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

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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

Reviews

ARC Review: The Boss of Her

39027065The Boss of Her by Julie Cannon, M. Ullrich and Aurora Rey

Genre: LGBTQAI+, Contemporary, Romance, Boss/employee
Published: April 17th 2018 by Bold Strokes Books
Lesbian Book Bingo squares: Workplace romance, Butch/Femme
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Sex on page: Yes

Going to work never felt so good. Three office romance novellas from talented writers Julie Cannon, Aurora Rey, and M. Ullrich.

In For Your Eyes Only by Julie Cannon: Dress for success takes on a very different meaning. CFO Riley Stephenson finds herself in a particularly difficult position when the stripper she’s fallen for shows up at her office―as her new employee.

In Lead Counsel by Aurora Rey: Attorney Elisa Gonzalez is happy working behind the scenes while still having time for a life. All that changes when her firm takes on a major case and Parker Jones, powerhouse litigator and her law school crush, is named lead counsel.

In Opportunity of a Lifetime by M. Ullrich: Luca Garner is eager and hardworking, but her new boss is a total nightmare―snarky and uncooperative, not to mention an ice queen. VP Stephanie Austin doesn’t mean to be unkind, but the last thing she wants is an assistant getting under her skin, especially one who is as attractive as she is kind.

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

I’m going to start with some nitpicking to get this out of the way: the order of the stories in the book is not the same as in the blurb. Yes, it’s a small thing, but it was weird. Still with me? Okay. Let’s talk about the stories.

Lead Counsel by Aurora Rey: Maybe it was the lawyer thing, but personally, I didn’t find this story as engaging as the other two. I did like that they decided not to do the boss/employee romance long-term, though. (Although how they solve it is spoilers, obviously.) 3/5 stars

For Your Eyes Only by Julie Cannon: It might be a random thing, but I really loved all the safety measures Jess was shown taking while she worked, and how she was not shamed for being a stripper. I also loved how the story was divided into three sections: the first two described the same events from the perspective of the two love interests, and the third section described the rest of the story in third person. One minor thing is that I was really uncomfortable with how Ann pushed the “you need to get laid” thing. 4.5/5 stars

Opportunity of a Lifetime by M. Ullrich: Mitchell was the best thing about this story. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but also not really – I enjoyed this story, but I especially enjoyed how Stephanie’s child nephew helped Luca and Stephanie bond, and I loved Kathy referring to Luca as Mitchell’s best friend. I took a star off because I really wasn’t impressed by the dramatic twist towards the ending. I mean, come on, you’re going to make drama about something that has clearly changed during the course of several months? 4/5 stars

Overall, I enjoyed this collection more than I expected given some of my previous experience with contemporary adult romances.

My rating: 📁📁📁📁/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Not So Stories

35894420Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Genre: Anthology, Fantasy
Published: April 10th 2018 by Abaddon Books
Length: 334 pages
Number of stories: 14
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Sex on page: No

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was one of the first true children’s books in the English language, a timeless classic that continues to delight readers to this day. Beautiful, evocative and playful, the stories of “How the Whale Got His Throat” or “The First Letter Written” paint a magical, primal world. It is also deeply rooted in British colonialism. Kipling saw the Empire as a benign, civilizing force, and his writing can be troubling to modern readers. Not So Stories attempts to redress the balance, bringing together new and established writers of color from around the world to take the Just So Stories back; giving voices to cultures that were long deprived them.

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

“Because every day of freedom is a small act of victory against those who would rob you of it.”

Not So Stories is a response to a book by Rudyard Kipling that I confess I have never read, but according to the blurb, it’s a book rooted in British colonialism. Even without knowing this information, it is clear that the stories in Not So Stories are all against the different aspects of colonialism, explotiation and racism. While I sometimes felt like I lacked context for the stories, I still enjoyed reading them.

I’m not going to write an individual review for every story, but I’m going to list my favourites from the collection:

queen by joseph e. cole (this is the one the quote I started with is from)

best beloved by wayne santos

saṃsāra by georgina kamsika 

the cat who walked by herself by achala upendran 

how the simurgh won her tail by ali nouraei

how the camel got her paid time off by paul krueger

My rating: 🐪🐪🐪🐪/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Not Your Sidekick

31698951Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Genre: YA, SFF, Superheroes, LGBTQAI+
Series: Sidekick Squad #1
Published: September 8th 2016 by Duet
Length: 296 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Bisexual girl main character (#ownvoices), main f/f relationship, trans guy side character (I’m also pretty sure Emma is a-spec but it’s not mentioned in this book yet)
Sex on page: No
Note: Chinese/Vietnamese main character

Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Pretty much everyone I know has either read this book or is planning to read it, so here I am, officially joining the squad. (Not the sidekick squad, unfortunately, though that would be badass.)

There are never enough #ownvoices bisexual heroines, especially non-white ones, and Jess is amazing – as are all her friends. This book was fun and easy to read, although way too predictable at times, but I suppose that comes with the genre. After all, is it really a superhero novel without all those incredibly obvious secret identities that somehow nobody notices? And the main villain very conveniently detailing all their plans and secrets? I don’t think so.

Before going into this, I thought this was a contemporary/near-future setting, but turns out the story is set a couple of hundred years into the future, and in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, which was a nice surprise. I loved the little details, like driving your own car or having a pet being a luxury.

I loved laughing at the ineffective villains pulling pranks, then gradually realising that there’s so much more behind their actions. I loved how the main conspiracy was set up, and how history being rewritten and the media conveniently influencing people was focused on.

The main romance between Jess and Abby was adorable and I can’t wait to see more of them in the sequel. I also loved all of Jess’s family, especially her little brother and his totally-not-obvious crush on Bells. I am heartbroken about Jess’s sister and I’m curious to see where that relationship goes in the sequels.

I also really, really loved the recurring mentions of the Rainbow Allies club working at their school. I live in Hungary, and while I’ve heard about GSAs in the US, I’ve never heard of any here and certainly not in my city,  so it’s always interesting to read about.

All in all, I think this is a really fun read if you don’t take it too seriously (because yes, some of the parts are really THAT obvious). I also have an e-copy of the sequel (Not Your Villain) which is from Bells’s POV, so I can’t wait to read that one. Hopefully next month?

My rating: 🤖🤖🤖🤖/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Cheerleaders from Planet X

35671549Cheerleaders from Planet X by Lyssa Chiavari

Genre: Science Fiction, Aliens, LGBTQAI+, YA
Series: Standalone
Published: September 5th 2017 by The Kraken Collective
Length: 318 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Lesbian main character and love interest
Sex on page: No
Note: Half-Filipina main character

Aliens are among us. And humanity’s only hope just happens to carry pom-poms.

Laura Clark thought she was just your average college freshman—until the day she saw a cheerleader on a skateboard get into a superhuman brawl with a lightning-wielding stranger in a trenchcoat. And the weirdest thing of all? Nobody else saw it happen. Nobody, that is, except the beautiful but standoffish Shailene, one of the mysterious (and possibly super-powered) cheerleaders from Laura’s rival school, Bayview University.

When girls start disappearing all over the City, Laura suddenly realizes that she may have seen more than she should. And if she wants to keep from disappearing herself, she needs to find some answers. But though Laura can’t shake the feeling that they’re somehow connected, Shailene is more than a little reluctant to share her secrets. With strange, bug-like creatures and a sinister man in a dark coat stalking her every step, Laura will have to uncover the truth fast if she wants to survive.

The fate of the planet just might hang in the balance.

It’s somehow unusually difficult to articulate my thoughts about this book, so this review might be a little all over the place.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while – I was first intrigued by the cover and the title, then the blurb. Cheerleaders who fight aliens like some kind of superheroes? Sign me up!

I read this book fairly quickly and I enjoyed it as well, but when I got to the end I had to realise that it was more forgettable than I hoped. I enjoyed the action and the plot twists (really – I guessed part of it, but there was much that I couldn’t/didn’t guess so I was at the edge of my seat waiting to find out what was going to happen), but when everything was finally revealed, it felt like a little too much at once. Suddenly all kinds of government conspiracies and they-aren’t-who-you-think and Greek mythology was involved, and most of this was revealed at the same time. I felt like a more gradual reveal of the situation might have been better.

Most importantly, I just couldn’t really connect with any of the characters. I enjoyed the dialogue, especially the several references/jokes about the upcoming election and such, but in the end none of the characters truly grabbed me. I was interested in what was going to happen them, but not THEM, if that makes sense.

In short, this was an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable read for me.

My rating: 🛸🛸🛸🛸/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

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

Reviews

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

Reviews

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

Reviews

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