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Review of Gravity by Juliann Rich

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gravity1.jpgGravity by Juliann Rich

Publication Date: November 15, 2016.

Publisher: Bold Strokes Books.

Genres: Young Adult, LGBT, Contemporary, and Sports.

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Purchase here: Amazon | The Book Depository

Synopsis: A shot at Olympic gold in ski jumping. It’s a dream that has been the exclusive property of male athletes. Until now.

For seventeen-year-old Ellie Engebretsen, the 2011 decision to include women’s ski jumping in the Olympics is a game changer. She’d love to bring home the gold for her father, a former Olympic competitor whose dreams were blown along with his knees on an ill-timed landing. But can she defy the pull of gravity that draws her to Kate Moreau, her biggest competition and the girl of her dreams?

How can Ellie soar through the air when all she feels like doing is falling hard?

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Thank you, Bold Strokes Books, for my review copy of Gravity. I received this review copy in exchange for an honest review; this does not affect my opinion. Any quotes mentioned below are taken from the review copy and are subject to change upon publication.

I have very conflicted feelings about Gravity. My expectations were mixed, some of my friends loved this book and others did not. However, in the end, I feel like this book was a bit subpar. It was nothing special except for the fact that it’s about sports, in particular, ski jumping, which was the best part of this book. I’ll talk more about that after I’ll deal with my biggest issue of the book. To understand my issues with the book I’ll have to divulge on events that transpired in first third (or so) of the book. This book is about Ellie, whose father is a former ski jumper and who now trains Ellie to get ready for the Olympics. Ellie is gay and likes girls and up until the beginning of the book, Ellie was together with and in love with a girl named Blair. However, a couple of days before the book starts Ellie gets the following text, a text Blair was meant to send to Geoffrey (a guy also in the ski jumping circle of people).

“I promise I’ll break up with Ellie tonight, Geoffrey. I hate sneaking around as much as you do.”

What has happened is that Blair has been cheating on Ellie with Geoffrey. Naturally, Ellie is heartbroken and mad which I totally understand. Getting cheated on is the worst and it’s not wrong to feel bad about it. What I dislike about Ellie’s reaction though is 1) her biphobia and 2) the fact that she called Blair a bitch (not to her face, but still). The first part is a real problem for me because while Blair being unfaithful and sleeping with someone other than Ellie is wrong (because they were in a committed relationship) that does not give Ellie the right the “claim” that Blair is a straight girl. The sexuality of Blair is never actually mentioned but we learn throughout the book that the feelings Blair had for Ellie were still real. The parts I found to be biphobic were,

“She still can’t and it would be almost funny, the way her eyes rove around the room until her gaze settles on Jack’s ass, if it didn’t hurt so damn much that even her eyes are off limits to me. To people not in the know, it probably looks like Blair hasn’t given up girls for good. Not by a long shot. But Blair knows and I know, the deep red that spreads across her face has nothing to do with Jack’s glutes and everything to do with her guilt.”

And

“What’s there to understand? Your text was pretty clear. You got sick of me. Or it was all a lie and you never loved me. Or you wanted something Geoffrey had that I didn’t.” I spit that last one in her face, because it was always good between us, that part. Better than good.

And

“It was the type of torment I was willing to endure back then, but only for Blair Caldwell. One year of walking around with a hard-on will do that to an otherwise sane woman. It’ll make her drive through impassable conditions. It’ll make her pretend she loves being dragged into store after store. It’ll make her strip on command in order to try on obscenely overpriced jeans in cramped dressing rooms in front of the girl of her dreams—the supremely uninterested and presumably straight girl of her dreams.”

I’ll be honest, maybe I read too much into it, but to me, it felt really wrong of Ellie to talk about Blair in that way. Blair cheating and presumably being bisexual (she is coded as a bisexual), but being called a straight girl because she is with someone of the opposite sex at the moment, can be seen to feed into a lot of negative stereotypes.

Moreover, I don’t have a problem with swearing, but I’ll admit that a woman calling another woman bitch really rubs me the wrong way which is why I, for example, had a problem with the following sentence.

“My Blair, my girl, the bitch who leapt into his arms like it was the easiest thing in the world.”

There was also a moment when the word slutty was used and I’m not really a fan of women (or anyone else for that matter) slut-shaming other women.

“Most days, I’m scoping out tourists, but all I see are silly girls or pouty girls or slutty girls. No one who could interest me enough to take my mind off Blair for one second.”

Despite my issues with Gravity I still really found the last half of so enjoyable. The main pairing, with their relationship in a large part built on lies which later on got exposed, towards the end really found each other and the truth together with shared dreams. That was very sweet. I really wish though that Ellie hadn’t lied so much to Kate and dealt with a lot of situations differently but that might just be me. The most interesting part about Gravity is that fact that it’s women in ski jumping. There is a lot of interesting trivia both in the book and afterward which teaches you about the fact that ski jumping is really misogynistic (which is called out in the book by the characters) and I loved that topic. I also loved the part about female ski jumpers being allies despite them also being competitors because of the misogynistic nature of the sport. In the Author’s Note: The Real Heroes in the end of the book it says the following,

“Though the Olympic barrier has been breached, the struggle to find equal footing continues. Currently women ski jumpers are allowed to compete in one event while their male counterparts compete in three.”

I really hope and wish we get to see more books about women in ski jumping because the sports sounds so amazing and I love seeing women taking their rightful place where men have tried to keep them away for so long. Big thumbs up for that. All in all, my feelings are mixed and I cannot give this book more than 2.5 stars. If you love f/f romances and sports, I say you can give this book a go but definitely be aware of the issues that exist in the book.

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Review of Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

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Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata

Publication Date: June 10, 2017.

Publisher: Independently published.

Genres: Romance, Contemporary, and Adult.

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Synopsis: Ruby Santos knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she signed up to write a soldier overseas.

The guidelines were simple: one letter or email a week for the length of his or her deployment. Care packages were optional.

Been there, done that. She thought she knew what to expect. What she didn’t count on was falling in love with the guy.

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Disclaimer: I’m not Filipino but I’ve consulted with a friend, who is a Filipino-American book blogger, about the issues I had with this book. 

I really wanted to love Dear Aaron, I really did. The plot and premise of the book check off a lot of boxes for me when it comes to things I want to find in romance novels. Slowburn romance, online friendships, and just general cuteness. The couple did make me mushy and that is why I’m all the more disappointed that Dear Aaron is really disrespectful and problematic. I really won’t recommend this book to anyone based on the comments made in this book, which will be discussed in more detail later.

To summarize the book is essentially about Ruby Santos and Aaron Hall who start emailing and texting while Aaron is deployed in Iraq. They get to know each other and become very close. It is a pen pals-to-friends-to-lovers story with a strong element of the legitimacy of online friendships.

The main character, Ruby Santos, is Filipino which we find out about 9 % into the novel when Aaron and Ruby are emailing each other. What is written is the following,

“The only reason my parents moved here (Texas) was because of my mom’s family. My dad hated living here. He says the humidity reminded him too much of the Philippines when he was a kid.”

The fact that Ruby is Filipino is only ever mentioned in one other scene, which is where things get really disrespectful. At this point in the novel Ruby and Aaron have met up, are on vacation together and are out having dinner together with a couple of Aaron’s friends. They are ordering food and Aaron’s friend orders frog legs. This spurred a discussion about food, in which Ruby started telling the friends about Filipino cuisine that her dad eats.

“I’ve had cow tongue a few times. That was good actually—” “Cow tongue?” that was Brittany. “Yeah. They sell it all over the place in Houston. I’ve had dinuguan—” “What’s that?” Max asked. I scrunched up my nose, remembering eating that way too clearly. “It’s a Filipino dish that my dad made me try. Its pig intestines, kidneys, lungs, heart, and the snout cooked in its blood—” At least four of them said a variation of “eww” that made me grin. “I know. My dad claimed it was dessert, like pudding. He loves it. I can’t eat pudding anymore because of that, no matter what color it is.” “I’m not going to be able to eat pudding anymore after that….” Mindy trailed off. “That’s not the worst,” I started to say before I shut my mouth.

That was one part of the scene, soon thereafter another Filipino dish is discussed.

“I’ve never tried it, but my dad has a bunch of times—” “What is it?” Max asked. “It’s called balut. I’ve watched him eat it and I didn’t gag, and I’m pretty proud of myself for it—” “What is it?” “Jesus, Max, give her a second,” Aaron chimed in, his big hands resting on the table. I squeezed my fingers between my thighs and just got it over with. “It’s a duck embryo in its shell.” Four sets of eyeballs blinked.

After that, the friends have awful reactions and it’s described as “Four different people made dry-heaving and gagging sounds.” It is also made clear that everyone thinks this is gross, including the main character Ruby who claims that she and her siblings have never tried it and claims nothing grosses her father out food wise. This was all very disrespectful. I cannot imagine being Filipino, thinking this book represents you and then having their cuisine treated like this. It was cheap and lazy both in the way the author shows that the main character is Filipino and how somehow this is how the main character connects with Aaron’s friends. It could have been done in literally any other way which would have been less problematic and hurtful. However, my problems don’t end there. Later on, during the same scene, when Ruby and one of Aaron’s friends are alone they continue the discussion in which the following was said,

“You can’t really tell you’re Filipino, except for the shape of your eyes.” She blinked. “That sounds really racist. I’m sorry. Mindy’s been rubbing off on me this week.” I snorted. “I get it. My mom has really red hair and she’s super pale. I got a weird mix of both of them. No one can ever tell what I am.”

This is racist and isn’t called out anywhere in the book, in fact as you can read the main character just brushes it off. In a lot of ways, it feels like the main character being Filipino is just added there as an extra bonus. The representation is lazy, superficial, disrespectful and potentially harmful. Moreover, other issues I had with Dear Aaron is the ableist language used. The words crazy and insane were used multiple times. I particularly did not like the following two sentences “You guys either like the crazy or need a new radar” and “Because she’s a crazy person.” There are more examples similar to these two (I searched and the word crazy is used 58 times).

All in all, I say be aware of all of these issues before thinking about buying this book. I had high hopes, especially since the author’s other books are very hyped up among friends and the general romance community. I’d say read reviews and check out her other books instead of this one. Dear Aaron left me disappointed and in need of a romance novel with a similar premise because damn this had so much potential. Someone out there, give us the diverse online friends to real life friends to lovers story we all deserve. I’ll drop all of my coins on it.

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