Tag Archives: novels

The Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

 Sometimes, certain books come along at just the right moment in our lives.  And sometimes they come along much later.  Not too late, but not at the time we really needed them.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. When I was growing up in the dark prehistoric ages before the internet — before cable TV even — certain ideas and concepts just weren’t available to my young mind. I read ravenously, everything I could get my hands on, without any real restrictions from my parents, but I knew literally nothing about sexual identity or gender expression.  I remember reading a couple of early news stories about people like Renee Richards, a tennis player who had male-to-female reassignment surgery in the 1970’s — but it was mostly the stuff of punchlines or baffled magazine articles.  One time I tried to talk about one of those articles with my mom — who a vocal feminist and pretty enlightened person for that time and that place (Southern America, firmly inside the Bible Belt).  Her reply was, “Why would anyone want to do that?”

I never heard the words “transgender” or even “transsexual”. In fact, I was a teenager before I ever knew anyone who was openly Gay.  And the depictions of LGBTQ people in the media at that time ranged from non-existent to ridiculous to condescendingly tragic.

It’s hard not to look back and wonder what my life would have been like if I’d had those images — if concepts like gender non-conforming, gender fluid and non-binary had been available to me when I was figuring out who I was. (A puzzle I’ve never even come close to solving.)

So I have quietly been making a list of books and other media that I think of as “Things I Wish Had Existed When I Was A Kid”.

Very close to the top of that list is The Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin.

Riley Cavanaugh is a high school student and the child of a US Senator, from a very conservative district in Orange County. On top of the usual teenage rebellion, Riley (who spent some time in a psychiatric hospital after trying to wash down a bottle of Xanax with booze) is beginning to understand what it means to be gender fluid.  Some days, Riley wakes up feeling like a girl, some days like a boy — and some days neither.

Riley’s father is trying to pass an important new public education bill, and so Riley moves from a private Catholic school (which was hell, but where at least the uniform requirement eliminated the decision of what to wear every morning) to a public school in their district.

Maybe public school will be different, maybe Riley can find a place to fit in and not be the constant target of abuse.  Maybe.  Or maybe not.

But there are new friends to be made: a Star Wars loving Samoan football player called Solo, and Bec, an intriguing girl with a lip ring and lightsaber blue eyes.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley begins an anonymous blog about being gender fluid — and that blog takes off when other teenagers find it and relate to Riley’s struggle.  Suddenly, the isolated outsider has a (virtual) community, a cause to fight for, and (maybe) a girlfriend.

But not everyone is willing to accept Riley on Riley’s terms. And when one of those enemies make the connection between the weird kid in school and the blogger, everything Riley cares about (and Congressman Cavanaugh’s re-election) is put in jeopardy.

The Symptoms of Being Human is a heartbreakingly good book about a main character you can’t help but love and cheer for. A young adult novel that is rich enough for readers of all ages — even for the confused inner children of people who needed books like this a long time ago.

Thank goodness we have them now.

Under My Skin by A.E. Dooland

When was the last time a book hooked you so deeply you actually worried about the characters when you weren’t reading?

“I’m writing because I wish these stories had been available for me to read when I was dealing with some tough identity issues, and I want them to be available to other people who are struggling.” — A.E. Dooland

 

 

I found Under My Skin sort of by accident.  I was looking for fiction that featured nonbinary/transgender characters and I was drawn in by the fun, playful cover.  I have a weakness for sweet LGBTQ romance stories and that is what I expected here. (I did notice that the book is much longer than most romance novels, and that gave me a moment of pause.) By the time I realized that Under My Skin was a lot more than that — not the breezy lighthearted romance I expected — I was too in love to quit.

Fair warning:  This book disrupted my sleep cycle for several nights running.  I simply could not stop reading.  And it does have its breezy, wonderful romantic moments — a lot of them.  But they’re set in a story about the price of hiding who you really are (from the world and yourself) and the cost of coming out (to the world and to yourself.)

Ming Lee is a Korean/Australian woman living in Sydney.  She has a great job in the marketing department of an international mining corporation, a boyfriend who is almost too perfect, and a comfortable home that she loves.

But underneath the surface, she is restless and unsatisfied. She has extreme body issues, almost no social life, and has been drinking too much.  When she paints a portrait of herself as a man, it sets off a series of events that will change everything in her life.

Part of the power of this novel is the main character.  I was in love with Ming from the start — not just sympathetic or interested — head over heels in love.  Then comes her best friend at work, Sarah, her incredibly perceptive (except where it really counts) boyfriend Henry, and Bree — a troubled schoolgirl force of nature who finds Ming’s paintings on Deviant Art and storms into her life like a hurricane. All these characters quickly became friends that I cared about and rooted for.

And there are a couple I could really hate.

As Ming’s life spirals more and more out of control, there were parts of this novel so intense I had to put the book (ok, the e-reader) down — and then I just continued to worry about the characters and be anxious about what would happen to them until I went back.  It’s kind of a cliché to say a story made you laugh and cry, but this one did — and hit just about every emotion in between.

So, even though this is a long book, I never once felt bored or thought that it went on too long.  I didn’t want it to end.

Which is good because there are two more books in this series.  Flesh and Blood, which is a sequel, continuing Ming’s story, and Solve for ί, which deals with some of the supporting characters from Under My Skin.

I totally intend to read them both.  But I need to catch my breath for a moment first.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

“Rebel of the Sands”

Before I get to my review, let’s give the author, Alwyn Hamilton the first word:

As she says, Rebel of the Sands is a fantasy novel set in a world that is two-thirds Arabian Nights and one-third weird western. It features magic, Djinni and other mythical creatures — as well as a brave, reckless young heroine, Amani Al’Hiza, who grew up in a backwater village called Dustwalk and taught herself to shoot against all the customs and prohibitions of her society.  From the opening scene, where she sneaks into a shooting competition disguised as a boy, Amani is engaging, likable, stubborn and determined above all else to escape her miserable life.

And there’s a rebellion going on in the Desert — a nearly legendary Prince who disappeared years ago, but whose followers are still at large, fighting against the local tyrant and his foreign allies.  And though Amani doesn’t think of herself as political, she will soon be swept up in the intrigue and wonder of the rebellion.

Rebel of the Sands is an exciting story, set in an original world full of mystery and magic.  It is the first book in a trilogy (apparently — at least, there are three books so far) and I wasted no time leaping on the second.

Highly recommended.

RETURN TO HOME

Odd Corners of the Multiverse 5/10/17

I often tell people that my roots as a storyteller are sunk deep in comic books and soap operas. Inside, I’m still the kid that compulsively collected every issue of comic book series I was interested in and scheduled my freshman college courses around General Hospital so I could keep up with Luke and Laura. I’ve always been a sucker for any kind of continuing storyline — so much so that I actually try to be careful what TV shows I start watching or what comic strips I start reading. There’s only so many hours in a day.

A case in point, I recently came across this

Picture Source: The CW

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12366721/1/Realizations

Like me, you probably didn’t know you needed a novel length Kara Danvers/Lena Luthor romance, complete with an engaging mystery plot. But here it is. I was absolutely hooked from the first installment.

And that’s the real joy and danger of the Internet/Netflix age for someone like me. Never before in history has there been such a flood of entertainment available. As a life-long television junkie, who remembers the day where there were only five channels on my television — one of which was PBS and another the local channel that showed only re-runs of old shows — I am constantly floored by the sheer volume of really good television available today. No matter what your genre is, there is literally so much good television out there that you cannot watch it all. It’s impossible. I’ve tried.

The same is true, now, in publishing. The advent of Amazon, ebooks, Kindle Unlimited, and other platforms means there is a glut of reading material available. The common wisdom is that most self-published fiction is badly written and poorly edited — and there’s enough truth in that to keep the attitude alive. Honestly, though, Theodore Sturgeon long ago observed that “90% of everything is crap”, and while I’ve always thought that estimate was a little too high, it applies here. Yes, there’s a lot of dreck out there — manuscripts that should never have been released to the public. But there’s a lot of incredible, quirky, original stuff out there too which is a joy to read and which would never have reached an audience in the old publishing paradigm.

Take this for instance.

Extra Credit Epidemic, by Nina Post. A young adult novel centering around an outbreak of food poisoning, featuring Taffy Snackerge, a teen obsessed with infectious diseases and picking up girls.  All she wants to do is track down the source of the outbreak, but her mentor, an eccentric teacher with issues of his own, forces her to work with two other misfit students, the neurotically neat President of the Young Attachés Club, and a boy who can’t go anywhere in public without wearing a Mexican wrestling mask.   Part mystery, part teen romance, part coming-of-age story, I guarantee you’ve never read anything like this before.  I absolutely loved it.   And it comes from Curiosity Quills Press — one of the quirkiest and most unique small presses around.

Or this:

Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havana by Mary E. Lowd.  Imagine a world where humans have disappeared.  Dogs are mostly in charge, leaving Cats as second class citizens.  The Dogs even have a religion about the First Race, believing that humans will return to take them along to the stars.  Meanwhile, Otters have built their own space program.  They control the orbiting space station which is the gateway to the Solar System.    Kipper is a Cat who doesn’t like the way things are but doesn’t know how to change them.  When her sister, who is running for local office, disappears, Kipper takes off to find her.  Accompanied by the Dog thug hired to kill her, Kipper unravels a conspiracy that will lead her to the Otter space station — and maybe to a secret Cat utopia where they can live free of Dogs.  Otters in Space is endlessly creative in the way only the best science fiction is, filled with charming, unusual, fully realized characters that will tug at your heartstrings at every turn.  One of my favorite books of the last few years.

And while I’m on the subject of Mary E. Lowd, she has become one of my favorite authors, and one I don’t know how I ever would have found in the old days — before the internet, ebooks and the like.   I would encourage everyone to check out the Free Fiction page on her website.

And I couldn’t wind up my post without mentioning this:  My Best New Thing in the World for the past month.   The famous detective Dick Tracy attending a cosplay convention with his granddaughter Honeymoon, as she explains to him what furries are.

http://www.gocomics.com/dicktracy/2017/04/23?ct=v&cti=2134930

 

 

 

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So Not A Hero
by S.J. Delos


If you are a superhero fan, then I don’t really need to sell you on this book.  Just quit reading now and go get it.

If you’re not a superhero fan, then 1) what’s wrong with you? And 2) Do you like stories with funny, flawed heroines, a little bit of romance, work-place drama, family tensions, and the promise of redemption?  Well in that case, you can go pick up this book too.

S.J. Delos describes himself as a “typical geek” from Greensboro, NC, who has always loved comic books and enjoys making up his own stories.  Move the setting just over the state line into South Carolina and that could describe my own childhood.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love this book so much.

Karen Hashimoto has just gotten out of super-max prison and is trying to put her life back together.  She must deal with a sleazy parole officer, paranoid landlords and a bunch of other people who don’t want to let her forget that she was once the super-villain Crushette — the right hand and love interest of the infamous Dr. Maniac.

But then she gets caught in the middle of a super-rumble between a gang of villains and Mr. Manpower — a member of the city’s premier superhero group, The Good Guys.  Karen helps round up the miscreants and before she knows it she’s been invited to audition for the team.

Her struggle to fit in with her new allies, to redeem her past mistakes, and to convince the world that she can be different is the heart of this fun, surprisingly moving novel.

Highly recommended.