Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Average rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Review: Broad Knowledge

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

My rating: 3.75 stars (rounded to 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Into the Mystic, Volume 3

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars

~ Alexa

Miscellaneous · Recommendations

GUEST POST: How A Small Press Is Born

Today, I have a guest post for you by Joanne Merriam, who is the editor of many amazing anthologies mentioned below, including two new books in the Women Up To No Good dark fiction series. She is also the owner of Upper Rubber Boot Books, which published one of my favourite books this year, Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation. (Click here to see my 5-star review.)

If you’ve ever wondered how small publishers like Upper Rubber Boot Books work, wonder no further, because you’ll get at least some of your answers in this post.

~ Alexa

**

In June 2009, the economy crumbling around me, I spent six weeks looking for work in Nashville, where I’d just moved with my husband. Every day, I applied to every new job posting for which I was even remotely qualified, and then had the rest of the day to come up with a business plan for Upper Rubber Boot Books. I had worked for five years at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia before immigrating to the States, but I didn’t know anybody in the publishing or writing worlds in Nashville, and was unlikely to get any sort of loan to start a business, especially when all the capital in the world had seemingly dried up the year before.

13191593I started a Twitter literary journal, Seven by Twenty, now edited by Julia K. Patt (@chidorme), which published extremely short poems and stories, and began building an audience. I talked to a lot of people to get advice. I got in a bad car accident and spent six months recovering. I got a day job at a local hospital. Finally, two years later, I put together a best-of anthology of the short stories and poems I’d been publishing on Twitter, and ran a Kickstarter to raise money to publish it, and officially spoke Upper Rubber Boot Books into existence.

The name comes from a Nova Scotian expression for an insignificant, marginal, probably deeply unhip place, similar to the American “Podunk.” When I was still working for WFNS, I came up with the name so that I could use a non-existent press in examples and avoid besmirching some actual press. Continuing to use it for my own press was something of an inside joke with myself, made funnier because I wanted to publish marginal works: that is, the sort of books that have trouble finding a home.

For the first few years, I only published ebooks, in part because print runs were too much of a financial commitment, and in part because print-on-demand options were still reputed to be somewhat shoddy in quality, and in part because I only had the capacity to learn about so many things at once. I started putting out paperbacks of our new titles in December 2012 with Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days, co-edited by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum and Alexander Lumans.

Small publishers like me do pretty much everything except, in most cases, distribution and printing. I use Ingram for distribution to Barnes & Noble, Blackwell’s, Chapters, and independent bookstores worldwide, and Ingram’s print-on-demand service for everything they sell, and CreateSpace, Amazon’s print-on-demand service, for titles sold through Amazon. I also do a small print run, usually 250 copies, of my non-poetry titles, to sell at conventions and the like. So what does “everything” entail? I contract with authors and editors and occasionally other presses, edit, copyedit, hire proofreaders, create ebook files, do layout and cover design, create advertising, do marketing and more marketing and yet more marketing, make sure credits and permissions are in order, negotiate with vendors, and attend conventions and trade shows. Sometimes I sleep.

It’s a good life, if busy. I’m lucky to have a job I love and a side hustle I’m passionate about. Making ideas turn into tangible, physical books is extraordinarily satisfying, and gives me the opportunity to work with a lot of writers, who are, as a group, some of the most thoughtful, kind, and generous people around. I’m a better human being for knowing them.

nogoodWe’re living in interesting times in the book industry. Issues like monopoly power and predatory pricing, piracy, authors’ rights, and fair compensation are all coming to the forefront. Opportunities to interact in new ways are growing as technology matures. Writers can contact readers more directly. Readers can become book critics with tools like NetGalley. And tiny publishers like me can use tools like Kickstarter to reach readers directly and ask for pre-orders so they can pay their writers professional rates without going bankrupt. That’s what I’m doing right now with two books of feminist dark speculative fiction, Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good (edited by me) and Sharp & Sugar Tooth: Women Up To No Good (edited by Octavia Cade), which I hope you’ll all check out! Click here to see the Kickstarter.

~ Joanne Merriam

Guest post custom image A Thousand Worlds

Reviews

Review: Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation

35235851Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation edited by Phoebe Wagner & Brontë Christopher Wieland

Genre: Solarpunk, Science Fiction, Anthology
Published: August 29th 2017 by Upper Rubber Boot Books
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
(Note: The publisher link has plenty of indie buying options for US&Canada people.)
LGBTQAI+: Several stories have LGBTQAI+ protagonists or side characters, e.g. dust by daniel josé older, you and me and the deep dark sea by jess barber, and others

Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation is the first anthology to broadly collect solarpunk short stories, artwork, and poetry. A new genre for the 21st Century, solarpunk is a revolution against despair. Focusing on solutions to environmental disasters, solarpunk envisions a future of green, sustainable energy used by societies that value inclusiveness, cooperation, and personal freedom.

Edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Christopher Wieland, Sunvault focuses on the stories of those inhabiting the crucial moments when great change can be made by people with the right tools; stories of people living during tipping points, and the spaces before and after them; and stories of those who fight to effect change and seek solutions to ecological disruption.

It was very fitting to name this anthology Sunvault, because it was truly a vault of little treasures. A collection of short stories, poems, and even drawings about the sun, plants, water, and different methods to live in peace with our planet. In them, you can find dozens of creative inventions, from solar-powered giraffes to green children. You can find activists who risk their lives and freedom for others, and people who are just trying to live in this world. You can also find the characteristics and people of many different cultures.

There were almost 40 pieces of stories, poems or drawings in this anthology. Some of them were more difficult to read, with science or cultural references that I didn’t quite understand. But there were also stories that made me cry, and stories that made me scared, or hopeful for our future – or all of the above.

First, the anthology opens with a Foreword: On the Origins of Solarpunk, as well as an editor’s note, which was pretty useful, given that (other than a few very short pieces of writing) this anthology was my first “longer” introduction to solarpunk.

Solarpunk, a new movement in SF that examines the possibility of a future in which currently emerging movements in society and culture such as the green movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and certain aspects of Occupy Wall Street coalesce to create a more optimistic future in a more just world. – Foreword

Solarpunk emphasizes innovative interaction with both our communities and our environment; socio-environmental thought and creation, rather than merely survival in a decaying world, inspire the solarpunk attitude. – Editor’s Note

It would take forever to review every single story, so I’m going to talk about some of my favourites.

  • the boston hearth project by t.x. watson (this story was about a group of people basically doing a heist to take over a building and turn it into a homeless shelter, and it was amazing)
  • speechless love by yilun fan, translated by s. qiouyi lu (I appreciate that this was a translated work, and the story itself is great as well – it takes place in a world where people live in hoverships because the planet surface is not habitable)
  • radio silence by carlin reynolds (this one is a drawing so I can’t say much about without just describing the whole thing, but I love it and the title is so fitting)
  • solar powered giraffes by jack pevyhouse (this is a seven-line poem and I absolutely love it)
  • pan, legs resting by sireesha reddy (another amazing drawing)
  • last chance by tyler young (this story is about humanity destroying two planets, so when they get to the third one, they name it ‘last chance’, and they come up with a pretty cruel but hopefully effective way to save this one.)
  • the desert, blooming by lev mirov (one of my favourite things about this story was that there were no pronouns or gendered words used for /anyone/, only their names. and yet it wasn’t distracting at all and it took a while to even notice)
  • the seven species by aleksei valentín (this one is a great poem)
  • boltzmann brain by kristine ong muslim (I can’t even explain why but this one made me cry)
  • the reset by jaymee goh (a scientist makes a machine that sets the Earth back 30 years so there is time to counteract the destruction of the planet, only it goes wrong and everyone still remembers those 30 years even though they were physically reset. I loved this concept from the beginning, but the little twist at the end made me cry.)
  • you and me and the deep dark sea by jess barber (two old friends and maybe something else deal with the loss of their girlfriend after the apocalypse. it’s also about a community surviving and holding together after the apocalypse. I loved that it was kinda small-scale but equally important.) They end up down by the ocean, slumped against each other, daring the water to come for them.
  • through the glass by leigh wallace (another beautiful drawing)
  • a catalogue of sunlight at the end of the world by a.c. wise (listen. I sobbed at this one. it’s about an old man staying behind on Earth as most other people live in spaceships for a new planet.) No one, not even a planet, should have to die alone.

It was difficult to narrow it down, but this is already a pretty long list. Just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it. Ultimately, I think this was a great introduction to solarpunk because there are truly so many stories and little snippets, so everyone is bound to like at least a few.

I’m going to end with two funnier quotes:

  • “Liam, helping out by lounging around and looking pretty” (you and me and the deep dark sea)
  • “I’ve even adopted a cat. Or it’s adopted me. A little grey kitten I’ve named Predator X. They won’t have cats in space.” (a catalogue of sunlight at the end of the world)

My rating: 🌞🌞🌞🌞🌞/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Not So Stories

35894420Not So Stories edited by David Thomas Moore

Genre: Anthology, Fantasy
Published: April 10th 2018 by Abaddon Books
Length: 334 pages
Number of stories: 14
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Sex on page: No

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was one of the first true children’s books in the English language, a timeless classic that continues to delight readers to this day. Beautiful, evocative and playful, the stories of “How the Whale Got His Throat” or “The First Letter Written” paint a magical, primal world. It is also deeply rooted in British colonialism. Kipling saw the Empire as a benign, civilizing force, and his writing can be troubling to modern readers. Not So Stories attempts to redress the balance, bringing together new and established writers of color from around the world to take the Just So Stories back; giving voices to cultures that were long deprived them.

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

“Because every day of freedom is a small act of victory against those who would rob you of it.”

Not So Stories is a response to a book by Rudyard Kipling that I confess I have never read, but according to the blurb, it’s a book rooted in British colonialism. Even without knowing this information, it is clear that the stories in Not So Stories are all against the different aspects of colonialism, explotiation and racism. While I sometimes felt like I lacked context for the stories, I still enjoyed reading them.

I’m not going to write an individual review for every story, but I’m going to list my favourites from the collection:

queen by joseph e. cole (this is the one the quote I started with is from)

best beloved by wayne santos

saṃsāra by georgina kamsika 

the cat who walked by herself by achala upendran 

how the simurgh won her tail by ali nouraei

how the camel got her paid time off by paul krueger

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

ARC review: The Radical Element (A Tyranny of Petticoats #2)

29748943The Radical Element edited by Jessica Spotswood

Genre: Anthology, Historical Fiction, YA
Series: A Tyranny of Petticoats #2
Release date: March 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press
Length: 320 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Sapphic main and side characters in a couple of stories, and a transgender man LI in one
Sex on page: No

In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.

To respect yourself, to love yourself—should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced whether you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting. In The Radical Element, twelve of the most talented writers working in young adult literature today tell the stories of the girls of all colors and creeds standing up for themselves and their beliefs—whether that means secretly learning Hebrew in early Savannah, using the family magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, or singing in a feminist punk band in 1980s Boston. And they’re asking you to join them.

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

This is going to be a long review because I have so much love to give to this anthology.

At first glance, I loved the way the stories are in a chronological order, and the year + setting is clearly stated right before every story. Then I started reading, and I’m not kidding when I say that I fell in love with every single one of these heroines. The quality of writing in this anthology was through the roof – I was taken in by every single story. I also loved the author’s notes at the end of each story, which included many things: the real historical context, the research that went into the stories, how the experience of the characters relates to the authors’ experiences, and sometimes even recommended further reading.

As soon as I finished reading, I went on Goodreads to look up the other books by these authors and add most of them to my TBR.

While I kinda wish more of the stories had queer characters, I still didn’t mind in this case since the religious, racial and neurodivergent diversity was amazing. Many of the stories didn’t have romance at all, or there were hints of future romance, but the ambition of the girls took priority (for now). Still, there were some great male (future) love interests that I fell in love with.

It’s very difficult to pick favourites in this anthology when I rated almost every individual story 5 stars, but I’m going to mark a few stories as my favourites anyway.

* 1838: Savannah, Georgia — Daughter of the Book by Dahlia Adler: With a Jewish main character, this story is about a girl who yearns to learn about her own culture and religion, including things that are said to be improper for girls and women. She recruits a Jewish boy to be her teacher, and the two of them find empowering women in Jewish religious texts. I absolutely loved not just the main character, but her chosen teacher, Caleb as well. 5/5 stars

* 1844: Nauvoo, Illinois — You’re a Stranger Here by Mackenzie Lee: This story has a Mormon main character who eventually risks her life for her and her mother’s religion, despite the fact that she actively questions her own faith in their prophet. I really loved the questioning aspect of it, especially paired with the ending, and the writing was just absolutely amazing. 5/5 stars

* 1858: Colorado River, New Mexico Territory — The Magician by Erin Bowman: This is one of several stories where I was worried it would end badly, but instead it had an open, perhaps bittersweet ending where you’re free to imagine how things end up. The main character is an orphaned girl disguising herself as a boy to keep her job, and save up money so she can find her family. I absolutely loved the ending of the story, and the last few lines were my favourite. 5/5 stars

* 1863: Charleston, South Carolina — Lady Firebrand by Megan Shepherd: THIS STORY. This story was amazing. The main character is a white girl in a wheelchair who travels from the Northern states to the South to visit her relatives, with her black best friend posing as her maid. Her relatives have no idea that the two of them are actually abolitionist spies helping the Northern cause. This story also had a male character that I loved, and I loved the way the story ended (although I would have loved to see the rescue itself). 5/5 stars

1905: Tulsa, Indian Territory — Step Right Up by Jessica Spotswood: Major trigger warning for a physically abusive uncle here, with beating in the story itself as well. Step Right Up is about a young girl who wants to join the circus, not only to get away from her uncle but primarily to be a performer, which has been her dream since she was five. This story also had a lovely relationship between the two sisters that I loved (and also a sapphic main character, though her only love interest in the story is unrequited). 5/5 stars

1923: Los Angeles and the Central Valley, California — Glamour by Anna-Marie McLemore: Glamour has a Mexican main character whose dream is to become a famous actress on the cover of magazines in Hollywood – but to achieve that, she uses an inherited family charm to appear more white. This story has a transgender male love interest and heavy themes of racism, and it’s absolutely amazing. 5/5 stars

* 1927: Washington, D.C. — Better for All the World by Marieke Nijkamp: This was one of those stories where I hoped the guy wouldn’t turn out to be a jerk, and yet… Better for All the World was a story about an autistic girl who wants to be a lawyer, and it’s also #ownvoices for autism. It has discussions of forced sterilisation on mentally ill or autistic people, and I found it one of the most chilling stories in this collection. I absolutely loved the main character. It was also a good example that believing somebody doesn’t deserve to have rights isn’t just a “difference in opinion”. 5/5 stars

1943: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts — When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough: A fascinating story with a black main character who lives with her parents. They harvest the moonlight itself and drink it every month to lengthen their lives, so the main character is hundreds of years old, but still having to go through the same milestones for 16-year-olds, and being treated as a kid by her parents (“this is grown-up talk”). It’s also about loving a country that doesn’t love you, and wanting to help people in spite of it. 5/5 stars

1952: Brooklyn, New York — The Belle of the Ball by Sarvenaz Tash: A story about a girl who has been writing funny scenes to be acted out by her friend for years. She loves I Love Lucy and wants to write comedy, despite the fact that so many people, including her neighbour thinks that “women just aren’t funny”. One of my favourite parts was that she had that quote up on her wall as motivation to write. 4/5 stars

1955: Oakland, California — Land of the Sweet, Home of the Brave by Stacey Lee: Lana, this story’s main character has both Japanese and Chinese ancestry, but she was born in America and even her grandmother has worked on the sugar fields there. She enters a contest to be the face of the company that both her Japanese grandmother and half-Japanese mother work for, as the only Asian girl among the contestants. 5/5 stars

1972: Queens, New York — The Birth of Susi Go-Go by Meg Medina: The main character here is Cuban, immigrated to the U.S. as a child, who wishes to be more American and dress like her neighbour, Linda. I loved the ending of the story and the reaction of the grandparents, though I can’t say much more without spoiling it. 3.5/5 stars

1984: Boston, Massachusetts — Take Me With U by Sara Farizan: The Iranian main character here is staying with her uncle in America temporarily while war goes on in her home country, and she ends up joining a feminist band with some other American girls. I absolutely loved the bilingualism of this story, how she didn’t understand everything and had to ask her 6-year-old cousin for help (which was especially funny when neither of them had any idea what the band’s name meant). 3.5/5 stars

Final rating: 📚📚📚📚📚/5

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Queerly Loving vol.2

38217839Queerly Loving Vol.2 edited by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz

Genre: Anthology, LGBTQAI+, etc.
Published: 15th February 2018 by Queer Pack
Length: 159 pages (Kindle edition)
Number of stories: 8
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBQAI+: Every story has LGBTQAI+ main characters of various orientations, including trans women, gay men, nonbinary characters, bisexual women, etc.
Sex on page: Yes, in certain stories

I received a free review copy from the author M. Hollis in exchange for an honest review.

If you missed my review of the first volume, find it here. While I enjoyed the first volume more, this one was still an enjoyable read.

In part two of Queerly Loving, our authors bring you short stories with characters across the fantastic queer spectrum, with endings that will leave you warm and smiling. Trans love interests, demisexual characters trying to find their way in the world, bisexual characters dealing with a heartbreak in the best way, and lesbians on escapades.

Dragons roar into life, dystopian futures unfold, mermaids enjoy space voyages, and modern-day adventures will curl your toes and make you cheer. There are first kisses, friends that are like kin, and aromantic characters discovering their place among a queer-normative family.

Get ready for your queer adventure.

more than anything by eden s. french: This story is about a teenage girl in a post-apocalyptic setting who risks her neck to get testosterone for her transgender male friend. Honestly, my only complaint about this story is that it was short. I would love to read a full-length novel version of this. (4.5/5 stars) tw. for some drug mention

tenderness by xan west: This story absolutely lived up to its name. It’s about a bisexual, autistic woman who is broken up with by her lesbian girlfriend (unrelated to their sexualities) and is comforted by her friends and family, all of them queer with various identities, and one of them autistic as well. The story is primarily about self-care and support, but it touches on some problems with bisexual representation in queer media as well. In fact, the note at the beginning explains that the story was inspired by a conversation about bi representation with another author, Shira Glassman. There was also a reference to Shira’s works in the story, which was really nice to see – in a way, the “Tenderness” in the title was present not only in the story, but in the relationship between the authors as well 🙂 (5/5 stars)

a kiss between altar boys by andrew l. huerta: This was a lovely story between two altar boys who exchange a kiss in the church’s garden. There was some internalised homophobia and use of the word f*g (by the two main characters), but overall I really enjoyed it. (4.5/5 stars)

kin, painted by penny stirling: I admit I’m not entirely sure what orientation the main character here is, but this story is about a large family with several trans and queer members in a magical world where most of the family members paint their bodies. It was a lovely story about searching for your identity, but ultimately it felt a little too long for me. (3/5 stars)

gasping for air by pascal j. ellen: This story is about the daily life of the nonbinary, demisexual (?) main character with a lot of introspection, musing about relationships, queer life, and such things. It was an interesting story and I liked the main character, but ultimately I would have enjoyed a little more plot. I often felt like this was more of a character study than a story with a plot. (3.5/5 stars)

the warrior and the dragon by m. hollis: F/f story in which the warrior sets out to fight the dragon threatening her home, and falls in love with a dragon-girl in the process. I enjoyed this story and there are never enough queer fairytales, but the plot itself still felt a little too predictable. I kept waiting for a twist or a deviation from the expected plot other than the f/f pairing, but there wasn’t really one. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – this was still a good story, just, not worth 5 stars for me. (3.5/5 stars)

detective and mrs baker by aila boyd: Another f/f story, this time between a trans and a cis woman – at the beginning of the story, the trans woman, Rhonda is in the process of getting a divorce from her abusive husband. There are also some references to transphobic parental abuse. — My main problem with this story was that the pacing felt off? In the end, the story takes place during several years, but several of the timeskips are described in just one or two paragraphs, and personally I didn’t really “feel” the time passing. I also raised my eyebrow at some interesting logic from both main characters, regarding priorities, and parenting. (You’re not “solely responsible for an entire kid” if you have twins – you and your wife HOPEFULLY will still share the responsibility and not just divide them up… And guess what, sometimes when your wife is working you’ll temporarily be responsible for TWO kids!) Still, I enjoyed some other parts, especially the focus on flowers — and I love the title as well. (3/5 stars)

the mermaid and the pirate by cameron van sant: I already fell in love at the title – I mean, mermaids AND pirates? In SPACE?! This story is a f/f romance between a butch lady pirate and a mermaid, and it also includes a deity called Bonneyread who is the patron of trans men and butches, as well as a mermaid-safety network for trans men and butches serving on ships with cis men. It had some really interesting worldbuilding in that regard, but I sometimes got confused over the motivation and relationship of the characters that didn’t seem to be consistent. (4/5 stars)

Final rating: 🌈🌈🌈🌈/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Queerly Loving Vol.1

38217839Queerly Loving Vol.1 edited by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz

Genre: Anthology, LGBTQAI+, etc.
Published: 22nd November 2017 by Queer Pack
Length: 154 pages (Kindle edition)
Number of stories: 9
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBQAI+: Every story has LGBTQAI+ main characters of various orientations, including trans women, gay trans men, aromantic partners, nonbinary characters, etc.
Sex on page: Yes, in certain stories

Queer characters getting their happy endings abound. Discover pages upon pages of compelling stories about aromantic warriors, trans sorceresses, and modern-day LGBTQA+ quirky characters. Friendship, platonic love, and poly triads are all celebrated.

Lose yourself in masterfully woven tales wrapped in fantasy and magic, delve into a story that brings the eighties back to life in vibrant color, get lost in space, and celebrate everything queer.
Get ready for your queer adventure.

I knew this anthology couldn’t be bad when it started with Sacha Lamb, and I was right. I ended up loving every single story except one (more on that below) and I would like to thank everyone who contributed to this anthology. I loved the diverse identities and even genres, and hey, there’s never enough happy queer stories.

miss me with that gay shit (please don’t) by sacha lamb: Jewish gay trans boys in love are apparently Sacha Lamb’s Thing, and I love it. Also featuring: great sibling relationship, a Muslim/Jewish lesbian side couple, and “Tumblr language” that is hilarious instead of forced. I would like to give this 10 stars out of 5.

gifts of spring by shira glassman: This story is about a trans woman mage in a fantasy world who meets a Jewish acrobat/performer. Most of the story is about them spending time together and helping out others in town. It was a lovely short story. (Note: there is on-page sex in this one.)

wishing on the perseid by kay c. sulli: For someone who really hates the outdoors, I love reading about outdoorsy people and romances. This one is a m/m romance between a park ranger and a visitor who go on hikes and wonder if the other one is interested or just being friendly. I loved both main characters and I loved the happy ending – maybe wishing on stars does work sometimes 😉 (Note: this one also has on-page sex.)

hunt and peck by teresa theophano: Absolutely wonderful story about two teenage girls (one of them butch) in the 1980s who meet during a typing competition and fall in love. It also has a lesbian couple with a child as side characters. This is one of my favourites in this collection. (tw for homomisic parents, though)

first light at dawn by nyri bakkalian: This story is written as an e-mail (letter?) from a trans woman who details being closeted trans in the army, living together with her girlfriend, and other things to a friend of hers. It has a lot of descriptions of trauma, PTSD and the army, but I still loved it.

dragons do not by evelyn deshane: Another one of my favourites. In this world, disabled people injured in accidents get dragons as service animals, but they are also separated from most people by the government who want to hide their failures (=the accidents that caused disabilities). The main character is a queer woman who comes to terms with losing her girlfriend and looks forward to getting to know another woman with a dragon. I really loved the “dragons as service animals” idea, and how it was gradually proven that the dragon rulebook given out by the government is bullshit.

planchette by carolyn gage: This might be cruel to say, but this story is single-handedly the reason why I didn’t rate this anthology 5 stars. It is written as a screenplay in the 1800s, which was actually interesting, and I enjoyed parts of it – but really hated others. I’m not even sure if Jude is supposed to be a trans man or a butch lesbian, but in either case this feels like messy representation. A lesbian side character is brutally murdered in front of her girlfriend, and even the ending is ambiguous at best, so I just… really don’t understand the inclusion of this story in an anthology that focuses on happy queer stories.

birthday landscapes by e. h. timms: Fantasy story about two aromantic people who decided to raise children together. One of them is also a famous adventurer with many songs written about him, that he doesn’t necessarily appreciate. I didn’t love this story as much as some of the others, but I still enjoyed it, and seeing aromantic people like this (happy, and with the word used on page) was great.

a gallant rescue by a. p. raymond: This story is about a spaceship crew rescuing their female friend’s girlfriend from an arranged marriage. It really is a rescue mission, with breaking in and sneaking out and everything. Other than the lesbian couple, it also has a polyamorous relationship with a woman and two nonbinary people, who both use different pronouns (they/them and ey/em, specifically). I absolutely loved this, and give me more nonbinary and polyam people in stories please.

For other opinions, check out this review which I found pretty neat.

My rating: 🌈🌈🌈🌈/5.

~ Alexa