Outside the Lines is a fairly straightforward M/M romance with plenty of the usual tropes and an unusual amount of charm. It is a fairly short, afternOutside the Lines is a fairly straightforward M/M romance with plenty of the usual tropes and an unusual amount of charm. It is a fairly short, afternoon read that will satisfy your craving for warm romance that includes a whole family and their everyday trials. I myself can never resist such books, especially when one of the MCs has adorable, realistically written kids.
Mitch’s life came crashing down when his wife died unexpectedly, leaving him with two small kids. His nanny is horrible and his in-laws are just waiting for an opportunity to take his kids away from him. He is overtired and overwhelmed, desperate for any kind of help. When his genderqueer neighbor Chi-Chi jumps in to save the day, Mitch doesn’t know whether to hire him as nanny or date him. He only knows that he can’t do both.
Chi-Chi Ramirez is a delightful character, a study in contradictions. He is tiny and flamboyant, but unyielding and strong. He’s equally good at putting on make-up and fixing cars. He is gentle and tough, resourceful and needy, a kind, generous young man with soft words and loud actions. It’s impossible not to love him from the start. Even after being almost killed by his father, Chi-Chi believes in people and he believes in himself.
As for Mitch, the most amazing thing about him is that he doesn’t really waver in his affections. He doesn’t hide behind his children or his broken heart. When he does falter, it’s merely because he is justifiably afraid of losing his kids, but even then it doesn’t last long. At first he gives the impression of barely holding it together, but he too is a strong, determined man with a backbone of steel.
I have such a soft spot for romances with kids and Outside the Lines is no different. Jack and Sadie were both written beautifully and believably, not too childish or too mature for their age. I love how easily they accepted Chi-Chi and his relationship with their father, even when it seemed like they might struggle with all the changes. Their fears were always justified and their reactions precisely what could be expected under the circumstances.
Although the book has few original elements to speak of, the combination of familiar themes works like a charm. Chi-Chi’s gender bending behavior and Mitch’s absolute acceptance are perhaps the best thing about this book, but overall, it has so much more going for it.
New York Times bestselling Romeo and/or Juliet is a choose your own adventure type of deal, a ridiculously entertaining take (or takes, since there arNew York Times bestselling Romeo and/or Juliet is a choose your own adventure type of deal, a ridiculously entertaining take (or takes, since there are plenty of them) on a classic that’s pretty ridiculous in and of itself. A classic it may be, but the word timeless doesn’t apply to this particular work, and the older I get, the more annoyed I am by Romeo and Juliet both.
Ryan North took the famous tale and explored its weaknesses, but he also added pretty much everything that crossed his mind, from ghosts and robots to naked, sword-wielding fathers. The best thing by far is that you make your own choices as you go, from the character you want to play to the path you want to take. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of work that was required to put this book together, but the effort paid off. From the very first page Romeo and/or Juliet is an exercise in hilarity.
If you choose to play as Romeo, prepare to be a lovesick teen obsessed with ridiculous poetry. As Juliet, you will be a ripped, self-obsessed girl interested in muscles and boys. Juliet is a bit of a pushover, always ready to do everything her mother tells her to, but you’re there to make things better and push her in more dangerous directions. It’s your game after all!
Some of the paths end quickly, always with painful and ridiculous deaths. On some of them Juliet and Romeo don’t even meet, and on some they meet but things go in strange directions. Sometimes the book pushes you to change characters, usually when one becomes boring or the other’s life seems more eventful. In any case, North addresses his players the entire time, not hiding the fact that he’s the one actually running the narrative.
Regardless of where you end up, you’ll jump right back to the beginning eagerly. I tried retracing my steps several times, but it didn’t always work. I got tangled up more times than I can count. The easiest thing to do is laugh until you cry at Romeo’s and/or Juliet’s misfortune and go right back to kill them again. Not all paths have tragic endings – there are a few possibilities for a happily ever after as well. After a time, though, you begin hoping for the other kind, mostly because they’re far more entertaining.
Romeo and/or Juliet is the weirdest, funniest book I’ve held in my hands in ages. Sometimes it gives the impression of trying too hard, but overall you’ll want to take this journey again and again until you discover them all. ...more
By now, even the little birdies know that I’m addicted to all things Mary Calmes. Her special brand of romance – intense and uncompromising – pulls meBy now, even the little birdies know that I’m addicted to all things Mary Calmes. Her special brand of romance – intense and uncompromising – pulls me in every single time. I must admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’ve already read this beauty twice, despite giving it mere 3.5 stars. With Mary, it’s not about objective opinions or reason, there’s a magnetic pull between her characters that’s just so very contagious.
Glenn Holloway appeared in After the Sunset as Rand Holloway’s cousin. We had every reason not to like him, but somehow we all warmed up to him quickly. When he finally received Stef’s seal of approval, it was pretty much already done – he had wormed his way into our hearts and he was definitely there to stay. When the Dust Settles shows us a different Glenn, a more vulnerable, reactive and stubborn man, at least when it comes to his family. With other people Glenn is a nurturer, but no one at Rand’s Red Diamond ranch is allowed to see it.
When Stef calls in a favor, Glenn is forced to spend a few days with his brothers and Rand’s people, but he is none too happy about it. He is even less happy about spending time with Rand’s foreman, Mac Gentry, whom he’s been attracted to for years. Mac is seemingly straight as an arrow, and well out of Glenn’s league. But Mac has his own opinion on the matter, and when Glenn finally allows him a second of closeness, he isn’t shy about them.
It’s impossible not to like Glenn, except when he’s around his own family, but Mac is the real surprise hiding in this book. One would expect an alpha male and a cowboy to be closeted and mean about it, but Mac is precisely the opposite. Seeing these two finally interact was a constant source of surprises! To make matters even better, we get to revisit Rand and Stef and their gorgeous son Wyatt.
You can read When the Dust Settles even if you haven’t read Timing and After the Sunset, but why on earth would you want to? It’s Mary… read one of hers, and you’ll end up like the rest of us poor, pathetic people, stalking her on the internet and breathlessly waiting for her next release. ...more
4.5 stars Gemina, the sequel to last year’s hugely successful Illuminae, follows in the footsteps of its predecessor well enough to satisfy even the mo4.5 stars Gemina, the sequel to last year’s hugely successful Illuminae, follows in the footsteps of its predecessor well enough to satisfy even the most demanting reader. Just like Illuminae, Gemina combines texts, images, various fonts and different storytelling strategies. They all come together to form a narrative unlike any other, a constant source of surprise and awe, not to mention entertainment.
Gemina picks up more or less where Illuminae left off, albeit on the other side of the wormhole. We traveled aboard Hypatia and Alexander with Kady and Ezra, but now we find ourselves on Jump Station Heimdall awaiting their return. We are led through the story by Hanna, the station captain’s daughter, and Nik, drug dealer and member of a crime family. Hanna admittedly takes some getting used to and her skills differ from Kady’s, but she proves her value and her moxie over and over during the course of the story.
Romance fans should know that it takes some time to develop and even then takes up very little page time, but it serves as glue that holds everything else together. It’s virtually impossible not to get invested in the story, and why on earth would you try? Gemina has so much to offer that reading it once might not be enough.
Violent and often cruel, the enemy in Gemina shows very little mercy to our crew. The action sequences are carefully planned and therefore exhilarating, with plenty of tension to keep us on the edge of our seats. As the daughter of the station captain, Hanna is highly trained and capable of defending herself when needed, but sometimes there are just too many of them to fight. Still, her intelligent solutions are practically symphony and her bravely something to behold.
Visually, even the printed advanced copy of Gemina is a feast, and it doesn’t include illustrations by the amazing Marie Lu. It’s difficult to imagine how much better it becomes with those added, but even without them, Gemina is something special. Every detail is thought through, and by the end, when things really start heating up, one can’t help but be impressed with such careful planning and flawless execution.
As a true celebration of multimodality, Gemina is probably the most interesting book you’ll hold in your hands this year. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff deserve a whole lot of credit for this project, which was likely a challenge on every turn. The end result is more than worth it, though, and their third book is something to look forward to. ...more
Beyond Magenta is the very first non-fiction book reviewed here in the five years of The Nocturnal Library’s existence, and I couldn’t have picked a bBeyond Magenta is the very first non-fiction book reviewed here in the five years of The Nocturnal Library’s existence, and I couldn’t have picked a better one for the honor. It consists of six stories about six transgender, genderqueer or gender nonconforming teens, accompanied by gorgeous, honest photographs and several comments by the author. The stories are told in first person by the teens themselves, interspersed here and there by the author’s brief comments and observations.
The first thing that will strike any reader is a complete absence of idealization. The teens are portrayed as they are, nothing is hidden, nothing embellished. They are people with convictions, fears, and sometimes inappropriate reactions, with lives a lot more challenging than those of cisgendered people. Kuklin did her very best to cover as much of the spectrum as she possibly could by including six very different shades of the gender spectrum. The kids categorize themselves, if they want to be categorized at all, and they tell their stories with such painful honesty and openness.
Beyond Magenta is essentially a book “about sex and alienation, two universal themes that have interacted in life, literature and art since for ever.” (Kuklin 2016: 164) As the author herself explains, initially she meant to write about teens whose true gender isn’t what they were born with, i.e. girls who are really boys, and boys who are really girls. As her research progressed, however, she discovered so many different possibilities and made certain to represent them fairly.
Some of these stories are light, as some of the teens live in encouraging, empowering environments. Others face more challenges, internal and external both. Each of the stories ends on a hopeful note, though, making sure that we have something to hold on to, even as we contemplate realities and challenges so very different from ours.
I can only imagine what this book will mean to other transgender and genderqueer teens all around the world. Sometimes it’s enough to know that you’re not alone, that other people feel exactly like you. Beyond Magenta is a Stonewall honor book, a powerful and revelatory account of lives within the transgender community. In light of recent political events, such works of hope and encouragement might be essential to surviving whatever is coming and making it to the other side more tolerant and kind than we ever were.
School shootings have been the plague of our world for far too long, and unlike diseases and natural disasters, they always leave us with someone to bSchool shootings have been the plague of our world for far too long, and unlike diseases and natural disasters, they always leave us with someone to blame. We’ve all grieved with the families of those who were lost, but few of us stop to think about the parents and siblings of shooters. Dear Charlie offers a new perspective, a painful look into the devastation and shame of one such family.
Sam’s brother Charlie killed himself suddenly and he took fourteen other people along with him. In the aftermath, Sam is struggling to make sense of things, to reconcile the brother he knew with the person who took a gun to school and used it. No matter how hard he tries, Sam can’t remember any warning signs, anything that could have helped him foresee this tragedy in time.
Sam is just trying to find his place in his horrible new life. He can’t go back to the same school he was attending with his brother and he can’t reconnect with his old friends. He feels alone and isolated, abandoned by his community and his grieving parents. There are obviously no magical cures for such senseless tragedy, and Gomes captures this perfectly, but people can heal even in the most horrible circumstances and find peace and strength they didn’t know they possessed.
N. D. Gomes writes beautifully, and skillfully avoids being melodramatic. Dear Charlie isn’t at all about Charlie, and that becomes more and more clear as the story progresses. It is about Sam finding his footing and allowing his life to take a new shape, a more mature, wounded but recovering outline. Gomes delves deep into Sam’s emotions and displays all the anger, guilt, sadness and loneliness for us to see. It is heartbreaking, but also empowering, and it forces us to look at things in a whole new way.
Overall, this is a painful book, but worth reading and absorbing. It helps build compassion for those who are sometimes beyond our notice, especially compared to larger, more obvious tragedies. Even with his quiet, withdrawn demeanor, Sam speaks loudly of the things we might not want to hear, and his voice stays with us and leaves a permanent impact. ...more
For someone who doesn’t enjoy retellings at all, it’s odd that I keep finding Shakespeare-inspired books that thrill me and make me rethink my positioFor someone who doesn’t enjoy retellings at all, it’s odd that I keep finding Shakespeare-inspired books that thrill me and make me rethink my position. After Cat Winters’ The Steep and Thorny Way, As I Descended shows us that classics are classics for a reason and that things like ambition and jealousy are inherently human, and therefore always interesting and relevant.
Like Macbeth, As I Descended is divided into five acts, each inspired by its counterpart. Bloody knives and burning candles are taken directly from the original, but Talley took enough artistic liberties to make the story entirely her own. Ghosts and boarding schools always went well together and Talley used the connection better than most. Relying on an old Mexican legend about La Llorona, she created a heavy, ghost-filled, terrifying atmosphere.
Maria and Lily are a power couple at their boarding school, even though they are closeted. To be fair, though, their popularity falls entirely on Maria, who is second best at everything in their school. As a disabled girl, Lily was barely noticed before she got together with Maria and even now she’s only visible in Maria’s reflected glow. But Maria being second best isn’t enough for the girls. If they are to end up at the same university, Maria needs to win a prestigious scholarship, and for that they have to get rid of Delilah – unfair, sluttish, drug-using queen of Acheron Academy. Unwittingly, even stupidly, the girls team up with Acheron’s resident ghosts and are led on a downward spiral that can only end in tragedy.
As I Descended is practically bursting with diversity on all sides. If you’re looking for a book with LGBT themes, sobering thoughts on living with disabilities, and even a Latina heroine well-versed in Hispanic legends and culture (even though she often tries to hide it), As I Descended is the perfect book for you. Most importantly, all of it was blended so naturally, and in a book that isn’t primarily about diversity at all.
Unfortunately, Talley falls a bit short in characterization. She put a lot of effort into creating the right atmosphere, but the girls never quite become fully fleshed-out. Instead they remain just tools controlled by evil ghosts, without proper emotional depth or believable motivations. It’s difficult to care for props, and as much as I was entertained and frightened by their story, I was entirely indifferent to their fate.
Overall, As I Descended is a successful retelling of one of my favorite tragedies, and one of those ghost stories that hit just the right note at precisely the right time. What it lacks in characterization, it makes up for in many other ways.