Tuesday, October 16, 2018

I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé

Rating: ★★★ + .5 | 6 hrs and 9 min | Simon & Schuster | Memoir/Essay Collection | 07/24/2018

This memoir caught my eye because well . . . how can you bypass a book with a subtitle like that? I wasn’t familiar with Arceneaux before, but he is a prolific pop culture writer who often writes about the intersection of being Black and gay.

 I've been kind of meh on memoirs by millennials lately*, particularly the ones around identity, because they feel like they are written specifically for the gaze of White liberal progressives. But Arceneaux’s stories are messier and have a personal authenticity that I enjoyed.

My favorite essays were the ones he wrote about his relationship to Catholicism and the importance of R&B music in his life. At first, it seemed like Beyoncé's name was put in the title just to get clicks but once you get to his essay about Beyoncé it fell into place. 

Arceneaux reads the audiobook, and it didn’t 100% work for me. While it was great to hear his particular southern accent, his affect was flat and stilted at times.

I also just admire Arceneaux’s hustle to become the media personality he’s become. While he doesn’t address it directly,  there is an ongoing thread in the background of his essays about the years of hard work he put into building his career.

Arceneaux offers something new to the gay/pop culture essayist genre and I’m sure there will be many more books from him in the future.

*This review of Morgan Jenkins' This Will Be My Undoing hits on a few  the issues I have with some of these millennial memoirs about indentity

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas (Lady Sherlock #1)

Rating: ★★★ | Release Date: 10/08/16 | Historical Mystery | 323 Pages | Berkley Books

In this reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes is the pseudonym of Charlotte Holmes, an overly practical and hyper-observant member of the gentry who doesn’t quite fit into society's standards. She spends her time solving everyday mysteries via letters, but when scandal strikes and Charlotte’s life is turned upside down, she finds herself solving her biggest mystery yet--a murder.

This is a fun origin story and functions as a kickoff for the rest of the series. All of your favorite Sherlockian characters are present but are introduced in new and interesting ways that I don’t want to spoil. Thomas gets into the nitty-gritty of the kinds of hoops a Victorian woman would have to go through to get to do any kind of detective work. There is definitely a feminist thread throughout the series, particularly when you look at how the circumstances of the main mystery are changed from the original story.

This is my first foray into the mystery genre and hopefully not my last.

Can we talk about how Sherry Thomas is slaying everything? She writes award-winning historical romances, YA fantasy and mystery all in English--which is her second language! There are lot of romance authors who write more than romance, but she seems to be the only one to have a name for herself in so many genres.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Rating: ★★★★ | 368 pages | Washington Square Press  | Contemporary | 07/15/2014 |  

Along with  Ikea, The Skarsgard family and fish-shaped candy, Fredrik Backman is the newest Swedish export making money moves in the U.S.

Ove is best described in the novel as "a man with his hands perpetually in his pockets". He is the human equivalent of the Old Man Yells at Cloud meme. At 59-years old he has a fondness for the way things used to be and fights progress with indignation and a solid hurmph. Ove has a plan for what should come next in his life, a plan that gets turned upside down by the boisterous family that moves in next door, a mangy old cat and a community of unlikely neighbors.

Backman writes with a capricious tone with an infinity for in medias res. This book is translated from Swedish and there were only a few times where I felt like something wasn't translating

I'm not sure what I expected from this book but it as a lot more fun than I was anticipated. Ove truly becomes an endearing figure,  and I really like stories that explore life in all its stages a la The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Big Fish.

A quaint, heartwarming story that is satisfyingly earnest and has universal appeal for fans of contemporary fiction.

The Supervillain and Me by Danielle Banas

Rating: ★★★ | 310 pages | Swoon Reads | Sci-Fi YA | 07/10/2018

Crime rates have skyrocketed in Abby Hamilton’s town of Morristown, but luckily their local superhero, Red Comet  (who is also secretly Abby’s brother), is always around to save the day. Abby is content just being a theater kid and leaving the saving to her super-powered brother, but when a new super teen known as Iron Phantom starts causing trouble Abby finds herself tangled up with Morristown’s first supervillain--who may not be so villainous after all.

Does anyone remember the movie Sky High? This book gave me a lot of those same vibes as that movie. The Supervillain and Me supers aren't the angsty complex heroes of Marvel and DC films. The teens in tights are kind of treated like boy bands with their adoring fans, public signings, merch and thriving fanfiction communities--which I guess is a good time to note that although this is a debut novel, Danielle Banas is a prominent Wattpad author.

 Also fair warning, despite being from the Swoon Reads imprint there are a lot more super saves than super swoons.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: ★★★★ | Release Date: 08/20/18 | Science Fiction | 9 hours 45 minutes | Saga Press
The aliens have arrived--- and in order for humanity to prove itself as a sentient species worthy of being welcomed into the greater galaxy, they must compete in an intergalactic singing competition.

Luckily, Earth’s been given a leg up as the welcome committee has already chosen the musical group most likely to place; The long defunct and estranged glitterpunk glamrock band Decibel Jones and The Absolute Zeroes. Now, Decibel Jones (aka Danesh Jalo) and Oort St. Ultraviolet (aka Omar Caliskan ) two middle-aged, washed up former rockstars have to get the band back together, travel across the universe and give a performance that will prevent the total annihilation of all of humanity.


I think the only reason I picked this up is that the cover kept catching my eye. In the back of the book, Valente notes this book was heavily inspired by  Eurovision and Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (two things I know very little about)which made this book feel totally original and fun for me.

I struggled a little because  I had a hard time keeping up with all the alien species. These aliens aren’t little green men in suits; they come in a variety of forms including murderous war hippos, impressionist blue flamingos, sentient computer code and time raveling red pandas. It was all so fascinating and creative but it was a lot to keep track of.

The audiobook narrator for this book, Heath Miller, does an absolutely phenomenal job and I think the audio is essential for this book. Particularly because Miller and Valente are longtime creative partners and they’ve likely collaborated on how the delivery should go and how all the characters sound. There is also just a lot of walls of text that are daunting to the eye but sound so good with Miller’s rhythmic narration. Miller is also just an amazing performer. Everyone in this book is British and I was shocked to discover Miller was Australian. I would say he needs to do ALL the books but he seems to mostly narrate Valente's work and he is slaying.

This book is from Saga Press, Simon and Schuster's inclusive sci-fi imprint and you know what? I appreciated the inclusivity. There are tons of liberal dog whistles in here and Valente doesn’t let it go unnoticed that our heroes come from immigrant backgrounds.

Space Opera is the totally bizarre must-listen audiobook with cheeky, sci-fi fun you can dance to.

Saga Press also re-published and repackaged The Curse Workers series by Holly Black so they are A+ in my book.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E Schwab (Shades of Magic #2)

Rating: ★★★+.5 | 512 pages | 2/23/16 | Shades of Magic #2 | Tor Books | Fantasy
A Gathering of Shadow picks up a few months after ADSOM and our characters are reunited just in time for an international contest that pits magician against magician--- and it's a lot like Goblet of Fire. I legit kept thinking that for the first few chapters of the books. I mean Lilah even "Harry Potters" herself into the competition. You know that thing where an underqualified competitor gets themselves into the competition and The Powers That Be let it slide because. . .  Chosen One? (yes, I know Harry doesn't put his own name in, but still.)

Overall this felt like a solid"middle of the series" book. At first, I thought this was going to be an episodic series because it introduces so many new plot elements and conflicts. Instead it just very slo-o-o-o-wly continues the arc from the first book. I think fans of the world and the brooding characters will enjoy this, but those looking for something more plotty might find this one a little slow. Speaking of brooding characters, we get introduced to the flashy, snarky, mysterious pirate Alucard. I sorta feel like this book was written just to introduce this character.

Michael Kramer and Kate Reading take over the narration duties and to be honest--I could take or leave the narration.  Reading, who was raised in England, has done a ton of historical romance drops her vaguely British accent at odd times. While I was excited to see how Kramer would interpret the characters he basically mimics Steve Crossley. The pair does an admirable job but at the end of the day, I think younger voice would have done more justice to the characters. I think I may check out the next book in paper.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Drawing Conclusions : Are Cartoon M/M Covers a New Trend ?

Lately, I've noticed a mini-trend of m/m centered YA with illustrated character covers.

The ones that initially caught my eyes were these 2018 - 2019 m/m books that feature intricately drawn, expressive cartoon characters on the covers. Each of these covers could easily be for a graphic novel or a still from an animated series.

Then there are these m/m book covers which also feature detailed cartoon characters but are more artistic or ambiguous. 

And then there are also these m/m illustrated covers, but these go with graphic novels.


Now there is some recent f/f that has illustrated characters on the covers but I've noticed the faces of female characters in f/f are either hidden or just gone altogether. We don't get the same amount of expressive facial features from these illustrations.

Although I did find one exception:

I have some theories as to why there have been so many illustrated people on m/m covers. At first, I thought it was maybe going off the success of the m/m anime Yuri on Ice or because of the rising popularity of illustrated covers in general, but Jess pointed out that it may have to do with publishers not wanting to put photos of same-sex couples on books.

You hardly see a  same-sex YA couples getting the Kasie West or Katie McGarry treatment. The only three YA books that we could come up with that had an explicitly same-sex couple on the cover were 2017's Our Own Private Universe 2016's No Holding Back by Kate Evangelista and 2013's Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

Have you noticed any illustrated covers with same-sex couples? Why do you think they are becoming so popular? Let us know in the comments below !


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