Queen Sugar

queen_sugar_xxlgTitle: Queen Sugar
Starring: Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardener, Kofi Siriboe, Tina Lifford
Genre: Drama, Realistic, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★★ | 5.0

I am a contrary person. I don’t do prestige things. For a reviewer, I rarely read reviews and I rarely listen to critics. I don’t like being told what to do (being raised in a strict household tends to do that?) or what to think, and the more Important(TM) someone says a work is, the less inclined I am to pick something up, and the less I’ll enjoy the process of consuming it.

I like trash, okay? It’s not hard for me to admit that the more people rag on a thing (to be clear, “ragging” does not entail, for example, comments about racism or sexism, etc., because those are “concerns”) the more I like it. My favourite films include Snowpiercer, Pacific Rim, and Jupiter Ascending. I’m not a connoisseur of quality, okay, I’m a connoisseur of having a fucking good time.

And part of this is because as marginalised people, we so rarely get any of it. A good time, I mean. Stories about us have to be Important(TM) to justify their being told. Stories about us have to be about oppression to be interesting and worthwhile. We’re not afforded any escapism, and I’ve learned to recognise that “realistic” is code for “cruel” and “good” is a judgement on the extent to which something shows us suffering. And I’m really, really not into that.

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Camp So-and-So

27242422Title: Camp So-and-So
Author: Mary McCoy
Genre: Contemporary, YA, Thriller, Mystery
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 2.5

The letters went out in mid-February. Each letter invited its recipient to spend a week at Camp So-and-So, a lakeside retreat for girls nestled high in the Starveling Mountains. Each letter came with a glossy brochure with photographs of young women climbing rocks, performing Shakespearean theatre under the stars, and spiking volleyballs. Each letter was signed in ink by the famed and reclusive businessman and philanthropist, Inge F. Yancey IV.

By the end of the month, twenty-five applications had been completed, signed, and mailed to a post office box in an obscure Appalachian town.

Had any of these girls tried to follow the directions in the brochure and visit the camp for themselves on that day in February, they would have discovered that there was no such town and no such mountain and that no one within a fifty-mile radius had ever heard of Camp So-and-So.

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Title: Forbidden
Author: Beverly Jenkins
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

Surely my not having read any Beverly Jenkins before this constitutes as some kind of crime simply because I enjoyed Forbidden so much. Eddy and Rhine actually managed to steal my heart with their sweetness. And I also appreciated the fact that Jenkins doesn’t shy away from dealing with issues of racism during the time period. The story is set in the 1870s American West. Eddy, who lives in Denver, decides to move West to realise her dream of one day owning a restaurant. However, one her way there she is robbed and left for dead in the desert. She ends up in Virginia City in the bedroom of one Rhine Fontaine who rescues her from the desert. Their romance goes from there.

The romance was definitely wonderful and one of the major reasons I enjoyed this book so much. Eddy and Rhine are definitely attracted to one another from soon after the see one another, however due to all the obstacles in their way it does take some time for their romance to amount to anything. Tragically, Jenkins decides to gloss over the wedding night as all moonlight and flowers which was a bit disappointing as it was in my view an important part of their relationship.

The key issue between Eddy and Rhine is that Eddy is black while legally Rhine is white. Early on we find out Rhine’s history and parentage as well as the fact that he chooses to pass as white. This decision is also a significant part of Rhine’s character. Jenkins never shies away from the reality of the life Rhine lived before he decided to pass as white. Nor does she shy away from the internal conflicts that Rhine continues to experience because of his decision.

Jenkins’ characterisation was my favourite part of the novel. The novel has a fairly large secondary character cast and Jenkins manages to make each of these characters individualised. Each character had their own personalities, dreams, and families. They went beyond their occupations and their relationships to either Eddy or Rhine. I finished the novel wanting to read books about the secondary characters.

However, Forbidden is not without its faults, hence the rating of four stars. Jenkins plays to the ‘psycho ex girlfriend’ trope to an extreme level. In my view it ruined what would have otherwise been a great ending. Rhine’s ex Natalie, a young rich white woman, cannot handle Rhine leaving her and so resorts to extreme measures. It is something that is played out too often across our tv screens and personally a trope that I despise. So, to see this trope in historical romance which is very much escapist literature for me was not something that I wanted.

Overall, since reading this I’ve already personally recommended Beverly Jenkins to three friends and read two more of her books so I think that should say enough about how much I enjoyed this book.

Portrait of Us

portrait-of-us-9781481451901_hrTitle: Portrait of Us
Author: A. Destiny & Rhonda Helms
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, YA
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

In these last few days of summer, I’ve been feeling especially compelled to read light, fluffy romance novels. This is in part summer nostalgia but also, and I think this might be the larger part, because light fluffy romances are always good for getting me through a reading slump. I’m still not out of the forest, but I can see the edge of the trees.

This novel was given to me by a friend who assured me that it was cute, almost tooth-achingly so, and that it was, but what really caught my eye was the description: [Corinne’s] dreams become muddled when she finds out she has to work with Matthew––the arrogant, annoying jock whose postmodern style seriously clashes with her classic aesthetic. Hi. Yes. Sign me the fuck up, please, this is the stuff I eat for breakfast.

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Not Otherwise Specified

teaserbox_14435678Title: Not Otherwise Specified
Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic, YA
Rating: ★★★★★ | 4.5 out 5.0

warnings: biphobia, bullying, ED, homophobia

Etta Sinclair doesn’t fit in anywhere, not with the Disco Dykes, who turn against her when she begins to date a boy. Not at ballet, where she’s too curvy and defiant to follow the strict rules of the discipline. Not even at home, where her mother can’t even bring herself to say the word ‘bisexual.’ She is, as far as she can tell, Etta Not Otherwise Specified.

But when she hears of an opportunity to audition at Brentwood, a prestigious performing arts school in New York City, Etta sees it as her ticket out of her rural Midwestern town. But practicing for the audition brings her into the orbit of Bianca, a talented singer from Etta’s eating disorder recovery group. Bianca is sick, much sicker than Etta, and she may not even want to get better. But she’s the first person to love Etta without condition. Etta quickly becomes friends with Bianca, Bianca’s handsome older brother James, and James’ friend Mason. Being with them, though, makes Etta question some of her own assumptions, and question the way she thinks of herself and who is wants to be.

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The Steep and Thorny Way

22838927Title: The Steep & Thorny Way
Author: Cat Winters
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Magical Realism
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.5 out of 5

I’ve been listening to a lot of songs that give me southern gothic vibes lately. That, coupled with the fact that I’m currently in Georgia and the fact that I’ve been marathoning Preacher means that The Steep and Thorny Way has been exactly the kind of novel I’m looking for. Moody, stormy, a revenge narrative smack dab in the middle of Nowhere, Oregon, where the glamour of the ’20s seems to have packed its bags and skipped out of town.

Hannalee Denney is the only biracial girl in the rural town of Elston, and her father the only Black man, until his death at the hands of a reckless driver. But Hannalee and her mother are trying to move forward. Her mother’s married the local physician, and Hannalee is adapting to this new life. But then her father’s murderer gets released, and he’s telling a story different from the one she heard. According to him, Hannalee’s new stepfather is the one who killed Hank Denney.

If the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the novel is a loose reconfiguration of Hamlet set in rural Oregon, complete with chilling ghosts and possible poison and the presence of the Klu Klux Klan. And friends, I really wasn’t sold. I really admire books with a commitment to concept and that would have been necessary to the success of this novel.There are ways of grounding the supernatural into more realistic portrayals of racism and homophobia and I think this was really well done in Libba Bray’s Diviners series, but this necessitates the author to be willing to take the idea of the supernatural to its logical extremes. But Steep & Thorny Way kept pulling back, much to the detriment not only of the atmosphere, but also of the overall narrative.

This wouldn’t have actually made me quit the novel, though, because I’ve read a lot of novels that failed to live up to their concepts but still turned out pretty enjoyable. What made this novel join the 33% club was its clunky writing and complete lack of subtlety. This is likely a result of Winters wanting to address a lot of the racism and homophobia in the time period she’s writing in, so I can’t really fault her for it, but the writing was so heavy-handed the process of reading became the hardest part of the narrative. Sometimes a light touch is all that’s needed.

Character interactions make no sense. Conversations go from Point A to Planet X in the space of a few sentences, and rather than feeling organic, they feel as if they have agendas: the point of Paragraph Z was to convey Y information. Characterisation is also all over the place. It’s as if the novel got so caught up in its messaging that it forgot that it had a story to tell. Which is really such a shame, because it would have been an interesting one.

Let it Shine

b01d04cpq4-01-lzzzzzzzTitle: Let it Shine
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Rating: ★★★★☆ || 4.0 stars

warnings for: racialised violence/state violence, racial & ethnic slurs

I admit, I’m not a romance reader. I like romance in my books, but romance books themselves don’t tend to be my cup of tea. So when I came across this book on my Goodreads recommendations list, I made a face like I just bit into a kumquat and discovered it was a lemon, primarily because a) it was pitched as an interracial romance set during the Civil Rights Movement, which has the potential to be either really good or so, so awful and b) I didn’t know who Alyssa Cole was.

Well, now I know who Alyssa Cole is, and I can confirm that this was an absolutely well-done novel. It’s not free of flaws (will get to those later), but from the beginning it set my fears about what this book could have become to ease. There’s no shortage of really difficult content––slurs, racialised state violence, sexism and scrutiny of female behaviour, antiblackness, anti-Semitism––but none of it felt excessive or like it was there for shock value.

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