Reviews

Review: The Murderbot Diaries #1-2

32758901Let me introduce you to my new favourite sci-fi novella series with a double review of the first two books.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

All Systems Red

This book was exactly as good as everyone said it would be, and the reason for that is 80% the main character, Murderbot. About 15% is the rest of the crew, and maybe 5% the plot. Which doesn’t mean the plot is bad, actually – but Murderbot and its personality stole the spotlight so completely that the plot was secondary (tertiary?) to me.

Murderbot (as it calls itself) is officially a SecUnit, a security construct with both organic and inorganic parts that is supposed to have no free will and protect the company’s clients on surveys and missions. In reality, Murderbot has overriden its government module and has complete free will, only it has to hide this fact to avoid being discarded. It does its job more-or-less, but mostly it just likes to be left alone and watch entertainment/serials/the equivalent of TV shows I guess.

And that is only one of Murderbot’s super relatable qualities. I’m not sure saying that a construct has anxiety would be correct, but Murderbot certainly shows the signs. It doesn’t like to talk to humans, and it doesn’t even like humans looking at it.

As for the crew, only a few of them really stand out for me, but I loved their little interactions with each other, their surprise and arguments about Murderbot’s personhood, and the way they (especially Dr. Mensah) made an effort to accomodate Murderbot’s needs and make sure it’s comfortable.

As I said, the plot was secondary to me, but I still enjoyed it and felt the tension at several parts where I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending – I would have to read the sequel to really decide on that – but I really hope that characters from this first book will pop up later on as well.

ALSO: While there is no central romance in this book, several side characters are mentioned to be in polyamorous relationship. In fact, polyamory appears normalised and quite common in this universe, which was amazing to see.

36223859Artificial Condition

I liked protecting people and things. I liked figuring out smart ways to protect people and things. I liked being right.

I loved this book because while it had three humans for Murderbot to protect, it also had several bots that were shown to have emotions and form bonds with each other. And I’m not only talking about ART, the one Murderbot befriends, but also several sidecharacter bots (including a spoiler-y part) who went beyond their orders and programming.

As Murderbot has no interest in sex or romance, there is no main romantic relationship in any of these books, and as Murderbot isn’t human, it can’t really count as nonbinary representation despite having no gender – however, the same isn’t true for side characters. The first book had several polyamorous relationships mentioned, and suggested that polyamory was quite common and normalised in this society. This is also true in this book, where a group marriage with kids is casually brought up at one pont, but what I really liked was that there was a nonbinary character with a gender identity that seemed to be specific to the character’s community. (The pronouns used were te/ter, which is not a pronoun set I’ve ever seen, but I’m always happy to see new pronouns I’m unfamiliar with.)

Again, this book had plenty of relatable anxiety moments from Murderbot; two bots working together and trying to pass as human; bots having emotions and protecting people out of their own will; normalised polyamory and nonbinary genders, and plenty of other great stuff. One of my favourite moments was when Murderbot got overwhelmed/stressed out and its bot friend played the soundtrack of its favourite serial to help, but the book is really full of moments like that.

I don’t think I can ever get enough of Murderbot’s adventures.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

ARC Review: The Boy From Tomorrow

36504303The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis

Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Fiction, Time Travel
Published: May 8th 2018 by Amberjack Publishing
Pages: 268 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository

Josie and Alec both live at 444 Sparrow Street. They sleep in the same room, but they’ve never laid eyes on each other. They are twelve years old and a hundred years apart.

The children meet through a hand-painted talking board—Josie in 1915, Alec in 2015—and form a friendship across the century that separates them. But a chain of events leave Josie and her little sister Cass trapped in the house and afraid for their safety, and Alec must find out what’s going to happen to them.

Can he help them change their future when it’s already past?

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

I read this book almost in one sitting, because I simply needed to know what happened next. (Also, can we talk about how nice the cover is?)

As you can see from the blurb, this story is about two (technically three) children, Josie and Alec. They are the same age, and they live in the same house in the same room… a hundred years apart. I absolutely loved all the ways they managed to send messages to each other, like the letters or the writing on the windowsill. As Josie said, for every flower Alec found, they had to plant the seed first.

The chapters were relatively short, which made the book easier to read. Since this is a middle grade novel, I didn’t expect the plot to be too complicated, and maybe from an objective view you could call some of the parts cliché, but I still really enjoyed reading about these kids and their relationship.

And of course, there is the plotline that Alec tries to protect Josie and Cass from. I liked how both Alec and Emily (the girls’ instructor) made it clear that what was happening to the two children was not okay. I was both excited and scared for Josie and Cass, rooting for them to get out of that house and live their lives to the fullest.

In short, The Boy From Tomorrow was a quick and exciting read that I recommend to everyone.

My rating: 💌💌💌💌💌/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Sky in the Deep

Sky in the Deep_cover imageSky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Genre: Fantasy, YA
Published: April 24th 2018 by Wednesday Books
Pages: 352 (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Sex on page: No (fade-to-black yes)
LGBTQAI+: None

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient, rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

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

I am usually skeptical of books that get a lot of hype, especially books without queer characters. Based on the cover and the blurb, I also expected a cold, gritty, bloody tale of warriors and betrayal.

(Note: There are minor plot spoilers in this review, but honestly, the blurb already gives away a lot of things that happen quite late, so you won’t find anything major that’s not already in the blurb.)

“Do you know how?” Halvard asked, looking up at me from where he sat on the ground.
Inge laughed. “She has hair, doesn’t she?”
“I used to do my brother’s,” I answered. The breath caught in my chest.

Don’t get me wrong – I got all of that. There is cold and ice, there are betrayals, and there certainly are warriors. And yet, this book is anything but gritty. Finding out that her brother has been alive and living with the enemy all this time, and forced to live among the enemy for the winter, Eelyn is full of anger and betrayal and doubt.

And yet, there is so much gentleness in this book. Gentleness between Inge and her children. Gentleness between Eelyn’s brother and his new family. Gentleness between Eelyn and the Riki family she lives with. Gentleness between community members who help each other and take care of their own.

“We find things, just as we lose things, Eelyn.” Inge stood. “If you’ve lost your honor, you’ll find it again.”

In a lot of places, this book reminded me of Ice Massacre, another book of teenage warriors who are trained to kill and fight yearly against a specific enemy from a young age. I only read the first book in that trilogy, so I don’t know where the story goes – but Sky in the Deep is a standalone, so you get the ending in the first book, and it’s much more positive than I expected.

I am also wary of m/f romances in YA because many of them are built on no chemistry and toxic tropes, but that wasn’t the case here. This might be strange to say given the circumstances, but Eelyn and Fiske felt equal in their relationship from the beginning. I admit I didn’t read the whole blurb, so I wasn’t actually sure they would end up together at first, but I could feel the romance and the trust build between them.

I uttered the words that had once been said to me, the night my mother died. “You run into the forest. You don’t stop until morning. No matter what.”

In the end, this book had much less grittiness and betrayal, and much more gentleness and found families than I expected. And by that I mean, there are found families literally everywhere.

In short, Sky in the Deep was a beautiful standalone novel that had a violent plot in a cold climate, and yet still felt heartwarming.

Content warnings: attempted sexual assault. violence. cutting out an eyeball at one point.

My rating: 🗻🗻🗻🗻🗻/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Dracula: The Rise of the Beast

38920597Dracula: Rise of the Beast edited by David Thomas Moore

Genre: Anthology, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Abaddon Books
Length: 381 pages
Number of stories: 5
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository

GENESIS OF A MONSTER
Vlad III Drăcula. A warleader in a warlike time: brilliant, charismatic, pious. But what became of him? What drove him to become a creature of darkness—Bram Stoker’s cruel, ambitious “Un-Dead”—and what use did he make of this power, through the centuries?
More than a hundred years after the monster’s death, the descendants of the survivors piece together the story— dusty old manuscripts, court reports from the Holy Roman Empire at its height, stories of the Szgany Roma who once served the monster—trying to understand. Because the nightmare is far from over…
Five incredible fantasy authors come together to reveal a side to literature’s greatest monster you’ve never seen before.

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

I read this anthology very slowly – while it only has five stories, they were longer than in most anthologies I read… and also, because I was not used to seeing so many European names and words in English texts. And yet, that was exactly why this book was so amazing to read – so validating and encouraging, in a way, that I can still write and publish with a name like mine and with characters named like me.

This anthology was also unique because all five stories were connected by an outside story – in fact, the five stories all consisted of documents e-mailed to each other by two people, who were researching Dracula and his presence through centuries. I really appreciated this kind of framing, and the connection between the stories. Because of this, most of the stories consist of letters and documents from several different sources and have several different storylines going on. It might take a while in each story to see how they are all connected, but it’s worth it when it all comes together.

Despite their connection, the five stories were obviously all by different authors, and all were about a different aspect of Dracula’s life. There were morbid love stories, romantic love that turned to resentment, brotherly love… And so many amazing characters who got into contact with this man.

the souls of those gone astray from the path by bogi takács: I first heard of this anthology from Bogi, who is Hungarian like me (and also uses the same pronoun!). I didn’t know that eir story was the first in the anthology, but it was definitely a strong start, and one of my favourite stories. This story is about two Jewish rabbis and the young nephew of one of them who set out to spy on the Hungarian king, Mátyás, and his connection to the man who later became Dracula.

I really appreciated the little nods to Hungarian folklore – as it is also explained in the story, Hungarians have many folk stories where King Mátyás wears a disguise to walk among his people, and it has always been a little funny, since he has a pretty unique face. This story gives an explanation by making Mátyás a creature that can shapeshift, which I loved. Still, my absolute favourite part of this story were the letters written by Majsi, the rabbi’s young nephew. He has his unique style which was hilarious and loveable – his excitement and his heart really made this story worth reading. 5/5 stars for the story, 10/5 stars for Majsi

noblesse oblige by adrian tchaikovsky: A story about Erzsébet Báthory!! Absolutely amazing. I was worried at the beginning that she would turn out to be a victim in this interpretation, but no – her cruelty was not downplayed, and was indeed fascinating (while also creepy) to read. I also LOVED the totally “unpronouncable” Hungarian names included, like Dorottya Semtész or Németkeresztúr. It felt strangely defiant and powerful. 4.5/5 stars

a stake too far by milena benini: One of my favourite parts of this story was the two random bird watchers that mistook a flying vampire for an owl. Amazing. Other than that, this story was the tragic story of two brothers (Vlad and Radu) that I mentioned at the beginning. It also had a witch, and Vlad as a sympathetic character. 4.5/5 stars

children of the night by emil minchev: This story is one long letter, and it starts by the writer (Dracula) revealing that he’s replying to a letter spent over a century ago… Vampires are amazing. — This ended up being a pretty morbid love story between Dracula and a witch (??), including a description of their children. It definitely made for strange reading, but I liked it. I loved the writing style and I’m going to leave one of my favourite quotes here. “My blood has irrigated this land for hundreds of years, the bones of my ancestors form its sturdy spine. I am as much a part of the landscape as the great black mountains that tower over my castle and the deep dark forest that surrounds it.” 4.5/5 stars

the woman by caren gussoff sumption: This story. This STORY. It’s not really about “the woman”, more like about three Romani women, and it’s one of those stories where at first you really don’t understand how the different documents/letters/blog posts are connected, and then it all fits together and aaaah. It also has a trans woman talking about transition, family values, Romani culture, Mátyás as an antagonist again, and a connection to the interludes between stories. It’s my other favourite. 5/5 stars

An interesting/strange thing in this anthology for me was the way they portrayed Mátyás Hunyadi, the Just King of the Hungarians. While I am obviously aware that no king is perfect, I (as many other Hungarians) grew up on folktales of his generosity and thus have a sort of misplaced sentimentality when it comes to him, so seeing him portrayed as the immortal antagonist in several stories (such as Bogi’s and Caren’s) was disorenting – and yet definitely an interesting take.

As you can see from my individual ratings, I was quite impressed with this anthology, even if it made for slow and sometimes difficult reading.

My rating: 🧛🧛🧛🧛🧛/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Failure to Communicate

34216194Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby

Genre: Science Fiction
Release date: February 14th 2017
Purchase: Amazon
LGBTQAI+: Bisexual polyamorous female main character, and at least one sapphic side character/potential LI.
Sex on page: No

As one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, Xandri Corelel has faced a lot of hardship, and she’s earned her place as the head of Xeno-Liaisons aboard the first contact ship Carpathia. But her skill at negotiating with alien species is about to be put to the ultimate test.

The Anmerilli, a notoriously reticent and xenophobic people, have invented a powerful weapon that will irrevocably change the face of space combat. Now the Starsystems Alliance has called in Xandri and the crew of the Carpathia to mediate. The Alliance won’t risk the weapon falling into enemy hands, and if Xandri can’t bring the Anmerilli into the fold, the consequences will be dire.

Amidst sabotage, assassination attempts, and rampant cronyism, Xandri struggles to convince the doubtful and ornery Anmerilli. Worse, she’s beginning to suspect that not everyone on her side is really working to make the alliance a success. As tensions rise and tempers threaten to boil over, Xandri must focus all her energy into understanding the one species that has always been beyond her: her own.

I have seen several people recommend this book on Twitter as an amazing indie book with an #ownvoices autistic protagonist, and I was not disappointed. Failure to Communicate was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to read the sequel (not to mention the beautiful covers for both books).

Xandri was a detailed, three-dimensional protagonist who was easy to get attached to. I loved reading about the way she perceived patterns, people and the world, and I also loved the ways in which she was unique – for example, that nobody else thought to make friends with the ship’s AI. I also loved the many, many different alien species that were hard to keep track of at first, but once I got used to it I appreciated the thought and worldbuilding that went into making many unique species.

One of my favourite tropes in sci-fi on spaceships is the crew as family, and that really shone through here. While they had their disagreements and tension, Xandri’s crew held together, and they were especially ride-or-die for her. I loved the way most of them kept her needs in mind and helped her cope without making her feel like a burden, and how they (especially Diver) went out of their way to defend her.

This book also had mention of polyamorous communities, as well as a budding polyamorous relationship between central characters, although it didn’t become official in this book. Still, I absolutely loved the dynamic between the three of them and I’m eager to see more.

Failure to Communicate also had themes that went much deeper than fluff between crew members. The blurb starts with naming Xandri as one of the only remaining autistics in the universe, and pretty early on the book explains the way people now engineer their children before birth to get rid of any irregularities or neurodivergency. In a way, autistic and mentally ill people were wiped out – not by killing them outright, but by not letting them be born at all. While the crew knows Xandri and supports her, there is much ableism from strangers and the society in general – some of it unintended. Since there are only a few autistic people are left, all most people have to go on are inaccurate, generalised texts that show them as cold and without emotions. The level of ableism in this society was often sickening, especially towards the end (and yes, I was disappointed by Christa reverting to ableist comments even at 96% in the ebook).

The book also addresses gun violence and gun control, not only through the Anmerilli but also by directly referencing 21st century “Ancient Earth”, which was surprising but not unwelcome to see.

While these parts may have been difficult to read, I loved the way the book handled and addressed the deeper issues while also keeping them balanced with funny or heartwarming scenes.

Note: I do want to explain why I didn’t rate this book 5 stars, so I’d like to talk a little about my conflicted feelings towards the ending. Since this part is full of spoilers, I left it to the end.

First of all, I kind of felt Marco would end up betraying them pretty early on, and I also started suspecting that he was neurodivergent before it was revealed. I have to admit that when it was revealed, I felt really conflicted about making the traitor/villain be the only other neurodivergent person in the universe. I understood that the book was trying to subvert the trope of the mentally ill villain, but (at least originally) I didn’t feel like it did a convincing job. Still, later Xandri outright says that it wasn’t really his mental illness, but the torture he suffered because of it that lead him to be exploited. I still have some conflicting feelings about this, but I ended up accepting it.

I also understand that Xandri getting fired was necessary both to set up the sequel and to show the horrible ableism of this world, but – I still didn’t like it. The ableism was already clear, and more importantly, why the hell is mar’Odera still on the Council? He was nearly exposed as a saboteur, the other Council members grew distrustful of him, and then– the next time we see the Council, he’s still there, and a deciding person in the vote? It honestly just felt strange.

My rating: 🌿🌿🌿🌿🌿/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: the witch doesn’t burn in this one & DROPKICKromance

These two poetry collections come out on the same day and they are by two halves of a couple, so I decided to review them together despite my differing opinions on them.

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

Release date: March 6th, 2018

38338999the witch doesn’t burn in this one

The first collection of the women are some kind of magic series has been on my wishlist since forever, so I was really excited when I got to read this one. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.

I have heard people talk about how empowering Amanda Lovelace’s poetry is, and I definitely enjoyed many of the poems – I loved the little references to the way women survive and support each other, the body positivity, and the confidence in every poem. Still, there were almost none that really shook me to the core the way I expected.

Truthfully, many poems in this collection felt repetitive and redundant, repeating sentences I’ve heard many times in feminist circles. Make no mistake, it’s still incredibly important to say these things! But it simply didn’t feel as revolutionary as I expected based on what others said.

I did love how the formatting of the poems varied, and there were some unconventional ones I loved, e.g. “how to prevent getting sexually assaulted”. I also loved some others, e.g. “confidence isn’t egotism” and “confidence isn’t healthy”.

Still, poetry for me is mostly about emotional response, and this collection simply didn’t awake those emotions in me. Somebody else might like these poems more than I did and get more strength for them, though.

(note: This poetry collection deals with heavy topics such as abuse and rape, as well as misogyny, fatphobia and a long list of other things. There is a mostly-complete trigger warning list at the beginning, which is pretty useful.)

My rating: ★★★☆☆

38338999DROPKICKromance

This was one of the best and most powerful debut poetry collections I’ve read.

I loved the composition and how all the poems together told one story – I read the whole thing almost in one sitting because I was eager to know what happens next. The way Cyrus described every small detail of his two very different relationships was captivating, both the toxicity of the first relationship, and the little, loving, everyday moments of the second.

As someone who’s used to fiction, reading some of the poems was strange – there were some events that weirded me out and yet I couldn’t really “disagree” or judge, since this was someone’s real, actual life, not the relationship of two fictional characters. I’ll have to get used to this if I read more personal poetry, but I still enjoyed the poems in this collection.

My rating: ★★★★★

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Starlings

35967251I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.

I was recommended two different books by Jo Walton (The Just City and My Real Children, specifically) and while I unfortunately haven’t managed to get a copy of either of those, after reading those two blurbs my thoughts were pretty much “I want to live in this person’s brain”. Jo Walton seemed to be an author with incredibly creative and unique ideas, and I wanted to read something of hers. Thus, I picked up Starlings.

Starlings is a collection of short pieces of writing, both in prose and in verse. I admit that not all of the short stories worked for me and I didn’t like most of the poems (note: there were fewer poems than short stories), but that’s expected in collections. There were still several stories that I adored, and I am now even more excited to be picking up more of Jo Walton’s work in the future.

Since there were so many stories (around 21 short stories and 15 poems), it would be difficult to review all of them, so let me say a few words about my favourites. Some of these are only one or two pages long and yet they absolutely blew me away. More than anything, what really grabbed me was how different all these stories were from each other, and how many topics they covered.

Relentlessly Mundane: I may be biased, but this one had one of my favourite concepts/tropes, and carried it out beautifully. What happens to the children who become the heroes of fantasy worlds and then have to go back to live in their own? How do they deal with their past experiences as adults?

Out Of It: A story about angels, devils, and making deals with them. “You never give up, do you?” “Never.”

Parable Lost: An interesting take on the parable of throwing jellyfish in the sea.

Tradition: A short sci-fi story about traditions with an endearing twist.

What Joseph Felt: A few beautiful pages from the perspective of the Bible’s Joseph and his views on his wife and newborn child.

The Need to Stay the Same: I absolutely loved this one. It’s a book review of a book where humans are a fictional race.

A Burden Shared: Is it really easier to carry someone else’s pain than your own?

Since most of these stories are short, it’s difficult to say a lot about them without spoiling the whole thing (and often, it’s not really the plot that is interesting but the writing, so summing them up is difficult). In any case, this collection had some amazing short stories (and the poems were alright too I suppose). There’s some sci-fi, something more like fantasy, some Greek and Norse mythology, some Christian mythology… A little something for everyone, really.

My rating: ★★★★★

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC review: The Queen of Ieflaria

38108325I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Release date: February 19th, 2018 by Nine Star Press

I remember seeing this wonderful cover on Twitter and hearing that the book would be about queer princesses, and I immediately fell in love. And let me tell you, when I finally got to read it, The Queen of Ieflaria turned out to be everything I hoped for and more.

To say that The Queen of Ieflaria has queer princesses is technically true, but it’s a huge understatement. In fact, The Queen of Ieflaria has a main cast made of several unique, funny, supportive and fleshed out characters, most of whom are female. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was in love with not only both Esofi and Adale, but every single one of their ladies-in-waiting – all of whom had their own unique personalities and beautiful moments. (Lisette is definitely my favourite though, hands down.)

The only reason why I didn’t devour this book in one sitting is that I started reading it too late and had to go to sleep at 1am and finish the next morning. I adored the writing style, the characters, the plot… This book has princesses fighting in duels in dresses, princesses fighting dragons, talking magical creatures, good dragons, baby dragons, princesses kissing, princesses in love… I’m sorry, why are you still here reading this review when you could be pre-ordering The Queen of Ieflaria?

I loved how different Esofi and Adale were, and yet they worked together well and both helped each other grow, or see things from the other’s point of view. I especially enjoyed their different views on science and religion and how they changed (and yet still stayed true to themselves) during the book.

Note: While this first book unfortunately didn’t have any major trans characters, it did have minor nonbinary characters (referred to as neutroi) and even a nonbinary god, and referenced a canon magical way to transition, so I hope this will change in the future installments.

This is my new favourite book, and it might be yours, too.

My rating: ★★★★★💖

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Lifeline Signal

33623041Falling isn’t always the last thing you do. Sometimes it’s the first thing.

Can you believe I’m actually the first one of my friends to actually add a review to this? What is everyone else doing with their lives?

The Lifeline Signal is a perfect sequel to Chameleon Moon. Just like the first book, it is incredibly character-focused: there are beautiful, unique, diverse characters everywhere in every sense of the word. This is almost an entirely new set of characters (while some of them appeared or were mentioned in Chameleon Moon, none of them were in the focus there) and yet everyone is connected, and everything has a place.

In The Lifeline Signal, something interesting is happening every moment – although much of these happenings are actually conversations, messages and pieces of information being revealed. With all these characters and storylines, you need to pay attention to get what’s happening, but it’s all the more satisfying when everything comes together.

This book takes place entirely outside Parole so you might miss or worry about some old friends left behind there, but I can almost guarantee that you will love the new cast – both the three teenage protagonists in the center of it all, and the adults (or at least slightly older people) supporting them. I certainly did. And, hey – some of these old friends do appear, and you might even find out more about them…

That being said, I am incredibly glad I chose to read every available short story before heading into this book*, because there were still occasional moments of “wait, how do these two know each other again?” or “okay, so which of the five messages currently in play is this one?”. Also, this might just be a personal annoyance, but having several characters spend the whole book worrying over something you, the reader already know is solved can get frustrating.

Despite the occasional confusion, I absolutely adored this book, and I really mean it when I say that the lines all coming together is incredibly satisfying once you figure out which goes where. Of course, there are still more than enough open questions for the sequel (whatever’s Regan doing, for example – but also, what on earth was that comment about Ash’s bones?) – and many reunions to look forward to. (Some with less patience than others. *squints at my faves*)

–Hey, look at that, I actually managed to write a semi-coherent review that wasn’t just screaming about how much I adore everyone! Especially the people Regan is dating. That particular polycule is my absolute favourite, and not only because of Regan (he’s just the central point for easy reference).

Representation:
★ nonbinary (xie/xir pronouns!), Tsalagi Native American, Arnold-Chiari Malformation main
★ bisexual, Indian American main
★ aroace, Vietnamese American, autistic main
★ Tons of other POC (including the families of the protagonists), a hijabi woman, other LGBTQAI+ characters (nonbinary, binary transgender, mlm, wlw, ace…), chronically ill and disabled characters, POLYAMORY, and probably other stuff I missed honestly.
★ The book is also #ownvoices for several aspects.

(Also, not really representation, but: cyborgs! fauns! lizard men! people with wings! I love this world.)

*Four short stories (Runtime, Always Be You, Happy REGARDS and The Library Ghost) are free on the author’s Gumroad. If you read those, you’ll have a pretty good idea of who everyone is. If you also manage to read You’re Not Going That Way (99 cents), you’re pretty much ready for the sequel. But I do recommend the whole Life Within Parole Volume 1 if you can afford it.

My rating: ★★★★★💖

~ Alexa 🐉

Reviews

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Review on Goodreads

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

 

It is difficult to rate a book when you are absolutely furious with one of the protagonists.

Every Heart a Doorway, possibly the best book I read this year, is about the children who found doors to unfamiliar worlds, found a home, and had to return to their original world for one reason or another. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is more of a prequel than a sequel – it tells the story of Jack and Jill from their birth up to the point where they have to leave their found home.

The Characters

Jack was one of my favourites in the first book, and she kept that title throughout this one. I’ve also grown attached to her chosen master. The bigger problem was with Jill: I didn’t care much for her in the first book, and her behaviour in this one (including a couple of fatphobic comments) certainly didn’t help matters. I tried to understand Jill, and maybe I do, somewhat, but understanding doesn’t mean sympathy or affection.

The Plot

Since this is a prequel and the girls already talked about being cast out in the first book, in a way I already knew what was going to happen, where it was all leading up to, but reading it was still different.

The first part of the book is about the girls’ childhood at home with their parents – their frankly horrible parents who are emotionally abusive and unfit to be parents, which is made clear enough in the book. This part was mostly neutral for me.

Once in the Moors, Jack’s and Jill’s POVs divide more. It’s no secret that I enjoyed Jack’s more, partly because of the included f/f romance, which doesn’t get much “screentime” but is still an important part of the story.

(Spoilery note/warning: It does not have a happy ending and ends with Jack’s girlfriend dying.)

Overall

I feel like this review comes off as more negative than I intended. It’s true that I enjoyed this book less than the first one, and there are some parts I’m angry at, but it still deserves the whole five stars and goes on the favourites shelf. I love the worldbuilding, even if it is somewhat cliché – but in this book, I think being cliché, being familiar is sort of the point.

My rating: ★★★★★💖

~ Alexa 🐿️