Reviews

Sincerely, Harriet: A Lovely Story About a Lonely Kid

Sincerely, HarrietTitle: Sincerely, Harriet
Author(s): Sarah Winifred Searle
Series: 
Genre: Graphic Novel, Middle Grade
Published: January 1st 2019 by Graphic Universe (TM)
LGBTQAI+:  —
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Harriet Flores struggles with boredom and an unrequited crush while learning to manage her chronic illness through a long, hot, 1990s summer in Chicago. She uses her imagination to cope, which sometimes gets her into trouble, as she makes up fantastical fibs and wonders if there are ghosts upstairs. One neighbor, Pearl, encourages Harriet to read and write, leading Harriet to have a breakthrough and discover the power of storytelling.

Rating: 5 stars

Harriet just moved to a new place with her parents, and she doesn’t have any friends yet. Her parents work a lot, so she spends most of her time at home trying to amuse herself, or talking to her old neighbour downstairs, Pearl. She makes up stories and pretends that she has more friends than she does. She wonders if the floor upstairs is haunted by a ghost, and writes letters to it just in case it exists. Also, she has multiple sclerosis.

This graphic novel had beautiful art, and a complex main character. I saw some other reviews calling her unlikeable because she makes up lies, but I can’t really fault a lonely kid for wanting to believe she has friends, and I also found that she has significant development even the course of this relatively short book.

It’s a slice-of-life story that doesn’t have much plot, but it has wonderful backgrounds, character development, and I felt like the art really gave back the loneliness and quiet that Harriet must have been feeling. It also touches on issues of both disability and racism. Not to mention that Harriet’s neighbour, Pearl has some serious awesome taste in books from what I’ve seen.

I also loved the sort-of open ending, and I felt like it was perfect for this story.

If you are looking for a quiet, quick read, then I definitely recommend this graphic novel.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Afterlife: Foxes, Grief and the Meaning of Life [12 Days of Clink Street]

AfterlifeTitle: Afterlife (Goodreads | Amazon)
Author(s): Tracy Ogali
Series: 
Genre: Poetry, Fantasy?
Published: July 15th 2016 by Clink Street Publishing
I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

What do you do when your life falls apart? Who do you turn to for help? This is a story about how to come to terms with the tragedy of losing a loved one. Fox is lost, consumed by grief, unable to move on with his life. Until one day he has an epiphany, so strong that he decides to go on a quest around the world to search for the meaning of life. He meets all the wise creatures that provide him with their philosophy. But nothing works. He feels like a failure. Then, out of the blue, a voice speaks to him: a butterfly. She agrees to show him the way, and it is here, with her guidance, that fox begins to learn about nature, who he is and the true wisdom of life and death.

I understand, but you must still try.

Was that title ominous? Sorry about that. But no, really.

I was drawn to Afterlife immediately when I saw the fox on the cover, because… well, I may or may not have a weakness for foxes. Then I read the blurb, and I realised that this was a book about dealing with grief in a seemingly kid-friendly way, and I was really curious how that would work out.

In the end, Afterlife surprised me in several ways. I initially assumed that the illustrations would be bleak or colourless to go with the depression and grief, but all the pictures were unique, and most of them colourful. When I got to the end, I realised that the reason they had different unique art styles is that the illustrations were done by not one illustrator, but a group of art students. And let me tell you, they did a great job. The illustrations with the butterfly were especially amazing.

The stanzas were usually easy to follow, although I felt like the message sometimes got a little too abstract for children maybe, and the rhymes were sometimes a little… odd. Nevertheless, the story was meaningful, and it was interesting to see the Fox’s journey and what the different animals thought about the meaning of life and death. I also loved how it was shown that it’s okay to grieve but you must eventually move on and heal.

I am also somehow the first person to rate and review this on Goodreads, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.

**

I thank Clink Street Publishing & Faye from Authoright for inviting me to be a part of this event. I received a copy of the above book for free in exchange for an honest review.

**

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Saturday 1st December

A Thousand Worlds

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Pen & Paper

Sunday 2nd December

Heavenly Good Books

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Librarian Laura’s Great Reads

Grass Monster

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Tuesday 4th December

Mixing Reality with Fiction

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Wednesday 5th December

Tea Party Princess

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Thursday 6th December

Novel Kicks

Life of a Nerdish Mum

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Friday 7th December

Yet Another Blogging Mummy

Sincerely Stacie

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Saturday 8th December

The Little Contemporary Corner

Impressions in Ink

Sunday 9th December

Wrong Side of Forty

Reading for Pleasure

Dystopic

Impressions in Ink

Monday 10th December

Librarian Laura’s Great Reads

Reading Away the Days

OBC Mini Reviewers

Tuesday 11th December

Alisons Book Reviews

Portable Magic

Just Us Book Blog

JBronder’s Book Reviews

Wednesday 12th December

The Writing Greyhound

Between the Pages Book Club

Bookshine and Readbows

Reviews

Letters and Space Adventures: Dear Earthling

Dear Earthling: Cosmic CorrespondentTitle: Dear Earthling
Author(s): Pen Avey
Series: 
Genre: Middle Grade, sci-fi
Published: December 3th 2018 by Common Deer Press
LGBTQAI+: —
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dethbert Jones is your average ten-year-old – only he lives on the planet Crank with his pet chicken-snail and his robot best friend Andi Social. When he and Andi join the Space Cadets, a Scouts-like organization, they are totally smooshed at the prospect of going to Space Camp where they’ll learn to pilot a real shuttlecraft and disintegrate weapons of mass destruction. Blamtastic!

To earn his cosmic correspondent badge, Dethbert begins writing to an earthling – and boy, does he have a lot to write about! Between questions about Earth food, culture, and activities, Dethbert recounts his experiences attempting to avoid his horrible little sister, impress his animal-obsessed crush, and fly a space shuttle. Misadventures – from hairy ankles to crash landings – abound, but Dethbert’s curiosity and enthusiasm can’t be crushed, not by anything in this galaxy, anyway!

Rating: 4 stars

Dear Earthling was an adorable middle-grade sci-fi story with fun illustrations. It’s about a kid who is a Space Cadet, which is basically a Boy’s Scout in space. The chapters are all fairly short, as they are letters the main character writes to his human penpal.

The planet where Dethbert lives, Crank, is sort of like Earth in a parallel universe. Most of their things have names that are horrible puns on Earth names, like “bored games”, “Duesday”, “When?sday” and so forth. I admit that the puns got a little too much for me eventually and I groaned at many of them, but I’m sure kids would appreciate them more.

Dethbert is a good who gets into trouble and fights with his friends sometimes, but he also has a big heart, and many eccentric friends and family members. Overall, I found this a really endearing sci-fi story that is perfect for preteens.

One thing that made me pause was the mention of one kid’s parent being a missionary who was nearly eaten by “cannibalistic savages” that he tried to convert. That story has pretty negative connotations, and I feel like it was really unnecessary to include it, since it’s not even a big plot point or anything.

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Historical Mystery with a Punny Title: On Track for Murder [12 Days of Clink Street]

On Track For MurderTitle: On Track for Murder (Goodreads | Amazon)
Author(s): Stephen Childs
Series: 
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Historical Fiction
Published: September 1st 2015 by Clink Street Publishing
I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Her father stabbed to death, her brother caught with the bloody murder weapon, and her stepmother suspiciously missing: eighteen year old Abigail Sergeant is forced into a dangerous cross country adventure to uncover the truth and bring the real killer to justice.

Travelling from England to Australia in the late nineteenth-century, Abigail and her naive younger brother hope that reuniting with their father — and his new wife — will offer them security. What awaits them on the shores of the Swan River dashes any prospects of a blissful life.

Discovering her father murdered and her brother seemingly caught red handed, Abigail’s life is thrown into turmoil. The police are convinced of Bertrand’s guilt, but Abigail is determined to prove his innocence, whatever it takes.

I am thankful to have been invited to the holiday event hosted by Clink Street Publishing, 12 Days of Clink Street, where the bloggers participating will review books from this publisher every day for the first 12 days of December. You can expect two reviews from me during this event – this is the first one, and the second one will be published on December 8th. You can find the banner with the full schedule at the bottom of my review.

**

I like a man I can converse with on an equal footing. How is your knowledge of new technologies and industrial progress?

I was curious about On Track for Murder for multiple reasons: 1) I’ve been meaning to read more historical fantasy, 2) I am always interested in an amateur detective story, especially with a female protagonists, 3) it has siblings!, 4) the title combined with the fact that this book is about trains is definitely a pun.

The book follows Abigail, the main character, who arrives to Australia with her brother – Bertrand, who almost certainly has autism, but the word is never used. Due to the time period, he is described in rather ableist terms such as “slow”, “naive” or “simple”. While his sister and father are both supportive and loving, he experiences considerable ableism from his surroundings and his step-mother.

When their father is murdered, Bertrand is accused, and it’s up to Abigail to prove his innocence, because the local detectives can’t be bothered to do their jobs right. On her quest, she has a companion, Constable Dunning, who is really not as reluctant as the blurb suggests.

Let’s start with the positives: I loved Abigail’s character from the beginning. She reads Jules Verne and likes Mary Shelley, and she has a passion for progress, an interest in the industrial revolution, as well as trains and engineering. (Just look at the quote I put at the beginning of this review – damn.) During the plot’s troubles – such as kidnapping, betrayal and so on – she had some really heroic moments and creative solutions, and while she had to be saved a couple of times, she also did more than enough saving others. Without much spoilers I can say that towards the end my respect for her grew even more when she considered her future options and made a mature choice for herself. I also found the developing romance sweet, if a little rushed. There were a few lines that really made me squee.

That being said, I wasn’t always impressed with the plot. There was indeed some mystery around the exact circumstances and participants of the murder, but honestly the main killer and even the motive was quite obvious from the beginning – to the reader, at least. Abigail and Dunning only find out quite late, despite the numerous clues staring them in the face, and then it’s treated as a twist. I have to say, I was disappointed in this part of the plot.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, mainly for the characters, but I kept waiting for a compelling twist when it came to the murder, and unfortunately that didn’t come.

**

trigger warnings: ableism (towards an autistic character), attempted sexual assault, murder

**

Print

Saturday 1st December

A Thousand Worlds

Marie’s Book Boutique

Pen & Paper

Sunday 2nd December

Heavenly Good Books

Jazzy Book Reviews

Between the Pages Book Club

Monday 3rd December

Librarian Laura’s Great Reads

Grass Monster

Life at 17

Tuesday 4th December

Mixing Reality with Fiction

Donna’s Book Blog

Nayu’s Reading Corner

Wednesday 5th December

Tea Party Princess

Between the Pages Book Club

Bookshine and Readbows

Thursday 6th December

Novel Kicks

Life of a Nerdish Mum

Just Us Book Blog

Friday 7th December

Yet Another Blogging Mummy

Sincerely Stacie

Orchard Book Club

Saturday 8th December

A Thousand Worlds

The Little Contemporary Corner

Impressions in Ink

Sunday 9th December

Wrong Side of Forty

Reading for Pleasure

Dystopic

Impressions in Ink

Monday 10th December

Librarian Laura’s Great Reads

Reading Away the Days

OBC Mini Reviewers

Tuesday 11th December

Alisons Book Reviews

Portable Magic

Just Us Book Blog

JBronder’s Book Reviews

Wednesday 12th December

The Writing Greyhound

Between the Pages Book Club

Bookshine and Readbows

Reviews

The Prophetic Huntress and the Warrior Princess: Outrun the Wind

Outrun the WindTitle: Outrun the Wind
Author(s): Elizabeth Tammi
Series: 
Genre: Greek mythology, Fantasy
Published: November 27th 2018 by Flux
LGBTQAI+: bisexual female MC, lesbian MC, F/F ship
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on November 11th, 2018.

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.

She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.

Outrun the Wind has been on my list of most anticipated releases ever since I saw that magical cover, and learned that it is a Greek mythology love story between two complicated young women. I love reading stories based on Greek mythology, but most of the ones I’ve read recently were modern retellings, so I was glad to read a more classical one.

This book did not disappoint. Outrun the Wind pulled me in from the beginning with the writing style, the story and the characters. The warrior-turned-princess, and the huntress with the prophetic gifts. And, of course, the gods, who somehow managed to be even bigger jerks than I expected. I wasn’t familiar with Atalanta’s myth before, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this book at all – while it has elements from the canon myths, it also adds several new characters and fills Atalanta’s life with people.

I loved that this story was about two young women who were both hurt by men, but they managed to stay strong, get revenge, and heal together. Of course, nothing comes easily – their relationship develops gradually from animosity to love, so if you’re into that kind of thing, you might love this book.

One thing that was really strange to me is Artemis’s behaviour at the very beginning of the book, that Atalanta herself points out. You would think that a maiden goddess who renounced men and has a group of female warriors helping her would respect female warriors more and wouldn’t see them as subordinate to their male companions. I had minor issues with Apollo’s character as well, but those are more subjective (and possibly due to me still being under the effect of The Trials of Apollo) – however, this bit with Artemis just simply didn’t make much sense to me. I also would have loved to see more gods or Greek mythical figures maybe.

All in all, I thought this book was great for a debut novel, and while it could have used some more polishing, I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes Greek myths, or just fantasy with sapphic characters. (Also, I squeed when the title of the book was mentioned.)

tw: attempted sexual assault

~ Alexa

Reviews

Dear Transphobes, Destiny Says You Suck: No Man Of Woman Born

No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales)Title: No Man Of Woman Born
Author(s): Ana Mardoll
Series: 
Number of stories: 7
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Published: July 10th 2018 by Acacia Moon Publishing
LGBTQAI+: nonbinary and binary transgender protagonists in every story(Note: I bought this book with my own money, and then downloaded it from NetGalley too because why not.)

Destiny sees what others don’t. 

A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny. 

From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

This collection of seven stories has been one of my most anticipated releases ever since I found out about it. It’s a collection written by a nonbinary author, for trans readers, “with cis audiences welcomed but not centered”. I was already in tears by the end of the author’s note at the beginning.

No Man of Woman Born plays around with gendered prophecies by using transgender and/or nonbinary protagonists. I loved seeing how the different prophecies are worded, and I loved guessing while reading what the solution to the particular prophecy would be – as well as the ways people can misinterpret it, as in the case of King’s Favor.

I also loved that the book includes content warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides as well.

Tangled Nets: 4/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, dragons, sacrifices. It wasn’t my favourite, but a nice warm-up.

King’s Favor: 4.5/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, witches, queens – and a very entertaining misinterpretation of the prophecy. Plus, a great side character, and an even better protagonist.

His Father’s Son: 5/5 stars. Trans guy protagonist on a revenge quest. I would have loved to see the villain’s face.

Daughter of Kings: 4/5 stars. Sapphic* trans girl protagonist with Arthurian sword-in-the-stone elements. (*There is no romance in the story, but it’s hinted that she likes girls.)

Early to Rise: 5/5 stars. Genderfluid, possibly aromantic Cinderella. This was one of my favourite stories, and the best curse-loophole. Also one of the only stories where the solution was completely different from what I expected.

No Man of Woman Born: 5/5 stars. One of the strongest stories – no wonder this one gave its name to the collection. Women, girls, nonbinary people and others who could be argued to fit the prophecy rally around to kill the evil king. Has a questioning protagonist, a parent who comes out in adulthood, and several trans or nonbinary side characters.

The Wish-Giver: 4/5 stars. Kind of simple compared to the others, but incredibly sweet, and overall a nice ending to the collection. Also, it has a female dragon, so kudos for that. (And some ironic commentary on binary colour-coding children.)

~ Alexa

 

Reviews

Beauty and the Beast with Dragons: In The Vanishers’ Palace

In the Vanishers’ PalaceTitle: In the Vanishers’ Palace
Author(s): Aliette de Bodard
Series: 
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Published: October 16th 2018 by JABberwocky Literary Agency
LGBTQAI+: main F/F ship, nonbinary side characters
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

My rating: 4 stars

I had to read this entire book before I realised it’s written by the author of The Tea Master and the Detective, the Sherlock retelling I’ve been meaning to read.

In The Vanishers’ Palace is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty is a scholar and the Beast is a spirit dragon that lives in a Palace impossible to understand. Also, they’re both women.

This was a brilliantly written novel with fantastically visual descriptions, although it made my head spin sometimes. The world and the culture whose mythology its based on was very unfamiliar and sometimes I felt like I was lacking some basic knowledge to really understand, but I still enjoyed becoming familiar.

My favourite part was that while – other than the names – this book is written entirely in English, it was obvious that it is translated from a language other than English. I found the references to the many pronouns the characters use very interesting: they all refer to each other as family members in some way, even strangers (which was a little at odds with the complicated, antagonistic relationships sometimes).

The book has two major nonbinary side characters, but that is not the only reason why it’s nonbinary-friendly. Nobody’s gender in this book is assumed by their appearance, and they are only referred to with gendered terms once they established it with the language they use for themselves.

I think in a way the story is secondary to the worldbuilding and characterisation in this book, so I can’t say much about the story. As for the characters, I loved the development they all go through, and the “Beast” having children to care for was something I didn’t expect (because clearly I didn’t read the full blurb before heading in – I’m sorry!).

I’m going to be honest, the “dark, unspeakable secrets” mentioned in the blurb were a little anticlimatic for me, but I’m sure Yên didn’t feel the same way.

All in all, I have very positive feelings about this book, even if the descriptions were a little difficult to wrap my head around sometimes.

~ Alexa

Reviews

If I Loved You Less: Queer Island Shenanigans

If I Loved You LessTitle: If I Loved You Less
Author(s): Tamsen Parker
Series: Classics Queered
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Retelling
Published: September 20th 2018
LGBTQAI+: queer wlw MC, unspecified wlw love interest, other wlw side characters
I received an ARC from the author through The Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on October 14th, 2018.

Matchmaking? Check. Surfing? Check. Falling in love? As if. 

Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike.

One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street. Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui has been the owner of Queen’s Sweet Shop since her parents passed away and her younger brother married Theo’s older sister and moved to Oahu. Kini’s ready smile, haupia shortbread, and lilikoi malasadas are staples of Hanalei’s main street.

However, Theo’s matchmaking machinations and social scheming soon become less charming—even hazardous—to everyone involved. And when she fails to heed Kini’s warnings about her meddling, she may be more successful than she ever intended. Theo has to face the prospect of Kini ending up with someone else, just as she realizes she’s loved Kini all along.

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma.

Rating: 4 stars (3.5 stars)

Theo Sullivan lives on an island like paradise with her slightly overprotective father, content with how things are. The community in Hanalei is tight-knit: everyone knows everyone, outsiders rarely stay for long, and nothing can really remain a secret. Personally, the island setting and its descriptions were my favourite part of the novel, as well as the descriptions of food and sweets. I could really feel the freedom and the sense of paradise, the lazy, slow way of life, that might seem boring to some, but it’s perfectly enough for Theo. And yet, this book really wasn’t what I expected based on the blurb.

First, let me talk about our protagonist, Theo. I loved that she defined herself as queer because her identity is complicated – she mostly likes women, but she’s not against maybe being with men, and she keeps a metaphorical little gate open for one man in particular, which is eventually explored in the book.

Despite this, I found Theo an incredibly unlikeable character at first. Her personality seemed to consist of butting into everyone else’s business, and trying to influence their lives in a very invasive way. Now, an unlikeable protagonist in itself is not a problem, but in a romance, it makes it pretty difficult to root for her. Since the blurb mentioned that Theo’s meddling will eventually get her in trouble, I was waiting for the inevitable character development. I also liked that her behaviour was continously called out, mostly by Kini but also sometimes by other characters. Although after a certain event Theo realises she messed up and genuinely tries to make up for it, I still caught her saying or doing things that made me cringe even towards the end. There was definitely some character development, but sometimes it felt like as soon as she took a step forward, she took at least a half back.

Still, what really surprised and even frustrated me wasn’t Theo’s character. It’s the fact that the whole “Theo realises she’s in love with someone just as that someone is about to get together with someone else” only happens towards the very end of the book, and it felt like it was solved really quickly. More than that, the last section of the book feels like a series of plot twists and revelations thrown together without time to really resolve any of them. When I finished the book, there were several plots with side characters that either came out of nowhere, or weren’t resolved properly, and just left me with many questions.

In the end, I enjoyed this book (or at least most of it, before the rushed ending) but not for the reasons I expected. I loved the interactions between the side characters, Theo’s friendships, her character development even if I felt it was lacking, the plot twists that surprised me (the one that made sense, at least), and the island scenery. But this wasn’t the book I expected based on the blurb, and what I expected to be the central conflict was pretty much one confession resolved in one chapter, so I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated.

~ Alexa

Reviews

I Need to Have An Emotion In Private: Rogue Protocol & Exit Strategy

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)Title: Rogue Protocol & Exit Strategy
Author(s): Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #3-#4
Genre: Science Fiction, Novella, Androids
Published: August 7th 2018 & October 2nd 2018 by Tor
LGBTQAI+: 
Other representation: 
polyamorous side character
I received both copies for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My copy of Exit Strategy was an uncorrected proof.

SciFi’s favorite crabby A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah–its former owner (protector? friend?)–submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it’s caught?

I read these two novellas (each between 160-180 pages) back-to-back, and the ending of the fourth one influenced my rating of the third, so it’s only fitting that I review them together – the same way I did with the first two books.

Murderbot is back, and I can only repeat myself when I say how much I adore this character: an android construct who is incredibly relatable to introvert people and people with anxiety while also being capable at its job and funny as hell. Murderbot takes several names as it pretends to be an augmented human to get around, and it insists it doesn’t get attached to humans… then does it anyway.

Abene had known I was a SecUnit, but she didn’t know I was me.

In Rogue Protocol, Murderbot ends up attached to a crew of humans and a human-form bot, feeling responsible for their safety and grumbling about how humans suck at security… again. Seeing an obviously non-human bot who is treated with kindness and as a friend by its humans makes Murderbot Feel Things and muse about what it really wants. In Exit Strategy, Murderbot finally returns to meet up with some old friends it left in the first book – friends who respect its boundaries and personhood despite being fully aware that Murderbot is a SecUnit with a hacked government module. During this journey, Murderbot becomes more and more human-like (mostly in appearance to fool people and get by safely) and yet rejecting the idea that it wants to be human, because that is the dumbest thing it ever heard.

I admit that it’s been a while since I read All Systems Red, and I didn’t remember much about the original crew other than Dr. Mensah, so I actually opened the eBook and skimmed a few parts to remember who I’m re-meeting in Exit Strategy. It was nice to see those relationship develop further, and really see the progression from beginning to end, despite Murderbot’s decision to leave for two books.

Elise points out in one Murderbot review that while Murderbot gradually develops emotions, attachments and relationships with people, none of these relationships are ever even close to romantic. I can only echo how awesome this is, since so many stories about androids involve “becoming human” by falling in love. There’s really none of that here, for several reasons: all of Murderbot’s relationships are platonic, and while it is obviously a person, it is not a human.

One thing I love about this entire series is that Murderbot… well, it is special and one of a kind, of course, but still not The One Bot that somehow learned to feel emotions and make friends. In fact, there are plenty of bots throughout the four novellas that are clearly capable of making their own decisions, developing attachments with each other and/or with humans, and even the bot pilots Murderbot refers to as limited are implied to have emotions to some degree (e.g. when Murderbot can tell the bot pilot is sad to see it go). I love this portrayal of bots, and it really makes one think about whom we think of as a person, and how people treat non-humans as less because we assume they cannot possibly be similar to us.

Since I loved the Murderbot Diaries so much, I had high expectations and I was worried throughout the last book that the ending would somehow disappoint me, but I actually loved it. I get easily attached and thus I didn’t like that Murderbot keeps making temporary friends and then leaving them, but the ending gave the possibility of reconnecting/keeping in touch with several people it made friends with during the books, and most importantly: it was an open ending where Murderbot doesn’t quite know what to do yet, but has possibilities and a choice. Open endings are difficult to get right for me because if they are too open then I just feel like I got no closure, but in this case it was just the right amount of open. (Plus, there’s a full-length novel coming out in a few years, so there’s that.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Navigator’s Touch: From Ariel to Captain Hook

The Navigator's Touch (The Seafarer's Kiss, #2)Title: The Navigator’s Touch
Author(s): Julia Ember
Series: The Seafarer’s Kiss #2
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Mythology
Published: September 13th 2018 by Duet Books
LGBTQAI+: lesbian main character, bisexual love interest, nonbinary side characters
Other representation: disabled main character, fat love interest

After invaders destroyed her village, murdered her family, and took her prisoner, shield-maiden Ragna is hungry for revenge. A trained warrior, she is ready to fight for her home, but with only a mermaid and a crew of disloyal mercenaries to aid her, Ragna knows she needs new allies. Guided by the magical maps on her skin, battling storms and mutiny, Ragna sets sail across the Northern Sea.

She petitions the Jarl in Skjordal for aid, but despite Ragna’s rank and fighting ability, the Jarl sees only a young girl, too inexperienced to lead, unworthy of help. To prove herself to the Jarl and win her crew’s respect, Ragna undertakes a dangerous expedition. But when forced to decide between her own freedom and the fate of her crew, what will she sacrifice to save what’s left of her home?

Inspired by Norse mythology and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, this companion novel to The Seafarer’s Kiss is a tale of vengeance, valor, honor, and redemption.

To lead this crew, I had to promise them the world and dangle their nightmares from the top of my silver hook.

Before I learned that The Navigator’s Touch was a retelling of Peter Pan, specifically Captain Hook, I wasn’t sure if it would be a sequel, or more like a companion novel that tells the story of what Ragna was doing while Ersel was fighting for her own freedom. In the end, it was both. It’s mostly a sequel, but a few flashback chapters tell us how Ragna lost her hand and got her own crew… that she doesn’t trust.

A lot of this book is about Ragna’s relationship to her crew, which I really enjoyed. Their development in the second half of the book makes you wonder about how reliable Ragna is as a narrator, and whether she was really judging her crew correctly up until that point.

Ragna is a flawed person in many ways – she is motivated by revenge, trauma holds her back from trusting people, and she has the tendency to treat those around her quite badly, including her crew and Ersel. This changes somewhat towards the end, and her progression was interesting to see.

I didn’t kid myself. She was no more mine than the ocean.

It would be difficult to call this book (or even the first one) a romance. Ersel is very clearly bisexual, and Ragna is very clearly a lesbian, and they are clearly attracted to each other and share some romantic moments, but saying they’re in a relationship would be a stretch at this point. They both have different priorities, they treat each other carelessly sometimes, and romance is secondary or even tertiary to the story.

I’m not listing these as bad things – I actually really enjoyed their dynamic and how they both keep their freedom – but I think these are important to know, so that nobody expects a fluffy mermaid romance. I would love to see how their relationship progresses, although even if there is another sequel, I’m not sure how they’ll spend more time together.

You’re asking me if I can let her die. Can you?

Our favourite antagonist, Loki returns in this book, and frankly, I loved all their appearances. I loved the forms they chose, how they played with appearance and voice, how they didn’t technically break their promises. Still, I feel like their involvement here was less than in the first book. I’d rate the first book 9/10 for quality of Loki content, and maybe 6/10 for this one? I also loved the hints and questions about the nature and culture of the gods, e.g. making deals with each other, not having a choice over who they love, etc.

The first book was heavily criticised because the only nonbinary character in it was Loki, the god of lies and trickery, so I’m happy to say that this book has a major nonbinary side character, and casual comments that suggest nonbinay identities are accepted among humans as well. I consider that an improvement.

Overall, I enjoyed both The Seafarer’s Kiss and The Navigator’s Touch, and I actually ended up rating this one a star higher than the first book. I am eager to see where the story goes, because it didn’t sound like the end is anywhere near.

(Also: I would love to see good fanart of Ragna’s marks, because damn.)

~ Alexa