Monthly Archives: June 2017

Review of Abroad: Book One (Abroad #1), by Liz Jacobs

I received an ARC of Liz Jacob‘s Abroad.

Description from Goodreads:
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.

Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .

When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?

This is a situational, character-driven novel if I’ve ever read one. It is essentially conflict-less, or at least there isn’t any conflict from outside the characters themselves. Then there are all the points of view.

There are three first-person POVs, which confused me for a while. Two are very obviously a couple-to-be, which in most such books makes them the main characters. But then there is this third POV, which honestly felt like a 3rd wheel to me. That is until I realized it’s not the individual characters the story centers around, but their collective lives, negotiations, and self-discoveries. It’s in how they relate and compare to one another, their similarities and differences that this book shines. And shine it does. Everyone should read it.

My complaints are few, but I do have some. I felt like Dex and Nick’s attraction was a little too instant and there was so little direct interaction between them that I didn’t feel their relationship grow. I feel I learned a lot about their insecurities and various social challenges, but very little about them outside of these narrow disclosures. I thought the sex scenes, though wonderful, were too long and too similar; this despite one being F/F and one being M/M. (It’s wonderful to have both in the same book, BTW.) I thought the writing, which was mostly fabulous, got a little too purple at times, especially toward the end. And I thought the 3 POVs, diluted the story a bit. It made obvious that the intent was to explore different sorts of sexuality and sexual discovery, but it made for a thin plot.

All in all, I didn’t think it was perfect. But I liked it enough to be looking for more.

Review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Woo-hoo, I got to read at the beach. This always makes me happy. Anyhow, I picked The Perks of Being a Wallflower (by Stephen Chbosky) out of my Little Free Library. Thank you to whichever neighbor left it. I hope you grabbed a book you liked in exchange.

Description from Goodreads:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

This book has gotten a lot of attention. It won awards, was made into a major motion picture (which I haven’t seen), been included in the American Library Association’s “10 Most Frequently Challenged Books” at least five times. It is worth engaging in and I can totally see why it has garnered the attention it has.

It includes some triggery topics and addresses them in plain, sometime blunt language. It presents young American teenagers of a certain generation doing all the things honest adults of that generation admit were happening when they were young teenagers, even if they weren’t themselves participating, but that the general establishment likes to pretend young teens don’t do (because not all adults are honest): have sex (even gay sex), drink, do drugs, engage in self-destructive behaviors, abuse and pressure one another, etc. It refuses to adhere to the myth of innocent pre-adulthood.

In fact, I think this is the books primary strengths. Americans are very dependent on social narratives about certain things and we struggle to break away from them. Only teens of a certain demographic do drugs or have sex or get into fights. Only certain evil, easily identifiable people pressure others into sex or rape or molest. The problem with these narratives is that they are always oversimplified, artificially dichotomous and often simply wrong, leading to innumerable ways in which the subject of these narratives are open to victimization, injury or scorn.

[This paragraph may be a spoiler.] One of the issues the book addresses that I think is worth special mention is sexual abuse. It pops up in a number of ways throughout the book, some subtle and some not. Most notably Charlie is a survivor of sexual molestation. Our American narrative around such abuse often reads that only evil people would molest a child and that person can’t be anything other than the evil that molests. Now, I’m not apologizing for or excusing child sexual abuse. But that simple abuse-equals-evil-person narrative doesn’t leave room for cycles of abuse in which the abuser was themselves a victim of abuse, or that the perpetrator can also hold other meaningful positions in people’s lives (making the victim feel guilty for their affection). I liked that Chbosky condemned the action, of course, (though it was a bit trivialized) but also allowed for layers and complexity around the issue that is too often missing in stories of abuse.

Having said all that, because there is a lot of appreciate, in the end, I liked but didn’t love the book. I had a hard time engaging in Charlie’s narrative. I didn’t much enjoy the diary/letter writing format, and it’s never stated that Charlie is on the Aspergers/Autism spectrum anywhere, but he must be. Otherwise the naivety of a lot of his observations don’t make a lot of sense to me. They are often salient, but they’re things most people wouldn’t think to comment on or would have observed a lot sooner than their early teens.

All in all The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those books people should read to have read them, even if there is no love affair to follow.

Review of Oversight (The Community #2), by Santino Hassell

I received an ARC of Oversight, by Santino Hassell. I read it while traveling from Florida to South Carolina, during my summer vacation.

Description from Goodreads:
Holden Payne has it all . . . or so he thinks. As heir to the founder of the Community—an organization that finds, protects, and manages psychics—he’s rich, powerful, and treated like royalty. But after a series of disappearances and murders rock the Community, he’s branded the fall guy for the scandal and saddled with a babysitter.

Sixtus Rossi is a broad-shouldered, tattooed lumbersexual with a man-bun and a steely gaze. He’s also an Invulnerable—supposedly impervious to both psychic abilities and Holden’s charms. It’s a claim Holden takes as a challenge. Especially if sleeping with Six may help him learn whether the Community had more to do with the disappearances than they claimed.

As Holden uncovers the truth, he also finds himself getting in deep with the man sent to watch him. His plan to seduce Six for information leads to a connection so intense that some of Six’s shields come crashing down. And with that comes a frightening realization: Holden has to either stand by the Community that has given him everything, or abandon his old life to protect the people he loves.

This will be a brief review, as I’m on vacation and my internet connection is sketchy, at best. I enjoyed this new Hassell book, as usual. The magic system (for lack of a more accurate, but equally concise description) is interesting. I liked the characters, both old and new, and the writing is engaging. Admittedly, I never felt especially I connected with Sixtus and I don’t know that I would have with Holden if it weren’t for book one, and it was a bit too much of an insta-lust/insta-love for my taste. Plus, the darned thing ended on a cliffhanger. But overall, I liked the book and will look forward to book three in The Community series.