Long Time No Talk

As many of you know, 2020 was a really difficult year. Like, it’s been nearly a year since I posted a new blog and I used to write a lot more on here about writing and writing tips and book reviews, but that just got to be too hard.

I read a lot of books last year, but I didn’t write any reviews. I didn’t really have the time to do that because I was so overwhelmed with everything going on and it’s hard to have the head space to do things when you feel so stressed all the time.

I changed a lot last year too. My priorities, my writing, my writing style, even my friend group changed. I grew in 2020 in a way I never thought I could again.

I’m a year older now and I’ve lived through a lot of bullshit.

My writing style and writing had a massive upgrade this year which, in the end, sort of frustrated me because I was working on several projects at once that I can no longer look at without cringing.

I’ve been fighting the change ever since. I keep trying to force myself to write the way I used to because it was so sarcastic and limited and carefree, but I keep delving deeper and creating stories where they don’t need to be.

I sort of stopped updating all of my fanfiction around June and deleted everything off of my AO3 account (much to the eternal annoyance of my fans) and I’ve slowly started reuploading it again, but it feels different. Like I’m constantly disappointed by my work.

So, blogging fell by the wayside. Most things fell by the wayside.

I haven’t really been active on social media. I created a discord server that’s kept me pretty busy and I completely stopped updating Rhinoverse. And maybe it’s because I spent the latter half of 2020 in a deep, deep depression, but it Feels BAD, man.

I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions, but if 2020 taught me anything it’s that I need to do better and be better. I’ve spent 2017-2020 healing from the mess my life was in the past and trying to take stock of everything that’s wrong with me.

I want 2021 to be the year I finally own my problems and push forward regardless.

I know this blog has been pretty rambly, but I sort of had a lot to say after being gone for so long. I’ll follow this one up with a top 20 books of 2020 post. It won’t be as comprehensive as my last ones, but I don’t have the energy to write something long or detailed.

I’m sure the whole lot of you understand. Happy 2021. Be better.

Desdemona Wren’s Top 10 Books of 2019 (Let’s face it, 99% of these are gay)

Most of the books I read are either about queer life or by queer authors. So if they do include a romance, which I do generally like to see in stories because I love romantic subplots, the romance is usually queer or they’ve got a queer side romance.

From this list you’ll learn that I’m obsessed with coming of age stories and I read probably way too much YA, but since YA and NA are the genres I usually write for, that makes a lot of sense.

Below my ratings include both stars and rainbows. The stars are my general overall rating of the book (these will all be 5+ stars) and the rainbows are the overall queerness rating (rainbow ratings with a 3 and below only contain queer side romances and not a main romance ALSO rainbow ratings that include a purple heart have canon bisexual characters).

I also include one of my favorite quotes from the book and in lieu of a review, I’m just going to speak briefly about what each book meant to me. That way this blog doesn’t get too long. And if I’m being honest most of these books I never even reviewed because I’m about 40 book reviews behind.

So, without further ado, here is my top 10 reads of 2019 (they’re not all from 2019, I know, but shh).

10. This Time Will be Different by Mia Sugiura

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People talk about starting over after they’ve made a big mistake or a bad choice in life. But you can never really start over. You can’t fully reset. And I don’t think you should. There’s no point in dwelling on the past, but you can acknowledge it and try to make things better. Or try a new way, and know that this time will be different.

Description: Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: The reason this book made it onto my list despite only have a queer side character is because the main character, CJ, struggles so much emotionally throughout the book and all of her mistakes and anger really made me identify with her. Also it’s set in San Jose and I’m a sucker for anything set in California.

9. Sadie by Courtney Summers

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“I can’t take another dead girl.”

Description: A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: While there is bisexual representation in this book, the point of Sadie is not romance. The entire point of this book is that it’s literally just from start to finish incredible. It’s told from two differing points of view, one being a podcast, the other being the story Sadie herself tells. This resonated with me because I was a victim of childhood abuse and also sexual trauma. I spent most of this book openly weeping and every time they kept saying “I can’t take another dead girl” I got so scared and the ending literally just ripped my whole heart out.

8. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

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“And so at the age of four, I learned someone could cry from a happy memory.”

Description: With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: The reason I picked this up was in part, because of the gorgeous cover and also because it is so hard to find books with Black Puerto Rican rep. This story was so beautifully written and Emoni’s passion for cooking and for her daughter was so incredible to me. I just…I wanted a mom who would love me that much.

7. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

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“The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.”

Description: It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: How do I even begin to explain how much this book means to queer culture in America? I wept so openly while reading this book. There was so much about the AIDs crisis and the fear the queer community experienced during that time. Honestly this book was just heart-wrenching and so unbelievably important.

6. Reverie by Ryan La Sala

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“Just because something is imagined doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.”

“It’s just gay enough to work.”

Description: Inception meets The Magicians in the most imaginative YA debut of the year!

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

This wildly imaginative debut explores what happens when the secret worlds that people hide within themselves come to light.

Get your copy here, on Amazon

What this book meant to me: Ryan La Sala basically owns my soul now. Everything about this book was poignant and just full of rich description. Honestly, this has got to be one of my favorite books I’ve ever read in my life. Which is why it’s on my list of top 10 from 2019. Hell, if I had to pick my top 10 of the decade, I’m pretty sure Reverie would make the cut. It is so rare I come across so richly woven queer-centric stories. I recommend this to everyone who loves good writing and questionable villains.

5. Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

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“I can’t help it. I’m a Slytherin.”

And I’m the worst kind of Slytherin. I’m the kind who’s so stupidly in love with a Gryffindor, she can’t even function. I’m the Draco from some shitty Drarry fic that the author abandoned after four chapters.”

Description: Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: Leah’s experiences are so close to mine as a fat queer growing up in the deep south that this book has a special place in my heart. I love everything Becky Albertalli has ever written, honestly. Her stories are the kind of gay adventures I wish I’d been able to have growing up and Leah is my soulmate.

4. Slay by Brittney Morris

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“Je viens de la putain de toundra”

Description: By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: This book takes place in my hometown of Bellevue, WA and everything about it is incredible. I love the story of how Kiera is portrayed and how her creation of Slay gave people of color a place to be who they are in games. This book was very educational for me and it also spoke to a lot of what growing up in Bellevue is like. This book is so important, funny, and has a great story. I’m so glad I picked this up.

3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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“The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.”

Description: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: As soon as I finished reading this book I immediately went home and made my (now ex) boyfriend watch the movie with me. I cried from the very beginning of this book to the very end. It’s not technically a 2019 title, but since I didn’t read it until 2019, I’m putting it on this list. The struggles Starr and her family face throughout this novel completely gutted me and this book is just incredible. The way Angie Thomas tells this story through Starr’s eyes is breathtaking and the writing style stuck with me. It felt less like a book and more like living life through someone else’s eyes.

2. We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

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“If we’re not all free, none of us are free.”

Description: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: This book was basically everything I wanted out of 2019. Women helping women and falling in love. The enemies/rivals to lovers thing that happened between Carmen and Dani really spoke to my soul and Tehlor Kay Mejia blew me out of the water with her storytelling and world-building. This is honestly one of my favorite books I’ve read in a long time. I cannot wait for the sequel to come out next month!

Honorable Mention: All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell

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“Everybody else gets to leave a mark on me. Why can’t I leave my own?”

Description: There’s no such thing as a secret.

SOMETHING happened to Ava. The curving scar on her face is proof. But Ava would rather keep that something hidden—buried deep in her heart and her soul.

She has her best friend Syd, and she has her tattoos—a colorful quilt, like a security blanket, over her whole body—and now, suddenly, she has Hailey. Beautiful, sweet Hailey, who seems to like Ava as much as she likes her. And Ava isn’t letting anything get in the way of finally, finally seeking peace. But in the woods on the outskirts of town, the traces of someone else’s secrets lie frozen, awaiting Ava’s discovery—and what Ava finds threatens to topple the carefully-constructed wall of normalcy that she’s spent years building. Secrets leave scars. But when the secret in question is not your own—do you ignore the truth and walk away? Or do you uncover it from its shallow grave, and let it reopen old wounds—wounds that have finally begun to heal?

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: This book hurt me. The experiences of the main character, Ava, are so similar to my own that I experienced a lot of flashbacks to my life as a child and a victim of pedophilia and sexual assault. I understood her so well and the way these things make you feel and shape you into the person you become. This book resonated with me so much I still think about it even though it’s been almost a whole year since I read it. Remembering Jane still tugs at my heartstrings.

*Also this is a special case. I believe the MC, Ava is canonically bisexual, but I think Mitchell preferred not to “label her” which I think is a cop-out so I didn’t mark the MC as canon bi.

1. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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“History, huh? Bet we could make some.”

And way too many others to name, but there’s a twitter account that tweets quotes from this book and I’m obsessed with it.

Description: What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

Get your copy here, on Amazon.

What this book meant to me: I know this might be a little cliche to all of you, but this book was so unbelievably important to me that nothing else could’ve been number one. I don’t usually read and enjoy M/M books, but I picked this one up on a whim after seeing it advertised everywhere. And honestly? I’m glad I did. Reading a book about someone figuring out they’re bisexual after years of thinking they were straight and then launching into a wholly forbidden relationship with a prince? Yes, please. I loved everything about this book. I loved the sarcastic writing style, the characters, Henry and Alex’s complete inability to process their feelings because they’re both total idiots, and all the girls being like “Wow you’re all idiots.” 2019 and 2020 is going to be the year of all the queer books and Red, White, & Royal Blue is driving the ship.

Going in to NaNoWriMo

Since I just realized I ran out of scheduled posts and I haven’t posted anything for 4 days, I’m going to go ahead and start a brief NaNoWriMo series for the month of November.

I will also be posting all of my #SmoreWords and #LGBTRelease stuff here too since I haven’t yet and maybe I’ll finally get my #Rhinvoverse case studies underway and post the rest of my Avengers LTs here.

The world may never know ?.

After this I’ll do a quick Halloween post and then see what all I get done.

But, I digress.

Tomorrow is NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s short for “Everyone who writes is about to be real agitated and on edge for the entire month of November which is definitely not going to mesh well with No Fap November and No Shave November, so I guess November is just going to be a giant hell month and there’s nothing any of us can do”, Or “National Novel Writing Month”.

I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for the past 5 years or so and I’ve won it for the past 3, so I’m trying to keep that streak alive this year by writing my first YA novel called Don’t @ Me.

I’ll talk more about Don’t @ Me tomorrow (I’ve got a full list of blog prompts I just came up with for NaNoWriMo, so expect more from me tomorrow if I can get off my ass and actually post stuff.

So, going into NaNoWriMo I have a list of things I’ve done to prepare.

  1. Loose outline. Now, I normally do a heavier outline for my books, but I figured I’d try something different. I only have a loose idea of what I want this story to do and where I want it to go.
  2. Friends to write with. I only have a few people who I know will stay by my side every step of the way. My best friend Lisa and a few of the people I’m friends with on NaNoWriMo, but it’s better not to do it alone.
  3. Patience and Understanding. I might not finish this year. I’ve got a lot going on and tons of projects going at the same time. So there’s a good chance I might not be able to do this. I’m sure as hell gonna try though.

That being said, I still feel completely unprepared. Only time will tell if I’m going to make it through National Novel Writing Month.

If you guys want to track my progress or become friends with me, you can find me on NaNoWriMo at Gin-Keros.

i can’t without you

I’m laying here awake
Naked
Skin soft and supple
Lips wet
Fingers on your chest
Cheek against your shoulder
Ripe
Sweet
Open
And you’re checking your phone
For things that will never be
While I’m here next to you
Ready to be plucked from the stem
Heart racing
Heated
And pleading
But you
You’re too far gone
No matter how many nights you hold me
Beg me not to go
Smooth my hair over my shoulders
Kiss my forehead
Placate my whimpering trembling body
You’re never you
Not anymore
You’re just a shell
Hunched over your phone
Next to the
Sweetest fruit you’d ever eat
Escaping to the things that bitterness is made of
Just to pretend to feel whole again
Like you never will
Without me. 

miracles

I’m standing here
bathed in the light from the hallway
still waiting for you to come back
to say thank you
to love me again like you used to
but deep down I know you’re never coming back
because you’re angry and I’m angry too
because I hate you and you hate me too
because there’s nothing we could’ve done
but just waited for each other
and you’ve moved on
but I’m still stuck here
like a ghost
loving you
and you’re out there searching for other things
and still missing the point
of someone so devoted they would stand here
door open, hands at their sides
waiting for a miracle
but maybe miracles don’t exist
outside of fairy tales. 

convenience

Enveloped in your arms
cheek pressed to the soft flesh of your chest
listening to your words come softly
the words that tell me
“this isn’t love”
then what is it?
What are these caresses
declarations
sexual encounters
“convenience”?
And I’m used up
bitter and cut off from the world
because I love you more than anything
because I dared to love someone like you
more than life itself
and my reward
is forever remembering you 

5 years in 5 months

She awoke with a fragile heart, lashes fluttering in the darkness, bleary and still sleep-eyed.  Her chest felt hollow, broken, and fragile in so many ways.  Her tongue dry, throat raw, eyes burning with the sting of so many tears.  She slid out of the bed, placing her feet on the hardwood floor, swaying some before catching her balance.

Her body felt heavy, as if she were covered with a lead apron as she walked to her bedroom door.  Everything around her seemed to move slowly and almost backward.  If only time really could move backwards.

Her heart throbbed in her chest, broken.  A constant reminder of the night’s events.  A reminder that she would rather be dead then opening her bedroom door and heading to the bathroom to begin her normal morning routine.  Nothing felt normal anymore.  It all felt as if it were upside down, as if she were walking on the ceiling, weighted to it by agony and despair.

She opened the shower curtain, turning the water on and trying to ignore the burning, aching feeling in her chest.  She had so much to do today, so many things that she didn’t even want to start.  Work, school, volunteer work, meetings, friends…friends.  Her heart ached in her chest and tears sprung in her eyes.  She clutched at the fabric of her shirt and whimpered.

Friends.  The word played in her head as a harsh whisper, over and over again.  Her heart pounded and bile rose up in her throat, constricting, choking.

Five months had passed.  Five whole months and she still held onto the idea, the fantasy, the lies he fed her.  Since June she had thought they were still in love.  Truly, madly, deeply because that was how he lead her.  But by September she knew that love wasn’t real.  Five years of love still inhabited her heart, pouring out in beautiful words and promises that he ignored.

Yet, he still lied to her until September.  He still used her, manipulated her into being so broken she went to someone unlikely for comfort, companionship, friendship.  And she found it in one night of desperation.  A 41 minute phone call full of tears and hiccups and apologies.

But she still loved him, without conditions and freely.  His lies, manipulations, and broken promises didn’t change what was in her heart as much as she needed it to.  How could she possibly love someone who lied, cheated and left her broken in so many different ways.  Apparently, just to make her happy and keep her begging, loneliness and childishness at bay.  Hidden behind his comfort and humanity.

“I was just doing you a favor,” he whispers, so harsh he’s almost spitting it, “I don’t love you.”

And she falls again, cutting deep and broken standing beneath the hot water of she shower.  She tries to shake the feeling, rising in her stomach, her chest, from her lips, but it escapes in five damned words.

“I will always love you.”