Reviews

Learning Curves: A Fluffy, No-Drama F/F Novella with Ace, Pan, Lesbian and ADHD Rep

Learning CurvesTitle: Learning Curves
Author(s): Ceillie Simkiss
Series: 
Genre: LGBTQAI+ Romance, Contemporary
Published: August 16th 2018
Representation: Puerto Rican lesbian MC / white panromantic asexual MC with ADHD
This review first appeared on The Lesbrary on 2018.08.12.

Elena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Learning Curves is a 70-page novella with little conflict and a fluffy love story between two women at college. One of them is a Puerto Rican lesbian studying family law, and the other one is a white panromantic asexual woman with ADHD. You shouldn’t expect a huge epic plot: Learning Curves is more about everyday life, college, celebrating Christmas, a huge, loving Puerto Rican family, and two women falling in love.

I admit that I easily get bored if I’m reading a longer book with so little plot, but 70 pages was just the perfect amount to still hold my attention and let me enjoy all the little moments. I loved how overly supportive Elena’s mother was, and I loved the two women cooking and baking together, especially Puerto Rican dishes.

There were so many of these little things that I loved. Cora is bookish and loves reading about “magic, dragons and queer people”. Both women are very casual about mentioning their queer identity, and while she doesn’t elaborate, Cora also mentions how even the community itself can be hostile towards certain identities. There was also a throwaway mention of cocky-gate (controversy over one author literally trying to trademark the word “cocky” in romance novel titles), which made me laugh, although it might have been strange to people who didn’t know what it was referring to.

I did have a couple of issues, or rather some things that I found strange but weren’t necessarily bad. This novella felt like it was written from an outsider’s perspective, which isn’t automatically a problem, but I really would have appreciated more insight into the thoughts and feelings of Elena and Cora, or at least one of them. I also felt like the blurb was very misleading: while the two women go to college and meet at one of the classes they have in common, there is really not much focus on their careers, and basically no mention of either of them not having time for love like the blurb says. Moreover, I sometimes found the dialogue strange or clunky. And finally, this is a minor pet peeve, but there were a few acronyms that were never really explained and as a non-US person whose first language isn’t English, I still have genuinely no clue what they are. I could sort of guess from context, but I generally don’t want to be Googling acronyms while reading a book.

I was originally going to rate this 4 stars, but the ace rep and the way it was handled in the relationship pushed it up. I loved that Elena immediately accepted both that Cora is asexual and that she doesn’t want sex, and it wasn’t an issue for a single moment. It might not be the most “realistic”, but it was really nice to finally read a relationship between an asexual and an allosexual person where the allosexual person is the one who agrees not to have sex instead of the asexual person indulging their partner. Another thing I see a lot is that while the non-ace person agrees not to have sex, they still talk about how this is a huge sacrifice for them, which I find really guilt-trippy, but this absolutely wasn’t the case here.

I will definitely be keeping an eye out for this author’s works in the future.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

Secondhand Origin Stories: The Queer Superhero Team We Deserve

Secondhand Origin Stories (Second Sentinels Book 1)Title: Secondhand Origin Stories
Author(s): Lee Blauersouth
Series: Second Sentinels #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Superheroes
Published: March 15th 2018
LGBTQAI+: 1) nonbinary bisexual MC, xe/xyr pronouns, 2) asexual Deaf cis guy MC, 3) two sapphic girl MCs, one of them a dark-skinned Black girl
Other representation:
multiple Deaf/HoH side characters
I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Opal has been planning to go to Chicago and join the Midwest’s superhero team, the Sentinels, since she was a little kid. That dream took on a more urgent tone when her superpowered dad was unjustly arrested for protecting a neighbor from an abusive situation. Now, she wants to be a superhero not only to protect people, but to get a platform to tell the world about the injustices of the Altered Persons Bureau, the government agency for everything relating to superpowers.

But just after Opal’s high school graduation, a supervillain with a jet and unclear motives attacks the downtown home of the Sentinels, and when Opal arrives, she finds a family on the brink of breaking apart. She meets a boy who’s been developing secret (and illegal) brain-altering nanites right under the Sentinel’s noses, another teenage superhero-hopeful who looks suspiciously like a long-dead supervillain, and the completely un-superpowered daughter of the Sentinels’ leader. Can four teens on the fringes of the superhero world handle the corruption, danger, and family secrets they’ve unearthed?

rating: 4 stars

(Please check the specific sections for warnings, especially the nonbinary and Deaf sections.)

Secondhand Origin Stories is about the children of famous superheroes who want to help people as well – and as the title says, this is truly an origin story, where the “real” superhero fights only really happen towards the end. It is a very character-focused novel about both blood and adopted/found family, about growing up in the shadow of your famous parents, and even about the unrightful imprisonment of many Black people.

The characters and the plot: I loved the four main characters in this one, although their dynamic was sometimes a little strange. Jamie, Issac and Yael are friends and siblings who grew up together in the same family, while Opal comes into their world as an outsider. And yet, almost from the beginning they are ready to fight for each other and for the truth. Opal fights for her father who was wrongly imprisoned, and the other three fight with and for their superhero family and the secrets it hides. I loved Yael’s struggle with the identities of xyr birth parents, and I’m sure it will be an important plot point in the rest of the series as well.

This book was emotional, funny, with an all-queer main cast, and I think it handled issues and questions about family nicely. Once I really got into the plot, I ended up loving it. There is also one character that I would love to squee about but I can’t really do it without spoilers, so let me just say this: I LOVE MARTIN SO MUCH.

The nonbinary representation: … So why did I almost decide to abandon it less than halfway in? Because the beginning of the novel was close to torture as a nonbinary reader. One of the characters, Yael is nonbinary and uses xe/xyr pronouns in xyr own POV, but xe isn’t out to anyone other than Jamie and Issac at first, which leads to unintentional misgendering from xyr older family members – and, most importantly, constant misgendering from another POV character, Opal. It’s not really Opal’s fault because she doesn’t know better, but she assumes Yael’s gender (twice, both wrongly), and keeps referring to Yael as “she” in her internal narration. As a nonbinary person who passes as a cis girl, every little “she” by Opal was like another knife wound. It was horrible to read. I would like to say that the author is nonbinary, so I’m sure they have a reason for writing the book this way, but for me, it almost made me put it down. There is also a pretty ugly comment from a bigoted uncle later on.

The asexual representation: I don’t have much to say about Issac being asexual, mostly because it’s never mentioned outside the coming out scene. All I can say is that I /did/ like how the coming out scene was written, and I liked how Issac was defiant and prepared for the others to not think him queer enough, which is unfortunately a sad reality I face as an asexual person. I wish his identity was actually mentioned outside this one scene, but I realise you can only fit so much in one book, so I hope for more of this in the sequel.

The sapphic characters: Okay, so I’m not actually sure what the identities of the two girls are. I think Opal is a lesbian, but the word isn’t used for her. In her coming out scene, Jamie says something along the lines of “I’m not completely straight”, which might imply that she’s bi/pan and not exclusively attracted to girls, but it also might be downplaying it because she’s still questioning.

The Deaf main character: I would like to state that I am not Deaf, so I’m not going to make a judgment of the following, I’m just stating facts so potential readers can be prepared. One of the main characters loses their hearing early on, and trying to “fix” this is a big plot point for the rest of the book. In the end, this character seems to give up on “fixing” themself… for now. It is implied that they might try again in the far future. Also, there are many, many comments that talk about “fixing” and “being normal again”. (There are also positive aspects, especially later on, for example the siblings immediately making steps to learn ASL to make this character more comfortable.)

Overall, I loved this book, although I really wish that the beginning with Yael being closeted would have been handled differently, because it was really hurtful to read. Still, once the correct pronouns were used, I didn’t really have any other issues and just enjoyed the plot and the characters.

~ Alexa

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

Reviews

Review: The Lifeline Signal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: ★★★★★💖

~ Alexa 🐉

Reviews

Review: The Princess Who Didn’t Eat Cake

Review on Goodreads

When the kingdom discovers that their crown princess doesn’t like cake, chaos ensues. How will the royal line ever continue? Cake is essential to a good marriage! (Not to mention, the rejection of his cake was deeply insulting to the baker-prince who proposed with it.)

Why I picked it up: I was expecting a cute fairy tale, but mostly I was really excited for a book about demisexuality. Asexuality (as in the umbrella term) in general is very rare in fiction, and demisexuality is even rarer.

The Princess Who Didn’t Eat Cake is a fairytale written to explain demisexuality, and using cake as a metaphor for sex. The fairytale, however, is only about 40% of the ebook itself. Other contents include an essay by the author that explicitly explains demisexuality, with many popular culture examples – and there is also a series of recommendations with demisexual characters towards the end.

Overall, I am conflicted about The Princess Who Didn’t Eat Cake, and by that I mean both the fairytale, and the entire book itself. As a fairytale, I did not find it very enjoyable – the cake metaphor was just painfully obvious, and in some places, downright uncomfortable when you replaced cake with sex (that is, the parts the princess is continuously pressured or even forced to try cake by various friends and family members). The essay about demisexuality also seemed unnecessarily lengthy to me at places, though that might be because I am already familiar with demisexuality – I am not sure what it would have been like to read that explanation if I’ve never heard of demisexuality before.

That being said, I still believe that this is an incredibly important book, and a recommended read for everyone who wants to understand demisexuality. Some parts of the metaphor/book also work for explaining asexuality, but the book makes it clear that the two are not exactly the same – I especially appreciated the part the princess felt like she had trouble explaining her feelings both to her cake-loving parents and her cake-rejecting friends.

I am sorry to say that The Princess Who Didn’t Eat Cake is not a particulary great fairy tale – but that wasn’t really the point anyway. The book (the tale, the essay and the recommendations together) do a great job of explaining demisexuality, and the recommendations on the end are especially appreciated.

Recommend: Yes. To everyone, basically. Despite my problems with it, I strongly believe this book is worth reading and an important take on demisexuality.

My rating: ★★★★☆

~ Alexa 🐾

Reviews

Review: Chameleon Moon

The city of Parole is burning. Like Venice slips into the sea, Parole crumbles into fire.

The entire population inside has been quarantined, cut off from the rest of the world, and left to die – directly over the open flame. Eye in the Sky, a deadly and merciless police force ensures no one escapes. Ever. All that’s keeping Parole alive is faith in the midst of horrors and death, trust in the face of desperation… and their fantastic, terrifying, and beautiful superhuman abilities.

“Words are important. They let you know it’s real, you’re fine, more people like you exist. They let you know you’re not alone.”

“Holy crap…” Regan whispered, awed and sick and proud at the same time. “She punched it in the face.”

Why I picked it up: I was told there was a f/f/f polyrelationship and also ace character(s)?

Let me tell you how absolutely wonderful this book is.

The Cast

Chameleon Moon’s strongest aspect is its characters. Wonderful, colourful, diverse cast of characters. There is indeed a polyamorous marriage between three women, a main character who is a trans woman, a character who uses ‘they’ pronouns through the entire novel, disabled characters, representation of anxiety, and lots and lots of validation for mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. And many more, that my tags on this book can’t even cover.

I am so incredibly excited about a certain relationship other than the polymarriage, but I feel like that would be a huge spoiler, so I’m just going to put this here for anyone who’s already read it: I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.

The Plot

I have to admit, it took me a while to get into this book. The prologue pulled me in, but then the first half of the book felt… slow. It was mostly about getting to know the characters for me, and hinting at the big mystery without any real answers. Not that getting to know the characters is bad – as I said, they are the greatest thing about this book -, but the first half often felt a little boring to me, and there were a lot of conversations that went on too long, or infodumps that were a little too much at once.

The second half, though? I read pretty much the entire second half in one sitting. The twists just kept coming and the secrets kept pouring out. And plenty of questions remaining for the sequel.

There are some things I don’t like about the ending that would be spoilery, but I understand how they are necessary. I was originally going to give this 4.5 stars, but as I typed this review out, I realised that it fully deserves all five.

Trigger warnings

I would like to put a warning for suicide (mention) here, and also, the descriptions of anxiety can be triggering to anyone who also experiences it.

My rating: ★★★★★

~ Alexa 🦔

Reviews

Review: We Awaken

Link on Goodreads

Why I picked it up: I was promised great asexual representation. (note: I am a biromantic asexual woman, so this was kind of personal for me.)

What I thought: It definitely delivered on the representation. It was refreshing to read about characters who outright said they were asexual, and it also included someone figuring out their sexuality by researching, and addressed several stereotypes. All in all, it handled asexuality, and exploring your sexuality very nicely.

I have to admit I had mixed feelings about the book as I read it, but I came out with mostly positive feelings in the end. The writing was clumsy at times – the phrasing sounded a little forced, or the timeline of the events felt rushed. There wasn’t really a story as such, but somewhere halfway I realised that there didn’t have to be. It was enough to get lost in the magical romance of these two asexual girls who love each other very much.

I kinda wish we had seen more of Reeves, and his ending didn’t go the way I expected it to go, but I think I like it? I think? A little conflicted, but I’m leaning towards positive.

Also, the cover is beautiful.

Do I recommend it: If you want a light read about girls in love, exploring your sexuality, and mending your relationship with your best friend, then definitely. If you’re looking for a quick-paced story, then no.

My rating: ★★★★☆

~ Alexa 🐬