Mrs. Dalloway Double Feature

With wanting to go back to school this fall, something I decided to do over my two-month leave from my day job for quarantine was to try and read at least a handful of books listed on the English course reading lists I was looking at. With my mother being an English Major, she decided to join in and we read Mrs. Dalloway together with the intention of watching the film The Hours (dir. Stephen Daldry, 2003) when we finished it.

Mrs. Dalloway was a tough read for me. It’s a really dense story that follows several characters over the course of a single day with flashbacks to various points in time throughout. As someone who has never really had to do a close reading before, I found it difficult looking for things that I don’t even think were there to begin with (like a point), and it made for a very long time spent pushing through the dense prose. While Virigina Woolf has some seriously great quotes in the book, and an interesting look at female independence in that time period, I found the number of characters and the muddled paragraphs very difficult to follow. I get that it’s “stream of consciousness” writing, but I found myself re-reading things several times and – at moments – entirely giving up and just continuing on with the book whether or not I understood what I was reading. When I finally finished the book I was more annoyed than anything else because I seriously felt like I missed something.

While waiting for my mom to finish reading, I learned that The Hours film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham. Having read one of Cunningham’s books in the past and enjoying it, I jumped on trying to read The Hours.

In three days, I finished reading one of the most beautiful books I’ve come across this year. The Hours follows three women over a single day: Virginia Woolf as she plans on writing Mrs. Dalloway, Laura Brown as she fights depression while planning her husband’s birthday, and Clarissa Vaughan as she plans a celebratory party for her friend that has won a significant literary award. The storyline that I loved best was Clarissa’s as the involvement of the AIDs pandemic fallout of the 90s and the harsh reality of the suffering AIDs patients went through… It’s heartbreaking and raw and beautiful. With so many context cues to the source material that is Mrs. Dalloway, adding AIDs on top of the tragedy of the adaptation of Septimus’s life makes so a heartbreaking and layered reason for the horrible end.

I definitely enjoyed The Hours and I feel like I picked up on a lot more nuances having read Mrs. Dalloway first. Of course, the film was a different story (for a different day but… how do you ruin a movie that stars Meryl freaking Streep?!) and I honestly hated it, but I’m so pleased to have picked up Michael Cunningham’s novel. It was an interesting exercise reading both of these books with my mom as well and really reminded me how much I enjoy talking about books with people.

REVIEW: A Little Life [ part one* ]

This month I decided to tackle one of the bigger books on my shelves. At 800-ish pages, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life seemed like what I wanted. Contemporary, set in New York, I heard it was gay and came highly recommended by someone I was close to.

But then I got 400-ish pages in and was in such a horrible mental state because of it, it’s not even funny. This is not a fun book. If anything, it’s a horrible book. So to start off this review, let’s get to the list of trigger/content warnings, shall we?

This book contains:

  • child abuse
  • sexual assault of a child
  • child abandonment (a baby literally in a dumpster)
  • child death
  • sexual assault
  • domestic abuse (that has the potential to lead to a possible murder)
  • gross dismissal of chronic pain
  • gaslighting
  • manipulation
  • graphic depictions of self-harm
  • suicidal ideation with mild intent
  • drug abuse

And that’s just the part of the book that I managed to get through.

As someone who is constantly battled chronic depression, this book actively made me want to jump in front of a train. Things only get worse and worse as the story progresses, even when you think things might turn around, the punch in the stomach is only a few paragraphs down the page.

The story itself follows four friends – JB, Jude, Willem, and Malcolm – in New York as they navigate their lives as artists, actors, lawyers, architects. Moving from post-college life into the real world is a struggle as they all fight for dream jobs with terrible pay and discover routes to where they feel their purpose is. Bouncing around in time, the narrative goes over the histories of each of them, talking about their privileged to not-so-privileged to terrible lives before they met each other.

The sad thing about this book is that all of the friends are incredibly likeable, even when they’re making asses of themselves (cough, JB, cough cough). Their histories really make you want to keep reading and find out what happened to them just as much as wanting to know where they’re all headed. It’s so beautifully prose-y and I absolutely adore the way with words that Yanagihara has, but I just couldn’t continue after the half-way mark of this book.

But this book very quickly reached torture porn levels of terrible as one of the characters gets sucked into a beyond incredibly abusive relationship. The character in question doesn’t believe he deserves a truly rewarding relationship and allows the most gruesome things to happen to him. After something of a “cliffhanger” of a chapter at what I hope was the climax of the abuse, I had to stop reading. I couldn’t take it anymore. A Little Life is literally like walking down stairs coated in broken glass barefoot into the vast depths of hell with no end or light or hope in sight.

This is not a book to read if you have any kind of major depressive issues.

I would not recommend this book to a single human being.

Ever.


* I’ve marked this as “part one” in case I do decide to go back to this book at a later date in order to try and finish it

 

REVIEW: The Love Song of Sawyer Bell

Given the state of the world right now, I wanted to do what I could when I was still working to support small businesses. Seeing that The Ripped Bodice was putting together care packages of books and goodies for customers even in Canada, I jumped on it (and you can see my full unboxing here) immediately.

One of the books in the box was a queer f/f romance by Avon Gale called The Love Song of Sawyer Bell. It followed Vix and Sawyer as they toured cross-country with Vix’s band and navigated the complexity of being in the professional music business while being in a relationship. Not to mention Sawyer has only recently put the pieces together that she’s a lesbian. Jealousy, queer educating, and more ensue in this incredible love story.

I devoured this book in 24 hours (less if you subtract the breaks I took to like…eat) and have never loved a romance novel more while also feeling so personally attacked by one. Sawyer is a senior in Julliard and is miserable there. The stress and the pressure is too much, hence her desire to “run away” with Vix’s band for the summer. Her feelings about school are so close to my own experiences in college that I wish that I had read this in my first year. It may have given me the courage to walk away. For me, film school was great in the sense that it made me a better writer and a better photographer, but it destroyed my mental health and general self-worth, and even now I wonder if what I gained is worth how much I lost. I stuck to it though and graduated, but not for me. I stuck to it to try and prove I hadn’t let the pressure or the drama get to me, and that’s not a reason to fork over $30k in tuition fees.

Sawyer is such a real character and I fell for her instantly. Vix, as well. Vix’s demeanour, her temperament, and her drive are all so magically dimensional. Her struggles with commitment and the fear of failure are real and wonderfully described. Even when the tension comes between her and Sawyer, the issues feel like more than “mandatory romance novel plot points”.

I can’t thank the team at The Ripped Bodice enough for this book and I am desperate for the sequel to be re-released by Carina Press. Because to say I need the second book now is an understatement.

If you’re looking for a wonderful, sexy, beautiful book featuring queer ladies and rock music, I implore you to pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.

(EARLY) REVIEW: Docile

Thank you to Tor Books and my friend, Ash, for a copy of this gorgeous ARC.

Please note that this book does contain trigger warnings for the following: dubious consent, sexual assault, mental and physical abuse, and also contains some BDSM content.


Docile is a story about voluntary slavery as the debt crisis of the world has reached a tipping point. Everyone inherits their entire family’s line of debt, putting some people multiple millions of dollars behind in the world. Their choices are to risk being thrown in prison for avoiding payments or sell their debt to the highest bidder in exchange for a few years of their lives. As a Docile, people have the choice to inject a memory-wiping formula or to be entirely aware of what is happening to them, and the work is not always something pleasant.

Four years ago, Elisha’s mother sold a million dollars of her debt in exchange for 10 years of her life, and she has never been the same. With three million in cumulative debt from his parents, Elisha makes the decision to sell himself in his sister’s place to make her future a better one. He also makes the decision to refuse Dociline, the “medicine” that took his mother away from him.

And this is how Elisha become a private, off-med Docile for the heir to the Dociline empire, Dr. Alexander Bishop the Third.

Set to be released in March of this year, K.M. Szpara’s Docile is a lot. When I first heard about it, heard that it was being referred to as a “gay Handmaid’s Tale“, I knew I just needed to get my hands on it. What I got was more than that. If Handmaid’s Tale was mashed into the forefront of My Fair Lady, then the comparison would be a little more accurate and it gave me life. It has been a long time since a new book has hitched my breath, pained my heart, and brought me to tears. It has been even longer since a book has overwhelmed me to the point of a mild panic attack, but that’s a more personal side of things.

I loved this book from start to finish and revelled in the characters of both Elisha and Alex. Seeing both of their POVs throughout the story gave both of them so much depth and really expressed their growth over the course of the narrative. The world-building is perfection for a low-sci-fi novel set in the real world and Szpara’s writing really sets in the feeling of dread that stuff like this is entirely capable of happening within the next few years.

Given we’re still a little over a full month away from the release of this book, I don’t want to say too much about it just yet, but I will say this:

Please pre-order this book from your local bookstore. Whether that means Indigo, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, or even Amazon, please pre-order this book.

Books to Read on Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day and, love it or hate it, there’s a lot going on today. I definitely fall into the later category myself. So whether you’re up for romance or in the mood to avoid it at all costs, I’ve come up with a list of books to read for either category.

Bring on the love!

Here’s a list of my top 5 favourite romance/romantic novels to read today.

5. One Day In December by Josie Silver
[ goodreads | review ]
Yeah, okay, this one is more of a yuletide centric book, but the love story crosses over ten years and that’s what makes it a great read for any time of the year. Definitely for fans of Love, Actually and also for those who want a real love story with a feel good ending

4. The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli
[ goodreads | review ]
This debut novel is about the difficulties of finding love when you’re both looking and not looking for it. It’s about culture pressure and the important of being yourself no matter what any one else tells you to be. A great read for those looking for a romance novel that’s not 100% about the romance.

3. When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri
[ goodreads | review ]
Who doesn’t want some f/f contemporary on Valentine’s Day? A story of self-discovery in sexuality with some humor and delightfully witty banter, this is a fun queer read about hard working women who also just want to have fun and be happy.

2. A Date With Darcy (Bookish Boyfriends #1) by Tiffany Schmidt
[ goodreads | review ]
A YA retelling of Pride & Prejudice but with a bit of a twist. Despite having a 15-year-old protagonist, this book is definitely a relatable one to all ages and has strong feminist notes about being more than your partner and remembering that your opinion counts, especially when it involves the word “No.” Fluffy with a hint of drama to keep things interesting, this one caught me by surprise when I read it and loved it to pieces.

1. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman 
[ goodreads | review ]
Allow me to scream to the high heavens once again about how the book is almost always better than the movie. This phenomenal novel is a queer romance and a coming of age story all in one. Heartbreaking and beautiful as well, this book takes you to Italy and forces you to feel all of Elio’s vivid emotions to the fullest extent. You can’t go wrong with this book.

Down with Valentine’s Day!

And here are my top 5 books that are very much against this Hallmark Holiday.

5. The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman
[ goodreads ]
This is an incredible look at the birth of the novel Lolita and the very real and very traumatic events that happened to young Sally Horner. Despite how mezmerising and misleading Nabokov’s novel is, Weinman dissects just how horrible men like Frank La Salle (or his fictional counterpart, Humbert Humbert) truly are.

4. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler 
[ goodreads | review ]
An eerie narrative of why eccentric, Min, broke up with her popular boyfriend, Ed. This is a YA novel but written in such a memorably bizarre fashion that almost gives away Handler’s alter ego (as he is more commonly known as Lemony Snicket). A great break-up story with a twist.

3. The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion by Margaret Killjoy
[ goodreads | review ]
A Tor.com novella of magic and horror that brings out of the dark side of people and what they will do for power when it should belong to no one. Since it is a novella, this is a great book to bang out quickly and so atmospherically pleasing, you’ll completely forget it’s Valentine’s Day in the real world.

2. The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein
[ goodreads ]
Boarding school + mental illness representation + potentially vampires = this wonderful book that also has f/f undertones. Incredibly spooky (and so much better than the movie adaptation of it), this book is well suited to those who want a creep factor on Valentine’s Day.

1. All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells
[ goodreads | review ]
If you’ve been keeping up with my blog recently, you’ll know I’m obsessed with this series. Want to forget about the real world and bond with someone fiction who also doesn’t care for humans? Murderbot is definitely for you. This novella series is so much fun you won’t want to put it down.


And there you have it! My list of books to read to either join in on or hide from Valentine’s Day. Personally, I plan to spend my evening binge watching some true crime documentaries (for anyone wondering, I’m eyeballing the Paradise Lost trilogy) since I’m not a fan of today.

Do you like Valentine’s Day? What are your plans for tonight? Let me know in the comments!


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REVIEW: Pulp

Thank you NetGalley and Harlequin TEEN (now Inkyard Press) for providing me with the ARC.


Sometimes my impulse requests on NetGalley are interesting. I don’t always look at the author of the books I’m requesting but skip right now to the synopsis to see if a book appeals to me. This is one of those cases where not looking at the author both made me laugh and blew me away.

A few years ago, I read As I Descended by Robin Talley and I’m sorry to say I was beyond disappointed with that book. Because of how let down I felt, I gave up on Talley’s work instantly… until now.

Pulp tells the story of Abby Zimet as she falls in love with 50s lesbian pulp fiction author, Mirian Love, and is determined not only to track down the author but also write a novel of her own. Meanwhile, back in 1955, Janet Jones is also obsessed with lesbian pulp novels and also writing one of her own while also struggling to figure out her own sexuality in an era where that could get her and everyone she has ever cared about into dangerously deep trouble.

I was instantly in love with both characters and the way the story unfolds to reflect how similar and yet how different the lives of these two lesbian girls are over 60 years apart. Abby is such a realized character and so rounded as she struggles with her home life, her love life, and her school work in a whirlwind of emotional stress while Janet struggles with what too many people still struggle with today: acceptance for who she is.

But what really hit me the hardest was how real this story is. Robin Talley goes to great lengths to show that love is hard, love is cruel, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. She shows how change can be good and that the end of something once held so dear doesn’t mean it was never there. Love is love both in the moment and after it which is so important for people to know. The importance of friendship and doing what makes you happiest are key even if that means letting people go.

This novel hit incredibly close to home in terms of how it tackles being forced to stay in the closet or letting people choose to ignore part of themselves because they believe it’s for the better. For lack of articulation’s sake: the heartbreak is real. I’ve had to let go of people in my life because they wanted to be “normal” and it was one of the hardest things I had to do. Even now it hurts and staying closeted in certain spaces hurts, but I did and do those things because it keeps me safe and it keeps those people safe, too.

I feel incredibly lucky having been able to read this novel and want to formally apologize to Robin Talley for disregarding her other works simply because one of her novels was not in my taste. I am sorry for that and truly hope that any queer person struggling is able to read this book and find a little bit of hope that things can still turn out okay in the end.

This book is available online and in stores November 13th, 2018.

REVIEW: Never Anyone But You

I have a rather intense weakness for books set during World War II, especially when it focuses on the people fighting the good fight at home rather in a battle field setting. I also have an even bigger weakness for WLW stories.

Never Anyone But You is the fictional retelling of the very real lives of two artists, Suzanne Malherbe (aka. Marcel Moore) and Lucie Schwob (aka. Claude Cahun), as they fall in love and end up fighting against the Nazi occupation of Jersey Island through art and wordplay, risking their lives every second they remain together.

Told from Suzanne’s perspective we see how her life changes and her intense dedication to her partner, Claude as they transcend the gender norms of the early to mid 20th century both in their work and even in how they present themselves to the world. I have, personally, always enjoyed obscure photography from war times and earlier and had heard Claude’s name in passing, but have never known of their work or what they mean to the surrealist and queer communities. Having died shortly after the war, it’s hard to tell if Claude was non-binary or transgender, but this novel has sparked an intense appreciation of their work and their legacy in art, fashion, and writing.

This book broke my heart in a very real way as I felt incredibly connected to Claude both in terms of gender identity as well as mental illness. Rupert Thomson does an absolutely stunning job of capturing the intense love between these two people and their surreal lives spent with the likes of Hemingway and Dalí. I felt like I really got to know Suzanne and Claude through this book and will certainly be looking into Thomson’s other novels.

REVIEW: Amberlough

I picked this up when I was at the bookstore simply because of how gorgeous the cover of the hardcover edition was. When I brought it home and saw that the first review on the inside cover said it was “John Le Carré meets Cabaret“, I knew I’d made the right decision in buying it outright. And once I got swept up in the glitter and glam of Donnelly’s queer underworld, I wanted to buy it all over again.

The story followers three major players, government worker Cycil, his lover and criminal big wig, Aristide, and a dancer/runner named Cordelia. The three of them all lead very different lives that are soon bound together in conspiracy as a radical “right-wing” government entity known as the Ospies takes over.

I found it took me a few chapters before I really got into the story, but I very quickly fell in love with all of the characters. I’m a huge John Le Carré fan, so I can certainly say that the comparison between Lara Elena Donnelly’s book and the work of Le Carré definitely belong in the same category. Cycil is honestly everything I love about cold war era spy novels while Aristide is everything I love about modern queer fiction while Cordelia is just a straight up kick-ass woman.

The plot falls very closely in line to Cabaret, but takes in it a new direction that is incredibly intricate as not only does it wind the personal lives of it’s protagonists together, it also has a very deep set political plot in the foreground. The world building an incredibly metaphor of the real world and at the end of the day all I can really say is that I can’t wait to get my hands on book two.

If you like spies, drag queens, and shameless queer sexuality, this is definitely the book to pick up.