Tag Archives: lgbtqia+

Late to the Party ARC Review – Freeing Finch by Ginny Rorby

Title: Freeing Finch

Author: Ginny Rorby

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When her father leaves and her mother passes away soon afterward, Finch can’t help feeling abandoned. Now she’s stuck living with her stepfather and his new wife. They’re mostly nice, but they don’t believe the one true thing Finch knows about herself: that she’s a girl, even though she was born in a boy’s body.

Thankfully, she has Maddy, a neighbor and animal rescuer who accepts her for who she is. Finch helps Maddy care for a menagerie of lost and lonely creatures, including a scared, stray dog who needs a family and home as much as she does. As she earns the dog’s trust, Finch realizes she must also learn to trust the people in her life–even if they are the last people she expected to love her and help her to be true to herself. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Freeing Finch is an important story about a young trans-girl who has lost her mother, is forced to live with her step-father, and who is learning to come into her own. It’s the story of unlikely friendships, how to cope with being different, and there’s a lot of uncomfortable moments from bullying, to trans-shaming, to just uncomfortable dialogue.

I want to stress this is not a bad book, but it is a book that is written with very specific intentions. It concerns me that Finch is forced to stay with an abusive parent (and then is weirdly just okay with him later on), and there’s just a lot of disturbing instances in this story that I wondered a bit about. The bits with Finch and her dog were wonderful and I wanted to cry, but her interactions with other people outside of her neighbor Maddy were difficult to read about. There is a lot of misgendering in this story, and there’s so much tragedy in this story to the point where it felt like torture and it was too much at times. I think given the author was not writing from experience, there may have been instances where she missed the mark on the subjects she was trying to display in the story.

This was a quick read, regardless of my complaints. I read it in two sittings and there was moments that I did genuinely enjoy, mainly which were the interactions with Maddie and her step-mother actually admitting her failures of misgendering and standing up for Finch in the story. I just wish this story hadn’t entirely been all about abusing Finch as a character, because there is so little hope in this story, and for middle grade readers — we need some hope!

ARC Review – The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Title: The Only Black Girls in Town

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Want to read a wonderful book with great characters and a good mystery? The Only Black Girls in Town is Brandy Colbert’s middle grade debut, and my goodness was it a chef’s kiss of a story.

Albert and her family for the longest time, were the only black family in town. Her best friend, Laramie, though wonderful, cannot necessarily understand everything that Alberta goes through in terms of how differently at times she is treated by others. When Alberta learns that a new black girl has moved to town, she is elated. While Alberta is hoping that she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends, she starts to learn that Edie is struggling with being homesick for Brooklyn, New York. When the girls begin to explore Edie’s new home, they find old journals sharing painful secrets of someone’s life who was left behind.

I loved this book! I loved the distinct voices between Alberta and Edie. I love how genuine both girls are with each other and how they don’t shame others for not necessarily knowing what it’s like to be black — in fact this story has the characters doing a great job of educating others! The best parts of the story were the girls reading the journals that had been left behind and having the desire to find out who they in fact belonged to. There’s a really good mystery there, and I loved the end results of the story because the payoff was very good.

This is a great middle grade debut that offers a lot to younger readers. It’s a great story about being different and yet having your differences be complimented and wanted. I love how so many elements, such as Alberta having two dads, is very normalized in the story, and I loved and wanted to hug Edie when she felt homesick. Definitely check out this book if you love a good contemporary story!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1) by Nina Varela

Title: Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1)

Author: Nina Varela

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I heard about Crier’s War when I went to Harper Collins Canada’s Fall Frenzy event. Some buzz words the book had were adventure, politics, revenge, and a lesbian romance. I love all those things in my fantasy novels, so I knew I needed to get my hands on this book, and lo and behold it was in my grab bag.

I enjoyed Crier’s War. It’s not the most ground breaking fantasy novel, there’s a lot that has been done before, and yet I devoured the story and found myself entertained by the characters. Crier was difficult at first for me because she’s an android “playmate” essentially, meaning she doesn’t have much will of her own. That type of character is always a hard one for me to enjoy because I like my leads in fantasy to have energy and motive, but I will say Crier grew on me throughout the story. When she starts to realize she is defective and begins to understand human agency, there’s a wonderful shift and growth in her character that is VERY rewarding. Ayla on the other hand, has very one-dimensional goals (aka. revenge, revenge, and REVENGE) and while she is energetic and a go-getter, she takes a lot of time for development and I still didn’t feel like she grew enough for me to connect with.

The romance in this novel is adorable and cheesy. It’s definitely the kind of romance that steams from hate-to-love, and it’s not necessary the most well-developed at times, but I totally bought into it. It’s corny and charming, and I think that can be a great thing in a story that is a bit too serious and dark, which Crier’s War has in spades.

The writing through is solid, there’s definitely some beautiful passages, and I think the world building is very interesting throughout. I think Crier’s War succeeds in being a plot-heavy story, but not necessarily a character driven one. There’s definitely some fantastic character driven moments (Crier’s awakening being fantastically portrayed), but I don’t feel it’s entirely equal throughout the story.

I had fun reading Crier’s War and I am definitely intrigued to see where Varela goes with the sequel given how the book ended. I look forward to seeing Ayla and Crier grow some more, and I think there’s a lot of great ideas in this book. It was such an enjoyable read and easily something I can recommend to those who want a book that is just an easy, plot-driven fantasy novel.

ARC Review – The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith

Title: The Deep & Dark Blue

Author: Niki Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: After a terrible political coup usurps their noble house, Hawke and Grayson flee to stay alive and assume new identities, Hanna and Grayce. Desperation and chance lead them to the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who spin the threads of reality to their will.

As the twins learn more about the Communion, and themselves, they begin to hatch a plan to avenge their family and retake their royal home.While Hawke wants to return to his old life, Grayce struggles to keep the threads of her new life from unraveling, and realizes she wants to stay in the one place that will allow her to finally live as a girl.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Deep & Dark Blue is a graphic novel that tells the story of Hawke and Grayson, who have to flee a politic coup. In order to survive, the two take on the identities of Hanna and Grayce. while seeking shelter, they come across the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who have the ability to manipulate reality and bend its will. With the help of the Communion of Blue, the twins begin to hatch a plan to save their family’s name and and reclaim their royal heritage.

I loved this story. Hanna and Gracye are wonderful and well fleshed out. Their desire to protect their family home, while working through their personal identities, makes for fantastic storytelling. Given the coup that has destroyed their family and forced them apart, it’s easy to empathize with Hanna and Gracye. There is also a story about transition in The Deep & Dark Blue that is both simple, but effectively portrayed. I truly loved Gracye’s character so much.

While the ARC was in black and white, I am excited to see what the finished product looks like. I think those who love Faith Erin Hick’s stories will easily find The Deep & Dark Blue to be right up their alley. This is a fantastic story about family, identity, and what it means to survive in a time of oppression.

ARC Review – Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

Title: Tillie Walden

Author:  Are You Listening?

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou.

This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Once again, Tillie Walden blows me away with her storytelling. In Are You Listening? the narrative focuses on Bea and Lou, two young women on the run from their pasts. Through a chanced meeting, the pair go on a road trip through West Texas, driving through blizzards and buried secrets. There is also the desire to win the affection of a white fluffy cat.

If there is one thing I love about Tillie Walden’s books, it’s that they wear their emotions on their sleeves. Her characters are often uncomfortable and raw, often seeking redemption. Bea and Lou’s relationship grows throughout the story as the two confess their secrets to one another, and I love that they are accepting of each other’s flaws and supportive when necessary. Bea’s reveal is heartbreaking and left me with so much anger, while Lou’s story is just so sad and full of discomfort. I felt emotionally connected to both girls throughout the story, and I think Walden continues to do a great job of providing characters that readers can relate to on various levels.

I will say the book can be a bit confusing at times, and the ending is a bit lacking. I do think, however, that given this isn’t plot-driven story that a lot of what Walden does here, as abstract as it is, will work for readers who want a more character-specific story. I cannot wait to see what Tillie Walden publishers next, because I continue with each new book to be very impressed.

Three Amazing LGBTQIA+ Reads to Check Out During #Pride

While I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog, I’ve been reading – a lot. With it being #PrideMonth, it also means I’m checking out a lot of great LGBTQIA+ reads in the process. While there’s so many books worth checking out, I thought it would be fun to share three I recently read — one published in the 70’s, one in the mid-2000’s, and one that came out last year. Here’s three books for #Pride that are worth looking into.

See You at Harry’s
by Jo Knowles (Published May 8th 2012 by Candlewick Press)

This was recommended to me by a dear friend who reads a lot of middle grade and we tend to have the exact same taste. This book feels a bit dated in parts, but it’s a beautiful story about a family coming together and learning about acceptance. Holden identifies as gay, and he comes out to Fern, our heroine, and it sparks a wonderful relationship of being able to find trust and acceptance for all walks of life. The handling of family and the pitfalls Fern faces in the story are very sad, but very realistic. A great coming out story with a great ending.

I’m Afraid of Men
by Vivek Shraya (August 28th 2018 by Penguin Books Canada)

Vivek Shraya is an amazing performer and storyteller. I loved her picture book The Boy & The Bindi, and her voice is timely as it is sharp and impeccable. I’m Afraid of Men is an exploration of Shraya’s relationships, her discomfort of being objectified by men. It’s her fears, her anger, and her sorrow as she deals with just how shitty the world is to trans-people, and she offers some important and valuable discussion on prejudice and how people need to get over themselves. This story, 98 page book packs a punch and is worth reading in one sitting.

Biting the Sun
(Four-BEE #1-2)
by Tanith Lee (Published October 5th 1999 by Spectra Books)

I have a love-hate relationship with Tanith Lee’s writing. I personally often find it very dry and dense, even though I always love her handling of different subject matters. What I loved about Biting the Sun is that it is a Utopian society where everyone is gender-fluid. This was being discussed in 70’s science-fiction! There’s also so much pansexuality in this book, and discussion of how gender-normality is trivial. HOW DID I NOT READ THIS SOONER? Seriously, if you can somehow find a copy of this book, it’s worth checking out just for the discusses of gender alone!

ARC Review – Birthday by Meredith Russo

Title: Birthday

Author: Meredith Russo

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Two kids, Morgan and Eric, are bonded for life after being born on the same day at the same time. We meet them once a year on their shared birthday as they grow and change: as Eric figures out who he is and how he fits into the world, and as Morgan makes the difficult choice to live as her true self. Over the years, they will drift apart, come together, fight, make up, and break up—and ultimately, realize how inextricably they are a part of each other. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Reading Birthday was an intense experience. Spanning five years, the book reaccounts Eric and Morgan’s birthdays, the amazing friendship-turned-romance. The book also goes through the transition period of Morgan, as she learns about who she wants to become.

I read this book very slowly, and it was such a difficult read. It’s emotional and raw, and the friendship between Eric and Morgan is one of the most beautifully written that I’ve encountered in awhile in YA. Russo does an amazing job building her characters up, and the reader is just able to connect with them in a variety of ways. There were few moments in the story where I found myself yelling at the parents in this book, or even empathizing with them.

The challenge of this book really comes from how Morgan and Eric’s relationship is perceived by others. They are bullied, shamed, and even beaten. It’s heartbreaking, and I felt so much for both of them as the story progressed. Both of them are also forced to make such hard decisions at their age, and are made to feel as though they are less than by others because of their differences.

Meredith Russo is a writer who knows how to hit her readers right where it needs to hurt. I found myself feeling so much for Eric and Morgan and the ending does this amazing job of showing how at eighteen they are able to fight and move beyond the bullcrap that they constantly were subjected to. Birthday is hard-hitting and deeply moving, and I hope more readers give this wonderful gem a chance.

ARC Review – The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

Title: The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Sunny St. James receives a new heart, she decides to set off on a “New Life Plan”: 1) do awesome amazing things she could never do before; 2) find a new best friend; and 3) kiss a boy for the first time.

Her “New Life Plan” seems to be racing forward, but when she meets her new best friend Quinn, Sunny questions whether she really wants to kiss a boy at all. When the reemergence of her mother, Sunny begins a journey to becoming the new Sunny St. James.

This sweet, tender novel dares readers to find the might in their own hearts. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada!

Sam’s Review:

On my way to Montreal in February I decided I needed to read a new Ashley Herring Blake book. Both Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the Word and Girl Made of Stars got five stars from me because they left me an emotional train-wreck. Her books are challenging but they also give me hope, and The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James is no exception.

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James follows Sunny, a girl who got a recent heart transplant. Having a new heart, Sunny believes that she feels different about herself, that she wants life to be something different. When her biological mother comes back into her life a new girl begins to challenge her perceptions of the world, Sunny’s world is turned upside down. Sunny’s story is beautiful and I felt a lot of sympathy for her. Sunny spends a lot of this book feeling confused about who she is, who she loves, and what kind of a person she is allowed to be. Her adoptive mother shelters her because of her transplant, but even in that situation, there’s clearly more to it.

The writing in this book is stunning and Sunny’s voice is one that will definitely capture readers. I spent my last morning in Montreal tearing up simply because there is such a huge emotional punch throughout the story, and it doesn’t stop. I love when a book gives me so many emotions from start to finish, and there were parts of this book where I felt my heart beat faster and faster. This smart middle grade book will teach so many people about empathy and what it means to get a second lease on life, even at a young age.

I cried during The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James and I am not afraid to admit that. What I hope is that more people open their minds to more queer middle grade. Stories should transform our lives, and I think this book offers a transformation that readers will never forget.

ARC Review – Chicken Girl by Heather Smith

Title: Chicken Girl

Author: Heather Smith

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Poppy used to be an optimist. But after a photo of her dressed as Rosie the Riveter is mocked online, she’s having trouble seeing the good in the world. As a result, Poppy trades her beloved vintage clothes for a feathered chicken costume and accepts a job as an anonymous sign waver outside a restaurant. There, Poppy meets six-year-old girl Miracle, who helps Poppy see beyond her own pain, opening her eyes to the people around her: Cam, her twin brother, who is adjusting to life as an openly gay teen; Buck, a charming photographer with a cute British accent and a not-so-cute mean-streak; and Lewis a teen caring for an ailing parent, while struggling to reach the final stages of his gender transition. As the summer unfolds, Poppy stops glorifying the past and starts focusing on the present. But just as she comes to terms with the fact that there is good and bad in everyone, she is tested by a deep betrayal.

Huge Thank You to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Chicken Girl is a tiny book with a big punch. The story involves Poppy and her brother Cam, as they navigate growing up. When a picture of Rosie the Riveter is posted online, Poppy feels shammed and can no longer see good in the world. Her twin brother, Cam, is learning to be “out” and Poppy wants to show her support. Poppy also meets six-year-old, Miracle, who shows her how wonderful the world can really be.

What I loved about this book is how it normalizes so many aspects of LGBTQIA culture. There’s fantastic and frank discussion of what transgendered teens deal with, how homophobia comes in different (and awful) flavours, and how supportive people can be as well. Nothing in this book felt out of place and the conversations between characters felt so raw and true. My favourite parts were the interactions between Poppy and Cam, as well as Poppy and Miracle. I think these conversations about life, optimism, and finding strength will be so relevant to so many readers.

I think the only negative about this book for me, is that it’s too short. Everything ties up a bit too nicely, and there is a huge part of me that wishes Smith had delved more into the characters further. That being said, I still think what we do know about the cast of characters is wonderful and heartfelt.

There is such an honesty in these pages, which is why I hope more people will pick up Chicken Girl. The story is well-paced, genuine and raw, and while it never goes to Baygirl (Smith’s debut) levels of darkness, Chicken Girl offers readers a wonderful glimmer of hope that makes it a memorable read.

ARC Review – We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Title: We Set the Dark on Fire

Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy We Set the Dark on Fire. I love books with feminist angles and I love unique world building, which this book has in spades. However, there were things about it that definitely kept it from being a favourite.

I want to talk first about the aspects that I liked. First was the setting and particularly the Medio School and it’s weird cult-like behaviour. I loved reading the bits from the handbook and I loved the sinister feeling that came anytime Mejia wrote about this organization and how the females in it were oppressed. There was such a good level of creep factor here that definitely gave me Handmaid’s Tale vibes. I also loved the fast, hard, feminist angle this book has, as there is this amazing build towards uprising that I think just works in the story so so so well.

I think the hardest part for me with this book was the writing. I found that while the world was very interesting and colourful, not seeing it through Dani’s eyes was difficult for me. I think the third person narration just didn’t work for me at all, and I think for a lot of the more difficult or high pressure moments in the story, the third person perspective removed a lot of the agency for me. I would have loved to have a sense of Dani’s feelings, her discomfort, and her drive to survive this weird dystopian world.

I wasn’t also entirely sold right away on the forbidden romance, especially because I struggled with the character in question. I generally don’t mind a hate-to-love relationship but again parts of it just didn’t work for me. It made me happy because I’m all for these types of stories being told and I think there is a lot of value in them, and towards the end of the book, I found myself setting into the romance and it grew on me.

We Set the Dark on Fire is an interesting debut where I found myself loving the world-building and the creep factor, but the characters fell short for me. I wish I liked these characters more because I found myself not really connecting with any of them, even in their times of distress. I think those looking for an interesting and different kind of dystopian story, will definitely enjoy this one.