Review: Perfectly Good White Boy – Carrie Mesrobian

perfectly good white boySean Norwhalt can read between the lines.

“You never know where we’ll end up. There’s so much possibility in life, you know?” Hallie said.

He knows she just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she’s off to college, and he’s still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and “possibilities” isn’t exactly comforting. Sean’s pretty sure he’s seen his future and its “possibilities” and they all look disposable.

Like the crappy rental his family moved into when his dad left.

Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift store job.

Like everything good he’s ever known.

The only hopeful possibilities in Sean’s life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he’d go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about.

Rating: 4/5

Let me preface this by saying that I have not, nor will I ever be, a teenage boy. However I think Mesrobian really depicts an authentic teenage boy’s voice – yes, there’s a lot of reference to boobs and sex and his penis, which he has named ‘The Horn’ (facepalm), but those aren’t the only things our narrator Sean cares about.

He wants to get out of his dead-end small town and make a life for himself outside of a world that presents very few opportunities. He’s not the stereotype of a tail-chasing dude – yes, he can be kind of pervy and obnoxious, but he also has strong romantic feelings. Sean’s the first one to say “ I love you” in the relationship with Hallie, and is incredibly hurt when they break up when she leaves for college.

When getting physical, he checks to see if his partner is still okay with what they’re doing, and in his internal monologue during one scene, he mentions not carrying on if he hears ‘stop’ or ‘no’. CONSENT, YO. IT’S IMPORTANT. And I’m glad to see it depicted, especially from a boy’s perspective.

This isn’t to say Sean’s an angel – he still has many flaws. But he’s human, and I found him loveable despite this. He cries when he’s emotionally hurt (in secret, in his room). He adores his doggie. He’s also kind of funny – take this description of his swearing in to the Marines:

Though it felt like a wedding. A wedding with dudes. A dude wedding with no party afterwards. 

I loved watching the relationship develop between himself and Neecie.

I didn’t care what she thought about me, because clearly she didn’t care about what I thought of her and that was nice, because normally, when I liked a girl, I was so tense around her I could barely speak. So this was all nice, because I thought she was cool, in all these different ways, like her hearing thing that made me have to think about what I said, whether I meant it, whether I wanted her to really know it. 

It’s abrasive, but real, and as the second novel that I’ve read from this author, I can definitely confirm that I love her writing style, although it’s not for everyone.

“I get kind of blank when I think about the future,” she said. “There are so many things, you know? How do I know what to pick, when I haven’t seen any of the things out there?” 

PREACH.

Review: Things We Know By Heart – Jessi Kirby

things we know by heartWhen Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all. 

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn’t want to give in to it— especially since he has no idea how they’re connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Rating: 3/5

Organ donation is a cause close to my heart – my aunt is the longest surviving double-liver and kidney transplant patient in South Africa. She was pretty much a guinea pig at the time- in the early 90s she went into liver failure and had her first transplant – when she started rejecting that one a year or so later, they gave her experimental medication from the US that ended up poisoning her kidneys as well so that in the end she needed new kidneys and a new liver, which she was lucky enough to receive.

So this is my PSA for today: register as an organ donor! Our own mortality is not something we particularly like to think about, but once you’re brain dead you have no need for your organs, and they can save so very many lives.

Onto the book. I would have given this four stars, but I’m just exceedingly uncomfortable with the idea of our MC Quinn tracking down the recipient of her boyfriend’s heart, who has made it quite clear that he doesn’t want to be found, and then eventually striking up a relationship with him without telling him the truth? She does admit that she’s in the wrong, and keeps trying to work up the nerve to tell him, but it just didn’t sit right with me.

The author does, however, have a gift for depicting raw emotions – you can feel the weight of Quinn’s grief, even a year after her boyfriend’s death. While sadness isn’t exactly fun to read about, I liked that Kirby depicted the grieving process – Quinn doesn’t just bounce back like a month after he dies and move on – as I’ve seen in too many novels. It takes her a very long time to do more than just go through the motions of life.

I also liked the depiction of Quinn’s supportive family – from sassy!gran to the worried parents and an older sister who isn’t afraid to call Quinn out on her crap. They gave Quinn her space to grieve while still encouraging her to get out there and do small things, like going for a run or an outing. Supportive families for the win.

Finally, I loved the quotes about hearts that preceded each chapter – everything from the psychological beliefs about the heart, to the medical care of heart transplant patients.

All in all, a thoughtful read about the grieving process, moving on with life, and making the most of the days you have.

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars #2) – Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

mr kiss and tell The Neptune Grand has always been the seaside town’s ritziest hotel, despite the shady dealings and high-profile scandals that seem to follow its elite guests. When a woman claims that she was brutally assaulted in one of its rooms and left for dead by a staff member, the owners know that they have a potential powder keg on their hands. They turn to Veronica to disprove—or prove—the woman’s story.

The case is a complicated mix of hard facts, mysterious occurrences, and uncooperative witnesses. The hotel refuses to turn over its reservation list and the victim won’t divulge who she was meeting that night. Add in the facts that the attack happened months ago, the victim’s memory is fuzzy, and there are holes in the hotel’s surveillance system, and Veronica has a convoluted mess on her hands. As she works to fill in the missing pieces, it becomes clear that someone is lying—but who? And why?

Rating: 4/5

I think one of the things that most impress me about this book series is the way they absolutely nail Veronica’s voice, the way it was in the series. To be fair, Rob Thomas was the creator of the show and co-author of the book, so there is continuity there, but nevertheless, I enjoy how seamless the transition from show to book has been. It’s Veronica, but all grown up – a little less prickly, a little more jaded, but still as determined, feisty, smart and kickass as ever.

And this second instalment doesn’t disappoint. In Mr Kiss and Tell, Veronica is on the trail of a serial rapist and abuser, whose case was brought to her attention after a woman is assaulted in the glitzy Neptune Grand hotel, and left for dead in a trash field, with no memory of how she got there.

The book pulls no punches – it makes it very clear how the justice system only works for some, particularly in the cases of rape or sexual assault – if you’re in any way involved in the sex industry, then pssshaw, it’s not rape, it’s shoplifting, right? *fumes* Not to mention, do you have a history, what were you wearing, why were you meeting a strange man… It takes a critical look and makes some rather pointed comments, which make my liberal heart sing with glee.

This criticism of the justice system extends to the American system of policing as well – and couldn’t be more timely, considering all that’s going on in the states at the moment. (And always has been, who are we kidding?) On the heels of the case of Eli (Weevil)’s court case, with him being falsely charged due to planted evidence, we’re once again reminded how the system works for those with money and power in Neptune, while those less fortunate are either completely abandoned by the system, or become victims of it. This culminates in Keith and Cliff deciding that something has to give, and fighting back against Sheriff Lamb, the epitomy of police corruption.

Quite apart from her pressing case, running a business with her father and all the other goings-on in Neptune, Veronica is also juggling to spend time with Logan, back from shore leave. Now I will admit – I was never a Veronica/Logan shipper. *ducks for cover* Nevertheless, it’s great to see Logan a changed man, albeit one who still goes on bromance dates with Dick Casablancas.

Finally, I love how the books do service to the hardcore fans of the series by dropping in mentions of previous characters, cases and incidents from the show. And it serves as a recap for those who haven’t watched the series (WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!) but have started the books.

Mr Kiss and Tell was more about the journey than the destination – we find out who the perpetrator is around halfway through, but it’s getting him proven guilty that’s the problem. The case also wasn’t as front and centre as it was in the previous book, what with everything else going on, but I found I was so invested in all the betrayals, tensions and Neptune politics that it didn’t bother me.

All in all, another strong instalment in the Veronica Mars series. Live long and prosper, I say!

ARC received from Edelweiss in return for an honest review.

Review: None of the Above – I.W. Gregorio

none of the aboveWhat if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned–something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?

Rating: 4/5

“It just sucks always having to wonder what other people see when the look at me. Don’t you ever just want to be normal?”

Brilliantly and sensitively written.

I think the ‘Middlesex meets Mean Girls’ tagline is a bit flippant – yes, None of the Above deals with an intersex character much like Middlesex, but Mean Girls? Urg. Find me a YA novel where we don’t have some kind of teenage bitchiness.

BUT I DIGRESS.

I remember when the Caster Semenya saga developed – a female South African athlete who it emerged was intersex -she was forced to undergo gender testing in order to be allowed to compete again. Born without a womb or ovaries, she had undescended testes, and people thought she was unfairly benefiting from extra testosterone. I just remember how utterly foul the coverage was – calling her “hermaphrodite”, “he/she?”, and and possibly worst of all “it”. Like Caster was some strange alien creature emerging from the deep.

Being South African myself, the coverage here was mostly supportive – but more out of a denial that this was just some Western myth created to discredit an African athlete. Which didn’t exactly help or contribute to anyone’s understanding of what intersex means.

So here’s a definition from the Intersex Society of North America:

“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types.

Though we speak of intersex as an inborn condition, intersex anatomy doesn’t always show up at birth. Sometimes a person isn’t found to have intersex anatomy until she or he reaches the age of puberty, or finds himself an infertile adult, or dies of old age and is autopsied. Some people live and die with intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing.

What does this mean? Intersex is a socially constructed category that reflects real biological variation. To better explain this, we can liken the sex spectrum to the color spectrum. There’s no question that in nature there are different wavelengths that translate into colors most of us see as red, blue, orange, yellow. But the decision to distinguish, say, between orange and red-orange is made only when we need it—like when we’re asking for a particular paint color. Sometimes social necessity leads us to make color distinctions that otherwise would seem incorrect or irrational, as, for instance, when we call certain people “black” or “white” when they’re not especially black or white as we would otherwise use the terms.

***

In None of the Above, seemingly “normal” girl Kristen – athlete, girlfriend, homecoming queen – finds out that she is intersex, and is understandable hurt, confused, upset, angry. Let’s be honest – teenagerhood is bad enough without having to deal with an existential question such as “Am I still a woman? What the hell does this mean? My life is over!”

She lives in fear that everyone will find out, but at the same time, the knowledge is a weight pressing down on her. Ultimately, after confiding to her best friends, the whole school finds out – and things go rapidly downhill from there.

People are mean. Moreso when it comes to things they just don’t understand. Especially when they don’t want the taint of association.

Human nature truly sucks sometimes. When we encounter something out of our range of what is expected, out of what we consider to be normal, we poke at it and stare at it and generally react badly.

And for our MC Kristen? This is hell. And the age of social media makes it ten times worse. Horrible comments, crudely photoshopped pictures, messages scrawled on her locker, people calling her a man, her boyfriend dropping her like a hot potato.. It’s all too much, and she embarks on home study to take a break. And, of course, her athletic career, upon which she is relying for a college scholarship, is called into question.

“What was I supposed to tell her? Not just my mom – everyone? My sister? My dad?” His voice broke, and I understood. Mr Wilmington’s favourite nickname for Sam was ‘stud’.
“I don’t know…That it’s a medical condition.” A wave of grief and anger overwhelmed me. “God damn it Sam. It’s not like I am what I am out of spite.”

None of the Above is a great portrayal of a girl struggling with questions of her identity, and what it means to be a woman. It takes a long, hard look at gender constructs. But above all, it’s not only an “issue” book. It also tackles friendships, support systems, growing up and finding your inner strength to keep on keeping on. It looks at the problematic systems of labeling sexuality, and people in general.

“What concerns you the most about your intersex diagnosis?”
“It’s hard to pick just one thing. But…I hate it that people don’t understand what intersex is. They think that I’m some kind of transsexual,” I blurted. Even as I said it out loud, I realised how petulant and closed-minded I must sound. “I mean, its not like there’s anything wrong with being a transsexual…,” I backpedaled, then sighed. Who was I kidding? “I know that getting upset about their calling me a tranny makes me just as judgemental as the people making fun of me. But it hurts anyway. It’s so ignorant.”

But it’s not all heavy. There are some light hearted moments as well, and heartwarming instances of people just being great and supportive.

“But I was a jerk. Do you know how much it sucks to be the jerk?”
“That’s kind of personal, isn’t it?”

I hope this book is read far and wide. I hope it helps those who are struggling with any kind of gender issues. There aren’t a lot of books about intersex, transexual and other people who don’t fit into the gender binary out there, although this is slowly changing. And I hope it helps us to be more understanding and empathetic towards people who are defining a new normal.

I passed huddles of giggling girls, a trio of guys smoking and telling jokes outside a club. Everyone seemed to understand that strength came in numbers and identity came as part of a group.
I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

***

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are taken from the uncorrected proof, and may differ from the final publication

Review: Rebound (Boomerang #2) – Noelle August

rebound noelle august

Adam Blackwood has it all. At twenty-two, he’s fabulously wealthy, Ryan Gosling-hot and at the top of the heap in the business world. His life is perfect, until a scandal from his past resurfaces and knocks the tech wunderkind down, throwing his company, Boomerang, a hook-up site for millennials, into chaos.

Three years ago, Adam married his high school love—and then lost her in a tragic accident. Now, the heartbreak and guilt he’s tried to bury with work and women begins to take over his life.

Alison Quick, the twenty-one-year-old daughter of a business tycoon—and the very ex-girlfriend of Boomerang’s former intern, Ethan—has a problem of her own. She’s got one chance to prove to her father that she deserves a place in his empire by grabbing control of Boomerang and taking Adam down.

But as Alison moves in on him, armed with a cadre of lawyers and accountants, she discovers there’s much more to Adam and Boomerang than meets the eye. Will earning her father’s approval come at the price of losing her first real love? It appears so, unless Adam can forgive her for wrecking his life and trying to steal his livelihood. But Alison hopes that old adage is right. Maybe love can conquer all.

Review: 3/5

Rebound, aka #RichKidProblems2014 (kidding) was another fun instalment in the Boomerang trilogy. Let it be said that contemporary romance, particularly in the new adult genre, is not really my thing, but I adored Veronica Rossi’s previous work and wanted to continue checking out her new series offering.

The protagonists in this edition include Adam, the Boomerang boss from book 1, and Alison, Ethan’s ex-girlfriend. While there were some overdramatic moments in the book, what I really enjoyed was the personal development of the characters – they grow, they learn to trust, they let go of things from the past holding them back.

New Adult has a fairly terrible and well-deserved rap, but Rebound manages to steer wonderfully away from too many cliches – the bad boy, the overly aggressive alpha male, the bitchy female competition, etc. In fact, I really liked how Mia and Alison got on in this book. There was no cattiness or mean spiritedness – just some awkwardness and acceptance and respect.

For those who have read the first book, you’ll know that Alison cheated on Ethan back in the day, which is what ended the relationship.  And cheating is generally an unforgivable issue, but I’m more lenient towards those who make mistakes when they’re young and learn from it, as opposed to being in their thirties and still doing it.

For those of you who love contemporary romance books, then give this series a go – it’s fun, bright and glamorous, without becoming overly emotional or too insipid.