Review: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The City We Became

Author:N.K. Jemisin

Pub. Date: March 24th. 2020

Genre: Sc-Fi/Urban Fantasy

Format: Physical

Publisher: Orion

Pages: 464 Pages

GOODREADS | BARNES & NOBLE | AMAZON

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I’m just going to preface this review by saying I can 100% understand now why so many are deeply awed and at the same time intimidated by N.K. Jemisin’s writing. This author doesn’t pull any punches & completely trusts you as a reader to keep up & decipher whatever she’s throwing at you which is a WHOLE lot! this story takes off running with the introduction of New York as an avatar which is essentially a soul. There are five boroughs in NYC: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Staten Island. They are all repped in this book by an avatar for the city of New York that is in danger of never being born…yea I know, try wrapping your head around that one!

All five boroughs must find their way to each other & save the main Avatar which is NYC himself. At the very start they aren’t all aware that they’ve been chosen as avatars but as their paths cross, things start to connect. One thing is clear! they love their city & won’t let anyone/thing threaten its birth. This was my first N.K. Jemisin read but I had heard from other bookish friends that the real treat is the social commentary embedded which I can now attest to. We have a villain who is referred to as The Woman in White who I came to understand, represents a threat to all that which makes the city of New York culturally diverse. The five avatars that are each a personification of the boroughs, range in ages & cultural backgrounds. This alone makes this one hell of a unique story because of its inclusivity & diversity which is exactly what I’d like to see more of in the Fantasy genre. The Bronx is repped by a woman in her 70’s who is a Native-American Lesbian & art administrator, Brooklyn is a middle aged black politician woman who was once a Hip Hop artist, Manhattan is a black male who is in Grad school & arrives in the city to meet his Trans roommate. Queens is repped by a young female Mathematician/Immigrant & Staten Island is the daughter of a homophobic, racist, Xenophobic cop. She’s never left the Island & lives in fear of Manhattan since it represents all the evil her father has warned her about.

These characters are complex & multi-faceted, they come bearing the weight of many of the stereotypes placed upon them. This isn’t your average Fantasy/World-building either, we don’t see any specific magic being used. Instead, a lot of their power comes from within and from the positive & negative life experiences they’ve each had. We see them learn to manipulate their powers once they notice the city react & come to life to help them in their battle against the woman in white. I am still thinking about these characters & all of the possibilities of where this story could unravel. NYC is just one of the cities being birthed, we also met Sao Paulo and Hong Kong personified. It is the duty of the last city birthed to help along the next & on the very first page there’s a map with some other possible cities. I’m very intrigued to see this series grow & while I wait, can now finally pick up The Broken Earth trilogy which is also by this author & very well loved.


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Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Title: The Dangerous Art of Blending In

Author: Angelo Surmelis

Pub. Date: January 30th, 2018

Genre: YA Contemporary/LGBTQIA+

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/Harper

Pages: 336

Format: eGalley

Content Warning: Physical abuse, homophobia, emotional abuse, and child abuse, bullying, Suicidal thoughts

*HUGE thanks to Balzer + Bray/Harper, Edelweiss, and Angelo Surmelis for the early review copy in exchange for my honest opinion

   

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs.

Where to begin? well first I’d like to refer everyone to the content warning up above. This wasn’t a easy book to read but then again I know it couldn’t have been easy to write either. The author wrote this book based on his personal childhood experiences & so this is Ownvoices for LGBTQIA+ and child abuse. I requested this title from Harper once I read the synopsis & found that something about this character resonated deep within me. This review will be a mix of my thoughts on the book & my own personal experience which is something I rarely if ever talk about. I’ve never wanted to be proven wrong so badly but when I met Evan Panos on the pages, I knew I was in trouble. My childhood experiences at home ran parallel to Evans or really to the author himself with regards to child abuse. There is nothing pretty about what went on behind closed doors for Evan & being silenced by your abuser is the norm. Telling our stories isn’t something we do because child abuse is a very ugly thing & many aren’t prepared to hear about it. From personal experience, as someone who was silenced by my own family, this “story” rings true & my heart broke in a million pieces at the extent to which Evan went to hide his ugly truths.

Evan Panos is a only child living at home with both mom & dad, on the outside they appear to be the perfect Greek family. He is a talented artist & loves to sketch whenever he can as a means of escape. His mother, a extremely religious woman will go above and beyond to keep up appearances. His dad is a hard working man who loves his son but unfortunately doesn’t have the courage to put a stop to the abuse going on at home. Evan’s mother considers homosexuality a sin & although Evan hasn’t come out or even really had the chance to embrace who he is to himself, his mother makes it known on a daily basis that she knows he is Gay. We see Evan doing good in school and being a all around good kid but that isn’t enough for his mom who is determined to beat sin out of him. We see Evan walking on egg shells while home trying not to trigger another attack from his mother but his very existence is enough for her to go off. She physically beats him & emotionally breaks him down every chance she gets. She vocalizes her hatred for him & goes as far as wishing she never had him. Evan is numb at this point & we see him take it and never once actually break down. He’s become a master at hiding his wounds both inside & out, something his mother has taught him to do. I’d like to point out here, many times his bruises were on his face & although others questioned & suspected abuse at home… NO ONE ever really pressed the matter & this is something that unfortunately happens every day. It is easier to accept the lie the victim gives than accept the unthinkable truth. Although Evans mother mostly attacks him when his dad is away, there is no denying that his father knows what is going on at home. Their trips to the Doughnut shop was his Dads way of taking Evan out of the toxic home for a couple of hours. This was something my own father did for me & at the time it felt like a lifeline, now as an adult I understand so much more what those trips to get ice cream really were.

There is a love interest that plays a big part of Evans life, his childhood best friend Henry. The only reason they were allowed to be friends was because Evan’s mom set out to convert Henry’s parents into her religion. Their friendship runs through High School & becomes more than just platonic. It isn’t easy though, Henry knows something is going on at home but his life & parents are the exact opposite of Evans. Henry has a supportive home & his place becomes sort of like a refuge for Evan. I wanted to really like Henry, but unfortunately this is where I shook my head no. Evan is pretty numb all around & sometimes his answers just roll off the tongue in order to keep people away from his personal life. Henry has just come out as Gay to his family & receives all their love & support. My issue was with how much he pressured Evan all around. I understood Henry wanting Evan to leave his toxic home (been there myself & had someone try this for me) but I also understand how it feels to be in Evans shoes. What I can’t imagine is what it must feel like to also be pressured to come out as Gay & that is why Henry really rubbed me the wrong way.

I would’ve much rather he supported Evan & encouraged him to get help to get out of his abusive home more than his focus on them as a couple. I was happy to see that Evan had found another home & another example of what a supportive family looks like even if it was Henry’s. I myself found a home that showed me love & support and ultimately gave me the strength I needed to leave. From this book I wanted a ending that empowered others to seek out their peace of mind away from any form of abuse. Did I get that? Ultimately, yes! and no it wasn’t with Henry. If I had a book like this when I was a child/teen, I’ll be honest & say I may have hated seeing the truth written on the pages but by the end I know I would’ve also been emboldened to get help. I read the author’s note & the inner turmoil he had within himself to share his story is one that I’ve felt many times and still experience. Another well known author who is also his best friend, advised him to give the story to someone else. This is how Evan came about & through this character he was able to share something that not many are ready to hear. This book won’t be for everyone, the abuse is very raw & the wounds are deep but for those who have experienced it or still are…maybe this book will give you hope & strength to find your safe space.

The author shared some helpful links at the end of this book…

LGBTQ ORGANIZATIONS The Trevor Project—www.thetrevorproject.org

It Gets Better Project—www.itgetsbetter.org

LGBT National Help Center—www.glbthotline.org

ABUSE National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) and its affiliate, Childhelp—www.childhelp.org

BULLYING Stomp Out Bullying—www.stompoutbullying.org

StopBullying—www.stopbullying.gov


Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Published by: Katherine Tegen Books

Date of Publication: June 27th 2017

Genres: Historical YA/LGBTQIA+

Pages: 528

Format: eGalley

Rating:★★★★★ 5 Stars

*HUGE thanks to Katherine Tegen Books/Harpercollins, Edelweiss & Mackenzi Lee for the eGalley copy of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, all opinions are my own.

 

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

What was supposed to be a tour of Europe in which our main protagonist Henry Montague is to be cultured & introduced to many prominent figures, turns out to be the adventure of a life time. When we first meet Henry he is drunk and used to waking up mid-afternoon with little to no recollection of his dalliances with women & men during his night time excursions. His dad who is already a very strict man with no tolerance for Henry, decides that he is going to give Henry one last shot to prove himself a worthy heir. He arranges for Henry to tour Europe with a chaperone, his younger sister (to be dropped of at a school for manners), and his best friend Percy (to be dropped off at law school). Henry however, sees this as an opportunity to tour Europe with Percy drinking and sleeping with whomever along the way. The opportunity also seems appealing since he’s been harboring some secret non-platonic feelings for his BFF Percy. Henry quickly realizes that his idea of fun is a no-go now that he is being chaperoned & groomed to meet with certain political figures along the way. As a matter of fact, the whole trip is being controlled by his father & the rules squash any of his plans for debauchery. It isn’t until their caravan is raided & they are separated from their chaperone that their real adventure begins. Henry’s penchant for bad decision making leads them from one crazy situation to the next ultimately preparing him to make some grown up decisions of his own 😉

The characters in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue have easily become faves for me for all their imperfections. Make no mistake, they are flawed & have prejudices they themselves aren’t aware of until life happens. Starting with our main protagonist Henry who honestly reminds me a bit of Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries circa first being bitten (meaning somewhere around the 1700’s).

Who I envision Henry as…Bahhha!

Henry loves his liquor, guys, gals, and Percy. Henry is funny and loves to have a good time. He’s also been dealt a bad hand when it comes to his dad who doesn’t accept Henry’s bi-sexuality and thinks he can lay hands on him whenever he is disappointed in Henry’s choices. Their relationship is one made of fear & acquiescence (safe to say the dad was my most loathed character). Henry as a person does have a lot of growing up to do especially when it comes to his love interest since Percy is a person of color. I loved Percy for many reason but especially for the unconditional love he shows for those he cares about. He’s known Henry since they were kids and has stood by watching Henry make many mistakes without judgment. Percy was taken in by his aunt & uncle who are wealthy but is often looked down upon by others for the color of his skin. There are many scenes that left me livid with how he was being treated & yet it is an accurate portrayal of how POC were treated during that time period. Henry who is attached to the hip to Percy doesn’t fully grasp what Percy feels when certain things are said about him being a POC. Seeing these two characters grow & the veil of many prejudices being lifted from Henry’s eyes leaving only understanding felt like a small victory. We also get to meet Henry’s sister Felicity who was my FAVORITE character (next to Henry of course) in the entire book!!! Here we have a young woman who knows exactly what she wants from life & is very aware of the obstacles standing in her way. She knows her gender all but limits her to studying her area of interest & that she will have to use her intelligence to work around that. Felicity is STRONG & INTELLIGENT with no patience for weakness. She is very observant of her surroundings and refuses to accept the future laid out by her father. Felicity isn’t without prejudices and we get to see her make the effort to understand Henry’s bi-sexuality & accept him for who he is. In many ways Felicity & Henry are rebel souls but Felicity is discreet & stealthy where Henry is a train wreck you can’t stop watching smh lol. This cast of characters provided me with hours of non-stop laughter & cheering ❤ ❤ ❤

I LOVE historical Fiction & seeing it in YA has been so much fun. When I first stumbled across the cover to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue I knew that we’d be going waaaaaaaay back just based on Henry’s clothing. When I looked into this book & saw that it was set in 18th Century Europe I nearly jumped out of my chair to request for review. I wasn’t sure what to expect but when I realized how much history I was getting alongside this story, I was pleasantly transported. Everything from the clothes to race relations was covered in this book. There were many times I was vexed by the fathers homophobic treatment of Henry & the racist remarks made by others towards Percy & I had to remind myself that this is a accurate portrayal of those times. I loved seeing the growth of these characters set against such a difficult time period in history for people of color & people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. I look forward to reading more from Mackenzi Lee in the future now that I’ve read & loved The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue 🙂

Have any of you readers picked up The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue? if so, did you love it? who’s your fave character?