Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: Style by Chelsea Cameron

A book I read was good, and I want to share it with you all via a review! :)

I'm reading more of Chelsea Cameron's stuff, and this was a YA contemporary romance novel of hers called Style. 

In Style, a nerd and a cheerleader fall for each other. Nerd/jock is a trope in romance which I like, and Style does that except with lesbians. Kind of makes me want every romance staple trope but gayer. 

One character is Kyle, a disabled girl from a poorer family whose helicopter parents are hyperfocused on getting her into a good college with lots of scholarship aid. She is focused on college too -- so much so that she doesn't notice she likes girls until she's hit over the head with a crush on ice queen cheerleader Stella. 

Stella is a closeted lesbian and cheer captain who is also hyperfocused on getting into college -- because then she feels like she can come out to everyone and be her real, lesbian, self. When she's paired with Kyle on an English assignment, she has to decide whether to ignore her attraction to the cute nerd or let down her ice queen facade and risk the consequences.

These two start from a place of reluctant attraction and build a really lovely, meaningful romance.

Cover of Style by Chelsea Cameron. Shows Kyle on right and Stella on left lying on the hood of a car with their legs propped up against the front windshield. They are smiling and talking.

Trigger warnings/content notes: Kyle mentions ableism; characters discuss anti-gay behavior; there are a couple anti-lesbian slurs in passing; mentions of past bullying; transmisia/trans erasure; acemisia/ace erasure/sex-shaming.

I'll admit, I'm so used to books about gay and lesbian teens being gloomy or having some giant homomisic crisis that I kept tensing, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it...doesn't. And I was very grateful to this book for that. If you get terrible secondhand anxiety, especially reading romances like I do, I REALLY recommend Style. Style will NOT do you like that!

Once the two admit their attraction and start seeing each other informally, the book's plot moves on to the question of whether they should sneak around or date openly and come out to everyone. I thought they communicated really well, but they have their difficulties. Kyle becomes interested in finding out why Stella puts on the "icy jerk" act when she's really funny and warm. Stella is conflicted between wanting to be herself with Kyle and wanting to protect herself from being hurt.

The bullying aspect comes in when we learn that Stella was horribly bullied by a group of girls from elementary through middle school. Although she doesn't get into explicit details, it was clearly traumatizing. She fears coming out and going through the same vicious bullying. Even though her family is already accepting of queer people, she still has a lot of fears around it.

Kyle initially flips out at the thought that she might be a lesbian, but once she accepts it as a possibility, she feels like, "Why didn't I notice this sooner???" That seems to be a pretty common experience -- and based on the author's note, is coming from a place of personal experience. Kyle does very briefly wonder if she's bi, but quickly figures out that nope, she's into girls exclusively.  

Both girls ended up coming out to their best friends first rather than their families. For some reason, that felt authentic to me. It seems like best friends know a different version of you than your parents do at that age, and what might surprise your parents may come as no big surprise for a best friend. Plus, it's often more comfortable to talk to people your own age. Style shows how even kids from the most accepting and loving families can still have legitimate fears and struggles around coming out and dating. I think readers will really root for Kyle and Stella as they build their relationship with each other, their parents, their friends, and new people they meet.

If I could change just a couple of things about this book, I would change the jokes about pregnancy and the comments about masturbating. When Kyle and Stella talk about masturbating, one says that everyone does it unless they're "too uptight or something." The book was trying to say that yes, of course girls masturbate and that's ok! However, it does this by punching down on people. 

This was an awkward moment of sex-shaming that could bite for a number of people: asexuals who don't masturbate or feel arousal, people who are struggling with "uptight" upbringings around sex, or even people with vulvovaginal pain disorders which prevent them from masturbating (fact: these are often caused by strict religious upbringings which pooh-pooh sex). Again, I see what the book was trying to do -- but shaming people who were raised with anxiety around sexual self-expression defeats the point.

The other thing which made me wince was the joke about how lesbians can't get each other pregnant. While this is definitely true for peri cis lesbians, it's not necessarily a good blanket statement for all lesbians. The amount of mileage the book tried to get out of that bit of humor was odd. 

What I really loved about Style was how it addressed the pair's anxieties about college. They wonder whether picking a school based on where your girlfriend is going is silly. They worry about holding each other back and about the viability of long-distance relationships. However, they also talk through it and are able to get some advice from older, wiser heads. Stella's dad points out that hey, if she isn't committed to any particular college, why not go where Kyle goes? Aren't there worse reasons to pick a school? Why assume it won't work out from the start -- isn't that setting yourself up for failure?

All in all, Style was a happy read that affirmed the reader and the characters, taking us through the ups and downs of teenage relationships, insecurities, and hopes for the future. Also nice to see was a small town with a diverse population instead of being 98% white, abled, and straight/not-queer. Would recommend!

Friday, March 16, 2018

A stroke of luck?

My class was cancelled today. This means I don't have to turn in work that is probably -- definitely -- below standard. I also get more time to relax and eat lunch, and a little more time to prepare for work rather than rushing off to a 5 PM clock-in time immediately after a class that ends at 5 PM. This seems to keep happening no matter how many times I tell my supervisor that I have class until 5. Ah, well.

This delay also lets me dance around the problem I've encountered for one more week, which I would otherwise have been forced to confront today. I think taking this class may have been a mistake -- despite the amount that I've learned. An incident occurred in the last class I attended that made me lose a great deal of respect for and trust in the instructor, and I'm not sure how to resolve that properly when next we meet.

Whether the cancellation is a good thing or a bad thing -- because perhaps being forced to confront the issue today would have good -- remains to be seen. 

Anyway, I keep meaning to do book reviews here, but something always gets in the way. I'll attempt to write something creative on my own time instead. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2017: In which I realize I have an eating disorder

Please note! This post has content related to eating disorders, food, and weight.

So, you may know that a lot of shit went sideways for me in 2017. The summer in particular...well. 

Among all the big upsets happening in my life, I started to put together the pieces on some little things. Things that added up to make the most sense out of a troubling pattern that I'd observed for several years.

2017 was the year I slowly realized I have an eating disorder.

What kind? I don't know! Some good general information on ED's can be found here. Whether or not I fit any of the criteria for a diagnosable eating disorder, I definitely have disordered eating and a weird relationship with food. 

Maybe it's more of a phobia than an eating disorder -- I don't know. I do know that I hoard food, have an irrational fear of food not being there or of losing food, sometimes eat too much either for no reason or because of a fear that I won't be able to later, and go order takeout too much to avoid diminishing my store of food. And I definitely hang on to things like leftovers and whatnot far past when it's reasonable to throw them out. Sometimes I take home or prepare food I have no intention of eating, just to have it. More rarely, I have very occasionally avoided eating because I'm convinced there is no food to eat (even if there is), although this is rare for me and I hate doing it. 

I forget to eat, or I overeat. My stomach physically hurts a lot, so eating is already stress-inducing. Until I started an appetite medication, I couldn't tell if I was full or not, or really hungry or not. And there was all this weird anxiety around food being gone or going away or that the food I did eat would somehow not be "enough" or...something. 

I've decided to focus on this in 2018 because I can point to the exact factors in my life that fucked me. This, in theory, should make it easier to address. 

First, I did not want to admit to myself that I had disordered eating because I did not want to follow the family pattern. Let's just say that there are certain anti-fat people who have contributed to the development of eating disorders in multiple generations of my family. I don't think that they had a very large influence on me; however, if I wasn't so determined to escape their toxic attitudes on this front, I might have recognized and dealt with this sooner.

Second: without going into too much detail, I also have bad experiences related to food in the past -- in which some other people have been rather terrible to me about it, perhaps planting the grains of this fear that I would be denied food. 

Finally, I went to college, where food was only available at certain times regardless of when I was hungry -- so I had to stuff myself even when I wasn't and do other things that promoted an unhealthy relationship with food. Add all that together, throw in some financial anxiety, and you come up with a...whatever this is.

Anyway, a 2018 resolution of mine is to address this and get some advice for dealing with it. I've already started using a food tracking app -- MyFitnessPal -- to log food and exercise, and HOLY CRAP the difference is already astounding. It helps me remember when I'm hungry, reminds me to eat and drink water, and most importantly in relieving this anxiety, assures me that the food is, in fact, there, that I did eat it, and I'm not going to, idk, run out of food or not eat enough. Translating the food into concrete numbers has been incredibly helpful in this regard.

I know there are many misconceptions about eating disorders, some of which have prevented me from realizing sooner why I was so miserable about food. I've been sifting through a deal of information and I think I'm reasonably well-informed of what my next steps are.

That's all. If you have dealt with or are dealing with anything similar, I support you! :)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Review: Eye of the Storm by Frank Cavallo

I received a free copy for review, and with the neat and ominous cover art, summary, and pretty cool title, I had high hopes for this book. Even though it took me forever to get around to starting it!

I ended up DNFing (did not finish) this one after the first several chapters. I think it will still be helpful to other readers to explain why I put this one down -- in case this sounds like something any of y'all might like.


Image result for eye of the storm frank cavallo'

Eye of the Storm is a portal fantasy about a group of scientists, documentary filmmakers, and mercenaries who set out to film alleged Neanderthals but are transported through a storm of black flame to a terrifying prehistoric world. In this world, there's a struggle as the reins of power change hand against the backdrop of some kind of sorcerous threat. 

There are humans in this world, living alongside dinosaurs and whatnot. Although they don't have technology like we do, they have magic and are significantly past the Flintstones type of "cavemen" you might think of when Neanderthals come to mind.

But what is the story?

That's approximately as far as I got, because this book takes forever to start and can't seem to decide on where it starts. First, there's a chapter that begins with a bunch of scientists watching a PowerPoint presentation. In real life, I don't find PowerPoints particularly riveting. They somehow become even more boring if you have to sit through one secondhand as a reader. 

A recently deceased Neanderthal has been found in modern times, and an entertainment company wants to fund a scientific research expedition and documentary film. They head out into the middle of nowhere to look for more signs of what they believe to be a surviving Neanderthal community. 

Just as you begin to become intrigued, the book jumps forward in time to where they've been searching for weeks with no sign of homo neanderthalensis. Several of the characters in a chopper see a flying dinosaur -- and pursue it into a mysterious hellstorm. They crash on the other side.

A mysterious time and place

We then jump to a different world with a dying king. We have enough clues to assume he's the king of the Neanderthal world, I guess. He has some mysterious instructions for his daughter and advisers, there's some romantic intrigue between some characters, and then the chapter is over with dire threats of a returning evil sorcerer. 

The book makes another leap forward two years in time with the expedition characters who got sucked into the storm. Two years after crash landing, they're spending their last bullets hunting triceratops for food. I don't even know if that's frickin' possible, since those things are huge af, armored af, and travel in large groups for protection. 

OK OK I know it's not possible for humans and dinosaurs to exist at one time, and this is fantasy so I shouldn't care, but the POINT of being a dinosaur nerd reading portal and time travel fantasy is that I get to relish my random nerdy knowledge of dinosaur-type facts!!! MY NINE-YEAR-OLD SELF DEMANDS ACCURACY. :'D

Why I DNF'd

I don't actually mind any of that, not really. What finally made me put this down in frustration was how the story didn't seem to start anywhere. I still know essentially nothing of the characters beyond their basic roles -- scientist, soldier dude, virtuous princess, magical adviser -- and there didn't seem to be much sense to the time skips. It was almost like starting a new book every time the plot skipped. 

I think the book could have started with the death of the king. Or the expedition being sucked into the portal-storm. Or even with them hunting dinosaurs for food. There's too much backstory and exposition -- once you think you know where you are and have a handle on where the story starts, the book's like, "nope, psych" and yanks the narrative rug out from under you. I lost my patience with it after several chapters. 

Overall, I don't recommend it. That's not to say I could do any better! Who knows -- I might return to it sometime if I feel like it. Also, plenty of other people might have no problem at all with it. If you read like I do, though, you'll want to skip the first 30-ish pages.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Review: Double Exposure by Chelsea Cameron

Double Exposure is the second in the Violet Hill series of short romance novels set in a queer cafe in Maine. While it's the second in a series, each book can be read as a standalone and you can start anywhere in the series. I picked this one up when it was on sale, and am glad I did! 

[Trigger warnings: a character makes an ageist/age-disparaging comment; there's one sex scene; a character mentions past panmisia and rejection from her parents; character describes past queermisia against the cafe]

 

Plot

Double Exposure is an extremely heckin' cute meet cute. Anna is a twenty-something working her butt off at the Violet Hill cafe ... when in walks the beautiful photographer Lacey. Instant crush! 

Lacey wants to do a piece on the cafe, and she wants to interview Anna. As Anna convinces her media-shy bosses to do the piece, she knows her enthusiasm for Lacey and her work goes beyond professional interest. But Lacey is a travelling photojournalist, and Anna doesn't know if she's ready to commit her feelings to someone who's going to leave. 

Characters worrying about money, or, why I am basically Anna in many ways

As a millennial, I found Anna extremely relatable. She is clearly happy where she is, but has an air of being frazzled that I've definitely experienced. She works hard, and while she's settled nicely in Violet Hill, there's this sense that she's frantically moving around and doesn't take much time to enjoy herself because she's so busy. She mentions that as a pansexual woman, she is attracted to people of all genders; however, while she forms crushes easily, she is afraid of forming emotional connections because she's been burned by heartbreak in the past. She's a little shy, a little vulnerable, a little self-conscious. 

Of course, Anna can't help falling for Lacey emotionally as well as physically. Lacey is the elegant, traveled, sophisticated woman -- Anna is pretty intimidated by her at first. But when they finally admit their mutual attraction, we learn that Lacey is warm and friendly and funny. She has a black cat named Murder, who I loved. Give a character a cat, and I will love that character. 

a black cat sits on a tree stump outdoors, looking photogenic.

Beautiful, Healthy, Happy Queer Romance

My favorite thing about this budding romance between the small-town girl and the glamorous out-of-towner was how open and communicative they were. They talked about themselves, their body confidence issues, their work, their boundaries, and what they wanted their relationship to be in a healthy way. 

For instance, when they are kissing, Anna stops and confesses that she isn't ready for a serious relationship because Lacey will leave in just a few weeks. They talk about it and set physical boundaries in an attempt to create some emotional distance.

Situating Sex

The book then gets into what constitutes a "serious" relationship. Despite their mutual -- and intense -- physical attraction, Anna and Lacey don't have sex until the very end of the book. When one of her coworkers makes a joke about her "fling" with Lacey, Anna replies that it isn't a fling since they haven't had sex. Her coworker challenges that -- does it need sex to be a fling? Why does sex need to be involved for a relationship to be serious or valid?

These are questions which give Anna pause, and I'm glad the book included them. There's definitely a stigma that sex = serious, or that having sex must deepen emotional commitment. Anna and Lacey's relationship demonstrates this to be false -- despite holding off sex until the very end, they develop Serious Feelings and ... well, without spoilers, everything does work out for them in the end. :)

I would say that this book is a low to medium heat romance, with some kissing and one sex scene at the very end. It delves into the questions of emotional and physical boundaries with a sensitivity that I've rarely seen, and overturns the idea that a sex-free relationship is less valid.

Representation and Body Confidence

Lacey tells Anna that her work as a photojournalist focusing on queer spaces and issues is important to her as a bisexual trans woman. Anna, who had been furtively (and amusingly) trying to figure out if Lacey is into girls, blurts out that she's pansexual. It was a cute scene. 

Frequently, books with trans characters resort to insulting tropes to reveal that the character is trans. I was relieved that this was not the case here. Also, Anna does not assume that Lacey being bisexual automatically means that she's into women. This was incredibly affirming to read, as bisexual does not necessarily include or exclude the two main binary genders. 

While both Anna and Lacey have body insecurities, Anna does not try to compare her body confidence issues as a cis woman with Lacey's body confidence and dysphoria as a trans woman. At one moment, when Lacey is lamenting the size of her breasts, Anna holds off saying that she thinks they're awesome -- because at that moment, complimenting her partner's body would be more invalidating than uplifting. 

Lacey also has some hesitation about whether Anna is OK with her being trans. Lacey is so elegant and confident that that moment of vulnerability was more touching. Lacey talking to Anna about her own body was clearly somewhat difficult for her, and Anna is very supportive and lovely about everything. Some people might view these scenes in a different light, so if you know of any own voices review of Double Exposure by trans women, please let me know so that I can link them here. 

Using Xan West's ranking, I would call this a fat-neutral romance. The author has written other fat heroines and love interests in this series (which I am reading now!). 

Two quibbles

The dialogue is confusingly spaced so that it is hard to tell which character is talking. When formatting dialogue, a new paragraph break should mean a new character is speaking. For instance, 

"The soup is cold," Mary said. 

I stuck a finger in the soup. "Feels fine to me."

The book did not obey these formatting rules, and that made for a slower read as I spent more time parsing who was talking when. It may hamper your comprehension of what's going on. I wish the books would be re-released with this changed.

The other quibble is the cover. With the somber black and white flower on a black background, I thought it would be a much gloomier read than it was. I'm not sure how much control the author has over these elements, but if I noticed them, others probably will -- so I included them. The book is worth the read, though! Don't let that discourage you! :)

Would I recommend?

Overall, I would recommend this book. It's an incredibly sweet meet cute. I did not think I could like meet cute romances. I was wrong!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

I DID get around to my New Year's Resolution

Hello friends! I've not made much progress on my blog revamp, but I wanted to drop by for a quick blog post.

This year I wanted to read more out of my comfort zones and favorite genres, specifically non-fiction and romance. I'm glad to say I enjoyed most of what I read, too -- always a plus. :)

I will do a post later on the books as a group and will likely review some of them separately. It's just, well, it's a lot to do. I have not kept up with the pile of other tasks I have to do, either. Mainly, I'm working on a project for school and all else is shelved until that is finished. 

I think I will just have to put the blog aside until the New Year, unless I finish that thing before then. Still, I look forward to sharing these wonderful books with you. 


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving

Hello! Hope you are having a good holiday. 

 I haven't been around on the blog much lately. I'm going to do a revamp of the look of the whole thing and revisit some of my reviews -- revise them, and also revise how I do reviews period. 

I'm going to get rid of star ratings and do some other stuff. I've been reading a lot of books that I want to share my thoughts on, but I never seem to have the time to make full-blown posts. I'm going to try to change that and free up more time for blogging... 

 Have a good turkey day, wherever you are. :)

Review: Style by Chelsea Cameron

A book I read was good, and I want to share it with you all via a review! :) I'm reading more of Chelsea Cameron's stuff, and this...