Jalyn Rants

The Two Types of Queer Books (and Why We Need Both)

There are basically two kinds of queer books:

  1. Books about being queer
  2. Books where being queer isn’t a big deal

(You also sometimes get books that do both.)

Books about being queer are pretty obvious. Books about characters coming to terms with their sexuality. Books about characters discovering their gender identity. Books about coming out. Books about dealing with homophobia or transphobia.

Books where being queer isn’t a big deal, on the other hand, have queer characters, but their gender identity is treated like any other gender, or their queer romance is treated like any straight romance would be. These are books that focus on other things (magic, adventure, school drama) and just happen to have queer characters.

I prefer the second kind. I like my fantasy and my scifi and my superhero books with characters like me – not straight, not cisgender – where the characters can just live and experience the plot and fall in love (or not) without dealing with people hating them for who they are.

But we need both kinds of books. Books about being queer are important. Queer people struggling with homophobia or transphobia or biphobia or aphobia or whatever other prejudice they’re dealing with need to see their stories represented. Heterosexual cisgender people need to see us humanized in stories and have an opportunity to learn (in a way) what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those biases.

But that can’t be the only kind of story we tell. We also need books where being queer isn’t a big deal. I think this quote makes my point best:

“I think there can be a demand for authors from marginalized backgrounds to write difficult, heartrending stories about the challenges of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, or other oppressions. To write books that “teach” the mainstream about our experience. And we can internalize that demand, as I did. While it’s really important to allow kids of all backgrounds to see their own community’s suffering and resilience reflected in books – it can’t be the only, or the predominant, type of narrative we see out there. I worry about the tendency to demand the performance of pain from marginalized communities for others’ voyeurism. People from marginalized backgrounds have all sorts of stories – and it’s important to make room for that variety. Who is allowed to be happy? Who is allowed to be magical? Who is allowed to be funny? These can be political questions. Joy can be a type of resistance.”

~Sayantani DasGupta

Queer people also need to see ourselves reflected in stories as happy, as magical, as funny, as living our lives and being the heroes without reliving the prejudice and bigotry we face every day. (And for that matter, heterosexual cisgender people need to be able to see us in stories that aren’t “oppression porn” and portray us queer people as characters as vibrant, interesting, and varied and in plots as interesting as straight characters.)

Yes, we need to be able to tell stories about our oppression. But we also need to be able to tell stories about our joy. And personally, those stories – the ones where I see myself reflected in queer characters that are happy and magical and funny – are the ones I really want to read.

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Book Round-Ups

2017 in Books

I haven’t done one of these since January of 2015, but it’s the end of the year again and I’m back on the reviewing bandwagon. So here is my annual roundup of my 2017 reads – my top five favorites, as well as some notable books that didn’t make the top 5 and the top 5 books I’m looking forward to reading in 2018.

None of these lists are in any particular order.

Top 5 of 2017

Cover of "The Abyss Surrounds Us," featuring an Asian girl standing on the deck of a ship with the giant eye of a sea monster behind her

1. The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Sea monsters + pirates + a protagonist of color + lesbians = fantastic. The Abyss Surrounds Us has everything I look for in a book: amazing characters with great arcs, skillfully-done romantic tension, one of the best settings I’ve ever read (did I mention training sea monsters?), a delightfully complicated and fast-paced plot, and an ending that made me feel Epic Battle Feelings. This is one of the first explicitly queer books I read, and it was great.

Cover of "Of Fire and Stars," featuring silhouettes of two princesses on a blue background with gold calligraphy text

2. Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Court drama books have never really been my thing, but this book changed that. I loved the juxtaposition of the friendship (and later romance) between the smart, capable, bookish princess and the unconventional tomboy princess. The setting seemed like a pretty standard high fantasy setting, but at the same time unique and interesting. The magic system (and even the prejudice against magic users) was cool and interesting. And there’s a little bit of trope-smashing. I don’t have enough good things to say about this book.

Cover of "Rising Strong," featuring dark blue text on a light blue and white background

3. Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Rising Strong is … powerful. I love Brené Brown as an author and have adored every one of her books that I’ve read so far, but in my opinion Rising Strong is the most valuable (and that’s saying something). It goes over a research-based process that Brené has discovered/developed for dealing with failure and emotional setbacks. And it really works (I can say so from experience – see my review for potentially triggering details). I learned so much from this book and it’s now my go-to gift for people graduating from high school.

Cover of "The School for Good and Evil," featuring the title on a banner in front of a crest with a black swan on one side and a white swan on the other, above it are two girls, one with short dark hair and one with long blond hair, standing back-to-back

4. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Probably the most creative book I’ve read in a while. I picked it up expecting a thin paperback and not a 500-page epic, but it’s worth every page. There’s a strong female friendship between two polar opposite girls (one who’s selflessly “good” but doesn’t think she is and one who thinks she’s good and is obviously too self-centered to be) and both girls get some absolutely AWESOME character growth. The setting is also fantastic, with a lot to explore, and honestly I’d love to go there. Overall, a great book.

The cover of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," featuring red text on a background of a blue sky with clouds

5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I’ll confess: I read this back in July and I still haven’t used any of these principles to tidy up my living space, even though I’ve been in my new house since August. But I’m including it here anyway because it was an extremely inspiring read. It made me want to get my crap together – or, more accurately, get rid of my crap. It was also a thoroughly enjoyable read. My opinion may change after actually putting these principles into use (although I doubt it), but for now, it makes my top five favorite reads of the year.

2017 Books Worth Mentioning

Cover of "Essentialism," featuring a scribbled mess of lines on the left side, with an arrow pointing to the right, where the word "essentialism" is surrounded by several shaky circles.

Book I Wanted to Love

Essentialism by Greg McKeown. This came highly recommended, and I was really excited about it. Unfortunately, I’ve followed a blogger (Michael Hyatt) who teaches similar principles for many years and I learned nothing new. Worth reading if you’re not a major Michael Hyatt fan, but I got nothing out of it.

Cover of "Lizard Radio," featuring a scale-like pattern of circles in varying shades of green with the silhouette of a large lizard and a short-haired person.

Weirdest (Possibly Ever)

Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz. I described this in my review as “It’s a dystopian novel and a fever dream and Alice in Wonderland if Alice was part lizard and Wonderland was an agricultural camp,” and that kind of describes it. This book blends imagination and reality into something very unique and totally weird. Not necessarily a good book, but definitely an interesting one.

Cover of "Outliers," featuring dark text on a white background with a small purple marble in the middle

The Class Consciousness Award

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I have a lot of problems with all of Malcolm Gladwell’s work that I’ve read (mainly that it’s more theoretical than practical), but I loved that Outliers talked about how being born into a specific set of circumstances affects your eventual success. Though it’s not very nuanced, it’s a good starting place to learn about class privilege.

Cover of "I Will Teach You To Be Rich," featuring bold black text on an orange and green background

Shockingly Bad

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. It’s rare that a book I didn’t finish makes a “year in books” list (in fact, it’s never happened before), but I had to mention this one because it’s incredibly bad. Financial books often fall into classism and fatphobia, but this one also somehow included misogyny and didn’t even pretend not to be classist. It was also pretentious and condescending despite presenting no unique information. Overall: bad.

Must-Reads for 2018

  1. Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova. I enjoyed the first book in this series, Labyrinth Lost, and I’m excited for the second. (Also hoping it has more gay than book one.) It comes out in April.
  2. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown. As I’ve said, I absolutely love Brené Brown, and this is her new book. (I actually already own a copy, I’m just really excited to read it.)
  3. Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor. This book is highly recommended by my favorite eating disorder recovery blogger, and I’m hoping to get a lot out of it. (Also hoping to get some talking points for when weight/diet conversations happen.)
  4. Fight for You by Kayla Bain-Vrba. This is only a novella, but it’s lesbian romance between a dancer-turned-gladiator and the best gladiator in the arena, so it sounds exactly like the kind of thing I would love.
  5. The Second Mango by Shira Glassman. A fantasy queen searching for a girlfriend, a female warrior with a dragon, and an evil sorcerer all sounds like fun. Plus it’s written by a bisexual Jewish woman.
Announcements

Oops! An (Almost) 2-Year Update

Wow, it’s been a long time since I last posted a review! Almost two years, to be precise. I really didn’t mean to let it go this long. But between college and its ridiculous amounts of homework, 2-4 jobs (yes, there was a point where I was working 4 jobs), living on my own, graduating college, and other adulty things, I just didn’t have the time to read.

Last year, I only read 9 books. (Yes, I am ashamed that I have to write that sentence. But it’s true. Only 9. Less than half of which were fiction and one of which was technically for school.)

The good news

I’ve graduated college (finally!), so I now have time to do things. Like pick up hobbies that I haven’t done in two years. So if you’ve missed me – and even if you haven’t – I’m back!

The changes

You didn’t think I could be gone so long and not make changes when I came back, did you? 🙂 I like to think it’s nothing major, but here’s what’s changing around here.

  1. The book grading system is going to go. It’s too much effort, and honestly it’s nothing I couldn’t put in the review text anyway.
  2. No posting schedule. I don’t need any more stress in my life, and trying to force myself to read and review one book a week is just going to take the enjoyment out of everything. I’ll post a review when I finish a book. (Which will hopefully be around once a week)
  3. More nonfiction. I know in my last changes post (admittedly in 2014) I said reviewing nonfiction was going to be a thing. Well, it’s going to be more of a thing now, since it’s a much larger proportion of what I read now. And self-improvement is going to be a big theme.
  4. Trigger warnings. Sometimes books have stuff that you might not want to read about, for whatever reason. In all reviews from here on out, I’m going to list trigger warnings for common triggers (such as violence, sexual content, abuse, and varieties of bigotry) so you know which books to avoid. I try to keep my reviews trigger-free, but if I accidentally include triggering content (or miss a trigger in a book), please comment and let me know!
  5. Everything is gay and feminist. Because I am 🙂 I’m putting more effort into reading distinctly feminist books (fiction and nonfiction) and novels with queer characters. That’s not to say that I won’t ever read something about The StraightsTM, but I’m prioritizing LGBT+ authors and characters.
  6. Picky, but in different directions. I used to be picky about profanity, sex, homosexuality, and anything that didn’t wholeheartedly support the Christian belief system. Those things don’t really matter to me anymore – now I’m more sensitive to misogyny and sexism, rape and sexual assault, and racism and ableism.

(I’m also going to be slowly working through my archives to make my review formats consistent, because I’ve changed formats at least eight times.)

I realize this is a massive change from what Jalyn Reads used to be – but I think I’ve reinvented this blog no less than four times already. Either way, I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

Book Round-Ups

2014 in Books

I don’t know how this happened, but it’s 2015. 2014 has been a year of huge changes for me – mainly because I left for college in August. And I only read 89 books this year, 44 fewer than 2013 – the first time since I started tracking my reading in 2010 that the number has dropped below 100. A little disappointing, but still not bad.

So, to start the new year, I’ve put together three lists: My top 5 favorite books of 2014 (since I can never decide on just one), some 2014 reads worth mentioning that didn’t make the top 5, and the 5 books I’m most excited to read in 2015. None of the lists are in any particular order.

My Top 5 of 2014

  1. Cover of "Blackout," featuring a dark photograph of the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. with barbed wire in the foreground
    Image from Madeline Henry

    Blackout (Darkness #1) by Madeleine Henry. I had a deadline of one week to read and review this book, which I agreed to against my better judgement … and ended up devouring the entire book during the busiest week of my year. The characters, concept, and amazing execution blew me away, and I would be happy to read book two with a yesterday deadline if that means I get it soon.

  2. Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger. Steampunk is my current obsession anyway, but steampunk, in high-class Victorian England, at a finishing school, that teaches girls to be spies? Absolute perfection.
  3. New Sight by Jo Schneider. Giving a new twist to the idea of psychic powers, this Indie urban fantasy added beautifully dark, gritty tones of insanity and addiction to the traditional master-your-powers-help-the-good-guys plot.
  4. Win the Rings (Cracked Chronicles #1) by K.D. Van Brunt. Despite a vague blurb, bland cover, and seemingly nonsensical title, this Indie book was amazing. Tense, action-packed, amazing concept, and told from two perspectives that gave the best of both worlds – the hunter and the hunted.
  5. The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist #1) by Brandon Sanderson. This is the second year in a row a Sanderson book has made my top 5, and for good reason. Fascinating and original magic systems, great characters, a delightfully complicated plot, and I never could decide on a prediction for the bad guy.

Books Worth Mentioning in 2014

Cover of "Ballad of the Northland," featuring a black background with a small picture of a flying eagle

Surprise Hit/Didn’t Expect to Like: Ballad of the Northland by Jason Barron. It looked boring, but it was a fascinating look at life in rural Alaska.

Why We Don’t Read Friends’ Novels: Theory of Mind by Jacob Gorczyca. There was a good story in there (somewhere), but it should have gone through several more rounds of editing before it was published.

Classic I Wish I’d Read Sooner: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. A unique and fun fantasy with great characters and a fantastic setting.

Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen

Made Me Realize I’ve Outgrown Middle Grade: Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen by J.L McCreedy. It wasn’t a bad book, but it was just too young for me.

Far Too Dark: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws by Timothy Patrick. Only book ever to get the “too dark” distinction, I loved the sweeping multigenerational story but hated how horrible the characters were to other people.

Zombie Book I Actually Liked: Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of) by F.J.R. Titchenell. Blending zombie action with exactly the kind of humor I like, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 Top 5 for 2015:

 

  1. Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson. The first book, Steelheartwas amazing (honestly, anything Brandon Sanderson writes is amazing), so I’m really looking forward to reading more of this fabulous series.
  2. Exposure (Virals #4) by Kathy Reichs. I’ve loved the Virals series since I discovered it, and after the way Code, the third book, ended, I need to know what happens.
  3. UnWholly (Unwind #2) by Neal Shusterman. Unwind has been a favorite for a while, so I was thrilled to find it was first in a series (I actually just bought this book – now I have to get around to reading it).
  4. The Shadow Throne (Ascendance Trilogy #3) by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I absolutely loved the first two books in this series, even though it’s middle grade, and I’m looking forward to finishing the series.
  5. Data Runner (Data Runner #1) by Sam A. Patel. Couriers running information in a high-tech world, including cool aliases and conspiracies – sounds like a fun, action-packed ride.

So that’s my year in books. What were your favorite books of 2014? What books are you looking forward to reading in the coming year?

Announcements

Changes at Jalyn Reads

Right now, I’ve been at college just over a month – land of homework, classes, and staying up until 1AM every single night. And in that month, I’ve managed to read 2 books.

So I’m making a few changes to my reading habits.

Ditching the 100 page rule

If you’ve been hanging around here for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with my 100 page rule: give a book 100 pages (75 if it’s short) to get good before I abandon it. But I don’t have time for that. I’m now following the “literary agent rule” – any point after the first five pages where I’m not dying to read on, I won’t.

Reviewing nonfiction

I’ve always read a little bit of nonfiction, just not enough to bother reviewing. But the proportion of nonfiction I read is going up. So I’m going to try my hand at reviewing nonfiction.

Not reading books I’m not absolutely thrilled about

Without a car and living on a campus within walking distance of nowhere, the only library I have access to is IPFW’s library of study rooms and reference works. The only novels I can get my hands on are review copies and ones I order online. So there will be very few “this looked vaguely interesting” reads.

Being picky

With a lot of books, I’ll run into something I don’t like early on, but unless it’s blatant, I’ll give it a hundred pages to see if I can suffer through. From now on, I’m not going to do that. If I find something I don’t like, I’ll stop reading. Period.

No pressure

It’s too much pressure to try to do all my homework and read and review two books a week. So I’m only going to post every other week in the forseeable future. I should be able to maintain that.

Quality over quantity

Life is too short to read bad books. So I’m not going to.

Jalyn Rants

YA Shaming: Filed Under “Advisement”

I know I’m a little late to the ball game here, but I just recently came across Ruth Graham’s article Against YA. I’ve seen responses blowing up Twitter with the #promoteaYAinstead and #NoShameYA hashtag, but I wasn’t really sure what started it all until yesterday.

When I read the title of the article, I was set to argue. If you want to fight YA, I’m going to fight back! But as I read, I realized something:

I understand her point.

That’s not to say I agree with the article. On the contrary. I read a lot of YA. And even though I do read some adult books, I much prefer the subjects and variety of YA. But I can understand Ruth Graham’s perspective, because it’s the same perspective my mom has.

My mother knows I read mostly YA. And she doesn’t really approve. She keeps pushing me to read adult books – “real” books.

See, Ruth Graham, my mother, and pretty much anyone older than forty were teens when YA wasn’t really a genre. There were children’s books, and there were adult books, and as soon as you outgrew Nancy Drew it was time to head to the adult section. To them, YA is children’s books.

Graham also mentions outgrowing YA. That’s completely understandable. I’ve tried to reread some of my favorite books from the preteen years, and they don’t have the same appeal. And many middle grade books don’t appeal to me as much as I think they’d appeal to my eleven-year-old sister. I’ve pretty much outgrown middle grade, and that’s okay with me. If you outgrow YA, that’s okay.

As Graham claims, some YA is purely entertainment. Some of it is all about “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” And I will be honest – sometimes, I want a just-for-fun read.

But not all YA is useless. Take the Hunger Games trilogy: sure, a reality-TV show where kids kill each other is just plain ridiculous, but Katniss and Peeta both ended up with PTSD and the revolution practically destroyed their world.

And Divergent, which Graham called “trashy” and a book that “nobody defends as serious literature”: I found themes of identity, priorities, using your unique gifts, and the power of choices. And in the end of the series, their entire world falls apart and a whole lot of characters I’d grown to care about died.

How much more real does Graham want? And who would call those endings “satisfying”? Not me.

Just because a book is classified as “YA” doesn’t mean it’s pointless. And just because a book is “adult” doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. YA can contain important themes, and adult can be pure escapism.

I see where Ruth Graham is coming from. She holds the view common among older adults that YA is children’s lit. And she’s outgrown it. That’s okay. I can respect that.

I think the real issue here is not YA versus adult books – it’s because people are being shamed for what they like to read. 42% of college students in America will never read another book once they graduate. Shouldn’t we be happy they’re reading, instead of criticizing because they’re not reading what you want them to?

Ruth Graham has the freedom to read whatever she wants – and if it’s not YA, that’s okay. But the rest of us have that freedom, too.

If you don’t like YA, that’s okay. But please don’t hate on me because I do.

Book Round-Ups

2013 in Books

Well, it’s the beginning of a new year already. 2013 seems to have gone really fast for me. I only managed to read 133 books this year, 54 less than last year. Still, I think that’s pretty good.

I’ve put together some lists of books. My favorite books of 2013, other books I read in 2013 that didn’t make the top 5 but are worth mentioning, and the 5 books I’m most excited to read in 2014. None of these lists are in any particular order.

Top 5 Favorites of 2013:
Cover of "The Raven Boys," featuring the silhouette of a raven with blue wing tips and a glowing red heart

  1. The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater, which not only didn’t agree to my maybe-this-will-be-okay expectations, it knocked them down, trampled them, and made me wonder where I got such idiotic ideas.
  2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I wasn’t really expecting much from a tearjerker about cancer kids, but I ended up falling in love with the heartbreakingly beautiful romance.
  3. The Last Dragonslayer (The Last Dragonslayer #1) by Jasper Fforde, which I’m glad I gave a chance. Its screwball storytelling is a perfect blend of smart and silly, realistic and ridiculous, ordinary and oddball.
  4. The Crystal Ordeal (Legends of Leone #1) by M.G. Dekle, an Indie book that surprised me. I couldn’t read this book at night because the male lead would make me laugh so hard I’d wake up my family.
  5. Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson, a dark, suspenseful, action-packed not-exactly-superhero story with an urban vibe. Any book that can make me draw wrong conclusions is impressive, but a book that can trample them this fantastically earns definite bonus points.
Cover of "Allegiant," featuring a background of red clouds with an ocean wave curling in a complete circle above the title text
Image from Veronica Roth

Other Books Worth Mentioning:

  1. The Last Guardian (Artemis Fowl #8) by Eoin Colfer. The last Artemis Fowl book was bittersweet for me – it was a fabulous ending to a fabulous series, but I was sad to see a series I’ve loved for so long end.
  2. Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth – a book I thought I’d like, but didn’t. I liked the first two books in the series, but this one killed off too many characters that (in my opinion) didn’t have to die.

Top 5 Want to Reads in 2014:

  1. Cress (Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer
  2. The Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater
  3. Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson
  4. Exposure (Virals #4) by Kathy Reichs
  5. UnWholly (Unwind #2) by Neal Shusterman

How about you? What are your favorite books of last year? What books are you excited to read in 2014?

Book Round-Ups

Stand-Out Books of 2012

Well, it’s a new year, which means two things.  First:  A round-up of stand-out books I read last year.

I’ve decided on my top five favorites, plus a few “honorable mentions” that were good but didn’t make Top Favorites.  All links go to my review. (Since I started this blog mid-year, I don’t have reviews for every book.  Books marked with an asterisk [*] are ones without reviews.)

My Top Five Favorites of 2012:

 

  1. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  2. Virals by Kathy Reichs
  3. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld*
  4. Prophet by R.J. Larson*
  5. Gunner’s Run by Rick Barry*

Honorable Mentions:

These are books that made an impression, but didn’t make my top 5.

  1. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  2. The Hero’s Guide to Saving your Kingdom by Christopher Healy*
  3. Failstate by John W. Otte*

The second thing a new year means is a list of books I intend to read in the coming year. Since my goal is to read 200 books, I’m not going to list every title – just the ones I’m really excited for.

My Top Five Exciting Reads for 2013:

  1. Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  2. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
  3. I Hunt Killers by Barry Luga
  4. Code (Virals #3) by Kathy Reichs
  5. Confessions of a Murder Suspect by James Patterson

There’s my ten cents’ worth.  What about you?  What were your favorite books that you read last year?  Which books are you excited to read this year?  How many books do you want to read?

Announcements

Welcome to Jalyn Reads!

I read my first novel at age six, and I’ve been reading obsessively ever since.  This blog is devoted entirely to my takes on the books I read.

Image by Jalyn Ely

I started reviewing books four years ago, but only started blogging about them last year, at Reader…Writer…Homeschooler.  When I outgrew that blog, I moved over to Jalyn Ely.  But I only realized after I set it up that there really wasn’t room for too many book reviews at Jalyn Ely.

So I started Jalyn Reads.

Here, I’m going to post my thoughts on the books I read.  Classic books, new books, old books, famous books, obscure books… I read them all.  And I have thoughts about them all.

And maybe my thoughts will help you find books to read.  After all, book blogs are where I hear about most of the books I read, anyway.