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Book reviews

Summer reading #4 – Thanks a lot, John LeClair

Summer is here. As I’m working on my slightly dystopian YA novel, I can’t help but look at the books I’ve enjoyed over the past few months. In no particular order I’ll be covering a few of them over the next few weeks.

(Warning: There might be some mild spoilers!)

Thanks a lot, John LeClair by Johanna Parkhurst

Whilst it might seem a bit contradictory to review a book about a teenager who plays ice hockey for “summer” reading, bear with me. Johanna Parkhurst burst onto the gay YA scene with her debut novel: Here’s to you, Zeb Pike a few years ago. I read that book with great enthusiasm: a very likeable and believeable main character, an understated romance and an actual plot that didn’t revolve around said romance.

Ms Parkhurst has also written the equally enjoyable Every Inferno. Both are books I’ve enjoyed immensely. So expectations for her third novel were high, with Emmitt and Dusty once again taking center stage.

This book is definitely more Emmitt’s story, though Dusty obviously features in it as well. Over the course of the novel we gain a deeper understanding of who Emmitt is and what he stands for. Interspersing present day events with letters that Emmitt wrote to John LeClair (a sort-of diary) provides a nice balance to his story. His estranged father, his strong mother, his coach… the supporting characters all breathe life into the story.

What I liked about the book

  • The main plot and its resolution: we find out what was going on with Dusty and Emmitt learns his lessons there.
  • Though it’s dubbed as a “companion” book to Zeb Pike, to me it felt more like a sequel, for which I’m very grateful. At first I feared it would be a “all the events from the previous book, but from Emmitt’s perspective” story.
  • As mentioned above, the romance part of the story is beating steadily underneath the events in the book, but it’s not the book’s main focus. This understated way of displaying a gay YA romance feels very “modern” in the sense that it’s treated no different from any other romance. And why should it?
  • Ms Parkhurst’s writing style and ability to write such effective dialogue. Her characters feel so very alive.

In closing, I don’t want to spoil much about this book, if you haven’t read any of Johanna Parkhurst’s stories: shame on you! But also, just think of the stories that are waiting for you. Start with Zeb Pike, then this one. You won’t regret it!

Book reviews

Summer reading #3 – The Otto Digmore Difference

Summer is here. As I’m working on my slightly dystopian YA novel, I can’t help but look at the books I’ve enjoyed over the past few months. In no particular order I’ll be covering a few of them over the next few weeks. Today: The Otto Digmore Difference by Brent Harbinger (@brenthartinger).

(Warning: There might be some mild spoilers!)

The Otto Digmore Difference by Brent Hartinger

Since his first novel about Russel Middlebrook (Geography Club) I’ve read all books from Brent Hartinger in these series. His latest novel puts a secondary character (Otto Digmore) in the spotlight after he was first introduced in The Order of the Poison Oak as a fellow camp-counsellor with whom Russel falls in love. Though Otto has popped up in quite a few of Russel’s stories, this is the first time he’s the central character in his own story.

Having read all of of the previous Russel stories, it’s always nice to return to the writing style and particular world of Russel & co. If Brent Hartinger were an Instagram-filter, I’d give him the brightly-coloured-lens-flared one that infuses a picture with warmth and a slight sense of over-the-top-not-fully-realistic-ness. I’m sure there’s a better word for that.

To me the stories about Russel (and now Otto) are always a comfortable and welcome return to see where these characters are now. Even if the story can go to some intense place (e.g. people in large black monster trucks throwing lethal objects out of car windows), there’s always a “nothing will really go wrong” feeling that adds a lightness to the writing. In today’s world, I find this style of writing very welcoming.

Now to the meat of this book, the story of an adult Otto Digmore. Otto who has come to terms with living as someone with scarring due to being a burn survivor. I’m not an expert on this subject matter. At all. But I’ve understood that it causes a lot of trauma, not just physical. It takes a lot for someone to overcome that. It’s nice to see that acknowledged with Otto. His voice comes through and it’s a strong voice. It’s not a teenage angst voice, even though there are elements of it (Russell is the only one who ever really loved him in his teenage years, is something that Otto highlights at one point, for example). But statements like that come across as sincere, since Otto shows he has a maturity (that is sometimes maybe a little unbelievable considering his age) to cope and deal. Or maybe that’s just me and I wasn’t that together yet in my early twenties…

There’s a “fake it ’till you make it” quote in the book somewhere, but that’s also what the book exudes: young gay people can be happy and successful in Hollywood whilst being true to themselves at the same time. In a post-Neil Patrick Harris world (can’t believe his coming-out is over ten years ago), that’s a refreshing message when we consider the situation in Hollywood little over ten years ago.

The only criticism I would give to the story is concerning the love interest. For me, this came out of the blue and didn’t feel earned. It felt more like a Deus Ex Machina moment to give Otto a boyfriend.

In closing, this first story felt like Otto was coming into his own. Just like Russell in the previous books, Otto had some growing up to do and he definitely did.

It’s already been confirmed that there are more books coming in the series. I for one am looking forward to them.

What I liked about the book

  • The speed of the story. It’s definitely a road trip and never loses its flow. The pacing is well done.
  • Like with most books concerning Russel: There’s a message here and there’s a lesson to be learned. The way Otto comes to learn his (with dramatic airport scene included) is much appreciated.
Book reviews

Summer reading #2 – Honestly, Ben

Summer is fast approaching. As I’m working on my slightly dystopian YA novel, I can’t help but look at the books I’ve enjoyed over the past few months. In no particular order I’ll be covering a few of them over the next few weeks.

(Warning: There might be some mild spoilers!)

Honestly, Ben by Bill Konigsberg

My second pick for my summer reading reviews is Honestly, Ben. Again I’ve picked a sequel to a previous novel, in this case Openly Straight. The fate of starting a blog whilst having read previous books a long time ago.

Where Openly Straight dealt with Rafe and his story as he moves to Natick, the story of Honestly, Ben is – not surprisingly – Ben’s story. I’ve never read any of Mr. Konigsberg’s books before Openly Straight so when I picked that one up, it was a pleasant surprise in well thought-out characters who inhabited the preppy world of Natick.

Where the first book in this series had a constant feeling of suspense, in the sense of “Who’s going to find out Rafe’s secret?”, this book had a different pace, a different question to answer. The question this book posed was truly Ben’s: who do I love and how honest can I be about myself?

As it turned out during the big speech towards the end of the book, Ben has the capacity for some inspiring candour.

What I liked about the book

  • The build-up towards the speech at the end was well done. About mid-way through the book I had no idea where the story was headed and how Ben was shaping up as a person. Which was well done, considering how easy it would’ve been to fall into implausible reasoning for his behaviour. But Mr Konigsberg succeeded in providing us with a believable Ben, proper motivations making him into a compelling character. Maybe, dare I say it, even more compelling than Rafe?
  • The supporting cast was stellar, as before. What I liked is that Toby had his own development to go through, something which Mr Konigsberg has already hinted at for a possible sequel.
  • The story shows how even people who are open-minded can be quick to pass judgment when it comes to labelling others. Case in point? Rafe’s parents.

During its closing moments, the book provides enough closure to imagine how things will work out for Ben. At the same time it leaves many things unresolved, which makes me wonder whether the hinted-at sequel will only focus on Toby…

Sidenote: If you haven’t read Openly Straight, please do read that one first before reading Honestly, Ben. Strongly recommended!

Book reviews

Summer reading #1: Stormfront

Summer is fast approaching. As I’m working on my slightly dystopian YA novel, I can’t help but look at the books I’ve enjoyed over the past few months. In no particular order I’ll be covering a few of them over the next few weeks. First up, one of the authors I most admire in the field of YA LGBT writing: John Goode (@FosterHigh).

(Warning: There might be some mild spoilers!)

Stormfront by John Goode & J.G. Morgan (book link)
Finally found a moment to read the latest book in the Arcadia series by John Goode and J.G. Morgan. Usually whenever a new John Goode book is released, I tend to read it the next day. I blame my recent obsession with The Expanse novels for keeping me from this one… Sorry!

After what feels like many years since the first Arcadia book, John Goode brings the story of Kyle and Hawk’een to an end (?). With Mr Goode one can never be sure that there isn’t another book to be written with these characters. The ending definitely leaves room for more stories to be told in this universe. And with all the world building that went into Athens and the other realms, it’d be a shame not to return to Arcadia at some point.

Things I enjoyed about this book: It’s clearly LGBT YA, but not a romance story. There is a romance, but too often in these books the romance takes center stage and there’s little room for anything else. Thankfully, that was not the case in this book (or any of the Arcadia books) as the plotting is tight, the characters come alive (Mr. Goode’s abilities to write a strong first-person perspective and have snappy dialogue that just flows definitely are his strengths).
I enjoyed the world building more than I realised at first, the lore of the universe is nowhere near Lord-of-the-Rings complexity (if that’s your cup of tea, then look elsewhere) but the different realms and creatures felt as being part of one cohesive whole. Which is a fine line to walk when you’re incorporating such classic characters and elements as the Red Queen, Fairies and Elves. The Crystal Court still feels like the most original fantasy folk I’ve read about in a while and it’ll be interesting to read more about them at some point.

All in all, I was sad to see the story come to an end, but the big finale was such a positive pay off after a four-book build-up, it was definitely worth the journey. Strongly recommend the whole series if you haven’t had a chance yet to pick these books up.