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[Review] Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

[Review] Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

[Review] Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey CranorWelcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor
Published by Harper Perennial on October 20, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, LGBT+, Science fiction
Pages: 401
ISBN: 9780062351425
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Let me begin by saying I adore Welcome to Night Vale… the podcast, that is. It is wacky, and cute, and warm, and creepy, and I love it. And if you aren’t listening to it yet you should give it a try. Last year the WTNV crew also did a live tour and visited Amsterdam, and I went. And it’s hard to describe how much that night meant to me. Before that, I was going through a period where I had trouble connecting to the world. But that night gave my life a little bit of shine and (although I don’t think WTNV was single-handedly responsible for this) after that everything got sort of better as far as the disconnectedness goes.

So yes, I love WTNV, and as a result I was really looking forward to this book. Preordered it the moment I heard about it. Went so far as to get a signed edition from the US.

And… ah. I won’t say the book is a disappointment, but it also didn’t live up to expectations. I hate it when that happens.

The book isn’t great, but it also isn’t bad. It was just sort of meh? I know the book had big boots to fill what with the podcast being a piece of perfection, and it seems Fink and Cranor might have overestimated their abilities. Now I sound mean, I don’t mean it in a bad way, the book wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the podcast. Ouch.

I had two three problems with this book: Firstly, it was unnecessarily slow. I don’t need the book to be a wild roller coaster ride and move too fast, but the story and descriptions just went on and on. Getting through the first 300-or-so pages felt like a big task. This brings me to my second problem: the style that works for the podcast just doesn’t work for a book. The beginning was too random, too quirky, and all that is fun, fantastic, in the podcast, but apparently not for a 400-page book. If anything its quirkiness made the book feel kind of unfinished? And then my third problem (which was also a cause for my first problem?) is that I didn’t care about the characters all that much. I just didn’t care about their problems, and the book also didn’t make me feel curious to find out how they were going to fix everything. This got better in the last 100 pages, and I ended up liking the characters quite a bit by the time I finished the book. But still, that’s not good enough.

I guess I was secretly hoping to learn more about the characters that we know from the podcast. Cecil, Dana, Carlos, Steve… but they all play minor roles. I think the book at least managed to introduce some sort-of-new characters and now that I finished the book I am happy to have gotten to know these characters. So yes, for most of the book I was considering giving it three stars, but it deserves an extra half star for the fact that I ended up caring for the characters after all. Hope to see them back in the podcast, I suppose?

[Review] We, Two Boys, by Aline Sax

[Review] We, Two Boys, by Aline Sax

[Review] We, Two Boys, by Aline SaxWe, Two Boys by Aline Sax
Series: Adrian #1
Published by Clavis Publishing on 2008 (first published 2007)
Genres: Historical fiction, LGBT+, Young Adult
Pages: 330
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Escaping from their burdensome poverty, twin brothers Adriaan and Alexander’s family emigrates from Belgium to New York City. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan, and Adriaan is the only one who eventually arrives in America. Alone in the city, he becomes overwhelmed and grows homesick. But before he can prepare for his trip back, he finds a reason to stay—an American boy named Jack.

Just like the previous book I reviewed, Brothers by Ted van Lieshout, We, Two Boys is a book originally written in Dutch by Flemish author Aline Sax. I feel proud that such beautiful LGBT+ YA books like these exist in Dutch.

Anyway, I read this book in Dutch but it is in fact also published in English (and German, and it won a prize in Germany too). Which makes it all the better since I was dying to share it with all of you! The book is actually the first in a series of two books, but I’ll get back to you about that in a bit.

The story in We, Two Boys (the title is based on the poem We Two Boys Together Clinging by Walt Whitman) is beautiful. In the early 20th century many European families (especially agricultural families) moved to the United States to see if they could get lucky there. We, Two Boys tells the story of Adriaan, one of the twin brothers. With his family he moves to the States, or at least attempts to. In the end he is the only one to arrive and Aline Sax describes his feelings perfectly. Not knowing any English and without money to travel back to Belgium, Adriaan is forced to start living in New York – alone.

Then he meets Jack, and not only does Adriaan have to get used to life in New York, he also has to deal with his feelings for Jack and the realisation that he is not in the least interested in women. And what will he tell his twin brother, the one person in his life who knew him, his thoughts, every fibre of him?

It is clear Sax has done a lot of research about immigrant life in New York in the early 20th century. I admit I do not know much about it, but Sax’s descriptions are wonderful and vivid and you feel like you’re actually there. You can feel the summer heat, the crowdedness, the mix of cultures. The tough situation Adriaan is placed in, his frustrations and his loneliness and his desperation.

While the book is short, Sax manages to fit in a lot of story and a lot of descriptions without it ever getting long-winded. So it is even more amazing that she creates such three dimensional characters that you really grow to like.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book!

Now, as for the second book. I haven’t been able to find out if that one has been published in English as well (in Dutch it’s titled Schaduwleven). The first book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, and while the second book eventually answers the question that the last book finishes with, that’s it. The second book is still about Adriaan, two years on, but I don’t think it’s necessary to read after the first book (I’ll gladly answer the cliffhanger if anyone decides to read We, Two Boys and wants to know).

The theme of the second book also feels very different – it is more about the gay scene in New York, and the challenges Adriaan and his friends face in opening and running their own gay bar. I enjoyed the second book, but it was nowhere near as good as the first book. Had it been a standalone book, I would have rated it no more than 3 stars (but as a continuation of We, Two Boys it got 3.5-4 stars from me). So honestly, you’re not missing out if you don’t read the second book. Just go, go and read We, Two Boys, because it’s so worth it!

These Books Are Queer

These Books Are Queer

LGBT+Recently I have been thinking a lot about queer books and their visibility. Just like how I want to read as many books by women as I possibly can, just so I can put them in the spotlight, I am also doing the same with queer books.

The thing is, I sometimes wonder if I mention often enough that certain books have queer content. I feel like I mention it. I always tag my posts as LGBT+, and I regularly post for LGBT+ reading events. But I guess sometimes I don’t mention it (especially in more general posts/lists) for whatever reason. And that’s not logical. To me it matters that books have queer content, to me it is important. And I know so many people are looking for queer books and have trouble finding them, and I want my blog to be a good and safe place for anyone to find these books.

And while I know to some people it does not seem important and they will read books regardless of queer characters and content, not mentioning it just isn’t fair to these books. This actual post was triggered by a post at the Gay YA: Let’s Take Queer YA Out of the Closet. And I agree with it, I notice many readers doing this especially to mainstream books with queer content – they do not mention in any way that a book has queer content. Why? Perhaps they are afraid to scare off other readers, are ashamed, or simply do not think it is important?

So here is what I’m going to do, not just with YA books but with any queer books: I vow to never, never stick a queer book back in the closet. I hope everyone else will do the same. I want visibility for these books, I want diversity in books.

Let this post be a Queer Masterpost on this blog, a post I hope makes the road to discover more LGBT+ books an easier one. If you have any questions or want personal recommendations, don’t be afraid to ask/comment. Or use my contact form if you don’t want to post openly 🙂
And of course I am open to your recommendations too!

Books I Recommend

Classics

  • Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
  • Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Maurice by E.M. Forster
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Contemporary

  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (YA)
  • Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (YA)
  • Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto
  • How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis (YA)
  • Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth (YA)
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (YA)
  • Stir Fry by Emma Donoghue (YA)
  • Weetzie Bat (Weetzie Bat, #1) by Francesca Lia Block (YA)
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan (YA)

Fantasy

  • Love in the Time of Global Warming (Love in the Time of Global Warming, #1) by Francesca Lia Block
  • Huntress by Malinda Lo (YA)
  • Pantomime (Micah Grey, #1) by Laura Lam (YA)
  • Princess Princess by Katie O’Neill (YA, graphic novel)
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Historical fiction

  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  • Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (YA)
  • Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (YA)
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
  • Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
  • We, Two Boys by Aline Sax (YA)

Science fiction & dystopia

  • Adaptation by Malinda Lo (YA)
  • China Mountain Zhang: A Novel by Maureen F. McHugh
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness (YA)
  • Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis (YA)
  • The Vintner’s Luck (Vintner’s Luck, #1) by Elizabeth Knox
  • The Angel’s Cut (Vintner’s Luck, #2) by Elizabeth Knox

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Reviews

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TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and Four

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and Four

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and FourAsleep by Banana Yoshimoto
Published by Faber & Faber on 2001 (first published 1989)
Genres: Japanese literature, Contemporary
Pages: 177
ISBN: 9780571205370
Goodreads
three-stars

Asleep tells the stories of three women, all bewitched into a spiritual sleep. One, mourning a lost love, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, embarking on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself unable to stay awake. The third finds her sleep haunted.

I am slightly behind with the TBR Pile Challenge but I finished book number four last night and so it’s time for another two mini reviews! This means I have now finished four out of twelve books for this year, and I fully intend to continue with this challenge.

Book number three was Asleep and I must say I’m rather disappointed with this book. The thing is, I think I’m falling out of love with Banana Yoshimoto’s work. I absolutely adored two of her works, Kitchen and Hardboiled & Hard Luck, and I liked N.P. as well. But The Lake and Asleep were both disappointments. For some reason these two books did not touch me at all. They were tiresome and I was glad when I finished them. But I am not ready to give up on Yoshimoto yet. I have three books of her left to read, so we’ll see how I feel about those…

* * *

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and FourThe Angel's Cut by Elizabeth Knox
Series: Vintner's Luck #2
Published by Vintage on June 11th 2009 (first published January 2009)
Genres: Fantasy, LGBT+
Pages: 464
ISBN: 9780099540045
Goodreads
five-stars

It's Hollywood, 1929. While Conrad Cole is working late on elaborate plans for his aeroplanes and his films, a mysterious stranger appears at his door. Xas soon finds himself caught up in the glamorous and treacherous world of movie-making and entangled with both Cole and a young woman who owes her life to the eccentric director. Both of them are drawn to Xas without knowing his secret - that under his shirt he hides the remnants of great snowy wings that set him apart from humankind, and that he is destined to wander the earth forever, always hearing the beating of feathers behind him, threatening him that his dark brother has found him again.

This is the sequel to The Vintner’s Luck, which, as you may or may not know, is one of my all time favourite books. It took me 1.5 years to read The Angel’s Cut simply because I loved it’s predecessor so much I was afraid this sequel was going to be a disappointment.
I admit, it wasn’t quite as good as the first in the series, but I still think it was beautiful (and pretty darn emotional at times). The ending of the book was a surprise but it worked, and it worked well.

Anyway, if you haven’t read it yet, definitely do pick up The Vintner’s Luck, but I think you can get away not having read the sequel…

2015 TBR Pile Challenge

[Review] Brothers, by Ted van Lieshout

[Review] Brothers, by Ted van Lieshout

[Review] Brothers, by Ted van LieshoutBrothers: Life, Death, Truth by Ted van Lieshout
Published by HarperCollins on 1999 (first published in Dutch in 1996)
Genres: LGBT+, Young Adult
Pages: 155
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Half a year after Luke's brother Marius passed away, their mother intends to burn all Marius' possessions on his first birthday after his death as a grand goodbye. In an attempt to save Marius' diary, Luke starts writing in it to make it as much his own as it was his brother's. At first Luke doesn't read Marius' entries but just writes on the empty pages, but eventually he gives in and reads his brother's words.

It’s been a while since I reviewed an LGBT YA book (even though I read plenty). But then I picked up this book and I think it deserves a little extra attention, because it’s amazing and also because it’s a book from the Netherlands. I read it in Dutch, so that’s what most of my review will be based on, but the book has in fact been translated to a number of other languages including (but not limited to) English, German, Italian and even Korean. The book received a Dutch award and even a German youth literature award. And apparently the book is also a semi-popular read for the high school reading list in the Netherlands, which is pretty awesome.

Anyway.

I finished this book in no time, partly because it’s short but also for a large part because I just couldn’t put it down.

We get the story from Luke’s point of view in the form of diary entries. In an attempt to save Marius’ diary, Luke starts writing in it. At first he only writes in the diary without peaking at his brother’s entries. He writes about himself and his family. He wonders, among other things, if he is still a brother when his only brother is death. When his mother threatens to tear out Luke’s pages and burn the diary after all, Luke is forced to start using Marius’ pages as well and to write between his lines. This is how the dialogue with (or rather monologue to) his brother begins.

Not only do we find out more about what happened to his brother, but the diary also helps Luke come to terms with his sexuality. The diary format is incredibly intimate and it works perfectly for this story. It’s incredibly realistic. In just 150 pages Van Lieshout manages to make us care about his characters. Luke’s words are down to earth, often witty, sometimes heartbreaking. The book touches sensitive topics, and emotionally it was a bit of a roller-coaster. At the same time it was written in an almost light-hearted way and the book did not make me cry (kudos to that).
(The light-heartedness of the novel actually makes me question the English title – I am not sure if that subtitle Life, Death, Truth does this book any justice. It sounds too heavy.)

For me, this book was nearly perfect. There were a few pages approximately three quarters into the book that were a bit meh, but on the other hand: still infinitely better than the average book. Overall, this book is amazing and I hope more people pick it up. This book deserves it.

Also, a small warning: there is one(1) sex scene and it’s described in detail. It doesn’t even take up a page and honestly it’s still pretty mild. I have actually seen people on Goodreads give this book negative reviews because of this ‘unexpected’ ‘graphic’ scene and there’s only one way for me to reply to such criticism: bullshit.