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

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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

Reviews

The Navigator’s Touch: From Ariel to Captain Hook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Benefit of Being an Octopus: A Clever and Brave Middle Grade Novel

The Benefits of Being an OctopusTitle: The Benefits of Being an Octopus
Author(s): Ann Braden
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Middle Grade
Published: September 4th 2018 by Sky Pony Press
LGBTQAI+: gay side character
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange from an honest review.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

My rating: 5 stars

This is a scary, brave, complicated, important book. It’s a book about getting out of abusive relationships, about the gun control debate, about things not being black-and-white, about bullying, about speaking up, about a girl with the weight of the world on her soldiers, and yes, about octopuses, too.

That’s one of the things about people on that beautiful tropical island: they can’t see who’s floating about in the ocean around them. Or maybe they can and they just choose not to look. I don’t know.

The Benefits of Being an Octopus is about a 13-year-old girl Zoey who lives with her mother and her three small siblings in her mother’s boyfriend’s trailer. There is a lot of focus on surviving and supporting your family while poor, including the power being cut off, applying for benefits, not being able to wash your clothes, and the other kids at school laughing at you. It’s about the bitter feeling when it seems like the other kids are allowed to have Valentine’s Day gifts as their biggest problem, but you aren’t.

This book was really difficult to read at times, with many parent figures and adults who have failed these children. Some of them were trying their best and ended up doing better, while others were toxic and people you needed to get away from.

I remember thinking several times that these kids (both Zoey and some of her classmates) sound older than they are, that their debate club sounds like something we’d have at college, but then I realised that I have the wrong view on 13-year-olds and they are more mature than I’d think. I’m glad that they are, but it’s sad to feel like they have to be. There were so many things in this book that in an ideal world kids Zoey’s age shouldn’t have to deal with.

Overall, this was a difficult that very important book that deals with many different issues that some real kids have to deal with every day.

Also, shout out to teachers who notice when something is wrong and go out of their way to help.

Reviews

A Duke By Default: My Favourite Dynamic in a Romance Novel

A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2)Title: A Duke by Default
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: July 31st 2018 by Avon
LGBTQAI+: none
Other representation: 
Black American heroine, Scottish/Chilean hero with a Jamaican stepfather, multiple side characters of color
I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange from an honest review.

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice—and his attraction to her—but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Rating: 5 (hundred) stars

I heard great things about A Princess in Theory, a romance novel with a Black heroine in foster care studying science, with a Black prince love interest. While non-YA romance with M/F pairings is a relatively new genre to me, I was excited to get my hands on an ARC of the sequel, A Duke by Default. In the end, this novel ended up being everything I hoped it would be.

In A Duke by Default, the POV alternates between Portia, an American woman who takes an internship in Scotland, and Tavish, a swordmaker who is really into Scottish history and is supposed to teach Portia how to make swords as well. From the very beginning, their dynamic was everything I loved: there is some age difference, but an even bigger difference in lifestyle. Portia is young, an expert at search engines and social media, and immediately eager to redesign the website of Tavish’s armory. Tavish hates being recorded, doesn’t answer the phone most days, and just wants to be left in peace to make his swords and take care of his community. Portia tries her best to act easy-going and confident, but in reality, she has extreme self-esteem issues due to her undiagnosed ADHD and dismissal from her parents. Tavish is a grump and kind of an asshole, but he holds free classes and hands out meals to the kids and teens in the community.

Since Portia and Tavish are so different, their relationship starts out rough. There is really only one thing they agree on: neither of them needs a workplace (or any kind of) relationship to complicate their lives even further, not even if sparks fly between them from the first moment. I loved how they both tried to convince each other they didn’t need or want this, even as their banter grew more playful and their attraction undeniable. While I usually scroll through sex scenes, with these two and this writer I found even those worth reading. In short, their dynamic was truly everything I wanted.

Our protagonists both have whole, vivid lives outside of the romance. Portia has issues with her family and feels constantly compared to her twin sister, who seems better at everything. Tavish works at the armory with his brother and sister-in-law, and calls her Chilean mother’s Jamaican husband his father instead of the white Scottish man he never met. Gentrification, racism and contemporary backlash against immigration in Scotland are all important themes in the novel, both before and after Tavish finds out that his absent biological father happened to be a Royal Duke. There is also significant criticism towards the aristocracy and royalty, and some glorious geekiness as well.

I loved both Portia’s and Tavish’s relationships with their siblings, and I really, really loved the relatable and validating portrayal of finding out as an adult that maybe you have ADHD and all the things giving you insecurity have an explanation. I also fell in love with Johan, who is a side character in this book but will be the hero in the next one, so I can’t wait to get my hands on A Prince on Paper as soon as it comes out.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Was This Book Written For Me?

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings, #1)Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author(s): Mackenzi Lee
Series: Montague Siblings #1
Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBTQAI+
Published: June 27th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
LGBTQAI+: bisexual protagonist, biracial + bisexual male love interest, a-spec side character (the latter is not detailed in this book, but there are hints)

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

“I flirted my way into this mess and I’m going to flirt my way out of it”
– Monty, probably

My rating: 5 stars

It was strange to read this book right after Six of Crows (a hyped book that ultimately disappointed me) because this one is just as hyped and I loved it exactly as much as everyone said I would.

The Gentleman’s Guide had everything I personally wanted or needed: a bisexual protagonist, a biracial love interest, an incredibly soft friends-to-lovers romance with some mutual pining and slow burn, a girl who just really wants to be a doctor in the 1700s, a complicated sibling relationship, and complex characters all around. Also, travelling, and specifically travelling while being chased because you accidentally uncovered a huge secret and now that you’re in this mess you just have to see it through.

I was in love from the first scene, which was a little strange, because I usually find it uncomfortable to read about characters being drunk or hungover. Still, Monty does it so endearingly and Mackenzi Lee writes so nicely that I only found the opening funny and captivating.

Perhaps I am trying to procreate with all these lads and I’m just very misinformed about the whole process. If only Eton hadn’t thrown me out.

At first glance, Monty is the epitome of the privileged rich, white, abled guy who – despite having good intentions and not being intentionally mean – has many flaws and misconceptions about disabled people and people of colour. He himself states at the beginning of the novel that he’s had an easy life, and nothing bad has ever happened to him. And yet, it doesn’t take too long to find out that it’s not true at all: he’s been emotionally and physically abused, he’s been made to feel inadequate and trapped, for more reasons than “just” for lying with men. There were many scenes in this book where I found myself mad at Monty, but in the end I loved how he had plenty of flaws and you could see him try to do better and improve when he clearly had a long way to go. He was very relatable, and I never thought I’d relate to a rich kid from the 1700s.

I don’t know how Felicity knows what bones are meant to feel like.
I’m also not clear how Felicity knows the best way to throw a punch.

Felicity is a teenage girl who longs for a proper education and medical school, and watches her brother throw away the opportunities that she’ll never have because of her gender. She is also an incredibly funny and headstrong girl who cares about both Percy and Monty, even if they don’t get along with the latter. I can’t wait to see a book from her POV in the sequel, because words cannot describe how amazing she is. She was also very relatable, mainly in her love of books and not being good at parties.

Lucky for me as well, or else we might never have met, and then what would have been the point of my life?

With Percy, I’m a little conflicted. I felt like he didn’t have much personality outside of being biracial and experiencing racism + his relationship with Monty + a spoiler-y disability that becomes an important plot point. Of course, these are all big things and part of his identity (and I loved how living as a dark-skinned man and as a disabled man in the 1700s was addressed), but I still felt like something was lacking.

The only complaint I really have that this book had two different jokes about slitting your wrists, which is both unnecessary and something I’m personally pretty sensitive about, so it wasn’t pleasant to read. (I know it’s a little contrary, because joking about being dead or even killing yourself is something depressed/suicidal people often do as coping, but here both of the wrists comments felt kind of careless and very different from the heavy scene where Monty says he wants to die.)

warnings: significant homophobia and racism because of the time period, physical and emotional abuse by a parent, the aforementioned suicide jokes

~ Alexa