Book Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (2016)

I had so many reactions while reading this one. Trevor’s as funny as ever, but it’s impossible to read his story, in every place linked back to his love for his mother and family, and not get emotional. His relationship with his mother is central to the novel as he relates his childhood in South Africa and how religion and Apartheid shaped their every day life. It’s part memoir, part history, part commentary.

He also details so much about Apartheid that I didn’t know. Seriously informative and eye opening. The naming section really stuck out in my mind. But he talks about how the different laws worked, how schools split up classes and worked to keep children apart, how cities were set up strategically, the different types of churches he and his mother attended, family obligations and complications, and the way language could link so many of them together. Trevor’s use of his many learned languages is astonishing. He speaks, like, six or seven languages. So. Impressive.

I totally, totally recommend this book to everyone.

Review cross-posted to Goodreads.

Book Review: In Other News (2020)

Hi, I’m Marlon, and I’m sure you’ve seen my face all over the news. Nice to meet you, and yes, the rumors are true. No, he couldn’t talk about it, let alone acknowledge its existence.

This is the first book I’ve read by Dale Robbins and I’m definitely going to be checking out more!

In Other News reminds me of Speak. The story follows Marlon when he returns to university after his assault is made public without his consent. He finds that not only are rumours swirling about what happened, but some people are downright hostile and blame him. Although the rapist has been kicked out of school, many people hold Marlon accountable. There’s a lot of bullying and homophobia directed towards Marlon, but he eventually finds solidarity amongst those who believe him and help him get through the ordeal and ensuing trial.

This is a very raw and realistic tale of how people explain away the actions of rapists and blame the victim. You really feel for Marlon throughout the story.

Review cross posted to Goodreads & Reedsy.

Book Review: The Magnificent Sons (2020)

The Magnificent Sons by Justin Myers, narrated by Joe Jameson

‘Is my life a picnic? Am I, you know, privileged?’
The trouble with this question, in Kia’s experience, was that people having to ask it undoubtedly were and also usually preferred to remain ignorant of that fact.

FIVE STARS FOR THESE DISASTROUS CINNAMON ROLLS

If this book isn’t on your list, I must insist you add it! I really liked Myers’ first book, The Last Romeo, but this is definitely my favourite of the two. I loved Jake. He’s definitely the heart and soul of this story. It’s so nice to get a bi mc, which is something not enough novels do.

Okay, this review gets SPOILERY from here so beware. ❤ Also, it’s just a WHOLE LOTTA THOUGHTS, so apologies if it’s ramble-y.

The story follows Jake, who’s been closeted his whole life and his little brother, Trick, who has always embraced his true self. After Trick has a coming out party that leaves Jake reeling with uncertainty, he comes out to his girlfriend and breaks off their relationship because he’s not happy and he’s never been himself. When he decides to come out to his family, none of them, including Trick, have a great reaction. In fact, Jake experiences a lot of biphobia throughout the novel which was really hard to get through. My heart ached for Jake throughout the entirety of the story. His loneliness bleeds through the pages.

‘When Mum was pregnant, I hoped someone else like me in the family would come along. Prove I wasn’t a weirdo, maybe. Then there you were, a star is born. You were like me, but nothing like me. […] This isn’t about you being gay or me being bi, not for me. No, I hated that you didn’t seem to need me. Not at all. You seemed to be doing well on your own. I felt even more of an outsider.’
‘I thought you hated me because I was camp.’

This scene is basically,

The two brothers spend the novel defining themselves by their differences, rather than their similarities, and butt heads as a result. Jake is understated, reserved, stoic and uptight; Trick is flamboyant, extroverted, chatty and seemingly the life of the party. It’s something Jake’s deeply jealous of: jealous that Trick knows who he is, jealous that everyone embraced Trick easily, jealous of his energy, jealous of how he never had to face the constraints Jake faced. On the flip side, Trick doesn’t understand why Jake can’t be happier that things were easier for him and doesn’t get why his brother harbours less than open-minded views on clothing and self-expression. Jake, for example, gets easily embarrassed by Trick, which hurts Trick on a fundamental level. And that’s honestly what’s so heartbreaking about the story. Both sides are entirely sympathetic. Jake should have been able to grow up being himself, just like Trick, but being born a decade later hasn’t erased Trick’s problems and insecurities and fears.

I really appreciate that Myers addressed biphobia and how it can often be found in people who otherwise believe themselves to be open-minded, even though those scenes were hard to get through. One of the first things Jake’s parents ask him, having never had an issue with Trick’s being gay, is why can’t Jake be ‘normal’. It’s gutting. I wanted to reach into the book and hug Jake throughout that entire scene. There’s a later bit where Jake’s straight friends accuse him of ‘lying’ to a girl he’s flirting with because he must be ‘secretly gay’. And his own brother even thinks he’s lying about being bi.

As he left the kitchen, he turned back. ‘Just ask yourselves why Trick’s life is one great big gay picnic and mine is inconvenient because you’ve run out of straight sons and don’t have a spare.

THIS SCENE. IT WRECKED ME. PROTECT JAKE AT ALL COSTS. ;_;

This book is basically a coming-of-age bro tale and I wholeheartedly recommend it. (And I went for the audiobook and the narrator is class!) ^_^

Mini Review Roundup [17/06]

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

This was fast paced and brilliantly written, definitely worth a read. I did, however, spend 99% of this novel going:

flight is a magazine collection of poetry and prose. It’s going to take me a while to get through them all, but there are some great poems in here! I especially liked ‘Kite Flying’ by Arian Farhat. I love poems that can tell a story while weaving in lovely turns of phrase.

the golden eagle soared over
the dusty dry lands
perhaps my family looked
up once in a while and
saw it circling overhead,
a blessing, a curse, or a spell in reverse

Absolutely lovely writing! I can’t wait to check out the rest of flight. If you’re a fan of poetry, check this collection out for yourself here.

Mini Review Roundup [07/06]

I am playing let’s-read-all-the-books-at-once, apparently, and keep picking up and putting down really great books that I’m just not in the right mood for, but one that I devoured this week is The Poet X. I wholeheartedly recommend it! The story follows Xiomara Batista, a budding poet stifled by her super religious family and is told in verse.

‘This is where the poems are,’ I say, thumping a fist against my chest. ‘Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too? You would burn me, wouldn’t you, if you could?’

It’s very poetic and poignant, and if you listen to the audiobook version, the author herself reads it. 🙂 I’m definitely going to be picking up Clap When You Land and With the Fire on High.

I also watched 13th, which is Ava DuVernay’s documentary on the history of the prison system and slavery in the United States. If you haven’t seen it, make sure you watch it! Very harrowing, but very important stuff.

Currently reading;

(Audio)Book Review: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, narrated by Aidan Kelly [lgbt+, historical fiction]

that strange love between us. Like when you fumblin’ about in the darkness and you light a lamp, and the light comes up and rescues things. Objects in a room and the face of the man who seem a dug-up treasure to you. John Cole seems a food; bread of Earth. The lamplight touching his eyes and another light answering.

5 HEARTS-IN-MY-EYES STARS for Thomas McNulty, Handsome John Cole, little Winona, and an epic historical fiction novel whose central cast is a gay couple and their adopted daughter.

A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards. I ain’t got no argument with it, just saying it is so.

*faints from prose fangirling*

We knew what to do with nothing. We were at home there.

READ IT. READ IT. READ IT.

(Audio)Book Review: The Last Romeo [2018]

The Last Romeo by Justin Myers, narrated by Joe Jameson [lgbt+, contemporary, comedy]

‘If only men knew how charming, how attractive it is to admit fault. To say they fudged it, to confess they don’t know something, to be willing to learn. It’s hot. Refreshing. […] It is all powerful. But men must come to this conclusion themselves. They can’t be told. They don’t like to be told.’

The Last Romeo is an utterly charming novel! It follows James on his quest to find love and the problems that come from being too open on the internet. After his breakup with his long term beau Adam, he begins documenting his attempts at navigating the dating world on a blog, vaguely keeping things anonymous but not quite as anonymous as he probably should have been. Along the way, he meets numerous kinds of men. The dates range from the utterly awkward, to the gross and uncomfortable (the description of one man’s bathroom will stay with me for ETERNITY), to the heart-fluttery and love-struck.

James, or ‘Jim’, makes a lot of mistakes in his quest for the perfect man. He gets bitter, even mean in his blog posts, but the other characters are quick to point out his bitchy moments and don’t shy away from telling him when he’s in the wrong. I quite liked the background characters as well, which is hugely important for a story. His friends Bella, Richie and Nicole, and little Hayden are all awesome; Nate, the (closeted) sports star, was adorable and totally stole my heart; then there’s Finn, the writer, and Luca, the blog fan who James gets to know over months of posts. They’re all very well rounded. You get more characters on the dates, but those really stick out in my mind. There’s also James’ rival at work and his dealings with his boss, both of which come up quite often throughout the novel.

I adored Nate especially. PROTECT NATE AT ALL COSTS. But James does spend a good bit of time thinking about his actions and reflecting; he admits his faults and tries to change. There’s good character growth. He acknowledges enjoying the fame his blog eventually brings him and how it negatively impacted his own view of things. He also gets some very sage advice: ‘If you don’t give your critics any meat, they can’t tear it from your bones.

My prediction of the ending changed a few times and I kept wanting him to end up with different characters at different points. Ultimately, I quite liked the ending! If you’re looking for a fun rom-com novel, I totally recommend this one. And I’m definitely adding the author’s new novel The Magnificent Sons to my list.

Mini Review Roundup [30/05]

I’ve been having trouble with longer fiction novels of late. Being elbow deep in study definitely affects that, as I went through quite a bit non-fiction this week. I do really love reading old newspapers and archives, but I am missing fiction! I combed through two memoirs, this week, though. Both are from the Korean War.

I am really enjoying Days Without End on Audiobook. And Humankind, which is so darn optimistic and upbeat. I totally recommend it given what I’ve listened to so far. Bregman reframes so many moments and shows a different take on the narrative that makes headlines. It’s very hopeful.

mini reviews;

Little Free Library by Naomi Kritzer

If you can bring me more such books, I will leave you every scrap of gold I can find.

Oh my goodness, I really liked this one. A little free library becomes a way to correspond with a mysterious, grateful seeker of books. J’adore!

3 a.m. Blues by Joseph Fulkerson

doing the backstroke in the ocean of other’s opinions, navigating the minefield of could’ve and should’ve

This was quite a good collection of poetry, I only wish it were longer!

When Two Swordsmen Meet by Ellen Kushner

It’s a beautiful fight. They each want the other to win. Not so much duel as duet.

Ooooh, this was goooood. Something very lyrical and fanciful about this one. I definitely recommend it. Available here

What’s everyone reading this week? 🙂

Review Roundup [27/05]

A Small Revolution in Germany by Philip Hensher, narrated by Neville Watchurst [review cross-posted to Goodreads]

Sometimes, as humans, we decide without consultation what would be best for people.

It made for a nice listen and the narrator was quite good. Spike was interesting character and his relationship with Joaquin is explored well. The political conversations and musings are thought-provoking, and Hensher certainly knows how to write witty dialogue. I’m just not sure what my thoughts are on this one. Overall, though, the prose was good, and it made for a nice addition to lgbt+ historical fiction.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #304 [review cross-posted to Goodreads]

She offered me a handful of bees and told me what to do, word for word.

Listened to ‘The Honey of the World and the Queen of Crows’ by Dimitra Nikolaidou. Amazing title, just sayin’. Well written short story and the audiobook is worth a listen! Available here.

The Curse of the Black Cat by Lou Wilham [review cross-posted to Goodreads, Reedsy]

This is an inherently sweet spin on the classic fairy tale. Prince Alrik of Edan is set to marry Princess Amriah, whom he doesn’t, and can’t, love. Cos, you know, he fancies the pants off Filip, his valet. He tries to play along and give Amriah a chance, but he can’t. He feels nothing for her. Filled with fear of his secret being discovered, Alrik seeks out the witch Gwydion, for help: he wants to be ‘cured’. 😦 It’s a very sad moment, but rather than take advantage of him, Gwydion tells him there’s nothing wrong with him: I’m afraid there is no cure for such a thing, dear prince. We love who we love, and that is the end of that. No magic can change it, not even mine. Nor would I want it to. I really liked her! She’s such a kind person.

Unfortunately, Alrik doesn’t take this well and Gwydion turns him into a cat. And she can’t change him back cos magic doesn’t work like that. A cat you are now, and a cat you shall stay until you can learn to love yourself. It’s an interesting twist to say the least. In addition to being a cat, he’s now immortal. With no way back to his life as a prince, Alrik watches the world pass him by while trapped as a cat. He travels around, seeking out witches, but to no avail.

One day, centuries later, Alrik finds himself in New York, at a Japanese restaurant. He starts to fall in love with both the food and the chef, Yuuki. Very soon, Yuuki begins taking care of Alrik, and dubs the cat ‘Prince’. ADORBS.

What follows is a very sweet, fluffy *pun totally intended * romance. If you’re a fan of adorable fantasy tales, this one is totally for you (⌒▽⌒)

Short Story Review: We Are Where the Nightmares Go [2018]

We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories by C. Robert Cargill was reprinted in the latest issue of Lightspeed Magazine: May 2020, #120 and is available online here. Cargill’s story is originally from We Are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories. Also, I love absolutely in love with Lightspeed‘s latest cover. GORGEOUS.

The door is at the end, but there’s not only one path to it. Every way you walk is a path, and all of those paths lead to the door. Some of them just take much longer than others. Some of them are more difficult than others. There are some paths so scary, even I never wander them. This is a land of lost children, filled with children who never find the door and those who have lost themselves trying to find it.

This blew my mind, oh my gosh! It’s so creepy and nightmarish and poetic. I absolutely loved it. A little girl crawls into a door under her bed and is transported to the land where nightmares go and has to find her way back out again. She employs the help of a frightening clown whom she dubs Siegfried, and together they go from nightmarish locale to nightmarish locale, trying to outsmart The Thing on the Other Side of the Door, who won’t let the girl (or anyone else) out of the nightmare land.

Most dreams fade into nothing, drifting away like wisps of smoke. But some dreams, they last. They take root in the soul and hold strong against the tide. The nightmares that survive, the ones that come from the darkest places of your heart and refuse to fade away, they have to go somewhere. So they end up here, cast out like the trash, dumped where no one knows where to look, in the dark space beneath your bed.

For a horror story, it really reads so wonderful. The prose is beautiful and evocative. I’m definitely going to be reading more by C. Robert Cargill.