Reviews

The Queen of Rhodia: F/F Fantasy with Established Relationship and DRAGONS

The Queen of Rhodia (Tales of Inthya Book 3)Title: The Queen of Rhodia
Author(s): Effie Calvin
Series: Tales of Inthya #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 280
Published: 
May 27th 2019 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: F/F main ship between pansexual mains, F/F side ship
Other: fat protagonist

It has been sixteen months since Princess Esofi arrived in Ieflaria, and eight since her marriage to Crown Princess Adale. The princesses have a peaceful life together, preparing to become co-regents and raising their baby dragon, Carinth.

Their peace is shattered when Esofi’s mother, Queen Gaelle of Rhodia, arrives in Birsgen. She has heard about Carinth and believes that she deserves custody of him due to her greater devotion to Talcia, Goddess of Magic.

Adale and Esofi have no intention of giving up their son, but Gaelle is impossible to reason with—and there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to in order to get what she wants.

5+ stars

This fantasy series deserves so much love. I mean, come on! Pansexual princesses in love! Talking dragons! Goddesses and warriors! What’s not to love?

The Queen of Rhodia follows the pansexual F/F couple who got together in the first book, now in an established relationship, with the F/F couple from the second book appearing as side characters.

Esofi and Adale are married now, and they never run out of things to do. Adele is finally learning how to govern from her parents, Esofi is working on establishing a university for magical students, and they are raising a son together, who just happens to be a baby dragon. But when both news of a dragon wanting to talk to Esofi AND Esofi’s mother arrives in Ieflaria, they have even more to deal with than they would have thought…

I loved how realistically their differences and occasionally relationship problems were written. Esofi and Adale both have their own insecurities, and Esofi, like many abused children, has views that she doesn’t even realise are wrong, because they were normal when she was growing up. I love how Adale doesn’t judge her, but still makes it clear that those things are wrong, and Esofi’s mother was wrong to do them.

We learn more about the dragons and also Lisette, who was one of my favourites in book one, which was great. Svana and her brother are back, which is also great! There is so much worldbuilding potential in this series, and I’m eager to learn more about the elves and the Nightshades and the Empire. I admit I skipped book two, but I’m fully intending to go back and read it eventually, and meeting the characters here only gave me more motivation (but unfortunately, not money).

That being said, there were a couple of things in the worldbuilding that felt like missed opportunities to me. In the world of the series, a third gender, here called neutroi are officially recognised – but at least in the two books I read, we don’t actually meet a single neutroi who has more than a few lines.

There is a ritual called Change, where basically they can change one’s sex with magic – it’s something many people use to experiment or to have children, but it is mentioned that there are people who chose to stay permanently Changed, which would be equivalent of transgender people. Again, we never actually MEET anyone who is like this, or at least we don’t know about it. I know it’s probably a personal topic so it would be more difficult to bring up, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to have someone drop a comment about it.

There is also a kind of weird scene where Adale mentally compares gay and straight people (those who are only attracted to one gender) to a woman who refuses to date taller than her. She actually corrects herself, because gay and straight people don’t have a choice about their attractions, and it’s clearly just Adale’s opinion, but it was still weird and I want to mention it for others.

Finally, humans in the series are called Men instead of just Humans, which is… something I would have expected in a “mainstream” fantasy that replicates real-world sexism, but it was jarring to read in a book with pansexual princesses that has very different gender roles from ours. There is also a scene where Adale is speaking about a culprit whose gender she doesn’t know and she defaults to saying “him” instead of “them” (even though her main suspect is a woman, so it can’t even be a Freudian slip). It’s not necessarily bad, but male default language in this world didn’t make much sense to me.

Overall, I loved this book, and I absolutely adore this series and I’m eager to see the other countries that we’ll visit in future books. The next one is titled Empress of Xytae, and the princess of Xytae was mentioned briefly in this book, so I’m excited to see more of her – although she’s a liiitle too young for a YA protagonist.

NOTE: The book does give a trigger warning about past child abuse, but I didn’t really feel like it was accurate/enough. It is true that Esofi is not a child anymore and currently living away from her mother, so the abuse is less obvious, but it’s still clearly there in their present-time interactions, along with its effects on Esofi’s own views. So, consider this an extra warning that the child abuse is a central part of the story, not just a passing thing.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Into the Drowning Deep: Killer Mermaids and Killer Writing

Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1)Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author(s): Mira Grant [ Seanan McGuire ]
Series: Rolling in the Deep #1
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Pages: 256
Published: 
November 14th 2017 by Orbit
LGBTQAI+: a bisexual main & an autistic lesbian main
Other: two deaf characters

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

5+ stars

Yes, I do know that post title is terrible, thank you.

Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant) keeps destroying my emotions by writing complicated human relationships. Also, I had a nightmare about killer mermaids while I was reading this.

First impression: I was conflicted about the very long intro. On the one hand, I liked getting to know these characters, and how they were diverse and different, and getting to know them definitely raised the stakes. On the other hand, at around 120 pages I just really wanted to get to the action already.

I liked that there were many POVs (including some unexpected ones), and that not all of the characters were likeable, but in their own POV they justified their actions even if others disagreed.

Despite being a scary book, this was still funny at a lot of points, with the sarcastic comments and cat metaphors I have learned to expect from this author.

Of course, like with most horror books, there are definitely some frustrating parts where you are shouting at the characters to stop being stupid and actually realise how much danger they are in. Still, there were some twists later on that surprised me and that I really liked.

I also liked how diverse the book was (a bisexual main, an autistic lesbian main, multiple deaf mains), although in a book where anyone can die at anytime that’s always a double-edged sword.

I admit that I don’t deal well with books where a lot of characters die (I am invested in most books BECAUSE of the characters, so if you remove them, you remove my main interest), and my interest strongly plummeted at one point when one of my favourites seemed to die. In this case, I was quite lucky because most of my favourites survived, and the deaths were mostly those that I didn’t really care for anyway.

Finally, one of my favourite parts was – well, the mermaids, really. I loved how their intelligence and culture was gradually shown as the scientist found out more, and man, I loved Jillian being so completely done with everyone else. Also, all the conflicting emotions from these people who loved and feared and respected the ocean.

Into the Drowning Deep has a prequel novella, Rolling in the Deep, which was limited edition and currently only the audiobook is available from what I could see. I listened to it and I really liked that one as well, but it was… very similar to the main book. We learned the same things in both of them, and I had pretty much the same likes and dislikes in both, which is why I’m not writing a separate review.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Gender Queer: The Memoir Teen-Me Needed

Gender Queer: A MemoirTitle: Gender Queer: A Memoir
Author(s): Maia Kobabe
Series: 
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Graphic Novel
Pages: 240
Published: 
May 28th 2019 by Lion Forge
LGBTQAI+: memoir by a genderqueer bi/asexual author

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

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

5 hundred stars

While reading this graphic novel, my most common thought was “holy shit”, usually paired with “that’s me!”. It was like the author reached into my brain to pluck out my thoughts, memories and experiences, and turned them into drawings. Only, of course, e was doing the same with eir own memories – which happened to be hauntingly similar to mine. I firmly believe that if I had read this book before I was 18, I would have found my identity much sooner.

120Gender Queer is a memoir that tells a story of a person growing up questioning both eir sexuality and gender. It addresses many issues that are described in the blurb, such as coming out to friends and family, feeling ignorant around your peers who seem to have more experience than you, relationships and being ready to be in them, listening to David Bowie, wanting to have life experiences as research for fanfiction, feelings about menstruation, having children, and much else.

Maia tells the story of eir childhood with beautiful illustrations, and honest even about the uncomfortable truths. Like most teens, Maia also used to be ignorant about some issues that e now knows better about, such as the dangers of using ace bandages. The only thing I would have appreciated more critical thinking on is the erotic gay shipping that is often used to fetishize gay men. There are several scenes where Maia and eir friends write fanfiction, including about real people, and mention several popular gay ships – and again, I don’t judge em and eir friends for these, but I still would have appreciated a couple of sentences about this shipping can be toxic as well as validating.

179

But really, what really struck me was how much I related to these experiences. Some scenes, like realising other girls shave their legs and I don’t, not being able to describe what haircut you want and then hating it, having a conversation with a mother about having children, wearing pants to graduation, and even playing a boy character in drama class brought up memories that happened to me, occasionally ones that I haven’t thought of or related to my gender journey.

Overall, Gender Queer is a beautifully written and drawn, honest account of a genderqueer bi/asexual person’s life. It’s special to me because I related to it so much, but I think anyone can enjoy it, and many queer people regardless of identity can find relatable moments in it. (There were also a lot of aro-relatable moments, although I’m not sure if the author identifies as aromantic as well or not.)

  • “It was everyone else being silly, not me.”
  • “This seed put out many leaves, but I didn’t have the language to identify the plant.”
  • “Friendship is NINE THOUSAND TIMES better than romance!”
  • “I’d be constantly resenting my kid for taking up all my time. I’m way too selfish for parenting.”
  • “I wish I didn’t fear that my identity is too political for a classroom.”

59

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Queer International Romance We Deserve: Red, White & Royal Blue

Red, White & Royal BlueTitle: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author(s): Casey McQuiston
Series: 
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 432
Published: 
May 14th 2019 by St. Martin’s Griffin
LGBTQAI+: bisexual & gay male leads; bi, gay, trans and pansexual side characters
Other representation: biracial Mexican/white lead, Latino side characters

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

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

5 (thousand) stars

There was so much goodness in this book, I barely know where to start.

Red, White & Royal Blue is written from the perspective of Alex, the biracial son of the first female president of the United States. His parents are divorced, but his Mexican father is still a supportive presence in his life. Along with his older sister and their bisexual friend Nora, they form the White House Trio. And of course, there’s Prince Henry – grandson of the Queen of England, who has been Alex’s rival for years, and he’s all boring and white and not handsome or cute, not at all, not even a little bit.

Henry and Alex go from rivals to forced friends to real friends to secret lovers, separated by an ocean, as well as the expectations of their families and their entire countries. Through long-distance calls, pop culture references, quotes from love letters by historical figures and a painting of Alexander Hamilton, this romance is one history will remember.

Interwoven with the romance, there is also heavy criticism of British imperialism, corrupt and predatory politicans, racism and homophobia in history, the price of trying to keep a traditional image, and more. Henry and Alex are surrounded by families and friends who love their respective countries and wish to see them flourish, but without ignoring the bigotry in their past and present.

Also: give me more New Adult fiction with 20-something protagonists!

In short, this book is easily one of my favourite reads this year.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Rescues and the Rhyssa: F/F sci-fi adventure

Rescues and the RhyssaTitle: Rescues and the Rhyssa
Author(s): T.S. Porter
Series: 
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: December 12th 2017 by Less Than Three Press
LGBTQAI+: F/F main ship
I received an ARC from the author through the Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on January 13th, 2019.

Cadan is cousin to the King of Nidum star system, and his favorite weapon to needle the Imperial forces encroaching on their territory. With her combat implants and a reckless streak the size of a planet, Cadan has never failed him. 

Pan Sophi, Captain of the Rhyssa, is a smuggler who makes her living off the tensions. With her crew behind her, Sophi’s always on the lookout for the next deal. Anything to keep flying. 

They only get along when they’re falling into bed together. Otherwise the clash between Cadan’s idealism and Sophi’s harsher worldview always results in a fight. But when the King’s children are kidnapped, only Sophi has the skills to help Cadan get them back.

5 stars

Two occasional lovers with many differences team up to save three kidnapped kids. And then it gets even more complicated.

Sophi is the captain of a smuggler ship with a diverse crew, including two types of aliens, a nonbinary human, and Muslim humans as well, if I understood the cultural clues right. They are quite literally a found family, especially with the reptile-like aliens who accept Sophi into their family as a male based on her role, despite her being a human female. I absolutely LOVED the aliens we’ve seen, and the fact that we had the opportunity to see from their perspective. Both the analoids and the blatta were well-developed, unique and complex species with their own culture that is very different from humans, and seeing Sophi as a human make the effort to take part in that culture and adjust was really interesting. (No spoilers, but there was a scene pretty late in the book that showed the crucial importance of having blattas on your ship and it was amazing. I love blattas.)

And then there’s Cadan. Cadan is big, dangerous, scarred, and she doesn’t exist. She has been turned into a weapon for her King that she is endlessly loyal to: she goes where he tells him too without question. And yet, she’s far from being emotionless. We find out early on that she is actually part of the king’s family: his children are her niblings, the king is like a cousin or even a sibling, and she is devoted to all of them because she loves them. I loved to see Cadan with her blood family just as much as I loved to see Sophi with her found family. Both of these families had unique members and plenty of love and care for each other despite their differences. I also really love the idea of a transgender king where it is only casually mentioned once because otherwise it’s not a big deal to anyone. And I love the kids. Seriously, I love the kids.

And of course, there’s Cadan and Sophi together. They are very different people with different values and different goals, which causes a lot of tension in their relationship. Yet, they love each other. There are plenty of sex scenes in this book, some of which seriously made me blush, but one of my favourite scenes was the completely non-sexual yet intimate bondage scene that Sophi used to relax Cadan. I admit that sometimes I felt like there is too much tension and not enough common ground between them for this to actually work as a romantic relationship as opposed to casual sex, but the ending/epilogue was open enough that I can believe them getting to that point.

If you are looking for a F/F sci-fi story with well-developed aliens, relationship conflicts and family dynamics, this might just be for you. I know that I enjoyed it.

content warnings: kidnapping, violence, explicit sexual scenes

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Little Familiar: Magical Queer Story with Witches

A Little Familiar (Familiar Spirits, #1)Title: A Little Familiar
Author(s): R. Cooper
Series: Familiar Spirits #1
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy
Pages: 91
Published: 
October 3rd 2015
LGBTQAI+: gay main character, genderfluid (?) love interest
On-page sex: yes

A powerful witch, Piotr Russell has resigned himself to loneliness, because ordinary humans can’t know what he is, and other witches are intimidated by his abilities. Generations of Russells have lived and died with only their familiars at their side. The presence of a friendly familiar is enough to keep even the loneliest witch sane, and yet Piotr deliberately hasn’t chosen one.

The rarest of rare jewels, Bartleby is a human familiar: a witch with no magic of his own, and a desire to find a strong witch to help and serve. In particular, he desires to help and serve Piotr, and everything in Piotr wants to let him. Bartleby was meant to be his familiar; Piotr knows it as surely as he knows when it will rain or when the apples in his garden will ripen. But what Piotr wants from Bartleby, all he’s ever wanted, is for Bartleby to love him, something he thinks is impossible.

Russells live and die unloved, and he won’t allow Bartleby to feel obligated to spend his life with him as his familiar if he could be happy in love with someone else. But Samhain is a time for change, when walls come down and borders grow thin, and Bartleby isn’t going to waste what might be his last chance to convince Piotr that they were meant to be. He might have no magic, but love is a power all its own.

5 stars

“All that, and they’d have to want me too. That seems like a lot to ask of anyone, Bartleby. That’s a job as well as a husband. Why take that on, for a great big boring grouchy bear?”

I wanted my first review of the year to be of a queer story that I really enjoyed, and preferably one that is self-published and/or lesser known. So, here we are.

A Little Familiar is a truly magical read, and I’m not only saying that because it’s about two queer witches. This was one of those books where I absolutely adored the writing style, and I felt like the descriptions really brought the story to life. I could almost taste the cinnamon, apple and pumpkins. It also had a couple of metaphors that I’m STILL squeeing over, because they are so accurate and descriptive, and yet I never would have thought of them.

  • His rage was the gentlest rage imaginable, the briefest, quietest maelstrom in a teacup.
  • His anger was fierce and soft, stinging like kitten’s claws.

There’s a lot of pining in this book, which was excruciating but beautiful to read. The story is from Piotr’s POV, and seeing him be absolutely smitten with Bartleby was amazing, mostly because I was also absolutely smitten with Bartleby.

Bartleby is exactly my type of character, in style, personality, the fact that he’s compared to a trickster spirit, and the fact that he’s genderfluid. Or, is he? It’s a little confusing, because here’s this quote that states he isn’t:

He wasn’t genderfluid, at least, not how Piotr understood the term, but then again perhaps he was. Bartleby was… Bartleby. He wore what he chose to wear and acted how he chose to act. He’d never requested to be addressed by another pronoun or name, he simply was, like a trickster deity of old, although one not interested in deception.

But honestly, Bartleby is so obviously nonbinary in the entire book, that I have a suspicion Piotr (whose POV the above quote is from) just doesn’t get that genderfluid people can exist without necessarily using different names or pronouns. I mean, seriously:

“I’m, um,” Bartleby said, and didn’t immediately finish his thought. He had slipped a barrette into his hair and his lips were sparkling with gloss. The Dorchester Grocery shirt and red coat were familiar, but he had on a wool skirt and indigo tights. “I’m this me, today.”

In conclusion, I definitely read Bartleby as nonbinary, and the representation really worked for me personally as a nonbinary person.

Please read this book and fall in love with Bartleby with me. (Piotr was also great, but let’s be honest, Bartleby stole the entire show for me.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

Why Did I Wait So Long to Read This: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Author(s): Becky Chambers
Series: Wayfarers #1
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Published: August 13th 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton
LGBTQAI+: Sapphic main characters in a slowburn relationship, aliens with different concepts of gender, probably something else I missed?

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

Rating: 5 stars, favourited

I’m pretty sure this book invented the concept of “found family”.

First, I was kind of surprised by how much the title actually fits the book: yes, this is indeed the description of a long journey to a war-torn planet, with everything that entails. A lot of the journey is getting to know the characters and their cultures, so the plot might seem slow at times, but then something big or dangerous happens and you have to hold your breath. And then it completely destroys you emotionally. So yeah, it was a wild ride, but let’s not rush ahead.

I loved how diverse the inhabitants of the galaxy were: I didn’t feel like the aliens were just slightly different humans, they were all completely unique in biology, looks, culture and history as well. I loved how those cultures sometimes clashed, and the crew members had trouble really accepting something from someone else’s (like in the case of Sissix or Ohan), but they still respected the other crew members and their culture. I found the way Sissix’s people treat families especially interesting – some part of it, like the polyamorous living with your lovers/friends type of thing was appealing, while other parts were admittedly strange for my human brain, but at least I know Ashby and Rosemary shared those thoughts with me. I also loved how Dr Chef’s species treated gender as something that changes over time for their species.

Not only the aliens are unique either: the humans in this book also have different groups with different views, including the Exodans who have left behind their species’ bloody past and became completely pacifists with strong principles on holding guns. I loved how Ashby’s views were explored and handled, and I loved the strong anti-colonialism message.

And the found family aspect? Just, wow. These people love each other so much. Sissix and Ashby are so good. Jenks and Kizzy are so good. Dr Chef’s talk with Rosemary about their species is so good. Ohan and Corbin appear less often, but when they do, they destroy your emotions, especially in the second half of the book. One of my favourite moments was when Corbin gets in trouble (not describing the trouble obviously, because spoilers), and Sissix is SO annoyed because she hates his guts, but she still doesn’t even consider not helping him.

There are also some complicated or questionable moral decisions that come from the difference in the cultures, most importantly in Ohan’s case. I can tell you honestly that I’m not sure how to feel about what happened to him in the end, and I don’t know what would have been the right path there. I just don’t know.

Lovey and Jenks and the whole storyline about AI and their consent was amazing. (It also gave me very strong Joker/EDI vibes, but hey.) And then it destroyed me and honestly this is another storyline that I’m not yet sure how I feel about, but it’s supposed to be in the center of the sequel so hopefully reading that will help me judge it.

As for the F/F ship that develops as a pretty slow burn, I have… neutral thoughts? I liked it, but I wasn’t truly feeling it. Still, it was nice to have casual LGBT characters, like Rosemary’s sexuality or Kizzy’s dads.

Random little bits I loved:
* If you don’t know somebody’s gender, it’s polite to default to xyr pronouns.
* The part towards the end where Ashby acts the AI’s name and he acts so confused and thinks he’s in trouble.
* Humans being like “holy shit she’s sixteen” and Sissix being like “wait how much is that? translate it to my species please.”
* “Come on. Put on your trousers. I want to meet the woman who gets to take them off.”
* Jenks staying to listen to a non-sentient AIs entire intro speech, to be polite.

~ Alexa

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

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

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