Review: Abra Pressler – Love and Other Scores

Love and Other Scores
Abra Pressler

Noah’s just drifting from place to place in Melbourne – the best part about his life is his older adult housemate and the drag queen who drops in to visit him at his job. Gabriel is driven from country to country in pursuit of a Grand Slam tennis title – barely thinking about anything other than his sport. A chance meeting at a bar starts some heat between them – but what secrets are each of them hiding?

The blurb promised me twists and turns, but it really was exactly what I expected it to be (including Noah’s delay at various crucial points). I think it still counts as a ‘meet-cute’, and apart from the sex scenes (pretty tastefully written, nothing too racy) it doesn’t have that much new to offer. I did read it pretty quickly, just to see if it would turn out as expected. It did.

This book is good in that it presents monogamy, but not in a boring or ‘they settled for it’ way. I’ve read a LOT of books with sex happening all over the place, and it’s refreshing to have two men (rather than teenagers) interacting and not having it all about sex or teenage hormones. I also liked the individual charm that was included in the scenery, and I could see them sneaking (both huge men!!) through the backstreets of Melbourne.

I HATE TENNIS. I find it super boring, I don’t understand the rules and I can’t think anything too positive about a sport that regularly leaves people vomiting on the court from heat exhaustion. Oh, and don’t mention the huge amount of traffic the Australian Open causes in Melbourne. I associate tennis with hot summer nights and a lack of sleep.

If you are looking for an Australian novel with a gay sporting protagonist, this is it! It gave me echoes of Anything But Fine and Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell, but for an adult audience rather than a teenager one. I’m not excited by tennis, but this book was still a good solid read.

Pan Macmillan | 28 November 2023 | AU$26.99 | paperback

Review: Patrick Ness & Tea Bendix – Different for Boys

Different for Boys
Patrick Ness & Tea Bendix

“Anthony “Ant” Stevenson isn’t sure when he stopped being a virgin. Or even if he has. The rules aren’t always very clear when it comes to boys who like boys. In fact, relationships of all kinds feel complicated, even with Ant’s oldest friends. There’s Charlie, who’s both virulently homophobic and in a secret physical relationship with Ant. Then there’s drama kid Jack, who may be gay and has become the target of Charlie’s rage. And, of course, there’s big, beautiful Freddie, who wants Ant to ditch soccer, Charlie’s sport, and try out for the rugby team instead.”

Built on the idea that being a virgin is about having had sex between a boy and a girl, this short story attempts to prove that it’s different for boys who have sex with boys. Unforunately, that’s not what I took away from it. All I saw was a boy refusing to admit he was gay, one poor kid who is clearly gay, one (potential) Ally and one homophobic but horny boy.

Storyline? Boy possibly has sex, but it doesn’t count as sex if it’s ‘just physical’. Kissing could be sex. This uses outdated language and outdated ideas. At least in Australia, I’d think the topic of being a virgin is uninteresting at this point. As a Queer person, I can’t say that losing my virginity was something even worth talking about – I certainly didn’t think about it! Is Ness trying to comment on the statement ‘boys will be boys’?

I don’t get it. This is like a picturebook for teenagers. All the interesting language (read: foul swearing) has been blackboxed out, and it took me maybe 10 minutes tops to read it. Would I want to be caught in public reading it? Probably not. Can I think of someone to gift it to? No. I finished reading it, but only because it was so short. 1 star from me.

Walker Books Australia | 1 March 2023 | AU$24.99 | hardback

Quick Reviews of Fiction eBooks #1

Big Boned
Jo Watson

Lori has been the fat girl, with an odd brother, for a long while. But she used to fit in with her artistic talents – then her mom went and uprooted their lives to find the best place for her brother. Can Lori swim? I liked this novel. Go fat girls who end up being ok with being fat. The evolution from fat girl to fat girl with a better attitude towards herself was nice! I love the claimback by Lori of being fat and being healthy not being mutually exclusive. The novel reminded me to some extent of The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge. The ending was pretty much as I expected but it was cute anyway.

Please Don’t Hug Me
Kay Kerr

I received this as an ARC eBook copy a long time ago but never got into it. I read the first chaper or so, and then got distracted by other physical books. In transperancy though, I did finally read it as an ebook from my local library! I didn’t find it particularly riviting again the second time either. I struggled with Erin just having a single goal of Schoolies and her writing letters to her brother who could be in jail? We don’t even know? Until we do know, and then, oh, I hate Erin’s psychologist. I much preferred Social Queue and the non-fiction Love and Autism (I read them in very quick succession).

Social Queue
Kay Kerr

Zoe’s made it out of highschool with only a few quirks in behaviour that are the direct result of bullying – most is ‘just’ her autism. Or actually, she’s still trying to get used to being a teenager with autism, but she knows that she wants to be a writer. I enjoyed this novel much more than Please Don’t Hug Me because autism is less of a disability and more of a character trait that makes Zoe really good at some things, and not others (just like non-disabled people). Zoe reasonated with me as a character who wasn’t sure of her attraction to other people, but was willing to try going on five new dates! Even if the results weren’t what we/she expected. I think this is a great novel to add to any teenager’s shelf who struggles with being their authentic self, and learning how to love as a neurodivergent human.

Review: Alexandra Rowland – A Taste of Gold and Iron

A Taste of Gold and Iron
Alexandra Rowland

Arasht is known for its pure currency that is determined by touchtasters. A plot with counterfeit coins could threaten the whole realm, and Kadou needs to solve it. Kadou is a bit of a mess, so it’s a good thing that he has a beefy bodyguard to keep him out of trouble. Will there ever be something more between them?

It took me ages to read this novel because 1) I thought it was the first in a series and I didn’t want to commit and 2) I didn’t notice that it had gay protagonists. Unfortunately the plot was lacking. I’m not sure why I kept reading it – maybe I got too attached to poor Kadou and his panic attacks? Then again, I hated Kadou’s ex- who was just a comical steriotype of a gay man calling everyone ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’. Evemer tries to be the hard counterpoint to the ex- but never really becomes a 3D character.

The plot of this novel was quite weak, and it was very easy to see where the book would end up. It was obvious who the villians were from the start, and it was clear that it didn’t actually matter if they were caught! I mean, there was a moment where they couldn’t trust anyone, but it was all good! They just pulled in a truth-seeker.

What I loved most was the use of another non-binary gender in a way that the author just created a new term. The author just rolled with it and didn’t give the reader a chance to be transphobic. The role of male partners was also curtailed by body-father (basically sperm donor) and women only giving another person law/love control over the offspring if they wanted to. Seliha is a bit dopey, but gets there in the end I guess.

This reminded me a bit of Ash Princess in the way that it had a (to me) traditional feel of bodyguard falling for a princess/prince/whoever. It was inevitable that they would fall in love, because why else would the book exist? I’m giving this a generous 4 stars since I did keep reading it, but the plot was just pathetic.

Pan Macmillan | 30 August 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Amanda Woody – They Hate Each Other

They Hate Each Other
Amanda Woody

Jonah and Dylan have nothing in common. Nothing. Never. It’s why their friends are so determined that they will end up together – enemies to lovers. When they end up accidentally sleeping in the same bed, they decide to fake it until their friends get over it. But will Jonah and Dylan discover that they have more in common than they thought?

Is this too neat? I mean, it’s gonna be a teenage romance, so OF COURSE they will end up together. The author digs a little more deeply though into each of the boy’s home lives, and deals with some difficult topics including sexual harrassment, abuse, trauma and body image. It could be triggering for some people – don’t believe what TikTok tells you about the book, go and actually read the publisher’s website to be sure that it’s a book for you.

Reminicent of Lose You to Find Me, this book is a worthy additional to #ownvoices Queer novels. I’d put this near the top of my recommendation pile for someone with a young gay in their lives. It’s not always a comforting or comfortable read, but it is pretty good fun in parts. I couldn’t decide if I was on Team Dylan or Team Jonah – I love a great baked good, so I guess Dylan wins. Both are well-rounded characters that have been given unique quirks and flaws rather than being one-dimensional standins for “best practice gay boys”.

I ate this book up in a single afternoon, so it must have been good! On a couple of occasions I almost found myself crying for the characters. 5 stars from me, with a thought that after the storyline fades nicely in my head, I will want to reread it. Only time will tell.

Hachette | 9 May 2023 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Karelia Stetz-Waters – Satisfaction Guaranteed

Satisfaction Guaranteed
Karelia Stetz-Waters

Cade never expected to inherit anything from her family – it’s not like she’s ever fitted in and she’s always privately thought that she must have been adopted. Serena on the other hand hasn’t been able to plan for the future after her last falling-out left her with nothing. Thrown together to try to save a sinking sex toy store, will Cade and Serena be able to save the shop, their sex and their lives?

Cade and Serena are great examples of characters that some people will recognise themselves in (I graviated towards Cade) and others may think are just too stereotypical. The good news is that you don’t have to like them both to enjoy the novel! You also don’t need to like sex toys (it’s perfectly ok if you don’t like or need sex) or art to appreciate the novel.

Karelia and her publisher kindly provided me with a eBook copy – which I promptly failed to review (darn, I hate eBooks). I then waited patiently until my physical copy arrived in the mail, and then began reading it aloud to the other two lesbians in my household. Unfortunately, I was really REALLY invested in the story again, and so I wanted to read ahead of them. So… I finished it without them. My copy is actually looking a little beaten up, which I guess shows how much I love it.

I then wrote a review… and WordPress ate it! Grah! I’m back again now considering my third re-read because I loved it so much. I thought it was much better than the previous novel in this ‘series’ which was Worth the Wait. I’m now waiting impatiently for the next book, Behind the Scenes. If you’re a person who identifies as queer, know someone who identifies as queer (which is surely just about everyone?) – this author is for you.

I passionately recommend all of Karelia’s novels to the Queers in your life. Karelia writes a really enjoyable romance style where the sex is a bonus rather than expected. I find that most of her characters come alive for me, and even though I know what the ending will be, I still feel certain that I might be tricked and there won’t be a happily ever after.

Review: Non Pratt – Every Little Piece of my Heart

Every Little Piece of my Heart
Non Pratt

Sophie has been abandoned by her bestie, Freya. Sophie’s trying to deal with her chronic illness, having no friends at school and just generally feeling abandoned. When she receives a parcel with her name on it, she can’t wait to open it. But the parcel isn’t even for her, she needs to pass it on to someone she barely knows…

It’s nice to have a character with a chronic illness that makes it difficult for her to be a main character! It’s very unfair and biased that many heroes are strong or even just plain healthy when the reality is that many people live with unseen conditions. Spoons! So in a way that almost made this book redeemable, but not quite.

This book also suffered from multiple perspectives. I say suffered because I didn’t feel like it was done particularly well. Despite flipping through the four view points, each doesn’t add anything particularly new in my opinion. Ok ok, we see four different people but I don’t think that there’s enough depth that each seemed unique. Maybe it passes for teen fiction, but not YA fiction.

Average. So, so average. And the ending was terrible – was it left open for a sequel where there’s a big happy reunion? I mean, I finished it, but only because I was hopeful that the end would answer some big questions I had. It didn’t. If you love books with open endings, you’ll love this one. I’m giving it 3 stars, which is extremely generous of me.

Review: Jenna Miller – Out of Character

Out of Character
Jenna Miller

Cass is a fat lesbian who knows who she is and who she likes. When her mom up and leaves (for an internet guy no less) she is left a little lost and dressless (literally and figuratively). Cass has her online roleplay friends to fall back on, but she also still needs to exist in the real world. She’s finally dating her crush, but is it actually the happily ever after she was looking for?

Aw, how cute! I liked this novel because the main character was fat, and didn’t care, and was a lesbian, and didn’t care. She even had the freedom to do that! But she definitely fell into the category that she still wanted to hide some of her identity. The author didn’t harp on about her being queer or anything, which was quite refreshing. I did however feel frustrated with how stupid Cass was sometimes. I’m really not sure how you can get from being a B student to a D in the space of a term without twigging that there’s something wrong…

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I participated in some role-play forums. It sounds like it has moved on so far from that now though! Discord is the way of the future. I still wasn’t 100% sure how the logistics of the server worked or how many people were actually involved. The most similar book I can think of at the moment is Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl – go on, go and read both!

It’s truly delightful how many queer YA and teenage novels there are at the moment. Previously I might have kept reading a poor quality queer novel because I had nothing else inthe genre to read. Now I can afford to be choosy! This novel isn’t groundbreaking, but it is still comforting fiction.

Review: Tess Sharpe – Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)

Six Times We Almost Kissed (And One Time We Did)
Tess Sharpe

Tate and Penny’s moms are best friends. When Penny is in an accident, Tate’s mom looks after Penny’s mom. When Tate’s mom is sick, Penny’s mom looks after her. But who looks after Penny? Tate does, but what is the feeling between them? (it’s love, of course!)

Is the title long enough? The timeline in this and the in-brackets asides made this novel not really work for me. I had trouble keeping track of whose perspective I was reading, and so I didn’t really follow who didn’t like who or not? This, combined with essentially flashbacks, made it very tricky for me to follow. Ultimately it didn’t really matter though, because it’s pretty obvious how this novel is going to end. It wouldn’t be YA if it didn’t have a happy ending!

I knocked this easy novel over in a couple of hours. I was feeling uninspired to read and I wanted something simple. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this novel, but there is nothing outstanding either. It briefly covers dealing with trauma (or rather, not dealing with it) and the implications of a long-term illness. However, it lacks details and backstory that would have helped me connect better to the characters. I sympathised with both girls, but I was never really sure why the kiss hadn’t happened the first six times?

If it’s on your library shelf, sure, read it. But I wouldn’t rush out to buy it. You know what the ending will be from the blurb, and there wasn’t enough depth for me to want to reread this. I think it had potential, but failed at producing vibrantly different characters. I am going to seek out another novel from this author because I think something from a single perspective might be perfect. 3 stars from me.

Hachette | 14 February 2023 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Kacen Callender – Felix Ever After

Felix Ever After
Kacen Callender

Felix has the whole summer ahead of him to develop his application for Art school. He’s got his best friend Ezra and a handful of people that he hates to hang out with. He’s completely open about his life post gender-confirming surgery, but he still hasn’t settled into the ‘right’ label. When his pre-transition Instagram photos go public Felix is consumed with finding and blaming the person responsible.

I didn’t feel gripped by this novel. I picked up and finished a couple of non-fiction books concurrently with this one because I wasn’t drawn to Felix. The way that Felix didn’t seem to see love when he was looking for it felt true to me. I felt a little blindsided though by the ending, because I didn’t see how Felix could be so oblivious. I don’t see why a poly relationship couldn’t have worked as well.

It starts out provocatively with a gallery of Felix’s dead name and fake gender in the local art school, and follows with Felix’s confusion and pain at his evolving friendships. However, there were a number of things that weren’t likely or logical.

I was a bit grumpy over the entitled nature of Felix’s summer school. If your parent has had to sacrifice their home for you to go to a selective school, that’s probably a bad thing! And also, is everyone there Queer? Everyone is talented and fantastic! I can’t think of a single example of this in Australia. Even at talent-entry art schools (I’m thinking of the VCA) aren’t just composed of Queers. Not to mention that the idea of a scholarship to a top-tier university would be subsidised to some extent in Australia by our nominally public higher education system and integrated system of support.

I didn’t really get the connection to Felix’s mother. I felt like there could have been a deeper level of understanding here – even a sense of closure from something? He could have chased her down? What about his dad’s feelings? The poor guy seems to be struggling on trying to keep a meaningful relationship with his son and Felix is too wrapped up in his own problems to ‘get it’. Felix wants more out of everyone else and that seems unfair to me.

I cannot truly understand how it feels to be a trans individual, but I’d like to hope that by reading more and listening to more lived experiences I can be a compassionate and active advocate for Queers like me. This is particularly true in my current role where I assist science graduates with finding jobs – employment of trans and non-binary individuals is a thorny problem with no one right answer. 3 stars from me.