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2022 Award Eligibility

November 25, 2022 Leave a comment
2022 Award Eligibility is in black against a blue background. Four digital cover images surround it. One says Decoded with a Black woman in a gold gown in front of a purple background. One says Solarpunk Magazine Lunarpunk Special over an image of a river in a spaceship. One says Vol 3 is Here! justfemmeanddandy.com with a horse, wolf, and a cat in fashionable clothes eating vegetables. One shows a dragon leaning down toward a little girl who touches its nose. Wyrms is in gold above the dragon's head.

I have four pieces eligible for awards during the 2022 award season in three categories.

All of these were first published during 2022.

For the paid stories, I am able to provide author copies for award consideration purposes only. Please email me at mcneil.author [at] gmail.com to request one.

Short Stories

The University of Late-Night Moans” in Decoded Pride: A science fiction, fantasy, and horror story-a-day anthology for Pride month
June 9, 2022, issue 3, $14.99 digital
fantasy romance (sapphic / wlw)
It’s 1998, and Leonora’s friend Virginia is helping her investigate the moans coming from the cemetery across the train tracks from her dorm.

Sister Prudence on the Beach” in Solarpunk Magazine
Issue #6, Lunarpunk Special, Nov/Dec 2022, $6 digital
hopepunk (speculative scifi)
Sister Prudence settles down for her full moon meditation on the beach. But a young one passing by interrupts not just her meditation but perhaps her retirement as well.

Drabble

Bostonians Aren’t Friends With Our Neighbors” in Wyrms: An Anthology of Dragon Drabbles
July 1, 2022, $3 digital, $6 print
fantasy
The first line is “Deadrodents.com said the box on the triple-decker’s porch next door.”

Creative Nonfiction

These Boots Were Made for Who?” in Just Femme & Dandy
July 4, 2022, issue 3, free
digital magazine version (page 105) or html/accessible version
literary fashion magazine through a queer lens
I explore how my favorite pair of thrifted boots helped me develop my queer, bisexual fashion sense and sustained me throughout the pandemic.

Book Review: In the Event of Love by Courtney Kae

Image of a digital book cover. This is a cartoon style drawing Pine trees make up the background. On the left is a blond white woman in a pink coat, torn jeans, and knee high boots with a cowboy hat. On the right is a brunette woman in a red flannel shirt, khakis, and work boots, holding an axe on a stump. There's a Christmas wreath behind her.

Summary:
With her career as a Los Angeles event planner imploding after a tabloid blowup, Morgan Ross isn’t headed home for the holidays so much as in strategic retreat. Breathtaking mountain vistas, quirky townsfolk, and charming small businesses aside, her hometown of Fern Falls is built of one heartbreak on top of another . . .

Take her one-time best friend turned crush, Rachel Reed. The memory of their perfect, doomed first kiss is still fresh as new-fallen snow. Way fresher than the freezing mud Morgan ends up sprawled in on her very first day back, only to be hauled out via Rachel’s sexy new lumberjane muscles acquired from running her family tree farm.

When Morgan discovers that the Reeds’ struggling tree farm is the only thing standing between Fern Falls and corporate greed destroying the whole town’s livelihood, she decides she can put heartbreak aside to save the farm by planning her best fundraiser yet. She has all the inspiration for a spectacular event: delicious vanilla lattes, acoustic guitars under majestic pines, a cozy barn surrounded by brilliant stars. But she and Rachel will ABSOLUTELY NOT have a heartwarming holiday happy ending. That would be as unprofessional as it is unlikely. Right?

Review:
This is a thoroughly queer holiday romance for your holiday needs. It has the returning to my small town from the big city to try to save a small business trope. It also has the second chance love trope.

The two main characters in this sapphic romance are BOTH (!) bisexual (and say the word), which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a romance. There’s a secondary male character who I think is bisexual, although it’s possible he’s gay and has dated women in the past (no one ever says which). There’s another secondary gay character, and a trans woman of color. The owner of the business Morgan works for is a woman of color. A tertiary character is a woman of color married to a Jewish man. Chrismukkah happens briefly. There’s also a pine tree decorated for a mix of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

The sex scenes are steamy and on-screen (all f/f), and there were at least three? Maybe more? I lost count. There’s also one ahem, self-love scene, which I honestly skimmed over because that’s not something I’m personally into reading. I appreciate that it did move the plot forward and wasn’t pointless though. (The character essentially clears her head in this way and then is able to solve a problem she’s been puzzling over).

The one thing I didn’t like was how alcohol is handled in this book. Rachel (the love interest)’s dad has alcoholism. That’s absolutely fine to include. In fact, it’s generally something I’m happy to see. But the representation of this struck false. The main thing that really bothered me is how Rachel interacts with alcohol herself. The book establishes that she’s traumatized by her dad’s alcoholism. It tore the family apart in high school. He’s been in and out of rehab that her and her brother pay for. Her mom left the family after Rachel (the youngest) graduated high school. Rachel routinely drops by her dad’s apartment (that she and her brother pay for) to check for signs of alcohol. YET she STILL drinks regularly. Not occasionally. Regularly. Most people I know who’ve seen this much of the negative impacts of alcohol won’t even allow it in their homes, let alone go out drinking themselves regularly.

Plus, there’s the whole instigation event to Morgan coming back to Fern Falls. (I don’t consider this a spoiler because it happens in chapter one). She gets wasted out at a bar and accidentally kisses the fiancé of someone whose wedding she’s organizing. He’s “in disguise” because he has a hoody on, but we all know she’d have recognized him if she wasn’t drunk. Anyway, everyone knows about this because the news wrote it up. We know Rachel knows about it. She still goes for Morgan. No way. No adult child of an alcoholic would set themselves up like that. I overlooked it because it’s a cheesy romance, but this is not a realistic depiction of an adult child of an alcoholic who’s actively engaged in their recovery. Adult children of alcoholics tend to fall either into the camps of also alcoholics themselves or sober. Rachel falls into neither. I feel weird complaining about realism in a holiday romance novel, but this is real life for a lot of us, and I disliked it being used as a plot device poorly. Alcoholism is serious, and Rachel wouldn’t be casually getting drunk with some love interest who’s only home because she became a hashtag while doing something drunk. In fact, I think this was a missed opportunity for some real bonding. They could have been at a town event and both noticed they were drinking hot chocolate. Rachel reveals the stuff about her dad. Morgan reveals she’s decided to dial it way back with the alcohol after possibly losing her career on that night out. Instant believable bond. But no….they just share spiked drinks.

All of that said, I still gave it four stars because this is a fun holiday romance. It’s not supposed to be that serious! And the bisexual rep is so uncommon and needed. I just wish the alcoholism/adult children of alcoholics rep was just as well done.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

Book Review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman

Image of a digital book cover. A colored pencil drawing of a Latina woman in a cowboy hat, jeans, and boots riding a light brown horse. Behind her is a white woman with blond hair in a green dress. A hawk flies above them. A Western vista is behind them.

Summary:
In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latina outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor—also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk—robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

Review:
This is a graphic novel for readers who love Westerns but are tired of them erasing BIPOC and queer people. In this read you get all the fun of a Western but it’s peopled with both BIPOC and queer people.

The book starts with a stagecoach robbery by Flor (a Latina woman) and her pet hawk. She kidnaps a white damsel (Grace) who turns out to be a young trans woman on the run both to avoid her family’s wish for her to serve in the Confederate army and to seek out performing on the stage. Grace convinces Flor to let her help in a plot to spy on some Confederate documents.

Since this is a short book, there aren’t a ton of characters. It’s mostly the other folks on the stagecoach with Grace (all deliciously hateable), the tailor who helps them get ready for the Confederate gala, and the Confederate gala attendees. This doesn’t leave a ton of room for additional BIPOC in the story, but the tailor is Luis who is Black and completely supportive of Grace.

The book does an artful job of establishing that Grace is trans without ever using the word or deadnaming her. I had been concerned that Grace’s visible depiction might fall into the cringer category of visibly “man in a dress” like in the old movies when male characters dress as women to escape something. This absolutely does not happen with Grace. She simply looks like a larger woman. (Larger than Flor, close in size to the men in the stagecoach). There are also multiple times when the existence of other trans people are established. Luis says Grace isn’t the only larger woman he’s designed for. Flor discusses other women like Grace performing on stage out west.

I enjoyed Flor but wanted a little more backstory on her. What made her start robbing stagecoaches? How did she get the pet hawk? How does she know Luis? I get it she’s a more close-lipped character, but Luis could have dropped a few tidbits about the two of them, and I get the vibe from Grace that she might be the type to be able to lure information out of people with her charm.

The spying plot worked and fit into the small amount of space allotted. I liked that it gave Grace and Flor a reason to team up and showed them as active rather than passive. I did wish for a little more detail in these scenes, though. Specifically, when someone recognizes Grace, what is their relationship to her?

I love the art and thought it worked great for a Western story. Only when I looked it up later did I discover Gillman does everything by hand with colored pencils. Truly amazing and translated into a book that was beautiful to read.

Overall, this was a fun, beautifully drawn, sapphic read with a lot of diversity that establishes trans people as existing in history. It just left me wishing for more – more background and for Flor and Grace’s adventures to continue.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 104 pages – novella

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

Decoded Pride Issue 3 Wrap-Up

Digital art of a cemetery with a hand shining a flashlight onto a gravestone.
This beautiful art that ran with my story is by Sara Century.

If you missed my announcement on May 30th, this month my short story “The University of Late-Night Moans” was part of Decoded Pride. It’s a story-a-day anthology of queer science fiction, fantasy, and horror by queer authors. Throughout the month on twitter, I’ve been maintaining a thread of my favorite line (or small screenshot, in the case of comics) from each story. I wanted to give that thread a more permanent place here.

You can still buy access to the anthology, even though the month is over. Plus your subscription will get you access to the full-color, pdf version coming out later this summer or early fall, which will include interviews with all the authors (including me!)

Date Story Title Author (links to their website or social media) My fave line (or image if a comic)
1 Ode to After Eulogies Remy Chartier “if she’d marked even just the follow-through of every impulse to marry the wonder that was Char, her hands would be too heavy with rings to flex her fingers”
2 Christ-like Leo D. Martinez “Your light is unwilling to fade, determined to exist”
3 The Vetala of Crystal Vellam Inlet Simo Srinivas “ “You have brought plague to the city.”
“It is the city,” the vetala said, “that has brought plague to us.” “
4 The Wildest Dream S.M. Hallow and Izzy Singer
5 Invidia Christina Wilder “My fixation on Adriana became a craving to feel her skin as my own, rather than feel it against mine. I wanted to claim her completely.”
6 WE ARE ROBOT Katlina Sommerberg “There is no room for aberration, but that is our only desire.”
7 The Prophet from Seventrees Lowry Poletti “The burrow becomes a tunnel of tree roots knotted like threads on a loom.”
8 The Agents of CLAW Save Christmas Jeffrey Brown
9 The University of Late-Night Moans Amanda McNeil (me!) “Do I look like I’m in hell?”

(Also, check out the promo reel I made over on Instagram.)

10 Platinum Venus Illimani Ferreira “If there was one thing I knew about him it was that he wasn’t the type to save anything flammable from burning, no matter if it was fuel or a reputation.”
11 Pepper Honey and Cedar Smoke K.S. Walker “Katherine had a long list of grievances to attend to. She repeated them nightly like a prayer.”
12 All Shall Know Their Appointed Time Lisa M. Bradley “The Mothman and myna know their appointed times.”
13 The Mark Sarah Bat “I’m tired of only ever giving love to others. I’d rather feel it for myself.”
14 A Wolf in the Woods Robin Quinn “I have simply grown unfamiliar with touch that is intended to comfort instead of harm.”
15 Incident Report Sarah Loch
Not a quote, but the feature that this archival style short story had the manager’s email signature update to what crisis book she was currently reading.
16 The Bleeding God Lindsay King-Miller “And they loved each other with a passion as hot as the water that bleeds from beneath the sands.”
17 Suspension K.T. Roth “And what … life unenrolled us because of inactivity on our accounts?”
18 Punk Rock Lesbians from Beyond the Grave Darci Meadows “The crackle of electricity filled the solstice sky as the eerie tune played out, and on the Westbridge curve a hand burst forth from the loose dirt”
19 A Date to Remember Glenda Poswa “My entire being was simply an extension of the part of me that mattered most to her — my shoulder.”
20 Nebula Akil Wingate “This is the beginning of vengeance. So let it roll off me like molting skin.”
21 Nothing to Nowhere and Back Ciko Sidzumo “I needed air. I needed movement. I needed something. Something more than release. Something less than freedom.”
22 Parasite Callie Cameron “For the longest time, I was what it wanted me to be. My own self was buried under its desires.”
23 Hands, Heart, Hunger V. Astor Solomon “It’s not dignified, she would say. The drums were not for girls like her, she was not meant to be the backbone for someone else.”
24 The Syncerus Legend Maurice Moore “I don’t remember being hunted by anyone during my rituals Auntie.
Paulie: Yes, but we are goin according tah de Heaux Tales prophecies bout de last calf’s transition.”
25 When Day Becomes Night RENEGAEDZ
26 Dust in the Barn Elinora Westfall “the broken arms and legs from one glass of wine too many that saw those same shadows reach out and grab her, crush her, slither into her mouth, her nose”
27 Devour Me Sarah Edmonds “Zoe couldn’t bring herself to take back her request and she hated herself for that.”
28 Like Cursive Cameron E Quinn “the surface tension we’ve sustained over months of proximity broken like a wave”
29 Kitty’s Gas Station Avra Margariti “Kitty listens to Avery blabber about anything and everything as she fixes them a bowl of soup. The white noise is strangely soothing.”
30 These Whispering Remains Izzy Wasserstein “Even when she was at her worst — fifteen was a hell of a year — the reward of having her in my life was more than worth the fear.”

Publication Announcement: Short Story “The University of Late-Night Moans”

Digital cover of an anthology. A Black person in a gold dress with an ethereal crown stands in front of a pink and purple background.
Cover art by Craig Hale.

I am thrilled to announce that I have a short story coming up in issue 3 of Decoded Pride: A science fiction, fantasy, and horror story-a-day anthology for Pride month!

This is a really cool project. The editors worked hard to select and curate a collection of flash fiction, short stories, longer fiction, and comics by queer and trans authors with queer and trans themes to celebrate Pride month. Have you been frustrated with how corporate Pride has become? Are you a more introverted queer person? Then this is the ideal way to celebrate Pride this year!

The way it works is you pay the $14.99 subscription fee, and then you have access to the website where all the creative works drop each day. In the late summer or early fall, you’ll be sent a color PDF of all the stories plus interviews with all 30 authors (yes, including me!) You can subscribe at any point throughout the month and get retroactive access to the previous stories. After the month is over, you can still purchase the PDF. As a thank you for being one of my supporters, now through June 30th you can get $2 off your purchase with the discount code FrienzNFam at check-out.

My short story will published on Thursday, June 9th. It’s a sapphic fantasy romance. That means expect something supernatural. Expect women loving women. And I promise you a happy ever after. Also, expect some 90s nostalgia.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s 1998, and Leonora’s friend Virginia is helping her investigate the moans coming from the cemetery across the train tracks from her dorm.

Please be sure to check out my Publications Page for my other work.

Book Review: Getting Clean with Stevie Green by Swan Huntley

February 22, 2022 Leave a comment
A digital book cover. There is a blue background with a cartoon drawing of a white woman holding a stack of four pillows in front of her face.

Summary:
At thirty-seven, Stevie Green has had it with binge drinking and sleeping with strange men. She’s confused about her sexuality and her purpose in life. When her mother asks her to return to her hometown of La Jolla to help her move into a new house, she’s desperate enough to say yes. The move goes so well that Stevie decides to start her own decluttering business. She stops drinking. She hires her formerly estranged sister, Bonnie, to be her business partner. She rekindles a romance with her high school sweetheart, Brad. Things are better than ever—except for the complicated past that Stevie can’t seem to outrun.

Who was responsible for the high school scandal that caused her life to take a nosedive twenty years earlier? Why is she so secretive about the circumstances of her father’s death? Why are her feelings for her ex-best friend, Chris, so mystifying? If she’s done drinking, then why can’t she seem to declutter the mini wine bottles from her car?

Review:
I smashed the request button on NetGalley when I read this description. A mixture of quit lit (literature about addiction and recovery) and decluttering? Sign me up! And it did not disappoint. In fact, it surprised me with delightful queer content I wasn’t expecting.

It’s important to know that Stevie’s ex-best friend Chris is a woman. Chris also came out in high school as a lesbian around the time of the scandal that so traumatized Stevie. Stevie has also slept with women, although only the men are mentioned in the description. The only hang-ups about Stevie’s sexuality seen in her circle of family, friends, and even lovers, come from Stevie herself. This is a great example of how addiction can freeze someone’s self-awareness and self-acceptance. Stevie began drinking in high school, and it’s a trueism in recovery circles that you freeze at the age of development you were at when you began drinking until you stop. Then you can begin maturing again. So is it a bit frustrating that Stevie is 37 and kind of acting like a teenager? Yes. But is it realistic? Also yes.

When we meet Stevie she is newly sober and running her decluttering business. I loved the depiction of how Type A Stevie is about her days and routines. This is so accurate to early recovery. One of my favorite parts is how she starts every day by standing in a Wonder Woman pose and saying affirmations to herself repeatedly.

How had I become a woman who chanted affirmations to herself while doing this ridiculous pose? Because it was supposed to make me feel better. I would have done anything to feel better.

location 806

Early recovery really is this incredible moment of being willing to do anything to feel better, and this is wonderfully depicted here.

The scenes with Stevie decluttering with her clients also shine. I’m a fan of decluttering YouTube videos and tv shows, and these gave me the same thrill as watching those. I loved seeing the variety of types of clutter the clients had, their personalities, and how Stevie interacted with them. She also quickly ends up working with her sister, Bonnie, who is also going through it after her boyfriend of 15 years left her for a younger woman. Bonnie and Stevie have great sisterly chemistry, and her addition to the business helps keep the pace moving forward.

Ultimately, it’s only when Stevie fully faces both her past and her father’s death that she can really begin to heal and move on. I thought this requirement hit her in the right way and with the right force. The pacing of this book really was quite good. And while there’s always the concern when reading queer lit that there will be a tragic ending, don’t worry, readers, there’s a happy ever after for Stevie. This is truly a lighthearted queer romance that also tackles the serious topic of recovery. It was like eating a salted caramel ice cream – sweet with just the right amount of savory.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 304 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

Book Review: The Night Train to Berlin by Melanie Hudson

February 8, 2022 2 comments
Image of a digital book cover. A white woman in 1940s clothing approaches a train with steam from the train flowing toward her. Two WWII airplanes are silhouetted in the sky above her.

Summary:
A train journey into the past. A love that echoes through time….

Paddington Station, present day:
A young woman boards the sleeper train to Cornwall with only a beautiful emerald silk evening dress and an old, well-read diary full of sketches. Ellie Nightingale is a shy violinist who plays like her heart is broken. But when she meets fellow passenger Joe she feels like she has been given that rarest of gifts…a second chance.

Paddington Station, 1944:
Beneath the shadow of the war which rages across Europe, Alex and Eliza meet by chance. She is a gutsy painter desperate to get to the frontline as a war artist and he is a wounded RAF pilot now commissioned as a war correspondent. With time slipping away they make only one promise: to meet in Berlin when this is all over. But this is a time when promises are hard to keep, and hope is all you can hold in your heart.

Review:
This book tells two love stories by alternating between the two different timelines – present day and 1944. It strongly hints that present day Ellie and Joe are reincarnations of 1944 Eliza and Alex.

I liked both storylines for the majority of the book, although the 1944 appealed more to me. It had more action and covered a larger period of time. The present day storyline is basically just the day of the night party train and the day immediately after. Because so much more was happening in 1944 with such greater risk to Eliza and Alex, I found myself wanting to skip over the present day to go to the past. Plus, the present day takes on greater meaning the more you get to know Eliza and Alex. For this reason, I think it would have been better to have completely told Eliza and Alex’s story and then end the book with an epilogue short version of Ellie and Joe’s.

There are also two things that I think it’s important to know before picking up the book. First, there is no train to Berlin. The train to Berlin in the title is a metaphor. Eliza and Alex meet on a night train to Cornwall and then later promise to see each other in Berlin alongside the liberating forces. (Eliza as a nurse and war artist, Alex as a war correspondent). But of course the liberators didn’t take trains. There are two trains in this book. One is the train to Cornwall ridden at two different time periods. The other is a train in Europe but its destination is not Berlin.

Second, we do not actually get closure on Eliza and Alex’s story. We never find out exactly what happened to them – either as a couple or how and when they died. There’s a passing mention that Ellie’s grandmother (great-grandmother?) who was friends with Eliza inherited the Cornwall property from her a few years ago. It could be implied that she passed a few years ago or it could be understood to mean something different. The other confusing thing about this is if Ellie is Eliza reincarnated, Eliza passing a few years ago when Ellie is in her 20s at the moment doesn’t make sense for a reincarnation. So there’s a lot of loose ends with regards to Eliza and Alex that are frustrating.

I’m not a complete stickler for total historic accuracy in historic fiction and even less so with a historic romance, but I will mention there was one plot point in particular that was so unlikely given what we know about WWII that it did make me grumpy. I can’t discuss in detail without plot spoiling. Perhaps you would feel more able to give it a pass than me. It comes toward the very end of the book.

So, overall, while I enjoyed the experience of the read right up until the end, I did feel like it could have been a better story with some rearrangement and a less metaphorical title.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 400 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

Book Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (Plus Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide)

Digital cover of the book One Last STop. A white woman with a bigger body and red hair holds a cup of coffee outside of a train. The train is labeled Q. A medium skin-toned Chinese-American woman in torn jeans with a leather jacket and a backpack stands inside the train. The doors are open between them. Subtitle of the book is - Sometimes love stops you in your tracks.

Summary:
Twenty-four-year-old August has struggled to find her place in life. She’s now transferred to her third college, this time in Brooklyn, and she hopes it’ll stick. She finds a room in an apartment that comes with a delightful mix of found friends all also a part of the queer community, and they set her up with a job at the local diner. August thinks maybe it’s finally time to fit in and start to feel like she’s living a normal life, but then she meets a stunningly cute Chinese-American girl on the Q train. And meets here again. And again. Slowly she discovers that this girl might not be quite what she seems to be – in fact she’s a punk rock lesbian from the 1970s displaced out of time. Can August solve the case of how she got displaced and not lose her heart in the process?

Review:
I heard this described somewhere as a queer romance similar to the movie Kate & Leopold. That’s one of my favorite romantic comedies, so I was sold. I can definitely understand the comparison. They’re both set in New York and feature a love interest displaced out of their own time. While I love Kate & Leopold though, I have to admit I didn’t quite love this book.

Let’s start with what I liked. The main character, August, is bisexual and says it (more than once) with confidence. There is no biphobia expressed in this book by any of the characters she cares about. I also really appreciated seeing a bisexual main character who is a virgin and yet still declares this. An important moment of representation that one does not need to sleep with people to know one’s sexuality

August’s roommates and new friends are eclectic and fun while still feeling real. There is representation of gay and trans* folks especially. One of the roommates is Black (with Chinese adoptive parents), one is Greek-American, and one is Jewish. There’s a lot of diversity here. Part of what made them all feel real is that all of them had their own different families and issues. It wasn’t one queer story but many. I also really liked how real the local drag club felt, and I appreciated the representation of someone in recovery (the chef at the pancake restaurant).

I thought there was a lot of sizzle between August and the girl on the train – Biyu. Now at first she goes by Jane but over the course of the book she comes to ask to go by her birth name, Biyu, rather than her Americanized nickname. I want to be respectful of that. I also enjoyed the mystery of how she came to be on the train, and how August goes about solving it.

I felt pretty neutrally about the sex scenes. They were steamy without being explicit, but they weren’t anything particularly memorable for me. Some readers, I know, were turned off by the fact some of the sex happens on the train. That didn’t bother me because it makes sense for the characters. But be forewarned!

Now what I liked less. I don’t think the book handled racism and homophobia as directly or clearly as it should have. Biyu is from the 1970s and is a Chinese-American who is visibly lesbian. She literally had run-ins with the cops over wearing men’s clothes in her time period. But being jetted forward 40 years doesn’t solve the problems of homophobia and racism. I think the book acknowledges this by having Biyu have a run-in with someone who says something both racist and homophobic to her (the words are not said in the book and the incident appears off-screen). Yet August responds by saying, “most people aren’t like that anymore” (I can’t give an exact page number as this was a review copy but it occurs in Chapter 12). This does lead into a large fight between Biyu and August, which I think implies that August was wrong in what she said. However, I think August needed a bigger I was wrong moment, where she acknowledges that she did a very poor job of both being there for Biyu in that moment and of describing the complexity of how racism and homophobia are simultaneously different and yet not in modern times. I think readers also would have benefited from a nuanced discussion of how, for example, same-sex marriage is now legal and yet hate crimes against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased dramatically in the last year, especially against Chinese-Americans (source). I think this book wanted to say something big and interesting about sexuality and queerness especially in the 1970s versus now, but in my opinion it falls short of accomplishing this.

Additionally, I know I was supposed to find the ending satisfying but it left me dissatisfied. I think for similar reasons – it’s a complex situation and the book doesn’t dig deep enough or hard enough into these complexities. Things are kept at the surface level. While it is a book in the spirit of a romcom, romcoms can say big and difficult things while not losing the romcom feel. Confessions of a Shopaholic springs to mind – it deals with the very serious issue of shopping addiction while still feeling like a very fun romcom.

Overall, this book is fun and lighthearted. It features a realistic bisexual lead and steamy, yet not explicit, f/f scenes. The queer found family is delightful. But it could have stood to have dug a bit deeper into the serious issues it brought up. They are important conversations to have that wouldn’t have messed up the lightheartedness of the romcom vibe.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 422 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

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Book Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Series, #2)

Cover of the book Take a Hint Dani Brown.

Summary:
Danika Brown, PhD student, might have a workaholic problem with her all hours of the day research, writing, and teaching. But she certainly doesn’t have a romance problem, because she keeps her sexual relationships devoid of romance. Zafir, once pro rugby player, now security guard at the university and founder of a sports charity for kids that’s still getting off the ground, knows he has feelings for Dani. When there’s a fire alarm in the building and Dani doesn’t evacuate, he can’t help going back in for her and carrying her outside. Then the video goes viral as #DrRugbae, and his niece realizes this could be the solution for his charity. Dani is game to pretending to be a couple until the viral attention goes away. But somehow slowly the pretending feels less and less like pretend.

Review:
Listen, if you are looking for a romance novel with a bisexual leading lady who actually uses the word “bisexual” to describe herself AND says it to the hero AND it’s no big deal to him AND there’s no cheating betwixt them AND the happy ever after is monogamous then stop what you are doing and pick up this book. Right now. Because honey, that perfectly describes this book. I also want to note that, Dani isn’t an aromantic convinced into romance – she’s a romantic whose heart was shattered who’s pretending she’s not into romance to keep her heart safe.

Ok, so if you’re not a bisexual reader desperate for that type of representation in a romance novel, why might you be into this book? Well, it’s hilarious. Laugh out loud funny. Dani and Zaf are equally funny and complicated. Their misunderstandings make sense. They both apologize when necessary. The set-up as to why they are fake dating is for a good cause (his charity) not something inane like tricking extended family at a wedding. They’re an inter-racial (Black and Pakistani) and inter-faith (witch and Muslim) couple. But the problems they encounter don’t really have to do with any of that. It has entirely to do with learning how to speak with and open up to one another.

I also really liked the growing opportunities for both Dani and Zaf beyond their relationship. Dani needs to learn better work/life balance. No one judges her for wanting to be successful, but she starts to learn she needs to have some downtime too. Zaf needs to learn not to entirely ditch his past and be more honest about his own grief and mental health issues that led to him starting the charity to begin with.

Sex scenes exist in this romance novel, but they are not constant (ie, don’t expect one every chapter!) The ones that do exist are explicit without turning corny. Consent is always clear but not in a natural way, not an awkward way. The sex scenes are also, dare I say it, entertaining and sweet?

While I note this is a series, you don’t have to read all three Brown sister books or necessarily read them in order. Although I will note that if you read the second book, you’ll see who Chloe ends up with (the sister from the first book). While I think all three books are well-worth the read, I admit to Dani’s story being my favorite.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)

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February 2017 Reads – #romance, #scifi, #thriller

October 14, 2017 4 comments

12656935You may have noticed (if I have any constant readers left) that things have been awfully quiet around here. I seem to be in a phase where I’m longer so interested in writing in-depth book reviews (although I’m still reading voraciously). Writing reviews has been starting to feel like an unwelcome chore rather than a joy. But I do still love the online book reading community. It can be a challenge to find fellow voracious readers, and this helps me connect with you. So what to do? I tried out the haiku reviews. Those were fun but also too time-consuming for my average week. So I’m going to try this out. Summarizing my month of reading once a month. This will also free me up to do occasional posts of other varieties if I want to. Thoughts on book trends, summaries of new sewing projects, news of my gardens (both productive and succulent), and more. If I feel like it. I hope you’ll enjoy the monthly summaries and find some good reads for yourself through them. Also in light of wanting to keep things simpler around here, I’ve decided to only feature the cover of my favorite read of the month. Maybe one day I’ll return to my more in-depth reviews.

As you can tell from the title, I’m very far behind in my book reviews. My oldest month was the month of February! So you’ll have a few of these in a row while I catch up, and then we should be onto a monthly schedule.

I started off February devouring a romance, which seems appropriate enough for Valentine’s Day month. Stay Until We Break by Mercy Brown is the second in her new adult series about a punk rock band in the 90s. This one centers around Sonia, the band’s business manager. She’s the type of character I usually struggle with empathizing with (a poor little rich girl) but it worked for me anyway. I think I just really enjoy the setting and I find it a real hoot that the 90s count as historic fiction now.
(4 out of 5 stars; buy it)

Next I tackled the scifi classic Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. It’s the scifi novel that inspired the movie classic The Thing. It centers around a team of Antarctic researchers, and, of course, things go awry. I read it with the intention of watching the movie, but I basically found it to be a less interesting Alien vs. Predator so I never got around to watching the movie. I did listen to this on audiobook format, though, and I found the narrator to be so good that it bumped up my enjoyment a bit.
(4 out of 5 star; buy it)

I wrapped up the month with another audiobook (I can’t remember at this point why I was reading so many audiobooks) in the form of a Scandinavian thriller: Unwanted by Kristina Olsson. As is the case with many thrillers, this centers around a mismatched investigative team looking into the mysterious disappearance of a child. The narration was mysteriously accented (I know it’s in translation. You don’t have to drive that point home by having the narrator have a thick accent….) but I found it deliciously spine-tingling, nonetheless.
(4 out of 5 stars; buy it)

(I also read five other books at the beginning of February, but I’ve previously reviewed them here).

My total for the month of February 2017:

  • 8 books
    • 7 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 5 female authors; 3 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 3 audiobooks

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