Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

 

I don't actually usually like novels written in verse, so I'm kind of glad I went into this cold because if I'd known what I was getting into, I wouldn't have bought it and I would have missed out on a pretty great story. THE BLACK FLAMINGO is the coming of age tale (yes, told in verse) of a young gay man living in England. He's half Jamaican, half Greek, and starting from childhood, we see how he begins to form his identity as a biracial man of color who is attracted to men.

BLACK FLAMINGO does a lot of really great things, like showing how people in the LGBT+ community can be (either consciously or not) racist or have biases against other types of LGBT+ members that should be called out for the safety and well-being of others in the group. It also goes over the fetishization of gay men by women, so-called straight guys who identify as straight but sleep with men but refuse to call it what it is because of internalized homophobia, and also-- ultimately-- what it is to stand up for yourself and stand out.

I liked how drag culture ended up being what gave the hero, Michael, his confidence. I also liked his relationship with his mom and half-sister a lot, and how the author approached blended families. The verse also ended up working for the story because it made it feel more like a journal. The author also did some interesting things with language and repetition and sometimes even rhyming, which made it feel less gimmicky than it could have been. Even if you don't normally like novels written in verse, I'd encourage you to give it a try. BLACK FLAMINGO is a very mature, thoughtful work about a lot of important subjects that are very relevant to teens and the way the title comes into play is fun.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

 

Carrie Fisher was so funny! I really had no idea how funny she was until I read her memoirs and was treated to her potty mouth and quick wit and thought, "Aha! Here is a woman who would be very fun to sit next to and swap stories with!" After reading and loving SHOCKTASTIC, where she talks about her dysfunctional family, mental illness, and, yes, celebrity at large, I dove right into WISHFUL DRINKING which is basically more about the same.

There's a little overlap with SHOCKTASTIC and she does share some of the same anecdotes, but the stories are mostly different. I feel like SHOCKTASTIC is more focused on mental health and some of the ways it impacted her personal life. This book is more focused on celebrity gossip and her family, with some segues into her addiction and mental illness. I think I liked this one a little better because it didn't have the super slow parts of SHOCKTASTIC, but it also has fewer pictures I think, and the pictures are obviously the best part.

One thing I really love about Ms. Fisher is that she is so unequivocally herself. She seems to embrace everything she is-- at least on paper-- both good and bad, and she can laugh about it. I also liked the afterword where she talks about the importance of reducing the stigma against mental illness, and I loved her for that, too. Even though memoirs like these really show the dysfunction that mental illness can create, it also shows that the people who have these illness are just people like you and me-- they are funny! They have people thoughts! They grew up in a mansion with three pools and were the child of Golden Age Hollywood celebrities! --Wait.

Okay, so maybe not exactly like you and me (unless you're much cooler than I am), but it definitely goes a long way towards normalizing mental illness IMO to see that people you respect or admire also have the disease and are able to cope with it if on medication. Or drugs.*

*And not all of us are lucky enough to have a Cary Grant on stand-by to talk us down from acid.**

**Yes.

If you like books about celebrity gossip and mental health, I believe this is what you'd call a "twofer."

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Some Velvet Sin by Heather Crews

 

Disclaimer: I was the beta reader for this book but I paid $$$ for the final copy. Kindle Unlimited? I don't know her. I pay with my coin, THANKS.

Heather has a way of writing the stories I didn't know I desperately wanted to read, which is (just one reason) I'm glad we're friends, because I get to see these stories in their bare bones versions before falling in love with them all over again in the final draft.

SOME VELVET SIN is a dual timeline fantasy story. Part of it is set in the American 1950s, during the peak of rock n' roll and greaser culture, and the other half is set in a nebulous underworld. Each timeline features a different set of characters, and I actually don't want to say too much about them because this is one of those books where knowing less is more going in because you get to figure out all the way the characters connect with one another in all of these exquisite constellations of meaning that slowly begin to make sense.

I will say that at its heart, this is first and foremost a romance, but it also plays with some of my favorite tropes, too, like difficult and morally grey heroines; dangerous boys; unanswered questions from beyond the grave; gothic and punk elements; and, of course, dangerous boys. Oops, did I already mention the dangerous boys? Well, it bears repeating because it is my FAVORITE.

SOME VELVET SIN was such a great book. It actually ended up haunting me a little and making me feel kind of sad (CURSE YOU, HEATHER), so now I've got to go through all my books and pull out something happy while I try to get over these characters and their incredible, poignant love story.

5 out of 5 stars

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

 

I feel like there are three different types of older famous people. There are the has-beens, who can't let go of their fifteen minutes of fame and insist on reliving it over and over until it almost becomes a form of self-satire. Then there are the rolling stones-- no, not the band, although also maybe the band-- who continue to churn out content and charm while flipping the bird to anyone who even utters the words, "But what about retirement...?" And then there are the people who seem to become almost fermented by their fame; it changes them, making them more complex and interesting, but also sour and maybe a little bitter.  Celebrity vinegar, if you will.

Carrie Fisher is celebrity vinegar.

I picked up SHOCKAHOLIC because I heard that Ms. Fisher is incredibly transparent about her mental health struggles in this book which I, as someone who also has a mood disorder, really value. Because transparency! Also, it seems like she had the sort of bipolar that didn't respond so well to medication, so she actually had ECT (known in the common parlance as "shock therapy"), although in this book she actually tries to reduce the scare factor a little while also acknowledging the memory loss.

The beginning is kind of disorganized and a little boring, with strange, circuitous rambling and long passages about symptoms and treatments. I did like the way she talked about her bipolar and was so utterly comfortable (at least on paper) with owning her illness without letting it own her, but it was also not all that fun to read. The first quarter or so of the book is like this and THEN.

Things get good. Really, really good. Here's what you can expect to find inside this gem. ✨

⚡️ Lots and lots of celebrity gossip. Oh man, is there tea in this book. Carrie Fisher has opened up her own tea shop and just goes full ham, swinging around a giant mallet of IDGAF to smash and spill that tea just about everywhere. She talks about her parents' marriage(s), her stepmother, Liz Taylor, and her friendship with Michael Jackson which is probably the most awkward chapter in the book as she struggles to defend him without sounding like she's defending him. And it is kind of YIKES.

⚡️ Her relationship with her parents late in life. It was interesting to see the contrast between her parents' American Sweetheart origins and what they were like in their old age. Carrie's relationship with her father as an adult was especially weird and interesting (dysfunctional but also, a relationship). You sort of get the vibe that neither of them-- but especially Eddie-- were really prepared for parenthood and Carrie's relationship with both of them improved when she was an adult who could see them as flawed human beings that existed separately from the realm of parental responsibility.

⚡️ A scorn of Hollywood glitz and glamor. You know all those romance novels about the jaded rich kids? That is Carrie, all grown up. She has a lot of good things to say about how fame is so short-lived and addictive, and how utterly fake and ridiculous and superficial it all is. The Hollywood schmooze, as it were, seems to simultaneously amuse and depress her, and she seems to have an especial bitterness for the way that her role as Leia has both immortalized and condemned her, all in one neat stroke.

⚡️ Did I mention the SNARK? She has such a witty, clever way with words. The dismal first quarter of this book is hard to wade through but as soon as you get to the Michael Jackson chapter, it really picks up and she becomes this dazzling, firecracker of a writer who sucks you into her stories like a Scheherazade on crack. Her canny observations and self-effacing humor are pure gold.

I've read several of this author's books at this point and I've liked almost all of them (except THE PRINCESS DIARIST, which just made me sad). This book strikes the perfect chord between bitter and funny and I think if you have that same sort of dichotomy inside you (i.e. inside you are two wolves: one is depressed, the other likes bad jokes and memes), I think you'll really enjoy this book.

Also, the photographs (and their captions) are EVERYTHING.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, September 24, 2021

Fattily Ever After: A Black Fat Girl's Guide to Living Life Unapologetically by Stephanie Yeboah

 

I'd never heard of Stephanie Yeboah before but apparently she is a UK-based plus-sized beauty blogger of Ghanaian descent. This book is kind of her memoir and her manifesto, and deals with all kinds of subjects, from the way that being overweight can get you ignored or misdiagnosed by health professionals to how to construct a profile on a dating site that will make you feel good about yourself. Each chapter is organized into sections and sometimes Yeboah includes interviews with her own followers or, when applicable, from professionals.

I haven't read a lot of books about body positivity, but I have definitely noticed what Yeboah talks about-- that even within a community that's allegedly about promoting every skin color and every size, you usually only see one kind of aesthetic. As with feminism, Yeboah really drives home the need for inclusivity and intersectionality, with chapters on how to be a good ally and examine your words for potentially hurtful language, and also about the history of misogynoir and how people have historically viewed Black bodies.

Yeboah has a really engaging voice and I think she did a really great job balancing the personal with the instructional. The passages she shared from her own life, about her family, her history with bullying, and her mental health (including a history of depression and EDs) were incredibly emotional and made me feel really invested in her story. The infographics and illustrations are cute, and fit in with the overall vibe of the book, and I loved that Yeboah cites her sources with links at the end of every chapter so you can check her sources for the points she's making and also read more about them if you want.

Whether you're getting this to feel seen or to educate yourself, I think you'll most likely really enjoy this book. It's authentic and engaging and it's coming from a great place.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, September 23, 2021

A Kingdom of Ashes by Rhiannon Thomas

 

This is the ending that Daenerys Targaryen deserved.

People feared her, towards the end. A girl who could talk to naure and make the land welcome them was sweet, useful. A woman with those powers, bold and fearless and unbowed by anything, was something else (90).

A WICKED THING blasted all of my expectations out of the water and then exceeded them with KINGDOM OF ASHES. It is a messy, beautiful story of a princess who wakes up after a hundred years of sleep to find out that everything she knew about the world is a lie. Worse; the prince who rescued her is part of a family that plans to use her to solidify their own rule and are willing to pay the cost in blood.

If the first book was about a princess, this book is about a queen. In A WICKED THING, I thought the book was gearing up for a love square, but that wasn't the case at all. The bulk of the story is about Aurora gaining agency, and in this book, she becomes a motherfucking sorceress who has a mysterious bond with dragons. Um, YAAAAASSSS.

I am honestly so shocked that this series has such low ratings, because it's basically EVERYTHING people claim to want in YA. There's a tauntingly attractive prince, fire magic, deadly dragons, daring escapes, strong women (good, bad, and morally gray), friendship, character development, and more. The writing is gorgeous and exactly what you would want in a fairytale retelling, and Thomas doesn't dumb down the story at all, so adults would enjoy this book just as much as children.

So often, I start a series with a great premise only to find the sequel disappointing, but this duology is self-contained perfection. I blew through them both in a couple days and finished this book feeling incredibly satisfied. If more YA fantasy were written like this, I'd read a ton more YA fantasy.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

Heaven in His Arms by Lisa Ann Verge

 

My friend Heather was raving about this book which naturally made me want to read it, too, because I think she has excellent taste. I got HEAVEN IN HIS ARMS years ago when it was free on Kindle and then it ended up being just another book on my to-read long list. But I decided to bump it up and give it a shot because I was in the mood for something historical and epic, and I'm so glad I did.

The premise is really interesting. The heroine, Genevieve, is living in the Salpetriere in France, which is kind of like an orphanage/working house for girls. She switches places with a king's girl, Marie Duplessis, who is slated to be shipped off to Quebec to marry a fur trapper who needs a wife to keep his license. Marie is in love with a Musketeer. Genevieve, on the other hand, simply wants a way out. Marie is a noblewoman and even in a place like the Salpetriere, she receives special treatment. Genevieve, on the other hand, knows far too well what life on the streets is like and has absolutely no desire to go back to it.

Cut to Andre who is NOT happy about his wife situation for ~reasons~. When he sees the girls fresh from their boat trip over, he picks Genevieve because she looks sickly and he figures she'll do him the favor of dying before he has to really commit himself to the relationship. I know what you're thinking-- WHAT A CAD. Well, so does Genevieve, who tracks him down and does the 1600s street waif version of "ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?" which goes down about as well as you'd expect.

So let's talk about why this book was awesome.

❄️ Marriage of convenience AND enemies to lovers. I don't think I need to elaborate on this one, but just in case I do, OH LOOK IT'S TWO OF MY FAVORITE TROPES COMBINED. And what makes it better is that they're both on even footing and the way they try to get revenge on one another is utterly hilarious. Genevieve doesn't let Andre get away with anything and has some of the best one-liners in the book. You just have to love her. You just have to.

❄️ Sensual sex scenes. Yes, sometimes they delve into purple prose territory, but that basically comes with the genre. I thought the author did a really good job ramping up the sexual tension between the hero and heroine and making the attraction based on more than just physical stuff.

❄️ Beautiful, lush descriptions of the Canadian wilds. Honestly, some of the best passages of this book were the vivid descriptions of nature. Whether it's dense forests, virgin snowfall, or icy lakes, I was eating all of this nature love up with a silver spoon. So beautiful, and it really made the setting feel unique and personal in a way that a lot of wallpaper parlor historicals don't. I loved that.

❄️ The heroine has a pet beaver. I'm a sucker for the animal sidekick trope when done well. Also, the beaver gets his own HEA at the end with a beaver wife and beaver kids. HEARTS.

❄️ Also-- can I say how refreshing it is to see a non-virginal heroine in romance? Seriously, even though I'm guilty of this myself in my own writing, I really appreciate books that actually DARE to make the heroine experienced or, at least, you know, not a total innocent. Especially when it would be totes unrealistic for their given situation, which it would have been in Genevieve's. Which brings me to one of the last FAVORITE THINGS about this book for me.

❄️ Dark, angsty backstories. I'm such a sucker for this. GIVE ME ALL THE ANGST. If a book makes me feel feelings, the book has done a good job. It's as simple as that.

So why didn't this book get a full five stars?

It took me a while to get into and sometimes I found the book a little tedious. I really enjoyed reading this book a lot but I'm not sure I'd pick it up again. It just didn't quite click with me on the level that guarantees a book on one of my favored spots. That said, I'll definitely be checking more out from this author. Man, can she WRITE.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars