Book review: “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” edited by Saundra Mitchell

All Out: an anthology

I came across “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” - which I will be calling “All Out” in my review for the sake of simplicity - at the beginning of this year. It is a collection of short stories by an ensemble of young adult authors. All of the stories have queer teen characters, as it is evident in the title, and the stories themselves vary in genres and settings.

Synopsis

Take a journey through time and genres and discover a past where queer figures live, love and shape the world around them. Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens.

From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.

Review

I was extremely excited to get my hands on “All Out”. I admit that I was hesitant to buy my own copy, although I was tempted to, as the book was proudly (pun intended) displayed as a Pride Month pick at Indigo stores. I was cautious, as I had not read the books by all of the authors, so I was not sure if I am going to enjoy all of the stories.

As I expected I enjoyed some stories more and some stories less, so I will go through the list with my ratings for each one of them.

“Roja” by Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: It seems like there is going to be a full novel, “Blanca & Roja”, about the same characters, and I am very excited! It is coming out in October!

“The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: We have a girl who wants to sail away and another one who runs away as well. Not sure the ending worked plus I was not really feeling the characters. It was my first time reading anything by this author and I was slightly disappointed. (I read “Seafire” after I read "All Out".)

“And They Don’t Kiss At The End” by Nilah Magruder

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: Excellent writing and description of asexuality. I enjoyed it, but the skating rink and contemporary YA feel are just not my thing.

“Burnt Umber” by Mackenzi Lee

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: Loved every bit of this story. Excellent descriptions and characterizations. A painter’s studio in Amsterdam was an unusual setting. It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of her books!

“The Dresser & The Chambermaid” by Robin Talley

Rating: 2 stars
Notes: I did not like anything about this story. I couldn’t get behind the characters and their actions. Everything seemed a bit too exaggerated and boring.

“New Year” by Malinda Lo

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the background of the story and Chinese New Year traditions and the discussions of immigrants life but I am not a huge fan of Malinda’s writing style, and there wasn’t much of a plot either.

“Molly’s Lips” by Dahlia Adler

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: Once again, I am not a fan of contemporary YA, however, all of the grange music and Kurt Cobain references were on point, so this story is getting an extra star for that.

“The Coven” by Kate Scelsa

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I expected this story to be more engaging than it was. It was confusing at times, and not much was happening. It was okay.

“Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: A transgender Robin Hood retelling? Holy crap! Yes! Give me a whole book like that!! Excellent writing and now I am dying for the author to write more! (I know that there are books by this author written several years ago under a different name, but they are not exactly what I would read as they are NA romance novels.)

“Willows” by Scott Tracey

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: I loved the dreamy quality of the writing style. The ending was intense! Now, I want a sequel! It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of his books!

“The Girl With The Blue Lantern” by Tess Sharpe

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the premise of the story, and it was relatively well written, but there was not much of a plot, to be honest.

“The Secret Life of A Teenage Boy” by Alex Sanchez

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I was not entirely on board with the plot of this story. But I liked the descriptions and how well developed all characters were. Will be definitely reading more by this author!

“Walking After Midnight” by Kody Keplinger

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: It was a bit too Hollywood like and sugary for me, but the descriptions were well done. I was just not a fan of either characters or plot.

“The End of The World As We Know It” by Sara Farizan

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I am not a fan of contemporaries or love stories set on New Year’s Eve, but I loved the references to historical events (e.g., the mention of the mass shooting) and I think more stories should talk about such things.

“Three Witches” by Tessa Gratton

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the setting of the story, but I did not like the characters, and the only thing that worked for me was the ending. The rest was just dull.

“The Inferno & The Butterfly” by Shaun David Hutchinson

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: A story about two apprentices serving two rivalling magicians was adorable. I loved the plot and the characters, and I wanted more! It was the first story by this author that I read, and I can’t wait to check out his books!

“Healing Rosa” by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I liked the writing style in this story, although there was not much of a plot, to be honest.

Even though I was not in love with all of the stories in “All Out”, I enjoyed most of them, and some of them were so good that I can not wait to get my hands on those authors’ books! I consider it to be time very well spent. I am not sure I would want to re-read any of the stories (except for, maybe, stories by Mackenzie Lee and Elliot Wake). Therefore I am giving this book only 4 stars.

I wish we had more anthologies like "All Out", as it is an excellent opportunity to give LGBTQ+ authors more exposure and for readers to discover new favourites.

Overall rating: 4 stars

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Book review: "The Scorpion Rules" (Prisoners of Peace #1) by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules  

 

I purchased “The Scorpion Rules” back in a day when it came out in this gorgeous paperback. I saw this book mentioned again and again in YA LGBTQ+ recommendations and was excited to read it. But as it often happens with impulse purchases, I didn’t pick up the book until much later.

 

I was quite in the mood for a YA Sci-Fi audiobook after listening to Nyxia, and while browsing Overdrive library, I saw that “The Scorpion Rules” was immediately available.

I downloaded it to my iPhone and started listening to it right away. I had only a vague recollection of the plot of “The Scorpion Rules” from the back of the book. I knew that the book had diverse characters, was generally considered to be sci-fi, and was somehow related to Canada. For the sake of accurate spelling of names, I am providing the official synopsis below.

 

Synopsis

 

A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace - sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals - are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

 

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

 

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

 

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

 

Review

 

I listened to “The Scorpion Rules” for about 10 minutes, paused and went online to look up the narrator. The audiobook is narrated by Madeleine Maby, who, judging by her website and extensive Audible presence, is a rather experienced voice actor. I was not impressed though at all. Madeleine gives all characters distinctive voices, but her intonation is clipped and artificial. (There were mentions of accents in the book, but it still didn’t make much sense to me.) I would have understood if she narrated for AI in that manner, but it was all of the characters in different variations. I found the narration for Greta the most annoying as she talked in the way that Siri or an artificial intelligence might, with odd stops between words and occasional uprise in intonation. Elian’s southern accent came and went, and seemed to be more prominent whenever there was a line in the book referring to it.

 

I was so not impressed by the narration, that I even considered switching to a paper book. However, I decided to stick to the audiobook as I wanted to listen to something during the commute or work breaks. Getting over the narration style was a bit difficult, but I somewhat got used to it by the end of the book.

 

Now, onto the plot. Sadly, I was somewhat disappointed by it too. I think “The Scorpion Rules” is more character driven than plot driven, which is usually fine by me, but not in this case. It took awhile for me to get into the plot. The first third of the book, I was bored and couldn’t figure out why things were the way they were. There is a lot of exposition in the book, which I do not like. We have even quotes and reciting from the AI that at times seemed a bit unfitting to the main narrative. I enjoyed the world but didn’t like the fact that I could barely make head or tail of local politics, not to mention rivalries and alliances between countries.

 

Regarding characters, I liked Michael the best, from the moment he made an appearance. Everything about him, his character, the circumstances of his arrival, the complications, etc. - I liked everything. But regardless of role in the plot of “The Scorpion Rules”, Greta and Elian were the main protagonists (which is confirmed in the synopsis), and I did have a lot of problems with both of them.

 

Greta seemed too plain to be anything special, and yet she was. She was too all over the place in her emotions and affections, and yet she was described as exceptional and strong. Elian seemed perpetually confused and rebellious, even when nothing was happening to warrant either. I could not understand Greta’s feelings towards Elian. She viewed him as someone who needs care and protection and at the same time - as someone dangerous.

 

There are a lot of descriptions in the text of what characters felt, lots of comparisons - the language flows most of the time quite wonderfully. However, I often felt that the lack of actual reasoning and plot holes were being hidden behind grand statements about life and sacrifice and characters’ feelings. We were often being told that something was happening just because it was happening. I would have been able to oversee it if there was more action, but too frequently it felt as if nothing was moving at all. And when something was happening, we were not really told why. At times, I could feel my mind drifting, as I was almost bored with the book. Perhaps, it is once again the fault of the narrator, who failed to make “The Scorpion Rules” sound engaging enough.

 

“The Scorpion Rules” disappointed me from the standpoint of LGBTQ+ representation too. The book is tagged and listed on GoodReads as having prominent LGBTQ+ characters, however, the only female/female relationship proved not to be strong enough to overcome the obstacles (add to that a cliched presence of a male protagonist - obviously), and the only male/male couple was not given any visibility until the tragic end. Yes, we get various sexualities in the book, and there is some sort of a gender swap, so to say, which can be viewed as gender dysphoria almost, but I am hesitant to say that it can be viewed as a representation for genderfluid or transgender people. Perhaps, it was not intended as either at all, and it was my wishful thinking trying to find more representation in the book.

 

The Children of Peace and Swan Riders come from various countries and therefore from different racial and cultural backgrounds. I liked that about “The Scorpion Rules”. In my opinion, the cultural representation was handled well.

 

Perhaps, if I approached “The Scorpion Rules” in physical format, I would have connected with the characters better. Unfortunately, I finished the audiobook feeling somewhat cheated. I didn’t get the representation I was looking for; the plot was murky; the characters - annoying, and the only thing that I liked about the novel - the world itself - was presented to us through obvious exposition, which often felt detached from the plot.

 

I like “The Scorpion Rules” much more as an idea for a book or a sales pitch, as opposed to the actual result. I can’t tell if it is the writing style that I have more problems with or the narration of the audiobook - or, maybe, both. “The Scorpion Rules”, as well as some other books by Erin Bow, received favourable reviews from multiple sources and was even listed in Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2015. I still decided to continue with the series, in spite of feeling disappointed by the first book.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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My Top 5 Favourite Under-appreciated YA Books | Blogmas Day 1

While thinking about what topics to do for Blogmas, I realized that there are several YA books that I really love, but which seem to be either unpopular among bloggers/booktubers or simply have lower than I would have expected ratings on GoodReads. So, I decided to make a list of those! Let me know if you have read any of these! :D

Anything Could Happen

Anything Could Happen by Will Walton Genre: contemporary, romance, LGBT+ Tagline: When you’re in love with the wrong person for the right reasons, anything could happen. My review: Perhaps, some readers might consider this book a bit cliched. But for me, it was sweet and realistic, and the plot was very well executed. If you liked "Simon vs Homo Sapiens Agenda", you will enjoy "Anything Could Happen". However, this book has more real-life problems in it, which I really appreciated. My rating: 4 stars GoodReads link Buy this book

 

 

 

Hero

Hero by Perry Moore Genre: drama, superhero, LGBT+ Tagline: To survive, Thom will face challenges he never imagined. To find happiness, he'll have to come to terms with his father's past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be. My review: This book broke my heart a bit. Mostly because of Thom's father. The plot switches between contemporary drama and superhero action, which can seem a bit jumbled, but it is well-written overall. Sadly, this was the only book by Perry Moore. Since it was published in 2007, I feel as if few people know of it. My rating: 4 stars GoodReads link Buy this book

 

 

The Abyss Surrounds Us

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie
Genre: dystopian, sci-fi, pirates, LGBT+
Tagline: Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?
My review: This book has amazing sea monsters that are reminiscent of those in Pacific Rim. Plus, pirates. Plus, badass girls. Definitely, a must read! I had some issues with the writing at times, but it is a solid book for a debut. It is book one in duology, but I am yet to read the sequel.
My rating: 4 stars

 

 

Made of Stars

Made of Stars by Kelley York
Genre: contemporary, suspense/thriller, LGBT+
Tagline: Even the stars are lies
My review: I loved this book! I read it almost in one sitting, and I couldn't put it down. Told from the three perspectives of three characters, don't let it full you that it is going to be a fluffy contemporary romance. It is not. It is realistic, thrilling and the ending broke my heart. (How could you, Kelley, how could you?!) I have been wanting to re-read it for a while, but I am terrified to.
My rating: 5 stars

 

 

27 Hours

27 Hours (The Nightside Saga #1) by Tristina Wright
Genre: dystopian, sci-fi, LGBT+
Tagline: Hour zero means war.
My review: I have read and reviewed this book on my blog (LINK), and it is a new release. However, I am adding it here as it has not enough (in my opinion) positive reviews for such an amazing book. It is definitely one of my favourites of 2017.
Read it and have Beatles' "Hey Jude" forever stuck in your head.
My rating: 5 stars
Here are all of my under-appreciated (in my opinion) YA books, and hey! All of them have queer characters! ?

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Book Review: "Ash" by Malinda Lo

I picked this book at the book store from the shelf marked as "lgbt teens". I had never heard about this writer, but both the cover (which is pretty) and the blurbs ("Cinderella retold" and "It's not the fairy tale you remember") got me curious.  So, I dived into the book with rather high expectations.

The book is said to be a retold story of Cinderella, but to be honest the only connection to the original is in the fact that Ash's parents die and she has to live with her stepmother and stepsisters who are mean to hear and treat her like a servant, and later she meets the fairy who grants her wishes and she goes to a ball. This is it. These are the all connections. Otherwise the story is quite different.

Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. The book is raw and not in a good way. The style is quoted to be dreamy and enchanting, but it rather cliched and uneven at times jumping from rather trite to more exciting passages. I loved the main character, but often her actions didn't resonate with me as she seemed to be very confused about what she wanted. I wanted intense emotions and conflict, but sadly the emotions felts washed out to me. I felt that the ending was a bit rushed too (and too easily resolved).

I had an issue with the world building as well. There are several paragraphs at the beginning of the book explaining how there were people who believed in fairy folk and witchcraft/magic and how there were philosophers who thought that it was fiction. Ash's mother used to be an apprentice to a greenwitch and she believed in fairies, while Ash's father did not. There was a potential for the conflict between other characters in the book who followed one or another beliefs, but it was really never addressed again in the book (except for few very feeble mentions that didn't influence the plot whatsoever).

The book is split into two parts: The Fairy and The Huntress. That division didn't make much sense to me as both the fairy and the huntress are throughout the book. I think the author wanted to mark the role those characters played in Ash's life, but it was not very reflective in the narrative itself - at least not to the extent that would require it to be marked in the book.

I had a feeling that it was a debut novel (which I confirmed later visiting the author's page) which would explain the weak narrative and some style blunders. Those small things, like, for example, the mix of theme and rheme ("She wrapped her arms around herself and felt the chill of the early morning."), and an abundance of colons. Seriously, Malinda has a thing for colons. I don't mind it. On the contrary, I like when writers use colons and semi-colons. Unfortunately, in "Ash" I found the use of long sentences and colons and semi-colons to be a bit unnecessary. More so, either Malinda (or her editors) are not particularly sure about whether the first word in the clause following the colon should be capitalized or not - I saw both. So let me tell you: it is not necessary because those sentences are connected in meaning.

While reading "Ash" I kept thinking that I really want to give this book at least 4 stars out 5, because the idea was very interesting and I liked the fact that it was not a usual romance, but a queer romance. There are quite interesting fairy tales in it, and overall the book has a lot of potential, which was not realized. It is a very easy read though and it is pretty short, so it may be attractive to some of you.

It is a lgbt young adult book written by a female author (or colour), so I feel that it should be praised just for the diversity of it (I really need more books like that in my life!), but the style didn't work for me. I am sorry, but I found it hard to fall in love with the story as I was trying to ignore the weak language. I will definitely check out "Huntress" by the same author though, as I have a feeling it will be set in the same world, and I am excited to learn more about the huntresses and their hunt and fairies. I am also hoping that Malinda's style has improved with years.

This book is a solid 3 out of 5 stars. Wish I could give it more, but alas. If you like fairy tales and if you are not as particular about the writing as I am - check it out. You might love it. I was slightly disappointed.