

Book Review: With The Fire On High

with the fire on highWith The Fire On High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Young Adult / Contemporary Fiction
388 pages
Published May 2019

With this book, Elizabeth Acevedo has solidified her position as one of my must-read authors. The Poet X was EXCELLENT, and this one is every bit as good, which is awesome, considering the wildly different formats of the two books. The Poet X was a novel in poem form, being the collected poems of a teenage girl. This book is a more traditional novel, written in prose. It loses none of the lyrical, enchanting quality of Acevedo’s writing, however.

With The Fire On High centers on Emoni Santiago, a teenage mother struggling to graduate from high school on time. When a culinary arts elective is offered during her senior year of school, she takes it despite feeling like she should be spending her energy on her daughter’s future instead of realizing her own dreams. The elective opens up an entire world for her, however, taking her from whipping up magic alone in her own kitchen to being recognized by talented chefs as having something special. The added hours spent on cooking begin to affect her other responsibilities, however, and Emoni struggles to balance everything in her life, a fight that is very nearly upended by the new, very cute boy who just transferred to her school.

Emoni deals admirably with the vast responsibilities of being a parent, the complications of her own somewhat unusual home life (she’s been raised by her grandmother after her mother’s death and her father’s absence), and the pressures of high school. Especially a school where she spent freshman year pregnant. Rather luckily, her daughter’s father goes to a different school, so at least she doesn’t have to deal with him every day.

Similar to The Poet X, the book deals with the intersection of black American culture and Puerto Rican culture, a combination I’ve been seeing more and more in Young Adult. (Well, The Poet X was Dominican, but they have very similar worries, mostly revolving around feeling “not black enough.”)

I loved Emoni, I loved Malachi (the cute transfer student), I loved Abuela and Baby Girl/Emma. I even didn’t mind Tyrone too much. For being a player, he was trying to do right by his daughter. Acevedo has such a talent for characters. Angelica (Emoni’s best friend) and her girlfriend were a delight, too.

If you see a book by Elizabeth Acevedo, pick it up. You won’t be disappointed. I can’t wait to pick up her next book, which appears to be another novel in verse called Clap When You Land, due out next year!

From the cover of With The Fire On High:

Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions, doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen. There, she lets her hands tell her what to cook, listening to her intuition and adding a little something magical every time, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

Even though she’s always dreamed of working in a kitchen after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she’s made for her life – and everyone else’s rules, which she refuses to play by – once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.

From the author of National Book Award winner The Poet X comes a dazzling story of a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to create that keeps her fire burning bright.

Book Review: Gender Outlaw – On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us

gender outlaw2Gender Outlaw – On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
by Kate Bornstein
Memoir / Nonfiction / Gender Theory
299 pages
Published 2016 (1st edition pub. 1994)

This book has one of the best forewords I’ve ever seen. Bornstein explains that since 1994, when the book was first published, language has changed a lot, and terms that were used regularly then, like transsexual, are highly offensive now. So she has heavily rewritten the book to change the language, but she goes on to say that language is an always-changing thing, and in five or six years this edition, too, might be offensive in the language used. Then she apologizes for that. My favorite lines are one of the last paragraphs of the foreword:

Now, if anything you read in this book makes you feel bad or wrong or small and weak, then please know that I said something wrong. This book was written many years ago, and the culture I wrote it in is not the culture in which you’re reading it. So, if you find anything to be personally insulting, please accept my apology and keep reading with the knowledge that your identity and how you express your gender are correct only when you feel they are correct.

It was a wonderful note to start the book on. I just loved “if you are offended, if this invalidates your identity, then I AM WRONG.” Bornstein transitioned in the 80s, and has been an outspoken advocate of queer and trans people most of her life. She is definitely a figure in queer history that more people should read about.

The rest of the book is every bit as good as the foreword. Bornstein absolutely destroys the concept of gender in this book, dissecting it and looking at all the parts and pieces to attempt to figure out why society is so set on the binary system. She more than makes her case that gender is a spectrum, not an either/or. And not just a spectrum between “more male” and “more female” but a colorful kaleidoscope of gender expression and identity. She does not shy away from sensitive topics like surgeries and anatomy. She talks to the reader like she’s your favorite outrageous aunt, sitting in the family room gossiping over heavily-spiked tea.

The formatting was occasionally confusing; she has the usual justified text, but then she has left-aligned passages (usually quotes from other people) and right-aligned passages (side-bar like content; I’m unclear if these are notes she made on the original text or what, but it generally clarifies or alters what the main text is talking about.)

I would HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about gender issues. Bornstein has an incredibly entertaining way of writing, and she loves to challenge what we think of as gender.

From the cover of Gender Outlaw – On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us:

“I know I’m not a man . . . and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman, either . . . . The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other.” With these words, Kate Bornstein ushers readers on a funny, fearless, and wonderfully scenic journey across the terrains of gender and identity. On one level, Gender Outlaw details Bornstein’s transformation from heterosexual male to lesbian woman, from a one-time IBM salesperson to a playwright and performance artist. But this particular coming-of-age story is also a provocative investigation into our notions of male and female, from a self-described nonbinary transfeminine diesel femme dyke who never stops questioning our cultural assumptions.

Gender Outlaw was decades ahead of its time when it was first published in 1994. Now, some twenty-odd years later, this book stands as both a classic and a still-revolutionary work – one that continues to push us gently but profoundly to the furthest borders of the gender frontier.