REVIEW: Temper

Thank you to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC.


Layne Fargo’s debut novel, Temper, is a thrill ride of obsession, passion, and what it means to be devoted to art more than well-being. Pitched in an email from NetGalley as something fans of the Darren Aronofsky film, Black Swan, would love, I figured I would give it a try and request. For the first time in a stupidly long time, I have been presented with a book that is exactly what I was told it would and so, so much more.

For fear of giving away any good stuff, I will make a lot of this vague, but the story follows two points of view, one from Kira and the other from Joanna. Kira is an actress fighting to make ends meet while she strives for her big break. Joanna is one of he two people behind one of the larger theatre companies in Chicago looking for what she truly wants. The one thing that ties these two together is a script written by an unknown author and the man who plays the lead, Malcolm Mercer.

When I say this book is like Black Swan, I am only talking about the aspect of passion, and striving for that perfection while being allowed to feel and move through a scene, through a performance as though it could be reality. That is really where the comparison ends and it because a dance of psychological warfare between unmovable forces. This is where I would compare it to the play adaptation of Venus in Fur (my favourite show of all time).

The way every character moves around the others is so complex as they all become intertwined to the point of being knotted in each others’ faces is hypnotic. The layers so carefully worked that even the predictable is set up as though that was the purpose of the moment. I saw the ending coming a mile away – the principle of Chekhov’s Gun is very real here – but I didn’t care because that didn’t change how beautifully executed it was. It’s a cyclical story of desperation and egos and arrogance while also one of desire, love, jealousy, and what it means to be obsessed with perfection.

I almost hate the degree these characters had me obsessing over them, but it has been a long time since a character like Malcolm Mercer has had my little queer heart racing. Even Kira had me wishing I was her more than once, while I’ve felt Joanna’s pain so viscerally it almost made me want to cry. I know these people, I want to be these people, I am afraid of these people, and I love all of it.

I know I am absolutely gushing without giving much substance here but this is a book I highly recommend going into as blind as possible. Don’t read the reviews on GoodReads. Skim the synopsis on the back. Pick this up and let it eat you whole. You won’t regret it.

REVIEW: Red, White, and Royal Blue

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with an eARC of the book.


One of my most anticipated reads of the year and so far my favourite read of the year, Casey McQuiston’s debut novel, Red, White & Royal Blue, follows an enemies to lovers romance plot between the son of the first female President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, and the second born Prince of England, Prince Henry of Wales. While being a romance novel first, the story also tackles some poignant socio-political issues in the US as well as the stagnant traditions of English royalty and is so much more than “a simple romance novel”.

Right from the start I loved Alex. He’s constantly moving, thinking, feeling, and being a hilariously obnoxious little prick and the way he thinks about this just felt so alive. He feels real despite the circumstances of the story. Henry came more to life the further I got into the story but it didn’t take long for him to grow on my either. Even the more secondary main characters like Nora, June, Pez, and Bea feel like good friends with how warmly they’re written.

There was a decent amount of suspension of belief in this one, but it didn’t matter. While it covered the impending doom of the GOP, it still felt hopeful. From a political view (and despite my being very much Canadian), it felt like there was still hope that humanity isn’t all terrible and there are still people fighting the good fight for those who need and deserve a better life than the one the current real-world majority is trying to deny them. There are young people and “adultier” adults who are doing their damnedest to make the world a better place and this book is a reminder of that wrapped up in a queer romance screaming to the world to chose the life you want not the one everyone is tell you to choose.

The sexual content in the book was incredibly well done, giving readers a little more than just a “fade too black” without being too explicit either. And given the content, I was really happy to be reading about characters in their 20s rather than 17- or 18-year-olds like usual. The world needs more queer stories that aren’t about barely legal high schoolers/college freshmen.

While this book may look like it is targeted towards teens, the novel is definitely more of a new adult title in terms of content and even reading level. That being said, this is definitely an important book to read and I would easily recommend it to anyone looking for a hopeful story like this that spares us the violent homophobia that often borders on sympathy/suffering porn I see in a lot of queer stories.

All in all, this is so far my top read of the year and I’m so excited for everyone to bear witness to this wild ride of a political romance.

REVIEW: When Katie Met Cassidy

Yet another Book of the Month Club suggestion, I got Camille Perri’s When Katie Met Cassidy on my Kobo as some light-hearted reading that I felt I needed. Plus, when I read this towards the end of June, it was a great way to send off Pride Month.

The story focuses on Katie as her social life is crumbling around her. Her fiance has left her, having had an affair with her best friend, and taken everyone in their friend group with him. Her apartment is a depressive episode brought to life, and she is still struggling to keep her head up in her firm as a lawyer. But then Cassidy, a no-fucks-given, proudly gay lawyer with an opposing firm.

Quickly Katie’s life in back on track, if only a very different one, as she learns to things about herself and what her life in New York can mean.

I really enjoyed this story despite it’s flaws and it was honestly just a fun, queer story about fun, queer people. As someone who is a part of the LBGT+ community, I found my experiences relate a lot to Cassidy’s. I have also known people who are very much like Katie in which they have never before questioned their sexuality until that one person comes into their lives. It’s those things that really stood out to me in this book is that the main characters felt like real people I know and love.

For the most part, I enjoyed Cassidy’s friends and appreciated how Katie’s struggle with such a new part of her life was handled. But all of that being said, I found some moments to be more than a little bi-phobic or even gatekeeping against bisexuals who have only recently discovered that part of themselves. It made me uncomfortable but I did keep reading as that section of the story didn’t really come into play until more towards the end of the book.

Was it my favourite read of the year? Not quite. But it was a lot of fun to read and I would still recommend it to my friends looking for some wlw stories that don’t end in someone dying. I’ll certainly be checking out Perri’s other books in the future.


Author: Camille Perri
Published: June 19, 2018
Pages: 272
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN: 9780735212817

Synopsis: Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

REVIEW: The Book of Essie

Lately the book subscription that intrigues me the most is the Book of the Month Club, however, it does not ship to Canada. So instead I’m watching their selections as they are announced and request books from the library or even buy them at Canadian stores. Obviously, I’d prefer the subscription, but for the time being, I feel like this is a decent way to pick which books to read.

One of the books that really caught my attention was the debut novel from Meghan MacLean Weir, The Book of Essie. I normally don’t read much contemporary, and when I do it’s definitely not about reality TV or religion. However, there was just something about the way the synopsis was phrased (combined with it’s inclusion in BotM) that piqued my interest.

The plot centres not only around Essie herself, but her upper-classmate, Roarke, and a complicated tabloid journalist for print and TV, Libby. Essie Hicks discovers that she is pregnant and – being the star of a Keeping Up With The Kardashians style reality show about their Evangelically religious family – is not left with many options. The family decides that marriage is their best way to mask the pregnancy, leaving Essie entirely out of the decision making… or so they think.

Meanwhile, Roarke is struggling with family issues of his own. Too poor to say their store and their home while also being too poor to send their son to college, Roarke and his family get swept up in the Hicks’ family drama while still very much dealing with his own.

And through all of this, ex-cultist Liberty Bell is trying to make a name for herself now that she has outgrown the hyper-religious, survivalist, and intolerant up-bringing she fought her way through. Having been in what she believes to be the same suffocating situation as Essie, Libby is striving to help this young girl get to a point where she can live her own life and not the life of her parents.

The three perspectives are incredibly insightful and honestly lead to a story with far more depth than what one might initially think. The characters are fully developed in their trauma and their beliefs while showing growth even before the story really starts. What I really loved best with this novel was how it delved into the consent from children into religion as well as celebrity life. It explored intolerance and how that can have very different reactions from each person who is forced into trying to change themselves. It explores cult mentality and how fanatics and extremists of anything are really no different than what society considers a cult.

But most importantly, this is a book about being brave. It is about holding your chin high and doing what you know is right, even if it is hard. It is about strength in friendships.

Trigger Warnings [[ spoilers ]]

Despite how much I love this novel, I do want to mention that there are strong mentions of homophobia, conversion therapy, suicide, racism, and sexual assault.


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Author: Meghan Maclean Weir
Published: June 12, 2018
Pages: 336
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9780525520313

Synopsis: Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

REVIEW: The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion

The only way I can truly think to describe Margaret Killjoy‘s novella The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion is through this tweet I posted when I first started the book:

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 1.41.55 PM

The story follows Danielle as she hunts for any clues as to the cause of her best friend’s suicide, and ends up in the middle of an anarchist community on the verge of self-destruction.

At 127 pages long, the story is a fast read but so full of atmosphere and action it’s captivating. The characters a wide range of diverse people, including very strong LGBT+ representation.

To stay much more about this novella would risk giving away the magic of the story so I’m going to leave this review with: read this novella. Just do it.


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Author: Margaret Killjoy
Published: August 15 2017
Pages: 127
Publisher: Tor.com
ISBN: 9780765397362

Synopsis: Danielle Cain is a queer punk rock traveller, jaded from a decade on the road. Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious and sudden suicide, she ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. All is not well in Freedom, however: things went awry after the town’s residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner.

Danielle shows up in time to witness the spirit—a blood-red, three-antlered deer—begin to turn on its summoners. Danielle and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town—or get out alive.

REVIEW: Fire Song

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Based on the movie of the same name, author and director Adam Garnet Jones’s novel Fire Song is a story of loss, grief, and bad decisions. Tackling some prominent issues with the Native communities in Canada, Fire Song is an intense novel if only a touch disjointed. Trigger warning: This book contains suicide, attempted suicide, sexual assault, homophobia and underage drug use.

The Story

Shane’s younger sister Destiny has died. On top of that he is in love with his best friend, David, despite being in a committed relationship with a girl named Tara. And the cherry on top? Shane has been accepted into university in Toronto but is too broke to be able to make it while the band won’t help him because of legal complications caused by the death of his father years previous.

Shane is at his breaking point between wanting to come out to his friends and family about his relationship with David and wanting to get the hell off of the res. Meanwhile, their area is plagued by underage drinking and drug use thanks to dealer, Debbie, and the constant threat of teenage suicide.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this story as we get more and more into the characters’ lives and at times, this felt distracting while my mind kept thinking of the loose ends. Not only that, but the third person perspective was interrupted at times by journal entries from Tara that often felt unnecessary to the story and off-pace for sure.

The Characters

Shane seems like a nice enough kid who just wants a better future for himself than being just another “Indian stereotype”. However, he makes some pretty terrible decisions when it comes to his girlfriend, Tara, his choice of friends, and thinking becoming a drug dealer is a great way to pay for school. The latter of which bugged me because Shane is rather against Debbie selling her products to kids.

David is a traditional kid. He strongly believes in his tribe’s old ways and seems to struggle with his sexuality as he wants to keep hiding what he has with Shane from everyone he can. He also has a little bit of a selfish streak as he wants Shane in his life, but is rather reluctant to leave the res and have a good life together.

Tara, Ashley, and Kyle are the main-player side characters that sadly feel under-developed. Tara secretly writes poetry and has a rather abusive father who – it is heavily implied – get’s a little too hands-y with his daughter while he’s drunk. Ashley is the friend and her main purpose is really just to get mad at Shane. Kyle is Debbie’s nephew and is a typical douche bag who thinks he can be inappropriate with any girl who crosses his path regardless of his relationship with Ashley or if the girl in question is in a relationship herself.

The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]

I have several large issues with this novel, but I’m only going to list a few. First off, the journal entries from Tara felt out of place in a third-person present narrative. She writes in the first person past-tense and these chapters didn’t really move the story forward.

Next are the selfish behaviours of David and Shane. Shane continues to go out with Tara despite that he’s cheating on her with David. It’s one thing to have “a beard” when the girl is privy to the situation – still unfair but at least everyone is on the same page – but this is blatant cheating that is encouraged by David to the point where Shane doesn’t even mind because he is also convinced he loves Tara as well. They fight all the time and say hurtful things to each other constantly. It’s a form of internalized homophobia that hurts everyone. Even readers.

Third of all, the sexual assault seemed unnecessary and Tara’s suicide seemed like overkill. Not only that but even if the moments weren’t out of place, it made very little sense for Kyle to be the rapist that pushed Tara over the edge. It’s mentioned several times that Tara’s father is a pervert, even more so when he’s drunk, and implied that he has groped her at the very least in the past. Shane even mentions that she keeps a chair in her room to barricade the door and prevent her father from coming into her room at night. He’s the more obvious villain at this point and would be more of a reason for Tara to feel the need to end her life rather than Kyle – who she could have just reported to the police.

Lastly, there is no real villain. Debbie isn’t a villain until Shane robs her. Kyle isn’t a villain until it’s revealed he raped Tara. There’s no motivation in this story and nothing to fight against other than “the system” for the majority of the novel. It’s lack luster in a character driven story to introduce these “bad guys” until the very end of the book.

Conclusion ★★★

Fire Song is a well-written narrative, but is missing elements that should be necessary and including elements that shouldn’t. I feel it would have been a much stronger novel should it have focused more on the injustices First Nations people face in Canada rather than on the very poor decision making of a young man who has lost his sister to suicide and his mother to grief. Not my favourite novel, but not a terrible one either.


Fire Song

Author: Adam Garnet Jones
Published:  March 13th, 2018
Pages: 232
Publisher: Annick Press
ISBN: 9781554519774

Synopsis: Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she’s too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves—his friend, David.

Things go from bad to worse as Shane’s dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.

 

On Page Rep Matters: Why diversity doesn’t count after the fact

The drama has been dying down over the last few days, but the sentiment that diversity cannot be an after thought remains.

albus-dumbledoreFor someone who might not know what I am talking about, I am referring to the current outrage regarding the second Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film in which JK Rowling has defended their disregard to represent Dumbledore’s homosexuality. Several years ago Rowling stated that Dumbledore is a gay man – a statement rejoiced over by some but regarded with confusion from others. If Dumbledore is gay, why not tell us in the books? Why not show us in the films? Why must being a part of the LBGT+ community be something to hide for the sake of the bigots convinced their children won’t understand?

It’s not just JK Rowling using this false sense of “diversity”. Countless books and television shows “queer bait” fans into watching, only to be stupidly confused when said fans get upset. It is not fair to viewers young and old, viewers who might need the reassurance that they belong in this world, to erase who they are from page and screen.

5452f84db8745bb176802040_tumblr_n26kkugio01tujppao1_500To make this personal: Willow Rosenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a very important character to me. It’s because of her I learned more about my own sexuality. It’s because of her I wasn’t ashamed of having same sex crushes or love interests. To my memory, Willow was never asked to justify her relationship with Tara and no one ever doubted her commitment to their relationship because of what she shared with Oz.

Queer characters matter to those of us confused or afraid of our feelings. They tell us we can be who we want to be and that there will always be someone to help us through the hard times. By just stating a character is one of us without truly showing us, isn’t that just an example of exploitation?

It hurts to be ignored. It stings to be used as a marketing tool.

It is not okay.

REVIEW: Call Me By Your Name

Content Warning: This book contains rather sexually explicit scenes and this review therefore contains 18+ content.

This year as been a big year for progressive and diverse stories in film, and it is because of the attention these diverse films are getting that I decided to read Call Me By Your Name. I have always been a sucker for a love story, and based on the reviews I had been hearing, I was incredibly excited to read this book.

The Story

17-year-old Elio is an only child of highly academic parents. Over the summer, his father allows a resident to spend a few months in their home in Italy to work on thesis papers or novels granted that they also help him with correspondence. This time, that resident is Oliver, and Elio is almost instantly smitten with him.

As their relationship begins to form, different bumps in the road impediment Elio as he struggles with his emotions overall.

The Characters

The main focus of the story is our narrator, Elio. I find myself horribly biased about this young man, as much of his experiences are also my own. This is a young man far smarter than the average person, let alone a person his own age. He is constantly surrounded by his intellectual parents, their friends, as well as the residents that come and go every summer. As a result, his entire personality is older than he actually is. He has friends his own age, but struggles for a real connection as his intelligence is simply so much greater than theirs.

None of this is to say that Elio believes he is better than anyone – he feels far from that – but his struggle is a real one. His emotional journey through the summer is an intense one that pulls hard at one’s core as he fights to learn what it is he is even fighting for.

Opposite Elio is Oliver. Oliver is an American, and the current resident for the summer program Elio’s parents offer. He is handsome, charming, and unapologetic, thus getting under Elio’s skin pretty much from the beginning. He is a man who knows what he wants, but also knows when it’s not the time to take it. Patient and calculating, it’s no surprise why Elio loves the challenge of this man or why he seeks to impress him

The Issues [spoilers]

Although I understood Elio’s every word throughout this novel, the major issue within it is that Elio is still a minor. Yes he is consenting. Yes he knows what he’s getting into. No, it still is not legal for him to sleep with Oliver. The realization is something handled incredibly well, as Elio grows disgusted with himself for his sexual “deviance”. Regardless though, their relationship is still problematic for the same reason.

Another issue I have was just something that grossed me out. I believe the scene is more an expression of self-destruction but I have also titled it “The American Pie scene”. During this moment, Elio is… intimate… with a peach. It’s sticky and messy and humiliating, but what’s worse is that when Oliver stumbles upon the scene, he takes it upon himself to eat the defiled peach. Cum and call. It made me a little nauseous to read if I’m being completely honest. It was mostly an unnecessary moment.

Conclusion ★★★★½

It’s taken me a while since finishing this book for me to determine what star rating it give it, but after much consideration I’m going to go with 4.5 out of 5 stars. I loved this book. It made me laugh and it broke my heart. As I mentioned before, I can relate a lot to Elio and it always gives me a warm sense of belonging when I find a character like him to care so much about. As many reviewers have said before, this is a love story without an antagonist. It is a look into the life of a young man coming into his own and making mistakes along the way as any young person does.

It’s true there were two or three scenes that grossed me out a little, but at the end of the day, those few scenes don’t detract from the gorgeous prose of Call Me By Your Name.


34930873Published: January 3rd, 2007
Pages:
 256
Publisher:
Picador/Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN:
9781250169440

Summary: Andre Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera. Each is unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, when, during the restless summer weeks, unrelenting currents of obsession, fascination, and desire intensify their passion and test the charged ground between them. Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. It is an instant classic and one of the great love stories of our time.

REVIEW: Dreamland Burning

Dreamland Burning from Jennifer Latham depicts two very different stories that intertwine over the course of almost 100 years. In the present, Rowan Chase discovers a corpse beneath the floorboards of her back house. In the past, William Tillman has a front row seat to the race riot of 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma that lead to the burning of the Greenwood community. This complex story of racism and bigotry is an uncomfortable one, but an important novel made even more so by recent events in the United States.

Warning: This book contains graphic racial violence, racial slurs, and (very briefly) attempted sexual assault. 

The Story

This novel is written in a style that I find I either love or hate, switching back and forth between first-person narratives told by the main characters Rowan and William. This is one book that I loved it, as it made the transition between 2017 and 1921 flow far better than if it was a third person narrative. It added to the main mystery of the story: whose body did Rowan find in her backyard?

As the story progresses, there are major clues as to who the body might belong to, but it was not at all obvious which of the characters it could possible be. It’s a mystery first, but the bottom line of the story is that racism that should have ended long ago is still very much a part of many communities today.

The story is an uncomfortable one. But it is also a very important one.

The Characters

The two main protagonists in the story are Rowan Chase of modern day Tulsa, and Will Tillman of 1921-era Tulsa. The two are very different characters that provide a different perspective on a string of events that directly affect each other without them even knowing it.

Rowan is seventeen, brilliant, and interracial (her mother is a prominent black lawyer, and her father is a white old money – I can’t quite remember what his job is as it’s not relevant). She is aware that she has lead a privileged life and comes to terms with how little she knows about her own black history and culture while she works in the “poor black neighbourhood”. At the end of the day, Rowan knows that her white father can’t help her all the time, and that the colour of her skin will mean more to people than her name does. It’s a harsh reality but Rowan is the kind of girl who will use every spec of her strength and self-confidence to bring justice to those who need it. She’s a force to be reckoned with and a wonderful character.

Will is a character who is not very likable, but does get better. He is racist and bratty despite not even being white himself. His father is white and his mother is Native and yet he picks a fight with a black man simply because he finds him offensive. At the beginning of the book, I personally hated him and just wanted to skip back to Rowan’s chapters. It takes a while for Will to pull his head out of his ass, but once he does, he learns quickly just how much his actions affect his entire community. One little fight leads to a death that could have been avoided. One little kindness leads to a whole lot of joy.

When it comes to non-major main characters, we’ve got quite the cast. Rowan’s best friend is James, a half-black half-Native aromantic asexual. He’s nerdy, funny, and understands the hardships that Rowan is dealing with as he deals with them himself. In the past, Will comes to know Joseph and Ruby, two black siblings from Greenwood that very quickly grow on him as if they were siblings of his own. Joe takes care of himself and sees to it his family has what they need. Ruby is a little girl with a sharp tongue and a sharper mind, forced to grow up quick.

All the characters play very different yet equally important roles in the story and are all incredibly well written.

The Issues

As usual, this is where the spoilers are, so skip to conclusion if you care to avoid them. Also this section will discuss some of the potentially triggering content. I had very few issues with the book itself but I want to talk about the content first.

The book itself goes into fairly graphic detail at times, describing hangings, beatings, people being dragged behind cars until they’re bloody dust in the wind. The riot in William’s chapters is devastating as is the death of Arvin in Rowan’s chapters. It’s mindless genocide. It’s heartbreaking.

Although it’s not as prevalent as it would have been in the 20s, there are several different racial slurs that make a semi-consistent appearance in both the protagonists’ chapters. In the author’s note, Latham mentions that to exclude these words would be inaccurate but did not use them to, let’s say Tarantino standards. They are said. Characters react as they should. And the story moves on. It is nothing more than a dash of historical accuracy and helps showcase just how cruel the KKK and other racist organizations are. Then and now.

The two issues I very much had in this story involved Ruby and Will. Towards the end of the book, our main antagonist attempts to sexually assault ten-year-old Ruby because he sees her as a worthless little black girl. But she is a child. I felt that it was an unnecessary addition to the final confrontation, and Vernon is so terrible for the entirety of the novel that it went over the line. It is a moment that lasts about a paragraph while Joseph and Will move to stop him permanently.

The second issue is with Will. We meet him in a speakeasy being a racist little brat, jealous of his crush sitting with her black friend. They fight and Will’s lies that come out later result in Clarence’s death at the hands of the Klan. Sure, Will feels bad, and does his best to apologize to Addie for the loss of her friend, but in my eyes that isn’t nearly enough. Yes it is a catalyst event in the novel so I wouldn’t necessarily change it, but I do have a bit of a problem with Will’s motivations. It isn’t until after a black man has died because of his actions that Will starts to look at the other community as decent people. He should feel bad for going after an innocent man to begin with. 1921 was a different time, but that fact that it took a lynching to change Will’s mind upsets me.

Conclusion: ★★★★★

Dreamland Burning is about social justice and the inequality people of colour, specifically black people, face in the United States. A black teenager finds a skeleton in her yard and the police distrust her. She is involved in an accident that results in a racist white man shoving a homeless black man into the street where he is killed. In the past, an entire community is burnt to the ground simply because of the colour of the residents’ skin. It’s a difficult book to read. I, myself, am a white person in Canada. I have the privilege of simply turning off the TV when I don’t want to hear about these things. I can avoid it. But there are real people like Rowan and James and Joseph who can’t avoid it. Who don’t get the choice to just tune out. It affects them every single day.

Jennifer Latham creates a wonderful atmosphere and a brilliantly intertwined story full of well written characters and heartbreaking disaster. It’s important to read this book, especially with so much injustice going on in the world, primarily in the States. Read this book. Learn some history. 5 out of 5.


24382227Author: Jennifer Latham
Published:  February 21st 2017
Pages: 365
Publisher: Little Brown Books
ISBN: 9780316384933

Synopsis: Some bodies won’t stay buried. Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself.

One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the latest novel from Mackenzi Lee and is honestly the most fun book I have read in quite some time. When I first found out about it, I was enticed by the idea of the queer romance set in the 18th century, and was so pleased to find out it was so much more than just that.

The Characters

 

The main cast consists of three characters: Monty, Percy, and Felicity. Monty is our king of the castle as he is also our narrator, and he is sassy, crass, and really an all around hot mess. However, he is flawed and knows it, and doesn’t blame his flaws on other people. He’s the picture of the perfect life, but has truly had a tough go of things especially considering his fairly open bisexual proclivities and alcoholic tendencies. Percy, Monty’s best mate and love interest, pleasantly surprised me as not only is he gay, he is biracial in a time where I never really thought about early forms of racism and slavery. Percy is not a slave, having been a bastard born into a wealthy family, but he is still often treated as lesser and even turned away from some establishments because of his skin colour. Percy is lovely and sweet and intelligent, and overall a very likable character. Finally, Felicity took some getting used to. When she is introduced at the beginning of the novel, she is petulant, rude, and annoying, however Felicity slowly comes into herself as an intelligent young woman who is simply annoyed at the predicament she is trapped in simply for being female.

The three characters are all so different, and each has their flaws that make all of them unlikable at times. I know that might sound like a bad thing, but I prefer to see flawed characters be rounded and real. And real people aren’t likable 100% of the time.

The Story

As I mentioned, I bought this book for the gay romance but devoured it in a week for the adventure. It’s an exciting trip across Europe with robbers and pirates and alchemy, none of which I really expected to find. But let’s break it down a little.

The romance story is a slow burn between Monty and Percy. Their banter is flirty, their friendship is intimate, and the both of them are morons when it comes to actually discussing their feelings. Monty may be bisexual, but he’s also a big gay nerd (for honest lack of another phrase) in a way that’s so funny and so sweet as well as infuriating. Having the story told in first person really lets us as the reader be a part of every single emotion that Monty is struggling with which makes it even better. It is definitely the kind of romance that makes one yell at the book in hopes the characters will smarten up while also being soft, gay, and lovely.

The adventure moves fairly quickly across Europe as our trio of characters get into a whole slew of trouble. Highwaymen, pirates, corrupt government officials, and violent alchemists, a hunt for a Philosopher’s Stone type of treasure to cure Percy’s secret ailment, Monty is saddled with a lot on top of his struggles with Percy. It was exciting to see the three of them grow as they keep getting kicked and kicked while they’re down, only to come back stronger and more united. Through this adventure, they also have to deal with the racism that is so prevalent in Europe. Ships won’t take Percy because he is a free, black man. Inns won’t take Percy because he might bring about trouble “his kind” causes. Even the black pirates are cautious about him as his interracial status leaves him in a cultural no-man’s land. The way this subplot is constantly present amid their travels is upsetting in a way that it should be for white readers such as myself. The captain of the pirate ship just wants to sail, but can’t without constantly being harassed by officials or forced to pretend a white man has control of his every move.

The Issues

I had very few notes with this book, because it was so lighthearted and fun that it was just a nice easy read for me. The only two things I noticed were that the book was a touch long in my opinion, and that there were a few loose ends. Note that this is where only two spoilers will appear.

When it came to length, there were a few parts that felt like they dragged on. Dealing with the pirates, their stay with the Robles, and even the arrest in Venice felt like they took too long to get to the point. However, there were still loose ends. We never really found out what happened with Dante or even the bear-leader (who was the only character who was so dull and boring that I can’t even remember his name). I know getting away from their chaperone was the point all along, but it would have been interesting to at least see the man one more time before Monty and company buggered off to the other side of France.

At the end of the day, these are nitpick problems and really don’t matter. The majority of the book was amazing and full of topics that really need to be discussed such as race and chronic illness (ie. Percy’s epilepsy).

Conclusion: ★★★★★

All in all, I give this book 5 out of 5. It was fun, sweet, and entertaining with respectfully shown conflicts of race and class. I loved the characters with all their flaws. I enjoyed the slow burn romance. I had fun being taken on an adventure across 18th century Europe.

Mackenzi Lee does a wonderful job of mixing the love story in with an adventure that not only takes a physical toll of her characters, but also changes them entirely by the end of the book. Monty is one of the few characters who I love to death while also wanting to strangle him for being ignorant and Lee has done such a good job balancing him out to keep him so completely real.

Sure, 513 pages is a little on the long side, but that didn’t stop me from reading it within a week and loving every last sentence.


29283884Author: Mackenzi Lee
Published:  June 27th 2017
Pages: 513
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
ISBN: 9780062382801

Synopsis: Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.