ARC Review: Dracula: The Rise of the Beast

38920597Dracula: Rise of the Beast edited by David Thomas Moore

Genre: Anthology, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Abaddon Books
Length: 381 pages
Number of stories: 5
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository

Vlad III Drăcula. A warleader in a warlike time: brilliant, charismatic, pious. But what became of him? What drove him to become a creature of darkness—Bram Stoker’s cruel, ambitious “Un-Dead”—and what use did he make of this power, through the centuries?
More than a hundred years after the monster’s death, the descendants of the survivors piece together the story— dusty old manuscripts, court reports from the Holy Roman Empire at its height, stories of the Szgany Roma who once served the monster—trying to understand. Because the nightmare is far from over…
Five incredible fantasy authors come together to reveal a side to literature’s greatest monster you’ve never seen before.

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

I read this anthology very slowly – while it only has five stories, they were longer than in most anthologies I read… and also, because I was not used to seeing so many European names and words in English texts. And yet, that was exactly why this book was so amazing to read – so validating and encouraging, in a way, that I can still write and publish with a name like mine and with characters named like me.

This anthology was also unique because all five stories were connected by an outside story – in fact, the five stories all consisted of documents e-mailed to each other by two people, who were researching Dracula and his presence through centuries. I really appreciated this kind of framing, and the connection between the stories. Because of this, most of the stories consist of letters and documents from several different sources and have several different storylines going on. It might take a while in each story to see how they are all connected, but it’s worth it when it all comes together.

Despite their connection, the five stories were obviously all by different authors, and all were about a different aspect of Dracula’s life. There were morbid love stories, romantic love that turned to resentment, brotherly love… And so many amazing characters who got into contact with this man.

the souls of those gone astray from the path by bogi takács: I first heard of this anthology from Bogi, who is Hungarian like me (and also uses the same pronoun!). I didn’t know that eir story was the first in the anthology, but it was definitely a strong start, and one of my favourite stories. This story is about two Jewish rabbis and the young nephew of one of them who set out to spy on the Hungarian king, Mátyás, and his connection to the man who later became Dracula.

I really appreciated the little nods to Hungarian folklore – as it is also explained in the story, Hungarians have many folk stories where King Mátyás wears a disguise to walk among his people, and it has always been a little funny, since he has a pretty unique face. This story gives an explanation by making Mátyás a creature that can shapeshift, which I loved. Still, my absolute favourite part of this story were the letters written by Majsi, the rabbi’s young nephew. He has his unique style which was hilarious and loveable – his excitement and his heart really made this story worth reading. 5/5 stars for the story, 10/5 stars for Majsi

noblesse oblige by adrian tchaikovsky: A story about Erzsébet Báthory!! Absolutely amazing. I was worried at the beginning that she would turn out to be a victim in this interpretation, but no – her cruelty was not downplayed, and was indeed fascinating (while also creepy) to read. I also LOVED the totally “unpronouncable” Hungarian names included, like Dorottya Semtész or Németkeresztúr. It felt strangely defiant and powerful. 4.5/5 stars

a stake too far by milena benini: One of my favourite parts of this story was the two random bird watchers that mistook a flying vampire for an owl. Amazing. Other than that, this story was the tragic story of two brothers (Vlad and Radu) that I mentioned at the beginning. It also had a witch, and Vlad as a sympathetic character. 4.5/5 stars

children of the night by emil minchev: This story is one long letter, and it starts by the writer (Dracula) revealing that he’s replying to a letter spent over a century ago… Vampires are amazing. — This ended up being a pretty morbid love story between Dracula and a witch (??), including a description of their children. It definitely made for strange reading, but I liked it. I loved the writing style and I’m going to leave one of my favourite quotes here. “My blood has irrigated this land for hundreds of years, the bones of my ancestors form its sturdy spine. I am as much a part of the landscape as the great black mountains that tower over my castle and the deep dark forest that surrounds it.” 4.5/5 stars

the woman by caren gussoff sumption: This story. This STORY. It’s not really about “the woman”, more like about three Romani women, and it’s one of those stories where at first you really don’t understand how the different documents/letters/blog posts are connected, and then it all fits together and aaaah. It also has a trans woman talking about transition, family values, Romani culture, Mátyás as an antagonist again, and a connection to the interludes between stories. It’s my other favourite. 5/5 stars

An interesting/strange thing in this anthology for me was the way they portrayed Mátyás Hunyadi, the Just King of the Hungarians. While I am obviously aware that no king is perfect, I (as many other Hungarians) grew up on folktales of his generosity and thus have a sort of misplaced sentimentality when it comes to him, so seeing him portrayed as the immortal antagonist in several stories (such as Bogi’s and Caren’s) was disorenting – and yet definitely an interesting take.

As you can see from my individual ratings, I was quite impressed with this anthology, even if it made for slow and sometimes difficult reading.

My rating: 🧛🧛🧛🧛🧛/5.

~ Alexa


Review: Failure to Communicate

34216194Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby

Genre: Science Fiction
Release date: February 14th 2017
Purchase: Amazon
LGBTQAI+: Xandri’s identity is not named, but she is definitely attracted to multiple genders. There is also at least one sapphic side character.
Sex on page: No

As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she’s earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test.

The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won’t risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can’t bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire.

Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she’s beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.

I have seen several people recommend this book on Twitter as an amazing indie book with an #ownvoices autistic protagonist, and I was not disappointed. Failure to Communicate was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to read the sequel (not to mention the beautiful covers for both books).

Xandri was a detailed, three-dimensional protagonist who was easy to get attached to. I loved reading about the way she perceived patterns, people and the world, and I also loved the ways in which she was unique – for example, that nobody else thought to make friends with the ship’s AI. I also loved the many, many different alien species that were hard to keep track of at first, but once I got used to it I appreciated the thought and worldbuilding that went into making many unique species.

One of my favourite tropes in sci-fi on spaceships is the crew as family, and that really shone through here. While they had their disagreements and tension, Xandri’s crew held together, and they were especially ride-or-die for her. I loved the way most of them kept her needs in mind and helped her cope without making her feel like a burden, and how they (especially Diver) went out of their way to defend her.

This book also had mention of polyamorous communities, as well as a budding polyamorous relationship between central characters, although it didn’t become official in this book. Still, I absolutely loved the dynamic between the three of them and I’m eager to see more.

Failure to Communicate also had themes that went much deeper than fluff between crew members. The blurb starts with naming Xandri as one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, and pretty early on the book explains the way people now engineer their children before birth to get rid of any irregularities or neurodivergency. In a way, autistic and mentally ill people were wiped out – not by killing them outright, but by not letting them be born at all. While the crew knows Xandri and supports her, there is much ableism from strangers and the society in general – some of it unintended. Since there are only a few autistic people are left, all most people have to go on are inaccurate, generalised texts that show them as cold and without emotions. The level of ableism in this society was often sickening, especially towards the end (and yes, I was disappointed by Christa reverting to ableist comments even at 96% in the ebook).

The book also addresses gun violence and gun control, not only through the Anmerilli but also by directly referencing 21st century “Ancient Earth”, which was surprising but not unwelcome to see.

While these parts may have been difficult to read, I loved the way the book handled and addressed the deeper issues while also keeping them balanced with funny or heartwarming scenes.

Note: I do want to explain why I didn’t rate this book 5 stars, so I’d like to talk a little about my conflicted feelings towards the ending. Since this part is full of spoilers, I left it to the end.

First of all, I kind of felt Marco would end up betraying them pretty early on, and I also started suspecting that he was neurodivergent before it was revealed. I have to admit that when it was revealed, I felt really conflicted about making the traitor/villain be the only other neurodivergent person in the universe. I understood that the book was trying to subvert the trope of the mentally ill villain, but (at least originally) I didn’t feel like it did a convincing job. Still, later Xandri outright says that it wasn’t really his mental illness, but the torture he suffered because of it that lead him to be exploited. I still have some conflicting feelings about this, but I ended up accepting it.

I also understand that Xandri getting fired was necessary both to set up the sequel and to show the horrible ableism of this world, but – I still didn’t like it. The ableism was already clear, and more importantly, why the hell is mar’Odera still on the Council? He was nearly exposed as a saboteur, the other Council members grew distrustful of him, and then– the next time we see the Council, he’s still there, and a deciding person in the vote? It honestly just felt strange.

My rating: 🌿🌿🌿🌿🌿/5.

~ Alexa


ARC review: Lost Boy, Found Boy

36697937Lost Boy, Found Boy by Jenn Polish

Genre: Retelling, LGBTQAI+, Science Fiction
Release date: March 19th 2018 by NineStar Press
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Transgender male MC, nonbinary LI, sapphic side characters.
Sex on page: No

In a futuristic world, Neverland is a holomatrix, Hook is a cyborg, and Tinker Bell is an automated computer interface. 

Peter is desperate to save his lover from a military draft that, unbeknownst to him, Mir volunteered for because they are desperate to be able to fly. So, naturally, Peter programs an entire island—Neverland—as a refuge where Mir can fly without having to fight in a war. 

But he doesn’t locate Mir right away; instead, he fights for control of the island with automated interface Tinker Bell, and in his attempts to find Mir, others arrive on the island. But Peter’s single-minded focus on Mir generates repercussions for everyone.

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

But this wasn’t a kiss like any other; because by the time they both needed to breathe, by the time Peter’s hands were completely wound in Mir’s hair and Mir’s hands were thoroughly occupied with holding Peter at the hips, they both realized that they’d taken flight.

This was a lovely queer retelling of Peter Pan where Peter is trans, the main love interest is nonbinary (with they/them pronouns), “Wendy” and Tinker Bell are both sapphic, and “Captain Hook” is another one of their friends.

I loved the little intermissions (Tinker Bell’s “thoughts”) and the concept of Neverland as a virtual reality island. I also loved how so many parts of the original story, like Tinker Bell’s chiming or James’s hook was translated into this new world.

This story is less than 100 pages, and while some parts fell a little flat, I ended up loving it by the end. It also ends with one m/m/nb and one f/f relationship, which made my heart really happy.

Note: There are two comments in the early chapters where strangers misgender Peter based on his appearance, but thankfully this doesn’t happen later. There is also one sentence where I got a little confused, but I think he/him pronouns were used for Mir because it doesn’t make sense if the sentence was referring to someone else? I’m inclined to believe this was a typo/one-time mistake though because Mir’s pronouns are otherwise respected everywhere else.

The author is also nonbinary using they/them pronouns, so this is #ownvoices for nonbinary rep.

My rating: 🧚🧚🧚🧚🧚/5.

~ Alexa


Review: It’s Not a Date

38642833It’s Not a Date by Heather Blackmore

Genre: Romance, LGBTQAI+, Lesbian
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Bold Strokes Books
Length: 273 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian main character and love interest
Sex on page: Yes

Falling in love is the hardest business of all. 

Entrepreneur and innovator Kadrienne Davenport gets results. A demanding executive and stickler for punctuality, Kade throws herself into work to avoid hurting anyone, convinced she only causes pain to those she loves. 

When Jennifer Spencer meets an incognito Kade at a conference, sparks fly. But when Kade unexpectedly becomes her boss, Jen’s problems multiply. The company she founded is going broke, her grandmother’s dementia is worsening, and her attraction to Kade—her difficult, brilliant, charismatic mentor—is growing. 

Kade’s desire to keep things professional between them is in Jen’s best interest. Yet what’s in Kade’s best interest…is Jen.

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

I picked up this book because I needed a f/f workplace romance for a bingo. While the blurb (and sometimes the book) describes Kade as Jen’s boss, in the book they seemed to me more or less as equals, since they are both board members in Jen’s company.

I found most of the romantic scenes okay, but nothing too engaging. Strangely, I preferred the side plots (though these were still often connected to the two main characters and their relationship). Kade and Jen both have family members who are either sick or elderly, and there is a huge focus on how these people can be cared for and kept engaged instead of ignored. There is also discussion of the unfair expectations placed on women enterpreneurs in business, especially relating to their work/family balance.

I also loved Kade’s character development – throughout the book, she learns how to deal with her own guilt over losing her best friend, as well as her complicated relationship with her father. Partly due to Jen, she learns how to love herself and accept herself as somebody who deserves to be loved. This was one of my favourite themes in the book.

That being said, I often found the professional/work side… strange and. Obviously, some level of unprofessionalism in any workplace romance novel, but in this book the lack of professionalism went beyond Kade and Jen’s relationship. In this book, each main character conveniently works with her own best friend, and Jen talks casually to Kade’s assistant even at the beginning, and this assistant plays matchmaker for them by rearranging Kade’s schedule and cancelling/moving events constantly. While I understand how this was necessary and I enjoyed some of the banter between Kade-Holly and Jen-Jeremy, I still found it jarring.

Overall I’d give this book 3.5 stars, which is rounded up to 4.

Do you like reading workplace or boss/employee romances? Why or why not?

My rating: 📝📝📝📝/5.

~ Alexa


ARC review: The Radical Element (A Tyranny of Petticoats #2)

29748943The Radical Element edited by Jessica Spotswood

Genre: Anthology, Historical Fiction, YA
Series: A Tyranny of Petticoats #2
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press
Length: 320 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Sapphic main and side characters in a couple of stories, and a transgender man LI in one
Sex on page: No

In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.

To respect yourself, to love yourself—should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced whether you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting. In The Radical Element, twelve of the most talented writers working in young adult literature today tell the stories of the girls of all colors and creeds standing up for themselves and their beliefs—whether that means secretly learning Hebrew in early Savannah, using the family magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, or singing in a feminist punk band in 1980s Boston. And they’re asking you to join them.

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

This is going to be a long review because I have so much love to give to this anthology.

At first glance, I loved the way the stories are in a chronological order, and the year + setting is clearly stated right before every story. Then I started reading, and I’m not kidding when I say that I fell in love with every single one of these heroines. The quality of writing in this anthology was through the roof – I was taken in by every single story. I also loved the author’s notes at the end of each story, which included many things: the real historical context, the research that went into the stories, how the experience of the characters relates to the authors’ experiences, and sometimes even recommended further reading.

As soon as I finished reading, I went on Goodreads to look up the other books by these authors and add most of them to my TBR.

While I kinda wish more of the stories had queer characters, I still didn’t mind in this case since the religious, racial and neurodivergent diversity was amazing. Many of the stories didn’t have romance at all, or there were hints of future romance, but the ambition of the girls took priority (for now). Still, there were some great male (future) love interests that I fell in love with.

It’s very difficult to pick favourites in this anthology when I rated almost every individual story 5 stars, but I’m going to mark a few stories as my favourites anyway.

* 1838: Savannah, Georgia — Daughter of the Book by Dahlia Adler: With a Jewish main character, this story is about a girl who yearns to learn about her own culture and religion, including things that are said to be improper for girls and women. She recruits a Jewish boy to be her teacher, and the two of them find empowering women in Jewish religious texts. I absolutely loved not just the main character, but her chosen teacher, Caleb as well. 5/5 stars

* 1844: Nauvoo, Illinois — You’re a Stranger Here by Mackenzie Lee: This story has a Mormon main character who eventually risks her life for her and her mother’s religion, despite the fact that she actively questions her own faith in their prophet. I really loved the questioning aspect of it, especially paired with the ending, and the writing was just absolutely amazing. 5/5 stars

* 1858: Colorado River, New Mexico Territory — The Magician by Erin Bowman: This is one of several stories where I was worried it would end badly, but instead it had an open, perhaps bittersweet ending where you’re free to imagine how things end up. The main character is an orphaned girl disguising herself as a boy to keep her job, and save up money so she can find her family. I absolutely loved the ending of the story, and the last few lines were my favourite. 5/5 stars

* 1863: Charleston, South Carolina — Lady Firebrand by Megan Shepherd: THIS STORY. This story was amazing. The main character is a white girl in a wheelchair who travels from the Northern states to the South to visit her relatives, with her black best friend posing as her maid. Her relatives have no idea that the two of them are actually abolitionist spies helping the Northern cause. This story also had a male character that I loved, and I loved the way the story ended (although I would have loved to see the rescue itself). 5/5 stars

1905: Tulsa, Indian Territory — Step Right Up by Jessica Spotswood: Major trigger warning for a physically abusive uncle here, with beating in the story itself as well. Step Right Up is about a young girl who wants to join the circus, not only to get away from her uncle but primarily to be a performer, which has been her dream since she was five. This story also had a lovely relationship between the two sisters that I loved (and also a sapphic main character, though her only love interest in the story is unrequited). 5/5 stars

1923: Los Angeles and the Central Valley, California — Glamour by Anna-Marie McLemore: Glamour has a Mexican main character whose dream is to become a famous actress on the cover of magazines in Hollywood – but to achieve that, she uses an inherited family charm to appear more white. This story has a transgender male love interest and heavy themes of racism, and it’s absolutely amazing. 5/5 stars

* 1927: Washington, D.C. — Better for All the World by Marieke Nijkamp: This was one of those stories where I hoped the guy wouldn’t turn out to be a jerk, and yet… Better for All the World was a story about an autistic girl who wants to be a lawyer, and it’s also #ownvoices for autism. It has discussions of forced sterilisation on mentally ill or autistic people, and I found it one of the most chilling stories in this collection. I absolutely loved the main character. It was also a good example that believing somebody doesn’t deserve to have rights isn’t just a “difference in opinion”. 5/5 stars

1943: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts — When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough: A fascinating story with a black main character who lives with her parents. They harvest the moonlight itself and drink it every month to lengthen their lives, so the main character is hundreds of years old, but still having to go through the same milestones for 16-year-olds, and being treated as a kid by her parents (“this is grown-up talk”). It’s also about loving a country that doesn’t love you, and wanting to help people in spite of it. 5/5 stars

1952: Brooklyn, New York — The Belle of the Ball by Sarvenaz Tash: A story about a girl who has been writing funny scenes to be acted out by her friend for years. She loves I Love Lucy and wants to write comedy, despite the fact that so many people, including her neighbour thinks that “women just aren’t funny”. One of my favourite parts was that she had that quote up on her wall as motivation to write. 4/5 stars

1955: Oakland, California — Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave by Stacey Lee: Lana, this story’s main character has both Japanese and Chinese ancestry, but she was born in America and even her grandmother has worked on the sugar fields there. She enters a contest to be the face of the company that both her Japanese grandmother and half-Japanese mother work for, as the only Asian girl among the contestants. 5/5 stars

1972: Queens, New York — The Birth of Susi Go-Go by Meg Medina: The main character here is Cuban, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, who wishes to be more American and dress like her neighbour, Linda. I loved the ending of the story and the reaction of the grandparents, though I can’t say much more without spoiling it. 3.5/5 stars

1984: Boston, Massachusetts — Take Me With U by Sara Farizan: The Iranian main character here is staying with her uncle in America temporarily while war goes on in her home country, and she ends up joining a feminist band with some other American girls. I absolutely loved the bilingualism of this story, how she didn’t understand everything and had to ask her 6-year-old cousin for help (which was especially funny when neither of them had any idea what the band’s name meant). 3.5/5 stars

Final rating: 📚📚📚📚📚/5

~ Alexa


Review: Ice Massacre

23272410Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

Genre: Fantasy, Mermaids, YA, LGBTQAI+
Series: Mermaids of Eriana Kwai, #1
Published: September 18th 2014 by Rogue Cannon Publishing
Length: 375 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Author | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Sapphic main character + love interest
Sex on page: No

A mermaid’s supernatural beauty serves one purpose: to lure a sailor to his death.

The Massacre is supposed to bring peace to Eriana Kwai. Every year, the island sends its warriors to battle these hostile sea demons. Every year, the warriors fail to return. Desperate for survival, the island must decide on a new strategy. Now, the fate of Eriana Kwai lies in the hands of twenty battle-trained girls and their resistance to a mermaid’s allure.

Eighteen-year-old Meela has already lost her brother to the Massacre, and she has lived with a secret that’s haunted her since childhood. For any hope of survival, she must overcome the demons of her past and become a ruthless mermaid killer.

For the first time, Eriana Kwai’s Massacre warriors are female, and Meela must fight for her people’s freedom on the Pacific Ocean’s deadliest battleground.

This book was 2018 March’s Sapphic Book Club read hosted by @sapphicliterature.

I discovered this book several months ago – I was drawn to it by the beautiful cover, the fact that it had mermaids, and the intriguing blurb. Since it’s not clear from the blurb or the Goodreads tags, I didn’t actually know this book had a queer main character until much later.

I finally picked up the Ice Massacre for the Sapphic Book Club, and I am really glad I did. This book was action-packed and amazing, although darker than what I usually read… and definitely involving more character deaths.

I loved the all-female crew, and the way they interacted with each other. They have been trained as warriors, and yet they were still children, wanting to have fun and relax before things got real. Later, desperation and the will to survive created rifts between them. At some parts, I kind of felt like I was reading a female Lord of the Flies – which was a little disturbing, given that I hated the Lord of the Flies, but thankfully I was able to get over the association.

I also loved the plot, and the way things weren’t exactly how you – and the characters – thought at first. I loved the relationship between the two main characters, and how their loyalty towards each other crashed with the loyalty toward their people. I was a little worried that Meela’s sexuality would be left ambiguous, but if nothing else, then the ending of the book really makes it impossible to deny even with the most heteronormative lenses.

One major complaint I had was the pacing towards the beginning. The book starts with one chapter in present time, then a few chapters as a flashback, and then back to present time. Personally, I felt this was really weird and I would have preferred the flashbacks to be built into the main story gradually. I also didn’t enjoy reading the flashbacks in general – I don’t think the characters sounded like ten-year-olds, and it was a little off-putting.

As someone who is often bored by action scenes, I was pleasantly surprised when this action-packed novel almost always held my attention instead of just turning into a series of almost identical battle scenes. Overall, I really enjoyed this story and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

(Okay, but seriously though – what kind of person uses someone’s dead brother to make fun of them?)

Final rating:🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️/5

~ Alexa


Review: Queerly Loving vol.2

38217839Queerly Loving Vol.2 edited by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz

Genre: Anthology, LGBTQAI+, etc.
Published: 15th February 2018 by Queer Pack
Length: 159 pages (Kindle edition)
Number of stories: 8
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBQAI+: Every story has LGBTQAI+ main characters of various orientations, including trans women, gay men, nonbinary characters, bisexual women, etc.
Sex on page: Yes, in certain stories

I received a free review copy from the author M. Hollis in exchange for an honest review.

If you missed my review of the first volume, find it here. While I enjoyed the first volume more, this one was still an enjoyable read.

In part two of Queerly Loving, our authors bring you short stories with characters across the fantastic queer spectrum, with endings that will leave you warm and smiling. Trans love interests, demisexual characters trying to find their way in the world, bisexual characters dealing with a heartbreak in the best way, and lesbians on escapades.

Dragons roar into life, dystopian futures unfold, mermaids enjoy space voyages, and modern-day adventures will curl your toes and make you cheer. There are first kisses, friends that are like kin, and aromantic characters discovering their place among a queer-normative family.

Get ready for your queer adventure.

more than anything by eden s. french: This story is about a teenage girl in a post-apocalyptic setting who risks her neck to get testosterone for her transgender male friend. Honestly, my only complaint about this story is that it was short. I would love to read a full-length novel version of this. (4.5/5 stars) tw. for some drug mention

tenderness by xan west: This story absolutely lived up to its name. It’s about a bisexual, autistic woman who is broken up with by her lesbian girlfriend (unrelated to their sexualities) and is comforted by her friends and family, all of them queer with various identities, and one of them autistic as well. The story is primarily about self-care and support, but it touches on some problems with bisexual representation in queer media as well. In fact, the note at the beginning explains that the story was inspired by a conversation about bi representation with another author, Shira Glassman. There was also a reference to Shira’s works in the story, which was really nice to see – in a way, the “Tenderness” in the title was present not only in the story, but in the relationship between the authors as well 🙂 (5/5 stars)

a kiss between altar boys by andrew l. huerta: This was a lovely story between two altar boys who exchange a kiss in the church’s garden. There was some internalised homophobia and use of the word f*g (by the two main characters), but overall I really enjoyed it. (4.5/5 stars)

kin, painted by penny stirling: I admit I’m not entirely sure what orientation the main character here is, but this story is about a large family with several trans and queer members in a magical world where most of the family members paint their bodies. It was a lovely story about searching for your identity, but ultimately it felt a little too long for me. (3/5 stars)

gasping for air by pascal j. ellen: This story is about the daily life of the nonbinary, demisexual (?) main character with a lot of introspection, musing about relationships, queer life, and such things. It was an interesting story and I liked the main character, but ultimately I would have enjoyed a little more plot. I often felt like this was more of a character study than a story with a plot. (3.5/5 stars)

the warrior and the dragon by m. hollis: F/f story in which the warrior sets out to fight the dragon threatening her home, and falls in love with a dragon-girl in the process. I enjoyed this story and there are never enough queer fairytales, but the plot itself still felt a little too predictable. I kept waiting for a twist or a deviation from the expected plot other than the f/f pairing, but there wasn’t really one. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – this was still a good story, just, not worth 5 stars for me. (3.5/5 stars)

detective and mrs baker by aila boyd: Another f/f story, this time between a trans and a cis woman – at the beginning of the story, the trans woman, Rhonda is in the process of getting a divorce from her abusive husband. There are also some references to transphobic parental abuse. — My main problem with this story was that the pacing felt off? In the end, the story takes place during several years, but several of the timeskips are described in just one or two paragraphs, and personally I didn’t really “feel” the time passing. I also raised my eyebrow at some interesting logic from both main characters, regarding priorities, and parenting. (You’re not “solely responsible for an entire kid” if you have twins – you and your wife HOPEFULLY will still share the responsibility and not just divide them up… And guess what, sometimes when your wife is working you’ll temporarily be responsible for TWO kids!) Still, I enjoyed some other parts, especially the focus on flowers — and I love the title as well. (3/5 stars)

the mermaid and the pirate by cameron van sant: I already fell in love at the title – I mean, mermaids AND pirates? In SPACE?! This story is a f/f romance between a butch lady pirate and a mermaid, and it also includes a deity called Bonneyread who is the patron of trans men and butches, as well as a mermaid-safety network for trans men and butches serving on ships with cis men. It had some really interesting worldbuilding in that regard, but I sometimes got confused over the motivation and relationship of the characters that didn’t seem to be consistent. (4/5 stars)

Final rating: 🌈🌈🌈🌈/5.

~ Alexa


Review: Queerly Loving Vol.1

38217839Queerly Loving Vol.1 edited by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz

Genre: Anthology, LGBTQAI+, etc.
Published: 22nd November 2017 by Queer Pack
Length: 154 pages (Kindle edition)
Number of stories: 9
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBQAI+: Every story has LGBTQAI+ main characters of various orientations, including trans women, gay trans men, aromantic partners, nonbinary characters, etc.
Sex on page: Yes, in certain stories

Queer characters getting their happy endings abound. Discover pages upon pages of compelling stories about aromantic warriors, trans sorceresses, and modern-day LGBTQA+ quirky characters. Friendship, platonic love, and poly triads are all celebrated.

Lose yourself in masterfully woven tales wrapped in fantasy and magic, delve into a story that brings the eighties back to life in vibrant color, get lost in space, and celebrate everything queer.
Get ready for your queer adventure.

I knew this anthology couldn’t be bad when it started with Sacha Lamb, and I was right. I ended up loving every single story except one (more on that below) and I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this anthology. I loved the diverse identities and even genres, and hey, there’s never enough happy queer stories.

miss me with that gay shit (please don’t) by sacha lamb: Jewish gay trans boys in love are apparently Sacha Lamb’s Thing, and I love it. Also featuring: great sibling relationship, a Muslim/Jewish lesbian side couple, and “Tumblr language” that is hilarious instead of forced. I would like to give this 10 stars out of 5.

gifts of spring by shira glassman: This story is about a trans woman mage in a fantasy world who meets a Jewish acrobat/performer. Most of the story is about them spending time together and helping out others in town. It was a lovely short story. (Note: there is on-page sex in this one.)

wishing on the perseid by kay c. sulli: For someone who really hates the outdoors, I love reading about outdoorsy people and romances. This one is a m/m romance between a park ranger and a visitor who go on hikes and wonder if the other one is interested or just being friendly. I loved both main characters and I loved the happy ending – maybe wishing on stars does work sometimes 😉 (Note: this one also has on-page sex.)

hunt and peck by teresa theophano: Absolutely wonderful story about two teenage girls (one of them butch) in the 1980s who meet during a typing competition and fall in love. It also has a lesbian couple with a child as side characters. This is one of my favourites in this collection. (tw for homomisic parents, though)

first light at dawn by nyri bakkalian: This story is written as an e-mail (letter?) from a trans woman who details being closeted trans in the army, living together with her girlfriend, and other things to a friend of hers. It has a lot of descriptions of trauma, PTSD and the army, but I still loved it.

dragons do not by evelyn deshane: Another one of my favourites. In this world, disabled people injured in accidents get dragons as service animals, but they are also separated from most people by the government who want to hide their failures (=the accidents that caused disabilities). The main character is a queer woman who comes to terms with losing her girlfriend and looks forward to getting to know another woman with a dragon. I really loved the “dragons as service animals” idea, and how it was gradually proven that the dragon rulebook given out by the government is bullshit.

planchette by carolyn gage: This might be cruel to say, but this story is single-handedly the reason why I didn’t rate this anthology 5 stars. It is written as a screenplay in the 1800s, which was actually interesting, and I enjoyed parts of it – but really hated others. I’m not even sure if Jude is supposed to be a trans man or a butch lesbian, but in either case this feels like messy representation. A lesbian side character is brutally murdered in front of her girlfriend, and even the ending is ambiguous at best, so I just… really don’t understand the inclusion of this story in an anthology that focuses on happy queer stories.

birthday landscapes by e. h. timms: Fantasy story about two aromantic people who decided to raise children together. One of them is also a famous adventurer with many songs written about him, that he doesn’t necessarily appreciate. I didn’t love this story as much as some of the others, but I still enjoyed it, and seeing aromantic people like this (happy, and with the word used on page) was great.

a gallant rescue by a. p. raymond: This story is about a spaceship crew rescuing their female friend’s girlfriend from an arranged marriage. It really is a rescue mission, with breaking in and sneaking out and everything. Other than the lesbian couple, it also has a polyamorous relationship with a woman and two nonbinary people, who both use different pronouns (they/them and ey/em, specifically). I absolutely loved this, and give me more nonbinary and polyam people in stories please.

For other opinions, check out this review which I found pretty neat.

My rating: 🌈🌈🌈🌈/5.

~ Alexa


Review: Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016

36483451Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016 edited by Bogi Takács

Genre: Anthology, LGBTQAI+, SFF
Published: October 22nd 2017 by Lethe Press
Length: 239 pages (Kindle edition)
Number of stories: 16
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Every story in this anthology has trans and other queer characters with various identities.
Sex on page: No

As with the first volume of Transcendent, Lethe Press has worked with a wonderful editor to select the best work of genderqueer stories of the fantastical, stranger, horrific, and weird published the prior year. Featuring stories by Merc Rustad, Jeanne Thornton, Brit Mandelo, and others, this anthology offers time-honored tropes of the genre–from genetic manipulation to zombies, portal fantasy to haunts–but told from a perspective that breaks the rigidity of gender and sexuality.

I received a free copy from the editor, Bogi Takács in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, it was wonderful to see so many trans characters with various identities and experiences, including but far from being limited to various pronouns. There were characters with singular they, characters switching between he and she, and characters using several different sets of neopronouns.

That being said, this anthology was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some stories that I really enjoyed, but a disappointing number of them just didn’t really work for me for reasons that are difficult to verbalise.

Perhaps I should start by mentioning that this anthology had a short story by one of my favourite authors, RoAnna Sylver. I’ve read Happy REGARDS before in the Life Within Parole collection, and I adored – I still adore – it. Still, I was surprised and a little conflicted that it was included in this anthology, for one simple reason: I am not sure it can stand on its own. It has a wonderful cast of characters, but they exist within a world full of many stories – and when you read only one of those stories, things can get hectic and even confusing.

On a smaller scale, I felt this way about several of the other stories – like I was only getting part of the picture. Of course, there is nothing wrong with leaving things up to the reader’s interpretation, but in this anthology, a little too many stories left me baffled or yearning for a little more clarification. This might just be a personal preference, though.

What I really would have appreciated at the beginning is a list of trigger or content warnings for each story, since many of them deal with heavy topics like suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression, bullying… And probably others I either missed or suddenly can’t remember. A few of these are mentioned in the introduction, but I feel like a comprehensive list could have been useful.

I wanted to get those thoughts out of the way, but I also want to talk about the parts that I genuinely enjoyed, so here are a few words about my favourite stories:

Because Change Was The Ocean And We Lived By Her Mercy: My favourite story in this collection, honestly. (Other than Happy REGARDS, of course, but that should go without saying at this point.) Because Change Was The Ocean is a solarpunk-ish story about community and belonging and I would gladly give it five out of five stars. Or more.

Skerry-Bride: This was one of the shortest stories I think, but it had wonderful descriptions about the POV character’s shapechanging lover. There are also many Norse mythology elements.

Transitions: This story was interesting because it started out as a completely ordinary, present-day story about transition, and by that I mean lacking any speculative elements – then some aspects of Indigenous culture were worked into the story and it fit together beautifully.

and, of course, Happy REGARDS: If you follow me on any kind of social media, you have probably seen me scream about Chameleon Moon and RoAnna’s other works before. Happy REGARDS is a wonderful short story that focuses on Evelyn, Danae and Rose’s family, including some siblings, in-laws, and found/chosen family as well.

My rating: ☄️☄️☄️☄️/5

~ Alexa


Review: Smoke Signals

38880586Smoke Signals by Meredith Katz

Genre: M/M romance, Fantasy
Collection: For The Hoard
Published: February 28th, 2018 by Less Than Three Press
Length: 83 pages (Kindle Edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon
LGBTQAI+: Gay male protagonist, bisexual male love interest, lesbian author
Sex on page: Yes

Mike St. George figured that working customer support during the Black Friday sale at SmokeSignals, a game distribution company, would just feature the usual sort of problem customers. He wasn’t expecting an aristocratic, self-centered dragon to demand the company send someone to his house to install games in exchange for gold. And he definitely wasn’t expecting that to somehow put him in charge of working with and protecting the digital side of the dragon’s hoard of games.

But with a possible promotion in his future, Mike’s ready to take on anything. And while the blue-blooded Zali’thurg might be egotistical and prideful, Mike’s wrangled worse customers on a regular basis. At least this one’s cute, albeit in an ‘apex predator’ sort of way.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

#IndieAthon is off to a great start, because wow, this book was amazing.

It’s not often that you find videogames, customer service, Black Friday sales and real, actual dragons in the same story, but Smoke Signals certainly ticks all those boxes. There’s also an adorable romance, cultural differences that lead to awkwardness, dragon lore incorporated into modern human culture, communication about boundaries, knitting and cooking shows…

Honestly, I adored this story from the beginning to the end. First, I related to Mike’s customer service job and his difficult customers, and later I was pulled in by the gradually developing relationship between him and Zali’thurg. I also spent most of it grinning ear-to-ear – there are quite a few humorous parts or comments, and some really sweet gestures coming from both love interests.

While there is a quite explicit sex scene, even that is intriguing in terms of cultural differences, and Zali’thurg’s, well, dragonness. While he has a pseudohuman form that he often uses around Mike, I appreciated that this form wasn’t fully human and Zali’thurg still retained several characteristics of his species.

I understand that romance with a non-human character may not be for everyone, but personally, Smoke Signal was one of my favourite reads of the year.

My rating: 🐉🐉🐉🐉🐉/5

~ Alexa