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

Advertisements
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

Reviews

Akata Witch: A Nigerian-American Girl’s Magical Adventure

Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1)Title: Akata Witch
Author(s): Nnedi Okorafor
Series: Akata Witch #1
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Fantasy
Published: July 11th 2017 by Speak
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: Black Albino character with Nigerian parents, Black Nigerian sidecharacters

Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.

Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But just as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them against a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?

My rating: 5 stars

This was a wonderful, magical adventure in Nigeria with a protagonist that I loved, and a friend group that anyone would envy.

Sunny is an albino twelve-year-old whose parents are from Nigeria, but she was born in the United States, but now they live in Nigeria again. In this book, she finds out she’s one of the Leopard people (people with magical abilities) – what’s more, she is a free agent, which means that neither of her parents have similar abilities.

I loved how imaginative this book was: all the places, creatures and people encountered, and the culture of the Leopard people was great to read about it. The concept of money being earned by knowledge (yes, money literally falls from the sky when you learn something new) was something that I simply adored. I loved the description of the spirit faces, especially Sunny’s spirit face, and I can’t wait to see how it will become more significant in the second book.

Sunny was a loveable protagonist who stood up for herself against the racism and the sexism and the world, and those who mocked her for her albinism. I loved how she called out all the messed up stuff that was happening. There was only one line that disappointed me where Sunny claimed to be ashamed of being female after she saw some other girls crowd around a boy – it was unnecessarily judgmental and didn’t fit in well with Sunny’s other comments.

I also loved their friendship group, where Sunny makes friends with two other Nigerian kids, and an African American boy who was sent to Nigeria after he got in trouble at his old school. I loved how they worked together, how protective Sasha in particular was of Sunny at the soccer match, and I loved how the differences between Nigerian and African American people were addressed.

‘Akata Witch’ also addressed several events from the real world, from the Nigerian prince scam to witch children (which was a concept entirely new to me, so don’t tell me this book wasn’t educational).

The last thing I expected in this book was a plot about a ritualistic serial killer, but I still got it – and let me tell you, the final showdown between the kids and the antagonist was scary to read, and I feel like the sequel will only get more intense.

All in all, I loved this book, and also: what do you mean the paperback of Akata Warrior isn’t out until October?!

~ Alexa

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

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: 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