Book Reviews

Queer Lit Readathon 2022 Roundup #bookreviews #QueerLitRead

I did this readathon again in March and June.

About the Book

In his only official autobiography, music icon Elton John writes about his extraordinary life, which is also the subject of the film Rocketman.

Christened Reginald Dwight, he was a shy boy with Buddy Holly glasses who grew up in the London suburb of Pinner and dreamed of becoming a pop star. By the age of twenty-three, he was on his first tour of America, facing an astonished audience in his tight silver hotpants, bare legs and a T-shirt with ROCK AND ROLL emblazoned across it in sequins. Elton John had arrived and the music world would never be the same again.

His life has been full of drama, from the early rejection of his work with song-writing partner Bernie Taupin to spinning out of control as a chart-topping superstar; from half-heartedly trying to drown himself in his LA swimming pool to disco-dancing with the Queen; from friendships with John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and George Michael to setting up his AIDS Foundation. All the while, Elton was hiding a drug addiction that would grip him for over a decade.

In Me Elton also writes about getting clean and changing his life, about finding love with David Furnish and becoming a father. 

Check it out on Goodreads.

My Review

His parents… Wow. Just wow. They give new meaning to the term “lunatic”. It’s a wonder he became a musician at all. Good thing he had supportive people in his life.

I love that his friends – all from various parts in the music industry – intervened when he got engaged to a woman when he was twenty-one. And seeing as his mother didn’t approve of the engagement, perhaps she knew more than he did about himself (as evidenced when he finally comes out).

His first show in America sounds like it was bloody brilliant.

The shows, the wild parties, the turbulent relationships and the excessive drug use along with yet another failed suicide attempt gives me the impression that he wasn’t happy. Anyway, a third of the book in, it didn’t seem like he had learned anything yet and the crass language was grating on my nerves. Love his music, but I think we’ll keep it at that.

DNF

About the Book

The Lost Boys say that Peter Pan went back to England because of Wendy Darling, but Wendy is just an old life he left behind. Neverland is his real home. So when Peter returns to it after ten years in the real world, he’s surprised to find a Neverland that no longer seems to need him.

The only person who truly missed Peter is Captain James Hook, who is delighted to have his old rival back. But when a new war ignites between the Lost Boys and Hook’s pirates, the ensuing bloodshed becomes all too real – and Peter’s rivalry with Hook starts to blur into something far more complicated, sensual, and deadly.

Check it out on Goodreads.

My Review

I like the blue cover with the figure floating in the middle.

There are a lot of things to like about this fairytale retelling: exploring what it means to be trans, Neverland being a truly magical place of make-believe, Peter’s character growth, James not being the villain he was portrayed as in Peter’s stories, the way the original source material was used.

But, I found some issues with the book. Mainly grammar/proofreading errors, the many chapter breaks in too long chapters, Hook talking about the war (which one? If it was the Anglo-Boer war, he wouldn’t have an old typewriter at home, if it was the First World War, the late Victorian/Early Georgian time-frame of the real world flash backs don’t work, and if it’s the Second World War, taking into account how long he’s been in Neverland, Peter wouldn’t end up in an Asylum as he feared in the sixties. So the lack of a proper time setting for the real world is an issue.), the gratuitous violence, the unexpected sex scene – no lead up to it, the fae being insects, and not knowing anything about Ernest other than he is new to Neverland.

There’s a lot of walking around Neverland looking for stuff, which is great as Peter is searching for meaning within himself.

Except as a fairytale retelling, I’m having difficulty classifying this book: is it a romance, a fantasy of some flavour, a historical of some kind? There’s only a bit of romance at the end, so no. It does have a portal fantasy feel to it, but not quite. And as there are no clear indicators of time, there’s no way to classify it as a historical. It has adventure, thrills, tragedy, queer representation in spades. With the darker truths hidden and revealed in the fantasy, I’m going to go with Dark Fantasy for this one.

I would have loved to rate this book higher, as there was so much to like. But with everything that pulled me from the story, it’s getting an average rating.

3 unicorn star rating

About the Book

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Check it out on Goodreads.

My Review

Yadriel is a trans boy who, with the help of his cousin Maritza, does something to prove he belongs as a brujo and not as a bruja. And, of course, they want to know what happened to one of their cousins who was murdered and disappeared without a trace.

Some issues: there are Spanish phrases and conversation pieces that have no translation in the text, one must infer what is meant. At the start of the book, some explanation was given when the characters speak Spanish, but not much after that. The most Spanish I know is Ricky Martin songs from my tween years, so this pulled me from the story. There’s a lot of loose ends, not enough focus on the bad guy and whatever is killing a ghost (it’s like it doesn’t even matter to the characters), the main plot is very predictable (like a Disney movie – the happy ending and who the villain is and all), and a lot of the powerful urban fantasy worldbuilding is ignored in favour of “real world” LA which IMO weakened the story. And the use of the Lord’s name as an expletive is unacceptable. If I hadn’t read and enjoyed another of the author’s books, I would have DNFed this one in chapter one.

Now the good stuff: the cultural immersion, the magic of the ghosts and the brujx, the family interaction and how they are trying to understand and respect Yadriel as a trans boy – even when they fail – and the genuine love of the community, the amazing cemetery that wasn’t fully explored, Yadriel’s quiet strength, Maritza with her big mouth, Julian’s passion, the cute dogs, Rio who takes in strays despite not really able to afford to, the way Yadriel is treated in his world and how he acts (the whole exploration of what it means to be a trans teenager in a world that doesn’t understand and sometimes refuses to accept it), and the great character growth.

The romance between Yadriel and Julian was just so cute – and I absolutely adored the ending.

A magical dark fantasy novel.

3 unicorn star rating

About the Book

A captivating and utterly original fairy tale about a girl cursed to be poisonous to the touch, and who discovers what power might lie in such a curse…

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster. 

Check it out on Goodreads.

My Review

Though not stated outright, this is a fantasy version of ancient Persia – culture, folklore, customs and all. Because it’s not stated outright, some might cry “cultural appropriation”. This is, of course, cleared up in the author’s note.

Until two-thirds into the book, the only indication that Soraya might be bi is a throw-away comment she made as a child that she wished she could marry her best friend – but as she was so lonely, especially emotionally, this could only have been a yearning for the absolute closeness that marriage implies. For two thirds of the book, it seems that she only notices the handsome young guard who befriends her – and only when things change drastically, does she notice the pretty female div who had befriended her. And that brings me to question: is it her hunger for company, for acceptance, for closeness that is being confused for attraction because these are the only two who have ever given her the time of day or is it real attraction?

The book could have been better paced if most of it wasn’t Soraya thinking things, then doing things, then thinking about what she’d done (especially the first half). The last third of the book is good – and filled with pace, romance, and reason that the rest of the book lacks.

Personally, I found the folklore and how the author created this world far more interesting than the book. Perhaps because there’s no pretending? Or perhaps because the author’s note fills in the gaps left in the narrative.

It’s a good story even if some things in the narrative left one frustrated and confused.

3 unicorn star rating

About the Book

With a touch, Lexi can sense how and when someone will die. Some say it’s a gift. But to Lexi it’s a curse—one that keeps her friendless and alone. All that changes when Lexi foresees the violent death of a young woman, Jane, outside a club. But Jane doesn’t go to the afterlife quietly. Her ghost remains behind, determined to hunt down her murderer, and she needs Lexi’s help. In life, Jane was everything Lexi is not—outgoing, happy, popular. But in death, all Jane wants is revenge. Lexi will do anything to help Jane, to make up for the fact that she didn’t—couldn’t—save Jane’s life, and to keep this beautiful ghost of a girl by her side for as long as possible.

Check it out on Goodreads.

My Review

Lexi is a tough-looking gal with short shaved hair and a lanky build that she uses to blend in as a boy (at least if no-one gets close enough). She hates to be touched or to touch people: she can see their deaths. She has the ability to see ghosts, send them to the afterlife, and to see how someone is going to die. And she can’t switch it off. She basically works for the supernatural Russian mob as an enforcer (getting information from dead people and threatening to push them to the afterlife).

But what happened to her parents? Why is only her grandfather part of her life? How did their family line end up with this “gift”? Why don’t they live in the “triangle of protection” and relative luxury provided by her boss (instead of not having clean laundry or sheets for however long it’s been?). What ails her grandfather? And if touching people repulses her so much, why is she constantly having sex with Phillip?

Clearly there are some issues with this book. My biggest problem though, aside from the author using the Lord’s name as a curse word, is that it is basically “Cemetery Boys” with Russians and girls instead of Latinx and boys. And it’s a lot angrier (like listening to Linkin Park at full blast).

Oh, and did I mention that for half this book she doesn’t even look at girls and then suddenly she’s bi? No foreshadowing at all. Unlike who the villain is…

There’s some mental health issues that aren’t properly addressed. And the fact that she’s okay with loving a ghost for the rest of her life is part of her issue. Let’s leave the sadness right there.

It is action packed, fast-paced horror.

3 unicorn star rating

About the Book

Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School.

Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students—girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.

Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. In secret rooms and shadowy corners, girls convene. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she’s already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called “method writer.” She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource.

And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway–and in herself.

Check it out on Goodreads.

My Review

A dark academia, YA boarding school novel with occult overtures – but it’s an awesome psychological thriller.

Because Felicity has mental health issues, blurs the lines between fiction and reality in her mind, she’s a mostly unreliable narrator.

The history of Dalloway – the boarding school she attends – and the subject of her thesis – the witches killed there in the 1700s – along with her own obsession with witchcraft takes centre stage above the girls she lives with, the clingy younger girl who wants so badly to belong, her dead ex-girlfriend, and the enigmatic novelist prodigy who lives in Godwin house with them.

But Felicity believes she’s haunted – and one almost believes it. But if it isn’t a ghost, then who is playing mind games with her?

And the body count rises…

Quinn telling Felicity of the time Ellis had to kill her pet rabbit to survive… and the hunting scene were both triggers for me, but I get the psychological aspect of it. The on the page sex scene felt out of place in a YA novel, but the psychological aspect for Felicity was pivotal. Also, the swearing felt absolutely unnecessary.

A tale where the lines between witchcraft and mental illness is as blurred as the literature and history Felicity studies for her thesis. I liked the twist in the end after thinking so many of the others were guilty…

4 unicorn star rating

About the Book

An engaging exploration of what it means to be asexual in a world that’s obsessed with sexual attraction, and what we can all learn about desire and identity by using an ace lens to see the world

What exactly is sexual attraction and what is it like to go through the world not experiencing it? What does asexuality reveal about consent, about compromise, about the structures of society? This exceedingly accessible guide to asexuality shows that the issues that aces face—confusion around sexual activity, the intersection of sexuality and identity, navigating different needs in relationships—are conflicts that all of us need to address as we move through the world.

Through interviews, cultural criticism, and memoir, ACE invites all readers to consider big-picture issues through the lens of asexuality, because every place that sexuality touches our world, asexuality does too.

Journalist Angela Chen uses her own journey of self-discovery as an asexual person to unpretentiously educate and vulnerably connect with readers, effortlessly weaving analysis of sexuality and societally imposed norms with interviews of ace people. Among those included are the woman who had blood tests done because she was convinced that “not wanting sex” was a sign of serious illness, and the man who grew up in an evangelical household and did everything “right,” only to realize after marriage that his experience of sexuality had never been the same as that of others. Also represented are disabled aces, aces of color, non-gender-conforming aces questioning whether their asexuality is a reaction against stereotypes, and aces who don’t want romantic relationships asking how our society can make room for them.

Check it out on Goodreads.

My Review

An interesting and enlightening look at the scale of sexuality, sexual desire, romance and relationships. All the examples for each kind of relationship from popular culture made absolute sense and were familiar to me. The author even mentioned that cringe-worthy episode of House where asexuality was caused by a tumour.

I enjoyed the debate of what relationships are supposed to be versus what they should be (cultural expectations vs one’s truth). The various examples of how real people deal with their identity, the scale of how they feel about sex (from repulsed to doing it as part of a loving relationship to further intimacy), how past relationships inform the present, and that it’s okay to be alone, were well integrated into the narrative.

The book could’ve been shorter if the author didn’t repeat herself so much (saying the same thing in different ways). It can also do with another round of proofreading. Also, the whole time she’s trying to defend herself as being ace despite enjoying having sex with her boyfriend and wanting to be sexually wanted – whatever, you do you, but why make it such an issue throughout the book (her personal life)?

A book everyone should read no matter their gender identity.

3 unicorn star rating

What do you think about readathons? Have you read any of these books? Do you read LGBTQ books?

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