Reviews

Sadie: A Brutal Read About Abused Children

SadieTitle: Sadie
Author(s): Courtney Summers
Series: 
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult
Published: September 4th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
LGBTQAI+: unspecified sapphic MC and mlm MC
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange from an honest review.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge and a Serial-like podcast following the clues she’s left behind.

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

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

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

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

tw: pedophilia, child sexual abuse, drug addiction, murder

rating: 4 stars

You know a book is going to be heavy when it starts with a thirteen-year-old getting murdered, but that doesn’t even begin to describe Sadie.

I don’t expect it to bring her back. It won’t bring her back.
It’s not about finding peace. There will never be peace.

After her little sister, Mattie is murdered, all that keeps Sadie alive is the need to find Mattie’s killer and kill him herself. She knows who she’s looking for, but her search for him unearths more secrets than anyone planned for – not only about Sadie and her sister and the man, but other girls, other kids and other monsters as well.

Except it’s not in my head, it’s in my heart, and she’s the same woman who told me if you’re going to follow anything, it might as well be that.

Meanwhile, a man called West McCray follows Sadie’s route in his podcast The Girls, hoping to catch up to her. He interviews Sadie’s family, and everyone she met on the way.

This book is a truly mystery: with the alternating POVs between Sadie and the podcast, we see different sides to every character, hear different sides to every story. We truly learn that people can be biased narrators, and sometimes the stories conflict, or we find out later that something we learned earlier wasn’t true at all – either because somebody lied, or simply because somebody assumed wrong.

I don’t like to treat someone’s sexuality as a spoiler, so I’m not going to put a spoiler tag here, but it was nice to find out that while there isn’t much focus on it, neither of the main characters are straight. West mentions a husband at one point, while Sadie implies she can be interested in people regardless of gender.

Sadie was definitely a heavy read, but also I couldn’t put it down. The short chapters switching between the podcast and Sadie’s own POV really made it easy to just fly through it, and when I had to go out on an errand, I kept waiting to get back home so I could read more. It’s almost 400 pages, but it felt like 200 at most – although that might have been because of the podcast format.

And the ending – well, let me just say that West speaks for all of us in those last lines.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Secondhand Origin Stories: The Queer Superhero Team We Deserve

Secondhand Origin Stories (Second Sentinels Book 1)Title: Secondhand Origin Stories
Author(s): Lee Blauersouth
Series: Second Sentinels #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Superheroes
Published: March 15th 2018
LGBTQAI+: 1) nonbinary bisexual MC, xe/xyr pronouns, 2) asexual Deaf cis guy MC, 3) two sapphic girl MCs, one of them a dark-skinned Black girl
Other representation:
multiple Deaf/HoH side characters
I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Opal has been planning to go to Chicago and join the Midwest’s superhero team, the Sentinels, since she was a little kid. That dream took on a more urgent tone when her superpowered dad was unjustly arrested for protecting a neighbor from an abusive situation. Now, she wants to be a superhero not only to protect people, but to get a platform to tell the world about the injustices of the Altered Persons Bureau, the government agency for everything relating to superpowers.

But just after Opal’s high school graduation, a supervillain with a jet and unclear motives attacks the downtown home of the Sentinels, and when Opal arrives, she finds a family on the brink of breaking apart. She meets a boy who’s been developing secret (and illegal) brain-altering nanites right under the Sentinel’s noses, another teenage superhero-hopeful who looks suspiciously like a long-dead supervillain, and the completely un-superpowered daughter of the Sentinels’ leader. Can four teens on the fringes of the superhero world handle the corruption, danger, and family secrets they’ve unearthed?

rating: 4 stars

(Please check the specific sections for warnings, especially the nonbinary and Deaf sections.)

Secondhand Origin Stories is about the children of famous superheroes who want to help people as well – and as the title says, this is truly an origin story, where the “real” superhero fights only really happen towards the end. It is a very character-focused novel about both blood and adopted/found family, about growing up in the shadow of your famous parents, and even about the unrightful imprisonment of many Black people.

The characters and the plot: I loved the four main characters in this one, although their dynamic was sometimes a little strange. Jamie, Issac and Yael are friends and siblings who grew up together in the same family, while Opal comes into their world as an outsider. And yet, almost from the beginning they are ready to fight for each other and for the truth. Opal fights for her father who was wrongly imprisoned, and the other three fight with and for their superhero family and the secrets it hides. I loved Yael’s struggle with the identities of xyr birth parents, and I’m sure it will be an important plot point in the rest of the series as well.

This book was emotional, funny, with an all-queer main cast, and I think it handled issues and questions about family nicely. Once I really got into the plot, I ended up loving it. There is also one character that I would love to squee about but I can’t really do it without spoilers, so let me just say this: I LOVE MARTIN SO MUCH.

The nonbinary representation: … So why did I almost decide to abandon it less than halfway in? Because the beginning of the novel was close to torture as a nonbinary reader. One of the characters, Yael is nonbinary and uses xe/xyr pronouns in xyr own POV, but xe isn’t out to anyone other than Jamie and Issac at first, which leads to unintentional misgendering from xyr older family members – and, most importantly, constant misgendering from another POV character, Opal. It’s not really Opal’s fault because she doesn’t know better, but she assumes Yael’s gender (twice, both wrongly), and keeps referring to Yael as “she” in her internal narration. As a nonbinary person who passes as a cis girl, every little “she” by Opal was like another knife wound. It was horrible to read. I would like to say that the author is nonbinary, so I’m sure they have a reason for writing the book this way, but for me, it almost made me put it down. There is also a pretty ugly comment from a bigoted uncle later on.

The asexual representation: I don’t have much to say about Issac being asexual, mostly because it’s never mentioned outside the coming out scene. All I can say is that I /did/ like how the coming out scene was written, and I liked how Issac was defiant and prepared for the others to not think him queer enough, which is unfortunately a sad reality I face as an asexual person. I wish his identity was actually mentioned outside this one scene, but I realise you can only fit so much in one book, so I hope for more of this in the sequel.

The sapphic characters: Okay, so I’m not actually sure what the identities of the two girls are. I think Opal is a lesbian, but the word isn’t used for her. In her coming out scene, Jamie says something along the lines of “I’m not completely straight”, which might imply that she’s bi/pan and not exclusively attracted to girls, but it also might be downplaying it because she’s still questioning.

The Deaf main character: I would like to state that I am not Deaf, so I’m not going to make a judgment of the following, I’m just stating facts so potential readers can be prepared. One of the main characters loses their hearing early on, and trying to “fix” this is a big plot point for the rest of the book. In the end, this character seems to give up on “fixing” themself… for now. It is implied that they might try again in the far future. Also, there are many, many comments that talk about “fixing” and “being normal again”. (There are also positive aspects, especially later on, for example the siblings immediately making steps to learn ASL to make this character more comfortable.)

Overall, I loved this book, although I really wish that the beginning with Yael being closeted would have been handled differently, because it was really hurtful to read. Still, once the correct pronouns were used, I didn’t really have any other issues and just enjoyed the plot and the characters.

~ Alexa

Reviews

In Which I Read Julia Ember and Spread Love For F/F Fantasy (Unicorn Tracks & The Seafarer’s Kiss)

Julia Ember is a writer of fantasy books with (mostly) sapphic main characters. Unicorn Tracks is her debut novel, but The Seafarer’s Kiss seems to be the most popular. I recently read both of her books in the same month (although in reverse order – I read the Seafarer’s Kiss first) and decided to do a double review.

Unicorn TracksUNICORN TRACKS

Mnemba is a tour guide at her cousin’s business where she leads tourists in the wilderness to track rare animals such as… chimeras, manticores, freshwater mermaids and occasionally unicorns?! This story takes place in a fictional fantasy country based on Africa (specifically South Africa if I’m correct), and I loved how most of the story/world was actually realistic, except for, you know, the magical creatures casually living alongside lions and such. The main characters are both sixteen years old girls (so it was a little strange that the blurb refers to them as women) who navigate their own attraction to each other as they try to uncover a plot to use unicorns for illegal deeds. The book is quite short, so there isn’t too much time for details, but we still learn some things about both Mnemba’s and Kara’s cultures. I especially liked the way Mnemba’s culture treated “blood crimes” (mostly rape and murder), which is a big plot point in the book.

tw: mentions of past rape, people expecting the survivor to forgive the rapist, and also an in-book attempted rape

The Seafarer's Kiss (The Seafarer's Kiss #1)THE SEAFARER’S KISS

The Seafarer’s Kiss is a Norse mythology retelling of The Little Mermaid where instead of a sea witch, the main character makes a deal with Loki, god of lies, whose month she was born in.

It actually had much less focus on the love interest than I expected, and more focus on the bisexual main character wanting to get away from an oppressive regime and outplaying the god of trickery. I loved how it was stated explicitly several times that while Ragna is neat, Ersel made her choices for herself (and in some cases her mother/community) only.

I know some people have issues with the fact that the only nonbinary character in the book is the literal god of lies and deceit, and those are entirely valid feelings. I definitely would have appreciated more nonbinary characters (and hope that maybe the sequel will be better in this respect?) but I also have a weak spot for Loki. I loved their representation and how they were both angry and impressed when Ersel outsmarted them.

I can’t wait to see Ragna’s half of the story.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume Three: A Collection of LGBTQAI+ Fairytales

Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume ThreeTitle: Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume Three
Author(s): W.M. Fawkes, Valentine Wheeler, Mark Lesney,  Sam Burns, A.E. Ross, Elna Holst, N.J. Romaine
Series: Once Upon a Rainbow #3
Genre: LGBTQAI+, Fantasy, Retelling
Published: July 2nd 2018 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: mostly gay and lesbian main characters, including a couple that are asexual, bi or transgender
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Your favorite stories from childhood have a new twist. Seven fairy tales of old with characters across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

Green Things Grow from Cinders by A.E. Ross – Glass slippers aren’t for everyone.

Gretel on Her Own by Elna Holst – This time around, Gretel Kindermann is on her own. Or is she?

Bremen Town Musicians by Mark Lesney – Loss and love on the road to Bremen Town.

The Scent of Magic by N.J. Romaine – Who can win a hunt against the Big Bad Wolf?

The Rescue by Sam Burns – Saving princesses is hard work. Getting out of marrying them is harder.

Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe by Valentine Wheeler – The shoe fits, the prince is won: now what?

Baile de la Marioneta by W.M. Fawkes – No one else can pull his strings.

Average rating: 4 stars

Overall thoughts: This was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some stories I really loved, and others I really didn’t. I did appreciate that it wasn’t only cis LG retellings, and there were ace and trans characters in some of the stories as well. (Well, one of each, really.)

baile de marioneta by w.m. fawkes: cis M/M. A guy carves a naked guy from wood for his class and the wood guy comes to life. The moment where I realised this was a Pinocchio retelling (for an older age group, certainly) was during the sex scene where the wooden guy started lying and well, it wasn’t his nose that grew. I was going to give it 3 stars on its own, but compared to some of the others it’s 2.5 at best for me.

loose in the hell, tight in the toe by valentine wheeler: This story doesn’t center romance – it’s about a lesbian Cinderella and an asexual prince getting married for their mutual benefit, and also about Cinderella helping her stepsisters and other young girls who are being forced into marriages get away from their abusive family. I also loved that the Fairy Godmother couldn’t magically solve everything, so Cinderella stepped up and did it herself. 5 stars.

green things grow from cinders by a.e.ross: trans M/cis M. Another Cinderella retelling, this time in a modern setting and with a trans guy Cinderella and a cis guy “prince”, which is certainly a first for me. I absolutely loved this story, and I loved how Roman never really commented on Ash being trans, and also how Roman was explicitly bi. Also, I love the title. tw: unintentional misgendering (Ash isn’t out to his friends at first). 5 stars.

the scent of magic by n.j. romaine: cis F/F. This story had everything. It’s a Little Red Riding Hood retelling where the Red/Wolf/Hunter trio isn’t what you’d expect, but it also has a Sleeping Beauty sideplot with a nonbinary Sleeping Beauty (kudos for introducing me to the word “princet”), and also lots of faeries and fae court politics. My only complaint is that it wasn’t a full-length novel: I would have loved to see the rescue of the prince itself. 5 stars.

the rescue by sam burns: cis M/M. “Saving princesses is hard work. Getting out of marrying them is harder.” This was a little funny because I was /so sure/ that I knew the twist but then the twist ended up being something completely different. It’s a M/M romance between a knight and… the friend of a princess. I’m giving 4.5 stars in comparison to the others, because it didn’t quite measure up to the ones I rated 5 stars, but it was still great.

the bremen town musicians by mark lesney: cis M/M. Ehhhhhhh. So like, this is a retelling of a tale with animals, where the characters are actually humans this time but they’re still kind of treated as animals. Also, you know that thing in fairytales when there’s some really fucked up abuse or violence going on but you never really question it as a kid, especially with animal characters? Well, this story has that too, but either because of my age or the human characters it’s more difficult to overlook. tldr; I didn’t enjoy reading this. There is a m/m romance sideplot but it’s not really central. tw: abuse, casual discussion of rape, gy*psy slur used several times. 2.5 stars

gretel on her own by elna holst: This is a cis F/F story where I couldn’t decide whether it’s supposed to be a mystery/horror or a romance, and for most of the story I wondered if there was going to be a positive ending at all. Constant suspicion of the love interest isn’t really what I want in a romance, but I suppose the constant suspicion/questioning was the point. 3.5 stars.

~ Alexa

Reviews

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

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

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

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

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

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

My rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Broad Knowledge

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

My rating: 3.75 stars (rounded to 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Baker Thief

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Into the Mystic, Volume 3

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Free Chocolate

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Art of Escaping

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

~ Alexa