Blog tour: GRRRLS ON THE SIDE by Carrie Pack

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Today we are pleased to welcome Interlude Press author Carrie Pack to speak about how realizing her sexuality at a slightly later age inspired her new 90s punk rock F/F book, Grrrls On The Side. Be sure to check out the tour-wide giveaway at the end of the post!

Coming out at 35

 

I came out as bisexual just after writing my last book, In the Present Tense, so it was important to me to write about another bisexual character. But this time I knew it had to be a girl. In fact, Grrrls on the Side features several bisexual girls because when I was growing up, a book like that didn’t exist and it should have.

A lack of representation not only kept me in the closet, but it prevented me from even realizing that I’m bisexual.

Looking back, I always knew I wasn’t straight. But I also knew I wasn’t a lesbian, so where did that leave me? All of the movies, television and books I saw confirmed that gay or straight were my only options. Unless I just “don’t like labels.” And maybe that last one would have resonated if 12-year-old me had any clue what that phrase meant. Bottom line: I didn’t know bisexuality was an option. What I needed was an example. A girl who gushed over the cute boy in her class but also got butterflies when that girl with the awesome hair smiled.

When I finally did learn about bisexuality, I still didn’t know it wasn’t an equal attraction to all genders. It’s much more fluid than a lot of people realize, and that’s probably because we haven’t seen it in media. Just like seeing gay couples on TV made it easier for people to accept same-sex marriage, seeing bisexual characters could make it easier for people to understand bisexuality. I know because it happened to me. It happened to a lot of women my age.

Did it take us that long to realize we were attracted to more than one gender? In most cases, no. It’s simply the label that eluded us, and with it, the ability to claim our queer identity. How can you recognize your bisexuality when no one you know is bi? When no one will even say the word? When TV characters “don’t like labels”?

So I wrote the book I needed. One character has a near-equal attraction between genders. Another prefers male-presenting and non-binary partners. Another dates a femme girl and then a butch girl; her attraction to guys is secondary and almost non-existent. These are all valid forms of bisexuality. They’re all still bi. They’re all still queer.

In Grrrls, characters don’t have to “prove” their queerness. They just are. I wrote it that way to reflect reality. It’s important because I’ve always been queer. It just took me 35 years to figure it out and I’d like others to have the chance to figure it out sooner.

Summary + excerpt:

The year is 1994 and alternative is in. But not for alternative girl Tabitha Denton; she hates her life. She is uninterested in boys, lonely, and sidelined by former friends at her suburban high school. When she picks up a zine at a punk concert, she finds an escape—an advertisement for a Riot Grrrl meet-up.

At the meeting, Tabitha finds girls who are more like her and a place to belong. But just as Tabitha is settling in with her new friends and beginning to think she understands herself, eighteen-year-old Jackie Hardwick walks into a meeting and changes her world forever. The out-and-proud Jackie is unlike anyone Tabitha has ever known. As her feelings for Jackie grow, Tabitha begins to learn more about herself and the racial injustices of the punk scene, but to be with Jackie, she must also come to grips with her own privilege and stand up for what’s right.

***

Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we can’t change things.

*

Cherie does her usual spiel calling the girls down to the front, and the crush of bodies closes in on us. It’s hot and sweaty, but I don’t care. Jackie squeezes my hand, and we share a smile just as Shut Up rips into their first song.
My friends are cool. They’re in a band and they are legitimately, undeniably cool. And not in an abstract, I-like-this-music kind of way. But in an own-the-stage, make-you-want-to-start-your-own-band kind of way.
Dancing comes easier this time. I raise my hands over my head and thrash with the crowd, not caring what I look like or who’s watching. This is my territory… and theirs. In this moment, girls own this place and that’s powerful. For the first time in my life, I’m part of something bigger than myself. It may not solve world hunger, but it matters. Just like Kate’s obsessive need to protest, and Marty’s passion for Riot Grrrl, and Cherie’s unapologetic femininity, everything has its place. Even “Flabby Tabby” dancing at a concert is part of it.
I look around to take it all in. Jackie and I are once again front and center, but this time we are surrounded by dozens of girls who came to see Shut Up play. I recognize a few of them, but most are just here because they heard about a punk girl band and want to be a part of the moment. I can’t believe it. I’m part of something, and it’s not dorky or cheesy. It’s real. I’m real.
*

The club is dirty and small, and I have to stand on my tiptoes to see the stage, but I don’t care because these are my people: the hardscrabble freaks and losers who are angry at the world for their lot in life. Dramatic? Sure. But no one here looks at me like I’m some sort of zoo animal. An elephant with too much hair. A rhinoceros missing her horn. Here I am just a girl with cool boots, who maybe looks like she could kick your ass.
Mike seems in his element, too, and taller somehow, protective almost. When a guy with a safety pin through his left eyebrow bumps into me during the opening act, Mike shoves him back. At first I think we’ve won, but Eyebrow Piercing continues to thrash. I step to the side and let him go crazy. Who cares? This band is shit anyway. Mike lifts his brow as if to say, “Want me to kick his ass?” But I shake my head. No point in getting kicked out before the good bands start. We make our way to the other side of the venue where I can see the stage a little better.
We stand there for a while, taking in the scene. The opening band continues to suck. I’m not even sure the bass player’s amp is on. Their sound is top-heavy, like a car stereo with the speakers blown out. Mike nods in the direction of the merch tables. Looks like all the bands are selling CDs and a couple of girls are handing out flyers. We sidestep the thrashing masses to get a better look. I pass up the CDs; I don’t get my allowance until Monday, and I already blew my savings on the boots. A girl about my age catches my eye and smiles. Her brown hair is barely past shoulder length and much shinier than mine. Bright pink barrettes frame her pale face near her forehead. It should make her look childish, but instead she looks cool. I smile back.
“Hey, you interested in doing some shit?” she asks. Her pale green eyes sparkle with determination.
“Like what?”
“About all the bullshit in the world that girls have to put up with.”
Thinking she’s joking, I laugh. “That’s ambitious.”
“Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we can’t change things. Here.” She hands me the flyer I’d noticed her passing out. “We meet on Tuesdays.”

*

Kate props herself on her elbow and looks at me. “Are you questioning your sexuality, Tabitha?” It sounds very after-school special to me, but Kate is dead serious.
“I uh… Well…”
“It’s okay,” she says. Her smile has turned into a smirk. “I have an idea. You don’t have to answer. Just close your eyes.”
My heart is about to beat right out of my chest, but I comply. I don’t have a choice. My body is acting on its own. I no longer have free will. I’m only doing what I’m told. I can feel Kate coming closer, but I don’t move, not a muscle, not an eyelash. I am frozen in time, waiting. For what I’m not sure.
Then her lips brush mine. Softly at first and then more firmly. My whole body is feverish as she cups my face in her hand. I don’t know what else to do so I try to kiss back, but she’s gone. When I open my eyes, she’s still hovering over me; her hand covers her mouth. She’s blushing, too.
Neither of us says anything, and Kate stands up and takes the tape out of the stereo. “I should probably get this back to Cherie.” She looks at me lying on the floor. “I gotta pee. I’ll meet you outside.”
She climbs the stairs, and I lie there like a dumbstruck statue. I bring my hand to my lips, but they feel unchanged. And yet something is completely, irrevocably, unavoidably different. Something so life-changing, I don’t know what to do with the information.
Plain and simple: I have a crush on Kate.

Purchase links:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound, Kobo, Target

Click HERE for the giveaway!

Advance review: ALL THINGS NEW

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Title: All Things New

Author: Lauren Miller

Artist: Stewart A. Williams

Publisher: Three Saints Press

Release date: 8/01/2017

Rating: 3.5 stars

Warnings: Vivid description of car accident & resulting injuries, hallucinations, prescription drug abuse, untreated panic disorder, casual usage of fascist language (once)

Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Jessa Gray has always felt broken inside, but she’s gotten very good at hiding it. No one at school knows about the panic attacks, the therapy that didn’t help, the meds that haven’t worked. But when a severe accident leaves her with a brain injury and noticeable scars, Jessa’s efforts to convince the world that she’s okay finally crumble—now she looks as shattered as she feels. Fleeing from her old life in Los Angeles, Jessa moves to Colorado to live with her dad, but things go from bad to worse when she realizes she’s seeing bruises and scars on the people around her that no one else can see. She blames it on the accident, but as her body heals and the hallucinations continue, Jessa wonders if what she’s seeing could somehow have a deeper meaning. In her quest for answers, she falls for Marshall, a boy whose kindness and generous heart slowly draw Jessa out of her walled-off shell and into the broken, beautiful, real world—a place where souls get hurt just as badly as bodies, and we all need each other to heal.

Thoughts:

I enjoyed this book just fine until about the ¾ mark, when it went so spectacularly off the rails that I actually sat back and stared at it for a minute in awe/begrudging respect. I mean…if you’re going to spin your relatively good narrative on its heels and march it right into “oh no honey, what is u doing” territory (complete with irresponsible portrayal of teenage mental illness) at the last second, you might as well be quick about it, yes?

There’s really not much else I can say about this title without spoilers, and though I didn’t enjoy what happened to the plot, I’m not going to ruin it for potential readers who might want to find out for themselves. Marshall is one of the cutest love interests I can remember reading in YA m/f, so there is that as a positive point. If you’re a fan of the quirky boy + severely damaged girl trope, and you don’t mind late-in-the-story whiplash…*shrugs*…you could give this one a shot.

Purchase:

Amazon (US)

Barnes & Noble

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this title via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and truthful review.

Review: AND IT CAME TO PASS

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Title: And It Came To Pass

Author: Laura Stone

Artist: CB Messer

Publisher: Interlude Press

Release date: 5/18/17

Rating: 4.5 stars

Warnings: Assault, institutionalized homophobia

Blurb:

Adam Young is a devout Mormon whose life is all planned out, by both his strict father and his church. He follows the path they’ve established for him, goes off to his mission in Barcelona, Spain, and realizes that his life may not follow the trajectory already chosen for him.

His mission companion, Brandon Christensen, is a handsome, enthusiastic practitioner on the surface. But as their mission progresses, they both realize they have major questions about their faith… and substantial feelings for one another.

Thoughts:

Oh my heck. If this book wasn’t fiction, and you looked up “repressed” in the dictionary, you’d absolutely find a picture of Adam Young. Two pictures, even, because in one, his stoic expression reflects the seriousness with which he regards Heavenly Father, and in the second, he’s double-guessed himself and tried for a smile, because he’s full of the airy joyousness of God’s love and…stuff. Isn’t he?

Reader, he is not. Adam arrives in Barcelona for his two-year mission weighted with what can only be described as dread. He’s spent his entire life being told by literally everyone he knows that being called (as is the term) to field work is an exciting and important part of his religious journey, one that will give him purpose and satisfaction almost instantly, if he does it right. And there’s no doubt that Adam can follow every rule in every book down to the tiniest detail, so why does Spain feel like a different planet? His supervisors and the fellow missionaries who become his peers are essentially the same ~type of folks he’s grown up with, guided by the same boring (slash comforting) routine as always, but they may as well be literal aliens to Adam, for all he can relate to them. The isolation he experiences is staggering.

Except…

Except there’s Brandon. Brandon, Adam’s new companion, who is cheerful and charming and by far the most successful member of their mission group. Brandon, tall and handsome, with a family that loves not only him, but each other too; Adam can’t even imagine his parents sharing a hug. He gets caught up in Brandon’s effusiveness – as probably anyone would, when starved of affection for almost 20 years – and everything is going along rather swimmingly until Chapter 4, when Brandon dares to voice a single question about a direction they’ve been given for approaching potential converts.

It’s a mild query, the nature of which has run through Adam’s own mind more than once (more than ten times, to be honest), but he is stunned to hear it fall out of Brandon’s mouth. To give breath to such doubt is a sin! To do so as the de-facto class president is probably two sins! Why, Adam would be working himself into a proper fury if he weren’t so distracted by how much he agrees with Brandon and wants him to keep talking.

And therein lies the rub. The more Brandon asks out loud, the more unable Adam grows to just…not answer him, and pretty soon they’re using what little free time they have to independently, critically explore the texts, testaments and procedures they’ve been taught since birth. Brandon’s parents are able to fill in most gaps as they pop up, and though Adam remains kind of anxious and scandalized, he comes into himself as a thinking adult with a swiftness and surety that almost made me cry with its sweetness. The growth of his character and the accompanying (absolutely lovely) dynamic between Adam and Brandon are only two of the many reasons to pick up And It Came To Pass – just the third novel from the talented Laura Stone – as soon as you get the chance.

Purchase:

Amazon (US)

Barnes & Noble

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for a fair & honest review.

Review: SUMMER STOCK

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Title: Summer Stock

Author: Vanessa North

Artist: L.C. Chase

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Release date: 5/15/2017

Rating: 4.25 stars

Warnings: Description of domestic abuse (past), recreational drug use (past), brief mention of biphobia

Blurb:

Tabloid scandals have driven TV star Ryan Hertzog to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where he’s hiding out doing summer stock at his cousin’s seaside theater. When a hookup with local handyman Trey Donovan results in Ryan being photographed butt naked, he vows to keep his pants on and his hands off Trey. How was he supposed to know Trey would turn out to be the summer stock set builder? Trey isn’t looking for a relationship; he’s still recovering from the emotional fallout of an abusive marriage. But Ryan’s laughter draws him in again and again, and he’s not about to say no to fooling around. As the summer heats up, the paparazzi catch Ryan in increasingly compromising situations. Ryan might be too much drama for a summer fling—and Trey might be just an intermission from Ryan’s Hollywood life. But if they take their cues from Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well.

Thoughts:

This was my first time reading an author’s work *after* becoming acquainted with them on social media, and I’m pleased to say it was a good experience. Ms. North infuses a relatively simple plot with an appealing mix of diverse characters who no doubt have some issues – but they’re working through them together.

Although the blurb focuses more on Ryan, it was the understated strength of Trey, a Carolina transplant, that drew me into the early stages of the book. At first, he seems like a personification of the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick,” (where the stick is a freaking gigantic dog); later, as he begins to flourish from a combination of professional success and Ryan’s attention, Trey is established as a smart, hard-working guy who is loyal to his friends and trying to recover himself in the wake of a disastrous divorce.

In direct contrast to Trey’s gentility, Ryan – known to Hollywood as the slutty party boy Bryan Hart – comes home to Bankers’ Shoals a bit like a firework with a faulty fuse; it’s pretty, and the novelty is interesting for a second, but the trick just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Ryan struggles to adjust to the change of pace his temporary relocation brings about. He doesn’t understand the dynamics of his summer peers at the theater or the weird aggression he gets from his erstwhile boss, Mason. With his best friend in rehab back in California and therefore unreachable, Ryan quickly realizes how isolated he now is in the town where he grew up.

Enter Trey (duh). He’s dazzled by Ryan’s laugh and energy, and Ryan soaks up Trey’s wit and steadfastness with a neediness that reads as charming, not icky. They become friends-who-occasionally-kiss and it’s just…great. Honestly, I really liked their relationship. The way it progressed and the way those around them reacted to its various developments seemed natural and real. Trey and Ryan both make mistakes, of course, but Ms. North’s competent and responsible writing style results in a satisfying overall story that I am happy to recommend to any/everyone.

Purchase:

Amazon (US)

Barnes & Noble

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this title via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and truthful review.

Blog tour: The Art of Three

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The Art of Three by Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae is easily – EASILY – the best book I’ve read so far in 2017, and I’m so pleased to be hosting a stop on its virtual tour. Thanks to both authors and to Silver Dagger Scriptorium for including my tiny little baby of a blog!

aot- about the book

Jamie Conway has a charmed life. At 24, he’s relocated from Dublin to London to star in his first feature film. Unfortunately, he also has one very big problem: He has a huge crush on his happily married costar.

British heartthrob to middle-aged women everywhere, Callum Griffith-Davies should have more sense than to flirt with his new-to-the-business colleague, but good judgement isn’t one of the qualities for which he’s known.

Nerea Espinosa de Los Monteros Nessim has better things to do than fret about her husband’s newest conquest. She’s busy planning her daughter’s wedding at the family’s farmhouse in rural Spain. Besides, she and Callum have been married and polyamorous for almost 30 years; she’s content to let him make his own bad choices.

But when Nerea flies to London after her artwork is selected for a high-profile museum show, she falls for Jamie too. Soon Callum, Jamie, and Nerea have bigger problems, and surprises, than international logistics. From ex-lovers and nosy neighbors to adult children with dramas of their own, The Art of Three is a contemporary romance that celebrates families, and farce, in all shapes and sizes.

-*-*-*Sadie’s Review*-*-*-

Release date: 3/28/2017

Rating: 5 stars!

Warnings: None?

Thoughts:

Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmyGOSH. You guys. I very stereotypically cannot even.

This is a stunningly nuanced, seriously romantic, and altogether impressively-written novel, and I would honestly rather read it repeatedly than risk my literary happiness on some of the books that cross my social media feeds on a daily basis.

I mean…this thing has 3 equal MCs! Two of whom are bisexual, and one of whom is a Spanish woman, and they’re all from different countries! And one is a silver fox! And there are grown children and disabled siblings and and AND the single most realistic, responsible portrayal of polyamory that I’ve ever personally seen in fiction! Please give me a sixth star so I can give it to this book.

Purchase (TRUST ME):

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Book Depository

aot- authorS

Racheline Maltese can fly a plane, sail a boat, and ride a horse, but has no idea how to drive a car; she’s based in Brooklyn. Erin McRae has a graduate degree in international affairs for which she focused on the role of social media in the Arab Spring; she’s based in Washington DC. Together, they write romance about fame and public life. Like everyone in the 21st century, they met on the Internet.

aot- giveawayClick here! 🙂

#AVAReadathon wrap-up!

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Hey friends!

So, for the past month, I’ve been participating in Bookshelves & PaperbacksA Very Arc-ish Readathon.

It was a really chill challenge meant to help us clean out our backlog of ARCs, and although I didn’t quite get my NetGalley feedback ratio to the suggested 80%, I did raise it a little by focusing on the oldest titles in my queue. Proper reviews are coming, but here’s a quick rundown of what I attempted in April:

IN THE HOPE OF MEMORIES by Olivia Rivers – Beautiful cover, sadly DNF

NOTEWORTHY by Riley Redgate – 4.5 stars 🙂

TRUE COLORS by Anyta Sunday – 3.5 stars

WINTERBOURNE’S DAUGHTER by Stephanie Rabig – DNF

WE THREE KINGS by A.F. Henley – 4 stars

BLOOD ROSE REBELLION by Rosalyn Eves – Still deciding on a rating. 3.75ish stars?

FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…by Anne Tenino/E.J. Russell – 4 stars

I feel pretty good about crossing 7 books off my list, even if as a group they maybe weren’t as enjoyable as I hoped. Eager to see what everybody else read and liked, too! Thanks to Aimal for hosting an easy and fun event 🙂

Advance review: NOTEWORTHY

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Title: Noteworthy

Author: Riley Redgate

Artist: Maria T. Middleton, Alyssa Nassner

Publisher: Amulet Books

Release date: 5/2/2017

Rating: 4.5 stars

Warnings: TBD

Blurb:

It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight. But then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped . . . revered . . . all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Thoughts:

It’s official: Riley Redgate is going on my “auto-buy” list after just two books. NOTEWORTHY is as fresh and current as SEVEN WAYS WE LIE was heavy and retrospective, with a perfect mix of humor, music, and the all-important character growth.

Desperate to appease her stereotypically Chinese parents in her final year at the most prestigious arts high school in America, our heroine Jordan – isolated after a break up, and having less than zero luck with auditions – decides on a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” sort of plan, and becomes (temporarily) our hero, Julian. It’s important to note…ha, pun intended…that she’s only dressing the part; aside from one or two short passages in which she ponders what femininity has done for her (a tall, sturdy girl with a deeper voice), she’s confident in her existence as a cis woman, and doesn’t experience anything close to a crisis of gender identity.

Sexuality, on the other hand, is something Jordan starts to figure out in a more solid way once she 1. realizes she actually passes as a guy, and 2. begins to make friends within the Sharps (and even socialize as Julian outside of the group). The sweetest of these new platonic connections comes in the form of Nihal, a taciturn and lovely Sikh boy whose presence and reassurance I quickly grew to depend on, especially in those scenes with more angst and/or action.

I won’t spoil the name of the person Jordan ends up dating, but that character is a success as well – witty, soft, pretty, and flawed (as all good romantic interests should be, IMO).

However, my favorite part of this book is the inclusion of the effects of both poverty and wealth on a young life, and the clarity of Jordan’s eventual understanding that you can’t help which of those is your default. In chapter 6, she reflects on the chain of events that led to her father’s paralyzation and subsequent medical debt:

“Your family starts to fight. First, about money; next, about everything, because it becomes impossible to put energy into things that are not money. The stability you built up over the years has evaporated because of one germ that got ambitious.”

Bolding is mine because that line hit me right in the gut, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. In my experience, one of the hardest things about any type of sustained financial crisis is the domino action it can have on other aspects of your life, and I was really humbled and gratified that Ms. Redgate had noticed that too.

Then, in chapter 17, when a friend seems embarrassed by his ultra-ritzy home, Jordan sees firsthand that always having cash isn’t necessarily all that different than never having it:

“Maybe there was no right answer to being born filthy rich, like there was no right answer to being born dirt poor. Maybe everyone was just looking for reasons to think everyone else was ungrateful.”

Ding ding ding, we have perspective! And a protagonist with the ability to think critically and adapt! Does she make mistakes? Heck yes. Does she then rest on her mental/emotional laurels, content to repeat those errors in perpetuity? Heck no. Jordan’s journey from hardworking wallflower to (the illusion of a) suave preppy-boy a cappella star – and somewhat back again – is satisfying on more than one front, and I can’t wait to see what quirky fun this author gets up to in her next novel.

—–

Disclaimer: I received a copy of NOTEWORTHY via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Review: SWEET

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Title: Sweet

Author: Alysia Constantine

Artist: C.B. Messer

Publisher: Interlude Press

Release date: 2/4/2016

Rating: 4.25 stars

Warnings: None?

Blurb:

Not every love story is a romance novel.
For Jules Burns, a lonely baker, it is the memory of his deceased husband, Andy. For Teddy Flores, a numbed-to-the-world accountant who accidentally stumbles into his bakery, it is a voyage of discovery into his deep connections to pleasure, to the world, and to his own heart.

Thoughts:

Oh my gosh, this book is DELICIOUS. I want to wrap myself in a pastry of its delicate, detailed prose and roll around in a bowl of its soft, sexy…everything…for dessert.

Jules is witty and brave inside the shell of his grief, and Teddy has been repressed for so long he almost doesn’t know how to interact with folks outside of his safety bubble at first. Their road to friendship (and later, love) is as slow and sweet as molasses in summer, saved from being tedious by Ms. Constantine’s clever writing and somewhat unusual narrator’s voice. I was also pleased with the book’s diversity – there are basically only four characters, and all of them are queer, while at least two are of color.

The only spot of uncertainty for me was in the shift from magic realism to…let’s just say a different style…with about 150 pages left in the book. In my opinion, the plot twist involving Andy came a little out of nowhere, especially so late in the story, and I would have liked to have seen less of that and more of Teddy and Jules. It’s a minor issue though overall and shouldn’t prevent anyone from enjoying this read!

Purchase:

Amazon (US)

Barnes & Noble

Book Depository

*Originally reviewed for Prism Book Alliance.*