Calendar Girls June: Favourite Book with LGBTQ+ Representation

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

 

…and my top pick is…

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Women

I absolutely ADORED this book when I first read it last year. I’m sure that literally no-one else will have read it but it remains a firm favourite with me.

Women is a short, stripped down story of a lesbian relationship where nothing much happens but it is just SO REAL. It’s honest and raw and funny and sad and managed to give me all of the feels. It felt like I had stolen someone’s diary and was illicitly gobbling up the details of their life – a bit like when you come across someone who over shares everything on social media and you fall down a rabbit hole stalking  learning everything about them.

I think it’s the quality of the writing. Chloe Caldwell writes with the most unflinching honesty and has elevated the tale of a fairly short lived, obviously doomed relationship from one of navel-gazing self pity to raw exploration of human emotion. I loved that all of her characters were so flawed and that they acted in completely illogical ways because it made them real. I loved the detail, I loved the depth, I loved the characterisation. I even loved the sex scenes because again, they felt so honest. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the sex is detailed but not titillating, relatable but not comedic, orgasmic but not euphemistic. It’s so rare to see a character with unshaven legs and half her clothes still on having incredible sex and it’s this unashamed female gaze/queer perspective that makes this book stand apart.

 

Do you enjoy reading queer fiction? Where do you stand on the issue of #ownvoices?  Have you written your own Calendar Girls post? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin

“All you have to do is believe and let go, and you’ll have all the proof you need”. 

Genre: General adult fiction, mystery, LGBTQ+, #ownvoices

Similar to: No one writes like Armistead Maupin

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of Tales of the City

Publication date: 14th September 2000


How much do I love Armistead Maupin as an author? *Stretches arms apart until something pops in my shoulder* thiiiiis much!💙💚💛💜 

I’ve mentioned a few times about his excellent Tales of the City series, which were the first books I ever read with gay/trans characters living essentially normal lives (well, as much as you can when you all live together in an amazing old house with an incredible landlady who gives a free joint to all her new tenants). The books are absolutely years ahead of their time and have a special place in my heart. So when I learnt that Armistead Maupin had written other books outside of the series I was intrigued – especially when I learnt that The Night Listener had been made into a film with none other than Robin Williams! Plus it fitted a #ReadHarder category so I decided to give it a whirl.

In a similar way to Tales of The City, The Night Listener is weirdly prescient for a book written in the 90’s. It’s a Roman à clef (oooh, fancy! It means novel with a key, where a book is about real life but there’s a fictional element and the key is the link between the two) based around a writer, Gabriel Noone. Noone has his own late-night slot on the radio where he recites his stories. He receives the draft autobiography of one of his young fans, Peter, who claims to have suffered horrendous sexual abuse as a child and has now developed AIDS. Noone contacts Peter and they begin a paternalistic, touching long distance telephone relationship but as time goes on Noone begins to suspect that Peter might not be who he says he is…

I really loved reading this book. The “mystery” element is woven into such a touching and elegant storyline that it ceases to be the main thrust of the narrative – this book is far more about relationships (particularly father/son), family, the secrets we keep to protect others and love in all it’s many forms. 

For a book with so many layers (and some pretty dark subject matter) I didn’t expect humour – but there’s a lightness to his writing that Maupin seamlessly weaves into the narrative. The inclusion of the minutiae of everyday life, the petty worries, the awkward family meals – even the pun in the name Noone (he’s suffering from writer’s block – he thinks he’s no-one in the literary world anymore) all give some light relief and a sense of normality to what could be a very depressing book. It helps that this is an #ownvoices novel – I don’t think anyone else could write about the jealousy they felt when they realised their terminally ill partner might not die imminently and could possibly live without him with such honesty and emotion.

I found The Night Listener was hugely compelling. I loved all of the characters and the way that they related to each other was just so sweet and funny and touching that it gave me all the feels. It was nice to see some Tales of the City characters pop up too – like greeting old friends. I like to know that they’re all ok (I’m aware of how mad this sounds). 

As the story progressed, elements of doubt started to seep in about Peter and the veracity of his story. For much of the novel I really wasn’t sure of what to think – it helped that early on Gabriel announced that he was liable to embellish stories about his own life, so was somewhat of an unreliable narrator. This kept me engaged, especially as the book got darker as it went on. For the most part though it remained fairly light – like a cozy mystery but with huge emotional depth that dealt with difficult, scary themes. 

For a book released in the year 2000 the topics it deals with still feel extremely relevant today. Remember, this was a time before social media, the internet was in it’s infancy and photoshop involved snipping your ex out of a photo with a pair of scissors. So to write about having an honest persona in a digital relationship makes the book incredibly relevant today. Thankfully, the thing that does date it is the treatment available to AIDS sufferers – obviously this has improved dramatically in recent years ☺.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Night Listener. I loved the emotion of the writing, the topics that it covered, the humour and the sadness and everything in between. The mystery element was intriguing and related well to the overarching themes of love in all it’s many forms, paternity, and the preparation for a death that might not be so imminent. 

Rating: Four “Roberta blows” out of five.

Beautifully written, cleverly constructed and relatable in a way that a book written 18 years ago really shouldn’t be, this is a brilliant story about human emotion – with a mystery thrown in for good measure. 

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #21 Read a mystery by a person of colour or an LGBTQ+ author

 

Review – How to be Happy by David Burton

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Don’t be fooled by the title – this is not a ‘How To…’ guide, nor is it the story of someone who figured out the secret to living a fabulous, meaningful life. It’s the story of a young man coming to terms with his own insecurities, sexual confusion, depression and general angst that I’m sure anyone thinking back to their teenage years can relate to on some level. The story Burton tells is interesting, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure, with periods of pretty severe depression and suicidal thoughts thrown in for good measure. Oh, and the bit about it being a memoir of sex is also misleading – rarely have I read an autobiography where the author is so truthful about how they found pulling someone completely, painfully difficult.

A lot of what I read in this book reminded me of the way that some of my friends seem to be constantly searching for some external thing that will make them happy – whether that’s a hobby, a partner, a successful career etc. when really what they’re doing is projecting their own insecurities. At some points I just wanted to hug David Burton and tell him that it was ok to be sad and confused, and that it would get better. Luckily, Burton comes to this conclusion on his own and How to be Happy has plenty of great examples of how building a support network is soooooo important for anyone who is suffering from depression/anxiety/low self esteem.

Burton is also very honest about his experiences and initial negativity towards therapy. I think it’s incredibly important to discuss this issue because I know that a lot of people still feel that they’re admitting defeat by seeking professional help for their problems. Happily, Burton finds a therapist that he’s comfortable with and the book shows how perseverance with counselling can have life changing results – but only if you’re prepared to really work at it.

The other thing that I really liked about this book was the way that Burton experienced confusion about his sexuality (to the point where he came out as gay to his parents) but then ended up having to rethink this. I’ve never seen this mentioned in a book before and it was really refreshing to see someone being so open about their changing feelings. This is clearly a very emotive topic and I applaud Burton for his honesty in saying ‘this is what happened to me and how I felt at the time’. I guess some people will see it as fuel for the ‘you’re too young to know how you feel…this is just a phase’ argument but I saw it as an example of how nuanced sexuality and sexual attraction can be and how completely confusing and difficult to understand it often is.

I did, however, find How to be Happy a little tedious in places. As a memoir of a fairly ordinary (albeit depressed) teenager/young adult there aren’t any explosions, zombies or natural disasters and the book is set in Australia, not in a post apocalyptic future.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and applaud Burton’s honesty in portraying a very difficult period of his life. I think that anyone suffering from depression could benefit from reading it as it is ultimately an uplifting tale of triumph over
personal demons.

Rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #15 Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.  

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Things I Should Have Known is a sweet, unique and funny YA novel set within the slightly dysfunctional Mitchell family. There’s a controlling, no-idea-how-to-deal-with-teenage-girls stepdad, a pushover Mum who has previously been clinically depressed (so JUST WANTS TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY), an older teenage daughter with autism called Ivy and a slightly spoilt, typically stroppy younger daughter called Chloe (the main protagonist). Chloe is one of the popular girls at school, with the jock boyfriend and one dimensional friends. She realises that Ivy has never had a boyfriend and so sets about finding a suitable candidate to date her. Enter Ethan, the adorable, wouldn’t hurt a fly classmate of Ivy’s who Chloe thinks is perfect for her. Unfortunately, Ethan’s brother David goes to the same school as Chloe and is known for being an annoying weirdo. Thrown together by Chloe’s desire to make her sister happy, the unlikely foursome end up coming to some pretty startling realisations about themselves, and each other.

I thought Things I Should Have Known was a great read. I felt that it was such an honest portrayal of what it was like to live with an autistic person, warts and all. It’s unusual to have a story with an autistic character as the sibling of the narrator – everything else that I’ve read in this category is either from the point of view of the parents or the autistic person themselves, which I thought made it unique. It was also nice to see that although the impact of autism features heavily, the book also had another strong storyline (the relationship between Chloe and David) which gave it a bit more variety.

I really liked that there was a bit of everything in this book – LGBTQ+ issues, disability, teenage angst, family problems…all dealt with in a believable and sensitive way. Each character is flawed and to see how they all adapted to a challenging situation was really interesting as a huge range of reactions and emotions were conveyed. I became really invested in the storyline – at one point the main character Chloe makes a huge mistake and I really felt for her.

Unfortunately, some of the comments that Chloe makes about her boyfriend are truly cringeworthy and their relationship seems a little too perfect for two teenagers at high school. Chloe goes from being a bit of a vacuous cheerleader type to a sensitive young woman, who doesn’t care about her boyfriend being the picked on, unattractive weirdo that her friends don’t like. Similarly, David goes from being the weird, bullied, outspoken nerd to the politically correct, feminist, adorkable love interest. Even so, their relationship was very cute and I will forgive the fact that some of the things they said would never come out of the mouths of fifteen year olds because they were just such a sweet couple.

Despite the fact that this was a YA novel it was good to see some difficult issues like full time residential care for autistic adults being discussed. I thought that the issue was dealt with very sensitively, although I expect that in the real world far more problems would have occurred. It also would have been nice for the author to have considered some of the real world implications of long term care, not least the financial element. I guess you can’t have everything, eh?

Despite this, I found myself really enjoying the novel. It’s a nice twist on the standard YA plotline of boy meets girl and it dealt with some difficult issues with sensitivity, even though things turned out to be a little too perfect in the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #13 Read a book by or about a person with a disability.