Review: Becky Albertalli – Leah on the Off Beat

Leah on the Off Beat
Becky Albertalli

Leah is ready to ride out her senior year of school and cruise into the college that she has a full scholarship to. But she expected to have all of her friends together – and when they start breaking up into smaller groups and losing relationships due to distance, Leah finds herself out of step with the beat.

I think I would have actually benefited from reading ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ first. I just ignored the fact that this novel was the sequel because it looked awesome, and I really enjoyed the Upside of Unrequited (actually receiving this one pushed me to review that one). I then felt like I never connected properly with the characters and that it seemed like they were just wandering through Leah’s life.

I honestly found myself expecting more actual drumming in this novel rather than dramas. The closest it gets to her drumming is the band showing up at the rehearsal house – and then the guy who lives there is having a breakdown!

I love the way Leah owns the way she looks. Although she occasionally mentions her weight, you don’t get the feeling that she’s self-conscious about it. She isn’t afraid of squashing anyone – all she is concerned about is that being bisexual will alienate her from her group.

If you are looking for a teenage fiction with a non-typical protagonist (not a straight, thin, middle-class white girl) then this could be a novel for you. I read it all in one sitting and I didn’t regret it! I’m giving it 4 stars as I found it above average but not spectacular.

Penguin Random House | 30th April 2018 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Angelo Surmelis – the dangerous art of blending in

the dangerous art of blending in
Angelo Surmelis

Evan has been trying to fit into society and his family his whole life. But with violence at home, and the knowledge that he kissed a boy in summer at Bible camp, Evan is probably never going to manage it. As his life goes from barely tolerable to horrific, Evan has to decide how he is going to shape his life from here.

I didn’t understand the obsession with money, except as a way of having more control over Evan. Evan’s father seemed like a sensible enough man, even if he was trapped by what the Greek community told him was normal.

Oh Gods. This novel ripped me apart. While reading it, I felt like my heart was going to break, and when I finished it, I felt like I needed a cuddle from my own partner to remind me that not all of the world is filled with idiots.

This novel powerfully tackles domestic abuse (from a female perpetrator, no less) and coming out as gay in a community that doesn’t understand it. It brought back memories of my own high school years, and the experiences I have heard from many other Queer people. I loved the authenticity of this novel, which came from it being written based on the experiences of the author. That a person had to go through that as a child, well, it brings me to tears.

How much actually happens in this novel? I spent a lot of the novel anticipating what Evan’s mother was going to do to him next, and not as much paying attention to the action. That anticipation and climax is what lets me give this novel 5 stars.

Penguin Random House | 12th February 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: E L Croucher – The Butterfly on Fire

The Butterfly on Fire
E L Croucher

A tragic, unchanging truth keeps three different lives twined to tell the same story. Eric realises he is different to everyone else, while Beam tried to balance everything in life. Finally, Queen Fabuki has had an innocent die at one of her shows – and she doesn’t know how to stop the mysterious intruder.

feel terrible about this novel. In fact, when I started writing a review for it (some months after I had started it), I started reviewing the wrong novel. I had read The Road to Transition one late night too, and somehow the two had merged into one. I had previously interviewed the author as well. 

I just couldn’t finish this novel. I actually started reading this novel when I couldn’t sleep one night and I sat with the fish tank light glowing on me. It added some nice atmosphere, and I did get a couple of chapters read. In the end though, it unfortunately served as a nice soporific to send me back to bed.

My problem with the novel was that I just never connected with the characters. Oftentimes it seemed like the writing was too clinical. In particular, I never felt for the Queen because she seemed kind of pathetic (sorry, but you asked for honesty). Additionally the changes in perspective also made me struggle to connect because I’d just get into one character’s viewpoint and then I’d be forced out of it. I think a good Editor could bring this work to life – the backbone is there, but the characters just need a little more help to jump out of the pages.

If you are desperate to read some more stories about transition, maybe this book could be for you. For me, because I couldn’t even bear finishing it, it’s getting 1 star. Maybe a second iteration would be ok, but I’m not willing to try again on this one.

Review: Adam Silvera – They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End
Adam Silvera

Mateo doesn’t leave his house for fear of death – the Death Call could come any time between 12am and 3am. But when the Call finally comes, he realises that there are worse things than death – like not actually living the life you have been given. Rufus on the other hand has been living the hard hand that life has given him and isn’t ready to die lying down.

I’m not really sure why there were so many perspectives included. I didn’t really need to know anything about the actual people who make the Death Calls. It’s just a job like any other. And actually, so maybe the book lied a little bit. And for a while, I was really irritated by why the book kept jumping perspectives for other people who have gotten the Death Call. But now I realise that the author was setting up for the ending, where we have faith that the author will do what he says he will.

I’d actually like having a death call. It’d be awesome to know that you have a last day! And I certainly wouldn’t be able to live in regret beforehand. The premise here is hard because both of the boys have so much potential ahead of them and it’s ‘unfair’ that they will die. But it’s not like the Call makes it happen!

Nit picking here, but there is a slight discrepancy in time left near the end – they only have 2 hours not 3! As a side note to make this a bit more of a paragraph, I don’t understand potentially going to jail for something that is already inevitably going to happen. Ah well. It’s not up to me, and Peck was a bit crazy really. That’s the power of not getting a Death Call, but I’d say that they could lead to a lot of quadriplegics from things you could die from, but know you won’t.

I’ve tagged this novel as queer fiction, but it is very gentle queer fiction. The main thing is that Adam Silvera has a strong history of writing gay fiction, particularly in his other novel ‘History is All You Left Me’. I actually have that novel sitting on my shelf, but didn’t get past the first page, which I realise now may just have been due to an inability to concentrate, not a reflection of the quality of the novel.

I quivered between giving this novel 3 or 4 stars. I hated the ending, because it lied to me! But then, the more I wrote this review and reflected on the novel, the more I realised it was actually pretty good! So 4 stars.

Simon & Schuster | September 2017 | AU $17.99 | paperback

Review Update: 28-01-22 – I reread this one after it’s tempting bright orange colour brought me in again. This time around, I actually enjoyed the ending. I was satisfied with being dissatisfied! I guess this updates to a 5 star review, and I’m ok with that. It’s a cute story.

Review: JC Burke – The Things We Promise

The Things We Promise
JC Burke

During the height of the HIV and AIDs epidemic in the 1990s, Gemma is blissfully ignorant of any health issues that could be going on in her home town of Sydney. Her worst concerns are who she will hang out with school and what kind of hairdo she is going to have her brother Billy do for her formal.

I’ll be the first to say that a lot of the language in the novel is offensive. It’s particularly offensive to gay people, eg. “limp-wristed, pillow-biting, doughnut punching bum bandit”. Which, given the subject matter, I’m not surprised that it’s targeted so negatively. But I also appreciated the hard feelings and accuracy of that. It felt ‘real’.

The problem some reviewers had with this novel was that it was horrifically offensive to a variety of people. While I agree that it is, I also accept that this novel is an accurate snapshot of the early 90s, where this sort of language, beliefs and behaviour was common. If you are easily offended and can’t understand the setting of the novel (such as a slavery novel with ‘nigga’ in it), this novel is not for you.

It’s an interesting way of approaching the early years when very few people knew about HIV and how it was transmitted. It paints a picture of how miserable things really were from a personal perspective, not just a sheer number of people who were infected as a sterile statistic.

I’m giving this three stars. It took me a while to warm up to it, and despite eventually enjoying it, it seemed a little forced at times.

Allen & Unwin | 22nd February 2017 | AU $19.99 | Paperback

Review: Laurie Frankel – This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel

Penn couldn’t keep away from Rosie when she was interning as a doctor and he was writing his ‘damn novel’. When they inevitably get married, they know that they want a couple of kids – and end up with 4 boys before having a final run of getting a biological girl. Instead, they get Claude, who for his fifth birthday wants to ‘be a girl’. This novel is an exploration of what happens in a family, and a community, when a secret this big is kept for years.

This is from the perspective of the adults for the most part, but the omniscient narrator reveals all that you could hope for. It’s not ‘just another transgender novel’. Some of the lines from it are so memorable and touching that you will be tempted to cry. It’s ok – I cried, I’m not going to hold it against you.

I’ve left this too long before writing a review to give you a proper run-down of what I loved about it. Just reading other people’s reviews on GoodReads of this novel makes me want to read it again.

The author is a parent of a transgender child, but this is not her story. This is a fictionalised account which I think could reflect many families’ experiences when it comes to living with (and to an extent, explaining) a child with gender dysphoria. All I can say is that more novels like this help de-mystify gender dysphoria to the general population and perhaps will help reduce the horrifically high rate of transgender suicides.

I’ll give this the full five stars – I couldn’t stop reading it and talking about it to my partner. This is for adults, and fits a niche that George and Luna (both decent teenage/YA novels in their own rights) just don’t fill. I loved it, not because it was a niche novel, but because it was bloody well written.

Hachette Australia | 1st February 2017 | AU $32.99 | Paperback

Review: Jessica Watson & Dougal Macpherson – Introducing Teddy

Introducing Teddy
Jessica Watson & Dougal Macpherson

Teddy is keeping a big secret from Thomas, and Teddy is worried that Thomas won’t understand and might not like him anymore. Will Teddy be accepted as Tilly?

27158837There’s not very much I can write about a children’s novel so small. Oh, but how will I convey how impressed I am with this?

In a world where transgender individuals are gradually getting the rights they deserve, this novel is how to introduce children from a young age that some people aren’t born into the right bodies for their brains.

It’s sensitive, simple and something that younger readers (maybe grade 1 or 2) will be able to read by themselves (with adult guidance for the contents). The language is straight-forward, and the message of acceptance is clear.

With any children’s book, I’m not sure whether to recommend you buy it, or borrow it from the library as it may only get one read, depending on the age of your child. I received a paperback and a hard copy version, and I donated the hard copy one to my library. Well worth having in a collection of children’s books.


Bloomsbury | June 2016 | $24.99 | Hardback

Review: Charlotte Reagan – Just Juliet

Just Juliet
Charlotte Reagan

Lena’s dating a footballer and her best friend is a cheerleader – all she needs to do is keep on top of her work and make it through high school. What she doesn’t know about herself is that there’s going to be someone new in her life – Juliet, a damaged gorgeous lesbian.

30373401This is a more gritty version of Keeping You a Secret. These characters have serious home problems and health problems. You aren’t going to love all of them, and some of them are going to drive you up the wall. For me, some of the characters came off as cliched, and the character building wasn’t enough to flesh them out. This was a limitation of only having Lena’s admittedly biased perspective.

Lena spent a lot of time frustrating me inside her own head. Seriously girl, pull it together! You are how old? But at the same time it’s super cute and I know some readers are going to really identify with her. From the simple thoughts she has about kissing Juliet to more complicated ones about the nature of friendship, the reader is going to travel along with her.

It’s now been a while since I read the novel, and neglected writing my review. What I can tell you is that I gave this 3 stars right off of reading, even if I don’t remember precisely why. I’m not going to mock this book for ‘only’ getting three stars, it’s still a good novel with something to add to the coming-of-age lesbian genre. Others you are going to want to check out include Is Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel and Read Me Like a Book.


Review: Kathleen Jowitt – Speak Its Name

Speak Its Name
Kathleen Jowitt

Lydia is part of the Christian Fellowship, the strictest and least forgiving of the Christian societies on her college campus. While she enjoys leading others into the words of God, Lydia is often left feeling like she has missed something from her own readings of the scripture – how can she be feeling these things towards other people if the Bible says it is wrong? This is a novel of how Lydia finds herself, and in doing so, can help others too.

29850310I’m having a problem with some of these honeymoon romance periods novels at the moment. The sad truth is that many relationships won’t survive past the 2 year biological imperative. This novel is more important than that though, it’s about coming out in a place where you think everyone will be hostile.

For me, the ending didn’t entirely ring true. I’m not sure how dependant she was on her parents and other people, but noone seemed to have job. Oh wait, I’ve just realised this is set in the UK, so that means that the college rules are different. Anyway, aren’t jobs essential to university students?

I appreciated the reference to bisexuals not being really recognised in the queer community. Jowitt puts it nicely when she says that Colette could have fallen off one side of the fence or the other!

Surprisingly I’m going to be releasing this 4 star novel into the wild. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I think it offers a unique entry into being queer in a Christian community, and I think it can help many people in their journey towards being comfortable with themselves.


Review: Karelia Stetz-Waters – For Good

For Good
Karelia Stetz-Waters

Marydale and Kristen have very little in common. One is a convicted murderer, the other a straight up defense attorney. One is a committed lesbian, the other has only dated men of various standards. When their lives collide in a tiny country town ruled by homophobes, it seems like love will never succeed.

for-good-cover-smallStetz-Waters creates characters that are compliments of each other, particularly in these romances of hers (Something True, Forgive Me if I’ve Told You This Before). I worry that this could become formulaic for her work, but I am reassured by her thrillers (The Admirer, The Purveyor) that she can write in more than one area.

I read this novel while there was a tornado warning for the area I was staying in overseas. Nothing like a storm outside to provide a perfect reading atmosphere. I couldn’t tell you why exactly I kept reading, only that I did and that I couldn’t put it down. Love, love, love.

Lesbian sex scenes written by a lesbian? Yes please for realism and a drive to include value in what could just be lumped into ‘eroticism’. As with other Stetz-Waters novels, sex is for controlling or for submission, not just a titillating inclusion for the reader. I’m not reading the novel for the sex scenes, but I love it all the same.

Money where my mouth is on this one. I received an ebook copy well before it was ‘properly’ released (I can’t even find it on GoodReads), but I’ll be purchasing a paperback copy as soon as one is available. 5 stars from me for another valuable contribution to adult queer novels.