Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine by Michele Lent Hirsch

33931697Though young women with serious illness tend to be seen as outliers, young female patients are in fact the primary demographic for many illnesses. They are also one of the most ignored groups in our medical system–a system where young women, especially women of color and trans women, are invisible.

And because of expectations about gender and age, young women with health issues must often deal with bias in their careers and personal lives. Not only do they feel pressured to seem perfect and youthful, they also find themselves amid labyrinthine obstacles in a culture that has one narrow idea of womanhood.

Lent Hirsch weaves her own harrowing experiences together with stories from other women, perspectives from sociologists on structural inequality, and insights from neuroscientists on misogyny in health research. She shows how health issues and disabilities amplify what women in general already confront: warped beauty standards, workplace sexism, worries about romantic partners, and mistrust of their own bodies. By shining a light on this hidden demographic, Lent Hirsch explores the challenges that all women face.

Review:

Part memoir, part anecdote, and part research, Invisible does an amazing job looking at women society deems “too young” or “too pretty” to be sick.

The good:

  • The book is own voices for both health issues and being queer, which is awesome in its own right, and her conscientious efforts mean…
  • …it may be the most intersectional book I’ve ever read. Lent Hirsch mentions how each woman interviewed identifies and the range across race, sexuality, religion, and gender is amazing.  She goes into how each of these identities affect how a woman interacts with health care as well as friends, family, coworkers, and romantic partners.
  • This care is reflected in own voices reviews for Invisible.  My favorite is by Corvus who identifies as Queer, trans, and disabled.  They write, “This is the first book of this kind that I have read – that was not specifically about LGBTQ populations – that didn’t let me down.”  Their whole review is wonderful, go check it out here.
  • There’s a thoughtful discussion with several people about using the word “disability” in relation to themselves, and why they do or don’t embrace it.  There are many answers to this question and I like how so many different angles are covered.
  • Large sections of the text are straight from discussions the author had with women of all sorts.  While reading I thought – if a straight cis white man wrote this book he would only grab the juiciest quotes and summarize the rest through the lens of his own experience.  Lent Hirsch, however, has each amazing woman speak for herself and the book is stronger for it.
  • Even though my own experience as a patient is thankfully limited there are still parts that hit close to home.

    The new pharmacist was great.  He never commented on my looks or how my body made him feel.  What a low bar I was holding him to: he was ‘great’ because he didn’t harass me.

The not-so-great:

  • Only one thing here – I would have liked the 30,000 foot level writing to be stronger.  There are themes that could have been developed to make the book gel as a cohesive whole and their lack feels like a lost opportunity.

Invisible is an insightful look at what women of all sorts go through while dealing with chronic illness.  It’s a must read if you have any tiny bit of interest in the subject – I loved it.

Thanks to Beacon Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

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Peter Darling by Austin Chant

33358438Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.

But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.

Review:

This is the second book by Chant I’ve read and I think I love it even more than the first.

The good:

  • This is a trans story written by a trans writer – huzzah own voices!
  • I love how Neverland lets Peter be most himself and how it relates to the romance in the story.
  • I know next to nothing about Peter Pan but it didn’t matter.  I’m guessing that if you’ve read the original there are parallels and references but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
  • One of fiction’s most powerful side effects, I think, is experiencing life as someone utterly unlike yourself.  I’ve read about body dysphoria in a non-fiction sense but feeling what Peter goes through makes it more clear than any informative article could.
  • The writing is just what it needs to be – exciting during the adventure parts, romantic during the “oh wait maybe this is love” parts, and held together with a solid plot.  It’s utterly different from Coffee Boy but Chant switches gears seamlessly.

The not-so-good:

  • While the book fits its pages I wanted so much more than a novella.  I don’t know if Chant writes as this length because it’s comfortable but I think he could blow us away with double the space to run around in.

A fun read that took me away from the crazy of real life just when I needed it.  A must for anyone who’s into LGBTQIA+ reads or retellings.

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

33295690As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Review:

I like a lot about this book, so much so that it gets over my usual “enh, YA”-ness. This is no small feat, guys!

The good:

  • Everything comes together well – the plot moves at a nice clip, characters and their relationships change and grow, and you end up caring about everyone, even people you don’t necessarily like.
  • There’s loads of questioning rep.  Billie is attracted to both a guy and a girl and she wrestles with her feelings and gender identity.
  • The group of six friends is close, and guys and gals are allowed to have platonic friendships.  Billie’s best friend is a guy – so rare, so appreciated.
  • At the same time love is a big theme.  What’s the difference between friendship love and romantic love?  How about love born from a long shared history versus the fireworks of a new acquaintance?
  • Perspective shifts serve the story well and don’t turn gimmick-y.

The not-so-good:

  • Billie’s dad is a pastor and her circle of friends form the church’s youth group so religion comes into the story a bit.  I’m agnostic and shy away from scripture in my fiction but if you’re nominally Christian I doubt you’ll bat an eye.  The religious teachings aren’t pervasive, but they’re there.
  • While the plot moves well once things get going they follow the track you’d expect.  The contest later in the book is particularly anti-climatic, more of a checkbox so later events can come together as ordained.
  • As a result the end is telegraphed and, despite some action, not as satisfying as I had hoped.

If you are a fan of contemporary YA, books that follow a group of friends, and questioning/queer representation Dress Codes for Small Towns is the book for you.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen it around more – it deserves more hype.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children #2)

31450908This book languished on my to be read list for a long time, but not because I was putting it off.  On the contrary, I thought about picking it up constantly but was looking for the “right” moment.  A moment I needed an escape, a moment long enough to devour 189 pages in one sitting, a moment I could be quiet and sink into the world McGuire introduced in Every Heart a Doorway.  Those moments lined up on an evening in late December – add a proper cup of chai and you have a near perfect escape.

The Wayward Children series is about children who fell into other worlds via some sort of portal (think Alice in Wonderland or Narnia) and, for whatever reason, eventually found their way back to the real world. This is a happy thing for some but twin sisters Jack and Jill have a… let’s call it a complicated relationship with both the realm they grew up in and and the realm they slip into.

I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll end the particulars there.  I’m a fan of McGuire because she builds worlds right under your nose, no info dumps required.  The narrator is not part of the story, not really, but relating it to the reader.  It’s a remove that lets McGuire talk to us directly – we’re all around a campfire, hanging on her every word.

There are moments that change everything, and once things have been changed, they do not change back.  The butterfly may never again become a caterpillar… [the girls] will never again be the innocent, untouched children who wandered down a stairway, who went through a door.

They have been changed.

The story changes with them.

I highlighted many passages from Doorway for this reason, but fewer in Sticks and Bones.  On the whole this book is more solid and assured in its plotting and length but I still liked it a touch less than the series opener.  The message – we should let kids be who they are and not impose gender or other roles upon them – is awesome, and I appreciate that there is LGBTQIA+ representation (f/f relationship), but it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I hoped.

Fear not because the next installment, Beneath the Sugar Sky, comes out in a few weeks.  I’ll keep my chai close at hand, ready for that elusive perfect moment.

One Hot December by Tiffany Reisz (Men at Work #3)

29568847Never mess with a woman who carries a blowtorch in her backpack. Welder and artist Veronica “Flash” Redding’s playful sense of evil sometimes gets the better of her. Like when her insanely handsome, wealthy, suited-up boss gave her the most sensuously wicked night of her life…then dumped her. Yep, revenge is a dish best served hot.

Only Ian Asher isn’t quite letting Flash get away quite so easily. He’s not ready to forget the intensity between them. The searing heat when they touch. And the deliciously demanding control Ian wields in the bedroom. Now he has only the holidays to convince Flash that they belong together…and that even the most exquisite, broken things can be welded back together.

Review:

While I loved the first book in this series One Hot December was a so-so read for me.  The snark and fireworks I expect from Reisz are here but it’s not a solid story.

The good:

  • An own voices bisexual heroine, complete with spiky red hair and kick ass ink. Right on.
  • Flash is unapologetically strong and goes after what she wants.  As a welder at an all-male construction company she deals with a lot of crap but she gives as good as she gets.
  • The mental strain of dealing with prejudice and harassment in the workplace is explicitly covered.  Yes, Flash is doing a great job as a welder, but it saps her of the energy she needs to do her own metal art.  Changing jobs wouldn’t be giving in or giving up, it would be getting what she wants.
  • Feminism for the win.

    “He couldn’t date a professional welder when he worked as a teller at a bank.  His friends would never let him hear the end of it, he said.  He just couldn’t date a woman, no matter how hot – his words, not mine – who came off as more of a man than he did.  I said that was fine.  I didn’t want to date a guy who was less of a man than I was, either.  He called me a couple nice words after that and then he was gone.  Good riddance to him and his poor little ego.”

  • Everyone is reasonable and talks things out, from our couple to the hero’s father.  While there is a misunderstanding it’s legit and not even between the hero and heroine.
  • While Christmas is name checked and Hanukkah is a minor plot point it doesn’t feel like a “holiday romance”, which I really appreciate being agnostic myself.  And two religions mashed together in one book without feeling religious is pretty awesome.
  • Reisz’s snark is here in spades.

The not-so-good:

  • Said snark is of the shocking, no-filter variety, which isn’t everybody’s thing.
  • Flash and Ian have been lusting for each other since they met 18 months ago so we don’t see their relationship develop very much.  ‘I thought you hated me!’ ‘Nope, I love you!’ ‘Oh, good!’ ~sexy times~
  • Flash’s best friend is her downstairs neighbor, an elderly Jewish woman.  That is neat, but I don’t care for her role in the story.  Category romances often have a best friend that provides perspective and advice, but here it feels like allll advice, and of a motherly bent to boot.  I wasn’t sold on it.
  • There isn’t much of a plot.  Hero and heroine state that they’ve actually been in love all this time and… that’s about it.  I saw the misunderstanding from a hundred pages away so there was no suspense there, either.

A diverting read, but more enh than anything else.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #2)

24348034Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.

But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…

Review:

I had such high hopes for this book but I didn’t like it as much as the first in the series, Trade Me. There’s still a lot to like, though!

The good:

  • The heroine is trans and that fact is not the reason for the novel existing. The focus is on the romance, as it should be.  Yea!
  • The hero is bi (or perhaps pansexual, no label is attached), there are more people of color than white, and the author is a woman of color.
  • Jay sees how he was a crappy ally of women in science and does a little work fixing that.

The not-as-good:

  • The lawyer-ly logical banter of the first book turns into science banter, and even though I grok most of it I don’t find it charming.  Your mileage may vary.
  • It’s a hate to love story, but instead of growing attraction Jay’s attitude changes on a dime depending on who he thinks he’s talking to.  It’s hard to know which Jay is real, the arse on campus or the sweet guy in chat.

I was hoping Hold Me would be in my wheelhouse, but sadly it is not.  It looks like the third book in the series will go back to the first couple… I’m curious to see how it goes but won’t be running out to get it.

Trade Me by Courtney Milan (Cyclone #1)

24600366Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Systems. But when he makes an offhand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.

But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart…but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

Review:

I gotta be honest – I wasn’t exactly looking forward to reading this book.  Contemporary romance isn’t a wheelhouse for me so I’m picky about tropes, and rich buy/poor gal is pretty low down my list.

But I really want to read the second book in the series so I sucked it up and I’m glad I did.

The good:

  • The romance is both interracial and intercultural, and as someone in such a relationship myself I appreciate the representation.
  • Tina’s roommate is a trans woman and while she doesn’t play a huge role in this book she’s the heroine of the next.  Mixing LGBTQIA* couples with cis couples in a series is awesome and I cannot wait to start book two.
  • Blake is a good guy and he models good behavior in a heartwarming way.  When Tina says that she’s scared she’ll be come attached to him he respects that.  He doesn’t say “don’t be scared, baby” or “trust me,” but comes back with the ideal:

    Is there anything I can do to make you feel safe?

    People need to hear this to know it’s the right thing to say. So glad it’s here.

  • The rich/poor thing doesn’t get overly crazy or annoying.
  • I also liked the small flipped trope that I’m not going to go into because spoilers.
  • Tina’s mom is hilarious.

    Good thing he’s not your boyfriend, though, Tina.  He’s so skinny, I think a condom would pop right off.

The not-so-good:

  • There’s a part near the end where I could see exactly what was coming and the dread nearly did me in.
  • I started to lose interest when rich people problems came up, especially near the end.

A solid romance that overcomes some of the limitations of its tropes.  I may just have to start book two about… now.

One Week in Greece by Demi Alex (International Affairs #3)

35426062Bethany Michaels is headed to the sun-bleached island of Mykonos on business, not pleasure. But an unexpected face from the past will introduce her to a brand-new desire . . .

Proving her business acumen to her demanding father is Bethany’s only goal as she boards a ferry for Mykonos—and the beautiful resort she’s determined to acquire for her family’s hotel chain. Gorgeous Greek hunk Paul Lallas stands in her way—alongside his lover, Justin Bentley, who broke Bethany’s heart into a million pieces years ago. When the two men make their very personal interest in her clear, mergers and acquisitions are suddenly the last thing on Bethany’s mind. Could the chance to live out every one of her forbidden fantasies lead to a future more blissful than she ever imagined?

Review:

While some underlying principles are good to see the story is an overall meh.

The good:

  • Pansexual rep via one of the main characters – love to see it.
  • The woman is not the hinge of the triad.  Bethany dated Justin years ago, and now he’s in a committed relationship with Paul.  The dynamics of adding her back in are handled well.
  • The complexities of being serious in a three person relationship are touched on realistically.  Do we want to get married?  What would that look like?  Do we want to have kids, and how would we handle that?  Where do we want to live, and how will we each be able to continue our careers?  In this sense the happily ever after feels solid and earned.

The not-so-good:

  • The book truly takes place over a week, making those realistic life convos feel rushed.  “I just meet you seven days ago and now I’m tying myself to you forever” (in the case of Bethany and Paul) is a bit much.
  • The story arc in general isn’t satisfying.
  • The writing is clunky throughout.  The two guys sound the same, to the point that I had to remind myself which is which, and the sex is merely okay.  Ish.

Good rep, glad to see the foundational ideas are there, but the execution could use some work.

The Red by Tiffany Reisz

30755704Mona Lisa St. James made a deathbed promise that she would do anything to save her mother’s art gallery. Unfortunately, not only is The Red painted red, but it’s in the red. She soon realizes she has no choice but to sell it.

Just as she realizes she has no choice but to sell it, a mysterious man comes in after closing time and makes her an offer: He will save The Red if she agrees to submit to him for the period of one year.

The man is handsome, English, and terribly tempting…but surely her mother didn’t mean for Mona to sell herself to a stranger. Then again, she did promise to do anything to save The Red…

Review:

Reisz has been in mainstream mode lately (The Night Mark, Her Halloween Treat) so I’m thrilled to see she’s come back to hot, kinky erotica.  Huzzah!

The good:

  • This is porn with a plot.  Mona agrees to have sex with a mysterious man over the course of a year in order to save her art gallery.  Each encounter is based on a painting and could easily become episodic but the thread of the story carries through wonderfully.
  • Ooo boy, the sex is hot.  The kink is thick and there’s guaranteed to be something that challenges you… which is just way I like it.
  • There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see that brings everything full circle.  Well done.

The not-so-good:

  • The ending is a bit rushed, and while it didn’t bother me too much it could have used a little more development.
  • The characters are rounded but lack some depth.

All in all I’m sooo happy to see Reisz stretch her kinky wings again.  On Twitter she teased an upcoming title, calling it a “sexy sex cult”… so it looks like I have more to look forward to!

Thanks to 8th Circle Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

31447601It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.

Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped … revered … all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Review:

Holy cow, I love this book.

The good:

  • First and foremost, everything rings true, from the overarching issues (race, gender, class, identity) to small details (what it’s like to be part of a music group, theatre department politics).  Some of it is from the author’s own experience, some of it is from careful research and consideration, and all of it is appreciated.
  • The intersectionality is real.  In the first chapter Jordan doesn’t get cast in the school musical and asks the director why.  All the options run through her head – is it because I’m not white?  Or because I’m taller than the prospective leading men?  This feeling, this ‘what’s the strike against me this time’, is real for many and I’m so happy to see it addressed on the page.
  • Likewise all the gender issues are thoughtfully and thoroughly considered.  I won’t go into detail for fear of spoiling things, so here’s a quote after Jordan starts dressing as a guy:

    I’d set down the burdens of being a girl, unstrapped them one by one and left them on the roadside, but my shoulders didn’t feel any lighter.  They were carrying different, unfamiliar weights now.  As I stood there in that derelict husk of a theater, I felt like I’d gotten lost in between my lives, and the road ahead looked long and strange and poorly lit.

  • There are subtle pokes at the reader to check in with themselves and see how they’re doing regarding these issues.

    With so many queer kids at Kensington, people sometimes got weirdly comfortable, like they had a free pass to say anything they wanted about sexuality.  I guess it was tempting to stick a rainbow-colored “Ally” pin on your backpack and call it a day, as if that were the endpoint, not the starting line.

    Word.

  • Redgate name drops songs – this is a book about a cappella, after all – but none of them are real.  It’s genius.  The story will never date itself by the cultural references within, ensuring that people reading it even twenty years from now will feel a minimal amount of generational whiplash.
  • The plot never stops moving, the banter is fun, you can feel the found family that forms within the Sharps, and you watch Jordan discover who they are.  It’s a delightful journey that I look forward to revisiting.

The only not-so-good thing I can think of is that I was shipping a different couple.  That’s it.  So minor.

In sum, Noteworthy is a diverse, inclusive YA novel that’s compulsively readable and a whole lot of fun.  And it’s full of a cappella!  What more could you want?

Thanks to Amulet Books and NetGalley for providing a review copy.