YA

On a LARP – Stefani Deoul

31944915Take one super bright, smartarse teen geek, add in a bunch of high school friends with super fast brains and even faster fingers, and we have the super-sleuth crazy gang of the techno age.

Sidonie Rubin is a teenager with a conscience and life threatening observation skills. When she makes a passing comment about a recent murder while on a school trip to the local precinct, she, and her friends, suddenly become the local law enforcement experts on LARPS (Live Action Role Play).  Partly from pique at not being invited, partly from ego to prove herself right, Sid is determined to show that the murdered woman was dressed for an evening out when she was found, and therefore part of that modern phenomena, steam-punk cosplay.

Sid and her diverse group of friends – the quick brained best friend Jimmy, the gorgeous UN brat Imani, sex goddess Ari and Vikram the surprise package – spend their waking hours digging through the murdered woman’s online life in search of the illusive link to her death. And of course, being headstrong teenagers, once found they cannot leave it alone, which leads directly to the flashback that encompasses the story, Sid flying off the balcony in the New York Public Library in a gravity defying attempt to catch the murderer.

This is a hilarious, action packed, fast paced story that may be about a bunch of YA’s but is adult in humour and intellect. The plot is slightly insane, given the local cops call in the teenagers to start with, and the majority of the crime solving is via cyber space, while the resolution is very much in the real world and the whole is actually a momentary “life before the eye’s” flash back while Sid falls through the air.

Both the writing and the characters are extremely witty. None are quite what their image would suggest. Jimmy, the star Quarterback who wants to be a Supreme Court Judge, has chosen as his best friend the school geek, and manages keep up with her in all her glorious geekdom. Ari, large girl, large personality, buxom blonde (well blue and pink this week) isn’t just the life and soul, she’s a caregiver, nurturer and ‘tough love’ kinda girl. Vikram the loser is actually the one who cracks the case and revels hidden skills, and Imani, gorgeous, cosmopolitan linguist, cant add up well enough to pass her SATs. Their interplay and banter is, quite frankly, joyful. It fills up the page, the mind, and warms the heart, while exercising the ‘belly-laugh’ muscles on a regular basis.

Sid is, literally, a laugh a minute. While written as a first person stream of consciousness, in breathtaking inner monologue style, she manages to fall, trip, embarrass and laugh at herself throughout. From her clumsy slapstick to her embarrassing crush Stefani Deoul has created an adorable over confident, self conscious and over enthusiastic teenager who you cannot help but love.

The subtitle “A Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventure” suggests a series and I, for one, feel like chaining the author to her own cyber space to ensure the next adventure is well under way. Absolutely loved this, it stays in the mind, resonates in the heart and makes you smile at the memory. If this doesn’t win awards I will eat my top hat.



Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • First published 2017
  • Publisher: Bywater (April 11, 2017)
  • ASIN: B06X6L1RKY
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Just Juliet – Charlotte Reagan

Just Juliet - Charlotte ReaganCharlotte Reagan’s debut novel is a cracker. It tells the tale of the classic American girl next door, with a cheerleader best friend and a football player boyfriend, who finds herself instantly drawn to the new girl in class. That new girl is stunning, fascinating, and gay. As the two spend more and more time together we are drawn into the unusual family dynamics of a gay teenage household and the dawning love between these two interesting young women.

The story is slightly chaotic, not in a bad way, but it reflects the madness of late teenage years; moods, friendships, ebbs and flows, ups and downs. It feels genuinely like watching teenage life and the growing pains both physical and emotional we all go through.

The writing is sparky and alive. At the start it feels a little immature, but like the characters it grows as the book progresses, and we can almost see this young debut author finding her voice as the story unfolds.

The characters are well done, Lena and Juliette, as well as BFF Lacey, are well-developed and interesting individuals, each with their own quirks and identities, each with a path to follow. Lakyn and Scott, Juliet’s gay cousin and his boyfriend, add a really interesting layer of friendship and multiply the coming out story and teenage angst of new relationships and social interaction.

This is a classic YA/NA coming out story, well told, well written and a great debut novel. Definitely one I would recommend for any teenager or YA/NA exploring their sexuality or learning about diversity.

Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Inkitt (September 17, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01LXVPW3M
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Believing in Blue – Maggie Morton

Believing in Blue – Maggie MortonWren is a ‘normal’ 17 year old with a dysfunctional family and a big secret. Not only is she gay, she has developed sky-blue wings. Just before her graduation and 18th birthday she receives a letter from her long departed father and the adventure begins. She is not only not of this world; she is destined to save it and her home-world from the Winged Red.

This is a fast paced and at times confusing fantasy. The world creation is excellent, the world hopping feasible, and the antagonism between two halves of a world divided into red and blue is somehow believable despite being extremely stereotyped and never explained.

However, the plot is overly complex. Wren bounces back and forward between where she is, what she looks like and both who she believes and who she if about to fight for, far too often for credibility. She desperately missed her dad and almost worships him when they are reunited, in an understandable way, only to believe in an instant that everything is a lie and everyone is deceiving her. Similarly she instantly adores Sia, the lovely woman sent to teach her to fly, but completely besotted by the looks of the evil Ember the first time they meet.

I liked the concept, its well written, some of the characters are great and many if the familial relationships are well developed. But it’s just too complex to make sense. Why the red and blue at war seems fundamental to justify the whole plot. We never do find out why Wrens father left. And while trying hard not to give away the ending, a war that has been built up into ‘the end of times’ suddenly stops after we witness painful and brutal deaths, over for no more obvious reason that it started.

It sort of works, and it feels like part of the problem is trying to be a growing up story, a fantasy, an action adventure and a romance all in one. There is just too much angst and too much contradiction to give any sense of a consistent story line. Interestingly it isn’t the fantasy that overwhelms the suspension of disbelief, it is the inconsistency of an 18 year old girl.

And that’s my final observation. This is a YA book, NA at most. It might be YA/Fantasy with a light romance (no fading necessary) but it’s current classification as Lesbian Romance first and Fantasy second is misleading to say the least. The only justification for Wren’s behaviour is her immaturity in the face of overwhelming change, without that her actions make even less sense than they do.

(publisher review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 234 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (Sept 12, 2016)
  • ASIN: B01M0R1RZ4
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Did you know? If you purchase any of the books reviewed on the LRR from our Amazon shop or Amazon page links we receive a couple of cents per book which will help us support the Lesbian Reading Room GCLS Scholarship Fund.

Locked Inside – Annette Mori

Locked Inside - Annette MoriThis is an unusual tale and definitely caught my attention. Belinda has been in a comatose state for 6 years when a doctors daughter, Carly, notices the slightest of reactions to her voice. Carly devotes her volunteer time and persistent energy into not only helping Belinda begin the long road to recovery, but to ensuring her carers and family recognise that she is awake inside the paralysed shell of her body. As Belinda and Carly work together their bond grows along with their love for each other. The only questions are how far can Belinda go, and what form that love will take.

The concept of this story is intriguing and extremely thought provoking. Watching Belinda fight to regain her life, seeing the world through the retrospective viewpoint of a paralysed teenager is a tale that I suspect many authors would find daunting. Annette Mori has handled it extremely well. Without the viewpoint of a person who has suffered a disabling illness it is hard to speak for that section of society, but it felt extremely sympathetic and positively portrayed.

Carly and Belinda are well rounded, interesting individuals, and they are well supported both literally and figuratively by a cast of friends and family we would all love to have behind us. The romance has enough twists and turns to make it interesting as a sweet exploration of coming out and first love, but for me the story of Belinda’s rebirth was far more compelling.

This is my first Annette Mori read and I can’t therefore tell if the writing style of this book is her normal tone, but here she certainly pulled off the voice of a teenager coming to terms with a ginormous personal challenge on top of the normal teenage growing pains of finding out who we are and how love works.

Entertaining and absorbing, definitely one I found hard to put down.

Product info:

  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • First published 2016
  • Publisher: Affinity Press NZ (November 29, 2015)
  • ASIN: B018RGA8YQ
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Secret Lies – Amy Dunne

GCLS clean logoSecret LiesJenny is one of those popular girls who appear to have it all. She is attractive, put together, confident. The other girls want to be her, the boys want to have her. But underneath the false bravado is a mess. She blames herself for the death of her adored Gran, hates what she has made herself into and the never-ending pretence to keep it up. She hates herself to the point of self harm. She has sought help, but that doesn’t stop the feelings, doesn’t stop the pain. 

Nic is the outcast. Wearing her winter uniform in a heatwave, ostracized as an oddity, she doesn’t mix, doesn’t integrate. She is bullied and abused by the girls at school. She feels invisible. But under the long sleeved top she hides a terrible secret, one of violence and abuse. Away from the nastiness of teenage girls she is fighting for her very survival.

Nobody would ever expect these two 17 year olds to be friends. They inhabit polar opposite places in their social world. But a chance encounter makes Jenny reach out in kindness, revealing to Nic that there is another side to her from the shallow, selfish, bully. And as Jenny coaxes Nic to open up a friendship starts to form.

Nic is the observant one, more sensitive to other people’s emotions. Soon she recognizes that Jenny also has a secret. And although it takes her a while to break through, her gentle persistence eventually allows Jenny to open up for the very first time.

As their friendship develops so does their attraction. Thrown together by an accident, they quickly become each others strength. Together they can escape from the secrets and lies, from the pain they have both suffered.

They both know that ‘coming out’ is a huge step. They plan to keep their love secret while they sort out their lives. But Jenny’s bitchy and dominating older sister, alerted by her spys, comes home for the very purpose of removing Nic from Jenny’s life. When she discovers that Nic is a lesbian, she uses every means to separate and destroy them.

Will Jenny fight for her new found love, fight to be the person who is emerging from under the brittle façade or will she cave in to the social pressure and bullying older sister? And while Jenny is deciding who she wants to be, can Nic hold on to hope for a future and stop the abuse to reclaim her own life.

————–

This is an excellent and enthralling first novel.  Amy Dunne has caught the mood of 17 year-old emotions and experience brilliantly. On the one hand it is a tale of young adults emerging and exploring, with all the angst and melodrama that entails. On the other it is a serious exploration of both abuse and self harm and the impact they have on these girls internal and public lives.

The two main characters are wonderfully complex and layered. They are still children, investigating live and love, finding their sexuality and passion, learning who they are and who they want to be. But they are also adults, at least partly because of the secret pain they both suffer and the growing up that has caused.

What we see is the juxtaposition of those – the young adult emerging and trying to balance their teenage hormones and dramas with adult sensibilities and emotions. One minute they are falling in love and in lust, they next they are sulking and fighting like children. They both understand the pressures of their social world, but are not yet quite sure how to manage it and be themselves.

The story resonated with me. Despite being old enough to be their parent it brought back memories of those angst filled days. The pain of falling in love, the fight to be oneself, to create a space and a separate identity while still wanting and needing parental support and love.

Ms Dunne’s portrayal of the abuse was hard to read. I can’t speak to its realism as a survivor, but it felt all too real. Nic’s internal fight to stay alive, stay sane, stay together under the brutal mental and physical torture was intensely emotional. And Jenny’s self loathing and self abuse was extremely well written, along with her Rizzo like shell and underlying vulnerability.

The book flows. It is well written and well crafted. The dialogue is realistic. It is a well paced story which kept me reading into the night. As well as the teenage melodrama of first loves and social pressure the novel contains real tension. There are places you can see the pain about to descend and almost want to stop, but were dragged forward waiting to see how these two girls would survive, if they would survive.

amy dunneThere are also ongoing and layered peaks and troughs. Jenny and Nic face emotional battles coming to terms with their new sexual identity both internally, between them and with family and friends. At the same time they are facing a literally physical battle to stop Nic’s abuse, and in the build up and aftermath there is real fear for the outcome.

My only criticism, and this is minor, was that Elizabeth’s complete reversal from Bible-bashing super-bully bitch to supportive sister was hard to believe. Unlike Laura and Jack who are lightly drawn and allowed to develop their natural goodness, Elizabeth’s transformation feels forced. Her ‘protective’ excuse for her overbearing behavior is not enough to explain her extreme volte-face. In retrospect she was, perhaps, too viscously drawn as a homophobic bully to realistically change so completely.

But that slight jar does not detract from a wonderful book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, couldn’t put it down. Congratulations to Amy Dunne for an excellent first novel and to BSB for picking it up. While the American audience will no doubt complain that they don’t understand our school system (we Brits have had to learn yours) I for one am delighted to see a new British talent emerge. Looking forward to watching Ms Dunne develop this gift.

(Publishers review copy received)

Product info:

  • Paperback: 263 pages
  • First published 2013
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books (15 Dec 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HCRF7FM
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