Reviews

You’re You: A Contemporary About Questioning Sexuality

You're YouTitle: You’re You
Author(s): Mette Bach
Series: 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: August 1st 2018 by Lorimer
LGBTQAI+: questioning main character (lesbian -> bisexual), multiple gay side characters
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In this book author Mette Bach offers a believable portrayal of an LGBTQ teen who has always identified as a lesbian. When she finds herself attracted to a South Asian boy, she comes to a new identity for herself as bisexual.

17-year-old Freyja is outspokenly lesbian and politically active about LGBTQ issues at her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. When her girlfriend Rachel breaks up with her, she suspends her work on the online video blog they created together to celebrate their pride. Instead she starts volunteering at the local food bank. But she can’t figure out why the team leader at the food bank, a guy named Sanjay, doesn’t seem to approve of her. Freyja learns about food justice, and becomes attracted to Sanjay’s passion for the cause. As her friendship with Sanjay grows, she realizes that they connect in a way she never did with Rachel. But can Freyja be in love with Sanjay if she identifies as a lesbian? When members of her school’s GSA assume that Freyja has “gone straight” and oppose her leadership of the group, Freyja has to choose between sticking with her old idea of herself — and taking a chance on love.

My rating: 3.5 stars

I picked up this book because it was about a girl who identifies as a lesbian realising she’s bisexual. This is something that is completely normal in real life, but it can be done really badly in fiction, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Overall, I’d say that Freyja’s character, struggle and questioning was realistic. There wasn’t anything to suggest that “lesbians will realise they like guys eventually” – the questioning was strictly about Freyja’s herself, as it should have been. However, while I think the questioning was handled well on Freyja’s part, the straight male love interest’s attitude sometimes made me uncomfortable, especially the way she suggested that labels weren’t important.

Now, onto the rest of the plot: One of my favourite things was that the book really dealt with important issues. Freyja thinks queer issues are important and leads her local GSA, but she also volunteers at the local food bank because she wants to make a difference and help people who are in need. I admit that sometimes both her and Sanjay seemed a little extreme and preachy, but overall I really liked that they were shown to be active and conscious teenagers.

I also liked that Freyja wasn’t perfect: she was a little too controlling, a little too aggressive sometimes, but it was called out. She realised that she had to improve, and actually made an effort to do so, which was great. That being said, Freyja also had the tendency to be really judgmental of other girls, and I don’t feel like this part was addressed adequately.

As for the writing style, this book used a lot of very short sentences that could have easily been combined for easier flow. This was sometimes really distracting, and I think it could have benefited from more… variety in sentence-lengths.

One issue I had with the book was that at least three times in the story, Freyja uses queer and lesbian interchangably. When people assume she is attracted to guys, she laughs and says “I’m queer” like that should explain why they are wrong, even though “queer” is an umbrella term that includes PLENTY of girls who are still attracted to guys. Just say gay or lesbian, damnit.

There were also a couple of lines about race that made me uneasy, but since I’m white, it’s not really my place to judge if they are bad, so I’m only describing them: It is not clear what race Freyja is, but I’m fairly certain she is white, and yet she has dreadlocks. There is also a part where she’s talking to the Indian love interest, Freyja says something about “guys like you”, Sanjay asks “what guys? brown guys?” and Freyja is immediately insulted because how dare anyone assume she would ever say something racist? The conversation itself was okay, but the fact that Freyja got so badly insulted by the mere assumption was just weird.

In short, this book had some issues but all in all it was a good read. I wish we had more questioning protagonists in YA who are allowed to question and have their identity change without being judged for it.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Omen Operation: The Ultimate Bisexual Squad

Omen Operation (The Isolation Series #1)Title: Omen Operation
Author(s): Taylor Brooke
Series: The Isolation Series #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Published: June 18th 2018 by NineStar Press (re-release)
LGBTQAI+: multiple bisexual mains (both male and female), gay side character
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

An epidemic hits the country, and Brooklyn Harper is stolen from the life she knew.

Implanted in a rural camp, Brooklyn and her friends are severed from their families and the outside world. Each day is filled with combat training to assure their safety against a mysterious virus and the creatures it creates—violent humanoids with black blood.

Two years later, Brooklyn’s cabin-mate, Dawson Winters, finds a letter that shatters the illusion they’ve been living in. There is a world outside Camp Eleven, and the virus that supposedly destroyed their country seems non-existent.

After a daring escape, Brooklyn finds the world they’ve left behind harbors the normalcy she remembers. But when they are attacked by a black-blooded creature in the city, Brooklyn and her friends realize there is more to Camp Eleven than they thought.

Someone took them, someone trained them, and now someone is trying to find them.

As their exploration continues, the group is faced with impossible feats while betrayal, love, and secrets force Brooklyn and her friends to fight for their life, their freedom, and most of all, each other.

My rating: 3 stars

All I knew about this book going in was that it had a bisexual MC, and there’s maybe a female love interest. In reality, the four core characters in this book are all bisexual (two guys and two girls), and they are involved with each other in all kinds of combinations – so, the bisexual female MC has both a female and a male love interest who are both bisexual themselves.

While there are no central nonbinary characters, there is a small acknowledgment that bisexuality isn’t only about being attracted to the binary genders, so that was nice. As I said, Brooklyn is both into Gabriel (female) and Porter (male) and Gabriel is dating Dawson (male) who Porter is also into, but I’d hesitate to call it real polyamory – although that might be where the series is heading. I’m curious to see how these relationships evolve in the next book(s).

As for the plot… honestly, I don’t have much to say that wasn’t already in the blurb. Half the big secrets were already revealed in the first chapter, which felt a little soon, I would have preferred more time in the camp maybe. Then something happened to my favourite character around halfway in that just made me stop caring about the book, and if not for the last chapter, I probably wouldn’t have rated it above 2 stars.

All in all, this was an okay read and I certainly appreciate the amount of queer representation, but it felt very much like the beginning of something, like an introduction, and I don’t think it’s particularly enjoyable without the rest of the series.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Freeze-Frame Revolution: The AI Novella I’ve Been Waiting For

The Freeze-Frame RevolutionTitle: The Freeze-Frame Revolution
Author(s): Peter Watts
Series: Sunflower Cycle
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: June 12th 2018 by Tachyon Publications
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon
LGBTQAI+: nonbinary and mlm side characters
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

She believed in the mission with all her heart.
But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

“I’ll kill you if I can.”
“I’ll save you, if you let me.”

My rating: 4 stars

Let me start with this: if you love science fiction that really goes into the science aspect and has long descriptions about objects and happenings in space, and also you love stories about artificial intelligence, this story is for you. Personally, I found myself scrolling through a lot of the heavy science because it really wasn’t working for me, but I still managed to enjoy this book immensely.

As you can see from the blurb, Sunday is one of thousands of people on a mission in space that has been going on for sixty million years. The reason why the crew is still alive after so long is that they spend most of it frozen, only waking up for a few days at a time if the ship’s artificial intelligence, the Chimp requires human input on a particular issue.

From then, you can probably guess what happens, and also it’s pretty much described in the blurb, so I’m not telling you a big secret: the humans end up disagreeing with the AI and decide to overthrow it. That’s the story in a nutshell, and yet the execution is so interesting that you’ll want to read this book anyway.

Personally, it was the relationships that really sold this book to me, especially the relationship between the main character and the Chimp. It would be easy to say that the two of them have a close friendship in the book, but of course, it’s much more complicated than that. And yet, even towards the end, they have this hope that they can work things out and save each other. I can’t even adequately describe their relationship, but it was definitely my favourite thing in the book. From the significance of dancing to the way Sunday keeps alternating between calling the Chimp “him” and “it”, it’s a wonderfully complicated relationship.

I also loved the little details, like people who started out the same age aging differently based on how much time they spend outside their “crypts”.

Another interesting thing is that there are little clues throughout the book which tell you that what you are reading is actually the events of the past, told by Sunday at a point in the future – which makes you really wonder about what the hell is going on in the time when Sunday is telling the story. I admit that I’m not sure how to feel about the ending twist – my first reaction was to be disappointment, and to feel like it was kind of a cheap revelation that I would have preferred the story without.

Ultimately, while this story isn’t going on my favourites shelf (because of the ending and the too much science – both completely subjective factors), I enjoyed reading it and I really recommend it to everyone who likes stories about artificial intelligence.

(Note on the LGBTQAI+ rep: There is very little focus on romantic orientation in the book – two male side characters are said to be in a sexual relationship, but they barely appear together after that. There is one sentence that suggests that the main character may be interested in women as well at least sexually, but I’m not sure I interpreted it correctly. And there is one nonbinary side character with se/hir pronouns.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Broad Knowledge

Broad Knowledge (Women Up To No Good #2)Title: Broad Knowledge
Author(s): Joanne Merriam (editor) + 35 authors
Series: Women Up To No Good #2
Genre: Anthology, Dark Fiction, both SFF and realistic stories
Expected publication: November 20th 2018 by Upper Rubber Boot Books
Purchase: Publisher | Kickstarter
LGBTQAI+: 5 of the 35 stories have queer women protagonists
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3.75 stars (rounded to 4)

Earlier this month, I posted a guest post by Joanne Merriam where she talks about how she founded Upper Rubber Boot Books, and she also mentioned the Kickstarter she’s currently running for two dark fiction anthologies. I had the pleasure of reading one of these, so I’ll share my experiences with you.

According to the introduction, in all of these stories, the pivotal moments revolve around what the characters know. And nothing is more frightening to the world than a woman who knows things. We all know that knowledge is power, but knowledge is also a very versatile and broad concept, which means that the stories in this anthology were also very versatile.

Overall, I have to say that most of the stories were a solid 3-4 stars for me: there were many creative ideas, but only a few stories really shone for me. However, I also didn’t find any stories that I hated, which is always a good thing, and a pretty good achievement with more than 30 stories. Since reviewing 35 stories would get pretty long, I’m going to stick to what I do with longer anthologies, and only talk about my favourites that really worked for me.

Rainbow is for queer women protagonists, and the little star is for my absolute favourites.

Taking It Back by Joanna Michal Hoyt: How many times did you wish you could take back the last few seconds? Keep that secret that accidentally slipped out, or think of a witty come back? What if you could do it? What if everyone could do it? I absolutely loved that this story explored how society at large would be affected if everyone had their own personal time travel device. (Spoilers: Not well.)

🌟 Frankenstein Sonata by Julie Nováková: What happens in the world of Dr. Frankenstein years and centuries after his death? Would anyone try to follow in his footstep? What can a mother do after she loses a child, and what does music have to do with any of this anyway? You can find the answers to all those questions in this incredibly creative story. The ending of it definitely gave me chills, and I loved the little hints leading up to it.

🌟 First Mouse Model of Innsmouth Fish-Man Syndrome Draft 2 USE THIS VERSION – edits by MK.doc by Megan Chaudhuri: That’s a hell of a title, huh? Maybe you already guessed, but this story was written entirely in the style of an academic paper by a PhD student, with corrections and notes from her supervisor. It was truly like an academic paper in the aspect that it was sometimes tough to read, but it was absolutely worth it. I loved the way the supervisor corrected the student’s emotional/casual wording to academic wording, and, well… the ending was certainly something.

Below The Kirk, Below The Hill by Premee Mohamed: I’m not sure what to say about this story without really spoiling what happens, but it’s about a dead girl washing up on a shore, in a world/culture where the sea and the grass/trees have their own little gods.

🌈 The Cold Waters of Europa by Claudine Griggs: I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but it won me over. A woman tries to stay alive under the ice on Europa in space after their diving expedition is sabotaged. She has also been married to another woman for 14 years, and the relationship is central to the story.

Infinite Boyfriends by Marie Vibbert: Parallel universes, mad scientists best friends, robot armies… and a boyfriend who kinda sucks in all possible universe. There were a couple of things I disliked about this story, but the concept is so good that I just need to give it a shout out.

Profanity by Liz Ulin: This one went from hilarious to really, really dark pretty fast. I probably wouldn’t have liked it without the hopeful ending, but this way it kind of balanced out. It’s about a religious cult, and I strongly recommend checking the trigger warning list at the bottom.

Viva la Muñeca by Perla Palacios: After her mother’s death, a young girl gets revenge in a peculiar way that has everything to do with her family’s traditions. I can’t really tell you much else without spoiling it, but read this story.

🌟 🌈 Blood Sausage by Jae Steinbacher: If you’ve ever read The Cybernetic Tea Shop, you probably thought “damn, I wish there were more stories with queer women where at least one of them is ace, and one is an android”. Fear not, because Jae Steinbacher has you covered. This story is about a mechanic who works on robots that are being used as sex workers, and a robot that wants a chance at freedom.

Matched Set by Aimee Ogden: The world this story takes place in is incredibly misogynistic and unfair to women, and this certainly doesn’t have a happy ending, but I did love that it’s about a woman who thinks she’s above other women until she realises that all they have is each other.

🌟 Your Life Will Look Perfect From Afar by Audrey R. Hollis: Most women have probably dealt with an incredibly sexist male boss who insists he isn’t sexist, he’s just traditional, and it’s just science that men are smarter than women. What are you supposed to do in a situation like that? — Well, maybe not what the protagonist in this story does, but damn if it isn’t a kickass option. I wasn’t sure about this story at first, but the ending twist got me.

🌈 Mary in the Looking Glass by Laura E. Price: This is another story that I kind of feel “meh” about, but it still deserves a place here because it had a bisexual woman protagonist whose lover is… well, Mary in the Looking Glass. And that’s just the best idea I’ve ever read honestly.

🌟 Clara Vox by R.S. Benedict: This one had a reference Apollo and Greek mythology so it automatically gets a star. Okay, no, but I adore Greek mythology so it was great to just randomly come across it in one of the stories. This story is about two women – one of them in serious need of help, and one who uses her god-given powers for good.

As you can see, there really is a variety in the stories – some of them involve mythology or legends, some are sci-fi with robots, and some are realistic/contemporary with a strong woman protagonist. All of the stories go to dark places, although the degree to which they do can also vary a lot.

Below is a list of major triggers that I remember. Please note that this is a dark fiction anthology, so there are likely many triggers I missed (death, for example, appears in most stories, and it’s often murder), I just tried the list the common ones.

Election Season by Rebecca Jones-Howe: major rape tw
Profanity by Liz Ulin: major self-harm tw, beating, religious cults, death of an infant referenced (and, well, profanity)
Blood Sausage by Jae Steinbacher: mention of attempted rape
Mary in the Looking Glass by Laura E. Price: miscarriage
Clara Vox: attempted suicide/suicidal idelation

Again, if you think you might be interested in this anthology, please visit the Kickstarter and consider donating so that it can published!

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Baker Thief

Baker ThiefTitle: Baker Thief
Author(s): Claudie Arseneault
Series: first in series
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Published: June 26th 2018 by The Kraken Collective
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Aromantic bigender protagonist + biromantic demisexual protagonist, multiple queer side characters (e.g. agender, binary trans, aromantic, lesbian)
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.

I don’t have the energy to deal with what the wrong presentation will do to my mind.

My rating: 4 stars

If I had to sum up my feelings in one sentence, it would be this: I loved most of it, except for one thing that really took me out of the story.

(Note: Claire and Claude are two names for the bigender protagonist who uses she and he pronouns, alternating. I wasn’t sure which one to stick with, so this review has both.)

There is a certain feeling of acceptance, understanding, safety and validation that (so far) seems unique to the works of indie queer authors. A sense of understanding that can only be found in a book with an aromantic bigender protagonist, a biromantic demisexual protagonist, these two being in a unique relationship fitting both of their needs, and a cast of nonbinary, aromantic, transgender and otherwise queer side characters (as well as some casual references to polyamory, and SIX CATS). The fact that there is a list of trigger warnings at the beginning with chapter numbers already suggested that I was about to read a book that really cared about its marginalised reader.

That would have almost been enough for me, but Baker Thief had more. It had great sibling relationships – some of which pleasantly surprised me! I knew from the blurb that Claude/Claire had a twin, but I didn’t know that Adéle also had multiple siblings, one of whom is central to the plot and an amazing character as well. Baker Thief also had lots of puns (some French, some English), adorable bakery product drawings as dividers, beautiful descriptions that really made the city feel alive, so many badass (queer) women in leadership positions, and a team of outcast police officers working together. It also had an intriguing plot with terrifying secrets. About twenty pages into this book, I made an update on Goodreads that said “so far, this book feels like a hug”, and I meant it.

… Which is why the one exception to this rule felt like a slap in the face. While there was a warning for accidental misgendering in chapter 14, it didn’t quite prepare me. In this chapter, a new teenage character is introduced, and both Adéle and Claire initially refer to nem as “she/her” and “girl” initially. Once they are told the correct pronouns, they both use those without a problem, but there were two reasons why this felt wrong and unnecessary to me.

1) It’s true that if you accidentally misgender someone, the best thing to do /out loud/ is to quickly apologise and move on with the correct pronouns instead of making a fuss. But if I accidentally misgender someone, I am horrified. Thanks to their POV, we are essentially inside both Adéle’s and Claire’s heads, reading their thoughts and feelings – and there isn’t even a moment of guilt or “oh oops” from either of them when they realise their mistake. No acknowledgment that they fucked up, not even from Claire, who is also bigender and should be aware of how the wrong pronoun can hurt.

2) In the very same scene, there is another character whose gender or pronouns Adéle doesn’t know, so she defaults to using “they” pronouns and neutral language in the narration. Earlier, when a nonbinary character (Nsia) is introduced, they are also described in neutral terms until they state their pronouns. So why didn’t the teenage character, Celosia get the same treatment? Overall, this just didn’t seem to fit into the worldbuilding, and that was exactly why it took me out of the story. Despite no hurtful content later on, this one chapter in a book with more than four hundred pages was enough to burst my bubble of safety, and I felt like I was on my guard for the rest of the book.

On to more positive things: I really appreciated the variety in pronouns used by nonbinary characters (one character uses they/them, one uses ol/ols, one uses ne/nir – Claude alternates between she and he), and it meant a lot to me that Claude explicitly did not drink alcohol and this was accepted and respected by all his friends. I LOVED the way fatness (both Claude’s fatness, and Adéle’s sister putting on weight) was portrayed as a positive thing. I also loved that one of the side characters was originally labelled “the Spinster” by her enemies as an insult to her lack of family or marriage, but she turned it around and turned the nickname into something positive. I loved the bilingualism of the whole thing, and the occasional subtle reminder that the characters were really speaking French even though the book is written in English.

Adéle’s and Claude’s relationship is central to the book, and it’s certainly a complicated one. It’s a relationship where Adéle has romantic feelings for Claude almost from the very beginning, while Claude has sexual attraction early on. Later, Adéle develops sexual attraction as well (she’s demisexual), but Claude still isn’t and will never be romantically interested in her. This was something that they needed to discuss, but I liked how they both were determined to work out a relationship that would fit both of them. (I also liked how they joked around about the shape of this relationship, but that’s spoilers.)

As you can see, overall I loved this book. The fact that I still rated it 4 stars goes to show how much one bad representation of your identity can really ruin a book. Nevertheless, I’d still recommend Baker Thief to everyone because it’s an amazing book with great, affirming messages for all queer people, especially aromantic people.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Into the Mystic, Volume 3

Into the Mystic, Volume ThreeTitle: Into the Mystic, Volume Three
Author(s): Ava Kelly, Bru Baker, Lis Valentine, Michelle Frost, L. J. Hamlin, K. Parr, M. Hollis, Artemis Savory, Ziggy Schutz
Series: Into the Mystic #3
Published: May 7th 2018 by NineStar Press
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian and bisexual women as main characters in every story
Sex on page: Yes, in certain stories (discussed in review)
This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on 2018. 06. 10.
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Her ghost had once told Clotho that no proper ghost story has a happy ending, because ghosts don’t end. 

It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for fantasy, paranormal and fairytales, so of course I had to pick up an anthology that has nine F/F stories with paranormal elements. While the stories had the paranormal and the sapphic main characters in common, there was a great variety in paranormal creatures, writing style, and my feelings towards them as well.

Some of the stories were truly creative gems with unexpected and rarely seen ideas: the opening story, It Started Before Noon by Ava Kelly is in itself about ideas that are made into stories. The main character is a muse who grows story inspiration in a garden like flowers, but she just can’t get the romance buds right. I loved the little details, like how the different types of stories (comedy, angst, etc.) had different flowers and needed different kinds of care. Swoon by Artemis Savory had siren-like creatures acting like pirates whom I would have loved to learn more about. I loved the myth surrounding these sisters, but I still had so many questions – I would love to read a full length novel with them.

Other stories took more often used concepts or species, but still had the kind of magic that makes them an easy 5-star read. Home by K. Parr centers a wolf pack made up entirely of women, and a college student who is accepted into the pack (and the family) after getting close to the pack’s Alpha. I loved that this story had an older love interest, and I loved the description of the pack dynamics as well. The Hunt by M. Hollis is about a young vampire forever stuck as a teenager who has been adopted by a lesbian vampire couple. On her first hunt, she meets a human girl, and she finds herself wanting to meet her again. I felt like this story ended a little too soon, I would have loved to read more. And By Candlelight by Ziggy Schutz was one of my favourite stories in the anthology: I admit that I still don’t really understand the logic of it, and yet the two main characters and their relationship was so endearing that it absolutely stole my heart.

Vampires and werewolves seemed to be a popular choice for this anthology, and yet each story had some kind of unique spin on it. My Cup of O Pos by L. J. Hamlin has a disabled vampire with Ehlers-Danlos syndmore (ownvoices!) who goes out on a date with the cute human nurse from the ER who treats her with respect and compassion. This story also takes place in a world where vampires are common knowledge and there are laws about what they can and cannot do, and it uses this fictional/fantasy marginalisation to address real-life marginalisations and their intersections as well. Dance With Me by Michelle Frost is a romance between a werewolf and a vampire that left me with many burning questions about the backgrounds of the characters, wishing that there was a longer story to read.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of stories that caught me off guard and I didn’t end up enjoying them much. I am used to most non-YA lesfic I read having at least some kind of sexual content (My Cup Of O Pos has sex scenes as well, and yet I felt like I got to know the characters), but Heart’s Thaw by Bru Baker and Fire and Brine by Lis Valentine were both mostly erotica with very little plot or characterisation. While I liked the original idea in Heart’s Thaw and the twist in Fire and Brine, I felt like I barely got to know anything about the characters, other than the sex scene that takes up half of such a short story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this anthology and I found some true gems in it, but I do wish that the blurb or tags made the sexual content of books clearer. It was especially off-putting because most of the stories didn’t have any sex at all, so having two stories that were purely erotica just didn’t seem to fit in well with the others.

Rating: 4 stars

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Free Chocolate

Free ChocolateTitle: Free Chocolate
Author(s): Amber Royer
Series: Chocoverse #1
Genre: Science Fiction/Space Opera
Published: June 5th by Angry Robot
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None 😦
Sex on page: None
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In the far future, chocolate is Earth’s only unique commodity one that everyone else in the galaxy is willing to kill to get their hands, paws and tentacles on 

Latina culinary arts student, Bo Benitez, becomes a fugitive when she’s caught stealing a cacao pod from one of the heavily-defended plantations that keep chocolate, Earth’s sole valuable export, safe from a hungry galaxy.

Forces array against her including her alien boyfriend and a reptilian cop. But when she escapes onto an unmarked starship things go from bad to worse: it belongs to the race famed throughout the galaxy for eating stowaways! Surrounded by dangerous yet hunky aliens, Bo starts to uncover clues that the threat to Earth may be bigger than she first thought.

Rating: 4 stars

I knew from the description “space opera meets soap opera” that this was going to be a wild ride, and I was right. The blurb summarizes the basic plot, but the full summary of all the different plotlines, deals, threats and characters would be much longer and I’m not even going to attempt it.

This book was somehow funny and serious at the same time. The idea of chocolate being such an important commodity seems silly, but the way this resource was treated both by Earthlings and aliens was terrifyingly real. There were also some really tense scenes where I was worried for Bo’s life and genuinely couldn’t figure out how she’s going to get out of this one. And of course, this book couldn’t miss the dramatic reveal about somebody’s parentage towards the end – although it was wrapped up quite quickly.

Yet, it was a little difficult to take the antagonists seriously, because other than the faceless company, everyone was presented in a sympathetic manner. In the end, Bo pretty much worked together and made up with everyone, which was a little strange. Not to mention that thanks to the prologue, one of the twists was literally obvious from the first chapter and it was really only a twist for the characters – but maybe that was intentional? I’m not sure.

I loved all the different aliens and learning about their culture (“Have you any complaints?” is a sentence that now gives me goosebumps), especially the Krom – the Krom are the people of Bo’s boyfriend, and their eye colour changes based on their emotion. Which is super inconvenient, but also kind of neat.

As for languages, mixing so many of them was both really clever and sometimes jarring. I’m not sure if Bo’s speech was accurate for bilingual people who actually grow up using several languages (I speak fluent English but don’t use it with my family or local friends), but she was dropping a lot of random Spanish words into the English text and it took a while to get used to. I did like that when she wasn’t fluent in an alien language, then the speech in that language was mostly translated to English for the reader, with a few alien words that Bo didn’t understand staying in that language. This way Bo and the reader both had to guess the meaning of the word from context. I also really, REALLY liked the way Tyson spoke, and how his expressions sounded strange in translation but were still very visual.

I loved the characters, especially Bo, the protagonist, Brill, her boyfriend, Jeska, a later ally, and Chestla, who goes from dorm RA to sworn protector. (Chestla deserves everything good in the world tbh.) I also liked the romance between Bo and Brill.

While I was kind of expecting a cheating plotline from the “soap opera” descriptor, I was still disappointed when it happened. “Fortunately”, it is only a brief kiss that is addressed later, and not an affair that goes on for long. Later on there was another love triangle, but no cheating happened. I really wish they had solved it with polyamory because I liked both the guys and their dynamic, but I guess that wasn’t the direction the writer imagined.

Overall, soap opera meets space opera is a good description for this book. It shouldn’t always be taken too seriously, but it was fun, full of adventure and romance, and likeable characters.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Art of Escaping

The Art of EscapingTitle: The Art of Escaping
Author(s): Erin Callahan
Series: none
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: June 19th 2018 by Amberjack Publishing
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Gay teenage boy as secondary POV character
Sex on page: None
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seventeen-year-old Mattie hides her obsession with Harry Houdini and Dorothy Dietrich from everyone she knows, even her best friend. Then her best friend takes off for summer boarding school and all of Mattie’s anxieties bubble to the surface, leaving her feeling adrift. To distract herself, she seeks out Miyu, the reclusive daughter of a world-renowned escape artist whose life and career were snuffed out by a tragic plane crash.

With Miyu’s help, Mattie secretly transforms herself into a burgeoning escapologist and performance artist. Away from the curious eyes of her peers, she thrives in her new world of lock picking, straitjackets, and aquarium escapes. But when Will, a popular varsity athlete, discovers her act at an underground venue, she fears that her double life will be exposed. Instead of outing her, Will tells Mattie something he’s never told anyone before. But not all secrets can remain secrets forever.

Told through multiple perspectives, this funny and fresh debut explores the power of stage personas and secret spaces, and speaks to the uncanny ways in which friendship transforms us.

Rating: 4.4 stars

The Art of Escaping is a young adult novel about finding your passion, focusing on a very unique art: escapology, or escape art. I was intrigued by this book both because the topic sounded like something I’ve never read before, and because I heard that one of the POV characters is gay.

To keep this review honest, I need to admit that I didn’t really enjoy this book at first. Mattie, the main character was relatable in that frustrating way that reminds you of all your insecurities, and she was also pissing me off. I didn’t understand why she went straight to being convinced that nobody would accept her, sneaking out and lying to everyone’s faces without even trying to talk to anybody. Will, the gay side character didn’t often get to have a POV, and when he did, he felt pretentious. Mattie’s and Will’s secrets were portrayed as equal, which was wrong. I almost DNFed the book.

Fortunately, once I pushed through that first part, the book seemed to redeem all its mistakes. Mattie finally started interacting with her friends: Stella came back, Will started hanging out with her, and a new character, Frankie was introduced, who immediately stole my heart. (Seriously, every sentence out of Frankie’s mouth is amazing. I love him so much.) Mattie even realised that her secret will never be equal to Will’s, which I appreciated. The characters still felt pretentious sometimes and they certainly made bad decisions (looking at you, Will), but they’re teenagers, so once the other problems were fixed I started forgiving them for this one instead of being frustrated.

I’ve always fantasized about being drafted into a shady, international spy organization with no formal ties to the government. This is almost as good.

As the book went on, Mattie went from the uninteresting kid at school to a master escape artist. Even though I figured that the main character is not going to die in a young adult novel, all the scenes (both practice and performance) where she had to escape from something felt tense, terrifying and captivating. I loved the little diary segments before every chapter from the diary of Mattie’s role model, and the little reveal about this diary towards the end put everything in a different, even more interesting perspective.

An entire book could be written about Miyu and her relationship to her mother: it would be a really sad, but certainly a really fascinating book. We only caught little glimpses of Miyu’s thoughts and true emotions, but I really would have loved to learn more, especially because some of it really resonated with me. God knows “emotional quicksand” is something I experience daily.

Sometimes, I’d watch her stand on the threshold, trying to force her feet forward, stuck in some kind of emotional quicksand.

While most of the book was from Mattie’s perspective, we had the chance to see some of the scenes from Will’s POV as well, and this was especially interesting when the two of them didn’t exactly on agree on how things went down. Nothing is funnier than when one character makes a dramatic assumption of somebody’s thoughts, and that person goes “yeah, that’s not what I was thinking at all”.

Will made some bad decisions before coming out and it all caught up to him in the end, but I liked how he really owned up to his mistakes when it mattered. He came out several times in the book (five, I think?) and all of them were somehow different based on the situation and the person, which I really loved to see. People like to think coming out is one big thing, but in reality, it’s lots of little things that keep happening every time you meet somebody new.

If I come out in high school, I still have to come out in college, and then at work. It’s like I’m facing an endless line of people assuming I’m something I’m not. And it’s great that more and more people are cool with it in this day and age, but I’ll always have to deal with the possibility that someone won’t be. And what if that uncool person ends up being my college roommate, or my boss, or my father-in-law?

One thing that I felt unsure about was the way Will’s mother was openly fetishistic towards gay men – it was presented as a bad thing, but I sort of felt like it was presented more as an annoying quirk than the really bad thing it should have been? And it only came up a couple of times and was never resolved in this book. I’m not sure if there’s going to be a sequel here, but that is definitely one of the plotlines that wasn’t closed in this one.

Notes:

  • There were a few lines in the ARC I read that made me feel really bad, but I learned that the author chose to remove these lines from the final version after another reviewer pointed it out, so points for listening to feedback.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Certain Requirements

certain requirementsCertain Requirements by Elinor Zimmerman

Genre: Adult Fiction, Lesbian Erotica, BDSM
Published: May 15th 2018 by Bold Strokes Books
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Page number: 266 pages (Kindle edition)
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian MC and LI (butch/femme pairing), nonbinary side character, multiple queer side characters (e.g. a bisexual woman, two men in a relationship)

Phoenix Gomez wants nothing more than to be a full-time aerial dancer, and after years of hard work, her dream is coming true. That’s until her Oakland rent spikes and her roommate moves across the country with his boyfriend. Desperate for a way to make a living, she accepts a position with a woman looking for a live-in submissive. Phoenix has always kept her love of kinky submission strictly behind the bedroom door and inside the bounds of romantic relationships, until she meets Kris Andersen.

Why would Kris–a dapper butch, seasoned dominant, and tech hotshot–be interested in such an arrangement? Because in her rigidly ordered life, she has no time to fall in love. When Phoenix challenges the rules Kris thought she wanted, their connection grows only to be put to the test when Phoenix’s career threatens to take her away from the Bay.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I knew from the beginning that this book would be out of my comfort zone: it’s very rare that I read erotica, and even rarer that I read about kinks other than like, light bondage. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been interested in this book if it hadn’t been for Jae’s Lesbian Book Bingo, which has an Erotica square I was struggling to fill. That being said, this book was a very pleasant surprise.

Before reading this book, the last 3-4 adult lesbian romances I read felt like I was reading the same story with the names and a couple of words switched out. Certain Requirements felt like something new and different, and not only because of the kinky/erotica aspect. It was great to read about Phoenix’s life, her friends (including a queer male best friend), her past relationship, the way she feels like an outsider in her family of intellectuals, and of course, her love for aerial performances. I especially loved that her life outside her romance with Kris didn’t magically disappear when their relationship started getting more serious. Phoenix still had aspirations, friends and conflicts outside the main relationship.

At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the relationship – it starts out as a sex worker/employer relationship, and I felt like Phoenix started having different expectations way too early in the relationship. This could be explained by the fact that she wasn’t actually a sex worker before meeting Kris, and perhaps wasn’t used to being in a professional relationship with someone while also having sex and living with the person. Later, I felt like this was more balanced and the growth of the romance was more believable.

I really wish we had learnt more about Kris, her hobbies and her life outside Phoenix, but in a way we did – she didn’t really have any of those outside of work, which is why she needed a live-in sub in the first place.

It was really interesting to learn BDSM and different kinks, play parties, relationship dynamics, etc. I know that one book cannot be a representation of every kinky person, but I still felt like it was a good introduction. I liked that Phoenix and Kris started out by comparing their yes/no/maybe sheets that I’ve seen around on the internet before, and I liked that asking for consent (with the colour system) was a constant, even towards the end of the book when they’ve been in their arrangement for quite long. Even when the fantasies included Kris hitting or controlling Phoenix, and especially in the threesome scene, it was clear that it was all consensual – although in this case, I think it helped a lot that we saw things from the submissive’s perspective.

There was also a nonbinary side character, Ray, and I would like to talk about that representation a little. Overall, I felt like it was good rep: Ray’s gender and pronouns were respected, and it was especially great that Phoenix made sure to ask what words they are comfortable with for their body in a sexual situation. However, I did have two issues with the way Ray was handled. 1) Ray is first mentioned/introduced at a party, and even before they physically appear, some others at the party make ignorant comments about their gender and pronouns. These comments are called out immediately and they never come up again, so I could accept this as a realistic portrayal of cis people being ignorant even if they mean no harm – but I felt really weird about the fact that we got all these comments before actually seeing Ray at all. In a way, the nonbinary character was introduced by transphobic comments before actually speaking a word. 2) Ray just… disappears halfway through the novel. They are busy, so Phoenix and them keep postponing their plans, and then… Ray just never appears again. There is actually another party towards the end where Kris mentions inviting Ray but Phoenix decides against it, and just… Why? There is no real reason given, and both of Ray’s doms come to the party, so I don’t understand why they weren’t invited. This way, I liked Ray but at the same time there’s not much to like because they only really appear in a few scenes.

My rating: 🌇🌇🌇🌇/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Girl and the Grove

39934046The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: May 8th 2018 by North Star Editions
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: adopted MC of colour (#ownvoices) with seasonal affective disorder

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend, Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. Is she ready to answer?

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Girl and the Grove was one of my most anticipated 2018 releases. I requested the ARC months ago and I was overjoyed when I got it, but somehow I only got around to reading it in May.

It was awesome to read a book with a teen protagonist whose hobby is protecting the environment, with a fondness for trees in particular. I also think this is one of the only #ownvoices books with an adopted protagonist that I’ve read, especially a protagonist who was adopted as a teen and not as a small child. (In fact, the only one I can suddenly think of is one of Vavyan Fable’s books, but as far as I know, that wasn’t #ownvoices.) It was really interesting to read about Leila’s experiences, and how she struggled with accepting that she finally had a home and a family.

I also loved the text messages, Google searches and messages from a forum/board that appeared between chapters. I always love books that have some kind of quote or social media messages in each chapter that gives more information about the characters and their lives, even outside of what we see in the books.

The plot itself was exciting as well, and even terrifying at some points as Leila and her friends were running out of time to save the grove and their city. I loved Leila’s best friend, her parents, and also her love interest. (Jon’s dad jokes were the best, and also the way he and Liz cared for Leila.)

I’m giving it four stars because the characterisation and the writing style didn’t always work for me, but ultimately this was a pretty great book. It’s an urban contemporary story with just a little fantasy/magic written into it.

My rating: 🌳🌳🌳🌳/5.

~ Alexa