Tag: Bell

Kayla Bell reviews Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan – The Lesbrary

Susan reviews The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia

Kayla Bell Reviews Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan cover

In the bookish community, there is a divide between people who are character readers versus plot readers. Character readers need to read detailed, nuanced characters, while plot readers focus on an interesting, intricate plot. For the longest time, I thought I was a character reader. I’ve read plenty of books where the plot takes a backseat to a character’s journey of self-discovery and really enjoyed them. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan made me really rethink this aspect of my reading life, and I now know that I actually do need even just a little bit of a plot in order for a book to keep my attention.

Exciting Times is the story of Ava, an Irish twentysomething who moves to Hong Kong to teach English. While she’s there, she becomes entangled with a rich, aloof, English banker named Julian and, later, a vibrant, interesting lawyer from Hong Kong named Edith. The book deals with her differing relationships with both of them, and Ava trying to figure her life out. Aside from that, there is not much of a plot. It’s definitely a character-driven book.

Even that description I just gave reveals why this book fell a little flat for me. To me, it seemed that Ava was so clearly happier with Edith, who actually cared about her and called her out on her self-sabotage. This fact made it hard to understand the choices she was making to continually go back to Julian, who was so cold to her but offered her financial security. I wish that there had been more of an external conflict that would force Ava to really confront her dilemma and choose one or the other. Without it, in my opinion, the book basically became Ava’s internal monologue, which made it drag in the middle. This story structure also made the ending feel kind of rushed. I had a hard time understanding why Ava made the choices she made.

With that, there was also plenty to like about this novel. I can’t speak to the Asian representation in this book, but to me, Edith was a very interesting and compelling character, albeit less so seeing her through Ava’s eyes. I wish we had gotten more time with her and learned more about who she is outside of her relationship with Ava. I also really enjoyed how the book played with language. Ava’s English lessons were weaved through the writing in a really unique way. The voice of the book felt very raw and honest, and that’s what kept me reading even through the parts I found a little tedious. The setting of Hong Kong was also utilized very well, in my opinion, and made the book’s imagery feel vivid and interesting.

I saw a lot of comparisons between Naoise Dolan’s and Sally Rooney’s writing when reading reviews of this book and I can understand that. For me personally, Rooney’s books worked in a way that this one didn’t quite achieve. That being said, I enjoyed Exciting Times although it wasn’t quite my cup of tea and the ending frustrated me. I am always glad to see more queer representation from Irish authors and characters, though, and would encourage you to pick it up and see for yourself.

Kayla Bell reviews “Create My Own Perfection” by E.H. Timms – The Lesbrary

Susan reviews The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia

"Create My Own Perfection" by E.H. Timms

“Create My Own Perfection” is a short story by E. H. Timms that comes out at the beginning of next month. It’s a retelling of the Medusa myth that centers the wronged, titular woman and incorporates elements from other mythologies. I really enjoyed it, and I think anyone who is interested in a unique, refreshing look on the myth would too.

This is a short story and because it’s so short, I won’t go too much into detail about the plot. Here are the bare bones: our protagonist is a college student and medusa who helps her selkie friend through a tough situation. “Create My Own Perfection” is a very quick read, and I encourage you to go in without any preconceived expectations.

I absolutely love seeing asexual and aromantic representation in fiction, especially in science fiction and fantasy protagonists. Asexuality is really at the center of this narrative. For those of you who are unfamiliar with asexuality, this might be a good story to understand what the experience is like for people that are asexual and aromantic. The author turns asexuality and aromanticism into a beautiful fantasy. Reading that was quite refreshing, especially given how much hatred, exclusion, and invalidation ace and aro people face in the world.

On the other side of that same coin, this story also centered the beauty and importance of friendship. I loved this aspect of it. Why aren’t there more stories in fantasy and science fiction where friendship is treated as just as important as romance? Or every genre, for that matter? That’s another thing that makes this story unique and different. This story’s protagonist is one that would do anything for their friend and it is lovely.

Gods and goddesses reimagined as modern folk is not new, but this story also did that in a fun way. I especially liked the fashion descriptions of the different deities, that really gave me a sense of imagery and brought me into the story. Overall, the description in general is quite vivid. It made the very fast read worth the time for me and helped to reinforce the emotional aspects of the piece.

A queer retelling of Greek mythology with elements of other folklore was exactly what I needed to refresh my reading. Readers should know that the story includes aphobia/amisia, and harassment. “Create My Own Perfection” is available for preorder now.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Episode 1306 Recap: Sequin Tops and Bell Bottoms

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Episode 1306 Recap: Sequin Tops and Bell

Don’t leave me this way, Tamisha Iman. The problem with having a cast this strong is almost every week is going to hurt. I may love the drama, but I hate the goodbyes! Alas, this is apparently a “reality competition show” and people have to lose. But first! Disco!

We begin in the aftermath of Joey’s elimination. Kandy says her boyfriend went home, but she’ll for sure sleep with the bitch after. My support to all the Drag Race quarantine girlfriends. Olivia brings up last week’s chaotic Untucked and there’s a bit more bickering between Tamisha and Kandy.

The next week, Elliott suggests they leave the fighting in the past and Gottmik says “wishful saying.” Ru enters the workroom and compares himself to Charles Nelson Reilly — none of the queens get the reference, the first of many they won’t get this week. Reilly was a musical theatre legend and the host of Match Game aka the inspiration for Snatch Game. And he was gay! Anyway, Ru explains that the mini challenge is making dresses out of wallpaper.

The teams for the mini challenge will also be the teams for the main challenge, and as last week’s winner Gottmik gets to be a third for whichever pair she likes — and who wouldn’t want Gottmik as their third. The other queens scramble into teams and Gottmik chooses her besties Kandy and Tina. This is having major Rolaskatox energy to me — I think it’s just a matter of time before Michelle warns Gottmik about the clique. But for now she seems happy to be with the cool kids. Paired off rejects Tamisha and Elliott win the mini challenge with a Carole Baskin reference, because Ru loves to give the underdogs a mini challenge win to shake things up.

RuPaul’s queer history lessons have been… let’s say inconsistent throughout the show. His love for easy liberalism often results in a very hetero-palatable framing of queer past. But luckily those impulses weren’t too bad in this educational disco episode!

My ex was in a play about disco, so I was lucky enough to get a pretty thorough history lesson early in my queerness. I’d previously held a lot of the misconceptions that many share and I was surprised to learn my Saturday Night Fever-understanding was a whitewashed and straightwashed version of an era that was so meaningful for Black people and queer people. Or in Ru-speak: “freedom, divas, and bringing people together!”

Denali says she loves disco and this is hers to win. I love Denali, because every episode she truly believes it’s hers to win. She’s paired with Rosé and she’s excited that they’re both dancers and can push each other to perfection. We also learn that Denali used to figure skate on a cruise ship, which is the only thing that could get me on a cruise other than Olivia Cruises standing for Olivia Lux.

Olivia is on a team with Utica and their dynamic is surprisingly delightful. Utica jokes to Olivia that Tina’s wig makes her look small and Olivia tells her to say that to Tina. Utica obeys her new crush and I loved it.

Ru starts walking around the workroom grilling the queens on disco and cracking up at their lack of knowledge. Ru explains Disco Demolition Night when DJ Steve Dahl rallied people to burn disco records. He says the powers to be were scared of the unbridled passion of disco — especially since it was associated with gay people and Black people. It’s really important that queer people know our history, but there’s no shame in the learning! Our history is pointedly kept from us and it takes effort to know even the most basic things. Hopefully, the queens — and viewers at home — appreciated the lesson.

The queens are choreographed by Miguel Zarate who is a RPDR first timer. I hope he comes back, he has such a good rapport with the queens. He encourages them to not take themselves too seriously and to just have fun with it. Tamisha struggles with a hula hoop and reveals in the confessional that she has an ostomy bag that limits her movements. She hasn’t told anyone because she doesn’t want any special treatment. It reminds me of when Yvie Oddly wasn’t disclosing having Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I wish the queens felt like they could be open about their illnesses and disabilities on the show without feeling like they’d be judged for it!

Elimination day! Rosé rides into the workroom on Gottmik’s back. And Tina has Kandy and Gottmik say “mean girls” on three. (Gottmik rolls her eyes instead of saying it.) It’s nice that Gottmik is not only casually accepted among the queens but actively desired. Then again she’s an adorable little twink so I’m not going to give any of the cis queens too many ally points.

Olivia says that as a teenager she was 300 pounds. It was a dark time for her and it wasn’t until she found theatre and drama that she was able to feel confident in her body and self. Thankfully, she notes that she doesn’t look at scales anymore and just cares if she feels amazing, but this part still felt gross to me. Since the beginning, RPDR has not been a kind show to its fat queens, so framing a thin queen’s past weight in this way is disappointing. The point of her narrative is far more about struggling as a closeted teen and I wish that had been emphasized more than her weight.

Kandy and Tamisha also open up about adolescence. Kandy says her mom was in and out of jail so she had to take care of herself. She was always trying to maintain control of her anger, but she still struggles with it. Tamisha talks about a woman who started a cheerleading crew and invited her to join. Her grandma was upset when she found out she was doing gay stuff, but the woman still encouraged her. Sometimes these segments can dip into reality TV exploitation, but I really enjoy getting a window into different gay pasts.

Mama Ru is on the radio and ready to take us through her disco history lesson. Tina, Kandy, and Gottmik start us off with the birth of disco. Then Tamisha and Elliott get into disco and sex. Olivia and Utica go to Studio 54. Rosé and Denali show off disco fashion. All the queens do one big group number. And finally Symone and LaLa dance their way through the end of the era. I thought everyone was really solid, but Symone and LaLa were my favorite. Rosé and Denali are the best dancers, but they needed to focus less on being technically perfect and more on showing off their personalities. It ends with everyone doing a Soul Train line to “We Are Family” and I just really enjoyed the whole thing!

The runway category is little black dress. Loni Love is back as a guest judge with Michelle and Carson. The standouts are exactly who you’d think they’d be! Gottmik has the littlest black dress imaginable aka it is just covering her crotch. Symone has big blonde hair referencing Ru’s look in the “Back to My Roots” video and is wearing a dress made of braided hair. And Denali murdered me in her black widow-inspired dress with a web on the back and extra spider eyes on her forehead. Olivia also dazzles in a simple strapless dress paired with gorgeous big hair.

Somehow Symone, LaLa, and Denali are just safe along with Gottmik and Rosé (I would happily take this group as our top five!) — Tina, Elliott, and Olivia are the top, which I found to be just baffling. Meanwhile, Kandy, Tamisha, and Utica were the bottom which made me really sad, but no one did bad this episode, so I can’t complain. I obviously would’ve loved to see Elliott in the bottom, but this was a dancing challenge and she’s a dancer.

After weeks of being safe, Olivia finally gets a much deserved win and shows herself to be a top competitor. Meanwhile, the producers get their wish and last week’s feud becomes this week’s lip sync. Neither Tamisha nor Kandy are word perfect with Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” but they both do okay. What Kandy lacks in technical prowess, she makes up for with intense drive. Tamisha loses.

I might be the only person on the internet who didn’t think this was the wrong call. But my fondness for Tamisha aside, I just respond to Kandy’s competitive energy. I like a queen who wants to win! Tamisha says she’s going to go home, finish her recovery, and get ready for All Stars. And that’s what I’m talking about! I look forward to seeing everyone’s drag mother ready to win All Stars 7.

Teleport Us to Mars!! Here Are Some More Random Thoughts:

+ Elliott says her mom put her in dance class as a kid after she was bullied, which gives me a new reason to hate Elliott: jealousy.

+ Gottmik’s parents have a video message for her on Untucked talking about how they’re so proud of her art and the person she’s become. It’s nice until Gottmik says that the message was the first time they called her by her name, Kade. Ru loves family reunion/family breakthrough moments, but if it took your trans child being on TV for you to use their name, you don’t deserve any praise. It’s easy for people to accept their queer and trans children when they’ve proven themselves exceptional. In my opinion, by that point it’s too late.

+ Tamisha and Kandy reconciled before their big lip sync. Tamisha says the challenge brought them together and that she doesn’t hold grudges. It’s sweet and makes their hug after Tamisha’s elimination all the more poignant. I’m sorry, I’m still rooting for Kandy! I have a soft spot for loud insecure queers.

+ During Untucked, Utica asks if Olivia wants some glitter and then hugs her. Olivia says they should play in the sandbox later and Utica says “I’ll take you on a date.” Excuse me???? What a strange pair and I am absolutely obsessed.

+ Queen I’m rooting for: Symone and Denali

+ Queen I have the biggest crush on: Denali and Olivia

+ Queen I have weird sexual feelings for that I need to unpack: Okay so nothing weird about having sexual feelings for Olivia, but they were at their peak when she was encouraging Utica to be mean and that might need some processing.

Kayla Bell reviews Love is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar  – The Lesbrary

Kayla Bell reviews Love is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar 

Love is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar

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Love is an Ex-Country is part memoir, part essay collection. It touches on a variety of topics, from racism to queerness to fatphobia to Arab identity, while always keeping an engaging, almost playful tone. There are many reasons why it worked for me so well. Before I get into the review, I want to say that as a white, Christian, American that has no interest in kink I am definitely not the reviewer to understand the intricacies of this memoir. I encourage you to seek out reviewers from different backgrounds than me to get a fuller picture of this book.

The memoir is in the form of various chapters examining the author’s travels. It takes place in the summer of 2016, when Randa Jarrar decided to take a solo cross-country road trip through the United States. However, most of the book has nothing to do with the road trip, and is a series of her reflecting on past memories. This book examines the reality of living as a fat woman of color in the United States. Jarrar has experienced a lot, including being doxxed by a mob of alt-right trolls after calling out white feminism in regards to Barbara Bush’s death. I truly respect how open and honest they were about this traumatic experience, even offering examples of the vile, racist hate mail she received. This authenticity carries throughout the narrative.

The first thing that stood out to me is that Jarrar never fails to examine her positionality in the situations that they describe. They are quick to own where they lack and have privilege, and never fail to call out bigotry in the situations they describes. One example that particularly stood out to me was when they were faced with the racism and xenophobia of a white woman at a rest stop. The woman assumed Jarrar was white and spouted off stereotypes about Black people and Syrian refugees. Jarrar did not entertain the woman’s bigotry and swiftly called her out. This book was a great example of how to think about intersectionality.

Another thing I loved about this book was Randa Jarrar’s matter-of-fact writing style. It is so refreshing to read a voice that is so unapologetic in the face of so many people that want her to hate herself, as well as tumultuous world events. Reading this book inspired me to start having more of that self-acceptance in my own life. While the things she did are not always likable, she does make the reader understand her thinking. This attitude makes the writing engaging throughout. At the same time, the unflinching look at Jarrar’s life events makes the parts of the book where they describe being abused and mistreated harrowing. I do not think this is a negative, I think this actually is a strength of the memoir. However, it could be a lot for some readers to handle.

Readers should know before they pick up this book that this memoir describes instances of racism, prejudice against Arabs, misogyny, violence, fatphobia, abuse from a parent and significant other (including child sexual abuse and domestic violence), forced dieting, and eating disorder behavior. It also includes graphic descriptions of sex and BDSM and instances of interactions with the police.

Overall, this book is a great examination of one woman’s experience of the world, made up of small, seemingly disjointed narratives that piece together beautifully. If you can handle it, you might enjoy it.

Kayla Bell reviews Mistletoe by Lyn Gardner – The Lesbrary

Kayla Bell reviews Mistletoe by Lyn Gardner – The Lesbrary

Mistletoe by Lyn Gardner

After this dumpster fire of a year, I am very much looking forward to the holiday season. Christmas music, holiday movies, and baking are the distractions I need this year. So when I saw Mistletoe on sale on the iBooks store, I jumped at the chance to read what seemed like a sapphic Hallmark movie. The novella I read wasn’t entirely the wholesome love story I was expecting, but it was very festive and fun.

This romantic comedy starts with Santa Claus. Yes, you heard that right, Santa is a real person and so are all his elves in this novella about two grown women. Calamity strikes when one of Santa’s elves realizes that, many years ago, he missed one child’s Christmas wish. It was from a little girl named Diana who recently lost her parents and wants to find her soulmate. Diana’s an adult now, and Santa isn’t about to let anyone’s wish go unanswered. Together with an elf named Percy, the two set out to set Diana up with her soulmate Jamie. Hijinks ensue as the two women meet and fall in love.

One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the characters. Remember that this is basically a Christmas movie in novella form, so neither of them were super fleshed out, and that’s okay. Both of the two love interests were very distinct from one another. Diana was sweet and kind, while Jamie was bolder. Their dynamic was very interesting and they complemented each other well. It kept me reading to see how each of them would react to different situations. I also love that they actually ended up together long term. It’s always cool to see that in a queer romance. Jamie and Diana’s friends, the side characters, were also interesting in and of themselves. My personal favorite was Diana’s Aunt Brenda, who took her in after her parents passed away. For me, the characters were the strongest part of the novella, although it is worth mentioning that they were not a very diverse ensemble.

The weirdest part of the story were the jarring shifts in tone that happened throughout. It starts with a scene of Santa and his elves, so I settled in for a fantastical, wholesome romance. That’s what it was, for the most part, until the elf gets sauced and Jamie and Diana start picturing each other sexually after their kiss. Then, it’s back to Hallmark territory until a really out of nowhere scene that’s just a graphic description of Jamie masturbating. Back to PG-rated once again until two back to back erotica scenes in the epilogue. I want to make it clear that I have no problem with erotic fiction, I just thought it felt really out of place in what is otherwise a very tame Christmas fantasy romance. With this shortcoming, I also thought that the pacing was pretty off, especially for a story so short. The book goes from being day-by-day to skipping weeks and even decades at a time. I did enjoy where everyone ended up, but wish there was a little more buildup to everything that happened.

Overall, Mistletoe made me very happy because it showed that relationships between two women can be given the holiday movie treatment just like straight relationships can. Some parts did genuinely make me chuckle, and I enjoyed the dynamic between the two main love interests. I would have loved this book a lot more if the erotic scenes were cut out. Still, I would describe this book as escapist, festive, fun.

Kayla Bell reviews The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed – The Lesbrary

Susan reviews The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia

The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed (Amazon Affiliate Link)The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Are you looking for a book with a diverse cast, compelling story, great worldbuilding, and disability representation? Lucky you, because you have The Labyrinth’s Archivist.

This fantastical novella stars Azulea, the newest in a long line of Archivists, the people who interview travelers and make maps of the worlds that extend out from the Archivists’ Residence. Azulea desperately wants to join her family’s vocation, but she is blind and therefore assumed to be incapable. When someone (or something) starts killing Archivists one by one, Azulea puts her mind to solving the mystery.

There were so many things I loved about this book. For starters, there was the amazing disability representation. The author, Day Al-Mohamed, is blind herself, so the representation was very authentic. I love how Azulea’s blindness was incorporated into the story, but didn’t make it seem like inspiration porn. It was also very refreshing to see disability representation in the fantasy genre, where we certainly don’t get enough of it. More than just painting Azulea as an inspirational story, the novella really dives into the challenges of being blind in a fantasy world. Physically and psychologically, Azulea must adapt to her surroundings. The Labyrinth’s Archivist is worth reading for this aspect alone.

Another part of the novella I loved was worldbuilding. The world of the Labyrinth was so detailed and intricate. Every setting was so beautifully described. I could picture every scene like a movie, which is something I love to see in a book. The world is heavily influenced by Middle Eastern culture, which also gave it a sense of depth and richness. The opulence of the Residence itself shines throughout the novella, and serves as a wonderful backdrop to the central mystery. The story itself reads very quickly, too. It’s like a fantasy version of an Agatha Christie novel. I flew through it. If anything, I thought it was too short.

Even given everything else, for me, the best part of this novel was the characters. Azulea is a really wonderful protagonist. She is spirited, resilient, and determined. I was happy to spend the entire novella following her. Her relationships with other characters also stood out. I loved reading the interactions between Azulea and her mother. They had a difficult, but ultimately very authentic relationship. Same with the relationship between Azulea and her grandmother. Finally, the romance was also very sweet. I wish we had gotten more of that as a plotline, because it does come up quickly towards the end of the story. Still, the engaging and complex characters made this book a real page-turner for me.

The Labyrinth’s Archivist is a short, refreshing, fun novella that blends fantasy and Middle Eastern culture in a beautiful way. Its characters are very interesting and drive the story forward. It involves disability representation and worldbuilding that are truly unique. Although it is short, this book is definitely worth your time.