LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Curious Wine” by Katherine V. Forrest

I don’t recall how I came upon Curious Wine, but I seem to have had it for quite some time. Perhaps a find from the endless hours spent perusing lists of LGBT-themed books? I did take a leap of faith a few years back, so that must have been it.

Reading Curious Wine made me think of both Desert Hearts and Claire of the Moon. I felt as if I was watching the narrative happening through a grain filter, which was both endearing and helpful, as it offered the distance, both in terms of time and space, required not to take affront about the way certain matters were addressed.

I quite enjoyed the setting, the escape that became the way into something instead of an ephemeral way out of something else. There’s a particular mood, a cloud of mist, surrounding Curious Wine. It has its ups and downs, its clichés and its breathtaking lines… Oh, and the flirting through poetry.

I believe I would go as far as calling Curious Wine relevant, even if I still feel conflicted about the depiction of women at certain times throughout the narrative.

All in all, I would say it was a rather different read, a bit experimental, a bit… secretive. I think I will go and investigate what the author has been up to lately.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“grl2grl” by Julie Anne Peters

I honestly don’t know why I keep doing this to myself. The word short is on the cover for everyone to see and yet I find myself expecting these tales to be endless. I guess that says something about Julie Anne Peters and her character writing skills. One has to open oneself to them, but she makes them extremely easy to bond with. You are already way too invested and you have yet to start reading the second sentence. Sigh. Anyway…

I must confess that until I read Boi I thought there was a recurring theme to these stories: hope. The open endings seemed full of possibility for their characters. I found them refreshing. Then I reached Boi and I felt my heart break. All of these stories have their emotional rawness in common, but Boi was… different. The main character seems to give up. It’s understandable once you read it, but still… I was rooting for this character (and I still am).

I think grl2grl is a collection of short stories about young people who are trying to find their place in the world, who are trying to accept said place, even when others don’t make it necessarily easy. That’s also explored in these stories: choice. Even though other people can indeed make your life more complicated, at the end of the day you are the one classifying these moments as positive, negative or indifferent, you are the one giving them meaning. It’s not easy to exercise this power when people’s harsh and mean words seem so loud inside our heads, but we have to believe that we have indeed the power to choose whether to listen to them or not, and whether to give them importance or not.

Someone once said that we should be kind for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle. With grl2grl, Julie Anne Peters opens windows to some of these usually silent battles. I believe these stories are important and should be read, these battles should be recognized and respected. It’s not just a phase, it’s life.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Empress of the World” by Sara Ryan

“‘It’s like there are all these people who want to be told what to do, and then there are people who want to tell them what to do…’ I say, and Battle continues, ‘- and then there are people like us. We want to know why they’re telling us to do it!'”

I fell in love with this quote. There is so much truth to it!

I was always a big fan of questioning every single thing, but I do believe this condition has gotten a lot worse ever since I finished writing my thesis on gender. It is such a big mystery though, isn’t it? How the world has come to be what it is. We could say that archeology and history, for example, try to shed some light on this matter, but at the end of the day they are interpretations. Reality is but an illusion. Our senses are lenses, mediators. This reality we acknowledge is based on our language, something that isn’t natural. Words aren’t natural, they don’t have an inner meaning. Interesting, isn’t it? Anyway…

Everything happened rather quickly, didn’t it? I think so, but still, it did have quite a lovely rhythm to it. I also quite enjoyed following the narrator’s voice, Nicola’s, as she went on this self-discovery journey.

An important detail that I quite enjoyed was Nic’s almost constant debate with Katrina about/over labels. Why do we have to be lesbians? Or straight? Or bisexual? Why can’t we just be ourselves? You know, human beings in love with other human beings. I understand that the whole labeling thing might make ‘working the field’ easier, but does it really? Some say that chaos is the opposite of labels, but who defined chaos in the first place? That is the question. We seem to fear chaos but we were the ones to define the concept, both of chaos and fear. Right…

All in all, I quite enjoyed this book.

P.S. Not only is Sara Ryan a good writer, she also has amazing taste in music 😉

P.P.S. I do believe the reason I didn’t mention Sara’s writing above was because it felt so natural… it was truly as if Nicola was talking. I think that is quite an amazing skill to have.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“After Mrs Hamilton” by Clare Ashton

I am honestly at a loss for words. However, there’s so much to say about After Mrs Hamilton… I just don’t know where to start. I am in love with this book. I could honestly start re-reading it right now. Actually, I feel like I must. I was so eager to reach to end, to connect the dots, to understand what was going on… I feel like I might have rushed the reading. I now need to slow down and give Clare Ashton’s words their time because they deserve it.

Speaking of Clare’s words, her writing is exceptionally visual. As I wrote about That Certain Something, it truly feels like you are watching a film. Better yet, it feels like you are living the film. And this one in particular is absolutely stunning. Even though the writing is rather simplistic in terms of flair, I can feel the texture of Fran’s coat under my fingertips, I can smell her perfume, I can taste Clo’s mini treacle toffee puddings with sauce inside… Sigh. Incredible indeed. It’s as if her words made a pact to dress plainly alone and stand glamorously together. It’s… enchanting. For some reason it makes me think of melted chocolate.

You will perhaps not find me quoting from this book, but you will certainly find me talking about these characters. They are so strong in my mind. The portraits Clare Ashton painted of them don’t falter, not even for a moment. They truly exist and are incredibly human. And the way they all come together… Sigh. It’s quite an experience.

I read something interesting about the intricate events that take place in this book. Someone called them unbelievable coincidences. I believe it was meant as negative feedback, but to be honest it sounded to me more like a standing ovation. For isn’t unbelievable coincidence a term we use when something not expected happens and/or surprisingly works out? To be quite honest, I am in awe of how Clare Ashton made it all work out in the end. I think I would have gotten lost writing this novel.

After Mrs Hamilton has everything. There’s mystery, desire, there’s grief, there’s love… and they come together beautifully, leaving an imprint that I believe will last for quite some time.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Ask the Passengers” by A.S. King

“How many things do I have to invent in my head to survive this?”

The amount of questions asked by Ask the Passengers should perhaps be awkward and uncomfortable, for they do make you think and deconstruct your so called reality. Thing is, instead, you just kind of feel like it’s the perfect place to discuss such matters, to question everything, even yourself. I believe this is quite an achievement. Instead of an ‘easy escape’, as so many like to call the reading experience, this book suggests looking inside, facing yourself and the thoughts you might have been avoiding. Throughout this whole process, it just holds your hand. It doesn’t stop you from hitting the ground, but it’s there for you. Isn’t that what a good friend does?

“Some of you have it ingrained in you. You weren’t born with it. No baby has hate for anything. We were all babies once, right? This little guy doesn’t care what country you were born in or what religion you might practice or how much you weigh or who you might love.”

As you might have guessed from the introduction above, I absolutely loved this book. I really enjoyed how Astrid led us across this novel, how she introduced us to her life and the ones that take part in it, directly or indirectly. I feel like I should mention the passengers here because that’s one of my absolute favourite details about this book. A.S. King went that far and I hope she’s feeling hugged right now because I am mentally hugging her. It was such a beautiful and sweet detail. It’s amazing how nothing feels out of place. Everything belongs, like everyone should. And the labels! They are so cleverly discussed and deconstructed. I am in love. And Frank Socrates? I love him too.

“How can we say nobody’s perfect if there is no perfect to compare to? Perfection implies that there really is a right and wrong way to be. And what type of perfection is the best type? Moral perfection? Aesthetic? Physiological? Mental?”

Seriously, though. Ask the Passengers is quite something. And don’t kid yourself, this is not a novel just for teens. I don’t believe there is such thing, really. If you are ready for questions and not a lot of answers, Ask the Passengers.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“The Blue Place” by Nicola Griffith

“Wood is an endlessly adaptive material. You can plane, chisel, saw, carve, sand, and bend it, and when the pieces are the shape you want you can use dovetail joints, tenpenny nails, pegs or glue; you can use lamination or inlay or marquetry; and then you can beautify it with French polish or plain linseed oil or subtle stains. And when you go to dinner at a friend’s house, the candlelight will pick out the contours of grain and line, and when you take your seat you will be reminded that what you are sitting on grew from the dirt, stretched towards the sun, weathered rain and wind, and sheltered animals; it was not extruded by faceless machines lined on a cold cement floor and fed from metal vats. Wood reminds us where we come from.”

Like Aud Torvingen herself, Nicola Griffith comes across as having the uttermost respect for the raw material that inspires her work. She seems to deconstruct and reconstruct that raw material with the same carefulness that Aud transforms the wood she works with. Griffith’s descriptions are impressive and meticulous, creating an atmosphere that is beyond intense, beyond palpable. I would compare the experience of reading this book to the one of going into deep hypnosis. Griffith too lulls you into one very specific moment and then leads you through it from there. The pace changes with the emotional charge and you can feel your heart following its rhythm. It’s like you were cut from a static background and are being blended into a moving one as if you belonged there in the first place, perhaps as a watermark. It’s quite an experience.

That said, I think we need to talk about Aud. What a character! She’s the kind of person you would declare as being cold at first sight. Not because she is, but because that’s what she wants you to see. She’s as precise as a machine, she changes masks and skins as effortlessly as the most brilliant actor… There’s a strength to her, a sense of awareness… it’s frightening how real she feels, how much sense her existence makes. Of course one could say that she is a privileged one, having the money, the looks and the connections that she does, but that was where her life took her. If given the opportunity, she might have chosen a different path. Again, it’s quite an experience to travel through such a mind. Such math, such logic…

I would say that this is a book much more about the main character, Aud Torvingen, than about the main event, the crime that occurred. An introduction of some kind. It feels like the beginning of something, the reason behind something else… That’s why I am definitely going to read the second book of the series. I am intrigued by both the storyline and the writing style.

P.S. It’s refreshing to read a story in which the character’s most interesting detail, her uniqueness, is not her sexuality.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Unspeakable” by Abbie Rushton

I would say that Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton is first and foremost a novel about the power of belief.

Megan, the main character, doesn’t believe that everything is going to be just fine; she’s not out testing the limits of life’s goodwill for the sake of an adrenalin rush. Instead, Megan believes she did something that makes the word wrong seem like candy, she believes it down to her core and she holds onto it as if it were the only truth she will ever know. The fear obstructs her throat and she’s not able to talk about it, she’s not able to talk, at all. Then she finds love… and her voice. What words will first come out, though? What consequences will they have?

“I try touching her arm, but she flinches like there’s poison dripping from my fingers.”

It was really interesting to navigate Megan’s mind. I believe Abbie Rushton did a wonderful job showing just how self-hatred can affect a self-portrait, how it can change every color, every tone, every stroke, blending the different layers into a dark blur that becomes the face of evil.

“[The moon] sits low, almost stroking the treetops, its shadowy craters clearly visible.”

Also, the twist at the end was something that I was not quite expecting and rather enjoyed. I mean, I was expecting a twist, just not one so… twisty. It made me wonder about the other characters, though, made me wonder how much richer the novel would have been if it had been open to other minds. Not just about the end, actually, but also about the relationship between Megan and Jasmine. It felt a bit… one-sided.

It somehow reminded me of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Here, though, something seems to be missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

All in all, I found it to be an interesting experience filled with moments of beyond charming writing.

“I loved the way her skin folded around her wedding ring, as if it had become a natural part of her body.”


LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Tipping the Velvet” by Sarah Waters

I am going to start by saying that I am still not over the fact that this is Sarah Waters’ debut novel. Tipping the Velvet is a human being’s debut novel. I am sorry, but every single time I consider this fact I just feel like laughing because Tipping the Velvet, this majestically well written novel, is someone’s debut. I mean, how is it even possible? I really do not know what to say.

Sarah Waters is, in my humble opinion, an absolute genius. Her writing style is the perfect lead in the tango that is reading. It is an addiction, urging you on and, at the same time, allowing you to take your time by giving you space to taste every single word. What a breathtaking puzzle! And so gloriously built.

The writing could be it, could be all. It is not, though. Not only is Sarah Waters an amazing writer, she is also a brilliant storyteller. Her characters, their voices, the stories and histories, the places, the smells, the memories… it is all so vivid, so real. It feels almost as if Nan is sitting in front of you, telling you this story. I love how she seems to expect no judgment, how she does not take the time to wonder whom she might have shocked by being her selves. Unless it is someone she cares about.

I need to re-read this book. I don’t think I am ready to say anything else before that.

Basically? WOW.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Define ‘Normal'” by Julie Anne Peters

By looking at this book’s cover, would you ever expect it to discuss mental health, stereotypes and self-acceptance? Oh yes, expectations are also something this book takes into consideration.

Extremely clever books disguised as light young-adult fiction. This is only the second novel I read by Julie Anne Peters, but this seems to be her thing. It’s like a magical power, writing about heavy topics as if they were made of cotton. You can feel its texture, its slight resistance as you try to pull the pieces apart, to deconstruct it. Still, no matter what you do to it, it remains soft to the touch.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

This story is about two young girls from two completely different backgrounds that are brought together by their school’s counselor with the purpose of helping one another. How does said counselor get them to work together? He tells them both, separately, that the other needs help, that this is the other’s last chance. Little do they know that by helping each other they are helping themselves.

Honestly, there’s not much of a plot. There are no breathtaking twists, no twisted revelations. It is what it is, and it’s great. Thought-provoking, this is a book that can be everything or/and nothing, depending on who’s reading it.

Give it a chance. Give yourself a chance.

Being different is one of the things we all have in common.

LGBTQA+ · Reviews

“Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking” by Aoibheann Sweeney

There’s something very special about Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney. I wish I could be more specific, but I honestly don’t think I can. There’s a feeling to it… a wholeness

I would say that opening this book is like closing your eyes and finding the universe staring at you. Constellations of stars, galaxies and a silence wise beyond words, beyond the word it inhabits.

“It is astonishing, in the end, how difficult it is to know the things you know. What I mean is that all I had discovered was everything I knew all along.”

Larger than life, I would call it. It was an experience that reminded me of why I keep falling in love with books and reading.

Don’t expect anything breathtaking, but do give it a chance to take your breath away, to take you away.