Tag Archives: glbt lit

ARC Review – Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

Title: Amberlough

Author: Lara Elena Donnelly

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Welcome to Amberlough City, the illustrious but corrupt cosmopolitan beacon of Gedda. The radical One State Party—nicknamed the Ospies—is gaining popular support to unite Gedda’s four municipal governments under an ironclad, socially conservative vision.

Not everyone agrees with the Ospies’ philosophy, including master spy Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, smuggler and emcee at the popular Bumble Bee Cabaret. When Cyril’s cover is blown on a mission, however, he must become a turncoat in exchange for his life. Returning to Amberlough under the Ospies’ watchful eye, Cyril enters a complex game of deception. One of his concerns is safeguarding Aristide, who refuses to let anyone—the crooked city police or the homophobic Ospies—dictate his life.

Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, top dancer at the Bee and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means—and people—necessary. Including each other.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Amberlough was a book I randomly grabbed while I was at this year’s OLA Conference. I didn’t know much about it, but I found the cover very striking. Cabaret? Spies? Fantasy? LGBT? All checkmarks for things that I love to read about.

What I loved about this book was the world that Donnelly has created. It’s got a seediness to it, something that feels so colourful yet vibrant. I really loved the characters, especially Cordelia who is an absolute boss. I also loved Cyril and Ari, and I thought they were such a delightful couple. The characters are just a lot of fun, and they have just enough depth given that this story is more about solving a mystery and dealing with an uncomfortable political atmosphere.

Spy fiction often doesn’t get it’s due in fantasy, but I love the way in which this book meshes both genres together. This book has both glitter and glamour, but it also has so much discomfort when you start to learn about what the One State Party is after. I felt like the world of Amberlough in itself was a character in the story as well! The world building just really stuck with me as the story progressed, and I knew I was easily along for the ride.

If I have any complaints about this story, it’s really that I just didn’t want it to end. I was just so completely glued to what I was reading, and I loved following these characters through this vibrant world. This is just a wonderfully impressive first novel, and if you love fantasy that has a very political spin, or you love the glitz of cabaret like I do, then Amberlough is worth your attention.

ARC Review – Fan Art by Sarah Tregay

17924987Title:  Fan Art

Author: Sarah Tregay

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Senior year is almost over, and Jamie Peterson has a big problem. Not college—that’s all set. Not prom—he’ll find a date somehow. No, it’s the worst problem of all: he’s fallen for his best friend.

As much as Jamie tries to keep it under wraps, everyone seems to know where his affections lie, and the giggling girls in art class are determined to help Jamie get together with Mason. But Jamie isn’t sure if that’s what he wants—because as much as Jamie would like to come clean to Mason, what if the truth ruins everything? What if there are no more road trips, taco dinners, or movie nights? Does he dare risk a childhood friendship for romance?

Huge thank you to HarperTeen and Edelweiss for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Fan Art by Sarah Tregay is a such a cute love story. I love stories about people who are confident in who they are (for the most part), but understand that not everything is as it seems, especially when it comes to falling for your best friend. That’s pretty much the entire story of this book, and while it was adorable at times, I had a few issues with it.

I feel like a good book needs to have a good balance of showing versus telling and Jamie is a teller, not a shower. In fact, about 90% of this book is Jamie telling events instead of the reader engaging in them, which didn’t always appeal to me. The writing was very flat at times as well, and think a lot of the wit that Jamie attempts to posses didn’t always translate well due to the flatness in the text. I wanted more emotion, more drive, and I felt like everything in this story was just a bit too easily handled. In fact, I think that’s my issue with the story — everything seems too easy.

While Jamie and Mason are cute, I didn’t always feel like I understood their attraction for each other outside of their “hotness,” which was what was frequently mentioned. I felt like we knew so much about Jamie and his life, and Mason just didn’t quite measure in comparison — I didn’t feel like I fully understood the appeal, whereas in a book like One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva, you totally got the connection and how deep it was between Alek and Ethan. For a romance novel, I think I was just expecting more than I got from the characters, and truthfully, I didn’t always feel connected to them.

However, I will say, there are tons of really sweet romantic scenes in this book, and some of the social issues are well placed and explained and that I enjoyed immensely. I thought the ending was very sweet, if a bit too simple, and I loved how imperfect Jamie was, because when he explains stories from his past, he’s easy to understand and be sympathetic towards.

While I was iffy on the poetry elements, I thought overall they were done very well and they did have the feeling of the kinds of poetry teens would write in high school. I adored the comics that were inserted into the story and I thought that was a beautiful touch. Fan Art is really, really cute, and is worth checking out if you’re not expecting too much from a very sweet and simple male-male love story.

ARC Review – One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

18465591Title:  One Man Guy

Author: Michael Barakiva

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.

Huge thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) and Netgalley for this advance reader copy.

I am a little torn with One Man Guy because I actually loved the majority of this book but there was one thing that surprisingly tested my nerves and did genuinely upset me.

First off, I love that the title of this book is a reference to Rufus Wainwright and I love and appreciated Barakiva discussing the history of the song “One Man Guy” as well as a bit of history about Rufus Wainwright as a performance artist. I am a huge lover of Rufus Wainwright and anytime the characters quote songs or discussed the meanings I found myself smiling and grinning.

I actually also loved the writing in this book as well. The flow and pacing were close to perfect, and it was easy to understand a lot of the culture aspects of the story. There’s no heavy handedness, Barakiva makes Armenian culture something accessible, understandable, and quite lovable with his cast of characters. I had particular love for Alek’s family, especially Nik, oddly but there were parts of him that reminded me of my older brother.

Alek’s character is handled beautifully, and I loved his how he was coming out of shell and growing into someone who he wanted to be comfortable with. I like that people weren’t automatically accepting, but understood in such a way where he was fortunate enough to have an awesome support system in his parents and Becky. A lot of his mannerism and behavior make perfect sense for growing fourteen year old who’s learning how to push his parent’s buttons a little but still try to be his own person.

In a lot of GLBT literature, there’s always the approch of parents hating that their kids are gay, or trying to un-gay them in some way. What I loved in Barakiva’s approach is how understanding and supportive they were in their son’s decision, even if right away they weren’t fond of Ethan. You get a genuine sense that they love and care regardless of sexual orientation, and that was so refreshing. For the most part the world that we see in Alek’s life is surprisingly positive which in these types of stories sometimes feels unheard of. I also loved Nik’s big reveal and how that handed — it was so sweet and I found myself cheering so happily. The ending of this book is also wonderful and perfect and I feel like it couldn’t have ended any other way.

I do want to talk about something that did upset me with the book and it threw me for a bit of a loop, but I struggled with Ethan’s character. I was not fond of his forceful behavior towards Alek, particularly when he was still trying to understand what it meant to be gay. He’d say things like he gets it, but then force Alek to kiss him or expose himself and the way the novel is written you get the sense of discomfort from Alek’s character, and I just didn’t like Ethan’s lack of respect. It made it harder for me to connect with him because you can see Alek trying to grow and become who he wants to be. This happens a few times in the story and I had a hard time with it.

However, when Ethan is being as sweet and as vulnerable as Alek, that was something I liked and appreciated. In fact, I love them as a couple when they are learning and exploring, so the forced aspects just threw me off. Ethan has some amazing insight for a man his age, and I like his attitude towards what it means to be gay and being true to who you are.

There’s a wonderful debut here and the story is so sweet. It’s a relationship the reader gets to see develop and unfold, without the insta-love crap that often YA often likes to push forth. While I wasn’t 100% fond of Ethan’s characterization, I still loved the cast of characters and the story that Barakiva presented. Plus it’s an easy read and all it asks for the most part is an open-mind and welcomes those with a cheeky sense of humor.

Book Review – Far From Xanadu, by Julie Anne Peters

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Title: Far From Xanadu
Author: Julie Anne Peters
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: From the author of “Luna” comes this heartbreaking yet hopeful novel about a small-town girl who falls in love with the cool, complicated, and sexy new girl in town, but who is just out of reach. 

Sam’s Review:

Far From Xanadu was a book I borrowed from a friend, and not one I knew much about. It features a transgender protagonist, particular a female-to-male transformation, and it’s a great story for the most part.

Mike is a great protagonist. His voice is natural, he’s methodical, and the emotions he feels are very genuine. However, he ends up falling for a straight girl whom he is convinced is perfect in every way. When the novel wasn’t about pining for Xanadu it was perfect. 

Mike lost his father, he has a broken relationship with his mother and brother, and he is attempting to accept the reality that he may be gay. These aspects of the story were so raw, so powerful, and the connection is quite deep. Mike is a jack of all trades, but with no way to progress in life due to a lack of funds and no actual support systems in his life. He gets scolded for a waste of talent, yet won’t accept people’s charity either. There was a lot I loved about Mike’s character that the narrative mostly worked for me.

Mike’s love interest Xanadu however? She’s a piece of work. I’m not sure if Peter’s intentionally wrote her to be horrific, but often she came across a user, an exhibitionist and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what Mike saw in her. Mike’s best friend, Jamie, constantly calls her out on her crap behaviour and yet Mike can’t see past it. While the novel ended exactly as I thought it would, it really broke my heat how used Mike was throughout the story. Xanadu never felt genuine, she was suppose to be exotic, but even that didn’t quite work for me. She just seemed as though Mike had to fix every single one of her problems, and like a puppet on a string, Mike obeyed. I’m sure this seems realistic for most, but Xanadu rubbed me the wrong way throughout the entirety of the story.

The novel was at its best when it was about Mike coming to terms with his identity and his family’s problems. When he was pining for Xanadu, the story just didn’t work for me because I couldn’t connect to the actual romance Peters was trying to put forth. I think Peters is a great writer and I’m looking forward to checking out Luna, but Far From Xanadu, though it does have amazing and thoughtful moments is far from greatness.