Book Review: Color outside the Lines edited by Sangu Mandanna (2019)

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

“We won tonight because we saved what we love.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for racism, misogyny, and ableism.)

I swarm the stage with the other girls and here is Lourdes, jumping up and down like a circus girl on a pogo stick. She grabs my hand and I jump with her, the mess of our kiss less important than this moment when a tiny powerful woman stands, feet spread wide, and the crowd of boys parts for the shining raging mass of girls.

“GIRLS TO THE FRONT!” she yells again, and she is pure magic.

(“Gilman Street” by Michelle Ruiz Keil)

“Shiva,” he said quietly, “it was one conversation. It doesn’t mean I’ve been programmed.”

What if he doesn’t want to figure shit out?

“Of course you have. We all have. You just don’t notice because the program has been meticulously designed to benefit you.”

(“Five Times Shiva Met Harry” by Sangu Mandanna)

Anna-Marie McLemore and Adam Silvera are two authors on my (relatively short) insta-read list, making Color outside the Lines a no-brainer for me. Though I was emotionally devastated (!) that Adam Silvera’s story was not included in an early ARC of the book, some of the other stories made up for it (okay, almost). In my experience, anthologies tend to be uneven; and, while Color outside the Lines is no exception, I’m happy to report that each story is mildly entertaining at worst.

The overarching theme of the collection is YA fiction about interracial relationships, both opposite-sex and LGBTQ. Some of the stories are contemporary fiction, as I expected, but there’s a nice mix of historical fiction and fantasy as well. There are some happily ever afters here, while other endings will reduce you to a puddle of tears. A few are…frustratingly ambiguous. (To Elsie Chapman’s “The Boy Is,” I say: WHY NOT HAVE THEM BOTH?!? Like for real though, they both sound delightful, and it’s just toasted cheese and a donut, yo!)

Anna-Marie McLemore’s “Turn the Sky to Petals” is achingly beautiful and magical; no surprise there! “Five Times Shiva Met Harry” by editor Sangu Mandanna is as charming as it is brief; I’m really looking forward to reading more from her (The Lost Girl just jumped up a few spots on my TBR list).

Speaking of new-to-me-authors, Michelle Ruiz Keil’s “Gilman Street” is a freaking revelation. Set in 1980s California, and boasting a rad punk vibe, I can only hope “Gilman Street” is just a little taste of what we’re in store for with All of Us with Wings, Ruiz Keil’s upcoming debut novel. Having just been ghosted by her friend Kelly (for her sleazy BF Ben and his racist friends), Tam skips school and heads down to Berkley, where a chance encounter with a badass drummer named Lourdes changes the course of Tam’s life for the better. Spoiler alert: there will be Bikini Kill.

I also quite loved “Giving Up the Ghost” by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas. In this world, kids are gifted Ghost Mentors at the age of nine, to help guide them through adolescence – and life, if they so choose. (A Ghost Mentor is mandatory only until one’s seventeenth birthday, at which time you may opt to have it removed.) Whereas his parents got a Buddhist monk and a cobbler from Mumbai, Sanjiv got stuck with Ching, a bloodthirsty pirate from the nineteenth century. Her advice, among other things? To re-introduce himself to his childhood crush Addy thusly: “Hi, do you remember me? I’m Sanji and we used to try and glue our hands together in preschool so we wouldn’t be separated at the end of the day—wanna bang?” The story’s structure is a countdown to Sanjiv’s birthday. Cue: dramatic tension.

Samira Ahmed’s period piece “The Agony of a Heart’s Wish”, featuring two star-crossed lovers – both victims of British colonialism, circa 1919 – will shred your heart to pieces. Ditto: Lydia Kang’s “Yuna and the Wall,” though in a much happier and more hopeful kind of way. Oh, and Lori M. Lee’s “Starlight and Moondust”? 110% as ethereal as the title would have you believe.

Color outside the Lines is a really fantastic collection, in both concept and execution, and even if romance isn’t normally your thing.

“Turn the Sky to Petals” by Anna-Marie McLemore – 4/5
“What We Love” by Lauren Gibaldi – 3/5
“Giving Up the Ghost” by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – 5/5
“Your Life Matters” by L.L. McKinney – 3/5
“Starlight and Moondust” by Lori M. Lee – 4/5
“Five Times Shiva Met Harry” by Sangu Mandanna – 4/5
“The Agony of a Heart’s Wish” by Samira Ahmed – 5/5
“The Coward’s Guide to Falling in Love” by Caroline Tung Richmond – 3/5
“Death and the Maiden” by Tara Sim – 4/5
“Faithfull” by Karuna Riazi – 4/5
“Gilman Street” by Michelle Ruiz Keil – 5/5
“The Boy Is” by Elsie Chapman – 3/5
“Sandwiched in Between” by Eric Smith – 3/5
“Yuna and the Wall” by Lydia Kang – 5/5

TK from Danielle Paige and Adam Silvera

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories edited by Katherine Locke & Laura Silverman (2019)

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

I don’t love every story – but the ones I love, I love HARD.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for mental health issues, including eating disorders and social anxiety; bullying; and discussions of homophobia.)

I’ll probably never know what a space station careening through the atmosphere looks like, because I wasn’t looking up anymore. I was looking at him and smiling, and he was smiling back at me, and his braces were gleaming like starlight, and he whispered, “Shehecheyanu,” and I leaned forward, and I pressed my lips against his stars.

(“Indoor Kids” by Alex London)

I wish I’d had the experience, the wisdom then to tell him: To me, Jewish is knowing that you can’t be asked to have pride in one part of your identity and then be told to have shame about another part. Whoever asks you to do that is wrong. To be proud as a Jew is to be proud of everything you are.

(“The Hold” by David Levithan)

My chewing sounds like applause.

(“Neilah” by Hannah Moskowitz)

As you can certainly gleam (yes, I meant to say “gleam, with an m,” in deference to both this anthology’s overall shininess as well as the opening story; don’t @ me; and yes, that last was a hat tip to editor Katherine Locke’s highly enjoyable contribution, “Some Days You’re the Sidekick; Some Days You’re the Superhero”; you can @ me on that one as you wish, because I have FEELINGS) from the title, It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories is a collection of short stories written by Jewish authors, primarily for a Jewish, YA audience. Most are of the contemporary/realistic fiction persuasion, but there’s a little bit of fantasy and memoir sprinkled throughout.

I LOVE that this book exists – especially in this time and place in history – and it pains me equally to say that I didn’t fall in love with every single story. Them’s usually the breaks with anthologies, though. That said, I would recommend It’s a Whole Spiel on the basis of David Levithan’s essay alone. (In my notes I just wrote “wow”.)

I’ll admit, I wasn’t into “The Hold” at first. Whereas the rest of the pieces take the form of a more traditional short fiction story, “The Hold” is more of a nonfiction story without a clear structure, at least at the outset. But as the narrative begins to take shape, and Levithan recounts coming out as a young Jewish boy, in like with another boy from his temple who would later run away, vanishing without a goodbye, you know you’re being gifted with something special.

Our time together became a good dream, possibly the best dream. I never forgot it, but I remembered it less and less, as other dreams joined in. I’ve written about him hundreds of times, and I haven’t written about him at all until now.

This is the first thing I’ve read by David Levithan, but it won’t be my last.

“Some Days You’re the Sidekick; Some Days You’re the Superhero” by Katherine Locke is also a real treat, especially for self-professed nerds who prefer virtual spaces to “real” ones. (“I’m not tagging you, but you know who you are.”) Awkward in person, but a master with the written word, Gabe spends much of his free time writing fan fic for the website Milk & Honey, “a whole site dedicated to reimagining every canon character as Jewish” (and trying to figure out how to parlay his hobby into a winning college application). Little does he know that Yael, the owner of the site on whom he’s been crushing hard, is someone he knows in meat space – and that a shared love of the X-Men reimagined as the Maccabees might just give him/them a second chance.

Also amazing is “Neilah” by Hannah Moskowitz. Like many of the stories in these here pages, “Neilah” centers around the theme of not being “Jewish enough,” of suffering from imposter syndrome, and ties this disconnect to the MC’s eating disorder. When she was dating her ex, a “good” Gentile boy who showered her not with love, but backhanded compliments or outright criticism, she shrank up and tried to fold into herself, to disappear. To be less: less loud, less big, less Jewish. But a new relationship with a devout Jewish girl named Mira is about to change all that. It’s an inspired analogy with an inspiring ending.

I really enjoyed editor Laura Silverman’s story, “Be Brave and All,” in which protagonist Naomi, dragged to the national JZY convention by her best friend Rachel, conquers her anxiety to stand up for something she believes in (gun control, which nicely ties this story to current events).

Many of the MCs in these stories are embarking on journeys in the literal sense of the word as well as the metaphorical, whether meeting their new boyfriend’s family for the first time (during an earthquake! argh!), traveling to Israel on a Birthright trip, or attending a Jewish summer camp or convention. These tales are at their most satisfying when the protagonist experiences growth – but, weirdly, this is not always the case. (“El Al 328” by Dana Schwartz is just straight-up demoralizing. The ending felt like my life and was sad and uncomfortable AF.)

“Indoor Kids” by Alex London also deserves a shout-out, both for its nerdy space program backdrop, and its adorable M/M romance. And that writing! It takes a special talent to make braces seem so magical.

“Indoor Kids” by Alex London – 4/5
“Two Truths and an Oy” by Dahlia Adler – 3/5
“The Hold” by David Levithan – 5/5 wow
“Aftershocks” by Rachel Lynn Solomon – 3/5
“Good Shabbos” by Goldy Moldavsky – 2/5 did not care for the abundance of footnotes
“Jewbacca” by Lance Rubin – 3/5
“El Al 328” by Dana Schwartz – 1/5 ugh?
“Some Days You’re the Sidekick; Some Days You’re the Superhero” by Katherine Locke – 5/5 amazing
“He Who Revives the Dead” by Elie Lichtschein – 3/5
“Be Brave and All” by Laura Silverman – 5/5
“Neilah” by Hannah Moskowitz – 5/5
“Find the River” by Matthue Roth – 2/5
“Ajshara” By Adi Alsaid – 2.5/5
“Twelve Frames” by Nova Ren Suma – 3/5

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: My Boyfriend Is a Bear by Pamela Ribon & Cat Farris (2018)

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

MRRRHHNH. (That’s Bear for “Coming in for a hug.”)

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

I honestly didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did.

I mean, I don’t know what I expected, other than it seemed like a cute idea that could very well fail spectacularly. At the end of the day, I picked it up because I really, really wanted to use this video in a review.

Nora stumbles into a 500-pound American black bear while camping with one of her many d-bag boyfriends. When Bear is later driven from his forest home by wildfires, he finds Nora thanks to a discarded issue of Bust. (Nice touch! Eff off, Ben!) Against all odds, these crazy kids fall in love and make a go of it. But will Bear’s looming hibernation rip them apart, if society doesn’t break their spirits first?

My Boyfriend Is a Bear is weird and adorable and just straight-up delightful. I know I’m supposed to read it as an allegory about overcoming differences both large and small in relationships, but you know what? It’s also a cuddly AF romance story about a lady and a bear. Says the girl who claims as her soulmate a snaggle-toothed, marshmallow-bellied rat terrier (now nearly five years dead, and whom she thinks of on the daily) and once referred to her first-adopted dog as “her other boyfriend ™.” Dogs > people. Probably bears > people, too. All nonhuman animals > people, who are we kidding.

As much as My Boyfriend Is a Bear had me laughing – and it was like whoah – it also has its fair share of sad moments, especially as Bear’s hibernation approaches. That last act was filled with snot-flinging ugly crying. But the end? Pure magic.

This is one that’s earned a permanent place on my nightstand, right on top of Hyperbole and a Half and the Sarah’s Scribbles collections. Along with Nicole Georges’s Fetch, it’s a book I’ll turn to every now and then, when I need a good, hysterical cry.

Basically My Boyfriend Is a Bear is the best thing ever. Or at least since the proud tradition of bears wearing tees without pants.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Sugar Town by Hazel Newlevant (2017)

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Goes down like cotton candy.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Just your average polyamorous romance story: a lesbian dominatrix from Oregon and a bisexual cartoonist from New York meet and fall in love, despite their geographic challenges (‘You’ll be my New York girlfriend!’) and other lovers (who, spoiler alert, are wonderfully supportive). It’s a sweet story with eye-popping illustrations (the colors! so sumptuous!) and a healthy, progressive approach to sexuality and dating.

Really my only complaint is that it’s so short. More, please! I need to know how Argent and Hazel handle the long-distance thing! And it would be totally rad to see that dinner party with the lovers and the ex-lovers!

Happily, I just downloaded an anthology of comics about abortion, Comics for Choice, which – and I didn’t realize it at the time – is edited by Newlevant. So that’s a pretty great consolation prize, anyway.

But seriously, Return to Sugar Town? Anyone?

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Dreamology, Lucy Keating (2016)

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Would make a most excellent ’80s teen movie!

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

I MADE HIM up. At least that’s what I always told myself. The combination of all my childhood adorations, combined into one perfect guy. The trouble is, I was wrong. Because right now Max is sitting directly across the quad from me, reading our psych textbook and pausing every few minutes to type something on his phone. He’s wearing a heather-gray T-shirt and I want to go over and sit on his lap.

In this moment, watching Max, I picture my heart as one of Jane’s beloved fish. How many ways could it possibly be murdered before Max is through with me? I picture it now, swimming with a bunch of other little heart muscles down a stream, before they are all caught up in a net, jumping and wiggling around.

Alice and Max have been dreaming of each other since they were children. They’ve traveled the (dream) world together. They’ve had food fights at the Met; played games of Jenga with life-sized foam bricks; boogie boarded down Nan’s grand staircase; and dined on chocolate Legos (all the better to build castles with!). For the past eleven years, they’ve been the one constant, comforting, dependable thing in each others’ lives. Ever since Alice’s mom abandoned the family to study primates in Uganda (and then Madagascar), and Max’s older sister Lila died in a drunk driving accident. Ever since the nightmares began, and their parents enrolled them in the brain mapping study at the Center for Dream Discovery.

Dreams and reality collide when Alice’s father moves the family back to Boston and into her recently deceased Nan’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse. For there, standing in the doorway of her Psych 201 class at Bennett Academy, is Alice’s dream boy. There are just three teeny tiny little problems, though: 1) Max refuses to acknowledge their connection; 2) and already has an IRL girlfriend named Celeste; and 3) as their waking and sleeping lives intersect, Alice and Max begin to have trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy.

Alice is convinced that the answers are hidden in the files of the seemingly-sketchy Dr. Petermann, and the research he conducted on them all those years ago. With the help of Max; her NYC BFF Sophie; and her new Boston bud, Oliver, can Lucy set things right – without sacrificing the boy of her dreams?

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: A Bollywood Affair, Sonali Dev (2014)

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

A Fun, Sometimes Over-the-Top Madcap Bollywood Romance

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program. Also, there are clearly marked spoilers towards the end of this review. Trigger warning for rape and child abuse.)

Like tens of millions of her peers, Malvika “Mili” Rathod is a child bride.* In a bargain struck by her grandmother and the groom’s grandfather, Mili was married off at the age of four; she has spent the past twenty years waiting for her husband to return to Balpur and claim her.

Unfortunately, hers was not a meeting of the minds, in even the loosest sense of the term: a year after the marriage, her betrothed’s mother packed up Virat and his younger brother Samir and moved the family to Nagpur, away from the clutches of their abusive and controlling grandfather. Not long after, Lata sent notice to the Balpur village council to have the marriage annulled; unbeknownst to the Rathods, grandfather retracted the paperwork. For the next two decades, he led Mili and her naani on, milking them for her dowry in exchange for empty promises that this would be the year that Virat – now a Squad Leader in the Indian Air Force – would send for her. Grandfather passed away several years ago, and naani is starting to panic: when she’s gone, who will care for her granddaughter?

(More below the fold…)

Mini-Review: Destiny, K.C. Maguire (2012)

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Boy Buys Girl, Girl Evolves

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this story for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program. Also, the last paragraph contains a vague spoiler.)

“What’s the point of a new generation if we can live forever?” And there it is. My whole problem with the Transition. Truthfully, I always wanted kids. But Tara didn’t…and Destiny can’t. So what’s the point?

When Joe’s wife Tara leaves him after more than a decade of marriage, he does what many middle-aged, newly-single men of the future do: he buys a companionship android. At first glance, the T-26 known as Destiny might seem to be at odds with Joe’s longstanding resistance to the Transition – in which one’s consciousness is downloaded into a synthetic version of one’s body; everybody’s doing it! – but Destiny is a true android: preprogrammed with a variety of factory settings (Erotic, Housewife), she lacks any humanity of her own. Whereas Joe’s Transitioned friends are constant reminders of the crumbling wall between “human” and “machine,” Destiny is 100%, honest to goodness not-human.

Much like his plasma screen tv and toaster oven, Destiny is just another one of Joe’s toys. Until the day she isn’t. Destiny begins to learn. Evolve. Becomes sentient.

As Joe finds himself falling in love with an android, he must decide what’s more important to him: his humanity, increasingly rare these days – or eternal love.

Smart and full of heart, Destiny is a fun and quick read – a little too quick, if you ask me. I’d love to see this story expanded in novel form. The Habitat Facility is a nice touch, and it’s interesting to observe how Joe’s behavior parallels that of some nonhuman animals kept in confinement (pandas, for example, are notoriously reluctant to mate in zoos, leading to the rise of panda porn).

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs, Book One), Susan Kaye Quinn (2013)

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Hella Fun!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Member Giveaways program.)

As the Third Daughter of Dharia, Aniri enjoys a luxury which was denied her older sisters: on her 18th birthday, she’s free to marry for love instead of country. First in the line of succession, Aniri’s oldest sister Nahali has been groomed from birth to become Queen; fittingly, she arranged to marry a Dharian nobleman (whom she just so happened to love). Meanwhile, middle sister Seledri married a Samirian prince in order to further the alliance between her country and his (sadly, the prince’s love for Seledri is as of yet unrequited).

With no interests left to further, Aniri happily awaits the day when she’ll be able to marry her lover Devesh, a courtesan and fencing instructor from Samir. Then they will travel the world in search of the Samirian robbers who murdered her father the King some eight years ago.

Naturally, a wrench finds its way into Aniri’s plans – in the form of Ashoka Malik, the barbarian prince of Jungali. After the untimely deaths of his mother and younger brother, Prince Malik – “Ash” to his friends – finds himself in charge of a fractured country. Comprised of four provinces, the mountain country is mired in poverty and fraught with infighting, particularly as at least one of the provinces’ generals play at a military coup. Rumors of a Jungali flying machine run rampant, and war seems inevitable. Hoping that his marriage to a Dharian Prince will cultivate a powerful alliance and unite his people behind him, Prince Malik proposes a peace-brokering marriage to the Queen. Unfortunately for Aniri, she is the only single daughter left.

And that’s just the first few chapters! (I won’t say more because I’d rather not spoil the story, but suffice it to say that nothing is as it seems.)

(More below the fold…)