Mystery Blogger Award

Thanks for the tag, Elina! If you’re looking for thoughtful YA, fantasy, and poetry book reviews, check out Elina’s blog aquapages!

Thanks for the tag, Elina! If you’re looking for thoughtful YA, fantasy, and poetry book reviews, check out Elina’s blog aquapages!

What’s the Mystery Blogger Award?

“It’s an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.” – Okoto Enigma

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog.
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people.
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify).
  9. Share a link to your best post(s).

Three Things About Me

  • One of my biggest heroes as a writer and a human being is C.S. Lewis. In my AP Literature class almost six years ago, we watched Shadowlands on the last day and it really changed my perception of how important it is to love and be loved, even if it leads to sadness someday. Whenever I hear questions about which person, living or dead, you’d want to have dinner with, he’s always in my top three (along with Vincent van Gogh and Leonard Nimoy).
Speaking of Leonard Nimoy, I found this at the thrift store and it’s the best shirt I’ve ever had or ever will have.
  • I recently started a mini apartment window garden and am ecstatic about how much they’re growing!
  • My favorite scent is lavender. I even like it in tea, which is probably weird but ah, well.

Questions

  1. Which book would you recommend people to read immediately?

Good Omens! It’s such a light and hilarious read and with the miniseries coming out in a few months, now is the ideal time to read it. Plus, it’s got a character who’s described as “English, intelligent, and gayer than a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide.” What more could you possibly want in life?

2. What’s the song you listened to most recently?

Lately I’ve been listening to a ton of Hozier since Wasteland, Baby! just came out. My favorites from his new album are “Would That I,” “Sunlight,” and “Almost (Sweet Music).” I’d keep going, but I’d have to list the whole album since they’re all so good. And also “Run” –it’s not from his new album but it’s a treasure.

Even though he’s straight, Hozier is by far my favorite queer icon and his Salt Lake City concert was such a temptation–I almost bought tickets but decided that, y’know, it’s probably better to afford food and housing. Lame.

I also have a pretty constant stream of twenty one pilots in my headphones because I’m eternally Tyler Joseph trash.

3. Favorite character trope?

This is going to show my fan fiction writing roots, but I’m always down for some sweet, sweet hurt/comfort.

4. What’s a hobby of yours outside of reading?

I am such an old person when it comes to hobbies. Besides writing and reading, I like hiking, meditating, and going to cultural events like plays and art museums and such. I’ve also been trying to brush up on my German lately since I had to study two years of it for my English degree and it’s been fading quickly. Ich spreche Deutsch nicht sehr gut, but ich denke es ist eine schöne sprache.

5. Recommend me some book blogs you follow!

Check out the nominations below for a ton of book and writer blogs!

Nominations

For the Mystery Blogger Award, I nominate these amazing people:

And anyone else who would like to do it! If you want to make a Mystery Blogger Award post, consider yourself tagged!

Questions:

  1. Paperback, hardcover, or ebook? Why?

2. What’s one book that made you laugh and one that made you cry?

3. If you had to describe yourself in three characters, which ones would they be?

4. What’s your favorite thing about spring?

5. List one thing that’s made you happy that happened this year.

Blog Tour Review: Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

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Title: Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: Babe Vogel is happy to disappear into her work as a barista after a rough break-up with her ex-girlfriend. But when a cute artist named Levi starts frequenting her coffee shop, she might just have to break her rule to never date the customers.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: For those who call bi people who date the opposite sex “faking it” in some way, I’d like to point them to this YA contemporary romance. Babe is an openly bi girl who recently broke up with a girl and falls in love with a boy. Just because she’s interested in a guy, though, doesn’t make this any less of a queer YA novel. If anything, I think it shows just how nuanced the LGBT community is and how important it is for everyone’s voices to be heard–especially when bi erasure is so common no matter who they decide to date.

What I liked: Like most meet cute books, this one was adorable from start to finish. Even though Babe’s going through a rough break-up and trying to keep herself from falling in love, she spends just as much time discovering more about herself and growing as a result. She becomes more comfortable with her sexuality and herself in general, and she finds ways to have confidence whether she’s in a relationship or not. I think it’s important to show that kind of personal growth in YA romance books to show that partners can make our lives happier, but they should never be how you define your self worth.

Levi and Babe also had excellent chemistry. I’ve heard before that the sign of a good love story is that the characters learn from each other and become better people. In this case, it’s true. Babe learns to trust in the people around her again and take risks when it comes to opening up. And Levi starts to discover what his purpose is in the world as an artist and a human being. It’s a healthy and sweet relationship, and the discussions about sexuality and unconditional love make it even more vulnerable.

I think it’s important to mention that while on the whole this is a light read, there are a few difficult subject in this book as well. Alcohol and drugs are mentioned a few times, and it’s implied that Babe’s ex and her old friends were manipulative (if not abusive). If those are triggering topics for you, check out a few more reviews before opening this book up but know that even in the darker scenes, the story does end happily.

Recommended: This was a cute read that felt very much like a romantic comedy. And the best YA romance book to start spring with–it’s unique, sweet, and (most importantly) super duper queer. Plus, who doesn’t love a meet cute that turns into a coffee shop romance?

Note: I’m happy to have participated in the blog tour for Small Town Hearts! To check out more stops on this tour, visit Xpresso Book Tours’ website.

YA Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

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TitleThe Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: This #OwnVoices book follows seventeen-year-old Evan Panos, the son of Greek immigrants who he knows couldn’t understand or condone him being gay. But when Evan has his first kiss at summer camp and finally finds someone who loves him for who he is, he runs the risk of coming out whether he likes it or not.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Dangerous Art of Blending In follows Evan, a cis gay teenager, as he falls in love with his best friend Henry and comes out to his parents. His family comes from Greece and strictly follow Orthodox Christianity, with his parents reacting to his sexual orientation in different ways. While his dad is hesitant, he makes it clear how much he loves his son and tries to support him. His mom, on the other hand, seems to struggle with an undiagnosed mental illness and is both physically and emotionally abusive after he comes out and throughout his life because he has a strong feminine side.

If domestic abuse is triggering to you, you may want to read a few more reviews before deciding whether or not this queer YA book is for you. While the depictions of abuse are pretty intense and difficult to read, they aren’t graphic, and Evan (without spoiling anything) is also eventually able to escape the situation.

What I liked: Evan’s voice was so authentic and bold that it really drove the heart of this story. Part of this is because the author himself is gay and a child of Greek immigrants. The reason that Evan’s story felt so real was that in the endnote, Aurelis explained how so much of it had been based on his own experiences. I think that this book is a reminder that sometimes “write what you know” can lead to unique and much needed voices coming through in LGBTQ YA, especially when it’s done thoughtfully.

I also thought that Evan’s relationship with his dad, while definitely not perfect, was beautiful. It was clear that Evan’s dad came from a very different culture from his own and was raised seeing LGBT people in a negative light. But despite how he struggled to understand his son, he genuinely tried to. It didn’t excuse how long it took for him to get Evan out of the abusive situation with his mom. But it offered a little hope that Evan would someday find the support that he deserved in and outside of his community.

You may notice at this point that, while this book is a gay romance, I haven’t mentioned that element yet. That’s because I didn’t really like the relationship between Evan and Henry. It felt sort of imbalanced, with Evan putting all of his self-worth and confidence into how Henry saw him. While I think that’s understandable, given how little acceptance Evan had felt for being gay, I didn’t like that it wasn’t addressed. And at times, Henry seemed to be aware of that one-sidedness and used it against Evan (especially when kissing and being intimate). Maybe I’m just overanalyzing it too much, but I think that even though it was trying to be a cute gay romance book, it ended up feeling a little forced and maybe unhealthy.

Quote: “Maybe I’m not so ugly after all. Maybe no one is really ugly, and maybe no one has the right to call someone that or tell them that they are.”

Recommended: While reading this book, I fell in love with the sweetness of Evan’s personality and his story. This queer romance is a pretty light read– I think I finished it in around three sittings – but it’s a brave portrayal of what it’s like to authentically love others and yourself despite the pressure to stay guarded.

YA Review: Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve

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TitleOut of Salem by Hal Schrieve

Rating: 3/5

Two-sentence summary: Genderqueer witch Z feels like a loner thanks to their new status as a zombie. After teaming up with unregistered werewolf Aysel, the two team up to combat the hostility against them in their town of Salem, Oregon.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues:  Out of Salem features a genderqueer protagonist named Z who deals with misgendering and dead-naming (which is kind of clever, considering that they’re a zombie). Z seems to use this term interchangeably with non-binary and use they/them pronouns. This book also includes a Muslim lesbian werewolf main character, and the interplay between these identities made the book a lot richer than some speculative fiction stories.

What I liked: I thought that the social commentary about LGBT discrimination via how these “monsters” are treated was a pretty unique concept. The queer representation was also very complex and well-written, especially the relationship between Z and Aysel. While there aren’t any major romances in this book, the friendship between this two is so authentic and uplifting for each other. Watching them learn to respect and genuinely care for each other through shared hardships is one of the best parts of Out of Salem. It makes the book feel so real for a story about zombies and werewolves.

The one complaint I had was that the writing felt a bit stiff, and that made it hard for me to engage with the story as much as I wanted to. It was an innovative idea, but it didn’t always translate over well into words (in my opinion). But that being said, this seems to be the author’s debut novel and even without that taken into consideration, it was still an enjoyable read.

Recommended: This was a pretty new concept for queer YA, especially within non-binary representation. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky, gay read. Perfect book to get your Halloween fix any time of the year!

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.

YA Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

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TitleThe Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: Prince Sebastian of Belgium has a secret that nobody besides his seamstress Frances knows: at night, he transforms into the Parisian fashion icon Lady Crystallia. Set in turn-of-the-century Europe, this unconventional love story explores what it takes to become who you are inside and stay true to your passion.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Prince and the Dressmaker features a young prince who describes himself as sometimes feeling like a boy and sometimes a girl. When he feels like a boy, he’s comfortable in his male clothes but other times, his discomfort leads him to dressing in makeup and beautiful dresses.

While it’s implied that Sebastian may be genderfluid or non-binary, he seems to use male pronouns–possibly because it takes place before trans and non-binary identity were discussed in European culture.

What I loved: First of all, the art style was just breathtaking. It kind of felt like a cross between a fashion designer’s notebook and a Disney movie. It’s just so vibrant and really captures the feeling of being young, falling in love and discovering who you are for the first time. Generally I’m not much of an aesthetics person but thought that the dresses Lady Crystallia wore were genuinely beautiful.

But the most beautiful thing about The Prince and the Dressmaker was the love story. In the back of the book, Jen Wang notes that she’d originally written Frances and Sebastian as in their twenties. But as she wrote, she felt that writing them as teenagers brought out feelings of self-discovery and first love a lot more strongly. That, I very much agree with. In general, too, the characters were very complex and well-written–I can’t think of one who was necessarily a “villain” or didn’t change or grow over time.

The way that this book explored femininity in men and possibly gender fluidity was also pretty innovative. I think that when people think of AMAB trans or non-binary people, they usually assume that they’re straight (attracted to men) and pretty fixed in their identity. While there are many trans people who fit that description and their stories deserve to be told, I also think it’s important to portray diversity in the trans community like this graphic novel did.

Recommended: Honestly, I can’t think of someone I wouldn’t recommend this to. For LGBT readers, I think this story would feel familiar and uplifting and for non-LGBT ones, I think it could be enlightening. Overall, it reminds me of The Danish Girl if it had been written with a happier ending and for younger audiences (and focused more on gender expression than necessarily gender identity).

YA Review: Check Please! By Ngozi Ukazu

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TitleCheck Please! Volume One by Ngozi Ukazu

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: Vlogger, figure skater, and expert baker Eric “Bitty” Bittle begins college at Samwell University to compete on their hockey team. This volume explores his freshman and sophomore year as he becomes comfortable with who he is on and off the ice. 

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: Bitty, the protagonist, is a gay college student who navigates coming out, making friends with his predominantly straight teammates, and (without spoiling anything) falling in love with another queer student. Although most of his friends and fellow hockey players are not queer, he doesn’t seem to face any discrimination or homophobia. It’s such a wholesome and optimistic take on queer identity, and I think stories as hopeful as this are just as important as LGBT YA books that explore tougher subjects.

What I loved: Literally everything about this. I just… loved this book so much and can’t wait until volume two comes out this fall. Like sometimes I feel like YA novels about college students should be branded as new adult books but I don’t even care with this one. It was so good that everyone needs to read it.

The relationships that develop between Bitty and his teammates is done so well. We follow the Samwell University hockey team throughout the course of two years and each member is so lovable and unique. And it’s adorable to see how Bitty transforms from an uncertain, nervous freshman into a sophomore who knows he belongs on the team and feels confident both during games and hanging out with his teammates. And while the story is on the whole optimistic, the deeper issues that some characters face (like implied alcoholism and depression) are portrayed tastefully.

And the art style fits the story so well! It’s vibrant and beautiful and everything that Bitty bakes looks so delicious, his hockey bros are so lucky. I feel like this was an ideal portrait of “bro culture” in the idea that straight and queer men can be friends without falling into close-minded stereotypes. Everything about this queer romance defies expectations but is done so in a way that makes the characters and story itself feel alive.

Recommended: Honestly, I would recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet, wholesome story. The only regret about reading this that I have is that I didn’t get to it sooner. If you want something cute and gay, you need Check, Please! in your life!

YA Review: The Music of What Happens

TitleThe Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: In 1980s Arizona, Max and Jordan bond over food trucks and family secrets. This gay YA romance follows the two over the course of their summer as they decide whether unconditional love is worth the vulnerability.

Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Music of What Happens features a queer romance between two cis men, one of whom is biracial. It also features discussion about femininity in gay culture as well as sexual abuse. If either of those might be trigging for you, you may want to read several different reviews before deciding whether this one’s for you. Because this novel takes place in the 1980s, the discrimination and internalized homophobia that Max and Jordan face as queer men is considerably high.

What I liked: One of the most interesting discussions in this book is “feminine” vs “masculine” gay men and how those perceived as feminine or “twink-y” can be alienated by straight as well as other gay men. Although I’ve read novels with feminine gay characters before, I haven’t seen that portrayed so openly in a YA book but it felt very needed. Konigsberg discusses in his end note how he as a gay man has struggled with this pressure, which might feel cathartic for queer readers and enlightening for straight ones.

As far as Max and Jordan go, this is one of the more authentic relationships I’ve read in a YA romance. Their relationship developed so naturally without feeling too contrived or simplistic, and their characters really complemented each other. They connect on such a deep and vulnerable level that, even though the novel explores some tough topics, it felt like an ultimately beautiful story.

Also, though I don’t feel as qualified to comment on this, I thought that the sexual abuse subplot was handled respectfully. It was also powerful in that it involved discussions of homophobia and racism in rape culture that transcended the 1980s setting and still feel relevant today.

And on a side note, look how beautiful the cover art is! What is with all of these amazing YA covers lately? Like whoever’s hiring artists in the publishing industry lately, they’re doing something so right.

Recommended: I’ve noticed other reviewers compare this one to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe and, while I see the similarities, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Both take place in the 1980s and discuss Hispanic culture, but I think their stories are different enough that both tell a valuable story. If you’re a fan of Aristotle and Dante, you might enjoy this one and if not, read both! They’re each beautifully written!

Note: I was given an ARC in exchange for a fair review.