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

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Reviews

In Which I Read Julia Ember and Spread Love For F/F Fantasy (Unicorn Tracks & The Seafarer’s Kiss)

Julia Ember is a writer of fantasy books with (mostly) sapphic main characters. Unicorn Tracks is her debut novel, but The Seafarer’s Kiss seems to be the most popular. I recently read both of her books in the same month (although in reverse order – I read the Seafarer’s Kiss first) and decided to do a double review.

Unicorn TracksUNICORN TRACKS

Mnemba is a tour guide at her cousin’s business where she leads tourists in the wilderness to track rare animals such as… chimeras, manticores, freshwater mermaids and occasionally unicorns?! This story takes place in a fictional fantasy country based on Africa (specifically South Africa if I’m correct), and I loved how most of the story/world was actually realistic, except for, you know, the magical creatures casually living alongside lions and such. The main characters are both sixteen years old girls (so it was a little strange that the blurb refers to them as women) who navigate their own attraction to each other as they try to uncover a plot to use unicorns for illegal deeds. The book is quite short, so there isn’t too much time for details, but we still learn some things about both Mnemba’s and Kara’s cultures. I especially liked the way Mnemba’s culture treated “blood crimes” (mostly rape and murder), which is a big plot point in the book.

tw: mentions of past rape, people expecting the survivor to forgive the rapist, and also an in-book attempted rape

The Seafarer's Kiss (The Seafarer's Kiss #1)THE SEAFARER’S KISS

The Seafarer’s Kiss is a Norse mythology retelling of The Little Mermaid where instead of a sea witch, the main character makes a deal with Loki, god of lies, whose month she was born in.

It actually had much less focus on the love interest than I expected, and more focus on the bisexual main character wanting to get away from an oppressive regime and outplaying the god of trickery. I loved how it was stated explicitly several times that while Ragna is neat, Ersel made her choices for herself (and in some cases her mother/community) only.

I know some people have issues with the fact that the only nonbinary character in the book is the literal god of lies and deceit, and those are entirely valid feelings. I definitely would have appreciated more nonbinary characters (and hope that maybe the sequel will be better in this respect?) but I also have a weak spot for Loki. I loved their representation and how they were both angry and impressed when Ersel outsmarted them.

I can’t wait to see Ragna’s half of the story.

~ 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: 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

ARC Review: Baker Thief

Baker ThiefTitle: Baker Thief
Author(s): Claudie Arseneault
Series: first in series
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Published: June 26th 2018 by The Kraken Collective
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Aromantic bigender protagonist + biromantic demisexual protagonist, multiple queer side characters (e.g. agender, binary trans, aromantic, lesbian)
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.

I don’t have the energy to deal with what the wrong presentation will do to my mind.

My rating: 4 stars

If I had to sum up my feelings in one sentence, it would be this: I loved most of it, except for one thing that really took me out of the story.

(Note: Claire and Claude are two names for the bigender protagonist who uses she and he pronouns, alternating. I wasn’t sure which one to stick with, so this review has both.)

There is a certain feeling of acceptance, understanding, safety and validation that (so far) seems unique to the works of indie queer authors. A sense of understanding that can only be found in a book with an aromantic bigender protagonist, a biromantic demisexual protagonist, these two being in a unique relationship fitting both of their needs, and a cast of nonbinary, aromantic, transgender and otherwise queer side characters (as well as some casual references to polyamory, and SIX CATS). The fact that there is a list of trigger warnings at the beginning with chapter numbers already suggested that I was about to read a book that really cared about its marginalised reader.

That would have almost been enough for me, but Baker Thief had more. It had great sibling relationships – some of which pleasantly surprised me! I knew from the blurb that Claude/Claire had a twin, but I didn’t know that Adéle also had multiple siblings, one of whom is central to the plot and an amazing character as well. Baker Thief also had lots of puns (some French, some English), adorable bakery product drawings as dividers, beautiful descriptions that really made the city feel alive, so many badass (queer) women in leadership positions, and a team of outcast police officers working together. It also had an intriguing plot with terrifying secrets. About twenty pages into this book, I made an update on Goodreads that said “so far, this book feels like a hug”, and I meant it.

… Which is why the one exception to this rule felt like a slap in the face. While there was a warning for accidental misgendering in chapter 14, it didn’t quite prepare me. In this chapter, a new teenage character is introduced, and both Adéle and Claire initially refer to nem as “she/her” and “girl” initially. Once they are told the correct pronouns, they both use those without a problem, but there were two reasons why this felt wrong and unnecessary to me.

1) It’s true that if you accidentally misgender someone, the best thing to do /out loud/ is to quickly apologise and move on with the correct pronouns instead of making a fuss. But if I accidentally misgender someone, I am horrified. Thanks to their POV, we are essentially inside both Adéle’s and Claire’s heads, reading their thoughts and feelings – and there isn’t even a moment of guilt or “oh oops” from either of them when they realise their mistake. No acknowledgment that they fucked up, not even from Claire, who is also bigender and should be aware of how the wrong pronoun can hurt.

2) In the very same scene, there is another character whose gender or pronouns Adéle doesn’t know, so she defaults to using “they” pronouns and neutral language in the narration. Earlier, when a nonbinary character (Nsia) is introduced, they are also described in neutral terms until they state their pronouns. So why didn’t the teenage character, Celosia get the same treatment? Overall, this just didn’t seem to fit into the worldbuilding, and that was exactly why it took me out of the story. Despite no hurtful content later on, this one chapter in a book with more than four hundred pages was enough to burst my bubble of safety, and I felt like I was on my guard for the rest of the book.

On to more positive things: I really appreciated the variety in pronouns used by nonbinary characters (one character uses they/them, one uses ol/ols, one uses ne/nir – Claude alternates between she and he), and it meant a lot to me that Claude explicitly did not drink alcohol and this was accepted and respected by all his friends. I LOVED the way fatness (both Claude’s fatness, and Adéle’s sister putting on weight) was portrayed as a positive thing. I also loved that one of the side characters was originally labelled “the Spinster” by her enemies as an insult to her lack of family or marriage, but she turned it around and turned the nickname into something positive. I loved the bilingualism of the whole thing, and the occasional subtle reminder that the characters were really speaking French even though the book is written in English.

Adéle’s and Claude’s relationship is central to the book, and it’s certainly a complicated one. It’s a relationship where Adéle has romantic feelings for Claude almost from the very beginning, while Claude has sexual attraction early on. Later, Adéle develops sexual attraction as well (she’s demisexual), but Claude still isn’t and will never be romantically interested in her. This was something that they needed to discuss, but I liked how they both were determined to work out a relationship that would fit both of them. (I also liked how they joked around about the shape of this relationship, but that’s spoilers.)

As you can see, overall I loved this book. The fact that I still rated it 4 stars goes to show how much one bad representation of your identity can really ruin a book. Nevertheless, I’d still recommend Baker Thief to everyone because it’s an amazing book with great, affirming messages for all queer people, especially aromantic people.

~ 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

Reviews

Review: The Girl and the Grove

39934046The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: May 8th 2018 by North Star Editions
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: adopted MC of colour (#ownvoices) with seasonal affective disorder

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend, Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. Is she ready to answer?

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

The Girl and the Grove was one of my most anticipated 2018 releases. I requested the ARC months ago and I was overjoyed when I got it, but somehow I only got around to reading it in May.

It was awesome to read a book with a teen protagonist whose hobby is protecting the environment, with a fondness for trees in particular. I also think this is one of the only #ownvoices books with an adopted protagonist that I’ve read, especially a protagonist who was adopted as a teen and not as a small child. (In fact, the only one I can suddenly think of is one of Vavyan Fable’s books, but as far as I know, that wasn’t #ownvoices.) It was really interesting to read about Leila’s experiences, and how she struggled with accepting that she finally had a home and a family.

I also loved the text messages, Google searches and messages from a forum/board that appeared between chapters. I always love books that have some kind of quote or social media messages in each chapter that gives more information about the characters and their lives, even outside of what we see in the books.

The plot itself was exciting as well, and even terrifying at some points as Leila and her friends were running out of time to save the grove and their city. I loved Leila’s best friend, her parents, and also her love interest. (Jon’s dad jokes were the best, and also the way he and Liz cared for Leila.)

I’m giving it four stars because the characterisation and the writing style didn’t always work for me, but ultimately this was a pretty great book. It’s an urban contemporary story with just a little fantasy/magic written into it.

My rating: 🌳🌳🌳🌳/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Sky in the Deep

Sky in the Deep_cover imageSky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 🗻🗻🗻🗻🗻/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: 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: Flotsam (Peridot Shift #1)

37943458 Flotsam by R. J. Theodore

Genre: Science Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy
Series: Peridot Shift #1
Published: March 27th 2018 by Parvus Press LLC
Length: 324 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: I think Tisker (a side character) is gay, but there is only really one reference to it and the word isn’t used. There are also aliens who use neopronouns. (So, not much.)
Sex on page: No (also no romance at all, only references to a past fling)

There is currently a U.S. only giveaway for Flotsam by the publisher here.

A fantastical steampunk first contact novel that ties together high magic, high technology, and bold characters to create a story you won’t soon forget.

Captain Talis just wants to keep her airship crew from starving, and maybe scrape up enough cash for some badly needed repairs. When an anonymous client offers a small fortune to root through a pile of atmospheric wreckage, it seems like an easy payday. The job yields an ancient ring, a forbidden secret, and a host of deadly enemies.

Now on the run from cultists with powerful allies, Talis needs to unload the ring as quickly as possible. Her desperate search for a buyer and the fallout from her discovery leads to a planetary battle between a secret society, alien forces, and even the gods themselves.

Talis and her crew have just one desperate chance to make things right before their potential big score destroys them all.

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

I’m not even sure how to rate this book. 3 stars? 3.5?

Peridot is a fractured planet made up of many islands, home to five distinct humanoid races that were created by the Divine Alchemists, who are now worshipped as gods: Cutter, Breaker, Bone, Vein and Rakkar. The main character, Talis, and two other members of her crew are all Cutters, and the fourth one, Dug is a Bone.

I would like to start by saying that I loved the worldbuilding in theory – the fractured planet and the five races that were created by gods who still live among the people – but I had problems with the execution. To me, the Cutters sort of seemed like “regular” humans with no real special characteristics. We only see one Breaker in the entire book, and basically no named Rakkars. The Vein are four-limbed people who are physically blind, but oh, they have a magical sight – like every other blind race in anything ever. And finally, the Bone are dark-skinned people who live in desert tribes. While not outright barbaric, the Bone are often portrayed as violent, and the one Bone crew member, Dug, is described as large and intimidating immediately when he appears. I hope I don’t have to explain why I was conflicted about that. In short, I liked the idea but I felt like the races could have been written much better, and I’m hoping they’ll be more detailed in the sequel.

As for the characters, in the first half I was intrigued by all four crew members of the Wind Sabre – but towards the second half, Sophie and Tisker faded into the background and barely felt like individual people. Also, as I mentioned above, there is one throwaway sentence about Tisker not preferring Talis’s “parts”, which is not only a pretty cissexist way to say he’s gay, but it’s also never brought up again. (To be fair, there aren’t really heterosexual romances in the book either, other than mentions of the fling Talis used to have with one of the male antagonists.)

One thing I really enjoyed was the alien race (the Yu’Nyun) and the very different way they use gender and pronouns. They don’t seem to have genders at all, or at least at this point we don’t know anything about those – they use pronouns based on situation and class, and they have very strict rules on what class is allowed to wear what type of clothes. If I remember well, there are 9 pronoun groups, but like 50 different versions of the same pronoun? While this is only explored in a couple of scenes so far, I was genuinely intrigued by an alien race that is truly different from what we expect, and doesn’t just have the same binary genders. The characters we see use the xe/xin/xist pronoun set, and one of them becomes a major side character. (Although an actual “human” (Cutter, Bone, etc.) nonbinary character would have been nice.)

As for the plot… I sadly have to admit that I almost completely lost interest in the book about 70% in. I found myself enjoying it until then, but the main battle fell flat for me and I was begging for it to be over. Still, there were some plot twists and solutions by the crew before the 70% mark that I appreciated.

In short, I would say that Flotsam had many ideas that I liked, but the execution very often could have been better. I might pick up the sequel to see if these things improve, but at this point I am undecided. Honestly, I have no idea where the plot is going after this, but I hope we learn more about the Rakkars and the Breakers, as well as the Yu’Nyun. Especially regarding the Yu’Nyun, I have some suspicions based on hints and I would love to see more.

My rating: 👾👾👾/5.

~ Alexa